Author's Note: Wow. Last chapter. I'm sort of sad it's over.Well, another thank you to everyone who reviewed; reviews always make my day. I hope you enjoy the ending.. it's a little corny, but who doesn't love a cute bittersweet ending? Enjoy.
They reached the pier. Spot knew that's where his boys would be, and he wasted no time in leading his friends there. As he predicted, all the Brooklyn newsies were waiting at the dock. Lunch Money shuddered as they walked across the wooden planks. A blast of chilled wind stung her cheeks and made her eyes water. It must have been past midnight, and the temperature was dropping with every step the newsies took. The rushing water beneath their feet looked deathly cold and perilous. With all the snow beginning to melt, the river was muddy and overflowing onto the usually dry banks. It was a cloudy night; moonless, so that it was almost impossible to make out the newsies waiting at the end of the pier.
"Hey boys." Spot greeted his followers, stepping forward, "All a' ya did good. I'se proud a' ya. We'se was all pretty worried when it looked like you'se was sidin' wit' Snydeh—"
"Who said we ain't sidin' wit' Snydeh?" One boy asked, interrupting Spot. Spot did a double take. That had never happened before. That was the first thing you learned whie living in Brooklyn: if Spot Conlon is talking, it's always in your best interest in listening.
"Look, Conlon," Another boy said, hostility flavoring his tone, "We'se already talked in oveh. We agreed ta help Manhattan bust you'se guys outta the refuge, but this is as far as it goes. We'se done takin' ordehs from ya, Spot."
Automatically, Spot's hand flew to grip his cane, his expression fierce and unforgiving. The seven Manhattan newsies shrank back, giving him room, wary of his temper.
"Excuse me?" He growled menacingly. The Brooklynites flinched. They'd almost forgotten exactly how intimidating Spot was.
"Ya hoird us." In the darkness, Spot couldn't identify who was speaking. It didn't seem to matter though; all the newsies clearly felt the same, "We can't beat Pulitzeh and Hearst. They'se got us. Now we'se hidin' from the law thanks ta you."
"Yeah." Another kid jumped in. It was Double Time, one of the boys who hadn't sold out for Snyder. Even those kids were against Spot now. "It was different befoah. We didn't mind fightin' fa' ya when we knew you'se was puttin' Brooklyn foirst. Now it's different."
"I'se always put Brooklyn foirst!" Spot claimed indignantly. Everyone knew, that of all the borough leaders of New York, no one cared more about his territory than Spot Conlon. He'd devoted his life to keeping the street rats of Brooklyn in order. "How can any a' ya's say different?" His temper, which he'd been so desperately trying to hold back, was starting to get the better of him.
Double Time shook his head, "Nuh-uh. Think about it, Conlon. Last time we was in trouble, what'd ya do? Ya went straight off ta Manhattan... lookin' fa' her." The other newsies made adamant noises of agreement.
Spot's breath caught in his throat. Her. Lunch Money. They were right. They were absolutely right. The newsies of Brooklyn depended on Spot to make them his priority. That was the price of power; Spot had never had a life of his own, his life was Brooklyn. Keeping things in order, making sure his boys were okay. A conversation crept into his memory, miserably torturing Spot with the irony.
"Ya take everything too poirsonally." He remembered telling Lunch Money "…Ya let personal feelin's interfere with everything ya do."
That was his mistake. He allowed personal feelings get in the way of business. He should never have gone to Manhattan to talk to Lunch Money. He should have stayed in Brooklyn where he belonged—he was needed in Brooklyn. He'd neglected his duties. Spot suddenly remembered why he had been so afraid when he first realized he was in love with Lunch Money. Why he had been so terrified. This was why. Losing power, losing respect. He should have remembered that he couldn't have Brooklyn and Lunch Money. One of them had to come first.
Lunch Money closed her eyes, feeling a blush creep into her cheeks. This was her fault. Spot's gang didn't trust that he would fulfill his obligations as their leader. She couldn't blame them. As the leader of Brooklyn, Spot couldn't afford to have a girl distracting him; he couldn't just flit off to Manhattan because of a relationship crisis. Lunch Money felt she should have known it was all too good to last. She should have stuck to her denial. She and Spot should have continued the flimsy charade of hating each other. It was easier. If Lunch Money had followed through with her original plan of ignoring her feelings, she doubted she would hurt this much now.
"We was willin' ta fight fa' a leadeh when we knew he'd do anything fa' Brooklyn." Double Time told Spot seriously, "Now we ain't so sure."
"You'se…" Spot was having trouble believing what he was hearing, "You'se want me ta choose?"
The Brooklyn newsies nodded.
"Her or us."
It was like an electric current had passed the through the Manhattan newsboys, the way they stiffened and shuffled in concern for Lunch Money. Lunch Money herself didn't even move. She just stood, her eyes still closed and her head bowed. Her heart was pounding her ears. Racetrack laid a bracing hand on her shoulder. This was exactly what he had been concerned about. Since he'd overheard that conversation between Nix and Lunch Money, more than a month ago, Racetrack knew that his sister was the one setting herself up to be hurt. The pier was dead silent, waiting for Spot's answer.
It sounded like an impossible choice. If he left the Brooklynites, the newsies were over. No one else was willing to fight against Pulitzeh and Hearst. The brotherhood would be scattered, even further than before. They would have to go out and find real jobs. The boys that once made up New York's most formidable force would just be apprentices or clerks who happened to have some skill with a slingshot. The future of the newsboys was in his hands.
Her or us.
Despite the weight of this decision, Spot barely had to think about his answer. He turned his back on Brooklyn and went to stand with the Manhattan newsies. The Manhattan boys shot triumphant grins at each other, anticipating Spot's choice. But Lunch Money hadn't noticed, her face still pointed deliberately toward the ground and eyes shut, keeping back hot, stubborn tears. Spot had reached her side before she realized what was happening. He put his hand under her chin, gently tilting her head out of its bowed position. Then he said, quite clearly, not taking his eyes off of Lunch Money:
"I choose her."
Lunch Money felt at first that she didn't quite dare to believe him. But the next second she thrown her arms around him grinning through the few tears that had insisted on sliding down her cheeks. Spot returned the embrace, feeling unreal. This couldn't be happening. He'd had the chance to continue his rule over Brooklyn, and he walked away. There was no regret in his actions.
The Manhattan boys exchanged displays of glee, bubbling with happiness for Lunch Money. Even Racetrack couldn't help grinning broadly. The Brooklyn newsies watched coldly. But no one paid them any notice. As Lunch Money leaned in to kiss Spot, a peculiar thought crossed her mind. Mush was right, she thought, about bein' in love. Theah ain't a feelin' like it in the woirld.
"So, this really is oveh." Jack said. It wasn't a question. "None a' us are newsies anymore."
The other's nodded mournfully. They were in familiar surroundings. The alley of 86th street. Jack and Spot knew they couldn't take their friends back to the Brooklyn lodging house, not with Snyder working tirelessly to hunt them down. So they returned to the relatively safe alley where the Manhattan gang had spent their first weeks in Brooklyn.
"Yeah." Kid Blink sighed, "We'll haftah get real jobs now, huh?"
"I guess we had ta grow up sometime." Spot shrugged giving Lunch Money a sly smile as he quoted her own words.
"But what are we gonna do now, Jack?" Boots asked, looking frightened at the many obstacles their now-mysterious future might hold.
Jack shrugged, "I dunno, Boots. I guess we'll figure that out tomorrow. Let's get some sleep."
The former newsies made themselves as comfortable as they could in the unforgiving January weather. Spot and Lunch Money were both slumped against the cold brick wall of the alley, trying to nod off. They would need all their strength for the coming days. The days spent dodging the police and finding proper places to sleep.
Spot put his arm around her, and she leaned into his chest, falling asleep almost immediately. So complete was their exhaustion, they forgot to even be self-conscious about so obviously displaying their affections in front of their friends. Lunch Money's subconscious was thankful to for once not be troubled by her fears and problems. Anything that she needed to worry about could be worried about tomorrow. Right now she felt safe and protected.
Lunch Money had spent most of her life being looked after, being protected. Being looked after by Racetrack, by Jack, by Kid Blink. Spot was different, though. It was a nice difference; like Spot was looking after her because he wanted to, not because he felt obligated or irritated at what happened if he didn't keep an eye on her. And that was more than enough comfort for her to sleep through the night.
Spot lay awake a few minutes after Lunch Money had fallen asleep, thinking. He hadn't expected that his reign over Brooklyn to end like this. In the end, a rival newsboy from Midtown or Queens did not supplant him. Spot didn't grow up and retire his post to one of his trusted boys. He had walked away from Brooklyn and newsiehood willingly. He had walked away from the opportunity to give their resistance against Pulitzer another shot. All for some girl. No, not for 'some girl'. For Lunch Money.
Lying there, cradling Lunch Money in his arms, Spot was brought back to that night, so many weeks ago. The first night they'd spent together, after he'd rescued her in that alley; Spot remembered how afraid he had been. He remembered holding Lunch Money, terrified of his feelings and worrying about the consequences of those emotions. Now, everything had changed. Spot was no longer frightened. Maybe he should have been, given what was to come in the following months. The next year would bring it's own set of strife: hiding from Snyder, trying to eat, trying to stay healthy and warm. Not to mention a dangerous set of circumstances that no one could have foreseen. But none of that mattered tonight.
He pulled Lunch Money closer to him, laying his head on top of hers. She was his to take care of now. Spot liked that thought. Right then, a hackneyed (one might even say mushy) epiphany struck him: Everything he had ever needed was now sleeping in his arms. He closed his eyes, and soon Spot too had drifted off to sleep.
Author's Note: Never fear! Did you really think I was going to end Lunch Money and Spot like that? They'se is just gettin' started! I've given it a lot of thought, and I've decided to write a sequel to "Once and For All". I'm feeling mischeivous, so I'll give you a little teaser summary of "Twice As Deep":
While hiding out from the law, Racetrack Higgins meets the one person who could change his life forever. Cassie Arden is funny, gorgeous and sophisticated, but Racetrack knows he could never get a girl like that. But just as the impossible seems attainable, things go awry not only for Racetrack, but for Spot and Lunch Money as well. Because Cassie Arden knows the secrets Spot has been hiding, secrets that finally shead light on his mysterious past.
The first chapter should be up sometime in the next two weeks, after I organize all the plot details. Hope you check it out!