Whitechapel: series: 37stitches to keep the pain in
Joseph Chandler/Emerson Kent;
super thanks to dancy_dreamer for the beta on this part <33
Set post S2. Life goes on, but moving on proves to be harder than Kent imagined it would be.
} chapter three; hell and consequences
[ 1 / 2 / 3 ]
“Another late night?” The sound of Chandler’s voice startled him and Kent jerked in his seat, wincing at the shock of pain that immediately flared through his right leg. He glanced at the watch to his left, just in time to see the minute hand tick itself over onto the half past eight slot.
“Ah, yes sir,” he managed, surreptitiously slipping one of his hands under his upper thigh to squeeze his fingers into the thick line of scarring there. It did little to ease the pain.
“Any particular reason for it?” Chandler asked.
Kent shook his head, offering Chandler a tight smile. He watched as Chandler’s expression became more concerned than curious and turned his attention back to the file he’d been reading through. He heard a shift of fabric, the soft tread of his footfall, and then Chandler was beside him, leaning himself against the edge of Kent’s desk.
“Why are you still here, Emerson?” Chandler asked.
Kent looked up, mouth twisting to the side. “It’s a bit easier to concentrate after the others have left,” he said, resignation in his tone.
Chandler inclined his head. “I’m doing my best, you know, they’re just worried about you.”
“They don’t need to be.” Kent bit out, turning away. He touched at the papers he’d been reading, shuffling them uselessly together, neatening their edges.
“Emerson-,” Chandler started. He gestured helplessly, palms up in an almost-surrender. “We’re all worried about you.”
Kent shook his head, looking back up. “You don’t have to be,” he sighed. “I just- I wish you wouldn’t. I’m fine-” he laughed a little, “I’m as fine as I can be.”
Chandler quirked a small smile at him, reaching out to squeeze at his shoulder. Kent lifted it a little, turning to touch his face to the back of Chandler’s hand and Chandler turned it, cupping at Kent’s cheek with his palm as he reached out with the other to brush the curls back from his forehead.
“It’s not just something you can turn on and off,” Chandler said softly. “Worrying about you.”
He kept carding his fingers through Kent’s hair. “After everything that’s happened, we can’t help but want to look out for you.”
Kent sighed, turning his face against Chandler’s hand, feeling his lips brush against his palm. Chandler’s fingers twitched against his skin, but the hand moving through his hair didn’t falter.
Kent sighed again, closing his eyes as he let himself have this moment of peace.
The weeks following on from the Dan Street case hadn’t exactly been kind to him. To any of them really, if Kent was to be honest about it. He understood, of course he did, how terrified everyone had been upon finding him on the self same bridge that Dan had used.
At the time of finding him, Kent hadn’t been able to dispel that terror, hadn’t been able to protest their immediate assumptions, their inevitable reactions. Maybe if he’d been able to laugh it off, to brush their concern off in that instant…
He’d told Chandler, later, that he wasn’t Dan Street. That he wouldn’t do that. He might even have promised. But the truth, the horrible, all-consuming truth of it was that he had been thinking about it.
As much as he didn’t want to believe he’d have done it, not there and not like that.
But for all his protests to Chandler, his words had rung hollow against his own ears.
He hadn’t been in his right mind.
He knew that.
Everyone, it seemed, knew that.
And everyone, it seemed, was inclined to punish him for it with watchful eyes and a constant litany of questions designed to gauge just how he was feeling every minute of every day since.
He’d said he was fine so many times in the last few weeks now that Kent was beginning to worry he’d forgotten the meaning of the word. If nothing else, it worked to prevent further questioning. Though Kent wasn’t sure if that was because they were respecting him enough to trust his answer, or if they knew they wouldn’t get anything but that out of him.
Which, if the latter, begged the question why?
Why did they keep asking?
Why didn’t they keep pushing for more?
Not that Kent wanted them to keep pushing, of course. He’d gotten more than enough of that from Chandler. Though the man was subtle in his prodding at least. And he didn’t watch Kent with the same hawk-eyed gaze that Miles seemed to have employed whenever they were in a room together. Or follow him into the urinals like Mansell had tried to do on a few occasions.
It was his own fault, he knew, but even that was a bitter consolation when faced with the sudden over-protectiveness of his team.
He’d dealt with it though. Was dealing with it. Thought he could deal with it. It was only at work, after all. And a part of him felt like he owed them this.
Then the call came in.
Three weeks to the day they’d wrapped on the Dan Street case.
Miles had been in with Chandler at the time, having one of their daily discussions, and the call had transferred through to Kent’s desk.
It was from one of the departments who dealt with the tracking and tracing of suspects and they wanted to know if the trace on Emerson Kent’s mobile phone was to be renewed again for the upcoming week.
He’d stopped listening after that, his ears ringing with the shock of the words. They were tracking him? Still tracking him? Chandler had told him that they’d put a trace on him the day they found him on the bridge, but Kent had assumed it had been a one-time thing, not a weeks-down-the-line thing.
He mumbled something about getting his Sergeant before putting the call on hold. His hands were shaking as he sat the receiver on his desk. Adrenaline surging through him, flushing him with anger and humiliation. Was it an overreaction to feel violated? To feel as though his trust had been abused in the worst possible way?
He looked up into Chandler’s office, saw him holding back a smile at something Miles was telling him and his heart hurt. He’d confided so much in Chandler and this felt like an utter betrayal of everything they’d become. Chandler just had to ask and Kent would tell him whatever he wanted to know, maybe not instantaneously, but Chandler had a way of waiting him out that made the words spill from his lips without filter.
The call hadn’t gone though to his DI though, it had come through for Miles.
His heart stuttered.
What if Chandler didn’t know about it?
He bit at the insides of his mouth.
What if he did.
He pushed himself up too quickly, wincing at the flare of nerve pain that shot down his right leg. He ignored it, rounding his desk with sudden purpose.
He didn’t knock when he reached Chandler’s office, just twisted the handle and pushed it open without preamble.
“Call for you, Serg,” he said, voice clipped.
Chandler and Miles looked up in surprise at the interruption.
Miles frowned. “You can’t take a message?”
“I think you want to take this call, Serg.” He replied, in the same clipped tone.
Miles flittered his gaze over towards Chandler who’s face was scrunched with bewilderment, his mouth parted in that way it sometimes did when he wanted to speak but didn’t quite know what to say.
Miles turned back to him, giving him a long, searching look before he pushed to his feet, moving past Kent with a muttered ‘this had better be important’.
The second he’d left the room, Kent rounded on Chandler.
“Did you know?” If he’d been speaking to anyone but Chandler, the question would have been more of a demand than anything else. As it was, it bordered pretty spectacularly on insubordination.
“Kent what-,” Chandler was shaking his head, hands flat on his desk, looking at Kent in utter confusion.
“That I was being tracked?” Kent hissed.
“What?” Chandler shook his head again, “Yes, of course-,” Kent froze. “-we’d never have found you otherwise.”
Kent felt himself starting to shake. “No, not then. Now. Did you know I was- I am being tracked now.”
If anything Chandler looked even more confused, his forehead creasing as he tried to understand. “No one is tracking-,”
“I just took a phonecall from our tracking department!” Kent bit out. “Asking if we’d like to keep the trace on my mobile active.”
“Emerson,” Chandler breathed, pushing to his feet. “I had no idea.”
His face was open, honest, his eyes wide with disbelief as he searched Kent’s face.
Kent felt himself sag, the adrenaline fuelling his anger seemed to come to a sudden halt, leaving him cold and shaky.
He believed him.
“Kent-,” he looked away, wrapping his arms around himself.
“I’ll do it, okay? I’ll do it. I’ll see the damn shrink again, just… make them stop. Please?”
Chandler froze a moment before straightening himself with sudden purpose.
“Close the door,” he said then.
It was Kent’s turn to look at him with surprise. Chandler raised his eyebrows, inclining his head towards the open door and Kent moved on autopilot to obey.
Miles was still standing at his desk when he reached for the handle, Mansell beside him.
The phone was on the hook.
They both looked up at him. Only Mansell had the decency to look guilty.
Kent wondered if Miles had told them to keep the trace on or not. He closed the door quickly, letting the click of the catch ring in his ears a second before turning back to Chandler.
“Firstly, the trace will stop. I give you my word on that.” He looked at Kent, waiting for his nod of understanding. He was every inch the boss in this situation, and Kent was glad of it, aware that Miles was boring holes through the glass partitions separating them.
“Secondly, you know my personal feelings about you seeing a therapist again, but you must also know that I’d never make you do anything you were uncomfortable with?”
Kent clenched his fingers against the door handle until he felt as though his bones were about to creak with protest. He nodded again.
“I really think going back will help you,” he pressed on, face softening as he took in Kent’s obvious distress, “but I’m not going to put you into a position where it’s your only option. I don’t want to push you away. You have to go because you want to go, not as an ultimatum.”
“It’s… humiliating.” Kent admitted, looking down. “Knowing they were watching me so closely was bad enough. But I felt like I deserved that, even if it made me feel uncomfortable. But this… I just…” he shook his head, biting at his cheeks again.
“I know that what happened put everyone on edge,” he said, swallowing against the metallic taste in his mouth. “I get that, and I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m standing on that ledge right now and every time someone asks me how I am or follows me around the station or… or tracks me, it’s like… I feel like I’m on that bridge again and I’m one step closer to…” he broke off with a bitter laugh, looking up to see the alarm on Chandler’s face.
He scrubbed a quick hand over his face. “I can’t seem to stop telling you what’s going on in my head, even when I don’t want to.”
“I want to know,” Chandler said, words a little breathless, a little desperate.
Kent tried to smile, his lips pulling more of a grimace. “I know. I just don’t understand why you’d want to.”
“I thought that was obvious, Em-,”
“-erson? Emerson?” Chandler’s voice filtered through his recollection of their last conversation.
“Sorry,” Kent said, drawing his attention back to the present. Miles had interrupted them with a lead that had just come through for one of the cases Chandler was working on. Kent had left Chandler’s office without so much as a nod of acknowledgement for his DS.
That had been almost two weeks ago and Kent still wasn’t on the best of speaking terms with him.
“Are you okay?” Chandler asked him and Kent pulled a face, lifting his head from Chandler’s palm.
“Don’t,” Chandler said, reaching out to prod pointedly at the creasing of his brow. “This is me asking you, and I haven’t asked you for a while now.”
Kent dropped his eyes. “I know,” he sighed, shoulders curling in as he hunched over himself, pushing his hands between his knees. “It’s just, it doesn’t feel like anything’s changed. They’re still asking me how I am all the time. They’re still watching me.”
Chandler frowned. “I personally made sure the trace was taken off your phone.”
“Yeah,” Kent agreed. “They’re just- really intense. Now more than ever.”
“I can’t stop them from caring about you,” Chandler said, his frown easing with understanding.
“They don’t have to stop caring they just have to stop,” he made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, fingers clenching tightly together.
“I can feel them watching me you know,” he explained, “it’s like ants crawling up my skin every minute of every day. And I can’t concentrate. I can’t ignore it. It makes me… it makes me nervous.”
He felt twitchy and on edge all the time now. More so perhaps than he’d been after his attack. It was different of course. He knew he wasn’t about to be attacked and he was trying, he really was, not to be angry, or ungrateful, but it was hard knowing his every movement was being scrutinised and categorised and the whole thing left him in a state of perpetual alertness.
It felt like he couldn’t breathe. Like he was on the verge of splitting apart at the seems.
“Have you… spoken to anyone about this?” Chandler asked, cautiously.
Kent smiled half-heartedly. “You mean my therapist?”
Chandler returned the half-smile, agreeing: “I mean your therapist.”
Chandler had been informed of his renewed therapy the moment he’d signed back on. It had been one of the reasons, initially, why he hadn’t wanted to go at all. The sessions were still private and confidential, but so long as he was still actively working a report determining his state of mind would be sent to his supervising officer every month assessing his capabilities and advising his DI on any available options.
He hadn’t wanted to admit he needed the help.
He hadn’t wanted anyone to know he needed the help.
Talking with Chandler… had been like a cocoon. Something that happened between them without input from the outside world. He could almost convince himself that out with these moments together, no one knew the depths to which he’d been sinking.
It took the Dan Street case to make him realise that everyone apart from he himself knew exactly what was happening with him.
And it took the knowledge that Miles was desperate enough to keep tracking him to make him realise he needed the extra help.
“She says it’s a type of hyper vigilance,” he answered, before pausing, not sure if he wanted to continue. Chandler waited him out, expression carefully curious.
Kent met his eyes briefly, shaking his head. Chandler was unnervingly good at making Kent want to keep taking, but it still wasn’t as easy as divulging his innermost fears to a complete stranger was. He knew Chandler would never judge him or hold his weaknesses against him, not really, but there was always that small niggle of doubt in the back of his mind that left him holding something back.
“She says it can be a symptom of PTSD,” he shrugged, trying for blasé. “That I’m still living in fear of what the Kray’s did to me.”
“And what do you think?” Chandler asked.
“That I don’t need a therapist to tell me that.” Kent chewed nervously at the inside of his mouth a moment before huffing a humourless laugh. “I’ve been afraid since it happened.” He admitted. It was getting easier to say those words now. I’m afraid. I’ve been afraid. He clenched his hands together.
“Is she not helping?” Chandler asked, looking concerned.
Kent shrugged again, sliding his eyes to the corner of his desk. The cheap wood was chipped at the edge, discoloured from the rest of the desk. Kent wondered if Chandler saw it. Wondered if it would bother him if he did.
He looked briefly back towards Chandler to find him still watching. “Talking it out, it’s helping. I guess. The nightmares- the things I worry about- they seem… less all consuming when I say them out loud. Less realistic.”
Chandler nodded. “Are you still having nightmares?”
“I’m always having nightmares.” He said, quirking a smile.
Chandler didn’t smile back. Not exactly.
Kent clawed at his hands. “They’re getting better,” he allowed. “Fewer. Further apart. I can sleep most nights now. I’m… not afraid to sleep. My flatmates are happy about that much at least.”
He gave another hollow laugh as he finished. Twisting his hands together, feeling the pinch against his skin.
“You’re smiling and laughing,” Chandler commented. Kent looked at him, swallowed. “I hope you know you don’t have to make light of this for my sake?”
Kent looked away.
“I’m still going to worry about you.” Chandler said.
Kent lifted a hand, pushing his fingers through his hair with a breathy sigh. “Yeah. I- you don’t have to.”
“I know I don’t have to, but I- what have you done?” Chandler broke off, his fingers suddenly curling around Kent’s wrist and tugging his hand closer.
“Emerson, what is this?” He was frowning deeply, eyes wide as he looked from Kent’s hand to his face and back again.
Confused, Kent looked, tensing when he saw how red it was. How red both his hands were. And scratched up too, little half-moon indents from where he’d been digging his nails into the yielding flesh on the back of his hands standing stark and bloody against his pale skin.
There was blood under his nails too.
Kent jerked his hand from Chandler’s hold, burying them both between his knees. He dropped his eyes, turning his head to glare at the corner of his desk. He could hear his heart, its beat quick and thundering as he waited for Chandler to say something.
“Emerson-,” he flinched, sucking in then holding his breath.
“Emerson, look at me. Please?”
Kent steadfastly kept his head down. His cheeks flaming red.
“Is this something I should be worried about?” Chandler tried.
“It’s nothing.” His hands stung, now that he’d noticed. Now that Chandler had noticed; the coarse fabric of his trousers scraping across the light scratches. “They’ll be gone by tomorrow.” He added, as if that might help. There were only light scratches, just piercing through the first layer. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to fixate on.
“Emerson, if you’re hurting yourself-,”
“I’m not.” Too quick. Too desperate. He forced himself to take a breath, to meet Chandler’s eyes. Honest Guv.
“It’s not like that. It’s… I don’t even realise I’m doing it. Alright?” As if that made it better.
He watched as Chandler opened and closed his mouth a few times, lips pressing thinly together before his expression settled. He looked dubious, wary.
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” He said, eyes flicking down to where Kent had hidden his hands.
Kent straightened, put on edge by his words. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about it.”
Chandler flinched then. And so did Kent, he could feel his cheeks heating a little more and he automatically lifted a hand to press his fingers to his eyes in a hard squeeze, the pressure enough to send spots dancing before his vision.
“I didn’t mean-,” Chandler started.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve-,” he dropped his hand again, very aware of the way Chandler’s eyes followed the movement.
They both lapsed into a silence that grew the longer they left it untamed.
“I should call it a night.” Kent mumbled a moment later.
“Okay,” Chandler agreed, pushing himself to his feet.
He stood beside Kent’s desk, hovering awkwardly as Kent stood and stuffed a few things into his bag.
“I- do you want a lift?” He offered.
“No.” To quick, again. “No thanks.”
Chandler nodded, stepped aside. Kent hesitated, waiting for Chandler to say something but instead he said nothing. He wondered if he was too afraid to push him now. If he thought Kent would break. He hadn’t been as overbearing as Miles or Mansell, but Kent almost wished he was, out of all of them.
He shook that thought immediately from his mind as he grabbed his jacket and hurried to the door.
“Emerson!” The call of his name came just as he was about to leave the room. He turned to Chandler, his heart lurching at the look of open vulnerability painted across Chandler’s face.
He swallowed heavily, waiting.
“Goodnight.” Was all Chandler said.
“Goodnight,” he returned, the word tasting like disappointment against his tongue.
- - -
The few days following on from their conversation were… stilted to say the least. It was back to the daily grind of paperwork and cold cases and so, as much as he might wish he could, there was just no escaping Chandler and the looks of deep concern directed his way every time Kent caught his gaze.
He wasn’t avoiding Chandler, per se, so much as he was actively making a point of keeping his head down and focussing all his attention on the files in front of him.
He felt a little bad about the cold shoulder treatment but he didn’t know how to get them from the one step forward two steps back dance they seemed to perpetually perform. Not without laying every last, ugly part of himself out for Chandler to see. It was natural to want to protect himself, to try. Pushing Chandler away was never an intention, though it always seemed to be the outcome whenever things got to a point where Kent didn’t feel in control anymore.
Kent was just settling in for another day of mind-numbing paperwork when Mansell arrived, loudly, and grinning much like the cat that had gotten the cream.
“Hello, hello!” He greeted, all but bouncing into the Incident Room. “Everyone alright?”
Kent looked up with a wary frown, instantly on alert. There was not much that could get Mansell moving like this before ten o’clock, and it looked like he’d already consumed more than the two cups of coffees it usually took.
“What’s got you so bloody cheery?” Miles asked, blearily looking up from his own desk. He was still nursing his first coffee and looking for all the world as though he needed it.
Mansell’s grin didn’t even falter. “I,” he paused dramatically, “have an announcement to make!”
Kent felt his mouth twitch as he waited for Mansell to continue.
Chandler stepped into the room then and Mansell turned his grin on him, stopping Chandler in his tracks as he eyed him suspiciously.
“You’re just in time,” Miles called over, “Mansell here wants to make an announcement.”
“Oh yes?” Chandler asked, politely, one of those bemused expressions flittering across his face. His eyes slid briefly to Kent’s, and Kent found himself quirking a smile at Chandler before he dropped his gaze.
“I-,” Mansell paused again, drawing everyone’s attention back.
Miles rolled his eyes. “Enough of the theatrics, go on and spit it out before we die from the suspense!”
Mansell laughed. “Can’t a guy want a little suspense before he announces his engagement?”
There was a heartbeat of shocked silence as the words sunk themselves in.
“You what?” Miles was the first of them to ask.
Mansell laughed again, grinning from ear to ear. “I asked her last night and she said yes!”
“How the hell did you manage that?” Miles laughed back, moving forward to shake his hand and congratulate him.
Kent tried not to openly frown even as he stood to shake Mansell’s hand and offer his own congrats. As long as he’d known him, Kent had heard Mansell talking about a different woman almost every weekend. He hadn’t even realised that he was seeing someone with any degree of seriousness. How had he missed this? Had he been so wrapped up in his own problems that he’d completely ignored what was going on with the rest of the team?
He returned to his seat, feeling guilt churn at his stomach. He knew the answer to that one already. He lifted his own coffee, picking unconsciously at the sleeve as Mansell started talking about the impromptu engagement party they were planning for the following weekend.
He looked so excited and Kent found himself smiling despite himself, infected by Mansell’s happiness. He caught Chandler’s eye again as he passed by on his way into his office and saw that Chandler was smiling too.
His smile didn’t falter, and neither did Kent’s, though he did drop his chin to hide it behind his coffee cup, feeling a wave of warmth rush over him. Maybe it’d be okay. Things between them. He looked up again, feeling a slight flush on his cheeks as he found Chandler still watching him, still smiling at him.
Miles cleared his throat, and Kent twitched a little, trying not to jump as he turned his head to find Miles standing beside his desk now. Something about the way Miles was watching him made Kent’s smile waver and his blush deepen. He slid his eyes to Chandler, but he was looking at Miles now, his smile gone and the beginnings of a frown creasing his brow. Kent felt his own fleeting happiness fizzle away into nothingness.
On the other side of the room, Mansell was humming happily to himself.
“Kent, before you get settled,” Miles started, gesturing towards the door, a clear indication that he wanted a word. Chandler seemed to tense, his reaction immediately setting Kent on edge.
“Actually, I was just about to-,” he gestured with his coffee, not entirely sure where he was going with it but Miles barely acknowledged the action.
“It wasn’t a question.” Came the brusque interruption. Mansell’s head shot up at the tone, his own smile stumbling as he looked between the three of them.
Kent pressed his lips together but nodded and stood, he made a point of grabbing Mansell’s shoulder in a squeeze, offering another round of congratulations as he preceding Miles out of the Incident Room. Mansell grinned his thanks, but it was nowhere near as euphorious as it had been just moments ago.
Kent stopped in the hallway outside of the Incident Room but Miles kept walking, forcing Kent to follow him until they reached one of the interview rooms.
He felt a prickle of unease as he stepped into the room, immediately feeling cornered and defensive. If Miles wanted to apologise for the trace he’d left on him for three weeks he could have done it in the hallway, hell, he could have done it in the Incident Room itself with everyone else around.
If he wasn’t planning on apologising, Kent couldn’t imagine what else he could want to discuss that saw the need for them to use the privacy of an interview room.
He folded his arms across his chest, fingers squeezing tightly as Miles gestured to one of the chairs before closing the door behind Kent.
“I’ll stand. Sir.” He said, tacking on the honorific.
“Suit yourself,” Miles said. He didn’t sit either, even as he moved to stand behind one of the chairs, hands settling on its back in a tight grip.
“First things first, I know you’re still upset about me keeping the trace on you,” Kent inclined his head. “I’m not apologising for it.”
A fission of indignant anger sparked inside him.
Miles continued: “I know you’re not happy but I wasn’t sure you wouldn’t try something like that again. I’m not apologising for looking out for you.”
Kent opened his mouth to defend himself but Miles pressed on before he could try.
“I don’t care what Chandler tells me. He says you won’t do it, but I saw you on that bridge, Kent, and you scared the hell out of all of us. I’ve never seen you like that before and if it were up to me you’d be off work and sorting yourself out with the right kind of help instead of pushing yourself to be here.”
Kent swallowed, stomach twisting knots. “Did it ever occur to you that I need to be here?” he asked, voice soft, unsteady. “That maybe being off would be the worst thing for me?”
“I don’t think that’s entirely true,” Miles said, frankly.
Kent frowned. “What?”
“I don’t think you need to be here.” Miles answered, “I think you want to be here. And not just for the job.”
“I don’t-,” He shook his head, squeezing his arms more tightly. Miles was watching him, taking in every gesture and reaction and Kent forced himself to take a breath, to relax his arms, to not look so closed off and confrontational.
His fingers clenched fists at his sides instead.
“You do.” Miles interrupted. “I’ve seen the way you look at him.”
He hadn’t even said a name but Kent knew exactly who he was talking about. He flushed.
“I’ve always looked at him the same way,” he said, feeling the bite of his nails against his palms.
Miles inclined his head in agreement. “I’ve also seen the way he looks at you.”
Kent froze. It felt as though a bucket of ice water had just been poured over him, leaving him standing there, staring at Miles in wordless disbelief. He shook his head in denial.
“You might not see it, but I do. And I’m not the only one. And since he’s too pig-headed to listen to me, you’re going to have to.”
Kent shook his head again. “No, I don’t,” he said, throat working over the words. Something telling him he really didn’t want to have this conversation. He reached blindly for the door, fingers clasping desperately at the handle.
“Yes, you do.” Miles said calmly but firmly and Kent came to an immediate halt. Fingers twitching. Miles was his DS, was directly in charge of him before Chandler even. Yes, he did.
He turned back slowly. Defeated.
“You need to hear this, and if I have to be the big bad for it then I can live with that. What’s going on between you and the DI, all these late nights together, all these talks-,” he emphasised the last word, as if to imply something else entirely. “-do you realise how this all looks?”
“How what looks?” Kent snapped, “Someone actually giving a damn about me?”
“Yes!” Miles threw his hands in the air, exasperated.
Kent blinked at him. “I- what?”
“He’s your boss,” Miles pressed, “He’s in a position of power over you. Anything that happens between you two will either be seen as an abuse of that power or a ploy at advancement on your part. You might not see how this kind of attention could harm both your careers, but I’ve seen people persecuted for less. And I don’t want that, for either of you.”
“I- it’s not like that,” Kent said, feeling his cheeks heat further. He shook his head. “It’s nothing like that.”
It’s not as if Kent hadn’t thought about how it might appear to anyone who looked too closely, it’s just that he… hadn’t considered it an issue because there wasn’t actually anything going on. They were as professional as they always were whilst at work, and although Kent had been bringing more and more of his issues into the workplace despite his best intentions, Chandler hadn’t done anything that could be seen as improper. Hell, Mansell following him into the toilets every day for the first three days after they closed the Dan Street case could be considered more improper than anything Chandler had done to him whilst on the clock.
He tried to say as much to Miles but the look of disbelief on his face only seemed to heighten. Kent felt too hot, suddenly shaky. His stomach clenching with nauseous intent.
Did he somehow know about the way they touched each other when it was just the two of them alone? Had he seen the way Kent all but curled himself into Chandler’s space whenever the promise of contact was offered? How could he have-
“You’ve been staying at his place,” Miles accused as if he couldn’t believe Kent wasn’t admitting to his allegations.
“How do you-,” Kent cut himself off. Remember the few occasions Miles had been at the station when they were either leaving or arriving together. He’d only stayed at Chandler’s place a couple of times, though Chandler had driven him home a few times more than that over the last couple of weeks.
It certainly wasn’t a thing.
Even if Miles seemed to think it was.
“It’s not like that.” Kent repeated, biting at the inside of his cheek. He crossed his arms again. The last time had been… had been after they’d found him on the bridge.
Miles snorted, disbelieving. “No?” He pushed. “Then what is it like? Explain it to me.”
Kent shook his head, words stumbling over one another as he rushed to defend them both. “It’s only been a couple of times. It’s not- there’s nothing going on. The last time- that last time… you’re the one who put me in the car with him. If you were so worried about our conduct-,”
“You’d just tried to commit suicide!” Miles snapped. Kent reacted as if he’d been physically slapped. No one had used that word. No one had said it aloud even if they’d been thinking it and Kent felt as though all the air had been sucked from his lungs as he stared at Miles in wounded disbelief.
“I- I never-,” There was blood in his mouth, the taste coppery and cloying as he swallowed thickly.
“I don’t have to explain anything to you.” He said suddenly, his voice barely above a whisper even as a steely determination came over him.
Miles’ frown deepened. He wasn’t a man used to giving orders and not having them obeyed. Kent swallowed again, feeling as though he was about to choke on his own tongue.
If it were any other situation, any other conversation, Kent wouldn’t have hesitated in obeying Miles. The man had been his Sergeant for too many years now and despite the past few weeks Kent still trusted and respected him. Just… just not with this, not with any of it, but especially not with the non-relationship he had with Chandler that from apparent appearances looked exactly like something it wasn’t.
“If I were to file a report about this with senior management…” Miles drifted off but the implications were clear.
Any colour Kent had been sporting suddenly drained from his face at those words. He wasn’t sure if Miles was referring to what had happened on the bridge or his relationship with Chandler, but he did know what a complaint of either nature could do to a persons career. Whether anything came of it or not.
“You would do that?” Kent breathed barely above a whisper.
Miles seemed to deflate then, shoulders coming forward, hands relaxing their vice-like grip on the chair back.
“No. No I wouldn’t.” He admitted at last.
Kent nodded once, sharply. He wanted to explain then. Wanted to tell Miles how Chandler had been helping him, how he’d gotten him to seek the proper sort of help Miles had mentioned earlier, but the words stuck in his throat once again.
He felt sick. Shivery. Fevered even. His heart pounding itself violently against his ribcage.
“If you say there’s nothing going on, I’ll take your word for it,” Miles finally said and Kent could have collapsed in relief right then.
“That said I know how you feel about him, how you’ve felt about him from the start, and I want you to think very carefully about what I’ve told you.”
Kent nodded. His ears were ringing now, and he felt an odd mixture of flush and faint. He knew his feelings for Chandler weren’t the same as Chandler’s feelings for him, but there was always a part of him that liked to think differently. When Chandler had his arms around him, his lips pressing against his temple. When Chandler comforted him after a nightmare, holding him close and protected. When Chandler just sat with him and let him talk, or not, and promised Kent he wouldn’t judge him or use it against him.
“Are we done?” He asked, surprised to find his voice even a little bit steady.
Miles nodded. “Kent, I’m sorry-,”
He didn’t know exactly which part he was apologising for, or if it was meant as a blanket apology for the whole sorry conversation, but Kent didn’t hang around to clarify. He just had to get out of there. Just had to… had to take a moment to calm himself, to wrangle his toiling emotions back into some semblance of normalcy.
His hand shook on the door handle, fingers stiff and grasping as he yanked the door open and pushed his way out of the room. Miles didn’t immediately follow and Kent thanked his luck as he all but slammed his way into the first bathroom he found, glad that no one was in it to watch the way he fumbled into one of the stalls and fell to his knees, suddenly gasping for the air he couldn’t seem to get enough of.
He couldn’t tell if he wanted to throw up or pass out as he dropped his head into his hands and tried to calm himself. Breathe in. And out. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Over and over again. He raked his fingers through his hair, digging his nails into his scalp, trying to ground himself.
He shook his head, nails digging deeper.
What was wrong with him? All he could think about was Miles’ words to him. The accusations. The implied threat to them. But they didn’t make any sense. He felt as though he were in the throws of a panic attack, the likes of which he’d only ever had when triggered by some Kray related flashback or nightmare.
He sucked in a deep breath, another, eyes clenched tightly closed. He tried to ground himself and thought then of Chandler. But thoughts of Chandler led to thoughts of Miles and the insinuations he’d made.
Was his relationship with Chandler, such as it was, really something that could be taken so out of context? That could be used against them? The thought of being responsible for either of them losing their jobs or being reassigned or even just having a black mark against their name from here on out made him tremble. He couldn’t do that to Chandler. He didn’t want to be the one to ruin everything for him just because he was too messed up to look after himself.
But he didn’t want to do this alone either.
His eyes began to prickle and he pressed his fingers angrily against his eyelids until the darkness behind them burst with colour. He didn’t know how much time passed between him leaving Miles and holing up in the bathroom, but by the time the door opened his breathing was almost under control and he’d rubbed his eyes so raw he may as well have been crying.
“Kent?” Called a voice. Chandler’s voice. “Kent are you in here?”
“I’m here,” he answered, though it was obvious Chandler already knew. He’d come to a stop just outside his stall.
He stood- legs shaky, head pounding- and pulled the stall door open, brushing past Chandler without looking at him as he hurried over towards the sink. He didn’t dare look up into the mirror, as he twisted the cold tap and plunged his hands under the icy spray up to his wrists, before splashing the water over his face.
He’d only just grabbed a few paper towels, patting his face dry, when Chandler stepped up behind him, an arms-width away as he touched cautiously at Kent’s shoulder.
Kent looked up then, meeting Chandler’s eyes in the mirror. He looked overcome, anxious and upset, his eyes raking Kent’s face almost frenziedly.
Despite the conversation still ringing in his ears, Kent ignored everything Miles had just brought up as he turned, pushing himself almost forcefully into Chandler’s arms, clinging to him with the sort of desperation he’d probably feel embarrassed about later.
Chandler didn’t hesitate to pull him closer and wrap his arms around him, mouth falling to his temple.
“You’re shivering,” he breathed, rubbing a hand along the length of Kent’s back.
“‘M sorry,” he breathed into Chandler’s neck.
Chandler ignored the apology. “Are you alright?”
“I- I don’t know,” He squeezed his eyes closed, the words slipping from his mouth without thought. “I just… I want to go home.”
He pulled back, unable to miss the undisguised surprise on Chandler’s face. His heart was still beating erratically, almost painfully. He looked away, not quite able to meet Chandler’s eyes. He’d never admitted that before. He’d never let himself take time off, not since… he sucked in a breath, straightening himself, aiming for confidence but settling for something meeker as he spoke.
“I can’t be here today, Joe,” he said, the words sounding feeble to his own ears.
“Okay,” Chandler agreed without hesitation. “Whatever you need.”
Kent closed his eyes, almost slumping in relief. He nodded his thanks, swallowing against the cloying taste of panic still sitting at the back of his throat.
“Emerson, did Miles-,” Kent looked at him, taking in the pinched look of concern twisting Chandler’s face as he tried to find the right words.
“Did something happen?” he asked finally and Kent shrugged.
“I- panicked. I think. It’s- this has never happened…” he shook his head, raking his fingers through his hair. “It didn’t have anything to do with… I wasn’t even thinking about… I don’t…” he choked on the words, digging his nails in deeper.
Chandler reached for him then, taking his wrists in a gentle hold and pulling him against his chest where Kent proceeded to grasp at Chandler’s shirt, needing something to hold onto in his distress.
“You’re going to be okay, Emerson,” he promised, “we’ll get through this.”
Kent could have cried then, letting Chandler’s words wash over him. The ‘we’ particularly tugging almost desperately at his heart. He tried not to think about Miles and what he’d said. Whatever anyone thought they knew meant nothing. What mattered was this- that Kent had this.
Chandler touched his face to Kent’s, his mouth pressing tenderly against his temple in a kiss. Kent’s fingers tightened their hold.
Without Chandler, without his support, his want to help and comfort, Kent couldn’t honestly say he’d have made it this far. And maybe it was selfish of him, to want to keep Chandler, to need Chandler, when one wrong word to the wrong person could turn their entire world upside down. But Miles had said- he’d said he’d tried talking to Chandler already and that Chandler hadn’t been willing to listen and that meant, surely that meant, that Chandler cared more about helping Kent than he did about his own position on the force.
“Come on,” Chandler said, pulling back a little. “I’ll give you a lift.”
It probably said something about his state of mind that it didn’t even occur to him to protest, token or otherwise.
“Thanks,” he breathed, curling his hands together. Chandler caught at them and Kent winced, turning away. He wasn’t sure when it had started, didn’t really care, but Chandler did.
He didn’t say anything though as he looked at Kent’s hands for a moment before squeezing them tightly with his own.
“Do you need to get anything from your desk?” He asked, surprising Kent.
Chandler was watching him, unjudging, and Kent wondered just how bad he must look for Chandler not to say anything.
Chandler squeezed at his hands again and Kent tried to think. He started to nod his head, thinking of his bag, his coat, the medication he desperately needed to take, and then remembering that Miles would be there. And Mansell too. It was on the tip of his tongue to say ‘no, nothing’ when Chandler reached a hand into jacket pocket and drew out his car keys.
He slipped them into Kent’s hands.
“Go wait in the car, I’ll bring your things.”
Kent tried to smile his thanks, biting at his tongue to stop the sudden rush of emotion from overcoming him as he nodded his head and followed Chandler out of the bathroom.
- - -
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a/n: I'm still working on the second half of chapter three, but I promised I'd post this first half up in penance for not having the whole thing done by now! If anyone wants to keep roughly updated on where I'm at with this story, feel free to follow my 'on writing: 37stitches' tag on tumblr! I'm hoping to finish the next half over the upcoming weekend. I've got a rough 6k of words down already so I've got a good start on it anyway.