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Never About the Magic

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It starts in Flourish and Blotts, Rook Street, New York City.

The man who looks after the books is called Mr. Wren, a name which suits him very well indeed. He is tall and narrow and vaguely ruffled, and he walks with tight, cautious steps though the books stacked on the floor, like a long-legged bird picking its way through a swamp. He has ink stains up to the wrist, and a rumpled blue waistcoat complete with a tie that changes colors every half-hour. He looks every inch a wizard, and Credence loves him for it.

Mr. Wren always knows what Credence is looking for- he is in and out of the shop often these days, touching and admiring, never buying- but likes to point things out as they pass them anyways. His ink-stained hands flourish this way and that. “On magical curatives and restoratives, over there,” he says, pointing with two fingers to the left and to the right. “On magical implements and accoutrements, over there."

There are books encrusted with barnacles, smelling faintly of seawater, with pages that stick together and tear. The tragedies sigh faintly where they sit. The philosophical essays hop from shelf to shelf in agitation, and the plump satires grow plumper as they gobble them up one by one. An Encyclopedia of Toadstools is quietly growing fungus in one corner, and above Credence’s head, several copies of Thomas Lanchester’s The Language of Birds have flocked together, and are sitting solemnly atop the collected works of Paracelsus.

Today, Credence has money in his pockets. The world is open to him, and the world, as far as he’s concerned, is a wide, squat wooden bookshelf near the back of the shop. “I’ll be up front if you need me,” says Mr. Wren, in a pleasant if scratchy voice, and he picks his way gingerly back to the storefront like a child walking across an icy road.

Credence is alone.

With the pulps.

New ones have come in since the last time Credence was here. The magazines are colorful, chunky things, and the dime novels are small and cheap and tucked into the nooks and crannies where the magazines don’t reach. They’re arranged by publisher, and Credence sits down heavily on a nearby stack of spellbooks so he can hungrily take them in, deciding which ones he’s finally going to buy.

These ones have the best covers of all, because they don’t even move until you touch them. They’re the only books in the shop that are tactile in that way; they require engagement from the reader. There’s a mermaid on the cover of September’s Mermaid Tales, blue-skinned and freckled and vaguely inhuman, with one hand on the edge of a rowboat and the other cupping the cheek of the handsome sailor leaning out of it. In the split second before Credence’s hand brushes the cover, he wonders, will she kiss him, or will she drown him, and at the touch of his hand the waves begin to roll, and the mermaid’s eyes flash red like a sailor’s blood, and she drags the hapless fool merrily into the sea.

Credence has become, in recent times, no stranger to works of art that come alive under a caring hand. Percival Graves is proof of that, and was happy to hear he had an interest in reading, insofar as it meant a magical education. And it’s true, Credence had been reading spellbooks until his vision swam, but that was hardly where the real magic was. He had thought, in reading fiction, that he might see Graves reflected in the works of Thomas Trosst, or the oral cryptohistories of Merlin. But Credence . . . Credence sees him in the pulps.

The cover of last month’s Devil’s Snare features a clean-cut young wizard in the grips of some venomous plant creature- magic and science gone wrong! Last week’s Unspeakable Horror is too blood-spattered for Credence’s tastes; he knows what it is to kill a man, and the horrors in those pages ring too falsely for him to enjoy them. Wild Women and Dangerous Men are shelved side by side. Exotic Murders, Amazing Escapes, and Forbidden Romances are lined up in a row, with covers in green, purple, and red, respectively.

Black Orchids though, that’s the one that tempts him the most. The cover is black and white, but when Credence reaches out to touch it, magic ripples across the pages and floods them with color. There’s a wizard in a long sweeping robe on the front, standing sharply silhouetted against the light at the end of an alley. A woman, lily-white and caught off guard by his fearful appearance, gasps and clutches her pearls. The cover proclaims in a splash of red- monstrous men and starry-eyed starlets! The back promises seven stories, each more sensational than the last.

Credence can hear his mother’s voice in the bad of his head- he always does, except when Graves speaks louder- but it doesn’t deter him from putting the latest Black Orchids in his lap, followed by Amazing Escapes, and a Devil’s Snare for good measure. Graves’ old Ilvermorny spellbooks could be considered ‘improving literature,’ for lack of a better term, but this is hardly improving literature. This is indulgence, and Credence is so excited to get them home and begin reading them that he can’t stop smiling when he plunks them down in front of Mr. Wren to pay for them.

Home. The thought fills him with a strange sort of glee. Home, where he could read these in broad daylight if he wanted to. Home, where he could curl up in front of the fireplace- every wizarding apartment in New York had a fireplace, according to Graves, and the thought of it had stunned Credence into silence- and fear no reprimand.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” asks Mr. Wren, perching a pair of wiry reading glasses on his nose and squinting down at his magazines in a thoughtful sort of way.

“Yes,” Credence says. “Oh yes.”

***

Percival Graves almost buys a broomstick on impulse.

It’s a hot, damp autumn afternoon, and he takes the long way home by walking the length of Rook Street. The Ollerton brothers have opened a new shop between the Strawberry Lodge and the tailor’s, the windows proudly displaying a rack of Cleansweep Ones. All of them gleaming and identical, down to the meanest twig.

They catch Graves’ eye as he walks past, and he smiles ruefully to himself. Flying is a young man’s game, and it has been a long, long time since he’s flown a broomstick. It’s an expensive habit anyway, though Ollertons plan to change all that, and besides, Graves is a city man through and through, and flying is strictly prohibited there.

All the same . . .

His days as a beater on the Wampus team had been good days, and he remembered them fondly. He was younger then, and his eyes hadn’t seen war. His hands didn’t shake when he held his wand, or a bottle, or the waist of the latest boy who claimed to love him. If Graves could go back, capture a few minutes of his youth the way the Spells for Swells johns down the road claimed to do with their potions and tinctures, he knows exactly what he would do with it.

The weight of the world’s opinions hadn’t burdened him back then. Now it’s only a matter of time before he’s dismissed from his position with a firm handshake and a gentle, “Take care of yourself, Mr. Graves.” Credence’s face is not known to the world, (“There is no obscurial in America,” and so it remains,) but all it would take is a single suspicious reporter, a single column in the New York Ghost, and it would be the final nail in the coffin of Graves’ career.

Graves finds he can scarcely care about his career these days, now that it’s on death’s door, and Fenton Snipes is jockeying for his position at the office.

But being exposed like that would ruin Credence.

Moreover it would ruin him for Credence. Graves was meant to be something solid to lean against, a foundation for Credence’s life. A father, any way you looked at it. No matter the taste of his mouth, or the delight in Credence’s eyes when he was held. Graves may be old and broken and damned unnecessary, but at least his hands didn’t shake badly enough to keep him from opening his wallet.

It’s an awful thought. A thought that dredges up all kinds of vague and uncomfortable feelings. Graves closes his eyes, tries to shut down that train of thought before it leaves the station.

He’s been alone for so, so long.

He can’t go back to sleeping in an empty bed.

Sometimes Graves will look at himself in the bathroom mirror after a morning’s shower, and he’ll see the gray in his hair, and the slight tremor in his hands after so many weeks in chains, and the mirror will tell him he looks spiffing but he won’t believe it.

If he works a little harder, loses that bit of softness around the belly that Credence’s cooking had caused, maybe that will be enough.

If he spends just a few more dragots, gets on a broom again and shows Credence that an old Wampus can still fly, maybe that will be enough.

Graves’ mind wanders back to the Ollerton brothers, and their magical, marvelous Cleansweep Ones. The glories of mass production. The world marches on and Graves stands still, as young men like Credence flower into maturity and flutter from heart to heart, stealing them and breaking them when they get bored. Young men tend to wander, and when Graves runs out of things to offer, Credence will wander just the same.

The boy has the eyes of a much older man. Trench fever eyes, eyes that understand, catalogue, and move on. He hadn’t flowered exactly, but he had sprung open like a poorly unfolded tent. Messy-haired and thin-limbed and so warm when Graves held him, like hot chocolate on a cold night and twice as sweet. Graves had held him through more cold nights than he could count, and he knew him as well as Credence dared to let himself be known. He knew that Credence slouched in company but walked straight-backed to the door to greet Graves when he came home from work. He knew Credence was ashamed of his big, awkward feet, which he kept hidden in socks or else tucked underneath him when he sat on the couch. He knew that his eyes lit up like stars when Graves kissed him, and . . . and . . .

Graves stops in the middle of Rook Street, and leans his back heavily against one of the curving, wrought-iron lamp posts.

He can’t lose this.

He had been foolish to let Grindelwald get the better of him. Fatigued and half-drunk, a shadow of his former self, ready to welcome a kick in the teeth or a punch in the belly if it meant being touched. He was reckless. He could not afford to be reckless now.

“Don’t ball this up,” Graves mutters, giving himself a firm, painful slap on his forearm. “You useless old dog, don’t ball this up.”

***

Newt’s letters are chaotic, to put it kindly. A catastrophe of chicken-scratches and spilled ink. Credence is well used to deciphering them. This one is about books.

Newt is thrilled to hear that Credence is reading. Credence can feel his excitement written between the lines; he can imagine him lighting up in that soft and dusty way of his, and saying something like, “I’m glad to hear it,” which Credence knows means, I’m proud. He thinks he might love Newt. It is difficult not to love him.

He has suggested half a dozen titles before Credence is halfway through the letter, but it’s one throwaway line near the end that has Credence sitting up in his chair, his mind flitting to those lovely moving pictures on the covers of Amazing Escapes and Black Orchids.

Credence mentions Newt’s letter to Graves the moment he gets home from work, and Graves, who is still shedding his coat and unwinding the scarf from his neck, looks perplexed.

“Non-magical books?” he says blankly.

“Newt says that non-magical books sometimes find their way into magical publishing houses,” says Credence, who is not sure how publishing works but trusts Newt’s authority as a life-long wizard almost as much as he trusts Graves’.

“Maybe in Europe,” says Graves, which is how he responds to most of the news Credence gets from Newt. “But that’s a Class C Rappaport violation this side of the pond.”

“Oh,” says Credence. Then, “Oh.”

“Hang on,” says Graves. “Don’t be so glum.”

He finishes hanging up his coat- his scarf slithers off his neck of its own accord and knots itself on one of the coat pegs- and puts his hand on Credence’s shoulder. A question.

Credence’s hand comes up, rests on Graves’ for just a moment. An answer.

Only then does Graves slip his arm around Credence’s shoulders. Credence tilts his head down just enough for Graves to kiss his temple. “Do you want them?” Graves asks.

“You said-”

“I know what I said. Do you want them?”

Yes, Credence thinks, but saying what he wants out loud doesn’t get easier. Credence wonders if it will ever get easier.

“Yeah,” he says. “I do.”

He feels, rather than sees, Graves smile. “Then I will buy them for you,” he says confidently, squeezing Credence’s shoulder.

Its a nice, easy something they’ve found themselves in. In Graves’ arms, in the privacy of his apartment, Credence feels secure. It’s a new feeling, one he’s eager to get used to.

“Credence,” Graves says hesitantly. “What would you think if . . . I started playing Quidditch again?”

“What’s Quidditch?”

“Nothing,” says Graves quickly. “I mean . . . I’ll teach you. Tell you. I think I’ve got my old trophies stashed away somewhere.”

Trophies, Credence thinks. Now that Graves has admitted he’s won trophies for something, Credence will never hear the end of it. How that man talks, when he’s at ease. Credence could listen to him talk about anything, anything at all, and Graves would make it fascinating.

“I’d love to hear more,” he says warmly. “Tell me how you won them.”

***

Sleep doesn’t come easily to Percival Graves.

He lies awake into the early hours of the morning, watching the moonlight glow through the smog outside his bedroom window. New York is alive at night, full of screeching wheels and clopping hooves and the click-click of soles on pavement. It never used to bother him until now. Now every sound is Grindelwald.

Graves had hoped, once upon a time, that someone warming the bed beside him might make sleep come a little easier. It hasn’t. If anything it’s worse, now that there’s a reason to be afraid of Grindelwald coming back. There’s an ugly suspicion in Graves’ mind that if Grindelwald came back for him, and found him alone, Graves might just offer him his wrists and say, “Do it again.” But he has Credence now, and every creak of the building is a black-booted foot on the stairs.

So he drinks sleeping draughts when he can convince Dr. Primrose to prescribe them, and firewhiskey when he can’t. Credence doesn’t like it, and neither does Graves, but he’d rather sleep dreamlessly than sleep it all. He used to go for midnight strolls when it got bad, but that’s not an option either. Not now that someone might care if he doesn’t come home.

Tonight is a little kinder to him. Tonight, at least he can think clearly. Graves rolls onto his side, watches Credence’s sleeping back for a moment before slipping an arm around his waist to cuddle him close. He buries his face in the long curls at the base of Credence’s neck and breathes deeply.

Credence’s skin is furnace-hot under his hands.

***

Less than a week later, there’s a brown paper package waiting for Credence on the dining room table when he shuffles, bleary-eyed and yawning, into the kitchen. Suddenly, he’s wide awake.

Credence can hardly restrain his excitement as he opens up the packaging and looks at each book in turn. The first is a slender green volume, all embossed with tropical leaves and branches, and as Credence runs his hand over the cover to feel the bumpy surface, a small face peeks out from behind the leaves.

“Hi,” says Credence, who is still learning the rules of which things talk and which things don’t in this strange, mixed-up world. The bathroom mirror had complimented him the other day, and Graves, walking past the open door, had caught Credence awkwardly trying to compliment it back.

The little face blinks up at him- it reminds him of Newt in a way, same red hair, same nose- then vanishes behind the leaves. Credence puts the book down, careful not to jostle it, and examines the next one, which is bound in blue leather and has a tropical sea rolling across it, crisp and clear and clean.

Spreading the book open in his lap, Credence flicks through it, and finds it to be full of black-and-white engravings that move on the page in a snaky, inky way. Here is a picture of an inn, burning with black, smeary flames, and here a boy tossed madly through the calligraphy waves in a coracle, and here is a ship being loaded with gold by little sketchbook pirates, more gold than can be easily imagined, even by a wizard.

Credence is just about to settle in and read this one, too fascinated by the pictures to think of anything else, when he catches sight of the third book. The last is the simplest and strangest of all. The only adornment is a photograph.

It’s a slim volume, black with silver lettering, and the woman on the cover sits in her little oval frame and smiles at Credence with a look so open and genuine that for a moment, Credence is stunned speechless. She reminds him of Chastity, and yet, not quite; her eyes are dark like his, and her hands have the same restless energy as his when she fiddles with them in her lap.

She’s beautiful. She looks like Credence, if Credence were beautiful.

The wonders of the past two books are almost eclipsed by this one. Credence pulls out one of the chairs at the table, rasping it across the floor, and sits. The other two are forgotten entirely as he opens the book- poetry, of course it is- and begins to read.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops - at all -

***

“The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on;” Graves is saying, the little green book open in one hand and a manhattan stirring itself by magic in the other, “and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two. Let us pretend to lie here among the sugar-cane and watch them as they steal by in single-file, each with his hand on his dagger.”

Credence is curled up next to him on the couch, cozy in his cotton nightshirt and trousers, and he looks at Graves not for the first time and thinks, I don’t deserve this. Graves has his reading glasses on tonight, and his shirtsleeves rolled up, and maybe it’s the fire flickering blue and orange in the fireplace that’s making Credence so warm, but he doubts it. It’s a late, moonlit evening, the city is cold, and there’s nowhere Credence would rather be than here.

“Thank you for reading to me,” he interrupts.

Graves gives him a strange look out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t mind,” he says. “I enjoy it.”

“I never had anyone to read to me before,” Credence says, which for reasons he can’t fathom, makes Graves’ posture stiffen. “This is really nice.”

“I’m glad,” he says hesitantly, but he does flip the next page. “You know, I like this one better than the other.”

Credence gazes into the fireplace, at the flickering blue light of the sweet-smelling fire, and remembers how fascinated Graves had been with a storybook that contained no magic at all. Credence had been unable to find the words to tell Graves that there was a kind of magic after all. A discovering-things magic. A growing-up magic.

This book has pirates too, though they’re altogether more whimsical. Credence has yet to let Graves read the book of poetry- that one seems private, somehow. Almost as private as the pulps he keeps stashed underneath all his shirts.

“You know,” says Graves, “before I bought this, I couldn’t find a single person to tell me if it was actually good or not.”

“Oh?”

“Mmm. All the reviews were by academics,” Graves says, with the same fondness in his voice that one might use to describe a mouse in the kitchen that was just troublesome enough to bother, but just cute enough to tolerate. “Mercy Lewis, if I hear of one more academic who’s got his hands on a children’s book . . .”

“What do they say about it?” Credence asks, pushing himself into a bit more of a sitting position so he can put his back against Graves’ shoulder.

“According to the esteemed Wilfred Hardscrabble,” Graves says, adjusting his reading glasses for comedic effect, “this book is a valuable example of muggle literature in that it offers a keen insight into the imaginations of muggle children as regards the magical world.”

This he says in an exaggeratedly deep, fussy English voice, which makes Credence laugh until his belly is aching and his sides are exquisitely sore. “Muggle?” He manages to say through his hiccups.

“English non-magicals,” Graves explains. He sends his manhattan to bob forlornly in the air a few feet away as he reaches out to card his hand sweetly through Credence’s hair. There’s a look of concern on his face that Credence can’t quiet place. “You like these books, don’t you?” he asks. “They’re a far cry from the pulps, I suppose.”

Credence goes pink in the face. “I like them a lot,” he says hurriedly. “This one especially. Did you know it used to be a play?”

Graves voice is too light, too casual. “And you . . . you like it, when I read to you?”

Credence nods without thinking about it, his eyes searching Graves’ face for some hint of what’s troubling him. At times like this, Credence is uncomfortably aware of how short their time together has been, how desperately he wants to learn Graves inside and out and how ardently Graves prevents himself from being learned.

“I do,” Credence says finally. “I love it when you read to me. You read like you care what you’re saying. Although,” and here, almost on a whim, he puts one leg over Graves’ lap and slides into it, facing him. He can feel Graves’ thighs between his own. They’re thicker than his, and the though makes Credence’s mouth go dry. “I’ll admit,” he says slowly, “it’s hard for me to concentrate sometimes.”

“You young people,” Graves says. Credence can hear in his voice that he’s amused. “No sense of concentration. And after all the trouble I went through to get them for you too.”

Credence, who knows they had been no trouble at all, lays his head against Graves’ shoulder and sighs with laughter. He’s taller than Graves, only just, but no man has ever made him feel smaller. “Maybe I’ve been ruined for literature,” he says, in a long-suffering voice. “Too much pulp fiction.”

Graves hums thoughtfully as he runs his hand up Credence’s thigh, giving him a little squeeze to make him squirm. “I could read those to you too, if you like.”

The thought makes Credence turn scarlet, and he tucks his face against Graves’ neck so he won’t see. “Maybe not,” he stammers.

“Why not?” Graves asks. “What could be in them that makes you so shy?”

Men with black hair and blacker hearts, Credence thinks. Daring rescues and torn shirtfronts. Orphans lifted out of poverty by a sinister benefactor, and seduced into a life of luxury.

“They’re just,” Credence says, and he realizes he’s about to say private before he says it. He’s never had anything private before.

“I suppose the pulps have ruined me for you,” Graves sighs, his lips brushing the curve of Credence’s ear. “I could hardly compare with one of your bodice-rippers.”

“You’re better than the bodice-rippers,” Credence says weakly. Graves gives a little laugh, and from the sound of it, Credence realizes for the first time that Graves is still nervous. Not uncomfortable exactly, Graves is always uncomfortable, but . . . nervous. Almost afraid.

“Are you alright?” Credence asks. He’s not cruel when he says it, but he’s firm. Graves is a straightforward man, who requires straightforward handling when he’s in one of his moods.

“I’m fine,” says Graves shortly, finally setting the book aside so he can put his arms around Credence’s waist properly.

“Are you alright?” Credence repeats, slower this time.

It’s a long time before Graves says anything. He sits and holds Credence, his breath coming slow and even, lost in thought.

“I’m in love with you,” he says flatly, like he’s reading a case file, and even then the statement makes Credence’s heart soar. “I’m in love with you, and I can’t . . . I can’t be everything you want me to be. I’m sorry.”

“But,” says Credence, flummoxed. “You’re already everything I want you to be.”

“I can’t be your father.”

“I don’t want- Mercy Lewis, Percy.”

“I can read to you,” Graves says gently. “I can clothe you, and feed you, and teach you magic, but I can’t . . .” he swallows. “I can’t be your father, Credence, anymore than I could be one of those ripped-shirt villains in your magazines. If that’s what you’re looking for, I can’t give it.”

Credence thinks of the shadowy figures on the covers of Black Orchids, with their long cloaks and their dark eyes, and for the first time, he realizes what Graves is getting at.

“How long have you been worrying about this?” he asks, because it’s all he can think to say.

“Long enough.”

“That’s not what I want from you, Percy. If that was what I wanted, I wouldn’t have . . . we wouldn’t have . . .”

He hopes Graves won’t make him say it, not with his mother’s voice in the back of his head, cold and butter-soft and condemning. Graves, for his part, says nothing. His face is already tinged red, and when Credence leans down to kiss him, he lets out a small noise that goes straight to Credence’s heart.

“I do love it,” he says quietly, “when you read to me. But I’m not looking for a father, Percy, and I’m not trying to turn you into something you’re not.” I, of all people, wouldn’t do that to you.

“You pick your words so carefully,” Graves sighs. “You never say anything on impulse. I wonder sometimes what you’d say if you did.”

They exchange slow, lazy kisses while the fire crackles warmly at Credence’s back. Kisses that Credence wants to deepen, his body’s interest already piqued by so much closeness. But he knows, he knows the kiss is only a distraction, so he breaks it to nudge Graves’ forehead with his own. “Hey,” he says, reaching up to scratch gently at the buzzed hair at the back of Graves’ neck. “Hey.”

“Don’t ‘hey’ me,” Graves mutters, a little of the posh schoolboy he used to be rising up in him again and making Credence smile. “I need to know that you’re sure. About me.”

“Of course I am.”

“We’ve fallen . . .” says Graves, leaving the words hanging as he struggles to find the right thing to say.

Credence thinks he knows. We’ve fallen into something easy, without pain or talking.

Nothing should be this easy.

Credence, who thinks deeply and speaks slowly, takes a long moment before he breaks the silence. “I want you,” he says finally, hoping it’s what Graves needs to hear. “I want you as a man. Not a father.”

“I’m,” Graves says, and something clenches in Credence’s heart when he sees Graves’ eyes fall half-closed, and he tilts his head back, enjoying the feeling of Credence’s hand on the shorn hair at the back of his head. “I’m not as magical as I used to be,” he says, and this admission, torn from him almost unwillingly, is what makes Credence kiss him harder, trying to show him somehow that it was never about the magic.

“A man, I said,” Credence says desperately, leaning down to he can brush his nose against Graves’ cheek. “A man. Not a father, not a wizard, not a pulp hero.”

Graves’ breath catches in his throat, and Credence’s heart soars when he sees Graves’ eyes darken, that warm, inky darkness that means Credence has satisfied something long-unsatisfied inside him.

“I love you as man,” Credence repeats softly, “and I want you to bed me like one.”

Graves kisses him.

God, Credence will never tire of it.

He kisses like a starving man, seeking nourishment in Credence’s mouth, in his very skin. Credence has never yet been able to keep up with his kisses, reduced to opening his mouth and letting himself be enjoyed. He feels full when they kiss like this, Graves’ tongue against his own, their breath indistinguishable from one another’s. He feels fed.

Graves’ hands are on his thighs, forcing him off his lap, and Credence lets himself by handled like this until he’s on his back, the couch cushions still warm from the head of the nearby fire. Graves runs his hand down Credence’s chest, a peculiar expression on his face; shock, almost, and a desperate, hungry yearning that makes him seem small even as he looms over Credence. He gives a little jerk of the head, and Credence, who has seen that twitch before and knows what it means, stretches himself luxuriously under him before shifting onto his belly. He tugs his soft pajama bottoms down and kicks them off the couch, just as Graves gets his hands on him and suddenly he’s there, pressing him down into the couch cushions. His bulk is too heavy and too real, until Credence is very nearly smothered by it, and he glories in being unable to breathe. He turns his head to the side, pressing one cheek against the couch cushions so he can watch Graves run his hands up and down Credence’s spine under his nightshirt, just as eager to touch as Credence is to be touched.

“I love you, you know,” Credence mumbles, already blissfully incoherent as Graves nudges his knee between Credence’s legs, spreading them a little wider. Then the metal-on-metal sound of Graves’ belt as he fumbles with the buckle, and Credence closes his eyes as he feels Graves’ hand, warm and claiming, between his legs. He murmurs something under his breath, and oh, oh, oh, the now-familiar feeling of being slicked by magic, slicked to dripping . . .

“Not much of a party trick,” Graves had whispered wryly, the first time he’d performed that spell, for him, “but it gets the job done,” and God, it felt good. A wet, familiar feeling, almost uncomfortable if it weren’t for the promise of what was to follow. Credence arches his back against Graves, a silent invitation, and gasps when the head of Graves’ cock finally slips in, scrabbling at the sheet with his fingernails as he struggles to accommodate his width. He can feel Graves’ body shudder behind him, and then his hands are right there, clenched tightly in the cushions on either side of Credence’s head, and Credence grabs one of his wrists and squeezes it tightly as Graves finally bottoms out inside Credence and groans.

The sharp pain-pleasure of Graves’ slow press into him makes Credence press his face against the couch and whine, the sensation too much and yet not enough all at once. He’s dimly aware of Graves’ hand between his shoulder blades, heavy and comforting, even though Credence knows he must be sticky with sweat already. Graves leans down, presses himself up against the length of Credences back, and leaves firm, wet kisses against Credence’s neck. “F-fuck,” he says weakly, his breath hot against Credence’s neck.

Credence reaches behind him, manages to run a hand up and down Graves’ thigh, and the encouraging touch spurs Graves to start moving. Credence feels his teeth brush against his neck as Graves pulls himself out and slides back in, slowly, but unyieldingly hard. He watches Graves’ face with one dark, languid eye. God, you’re monstrous, he thinks, delirious with pleasure. You need this, don’t you.

“Dammit,” Graves growls against Credence’s back, as his thrusts grow more relentless. “Don’t say that, stop saying things like that to me.”

Credence’s face, already scarlet, goes an even deeper red. He tries to say, “I didn’t mean to say it out loud,” but he only gets out the first two syllables before Graves’ cock hits him there, and it’s like magic and fire chasing each other up Credence’s spine, his heart about to burst from the hot, throbbing pleasure of it . . .

Credence lets out a loud, low moan, and Graves shushes him fiercely. Credence looks over his shoulder at him, and grins through gritted teeth, “Make me.”

Graves fists his hand lovingly in Credence’s hair and pulls his head up, forcing Credence’s scarred back to arch under him. “Shh,” he hisses in Credence’s ear as his thrusts start growing desperate, more erratic. Credence has lost count of the number of times they’ve played this game, Graves refusing to lose himself and Credence goading him until he does. Graves never lasts long, but Credence could keeping going for hours, just enjoying this little bit of pain mixed with his pleasure to remind him that pain need not be evil.

He supposes he ought to feel endangered.

Credence has never felt more safe.

Graves hand comes up to clamp over his mouth, and that’s only an invitation to groan louder, so Credence does. He can feel his muscles clenching, trembling, just ready to spill over, and he tries to tell Graves he’s on the edge but he can’t, the hand over his mouth is too tight, and just as he’s about to lose himself he feels Graves thrust into him firmly and stay still, as though making a place for himself in Credence’s hot, wet center.

Credence can hear Graves’ tense, desperate breathing just behind his hear. He has never known Graves to come with anything but a tense and terrible silence.

Credence feels his seed filling him up, blooming hot inside him like magic, like love, and the feeling is enough to tip him just over the edge of the great cresting wave of his climax, till he loses himself in a gasping, twitching, shuddering release. He gasps Graves’ name- dimly, he’s aware that Graves is whispering his- and all at once his energy seems to flee him and he falls limp against the couch, legs still twitching from the force of his climax. He can feel the stickiness between him and the cushions, but is too exhausted to do anything about it. Graves will take care of it. With a wave of his hand, he will take care of it.

Graves’ weight is heavy when he collapses across Credence’s back. Too heavy, and he doesn’t stay long before he shifts weakly to one side, getting his arms around Credence and holding him close. Credence get his arms around him too and digs his fingernails in, holding him still. Graves always holds him afterwards, clinging to him like a dying man clings to life.

It’s a long time before they speak again. Credence closes his eyes for a moment, enjoying the crackling of the fire and the sound of their mutually wrung-out breathing. New York City at night is rumbling quietly outside the window. There are no footsteps, no murmurs of suspicion. His mother’s voice in his head is silent.

Graves mumbles something against Credence’s shoulder that sounds vaguely like an apology.

“No,” Credence says gently. “None of that.”

“I got . . . carried away.”

“I love it,” Credence says, reaching out to put his hand on Graves’ chest. He rests it there, nothing more, and feels Graves’ heartbeat slow under his palm. “I love it when the man I love gets carried away.”

This he says with emphasis, and Graves lets out a shaky sigh that’s almost a laugh. “You know,” he says, “I’m still waiting for you to tire of me.”

“Could I get tired of magic?”

“Many do.”

“I would love you if you didn’t have a drop of magic in you,” Credence says, and he means every word. “You do know that, don’t you?”

“Sure I do,” says Graves, and Credence can’t abide that tone of voice, not from him, so he silences him with a kiss that grows deeper and hungrier until Graves breaks it with a laugh, reminding him that he’s not as young as he once was. Credence’s heart could crack in half for the love of him.

“Thank you,” he murmurs against Graves’ lips. “For everything.

They stay there until the fire burns to embers, and the moon sinks out of sight.