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.

Obsession: Cuts like a Knife

Jess was just about at her wit's end and, worse, she didn't know what to do about it.

Shielding her eyes against the bright May sun as it hit its peak, she could tell that it was growing even later and later and yet she was still waiting for some sign of an answer from Spindle about how their morning selling had gone. Because she assumed selling wasn't as important as giving Spindle a chance to get to know her, Jess had only bought twenty papers to peddle that morning and they were long since sold; Spindle sold at least double, easy, and even her hands were empty. But rather than tell her one way or another if she'd been accepted into the gang, Spindle insisted that the two make a quick rounds of Spindle's territory, wiling away the time until she had to go meet Rip.

Except, it had been at least another hour since then and, apart from mindless chatter about who that corner belonged to or headlines that really hooked the customers, Spindle kept to herself. She seemed lost in thought, absently running her pointer finger across her bottom lip every time she glanced over Jess's way again.

Jess hoped that Spindle's silence was a good sign but couldn't be so sure. She felt like she was on display, Spindle judging everything about her, from her appearance to her attitude to the manner in which she just followed her down the street. Knowing her every move was being analyzed made her nervous and clumsy; she nearly tripped twice and managed to walk into one brick corner, tearing her sleeve and scraping her arm as she did. Spindle chuckled and Jess grimaced, and neither said another word as they continued on their walk.

Until the younger girl just couldn't take the heavy quiet any longer. In an attempt to lighten the mood, she groped for any topic of conversation that might stop Spindle from eyeing her like a farmer checking out a newborn calf. She thought back to the distribution center that morning, to Spindle's arrival and a pair of icy blue eyes. And then she had it.

"So," Jess wondered out loud, "how long have you known Rip?"

Spindle stopped in her tracks, tensing as she did. "Why?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why are you askin' about Rip?"

Jess heard the venom in Spindle's voice and knew she had asked the wrong question—even if she didn't know what was so wrong about it. She gave a nervous little laugh. "It was just… you seemed so close this morning. I've heard the other girls talking of him as your beau and… I was only wondering, Spindle. I'm sorry."

"Oh." Spindle tossed her head back like a wild stallion—momentarily appeased but there was no guarantee that that would last. "My beau, that's right, and none of you girls had better forget it."

The jealousy was obvious and something Jess had been expecting. Grace told her the week before that Spindle warned every girl in the Home to stay away if Rip ever came to town and now that he was there… "I'm sure none of us will," Jess said solemnly, a bit of hope sparking at the word us. Maybe she'd passed Spindle's test after all, she thought, and when Spindle started walking full steam ahead again, she made sure to keep in step.

It wasn't too much longer, though, before Spindle broke the quiet herself.

"Two years."

"Two years?" repeated Jess.

"Yeah," Spindle agreed, a hint of a smile coming to her face. "You asked me how long I'd known Rip. The answer's two years."

When Jess thought that the topic of Rip was one Spindle enjoyed discussing, she was right. Now that Spindle was sure enough that Jess was as warned as the rest of the Far Rockaway girls, she had no problem boasting when it came to Rip Divenize.

"We met when I worked for Cecilia over in Harlem. Rip was stayin' at the Harlem House then and, what can I say? We just hit it off," Spindle explained, assuming Jess knew the reputation of either Cecilia Rayner's brothel or the infamous Harlem Lodging House for Working Boys.

Jess didn't but, considering this was the most information she'd ever gotten out of the volatile leader, she wasn't about to admit her ignorance. "Two years… and you've been together that long?"

"He was mine from the minute I laid eyes on him," Spindle said smugly. "Through no fault of my own, I had to high-tail it the hell out of Harlem… oh, 'bout a year back or so, but, trust me, I always made time to visit him. But he couldn't bear bein' away from me, ya see, so now he's come to Queens to stay." She paused and then, throwing one steely look over her shoulder at Jess, added abruptly, "Because of me."

"That's… that's nice."

"Nice ain't the half of it." Spindle gestured to Jess, telling her to move a little closer so that they were walking side by side. "Now, you listen to me. I'm gonna go with my gut instinct and let you sell papes with us. But, if you're willin' to join up, there's a couple of rules ya gotta follow. No catfights, no stealin', no lyin' to me unless you want your tongue cut out—" Spindle paused for the slightest of seconds to prove to a suddenly stricken Jess that no, she wasn't kidding about that before continuing, "but the most important rule is this: another girl's spoken for is just that—spoken for. Especially Rip. Do ya understand?"

Jess may not have had much of an education but she would've had to have been a fool to say anything but yes; she didn't have to see Spindle's fabled blade to know that it wasn't too far from the older girl's hand. Nodding energetically, she said quickly, "Oh, yes, Spindle."

Spindle narrowed her gaze, looking for any sign of an untruth in Jess' wide-eyed, innocent expression. She hadn't forgotten the way Rip had made it a point to learn her name of all the others down at the gate.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," Jess said, a touch of bewilderment to her tone—and nerves, too. Rip's friendliness hadn't bypassed the girl, either.

Spindle let a wry smirk pull at her thin lips. "Then I'm glad we had this little talk." Turning around, tilting her head back so that she got a good look at the setting sun, she nodded to herself. "It's gettin' late, don't ya think?"

Jess, who noticed how late it was getting hours ago—and who could already hear a murmured lecture from Mrs. O'Connor over the merits of coming home for lunch like she was supposed to—simply agreed.

"Look, can ya make it back to your place from here? Rip's bound to be waitin' for me by now."

Casting a quick look around, Jess recognized the part of Far Rockaway they were in as one not too far from the O'Connors' building. It was a couple of blocks away, even quicker if she took a shortcut. "Of course."

"In that case… tomorrow morning?"

"Tomorrow morning," Jess confirmed, hoping that her giddiness at officially being accepted by Spindle wasn't too obvious; that, or the relief that Spindle was finally letting her leave. She didn't even wait for Spindle to start off. Eager to be out of her company, Jess waved and then took the turn that would lead her to one of her favorite shortcuts.

Strictly speaking, Mr. and Mrs. O'Connor didn't think that a young girl should take to the dark alleys or the side streets where it was only too easy to get into trouble. If they had it their way, Jess would stick only to the main streets where there was a good chance of a policeman watching every corner. But Jess knew she was already so late and decided that chancing a quick cut-through was a much better option than showing up any later for supper.

Her feet knew the path to take without her having to give them any instructions—which served her just then since, the moment she parted from Spindle, all of her attention focused on her new leader's strange behavior that afternoon. The way Spindle watched her so closely, the suspicion in her comments, the warning in her eyes. Jess might've come off as naïve and innocent in a bid to keep Spindle's temper in check, but she hadn't lived in Far Rockaway these last seven years and not picked up anything.

Biting down on her lip, her thoughts tossing and turning in her head, she started to mumble out loud to herself. It was a poor habit and she knew it made her come off as a mad person, but it helped her sort through her thoughts and, just then, that was exactly what she needed.

"I don't know what's wrong with her. She seems to have this silly idea that I have my eyes on her Rip. But where could she have gotten that from? I only met him today—"

"Ah, and you don't believe in love at first sight, il mio cuore?"

And there was that voice again. Rich and melodic with a slight lilt… this time she didn't freeze in place but, instead, her head jerked upwards immediately as if it was being manipulated by puppet strings. Except, when she saw Rip Divenize leaning lazily against the brick wall in front of him, a cigarette perched between his lips, an inviting smile keeping it from dropping to the dirt… when she saw Rip looking at her in that same piercing way again, she could hardly believe what she was seeing—or hearing.

She dismissed the odd words he said as nothing more than rambling, though if she knew what those words—an Italian term of endearment—would come to mean to her, she wouldn't have dismissed them so easily. No, she was far more interested in what he had said at first.

Flustered, and only too aware that he was openly staring at her, she started to say, "Oh, hello. You're—" before he stopped her.

"It's Rip," he interrupted, ashing his cigarette and then tucking the ends back in the corner of his charming smile, "but, please, call me Luke if it suits you. I'd love to hear you speak my name."

She felt her cheeks heat up at his flirtatious manner. "I know who you are, Rip."

"And you're Jessa?"

"Jess," she corrected automatically, frowning a little. How in the world had he known that her full name was Jessa?

"Jess," he repeated, mimicking the way her Irish brogue came out with her name; it sounded like chase with a j.

His eyes twinkled until he caught sight of the tear in her sleeve. Underneath the thin fabric, the red, raw marks were even more visible than earlier. "What happened here?" he demanded, reaching out for her. "You're hurt."

"It was just an accident," she began, feeling a bit foolish at her own clumsiness.

But before she could even try to explain any further, he was already massaging her skin with his free hand, sending a chill up and down her spine. His action was forward and, because this was Spindle's Rip, entirely unwanted.


Jess covered her scrape with the palm of her hand, hiding the marks from his light touch. "Spindle's gone to look for you," she blurted out. "You're supposed to be waiting for her."

Taking one last drag off his cigarette, Rip tossed the ends to the ground. He blew the smoke right at Jess while stubbing out the edge of the cigarette with the tip of his cracked shoe. "Yes, but what if I'd rather be here with you?"

He looked her up and down, taking in her blouse and skirt, and smiled appreciatively. "Tell me: what's a prima girl… a classy girl like you doing hanging 'round with a bunch of street rats like us?" he asked, grinning, gesturing for her to come stand by him.

She hesitated and he chuckled, a low rasp of a laugh that made Jess's heart leap up into her throat.

"I'm not gonna bite you, Jessa." Jase-a.

"Jess," she repeated absently before taking a few tentative steps towards the boy. He was intimidating yet exhilarating; she almost wanted to reach out a hand to him and make sure he really was there. Handsome young men didn't start talking to her normally and now that one had… she didn't know what she was supposed to do.

Once she got close enough, Rip grabbed her good arm loosely and pulled her so that her back was to the brick wall as well. She was vaguely uncomfortable at his proximity but tried not to show it, swallowing back her nervous laugh.

"I'm not really all that classy, you know," she confided. "My guardians just like to see that I'm dressed nice. They think it attracts more buyers, looking like this instead of wearing old clothes and hand-me-downs."

Rip nodded before he, almost undetected, pressed his side as close to her as he dared without scaring her off. "If you ask me, I'd say you were classier than some girls," he said, turning to look down at her, "and a lot prettier than most."

The way he just complimented her made her face flush and her stomach drop, causing her to tighten up under the weight of his gaze; the way his side just seemed to brush against hers made her both alert and alarmed. It had been nice for him to pay attention to her but reality was setting in: this was Rip Divenize, Spindle's pet. If she didn't want to get on the wrong side of the temperamental gang leader so soon, she needed to get out of this situation now.

Rip, seeing her go tense, lifted his hand and stroked her cheek, coaxing her into relaxing. He, at least, didn't seem to care if he upset Spindle or not.

"Now that we've been properly introduced," purred Rip, turning to stand in front of Jess, backing her into the wall as he placed an arm on each side of her, effectively trapping the girl where she stood, "why don't you and I go somewhere we can get to know one another a little better, eh, mio cuore?"

No one could ever accuse him of not going for what he wanted and, just then, what Rip wanted more than anything was one taste of this frightened girl.

Because, whether she was willing to admit it to herself or not, Jess was starting to feel absolutely terrified. This was too forward and, without really understanding how it had happened, she was snared like a mouse caught in a trap.

"What is it that you keep calling me?" she asked, trying in vain to change the subject. "I don't understand."

He paused for a second and seemed to look uncertain. Or maybe that was a trick of the setting sunlight for, as soon as the expression crossed his face, it was gone; he came off as cocky and as assured as he was only a moment before. And even more threatening for that lapse.

"You do not understand Italian, then?"

She shook her head. "I'm an Irish girl, born and bred," she said proudly. She knew she willed her accent faint at times but her fair skin, slight freckles and darker curls normally tipped her off as an Irish immigrant.

Jess took another appraising look at Rip just then. His skin was a darker shade than her own and his black hair, as dark as coal and neatly parted, was in stark contrast to his crystal blue eyes. She had heard the slight lilt in his voice and assumed it was the trace of an accent. Now she knew it to be an Italian accent—Rip was a wop. She was slightly surprised at that. You didn't find too many Italians in Far Rockaway. They normally lived together over in the Little Italy section of Manhattan.

Rip's unblinking gaze danced across her face, taking her image in. "Maria was Italian," he said simply as if that was all the answer she needed.

Jess didn't know what to say to that, most of all because she didn't know who Maria was. But he didn't seem to expect any further response from her. His thin lips split into a wicked grin just then.

"Si, you may look like her but I see it now. You're much fairer than she was." Another pause. "I think I prefer your coloring to my Maria's."

There wasn't much Jess knew about Spindle apart from what the leader wanted her to know. One of those things, though, was a rumor that Spindle's hated Christian name was Caitlin… so, wondered Jess as her heart started to pound so loudly she was surprised he couldn't hear it… who was Maria? And why… why did Rip want to talk to her? Because of her resemblance to some other girl? She didn't understand and, honestly, she wasn't sure she wanted to.

Trying to figure out how she could get out from under his arms without him realizing it, Jess asked shyly, "But what about Spindle?"

Rip laughed lowly, a seductive little chuckle that came off as all the more threatening for the way he refused to lower his gaze—or his arms. He kept Jess pinned right where she was. "Spindle? Oh, she was fun in her way for awhile but she couldn't give me what I wanted. But you, mio cuore, I think you can."

Jess gulped. She still didn't understand the Italian but, for some reason, every time he said it made her stomach sink a little lower. "I… I can?"

"There's only one reason why I came to stay here in Queens, you see. I was told I could find my new Maria here and I have." He raised his hand, she flinched, but Rip continued as if he hadn't noticed. "You could be her twin, I swear it. The same curls," he said, patting her hair, "and the skin, smooth as silk," he added, laying the callused side of his palm against her cheek, "and your eyes, so bright, so innocent… they're not blue like Maria's, but I think I could get used to the green in time. The green, it intrigues me, mio cuore."

She longed to shy away from his touch, more than anything because his words continued to flatter her—but rather than think of him as a suitor, Jess couldn't forget… wouldn't forget that Rip belonged to Spindle. She was no fool. As intimidating as Rip Divenize was up close, Jess knew which of the two she feared more.

All Rip had were words. Spindle, she had a knife.

"There's those fancy words again," she squeaked. "I still don't know what you're saying."

Rip laughed again, and the husky sound made her stomach quiver this time. She didn't seem to be able to find the humor in the moment like he could.

"Il mio cuore," he repeated, the words dripping off of his tongue, music to her ears. Gaelic never sounded so melodious when her parents would speak their native language. "It means 'my heart' and that's what you will be for me, my Jessa. And that's what I shall give you: my heart."

Jess paled. The harmless flirting and forward actions had crossed a line with that comment because, no matter how hard she could try to deny Rip's sudden attention, was it even possible to now? He was right there, standing right in front of her, moving closer, pressing his body up against hers. The situation was hopeless, and though she had no idea how she had gotten herself into this mess, it was even clearer that she had no way to get back out.

When she said nothing at all to him, Rip snapped. His clear eyes clouded over, his features dark with some sort of inner rage. "I see the girl doesn't know that this was fated," he murmured, his voice low enough that she almost didn't hear him. "Maybe a little something to help her understand."

And then, before she could refuse him or cover her face or even harness her strength and push him away, he leaned all the way in and placed his lips against hers. It was a chaste kiss but with noticeable force behind it. Even a naïve girl like Jess could read the intent tucked behind that kiss.

When he finally pulled back, he stared straight at her, daring her to refuse now—except, when the kiss ended, Rip had forgotten to lift his arms again. Without him pinning her against the brick wall, Jess managed to duck past him and run the way she came. She had been waiting for just a moment and, right as he gave her one, she reacted.

Still, Rip couldn't help but chuckle to himself, watching in amazement as the girl almost tripped in her hurry to escape him. The kiss hadn't done anything to sway her mind; the attention he showed her had frightened her rather than seduce her. Jessa hadn't fallen prey to his charms like he expected and yet… Rip just stood there and chuckled. This girl would be a challenge, he realized.

Good, he thought delightfully to himself. I like the challenge.

Jessa would learn soon enough that there was no getting away from him. In all his sixteen years, there had only been one girl who managed to get away from him once he had set his eyes on her—and his sister had had to be murdered for her to escape him. Rip refused to let that happen this time. Especially not now that he had found her again.

He sighed.

Ah, Maria.


Il mio cuore - My heart

Author's Note: Well, here we go. In the realm of riding this wave of inspiration while it lasts, here's the next revised chapter. To new readers (who probably wonder how this already has 120 reviews - or why it's been 7 years between updates) this is a revised version of an old fic that I've decided to re-post after a (second, admittedly) complete rewrite. Still, there's new characters, new scenes and plenty of style changes to this updated story to interest both those familiar with the Stress/Jack saga and those who have no idea what's going on. That's okay. You will soon enough (if you keep reading, that is!).

Anywho, I still love this sequence. I really want Rip's troubled past and damaged future to begin to eke out here if only to lay the scene for what comes next. Is it sad that I think I enjoy my villain at times like these?

Ah, well. Enjoy!

stress, 03.04.13