Well Met

by KT

OW ~ Civil War

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Note: This is my response to the 24-hour challenge, to write a short fic starting with :- The road was empty. Not a soul was in sight as he walked along its side under the early morning sky. The rays of light just peaking over the lush tree line did little to cut through the chill that had settled deep in his bones. Ezra Standish was at complete loss as to exactly how he ended up there.

My thanks to Firefox for her speedy beta work!

This is a kind of sequel to my fic Learning to Listen.

The road was empty. Not a soul was in sight as he walked along its side under the early morning sky. The rays of light just peaking over the lush tree line did little to cut through the chill that had settled deep in his bones. Ezra Standish was at complete loss as to exactly how he ended up there. War was like that, things happened fast, lots of things happened all at the same time, he just couldn't assimilate them all at once, no one could. There had been a battle, a cavalry charge. He remembered the smell of the battle, the coppery smell of blood that seemed so strong you could all but taste it. The pungent aroma of the gunpowder, the after smell of the cordite that lingered in the smoke, stinging the eyes and choking and burning the lungs. He remembered the sounds, the deafening report of the cannon, the staccato crackle of the rifles and the tell tale scrape of steel being pulled from scabbards. Then there was the thunder of the horses, men and animals crying, whinnying, screaming and shouting as the line of cavalry advanced, gathering speed, all rational thought lost in the mad, stupid, pointless gesture.

As he recalled the battle took place in the evening, the shadows long and black across the already torn and bloody ground. He had gone right through them; he had passed the line of the Yankee cavalry and found himself on the wrong side. That much he remembered but after that his memories were hazy at best. Darkness, voices, some close, some far away, northern and southern, insults traded, odd shots, just rifles and pistols, no cannon. Once there was a movement close beside him in the darkness but he didn't move - though he couldn't recall why. He did remember the smell and feel as the man beside him urinated, some of the stream had hit is boots and splashed warm and pungent on to his pants. The next thing he remembered was the quiet, it was so quiet when he woke up, quiet and still.

They were all gone, the troops, the horses, the cannon, all gone, even the bodies were gone - for the most part. The smell was still there, blood, gunpowder, decay, but that was all. He had no horse, he had no gun only his sabre, his pistol was missing, as were his boots. The cold seeped into his bones as the mud claimed his stockinged feet. Dawn sun gave him a bearing and with no idea where he was or what had happened to him, he set off south, quickly finding a road that did at least give him some relief from the mud. His head pounded, more with each step, his stomach threatened to rebel but felt empty and his throat was dry. He came to a stream just as the sun crested the trees and shone into his eyes, he didn't even register that this meant the road had swung around and he was now headed east not south. Ezra would have drunk the water had a hand not landed on his shoulder and pulled him up.

"Don't drink that son - here have this." A canteen was thrust into his trembling hands as his sabre was pulled from its scabbard by another man standing behind him.

So powerful was his thirst that he didn't stop to ask who these men were, why they wouldn't let him drink from the stream or even to worry about the fact they had his sword and where wearing Yankee blue. He just gulped down the water.

"Easy there kid, you're gonna make yerself sick like that." The voice was soft and easy, relaxed and unhurried. Finally he opened his eyes enough to see the man before him. He was tall, very tall, his thick black hair falling over his collar in loose waves, merry dark blue eyes watched him intently, faded and torn chevrons proclaimed him a sergeant.

"What you doing here kid?" a voice asked from behind him.

Ezra spun around and then staggered as the sudden movement made him dizzy.

"Whow there lad, easy." The sergeant's big hand once more came to his shoulders, steadying him. He looked at the second man. An officer, of that he was sure, but since his uniform had long since lost all insignia he didn't know what rank. He too was tall, not as tall as the sergeant but still a lot taller than Ezra. Corn blond hair protruded from under the slouch hat. This man didn't smile; he just watched the reb before him intently.

"I asked you a question boy, what are you doing here?" the officer asked again.

"Um, to be honest with you fine gentlemen I am unsure where here is," Ezra confessed.

"You know he's got a lot of dried blood back here, looks like something hit him on the head real hard," the sergeant commented from over his shoulder. The big man then began to poke and prod at his skull.

"Stop that sir, I protest!" Ezra exclaimed, darting away.

"Shut up and let him look." Ezra's eyes swung back to the officer, maybe it was just the way he spoke or carried himself or something, but Ezra felt compelled to obey.

After more agonising prodding and poking the sergeant looked up. "Yup, real nasty head wound, looks clean enough now though."

"How old are you?" the officer asked.

"That is of no concern of yours - sir."

"If it helps me decide whether I let you go or take you prisoner, it is my concern and yours."

"Fifteen sir, Lieutenant Ethan Sands sir, please to meet you." Ezra thrust out his hand, his age was at least true.

"What do you reckon?" the sergeant asked.

"Probably tellin' the truth about his age... name? I doubt it."

"Are you calling me a liar, sir? You insult me," Ezra protested, and instantly thought better of it when the officer turned a glare on him that could have withered even his mother.

"Shut up boy before I decide you’re a spy and shoot you!"

"A spy! But I'm in unifor…" the large hand of the sergeant, still resting on his shoulder cuffed him soundly around the ear.

"You wanna live kid, you shut up now," he warned. "Well?" he asked his officer.

"Where are your boots and gun, boy?"

Ezra looked down at his ragged and mud encrusted feet. "I'm not sure, I believe they were stolen but I have no recollection of the event. There," he hesitated. "…there was a battle. I've never been in a battle before."

And there before the two battle weary, experienced solders, was a boy, not a man, not an officer, not a soldier, just a boy, lost, scared and alone. Under the stubble and dust the sergeant was just nineteen, the lieutenant only a few years older, they remembered their first battle all too well.

"How long have you been walking son?" the sergeant asked.

"Since dawn today - why?"

"Well the only battle around here was three days ago, that must have been some crack on the head you got there boy."

Ezra just looked at the tall dark man and said, "Oh."

"Sands, did you volunteer for this? Lie about your age or something?" It seemed odd that he should be in uniform. Since he looked his age he would have had a hard job getting past the recruiting officer.

Ezra looked down and toyed with the dirt with his toe for a bit. "Not exactly, no, there were some men and they said they needed men to fight and if you weren't already helping the cause you had to help. They were …very, um…persuasive." The fact that once effectively shanghaied Ezra had conned his way into an officer's uniform, he left out.

The two union men didn't have the hearts of soldiers and they had long since recognised that. Both rebelled against the petty rules, especially the sergeant, and neither intended to stay in the army one minute longer then they had to. Nor did they want to see a smallish boy of fifteen placed in one of the notorious prisoner of war camps. So they gave him food, a fresh canteen, warned him about not drinking the stream water, since they had seen a dead horse in it not a mile back up stream, and pointed him at the rebel lines.

Ezra was almost overwhelmed. "I do not know how I can ever repay you gentlemen. I will in all likelihood never see you again, but, if I do I will not forget this, a gentleman never forgets a debt of honour - what are your names?"

"I'm Bu…" The young officer stopped his companion with a look.

"No name, no pack drill - right 'Ethan'?"

The boy flashed a huge smile and tipped his hat. "Indeed sir, indeed." And with that he was gone.

Buck turned to Chris. "Think he'll be alright?"

"His sort always land on their feet. He'll be fine. Come on let’s get back before the Major wonders where we’ve got to."

The End

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