Oh hey! I finally updated! Kinda feels like these stories are my zombie babies. _

Ch 19 – Spork

Oh, Ben.

I mean, what else do you say about your big brother when he's spilling your story to the boy whom you are currently not sure how to feel about? I think that's what he's doing anyway. All I've heard so far is "if you've hurt her…" something something I couldn't make out through the wall. Spot at least doesn't know that my room's right next to the kitchen.

I took a deep breath to steady myself and leaned my forehead against the cooler wood of the door. Back in pants and a loose shirt, with the face paint off, I felt more like myself. Walking home with Spot had been…nerve wracking, to say the least. Worst of all, I didn't even know if he was okay with me calling him Daniel. I had just guessed that he wouldn't want to be called Jonathan, and calling him Spot while the strike was going on and to a police officer also seemed like a bad idea.

So I went with Daniel. Daniel Conlon.

Honestly, it sounded a lot nicer than all that pretentious shit. I can't imagine the weight of carrying an inherited name around. Oh wait…

"Ben! I'm starving! Feed me!" I hollered, exiting my room and rounding the corner. They had clearly been in a face off – which was dumb, because Spot and I aren't anything anymore – but Ben turned around with an easy smile that looked like Brett's. Spot shifted uncomfortably by the spice rack. Wow, Ben must've really said something good. I'd have to ask later.

"Didn't you eat earlier, baby sister?" Ben asked affectionately. I wrinkled my nose at his pet name.

"Those were snacks, and you've been cooking. Feed me," I demanded again. I held eye contact with Ben while Spot cast his gaze around the apartment. I narrowed my eyes as Ben quirked an eyebrow. Eventually he rolled his eyes and turned back to the stove.

"Here, grab a plate and some pasta. Tonight's spaghetti night," Ben said. He absentmindedly scooped up a full plate and covered it in the meaty sauce. I spied mushrooms in the sauce, too. Ben knows I hate them.

"Here Spot," Ben offered. Spot started and looked at Ben confusedly. He eyed the food almost warily. Considering all that Ben had probably put him through tonight, I wasn't surprised.

"What?" Spot asked carefully, his trademark sarcastic drawl leaking through the edges.

"It's food. You eat it," Ben said, just as sarcastically, still holding out the plate. "Forks are in that drawer," he gestured with a finger, "and you can shove whatever off the table. Now hurry it up, my arm's getting tired." (Such a lie, he cooks, cleans, chops, and lifts things all day. No way he's tired from holding a plate for five seconds.)

Spot seemed to catch on, as he said, "No thanks." Then, after a pause, "I don't like mushrooms."

Also a lie, I've seen him eat them before. Although, maybe someone had dared him to do it.

Ben quirked an eyebrow in an "oh don't tempt me" look. "So pick 'em out. It's what Shorty does every time." I scowled.

"Don't call me 'Shorty,' Ben," I muttered. "I'll soak ya." A shimmer of something that almost looked like pride flashed through Spot's eyes and was gone. Ben was still holding out the plate, and Spot still had his hands in his pockets. I never really noticed before, but that key of his hangs in the perfect spot (hehe) on his chest…

"An' I need ta get back," Spot finished.

Ben shrugged and went to fish out a fork. "Alright then. Nice doing business with you."

Spot muttered something that sounded like "I'd like to do 'business' with you," (but I couldn't be sure) before tipping his hat and walking out. Since Ben had gone to grab a fork, Spot was forced to walk right by me in the small kitchen. I squeezed myself against the wall until I thought I would turn into the wall. All that was left when the door clicked shut was the smell of kitchen spices, ink, river water, and a faint hint of soap. Spot must've gone swimming earlier and washed up after. Not that I'd know something like that or anything.

Ben looked at me with raised eyebrows – he seems to do that a lot – and offered me a fork. I accepted with a sigh and dished up some dinner. Those were totally snacks earlier. The sound of books thumping to the floor – he should really be more careful – was heard as the spaghetti pooled onto my plate.

We ate in mostly silence, with only the sound of a fork scraping against the plate occasionally making one of us cringe. When we were both nearly done Ben asked,

"So, are you going to follow him?"

I sighed. "I don't even know if I should, Ben. I mean…he wouldn't really look at me on the way over, he didn't talk…"

"That could've just been because you were giving directions," Ben stated sensibly. I shrugged.

"I ran into Thomas." Ben's eyebrows almost disappeared into his hair that had started falling into his face again. His brown eyes sparked with curiosity and mischief.

"And how did that go?" His tone of voice implied a showdown. [Eyeroll.]

"It was fine. I had to give Spot a different name."

"Why ever would you of all people have to do something like that?" Ben drawled.

"Ben. They're on strike right now. The whole friggin' city's probably got reason to arrest any one of them! Especially, Spot! He's the leader of a whole borough for cryin' out loud!" Yeesh, you'd think someone as smart as my big brother would understand this kind of stuff.

"Exactly," Ben said, pointing at me with his fork "Spot's gypped you, and you want to protect him? Girl, I thought we taught you better than that." He picked up the last of his spaghetti and finished it before taking a long sip of his wine. I put my fork down, no longer very hungry, before trying to explain.

"Big brother, I can't just sell out an entire borough just because one stupid boy is acting dumb," I said exasperatedly, trying to give Ben my best "duh" face. Ben smiled at me.

"You've grown up," he said, his voice full of pride. "Used to be if a boy made you mad, you'd make him regret it. And in more ways than one." I cringed.

"I'd like to think that I've grown up a little bit more than that." I sighed. "I don't know…I'll go talk to him eventually. It's not right, or fair, to have Emotions be our go between."

"Maybe you should just punch him in the face," Ben pondered. He sounded almost wistful, like he wished he could do it himself. My nose wrinkled so hard at the thought that it almost got stuck.

"Yeah, uh, don't think that would go well," I retorted. "Now, I need some sleep. Everyone's gathering in Manhattan tomorrow to try and figure out another way to get Jack back. G'night." Ben waved to me as I retreated with my thoughts to my room.

Punch Spot in the face. I mean really! The last time I'd done something like that, I'd been fifteen.

I was asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.

"You're rather cold for a girl, you know," the boy informed me, his usually well-bred polite tones clipped as his brown eyes glowered from under well-trimmed brown bangs. Normally he looked so dapper in his home, especially against the dark polished wood of his own personal study (a gift from his grandfather, he'd once proudly told me). But now disgust warped and distorted his normally pretty, smiling face into a twisted mask of hate. The tight curls of his hair were transformed into monster who's smoky body was clinging desperately to his scalp.

15 year old me stared, bored, back up at the accusatory eyes. Part of my mind, realizing that this was a dream, settled back to watch the theatrics that were about to ensue.

"So…do ya want an apology or sumthin'?" I had asked, purposely speaking in a manner similar to those of the docks to oppose his clean speech. Hair that was close to falling over my shoulders was itching my neck, so I reached a hand up to scratch it. Halfway there, though, his hand reached out to smack mine away. I glared, angered that this half-wit would think to interrupt me.

"See?! Do you see this?!" he cried, throwing his hands up in defeat. "You care about your hair more that you care about the fact that I'm leaving you." He shook his head and ran his own hand through his hair. "You know, I don't know why I ever thought that I could win that bet with James. Honestly, do you even know how much I'm about to lo-"


"Son of a-!"

"You wanted to bet on a girl like me?" I sneered, cold ice to his raging inferno. I shook my hand – which had just connected solidly with his nose – and wiped it off on a handkerchief I'd kept in my skirt pocket. "You thought you could get something more than a few kisses out of me?" The boy was scooting backwards on the seat of his neat britches. His brave escape was cut off by the solid wood of the door as his back smacked into it with another nice "thunk."

"Let me tell you something, lovey," I whispered, squatting down to his level and leaning in close with one hand braced against the door. As my eyes flicked through his, they picked up traces of anger, resentment…and fear. A small inward sigh was released as the realization that yet another boy was going to end up on the list of mere playthings, not someone who could actually be a companion to me. "If you had wanted something real from me? You should have been real yourself."

I walked away from the last "boy" of mine as he hurled curses and insults at me.

Early morning, next day

As someone who was not technically part of any borough, since Brooklyn had kicked me out and Manhattan hadn't really claimed me back, I wasn't obliged to be at the distribution center at the same time as everyone else. However, arriving "fashionably late" didn't sound as appealing in reference to a rally as to a dinner party. Plus, Manhattan was friendlier territory than Brooklyn right now.

Okay, fine. Correction: Manhattan's "leader" was currently a nervous pile of jelly in human form, which is easier than dealing with icy cold steel in human form.

I really need to fix this thing with Spot. Later. But before the strike ends.

Banners and picket signs were strewn around the street as the newsboys and girls rallied around the distribution center's gates. The day was sunny, with a promise of scorching heat later, but something about this crowd made it feel like my veins were filled with ice water. Maybe it was the fact that Jack's easy, always smiling, open face wasn't there at the head of the group. Maybe it was the fact that, instead, there was a pair of snapping, cold, grey eyes darting everywhere. When they seemed to spot (I need to find a better word) me, I almost turned and ran for Harlem. But no one ever accomplishes anything by just running away, so instead I turned and lost myself in the crowd of jostling bodies until I found the motley bunch that I had begun to think of as my family. Sparrow, Blade, Colt, Cat, Sparks, and even Pirate welcomed me into their odd little group as if I'd never been kicked out of Brooklyn. As if I was still truly a newsie.

The group picked up noise, turning their individual chants into a group roar as the scabbers walked out of the opening gates. Then they started to go quiet as a new boy walked to the front of the line with Weasel.

No. No, not a new boy. Jack. Jack stepped to the front of the line as whispers and murmurs started to ripple through the crowd, starting in the front where some had a clear view. By the time it hit those of us in the back, smaller kids were being hoisted onto shoulders to see was the hold up was. As they were lowered to the ground to pass along the news frowns of worry turned to frowns of anger.

Somewhere to my right I could hear Spot yelling at Jack, enraged that his closest friend would betray him like this. As I turned to look, I wished I hadn't. Several Manhattan and Brooklyn boys were dragging Spot back, physically restraining him from getting to Jack and carrying out the threats that everyone knew he would. Spot Conlon doesn't stand for betrayal. As he shrugged out of the hold of his restrainers, his eyes flicked over and met mine. My eyes widened as his narrowed. Spot turned back to face Jack with a sharp tug of his shirt.

David was saying something, but I couldn't hear him over the rushing roar of my blood pounding through my head. Spot was barely twenty feet from me, again, and yet we weren't even looking at each other. My chest tightened with either rage or remorse, it was hard to tell which. It was too much to deal with.

I know I made some excuse to my friends, because my mouth moved and my throat vibrated, but I don't know what I told them. I don't even know if I really said a proper goodbye, I just started running for Brooklyn and one of the few sanctuaries I knew of. Each slap of my feet against the pavement sounded exactly the same as a physical one.

Tired, out of breath, and feeling dangerously close to passing out from exhaustion, I crashed through the side door of a small church nestled between two shops. Well, it wasn't really nestled per se, as it took up the majority of the block it was hosted on, but it was kind of cozy in its placing none the less. Leaning against the cool marble of a nearby pillar, I slid down to the worn wooden floor of the church and let loose a few wracking sobs before settling into a quiet flow of tears.

Footsteps of feet clod in well-shod shoes echoed throughout the hall, from the ceiling whose paintings I had memorized after hours of staring at them to the tiny corner I was sitting in. It wasn't necessary to look up to see who was approaching; this church might look sizeable for something in the middle of Brooklyn, but few people actually maintained it. Besides, Father Amon always wore the same type of shoes, ever since I had first stumbled into this place eight years ago.

"What in heaven's name is all this racket? And – oh my word, child, are you alright?"

I'd glared at the slightly chubby man who was approaching my hiding space. His shirt and pants, both black, were made of a sturdy cloth; the only decorations were the brass buttons with tiny crosses. Round glasses sat in the middle of a rounded face on top of a bulbous nose. He was going bald on the top, with only some black hair shot through with white clinging to the sides of his scalp. Sturdy black shoes carried the feet that quickly shuffled towards me as kind, worried, grey eyes fixed onto my arm. It was dripping a few drops of blood onto the relatively clean floor, the results of one of my clumsy first street fights.

"Whaddya want old man?" I'd growled.

"Good afternoon, Father," I muttered through my stuffed up and sniffly nose. One of his warm broad hands came to rest on my shoulder. I turned my doubtless red-rimed eyes to peer at him as he squatted down next to me, his joints creaking at the effort to do so. He was also a little thinner, and his crown was almost completely bald, but that had never bothered him. Life was never kind to those who deserved it, although his eyes were just as kind as the first day I'd met him as an ungrateful little street urchin.

"My dear," he said softly, knowing that I hated when someone said "my child," eyes peering deep into mine. "What on earth has brought you here this time? I fear it is not a happy circumstance, else wise your eyes would be clear." He fished in a pocket for a handkerchief.

"Thank you," I blubbered into it, blowing my nose. After a few good honks I said, "And you're right, it's not happy news. I can't do anything right."

"Well, that's no good," came the kind reply. "Why don't we go into my office for a nice cup of tea? Then you can tell me all about it." He stood with more creaking and popping before offering me a wrinkled hand. I just shook my head and stood with another harsh honk into the handkerchief.

"Do you still take your tea the same way?" he called from the back room that held a small stove, a kettle blackened from much use, and a cupboard full of various teas. The room had been built a few Christmases after a rather generous, anonymous, and insistent donation to the church. My family never said thank you directly.

"With plenty of honey, yes, please," I called back, considerably less choked up. I looked around the tiny office he held. There were a few new books – mostly for the children he taught letters to – and a new landscape of a small church nestled in the countryside. After a few minutes Father Amon carefully shuffled out with matching mugs. Steam rose and curled from them, an unpleasant reminder of how hot it was outside, but the tea was welcome nonetheless. This time it was a blueberry flavor, wonderfully accented by not too much honey. I smiled.

Father Amon smiled back, his eyes crinkling into the deep laughter lines that were already there. "So tell me, what manner of terrible mischief have you gotten yourself into this time?" There was laughter in his eyes even while his eyebrows snapped together. I giggle before sipping some more of the tea.

"Just some boy troubles," I murmured, the steam curling through my eyelashes and bangs as it rose towards the ceiling. Now the eyebrows lifted ever so slightly.

"My dear," Father Amon said gravely in that wise-sounding tone of his, "I should hardly think you've turned into one of those common girls whose parents drag them here for a confession after they've been rejected." I snickered evilly into my tea. Understanding and kind Father Amon might be, but long on patience for those who repeatedly threw themselves into the same kind of silly trouble he was not.

"No, no," I reassured him. "I joined the newsies this summer."

"The news-? Ah, yes. One of the younger ones is always kind enough to bring me a paper each morning."

"Yeah, well, the younger ones are the only nice ones. Their leader kicked me out."

"For what reason?"

"It's…complicated. Stuff happened."

A reproachful look crossed over Father Amon's face. "Dear girl, 'stuff' always happens, and as a result the reasons are always complicated. Now, do you think you deserved what has happened to you? Do the reasons compel this leader to act in such ways?"

I huffed at my tea, sending ripples that bumped against the porcelain and disappeared. "No. Yes. Maybe. A little of both." Father Amon's eyes crinkled up again.

"A little of both can happen. It never ceases to amaze me how people think of our world as only black and white, when there are so many beautiful shades of color all around us."

"I did something…that ended up hurting the leader. My leader. My…friend."

"And have you apologized?" Father Amon asked kindly. How he manages to never sound accusing or reproachful I'll never know.

"I'm not the only one at fault here!" I protested, forcefully placing the cup on his desk before crossing my arms and turning to stare at the painting. Spot's face as he hurled his banishment at me swam up before my eyes, causing them to prick with unshed angry tears. "He's exactly the same as me! No, he's worse! But because I'm a girl and I did this to him, suddenly it's the most terrible thing in the world. It's not fair." A sigh wafted itself over the space between us.

"Artemis, when have you ever known life to be fair?" I shrugged, still not looking into the kindly eyes that sat across from me. "I can imagine that you are feeling wronged right now, am I right?" Nod. "This might be hard to hear, but perhaps you should be the one to apologize first." This time I turned to fix Father Amon with an incredulous and angry stare.


"Yes, my dear. You. I have never met someone your age who is as good at bringing people together-"

"You should meet some more people."

"-but who is also so very, very good at pushing people away. You need to let go of your anger, before it becomes you." There was true concern in his voice, and I reluctantly turned to face him. Tired eyes – more tired than I've ever seen – stared so deep into my mind that I thought I'd split in two. I sighed.

"I'll talk to him."

"And I'll pray for you." I rolled my eyes at that. There are things and people who are much more deserving of being prayed over.

Exiting the church, I turned as I always to look at the street sign on the corner. How fitting was it for such a nice little place to be on a street named "Pleasant"? I snorted at the thought before walking towards the docks. If I was going to talk to Spot, it would have to either be in front of everybody, or in front of nobody.

Two blocks before the docks would come fully into view, a tiny kid with flaming red hair stopped to tell me that Spot wasn't currently in Brooklyn, and that he wouldn't be back until much later. I nodded and flipped him a coin for his troubles.

"Well, might as well go and get some battle armor," I muttered to myself, headed for the restaurant.

Much later, around 10 o'clock at night

I eyeballed the brick wall before me with a mixture of apprehension and adrenaline. It would be a rush to break into the King of Brooklyn's room, although probably also a hell of a fight. I knew that Spot didn't sleep in the boys' main room, but a small one off to the side. It was more of a closet, really, with a cot and trunk shoved in there. The small window to it was cracked open, inviting any small breeze that might enter.

A breeze wouldn't be the only thing entering tonight.

Years of learning how to break into houses had prepared me to shimmy and scrape my way up to the second story, although months without practice made it difficult. Several times I almost slipped, unable to properly grip into the rough-cut stones. Leaning an arm on the windowsill, I scrapped open the window before pulling myself up and through. Landing lightly on the floor, careful not to squeak any floorboards, I looked to the bed where Spot wasn't sleeping. About to take a step towards the door, I felt a blade slide just under my jaw, tilting my head back.

"Tell me why I shouldn't either slit your throat or just throw your body back out this window," Spot's low and murderous voice came from behind me. He was close enough that I could smell the lingering scent of a cigarette on the breath that tickled the nape of my neck. I swallowed, licking my lips to wet them before replying to a furious King of Brooklyn.

"Because King of Brooklyn or not," I growled at him, feeling the slight jolt of surprise run through the blade at my voice, "I can take that blade from you in a heartbeat." There was a light snort.

"You break into my room, have a knife at your throat, and think it's a good idea to sass me?" Spot asked, incredulous. With a roll of my eyes I gently pushed his arm away and stepped to turn around.

"Funny how you always like to come from behind, Spot," I said. "Too afraid to face me properly? You knew exactly who was coming through your window the minute I put my hand on the ledge." Spot snorted – again – and placed the knife back under his pillow.

"You need ta leave. Now." It was an order, not a request.

"No." When Spot turned to face me, I glared back defiantly and lifted my chin. I just wished the moonlight wasn't coming in so bright, because apparently Spot doesn't sleep in much. As if hearing my thoughts, he turned and rummaged in the trunk to grab a pair of pants.

"I told you to get out of Brooklyn," Spot said as he buckled up his pants and looped the suspenders around his shoulders.

"Yeah, uh, tough. Cuz I live here." Spot glared. He marched forward the two steps it took to traverse the room to lean in close. Almost nose-to-nose, I couldn't help but remember some of the last times we had been this close. His lips, though slightly chapped, had felt so warm and inviting against mine. His tongue –

"Leave this place," Spot hissed. I quirked an eyebrow. His tongue definitely hadn't done that.

"No." As Spot lifted his head and exhaled in frustration, eyes tearing around the room for a way out, I grabbed his face and turned it back to mine. "Face me, King of Brooklyn."

Spot's eyes widened in fury and he smacked my arm away. I let him have his little victory. Without another word he threw on a shirt, redid his suspenders, shoved his cap onto his head, and opened the door.

"Don't make a sound," he whispered angrily through the dark.

"Wouldn't dream of it," I muttered under my breath.

Spot lead us up another story, to a small wooden door that unlocked with one of the two keys that always hung around his neck. Not waiting to see if I was keeping up, or if I had left, Spot quietly yet angrily stomped his way up the crooked wooden stairs. Whatever else I might end up saying about him, the boy's got some skills. Hastily I followed, equally quiet. The same key opened the door at the top to reveal the dark sky. Spot marched out and disappeared.

When I emerged a moment later, he was standing by the short wall, lighting a cigarette. The small flame of the match burned just bright enough to reveal new lines of tension that hadn't been there at the beginning of the summer. Seeing me watching him, Spot scowled and threw the still-burning match on the ground, stomping on it angrily and grinding it with his toe. I crossed my arms and waited.

After a few short drags, Spot spat out, "So, why haven't you left yet?" I rolled my eyes, although he wasn't looking at me, but at a cat several roofs over.

"I live here," I reminded him in clipped tones. Spot exhaled a cloud and tapped his finger absent-mindedly against the cigarette. A tiny city breeze carried some of the smoke over to me, so I coughed and made shooing motions with my hands. Turning, a look of concern briefly crossed Spot's face before resuming its mask of betrayal.

"Why are you here," he said in clipped tones.

"We need to talk," I replied calmly, crossing my arms. The knives in my arms pressed uncomfortably against my skin, but it wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as trying to reason with the pissed off newsie in front of me.

"I already said my piece, and-"

"Yes, and it was very cute, but I didn't get to say anything." Spot snorted.

"Your brother said plenty for you, don't worry," Spot drawled as he took another drag. "Something about how I'm just sore because you played my game better." He shook his head.

"Isn't that it, though?" I asked, cocking my head at him. He glared, but it didn't scare me so much anymore. "I mean, really, it's not like you're that much better than me. Frankly, you're being a bit of a sexist ass."

"Listen, Artemis," Spot growled, "I don't take kindly to people betraying my trust." I could tell he wanted to stomp forward, but the urge to just keep away must have been even stronger. I lifted my chin in a challenge. Spot barked a laugh and shook his head, turning away to keep smoking. My eyes narrowed at the display of arrogance. This was not the boy I had come to know over the summer. This was not the street kid who had led me home all those years ago. This was someone who was twisted and turned around, his head so backwards I wondered how it had gotten to be like that.

Sorry, Father, I thought to myself as I started closing the distance between us. Spot started to turn his head at the sound of my footsteps. I think my way of letting my anger out is a little different than what you had in mind.

As I stepped ever closer, Spot's eyes started to narrow and his mouth started to open (doubtless to berate me again). When the distance was a little more than another step's worth I pulled my fist back, only to let it fly with the next step right into the King of Brooklyn's jaw.

Hope you guys enjoyed that and will leave a review with your thoughts!

And everyone worrying about either ArtemisxPirate or ArtemisxSpot pairings: calm ye selves! It will be resolved! Eventually.