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to take the pain away

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“Another late night?” The sound of Chandler’s voice startled him and Kent jerked in his seat, wincing at the shock of pain that immediately flared through his right leg. He glanced at the watch to his left, just in time to see the minute hand tick itself over onto the half past eight slot.

“Ah, yes sir,” he managed, surreptitiously slipping one of his hands under his upper thigh to squeeze his fingers into the thick line of scarring there. It did little to ease the pain.

“Any particular reason for it?” Chandler asked.

Kent shook his head, offering Chandler a tight smile. He watched as Chandler’s expression became more concerned than curious and turned his attention back to the file he’d been reading through. He heard a shift of fabric, the soft tread of his footfall, and then Chandler was beside him, leaning himself against the edge of Kent’s desk.

“Why are you still here, Emerson?” Chandler asked.

Kent looked up, mouth twisting to the side. “It’s a bit easier to concentrate after the others have left,” he said, resignation in his tone.

Chandler inclined his head. “I’m doing my best, you know, they’re just worried about you.”

“They don’t need to be.” Kent bit out, turning away. He touched at the papers he’d been reading, shuffling them uselessly together, neatening their edges.

“Emerson-,” Chandler started. He gestured helplessly, palms up in an almost-surrender. “We’re all worried about you.”

Kent shook his head, looking back up. “You don’t have to be,” he sighed. “I just- I wish you wouldn’t. I’m fine-” he laughed a little, “I’m as fine as I can be.”

Chandler quirked a small smile at him, reaching out to squeeze at his shoulder. Kent lifted it a little, turning to touch his face to the back of Chandler’s hand and Chandler turned it, cupping at Kent’s cheek with his palm as he reached out with the other to brush the curls back from his forehead.

“It’s not just something you can turn on and off,” Chandler said softly. “Worrying about you.”

He kept carding his fingers through Kent’s hair. “After everything that’s happened, we can’t help but want to look out for you.”

Kent sighed, turning his face against Chandler’s hand, feeling his lips brush against his palm. Chandler’s fingers twitched against his skin, but the hand moving through his hair didn’t falter.

Kent sighed again, closing his eyes as he let himself have this moment of peace.

The weeks following on from the Dan Street case hadn’t exactly been kind to him. To any of them really, if Kent was to be honest about it. He understood, of course he did, how terrified everyone had been upon finding him on the self same bridge that Dan had used.

At the time of finding him, Kent hadn’t been able to dispel that terror, hadn’t been able to protest their immediate assumptions, their inevitable reactions. Maybe if he’d been able to laugh it off, to brush their concern off in that instant…

He’d told Chandler, later, that he wasn’t Dan Street. That he wouldn’t do that. He might even have promised. But the truth, the horrible, all-consuming truth of it was that he had been thinking about it.

As much as he didn’t want to believe he’d have done it, not there and not like that.

But for all his protests to Chandler, his words had rung hollow against his own ears.

He hadn’t been in his right mind.

He knew that.

Everyone, it seemed, knew that.

And everyone, it seemed, was inclined to punish him for it with watchful eyes and a constant litany of questions designed to gauge just how he was feeling every minute of every day since.

He’d said he was fine so many times in the last few weeks now that Kent was beginning to worry he’d forgotten the meaning of the word. If nothing else, it worked to prevent further questioning. Though Kent wasn’t sure if that was because they were respecting him enough to trust his answer, or if they knew they wouldn’t get anything but that out of him.

Which, if the latter, begged the question why?

Why did they keep asking?

Why didn’t they keep pushing for more?

Not that Kent wanted them to keep pushing, of course. He’d gotten more than enough of that from Chandler. Though the man was subtle in his prodding at least. And he didn’t watch Kent with the same hawk-eyed gaze that Miles seemed to have employed whenever they were in a room together. Or follow him into the urinals like Mansell had tried to do on a few occasions.

It was his own fault, he knew, but even that was a bitter consolation when faced with the sudden over-protectiveness of his team.

He’d dealt with it though. Was dealing with it. Thought he could deal with it. It was only at work, after all. And a part of him felt like he owed them this.

Then the call came in.

Three weeks to the day they’d wrapped on the Dan Street case.

Miles had been in with Chandler at the time, having one of their daily discussions, and the call had transferred through to Kent’s desk.

It was from one of the departments who dealt with the tracking and tracing of suspects and they wanted to know if the trace on Emerson Kent’s mobile phone was to be renewed again for the upcoming week.

He’d stopped listening after that, his ears ringing with the shock of the words. They were tracking him? Still tracking him? Chandler had told him that they’d put a trace on him the day they found him on the bridge, but Kent had assumed it had been a one-time thing, not a weeks-down-the-line thing.

He mumbled something about getting his Sergeant before putting the call on hold. His hands were shaking as he sat the receiver on his desk. Adrenaline surging through him, flushing him with anger and humiliation. Was it an overreaction to feel violated? To feel as though his trust had been abused in the worst possible way?

He looked up into Chandler’s office, saw him holding back a smile at something Miles was telling him and his heart hurt. He’d confided so much in Chandler and this felt like an utter betrayal of everything they’d become. Chandler just had to ask and Kent would tell him whatever he wanted to know, maybe not instantaneously, but Chandler had a way of waiting him out that made the words spill from his lips without filter.

The call hadn’t gone though to his DI though, it had come through for Miles.

His heart stuttered.

What if Chandler didn’t know about it?

He bit at the insides of his mouth.

What if he did.

He pushed himself up too quickly, wincing at the flare of nerve pain that shot down his right leg. He ignored it, rounding his desk with sudden purpose.

He didn’t knock when he reached Chandler’s office, just twisted the handle and pushed it open without preamble.

“Call for you, Serg,” he said, voice clipped.

Chandler and Miles looked up in surprise at the interruption.

Miles frowned. “You can’t take a message?”

“I think you want to take this call, Serg.” He replied, in the same clipped tone.

Miles flittered his gaze over towards Chandler who’s face was scrunched with bewilderment, his mouth parted in that way it sometimes did when he wanted to speak but didn’t quite know what to say.

Miles turned back to him, giving him a long, searching look before he pushed to his feet, moving past Kent with a muttered ‘this had better be important’.

The second he’d left the room, Kent rounded on Chandler.

“Did you know?” If he’d been speaking to anyone but Chandler, the question would have been more of a demand than anything else. As it was, it bordered pretty spectacularly on insubordination.

“Kent what-,” Chandler was shaking his head, hands flat on his desk, looking at Kent in utter confusion.

“That I was being tracked?” Kent hissed.

“What?” Chandler shook his head again, “Yes, of course-,” Kent froze. “-we’d never have found you otherwise.”

Kent felt himself starting to shake. “No, not then. Now. Did you know I was- I am being tracked now.”

If anything Chandler looked even more confused, his forehead creasing as he tried to understand. “No one is tracking-,”

“I just took a phonecall from our tracking department!” Kent bit out. “Asking if we’d like to keep the trace on my mobile active.”

“Emerson,” Chandler breathed, pushing to his feet. “I had no idea.”

His face was open, honest, his eyes wide with disbelief as he searched Kent’s face.

Kent felt himself sag, the adrenaline fuelling his anger seemed to come to a sudden halt, leaving him cold and shaky.

He believed him.

“Kent-,” he looked away, wrapping his arms around himself.

“I’ll do it, okay? I’ll do it. I’ll see the damn shrink again, just… make them stop. Please?”

Chandler froze a moment before straightening himself with sudden purpose.

“Close the door,” he said then.

It was Kent’s turn to look at him with surprise. Chandler raised his eyebrows, inclining his head towards the open door and Kent moved on autopilot to obey.

Miles was still standing at his desk when he reached for the handle, Mansell beside him.

The phone was on the hook.

They both looked up at him. Only Mansell had the decency to look guilty.

Kent wondered if Miles had told them to keep the trace on or not. He closed the door quickly, letting the click of the catch ring in his ears a second before turning back to Chandler.

“Firstly, the trace will stop. I give you my word on that.” He looked at Kent, waiting for his nod of understanding. He was every inch the boss in this situation, and Kent was glad of it, aware that Miles was boring holes through the glass partitions separating them.

“Secondly, you know my personal feelings about you seeing a therapist again, but you must also know that I’d never make you do anything you were uncomfortable with?”

Kent clenched his fingers against the door handle until he felt as though his bones were about to creak with protest. He nodded again.

“I really think going back will help you,” he pressed on, face softening as he took in Kent’s obvious distress, “but I’m not going to put you into a position where it’s your only option. I don’t want to push you away. You have to go because you want to go, not as an ultimatum.”

“It’s… humiliating.” Kent admitted, looking down. “Knowing they were watching me so closely was bad enough. But I felt like I deserved that, even if it made me feel uncomfortable. But this… I just…” he shook his head, biting at his cheeks again.

“I know that what happened put everyone on edge,” he said, swallowing against the metallic taste in his mouth. “I get that, and I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m standing on that ledge right now and every time someone asks me how I am or follows me around the station or… or tracks me, it’s like… I feel like I’m on that bridge again and I’m one step closer to…” he broke off with a bitter laugh, looking up to see the alarm on Chandler’s face.

He scrubbed a quick hand over his face. “I can’t seem to stop telling you what’s going on in my head, even when I don’t want to.”

“I want to know,” Chandler said, words a little breathless, a little desperate.

Kent tried to smile, his lips pulling more of a grimace. “I know. I just don’t understand why you’d want to.”

“I thought that was obvious, Em-,”

“-erson? Emerson?” Chandler’s voice filtered through his recollection of their last conversation.

“Sorry,” Kent said, drawing his attention back to the present. Miles had interrupted them with a lead that had just come through for one of the cases Chandler was working on. Kent had left Chandler’s office without so much as a nod of acknowledgement for his DS.

That had been almost two weeks ago and Kent still wasn’t on the best of speaking terms with him.

Are you okay?” Chandler asked him and Kent pulled a face, lifting his head from Chandler’s palm.

“Don’t,” Chandler said, reaching out to prod pointedly at the creasing of his brow. “This is me asking you, and I haven’t asked you for a while now.”

Kent dropped his eyes. “I know,” he sighed, shoulders curling in as he hunched over himself, pushing his hands between his knees. “It’s just, it doesn’t feel like anything’s changed. They’re still asking me how I am all the time. They’re still watching me.”

Chandler frowned. “I personally made sure the trace was taken off your phone.”

“Yeah,” Kent agreed. “They’re just- really intense. Now more than ever.”

“I can’t stop them from caring about you,” Chandler said, his frown easing with understanding.

“They don’t have to stop caring they just have to stop,” he made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, fingers clenching tightly together.

“I can feel them watching me you know,” he explained, “it’s like ants crawling up my skin every minute of every day. And I can’t concentrate. I can’t ignore it. It makes me… it makes me nervous.”

He felt twitchy and on edge all the time now. More so perhaps than he’d been after his attack. It was different of course. He knew he wasn’t about to be attacked and he was trying, he really was, not to be angry, or ungrateful, but it was hard knowing his every movement was being scrutinised and categorised and the whole thing left him in a state of perpetual alertness.

It felt like he couldn’t breathe. Like he was on the verge of splitting apart at the seems.

“Have you… spoken to anyone about this?” Chandler asked, cautiously.

Kent smiled half-heartedly. “You mean my therapist?”

Chandler returned the half-smile, agreeing: “I mean your therapist.”

Chandler had been informed of his renewed therapy the moment he’d signed back on. It had been one of the reasons, initially, why he hadn’t wanted to go at all. The sessions were still private and confidential, but so long as he was still actively working a report determining his state of mind would be sent to his supervising officer every month assessing his capabilities and advising his DI on any available options.

He hadn’t wanted to admit he needed the help.

He hadn’t wanted anyone to know he needed the help.

Talking with Chandler… had been like a cocoon. Something that happened between them without input from the outside world. He could almost convince himself that out with these moments together, no one knew the depths to which he’d been sinking.

It took the Dan Street case to make him realise that everyone apart from he himself knew exactly what was happening with him.

And it took the knowledge that Miles was desperate enough to keep tracking him to make him realise he needed the extra help.

“She says it’s a type of hyper vigilance,” he answered, before pausing, not sure if he wanted to continue. Chandler waited him out, expression carefully curious.

Kent met his eyes briefly, shaking his head. Chandler was unnervingly good at making Kent want to keep taking, but it still wasn’t as easy as divulging his innermost fears to a complete stranger was. He knew Chandler would never judge him or hold his weaknesses against him, not really, but there was always that small niggle of doubt in the back of his mind that left him holding something back.

“She says it can be a symptom of PTSD,” he shrugged, trying for blasé. “That I’m still living in fear of what the Kray’s did to me.”

“And what do you think?” Chandler asked.

“That I don’t need a therapist to tell me that.” Kent chewed nervously at the inside of his mouth a moment before huffing a humourless laugh. “I’ve been afraid since it happened.” He admitted. It was getting easier to say those words now. I’m afraid. I’ve been afraid. He clenched his hands together.

“Is she not helping?” Chandler asked, looking concerned.

Kent shrugged again, sliding his eyes to the corner of his desk. The cheap wood was chipped at the edge, discoloured from the rest of the desk. Kent wondered if Chandler saw it. Wondered if it would bother him if he did.

He looked briefly back towards Chandler to find him still watching. “Talking it out, it’s helping. I guess. The nightmares- the things I worry about- they seem… less all consuming when I say them out loud. Less realistic.”

Chandler nodded. “Are you still having nightmares?”

“I’m always having nightmares.” He said, quirking a smile.

Chandler didn’t smile back. Not exactly.

Kent clawed at his hands. “They’re getting better,” he allowed. “Fewer. Further apart. I can sleep most nights now. I’m… not afraid to sleep. My flatmates are happy about that much at least.”

He gave another hollow laugh as he finished. Twisting his hands together, feeling the pinch against his skin.

“You’re smiling and laughing,” Chandler commented. Kent looked at him, swallowed. “I hope you know you don’t have to make light of this for my sake?”

Kent looked away.

“I’m still going to worry about you.” Chandler said.

Kent lifted a hand, pushing his fingers through his hair with a breathy sigh. “Yeah. I- you don’t have to.”

“I know I don’t have to, but I- what have you done?” Chandler broke off, his fingers suddenly curling around Kent’s wrist and tugging his hand closer.

“Emerson, what is this?” He was frowning deeply, eyes wide as he looked from Kent’s hand to his face and back again.

Confused, Kent looked, tensing when he saw how red it was. How red both his hands were. And scratched up too, little half-moon indents from where he’d been digging his nails into the yielding flesh on the back of his hands standing stark and bloody against his pale skin.

There was blood under his nails too.

Kent jerked his hand from Chandler’s hold, burying them both between his knees. He dropped his eyes, turning his head to glare at the corner of his desk. He could hear his heart, its beat quick and thundering as he waited for Chandler to say something.

“Emerson-,” he flinched, sucking in then holding his breath.

“Emerson, look at me. Please?”

Kent steadfastly kept his head down. His cheeks flaming red.

“Is this something I should be worried about?” Chandler tried.

“It’s nothing.” His hands stung, now that he’d noticed. Now that Chandler had noticed; the coarse fabric of his trousers scraping across the light scratches. “They’ll be gone by tomorrow.” He added, as if that might help. There were only light scratches, just piercing through the first layer. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to fixate on.

“Emerson, if you’re hurting yourself-,”

“I’m not.” Too quick. Too desperate. He forced himself to take a breath, to meet Chandler’s eyes. Honest Guv.

“It’s not like that. It’s… I don’t even realise I’m doing it. Alright?” As if that made it better.

He watched as Chandler opened and closed his mouth a few times, lips pressing thinly together before his expression settled. He looked dubious, wary.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” He said, eyes flicking down to where Kent had hidden his hands.

Kent straightened, put on edge by his words. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about it.”

Chandler flinched then. And so did Kent, he could feel his cheeks heating a little more and he automatically lifted a hand to press his fingers to his eyes in a hard squeeze, the pressure enough to send spots dancing before his vision.

“I didn’t mean-,” Chandler started.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve-,” he dropped his hand again, very aware of the way Chandler’s eyes followed the movement.

They both lapsed into a silence that grew the longer they left it untamed.

“I should call it a night.” Kent mumbled a moment later.

“Okay,” Chandler agreed, pushing himself to his feet.

He stood beside Kent’s desk, hovering awkwardly as Kent stood and stuffed a few things into his bag.

“I- do you want a lift?” He offered.

“No.” To quick, again. “No thanks.”

Chandler nodded, stepped aside. Kent hesitated, waiting for Chandler to say something but instead he said nothing. He wondered if he was too afraid to push him now. If he thought Kent would break. He hadn’t been as overbearing as Miles or Mansell, but Kent almost wished he was, out of all of them.

He shook that thought immediately from his mind as he grabbed his jacket and hurried to the door.

“Emerson!” The call of his name came just as he was about to leave the room. He turned to Chandler, his heart lurching at the look of open vulnerability painted across Chandler’s face.

He swallowed heavily, waiting.

“Goodnight.” Was all Chandler said.

“Goodnight,” he returned, the word tasting like disappointment against his tongue.

- - -

The few days following on from their conversation were… stilted to say the least. It was back to the daily grind of paperwork and cold cases and so, as much as he might wish he could, there was just no escaping Chandler and the looks of deep concern directed his way every time Kent caught his gaze.

He wasn’t avoiding Chandler, per se, so much as he was actively making a point of keeping his head down and focussing all his attention on the files in front of him.

He felt a little bad about the cold shoulder treatment but he didn’t know how to get them from the one step forward two steps back dance they seemed to perpetually perform. Not without laying every last, ugly part of himself out for Chandler to see. It was natural to want to protect himself, to try. Pushing Chandler away was never an intention, though it always seemed to be the outcome whenever things got to a point where Kent didn’t feel in control anymore.

Kent was just settling in for another day of mind-numbing paperwork when Mansell arrived, loudly, and grinning much like the cat that had gotten the cream.

“Hello, hello!” He greeted, all but bouncing into the Incident Room. “Everyone alright?”

Kent looked up with a wary frown, instantly on alert. There was not much that could get Mansell moving like this before ten o’clock, and it looked like he’d already consumed more than the two cups of coffees it usually took.

“What’s got you so bloody cheery?” Miles asked, blearily looking up from his own desk. He was still nursing his first coffee and looking for all the world as though he needed it.

Mansell’s grin didn’t even falter. “I,” he paused dramatically, “have an announcement to make!”

Kent felt his mouth twitch as he waited for Mansell to continue.

Chandler stepped into the room then and Mansell turned his grin on him, stopping Chandler in his tracks as he eyed him suspiciously.

“You’re just in time,” Miles called over, “Mansell here wants to make an announcement.”

“Oh yes?” Chandler asked, politely, one of those bemused expressions flittering across his face. His eyes slid briefly to Kent’s, and Kent found himself quirking a smile at Chandler before he dropped his gaze.

“I-,” Mansell paused again, drawing everyone’s attention back.

Miles rolled his eyes. “Enough of the theatrics, go on and spit it out before we die from the suspense!”

Mansell laughed. “Can’t a guy want a little suspense before he announces his engagement?”

There was a heartbeat of shocked silence as the words sunk themselves in.

“You what?” Miles was the first of them to ask.

Mansell laughed again, grinning from ear to ear. “I asked her last night and she said yes!”

“How the hell did you manage that?” Miles laughed back, moving forward to shake his hand and congratulate him.

Kent tried not to openly frown even as he stood to shake Mansell’s hand and offer his own congrats. As long as he’d known him, Kent had heard Mansell talking about a different woman almost every weekend. He hadn’t even realised that he was seeing someone with any degree of seriousness. How had he missed this? Had he been so wrapped up in his own problems that he’d completely ignored what was going on with the rest of the team?

He returned to his seat, feeling guilt churn at his stomach. He knew the answer to that one already. He lifted his own coffee, picking unconsciously at the sleeve as Mansell started talking about the impromptu engagement party they were planning for the following weekend.

He looked so excited and Kent found himself smiling despite himself, infected by Mansell’s happiness. He caught Chandler’s eye again as he passed by on his way into his office and saw that Chandler was smiling too.

His smile didn’t falter, and neither did Kent’s, though he did drop his chin to hide it behind his coffee cup, feeling a wave of warmth rush over him. Maybe it’d be okay. Things between them. He looked up again, feeling a slight flush on his cheeks as he found Chandler still watching him, still smiling at him.

Miles cleared his throat, and Kent twitched a little, trying not to jump as he turned his head to find Miles standing beside his desk now. Something about the way Miles was watching him made Kent’s smile waver and his blush deepen. He slid his eyes to Chandler, but he was looking at Miles now, his smile gone and the beginnings of a frown creasing his brow. Kent felt his own fleeting happiness fizzle away into nothingness.

On the other side of the room, Mansell was humming happily to himself.

“Kent, before you get settled,” Miles started, gesturing towards the door, a clear indication that he wanted a word. Chandler seemed to tense, his reaction immediately setting Kent on edge.

“Actually, I was just about to-,” he gestured with his coffee, not entirely sure where he was going with it but Miles barely acknowledged the action.

“It wasn’t a question.” Came the brusque interruption. Mansell’s head shot up at the tone, his own smile stumbling as he looked between the three of them.

Kent pressed his lips together but nodded and stood, he made a point of grabbing Mansell’s shoulder in a squeeze, offering another round of congratulations as he preceding Miles out of the Incident Room. Mansell grinned his thanks, but it was nowhere near as euphorious as it had been just moments ago.

Kent stopped in the hallway outside of the Incident Room but Miles kept walking, forcing Kent to follow him until they reached one of the interview rooms.

He felt a prickle of unease as he stepped into the room, immediately feeling cornered and defensive. If Miles wanted to apologise for the trace he’d left on him for three weeks he could have done it in the hallway, hell, he could have done it in the Incident Room itself with everyone else around.

If he wasn’t planning on apologising, Kent couldn’t imagine what else he could want to discuss that saw the need for them to use the privacy of an interview room.

He folded his arms across his chest, fingers squeezing tightly as Miles gestured to one of the chairs before closing the door behind Kent.

“I’ll stand. Sir.” He said, tacking on the honorific.

“Suit yourself,” Miles said. He didn’t sit either, even as he moved to stand behind one of the chairs, hands settling on its back in a tight grip.

“First things first, I know you’re still upset about me keeping the trace on you,” Kent inclined his head. “I’m not apologising for it.”

A fission of indignant anger sparked inside him.

Miles continued: “I know you’re not happy but I wasn’t sure you wouldn’t try something like that again. I’m not apologising for looking out for you.”

Kent opened his mouth to defend himself but Miles pressed on before he could try.

“I don’t care what Chandler tells me. He says you won’t do it, but I saw you on that bridge, Kent, and you scared the hell out of all of us. I’ve never seen you like that before and if it were up to me you’d be off work and sorting yourself out with the right kind of help instead of pushing yourself to be here.”

Kent swallowed, stomach twisting knots. “Did it ever occur to you that I need to be here?” he asked, voice soft, unsteady. “That maybe being off would be the worst thing for me?”

“I don’t think that’s entirely true,” Miles said, frankly.

Kent frowned. “What?”

“I don’t think you need to be here.” Miles answered, “I think you want to be here. And not just for the job.”

“I don’t-,” He shook his head, squeezing his arms more tightly. Miles was watching him, taking in every gesture and reaction and Kent forced himself to take a breath, to relax his arms, to not look so closed off and confrontational.

His fingers clenched fists at his sides instead.

“You do.” Miles interrupted. “I’ve seen the way you look at him.”

He hadn’t even said a name but Kent knew exactly who he was talking about. He flushed.

“I’ve always looked at him the same way,” he said, feeling the bite of his nails against his palms.

Miles inclined his head in agreement. “I’ve also seen the way he looks at you.”

Kent froze. It felt as though a bucket of ice water had just been poured over him, leaving him standing there, staring at Miles in wordless disbelief. He shook his head in denial.

“You might not see it, but I do. And I’m not the only one. And since he’s too pig-headed to listen to me, you’re going to have to.”

Kent shook his head again. “No, I don’t,” he said, throat working over the words. Something telling him he really didn’t want to have this conversation. He reached blindly for the door, fingers clasping desperately at the handle.

“Yes, you do.” Miles said calmly but firmly and Kent came to an immediate halt. Fingers twitching. Miles was his DS, was directly in charge of him before Chandler even. Yes, he did.

He turned back slowly. Defeated.

“You need to hear this, and if I have to be the big bad for it then I can live with that. What’s going on between you and the DI, all these late nights together, all these talks-,” he emphasised the last word, as if to imply something else entirely. “-do you realise how this all looks?”

“How what looks?” Kent snapped, “Someone actually giving a damn about me?”

“Yes!” Miles threw his hands in the air, exasperated.

Kent blinked at him. “I- what?”

“He’s your boss,” Miles pressed, “He’s in a position of power over you. Anything that happens between you two will either be seen as an abuse of that power or a ploy at advancement on your part. You might not see how this kind of attention could harm both your careers, but I’ve seen people persecuted for less. And I don’t want that, for either of you.”

“I- it’s not like that,” Kent said, feeling his cheeks heat further. He shook his head. “It’s nothing like that.”

It’s not as if Kent hadn’t thought about how it might appear to anyone who looked too closely, it’s just that he… hadn’t considered it an issue because there wasn’t actually anything going on. They were as professional as they always were whilst at work, and although Kent had been bringing more and more of his issues into the workplace despite his best intentions, Chandler hadn’t done anything that could be seen as improper. Hell, Mansell following him into the toilets every day for the first three days after they closed the Dan Street case could be considered more improper than anything Chandler had done to him whilst on the clock.

He tried to say as much to Miles but the look of disbelief on his face only seemed to heighten. Kent felt too hot, suddenly shaky. His stomach clenching with nauseous intent.

Did he somehow know about the way they touched each other when it was just the two of them alone? Had he seen the way Kent all but curled himself into Chandler’s space whenever the promise of contact was offered? How could he have-

“You’ve been staying at his place,” Miles accused as if he couldn’t believe Kent wasn’t admitting to his allegations.

“How do you-,” Kent cut himself off. Remembering the few occasions Miles had been at the station when they were either leaving or arriving together. He’d only stayed at Chandler’s place a couple of times, though Chandler had driven him home a few times more than that over the last couple of weeks.

It certainly wasn’t a thing.

Even if Miles seemed to think it was.

“It’s not like that.” Kent repeated, biting at the inside of his cheek. He crossed his arms again. The last time had been… had been after they’d found him on the bridge.

Miles snorted, disbelieving. “No?” He pushed. “Then what is it like? Explain it to me.”

Kent shook his head, words stumbling over one another as he rushed to defend them both. “It’s only been a couple of times. It’s not- there’s nothing going on. The last time- that last time… you’re the one who put me in the car with him. If you were so worried about our conduct-,”

“You’d just tried to commit suicide!” Miles snapped. Kent reacted as if he’d been physically slapped. No one had used that word. No one had said it aloud even if they’d been thinking it and Kent felt as though all the air had been sucked from his lungs as he stared at Miles in wounded disbelief.

“I- I never-,” There was blood in his mouth, the taste coppery and cloying as he swallowed thickly.

“I don’t have to explain anything to you.” He said suddenly, his voice barely above a whisper even as a steely determination came over him.

Miles’ frown deepened. He wasn’t a man used to giving orders and not having them obeyed. Kent swallowed again, feeling as though he was about to choke on his own tongue.

If it were any other situation, any other conversation, Kent wouldn’t have hesitated in obeying Miles. The man had been his Sergeant for too many years now and despite the past few weeks Kent still trusted and respected him. Just… just not with this, not with any of it, but especially not with the non-relationship he had with Chandler that from apparent appearances looked exactly like something it wasn’t.

“If I were to file a report about this with senior management…” Miles drifted off but the implications were clear.

Any colour Kent had been sporting suddenly drained from his face at those words. He wasn’t sure if Miles was referring to what had happened on the bridge or his relationship with Chandler, but he did know what a complaint of either nature could do to a persons career. Whether anything came of it or not.

“You would do that?” Kent breathed barely above a whisper.

Miles seemed to deflate then, shoulders coming forward, hands relaxing their vice-like grip on the chair back.

“No. No I wouldn’t.” He admitted at last.

Kent nodded once, sharply. He wanted to explain then. Wanted to tell Miles how Chandler had been helping him, how he’d gotten him to seek the proper sort of help Miles had mentioned earlier, but the words stuck in his throat once again.

He felt sick. Shivery. Fevered even. His heart pounding itself violently against his ribcage.

“If you say there’s nothing going on, I’ll take your word for it,” Miles finally said and Kent could have collapsed in relief right then.

“That said I know how you feel about him, how you’ve felt about him from the start, and I want you to think very carefully about what I’ve told you.”

Kent nodded. His ears were ringing now, and he felt an odd mixture of flush and faint. He knew his feelings for Chandler weren’t the same as Chandler’s feelings for him, but there was always a part of him that liked to think differently. When Chandler had his arms around him, his lips pressing against his temple. When Chandler comforted him after a nightmare, holding him close and protected. When Chandler just sat with him and let him talk, or not, and promised Kent he wouldn’t judge him or use it against him.

“Are we done?” He asked, surprised to find his voice even a little bit steady.

Miles nodded. “Kent, I’m sorry-,”

He didn’t know exactly which part he was apologising for, or if it was meant as a blanket apology for the whole sorry conversation, but Kent didn’t hang around to clarify. He just had to get out of there. Just had to… had to take a moment to calm himself, to wrangle his toiling emotions back into some semblance of normalcy.

His hand shook on the door handle, fingers stiff and grasping as he yanked the door open and pushed his way out of the room. Miles didn’t immediately follow and Kent thanked his luck as he all but slammed his way into the first bathroom he found, glad that no one was in it to watch the way he fumbled into one of the stalls and fell to his knees, suddenly gasping for the air he couldn’t seem to get enough of.

He couldn’t tell if he wanted to throw up or pass out as he dropped his head into his hands and tried to calm himself. Breathe in. And out. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Over and over again. He raked his fingers through his hair, digging his nails into his scalp, trying to ground himself.

He couldn’t-

He didn’t-

He shook his head, nails digging deeper.

What was wrong with him? All he could think about was Miles’ words to him. The accusations. The implied threat to them. But they didn’t make any sense. He felt as though he were in the throws of a panic attack, the likes of which he’d only ever had when triggered by some Kray related flashback or nightmare.

He sucked in a deep breath, another, eyes clenched tightly closed. He tried to ground himself and thought then of Chandler. But thoughts of Chandler led to thoughts of Miles and the insinuations he’d made.

Was his relationship with Chandler, such as it was, really something that could be taken so out of context? That could be used against them? The thought of being responsible for either of them losing their jobs or being reassigned or even just having a black mark against their name from here on out made him tremble. He couldn’t do that to Chandler. He didn’t want to be the one to ruin everything for him just because he was too messed up to look after himself.

But he didn’t want to do this alone either.

His eyes began to prickle and he pressed his fingers angrily against his eyelids until the darkness behind them burst with colour. He didn’t know how much time passed between him leaving Miles and holing up in the bathroom, but by the time the door opened his breathing was almost under control and he’d rubbed his eyes so raw he may as well have been crying.

“Kent?” Called a voice. Chandler’s voice. “Kent are you in here?”

“I’m here,” he answered, though it was obvious Chandler already knew. He’d come to a stop just outside his stall.

He stood- legs shaky, head pounding- and pulled the stall door open, brushing past Chandler without looking at him as he hurried over towards the sink. He didn’t dare look up into the mirror, as he twisted the cold tap and plunged his hands under the icy spray up to his wrists, before splashing the water over his face.

He’d only just grabbed a few paper towels, patting his face dry, when Chandler stepped up behind him, an arms-width away as he touched cautiously at Kent’s shoulder.

Kent looked up then, meeting Chandler’s eyes in the mirror. He looked overcome, anxious and upset, his eyes raking Kent’s face almost frenziedly.

Despite the conversation still ringing in his ears, Kent ignored everything Miles had just brought up as he turned, pushing himself almost forcefully into Chandler’s arms, clinging to him with the sort of desperation he’d probably feel embarrassed about later.

Chandler didn’t hesitate to pull him closer and wrap his arms around him, mouth falling to his temple.

“You’re shivering,” he breathed, rubbing a hand along the length of Kent’s back.

“‘M sorry,” he breathed into Chandler’s neck.

Chandler ignored the apology. “Are you alright?”

“I- I don’t know,” He squeezed his eyes closed, the words slipping from his mouth without thought. “I just… I want to go home.”

He pulled back, unable to miss the undisguised surprise on Chandler’s face. His heart was still beating erratically, almost painfully. He looked away, not quite able to meet Chandler’s eyes. He’d never admitted that before. He’d never let himself take time off, not since… he sucked in a breath, straightening himself, aiming for confidence but settling for something meeker as he spoke.

“I can’t be here today, Joe,” he said, the words sounding feeble to his own ears.

“Okay,” Chandler agreed without hesitation. “Whatever you need.”

Kent closed his eyes, almost slumping in relief. He nodded his thanks, swallowing against the cloying taste of panic still sitting at the back of his throat.

“Emerson, did Miles-,” Kent looked at him, taking in the pinched look of concern twisting Chandler’s face as he tried to find the right words.

“Did something happen?” he asked finally and Kent shrugged.

“I- panicked. I think. It’s- this has never happened…” he shook his head, raking his fingers through his hair. “It didn’t have anything to do with… I wasn’t even thinking about… I don’t…” he choked on the words, digging his nails in deeper.

Chandler reached for him then, taking his wrists in a gentle hold and pulling him against his chest where Kent proceeded to grasp at Chandler’s shirt, needing something to hold onto in his distress.

“You’re going to be okay, Emerson,” he promised, “we’ll get through this.”

Kent could have cried then, letting Chandler’s words wash over him. The ‘we’ particularly tugging almost desperately at his heart. He tried not to think about Miles and what he’d said. Whatever anyone thought they knew meant nothing. What mattered was this- that Kent had this.

Chandler touched his face to Kent’s, his mouth pressing tenderly against his temple in a kiss. Kent’s fingers tightened their hold.

Without Chandler, without his support, his want to help and comfort, Kent couldn’t honestly say he’d have made it this far. And maybe it was selfish of him, to want to keep Chandler, to need Chandler, when one wrong word to the wrong person could turn their entire world upside down. But Miles had said- he’d said he’d tried talking to Chandler already and that Chandler hadn’t been willing to listen and that meant, surely that meant, that Chandler cared more about helping Kent than he did about his own position on the force.

Didn’t it?

“Come on,” Chandler said, pulling back a little. “I’ll give you a lift.”

It probably said something about his state of mind that it didn’t even occur to him to protest, token or otherwise.

“Thanks,” he breathed, curling his hands together. Chandler caught at them and Kent winced, turning away. He wasn’t sure when it had started, didn’t really care, but Chandler did.

He didn’t say anything though as he looked at Kent’s hands for a moment before squeezing them tightly with his own.

“Do you need to get anything from your desk?” He asked, surprising Kent.

Chandler was watching him, unjudging, and Kent wondered just how bad he must look for Chandler not to say anything.

Chandler squeezed at his hands again and Kent tried to think. He started to nod his head, thinking of his bag, his coat, the medication he desperately needed to take, and then remembering that Miles would be there. And Mansell too. It was on the tip of his tongue to say ‘no, nothing’ when Chandler reached a hand into his jacket pocket and drew out his car keys.

He slipped them into Kent’s hands.

“Go wait in the car, I’ll bring your things.”

Kent tried to smile his thanks, biting at his tongue to stop the sudden rush of emotion from overcoming him as he nodded his head and followed Chandler out of the bathroom.

- - -

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.

Again.

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 or 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.

Maybe.

Just. Maybe.

- - -

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?

- - -

It wasn’t a surprise to find himself stepping into Chandler’s flat rather than his own. If anything it came as more of a relief than anything else, for though he didn’t want to talk, he desperately didn’t want to be alone either.

He’d headed straight for what had almost become his side of the couch. Shoes off, bag at his feet. Relaxing into the cushions as Chandler put the kettle on.

He was eying his box of Diazepam when Chandler brought the tea over a few minutes later. He felt a little awkward, having Chandler see him like this, but he tried to tell himself that Chandler had seem him like this before, had seen him worse than this.

“Thanks,” he muttered, taking the proffered mug from Chandler.

“Are you going to take them?” Chandler asked, indicating the box and Kent looked down, fingers tightening their grip.

He shook his head, leaning forward to place his tea beside Chandler’s on the table before shoving the box back into his bag. Before he sat back he found himself reaching for his mug again, twisting it just a little to mirror the angle of Chandler’s own, correcting it before Chandler could fully acknowledge the need to adjust it himself.

“I don’t like the way they make me feel,” Kent said a moment later.

“But if you need them-,” his eyes slid from their mugs to meet Kent’s.

Kent ducked his head. “I’m okay now. Just- things just got a little overwhelming for a minute.”

“What has your therapist said about it?” Chandler asked, reach for his tea then.

“About what?” Kent asked, twisting his fingers together.

He didn’t have to look at Chandler to see the frown beginning to crease at his brow.

“About your being overwhelmed?” Chandler said, too carefully.

Kent winced, shrugged.

“I couldn’t make my last appointment,” he kept his eyes down. It wasn’t entirely true. More like he didn’t keep his last appointment. But it had been scheduled on the same day he’d had the panic attack at work and by the time his appointment rolled around, Kent had just pulled his duvet up over his head and blocked the rest of the world out. The Diazepam had helped with that much at least.

“Don’t,” Kent said as the silence built between them.

“I didn’t say anything,” Chandler said, voice too calm.

“You don’t have to. I can feel you judging me.”

“I’m not judging you, Emerson.” It was almost a sigh, weighted with everything Chandler hadn’t said. “I’m just trying to understand you. I thought the therapy was helping?”

“It was!” He shook his head, dragging clawed fingers through his hair. “It is. I just… I don’t know what’s been going on lately. Sometimes it feels like everything’s going to be okay, that I can do this. But then something happens, something throws me, and I feel like I’m back to square one and… it’s just so frustrating. I… I think I almost preferred it when I didn’t have any hope.”

He shook his head again. That wasn’t entirely true either. He liked the good days. A lot. He liked them a whole lot more than the bad days. The days where he had to drag himself out of bed, the nights where he woke screaming and terrified, where he lived in a perpetual panic and freaked out over the simplest of things.

“I know you don’t really believe that,” Chandler said, sipping at his tea.

“No,” Kent agreed, reaching for and sipping at his own. It was still on the too-hot side. He blew lightly over the surface, trying another small sip before placing it back on the table. His tongue smarting from the burn.

“This has been happening more frequently.” Chandler said. It didn’t sound like a question and Kent supposed it wasn’t. More of an observation really. He couldn’t really deny it. Or explain it. His therapist probably could. And maybe that was the point of mentioning it.

Kent internally cringed. This time though, this time it was Kray-related. Or at least, in part. More Kray-related than his breakdown at work had been in any case.

“I think I just had a bit too much to drink tonight,” he said, staring into the murky depths of his mug. He shivered, feeling the phantom touch of whomever had reached out to touch his arse as if they had any right, any claim. The second he’d felt it he’d flashed back to his striping, to the Kray’s slamming him up against the wall and slicing him open like ripened fruit. He’d flashed back to the night the Incident Room was raided, the nights he’d woken screaming from nightmares, the panic attack he’d had after seeing what was left of Dan Street’s face.

“Emerson, stop.” Chandler’s voice pierced through him, pulling him back to the present. Chandler was holding his wrists, and it wasn’t until Kent looked up that he realised he must have been rubbing at his eyes because it took a moment for Chandler to come into focus.

He blinked, once, twice. Slanted his gaze away.

“Where else have you been scratching?” Chandler asked. Kent flushed, trying to pull his hands away. “You have blood on your fingers,” Chandler said, tightening his grip.

“I told you it’s not intentional.” Kent muttered.

“That’s not what I asked you.” There was an edge to Chandler’s voice.

Kent bristled. “You’re not my therapist!”

“Still not what I asked you.” His gaze was intense, unrelenting.

Kent looked away, angry now. He could feel his body thrumming with adrenaline, his fight or flight response leaning worryingly towards fight. He looked back again and winced to see the almost wounded look on Chandler’s face, as if he could read his intentions. Shame washed through him then, muting the roar in his mind.

“It’s nothing,” he said, voice softer, more vulnerable. He hated the sound of it.

“So you’ve said.” Came the clipped reply.

Kent clenched his teeth together. The frustration was still there though. The anger too. Bubbling just below the surface, coiled and ready to lash free. He felt himself tense up again, body readying itself just as Chandler released one of his hands. He snatched the freed limb back, pressing his arm almost protectively against his chest.

Chandler kept hold of his right hand however and Kent watched in wary curiosity as Chandler unfastened his cufflink, shoving the sleeve of his shirt a little way up his arm before rolling an elastic band from his wrist and over their joined hands to rest snugly around the bony part of Kent’s own wrist.

Kent frowned at him, questions pressing up against the seal of his lips.

He tried not to shiver as Chandler turned his arm around, dragging his fingers in a light tickle along the underside before slipping them beneath the elastic.

He wasn’t expecting the pull and snap that came next.

Kent jumped, jerking his arm against Chandler’s hold, mouth open in speechless shock.

“How did that feel?” Chandler asked, calmly.

“Are you mad?” Kent snapped, wrenching his arm free with the next pull and hugging his wrist to his chest, rubbing at the sting. When he looked, a slight red line stood out, stark against the paleness of his skin.

He turned accusing eyes on Chandler.

“How did that feel?” Chandler asked still calm.

“It hurt! How do you think it felt?”

“Did it hurt more or less than what you’ve been doing to yourself?” Chandler asked then.

Kent froze, fingers stilling against his wrist. He didn’t know what to say to that. Chandler was watching him, almost seeing through him to everything he was feeling and thinking and Kent felt as though Chandler knew the answer already without him even having to open his mouth.

He looked back down at his wrist, heart hammering from the brief surge of adrenaline. The sting from the elastic had already faded, the red mark lingering only as a result of his rubbing over the spot.

Kent wet his lips. His hand shook as he slipped his index finger through the elastic, pulling it taunt before letting it snap out, pinching sharply at his skin. He sucked in a harsh breath.

“It’ll help,” Chandler said, as if answering some unspoken question. Answering as if he knew. As if he could possibly know. “It helped me.”

Kent swallowed against the words pressing up against his lips, questions that he wanted to ask but wasn’t sure he had the right. Chandler waited and Kent wondered if he was waiting for the question, maybe even expecting it, testing to see if he’d ask.

He wet his lips again, and asked.

Chandler’s smile was wry. “Sometimes my OCD isn’t that easy to control, or hide. Sometimes I need to snap myself out of whatever situation I find myself in. Alcohol and fisticuffs aren’t exactly discreet methods,” he admitted and Kent found himself smiling sympathetically back in remembrance. “not to mention a little frowned upon when we’re on the clock.”

He smiled more genuinely this time and Kent felt himself begin to relax again.

“Whenever you want to… block it all out, or focus on something else, try that instead.” He tilted his head towards the elastic.

Kent ran his fingers over it again. “Won’t you need it?”

Chandler offered him another wry smile. “I’ve snapped more than my fair few,” he said. “I’ve got a supply. If you need more.”

Kent sighed, curling his hand around the elastic. “This is so messed up.”

Chandler reached out, fingers touching lightly at his chin.

“Yes, it is.” He agreed and Kent chuckled, oddly surprised by the honesty.

Chandler stroked his fingers along his jaw. “But you’re not alone. I hope you know that.”

“I do, I- I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me since…” He drifted off, mouth pressing shut a moment. “You didn’t have to. Don’t have to,” he amended. “You- you’ve been a good friend.”

The word tasted strange against his tongue. Chandler must’ve thought so as well if the furrowing of his brow was anything to go by. Kent felt himself colouring and looked away, not entirely sure why.

He didn’t know why he’d used that word. Only, maybe because Chandler had used it to class what he thought they were to each other once. Not his boss outside of work, anyway. Kent, well, to him it had always felt like more than just a friendship. And maybe that was what Miles had meant when he’d confronted Kent about it, about them.

“I should go,” he said then, sighing, defeated.

“You should stay,” Chandler countered, face soft and open in that way he sometimes got when they were together like this. When he wasn’t immediately consumed with worry or frustration over Kent.

“I mean, if you want to?” He added, thumb still moving in a gentle swipe across Kent’s jaw.

He did. Want. He wanted very much to stay here, with Chandler. And not just for one more night.

He ducked his head, dislodging Chandler’s hand with the gesture. Chandler moved back, giving him the space he hadn’t meant to ask for and Kent looked up again, the smile twisting his lips a little sad, a little wistful, but he nodded.

“Yeah, alright.” He agreed, despite himself.

Because one more night was better than never getting to spend another night with Chandler again.

- - -

There was no knife this time. Somehow that was more terrifying that seeing the glint of a blade in his peripheral vision as he was pushed face first against the wall. There were hands on his shoulders, holding him down. There were hands on his hips and Kent sucked in a breath, feeling the harsh slide of them against his bare skin. He shivered, naked and nauseous as the hands moved down his outer thighs before sliding behind and up… up-

No, God. Please no! Don’t! Stop. Please. Please!

-dragging up the length of his scars. The touch burned, flared, flayed. He could feel his skin peeling apart, the flesh ripping anew, hot breath against the back of his neck, the hot trickle of blood running down his legs, a suddenly sharp pressure-

Kent woke with a full body jerk, a scream clawing at the back of his throat as he lay, paralysed with fear and blinking wide unseeing eyes into the darkness surrounding him. Slowly, the room came into focus and Kent sucked in a shuddering breath. Just a dream. It was just a dream.

His heart was thundering against his ribcage as he pushed himself up, throwing the blankets aside. He felt too-hot and sick, stomach churning indecisively. He pulled his legs up onto the couch, burying his head against his knees. He was shivering, gasping for breath.

Just a dream.

He tried to calm himself, tried to breathe through the nausea and fear, tried to will his heart to cease its frenetic beating, but it was all for naught. His body was wracked with shivers, his stomach broiling indecisively, and he could still feel the acrid taste of a scream clawing at the back of his throat.

It was just a dream, he tried to tell himself. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t happening. Hadn’t happened. Not like that. Never like that.

His skin still crawled and the tears he didn’t know he was crying wet through the fabric of his pyjama bottoms as he pressed his face against his knees. His scars smarted and Kent knew- knew- it was just from the pull of his position, he knew it was. And yet, there was still that something there at the back of his mind telling him that the dream was real, that he was being ripped open anew and that they were still there, still around, just waiting, watching…

He grabbed at his head, nails sinking deeply into his scalp as he dragged them through his hair, trying to pull himself out of it. He felt the elastic he still wore around his wrist snag in his hair and he jerked his hands away, scrabbling desperately for it.

The first sting of the elastic against his skin had him sucking in a sharp gasp of air. The second had him releasing that same gasp in a slow breath. He tried to regulate his breaths then, in time with the snap of the elastic. The sudden bite always unexpected as it snapped against his wrist. He focussed on that. On the pull-and-snap. On the bite of the band. He lost count of the number of times he snapped the elastic, stopping only when he had his breathing back under control, when his heart no longer felt as though it were trying to burst right out of his chest, when his wrist began to go numb and he could barely feel the snap anymore.

He shivered, hugging his arms around his knees once more. His wrist began to burn as he dragged it unconsciously against the fabric of his pyjamas; sensation beginning to creep in past the numbness. Kent dropped his head to his knees again, breathing deeply in through his nose and out again through his mouth.

He didn’t know how much time passed, how long he sat scared and shaking in the dark before the heard movement from Chandler’s room. He listened with half an ear, equally dreading and wanting the moment he came through and found Kent curled up on the couch in the aftermaths of yet another nightmare.

God. When would this end? He was so tired of this. So sick to death of the all consuming fear he felt every time he dreamed, remembered, flashed back. He just wanted it all to stop.

“Emerson?” Chandler’s voice was soft as he called to him.

Kent turned his head against his knees. His skin felt too-tight as he blinked against the blur of his eyes to find Chandler had turned on the hall light and stood, just at the edge of the room, watching him with worried eyes.

“I didn’t hear you,” he said when Kent said nothing. He wore only a pair of pyjama bottoms, no shirt, bare feet, his hair unconcernedly sleep-mussed.

“I didn’t scream,” Kent said hoarsely, tearing his eyes away. He tried to shrug but another shudder rushed through him, making his shoulder jerk uncomfortably. He tightened his grip around his legs, trying to squeeze the tremors out of his body.

Chandler came closer then, and Kent listened to the sound of his footsteps until he reached the couch and sat himself down beside him, body angling towards him, the invitation clear.

Kent didn’t hesitate. He moved into Chandler’s arms almost immediately, more than willing to let Chandler pull him close and hold him tight. It was automatic now to press his face up against Chandler’s neck, comforting to feel the press of Chandler’s mouth against his temple. His heart began to quicken anew and he clenched his fingers into fists against Chandler’s chest.

Chandler didn’t say anything for a long moment as he pulled Kent in a little tighter, running a hand up and down the length of his back, easing the tremors wracking through his body.

Kent tried to focus on the gesture, on only the broad swipes of Chandler’s palm, tried to breath in time with the strokes, pushing everything else from his mind. Pushing the nightmare from his mind. But although Chandler made him feel safe, the fear lingered there at the edge of his mind and he wanted desperately for something to distract him from it.

His fingers tightened, nails cutting into his palms, and he found himself tensing all over again.

“It’s okay,” Chandler breathed, reacting to his distress. “You’re okay, Emerson.”

“No, I’m not.” He said, the words spilling from his lips.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Chandler asked. His mouth was dry against the sweat of Kent’s temple, his words a hot whisper, and Kent squeezed his eyes closed against the sensation.

“I can’t.” Kent whispered, turning his head against the press of Chandler’s, their cheeks brushing intimately together with the movement.

Chandler moved with him, pulling back a little and angling his head to better look at Kent.

Their faces were so close.

“Okay,” Chandler whispered back, his eyes flickering between Kent’s own. The word brushing across his face like a caress. Kent felt a rush of warmth wash over him. A flush of emotion so overwhelming he felt as though it would burst from him.

Without thinking he tilted his face up, pressing his mouth against Chandler’s.

It wasn’t a kiss so much as a dry press of lips against lips, but it was enough to startle a gasp out of Chandler and for reality to come crashing back down upon Kent.

He pulled away just as quickly, all but jerking himself out of Chandler’s arms as he pressed his hand to his mouth. His lips tingled and he stared in terrified horror at Chandler, watching as he pressed his own fingers to his lips a moment before looking at Kent.

“I’m sorry!” He blurted, panic bubbling inside him. Why did he do that? What the hell had he been thinking to do that? “I- I shouldn’t have done that.”

Chandler nodded carefully, wetting his lips and Kent found himself staring a heartbeat too long at his mouth. “Why did you?”

“I didn’t mean-,” He shook his head, “I mean I-,” he stopped, frustrated. “I’m so sorry, Joe.”

“It’s alright,” Chandler said, reaching out to take his hand. Kent pulled back as if burnt and shook his head again.

“It’s not. I shouldn’t’ve… I don’t think I should stay here anymore.”

“What?” It was almost an accusation. “Why not?”

Kent bit his lips closed.

“I said it was alright, Emerson. You’re still upset, I understand.”

His heart was still hammering against his chest. His skin prickling. It wasn’t alright. He’d meant it. Whether he was still upset or not he’d meant it. Maybe not consciously, and maybe he’d never have done it if not for the moment they’d been having, but the point was that he’d wanted to, always wanted to, and he’d acted on it. He’d acted on it and put Chandler in a position whereby he had to justify it for Kent.

And he couldn’t- wouldn’t- do that to him.

Chandler had given him so much time and caring, and here he was taking more than he ever deserved. More than was ever offered.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

“You’re already forgiven,” Chandler said disquietly.

His fingers curled claws against his arms as he wrapped them around himself, words pressing insistently against the closed press of his lips. He swallowed them back, trying not to choke on the thickness of them.

“I should go.” He said, heart twisting.

“You should stay,” and Kent looked up, remembering the words from earlier in the night. Chandler wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look upset, at least not so much over Kent’s impromptu kiss so much as his reaction to having kissed him.

“I- I’ve taken enough of your time. This isn’t your problem.”

“If by ‘this’ you mean you?” Chandler sighed. “You’re not a problem, Emerson. Not for me.”

Kent looked up at him. “Why?”

Why not.

Why are you taking this so well.

Why are you still trying to help me?

“Why did you kiss me?” Chandler asked softly in return. Kent felt his cheeks flame at Chandler’s words. The only light in the room came from the half-glow of the hall light, casting them into a kaleidoscope of highlighted colour and deep shadow. He was sure Chandler could see more of him than he could see of Chandler, and it made reading his expression all the more difficult.

Was he angry? Upset? Was the calming timbre of his voice merely a mask over how disappointed he really felt?

“I’m sorry,” he repeated for the third time. Nails biting in. Chandler either didn’t see or chose not to mention it. Kent squeezed harder, feeling the piercing give of skin beneath his fingertips.

“Miles tried to tell me,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. Chandler straightened at his words.

“Miles?”

“Tried to warn me… said we- said I was getting too close. I’ve… I’ve overstepped.”

“This doesn’t have to become an issue between us.”

But it already was. Kent had always been emotionally compromised when it came to Chandler, and though he didn’t want to be the one to end what they had together- even if Chandler never saw it as anything other than a friendship- he didn’t want to be the one to ruin it either.

“I- I think I’ll go back to sleep now,” he whispered, closing his eyes to avoid Chandler’s stare.

Chandler didn’t immediately move and Kent worried he’d push and prod until all his secrets came spilling out like blood from an open wound. His heart was in his mouth until he felt the give of the couch as Chandler pushed to his feet.

“You can talk to me,” Chandler said, sounding hurt. “You can talk to me about anything. I hope you know that.”

Kent didn’t answer and eventually Chandler left, the sound of his footsteps growing softer and softer. There came the click of the hall light and then silence. Chandler’s disappointment felt like a blanket around his shoulders, smothering him with guilt. He tried to shrug it off, but the more he tried not to think about Chandler, the more he found himself remembering the kiss.

It hadn’t been much of one. Not really. Only a second or two long. But Kent imagined he could still feel the press of Chandler’s mouth against his own. He pressed his fingers against his lips and wished he was brave enough to ask for it, for all of it.

He wanted to. Even now he still wanted to. To feel the giving slide of Chandler’s lips against his own, the questing press, the heat of his breath, the warm wetness of his mouth.

His eyes flew open, his breathing shuddery as he stared wide-eyed around the room.

He wondered what Chandler thought of him now. What, if anything, he’d do. And if he’d lose him. He was terrified that the first good thing to happen to him since the Kray’s had ruined his life was about to stop, and all because of some stupid kiss he hadn’t meant to give him.

By the time the sky began to lighten outside, the first tendrils of dawn stretching out across the room, Kent had managed to work himself into a state, thoughts and imagined scenarios viciously circling one another in his mind.

The flat was too quiet and the intrusion of morning into his musings if anything made the whole remembrance worse. Today would be the day. Today he would lose the only person that really mattered to him.

He hadn’t even been thinking about kissing Chandler. He just had. As if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. As if it were something he had always been allowed to do. Had any right to do.

His stomach churned. He wanted to curl up, tug the blanket that smelt dizzyingly of Chandler around his head and make believe everything would be alright. Instead he found himself pushing to his feet. He hugged his arms around himself. Feet cold against the floor as he cautiously began to make his way down the hall, past the bathroom and the study, Chandler’s open doorway looming menacingly before him.

He hesitated, standing there at the threshold. What was he doing here? What was he thinking? Chandler would still be sleeping. If one last look was what he needed he should just take it and go. Dress in the silence and slip out like a ghost. Work would be an issue in avoidance, but Kent had been through worse. Been through worse and survived- sort of. His hold on sanity was a slippery one at best.

The curtains in Chandler’s room were open, the early morning light spilling across the room to touch tenderly at his face. It was still dark in the room, but the dawn light was bright enough for him to see that Chandler wasn’t sleeping.

“Emerson?” Chandler called, pushing up onto an elbow. His voice was hoarse, his hair in an even worse disarray. “What’s wrong?”

“Did I wake you?” he whispered. Chandler shook his head and Kent winced inwardly. If he hadn’t been sleeping then it was because of Kent.

“I just, I wanted to say I’m sorry, Joe.” He said, twisting his fingers into his borrowed t-shirt. It was a little loose across the chest, but the fabric was soft, well-worn, and belonged to the man before him.

Chandler didn’t say anything.

“And that I don’t want to lose you,” he pressed on, voice pitched low. “I mean- I mean I know you’re not mine and I can’t just say stuff like that but… but I wasn’t lying when I said you made me feel safe. You always make me feel safe. And you’re- you’re the only one who’s-,” he bit off his words, fingers running though his hair in frustration.

“Who’s what?” Chandler prompted when Kent broke off.

He wanted to say Chandler was the only one who’s ever cared, but that wasn’t strictly true. He did care in the way Kent needed him to though, with careful pushing when he knew Kent could handle it, with backing off when it was obvious he couldn’t, with his gentle touches and his tight holds, his arms cocooning Kent from the rest of the world.

He felt horrible about himself most of the time, the sentiment made worse by the paranoia that everyone who knew about him was judging him in every way he judged himself.

Chandler had never made him feel that way though. Had never given him a reason to ever think that he would.

Kent looked up with trepidation. “I kissed you,” he whispered.

His heart was thumping. He didn’t want to see that same look he thought he saw in everyone else’s eyes directed at him by Chandler. He couldn’t bear it. Even if Chandler didn’t feel the same way he did, the thought that he wouldn’t care enough to keep hold of them, of him, was terrifying.

“I know,” Chandler said, softly.

Kent smiled forlornly. “I kissed you because I wanted to. I know I shouldn’t have and I’m sorry I put you in that position, but I wasn’t thinking about it. I just- it seemed only-,”

“-natural?” Chandler finished.

“Yeah,” Kent breathed out shakily. “Yeah, it was.”

Chandler smiled softly then and Kent felt his breath catch, watching as he reached over to tug the corner of his duvet up in invitation, his eyes never leaving Kent’s as he shifted a little across the bed.

He took an automatic step forward before stopping himself, eyes flittering between Chandler and the space he’d made for him.

Neither of them said anything for a long moment.

“Joe?” He breathed, heart in his throat. He’d only come to see Chandler to apologise, to maybe have to say goodbye. He’d fully expected Chandler to put a stop to their- friendship.

And yet here he was, covers pulled back in an invitation that was hard to misinterpret.

Kent hesitated. The choice was his.

But what choice exactly.

“I thought-,” he took a tentative step forward.

“You’re not the only one Miles thinks is getting too close,” Chandler said simply.

“But you- I- I didn’t think-?” Kent stuttered, not daring to hope.

“Did he tell you?” Chandler asked.

Kent nodded, stopping at the foot of Chandler’s bed.

“You didn’t believe him?”

“Of course not!” Kent all but exclaimed, surprised by the surprise on Chandler face.

“I thought that’s why you were so upset.” Chandler said, pushing up a little. “When Miles said you’d run off I assumed-,”

Kent shook his head, vehement and disbelieving. “No, I- I threw myself into your arms, didn’t I?”

Chandler shot him a wry smile and Kent inched forward until he was sitting beside Chandler on the mattress, legs curling up beside him. Chandler reached out, his fingers curling around Kent’s own.

“I assumed he hadn’t told you then. He’d been threatening to do it, but you know what Miles is like, when it comes to us he’s all bark.”

“There’s a bit more than bark to him,” Kent muttered and Chandler squeezed at his hand.

“His heart is in the right place,” he defended. “And he’s not wrong. This could ruin us if- if there was an us.”

Kent sucked in a deep breath. “You’re not- you’re not mad then?”

“How could I be?” Chandler asked, as if the whole thing was as simple as that. Kent sucked in another breath, feeling shuddery and too-hot.

“I would never have acted on my feeling for you though,” Chandler admitted. “No more than I’ve already allowed myself to show them.”

Kent didn’t know if he wanted to run away or throw himself into Chandler’s arms. It was still on the side of too-dark in the room, their words half-whispered in the darkness and Kent could almost believe this entire conversation was some feverish dream his mind had conjured up to torment him.

“Why?” he whispered and Chandler smiled, lifting his hand to kiss at his knuckles.

“Because I’m not entirely convinced you don’t just feel this way about me because of the way I’ve been there for you, because I’ve- because I’ve somehow manipulated the way you feel about me since that day I came to see you in the hospital.”

“No,” Kent breathed out, his fingers now clutching urgently at Chandlers. “You haven’t. I’ve felt how I feel about you since the moment we met.” He ducked his head. “Sort of. I- it’s- I do feel more for you now, and it is because of how you’ve been there for me, but… but I’ve always- always- wanted you.”

“Emerson,” and Chandler was pushing up into his space, his other hand coming up to cup at his jaw.

A hotness ran through him then, thundering his heart and drying his mouth. “I- Joe-,” he didn’t finish, didn’t wait for Chandler to make the next move.

Throwing it all to the wind, Kent leant in.

He felt the puff of warm air against his lips as he held his mouth an inch away from Chandler’s before he pushed in, pressed their mouths together and moved his lips across Chandler’s in a kiss.

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