Disclaimer: Most of the characters in this story are the property of Disney and are only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.
Author's Note: Well, that's the end of this story. I don't really want to say much here - I'd rather let you guys dig right in - but I just wanted to let you know that this is the end and that if you have any questions at the end, feel free to leave them in a review and I'll get back to you in a reply. Also, this is the ending I had in mind since the first word I wrote for this story and, while I wish there was a way to change it now that it's done, that would be a disservice to the fic as a whole. After all, I knew what I was getting into when I started - hence the warnings - and... well, I won't say anything else. I'll leave that to you to discover with this last chapter ;)
April 20, 1905
Spot Conlon recoiled as if he'd been hit—which, when the stain on his shirt began to blossom into a dark, glittering ruby red, David realized was exactly what had happened. The force of the bullet slamming into his chest lifted the wiry man up off of his feet; he wheeled backwards, stood frozen in time for a split second as the gun smoked and Skittery loomed and David shouted, and then fell hard to the ground.
David was shouting, screaming, yelling and somewhere, in the back of his mind, he paused to wonder who was making that dreadful noise—until he understood that he was—and why no one was coming—because no one would come. This was the sort of neighborhood where gunshots happened daily and even the youngest of children were accustomed to seeing corpses in the road. This was New York: it was dirty, it was gritty, it was real.
It was a place where bags of money could fall from the sky and where old friends pulled the trigger without even stopping to apologize.
Skittery lowered the gun just as Spot fell but David didn't even notice. It took a second for him to understand what had happened, and another for the shock to wear off enough to grant his legs the power to move. Never stopping to look behind him at Spot's assailant, forgetting entirely about that blasted pistol of his, David threw himself to the dirt, down on his knees at Spot's side.
Spot was breathing, but only just. It was laborious, a wet sort of gurgle mixed with the cheap breaths, and his eyes were barely open. He saw David, though, and his lips quirked halfheartedly in the last smirk Spot Conlon ever gave. "He got me… that bastard—"
"Liam," he whispered.
That was when the tears sprang to David's eyes. "Hush, Liam," he said, his voice throaty and thick. It burned, and he fought to keep the tears back. Glancing down at Spot's chest, he saw where the bullet must've struck. It wasn't the heart—though it was too close—but there was already so much blood. It was everywhere.
For the first time in his life David merely noted the presence of blood as a fact. It didn't make him feel any sicker—how could he feel any sicker after watching his friend… his brother… be shot? Call it denial, call it hope, but David refused to believe that a simple gunshot wound could hurt Spot. He lay limp on the ground, his head in the dirt, and David carefully lifted and moved his body so that he was sitting almost upright.
"You're going to be alright, Liam," David told him, pointedly ignoring the dribble of blood welling at the corner of Spot's mouth, "just hold on and I'll bring you home again. You're going to be alright."
It took Spot longer to answer, his eyes drooping and his breath coming out harsher than before; the red circle on his chest was even bigger. "Sure, Mouth, I'ma be fine. You… you tell 'em."
And both men knew they were lying.
Skittery watched the scene, a silent spectator. The rush of adrenaline that propelled him to pull the trigger was slowly wearing off and he watched David tend to Spot with an interested eye. There was no remorse, however, no shame, and he only waited for Spot to die so that he could use David to find out who might've taken the rest of the money. And maybe then he would shoot David, too.
And it wasn't that Skittery liked shooting people, really. But the little money that was left was still strewn across the ground and he wanted it. Besides, David knew too much. He'd watched as Skittery pulled the trigger and shot Spot—and there was something in Skittery's self interest that told him it was a bum idea to leave any witnesses alive.
But at least he would leave David's pretty little wife out of all this. And making her a widow seemed like he'd be doing her a favor.
David searched his pockets frantically for a handkerchief, anything to stop the blood, but found nothing; he thought longingly of the dishtowel he'd pressed against Vanessa's palm during breakfast and wished he'd thought to bring one with him. But why? Why would he have? No one prepares for something like this.
Watching Spot bleed out, David thought he should've been prepared.
It had been a couple of minutes, far too long, and no one was coming. The blood wasn't stopping. Spot was hardly breathing anymore. And still… David felt like he had to do something. There had to be something for him to do. Except that there wasn't.
This time he was almost hysterical. "Don't talk, Sp-Liam! Save your strength, alright, just hush!"
"It's okay… 's not your fault."
It seemed to take all the effort he had left, but Spot managed to open his eyes and look straight at David. There wasn't blame there anymore, there wasn't the sadness that had kept him weighed down this past year—no, there was something else. It was acceptance. David felt his heart break; he felt his heart stop.
"At least… I'm gonna…" Spot shuddered and, as those cyan eyes of his closed one last time, he breathed out a simple word: "Sarah."
And then he was still.
Spot Conlon was dead.
Spot died in David Jacobs' arms, and there was a peacefulness in his death that struck David as ironic; Spot had never been this at peace before, but he died with the softest of smiles on his face. He looked young, too, no worry lines and no anguish. And, well, that was because he was young—no one should die at twenty-one. Spot—Liam—Conlon hadn't even really lived yet. Why should he have died?
It was about the money. It had always been about the money.
Half of it, missing! Spot, dead!
Spot, who'd lost his life because he took the money to save his wife's. David wanted to take it all for Vanessa. Why was he still standing, just because he hadn't had the nerve? Who else was too greedy that they couldn't wait? Maybe that's how Jack was able to fund his trip to Santa Fe all those years ago. Oscar said he didn't want it now, but he sure wanted it then. And Race… Race's big mouth had brought this all on them—
—except it wasn't because he let slip about the money that he lay rotting who knew where, David understood. It was because there was any money in the first place that three men were already dead. Race, Oscar, Spot…
David felt dead, too.
Slowly, almost regretfully, he moved his body out from underneath the weight of Spot's. He was a small man whose very life made him large and David was surprised by how light he was and how easy it was to maneuver him. It was pointless to hold onto the body, David realized, and as a chill coursed down his back, he remembered the threat lurking behind him. But he didn't hurry. He took his time as he let Spot lay on his back, pausing to position his hands neatly over his torso.
Then, only then, did David turn around and confront Spot's murderer.
He didn't really know how it all happened. One moment he was staring down the barrel of the gun, the pistol was cocked with a sickening click, when suddenly the smell of gunpowder and the tangy, rust of blood filled the air and now there seemed to be no one else in the world anymore except for Skittery Daniels and David Jacobs.
At least he knew one thing: he knew who to blame.
Skittery was watching, his eyes darting from the spilled money to the haunted look on David's face and back. They were alone—not even the gunshot and David's screams were enough to get anyone to walk down this street as late as it was—and his palms itched, he licked his lips, tempted to drop to his knees and scramble for whatever money he could grab. It wasn't as much as he expected, but it was enough.
David was standing stock still, pain written in his eyes, a grim frown tugging on his lips. He wasn't blinking as he stared accusingly at Skittery, and he didn't say anything either.
Skittery broke the silence first. "How 'bout you, Dave?" he asked in soft, quiet tones. "Did you take my money, too?" And then he chanced a smile. "Nah, ya never would've had the stones for it."
The money… the money… the money…
His taunts rang like the echoing clang of an old grandfather clock; the leering smile on Skittery's face lent him strength. Then he did something neither one of them had ever expected: David dove at Skittery, jumping like a spring, throwing his entire weight against Skittery's legs.
And Skittery, whose eyes had strayed to the dirt one final time, watching the money instead of watching David, he didn't know that David had launched himself at his feet until his knees buckled and he tumbled, falling to the ground, trapped beneath David's weight. The wind had been knocked out of him, surprise at David's move overwhelming, and Skittery gasped, forgetting anything and everything except for the horrible sensation of falling.
He forgot to keep his grip on the damn gun.
The gun clattered against the dirt, landing just out of Skittery's reach; the metal hitting the ground was a jarring sound, reminding David and Skittery just what they were fighting for. Both men scrambled, untangling their limbs as they moved, each one desperate to be the first one to grab the gun. The knife was too far out of reach—it had to be the gun.
David succeeded first.
Skittery's taunts, Spot's last words, they all echoed in his ears. For years, Spot had been keeping an eye on him because Sarah wanted him to, but David had done his best in that time to watch over Spot in turn. He'd gone searching for Spot in the saloon when it seemed like Spot was going to back out of his wedding to David's sister, and he'd even found Spot lurking in the same bar four days ago…
Maybe he never should have.
Spot would still be alive.
"Whatcha gonna do, Dave?" Skittery asked, breathing heavily as he followed David's lead and slowly climbed to his feet. His fancy hairdo was mussed, long strands of once-curled hair falling into his eyes—eyes that were narrowed on the gun David now held. "Gonna shoot me? Gonna kill me?"
It was a struggle, but David kept his voice cold. Emotionless. Dead. "You killed Race. You killed Spot."
"And Oscar, too," Skittery added with a wry sort of grimace. "He was a Delancey, but we can't forget him."
"Why?" demanded David. He poised his finger over the trigger, a silent warning.
David lifted the gun a little higher; he set his lips a little thinner. "I said why, Benny."
Skittery looked almost shaken, like he was surprised to hear such a question. Because, his expression seemed to say, wasn't it obvious? "It was the money, Dave. I wanted it and hell if I wasn't goin' to do everything I could to take it."
David sighed; it was a sigh of disbelief, a sigh of disgust. "All because of money…"
"It's money makes the world go round," Skittery shot back.
It was the last thing Skittery Daniels ever said.
David never knew if Skittery aimed that way on purpose, shooting Spot just above his heart to give him time to bleed out, to make both men suffer before he finally died. He never would've thought of Skittery as cruel before that night, but it seemed the sort of thing this Benny fellow would do.
David couldn't aim. He couldn't make Skittery suffer the way he longed to.
He shot him straight in the heart, a lucky shot.
Skittery fell in a crumpled heap, dead before he hit the dirt.
In a daze, he propped up Spot's lifeless body against the brick wall, taking care to position him in a respectful pose; if it wasn't for the bullet hole and the bloodstain, he could've been just another of New York's sleepers. His hat had shifted when he dropped and David carefully rearranged it, placing it over his heart instead of on his head. He couldn't look at the blood anymore.
He left Skittery in the dirt.
Skittery could rot on the side of the street for all he cared, but Spot… he deserved a proper burial. That much he knew. No matter what happened next, David was going to make sure he came back for Spot's body. Maybe he would ask Jack for help—if Jack wasn't already dead, too. It seemed like everybody was dead, so why wasn't he?
He didn't know what he was… but he knew where he had to go. He couldn't stay in this alley a minute longer. Sooner or later he would remember himself, the shock would wear off and David would have to come to terms with the fact that he'd just seen Spot Conlon shot to death—and killed a man himself. There was blood on his hands, Spot's and Skittery's, and more. If only he'd had the sense to turn that money in five years ago instead of hatching such a ridiculous plan… if only he had forgotten about it all…
He meant to drop the gun back to the dirt, leave it behind until he could come back for Spot, but he didn't. As if the metal was welded to his shaking fingers, the gun was still in his hand as he started the long, dazed walk back home.
This time there was no one to stop him from going to be with his wife.
It was late. There was a clock in the kitchen, and Vanessa could see that it was already well past eleven. She didn't expect David and Spot home just yet—they'd told her at dinner that they would be out late—but she was waiting up for her husband regardless. The more she thought about it, the more she couldn't wait to sit him down and talk to him. To apologize for the way she'd been acting, to tell him everything (well, maybe not everything), to admit that they would need the spare room at last…
It was late. She didn't know how much longer she would have to wait, but when she heard solemn steps as they led down the hall to her apartment door, she wondered if David had finished his secretive business up sooner than he expected. Then she heard the footsteps stop just outside, and hoped it was him. But the door didn't turn and the footsteps didn't go away and Vanessa's heart started to beat a little bit faster…
And then she heard the knocks. Three short knocks.
Vanessa felt her stomach drop, and not in the good way that usually preceded Jack's visits. What was he doing there? She was in her nightdress but she refused to answer the door wearing only that. She didn't want to give Jack the wrong idea—their affair had gone on far too long as it was—so she returned to her bedroom first and grabbed a robe from her closet. Only then, when she was as proper as she was going to be, she went to the door. After one long, deep breath and a whispered prayer that it was just David, knocking because he thought the door was locked, Vanessa opened the door.
Another breath followed, a sharp intake of air. There was Jack, looking as roguishly handsome as always. A charming smile flashed across his face when the door was pulled inward; his eyes adopted a wolfish sort of look when he caught sight of Vanessa in her robe.
He cleared his throat, running his hand along the back of his neck. "Is Mr. Jacobs in?"
Vanessa sighed; there was no hint of the grin she wore the last time he asked the same question. "You know he's not. You wouldn't have dared come if you thought my husband was in."
Jack nearly flinched at the harshness of her tone; he actually did flinch when she called David her husband. She was right, too. He did know that Spot and David had left the apartment earlier—he'd been watching, waiting, and when it seemed like they wouldn't return for quite some time, he finally made his move.
It was just that he never expected her to react so poorly to his arrival. And to think he'd assumed her behavior yesterday was explainable. Then again, maybe it was. Vanessa certainly didn't seem happy to see him just then, either. A scowl that marred her pretty features, the hard set of her jaw, the way she crossed her arm over her chest as if protecting herself from him… this was hardly the Vanessa he remembered.
But even Vanessa's displeasure at seeing him now didn't stop him from asking, "Well, then can I come in?"
"I…" She fiddled with the band on her finger, a nervous twitch that ended with her palming the ring and dropping it into the front pocket of her robe in one quick, unnoticed motion. Old habits die hard. Still, she murmured, "I don't think that's such a good idea." Hundreds of reasons ran through her mind: It was late. David could be back any moment. She didn't want to do this anymore. Spot already knew. She loved her husband… hundreds of reasons ran through her mind but, confronted with Jack Kelly, she discovered she couldn't say any of them out loud, so she settled on asking, "What are you doing here?"
He shrugged, moving closer as if trying to push past her and into the apartment. "I had to come."
"Why?" she asked, firmly standing her ground. Unless he actually pushed her, she refused to let him in. Her heart may have wanted nothing more than to hold him, but her head was in control. She knew what she had to be done. It was the only option left for both of them. They weren't kids anymore, and it was time they started to act like it.
Jack had already figured something was different but it took Vanessa purposely keeping him from entering the apartment for him to understand just how stupid it had been to come by. But he had to. "Look, I've been thinkin'… y'know, ever since ya sent that note about Spot knowin', and then the way ya left me in the street… what does it matter? Maybe they should know. I've come for you, Nessie. I've come to ask you to leave with me."
He held his hands up, interrupting her before she could get any further. No matter what, he'd come to say his piece, and he wasn't going to leave until he did. "Dave's been real good to ya, but I couldn't leave knowin' I didn't try. I never should've left you in the first place, I should've stayed… I'm sorry. But that doesn't change how I feel. You wanted to know why I never could face David? 'Cause I'd have to tell him I'm in love with his wife, that I want her all for myself. Maybe I'll tell him anyway. You could come with me then."
"You're leaving?" There was hesitance there. Her fingers intertwined, fidgeting, and, suddenly, Vanessa couldn't look at him anymore. Because the truth was this: regardless of everything else, she still didn't want Jack to leave.
Jack nodded. "I can't stay here. I got something to do tomorrow night, so does Dave, and I could tell him then. We could be happy, Nessie, we could start over. I'll have money, real money… I could take care of you. We could be a family."
"I… I can't."
"No," she said, and there was something in this conversation that reminded them both of the last time they spoke in her bedroom. Except, this time, it was Jack trying to convince Vanessa to stay with him. "I can't."
She bit down on her bottom lip, not quite meeting his eye. "I… because I'm going to have a baby."
"Hey, mister? You okay, mister?"
He heard the boy, the incessant nagging of a child too young to be out on the street this late, and ignored it. The David Jacobs he'd been when that evening started might've been touched to see the street urchin worry for him. He might've even offered a penny and a gentle guidance that the child shouldn't be caught out on the street.
But not now.
He moved slowly, like a phantom, apart from the world around him. He was home with Vanessa, he was back at Duane with Spot, he was everywhere and nowhere and he felt the insane urge to curl up into a ball and cry. It was slowly starting to register, everything that happened, but he didn't want to understand. He didn't want to understand what repercussions childish foolishness could have all these years later, and he didn't want to understand how much of it was his fault.
How many men had died because of him?
With every step he took, the guilt grew and grew. The soles padded heavily against the dirt. It's your fault. His breath echoed in the still, empty night. You did this. The voices of anyone else were drowned out by his own insistence. You killed them all. The way he saw it, sixteen year old David could've prevented all this if he hadn't let greed get the better of him. Twenty-one year old David was paying the price for it now.
Still, he kept moving forward. He knew there was only one place left for him now. He promised Vanessa he would always be there for her. He promised he would protect her. It didn't matter that Skittery was dead—his threat lived on.
He had to get to Vanessa.
It was like all the air had been knocked out of him. Jack exhaled roughly, rocking on his heels like he'd been struck, before he recovered, a handsome grin stretching across his tired face. "What? That's… that's great!"
But Vanessa, it seemed, didn't think it was so great. With her hands wrapped protectively around her midsection, her lips turned down in a serious frown, it was obvious that something was wrong—and, suddenly, Jack knew what it was: she didn't know. She had doubt. No, not about the baby… about the father. Vanessa was expecting a child but she wasn't sure if the father was her husband or her lover; after all, he first arrived at her doorstep nearly two months ago… it was possible, wasn't it? No wonder she'd been so off-color lately. He should've remembered her symptoms from the past. He should've been expecting this. She'd only gotten worse in the last week, really losing her appetite and withdrawing from everything in the last few days. How long could it have really been?
He should've known, but he didn't. Still, there was absolutely no doubt in his mind about the identity of the child's father. Jack was being given the second chance he always wanted. "It is great, Nessie," he said, reaching out and taking her hand. She stiffened, tensed by his touch, but she didn't pull away. "We really could be a family: me, you, and our baby."
At that, she did take her hand back. Vanessa shook her head, snorting under her breath. "A family… that's all you ever wanted but something you would never let yourself have. We could've had that once, but you didn't want it then. What makes you think it would be different this time? I know why you left before, Jack, you was scared—"
"I was not!"
"You were," she said simply, "and I forgive you for your cowardice. You brought me to David. And I already have my own family with him. He'll make a great father."
"But what if—"
"It won't matter," she interrupted decisively. There was no room in her expression for any arguments. "You're leaving, you said so yourself. I knew that's why you came back even before you said it. You're leaving and that's okay." And it was, she realized with a jolt. He was leaving, and it was the best for both of them.
Jack wasn't ready to give up entirely just yet. "I want you to come with me," he said again, his words feebler this time, his insistence only an echo.
Vanessa looked up at him, meeting him dead in the eye, for the first time since he arrived at her door. There were soft lines on her face, a well-meaning frown, but a hard, searching look in her eyes. Maybe, Jack thought, maybe she hadn't changed so much after all. "No, you don't," she said at last. "You think you do—but, tell me, would you still want me to come with you if I wasn't David's wife?"
Her question hit right at the heart of things. Did he love her because she'd been Vanessa Sawyer or because she was Vanessa Jacobs? He'd never thought of it like that before—and he refused to think about it like that now. It should be enough that he wanted her at all. Why bring David into it?
Besides the fact that David had been involved since the beginning…
"Davey always had himself a family," Jack said after a few seconds of telling silence. "Do ya know… I think I hated him for it. They invited me in, the Jacobses treated me like one of their own, and I think I always hated David a little for it. To know he has you, too… it's too much, Nessie. Why should he have it all?"
"Because he worked for it," she told him honestly. "Because he deserves it."
"And I don't?"
Vanessa didn't answer. She remembered a time when that pout, that lost look would've been enough to get her to lift her skirts—but not now. Jack hadn't grown up. He still wanted to be the seventeen year old boy he'd been when they met, but he couldn't be. And she couldn't allow his grudge with an old friend ruin three—no, she thought, four—lives.
Jack understood her silence as the answer she meant it to be. But, still, he wasn't ready to leave. "Can I have a kiss before I go?" he asked, sounding as sincere as he could, trying his best not to sound like a letch.
That threw her. She wrapped her robe tighter around her, followed by her arms, a warding gesture. "A what?"
"A kiss? For old times' sake? You'll… you'll never see me again, Vanessa. I gotta make it last." And he tossed in that winning smile the captured a young laundress's heart more than five years ago.
At that, she relaxed. She traced her lips with the tips of her index finger, frowning though it was only a quirk away from being a smile. "You were always the charmer," she murmured.
But when Jack's chocolate-colored eyes sparkled mischievously as he removed his hat and leaned in for a kiss, she found herself a little more than willing to fall prey to his charms.
It was like one of those nickelodeons, the moving pictures Les liked to go see. From his place at the end of the hall, David watched as the scene unfolded. He watched as the dark-haired, broad-chested man in the cowboy hat removed it and, his arm reaching around the slender woman, pulling her close, bowed his head in order to kiss her. Hesitantly at first, then with more force, she tilted her chin back and kissed him as hungrily. Her left hand reached up and threaded itself in his thick hair, and if that didn't hurt David enough, the sight of her bare finger was the last straw.
Vanessa had her hand out, her hand pressed to the back of another man's head, and he could see that she wasn't wearing her ring.
For the first time that evening, David felt the nausea return. His stomach turned, the back of his throat burned, but there were no tears now. He was beyond tears. He was beyond grief. Anger, though, anger he felt and, as he watched the two of them—so involved in their kiss, they never even knew he was there—he felt far angrier than he'd ever known. Worse, he felt betrayed. His wife and his old friend, sneaking around behind his back. It was like one of those dime novels Sarah used to read… except those stories always had a happy ending.
Not this one, he vowed.
It was over a year ago that they got married and he gave her that ring. He'd promised her everything—he'd promised her even more than that long before he knew she felt the same… but did she ever?—he'd promised her the moon and the stars and his undying devotion.
She promised to be his and his alone—
Vanessa broke her promises. Why shouldn't he?
Somewhere around him, David Jacobs heard the clock strike twelve; it might've been the apartment down the hall, it might've even been inside his head. But it wasn't the right midnight. It wasn't the twenty-first.
But it was, wasn't it?
The midnight bell tolled, bringing the twenty-first of April in with it. Five years to the day, and who was left standing?
Who would still be standing when the midnight bell tolled again?
He looked down at the gun in his hand, a ghost, seeing it, feeling the weight of it against his palm, but hardly aware that it was there at all. It was heavy, so very heavy, and he remembered exactly what Skittery had said—
Five bullets, he'd boasted. Five bullets had been inside the barrel when the night started.
He lifted the gun, slowly, slowly, holding it out in front of him, shaking. He didn't even remember bringing it with him as he went home but now, suddenly, it all made sense. He held the gun out, and neither Jack nor Vanessa saw him do it. It nearly dropped to the floor and after a moment's pause, he used his second hand to steady the gun. And he aimed. It was easier this time.
Her gasp, her shout, it pierced him, hitting straight to his heart as if he'd been shot instead. Gunpowder covering his hands, the skin tingling from the vibration of the metal, he lifted the gun again. He'd promised her the world, but what of her promises? She'd promised to love, honor, obey… but what did marriage vows mean when a wife removed her wedding band?
She turned towards him, crying, pleading, "David, please, no—"
He refused to listen now. He was done listening.
Her scream echoed in his ears even after she fell. It reminded him that he was still alive, no matter how dead he felt inside, and he knew then that there was nothing else he could do.
Strangely enough, he wasn't worried at all.
'Til death do us part.
The mouth of the pistol was reassuringly cool against the feverish skin of his temple. A sheen of sweat slicked the underside of the trigger, his finger nearly slipped off, but he held onto it and, after one quick breath, his finger tugged.
- stress, 10.05.10