Someone has made a very serious mistake.
Hansel stands in front of the remnants of their campsite on the edge of the forest. Their tents are shredded, their supplies scattered everywhere, smashed and destroyed, their cart is up in flames, their meager funds stolen. But Hansel doesn’t care about any of that because there is something much more important missing from their temporary base: Ben.
Gretel’s standing over the ruins of the tent that he shared with Ben, and reluctantly he joins her when she calls him over. There are signs of a struggle beneath the destructive chaos, scuffs in the dirt around the entrance, and there’s blood on the blankets – Ben’s blood, he’s sure – whoever had taken him had practically dragged him out of bed, but he hadn’t gone quietly.
That’s when it starts.
When he’d been learning how to use his magic, the mere thought of Ben in trouble was enough to make it go haywire. Here, now, with Ben actually in trouble, it feels nearly uncontrollable. He looks down and sure enough, his fingers are sparking with power, the electric blue lines spiraling over his palms and crawling slowly up his wrists, spider-webbing around his arms like intricate glowing tattoos.
“You need to calm down,” Gretel warns him.
“I can’t, you know I can’t.” He breathes out, because however Ben ended up tied so inextricably to his magic, it doesn’t seem to be reacting well to his absence. “Why would anyone take him except because of me?” He wonders aloud, trying to focus on just breathing without Ben there as an anchor for his magic. “Someone has to know about us. If they know, they’ll-” He can’t bring himself to finish the thought, that they’ll kill Ben for his relationship with Hansel. “If anything happens to him…”
“People have seen you use,” Gretel reminds him. There’d been a big fight against a large coven of witches that had gained them a not immodest amount of popularity a few weeks back. She and her brother had both been casting, countering the spells the powerful witches had used, with Ben and Edward at their sides. “It doesn’t mean they know about the two of you, just that they think he might be able to tell them something about your magic. He was the only one here when they hit.”
But Ben would never talk, and so any questioning he might endure will likely be of the painful, torturous variety. Which is also, “Not helping.”
“Fine, then.” She says, “use your magic to our advantage. It’s tied to Ben, so use it to help us find him.”
He concentrates, tries to channel his powers into the task, but it’s so hard to control when Ben isn’t around, even more so when he’s in trouble. It just feels like it wants to explode everywhere, while he needs it precise and cooperative. “Find him,” he mumbles to himself, as Gretel wanders off to help Edward gather up the salvageable remains of their smoldering camp. “Find him, find him, find him...”
His fingers spark with power, and suddenly everything is blue, and he’s no longer standing in the middle of a scorched clearing, but in the middle of a stone-walled room, with screams echoing off the walls, and he’s off and chasing the sound before he can even begin to fathom how this happened, how he got here (wherever here might be).
Hansel calls out for Ben, voice a touch desperate as he listens for a response that isn’t screaming. He’s not worried about drawing attention to himself, since he has no qualms about grievously harming anyone who tries to stop him, anyone and everyone involved in trying to take Ben away from him. “Ben!”
Ben’s cries never seem to get any closer, despite the lengthy hallways he moves through. He turns a corner and suddenly they seem very close; down another corridor and the ricocheting screams come to an abrupt stop.
His magic sparks to life again, and suddenly he’s in another part of the expansive building.
And so is Ben.
He’s slumped sideways in the chair he’s been bound to, arms and legs securely fastened. Hansel races to him, quickly taking stock of the plethora of injuries that have been inflicted upon his Ben. His face is a mottled mess of black and blue and red. One eye is swollen shut entirely, the other nearly masked by a trail of blood spilling down from a deep gash on his forehead, with lips and nose equally bloodied. His hands aren’t much better, with several nails missing (discarded on the floor at their feet), and some fingers just plain broken. Shallow cuts, still bleeding sluggishly, litter his arms and chest and thighs and Hansel can already feel his healing magic building up when he reaches out for Ben, moves to caress a rare unbruised bit of skin on his partner’s face to try to wake him and get started fixing this mess.
But something is wrong.
He reaches out, but the touch never lands, his hand sort of phases through Ben and it’s then, with a sudden rush of panic, that he realizes that he isn’t really here. Just this piece of him that’s so attached to Ben it came on its own to try to help.
“Ben,” he whispers, fingers ghosting over Ben’s lips.
Slowly, Ben’s eyes flutter open (as much as they can, anyway), and his brown eyes are bleary and unfocused as they search for him, but don’t seem to find him, “H-Hansel?”
“I’m here,” he says, even though it’s not entirely true. “I will be here. I promise.”
“Please,” Ben begs, “Hansel, it hurts s-so much. Please, help me.”
And oh, he wishes he could. His magic stirs, eager to be of use, but he doesn’t think there’s anything for it do right now. “Soon,” he swears, “You stay strong, stay alive for me, Ben, yeah? And I’ll be with you soon.”
Unable to stop himself from trying to offer comfort when his lover is so broken before him, he reaches out again, letting one hand – still sparking blue with potential magic- settle against Ben’s chest, struggling to stay on the surface and not phase through again. “Of course I promise,” he assures Ben, “There’s nothing in the world that’s going to stop me from getting you back.”
He needs to leave, he knows, needs to let himself go back to Gretel and Edward and get here for real. But first he needs to know where here is.
It’s heart-rending to walk away from Ben, but he forces himself to do it all the same.
Hansel plans to find a window that might afford him a view of the surrounding landscape – they couldn’t have gotten too far away with Ben in the time it took them to discover the ruins of their camp and he knows the area well enough, he thinks – but before he can make much progress toward that goal, his world flashes blue again and suddenly he’s gasping for air, lying in the dirt and dead leaves in the forest, right where he’d been standing when he’d warped a part of himself away.
Gretel, kneeling over him and looking quite panicked herself, sits back with a sigh of relief when he curls in on himself and fights to get his breathing under control.
“What the hell was that?” She demands, anger now replacing her short-lived relief. “Did you – do you need your meds?”
“No,” he assures her, because this isn’t that, thankfully, “How long was I gone?”
“I don’t know about gone, but you’ve been passed out on the ground for the last five minutes, at least.”
Not long, then, good. He’s up and on his feet, which is maybe not the best decision he’s ever made, since the world feels unsteady under him, like he’s been on a boat for too long and is finally stepping back on land.
She catches hold of him when he sways alarmingly, “Whoa, care to tell me what’s going on?”
“I saw Ben.”
He struggles to find the words to explain this unexplainable thing, but manages to convey the basic idea well enough that she seems to believe him (but then none of his magic makes sense where Ben is concerned, never has and likely never will). She is considerably less understanding when he adds on, “I got pulled back before I could figure out where they’re keeping him.”
She and Edward both look frustrated with this lack of information, leaving them essentially back at square one. “So now what? We just start checking all the big, stone buildings we can find?”
Hansel’s head falls into his hands; he’s exhausted and terrified and desperate. “I don’t know,” he growls out, hates that he couldn’t find a clue before he left Ben. “Give me a minute.”
Gretel does as asked and leaves her brother to think this through, pulling Edward off with her so they can get back to their camp clean-up while Hansel decides how he wants to handle things.
When he’s sure he’s alone, because he’s positive Gretel wouldn’t want him doing what he’s about to do, he does the only thing he can think to do. “Take me back,” Hansel begs of his magic. “Please, find him, find him, find Ben.” He says, over and over and over again because it got him there before, along with all the same feelings of panic and desperation he’s still feeling now.
He closes his eyes and wills himself away.
And when he opens them again, a long minute later, he’s back. Only this time things don’t seem quite so solid. If he’d had this the first time, he would’ve known it wasn’t real, that he wasn’t really here.
But Ben still is.
And he knows what he needs to do this time.
He kneels before his lover, who’s been further injured in the time since he was last here, by whatever unseen monsters dared to take him (more bruises, more cuts, more broken bones) and calls out to him again, trying to draw him back to consciousness. He gets no response.
He wills his magic into something tangible, pouring everything – as much healing magic as he can along with the brightest light he can imagine - the sun, the moon, the stars – into one central point between his hands, forms a ball of it. It looks like some sort of jewel, rare and glowing with the same electric blue that his magic is. When he feels weak with the effort of creating it, when he feels the pull of his real body trying to drag him back, he pushes the orb into Ben’s chest, into his heart – beating too fast and off rhythm – and leaves it behind for him.
Then he’s back on the forest floor. Ears ringing, vision whited out. Blood leaks from his nose and ears and eyes and it’s all he can do just to roll to one side and vomit for what seems like an eternity, but he can feel it now. He can feel the link to the magic he gave away.
He can find Ben.
“You idiot!” Gretel shouts at him, again at his side while he tries to force the world to right itself around him. “You did it again, didn’t you? What good are you to Ben if you get yourself killed doing that?”
“I know where he is now,” he explains, gesturing in the general direction that the distant pull of his magic comes from. He struggles to his knees, fights through the wave of dizziness and nausea that overwhelms him and finally makes it to his feet, leaning hard against a nearby tree to keep steady. “We have to go – I tried to heal him but I don’t know if it worked and he’s… it’s not good. We need to get to him now.”
His sister wrangles him to her side, pulling an arm over her shoulder to support him as they hobble back toward where Edward waits with the gathered pieces of their camp. “Let’s get going, then.”
The three of them set off, Hansel directing them as they pick their way through a dense forest as the sun sets around them. No one suggests stopping, despite the dark sky, void of any helpful moonlight or starlight beneath the canopy of trees. He and Gretel could use their magic as sources of light, but they opt to continue carefully navigating in the darkness, hoping it will give them an edge in their rescue if no one knows they’re coming.
They’d already been well west of Augsburg, their informal base of operations, on the trail of a witch who’d been causing trouble near the edges of the Black Forest, and now it seems they’re to journey ever further into its depths.
“You think we’re close?” Gretel asks, when they’ve been walking long enough that the first signs of dawn start to edge into the horizon.
The feeling has gotten stronger as they’ve gotten closer, he can feel it practically pulling him in the right direction now – and does seem to be taking them well into the denser parts of the forest. “Almost there,” he decides.
And, indeed, they are.
Finally, there’s a break in the tree-line, and what little moonlight there is outside of the forest barely illuminates the outline of a large, once-imposing structure set atop of an impressive hill, far above them. Whatever castle once stood here must have been quite the remarkable sight back in its day – it’s been long abandoned, left in ruins, and nature has apparently tried it’s hardest to reclaim the structure. The shield wall remains mostly intact, though crumbled in a few places and overrun with moss and vines. Two high towers stand in opposite corners, with one considerably less well-preserved than the other, and a large gate tower still stands largely undamaged, looming over the dilapidated remnants of a drawbridge that has long since rotted out and crashed to the ground in a dry moat.
On approach, they find the strongly fortified heart of the castle itself still standing and relatively unscathed. Hansel recognizes the long, stone building as the one he’d been running around in during his initial search for Ben.
“He’s here,” he says, despite the overall abandoned feel of the place. They haven’t seen signs that a single person has been inside these walls in more than a century and yet somehow he knows Ben is here.
“How do you want to do this?” Gretel asks, the three of them gathered in the vacant outer ward.
They both look to Edward, carrying their supplies, limited as they are after the raid on their camp. They didn’t really come prepared for this, they came armed for fighting witches, after all – with enchanted crossbows and guns and blades all specifically designed to deal with the dark magic their enemies would possess. Those weapons won’t hold nearly the same weight against whatever awaits them inside the castle ruins – they don’t know who is behind this, how many men are waiting for them, what kind of weapons they possess or what their motives are in all of this.
The low ceilings and small passages within the inner ward will be too small for Edward to easily navigate. He’d be better off outside, keeping the gate secure for their exit, they all agree, as Hansel and Gretel both load up on whatever weaponry they can.
No one seems to be patrolling the grounds, which leads the siblings to believe that they hadn’t expected to be found here – likely would never have been were it not for Hansel’s magical link to Ben. That gives them an upper hand they’ll need to win this fight – surprise.
Gretel grabs up the last of the bolts for her crossbow, “Ready?”
Hansel, armed with his favorite gun, the one with the bayonet, nods. The sooner they get this over with, the sooner he’ll have Ben back where he belongs. “Let’s do this.”
Edward hoists them up and into a window on the second floor of the main building, which appears to be just as abandoned as the rest of the castle, and Hansel vaguely recognizes the halls as the ones he’d been in before.
“Downstairs, or in some sort of central room, I think,” he explains quietly, recalling that there hadn’t been any windows in the room he’d finally found Ben in.
She nods and the two of them move carefully and cautiously through the same long hallways, checking rooms as they go and finding nothing. They reach a set of crumbling steps down to the main level of the building and search there, as well, with no results. Another staircase takes them even lower, into the depths of the castle and here there are finally signs of life. Fresh scuffs in the dust at their feet, fresh ash on the walls where torches illuminated the way – though none are presently lit here.
The two siblings exchange a glance and they operate a bit more stealthily as they clear the rooms they pass now. Finally, they come upon a door that appears to have been recently replaced, fresh wood in place of the decayed wood that’s marked every other one they’ve passed.
Slowly, Gretel edges the door open.
The room might have once been some sort of storeroom, but it’s empty now, except for Ben. Only he’s not alone this time. A handful of men stand around the chair they bound him to, talking amongst themselves in hushed whispers, oblivious to Hansel and Gretel who have entered behind them.
His hands tighten on his gun. Gretel flanks out to his side, quiet as can be. They both take aim.
Once in position, he fires off a shot into the stone ceiling. Everyone reacts, the half dozen men spin around wildly in search of the source of the noise, clearly panicked at having been found so unprepared. Some grab for their own weapons, but none are as advanced as the witch hunting arms they carry, and they think better of it. One by one, they hold their hands up in surrender.
Hansel takes a step forward, his aim moving from one man to the next, “You all have made a very, very big mistake,” he says, his voice hard and steady despite the rage he can feel building under his skin.
“The boy is a witch!” One of the men, their apparent leader, attempts to defend their actions.
“You idiots really think he has magic? Why the hell would he just sit here and let you torture him for hours if he could just get the fuck away?”
“He’s healing himself!” Another protests, daring to point at their prisoner, “Look!”
Hansel does look. Ben still looks perilously close to death, slumped over and unaware of what’s going on around him, but the cuts on him seem to be slowly knitting themselves back together, the traces of the magic he left for Ben seem to be working to repair the damage done by these heathens.
With a frustrated sigh, and much to the surprise of Ben’s captors, he tosses his gun to Gretel who slings it casually over her shoulder, her aim never wavering from her crossbows fixed point on the leader’s head. Unarmed now, Hansel lets his magic build in the palm of his hand, the same sparking blue. “No, I’m healing him. And you’re damn lucky it’s working.”
The lot of them step back in terror at the sight of his magic. “You-you’re the witch we heard about! The man who can do magic,” the leader realizes. “Hansel and Gretel - witches! Pretending to hunt your own horrible kind for money and power!” His backward step has put him close to Ben, though, and he grabs a handful of the boy’s blood-caked hair, “And what of this one? Some poor fellow you enchanted to do your bidding?”
“H-Hansel…?” Ben mumbles out, barely conscious. He groans in pain and tries to squirm away from the hand in his hair.
“I’m here, Ben,” he assures him, before turning his attention back to the leader. “If you don’t stop touching him I’m going to make sure you can’t touch anything ever again,” he warns, the orb of magic still resting in his palm growing both in size and the intensity of its glow.
The leader pulls a knife in response to Hansel’s threat, presses it to Ben’s neck.
“I wouldn’t,” Gretel warns, eyes darting between her brother and the man with the blade. The others seem to want no part of this and have backed off significantly, but it likely won’t be far enough.
Sure enough, the blast of magic fires itself off before the man with the knife can dare to make a move. Electric blue threads shoot out from the central core and target all six of Ben’s attackers at once. The magic doesn’t seem to be discriminating between past threats and present threats and Hansel is sure that they are all threats of some sort (they were all here, standing over Ben, letting him be tortured) so he can’t bring himself to feel too badly about it when they all try to struggle against it in vain. In less than a minute they’re all on the ground, and when Gretel checks them, they’re all dead.
Hansel barely notices.
He’s already on his knees at Ben’s feet, uses the leader’s knife to cut through the ropes holding Ben in place, letting as much healing energy as possible leech into Ben to try to make the magic he already has work faster. “Ben,” he calls out, hands gently smoothing over the boys face to try to keep him awake and aware, “You’re okay, I’ve got you, you’re okay.”
Ben reaches out for him, wincing with the movement, and Hansel pulls him in for a quick kiss before he gathers the boy in his arms so they can get the hell out of here.
They make camp in the depths of the Black Forest, as far away as they can get from the castle ruins before night falls upon them once again. Their ruined supplies have left them with one usable tent, but they’re all too on edge to all sleep at once anyway.
Hansel sits by the fire with Ben tucked against his side while Gretel and Edward take a turn at getting some sleep.
It’s taken all day and most of the night thus far, and so much energy that Hansel is beyond exhausted, but he’s got Ben healed almost completely. The broken bones and deep cuts have gone, mere bruises are all that’s left of his physical injuries and even those are slowly fading away.
“You don’t have to keep doing it, you know,” Ben tells him, drowsy and comfortable against his side, leaning into the fingers Hansel’s carding through his hair (no longer caked in blood thanks to a quick rinse in a nearby stream and a change of clothes). “I can handle a few bumps and bruises.”
Hansel watches the faint blue sparks that jump from his skin to Ben’s at random, the traces of the healing magic that haven’t stopped. “I don’t even know that I’m doing it anymore. It’s just kind of happening.” Which is an interesting development, but one that they can explore later, when they’re sure the consequences of Ben’s rescue won’t follow them out of this forest.
Gretel appears a few minutes later, vacating the tent so he and Ben can get some much needed rest while she takes over guard duty. Hansel imagines she’ll be a little more vigilant than either of the two of them have been.
He sends Ben ahead, pulls Gretel aside for a moment, “Thanks for everything today,” he says, because he hasn’t yet. “Couldn’t have gotten through it without you.”
“I don’t doubt that,” she teases, offers a hug that he gladly accepts. “And what you did to those guys at the castle? It’s probably for the best that no one walked away from that and it’s certainly not like they didn’t deserve it for what they were doing to Ben.”
Hansel feels the same, but the reassurance from Gretel eases some of the nerves that have settled in about his magic – how easy it was to do that, how he barely had to think it before it happened and isn’t even sure he could have stopped it if he’d wanted to. It’s a hard trade-off between how much his magic helps him in other situations (usually with saving Ben’s life, honestly) and the damage it can do in others.
For now, though, he nods in agreement. “Let’s just hope no one finds the bodies for a long, long time.”
“Go,” she tells him. “Sleep. We’ll deal with everything else come morning.”
He does as told, slipping into the tent and curling himself around Ben, already soundly asleep, magic still dancing between them. For the first time since finding the camp in ruins, he relaxes, anchoring himself back to the real world and everything he has there.