A Bit



Disclaimer: I’d like to, but no, they aren’t.

Summary: What do you need the most apart from your family?  


* X * X *


Ben slowly went through the old mine, mindful of the low ceiling. The candle he held flickered with every step he took and cast long fearsome shadows on the walls. Behind him he could hear his sons shuffling along, their voices subdued and grave with their task. Involuntarily he shivered. He didn´t want to think about it. Every new corner they passed, every new way they tried destroyed the hopes they had harboured for so long; and the shadows grew and mocked the little lights they were bearing.

Ghosts were everywhere around him, looking down, teasing, and he could hear the faint tinkling of metal. He shook his head to clear it, then turned around.

Hoss and Joe stared back at him, wide-eyed. Ben froze.  

“You´ve heard it, too?” he whispered, too afraid he might be wrong than to speak out loud.

Mutely they nodded. Ben turned his head to the tunnel where he thought he had heard the noise and strained his ears. Seconds went by.

Finally Hoss, his face obscured by darkness, whispered huskily.

“This way, Pa.”

Ben could only imagine the arm Hoss stretched out to indicate the direction, but then he had taken the lead, and Ben followed his frame deeper into the darkness, heart thumping in fear what they would find.

The way ended abruptly after 20 yards. Ben´s eyes, adjusted to the surrounding darkness, could see Hoss in front of him, a grey figure crouching on the ground, and his mouth went dry. He could hear Joe taking a sharp breath behind him.

“Hoss…?” His voice was hoarse. Fear held him in a tight grip.

Hoss didn´t turn around, but the faint clink of metal sounded again when he bowed down.

“Pa?” His words were carefully pronounced. “We got him.”

For a second, Ben didn´t feel his body, then a tight grip on his shoulder brought him back and he sank to the ground in relief.

“Oh God…” The words came out as a prayer of thanks as he slid over the ground, almost on hands and knees, to reach Hoss´s side and finally made out the dark head cradled softly in the arms of his middle son.

Hoss´s arm stopped him before he reached him.

“Don´t, Pa.”

Ben´s mind didn´t register until he felt Joe´s hand on his shoulder. “What the…”

“He´s real bad off. We have to get him out of here first.” The urgency in Hoss´ voice finally woke Ben from his stupor. He stumbled to his feet, hardly feeling Joe´s supporting hands.

“Of course…of course you´re right.” Still shaking, he took the light from Hoss and watched as he carefully manoeuvred the limp body of his brother up into his arms. Metal clinked again.

“What…” Ben almost shivered at the eerie sound.

“Fetters, Pa.” Hoss spoke softly. “His hands are in irons.”  He motioned with his head.

“Let´s get out of here.” 

* X * X *


Ben almost choked. He wanted to touch his son, take his hand, but he didn´t dare to. He didn´t want to hurt Adam anymore.

His gaze fell down on the bony wrists that lay on the blanket, deeply marred from the shackles.

When they had found him, the shackles had been red with dried blood. Raw flesh marked the space where they confined his son, flesh that had been excoriated so much that the bone showed in several places.

Ben unconsciously rubbed his hands as he looked at Adam. He had woken just outside the mine after they had given him water. He had fought them, with every reserve his weak body could muster, had cried out loud for help.

Ben felt the hair on his arms stand on end as he remembered. Never before had he heard such cries, low-pitched and hoarse and full of anguish. He shivered.

“Get them off”, Adam had whispered when he finally recognized his family, his eyes huge wells of pain.

Get them off, Ben thought. He closed his eyes at the memory, just to hold the feelings in check that threatened to overwhelm him. Get them off, and they didn´t have the tools they needed. Get them off. He had had to watch Adam fight desperately against the irons that wouldn´t budge, had to watch him lose his fight.

Get them off…

In the end, they reached home and freed Adam from the fetters. Unconscious as he was, he didn´t notice, and Ben was glad. The doctor had seen Adam, had bound his wrists and given him medicine.

Ben looked at Adam. His cheekbones still showed sharply under his skin, but his face wasn´t as ashen as when they had found him. The lashes lay still on the pale cheeks, like black fans on ivory.

God, he wished he could touch him. He had tried, once, to stroke a haggard shoulder, but Adam had jerked away from him before he knew what was happening, wincing as he did, and had stared at his father with his dark eyes full of horror.

Ben let his head sink until his gaze fell on Adam´s hands. His son had moved them while he slept, but only to a certain space between them – and stopped, as if the metal was still on them, confining him.

At first he hadn´t understood when Hoss tried to make him understand that Adam moved “strangely-like” – but he had found out soon enough, and his heart bled.

He rubbed a hand over his face, willing threatening tears to subside. God help me, he thought, help me get him back. He reached out a hand and gently touched Adam´s brow.

His eyes shot open, but he didn´t move. Instead, he stared at Ben, breathing hard, watching him.

It seemed along time in which Ben didn´t dare to move, but finally he saw Adam relax, fractionally, until a tiny smile showed on his son´s face.


Ben´s heart fluttered.

He saw his reflection in the unfathomable golden eyes, and he saw his own hands pick up Adam´s. The face before him flinched but he held on to the hands, clenched to fists, and moved them apart, inch by inch.

Adam´s eyes widened. Ben could read the fear in them, but he moved their hands away from each other, never stopping, never hesitating, beyond the space that had restricted them for so long.

Adam blinked. His arms relaxed, and slowly he opened his fists, grasping his father´s hands, holding on tight. Ben looked down, and smiled, and when he lifted his gaze, there were tears in Adam´s eyes, and he knew he had won.


* X * X *


The end

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