Credence holds his breath. He feels all his nerves humming with the frequency of danger, tuning him like a dial. Static in the air. Dry, like it might spark. He feels like a match.
“Did Percival do this?”
Credence can’t swallow. His nod is more twitch than gesture.
Gellert doesn’t comment but keeps looking at the bruises on Credence’s thighs, dotting his hips, the insides of his wrists. There’s one on is neck that doesn’t show but it aches when he turns his head.
Gellert traces a finger over the one on his hip. He flinches as it crosses bone. Credence feels like dropped fruit, soft and bleeding underneath. He wants to be left alone, but his skin pebbles into goosebumps under the touch anyway. He looks to Gellert, trying to read him. Always trying. For a moment they only regard each other. And then Gellert presses into the bruise’s center with his thumb, testing the severity of Credence’s reaction.
The breath Credence has been holding comes out in a hiss.
“Tell me to stop.”
Credence knows if he does he will be left alone. Too alone, with the bitterness disappointment in his mouth. He doesn’t speak. He pushes his hips up an inch and Gellert’s smile widens, hint of teeth.
His other hand slides up Credence’s inner thigh, milky white and covered in soft hair. He finds the fingerprint bruises, covers them with his own like a blueprint. He bears down and Credence arches his back, pulling up toward him as if on a string.
“Once bitten?” Gellert asks, kneading into the places where Percival’s fingers had dug so carelessly.
Credence tries to finish, the old adage Gellert used to say to him when he jumped at a noise. It gets caught up in the dull ache ruling his senses. “Twice…ah.”
“Not shy. Not anymore.”
He doesn’t know if he is. He’s walked off the ledge so many times, what’s another? One foot in front of the other. Look up at the sun.
Gellert moves more subtly than Graves. Graves would have Credence’s hair in his fist by now, would’ve yanked his head back to an immobilizing angle. But he’s only applying and releasing pressure, watching every subtle shift in expression that crosses Credence’s face.
“Bad or good?”
Even as he whispers, Gellert’s words register in his brain. Bad or good.
“Does it feel bad or does it feel good?”
Credence winces and wraps an arm around Gellert’s neck, pulling himself up, pulling him down. Maybe solid weight will be a relief like on a banged elbow. Pressure. He needs to be held tight. An artery. All these pinpoints of ache will stop.
“I don’t know.”
Gellert’s laughing at him, but that’s never meant anything in particular.
Credence remembers when Gellert bought a navy-blue coat for him. Credence had tilted his head and run the collar over the skin of his cheek, his lips. Five hundred dollars, the tag said. Gellert waved that off, turning the tag back over so the price didn’t show. You’ll have it your whole life. It suits you.
Always right on the heels of the navy-blue coat, as if the memories are hinged, he thinks of the time he’d phoned Gellert for help, incoherent, clutching what he thought might be a broken rib. There’d been voices in the background. Chatter. Glasses clinking. Gellert had listened to him sob out a few disjointed sentences until he stuttered to a stop.
Credence had rocked himself back and forth at the foot of the bed, waiting as silent seconds ticked by, each bearing more weight than the one before.
I really, really don’t have time for this, Credence. Get an ice pack. The phone clicked in his ear and there was no longer anyone on the other end.
He tries to remember the coat instead as he tucks his forehead to Gellert’s shoulder. He unclenches his jaw and lets the pain radiating under Gellert’s fingers draw sound from his lips. It’s breathy and needy. Gellert squeezes, rougher, and it turns to a moan. He can feel Gellert's satisfied hum in his own chest.
“Somewhere in between?”
The hand on Credence’s thigh slides up a little more between them, brushing him over his clothes. He leaves it there, warm and steady. Credence shudders as some of the pain dissolves, replaced by a stab of pleasure in his groin. Feeling bad to feel good? Gellert once purred at him with his hand wrapped around his throat. Now he thought of those words every time.
He presses into Gellert’s hand, mouth falling open at the sudden pressure between his legs. The fingers digging into the bruises at his hip let up and their absence is worse, so he rocks up into Gellert’s hand to distract from it.
Gellert’s eyes narrow, his mouth tightens in distaste. “You’re greedier than you used to be.”
Credence stops pushing into his hand. Usually Gellert likes the noises he makes. So eager, he’d once praised.
“I suppose you can’t fault the dog who becomes trained.” He sighs, leaving off Credence and standing.
A cold feeling spreads in Credence's gut as Gellert ducks in front of the mirror attached to the dresser. He tugs his shirt straight, fixes the cuffs of his sleeves and goes to leave, pausing in the doorway as if he might say something more. Credence tries to keep rejection from his face, but something Gellert sees there makes him turn away anyway, shutting the door with a soft click.
He closes his eyes so he can't catch his own reflection.