DISCLAIMER: South of Nowhere and its characters are the property of The N network, no infringement intended.
SPOILERS: A tiny tiny spoiler for the unaired Season 2 episode That Is So Not Mom. A couple of bad words put to good use.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By LN James
In the fall of 1862, in what would eventually be called the Battle of Antietam, the war between the Union and the Confederacy took a most deadly turn, leaving over 23,000 casualties. Up until that point, Maryland had been a slaving-holding state, but it had not formally joined the Confederacy and many of its residents were ambivalent about the war. General Robert E. Lee was hoping to recruit Marylanders to fight against the Union and to win a decisive battle in Northern territory. How might the lives of the people involved have been different if this battle had been won by the South?
This was a good question and one that Spencer Carlin could not help but ponder as she steadfastly made her way through the countryside. She lived here, this was her home, and it had become a battleground not only between the North and South, but also within her own home as well. One year prior, her father Arthur and brother Clayton had left the family farm to join a Union regiment to defend the Capital, believing in the ideals espoused by President Lincoln.
Her mother, on the other hand, along with her older brother Glen, had vehemently disagreed with the premise of the President. Although the Carlins most certainly did not own slaves, their mother was originally from Virginia and her family had a large plantation there. She was sympathetic to the Southern cause and was a woman who believed in the God-given right to own slaves. Glen shared her sympathies and had remained at the farm, content to guard what was theirs and protect his mother and Spencer from harm.
"How can someone treat another living person like..nothing, like something less, Mother? It feels wrong. And this war? What it's doing to the country? How can it be worth it?"
Spencer had had this argument with both of them many times, only now she was outnumbered and drowned out by their dogmatic views. They were not going to change their opinion anytime in the near future and to argue, to go against them when it was only her? She no longer had the strength or the will.
She did, however, have one thing that they never suspected the nerve. She had been preparing and gathering supplies this past week. By candlelight, she had carefully cut one of her old skirts, a faded wool garment that she last wore two winters ago. With neat stitches, she had attached the white cross to her bag and placed what medical supplies she found on the farm inside.
The battle down in Sharpsburg had raged the previous day and an unsteady truce had been called. When Spencer was in town with her brother buying what little rations were available, she had overheard the townsmen on the corner, in rough and hushed voices, discuss the bloody battle and how bodies from both sides lined the Hagerstown road. It was then that her resolve solidified.
She had left in the middle of the night, creeping into the barn and saddling up one of their horses, Madison. She carefully strapped down her supplies and threw on her wool overcoat. Though it was still early September, a slight chill had entered the air and when she rode out as silently as possible, she could just see her breath puffing out in the dark night. With a glance back to the house, she made her choice.
Her mother and brother would find the note she left on the table in the morning. Maybe it would change their minds, maybe they would understand, or maybe they would go on believing what they believed. Either way, like her father and other brother, she knew, in her heart of hearts, that this was the right thing to do.
The family farm was on the northern outskirts of Red Hill, the hills and valleys rolling out like a misty blanket in the night. The ride to Sharpsburg would not be a long one and she would figure out what to do when she got there. Nudging Madison along the creek near the same woods she and her brothers had played in as children, her heart beat fast as the full impact of what she was doing hit her.
Spencer had always been a safe person, had always done what others expected of her, never caused trouble. Her life until this point had been uneventful, boring even, filled with chores and school, filled with duties that fell to her solely because she was a young woman. But somewhere, deep down, she knew she was destined for greater things, that there was something else out there calling to her, something she was supposed to do, someone else she was supposed to be. As she prodded her horse into a run, her hair whipped wildly and she drew in a deep breath, feeling light drops of rain begin to sting her face
Maybe this is it.
Dawn broke gradually, barely noticeable from the darkness of the downpour that now covered the land. Spencer was soaked and her long hair had plastered against her face. She brought an icy hand up and pulled the strands from her eyes. She knew she was nearing the battlefield, she had started to smell the smoke of fires a mile ago. Sighing, she looked around, deciding that before she could tend to anyone who was wounded, she was going to have to wait out the storm and warm up herself. She would be no good to anyone if she wasn't a little rested and at least partially dry.
Blinking through the pouring rain, she saw in the distance what looked like a deserted shack on the edge of a recently harvested field. She gave Madison a slight kick and the horse reluctantly picked up the pace, throwing mud through the air. As they approached, Spencer saw a covered lean-to against the rundown house and steered the horse under it. No one appeared to live there anymore or perhaps they had fled as the war had intensified around the area. Either way, it was dry and that was good enough for Spencer.
Swinging her leg over, she jumped down and stretched, shaking the rain from her coat. She pulled off her bag and slung it over the shoulder as she quickly walked to the back of the house, her boots sinking in the mud with each step. With her shoulder, she pushed against the door, surprised by its give and easy entry. There were just two small rooms, a small cot in the back here by the door and a hearth room in the front with a stone fireplace that had seen better years.
Spencer dropped her bag on the cot and removed her overcoat, slightly shaking the wool to remove the excess rain. She wished she had simply taken some of her brother's sturdier clothes instead of wearing the simple white cotton button down shirt and her thicker brown skirt. But in her haste to leave, she had simply forgotten.
Settling down to start a fire in the hearth, she tried to forget a lot of things. Like the look on her mother's face when she read the note:
Mom, I had to leave. I had to do something. I couldn't just sit here and keep living this lie, pretending that it doesn't matter how we treat other human beings, that what happens to other people isn't our business. Everyone deserves to be treated with decency and respect. It matters to me. And it matters to Dad and Clayton. It's worth fighting for, Mom, and I hope someday you will understand. I promise that I'm ok and that I'll be back, but for now, I have to do this. I love you. Tell Glen the same and that I took Madison. I know he loves that horse. - Spencer
The fire crackled to life and she wrung out her hair, watching the water pool near the stone flooring. The warmth of the burning logs started to soak into her skin finally and she began to feel her face again. Removing her boots and socks, she placed them near the fire to dry and stood near the heat, turning now and again to dry herself and keep her feet and hands warm.
She was nearly dry when she heard voices outside, causing her to take an involuntary step closer to the fire, her eyes searching for something to hold. Growing up, she had scrapped with her brothers and learned a thing or two about how to defend herself, where the weak spots were on boys, where to hit or kick when needed. Glen taught her to fight dirty when things turned desperate and that anything could be used as a weapon. What she was not prepared for, though, was having to confront the five men who barged in the door, their tattered and dirty grey uniforms betraying their allegiance.
"Well, well, well what do we have here?"
This came from the largest soldier, an older man with a craggy face and a pot-belly filling out his uniform. He leered at Spencer and hit the soldier next to him with the back of his hand.
"Look, boys! She made a fire and everything. She must have been expecting us."
Shaking off the rain, the rest of the guys laughed and settled their gunstocks on the floor, their bodies and energy taking up space and crowding against Spencer in the small room. They all wore the exhausted masks of warriors after a long battle, the adrenaline of the fight having long faded, but the violence still tingeing the edges of their skin. With their large hands restless and eyes that had seen too much, Spencer realized with a certain clarity born of instinct exactly how things in this room were going to go.
"Hey, Walter, do you think this Yankee girl would appreciate a little Southern hospitality, Shanks' Brigade style?"
The first man laughed again, nudging his friend to hold his rifle. Spencer backed into the corner and she kept one eye on the men and one eye searching for an escape route, a stick, piece of furniture, anything, to wield. If push came to shove, she'd reach in and grab a burning log if need be.
With a lunge to the right and a quicker step to the left than she thought his big body was capable of, the man grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward, pinning her arm behind her back.
"How's about a kiss, Yankee girl? Maybe if you're nice to me, the rest of these guys won't be as rough. Then again, they've been on the road a long time and you're the prettiest thing we've come across in months."
She could smell his fetid breath as she attempted to struggle and kick, until his other hand reached around her throat, tightening. He laughed at her one more time before his lips turned sinister and he started to lean in. Closing her eyes tight, she steadied her leg, trying to judge the right leverage she would need to knee him as hard as she could.
A voice yelled out in the room and everyone froze, shocked. It was like one of those black and white strips of film she had once seen in Baltimore. Somehow you could capture a silvery image on paper of a moment, people, places, whatever you wanted they would be frozen in a picture you could hold and look back upon in wonder. Except in this picture, the only one moving was Spencer and that was to open her eyes.
Standing in the doorway, another Confederate soldier held a gun pointing directly at the man who loomed over her. The other guys in the room were staring at the gun, staring at the man holding her, not knowing exactly what to do. The soldier with the gun was small in stature and had brown eyes that blazed angrily.
"Ned, let her the fuck go before I blow your fucking head off, you fat fucking fuck."
The voice again shocked Spencer, but only because it was the voice of a woman or girl. When Ned's hand absently released her neck, she looked closer and saw that the Confederate soldier with the gun was just a girl, her hair piled underneath a dingy grey hat, tendrils sticking out here and there. The look on her face, however, told another story and it was one of rage focused directly down the barrel of a musket rifle.
"Davies, this is none of your business, get the hell out of here. These guys are with me, aren't you?"
Ned snarled as he looked at the other troops and then back at the soldier, daring her, challenging her will.
The girl flicked her eyes to the four other soldiers and spoke, her voice steady and strong.
"Walter..Samuel..Tate..Burns. You really with him? Because I know your wives back home, your kids. Rebecca..Susan..Elizabeth..Meredith. Do you think you can go back home and look them in the eyes, look your kids in the eyes, if you are 'with him'? Can you live with yourselves if you do?"
The other soldiers said nothing for a moment, looking at each other, looking at Ned, looking at Spencer and finally, looking at their fellow soldier, Davies. They were just tired, too tired after all the fighting and the marching and the dying and being away from home. They wanted nothing to do with this whole mess and this whole war. They just wanted to go home. Wordlessly, they shuffled out, eyes down as they passed the soldier. This was one battle they would not fight.
Ned shoved Spencer away from him and gave a disgusted grunt, his eyes hard.
"I never figured you for a Yankee lover, Davies. Maybe you're just not cut out for this war. I didn't think you were a real soldier anyway. Just some girl playing pretend, acting like something she's not."
The soldier kept her gun aimed and just chuckled.
"Yeah, Ned. You're right. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be the kind of bastard you are."
With a tilt of her head, she smiled.
Ned just lumbered over and grabbed his rifle, causing both of the two girls to jerk involuntarily. He just hefted it on his shoulder and laughed. He was leaving.
"Hey Yankee girl, nice to meet you. General Lee sends his regards. Have fun with your little Yankee lover here."
He shoved past Davies, pushing her out of the way as she watched him go, her gun barrel following the direction of this retreating body. The door slammed shut hard and they heard him laugh, yelling to catch up with the other guys down the road, their voices fading quickly.
Spencer finally took a breath, wondering if she had actually bothered to breathe that entire time. With a shaky hand, she ran it through her now-dry hair and used the other to hold herself against the wall. She could feel her heart beating a mile a minute and she willed herself not to cry. That was one other thing she learned from her brothers, never let them see you cry.
The confederate soldier looked over at her and hurriedly set her gun down before she approached.
"You alright? Are you hurt?"
Spencer stiffened and the other girl noticed, suddenly stopping.
"Don't worry..I'm not going to hurt you."
Spencer took another breath and cautiously evaluated the soldier in front of her. The grey uniform was small, as if made for a boy. The black buttons down the front of the shirt tucked into grey wool trousers. A black belt wrapped around her waist and another belt, carrying her musket supplies, was strapped down diagonally across her chest. A name, Davies, was stenciled in faded black on the left side of her shirt. Black boots were muddy and slightly too large for her feet.
Spencer watched as the confederate put her hands out in front of her to show she meant no harm and slowly reached up, pulling the hat from her head. A tangle of dark auburn hair spilled out across her shoulders and she shook it out of her eyes.
"See? I'm just like you, it's ok."
Spencer narrowed her eyes, finally finding her voice and expressing the frustration and tension she had been feeling.
"I don't see how you're just like me. You're fighting for the Rebels, with those guys who were just here, who just How can you do that?'
Davies pursed her lips and nodded.
"Yeah, you're welcome for that whole, you know, saving you thing I just did. But hey, I'm just some misguided Confederate soldier to you so what's it matter?"
Spencer paused, glancing at the fire before taking a cautious step forward, her voice a little softer.
"Thank you for that, by the way. But I don't understand how you can do it, fight to keep people enslaved, how you can look yourself in the eye when you go home."
The soldier cringed just a bit, her own words coming back to confront her as she sat heavily on one of the old wooden chairs in the room. Taking a deep breath, she leaned forward, her elbows on her knees and her hands clasped in front of her. She looked up at Spencer, her face a mixture of emotion and dirt and eyes roughened by the war.
"I used to know why I joined this army. I used to tell myself it was because our way of life was threatened. I used to believe a lot of things I don't anymore."
Spencer shifted, relaxing just a bit as she reached down and put another log in the fire, her eyes still cautious. Wrapping her arms around herself, she blew out a breath.
"But how I didn't think they allowed women and girls to fight."
Davies just laughed, her fingers playing with the wool of her trousers, before she looked up again.
"Listen, in Virginia, if you could hold a gun and you were willing, they let you join. I followed my dad into the Brigade six months ago. I thought if I could just stay with him, wherever he went, I could.."
Here she stopped, her face going blank. Spencer stepped closer and her voice was soft.
The confederate was quiet for a long moment, studying her hands, hoping to find the answers there. When she looked up, Spencer could see the pain behind sorrowful brown eyes. The answer was so soft, she wasn't even sure she heard it.
"Save him. But I couldn't."
Eyes dropped back down to the stone floor and Spencer now stood in front of the soldier, unable to resist reaching out to touch. She laid a gentle hand on Davies' shoulder before she knelt in front of her. The girl looking back at her seemed so young, too young.
"You must have loved him very much."
She could tell that the soldier was holding on to the last bit of control she had, her voice unsteady but unwilling to break.
"I did. I do. I just I miss him so much and I just want to go home."
And even though her face remained stoic, a single tear betrayed Davies' emotions, so she closed her eyes tightly. It was then that Spencer realized all of the things this girl must have seen in the last few months, what she must have had to do, what she lost. Here she thought she was being brave by sneaking out of her mother's house and riding off to save the world with her little medicine kit. She felt silly and so very inadequate right now. She had no words so she just put her hands in the soldier's and held them, feeling roughness despite their delicate size.
It was then, in those quiet moments, that Spencer noticed the sleeve of the confederate's uniform, near her shoulder. There, deep red as a ruby and browning the grey wool, was blood. How she missed that, she wasn't sure. Standing up, she reached to touch it, her fingers gliding against the slick blood.
"My God, you're hurt!"
Davies' eyes flicked over to her shoulder and where Spencer was touching, shrugging just a little as a slight smile crossed her lips.
"It's nothing, It doesn't hurt anymore."
Spencer looked at her, unbelieving the words when her fingers were covered with someone else's blood. A new resolve passed across her face and she walked into the back room, grabbing her bag and bringing it in. She set it on the floor in front of the chair and put both hands on her hips.
"Ok, soldier, off with your shirt."
Davies chuckled as she leaned back, her good arm reaching behind and hooking on the back of the chair.
"Um, shouldn't I be the one trying to ravish you? You know, the whole innocent naïve beautiful nurse and big bad tough battle hardened soldier thing?"
Spencer tilted her head, a slight blush to her face before a smirk crossed her lips. She had long ago given up on the idea that this girl was even remotely dangerous. Ok, that wasn't entirely true, but she was kind of busy trying to do the whole 'fix a soldier up' thing she had originally left home for in the first place.
"Very funny," here she paused and a finger pointed at the confederate's shirt, "Davies"
Smiling, the soldier stood and shrugged out of the musket belt and started to unbutton her shirt.
"Actually, it's Ashley. But everyone started calling me Davies and it stuck."
Spencer could not help but stare when the shirt came off and Davies stood in front of her in just a thin sleeveless undershirt and her trousers. Around her neck was a thin black leather strand with a small silver pendant on it. On her right arm was what looked like a crude tattoo, black lines circling and snaking around her bicep. She had seen one once before in Baltimore, before her mom hurried her past the bar full of broken soldiers. It was a lot of skin to take in at one time and her eyes skimmed past places she probably shouldn't have been looking at. When she heard a slight cough, she looked up to see the soldier staring back at her with a raised eyebrow. Um, yeah.
"So you know my entire name, my story, everything, and I know nothing about you except that you're out in the middle of a war zone by yourself and you are apparently more interested in the tattoo on this arm than the little scratch on my other the one that you got yourself all worked up about to start with?"
Spencer's mouth opened to say something, but she thought better of it. Instead, she reached down and pulled out a thin strip of bandage.
"I'll have you know that this is no scratch, it's a very deep cut in fact and it probably still hurts. It's possible you may even lose the whole arm if I don't help you."
She smiled a little to herself as Davies winced slightly when she wound the fabric around her wounded bicep. It really wasn't that big of a cut, it looked like she had snagged her arm on a wire fence or something during the battle and accidentally cut it. At least she wasn't shot or wounded worse.
"Uh huh, it's killing me. I don't know how I'll ever survive without your tender ministrations."
The confederate affected a more exaggerated Southern drawl and pretended to swoon. Spencer caught her eye and shook her head, not quite believing that she was here having this conversation. There was an ease between them that seemed natural, as if they had known each other a very long time.
"Yeah, I am. But we've already established that."
Spencer stopped for a moment after she secured the bandage and glanced at Davies who was looking back at her so openly, she couldn't help but avert her eyes. They were inches apart and Spencer could feel the heat from the fire or from the body directly in front of her, she wasn't sure. All she knew was that it was very warm in here. Offering her hand, Spencer watched as the soldier looked down at it and took it, a smile playing across her face.
"Spencer nice to meet you."
It looked as if Davies was trying her name out on her lips, getting used to the feel of it.
"I like that. It fits you."
Blushing a bit, Spencer busied herself with putting bandages back into her bag and stepping back just a fraction. Somehow, being that close to Davies was causing her head to swim a little. She reached up and brushed the hair behind her ear before her eyes caught the confederate's again. Her soft voice, their breathing, and the crackling of the fire were the only sounds in the small room.
Davies looked at Spencer before she nodded a little, almost as if making up her mind about something, before she crossed her arms, leaning back a little where she stood.
"So your story?"
Spencer was suddenly a little nervous, not in a bad way, just different. She swallowed and moved towards the hearth, turning around to face it. She did this as much to hide the growing warmth of her face as to give herself time to collect her thoughts. She could feel eyes upon her back and it actually tingled just a little. She just started talking to calm and distract herself from the soldier's gaze.
"My story is that this war has ripped apart my family. I used to think that everything was all right, that we were solid. I guess I was pretty blind to how differently some of us view the world. My dad and brother are off somewhere fighting for Lincoln and my mom and other brother are hoping that General Lee pulls us all apart."
She felt the soldier approach her, standing silently behind her back. She nearly jumped out of her skin when a low voice was mere inches from her ear.
"And what about you, Spencer? What do you want?"
Biting her lip, she turned her head slightly, catching brown eyes shadowed by dark curls. She could feel her heartbeat speed up, maybe could even see it pounding through her cotton shirt if she looked. Her hand was shaking as she pushed hair behind her ear, a nervous habit she had always had. Looking at the confederate, she spoke softly.
"I just want to find some sort of peace, something to make everything all better. For me, for you, my family, this country. Is it too much to want the impossible?"
Spencer felt a hand against her back, near her hip and her breath caught. Davies moved closer and she could feel warm breath against the back of her neck. A chill went through her body when she heard a whisper in her ear.
"I can't give you the impossible, Spencer, but I can give you right now."
For a moment, Spencer thought she must be dreaming. It felt like a lifetime ago when she was riding through a dark rainy night to get to this place, a lifetime ago when that man had his hands on her, and a lifetime ago when Ashley Davies had saved her from a fate she would not have wished on her worst enemy. Now, standing in front of the fire, the world outside ceased to exist and she wanted to pinch herself to see if indeed she was asleep.
Instead, she felt the lightest kiss against the skin behind her ear and she closed her eyes and leaned her head back. Somewhere in her body or her mind or her soul, she knew that this was right, this fit, no matter the crazy circumstances, no matter the setting. She was meant to be here, right now and Ashley Davies was meant to be where she was, her hands were meant to wrap around Spencer's waist and she was meant to press hard up against her back. Everything just clicked.
And before she knew what she was doing, she spun around in the soldier's arms and put her hands to Davies' face, pulling them into a searing kiss. Where she expected a certain hardness, roughed by fighting and more, her own lips felt nothing but softness. Incredible softness and warmth. Trembling, she felt herself lean in, wanting more.
Then the confederate's hands were in her hair and on her face and against her back and all over her. Their breaths were coming fast as they fought to feel more of each other, to feel everything. Davies forcefully pushed Spencer back against the wall near the fireplace, taking her wrists and pinning them above her head. Their eyes met once again and a fleeting recognition of something powerful passed between them. Davies' hand went to the side of Spencer's face, her fingers lacing through her hair as she whispered.
"God, you're so beautiful, Spencer."
Somewhere off in the distance, a bell rang. Distractedly, her mind flashed to the small structure a mile back up the road. Perhaps it had been a school before the war and someone was ringing the bell to alert the troops. Or something. She heard her own voice gasp.
The soldier's insistent lips brought Spencer back as they burned a path down her neck and across her collarbone. Davies grabbed a handful of her cotton shirt, bunching it in her hand and ripping the buttons apart, her skin chilling from the air but warming from the touch. Closing her eyes, she surrendered.
"Spencer Carlin, time's up. Didn't you hear the bell?"
Spencer blinked, once, then twice, and looked around. People were gathering their belongings and leaving the room. Her history teacher, Mr. Brunson, was standing next to her desk with his hand held out, a stack of papers in his other. Her face flushed red as she looked down and saw half of her history test completely blank. Her pencil was poised over the first essay question.
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