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.

The Mistress first noticed me when I was four, playing with her children in the great expanse of the Plantation after helping my dad carry sugarcane out to the stock. Her then-current house boy, a young black man with a penchant for mischief, had become sick and the doctors couldn't do anything to help him, leaving her in need of a new current one fast. She was adamant about getting one early in their life, to train the person to anticipate her every need. The problem she faced as the person would be a reflection of herself and she deemed all the little black boys from their more favored house servants as unacceptable.

And then she saw me.

My parents weren't treated any different just because I was the Mistress' new houseboy but I was treated differently. I no longer had to help dad in the fields. I was cleaned up with scented water and my hair was neatly trimmed. Every year, I received a nice house coat that could fit my ever growing body and I was given a better helping of dinner from the main house.

Even this far into the war, I could still fit the bill for a better off man. I might have been dressed in clothes that had seen better days and had lost a good bit of weight but I had all my teeth and my hair was more managed. I didn't know the meaning of manual labor, in all realities. The Mistress had never made me do heavy lifting. I was to follow her around and make her happy, and I did until the war broke out.

The first day of capture was tame in comparison to the second. We had been given something to eat and those with ranks had their rank removed before their men. We were put into the shackles for the night and then woken before even the birds to start digging graves while the black men who originally had been assigned the task were given the Lord's day of rest. Most of the men I was chained to had come from trade work and could throw their weight. Ripping with muscle, each one of them could dig for hours with a building sweat.

I barely lasted the first hour.

Shovel pushed into the ground, I stomped twice on the twisted metal just to break the second layer of soil. My hole had barely even taken shape as the others started deeper into the earth.

"You're slowing the men down, Mista Crawford!" The Colonel's voice echoed across the yard. I rolled my eyes, becoming used to his jeers. "Get him his own irons, O'Riley!"

I was unhooked from the other men, who moved on to the next group of graves. Left with my tiny hole, I kept digging, ignoring the comments directed towards me about how slow I worked. Word had spread about my supposed standing in society, with speculation to my grand upbringing. Even the men I'd once been shackled with didn't offer any symphony. They joined the ribbing last night, asking me about this house I worked for.

Luckily none of them were from Lieutenant Baker's battalion or my jest would have been over the minute I claimed landownership.

"Work faster Mista Crawford!" The Colonel chided. "If this hole isn't dug up by breakfast, you're not eating!"

I glared at him. "Sod off, Yank!" I speared the ground around my hole, throwing a small pile of dirt over my shoulder. "Some Yank you are, ain't got nothing better to do but bother a worker." I speared the ground again, slamming my word boot into the metal once more. It hit soft clay, making a squishing noise under my feet. "Don't want your pig shit, no way." The last part was said low as I licked my lips, collecting the sweat from them.

The colonel's lips parted as if to speak when a voice shouted over the compound, "Colonel Moore, sir!"

"O'Riley." The Colonel nodded.

"Colonel Sanders wants to speak with you."

The Colonel rubbed his head. "It's not even morning yet, Jim." His rough exterior broke for a fraction of a second and I glanced up just in time to see his tired blue eyes as he rubbed his big hand down his face. "Do you know how vital it is?"

"Said that if you had time to heckle the prisoners, you had time to see him this fine Sunday morning." The man leaned forward, a grin on his face.

"I'm not heckling the prisoners."

"Well, prisoner then." The smaller man grinned at me, tipping his hat with a young smile. I grinned back at him, showing him all my teeth. "Nick also wanted to know if you'll be joining us for prayer after breakfast."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world. Watch MistaCrawford for me, will you, Jim? He's not to eat until I have at least two graves dug." I glared at the colonel, slamming my shovel into the ground with more force than intended. The metal nicked my shackles but didn't break the iron in half. Colonel Moore gave me a smug grin before walking back into camp with an extra hop to his step. O'Riley watched his Colonel leave to before releasing a low whistle and a shake to his head.

"Haven't seen Matt so interested in a person, ever." Jim placed a hand on his head. "You really crawled under his skin."

I glowered at the man. "I don't see why," I hissed, "I didn't do anything to him."

"Not intentionally, no." O'Riley gave a side glance to the other prisoners, hard at work on their gravesites. "The Colonel really riled up the troops in New York by his stance on slavery. He doesn't exactly care that you're with the traitors. It annoys him that you had slaves."

I pushed in the dirt, glaring at the offending ground. "I don't have slaves." If I did, I wouldn't be serving the Master. Hell, they wouldn't be better than my family by the end of the night. I glance up towards the far end of camp, segregated off from the rest of camp, where the black troops and camp followers are starting to wake. One of them is dousing the warm fire that had been lit all night, with only a sharp glance towards me.

O'Riley raises a dark brow but doesn't really inquire further. He does, however, turn to face one of the other prisoners who had leaned against his shovel in the morning sun, catching his breath. "Keep working! No one eats until these graves are dug up!" He moves over, rounding off into a verbal argument over distribution of work. I continue working on my hole, finally getting it as wide and deep as the others by the time morning prayers start.

Appropriately, we're brought over to the western tent, kept together with shackles. My own private ones drag my feet together but my step is not as stretched as the other, the chains heavier than necessary. If I tried to run, anyway, I'd be shot in seconds and I'm not in the least tempted to see a bullet so early in the morning. We're forced to stand in the back, heads lowered during prayer but my eyes wander through the crowds for familiar faces.

Colonel Moore isn't in there, which makes me relax all the more as I ask the Lord to watch my father, who joins him in heaven. I ponder the whereabouts of my mother for a passing second before Lieutenant Baker's current condition comes to me. I wonder if it made it out of the attack in one piece. I say a small prayer for the man, ignoring the burn in my eyes. One of the prisoners touch my shoulder, a look of understanding across his face.

"He is watching all out friends."

I smile. "You're right."

When church lets out, we're led back to the stocks where water is given with some hard bread. Taking cue from the other prisoners, I dip my bread into the water to soften it while watching soldiers be buried in the holes we had dug up. Around noon, things have quieted again across camp as men go about their days, meeting up with friends and families that had followed camp. The prisoners around me are talking solemnly about their homes and remaining family. One or two even try to lighten the mood with talk about what things are going to be like where the war is over.

There's an unspoken agreement about who's going to come out on top in all this, even if we wish it wasn't so.

Colonel Moore makes his rounds when the sun's at the highest. His eyes meet mine across the compound but I look away before he could even think of coming over and talking.

But he does come around eventually, stepping up to the stocks with a raised brow and his hands on his hips, pushing up his coat a little. "I heard you got food."

"I dug your grave." I give the man a smirk, hoping he'll hear my play on words. Some black soldier had been dumped into my grave, which was an insult for all my hard work but I doubt anyone cares too much what I think. The only weapon I have here is my sharp tongue, the one that had learned petty insults from my Mistress.


O'Riley comes out from the woods, where the outhouses are. "Can't a guy do his business without you?"

"I thought I said he was to dig two graves before he could eat."

"He'd never eat then. He's so damn slow." O'Riley shook his head. "And did you see that grave he dug? Hector didn't deserve to be buried in there. Maybe you can put him to work in the hospital or something until we can send them to the prison?"

I swallowed hard, scared about that. The prisons we kept Northerners were awful. I'd heard horror stories from my father about how the prisoners of war went in and never came out because conditions were worse than they were on the field. At least out here, we might stumble on some kind of animal. In there, you were lucky if they remembered to feed you by the end of the day. I just knew that Lieutenant Baker and my mom were still alive and they were waiting for me. I had to come back, safe and sound.

Blue eyes turned to me, and Colonel Moore's jaw tensed. "What do you think, Mista Crawford. How can you earn your keep here? What are you going to go to school for? Maybe we have a job to get you started."

I want to be a lawyer like Lieutenant Baker but I didn't think there was any jobs in camp that could get me started on even that dream. I grabbed the bars, not able to look at him anymore as my shoulders tensed.

"Tick tock, Mista Crawford. We don't have all day."

"I can clean!" I cry out. "Just don't send me to a prison!"

That dries up all the humor from the Colonel. O'Riley shoots his commanding officer a lookbut I ignore it. Probably some mind-talk the Northerners have. "You're going to have to go eventually, kid." Colonel Moore's voice becomes soft. Around me, the other prisoners have stopped talking, nervousness flooding over us. We all know what Confederate prisons are like, Northern ones can't be any better. "If you're lucky there will be a prisoner exchange with one of your branches but none of them are willing to open talks."

I'm hunched into my shoulders now, my mouth dryer than it's been all year.

"Think of it this way: it'll be a roof over your head," Says O'Riley as if that makes this realization any easier to handle. I'd rather spend the rest of my life living off of stale bread and water then not knowing if I was going to survive the night. They'd probably force me to do more manual labor than digging graves with punishment worse than just being denied food.

I reach for Colonel Moore, trying to grab his arm. "I can clean! Please don't send me to a prison camp!"

"You still need to earn your meal here, at least before we start worrying about your permanent placement." Colonel Moore crosses his arms. "If MistaCrawford," the usual smile is a little more forced, trying to make light of the very tense situation, "Thinks he can earn his keep by cleaning, let's hold him too it."

I'm taken from the cages and brought to the medical tent where I'm instructed to clean the blood from surgical tools. I was left under the watchful care of the hack of a surgeon who looked tired and stressed rolled into a ball of paranoia. O'Riley introduced me simply as the Colonel's Favorite which was shared with a hearty laugh that I didn't think was too funny.

The work makes my stomach flip but it beats being out in the hot sun digging holes for them to bury soldiers. When the tools are cleaned, I follow one of the women camp followers around the wounded soldiers, helping her clean their bandages while trying to hold the minimal stomach contents I have when I see some of the wounds.

There's a couple of soldiers in southern uniforms, two of which were from my father's infantry but I'm pushed away from them before I can get close enough to ask them what they saw on the field. I'm sent out to help the women wash linens later, hanging them out to dry in the warm sun. The women talk about their husbands, without even a glance towards him, while the some of the black women work off to the side, carrying water to the wounded.

Colonel Moore came back around supper, checking with the doctor and several of the women to make sure that I made their days easier before agreeing that I earned myself some dinner, which he personally brought over to me, mentioning that the prisoners had already had their meal an hour before. I try hard not to pay attention to the man who sits with me over by the bedding while I spooned up mouthfuls of stew ravenously. It wasn't the best food but I hadn't eaten an actual meal in two days. The water was a little on the brown side, leaving a dirty aftertaste but I still swallowed the cup's contents.

While I eat, Colonel Moore pulls a book from his large jacket pockets along with a pair of wired framed glasses to put on his face. It's not thick but it's worn and aged around the corners. It's hard not to look up at the pages and inquire about it. I want to settle in close and look at the pages but I keep my distance, hunched into my food. He flips pages periodically throughout the meal, barely glancing up from his readings.

With the meal gone, I'm left with nothing to occupy myself except him, who's took deep into his book to even notice my wavering attention. I glance from the book to his face, then back again before looking at the camp grounds that has lured into a familiar step of the day.

"You don't haveta sit wit' me. I'm not gonna go nowhere." I finally say after some time.

The Colonel sets his book on his hip, tilting his head to the side. "Who said I was sitting with you? I happen to always sit on this side of camp."

I give him my best annoyed look. "So what are you readin'?"

"You might be a little young to remember James Fenimore Cooper's work but I'm partial to some of his earlier writings about the American Democracy and our expansion towards the west. Part of his trilogy with Satanstoe and The Redskins. Not as controversial as his later works but in its own right, it makes you think of the real corruption in man." The Colonel flipped through the pages absently.

I nod my head, pretending to understand what he's talking about.

"Did you enjoy dinner?"

"Did I earn dinner?" I smirked back.

"Might just keep ya, kid. Doc's never been so happy."

Wrapping my arms round my knees, I laid my head down. Absently, my fingers played with the cuffs on the shackles. "We didn' own slaves, y'know."


"The guy – O'Riley? Jim? – He said you hated me 'cause you thought we owned slaves. We don't."

Colonel Moore tucked his book into his pocket. "I've come to realize that."


He smiled secretively. "Nothing. All right then, kid."

"And stop callin' me Mista." I grumble. "And don't call me kid. I got a name."

"Right. Grey"

I glared. "Wha's wrong with my name, Yank?"

"It's Matthew Moore." The Colonel grins.

Turning away, I put my nose in the air. "Who cares?"

Throwing his head back, Colonel Matthew Moore breaks into a deep laugh. "I like you, kid! Just remember, you're no longer on your turf." He ruffled my hair and I pushed his arm away, glaring towards the woods. "If you don't mind me asking though, why fight if you knew there was a possibility you could end up in a prison?"

"Wasn't gonna." I crossed my arms.

"Wasn't going to what, fight?"

My glare switched to him. "Was gonna fight eventually, when dad couldn't. Wasn't plannin' on gettin' caught by Yanks."

"No one plans it but there's always a possibility."

"You're fighting." I argue back.

"It's just another thing to write about if I end up in a prison." Matthew settles back into the grass, his arms folded behind his head. He must have seen my questioning look because he grins towards me from the ground. "It's hard to believe but I bet in fifty years people are gonna be talking about this and I want tell people what it's really like out here. I send in articles from the front line to my old paper every other month, keep them posted what's going on out here. They edit it a bit, of course – for morale reasons – but dad always keep the originals at home. Going to publish them one day after this war is over, so people know the truth."

My neck is craned back, taking in the Colonel with curiosity that I haven't possessed until that moment. "Why would people be talkin' about this?"

Matthew grinned. "This war is bigger than we think. It doesn't matter how it turns out, North, South. Something's going to give and people are going to talk about it. Everyone has an opinion of it now. What will they say about it in the future?"

"I don't think they'll talk about it." I looked at the camp again.

"Why not?"

I chew on the insides of my lip. "Because they'll have better things to talk about," I say with some conviction. It's not the truth though. I don't think people will be talking about it because it'll have to be written about and only select people will be able to read about it, even from Matthew's own words.

Matthew makes a soft noise in the back of his throat. "I think we'll just have to agree to disagree about it. If it's written down, someone will talk about it." He held up his book, waving it around. "If it was up to public criticism once, it'll remain true in the people's minds forever. You can't erase what is written."

"But you can burn those words," I grin. "Bet your book would roast nicely."

A playful gasp leaves the Colonel's mouth as he pulls the book away, as if I were going to take it from him. "Blasphemy! What kind of heretic are you?"

"A Crawford one."

"Whatever you say, Mista Crawford."

"Don't call me that!"

Matthew only rolls away laughing. He climbs to his feet when he gets better control of his breathing, tucking his book into his jacket again. His glasses come off second, being tucked into his breast pocket. "Well, it's time to get your bowl washed."

"Where do I take it when I'm done?"

"Give it to me when it's washed. I'll have Jim take you to the creek to get that clean." Matthew offers his hand to help me off the ground. I reluctantly take the proffered aid, pulling to my feet and letting him go as if burnt. A familiar silence falls between us as he leads me back to camp.

When he leaves me with O'Riley, I can't find my voice to ask if he'll be joining me for a meal tomorrow.