Learning to Listen

by KT

OW-Civil War

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Note: This little piece is in response to the story idea posted on the Buckfic list by Brigitte. My thanks to Helen for proof reading this.

"Well, what about Wilmington?" Major Baker looked up at the young officer in front of him.

Lieutenant Larabee was all of nineteen, his uniform so new it positively shone, he had just been given command of his first platoon. In response to the request Chris Larabee just bent forward and let his head bang dramatically on the heavy desk in front of him.

"That bad?" Baker asked, somewhat amused. He had warned Chris, having read the note that came with the younger man's recruitment papers. It just said 'cocky, hot headed, over eager - will probably be dead in a week!'

"You have no idea, Sir," Chris responded.

"Where is he now?"

"Stockade - again!"

Baker sighed inwardly - young Private Wilmington did seem to be in custody more often than he was on parade.

"What now - no! Let me guess; it was Friday night and he snuck out - again."

"Right first time sir, when I asked him why he keeps doing it he just says 'a man has needs', what is that meant to mean? A man? He's just a boy."

"He's only the same age as you," Baker pointed out.

Chris snorted. "Sir, there is no way he's nineteen, I'd say seventeen, maximum."

That was very possibly true, lots of young men had lied about their age in order to sign up and fight.

"You’re his commanding officer Chris, putting him in the stockade clearly doesn't work. I know you've given him extra drill - did it work?"

Chris shrugged, "He didn't like it, but it didn't stop him."

"So try something else - try getting to know him, find out why he does this all the time, I've seen him shoot and ride, he has potential, we need good men like him." Chris opened his mouth to protest. "He's wearing the uniform, he gets paid, so he's a man," Baker reminded.

Baker watched Chris leave his office. His father was a colonel, he had potential to be a good officer, but he still had to learn how to handle men, he just hoped young Wilmington survived the learning process.


Buck Wilmington was a week off his seventeenth birthday. He had left the only home he had ever had when his mother died. Alone and purposeless he joined the Union Army and was now regretting it. He signed up to fight rebs, not be yelled at and have tight-assed rich boys tell him what to do. But he wasn't a quitter, lots of people had tried to get him to quit, at various times and over various things, none of them had succeeded.

Chris went into the stockade and took the keys from the Sergeant on duty. Buck Wilmington's six foot plus frame was too long for the tiny cot in the equally tiny cell, his feet hung over the end of the bed as he snored the day away. Buck had an amazing ability to sleep anywhere and at anytime, it was the easiest way to pass the time when there was nothing else to do.

"Wilmington!" Chris bellowed.

"What?" the young private responded without moving.

"That’s 'what sir', soldier!"

Buck looked up. "What sir?" he ground out, with obvious reluctance.

"How many days did I give you?" Chris asked.

"Six …sir."

"How would you like to get out today?"

Buck sat up. "Who do I have to kill?"


Chris had done a lot of thinking in the few hours since his talk with his C.O. Punishing Buck wasn't working, the man had energy to spare - or so it seemed - perhaps he just needed to redirect that energy?

Chris took the rebellious young recruit to the stables and up into the hayloft. He instructed Wilmington to sit and handed him an apple and a canteen. He could see the tall, dark young man was now nervous.

"Don't panic, you don't have to kill anyone and I'm not going to ravish you." That at least brought a smile.

"I'm new to the job of being an officer, and I'm still learning," Chris admitted. "I've already failed you, and I want to try and get better at it, so I need your help."

Buck just looked at the lieutenant with bemused puzzlement.

"I don't know how to get you to obey the rules, so I want you to tell me about yourself, so I can understand you better, and can be a better officer to you." Admitting his own failings was not something that came easily to Chris Larabee, but he had come to the conclusion that the C.O. was right, he didn't know Buck at all, or any of his men, and he should.

"Well I think you're a good officer …sir," Buck offered hesitantly.

"And you have a vast experience to base this opinion on?"

"Um well, no I guess not, sir."

"So tell me about Buck Wilmington - what's your name?"

Buck frowned, didn't he know that, he kept using it after all. "Err Buck Wilmington …sir."

"You can forget the 'sir' while we're talking up here. No I mean what's your real name, is Buck short for something or a nickname?"

Buck bristled, he had one name, just one and people kept insisting it wasn't good enough, just like they thought he wasn't good enough. "Buck is my name, it's the only one I got, that's what my Ma called me - alright …s…?"

"Sorry, so where are you from? Where were you born?" Chris asked, thinking it was a safe topic.

"South Carolina, that's where I was born, but we've been in Wichita for the last five years," Buck explained.


"Me and Ma."

"Just the two of you?"

"Yeah." There was a warning in the voice that said 'don't push' and Chris knew enough not to ask anymore about his family.

"My mother died when I was young, it was just my father and me for a long time … he remarried a few years ago," Chris explained, hoping to gain some trust. He couldn't understand it, but he felt drawn to the lanky young man with unruly dark hair sitting opposite him in the hay, a feeling of instant kinship, that drew him to open up and share some of his own past.

"What does he do - your father?" This was the first question Buck had asked, he too was feeling drawn to the thin, blond haired officer with the piercing gaze. He felt able to trust him. Trusting men was not something that came easily to Buck. Men were the enemy, men were who he had guarded his mother and the other working girls against.

"He's a colonel - in a different regiment," Chris admitted.

"Oh," was the only response he got.

"I'm following his footsteps," Chris admitted.

There was a long silence between the two young men who at that moment suddenly felt like boys; boys who were out of their depth, as they faced going to war.

"I don't have a father." Buck finally admitted.

Now it was Chris' turn to say, "Oh. Did he die?"

Buck shook his head. "Just don't have one." He shrugged and offered Chris a half smile. He had no idea why he said that, he never told anyone that, at least not voluntarily. "Do you … um, that is, can you … err, do you remember your mother? You said she died."

Chris looked up from his apple. "Some, I was eight."

"My Ma died," Buck explained.

"You said it was just the two of you, when did she die?" Chris asked.

"Last month." Buck lowered his head, joining the army, fighting the petty rules - as he saw them - had just been a way to avoid the truth.

Chris suddenly saw a whole different Private Wilmington, a lost, lonely boy, a long way from home, just like him. He was following his father’s footsteps, because he was supposed to, it was expected, but he didn't want to. He wanted to fight for the Union, but he already knew the army wouldn't be his life; once the war was won he would be leaving the army, for good.

"So where were you last night?" Chris suddenly asked, breaking the melancholy spell of quiet that had fallen over the two of them.

"I was visiting…you know?"

Chris frowned. "Visiting? Visiting who? You don't know anyone around here? Do you?"

Buck smirked. "You can't be that naïve? I was visiting a lady, a real pretty little filly called Amy-Rose. She has a way of walking, her hips just swing, oh it's just so sweet, a man could die for hips like that…"

"Wait," Chris commanded. "You mean you were with a girl?"

Buck threw his head back and laughed. "No sir! I was with a woman, I don't go with girls, ain't right."

Chris was a virgin. He wasn't about to admit that, not to anyone, least of all a cocky private like Wilmington, who was probably making it up. He was so preoccupied with a mental image of Private Wilmington and a woman, he didn't notice that Buck was still speaking.

"I don't understand what the fuss is all about, I wasn't on duty, I wasn't late back, I ain't never been late for duty - have I?"

Chris had to admit that was true.

"It's not the point, we have rules, I can't have degrees of rules - you might always be back in time, but others might not, I can't go saying -'you can go out 'cause I trust you and you can't'- it doesn't work that way - you know? You're popular Buck, a natural leader. I've seen the way the guys look to you, I need someone like you to be a role model, not a disruptive influence. I need you to work with me not against me."

Buck shrugged, "I guess,"

"Besides there is a war on, we could be ordered to ship out at any moment, I don't have time to go looking for you and your Amy-Rose."

Buck put down the core of his apple and fixed Chris with his deep blue eyes. "Why the hell didn't you just say all this at the start, explained it all – well, without the fancy words."

"I told you - I'm still learning to be an officer, I'm not very good at it yet."

"Yeah ya are, yer real good at it. So what do I have to do to avoid my six days in the stockade?" Buck asked.

"Can you sew?"

"A bit, why?"

"Sew these on." And with that he handed him a pair of corporal’s stripes.

The End

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