Of Sparrows and Hawks
by Joe Lawson
Summary: Just a glimpse at a fourteen year old Buck.
October 13, 2002
Disclaimer: They are not mine, they were not mine, and they never will be. This story was written for entertainment purposes only, the author does not make a cent with it.
Author's Notes: Just a snippet that pestered me one night when I'd rather have slept. Many thanks to Antoinette, Mady Bay and Judy for betaing it.
New Orleans, 1854
Red Garter Bordello
"He got into another fight."
Kate looked almost apologetic as she delivered the news, her slender hand tugging nervously at a long, curly strand of chestnut hair. Judging from the way she twisted the innocent tress and her complete inability to keep her gaze steady, that wasn't all. Of course, getting the information out of her would be like pulling teeth. Just what a work-weary, frustrated mother needed at the end of her long, long day.
" and?" she prompted, nailing her informant with her best you-better-tell-me-now-'cause-I'm-gonna-find-out-anyway look.
"And he threw a stone at Mrs. Finnegan's mutt." Kate, momentarily forgetting the dire situation as well as the grave dignity and maturity of her nineteen years, sniggered evilly. "Almost gave the old crow a heart attack."
One could always hope. Ahem. He'd get a lecture for that, of course. A stern lecture. After all, the fact that she'd been tempted to pelt the little pest one herself now and again did not automatically mean her son was allowed to actually do it. It was bad manners. She hadn't spent the last fourteen years trying to instill some level of civilized behavior into that rascal to have him attacking little old ladies now. Even if the little old lady in question was probably the devil's gran'ma in disguise.
You just didn't treat women like that.
She was taking a deep breath to summon the culprit and light into him when she noted Kate's finger pulling fretfully on her hair again. Great. There was more to come. Not that Kate would volunteer the information; she had succumbed to the kid's charms long ago. Too bad she was such a lousy liar. She even managed to fail when she was trying to lie by omission. That girl had the worst poker face north of the Rio Grande. "Kate?"
Guilty little jump. Tug. Twist. Really, really bad guileless look. "Yes, Virginia?"
"N nothing." Swallow. Yank. Twirl.
This was like taking candy from a baby, Virginia thought.
"I don't know?"
"Try again," Virginia snapped, using her second best scalding glare.
Virginia blinked, reluctantly impressed. She hadn't known a person could say so much without taking a single breath. If she'd known her glare worked so well on people who were not her son, she would've used it a lot earlier. Now to confirming that she'd heard correctly. "He was in the apple orchard again?"
Kate's curls bobbed in a frantic nod.
"And he brought back enough apples for Gwen to make apple pie?" That was a hell of a lot of apples. How on earth had he carried so many ? Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Where's your shawl?"
"I don't know?"
That did it. Whirling around, Virginia leaned out of the window and let loose with her best mother-lion roar. "BUCKLIN T. WILMINGTON!!"
A muffled "Oh, shit!" from directly below made her head snap down just in time to see her son bolt from where he'd been crouching pressed against the wall under the open window and skedaddle. All she glimpsed was a shock of wild, dark hair and a pair of long, gangly legs, then her soon-to-be-dead offspring was out of sight and out of reach.
Knowing it was fruitless but well aware of her responsibility, she yelled after him to "come back at once or else" and heroically suppressed a proud smile. He'd known Kate would squeal on him. He wasn't so stupid as to think the well-meaning girl could hold her own against his mother when cornered, but he'd stayed nevertheless, to make sure the hapless traitor would be all right. Her boy was a natural born protector and she loved him even more for it. It wouldn't save his bacon this time, but it was still an admirable trait.
She could only hope that instinct to defend others wouldn't get him killed one day.
If anybody was going to kill Buck, it'd be her. She was the only one who had the right to wring that scrawny neck. It was a mother's privilege. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but he was a handful! That kid had gotten into trouble from the moment he'd started crawling and it didn't look like he might slow down any time soon. He'd never played it safe, no matter how desperately she'd tried to teach him to stay out of harm's way, and he paid the price without hesitation or regret. He sure was keeping her on her toes. Keeping her from giving in when things seemed hopeless. Keeping her sharp.
Keeping her alive.
Shaking off the odd mood threatening to overtake her, Virginia turned around and raised an eyebrow at the Red Garter's cook standing in the doorway with a plate of apple slices in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. There was no trace of Kate; she must've scurried away while Virginia had been trying to get a hold of her fugitive progeny. "What can I do for you, Gwen?"
Gwen grinned, showing off her dimple, and held out the plate. "I thought you might want t' get your share of the loot. Was your boy who brought home dessert, after all."
"You do know he won't get any of that pie, right?" Virginia demanded. "I gotta drive it home that he can't go round stealin' apples, no matter how big the orchard or how blind the owner! If he got caught "
"He'd charm his way right out of that situation. He might have to suck some dick to get away with it, but, hey, we both know there ain't a man or woman in this town immune to that smile and those eyes." She winked. "Y'know, he could make a fortune if you let him work."
"Don't even think about it," Virginia snapped, feeling like an icy fist was clenching around her heart at the thought of her Buck getting trapped in the same vicious circle that held her. "If I ever hear you or any of the others trying to put ideas into his head about making easy money, I swear I'll knock that person's teeth in, pack my bags, and we'll be gone!"
"Don't get your feathers ruffled, Ginny." Gwen thrust the plate and cup into the younger woman's hands and huffed an indignant breath. "'t was jist a thought. He's a pretty one, even if he's still all elbows and knees. Be drop-dead gorgeous when he's grown. He'll have t' beat 'em off with a stick."
"He already has to, occasionally," came the sharp reply. "I don't want him to live like this. He'll lead a better life, one day."
That provoked a disbelieving snort. "Sure, hon. Whatever you say." Gwen's usually warm brown eyes hardened. "Just remember one thing in the grand scheme of things, we're sparrows, you and I. We live at the fringes of 'decent' society, eating the scraps, and trying not to draw attention to ourselves. Havin' dreams of a better life is nice and fine, 's long as ya remember they're jist that. They're dreams, hon. Ya gotta know yer place t' be able t' survive. Don't go confusin' your boy 'bout what his place is." She nodded towards the apples and smiled tightly. "Eat up. Sometimes the scraps are really damn good."
Virginia watched her walk out of the room wordlessly. She'd been looking forward to eating the fresh fruit, but now the smell alone made her feel slightly nauseated. We're sparrows, you and I.
Turning abruptly on her heels, she marched back to the window and leaned against the frame, staring sightlessly outside. Her good mood had evaporated.
Her gaze came to rest on the tall, lanky form of Buck sitting astride the corral fence next to the livery, obviously waiting for his mother's ire to cool down before he came back to let the expected lecture wash over him. He was scratching a big sorrel behind the ears, causing the horse to look almost stupidly content.
Bastard. Son of a bitch. Son of a whore.
She wondered idly who had called him what and how hard her Bucklin had cleaned their clock for it. He wasn't noticeably getting better at ignoring the verbal slights against her person he still defended her honor like a blue-eyed bull terrier (or rather greyhound), more effectively now that he was gaining height and weight. It drove her crazy, his stubborn refusal to turn his back and let the other kids talk. No matter how often she told him that words couldn't hurt her and weren't worth his blood, he never walked away from a fight.
Buck knew exactly how much pain words could cause.
Looking at him waiting there, so calm and gentle and strong, she caught a glimpse of the man he was going to become and her heart swelled with pride. Maybe Gwen was right and she was a sparrow, trapped here in what had become her place, but she knew with absolute certainty that one day her son would spread his wings and take flight. He'd soar high above the filth and pain, proud and free.
Not a sparrow, not her Bucklin.
He was a hawk.
He'd still get his lecture. And a slice of apple pie.