Sons of War
This was written as a scene for a Civil War forum I'm part of, but it grew into a oneshot. XD This is set the night before the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, in the Confederate camp. Ben Axton's son, Jake, is 16 and has followed his father to war against Ben's wishes. Ben has a rather distant relationship with his son, leaving Jake to long for his father's approval. Ben doesn't know how to close this emotional gap and turns to his old friend Burl for help.
"Why didn't I just send him home, Burl? He's gonna get himself killed out there." Ben paced by the campfire, frown lines etched into his brow.
"He's as stubborn as you, Ben, you know that," Burl spoke up from his place, watching his friend. "Once your mind's made up, there's no goin' back, and you two've butted heads enough times for that to be clear."
Ben sighed, raking a hand through his unwashed hair. "I just worry about him," he admitted, looking off into the darkness. "He's my son, my youngest boy."
"You could show him more attention than you have in the past, 'n' maybe he'd understand that," Burl noted, gesturing briefly with his cigar. "But seems to me you hardly glance at him now. Why?"
Ben looked at his friend for a moment. "I don't have an answer for that."
"Don't have or don't want to say?" Burl lifted his eyebrows.
"For cryin' out loud, do you have to make everything that much more complicated?!" Ben burst out. "It is what it is, Burl! I can't help that!"
Burl sighed, raising a hand in a calming gesture. " 'm not sayin' that. I'm saying you need to let him know you actually care about him. No tellin' what might happen the next day. And if either of you get killed with this space between you, it's a breach that might never heal.
"Holes in a line can be patched, filled with more men. Holes in the heart can't always have that done."
Ben looked at Burl for a long moment, his mouth twisted in an unreadable expression. "How do you do that?" he asked. "I thought you never completed school past fourth grade."
"Third," Burl corrected him. "The toad-frog in the teacher's desk was the last straw."
Ben rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes. The frog."
"Utter chaos in the room," Burl smirked. "Got kicked out the same day."
"Thank God it wasn't the same for Jake. He never caused that much trouble."
"Almost wish he had. He's a lot like you, y'know? Serious."
Ben smirked. "Wishful thinking," he said. "Better get to bed. Tomorrow's gonna be hell to pay otherwise."
"It'll be hell to pay no matter how much sleep we get," Burl bared his teeth in a grin. Standing, he pulled Ben into a one-armed embrace, slapping him on the back. "Good luck, you old reprobate."
"You're one to talk," Ben retorted, stepping back and moving off toward his tent. " 'Night, Burl."
" 'Night, Ben." The candles in their tents went dark and the two old soldiers slept.