Southern Pride, Northern Romance
By: Selim
Summary: Virginia, 1863 – Grey was a camp follower from Georgia, Matthew a journalist turned soldier from New York. Neither knew a world outside their own could exist until they meet each other. Battles, they learn, can take place off the battlefield.
Warnings: Semi-Graphic war depictions, Mild Racism, Homosexuality Themes with minor
Disclaimer: This is an original work of fiction. Any similarities to any real people, places, or events are purely coincidental.

Lieutenant Jackson Baker looked like he had just stepped out of a Greek statue. He had curly brown hair and a porcelain face hidden behind manly face hair and a bellowing laugh. He was charismatic and excitable, smart and witty. He was the epitome of everything I wanted to be when I was of age and I bet it showed by the way I worshipped the ground he walked on.

"I wanna go to college, like 'im." I would explain to my mother when she warned me not to bother ole Baker. He had enough to worry about without some messed up brat following at his heels. He didn't need a puppy in these conditions – out in the wilderness, fifteen miles from Richmond, Virginia. The war had carried us between the Carolinas and now to Virginia for a grand showdown against those Yanks. Like the rest of the wives and children of these soldiers, we trailed behind the camps, nursing the wounded and feeding the lively.

"You don't have a lick of sense. No college gonna want a boy who can't read. Now bring some stew to daddy." She handed me a tin cup with the bland rabbit stew made from the hare we had found along the path. "Don't let any of 'em boys see ya now, that's daddy's." She gave me a push with a shake of her head, whispering under her breath about her dreamer boy.

With her back turned, I stuck out my tongue and moved along the fields, hoping to get a glimpse of Baker as he made his rounds through the camp, checking his numbers. I straightened my back when I saw him, standing near the back camps talking with a small black messenger. He noticed me immediately and gave a pleasant wave, letting me know it was all right to step forward. I did so without an extra jump to my step, trying not to stand between him and the boy.

"How's your father, Crawford?" Baker asked. His South Carolina accent shined through filled with prestige and power. A child of a plantation family, he was a lawyer by trade. The taste of war brought him to the ranks, as an officer. He was everything I dreamt about at night, from the clean brown hair on his head down to his dark leather boots. He certainly looked the image of wealth in comparison to me or the black messenger, both dressed in similar rags that had been mended with other fabrics to be durable. Both of our bared toes curled into unfamiliar dirt, bathed in such filth that they looked almost identical.

I pushed my raggedly blond hair out of my face, unable to look him in the eye. "He's fine. Figure the bullet just grazed him if he's able to gamble wit' the boys." I brought the tin cup to my chest, tracing the rusty handle. His eyes always made me so nervous. Is this what college did to us southern boys? Or is it just him?

"That's good. I won't keep you." He nodded towards me, then the black boy, and disappeared back into camp. I gave the boy a dirty look before turning to find my father, keeping my back straight and eyes forward.

My mother calls me such a liar. I think I'm something I'm not. I like to pretend to be one of those southern landowners, the big guy in camp. I don't want people to know that I'm no better than a slave. Where we come from, we lost our land to the plantation owner. He had such resent against my dad that he moved the slaves into our home and we were forced into the old slave yards. We worked with them, we were seen in the community as a slave.

It was a law in Spalding County to 'Treat 'em Crawford's like them Negros'. When the Master of the plantation offered land to anyone willing to fight the war on his behalf, we took the chance. Even with all the blood shed going on around us, I love it out here. No one knows about the Crawford's. All the other people from Spalding County are either dead, wounded, or lost. We're no different from the next guy and finally above the blacks in class. I hope this war never ends if it means I can always live like this.

Pushing through the crowds of followers and soldiers, I finally find my dad, sitting on an old crate with a card game going on in front of him. Pushing his cup towards him, I scrutinize his leg. "Mama made it sound like you'd been mauled by a bear."

"Yer mama thinks a mosquito bite requires amputation." Dad throws down a card. "Heard you was talkin' with Baker."

"He wanted to know how you was doin'." I shrugged my shoulders, settling on my knees to watch. Dad had won a pair of socks so far, which is great because mom has asked for more material to mend winter clothes.

"I don't want you talkin' with 'im," mumbled dad. "Stay away from 'im, boy." He gives me the eye that used to work – when I was three. He forgets that I'm fifteen now, practically a man.

His buddy laughs deeply while still puffing on his cigarette. "You best listen to your pa, boy. Men be talkin' 'bout you and ole Baker."

"Talkin'? About what?" I shifted around, making myself comfortable. Dad has a lousy hand but his companion has a worse one. I think dad has the same gambling problem grandpa did, the reason we lost our land to the landowner. When one of our trinkets – a pocket watch that belonged to my mother's father – lands on the table, I want to push the table over just to end this match. Dad should know a pair of socks isn't worth the only thing we have of value.

"Don't you mind." Dad narrows his eyes.

His friend curses, calling that he's out. I give a deep sigh of relief as dad hands me the socks with some mirth. I grab mom's locket to be on the safe side, ignoring the look dad gives me.

As I'm leaving, his friend grabs hold of my arm, pulling me back. "Some thinkin' you fancy the company of yer fellow man."

I raise a brow. "What's wrong with talkin' to men?"

He breaks out laughing. "Ain't nothin' wrong until you lay with a man! That's the sin!" I raise a brow, still confused. Why would I lay with Lieutenant Baker? His cot wouldn't hold the both of us. I figure it's one of those jokes that non-church going men like to talk about so I nod my head as if I understand. The man ruffles my hair, pleased that I 'understand' what's he's getting at. Excused from the scene, I leave with a simple glance over my shoulder at the two men. I don't know why they act as if something's wrong with Baker; he's a nice educated guy.

Why do people like my father harass people who are simply better off than us?


Baker. I smile wide as he calls me over again. He's at his tent, holding it open. Without further prompt, I speed towards his tent, eager to talk with him some more. He lets me in first before shutting the flap behind him. I've been in here a few times, on errands for other campers. It's small and orderly, with an actual table in the corner with maps, paper, pens, and uniforms. His bed is neatly made and pressed and he has a lamp next to it. Beside that is a simple book. I've always wanted to ask him to teach me to read but I take my mom's words to heart, he's far too busy to help someone like me.

"Find your father okay?"

"Yes, sir." I tucked my arms behind me, watching him with excitement. He pulls off his jacket, tossing it over the chair before sitting on the cot. He directs me to sit across from him in the chair. I nervously do so. "Can I help you with somethin', sir?" I tilt my head to the side. His smile seems to grow.

"I was hoping you could." He nods heavily. "You see, we're moving out – past Richmond. Morale's low but I was hoping you could fix that for me." He clasps his own hands, still watching me under long lashes. "I'm sure you've heard that the Union has been pushing our troops back. Command wants troops to come up and around Richmond, away from the Union troops as an ambush. He wants usto follow suit."

I tense. Morale has been low recently. We've had to flee the last two battles, we haven't had a really good meal in a while, and people are getting sick. But… "What can I do to help?"

"Well," Baker starts slowly, "I need you to tell the troops a small white lie."

My eyes widen. I don't want to be the reason we're going into a really bad situation. If we walk into a trap people would blame meand we'd never be anything more than field workers. We'd never get the land the old master promised. "I…don't know."

Baker gets to his feet, reaching for my hands. My fingers feel so small in his big, calloused hands. My face reddens. "Please, Grey. This will work. We'll go around the capital area, and take them from behind. They'll never expect it. Pennsylvania – that's where this war will be decided. We will take it. I just need you to tell the troops that it's been successful so far. That we have troops up there."

"Do we?" My voice breaks.

"We'll be the first, we'll lead the ways. We'll be heroes. That land you want will be yours; people will be excited to hear about the Crawford's. It's what you've always wanted." He remembered. He's the only person I told about my dreams about getting my mother out of that shack. I want those people that harassed us to grovel at our feet. I just don't know if I feel okay leading people, especially my father and mother, into a dangerous situation. "Please, Grey? It would make me so happy if you'd help me."

His thumb rubs my finger, leaving a strange feeling in its wake. My back stiffens and my face feels like it's on fire. He's leaning so close that I can see the black of his eyes, gazing into my soul. I nod. "I'll tell 'em. Please lead us to safety."

"I will. Now go spread how good our acquisition of the north has been doing." He gives my body a push the door.

I dart out of the flaps, towards my dad. I feel like I'm going to throw up, I feel strange. I want my hands to be held again. I want to feel warm flesh against my own. I want to be around Baker. "T-They're takin' the North!" I cried out as I pushed into the mess grounds. Soldiers gaze over at me, in confusion. "T, They," I try to think of a good lie, for Baker, "They're pushin' into the North. To Penil-Land!"

"Penil-Land? What da hell yer kid talkin' 'bout, Regi?"

"Hell if I know." Dad glowers at me for being such a spectacle. "Calm down, boy." He takes my hand. His hand doesn't feel as good as Baker's did but I don't respect dad as much as Baker. "Penil-Land? North? Pennsylvania?"

"Yeah, that!" I nod excitedly. "We're takin' em! We gonna follow others into the North!"

"We're finally winnin' the war! You 'ear that!"

"Do you think we'll make it?"

"They forgot, they fightin' real men!"

Shouts start to follow, the men's voices rising in a hurry. The rumor spreads from there and I could only stand back and listen as people talk about how brave Confederates went up north, burned Washington to the ground and were continuing up into Canada. Morale was up and people were thinking we could really do anything. I almost thought they could but I knew the truth. We were going to be the first batch heading up north; we were clearing the way for the real soldiers.

Helping my mother collect camp, I carried every item we owned on my back, following behind the lines of troops. There were comments about how quiet I was during this happy occasion but I couldn't even crack a smile as I waited with sharp ears for the first shot. We were going into enemy territory and I feared for the life of my parents, myself, and Baker. The smiles he kept sending my way barely stifled the truth. I couldn't just grab my dad's hand and tell him we needed to run, he wouldn't listen to me now.

He told me not to talk with Baker. I can't let him know I did only minutes after being ordered not to. Maybe this is why he said not to? He knew the man was full of lies.

"What are they saying?" Baker asked one day while riding beside me. I kept my eyes forward, watching the troops through miles of foliage. We had met up with other soldiers who had been told the same lies. Our dwindling numbers were a thing of the past, really adding to the delusion that we could win this war.

"How yer leadin' us into greatness. You promise this would be safe."

"And it has. No attacks yet, they're still heading into Richmond, we're going around them." Baker's eyes remained on his troops. "I'm keeping my end of the bargain, are you keeping yours?"

"I haven' spoke to no one 'bout the Penil-Land lie." Baker chuckles and I know it's at my expense but he has such a nice laugh. "L, Lieutenant Baker…"

"Yes, Grey?" Baker's eyes gleam in delight.

"C, Can you teach me to read?" There, I asked.

Baker raises a thick brow. "Why would you ever want to learn how to read?"

I play with my fingers. Really, it means I can spend more time with him but it also means I can become like him. "You read a lot. I wanna be smart too."

Baker's horse rears back, wanting to turn. As Baker tries to get her back on track, I take the long rein between my fingers, bringing the horse back on track, following the troops. A silence falls between us until I feel Baker's big hand drop on my head, petting me. That feeling comes back, rolling in my belly. "Oh, Grey." He chuckles. "Trust me, you don't want to learn to read."

"No, I really do!" I jump a bit.

His fingers move to my face. He's bent down low on the horse, staring into my eyes. We stop in the middle of the forest, the soldiers moving on ahead. "Reading hurts your head and makes you old like me." He smiles. "You just be the way you are now and don't worry about those books. Just come to me if you want something read."

My eyes are wide. That means I can see him more… "Can you read me your book?"

"In the future, yes." He smiles. "Now, I must be off. Remember, Grey: tell no one and I'll read you my book." He closes a brown eye. I nod excitedly, watching him ride off to the front of the troops, keeping them in line. I feel a little heartbroken that he won't teach me to read but I guess he just doesn't have time.

True to his word, the next few days do go well. I'm starting to believe we can actually do this because there's been no skirmishes along the path. This good luck ended one morning just outside Virginia. We were sitting for some breakfast when a rain of fire came upon us. Shouting follows, people scrambling to get their guns while camp dwellers scrambled to gather their things and get out of the line of fire.

Arm full of clothes, I pushed my mom along the tree line, trying to keep us out of sight. I felt defenseless, having let someone else take my only gun as we scrambled to safety. "Where's daddy?" Mom looked around the battle field, shock written over her face. Bodies were already littering the ground, the faded grass taking up a black hue. "Grey! Find your daddy!"

"Get out of here!" I pushed on mom, trying to get her to continue as my body turns to run back on the field. A soldier falls feet from me, his hand slumping to his side in death. I almost puke, realizing his face is half gone. Keep going! I slip into his body, my hand on his gun. I don't move as the shooting starts to pick up around me, fires on both sides. My brain is telling me to run but I can't find the willpower to move. If I stay still, I tell myself, I'll stay alive to meet up with mom and dad and we'll go back to Georgia. We'll just work back on the Master's plantation (if it's still there) until we can buy our freedom.

Strange accents from the West make me stiffen. "They're moving to the south!"

"Barnett's up the river, he'll catch them."

No! That's where mom went! I try not to tense as I hear foot falls nearby. It gets louder and louder until a familiar smell of a horse gets my attention. Baker! I look up only to find my heart stop. That's not Baker – that's a Union Soldier. The man tilts his head back, his rugged face reminding me of a murder. My murderer. In his hand is a pistol, aimed directly at my head.

"Gimme that gun, boy."

I raise my hand and the gun, letting him take it from me. Someone else steps towards this towering lumberjack, asking for orders.

"Take him to the stocks." The officer growls lowly before flicking his tongue to lead the horse forward. Still on the ground, I glare at the man holding shackles. If they think I'm going to make this easy…

I nearly break my arm fighting to keep my arms from being locked together. The reminder that he had a gun and I didn't put me in my place as we made our ways through the warn battle site. My eyes follow over the dead comrades, stopping on my father's prone, lifeless body out for the elements. His eyes, still wide from surprise, are glazed over. He was probably the first to die. I pull back, falling neatly at his side.

The union soldier grabs at my arm, trying to pull me back on my feet, but I feel so heavy. I can't breathe. "Our father, who art in Heaven…" my voice is shaky. I'm so scared. Do the Union officers bury their troops the way we do, or do they leave them for the elements? We just wanted our land back, this isn't fair!

"Get to your feet, boy!" I'm ripped up, dragged away from my father's remains as black men take his form, carrying him over to where they're digging up land. The Union Camp is nowhere near where we had been stationed; it feels like I have to walk forever before I'm pushed with other Confederate soldiers in a makeshift jail. I'm scared. Where's my mother? Did she make it out all right?

Another Union Officer walks around us, looking toward each individual. His uniform is clean cut, his colonel tags shining on his collar. His eyes glance over all of us. "This all?"

"A few wounded; doubt they'll make it." An enlisted guy shackles me to another person. "God, they get younger and younger, don't they?"

"Our troops aren't any better, O'Riley." The officer doesn't glance up from his papers. "Give me your name, rank, and state as I approach you." He starts furthest from the bunch. It feels like forever until he stops on me, his green eyes gazing deep into my soul. We watch each other until he demands again. "Name, rank, and state." The other Union Soldier pushes me, ordering me to speak up.

"…G, Grey Crawford..." I'm visibly shaking. He raises his pen, waiting for me to continue but it's all I offer. He won't send me back home and I'm no soldier. He needs no more information. When nothing bad happens, I find ground to continue. "The Crawford's."

He smirks. "Is that 'spose to make me scared?"

Yes. "You wanted to know who I am," arrogance laces my voice. "They'll be comin' from miles to kill you monsters – o, on my orders!"

"Well," The officer smirks, "If you're of such power, MistaCrawford, then you'll find yourself right at home at our wonderful establishment. Why, you'll be settled in the finest of quarters by yours truly." He shakes his head, the grin never leaving his face. "Lock them in the stocks. I'll assign jobs in an hour. If they run, shoot to kill." From his belt, he pulls out a carving knife, pressing it under my chin. I lock eyes on him. "And keep me notified on this one." He patted my cheek. The knife went away and he left, disappearing into the fields of Union Soldiers.

All I could think was: who was that and why is he picking on me.