"I'm not here by choice." - Victor, Dead Man Down
"We make our plans, sure, but life... life is what happens to you along the way. At first I didn't want this. I didn't want to connect, I didn't want to get involved. But she kept reminding me, you know? This is what life is, this is why we're here - to connect... to build. We're here to build something. And then we had our son, and then I realized that... you know she was right? We aren’t meant to be unloved. She said even the most damaged heart, can be mended... The most damaged heart..." - Darcy, Dead Man Down.
"I just want to know more about you."
Stern features were rough, etched with many sleepless nights and careful, ever present awareness. Dark eye's regarded Credence with a watchfulness at his words, shadowed with a heavy set of equally dark brows, a gaze that would have anyone shifting with sheer nervousness, tempted to a cold sweat - they were a burning intensity, direct when they needed to be, not because they wanted to be, but no less dangerous.
The man was like a live wire, filled with a coiling strength that lashed out with controlled violence. It was a necessity, the threat he posed, a spark of aggression when provoked, lithe, like a mountain lion.
Credence knew he was playing with wildfire, he could already feel the burns on his own hands.
"I'm not here by choice."
When the man spoke, his words were measured, a hard but quiet tone that could have been mistaken for shyness, or as awkward as the line of broad shoulders with a downturned tilt - but it was not to hide, and not a show of any weakness the man may have. It was to appear unsuspecting, uncapable, to look as mundane as Credence himself, but there was a careful tension there that made the man unapproachable. Like a shark that swam amongst the fish until they deemed it right to strike. The form of the man seemed much too daunting for the chairs they sat on. Credence got the feeling that this man didn't talk much, but when he did, its low soft pitch and rough edge, very much like the rest of the man, gave Credence chills. He wasn't too ashamed to admit to himself that it wasn't out of discomfort.
Dark eye's, strangely avoidant compared to his bodies dangerous appearance, flickered down at the photograph in fine hands that could have once been soft, now freckled with the same kind of edge that hard eye's withheld. Credence had watched him kill a man, the footage on his mobile a heavy weight resting in his pocket, and he shifted uncomfortably on the hard wood chair at the table they sat at, as he remembered why such a man was in his kitchen, at the woodwork of an old dining room table - blackmail, Credence had blackmailed him.
That thought should frighten Credence, like the man seated directly before him. But it doesn't. Neither of those thoughts do.
Credence's hands burn around the hot cup of cocoa in his grasp... so, not wildfire then.
A similar cup sat, steaming, across from him, tempted with its presence next to one of the man’s hands, untouched. Credence couldn't help but stare at the stray tattoo on a right thumb in dark ink, a knife. It must mean something, and Credence got the feeling it wasn't anything good. He also got the feeling it wasn't the only ink that marked the man’s skin.
"You say he goes to this bar? Every Tuesday?"
Credence's eyes snapped back up to the man’s hard gaze, there was no mistaken the seriousness of the question, or of his expected response. The man was here for a reason, here because Credence blackmailed him with troubling evidence on his phone.
He watched him kill a man.
"Yes... same place, same time." Credence replied carefully, forcefully resisting the urge to give into slumped shoulders as he held the man’s dark eye's - a warm whiskey brown given the right lighting, but also as dark as marble.
Direct when they needed to be.
"As much as I could find out, I did." Credence continued more strongly, confident with the information he had with absolute certainty. There was little room for error.
More silence broke out, tense, the man looked down again. Credence had given him all his findings - the mechanics store where the other driver's car was fixed, a home address, employment or lack thereof, haunts and late-night habits, all written down in a neat list on yellow lined paper beneath those precise fingers. It was no easy feat to get the information Credence had gotten, but the man had never asked, Credence supposed there was no need to. How wasn't exactly important right now, how wasn’t what Credence had blackmailed the man for.
"Who was he?" Credence asked, if only to fill the heavy silence in the apartment. Paper turned, the man blinked, obviously fighting to ignore the question, and Credence elaborated without needing to. "The man you killed."
This time, when the man’s eye's blazed up, the annoyance was clear, as well as the warning.
That gaze burned Credence more than the warm mug his numb fingers refused to uncurl from. The lines of the man’s brow were tense, mouth set without answer. Still, Credence didn't feel fear. If the man wanted him dead for what he did, then Credence knew he would be already.
The answer to that lies in the ground, Credence suspected, alongside a man he watched get strangled to death in the gleam of his neighbour’s window.
A beat. The man looked down again, and Credence wouldn't just call it avoidance this time. Credence took a steadying, silent breath. "...why did you kill him?" His tone was quiet, curious, and some might mistake it for innocence, but such a word did not belong here.
This time, the annoyance turned to anger as the man gave up with the notes in his hands, dark eye's fixed and fingers twitching in a plain discomfort that had Credence frown with its nature on such a man, and he blinked away at angry tone, a voice like gravel resounding in Credence's ears.
"I'm here because you forced my hand, not to talk about my story, and certainly not to talk about yours."
Credence stilled, eye's hesitant and finally breaking the others gaze with a flicker of uncertainty, the truth to the man’s words striking a cord that had a whisper of doubt thread through him. Of course, this was just business - they were not friends, and not likely to be, and Credence nearly flinched at the disappointment that flashed through him.
It was a hope. A small, flight full thing. The candle burning down and threatening to go out completely if it weren't for how desperately Credence held onto it.
The stifling and uncomfortable silence was broken by a small, hesitant voice, and Credence's eyes snapped up as he recognized who it belonged to, barely catching the look of unexpected panic on the other man’s face as dark eye's fixed on something, or rather, someone who had walked up behind him. Heart suddenly in his throat, Credence turned in his chair, eyes seeking out the small form that was just as quietly standing in the arch of the kitchen door, half hidden behind its wooden frame.
Credence didn't blame her.
"Modesty, it's late, you should be in bed." Credence hurried out, feeling a tension rise. Half out of his chair, Credence looked back to the older man who was promptly frozen in his own, looking no less than a deer caught in some headlights, and visibly uncomfortable. Dark eye's flickered between himself and the little girl, a whirl of emotions so heavily set and panicked that Credence thought for a frightfully long moment that the man would bolt.
"I heard voices."
The quiet and somewhat accusing voice snapped Credence out of it, and he stood the rest of the way, sparing a wary eye on the man still seated, before turning fully to face his youngest sister. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean to wake you." Credence said with as much normality as he could, and felt proud with how steady his voice came out.
His heart was racing.
Modesty was a pale thing, like her brother, however unlike her brother, her hair was blond, and her eye's as pale as a cold winters morning. The most striking feature, and probably horrific, were the fresh small scars next to her left eye and cheek, still tinted with recent redness, like glass had left its mark. Those eyes were sharp, however, curious and suspicious, as direct as a child’s can be, but they were harsh, also - fixed with obvious distrust on the older man still seated at the kitchen table, who’s gaze was polar opposite, wavering under her stare. "Is this your friend?" She asked.
Credence almost stumbled a response, brain working quickly to put words to the man who's presence he could feel behind him. "I... from work. He's helping me with something." He finally decided, and held his breath. Modesty has always had an uncanny ability to judge people, an ability Credence had never taken with a pinch of salt - he considered her opinions as seriously as the code on his computer.
She was very rarely wrong, and Credence waited, in the stifling tension of the room, for her verdict.
There was another moment of stifling silence, and then, "I'm hungry."
The tension seemed to deflate some at the declaration, and Credence couldn't help the relief from sagging his shoulders, only realising then how worried he was for her response, which, be it may, wasn't exactly a yes to the man seated at the kitchen table, but it wasn't a no either. Credence smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, trying to appear like he wasn't just talking about murder. "Would you like some milk and cookies?" He asked her, already moving around the table towards the fridge at her polite yes please.
While Credence was in the fridge, Modesty finally stepped out from behind the archway, her light footsteps not unsure like before as she approached the kitchen table to the man still sitting rather uncomfortably there. Modesty pulled herself onto the chair on the side, placing herself to the man’s left, her eye's never leaving their curious unwavering gaze from his tense form slouched back in his own chair. She noted fingers fidgeting with a piece of paper on the table, a feather light touch, before deft hands placed the paper on the small pile furthest from where she was sitting. All the while dark eyes avoided her own pale ones.
She frowned at him. "What’s your name?"
The man seems momentarily startled at her forwardness, his gaze meeting hers, but the struggle there was obvious that the contact was only out of politeness. She watched those dark eye's flicker away from hers for a fleeting moment, internal battle taking place as he shifted ever so slightly in his seat, before that hesitant dark gaze met hers again, throat working around one word.
The name didn't quite suit him. Her expression didn't change. "My name's Modesty." Came her informing response, and she rested her chin on a small hand, leaning forward as her attention was solely fixed on the older man in open curiosity.
The man, Victor, didn't quite smile, but some of the tension left his shoulders, the hard edge that was previously in dark eye's softened as he regarded the little girl, eye's flickering across her face, obviously trying not to focus on the scarring. "Modesty." He repeated, voice still holding its gravel, but there was a gentleness there that wasn't present before. "That’s a beautiful name."
The compliment seemed like the right thing to say, and most of the suspicion left Modesty's face, where open curiosity was still present, and then she asked, in the only way a child could. "Are you here about the monsters?"
There was a clink of glass from the kitchen, and Victor froze, something akin to horror flickering across stern features before dark eye's blinked, casting their gaze around the room before settling back on Modesty like he expected something to jump out at him.
Credence suspected, from where he was picking up the knocked over but thankfully still intact glass, that that might as very well been the case. However, Credence had to wonder, what would happen to make a grown man so afraid of a child? Taking a second to look closer, Credence suddenly realized, with absolute certainty - that it was not fear that whirled in the man’s dark eyes.
He looked like he'd seen a ghost.
"Modesty, why don't you take these to your room, ok? Be careful not to spill it, I'll be there in a minute." Credence walked over to stand between them, putting himself in his sister’s line of sight and holding out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for her to take.
She did, hands steady as she shuffled off the chair at gentle prompting hands, letting Credence guide her back to the hall and all the while trying to steal a glance over her shoulder at the man still sitting at the kitchen table.
Credence watched her go down the hall, making sure she was long out of ear shot before he even tempted to turn back around.
Dark eyes were watching him closely, shoulders lined with a tension Credence recognised. While it had been nearly 2 years since he'd left the church, under the cold watchful eyes of Mary Lou - Credence never wore belts anymore, while the stretch of old scars across his back still burned with phantom pain, he'd gotten better at both receiving hugs and giving them, but still flinched occasionally at any unexpected contact. When something for so long happens to a person, its near impossible to get rid of those reactions - they become reflexes, instinct. And while they get better over time - they never truly disappear.
But the man at his kitchen table... he was ready for violence. It made Credence wonder, made him think about the video on his phone, and he realized that maybe this man had every reason to suspect, a reason to tense - he was in the middle of something, for so long. This man, this Victor, was careful where he walked, was careful how he looked over one broad shoulder, suspecting with enough reason to believe that someone might be following him.
Someone worse than Credence, someone worse than Mary Lou.
The knife tattoo on a right thumb spoke of something Credence didn't dare name. The gun tucked away into the back of rough jeans suggested a danger he shouldn't get involved with. The way dark eye's kept flickering to the rear-view mirrors like they were looking for a tail as they sped through the streets - the night Credence revealed himself.
The night Credence blackmailed him.
You have no idea what you're getting into with me, you have no fucking idea!
No, Credence supposed he didn't. He also didn't know what it was like to kill a man, but that didn't mean he hadn't seen death, that didn't mean he hadn't wished it upon someone. He'd never thought about it, before. Revenge. If someone had asked him, he wouldn't have even considered it.
Up until a week ago, when he watched his neighbour kill a man in the looming apartment building right across from his own.
He'd thought about it then, as his shaking fingers hesitated over the call button on his phone, numbers checked to dial the police. He'd thought about it, he was still thinking about it long after the curtains of the other apartment were hastily yanked closed, long after the lights went out and a red truck sped off down the street many floors below.
The next morning came, the truck returned, and he'd never made that call.
Oh, he thought about it.
But then he saw Modesty's face. He remembered the other cars headlights, he remembered the fear, the impact, the glass that shattered into hundreds of shards, glinting like diamonds.
He remembered feeling helpless again.
And that, that is when he remembered the anger.
Credence looked at Victor now, as that anger began to course through his veins, dark and seething, like an angry beast wanting to break out through his very pores. Something must have shown on his face, for the man at his kitchen table met his stare, a flicker of understanding in dark, serious eyes.
Do you know what it's like to kill a man? It's not a rat! It's not a bug!
Credence didn't know what it was like to kill a man, but he wanted, oh he wanted...
"I want it done as soon as possible." Credence spoke up, breaking the silence with an almost challenging look, not backing down from the other man. Dark eyes searched his for doubts, for anything, anything that would give him an advantage, and Credence felt a chill go up his spine, fighting the urge to shift under that searching, dangerous stare.
Credence hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath, not until it silently escaped him in a rush when the man looked down, too proud or stubborn to voice the agreement, breaking the tension in the room, and Credence knew he had the man’s co-operation, if only for the time being. Credence allowed himself to feel a moment of satisfaction, before it was promptly eaten by guilt with the look the man shot the table under his hands, hunching in a way Credence recognized as defeat, and for a moment - just a moment, there was something vulnerable about the lilt to the mans normally proud shoulders. Credence watched those hands snatch at the papers, folding them with forced calmness into the provided envelope before standing up, the sound of the chair scratching the floor seemed deafening in the quiet room. This time, when dark eye's pinned him with a waiting stare, cold even, Credence swallowed.
By the front door, where freak was crudely scratched into the painted wood next to the numbers 1801, Credence watched the man step through the arch into the brightly lit hallway, a hint of spice and cigarette smoke haunting his steps and clinging to a dark cargo jacket, and the man turned to face him.
"You'll hear from me when it's done." Victor said tonelessly, a mask in place that Credence had trouble reading.
There was a beat, before Credence realized the man was waiting blatantly for a response, and he swallowed down the feeling that this was going to come back and burn him, much like the cocoa. Credence gave a curt nod of his chin, watching as the man promptly turned on booted feet without further comment to prowl down the hall, a fleeting glance by dark eyes that didn't so much as last a second, before the line of the man disappeared around the corner.
Credence allowed himself to ponder the consequences that his actions will no doubt have, questioning himself not about the right or wrong of his choice, but how much he will bleed for it. This was a dangerous game, Credence thought, before anger rose and he gritted his teeth at the word, finally turning from the hall and closing his door with finality - this was no game.
Credence was going to have his revenge, and that man was going to help him get it - whether he liked it or not.
One apartment over, another door closed with a deafening click in the hollow feeling of the room, and Percival stood there, frustrated, angry... shaken, in the shadowed darkness of his own apartment, eye's working over nothing. The boy, or rather, young man, with the face of a 25-year-old and eyes of someone who could be older. Percival would know, he sees those same eyes every time he looks in the mirror, though what they were doing on a young man such as Credence, Percival did not know.
I know you're afraid I'll think you came tonight because you felt sorry for me...
He got careless, reckless even. Accepting that invitation. Curiosity that caught him by the young man who waves, the young man whose shoulders hunch in on himself like he always expects the worst of people, the young man who gets rocks thrown at him in the courtyard downstairs by lingering teenagers, who had scratched the word freak into his apartment door.
You don't have to play these games, Victor. I know why you really came.
There had been a shootout at Lopez's, between the Organisation and a branch of money launderers. Things got messy, with two of their own dead, Percival himself had taken a hit, but nothing serious - he'd gotten lucky. Patched himself up at his apartment, the bullet carefully disposed of.
He liked to think he had been careful. Always careful.
You're just being careful. You want to know if the boy who's been watching you saw what you did...
Not careful enough. Someone had seen him, the boy who waves had seen him, a week ago. Had recorded a video of him strangling a man by the window. Had threatened, that if Percival didn't do what he wanted, then he'd call the police, and everything Percival had worked for, built up for, would be burnt to the ground, and he knew he would not live long enough to do what he needed to do.
This is the man who hit my car when he was drunk... I want you to kill him, as you did with the man in your apartment.
Credence had been in a car accident. His youngest sister had been sitting in the passenger seat. They'd suffered while the man who was responsible had served a mere 3 weeks in a cell. Percival knew, and what was worse - he understood, he understood the younger mans need for revenge all too well. He's been living on a hair trigger for a while now, time is already tight.
But Credence had blackmailed him. Forced his hand, forced him to comply lest everything he's worked for ends up in flames. He couldn't risk it, couldn't take that chance - people do horrible things when they're in pain, unforgivable things. Credence will have him behind bars if he doesn't get the boy his revenge.
Are you here about the monsters?
Percival felt a shiver creep up his spine, and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying, trying, to get Modesty's voice out of his head. So familiar, so alike...
Because Daddy can scare off the monsters...
Credence had no idea what he'd asked of him. Credence had no idea he was about to find himself two feet in. The younger man was using him, and Percival didn't like it one bit.
Because Daddy... can scare off...
He didn't sleep well that night.