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Ad Meliora

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Daniella stands unnoticed in the large, open room with the hidden staircase. The shadows cloak her as she watches Fiona and Hewie scamper around the room, attempting to push the various blocks into the correct positions. Hewie growls, sensing Daniella’s presence, but he dutifully remains at the heels of his newly-found owner.

Fiona must feel safe with him around, Daniella realizes; a concept not entirely foreign to her. It’s a sense of prolonged existence — that her end has not yet come, and perhaps won’t for a long time. Whether or not death truly matters is what Daniella has yet to come to understand.

With some of the heavier blocks, Fiona seems to struggle more. She pushes with all her might, her shoes scratching against the floor, while Hewie barks his support at her. It’s almost like he’s telling her not to give up, which Daniella doesn’t want, either. Fiona is destined to live and make her way through the castle until the lord of the estate tires of her.

But she looks so tired; her movements haggard and slow. Daniella knows she’s been running around for hours, with nary a moment to catch her breath — she’s seen it. Maybe she could help move her along her path, and perhaps this would please her master.

When she steps out of the shadows, Hewie snarls at her, his hackles raised. Fiona turns toward the dog’s source of aggravation to see Daniella, her hands clasped at her waist. She gasps — that high-pitched, melodious sound — as she takes a step back.

Daniella greets her with a curt “miss,” as if nothing about the situation is strange or upsetting. She watches them as she trails her way along the row of blocks, finding one placed incorrectly, which she pushes to the other side of the room. Although Fiona glares at her warily, she seems to understand the pattern now as she proceeds with the puzzle.

When all of the blocks have been pushed into place, and the hidden staircase is revealed in the middle of the room, Fiona pauses to look at her. She squints, trying to make out something she should be suspicious of — a weapon, perhaps — but, finding nothing, she waves shyly before heading down the stairs.

The next time Daniella sees her is when she and Hewie are leaving Debilitas’ shed, with that smudged key held tightly within her hands. She only meant to watch over her, as a dutiful servant to her master, but Fiona has other ideas when she spots her, only half-hidden by the darkness this time.

“What are you doing over there?” Fiona asks, not unkindly. Even Hewie has ceased his growling, as if no longer sensing a threat from her. “Come on, then.”

Her voice is soft, almost like she’s talking to Hewie; a friend. She reaches out toward Daniella, and before she thinks to pull away, Fiona is grabbing her hand.

She feels warmth for the first time when they step through the gates of the castle. It starts in her hand — the one Fiona’s holding — and crawls up to her cheeks.

“Your hair,” Fiona is saying, tugging her along as Hewie scopes out the area ahead, his tail wagging with curiosity. “It was the first thing I saw, even in the dark.”

Daniella has never been this far from the castle before. The trees, the twists and turns of the grassy paths, are all unfamiliar to her. Something uncomfortable coils within her; a tight, squeezing feeling of anxiety as they tread upon new ground. Somehow, she doesn’t think she should be this elated at such a feeling, but she smiles at being able to feel at all.

“You’re always hiding in the shadows, aren’t you?” Fiona asks, her voice low with sympathy as she squeezes Daniella’s hand. Hewie adds in his own bark — maybe in agreement.

The sun is starting to creep over the horizon when they finally make it to a main street. Daniella nearly stumbles as she steps up onto the asphalt of the road, but Fiona is there to catch her before she falls.

They walk for what feels like forever — away from Fiona’s hell, as well as the only home Daniella has ever known.

For a moment, she thinks this might be all there is to life outside of the castle: walking and waiting for a salvation that will never come. But then Fiona points out a car coming up the road, and she waves her free hand frantically. She never drops Daniella’s hand — never lets her feel alone — even when they’re piling into the backseat of the car, Hewie included.

Fiona does all the talking, expressing her gratitude to the older woman driving the car. Her husband, sitting in the passenger’s seat, had apparently been napping before his wife slammed on the brakes to see if they needed help. Although Fiona doesn't divulge every detail, she explains enough for the woman to ask if they need to stop by a police station.

Fiona shakes her head. “No, just home for now. Thank you.”

She pats Hewie’s head — who’s shaking a little once the car starts back up, but finds something out the window to keep his attention — before squeezing Daniella's hand.

“We made it out,” Fiona says. “We’re safe.”

Daniella nods. “I suppose we did.”

A few hours later, they're arriving at Fiona’s studio flat after parting ways with the helpful couple. They stopped to pick up some dog food from a nearby market on the way, and Fiona pours a bowl for Hewie. He digs into the meal, chomping noisily.

“Make yourself at home,” she says, although Daniella isn’t quite sure what that means. The castle was once her home, but she wasn’t welcome there; wasn’t wanted around. She was a shadow, slipping through the halls unseen as she made her rounds cleaning the large estate.

Fiona gestures toward one of the plush armchairs, set a few feet from the bed in a sort of makeshift living room. They sit in silence for a few moments as Daniella suppresses the urge to tidy up the apartment — not because it’s messy, but because cleaning has always been something expected of her.

When Hewie starts causing trouble — his curiosity driving him to sniff his way into the closet — Daniella slips into the kitchen while Fiona scolds him. She looks around the small kitchen, opening cabinets and cupboards in search of something to cook. Fiona might be her new master now, and after their escape, she must be hungry.

After she switches one of the stove burners on, she forgets what she was even trying to do. She feels the warmth, and it makes her shudder. Her hand is so close, and she can feel the heat licking at her skin, but Fiona pulls her back.

“Are you alright?” she asks, looking over her hand. “That’s dangerous, you know.”

Daniella didn’t know — not really. She was taught how to cook, but it never occurred to her that such a strong sensation had been so close, and yet she’d never been able to feel it.

“I apologize, miss,” she says, her eyes watching the way Fiona brings her hand up to her lips. She presses a kiss to her knuckles, as if she is something precious; something human.

“You’re much too hard on yourself,” Fiona says, leading her toward the bed. There, she has Daniella sit down so she can inspect her hand. That’s what she says, anyways, as Fiona sits so close to her that their thighs touch. She’s running her fingers along her hand again, the touch so gentle as she traces patterns on her skin.

When Fiona pulls her in for a kiss, Daniella doesn’t turn away. The feeling of their skin touching like this is somewhat of a shock as her breath leaves her. But Fiona is patient, like no one has ever been with her; she kisses her slowly, easing her mouth open with her own.

There is no pain, and Daniella’s mind reels. When their tongues touch, she smiles into the kiss, cupping Fiona’s face with her hands. It’s such a simple touch, but it’s so exhilarating to her.

She thinks of all the books she’s read, back in the castle’s library. None could have ever prepared her for this sense of yearning, nor the insatiable urge she now has to never stop kissing.

Fiona eases her back onto the soft mattress, her hands moving along her body slowly. She trails her fingers down her neck, then along her breasts before resting on her stomach. Daniella wonders if she can feel that fluttery feeling there inside her, and she wonders if Fiona is feeling this way, too.

The blanket that Fiona pulls over them once they’re both naked is thin and white. Daniella shivers in the cold air of the flat, her skin covered in goosebumps, but the side of her body where Fiona is pressed against is hot.

Fiona’s hand is running along her stomach again, then even lower. It tickles at first, and she gasps into her mouth. As they kiss — and the more those hands wander — she starts to relax, trusting those fingers to bring her comfort.

She never imagined this sort of heat could exist. In response to Fiona’s caresses, she reciprocates the touch, pressing one hand against the fullness of her breast before tracing the curve of her waist. Fiona shudders beneath her fingers, and Daniella decides she likes that very much. She retraces her way back up to Fiona’s chest, the tips of her fingers brushing against her hardening nipples.

When Daniella starts kissing her neck, with each kiss slow and carefully placed, Fiona starts to move her fingers in a circular motion. The sensation has Daniella kissing her even more slowly, as she eases herself into the intensity of it all. She gasps into her neck, opening her legs wider for Fiona’s hand to explore easier.

If she could — if the words would leave her mouth — she would ask her to never stop. There’s a tightness coiling within her now, and the only chill that remains is at the very tips of her fingers. She can’t beg Fiona to continue because all she can do is gasp, her legs shaking as sweat drips down them and onto the sheets.

Fiona knows right when to cease her caresses — the very moment it becomes almost too much for Daniella. She lifts her hips up, ever so slightly, and moans into Fiona’s lips, who smiles as she returns the kiss.

“Was that alright?”

“I, ah. Yes.” When she stops trembling, Daniella pulls away enough to look at her lover’s still-smiling face. “It was wonderful.”

The sun streaming through the windows is much brighter than Daniella remembers it being, and she wonders just how much time has passed. Fiona pulls her into the bathroom, still grinning — that drunk on life smile — as they explore each other’s body further in the shower.

Daniella feels the steam, thick in her lungs, as they kiss. She loves the care Fiona puts into her touches; the way she watches Daniella's face before proceeding. It's a sensitivity she has never known, and although they rarely communicate their consent vocally, Fiona watches her face and body, ready to stop at the first sign of discomfort.

Back in the main room, Fiona gives her some of her own clothes to wear before piling blankets on the bed. Her hair is free from its usual ponytail, and Daniella watches as it curls against her cheek. Fiona is reaching out to run her hand through Daniella’s lavender hair, her eyes calm, when Hewie jumps on the bed.

“Here to join us, I suppose.” Fiona laughs. “Is that alright?”

Daniella offers her hand for Hewie to sniff, and he licks her, his tongue rough against her skin. She scratches behind his ears and he raises his head, leaning into the touch before lying down beside them.

“Yes, that’s fine,” she says, snuggling into the warm blankets. “It’s perfect.”