Squinting into the smoke, Lt. Kid Kidrickson, saw his fears made visible, a new assault wave forming down there in the woods. A dirty rabble of Union soldiers emerged from between the trees and started to ascend the slope Kid and his weary men currently found themselves on. His men were lined up on either side of him, all gazing down at the blue wave of uniforms, a kaleidoscope of expressions on their dirty, tired faces. Their weapons were primed and ready to fire as soon as he gave the command.
"Hold your positions, boys!" he called out, stepping in front of the line and moving down the row, his chest swelling with pride as he looked at the faces of the valiant men fighting with him, before he took up his previous position. "Fire!"
The first blue wave commenced firing in return. Kid winced and ducked, as a volley of bullets began to whiz past his head. The Union rabble began to utter wild yells, a familiar sound to the Confederates on the hill, as the screams from the opposing soldiers, was a staple of Union chargers, though none of them understood the reasoning behind it.
Kid held his ground as best he could, firing round after round, as the booming sound of gunfire echoed in his ears. He crouched down and began to reload his weapon, and caught a sudden movement to the right of him. One of his men, a fresh faced youth from his hometown of Manassas, stood suddenly from a kneeling position, as if he was lifted under the arms. It was then that he saw that the right side of the youth's face had been carved away from the flight of a bullet on its intended path to his brain. Kid knew the moment the enemy's bullet had nestled in his soldier's brain, because the young Confederate toppled backwards and lay still beside him.
Rage flooded through Kid, bringing him back to a standing position, took careful aim with his gun and began to pick off Union soldiers with lethal accuracy. For each man he took down, there was another one there to take his place. On they came, up the hill in a wide line, the bank ranks firing when the men in front knelt to load and fire a second time from that position. Then the whole line swept forward again, bayonets fixed, the officers screaming as loudly as the enlisted men. The soldiers were within fifty yards, their eyes fierce and faces set grimly. Shell burst speckled the blue sky; smoke bannered from the treetops and the earth shook.
Kid aimed his weapon, and fired. He watched his bullet strike its target in the forehead, watched the man topple face first to the ground, relief mixed with satisfaction, flooding through him. He had promised Lou that he would come home to her and he was going to keep that vow, no matter what. There was no time for him to think anything else, as the blue wave breached the hilltop, and firing his weapon at so close a range was futile, he drew his saber and slashed left and right, cutting down any soldier who came at him.
Lt. James Hickok led the advancement up the hill, his men flanking him. He took careful aim at his targets, finding neither amusement nor pride in watching the men dressed in butternut and gray falling as his bullets struck flesh and found homes inside.
He did not relish killing men now anymore than he had when someone called him out on the streets of Sweetwater or Rock Creek. He had joined up with the Union army after his falling out with Rosemary Burke. Soon after they had left Rock Creek together, she had made a slip up during a night of passion. She had confessed to him that she had tricked Noah Dixon into going with her the day he was killed. She had wanted to be there when Frank and Jesse James and their band of Southern guerillas got their comeuppance, but instead Noah had died and the James' boys and their friends had gotten away.
He had railed at her for playing games with the lives of his adoptive family members. He would felt such a fool for taking her side against the Kid, and hurting Lou and the rest of their PX family, and he had walked away from her. He had wandered for about a month afterwards, before he joined up. He had done it in honor of Noah Dixon.
Now as he marched up the steep hill, firing his Colt revolvers with lethal accuracy, and dodging bullets as he moved, he longed for the fighting to stop. He stumbled over a fallen comrade, and went down. He dug his fingers into the soft, bloodied form and pushed himself into a standing position, guns still in hand, and found himself face to face with a Confederate soldier.
His guns were aimed and ready to fire before recognition set in. He stared into the bearded face of the Kid. He watched as stunning realization dawned on his best friend's face, and wondered if Kid was seeing a friend or an enemy.
"Get out of here, Jimmy, before I have to kill you!" Kid snarled his heart pounding, and his pulse racing as he gazed down the barrel of his gun at Jimmy.
He and Lou had wondered where Hickok had gone, and whether he had figured out what kind of person Rosemary Burke really was. He hated that woman with a passion.
"Before I have to kill you," Jimmy said between clenched teeth.
He had his answer. Kid was seeing an enemy in blue, not his best friend. Resignation flooded over him as he waited for that sliver of movement that would let him know that Kid was going to make the fatal call, and see which one of them really was the fastest. Hickok had hoped that the day would never come when he and Kid were standing on opposite sides, but it looked as if his hope had been futile, and today they would find out finally who was better with a gun.
The still silence of that moment evaporated and suddenly both men were aware again of the battle going on around them, when gunfire erupted near their heads. Both men threw themselves to the ground, each taking a moment to register that the other was unharmed, before other opponents engaged them in hand to hand combat.
Kid quickly disposed of his opponent, and rose into a crouching position, swinging around to see how Jimmy had fared with the Confederate soldier who had tackled him. Hickok was standing a short distance away from him. They locked eyes and understanding, forgiveness, and friendship passed between them, before each turned away from the other, and joined the ensuing chaos of the bloody battle still going on around them.