a/n: Well, hi there. This is a work in progress (and is going to be one for a looooong time.) It's going to chronicle all of Rocky's little adventures, starting from the events leading up to the "unceremonious boot" to Atlas' death. So yeah, I'll be here a while. If you can think of a better title, please tell me. Please.
the cards are never in his favor
Rocky Rickaby is sixteen when he receives the unceremonious boot from the place he once knew as his home.
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, his life slowly spirals out of control, until Aunt Nina can't control him, and for the safety of her son, and out of a fear for what her nephew could become and not wanting to be held accountable for him any longer, he is kicked out onto the streets, and just like that, has no home.
But Rocky's exile isn't quite where this story starts.
august 26th, 1919
Rocky is fourteen when he starts his freshman year, and decides to do something simply fantastic to celebrate the fact that he's growing up, but he couldn't go alone- what kind of a celebration would that be? No, he had to drag somebody along with him, and his selected victim is Calvin A. McMurray, otherwise known as Freckle to certain individuals.
"Men enjoy nothing more than climbing great trees!" Rocky proclaims to his impressionable nine-year-old cousin who stares at him with wide eyes, absorbing each word Rocky says. "So, young Freckle, you want to be a man, I presume?" Calvin nods eagerly, and Rocky picks him up by the armpits and sets him down facing a large tree trunk. "Then you must scale the great Mount Everest!" Rocky declares loudly, gesturing grandly towards the lanky tree with branches jutting out awkwardly, with an appearance not unlike the teenage boy grinning manically to it.
"Cl-climb that?" the bright orange kitten stutters, no longer eager to follow his cousin's every command. "But it's-"
"Astounding? Extraordinary? Incredible? Awe-inspiring?" Rocky suggests.
"Well, of course it's tall," Rocky spits the juvenile word for emphasis, much to the chagrin for his young cousin, "but how else would a tree be? Besides, look at all the branches! More branches means it's much easier to climb, and I couldn't expect you to climb a tree with no branches-"
"The branches are nearly five hundred feet above the ground!" Calvin interjects, and Rocky rolls his eyes.
"Don't be stupid, Freckle." he scolds, shaking his head. "Exaggerating is mankind's worst flaws. Those branches are merely twenty feet above the base of this lovely… uh… Freckle, you wouldn't happen to know what kind of, uh, foliage we're facing on this fine Friday?" Rocky chuckles at his own alliteration, and Calvin begins to slowly back away.
"I don't want to climb the foy-lee-itch!" he shrieks, and Rocky once again hoists him by the armpits and places him by the tree.
"Now, Freckle, you've learned how to run away from my hare-brained schemes in an efficient manner and you've become extremely agile and I'd love to come up there and have a tea party with you, but you've gotta show me that it's oaky-" he pauses for a moment so the pun can sink in, and when faced with a blank stare, continues- "for me to go up there. Tea parties aren't much fun if the men invited are too busy falling off branches to eat their scones."
"Why can't you test out the branches and see if they're oaky?" Freckle points out.
"You make a very good point, my cousin, and I applaud your usage of the pun 'oaky,' no matter how stolen it was from me and aside from the fact that you probably just meant to say 'okay' in the first place, but!" Rocky raises his voice on the 'but' for dramatic effect. "I weigh more than you."
"I do too. You certainly aren't 5-foot-six." Rocky retorts.
"I'm all muscle."
"Then pick me up." Rocky beams at the challenge on the table, his scrawny 70-pound cousin could never succeed in picking him up!
Freckle strains and tries his very hardest to lift his cousin up, but can only get Rocky's heels to leave the ground for maybe a second before giving up.
"I lifted you up!"
"You did not."
"Did too! You flew in the air for about a minute!"
"You tried to pick me up for ten seconds."
"But- but- "Freckle can't think of a retort to go against his cousin's logic, so he sighs in defeat and trudges over to the tree. Digging his claws in the soft bark, he scales his way to the top, counting the inches until the relative safety of the branches is all his. Calvin takes a rare risk and propels himself off the bark, launches himself into the air, desperately grabs at the branch three feet above him, and- success!
"Good job, Freckle!" Rocky cheers from below, and Freckle hoists his feet onto the branch and begins to scale the tree faster than ever now. Now climbing the branches, he feels powerful, daring, like a genius! He can just imagine the headlines: "YOUNG BOY CLIMBS GINORMOUS TREE!" And maybe later, when he's an adult, like maybe sixteen or so, "WORLD FAMOUS CALVIN THE CHALLENGER RUNS UP A TREE IN THREE SECONDS FLAT!" He's nearly at the top, looks down to scream "Look, Rocky, look at me!"
But he actually says "Look, Ro- whooaaahhhh!"
Rocky watches as his cousin falls, screams, flails, gets his suspenders hooked around a branch and stays in place, kicking and screaming for help.
"Hang on, Freckle! I'll go get help!" Rocky cries, as if he was a superhero, and dashes towards the McMurray cottage. He finds his aunt gardening a few minutes later, and grabs her by the wrist, yanks her towards the forest where her son is suspended (he applauds himself for the clever pun), while informing her that her son had done something amazing and she just had to come see it, right then!
Nina expected to see her son with a bug in a jar, or with a lovely leaf in his hand. Instead, she found her son dangling from a giant tree forty feet in the air, cuts all over his body from stray twigs brushing him on the way down and kicking as if he could get himself free that way.
"Calvin McMurray? Just what have you gotten y'self into?" she scolds before turning to Rocky and sneering, "This was your fault, wasn't it?"
Rocky answers with an evasive "…Maybe…"
He didn't know it then, but they were playing a dangerous game and Nina was the umpire. Three strikes meant "you're out," and Rocky had just made the first real strike.
march 10th, 1920
"Happy birthday to you… happy birthday to you…"
Most of the party sings "Happy birthday, dear Calvin," but the voice of his cousin calling out "DEAR FRECKLE" overpowers the majority of the guests' singing.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUU!"
Calvin beams as some of his closest friends, his mother, and Rocky all cheer as he blows out the candles on his delicious cake. "Make a wish!" Rocky reminds him, not wanting to have his cousin miss out on any of the traditional festivities.
"Excellent!" Rocky tells him. "You can't tell us what you wished for, or your wish may not even come true!" Calvin knew this, however, as his cousin had reminded him of this fact for the past four months before his birthday. "You know how to make a wish, right? Let's practice. Did you make your wish yet, Freckle? Well, don't tell me! Honestly, it's not that hard, I don't see why the concept is so difficult for you to grasp." Lather, rinse, and repeat.
But now, in an odd twist, Rocky is begging Freckle to tell him his wish, and Freckle can't help but gape at the teenager who'd been doing the opposite ten seconds ago. "Tell me your desire, Freckle, my boy!" Rocky proclaims. "What'd you waste your entire year on, huh? You can't just make your double-digit wish and not tell anyone!"
Calvin looks to his friends in desperation, looks to his mom for answer. She simply mouths, "I don't know," and Calvin turns back to his cousin. "I- I wanted-"
"Speak louder, dear boy!" Rocky insists. "I can't hear you over all this anticipation!"
"I wished for-"
"I'm sorry? I can't hear you. Would you please just speak up?"
"Rocky, I wish-"
"Stop trailing off. It's not a desirable trait and it just makes you look stu-"
"I WISHED FOR A BIKE, ROCKY!" Calvin screams, half in desperation to get a sentence out before his chatterbox cousin and half because he wants a bike just that badly and the pressure is killing him. If he doesn't get a bike on this birthday, this very special birthday, he might just implode! Or, at the very least, his day (possibly week, maybe even month) would be ruined.
Calvin watches his cousin's face intently for any indication of whether his wish came true. Rather than beaming even more than usual as Calvin imagined (in this imaginative fantasy, he also envisioned the bike materializing behind a tree and him growing to 6 feet tall just to fit properly on the seat), Rocky's face fell, and he actually looked serious and contemplative for a moment.
"Uh… uh, stay right there, Freckle!" he ordered before hastily dashing out of the park and towards the nearest store. Calvin sighs- his cousin hadn't gotten him a bike, after all- and bikes were expensive. Rocky may not even have enough money to purchase the shiny blue two-wheeler that he'd wanted for so long, and Calvin's shoulders slumped in defeat as he realized that he may have to save his beautiful bicycle for next year.
But ten minutes later, Calvin spots Rocky bounding up the hill with the handlebars of a brand new bike firmly in his grasp, and a gigantic grin a size that rivals his cousin's manic one spreads across his face. Rocky may have forgotten, but he did care about his cousin's birthday, and had purchased a new bike for him all by himself!
Or so he thought.
Calvin's going into the kitchen one day to get some lettuce for a sandwich when he hears his mother and Rocky arguing- Nina accusing, Rocky defending unconvincingly. He rolls his eyes at the predictability of it until he hears his name mentioned, and his ears prick up to hear the confrontation better.
"Y'paid for Calvin's bike. " Nina throws the first punch, and he can see Rocky's gigantic grin even through the shadows. "That I did!"
"Why didn't y'just use your own money?" Nina shrieks, and Rocky takes a step back instinctively. "I'm sorry," he hears Rocky say, "but did you see the look on his face? I couldn't just leave him standing there!"
"So y'used my hard-earned money?"
"No! Maybe? Y-yes… but I don't have a job! I couldn't get one anyway, nobody wants a kid with no muscle joining their team!"
"Y'do know how much bikes cost, don't you?"
"Of course! I saw the price tag on the bike when I went in to pay f-"
Calvin hears a loud thwap, a clear indicator that his mother has just hit Rocky in her anger. "Don't you ever buy something wit'out me knowin', Roark Rickaby!" she cries, thwaping him to accent each syllable.
"Ow! Aunt Nina, I- ow! Really, why would- ow!"
Her nephew's cries fall on deaf ears, and she continues to berate him.
"If only your stupid, ragamuffin father actually did something rather than sit in the spare room and drink all day, we might still have enough money to pay for that luxury! But no, after Sophie died – God bless her soul – her hefty paycheck vanished, and your father knows just as well as you do that we can't afford such frivolous things, but he still just stays up in that room and drinks until he passes out, that idiot- why, I ought to march up there right now and give that scalawag a piece of my mind, tell him he's a useless, hare-brained…"
With each insult directed towards Ransom, Calvin sees something blazing in his cousin's eyes- a fierce hate, burning and raging, defying anyone to cross him. Calvin's never seen his cousin look so determined or somber, and the glare he gives Nina terrifies him. Rocky's voice drops nearly half an octave as he balls his fingers into fists and practically growls, "Don't ever talk about my dad that way again."
If Nina's surprised for any longer than a second, she doesn't show it. Instead, she throws her hands into the air, as if to surrender. "Alright, alright. I won't. Just… please, Roark, think through what you're doing before you actually do it, okay?"
And just like that, Rocky's normal happy-go-lucky posture, wide, happy eyes, and mischievous grin are back. He saunters away from the kitchen as if the confrontation hadn't just happened, and jovially asks Freckle if he'd like some mayonnaise for his sandwich as well as that giant head of lettuce.
Rocky gets two things that day: one, the realization that he desperately needs to find a job if he wants a home for much longer, and two, a second strike in Nina's book. Rocky Rickaby is dangling above a pit called Hopelessness, and if the rope breaks, he might just fall in.
january 3rd, 1921
The first day back in school from Winter Break is always the hardest.
And for Rocky Rickaby, especially so. Why shouldn't it? After a vacation full of gifts for both his birthday and Christmas, it was hard readjusting to the rigorous curriculum that school offered (plus, sitting still for extended periods of time is hardly his forte.) As Mr. Wendall drones on about Cornwallis surrendering to General Washington and the various reactions to the British army's defeat, Rocky stares out the window, ignoring the cold breeze that blows through the room and makes all his classmates shiver. He begins to zone out when he sees a flurry of movement in his peripheral vision. Lionel Odell, the boy sitting to Rocky's right, is glaring at him and gesturing to his desk, and he realizes there's a note on it. He unfolds it and reads a threat for him to "meet him at the pond at five."
Rocky isn't an idiot, he knows Lionel is challenging him to a fight, and he looks up at the light-furred boy incredulously, wondering what'd he'd done to provoke him into a brawl, but Mr. Wendall chooses that time to turn from the chalkboard and demand to know "what about Mr. Odell is so fascinating that you disregard my lesson to stare blankly at him," and so Rocky's eyes are drawn towards the board again as he tries to ignore Lionel's glares.
He runs home as fast as he can when the bell rings at four, and he grabs Calvin's arm as the orange tabby dashes out of Miss Slone's fifth grade class and drags the smaller cat to their backyard.
"Grab a shovel, Freckle, because we are gonna be shoveling Aunt Nina's porch today!" he says jovially, as if shoveling were the greatest activity imaginable, and Calvin almost tries to back out of this, because he absolutely hates shoveling snow, and would do anything to avoid the boring task.
Then again, Rocky is with him, so the chance of it being boring is lessened considerably.
After much hesitation, he nods, and a shovel is tossed in his direction. Rocky begins to clear the snow away from the patio eagerly, even whistling a cheerful tune as he goes about his work. After an hour, Calvin is exhausted from working and politely asks Rocky if he can go take a nap, but is interrupted mid-sentence by someone yelling at them-
"Hey! Whaddya think you're doin', moron! I thought I told you to meet me by the pond!"
It would normally sound like a friendly sentence, but that way he said it - and the threatening look he gives Rocky – makes Calvin sure that whoever this cat wearing the overalls is, he's not happy with Rocky.
"Let's not make assumptions, now," Rocky says, raising his hands in the air defensively. "A boy must appease his aunt somehow, shouldn't he? And today, um, it just so happened that the porch needed clearing, and I had-"
The cat looming in front of them throws his hat- which looks like a newsboy's- to the ground, and begins to run towards Rocky. "Well, it's a good thing the snow'll break your fall!" he cries as he tackles Rocky and knocks him to the ground.
Calvin watches in horror as his cousin splutters in the patch of snow he fell in to, spitting snow out in disgust. He doesn't even have time to breathe before Lionel is pulling him up by the collar, raising a fist, slamming it to his cheek. Rocky groans as Lionel's fist keeps hitting his face, over and over, and he struggles to break out of the light-furred tabby's grip, but every time he'd come close to making some progress, another fist, solid as rock, is slamming into his face, and the wind is knocked out of him again as he slumps back to the ground.
The orange tabby's plea for the ruthless beating to stop falls on deaf ears, and he knows he has to stop this somehow. Without thinking through his plan, he tightens his grip around the shovel, runs over to the two figures rolling in the snow, and slams the steel onto Lionel's side, knocking the huge cat onto the ground.
He stares at the wide-eyed ten-year-old in dismay, and tries to stumble to his feet, but Calvin isn't finished yet. He swings the shovel again, and it collides with Lionel's back. It makes a clang as it connects with his opponent. A smile begins to creep on his face as he raises the shovel again.
Clang as it hits his thighs.
Clang as it hits his shoulders.
Clang as it hits his face.
By now, Calvin can barely control himself, and the clangs are coming more and more frequently, aim no longer being a matter of importance. As long as he hears a clang, he knows he's hit the target, and that satisfies him in an indescribable, almost insane way.
Rocky stares in shock at his cousin- the same person who'd been staring at the looming bully with eyes wide in innocence and confusion just thirty seconds ago. Now his eyes are narrowed, his eyebrows lowered in an angered fashion, his movements without inhibition.
The noise attracts Nina's attention, and she sets her sewing down to see what the source of the ruckus is outside. Expecting to see Freckle somehow hurt with her nephew bullying him into doing some insane activity, she instead sees a large cat lying in the snow on top of Rocky's legs, the gray tabby screaming "STOP, STOP IT, FRECKLE, STOP!" at her son, Calvin with a shovel firmly in his grasp, beating the stranger in her backyard.
She storms over to the boys, snow crunching under her bare feet, mouth pinched together tightly in anger. "Calvin Allen McMurray!" she shrieks, and her son instantly drops the shovel and goes catatonic, swiveling to face her. Rocky's mouth clenches together as he braces himself for the next thing that'll come out of his aunt's mouth: "Roark Rickaby!" He gives her a grin, but it's clearly a feat performed out of dread for the ensuing punishment.
"Just what exactly is going on?" she demands, and Lionel takes this opportunity to hop away from Rocky and run off to his house, stumbling as he blindly searches for his newsboy cap before limping away, leaving Rocky and Calvin alone to face Nina's wrath.
Nina stomps towards the boys and leans over to look at Rocky. "Who was that boy?" she asks, impatient with the wheezing boy's hesitation.
"Just… some kid… that I know… from school…" she manages to get out of him, and issues another flurry of questions: "Did you bring him here?"
"…no… well, sort of… technically, no… he brought… himself…" he answers breathlessly, and she can tell he's only giving her the answers she wants to hear, only letting her know half of the truth.
"Why was he here?" she inquires, and Rocky hesitates before stumbling over his words, buying time while he searches for an excuse.
"Uh… see, you… see, aunt Nina… he had… a bone to… pick with me… and he… uh, tried to… realize his… dream of becoming… the greatest… football player… in the world-"
Nina cuts him off sternly. "Get up," she orders, and offers a hand to help him up with. Grateful, Rocky grabs her paw as she hoists him to his feet. When she balls her hands into fists and puts them on her hips, glaring at Rocky over her glasses, though, Rocky knows he's going to regret this.
"The way I see it," she says slowly, letting each word sink in, "y'had a fight with that boy. What was the point to it, anyway? What'd you do to provoke him like that? Being generally annoying? And just whose idea was it t'have Calvin go out there and beat him with shovels?"
Calvin stares at his mother meekly. "It was just one shovel." he tells her, trying to amend the situation.
"Hush, Calvin." she tells him, and turns back to her nephew. "Did you tell him to beat that other boy?"
"Of course not… Auntie dearest," he assures her, still panting. "He picked up… the shovel on… his own."
Calvin stares up at his mother, and nods feebly. "It's true, Momma." he reaffirms. "I picked up the shovel. Rocky didn't tell me to. It was my fault."
Nina studies her son's explanation, then asks, "But just what compelled y'to pick up that shovel in the first place?"
"Not Rocky, Momma, I just told you, it was my fault, not Rocky's, I didn't mean to hurt him, I don't know why I did it, Momma, I'm sorry!" Calvin collapses into the snow and begins to sob at the injustice of it all.
The conclusion that was eventually reached declared Rocky a bad influence, and the only solution to such a problem begin that he had to move out. A few hours later, a packed duffel bag in tow, Rocky Rickaby was saying goodbye to his family by the door.
"…and do try to stay safe, alright? I'd have a conniption if the boy I raised almost single-handedly managed to get himself tangled up with a bunch of rumrunners and hoodlums." she states, frowning with disapproval, and Rocky stifles a laugh.
"Don't worry, Aunt Nina, I'll be just fine." he assures her. "That goes for you too, Freckle," he jokes to Calvin as he messes up the fur on the top of the young cat's head.
"You're gonna write us, right?" Calvin asks, and Rocky nods.
"Why wouldn't I? I'm sure you'd all want to know about my marvelous adventures in this next part of my life." He beams proudly, pleased with the narration of his upcoming travels.
"But where will you be living?" Freckle asks curiously, and Rocky hesitates before replying with certainty, "Somewhere, U.S.A."
Calvin thinks about this for a moment, then asks, "Is that in Missouri?"
The entire hallway erupts in laughter, and Calvin looks indignant as the others struggle to keep straight faces on. Finally, Rocky manages to calm down long enough to say, "See ya later, Freckle," and then, "Bye, Dad."
Ransom gives his son a curt nod, then turns to take a long draw from his cigarette.
If he's hurt for more than a second, he doesn't show it. "Right, then. Bye, McMurrays!" he calls jovially as he gives a wave before stepping out of the door.