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to take the pain away

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He went from asleep to awake almost instantly, his eyes wide and staring into the half-dark of Chandler’s bedroom. His heart was hammering against his ribcage, his body held poised, tensed with trepidation and the almost overwhelming expectation of an imminent attack.

Yet, as deeply as he squinted into the shadowy corners of the room, nothing happened, and slowly Kent allowed himself to suck in a shaky gasp of air. It took a moment to realise exactly what had woken him, what had wrenched him from a dreamless sleep; it was the same thing that had woken him a time or two before in the scant few weeks he’d been sharing Chandler’s bed: the feeling of a solid warmth at his back.

Kent felt himself tensing all over again; fingers digging like claws into the mattress as he squeezed his eyes closed and held his breath in an attempt to stave off the familiar panic he could feel bubbling away inside him, as he realised that in sleep he’d allowed Chandler to curl himself around Kent, to press himself so wholly alongside him that Kent knew- had Chandler been awake- he’d have been able to feel the thick lines of scarring that ran from his buttocks to his upper thighs.

His chest began to ache. Kent opened his eyes and, forcing himself to swallow back the panic, took a shuddering breath, and then another. Forced himself to ignore the way his skin prickled, to pretend that being touched- there- wasn’t as terrifyingly intimate as he knew it was.

Cautiously he arched his body away from Chandler’s, moving achingly slow in an endeavour not to wake him. It had been bad enough the first time this had happened. And the second. Even the third, he’d admit. Too caught up in freaking out he’d all but sprung from the bed with nary a thought in mind save flight, and promptly locked himself in the bathroom as he’d flashed back to his initial attack; the feeling of Chandler pressed against him scarily reminiscent of the way the Kray’s had touched him, before they’d sliced him open for their pleasure.

He kept his eyes open now as he manoeuvred his way onto his back, not daring to relax so much as a muscle until he was on his back and the only thing pressing against him was the firmness of the mattress beneath them. The arm Chandler had had slung over his waist, now rested on his stomach and Kent found himself clutching at it, using the touch to anchor himself, to tell himself it was okay- he was okay - and that nothing had happened.  

He shivered, staring up at the ceiling and wondered not for the first time if he’d ever get better. If the memories, the imaginings, the fear, would ever go away. Would ever be just a thing that had happened that no longer had any bearing on his day to day life.

Kent barely realised he’d been squeezing at Chandler’s hand in his turmoil until suddenly Chandler’s hand squeezed back. He flinched bodily, muscles tight as he turned his head to find Chandler watching him, his eyes half-hooded with sleep, his brow creased in a frown.

How long had he been awake? 

“Sorry,” he breathed out, offering Chandler a shaky smile.

“Shouldn’t I be the one apologising?” Chandler asked, blinking the sleep from his eyes.

Kent shook his head, turning against the pillow to look back up at the ceiling, throat suddenly tight. Chandler squeezed at his hand again.

“At least I stayed in bed this time,” he offered, his attempt to lighten the mood lost as he choked on the words. He was slightly horrified to find his eyes prickling.

Chandler pushed himself up to better look at him, but Kent turned his face further away, blinking his eyes fervently. 

“Emerson,” his name came as a sigh. Kent didn’t move, or answer, and the silence between them grew. It might even have grown uncomfortable if it weren’t for the way Chandler kept a tight hold on his hand, his thumb ghosting across his knuckles, waiting him out.

Kent let himself focus on the touch for a little while. Let himself wonder why in sleep he seemed to trust Chandler to touch him where he could barely stand to touch himself. Even now, with his back pressed against the bed, his stomach still churned with latent panic, his body still poised for flight, and the very thought of closing his eyes sent a sliver of terror through him, as if he knew by sleeping the Krays would choose to visit him in his dreams tonight.

Eventually Kent turned his head to look at Chandler, not quite meeting his eyes, but not exactly avoiding them either. He felt as though he should say something but he wasn’t sure what. Another apology seemed pointless, he’d spilled so many of them recently he was sure Chandler was tired of hearing them.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he eventually settled with.

“I don’t mind,” Chandler returned and Kent frowned; his fear giving way to an anger that was just as irrational. He swallowed thickly, lifting his free hand to press against his eyes; fingers digging in just a little too deeply.

He wasn’t angry with Chandler. He was angry with himself. With his inability to function like a normal person. To be this strong and stubborn man Chandler swore he still was. Somewhere beneath all the scars at least.

“Don’t,” Chandler said a second before he was tugging their hands free and lifting his own to pull Kent’s fingers away from his eyes. He jerked back, blinking away the spots obstructing his vision to glare at Chandler.

“Emerson,” this time his name sounded as a warning. He turned his head again, looking away and he heard Chandler sigh. “I’m not going to make you talk if you don’t want to, but I’m also not going to let you punish yourself for something you can’t control.”

That irritable prickling started at his eyes again.

“Easy as that?” he asked, swallowing the bitterness he could feel coating his words. He moved to wipe somewhat discreetly at his eyes but Chandler caught his hand again and Kent- unthinking- turned to glare at him, realising too late that Chandler would see just how undone he felt.

It wouldn’t be anything new, but Kent felt as though he should be in a place where he could control his emotions by now. It had been months since the attack. Mere weeks since his sabbatical. He’d been making progress: real, tangible, more goods days than bad, progress! But where was the proof of that now? Where was the positivity, the belief that he was (getting) better, the verification that after all his suffering, he was finally at the end of it!

“Oh, Emerson,” Chandler whispered, cupping at his face. Kent blinked, trying to force away the blur of tears without letting them fall. Chandler leant in, pressing a kiss to his forehead in a gesture he’d come to associate as one of comfort and safety, and he found himself rolling into Chandler, curling himself against his chest and pressing his face against the crook of his neck.

“I don’t deserve you,” he breathed, the words a hot whisper into Chandler’s skin. He felt the arm Chandler had wrapped around his waist tighten.

“You deserve anything- everything - you want.” Chandler returned, ardently.

“I want to get better,” he pleaded. “I want to stop freaking out over every stupid little thing. I want you-, he broke off. Chandler’s skin was damp where he had his face pressed against it.

“You want me, to what?” Chandler prompted, squeezing again at his waist. Kent shook his head.

Chandler pulled back a little. “I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

“You said you wouldn’t make me talk.” Kent returned, looking imploringly up at him.

Chandler huffed, looking torn between worry and frustration. Kent bit at the inside of his mouth, heart aching at the knowledge that he’d put that look on Chandler’s face.

“Sometimes I don’t know how to put what I feel into words,” Kent sighed, dropping his gaze. He let his fingers skim across Chandler’s collarbone, peripherally pleased that Chandler seldom wore a shirt to bed.

“Sometimes I just need to sort things out myself.” He stilled his fingers and looked up again, meeting Chandler’s eyes. “Sometimes you can’t help me.”

“Sometimes I wish you’d let me try.” Chandler whispered back. Kent reached up to touch at his face then, frowning, and drew Chandler into a chaste kiss.

“You’ve helped me so much already.” He said, pulling back. “I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

He leant in again before Chandler could speak, ghosting his mouth across Chandler’s own and pressing a light kiss to the side of his mouth.

“Don’t be mad,” he breathed and Chandler seemed to deflate.

“I’m not mad at you,” he said, touching their foreheads together, and Kent smiled as honestly as he could, praying that the room was still dark enough despite Chandler’s open curtains to hide that it didn’t quite reach his own eyes.

Chandler’s deepening frown said otherwise but he didn’t call Kent out on it- something they could both be grateful for. Whilst most of their heart-to-hearts seemed to be held in the ‘middle of the night’, so to speak, both of their emotions were usually running too high to leave Kent anything other than wrung out and frustrated, as if he’d fly apart at the seems at any given moment.

That and he didn’t want to fight with Chandler. Not ever, but especially not here, in bed, where Kent felt the sort of safe he hadn’t felt since before his attack. He knew that in this room, in Chandler’s bed, he could sleep safe in the knowledge that Chandler was beside him, and that nothing would hurt him here.

Nothing except his own subconscious at least.

But even then, even when he woke up, fear-drenched and shaking, panic riding him like a puppet, he could always count on Chandler to talk him down, to hold him close and tight and tell him that everything would be okay. That he had him. That he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I don’t want to fight, Joe,” Kent whispered, touching at Chandler’s face, brushing at the hair that fell forward into his eyes.

Chandler’s answering smile was a little tremulous but still more genuine than Kent’s attempt had been. “I know. I don’t want to fight either.”

Kent nodded, once. Lips pursing. “I am sorry.”

“I know you are,” Chandler leant in and offered him a chaste kiss of his own. “Let’s just try to get some more sleep?”

Kent’s heart picked up a staccato beat at the very thought but he still nodded his agreement, still let Chandler draw him close and cocoon him in the safety of his arms, still closed his eyes and pressed his face against the crook of Chandler’s neck and breathed deeply- in through the nose, out through the mouth. And prayed they could spend the rest of the night unplagued by anything his mind could come up with.

He closed his eyes and bit his tongue, trying to ignore the immediate image of a knife slicing down towards him that sprung up behind his eyelids.

“Hey,” Chandler whispered against his temple, arms tightening. “Emerson you’re shaking.”

“‘M okay,” he denied, ignorant of the faint tremors running through his body.

“No, you’re not,” Chandler tried to pull away, stopped only when Kent tensed his entire body, hands scrabbling at his shoulders. “Jesus, Em- what’s wrong?”

Kent shook his head. “Sorry,” he murmured, mouthing the words against Chandler’s throat. “It’s a bit fresh in my mind,” he offered, hesitantly, but didn’t elaborate.

He could feel the way Chandler bristled, bolstering himself up for what Kent expected to be another offer to talk about it.

“Is there anything I can do?” He asked instead. Kent could have kissed him.

In fact… he let himself pull away just far enough to tilt his head up towards Chandler, who immediately angled his head down towards his own. Their mouths met mutually; tentative at first, both of them a little unsure if this was the sort of thing either of them should be doing right now. But Kent was nothing if not a pro at the whole denial thing, and Chandler, well he knew him well enough by now to pick his battles.

Their kisses became a little surer then, a little harder; mouths moving almost sloppily, desperately against each others. And Kent let his mind go blissfully, thankfully blank, filled only with the taste and touch of Chandler. He opened his mouth, soft moans spilling from his lips as Chandler immediately licked his way inside of him, tangling their tongues wetly.

Kent curled his hand around the back of Chandler’s neck, urging him to follow as he rolled onto his back. Their mouths broke contact only long enough for Chandler to lever himself up beside him, to trail a possessive hand down his chest; fingers creeping under his rucked up t-shirt to curl around his ribcage.

Kent gasped, shivering for a whole new reason at the look on Chandler’s face, at the way his fingers sent goosebumps rising up along his skin. He tugged at Chandler’s neck, a whine caught low in his throat as Chandler resisted only momentarily before ducking his head to slide their lips together again.

He moaned into Chandler’s mouth, greedy for more, greedy for the hot drag of their lips, the wet slide of their tongues, the way Chandler’s hand lay against his skin like a brand, each skim of his fingers as they moved from rib to waist to hip sending fissions of want through his body, making him squirm and his muscles clench.

Though Chandler’s touch remained above the waistband of his pyjama bottoms, it was still lower than they’d ever gone before and Kent found himself sucking in his stomach, his muscles quivering, as Chandler’s thumb stroked over the prominent jut of his hipbone.

“Should I-,” Chandler broke away at Kent’s reaction, sliding his hand back up towards his waist.

Kent moved to grab at Chandler’s hand, pushing it- achingly slow- back down towards his hip, spreading his fingers between Chandler’s till they brushed over the edge of his pyjamas.

“Emerson,” he breathed, pupils blown wide. “You don’t have to-,”

“Kiss me,” Kent urged, ignoring his words.

“Em-,” Chandler started, startling when Kent surged up to claim his mouth again, their joined hands pressed firmly to his body, refusing to let up until Chandler- getting the hint- relaxed against him and resumed the steady stroking of his thumb against Kent’s skin.

“Is this okay?” he breathed.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Kent gasped against the side of his mouth, dragging his teeth along the length of his jaw, smiling breathlessly. His heart was thumping against his chest, but this time it was in a good way, because he wasn’t freaking out about it. He knew where he was and exactly who he was with and- though he knew he probably wasn’t ready for anything else, for Chandler to see that part of him- this still felt like a step in the right direction.

He left open mouthed kisses against Chandler’s jaw, his throat, his mouth when Chandler turned back, groaning against his lips before pulling away to press their foreheads together, his eyes meeting Kent’s before looking further down the length of him. He tightened his hand, thumb caressing at the sensitive skin around his hip and he smiled; softly, almost privately, and Kent found himself all but grinning back, arching his body a little to press himself more fully against Chandler’s grip.

Chandler caressed him again, his hand stilling momentarily before sliding from his hip and across his abdomen. Kent sucked in a breath, and his stomach, as Chandler’s hand settled a smidgen lower, right upon his waistband. He was watching Kent carefully and Kent felt his breath catch against his throat, hesitant, wanton, swallowing against his uncertainties as he met Chandler’s gaze.

He didn’t- he couldn’t- Kent opened his mouth to apologise only for his words to get lost as Chandler leant in, his kiss softer than the last, slower, his hand sliding away from Kent’s stomach and settling somewhere closer to his waist.

Kent felt himself loosen where he hadn’t known he’d tensed, and raked his fingers through Chandler’s hair, mouth parting easily beneath his in a breathless thanks. The pace of their kisses changed then, becoming unhurried and leisurely where before they’d been more than a little desperate.

They traded slow, languid kisses for a while longer, until the thrum of passion eased and they were left soft and pliant in one another’s arms.

Sleep came easy then; without fear or trepidation, cocooned as he was in Chandler’s protective embrace.

 - - -

The rain was heavier than it had been for a while. At least, that’s what Kent thought, as they pulled into the station’s parking lot. It had started as a heavy shower of hailstones, thick chunks of white ice thundering down on the roof of Chandler’s car almost out of the blue, startling them both. By the time they’d reached the station, the hail had stopped but the rain quickly took its place, the drops just as thick and heavy and bouncing up off the road.

“We’ve got time,” Chandler said, reaching over to take Kent’s hand, stalling him as he reached for the door.

“I don’t think it’s going to ease up anytime soon,” he replied doubtfully, squinting out the window and just about making out the car parked one space down.

Chandler was smiling at him when he turned back. “What?”

“Come here,” Chandler tugged on his hand, urging Kent in closer.

Kent felt his own lips twitching upwards as Chandler leant in to kiss him; little pecks against his mouth that Chandler refused to deepen despite Kent’s urging.

Kent sighed happily into Chandler’s next kiss, a whimper of sound catching in his throat as his bottom lip was caught between Chandler’s own and sucked lightly into his mouth.

They hadn’t spoken much this morning as they’d stumbled, bleary-eyed out of bed, but they hadn’t needed to. Chandler kept to his word about not making Kent talk, and Kent- far from wallowing in his own despair- found himself unable to think of anything else save the touches they’d shared that night instead.

They’d been full of bashful smiles and soft touches, finding any excuse to step in close and touch and kiss. It was almost a shame when Chandler had looked at his watch and they’d had to leave to get to work.

He’d have thought that the second they’d gotten into the car, Chandler would have reverted back to the in-charge persona he used at work, but had been pleasantly surprised instead by the way he continued to reach out and touch at his arm, his hand, offering him smiles when he could afford to look away from the road.

The last thing Kent had ever expected was to end up making out in Chandler’s car. It made for a strange kind of intimacy; the sound of their breathing, their mouths meeting, the loud sort of quiet of being cosseted in the car with the rain pounding down around them.

Kent was seconds away from grabbing Chandler by his collar in an effort to deepen their kisses when a sudden rapping at the driver’s side window had them jumping apart.

Though the figure standing at Chandler’s door was distorted by the water running down the window, Kent could hazard a guess as to whom it was before Chandler had finished rolling down his window.

He manoeuvred a large golf umbrella over the exposed window, peering into the car to greet Chandler only to blink in surprise at finding Kent there too. Though he didn’t say anything, Kent saw his eyes lingering on their faces and touched self-consciously at his presumably reddened mouth (if Chandler’s was anything to go by).

“I’ve only got room for one,” Miles said, jiggling the umbrella and sending a cascade of raindrops sailing into the car. Chandler flinched away, brushing at the sleeve of his jacket with a frown.

“I don’t mind the rain,” Kent offered, and- leaving neither of them with an opportunity to protest- promptly opened his door and stepped out into the deluge.

It really was as heavy as it looked. By the time he reached the alcove between buildings he was drenched through and shivering with cold, only the area covered by his jacket seemed to have survived the thirty-something seconds he’d spent dashing through it towards shelter. He shook his hair out, running his fingers through the limp strands and brushing them away from his face.

He hesitated a moment then, wondering if he should wait for Chandler and Miles, or whether he should head into the building without them.

Things were better between Miles and himself now, but not enough that he wanted to inspire another chat by seeming to be too friendly with Chandler at work. That Miles knew there was something between them at all made things awkward enough.

The decision to move was taken out of his hands however when Chandler and Miles came running up to the alcove not long behind him.

“Bloody weather,” Miles muttered, shaking out his umbrella. He turned away from them, ignoring the smile Chandler gave Kent.

“You look like a downed rat,” Chandler laughed, reaching out with his scarf to wipe at the back of Kent’s neck, where the water still in his hair was running down.

Kent felt his heart lurch a little at the gesture, his cheeks flushing lightly at the public display. He ducked his head, biting at the insides of his cheek to keep from smiling too widely as he followed them into the station.

Chandler’s hand still on the back of his neck.

 - - - 

Llewellyn, having compared her notes on each victim, had been able to confirm that whilst all four cases were eerily similar in terms of facial disfiguration, they had not infact been inflicted by the same person.

The first victim, Jordan Mustapha had uneven, repetitive cuts to both sides of his mouth, but the cuts were only a few inches wide on each side as if his attacker hadn’t been confident enough in his task. It was hard to tell if Mustapha had been trying to fight back or if his attacker had become frustrated with his own hesitation, but the cause of death was noted as being a stab wound to the side of the neck.

Whilst the third victim, Jahmal Hayes, could be considered an escalation to the first murder (surer, less uneven cuts to both sides of the mouth and the cause of death also listed as a stab wound to the neck), the other two victims could not.

Victoria Parker had been the second, her mouth had been sawed open on both sides up towards the ears, the sawing motion wielded by her attacker suggested a lack of strength but not of conviction. Where the other attacker(s) had lacked the conviction but not the strength. Her cause of death was also due to drowning, she had not otherwise been stabbed.

The last of them, Daniel Smith, showed a remarkably different motive with the left side of his face having been ripped open towards the eye and the rest of his body having been severely mutilated.

It was hard to confirm, especially considering the length of time the body had been in the water, but Llewellyn thought that the stabbings to Mr Smith’s chest had been done premortem- the mix of light cuts and deep stabbings suggesting an escalation, a growing confidence, before the facial mutilation had taken place postmortem.

All in all, as her notes suggested, each murder had been committed by a different person with the exception of victims one and three which may or may not have been committed by the same one.

Unfortunately, due to the time each victim had spent in the water, DNA evidence was sadly lacking.

Kent flicked through the file on Daniel Smith once more. Oddly enough, despite his reaction to seeing the body and hearing the name, Smith’s file was still the only one Kent could look at without feeling like the bottom of his stomach was about to fall out.

He still avoided looking at the pictures however, finally able to accept that he may never be immune to seeing another knife victim again (especially in the flesh). He still hadn’t asked Chandler to look at the previous three bodies. Their pictures had been enough for him. And really, what could he hope to discover by looking at them that Llewellyn was likely to have missed?

Kent sighed. Closing the file again. They’d found the initial bodies a week apart from each other, with Smith’s being the one found in the week before he’d returned back to work. Kent had been back at work for almost three weeks now and they hadn’t gotten much further in regards to solving this one.

He knew they’d all secretly been hoping that he’d serve as a fresh pair of eyes, that he’d maybe see something they’d all missed, but aside from suggesting the murders may have been gang related (something it turned out Miles had already considered, and was still considering), he hadn’t been able to contribute much more.

Mansell was convinced they were dealing with another serial killer, based on the fact they’d found the bodies spaced a week apart and the similarity to the attacks. But when no more bodies were reported in the following weeks after Kent’s return, that suggestion had been put to the bottom of the pile.

Kent was reviewing Smith’s file again due to an interview he was supposed to be sitting in on with Riley later that afternoon- nothing too exciting, just some routine questions for the ex who’d just returned from holiday- when the call came in.

Two more bodies had been found.

It was hard to reconcile Mansell’s sudden smugness with the broiling anticipation he could feel curdling his stomach, and kept his head down as Chandler briefed them on the two separate locations.

“I don’t want to postpone the interview with Daniel Smith’s ex-girlfriend this afternoon, Riley you were meant to be conducting this one weren’t you?” Chandler asked.

“I can be back in time for the interview,” she started but Miles shook his head.

“We’ll be getting into lunchtime traffic soon, if we leave now we’ll beat the rush to the first spot but getting to the second one will be tricky enough, never mind getting back to the station.”

There was a split second of silence following Miles’ statement where everyone seemed to look at anyone else but him, and Kent didn’t know whether to inwardly sigh or thank them. It was a blatant set up to keep him in the station, but Kent couldn’t find it in himself to bristle. Whilst he was actively trying to challenge himself as far as dealing with this case was concerned, he could realistically admit to not being ready to see any of the other bodies up close- most especially not the ones pulled just fresh from the Thames.

“I can stay and do the interview, Serg?” Kent offered. He swallowed heavily as all eyes suddenly converged on him. He had a fleeting moment of uncertainty, wondering if he’d read the situation wrong before Chandler chimed in.

“Are you sure?” And he wasn’t just asking about the interview. Kent nodded, offering a small smile. Chandler gave him a long, hard stare before nodding back once.

“Okay, Kent will take the lead on this afternoon’s interview. Miles and I will head to the first crime scene. Mansell, Riley, head to the second. Dr Llewellyn will be at the second site, get her initial assessment and statements from whoever found the body. Be ready to leave in five minutes.”

Everyone moved off then, with Miles and Chandler heading into his office and Mansell and Riley to their desks to pack up whatever they needed to take with them. Kent hovered at his desk, feeling an odd sort of emptiness at not going with his team.

“Told you it was a serial killer,” Mansell hissed over towards Riley who was rolling her eyes when Kent looked over.

“Try not to be so happy about it,” she hissed back, pointedly looking at Kent who in turn rolled his eyes at Mansell who grinned.

“Kent knows my wit and charm is all a deflection for how distraught I truly am over these horrendous crimes.” Mansell said, clasping his hands over his heart.

“You’re insensitive is what you are,” Riley laughed, at the same time Kent snorted and said: “Distraught my arse.”

“They may still be gang related,” Mansell added with a shrug, “Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“I’m not sure which would be worse.” Kent said, stilling.

“What, why?” Riley asked.

“Considering our track record with serial killers and gangs?” Kent asked and watched as the other two stilled, sharing an awkward look between them. Kent shifted, biting at his tongue and turning back to his desk.

“Um,” Kent jumped as Mansell came up behind him. “You know I didn’t mean anything by it, right? I was just joking about-,” he waved his hand awkwardly.

“What? Of course,” Kent forced a smile onto his face, wishing he’d kept his mouth closed.

“It’s just… Riley’s right,” he pressed on, scratching at the back of his head. “I can sometimes be insensitive. Well, I am most of the time. But, you know, I don’t mean it?”

“Yeah, course.”

Mansell hesitated a moment, then opened his mouth as if he were about to say something else only to snap it shut again as Chandler and Miles stepped out of his office.

“Right then,” he inclined his head at Kent before hurrying off to his desk. He watched him go a moment, frowning, until Chandler stepped into his line of sight.

“You’ll be okay?” He asked, quiet enough not to be overheard.

“It’s only an interview.” Kent agreed.

“That’s not what I meant.” He said, discreetly reaching out to catch at Kent’s hand, tangling their fingers briefly.

Kent sighed, relaxing. “I’ll be fine.”

“Phone if you need me?” Chandler asked, only stepping away when Kent promised.

The silence after they left was almost deafening.

It took Kent less than a minute to realise that this was the first time he’d actually been left alone in the Incident Room since his initial attack.

  - - -

He couldn’t settle for the longest time.

Every little noise, the creak of shoes on cheap linoleum, the ticking of the radiators, they all had him on high alert, twisting in his seat until his right leg began to spasm from the repeated wrenching.

Scowling openly, Kent massaged at the underside of his thigh, biting back a wince as his fingertips pressed against the thick line of scarring beneath his trousers. It helped ease the muscle, but not the cluster of nerves beneath it that were seizing and sending sparks of pain down his leg.

Kent bit his lip against the twinges, against his own paranoia. It’s not like he expected anyone to come into the Incident Room for him, not now anyway. Maybe in the first few months after he’d been cornered here, but he trusted Chandler when he said they’d rooted out as many of Kray’s men as they’d been able to find. And surely anyone holding a grudge over that whole sorry affair would have made a move by now?

Stupid. Stupid. He cursed himself as he heard someone passing by the door and tensed instinctively at the sound.

They hadn’t made any noise the last time.

Kent felt the back of his neck prickle in remembrance.

No, they hadn’t.

He’d look up and they’d just be standing there and watching him.

He’d look again and suddenly they’d be gone.

But when he looked again…

“DC Kent?” A uniformed officer was standing just inside the room, watching him.

Kent startled badly, dropping the Smith file; papers flying every which way.

“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you!” The officer said, giving him an embarrassed sort of smile.

Kent waved her off, smiling somewhat shakily in return.

“Sorry,” he apologised, bending in his seat to grab the pages back up. “Working too hard I guess.”

She laughed politely, clearing her throat a little as Kent straightened, biting at his cheeks to curtail another open wince of pain. His heart was thundering against his chest, his fingers shaking and sloppy as he shoved the fallen papers back into the manila folder.

“Um. I’m PC Valo. I’m supposed to be sitting in on your interview today?” She said, still watching him.

“Oh, yes,” Kent nodded, glancing at the mess in his hands for a name. “Has Ms-,”

“Ms Connolly has arrived.” She agreed, “I’ve set her up in one of the interview rooms.”

Kent smiled his thanks before carefully easing himself up and out of his chair. He could feel the tremble in his leg the instant he was on his feet and reached out to grab at his desk.

“If you give me a minute to get my things in order, I’ll meet you there?” It was offered as a suggestion but the surprise on her face said she knew it wasn’t.

“Of course.” She agreed, leaving quickly.

Kent turned back to his desk, bending slightly at the waist, as though he could stretch the muscle out like a cramp. It helped a little, but not enough to keep the limp from his walk as he eventually stepped away and moved from his desk towards the doors.

 - - -

It was a few hours more before the team returned, drenched and downtrodden after viewing the bodies of their two latest victims.

Kent had phoned Chandler after conducting his rather uneventful interview, offering to meet the team out in the field. The silence on his part when Chandler said there was no need, that they were almost done anyway and could fill him in when they got back, was due partly to disappointment and largely to what felt like a hand squeezing at his insides at the thought of having to spend more time alone in the Incident Room.

Returning after the interview hadn’t been fun. Not after freaking himself out so wholly before seeing Ms Connolly. His leg still hurt but he didn’t dare take anything for the pain whilst on the job.

“Emerson?” Chandler’s voice was softer, muffled, as if he’d turned away to make the call more private. His concern evident. “Is everything okay?”

He squeezed his eyes shut, swallowed heavily. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.”

Chandler was silent this time and Kent winced. He couldn’t do this though, he couldn’t start a conversation like this over the phone.

“I’ll see you when you get back. Sir.” Kent said then.

“I won’t be long.” Chandler promised.

Not long had turned out to be three hours later. Chandler full of apologies and grousing about an incident involving the press at the second scene, which Miles and himself had ended up having to attend.

Kent offered them all a sympathetic smile, saying nothing as they migrated to their respective desks to dump their things and make attempts at drying off.

He turned back to his own desk, looking at the half-written report he’d been working on since the interview and grimaced. It was a poor showing for a days work, he knew, but he’d been unable to devote his full attention to it. Too hyperaware of every little noise, too busy counting down the ticks of the clock and wondering just when exactly ‘ won’t be long ’ was meant to be.

“Everyone go home,” Chandler said, coming out of his office with a fresh set of clothes on. His hair however, soaked from the rain and raked back with his fingers refused to stay put and fell forward into his eyes.

“Dr Llewellyn is getting started on the autopsies, we already have the identities, there’s not much else to do tonight that we can’t do first thing tomorrow.”

Nobody protested the announcement. Not even Miles who tipped his head at Chandler before following the other two out of the room, vague goodbyes thrown over their shoulders towards them. 

Kent turned back to his desk to find Chandler watching him. He huffed a laugh, leaning back carefully and folding his arms across his chest, feeling considerably more relaxed now that someone else was here with him.

“I’m fine,” he said before Chandler could ask.

Chandler raised his eyebrows and moved to lean against the desk beside him. Kent thought of the first time Chandler had done this, all those months ago. The way he’d reached out and cupped his jaw, traced his thumb across his cheek.

Instead of reaching for Kent however, he half-turned to survey his desk, eyes skimming the unfinished report Kent was still working on.

“This from the interview?” Chandler asked, no inflection to his voice.

Kent felt his cheeks heat immediately and dropped his head. “I- yes. I’m still working on it.”

“Busy day?” Chandler queried and Kent flinched. He should have known he’d have to explain his distraction to Chandler.

“Have you taken your tablets?” he asked when Kent didn’t answer. Kent looked up quickly, surprised.

“You look like you’re in pain.” He explained. “What happened?”

Kent sighed, rubbing at his eyes. “This was the first time I’ve been alone here since-,” he broke off.

“I know,” Chandler said, reaching for him then, his hand cold as he gripped at Kent’s

Kent nodded. “I didn’t realise until you’d already left.”

“I didn’t either,” he said, making it sound like an apology. Kent shook his head, absolving him without words.

“I just got myself a little worked up. Kept jumping at the daftest things. My leg,” he shrugged, as if that explained everything. Chandler nodded.

“How did the interview go?” He asked.

“About as well as the rest of my day.” Kent sighed. “She wasn’t saying much, and anything she did say was just vague and indecisive.”

He squeezed at Kent’s hand. “You think she’s hiding something?”

Kent shrugged. “I think she was being very careful about what she did say. She wasn’t very happy at having to come in.”

“But nothing decisive?” Chandler clarified.

“Nothing decisive,” he agreed.

“Let’s go home then,” Chandler said, making to move.

“What about the other victims?” Kent asked, stilling Chandler with a hand to his wrist.

Chandler smiled at him, twisting away to catch at Kent’s fingers, tangling them with his. “Like I said, nothing we can’t leave for morning.”

He squeezed at Kent’s hand before standing and moving to grab his things from his office. Kent stood carefully, closing down his computer and moving the folders on his desk into a neat pile.

He was just grabbing up his own jacket when his phone began to ring. He stared at it dumbly for a minute before grabbing up the receiver.

“DC Kent,” he answered, frowning at nothing in particular.

‘Hi, it’s um Emily. From today? I spoke with you about Danny?’

“Ms Connolly, yes, hello,” Kent greeted, surprise lacing his voice.

‘Look, I’m sorry about today. I just- there’s some things I didn’t know how to tell you. Or if I should. The people who’re being hurt, um- killed,’ she corrected , ‘I might know-‘ she broke off.

“Ms Connolly, it would help us immensely if you could tell us anything you might know. It’ll help us get justice for Dan-Danny.” He implored, only stumbling a little over the name.

Silence reigned for a minute. ‘I’m not sure if I should…’

“I can arrange to have you protected if you’re afraid?” Kent offered, biting at his lips. He glanced up to find Chandler standing in his doorway, watching him carefully.

Um. Can you come tonight? I just… I’ll tell you everything I know but you have to come tonight.’

“I can do that,” Kent agreed readily. “Where shall I meet you, Ms Connolly?”

I’m at home.’

When Kent ended the call, Chandler was frowning. “That sounded-,”

“-more than a little suspicious?” Kent finished. “She says she withheld some information. Which is funny seeing as she didn’t share anything in the first place. Wants me to meet her at her home…” he drifted off, mouth twisting.

Chandler frowned again. “We’ll take two officers with us then,” Chandler decided, “just in case there’s any trouble. If she’s sincere we can leave them with her for protection.”

Kent raised his eyebrows. “We’re going?”

Chandler stared at him a moment, “Is there someone else you want to go with?” he asked, looking around the empty room.

“No! No… it’s just, you usually do this part with Miles.” Kent blurted, feeling immediately foolish.

“Miles isn’t here.” Chandler smiled, “And she called you.”

“I know, it’s just… well, he’s tetchy enough about the way things are between us and-,” Kent scratched at the back of his neck, shifting a little awkwardly. “I just don’t want him to think this is a- a preferential thing.”

“I think if the team were still here and Ms Connolly hadn’t specifically asked for you, then it would be different. If Miles has a problem with our conduct at work he’ll let us know either way, regardless of our intentions.”

“Yeah, he will,” Kent agreed, grimacing as he remembered their last few encounters.

“Are you up for this?” Chandler asked, nodding pointedly at the way Kent was leaning his left side against his desk to help alleviate the pressure on the right.

“I’ll be fine,” he dismissed, making a show of balancing his weight out.

Chandler looked like he wanted to say something in response to that. He turned away at the last minute, adjusting his scarf.

“What?” Kent asked, bristling.

Chandler shook his head, hair falling into his eyes. He scraped it back without thought.

“Just say it,” Kent sighed, angling himself back against his desk.

“I don’t want to fight,” he said, echoing Kent’s words from last night.

“I promise not to take too much offence,” Kent placated.

Chandler gave him another long stare. “I wish you wouldn’t lie to me.”

“What?” Kent blinked at him, startled. “When did I-,”

Chandler interrupted: “Every time you tell me you’re fine, but you’re clearly not.”

“I told you my leg was playing up?” he said slowly.

“The phone call earlier today?” Chandler started, “After I sent everyone else home, before I could even open my mouth? Last night?”

“Joe-,” It was Kent’s turn to rake his hand through his hair, fingers curling a little bit tighter, a little bit longer, than he knew he should. “Do you really want to do this now?”

Chandler shook his head. “We should get going,” he said instead, making towards the doors.

Kent darted forward, wincing openly as he jarred his leg, and grabbed at Chandler’s arm, stopping him.

“If I told you every time I wasn’t fine… that’s all I’d be telling you about some days.” He said, squeezing his fingers into Chandler’s arm.

“I don’t want this- us -  to be about how messed up I am and I don’t want you having to reassure me all the time either. Sometimes I just have to pretend, for my own sake. I am trying, Joe. And… I promise, okay, if I’m really not fine, I’ll talk to you.” He smiled softly, “I usually do, don’t I?”

Chandler raked his eyes over him before relaxing under his hand. He turned more fully towards Kent and offered his arms in placation. Kent went willingly enough, sighing into the damp collar of his coat.

“I’m sorry,” Chandler said, “I think today just has me on edge, after seeing those-,” he shook his head as if to dispel an image, “-and knowing you were here and not okay just made the whole day all the more frustrating.”

“You were worried about me?” Kent asked, hiding a smile.

“When am I not?” He returned.

“Hmm… maybe you should start telling me when you’re not fine?” He said, turning his head up towards Chandler who laughed.

“Maybe I should,” he agreed, leaning in to peck a kiss against his lips, ignorant of Kent’s blush at such a blatant display, even in the emptiness of the Incident Room.

“Was it really that bad?” Kent asked, clearing his throat and stepping out of Chandler’s arms. None of them had said anything about the bodies pulled from the Thames.

“Worse,” Chandler admitted, mouth tight. “A lot worse.”

 - - -

Knowing something was more than a little suspect and making that leap from suspicious to an all out set up was not something Kent had been prepared for. Though something told him he really should have seeing as the first words out of Emily Connolly’s mouth were of the ‘you didn’t come alone ’ variety.

She let them into her flat right enough and right into the path of the two men who were waiting for Kent.

With Connolly trying to slam the door before the two uniformed officers could step into the flat behind Chandler and himself, Kent paused, half-turning towards the tussle over the front door when he caught a glimpse of something flashing towards him from the right.

He managed to step back a second before the knife that came swinging towards him could connect with his face. He cried out in shock, lifting his arm in defence as he stumbled back down the short hallway. His attacker followed, with a second lunging towards Chandler. The first man grabbed at his arm, twisting it so violently that Kent found himself shoved face first into the wall behind him, knocking his head, his arm wrenched up behind his back till he screamed, feeling as though his shoulder had been ripped from the socket.

And suddenly he was flashing back to the Kray’s, to their initial attack, to being shoved against the wall and held down as he was striped. He felt his stomach roll, his ears ringing with the sound of his screams, a chilled numbness rushing through his body.

Not again , he prayed. Oh god, not again. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t- oh god.

The panic rose, sending his heart thundering, his body trembled and that horrible, all-consuming feeling of weakness, worthlessness, washed over him, freezing him to the spot as the knife came perilously close to his face.

Good boy.

He clenched his eyes closed against the sight of the knife, against the way the flat of it brushed against his mouth as his attacker jostled him, shouting commands to his accomplices.

A bang then- the front door being kicked open, a woman’s scream. Chandler screaming too. And Kent felt his heart clench, attention immediately focussing in on Chandler’s voice screaming his name through the roaring in his ears, and for the first time, he found himself fighting through the panic, to struggle against his attacker, to somehow manage to headbutt the guy in the face- the satisfying crunch of bone impacting- and the pain of a broken nose forcing him to let Kent go, to stumble back as Kent twisted round, breathing hard, in time to see Chandler take him out with a left hook.

“Emerson?” Chandler was calling him, but Kent could barely hear him, even when Chandler stood in front of him, hands gripping at his arms, calling his name repeatedly but as though through water. Distorted. Distant. Meant for somebody else.

And then suddenly everything was too loud and too real and too painful . As if someone had suddenly pressed the on switch. He wasn’t standing in the hall of the Connolly flat anymore though, he was lying prone on a bed in a room with a very distinctive, disinfectant sort of smell.

He groaned, turning his head to find Chandler sitting beside his hospital bed, asleep, brow creased in worry. He made to lift his arm, to reach out and take the hand he’d left resting beside him but the move sent fire racing through him and he bit back a whimper, vaguely recalling being shoved up against a wall and his arm being unceremoniously yanked up behind his back.

When the spots clouding his vision cleared enough for him to focus again, he discovered that there was a PCA system hooked up to his left arm and Kent wasted no time in pressing at the button, waiting for the pain relievers to get to work.

It wasn’t until he felt the drowsiness beginning to take over that he remembered the knife, remembered the Krays, remembered that maybe it was a bad idea to go to sleep after all. Too late though, as his vision dulled and he was swept off into unconsciousness.

 

That was the night the nightmares returned in earnest.

 - - -

The weeks following on from the attack were some of the most frustrating and testing for Kent and Chandler both. Kent had been discharged from the hospital with painkillers and his arm wrapped up in a sling the following morning, after a night spent jerking himself awake from nightmare after nightmare; images of knifes and blood and the Kray’s laughing, their hands reaching, reaching, touching…

Chandler had stayed through the night. Calmed him when he woke, held him until his tremors subsided and he was pulled unceremoniously back under by the next dose of painkillers. Neither of them got very much sleep that night.

Whilst nothing had been broken, his ligaments had been severely wrenched, but thankfully not torn. He was told to rest, keep his arm in the sling and ice it to reduce the pain and swelling. And if it was still as bad in a few weeks time when he went back for a check up, they’d reassess the damage and possibly look into surgery options.

They didn’t get out of the hospital until the early hours of the morning, Kent point-blank refusing to stay another second longer than he possibly had to. Chandler hadn’t been happy, but he’d also had no say in the matter when faced with Kent’s determination to leave with or without his consent.

Chandler had driven them both back to his apartment and things had steadily gone from bad to worse. Every little thing he did seemed to set his shoulder ablaze with pain; so much so that even breathing wrong hurt him so badly he’d feel tears spring to his eyes.

The ice packs only did so much, the painkillers- with their staggered dosages to ensure the maximum amount of coverage- only seemed to take the edge off, and to top it all off: every time he closed his eyes he saw that goddamned knife flying towards his face and promptly woke up drenched in a cold sweat, screaming and flailing and jerking his arm.

Not even sleeping beside Chandler could help, not when he was boxed in on either side by pillows to keep him still instead of in Chandler’s arms. The nightmares, and the never ending pain, topped with his humiliation at being a victim again , were enough to set him on edge. He found himself angry and snapping at the smallest of things, every time Chandler tried to help him especially.

He hated the wounded look Chandler sometimes got in his eyes, but more than that he hated the way his eyes would sometimes harden and he’d clench his jaw against everything he wanted to say in retaliation.

Kent started sleeping back at his own place during that first week. Tired of the way he’d been treating Chandler, tired of using pain and fear as an excuse. He’d been put on leave immediately following the attack, and maybe that was the sorest point of it all, the part that really gnawed at him, planting little seeds of doubt beneath his skin.

But things weren’t any better at his own place. His flatmates, used to his quirks since the Kray’s attack offered him a wide berth with not a single question and only offering help the once.

It was almost worse than Chandler’s hovering had been, having no body to look out for him. He spent his first day back drifting in and out of a restless sleep, waking sometime two mornings later and freaking himself out wondering if he was slipping back into bad habits.

His therapist had never sounded so happy to talk to him as when he phoned her out of the blue.

Five days after returning home, Chandler turned up at his door. He could have called, Kent supposed, but felt warmed that Chandler wanted to see him at all.

They sat awkwardly in the kitchen, still with dishes piled high on the drying board. Some still in the sink waiting to be washed. The bin hadn’t been emptied and no one had swept the floor and Kent felt a bit embarrassed to have Chandler sitting at the table with a his tea in a mismatched mug when he knew exactly how pristine Chandler’s own place was.

“They’ve reassigned the investigation,” Chandler said. Kent dragged a blunt fingernail over the design on his mug. He looked up at Chandler, frowning.

“Organised Crime,” he elaborated, grimacing. Kent shared in the sympathy.

“So it was gang related?” Kent asked.

Chandler nodded. “It was part of some kind of initiation. They- some of them were only kids,” he swallowed thickly. “They’d filmed the attacks on their mobile phones, proof to get in.”

Kent looked away, feeling a little raw. The kinds of deaths they dealt with were never not senseless, but this? This was more than just one persons kind of crazy, it was nonsensical, meaningless, so many lives lost just for the sake of getting into some gang?

“They’ll keep us updated,” Chandler pressed on, “But we’re off the investigation.”

Kent nodded. They didn’t talk about much aside from that and eventually Chandler stood, rinsing his mug and Kent’s both and sitting them at the side of the sink to dry.

Kent led him back to the front door, hovering on the front step, unsure what to say but knowing that he didn’t want Chandler to leave. Chandler was watching him, looking just as unsure.

“I miss you,” he said then, plain as day. Hands in the pockets of his coat, cheeks tingeing a little.

“I miss you too,” Kent breathed, face falling.

Chandler stepped in then, and mindful of his arm in the sling, drew Kent into his arms for the. God how he’d missed this. Kent thought, immediately burying his face against Chandler’s neck, breathing in deeply the scent of him.

When they eventually pulled away, Chandler took his free hand and without needing to ask, led him towards his car.

Stepping into Chandler’s apartment, he felt as though a weight had been lifted from him.

He turned, smiling at Chandler for the first time that day as he closed the door behind them.

Stepping into Chandler’s arms then however felt like coming home.

 - - - 

They’d settled into a semblance of a routine, with Kent and Chandler standing at the kitchen island, preparing tea.

He’d fetched the mugs and the teabags, Chandler heating the kettle and fetching the teaspoons.

Kent trying not to show how much pain he was in as he leaned heavily against the counter.

Chandler trying not to ask every time he noticed and burying his concern in every sip of tea.

It was only a matter of time before one of them ruined the happy medium.

The hand at his hip startled him badly and he twisted instinctively out of reach, the knee-jerk reaction caused his tea to slosh over the rim of his mug and before he could catch himself his fingers had already loosened their grip and Kent watched in muted horror as the mug hit the kitchen floor, ceramic and hot liquid exploding out across the room.

“I’m sorry!” They both exclaimed at the same time; Chandler with his hands in the air, Kent with his left cradled protectively across his right arm.

Chandler grabbed for a dishtowel and crouched, mopping up the tea and the broken pieces of the mug. “I shouldn’t have touched you,” he apologised. “I know better.”

“I- it’s okay,” Kent mumbled, “I just wasn’t expecting it.” His heart was pounding against his ribcage as though trying to break free. He sucked in a deep breath, holding it for as long as he could before shuddering out an exhale.

“Are you okay?” Chandler asked, chucking the whole mess straight into the rubbish bin before getting out another cloth and some bleach spray. He met Kent’s eyes worriedly, guiltily, and Kent nodded.

Chandler frowned. “No, I meant- you’re limping?”

“Oh,” Kent dropped his gaze, hunching in on himself a little. “It’s my leg, it’s still-I messed it up that night before we- before they-,” He stumbled over his words.

“That’s almost two weeks,” Chandler calculated. Kent shifted awkwardly.

“The tablets I have help take the edge off.” He offered, cheeks flushing as Chandler looked at him.

“What about your creams?” he asked. “Do you need to-,” he gestured towards the bathroom and Kent’s cheeks flushed darker.

“Hey,” Chandler stood then, throwing the cloth in the sink and returning the bleach to the cupboard beneath it, floor looking good as new. “What’s wrong?”

Kent looked elsewhere, feeling Chandler’s eyes staring at the top of his head.

“You haven’t been using them have you?” he asked softly.

“Things have been a little difficult,” he excused. More than a little, if he were honest. He could barely wipe his own arse without jerking his injured shoulder in a way that made learning to live with the sciatic pain his number one priority. He’d tried, once, to apply his creams and had ended up curled on his bedroom floor, crying with pain and frustration. Not even his Diazepam had been able to take the edge off that time.

“Do you need a hand?” Chandler asked, carefully, warily, as if he expected Kent to snap his head off for asking. A few weeks ago he might have, but now, and for what he was actually offering…

Kent could almost feel the colour draining from his face and he stepped hurriedly away from Chandler. “NO!” he shouted, backing away for every step Chandler tried to follow. “No,” he breathed, left arm held out and Chandler stopped, hands up and confused. “You can’t- I can’t- you’ll see !”

Oh god . He couldn’t. What if Chandler saw him and felt as revolted by his scars as Kent himself was? What if it was an imperfection too far with everything else Kent had thrown at him and Chandler called the whole thing off? He couldn’t live without Chandler in his life, didn’t want to try.

“Hey,” And Chandler was slipping into his personal space, gathering him into his arms. “What is it you think I’ll see, Emerson?”

“My scars,” he choked, clinging to the back of Chandler’s shirt with his free hand.

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked, as if he didn’t already know how Kent felt about them. Maybe not in so many explicit words, but the hints as to his self-loathing weren’t exactly few and far between.

“You’ll- they’re disgusting,” he said, his words strangled. “I’m disgusting.”

“No you’re not,” the denial came instantaneously, along with the tightening of Chandler’s arms. “You are brave, and beautiful and ridiculously stubborn at times, but you are not disgusting. Never that, Emerson.”

“No, I’m-,” he felt like sobbing as Chandler drew away to look at him, his hands urging Kent’s face up, forcing him to meet his gaze.

“-You’re perfect, and I love you. I love everything about you, Emerson. Even the parts I haven’t seen. Especially the parts of you I haven’t seen, because you’re a fighter and those scars are only a reminder of how strong you’ve been, nothing more.”

Kent stared, a roaring in his ears as he tried to process everything Chandler had said to him, his mind stuck on the loop of I love you I love everything about you .

“Let me help you,” Chandler spoke softly, his voice gentle and coaxing and Kent, at the end of his tether, was powerless to do anything other than nod his consent.

His body moved on autopilot as Chandler took him by the hand and lead them into the bedroom.

“I can’t-,” he choked out, feeling suddenly light-headed as he looked at the bed. “Oh god.”

“Hey, hey,” Chandler turned to him, drawing him back into his arms, hands running the length of his back. “You can. You’re stronger than you think you are, Emerson.”

“I don’t know that I am.” He admitted.

“You are,” Chandler said. “All we’re going to do now is undress a little bit, okay?”

He felt the tremors running through his body as Chandler reached out to unbutton his shirt, fingers swift but careful. He stood close enough for his sling to brush against Chandler’s chest, and he closed his eyes, trying to imagine this situation another way, with himself as another person- this brave, stubborn, person Chandler claimed to know.

The hand on his belt pulled a whimper from his lips and his eyes flashed opened, hand reaching out to clamp over Chandler’s own.

“Just to your boxers,” he promised, witing for Kent to inhale a few shuddery breaths before he nodded.

“Just to our boxers,” he said and Chandler smiled, leaning in to kiss him gently. It worked enough as a distraction and Kent wrapped his arm around Chandler’s neck, losing himself in the hard press of Chandler’s mouth before it softened eagerly beneath his own.

He felt cool air hit his legs seconds after his trousers hit the floor and he stepped gingerly from them, keeping his mouth pressed to Chandler’s as he shifted and writhed, removing his own shirt and pants, pulling back only when he heard Chandler’s own clothes hit the floor.

He stared at the pile at their feet, expensive tailoring left exactly where it fell and Chandler with eyes only for him. Something in his chest tightened and he moved in to kiss Chandler again.

“You’re trembling,” Chandler noticed as they drew apart once more, he ran his hands gently along Kent’s sides, careful not to dip too low. “You’re going to be okay,” he promised. “If you need me to stop just tell me and I will.”

Kent swallowed thickly but didn’t say anything as Chandler led them to the bed, helping Kent remove his sling and prop himself face-down against the pillows in a comfortable way.

“I mean it. I just want to help you, but if you decide you really can’t, you have to tell me Emerson. I don’t ever want to do anything you don’t want.”

“I’m scared,” Kent breathed. Turning his head into the pillows.

“Of what?” Chandler asked.

“Of what you’ll think. What you’ll really think.” It’s much easier to admit when he isn’t looking at Chandler.

“About your scars?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve already told you how I feel, Emerson. I can’t imagine they’ll change my opinion of you, how I feel about you.”

“They’ll change everything,” he whispered, words almost lost against the pillow.

Chandler said nothing as he manoeuvred himself onto the bed.

He wasn’t expecting the kiss to the back of his neck and Kent found himself turning his head a little towards Chandler. He was rewarded when the next kiss was to his cheek, the third chaste and too-brief to his lips.

The fourth to his left shoulder blade and from there he trailed his mouth gently down Kent’s back, kissing every ridge and dip of his spine and Kent- despite knowing what was to come- found himself relaxing into the mattress for the  blissful few minutes it took before Chandler reached the waistband of his boxers.

Kent tensed, breathing haggard, heart taking up a staccato beat against his chest.

“Do you trust me?”

It took a long moment, but Kent’s eventual reply was to arch his hips in a way that would allow Chandler to remove his boxers.

Chandler leant in, pressing a kiss to the small of his back before urging his underwear down over the curve of his arse and down the length of his thighs. He rested his hand on the side of Kent’s thigh, fingers twitching against the flesh but otherwise unmoving for a moment.

And Kent knew this was it. This would be the moment Chandler realised it had been all for naught. He bit so hard at his tongue trying to keep a sob from spilling past his lips that he tasted blood. He didn’t even try to keep the tears at bay, letting them slip silently from his clenched eyes to be soaked into Chandler’s pillow.

The first touch to the very tip of the scar on his left side was unexpected, and Kent gasped into the pillow.

The first kiss had his eyes flying open in shock. Chandler said something he didn’t quite catch and Kent imagined him looking at the evidence of his striping- the puckered flesh still that angry pink of fresh scarring, thick and tearing their way through him. The stitches may be gone but they still look- and felt- deep, sore.

The second kiss was as much of a shock as the first and Kent gasped again at the touch.

“Two,” Chandler breathed. Kent shivered beneath him.

“Does that hurt?” He asked quietly.

Kent shook his head, “No, I- no.”

“But you’re shaking,” Chandler said, leaning in to press a third kiss to his left scar.

“Yes,” Kent agreed, not sure what else to say. He was terrified and intrigued, worried but curious, Chandler’s reactions so far were nothing like those he’d imagined. He could barely touch them himself and yet here Chandler was, pressing his mouth so willingly against his ruined flesh.

“Why?” He struggled to talk, his words catching as Chandler slowly moved down the length of his scar, pressing kisses four through-

“Fourteen,” Chandler counted. “Why?”

“How can you- there ,” Kent choked out.

“Why not?” He challenged, planting another kiss and then another and then: “Seventeen,” he breathed, mouth wet against what Kent knew was the very tip of that scar.

And then he moved onto Kent’s right side. “Eighteen,” he started.

“I don’t understand,” Kent whispered, shivering under kisses nineteen through twenty-three.

“You think these scars are… disfiguring?” Chandler asked, breathing kisses twenty-four and five against said scar.

“Yes!” Kent choked out.

“You think they make you disfigured?” Chandler asked, kisses twenty-six, seven, eight, spilling from his lips.

“Yes!” Kent agreed. “I- they make me feel sick. Ugly. Terrified of what you really think.”

“What I really think?” Chandler’s voice was surprised. “I think you’re beautiful, Emerson,” he said between kisses twenty-nine and thirty. “I think you’re beautiful and brave and stubborn.”

Kiss thirty-one was done with a smile, and Kent felt his thigh tremble beneath it, nerves spiking at the touch.

“Thirty-two,” Chandler counted, nearing the tail end of the right scar, the longer, thicker, more painful of the two. “Thirty-three.”

Kent bit at his lip, feeling as though something inside of himself was breaking apart even as Chandler’s kisses (thirty-four, thirty-five) seemed to stitch him back together again.

“Thirty-six,” he whispered, words spoken so close Kent felt them brush against the back of his thigh.

“Thirty-seven,” he said, voice a little louder, kiss a little wetter, and Kent knew he’d reached the end of that one too.

“Thirty-seven kisses,” Chandler repeated, moving up the bed to look Kent in the eye. “To take the pain away.”

And Kent felt that something that was breaking apart, split open like a damn. The sob he’d been holding onto slipping past his lips as easily as his tears did from his eyes.

Chandler paused only long enough to kiss his forehead before he grabbed Kent’s creams and made careful but swift work of applying them. Once done, he smoothly lifted Kent’s boxers back into place before crawling back up the bed and gathering Kent gently into his arms, tucking his injured arm between them as he held him tightly against his chest.

“You didn’t tell me to stop,” Chandler said, Kent’s tears starting to subside.

“No,” Kent replied hoarsely, head tucked up under Chandler’s chin. Wrung out. Safe. Loved.

“Should I have?” he asked, running a hand through Kent’s hair and kissing at his temple.

“No,” Kent said, turning his head to kiss softly at the underside of Chandler's neck. “You never have to stop.”

 - - -

fin.

 - - -