Whitechapel: series: 37stitches to keep the pain in
Joseph Chandler/Emerson Kent;
PG/13-rated, --- words;
Set post S2. Life goes on, but moving on proves to be harder than Kent imagined it would be.
} chapter four; through glass
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Kent makes some decisions he never thought he'd have to.
His eyes burned, gritty and tired, but he didn't dare close them. Barely dared to blink them, afraid that if he closed his eyes for even a second too long he'd wake up to find this was all some kind of dream.
The room was a little brighter now, the morning light streaming in through Chandler’s partly drawn curtains, highlighting his face in sleep.
Kent drank in every inch of it, raking his gaze over the dishevelled mess of his hair as it fell loosely over his forehead; the fan of his lashes against his cheeks; the too-warm flush of his skin; the way his lips parted in sleep, mouth slack and still pink with the kisses they’d shared only a few hours earlier.
Kent felt his own cheeks warm at the reminder. Even lying as he was in Chandler’s bed, wrapped in Chandler’s arms, he barely believed it.
He’d thought for sure Chandler would push him aside, would tell him that his actions- that his friendship- were not wanted. Kissing him for a second time had been deliberate. The way Chandler had been looking at him, speaking to him, touching him… Kent’s heart had been in his mouth but he’d done it anyway.
And Chandler had kissed him back.
Oh how he’d kissed him back!
Kent pressed his fingers to his lips, imagining he could still feel the tingle of Chandler’s mouth moving against his own. His eyes fluttered briefly closed at the memory, recalling the hot slide of Chandler’s lips as they dragged across his, the wet warmth of his mouth, the way it made his heart stutter and his breathing hitch.
Chandler had left him dizzy with breathlessness when he’d pulled away, pressing their foreheads together, his mouth hovering close enough to Kent’s that he could feel every gasp of breath against the wetness of his lips.
It felt terrifyingly beautiful; intimate. And Kent hadn’t realised he’d been shaking until Chandler pulled back a little more, their eyes finding each other in the half-
He hadn’t asked, not then, just ran his hands soothingly up the length of Kent’s arms before drawing him close and urging him under his covers. He didn’t think he’d ever felt more safe than he did when Chandler pulled him into his arms, and Kent went willingly; pressing himself up against the warmth of Chandler’s bare chest, his hands touching eagerly at his shoulders, his neck.
Chandler had slid one arm beneath his head, curling it around his back to cradle him close. The other he’d lifted to Kent’s face, his fingers eager as they stroked across his jaw, his forehead, through his hair, urging Kent’s head back a little so that he could seal their mouths together once more.
Kent remembered biting back a moan, his fingers tightening against Chandler’s shoulders, unable to stop the soft shudders running through his body. Part of it was the adrenaline rushing through him, the rest: a touch of fear, and relief. Excitement too. He’d felt electrified, but too full of conflicting emotions.
And when Chandler ended their kiss, all Kent wanted was to push every thought and worry down, to ignore all those feelings in favour of chasing Chandler’s mouth for one last kiss.
But he didn’t. Didn’t quite dare. Still hesitated to take what he wanted even though he knew his want was reciprocated. After everything he’d been through last night (and for what counted of this morning too), Kent was starting to feel more than a little wrung out, as if he’d used up the last of his energy just by kissing Chandler, by confessing the feelings he’d never thought could be returned.
“It’s okay,” Chandler breathed into the space between their mouths, hands stroking, soothing, curling Kent into his arms and pressing his lips to his temple.
Instinctively, Kent pressed his face against Chandler’s neck, breathing deep the scent of him and letting his weight and warmth envelope him until the shivers subsided and he was left feeling drained and empty, but strangely content too.
He’d almost been able to convince himself that this was okay, that this could work. Sleep had started creeping its way over him, his body heavy and warm as he listened to the stages of Chandler’s breathing evening out as they lay together.
And then he’d started to question everything; the worry and fear he constantly carried around inside began to crawl its way into his thoughts.
He wanted this.
He wanted this with every fibre of his being.
But how could he want anything, how could he accept anything, when he wasn’t the person he should be? When he wasn’t okay? When he wasn’t fixed.
When he may never be fixed again?
Was it fair to take so much from Chandler when he could barely give anything back? Sometimes he felt as though he just took everything Chandler offered, and kept taking. And he didn’t want to be that person. The one who couldn’t reciprocate the effort, the time. The one who was always too messed up to give and reassure and be the strong one for a change.
God. What kind of person was he?
And maybe it was only a kiss. Maybe it didn’t mean anything out with tonight. Maybe it would never be anything other than a momentary weakness on both their parts…
But if it wasn’t. If it did mean something. If it could lead to something more…
Then Kent couldn’t be the man he was. He couldn’t live this half-life, dragging himself through the days and weeks, always on high alert, always wondering when the next trigger would come along, wondering when it would all just end.
He didn’t want to be… broken.
He wanted to try. If not for himself, then for Chandler. Because neither of them deserved him like this. No matter what Chandler said, he didn’t want to be the problem he came to regret, to resent.
Kent pulled carefully away from Chandler- even though he wanted nothing more than to press himself in as far as he could for however long he could- and let his eyes drink in the sight of him.
He stayed like that, eyes burning with the itch of tiredness, as dawn became early morning, became late morning. Somewhere between the two the light began to stutter, the heavy clouds from the night before skulking back across the sky to block out the sun inch by inch. It started to rain soon after; the sound of it flicking against the windows loud in the quiet of Chandler’s flat.
Chandler shifted then and Kent tensed, dropping his gaze quickly, not wanting to be caught staring. He needn’t have worried though, for even as Chandler rolled himself over onto his back- the arm that had once wrapped tightly around him but which now lay slack across his waist slid away with the motion, coming to rest on Chandler’s own stomach- he was still asleep.
Kent felt his mouth go a little dry as he let his eyes rove over Chandler’s bare chest; smooth and firm, the light smattering of blond hair that appeared the further down his gaze drifted made his fingers twitch and his cheeks heat. He swallowed heavily, guiltily, turning his gaze back to Chandler’s face.
He bit at his lip. He looked so calm in sleep. No frown to crease his brow, no downward turn of his mouth, no care to keep him awake. He wished he could sleep that easy.
Turning his head, Kent pressing a soft kiss to the arm still splayed across his pillow before he carefully climbed out of Chandler’s bed and shuffled his way out of the room feeling heavy and despondent.
Why couldn’t he have just let himself have the moment?
Why did he always have to ruin it?
He made his way into the kitchen, navigating by the dull light stretching in from the living room and set about making himself a cup of coffee, knowing he’d need as much caffeine as he could consume if he was going to survive the rest of the day on the little to no sleep he’d managed last night.
He should probably think about getting washed and dressed, about leaving. His heart thumped a little louder at the thought of facing Chandler when he woke. Of having the conversation he knew they were going to have to have.
It could really only go one of two ways, and Kent knew that no matter how much he wanted it, he couldn’t- shouldn’t have it. Not like this.
He’s barely sat himself at the kitchen island, his mug cradled in his palms when he heard the first rustlings of movement come from Chandler’s room. He took a sip of his drink, swallowing against the bitter taste, the burn, body tensing in preparation.
“Morning,” Chandler mumbled easily, rubbing at his face as he finally came into view.
Kent had to put his coffee down at the sight of him. He’d literally just stumbled out of bed: hair rumpled, topless, pyjama bottoms hanging obscenely low upon his hips.
He swallowed convulsively; throat suddenly dry. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before, he knew that, but somehow seeing him like this- in the stark light of day- made it unbelievably real and touchable. Like he had permission to look his fill, to want.
“You been up long?” Chandler asked, oblivious to his staring as he propped himself up against the island beside him and leant in, pressing his mouth to Kent’s temple with a casualness that made his heart lurch.
When he pulled back, he picked up Kent’s coffee and took a long sip of it, mouth settling almost over the same spot Kent had been drinking from. A shiver of warmth ran through him then and he opened his mouth, sucking in a quick gasp of air before he dropped his head, needing to look away.
He curled his fingers together, tightly.
Chandler offered him a sleepy smile when he looked back; the temptation was too much, and Kent couldn’t help the soft- almost hopeful- curl of a smile he gave in return. And it felt like a moment. Like a possibility. A promise. As if they could spend every morning together like this, sharing kisses and coffee.
“Did you get any sleep?” Chandler asked, lifting one hand from the mug to thumb gently at the skin beneath his left eye.
Kent could only shrug, a non-answer. He reached for his mug and Chandler released it willingly, letting him hide himself in sip after sip until- almost finished- he put it down with a half-hearted sigh.
“I had a lot on my mind.” He offered after a time, hunching in on himself.
Chandler inclined his head towards him. “Anything you want to share?”
Kent hesitated, briefly, before nodding, his eyes downcast. “About- about last night.”
Chandler was silent a moment, before: “Which part?”
Kent felt a different kind of shiver run through him as he thought of the scene he’d made at the pub, of the nightmare he’d had as a result, of the conflicted happiness he’d felt at being wrapped in Chandler’s arms, losing himself in Chandler’s kisses.
“All of it, I guess.” He chewed at the inside of his mouth. He’d almost forgotten about Mansell’s engagement party, the magnitude of it overshadowed by his angsting over whether or not he could have a functional relationship with Chandler.
He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of his brain.
It just went to show how messed up he really was.
Though at least he wasn’t too messed up to want to drag Chandler into it with him.
He deserved so much better than someone who could barely function in the day to day. He’d tried to con himself into believing that he could get through this, that he didn’t need help or support, that swallowing back the bilious taste of fear every day was just something he had to do to function, to cope. He’d tried to convince himself that he was okay, that nobody knew, that nobody could tell. He’d told himself so many lies since the attack…
He didn’t want to lie to Chandler.
But at the same time, could he honestly open himself up to him? To expose every raw-ended nerve and fibre of his being?
He didn’t want Chandler to see him like this, to always think of him as some frail thing in need of protecting.
He wanted- no, he needed- them to be equal.
He needed to sort himself out. Properly. Before he let this go any further.
But when he looked back up at Chandler the words dried up in his mouth. It was so much easier to rationalise what he wanted to say in his head, but all he could think about when he actually looked at the other man was the taste of him, the feel of him, how desperately he’d always wanted to try with him. For him.
“I don’t know how to start.” He admitted, teeth digging into his bottom lip.
Chandler reached out, touching at his mouth and pulling his lip free. “If you’re having second thoughts about what happened between us, that’s okay, Emerson. You know that, right?”
“I’m not- I just-,” he trailed off, turning his head away. He was. But not the way Chandler probably thought. He struggled to find the words to say that he didn’t want Chandler to feel obliged, like he’d have to deal with his issues.
“I shouldn’t be putting you in this position,” he managed after a while.
“You said something similar last night.” Chandler said, straightening a little. Kent shrugged.
“What are you saying?” he asked. Kent looked at him then, at the way he’d folded his arms across his chest and he considered the possibility that he’d already somehow hurt Chandler.
“I don’t know,” he said quietly, reaching out to touch at Chandler’s arms; fingers curling around his forearms below the elbow. “I don’t know what last night meant for you-,”
“Emerson-,” he squeezed at Chandler’s arms, pressing on.
“-but it meant something to me. Meant too much to me. And I just- I don’t want to ruin this, whatever it is- whatever it could be- because of me, my issues.”
“What do you want?” Chandler asked, slowly, carefully.
Kent swallowed heavily. “I don’t want to be an obligation. I don’t want you to do this just because I want to. I- I want to be whole, for you.” He felt his cheeks flush with colour before he’d even finished and had to drop his eyes.
God. Chandler hadn’t even said how he felt about the whole thing and here he was all but professing his love for the man. He was pretty sure he never meant to say that last part out loud. He dropped his hands from Chandler’s arms and curled them around himself, uncaring of how vulnerable it made him look.
“Until then… I don’t think we should-” he didn’t finish. Just bit off the words before he could get that far. He didn’t want to lose this. He really didn’t.
There was a moment of silence between them. And it seemed to drag on and on before Chandler finally spoke, his voice careful, unreadable as he said: “If you think that’s best.”
And Kent dug his fingers into his arms, trying to pretend that the lack of protest on Chandler’s behalf didn’t hurt like hell. What on earth had he been thinking?
He hadn’t. Clearly.
He’d wanted that level of comfort from Chandler and he’d taken it without properly thinking of the consequences for both of them. Sure Chandler had kissed him, but he could only assume it had been in response to Kent’s own wants and needs.
Chandler touched at his shoulders, his hands warm as he stroked once down the lengths of his arms before he reached up and took Kent’s face in his hands, nudging his chin up and encouraging Kent to meet his eyes.
“You’re not an obligation,” he said softly, eyes flickering between Kent’s. “I think I already told you that, but in case you’ve forgotten, you never have been. You’re not an obligation or a problem or a burden or anything else you could possibly come up with. And most of all, you’re not putting me in a position I haven’t let myself get into.”
Kent felt himself begin to shake and he reached up to curl his hands around Chandler’s wrists as if for anchorage. “If you’re not ready, if you really want to stop this before it starts, that’s okay. Nothing has to change between us.” Chandler breathed out, thumbs stroking against Kent’s cheekbones. “But if you want to try, then I want to try too,” he finished in a whisper.
He leant in slowly, eyes fixed on Kent’s own, his intention clear and Kent felt the anticipation like a squeezing hand around his heart. The press of Chandler’s lips when they reached his own sent a quiver through him: his eyes fluttering closed; his mouth softening under the pressure of Chandler’s own. He felt the moan slip past his lips before he could bite it back but it served only to encourage Chandler further; his lips moving, parting, and Kent opened beneath him, breathing shakily as Chandler licked his way inside him.
Oh how he wanted this. It was only a kiss. Only a few kisses. But how could he ever dream of giving this up? Now that he’d had a taste of it? He felt selfish and spoilt but if Chandler wanted it too, if he said he wanted to- how could he say no?
Chandler’s hands moved from his face and Kent dropped his hold on his wrists, reaching to curl his arms around Chandler’s shoulders as Chandler wrapped his own around Kent’s waist, pulling him in.
They traded kisses for long minutes, slow and careful, barely pausing for breath until Kent could barely tell where one kiss ended and another began. He never wanted this to end. Never wanted to give this up.
Chandler’s hands squeezed careful encouragement, slipping from his waist to his hips, fingertips pressing at the dip of his back, just skimming the band of his pyjama bottoms and suddenly Kent froze, his mind stuttering between fight and flight as for one terrifying moment he expected those hands to keep going, to grab, to touch, to know.
“Emerson?” Chandler questioned, his breath ghosting across his cheek as he pulled back, and Kent turned away. It was all he could do not to shove Chandler back, to run and hide himself away, to keep the panic broiling just below the surface of him at bay. He wanted to speak, to let Chandler know how uncomfortable he felt but the words stuck in his throat and left him standing immobile, tense, terrified. Speechless.
Slowly, carefully, he felt Chandler’s hands move away, move up and up until they settled tentatively at his waist once more and Kent felt the tension leave him like a snapped band. He dropped his head to Chandler’s shoulder with a choked curse, and Chandler raised his arms further still to wrap them around his shoulders in a hug.
“We’ll figure this out,” he promised against his temple. “Together. If you’ll let me.”
“What if- what if I can’t-,” he pressed his face into Chandler’s neck. “What if I’ll never be me again?”
“You are you, Emerson.”
“But- but what if I can’t promise more. Than this. From me.” The words came out stammered, half-strangled, his heart constricting in his throat. He wasn’t scared at the thought of intimacy with Chandler, but the thought of him seeing his scars was enough to make his stomach churn with sickness. He didn’t know if he could ever let another person touch him like that, not even Chandler, not when every touch below his waistline made him freak out and threw him into an irrational panic.
What if he would always be like this? Broken. Damaged.
“You’re not broken,” Chandler whispered, as if he’d spoken aloud. “Maybe you’re a little more damaged than you were before it all, but you’re still just as strong and stubborn. Maybe more so than you think you are.”
Kent sucked in a deep breath. “I don’t feel strong.” He admitted. “I don’t feel like I even know how to be strong anymore.”
Chandler’s arms tightened and then loosened and Kent took that as his cue to release his own hold, with reluctance. He took a small step back but Chandler took hold of him before he could take another.
“I don’t need anything more than what you’re willing to give me.” He said, softly, seriously.
Kent looked at him, feeling raw and fragile in his grip.
“I mean it, Emerson. I don’t need anything else. If this is all we have then it’s all we’ll have. And if you decide this isn’t what you want, I’ll respect that decision too.”
God. What had he ever done to deserve a man like Chandler in his life? He swallowed past the lump in his throat. Hating that he could go from unbelievably happy to this desolate mess within seconds. And despite it all, Chandler still wanted to try?
“But what about you?” he asked. “What about what you want?”
Chandler’s smile was wry, self depreciating. “I’m not the kind of man who finds it easy to fall for someone. And I’m also not the kind of man who can- who can be with someone I haven’t fallen for.” He took a deep breath and Kent could see the effort he made to look him in the eye as he spoke.
“If we never shared anything more than this- than a kiss or a hug- I’d be okay with that, because I like you, Emerson, not what you could give me. I don’t need that, I never have. Does that- do you understand?”
Kent nodded slowly, offering Chandler a wobbly smile. “I like you too,” he said and Chandler huffed a little, the corner of his mouth twitching up.
“And, um,” he ducked his head briefly before forcing himself to look up into Chandler’s eyes. “If there’s anything you- if you can’t- I don’t need more either.”
Chandler was smiling a little more now, a flush to his cheeks Kent rarely saw but rather liked. “I never thought I’d ever have this kind of conversation with my boss,” he said then, jokingly, pressing his hands to Chandler’s chest. Because he could.
“I’m not your boss outside of work,” Chandler reminded him without another huff of amusement, and suddenly Kent knew what he had to do.
“Actually… I need to speak to you. As my boss. If- if that’s okay?” He looked up, hesitant.
Chandler inclined his head, gaze questioning. “Okay,” he agreed, before looking between them, at the place where Kent’s fingers ran reverently along his clavicle. “Do I need to be dressed for this conversation?”
Kent shook his head, mouth curling slightly. “I need to request some time off,” he said, the words pouring from his mouth before he could stop himself. “There’s nothing going on at work right now, no new cases, and I really think I should do this now- sort myself out I mean-,”
“Yes,” Chandler interrupted. “Of course yes. If that’s what you think you need, then you can take as much time as you need.”
Kent sighed with relief and Chandler offered him a quizzical frown. “Did you really think I’d say no?”
“No, it’s not- I just, I never thought I’d ask.” Never thought he’d have to ask. Never wanted to be the kind of man who had to ask.
“You’ve been running from the idea for a while now.” He agreed.
“Yeah. Yeah I guess I have.” He gave Chandler a wry sort of smile. “Denial and all that.”
Chandler tightened his grip slightly and Kent looked up at him. “Can I still see you?”
“I’m not letting you do this alone,” Chandler said, matter-of-factly, leaning in to press their foreheads together. “Anytime you want me, anytime you feel even the least bit unsafe, just call me.”
- - -
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a/n: still working on the second half of this chapter; I literally have one last scene to write before I’m done, so aiming for either Thursday or Friday posting for you guys. Since LJ makes me split the chapters and I’m over 10k total already I figured no one would complain if I gave ya’ll something to start on ;) I’ll upload the full chapter to AO3 once it’s complete. And remember, if you want to keep up-to-date with what may or may not be going on with this story, check out my [ on writing: 37stitches ] tag over on tumblr!