Longstreet has noticed that Armistead looks a bit fidgeting recently. He hopes that he doesn’t know the reason so he can go and chide “God damn it Lo what’s wrong with you” straightforwardly. Unfortunately, he does, and, somehow, he started it. Longstreet is not the type of people who always rethinks for the things done or undone before; he likes to look forward, just as what he usually does in the battlefield, but this time, he gets annoyed by what he did. I should have known this, he thinks bitterly. I should have known that Lo will absolutely keep thinking about it over and over again, even though he himself dodged the very topic oddly.
After the seventh intended-saying-but-finally-mute attempt made by Armistead, which is too obvious to intrigue anyone, rather annoying them, Longstreet gets gloomy, though he always does: “God damn it, Lo, What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m fine, old Pete, nothing’s wrong,” Armistead realizes that he replies too fast and too specific, “why ask?” even worse.
Longstreet groans with impatience. “Lee is alright with this.”
As he anticipated, Longstreet can see that Armistead’s eyes are suddenly lit up. “You’ve asked him?” Armistead asks nervously.
“Yes,” Of course no. But Lee won’t disagree. He’s a merciful old man, maybe too merciful. Lee is tenderhearted, and Longstreet knows too well. Such faculty are not concluded by observation or interrogation; for Longstreet, it’s merely like… he can’t tell. He simply knows. Every time Lee calls him “my old warhorse”, or every time Lee greets him with that black, sparkling eyes, Longstreet knows.
“Well… well,” Armistead is biting the inside of his mouth, and his hands are rubbing his knees unconsciously. He stares Longstreet silently, with the strange light deep down in his eyes. The very same strange light from the moment when he heard that Hancock is right beside them, leading the army of Potomac, several miles away.
Longstreet can’t stand this anymore. He waves his right hand in the air like he’s dispersing the non-existent flies, “Just go and stop whining about it.”
Armistead smiles. “Yes, general.” He salutes.
Daylight has just dimmed. Campfire starts cracking. Longstreet stands there solely. Suddenly, there’s a moment, he feels that he’s searching in mind for a place where he can belong to. His children are gone, so are Armistead’s (and his wife). In the next moment, he recalls South California. Unlike other veterans, he doesn’t like reminiscence. However, the image of Hancock and Armistead insists flowing back into his mind. He could see them together-graceful Lo, dashing and confident Hancock. They had been closer than brothers before the war. A rare friendship. And now Hancock was coming this way with an enemy corp. They have fought with each other, and they’ll fight against each other, for each other, until they meet again, Longstreet thinks.
“I should tell Lo to come back by midnight,” Lee says from behind.
“Won’t happen even if you do, I bet, sir.”
“Who is demanding a rendezvous?”
The colonel is surprised by General Hancock’s deadly gaze; he mutes for a while to struggle out the answer, “General Ar-Armistead from Confederate Army, sir.”
“Now?” Hancock choked, resisting the urge to jump to his feet.
“I-I believe so, sir,” Colonel replies, “he is waiting right outside the picket line.”
Hancock raises up and leaves too hurriedly to let the young man finish his sentence. He refuses the company from his aide-de-camp on his way breaking out the door.
Armistead shifts his weight between feet while he takes off his hat and squeezes it hard. The sun is already halfway down the horizon, and the temperature starts cooling. He can sense the breeze slips through his hair. A soldier, a lieutenant maybe, Armistead is having troubles to tell his rank under the dim light, is guarding him several feet away, although he is completely unarmed when he arrived with a flag. The Brigadier General of the Infantry feels sudden anxiety and worry stirring inside his chest when he has waited for too long for any response that he’s expecting. Hancock may be in meeting with other commanders. His proposal will be neglected, and the chance will slide. Armistead breathes sharply, feels a little stupid.
The span of time becomes vague to him as he stands silently. It’s weird that the field can be so quiet, and so cozy, while troops of opposite sites are confronting. Almost frightened, Armistead lets himself sink into the memories between him and Hancock for a slice of time less than a blink of an eye. He prays. Very soon, Armistead raises up his head before discovering the lieutenant disappearance.
Before he frowns, he heard a man’s voice: “Lo?”
Before he turns around to find the source of the sound, he is pulled all the way back into a pair of arms. He nearly jumps.
Hancock surrounds his arms around Armistead’s tightly, “I didn’t know you would come.” He puts his chin on the other man’s shoulder and murmurs.
Armistead pulls his forearms out of Hancock’s arms. “Me either,” he says, turning around to face Hancock. He immediately blushes because of the fact that Hancock is holding them together by circling his waist and they’re getting too close. He’s not prepared for this, frankly said.
Armistead holds his friend’s shoulder, and he buries his head down into the latter one’s neck place. Then they both fall in silence. But no one moves, even the slightest. It doesn’t feel weird at all, both think, actually, it feels somehow relieved. They don’t know how long they freeze like this, holding each other in the rays from descending sunset; they don’t really care, anyway. Both tired of war. Of the massacre between brothers. “I’ll do anything to make this moment eternity,” Hancock breaks the silence, sighs. With all the mild breeze, the caliginous starlight, and you.
“Old Win,” Armistead snuffles, (Hancock believes he heard him sobbing,) eyes sparkling with something but smiling, “you don’t smell good.”
While Armistead speaking, Hancock can feel the vibration of his chest and throat, which are pressed to his own chest and throat very tightly. Hancock also senses Armistead’s hair and beard on side cheek, curly and familiar. “Don’t call me ‘old’,” the General of Army of Potomac points out strictly, “you’re 7 years older than me, old Lo.”
Laughing in low volume, Armistead straightens his upper body and separate them. He keeps his hands on Hancock’s shoulder.
“Lee, god this man did put up a fight, he approved?” Hancock asks.
“Pete told him and he didn’t say no.”
“Pete is also alright with—” The younger man breaks the sentence by laughter, “What am I thinking? He would probably come as well!”
Without knowing why, Armistead takes a deep breath and flushes, again. He looks around, and grabs Hancock by his collar, taking his mouth out of his surprise. But it’s merely a light kiss, very fast and cautious on his lips. A taste. “He would, and he would absolutely kill both of us,” Armistead lowers his eyelids and wishes that the twilight is dark enough to hide his face, which is getting hot. At least he’s sure that there’s no soldier around, no matter from which side. He thought he wasn’t prepared. Well.
Hancock blinks. He stays silent for long enough to make Armistead sweat inside his palms. Then he smiles. Armistead swears that he’s melting inside every time there’s a smirk on that freaking handsome face. Hancock scratches his chin: “You’ve made a good point.” He retrieves his arms from Armistead’s waist and put surround them at the back of Armistead neck and head for protection when he suddenly steps forward to throw both of them on the ground.
“Man down.” He laughs.
“Jesus Christ, Win, you scared me half to death!” Armistead cries in low volume while getting pressed on the ground by Hancock. He inhales sharply and tries to push himself up, “you can’t just… Damn, my back, I’m old, Win!”
Hancock interrupts Armistead’s protest by kneeling over his body and bend down to kiss. The latter one is stunned and unable to respond. Hancock keeps him in position with hands on both sides of his cheeks and kisses him quite roughly. He won’t admit, but Armistead is right: he is a terrible kisser. Their lips and tongues meet; they hold each other tighter. Armistead embraces the sudden clinch with surprised hum and burning face. Something long missing rolls into his skull and stirs heavily, filling up his mind. It almost feels like happiness. Raising his forearms, running his fingers through Hancock’s curly hair and moaning, he closes his eyes and sobs quietly, uncontrollably. Tears emerging in his eyes bedew his eyelashes, and when they finally fall down, they only make his cheeks burning even more. Like in fire. Scalding substances stuff his heart, tearing that pulsing organ apart. The same feeling, he remembers, as the moment he bided farewell to Hancock in South California. He was nearly incinerated by the flame of adieu; yet this time, Hancock pulls him out from hell by a kiss. Familiar emotion bursts inside his body and rushes through every inch of his nerves, screaming and shivering. A kiss pins him down, directly penetrates his soul.
When Armistead loosens his fingers from Hancock’s hair, they separate eventually, after a long time or short time of kissing. They breathe heavily due to lack of oxygen, and Armistead finds that Hancock is weeping quietly, too; drops of tears bedew his collar, leaving mazarine stains. At the moment, Armistead realizes that very emotion nearly stuns him, rips up his heart, and breaks his sanity is more than happiness, even more than love. It’s like some sort of bonding.
“I miss you,” He chokes out, in a pleading tone, “You don’t know how much that would cost me. I—God, I miss you.”
The blow of breezes and chirping of bugs fill the air. Nothing can take away this moment, at least. Screw the war. That’s the reward for them, being so religious on their own brutal posts; for the sins committed, hell will clean them up, so just let it burn. Nothing really matters in the very moment. They were so very frightened and exhausted; so very tense and fragile the string was until they meet again. Unknown power of redemption. It costs me everything to see it done, more than everything.
“I know,” Hancock replies tranquilly. His tone is somehow stubborn, as if he’s trying to hold something back.
After wiping his eyes with sleeves, Hancock stands up: “Come on.” He raises out his hand. Armistead takes it to stand with him, shoulder by shoulder, and he holds it. They stand, hand in hand, under the grand firmament. The last beam of light faded; the stars have already put up their light.
Hancock stares into his camp: “You know, Lo, I’m thinking about, if you can come for a dinner or something.”
Armistead shakes his head: “Not necessarily. I’ve eaten before. I don’t think, besides, it’s proper to let a Confederate officer stride in your troops.”
Hancock raises one of his brows: “No excuse.” He gives Armistead the look of “I’ll stay and wait until you change your mind,” and the latter one knows himself that he doesn’t really mean to reject anyway.
“Aw come on, we have better food than you do. Have you tried the cherries in Pennsylvania?” Hancock pats him on the shoulder.
“Yes. They’re not actually ripe, and Pete can justify that.”
Armistead returns to his own position around 2 am. He tries to sneak into his tent, but Longstreet is walking towards him.
“Good morning, sir,” he greets him nervously, trying hard not to show the walk-of-shame look, “you’re still here? I thought the cards game with Pickett would be over earlier.”
Longstreet coughs. “General Lee and I had some things, discussed,” he replies concisely.
“So where have you been? You and Hancock had partied all night?”
“Yeah, uh, yeah,” Armistead coughs, “we had dinner together.”
“Till 2 am in the morning, I see.” Longstreet looks at his friend up and down. The latter one realizes that he should smooth the wrinkles of his collar and waist and tie up his buttons before leaving for returning. He feels his face getting hot.
“Cut that,” Armistead’s miffed. You were just coming back from Lee’s place, his old warhorse, “I’m going to sleep.”