Something new dears. I know I said was going to give up writing, but then this story came to me and I had to write it down. It's set during the American Civil War. This story will cover the years 1863-1866. Thank you to Rhi for taking on this new fic, and helping me name it. You're awesome and I love you. Thank you to V for pre-reading, love you, too.
Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight.
The Distance In Between
I'd been walking for near two weeks, sometimes catching a ride on a wagon if I was fortunate, ever south, ever towards my goal.
I hadn't heard from my family, my mother, father or sister in a year. Perhaps they were dead. I hadn't heard from her either, but then I hadn't expected to.
I glanced up at the almost noon day sun. It was hot and blinding, burning my face and neck. Not for the last time did I wish I still had my cavalry officers hat. Its brim would have afforded me some protection from the relentless August sun.
I, too, missed my horse, Nightshade, fallen at the Battle of Kelly's Ford here in Virginia. I still remembered the look of terror on her face when she'd taken that Confederate bullet and fallen. Even in the midst of battle, I had whispered her good-bye and God speed and quickly slit her throat. Bullets were precious. They were saved for killing men. The un-named cavalry horse I'd been given after I returned to the fighting was just a horse. I'd left him at Fort Mifflin for some other fool that had decided to stay in the army and not return home.
The Battle at Kelly's Ford and my wounding there was what had brought me to her. Perhaps it had been fate. I wasn't sure, but now that the war was over, I was headed to the one place on earth I longed to be.
The war, that wretched blight on mankind was finally done. The North had won- we had won- but so much had been lost. So many lives, so much goodness in the world, so much innocence. For a whole generation of people, it was forever gone. Even good Mr. Lincoln, our President, the binding force that had held our union together by sheer force of will, was gone, taken by an assassin's bullet.
Perhaps all was lost. Perhaps the past, including my life before and my family, is lost to me as well. Perhaps even her. But then, she'd never really been mine.
My grumbling stomach reminded me that I hadn't eaten in two days. I shook my canteen, but found it barely made a noise. I was going to need fresh water, if nothing else. I paused and listened closely, hoping to hear the sound of rushing water. There, off to my right. I prayed it wasn't far.
It was hard going off the road and onto uneven ground with my crutch under my left arm. Nothing for it, I was thirsty. Water was at least something in my belly.
As I worked my way through the trees and underbrush, I constantly swept my eyes back and forth for any signs of potential nourishment. A squirrel, a rabbit, a berry bush, anything, but the woods were quiet, as if sensing my approach, all the creatures had hidden away. I made it to the small stream and awkwardly sat down beside it, laying my crude crutch on the ground. My leg injury was paining me something awful, I was certain that my left leg would never be right again. My feet were a hopeless lost cause of blisters, calluses and pain from my boots that were nearly worn through from long wear and the endless miles I had trekked in them.
I shrugged. I had survived much worse. Blisters and calluses and an empty stomach were minor inconveniences after you'd lived through battle, bloodshed, been shot twice, and suffered another near mortal wounding. I had known pain and survived it. It would take more than blisters to finish me off.
It was tempting to pull my boots off and soak my feet in the cool water to ease my blisters, but I was afraid that if I took my boots off, I'd never manage to get them back on, especially not on my bad leg. I contented myself with dipping my hands in the water and splashing my face and neck. The soothing water ran down my neck and under my shirt and jacket cooling me a bit. I wetted my hair as well, enjoying the feel of the rivulets of cool water running down my scalp and into my face. I was filthy and should have tried to bathe myself, but the boot situation was too much for me to handle alone.
I grabbed my canteen and filled it with water, drinking gratefully, and then laid back in the grass, resting for a few moments before I got started back on my journey. I was no more than twenty miles from her, an untold number from home. The tug of both of those- the first more than the second- was a powerful pull.
I heard a noise to my right and quickly turned my head to see a rabbit chewing on some vegetation. I was hungry. I wanted that rabbit. Stealthily, I sat up, sliding my knife out of my boot; I aimed at the hare and threw. My aim was true; I hardly ever missed.
Happy to have a meal in my near future, I built myself a small fire and skinned the rabbit, setting it to roast on a spit. As it cooked, I spied a bush of blackberries and hobbled over to it, greedily shoving some in my mouth, closing my eyes at the burst of flavor on my tongue. I ate three handfuls and then decided not to be a fool and to save the rest for my trip. I opened my satchel and pulled out a kerchief. I picked every last ripe berry, carefully tying up my treasure and tucking it in a pocket of my satchel. I then hobbled back to the fire to check on my dinner. Finding it done, half burnt on one side, barely cooked on the other, I found I didn't care. I ate part of it and left the rest to cool to take with me.
Grateful that I had found food and water, I collected my things and headed back out to the road. The journey harder this time for my body wanted to rest there in that idyllic spot I'd just found. I shook my head. I only rested when it was too dark to see anymore and then was back up at the crack of dawn.
Now that I was free, all I longed for was there to the southwest, almost calling my name. Her with a beloved freckled face, a prickly nature, a dry sense of humor. Her with a look of disapproval on her face. Her with her quick mind and sharp tongue. I grinned at the memories. She was a woman who knew her own mind. As I walked, I dwelt on her eyes. Surely the biggest brown eyes ever seen on a woman. I could just picture her now: she'd see me, cross her arms, and say, "You know nothing, Edward Cullen."
My steps after those thoughts were quicker and lighter. The next day, I came upon a farmer coming the other direction with a decrepit old wagon and even more decrepit looking old nag. He struck up a short conversation with me and offered me some apples, which I took gratefully. Apples. They'd forever remind me of her. I had a small amount of cash on me and offered him payment which he refused.
I thanked him and then told him I was headed to the Swan farm. He sent me an odd look.
"You family?" he asked me.
"Well, old Farmer Swan don't allow no visitors, Yankee. You best just change your plans."
"I can't." I had to see her face one more time. Nothing on earth was more important than that.
"Well, don't blame me, soldier, if he runs you off with a shotgun. I did warn ya," the farmer said and snapped the reins, barely rousing the nag, but apparently she chose to go and lumbered forward.
"And Miss Swan?" I called out as he drove away.
He snorted. "What you be wantin' with her? Like I said, best just mosey on home, son."
I stood there and watched him drive away, wondering what had happened in the time I'd been gone. Two years could change a lot of things. Charles Swan hadn't exactly been the most social person when I had stayed there being nursed back from my battle wounds, but he hadn't been chasing folks off with a shotgun either. At least the farmer had just given me a gift. Bella was there. She still lived with her father, so she must have still been unattached. Foolish hope bloomed inside of me. Did she still wait for me? Did I deserve that?
Another two days of walking, my rabbit and berries gone, I was down to six apples. At least it was food. I doled them out sparingly and hoped for another rabbit to catch. That evening I spied a campfire in the distance and warily approached it.
"Private Walker? Johnny Walker?" I asked in amazement as the freckly face youth leapt up in surprise.
I remembered him. I had dismissed him a silly youth first time I had laid eyes on him. He had done much to disabuse me of that notion, but still, his eagerness and youth had been annoying to me at the start. I was only six years older than him, but felt a lifetime more aged.
"Colonel Cullen? It's good to see you, sir!" He snapped to attention and saluted.
I saluted him back with a grin. "At ease, Private. The war is over. I'm not your commanding officer anymore. Mind if I share your fire tonight?"
He relaxed and rapidly nodded his head. "Sir. Yes, sir. I mean, yes," he said with a grin.
"Thanks." I worked my way down, sitting with a happy groan to be off my feet.
"Those boots are all but gone, sir."
"I know. And you don't have to call me 'sir' anymore, Johnny. Call me Edward or just Cullen."
I shot him a look that had been making Privates quake in their boots for years.
"Sorry, sir- Ed-Cullen!" he said quickly with wide, frightened eyes.
I chuckled and pulled out my canteen. "Anything to eat?"
"I caught two squirrels. You're welcome to both, s-, uh, Cullen."
"One will be sufficient. Thank you for sharing, Johnny. I have an apple for each of us as well." I dug one out of my bag and handed it to him. "So, tell me where you're headed. What are you doing in Virginia?"
"Well, I'm from here, over near the West Virginia border."
"But Virginia seceded from the Union. Why didn't you fight for the Confederacy?"
"I don't hold with no slavery. No man should own another. God created all men equal in my eyes. Once Mr. Lincoln issued his proclamation, I felt it only right I go off and support it. A man has to make a stand at some point in his life. Too bad I signed up so late. I just missed Gettysburg," he said in regret.
I was quiet for some time. How foolish of me to dismiss his youth. This young man had character and strength of conviction most full grown men could only wish to obtain. Thank God he missed the horror that was Gettysburg. I was sure if he had been there, we wouldn't now have been having this conversation.
"How did your family take it?"
He shrugged. "Ma and Pa weren't too happy with me, and my brother and I ended up in fisticuffs over it. He took off in anger to fight for the South, and I headed north. At least Hannah understood me and supported me fully."
"She was my sweetheart. Hope she still is when I get back home. She has strawberry blonde hair and freckles on her nose and the sweetest voice, like angels singing. She let me kiss her before I left," he said with a grin and a furious blush.
"Good for her. I wish you well there."
"Thank you, sir."
"So tell me about home," I urged him, glad to hear another's voice. I leaned back against a tree and nibbled on my apple, making it last as long as I could as he talked. He offered me my cooked squirrel, and I gratefully tore into the stringy meat. After we finished our squirrels, with my encouragement, he started telling his story again.
He spoke of his hometown and of his ma and pa and his sweetheart named Hannah. He talked of his plans to start a newspaper and be a publisher, get married and raise a family. I watched him talking, his hope for the future and his youth a balm to the soul of my battered, older, and wiser self.
He had come in at the end of the war. He never saw and lived through the horrors that I had. Gettysburg alone had been enough to irrevocably change a man. I wished I still had his optimism and dreams, but that had been crushed out of me under the weight of command and the carnage of war. All I had left in me was the hope that I woke up each morning and got through that day.
"Am I boring you, sir?"
I sighed, but didn't correct him this time. "No, not at all."
"If you don't mind me asking, sir, what are your plans? Where are you headed?"
I picked a tall weed of some sort with a round stem and stuck it in the side of my mouth, slightly chewing it as I pondered. What were my plans?
"I don't rightly know my plans, Johnny. Maybe farm a bit and raise me some cows and chickens. I'm ready for a peaceful life."
"I understand, sir. Did you leave a sweetheart back home?"
I slightly chuckled as I shook my head. "Back home? Naw. Lucky you to have your Hannah to return home to."
"Yeah," he said with a smile and a far-off look in his eyes, clearly thinking about the girl back home.
"So where is home? You never said where you're headed, sir."
That was a very good question.
"Well, my family lives in southern Pennsylvania, that's where I grew up, but as to where I'm headed…" I pointed my finger south. "That way, right here in Culpeper County, only about five miles now."
"And what's that way, sir?" he asked, his voice full of curiosity.
I thought of a pair of big brown eyes, a beloved freckled face, and felt the smile upon my lips. "My heart."
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