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you've never known me before

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it was a few days after what albert began calling "the rifle incident" that word got around that he wasn't as cold and aloof as the boys initially thought him to be. damn jeffrey n. davis and his yawin' on about how they were gonna be "possum buddies." they still called him "bugle boy," but there was a grudging sort of respect that was tangible when albert joined the men at their campfire. the rifle incident made quite the impression on jeff, and it was one of his favorite stories to tell for days, although, only when albert wasn't around. (he would be lying if he said he wasn't scared of albert actually shooting him, possums or not.) and, though he'd deny it if ever questioned by albert or collins, billy swore the story got more suggestive every time jeff told it.

so, with the ice sculpture that was albert d. j. cashier dethawed, it was only a matter of time until billy middleton plopped himself down next to albert's cot one evening as the latter was trying to avoid everyone at the camp.

"i don't believe i've officially introduced myself. billy middleton, but i'm sure you knew that." he grinned cheekily.

"why are you here?"

"well jefferson davis says you turned out to be a mighty swell fella', figured i'd see for myself what the fuss is about."

"we both know jeff just talks a whole lot about nuthin', billy."

"yeah, but still tho, i, uh..." he trailed off, jittering his leg as he looked around. albert gestured at him to continue. "to be honest al, i don't got many friends in company g. they all think i'm too aggressive and immature."

"billy, have you ever considered the thought that you are immature?"

the curly-haired kid at least had the decency to look annoyed at albert's quip. "hey! you're still younger than me. i'm sixteen."

"billy, i'm nineteen."

billy deflated. "aw, rats. here i thought you really was gonna be a bugle boy." he scuffed the ground with the foot that wasn't bouncing.

"have you ever tried, um, talking to them? like they're people?" albert cringed at the lack of conviction in his own voice. he was one to talk. albert couldn't think of a single friend he'd ever had, outside of his parents before they died.

"i mean, i don't really know how...i usually just start talkin' and - mind, i don't blabber on like jeff does but - well, they don't got nuthin' else to say besides 'that's nice' or 'aw, you're a sweet boy' and they never want to actually have a conversation. well, besides walter but...walter is intimidating."

"c'mon billy, you gotta get over your prejudice against -"

"no! no, i've got it handled now. we're fightin' for the union, ain't we? no, he's just..."

"just what?"

billy turned away and picked at a seam on his shirt sleeve. "he's just kinda handsome, is all."

"billy!" albert had to restrain himself from laughing.

"i thought it'd be okay to tell you! not to be impertinent, but i assumed - what with the way you dress and all that -"

"that what?"

"that you were also so inclined, to put it in a way."

the statement caught albert off-guard. "well. i'm not, er, disapproving, per say, but i haven't given the matter much thought."

"you don't have to tell me al. but you gotta promise not to tell anyone! especially not jeff!"

"don't worry, i ain't no blabber-mouth."

billy breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled his crooked smile at albert. "you're really not as bad as i thought you'd be, al. i gotta go though, on account of the fact that we're learning formations tomorrow, and i'd rather sergeant collins not yell at me when i don't wake up sharp."

albert did chuckle at that, giving billy a little shock. "at ease, soldier." albert saluted the other boy as he bounced away. leaning back on his stiff pillow, albert pondered the things he didn't know about his fellow soldiers. he didn't know if he wanted to know some of those things. but maybe, just maybe, he would actucally find a family here. brothers.