Chapter 23

I was right in thinking that the party was in Brooklyn; only this time, the infamous docks were the scene of the games of poker and underage drinking. Personally, I thought that mixing copious amounts of liquor with a high risk of falling in a river was incredibly stupid. But, even I had to admit that the location was prime. The breeze off of the water kept the humidity at bay, and the docks were littered with home-made torches and trash-can fires with questionable fuel sources. Farther out from the city, you could even see some stars. The flickering light from the fire only added to the ambiance. The mood of the party was mysterious, devil may care, and in full swing by the time Edge, Guil, and I had arrived.

Our walk over had started out tense. We mostly kept silent. Until Guil broke the ice by asking me about my whereabouts the previous evening. Once I had explained how I fell asleep on the roof, and relayed the (pretty funny) story about Jack and the tub, we fell into some much more comfortable chatter. Edge even won a bet, when I dared her to give me a piggy back ride all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge. She did, of course, and when I asked her what she wanted in return, she simply said, "A dare for a dare." And left it at that.

Of course, I didn't tell them about Jack's deal with Cobra. Or my deal with Spot. While I wanted to share with them, I knew that they were better off in ignorance when it came to this specific issue. So I decided to keep the evening light and dramatics free. Please, God, let it be dramatics free.

As we stepped onto the dock, newsies greeted us with cheery shouts and hearty slaps on the back, which I could have done without. In Brooklyn, at least, I was still welcome. The three prison-breakers were still regarded with admiration here, and we quickly found ourselves in high demand, pulled this way and that to join that poker game or that arm-wrestling contest. Guil slipped away to a poker game with a grin, and a full wallet, and I knew she planned to go big or go home. Edge set up shop at a table where she proceeded to defeat nearly every guy who sat down opposite her in arm wrestling. I slipped away from a particularly interesting match, Edge against a massive Brooklyn newsie with red hair, to wander further down the dock in search of Spot. I managed to hide my panic pretty well; the sidelong glances I kept getting from newsies only reminded me that I was here to play a part, the part of Conlon's girl.

I found him sitting at the very end of the dock with some of his boys, having their own little, exclusive, poker game. Cowboy was seated across from Spot, as was Seal. Steeling myself, and planting a smile on my face, I stepped into the flickering light from a nearby bin-fire, and greeted them.

"Heya, fellas." I said, pausing right behind Jack. Spot glanced up, and grinned at me slyly, in a way that gave me goose bumps on the back of neck. He gave a very subtle up-down, and I self-consciously glanced down at myself. I hadn't dressed any differently; I wore my normal streets clothes. The only difference was that today I was actually clean, and I had left my hat at home, simply pulling my hair into a braid down my back.

"Hello sweet cheeks," Spot answered me. I cringed at the nickname, but quickly recovered.

"Got a place for me? I brought some extra cash and I'm here to play." Jack glanced back at me suspiciously. Spot just grinned at me, gestured to his left knee, and said, "Gotta seat right here for ya." My eyes narrowed at him, but I stiffly walked around the table and slowly lowered myself onto his leg. My attempt to put my elbows on the table, and distance myself from Spot, was foiled when he snaked an arm around my waist and tugged me back onto his lap. I struggled a bit, and turned to glare at him. His face remained calm and neutral, but a sharp pinch on my hip reminded me that Jack was right across from us. Conscious of Jack's eyes on my back, I quickly turned my struggle into a method of flirting, slinging an arm around Spot's neck.

"Got anything to drink?" I whispered into Spot's ear. He looked a bit surprised, but leaned forward to pour me a shot of whiskey from the bottle that was, ironically, in the pot of the poker game. No one objected as Spot handed me the shot glass. I gave a little "cheers" with the glass and then tipped it back.

And promptly gagged. It was awful. Truly awful. It felt as though the worst medicine in the world had procreated with gasoline and then bottled the product. The burn did not fade quickly, and I coughed, causing Spot to slap me lightly on the back while he, and the rest of the table, laughed at me.

"Aw, sweet cheeks, never had whiskey before?" Spot asked, clearly delighted. I shook my head, my face still caught in a grimace. "The second one always goes down smoother. I promise." Spot handed me another shot. I refused it at first, but after another sharp pinch on my hip, I grudgingly took it and tipped it back as well. It did, in fact, go down smoother than the first had. But I started to worry; given my previous experience with alcohol at the bash at Meddas, and the many, many secrets I had to hold, I feared my tongue getting too loose. When Spot handed me another shot, I turned the tables on him.

"Your turn." I said too sweetly, pressing the glass to his lips and pouring so that he had no choice but to drink or get spilled all over. Instead of looking angry, Spot actually looked a bit impressed; he grabbed the shot himself and threw it back like a professional.

"We playing, or what?" Cowboy interrupted our disguised argument, looking at his cards. The game continued for a bit, me playing a hand occasionally, but mostly folding and observing the rest of the boys. Seal had been silent the entire game and avoided making eye contact with me. Even when I asked him to pass me a stray chip, he did so without looking at me. Just as I began to formulate a plan to make him look at me, Spot abruptly stood up, almost spilling me onto the dock. Fortunately, I found my feet before I hit the planks.

"Excuse us boys. Enjoy the rest of the game." Spot tossed his cards onto the table, grabbed my hand, and started walking back towards the shore. I barely had time to snatch my wallet up before I was yanked from the table, to much fanfare and catcalling from the other boys. As I walked alongside Spot, snickers and more catcalls came from the general populace. When Guil caught my eye as I passed her table, I could only manage a half-hearted wink. Although, I was impressed with the amount of chips she had managed to amass.

Spot's hand was unyielding as he dragged me up to the Brooklyn lodging house, up the rickety stairs, and into his even more dilapidated room. He released my hand once he had closed the door, then quickly lit a lamp and a cigarette. Rubbing my bruised hand, I perched myself upon his desk and waited for him to speak.

But he didn't. He just looked at me. For a while. To the point where I got bored and began to look around the room. Finally he spoke. "You feelin' that whiskey at all?" He asked, taking a last drag of his cigarette before tossing it out the window. I took stock of myself, and found that I did indeed 'feel' the whiskey. If my decreased attention span wasn't enough evidence, the floating feelings in my legs and arms were.

"Yeah, I'm feelin' it. You?" Spot chuckled.

"I'd have to drink the whole bottle to feel any of that stuff. It's not very strong." He countered, eyes still glued on me. I rolled my eyes.

"Well, sorry, I guess I'm just not an accomplished alcoholic like you." As soon as the words left my mouth, I winced, realizing that I may have crossed a line. Spot, however, just laughed.

"You want some water?" he offered. I shook my head and stared at my shoes. Better my shoes than his eyes, which would not leave me alone. After a pregnant pause, Spot leaned back on his bed, arms behind his head, and said, "What's new in Manhattan? Anything to report?" His eyes were closed, and I didn't expect him to notice my jerk reaction.

"Oh, uh, nope. I mean, I don't think so." I sputtered, concentrating on my shoes yet again. Spot's eyes cracked open and he slid them over to me again, this time with suspicion.

"Say that again." He ordered slowly. I gulped.

"I don't think so. I mean, no. There is nothing to report." His eyes were still focused on my face.

"You're lying to me." He stated, sliding into an upright position. I looked up at him, shocked, and sputtered worse than ever.

"No I'm not!" His eyes narrowed even more.

"Yes you are. And you're terrible at it." I felt a chill run up my spine. "What's going on?" He swiftly crossed to me, grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him. This time, though, I retaliated. I smacked his hand away, slid off the desk and made my way to the door. Of course, he beat me to it. Now I was actually starting to feel the effects of the whiskey. And I did something I never would have done in my right mind. I put my fists up. Conlon looked at me in surprise, and then started to laugh. Which really irritated me. So I punched him in the face. It was a really sound one too, and made a very satisfying thwahp.

The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, my arm twisted behind my back, and Conlon's knee digging into the back of my neck. I didn't even struggle.

"Tell me." He demanded, pressing his knee deeper into my flesh. I winced, but remained silent. "Tell me." He repeated, this time wrenching my arm, the one that had been dislocated a few months prior, even further back. I let loose a cry of pain, but still didn't talk, partly due to my inebriated, stunned state.

"Have it your way." He said, wrenching my arm even further, until I heard a sickening pop. I shrieked, writhing and bucking, just trying to get him off of me. Spot's presence quickly disappeared, and I scrambled away from him, one arm hanging limp until I was able to stand up, cradle it and turn around to face Spot.

He stood between me and the door, slack-jawed, and wide-eyed. I had never seen him look so utterly put off. As I cradled my arm, trying to feel the dislocation in my shoulder, he stepped forward tentatively.

"Stay away from me!" I shrieked, my voice high and broken by the tears that had begun to stream down my face. This time hurt even worse than the one before. He put his hands up, as if approaching an injured animal.

"I'm sorry." He said. These words alone caught my attention. Spot Conlon had never apologized to me. Actually, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had never apologized for anything, ever. He took another small step forward, while I shrank away from him.

"I didn't mean to hurt you. I don't even know how that happened." He explained in a slow, even tone, still trying to calm me down. "Let me take a look at it." I stayed put in my corner, still clutching my arm, still glaring at him.

"Get Jack. Or Edge, or Guil. I need someone to come and pop it back in." I hiccupped, my voice still very shaky. Spot's eyebrows furrowed.

"Pop it back…?" He asked.

"You dislocated it." I snapped at him, giving him my very best glare. When he still looked confused, I elaborated. "You popped my shoulder out of its socket. It'll just hang here, useless, until I can pop it back in."

"This has happened before?" He asked, still edging closer, hands still raised in peace.

"A couple times." I pressed closer to the wall, feeling rather like a trapped animal. "Now go get someone…please." I added reluctantly. Spot lowered his hands and looked at me.

"I don't think that's a good idea. If someone comes back here and sees you all beat up, no one's gonna believe you're my girl. And then your cover as a spy will be blown." He said, still in that slow, even tone. I started to cry even harder, as my shoulder sent shooting pains down my arm and back, and up my neck. "Let me take a look at it." He repeated, using a gentle, soothing tone.

I nodded reluctantly. Spot closed the space between us, placed a hand lightly on my other shoulder and led me to the bed, where I sat heavily, accidentally jostling my injury. I tried to undo the buttons on my shirt, but I found I was completely inept with only one working hand. Spot's hands quickly replaced mine and undid the buttons, helping me to slide the shirt off. Then he undid the buttons on my long johns while I looked at the ceiling, too exhausted to be embarrassed, but still unable to meet his eyes. He helped me to ease my left shoulder out of the johns, but I kept them on the other one, feeling exposed with only my camisole left. Spot leaned around me to look at my shoulder and back, and I heard a sharp intake of breath as he surveyed the damage.

"How bad is it?" I asked, my eyes closed.

"Well," he said, still studying my skin, "It's pretty badly bruised and a little swollen. How much does it hurt?"

"A lot. It hurts a lot, Spot. Now let's get this over with."

Spot looked stricken. "Get what over with." I sighed and rolled my eyes.

"You have to pop it back in place. And the sooner, the better. The longer it stays like this the worse the pain gets."

Spot hesitated, and then: "Jut tell me what to do."

"Lift my arm straight out, and then push it straight back in, hard. Here," I said, scooting over to the corner post of his bed, wrapping my good arm around it, "I'll brace myself here, you push from that way." Spot positioned himself to my left, and slowly lifted my arm up. I tucked my head into the post I was clinging to, and held my breath.

"Will this hurt?" Spot's voice was hesitant, worried, even. I nodded from my position, still holding my breath. There was a pause and then: "I'm sorry." And then he pushed, hard, and I felt my shoulder click back into place, and bit back an involuntary scream at the pain.

But it was over. I gingerly tested my arm, moving it forward and back a bit. It seemed fine, except for the pain, which was a constant, dull ache after the initial sharp shock of lightning across my back and arm. I sighed in relief, and leaned back against the post, now mostly feeling tired. I felt the bed move as Spot stood up, which brought me back to my situation. I was still in Spot's room with him. I glanced over and saw that he was rummaging through a drawer, and watched as he drew out a bottle of brown liquor and two shot glasses. He poured out two full shots, and turned back to me.

"Here," he said, shoving one of them in my direction, "this will help with the pain." I started to protest, but a hard edge appeared in his eye and I quickly shut up and grabbed the glass from him. This time, I pinched my nose shut with my bad hand and tossed it back like medicine, eyes squeezed shut. When I opened them, I noticed that Spot had taken his and was pouring himself another. I handed him the shot glass back, which he took before throwing back a second shot. He gestured with his free hand, offering me another, which I refused with a shake of my head. Spot shrugged, filled his up a third time, and quickly downed it, then set it back on the desk with a clink. I thought he might sit back on the bed, but he leaned against the desk instead and crossed his arms, looking at me. Finally he spoke.

"So, what just happened? Why did your shoulder just pop out like that?" He asked, voice still very calm and quiet, trying not to frighten me off. I looked up at him, starting to feel the effects of his whiskey, which was much stronger than the cheap stuff at the poker game.

"It happens sometimes." I shrugged, my eyes sliding back down to the floor. Spot stood up impatiently, and sat down on the bed next to me.

"Why?" He pressed. When I didn't answer right away he continued. "That hold I had you in is a favorite of mine." At this I looked at him sharply. He continued. "I've gotten boys to admit to all sorts of things in that hold. But I can't say I've ever actually ripped anyone's arm out of the socket…so, why did yours just pop out?" I sighed, leaning my elbows forward on my knees and resting my forehead on the heels of my hands, before I began to speak.

"It happened to me once when I was younger. Actually," I chuckled, "it was Cobra. It was right before I ran away. He beat the shit outta me, and when I tried to run out the door, he caught me by the arm and yanked me back so hard that it just…popped out. He didn't know how to fix it, and neither did I, so I just walked around for about a week with it like that, getting' worse all the time. Finally some poor schmuck took pity on me and took me to some clinic, where they showed me how to pop it back in. Man, that hurt…but its just been kinda messed up ever since then. If I get in a fight with anyone, and this arm gets yanked at any weird angle, it just gets dislocated." I looked over at him, and noticed that he was still staring at me. "So, you couldn't have known I had a fucked up shoulder." Spot shook his head slowly, still staring, making me more and more uncomfortable. Finally I stood on shaky legs and moved toward the door. Spot quickly stood to block my path.

"Where you going?" He asked. I tried to slip around him, but he blocked me.

"Back down to the docks. I wanna find Edge and Guil and go home." I said as I cradled by still throbbing arm. Spot shook his head.

"Bad idea." When I started to protest he cut me off. "Frankly, you look like hell. It's obvious you're in a lot of pain, and if you go down to the docks I'm gonna get hell for hurting you. Not that I don't deserve it," he quickly added when I shot him a look, "but it would break your cover, and I don't want that."

"It's not that obvious," I argued, "I'll just act like it doesn't hurt." Spot smirked.

"Yeah right. Your shoulder is swollen as hell. People are bound to notice. Besides, your eyes are red, you can tell you've been cryin'…" At this, I spun quickly around and wiped ferociously at my face. Spot chuckled, and added, "Besides, you're only half dressed." I glanced down at myself and realized that I was still missing my shirt and was only half way in my long johns.

"Shit." I muttered, embarrassed, struggling to get my injured arm back in the sleeve. But I found that I could not bend the swollen joint far enough back to get it into the sleeve. I wrestled with it for a moment, struggling and wincing in pain until I finally gave a shriek of frustration and sat down on the bed and started to cry all over. I partially blamed my lack of coordination on my injured arm, and partially on Spot's damn whiskey.

I felt a hand gently grab my wrist while another pulled the sleeve of my long johns forward enough so that he could guide my hand into the sleeve, pulling the fabric up my arm until my hand emerged at the frayed cuff. My hands numbly started to button up the long johns, but Spot's hands pushed them away and began to deftly button upwards. I froze, sensing how close he was to me, and how intimate the situation was. I determinedly kept my eyes down. Spot's hands finished the buttons, and then hovered near my face. I jerked back in surprise when I felt his thumb wipe away a tear on my cheek.

Instantly, my face got warm, and I just knew I was blushing like a fire engine. My eyes flicked upwards, and met his. And I froze. He looked back at me. I looked back at him. This was going on too long. It was taking forever, whatever it was. Seriously, how long was he gonna keep looking at me like -

And then he kissed me.

It was…nice. I guess. I didn't really have anything to compare it to. But it was warm. Really, it was just his mouth pressed to my mouth. And that wasn't terrible. His face was just really close, and his eyes were closed, and I could tell that because my eyes were open…and were my eyes supposed to be closed? Was that how people did this? Should I close them? But before I could make a decision, Spot pulled away, sunk down to the floor, and leaned against the bed facing away from me, put his head in his hands and groaned. I couldn't be sure, but this did not seem like a proper response, so I endeavored to say something comforting, reassuring. But all that came out was:

"You're drunk."

Spot only gave a weak chuckle, which deteriorated into another groan.

"Yeah," he said, "I guess I am. Shit."