Title: Of Fevers and Ghosts
Pairing: Johnny Hale/John Proctor
Rating: PG still.
Disclaimer: I don’t own.
Author’s Note: So much love, all.
“Hale?” Cheever hiccupped and frowned. “Mr. Hale, is everything alright?”
“Wonderful.” Proctor growled and hit hard enough to lay the man out cold.
His father had said once there was always good in learning how to handle a fight. John smiled to himself and fled the prison, bounding off into the shadows for the woods.
Judge Hawthorn glared at his pocket watch and then around the room.
“Good lord. How long does it take to bring one man up from the prisons?”
“I hear he’s not been exactly… pliable lately.” Parris frowned at the door, wringing his hands. “Nearly broke the guard’s arm. That’s why he was chained up.”
“I don’t care if he stood the executioner on his ear. He’s only got until sunrise and I believe I spot a glimmer in the sky.”
Elizabeth smiled behind her hand, pretending to cover her face in imagined grief. Her John was innocent. And at the moment, she knew him to be with Reverend Hale, a good man.
A man who had nearly wept when he found John continued to refuse his life.
He wouldn’t be the first man in this town to break under the strain of this devilry. And maybe the old Hale would never think of helping a condemned man free, but this new creature?
She hoped so. She prayed for it.
“My husband can be stubborn, sir.” She said softly, looking up from her hands. “Today especially, I’d expect.”
Hawthorn sighed and returned his pocket watch to its place.
“Just my luck that out of the three men in the dungeon, none of them are able to make it back up.”
“But Proctor hangs today.” Parris frowned, stepping an inch closer to the door. “One can’t honestly expect him to come willingly.”
“I certainly have no hope he will confess.” The judge glared and sighed. “You stay here, woman. Parris, you with me. We will find this wandering party if it takes us past down.”
Elizabeth felt panic stab at her.
What if John had not yet cleared the building?
“Sir, please.” She stood with an effort, her call stopping the man in his tracks. “If he is being difficult, will it not quiet him to look on me?”
“Goody Proctor, we cannot risk his harming you in his struggle.” Hawthorn gave her such a look it was plain exactly how little she meant to him. “And if he were to harm the child? You realize it is the only thing keeping you from the gallows.”
She clenched her jaw, working hard to school her emotions away from anger. This man had no right. But it wouldn’t do to show hysteria. In the best of times it proved a weak mind, never mind that a man could strike another without second thought. But in these times? It’d be a sure sign of her possession. She’d never see the trees again without a chain about her ankle.
“I will stand far back, sir.” She settled a hand on her stomach, subtly showing how much she had grown. “And he would not risk hurting me, even in the throes of… of whatever madness it is that possesses him.”
“She has a point, sir.” Parris met his eyes with a sort of timidity. “If Proctor were to stop his fighting, perhaps he’d even confess.”
Hawthorn made an impatient gesture.
“You’ve been speaking too long with Hale.”
“My husband is stubborn, sir.” She took a step forward, eyes glittering like agate. “But I have been known to steer him different on occasion.”
“And what proof have we that you can steer him differently now? He is a wizard and a lost cause.”
She did glare then.
“The only devil to ever touch my husband was Abigail Williams.”
“My Abigail—” Parris started but Elizabeth stared him down.
“Your Abigail was a harlot and a witch besides. If ever I saw the devil, I’d swear he took her face. Look at the ruin into which she’s sent this town!”
“There is powerful witchcraft here, Goody Proctor.” Hawthorn’s voice held an authority that silenced them both for the moment. “And I intend to burn the sickness from this town.”
But she turned that stony glare on him, lips pursed white.
“If you cannot mark the devil when you see him, Hawthorn, then what sort of man are you?”
“Woman, I have hung—”
“Yes, pray tell us how many people you’ve murdered!” She was not shouting, but her vehemence overpowered his. “Do tell us how many innocents burned by your hand. Give us the number of necks you’ve snapped. Please, I don’t—”
“I will not have this heresy!”
“I speak against you, sir, not God!” And the room fell quiet though the glittering hate never left her eyes. “Unless you care to stake some claim on heaven’s throne?”
“I meant nothing of the sort.”
“Put your actions before your words, sir, and you’ll find people more inclined to believe the latter. As it is, you have done nothing but scatter and murder the innocent people of this town while you let the devils all slip past.” When he remained stonily silent, she continued. “Now my husband dies today, sir, and I would see him without a noose about his neck.”
Hawthorn glared for a long moment, never quite meeting her eyes. But at length, he bent.
“Very well, woman. And when he renders this child of yours stillborn—”
“You think so highly of a woman’s most delicate position, Mr. Hawthorn.” She said pleasantly, moving past him. “It’s a wonder you were married. However did you manage such a task?”
And the judge glowered, but did not see fit to give reply.
“Distasteful drunk.” Parris glared, the first to spot Cheever, sprawled eagle on the ground. “Should have known he’d only make it halfway.”
“And yet the prison door hangs open?”
It took Elizabeth a second to realize the figure hanging limp against his chains was not, in fact, her husband.
“Reverend!” Despite the weighted chains around her ankles, she hurried to his side.
And for close to the first time in his long life, Hawthorn felt something akin to fear.
“Get Hale down.” He barked at Parris, feeling safer in command. “Wake Cheever and check the both for injuries. I must warn the guards.”
Parris watched him turn tail and stride off in the wrong direction before turning to look at Goody Proctor. She had found the keys near to their lock and untangled them from Hale. Now she was engrossed in the tricky task of lowering him to the ground without further damaging whatever injury John had given him.
Parris knelt down next to Cheever and attempted to wake him, all the while glancing after Hawthorn.
But Proctor was well out of harm’s way. Thanks to his wife’s distraction, he was miles from the jail on a borrowed horse, following an old deer trail through the woods. Already he could see Hale’s house through the trees. He’d be safely inside within the half hour. And until then, he was too deep in the woods to be easily spotted.
Safe at last.
He’d never before appreciated the smell of the forest, or how beautiful it all looked, towering up above him. And it certainly wasn’t the first time he’d been dwarfed by these particular trees. He’d explored this stretch of land maybe a dozen times, clearing fallen trees for firewood. Had it been anyone else, he would have simply cut what it was he needed. But for Hale… for Hale he made an effort. And strange as it was, it looked as though he’d been rewarded. Rewarded with life and a promise that one day he could look over his shoulder at the wooden widow without that burst of fear.
But the safety here wouldn’t last forever and he was coming up fast on the tree line. Someone was bound to notice the horse if nothing else. So he slipped off and turned the beast around, sending it off the way it’d come with a sharp slap. And ignoring the cramping in his bad leg, he closed his hand around Hale’s key and crept onward.
Hale woke up as Elizabeth worked her fingers through his hair, searching for blood.
“Oh good.” She murmured, voice soft. “You’ve woken.”
Hale frowned and sat up, putting a hand to his head.
“Gone as far as we can see. Escaped.” A small, secret smile. “Perhaps it was divine providence to break his chains?”
Hale kept his face straight and had it not been for the glint in his eyes, she would have truly thought him a victim of her husband’s newfound madness. But she said nothing, merely helped him to his feet, steadying him when he swayed and squeezed his eyes shut against the rising sickness.
“Have they any idea where he’s gone?” He asked at length, once he had managed to bring his body somewhat under his control again.
“There are a hundred places in this godforsaken town from which he could have stolen a horse.” Parris’ eyes held a hint of fear. “There’s no good chasing after him. He’ll be long gone.”
“Unless it’s revenge he’s after.” Hale couldn’t help it. He’d seen too much death already. And this pathetic little man could have stopped it all with a word before it went too far.
Cheever hiccupped, coughed and opened blurry eyes.
Hale laughed despite the pain in his head, and closed his eyes for a moment to revel in an internal victory dance.Proctor was safe. He could not save them all. But Proctor, at least, was safe.