Credence is warm, secure and against all odds, happy. It’s a feeling he’s gotten familiar with since he started living with Mr. Graves two months ago; each day a blessing that he thanks God for every morning in his prayers. The book he’s reading on wandless magic is propped against his knees where he sits in Mr. Graves’ usual seat before the fireplace, content for the moment.
Mr. Graves has given him so much since they escaped from Nurmengard together; food, a place to sleep and live, security, affection, and quite literally the clothes off his back.
He fingers the collar of the shirt that had once been Mr. Graves’, cut down with magic to fit his much slimmer form, and smiles faintly. If he tucks his nose into the fabric he can almost smell the last vestiges of the cologne the older man wears, and he’s not exactly happy, no, because the scent makes his heart throb with want and ache with loneliness.
Mr. Graves has been gone for three days, hunting the followers of Grindelwald, and though Credence misses him terribly, he knows that finding Grindelwald and his followers before they instigate a full out war between wizards and no-maj’s is far more important than Credence’s disappointment at his absence.
He owes so very much to Mr. Graves, his very life, in fact, and though he knows there’s no way he can ever repay the man, he’s determined to try. He’s kept busy in Mr. Graves’ absence, but it’s not enough to keep his mind running over the many varied ways that Mr. Graves could be hurt or killed. He’s already cleaned the house from top to bottom, done all the laundry for both of them, and in the kitchen there’s dough proofing for a fresh loaf of bread.
His stomach has been knotted with anxiety since the day Mr. Graves had left, his fingers trailing over Credence’s cheek with a sad smile and a reassurance that he’d be back soon. The soft words and gentle touch had done little to keep the anxiety and fear at bay; the darkness inside him that has little to do with the obscurus impossible to keep buried for long.
His pulse skips unevenly at the chaos of the dark images staining his mind, unease making his stomach churn unpleasantly. Fine tremors run over his hands, fingers trembling where they’re pressed into the leather binding of the book in his lap.
The mission is dangerous, and more than he might miss Mr. Graves, he fears for him. Credence spent nearly four months as a guest of Grindelwald's and had only escaped when he had realized that Mr. Graves wasn’t the man Grindelwald had pretended to be. He has seen firsthand how very dangerous Grindelwald is, how violent and murderous he can be when pushed--though once his true nature had been revealed, Credence realized that there was very little pushing needed for the man to resort to violence.
Before Grindelwald had captured Mr. Graves and impersonated him, Credence had met Mr. Graves, the real Graves who had taken him to lunch, healed his hands, given him hugs when he was breaking down, had cared when the imposter only cared about finding the obscurus and using it as a weapon.
It had taken him a shamefully long time to realize that Grindelwald had been manipulating him, and once more, a flush of anger rose to his pale cheeks. Glaring at the fire, he tries to breath through the anger and shame and hurt that makes it feel like the obscurus is back, crushing him slowly from the inside out.
Black spots swim in his vision and as his heart pounds, he can hear how loud his breathing is, so loud it sounds like the rush of the ocean, dragging him down, down, down.
The halls of Nurmengard are damp and cold, and no matter how many layers Credence wears, he’s still cold. He’s not sure if it’s the fact that it’s winter, or if it’s the very essence of the castle that permeates his bones, makes him shiver and hide in his rooms, hoping Mr. Grindelwald will tell him soon what he knows of Credence’s past.
It’s a strange concept, now that he’s no longer under his Ma--Mary Lou’s hold. His sisters are dead or have forgotten him through magic, and though it puts a pit in his stomach to think it, he has wondered if perhaps that’s better than knowing he’s a wizard...or a squib, as Mr. Grindelwald has called him.
Chastity would be horrified to know how far he has fallen from the grace of God, though he suspects Modesty would find the whole thing greatly amusing. He smiles softly, recalling her sweet demeanor and gentle disposition, how she would crawl into bed with him after Mary Lou had beaten him bloody and hold his hand while he cried softly.
Clenching his hands, he feels the pull of scar tissue on his palms, a constant reminder of the sins he has committed, of the sinful nature of his very blood. He is an abomination, Ma had told him that over and over again, tried to beat it from him, cleansing him with prayer and spilt blood, but the wrongness remained.
After being blasted apart by the magic of those people in the train tunnels, the blackness that had lurked inside him like a demon had just...gone.
That’s a blessing of sorts, he supposes.
No more does it pulse in his veins, inky darkness waiting till he cannot control the hurt and anger, bursting forth with vicious rage, laying waste to anything in its way.
It means that he isn’t unwillingly and unwittingly harming people anymore--though Mr. Grindelwald seems disappointed by his lack of magical ability, despite the wand he had given Credence in an attempt to draw his powers out.
It’s only been a few weeks that he’s been here with Grindelwald, but the man hasn’t been able to help him use whatever magic may lie in his blood, to both of their frustration and disappointment. Credence hopes that with time he will be able to do magic, if only to make the older man happy; when Grindelwald is displeased there is a gleam to his eyes that frightens Credence--though the man hasn’t actually hurt him, he wonders if he will.
Grindelwald has taught him spells and given him books to read on magical history, made sure he has plenty of food and a warm bed to sleep in, and yet he has not given Credence the one thing he truly wants--the information he had promised Credence; the name of his mother and father--his real parents.
The door to his chambers opens with a bang and Credence flinches where he’s seated by the fire, reading. Heart thumping in his chest like a frightened rabbit, he watches as Grindelwald storms into the room, visage dark and angry, lips twisted into a scowl.
“Come Credence,” he commands, waving a hand and huffing when the boy doesn’t rise quickly enough for his liking. Credence hurries along behind him as the older man turns on his heel and marches down the hall, the stairs winding beneath them as they descend into the icy bowels of the castle.
Curiosity gnaws at Credence; he’s not allowed in this part of the castle— too dangerous my boy Grindelwald had told him—the affectionate term reminding him painfully of...Graves. His stomach lurches as he recalls how the man who had promised to help him so utterly destroyed him and the faith Credence had placed in him.
Grindelwald waves his wand and a door at the end of the hallway swings open, the blackness beyond it like a starless sky, a void into which everything light and good dies. A shudder runs over Credence as Grindelwald ushers him forward, the tip of his wand illuminating and then casting a ball of light up, so that the room is revealed.
His entire body goes rigid at the sight of the man shackled to the floor, gaunt and haunted--no, he thinks, haunting ...because this man, he’s a ghost of Credence’s past and when he lifts his gaze, the recognition there makes his stomach lurch.
Breath shallow and too fast, sweat cools on his skin in the light of the fire and Credence swallows the bile that has flooded his mouth, overwhelmed in a swell of emotion and sensation. With shaking hands he sets aside his book and rises from the chair on unsteady legs, his feet carrying him down the hall and into the room Mr. Graves had given him.
Please come back
An unwilling whimper rips from his throat and he hurries to kneel down and shove a hand under the mattress, searching until he finds the small bundle of cloth he’s searching for. Tucking it into his pocket, he walks unsteadily into the bathroom and unwraps the fabric on the porcelain of the counter, hands shaking as he stares at the brightly gleaming silver and green within.
The rustle of clothing is loud in his ears, like white noise, and he can feel the blood rushing too fast in his veins--he’s flashing hot and cold and his palms are sweaty and nothing seems quite real until he picks up the slip of silver, the familiar feel of it grounding him that little bit.
The lines running up and down his thighs gleam silver under the light, though there are three that are still pink, freshly formed.
Pressing down in a smooth line, he inhales sharply at the hot swell of pain, clear and true and like a miracle, it cuts through the chaos in his brain, silencing the endless thoughts and guilt until all he knows is the heat of his blood streaming out onto his skin and the scent of copper in the air and the dull burning ache of the cut in his skin.
Fingers shaking, he sets aside the blade, blood staining the porcelain, bright and shiny. For the first time all day he breaths steadily, the turmoil that has been surging within him finally abated.
He’s done this every day Mr. Graves has been gone—though he knows if the older man knew about this he’d be worried for his well being and blame himself for leaving Credence and a ripple of guilt sweeps through him at the easily imagined hurt expression on Mr. Graves’s face.
Eyes hooded, he leans against the tank of the toilet, the cool enamel soothing against his clammy skin as blood cools against his thigh, tiny droplets falling to the ground. Heartbeat regular and slow now, he reaches out with slightly numb fingers for the bottle, dripping out three tiny splashes of dittany.
Mr. Graves had used it when Credence had cut himself in the kitchen weeks prior, and as he closes up the bottle, the scar winks at him from the meat of his palm, the same place that Percy had pressed a kiss to once it had healed.
When he gets to his feet he’s clear headed, calm.
Washing off the blade, he wraps it and the bottle of dittany in the cloth, fingers sure and steady as he carries it back to his bedroom, tucking it safely beneath the mattress once more. As he’s tucking the fabric back into place, he hears the lock of the front door clicking and his heart races because that means...
Percy is home
He’s handing out pamphlets on the corner of the street, hoping that maybe he’ll see Miss Tina again, stomach rumbling, reminding him of the fact that his breakfast of stodgy, tasteless porridge was many, many hours ago now, when he looks up and spies a man, standing on the stairs of the Woolworth building, still as a stone in the tide of people flowing around him.
A strong jaw, piercing eyes and a flicker of curiosity is all he sees before a trio of boys knock into him, shoving him to the ground and sending his papers fluttering into the puddle of refuse lining the gutter.
They laugh and kick at him until a police officer sidles over and sends them on their way with an admonishment to be kind to the boy that Credence really doesn’t think they’ll heed in the future. As the man helps him to his feet and watches as he gathers his papers, he frowns deeply, suspicion pulling his already heavy jowls down further.
“You have a permit to be here boy?”
Credence stammers out a reply, but before he can truly form an answer, another, larger figure is looming by his side and he flinches away, pressing his papers to his chest. Half are soaked and ruined, in tatters, and his back aches in an echo of the agony it will feel tonight when Ma finds out.
“Here you are officer.”
Credence risks a glance at the man beside him and feels his stomach lurch at the familiar and sternly handsome visage of the man. He’s tall, broad shouldered and has grey sweeping the hair at his temples, his clothing visibly expensive and Credence feels ashamed to be so shabby next to a man of such obvious prestige.
The man has offered a slip of paper to the officer who studies it with some skepticism before nodding slowly and handing it back to the handsome man. “Very good sir. Next time, make sure the boy has it on him,” he orders before giving them a brusque nod and sauntering away.
Credence waits a moment till he’s out of ear shot and then murmurs, “Thank you very much sir, but I-I don’t have a permit.” He could swear that the paper is blank as the man shoves it back into the breast pocket of his suit, but that can’t be right, so he shakes his head and carefully lifts his gaze to meet the older man’s.
He’s greeted by a warm smile and a gleam of amusement in the man’s eye.
“You’re very welcome my boy. And not to worry, I carry spares to keep police off the backs of enterprising young men like yourself.”
He offers a hand for Credence to shake, “Percival Graves,” he says, brow furrowing when Credence winces at the squeeze of his grip. In a smooth, quick motion his fingers curl around Credence’s wrist and flips it over so the bloody, scarred palm is revealed.
Mr. Graves’s fingers on his wrist tighten and his lips purse, and Credence thinks for a moment he can smell electricity in the air, hot and sharp. The man--Mr. Graves he reminds himself--exhales slowly and shakes his head, “Tina was right,” he mutters and hope skips through Credence at the name.
“You know Miss Tina?” he asks excitedly, eyes widening hopefully.
Mr. Graves’s eyes lift to meet his and his lips curl into something that is almost a smile, eyes warm. “Yes, in fact, I’m her boss,” he replies and Credence barely realizes that he’s still holding onto his hand, thumb brushing over the delicate skin of his wrist, until a shiver runs over his skin at the sensation.
He should pull away, he knows, but this touch, it’s soft and gentle and kind and instead of pulling away, he leans into it, swaying closer to Mr. Graves.
“Miss Tina, I haven’t seen her in awhile,” he tells Mr. Graves, peering up at the man through his thick lashes, eyes wide and anxious as worry colors his voice and the older man shakes his head kindly.
“She’s been assigned to a case that’s kept her quite busy,” he tells Credence and though he’s not sure, there’s a shade of dishonesty to the way it’s said that tells Credence there’s something not quite right about what he’s been told.
“Oh. She had promised to come back, that’s all,” Credence tells him, crestfallen as his hope slips away that she might want to be his...what, friend? Credence didn’t have friends and he mentally berates himself for thinking that anyone as nice as Miss Tina would spend her time with him.
“I’m sure she has better things to do,” Credence murmurs, eyes cast down as he struggles not to lose control and cry in front of this man who is everything Credence wishes he was; tall, strong, handsome and wealthy.
A light pressure to Credence’s wrist draws his wide, sorrowful gaze back up to Mr. Graves’s. He smiles this time and the light in Credence’s eyes flares as he tips his chin up to stare at him through impossibly long lashes.
“She asked me to check on you while she’s unavailable,” he tells the boy, “She was very upset she couldn’t come herself to make sure you were well.”
Hope springs anew in Credence’s chest, small and weak like a baby bird, but hope, nonetheless.
“I hope it’s not too much of a disappointment,” Mr. Graves jokes, lifting a brow playfully. The sharp planes of the Credence’s face flush a pretty pink at how handsome the man looks when he’s smiling, joking.
“I-I’m sorry sir! I didn’t mean that...I’m very happy you’re here...I mean, I’m happy to have met you,” Credence stammers, gaze dropping and shoulders hunching as he awaits the blow and sharp reprimand that is sure to come.
Rude boy! You don’t speak to your elders like that!
Credence shivers as a large hand lands on his shoulder, his body flinching as it squeezes gently.
“I was only teasing Credence. I apologize for it,” Mr. Graves murmurs quietly, voice soft with regret. The words sink in slowly and Credence realizes that perhaps a beating isn’t going to be meted out for his stupidity and rudeness.
The tension very slowly begins to slip out of his bird bone shoulders and after a long moment, Credence looks up at Mr. Graves once more, gaze flickering over the handsome visage watching him with some warm expression that Credence can’t decipher.
“Credence, would you come have dinner with me?” Mr. Graves asks suddenly, surprising Credence, because why would this man want to spend any time with him? He’s been rude when the man has only been kind, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with anything like more time together, even if he desperately wants to say yes .
Mr. Graves must be able to see he’s about to refuse because he squeezes the thin shoulder beneath his palm again, effectively silencing him. “I need your help with something Credence, and I’m terribly hungry, so I’d be very grateful if you’d come and share a meal while we speak.”
Credence hesitates, because although his stomach is empty and churning, he still has pamphlets to hand out and if he returns home too late, it’ll earn him a beating from Ma.
Thoughtless boy! Where were you? Consorting with the devil like that whore of a mother that birthed you?
He flinches as her ugly words ring in his head and he shakes it firmly, “I cannot sir. My mother will be displeased if I’m to return late,” he explains.
“Then I’ll just have to make sure you’re there on time,” Mr. Graves murmurs in reply, lips curling up when Credence dares a glance up at him. “Come Credence, dine with me,” he asks, voice soft and faintly pleading.
Mr. Graves is asking, no pleading for him to come and have dinner with him, and though Credence suspects he’s a witch, he doesn’t sense anything threatening about the older man. But perhaps that’s how the devil will steal his soul; with a handsome face and a handful of kind words.
That’s what Ma would say.
But Ma doesn’t have to know he reminds himself. As long as he hands out all of his pamphlets, she’ll never have to know he met with Mr. Graves.
Finally decided, he nods and ducks his head when Mr. Graves smiles brightly down at him, the warmth of it like sunshine on a frozen bud, melting the ice and encouraging it to bloom. The little act of rebellion makes his heart beat faster, or maybe that’s because of the firm hand on his lower back, guiding him through the busy streets.
Mr. Graves is a large, protective warmth at his side, a warmth that Credence finds himself leaning into without even meaning to. He can hear his mother’s voice, hissing venom, cursing his sinful nature, his unholy desires, every foul name and curse like blows against his already broken heart.
If there was something he could do to make his Ma love him, he would have done it years ago, but eventually he realized that his Ma would never, could never love him. He wasn’t sure if it was because he’s a bastard, an invert, or just fundamentally unlovable, but it doesn’t bother him like it used to.
What love he doesn’t get from her, he gives to Modesty. She’s sweet still, untainted by their mother’s hate and vitriol, and he hopes that what little he can do for her will be enough to keep her from turning out like Chastity. He cannot say he loves Chastity, but he treats her with care and kindness, even when she rejects him, because he hopes that someday, her heart will soften, before it is too late.
They eat in a little diner, tucked into a corner booth, and as they share a meal, Credence shares more about the church he lives in and the beliefs his Ma has taught him.
“Never let the fire in your heart go out,” Credence explains. “We must always burn for God, to shine brightly for those still in the dark so they know the truth.”
Mr. Graves lifts a brow, “That witches are real?”
Credence nods, “And a threat to our immortal souls.”
He’s wondered for a time if Miss Tina was a witch; there was an aura about her that spoke of power, power like no one else he knew had, and as he spends more time with Mr. Graves, he thinks the older man too has it.
Mr. Graves gives a solemn nod and murmurs for him to keep eating instead of asking more about witches and Credence flushes, ducks his head, his occasional glances up through his lashes curious and longing.
Mr. Graves is very handsome, Credence thinks. The grey at his temples is distinguished, highlighting a strong jaw that Credence yearns to reach out and touch, but he doesn’t, because Mr. Graves isn’t like him, he isn’t wrong and perverted by Satan. That doesn’t mean Credence doesn’t hoard every smile and gentle touch though, no, he tucks the memory of them away so that when he’s alone later, he can recall the kindness that has been a balm to his broken heart.
Mr. Graves manages to get a bowl of soup, three thick slices of bread and a cup of hot cocoa into Credence before he’s stuffed full, vaguely nauseated from so much rich food, but so grateful to the older man that he’s stammering over his thanks as they walk through the darkened streets to the church.
Credence’s steps slow as they approach; he doesn’t want this time to end. He wants to sit in the diner forever and listen to Mr. Graves tell him stories about his colleagues, his exaggerated faces and accents eliciting sharp, unexpected laughter from Credence. He wants to see the man smile, warm and full, eyes crinkling around the edges as he gazes at Credence. He wants to feel that large, firm hand at his back, guiding him, protecting him.
He wants, wants, wants because he’s a selfish boy, sinful and weak, but for the first time, he doesn’t care, because Mr. Graves has promised to help him get away from the church, in return, he just needs to look for a child displaying unusual behavior.
Ducking his chin, Credence musters his courage and looks up at the man through his lashes, hope beating recklessly in his chest till it feels hard to breath. “Will I...will I see you again soon, sir?”
Mr. Graves smiles softly, hand cupping his cheek in his large palm, and Credence can’t help but sway into it, chest aching at the gentle, kind touch. “Of course Credence. I’ll be back on Tuesday,” he assures him.
Tuesday; it’s five days away, which feels like eternity, but Credence nods bravely and smiles weakly, “I’ll find out what you need Mr. Graves, I promise,” he swears.
“Even if you don’t, I’ll still come back Credence.”
Mr. Graves smiles reassuringly and his thumb traces the line of Credence’s cheekbone, sending a shudder over his spine, melting any resistance left in his soul. Lashes fluttering, his lips curl into a faint smile and he hums softly.
“Good night then Mr. Graves,” he murmurs, slipping away reluctantly. As he climbs the stairs into the church he can feel eyes on him, but when he looks back, Mr. Graves is gone.