Ace of Hearts
By: Racetrack's Goil
Author's Note: This is by far The Longest Chapter I've ever written. Honestly. A whole 25 pages of Ace of Hearts-ness! Isn't that so freaky? I wanted to divide it into chapters again, but there's just no place to split it. But hopefully it'll more than make up for the long wait…
Yes, this is the last chapter. Keep a look-out for the sequel, "The Royal Flush"!
Disclaimer: Insert witty phrase about not owning Disney characters, fanfiction members' characters, and being the creator of Ace, Fire, Trek, and Philip Danford here.
On with the story!
"Arsonist sets banker's house on fire!"
"Mayor's daughter seen with lowly worker!"
Jackal and Pithon were naturally 'embellishing' the truth, as we say. They were good; within a matter of minutes, they had already sold some of the newspapers they were holding in their arms. The afternoon crowd was always harder than the morning's, but Jackal and Pithon were manipulating it skillfully. But that wasn't why I was trying to look severely disapproving.
They had decided to start selling on their own, only a few minutes ago, with determined defiance in their faces to whomever in the newsies who might object. No one did. The reason why: because we were no longer on the strike. But the thing was, they didn't have Spot's approval. I felt all squeamish inside, like I ought to say something to stop them, but didn't know what. Had Spot gone to talk with Jack or not? If he had and Jack had provided a good answer, Spot would join again. Wouldn't he?
I felt someone draw near me and I shifted, breaking out of my thoughts. I looked up to see Milkshake, who gave me a smile, albeith a little crooked because of the healing injury running down across her face from the broken bottle at the failed rally. I nodded back and she promptly sat down next to me.
"How's the gash?" I asked, just out of politeness. I hadn't talked to her much, which I felt bad about, because she had been one of the very first to accept me. Then again, she hadn't been around recently because Pike was taking up most of her time. She shrugged in answer
"Stiff," she answered flatly and we didn't speak, just watching Jackal and Pithon. Then she gave an indecisive sigh that made me glance at her. She nudged her chin towards the selling two. "Is it just me or do you feel like the whole world's turned upside down?"
I shifted to hide my surprise at the comment. "What do you mean?"
"Only a couple of days ago, we'd be soakin' anybody doin' what dey're doin'," Milkshake lazily flicked a bug away from her leg. "Now we're da ones doin' it. Ironic, eh?"
I looked back at the two, who were actually managing to earn money. "Why don't you join them, then?"
She rolled one shoulder and then the other. "I dunno. Don't seem right somehow."
I felt a spark of appreciation. That gut feeling was always what all newsies followed and it was why no one else was starting to sell the papes along with Pike, Pithon, and Jackal. Not yet, at least. "Well. Maybe you're right. Maybe it ain't."
Milkshake looked at me curiously, but didn't say anything. I watched Pithon lower the newspaper in her hand and walk towards us. Jackal already had moved from sight. I tipped my hat in greeting and she did the same. Milkshake merely looked up at her and she probably did a better job of hiding her emotions than I did.
"I feel joyful," Pithon declared defiantly.
"Well, that's nice," I offered after a beat. "Joy's good."
"I've missed sellin' papes," she continued airily, "Lost my touch."
I peered up at her from under my hat. I think she was feeling guilty.
"You definitely have lost your touch," Milkshake said bluntly, just when I was about to deny it. Pithon scowled.
"Maybe dem customers are havin' a bad day."
"It's the hair," I said, dead serious. "Too long. Have Jackal cut it for you."
Pithon carelessly glanced at her long blonde hair, which she hadn't bothered tying in a bun. "Maybe. I'll ask Jackal to cut it like a boy's. Dat'll be interesting. Always wanted live like a boy for a year or so."
Yep. She was feeling guilty.
I nodded casually and leaned back on my arms. "You can tell me if Pike really does bark in his sleep."
Milkshake grinned evilly. "Blackmail material."
Pithon gasped audibly with mock horror. "You'll blackmail your own boyfriend?"
"Dear me," I drawled in a most appropriate Spot-fashion, "That's low."
Milkshake shrugged without feeling. "Dat's life, chums. Take all, give nothin'."
Pithon started to laugh, appreciating our humor, then she stopped suddenly. Then her entire face changed into a sort of fiendish delight that rather startled me for a second. "Oh! Wait! Victim coming."
I looked up to see a man in his late forties or so, of medium height, weight, and a face one would dub as average. He was clean-shaven and probably middle-class. Or maybe a servant? Maybe a butler, but he didn't seem as stoic enough. But maybe that's just a misconception. About butlers, I mean. They don't always have to be stoic and boringly blank, do they? I mean, at least when the master of the house isn't around.
But I'm veering dangerously off subject. Pithon was discreetly walking nearer to him and holding out her paper in a typical newsie stance, she proceeded to belt out the headlines with much gusto.
"Mayor's daughter caught lockin' lips with butler!"
Milkshake shook her head in mock disgust and stood up. "Well, I'm not gonna be 'round when Spot finds her. Gotta go before things get ugly." Then her mouth twitched as I gave her a disbelieving look. Milkshake? Going to avoid a blow-out? "Alright, alright. I just wanna go see Pike. Check in on him, you know?"
I smiled. "I know."
At least, I thought I did. Milkshake and Pike were ever so visibly into each other and it was simply, plainly perfect. The two of them had absolutely no misgivings, nothing to regret about each other, and they both had fun-loving, mischievous natures. Something in common, you know?
Spot and I were so different. I mean, there was nothing alike between the two of us. Yet we were together. And I thought he was amazing. He was gorgeous, had a sharp wit, and a fairly sarcastic sense of humor that I liked. And he said that he thought I was different in a nice way, which had to mean something good. Okay, he adored me, if I was to take his sudden confession on the pier seriously, and I did.
But…I don't know. Sometimes you can't really get him. He still hasn't proven his love, though that sounds like something from a cheap romance novel.
I turned back to Pithon's antics and watched as the man glanced at Pithon, who innocently was facing away from him, still yelling.
"Dalliance in Mayor's house! Forbidden romance! Read all 'bout it!"
"Wow, " I muttered. "She's really taking it far."
The man bought some fruit and then approached Pithon, who put on a face of pure hard-working eagerness. I laughed under my breath. Hard-working eagerness indeed. Pithon winked at us and I could practically see the wheels and cogs turning around in her mind.
"How are ya today, mister?" she said cheerily in a loud enough voice so we could hear. He gave her a slow, strange look and then shook his head slightly, as though dismissing the youths of today as juvenile delinquents. Pithon ignored the look and handed him a newspaper, talking the whole time. "Scoop's terrible big today, sir. Mayor's daughter an' a butler. Tche!"
The man looked a bit offended at the derisive 'Tche!', but Pithon was too good. She had him in a corner. Her newspaper was in front of him, but not so close that it seemed demanding, but close enough to seem tantalizing. "I've never heard that story," he told her.
Pithon didn't miss a beat. "Page fourteen, mister," she answered swiftly. Giving it a page made it seem more real. Then she surprised all of us by saying, "Listen," she opened the newspaper and started reading. The things she said was remarkable. How real she made it seem.
The man pretty soon dug out a penny and gave it to her. She was about to hand over the paper when she was cut off with a stone that seemed to come from nowhere and struck her hat right off her head. Everyone, including the man about to buy the paper, jumped a mile into the air and Pithon made an odd noise. Like a deathly quiet shriek and a sneeze.
Nobody else could shoot with that kind of aim, no one else I knew anyway. I felt something inside leap as I immediately caught sight of a lean, wiry form strolling towards us, a very familiar cane swinging casually in hand. I didn't see a slingshot anywhere, but I knew he had shot the stone. Quick work…Behind him was Jackal, trailing after him with forced nonchalance on his face, which was funny, but he didn't look like he was laughing.
Questions immediately started pouring through my head. Did Spot talk with Jack? Was the whole mess all cleared up? What did Jack say? Were we gonna get back in again?
Meanwhile, Pithon had frozen, almost as if she was trying to figure out what had happened. The man looked absolutely confused and confuddled, and he was looking at suspiciously at Spot. I couldn't help smirking, even though I had to feel sorry for what Pithon had got herself into. Well, it was her and Jackal's fault for acting without Spot's leave. They should have known better, and I really mean that.
Spot smoothly walked right up to the man and Pithon blanched at the sight of him. Spot completely ignored her and snatched the paper away from the Pithon with a kind of briskness that showed her flinch. Then he turned to the man and gave him an eerily, non-Spot like smile. "Sorry, sir, but you better get your papes somewhere else. Dere's been a little misunderstanding."
"Excuse me, young man?" said the guy, looking indignant now at being ordered around, and actually took the newspaper back from Spot's hands. Did you catch that? He actually snatched the pape right from Spot's hands. I exchanged glances with Pithon. Either this guy was intensely dense to not have noticed the way Spot was staring at him, or he was one of the pain-in-the-neck adults…you know, the ones who use their authority over kids like us just because they can.
Pithon shuffled backwards, trying to get away, and only managed to get about a few steps away before Spot stopped her with a Look. Jackal moved away as well, but received no Look so came towards me. His ears were tinged a slight pink, the only visible sign that showed that Spot had probably given him a verbal lashing. His usual carefree grin spread with alarming ease across his face as I moved for him to sit down.
"Watchin' da show, are we?" he said cheekily and I gave him a flat stare.
"You were in it," I pointed out, "But unfortunately, I missed that part."
He in turn rolled his eyes. "Spare me da lecture, Ace; I've already had one from Spot."
I glanced over at the person in question. He was pulling himself up to his full height (which wasn't all that much, I suppose, though he looked fairly tall to me), staring full-on at the man, crossing his arms, and looked completely alarming because his lips were pulled back into a lean grin while he glared.
The man, on the other hand, looked superior and peeved. Have you ever seen a man manage to look peeved while looking superior? Well, I haven't. And there was something wrong with grown men looking peeved in the first place. It's almost as bad as seeing them giggle. If he was a horse, his ears would have been flat against the back of his head, which would have been lowered in ready for a kick.
I half-expected Spot to reach out for the paper and for the two of them have an enormous tug-of-war right there in the middle of the street. But no. Of course not. They were much too dignified for that. Pity, really, because I would have greatly enjoyed watching it. Jackal next to me started snickering, silently, but you could tell he was snickering because his mouth kept twisting around to keep it all in. It was as though he had read my mind and had seen the very amusing picture of Spot hauling away at the paper.
Well, they weren't hauling away at the paper, unfortunately, but they were trying to stare each other down. Spot was winning, I think, simply because he had such a commanding gaze. Then the man ruined it by speaking and rambling, breaking the building tension.
"You see, I paid for it," the man was going on, "I gave the money to the girl. The paper is now officially mine. So I'll have none of that, young man."
Spot eyed him with an absurdly polite smile. "It's da dough you're worried 'bout den…sir?"
I never knew anyone who could make 'sir' sound like 'you pathetic moron' the way Spot just did.
"But den again," he sneered without seeming to, all with a fake humbleness that was meant to be so obviously fake, "It's all you kind gentlemen think of, ain't it?"
"Excuse me-," spluttered the poor guy. I have to admit, I was growing rather sorry for him. Came simply to buy a paper with an intriguing headline, which was a lie anyway, then have it taken away by some smooth-talking newsie who had way more persona than he had.
"Don't worry, sir," (there it was again. The sir.) Spot smiled, "We'll pay it back. You know. Seein' all da goodness coming right forth from your generous heart. A penny's way too much for da likes of us."
The customer now looked peeved, plainly peeved, without the superiority. "Young man. You are being quite disrespectful."
Spot shook his head. "Aw, dat ain't true, mister. See, watch me carefully, I'm gonna have her give it back."
With that, he turned half-way towards Pithon, who had been standing there numbly until the talk of returning money had started. Having regained her composure after the first fright of nearly having been struck by the stone, she drew back and glared hard at the man. My money, she seemed to be saying. Mine now.
"Pithon? Darlin'?" Spot drawled dangerously, smiling at her. She met his eyes and remained defiant only for a second before breaking. She swore loudly and handing over the coin to him. He took it with that same, chilling smile and turning back to the man, who had been waiting. Actually, if you thought about it, the guy was a bit childish to be fighting over a paper. For Spot and the rest of us, it was alright 'cos of the strike. But this guy? Fighting away over a newspaper?
Either way, he took the coin and placed it into his pocket. He handed the paper back complacently enough, and gave Spot a hard glance. "Good-day, then," he looked at Pithon, who was pale. With a touch of concern, despite her previous swearing, "You too, miss."
"Good day to you, sir!" Spot said with enthusiastic friendliness, patting him on the shoulder and steering him around the other way before letting him leave. He waved as the man looked over his shoulder, disapproval stamped on his face. "Pleasure doin' business with you!"
He was acting somewhat like Racetrack, come to think of it. But while Race probably would have acted so the other guy would believe his 'respect,' Spot, on the other hand, made sure the guy could easily tell he wasn't being sincere in the slightest way. It was funny in a very nasty way.
Then Pithon immediately tried to change the subject by laughing, "He called me 'miss'! Haha, ain't dat funny?"
Spot turned to her, slowly, and I could practically see his faked cordiality slip away as he stared at her with barely controlled anger. "Very," he commented stonily and Pithon tried to keep laughing, but trailed off awkwardly into silence.
I watched. This was going to be horrid. Spot was so hard on people who defied his authority, a little too hard. I suppose it was needed, but he could cut Pithon a break. She knew by now she shouldn't have gone off and sold papers while Spot was gone, even if Jackal had supported her. Maybe I could sort of help out…?
I stood up, adjusting my hat. Jackal, startled at my sudden action, looked up at me.
"What do you think you're doing!" he hissed in a fierce whisper. "He ain't gonna go easier on Pithon than he did on me, you know dat. You've never seen Spot get mad at one of his newsies. He goes crazy."
I crossed my arms, thoroughly annoyed. "You know, Jackal, you were in the wrong. You might as well admit it. And yes, I so happen to have seen Spot get mad at one of us. Fire. Remember? I watched him break his nose."
Jackal abruptly broke into laughter, dark gypsy eyes twinkling at me. "Hah! Did he? I didn't know dat."
I rolled my eyes, but I did laugh a bit. Then he said, "But Ace. I'm trying to be serious here. You don't wanna get into it."
I glanced over at Pithon and Spot. The latter was speaking softly and I had to strain my ears to catch the words. "Another thing's funny," he was murmuring, "A few weeks ago, you know, some newsies went on strike. You hear 'bout dat?"
I sucked in a breath, half-wincing for Pithon, who blanched again. She didn't reply, which was smart of her. I glanced at Jackal. "You think he'd get mad at me for trying to help her out?"
He roughly flicked away a strand of hair that had escaped his short ponytail. "You help people too much, Ace. Sometimes dat can be a bad thing."
"Okay," I didn't get it, but, okay. I returned to my question, answering myself. "But he won't get nasty at me. You know how it is between us."
He looked down and ever so slightly, to my surprise, I saw him stiffen. A dark look entered his eyes, which made me shift and try to ignore what was happening over with Spot and Pithon. "Sure I know," he muttered under his breath, sending a rather horrible glare over at Spot. "Best notch on his cane."
I blinked, confused and not understanding his words at all. I didn't understand that glare either. Jackal may look like a roguish pirate, but he never acted like one (except when it came to beer). In fact, I'd never seen him angry before. Friendly, kiddy pirate, he was. I sat down again, my mind hard at work. I cleared my throat and tried to not look so puzzled and perplexed. "What do you mean?"
He didn't answer.
The conversation, so quickly sprung up, died a very uncomfortable death.
Spot wasn't all that furious. He wasn't even angry. Maybe annoyed. But the guy who had been fighting with him over the paper had been such an amusement that his temper (which, at first, had been quite bad at hearing what Jackal and Pithon had done) was soothed.
But still, it wouldn't do to just let Pithon go without a severe talking. He admired her, actually. She and Jackal. To actually act without his permission on something like this took some nerve. To them it must have made sense: In their eyes, they were no longer in the strike, from what had happened, and so, the papes were free to start selling. But the problem was, they first should have asked him. Logically, it made sense. But logic didn't work if you had a leader like Spot.
"Didn't you wonder why it was only you and Jackal who started sellin'?"
She shrugged stiffly. "I didn't know. Thought dey was too scared."
"Of…," Pithon coughed and quickly backtracked, "I guess dey was just used to havin' da strike, I suppose."
Spot made sure he kept his face immobile. "Pithon."
She winced visibly and burst out desperately, "Look, Spot. I thought it was alright! Remember, Jack? I thought we were out!"
Spot bit back a laugh, knowing it wouldn't do. Instead, he crossed his arms and stared at her. "You're missin' da point."
Pithon remained motionless, still believing Spot was white hot mad. "What?"
Spot sighed. "You and Jackal went off and did it without askin' me. You know dat."
"And," Spot continued, "If you had asked, I would have said no."
"Oh," Pithon said again. "Yeah, you would have," she agreed automatically. Then a frown began to grow on her face and Spot could see the major question marks in her eyes. "But…"
She was getting back to her usual Pithon-self, Spot could see that. He narrowed his eyes at her. "No questions, Pithon. You don't deserve an answer after what you and Jackal did. But I'm letting you go easy."
"Sure, Spot," Pithon mumbled and then her eyes widened as Spot started flicking up a coin in the air. He caught it, hiding a smirk at the boggled look on her face.
"Dat dolt of a guy shouldn't have trusted me, eh?" he remarked lightly, "Found a bit of money in his pocket."
"But dat's mine!" Pithon blurted indignantly.
'You gave it to me. Doncha remember?"
With that, Spot turned on his heel and walked purposefully away, whistling between his teeth. It was past noon and he had just enough time to round everyone up and get to Manhattan. He laughed quietly to himself and actually tipped his hat to a passing lady. Then he instantly spotted Ace, sitting rather forlornly on the edge of the sidewalk. She had her hat off and was absently fanning herself with it in such a typical Ace manner that he smiled. He headed for her, feeling oddly elated. The day was just getting better and better.
Jackal left me at length, mumbling something about having to see Artemis about something. I didn't answer, because I felt a bit put out. His vague comment about Spot and I made me uneasy.
"Hey. Didn't know you were dere."
I glanced up to see Spot standing over me, the blonde streaks in his hair standing out more because of the sun. "Oh. Hi."
I gave him my hand and he reached down to grasp it. He pulled me up to my feet easily and caught me around my waist. "Ace," he told me, completely ignoring the looks everyone around us was giving, "Darling."
I quirked eyebrow and felt my curiosity grow. "So. What happened?"
He gave me a crooked smile and then looked around. He released me and I took a step back. Almost at the same time, we headed for a nearby opening through the stores and I dodged around the bustle of people on the way. We found ourselves alone and he glanced over his shoulder. He turned back to me, eyes flickering over my face. "Quieter here."
I waved my hat at him. "Okay. So talk."
His lips tugged upwards. "Relax, sweetheart." He took his own hat off, which I took. He raised his eyebrows at that, but wiped his forehead with his sleeve. I mock-frowned at him, but I inwardly had to admit that he looked so good, standing right there, so close to me. He was managing to pull off the 'messy-hair' look without even trying.
"Relax, will you?" He repeated when I started bouncing from one foot to the other, impatience and curiosity making me itch for information. "I ain't going nowhere."
"C'mon, what happened?" I persisted, putting on one of the hats in my hand. Then I realized that I was wearing the wrong one. It was much too large, much too worn, and smelled like Spot, a kind of distinct sort of scent that was too complicated to explain. He laughed and flicked it. "Suits you."
I rolled my eyes at the inane conversation and plonked my own hat on his. It was too small, but he looked alright in it. Still, I wasn't about to inflate his already inflated ego. "Doesn't suit you at all," I retorted and received a sharp grin. "Now, tell me. What, for the last time, happened?"
I felt my lips tug upwards. "Nothing much?"
"Yep. Jack and I just talked."
"So you did go to see Jack!"
"Don't look so triumphant."
I scoffed. "Thus says he whose face is permanently frozen in a smirk."
He gave a short laugh and stated, "I don't smirk."
"Well, and then what did Jack say? Truly?"
"He...," he caught himself and visibly pedaled back. "He had…had his reasons."
I stared. "Why are you stuttering?"
He frowned. "I ain't."
"Ace…I can't," he stopped me firmly with a look, "I can't tell ya. Just like Jack couldn't tell us."
"But he told you?"
"Don't look so angry." Inward laughter made his stormy eyes narrow.
"I'm not," I grumbled, but I couldn't continue feeling put off with him now. He was in such a disarming mood. Then I gave him a sly glance while I leaned towards him. "So, aren't you glad to have gone?"
Unexpectedly, he leaned in nearer instead of drawing back. He was still laughing inside; his lips were slightly pressed together to hold it back. A few strands of hair fell forward when he had leaned in and without thinking, I reached out and brushed them back. He caught my hand on the way back and I reddened, embarrassed at how schoolgirl-ish I was acting. But he has such incredible eyes. You couldn't just sink into them, or drown, because if you sink, you can't truly, really see anything. His eyes weren't like that. You look and something about them can't let you turn away. They draw you in, but then hold you back before you go too far. You can't perceive everything about his personality in his eyes, but that was what was so intriguing about them.
Mystery and charm blended in perfect balance. Just like the gray and the blue.
Spot's too-big-hat fell over my head.
He lifted it back up again, releasing my hand. "Glad to have gone?" he repeated, steering back to the conversation.
"You know," I cleared my throat, "Because I told you."
His eyes narrowed even further. "Stop digging around for compliments."
I smiled, reached up, and tweaked his nose.
He looked so stunned and shocked that I started giggling madly. I found the whole thing funny. Big bad Spot, getting his nose tweaked. Well, I couldn't help it! His nose is so adorable in its turned-up-ness. He almost angrily grabbed my finger upon my second attempt and that made me snicker even more. Doesn't seem funny to you? Well, it was funny then! You know how it is; sometimes things that aren't usually funny seem funny at certain times, but aren't funny later on. (Okay, at least try to figure it out.) I laughed and laughed, dangerously beginning to enter that area where you couldn't stop laughing and everything seems hilarious. Spot looked exasperated and maybe a little embarrassed. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face into his chest, muffling myself that way.
"You scarin' me."
I looked up at him and saw him looking slightly uncomfortable. I bet no one ever hugged him like that. Especially when he was unwilling. Well, I didn't care about his stupid authority and whatnot. I grinned. He didn't exactly feel like a nice, fuzzy teddy bear, but he was solid despite his slim form (?), and it was fun watching him trying not to squirm. "You're funny," I told him and grinned again.
He glared down at me, but his lips were twitching. "You better let go of me or I'll show you just how funny I can get."
"Oooh," I considered. Then burst into laughter again.
"I remembered something."
"Cows are cute!"
"Cows…oh, Ace, please."
(But he was laughing when he kissed me.)
As I predicted, the Brooklynites didn't take Spot's news very easily. At first, there was dead silence. It was one of those cliché silences where you could hear a pin drop, a foot scuffle on the floor, and etc. If I had to be in the center of one of those silences, I probably couldn't handle the pressure and end up spouting some lame joke.
Spot, being Spot, slowly narrowed his eyes, with a kind of deadly, dangerous promise in them, already made whoever wanted to defy him. Everyone was caught off guard though, and seemed unable to do or say anything. I merely watched from where I sat in Ray's, where Spot had had them gather.
"If anyone has somethin' to say," Spot broke the silence. He spoke, emotionlessly and lightly, not grinding the words out like I thought he would, "He can say it now and spare us da wait."
"Spot," Artemis asked carefully, "Did somethin' happen?"
Spot turned those narrowed eyes onto him. "I didn't say if you wanted to ask me somethin'. Just if you had somethin' to say." Artemis looked away, but I saw her lips tighten. "But," Spot continued carelessly, "I've talked to Jack."
Murmurs exploded at that, but despite it, Spot said, "And dere's been a…misunderstandin'. Dat's all we need to know."
I suppose it was those little things that made Spot a good leader. If he had said, "Dat's all you need to know," instead of we, it would have naturally made them feel a little nastier than they were feeling now. Smart, really. After all, being a Brooklyn leader meant total control, and you couldn't do that without a decent amount of intelligence. The power comes after that.
Pike spoke up. "Race and Blink were tellin' da truth den."
He didn't ask a question, just stated it. Spot didn't answer and crossed his arms over his chest. Pike rose from his chair and looked around. I did the same. Some faces looked decidedly rebellious, some unsure and doubting, and some rather blank, as though they didn't know how to react. Spot then glanced at Pike, who met his eyes, then at me. I gave him a wink and mouthed, "Cows."
That made him control a laugh, which I think was good because he was getting a little too tense. A little more and he would have probably grabbed a nearby Brooklynite and used him as an example. But as it was, he uncrossed his arms and raised them to his sides in a sarcastic manner. "Nothin' more to say?"
No one did.
"Den we're goin' now," he ordered, lowering his arms and heading for the door, fully expecting us to follow. It was a show of confidence and it did the trick just right. I went right after him, and soon enough, Pike followed. It was all easy after that; everyone else just went along with the flow. I found myself walking with Artemis and Pithon.
I shrugged in answer to Artemis' expected question. "I only know as much as you do."
Which is the truth, really. I didn't know why Jack had turned traitor for that one day.
My suspicions are this:
He did it to psyche Pulitzer out. Make him relax his guard and think the strike was over. The rally had been an example of how strong an opponent Pulitzer could be and I think Jack realized that. So, he pretended to have a change of heart, to betray us, and then suddenly whip around and get him in this second rally we were going to now.
Make sense, doesn't it?
It does, you know.
Okay, maybe not.
"Spot took my money, you know," Pithon was complaining, but quietly. I glanced at her in surprise and she rolled her eyes expressively. "You know dat penny he made me give back to dat guy?"
"Yeah?" I remembered.
"He had it da whole wretched time," she glowered. I shrugged and Artemis rolled her eyes. Pithon ignored our difference and continued heatedly, "An' I handed to him."
"Dat's hard to do, though," Artemis remarked. "I wonder how he pulled it off."
"You're admiring him," Pithon was flabbergasted.
"Well, yeah," Artemis said unsympathetically. "When did he slip it from him?"
Pithon raged. "You…you…you remind me of da coin itself!"
Puzzlement crossed Artemis' face. "Coin?"
"Yeah," she seemed very proud of herself now. "Not explaining."
"It's because a coin's double-faced," I offered and received a glare from Pithon. Smirking, I said to Artemis, who had a smile struggling to surface. "Get it now?"
Pithon pursed her lips in mock annoyance. "You've spoiled it all now. An' what're you doin' wearing his hat anyhow?"
"Oh. I forgot."
Anyway, she cooled down after a while, which I had expected. She was like that, which I have to admit I admired. I didn't envy it, but I did admire it. She was flexible enough to quickly move on without staying angry. I always stay angry, which, I suppose, was part of the many reasons why Spot and I didn't get together sooner. I looked away and suddenly felt the urge to laugh. Well. I've finally found something common between Spot and I…we both hold definite grudges.
Comforting. I turned my attention back to the conversation, keeping up with their longer strides.
"Dere's never been anyone I couldn't lift from," Artemis was boasting, "Not a single one."
I gave her an unsure glance. "That just can't be true."
"You doubtin' me?"
Pithon rolled her eyes. "I can already count off two you couldn't steal a hair from," she lifted her hand and raised two fingers. "One: Spot," she put one finger down, "Two: Duke."
My interest was sparked immediately and my ears pricked up. "Duke?"
"Oh yeah," Pithon was obviously paying her back, "It was hilarious."
Artemis was silent. "Well," she mused, "It was jus' bad timin'."
"She tried for one of his knives."
"Jus' for fun," Artemis explained. I pulled my hair back idly and listened.
"He had dem wrist sheath thingies. So she shook hands with him and tried to see if she could slip one blade off. "
Artemis snorted. "I could have done it, if-"
"I was dere," Pithon continued gleefully, "It was scary, he-"
It was Artemis' turn to cut her off. "He's a nutcase. Completely crazy. He just grabbed my hand and gave me one of da freakiest look I've ever seen. Worse dan Spot's, I'm tellin' da truth."
Pithon waved her hand animatedly but didn't say anything. Artemis rubbed her hand, as though remembering, and said, "Anyway, he grabbed my hand, told me if he tried it again, he'd chop it off, and da whole time he was smilin' dis cold sorta smile. An' he wasn't jokin'," she shrugged, "His ugly mug didn't help either."
Pithon's brows furrowed. "He wasn't exactly ugly…"
"He was! Ugly as a bat!"
"You mean you gotta be blind as a bat to think he's ugly. He was rather good-lookin'."
"His nose was deformed!"
"His eyes were gorgeous."
"He's a traitor. Even if he was 'gorgeous'."
"Well, yeah," Pithon admitted, "What he did was terrible."
I rubbed my forehead with the back of my hand. "What really happened, truly? I really don't know anything about Duke, just how he started tryin' to turn you all against Spot…right?"
"Well," Artemis replied, "I'm not sure how it all started."
"Spot and he were really close," Pithon said. "Same personalities, actually. So it really hit da guy hard."
"Yah. Which is why," she added, lowering her tone and rolling her eyes, "We're all tryin' to figure out why he's going off to help Jack now, considering Cowboy's done exactly what Duke did," she paused and made a face, "Ptuey."
"Anyway," Artemis took it up, "I think Duke didn't like how Spot had more authority dan he did. Or maybe he was just power-hungry. Or maybe he was just dim in da head. I dunno."
"Nah," Pithon pointed out, "He wasn't dim. He was smart."
"Well, okay," I said hastily, before they started arguing again, "He's one of those people who stir conflicting opinions. Mixed up guy person. So, and?"
"Spot had another girl back den."
Instant, insane jealousy. "Oh."
"So Duke sorta stole her, but she was a dope anyhow."
"And Spot couldn't really do anythin' about it because Duke made sure everyone except Spot knew it was him. Like I said. Smart. An' da girl just him. Forgot her name. I hated her anyhow. Always thought she was better dan us."
I was speechless. "Oh," I said again. "Wow."
"Yeah…anyway, I think Spot sorta suspected it was Duke…but you know, he can't act on anythin' without proof because he's leader. Dat's how it started, I think."
"You all said nor did nothing?"
"Ahm…we really couldn't. To tell Spot dat his best friend was turnin' against him? You know how hard dat is to say?" she shook her head, "And anyway, we still thought Duke didn't really mean it."
"Den he got Fire to start makin' trouble. Little things started happenin', like threatening letters, shards of glass in Spot's shoes-"
I started. "He did the same thing to me. Fire, I mean. The glass shards."
"Really?" Artemis looked truly surprised. "You didn't say anythin'."
I stirred uncomfortably, wishing I hadn't spoken. "I didn't want to."
"Well, I wouldn't put it past him to try da same trick again. Anyway, things started gradually boiling up da point Spot and Duke were at each others throats. Brooklyn was at its worst den. Had trouble with Queens on top of it all."
"So Duke challenged Spot into a fight to finish it all. He was planning it da whole time, I think. We had it on Brooklyn Bridge, with all of us watchin'. Whoever was still standin' was to either continue or become leader of us. Half of us were rootin' for Spot, da other half for Duke."
"Dat other half got thrown out," added Artemis with a smirk. "I think dey went to another borough."
"I suppose it was vicious?" I asked, "The fight, I mean?"
"Oh yeah…brutal. Dey were both good, you know, and had da same speed. But Duke was more of a knife fighter, so he sorta bent da rules by pulling one out…no wait. Was it Spot who took it off him first?"
"I forgot," Pithon admitted sheepishly.
"Dey both bent da rules, anyhow, and in da end, Spot managed to get a blade in Duke. Pretty bloody," Artemis grimaced. "But I'm glad he won. Duke was too much of a backstabber."
I whistled. "Intense," I remarked.
"Yeah," Pithon rubbed her eyes and sighed, "An' he's back, right?"
"Duke? Yeah," Artemis scowled fiercely, "Up to no good, I bet. But for now he's stayin' low."
I shifted uneasily and Pithon looked sideways at me. "He'll probably try to slither in. You know, not like, 'Haha, I've returned!', but sorta do something nasty from da back."
Her flippancy made me laugh a little, but we were rather silent the whole way to Manhattan. Pithon eventually left us to chatter on with Sodapop, who was in front of us. Artemis went to Jackal, voluntarily, so I suppose whatever they were fighting over had been resolved. I ended up walking alone, so I had plenty of time to mull over the information I digested.
Duke. I chewed on my lip and frowned. I hadn't really considered him at all, because he was merely a name, a figure in Brooklyn's past. He had simply sounded nasty and I had only vaguely acknowledged him as another one of Spot's enemies. Now he had a personality, a story, and I didn't like either. I realized I should have asked the others about him earlier.
Spot had never mentioned him and that made him more important than I thought. But then again, if he hadn't mentioned him, that meant he didn't want to me to rummage around there too much. I thought it over once more and decided to just wait and see. Duke was sure to pose as a real threat sooner or later and I simply had to watch out. I sighed. Now who would have thought being a newsie was so socially complicated?
We crossed Brooklyn Bridge at a leisurely, yet fast pace. I moved easily along because I was now used to the route. We reached Manhattan minutes later and weaved our way towards the square. It was then when I found myself in for a real shock.
As we walked, we found ourselves being trailed from behind by a few people. I turned and stared at them suspiciously. They were children, no older than we were, but all had rather grim faces. Shrugging, I turned back around. When I looked back again, I saw that the 'few people' had grown into quite a group of workers and I caught sight of some adults. We all gave each other strange looks, because it was a bit unnerving, but Spot did nothing to stop them. The people walking with us grew with every street we passed through and the next thing we knew, we were right in the middle of a huge crowd.
A slow, huge grin split my face into two. Jack's paper. The strike. It was working.
I'm not really sure what happened next. It was all a big, blurry, blur of impressions, excitement, and adrenaline. I think we were all caught up in the moment. Well, at least I was. I completely lost sight of Spot and I found myself stuck in the crowd, which had grown even more huge, and we were in front of a house someone shouted at me (Pike?) was Pulitzer's. I vaguely was aware of Jack going in with who I thought was David, the curly-haired one Spot didn't like. It was even better than the rally we had at Medda's place. Much better, because it wasn't simply newsies. There were adults, there were factory children, and also…I'm not sure…but…
Are you shocked?
Because I was.
I think it was Race who told me, but like I said, there was too much confusion. Well, whoever it was, I didn't believe him, until I caught of a glimpse of the guy myself, surrounded by admirers, and I promptly went mad. Teddy Roosevelt was here at our rally! Just that made it certain that the strike was ending, today, and it was going to end in our favor. I rose onto my toes and tried my best to look over the people in front of me.
Suddenly, there was an explosive cheer that nearly flattened me to the ground. Confused, I looked around and saw equally confused faces on Milkshake and Artemis' faces. Then, from what seemed a long distance, I saw Skittery. He was laughing (wow) and met my eyes before smiling a rare smile. He raised his hands and gave me a thumbs up. It was only then when I realized that we had succeeded. It was all over. The strike was over. I grinned back and cheered along, feeling an inexpressible emotion of delight.
I suppose this is a good place to stop my first half of my narrative and start anew, but I can't end it like this because something happened right then. I started threading my way through the crowd, looking for Spot. I was pretty much way back in the crowd, see, and had quite a way to get to the front. I was half-way through but there was one person with his back towards me who just wouldn't budge.
Annoyed, I tried to squeeze past him, but he was too tall and didn't seem to notice me. "Excuse me," I said, but he didn't seem to hear me. "Sorry, can you…"
"Um…can you please…"
No response. Very annoyed now, I took a deep breath and pushed with all my strength. "Look, can you just move!"
The guy whipped around so quickly that I stumbled back at the movement. When I saw who it was, my jaw dropped and I stared. "You again!"
Philip looked truly angry, I suppose he didn't like people pushing him. But the furious look on his face disappeared and was taken over by a surprised look, which I was sure mirrored the one on my face. "Ace," he laughed a little, "Well, I certainly didn't expect to see you."
I blinked and then nodded. "Why are we meeting like this?"
"I said, 'Why are we meeting like this?'"
He cocked his head, shook his head, took my arm, and started taking me somewhere. He somehow managed to navigate me through the crowd. I noticed with some jealousy that everyone quickly parted for him. It was rather unfair. On the way, I glanced around to see whether I could see Spot. Nope. In fact, I couldn't see any Brooklynites.
Within some time, we were out of the crowd and in an alley, similar to the one I had been in just this afternoon, talking with Spot. Philip smiled and leaned back against the wall. "So. What were you saying?"
I shook my head. "It doesn't matter. I was just commenting how weird it is that we keep meeting up with each other."
He shrugged. "I'm not sure. Maybe you're seeking me out."
I laughed, rather rudely. "No way." Then I remembered something. "You here with the rest of Queens?'
He looked startled. "Excuse me?"
I felt smug. "I know who you are."
His thin, black eyebrows rose skeptically and he crossed his arms. "I wonder."
"You're Queen's leader," I told him. "I've asked around."
He looked immensely amused. "That curious about me? Well, then you've found me out."
"So you are leader of Queens?"
"How come you said you're from the slums?"
"Because I didn't want you to know. Some people are very touchy about other newsies entering their borough."
I grinned. "Not me," I then asked, "Are you glad the strike is over?"
"In a sense. But I'm not sure it's over."
"What do you mean?"
He looked over to the crowd and I did the same. They were separating into groups now. "Boroughs come together for these kinds of things and then they split back up again. That's when suspicions start like wildfire. Had everyone been loyal? Who had not and been a sell-out? Why didn't this or that borough do this or that? Then, of course," he said, "There's that problem about Kelly. I wonder how Manhattan will take it, now that the strike isn't crucial anymore."
There was a pause between us and I felt a frown tug at my mouth. "Are you just being cynical or are you feeling bitter about something?"
He shook his head. "Perhaps both. But wait and see, Ace. You'll understand what I mean."
I bit the inside of my lip. "You're not very pleasant today."
He looked at me. "Am I at other times?"
"Yes," I told him honestly, "You are. You're actually very, very nice. I'm eternally indebted to you about the meatpie and Fire."
He broke into a laugh. "What happened to him, by the way?"
"He got kicked out."
"By Spot, I suppose?"
There was no trace of odd anger in his face when he said that and I was relieved. "Yes," I told him. "By Spot. He was being horrid again."
"At least you've done with him now," he told me kindly, and then asked, "Are you thirsty?"
"Just a little. Why?"
"Do you want to get a cup of coffee or something?"
"Oh," I was pleasantly surprised and opened my mouth to accept his offer, when I remembered Spot. I wanted to see him, see his reaction, and see how he was taking it. Going off with Philip just wouldn't do. "Um, sorry," I said uncomfortably, hoping he wouldn't be too disappointed. Anyway, shouldn't he be getting back to the rest of his newsies? "I can't. I have to go. Sorry," I repeated.
He was gracious enough to not insist and he just nodded. "It's alright. Some other time then."
"I'll see you then."
He slipped into the cheering crowd and then, before long, slipped out again, a group of newsies following him. Queens. I watched him go and decided once again that he really was a truly interesting character. I was suspicious, but I have to admit I liked him, oddly enough. Maybe someday I'll ask him what he was up to. But not as yet. I didn't know him well enough.
I went back to my original job of looking for Spot. I couldn't find him anywhere and for a second, I was worried he went back already. But that didn't make sense, because I eventually found myself back with the Brooklynites. The crowd was splitting again and it was much quieter. I asked Artemis if she had seen Spot, but she told me she hadn't.
I moved on and looked around again, trying to find that familiar blonde-streaked head. Then, finally, I caught sight of him. He was making his way towards me, and, like Philip, was easily picking his way through. He looked rather tired, but had a triumphant look on his face. His eyes lightened up when he saw me. Grinning, I waved my hat. Well, his hat.
Before long, he caught up to me and gave me one of his special smiles. "Well, Ace, I think we've done it."
"I know," I told him. "The strike pulled through."
We exchanged hats and he told me, "Fast, isn't it? How it ended?"
"Yeah. I had no idea what was going on."
"Jack and David-,"
"The walking mouth?"
"Yeah, da walkin' mouth. Dey went into Pulitzer's place."
"I know that part," I said, "But I don't know what happened, really."
"Dey talked to Pulitzer and I think all da people outside rallying hit him real hard. He agreed to Cowboy's terms. An' Teddy's taken care of some things about da refuge…"
"Yeah," he took my hand and kissed it. "You know most of dese things wouldn't have happened without you. Really owe you a lot."
"Am I going deaf or just mad? Is the famed Spot Conlon actually admitting that he needs me?"
He smirked. "Don't get too excited, Ace."
"So you predicted it all?" I asked curiously, "All this? That there'll be a crowd from what Jack had written?"
"Not exactly," he replied, rolling up his sleeves from the heat and unbuttoning one button from his collar, "But I was bettin' on it. We were all bettin' on it."
I nodded. "It was a good bet."
He rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm dead tired, Ace. Just 'bout beat."
"You have my sympathy. Let's get back to Brooklyn."
"I think I might ask Teddy for a ride back."
I stared, shocked all over again. "You're jokin'."
He raised his shoulders in a shrug and smirked again. "Who says I can't get a ride back?"
"Do you want a ride with me?"
I was astounded. "Are you actually being serious?"
"Sure I am. C'mon."
He took my hand and before I knew it, Spot was taking me towards a group surrounding Theodore Roosevelt. I tried to pull my hand out from his grasp, but he merely tucked it under his arm and drew me closer. "Spot!" I said desperately, "Don't you dare-"
Numb, I did what he told me to. Then we were right there, in front of the man himself.
"Hello, Mr. Roosevelt," Spot said smoothly, ever so suave.
He was a rather portly man, just like I knew him to be, and to a casual observer, I suppose he might have looked a little scary because of his beard and sturdiness. But he was beaming all over, and his eyes were sparkling and twinkling. He reminded me of a cheerful uncle/grandfather sort of person, but I was too nervous to smile back. Instead, I just gaped at him, while Spot brimmed with confidence.
"I don't think we've met," said Mr. Roosevelt and I hoped Spot would let go of my hand to shake his. But instead, he held out his other hand.
"I'm Spot Conlon, sir, and dis is Ashley Bennette."
He is so dead.
"Nice to meet you both," he said kindly and I managed a weak grin. Surely Spot really didn't mean that thing about asking a ride back home. Surely he wasn't that impudent or idiotic. Surely-
"I was wonderin', Mr. Roosevelt," he drawled, wrapping an arm around my waist, "Could you do us a favor?"
Oh no. It was prison. Prison or refuge, either one, for the both of us.
"If it is within my power to do so, young man," answered the man, his eyes laughing quietly at my panicked look. Spot ignored me and put on a sad sort of look.
"Ashley's got a twisted ankle, see. Just twisted it right now. Took a hard fall. I don't think she can make it, see, and I was wonderin', you've got a splendid carriage, and see, we were wonderin'…" he trailed off masterfully.
"Do you want a ride back home?"
"Is it alright, sir?"
"Naturally, naturally! Anythin' for you hard workers of New York."
Spot looked at me and smiled before turning back to Roosevelt. "We're evah so relieved, sir."
"No problem, no problem at all," said Mr. Roosevelt. Either he was genuinely kind or very, very gullible. I suspected it was the former though. "Come on, let's get you two home."
He led the way and I glared at Spot. "You lied," I hissed furiously, "An' you made me lie!"
"Darlin', admit it. You're happy."
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, so what? What if he finds out? Suppose he throws us into prison?"
"Not happenin'. You're such a marvelous limper. Didn't you see his eyes well up?"
We climbed into the carriage and I remembered just in time to feign pain. The crowd parted and I have to admit, it was glorious. For a few seconds, I felt what the rich must feel. Hearing them cheer just for you, hearing them watch you in awe. Spot took it all in a stride, leaning back in the carriage with a casual smirk, but I think I was as red as beet. The whole way back, Spot conversed with Mr. Roosevelt, as easily as if it had been one of his customers he was swindling money out of.
We reached Brooklyn and Mr. Roosevelt dropped us off at the Lodging House, sprained ankle and all. It was terrible, really, lying to him like that, but I think he saw through it. Spot waved cheerfully as they went off and then smiled widely at me.
"Are you in much pain, darlin'?"
"Terrible," I said in a deadpan voice, but I couldn't stay upset when he was looking at me like that, "I could fall unconscious right now."
"I'll catch you. Hopefully you ain't so heavy."
"Hey, no insults allowed," I told him, my lips twitching, "You'll ruin the moment."
"You know, the moment where you're supposed to sweep me off my feet and give me a staggering kiss."
He raised his eyebrows. "Is dat an order?"
"I'm not that demanding. It's a request."
And so he complied.
(to be continued…)
Author's Note: And that's the end of "Ace of Hearts"! I know it's a soppy ending, but ah well. I had it in mind to end it rather nastily, in a cliffhanger, but I changed my mind. Hope you enjoyed it and don't forget to drop a comment!
Also, there are some characters I had in the beginning of the character that I'm going to take off because they were in the CC and really have no purpose anymore because the 'owners' of the characters are no longer reading. So the ones I'll be keeping are:
If I've forgotten anyone, please tell me and I'll be sure to keep them. I'll probably be re-writing some chapters too, so after a while check back sometime.
Here's a huge, huge THANKS to all who've reviewed and read. Your support's really helped me on and I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it! The next big project would be "Paradox" and "The Royal Flush", so I hope you'll check up on both!