Sky Blue and Black
And I'd have fought the world for you
If I thought that you wanted me to,
Or put aside what was true or untrue
If I'd known that's what you needed,
What you needed me to do.
But the moment has passed by me now,
To have put away my pride
And just come through for you somehow.
-from "Sky Blue and Black" by Jackson Browne
The river. It called her name in soft, whispered tones, murmured to her beneath the full, silver moon. It was a Siren's song Brenna had never been able to resist. With no other thought than those cool, dark waters enclosing her in a sweet embrace, she snuck from Emma's house and slipped away with Luna and Diana. She was wearing only her nightdress, her long hair braided loosely for bed, but she didn't care. Her brain was too cluttered, too insane for sleep, and she knew she needed the river to calm her.
At the site of the watersilvered by moonbeams, Brenna dismounted and pulled her hair from its braid. With a quick, furtive glance around, she pulled her night dress up to her knees and waded into the deliciously cool stream.
"Funny," a puzzled voicesaid from the water, "you don't look like a fish."
Brenna gave a shriek at the sight of the man as he stood up from the water. Stepping back quickly, she lost her balance on the slippery stones, and would have fallen in if he hadn't reached out to grab her around the waist. "Hey, it's all right... I didn't mean to frighten you."
"Shit! Let go! You didn't frighten me," she said haughtily, trying to pull from his grasp. "I just wasn't expecting anyone… what are you doing here? It's the middle of the night!" Shaking back a curtain of golden auburn hair, she glared up at him... and, once again, would have fallen into the water if not for his steadying arms. "Buck? What the hell... I mean," she corrected quickly, "what are you doing swimming at almost midnight?"
He grinned, lifted her out of the water, and began walking to the bank. "I wasn't swimming; I was fishing. I really didn't mean to scare you."
"Put me down this instant! And I said you didn't scare me, I just - why do I always end upexplaining myself to you!"
The water swirled around his shins as he stopped to consider her words. "You must have a confidence problem." This decided, he continued, and dropped her rather unceremoniously beneath the same willow they had sat under a few days before.
"Ow! Damn it! I do not have a confidence problem!" Flustered, she began to ring out the hem of her nightdress that she had let fall into the river in her surprise. "What are you doing here, anyway?" she repeated after a moment.
"Fishing. I thought I told you that."
She glanced up in time to see that devilish, devastating little half-smile of his, and she couldn't help but smile back. "Fishing. Of course."
He shrugged. "It's the truth. Why don't you just go swimming during the day?"
She frowned. "That wouldn't be proper," she replied, uncharacteristically prim.
"Proper?" he questioned, grin broadening. "This from the girl who goes swimming all alone in her nightgown... and cusses like a sailor."
She had the decency to blush at this last. "I suppose I should be more like my mother always wanted me to be: a delicate flower, shy and innocently lovely." She letout a long, deep sigh. "There's nothing shy, delicate, innocent or lovely about me." She looked up at him with a blinding grin and said, "I don't mind, though. Who wants to be a Southern belle and marry some silly fop who's so spineless he can't even say 'boo' anyway!"
He laughed and settled down beside her, one knee drawn up with an arm resting on it casually. "Shy? I'd say no. Innocent? In some things, surely. Delicate? In your own way. Lovely?" He paused here and glanced over at her, watched her wavy hair flutter in the cool breeze, admired the way the stubborn set of her jaw contrasted with the softness in her eyes as she stared down at the river. His silence caused her to glance over at him quickly, and his mind was made up. "Definitely lovely, Brenna... some might even say 'beautiful.'"
She opened her mouth to reply, but then just sat there dumbly, jaw hanging open in surprise. Finally she glanced away, the pink of her cheeks visible even in the pale light. "Buck, I-"
"I guess this is why they call you River Moon," he interrupted in an attempt to ease her discomfort - and because he didn't want to hear her tell him how inappropriate it was for him to notice her in that way.
"Hmm?" she asked, thrown by the sudden change of subject. "Oh, that... yes, I guess it is. I love the way water looks in the moonlight... like liquid silver. It's so lovely." She frowned at the word as soon as it was out of her mouth, but it was too late.
"There seem to be a lot of lovely things out and about tonight," he said only half-teasingly. Then, astounded, "Your wolf is chasing frogs."
"What!" His shiftswere so rapid and complete that she, in her rather discombobulated state, was having a bit of trouble keeping up. She searched the bank and soon caught sight of Diana, who was indeed staring at the ground rather intently. A small toad leapt in the air, and she took off after it,watching in dismay as it hit the surface of the water with a plop and a splash. After a moment of indecision, she dove in after it, and Brenna let out a long-suffering sigh. "She's completely crazy, I know she is. She thinks she's still a puppy."
He laughed as the little wolf erupted from the water and went careening along the sandy bank after the poor, desperate amphibian. "She sparkles," he said at last. "Her soul keeps those around her happy and bright, just as she is. It's good that you found her."
"She keeps me sane. Everyone shouldhave a crazy wolf to chase frogs with in the middle of the night."
A long silence fell between the two, and Buck could feel her sadness. He thought about her brother, Francis. Their coloring was different: he was pale and red-haired, with freckles, but their faces were the same. They both had straight noses, stubborn chins and high cheekbones. And, of course, they had the same green eyes, though Brenna's were a shade darker, smokier, sadder. "Your brother looks well," he said at last.
"Yes, though thin. I'm glad he's here."
"He will come for you, won't he?"
She didn't have to ask who Buck meant. "Of course. It's why I didn’twant to stay. I shouldn't have. Frank and I should get out of here as soon as possible."
"We'd never let you go now. It's too dangerous."
She laughed and stood, stretching luxuriously in the moonlight, though cringing slightly from a twinge of pain in her injured shoulder. "Now you sound like Jamey. What's to stop me from taking my little brother, frog-chasing wolf and wild horse in the middle of the night and just leaving?"
He gave her that half-grin she found so irresistible and said, "Indian magic. Strong magic. Very scary." He screwed his face up in a mockery of a frightening glare.
Brenna laughed again. "You're as crazy as the wolf, Buck." Then she grew serious and her eyes were once again drawn to the river. "But more than danger keeps me here. I feel that there are things yet undone, but still..."
"But what, Brenna?" he prompted gently,coming to stand behind her.
She shook her head quickly. "It's nothing, just...I would hate for my presence to cause any problems." She turned to findhim standing closer than she had thought, but for once she didn't take a step back. "There are many here I’ve come to care about, and I don't want anyone hurt."
"We can take care of ourselves, Wapka Wi." His dark eyes were intense, but she didn't look away.
"I know that you can, Buck," she murmured. "But some hurts are harder to heal than others. What if Jamey...?"
"He cares for you a great deal."
"And I for him. He won't understand."
"No, please don't," she whispered breathlessly. "No words." With that she leaned in even closer and pressed her lips against his, the touch as soft as butterfly wings. She pulled away and noted his look of surprise, but before she could step back from him, he pulled her against him again, and this time the kiss was strong, demanding, and she sank into it with a small gasp ofwonder.
Suddenly the still quiet of the nightwas shattered by a roar. "What are you doin'! Get your damnhands off her!" Furious hands wrenched Buck away and tossed him against the riverbank.
"No!" she cried. "Jamey, no! Leave him alone!"
"What the hell is goin' on, Llewellyn?" Jimmy demanded.
"What does it look like?" she asked, raising her chin defiantly.
" Jimmy, don't yell at her. I was the one-"
"Get outta here, Buck! Get the hell outta here before I do somethin' I really regret!" Jimmy turned on his friend and rested his hand on his gun. After a moment Buck nodded and retreated back to the bunkhouse, hoping Brenna could calm the other man.
"Jamey, please, let me explain," she began after a tense silence.
"Explain what!" he cried, whirling to face her. "You were kissin' him! He's one of my best friends and you were kissing him!"
"I can kiss whomever I please! What the hell were you doing out here in the middle of thenight?"
"I could ask you the same damn thing, 'cept I guess with you it's pretty obvious."
"What's that supposed to mean!"
"You just met him! What are you doin' kissin' him?"
She took a deep breath and tried to gain control of her temper. "James, it's late. Maybe we should both cool off and talk about this in the morning."
"I think you're the one who needs to cool off," he ground out, noticing her disheveled hair and flushed cheeks.
Brenna let out a long sigh. "This is exactly what I was afraid of. I tried to tell him. I knew if you found out you wouldn't understand."
"Found out? How the hell long has this been goin' on?"
"Nothing's 'going on,' Jamey. I came out here for a swim, and Buck was here fishing. We talked, and then...I kissed him."
He blinked in astonishment. "You kissed him ?"
"You heard me," she shot back, smoky green eyes blazing. "Buck is a wonderful person, Jamey, and I like him a lot. That's not a crime, and neither is kissing him."
"I never said it was, I just..." he trailed off, suddenly unsure of himself. She had kissed Buck? He thought...but...
"Please don't hate me, Jamey," she said into the silence, her voice sounding small and vulnerable.
He looked up at her, completely shocked. "Hate you? Ellie, I could never hate you." He sighed. "I just...I mean...do you love him?"
"Love him? I don't know. As you pointed out, I haven't known him long."
"Sometimes it don't take long," he said with a restless shrug. Hell, he'd known he was in love with her within the first five minutes of meeting her. He decided now wasn't the best time to share that information, though, and he began to pace. "Look, I ain'tmad, not anymore. I just don't understand."
"You thought if I'd be kissing anyone, it would be you."
Jimmy stopped, frowned, shook his head...and smiled ruefully. "Yeah, I guess. Hoped, at least. Aman can dream, can't he?"
She smiled and went to him, enclosing him in a long hug. "I love you, James. I'll always love you. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, I do." Just not the way I want you to, he thought sadly. He cupped her cheek in his hand and smiled. "It's late. You should get some sleep."
"What are you going to do about Buck?"
He frowned for a moment, considering. "I'd thought about kickin' his ass from here to Mexico, but I don't want you gettin' all mad at me. I guess I'll just give him a good talkin' to about respectin' women and the like." After a moment he shrugged. "He's a good guy, Ellie, but if he hurts you, I'll kill him. I promise you that."
Her eyes reflected the silver moonlight as she looked up at him. "I know, Jamey."
With another sad smile, he turned and walked back to the bunkhouse, leaving her alone with wolf, moon, river and long, hard thoughts. "Oh, James," she whispered into the night, "what have I done?"
Breakfast the next morning was a quiet affair, despite two extra people at the table. Buck wasn't speaking to Jimmy, Jimmy wasn't speaking to Buck, and Brenna was trying to avoid speaking to anyone. Emma couldn't help but notice these new tensions, and they worried her. Brenna Mackenzie seemed like a sweet girl, buttrouble followedher wherever she went. Emma didn't want any trouble for her boys, but it looked like it had come anyway.
As the Riders began to file out, Emma called Brenna back. "Mind helpin' me with some of these dishes? How's the arm?"
"A lot better, thank you." She started stacking the breakfast dishes and wondered what was on Emma's mind.
The older woman decided to cut straight to the chase. "What's got Jimmy so hot under the collar? I figure it's got somethin' to do with Buck, and you, and I think I can make a pretty good guess as to what, but I'd rather hear it straight from the source."
Brenna let out a long sigh as she set the stack of plates into the sink. "I'm not surprised you noticed. Last night I went for a late swim in the river, but Buck was already there. We got to talkin', and Jimmy happened to pop up at just the wrong time. I thought I had him calmed down, but I know he's upset."
"I don't want any of my boys hurt over you, Brenna," Emma said sternly.
"I don't want them hurt either! Jamey is one of my best friends, and I know he feels more than just friendship for me. But since I've been here, I've come to care about all of them, Buck in particular. There's just something about him. He understands me in away no one really has before. I've changed since I knew Jamey, but he thinks I'm still the same girl he knew years ago."
After a moment Emma said, "Want my advice?"
"It would be much appreciated, yes, ma'am."
"Follow your heart, Brenna. I know it may sound silly, but it's the best advice I can give you. I know Jimmy's your friend, and I know he's in love with you. I also see Buck lookin' at you like you're the only thing in the world, and I notice you lookin' at him, too. Somebody's gonna get hurt in this, it's inevitable. So just be careful, watch your step, and listen to your heart."
"I don't know what to say. Thank you, Emma. Would you mind-"
"Go talk to him," she interrupted with a smile. "He'll be in the barn doin' chores."
"Thank you!" Brenna said again, grabbing her coat and hat as she hurried out the door.
Brenna found him in the barn, as Emma had said, and when he paused in his work she went to him. "Could we go somewhere to talk?"
Buck looked up at her in surprise. He'd thought after last night she'd never want to speak to him again. True, she had kissed him first, but she'd been friends with Jimmy for a long time, and surely she wouldn't want to risk that on a half-breed like him. "Yeah, sure," he said at last. "We can go into the tack room."
She nodded and followed him into the small space that smelled of leather and saddle oil. It was a good smell,and she took a deep lungful of it to fortify herself for what she wanted tosay. "Buck, listen," she said, turning to face him with a small smile, "I wanted to apologize for last night."
Apologize? Great. "Hey, don't worry about it. I mean, with the moon and the river and the wolf chasing frogs...anyone could just caught up in the moment and do something like that." He tried to keep his tone light, but inside a part of him was dying.
"What? You think I'm apologizing for kissing you? No, silly! Though I guess I could apologize for being a wuss about it. If you're going to kiss someone, you should really kiss him...kinda like the way you kissed me." She looked up at him through dark eyelashes, and he noticed the blush tingeing her cheeks a soft pink.
"So are you apologizing for kissing me or not?" he asked, teasing her a little now.
"No. I mean, yes. Wait...no...wait, I’m all confused!" She took a deep breath and decided to start over. "I'm apologizing for the way Jamey behaved. I should have told him earlier that I...er, which is to say, he shouldn't have found out that way, by stumbling upon us like that."
"Found out about what?" That half-smile was making an appearance again. Teasing her, he was quickly discovering, could be counted as one of life'sgreatest joys.
"About us. Or at least about us kissing. Or at least about me wanting to kiss you."
"You want to kiss me?"
"No. That is, not right this minute, because I'm trying to get something out, and kissing you would just muddle the whole thing."
"Oh, all right then," he said with a grin.
"Stop making fun of me! I'm serious."
His smile evaporated, and the look in his deep, dark eyes became tender. "I know you are, Brenna. Whatever you have to say, I'm listening."
She reached up and ran her fingers along his cheek. "I like you a lot, Buck. Jamey is my friend, and I know he'd like for our relationship to be more than that, but it's not what I want."
"What do you want?" he asked quietly.
Her smile was sweet and her voice soft as she said, "You."
"Oh, well that's good. I've been thinking lately that I just might want you too." With that and a grin, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her long and sweet.
Above them, unnoticed in the hayloft, Jimmy sat listening. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but during a break in his chores he'd heard the sound of Brenna's voice coming from below and had stopped to listen. Now he wished he hadn't. He could've gone his whole life without hearing her say those words to another man.
With a soft sigh, Jimmy sank down into the hay and felt his heart break.