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Break Free

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It wasn’t as if Credence hadn’t dreamed of leaving. He’d had hundreds of fantasies about running away, how turning eighteen would change everything, or being swept up by some handsome man who would give him the kind of life he wanted, miles and miles away from Mary Lou Barebone. But they had just been fantasies. In reality, he would never have dared to run away, he hadn’t been brave enough before or after his eighteenth birthday, and particularly not with a man. He barely allowed himself to talk to anyone outside of Church, let alone the type of man he fantasised about. If such a man had ever attended Church, he would surely be Satan in disguise.

But it was Credence who had Satan inside him. He was the corrupted one, the sinner, the creature sent from Hell to corrupt the innocent people around him, and it didn’t matter that he didn’t mean to. He couldn’t be allowed to stay, not in the Church or in a house with children. So he was left with just a single bag, no money, and nowhere to go. It wasn’t as if Mary Lou had ever given him an allowance, or the time to get a job. He hadn’t even been allowed to attend school, instead being taught by Mary Lou herself and his older sister Chastity, sat on the floor in their living room, so he had never even had a chance to make the kind of friends he had read about in the books he wasn’t supposed to have read. His time was to be dedicated to serving his mother, his Church and his God. Except his mother, his Church and his God didn’t want him anymore. But perhaps he didn’t want them either.

Alright, so it wasn’t technically running away when he had already been exiled and excommunicated, but he had no desire to return to them. Surely having nothing would be better than being beaten every day, and while he didn’t exactly have any means of getting food, he’d gone hungry at home before. Mary Lou had locked up the fridge and worn the key around her neck alongside her cross for as long as he could remember, and he’d been denied food more times than he could count. Anger boiled inside him, and he kicked a loose bit of pavement hard. Fuck Mary Lou, fuck her Church, and fuck God. He could send Credence to Hell if He wanted, it didn’t matter anymore. Why should he try to redeem himself if he was already too tainted to be saved? It felt like he was already in Hell, anyway. Credence was done trying to be good. It didn’t matter. He was evil, disgusting, beyond redemption anyway, even if he tried to be good.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been walking or where he was, only that his legs ached, he was tired, and it was growing dark around him. Just a few feet ahead was a bench, and never before had a few faintly grimy planks of wood looked so inviting. People slept on benches, didn’t they? He was fairly sure he’d heard about those homeless, sinning junkies and whores taking refuge on benches overnight from Mary Lou, and he may not be a junkie yet, but she had told him in no uncertain terms he was a homeless, sinning whore. If a virgin can be a whore, anyway. He wasn’t entirely sure where to find the line between sexual deviance and whoreism. Not that it mattered, really. Why shouldn’t he become an all out whore? It might kill him and he might be eternally damned for it, but what did that matter? It was probably all he was good for now. It wasn’t as if he had much of a chance of earning enough money to get off the street any other way. Or maybe he would freeze to death out on the bench, and wouldn’t have to think about eating at all. Or starve before he learnt how people actually became whores in the first place.

As it happened, he awoke what felt like only a few seconds later to the first rays of dawn, having apparently been left to his unconventional resting place by any passing strangers. Which was a win in one sense, but it did now mean that he had to think about breakfast. It seemed like he had two choices: beg or steal. Both were sins, of course, but it would have to be a matter of which he felt would be the lesser evil. Or, more accurately, which he felt that he would be better at. Probably begging, then. He looked pitiful enough, a scrawny nineteen year old with a pale face and all his worldly possessions in a single small satchel. So he moved to the side of the street and curled in on himself as he looked up hopefully at the people passing by, most of whom seemed to be pretending that he didn’t exist. “Spare change? Excuse me, ma’am, do you have any spare change?” he asked, over and over until his throat felt hoarse and dry. It was almost good, in a bizarre way, that Mary Lou had trained him so well to go without food and water for extended periods. It made the whole experience a little more bearable.

In the end, he managed to scrape together just over two dollars by mid afternoon, which was just enough to find an old cafe and buy himself a sandwich and a big bottle of water. It also meant he got to use their bathroom, and to surreptitiously wash himself with barely functional toilet paper and some hand soap. Not the best, but it was better than nothing. He couldn’t expect much more, at least not until he had learnt his way around this new life. Perhaps if he could stick to just having lunch each day, he could save up enough to get some proper soap and a few extra luxuries.

This idea, however, did not go to plan.

On his third night of saving the afternoon’s earnings, he had settled down on his bench to sleep when a sharp shove drew him sharply out of the drowsiness. He shrunk back instinctively, his eyes screwed up. For a mad moment, he thought that Mary Lou had returned to punish him, even now he was out of her house for good. But it was not her.

The man before him was clearly one of the junkies Mary Lou had always spoken about. He had wild grey hair and looked faintly dirty, with unfocused eyes and - oh, dear God, that was a knife. He was holding a knife and Credence was sure he was about to die.

“You got money, kid?” the man growled, and Credence nodded, his eyes wide and fixed upon the man’s shaking hands. “Gimme. And gimme the bench. Or this-” He raised the knife slightly, “goes there.” He gestured towards Credence’s abdomen, and Credence didn’t doubt him for a second.

“I… Please,” he whispered, but the man just shook his head.

“Money.”

And with shaking hands, Credence pulled the selection of coins out of his pocket. But while lying with a sin, he deliberately missed a few out as he handed the rest over to the terrifying man. There wasn’t much more he could do wrong at this point, anyway.

“That all of it?”

Credence nodded mutely, and the man seemed satisfied. “Get off. This is my spot,” he said harshly, and Credence didn’t dare point out that he had spent four nights on it without this man claiming it as his own. Instead, he grabbed his bag and ran off into the night. He wanted to cry. A strange, hopeless feeling was overcoming him and it was all he could do to keep going. In reality, it was fear and fear alone that kept him upright and rushing through the streets.

He didn’t sleep that night, and the very next day, he resolved to save up for a knife of his own.

As time went on, Credence grew smarter about his sleeping spots. More secluded was better, but always near a cheap cafe with a bathroom. He’d noticed that the days on which he looked cleanest were the days on which he got the most money, although it was nowhere near enough even when he looked his best. And worst of all, a patchy beard was starting to grow on his face and he had left his razor at home, leaving him with no way to shave it. That certainly led to a drop in his income. People liked giving money to innocent looking children, not scruffy men, no matter how clean they were. Although really, he wasn’t that clean, even on his bad days. There was only so much that could be done in public bathrooms, after all. But by this point, he was resigned to simply surviving each day until something changed around him. There was no getting out, not until then.

“Spare change, ma’am?” he asked for the thousandth time that day as a young woman in a long coat and a pantsuit walked past, and to his surprise, she actually stopped.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” she asked, and her voice was strangely familiar. She had a thick accent and a sweet face, framed by straight, brown hair, and Credence’s eyes widened slightly. He had seen her before, he knew it. And then it came to him.

Almost two years ago, a pair of police officers had been called to his house after one of the neighbours had complained. A nice woman called Detective Goldstein, who couldn’t have been too much older than him, had interviewed him and asked him in such a soft, kind voice whether Mary Lou had ever hurt him. But he had been afraid and she had always told him to keep family matters in the family, so he had told her that Mary Lou had been nothing but kind to him. She had looked at him with such pity, but he had stuck to his answer all the same. And yet still, Mary Lou had been angry. Credence didn’t know what he was supposed to have done wrong, but he had still been given such a beating after they had left.

“You’re Detective Goldstein, right? My name’s Credence Barebone. You… You came to my house, once.” Except it wasn’t his house anymore.

Something dark crossed Detective Goldstein’s face. “I remember. Did you run away?” she asked, and despite the look in her eyes, her voice was still soft and kind.

“No, ma’am. I got kicked out.”

At this, her brow furrowed and she had a similar expression to the one Mary Lou had always worn whenever he had done wrong. “God, I hate that woman,” she spat. She hated Mary Lou, not him? “Beating and abusing you wasn’t enough, she had to make you homeless too? Come with me, you must be freezing out here. I’ll buy you a coffee.”

The idea of a warm drink was too appealing to pass up. “Okay. Thank you, Detective Goldstein,” he murmured as he got shakily to his feet.

“Call me Tina. Come on, I know a place that does the best coffee this side of Manhattan, you’re going to love it.”

“Thank you, Tina. I do have some money, if-”

“Nope. Not a chance. I’m paying, don’t worry about it,” she insisted, and he couldn’t bring himself to argue. But he would still be careful. If Mary Lou had taught him anything that he still believed, it was that people were rarely kind for the sake of it. She must have some reason, some other motive. He would have to do something for her sooner or later, and he could only hope that it would be something bearable.

The coffee shop was warm and quiet, with almost nobody else inside. It was nice. So much so, in fact, that Credence felt like he shouldn’t be there. The dirty, homeless whores of the world didn’t belong in such nice places. But Tina was smiling at him and buying him coffee, and he couldn’t have felt more welcomed.

“Do you want to be out on the street?” she asked, without preamble. It was such an odd question that Credence stared at her, wide-eyed, for a second before answering.

“I don’t want to go home,” he murmured, his eyes cast down towards the table.

“I know. But would you rather have somewhere better to stay?”

“I- Of course I would.” How could anyone ever want to live out on the street, where men with knives could take your money and dirt built up on your skin like an inescapable shame.

“Listen, my house- It’s pretty big. Huge, actually. And we’ve got two empty bedrooms, if you wanted…”

“But I don’t have any money.”

“You can stay free until you get a job, if you want. Look, I’ve seen enough of kids like you suffering and me not being able to do a thing about it, and just this once… I couldn’t do anything back then, when I first met you. But I’d like to do something now, if I can. Just… You can meet my housemates, and if you want, you can stay with us.”

This generosity was simply too much. He felt like he was going to cry, but he was scared, so scared. There had to be a catch, but could it be worse than any of the alternatives? Probably not. “Are you sure they won’t mind?” he asked nervously.

“Oh, definitely not. Well. Probably not. But they’ll like you, so it should be fine,” she said with a shrug, then downed the rest of her coffee in one long gulp. “What do you say?”

“I… I guess meeting them wouldn’t hurt,” he agreed in a low voice, and no matter how hard he tried to disguise them, he was sure that his anxiety was audible. Could this really work? If he had still been a member of the Church, he was certain that they would have told him no, that he was mad for considering it, that it was sinful to accept such an offer, and that Tina Goldstein was clearly a demon straight from Hell. But he was already damned and already mad. “Okay,” he agreed, his voice slightly stronger this time.

Tina’s face broke into a wide smile. “Brilliant!”

Chapter Text

Credence couldn’t help trembling as they approached the door to the house - if you could even call it that. It seemed more like a mansion, towering over him as Tina led him towards the door. “How many people live here?” he asked as he stared at the building apprehensively.

“There’s seven of us at the moment, but I’m the only one not sharing a bedroom with someone else. They’re all couples,” she added, probably as a response to the confused look on Credence’s face. “So we all fit nicely into a six bedroom place.”

Ah. Would Tina expect him to be hers now? That would make sense, he supposed. And it was a small price to pay for freedom from both Mary Lou and the streets. She was kind and it may be a sin to do anything before marriage, but nowadays everything he did seemed to be a sin. At least this particular sin was a step up from sleeping with men, even if he wanted to.

Tina seemed to hesitate, and Credence could only assume that she was about to give him her terms. But she didn’t. “I… I probably should have mentioned this already, especially considering where you’ve come from. I know the Second Salemers have a… certain set of beliefs that might not fit in with our lifestyle.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re queer, Credence. All seven of us. The couples I live with are two pairs of men and a pair of women.”

He stared at her for a moment. He had heard about people like this, who lived in communes of sin and debauchery, but would never have imagined a person like Tina to be one of them. She seemed so normal, so sweet and kind. She didn’t seem like an evil person, but Mary Lou had always said that evil was not always obvious. If he had been a true, moral person, he would have left then. He should have left then. But he didn’t - he simply nodded. They would join him in Hell, he couldn’t condemn them without also condemning himself.

“Okay. Come on. Newt’s bike is here so I know he’s in, at least.” Tina opened the door and was immediately greeted by a loud, excitable barking and a fluffy white dog bounded up to her, its tail wagging enthusiastically. “Hello, Dougal! Hello!” she cooed, scratching the puppy behind the ear. “Oh, I’ve missed you too!”

Now that the dog had stopped barking quite so loudly, Credence could hear music coming from one of the rooms down the hall, audible even over the sound of people talking. He didn’t recognise the song, but that was hardly surprising. He hadn’t been allowed to listen to most music, and the mix of instruments alone told him that this was no hymn.

“Do you want to say hello to him?” Tina asked, crouching down beside the dog but looking up at Credence. “He’s a sweetheart, and he’s mostly well-behaved. He never bites, at least.”

Hesitantly, Credence crouched down beside her and gave the dog a soft pat. “Hello,” he murmured. “Is he yours?”

“He’s sort of all of ours, but mostly Newt’s. If you ever see an animal in the house, just assume it’s Newt’s. He works in an animal shelter, but he seems to think he lives in one too. He keeps bringing pets home, either to look after for a bit or to keep. Dougal’s one he’s keeping, though.”

Credence could see why. The dog seemed to have sensed something of Credence’s fears, and he was keeping still and quiet for him, looking up at him with those large, amber eyes. Already, Credence knew that he liked him.

Once Dougal had seemingly had his fill of affection, he trotted off back towards the room the music was coming from, and Tina straightened back up. “Come on. We can go meet everyone else, if you want.”

Credence bit his lip, but nodded. If he was going to be living with these people, he had to see them. And if they were like Tina rather than the kind of people he had been taught about at Church, they might be alright. So, hunched over and trying not to panic, he followed her into the room.

It was a living room, but not like the one in Mary Lou’s house. Instead of hard chairs and bland colours, there was an arrangement of plush sofas and armchairs around a television and a record player set up against the wall and providing a strangely comforting soundtrack to the scene. There were photos and paintings on the wall, and it looked more like a home than anywhere Credence had ever seen.

On one of the sofas, a lanky man with ginger hair was lying back with a cat on his chest and, now, Dougal the dog curled up on the floor beside him, singing along to the record in a soft, sweet voice that sounded distinctly English, higher than the singer on the record but just as pleasant to the ears. On the other, two other men were sat together. Credence supposed that they would both look intimidating, if they weren’t practically on top of each other and punctuating every other sentence with a brief kiss. One was another redhead who looked remarkably like the man with the cat, but his hair was much longer, falling around a rugged looking face and he seemed far more muscular.  The man sat with him was dark haired and not quite so broad, but by no means lacking in the muscle department, with thick eyebrows and deep brown eyes.

“Hey, Tina,” the slender Englishman said with a soft smile. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Credence. He’s going to stay in one of the spare rooms for a bit.” At this, the two men on the other sofa pulled apart to look at him, and Credence felt suddenly self-conscious under their gazes. But Tina seemed oblivious to that particular fact, and continued. “Credence, this here is Newt, and the two assholes in the corner over there are Theseus and Percival.”

“Charming as ever, Tina,” The dark haired man said in a dry voice. He had a similar accent to Tina, albeit less thick, and his arm draped lazily over the other man’s shoulders. It was odd, seeing such a display of affection between two men. He should have hated it, but somehow, he didn’t. “Have we graduated to taking in human strays too?”

“Leave the boy be, Percy,” his lover - he must be Theseus, if the other was Percival - said in a bored voice, and his accent too was English, which made Credence think that he must be related to Newt in some way. Brothers, perhaps? “Nice to meet you, Credence. Ignore my husband, he’s a complete prick.”

Husband? That was impossible, surely? A relationship was one thing, but Credence couldn’t imagine any way for two men to marry each other.

“Piss off, Scamander,” Percival said in a vaguely amused voice.

“Oh, make me, you twat,” Theseus retorted, then turned his attention back to Credence. “As I was saying, my dear husband is a prick, and you’re very welcome here. I’m Theseus, as Tina said. What brings you to our little den of debauchery?”

Credence swallowed nervously and had to fight the urge to hide behind Tina - which wouldn’t have worked anyway, given her petite form. “I’m… Tina said I could, and I- I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Perhaps he was a stray, after all.

“It’s good to have you, Credence. Sit down, if you like,” Newt said, swinging his legs over to make room, and dislodging the cat on his chest. It meowed indignantly and stalked off out of the room as if he had mortally offended it. Hesitantly, Credence slipped into the newly vacated seat and Tina joined him on his left.

“That cat is even more of an arse than Percy,” Theseus said with a shake of his head. “Do we Scamanders just have horrible taste?”

“Mm… Except my boyfriend is a total sweetheart, it’s just you that has no taste,” Newt retorted, and Theseus stuck up a middle finger at him.

“Ah, but mine’s prettier.”

“Hmm… Percy is quite pretty, but actually, my Jacob is prettier,” Newt said with a smug smile. “I think he’ll be home soon, you’ll love him,” he added to Credence.

“I’m not entirely sure if I should feel insulted,” Percival said, but he was smiling slightly. He even rearranged his body to drape over Theseus’s lap. “Good thing I have the better looking Scamander all to myself.”

“Very true. I have always been the gorgeous one,” Theseus said smugly, and Newt rolled his eyes.

“Are you sure you still want him with a head that big, Percy?”

“His head isn’t the only thing that’s big, so I’m willing to put up with it.”

Credence had to try to hold back a noise that was somewhere between scandalised and amused, but it was covered up by Tina’s snorting laugh, and Newt’s groan. “I know far too much about my brother’s cock to ever be truly happy.”

“I’m not telling you anything you don’t know,” Percival pointed out with a faint chuckle. “You’ve seen him naked, we all have.”

“You’re making me sound like a pervert and a slut in front of our guest,” Theseus pouted, but it was with an amused air.

“It’s hardly my fault you like to walk around without any clothes on.”

“Like you weren’t also talking about the times we’ve been caught going at it.”

“Oh, don’t remind me,” Newt groaned, shaking his head. “I do not need to remember that.”

“You’re not the only one who’s seen them do it,” Tina added, although she sounded far less irritated. “Mm, that was hot.”

Theseus winked at her, then laughed uproariously at the look on Newt’s face.

It was surreal, hearing people talk so openly and unashamedly about love and want and sex. And yet somehow, it didn’t feel quite as dirty or wrong as it should have done. It just felt nice, even when they were mocking each other.

“Anyway, it’s not like we haven’t all seen you without your clothes on too,” Theseus said, and Newt turned a very bright shade of pink. “Honestly, Credence, you might have to adjust to that.”

“You’re naked more than I am!” Newt insisted, his cheeks still aflame. Tina and Percival both laughed, and Credence let out a little giggle of his own. He wouldn’t mind seeing either of the brothers naked, but he wasn’t about to admit such a thing. From the sound of it, they wouldn’t exactly mind, but… No. He couldn’t. He just couldn’t. It was bad, so bad of him to have such awful thoughts.

But Theseus didn’t seem concerned. “I never said I wasn’t. But why would I deprive the world of my gorgeous body?”

“Because you want to let me have you to myself?” Percival suggested with a raised eyebrow, but Theseus just laughed.

“Anyone can look, but you get to touch,” he purred in a low voice that sounded like pure sin. He wouldn’t mind getting to touch, if there weren’t about a thousand reasons why he shouldn’t.

“Essentially, I’m the only one here who can keep their clothes on,” Tina said with a faint smirk. “You’d think the whole prim and proper Brits thing would keep these two dressed, but they’re the worst offenders.”

“You should have seen Newt as a little kid, he was somehow even worse,” Theseus said with a wicked grin, and Newt hid his face in his hands.

“I hate you,” he groaned, but Theseus ignored him. “And I was in my underwear most of the time, not naked.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t the one who got undressed at daycare, and more than once. I knew to keep it in the house, at least. One time, he even t-”

“If you finish that sentence I will actually kill you,” Newt interjected.

“What did he do?” Tina asked with a grin. “Come on, Theseus.” Both she and Percival were looking at him expectantly, and Credence too couldn’t help being curious.

“I liked to be comfortable, that’s all,” Newt insisted, but his cheeks were bright red.

“He got totally naked, arse out and everything, and refused to get dressed again, then ran off when he got yelled at. As in actually managed to escape the building and leave his clothes behind. There was a little naked baby Newt running around the streets. He got picked up by the old lady who lived a few doors down from the daycare, still in a tantrum. Our mother was ever so angry, he got a slap round the head and grounded for a whole week.”

This time, Credence couldn’t hold back from laughing along with Theseus, Tina and Percival. Even Newt managed an embarrassed little laugh. But it was strange, imagining a child having so much freedom that he could get away with being so vile and indecent. How many levels of disobedience were there in that story, and yet they were able to find it funny. It didn’t even sound like Newt had been punished too badly.

“In my defence, I was three then. Remember when you were sixteen and you got drunk for the first time? You stripped off all your clothes, threw up into a plant pot, and fell asleep on the floor,” Newt said with a wicked grin, and it was Theseus’s turn to blush.

“Oh, God, Newt… I don’t even remember that night,” Theseus said with a rueful smile. “But that was my first time. Now, you, my dear, get shitfaced every time, even now, and end up a sloppy, slutty, uncoordinated mess.”

In his Church, Credence had been forbidden from drinking alcohol under any circumstances. It was an immoral lifestyle that led to further deviant behaviour, and which was always a sign of moral failing. And in a way, Credence could see what she had meant, if it made Newt and Theseus act in such a way. But somehow, despite everything, he still wanted to try it. Maybe if he acted wild and deviant enough, he’d finally feel free of her. And it wasn’t as if he could get any more damned. At least now, he might have company in Hell.

“If anyone here is a slutty mess when they’re drunk, I think it’s your husband,” Newt retorted.

“Oh, fuck off, Newt,” Percival groaned and put his head in his hands.

“He has a point, though. I think the only person in this house that he hasn’t drunkenly made out with is Credence, and that’s only because he just got here,” Tina added with a grin. At these words, Credence flushed almost as brightly as Newt had done. It was awful, he shouldn’t want to kiss a man, an older man, a taken man. There was so much wrong with it and yet if a drunken Percival wanted to kiss him, he would have no complaints. But even with that desire inside him, he couldn’t help feeling shocked. Surely that classed as adultery and immodesty as well as homosexuality - how could these people be so comfortable with this? No matter how open he tried to be, he couldn’t crush the shame inside him. If he had ever acted like that around Mary Lou, he would not have lived to tell the tale, much less tell it with such amusement.

“Oh, shut it,” Percival said with a groan. “I will not make out with Credence.”

“Until you have a few too many shots of tequila,” Newt finished for him, and Percival flipped him off with an exasperated expression.

“Sorry about my brother-in-law, Credence. He’s awful, almost as awful as my husband,” Percival said dryly. “You have nothing to worry about, and even if you did, I don’t kiss people who aren’t willing.”

“It’s- it’s fine,” Credence mumbled. Except that it wasn’t. How could anyone want something and yet not want it with such intensity all at the same time? To be like any of these men would be such a release and yet such a disaster at the same time. Was this - the unabashed sexuality, the behaviour he had always been taught was immoral, the disregard for propriety - freedom? Or was it its own prison, a trapping that them - and him too, surely - out of Heaven?

It was then that Credence heard the door open, and it seemed that Dougal had heard it too, as he lept up and bounded out of the room, providing a merciful distraction from his own thoughts.

A man’s laughter was just audible over the music still coming from the record player in the corner, and Newt’s face lit up. Then a portly man with a moustache and dark, curly hair bounded into the room with a wide smile on his face and Dougal trotting happily alongside him, and Newt positively beamed.

“Hey, gorgeous,” the man murmured, leaning down to catch Newt’s lips in a kiss. Credence should have averted his eyes right then, but he couldn’t help staring as Newt’s eyes closed and his hand moved to the back of the man’s neck as they kissed. When he straightened up, there was a grin on his face and a flush on Newt’s cheeks.

“Hello,” Newt murmured, and the way his tongue swiped over his lip had to be too sinful to be allowed. Credence swallowed and licked his own lips, and the man looked over at him with a polite half smile.

“Hey, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Jacob,” he said, holding out a hand to Credence.

“Credence,” he whispered, taking the offered hand and shaking it briefly before standing up. If he were to straighten up, he would be significantly taller than Jacob, but with his hunched posture, he appeared to be much closer in height. “You sit down, I’ll- I don’t mind where I sit.” He hesitated, but elected to try out one of the plush armchairs. He could have taken the space on the other sofa, next to Theseus and Percival, but they made him a little too nervous for that idea to be appealing.

“Thanks, man,” Jacob said amicably as he took Credence’s vacated seat, wrapped an arm around Newt’s shoulders and gave him a kiss on the cheek that made the latter duck his head and smile widely. “So, Credence. What brings you here?”

“Well, I… I don’t have anywhere else, and Tina said you had a spare bedroom and that I could stay.”

“He’s one of the Barebone kids,” Tina explained, and Jacob’s eyes widened in understanding. Percival, however, frowned.

“Barebone? As in that Second Salem bitch Mary Lou Barebone?” he asked, his voice dripping with acid that made Credence recoil.

“She’s my Ma,” Credence mumbled, his eyes fixed downwards. Or she used to be, at least. Credence wasn’t sure he could still call her that, not when she had made it quite clear that he was no longer her son.

“Get out,” Percival said coldly.

“Percy, he’s not his mom. She kicked him out and we’re not doing the same. Besides, he’s just a kid,” Tina insisted, glaring over at Percival. Credence shrank back in his seat, silently praying that someone would make him disappear.

“How old are you, Credence?” Percival asked, his voice still horribly icy.

“Eighteen,” he whispered, his eyes fixed on his own knees. He couldn’t look Percival in the eye. He just couldn’t.

“What a coincidence. I was eighteen the first time that fucked up cult tried to fucking kill me,” he spat. “I told you about that, didn’t I? How they stalked me coming out of a bar and they jumped me, beat the shit out of me and left me bleeding out in a fucking alleyway?”

“And how old was Credence then? Three? Four?” Newt asked, his voice quiet yet firm. A quick glance in his direction showed that he, too, was unable to look Percival in the eye. “He couldn’t have done anything about that.”

“He’s still one of them.”

“That woman might be evil, but she just adopted him. He didn’t join them,” Tina insisted.

“She has a point, Perce,” Theseus murmured, but far from being comforted, Percival just sounded even angrier.

“You didn’t come here until you were older. You didn’t have to grow up around them, hearing about how you’re evil and don’t deserve to live.” Credence had, but he didn't dare say so.

“They are pretty bad,” Jacob agreed reluctantly. “I don’t know about the kid, though. If he had a problem don’t you think he’d have said something by now?”

“We all know they’re bad, but that woman was hurting her kids as much as she was hurting us, maybe more,” Tina retorted. “You know I went to investigate more than once, but she had all the kids too scared to say anything to me.”

Credence glanced up again and saw Percival sat with his mouth open, as if wanting to say something but not sure what. “Fine,” he said eventually, but he still didn’t look happy. “If you guys are sure he’s not like the rest of them, he can stay.” Then he turned to Credence, his eyes blazing. “But if you start acting like another Salem nutjob in this house, you’re out.”

Credence nodded mutely, fighting the urge to curl up in on himself and hide away. This still had to be better than any of his alternatives, surely it had to be.

“Percy, come on,” Theseus murmured. “Let’s go for a walk. We can pick up some pizza or something, yeah?”

Percival glared as if he was going to argue, but got up and took Theseus’s hand. “Alright. Fine.”

When the pair of them had left the room, Credence finally slumped in his seat and wrapped his arms around himself, tears pricking at his eyes. Was he truly too bad to belong anywhere in the world? It certainly felt like it, when everyone was seemingly disgusted by his mere existence.

Then Tina was at his side, and her arms were wrapped tightly around him in an embrace like none he had ever experienced before, and he was crying silently into her shoulder. “Don’t mind Percy. He’s just had a few really bad experiences, and he’s not great at trusting people who remind him of those. I can’t blame him, but… Hey, like Jacob said, if you had a problem with us, you’d have told us by now.”

“I’m… I’m like you,” he whispered, his cheeks burning with shame. “That’s part of why they didn’t want me anymore.”

Tina made a soft, sad noise and squeezed him gently. “I’m sorry, Credence. I wish I could have got you out of there sooner.”

And though he would never admit it, he wished so too. Could he have had some kind of childhood if he had been taken away from Mary Lou sooner, or plucked up the courage to run away? Or would it have been even worse? Perhaps, even with Percival hating him, he was still safest here.

The front door opened again, and Dougal bounded out of the room again to greet the newcomer with excitable, yapping barks. This time, he heard female voices and a delighted, high-pitched laugh, and a moment later, a pair of women - one with dark skin and tight curls of platinum blonde hair just poking out from under a scarf that she had wrapped around her head, the other a paler girl with looser curls teased up and around her face like a halo - entered the room, the latter with the dog in her arms. “What was up with Percival?” she asked, and Credence ducked his head in shame.

“Tina agreed to let Credence here stay with us, but he’s from the Salemers. Kicked out, but still,” Newt explained.

After a pause, the other woman spoke. “I’d side with Percival on this one,” she said coldly. “And I’m surprised that none of you do too. Why would you trust anyone from that cult?”

“I don’t think he’s exactly fond of them either. They abuse the kids there, Sera. You know Teenie was investigating them for ages,” the other said, and Credence curled in on himself further, wishing he could just disappear.

“Yeah, well they don’t just abuse their own kids,” the woman - Sera - said darkly, and when Credence looked up, she had already left the room, leaving the other woman standing in the doorway looking conflicted.

“I’m sorry, Credence. I know you’ll have had it bad from them,” she said softly. “But Seraphina… She’s had it bad too. Worse than any of us, but it’s not my place to talk about it. I’ve gotta go see her, but I’ll talk to you later, alright?” she promised, then dashed off after Seraphina, her heels clicking on the floor. The record playing fell silent just as her footsteps faded away, and the only sound left was Credence’s sniffling.

Chapter Text

At some point while Tina had been holding him, Newt had apparently slipped off out of the room. Credence hadn’t noticed until the man spoke his name softly, and he looked up to see him holding the black cat that had been resting on his chest earlier on. Not only that, but there was a sapphire blue snake draped around his neck, a strange green lizard in his hair, and Dougal the dog at his feet.

“They always make me feel better,” he explained with an embarrassed sort of smile and Tina snorted a poorly disguised laugh.

“You know animals aren’t the answer to everything, right?” she asked, but Credence appreciated the gesture. Not to mention, animals couldn’t hate him for being who he was. They wouldn’t know where he’d come from or why he was there.

“Can I hold the cat?” he asked shyly, and Newt beamed brightly, in much the same way as he had when Jacob had arrived home.

“Of course! His name is Walter, and he can be a complete menace sometimes, but he doesn’t bite or scratch at all,” Newt said as he lowered the cat onto Credence’s lap. “He’s a complete kleptomaniac though, I’m forever finding hidden hoards of objects he’s claimed as his own.”

He may be a thief, but he was very soft and purred contentedly under Credence’s touch, so Credence decided that he liked him. He had never been allowed a pet, but from the look of things, Newt had plenty. “Do you want to take Amelie and Pickett too?” he asked enthusiastically, and although Credence wasn’t sure which was which, he eyed both reptiles apprehensively. “They’re not venomous and they don’t bite,” he added hastily, but Credence still wasn’t sure.

“Why don’t you just leave him with Walter for now?” Tina suggested, and Credence suspected that she was holding back a grin. But mercifully, Newt listened and settled himself back on the sofa with Jacob. The snake around his neck hissed faintly and slithered over onto Jacob’s shoulders, making Newt pout.

“I raise her from an egg, and she still likes you more than me,” he muttered, shaking his head, but Jacob just laughed.

“I thought your pets came from an animal shelter. Why did you have an egg?” Credence asked, then immediately cast his eyes downward as a rush of nerves overtook him. He would never have spoken out of turn, without being addressed, if Mary Lou had been there. But she wasn’t. And yet it still felt wrong, as though he would surely be punished for such an infraction. But it felt even more wrong when that punishment didn’t come.

“The mother was very ill, her previous owners took terrible care of her. It was dreadful. I did my best with her, but she didn’t survive long enough to see her babies hatch. They almost didn’t make it either.”

“Newt’s a real good vet, though, so he saved them all,” Jacob said, with such pride and affection in his voice that Credence felt a faint ache in his chest.

Newt flushed faintly and ducked his head, his mop of ginger curls falling down in front of his eyes. “I wouldn’t say I saved them. I just took care of them and made sure they were healthy enough to hatch,” he murmured, but he looked delighted by the praise all the same. “Amelie here was so late hatching, I thought she hadn’t made it.”

Before Credence even heard the front door open, Dougal was bounding out of the room to greet then. “Right, you horrible lot. Dinner’s here,” came Theseus’s booming voice, and a moment later he appeared back in the living room, carrying a stack of pizza boxes. “Okay, we’ve got some pepperoni, Hawaiian and boring cheese, and Percy’s in the kitchen getting coke,” he said as he dumped the lot on the table and sat down on the carpet beside it. Immediately, Theseus, Tina, Newt and Jacob all grabbed slices, then Percival appeared a moment later with a whole box of soda cans and did the same. Seraphina and the nice lady walked in just behind him, and sat down beside Theseus on the floor to eat. But Credence didn’t move.

It was nothing like mealtime at Mary Lou’s house. They were having pizza and soda, they hadn’t said grace and they weren’t even sat at a proper table. And if that wouldn’t have been enough to have Mary Lou beating them all to within an inch of their lives had they been under her care, they were acting so… coupley. Percival had draped his arm over Theseus’s shoulders, and Newt was practically in Jacob’s lap. It felt indecent just to watch, but at the same time, he didn’t want to look away. Was this what the Church had meant, when they had told stories of the allure of the Devil?

But then Percival caught his eye, and Credence finally leant forward to grab some pizza, just so he wouldn’t have to look at him. If Percival knew his thoughts, he’d surely be thrown out of here too, and go straight back to being homeless.

No one else seemed to have noticed anything, instead slipping into their own conversations. “-right there by the bar, and we both know exactly what’s going on, so he can’t make any excuses!” Jacob was saying, clearly telling some amusing anecdote.

Across the room, Theseus, Percival and Seraphina were engaged in a seemingly much less entertaining discussion. “But the fact is, if he was willing to put that into healthcare, that would be killing two birds with one stone,” Theseus was saying.

“Isn’t it a bit late then, though? Of course I want more money invested in healthcare, but prevention’s got to be better,” Percival said, but Seraphina shook her head.

“But it doesn’t prevent anything. It just makes it harder for-” The rest of her sentence was inaudible to him thanks to a peal of laughter from Tina, the woman whose name he still didn’t know, and Newt.

“Oh, you didn’t!” the woman said with a wicked grin.

“Yep! After everything, I wasn’t gonna let an opportunity like that pass up.”

Everyone seemed so happy - it really was nothing like meals back at home. Except that place wasn’t home, not anymore. But here didn’t feel like home either. Could anywhere feel like home? Or was he destined to feel like he didn’t belong anywhere for the rest of his life? No gays would ever want him when he was from the Salemers, and no church would ever want him when he was gay. And no one else could want him, when surely at least one of those things would repel them.

“Hey, Credence?” A voice drew him out of his thoughts, and he saw the blonde woman smiling expectantly at him. “You still with us?”

“Sorry, ma’am,” he murmured, but she shook her head.

“You don’t have to call me ma’am. I’m not old yet. Just call me Queenie,” she said with a smile that would probably make any normal man melt. She was pretty, he knew she was, and yet even knowing that, he couldn’t feel any desire to kiss or touch. “I was just asking if you’d ever been to a gig before.”

“A what?”

“A gig. A concert?” she said, and he shook his head.

“No. We weren’t allowed to listen to that sort of music in our Church,” he murmured, and she, Newt and Jacob all stared at him. Only Tina seemed unsurprised. Queenie was the first to recover.

“Oh, well we’ve got an awful lot to teach you, then! I’ve got a real good collection, I’ll show you later,” she said enthusiastically, and Credence smiled. He liked Queenie. She was sweet.

“And then I’ll show you mine, so you get to hear some good music,” Tina added, and Queenie gave her a light shove.

“I have great taste!”

“Only if you’re being compared to Newt.”

“Hey! Why am I being dragged into this?” Newt asked.

“Because you like loads of weird British stuff,” said Tina.

“In his defence, he is weird and British. Weird and British isn’t too bad,” Jacob said with a grin and a wink, and Newt laughed.

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, and pulled Newt in for a kiss. Credence felt his cheeks heat up, and ducked his head to avoid looking directly at them. He should really have looked away altogether, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. That was seeming to become a trend for him. It was a morbid thing, two seemingly contradictory parts of his psyche, both of which were seemingly inescapable truths, warring against each other and leaving him caught in the crossfire.

It was clear from the faces of those around him that this was normal to them. Theseus even went as far as to wolf whistle when he noticed them, which prompted Newt to flip him off without so much as opening his eyes or pulling away, which drew laughs from Theseus, Percival and the women.

As if there weren’t two men kissing deeply right next to her, Tina turned her attention to Credence. “You had enough to eat?” she asked kindly. “These assholes will eat everything if you don’t make sure you got your share.”

“Pizza night is a free for all, with an optional fight to the death over the last slice,” Theseus insisted in what was presumably meant to be a dignified voice. “The laws of takeout are serious business.”

“Well, we’ve got the Newt Amendment, so I’m adding the Credence Amendment,” Tina retorted.

“And what’s the official text of the proposed Credence Amendment, Miss Goldstein?” Seraphina asked, assuming a regal posture and surveying her.

“Oh! Hold on, we can’t do this without the takeout crown!” Queenie said excitedly, and got swiftly to her feet and left the room. When she returned, she was holding a crown of what looked like folded up pamphlets, which she gently placed atop Seraphina’s headscarf. By this point, Newt and Jacob had pulled apart to watch attentively and Credence had no idea what was going on. “Do continue, Madam President,” Queenie murmured, and bowed deeply.

“Thank you, Lady Goldstein.” Was Queenie married to Tina? No, that couldn’t be right, Tina had said she was single. Sisters, then.

“She’s Lady Goldstein now?” Percival asked.

“My court, my rules, Percy. Don’t interrupt. Miss Goldstein?”

“Thank you, Madam President. I put it to the court that it is unfair to expect Credence to fight for shared takeout as we expect from each other, and I have three reasons for this.” She was speaking like a businesswoman, an official with something deeply serious to say. “Firstly, Credence is younger than us all. Secondly, Credence has not known us long enough to be comfortable enough to fight us. And thirdly, Credence has never been allowed takeout before, and should be allowed to make up for lost time.”

“A compelling argument, Miss Goldstein. Does my court have anything to add?”

“I do. If I may, Madam President,” Theseus said. “I feel that Credence would fit in with us better if we treat him as one of us, which means the laws we have set up should apply. Although Miss Goldstein’s third point is particularly crucial, and I move that we increase the frequency of takeout meals until Credence has been allowed a full experience of the joys of a good takeaway.”

“Mister Scamander makes a good case, so I would like to offer a compromise. More frequent takeouts, and the Credence Amendment is that the hoarding rule is lifted for the first month in which someone lives in the house,” Tina retorted. “Meaning that Credence is allowed to take more than one share at a time, if it will ensure that he is fed, but still has to fight to the death for final slices, but only until the end of the month.”

Seraphina turned her attention to Credence now, and he ducked his head slightly. It was usually not a good thing to be given too much attention. “Mister- Barebone, was it?” she asked, and he nodded. “Do you have anything to add?”

“I- I don’t want to be any trouble,” he mumbled. “I don’t know.”

“Noted. Mister Scamander?”

“I think I agree with Miss Goldstein.”

“And the jury? All in favour of the Credence Amendment?” Seraphina asked, and everyone in the room, even Percival, raised their hand. Well, everyone except for Credence. “All against?” she asked, and nobody moved. “Motion passed,” she said, and Tina broke into a smile.

“What-?” Credence began, but he was at a loss for words.

“It’s a kinda game we play,” Jacob explained. “We’ve got these house rules, some of them are pretty weird but it makes life more fun, y’know? So we have this whole court thing to set and change them, and punish people if they break them.”

“Punish them?” he repeated nervously.

“Not that kind of punishment,” Tina assured him hastily. “Stuff like doing someone a little favour, or taking on an extra chore. Nothing like what they did to you back there.”

“Yeah, nothing too bad,” Jacob added hastily. He had a guilty look on his face, as if he regretted even mentioning the word. “Like, I don’t know. If you steal Newt’s stuff, he might say you gotta clean the kitty litter box for him, and if you steal mine, I could say you gotta buy me a box of doughnuts.”

That didn’t sound like much of a punishment at all, but Credence wasn’t going to question them. That might make them punish him for real, and he was more than happy to avoid that. “Okay,” he murmured. “And… What’s the Newt Amendment?” They hadn’t minded him asking questions so far, so perhaps he could get away with it here. Not too much, of course, but a few seemed to be okay.

“I’m a vegetarian, so I can get out of fights over the last bit of a vegetarian dish if there’s another option with meat in for the other person to eat,” Newt explained.

“Ma said vegetarians are spitting in God’s face,” he said, and quickly brought his hand up to his mouth, as if he could hold back the words he had just spoken. But Newt wasn’t angry. Instead, he laughed.

“Oh, I’m sure she could find plenty of other reasons to call me a sinner before getting to my vegetarianism,” he chuckled. “That is quite funny, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.”

“Are you saying Newt’s the biggest sinner here?” Theseus asked with a glee that should never have been there when discussing such a serious topic.

“That’s entirely possible,” Newt said, and his voice contained something that sounded like pride and his cheeks only faintly pink. “Let’s see, I’m a transsexual faggot who has sex while unmarried, is on birth control and unnatural hormones, drinks, swears, masturbates, wasn’t baptised, doesn’t believe in God, and doesn’t eat meat. Oh, and I’m a redhead, which is definitely Satanic,” he listed. “And I’m fairly sure I’m forgetting a few things, too.”

“You listen to sinful music too, can’t forget about that,” Percival added with a faint smirk. “And is that fucking vibrator - which you left in the top floor bathroom again , by the way - its own sin, or does that come under masturbating and sex? Oh, and speaking of masturbation and sex, I’ve heard you take the Lord’s name in vain an awful lot.”

“Oh yes, that too,” Newt agreed. “But I think just the first two facts would be enough to have most cultish Christians despising me. I’m gay and trans, and that’s enough for most of them to think I’m subhuman.”

It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. Newt really did seem nice. He was a vet who loved the animals he took care of, for goodness’ sake! Could God really hate a man who spent his life saving animals? Except was he even a man? He had called himself a transsexual, but he didn’t seem to be trying to look like a woman. Was it possible for him to be the other way, a woman trying to be a man? “You don’t look like a transvestite,” he said. Or did he? Credence wasn’t sure. He found his eyes drawn to Newt’s crotch, searching for an indication of which parts he might have. Or maybe he was some sort of strange hermaphrodite, bearing both.

Jacob gave him a hard look that he would not have previously thought possible on what had previously been such a warm, kind face. “Yeah, that’ll be because he isn’t one,” he corrected in a far too cool tone of voice, so far from the cheerful tones he had used before.

“I’m transgender,” Newt explained, placing a hand on Jacob’s chest. “I was assigned female when I was born based on my anatomy, but I’m not a woman, so I’ve changed that. Is that a problem?”

“But… You can’t change your sex… Can you? And- and even if you could, God doesn’t make mistakes.”

“I am male if I say I am, and I really don’t care if I’m sinning or insulting God by saying so - I’m happy and not hurting anyone. And if I really was meant to be female, I wouldn’t have felt this way.”

“But you are female… Otherwise you wouldn’t be a transgender, you’d just be normal.”

“I’m not, and that’s not how you use the word transgender. Now, I don’t want to talk about this anymore, if you don’t mind,” Newt said. His- Her? voice was calm and quiet, but there was a degree of firmness to it. And yet Credence still didn’t understand a thing.

“But-”

“He said not now. So how about you leave my brother alone,” Theseus growled, leaning towards him in the most intimidating way, and Credence shrank back in his chair. “And if you call him a woman again, you’re out of here. I’m not having it.” He nodded mutely, and Theseus sat back.

“Credence, do you want to give me a hand in the kitchen for a sec?” Tina asked as she pulled herself to her feet, and he practically jumped at the chance to escape the glares.

“Listen, I’ve got some stuff you can read if you actually want to know how this all works, but Theseus is right. You know we all get enough shit from the rest of the world, and this house is meant to be the one place where we can get away from all that,” she said in a low voice, and Credence ducked his head. He’d let her down already, started acting like he was still following Mary Lou’s preaching. If she would think it wrong for Newt to be this way, then perhaps it wasn’t actually wrong at all. Perhaps it was like drinking or listening to music or being gay, and there was no real reason to hate it.

“I… I’m sorry,” he murmured, and Tina sighed.

“I really don’t want you to go back out there on the street, and I know it’s gotta be hard to forget everything that woman taught you, but please just… You know how bad it is, for people like us. It’s a similar kind of deal, so Newt gets it twice as bad. But not here.”

Credence nodded, but didn’t speak. And when he and Tina returned to the living room, Newt was no longer there, and neither were Jacob and Theseus. Queenie, Seraphina and Percival were sat very close together, conversing in low voices, but when Seraphina noticed him, they fell silent. Without a word, he turned around and left, leaving Tina to follow him.

“I… I guess I’ll just show you to the spare bedroom,” she said in a soft voice.

Chapter Text

When Credence awoke, he felt a moment of panic at his unfamiliar surroundings. This was not his bed back at home, nor was it the hard benches or patches of concrete on which he had been growing accustomed to sleeping. But then the memories of the night before came back to him, and he allowed himself to settle back against the mattress.

His room was wonderful, more comfortable than anywhere he had ever stayed before, with light blue walls and the fluffiest blankets he had ever felt in his life draped over the bed. But there was no guarantee that he would be allowed even one more night there. Tina had assured him that if he tried, if he abandoned everything he had been taught in what he called a Church and she called a cult, he would be able to stay. But how was he supposed to know what was true knowledge and what was wrong? He had hardly ever even been allowed out, let alone given the chance to learn about the world for himself.

To her credit, Tina had left a couple of pamphlets on his bedside table. They were from what Tina had referred to simply as ‘the centre’, although Credence didn’t quite know what that meant, and all seemed like the kind of things that Mary Lou would have referred to as ‘sinful, perverted, brainwashing lies’. She would never have allowed him to even look at such things. But she wasn’t there anymore.

When he emerged from his room a full fifteen minutes later, he had plenty of new information buzzing around in his mind. But the one which had stuck with him most came from a short leaflet entitled ‘God Loves Gays’. It offered words of reassurance, of kindness, and claimed that God had made them this way, and loved them for it. There was, it said, a whole group of them who met up once a month, and provided a phone number to ask for details. It seemed impossible to believe. Mary Lou had told them all that such behaviour was a perversion, was against God’s will, but could that be another lie?

But he didn’t have time to be thinking about such things, although Credence wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to be doing. At home, his old home, he was supposed to join his family for morning prayer and chores, and then sit down for breakfast. But Tina had not told him what his responsibilities were here.

He made his way down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor, where he could hear voices coming from the kitchen. There was Newt, dressed in loose sweatpants and a t-shirt advertising the University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences, chatting brightly to Dougal and Walter, and another cat who Credence had not met yet. “Good morning,” he said slightly stiffly when he saw Credence standing in the doorway.

“Good morning,” Credence echoed in a low murmur. “I… I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have said those things.”

Newt glanced briefly at him, and his expression softened slightly. “I forgive you. Now, would you like a cup of tea? Or coffee?” he asked, and his voice gave the distinct impression that he didn’t want to talk about it any longer. That was fine with Credence, he didn’t particularly want to dwell on his own mistakes.

“I- I don’t mind,” he mumbled.

“We have orange juice, if you’d prefer something cold. And I think we have some berry smoothie somewhere.”

“Fuck’s sake, Newt. D’you have to be so perky?” Theseus groaned, and Credence practically jumped out of his way. The taller man groaned and ran a hand through his tangled mess of red hair, and when he noticed that he was only wearing a pair of pyjama pants, Credence had to fight the urge to stare at his bare chest.

“Good morning to you too, Theseus,” Newt said in a bright voice which Credence suspected he had put on just to wind his brother up. “I’m assuming you want coffee?”

Theseus just grunted in reply and fell into a stool at the breakfast bar.

Newt caught Credence’s eye and grinned at him. “You’ll have to excuse my brother. He’s really not a morning person. Now, what was it you wanted to drink?”

“Er… Orange juice, please?” he asked nervously, and Newt smiled.

“Coming right up.”

Hesitantly, Credence took the seat next to Theseus. The moment his backside touched the stool, Walter hopped up onto his lap and curled up there, causing Credence to let out a surprised little laugh. Newt looked over at him and smiled. “He must really like you, Credence. Walter can be a menace, he doesn’t usually take to new people so well unless they bribe him.”

“That cat’s an arsehole,” Theseus mumbled, his head resting against his hand and seemingly drooping already.

“And yet he has better manners than you,” Newt quipped as he placed a glass of orange juice in front of Credence. He had never been allowed things like this at home, they were unnecessary luxuries which he had done nothing to earn. But just one sip told him that he liked it very much.

The next person to appear was Tina, just as Newt was pouring Theseus’s coffee. “Oh, please tell me you’ve got enough there for another cup.”

“Of course,” Newt said as he poured a second cup and slid it across the bar to Tina. “But if you want breakfast, you’re on your own. I’ve already eaten, and I have to get changed for work soon.”

“How the fuck do you get up so early?” Theseus asked miserably. “It’s, what? Eight?”

“Ten past. It’s really not that early, I’ve been up since six,” Newt said with a shrug, and both Theseus and Tina seemed to wince.

“You’re crazy. You don’t even start until nine,” Theseus said with a shake of his head.

“True, but Jacob goes in at seven, and I like to walk Dougal in the morning. And if I’m up before the rest of you, I always get a hot shower.”

“I like sleep way too much for that,” Tina announced in between sips of coffee. “I’ll deal with the cold water, thanks. Hey, Credence, have you had a shower yet?”

“No. Am I allowed?” he asked nervously, and Tina raised her eyebrows at him.

“Sure you are! You might wanna wait a little though, we’ve only got two showers and we use a helluva lot of hot water trying to all get through in the morning. I don’t think Queenie’s working today, but the rest of us are. Will you be alright in with just her?” she asked anxiously, and Credence nodded.

“I think so,” he agreed. “Thank you.”

“Okay, good. I’ll see you later, alright? I shouldn’t be staying late tonight, and then we’ve got the whole weekend,” she said, and downed the rest of her coffee. “Right, I gotta go get dressed.”

As she was leaving the room, Percival appeared and took Tina’s vacated seat next to Theseus, already dressed in a waistcoat and button up, his hair much neater than any of the others’. Yet, despite his neater appearance, he still looked exhausted.

Immediately, Theseus leant against his shoulder. “‘M tired, Perce,” he whined, his eyes falling shut again. Credence caught Newt’s eye and they both had to look away from each other to keep from giggling.

“Mm, I know,” Percival murmured as he ran his fingers through Theseus’s long, tangled hair, neatening it up for him, then kissed the top of his head. Without even being asked, Newt slid a cup of coffee across towards him. “They’re all caffeine dependent,” Newt explained to Credence, who didn’t really know what to say to that, so simply sipped his drink and stroked the cat in his lap, who purred contentedly.

By the time Seraphina appeared in the kitchen, looking immaculate in a fitted skirt and blazer, Theseus seemed to have woken up at last. “How do you look gorgeous this early?” he asked, albeit in a slightly grumpy tone.

“When I’m being compared to you, looking gorgeous isn’t hard,” she said smoothly, and Percival and Newt both snorted a laugh. Credence, too, had to cover his mouth to stop any noise escaping him.

“Arseholes, the lot of you,” Theseus groused. “Colossal dickheads.”

Slowly, his sleepy housemates began to leave for the day. Newt was first, then Seraphina, then Tina, Percival and Theseus all at once until Credence was alone in the kitchen. It was only then when he realised it had completely slipped his mind to ask what he was supposed to do. There must be chores for him, surely. They had to have rules and expect him to follow them. What if they threw him out for not doing something that he should have known needed doing?

These thoughts were darkening his mind when Queenie appeared, her hair teased up around her face and wearing a floral dress that was far too short to be decent, even with the leggings underneath. He had almost forgotten that she would be around all day. He could ask her, and he hadn’t lost too much time in between getting up and that moment. If he worked hard, he could probably still get everything done.

“Hey, Credence,” she beamed as she floated into the kitchen. “Have you been up long?”

“I… I guess so,” he mumbled.

“Oh, you should’ve woken me! I didn’t know you were all alone.”

He wasn’t sure if she was telling him off or not. “I’m sorry,” he said in a barely audible whisper, his eyes downcast.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it. I just feel bad for you, alone in a strange house. Did anyone make you breakfast?” she asked, and he shook his head.

“Newt had already eaten and I think the other’s were going to go to Jacob’s bakery on their way to work.”

“Maybe we should swing by too, then?” Queenie suggested. “He makes amazing paczki and his bagels are gorgeous. Have you showered?”

He shook his head again.

“Well, I think there should be hot water again if you wanna do that. Just put your clothes in the hamper, we’ll wash them for you.”

“I don’t really have much else to wear,” he confessed, and her eyebrows raised just a fraction before falling into a soft, sad expression.

“Oh, honey, I forgot... Okay, let’s add that to the plan, then. Food first, and then clothes shopping!”

“But… I don’t have any money.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it,” Queenie said breezily as she poured herself a glass of deep red smoothie. “Think of it as a gift.”

“I… Thank you, I don’t… How can I repay you?” he stammered. There had to be something, when after everything he’d said and done she still wanted to help him. There had to be some sort of catch, some expected compensation for her kindness.

But she just shook her head, her curls bouncing with the movement. Anyone would be able to tell that she was pretty, even freaks like him.  “Like I said, it’s a gift.”

These people were so strange. No one gave without wanting something in return, he knew that, and now he would be indebted to both Tina and Queenie. He hoped, when they eventually called it in, that they would not ask too much of him.

But for the time being, he was a little too content to simply do as Queenie told him and accept such loveliness from her. She chivvied him into the bathroom and instructed him to use any of the products he liked the look of. There were an awful lot, and he spent far too long examining the bottles and smelling each and every one so that he could pick his absolute favourites, and when he finally emerged from the glorious warmth of the shower, he felt cleaner and smelled nicer than he had ever been before. Queenie seemed able to sense his pleasure, as she beamed broadly at him when he emerged, his hair still damp. It was starting to grow longer than Mary Lou would have liked, but he didn't particularly want to cut it again. Perhaps he could let it grow long like Theseus’s. Mary Lou would have said he had girl’s hair, but Credence thought it suited him. Besides, no girl would be quite so tall and broad, nor sport a neatly shaped beard like Theseus did. No, there was nothing girlish about Theseus.

“You ready?” Queenie asked brightly as she fastened up her coat - a dusky pink number with that Credence actually quite liked. He couldn’t help wishing he had a nice warm coat too, when his own was a threadbare piece in plain black, with sleeves that didn’t even come close to his wrists anymore. Queenie seemed to notice him looking, as she gave him another soft, almost pitying look. “Do you want to borrow something a little warmer? Newt’s got a couple real nice coats that might fit you, you’re about the same height.”

“I… I’ll be alright, Miss- Queenie,” he mumbled. But would that then make her feel obligated to buy him a coat? No, he would insist that his current coat was adequate, even if it was a lie.

But she didn’t seem inclined to take that answer. “Oh, don’t be silly. He can’t wear more than one at a time, can he? Come on, this leather one’s real nice - fake leather, mind, he doesn’t wear real.”

Credence hesitated, but it really did look warmer than the alternative and he didn’t think Queenie would give up all that easily. “Are you sure he won’t mind?” he asked.

“Of course not! He hardly ever wears half of these, his favourite is his blue one. He mainly just wears the leather when he’s out on his bike.”

It couldn’t do any harm, surely. Particularly if they were back before Newt returned home from work, he surely couldn’t miss it. Credence just had to be careful not to do any damage to it, and it would be fine, right? So he pulled on the jacket and Queenie beamed brightly, then offered him her arm.

“Shall we, Mister Barebone?” she asked with a stifled giggle. And however inappropriate it might be to do so, he took it.

The walk to Jacob’s bakery was short, but quite pleasant. He found that he liked having the freedom to walk around without being viewed with the disdain that had come when people saw him as either a homeless vagrant or a New Salemite. People probably thought that he was Queenie’s boyfriend, a normal young man out for a stroll with a lover. And when they arrived, he was greeted with a wide smile from an aproned Jacob.

“Hey, Queenie! Credence,” he said, although Credence couldn’t help noticing that he was more enthusiastic in greeting Queenie than Credence. Well, he supposed Jacob had known her longer and he didn’t know Credence had apologised to Newt that morning.

“Hiya, honey,” Queenie said, and leant across the counter to kiss Jacob on the cheek.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Credence murmured, his voice very soft. “I apologised to Newt already, but you’d already left.”

Jacob’s expression softened at that. “Ah, it’s alright. Everyone’s gotta start learning sometime, right?” He paused for a second, then raised his eyebrow. “Hey, is that Newt’s jacket?”

“Queenie said I could-” Credence began in alarm, the panic rising inside him. But Jacob chuckled faintly.

“Nah, it’s alright. I just thought I recognised it, that’s all. He looks real cute in it,” he said with a faintly dazed look, his mind clearly wandering.

“Hey, Jacob?” Queenie said in an amused tone. “Come back, honey. Credence needs all the treats you got for him, and I gotta get one of your gorgeous paczkis.”

“Right, right, yeah,” Jacob said with a faintly bashful air. “Coming right up. Hey, did you know Mrs Blumenthal thinks we’re dating?” he asked as he started boxing up pastries And other treats for them, the kinds of which Credence had never been allowed before.

Queenie giggled at that and shook her head. “Oh, that woman’s gaydar is the worst. Didn’t she try and set her daughter up with you?”

“Oh, yeah, a couple times. And I’m pretty sure she tried to get her to go out with Newt once, too. We could probably make out with each other in front of her and she’d still think we’re straight.”

“You should give it a try sometime,” Queenie suggested with a grin, and Jacob laughed.

“Like I need an excuse to make out with him. Alright, I got you some little samples of everything for you Credence, so you can see what you like, and a paczki for the beautiful lady,” he said as he took Queenie’s hand and kissed it, earning a pretend swoon.

“Oh, such a gentleman,” Queenie cooed, and Jacob winked at her. “I’m making lasagna tonight, so make sure you’re home on time, alright?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jacob replied with a grin. “You know I wouldn’t miss your cooking for the world.”

“This might be why people think you’re married,” Credence murmured, and regretted it the moment they both looked at him. But they smiled and chuckled faintly, and didn't seem to be annoyed with him.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Jacob agreed.

“We’ll see you later, okay honey?” Queenie said in an overly sweet voice.

“Sure thing, babydoll,” Jacob purred, his voice matching Queenie’s in faux flirtation. She blew him a kiss as they turned and left, and Credence wasn’t sure if he was allowed to laugh or not.

They ate in contented silence as they walked along, and Credence found that he liked the sweeter pastries the most, and the ones that had a hint of orange to them as a close second. But they were all very nice, nothing like the plain brown bread that Mary Lou had fed them. She had always said that food should not be overly indulgent, but merely a means of keeping them alive. Indulgent eating was clearly a sign of gluttony. But there was so much wonderful food in the world, and Credence couldn’t help feeling that he’d barely scratched the surface.

The same, it transpired, was true when it came to clothing. He had seen enough to know that the hand me downs that Mary Lou had provided were not particularly fashionable, but he hadn’t quite grasped just how much there would be to choose from. If he hadn’t had Queenie with him, he would have been totally lost. Or, more accurately, he would have been even more lost than he already was, with her throwing so many different garments at him for him to try on, all the while keeping up a bright stream of chatter. It was quite comforting, particularly as she didn’t expect too much from him. He was still unused to the amount of talking that came from his new housemates.

He tried on what felt like a thousand different outfits in what must have been every possible style, until he had enough clothes to fill an entire wardrobe all of his own. Silky shirts in every colour, coats and jackets in every material and jeans in every cut filled his shopping bags along with a mass of t-shirts, trousers, sweaters, and blazers, and when he thought they were done, Queenie shook her head and laughed delicately.

“Oh, honey, no! You need shoes, and accessories, and underwear! And if you don’t mind, there’s this little shop on forty-second with this real pretty handbag I’ve been wanting, and I’d really like to swing by there.”

Shopping was, without a doubt, an exhausting experience. He didn’t know how Queenie was affording all this, but he didn’t dare ask. That, he was fairly certain, was not polite.

By the time they stepped out of the final department store, they were so weighed down with bags that Credence couldn’t walk straight. Not only did he have every garment he could need and more, but Queenie had been pulled in by not only her coveted handbag, but by a make-up stall, three different dresses, a denim jacket, and a pair of chunky heeled boots too. It was a miracle either of them could move at all, and lucky that the house was not too far away.

“You’re gonna look amazing,” Queenie cooed as she bounced along, seemingly magically unperturbed by the cumbersome load.

“I can’t thank you enough,” he murmured, and he really couldn’t. What kind of repayment would she want for this when it had surely cost more money than he had ever seen in his life?

“Oh, Credence, don’t you worry about it. I’ve had a real fun time with you today!” she said, and he felt as though he must be glowing. She had liked spending time with him. She didn’t think he was wrong or bad, she had actually enjoyed his company.

He was still grinning when he entered the house and was greeted by Dougal’s eager barks as the small dog came bounding down the stairs. Queenie hurried to dump her bags and crouch down, and within moments the dog was jumping up and licking her face. “Hello, my darling,” she cooed as she scratched him behind the ears. “Oh, did you miss us?”

Dougal, seemingly having had his fill of attention from Queenie, barked at Credence and jumped up, his tail wagging frantically and causing Credence to drop his bags in surprise as the dog jumped and sniffed around him, as if searching for hidden treats.

“Ah, ah! Down!” Queenie scolded, but there was no malice in her tone. “I think he thinks you’re hiding Newt somewhere, that jacket probably still smells like him.”

Credence hesitated, but crouched down to pet Dougal all the same. He seemed to sense Credence’s nerves and calmed down, although his tail was still wagging at an alarming speed. He even licked Credence’s face too, which wasn’t quite as disgusting as he would have imagined. In fact, it was quite sweet in a strange way. It meant that Dougal liked him, at least. Perhaps, if he was good enough, he could belong enough that, one day, Dougal would be this excited to see him regardless of what he was wearing or who he was with.

Chapter Text

It turned out that Credence not only liked the kinds of food that had been withheld from him, but the music too. Queenie had made them both a late lunch before launching into the introduction to her collection that she had promised him the previous night.

His first thought had been that they were all so loud, and his second was that they were nothing like the hymns he was used to hearing. His third was that Queenie had a very nice singing voice as she joined in with her records, declaring herself a material girl, claiming to be walking on sunshine, and asking someone to call her, all to a soundtrack of bouncy, upbeat tunes and such a combination of sound that Credence felt hypnotised.

So much so, in fact, that he didn’t even realise the front door had opened until Jacob walked into the room. It was ridiculous, but that simple fact sent a spike of panic through him. Even though he didn’t expect Mary Lou to turn up here, he couldn’t get rid of that deep-seated terror that he would be caught doing so many things he wasn’t supposed to do and beaten to within an inch of his life for his transgressions.

But if the others noticed his momentary terror, they didn’t remark upon it. Instead, Jacob just smiled at him. “Heya, Credence. Did you have a good time today?” he asked, and Credence gave him a nervous smile and a nod.

“Queenie was very kind,” he murmured.

“Yeah, she’s a doll,” Jacob agreed as he sauntered over to the record player and the pile of finished records beside it. “You’ve played Cyndi Lauper but no Prince?” he asked, his eyebrows raised as he looked over at Queenie. But she just shrugged.

“I like Cyndi Lauper.”

“But come on, Prince is a damn genius, a visionary! And he’s beautiful ,” Jacob said, as if that settled the matter. “Here, Credence, listen to this.”

He switched out the record for a new single, and the room was filled with a steady beat and the far too sexual croonings of a man with a high pitched voice. It was different to the songs Queenie had played him, but he thought that he quite liked it. Even if the things this man was singing about were definitely the exact kind of things Mary Lou had wanted to shield him from when she had decided that he wasn’t to listen to any music.

“It breaks my damn heart that that man’s straight,” Jacob sighed, and Queenie shook her head fondly. But Credence stared at him, his mouth slightly open.

“But… You have a, um… Newt. You have Newt,” he mumbled. What was he supposed to call them? They weren’t married, they couldn’t be, so ‘husband’ was out immediately. ‘Boyfriend’ seemed more accurate, more casual, more innocent, but ‘boyfriend’ was a word for good, Christian boys who were for going on sweet dates with girls, not for the kind of people Credence had been taught to think that Newt and Jacob were. But were they any worse than the boys who brought their intended flowers and dated with chaperones keeping a close eye on them, or were they just different? And, as the pamphlet he had read that morning suggested, could there be good Christian boys who are also that kind of person?

“I usually call him my boyfriend or my partner. Maybe my lover, but that depends who I’m talking to,” Jacob said in a mercifully amiable voice. “But he doesn’t mind it. Hell, if I had the chance to fuck Prince, he’d tell me to do it and probably ask if he could join in.”

Credence felt as though his face was burning. This was too much, surely. Could it truly be moral when everything he thought he knew said that it wasn’t? Could it really be okay?

As if she were able to read his mind, Queenie placed a hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “Honey, it’s only bad if the other person doesn’t know and agree to it. If everyone involved is happy and safe, it can’t be that bad, can it?”

“I… I don’t know,” Credence confessed, and to his surprise, Queenie beamed.

“Well, what do you think? Not what that woman thinks or what Jacob and me think, what do you think?” she asked.

Credence worried his bottom lip between his teeth as he thought about this. “I don’t know,” he said again. “I suppose… If everyone really is happy with that… But it’s still a sin, isn’t it?”

“Why, though? Why d’you think it’s a sin?” Jacob asked in a light, curious tone that reminded Credence of the children when they were first brought to the Church. They were always full of questions. But what kind of question was that? Who could question God and His teachings?

“It just is.”

“But why? God’s gotta have a reason, right?”

“I suppose, if people are committing the usual kind of adultery, their partner doesn’t want them to. So it could ruin their relationship or get someone pregnant out of wedlock,” he said slowly, and Queenie positively glowed.

“So, if it’s intended for that kinda situation, do you think it’s okay when it’s not gonna ruin a thing?”

She rather had him there. He couldn’t see any other flaws, any other reasons to object. Except that it was the word of God and He was wiser and knew more than any mere mortal could, particularly one so stupid as Credence. How could he even think to try to debate His rules? “It’s still a sin. The Bible doesn’t say that’s the reason, it doesn’t say that it’s only a sin sometimes. Adultery is always wrong.”

“Polyamory, open relationships and threesomes aren’t really adultery, though,” Jacob said, but Credence shook his head.

“This is wrong. We can’t- We’re questioning God, we can’t-”

Before he could succumb to the anxiety and shame building up within him, Queenie pulled him into a hug. “It’s okay, I promise. Just because your cul- your church didn’t let you doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

Was anything they had taught him true? If even things that seemed to come straight from the Bible were disputable, was there anything in the world that he could truly believe?

“Are you a Christian, Queenie?” he asked softly.

“Me? No, I’m Jewish. Me, Teenie and Jacob all are,” she said as she released him.

“I was raised both Jewish and Catholic though. My dad is Roman Catholic and my mom is Jewish, but they were both pretty set on their beliefs so I got taught both,” Jacob explained, but that made even less sense than his own predicament. How could he know anything at all if he had grown up being taught two, sometimes conflicting, beliefs? “But I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say I’m Jewish.”

“Ma- I mean Mary Lou didn’t like Catholics much more than Jews,” he mumbled. “She said they’re not true Christians. She says they’re materialists and hedonists, and not true disciples of the Lord.”

“Doesn’t sound like she likes much of anything,” Jacob said with a faint smile. “I mean, I’m not the biggest fan either, when some of them are part of the whole ‘gays are evil’ schtick, but I reckon that’s a part she’d actually agree with.”

Credence managed to smile back at that. “There was… Tina left this leaflet in my bedroom,” he murmured, his eyes downcast. “It said- it said that God can love gays, and that there are gay Christians.”

“Oh, yeah, there are a few of ‘em down at the centre,” Queenie said brightly. “It was real smart of her to leave you that. I think they meet on the second Wednesday of the month, if you wanna go. You’ve just missed their latest one, but you can always go next month, and I bet Angela’d be willing to get coffee with you, if you’d like that. She runs the group, she’s a real sweetie.”

“I- Maybe.” Yes. Yes, he desperately wanted to meet her and perhaps get closer to finding some sort of truth. Maybe, somehow, Mary Lou had been wrong and God could still love him. Maybe he wouldn’t go to Hell, even after everything he had done. But he was scared too, scared that doing so would further condemn him if he was wrong. And what if Mary Lou found out? Not that it would be worse than what he was doing now, sat with a pair of gay Jews having been listening to sinful music and talking about sinning and questioning God. “Are they like a Church?”

“Not really. The proper meetings are kinda more informal, and then they all go out drinking sometimes.”

“They drink alcohol?” he asked in surprise.

“Oh, yeah. Angela is pretty damn good at it, too. She can drink with Theseus and not end up on the floor,” Jacob said with a faint chuckle. “Have you never tried it?”

“The Church forbade it, even for adults. But I’m not twenty-one don’t have any money, so I couldn’t anyway.”

“Ah, sure you can! Mac’s isn’t too expensive, they hardly ever card and we’d be happy paying for you anyway! And besides, you’d get a discount, since you know one of the shareholders,” Queenie said with a grin.

“I do?” he asked, so surprised by this information that he forgot to be morally aghast at the idea of going out drinking, and doing so at his age.

“Sera. She’s got all kindsa investments and stuff. Mac’s isn’t the most profitable, but it’s one of the best gay bars - it’s got two floors, the ground one’s like a lounge or a regular bar and then there’s a sorta club above it, and they run loadsa events. We go there all the time. Hey! We should go tomorrow night!” she beamed. “Ain’t it drag night this week?”

“I think so,” Jacob agreed with a grin, although Credence didn’t have the faintest idea what ‘drag night’ meant. “That’d be a helluva first night out.”

“You gotta convince Newt to come out if it’s Credence’s first,” Queenie insisted.

“I’ll try, but even if he does he might just wanna stay downstairs and skip out on the show. You know he doesn’t like clubs. I don’t like them that much either, but he really doesn’t.”

“Why not?” Credence asked, trying in vain to hide the hint of fear in his voice. What was wrong with the clubs that would make Newt dislike them?

“He’s got Asperger’s, so it can be kind of a sensory overload for him,” Jacob explained, although Credence wasn’t sure he knew what that meant either. “And he doesn’t dance until he’s got a few shots in him, and then after a few more, he can’t walk. He’s such a lightweight.”

It didn’t really make sense to him.  Why would anyone want to drink something that meant that they couldn’t walk and had to be carried, even if they didn’t weigh too much? And did it matter that Newt didn’t dance? He didn’t either - or at least he didn’t think so. He’d never tried before, and he wasn’t exactly sure how.

“Yeah, but if we’re going to Mac’s, he can stay downstairs if he wants.”

At that moment, Dougal’s barking announced the arrival of someone else, and Credence heard Newt’s voice from the hall. “Oh, hello my love, have you been a good boy?” he cooed.

“Yeah, I have, baby!” Jacob called, and both Credence and Queenie laughed.

“I highly doubt that,” Newt retorted as he entered the room, dressed in a loose-fitting green shirt and trousers that must be some kind of uniform, with Dougal bouncing around his legs and looking up at him in clear adoration. But all the same, he leant down and gave Jacob a quick kiss on the lips.

“Hey, Newt, we’re all going out tomorrow night, you wanna come? It’ll be Credence’s first ever night out!” Queenie said with a sweet smile that Credence suspected left no room for debate.

“That depends. Are we going to Mac’s or Aurora?”

“Definitely Mac’s, we wouldn’t go to Aurora right away! Although maybe after, if we feel like bar hopping…” Queenie replied, and Newt seemed to visibly relax.

“I’ll go to Mac’s, but I’m not going to Aurora. I hate it there.”

“Even when they have strip shows?”

“Honestly, I’d rather see Jacob take his clothes off. He’s more attractive, I don’t have to pay for the experience, and I get to enjoy it in the comfort of my own home,” Newt said with a faint smirk, and Jacob winked at him while Credence flushed. It shouldn’t surprise him anymore, but every time, it did.

Queenie shrugged. “Yeah, and I get to see Sera naked, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a bunch of pretty burlesque girls. Ideally with her on my lap and a cocktail in my hand.”

There was something even stranger, in a way, thinking about two women together. That sort of relationship had never been quite as central to Mary Lou’s tirades. It was still forbidden, he knew that much, and yet somehow it was less evil. And yet Credence found he understood it less. He could see the appeal of men, he felt it himself, but he had never been able to force the feelings that Queenie must feel. No matter how pretty women could be, he didn’t desire them. If anything, he envied them.

But no matter what a person’s gender or orientation, the idea of paying to see strangers remove their clothes was surely both sinful and immoral. He, too, was glad that they weren’t going to go to this Aurora place. He wasn’t sure he could take it, even if Queenie, Tina and Jacob were to insist that there was nothing wrong with it. No, it would be better to go to this other place, this other show, even though he didn’t quite know what it was.

“So, we’re all going then!” Queenie said brightly. “You know Percy and Theseus never miss a night out, Sera will if I ask her to, and Tina will if we’re all going.”

“And you’re alright with this, Credence?” Newt asked. No one asked him such things at home, and he had always been told that it was best that way. But all the same, there was something refreshing and far from unpleasant about being asked how he felt about something.

“I don’t know,” Credence confessed. “But I don’t think I know anything anymore. I… I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try it.” Well, it couldn’t hurt any more than anything he had already done. If he was, indeed, already condemned, there was little point in trying to be good. And if he wasn’t, this surely couldn’t be the straw that broke the camel’s back. And hadn’t Queenie said that the Christian group would drink alcohol and go to bars, anyway?

“We can always leave if you don’t like it,” Newt assured him. “Or if you’ve just had enough for the night. Theseus calls me boring, but I honestly prefer spending just a few hours out and then getting into bed and- Oh, don’t be dirty,” he chided, shaking his head fondly at both Jacob and Queenie, who had simultaneously sniggered.

“Sorry, baby,” Jacob said with a faint smirk. “I know you didn’t mean it like that. Although if you had, you wouldn’t be lying.”

It seemed that Newt couldn’t resist laughing, and even Credence let out a nervous little giggle. “You’re ridiculous,” Newt murmured, and leant down to kiss Jacob quickly. More out of habit than true shock, Credence averted his eyes. But when Jacob noticed, he pulled Newt in close - causing him to squeak faintly in surprise - and Credence was torn between firmly not looking and staring at the couple. He was growing more accustomed to these displays, but that didn’t stop the bubbling shame inside him burning like acid every time he wondered what it would be like if he had a man he could kiss like that. Shame, Mary Lou had always said, was a gift from God to teach the difference between right and wrong, and if that were true, his feelings were very, very wrong.

“Hey, get a room,” Queenie teased.

“What do you think, baby? Shall we?” Jacob asked.

“If you’re asking if we should go to our bedroom to kiss and have sex, I’d be up for that,” he said in a tone that made Credence shiver and turn scarlet as the images and interest began to swirl in his mind. This wasn’t the abstract in the discussions he was beginning to adjust to, this was real and immediate, and going to happen just a few rooms away in just a few minutes.

“I’m going to- to, um- go,” he said hastily, and before anyone could try to stop him or notice anything was wrong, he was at the door.

He was nearing the foot of the stairs when he heard Newt’s voice again. “Too blunt?” he asked, and there was a note of embarrassment in his tone. But Credence didn’t stick around to hear the answers.

When he reached his own room, he paced up and down, reciting the books of the Bible in his mind as he tried to ignore his awful, sinful thoughts.

They were his friends, he shouldn’t be thinking about them like that - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus - He shouldn’t think about it at all, he couldn’t allow himself to think about anyone like that - Numbers, Deuteronomy - They might be doing it now, naked and moving together in carnal lust - Joshua, Judges - What would it be like, to give in to the sins of the flesh so casually? - Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings - What would it be like to give in to the sins of the flesh at all, beyond the shameful rutting and moments of weakness in which he would give in to his own hand, or the wanderings of his unconscious during the night that left his boxers sticky and his chest tight? - 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles - Would he feel shame or freedom in conscious release? - 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah - He shouldn’t even be considering it - Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs - Who would want him anyway? - Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon - Some people didn’t care, they fucked like disgusting animals, but he was no better. Should he, could he, become one of them? - Isaiah, Jeremiah -  He couldn’t - Lamentations - Could he? - Ezekiel - Stupid thought, of course not - Daniel, Hosea - But what he wouldn’t give for hard, hot flesh under his hands, pressed against his body as if bound to him, the scalding rush of blood burning the acidic shame out of him until all that was left was desire, burning in him like the fires of Hell, the nameless, faceless lover touching him in ways he couldn’t even touch himself without feeling sickened by his own actions. It was not him, though. He was simply allowing it, not acting, and no one need know that he had wanted it so much. Except God would know. God would always know that he was sick, twisted, perverted…

No. He wasn’t.

Except that he was, it was vile, it was immoral-

So why did Newt and Jacob, Percival and Theseus, Queenie and Sera seem so happy when they were all the same way?

Sin is tempting-

But so is love. And there were people who said that it was possible for him to love both God and men.

But people lie.

And yet Mary Lou was ‘people’. The New Salemers were ‘people’. What gave their word more credibility than the words of anyone else?

The ache in his heart and buzz in his mind was exhausting. He didn’t remember consciously deciding to take a nap, but the next thing he knew, he was lying still fully clothed on his bed and Queenie was speaking to him from outside the door. “Credence, honey? Dinner’s ready.”

He could do this. Surely he could face them without thinking about what Newt and Jacob had been up to. Without thinking about bodies and sin. It had been hard enough at home, when only his imagination prompted him, but could he keep his mind clean when those around him so emphatically didn’t?

“Okay. Thank you, Queenie,” he said softly as he emerged from the room. She took him by the arm, just like he had done when they had walked around the shops, and led him downstairs.

Today, at least, they were eating at a table, with a large dish of lasagne, a basket of bread and a bowl of salad in the middle. He took his seat next to Tina with a nervous smile, and she grinned at him. “Wine, Credence?” she asked, gesturing to a bottle, and he hesitated. Would it be rude to decline? Did he even want to do so?

“He’s never had alcohol before,” Queenie said.

“But I- Could I try a little?” he asked nervously, and both women beamed.

“Sure! I’ll start you off with a little, but you don’t have to drink if you don’t wanna,” Tina assured him. “I don’t always, but hey, it’s Friday. Why not?”

“Mm, because some of us don’t get every weekend off,” Newt said. When Credence glanced over at him, he saw that he had changed out of his work clothes and into the same t-shirt and sweatpants Credence had seen him in that morning. Probably because he’d taken them off for other things… But Credence wasn’t going to think about that.

“Are you working?” Theseus asked, a note of surprise in his voice.

“I’m on the morning shift again. But I have the afternoon and all Sunday off, thank God.”

“Oh, but you took Saturday morning last week!”

“Yes, but the thing about my job is someone needs to be working every day. If I get promoted and some new staff hired, I’ll be able to stick to weekdays, but until then, I’m going to end up with some weekend shifts.”

It was at that moment Credence took a large gulp of his wine and coughed. It was bitter and heavy, vaguely fruity but far from any of the tastes he was familiar with.

“You okay, buddy?” Jacob asked in concern from across the table.

Credence nodded, although his mouth felt strange and he couldn’t quite decide if he liked it or not. “I’m fine,” he mumbled. “Just… Not used to it.”

“Yeah, red’s a bit of an acquired taste. Remember, like Tina said, you don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to.”

“Thank you, but I think I want to try,” he mumbled, and took a much smaller sip. It was better like that, he decided, although he still wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

“Hey, you haven’t touched the food. Something wrong?” Tina asked him, and Credence looked down in embarrassment.

“Sorry. I’m not- not very used to just- taking,” he mumbled, and Tina gave him a soft, almost sad look.

“Here.” She took his plate and filled it for him, and when he took a bite, it was so full of flavour and so delicious that he couldn’t believe he had ever thought the food Mary Lou fed him had been good.

“This is wonderful!”

Queenie positively glowed as she beamed across the table at him. “Aw, thank you, Credence! Why can’t you guys be so nice when I cook?”

“You know we love it,” Sera said mildly. “Almost as much as I love you.”

A pink flush coloured Queenie’s cheeks and she ducked her head, grinning down at her plate. “Aw, Sera, you’re too sweet.”

“There’s not many who would say that,” Percival said dryly, and Sera shot him a look.

“I treat people how they deserve. If I treat you like you’re a whore and a bastard, it’s because you are.”

“Oh, charming. Is that any way to treat an old friend?”

“Old is certainly right.”

“Thirty-three is not old.”

“It’s pretty old. And you’re sitting at a table with a teenager and a bunch of twentysomethings, so you’re old by comparison.”

“Theseus is thirty, and your birthday is coming up too!”

But Theseus just shrugged. “Thirty is the new twenty-nine, Perce. Face it, you’re old.”

“Assholes,” he muttered, shaking his head. “All of you are assholes.”

To stop himself giggling as much as anything, Credence kept eating. And it was then that he noticed Newt doing the same. “Aren’t you a vegetarian?” he asked in surprise.

“Mm? Mm-hmm,” Newt said through a mouthful of lasagne, then swallowed and glanced up at Credence. “I am. This is Quorn mince. Fake meat,” he added at the confused look on Credence’s face.

“But it tastes so good!”

Theseus chuckled faintly. “Yeah, I was surprised too. Some of the alternatives are so grim, Newt has to make his own separate meal, but this one isn’t too bad. I had one of his weird vegetarian burgers once, it was awful.”

“I don’t understand your objection to soy.”

“It tastes like sadness, Newt.”

“I like it. And not just because it doesn’t contain dead things.”

Percival rolled his eyes. “Don’t start.”

“I wasn’t starting anything! It’s a simple fact.”

“But you know it sounds like judgement.”

Newt sighed irritably. “I don’t care if you want to eat meat, but I really don’t want to and I can’t pretend otherwise. And all I’m saying is, even if I did eat meat, I’d still prefer soy burgers.”

“Boys, be quiet,” Sera said wearily. “We’re not having this argument again.” Both of them fell silent immediately as if they had been scolded, and Sera nodded. “Thank you.”

“Hey, so Queenie says we’re going to Mac’s tomorrow night,” Tina said after a moment of silence. They were clearly used to talking during meals here, a habit that had been discouraged back at home.

“Oh, yeah. It’s gonna be Credence’s first night out,” Jacob agreed, seizing on the topic in much the same way as Tina had done.

“Which means no drinking challenges,” Newt added with a look over at his brother.

At the glance, Theseus pulled a face of mock outrage, but there was a mischievous twinkle in his eye that Credence didn’t quite trust, but also emphatically didn’t find attractive. Not at all. Well, perhaps a little bit, but he truly didn’t trust him. “I would never!” Theseus insisted, but Newt raised his eyebrows and Jacob and Percival both disguised a snorted laugh into their drinks.

“You do, every time,” Sera said dryly. “You can be quite persuasive, and Percival, Newt and Tina are all stupid enough to listen to you.”

“I’m not agreeing that I’m stupid, but you really do. And you know Credence hasn’t built up any tolerance, so don’t do it this time,” Tina said.

Theseus pouted. “Ah, you’re no fun anymore. Where’s the Tina Goldstein who’ll convince me to keep drinking even after I throw up, simulate how to eat pussy on my brother, start a fight and kiss two people, all in an evening?”

“About six shots of vodka away,” Queenie said before she could answer, just as Newt said “I was clothed, just so everyone knows. No actual, er, eating involved.”

“You guys make me sound awful,” Tina groaned. “You know you’re worse, Thees. I mean, you’re the guy who’s got us kicked out of places no less than six times for fighting or fucking. And the guy who decided to throw himself into a fountain, puked on a guy’s dick, offered to lick a stranger’s asshole, and invented the Toxic Sunset, the Dirty Cumshot, the Vodquila Mistake and the Shitfaced Surprise.”

“All of which were great inventions, by the way.”

“Fucking hell, the Vodquila Mistake is lethal,” Percival groaned. “I feel sick just thinking about it.”

Credence was fairly sure he didn’t want to know what that was. The looks on everyone else’s faces further cemented that belief.

“I stand by almost all those decisions. Except the dick puke, that was a mistake, but who even goes for the throat when the person sucking you off is that pissed up anyway?” Theseus asked. “At least I never cried over a broken vending machine or a bouncer giving me a chocolate bar.”

“To be fair, I’d cry if a bouncer gave me candy,” Queenie said, and Credence couldn’t help privately agreeing. Although no one had ever given him candy before, so he didn’t know what he’d actually think of it, and he wasn’t precisely sure what a bouncer was. But the gesture alone would be sweet enough that he might very well shed a tear.

“I might, but only because American chocolate is so shit,” Theseus replied to a sea of scandalised expressions.

“Hershey’s is amazing, shut up,” Tina insisted.

“Amazingly shit. Next time I go back to England, I’ll make sure I bring back a whole case of proper sweets and chocolate.”

“English sweets may be good, but I think Jacob’s baking is better still,” Newt said, and Jacob gave him such a sappy look that Credence’s heart skipped a beat.

“Aw, thanks, baby.”

“God, could you get any gayer?” Theseus asked in a tone of amused exasperation.

But instead of being irritated, Newt just smiled sweetly. “Well, I could be having gay sex on the table, but that’s more your thing, isn’t it?”

“You know I’m not actually an exhibitionist, right?”

“You could have fooled me,” Newt said, at the exact same time as Percival said “Wait, you’re not?”

The whole table burst out laughing, and even Credence couldn’t help giggling, despite the flush on his cheeks. He was pretty sure he could guess what that meant, and though it should make him feel awkward and ashamed, it seemed as though the more terrible things he heard from his housemates, the less terrible they felt.

“You’re all arseholes, and I hate the lot of you,” Theseus announced.

“Just don’t try to lick any of us,” Credence said, and immediately couldn’t quite believe that the words had come out of his mouth. And from the looks on everyone else’s faces, they couldn’t either.

But then the silence was broken by Theseus, Sera and Percival’s laughter, and then everyone else was joining in. Percival was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes, and clapped his hands together. “You know… You might just be alright,” he announced, and Credence smiled shyly down at his near-empty plate.

Chapter Text

But the following evening, Credence didn’t feel alright at all. He actually felt a little bit like he was going to throw up. Even though there was no reason for Mary Lou to find out where he had been or what he was doing, there was a nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he would be caught and punished. The scars on his back and his hands tingled as if anticipating an addition to their number, and it was all he could do to focus on his housemates instead. They wanted him to do this. They would be pleased with him if he did.

Queenie had helped him dress, picking out a shirt and tight trousers from the vast wardrobe she had helped him to curate, and pronounced him ‘totally gorgeous’. She had assured him that they suited his figure, but he couldn’t help thinking that they made him look far too skinny. But perhaps that was fashionable? He wasn’t sure. He certainly wouldn’t have picked her outfit - she seemed to be wearing some sort of underwear over a dress with a puffed out skirt, made up of layers of white fabric, and a pair of pantyhose with no feet that were clearly too short for her, only just coming past her knee. At least by comparison, his own outfit wasn’t bad at all. And she liked it too, which was the most important thing.

“Credence! Fancy a beer before we go?” Tina asked as he entered the kitchen with Queenie at his side to see the rest of his housemates gathered round the counter. Her clothes were certainly less strange than her sister’s, a loose pair of trousers and a shirt, although it seemed like she hadn’t quite finished buttoning it up.

He’d already had wine, the previous evening, and he was planning on drinking more. It wasn’t as if a sip of her beer could do much more harm than had already been done. “Okay,” he agreed, but when he took a sip from the bottle, he wrinkled his nose and shuddered.

“It is a bit of an acquired taste,” Newt said good-naturedly, although he looked rather amused by Credence’s reaction. “Try this. It’s raspberry cider, much nicer.”

Hesitantly, Credence took a sip from Newt’s glass. That was certainly nicer, sweet and sharp and all around more pleasant, with the sort of fizz that he’d found in soda. “That is nicer, thank you,” he murmured as he moved to hand the glass back, but Newt shook his head.

“You can finish that off if you like.”

“Oh, I- That’s very kind, but I shouldn’t take your drink.”

“I really don’t mind,” Newt insisted. “I can always steal some of Jacob’s if I really want something to drink before we get to Mac’s.”

At the sound of his name, Jacob looked over and winked at Newt, making the latter grin and turn a faint shade of pink. The more Credence thought about it, the more sure he became. This wasn’t wrong. It couldn’t be wrong. And, one day, he’d quite like it if he had a relationship with another man like that which existed between Newt and Jacob.

“Right, you degenerates. Shall we be off now?” Theseus asked, standing up and offering his arm to Percival, who rolled his eyes, but took it anyway.

“I haven’t finished my beer!” Tina whined.

“Neck it or leave it, darling,” he said with a shrug.

“It’s still half full!”

A mischievous grin spread across Theseus’s face, and Newt, Jacob and Sera all groaned simultaneously, while Percival and Queenie looked on in vague amusement. Something was about to happen, Credence knew it, but he just didn’t know what.

“Don’t-” Tina began, but Theseus had already started chanting, pounding his fist on the counter in a steady rhythm.

“Down it! Down it! Down it! Down it! Down it! Down it! Down-”

“Asshole,” Tina said breathlessly as she slammed her empty bottle down on the table, earning applause and cheering from Theseus, Percival, Queenie and even Jacob, while Newt and Sera looked torn between amusement and annoyance.

“You do know you’re not a student anymore, right Thees?” Newt asked in a weary tone, but Theseus just grinned.

“Ah, you’re never too old to have fun!”

“I’d agree with that, but I’m questioning your definition of ‘fun’,” Newt retorted.

“I wouldn’t trust a Scamander to define anything,” Sera said with a faintly amused look in both of their directions. “You’re both reckless, ridiculous men and regularly overestimate yourselves.”

Theseus frowned indignantly and turned to Percival, who shrugged and knocked back the rest of the amber liquid in his glass. “She’s got a point, dear.”

“Of course I do,” Sera said with a faint smirk, and stood up to reveal that what Credence had initially thought was a top, black and gold with short sleeves shaped almost like feathers, was in fact or a dress - or at least was being worn as one. It showed more of her legs than Credence was used to seeing of anyone, legs that were extended even further by high, glittering shoes, and he couldn’t draw his eyes away. Yet no one else seemed surprised in the slightest, although Queenie was certainly staring too. That, he supposed, was to be expected. But it definitely surprised him when Percival gave a wistful sigh.

“Lord, woman, if we were straight, I’d be all over you,” he announced, and Queenie bit her lip, seemingly trying not to giggle.

“That didn’t stop you in college.”

“Ah, but we were lying to ourselves, that doesn’t count,” Percival said with an airy wave of his hand. Had they tried, as Credence had always thought that he would, to force themselves to be heterosexual? He glanced over at Queenie who, seemingly reading his mind, gave a faint smile and a nod.

“That’d never have lasted. Even though my Sera’s such a knockout,” she said, leaning in to peck her lips lightly. Sera smirked faintly and returned the kiss. “Not even she could turn a man straight if he isn’t even a little that way.”

“Which, to the heartbreak of straight women everywhere, I’m not.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Credence saw Newt and Jacob quickly exchange a look and then avert their eyes from each other.

“I’m sure they’ll survive,” Sera retorted. “Now, are we leaving or not?”

As it turned out, Mac’s USA was not so far from the areas of the city Credence knew - or thought he had known. It was strange to think of how close to this world he had always been. Yes, Mary Lou had always said that these things were all around, but he had never thought that they were this close, close enough for him to simply walk through the door and into a world of debauchery and sin.

There was music in the air and an atmosphere of easy chatter, and a steady thumping from above them. And there were so many things happening, so many people, that Credence didn’t even know where to look. Couples were kissing, groups laughing and drinking and smoking. Some of them seemed almost normal, but others… By the bar, there were a group of women who - on closer inspection - Credence thought might really be men, and a little further away in a booth, there was a group who definitely were. Across from them was a woman with bright green hair, and at a table to his left were two men with hair that seemed to defy gravity, sticking up in points. Then there were the men and women in such little clothing that Credence had to resist the urge to turn around and leave immediately. These people were not the people Credence was supposed to be around. They were the type of people Mary Lou would claim were everything wrong with America, and he was coming here as if he was one of them. Maybe he was, but he wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or a bad one.

As soon as they were seated in a booth, Jacob offered to go and buy their drinks.

“I’ll have a strawberry daiquiri, thanks, love,” Newt said, and Theseus snorted.

“You really have a knack for liking the gayest drinks possible.”

“Are strawberry daiquiris exceptionally gay?” Newt asked in an unconcerned tone. “I thought it was seen as most stereotypically gay if you had a pina colada, a cosmopolitan, or a sex on the beach.”

At his final words, Credence made a small noise of surprise and shock that was, unfortunately, still audible over the music and chatter. That certainly did sound gay, public homosexual fornication was exactly the sort of immoral and all-around indecent activity that Mary Lou would suggest they would get up to. And it didn’t even sound particularly comfortable, if they were doing it on the sand. He shouldn’t think about it. He shouldn’t think about any of his friends, or himself, or anyone else doing that. He couldn’t.

“It’s a drink,” Tina explained with a poorly suppressed grin, and Credence nodded mutely. Just a drink. Of course. “There are a few with real dirty names.”

“Mm. My personal favourite is the redheaded slut,” Percival said with a quite frankly sinful look in Theseus’s direction. Theseus just grinned and sent a kiss and a wink back in return. “But in this case, I think I’ll have a gin and tonic.”

“Make that two of those,” Sera said. “And a margarita for my lovely Queenie.”

Queenie grinned and ducked her head a little. “Aw, honey, you know me so well,” she cooed, and the two slipped into soft, easy conversation - something about work and people Credence didn’t know.

“Okay, so that’s a strawberry daiquiri, two gin and tonics, and a margarita? What about you guys?” Jacob asked, turning towards Tina, Theseus and Credence.

“Double vodka coke for me,” Tina said. “And let me guess, jager or whiskey for you, Theseus?”

“Why not both?” Theseus asked with a grin, and Percival rolled his eyes, but smirked affectionately.

“Dear, you’re an idiot.”

“I know, but you love me.”

“Mm. Unfortunately.”

“And what about you, Credence? What do you want?” Jacob asked, cutting across the pair before Theseus could answer.

“I… I don’t know. I, um, I liked Newt’s drink, back at the house.”

Jacob looked at him for a moment, as if assessing him. “You can try all our drinks, so I’ll get you something none of us are having. How’s a cosmopolitan sound? It’s cranberry, orange and lime flavour.”

“How much is it?” Credence asked uncertainly.

“Ah, don’t worry about it! You don’t need to pay tonight,” Jacob assured him with a wave of his hand, and Credence didn’t dare object. Unless he was supposed to? Was he meant to argue against the kindness to show his own virtue and avoid seeming greedy, or would that be ungrateful? He didn’t know, and he hated not knowing.

“I tell you what, I’ll get it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll have it and you can get something else.”

“Okay,” he said uncertainly, and Jacob beamed brightly. He clapped Credence on the shoulder and leant in to peck Newt’s lips before turning on his heel and heading for the bar.

Newt craned his neck slightly as he watched Jacob go, and Tina snorted a laugh. “Are you really checking out his ass?” she asked, and Newt turned faintly pink.

“Maybe.”

“You’re so into each other,” she sighed. “When am I gonna get a date?”

“Do you even fancy anyone right now?”

“Not the point. It’s a hard life, seeing all you couples around.” She sighed dramatically. “At least I have Credence now, so I’m not the only single friend.”

“Ooh, is Teenie trying to get a date?” Queenie cooed, turning to face the table properly again.

“Possibly,” Newt said. “Do you have someone in mind?”

“You two are the worst,” Tina groaned.

“I thought that was me and Perce!” Theseus said in a tone of mock offence.

“You share the title,” Tina retorted. “You’re also the worst.”

“Ah, you love us.”

“And you’ll love whoever I find for you. Are you thinking girl or guy?” Queenie asked excitedly.

“Queenie,” Tina groaned.

“What?”

“I really don’t need matchmaking, okay? If something happens, I want it to be natural, y’know?”

“Aw, fine,” Queenie pouted, but her pout quickly turned to a grin when Sera lent in to kiss the moue of her lips. Credence was just glad that she hadn’t suggested trying to find him a partner. He wasn’t sure he could do that. Not yet- Or not ever. He didn’t know, and he definitely didn’t want to think of it. Just being there was enough.

“Hey, Newt, did you hear about Mrs Blumenthal?” Queenie asked. “She’s still tryna get Jacob to date her daughter.”

“Of course she is,” Newt said with a faint smile. “He’s the perfect boyfriend, and she’s desperate for Violet to date someone. She even tried to get me to go for drinks with her, but she seems to have given up on that now.”

“Didn’t you come out to her when she last tried to set you up on a date?” Percival asked with a smirk.

“I panicked! I needed an excuse and I’m not good at lying when I’m panicking!”

Everyone around the table bar Credence and Newt himself laughed.

“Even so, ‘I can’t, I’m gay. Goodbye’, is pretty funny,” Tina said with a grin.

“I think I’ll have to start using that when I don’t want to go to a meeting. ‘I’d love to go to this unnecessary and definitely boring event, but I can’t, I’m gay. Goodbye’,” Percival said, and this time, even Credence joined in the laughter, albeit very quietly.

“Well, in my experience, it works,” Newt said with a sheepish grin. “She hasn’t tried to get me into a relationship with her daughter since. But she’s also barely spoken to me, and I’m not sure whether it’s from awkwardness or dislike.”

“Maybe Jacob should try it out with her?” Queenie suggested. “She thinks me and him are dating now, but she’s still not given up hope.”

“I’ll make sure to suggest it. Really, I don’t know how she hasn’t worked out we’re together yet. She knows I’m gay and she’s seen us having dinner together, shopping together and going to the cinema together. We’re basically the picture of domesticity, and she still thinks we’re just friends.”

“Straight people,” Sera sighed commiseratingly. “You know, I can describe Queenie as my girlfriend and some of them still think it’s platonic.”

“Seriously?” Theseus asked.

“Oh, yes. They think I mean friend who is a girl,” Queenie said, shaking her head.

“Hey, Sera, do you remember that dear old lady from Kansas?” Percival asked with a grin. “You know the one. You said you were a lesbian and she said-”

Sera’s face lit up with recognition and she laughed softly. “She said she’d always wanted to visit Lebanon.”

Again, there was a chorus of laughter. It was strange, just how much these people laughed. Credence had probably laughed more and heard more laughter in the few days with them than he had in his whole life before. It felt almost like it shouldn’t be allowed, and if Mary Lou were there, it definitely wouldn’t have been. Credence’s hands stung as he thought about what the punishment would be, if she could see or hear him now.

Before he could grow too anxious, Jacob returned to the table with a black tray laden with drinks. “Right, Credence, this one’s yours,” he said, picking up a red drink in an odd shaped glass and handing it over to him. As he handed out the rest of the drinks, Credence took a hesitant sip.

To his surprise, it tasted wonderful. It was sweet without being too sweet, a little like the orange juice but at the same time like nothing he’d ever tasted. And if he hadn’t known it was alcoholic, he wouldn’t have been able to tell.

“What do you think?” Tina asked.

“It’s delicious!” Credence beamed. “Thank you, Jacob.”

Jacob grinned back at him, and Credence couldn’t help noticing the look on Newt’s face that appeared whenever Jacob smiled. It was a look that said that it couldn’t be too wrong for them to be in love.

“You didn’t get a jagerbomb,” Percival said with a groan, and Credence’s attention turned from one couple to another.

“I did want jager, and a bomb is better than a whole glass.” Theseus grinned and downed the small, brown drink in one gulp.

Percival just sighed. “I’m not carrying you home if you get too drunk.”

“You never carry me home,” Theseus said with a mock pout.

“Well, I can’t blame him. Watching you try to walk is funnier,” Newt said with a grin.

“Oh, please. You’re always more drunk than me, you lightweight.”

Newt raised his eyebrows. “I may be a lightweight, but at least my boyfriend carries me,” he said, and leant over to kiss Jacob’s cheek.

“Of course I do, baby,” Jacob said with an almost identical look to the one Newt had given him just moments before.

“That’s not hard, Newt is tiny,” Percival argued. “He’s tall, but he’s so skinny he probably weighs nothing. Theseus is built like a fucking football player.”

“Rugby player,” Newt corrected.

“Oh, shut up. You’re in America now, Scamander.”

“Yes, and football is still a different sport, and one which Thees never played. Unlike rugby, which he did play.”

“Tadpole’s got a point,” Theseus said with a shrug. “I was on the school rugby team.”

“That’s such an English sport,” Tina said, at the same time as Newt muttered “do you have to call me that?”. “Does anyone else even play rugby?”

“Probably. I don’t know, I didn’t keep that one up. I was always more into cricket.”

“Somehow, that’s worse. Cricket is basically just baseball, if baseball was terrible,” Jacob said.

“That’s rounders, love,” Newt replied.

“Rounders? The hell is that?”

“Baseball, if it were terrible. But it was always a bit of a girl’s sport, I don’t think boys even played it much.”

“Nah, we didn’t, but I remember you hating it,” Theseus teased. “You couldn’t hit a ball to save your damn life.”

“I didn’t even go half the time, I bunked off,” Newt said with an unconcerned shrug. Credence didn’t know what that meant, but it seemed impolite to ask or interrupt, so he simply kept quiet. That, at least, was something he was good at doing.

“Naughty Newty,” Theseus said in a mock stern voice.

“Oh, no one really cared, I was hopeless anyway. And if we had a male teacher, all I had to say I was that I was on my period and it was too bad to play, and I’d get to leave. I think I had one period that lasted six weeks during fourth year, and he didn’t even pay enough attention to realise.”

“What’s a period?” Credence wondered, and only realised that he had spoken aloud when heads turned in his direction. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he mumbled, bracing himself for a telling off.

But it didn’t come. “It’s fine. Period is slang for menstruating,” Newt explained in a surprisingly patient tone, but that didn’t make any more sense to him at all. A fact which must have been evident in his expression, as Newt continued. “Ah, I forgot- you probably haven’t had any sex education at all, have you?”

This was about sex? Credence flushed and shook his head, his mind already running wild with impure thoughts.

Newt, however, didn’t seem to notice. “Well, if you have a uterus, the lining sheds every month and is expelled through the vagina. The hormones progesterone and-”

“Newt? Maybe don’t do the whole science of it here?” Tina suggested, and Newt looked abashed.

“Right, right, of course. Well, the short version is that menstruating, or having a period, is when someone with a uterus bleeds through their vagina once a month because they aren’t pregnant,” he explained.

“So it… It shows you haven’t had- haven’t done it?” Credence asked uncertainly.

Newt seemed to hesitate at that. “Well, not exactly. You can have sex without getting pregnant, even if the couple has the ability to conceive.”

A faint frown creased Credence’s forehead at that. “How?” he asked.

“There are actually a lot of contraception methods. Condoms are probably one of the most effective, and they protect against sexually transmitted diseases too. Besides them, there are pills, implants, insertable devices, injections… Plenty of methods, they can be categorised simply as hormonal, barrier or intrauterine. And there are behavioural methods like fertility awareness or withdrawal, and permanent forms of sterilisation,” Newt explained excitedly. It was as if he were preaching, but it wasn’t like any preaching Credence had ever heard before. The passion was there, but it didn’t feel like judgement or anger. It wasn’t a fire, but a flow, like a river of knowledge and enthusiasm pouring out of him with the intent to nourish, not to burn. Around them, Percival, Theseus, Sera and Queenie all slipped into a separate conversation, but Credence wasn’t listening to them anymore. Tina and Jacob exchanged a glance, but Newt didn’t even seem to notice, continuing on regardless. “Essentially, plenty of methods for pregnancy prevention, and if those are used effectively, a person could have sex every day and still not get pregnant, provided they were using their contraception properly. And unless their contraception prevents menstruation, as some forms do, they would still menstruate. So really, periods just prove you’re not pregnant, not how much sex you have or haven’t had.”

It was all so much. The way Newt spoke, with an authority that Credence wasn’t used to hearing in his voice, made it seem believable, but the Devil had a silver tongue. It could all be lies, spread and encouraged by sexual deviants. Sexual deviants like Newt and Jacob and Tina and- and Credence. He was one of them, only marginally better. He may not have acted on his desires, but they were still there, and he couldn’t hide his thoughts from God or Satan. “Oh,” he said simply.

“My general advice would be to use a condom regardless of ability to conceive, and to add another form of contraception if pregnancy is possible,” Newt added.

“But condoms don’t work,” he said, albeit with a note of hesitation in his voice, and Newt, Tina and Jacob all seemed to wince.

“That’s simply untrue,” Newt corrected. “Condoms are one of the most effective methods against STDs and pregnancy, and if you ever intend to have sex, you need to use one, regardless of your partner’s gender. I’ll teach you properly how to use one tomorrow.”

Credence wasn’t sure he wanted to know how. If he knew, it was tantamount to admitting that he would and could have sex, and not in the way God intended, to inviting temptation and sin. And the mere idea made him feel like throwing up. These people all around him, they might feel able to be sexual beings, but he wasn’t one of them. He couldn’t be one of them. For them, it must feel good. Why else would they do it and talk about it so much? But for him, it felt disgusting. No matter what they said to counter Mary Lou’s teachings, no matter what his opinion of their sex lives was, the idea that he could exist as a sexual being outside of the realm of fantasy was most definitely repulsive.

He couldn’t do this. He just couldn’t. And something of that must have shown, as Jacob gave him a soft, understanding smile. “But you don’t have to worry too much about that if you don’t wanna. You might never use what you learn, but it’s still good to know,” he assured him, and Credence nodded mutely. He would never use it. He wasn’t going to have sex with anyone, not now or ever. Not even if his body and his fantasies said he wanted to.

“Oh, yes, of course,” Newt agreed hastily. “I apologise if I overwhelmed you there. I tend to get a little, ah, enthusiastic about biology. Even more so when I’m talking about animal biology, but that’s an entirely different topic. Actually, I have a tendency to go on about anything to do with animals, not just the biological aspects. Jacob indulges me, but I know most people find it annoying.”

“Hey, I’m not indulging you, I love it!” Jacob insisted, and Newt seemed to light up with the kind of glow Credence really wasn’t used to seeing. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you too,” Newt murmured, and leant in for a kiss.

“Hey, lovebirds!” Tina’s voice pulled Credence’s eyes away from the couple and he felt heavy with shame, as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn’t. “You’re not drunk enough to ignore your friends and make out yet,” she teased.

“Not my fault my boyfriend’s cuter than all of you,” Jacob retorted with a grin, and Newt snorted a laugh. “But fine, I’ll try and keep my hands to myself.”

“Yeah, it’s usually Percy we have to tell to knock it off,” she teased.

At the mention of his name, Percival looked around from the discussion he’d been having with Theseus, Sera and Queenie, who seemed to be animatedly recounting some funny story. “Yes, dear?”

“Just calling you a slut, don’t worry about it,” Tina retorted with a grin.

“Hey! He’s my slut,” Theseus announced, slinging an arm around Percival’s shoulders. “Speaking of, what’s the bet he snogs a queen tonight?”

“Five dollars,” Jacob called at the same time as Percival said “Oh, fuck off.”

“I don’t think so,” Queenie said with a pensive look. “I think he’ll make out with either Newt or Credence.”

“I’m not-” Credence began, the alarm building inside him, panic and horror and just the tiniest bit of intrigue. What would Percival’s lips taste like? How would it feel to kiss a man, and to blame it all on the alcohol afterwards? It was tempting, but it made him feel like throwing up at the same time, as if he had been doused in something vile. “I won’t… No. Not me.”

“And I’m not going to make out with him either,” Newt insisted.

“Oh, if Jacob says it’ll be hot, you will,” Queenie teased, and Newt flushed while everyone around him laughed.

“That was one time,” Jacob said, and Credence tried his best not to look either interested or disgusted. If other people found enjoyment in watching, did that make his conscience feel better or worse? Did it mean that his observation wasn’t so harmless or innocent, or did it mean that it was something other people did, and it was perfectly alright? More to give himself something to do than anything else, he took a long drink from his cocktail and closed his eyes, willing his mind back to safer topics. He sat back in his seat and listened to the thrum of the music, preying that the conversation would go on without anyone noticing him. He was good at going unnoticed, and these people talked and laughed so much that they shouldn’t notice a thing.

“Right, I want another drink,” Tina announced and got to her feet. “Same all around?”

There was a chorus of assent, and Credence nodded mutely. Only Newt seemed to object. “Actually, I’d quite like a screaming orgasm,” he said, before turning very pink. Credence didn’t know exactly what an orgasm was, but from the reactions of everyone around him, it was something dirty. A chorus of laughter almost drowned out his next words, but Credence still managed to hear him say, “Oh, Lord, that came out wrong- I mean the drink, I’d like you to get me the drink!”

“Oh, we know you like a screaming orgasm, Newt,” Queenie teased, and Newt turned even pinker.

“I can’t help it, my boyfriend is very good in bed,” he said despite his blush, and the girls, Percival and Jacob all laughed, while Theseus pretended to gag. It was definitely something sexual, then. Credence was almost thankful he didn’t know what it was - there was no way to imagine it and end up ashamed of himself for all his impure, horrid thoughts. As it was, he just felt vaguely fuzzy and relaxed, and he didn’t want to ruin it.

“Aw, baby, you’re too kind,” Jacob said, and caught Newt’s lips in a kiss.

“Are you sure you don’t mind me giving your boyfriend a screaming orgasm?” Tina asked, but Jacob just laughed.

“If he wants it and I can watch, sure thing,” he grinned, and Newt ducked his head down against Jacob’s neck.

“Don’t encourage her.”

“Too late,” Tina said, and winked at him before walking off towards the bar.

Chapter Text

“Where the hell’s Tina?” Theseus whined after what must have been a full ten minutes. “The queue can’t be that long.”

“I’ll go and look for her,” Newt sighed. He pecked Jacob’s lips quickly before he pushed himself to his feet. “She’s probably just met someone she knows and got chatting.”

“I’ll come too,” Credence said, surprising even himself with the words. He didn’t know why he’d suggested it, but despite the looks on everyone else’s faces, no one protested.

Newt led him between the tables until they had a clear view of the bar where, just as Newt had suspected, Tina was talking to a woman with long, dark hair that fell all the way to her slim waist. She was standing very close to her, a soft smile on her face. Newt manoeuvred his way between a couple more tables, only bumping into one of them, until one hasty apology later, he was at their side. Credence, with his years of experience sneaking and making himself small, slipped through with marginally more grace.

But far from looking pleased to see her friend, Tina looked vaguely annoyed by Newt’s arrival. “Theseus was getting impatient over drinks,” he explained awkwardly, glancing between the two women. “I- Credence and I can take them back to the table. You can keep, um- Or you could both come back with us, if you’d like? Unless you have people you’d rather sit with - I won’t take offence,” he added to the stranger.

“This is Newt. He’s not great at first impressions,” Tina said with a grin, earning a scowl from Newt. “And hiding behind him there is Credence.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Credence said automatically with a nervous nod.

“Ma’am? I don’t think I’m that old yet,” the woman said with a hint of amusement and an accent Credence couldn’t place. “I’m just Violet. Vi if you want.”

“Nice to meet you,” Newt echoed, and Credence couldn’t help noting that he, too, seemed a little uncomfortable.

“You’re Newt, right? As in Newt Scamander?” At this, Newt looked up to meet her gaze for a second, his own eyes wide in surprise. “Aw, don’t look so scared. My mama mentioned you. You’re a friend of Jacob Kowalski’s, right?”

Newt hesitated for a fraction of a second before answering. “I’m his boyfriend, actually,” he corrected. It might have been his imagination, but Credence could have sworn he detected a note of uncertainty in Newt’s expression, as if he wasn’t sure he should be saying it.

“Wait, Jacob’s gay?” Violet asked with a grin. “Oh, my mama’s gonna be crushed.”

“Why?” Credence asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

But fortunately, Violet didn’t seem to mind. It seemed so far as though gays weren’t as opposed to questions as his Church had been. “She keeps tryna set me up with him. Tried with Newt for a while too.”

“Is your mother by any chance Peggy Blumenthal?” Newt asked.

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“Did she tell you how he got her to stop?” Tina asked, and Violet shook her head.

“Nope, she just said she found out he’s gay. Why, what’d he do?”

Credence had to bite back a laugh before she even started telling the story. “Okay, so he’s in Jacob’s sometimes when your mom comes in. She chats to him, and she mentions she has a daughter, right? Starts telling him all about you, trying to get him interested. Well, he’s the most oblivious person to ever exist-”

“I am not,” Newt interrupted, but Tina ignored him.

“-so he’s got no idea what she’s angling for. Now, this goes on for a real long time before your mom realises just how bad he is at this kinda thing and says he should take you out for coffee sometime, get to know you and see where things go. And this still doesn’t work, because he really is that oblivious, and he just thinks she wants you to make friends.”

“You’re an arse, Tina. By that point, I did know, I was pretending not to!”

“Only because we told you! Anyway, she’s tried a couple times now and I’m pretty sure she still thinks he’s got no idea, so she finally goes all out and basically tells him you two should date.” Violet groaned, and Tina nodded sympathetically. “I know. But Newt panics, because he can’t pretend anymore and he needs a way out without seeming like an asshole, so he says…”

She gestured towards Newt, like a priest welcoming a new speaker to the podium, and begrudgingly, Newt fulfilled his role. “I can’t, I’m gay. Goodbye.”

“And then he just up and leaves, right off out the door!”

The two women laughed, and Credence found himself joining them. Even Newt seemed amused, despite shaking his head. “Right, I’m taking the drinks back to the table, Theseus is definitely going to be sulky if we make him wait much longer,” Newt said. “Violet, if you’d like to join us, you’re welcome to.”

She looked at Tina for a moment before answering. “Sure, why not?”

“Finally!” Theseus sighed when Newt put the tray down on the table. “Took you long enough, Tadpole.”

“Shut up and just drink it, Thees.”

“Vi, hey! I, er, didn’t expect to see you here,” Jacob said as he caught sight of Violet, a smile spreading across his face.

“I’d say the same for you.” She smiled back and slipped into the booth alongside Tina, who turned her attention to the rest of the table. “It’s good to see you, though. It’s been a while.”

“Okay, you lot, this is Violet. Vi, this is Queenie, my sister, her girlfriend Seraphina, Theseus and Percival,” she said, indicating each in turn. And at their names, Queenie beamed, Sera nodded, Theseus winked and Percival raised a hand in acknowledgement.

“I’m not so good with names, so I’ll probably forget in about two minutes. But hey, I’ll try,” Violet said with a little wave. “Nice to meet you all.”

Queenie and Sera exchanged a series of looks that neither Tina nor Violet seemed to notice, but which Credence caught. He wasn’t sure what they meant, though. The pair seemed able to talk without saying a single word, but Credence didn’t know their language.

“Violet, you have a lovely name,” Sera said smoothly, as if nothing of importance had happened. “And such lovely hair, doesn’t she, Tina?”

“Oh- oh, yeah, it’s real pretty,” Tina agreed, but for some reason, she seemed a little bit embarrassed.

Violet, too, seemed abashed. “Aw, thanks,” she said, her hair falling over her face as she ducked her head. “I keep wondering if I should cut it - like yours, y’know?”

“I like it as it is. But- I mean, I’d like it if you cut it too, I’m sure,” Tina said hastily. “It’d suit you either way.”

Another look between Sera and Queenie, before Queenie interjected. “Speaking of haircuts, did I tell you guys the story my stylist told me when I was getting my hair done, about the lady who was obsessed with John Lennon?” she asked.

“I don’t think so, my dear,” Sera said lightly, and Queenie launched into an animated anecdote. But Credence wasn’t really listening. He was too busy watching Tina and Violet, who seemed to keep glancing at each other and seeming a little embarrassed, but Credence couldn’t work out why. Tina hadn’t seemed like a shy person in front of him when they’d first met. But perhaps that had been because she hadn’t just been Tina that very first time, she’d been Detective Goldstein. That was probably it.

It was only when he finished his second drink that he realised how much time must have elapsed. Sera, too, seemed to realise this. “We’re going to need to get upstairs soon if we want to get a good view of the show. The next round is on Percy, he’ll get it all upstairs.”

“Bossy,” Percival teased, and Sera shot him a quelling look.

“The boss,” she corrected as she rose to her feet, and Credence had to agree that she fit that title awfully well.

It looked like Percival did too, as he licked his lips and grinned at her. “Oh, yes ma’am,” he purred, and Queenie giggled.

“Percy, honey, stop hitting on my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, what’s wrong with the boyfriend you’ve got?” Theseus asked with a mock pout.

“Do you want the list alphabetically or chronologically?”

“Arsehole.”

“Ah, now that’s one of the things I like about you, actually,” Percival smirked.

“I’m sorry they’re like this,” Tina murmured to Violet, but she shook her head.

“I don’t mind it,” she insisted. “Come on, let’s go. I’ve never seen a drag show before.”

Queenie positively beamed at that. “Oh, they’re so much fun! Credence ain’t seen one either, you’re both gonna love it.”

Credence still wasn’t entirely sure what a drag show was, but he didn’t particularly want to say so at this point. No doubt he would find out soon enough.

The room upstairs was much louder and had no tables, just booths around a floor that was filled with people dancing to a song Credence thought Queenie might have played for him the day before. Beside him, he saw Jacob place a hand firmly on Newt’s back and guide him through the room, steering clear of the thickest parts of the crowd. He saw Jacob’s lips move close to Newt’s ear, but he couldn’t hear him over the steady thrum of the music, and Newt nodded. He couldn’t blame Newt for seeming uncomfortable - if Credence had thought downstairs was shocking, it was nothing compared to this. People were moving their bodies so close together, some even going as far as to touch each other, with such little clothing in between. It was not dancing as Credence knew it, but he supposed that must be what it was. And then there were the other outfits. The men dressed as women were up here too, taller than most of the crowd with heeled shoes adding to their already adequate height. Credence was not a small man, not even when he hunched over and tried to make himself so, but some of these men seemed like they would tower over him.

He didn’t realise he was staring until one of the men caught his eye, a particularly tall man with huge hair and heavy makeup paired with a short dress that seemed to be made entirely of glitter. Credence quickly looked away, but it was too late. The man blew him a kiss, and Credence felt himself blush terribly.

Was it better this way? Was it somehow more acceptable to sin with a man who looked like a woman? Or was it worse, a further insult to God’s will? His head felt slow and fuzzy, and he couldn’t work out how he felt anymore. He didn’t even know if he felt good or bad. Somehow, while he had been staring, he had lost sight of his housemates, but he had to go somewhere. He couldn’t just stay put trying to avoid looking at a man in a dress, so instead, he headed over to the bar. Percival was going to be getting more drinks, he could wait for him there and then find the others in the crowd of moving bodies. But when he got there, he couldn’t see Percival either.

“You okay, darling?” a pale, blonde man asked, his hand on Credence’s waist as he moved in beside him. But Credence didn’t think he was. He pulled away, worrying his lip between his teeth as he looked the man over. He was older, probably in his thirties, and although he seemed genuinely concerned, Credence didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. He couldn’t do that . He probably wouldn’t ever be able to do that, even if that was what most people came here for. “Let me guess - first time?”

Credence nodded mutely and the man chuckled. “I thought so - I can spot a club virgin a mile away. Let me buy you a drink, and I’ll show you a good time before the show starts.”

“I… I think my friend is going to buy me something,” he murmured, his voice barely audible over the music.

“Oh? And where is your friend?”

Credence looked around, but he still couldn’t see a single one of them. “I don’t know.”

“Then how about I buy you a drink while you wait? I was going to do a few shots, and they’re always more fun with someone else.”

And although Credence wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed, he nodded. This was fine, no worse than anything he had been doing before, surely. And when the bartender brought over a whole tray of tiny glasses, Credence relaxed even further. They were such small drinks, it would probably only take a mouthful or two to finish them. And this man didn’t seem too bad. He had just noticed that Credence was nervous and alone and decided to show him a little kindness, that was all.

“Bottoms up,” the man said, downed his drink in one and grinned. Credence tried to copy him, but the moment the clear liquid touched his tongue, he coughed and gagged. It was vile, worse than the beer Tina had given him earlier. But the man just laughed and patted him on the back. “You need to get it down your throat. Try again, okay?”

“I don’t know if I can,” Credence protested meekly, but the man was already pushing another shot on him, and it felt impolite to say no. So he threw back the drink, and although he managed to get it into his mouth this time, despite the grimace already forming. “I don’t think I like it…”

“Oh, come on. You’re just not used to it. I was like you when I first started,” the man assured him, his hand moving to Credence’s waist again. “We’ll do one more, together. It gets easier each time, I promise.”

He didn’t know if he wanted to, but the man had already bought the drinks and he didn’t want to be ungrateful. Perhaps he was right, it might not be as bad this time. He closed his eyes and knocked the drink back, but it was still absolutely awful. He opened his eyes again, and found himself inches away from the man whose name he still didn’t know. That was odd, wasn’t it? He should really know his name by now. “Hello. I’m Credence,” he said, and the man chuckled faintly.

“Credence. I’m Percy.”

He smiled and Percy smiled back, and Credence decided he felt quite pleasant. He liked Percy. He liked Percival too, or at least he sort of did. Where was Percival, anyway? He should have been somewhere nearby, surely. Credence looked around, craning his neck to try and see above the crowd. And it was then that he saw Seraphina and Queenie, cutting through the crowd with an easy elegance and surveying them as if looking for something. “Oh! Percy, my friends are there!” he said, but for some reason, Percy didn’t seem as pleased as Credence had hoped. In fact, when Credence turned to look at him, he was looking over at a different part of the room with a faint frown.

“I have to go, I think I see someone I’ve been meaning to talk to,” he said, and before Credence could object, he was gone, leaving Credence stood alone and confused at the bar. But before he could think too much about it, Sera caught his eye and headed straight for him.

“For God’s sake, Credence, we thought we’d lost you,” she sighed.

“Are you alright?” Queenie asked, her pink painted lips pulled into a concerned pout.

He started to nod, but that made his head swim, so he stopped and simply let himself be dragged across the room. Queenie and Sera were talking, but he wasn’t really listening or hearing what they were saying. He definitely didn’t feel right, but he didn’t quite know what was wrong.

“What did you drink?” Sera asked, and he frowned faintly.

“They were… little. A man bought them for me. Percy. He was nice and he bought me drinks.”

“Honey, do you remember what they were and how many you’ve had?” Queenie asked. Credence tried to shake his head, but that wasn’t good either.

They reached a spot on what had been a dancefloor but now seemed to be filling up with a crowd. Though the room was spinning, he could see Theseus, although that might have been helped by the man’s height and flaming red hair. “Fucking hell, is he alright?” he asked, swooping in to support Credence’s weight as he swayed uncertainly.

“No idea. Some man bought him any number of shots.”

“Fucking hell,” Theseus said again, and pulled Credence into a tight hug. “Oh, we wanted to ease you into all this, not get you totally shitfaced.”

Credence didn’t reply, instead nuzzling against Theseus’s neck. He smelled very nice.

“Do we need to go home? Or should we just grab him some water and cut him off?” Theseus asked over his shoulder.

“Water, I think,” Sera said decisively. “And not just because I don’t have any idea where Percy, Tina, Violet, Newt or Jacob are.”

“Newt needed air so Jacob’s taken him out on the roof, and Teenie’s over with Vi’s friends by the bar. Percy, I don’t know,” Queenie listed, and Sera gave her a fond look.

“Oh, where would we all be without you?” she sighed, and Queenie beamed at her. They exchanged a brief kiss before Queenie disappeared, then returned almost supernaturally quickly with a cup of water which she handed over to Credence.

“I still don’t know where Percival’s gone,” she said.

“If he doesn’t turn up soon he’s going to miss the show!” Theseus said, raising his voice as the music grew louder and an unfamiliar voice spoke words Credence was too out of it to fully comprehend. He leant back against Theseus’s firm chest and faced the stage, only to see one of the men in a long gown stepping out to tumultuous applause, cheering and even whistling. He seemed to be singing in a surprisingly high voice to a song Credence thought he might have heard playing sometime in the house, but it wasn’t the song that held Credence’s attention. He couldn’t stop staring at the man, open mouthed and amazed that someone could so blatantly break so many rules in front of so many people and be literally applauded for doing so. It wasn’t right. He could cope with the couples now surrounding him, but they were mostly normal. Newt might be pushing the boundaries, but to an outsider at least, he didn’t seem too bad. But this was something else. This was unashamed flaunting and it both fascinated and repulsed Credence. He adored it and hated it at the same time and the mix of emotions coupled with the strange sensation his drinks had given him made him feel like he might throw up.

“I need to leave,” Credence insisted, the panic rising in him alongside the bile, and in an instant, Queenie was pulling him along, weaving her way through the crowd with a kind of ease that further cemented Credence’s suspicion that she was, in fact, magical.

“We’ll go outside, okay, doll? And if you need to throw up, it’s okay, you wouldn’t be the first,” she soothed as she led him up a flight of metal stairs and through a door, out into the cold night air.

Chapter Text

It was mercifully quiet, with only a few people sitting in the moonlight. Small groups of two or three in seemingly serious conversation seemed to be the norm, although some of the couples were doing things with their mouths that definitely didn’t involve talking. Credence averted his eyes, and found they landed instead on Newt and Jacob. They were sat at a table in the corner by a planter, with Newt curled up a bit to fit underneath Jacob’s arm, and a few drinks on the table in front of them. They were, at least, just talking rather than fondling each other, until Queenie led him towards them and they fell silent.

“Credence needed a break,” she said after a curious look from Jacob.

“I know the feeling,” Newt said, his words coming out slightly slurred. “Come and sit with me, Credence.”

“No, you don’t,” Credence said, and the words were out of his mouth before he could think better of it. “You- You don’t know anything. None of you do.”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Jacob soothed, his smooth palms up in a gesture that reminded Credence forcefully of how scarred his own hands were. If Mary Lou knew he was there, knew what he’d seen and felt… He deserved every scar on them and then some. But so did everyone in this place. There was no way around it, no matter what he did, he was condemned. He would be forever miserable, forever trapped by his own unnatural nature, and he would have been better off with Mary Lou. At least she would have prevented him from making everything worse for himself. But he no longer had that option, he had let them find out what he was, made her regret ever trying to take him in and save him from the path of Satan. Perhaps if he’d tried harder to be good, put more effort into his own redemption, he could have broken through this. He could have cured himself of his sin and his suffering in one.

“It’s not, it’s not okay!” he yelled. He didn’t know when he had started to cry, but he knew people must be looking at him. He didn’t care, though. What did it matter what these people thought? They should disgust him. The people he had been considering friends should disgust him. When Queenie reached out to hug him, he pulled away and closed his eyes tight. He couldn’t do this, couldn’t see these people right now. He needed to get away but he didn’t have anywhere to go. “Okay, okay, honey. No touching, got it,” she said hastily.

“Credence, try to breathe, okay?” It was Newt’s voice this time, measured and calm, albeit slightly slurred. “In and out with each count. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four...”

Credence didn’t speak, but Newt continued anyway, a steady rhythm that did somehow soothe him into silent tears over hysterical sobs. When Credence risked a glance at him, he was simply stood at his side, with no indication of impatience or annoyance. He must have sent Queenie and Jacob inside, they were entirely alone. And after a few moments, Credence sank shakily onto the wooden bench and Newt followed.

“There we are. That’s much better, Credence, well done,” he said softly. “Do you want to tell me why you’re upset?”

But Credence shook his head violently, so violently it made the world around him spin. “I can’t.” He couldn’t bring himself to do that to Newt, to upset him and insult him when he’d tried to be kind. Even if he was wrong, even if he shouldn’t be the way he was, he just wanted to be helpful and happy. Credence wanted to be like that too, but he couldn’t. Not when he knew this was wrong. Everyone there was wrong. He was wrong.

The tears overcame him, and he curled in on himself and wept. He was going to suffer in this life and in the next, all he would ever experience was an eternity of pain. Getting out of the Second Salem Church had not changed a thing, it would never change anything, he had been foolish to ever dream of escaping. Mary Lou and the rest of the congregation had not been the source of his suffering, it was not something he could just escape. It would follow him everywhere he went, and this night out had just made it worse.

“Would you like to be held?” Newt asked, a note of uncertainty in his voice. “Sometimes it helps me when I’m sad, but sometimes I don’t want anyone touching me at all, so I always think it best to ask what sort of comfort people need.” But Credence didn’t know. No one held him, that wasn’t how things worked. And even if he had enjoyed the few hugs he had received, this was different. He couldn’t seek comfort in the arms of a man, he just couldn’t. When Theseus had hugged him earlier, he had liked it, liked being able to smell his aftershave and feel the faint scratch of his facial hair. He shouldn’t have liked it, he knew that, but he found himself longing for that sensation again. And yet somehow at the same time, he felt sick at the mere idea of being in his arms. But that didn’t stop him craving it anyway. Perhaps he was sick to his very core, irredeemably so.

“Please,” Credence murmured, his voice cracking pitifully, and Newt’s arms were tight around him before he could think better of it. Newt was a little thinner than his brother, still strong but with less defined muscles, and yet he hugged tighter, a firm pressure around Credence’s back and over the scars that had built up over the years. Scars that were seeming to slowly heal, with no new ones inflicted for far too long. Maybe that was what he needed, a punishment to absolve him, even if he ended up sinning again. He needed to feel the physical pain alongside the harm to his soul. It was what was best for him, and Mary Lou had known it. He drew back from Newt’s embrace, his body trembling with trepidation, and reached for his belt.

“Credence, what are you doing?” Newt asked with a look of combined confusion and alarm.

“I need to be punished,” Credence whispered. But Newt shook his head and took Credence’s hands, pulling them gently from his belt buckle.

“No, you don’t,” he insisted. “You haven’t done anything wrong and even if you had, you don’t need hitting.”

“But-”

“I won’t, Credence. The woman you lived with might have thought it was okay to beat you, but I don’t. I don’t agree with it and I don’t want you to suffer.”

“Suffering is all there is.”

“That seems like a rather bleak outlook to me. I know you’ve been denied the good in this world, but there is more than just suffering. Like dogs! Dogs are so good, Credence… They know how to be happy and good. We should be like dogs. Although I admit, humans aren’t always the best at being good. But that’s a different point, what was I on about?” He frowned for a second before his eyes lit up again, which was a good thing, as Credence wasn’t sure he had the faintest idea what Newt was talking about. “Ah, yes. You are not doing anything wrong by being here, and you’re perfectly fine exactly the way you are. I know it’s hard to learn that you’ve been taught things that aren’t necessarily true, but it’s my belief that happiness and kindness and… and truth, yes, definitely truth, are important, and we all want you to get to be those things. Or have those things. Even Percy. He’s grumpy sometimes but he’s not bad really. He’s has had a bad time with some people and that’s why- But I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about that and that’s not the point either. The point is, um… The point is you’re good. A good person. And you’re fine and the world is sometimes good and fine too. Oh, and if people make you feel sad or, um… if they feel bad for being you then they’re not good to be around. I think. Was that- was that what I was saying?”

Credence nodded shakily and felt the world spin around him. He wanted the floaty feeling back, the feeling that everything was light and wonderful, as though the spinning was part of one of those fairground attractions he had never been allowed to ride. “I want to go back,” he said.

Newt frowned faintly. “Back where?”

“I don’t know.” Part of him wanted to return to his room back at the house and hide. Another wanted to defiantly return to the depths of the party and embrace the Satanic forces inside him. And yet another yearned to return to his Church and his family and atone for his sins. But most of all, he wanted to go back to how things had been earlier in the night when he had been a mostly quiet observer of his friends’ - if he could even call them that - fun, pleasantly altered by the alcohol and yet without thought of further damaging his immortal soul. “I don’t know,” he said again.

“Home would be best, I think,” Newt said decisively. He downed the rest of his drink, stumbled to his feet, swaying slightly on the spot as he tried not to fall, and offered Credence his arm. And although Credence wasn’t entirely sure that Newt would be much help in the balancing department, he took it. It was just for balance, after all. Nothing untoward. He could be okay with that.

“We need to find everyone and tell them,” Newt announced. “Or… Or just Jacob and Thees and they can tell everyone else.” He sighed and looked wistfully ahead, his eyes unfocused. “I love them, Credence. I really do. And I love home. I’m glad home is here now. Home in England wasn’t this good.”

“Why not?” Had he been sober, he probably wouldn’t have asked. But in that moment, he wasn’t thinking as much about what he was saying, and he knew he didn’t want to talk about himself anymore. He just wanted to forget he even existed, to dissolve into nothingness, and this was the closest he could get.

“In England, there were a lot of people who knew… knew the me that wasn’t me, you understand?” He didn’t, but he nodded all the same. “And… Bad things happened there. But when I came here I met Tina and Queenie and Jacob and they’ve only ever known the person I want to be, and I realised I was happy so it became home.” Newt staggered a little as they descended the stairs, but managed to keep talking all the same. As the music came more into earshot he had to strain to hear, but Newt didn’t seem deterred. “Although I think home is more…. What’s the word? Oh, you know…” He waved his hand vaguely. “It doesn’t matter where I am but if there’s my favourite people and animals and things, and it’s safe and secure, it’s home. I don’t think you’ve had a home before, Credence.”

If Credence was following Newt’s rambling properly, he had to agree. He may not be sleeping on the streets anymore, but he was still homeless. And he probably always would be. He blinked back the tears the idea brought to his eyes and joined Newt in looking through the crowd, until his gaze fell on the bar again. The bar where he had met Percy, the nice man who had just wanted him to have a nice evening. But he wasn’t there now. It was a shame, really. Credence didn’t know if he’d ever see him again, and he wasn’t sure if he’d so much as thanked him for the drinks. While they hadn’t exactly been nice, the kind intent was still there, and Credence didn’t want to be an ungrateful brat. But it was too late now, he would probably never see the man again. He really couldn’t do anything right, could he? No wonder no one really wanted him around. He should just run, run far away and try to make himself into the type of person who could be loved and wanted.

Except that wasn’t true. If his housemates truly didn’t want him around, they would have thrown him back out onto the street already. They wouldn’t have dragged him out, even if it had been a bad idea. So he crushed his urge to run, the same way he had crushed it when he had been living with Mary Lou. Back then he would push down not just the desire to escape, but every desire and every feeling he had ever had until he was left blank, numb, empty, an empty space that feels neither pain nor longing and floats through the world like a senseless, vacant cloud. And now that they were surfacing again, he didn’t know what to do with them.

“Credence? You hear me, buddy?”

A voice pulled him out of his own mind, and he blinked blearily at Jacob, who had seemingly spontaneously appeared beside them. “What?” he asked uncertainly.

“I was just saying we’re heading home now. That okay with you?”

Credence nodded mutely and allowed Jacob to lead both him and Newt downstairs and out onto the street. Someone shouted something at them but instead of responding, Jacob and Newt sped up walking and didn’t look round. Instead, Newt launched into another bout of incoherent rambling, and it was only when he gestured wildly to illustrate some point - the meaning of which escaped him - that Credence realised numbly that he wasn’t holding his arm anymore.

Chapter Text

When Credence awoke, his head felt like it was going to burst open. His stomach churned unpleasantly and the world seemed to spin around him as he dragged himself out of bed and squinted against the daylight beginning to shine in through his half-open curtains. But he had felt worse, on the mornings he had woken to poorly healing wounds and an empty stomach, so he took a steadying breath and made his way downstairs.

It was, he realised, his first Sunday in the house, and he had no idea what would be expected of him. At home, Sunday mornings were for Mary Lou’s lengthiest sermons, with all the members of the congregation gathering to hear her speak. But here, he didn’t know what to expect. Newt wasn’t religious and Queenie, Tina and Jacob were Jewish, he knew that much, but it didn’t give him any practical insight into what might actually happen on a typical Sunday morning. What if he made a mistake and acted in a way he shouldn’t?

As he made his way downstairs, well-practised at moving silently through a house, and found it to be mostly quiet. The only sound was a soft mumbling coming from the kitchen, and when he entered, he found Newt dressed in a shirt several sizes too big for him and a pair of tight boxers, looking half dead and sat at the breakfast bar with his strange lizard climbing over his hands, and Jacob in an apron and sweatpants, cooking something which smelled simultaneously delicious and nauseating.

“Morning,” Newt said blearily as he glanced up from his lizard to smile at Credence.

Jacob turned and offered him a similar smile. “Hey, kid. How’s your head?”

“Fine,” Credence lied. It had been worse, certainly, but he didn’t particularly want to explain that.

But Jacob didn’t seem to believe him. He offered him a slightly too indulgent look and poured him a glass of water. “Here, drink up. It’ll help.”

He was tempted to deny that he needed help of any sort, but that would probably be rude. So instead he gave a nervous smile of thanks and took a sip. He had to admit, it really did feel nice.

“Jacob, love...” Newt began in a tone that plainly suggested he wanted something.

“Lemme guess. Beans on toast?” Jacob said with a raised eyebrow, and Newt gave a guilty grin.

“Please?”

“You have the weirdest tastes,” Jacob sighed, but he pulled a can out of the cupboard and pushed some bread into the toaster regardless.

“It’s not weird! Practically every English child grew up eating beans on toast.”

“Poor kids. You’ve all been brainwashed into thinking it tastes good.”

“Well, that’s rather rude. Isn’t it, Pickett?” he asked, and the small lizard looked entirely indifferent. “Yes, it is,” Newt said as though it had agreed with him.

Jacob snorted a laugh and leant over the counter to kiss Newt’s cheek. “You’re so lucky I love you.”

“Oh, I know,” Newt said with a soft smile.

By the time they had all finished eating - Jacob having insisted Credence have not only a glass of orange juice, but a couple of slices of thickly buttered toast too - Credence felt miles better. True, his head still ached, he was tired and the world seemed terribly bright, but it was nothing compared to what he was used to dealing with. He didn’t think he’d gone so long without being beaten in his life.

“I think I’m going to pop to the market with Dougal,” Newt said suddenly. “He needs w-a-l-k-ing and we need groceries.”

“Why did you spell it?” Credence asked with a faint frown.

“Because he’s a clever bugger and if he hears the w-word, he’ll bark and wake everyone up. And trust me when I say that Queenie is the only one I’d survive waking,” Newt explained. “Do you want to come with us?”

“What?”

“Down to the market. It’s really rather nice, there aren’t usually many people about this early and you can always grab the best produce if you get there first. Although sadly, my favourite baker won’t be there today. He only goes once a month, you see, to promote his shop. He’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, and I really think I might be in love with him.”

“You’re a dork,” Jacob teased. “You know, I think I might come down with you. Just so long as you don’t get me running after that dog.”

“No promises. Dougal?” Newt called, and as soon as the word left his mouth, Credence heard the sound of tiny feet rushing down the stairs. As the dog ran into the room, Newt crouched down and accepted the ball of fluff with open arms. “Oh, yes darling, oh, I love you,” he cooed. “You’re such a good boy, coming when I call you. Oh, yes you are.”

“You praise that dog too much,” Jacob said, but there was no malice in his voice.

“Says the man who sneaks him treats when he thinks I’m not looking,” Newt retorted.

“Okay, you got me. He’s just got those eyes I can’t say no to!”

“Mm, whatever you say,” Newt said smoothly as he straightened up, kissed Jacob briefly on the lips - Credence resisted the urge to look away - and turned towards the door. “You coming, Credence?”

He thought for a moment. It would be nice, he supposed, to be outside for a while and not simply sit around worrying about what he was supposed to be doing. “Okay,” he agreed, and Newt beamed.

By the time he and Jacob had changed into more appropriate clothes, the sun was fully up. The air outside was still sharply cold, but Credence had faced worse. He’d never forget how it felt to go totally numb from the cold, with nothing but a coat several sizes too small to keep the snow out as he stood around for hours, spreading the congregation’s message. Compared to that, this particular morning was positively balmy.

“Dougal, love, good walking, please! No running!” Newt called as the dog pelted off, either unaware of the meaning of those words or simply choosing to ignore Newt’s instructions. But instead of getting angry, Newt just sighed. “Dougal!” he called again, then whistled sharply, making Credence jump slightly.

This time, Dougal turned around and barked at them, but still didn’t quite return to Newt’s side. He did slow down though, and it seemed like that would be enough for Newt.

“I promise I do walk him. He’s just an overly excitable little thing, and he’s far too clever to get caught unless he wants to be,” Newt explained. “I swear he’s slightly psychic sometimes, it’s damn near impossible to trick him into behaving.”

“I thought dogs could be trained?” Credence said hesitantly. And given Newt’s work with animals, he would have thought that if anyone could train a dog, it would be him.

“Oh, most can. Dougal is very intelligent, so he’s certainly able to learn - it’s just the obedience that’s the issue. We don’t actually know where or how he was initially raised, but he was brought back to the shelter twice before I took him in. Poor darling.”

“It’s kinda sad, when you think about it. He’s a real sweetie, even if he don’t always act how you want him too,” Jacob said. “Don’t know why people would want to get rid of him, even if he drives you crazy sometimes.”

“A lot of my babies are like that, the kind who couldn’t easily find a good home. I tend to either foster them if they’re ill or need a little training, or adopt them if they’re going to remain unwanted, usually because they’re a tad challenging. Dougal here fell into the latter category.”

It felt, in Credence’s mind at least, as though he fell into that category too. No matter what people did for him, nothing could cure him and nothing could train him to be better. Would Newt and everyone else be kind enough to keep him around, or would they end up getting rid of him, just like Dougal’s previous owners had done to him, when they realised he wasn’t good enough.

He was so lost in his own thoughts, he almost didn’t see the woman in the long black coat standing outside a church, trying to catch the attention of those on their way to a service. But when he did, he stopped in his tracks.

She was stood with a stack of leaflets Credence recognised without even seeing the cover. They were the same leaflets he had been folding for years, spreading Mary Lou’s teachings. It had been rare for him to have been given the job of handing them out - he was too young and then too wicked to be allowed to stray far from Mary Lou’s side, but some of the older and more devout members of her congregation had been given such duties. Not that they seemed to work very well - the numbers in their flock remained relatively stagnant. Too few people were willing to make the sacrifices Mary Lou required, to follow the rules and enter into such a life. Credence wondered whether he would have made the choice, if he had been raised outside it. Somehow he doubted it, but he couldn’t imagine his life any other way. What would he have been like, if someone else had adopted him? He didn’t know, he could never know, and yet he still felt a strange ache in his heart as if he were mourning the lives he could have led.

But this woman, Erica, was one such woman who had willingly entered into the congregation. Quite how or why, Credence didn’t know, but she seemed content to take in and spread the messages that still ensnared Credence’s mind.

“Credence? You coming?” Jacob asked, evidently having realised he had stopped walking several paces back. And to Credence’s horror, Erica looked up at the sound of his name, and her eyes travelled from Newt and Jacob to Credence himself. They stared at each other for a moment until, to Credence’s abject horror, Dougal approached her and started sniffing at the hem of her coat and yapping.

Newt hurried forward, seeming to forget about Credence for a moment. “Dougal, down! Down!” he scolded, but the dog simply barked at him instead, clearly insistent on conveying something, although Credence didn’t know what. “I don’t care, we don’t bark at people! I’m terribly sorry,” Newt said, offering an apologetic smile to a stone faced Erica as he scooped the dog up in his arms.

“That dog ought to be on a leash,” she said, and Newt’s smile turned guilty.

“Right, yes, of course. Terribly sorry, as I said.”

And of course, because he didn’t deserve things to go right, Jacob approached the pair and placed a hand on Newt’s back. It was just for a moment, but Credence caught the action, and it seemed as though Erica did too. “Don’t you worry, ma’am. His bark’s a whole lot worse than his bite, but we’ll be sure to keep a closer eye on him,” he promised. But Erica wasn’t listening.

“You two know Credence?” Erica asked coldly as Credence slunk reluctantly to their side. He couldn’t hide from her, not now. Not when it was too late.

Newt and Jacob exchanged a look, then as one glanced down at the pamphlets in Erica’s hands. “Yeah, we do,” Jacob said in a tone full of false bravado, with a silent and subtextual ‘what are you going to do about it?’.

Erica turned to Credence, her amber eyes filled with venom. “Your mother will hear about this,” she hissed, then turned on her heels and stormed away, dutifully off to report her new findings.

‘I thought she wasn’t my mother anymore,’ he thought.

If Credence had been a braver man, he would have spoken his retort aloud. But he was still a coward, hiding and trying to disappear the moment he was faced with his fears and his demons. Except he no longer knew who and what was demonic anymore.

“Well. Shit,” Newt said once she was out of earshot. And although Credence wasn’t one for swearing, he was inclined to agree.

Chapter Text

“Please tell me you didn’t let that woman find out who you are,” Seraphina growled as she paced up and down the living room, anger emanating from her like sparks from a fire. Even though she was dressed only in jeans and a t-shirt, she seemed to exude power and authority to rival that of even Mary Lou Barebone.

“Of course not,” Newt said, and Credence had to resist the urge to snort. He didn’t know the Salemers. They could find anything and anyone out if they wanted. He still wasn’t entirely convinced that Mary Lou wasn’t a mind-reader, no matter how much she condemned such wickedness as sorcery. She would know. She’d find them, and it would be his fault. He had brought this on them.

He was a curse, a harbinger of suffering and misery on any group he ended up a part of. He had been foolish to think he could just move on, get away just because Mary Lou didn’t want him in her congregation anymore. That didn’t mean he was free of her. He would never be free of her, and he would bring her with him wherever he went, unless he got so far away he was no longer worth the effort of chasing.

Percival, who was leaning up against the wall behind Sera, exhaled shakily in something that resembled a mirthless laugh and shook his head. “I can’t- What was going through your mind?”

“You make it sound like we snogged in front of her!” Newt said indignantly. “He put his hand on my back. That’s all. You know full well we’re not stupid enough to do anything more.”

“Well, I didn’t think either of you were stupid, but apparently I was wrong. She was holding those vile pamphlets! She was standing outside a church trying to hand them out! How could you possibly be so… so unobservant , so dimwitted that those facts passed you by?” Sera asked in an icy cold tone.

“Honey, you know that’s not fair,” Queenie soothed. “We all slip up sometime.”

“Yeah, and like Newt said, they don’t know who we are…” Jacob began, his palms up in a gesture of open surrender.

“Like they couldn’t find out, find us , if they wanted to!” Percival spat. There were tears in his deep brown eyes, and if Credence were a braver man, he would have asked what exactly they had done to him to bring a man with such fire in him to fear. But he didn’t. Instead, he ducked his head and tried not to draw attention to himself.

“Perce,” Theseus began, but Percival shot him a look that could surely kill anyone caught in the crossfire.

“Don’t, Theseus. You don’t know these people.”

“I might not have dealt with this particular brand of bigot, but we had plenty of our own in England,” Theseus said in a cool, collected tone. “If these Salem lot come calling, we’ll deal with them. But we’ll deal with that when it happens, no need to worry when it might not even happen.”

“Oh, of course,” Percival laughed. “We’ll just blindly ignore them! Maybe they won’t try and make our lives living hell!”

“Worrying does mean you suffer twice, though. If we try not to, we might only have to suffer once, if at all,” Newt piped up, but seemed to instantly regret it when a pair of foul looks turned in his direction.

“Shut up, Newt. I’m not dealing with your ridiculous optimism right now,” Percival growled in frustration.

“Percy,” Queenie said in a reproachful voice and somehow, miraculously, the man quietened when she held his deadly gaze. “We ain’t gonna have this anymore. You’re all gonna sit down and say you’re sorry. And I mean all of you.” She sent pointed looks to Newt, Jacob and Sera in turn. “And we’re gonna listen to Theseus and deal with whatever happens, ‘cause we can’t change what already has. Alright?”

And somehow, they all complied at once, albeit sounding more like children who had been caught in wrongdoing than truly repenting adults. Credence wasn’t entirely sure if he was supposed to be joining in this particular apology, since although she hadn’t looked at him, this was all his fault. Just to be safe, he murmured his apology and kept his eyes downcast.

If anyone had asked Credence which of his new housemates could be the most intimidating before that moment, Queenie would have been on the bottom end of that list. But now? She was definitely a strong contender for first place, although Sera was potentially just beating her.

“Although I don’t know what I have to apologise for,” Newt muttered, earning himself a disapproving frown.

“I didn’t ask what you thought,” she said, and Jacob snorted a laugh that did not evade her notice.

Their ability to remain unconcerned was either very brave or very stupid, Credence decided. But he was neither of those things. He knew enough to know that he had been a fool thinking that he could escape, and even more so to think staying here was a good idea. But he wasn’t truly stupid.

He stood up sharply, drawing all eyes to him in a way that made his skin crawl. “Credence, honey, you good?” Queenie asked.

“Fine. I just- I need the bathroom,” he mumbled, and strode out of the room before anyone else could say anything. He retreated to his room and didn’t come out until night had fallen. When Tina came up to tell him dinner was ready, he pretended to be asleep. But in reality, he was planning.

His bag had been packed in just ten minutes and he out the door in complete silence, creeping into the dark. It was a shame after Queenie had been so nice as to buy him more clothes than he could pack to leave some behind, but Mary Lou had always taught him the perils of materialism. He should have listened to her. Perhaps she had been right about everything. And perhaps if he atoned well enough, she’d let him go back home.

But he didn’t want to go home. It wasn’t his home anymore, they had made that very clear when they’d forced him out. So where was home, then? If not with Mary Lou, then with Tina and her friends. But that couldn’t be right. He couldn’t pull them into the world he came from, subject them to it all when they so clearly wanted nothing to do with it. But ‘it’ was all part of him.

So he walked. He didn’t know where he was going, but it didn’t matter. Perhaps off a bridge was the best idea, so he couldn’t hurt or disappoint anyone anymore. Or so far away that Mary Lou would have no possible way of reaching him or anyone near him. How stupid could he have been to stay in New York?

Somehow, his feet directed him towards Mac’s, the bar from the previous night. It felt like much longer than a day ago that he had been there, acting as if he deserved to or could have friends. He walked past the place, suppressing a shudder as he heard the distant thump of music.

“Credence?”

He spun around sharply at the sound of his own name, his mind whirling with vague notions of who might be calling for him. But he wasn’t expecting to see Percy leaning against the hood of a car with a cigarette in his mouth.

“I didn’t expect to see you back here already.” Without all the noise around them, he could hear Percy’s soft accent. He didn’t know where exactly he was from, but it sounded exotic and vaguely European.

“I’m not,” Credence murmured, his eyes downcast.

“Where are you headed with that bag, hmm?”

“I don’t know.” He didn’t mean for his voice to break. For once in his miserable, pathetic life, he wanted to be strong. But he couldn’t even do that.

“Oh, Credence…” Strong arms wrapped around him and Credence had to choke back a sob. “Come here, hush now…”

He couldn’t hush. Everything was so awful, he was awful, and he didn’t deserve the kindness so many people had tried to show him. He sobbed pitifully into Percy’s shoulder while the older man held him, rubbing his back.

“Come with me, now,” he purred when they pulled apart, and Credence let himself be manoeuvred into the passenger seat of Percy’s car.

“Take me away from here. Please,” he whispered, and Percy’s hand came to rest on his thigh.

“Oh, don’t worry, my love. I will.”

Chapter Text

The soda Percy had given him tasted strange, but Credence wasn’t going to complain. He was many terrible things, but he wasn’t ungrateful. Percy was going to drive him nice and far away, somewhere Mary Lou couldn’t get to him, somewhere no one would know his name. Then he would be safe. He couldn’t hurt anyone if he was far away.

They drove in silence for a while, Credence trying not to cry as he sipped on his drink. “Where are we?” he asked in a small voice when they came to a stop at a red light. He didn’t recognise this part of the city, but he knew they couldn’t have left New York yet. He needed to go further if he wanted to get away.

“Don’t you worry about that,” Percy said softly, reaching out to tuck Credence’s hair behind his ear. His hair was starting to grow out and somehow seemed to look even worse than it had before at this awkward, ungainly length. Part of him was tempted to just shave the lot of it off. Perhaps he would, later on. It would certainly make him harder to recognise. But then he wouldn’t be able to copy Theseus’s long hair, the devastatingly attractive waves that fell around his face. He liked Theseus’s hair.

He felt strangely drunk again, but not in the nicest way. It was different when he was almost alone. He blinked slowly, trying to right himself. “I don’t feel good,” he murmured.

“You’ll be fine, Credence. You’ve had a hard day, haven’t you?”

He nodded.

“But you’re alright, aren’t you?”

He nodded again. “Can we just keep driving, please?” he asked, eyes wide and pleading as he turned to face Percy properly. Under the light of a streetlamp, he could see the man’s mismatched eyes glinting.

“Of course. How could I refuse, when you ask so nicely?” he purred. “Drink up, now. Tears can make people so thirsty.”

He was thirsty, but most of all, he was exhausted. Not even just physically, but mentally drained and ready to give up. It had been so much easier to turn in on himself, remain a passive object as the world took out its frustration on him. Trying to find a home for himself was practically impossible.

He wanted to cry again, but he didn’t.

“Cheer up, dearest. You’d look so beautiful if you would only smile.”

He shook his head wordlessly; he wasn’t beautiful. He was a horrid, ugly thing, destined to suffer in this life and the next. No one could possibly find him beautiful. His pain and his anger weren’t pretty, no matter what Percy said.

“Oh, but you would. If only everyone else could see it. They don’t appreciate you, do they? They either despise you or feel sorry for you.”

He didn’t want it to be true, but he knew it was. He nodded, and Percy clicked his tongue sympathetically.

“That’s why you left, isn’t it?”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone else,” Credence whispered.

“I don’t see how a sweet little thing like you could hurt anyone. I know you wouldn’t mean to, certainly.”

“Ma said I’ve got evil in me. My- The people I was living with think I’m bad too.” They had to, after what he had inadvertently done and after all the effort they had been forced to put into watching over him. Tina probably wished she had left him to die out on the streets.

Percy put his hand on Credence’s leg again and squeezed. “I don’t think you’re evil. I think you’re lost, and I can guide you. I know how things are for you. I’ve been you. And I can show you everything you need to know. Let me look after you, and I promise you won’t hurt anyone or be hurt again.”

It seemed almost sacrilegious to be taking Percy as his guiding light into the forays into sin, taking Percy as his God. This was how Satan worked, and yet Credence couldn’t bring himself to care.

The car had stopped, pulled over without him noticing. He felt as though he was still moving, and when he tried to focus his eyes properly, he couldn’t quite manage it. He blinked a few times, but before he could speak, the stale taste of tobacco was filling his mouth as Percy pressed their lips together. One of his hands was in Credence’s hair now, the other on his wrists, holding him in place. He was supposed to like this, the scratch of facial hair against his upper lip, the thick, masculine scent of another man leaning over him, but he didn’t. This wasn’t how he’d imagined it to be. But nothing in his life was how he had imagined it to be. He already knew that his mind was wrong, everything he thought was wrong. Perhaps this really was how it was supposed to go.

But he didn’t want this. And this wasn’t the way he had seen Jacob and Newt or Theseus and Percival kiss, the embraces they had shared. This wasn’t how he wanted it to be.

He pulled his hands out of Percy’s grip and turned his head to the side. “I don’t want-” he whispered, his voice coming out pleading.

“Shh, shh,” Percy soothed. “I know it’s hard. You’ve been taught so many wrong things, but this isn’t wrong. You can kiss me back, Credence.”

He shook his head and ducked his head

“It’s okay, you don’t have to lie,” he purred in a voice that made Credence’s skin crawl. It would be so easy to give in, so easy to be small and obedient and just let it happen. But he didn’t want to. He was tired of people making him their puppet. He was tired of feeling trapped, feeling powerless and lost and scared. He would make his own way to wherever he needed to be.

“I don’t think I want to,” Credence insisted, his voice growing in volume. He didn’t need anyone telling him what he should want to do anymore.

“You’re too good for me, hmm?” Percy asked, and there was no kindness in his voice now. “You know that’s not true. Come here, if you know what’s best for you.” He sounded harsh, derisive in a way that reminded Credence far too much of Mary Lou Barebone.

He hated that woman. She was vile, and he didn’t care if she was his Ma. God could damn him for thinking ill of her along with every other sin he had committed. She didn’t make him feel happy or loved or like he belonged. He could parrot her words until his throat wore out, and he still wouldn’t be enough.

When the scream left his throat and his fist made contact with Percy’s face, he felt the rush of every emotion he had ever concealed bursting out of him, flowing like thick, dark smoke from every pore. He was full of darkness and evil, but he would not let anyone else harness it and use him for their own gain. His darkness was his own.

“Fuck you!” Percy yelled, and made a swing at Credence with one hand, the other clutching his nose. There was a blossoming of pain over his cheek but Credence just pulled away, drawing his fist back for another punch with a visceral scream of pure rage.

Even in the dim light, Credence could see the blood dripping from it, but he didn’t stay to find out how bad it was. He couldn’t, not after he had hurt Percy like that. He didn’t even want to think about what the punishment would be for a crime of that magnitude.

So he wrenched the car door open and he ran. He didn’t know where he was going, but that wasn’t new. He had abandoned his guides and the path he was supposed to take, and now he had to blindly find his own way to whatever end awaited him.

Despite his upbringing, despite every time he had been forced to be calm and quiet and well-behaved, he howled. He screamed with every ounce of rage and hurt and pain he’d ever bottled up inside himself, tried to hide away. He punched a wall once, twice, three times, until he could feel such pain in his knuckles that he couldn’t bear to do it again. But it was a viscerally satisfying pain, nothing like the one Mary Lou used to inflict on him, even with the blood marring his pale flesh. And yet the tears were still flowing down his face as if he had been beaten.

He sank down onto the sidewalk and sobbed. He sobbed until he couldn’t sob anymore, and then just shook with silent tremors as his dizziness slowly faded.

He didn’t know how long he’d been sat there before he heard a familiar voice call his name. He lifted his tear stained face to see Percival looking out through the open window of a lavish black car.

“Credence!”

“Go away,” he said, his voice cracking as he spoke. He didn’t need anyone. He didn’t want anyone, not when he was more sure than ever that there was no such thing as good in the world and no place for him here.

He put his head down again and only looked up when he felt a presence next to him. Percival had parked the car and sat down on the sidewalk next to him, looking oddly out of place in this grimy street in his sleek, black suit with his fancy car.

“Credence? You’ve hurt your hand, let me see.”

“‘S fine,” he mumbled, pulling his bloody, bruising hand close to his chest.

“Why did you run away?”

Credence said nothing. He hid his face again and squeezed his eyes shut to keep himself from sobbing once more.

“Was it about that woman?”

Credence shrugged.

“Credence…” A few moments of silence, and then the faint sound of a lighter and the smell of smoke filled the air. “Turns out this is a bad habit, don’t start smoking, Credence. You’ll never kick it.”

“Mm.”

Percival inhaled, then exhaled slowly. “You know I’m not so angry at you I’d kick you out of the house. First of all, Tina would never speak to me again,” he said with a wry chuckle. Credence didn’t laugh. “No, I’m not so heartless. No matter what some of my ex-boyfriends might think. Sorry. Humour is a terrible coping mechanism for difficult conversations.“

“You’re doing all the talking, it’s not a conversation,” Credence snapped. He didn’t care anymore. He didn’t care about anyone or anything. Perhaps Percival would hit him now. That was what happened when you were foul and insolent.

But he didn’t. He just laughed again and took another drag on his cigarette. “Very fair point.”

They sat in silence for a few moments before Percival spoke again. “I ran away, once. Twice, technically. A long time ago.”

Chapter Text

Percival had his first crush when he was twelve years old. He didn’t realise it was a crush at first, not when he knew even then how this was supposed to go. He was to focus on his education until he was older, and then he was to marry a nice, respectable woman. Only that prospect was about as interesting and as exciting to him as his AP Calculus homework.

He didn’t know what he wanted. He wasn’t supposed to want anything other than what his parents wanted for him. Except slowly, like a tap dripping water, the desires surfaced and by the time he was fifteen, he couldn’t deny it to himself any longer. He was defective. He could try to hide it, he would try to hide it, but it was true.

He graduated with top grades and headed straight to Columbia. His father had pushed for Yale, but Percival knew he had to be in New York. That was his first real act of rebellion, his refusal to follow the path set out for him. And once he’d started, it was hard to stop.

In his US Law 101 class, there was a girl. She had light brown skin and piercing eyes, and somehow, she was the smartest in the class. Percival watched as their professor ignored her raised hand time and time again, watched as she took notes in neat cursive, watched as she held her head high and feigned deafness or shot back devastating quips every time their peers attempted to insult her, and watched as each time they completed an assignment, she came top of the class despite numerous attempts to take marks away from her. Her name was Seraphina, and she refused to be addressed as anything else by anyone but her closest friends - a ‘group’ which seemed to consist of a single woman.

She may not be the type of woman his parents wanted him to marry, but he liked her. She was smart and objectively attractive. There was no question in the fact he admired her. Maybe this was what attraction to women felt like for everyone. True, the idea of kissing her was boring at best to him, but he could manage it. And the idea of bringing home a strong-willed, intelligent black woman who was at the very least his intellectual equal, well… That seemed too good to pass up.

She said yes when he asked her out, although her eyes were narrowed as if she suspected ill intentions.

 

“But Seraphina’s… you know.”

“Don’t interrupt,” Percival chastised, but there was no real malice to his tone. “She is, but this was the seventies and we were young. If you want to hear her personal demons, you’ll have to ask her. But she was already bullied enough, don’t you think? And she’s from Georgia. If you think there are bigots up here… Well. Let’s just say they’re even less keen on black people, women and gays down in the South, and if you’re all three… Well. It might not feel like it, but you and I are comparatively lucky.”

Credence didn’t feel lucky, but he didn’t say anything.

“Anyway, she and I were officially together…”

 

But his resolve didn’t last long. There was only so much time before Percival found himself in the neighbourhoods he knew he wasn’t supposed to go into, the ones infested with drugs and queers. The one where, despite his fancy suits and powerful family, he belonged. He was high as a kite and drunk out of his mind the first time he slept with a man, only to return to Seraphina’s bed the next day and pretend making love to a woman, even an extraordinary one, was in any way comparable. Every time he told himself he’d stay away, that he wouldn’t go back. And every time, he failed.

The first time he saw the so-called Good Christian campaigners, the people shouting and waving those signs, he tried to ignore them. They couldn’t know, he told himself, there was no way they could know. He was just a normal man walking to class, no sexual perversion here. But he felt the rest of the day feeling sick all the same. It felt as though they could surely see into his mind, see the hazy memories of every glance, every kiss, every night he’d had in another man’s embrace. He knew it was illegal, and it was probably immoral too. He should hate himself and bury this deep down until it became ancient history, a shameful past to never speak of to anyone.

But he didn’t. He couldn’t. He lasted just over a month before he spent another evening in a bar he knew he shouldn’t be in. It seemed that hatred and avoiding naming yourself for what you really are wasn’t enough to keep the thoughts at bay.

It just felt so intoxicatingly freeing. For once, he wasn’t surrounded by people he knew were so fundamentally different to him, people who would hate him for thoughts he couldn’t help. He may be a deviant, a criminal, but these people… they were all the same. And God, so many of them were beautiful. With high enough levels of intoxication, he could let himself give into them and finally feel the freedom he craved.

But in the end, he still had to go home and face his girlfriend. He had to accept that this could only be a phase and eventually, when he entered into his inevitable future, he would have to give it all up.

Suicide seemed like a more than viable option when he spent any length of time considering the prospect.

 

Credence stared at Percival, unable to even speak. It just didn’t make sense to him that he could have fallen apart like that, not when Percival was so… together.

“Oh, come on. That’s practically a rite of passage for a tragic and repressed homosexual,” Percival snorted. “You surely know that.”

“Suicide is a sin,” Credence whispered, his eyes downcast.

“So is homosexuality, apparently. And we’ve already established that abstinence wasn’t working for me.”

 

It was only a few months later when he ended up staggering home, bloodied and bruised, that he broke. He had been seen in the wrong neighbourhood, seen leaving a less than respectable establishment at the crack of dawn, coming down from a hazy high and an alcoholic buzz. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so intoxicated, he would have fought back better. Perhaps if he hadn’t been defective, he wouldn’t have been targeted in the first place.

He didn’t want to go home, but he had nowhere else to go.

When she saw him, Seraphina didn’t ask what had happened right away. “Does it hurt?” she said instead, her tone calm and collected.

He nodded mutely.

“Do you need to go to the hospital?”

He shook his head.

“Sit down.”

He sat.

“I look the other way for you, but if you’re getting into something bad, tell me now. Because if this is about the drugs - and yes, I know about that, I’m not stupid - I need to know.”

“It’s not,” he whispered hoarsely.

“You swear? Because you know whatever trouble you get in, if the police get involved-”

“It’s not drugs Sera, alright?”

“You come home at seven in the morning, beaten to hell and still on something, you don’t get to ‘Sera’ me right now. How do you think this looks, hmm? You think I won’t go down twice as bad as you if anything happens? You might be able to get away with whatever you want, but some of us don’t have that luxury.”

He put his head in his hands and groaned deeply. He was tired, everything hurt, and he couldn’t do this anymore. Any of this. “Just go, okay? You’re better off without me, just get out.”

There was a brief pause before she spoke again, this time in a voice colder than he’d heard from her before. “Fine. Put your habit above me.”

“I told you, it’s not drugs,” he roared, standing up sharply. She flinched - and though it was only for a fraction of a second, he deflated instantly. “I’m sorry, I-”

“Don’t, Percival. Just don’t.”

 

He went out again that night, with bruises still fresh and cuts unhealed. He needed to feel something again, and he didn’t care if they killed him this time. And that was the night that did kill him, in a way. That was the night he met Gellert.

 

“Who’s Gellert?” Credence asked, and Percival sighed.

“Gellert Grindelwald is one of the most vile men I’ve ever met. And I loved him.”

Chapter Text

The air was thick with smoke - and not all of it from plain tobacco. The smell would stick to his clothes, but Percival was almost certain that Seraphina would not be there when he got home.

“Are you here alone?” a low voice asked over the steady thrum of the music, in an accent Percival couldn’t quite place. Eastern European, perhaps.

“Yeah,” he said, his throat raw from whiskey and smoke. The man slipped into the seat next to him, but Percival barely looked up from his drink.

“Oh, look at you,” the man crooned, reaching out to cup his bruised cheek. “Family or strangers?”

“It’s not that bad,” he said gruffly. It hurt, but the alcohol had pushed it back into a dull ache. “Just some guys out looking for a fight.”

“You shouldn’t be risking a pretty face like yours in a fight.”

Percival felt his face heat up faintly. He looked at the man, properly looked at him, and was met with piercing eyes that seemed to hold a kind of magic within them. That definitely didn’t help his blush. But he couldn’t bring himself to care. He took another long drink and leant his head against his hand. “I don’t know about pretty,” he said eventually.

“Oh, don’t lie to me. You’re the prettiest man in this room.”

“I didn’t know looking like you’ve had the shit kicked out of you was in style.”

The man laughed softly and shifted closer to him. “I think every man in here has been there, and none of them could wear it quite so well as you.”

“What do you want? I’m not some girl, you don’t need to flatter me.”

He clicked his tongue softly, barely audible if they hadn’t been sat so close together. “Direct. I like that. But what if I want to flatter you, hmm?”

Percival surveyed him for a moment. He had nothing to lose, not anymore. “Then you can buy me a drink,” he suggested, and the man beamed.

“It would be my absolute pleasure.”

 

He didn’t go home that night, but he didn’t think Seraphna would be there to notice.

 

“Why are you sad, darling?” Gellert asked in a soft, crooning voice as he stroked Percival’s hair. The sunlight streamed in through his thin curtains, casting a gentle warmth over their cocoon of cotton.

“Who says I’m sad?” Percival asked.

“Aren’t you?”

Percival thought about lying. He thought about insisting that he was above such things as the ridiculous sadness he felt, vehement that he wasn’t the type to have any sort of emotion at all. But he didn’t know if he could. “I don’t know,” he said eventually.

He did know.

He had stayed the night, had done the sort of thing it was only appropriate to do with a girl. Pure, carnal lust, fueled by intoxication, was one thing. The kind that took place on sofas, bathrooms, floors. Maybe the odd bed, but only as a surface to be pushed down against. That, he could do. Sleeping in another man’s bed was quite another thing entirely. How was anyone supposed to go back to normal life after that? It was the final boundary, the last sexual transgression that proved without a doubt that he was entirely… He still couldn’t quite say it.

He should hate the way he felt, with Gellert stroking his hair and their naked bodies still pressed gently together. But he didn’t. He couldn’t.

“I’m sad because I think I want to see you again,” he confessed, and Gellert raised an eyebrow.

“Missing me already? You haven’t even left yet.”

“I know, but- I don’t usually… I can’t-”

“Ah,” Gellert cut him off with a knowing look. “I understand, Percival. I truly do.”

“I have a girlfriend, I can’t do this.”

“Yet you’re here. And where is she, when you’re wounded and hurting, hmm?”

“I can’t tell her what happened.”

“But did she take care of you? Did she comfort you? Did she help you to feel good again?”

Percival couldn’t answer that. But his silence spoke volumes.

“You and I, we can’t love women. And they can’t love us, because deep down, they know what we are. They despise us.”

“She wouldn’t-”

“She would, Percival darling. They all do. You know that.”

“It’s my fault, if I…” If he what? If he could suppress himself better? If he refused to let himself get drunk enough or high enough? If he had never got involved with her in the first place? He didn’t know anymore.

“Hush now, beautiful,” Gellert crooned, and Percival shook his head.

“Don’t call me that.”

“You didn’t mind it last night.”

“I was drunk, I don’t-”

“Percival, listen to me. You don’t have to justify it to me. I know what you are, we’re the same.”

He slumped back into the bed. “How are you so okay with this?”

“I’ve seen enough to know that this makes the most sense. And I couldn’t stomach being with a woman.” He pulled a face and Percival let out a soft laugh that caused Gellert to grin. “Ah, now that’s much better. Come here, Percy darling.”

It was never easy, but Gellert made giving in feel so simple.

 

When he finally left, he found a note from Seraphina underneath his door.

Percival,

I don’t know where you are but I hope you’re safe. I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me but I won’t stick around and be taken for granted while you destroy your own life and I won’t let you destroy mine too. I tried to speak to you about this in person but you’re either ignoring me or out somewhere, so I’m afraid this will have to do. I still care about you but I don’t want to be with you anymore. I’m sorry.

Yours,

Seraphina

He supposed that was to be expected. A part of him was sad - he really did like her, even if he didn’t love her - but most of him, the terrible part of him, was relieved.

 

Everything was so very different with Gellert. Percival couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when they became a couple as opposed to two men who happened to spend a lot of time together, a sizable portion of it in bed. It seemed to just happen around him until he woke up one morning and realised he belonged to Gellert Grindelwald.

Gellert liked to be possessive. Whenever they’d go out together, he’d let some unsuspecting man try to chat Percival up, then swoop in and claim his prize when the poor guy had just started to think he was getting lucky. Then later that night when they went to bed, Gellert would show him just how taken he really was. But Gellert could be tender too, loving him in a way that no one else could ever or would ever love him. It was perfect and Percival adored it, adored the way Gellert could make him feel so desirable.

Or at least he did most of the time, until the arguing started.

Gellert would get sulky, withdrawn and moody every time Percival mentioned a classmate. It wasn’t like he had any proper friends, he was isolated enough that it didn’t come up a lot. Seraphina had made sure of that, what with her icy treatment of him driving away all their mutual acquaintances and rumours of his drug use flying. But it was better this way. An asshole junkie was someone to be avoided, and that meant that no one at school would find out any more about him. But every time it did, things would go sour until Gellert finally exploded, accusing Percival of cheating on him.

“I swear to you, Alan is just a classmate! I don’t think he’s even a faggot!” he insisted for what felt like the hundredth time.

“You’re delusional, Percy!” Gellert slammed his hand on the table, sending Percival’s notes flying. “He’s just desperate to get you alone and you’ll go with it.”

“I wouldn’t do anything with him even if he was!”

“Oh, please! You like the attention.”

“I wouldn’t! I swear I wouldn’t touch him! I want you, not him. Please, stop it.”

“You cheated once! You had a girlfriend when you came to me, and how do I know you won’t cheat again? How do I know you won’t decide I’m not enough for you?”

“I won’t! It’s different, I was stupid to even try and be with a girl. You’re more than enough, you’re the only person I need, I love you!”

Gellert deflated and sank into a chair. “Oh, Percy… Even if that’s true, I just can’t trust him not to take advantage of you, love. I don’t like him being around you.”

Percival stopped spending time with anyone at all from college after that, not even to study. It was better that way, anyway. Like Gellert said, they would never accept him if they knew about who he really was. Besides, it wasn’t like he was alone. Gellert was there for him, and he got to spend time with him and his friends. Even if he didn’t like some of the things they said.

Whenever they were sat around in Gellert’s living room, smoking and drinking, they liked to talk.

“I just don’t think it’s right, giving women the power to murder their babies like that.”

“But isn’t it cruel to force a woman to give birth to a baby she doesn’t want?” Percival asked from his position on Gellert’s lap. He felt a grip tighten on his arm the moment he spoke, and felt the air from Gellert’s false laugh on the back of his neck.

“Oh, you make it sound like it’s torture! Giving birth is a woman’s main role in life, it’s simple biology.”

“They can always give the kid up if they don’t want to raise them,” one of his friends, a tall man with a full beard, added.

“Very true. And to be perfectly candid, don’t you think they would be aborting every homosexual baby if they could work out a way to tell which ones would grow into faggots?”

“I suppose so,” Percival admitted.

“Forgive my dear Percy. He can be quite dim sometimes. Quite how he got into college is anyone’s guess,” Gellert said smoothly to a chorus of laughter, and Percival felt his cheeks heat up. “But then again, they let that negro bitch in.”

“Seraphina’s intelligent,” Percival insisted, but kept his voice quiet.

“Well, I suppose there are oddities in every group,” a muscular bald man said. “But I’d be willing to bet she’s the only one, and for good reason.”

“Personally, I’d have had my doubts from the name alone. What do that sort have against proper names?”

“Be fair, Peter. That just means her parents are stupid.”

“True. But someone should tell her she’d do much better if she would go by Sarah.”

Gellert laughed. “Quite right. But women like that always do love to feel special.”

“I want another drink,” Percival announced and pulled himself out of Gellert’s grasp.

Once in the kitchen, he exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself. It was ridiculous getting this worked up. She had never actually cared about him, he knew that. He was much better off with Gellert and really, no one had said anything too bad about Seraphina, but it still left him feeling vaguely ill. Gellert would say he was overreacting, of course. He was dramatic like that sometimes.

 

By the time Gellert first hit him, Percival had been making excuses for so long that it came as second nature. It was just because he was passionate, he cared too much, he’d just had a bad day and needed to let his anger out on someone who understood. Or else Percival had provoked him, he’d deserved it. Besides, it was only a slap. It wasn’t like he’d really hit him, not like those who would beat him if they knew what he was. Really, he was better off with Gellert than with or around anyone else.

By the time he lost count of how often Gellert had hit him, Percival was a different man. He hadn’t been home, he hadn’t been to classes, he had barely done anything in so long. Even talking to a cashier could spark Gellert’s jealousy. Just to be safe, he barely looked at anyone else anymore. He just kept his head down and focused all his attention on keeping Gellert happy.

That was how he ended up running into Seraphina.

 

Percival had to make dinner. Gellert would be angry if it wasn’t ready when he got home, no matter what time that actually was. And it had to be good, no matter how bad a cook Percival really was. Basket in hand, head down, in and out of the store nice and quickly.

Without realising, he turned out of the frozen foods aisle and walked straight into into somebody, who let out a small noise of surprise.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. But when he glanced up, his blood ran cold. “Seraphina,” he said in a hoarse voice.

Seraphina looked regal, perhaps even more so than before. Her hair was tied up in a deep red turban that matched her skirt and lips, coordinated even for a trip to the grocery store.

“Percival,” she said, her voice just a few degrees away from being considered cool. “It’s been a while.”

“It has.” He didn’t know what to say to her. What could he say?

Before he had to think of something, a petite woman with sleek, black hair approached them. “Sera, do we not need to go?” she asked sweetly.

“It’s fine, Yazmin. This is Percival Graves,” she said, and Yazmin’s calm expression turned into a soft, confused frown as she surveyed him, which in turn became a wide eyed look of… something.

He shifted uncomfortably and she quickly smiled. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr Graves. Yazmin Ramezani. You have no need to worry. I don’t tell what I see any more than you would.”

She spoke as if that should make things clearer, as if he knew what there was to understand. A quick glance at Sera told him that she was at a loss too.

“I believe we have a mutual acquaintance. You’re a friend of our dear Dorothy, are you not? I often, ah, help out at her parties and I do think I’ve seen you there.”

Percival managed a weak smile and took a moment to thank every homosexual that had come before him for creating such subtle codes, so carefully crafted that no eavesdropper could possibly understand unless they were one too. “I am.”

Seraphina made a small noise of understanding. “That would explain rather a lot, Percival. You could have told me, you know.”

“Hmm, like you told him, Sera?” Yazmin asked with a grin, and received a gentle swat on the arm for her troubles.

“You know very well that I wasn’t attending her parties then! And good thing, too. Is it so impossible to have a pleasant venue?”

“They would never let us in if it was pleasant, dear.”

Percival barked out a hoarse laugh that startled him into silence almost immediately. He hadn’t laughed in a while, not properly. Gellert always got jealous when someone else made him laugh, and he rarely did so himself anymore.

Gellert. He’d be home soon, expecting his dinner. “I have to go,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry, I’m supposed to- I need to make dinner.”

“You never made me dinner,” Seraphina teased. Percival didn’t laugh.

“I have to- He works a lot. It’s the least I can do.”

“Well, you’ll have to invite me over sometime.”

“He wouldn’t- Maybe,” he said, knowing full well that would never happen. There was no way Gellert would allow it.  “I’d better go, Gellert will be wondering where I am. It was good seeing you. Yazmin, nice to meet you.”

Yazmin narrowed her eyes faintly, but didn’t argue. “It was nice to meet you too, Percival.”

 

By the time he got home, Gellert was already there. And he was angry. Percival never wanted to think about that night again, but it seemed like his brain didn’t much care what he wanted.

 

He was out at a bar the next time he saw Yazmin, more than a month later. She was behind the bar, pouring beers and seeming to glance around the room, as if waiting for someone to appear. Percival was waiting too, although he didn’t want to be. It was Gellert’s idea that they go out, that they play their game again. Except it wasn’t fun anymore, not for Percival. And it wasn’t a game.

Gellert had done his bit. He’d waited for another man to come up to Percival, waited for him to try it on, then pounced on his unsuspecting prey. Percival was starting to think he liked the fighting, the dominance and status, more than he liked Percival himself. He was just the bait. And he was so used to it that he could entirely tune out the threats being exchanged right in front of him, the vice like grip on his arm.

He was so caught in his own thoughts, leaning back against the bar and staring off into space, that he didn’t hear the voice behind him, didn’t notice anything amiss until he felt sticky, cold liquid down his back. She’d knocked over his unattended drink.

“Gosh, I’m so sorry!” It was Yazmin, wide eyed and flustered. “Here, I’ve got some napkins!” She pushed a wad of them in his direction and set about mopping up the bar and him as best as she could, leaning all the way over to dab at his shirt.

“For God’s sake,” Gellert snapped. “We’re leaving, Percy. Come along.”

It wasn’t until he got home that he found the scrunched up napkin in his back pocket, written on in blue pen.

URGENT!! PLEASE CALL -Y

Underneath the scribble was a telephone number, and Percival’s curiosity was instantly piqued. Was it Seraphina, was she hurt? But if so, why couldn’t she have told him? Gellert was possessive, but not that badly so.

He snuck out while Gellert was asleep, down the road to a phone booth. His hands shook as he dialled the number. What was he doing?

She picked up after the third ring. “Hello?”

“Yazmin. It’s Percival.”

She sighed. “Oh, thank the stars. Listen. That man you were with. How much do you know about him?”

He glanced around before answering, making sure the street was still deserted. “He’s- He’s my boyfriend,” Percival murmured, his voice barely audible even though there was no one around.

Yazmin said something in a language he didn’t understand, but which he would guess was a cuss word of some kind. “Where are you now? Is he there?”

“No, he’s at home.”

“Where are you?”

“What’s this about?”

“He’s dangerous, you need to get away from him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He raped a friend of mine. Threatened him. And I can’t prove it, but I don’t think he was the only one.”

Time froze around him. “You’re wrong,” he said in a small voice.

“Percival-”

“You’re wrong,” he said again. “It wasn’t him, it was someone else. Gellert loves me.”

Before she could answer, he slammed the receiver down.