Northern Virginia, 1864
Being bound hand and foot and then tied to one's own horse is not only uncomfortable, but damned embarrassing. Nor does it help that Matthew is already furious with himself for getting his men killed and himself captured on what was supposed to have been a routine patrol. The Yankees - reported to have been a good 25 miles away - had actually been much closer, and riding patrols of their own. Matthew is going to have a long talk with the battalion staff when he gets back to his company. In the meantime, he shifts, trying to get more comfortable.
Most of his men had been killed by the Yankees' initial volley. He'd seen three of them kick their horses into a gallop and take off, and hopes that at least one of them made it back to battalion, since the Colonel needs to know how close the enemy actually is. Matthew himself is the only one unfortunate enough to have been taken captive, thanks mostly to his having been thrown from his horse when the animal had been grazed by a bullet. So far, he's been treated well enough, despite the rumors as to Yankee treatment of prisoners. It doesn't make him any happier about being a captive.
Matthew shifts again, trying to keep the rope from cutting into his wrists, and runs an assessing eye over his captors, hoping to spot an opening that will let him escape. The lieutenant in charge of the platoon is clearly green, and makes Matthew feel grateful for his own XO, who - though young - is bright and capable and worldly-wise. This lieutenant is flushed with victory, and keeps darting triumphant glances in Matthew's direction, while the rank-and-file seem not to care too much one way or another. The two sergeants, on the other hand, are more than a little unnerving. There's something about them that Matthew can't quite put his finger on; nevertheless, they raise his hackles. They're also watching him, much more carefully than their lieutenant or the rest of the patrol, and the look on their faces says as plain as words that an escape attempt would doubtless end badly, at least until their attention is elsewhere.
There's something just a touch off about their prisoner, and while the lieutenant - who Logan is sure isn't any older than he is - clearly thinks he's proven himself a capable officer in capturing the commander of the troop they'd encountered, Logan isn't so certain. It's definitely a victory, and it's a good thing, but Logan isn't at all certain this is over. Especially not when they lost one of the fleeing soldiers, too far fled before either he or Victor could take them down, much less any of the other soldiers who have only their guns to rely on, and certainly couldn't run down a galloping horse if they tried.
At least there's not copious amounts of blood showing on his uniform, though that's more due to the fact the rider had broken his neck falling off his horse when Logan bowled it over than anything else. The horse had been dead before he pulled his claws free, which had minimized the chances of getting its blood on him later. The captain had said to take care when making use of his talents, as they didn't want anyone getting the wrong idea about him or his brother.
He glances over at the prisoner again, wondering how the man had avoided getting injured in the fight, especially after having seen the man thrown from his horse. He should have had at least bruises, should have been in at least some pain, and yet all Logan could smell was discomfort and anger.
It's not too far to go to bring their prisoner back to camp, and to the waiting captain. Logan stays near the prisoner's horse, Victor pulling him down from the other side to take him to follow the lieutenant. They can both smell the tension of the prisoner, though that's not unexpected, even if there's more concern than either of them is entirely expecting.
Of course, neither of them is expecting the captain to come out of the command tent before the lieutenant can take more than a step - and Logan's certain there's a flash of irritation from the captain, perhaps even some small amount of recognition or something similar. Not that he says anything, other than a demand for the lieutenant's report.
"We ran into a Confederate patrol, sir," the lieutenant answers. "We killed most of them, sir, and took their commander captive."
Matthew eyes the Yankee captain warily. So far, the man has made no move to acknowledge that Matthew is another Immortal, save for a single sharp glance. It proves that he has some sense, but doesn't do anything to help Matthew figure out his intentions.
"He's one of Mosby's men, sir," the lieutenant is saying. "One of his company commanders." Matthew hides his wince. Colonel Mosby has made himself a thorn in the Union's side, and his soldiers tend to be treated accordingly.
"I see." The captain gives the prisoner a long, hard look before he looks back at the lieutenant. "I want you to escort the prisoner to Old Capitol Prison, take Sergeants Creed and Logan with you. I don't want to run any risk of his escape or rescue."
There's disappointment on the faces of the sergeant who had taken Matthew down from his horse, as if he'd anticipated being the one ordered to carry out Matthew's execution. It makes him wonder what the other sergeant might be feeling, as well, and what it means about the two.
"Sir!" The lieutenant's face turns bright red with fury. "He's one of Mosby's men, sir. General McClellan ordered them all hanged as soon as they're captured!"
Matthew suppresses a wave of irritation. If the captain hadn't been Immortal, he himself would be on his way to a hanging - and to freedom - right now.
"I must object," he says, and he must - though for the sake of the men in Mosby's battalion rather than for his own. "The only persons subject to immediate execution in wartime are spies and saboteurs. I was captured in my own uniform, leading a uniformed patrol. Executing me - or any of Colonel Mosby's battalion - is a crime, and nothing a man of honour would even consider." He looks pointedly at the lieutenant, who flushes even more darkly.
"Sir," he says again, but the captain cuts him off with a firm headshake.
"It's disobeying a direct order, sir!" The lieutenant pulls his sidearm from its holster, and aims it at Matthew, who tries to keep from looking too pleased by this turn of events.
Logan straightens, dropping the horse's reins as he moves to put himself between the lieutenant and the prisoner. Even if he would prefer to see the man executed, he's more inclined to follow the captain's orders than orders given by some distant general. No matter what the lieutenant thinks of the idea.
The report of the sidearm is the only warning he has before he takes a step back at the impact of the bullet, grimacing as he drops to one knee. He presses a hand to his chest, trying to hide the blood, and more importantly, the bullet his body is already rejecting, his gaze fixed on the lieutenant's shocked expression.
Behind him, he hears Victor growl, and knows his brother well enough to let himself drop to the ground, out of the way when Victor leaps for the lieutenant's throat. Barely pulling back from ripping it out when the captain shouts an order to stand down, his claws extended and fangs bared. It's not good for them, but right now, Logan doesn't really care - he actually almost wishes Victor hadn't stopped, and had taken out the lieutenant.
Matthew manages to keep from crossing himself, but he can't keep the shock off of his face at the sight of fangs and claws on the uninjured of the two sergeants. He doesn't even try.
He can hear shocked voices rising behind him even as he goes to his knees beside the injured man, and ignores them in favor of trying to get a look at the wound. Yankee or no, the idea of having a mortal take a bullet for him is anathema. His medical training covers battlefield first aid and nothing more, but even that little bit of knowledge is better than simply letting the sergeant die.
When he reaches for the sergeant, the man shoves him away with more strength than Matthew is expecting from a wounded man, but that's still a good sign. There's a hiss at the movement, the wound probably paining the sergeant, even if he won't allow Matthew close enough to see it.
"I gave you a direct order myself, Lieutenant." The captain's voice is steady, the tone clearly disappointed. "Your dedication to the orders of the general is commendable, and the only reason you aren't being stripped of your rank and commission."
"For God's sake, sergeant, let me take a look." Matthew manages to avoid falling, but only barely. "Letting you bleed to death would be a damnably poor way of repaying you for saving my life."
The lieutenant is still shaking, but with fear rather than fury, and out of the corner of his eye, Matthew can see the man's face has gone dead white beneath its layer of grime.
"And what about him?" he demands, pointing a trembling finger at the uninjured sergeant. "What the hell is he?" His voice has gone shrill with terror and rage. Matthew glances up just in time to see dismay flicker over the captain's face. Certainly there's no shock, and Matthew realizes that the other Immortal knew all about his sergeant's unusual talent - and that he's about to pretend ignorance in the face of his XO's reaction.
"I don't know, lieutenant." The captain draws himself up, his voice raised enough for others to hear, snapping orders to see the sergeant in shackles as well as the prisoner.
Logan snarls, rolling to his feet to put his back to Victor's, claws sliding out without conscious thought. He knows it's just going to get them shot, in the end, and marched to the prison in shackles, but he's not about to give in without a fight. Not when they've followed every order the captain's given them without hesitation or protest.
The prisoner gets to his feet, and moves back until he's clear - aware now of the fact Logan isn't wounded any longer - and the appalled expression on his face says better than words he can see what the captain is doing.
"Captain!" he protests, though it won't do any good. When the captain dismisses him without a word, Logan can see the dark look in the prisoner's eyes, the way he stares for a long moment as if committing the captain's face to memory. Logan doesn't give his erstwhile captain good odds if their prisoner meets him again while better armed - providing, of course, that he gets out of this alive.
"Lieutenant, I want you to gather a troop to take these men to Old Capitol Prison. If they resist your attempts to remove them to that location, you are to take whatever steps you deem necessary to do so." The captain obviously doesn't care that his prisoner doesn't think highly of his methods, but he can't afford to have his career destroyed for the sake of two men who are nothing like any of their fellow soldiers.
"Yes, sir." The lieutenant stiffens to attention. "Sir? Permission to wait until morning before departing?" Logan grins, knowing it will reinforce the lieutenant's fear of being on the road with them after dark. It isn't exactly safe in daylight, but at night, it would be more dangerous for him.
The captain gives Logan and Victor a long look before he nods. "Permission granted, Lieutenant. Now get these men contained, and gather your troop." He turns sharply away, returning to the command tent without a backward glance. Logan would be tempted to go after him, if he weren't certain he'd be shot down before he gets that close.
The prisoner watches the captain leave, and there's the smell of anger - well-restrained, but no less dangerous for that - about him that makes Logan think of times Victor's wanted to go after others when they were younger, but held back because he wouldn't risk Logan's life.
"You heard the captain," the lieutenant says, trying to sound gruff. "Get these men into the stockade."
Matthew doesn't resist the two soldiers who come forward to take him by the elbows. Nor does he miss the way the others within earshot look nervously at the two sergeants for a long minute before any of them get up the nerve to head towards them.
The grin on the blonde is enough to keep them out of easy reach, even then, though he does allow them to lead him toward the stockade after a long moment. The darker sergeant snarls, low and angry, and he follows the other easily enough, even if he does keep the soldiers away from him. There's something about the two that makes Matthew think of feral children who never trust people even after they're rescued from the wilderness.
The soldiers shove them all into the single large cell, then leave without looking at their former sergeants or cutting Matthew's bonds, all of them in too much of a hurry to get clear. Matthew picks himself up off of the filthy floor, and looks after the departing soldiers in disgust.
"That bastard," he says, feelingly. His own treatment doesn't anger him - he's a prisoner, and in enemy hands - but the captain's betrayal of his own men is one of the most spineless things Matthew has seen in a long time.
With a shrug, the darker sergeant sits down so that he's leaning against one of the walls, to all appearances unconcerned with the cell. "He didn't want anyone to find out what we were. Orders were to keep it quiet."
"He's a damned hypocrite," Matthew says tightly. "What's his name?" He doesn't usually go hunting other Immortals, but in this case, he's prepared to make an exception. "And - if it's not too rude - might I ask what you are, exactly?" He's never seen a mortal heal so fast - or one in possession of claws and fangs, either.
The man's question is better than the fear they usually get - especially since there's no fear in his scent, just anger and curiosity. Logan looks at him for a long minute, before he shrugs. "Different. Why do you say the captain's a hypocrite?"
Victor's settled down beside Logan, watching the hallway and their fellow prisoner in equal measure. He's still furious, and Logan cen tell - beyond his scent and the tension in his shoulders - that if he's given the chance, he'll rip their former captain to shreds. And possibly the lieutenant alongside him.
"He heals almost as fast as you do." The Confederate tugs at the ropes securing his hands, irritability in his scent, along with a hint of blood - the ropes are likely cutting into his wrists with as long as they've been on. "For him to stand there and pretend - " He shakes his head. "Bastard."
Logan and Victor share a look, silent promise that the captain would get paid back for denying he knew anything about them. Especially if they could find a way to keep him down, in the end.
"How do you know he heals that fast?" Logan watches the other man carefully. "Do you know him?" He could offer to cut the man's bonds, but he's not inclined to do so until he has an idea what the man is, and why he cares what their captain does to them.
"Not exactly." The man grimaces. "We're the same kind, that's all - much as it pains me to admit it. I know he heals fast because I heal the same way." He smiles grimly. "I'll catch up to him eventually. That sort of behavior requires correcting. At length."
Letting out a brief chuckle, Logan leans forward, extending a claw to slice through the man's bonds. "James Logan." He nods to his brother. "Victor Creed. What's your name?"
The man's words make it clear they have similar thoughts, though perhaps not entirely the same, and Logan's willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Even if he doesn't think much of the side that the man's chosen to fight on, at least the man himself might be worth knowing.
"Matthew of Salisbury." There's no one else within earshot, and Matthew feels almost as if he owes them the truth, after the captain's behavior.
Discarding the ropes, Matthew resists the urge to rub at his sore wrists. It's unnecessary anyway; after a moment, the pain vanishes and a quick glance down at them shows that the rope-marks have vanished. "My thanks."
"You're welcome." Logan shrugs, leaning back against the wall. "Better than someone wondering about how fast you heal in the morning when they remember to trade those ropes for shackles."
"With any luck, I won't be here in the morning." Matthew smirks. "Colonel Mosby's very protective of his company commanders, and even if he weren't, I'd say the odds are better than even that my XO is planning an extraction as we speak. You're welcome to come along, if you like. No one who heals like you do should be in mortal hands."
Another exchanged look, and Logan shrugs. "Might take you up on that offer." Or they might not, Matthew clearly hears even though it's not spoken. Which way they go is clearly undecided, and Matthew suspects it will be more Logan's decision than Victor's.
"As I said, you're more than welcome." Matthew sighs and sits down, tipping his head back against the wall and closing his eyes for a moment. "So - do you both heal that fast? And how did you get that way? If those aren't rude questions, that is. You two are the first 'different' mortals I've run into, and I'm curious."
Logan shrugs. "Don't know how, just started happening one day." There's more to that story than he's telling, but Matthew knows better than to push the subject.
"We both heal that fast," Victor adds, grinning a moment, his fangs briefly visible. "It's not the only thing we're good at." It's a brag, and as telling about the differences between the sergeants as Logan's reticence in providing more of his story.
"How long does it take you to come back from the dead?" Matthew's fascinated enough that he's temporarily forgotten his anger. If this is something that's going to start happening to more mortals, he won't have to worry so much about accidentally revealing his own abilities.
Victor snorts as Logan grins, the two of them giving Matthew amused looks.
"We don't die." Victor's grin matches Logan's now, and he shrugs. "Didn't even die when I got hit by cannon fire. Hurt like hell, and had to get a new uniform before anyone figured out what happened, but didn't die."
Matthew blinks in surprise, both eyebrows climbing towards his hairline. Two mortals, both of whom heal better than any Immortal he's ever encountered - it's almost impossible to believe. Would be impossible, if he hadn't seen Logan shot in the chest.
"Do you age? I'm sorry if I'm prying, but I've been around for a while, and I've never seen anyone or anything like the two of you."
"Don't know." Logan shrugs. "Haven't been alive long enough to figure it out." They've only been on their own twenty years, and hadn't even been fully grown when they'd fled their home. He doubts they've been around long enough for normal people to have noticeably aged, much less figure out if they're capable of the same.
"Amazing." Matthew shakes his head, anger flaring in his scent, the earlier appalled expression crossing his face.
Logan tenses at that anger at the same moment Victor does, a faint growl coming from his brother. He doesn't think the anger is directed at them, but it never hurts to be prepared if it is. For him, anger from others hadn't been a problem until after the mess where his claws became evident. For Victor, his reaction is instinctive and feral, the need of a boy treated poorly his entire life.
"What is it?" Matthew asks, looking around. It's clear he doesn't know what's upset them, and is probably unsettled by their reactions.
"You're angry again. Usually doesn't do either of us any good when people are pissed off." Logan consciously relaxes, giving Matthew a lopsided grin that isn't particularly amused. "Smell it on you."
"My apologies. I assure you, it isn't aimed at either of you." Matthew takes a deep breath, reigning in his anger enough that it attenuates in his scent, which helps the facade of relaxation Logan's giving become more real.
"Can't always tell that until it's too late, either way." Logan shrugs, tilting his head back against the wall. The light's starting to fade - the sun probably setting - and they probably should rest while they can. If there isn't a rescue forthcoming sometime that night, anyway. "You really think your men can get you out of here tonight?"
To him, it would make more sense to wait until morning, and prepare an ambush for the troop that's escorting them from the camp to the prison. Rather than walking into a camp full of enemy soldiers.
"If anyone can do it, they can," Matthew says confidently. "We do this sort of thing all the time, and Vin and Ezra are very good at what they do." He grins. "We snatched a general out of his own bedchamber less than three months ago. They can handle a stockade."
"Are you sure this is going to work, sir?" Vin Tanner is crouched on a slight rise that gives him a clear view of the stockade that - if he hadn't been shot upon arrival - Matthew would be being held in. Of course, if Matthew had been shot, Vin's certain he'd have met them as they made their way toward the Union camp. Avoiding patrols has been obscenely easy, and not just because they're currently wearing Union uniforms.
"If it does not, rest assured I will not care one way or the other, sergeant." Ezra is checking the fuses on the dynamite he's carrying, making sure they're the right length for what he has in mind. "However, I do not believe there will be any difficulty in the initial stages of my plans. It is after we have retrieved Colonel McCormick when the plan is unlikely to continue as it has been laid out. Unfortunately, I have had no opportunity to assess if he might have been injured in the course of his capture or temporary imprisonment."
"So long as it works, and I don't have to explain to Colonel Mosby why you're in a Union stockade same as the Colonel." Vin looks over at Ezra, giving him a long look. "If they don't just shoot you when you open your mouth."
"I assure you, Sergeant Tanner, there will be no shooting of anyone other than some Union soldiers tonight." Ezra's smile is brief and sharp-edged, barely seen in the fading twilight. "I expect you will see your cue shortly, Sergeant."
Vin just hopes he isn't going to have to shoot two men out of a stockade, particularly when he's fairly certain Ezra isn't as difficult to kill as Matthew.
Victor shifts to relax a bit while he's waiting, leaning his head back against the wall of the cell. A relaxation that fades when the first explosion occurs, followed closely by several others scattered around the stockade. There are shouts outside of an attack, maybe artillery fire, and the scramble of men to arms. Calls to defend the stockade, make sure their prisoners remained where they are.
He grins, leaning forward as he looks through the gathering gloom of twilight at Matthew. "Sounds like your rescue's showing up."
"I told you they'd show up." Matthew grins, and pushes himself to his feet. "I'm afraid we won't have time to stop off for your effects, gentlemen."
"Nothing there we can't replace." Logan shrugs as he follows Matthew's example and gets to his feet.
As soon as the first piece of dynamite goes up, Vin brings his rifle to his shoulder, the sight on the top made to magnify his targets. Choosing each one carefully, picking off the sentries in the towers first. After that, he picks his targets randomly, keeping an eye on Ezra as the lieutenant mingles with the soldiers rushing to defend the stockade. Grinning a bit to himself as the wily man slips inside, no one the wiser to his identity.
All he has to do now is get to his next vantage point without getting caught, and pick off the sentries at the chosen exit point of the stockade. And hope Ezra gets Matthew to the right point before soldiers swarm to defend what would soon be a gaping hole.
Ezra moves quickly once inside, mentally counting off the time he has to find the colonel and get him out of the stockade. He almost wishes they'd have shot Matthew on sight, like they're supposed to, but clearly the Union army has no intention of making his life easier. Otherwise, he wouldn't have to be in here to get his commanding officer out, merely evading Union patrols.
At least there aren't too many cells to search, and most of the guards are rushing to defend the gate from an anticipated Confederate attack. "McCormick," he calls, just loud enough to carry a short distance as he slips into the cell house.
"Here, Lieutenant." There are no guards in Matthew's line of sight, but he keeps his voice low nonetheless, not wanting the Yankees to realize what the purpose is behind the raid. He won't be the first prisoner from Mosby's battalion liberated from Union hands, and the Yankees have to be catching onto the pattern by now. Of course, most rescue operations don't involve quite so much dynamite.
Smiling a moment to himself, Ezra slips down the row, lock-picks already in hand. He barely spares a glance for the two in the cell with Matthew, though a frown mars his face a moment. "Do I wish to inquire as to why they have locked you in with two of their own miscreants?"
He keeps his voice low, working quickly to open the lock, glad to see he isn't going to have to unlock shackles or remove bonds as well. "We have less than a minute before the last charge goes off, sir, to provide us our exit point from this miserable locale."
"Stopped our lieutenant from shooting him when the captain gave orders to move him to Old Capitol Prison," Logan answers the man's question before Matthew can do the same.
"Then I owe you my gratitude for preventing the demise of one of the finest commanding officers I have the honor of serving." Ezra studies the man a moment before he gestures Matthew out of the cell.
"They're coming with us, Lieutenant," Matthew says, stepping out of the cell. To Creed and Logan, he adds, "You're more than welcome to join my company, but there won't be any hard feelings if you decide against it."
Matthew understands why a pair of Northerners might have ethical issues with fighting for the Confederacy. He has certain reservations himself; however, the politics of the situation had made any other course of action impossible. Lincoln had been elected without a single Southern vote - and nowhere in the Constitution was secession forbidden. None of that made slavery any more appealing - but that was an issue that had to be decided by the individual states, in Matthew's opinion. Besides, there wasn't a general in the Union Army under whom Matthew would have wanted to serve, while the Confederacy was spoiled for choice.
Pushing thoughts of North versus South from his mind, Matthew turns to Ezra. "Lead the way, Lieutenant. This is your plan, I assume?"
"Always, sir." Ezra let his lips curl into a grin for a moment. "Sergeant Tanner is assisting me in the capacity at which he is best." His smile fades as he looks over at the two Union soldiers. "I am hesitant to agree to remove these gentlemen from the premises as well as yourself, sir." It doesn't mean he'll leave them behind if those are his orders, but he's concerned for the integrity and safety of their unit if the two proved to be less honest than they appear.
Victor frowns, a faint growl coming from him as he takes a step closer to the lieutenant, before Logan stops him. "We're not staying here."
"As the Colonel has already said you are accompanying us, I have no intention of leaving you behind, despite my reservations." Ezra has already turned his back, leading them toward the outside, and toward where he had planted the last charge, counting down the last few seconds in his head. "I would, however, suggest ducking about now, and not observing the stockade directly."
Matthew ducks, as instructed, and sticks both fingers in his ears to keep himself from being deafened, however temporarily, by the explosion. When the last charge does go off, he can feel it in his bones.
Logan does as the lieutenant suggests, grimacing a moment until his hearing returns to normal. He hasn't even finished standing when the first sentry on this side of the stockade tumbles from his post, likely dropped by a sniper - whoever the Sergeant Tanner the lieutenant mentioned is.
"One minute or less, gentlemen." Ezra's already moving rapidly for the hole now blown in the once solid barricade, deftly avoiding bits of burning debris. He'll be glad to shed the Union uniform he's in once he's beyond the patrols, but first he has to get to that point. "While Sergeant Tanner may be covering us, that does not provide an excuse to dawdle."
Matthew gestures for Logan and Creed to go ahead of him, then follows them through the hole in the wall. He wishes he had a rifle, or even a pistol, but there is, as Ezra has said, no sense in dawdling. He can remedy the lack of a weapon later, once they're clear of the Yankee encampment.
Once they're clear of the building, he hurries to catch up with Ezra. "How many of the patrol made it back to camp?" he asks.
"One, sir. He's swearing on his mother's grave a monster took down his companions who fled the ambush with him." Ezra isn't entirely certain he can't put the man's ravings down to simple madness, but the rest aren't sure what to make of his descriptions of who - or what - came after the trio trying to make it back to warn them.
Victor laughs, low and amused. "Ripped the man's head right off his shoulders." He's still pleased by that kill, no matter that he's taking the offer of the commanding officer to get himself out of the stockade.
"We heard." Vin drops out off the low branch he'd used to take better aim at the sentries as they came closer, glad they'd managed to pull this off. "Why they with us?"
"Because Sergeant Logan here kept his lieutenant from putting a bullet through my head," Matthew answers. With any other soldier, he'd have responded more curtly, but Vin has earned the right to the truth; had earned it long before this evening, truth be told. To Creed, he says, "If you're going to continue boasting about slaughtering my men, our paths part ways here. I'll not take you back to them while you're bragging about killing their comrades."
Ezra's a bit green at the thought of what the man Matthew insisted come with them was able to do, but it does speak to why Matthew insisted they come with. Particularly if Sergeant Logan took the bullet for Matthew - and has healed with the same speed Ezra has observed Matthew heal.
Shrugging, Victor doesn't respond. There's something about him that Ezra can't quite be certain of, that perhaps he enjoys the kills, even when he's willing to keep silent about just how he did it - and that he's proud of them, no matter what anyone else thinks.
"Fair enough." Vin glances at the one who'd said something about killing one of their missing men, wondering just how many bullets it would take to keep the man down if he decided to keep killing them. There's something off about the man, and he's not sure it's the same thing that has Matthew willing to give the Union soldier a chance.
"Report?" Matthew asks. He's only been gone for a few hours, but sometimes that's all that's required for everything to go badly awry. Even if they haven't, there's sure to be something that requires his attention. They'll also have to move camp as soon as they return - the Yankees are entirely too close for comfort, and Mosby's battalion is too short of men already.
"If the men have obeyed the orders they've been given, camp should be ready to break shortly after our return. After a brief interlude in which Sergeant Tanner and I may reclothe ourselves in our proper uniforms, that is." Ezra's expression returns to its usual blandness at the request for a report, his thoughts brought back under his strict control. "And so long as Sergeant Bryce has not managed to escape the clutches of our good doctor, he should be dosed with sufficient laudanum to keep him from raving incoherently until he can be reassured that the deaths of his companions were not caused by a monster, but rather by a resourceful and talented soldier."
"Excellent work, Lieutenant." Matthew pauses for a moment. "And thank you both, very much. You risked a great deal by coming to break me out." And Ezra had voluntarily surrendered a guaranteed promotion and command of his own company. Matthew isn't willing to lose him to another company - but a promotion is definitely in order, and for Vin as well.
Vin shrugs, not willing to reveal the one reason he was determined to come back for Matthew. Not in front of anyone else, anyway. "Just did what I needed to, sir." He's sure Ezra has his own reasons, though he doubts they're quite the same.
That they had the same reasons for wanting to make sure Matthew was safely removed from the Union stockade doesn't even cross Ezra's mind, though he glances at Matthew a moment as he speaks, cataloging expression and body language as well as the words.
"I would prefer to serve under your command, sir, than find myself promoted by your absence. It was a far better idea to rescue you than to leave you in the hands of Union soldiers when I am certain they had no good intentions towards your person." Particularly when Matthew showed no signs of falling ill as the prisoners around him would, nor suffered any sort of injury that lasted for terribly long.
"No matter your reasons, gentlemen, it's appreciated." Matthew's served in so many armies that he's nearly lost count, and Vin and Ezra are without any doubt the most competent subordinates he's ever been fortunate enough to have - especially when they work together. "I'll be asking the Colonel for field promotions for both of you." It will mean a nominal increase in pay - the Confederacy is poor and getting poorer, and none of Mosby's men have been paid in nearly five months - but more importantly, they've earned it.
Matthew stops walking and turns to Creed and Logan. "It's decision time, sergeants. If you're heading off on your own, you'll do so from here. If you're planning on staying, you're welcome to do so, though there are conditions."
"What conditions?" Logan isn't sure it wouldn't be better to go off on their own, so long as they manage to avoid their former captain - and possibly the entire damned Union army up this way. Maybe find another unit once they have civilian clothes, and keep fighting for the Union.
Vin is almost more certain about the man who's a little off than the other soldier who accompanied them. The Sergeant Logan Matthew said took a bullet for him. And it's not just because the man doesn't move like he's been shot, since he can shrug that off as the man being a lot like Matthew. There's intelligence in that man, the same sort of calculating intelligence he can see in Ezra, and a sense that he knows more about those around him than he'll admit to.
"You'll follow orders, from any of my men who outrank you - and at first, that's going to be damn near everyone. There's a big difference between guerrilla warfare and the sort you've been doing with the Union. Second, you'll say nothing about any Confederates you may have killed. I don't much feel like dispersing a lynch mob in the middle of a campaign - and we're always campaigning. And you'll swear the same oath the rest of the Confederate Army did."
Victor snorts, not particularly liking it, but not sure he cares enough to really object. It's not really any different from what serving in the Union army is like, so long as he gets to fight. "Doesn't matter to me, Jimmy." He looks over at Logan, who's watching the trio of Confederates with an expression that most couldn't read. Victor knows he's thinking, and making up his mind. Though how long that will take after their former captain betrayed them like he did, he's not sure.
Logan watches Matthew a moment longer before holding out his hand. "Next time, maybe we'll be on the same side." He's sure Matthew would make a good commanding officer, but swearing an oath to the Confederacy would mean betraying his oath to the Union, and he doesn't want to right now. Especially not when the man's subordinates are keeping secrets.
Matthew takes Logan's hand, and nods. "I keep hoping there won't be a next time," he admits. "I won't say I'm not disappointed, but I understand your decision." It makes him respect the man that much more, and shows him that Logan takes his word seriously. "Good luck, to both of you."
Logan grins at that, shrugging. "Don't need luck." It's all the more he says before he turns, walking away with Victor at his back.
Ezra watches the two leave, glad they won't have to explain to the rest of the men they're bringing back Union soldiers. Something in Logan's refusal, though, makes him wary, as if the man's aware of Matthew's nature. It's disturbing to think Matthew might have shared that with them, when he's never shared that same secret with his own men.
The sound of marching feet breaks him out of his thoughts, and he nods his head in the direction of camp. "Gentlemen, shall we effect our escape before it becomes moot?"
"I'm right behind you, Lieutenant," Matthew assures him. He hopes Logan is right, and the two of them don't need luck. He also hopes that Creed learns some self-control before the war ends; otherwise, Matthew might find himself hunting the man down one day, and he isn't sure Creed can actually be killed. Buried, yes. Killed, no.