Title: Of Fevers and Ghosts
Pairing: Johnny Hale/John Proctor
Disclaimer: I don’t own.Author’s Note: This place is livening up a little.
Hale let himself into the house, drawing one by one the shatters across the windows. Good that it was winter or else someone may suspect he’d somehow managed to hide Proctor away. And chances were there was no way in hell he was going to wriggle his way from that.
For once he was truly thankful for the hidden complexity of his empty house. It was lonely, secluded…
And the last place they’d expect Proctor to be.
John leaned back in his tiny bunker, listening to the sounds of footsteps above him and attempting to measure the pace. But it didn’t sound so much like Hale. He was used to the man’s slow, measured stride. This was the stride of a man with considerably longer legs and some place to be.
Proctor checked the lock again and grit his teeth, attempting to work the knot from his leg. It was bad at the best of times. But he’d been bound and near to motionless for days, escaping from that to a small hole in the cellar of a priest.
These were not the best of times. And is leg was killing him.
“John, it’s alright.” Hale’s voice filtered down from above. “You’re safe.”
He pushed the door open, wincing as it’s collision with the nearby keg made an audible thud. But Hale only smiled and offered him a hand out.
“I live alone. There’s no one to hear it.” He frowned then, seeing John’s pain at standing. “Are you hurt?”
“Hurting, not hurt.” He gave some pained semblance to a smile.
“Despises me.” He pulled himself out of the put and staggered upright.
“It’s beginning to worry me, John.” Hale frowned, following him out of the cellar. “You can’t so much as bear weight on it.”
“I’ve lived with it for years, Hale. I assure you, I’ll be fine.”
“I have never once witnessed you limp.”
Proctor glanced back and smiled.
“I don’t often limp.”
“Is it never this bad?”
He stopped then.
“I shall bind you up in chains, Mr. Hale, and leave you in the same for days without end. I imagine after that you’ll be painfully aware of a few cramps too.”
“It’s more than a cramp, John.” He frowned and looped Proctor’s arm over his shoulder. “And you’ll aggravate it if you walk it much more.”
“I am capable of managing by myself.” Proctor glared, a flush riding high on his cheeks.
“Not with one leg, you can’t.” Smiling, as Hale always smiled, heaving him up the last step.
“It will work itself out eventually.”
Hale made a soft noise of agreement and it was obvious it was token only.
“And I intend to help it along. Here.” He eased Proctor down into a chair before the fireplace.
“What are you going to do?” The farmer frowned, working his knuckles into the knot once more.
“Just at the moment, I intend on starting a fire.”
John watched him work, eyes following the movement of his hands on the wood, long fingers flicking bits of it into the tiny flame until it roared into life. Then those beautiful, searching fingers were at his knee and he couldn’t help the shuttering twitch.
But Hale only smiled and pulled again.
John squeezed shut his eyes and obeyed, clenching his teeth against the hitch in his breath and praying to whatever heathen god would listen that Hale wouldn’t notice.
More importantly, that he wouldn’t notice what it was the back of his hand was so close to touching.
The knot unwound under those skilled hands, taking a little of his already tenuous sanity with it. And Hale’s lips had set to twitching, a small, secret smile.
“There we are.” Hale murmured softly, easing out the last of the cramped. “I’ll imagine you can walk straight again.”
Providing all the blood returned to his head. Proctor took a deep breath and leaned back in the chair, trying to ignore Hale’s sweet little smirk. Never mind that it had painted on the insides of his eyes and ignoring it was like ignoring the throb of blood between his legs.
“You must be hungry.” Hale touched a hand to his shoulder as he stood. “I’ll find something.”
And he left Proctor alone before the fire, the man treacherously close to tears.
They ate before the fire, Proctor careful not to lean in too close to the man next to him. He was confused. And it wasn’t the sort of confusion that came with an entire town falling into ruin at the hands of a child, either. This was the sort of panicked confusion that came with realizing that not only had he become a lecher in the twelve months, but also that he fancied a reverend.
Life, lately, was not turning out to be a very pleasant affair. But he’d stolen a kiss at least. One kiss that Hale would never remember, a perfect shining instant that had been meant to clear his head, to decide one way or the other how he felt.
Such a pity that it only made it worse. Not that those beautiful fingers so close to his crotch had helped much.
Maybe he was over exaggerating things. He was grateful. When no one else had come, or hell, been able to come, Hale was there with him, crouched in the squalid cell. And though the conversation had tended to stick to the necessity of his confession, it did wander at times.
And those were the times he remembered the most, the moments where Hale would let his guard down and let something slip. That his father had been a farmer, or he had two sisters in Maine, his mother and wife both dead by childbirth.
But Elizabeth… Lord above, that woman deserved something better than him. First a servant girl in the barn and now Hale?
Not that he wasn’t beautiful…
Proctor shook his head hard and turned to stare into the fire. Noticing his agitation, Hale looked up.
“You look pained.”
“It’s nothing.” He turned away, back to his food, but Hale wasn’t willing to let it drop.
“Worried for your wife?” He asked, still frowning.
That certainly was one way of putting it. But Hale wasn’t about to drop it, and realizing this, Proctor nodded.
“She’ll be alright for six months yet.” Hale smiled. “And by then I hope to have her pardoned.”
“What?” His head jerked up.
Hale laughed and set his plate aside.
“I intend to prove her innocent.”
“Even after…” Proctor cut himself off and looked away.
“After letting you go?” Hale supplied.
A short nod and the reverend laughed again.
“The whole world need not know that, John. Even if your wife may yet.”
“You told her? When?”
“She is an intelligent woman. I need say nothing. She read it from my face.”
“Were there others?”
“You don’t think they let her wander about alone. Pregnant, perhaps, but—”
“I meant who?”
“Ah.” Hale blushed and looked away. “Hawthorn left to sound the alarm and returned some hours later to question us. Parris stayed behind to wake Cheever while your life let me down. A nice touch, I might add.”
A flicker of a smile crossed Proctor’s face, but it was soon gone.
“None of them suspected?”
“They suspect you beat me over the head and ran like the dogs of hell ran with you. They blame Cheever. He knew better than to give to me the keys. I, however, was distraught and naive.” A smile with no real warmth. “Too young to have known baser nature of the devil’s man.”
Downcast eyes and a grim nod. Proctor frowned.
“He had no right.”
Hale shrugged and stood, taking the plates with him.
“He’s older than I. Made friends long ago with the higher powers. That means everything in a town full of the damned. He thinks my preaching to be a lost cause.”
“So do I.” Proctor spat, looking into the fire. “If you had never come…”
“I think that myself. Every day.” He turned and headed off, the last coming so quietly Proctor barely heard. “Every nightmare.”
Guilt flared like a wakened birds in the farmer’s stomach.
Had Hale not come, another would have. Likely one not so inclined to spring condemned commoners from their cells.
Had Hale not come, more would have hung. Only he had ever attempted to really hear the accused, to see them as people rather than a figurehead for a new cause. For godssake, he’d given Proctor his life back.
“Hale?” He rose and followed after him. “I apologize. You—”
“No need to apologize, John.” Still that near dead intonation. “It’s completely true.”
Proctor glared at himself more than Hale.
What a wonderful way to return his hospitality, John!
“No, it isn’t.” He caught his arm before Hale could slip outside. “You’ve saved my life today.”
But the smaller man only shrugged off his hand and moved away.
“Your world is so small, John.” He said quietly.
And without another word he was gone into the newly opened skies, snow painting his black coat a funny sort of gray. Proctor stared after him, knowing he could not go out at all, much less from that door.
How do you go about telling your savior that you’re more damaged than he thought? That not only are you a lecher, but that suddenly you find yourself to fancy men. More specifically, him.
Proctor wandered back into the living room and sat down hard in the high-backed chair before the flames, head in his hands. Everything was falling all to hell. What was he going to do?
Next chapter we'll get more into the romantic side of things.