A/N: I know. I'm sorry. I fail at all the things. You all are so good to me and I know I suck at updating. I promise I won't abandon Cloaky and Isabella. Cross my heart. Work and uni are kicking my butt and I need more hours in the day! But here they are. They're still not mine, but the story is all from my dark little brain. I love you guys!
Servatis A Maleficum
I was so lost in my thoughts of rescue as I sat holding Isabella's sleeping form that I failed to notice the footsteps on the stairwell until it was too late.
A curious face peered into the darkness and my heart thudded into my boots as a pair of eyes landed on me cradling Isabella. My arms tightened ever so slightly around her defensively, causing her to whimper quietly in her sleep. There was nothing I could do. Whoever it was standing in the shadows must have seen what I was doing by now.
As they stepped forward slowly, my heart calmed somewhat when I recognised the familiar face of Mrs Cope. She was holding a tray with another plate of food and a large pitcher of water, and eyeing me cautiously.
She said nothing, bending down and placing the tray quietly on the stool before turning back to me and walking into the cell, to my astonishment. Her eyes only left mine once she was knelt beside me and her hand reached out and touched Isabella's face with far more tenderness than I believed anybody in this castle capable of.
"Please," I begged softly, not really sure what I was asking of her, but she seemed to understand nonetheless as she nodded and stood once more.
"I'll be back in a moment," she offered with a sad smile, her eyes fixated on Isabella's face. I nodded and watched as she disappeared up the stairs, waiting anxiously for her return and hoping against hope that when she came back she was alone.
It didn't take long before I detected her footsteps approaching once more, and when she came into sight, she was clutching a bowl with steam rising from it and there was what looked like a blanket tucked under her arm.
She set the bowl down beside me. It appeared to be full of hot water and there were several rags hanging over the edge.
"Where is she hurt?" Mrs Cope asked softly, her eyes darting between myself and Isabella sadly.
"How did you-?"
"My boy, I'm more than well aware what men of God are capable of. Now where is she hurt?"
"You'll have to help me. Hold her. This is going to hurt," she said, pulling the blanket off Isabella and using it to cover her modesty as she pulled the ragged shift away from her broken skin.
Isabella's eyes shot open at the intrusion and she whimpered, her eyes filling with tears as Mrs Cope began to slowly and gently clean her wounds with the warm water.
I held her head to my chest, my hand stroking her hair as she cried pitifully at the pain of the contact. She said nothing, simply endured the tearing agony in near silence, her hands balled into tight fists across her chest as she suffered.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I know this hurts, but we can't have these cuts getting full of dirt," Mrs Cope said, her grim expression belying her cheerful tone as she surveyed Isabella's back.
"Please!" The pleading in Isabella's voice as she cried out softly had me reaching out to stay Mrs Cope's hands before I knew it.
"You have to stop."
"Mr. Mason, if these wounds remain dirty, she will be susceptible to all manner of diseases. I know it hurts her, but I'm doing her a kindness, I promise you."
"Give her a moment, for pity's sake," I begged, my hand releasing hers and taking Isabella's instead, holding it tightly in mine, hoping the small comfort would help her to endure this.
Brown eyes filled with tears met my own, their expression heartbreaking.
"Are you okay?" I asked stupidly, my free hand cupping her cheek delicately.
She nodded slowly, averting her eyes to hide the lie that was lodged there. She wasn't okay. She was far from okay. Nothing that had happened to her from the moment she entered this castle was okay, but like everything else, she seemed determined to bear it without complaint.
"May she continue?" I asked cautiously, watching her expression change. She nodded, scrunching her eyes tightly closed and clutching my hand with more power than I would have believed her capable.
She bore the remainder of Mrs Cope's ministrations without making a sound, though it was clear from the grip she kept on my hand that it was a challenge for her. There was nothing we could do about her bloodstained shift without drawing attention to our care, so we had no choice but the leave her wearing it and wrapped her up once more in my cloak, adding the blanket Mrs Cope brought down with her for extra warmth.
"She'll need to drink and try to eat something before she sleeps. She won't heal if she doesn't keep her strength up."
I nodded, glancing up at her with a mixture of gratitude and confusion as she brought the tray into the cell.
As though she sensed my confusion, she explained. "She's just a child - no more a witch than you or I. I told you, young man, I won't see anybody starve on my watch."
I nodded my gratitude and took the cup she offered, lifting Isabella up to sit. She limply allowed me to manipulate her body without making a sound. The only sign she was aware was the periodic widening of her eyes and sharp intakes of breath when her wounds brushed against the material around her, causing her what I could only presume was unimaginable pain.
I supported her to sit with a light hand on her shoulder, the only place I could touch without hurting her, and lifted the cup to her lips.
She drunk deeply automatically and I smiled at her new-found trust in me. I was only too aware of how difficult it had to be for her to even allow me to touch her, let alone to lie in my arms as she had. Her eyes never left mine as she drunk, watching carefully and I could feel some of the tension leave her body at my soft smile.
"You must eat, child," Mrs Cope said, holding out a small bit of bread from the plate with a smile. Isabella eyed the small offering warily, as though it were a wild animal, liable to pounce, then looked to me as though seeking reassurance. I nodded carefully, watching as she took her bottom lip between her teeth, wincing at the soreness there but not releasing it as she tentatively reached out to accept the bread from Mrs Cope's hand.
As she started to nibble at it slowly, I stroked her hair tenderly, dropping a light kiss to her forehead before addressing Mrs Cope.
"I have to get her out of here," I said bluntly, hoping against hope that I was putting my faith in the right person. She didn't say anything and, for the longest moment, I feared I had made a horrific mistake, until her face split into a concerned smile.
"Don't do anything hasty, Mason. Remember what tomorrow is. Even men capable of this," she gestured to Isabella's wounds, "wouldn't dare to act on the Lord's day. Give yourself time and find out who your friends are. I will do what I can to assist you, and I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say that young McCarty will, too."
At the mention of Emmett, Isabella's eyes jerked to Mrs Cope, the bread hanging forgotten in her hand, halfway to her mouth. Again I was struck by the thought that Isabella and Emmett somehow knew one another. After all, he knew her name and now she had clearly reacted to his.
Mrs Cope smiled knowingly at Isabella's expression before turning to me once more with a serious and pointed look.
"Nothing rash, Mr. Mason," she said with a final nod before leaving us alone once more.
Isabella continued to stare at the space Mrs Cope had vacated for several moments, before a yawn seemed to overtake her whole body and she turned back to me. I touched her hand, lifting it to her mouth in the hope that she would take the hint and continue to eat. Instead, her eyes flickered between the bread and my face, and to my despair, they started to fill again with tears.
"Hey, what is it?" I asked, touching her cheek softly with the backs of my fingers, brushing away the tears that started to fall. Her eyes dropped from my gaze and settled on the bread that remained uneaten.
"I can't," she whispered. "I'm sorry, I just can't."
She flinched violently as I reached up and closed my hand around hers and I shushed her gently. I took the bread from her hand, placing it on the plate Mrs Cope had left beside us and then cupped her cheek, forcing her eyes to meet mine.
"Do you trust me, Isabella?" I asked, hungry for an answer and praying for a positive. She hesitated for a moment before nodding almost imperceptibly. I smiled widely and dropped my forehead to rest against hers. "Good. Because I'm going to help you. I don't know how, but I will get you out of here. I just need you to hang on a little longer, okay?"
I felt her small nod against my forehead and my heart leapt into my mouth when I felt her small hand gripping my tunic tightly as she relaxed once more into my embrace.
"Sleep now. You need rest." She began to wearily disentangle herself from my embrace, until my hand on her arm stopped her. Her eyes darted up to mine, wide and alarmed until I brushed her cheek once more with the tips of my fingers. "Stay," I whispered, my arms tightening subconsciously around her, almost possessive. I couldn't fathom the reasons why, but the thought of losing the weight of her in my arms was monumentally painful, and despite my desire to refrain from frightening her, I wasn't sure I could let her go.
Thankfully, she didn't test my willpower; I honestly wasn't sure she had the energy to. She simply let her head fall back to my shoulder, keeping her wide eyes trained on me.
I could see the exhaustion that had practically taken root there as her blinks got longer and longer. I could see the internal battle she was fighting against falling asleep. She told me she trusted me, yet she was clearly fighting her instincts not to fall asleep in this dangerous place, lying in the arms of a man she barely knew.
Finally, she lost her battle against her own eyelids and I felt her body go completely limp in my arms as her breathing evened out. Her long, dark eyelashes dusted against her pale cheeks, fluttering lightly as her grip on my tunic loosened slightly. I covered her hand with my own, trying to encourage some warmth into her cool body and watched as she slept soundly.
I grappled with my brain as I held her, trying to figure out my emotions. I couldn't understand why it was suddenly so important to me that this girl trusted me, that she believed I could, and would, help her. And I couldn't work out why my heart hurt so badly at the thought of having to release her from my arms when the sun rose in the morning.
I counted the seconds, counted her breaths, wishing that the morning would never come, that we could stay this way forever. I willed the world to stop turning, for the sun to never rise and for Isabella to stay here, curled into my embrace, her head burrowing softly into my chest as my fingers ran gently through her tangled hair.
"It's going to be okay," I whispered into her hair when her body began to tense and she whimpered softly in her sleep. Her grip on my tunic tightened as she shrunk further into my arms. I shushed her gently, brushing a few strands of hair out of her face and tracing the lines of her frown with my fingers.
I started to hum softly to her, a lullaby my mother used to sing to me when I was a boy. It was melodic and soothing and I gradually felt the tension starting to leave her body as the quiet sound chased away her nightmares. I hadn't been able to save her from the tortures of those animals, but at the very least, I could give her some undisturbed rest.
As the night wore on, I found I was happy to while away the hours holding her and watching over her as she slept. The night seemed to pass by far too quickly as I learned her face by heart, silently memorising every line of her skin, the subtle curve of her cheekbones that were far too prominent and the hideous bruises that were brushed a painful shade of grey in the dim light.
She remained quiet and still for the remainder of the night. The only sound breaking the eerie silence was her rhythmic breathing, and the painful wheezing in her chest reminded me of just how much danger she was in if she remained here. Even in the unlikely event that they didn't decide to burn her, she could so easily die from the conditions she was being forced to endure here. Subconsciously, my arms tightened around her, my heart stuttering in rejection at the thought of losing her. Witch or not, she had certainly cast a spell over me and I couldn't bear to think of a future that didn't have her in it.
I wanted to cry out when the first fingers of light started to find their way down the stairwell, and I could make out the faint noises of the castle starting to come to life, indicating the start of another day. As much as I never wanted to release my hold on her, I knew that were the other guards to find Isabella in my arms, we would both be in danger.
Trying not to alarm her, I gently cupped her cheek, running my thumb softly under her eye and whispering her name as her eyes began to reluctantly open. I was disproportionately relieved when she smiled shyly at me, instead of falling into her previous pattern of fear on awakening.
"Hey," I said with a smile, still stroking her face absent mindedly. She smiled again and nodded, shifting slightly after being in the same position all night. "I'm sorry to wake you, but it's starting to get light. You understand..." I trailed off, feeling stupid and knowing that Isabella knew better than anybody why we couldn't be found this way.
She nodded and began to disentangle herself from my grasp and this time I allowed it, forcing back the whimper that threatened to escape at the broken contact. As she stepped away from me, I could see the tension returning to her body, her movements becoming robotic and forced as her face returned to the blank mask she was so adept at showing. The gentle curve of her shoulders began to slump and her posture was once again broken, defeated.
"Isabella," I said, more firmly than I'd intended, stepping forward and taking her chin between my fingers carefully, nudging her face up to meet mine. "Trust me." She nodded but the assertion did not meet her carefully guarded eyes. "You're not alone anymore, Isabella. Mrs Cope swore to me that they will leave you be today. I will not let them hurt you again. Do you hear me? I will get you out of here if it kills me."
I held her gaze firmly with mine, imploring her with my eyes to believe and trust in my word to her.
"Edward," she whispered after a moment, almost inaudibly, as her arm stretched out and her fingers closed once more around the material of my tunic. My hand dropped from her face and fell to cover her shaky one, squeezing it lightly in reassurance. Her eyes flickered down to our joined hands briefly before meeting mine once more. "I don't..." she started, then trailed off as tears started to fill her eyes as she averted her gaze from mine. "I can't..." she tried again, once more trailing off as a sob tore through her small frame like an avalanche.
"It's okay," I offered, reaching out with my free hand and tenderly stroking her hair.
"No, it's not. I don't want you to be killed because of me," she finally forced out through her wracking sobs as salty tears streamed down her cheeks relentlessly.
"Then I suppose we'll have to both get out of here then," I said, smiling and squeezing her hand once more. She looked as though she was about to protest once more when we both froze in place at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Her eyes went wide, terrified as she shrunk back into the shadows of the cell, once again curling into herself protectively in the posture that silently broke the shards of my heart.
"Trust me," I whispered once more, darting out of the cell with the evidence of our night and locking it swiftly and quietly, just in time as the irritated face of Felix appeared at the bottom of the stairs. Relieved, I took in the fact that he carried no torturous iron restraints, and made no move to enter the cell where she was cowering in fear.
"You're not taking he- it anywhere today?" I hedged, forcing their name for Isabella out through clenched teeth that I hoped Felix would assume were the result of my disgust for her and not the word I was forced to use.
"It's Sunday," he replied easily, as though the agony they inflicted on her was just fine in the eyes of God on any other day, but not on the sabbath.
"Right. Yes," I agreed, wishing I could do more to reassure both myself and Isabella that she wouldn't be harmed today.
I walked away. I had no choice, though my entire being rebelled at the idea of leaving her alone with a man who saw her not as a person but as a thing. A thing filled with evil, at that.
The moment I reached the corridor at the top of the stairs, I turned, not for the sleeping quarters, though my entire body protested the move, but for the kitchens. I needed to speak to Mrs Cope. I needed to know anything she knew that could help me to save Isabella before it was too late. I made her a promise and I intended to keep it.