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Every fortnight, Mother cuts his hair.

That is a lie. It isn’t always Mother, sometimes it’s one of the older girls, Chastity or Temperance, but always the same scissors; dulled, rusty things that sits in the wooden drawer of his mother’s bedside table, scissors he grew to hate. He remembers the snip, snip, snip of the blades nearing his ears, the flutter of thick, dark ribbons of hair falling around him, tickling his neck and gathering on his shoulders. His bangs are always shorn too short, too uneven, but his mother just gives a little smile and then she disappears into the kitchen or the parlor, and that’s that.

Presently, Modesty reaches up, touches her pale little fingers to his newly shorn bangs and whispers sweetly, “It’ll grow back, Credence, it will.”

Credence eyes her long, blond hair, thick and hearty like wheat, shiny and bright as gold. He says, “Turn around,” and he uses long brown bobbies to pin it back in a gray, frayed cap.

Modesty blinks up at him from beneath the cap when he finishes and he smiles at her.

“Never show Mother your curls,” Credence warns her, and that is that.

If he were good, he’d cut her hair himself. He’d tell Mother. But he is wicked and bad-hearted, so he sits with Modesty at bedtime and he combs her soft, golden hair. He hums to her sweetly as he runs the hair-brush through the curls, teasing out the knots and tangles, and Modesty sighs, leans into the long swipes of the brush and murmurs happily until she drifts asleep, locks trapped in a long yellow plait. He wonders if it is greed that keeps his mouth shut, a horrible want in his chest as he stares at those long curls. No matter what it is, he is sure to keep her hair hidden.

He never tells anyone about falling asleep, imagining thick black locks tumbling about his shoulders, long enough to brush and style and curl and put up in ballet buns and twist into something beautiful. Something lovable.

...

He doesn’t mean to. Mother always says knock before entering Chastity’s room, she is the oldest, they doesn’t need any trouble in the house.

But he does knocks and the door swings open under his trembling fist anyway and he catches a glimpse of Chastity, lips painted dark, sinner-red, the color of Christ’s blood in the goblet, gleaming wet and glossy in the light—

She reaches out with a clawed hand and dragged him in, shutting the door with a bang, and Credence nearly slips and cracks his temple on the hardwood floor.

“You can’t tell anyone!” Chastity hisses frantically, her face looming so close that Credence could feel her hot breath rustling his bangs. Her mouth still gleams with the forbidden lipstick, the little tub golden and sinful in her clenched fist, telling on her to God and any eyes that land on her.

“I—I didn’t,” Credence stammers, flustered and terrified. Her nails dig harshly into the thin skin of his wrist, close to drawing blood, and the sting drags him back, makes him flush nervously.

“I swear to God, Credence, you can’t tell,” and Chastity looks frenzied, pale eyes blown wide, curls frizzing with stress. “You know what she’ll do to me if you tell!”

And Credence does know. Has held up his wrists to the belt, has felt the blood rise and spill over, felt the sting and then the throb, and has sobbed his repentance into his pillow late at night. He looks at Chastity, the lipstick dark and gorgeous against her buttercream skin, a vanity that looks so perfect and so beautiful that he opens his mouth and asks, “Why?”

Chastity deflates like a balloon, released his wrist, slumped down onto her mattress. “Because,” she whispers, “You ever want to feel beautiful, Credence? In the eyes of God, fine, but also for yourself?”

Credence knows what Mother would say. Vanity is a sin of pride, child, an ugly sin that turns all beautiful things into ash. But he listens to Chastity’s words, feels a pang in his chance, and nods. He remembers cold nights, ugly and shriveled in a choppy-haired husk, closing his eyes and feeling cold. He does know.

“You understand?”

He nods shortly, whispers, “I won’t tell, promise.”

And she smiles, relieved. Her thin mouth looks softer and larger with the dark color on them, and Credence says truthfully, “You look very pretty, Chastity.”

She smiles at him, thrilled, and the lipstick makes it look all the more lovely. He doesn’t know how they get where they end up, but Chastity soon reaches out her arm, offering the tube to him, smiling pretty as the devil.

“Try it, it feels nice,” she murmurs. She holds up a polished spoon—there are no mirrors, Mother insisted—and Credence stares into his warped reflection, finds the twisted plump of his mouth. His heart hammers against his ribcage, his hands tremble.

“No, wait,” Chastity says suddenly, just as he puts the flat, soft bullet to his bottom lip. “Lemme do it, you’re shaking.” She snatches the case away, and tilts his head up with a gentle hand, and smooth, thick wax is slid over his mouth carefully. Her brow is furrowed in concentration, and Credence has an image of her painting, blue color smeared on her cheekbone, frowning in front of a canvas.

“Oh, Credence,” Chastity sighs when she is done. “You’re so beautiful.”

Even warped by the metal reflection, the boy in the spoon is heady. Long black lashes, fat berry mouth, high cheeks, deep eyes. Despite the strange haircut, the boy is beautiful. He—he doesn’t even look like a boy .

Credence is terrified.

He doesn’t want to like it, he doesn’t want to like the heavy, slippery feeling on his mouth. He doesn’t want to feel… content in himself, with gleaming lips and half-mast eyes. He doesn’t want to feel beautiful, when he knows his insides are shriveled and ugly and wicked.

He swipes the color off on the back of his hand, smudged dark red everywhere, a stain that won’t come off, no matter how hard he’ll scrub.

Chastity looks at him, but not with pity. “It’s okay, Credence,” she murmurs, eyes dark and kind. “It’s okay.”

Credence doesn’t steal. Never has. He's seen other boys do it in shops and stands, swiping bright, ripe apples and warm pastries off of display-shelves, slipping sticky fingers into distracted, gentleman pockets. And Credence is no angel, he knows he is quick-fingered and quick-footed. And he covets much. A hot supper, warm wool-lined gloves, and once (and he blushes to think of it!) a silvery, dainty bracelet glittering in a lady-boutique. He knows he could stumble into a man or two, lift them of a few quarters or a dollar, if he dared. Just enough to buy an apple or a small packet of sweets. But even the thought of doing so makes his stomach twist uneasily, guiltily.

So it’s only when Mary Lou screams at him to get a job— “Real men provide for their families! They don’t drag them down into the gutter like you! Useless little rat, no wonder I found you in a trash bin!”— that he even considers getting himself something… like that.

Newt Scamander is a kind, friendly man, green-eyed and freckle-cheeked, and his flower shop is what Credence imagines heaven would be like. Warm and colorful, full of gorgeous pink, silken flowers that Credence can trail along his neck and rub against his lips when no one is looking. A few bills at the end of the day, a pat on the head, and Credence suddenly finds himself—well, not flushed with cash, but he has coins clinking in his pocket when he walks now.

He still gives the majority to Mary Lou, of course, but now he’s able to treat himself and Modesty with ice-cream cones—plain vanilla for Modesty, and strawberry for Credence. And how it thrills him, lapping at the pink, sinful swirl, feeling the sugar-sweet melt cool and sticky on his demon-tongue, imagining Mary Lou screaming about gluttons and hellfire and sin and how the servants of Hell will spear him with pitchforks and pokers.

And so what is one more rebellion, the devil whispers in his ear as he stops and looks at a pale pink dress in the local thrift shop. It is gorgeous, with little buttercup sleeves and a lovely high neck. He feels a flush coming to his cheeks, feels his fingers twitch with longing, and he can’t help but gently touch the soft, ruffled skirt. The top is scratchy with lace, and he can’t help imagine his own skin showing just the slightest bit through the bodice. He swallowed hard around his want, finds himself thinking about the pin money he's saved painstakingly—the dress is only a few dollars, he hears that same devil-voice whispering. You can always work an extra shift at the shop, Mother won’t mind, she won’t take it out on your back if she doesn’t know.

Where would I hide it, he wonders, coming back down to Earth from where he was floating. Where?

He’s not ready, and he pulls back reluctantly, and his hand drops, clenches in his pants leg. Ugly, shabby pants that they are, in a gross shade of grey, and he walks out of the shop, flushed and nervous and wet-eyed and nearly crashes into the handsome gentleman stepping off the curb.

“Sorry, sorry,” Credence says automatically, breath stuttering in his chest, because the man is gorgeous. Thick shoulders and dark hair streaked silver at the temples, his suit sharp and tapered at the waist, heavy brow and deep pool eyes.

But the man doesn’t notice him. He only hurries away, throws a hasty “Excuse me,” over his lovely, broad shoulder, and Credence can hardly breathe. He’s only known the man for a second—it was a drop in an ocean, a bat of an eye in a lifetime, a winking star in the night. And yet, Credence’s heart swoops low in his belly, and he turns and stares speechless as the man ducks into a vintage black Corvette and disappears down the avenue with a low, graceful purr. Gone. A ghost on the street.

It shouldn’t have meant much.

Only now, when he sleeps, Credence is haunted by pink lace and depthless eyes.

Newt takes him aside one day during lunch hour and with a brilliant smile says “Let’s get that hair of yours fixed then, hmm?”

And Credence freaks when he sees the electric shaver, grotesque images of monks with tonsures floating through his head like Mary Lou had always threatened him with, but Newt only laughs deeply and claps his shoulder. “I know what I’m doing, don’t worry!” And it’s impossible not to trust Mr Scamander; he’s so kind and nice-sounding with his pretty British accent and lovely freckles.

Credence trembles through it, has to pinch himself to keep from flinching as the buzzer grazes underneath the top of his bangs, but at the end of it he nearly cries, it looks so lovely. It’s still short and boyish, too much so for Credence’s taste, but Mr Scamander has evened out the choppy edges of the bowl and made a stylish little undercut under the feathery soft bangs. He looks quite punkish if Credence dares say so himself.

“Not that different from trimming the shrubs,” says Mr. Scamander happily.

Mr. Scamander also has a girlfriend, a pretty police officer named Miss Tina who sometimes brings Credence little gifts—a lovely gray skirt from her high school days that no longer fits her, a little costume necklace with a wonky clasp, even the cutest little white silk choker.

“Not my style,” she says when Credence protests. “Thought you would get more use out of them than me.” She gives a wink as Credence blushes. She is kind, Tina.

And she introduces him to her sister, Miss Queenie, and he can never thank her enough.

Because Miss Queenie is everything he’s ever wanted to be and more. Honey-voiced and pink-lipped, her skin cream-and-berries, pearls in her mouth, she floats through life on a cloud. Her curls look like spun gold, her nails always a perfect shade of pink or dark wine, her dresses lovely and satin and rimmed with French lace that Credence covets like the worst of sinners.

And she loves Credence. Drags him into her apartment, squeals over his “pretty mouth” and “clear complexion”. Pinching at his cheeks, she doesn’t scream at him when she catches him looking with wide eyes at her well-dressed mannequins and her racks upon racks of satiny robes and gowns and stockings.

“Do you like fashion, sweets?” she asks him, glossed mouth revealing pearly teeth in her wide grin.

Credence looks at her and before he can think, he says, “I like pretty things.”

And Queenie doesn’t say another word. Just tugs him into her boudoir and dresses him in pretty skirts and necklaces, dusts him with powder, slicks his mouth with dark lippy, takes in the waist of his chosen dress with a few well-placed pins and shorthand stitches. Credence’s absolute favorite is a strappy, vintage number, a powder-blue confection made out of chiffon and tulle that flares out at his hips when he twirls at Queenie’s request.

He feels… pretty.

Queenie smiles at him, tears in her eyes, says wetly, “Oh, honey!”

Sniffling, she slips behind him and latches a little white choker at the nape of his neck, gives his hair a ruffle.

“You look so pretty,” she burbles, and Credence, staring at the little teardrop pearl nestled in the hollow of his neck like a drop of honeydew, believes her.

And a few weeks later under Queenie’s tutelage, Credence has a collection evergrowing.

Carefully hidden in the small nook in the back of his closet, tucked away so carefully Mary Lou could never find it; a bubblegum tee that bares just the most delicate sliver of his navel and gapes around his collarbones. Three slim tubes of lipgloss, one clear and slick, another bright pink, and the last a sheer, glittery red. A thick case of mascara, curling his lashes and making his eyes darker and kittenish and Marilyn sweet.

“You look quite nice, Credence,” Tina tells him the next day, commenting on his new lipstick, and Credence has to go water the petunias to keep himself from sobbing in happiness. As it is, he doesn’t stop blushing and squirming with pleasure until his shift is far over.

Because for once in his life, he feels beautiful.

Mother finds the box, comes at him a rage. Credence doesn’t remember much to be honest—blood, warm and dripping on his back, the sharp sting of a slap across his mouth, Ma shouting slurs that sound blurred and long like Credence is underwater. He remembers Modesty shrieking, but Ma doesn’t ever touch the girls, only him.

So Credence picks up the box and walks out of the house and out of Ma’s life.

It’s not that easy. He collapses once he’s walked two blocks, shakes against a brick wall for a wall, his breath coming noisy and loud like he has a cold and he’s wheezing, his nose blocked up with snot and tears.

He eventually finds himself in front of Mr Scamander’s flower shop, but it’s nine pm on a Tuesday, the shop’s been closed for hours. Lucky that Newt lives in the upstairs apartment with a veritable army of cats, because Credence doesn’t know where he would’ve gone if the man hadn’t bounded down the stairs and enveloped him in a hug.

As it is, Newt insists on gently treating the wounds on his back with disinfectant cream and gauze, and even goes so far to offer up his bed for the night, which Credence starts crying over. Because he doesn’t deserve such wonderful friends, he babbles. That’s when Newt panics and calls Queenie, because “I’m no good at comforting crying people!”

Queenie’s hugs feel like how apple pie tastes. Warm and soft and cinnamony, Credence trembling as he’s drawn in, his head pillowed by her soft bosom, Queenie humming a little lullaby as the shakes subside and the deluge of tears dries slightly. She wipes his face with a handkerchief and takes him to her apartment, because she has more room than she needs and was looking for a roommate, didn’t Credence know?

Credence goes home with Queenie and doesn’t leave. He doesn’t think he’ll ever want to.

He already knows which drawer holds the silverware, where Queenie hides the saltshaker, and that the books on the shelf are for decoration, but the ones underneath the couch are real. He settles in like a duck settles in water, naturally and without a hitch. Queenie apologizes for the guest room being so small, but the bed is so soft, it’s almost a cloud and he even gets a chest of drawers for possessions he doesn’t have.

Queenie is heaven.

Even though she sits him down with questions of her own.

“I don’t know... I… I don’t think I have the words for it.”

“Try me.” And Queenie has never let him down before. And so before Credence even really knows what he’s doing, he’s talking. More than he ever has before in his own helpless life.

“I don’t… sometimes I feel like I’m too big to fill this body. Like I’m welling up and someday I’ll spill over. Sometimes I feel ugly, and I can’t even look at myself. Ma… she always told us what to wear. Even Chastity. No… no colors. That was vanity. And God have mercy if she could hear some of my thoughts… what I wanted to wear really, deep down inside.”

“Sometimes I’m jealous of girls… about how the freedom they have. Miss Tina wears trousers and skirts without being told off for wearing boy clothes. And… and if I would’ve wanted to wear a skirt, Ma would’ve whipped me for it. Would’ve said I was unnatural. A—a freak.”

“You’re not,” says Queenie, and Credence looks up from his confession. Her round sweet face is open and soft, and she takes his hand in hers. She doesn’t look at him with judgment. She looks at him with love. “You’re—”

“I-I know.” And Credence has never had such a warm, sweet expression turned on him. It’s like looking into the sun, feeling it burn hot and sweet at his side.

“Are you… are you a woman, Credence?” Queenie asks softly. “Do you want people to call you by a different name? Or talk about you with the words ‘she’ and ‘her’?”

He looks down, bites at his lip, still struggling for words. “When I was younger, Ma would tell me to sit like a boy. I… I didn’t know what that meant. ‘Don’t tilt your head like that. You’re acting like a girl…’ Those kinds of things. But… I was never insulted by it. I thought being a girl must’ve been something beautiful… And sometimes I feel like one, maybe… but not just a girl.” He’s quiet for a while. “I’ve… I’ve never wanted to be called a different name. I… I don’t want to—to change myself like that.” His breath is shuddery. “But… I don’t think I’d mind, though. If people used those kinds of words. She. Her. If they were nice about it.”

Another pause.

“It’s strange… Ma would say I’m a freak, but I don’t think I’m a freak. I don’t feel like I’m even a boy sometimes. Or a girl. Maybe… maybe both, maybe neither. But I do know that I’m me. And… And I want that to be enough.”

“It is.” Queenie’s hand squeezes Credence’s hard. “You are. You always were.”

Credence hears about it from Newt on a Monday morning before the shop opens.

Tina had led a police raid on Mary Lou’s church only last night.

Mary Lou had been dragged out by her locked wrists, screaming, Chastity and Modesty blank faced and tight jawed in the doorway. They’re safe now, Newt says to Credence, whose eyeliner is smudging a little from his tears.

“And Modesty?” Credence asks, mouth trembling, because while Chastity is 23 and can take care of herself just fine, he worries about little Modesty, only twelve and big-eyed and vulnerable. He thinks if Newt says she’s being put in a home he’ll vomit all over himself and the poor begonias.

“Tina’s making sure that Chastity gets guardianship,” Newt soothes, and since hiring Credence, he’s become much better at handling tears and general weepiness.

And when he visits Chastity and Modesty in their new apartment a few blocks away from Chastity’s new secretary job, the tears come again, but this time, they’re of happiness.

...

Credence’s mouth is glittery pink, his lashes inky-long, the day that Mr Graves wanders into Newt’s shop.

It’s a week before Valentine’s day, shops bursting to the brim with sugar glaze pink and fuck-me red hearts and melty chocolates and tin-foil balloons. Mr Scamander’s been getting a lot of reservations, their red roses in highest demand, and Credence is frazzled enough, working double time on a Saturday, frantically trying to explain to rough-voiced men that no, the red-roses are at a reasonable price. We have a variety of other colors if you’re interested as well. Yessir, I know it’s Valentine’s Day next week. Yessir. No, sir. Of course, sir. He’s not in any sort of mood to be spending too much time on his appearance, has settled on wearing little jeans instead of skirts and his favourite oversized, soft gray sweater. He barely has time to swipe on some lippy in the men’s room and comb his lashes through with mascara before rushing to his work.

It’s nearing noon that he spies the man staring confusedly at the bouquet display, sees his lovely broad shoulders and the little streak of gray at the ears, and just freezes. Remembers the man on the street that one day, thoughtlessly beautiful, his friendly smile, bright eyes. And Credence thinks about his lipgloss and his mascara and finds himself wondering whether the man would mind terribly about Credence’s penchant for lace and ribbons and pretty, pretty things. Or, horribly, if the man is of the same mind of his mother. Freakish, awful boy!

And as much as he wants to talk to the man, wants to impress and beguile, wants to flutter his eyelashes like he’s seen Miss Queenie do many a time with Mr Jacob, his knees lock up and his tongue goes leaden and he flees unprofessionally into another aisle of the flower shop, flushing and nervous and teary-eyed over a man he’s never spoken to!

“Oh god,” he sighs aloud and spills some water onto a dry-soiled ivy.

“Excuse me? Sorry to impose, it’s just—I’d appreciate a bit of advice.”

And the soft, deep voice—Credence turns around already blushing, clutching his little watering can close to his chest, and he blinks at the handsome gentleman profusely. Oh, he realizes, I’m a little bit taller than him.

“O-of course, sir,” he manages to say, feels his cheeks flare brightly with heat. “H-how may I be of service?”

The man visibly pauses, mouth open to speak, and then he just—clicks it shut.

“Sir?”

It was a bit of a family tradition, really. Every Valentine’s Day, he’d send his mother a little bouquet. Nothing too grand. The kind had never really mattered much before—Mam wasn’t a real big fan of petunias for reasons unknown to him—but as long as the flowers themselves were pretty and smelled lovely, she was satisfied.

But it was the year after his father’s passing and he wanted to make it special. Wanted to show his appreciation of her in a way that counted , and he winces to even think it, but he hasn’t been the most attentive of sons lately, too wrapped up in his work. Understandable? Yes, he’s a very busy man with a demanding job, everyone he’s ever met says so. Excusable? No, she’s his mother. He should be there for her as often as he is able to be so.

And so he takes the crisp little business card from Detective Goldstein, eyes the swirly black print: The Flower Pot Shop.

“My boyfriend owns it,” Tina had said, a mite proud. “He’s very good.”

Now, he finds himself in the very same store. And yes, it’s objectively lovely, very organized, full to the brim with sweet-smelling flowers and strange-headed plants. Graves finds himself irrationally charmed by the mini-cactus display in the front windows. But looking around, staring from one smiley flower-head to the next, he finds himself at a loss. Before, he’d just pick out a pre-arranged bouquet of whatever he thought looked the nicest, but he knows inherently that his sweep-in-and-sweep-out routine for flower picking is not going to cut it this year.

And so, pushing his pride to the side, he turns about and asks for help.

He spies the slim worker hiding in an opposite aisle, holding a tinny watering can in one hand. He can’t really make out much of him in the beginning, a slim build and a dark, stylish haircut, the pastel green apron. It’s only when the boy swings around after his plea for help that Graves realizes, the wind knocked out of his chest, that this is one of the most beautiful creatures Graves had ever had the pleasure to meet.

Plush, glossy mouth and dark, kittenish eyes, the boy is extremely pretty. He blushes a lovely, peachy color that Graves knows he’ll obsess over once his head hits his pillow. He’s not a little thing, about Graves’ height himself, but he has a rather frail frame regardless, soft sweater too large for him, hanging off of the pale white curves of delicate wrists, gaping around the collarbones. His lashes are incredibly dark and long, and Graves has to remind himself to breathe.

“Sir?”

“Oh, yes,” he laughs, clears his throat. “Um, I needed a bit of help, excuse me. I wanted to get someone something for Valentine’s Day, and I, uh, I would like some advice.” He can’t say they’re for his mother, the boy would think he was pathetic!

Graves watches as the bright smile falls just the slightest bit, the happy beam dimming, as the boy shuffles his feet. “Oh, um. Of course. That sounds… nice.” The boy swallows. The name sewn onto his apron spells out Credence in a beautiful, flowing script.

“Thank you, Credence,” says Graves carefully, watches the boy flush pink as a petunia.

“N-no problem,” Credence stutters. “Um… Follow me?”

He can’t really do anything but follow, a moon caught in a star’s orbit, revolving in circles. The boy brings him a little over to the quiet rose section, gently sectioning out creams and reds, cradling them like a mother would her newborn baby. Graves swallows.

“Who are they for?” Credence asks softly, and if Graves cranes his neck in the right lighting, the boy's eyes looked the slightest bit damp. “A-a girlfriend? Fiancée?”

Graves opens his mouth, but he can't get any of the words to come. And finally he says, “My mother.”

Credence blinks, slightly surprised and pleased, before beaming up at him so prettily that Graves could swoon. “Oh—that's! That’s lovely!” He clasps his hands together. “I'll—so roses are, those are romantic. Not very appropriate for a mother.” He looks about cutely, before hurrying over to brightly colored flowers that seem similar in shape to roses, though the petals are thinner and more feathery. “Carnations!”

Graves pinks up a dark red one, curious. “They are quite beautiful.”

“Ah, yes,” says Credence, smiling softly. “But—but dark red ones symbolize deep and romantic feelings, and lighter red symbolizes admiration. White means pure love and good luck. And pink. Well, um, pink carnations carry the greatest meaning. It’s believed that they first appeared from the Virgin Mother’s tears. They’ve become a symbol of a mother's undying love.”

Graves is quiet for a moment, gently running his fingers over the pink flowers. “I’ll take a large bouquet of pink and white,” he says after a moment. “I—my mother loves me unconditionally. I feel like these flowers recognize that love.”

The boy is smiling, eyes bright, but a bit sad. “I’ll wrap them up for you, then.” He’s still blushing slightly as he gathers up the requested flowers. “You’d want a bouquet of these?”

“Yes,” says Graves. And at the counter of the shop, watching Credence smiles shyly and ring him up, before he can doubt himself, he plucks a thin-stemmed red rose from the array offered at the front. “And also this.”

Credence’s brow furrows a bit, and all Graves can see is mostly disappointment in those soft pretty features, but the boy just takes a quiet breath and nods and adds up the total. “For your Valentine?” Credence asks, bottom lip near pouting.

He’s so cute, Graves thinks in despair. “Yes. If they’ll have me.”

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem at all, sir,” he says softly. Looking at the name on the credit card, he flushes and murmurs, “I mean, Mr. Graves.”

“Please,” says Graves, and takes the bouquet. But when Credence tries to hand him the single rose as well, he smiles, takes it, but doesn’t reel it back in. Instead, he holds it out. “Call me Percival.”

Credence looks at him, at the rose, and those doe eyes flicker between in sudden realization. “Oh—you mean—?”

“Would you like to get a coffee sometime?” Graves asks with a gentle murmur. “And maybe be my Valentine, Credence?”

Credence’s face goes a slow and utterly charming shade of deepest berry pink, the color soaking across the tops of his cheeks. Graves doesn’t notice the other worker in the flower shop peeking out from behind a shelf with a grin so wide his cheeks must hurt.

“I’d… I’d love to,” Credence stammers and smiles. “As… as long as you’d be my Valentine, too.”

And Graves laughs, eyes crinkling. “Deal.”