Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Disney and are only used for fan related purposes.

His Last Cigarette

Santa Fe, my old friend,
I can't spend my whole life hiding—

He didn't do it, but who the hell would ever believe him? A city slicker, a yankee, a smart-mouthed kid from back east who just looked like he had wandering hands and sticky fingers. He looked different, he sounded different—he didn't belong.

So of course he did it.

They found the girl's body, broken and mangled and barely hidden in a ditch. She was a rancher's daughter, a local girl and the hunt was on immediately. A mob was formed, the rancher in the lead. They went from door to door, badgering the drunks, bullying the bums, looking for someone, anyone who might have an idea what happened—what happened or who was to blame.

Their search led them to the only saloon in the small town on the edge of the big city, a place called Sally's, where a young man was just laying down his head; it was his third night in town, the third night since his train rolled in and he had nowhere else to go. He was eighteen, nineteen at the most, good-looking, strong. A stranger. He talked funny, pegged as a city boy at the one, and he even tried to crack a joke before he realized how deadly serious they were.

And then he tried to run.

He was never even accused of the vicious crime; the fact that he tried to run was all the evidence the mob needed. The rancher called for justice—vigilante justice—and a rope was produced before the boy could even ask why he was being dragged to one of the biggest trees he'd ever seen. The mob wanted justice, the rancher wanted blood, and no one cared if he was an innocent man. He didn't belong and that made him guilty enough.

New Mexico was an American territory but that didn't mean lawlessness ran rampant. Quite the opposite: the mob wanted justice, but the lawmen disagreed in how it was to be carried out. The boy wouldn't be strung up—but he would pay for his crime.

They threw him in jail, a two-cell room that stank of piss and was even narrower than the room he rented over at Sally's. He tried to tell them he was innocent, that he never even met the girl he was accused of killing, but no one listened. No other perpetrator was found—they weren't even looking—and he was kept out of the mob's reach while the lawmen decided what to do with him.

It was a small town on the edge of a big city and they'd never had anything like this before; the cells were mainly for the drunks to sleep off a night after they'd gotten too rowdy or for men who didn't like to pay their debts. But murder? The cells in this case were to keep the townspeople out over keeping the prisoner in.

After a few days, he stopped trying to proclaim his innocence. A wire back east already told the lawmen more than they ever wanted to know. A record at the House of Refuge on Randall's Island, a phony name, a shady past… if they weren't convinced he was guilty then, they sure as hell were sure now.

The execution was set for dawn the next morning.

They gave him a last meal fit for a king, out of guilt perhaps, or because they thought it made it right somehow, what they were going to do to him. Either way, it was more food than he'd ever seen in his life—but he couldn't eat it. How could he? He knew what was coming, he knew what fate had in store for him, and he refused the meal. The steak made his stomach turn, the potatoes made him weak, the cornbread made him yearn for the stale loaves the nuns used to hand out every morning.

He never should've left New York.

There were shackles on his feet and his hands were tied together behind his back. The sheriff himself led him out where the townspeople gathered to watch but he kept his eyes on the dirt. He was oblivious to their calls and their cries and their lies. He would've thought he'd been called worse in his life, but how could he beat being branded as a murderer?

They offered him a final smoke. That he didn't turn away. His nerves were twanging, his heart heavy and sad under the weight of all this injustice though he was strangely used to it by now, but he opened his mouth and accepted the hand-rolled cigarette the deputy gave him. The tobacco was stale, the paper certainly different from what he was used to, but when the match was struck and the flame placed against the tip, it momentarily revived him. He felt alive, if only for the moment, and he wondered how far he would make it if he tried to run again.

Then he remembered the shackles and the binds and the mob chanting to see him pay in blood for that poor girl's life and he knew that this was what happened when a good-for-nothing Irish boy from Manhattan tried to chase his dreams.

Except… except he would've done it all over again, wouldn't he?

Before the blindfold slipped down over his eyes, Jack Kelly got one last look at the place he always dreamed of going and had only just arrived at. He didn't see the five good, local boys holding the guns, he didn't see the crowd surrounding him, the rancher justified. He didn't see anything except the wide, bright sun overhead and the barren dry land that surrounded him.

Then, defeated, alone, wrongfully accused… he took one last drag off his cigarette and braced himself—

Santa Fe, wait for me.

End Note: This short piece is written in realization of CB's 37th birthday today. I haven't written a Jack-centric fic in a bit and, well, this wasn't a very cheery story at all, but sometimes it's a little more rewarding to go in a different direction, hm? I've had this story idea for awhile - my own personal spin on a Jack in Santa Fe fic - but the words just seemed to flow today. I hope it came out somewhat close to the way I saw it in my head!

- stress, 01.30.11