by Matsuo Basho (松尾場所)
Jed looked up into the pure blue sky, clouds of smoke moving gently against the breeze and weaving through the treetops. The ground was soft under his back, his fingers resting delicately against the damp soil and churned-up grass. He could feel something wet and warm sliding down his face. As he reached up his hand to brush it away, he was met with abrupt burning pain that shot from his fingertips and ended somewhere deep between the bones of his right arm.
The noise of the battlefield was suddenly loud around him. Springfield rifles roared as the Confederates fled up the steep slope of Missionary Ridge. He could hear men crying as they slowly died while soldiers ran past. There was a hum in the air, mosquito buzzing mini balls, the drone broken only by the dull thud of good aim. He thought he could hear cannon fire from the south, but it might have just been his heartbeat in his ears. Jed watched as Union soldiers, their blue uniforms bright in the midday sun, moved past him. With a groan and surrounded by a blissful fog of pain, shock, and gun smoke, he watched the battle rage around him.
With the stubbornness of the Atlantic at noon tide, the Union line pushed against the Confederate. Waves of blue crashed against shores of grey, with salt and blood and men littering the earth. Blood made the ground warm and comforting like a worn blanket. Somewhere in his delirium, he swore he could hear singing. Swing low, sweet Chariot, comin’ for to carry me home. He started to hum absentmindedly, his eyes following the battle but seeing nothing. Lulled by the sound, his eyes shuttered, then fell completely shut. Jed could hear the ocean coming to sweep him away, felt the waves shifting his body, taking him further from land…
Jed woke to a sharp pain in his chest and arm, and the familiar sound of dying men. He cracked his eyes open, blinking away disorientation and dried blood, and looked blearily at the man standing above him. His hair was short, but curly and dark against the sun. Glasses hid his eyes, but Jed could feel them running over his injured body. The man was wearing a Union uniform, which should have been the first thing that Jed noticed, but he was still having trouble focusing past the searing pain spreading through his arm.
“Someone call the stretcher teams. This man needs to get to the medical tents. Quickly.” The doctor, or at least Jed hoped he was a doctor, reached down and started moving Jed’s right arm. He gasped, the pain overwhelming.
“Christ Almighty,” he tried to pull his arm closer to his body and away from the doctor, “at least have the decency to knock a man out.”
“We will, if it needs to come off.” The doctor stood, motioning to someone Jed couldn’t see. “Try not to move it too much. You can’t afford to lose any more blood, I’m afraid.”
“I’m Confederate,” Jed said as he pressed his hand against the wound. The doctor paused, then looked back down at Jed.
“You’re a patient first. That’s what matters.”
The stretcher team arrived, two men laying the stretcher on the ground next to Jed. It was stained with sweat and blood and God-knew-what-else. If Jed had been in less pain, he might have protested. Instead, as he was lifted off of the warm ground and carried towards the Union camp in the distance, he was just thankful that the pain shooting up his arm with every step helped him slip back into sweet unconsciousness.
There was something about coming to in a hot, stinking tent, filled with rushing nurses and doctors and the cries of injured men, that left Jed desperately wishing for Georgia and home. The doctor who’d found him on the field was standing over him, his coat stained with blood.
“It doesn’t look like his bleeding has worsened,” he gestured towards someone in the distance, ”but we need to move quickly to get his arm taken care of. Ah, the patient is awake. Welcome back. We need to amputate your right arm. It appears that a mini ball hit you above the elbow and has shattered both bones.” He paused, frowning slightly. “If there were anything I could do to save your arm, I would do it. But if we want to stop infection from setting in and killing you, the arm needs to be removed.”
Jed closed his eyes, unable to accept the blatant pity flaring in the doctor’s eyes. Breathing past the pain and the sense of inevitability that suddenly set its heavy self on Jed’s chest, he looked back up.
“What’s your name, doctor? I’d like to know who is about to take my arm.”
The doctor started, then looked more carefully at Jed.
“Tom. Tom Strasbach. I, uh… “ A blush crept across his cheeks. “I am sorry. I will do my best to make this as painless as possible for you.”
“Jedidiah Wilson.” Jed grimaced, then nodded his head carefully towards Tom. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
At that, Tom looked up, seemingly flustered, and nodded at a nurse. “Get the chloroform. I’d like to have this done sooner rather than later.” Suddenly, any sign of discomfort coming from the doctor was replaced with confidence. Jed was surprised at the speed with which Tom gathered his instruments, and some of the fear Jed had been holding tight within himself eased.
The nurse arrived quickly, carrying a metal cone with a handle attached. She dipped a piece of cloth into a square bottle as Tom started carefully cutting away Jed’s uniform with a pair of field scissors. As soon as the doctor had removed the linen jacket and undershirt from around Jed’s arm, a painful experience even with Tom’s delicate and experienced touch, the nurse moved the cone over Jed’s face.
“Breathe deeply and count to ten. The chloroform will help with the pain and should make the surgery much easier for you.” Tom hefted a short saw, checking the teeth carefully.
Jed took a deep, shuddering breath, the sweet smell of the chloroform moving deep into his mouth and lungs. Almost immediately, he felt weightless. A sense of sleepy happiness spread throughout his body, radiating from his chest out towards the ends of his fingers, replacing pain with languor.
“Doc,” he said, grinning into the inhaler as his eyes started to droop, “this stuff is pretty good.”
The corner of Tom’s mouth lifted slightly, but his eyes were focused on the remains of Jed’s arm. Comfortable and drifting, Jed looked at the piece of meat that hung from his side. Bone stuck out of the wound in bright white chips. He could see blood oozing out in time to his heartbeat.
He knew he should feel concern, but it all seemed like it was something happening to another person. Eyes rolling, he focused on the doctor. Lines of tension were spread around his face and in the corners of his eyes. Glinting from behind the shield of his glasses, Tom’s eyes were a deep blue. Jed found he couldn’t look away. He watched as the doctor set down the saw, picked up a short length of cotton, and tied it tightly around his bicep.
“Sarah, I think he has had enough. Please prepare for surgery.” Tom cleared out small pieces of bone and dirt from the wound as the nurse readied the surgical equipment. He glanced down at Jed and started when their eyes met.
The blush that had appeared last time didn’t show itself, but Jed could see the small lines on Tom face tighten, watched the graceful arch of his throat as the doctor swallowed.
Jed felt himself sinking deeper, entranced by the doctor and freed by the chloroform. He watched passively as Tom used a scalpel to cut deeper into the arm.
In only a few moments, the doctor was hefting the saw.
By the time Tom began sawing into Jed’s arm, Jed was wrapped in warm, quiet peace. He could feel the saw cutting through his bones as a soft vibration that moved in time with Tom’s arm. A dull thud and a lightness on his right side were all he noticed when the amputation was complete. As he started drifting, all Jed could see was dark hair and blue eyes, carrying him safely into sleep.
Jed woke up slowly, the last remnants of chloroform hanging in his mind like cobwebs. He started to lift his hand to his face to brush the last bits of sleep from his eyes, then stopped. His right arm was a stump, truncated just above the elbow. As if looking at the injury made it real for the first time, pain shot up his arm and ghosted into fingers no longer there. He gasped, then clasped the mangled remains of his right arm to his chest.
Oh Lord, he thought, how am I going to explain this to Mother? It was a fleeting thought, certainly not the most pressing issue Jed had facing him, now that he was going to have to learn how to live without his right hand. But all he could think of was his mother’s eyes, looking at what remained of her only son.
“The surgery went well, for what it’s worth.”
Jed looked up into Tom’s too blue eyes and almost wept.
“You did a good job, Doctor.”
“I’ve had a bit of practice.”
Jed finally looked around the medical tent. It was packed tight with cots, and he could tell he wasn’t the only man to have lost a limb during the battle for the Ridge. In the corner, sitting in a limp, forgotten pile, were arms and legs. Blood oozed in a puddle underneath them. Though Jed had spent the past two years intimate with death and injury, the thought of his arm in that lifeless heap made him gag.
Tom was quiet as Jed gathered himself. “So what happens next?”
Tom sighed, then looked around the medical tent.
“Right now, you are being housed with other Confederate prisoners. The armies are moving to the east, and we cannot be too far from them if we are to do our job. Once the majority of you are healthy enough to be moved, they will be sending you to Camp Chase or there may be an exchange of prisoners. After that…” He trailed off.
Jed nodded. “I appreciate the kindness that you’ve shown me and the rest of the boys.” He looked around the rest of the tent, taking in the forms of the other injured Confederate soldiers
“I would not have become a doctor if helping others to heal was not a part of my nature. I do not like seeing needless death.”
Jed was surprised at the vehemence and exhaustion in Tom’s voice.
“Aren’t you here to fight for the Union and its cause? ‘A nation divided cannot stand,’ preserving the Union and whatnot?” Jed looked up, still rubbing a hand absently on his painful, itching stump of an arm. He caught Tom’s eyes as they glanced at his hand, then looked away.
“I joined in ‘62, just before Gettysburg and Second Bull Run. I quickly lost my sense of patriotic fervour after watching so many men die.” His tone bitter, Tom adjusted his glasses, then gestured towards Jed’s arm. “I need to check your dressings, then move on to the other patients. If you don’t mind…” Tom lifted Jed’s arm from where Jed cradled it against his chest.
Jed couldn’t help but flinch as the dressings started to come off his arm. It itched, and he could swear he felt the fingers of his right hand flexing. He could feel the slight breeze moving through the tent as it brushed against the stitches holding his skin together, but he couldn’t look at what remained.
“So, Jedidiah Wilson, where are you from?”
“Columbus, Georgia.” Jed wasn’t sure, but he thought Tom might be trying to distract him. At the sharp twinge of pain in his arm and the doctor’s quickly mumbled apology, his doubt vanished. “My family owns a textile mill on the Chattahoochee, just bought it about ten years ago.”
Tom hummed absentmindedly as he continued to examine Jed’s arm. “I’m from Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg. My family owns a farm out there. This is going to sting slightly.”
Jed gasped as Tom pressed a finger against his arm. “Ah, Jesus. I’d appreciate it if you would refrain from doing that again.” He grit his teeth against the lingering pain.
“I’m sorry. I needed to make sure the sutures were holding.” Tom adjusted his glasses, letting Jed take the weight of his arm back. “It looks like your arm is healing well, at least for now. If you see it turning red or if you smell anything rotten from the bandages, call a nurse or a doctor over as soon as possible. Your greatest risk is gangrene. If you even think your arm is beginning to putrefy, the sooner we remove the rotten flesh, the better.”
Jed nodded, then, finally, looked down at his arm. The end was puckered and red, black stitches standing out in relief against his flesh. It looked like someone had taken the time to clean off the blood and grime from his arm while he had been asleep. The pallor of his skin was stark in the darkness of the tent. It’s longer than I thought it would be. Jed felt a shudder run through him, and he bent his head to hide his reaction from Tom.
The doctor quietly and quickly wrapped clean bandages around Jed’s arm, then rested his hand on the cot near Jed’s leg. Without saying a word, Tom turned and left Jed as he struggled to accept his new body.
During his first weeks at the hospital, Jed thought at least a third of the men who had arrived with him died. The hospital had been filled with groaning cries from the wounded, voices calling for water, or for their mothers, or for death. As the days had dragged on, those cries had died down, turning into low moans and quiet sobbing. By the end, a muffled cough and sigh were all that broke the silence.
He thought that he might have gone insane if it had not been for Tom. Two or three times a day, the doctor came by Jed’s cot to check his dressings and the amputation site. During those visits, he invariably found himself chatting with the doctor. Small talk, mainly. Questions about the other Confederate soldiers’ progress, the War’s progression, and how his arm was healing. But occasionally, they shared stories from their boyhoods, laughing quietly over past misadventures. Sometimes they didn’t say much at all, only sharing the quiet contentment that came from being in the company of someone who knew exactly how and what you were feeling at that exact moment. It was those few times of quiet understanding that left Jed shaken almost as much as the loss of his arm.
Jed was surprised at how strong his excitement grew as he waited for the doctor’s visits, the sense of loss he felt whenever Tom had to move on to the next cot. It shamed him, how much he desired the doctor’s attention when so many others needed it so much more.
Jed had had the chance to see himself in a mirror early on. One of the other doctors had set up a small piece of polished metal at one end of the tent, and, struggling out of bed, Jed had made his way over. His hair was still matted with blood and dirt from the battlefield, the normally wheat-gold color dulled to a dusty oak. His green eyes looked out from a sunken, tired face, and the beginning of a beard was making itself known. Though it had taken some convincing, he managed to get one of the nurses to shave the stubble away and to bring a basin of water for him to get the worst of the gore from his hair. He felt better when he was at least slightly cleaner, a part of him wondering what Tom would think now that Jed wasn’t looking so terrible.
He had been lucky and gangrene had not set in. Though his arm itched, and he could sometimes feel pain in the fingertips he no longer had, the amputation was healing well. Compared to the other Confederate wounded, he had come out of the fight relatively unscathed. Still, he frequently found himself looking for familiar dark hair and glinting glasses, even though he knew he needed no extra care.
When Tom came for his second visit of the day, he looked tired and weary. Jed swung his legs off the edge of his cot, the motion slightly off-balance and clumsy, then waited for the doctor to pull up a nearby stool. Tom slowly unwrapped the bandages, eyes downcast and unfocused. Though he usually asked questions about Jed’s condition — how was Jed feeling, was there any pain or redness around the wound, was he thirsty — Tom was silent. The bandages removed, Tom carefully examined Jed’s arm, nodded to himself, then began wrapping it again in clean bandages.
“Everything all right, Doctor?”
Tom stopped wrapping for a second, sighed, then continued.
“No, I’m afraid.” He finished wrapping the bandages, then stood. “Come, take a walk with me. The exercise will do you good.”
Jed nodded, then stood, wobbling slightly as his body adjusted to its new balance. They moved around the tent slowly, Tom stopping every few moments to check on a patient. Jed watched the tension leave Tom’s body with every cup of water or kind word he offered. When they reached the end of the tent, Tom lifted the flap over the entrance and ushered Jed out into the cool, early December air. A guard was waiting on the other side, but he paid Tom and Jed no mind. Tom headed for the fields surrounding the hospital tent, taking them away from the sounds of the camp.
“The Union army has pushed the Rebels out of Tennessee. Longstreet is returning to Virginia, and Bragg has resigned.” Tom adjusted his glasses, then looked at Jed. “There won’t be any exchange of prisoners, and the rumors of Camp Chase are not good. Considering the extent of your injuries, you are healing extraordinarily well, and I believe you will be one of the first soldiers that will be taken from here, maybe as soon as the third week of December.” He sighed, then shifted his weight. “I am doing what I can to delay the transfer, but I do not believe there is much I can do.”
Jed was stunned and confused.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re my patient and, I think, becoming my friend.” Tom fidgeted with his glasses again, then began walking a little faster. “I am not usually a talkative person, and I have been told that my bedside manner is atrocious.” He smiled quickly, then shook his head. “Yet I find myself enjoying your company and speaking freely of things I do not normally discuss. I do not need to check your wound as often as I do. A nurse could be caring for you as well as I at this point in your recovery.” He rubbed a hand over the nape of his neck.
Jed stopped. It took Tom a moment to notice, but he turned quickly once he had, a look of concern, and maybe a hint of fear, crossing his face.
“I find your presence calms me” he said in a rush, not looking at Jed directly. “And I do not know why, but I often think on our conversations and find myself enjoying them all the more. I do not mean to alarm or… or frighten you, but I wanted to be honest with you, to pay you back some of the kindness you have unknowingly given me, and to let you know what may be coming.”
“I have known you for only a short time.” Jed said, trying to fight the urge to run his fingers over the end of his arm. “We are fighting on opposite sides of a war, one that has taken a great many things from both of us. We are enemies, though we may wish it were not so. I do enjoy our talks, and I will not deny that I have developed some… fondness for you.” He could feel a blush creeping across his cheeks.
“But because of that fondness, I do not want you to risk your position by sharing information with an enemy. Taking me out of the hospital tent, alone, was foolish. While I am sure most would not consider a man who has recently lost his arm a threat, I am still an enemy soldier. What if I should run or kill you? How long would it be before someone noted our absence, or your part in my leaving?” He shook his head. “I would rather be confined, knowing you are not at risk.”
Tom, looking flustered, quickly crossed the distance separating them. He grabbed Jed’s left arm, his hand gentle but firm.
“That is all the proof I need to know that this was not a bad decision. Because you would not harm me, no matter the war.” He sighed. “I do not understand why, but I trust you.”
Jed looked away, blushing. “As I, you. But you cannot think that this is anything more than a passing acquaintance.”
Tom scowled and let go of Jed’s arm. “No, of course not.” There was anger in his voice. “We should return.”
Jed followed numbly, feeling as though he had made an irreparable misstep without even knowing the path he had been on.
Within a few days, the rumors that the Confederate prisoners were to be moved had become orders. By the end of December, Jed and his brothers in arms would be sent to Camp Chase in Ohio, either to wait out the remainder of the war or for the exchange of Union soldiers.
Jed wished he could discuss it with Tom, but the doctor had avoided Jed since Tom had taken them out of the tent. Nurses had come by once or twice a day to replace his bandages and check how the amputation was healing. And while Jed had seen Tom in the hospital tent, tending to the healing Confederate soldiers, he refrained from trying to speak with him. It felt too much like begging.
Instead, to help fill the time, Jed started helping around the tent. At first, he had just brought water to those who couldn’t leave their cots, but eventually the nurses recruited him to help with the more difficult patients. He learned how to quickly bandage a wound, look for signs of gangrene, and move an injured man while causing him the least possible amount of pain. One day, as he helped lift a man who had lost both of his legs to a cannonade, he caught Tom watching from the other side of the tent. Their eyes met, and Jed felt his breath stutter in his chest. Those blue eyes, visible for only a second until they were hidden by glare on Tom’s glasses, left him muzzy for the rest of the day.
He also started talking to the other Confederates in the tent. Most talked about Longstreet’s retreat to Virginia and the lost opportunity on the Ridge, but there was always a thread of conversation surrounding the conditions at Camp Chase: poor food, overcrowding, abusive guards. One man claimed his brother had been sent there after being captured at Gettysburg, and the letters he’d sent back had been so horrific, his mother fainted. In the back of his mind, Jed remembered the pleading look that Tom had given him while trying to explain the future awaiting him. He still struggled to understand the emotions that had passed over Tom’s face.
And still, the doctor kept his distance.
It was almost a week before Tom came to Jed’s cot. The doctor was quiet as he knelt by the bed and unwrapped the bandages from Jed’s arm. Jed could feel his heart begin to race whenever the doctor’s fingers brushed against his skin, and he fought to keep his breathing relaxed and even. Tom nodded and flashed a quick half-smile once the bandages were completely removed.
“Your arm looks much better. Are you having any tenderness, any pain at the site of the amputation?” Tom looked up a Jed, the half smile still lingering in his eyes. Jed felt his breath catch in his throat. He shook his head, uncertain if he would be able to keep the excitement welling up inside him from his voice.
I did not want to, but I have missed you, he thought, trying to absorb as much of Tom’s quiet presence as he could. I did not realize how much.
“You could probably go without the bandages until evening. I will let the nurses know to leave it open to the air until then.” He stood and adjusted his glasses, the smile in his eyes disappearing.
“I am pleased to see you doing so well. The nurses appreciate the extra help you have been providing, and I know it helps some of the other patients to see you recovering so quickly. It gives them hope of recovery, which is sorely needed by some.” When he raised his eyes to look at Jed, the smile was completely gone. There was a soreness behind his breast bone that Jed knew came from no battlefield injury. He nodded quickly at Tom’s praise, blushing. As Tom turned to leave, Jed reached out and grabbed the doctor’s wrist. It was thick and warm in Jed’s grasp, and he could feel Tom’s pulse racing underneath his fingertips. He was entranced for a moment at the feeling, counting the beats that almost matched his.
“I want to thank you.” He said quietly. “You have been very kind during my time here, and provided great care and attention to my wound and recovery. If I should be sent to Chase, I would like you to know my appreciation for what you have done. Before I leave.”
In case I do not have the opportunity again, he added silently.
Jed struggled to read Tom’s expression. His eyes were bright behind his glasses. Jed thought he saw a smile tugging at the doctor’s lips but was uncertain. Tom set his free hand on top of Jed’s fingers and gently slipped his wrist from Jed’s grasp. Instead of dropping Jed’s hand, though, Tom cradled it between his.
“I would never consider it anything more than my God-given duty.” He let Jed’s hand fall back. “As for Chase, we will know soon enough.”
As Tom walked away, Jed rubbed absentmindedly at the ache in his chest. I do not know why you pull me as you do, he thought. But for that, alone, I would know what next to do.
It was three days later when Jed noted that the nurses had stopped asking for his help and had started keeping their distance. The few guards who checked the tent during the day also started paying him and the other prisoners more attention, their eyes peaking out from underneath tilted caps to check on them with every pass. When Tom next came to check on his injury, Jed knew by the doctor’s stiff walk and the way he wouldn’t meet Jed’s eyes that the orders had arrived.
“I’m to go to Chase.” Jed said, startling Tom as he watched Jed lift the remains of his right arm. “When did you receive the news?”
“Just last night.” Tom pushed his glasses further up his nose. “They are sending men to bring you and the other healthy prisoners north. They should be here within a few days, if the fighting in Kentucky does not hinder their movement.”
Jed nodded, letting his arm fall. While it did not weigh much, his muscles ached from moving the stump back and forward. He rubbed it, quietly considering the doctor’s words.
“Do not worry yourself needlessly over this. There is nothing more you can do at this point, and it may hinder your recovery to spend too much time on unhappy thoughts. It is important that you do your best to gain strength before you leave. I also ask that you not spread this news to the other men. Some have not been as quick in their recovery as you, and this unpleasant news will certainly not help their condition.” Tom shifted his weight uneasily.
“Of course, Doctor.”
“Jedidiah, I am–”
“Jed.” He flashed Tom a quick smile. “Only my grandmother calls me Jedidiah.”
Tom’s smile back was pained. “I would not want you to confuse me for your grandmother. I…” He looked down quickly. “I hope you will not mind if I think back on our brief acquaintance with some fondness. You are an interesting man, Jed. If you’ll excuse me.”
Tom gave a quick, shallow bow, then headed further down the tent. As Jed went to sleep that evening, he couldn’t help but think there had been a slight sheen to Tom’s eyes, as if tears had gathered but not fallen.
As the date of his departure grew nearer, Jed began considering escape more and more. While the nurses were still hesitant and the guards just as wary, he had noticed they had distinct and regular shift changes throughout the day. Once night began to fall, the nurses would make their final rounds of the entire tent, and the guards at the door would leave to eat. Their replacements, full from their own meals, always took a few minutes to arrive. Aside from the few men who called out for help in the night, the Confederate patients were relatively unwatched during the evening. If he were to slip out while the guards were gone, Jed could be away until morning before anyone noticed.
Tom did not come to check on him again. Jed watched as Tom visited other patients, but Jed’s care fell firmly into the hands of the nurses. The doctor’s eyes barely passed over his bed, as though Jed’s cot were already empty. The doctor’s cool disregard grated on Jed’s nerves and made his chest ache. He did his best to ignore it. Instead, he prepared for his escape, keeping his eyes open into the night and counting footsteps in the darkness.
Jed watched patiently as a nurse finished wrapping clean bandages around his arm. She smiled at him, patted his shoulder, and wished him a good evening. As the tent settled as men fell asleep, he waited for the guards to leave. He would have only a few moments to slip out past the sentries, then to the edge of the woods surrounding the camp. He slid quietly from his cot, doing his best to muffle the sound of his footsteps on the hard packed ground. It was dark in the tent, the lamps shuttered for the night. He moved silently through the darkest areas, avoiding sleeping men and medical equipment. As he neared the flap, he heard quiet footsteps from behind and stopped.
He turned and met Tom’s eyes. Silently, the doctor lifted his arm and offered Jed a small sack. He took it, fingers trembling when they brushed against the doctor’s. Tom pushed past Jed and exited the tent, holding the flap open behind him. Jed, clutching the sack tight against his chest, slipped underneath Tom’s arm.
Tom led them into the darkness, his footsteps sure and silent. Once they left the camp far behind, breaking through the line of trees that surrounded it, Tom finally spoke.
“I knew you were considering escape. You should be more careful when you watch the guards’ movements. It was obvious to anyone watching what you were doing.”
And why were you watching? Jed wondered, his heart thundering in his ears.
“There is food and water for a few days in there,” Tom said, gesturing towards the sack. “And some warmer clothing in case you need to move further north to avoid the Union lines. You will need to remove the stitches from your arm in a week. Just use a pen knife and slide it underneath the top of the stitch. They should pull clean.” He finally looked Jed in the eye. “Where are you going?”
Jed shrugged. “I was planning on heading back to Columbus. The last letter I got from home said it was safe and busy, and I should be able to help my father with work at the mill. I’m no use to the Confederacy.” He raised the remains of his right arm. “Not much use for anything, with this.”
“Will you be able to get all the way to Georgia alone?” Tom asked.
“I’ve spent plenty of time in the wilderness. Having only one hand will slow me down, but it should not stop me entirely. And it is better than prison.”
Tom nodded. “Well. I guess this is where we part ways, Jed Wilson.” Tom reached out his left hand. “It has been a pleasure.”
Jed set the sack down, then reached out to shake the doctor’s hand. Tom’s fingers were warm but clammy, and Jed thought he could feel a slight shaking in the doctor’s usually steady hand. Jed looked up, doing his best to memorize the doctor’s features in the half-light cast by the moon and the camp behind them.
Jed could see a blush staining Tom’s face and what looked like desperate sadness gathering in his eyes. Jed felt a sudden tingling in his fingers and toes as grief, powerful and unexpected, filled his chest to bursting. As Tom leaned away, his fingers lifting out of Jed’s hand, Jed stepped forward and wrapped his hand gently around the back of Tom’s neck, pulling him close. Their foreheads touched, breaths mingling.
Jed couldn’t think of anything to say. For a few quiet moments, they just stood there, foreheads touching, eyes closed. The night was quiet, only broken by Union soldiers moving in the distant camp and crickets. The December air was cold and damp, but if either man were bothered by the chill, they showed no signs of discomfort.
Jed closed his eyes, leaned in, and kissed Tom. Softly at first, hesitant, but then the doctor groaned and pressed closer. Jed swore quietly and clenched his hand in the short hair at the base of Tom’s neck. Jed leaned into the warmth of Tom’s body, groaning at the feeling of the doctor’s hard body against his. His lips were soft but insistent, fighting against Jed’s for control. When Tom’s warm tongue traced the seam of Jed’s lips, they both groaned. The doctor took the opportunity to invade Jed mouth, his tongue tangling with Jed’s. Fire raced through Jed’s veins, and he could feel his cock pulsing against the seam of his trousers. Unwilling to let go of the doctor’s hair and risk breaking the kiss, Jed eased his body into Tom’s thigh, pressing his dick into the doctor’s strong leg.
Tom’s arms suddenly tightened around Jed’s body, pulling him hard against the doctor’s chest. It knocked Jed off balance, and he fell to the side, landing in the cold, wet grass. He groaned at the loss of Tom’s mouth against his, but he was almost immediately rewarded with the warmth of the doctor’s body pressing down against him. Tom groaned, grinding his linen-clad cock into Jed’s leg. Jed pressed up into the doctor’s warmth, pulling the doctor’s mouth back to his for another deep kiss.
Running his hand through Tom’s hair, Jed mourned the loss of his right hand more than ever. To have both his hands on the body writhing against his… He fought against the small kernel of despair that welled up within him. As if sensing Jed’s distraction, Tom ran his hand from Jed’s waist to his neck, pulling him deeper into the kiss. Tom shifted, then pressed his leg into Jed’s cock.
Struggling to find skin, Jed’s hand pulled frantically at the hem of Tom’s shirt. Jed’s fingertips finally found the soft skin of Tom’s stomach, silk over hard muscle, then slid around to cup Tom’s hip to pull him closer. The doctor groaned, tunneling his fingers into Jed’s short, blond hair. The tug against his scalp made Jed groan into the wet heat of Tom’s mouth, then arch his back into the doctor’s body. The movement made Tom’s cock grind into Jed’s, and Jed thought he might die, right now, in this field, as he rubbed against the doctor’s answering hardness.
With a gasp, Tom pulled his mouth away from Jed’s, looking down at him with arousal flaring in his eyes.
“Are you sure? May I..?” Tom leaned to the side and ran a hand down the buttons of Jed’s shirt, reaching for where it disappeared beneath Jed’s trousers.
“Yes,” Jed groaned, lifting his hips towards the doctor’s gentle fingers. “Please.”
As Tom eased the buttons of Jed’s fly open, Jed leaned up to feverishly press his lips against Tom’s. Their mouths met in a clash of tongues and teeth, and Tom’s hand slid into Jed’s trousers. His delicate hand moved gently over the hard ridge of Jed’s dick, then grasped it tightly.
“Oh, Lord,” Jed gasped, finally loosening his grip on Tom’s hip. “I want to touch you.”
Tom groaned, then tried to shrug out of his loosened shirt. Tangled in the fabric, Tom grunted in frustration against Jed’s mouth. Jed laughed, his lips curving against Tom’s, then groaned when the doctor ran his thumb over the leaking tip of his cock head. His hand tightened on Tom’s hip, then slid around to quickly unbutton the doctor’s shirt. Suddenly freed, Tom quickly slid out of the confining piece of clothing. Jed groaned at the loss of the doctor’s hands, but was quickly distracted as Tom frantically unbuttoned his own pants and removed his cock. It was thick and curved gently upwards to end in a wide, blunt head. Cum leaked from the tip, and Jed reached down to catch the pearly drop on his fingers. He brought them to his mouth and watched Tom’s eyes darken as Jed’s tongue slid over his glistening fingers. Tom ran his hand over his length, letting his thumb brush against the weeping slit, as he watched Jed clean the moisture from his hand.
Tom groaned, his hand moving faster. Jed felt his dick jump at the desire heavy in the doctor’s eyes. Jed groaned around his fingers, then reached again for Tom. The doctor growled low in his throat, then grabbed Jed’s wrist. Tom pressed Jed’s arm into the wet grass above Jed’s head. Jed watched in disbelief as Tom began kissing his way down Jed’s body. He rested his lips gently against Jed’s length, and Jed’s eyes slid close as Tom laid a firm kiss against him.
The doctor’s mouth was warm and wet as it slid over Jed’s head. His tongue licked against the sensitive underside of Jed’s dick, and Jed had to fight the urge to thrust deeper into Tom’s mouth. With painful slowness, Tom moved further down Jed’s length. When Jed felt soft resistance, he opened his eyes and nearly came at the site of Tom’s nose pressing into his stomach.
With a groan, Tom started moving his mouth, spit and precum shining bright on Jed’s cock. Jed thrust upwards, trying to sink back in. Tom chuckled, sending little shivers down Jed’s spine as the sound vibrated around his cock. Tom sucked Jed deep, bringing his hand up to gently cup Jed’s balls. Rubbing them in time to his mouth’s careful movements, Tom brought Jed close to the edge in moments. Fighting against the urge to come, Jed lifted his hips, thrusting clumsily into Tom’s eager mouth.
“Please,” Jed gasped, the breathy sound of his voice loud in his ears. “I want you with me.” He groaned and thrust again.
Tom’s mouth slid off with a wet pop. Jed looked down and watched as the doctor, his pants gaping open, his cock dripping precum, crawled up the length of Jed’s body. Tom brushed his length against Jed, slicking his cock with Jed’s precum and his own spit. He pressed his fingers against Jed’s lips, and Jed sucked two of them deep into his mouth. Running his tongue over the sensitive skin between them, Jed shuddered as Tom thrust against him in pleasure.
Tom pulled his fingers from Jed’s mouth, then swept down to claim it in a hungry kiss. He slid his hand down between them, grabbing both of their lengths in his callused grip. Jed thrust against Tom’s warm hand and slick cock, and moaned into the doctor’s mouth.
“Ah, yes,” Tom sighed. “That’s good.” He moved his hand a little faster, flicking his fingers against the sensitive head of Jed’s cock. He squeezed, and Jed saw stars light up behind his eyes. His whole world narrowed to a pinpoint, focused only on the sensation of Tom’s lips and cock against his own. A shudder rippled through his frame, his whole body tingling with sensation, and Jed sank his fingers deep into the earth as he came in hot, hard spurts over his chest and Tom’s fingers.
Jed felt an answering shudder in Tom, who groaned and began thrusting faster against Jed. With a muffled cry like the Rebel Yell, Tom came, his cum joining Jed’s in a cooling pool. With a final, jerky clench, Tom’s hand let them fall apart. The doctor slumped to the ground next to Jed, still kissing him softly. Jed opened his eyes, unaware that he’d shut them in the first place, and found himself looking into deep blue. Tom lifted his lips from Jed’s, then brought his hand to his mouth and licked it clean. When he leaned in to kiss Jed again, it was with both of their tastes mingling on his tongue.
“Come with me.” Jed was surprised as the words slipped out and felt Tom tense beside him in the grass. Gently, Tom brushed Jed’s hair from his forehead.
“My place is here, with the Army. There are men who will need my care, and doctors are hard to come by.” He shook his head, still cradling Jed’s face in his hand. “I cannot, in good conscience, abandon my calling.”
Jed nodded, chest aching. He sat up, struggling to get his balance. He and Tom quietly gathered themselves, brushing signs of their activities from their clothes and hair. As he grabbed the sack and turned towards the woods, Jed felt Tom’s arm slip around his chest. The doctor laid a gentle kiss against the base of Jed’s neck, and Jed felt the heavy weight in his chest expand and burst. He fought back tears, and laid his hand over Tom’s.
“When this war is over, I believe I will visit Columbus.” Tom whispered it against Jed’s neck. “If you are there, I will find you.”
There was wetness on the back of his neck. Jed clasped Tom’s hand tightly.
“Wilson Textiles,” he whispered back. “We should be easy to find.”
With a deep breath, he pulled out of Tom’s grasp. “I have to go now, before anyone raises the alarm.”
Jed looked once more into the doctor’s blue eyes, then turned and headed into the darkness of the Tennessee night.