“Could we talk?”
Chandler dragged his eyes up from his plate, noting the hesitant edge to the other man’s voice. Kent sat across the table from him, the candlelight casting soft shadows onto his pale face and catching his brown eyes in a way that made them seem somehow more radiant. But the tone of his voice set off the notion that all was not well, in Chandler’s mind.
“Certainly. What would you care to talk about?” he asked with a nod.
“Not… Not here. If that’s alright,” Kent replied, trying to keep his eyes on Chandler’s and failing, letting them drop to his lap.
Chandler didn’t frown, didn’t outwardly show signs of his distress, but the words sat like a stone in his stomach. So this was it, then. He’d been hesitant to try a relationship with his loyal DC, but with much prodding from Miles and the less-than-subtle hints from Riley that he had the green light to ask the younger man to dinner, he’d done so. And it was wonderful. Kent was every bit as devoted a partner as he was a policeman and Chandler found himself growing rapidly more attached to him—he’d even felt that much feared three word phrase on his tongue on more than one occasion, though he’d had enough control to keep it to himself. For four months, he had been happy.
It was inevitable, though, that Kent would begin to wonder why Chandler hadn’t tried to touch him, to take things further, to take him by the hand with a twinkle in his eye and lead him to the bedroom. It was inevitable that he would grow frustrated. That he would decide things just wouldn’t work between them. It was inevitable because that was how it had always gone and that was how it would always go.
He nodded once in affirmation and the rest of the meal was concluded in silence, the clatter of plates and silverware and the laughter and whisper talk of the other patrons sounding distant and muffled to Chandler’s ears. They exited the restaurant side by side, sliding into their respective seats in his car before driving back to his flat. Kent stared out his window for the entirety of the journey. Occasionally Chandler would glance over at him, taking note of his hands clasped tightly in his lap or the tense set to his shoulders. It would hurt, god would it ever hurt, but it was for the best, he decided. No need to delay the inevitable any further, no need to ruin the young man’s career with rumors of sleeping with the boss.
He parked the car, but neither of them got out. He switched the ignition off, but neither of them moved. Chandler heard the tell-tale pitter patter of rain—the air had smelled of it earlier in the evening, damp, heavy with the promise of thunder. In a minute, or maybe two, the car became a fortress, shielding them from the downpour, but also trapping them inside, surrounded by the roar of the rain, broken only by the occasional peal of thunder.
Kent turned to him suddenly, the sound of his own name sounding too loud in the closed space of the car.
“I’m sorry, Joe, but I can’t do it.”
He placed his hands on the wheel stared straight ahead. Here it was.
“I’ve lied to you. And you don’t deserve that. You deserve a normal relationship and I don’t… I don’t think I can give you that. You see I’m… Look, I’m not sure if this will make any sense but I’m… You’ve probably wondered why we haven’t… you know… and the thing of it is, the thing of it is… I don’t. It’s not you, it’s not you, it’s me and I’m sorry. I thought that maybe I could, that I could do it for you, because for you… I would do anything for you, Joe. But it wouldn’t be real, it wouldn’t be what you deserve and you deserve so much better. And I’m sorry. I should never have lied to you.”
The proclamation came out in a steady stream and Chandler felt his grip on the steering wheel relaxing. He was… perplexed. But not in a bad way. He turned to look at the younger man who was sitting forward in his seat with his face in his hands.
He couldn’t help himself. He laughed.
Kent froze before prying his hands away from his face and looking to Chandler with something akin to horror on his face. Chandler fumbled to correct his mistake.
“No, no, Emerson, I’m sorry. I wasn’t laughing at you. Not at all. That was inappropriate. I was just, well, relieved.”
Kent frowned, confused. “You’re… relieved.”
“Yes,” he said. “What you’ve just said, it’s something that I was thinking I might have to say to you. I’ve never met anyone who was… like me.”
Kent looked stunned, a flicker of hope dancing in his eyes. “You mean you…?”
Chandler nodded. “You’re not alone in this. And neither am I. And that’s more than I could have ever asked for.”
He watched as a myriad of emotions crossed Kent’s features and they sat in silence once more. He reached, without hesitation, across the middle and placed his hand on top of the younger man’s.
“It’s late. Let’s go to bed.”
Kent looked to him with wet eyes, swallowing visibly as he nodded.
However fast they moved to get inside could never have been fast enough. In the end, they wound up helping each other out of sodden clothes, shivering as they hurried to change into something dry and slide beneath the bedsheets. They laid, for a time, simply listening to the sounds of the storm outside, facing one another. But Chandler’s thoughts on the matter wouldn’t rest.
“In the car, you said that you would have, if I’d asked. Why?” he asked quietly.
“I told you. I’d do anything for you,” Kent responded. Chandler felt his chest constrict at the painful honesty of the words.
Kent hesitated, glancing down. “I’ve done it before. I mean, I thought that I was supposed to. Because that’s what’s normal; people having sex. But I didn’t want to. I never… wanted it. But I did it because it was what I was supposed to do and it wasn’t fair for me to say no and he was… he cared. So much. I never told him that I was asexual because I didn’t fully understand it myself at that time. And if I could do it for him, for someone that couldn’t hold a candle to you, then I could do it for you.”
Chandler considered himself lucky. He’d never been put into a situation like the one Kent had just described to him. Granted, he had only dated—or tried to date—women until that point and more often than not they would just break up with him when they grew frustrated enough with his inaction. What Kent had just described, though… The thought that he would submit himself to what was essentially rape for Chandler’s sake made the DI’s stomach turn. The thought of taking advantage of him in that manner, it was terrible, made more terrible by the fact that, from what he understood, Kent’s former lover hadn’t been aware of what he was doing to the DC.
“Even if I was interested in a sexual relationship, I could never—never, Emerson—do that to you. I wouldn’t. You said I deserve better. You deserve better, too, better than that. I’m more than happy with what we have. I only hope I can bring you the same kind of happiness that you bring to me,” Chandler said.
He felt his cheeks heat. These sorts of conversations, baring yourself to someone else, made him uncomfortable. Opening himself up that much, making himself vulnerable, set off all manner of warning bells and whistles in his head. But tonight, those bells and whistles were curiously silent. By the look in Kent’s eyes, he could tell that the younger man understood that. He marveled at how his DC had come to know him so well, demons and all.
“You do. Every day,” Kent replied.
They drew closer together until they came to rest with Kent pressed flush against his DI, wrapped in his embrace. Chandler listened to the sound of the rain pouring down as the wind rattled the windows and lightning occasionally lit up the bedroom. There, under the sheets, they were dry and warm and safe. It was in that safety that he felt that feared three word phrase on his tongue. He wasn’t afraid. He let it be.
“I love you.”
And as if it was the most natural thing in the world, Kent drew back just far enough to tilt his head back and brush his lips against Chandler’s. The older man felt the answering words breathed against his lips.
“I love you, too.”
A night which had begun as the end, ended as the beginning, and as they drifted off to the sounds of nature’s lullaby, it was with the knowledge that they were loved and would be loved, regardless of how they felt it. Two hearts, beating in time to a song that was theirs.