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

Who Am I?

Jack Kelly hated winter.

He hated the cold, he hated the snow, he hated the ice. He hated the way his hands froze, turning red and raw and stiff; papes were hard enough to turn without a numb finger or two tripping him up. He hated the way the wind whipped through his thin trousers, and how the wet, slushy mess on the ground soaked through his boots for days at a time, leaving them damp and smelly and squishy though the tiny holes in his socks.

Most of all he hated how the colder it got outside, the less newspapers he sold. The less newspapers he sold, the less money he made. The less money he made, the less food he got to eat—and without any food, he was even colder than he would've been with a good, hot meal filling up his belly.

But, just because he hated winter, that didn't mean that he was going to be caught hiding out in the crowded lodging house, fighting for a bit of warmth when all of New York was his oyster. Well, the oyster was iced shut and he wouldn't even be able to use his finger to pry the damn shell open if he could, but still. It was his oyster all the same.

Which was exactly why he was standing outside, trying to light up his smoke in the icy evening wind—trying and not particularly succeeding. It was like using fingers three times their regular size to do the simplest of tasks, something he'd done a million times already. Even the matches wouldn't cooperate: half of them spilled to the grey slush covering the cobbles while the other half were left trapped in the matchbox Jack quickly slammed shut and jammed back in his pockets.

Then, alternating between blowing on his hands and rubbing them together for warmth, he cursed out loud: "Goddamn it! It's colder than a witch's tit out here!"

"And how cold is a witch's… you know… exactly, Jack?"

David Jacobs, suddenly red in the face though that could've been from the cold, was certainly acting crosser than usual—if his knack to always ask questions back was right on the money. He was cold and he was hungry, dreaming of the hot bowl of soup his mother surely had waiting for him back at the apartment, but he wasn't going to be the first one to suggest going in for the night.

Not after the last time, that was.

Last time… when the harsh winter first blew in at the beginning of January, 1900, David's mother refused to let him out of the apartment unless he was wearing his scarf and a pair of knitted mittens—they were sky blue—she'd made just for him. But Racetrack Higgins had laughed himself silly and Jack had almost swallowed his cigarette and David realized that barely any of the newsies had a coat let alone a scarf and mittens to go along with it. They didn't have a mother, either, which probably explained why they didn't quite understand her fussing.

It had been almost a month since then, and he was still being teased mercifully but not for a lack of trying on his part. The very next day, David had hid his scarf and threw away his mittens—his mother was still looking for them, though she already started knitting another pair—and he refused to be the first one to succumb to any of the cold winter weather even if it meant he got frostbite on all ten fingers first.

Which, of course, meant that on days like these, when it felt like it was ten below and Jack was too stubborn to follow David home for a hot meal, David was stuck trying to pretend he couldn't feel the cold—because Jack was stubborn enough to pretend he couldn't, either—and praying this would be Jack's last cigarette.

And it might be… if he ever got the thing lit.

Jack kept his cigarette tucked in the corner of his mouth, still rubbing his hands together, still trying to get feeling in his fingers before he tried taking out his matches again. He gave David a sideways look. "I don't know, Davey, it's just something people say when it's cold out. Don't be such a crab… unless… unless you're feelin' the cold tonight, too." There was a mischievous quirk to Jack's lips; miraculously, he was still able to hold onto the cigarette and tease David at the same time. What a skill! "I won't mind if ya want to run on home and get your scarf and your mittens if it's botherin' ya too much."

"I'm fine," David said, gritting his teeth to show how annoyed he was—not, mind you, because his teeth would be chattering if he wasn't, alright? "It's just a little brisk, that's all. I could stay out all night."

Now, Jack knew very well from Sarah that their parents started to grow worried if David or Les stayed out once the sun went down. With winter upon them, and the sun disappearing earlier and earlier, David's father was a little more lenient, but Jack was willing to bet real money that Esther Jacobs would have half of the neighborhood precinct out looking for her son if he tried to stay out past ten, let alone all night.

Besides, he added with a stifled chortle, David had lessons at school tomorrow morning.

Which was why they were staying out as late as it already was. With David and his little brother Les taking lessons all morning, Jack didn't have access to his selling partners until the evening edition—and Les's cute, little mug always earned him double the money. Just not that afternoon, though. Les had run off to have a snowball fight with Boots and Tumbler when that evening's selling was a lost cause due to the chill in the air and only Jack and David remained to stand underneath the tiniest red and white—or pink and grey, considering how old it was—awning Mulberry Street could supply.

At least, Jack was standing under the fabric awning. David, antsy and cold and surreptitiously marching in place in order to get the feeling back in his toes, had moved out from under the awning. He was still protected if it started to snow again; the overhang to some small shop that had already closed for the evening was perfectly positioned right overhead.

Perfectly position to do other things, too, if fate and a skewed sense of humor had anything to do with it.

It started out simple and innocent enough. There was a horse and carriage ambling down the street, the driver bundled up against the wind, the steam from the horse's breath rising up in the night's sky. It was hardly past seven but it was dark out, the gas lamps already lit, the weak flame doing precious little other than reflect off of yesterday's dingy snowfall.

It certainly didn't shed any light on the patch of ice right in front of the horse…

Jack was just attempting to pick another match out of his matchbox when it happened. The horse, oblivious to the danger underfoot—hoof—slid on the ice, one of his front legs buckling as the other shot out in front of him. The sudden split spooked the creature who managed to regain his footing—hoofing—and reared back, nearly tilting the carriage on its rear. The driver, in the middle of taking a little sip to ward of the cold, dropped his flask, managing to get control of the reins just in time for his timid little carthorse to go tearing off down Mulberry Street.

Jack and David watched in unbridled interest as all this happened in the matter of mere seconds. It was the most exciting thing to have happened since they gave up on selling and, for the moment at least, it took their minds off the cold. Until—

The horse rampaging by did nothing to the boys, exactly. Their backs were closer to the wall than the narrow lane the horse was racing down so there was no threat of their being stampeded by a spooked horse. But the rhythm of hoofbeats pounding by sent vibrations through the cobblestones, up the brick wall that was currently sheltering Jack and David until—

Jack was still standing beneath the faded, snow-covered awning when the horse ran by so nothing happened to him. But David… he'd froze right underneath a solid overhang, watching in amazement as the tame horse went wild and started to sprint, the driver's frightened screams echoing behind him. The yells added to the thunder, the vibrations racing up the wall until they hit the overhang—the overhang, and the hundreds of mis-shapened icicles that hung like pointed teeth from its edge.

One particularly—and quite luckily—semi-short, not-too-long, blunt-edged icicle vibrated a little harder than the rest, breaking free of the overhang and plunging down to the street below. It shimmered and it twinkled and it would've cracked and shattered into a million brilliant ice crystals if it wasn't for the fact that David Jacob's hat-covered head was waiting not too far away to break its fall.

Which it did.

David dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes without even a grunt, followed by a slight jumping sound, the crackle of more ice, a muffled curse and, lastly, fluttering to the ground like snow, the rest of the contents of Jack's box of matches.

End Note: After writing His Last Cigarette, I thought it was time I try to give Jack a nice, happy story. What I came up with instead is this :) While it may not be the nice, happy Jack-centric story I had in mind, it's definitely going to be a more light-hearted read (because it's just too much torturing our favorite characters). In fact, I plan on trying my hand at a little humor with this - it'll make a nice change, don't you think?

Next chapter coming up after the next one of High Stakes - I'll try to have one of each this weekend if I can :)

-- stress, 02.04.11