It was an exhibition game, nothing more. The Macusa Monarchs had locked in their spot in the NHL playoffs weeks ago, their home-ice advantage last week. Picquery would be resting her top players; neither Percival Graves nor Theseus Scamander would see as much ice time as they usually did.
Still, Graves had certain traditions to uphold, whether the game really meant anything or not. He made pasta carbonara at noon, ate out on the balcony of his downtown apartment, looking over the river. Afterwards, he poured himself two fingers of Camus brandy (his father’s brand, his father’s drink) and nursed them until he was drowsy enough to draw the knockout drapes in his master bedroom and sleep.
The puck would drop at seven-thirty that night, so Graves’ alarm went off three hours, giving him a chance to shower and shave and dress in the suit that the NHL required before driving the fifteen minutes to the arena. He backed the Mustang into his spot, next to the owner’s ostentatious ‘game day’ Ferrari. That car still made him smile; Graves liked Mr. Lane; the plastics mogul was a good owner, fair to his players, but the gleaming metallic red sports car with its MONARCH vanity plate and gold crown tinted onto the rearview window was a tiny bit much.
Theseus was waiting for him at the exit to the arena, leaning back against the concrete walls of the garage. His long copper hair was tied back in a low, stubby ponytail to keep it out of his face during the game and he’d already abandoned his tie; the grey silk hung haphazardly out of one pants pocket. “Perce.”
“Tizzy.” He tapped the man’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?”
“It’s an exhibition game.” Theseus shrugged expansively. “No nerves. You?”
“Same.” Theseus Scamander was six-foot, two inches, one-hundred-ninety-five pounds of French-Canadian power forward. He centered the second line for the Monarchs and was one of their alternate captains. He wasn’t fast as Graves or some of the rookies, but he made up for it with tactical acumen, endurance, and an absolute willingness to drop gloves with the first person to look sideways at Graves.
Their shoulders brushed as they entered the arena, taking the far staircase to avoid passing by the visitors’ locker rooms. They stopped on the landing for another tradition. There wasn’t any need to jam the door this time to ensure their privacy; neither of them had terrible nerves that needed to be eased with touch and tongue. They would be quick.
Theseus leaned back against the wall, tugging Graves flush against him. “Bonne chance, capitaine” he murmured and kissed him lingeringly, a hand sliding against the back of his head, over the close-cropped hair on the back of his neck.
“Don’t punch anyone tonight, alright, Tizzy?” Perce pressed a small kiss against his mouth.
“Only the ones who deserve it.” Theseus gave him a lopsided grin.
Graves sighed softly. “Fair enough.” The kiss had settled him, a small soft reminder that it was game time and that his oldest friend had his back. They’d played together for years, starting in the OHL, when Graves had been the seventeen year old hotshot with the weird name and barely enough French to understand when he was being sworn at. They’d been-- more entangled-- back then, though they had broken it off when Graves had gone into the 2005 NHL draft. There had been no guarantee that they would land in the same country, let alone the same city, ever again.
But then two years later, Mr. Lane had handed Theseus a red-and-gold Monarchs jersey in the second round of the draft. And when Graves had backed his car into its spot on game day of Theseus’ debut-- it had been an Acura then, and certainly not worthy to be parked next to the Ferrari-- Theseus had been waiting, chewing on his lip and muttering to himself in French. He’d been so nervous that Graves had started to get jitters just from watching him and he sworn under his breath and pulled the younger man into the stairwell, kissed him until he settled underneath his grip.
Theseus had scored ten seconds into his first shift on the ice, so that stairwell, that kiss had become cemented into inviolable tradition.
“Perce.” Theseus tapped two fingers against his cheek. “Where’d you go.”
“Away. Sorry.” Graves gave him a half-smile. “Let’s go. Some of the others are probably already there.”
When they arrived at the locker room, it was already awash with activity. Graves slung off his jacket and started to undress. Theseus was on one side but the other was empty. It still felt strange not having Fletch on his left wing. Septima Fletcher was a veteran; forty-three and still playing. Graves had lived with her when he was first drafted by the Monarchs and didn’t have a place of his own. But she’d gone hard into the boards three weeks ago and gotten a concussion; the trainers had needed to help her off the ice. She’d not been able to play since.
Tina Goldstein stood at the far end of the ice, one foot propped up on the bench as she taped her stick and hovered protectively over Queenie, their goalie. It was unusual for the Monarchs to have one pair of siblings, playing together, let alone two, but Theseus’ little brother Newt sat next to Queenie, talking quietly to her. Newt was fast and loyal, but by virtue of being younger and a defenseman, still skated in Theseus’ shadow.
They dressed; Graves let the trainers wrap his wrists then chased them away so he could tape his stick in peace. Picquery gave her speech and then it was ten minutes to game time and Queenie took her place at the head of the line. Superstition again--- their last line of defense should be first on the ice.
It would have been Graves’ prerogative to go second as the team’s captain, but he’d always preferred the end of the line, to watch his teammates’ back. Theseus took his place just in front of him. The other forward pulled on his red home-game helmet, tilting his head to one side as he fastened the chin strap. The decals caught the fluorescent light a little: the golden crown on the side of the head, his numbers- 22, the same as he’d had since the junior leagues-- on the back and just to the side of his numbers, a rainbow flag.
In 2011, Theseus had dated Abel Grenaway, a sports reporter. The media had found out. Abel had left, unable to handle the public spotlight and Theseus had hid in Graves’ house the entire night. He’d been crying and frantic, unable to believe he’d just destroyed his relationship and his career in a single night until Graves shook him and handed him his phone. “Tizzy. Look.”
Emblazoned across every social media outlet the Monarchs used-- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the team website-- had been a single image of Theseus skating across a rainbow background. 2010 Stanley Cup champion. Conn Smythe Trophy Winner. 39 goals, 58 assists. Numbers talk.
Theseus had gone back to the game, put the flag on his helmet, skated faster, hit harder and no one had dared say a word. For him, for Graves, hockey was more than just a job. Eight months of non-stop play--- practice, shower, travel, play, shower, sleep, travel, practice, shower, talk to the media and play again. Even the summers were at the mercy of the rink.
But there were teams that were better and teams that were worse and as he followed his best friend onto the ice-- lights flashing, some hard rock anthem inaudible under the howling of their fans-- Graves remembered just how fucking proud he was to be wearing red and gold.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please make some noise for your home team, the MACUUUUUUSA MONARCHS!”
“I still don’t understand how you saw the Captain for that backhand pass. He was nine feet behind you!” TJ Oakhurst bounced up and down on his skates, somehow still having the energy to be exuberant after sixty minutes of play.
It hadn’t been particularly grueling; they’d played the Denver Maelstrom, a team whose record ranged from wincingly mediocre to “cry yourself to sleep,” but Graves still just wanted to shower, ice his wrists and go eat.
“I looked over my shoulder?” Sophie McIlvain was his right wing and she gave Graves a helpless shrug as she fielded the rookie’s attention. Fletch used to swear up and down that TJ was helplessly infatuated, but Graves couldn’t see it. He talked to Tizzy the same way, after all.
“Tizzy, how much media is out there?” he called, stripping the tape off his stick and wadding it up into a ball.
“Not much. NHL network, locals?” Theseus shrugged. “Shouldn’t be long.”
“I swear to God, Queenie, was it you or him?” Tina’s voice rang out from the back of the locker. Graves looked over to see her face and neck entirely soaked in Gatorade; the lid of her water bottle rattled to a halt on the locker room floor. Someone clearly had unscrewed the lid just enough that it stayed on until she lifted it to her lips.
“I didn’t do anything!” Queenie protested.
“Why are you so sure it was me?” Newt looked positively wounded and Tina whipped a ball of tape at his head. Theseus was covering his mouth and very deliberately not observing what was probably his handiwork.
“Settle down, everyone.” Coach Picquery had arrived and the room hushed. Tina mopped at her face and jersey with a towel. “I’m sure you’re all excited to get out of the arena and get some very well-deserved R&R, but there’s a few things you need to know. Firstly, Septima Fletcher will be announcing her retirement next week. Her doctors have advised her that her next concussion could be fatal.”
Whispers went around the locker room and Graves bit back a curse. Fletch was their most veteran player, a steadying force in the locker room and a savvy winger on the ice. They’d feel her loss in the playoffs.
“We’ll be bringing up some Black Aces from the minor leagues to fill up the roster and give us some flexibility. Their offensive coordinator will be coming up as well to ease the transition. They’ll be some line shifts to spread the more experienced players around. McIlvain, you’ll center the second line; Oakhurst, you’ll step up into Fletcher’s position at least for the moment.”
Graves had just lost both of his wingers in about thirty seconds, Fletcher to retirement and McIlvain to the second line. He didn’t begrudge McIlvain her own line; she had the smarts and the skill to center but he didn’t necessarily like the idea of Oakhurst permanently taking up Septima’s position. He’d done well enough over the past few weeks, but...
“So who’s on my left then?” Graves asked.
Seraphina nodded in acknowledgement. “You’ll meet the other Black Aces in a couple of days but we brought in your winger and the offensive coordinator.” She beckoned to the door. “Graves, you’ll have Credence Barebone on your left wing. And this is offensive coordinator Gellert Grindelwald.”
The Black Ace was an inch taller than Graves, but lean and rangy and his ill-tailored suit only reinforced the impression of how thin he was. Handsome kid though, maybe, if he took his eyes off the floor and stopped hiding behind his shaggy dark hair--- and his offensive coordinator.
Gellert Grindelwald was ten years older than Graves; about his height with blond hair that had to be bleached. He’d put on weight since he’d played for the Beltway Bullets in the ‘80s-- a career where he had thoroughly embraced their “scare ‘em off the ice” tactics. Graves remembered hearing his father ranting about “the fucking German goon; what kind of name is Gellert Grindelwald either.” He’d not known that he was coaching for their minor league. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t get to choose the coaching staff.
He waited until Picquery had dismissed rest of the team, then stepped up to meet them. “Credence. It’s good to meet you,” he said, extending his hand. “I’m looking forward to playing with you.”
“And you’re Godwin’s little boy, aren’t you,” Grindelwald said as Credence shook Graves’ hand.
“I’m Percival, yes,” Graves said thinly, but it was his father’s grudge, not his, so when the offensive coordinator held out his hand to shake, Graves took it.
Grindelwald smiled broadly. “Looking forward to working with you too, son. See if we can amp up that offensive capability.”
Son? Graves bit his tongue to keep from retorting instantly. He wasn’t some rookie or a Black Ace. He had two Stanley Cup rings and a litany of hardware: Conn Smythe, Calder, Lady Byng, Hart Memorial and like hell he was taking any nonsense from the man who had sent his father into the boards so hard it had ended his career.
“By offensive capability, do you mean getting the pucks on net? Or dirty hits?” Graves asked, meeting the man’s gaze. His eyes were mismatched; one brown and one such a strange blue it was nearly purple. “Because I’ve got one of those covered and I’m not interested in the other.”
“Such arrogance, Percival,”Grindelwald chided. “Even a top player can have things to learn.”
“I’ll listen to whatever you have to say,” Graves answered. “But I’ll play my game. Unless you’ve got a Cup or two to change my mind?” He was being petty and he knew it, but Gellert Grindelwald’s career had ended without even getting in spitting distance of the Stanley Cup.
The insult didn’t seem to land and Grindelwald smiled again and settled a hand on the Black Ace’s shoulder. “Oh. None yet. But I’m sure you and Mr. Barebone will assist with that lack of hardware.”
“Perce. Capitaaaainne,” Theseus whined from the door, clearly waiting for him.
“Looking forward to the playoffs, then,” Graves said and turned to leave.
He was halfway to his car, shoulder to shoulder with Theseus, when he realized that in all that time, Credence Barebone hadn’t said a goddamn word.
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Chapter 2: Graves and the Diggers
Graves was about to protest that they were teammates and he didn’t need to be so formal when Credence saw his car. The Mustang shimmered under the fluorescent lights, all hips and curves and metallic grey.
“Is that yours?”
Graves couldn’t help the smile. “Yeah,” he said and hit the button to unlock it, activating the puddle lights that lit the running horse logo of the car onto the floor of the garage.
“I like the lights,” Credence admitted with a small soft smile that went straight to Graves’ gut. Oh, goddamnit. Ten years of sharing a locker room with some of the best athletes in the world-- including some to whom modesty was a foreign concept-- had made Graves virtually immune to the appeal of attractive bodies. But he was still a sucker for a pretty smile.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Hockey had taught Graves to sleep instantly and deeply. Whether it was a home game on the East Coast, away on the West Coast or even in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, he could draw the blackout curtains, drink two fingers of brandy, and be asleep within moments. The downside was that he didn’t wake without an alarm. His phone was littered with them-- 7:30 a.m. for morning skate, 4:30 pm to get to the rink on time, times to wake up to catch planes or buses to away games, alarms for start times and practice times that varied with the time zone.
And sometimes he forgot to turn them all off.
“Putain, Perce. C’est meme pas un jour de---” Theseus shoved at Graves’ back. “Turn your damn alarm off.”
Graves sat up in bed, sheets pooling around his waist as he fumbled for his aggressively beeping phone and stopped the alarm. “Morning skate. Forgot to turn it off,” he said, glancing over at the power forward sprawled on the other side of the bed. He’d recognized only the obscenity--- one of Tizzy’s favorites-- and his name, drawn out until it was nearly two syllables instead of one. “Sorry. I know you wanted to sleep in.”
“Mmm. We could still stay in bed.” Theseus didn’t move from where he was prone on the bed,copper hair flung haphazardly across the pillow, but his hand reached across the grey sheets to brush against Graves’ hip.
“Tempting. Not as tempting as coffee.”
Theseus rolled onto his side. “I should be insulted.”
Graves leaned down and kissed him. “You like my coffee,” he said and slid out of bed. He got dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt and padded barefoot into the living room. When he opened the drapes, the morning light poured into his apartment and glinted off the intersecting rivers of the city that had become his home.
In the kitchen, he found his coffee beans in the freezer and measured out enough for the two of them into the grinder. It whirred in the background as he started water boiling as well.
They’d swept the Broad Street Bullies in the first series of the playoffs, putting their heads down and ignoring the howling of the frankly-less-than-brotherly fans to win four games in a row. Clara Grant was a star, but without a second and third line to back her up? She hadn’t been able to muster enough momentum to drag her team to a victory. The sweep gave them valuable time off-- to rest and to practice while the Beltway Bullets and the Ohio Minutemen finished their series.
Graves had just poured two cups of coffee out of the French press when Theseus emerged from the bedroom. He was still shirtless, revealing the copper-and-gold lion inked over his heart and and a pair of Graves’ pajama pants slung low over his hips. “Hey, you see this?” he asked, flipping his phone around to show Graves a tweet from the team’s official account. “They’re calling your line Graves and the Diggers.”
“Really?” Graves snorted and handed Theseus his coffee, the mug nearly a third empty to make room for the inordinate amount of milk and sugar the other man liked. The tweet was his headshot, TJ’s and Barebone’s, cast in eerie blue and grey tones, their combined statistics for the four-game sweep of the Bullies and the caption: They will bury you. “PR knows none of us are Russian, right?”
“Fits though.” Theseus got the milk from the refrigerator and diluted his coffee until it was a blasphemous beige.
It was a stupid pun, though Graves had to admit that Theseus was right. It fit. TJ and Credence worked hard and were willing to fight it out behind the net and take a hit to prevent a turnover.
“Still, did they have to give me the rookie and the Black Ace?” Graves asked. They were good kids, but god, T.J. was never going to lose his rookie exuberance. The first time he’d scored in an NHL game, he’d let out such an infectious whoop of joy and pride that Graves hadn’t been able to suppress grinning in return.
“Cap! Cap, did you see that?!”
“Yeah, kid, yeah, I saw!” He’d rapped his helmet with his knuckles. “Now get back to the bench!”
They’d given him the puck after the game and he’d looked so delighted that Theseus had chirped him, teasing that he was taking it to bed with him.
“Only thing he’s taking to bed,” Sophie had added.
TJ had gone red. “Aw, c’mon, Soph!”
“Get a Cup and we’ll talk.”
Theseus was shrugging. “It spreads the experienced players around. If you really don’t like it, talk to Coach. But it seemed to work against the Bullies.”
“Cause even Grant has to sit down and breathe sometime.”
“I had TJ on my line. He’s good,” Theseus said. “And Credence’s going to give you a run for your money once he figures out what kind of hockey player he wants to be.”
“Fair,” Graves admitted. TJ Oakhurst was a good kid. Credence Barebone was just good. He skated hard and fast and seemed to have goddamn eyes in the back of his head. He didn’t like how much time he spent with Gellert Grindelwald, but either way, Credence could play.
Theseus took his first sip of the coffee and sighed, shaking his head. “Seriously. You can’t cook worth a damn. How is your coffee this good?”
Graves tossed Theseus the bag out of the freezer. “Whole bean, roasted locally so it’s fresh and you only grind what you need.”
“Monongahela Roasters. This on the Strip?” Theseus asked, examining the label.
“Yeah. They’re good guys. They deliver if you’re too busy to go down.” Graves’ phone vibrated in his back pocket and he thumbed it open to see a text from the team’s medical office.
Theseus set the bag down on the breakfast bar. “We have the day off. Wanna go? Go to that--- I don’t remember the name, but that diner with the huge pancakes and then you can educate my terrible palate.”
“Can’t. Vane wants to look at my wrists again. I told her they were bothering me last night and she’s got some sort of new stretch she wants to try.”
“I thought you didn’t have anything scheduled this morning?”
“Didn’t. She just texted me.” Graves drained his coffee, put the mug in the dishwasher and the bag of coffee back in the freezer. “You should go to Monogahela without me though. Lock up when you leave?”
“I--- Yeah. Sure. Sure. See you.”
The new stretches helped. The inflammation had gone down enough that when Gellert asked Graves to do face-off drills with Credence, he agreed.
It took him less than ten minutes to regret the decision. As a player, Gellert had earned a reputation for physical play, which he clearly intended to pass on to Credence. There was an art to the face-off-- timing the drop, knowing your opponent, and yes, on rare occasions giving them a nasty slash across the wrists and making them reconsider getting into a face-off circle with you ever again.
On rare occasions. Credence was doing it every play. Graves’ wrists were aching and he knew he would have to ice them after practice. “You slash me again and I will put you into the boards,” he muttered to Credence as they hunkered down for the fiftieth time.
“I--” Credence started to say. Gellert dropped the puck and Graves flinched away from incoming slash almost by instinct. It didn’t help. Pain streaked from wrist to elbow and Credence neatly deflected the bouncing puck off to the left.
Graves snarled. As Gellert retrieved the puck, he grabbed Credence by the elbow and dragged him out of the circle. “What in hell’s name are you doing?” he asked, voice clipped with pain and anger. “Picquery brought you up from the minors because you’re fast. Not because you can take a crack at someone.”
“I--” Credence started to say again and Graves could see his eyes flicker back to where Gellert was returning to the face-off circle, clearly waiting for them. Of course. Graves bit back his anger. Credence had come up from the minors with the man. This was Gellert’s style, not his.
“Look. We aren’t the Bullets. And you are fast as hell. I know you are. Faster than Tizzy, faster than T.J. Maybe even faster than me.” Graves put a hand on his shoulder. “Win the next drop cleanly. I know you can.”
Gellert was shifting his weight from one skate to the other impatientlywhen they returned to the face off circle.
“Sorry, sir,” Credence’s voice was barely audible. He took his place on the lines, head down, hands choked up on his stick, alert and waiting for the drop. It was like he and Graves had never spoken.
“Credence, you’re still the attacking player. Graves, your stick goes down first.”
Like the other forty-nine times. Graves didn’t argue. He took his place on the lines, choked up on his stick and waited for the inevitable slash.
The puck fell. Graves dropped his shoulder and pushed, scrabbling with stick and skate and the nearly twenty pounds of bulk he had on Credence as they fought for possession, but he heard it ring off the boards somewhere off to the younger man’s left.
A clean win. No slash. Graves immediately drowned out whatever comment Grindelwald was about to make. “Good! Good, kid,” he said and squeezed his shoulder. “Because he’s fast enough and good enough to win a drop cleanly. Isn’t he, Gellert?”
The coordinator’s teeth were clenched just faintly. “Yes. I suppose he is.”
Credence was good. That much was clear. Graves knew it; Theseus knew it; even the media knew it with their ridiculous nickname. “Graves and the Diggers.” But even good players made mistakes.
It was Game 2 against the Beltway Bullets to clinch the Metropolitan Division title. If they could manage that, they would play the champions of the Atlantic Division, and then, only then, would they go on to play the champion of the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup. They were tied 2-2 with three minutes left in the game when the referees called Sophie on a high stick. The Bullets went on a power play.
So now it was five players on four. The next minute and a half were a desperate scramble of blocked shots. Graves’ lungs ached with fatigue. Sweat was trickling down the back of his neck. They couldn’t get it out of their zone. They couldn’t change out players. They were slowing. Newt caught the rebound off of Queenie’s right pad and flicked it away, but Burakovsky corralled it too soon. They were still trapped in their own zone and hen Credence got caught out of position just for a moment. Queenie couldn’t see past him.
The puck rang off the post and bounced into the net.
Picquery pulled Queenie out of the goal to send an additional attacker on, but even with Graves, Credence, T.J. and Theseus hammering shots at the Bullets’ net, they couldn’t get anything in. They couldn’t tie it back up.
That was the game. When the horn finally blew to signal the end, Graves was exhausted. He leaned forward, elbows on thighs, holding his stick loosely as he caught his breath.
“Fuck.” Theseus said.
“Something like that.” Graves’ wrists were throbbing. Burakovsky had dealt him a nasty slash that the refs hadn’t seen and combined with the persistent abuse that one of his own teammates had dealt him earlier that week, all he wanted was to go home and drink the beer that wasn’t actually on his nutrition plan.
“C’mon, Tizzy.” He straightened and thumped the other center on the arm. “We get to fly to D.C. tomorrow and do this all over again.”
“It’s like they pay us or something,” Theseus commented, following him off the ice.
By the time Graves had talked to the media-- (“We just have to accommodate for their forecheck and keep playing our game”)-- showered, and seen Dr. Vane, the game had ended close to an hour ago. Despite the later hour, though, Credence’s jersey still wasn’t hung up in the locker room. Was the kid not off the ice yet?
Credence always arranged to be the last person to the showers after games and practices. The team shrugged it off as another weird superstition in a sport full of weird superstitions. They didn’t ask why Graves and Theseus disappeared into a stairwell every home game. They didn’t ask why Sophie wore perfume onto the ice and they didn’t ask Queenie about her cheery assurances to the opposing team (“It’s okay, honey! You’re still so good at this!”). Credence wanted to be the last person in the showers, so they cleared out before he got there and they didn’t ask.
But still. The showers had been empty for at least twenty minutes. Where was his winger? Graves walked back down the hallway that led onto the ice and stepped out into the arena. The lights were mostly off. The scoreboard was dark. Without the roar of the eighteen thousand people who had crowded its seats a scant hour before, the arena was still and silent.
Silent, that was, except for the scrape of skates on ice as Credence Barebone ran drill after drill and Gellert Grindelwald watched.
“Gellert.” Graves dropped his duffel bag on the bench and walked out onto the ice. “That’s enough. We play again in two days.”
“Are you Picquery?” Gellert idly drifted around to face him.
“Are you his captain?” Graves answered. “What is this about?” Normally, they would be the same height, but Graves was in loafers, smooth and unsteady on the ice, and Gellert was wearing skates. The difference made Graves have to look up and it rankled him.
Gellert arched an eyebrow and glanced down the ice to where Credence still worked.
Graves recognized the drill. “The penalty kill? Gellert. It happens. That’s why they’re called power plays. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“And this is why you’re not a coach. Mistakes don’t happen. Not when you’re as remarkable as he should be.” Gellert smiled in a way that didn’t reach his mismatched eyes. “Go home and rest your wrists, Percy. Stress fractures like that can end a career.”
“Wouldn’t you know.” Graves’ voice had gone low, recognizing that statement for the implicit threat it was. “But my winger is coming with me.” His hands tapped instinctively against his thighs, dropping gloves that weren’t there. He didn’t fight on the ice, but he sure as hell knew how. Even if loafers and slacks were going to give him absolutely no protection if Gellert was actually stupid enough to do anything.
For a moment, there was silence. Graves felt the chill of the ice start to leak up through his loafers, there in the skeletal darkness of an arena that should have been full of people.
“Call it a day, Credence,” Gellert finally said. Graves heard the whisper of steel on ice and it took all of his nerve to turn his back on the coordinator. He followed Credence off the ice and into the locker room in silence and only breathed easily when the door had closed behind them.
“I’m sorry; I--” Credence started to say. “I didn’t mean to get in Queenie’s way. I shouldn’t have even been on the penalty kill unit.”
“Stop.” Graves said, dropping his duffel bag onto the wooden bench.
Credence went quiet mid-word.
Graves hadn’t actually expected Credence to fall silent as quickly and obediently as he did. It was a little unsettling and it took him for a moment to find what he wanted to say. “You know why it’s called a penalty kill unit?”
“Because it’s the unit that runs out the penalty clock?” Now Credence was looking at him like he was a little bit of a idiot. It was a look Graves got a lot from Tizzy, actually. It was reassuring.
“Because there’s four of us. You blocked Queenie from seeing Burakovsky’s shot. Newt couldn’t clear the puck down the ice. Sophie hit some guy in the face and took the penalty in the first place. We all screwed up. And we’ll figure out how to fix it tomorrow with Picquery. But...midnight drills after a game are punishment, not progress. And that’s bullshit.”
Credence didn’t say anything. Graves couldn’t read the expression on his face. It was like he was still talking nonsense, but there was a vulnerability that he could only partially see.
“Look. Go shower. Get changed. Do you have a ride?”
“I usually get a ride with Gel--”
“So I’m taking you home. Make it quick; I’ll wait.”
Graves sat down on the bench and leaned his head back against the wall. Credence started to undress, pulling off his jersey before hanging it up carefully, brushing his fingers over the gold 67 laid into the red fabric.
“What’s the number for?” Graves asked.
“Picked it in high school,” Credence said as he unfastened his pads. “To remind me I could be more than…” He stopped. “It’s stupid. Besides, it doesn’t work with two digits anyway.”
“Can’t be dumber than wearing your dad’s numbers,” Graves offered in return. The 11 emblazoned on his jersey had been Godwin Graves’ number when he played for the Car City Cobras-- at least until Gellert Grindelwald had cross-checked him into the boards at such a horrendous angle that the stress fractures in his heel had shattered the bone into pieces. He still walked with a limp. Graves had picked the number in junior hockey, when he was a stupid kid who didn’t realize how hard it would be to prove he wasn’t just Godwin’s little boy. No one called him that anymore at least, or suggested that the Monarchs had wasted a draft pick on a name, not after Graves put his name on the Stanley Cup two rows over and ten columns down from Godwin.
“It was supposed to be 667,” Credence told him in little more than a whisper as he hung up his shoulder pads.
“...that you could be a little more than the Devil?” Graves echoed in confusion.
“I said it was stupid.” Credence took his shin guards and elbow pads off and stepped out of his skates. “I’m going to shower.”
“I’ll be here,” Graves said. Credence was thin without his pads. The form-fitting black base layer they all wore lent him no bulk and he looked frail in a way that Graves didn’t expect when he was looking at a professional athlete. Especially one who had slashed up his wrists like an 80s-era goon.
What was with this kid? Honestly, that had been the most Credence had said in a row since joining the team. Graves didn’t know anything about the man who played on his left-- and what little he did know was increasingly unsettling. The quietness, the apologies, the nearly abject story behind his numbers. Gellert Grindelwald.
Graves had tried to keep an open mind. He’d listened to what Gellert had said and at least considered advice that didn’t amount to “hit them harder.” His father’s shattered foot was his father’s grudge, not his. Injuries happened, even if it had clearly been an illegal and intentional hit. But Credence was going to end up with a chronic injury of his own if the European idiot wasn’t careful about how often he drilled the younger man.
And there was something deeply unsettling about the way Credence called Gellert “sir.”
He took his phone out of his back pocket and opened the text message app, finding the last group message he’d sent to Theseus, Newt, Sophie and Tina. Hey. Favor. Try not to leave Credence alone with GG from now on.
Tizzy: Sure. Newt says sure too.
Tina: Is something the matter?
Tina: Queenie says they have a weird dynamic. She doesn’t like it.
Graves: I don’t know. He kept him on the ice for drills after the game.
Sophie: Doesn’t he know we play in two days?
Sophie: Also yes. That was a yes.
Graves: Thanks everyone
He closed the app as Credence came back into the locker room, hair damp and wearing the same ill-fitting suit Graves had first seen him.
“Ready?” Graves asked.
Credence just nodded and followed him wordlessly through the empty stadium. The smell of fryer oil lingered sour in the air, melding into the acrid tang of bleach and cleaning solutions.
“Where did the team put you up?” Graves said.
“Wyndham Grand. The one downtown,” Credence answered as they entered the parking garage stairs and headed the two levels to where Graves had parked his car.
“Near Point Park?” Graves asked. They’d arrived at the right level and he bit his lip as he opened the door. “Look. That’s three blocks from my place. Why don’t you just get a ride with me from now on? Grindelwald won’t be able to bother you any more.”
Credence glanced at him and once again there was something incomprehensible on his face. “I don’t think it’s that simple, Mr. Graves.”
Graves was about to protest that they were teammates and he didn’t need to be so formal-- God, it was bad enough that T.J. insisted on calling him “Cap”--when Credence saw his car. The parking lot was nearly deserted; even Mr. Lane had gone home and the Mustang shimmered under the fluorescent lights, all hips and curves and metallic grey.
“Is that yours?”
Graves couldn’t help the smile. “Yeah,” he said and hit the button to unlock it, activating the puddle lights that lit the running horse logo of the car onto the floor of the garage.
“I like the lights,” Credence admitted with a small soft smile that went straight to Graves’ gut. Oh, goddamnit. Ten years of sharing a locker room with some of the best athletes in the world-- including some to whom modesty was a foreign concept-- had made Graves virtually immune to the appeal of attractive bodies. But he was still a sucker for a pretty smile. “I thought it was the owner’s.”
“Nah, they drive a Ferrari on game day.” Graves could tell by the way Credence traced a finger over the scoop in the hood, the black racing stripes that he desperately wanted to drive it. No way. No way was he letting some (admittedly handsome) kid drive a $60,000--
“Know how to drive a stick?” he heard his own stupid voice asking.
Can you figure out what real-life team the Macusa Monarchs are supposed to be?
Let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up on my Tumblr
Chapter 3: Fast Feet
“I owe Mr. Grindelwald everything,” Credence said, spreading his hands wide in a helpless gesture. “He’s the reason I’m playing at all. He convinced the coach at Wilkes-Barre to give me a tryout.”
There were faintly silver lines across his palms and Graves hid a wince. The skinny kid with the fast feet and the fucked-up hands.
CN: implied/referenced child abuse; Credence displays signs of emotional abuse.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Credence did not know how to drive a stick-shift transmission and even the winger’s shy smile couldn’t make Graves stupid enough to try and teach someone how to do that in the 526 horsepower monster that was his Shelby GT350. He’d texted Theseus and asked if they could borrow his car (and the sedate suburban street of the house he shared with Newt), but it would have to wait until they got back to the city. That wouldn’t be for another four days; they were flying to Washington the next morning to play the next two games against the Bullets.
Graves took a cab to the chartered section of the airport, signed the sports section of the driver’s newspaper when he was recognized (Thanks for the ride to Game 3! P.G. Graves) and insisted on paying anyway.
About half the team was already there by the time Graves cleared security. He grit his teeth to see Credence quietly lingering in Gellert Grindelwald’s shadow, but Dr. Vane was talking to both of them and there was probably no professional way to go insert himself.
He found Sophie leaning against one of the benches, the faint scent of roses and jasmine already on her skin this early in the morning, phone in one hand and crimson stained coffee cup in the other.
“Percival,” she said, handing him the cup. “Uptown has Kona Peaberry this month.”
Graves took a sip. “You do get a caramel note.” He glanced over to Credence. “Did they arrive together?”
Sophie nodded. “They got here right after I did.” She shrugged. “I kept talking to both of them until Dr. Vane and the coach got here, but...he’s so quiet, Percival. Doesn’t matter the subject-- I talked shop, the city, even movies and Gellert just answered for both of them.”
“Thank you anyway,” Graves said.
“No problem.” She snorted. “He has terrible taste. Who doesn’t like Casablanca?”
The rest of the team trickled in-- Tina with Queenie, Theseus with Newt, T.J. frantically sprinting up to the gate right before they started to board the charter jet. It was a fairly small plane--enough comfortable seats for the team, medical and coaching staff and a few people from the PR department. The rest was given over to equipment. When they boarded, Graves took his normal seat-- window, over the wing-- and Theseus settled down next to him. When Credence boarded, he at least gave Graves a faint smile before heading up the aisle to where Grindelwald was sitting.
Or he did until Theseus stopped him. “Nope,” he said and gently pushed Credence in the direction of the seat across the aisle. “Price of borrowing my car. You have to sit here and play cards with me while Sleeping Beauty takes a nap.”
“Sleeping Beauty, Tizz?” Graves echoed with an arched eyebrow.
“Connard au bois dormant. Ca te plait?” Theseus gave him a charming grin.
“You realize I know when you’re cursing at me, right?” Graves didn’t really speak any language other than English, but he’d spent long enough being sworn at by other players (and hearing his own team return the abuse) that he knew when he was being called a son of a bitch in at least six different languages.
“I wouldn’t want to in--” Credence began to protest.
“Sit.” Theseus pointed at the chair.
Graves touched Theseus’ knee, a momentary thank you before he leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He knew Theseus; the power forward was a veteran and probably had at least one extra book in his bag for a four day road trip. He was doing this because Graves had asked.
There was the faint rumble of the engines; the press of his body back against the seat as the plane accelerated and then the airport was disappearing underneath them. He could hear T.J. trying to set up a Mario Kart tournament with Newt and the other players with Nintendo 3DS. Theseus shuffled cards next to him. He slept.
He woke an hour or so later, mouth dry from recycled plane air and reached for the water bottle in the seat back in front of him. Credence and Theseus were playing poker.
“Can I have two cards, Mr. Scamander?”
“Oh god. I am not that old.” Theseus handed Credence two cards across the aisle. “Besides, there’s two of us. Please call me Theseus. Or Tizzy.”
“But Mr-- Newt says your name differently.”
“There’s not a th sound in French like there is in English. It’s Theseus,” and the power forward gave the correct pronunciation, long e’s and t instead of a th. “But don’t worry about it.”
“I’d rather say it right.” Credence repeated the name a few times to himself. “So it’s Tay-zay---oh. Tizzy.”
“Yeah. Where the nickname comes from,” Theseus explained. “And one of the home announcers thought it was funny to describe any time I fight as ‘Tizzy’s in a tizzy.’”
Credence laughed softly-- a new sound, one that Graves hadn’t heard before. “No one’s ever come up with a way to shorten Credence.”
“What about your last name? There’s….no. No. There is no way to do that without it getting really obscene really quickly.”
“Tizz, don’t flirt with the rookies,” Graves interjected as he put the cap back on the bottle of water and slid it back into the seat pocket.
“I’m not flirting; he’s technically not a rookie. Also, when did you wake up?” Theseus glanced over his shoulder at him and Graves could see that Credence was blushing scarlet, eyes fixed on his cards.
“Just now. Who’s winning?”
“I am. But not by much. He’s got a good poker face.” Theseus showed Graves the small piece of paper where they’d been keeping track of their bets.
“...is it better or worse that I’m a black ace?” Credence’s reaction was so delayed and so quiet that it took a moment for Graves to remember what he was talking about-- and that the small smile on his lips meant he was teasing back.
“Probably worse. You’re not even in the NHL yet,” Theseus chuckled and then suddenly broke into a wide and mischievous grin. “Perce. Perce. He is literally out of our league.”
Graves groaned. “You are a terrible human being, Theseus Scamander. Now deal me in.”
It had been a good day. They’d gotten to Washington without any delays and spent a half an hour at the Bullet’s arena, getting used to the ice, the way the puck bounced differently off the boards before going to the hotel to shower and change before a team dinner.
It was a barbeque restaurant with a rooftop patio, all brickwork and century-old hardwood floors. Grindelwald hadn’t been there; excusing himself to catch up with a few friends from his days as a player. In his absence, Credence didn’t quite blossom, per se, but he was more willing to talk and the fleeting smile came more easily as TJ and Tina sparred over the last of the brisket.
At the end of the night, Theseus asked the waitress for an empty bowl. “Ante up, ladies and gentlemen. You all know the drill. Anna here picks a card; our winner picks up the tab.”
“Aw, we oughta leave the rookies out. That’s not fair, Tizzy. They don’t make enough to stick one of them with the entire bill.” Queenie protested from the other end of the table even as the bowl made its way down the table still laden with chicken, rib and pork bones, the tough ends of corn bread, empty bottles of beer and glasses of water and soda.
“Fine. Fine. But--” and Theseus held up a finger dramatically. “You have to tell us who your favorite player was as a kid.”
TJ squeaked. “Oh god do we have to?”
“Oh god, yes,” Sophie replied instantly. “And you get to go first.”
“C’mon. Is it Percival?”
“...Tizzy,” TJ muttered into his plate. “I even have his jersey.”
Laughter burst out around the table and TJ turned bright red. “I just….he’s a good player! And I was seventeen with the thing with Abel happened and I just...I thought it was really fucking brave.”
Now it was Theseus’ turn to blush, ducking his head a little behind his copper hair. “Thanks,” he said. “And... fuck it. Bring the jersey in if you want. I’ll sign it.”
“Credence? What about you?” Newt asked.
“I...I didn’t really have one,” Credence said quietly. He’d retreated back into himself. “I didn’t watch.”
“You’re a professional hockey player. How did you not watch it as a kid?” Sophie arched a skeptical eyebrow.
“I…we didn’t have the money for TV. Let alone the sports networks. So I didn’t watch. And I don’t have a favorite player.”
“Soph,” Graves said quietly and shook his head. She fell silent without pressing, just taking the bowl and handing it to Graves so he could drop his credit card in with all the others.
“...I should, though.” Credence said. He bit his lip a little. “That’s the game, right? You put your card in the bowl or you say your favorite player.”
“Well, yes, but if you didn’t watch--” Graves started to answer.
“You are.” Credence shrugged and there was a flush of pink over his cheeks. “I didn’t watch as a kid, but I do now. And you are.”
“Kid knows who’s setting him up for goals,” Sophie commented. “Think you owe him a signed jersey, Percival. Or are you gonna let Tizzy show you up?”
“If I recall, Tizzy’s just signing the jersey that TJ already had,” Graves countered as he handed the bowl full of credit cards back to their waitress and fought the urge to blush or ask Credence if he even would want one of his jerseys in the first place.
Graves was halfway to bed, shirtless and drying his hair when he heard voices outside his room. He frowned and switched whatever house-hunting show he’d left playing in the background to mute.
“I’m sorry. I...I’m just borrowing the car on an off day. I’m not missing any morning skates. I’m not--” Credence’s voice was soft and edged with panic.
“Theseus Scamander is a goon with no talent protecting a center who only plays hockey because of his name. You could be better than both of them. But you won’t be if you keep getting distracted.” Even through the wall of his hotel room, Graves could recognize Gellert Grindelwald’s grating baritone. He couldn’t keep back the snarl, tossing the towel on to the bed and starting towards the door.
“Graves is the best player in the league. And Theseus isn’t far behind. I mean...yes, he gets into fights but he makes plays. Isn’t--isn’t that how you want me to play?” Credence’s protest was stumbling as Graves got to the door.
“I want you to play hockey, not make your sex life into some kind of sports news spectacle.”
Graves was already furious, teeth grit when he stepped outside. Then he noticed that the older man had Credence crowded against a wall, a hand resting next to his winger’s head and Graves saw red. “Step off,” he snarled.
Gellert looked almost bored. “This isn’t any of your business.”
“You wanna stand outside my room and talk shit about me and my teammates? Yes, it fucking is.” Credence was shaking his head almost pleadingly but Graves was beyond being able to temper his anger now. He jerked his chin at his winger. “Go to bed, Credence.”
The fact that Credence looked to Gellert for permission before slipping away made Graves want to drop his shoulder and put the offensive coordinator into the goddamn wall. He barely managed to wait until he heard Credence's door close before rounding on Gellert.
“What the hell is your problem?” Graves snapped.
Gellert faced him with that same weary indifference. “The advice I give to my players is none of your business. Learn to stay in your lane, Percy.”
Graves nearly spat with laughter. “You don’t get how this works, do you?” he asked, stepping close enough to crowd the other man. “You don’t talk shit about Theseus. You don’t mistreat my winger and you certainly don’t tell him his talent comes from you.” He didn't like playing this card. His last name, his prestige in the league, the length of his contract, the NHL promos with his face in them: they weren’t supposed to matter. It was about the game. Right now, however? He’d use whatever he had. “Because I have a twelve year contract and this team was built around me. So if I go to Picquery and tell her that we have problems, I’m not the one getting fired.”
Graves saw the smallest flicker of fear and rage on the other man’s face before it was replaced with a thin smile. “I suppose that’s the perk of being at the height of your career,” Gellert answered. “Have a good night. And wrap your wrists.”
Gellert turned and walked away down the nondescript hotel hallway, leaving Graves standing there, hands shaking with fury. He didn’t particularly care what someone like Gellert thought of him, but that son of a bitch didn’t get to talk about Theseus like that, to loom over Credence or imply that the kid’s talent had anything to do with his slimy and borderline illegal method of play…
And Credence defended him. Looked to him for permission. Graves didn’t understand it. He didn’t like it either and as much as it probably wasn’t his business, he got the feeling he needed to know. His still damp hair hung unstyled off to one side of his head as he knocked on Credence's door.
Credence opened it. “Mr. Graves,” he said quietly, eyes down.
“Percival,” he emphasized. “And I think you and I need to talk.”
Credence just stepped back to let him in wordlessly.
“Captain?” TJ said, scrambling off one of two beds in the room. He was in Captain America boxers-- bright blue with the shield patterned all over them-- and Graves had to suppress a groan both from the sartorial choice and remembering that, of course, the rookies had roommates. It was a stark contrast to Credence as well; Graves’ other winger was in pajama pants and a soft grey t-shirt, covered from shoulder to ankle.
“TJ,” Graves acknowledged. “Would you mind terribly--”
“I. Uh. Yeah. I’ll just...go to the bar. Or something. Not that I’m drinking after curfew! But somewhere else. Not being here. Yes.” TJ slipped past them both. “Text me when you’re done?”
He was halfway down the hallway before Graves realized that the rookie was literally about to get on the elevator in his boxers. He cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled “Oakhurst! Come back here and put some pants on!”
“Did he really---” Credence asked.
“Yes.” Graves answered.
Credence walked back further into the hotel room. “Um. Here.” He picked up a pair of TJ’s jeans and a belt from the clothing that seems to have already exploded over the other winger’s half of the room. “And his phone and room key.” He stuffed both into a back pocket and handed it to Graves.
“....thank you,” TJ said as he collected his clothes.
“Yeah,” Graves said. He was acutely aware of just how loudly he had yelled that down the hallway filled with his teammates. And grateful he had left his (by now likely exploding) phone in his room.
“You wanted to talk,” Credence said when TJ had left and the door had clicked shut, leaving them alone in the hotel room.
“I did.” TJ’s mortified shenanigans had drained away the last of his anger and he followed Credence deeper into the room. He leaned against the TV stand and Credence sat down on the neatly made bed. It was easy to see whose space was whose. TJ’s clothes were scattered; the Nintendo 3DS sat charging on the end table.
Credence’s half was spartan; nothing unpacked from the battered green duffel bag that sat at Graves’ feet.
“I don’t understand.” Graves said finally. “Gellert runs you ragged. You look scared of him. I’m not even convinced you like his style of play. But you defer to him. You spend hours with him. You told me back home that it wasn’t that simple when I offered to help. I want to know why.”
“Because I owe him.” Credence said softly.
Graves frowned. “You don’t mean that. You don’t actually believe that your talent--”
“No. Mr. Graves--Percival--you don’t understand.” Credence leaned forward, elbows on his knees, looking at the mass-market beige carpeting under his feet. “I said I didn’t have TV as a kid. I didn’t have anything. Ma wouldn’t hear of me trying out for Major Juniors or applying to college. I was supposed to stay in the ch--- to stay with the family.”
Graves felt a sense of vertigo as Credence started to speak. He had had no idea.
“How did you manage it?” he asked and sat down on the bed next to him. Hockey wasn’t an inexpensive sport and if Credence’s mother had ruled out the two best routes to the NHL…
“My high school coach. Greg Clarkson. He---” Credence laughed a tinge of bitterness. “For some reason, he decided that the skinny kid with the fast feet and the fucked-up hands could play. Or maybe he just was trying to humor me when I kept showing up on the ice before he did. But he found me equipment, let me come early, stay late. And well...I was captain my senior year and he started calling people he knew. He never got past the AHL, but he’d played with Mr. Grindelwald in Hershey..”
“That’s how you got your contract with our farm team,” Graves said. “He got Gellert to see you play.”
“I owe him everything,” Credence said, spreading his hands wide in a helpless gesture. “He’s the reason I’m playing at all. He convinced the coach at Wilkes-Barre to give me a tryout.”
There were faintly silver lines across his palms and Graves hid a wince. The skinny kid with the fast feet and the fucked-up hands. So a washed-up minor leaguer had called in whatever few professional favors he still had from his glory days. To save a skinny kid with a bad home and some talent.
“It sounds maybe you owe Coach Clarkson,” Graves said gently. “You had to be good already if he felt like he could call--”
“No. No I wasn’t,” Credence shook his head and there was something like distress on his face, in the amber eyes as he looked up at Graves. “I’m not really that good. Maybe-- maybe I was good enough to captain some run-of-the-mill high school team, but not like this. Not the AHL and not even the NHL. I only got my contract because Mr. Grindelwald vouched for me and they never would have kept me if he hadn’t trained me person---”
“No.” Graves was shaking his head. “No. Credence, that’s not how the AHL works. It’s a farm team. They don’t sign people if they don’t think you’ll be able to step up and fill in an NHL roster. If they signed you, you were good already. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t good and honestly?” He touched his knee, lightly. “I think you’re best when you’re playing your own hockey. When you’re that skinny kid with the fast feet.”
“You keep up with me, don’t you?” Graves asked and god, Credence looked so nervous, he would have done anything to see that shy smile again. “And I’m apparently the best player in the league.”
Credence blushed and covered his mouth with his hands. “...you heard me say that.”
“Oh, that’s embarrassing.” Credence shook his head. “You are, though. You’re the best player in the league and...the best captain I could have asked for. I’m glad to be on your line.”
“I’m glad to have you on my line,” Graves answered, but glanced at the clock. It was late and they had a game tomorrow. “I should let you get to bed. And let TJ escape from the bar.”
Credence nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said and walked Graves to the door. As the older man stepped outside, he bit his lip. “Percival.”
Graves blinked. “Yes?”
That small smile was back and Graves had to fight the brief insane urge to kiss him. “Thank you,” Credence said. “And goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Credence,” Graves said and went back to his room. His good mood lasted until he sat down on the edge of his own bed and saw the number of texts waiting for him.
Tina: Was that Graves yelling about TJ’s pants?
Tizzy: ...no flirting with the rookies?
Queenie just sent a series of emojis crying with laughter. Graves groaned and texted back.
Graves: All of you should be in bed.
Sophie: I was until you started screaming at TJ about his pants.
Graves had a harder time falling asleep than he normally did-- the marks on Credence’s palms, the coach who’d given equipment and a chance to the skinny kid with the fast feet and the fucked up hands, Gellert Grindelwald. He was considering slipping out of his room to see if he might do better next to Theseus when he finally slept.
Still, game day was tomorrow. The 7:30 alarm to get to the Bullets’ arena for morning skate. Short practice. Let Vane work on his wrists. Shower and then back to the hotel for a team meal. The bar afterwards where the redheaded bartender served him a double of Courvoisier and asked him if the cute blond who’d come down without a shirt last night was seeing anyone.
Graves arched an eyebrow. “Unless you count pining after my second and third line centers, no. But you’re in Beltway Bullet country. Isn’t that some kind of treason?”
They shrugged and gave him his bill. “Maybe. But our TJ has never shown up shirtless in my bar.”
“Fair enough.” Graves paid and took the brandy up to his room.
Second period, ten minutes in. It was always a little strange to play in the Beltway. Different stadium, but still mobbed with fans in red. If Graves didn’t quite pay attention to when (and what) they were cheering, it almost felt like home.
“QUEENIE. QUEENIE.” There wasn’t any mistaking that mocking sing-song though as Queenie barely made a save. The Bullets had had the momentum for the past few minutes and their fans were electrified, howling and whipping their towels as they stood.
Another blocked shot, ricocheting back towards the other TJ but Tina got her stick in the way in time, deflecting it out in the open ice. Credence was there an instant and then he was gone, sprinting up the ice with Graves less than a step behind. They blew out of their zone, over the red line. A defensemen scrambled to intercept but missed Credence by a yard as they stormed into the Bullets’ zone.
Credence waited, waited as they came hurtling towards Hollis, stick swinging back like he was going to shoot. Hollis bit, going to his knees to block the shot he thought was coming and Credence flicked it to Graves instead and his wide-open shot on the right side of the net.
Burying it was as easy as practice.
Graves yelled in sheer adrenaline and thumped Credence on the helmet, nearly stumbling as his winger collided with him to celebrate.
“That shut them up,” Credence said, grinning, his face flushed with exertion.
“Sure did.” Graves couldn’t help the grin in return as they wheeled as a unit and headed to the bench to bump gloves with their teammates. “You’re gonna be faster than me. Give it two years, three.”
“Good show.” Picquery clapped them both on the shoulders as they got back on the bench and Theseus’ line gathered at the red line for the face off.
Above them, they could hear the announcer clearly in the newly silenced arena. “Goal time: Nine minutes and forty-eight seconds remaining in the second period. Goal: Percival Graves--”
“SUCKS!” roared the crowd.
“Assist: Credence Barebone.”
Credence snorted into his water bottle and Graves grinned. “Welcome to the Monarchs.”
Have a chapter sooner than I expected! Hockey season is over and I apparently have to get my fix somehow! Let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up (about hockey or Fantastic Beasts) on my Tumblr.
Chapter 4: Snapshots
It was like Graves wasn't even there. Theseus looked lost as he kissed Credence and Graves found himself trying to remember the last time he'd seen his best friend be gentle. Major Juniors? His first year in the NHL? Maybe with Abel but certainly never after. He'd hit harder; skated faster. He’d used less endearments, but more sass. And somehow Graves hadn't noticed.
Could you miss someone when they'd been right next to you the entire time?
Apologies in advance for inevitably screwing up how you teach someone to drive stick.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Graves felt invincible as the plane touched down on the tarmac. They’d beaten the Beltway Bullets twice in their own barn and were were leading the series 3-1. They just had to win one more game to move onto the conference finals.
If they were lucky, that last game could even be tomorrow. As far as icing on the cake, Credence had settled into the seat across the aisle from Theseus without having to be pressed, without looking towards the front of the plane where Grindelwald had clearly been expecting him.
The three of them-- Graves, Credence and Theseus-- had played a few hands of poker until Theseus discovered Credence didn’t have an Instagram.
“C’mon. It’s easy. I’ll show you how to set one up.”
“Why would people care about the photos I take?” Credence blinked at him.
“Because you’re a professional hockey player,” Theseus answered.
“Yes, I am.” Credence answered, with the same sort of careful deliberateness he’d used when explaining to Graves that, yes, the penalty kill unit was called that because they killed the penalty.. “What does that have to do with photography?”
“Because it means you’re sort of a celebrity. Especially with the way you play? People are going to notice. And it’s fun,” Theseus shrugged expansively, nearly knocking over Graves’ water bottle. “ C’mon. Take a picture so I can show you how to post it.”
“Can it be the three of us?” Credence asked and proffered his phone to Theseus.
Theseus glanced to Graves, who shrugged. “Why not? Put your armrest up, Tizz.”
Graves’ own Instagram (set up, of course, at Tizzy’s insistence) finally buzzed to alert him he’d been tagged as the plane gently taxied to their gate. It wasn’t a good picture; Credence was perched awkwardly on half of Theseus’ seat; Theseus was clearly concerned about dropping Credence’s phone and the angle made it obvious that premature grey ran in Graves’ family. credenceb67: flying back with @pggraves and @sohelpmescamander. I’m starting to like this city. read the posting and Graves couldn’t help but smile.
Credence withdrew though, going quiet again as they disembarked and they waited for their equipment and gear. When Grindelwald had picked up his bag from the carousel, the winger started to fall into step behind him.
Graves wanted to hit someone and had stepped forward with a half-formulated protest when he heard Theseus speaking in rapid-fire French behind him.
“Newt, t’a pas besoin de la voiture cet aprem?”
“Ben non. On se rend quand meme chez nous, non?”
“Credence,” Theseus switched to English. “I have the car here if you want to try learning stick.”
“I--” Credence hesitated.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s an off day, after all,” Graves said. “Right, Gellert?” He gave the offensive coordinator his blandest smile and settled a hand on Credence’s shoulder. He didn’t wait for a response before guiding Credence over towards Newt and Theseus. “Tell you what. Do well enough and you can drive the Mustang to the arena tomorrow.”
There was a brief sound of Sophie dropping her luggage in astonishment behind them but Graves wasn’t pushing his luck, picking up his bag and following the Scamanders out of the airport towards their car.
“The back seat is covered in dog hair, I’m sorry. You’re not allergic, are you?” Newt asked Credence as they reached the SUV and started to load their things in the back.
Credence shook his head. “You have a dog?”
“Newt’s dog is broken,” Theseus commented with a wicked grin as he got into the driver’s seat. Graves claimed the seat beside him before anyone suggested he sit in the dog hair. The Scamanders had shared the same green Subaru Outback for the past few years and between two hockey players, their gear and Newt’s small pony of a dog, it carried a residual scent of locker room and wet animal that no air freshener could quite displace.
“Theseus!” Newt protested. “Dougal--- just has some health issues.”
“Dog diabetes, heart problems, two hip replacements, what else am I missing?” Theseus asked as he pulled out of the parking garage.
“He’s sweet and no one else was going to adopt him,” Newt concluded with an air of finality.
Graves’ phone buzzed and he checked it, suppressing the groan when it saw it was the group chat.
Sophie: You have never offered to let me drive the Mustang.
Queenie: You’re not his type!
Tina: I thought his type was redheads.
Graves: You do all realize I am getting these messages.
Tina: You love that car.
Graves: I do. And I have seen Sophie drive.
Tina: You backed into Mr. Lane’s Ferrari.
Tina: It’s red.
Tina: Shiny red.
When Graves looked up, they’d nearly left the city and the others were talking about the Las Vegas expansion draft. The NHL was setting up a new team, which would be able to draft their starting roster from existing players. The MACUSA Monarchs, like every other NHL team, could only shield a certain number of people.
“How many is it again?” Credence asked. “Players a team can protect, I mean.”
“Four offense, three defense, one goalie,” Newt answered. “You’re not eligible and neither is TJ, since it’s your rookie season.”
“And management has to protect Perce and I-- we have no-move clauses in our contracts,” Theseus said, exiting off the highway into the riverside suburb where he lived with Newt.
Graves glanced at him. “Have you ever thought about it?” he asked. “Waiving your no-move clause? I know you’re concerned about teams being less supportive than the Monarchs, but a new team like that? The culture would be what you make it.”
Theseus snorted. “Yeah. Me and my redheaded freckly self are going to move to the desert.”
“They’d be your team. You deserve that. You’re better than a second line center.” Theseus would have been a star anywhere that wasn’t the Monarchs. Graves knew that and he knew Theseus knew it too.
“Not going to Vegas, Perce.” Theseus’ voice had an inexplicable edge before the sunny grin chased it away. “Besides, who’d punch people for you?”
They turned onto a quiet suburban street. Theseus parked the car in front of a white Cape Cod with blue shutters and a fenced backyard. “You get him started?” he asked Graves. “I’ll be back out once I’m done with my gear.”
“...how many people are teaching me at once?” Credence asked with a thread of trepidation in his voice.
“Not me,” Newt said as he got out. “I’m taking Dougal for a run.”
“Don’t break his other hip,” Theseus commented and Graves could hear Newt protesting in French as they unloaded their bags.
Graves tapped the steering wheel once the Scamander brothers had closed the trunk. “Come on up here.” When Credence complied, he started to explain. “Alright. So the pedal on your left is the clutch. You’ll use it when you shift gears; it works in tandem with the gas. Let off the gas, press the clutch down. Shift gears; left off the clutch; give the car some gas.”
“Shifting is--- that knob, right?” Credence gestured.
“Yeah. We’re in park now, so you can ahead and get a feel for the gears. Leave your foot on the brake though.”
Credence didn’t have a problem getting from park to neutral to first to second, but he kept getting caught in neutral between second and third.
“Here.” Graves said and without thinking about it, laid his hand over top of Credence’s. Their fingers interlaced as he moved the shifter through the gears. “First, second, up over and up for third. Back for fourth. Up, over, up for fifth and back for reverse.”
“I. Ah.” The kid was blushing and Graves felt a pit in his stomach. It had been bad enough realizing that he probably-- no, definitely wanted to kiss his maybe-straight left winger. The possibility of it being mutual was-- should be-- should be but wasn’t-- terrifying.
Credence had pretty eyes to go with his common-sense-destroying smile; they were amber, rimmed with black.
The front door of the house slammed and Graves had never been grateful for Newt’s giant fluffy lemon of a dog before. “So that’s Dougal,” he said quickly and gestured.
Credence gaped. Dougal was white, with long shaggy hair and a head that came easily to Newt’s hip. “What kind of dog is that?”
“Tizz calls it an Abominable Snowdog,” Graves said. “But I think it’s actually a Pyrenees Mountain dog?”
“He’s enormous.” Credence bit his lip. “Percival. You and Theseus are friends, right? Can I ask you something?”
“Who’s Abel? TJ brought it up at one of the dinners in D.C. and I just---.” Credence made a small, helpless gesture.
Graves stared. How did Credence not know? It took him a moment to remember that Credence’s family hadn’t owned a TV, that he hadn’t followed professional hockey. So it probably was understandable that he’d missed it.
He sighed. “Abel Grenaway was a sports photographer for...I don’t even remember what magazine now. But he and Theseus dated for a couple years until his camera got stolen in New York and well, pictures of them ended up on the internet.” There hadn’t been anything salacious on the pictures-- he’s not fucking stupid enough to travel with that SD card, Theseus had bitterly muttered, but it was enough to make it clear that they had been a couple. “They broke up pretty immediately. Abel couldn’t handle the publicity and well...he could get out of the limelight in a way Tizzy couldn’t.”
The worst part about all of it had been the awful contrast. The picture that most news agencies used had been of Abel and Theseus on the beach in Ambergris Cay, Abel holding the camera while Theseus, cheeks flushed with sunburn and affection, kissed the corner of his mouth. He had looked carefree and happy and so very terribly in love. Looking between the photo on his phone and the man who had cried himself to sleep in his bed had broken Graves’ heart.
Credence was wincing. “I’m sorry,” he said, as if Theseus was there to hear him. “That’s...I’d hate to get outed like that.”
Between that statement and the way his winger had started to blush when Graves touched his hand... “You too?”
“I just--” Credence looked down. “ Please don’t repeat that. My Ma, she doesn’t--”
“I won’t.” God, Credence looked terrified and Graves reached for something to lighten the mood, to assure him it would be fine. “Least straight starting lineup in the NHL. Wonder if Picquery did it intentionally,” he offered.
Credence looked startled and was clearly about to say something else when the back door of the SUV opened. Theseus slid onto the bench seat. “Jesus, you two. It’s eighty degrees out and you’re sitting in the car with the AC off?”
Theseus was right. It had gotten warm and the heat had only intensified the underlying smell of sweat and dog. Graves took his hand off Credence’s and knew by the quick quizzical glance that Theseus had seen. “Yeah. Why don’t you turn the car back on and we’ll see how you can actually drive?”
Pretty well, actually.. By the time Newt came back from his run with Dougal, Credence had made the car lurch around the block once or twice without stalling and his shifting was starting to smooth out.
Newt jogged up to the car and knocked on the passenger side window. “Are you two eating here?” he asked.
Graves shrugged. “Don’t have plans if you’d like the company.”
“Only if you don’t mind,” Credence said.
“We should still have enough ribeye in the freezer, I think?” Theseus added, leaning his head forward between the two front seats.
Newt nodded. “I’ll put some potatoes in the oven and figure out a vegetable.” He bounced a hand off the car door. “45 minutes give you enough time?”
“I don’t know, Perce.” Theseus grinned. “How worried are you about your precious transmission? Since Credence’s apparently driving your car tomorrow.”
“I said if he does well.”
Newt went back into the house with Dougal as Credence shifted the car back into gear. They went around the block a few more times before Theseus suggested a more major road where he could get the car over thirty-five or so.
“You two really do know each other well,” Credence commented quietly as he brought the car up to speed and shifted smoothly into fourth gear.
“We came up together in Major Juniors,” Theseus said. “At least we did until he fucked off and got drafted at eighteen like the hotshot that he is.”
Graves arched an eyebrow. “You were all of two years behind me.”
“Yeah, two years in Owen Sound, the fair land of retirement homes and absolutely nothing to do,” Theseus griped.
“You seemed to like Inglis Falls just fine.”
“Nowhere near as fun alone,” Theseus said with a salacious grin that was just a hair overplayed. Graves suppressed a wince. Of course, Theseus’ memories of Inglis Falls were mixed. His own were as well. They used to sneak into the park after dark with the beer that Theseus could always convince one of the older players to buy for them. They’d drink by the falls, talk, kiss, get lost in each other. But Graves had also brought Theseus there to tell him he was in the 2005 Draft and that-- well, there was no way to guarantee they’d end up in the same city ever again. That they needed to break things off.
Theseus hadn’t said a word. He hadn’t looked at him. He’d stared into the falls instead and they had drank their beer in silence until Theseus crumpled the empty can in one hand and whipped it into the falls. Graves had been about to admonish him for littering when Theseus had turned towards him with tear tracks glimmering in the half-light.
“Fine,” he’d said. “Fine. You go to the draft and be the fucking superstar you’re going to be. Because you will. But you give me tonight, Perce. You give me at least that.”
He had. He had and he had hated himself for not doing it sooner. Theseus had been beautiful when he came apart under him and watching that star-dazed pleasure fade away to misery and loss had broken Graves’ heart.
“...right, Perce?” Theseus was talking and Graves quickly agreed rather than admit that he’d gone off in his own head.
“Really?” Credence smiled and Graves processed what he’d agreed to.
“Yeah.” he said. “Um. Come by the Riverview Building at…call it five o’clock? And you can drive my car to the game.” Hell, if he’d been able to lose track of what was going on so easily, Credence had been shifting smoothly. There wouldn’t be a problem.
There was a problem.
Not with Credence’s driving. The winger drove as sedately as someone’s grandmother in the race-tuned Mustang, though Graves concealed a grin when he caught him leaning a little too heavy on the gas on Boulevard of the Allies. Not even with his parking-- because as much as Graves had given Sophie shit for backing into Mr. Lane’s Ferrari, the spots in the garage were narrow.
The problem was when they got out of the car and Theseus was waiting for them near the stairwell, hair tied back and an amused smile on his lips.
Oh hell. Graves hadn’t through this through at all, had he?
Theseus’ tie was unfastened and stuffed in a pocket, the top button of his shirt was undone and his blazer was draped over his duffel bag.Their contracts, specified, after all, that players needed to wear suits to the arena. In the most technical way possible, that didn’t mean they had to wear them in the arena. Theseus had always obeyed the terms precisely to the letter.
“Tizzy,” Graves said.
“Perce,” and Theseus Scamander was grinning. “How are you feeling?”
Stupid. Stupid and embarrassed. He felt like Major Juniors again and he was the awkward kid with the legacy and the weird name, with just enough French to know he was being talked about. It was a great feeling to start a potentially series-clinching game.
Theseus must have read it off his face because his mischief drained away. “Didn’t think this through, did you,” he murmured as they headed up the stairs.
“No. No, I did not,” Graves admitted as they entered the arena and crossed the concourse to the far stairwell.
“Then we just...don’t. It’s not that big of a deal,” Theseus said.
“It’ll feel weird. And this is the last game I want to go into feeling weird.” They’d reached the stairwell and they were heading towards the landing. Graves felt his feet slow. If they could win this game, they’d be the conference champions. They’d advance to the next round. It mattered and as much as Graves wasn’t as superstitious as some players-- was this really the game to test his luck?
“I’m messing things up, aren’t I,” Credence said suddenly. He’d been so quiet during the walk that Graves had nearly forgotten he could hear them. “I’ll...I’ll go up another staircase. I didn’t mean to--”
He’d retreated back one step, two, already, spine curving in a way that made Graves feel like a monster.
“No. Wait. It’s fine. It’s nothing. Don’t--” Graves didn’t know how to finish that statement. Hide? Run? Look at him with that expression of resigned, unsurprised loss?
“You have some sort of tradition and this game is important,” Credence protested. “It’s fine. Really. It--”
“Oh for the love of God, Perce, come here,” Theseus finally broke in, clearly exasperated. He caught Graves by the hand and pulled him close before settling his hands on the other man’s hips and kissing him. It was different with an audience; Graves couldn’t help but be aware that Credence was standing there, but but the point of it was to settle down before the game. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on it-- on his best friend, steady and reassuring and always there.
“Bonne chance, capitaine,” Theseus murmured and his smile was audible in his voice.
Graves could feel the sense of being off-balance drain away. Theseus had his back. He would always have his back. “Don’t punch anyone tonight, alright, Tizzy?”
“Only the ones who deserve it.” Theseus promised.
When they broke apart, Credence was still standing there, bright stains of color in his cheeks, lips parted. He looked down and away, biting his lip.
This had been an awful idea. They should have just left it alone and dealt with any bad luck that came their way. “C’mon,” Graves said to Theseus, but the other man was looking at Credence, something going soft in his green eyes.
“Credence.” He held out a hand and his voice was nothing but gentle invitation. “You must be nervous too.”
“I--what?” Credence had looked up again. “I. But. I shouldn’t--”
“Do you want to?” Theseus asked.
Credence had nearly taken Theseus’ hand before he hesitated. “I don’t want to mess anything up.”
“Perce and I aren’t a thing. It’s alright.” Theseus said. Graves unconsciously stepped back as Credence took Theseus’ hand, ceding the space to his blushing winger.
Credence’s eyes were still down and he was chewing his lip even as he came to stand close against Theseus of his own accord.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Theseus said, touching his cheek. “Don’t be shy, minou. Let me see that pretty face of yours.” His thumb brushed over Credence’s cheek and though he had switched languages, the intimacy of it, the flattery was still evident to Graves. "T'es si beau. Viens ici." Theseus let Credence settle against him, shifting so they were flush against each other before he pressed a soft kiss against the corner of his mouth. They stayed like that, lingering in the chaste kiss until Graves could see the last of the tension drain out of Credence, see his focus shift exclusively to Theseus.
Only then did Theseus kiss him for real, humming softly against the winger’s mouth as his eyes fluttered shut.
It was like Graves wasn't even there. Theseus looked lost and Graves found himself trying to remember the last time he'd seen his best friend be gentle. Major Juniors? His first year in the NHL? Maybe with Abel but certainly never after. He'd hit harder; skated faster. He’d used less endearments, but more sass. And somehow Graves hadn't noticed.
Could you miss someone when they'd been right next to you the entire time?
“We should get to the locker room.” Graves spoke as soon as the two separated. He knew if let himself spend too much time looking at Credence right now, the flushed cheeks and amber eyes still dazed, he’d want to kiss him too. He couldn’t though, wouldn’t, not while it still felt like a hook had lodged in his chest at how carefree Theseus had seemed just then. Not until he understood what had just happened.
Graves managed a smile. “C’mon. The others will be waiting.”
He couldn’t worry about this now. They had a game to play, a conference championship to win. Later, though. He’d see if Theseus wanted to come home with him tonight. They’d talk over coffee tomorrow morning.
He couldn’t quite leave it alone though, even as they were lining up to enter the arena, when the thick weight of pads and jerseys and helmets, the bladed height of their skates made them tall and bulky and strange. He tapped Theseus on the numbers with the back of his stick.
“Yeah?” Theseus turned around, head cocked the side as he fiddled with his helmet straps.
“I have your back. You know that, right?”
Theseus smiled. “Of course, Perce,” he said. “Always.”
There was no time for anything else. Graves could hear heavy bass echoing down the hallway, the announcer exhorting the crowd to make some noise for the hometown team, in red-and-gold--
--and then he was out on the ice in the noise and the lights. Queenie was in the goal, scratching up the ice, tapping her stick against the goalposts as she told them hello. She waved cheerily at Graves as he whipped by. “You do your part, honey!”
“Got it, Queen,” he called and tested his skates, coming to a sharp twisting stop that sent arcs of snow into the corner of the rink.
He headed back to the center line for the national anthem and his wingers came up to flank him. TJ rocked agitatedly from side-to-side, trying to stay loose. Credence’s head was bent and he was murmuring something so soft that Graves could barely hear it. “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
When the anthem concluded, Graves moved to the faceoff point and grinned at Alexander Oleksy, the captain of the Bullets. “Looking forward to your vacation, Alex?”
“Go fuck yourself, Percy,” Oleksy returned with an equally wide grin.
“Gentlemen.” The referee held the puck out. “Are we ready to play?”
The puck dropped and they were off. Oleksy was bigger; he had nearly thirty pounds and three inches on Graves, but Graves got a lucky bounce, blocking Oleksy with a shoulder and flicking the puck to TJ. The rookie neatly dodged a defenseman, crossing into their offensive zone and firing off a blistering shot at Hollis.
It bounced off his pads. Graves got there in time to retrieve the rebound and hammer it back towards an open space just over Hollis’ shoulder. The Bullets’ goalie blocked again and Graves bit back a curse. Damnit, if Hollis was on his game, this was going to be a long and agonizing eighty minutes.
It was. Minutes ticked away in the first period and as much as the ice seemed tilted in the Monarchs’ favor, they couldn’t get a puck past Hollis. It was driving both teams slowly insane. A Beltway defensewoman tripped Sophie; Theseus knocked her into the boards in response. Another shot, another block, another rebound. The same Beltway defensewoman cleared it out of their zone but it went too far, clear down the ice to bounce off the wall.
The whistle blew. Icing-- the illegal pass deliberately dumping the puck out of play.
“Alright. Their bottom line’s out there and they can’t change. Barebone, Oakhurst, Graves, you’re up.” Picquery sent them off the bench and onto the ice.
“Suppose I should thank you all for giving Queenie something to do,” Graves commented as he reached the faceoff circle just to the left of the Beltway goal. “She’s getting bored back there.”
“Shut your mouth unless you wanna go,” the opposing center snarled.
“Why would I punch you if I can just outskate you?”
“Oh yeah, you got your friend to do that for you.”
“And that’s enough,” the referee interjected and dropped the puck. The Beltway center was slower, worn out. It wasn’t hard to win the puck away. A pass to Credence but the winger’s shot rang off a goalpost and Graves scrambled for the rebound, fighting with the defensewoman who had it wedged between her skate and the end of the rink. It squirted clear. TJ took it, sprinted away with the puck, fighting for a clear shot on goal and--
The hit took Graves’ breath away.
He hadn’t seen it coming and he frantically got his hands to protect his head from the boards but it was too little, too late. His right hand couldn’t cushion the blow and he went face first into the glass. Splitting pain burst behind his eyes, shivered up his arm.
He didn’t remember hitting the ice.
Months from now, Credence is going to realize that Theseus has been calling him "kitty" and be really, really annoyed. Credence's prayer prior to the game is from Isaiah 40.
Let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up at https://maggieandthedragon.tumblr.com/
Chapter 5: Win-Loss Record
Letting Credence in was as easy as breathing. Keeping him close, kissing him back, looking for the places that made Credence shiver and sigh was so instinctive it would have been frightening if Graves had had the breath or the brainpower to spare. They broke apart and Graves vaguely registered that this would be the last moment to pull back, to make some comment about tradition and a good game and send Credence on his way. But the younger man’s pupils were dark and wide and his lips were damp from Graves’ mouth.
So Graves kissed him again.
The first time he’d kissed Theseus, they’d been sixteen and the power forward had tasted like salt sweat and room temperature beer. Credence? Credence tasted like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff and Graves immediately retracted any ill will that he had ever had toward high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings.
CN: implied past emotional abuse, mild violence
Nothing quite like still writing about last hockey season when the next one's about to start! (#letsgopens).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
This was what Nora Vane told him as he lay in the hospital bed at the City University Medical Center.
At 8:12 left in the second period, the Bullets had been called for icing and Seraphina Picquery had sent her first line-- Graves, Credence and TJ-- onto the ice. Graves had won the face-off and then fought for a rebound behind the net.
At 8:01, Robert Merino hit him right across the numbers on his jersey, sending him head (and arm) first into the glass.
Graves had seen himself get hit before-- in the replay room when they analyzed what had gone wrong, but none of it had ever unsettled him as much as seeing himself slide motionless and unresponsive across the ice.
At 7:56 left in the second period, the game had erupted into an all-out melee. Tina hit first, cross-checking Merino across the chest and driving him back into the boards. Newt and TJ waded in immediately after and Graves could see in the corner of Nora’s tablet that Coach Picquery was nearly sitting on Theseus to keep him off the ice. Only Credence hadn’d waded into the scrum of screaming, shoving violence, dropping to his knees instead to shield Graves’ helmetless face and throat from the wickedly sharp skates and wild sticks that were too close, too close.
It took the referees nearly a full minute to pull everyone apart and by that time, both the Bullets and the Monarchs had medics on the field.
“Jesus Christ.” Graves swallowed, mouth dry from the painkillers he’d been shot full of. He couldn’t help but ask. “Did we win?” If they had, they would have a few precious days off while Montreal and Ottawa fought to win the Atlantic Division. It would give him time to heal from what he could already feel was a concussion, get a diagnosis for whatever had happened to his right arm--
Dr. Vane shook her head. “Things---ah---fell apart after you were taken to the hospital.”
“Tizzy punched someone?”
Dr. Vane nodded. “He caught Merino as he was leaving the penalty box. Got thrown out with an intent to injure penalty.”
“Jesus.” He wasn’t surprised. The video had made it clear that Merino’s hit had been dirty and Theseus-- well, his best and worst trait was that he’d always, always played with his heart. But it didn’t matter. Intent to injure was only a one game penalty. The series was 3-2 now, they still only had to win one more game to advance. “When can I play again?”
“Percival.” Dr. Vane put her tablet away. “We don’t know. Your MRI showed hairline fractures in your right wrist; stress fractures in your left. The normal prognosis would be six to eight weeks--”
“Nora. I can’t,” Graves could hear the desperate sound in his voice--- and the stumbling as he tried to find words through the fog of the concussion. “I don’t have six weeks; the playoffs will be done by then.”
“You have the rest of your career,” Dr. Vane told him. “Which neither you, nor I nor Coach Picquery are going to jeopardize.”
“I’ll take your MRI and lab results to the coaching staff. We’ll consult with the medical team here and see what options you have.” She gathered her things and stood, the touched his uninjured wrist. “I’m sorry, Percival. I really am. But playing at this level means making hard choices sometimes.”
“I know. Thank you,” Graves said.
As the door clicked shut behind her, Graves pushed a hand through his hair, damp and disheveled from sweat and ice. Goddamnit. Of all the games...
His phone buzzed and he picked it up to find the latest of a slew of text messages.
Tizzy: 2-1 Bullets.
Tizzy: I’m sure Vane told you already. I’m sorry.
Tizzy: Are you at CUMC? Do you want someone there?
Tizzy: I don’t even know if you’re conscious. Or getting these. But I’m going to get Credence and we’ll be over soon.
Tizzy: Okay. Actually just me. Have you eaten?
Tizzy: I’m assuming that you’re not conscious so I have time to go to Pacelli Bros for sandwiches.
Tizzy: ...do you still like your coleslaw on the side?
Tizzy: What’s your room number?
Tizzy: Nevermind. The nurse told me. Coming up.
The concussion had done nothing about the hook in his chest or the memory of how sweetly Theseus had kissed Credence and despite it, Graves felt himself smiling as he set the phone to the side and sat up more completely in the bed.
He still quirked an eyebrow when his best friend stepped into the hospital room. “Nine texts, Tizz?” he said.
“Ta gueule, Perce,” Theseus answered him without malice. He set the Pacelli’s bag aside before sitting on the edge of the bed. He kissed the corner of Graves’ mouth and the gesture was full of such infinite care that Graves knew he’d guessed the concussion. “What’s the verdict?”
“Concussion, hairline fractures in my right wrist.” Graves forced down the frantic memories of his father’s injury, Nora calmly reminding him that the standard recovery time was six to eight weeks. “Apparently stress fractures in my left too but that’s just---”
“You being an idiot? Damnit, Perce, you have to take better care of yourself. You’re not going to be--” Theseus bit his lip, ducked his head so the tousled copper hair hid his face. “Sorry. That wasn’t fair. Not anyone’s fault but Merino’s.”
“Who I hear you punched really well.”
Theseus glanced up and gave him a wry smile. “...shouldn’t have,” he admitted with a certain unrepentant air. “Should have stayed in the game and played smart and made them eat the scoreboard as payback. Just…”
“Picquery can yell at you about it. I’m not.” Graves told him seriously, then gestured at the Pacelli’s bag at the foot of the bed. “And all is forgiven if there’s a capicola sandwich in there for me.”
Theseus reached for the bag. “Capicola, coleslaw on the side. Grabbed you a fork too so we don’t have to bother the nurses.”
“You’re a saint, Tizz.”
Graves hadn’t realized how ravenous he was until Theseus handed him the styrofoam container, still steam-warm from French fries and fried capicola. Of course, his best friend knew his Pacelli’s order but the kindness had reminded him again of how soft Theseus had looked kissing Credence.
Theseus hadn’t looked at someone like that since Abel. He hadn’t looked at at Graves like that in even longer. Not since Major Juniors, when they’d been wild teenagers, stealing away to Inglis Falls to drink beer and kiss until they were dizzy. Tizzy’s accent always got stronger the more carried away he got, words sliding together and consonants softening. He’d thought it was the sexiest thing. Honestly, he still did. He’d loved it, loved the murmured pet names his best friend had used.
There’d been one he’d especially liked the sound of, that Theseus only murmured when he’d gotten carried away. He didn’t remember it though. It hadn’t been minou. Something else.
Graves had gotten lost in concussion fog and memories. He refocused his attention on the sandwich-- still warm, still delicious-- and gave Theseus a small hesitant smile. “I owe you. Would you-- would you wanna go to that place on the Strip? The one with the pancakes?”
“Yeah, sure. If nothing comes up.” Theseus said, preoccupied with his own sandwich-- roast beef with Pacelli’s traditional toppings (French fries, coleslaw, lettuce, tomato) and a fried egg additional.
The hook sunk deeper in Graves’ chest. He retreated to talking about hockey. “How’s everyone taking it?”
“Tina’s furious and some blogger already caught her talking about it being deliberate,” Theseus said quietly. “But Newt’s with her now and that new PR guy--- what’s his name?--- Kovelski? Dark hair, brings in donuts--”
“He’s working on getting a statement out. I said I’d text him when you were awake enough to give a quote.”
“What about my line?”
Theseus wiped a bit of coleslaw off the corner of his mouth with a thumb. “They’re rock stars, both of them. Never seen a pair of rookies work so damn hard. They helped the medics get you off the ice, came back and played their hearts out.” He gave a wry smile, which faded and sobered. “You should text Credence though. He’s--”
“Shit.” Graves set down the last bit of his sandwich. “Don’t tell me he’s blaming himself.”
“I couldn’t get him to come with me,” Theseus said. “Said he’d messed up our tradition; that you’d gotten hurt--- also, he called you Mr. Graves-- and that he didn’t think you’d want to see him.”
Graves shook his head. “Damnit, he shouldn’t--” He sighed. “I’ll text him. When are you leaving for Washington?”
“Noon tomorrow. I should get back home and get some sleep soon.” Theseus paused and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Take care of yourself, Perce.”
“I will,” Graves promised and let him go for a moment. Theseus was nearly gone before he spoke again. “Tizz?”
“What was that name you used to call me? In Major Juniors. It started with a M, I think?”
Theseus stopped at the door and for a moment there was a look of unutterable pain on Theseus’ face. Like Graves had slashed him, taken his stick and brought it down on fragile wrists, face, shins, instep. “Mamour,” he said. “I called you mamour, Perce. But we were just stupid kids.”
The hospital door clicked shut and Graves reached for his phone with a growing sense of dread. He typed the nickname into the search bar.
Mamour, n. Quebecois, colloq. An endearment, traditionally a contraction of mon amour. My love.
The hook in his chest tore. Graves leaned back against the pillows, eyes burning, head aching. God, what had he given up to etch his name on the Stanley Cup?
Graves fell asleep like that and slept until the early May sunlight streaming in through the window woke him. His head and wrist ached, still, but he felt less confused than the night before. But He hadn’t texted Credence. Shit. Graves reached for his phone and quietly blessed Nora Vane for keeping a spare charger in her medical bag.
Graves: Sorry I’m texting so early. Are you awake?
Credence: How are you feeling?
Graves: Been worse.
Graves: Theseus and I missed you last night.
There was such a long silence that Graves wondered if Credence had fallen back asleep before he finally received another text.
Credence: Can I come see you?
Graves: Of course. Room 3102
The hospital was only a few miles from the Wyndham Grand where Credence had been staying, but it still took the winger awhile to get there. “Sorry,” he said breathlessly. “I’m going right to the airport from here.” He had his battered green duffel bag slung over his shoulder and his black hair was still damp from the shower and curling faintly. He held up a brown paper bag as he sat down in the chair next to the bed. “Do you mind if I eat here? I brought one for you if you want it, but Nora gets mad if she hears I haven’t eaten breakfast.”
“No, not at all,” Graves answered, sitting up. “What is it?” He wasn’t actually sure if he was hungry or not--- the dull throbbing headache hadn’t faded and he wasn’t sure if it was a concussion or the hospital’s diehard refusal to let him have coffee.
Graves blinked. “Was that English?”
Credence blushed and withdrew a neatly wax-paper-wrapped sandwich from the paper bag. “Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff?” he said.
It was on Wonderbread too, making that sandwich potentially among the most processed things that Percival Graves had ever laid eyes on. He held up a hand. “All yours,” he said and then had to ask. “How on Earth did you get Nora to make that part of your diet plan?”
“She wasn’t happy about it, but...it’s been my pre-game meal since I was in high school.”
“Oh? Mine was pasta carbonara,” Graves answered.”Protein carbs, fat, tasty but simple enough I don’t burn my apartment down.”
“I used to have dizzy spells,” Credence said quietly and his eyes didn’t quite meet Graves’. “Coach…he thought I wasn’t eating enough, so he used to leave the makings for these in his desk for me.”
Graves felt like an elitist scumbag. Marshmallow fluff. Peanut butter. Wonderbread. Carbs, protein, and fat, bought cheaply and in a form that could live in a desk drawer. The best a high school coach could do for the fast kid with the fucked-up hands. Graves didn’t know Greg Clarkson; he’d never met but the man but he already thought he was one of the best people he knew.
Credence wasn’t looking at him. The winger was chewing his lip, clearly ill-at-ease of having revealed so much, so Graves didn’t ask about the dizzy spells. “You had a key to his office?” he said instead. “You two must have been close. Do you keep in touch?”
Credence didn’t answer at first, mouth full of fluffernutter but he swallowed. “No. I--I lost track of him.I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want to bother him. He’d worked so hard to help me and I didn’t want to--” He stopped, almost as if he was unsure about what he was saying.
“Not good enough?” Graves shook his head. “Credence, the farm team went to the playoffs both years you played for it. You’re playing for the NHL. On a team that’s making a run for the Cup.”
“I--” Objectively, Credence couldn’t argue with that. Graves knew it. “I guess. I don’t know. I got busy and I kept thinking he wouldn’t want to--”
“Wouldn’t want to hear that his star player was succeeding? Was happy?”
“I--I got told,” Credence said softly. There was such distress in his voice that Graves understood he’d blindly opened a wound-- one that was much deeper and much darker than simply losing touch with an old coach. “I got told it enough. And it got into my head.”
“I’m sorry,” Graves said and he had to ask. “Gellert?”
Credence nodded mutely.
The son of a bitch. Graves bit his lip to keep from swearing. There wasn’t anything he could do about it now, besides keep Gellert the hell away from Credence. And maybe, just maybe. Make this right.
He brushed Credence’s shoulder. “Invite him to a game. Tell Kowalski or one of the PR people. He’ll set up plane tickets if your coach needs, put him in the owner’s suite with Mr. Lane. It’s a great story; they’ll love it.”
Credence looked up at him and his amber eyes were bright. “Do you think so? I’d--I’d like that a lot. But--” He hesitated. “We only have two more games against the Bullets.”
Graves arched an eyebrow. “Guess you’d better win.”
Credence laughed. It was a rare sound, a rare treat and Graves probably found more delight in it than he should. “Guess I better, Captain,” he said and then amended. “Percival.”
Graves wished he could blame the curl of warmth in his stomach on the painkillers, but, he was pretty sure they were starting to wear off at this point. God, Credence was cute; soft curve of a smile and honey-gold eyes. And whether or not he was immune to bodies at this point, he still noticed his winger’s lean muscle, slender bulk, the contradiction made for grace and speed.
“Percival.” Credence was talking again. he’d set the last bite of his sandwich aside and moved to sit on the bed. “I--did Tizzy tell you why I didn’t come last night?”
“Cause you didn’t fight,” Graves answered softly. “But, Credence, I saw the video. You were protecting me.” He swallowed. Why was his chest suddenly so tight? “Thank you.”
“Not just that.” Credence’s eyes were still arresting, black-rimmed honey. “I messed up your tradition.”
Graves shook his head. “Please. I don’t mind that you kissed Theseus.”
“I...no. Um.” Credence ducked his head and pink flushed across his ivory cheekbones. “I meant I messed it up cause we...didn’t really finish.” He glanced up at him and a tremor of anxiety shook his voice. “I only kissed Theseus.”
“Oh.” Graves’ brain short-circuited as his beautiful terrible-idea-of-a-winger shifted closer to him. He swallowed hard. “Guess we’d better fix that.”
“Guess we’d better.” Credence echoed and leaned close to kiss him.
The kiss was hesitant at first, lips barely brushing as Graves slid his fingers into Credence’s black hair. It was cool against his fingers and still damp, smelling faintly of hotel shampoo, the deliberate neutrality of citrus and herbs. He hummed encouragingly and Credence echoed before daring more, daring further, the faint tip of his tongue brushing against the seam of Graves’ lips.
Letting him in was as easy as breathing. Keeping him close, kissing him back, looking for the places that made Credence shiver and sigh was so instinctive it would have been frightening if Graves had had the breath or the brainpower to spare. They broke apart and Graves vaguely registered that this would be the last moment to pull back, to make some comment about tradition and a good game and send Credence on his way. But the younger man’s pupils were dark and wide and his lips were damp from Graves’ mouth.
So Graves kissed him again. The first time he’d kissed Theseus, they’d been sixteen and the power forward had tasted like salt sweat and room temperature beer. Credence? Credence tasted like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff and Graves immediately retracted any ill will that he had ever had toward high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings.
And kissed him again.
At some point, Credence had slid onto the bed, settling astride him. Or maybe Graves had pulled him. He didn’t know, but his hands were on his winger’s hips and Credence’s were around his neck and nothing else mattered. He couldn’t feel the ache in his skull, the shivery pain of his fractured wrist. Credence’s mouth was warm and giving, his lips full and Graves couldn’t resist the temptation of letting his teeth graze over that bottom lip, the faintest bit of suction.
The sighs turned into a whine. Heat curled low and smoldering in Graves’ stomach and he did it again just to hear Credence start to come apart. Not now, not now, Credence had to fly to Washington, had to play but after that--
“Perci---oh Jesus Christ! Put a sock on the door!”
They jerked apart. Credence had gone scarlet but Graves recognized the voice. “Learn how to knock, Alex,” he protested, but he’d let go of Credence’s hips and let his winger scramble mortified off the bed.
Alex Oleksy, captain for the Washington Bullets and already in his suit to travel, had his hand over his face and was shaking his head. “...is this why your line is so in sync?” he asked. “Do you just...make out with all of your wingers?”
If Alex had come in ten minutes ago, Graves would have been furious. He would have asked him what the hell sort of hit that had been and why he wasn’t capable of controlling his teammates. But he was feeling more generous right now. “You should try it. You might finally win a Cup.”
Alex rolled his eyes but sobered. “Look. I’ve got a plane back to D.C. I just...how’s the wrist?”
“Fractured. Concussion too.”
Alex winced. “Do they know when you’ll be able to play again?”
Graves shook his head. “No. So you’re welcome.” His generosity was failing. “That was a cheap shot, Alex.”
Alex winced again and Graves noticed how uncomfortable he looked. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his slacks and he was glancing down and away.
“I know. I know,” the other captain said. “I didn’t want this, Percival. Fuck, yes, I want to win. It’s about damn time we had a Cup but I want you beaten. Not...broken.” He gestured vaguely at Graves in the hospital bed to make his point.
Graves swallowed his resentment. It wasn’t Alex’s fault. He hadn’t even been the person who hit him. “Thank you,” he managed. “I appreciate it.”
“I..that’s not why I’m here.” Alex glanced at the door again. “Look. I didn’t know about this until this morning. Coach doesn’t even know I’m here. And maybe it’s nothing. But Merino met your offensive coordinator for drinks the night before the game.”
Graves’ mouth went a little dry. “Wait. Alex. What are you saying?”
Alex spread his hands. “I don’t know. They played together before Gellert retired; maybe they were just catching up. But it was weird and it was a cheap hit and I just-- I thought you should know.”
What the hell. What the hell and even as Graves started to reject the notion out of hand, that not even Gellert Grindelwald would be that unethical, that unprofessional when he remembered standing in the hotel corridor in Washington, D.C., five minutes after the offensive coordinator had shoved Credence into a wall. I suppose that’s the perk of being at the height of your career, Gellert had said. Have a good night. And wrap your wrists.
“He wouldn’t,” Credence protested faintly but Graves could tell by the distress in his winger’s voice that even Credence was considering how much he believed that.
He had a concussion. And a broken wrist. He might have fallen back in-- or never fallen out of-- love with his best friend. His twenty-year-old winger made his heart pound, made him blush like a teenager. He had no idea how to reconcile those two feelings and the idea of giving either of them up made something akin to panic close his throat. And Gellert Grindelwald might have put a bounty on him.
They were within spitting distance of the Stanley Cup.
Couldn’t his life had fallen apart in the off-season?
Liked it? Hate me for being a Penguins fan? Let me know in the comments or hit me up at https://maggieandthedragon.tumblr.com/
Chapter 6: Winzer
Graves stared at his father. “Are you telling me to ask out Theseus Scamander?”
“I’m saying that you could. If he’s what you want to spend your status on.” The Bullets’ favorite blonde starlet had come out to sing the anthems and Godwin unmuted the tablet, letting the music leak out softly. “You’re twenty-nine, Percy. You’re going to have to stop playing one day; you’re lucky it wasn’t yesterday. When you do, I want you to have more than a championship ring for company.”
The memory of seeing his own body sliding motionless across the ice warred with the taste of Credence's fluffernutter sandwich and the wounded note of Tizzy’s voice. We were just stupid kids. It kept Graves silent.
Terribly sorry for the delay--- the Halloween Gradence promptfest, another fanfic competition and the end of the semester made this take forever.
This chapter was originally going to be over 6k but thematically it worked better as two shorter chapters, so the next chapter will be up presently!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The compromise that Dr. Vane offered him was this. CUMC could perform laparoscopic surgery on his wrist, implanting steel pins to hold his scaphoid and lunate bones together and in the correct place. Provided the surgery went well-- and his concussion cleared up-- he could play as a winger. The risks of an ill-placed face-off slash breaking these tenuously pinned bones for real was simply too high to take.
Graves found himself perversely grateful that he’d spent so long helping Credence with faceoff drills. The rookie would be taking his place in the center of the line and he would need all the practice he could get.
When he woke after the surgery, his right arm was numb from fingertip to elbow. The team had pooled money and sent him an obnoxiously colorful display of yellow and pink flowers accompanied by a plushie white dog with a stethoscope and bright red medical bag. It sat on the end table beaming at him with terrifying cheer.
Get back on the ice before Tizzy starts teaching the rookies to fight! XOXO, Us read the card and Graves couldn’t decide whether he wanted to roll his eyes or groan. He loved his team dearly. And he was going to strangle all of them as soon as he had use of both hands.
I think someone ordered Dougal a chew toy and had it sent to me instead, he sent to their group text, making sure it had finally been expanded to encompass the rookies as well.
Queenie: You leave Doggie Howser alone!
Newt: Carnations are poisonous to dogs. So are daisies.
Tizzy: Doggie Howser? Queen, how much old television do you watch?
Tina: How did the surgery go?
Graves: Well as far I know. Vane says a week and a half. Be good; listen to Picq. No dumb penalties.
Which reminded him. He switched to a private text message, just for Credence. His winger had gotten a ride to the airport with Alex that morning, the Bullet captain still griping about kissing wingers and God if that’s what it took…. They hadn’t had a chance to talk, really but...
Graves: Will you do me a favor? Don’t tell the rest of the team about what Alex said. Especially not Theseus. We can’t lose him over another dumb fight.
Credence: If you’re sure.
Credence: I think you should talk to Coach Picquery.
Credence: I don’t want to believe that he would do something like that. But she should know.
Graves: Even Alex isn’t sure. But I’ll be careful.
He stared at his phone for a long minute. They needed to talk about more than just Gellert and his bounty, but he didn’t know how to.
His phone buzzed again.
Credence: I don’t regret it. I’m sorry if I made things difficult. With you. Or Theseus. Or the team. But I don’t regret it.
Graves couldn’t help the smile. God, the boy was brave. A rookie, a Black Ace. Graves could ruin his career in a heartbeat if he’d wanted. So could Gellert. And yet-- Credence wanted him to talk to Picquery. Didn’t regret kissing him. Volunteered as much.
Graves: You didn’t make anything difficult.
Footsteps drifted down the hallway, the unsteady rhythm as familiar to Graves as his own heartbeat, the limping walk of someone whose career had ended in violence. His father had come but like hell he was leaving Credence on read.
Graves: I don’t regret it either.
He sent his phone aside and pushed himself upright with his uninjured arm as his father let himself in.
“Percy.” Godwin had an impressive sweep of silver hair and piercing blue eyes. He would have stood around his son’s height were it not for the cane he held in his right hand.
“What’s the prognosis?”
Graves held up his right hand and saw his father swallow the flinch at the sight of the bandages. “Vane says a week and a half,” he said. “And no more faceoffs for the rest of the season.”
“Laparoscopic?” Because of course, his father would have spent the entire plane ride reading up on every advance in medical technology since his own injury.
“Only still here so they can monitor the concussion.” Graves turned his wrist and tugged the bandage to show the small incision, barely needing two stitches to hold it closed. “Four pins in the scaphoid, two in the lunate bone. I’ll be fine.”
“Course you will,” Godwin’s voice was brusque. “Your conditioning is top of the line and your medical personnel knows they can’t afford to lose you. I wish I could say the same about your coaching staff.”
And here it was. “Dad, I--”
“When were you planning on telling me they’d let that scumbag leave Wilkes-Barre?” There was that particular venom in Godwin’s voice that made it obvious who they were talking about.
“Like you didn’t already know?” Graves asked. “He came up with the Black Aces to make their transition easier.”
“And you go into the boards three weeks later.”
“Dad, I didn’t get boarded by Gellert.” Just Merino, who he used to play with. And whom Oleksy was suspicious but that was not a thing he was ever telling his father.
“No, just his---” Godwin exhaled noisily. “I don’t like that he’s anywhere near you.”
“I don’t like that he’s anywhere near me,” Graves echoed.
They were silent for a moment and then Graves spoke again. “Was he always a creepy insufferable know-it-all?”
And just like that the tension had been banished.
“I'm glad you're alright,” Godwin said finally, taking a seat next to the bed.
“You just can't stand how bored I get during the summer,” Graves answered.
“Think they have a chance in DC without you?”
“The rookies are good this year.”
Even in the hospital in another state, Graves found himself getting restless around six o’clock. Nearly game on the East Coast started at seven or seven-thirty. They’d be at the rink by now, listening to Picquery, checking over their gear.
“Missing your skates?” Godwin asked, rummaging through the bag he’d left on the ugly patterned hospital couch.
“Crawling out of my skin. I should be in D.C,” Graves grit out.
"Is it going to make it better or worse to watch?” Godwin held up his tablet in an offer and explanation.
“Worse. Put it on anyway.” Graves answered and reached for his phone when it buzzed.
Tizzy: Feels weird that you're not here.
Graves: Wish me luck.
Tizzy: Not the same. But.
Tizzy: Bonne chance, capitaine.
Graves: Don't punch anyone, Tizz.
Tizzy: Only the people who deserve it.
“Scamander?” his father asked when he set his phone aside. There were actually two Scamanders skating for the Monarchs, but it was obvious which one Godwin meant.
“Tizz, yeah,” Graves said. “We’ve got a tradition. Can’t really do it via text, but--”
He wasn’t there and the tradition had shifted. Grown. Credence gentled and steadied against Theseus’ chest, eyelids fluttering shut as the two men kissed. Graves’ winger again in his hospital bed, thighs on either side of his. The desire that welled up-- for Theseus, for Credence-- was so sharp, so dual that for a moment Graves took it for jealousy, but the pain in his chest was all yearning, no animus.
“Tradition that needs to be done in person, huh.” Godwin didn’t look up from the tablet as he logged into the streaming service that let him watch all of the Monarchs’ games. His voice was so dry it could crumble into powder.
“Well. Um.” Graves could feel a rose flush creep up his cheeks.
Godwin snorted. “Not surprised,” he commented and the corner of his mouth tugged upwards. “You two lived in each other’s pockets at Owen Sound. Does Picquery know you’re dating?”
“Wait, what? No. We’re not. I’m not--” He felt the blush deepen. “It’s just tradition.”
Just tradition. The way the beginnings of crows’ feet appeared around Theseus’ eyes when he laughed, his casually obscene chirping, the way his eyelids fluttered against freckled skin when Graves’ nerves needed more than a kiss to calm him. The way Theseus’ tongue and teeth and lips could make even the stairwell seem sacred rather than sordid.
“But you don’t seem pleased with that,” Godwin observed.
“What if I’m not?” Graves’ voice was quiet.
“I know I recommended that you break things off with him in Major Juniors. I still think it was the right decision.” Godwin set the tablet on the edge of the bed, the sound muted during the pregame festivities. “We travel so much; it’s hard enough to manage a relationship when one of you is playing 82 games a season, let alone two. And there was no--”
“--guarantee we would ever be in the same city again,” Graves finished. There was a sour taste in his mouth. “I know. And I was gay and a legacy to boot. I already had two strikes against me ever being taken seriously as a player. You were right. You are right; I--”
“Would you like to let me finish?”
Graves fell silent.
“And then you went and won the lottery, frankly,” his father told him tersely. “Both of you on the same team with no-move clauses. Both foundational players, Stanley Cup champions. Picquery can’t get rid of you no matter how much you piss her off. And trust me. This will.”
Graves stared. “Are you telling me to ask out Theseus Scamander?”
“I’m saying that you could. If he’s what you want to spend your status on.” The Bullets’ favorite blonde starlet had come out to sing the anthems and Godwin unmuted the tablet, letting the music leak out softly. “You’re twenty-nine, Percy. You’re going to have to stop playing one day; you’re lucky it wasn’t yesterday. When you do, I want you to have more than a championship ring for company.”
The memory of seeing his own body sliding motionless across the ice warred with the taste of marshmallow fluff and the wounded note of Tizzy’s voice. We were just stupid kids.
“I think that ship has sailed,” Grave said softly and then the ending of the anthem saved him from having to articulate the mix of desire and pain and confusion that had slipped into his voice. They’d put Credence on the center line; he looked small and young crouched down across from Oleksy.
“Who’s the kid?” Godwin asked as they leaned over the tablet together.
The puck dropped. Credence and Oleksy scrabbled, jostled. Their skates dug into the ice as they shoved against each other and it finally slipped free to Maddie.
“Credence Barebone. Black Ace from Wilkes-Barre. My winger,” Graves said. The note of pride in his voice was obvious. “And he’s gonna be faster than me.”
The promising start of Credence’s face-off was only a promise. Theseus could match Oleksy in skill and speed, but he was used to playing the second line. Consistently paired against the Bullets’ top line, he stayed scoreless. Credence, Maddie and TJ made up the second line, but Credence was new to the center position-- and to the kind of physical attention it drew from a team that hit hard. By the third period, Graves could see how tired he was, how worn.
Queenie and the defense did their best, but a single goal trickled past in the second period and that was the game.
The remorseful text hit his phone a few minutes later.
Tizzy: I’m sure you saw. I’m sorry.
Graves: Rough night. It happens.
Graves: Make sure Credence is okay? He looked beat by third period.
Tizzy: I’ll take care of him. I promise.
Godwin insisted that he was spending the night in a tone of voice that Graves had learned a very long time ago never to argue with. His father changed in the adjoining bathroom and tried to make himself comfortable on the narrow couch that was honestly too small for him.
Graves had been about to turn off the light and try to sleep despite his aching wrist when his phone lit up again with an alert from Instagram. One of the few people he actually followed-- his sister, Theseus, Credence, a few old friends-- had tagged him in something. It was Credence this time, posting a picture of two ice cream sundaes perched precariously on the white duvet of one of the Ritz-Carlton’s bedrooms.
credenceb67: @sohelpmescamander swears that peanut butter cookie dough ice cream is on the team diet plan. Wish @pggraves was here.
Peanut butter cookie dough ice cream was not part of the team diet plan. At all, but Theseus was taking care of Credence as promised. The second sundae perched on the bed-- mint chocolate chip absolutely drowning in hot fudge-- had to be the power forward’s.
Graves set his phone on the bedside table and switched the light off. Theseus would have brought Credence to his room, mostly likely. One of the privileges of being a foundational player, the team built around your talents, was that you got your own room. If Credence was tired enough, shaken enough that Theseus thought he needed ice cream, he would have taken him somewhere private, away from T.J.’s occasional (although well-meaning) lack of tact.
The feeling that curled warm in the base of his stomach still wasn’t jealousy though. He was as glad Theseus was there as he was frustrated he couldn’t be himself.
Graves sighed and stared up into the darkness, feeling his wrist itch and ache.
“What if it’s not just Theseus?”
There was a rustling sound from the couch as his father shifted. Maybe to face him. Graves wasn’t sure; the room was dark and the angle was wrong. He couldn’t actually see the other man, but not having to make eye contact was probably a good thing.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific, Percy.”
“There’s...someone else too.” Graves swallowed. “On the team.”
Godwin let out a very long exhale. “....that rookie you’re so proud of.”
“Yes. My winger.”
The hospital room was still and silent for a moment before his father answered. “Can I give you some advice? As a fellow player rather than your father.”
Oh God. No good and non-mortifying conversation ever followed a comment like that. Still, better to get it over with.
“Go ahead,” Graves said into the darkness.
“How many games do you have left?"
“If we go all the way? Nine minimum. Sixteen max.”
“And how much do you want that Cup?"
“Dad, what?” Graves pushed himself upright, the covers sliding down his chest. “I just tried to convince Vane to let me play with a concussion. This isn’t about my dedication; it’s--”
“Then you do what--or who--you need to do to keep your head in the game. And if that’s Theseus or your winger or the both of them, well. Then that’s what you do.”
Graves felt his face go hot. “....technically I’d be his winger now, I guess,” he muttered, trying to focus on anything but how casually his father-- his father!--had just told him to fuck two people at once.
“This now sounds like euphemisms for aspects of your sex life I don’t need to know about."
Graves choked. Mortifying. Enough that he muttered something about thinking about it and laid back down simply to put an end to the conversation. Enough that it took him nearly a half an hour before he realized that his father hadn’t understood.
What if it wasn’t just Theseus? What if he wanted more from Credence too? More than just the playoffs, more than just doing what he needed to keep his head in the game?
Graves slept late. Between not setting any alarms and how late he’d stayed up fretting--- Theseus and Credence, his father’s advice, what it applied to and what it didn’t-- daylight didn’t wake him. Neither did his father getting up and getting dressed.
What woke him was the shouting match outside his room.
“Mr. Graves, sir---” Nora Vane’s voice was alarmed.
“You get this Eurotrash son of a bitch away from my son or so help me…”
Goddamnit. Graves slid out of the hospital bed and went towards the noise. Out in the hallway, Nora Vane was struggling to separate Gellert and his father and Graves couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Despite a foot that sometimes refused to carry his weight, Godwin was still every inch a hockey player. When it came to an altercation, he picked up his cane up in both hands like a stick and cross-checked Gellert back into the wall.
The offensive coordinator had still rolled his mismatched eyes, all feigned good will and weary innocence. “You’re not twenty any more, Winzer. Watch your footing.”
Graves tasted blood and fury. Of course, Gellert had the fucking gall to taunt his father about the injury. And the way he said it too-- Watch your footing, Winzer-- was so familiar, so goddamn smug that Graves knew. Wrap your wrists, Percy. Everything Oleksy had said was true, even if Graves couldn’t prove it. Gellert had put a bounty on him because he had dared to interfere with what he wanted from Credence.
“Nora, take my father downstairs, please,” Graves said.
“Dad, just go. I need a word with Gellert.” Now, apparently. Even though he was barefoot, in pajama pants and a hospital gown and Gellert was in a suit. Because God forbid he ever argue with this man on an even footing.
Godwin relented, stepping back and putting his own weight back on the cane. He left with Vane.
“I’m glad to see you be reasonable, Percy,” Gellert said idly, straightening and brushing at his suit jacket as if Godwin had dirtied it somehow. “Getting fired up can hardly be a good for a concus--”
Graves put him back into the wall. “You are done, do you hear me?” he snarled. “This is your last season with this team. You leave Tizz alone; you leave Credence alone; you stay the hell away from me and you hand in your resignation the second our run is over.”
The last bit of feigned civility drained out of Gellert’s face. “Careful who you threaten, boy.”
“Or you’ll have Merino board me again?” Graves saw a flicker of fear in the other man’s face and snorted. “Do you think I’m an idiot? Do you think Alex is an idiot? He’s not going to risk his players by letting you talk to any of them again.”
Gellert didn’t speak.
“You’re done.” Graves pushed away. “Play nice; leave quietly. Or I will make sure you can’t work in this league again.”
He felt Gellert’s eyes on his back the entire time he walked away.
Hockey nicknames are hilarious and I love the fact that Godwin got called "Winzer." What did you think of him? Let me know in the comments or hit me up at https://maggieandthedragon.tumblr.com/
Chapter 7: Odd Man Rush
Minou. Mamour. Theseus’s handsome mobile face, hopeful outside the diner, hurting in Graves’ hospital room. Sweet and lost with his lips on Credence in the staircase. Laughing now as he pulled Credence against him for a moment. Credence with the fast feet and the fucked up hands, Instagrams of ice cream with I wish pggraves was here. Astride him in a hospital bed as the raspy breath turned into a needy whine that Graves somehow could still hear. Teasing and laughing and wearing his numbers.
Graves snapped to and realize his heart was racing. His breath was coming hard and his hands were clammy like when he knew that a fourth-line goon was looking to hit him.
What was he doing right now? With Credence? With Theseus? With both of them?
An "odd man rush" is when the attacking team outnumbers the defenders by one player, i.e. three offense to two defense.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It felt good to be back on the ice. His father had gone home the day after the altercation with Gellert; he’d passed the concussion protocols and the doctors at CUMC had cleared him to practice-- if not to play. The medical staff wanted to fit him for a wrist guard first, making sure that it kept the healing wound and the pinned bones protected and stable while still allowing him to shoot and handle his stick. It took the better part of the hour to find the right balance between security and agility, so by the time he’d gotten fit, changed into his skates and the ugly yellow no-contact jersey, practice was nearly over.
The delay made Graves want to scream, but at least he could skate again. The hushed voices and chilled air, the crisp sound of steel on ice: all of it settled him. This rink was as much home as his apartment overlooking the river, as the Recaro seats of his Mustang, as his parents’ Massachusetts estate.
At the other end of the ice, Theseus was working with Credence. Moving him to center, letting him lead a line had made him more of a target in the last game and the physical play of the Bullets had ground him down. Picquery had them working on stamina; scrambling around the net as the power forward dogged Credence’s step, shoving at him, legs tangling, sticks overlapping, unrelenting pressure as they fought for the puck.
“Graves,” Picquery called and he turned away.
He only skated for twenty minutes or so before they finished and stood talking with Picquery about how his wrist felt after the work-out. He only noticed Credence’s approach by the sound of his skates. The rookie waited politely for them to finish talking, shifting back and forth on his skates.
“Percival.” He chewed his lower lip. “Tizzy-- ah-- we were talking about going for pancakes after practice. There’s a diner on the Strip that makes really big ones? He said you’re probably busy but…”
Graves glanced from Credence’s hopeful face to Theseus’ jerseyed back, the 22 marked in yellow between his shoulders. The power forward was heading towards the locker room without waiting to see the results of the conversation and Graves felt his stomach twist in remorse. “Yeah, sure. If nothing comes up, Tizzy had said in the hospital room without even looking up when Graves had suggested doing the same thing. And now Credence standing here, waiting for a response even as he reported He said you’re probably busy, but…
He had no one to blame but himself, after all. He’d broken Theseus’ heart that night at the waterfall, told him he wanted to focus on hockey when a miracle had happened and they ended up on the same team again. Theseus had asked and offered and all but begged for his time, for his attention and well---
He’d been a jackass.
“Percival?” Credence asked.
Graves shook his head to clear it. “Yeah. Let’s go. We’ll have to stop by an ATM though. Diane’s only takes cash.”
I called you mamour, Perce. But we were just stupid kids, Theseus had said and Graves wondered if there was a way to make up for nine years of being colossally stupid. If there was, though, it apparently started with pancakes.
Pancakes the size of dinner plates. Graves stared at the plates their server had just set down in front of him. Well, really, at the pancakes. Diane’s apparently had ninety different flavors of pancakes, all of which came as a stack of two, large enough that they dangled over the edge of the plate they arrived on.
“You know, I probably could have ordered for you,” Theseus teased Credence. “You’re a little predictable.”
“What’s wrong with liking peanut butter?” Credence protested.
“Nothing. Tizzy’s just jealous cause yours looks better than his,” Graves said and reached across the table to steal a piece of bacon.
“Putain! Order your own bacon!” Theseus threatened him with a fork.
“Pfft. Didn’t your mother teach you to share?” Graves said, catching Credence’s eye as he deliberately provoked the power forward.
“Not with bratty Americans! I swear to God, Perce--”
Credence was in sync with what Graves was thinking off the ice as he was on, sitting forward casually and then carving a chunk off of Theseus’ pancakes when the other man was concerned about the bacon.
“I hate both of you so much.” Theseus sat back in the booth and crossed his arms.
“You’re going to begrudge the poor underpaid rookie some pancakes?” Graves asked.
“He’s cute. He can have as many pancakes as he wants,” Theseus retorted. “You’re just egging him on though.”
Credence went scarlet and Graves hid his smile-- and his stress-- behind his coffee cup. Why was this so easy as long as he didn’t think about it? He wasn’t jealous; if he wasn’t, wouldn’t it have flared right then? you do what--or who--you need to do to keep your head in the game. And if that’s Theseus or your winger or the both of them, well. That’s what you do, his father had said but…
He shook his head to clear it. “Sorry. What?”
“How’s your hand?” Credence asked again. “Do you know when you’ll be able to play?”
“Padded to within an inch of its life.” Graves held it up. “And probably not against the Bullets. When we advance? Against Ottawa or Montreal? Probably.”
“I hope so. I did what you said. Emailed Coach Clarkson, put him in touch with Kowalski in PR. He’s gonna come for our second home game if we advance to the conference championships. And---” he bit his lip, the blush that still hadn’t faded from Theseus’ flattery darkening further. “I think he’d like it. To see us play together.”
Graves felt something warm curl in his stomach. “Then I’ll do my best,” he promised.
They lingered in the diner, pancakes-- and another order of bacon-- demolished, coffee refilled, but Theseus eventually pointed out that they should let the restaurant turn their table over. It was warm when they left, afternoon sun streaked with wispy clouds.
“Perce,” Theseus touched his wrist. “...how much longer are you free?”
There was something tentative on his friend’s face and it gave Graves hope as much as it hurt. But it was a chance, dear God, it was a chance and Graves had played hockey too long not to know that you took the shot the second you saw a clear line to the back of the net.
“All day,” Graves promised and gestured to Credence with his head. “You wanna show the rookie the Strip?”
The hesitation bloomed into a grin. “Of course.”
They spent the day on the Strip. They walked through the farmer’s market, tried fresh cut cantaloupe from one of the farms only a few miles outside the city. In a spice emporium, a startled Credence discovered that tea came loose and in more flavors than just black and let the smiling cashier talk him into buying a few samples: peach oolong, jasmine green, and a gingerbread black studded with orange peel, cinnamon bark and ginger root. At Monongahela Roasters, Graves doggedly tried to convince Theseus to buy a burr grinder until Theseus leaned close and muttered maybe I like my coffee best fresh out of your bed, mmm? and Graves had gone scarlet and stopped trying.
They went into an old-fashioned candy store next, aisles narrow and choked with bins of gummies, chocolates, hard candies and lollipops. In the back, there was a wall of glass soda bottles ranging from the innocuous-- cream soda, Mexican Coca-Cola with real sugar-- to the absolutely absurd. Ranch dressing. Pickle juice. Bacon. Buffalo Wing. Theseus was delighted and insisted on buying two bottles of the ranch-flavored soda, one to inflict on the rest of the team and another for the three of them to try right away.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Credence caught Graves’ arm and dragged the older man back when he tried to escape. “If I had to drink this, so do you.”
“I hate you both so much,” Graves said but took the bottle when Theseus offered it to him. It smelled like someone had left blue cheese in a defensemen’s locker during the entire off-season. One who logged a lot of ice time.
Theseus smiled serenely. “Then you shouldn’t have stolen my bacon.”
“Cheers,” Graves said and forced himself to drink. It was….actually not bad? The taste didn’t correspond to the smell at all-- vaguely coconut, cloying sweet. “....that was interesting.”
“So we’re never doing that again?” Credence offered, still making a face at the lingering blue-cheese-and-plastic smell. “And we’re definitely making the rest of the team try it.”
Theseus dropped the half-drunk soda in the trash and clapped Credence on the arm. “Good man.”
As they turned to head back up to the Strip, Credence suddenly burst out laughing, the sound clear and surprised, like his own laughter was startling to him.
“Theseus. Percival. Look.”
A street vendor’s tables and displays sprawled along the edge of the building in an absolute riot of red and gold. Macusa Monarch gear: t-shirts and hats, shot glasses and pucks and-- occupying pride of place, hung up from the red plastic awning-- their jerseys. T. Scamander and his 22, Graves’ own 11.
“Give it a year, maybe two and yours’ll be up there with us,” Graves told Credence, but glanced to Theseus when the other man touched his arm.
Theseus gave him a little shove and there was something gentle to his smile. “Don’t you owe him a jersey?”
Graves felt heat rush into his cheeks, remembering the team dinner weeks ago. You’re my favorite player, Percival. I didn’t watch hockey as a kid but I do now, Credence had said and Sophie had sassed both of them.
Think you owe him a signed jersey, Percival.
“--would you even want one?”
“I--- yeah.” Credence was as flushed as Graves, head down and sneakered toe scuffing against the sidewalk. “If that’s...not weird. I mean, they’re probably expensive--”
“I’d be happy too,” Graves answered and why had his throat gone so tight? “And I’ll sign it. If you want.” Was that too arrogant?
He didn’t get a chance to hear the answer before one of Tizzy’s hand settled on his back, the other on Credence.
”Vous êtes tous les deux des andouilles,” Theseus told them with a vaguely exasperated air-- and as if either of them had any idea what that meant--- before firmly guiding them both of them across the street towards the vendor.
The vendor stared at them in bafflement for a few moments as Theseus explained they wanted a jersey.
“You don’t...get those for free?” he finally managed quizzically.
Graves finally managed to speak. “We do,” he explained. “This isn’t to play in. It’s--- We’re buying my jersey for him. And do you have a Sharpie I could borrow?”
Still baffled, the man handed over both the jersey and Sharpie when Graves had paid him. Credence pulled it on, turned his back so Graves could write on it. P.G. Graves he scrawled across the golden 11, and he couldn’t help the strange sense of possessive warmth at the idea of Credence wearing his jersey, his numbers.
He glanced up in time to see Theseus take a picture of both of them.
Theseus shrugged. “He steals your place on the line and now your jersey? I thought it was funny.”
“I’m not--” Credence started to protest before he saw Tizzy’s grin. His chin went up in mischief and challenge. “No way I could replace the captain. Some mouthy second liner, though? No sweat.”
Theseus burst into delighted laughter. “Minou, you can come give me a workout whenever you want,” he said.
Minou. Mamour. Tizzy’s handsome mobile face, hopeful outside the diner, hurting in Graves’ hospital room. Sweet and lost with his lips on Credence in the staircase. Laughing now as he pulled Credence against him for a moment. Credence with the fast feet and the fucked up hands, Instagrams of ice cream with I wish pggraves was here. Astride him in a hospital bed as the raspy breath turned into a needy whine that Graves somehow could still hear. Teasing and laughing and wearing his numbers.
Graves snapped to and realize his heart was racing. His breath was coming hard and his hands were clammy like when he knew that a fourth-line goon was looking to hit him.
What was he doing right now? With Credence? With Theseus? With both of them?
Theseus was looking at him quizzically. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” he said automatically. “Yeah. I just--- my wrist. It just started to hurt a lot. I think I’m gonna go get Nora to check it out.”
“Do you want one or both of us to come with you? If it’s bothering you--”
“I’m fine. I--- you two stay here. There’s a cat cafe down the street; you should check it out.” He couldn’t bear Credence’s concern. Not right now. “I’ll just--”
The Monarchs played the next day--- a home game this time, another chance to finish up this series and end the Bullets’ season for good. It felt strange for Graves to get to the rink so late, to make his way upstairs onto the mezzanine and into the owner’s suite, to be staying in his suit and tie rather than changing into jersey and pads. But he wouldn’t be cleared to play until sometime next week at the earliest.
“Percy!” Mr. Lane spread his arms in greeting. “How’s the Shelby?”
“Still handles like a dream. How’s the Ferrari?” He’d been expected, apparently and one of the staff members handed him two fingers of brandy. Camus-- he could tell the brand by the smell. They must have brought it up to the box specifically.
“Enjoying her extended driving season.” Lane came over and clinked glasses with him. “Surprised not to see you here earlier.”
“...didn’t want to distract them, make anyone think I was suiting up,” Graves lied into his glass. He’d come late, silenced his phone before the inevitable text from Theseus, wondering where he was, wanting the stabilizing force of the tradition--- but Graves couldn’t stabilize anyone right now, not even himself.
The Zamboni machines were moving back and forth, smoothing the ice as the spectators filed in, a mass of red-and-gold, a packed house for a play-off game. Graves had never actually seen the stadium from this angle when it was full. It looked alive in a way and without thinking he pulled his phone from his back pocket to take a picture. It seemed like the thing Tizzy or Credence would like---
He had text messages. One from Credence earlier this morning, asking how his wrist was feeling and if Graves was going to come down to the locker room during the game. The rest were from Theseus.
Tizzy: Don’t see your car. Should I wait for you?
Tizzy: I guess not.
Tizzy: You know, it’s fine if you don’t want to come early to a game you’re not playing in. It’d probably be weird to have to hang around and wait. But tell me? It’s not fair; it’s not funny and being left standing in a garage by my best friend is a shitty feeling to start a game with.
Graves winced and swiped the messaging app shut. What else had he expected but Tizzy’s disappointment? He’d let him down again, so caught up in his own confusion about what to do Theseus and Credence and whatever emotions had left him babbling and retreating. Not being able to play had made it worse. At least if he had suited up, there would have been something to hold onto, a role to fall back on. Center, captain, first line, hockey player. Falling so easily in sync with Credence; knowing Theseus like he knew his own skin-- those things were virtues on the ice. It made them unstoppable but now? He was floundering. Off-sides.
He had an alert from Instagram too-- he’d been tagged in something and he was about to dismiss the message when he saw the picture. Credence was wearing his numbers, dark curly hair wind-blown around his face as he glanced back at Graves signing the jersey. The rookie had a soft, almost disbelieving smile on his face; Graves himself was chewing his lip in concentration.
It was the picture Theseus had taken yesterday of the two of them and written underneath was his caption:
sohelpmescamander: @credenceb67 and @pggraves. Two of my favorite people in the world.
God he didn’t deserve Theseus Scamander. And somehow the idiot still wanted him.
“Something the matter, Percy?” Mr. Lane asked.
Graves put his phone away. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
The Monarchs were lining up to go on the ice by the time he reached them. Coach Picquery arched an eyebrow when she saw him slip inside.
“...I just need Tizzy and Credence for a minute,” he promised and gestured them to the locker room once Picquery nodded terse permission.
Without the team crowded and bickering in their stalls, the space felt surreal and empty. It made Graves feel small and ill-at-ease, a feeling exacerbated by the relative size difference. Tizzy had always been tall and even Credence had an inch or so on him. Now though, with helmets, skates and pads in the mix, they looked like soldiers. Sentinels.
In Theseus’ case, a scowling one. “Perce, what the hell--”
Graves hooked his fingers in Theseus’ chin strap, pulled his head down and kissed him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry for today; I’m sorry for all of it, Tizz.”
Theseus’ eyes had gone wide and all of the anger had dropped from his mobile, handsome face, to be replaced with something like astonishment and hope. Graves didn’t give him time to speak though, didn’t even release his grip on his chinstrap before reaching for Credence.
“You must be nervous too.”
“Less now,” Credence said and glanced past Graves for a moment. Whatever he’d read off Theseus steadied him and he stepped close. “But tradition is tradition?”
The kiss was as brief as it was sincere; Graves could hear the stadium-shaking bass thrum of the music that usually heralded their introduction.
“Go,” he said. “Light ‘em up. Both of you.” His fingers still curled around Theseus’ chinstrap, Credence’s hand on his waist. “And this---- we’ll figure out how this shit works in the off-season.”
For a moment, there was something like astonishment and hope on Theseus’ face before he grinned and he started the exchange.
”Bonne chance, capitaine.”
“Don’t punch anyone, Tizz.”
“Only the ones who deserve it.”
And then, as if he’d been there all along, Credence’s voice. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Hope everyone's holidays were happy! Let me know what you think in the comments!
Chapter 8: Coach
“...you wanna tell me what Gel did?” Clarkson asked and Graves had to bite back the to who. To his father, when he’d broken Godwin Graves’ foot so badly he even now walked with a limp, relied on a cane? To Graves himself, when he’d probably convinced Robert Merino to send him headfirst into the boards? Or to Credence?
I got told it enough. And it got into my head. Credence who didn’t think Clarkson, the coach who still watched all of his games, had wanted anything more to do with him. Credence who cringed when Grindelwald put a hand next to his head, who couldn’t believe his place on the first line had anything to do with his own talent.
CN: panic attack (not from the POV character)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They had clawed a series victory away from the Bullets-- a nail-biting overtime game that had erupted into a brawl at the final buzzer. Theseus had come into the locker room with a grin so bright it was only outshone by the brilliant crimson of his split and bleeding lip.
“Scamander, you understand you are suspended if you so much as look at Marino again?” Picquery had asked askance.
“‘S’alright, Picq,” Theseus managed to answer around the ice he currently had pressed to his mouth. “Punched Oleksy instead.”
“Your extracurricular activities aside,” Picquery began and glanced at her phone. “Unless Ottawa does the impossible in the next three minutes of game time, we’ll be playing Montreal for the conference championship. Queenie, Theseus, you’ve got post-game interviews. Barebone, Kowalski from PR wants to talk to you. Head on up.”
Graves took his seat in the locker room, waiting for Theseus to finish with the media and for Credence to meet with Kowalski. It was good to be back; he could close his eyes and listen to the chatter after a game. Newt and Tina were planning a prank that he probably should but wasn’t going to warn TJ about. Sophie and Queenie were talking about perfume. The equipment manager was collecting up gloves, sticks, skates.
“Team dinner?” Sophie asked him as they were packing up to leave. “We have the back room at Elio’s.”
“Yeah. Just gonna wait for Credence and Tizz.”
Sophie said goodbye and left. The locker room slowly went quiet; Newt and Tina left next, then Maddie and T.J. Queenie came and went and well, until finally Theseus came back. He settled down next to him, red hair still damp from the shower, the soft citrus of his shampoo still faintly distinguishable over the Gatorade and sweat of the locker room.
“Four more games,” Theseus said after a moment. “Or more.”
“Or more,” Graves echoed. They had bought themselves two weeks, maybe a little less. The playoffs were determined by best-of-seven series. Even if they imploded against Montreal and lost every game, even if their season ended there, they had four more games.
For...whatever this was. With the three of them.
They were quiet for another long moment, sitting so close that their shoulders brushed and Graves could feel the warmth off the power forward’s skin.
“In the interest of transparency,” Theseus said softly. “I did kiss him when we were in Washington. And he slept in my bed.”
“I’m glad,” Graves said. He was surprised at his own sincerity. It had been one thing to see the Instagram picture, the ice cream sundaes, Credence’s I wish @pggraves was here and know that Theseus had been taken care of the winger after an bruising game. It was another entirely to hear Theseus admit that he’d kissed Credence, shared a bed with him. Still, he was glad. He was frustrated too; he wished he’d been there rather than the hospital, but he wished he’d been there too. Not in lieu of.
“Good. Didn’t want to overstep and he was still...figuring out how being interested in multiple people worked.”
“You’re remarkably calm about all of this.” Graves glanced over at Theseus. The other man’s eyes were half-lidded, resting at ease next to him in his suit and tie.
“We have done this before.”
Theseus’ eyes flicked open. “You do remember I was still sleeping with you the entire time I was dating Abel, right?”
“I--Yes.” Graves hadn’t been that foolish. He had asked when he knew Theseus and the photographer had started to see each other, offered to step back, to change traditions. “I just always thought that was just--”
“Just hockey.” Theseus’ voice had gone hard. He pushed off the bench, starting to move and Graves knew that he was hurting too much to stay still, seeking comfort in motion. “I would smack you if you weren’t still concussed.”
“Fine. I’m very used to being attached to multiple people, at least,” Theseus snapped. “And you can go fuck yourself.”
“I’m sorry,” Graves said, watching his best friend pace without responding and knowing it wasn’t enough. He stood anyway, for all the good it did.
“Did you even mean it?” Theseus hadn’t come any closer but he’d turned to face him at least and there was something raw and painful in his face. “What you said before the game? Or was that just hockey too?”
“I did,” Graves answered. He never quite hated their height difference quite so much as when Theseus was angry. The power forward always straightened; his full height seemed even taller.
“Right.” Theseus snorted. “And I’m gonna move to Vegas and captain a new team. Ought to. Get the fuck away from you.”
“Tizz, please.” Graves stepped into his path. The only words he had were his father’s. “Listen to me. We won the lottery when we both ended up here. And then we won it again when Lane signed us to the kind of contracts we have. And I was an idiot not to have realized it.”
“What?” Theseus stared at him, mercurial face trading anger for confusion. “Fuck. Perce. I--you told me no. You told me we had to focus on building this team, that Picquery would flay us and make jerseys for our replacements out of it. I don’t--”
“I saw you with Credence.”
“You were there. Of course you did.”
“No.” Graves pushed a hand through his hair; it was still perfectly in place, the gel intact rather than sweated away after playing more than twenty minutes per game. It was jarring, unsettling. It didn’t help. “I saw you with Credence. I don’t remember the last time I saw you that-- at ease? The fire alarms would have gone off and you wouldn’t have heard them. And I miss that. I miss having that with you. I miss you, I guess and I know that makes no sense--”
Theseus put him out of his misery-- and back against the wall of the locker room-- with a kiss.
”Crisse que tu me manques,” Theseus muttered against his mouth and Graves knew enough French to understand he was being sworn at, but it didn’t matter. Theseus was here, mouth persistent and stabilizing and familiar in a way that made Graves’ heart hammer and forget they were still in the locker room.
The height difference felt fine now. Theseus had him pressed between his own body and the wall, stick-callused hands sliding inside his suit jacket to at least get one layer closer to his skin. It The power forward nipped at his lower lip, asking Graves to open up. All he could do was comply. They’d won the lottery when they’d been drafted by the same team; won it again when Picquery signed them both to multi-year, no-move contracts. Graves had been blind to the possibility, to the hope that had gave, but now, somehow, he’d won the lottery again.
Tizzy, somehow, still wanted him.
They were both panting, their lips damp when they broke away. Theseus pressed one last kiss against the corner of Graves’ mouth and offered a fond smile as he leaned his forehead against the other man’s.
”Carrément une andouille.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“You’re a sausage, Perce. Dumb like a sausage,” Theseus answered. His smile crinkled the edges of his eyes. “But you’re a very pretty one, so I guess I’m keeping you.”
“I’m a...sausage,” Graves echoed slowly.
“I swear to God, if you make a dick joke right now, I’m filling your Mustang with packing peanuts.”
“Like I’d give you the keys.”
“You leave them hanging in your locker during practice.” Credence’s voice interrupted them.
Jealousy was not an emotion that Graves was going to have to reckon with. Embarrassment absolutely was. He could feel his face growing red.
“Hi, Credence,” he got out and was vaguely gratified to see that Credence had turned faintly red as well. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough?” Credence waved a hand. “But, ah. Don’t stop on my account?”
Theseus grinned. “You’re a wonder, minou.”
“How am I the only one who’s going to have to get used to this?” Graves asked.
“Because I spent two years in therapy unlearning absolutely everything about who I was and what I wanted,” Credence said. Graves’ heart hurt when he noticed Credence had unconsciously hid his hands behind his back when he spoke. “Figuring out the difference between what I think and what I got told is habit at this point.”
“Oh?” Theseus said.
“Yeah. I don’t---wanna talk about it right now,” Credence said, chewing on his lower lip. “I-- I’m having a good day. We won; we’re gonna keep playing. I got to kiss both of you. I just want to enjoy it.”
“Fair enough,” Theseus conceded. “What did Kowalski want to talk to you about?”
Credence smiled; his hands came out from behind his back and the pain in Graves’ chest eased a little. “That’s the other good thing. Coach-- sorry, Coach Clarkson, my high school hockey coach. He’s gonna fly in for one of the home games.”
“That’s excellent,” Graves said. Good. Credence had looked crushed when he’d realized why he’d lost touch with the older man. “Tell us when? We’ll take him out to dinner afterwards-- unless you’d rather just the two of you?”
“No. I think he’d really like that,” Credence said and then checked his phone. “But we should get going before the team decides lateness is a reason to get stuck with the bill.”
Theseus led the way out of the locker room. When Credence turned to follow, Graves stopped him for a moment.
“Clarkson’s going to be proud of you,” Graves said and reached out to take one of his hands, turning it palm up. Silver lines etched across it like a fortune Credence had rejected. Graves pressed a kiss right into the middle. “And I already am.”
It was their second game against the Montreal Shield and it had already gotten ugly. Even through his pads, Graves’ ribs were aching from a particularly hard hit earlier in the second period. He supposed it wasn’t surprising; the stakes were even higher now. The team that won this series went to the Stanley Cup.
He’d settled into playing left wing to Credence’s center, even it if was strange to spend the faceoffs with Trisha Brennan glowering down at him.
“Hey, Brennan. Your coach know you’re out here?” he asked as Credence and Jacob Drew squared off.
“Does your doctor?”
“Under strict orders to take it easy.” Graves grinned. “Why they paired me with you.”
The puck dropped; Drew and Credence collided, skates pushing, carving slivers of snow up with their blades. Credence hooked it, bounced the puck off his own skate and then they were off, scrambling into the Shield’s zone. The first shot bounced off the goalie’s skates. TJ dove for the rebound, tangled up with a Montreal defensive player. He went down but the puck stayed loose. Newt came in close and fired. Another shot, another rebound. Another shot; an ugly scrum around the net. An elbow went into Graves’ ribs; he cracked Jacob Drew across the shins with a stick.
Graves’ heart was pounding. His breath came hard. Hockey was played at a sprint; even elite players usually spent around fifty seconds on the ice. Graves and his line? They’d been out for more than a minute. They needed to change but they were so close, grinding and shoving and forcing the Montreal goalie to make desperate saves. They were so close.
Graves missed the rebound.
The puck slid free. The Monarchs were too committed. Even Newt and Tina, their defense, had closed up around the net. Graves could see the drifting puck, Trisha Brennan sprinting for it, and the two hundred feet of open, empty ice between her and Queenie, alone in front of their net.
They were fucked--- but Credence got there first, twisting mid-stride to bring the puck around and hammer it back into the fracas in front of the net. And then the goal horn went off.
Credence’s howl of delight made Graves forget his exhaustion as the Monarchs buried Credence against the boards, fists rapping on his helmet before they lined up to bump fists with the teammates and finally, gratefully get off the ice.
“Well done, Barebone,” Picquery glanced up from the iPad to say. “First NHL goal, isn’t it? We’ll be getting that puck to you after the game.”
Credence’s sweat-damp grin shone like the floodlights.
The locker room was riotous. Credence and TJ were talking rapid-fire, shucking pads and jerseys, snapping plastic sleeves over the razor-sharp blades of their skates. Ever-protective Tina was complaining about Montreal’s second goal.
“How was that not goaltender interference? Brennan was practically on top of you!”
“Teenie, don’t worry about it so much,” Queenie answered. “I’m alright and you guys got the next goal.”
“I’ll keep this brief-- we’ll go over the video tomorrow morning. Good grit; good hustle. Barebone--” and she tossed the game puck to him, newly cleaned with hs name and the game date on it--”and Graves, you’re doing after-game interviews. Little Scamander-- Vane wants to check out your ankle after that blocked shot.”
“I have a first name!” Newt protested.
“You do, sweetie. It’s Little,” Queenie chirped so beatifically that it left Newt speechless.
Graves snorted and tapped Credence’s shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s get going.”
The press was the press; enamored with the shy rookie with his first NHL goal, happy to hear about a win. Near the end, Graves was fielding a question about his surgery and when he’d be able to reclaim his place in the faceoff circle when he heard Credence’s voice.
“Coach?” and there was no way that voice, high and joyful and painfully young, would ever be for Seraphina Picquery. Credence Barebone called one person Coach with that capital C: Greg Clarkson.
It took Graves a moment to wrap up his interview and make his way over, but he could hear Credence talking faster than he’d ever heard him before.
“Coach, this is Percival.” Credence pulled him over by an elbow.
“Graves, right?” Clarkson asked, extending his hand to shake. “You’re--”
“Godwin’s son, yes,” Graves answered before Clarkson could even finish his sentence. Clarkson, like Gellert Grindelwald, was a certain age, of the generation of players before them. He was just going to be Winzer’s little boy and live with it.
Clarkson’s mouth quirked. “I was gonna say the captain. But I bet you get that a lot, huh.”
Graves liked him just for that. Clarkson was around his height, hair short-cropped to hide the grey, with a weathered tan and the hoarse voice of someone who probably smoked more than was good for them. Hockey was a sport that chewed people up and spat them out, often with no degree and a handful of concussions to show for it.
“A pleasure.” Graves shook his hand. “You sent us a hell of an ace.”
“I think your people at Wilkes-Barre had something to do with that,” Clarkson said.
“I like to think we did.” Gellert’s hand settled heavily on Credence’s shoulder as the offensive coordinator joined the conversation.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches and I’m very grateful to all of them,” Credence said, sudden strain in his voice. “Which--ah, that reminds me--” He turned to fish something out of his pocket, shaking Gellert’s hand off his shoulder as he did so. “I want you to have this.”
He held out the game puck to Clarkson.
“You sure, Credence?” Clarkson took the puck from him with care, turning it over to examine it, the scuffed golden crown with the MACUSA Monarchs banner, the stick tape wrapped around the edges with the details: Barebone (66): first NHL goal vs. MTL.
“Yeah.” Credence bit his lip. “I know I haven’t...really been in touch like I should and--”
“Which is really a shame, Credence,” Gellert drawled idly. Every muscle in Graves’ body tensed but Credence beat him to it.
“You don’t get to---” Credence spun to face him and bit off his sentence when he realized they were still standing in the media room, that not all the reporters had left. He swallowed hard,
offered an obviously fake smile. “Can I talk to you in the locker room, sir? Percival, can you take Coach to meet Tizzy and TJ?”
“Credence,” Graves said.
“Please,” and there was enough edge to his voice that Graves knew it was an order and obeyed.
“C’mon. Let me introduce you,” Graves said, taking Clarkson out of the room. “TJ’s--”
“Your other winger, right?” Clarkson offered a shrug by way of explanation. “I do watch his games. Easier now that he’s NHL.”
“He’s a good winger. Fast as hell,” Graves answered. “You did a lot for him.”
Clarkson looked him over, clearly thinking and Graves knew what he was doing: assessing, trying to decide how much he knew.
“Skinny kid with the fast feet and the fucked-up hands,” he paraphrased softly. “You had to, didn’t you?”
“It was bad.” Clarkson’s shoulders slumped a little and he leaned back against the wall, glancing back towards the press room. “It ain’t my story to tell and I don’t know how much he’d want me to, but…”
“I’m grateful. And so is he, I’m sure,” Graves said.
“I oughta be. He looks so much better than he did. Never thought I’d see him...talk back like that,” Clarkson shook his head and then sighed. “...you wanna tell me what Gel did?”
Graves had to bite back the to who. To his father, when he’d broken Godwin Graves’ foot so badly he even now walked with a limp, relied on a cane? To Graves himself, when he’d probably convinced Robert Merino to send him headfirst into the boards? Or to Credence?
I got told it enough. And it got into my head. Credence who didn’t think Clarkson, the coach who still watched all of his games, had wanted anything more to do with him. Credence who cringed when Grindelwald put a hand next to his head, who couldn’t believe his place on the first line had anything to do with his own talent.
“I don’t think that’s my story to tell either,” Graves finally said. “But you two should talk. It was kind of him to invite Theseus and TJ and I to dinner with you, but you should make sure you get a chance to talk to him alone.”
Clarkson nodded. “I will.”
They kept walking, meeting up with Theseus and TJ in the garage to wait. Clarkson and Graves talked about the Mustang; all of them talked shop. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen and Graves was fishing out his phone to call when he saw Credence emerge, back curved under his duct-taped duffel bag, hands hidden in the pockets of his ill-fitting suit.
“Credence?” Graves was already starting towards him, the others trailing in his wake.
“Hi. Uh.” Credence swallowed hard, Adam’s apple tracking a line down his throat. “Would it-- would it be alright if we cancelled our reservation? We could order pizza or-- I don’t know. You’re all welcome to come to the hotel, I just--”
Graves stopped listening. Credence had taken his hand out of his pockets to fidget convulsively with the straps of his bag. The knuckles of his left hand were bloodied.
Graves reached for his hand, but Credence snatched it back and shoved it into his pocket with a panicky exhale.
“I’m sorry; I--- that wasn’t a-- we weren’t-- we didn’t get into a fight. I punched a wall. Which I haven’t done in over a year and I’m not proud of it and I know it’s bad for my hands and--” The torrent of words pouring out of Credence was only broken by a moment of bitter, near hysterical laughter. “---it would be too stupid to let him fracture both of our wrists…”
“Wait, what?” TJ interrupted. “He had something to do with Merino’s hit?”
“Perce?” Theseus had waded in now, voice worried and budding with anger.
“Wait. Robert Merino? The goon for the Bullets? Credence, what are you--” Clarkson interjected.
“I’m sorry!” Credence covered his mouth with his bloodied hand, cringing in the din of five men talking over each other echoing and colliding in the concrete garage. “I know. I didn’t mean to say--”
Graves realized in a heartbeat that the young man was about to start crying.
“Credence,” he said again and reached for him, slowly this time and ignoring everyone else. He didn’t know what to do, how to help beyond a vague idea that the racket couldn’t be helping him. “Credence, it’s alright. Tell me what to do to help you.”
With a broken sound, Credence buried his face in Graves’ neck and everyone else fell silent.
This was not how Graves imagined getting to run his fingers through Credence’s loose curling black hair, note the slight roughness that came from constant sweat, constant going from the ice to the shower and back to the ice. It was still faintly damp, too, the faint scent of shampoo detectable through the gasoline scent of the garage.
Still, no one was speaking and Graves realized they were waiting for him to be the captain.
“Tizz, call Over the Edge and cancel our table,” he said, then bent his head a little to speak in Credence’s ear. “Credence. Do you want me to take you home? Call you a cab? You don’t have to--”
“No. I just--” Credence’s voice was muffled against his neck. “Coach’s come all this way. I just don’t want to be in public. You, Theseus, TJ, Coach. You’re all fine.”
“Okay. Do you want to go back to your hotel room? Or we can go to my apartment.”
“Yours. There aren’t chairs for everyone in my hotel room.”
“TJ and I can go to Pacelli’s, pick up sandwiches,” Theseus volunteered, having rejoined the group after making the phone call like he’d been bid. “Uh-- Greg? Did you want to come with us or go with Perce and Credence?”
“Don’t think three of us and their bags’ll fit in that car,” Clarkson admitted with clear reluctance.
“Go with them,” Graves said and met the man’s gaze. “I’ll take care of him.”
Clarkson nodded and turned to go with Theseus and TJ. Eventually, in the distance, Graves could hear the sound of car doors opening and closing, the engine starting.
He stood with Credence in the silence and stillness of the garage for a long, long time.
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