Everything came back to him in blurs and subdued echoes. At first he could hardly distinguish reality from his waking dreams, but he thought he perceived voices churning around him in indiscernible ripples and a hand clutching his own. His hearing and sense of touch returned only for a moment; he fell back into darkness.
The next time his mind emerged from its blissful cocoon he was hit with a wave of senses all at once. Feeling for the first time since he had escaped into unconsciousness the pain of his father's handiwork. It was slightly assuaged, but still ever-present; a persistent reminder of all that he had suffered. But still, he felt that hand clutched in his own. He clung to that feeling and longed for the trifling comfort it offered. He fell back into darkness.
As he slowly peered through his stiff eyelids, he was immediately blinded by the sudden ambush of bright light. The third time he had awakened he had finally found enough strength to stay conscious, but even the effort of opening his eyes seemed exhausting. He was extremely disappointed to find the absence of that comforting hand he had come to think of as a lifeline in his waking moments. Nevertheless, he fought against the darkness attempting to take hold of his awareness and lifted his head to survey his surroundings once again.
He was enveloped in white. White walls, white bed sheets, even outside the window all he could see was white. For a moment Spot thought he must have died and was trapped in some kind of purgatory, but then he heard the sounds of quiet voices and muffled footsteps. With a dawn of realization he relaxed. He was in a hospital room. How he had gotten there and how much time had passed, Spot had no inkling, but at least he was safe and still alive and breathing.
The footsteps drew nearer. Spot dropped his head back to his pillow and took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself for whoever might walk through that doorway. He hadn't been among friends for at least a week, and he wasn't sure if he was prepared to answer the questions they would certainly have about his terrible experiences in the time they were separate. In fact, he wasn't even sure he could stomach the idea of having to recount a single horrible detail. His father's unlikely return, the beatings, the helplessness... Spot had never felt so weak in his life and he was ashamed. How could he face his boys after such an immense defeat?
Every memory about the past week only brought Spot pain and dread. All except one. The image he held onto was her face. When she, of all people, had heard his plea for help and appeared through the broken glass of the dirty window frame, Spot had never felt so much emotion and relief. She had saved him. The face of an angel had peered down at him and grasped his hand when he needed it most. It was the last thing Spot remembered and the only thing that mattered in his eyes. He hadn't forgotten about their quarrel over the money he took from his boys, but he knew she would understand once he explained. The only thing of which he was one hundred percent certain was that he couldn't lose her. The indescribable sensation of glimpsing her angelic face when he had no hope left had helped him come to an staunch epiphany: he had undoubtedly and unequivocally fallen in love with Sarah Jacobs.
Sarah sighed as she reentered the room to find Spot's form, still slumped in unconsciousness. She tiptoed to his bedside, somehow feeling as though if she made even the slightest of noises she would disturb his peaceful slumber. Pulling up a chair she took her usual place at his side, brushing away the locks of hair from his forehead and stroking his face gently.
Spot had been asleep for three days. After he had arrived at the hospital in an array of panic and chaos, he had been taken immediately under emergency care and soon underwent hours of surgery. Sarah hadn't understood all the medical terminology or implications that had been expounded by the doctor, but she knew enough to understand the seriousness of Spot's condition. Words such as 'third-degree burns', 'infection', 'fever', and 'coma' did not descend merrily upon her ears. She remembered all-too vividly the panic that had suffused her when she was told that he might not wake up. She couldn't even fathom what she would have done. He had raged with a deadly fever that had continued to spike until it finally broke the night before. The doctor's hopes had soared as a result and he declared that Spot would likely wake within daylight hours.
Sarah refused to leave his side and had only been gone for a moment as she relieved herself in the hospital public bath. Little did she know that brief moment had been enough. As she concluded her caressing of Spot's cheeks, she let her hand tenderly glide down his arm until it rested within his palm. Intertwining their fingers she returned her hand to what had become its home in the past three days. As she did so she nearly allowed her mind to drift off into the oblivion of her musings, but the phenomenon of a trifling squeeze had her breath catching in her throat and her heartrate increasing with fervor.
Had she only imagined it?
Sarah intensely studied his face and ever-so-slightly his eyelids began to flicker. Convinced that she wasn't imagining a thing, Sarah moved to return her hand to his cheek, but as she did, she felt a familiar grip wrap itself around her wrist.
"Spot?" she half-whispered, hardly able to believe it was true. As she watched, his eyelids finally lifted, and she found, with a great deal of relief, that the beautiful sapphire irises, of which she had longed for days to catch a glimpse, were gazing directly into her own.
"Hey, Princess, yuh miss me?" His voice was hoarse from underuse and the exhausted undertones were all-too noticeable, but Sarah was so overjoyed at the sound of that old dreaded nickname that she let out an elated laugh. Immediately wrapping her arms around his neck she pulled him in for a hug as tears filled her eyes.
"Oh, Spot," she sobbed, unable to contain her pent-up emotions. Spot returned her embrace with his right arm, which was free of the bandages covering his left, and he began to rub her back in soothing circles. "I'm so glad you're okay, I-I thought…" Spot's hand paused and he froze as the air about them was suddenly thick with apprehension. He knew what she had meant to express; that she had thought he was dead. Suddenly the pair became intensely aware of just how fortunate they were to be having such a happy reunion. The situation could just as easily have resulted in a much more solemn conclusion.
"Well," Spot murmured, breaking the silence. "I's okay now."
Sarah smiled tearfully as she pulled away from him. She beheld those ocean-blue eyes, feeling deep gratitude that they were staring back, filled with life, and she felt herself shudder with delight and excitement that they were reunited at last. Of course she knew that the ghosts of the past would come back to haunt them. She could not ignore his mistakes nor the arguments they'd had, but in that moment she felt the need to push all that aside and simply bask in the happiness that settled around them.
"Spot!" The ecstatic moment was broken by voices resounding from the doorway. Les and David Jacobs appeared as the former practically leapt into Spot's arms in an encompassing embrace. Spot chuckled as he ruffled the younger boy's chestnut locks.
"Heya, Kid, what's doin'?" he asked spiritedly.
"Spot, you won't believe-"
"Oy, be careful, will yuh?" Spot suddenly complained when Les's movements irritated his injuries. "I's still tenduh." Les pulled back apologetically, but his eyes continued to sparkle with enthusiasm.
"Spot, you missed so much!" he nearly yelled. He radiated pure energy and Sarah smiled at his delight at seeing his hero awake. Les began to recount the goings-on of the past week, including everything he could possibly think of. From the little things, like what he ate for breakfast on certain days, to the bigger, like the days spent scouring the city for their lost friend, Les narrated it all. As he rambled on, the Jacobs' parents, Race, Rusty and a few other newsies entered the room. Everyone politely listened as Les spoke, who abruptly stopped after he had explained how Spot had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. His eyes suddenly expanded to the size of pizza pies and his mouth formed into a perfect little circle.
"Spot!" he whisper-yelled, suddenly gripping Spot's forearm urgently. "I almost forgot! While you were sleeping, you missed Christmas!"
Spot smirked as he let out a small sigh. "Oh, is dat all," he laughed. "Yuh had me scared for a minute, Kid, wit' all dose dramatics."
Les gave him a sheepish grin before continuing. "Hey, I'm just trying to keep things interesting. Hold on, let me go get my present for you." Before Spot could say another word, Les vanished in a flash, dashing out of the room to his unknown destination.
"Kid talks like a regular Higgins, I'll tell yuh." Spot murmured, catching Rusty's eye who winked humorously. He then turned back to Sarah and the two shared a warm smile.
Sarah found herself slipping her hand into Spot's. She could feel the eyes of the room's other occupants upon them, and she heard Mush begin to mutter quietly to another Manhattan newsie. Spot seemed perplexed by the entire situation and by the sudden tension enveloping them, and he eyed her questioningly. She simply pursed her lips and gently squeezed his hand. She would explain everything to him later, but the truth was that not everyone was pleased with her and Spot's blooming relationship, and there were some who despised the fact that it had all happened behind Jack's back. After she had admitted her newfound feelings aloud for the entire world to hear, and once Spot had reached a relatively stable condition, she and Jack had sat down for a little talk.
Sarah followed behind Jack's tense form sheepishly. She nervously fiddled with the sleeve of her blouse as he led her away from Spot's room, through the hospital lobby, and out the double-doors into the fresh air of the frisk winter evening. It seemed as though the sky was clear, the moon showed its proud face, and the stars twinkled if only for the safe recovery of Brooklyn's King, as if the whole world had been holding its breath but could finally let out a joyful noise as its mislaid son had been found.
Sarah became lost in her thoughts and nearly tumbled into Jack's rigid back when he paused. She let out a small squeak in surprise and felt her cheeks grow warm as Jack turned and raised an eyebrow at her. Shaking his head slightly, the Manhattan boy didn't say a word before leading her to a bench resting outside the hospital atrium. Flustered, Sarah attempted to regain her composure as she settled into her place next to him. She couldn't help but notice the awkward space between them and she stared down at her lap as she wrung her hands nervously.
When it became clear that Jack would not initiate the conversation, Sarah reluctantly lifted her gaze to rest upon his face. What she saw there tore her heart to shreds. Jack didn't look angry or sad, disappointed maybe, but one thing was clear: she had broken him. Jack's russet eyes no longer held the gleam of thrill and mischief they usually had, and the light in them had gone out. There wasn't the slightest trace of a smile on his lips and she swore she could hear his heart break in the way he gazed back at her.
"Jack…" she whispered. A tear slid its way down her cheek, but she inwardly cursed herself before immediately wiping it away. It was not her place to cry. She had done this. This was her fault. "I'm so sorry, I-"
Jack's face fell and he brought his hands to his eyes as he attempted to rub away his exhaustion. His shoulders slumped and he looked so small, Sarah only wanted to comfort him. She reached out to place a hand on his shoulder but hesitated midway. Her hand trembled and her lips quivered as she drew it back to her.
"I… I don't know what to say," she murmured miserably. Jack scoffed and he once again turned to look at her. Sarah froze and she flinched away from him. He was furious.
"Dere's nothin' yuh can say tuh fix dis, Sarah," he said through gritted teeth.
Sarah clenched and unclenched her hands at the way he said her name. Where once his talk of her held only endearment, now all she heard was resentment and betrayal. "I… Jack, I swear, nothing happened, I-"
"Do yuh love him?"
Sarah's eyes unveiled the truth as they once again flooded with tears against her will. She couldn't lie to him; not anymore. Her throat closed up, but she managed a small nod. He swallowed thickly and any trace of remaining hope in his eyes vanished in despair.
"Jack, I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this to happen, I-
"Sarah, I doan wanna hear it, alright?" His eyes flashed with hurt for only a moment before being guarded by anger. "All I evuh did was care for yuh and love yuh, Sarah, and dis is what I get? How long has dis been goin on? Weeks? Months even?"
Sarah flinched and she could no longer hold back her emotions. Tears cascaded down her face and she broke eye-contact, shame and wretchedness taking hold of her conscience. Jack exhaled and she saw him stand and begin to pace in the corner of her vision.
"Spot's me best friend," he said tensely. "Das de only reason I ain't kickin' his sawry ass right now." Sarah looked up through bleary eyes and gulped at the way he regarded her emptily, his fractured heart piercing her to the soul with intense disdain. If looks could kill she'd be dead at his feet.
"Somehow dat only makes dis whole ting even woise." He paused before sighing in aggravation. "But it also means I cain't do anytin' bout it."
Sarah's brow creased with confusion as he continued. "Even dough I prolly shouldn't, I still care about de both of yuhs. I ain't gonna stop yuh from bein' wit' de man yuh love, Sarah. Especially when dat man is someone like-"
His words caught in his throat as he let out a sob that he quickly swallowed and covered with a cough. Sarah's own words failed her, and she could only sit back and watch as his anger melted away, and unshed tears filled his eyes; his body wilting with a weariness no seventeen-year-old should possess; his heart shattering into a million pieces.
"Go," he said. "Yuh should be dere when he wakes up."
She didn't deserve someone like him. "Jack-"
She was cut off by the loud clang of a nearby clock tower, signaling the midnight hour. Jack raised his eyes to the timepiece and stared emptily as it finished its twelve chimes.
"Merry Christmas, Sarah," he said as his voice broke. Without a backward glance, he turned and walked away from the hospital. Filled with regret, Sarah watched his receding form until he was long out-of-sight.
"Here ya go, Spot!" Les returned with a holler, reverting Sarah to the world of the present. She glanced at Spot who was eyeing her with a confused expression and furrowed brow. She squeezed his hand once before returning her attention to her baby brother, who had reached Spot's bedside and was waving a small package in the older boy's face. Spot gave her one more concerned look before taking the gift from Les's waiting hands.
The younger boy bounced on the balls of his feet and grinned in anticipation as Spot began to tear open the paper. Sarah couldn't help but feel extremely grateful for her little brother. He was innocent and cheerful. Even though he knew that something had happened between Jack, Sarah, and Spot, he refused to let it spoil the joy of Christmas or allow it to come in between his relationships with others. After this whole escapade, Les might just be the only friend she would have left.
After some difficulty, using only one hand and refusing help from anyone at the expense of his pride, Spot finally managed to rip away the last of the paper on the present, revealing a brilliantly shining, mahogany slingshot. The wood gleamed in the hospital light and Spot studied it in awe as he ran his fingers along the shaft.
"Kid, wow, I…" Spot's eyes were as wide as baseballs. "I don't know what tuh say, dis is incredible."
A snort sounded from across the room. Sarah looked over to see that most of the others had filtered out, leaving only the Higgins cousins, and the Jacobs family in the space. "If yuh got de big-headed King tuh shut up," Race declared. "Den it must be a pretty good present, cause he's got de biggest mouth I know."
Spot grunted before chucking a pillow at Race's face, who immediately ducked. Said pillow continued its trajectory right smack into the middle of Rusty's face who hadn't been paying attention. Spot and Race both burst into laughter as their friend sputtered and turned pink.
"Alright, who did dat?" Rusty yelled. "No one makes a fool o' me and gets away wit it, so spill!" This only caused Spot and Race to laugh harder and soon Les joined in on the chortling. Rusty grinned mischievously as his eyes narrowed on the youngster.
"I do believe I found de culprit!" he said before bounding across the room and sweeping Les off his feet, flipping him over his back like a sack of potatoes.
"No!" Les yelped, giggling uncontrollably. "It wasn't me it was Spot! Put me down!"
Race faked a gasp. "Les, how could yuh blame de cripple? He prolly cain't even throw straight anymore!"
"Hey!" Spot protested before promptly throwing another pillow at Race, this one hitting its target. Race growled before picking up the cushion and aggressively throwing it back. The next thing Sarah knew, the four boys had started a full-fledged pillow fighting war, complete with barricades and two teams.
She chuckled as she moved to the side, standing next to her parents to avoid getting involved in the scuffle. The boys continued their war as the others looked on. They were surrounded by a cheerful atmosphere, but it was tainted by an adverse factor; a tension that was building up around them, just waiting to burst. As Spot suddenly slowed his movements and looked about the room in uncertainty, Sarah rested her eyelids, bracing herself for what she knew was to come.
As the question left his lips a quivering wince vibrated across her frame. "Where's Jack?"
Hey everyone! I know it's been literally months since I've posted, but life's been pretty crazy. I'm not ever going to give up on this story even if it takes like five years to write, though, so don't worry! I promise you'll be able to find out everything that happens to Spot & friends. If you read this far then I love you and you're a real one... Please favorite and review for a faster update!