" . . . I'm all right for now, although many of the men are getting awfully sick. The war should be over soon, I expect, and then I'll be with you again-and we'll be married. You are in my prayers every night, my love, and I know I am in yours.
Dan signed his name and tucked the tiny piece of paper into the envelope, while in Petersburg he had managed to find a few scraps. 'Not like it'll get to her anytime soon,' he thought.
No mail came to the men outside of Petersburg obviously, and their morale was running low . . . only the men who held onto the hope that the war would end soon seemed remotely like their past selves.
Kenneth was anxiously waiting for the day he would see his baby for the first time; Adam Lee wanted to go home to his Texas ranch and help his father; Timmy had no real plans, but was just tired of killing.
Of course, the memories of the men that would never go home were with them every day . . . Liam Edwards, Brad Cooper, good ole' Cocky.
"We're movin' out!" someone called.
"What the he-?" Kenneth began.
"Grant took the railroads," Sg. Booker explained, "we're evacuatin' Petersburg . . . and Richmond. Hopin' to meet up with Johnston."
"Pack up!" Dan ordered, rising immediately.
Less than an hour later, all that remained of the camp outside Petersburg was the smoke from a fire . . . and lover's letter to his fiance.
Jessica carried Lucy's son out of the house as the cry rose up: "Lee evacuates Petersburg! The end is near!" She held the child close as Lucy and Isabella emerged.
"It won't be long now," Lucy predicted.
"What if Lee an' Johnston get together?" Isabella asked.
"It won't matter," Jessica answered, "Lee's defeated and he knows it . . . he's just not quite ready to accept it yet."
"None of us are," Isabella said.
'I am,' Jessica thought to herself, 'I've been ready since the moment Fort Sumer taken.'
Dan turned with the others as almost one hundred, thirteen thousand Union soldiers approached them under the command of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant; Lee had fifty thousand men. It was over.
"What's goin' on?" a younger soldier asked, his eyes wide.
"Is there gonna be a fight?"
"No," Kenneth said, "there won't be a fight." He followed Dan through the crowd of dirty, sick, starving men till they reached Gen. Robert E. Lee's side.
"He's barred us," Lee said, "there's no way to get through."
"Orders, sir?" Dan questioned.
"I'll write a letter to Grant," Lee spoke, "requesting an interview to discuss terms of surrender." He turned and looked down at Kenneth and Dan with a grim expression on his face. "I'm sorry, men."
"No, General," Kenneth said.
"We're not sorry," Dan said.
"God bless you both," Lee whispered.
Appomattox Court House. The home of Southern farmer Wilmer McLean. There Grant showed up in a mud-crusted private's coat, only his shoulder straps indicating his rank. But Lee arrived in a spotless uniform, complete with sword; the disrespect toward Lee was evident, but the Southern general was still proud.
"So," a Yankee spoke to Dan outside the court house. "How've you been enjoying the past four years?" He grinned.
"Oh, they've been delightful," Dan snapped back, "what about you?"
"Shut your mouth, Johnny Reb," another Yankee sneered.
"Why should we?" Timmy demanded.
"And it's 'Dan Kent'," Dan pointed out, raising one eyebrow.
"We're the victors here," one said.
Dan stood and faced the tall, burly man in a Navy blue uniform made of wool; the soldier didn't appear to have seen a moment of action in the four years of war.
"I," Dan said, "am not defeated."
"Oh yeah?" The soldier threw a punch that connected with Dan's jaw, and the young man fell against a tree trunk, blood creeping out from the corner of his mouth. "C'mon, Johnny Reb," the man said.
"Show us what it means to be a Rebel!"
"Don't you have any fight left in you!?"
Dan glared at the crowd of blue-clad soldiers, then spat on the one that had hit him and said spitefully: "No wonder we'll held the Union of for so long . . . it's represented by a bunch of jackasses like you!"
It happened quickly after Dan spoke, the Yankee's iron fist connected with his stomach and he doubled over; there were shouts as the man pulled a knife, and Dan barely had time to react . . . the blade sliced his cheek and blood flowed freely down his face.
"Is that all you got?" he demanded with a laugh.
"I'm not afraid to kill you, Reb," the man said.
"And I ain't afraid to fight back."
Dan kicked the man in his groin and then raised his foot, striking with speed to the man's pot-belly; the Yankee crumbled to the ground and Dan landed a few more kicks to his side.
"Dan!" Adam Lee burst into the crowd and pulled the bleeding Rebel from the battered Yankee. "Ya' wanna git us into trouble, Dan? Snap out of it!"
Dan spit blood on the ground beside the now-silent Yankee, then allowed Adam to lead him away. "Ya' all right?" Kenneth asked, noting his limp.
"Fine," Dan muttered.
"Fightin' like that doesn't solve anythin'," someone spoke up.
"Nothin' is gonna solve any of this!" Dan snapped.
Adam glanced at Timmy and Kenneth as Dan coughed, wiping away the blood that appeared on his hand; Kenneth rose silently. "Ya' sure you're okay?" he asked softly.
"Yeah . . . " Dan sighed. His legs crumbled and he felt himself fall against Kenneth, but then the darkness closed in from the sides and there was only black-
-Dan opened his eyes as someone pressed a cool cloth to his forehead, speaking in a quiet voice words that he couldn't make out. "Kenneth . . . ?" he murmured.
"Hey," Kenneth said, "glad to see you're finally awake."
"How . . . long?"
"Off an' on for 'bout five days," Kenneth answered, "we did manage to get a lil' food in ya'."
"Guess I'm . . . pretty sick, huh?" Dan smirked.
"To say the least."
"What . . . ?"
Dan squinted and blinked against the bright light of the lantern, discovering that he was riding in the back of a wagon and Kenneth was sitting beside him. "Where . . . are we?"
"On the road to Richmond," Kenneth said, "almost there. 'Bout two more days."
"You an' . . . Timmy could get sick," Dan muttered, "you shouldn't . . . shouldn't be-"
"Shut your mouth, Dan," Kenneth ordered, "you're in no condition to be arguin' with me . . . hell, ya' weren't even when you were well. Just get better, then we'll bicker."
"Okay . . . "
As Jessica stepped out of the house, a wagon pulled into the city with two young men in tattered gray uniforms on the seat, Lucy and Isabella recognized them immediately.
"Timmy! Adam!" Lucy cried.
Kenneth burst out of the back of the wagon and raced across the street, taking Lucy in his arms and kissing her passionately. "The baby-" he managed between kisses, "boy-or-girl?"
"Boy," Lucy gasped, "Robert Kenneth . . . oh, I've missed you!"
Jessica stared at the three men with tears in her eyes . . . where was he? 'Oh, Dan,' she said silently, 'don't be dead, please. Come back to me.'
"Kenneth?" she whispered, "where's Dan?"
"Ya' must be his fiance," Kenneth said, "hold on a moment, lil' missy." A moment after he spoke, Dan slowly made his way around the wagon; dirty, bearded, pale and thin, trembling in spite of himself. "Jessica," he murmured.
"Dan," Jessica answered.
They met in the middle of the street in one long embrace, their arms encircling each other and their lips pressed firmly to one another.
"He had cholera," Kenneth told the women, "but I think he'll be okay."
"Jessica," Dan gasped, holding her close. "Will you . . . will you still marry me?"
"Oh, Dan!" Jessica felt tears stream down her cheeks. "Of course! I love you!"
They kissed again and again as Kenneth and his wife, and two Rebel soldiers watched. "Nice homecomin'," Adam remarked.
"I'll say," Timmy laughed.
"Hey, loverboy!" Kenneth called, "ya' know what Lucy just told me? She's got supper on the table!"
Dan closed his eyes and inhaled the fresh scent of Jessica's soft, clean hair; he ran his hands over her slim waist and kissed her cheek. "I will always love you," he said.
ONE WEEK LATER
"I'll see ya' again sometime," Timmy said, shaking Dan's hand. "Good luck with your new marriage." He sniffed and blinked back tears. "Crap, after four years it's like sayin' good-bye to family!"
"You are family," Dan told him, "my lil' brother."
Adam smiled and took Jessica's white hand, holding it for a moment. 'She was beautiful!' "Ya' take good care o' your husband now," he said, "he's liable to git himself into a lot o' trouble."
"I will," Jessica said, "God bless you, Adam."
"Ya' too, Mrs. Kent."
As Timmy and Adam rode away, headed for their homes far from Virginia, Dan and Kenneth faced each other. "I'd better see ya' again, Dan," Kenneth said.
"You will," Dan assured him.
Dan nodded, then quickly embraced his best friend and brother. "You take real good care o' your son," he said.
"Don't worry 'bout that."
"I'll name my first after you."
"Thanks." Kenneth grinned. "Y'know, after all that killin' . . . I'm still almost grateful. The war did bring us together again, didn't it?"
"It sure did." Dan climbed onto the wagon, grimacing slightly, still very weak from the cholera. "Ready to go, Mrs. Kent?"
"More than ready, Mr. Kent." Jessica sat down next to him. "Let's go."
And as Kenneth and Lucy waved good-bye, they rode off into the sunset, headed for a new life together out West . . . with love.
A/N: I hope you liked the ending!