Things were a little tense when Kent slipped into work at just gone eight the following morning, the atmosphere a right side chillier between the entire department than it had been the day before and Kent thought longingly of the excitement Mansell had brought to the room with the news of his engagement.
Miles and Chandler were already in with Mansell rushing in not long after Kent himself, and though Kent took great pains to make as though everything was alright, to pretend that he hadn’t completely freaked out and spent the entirety of the previous day curled up beneath his duvet blocking the rest of the world out, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of being watched.
He wished he could just shrug the feeling off, to just roll his shoulders and have the too-tight sensation slide from his skin. As it was, he could feel himself getting anxious, more edgy, twitchier, as the hours dragged on. His hands shaking against the papers he was trying to read through.
It didn’t help that the only sleep he’d managed yesterday was of the half-drugged and nightmarishly feverish sort. The kind that you couldn’t quite claw your way out of. He’d taken one of the when required Diazepam tablets he’d been prescribed not long after his initial attack, hating himself for needing to but knowing that without the small white pill he’d never calm himself down enough to function.
Chandler had still been with him then. Standing in the kitchen Kent shared with four other people and watching as he’d scrabbled almost desperately through his bag for the meds. He’d tried to assure Chandler that he’d be okay getting inside under his own prowess, but after the third attempt at trying and failing to undo his seatbelt resulting in Chandler having to lean over and unclip it for him, Kent had let himself be helped out the car and up into his flat without further protest.
It was a strange feeling, having Chandler in his home. A part of him worried that it wasn’t clean enough, wasn’t tidy enough, wasn’t nice enough. But a larger part of him didn’t have the energy to do more than murmur an apology for whatever mess they were about to enter into and to reassure Chandler that he didn’t have to remove his shoes at the door.
He’d led them straight into the kitchen, pleased to see that someone had actually bothered to do the dishes, even if they’d left them piled up to dry at the side of the sink. He’d been silently thankful for the glass of water Chandler had taken it upon himself to pour him too. Letting the cool liquid wash away the bitter aftertaste coating his tongue.
“Will you be okay?” Chandler had asked him, fiddling with his car keys.
Kent nodded his reply, rubbing at his eyes. “I’ll probably just go lay down. I- these tablets, they always make me feel a bit tired.”
“Is there anyone home to look out for you?”
“I’ll be fine,” he’d said en lieu of an answer.
“I- could stay?” Chandler offered, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat.
“I- thank you,” he’d said, blinking in surprise even as he found himself smiling almost genuinely at the knowledge that Chandler would do that, for him, to look out for him. “I’ll be okay though. You should get back to work.”
Chandler eyed him for another minute before nodding, offering Kent a sympathetic smile. “Just, will you call me? If you need anything?”
“Yeah,” he’d promised, averting his eyes. “I will.”
It didn’t take him long after Chandler left to remember why he never took the Diazepam if he could help it. Yes, they calmed him. Put him into a mellow sort of state that made everything seem a little less overwhelming and immediate. Made him push all thoughts from his mind. He’d gone straight to bed, fuzzy around the edges, praying he could just sleep the whole thing off, pretend as though he’d never even gone to work that morning and that his whole sorry conversation with Miles and his subsequent freak-out had never happened.
But he wasn’t that lucky.
He never was.
And the nightmares he’d been unable to surface from kept every memory and every fear replaying through his mind like some sadistic film reel.
It was a miracle he’d even managed to drag himself into work today. The last thing he wanted to do was sleep, and yet it was all he could think about doing.
He scrubbed at his eyes, trying not to dig his fingers too forcefully into the already tender flesh.
“Kent, can you look over this report?” The sound of Chandler’s voice startled him into looking up and meeting his eyes for a split second before he remembered himself and dropped his gaze.
He could all but feel the frown Chandler directed towards him.
Worse than that, perhaps, was that he could feel Miles’ eyes on the pair of them. Every time Chandler had tried to speak to him today, all of it legitimately work related, all Kent had been able to focus on was the skin-crawling sensation of being watched and he couldn’t help but feel more than a little cowed under the scrutiny.
“There seems to be some information missing from the witness statements,” Chandler held out the file. “I’ve notarized sections c through e.”
He nodded absently at Chandler, eyes sliding up and away as he reached out and took the file off of him with timid hands, careful not to let their fingers brush. Careful not to do or show anything that could be used against them.
“I’ll sort it now, sir,” he said, offering Chandler a tight-lipped smile.
Chandler didn’t answer, and he didn’t move away. Kent looked up wondering if there was something else of if Chandler was just watching him with that concerned disappointment that had been his default expression every time Kent avoided looking directly at him today. But Chandler wasn’t looking at him anymore, he was… he was staring rather intently at Miles who was staring just as purposefully back.
“A word, Miles.” Chandler said then, voice clipped as he turned on his heel.
Kent pushed swiftly to his feet at Chandler’s tone. The sound of his chair scraping against the floor loud in the sudden silence echoing around the room. He wanted to say something. Anything. But the words wouldn’t come and he watched in trepidation as Miles marched his way into Chandler’s office and closed the door with more forcefulness than was strictly necessary.
He watched with stomach curling dread as the two men turned on each other a moment later, their voices an angry crescendo though Kent couldn’t make out the words.
He didn’t need to hear them to know what they were shouting about. Or whom.
“I dunno what’s going on,” Mansell said, startling Kent as he sidled up beside him, his shoulder nudging against Kent’s, “but they’ve been at each others throats since yesterday. And I’m not daft enough to think it doesn’t have something to do with you.”
Kent shifted, awkward, nervous. He bit at the inside of his mouth. Trying to stop the flush from tinting at his cheeks. He knew it was because of him and he flinched inwardly at the knowledge that he was the cause of this argument between his Sergeant and his DI.
Mansell snorted quietly, eying his blush. “You finally do something about that crush of yours?”
Kent’s head whipped round so fast he heard his neck crick. They both winced. “What-?” he shook his head, almost speechless. “No! Why would you think-?”
Mansell frowned, bemused, eyes flickering over his face. “Is that what this is about?”
Kent shook his head again, vehemently. “There’s nothing going on.”
“Okay,” Mansell agreed, hands up. “But if there was something going on-,” he waggled his eyebrows for emphasis and Kent felt his blush deepen “-what’s the problem? You guys have been circling each other for months, frankly it was bound to happen sooner or later.”
Kent was pretty sure he was gaping at Mansell, his words almost drowned out by the rushing of blood to his head.
“Seriously, mate,” he said, clapping a hand to his shoulder. “It’s okay. You go well together.”
Kent closed his mouth with a snap. That certainly put things into a different sort of perspective. He slanted his gaze back towards Chandler’s office, trying to ignore the burn in his cheeks.
It looked as though things had calmed down enough that they weren’t trying to shout over one another, but Kent could see from their flushed faces and angry gestures that whatever specifics they were discussing were far from over.
He frowned, biting at his bottom lip. He’d never seen Chandler like this before. So wound up. So incensed. So willing to stand against his own DS when it came to Kent. He bit his lip a little harder, wondering if he should go in and try to- to what? Diffuse the situation? If anything adding him to the mix was sure to make things worse. And if Kent was truthful, he’d rather not get between them. Not now. Not like this.
He wrapped his arms around his waist, hugging himself as they watched Chandler and Miles through the glass.
“You-,” Kent swallowed heavily, mouth dry. “You wouldn’t be worried about… about favouritism?”
Mansell outright laughed. “Between the pair of you, you’re too bloody noble to use it to your advantage.”
“Besides,” he added, slinging his arm around his shoulders. Kent tensed but didn’t immediately shrug him off. “So long as you keep your doe eyes to yourselves, I don’t see a problem with it. I’ve got my own girl for that.”
That startled a laugh out of Kent and Mansell grinned widely at him, ruffling almost affectionately at his hair.
“Oh god,” he breathed, covering his face. He didn’t know which misconception to address first: the fact that Mansell already seemed to think they were together, or that they were making ‘doe’ eyes at one another from across the room.
Before he could come to a decision however, the door to Chandler’s office clanged open and Kent looked up from his hands in surprise to find both men peering worriedly at him from the doorway.
Chandler looked desperately like he wanted to ask if Kent was okay but at the same time didn’t want to put him in that position in front of the others. Kent felt his heart stutter and couldn’t help another startled laugh when Mansell leaned in a little to whisper ‘doe eyes!’ against the shell of his ear.
“Alright, guv? Sir?” Mansell asked, arm still slung casually over his shoulders. He was grinning widely, probably at the fact he’d make Kent laugh, twice, and Kent felt his own face stretching to match. Unable to help himself.
He looked back towards Chandler and Miles, his smile unfaltering even as he found Chandler staring at him with an expression he couldn’t quite read, one of those open-mouthed almost-smiles on his face. Kent felt his heart pick up its pace, the heat in his face unrelenting as he ducked his head before he could get caught staring.
He didn’t miss the exasperated look on Miles’ face though as he stepped out of Chandler’s office.
“Alright you two, enough shenanigans. Back to work!” He commanded, gruffly and Mansell slipped his arm from Kent’s shoulders, sauntering his way back to his desk with his grin intact.
Kent carefully sat himself down, watching as Miles turned to shoot Chandler a look. Chandler shrugged in reply, mouth quirking and Miles shook his head, turning to follow Chandler back into his office- but not before Kent caught the twitch of a smile on Miles’ own mouth.
Kent felt his breath catch. Wondering if maybe- just maybe- things would be okay. Between all of them. He looked over at Mansell, biting back another smile as the other man gave him two thumbs up and an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows.
- - -
The pub Mansell was holding his engagement party in was packed full by the time Kent and Chandler arrived. It was a Friday evening almost a fortnight after Mansell had made his announcement and Kent wondered if the engagement had been a long time coming for them to have planned the party so soon after the proposal, or whether it were some kind of shotgun wedding.
Not that he was one to judge. Especially not in the face of Mansell’s obvious happiness. He wished he knew more about Mansell to actually ask, he’d been so wrapped up in his own head for months now he’d barely noticed how much he’d been missing.
Mansell had taken the day off and Chandler had sent Miles home early to get ready with Judy. He’d offered for Kent to do the same, but he’d declined. He wasn’t planning on staying for more than one drink himself and if Chandler was willing to go straight from work then Kent had no qualms about doing the same himself.
It did feel a little strange going to a party of this sort in a suit and tie getup, but despite the pair of them looking out of place in a room filled with denim jeans and button down shirts, Kent didn’t move to so much as loosen his tie as they pushed their way through the throngs of people, searching for a familiar face or two.
It was Mansell himself who found them, catching the pair of them unawares as he came up from behind, throwing his arms around both their shoulders as he squeezed between them.
“Kent! Sir! Good of you to come!” he half-shouted. He was holding a bottle of beer in one hand, the contents mostly gone and Kent absently wondered just how many of them he’d already consumed. His hair was dishevelled and his cheeks were flush.
He began to steer them around the room, leading them to a table where Miles and his wife were already seated along with a few other faces he didn’t immediately recognise.
“Found them, Serg!” Mansell called out, happily and Miles looked up with a wave.
“Grab some seats, some drinks, I’ll bring Eva over for introductions in a bit, she’s tied up at the moment with the girls- I think there’s about to be a fight over who gets to be the Maid of Honour!”
He laughed and before either of them could say anything, he’d disappeared back into the throng of bodies.
Kent shot Chandler a bemused look, and he pulled a face, leaning in to admit: “I didn’t even know he was seeing anyone before he told us about the engagement.”
“Oh thank god,” Kent blurted, leaning in perhaps a little more than he should have to speak over the noise around them. “I thought it was just me!”
He felt Chandler’s laugh more than he heard it, ghosting across his ear. He bit at his lip, trying to contain his smile when Chandler moved away again.
He caught Miles watching them but was saved from having to react when a blond woman arrived at the table with two pint glasses and a white wine, successfully diverting his attention.
“Oi!” Miles called out as one of the pints was slipped in front of him.
The woman laughed, handing the wine over to Miles’ wife Judy and keeping the second pint to herself.
“I thought I told you not to get me anything?” Miles said with a put-upon scowl. The woman just laughed, waving him away.
Chandler turned back to him. “Would you like a drink?” he asked, leaning in again.
“Yeah go on,” he said, scratching at the back of his neck. “Whatever’s on tap is fine.”
Kent sat himself at the table, watching as Chandler pushed his way through the crowd towards the bar. When he turned his attention back to the table it was to find the woman watching him with a grin.
“Um, hello,” he said, smiling a little shyly and she laughed.
“Ray you didn’t tell me he was this adorable!” The woman said, smacking lightly at Miles’ arm.
Miles rolled his eyes. “Kent, this is DC Megan Riley, Riley, DC Emerson Kent. And he’s not adorable.”
Kent flushed scarlet, staring at Miles with something akin to horror and the woman- Riley- laughed harder.
“No, no he’s definitely adorable!” She reached across the table to shake his hand, her grin lessening a fraction. “Call me Meg. It’s good to meet you, Emerson,” she said honestly and Kent smiled a little.
“You too,” he replied politely, cheeks still hot.
Chandler appeared beside him with a pint for Kent and a glass of what looked to be orange juice for himself.
“You okay?” He asked as he sat, eyes raking over Kent’s reddened face and Kent nodded, still smiling a little bemusedly.
“He’s fine,” Miles answered for him. “He’s just met Riley,” he said as if it explained everything. Chandler’s mouth twitched and Kent supposed that it did.
“Is that all you’re having?” Miles said then, eyeing Chandler’s drink.
“What?” Chandler asked.
“This is a party,” Miles said, eyes narrowing.
Chandler looked confused. “And?”
“There’d better at least be a fifth of vodka in that.” Judy elbowed Miles and Kent hid his laugh in his pint glass.
Chandler straightened. “I’m driving.”
“Of course you are.” He said, but he was smiling, rubbing at his side.
Chandler relaxed, saluting Miles with his juice before taking a sip.
Kent laughed aloud then and thought that perhaps the night would be an alright one after all.
Though nothing else had been said to him in the weeks preceding tonight, and Chandler and Miles had seemed to come to some kind of agreement at least in so far as their behaviour at work was concerned, Kent could admit that he’d been more than a little nervous about how this night could have gone.
In truth he’d imagined Chandler, Miles and himself sitting awkwardly at a table in the corner of the room with Chandler and Miles trading glares across the table. It was a relief to be wrong. Chandler and Miles were interacting as they always did and even though he was only drinking orange juice, a few hours into the night saw Chandler flushed and smiling, his suit jacket hanging over the back of his chair as he laughed easily at something Judy was saying.
As for Kent, he was feeling rather pleasantly buzzed. He’d finished his first pint rather quickly, but before he’d had the chance to put the empty glass back on the table another one was already replacing it.
Riley winked at him and he grinned his thanks.
After that the pints just kept on appearing and before too long he was feeling flushed and happy in that way that only alcohol can make you feel.
It had been a while since he’d last drunk this much. He’d avoided going out completely since his attack, and seeing as he wasn’t much of an in-the-house drinker, he’d willingly abstained in pursuit of hermiting himself away from the rest of the world.
It was… nice. The conversation was good, the company even better than expected. And it came almost as a surprise to Kent to find that he was actually having a good time.
He grinned a little into his beer, watching as Riley and Judy ganged up on Miles about something he hadn’t quite caught the beginning of, and enjoying the warm press of Chandler against his side as he did so.
“You’ll be lucky!” Miles exclaimed, laughing and pushing to his feet. “And before you say anything else, I think we’re going to need a refill all around.”
“I’ll grab this round, Serg,” Kent said, pushing to his feet. He hadn’t paid for a drink all night and figured it was about his turn now.
Miles tried to wave him off but Kent slipped past Chandler and with a grin to Miles made his way towards the bar.
Miles appeared at his elbow a minute later.
“You look like you’re having fun.” He said, flagging the barman for him.
“Yeah, I guess.” He said, turning to recite their list of drinks to the barman who looked unimpressively bored.
“I can’t remember the last time you looked this happy.” Miles said a moment later. Kent swallowed, shrugged.
“Haven’t had much to be happy about,” he admitted then bit at his tongue. He wasn’t usually a maudlin drunk. Nor an honest one. He tried to smile.
Miles clapped at his shoulder. “I know I haven’t made things easy for you recently,” he said and Kent felt himself tensing. Miles must have felt it too because he squeezed almost gently at his shoulder.
“I’m just trying to look out for you. I don’t want to see you hurt. Either of you.” He said pointedly. “But the pair of you are just too pig-headed to see what everyone else will.”
“There’s nothing going on, Serg.” Kent tried but Miles simply shook his head with a sigh, squeezing one last time at his shoulder. Kent got the distinct impression that he didn’t believe him at all.
He wondered if he should say something else. Something more. When Riley pushed her way between them with a bright grin, interrupting.
“You owe me a dance,” she said loudly, taking hold of Kent’s arm.
“I- what?” He gulped, eyes flickering over her shoulder to the heavy press of bodies gyrating to something that was all thumping beat and auto-tuning.
“Uh, no I don’t.” He shook his head, trying to lift his arms in an attempt to ward her off but Riley just grinned a little more, fingers tightening their grip.
“You can’t deny the lady who’s been buying your drinks for most of the night,” Miles chimed in and Kent gaped at him.
“These, uh, drinks, I was gonna-,” but Miles shook his head, slipping his wallet out of his pocket.
“Got you covered. Go dance.”
“But-,” he didn’t get to finish as Riley tugged on his arm, pulling him away from the bar with worrying ease. He looked over towards their table, throwing Chandler a desperate look when he saw him watching, but Chandler just smiled at him, all wide mouthed and creased at the eye. He looked like he was laughing, but Kent couldn’t hear it over the sound of the music. He found himself staring, a dazed sort of smile spreading across his own face and he forgot for a moment to resist the tug of Riley’s hand.
It wasn’t until he was on the dance floor, Chandler blocked by the sudden crush of bodies that Kent even realised he’d let himself go without a fight. He turned an exaggerated glare on Riley but she just laughed at him, leaning in to pat at his cheek and shout something that sounded disturbingly like ‘bambi’ but he couldn’t be sure.
He let Riley manhandle him, grab his arms and puppeteer him into some pretty awkward dance moves, but Kent found he couldn’t complain as nearly everything he did sent her into giggles and left him smiling, fudging the moves she was showing him just to keep her laughing.
It occurred to him, almost as an afterthought that he was actually enjoying himself. It had been so long since he let loose like this that the feeling was almost entirely foreign to him.
He looked up, trying to catch a glimpse of their table through the throng of bodies and felt a tingle of warmth run through him as he found Chandler looking their way.
“You should ask him to dance!” Riley shouted, leaning into his space. Kent didn’t catch everything the first time, but by the third repetition he was backing away, hands up and laughing with embarrassment.
He scrubbed a hand through his hair, grinning even as he shook his head in answer.
Riley grinned at him, winking. “I could ask him to dance for you!” she offered.
Kent nearly choked on his tongue, feeling suddenly hot and awkward. “No!” he shouted back, praying she couldn’t make out just how high-pitched his voice had gone.
He flicked a nervous look back at Chandler, smiling when Chandler grinned back at him. He turned back to Riley but she wasn’t dancing with him anymore. Some guy had slipped into the space beside her and was leaning in to talk into her ear. She was laughing, leaning in to do the same and Kent figured now was as good a time as any to get off the dance floor.
Just as he was pushing his way through however the music changed and there was a sudden surge of bodies all screaming and jumping, it was hot and sweaty and Kent felt the press all around him. It was constricting, overwhelming. He tried to fight his way out, breath coming in short, sharp gasps as hands reached out as if to pull him back in.
He tried to find Riley but he’d lost her somewhere between trying to leave and becoming sandwiched between too many bodies. He could feel himself starting to panic and tried to quash the sensation. It was just a dance floor. Nothing too sinister. Just a bunch of people trying to have a good time. The hands touching at his arms and ruffling at his hair and stroking his back- they didn’t mean anything. They weren’t doing anything. It was okay. He was okay. He just had to get out.
He just had to-
Someone reached out and grabbed his arse. The fingers squeezing almost possessively.
And Kent freaked out.
Sound became a loud ringing against his ears, his mind a fog of panic and flight as he finally managed to shove his way out, ignoring the offended calls that followed him out.
Someone grabbed his shoulder then and he twisted with a yell, hands up and ready to shove.
It was Chandler.
He was trying to say something but Kent couldn’t hear him. Someone got to close and he flinched bodily as they bumped their way into Chandler, drink spilling in the space between them.
Chandler ignored it, taking Kent by the arm and leading him from the pub. His legs were leaden but he followed, because even in his distress he recognised Chandler as someone he could trust, as someone who was safe.
He stumbled his way out the pub, pulling away from Chandler as he pushed his back up against the wall outside. The ringing in his ears slowly gave way to a loud rasping sound and it took Kent too long to realise the sound was coming from him as he tried to suck in deep lungfulls of air.
Oh god. Oh god.
“Breathe, Emerson!” Chandler was right in front of him, hands hovering but not touching, his mouth moving but the words came at him distorted and hard to make out.
He couldn’t breathe.
His chest hurt. His heart a panicked pounding. His head began to swim and suddenly the hands were back. He tried to struggle and a shock of adrenaline rushed through him.
“Emerson!” The shout was loud. Suddenly all he could hear. “Emerson, calm down!”
He froze, breathing too quick as he saw it was Chandler in front of him.
He slumped then, back still against the wall and Chandler’s hands fell away from him. He dropped his head into his hands, ignoring for the moment his very public and very humiliating panic attack as he tried to calm himself down.
It took too long.
By the time he could bear to look up again, it had turned fully dark. The storm clouds hanging over London bringing an early night with them. He scrubbed his hands through his hair, his scalp tender and sore and he wondered how long he’d already been doing that for.
He didn’t have the energy to summon up more than a cursory embarrassment however when he finally dared to look at Chandler. He looked away just as quickly, seeing the worried pallor of his skin, a waxy grey made worse under the orange glow of the streetlight.
A few smokers avoided his eyes as they huddled on the other side of the pub, their previously raucous laughter replaced with hushed whispers.
Kent looked back to Chandler.
“I’m fine,” he breathed before Chandler could ask.
“You’re far from fine,” Chandler returned and Kent flinched. Too true.
The silence stretched. His skin prickling as they just stood there, half-watching one another.
“Emerson-,” Chandler sighed and Kent let out a shaky laugh.
“Can’t even function at a fucken party,” he said derisively, pushing his fingers to his eyes.
“Emerson,” Chandler called his name again, closer now. And Kent looked up to find him standing directly in front of him. He waited until Kent was looking before he reached out, slipping his hand around the back of Kent’s neck and exerting enough pressure for Kent to realise his intentions.
He let himself be reeled into Chandler’s arms without protest. Shame and humiliation finally washing over him as he buried himself in Chandler’s scent.
The hug didn’t last long though, with Kent pulling away after only a few minutes to stand awkwardly hunched in on himself under Chandler’s scrutiny.
“What happened?” Chandler asked.
“Nothing,” came his instinctive reply before he shook his head. “Just. Too many people-,” touching, groping “-I… I just couldn’t-,” let them touch me. Not there. Oh god. Never there.
He felt the panic bubbling just below the surface of his skin and tried to bite it back down, blood welling in his mouth.
“I’ll take you home,” Chandler said a second later.
Kent shook his head. “I’ll get a taxi. You should go back. Enjoy the rest of it.”
“I’ll drive you,” Chandler said and Kent looked at him, at the worried determination painted across his face.
“I’m done anyway,” Chandler added.
And Kent nodded, giving in. Always. “Yeah alright. Thanks.”
Chandler hesitated only a moment longer before leaving to grab their jackets and say the goodbyes for the pair of them, leaving Kent to lean back up against the wall, head tilted back to stare unseeingly up at the sky. He’d been having a pretty good time this evening as well. He just wished he wasn’t so messed up in the head that he’d managed to ruin it not just for himself but for Chandler too.
He wanted to trust that Chandler really was ready to leave, but Kent hadn’t seen him this open and happy in a long time. Probably the last time-
He shuddered, skin crawling. The last time had been during the Kray investigation when the only way Chandler had been able to stay in control was by drinking until the screams of his demons became nothing more than buzzing whispers easily ignored.
Kent wished his demons could so easily be muted. He could almost feel that hand again, grabbing at him as if they had a right, a claim. Touching him, his scars.
He shuddered. Cold. Sick. Was he to be forever haunted by the Kray’s? Would he never get away from the memory of what they did to him?
[ 1 / 2 / 3 ]