AN: Okay, well this was SUPPOSED to be a oneshot. But then I started writing… and I just have to continue it. Stress, I hope it's okay that I stole your character, because I definitely didn't ask permission… hee. Anyways, without further ado… the prologue. Let me know what you think!
The stormy grey of the water seemed to reflect his eyes, a solid opaque shade that offered the rest of the world nothing. No glimpse into his thoughts, no inkling as to what kind of person he might be. Just a cold glance that could make even the bravest soul shiver.
A smoldering cigarette was dangling from his fingers, and he lifted it, taking a long drag, his eyes stinging as the smoke drifted across them. He sighed, blowing the smoke from his lungs as he did so and tossing the spent cigarette to the wood of the docks, grinding it out with the toe of his black shoe. He shoved his hands into his suit pocket, allowing himself one more moment to take in the view, before turning away from the docks. The place he used to spend his days, reigning over the newsboy population of Brooklyn.
He walked away from the docks without a glance climbing into the black motorcar that had been waiting for him, and nodding silently to the driver, who steered the car easily onto the road, taking him up to Manhattan. Spot shook his head, inwardly marveling at how far things had come since his days as a newsie in Brooklyn. The city had changed since his last visit, leaving him with a feeling of unease. He didn't like change, he liked control. If he was the one moving the pawns around, and changing the playing field, then that was all well and good, but it was a different thing all together when things changed without his consent.
The car stopped with a jerk, and Spot shoved the door open, motioning for the driver to stay in the car, "Leave, I'll call a car when I'm done here."
"But sir-" the man's protest was cut short by a single look from Spot, and he swallowed nervously, ripping his eyes away from the younger man's gaze and staring straight ahead, nodding, "of course, sir."
Spot closed the door to the car, reaching up to straighten his tie as he walked through the iron gates of the cemetery. The sky was overcast, and the air felt thick as he moved to the corner of the lot, where a fresh grave presided; its rich overturned earth breaking the continuity of the otherwise lush green cemetery.
He'd missed the ceremony, having no desire to see any of the old crew. Or maybe it was the other way around, though he'd never admit to that. The cemetery wasn't empty, though, and Spot hesitated, though for only a moment, before making his way across the graveyard. He stilled beside her, and felt, more than saw her stiffen at his appearance. He kept his eyes down, kneeling briefly beside the new headstone, resting his hand lightly on it as he read the engraved words.
Francis Jackson Sullivan
May 11, 1882 – April 13, 1921
He stood, clearing his throat a little, finally turning to look at the other woman, who had remained still as he paid his respects to his fallen friend. "Stre—Jess," he corrected himself, meeting her green eyes with his own, "I'm—I'm sorry I didn't make the ceremony."
The woman shook her head, "No you're not." She replied, lifting a hand to brush a stray curl behind her ear. "You know as well as I that you didn't want to be there. Couldn't even make on last sacrifice for him, could you?" Her words were biting, but her voice lacked its usual vitality.
Spot nodded, not bothering to deny it, "No, I guess not. But let's be honest with ourselves, Stress," he continued evenly, unable to keep himself from reverting to her old nickname, "You didn't want me here anymore than I wanted to be there."
Stress returned his gaze, studying him for a moment before replying, "Maybe not. But it wasn't about me. And it wasn't about you," She uttered a short, bitter laugh, "oh, but I've forgotten, everything's about you, isn't it, Spot Conlon?"
Spot's eyes flashed at her, and he turned slightly, breaking eye contact, and wiping his hand across his mouth, as if to keep his words in check.
Stress just shook her head at him, "I don't even know why you bothered to come at all. You didn't care about him. You just cared about yourself. Like always."
Spot spun back around, his eyes snapping, "Yeah, is that what you think, Stress?"
"Yeah, it is. You disgust me, Conlon. None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for you!" Stress's voice was rising, tears threatening to spill from her already reddened eyes.
Spot actually recoiled at the words, gritting his teeth so hard he felt as if he might crack one, "Don't you think I know that, Stress? Don't you think I haven't thought about that nonstop, ever since it happened? Huh?!"
Spot dragged his hand through his hair, pacing a few steps away from her, attempting to pull himself together. He swallowed a few times, knowing that if he tried to speak his voice would crack, giving away more than he wanted to. He cleared his throat again, whispering his next words without turning around.
"I'm sorry, Stress."
"You're sorry?! Sorry?!" Stress's voice followed him, and he could hear the swish of her skirts through the grass as she strode towards him, leaving the grave of her husband for the first time that day. "Is that what you are Spot? 'Cause you coulda fooled me!"
Spot bit the inside of his cheek, willing himself not to react rashly, which is what he would have been doing had it not been the widow of his dead friend who was yelling at him. "Look," he snapped, the muscles in his jaw twitching, "I know exactly how much this is my fault. But you can't pretend he didn't have anything to do with it. You know as well as I—better than me, in fact—what kind of a person Jack was. And he had just as much to do with it as I did."
"Yeah, you're right, Spot. I did know him better than you. And I know that he wouldn't have had anything to do with that monster of a man if it hadn't been for you. And now you come back here—like nothing ever happened—like you have any right to come back here—" the words that had started so strong and biting became weak, her voice broken with sobs as she tried to hold herself together.
Spot softened, for just a moment, taking a step towards the girl and reaching his hand out, resting it gently on her shoulder. Stress immediately jerked away from him, the anger shining from her eyes mingling with her tears, "Don't you touch me!" Stress roughly brought her sleeve across her eyes, dashing away the tears that had managed to squeeze out. She swallowed hard, before speaking again, "I don't ever want to see you here again." Her voice was low, her eyes trained on something behind Spot's head. She forced herself to meet his eyes one last time, before turning away, and leaving the cemetery.
Spot watched her go, holding his tongue, and letting the grieving woman go. She didn't know the whole story. He doubted anybody knew the whole story, except for him and Jack. But now Jack was gone, and he was the only one left who knew the truth. He sighed wearily, sinking down onto a nearby bench, and dropping his head into his hands, allowing his thoughts to wander back to an easier time.
"Heya fella's! Look who's here! It's Spot!" Crutchy grinned widely at the boy, patting him on the shoulder as he limped past, his weight supported mostly on an old wooden crutch.
Spot's eyes swept the room, easily taking in its small details as he searched for one person in particular. Jack Kelly. He finally saw him, sitting at a small poker table towards the back of the room, his girl Stress sitting at his side. As Spot approached snippets of their conversation weaved in and out of the other voices, and loud noises that accompanied a card hall.
"C'mon, Jack," Stress wheedled, trying to get a look at the cards in Jack's hand, "let me see what you've got!"
"Not a chance," Jack replied, lying the cards face down on the table, and dropping his hand down on top of them, "last time I showed you my hand you told everyone what I had."
"Well," Stress replied, trying to look innocent, "I thought it was strange! I've never seen anybody get a whole hand of those little clover things!"
Jack threw his hands up, "It was a flush! And their clubs, not clovers!"
Stress rolled her eyes at the boy, "They look nothing like clubs. They look like clovers. But fine, have it your way. I'll just go sit with Morning Glory and Rogue, where I'm welcome." She wrinkled her nose at him, and he laughed leaning over to kiss her on the cheek before she made her exit.
Spot raised his eyebrows as Stress left the table, lowering himself into the seat she'd just vacated, "A flush, huh?" He asked as a way of greeting.
Jack snorted, "Yeah, can you believe it?"
"That's why girls shouldn't be allowed to play poker," Kid Blink commented matter of factly, carefully counting out a few coins before tossing them into the pot, "Call."
"Don't let Rogue hear you say that. She'll clean you out, Kid, the way you play," Racetrack goaded him, tossing his own coins in carelessly, "I raise."
A collective groan went up around the table, and Mush tossed his cards in, "I fold. I have to be able to actually eat tomorrow."
Skittery sighed, studying his cards as he considered what to do. Spot leaned over towards Jack, taking the lull in the game as an opportunity to talk to him. He kept his voice low, making sure none of the other boys could here, "We need to talk. Privately."
Jack glanced questioningly at him, having caught the unmistakable tone in his voice, and nodded his agreement. Skittery finally tossed his cards in, folding his hand, and Jack did the same, before pushing back from the table. "Well, that's it for me fella's. Try not to let Racetrack win it all, will ya? It's not good for his ego."
Racetrack grinned, "It's good for my pockets, though."
Spot nodded his head towards the door, and Jack followed silently, glancing back only once, in time to see Racetrack sweeping the collection of coins from the pot into his ever growing pile.
Spot led him to the front door of the building, silently leading him into the chilly night air. He reached into his pocket, frowning when all he pulled out was an empty box of matches. Jack sighed, pulling out two of his own cigarettes from this pocket, and lighting one for himself before handing the second one and his box of matches to Spot. Spot accepted it, lighting the bummed cigarette, and shoving the box of matches into his pocket.
Jack remained silent for a moment, waiting for Spot to speak, but after several minutes of silence he grew impatient. "Alright, Spot. You got me out here, now what's all this about?"
Spot glanced over at him, taking one last drag from his cigarette before dropping it on the cobblestones, barely taking the time to grind it out. "What is it your doing now, Jacky boy? Working in that factory, right?"
Jack rolled his eyes, "Yeah, Spot. I'm still working in the factory. Just like I was yesterday. And the day before… What's your point?"
Spot shoved his hands into his pocket, studying Jack's face with his clear grey eyes, "How'd you like to try something different? Guarantee you'll be rakin' in more than that pocket change you're gettin' from the factory."
Jack furrowed his brow, "What are you talkin' about, Spot? I thought you were workin' down at the docks. I know you aint makin' more than me down there."
"Yeah. I was workin' at the docks. But I quit, 'bout a month ago. I found another… line of work. And it's been doin' me well, Jacky boy. I just thought you might like a piece of it."
Jack raised his eyebrows, his brain was screaming that something wasn't quite right, but he shrugged it off, questioning Spot further, "Another line of work, eh? Like what?"
"Well, it's kind of like those messengers."
"You're kidding, right?" Jack asked, holding back a snort, if only for respect of his friend. "You want me to quit my job at the factory to become a messenger boy?"
Spot remained quiet for a moment, fixing Jack with an even stare, "Yeah. I guess I do."