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Grant me space to grow and I shall thrive

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Emerson Kent has spent an extraordinary amount of time since childhood squashed into spaces that just weren’t quite large enough. Not quite in the way he imagines DI Chandler is, his legs too long for trains and planes, nor in the way Erica complains of being hemmed in by theoretical and societal constraints. Instead, he finds himself lacking space of a kind he cannot always pinpoint. Sometimes this is wonderful: his mum’s tight hugs as if still expecting him to be the size he was two decades ago, crammed onto the sofa with his mates as they laugh at each other, brushing knees under the table with dates. But strangely often it was simply constricting. 

His first experience of sharing a space not large enough to be split was his first bedroom, divided as it was between Erica and him. It was not large enough for the two of them from the age of about three or four but they were six years old before their parents finally sacrificed the guest room. 

Until then, Emerson always found his toys and other belongings becoming mixed in with Erica’s and subsequently claimed as hers. He couldn’t spread out his toys and imagination without being reminded that he was entitled to only half the room and yet it felt as if Erica’s already assertive personality all too frequently pushed him into a corner. Their relationship as siblings throughout childhood had left him feeling overshadowed like that far too frequently if he were honest, although he rarely was. 

As a fresher at university, Emerson had shared a self-catering university flat with four other anxious eighteen-year-olds. This in itself was not a problem. A problem, however, was found in the kitchen. 

The five of them became friends, enough to occasionally go out together and agree to share food or meals. For the first few months, the flat had existed in an acceptable state of equilibrium. A lifetime of lessons from his mum and a few tips learnt from watching his sister's failures over the years had left Emerson a decent cook if he were honest. He enjoyed it enough that he would volunteer to make something if a few of them were in together, if only because he could then be certain it was edible. He was normally repaid in takeaway meals or other chores, a decent enough trade-off.

However, as autumn turned to spring and fresher anxiety became midyear arrogance, something in the flat shifted.

Emerson would buy his own food and find empty wrappers in the bin. His plates and pans were used and dirtied by others far too often to be fair and yet he never had an opportunity to cook anything truly interesting before being told he was taking up more than his due share of time or space. His meals were still gladly eaten but repayment became scarce.

Like the others, Emerson had found actual friends outside the walls of the flat but, seemingly unlike them, he wanted to retain at least something of that earlier camaraderie in the halls. He struggled fruitlessly against the tide but eventually surrendered to the pettiness and selfishness himself, finding excuses not to cook more than individual portions or share the majority of his shopping. Dealing with friends sometimes felt like this, frustrating and occasionally pointless, while lacking the space to be confidently and fully himself. 

One of the hardest parts of police training was arguably the lengthy written legislative training, a statement with which Kent thought most of his fellow recruits would agree. But the difficulty inspired his sheer bullheadedness and commitment to becoming a cop. Dealing with some of the other recruits, on the other hand, inspired his flight response instead.

Kent had avoided sport at university so the last time he had shared changing rooms had been at school before GCSEs, having chosen to prepare for the police fitness test with jogging and only limited time at the gym. The “locker talk” as it was had obviously become more truthful since then but retained its vulgarity and casual—and not so casual—homophobia. He felt himself visibly shrink as he walked in the doors, sinking in on himself and becoming smaller. He avoided eye contact, never staring or inviting conversation for fear of inciting or confirming rumours.

Kent was quietly sure that most of the men around him would have been outwardly accepting but inwardly uncomfortable and it was the risk of that, more than the possible presence of those who may be actively hateful that scared—terrified—him. 

Society and the force felt like this more often than Kent cared to admit to himself. He was holding himself close, for fear that an innocent, unthinking action would inspire hate and danger, risk his career or his personal safety. He wished the likelihood of any of those occurring were as low as his mother or even Erica thought. 

The first flat-share he lived in after university felt like finally reaching adulthood if only because his flatmates were not constantly trying to drag him out drinking on weekends, or weekdays for most of the year. But that peace came at a cost. 

These flatmates, two junior doctors and a paralegal, lived their own lives, almost entirely separate from Emerson. Dan, the paralegal normally worked from before nine am till long after five pm, while obviously Emerson, Anusha and Steven worked a variety of shifts each week.

As such, he barely knew them and they shared the strange relationship where they all lived together and shared food, pans, showers, and washing machines, but sometimes forget each other's names and none of their friends have ever met the others. This made weekends or any day where more than two of them were in at the same time and awake slightly awkward. 

When Anusha and Steven took advantage of a shared weekend off to arrange a night out with a surprisingly large group of fellow junior doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants, Emerson felt that awkwardness at its strongest, if only because, on reflection, seven people isn't a surprisingly large group to go out with. 

Still, trying to make himself a cup of tea as they pre-gamed and took an awful lot of pictures was strange. A few of the friends introduced themselves but were on the whole unsurprisingly uninterested in the police officer who was falling asleep on his feet and wearing a pair of ratty pyjama bottoms with an oversized band t-shirt. Hopping from foot to foot, having failed to put on socks after his shower, he waited for the—definitely broken—kettle to slowly boil. Slipping past, he grabbed the milk and finally made his tea. 

He lingered awkwardly by the wall, sipping at his tea, as the slightly tipsy group continued to occasionally involve him in conversation or ask him to take pictures, each time preventing an escape. 

He was on the outside looking in, again. The smell of alcohol, the ringing laughter, and the sheer exuberance served to push him further into the corner and keep him there, immobile. There was no malice in their actions, for it would be malice in their very existence, but Emerson, exhausted as he was, still felt cornered. There simply wasn't enough space in his life sometimes, to be a police officer, a friend and still be himself. 

When Emerson's transfer to the Criminal Investigation Department, or Detective Department for short, was finally accepted he was delighted—if that's the appropriate term to use when one is describing getting closer to and spending more time dealing with serious crime. However, he discovered on his first day that he had to share a desk. Something to do with water damage after flooding and not enough funding to get it all repaired quickly. 

Regardless, his excitement was probably noticeable to those around him. It wasn't that he didn't feel he could help people walking the beat, he just knew he personally could be more useful as a detective. Even as a lowly trainee detective constable, as some of his new colleagues pointed out when they found him to be particularly trying. 

He slipped into the uniform of his fellow detectives easily. It was casual; jeans more often than not, suit jackets rarely seen if it wasn't a court date. The logic was apparently that it made them more approachable, that suits made them seem stuffy and out-of-touch. Emerson wasn't sure; his obvious youth combined with his dressed-down appearance sometimes meant suspects and witnesses, even victims, failed to respect his authority.

But for the sake of fitting in, he would dress as they did.

His desk, or rather his portion of a desk, was a different matter.

Detective Constables had considerable more paperwork to deal with than he had ever handled before so, in much the same way he handled school examinations and financial details, he soon realised organisation was key. He tried to keep papers split between completed and yet to do, which was further divided into urgent, important, and neither.

However, regardless of Kent's good intentions, DC Perkins managed to keep their shared desk in quite a state. Food wrappers or empty cups were not uncommon but it was the sheer disorder that really infuriated Kent. He would find his own files in Perkins' drawer and once spent an entire month returning an evidence bag of cell phones to the top of the desk each time it appeared in Kent's outbox. This was to say nothing of the memorable incident of the passport.

In preparation to leave early on Friday afternoon for a weekend getaway with her girlfriend, Perkins had brought her suitcase to work on Thursday (presumably at the girlfriend's behest in order to actually leave on time the next day), which of course contained her passport. Urgently needing to check in online in the middle of the day, she had laid her passport aside as soon as she was finished with it and it had been accidentally included in the pile of papers Kent had taken to the cafeteria with him to work through over his dinner. 

She had not been close to missing her flight, thanks to the preparedness of said girlfriend, whose name—Emerson had discovered that day—was Sara. However, Perkins had still threatened immeasurable pain on Kent for the "theft" of her passport when the couple had found him eating a sorry-looking sandwich at a back table, frowning at the requirements for the next stage of detective training.

Sharing a desk with Perkins was irritating, like the hierarchy it symbolised, something Kent had mistakenly believed was less evident within the CID than for uniformed officers. It was exasperating in that here, in this "opportunity for advancement" felt just as constricting as other areas of his life had.

He knew objectively that it would get easier, like his relationship with Erica for one, or handling his flatmates when he was knackered for another, but Emerson still wished that things could start as open as they would later be. 

When Emerson had wished over the years for space, he was certain this wasn't what he had meant but he wasn't exactly complaining.

Groaning slightly as he stretched the crick that had developed in his neck overnight, Emerson spread his arms out across the bed. Brushing his left hand along the sheets, he wondered once more how much had spent on them and, as he adjusted his back, what the mattress must have cost. But, of course, he would choose to spend his money on things like this and truly Emerson was not complaining at all.

Nor, he thought as he stretched out on his side, were his muscles.

It must have been the years of student accommodation and cheap flat shares but anytime Emerson got to stretch out on hotel beds or in this bed, he took the opportunity.

He had space in this bed to stretch from head to toe, without hitting a wall or accidentally sticking his foot out from beneath the blanket and getting a shock of cold morning air.

He felt the bed sink down beside him and rolled over to see Chandler Joe smiling at him. Unsurprisingly, he had gotten out of bed when he had awoken early, as was his routine, showered, dressed in fresh pyjamas (not the plaid Emerson had perhaps imagined, but flannel bottoms and a soft cotton t-shirt), and come back to bed.

It was Sunday morning, no case had been called in, so they could doze, flick through the newspapers that were probably waiting on the doorstep, Joe might read a little, Emerson will check social media and at some point one or the other will make mugs of tea and toast (which will be eaten over a plate that's immediately rinsed in the kitchen).

It's surprising how quickly this has become unsurprising. But this relationship has been like that since that first terrifying drink in a quiet pub the wrong direction from the station compared to the rest of the police officers.

Emerson leant into Joe's side and felt Joe slip an arm around his shoulders, holding him close. It wasn't tight or constricting, just reassuring and warm. It felt like the relationship felt: like he had space. The space to be—fully be—and occasionally fuck up spectacularly, despite his best intentions because that was how relationships sometimes go. 

"Tea?" Joe asked quietly into Emerson's hair.

Emerson huffed softly. "It'll need more than to move me before at least eleven, Joe."

Joe laughed and held slightly tighter to Emerson. It was deeply reassuring and Emerson nudged even closer. 

Space that he needed, security that he wanted.