The thing in Kent's flat won't take no for an answer.
He's been living there for six months now, since his previous landlady decided not to renew his contract so her daughter could move in for uni. Kent didn't blame her - he'd moved three times in three years before that, after all, and he was still mostly living out of the boxes from his last move so it wasn't even a huge inconvenience. He just started actively looking for a new place instead of idly browsing Rightmove on his phone when work was slow, viewed twenty flats in six days like some kind of thing possessed, and moved into the place a week later. All it took was three hours, two trips in his car and a man with a van and that was it, job done.
Of course, no one could understand why he'd chosen that particular place, not even when he told them how much (or how little, as the case actually was) he was paying for rent. Miles said he'd have to pay him to live there and Mansell said he'd pay him so he didn't have to; Riley tried to look sympathetic when she said if he'd been that desperate, he could've had their spare room for a couple of months while he sorted something out.
Then Chandler leaned over Kent's shoulder to peer at the photos he had up on his screen, close enough that he could feel how warm he was underneath his suit, close enough that he could smell the Earl Grey he'd been drinking and the alcohol hand gel clinging to his skin. Kent clenched his jaw as he felt his cheeks turn hot. Chandler was, as usual, oblivious; unfortunately, Kent doubted anyone else in the room was. The way they all looked at him said he wasn't wrong.
"Oh, come on," Chandler said. "I was expecting a squat full of needles the way you were all carrying on about it." He straightened up, smoothed wrinkles from his waistcoat that almost didn't exist and looked down at Kent. "It's really not that bad," he said. "I think you've got quite a good deal."
The rest of the team looked at him like he'd gone completely off his rocker as he wandered back into his office and frankly, so did Kent. It wasn't a nice place and he knew it. It was an awful place. It was every bit as bad as all the others said it was, so Kent wasn't sure if the DI had lost it or if he'd been reading a book on effective ways to support his staff. Or maybe he was mocking him. He closed the browser and killed the photos. He supposed mockery was always possible, even if it didn't seem like Chandler's strong suit.
Six days later, Kent's car died in the car park outside the station when they'd all finally decided to call it a night. He was kicking the tyres like a proper pillock when Miles offered him a lift, but he said he's supposed he'd best stay and wait for the RAC so Miles got in his car and left him there - there were worse places to be left alone than a station car park, after all. The mechanics were just giving up and towing the heap of crap he called a car to the nearest Kwik Fit when Chandler emerged.
"Can I give you a lift?" Chandler asked, beeping his car's central locking from the keyring. Kent's central locking had given up the ghost months ago, but that wasn't exactly what he was thinking about when he said yes. He tried to be casual about it, but he knows he jumped at the chance. Chandler, as usual, remained oblivious.
Six nights later, Kent's car still wasn't fixed and Chandler had taken to driving him home rather than leaving him at the mercy of late-night public transport. Chandler talked about the case that they were working on, almost like Kent wasn't even there, but he really didn't mind that; he liked listening to him talk, and he watched him out of the corner of his eye. When they passed a streetlamp or another car with its headlights on full beam he could see the flush in Chandler's cheeks from the too-hot heater neither of them had been able to figure out how to turn down. He liked to pretend he'd made him look like that, not the fact they'd both been defeated by modern technology.
He was watching him that night and definitely not the road ahead so he didn't actually see whatever it was that darted out in front of them at the end of his street, forcing Chandler to step on the brake and make an emergency stop. All he saw was a shape from the corner of his eye and Chandler looking rattled with his hands white-knuckled at the steering wheel.
"What was that?" Kent asked. "A big dog? A kid in a hoodie?" In that part of town, you really never knew what you might come across.
Chandler took a deep, unsteady breath. "I don't know," he replied, and looked at him just as unsteadily in the faint light from the rubbish orange streetlamp outside. If it hadn't been for the heat, Kent thinks all the colour would have drained right out of his face. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"Honestly, you look worse than I feel," Kent said, then frowned at himself because that sounded totally wrong. "Look, why don't you park up and come inside and I'll get you a tea." He paused. He rubbed his hands on his suited thighs. "Or something stronger, maybe? You look like you've seen a ghost."
He didn't expect Chandler to take him up on the offer, but he did. He tried to restart the stalled Audi as someone beeped their horn behind them but his hands were shaking, so Kent offered to park the car for him; apparently Chandler was off-kilter enough that he didn't even make Kent douse himself in hand gel first before getting in behind the wheel, he just stood on the pavement, frowning, his arms wrapped around himself against the cold or maybe something else, while Kent pulled into the nearest available parking space.
Then they walked down the road to Kent's flat. They climbed the stairs, and Kent opened up the door.
Inside, the place looked innocent enough, neat and clean and tidy, everything in its place with just the faintest smell of antiseptic. Of course, that wasn't how Kent had left it, and half an hour later, when he'd walked Chandler back downstairs after a big cup of hot tea and a sit down on the living room sofa, it was all the way it had been before again. The paint was peeling and water-stained in almost every top corner. The cold tap in the bath was dripping again just like it always was, incessant, and you could hear it everywhere you went. The only thing that was the same at all was the lingering smell of antiseptic - at least he thinks that's what it is.
Kent didn't understand, and he thinks that should probably have bothered him more than it did but he sat down on the sofa in the exact spot where Chandler had just been instead. When he unbuckled his belt and unzipped his trousers, when he closed his eyes and stroked himself slowly, base to tip, pinching his foreskin over the head till it almost hurt but that was apparently a thing he liked, he wasn't thinking about the thing that had just happened with the flat. He was thinking about DI Chandler. He knows by then the thing in his flat already had him.
"I think someone died here," Chandler said, six nights later when he came in again. "It looks different in the photographs, but I think it's the same place. Do you think that's why your rent's quite low?"
"Maybe," Kent replied. He didn't tell him fourteen people had died there since the building had gone up at some point in the 1890s and that was just the ones whose names had made it into the papers. He didn't tell him the first one was Georgie, a nineteen-year-old brickie from Stoke who'd hanged himself from the kitchen light fitting, or the second was Sophie, a twenty-year-old secretary from Leeds who'd slit her wrists with a razor in the bath. He knew. By then, he'd seen them. He'd talked to them. They told him to leave but he didn't feel particularly inclined to.
"I asked Buchan to have a look through the archive," Chandler told him, six nights later, spreading the files out over Kent's coffee table. "He's found seven deaths. If his research comes up with many more, I think he might decide to write another book."
Kent leafed through the files, but he already knew the names and the faces. Jack the chef who ate glass mixed into his treacle sponge. Francis the hospital orderly who overdosed on stolen morphine. Jeremy the aristocratic gay runaway who'd blown half his head off with his father's shotgun - he'd borrowed it when he'd left the family estate and kept it in a suitcase on his way up on the train from Somerset. Sometimes, Kent could even see the blood still on the walls.
The photos showed Chandler what they'd looked like but Kent knew how they'd sounded, too, at least after they'd died. Jeremy's voice sounded wet and Georgie's was hoarse. He supposed that made sense.
"He's found another three, you know," Chandler told him, six nights later, as he poured another drink. "It's fascinating, really."
"Mansell says I should move out. He says I must be out of my mind living here. He says it's creepy."
"Well, Mansell says a lot of things," Chandler said, not too much the worse for wear for drink to abandon his usual diplomacy. "Not all of them make a great deal of sense, I rather think you know that."
Chandler drank the whiskey from the glass and Kent watched him do it. He watched him tilt back his head just a fraction, watched his throat work and his Adam's apple bob, and he thought about putting his hands on him. He thought about putting his hands around Chandler's neck and pressing his mouth to the pulse under his chin. He reached for his own drink instead, but he knew the thing in his flat wouldn't take no for an answer. At least not for long.
He sent the DI home in a taxi and drove his car to work for him the next day. He didn't tell him he had no idea where the whiskey had come from, and he supposes it would've been a lie if he had; he has an idea, it's just never been confirmed.
Six nights later, Chandler came up with more photos that Buchan had managed to dig up, printouts of newspaper articles taken from library microfiche, more names and dates but Kent was tired and frustrated and Chandler just kept talking. He hadn't even asked him to come up to the flat, he thought, though by then he supposes it was almost like a standing invitation, but the DI was so close behind him and he just kept talking, and the thing in his flat told him what to do.
The door wasn't even closed when he turned around and kissed him. He leaned up and pressed his mouth to Chandler's, a bit too hard, taking them both by surprise. All the papers and photos and files spilled out of Chandler's hands onto the floor. It stopped him talking, at least.
"I'm sorry, guv," Kent said when he stood back again, and crouched to sweep all the papers together. He looked up at him, almost reluctantly because what the hell had he just done, and Chandler's cheeks were flushed and his eyes were wide with surprise.
"I think you'd better call me Joe," Chandler said. "And I think I'd best leave." So he did just that. He left the door open when he went. He left the papers on the floor. Kent felt a lot like he'd fucked things up, but the thing in his flat didn't think so.
"Should I come up?" Chandler asked, the next night, sitting in the car once the engine was off. Kent had been wondering all day if he'd mention what had happened, pull him into his office and have a conversation about inappropriate behaviour and the fact he just didn't think of him like that, but he hadn't said a word. He'd ignored him almost completely and that was almost worse. Honestly, he'd half expected him to leave without him. He'd been surprised to find him waiting there.
"You mean, am I going to kiss you again?" Kent said. Chandler didn't answer but the look on his face was clear that that was exactly what he meant. So Kent considered that question - was he going to kiss him again? He honestly couldn't say he wasn't, not considering what the thing in his flat sometimes told him to do.
"I think it's probably safer if we say good night here," he replied. He smiled tightly. "Good night, guv."
He left the car. The closed the door behind him with a bit of a bang and he walked away, his hands shoved into his pockets because he'd got no idea where his gloves had got to - maybe one of the ghosts in his flat had seen them like they'd managed to find his best tie the other day, so maybe he'd ask when he got in. But the flat was different when he opened the door, different like it was when Chandler was there and not fucked up and dingy like it was for him. He'd tried to tell himself he'd lived in worse places but he really hadn't. After all, most of them hadn't seen quite so many murders or suicides. Most of them hadn't come with a variety pack of restless undead.
He'd only just closed the door when there was a knock at it and he almost didn't open it again except he knew he had to. He knew who it had to be so he probably shouldn't have done it, but he knew who it had to be so he couldn't not.
"I've been thinking," Chandler said, standing there in the doorway.
"That sort of thing can be dangerous, guv," Kent replied, and Chandler smiled good-naturedly as he came inside. He pushed the door closed behind him until the latch clicked into place. His cheeks were flushed like he'd run up from the car or like something else, like he didn't know how to continue, so he didn't. Chandler took a step forward and he kissed him instead.
To say Kent was surprised would've been an understatement to say the least. He hadn't expected it - every ounce of good sense in him told him Chandler couldn't be interested in him the way Kent was in him. But he was kissing him, his hands at Kent's upper arms like he didn't know what else to do with them, his mouth pressed to his. It was sudden but not hard, not like Kent's rubbish attempt the night before, sort of hesitant at first but then Kent leaned up into it because okay, it was a terrible idea, but why not?
He got one hand up to the back of Chandler's neck and he kissed him back, softly, but then suddenly it wasn't soft anymore because Chandler had his fingers in Kent's hair and Kent's hand balled into a fist at the small of Chandler's back around a handful of his suit jacket. It wasn't soft anymore, it was hard and deep and breathless and Kent's pulse raced and oh God, oh God, he could feel Chandler's cock half-hard against his hip through his trousers.
He slipped one hand down over Chandler's chest, pressed it over the front of his pristine trousers and Chandler made a sound against his mouth, like he was surprised but maybe didn't object as much as either of them had expected. So Kent pulled back, his cheeks hot and his hands almost shaking; he pushed Chandler back against the door by his shoulders and then he unbuckled Chandler's belt. He unzipped his trousers, hooked his fingers into the waist and pulled down, and he went down, and oh God, it was a spectacularly bad idea, but he knelt there on the floor behind his flat's front door and he ran his hands over the bulge of Chandler's cock over his low-slung black briefs.
He traced the outline of him as he watched him stiffen up harder. He teased his balls with his fingertips and heard Chandler take a deep, unsteady breath. He heard Chandler's head drop back against the door, felt him shift, heard his breath hitch as he pressed his palm flat over him, as he curled his fingers just a little and ran them down the length of him. The fabric of his briefs was pretty tight, the sort of thing Kent thought you'd see more on an underwear model than a Detective Inspector, and it held him in place quite well; that made it easier for Kent when he leaned in, no idea what the hell he was doing, and nuzzled at him with his mouth.
He'd meant to pull down Chandler's underwear and suck him, and maybe Chandler would even have let him do that but honestly, there was a fifty-fifty chance it would have made him run for the hills or at least his own flat. Maybe it was better that he didn't put his mouth on him, at least not directly - he mouthed at him, one hand flat over Chandler's stomach to hold him to the door and the other holding the fabric taut by the waistband. He let his tongue come out against the head of Chandler's cock, against the fabric, just for a moment before he moved down again, letting his teeth scrape against him just lightly because he knew the fabric was in the way.
Chandler's fingers went tight in Kent's hair and Kent looked up, just for a moment, just long enough to see how flushed Chandler's face was and how he was looking down at him like he'd never seen anything like it in his life before - Kent wondered if maybe he hadn't. Then he ducked back in, nuzzled against him with his cheek, his nose, his mouth; he found the head of his cock again and traced the ridge below it with the tip of his tongue, pressed his mouth over it and sucked, wet the fabric through with his mouth and sucked there harder, pressing against the rest of him with the palm of his hand.
Chandler's hips shifted. Chandler hissed in a breath. Then he came with a strangled sort of sound between pleasure and surprise, still very much in his underwear, against the fabric under Kent's tongue. He could taste him and oh God, he was so hard himself, and when he sat back on his heels and looked up, Chandler looked like he didn't know whether to be shocked or ecstatic or horrified.
"I think I'd better go home and change," he said, his voice strained, and Kent just turned and sat back against the wall and watched Chandler pull up his trousers. He watched him wince as he zipped himself back up.
Chandler opened the door. "I'll, erm," he said, frowning and smiling and shaking his head all at the same time. "I'll see you in the morning, Kent." And then he left, quickly, not quite at the pace to be fleeing the scene but cutting very close to it.
Kent just sat there, watching as the flat changed all around him. Then he unbuckled his belt and he closed his eyes and he touched himself, with the taste of Chandler's come still bright in his mouth, with the feel of his hand still in his hair.
"I think that's twelve now," Buchan said, the next day, spreading his latest set of papers all over Kent's desk. Kent nodded, smiling politely; Buchan was a lot more enthusiastic about the history of Kent's flat than Kent was himself, apparently, but maybe that was because he was living with that history.
"I found another last night," Buchan told him, three days after that. Kent was on his way back to the office with a coffee and almost walked straight into him. He nodded politely and continued to his desk; frankly, he was a lot more interested in the fact that Chandler had gone back to making work-related chit-chat as he drove him home after work and hadn't even looked like he might come in. The only reason he was still helping was the repairs on the car would cost almost as much as getting a new one and he didn't have that kind of cash on hand - apparently the guvnor felt sorry for him.
"Fourteen!" Buchan set the file down on Kent's desk four days after that like he'd just discovered the meaning of life and not a hundred-year-old murder-suicide. Kent told him he'd have a look later, he was a bit tied up with the case, and Buchan wandered off again but Mansell had a look through; he'd started calling Kent's flat Amityville, which just grated on Kent's nerves but that was all Mansell ever did. Then Chandler asked if he could borrow it and wandered back into his office with the file.
That night, after work, Chandler followed him up to the flat. They drank tea on the sofa in a semi-awkward silence while Chandler went through all the files on the deaths again, though it looked a lot like he was going through the motions and not really looking at them at all. Then he closed the top one, put his cup down on the table and cleared his throat, one hand still spread out on the top of the folder.
"I've been thinking," he said, still looking at the folder.
"Oh?" Kent replied. This time, he didn't have the energy to try to be funny. He was all worn out.
"Yes." He stood, so Kent stood, and then Chandler looked flustered by the fact he'd followed him and seemed to lose his train of thought. He just looked at him for a moment, frowning, fidgeting with the hem of his waistcoat.
"You've been thinking," Kent said.
Chandler nodded. "I've been thinking," he repeated. "I've not been fair. With you, I mean. I've not been fair with you."
Kent frowned. "I'm sorry, guv," he said. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"This." Chandler gestured vaguely between them, from Kent to himself and back again, then tucked both hands behind his back and then changed his mind and rubbed his palms again his hips instead. "What happened the last time I was here."
"Oh." Kent smiled wryly because he supposed he should have known. "I'm sorry about that. It won't happen again."
Chandler looked at him. Chandler rubbed at the back of his neck and straightened out his already straight waistcoat and smoothed down his tie, nervous, on edge, like he'd never had an awkward conversation in his life though Kent knew he had. Then laced his fingers together to stop himself moving, but he didn't stop looking at him.
"What if I said I'd like it to?" he said. "To happen again, I mean. Or something like it."
Kent clenched his jaw then unclenched it again. He shifted his weight, feeling his pulse quicken, wondering if he'd finally lost it and was starting to imagine things - more than the usual, at least. Maybe he was hallucinating or maybe Mansell had put him up to it somehow, but Chandler looked serious. He looked very serious, and embarrassed, and like he still wasn't sure what to do with his hands. He looked like he was waiting for an answer.
"I'd ask if you were sure," Kent said.
"And if I said I'm sure? If I said I'd been thinking about it and I think I'm sure."
"Then I'd say thinking about it tonight as well won't hurt," Kent said. "If you're still sure tomorrow, maybe we can talk about it?"
Chandler seemed to think that over for a second, then he nodded like it sounded reasonable and Kent wondered if it was or if he'd just made a stupid, stupid mistake and he'd never come back. Chandler turned, and he steadied himself for a moment, then he went to the door; he opened it and Kent noticed he'd left his jacket so he picked it up and called wait! and jogged over to him, and Chandler must have thought he meant something else because the next thing he knew his back was up against the wall and Chandler's mouth was at his neck and Chandler's hands were at his hips, and he'd dropped his jacket on the floor.
Chandler didn't stop what he was doing to pick the jacket up, which struck Kent as odd, maybe even odder than the fact that Chandler's mouth was on him. Chandler kissed him, his neck, his jaw, his mouth, flushed and short of breath and like he wasn't sure what he was doing or why except he wanted to. One of Chandler's hands went down between the two of them and he pressed his palm flat over the front of Kent's trousers and really, if he was honest with himself, Kent had never expected it to get that far.
It went further. Chandler fumbled with Kent's belt and with his own and made no progress whatsoever and the next thing Kent knew, they were just kissing, mouth on mouth, hard and desperate, as Kent pushed his hand down next to Chandler's. They pushed against each other, Kent's head reeling with it, giddy with it, straining and tensing and urgent with it, muscles tight, breath quick, free hands pulling at each other's shirts. And they came like that, both of them, shuddering and jerking and Kent groaned against Chandler's shoulder and Chandler pressed his mouth against Kent's throat.
They stayed like that for a moment, Kent's head resting back against the wall and Chandler's forehead down against Kent's shoulder, catching their breath. The door was still wide open. Chandler's jacket was still on the floor. And then Chandler stepped back and he smoothed down his clothes and Kent gestured to the jacket at his feet.
"You left that," he said, not sure what else to say or do because he was half convinced that if he tried to move he'd just fall.
"Oh," Chandler said. "Right." And he stooped to pick it up and when he came back up again, he paused for a second then rested one hand on Kent's shoulder. His thumb rubbed his collarbone over his shirt.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" Chandler said.
Kent nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow, guv," he replied. And Chandler just smiled at him tightly then disappeared out the door.
Kent sank down against the floor as the flat started to change. So much for thinking it over. They'd barely stopped to think at all.
"You should leave before you can't," Sophie the ghost told him the next morning, while he was in the shower and she bled ghost blood all over the bathroom floor. When he was done, she had the decency to turn her back while he dried himself off, then she got back into the bath.
"You know what'll happen if you stay," Georgie told him as he ate breakfast in the kitchen after that. He sat opposite him at the table, playing with the frayed ends of the noose around his neck, then he stood and climbed up onto the chair. When Kent left his plate in the sink and left the room, he heard the clatter as Georgie kicked the chair aside. Then he put on his coat and he went to work.
He supposed he did know what would happen, at least in an abstract way; it wasn't like Buchan was collecting evidence of a coincidence every time he discovered a new death that had happened there and the thing in his flat was still there just like it always was. He never saw it but he supposed he didn't really need to because sometimes it whispered to him, except without really whispering. Sometimes the thoughts just appeared in his head and he knew it was the thing in his flat that had put them there. It probably should have scared him more than it did. Honestly, he wasn't scared at all.
And that night, Chandler came up to the flat with him. Georgie wasn't hanging in the kitchen when Kent made them both a cup of tea. Sophie wasn't in the bathroom when he wandered in to wash spilled tea off his tie. Chandler was there, stepping up behind him in front of the sink, resting his forehead down between Kent's shoulder blades.
"Do you want to stay the night?" Kent asked, before he'd even meant to speak at all, and Chandler looked surprised, in the mirror when he lifted his head. He slipped his hands to Kent's hips. Kent expected him to say no. He didn't.
They went into the bedroom and that looked different, too - no boxes of clothes strewn all over the floor like he'd tried building a maze with them, no peeling paint, no flickering lamp. There was a hanger there waiting, hooked onto the wardrobe door, so Chandler could hang up his jacket, another one for his trousers, another one for his shirt, and a space on top of the dresser where he put his folded underwear and balled-up socks as he stripped himself methodically. Kent watched from the bed because he'd taken thirty seconds to undress and dropped all his clothes into a chair, and then Chandler turned, naked, his face flushed pink with maybe nerves and maybe something else.
Chandler joined him on the bed and it didn't creak like it usually did when he was alone when Chandler moved up over him, when he settled on top of him, skin on skin, but somehow the sudden lack of creaking made a lot more sense to him than what they were apparently about to do. He ran his hands down Chandler's back to the curve of his arse and cradled his hips between his hitched-up thighs and Chandler's mouth was at his neck, his collarbone, his jaw, Chandler's cock hard between his legs, and oh God. Oh God.
"Oh God," he said, and Chandler paused to look down at him. Kent winced. "I haven't got any condoms. I didn't think...well, I didn't think I'd be needing them."
Chandler shifted. He looked down at him, an unreadable expression on his face.
"Do you mind if we don't use one?" he asked, and Kent's chest tightened and his cock filled up harder as he blushed beet-red.
"No, I don't mind," he replied, because he didn't. He was just surprised that Chandler didn't, either.
That was how they did it. Kent fished for lubricant in the drawer by the bed and Chandler couldn't quite bring himself to put it where it needed to go - something about the feel of it on his hands - so Kent did it for him. He slicked Chandler's cock with one lube-coated hand and wiped the excess off on a handful of tissues, then he turned onto his hands and knees, not sure how on earth they'd got to this point. Chandler thumbed himself down into place and Kent shivered and maybe he should have spent some time getting himself ready, too, except he realised he didn't care if it hurt.
But when Chandler pushed into him, a long stop-start till he was deep inside him, it didn't hurt. It felt good and it must have felt good for Chandler, too, because he let out a breath almost like a moan and gripped a little harder at Kent's hips. Then he moved and Kent dropped his head down onto his forearms and braced himself against the headboard and he pushed back to meet him and he couldn't seem to catch his breath, not quite, not the way Chandler's cock was moving in him, opening him up, making him pull tight around him.
When Kent came, over his own fingers against a handful of tissues, he pulled even tighter. It didn't take Chandler long after; he pushed against him, harder, each breath almost a groan, then that was it: he came inside him, pushed in deep. It would have been amazing if it hadn't seemed so wrong - Kent didn't mind the mess because he didn't mind washing it off, but Chandler...he should've hated it. He'd almost expected latex gloves and a hairnet, definitely not fucking him without as much as a condom.
They washed. They went to bed. And in the morning he knew when Chandler was awake because the flat changed in a split second, just for him. They did it again, slowly, face to face even though the angles were awkward, Chandler looking at him like he was almost as surprised by it all as Kent was. Maybe he was. Maybe he didn't understand it, either. Then he went home to shower and change and Kent lay there, watching everything turn back to normal around him. The thing in his flat seemed pleased, for once, but he knew it wouldn't be for long.
That was four months ago now. Joe keeps coming in with him after work, even though Kent finally scraped together the cash for a new-old car - they take up two parking spaces with their vehicles and the neighbours like to complain but Kent can't say he really cares very much about that. They just go inside and sometimes one of them cooks or they bring home boxes from the Japanese takeaway that Joe likes and Kent puts up with, and they talk about work or they talk about the newest in-flat death that Buchan's uncovered, or maybe they don't talk at all. There are three of Joe's suits in Kent's wardrobe and he keeps a toothbrush tied up in a plastic food bag in the bathroom. He's there so often that sometimes Kent doesn't see the ghosts for days. He's there so often that sometimes Kent almost forgets what the flat's really like beneath the veneer it puts on for Joe's benefit. But he never forgets the thing that's in it.
He's never needed to see it to know that it's there with him. It peeks through the cracks of not-quite-closed doors and stretches out underneath the bed at night. It's the flicker when he turns on the bathroom light in the middle of the night and the chill in the air that makes him shiver underneath the duvet even when the central heating's turned up to full. It's the thing that brought him there six months ago and that just won't let him leave.
"You're not the one it wants," Sophie says, as she's toying with the razor in the bathroom. When it didn't get her fiancé, it took her instead.
"You're not the one it wants," Georgie says, as he's tying the rope around the kitchen light. When it didn't get his brother, it took him instead.
"You're not the one it wants," Jack says, as he's stirring tiny shards of broken glass into the custard. When it didn't get his mother, it took him instead.
And he knows. He really does.
He should stop seeing him, but he can't; or, at least, he won't, because he's wanted this for so long now that he just couldn't bear to give it up. He should move out, but he really can't; the thing in his flat won't let him, and he knows - he thinks he knows - that Joe would leave him if he did. Maybe Joe likes him, maybe there was a spark of something between them before all of this began, but he knows - he thinks he knows - that the thing in his flat can affect Joe, too. He doesn't want to find out if that's true or not. He's not sure he could bear to know.
"You're not the one it wants," Jeremy says, sitting with him on the sofa as he waits for Joe to arrive. The shotgun sits between them. Jeremy looks better with his head still where it is, but when the thing in the flat didn't get his lover, it took him instead. Sometimes, Kent can still see the blood.
He's not the one it wants. And he knows. He really does. He's only ever been the bait.
The thing in his flat wants Joe Chandler. It won't take no for an answer and he doesn't want to, but he knows the alternative.
He doesn't want to, but he thinks one day he might just give him to it.