Author's Note: This was a submission for BoNaNo (a Bonanza-themed variation of NaNoWriMo on another site.) Many thank-yous are needed for the creation of this story! First, thank you to the original writer of the episode, Michael Landon. The premise of To Die in Darkness is fascinating and thought-provoking, both from a viewer's perspective and a writer's perspective. I hope that this humble submission does the characters and creative team behind the episode justice. A second, but equally-important, thank-you goes to jfclover and BluewindFarm (members of the other site) for giving me such helpful feedback while I was writing the story! Both of their suggestions and comments were constructively offered, and I am very grateful. Yet another thank-you goes out to all the 2014 BoNaNo participants and supporters who have been so encouraging and accommodating during this past month.

The title is a quote from William Shakespeare's The Tempest (Prospero, V.I.273). The italicized section includes direct quotes from the original episode and will acclimate a reader who has not seen the episode so she/he will understand the story.

WARNING- MENTIONS OF ATTEMPTED SUICIDE FEATURED IN THE EPISODE ARE PRESENT

Please enjoy, and thank for reading! Any and all feedback is welcomed and cherished! :)


This Thing of Darkness

"You're insane, Postley," Ben Cartwright stated with a hint of defiance. He looked up from the small hole he and his ranch foreman, Candy Canaday, had been held prisoner in for over a month. Despite the unkempt beard that gave Ben a primitive look, he still kept a tight hold on his characteristic dignity and rationale. "You know that, don't you?" the eldest Cartwright challenged. "You're insane and you're trying to drive us insane. And it won't work." Although Ben's claim sounded confident, one look at despondent Candy was enough to disprove that theory. In the last few weeks of captivity, Candy's usually-unshakable attitude had started to crumble. Pushing aside his worry for Candy, Ben continued, "You know, I feel sorry for you, John." A small, mirthless laugh escaped Ben's lips when he saw the rage on his kidnapper's face.

John Postley sat on the edge of the hole inside the mine with a gleam in his eye that proved he had lost his grip on morality and reality. Granted, serving time for a murder charge without having committed the crime would make even the most well-adjusted man question his sanity, but this act of sadism nowhere near the optimum way to assimilate back into society. "You're down there and I'm up here," Postley reminded them. An amused smile that did not reach his eyes spread crossways on Postley's face. "And you feel sorry for me? I'm free to go anyplace I want to."

"No, you're not. You can't get away from here. You gotta keep coming back day after day, week after week. You're just as much a prisoner as we are," Ben argued. "You'll never be free."

At Ben's mention of time passing, Candy let his head flop sideways to rest on the wall as he nervously sifted dirt through his fingers. Over the past few weeks, the young man had lost his trademark zest for life as the situation got bleaker and bleaker. Ben had expected Candy to be angry, not retreat into himself and become a dejected shell of a man. Ben's worry for his employee's psyche grew every day, and Postley's taunting certainly was not helping. Seeing the otherwise independent and cunning man so vulnerable accentuated the hopelessness of their situation.

Postley's tongue menacingly curled inside his mouth. "Well, now what if I just go away and let you die?" he proposed.

"Oh, you won't," Ben predicted, raising his voice so Candy would be sure to hear his conviction. If Candy were listening, he showed no sign of it. "You can't. You wouldn't have anything to live for."

"You're sure of that, aren't ya?" Postley questioned indignantly. "You're real sure?"

"Yeah," Ben nodded. "I'm sure. You're trapped, John. And you'll never be free."

"Well," Postley snarled, swinging his legs out of the ditch and getting to his feet. "We'll see about that. We'll see about that!" he repeated. Grabbing the lantern beside him, Postely quickly strode away, leaving the two men to themselves to breathe in the dust and grime surrounding them from all angles.

Ben sighed, glad that Postley's mocking had ceased but when he looked over at his companion, the rancher felt a chill snake down his spine. Candy had pulled his knees up to his chest as he stared forward to the other wall of the makeshift prison. .

Before Ben had a chance to engage Candy in conversation and distract him from his dark thoughts, a lit stick of dynamite dropped down into the middle of the suffocating hole. Its deafening sizzling startled both men and they jumped back at the unexpected object. At the same time, they leapt forward towards the dynamite and Candy snatched it first. He held it in his hand and gazed at it with sick fascination. To Ben's horror, Candy gripped the explosive tighter and did not appear to be getting rid of it anytime soon.

"Throw it," Ben prompted, sidling up to Candy. Smoke wafted between the two desperate men as Candy struggled with following Ben's suggesting or finding an escape from this claustrophobic hell that had become his new reality. Ben's eyes widened in horror as he recognized the resigned look on Candy's face that could only mean one thing. "Throw it!" he repeated with more urgency.

Candy backed up to create some distance between himself and Ben, but he only took two steps before his back slammed into the wall. "No… No!" he cried, still fixated on the glowing piece of twine that he thought would end his suffering once and for all.

Ben sprang forward, trying to wrestle the stick out of Candy's hand. The foreman, who had been looking so weak and frail lately, fought off Ben's advances with surprising, animalistic strength. Renewing his effort, Ben pulled Candy towards the ground as he struggled to get possession of the dynamite. The spark was only a hair's length away from the dynamite now and Ben recited a silent prayer for God to watch over his sons as he braced himself for an explosion to end his life.

But that explosion never came. Instead, the flame went out, rendering the stick benign. Ben pushed himself off of Candy and whispered another prayer of thanks as he collected himself.

Candy sluggishly blinked, returning to his senses as the magnitude of what he had almost done washed over him. Confused and on the brink of despair, Candy picked up the stick, which he now realized felt much lighter than dynamite should. Breathing just as heavily as Ben, Candy took the stick in both hands and exerted a small of amount of pressure on it. A sudden burst of dirt covered in his face.

"It's… It's dirt!" Candy clarified brokenly, swallowing the bile that bubbled up in his throat. Ben refrained from saying anything. He watched helplessly as Candy's face fell. "It's only dirt!" Unable to hold on to even a shred of reserve, Candy pitched forward and started to sob. Covering his face with his hands, he shook his head back and forth, not caring that he was sprawled out on the floor and breaking down in front of the man for whom he held the utmost respect. In that moment, Candy thought of nothing else but his own misery and pain, neither of which had an end in sight. "No… N-no…" he wept piteously.

Sighing, Ben took one step towards Candy before another voice stopped him.

"Who's insane now, Cartwright?" Postley jeered, leaning over the edge of the pit to reveal his presence. The kidnapper smiled widely as he saw and heard Candy openly crying after his faux-dynamite trick. As far as Postley was concerned, if he had to torture Candy to hurt Ben, then he would do it and do it gladly. "Who's insane now?!" he laughed.

Ben looked up at the giggling man above him and then down at the crying man at his feet. A haunting harmony of Candy's sobbing and John's laughing filled Ben's ears and it was all the ranch owner could do not to scream.

"I'll let you think on that, Ben," Postley grinned, satisfied that he had found a way to make Ben Cartwright suffer as much as he had in prison. "See you later, boys," the old man yelled over his shoulder, this time actually leaving the cave. He left one dim lantern above the filthy and encrusted hole so he could find his way through the abandoned mine. A small amount of kerosene was the only thing keeping total blackness at bay.

With Postley out of earshot, Ben was free to turn his attention to Candy.

"Oh, God…" Candy moaned as tears kept flowing from his blue eyes that had recently lost their usually luster and warmth. "It was only dirt! Just… Dirt!" he repeated in anguish. No… no, w-why?"

Although Ben felt like he could have joined Candy on the floor of their makeshift jail-cell, he knew that he would have to be strong enough for the both of them if they both planned on surviving this. "Candy," Ben whispered softly, hoping it would be enough to cut through his foreman's despair. Candy continued to carry on howling like a madman. Ben dropped to his knees slowly, not wanting to startle the distraught ranch hand. "Candy, please," Ben beseeched, placing a comforting hand on the frantic man's back.

Propping himself up on his elbows, Candy twisted his head so he could look at Ben. The Cartwright patriarch looked much too haggard, as if he had aged twenty years in the last few weeks. Or was it months? Candy had lost all sense of time long ago. "I… I…" he helplessly stuttered.

"I know," Ben soothed as Candy leaned into his touch. Finally managing a sitting position, Candy's heart-wrenching sobs had diminished into hiccupping cries.

"I w-was so clos-se," Candy lamented, swiping at his eyes to rid them of tears. "It was almost o-over."

"Shh," cooed Ben, unable to hear what Candy was saying under his breath. "It was a mistake, is all. But we're both alive and okay. That's what's we need to remember."

"Mistake?" Candy repeated, throwing himself backwards and away from Ben. "That wasn't no mistake. No…" he declared as he stood up and began to pace like an animal that had been caged for too long. "No, sir, I-I… I wish we had another dynamite stick down here. I'd light it myself if I could," he vowed sadly. "Just to get this nightmare over and done with."

Ben remained silent and stoic, allowing Candy to vent before responding.

"I'm gonna go nuts if I have to stay one more minute in these walls," the foreman snarled. Although he had found a permanent home on the Ponderosa in the last two years, Candy had spent much of his life wandering. Even as a child, he moved around with his army scout father before Sargent Canaday had been killed while on patrol. To be forced to stay in one place was pure torture for the young man. To be forced into staying in a dark, isolated cave… Ben shuddered to think of what would happen if Candy and he were not rescued soon.

"And… and for what?" Candy burst. "Why are we even here? Because you misidentified Postley in some trial how many years ago?" He rubbed a shaking hand over his face to keep himself grounded, but Candy could feel himself slipping away into darkness again. "Because of some stupid jury and some stupid judge years ago, I'm stuck here in this godforsaken pit with hope of ever getting out. God!" he yelled, more to himself than to Ben. "A-a-and that's not even the craziest part of this whole thing," he marveled. The flicker of insanity slow appearing in his blue eyes was magnified by the narrow stream of light from the lantern. "You know what the craziest part is, don't ya?" Ben refused to feed into Candy's breakdown. "Don't ya!" Candy repeated vehemently.

With a placating sigh, Ben shook his head. Candy took this as an invitation to continue.

"The craziest part is that me bein' here is your fault," Candy accused in a tone that cut Ben to the core. "Postley wanted to get back at you, not me. It was just dumb luck I came with you down here in the first place! And now…" he trailed off and lowered his voice. "Now, all I want is some way to end this. That's all I want anymore. To die." Letting his back rest against the wall, Candy slid down to a sitting position. "So I hope you got want, Cartwright," Candy scoffed. "Your testimony has convicted both of us to a life of darkness or death. And from where I sit…" Candy plopped down onto the ground. The dank chill from the mud crept into his bones. "Death is lookin' a lot better than darkness."

Hearing Candy condemn him was almost more than Ben could take. He fought to keep a hold on his temper and leaned on the wall opposite from Candy. "Is that how you really feel?" Ben asked after a moment.

"Yes," Candy breathed out heavily with more rage than Ben ever thought one man could possess. "Yes, I do," he bit out, taking a deadly tone.

Ben raised an eyebrow and grunted. "In that case," the older man causally suggested, "I guess that makes me a murderer, doesn't it?"

"Uhh," Candy hesitated, unprepared for Ben to agree with him so easily. "Yes," he maintained, pushing down a gnawing feeling of guilt that bubbled up in his gut. "Yeah, I reckon it does."

"Hmm," responded Ben, looking thoughtful. "If I'm a murderer like you say I am, what would happen to me if we were free?"

Stunned, Candy shifted his weight and avoided eye contact with Ben, who was looking crazier by the minute. It unnerved Candy, and for a moment, he forgot about his own misery and sorrow. "I dunno," he shrugged under his breath, hoping to dismiss the entire subject. Suddenly, hearing someone else talk about taking lives was too upsetting and jarring for Candy to handle.

"Yes, you do," Ben intensely insisted. "I'd be hanged, wouldn't I? Strung up and swinging in the breeze like an old, wet pillowcase bein' hung up to dry on an August day."

"I guess," stuttered Candy, taken back by Ben's rather morose description of a hanging. "Yeah, yeah you would."

"It only stands to reason!" Ben boomed, scooting closer to Candy. He placed his hand on Candy's shoulder and gently squeezed, but Candy was disappointed and frightened to find that the physical gesture lacked the comfort and warmth it so often provided him. "Murderers should hang. You say I'm a murder. Therefore, I should hang! It's just common sense."

"Maybe," the young man finally responded after a moment. Candy chewed on his lip as he attempted to follow Ben's flawed logic. "Doesn't matter." He shrugged out of the silver-haired man's grasp and lowered his gaze. "We're both gonna die in this ditch anyway, so who cares?"

"Why wait?"

Even though he did not fully understand what Ben meant, Candy flinched at the very idea of somehow hurrying along death, despite his recent issue with the dynamite. "I… Uhh…" Crossing his arms over his chest, Candy leant against the wall for support. He hoped acting disinterested would obliterate any more discussion from death.

Glancing over at Ben, doing his best to avoid eye contact, Candy was surprised to find him removing his neckerchief. "Come on," Ben summoned. "When you're right, you're right. Get over here and let's get this show on the road." He pressed the dusty cloth into Candy's hand. Ben raised his chin so Candy could clearly see his neck. "Go on now. You're a strong man. It shouldn't take too long."

Staring at the dark blue neckerchief in his hands, Candy was finally able to grasp what exactly Ben wanted him to do. Stunned, Candy threw the offending object aside as if its touch scalded his hands. "How can you say that?" he cried. Ben was able to detect a slight change in Candy's vocal pitch that reminded him of the brazen foreman's defiant attitude that he dissipated as soon as they were captured. "You're not really saying that you want me t-"

"To lawfully dispose of a criminal. It just makes sense, what with my being the reason we're stuck here. I killed both of us, right?" he reminded, echoing Candy's earlier accusations. "So you might as well kill me." Bending down and ignoring the crick in his back caused by weeks off immobility, the ranch owner picked up the cloth and proffered it to Candy for the second time. "Take it," he prompted.

"I…" Candy defensively swatted Ben's arm away and curled in on himself a little more. "No, no I won't. This isn't what I-"

"Do you or do you not believe I'm to blame for us getting kidnapped?" Ben unceremoniously interrupted.

"Y-yes," Candy half-heartedly answered, unsure of everything he had once been sure of.

"Then it's settled!" Ben declared, angling himself to face Candy again. "Oh, oh I see what you mean." His chocolate eyes widened, indicating he had another idea. "You can probably do it quicker if you use your hands."

Candy's jaw dropped at the ludicrous suggestion. "What?" he dumbly choked out. "What are you saying?" the slender man asked, although he had an inkling at what the answer was.

"Well, to kill me, of course," Ben cackled as if Candy had asked the most obvious question in the world. "Hang on. I'll readjust myself here. He turned slightly and was face to face with Candy. "There. Am I close enough? Can you get a good grip?"

Candy cringed and recoiled from Ben. "Jesus, do you hear yourself? Do you hear what you're askin' me to do? Get a grip!" he barked. Unable to stand Ben's incessant talking, Candy pressed his palms to his ears in a desperate attempt to drone out the revolting discourse.

"No," refuted Ben, positively giddy at Candy's word choice. "You get a grip!" he bellowed frantically. He lunged at Candy and tightly wrapped his two hands around Candy's two visible wrists.

With strength that betrayed Ben's haggard and weather body, he peeled the broken man's hands away from his ears. Shaking and scared, Candy writhed back and forth to no avail. Still trapped in Ben's grasp, Candy felt his hands being thrust onto Ben's neck. Candy could have shrieked at the mere touch of his employer's sweaty skin.

"Go on," Ben jeered, clamping down hard to render Candy's hands immovable. "Go on, do it, Candy. Do it!" Candy to struggle haphazardly now, shaking and convulsing to free himself from Ben's iron grip. "Kill me! Kill me like I deserve, like I know you want to!"

"No!" Candy screamed back as he furiously flung himself backward to escape Ben's vice-grip. "I don't want to kill you! You're crazy. You know that?" He tumbled down to the ground and did not waste a second separating himself from Ben. "You're so ready to die, bu-but I don't want to kill you! It ain't your fault we're stuck down here." Saying that out loud knocked the wind out of Candy and he leaned against the wall for support. "It ain't your fault," he let out in a huff as his knees wobbled. "Oh, God, what am I saying?" Candy asked despondently. "I'm going insane, aren't I? I must be if I said this is your fault…" Realization came crashing down on the young man and he stumbled to the ground. "I just…" As if the bones suddenly disappeared from his body, Candy folded in on himself as he shoulders trembled. "I gotta get out of here, I-I gotta get out. I can't stay here anymore, please… Please…" Guilt and shame washed over him in overwhelming waves and Candy struggled to hold back the tears that suddenly welled in his eyes.

Even from the other side of the hole, Ben sensed that Candy was losing that battle and he hurried to close the distance between them. "Candy," Ben tentatively said, trying to break through Candy's crazed mutterings. "Candy, look at me," he provoked gently. When the emotional man did not pay any attention to Ben's mild request, the older man took it upon himself to snap Candy out of his breakdown. Ben stretched his hand out and placed it on the nape of Candy's neck. This time, the warmth and support Candy had grown accustomed to over the years was present and radiated from Ben's meaty hand. "Candy…"

Stunned and shaken at his mood swings and lost grip on reality, Candy leaned in to Ben's hand, as if to test if it were real. Relieved to find that it was, Candy steadied his wavering form against Ben's broad chest. A comforting thump-thump assured Candy that Ben was neither dead nor insane. Candy could feel his employer's hand slide to the back of his head and thread itself through the foreman's wavy hair.

"Feels like your hair is gettin' thin back here," Ben lulled absently to keep Candy rooted in the present. "Pretty soon it'll be fallin' out."

It was such an innocent, simple statement, yet it was enough to crack the dam behind Candy's eyes. At first, he began to laugh and gasped for air until the large tears dripped down Candy cheeks and his laughter deteriorated into a heart-wrenching cry that erupted from the back of his throat. Locked in Ben's embrace, Candy was helpless to resist as he sank to his knees. Ben mirrored Candy as the young man sobbed his frustration and fear into Ben's strong shoulder. Rocking Candy back and forth slightly, Ben thought back to his three sons' childhoods. How many times had he assumed this position for Adam, Hoss, and Joe? A shudder coasted through Ben as he imagined the sorrow that the three of them must have been facing. Death without closure was a long and painful way to grieve. Still, Ben knew that he had no way to ease their pain. Perhaps he could not stop his sons' pain, but, Ben noted, he might be able to do something about Candy's. Turning his attention back to the young man collapsed in his arms, Ben realized Candy's loud sobs had subsided into quiet weeping. He took that transition as an opportunity to offer fatherly support.

"It's okay," Ben whispered. "It's okay, Candy."

"I… I'm s-so sorry," he wheezed. "F-for what I said… I didn't m-mean a-any of it. Really," he insisted, gulping air as he haphazardly spoke. "It's not your fault. I know that, I-I do…" He lifted his head up off of Ben's shoulder so he would be face to face with the man he had come to love as much as the father he had lost at nine years old. "I'm sorry. I don't know what's happening to me," Candy mumbled with embarrassment. He shifted himself away from Ben slightly so the two were sitting shoulder to shoulder with their backs against the wall.

"There's no reason to be sorry, Candy," Ben instantly forgave. Candy never questioned the truth of that statement. He knew Ben was being genuine just by the tone. "But we can't let Postely break us. Together, we're stronger than anything he can throw at us," he encouraged. "Right?" Candy slowly nodded, taking a deep breath. "Good."

Candy swallowed nervously and fiddled with a tear in his filthy shirt. "I'm just so scared," he admitted in a small voice that lacked the gusto and attitude that Ben had often associated with Candy. "These walls… It's like they're closin' in on me more an' more every day. I close my eyes, and I still see them." Candy sullenly scrubbed at his damp cheeks. "Suddenly, I can't breathe, can't think," the foreman revealed rapidly. "A-A-And I can't stop wonderin' if this is how he felt. How long did he stay alive? Was he hurting? Scared? Did he go blind in the darkness or crazy from not knowing if it was day or night?"

Ben's brow wrinkled with confusion. He was not sure who Candy was talking about, but the elder man hoped that this was not a sign of Candy spiraling back down into delusion. "What do you mean, Candy?" he asked, slinging an arm around the quaking man. "Who?"

Candy scratched at his beard, wishing for a razor to shave off the prevalent reminder of his captivity. "My pa," he finally whispered.

In all the years Ben had known Candy, the foreman barely ever mentioned his past, especially his family. In fact, the only reason Ben knew what he did about Candy's childhood was because he ran into a sergeant from Candy's father's old outfit. According to him, Candy's mother had died when he was four and his father, a scout of the U.S. army, had died while serving. After becoming an orphan at the tender age of nine, the soldiers stationed in Fort Delaney took it upon themselves to help raise their fallen friend's son as best they could. After learning that small nugget of knowledge, Ben was left with many burning questions about Candy's life, but he never pressed his employee to divulge any details he did not want to discuss. Unfortunately for Ben, Candy had remained tight-lipped and secretive about anything regarding his past. That is, until now.

"Your pa?" Ben echoed dumbly. For once in his life, he did not know quite what to say. "What about him?"

"He… He…" Candy took a deep breath to prepare himself for recalling such traumatic memories. "When w-we found his body," Candy haltingly explained. "He was trapped in a hole not much bigger than this. Later it was determined the roof of an abandoned mine shaft crumbled under his feet. He was out on patrol and wasn't expected to be back for two weeks at the earliest," he recalled. "An' I was used to that, you know? I was okay with my Pa going away a lot because I knew he would come back. He always did! He was the best scout the army's ever seen. "

Ben could hear the swelling pride in Candy's voice. "I would have loved to meet him. He sounds like a fine man," the older man encouraged.

"Oh, you would've, Mr. Cartwright. Really, you two would've gotten along so well," nodded Candy. He dropped his voice an octave to reveal, "You remind me of him all the time."

Ben was taken aback by such a blatant and meaningful compliment. He patted Candy's shoulder as he continued his story.

"Anyway, almost a month past and the rest of the men in the outfit were getting worried. They tried not to let on when they were in front of me, but I'd hear them when they thought I was asleep or occupied with something. I had a slight habit of eavesdropping as a kid. Anytime someone was off duty, he'd go out on his own time and search for my pa. After doing that for two weeks, there was no sign of him."

"That must've been awful," sympathized Ben.

Candy solemnly grimaced. "I don't think I got spelt more than a couple hours the entire time. I'd be too busy trying to say up, hoping I'd hear someone come running into the fort with my pa right behind him. One morning I was out working with a three year old hose that the Fort was gonna raise up for the cavalry. I'd get to take out the gentle ones and walk 'em around, ride em' a little, use the commands and signals they'd later learn. It made me feel useful and kept me busy," he explained. "So when Sargent Ordy, the staff sergeant at the fort, give me permission to go out one day, I had this crazy scheme in my head that I'd go out and find my pa. I knew he was out there somewhere and I… I…"

Ben figured that the extra information was merely an attempt at prolonging vocalizing the inevitable.

"I waited until the change of watch and snuck away from the post's perimeter." Sighing, Candy let his chin rest on his chest. "I was barely four miles from camp when I saw a weird-drop off I never noticed. So I took the horse that way to check it out. I was a curious kid." He shrugged, ignoring the pain in his head that warned him to stop remembering. "So I saw this hole. I looked down, don't know why I looked down. It was stupid. The whole dang thing coulda broke under my feet. And I saw a hand."

Ben's blood ran cold when he saw the faraway look in Candy's blue eyes. The poor man was reliving a horrible experience, but the Cartwright father could somehow sense it would be even more dangerous if Candy were to cease and go back into denial.

"It… I…" he stuttered. "I could tell by just his hand, you know? I knew, I knew it was him. I angled my neck to get a closer look and I saw dried blood. It was so dark compared to the light rock. I jumped on that horse and ran him back to the Fort so fast I think we could've outrun the wind."

"You were the one to find your father's body? Oh, Candy, that's awful," Ben remarked slowly, his heart arching for a son having to experience such pain.

"The whole troop went back to the site with me. They retrieved his b-body together. Most of it was intact," he described with as much objectivity as he could muster. "It was lucky he had been stuck in the caved-in hole, and not exposed to the sun or the buzzards."

Ben could not imagine anything being lucky about the incident, but he nodded anyway for support.

"Both his legs were broken. One had bone sticking out through the skin," Candy mechanically explained. "He was probably alive for days. Days!" he repeated angrily. "My father had to lie in that godforsaken hole, in pain and alone for days before he died. And I know him. I know how strong he was. He probably hung on for a week, maybe more. God, when I think about how he suffered! And he was so close to the fort, too… Our outfit patrolled up and down his assignment route for miles. No one ever figured…" Candy's voice disappeared into a thin moan.

"I'm so sorry, Candy. If I'd known…" Ben paused, unsure how to finish that sentence. In all honesty, there was nothing Ben could do to make this situation better even if he had known about Candy's sensitivity to small, dark spaces. "I can't imagine how hard this is for you."

"Yes you can," Candy retaliated. "You're right here. You know how hard it is. What you can't imagine is how hard it was for my pa. Hurting, alone, in the dark with no one to rescue him before it was too late," he said bitterly. "And here I am, falling apart and ready to die. I ain't even injured or alone. If my Pa could see me now, he'd be so ashamed."

Ben leaned back and inhaled deeply, seeing that Candy had finally gotten to the core of his problem. "These circumstances are enough to push any man to the extreme," Ben consoled.

"Not you," Candy violently countered. "Not my pa."

"I can't speak for your father," Ben gently acknowledged, not wanting to shatter the idealized image that Candy had created for his father over the years. "But I'm sitting here and I'm shaking in my boots."

"Really?" Candy asked, clearly needing proof.

Ben pursed his lips before nodding. "Absolutely. And that's not going to go away. But you have to try to concentrate on having hope of getting out of here.

"Then how are you so composed?" he beseeched. "When I saw that dynamite, I almost-"

"I know," Ben quickly intervened. "I know. But I'll let you in on a secret. Where do you think I get the strength to wake up in here day after day after day and not smash my head into a wall?"

Awkwardly shifting at Ben's graphic description, Candy looked at him and silently pleaded for him to continue.

"Because I'm thinking of my sons," he answered steadily. "Just the smallest possibility of seeing them again has me hanging on to my sanity and optimism, even if it is only by a thread. That's what a family does. And," he added, placing a sturdy hand on Candy's neck and cheek. "I'd bet my life your father was thinking the same thing."

Inspired by Ben's honesty, Candy locked eyes with the employer who had come to mean so much more to him than a paycheck. "They're my family, too. All you Cartwrights" he whispered. "I hope you know that."

"We do, and we feel the same way," Ben informed him.

A small but genuine half-smile skirted across Candy's face. Mutual trust and love was not a feeling he had been familiar with since he was nine years old. "I think my father would be glad to know that," he declared. "And, if I have to be stuck down here for God-knows-how-long, the least I can do is make Pa proud," he vowed with a new, confident hold on his sanity.

Ben smiled, relieved to sense the vigor back in Candy's voice, even if he could not see it in his expression. "You already have, Candy."

END