Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Disney and their likenesses are only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.
Fireflies in the Morning
So that's what they call a family:
mother, daughter, father, son,
guess that everything you heard about is true.
So you ain't got any family,
who said you needed one?
Ain't ya glad nobody's waitin' up for you?
Newsboys' Lodging House, Manhattan
It was dark out. The air was stuffy and hot. Jack Kelly twitched as the sweat pooled at the nape of his neck, making him itch and his shoulders roll as the drops dripped down his back, trickling and tickling. His skin was slick. He left a faint grey trail, a trail of dirt and ink and old ashes, wherever he slapped the moisture away with the flat of his hand.
Summer in the city was always miserable. Jack sniffed, then scowled when the stink hit him; he couldn't be entirely sure it wasn't coming off his tattered shirt or dusty old vest. Thick strands of greasy, sandy brown hair stuck to his skin and he huffed in annoyance before giving in and wiping at his forehead. Another dirty swipe, another dirty mark, and the newsboy couldn't find it in him to care any less.
Damn it, he cursed to himself. She was late!
She was late, more than an hour now, and he didn't know what in the world had possessed him to keep on waiting. Maybe it was how she pleaded with him yesterday, her big doe eyes shining and her lips turned down ever-so-slightly in a way that just made him feel guilty as sin. How could Jack say no? Especially with that other girl standing there, all soft-hearted menace and a scowl that warned him against not showing up.
And that was another thing... why the hell did he care what she thought? What was he doing?
He wished he could've talked this over better with David because Davey... Davey of all of them, he would know what to do. Davey would tell Jack what he should do. He had brains, after all, and right then Jack needed someone with brains. He couldn't count on the little he had—not when his heart was beating incredibly fast and he couldn't stop asking himself: what was she doing here? How did she find him? How did he not know she was out there, looking for him?
Jack should've been looking for her! Imagine that, all this time, she was out there. He should've known!
Scowling as he paced, he left good-sized boot prints scattered in all directions in the dust, trailing the dirt back and forth as he walked alongside the curb. He absently kicked it as he took another turn, his scowl deep and determined. Jack kept his eyes peeled, open and alert and waiting for any sign of her. This was where she told him to come, this was where she said she would meet him, and while he could just head inside the lodging house, maybe tip Tumbler a penny or two to keep watch for him, Jack decided he could spare a couple minutes more. He had given his word and that was all he had to give. He could wait.
Jack had the sinking suspicion that, In that way, he was trying to prove to himself that he wasn't the scabber everyone thought he was deep down. If he couldn't stand by her now that she'd found him again, who could he stand by?
The sweat that formed at his temple was dribbling now, slicking his hair down to his puckered flesh. When the sweat hit his eyes, they stung something awful and Jack swallowed back another curse, rubbing roughly until the sting was more of a dull ache. Maybe it wasn't the best idea to go pacing in this sticky humidity and he slowed to an anxious tap-tap-tap as he rubbed his eyes, then rubbed the back of his hand against his mouth in obvious agitation. It only got worse when the next time his dry and thirsty tongue darted out and licked his lips, all he tasted was the salt. He spat on the ground, though he could barely spare the fluid, and tried his damndest not to notice how miserable he was feeling.
Fireflies twinkled around him, flashes of yellow here and there, snatching his attention and making him wonder why the damn things were following him now; mosquitoes buzzed by his ear, a whisper and a hum, and then a quick bite before Jack smacked them away in irritation and, perhaps, just a touch of gratitude. He hadn't seen fireflies in years, not since those long ago days on the edge of Central Park before Francis Sullivan became Jack Kelly and the fireflies simply disappeared
Who went first, he wondered, the girl or the fireflies? Why were they both back now—
Damn it, why was she looking for him?
A horse came clomping down the street; Jack just lowered his head and backed away as the beast passed. There was a time when he would've jumped on its back, unhitch it from its carriage and ride off into the night. But now, only a few months removed from that careless, reckless, charming son of a gun, Jack bowed his head and waited until he was once again alone under the muggy Manhattan sky.
He didn't know what was worse: that he was alone, or that he wasn't. Because, while he gave his word, and while he arrived just like he promised, Jack Kelly couldn't say that he really wanted her to show up. If she did, then he couldn't be Jack Kelly anymore.
Jack Kelly, New York's infamous Cowboy, wanted nothing more than to forget that he'd ever been Francis Sullivan. And if that meant forgetting her, then that was what he would have to do.
Maybe it would be them both if they just forgot...
After wiping his sweaty hands on his trousers, cleaning them as best he could, Jack reached into his back pocket and pulled out a folded up pamphlet. There was a cowboy on the cover, and the name Western Jim, and it was creased all over from the hundreds of times he had handled it, reading it from front to back, living the dream. He hoped to make it out West one day, out to Santa Fe, and even though he was coming up on his eighteenth birthday and he was still stewing in New York City, Jack hadn't given up on his dream just yet.
Except that night. Just then he had no time for childish whims or what-might-be's. Half past ten by now—well past her curfew, too—and still eerily alone, Jack kept waiting. Even though he knew he shouldn't, he stayed outside until the mosquitoes got their fill and the front of his greasy hair was drenched in sticky sweat.
He slapped the pamphlet absently against his thighs, his lips pursed and his brow furrowed. He forgot about the sweat and licked his dry, chapped lips again, almost gagging when he tasted the mixture of sweat and dirt. What he wouldn't give for a sarsaparilla just then! Tibby's was looking better and better as every moment past but, stubborn to a fault, he wouldn't leave. Besides, this was Tibby's fault in a way. Would she ever have found him if it wasn't for that diner?
Something—maybe it was that same stubborn glint he knew so well, or maybe it was the determined look of her companion—told him that: yes, yes she would. He just wasn't sure he wanted to be found.
Jack kept on slapping the pamphlet, holding the side so that the pages could barely wave in the stifled summer air. Taking a deep breath, just about ready to give up, he stopped what he was doing. He lifted the thin book so that it was level with his chest and let it fall open for real. Worn pages split, revealing the exact middle of the paper pamphlet. But Jack wasn't looking at the words; instead, pulling out a small scrap, he palmed it before shutting up Western Jim and stowing it in the back pocket where he normally kept it.
With his free hand, he fumbled in his front pocket until he found one sad, sorry squashed cigarette that he kept for those moments when his nerves needed a little something to take the edge off of them. He stuck the cigarette between slightly parted lips—covered in lint and more dirt, the cigarette paper tasted no better than the lips themselves—then grabbed the box of matches he brought with him.
When he left the lodging house earlier that night, he hadn't thought to bring any fresh hand-rolled cigarettes—though he did grab the matches. Jack might not have known he would need them but, well, he did now.
He lit his cigarette first, inhaling deeply and puffing until the tip caught and he blew the first plumes of silver smoke out through his nose. But, rather than shake the flame out, Jack held onto the match. Even when the fire began to lick at the tips of his fingers, he didn't extinguish it. Slowly, his jaw firm and jutted in determination, he placed the flame to the scrap of paper.
Up close, the scrap of paper was revealed to be a photograph—and a photograph that caught fire faster than he expected. Before the flames started to devour them, there were two faces staring up at him: a dark-haired man in a simple cap with a scoundrel's grin, holding up a little girl, six, maybe seven years old, her prim curls styled around a face that was as angelic as it was mischievous. Her pudgy fingers were barely visible as her arm was wrapped around the man's neck. A sleeve from a woman's dress was on the edge of the photograph to the left but that was it. A jagged tear ran right down the middle, separating the man and the girl from anyone else that might have been there.
The fire was gobbling up the face of the young girl before, cursing under his breath, Jack—still staring at the photograph—burned his finger with the match that was still lit. He tossed the match aside, sucking on his middle two fingers as the rest of the picture quickly burned away.
Only then, when the snapshot was reduced to ash, and those ashes were scattered in the dirt that lay underneath the flickering gas lamp just outside the lodging house's back door... only then did Jack realize that he was done waiting. Maybe he knew that already. Maybe he gave up in the instant that he placed the match's flame to the one reminder he had left of who he used to be. Either way, he wiped his hands—patting his two burned fingers lightly—against his trousers and walked right through the pile of ashes.
Jack didn't even think about heading back into the lodging house. He didn't want to explain himself to Kloppman and he didn't know what he would do if she showed up after all; even worse, he wanted to avoid seeing her friend and that strangely accusing expression at the same time.
But, just because he didn't stay on Duane Street, that didn't mean he didn't have anywhere else to go.
Jack could've gone to Tibby's, but he didn't think he was that thirsty. Medda's place, Irving Hall, that was always a good haunt when he needed a to lie low for a bit, but Medda was a friend of his father's—what if the girls found their way there?
No... there was only one place for him. Which was why, almost an hour later and close to midnight, Jack Kelly found himself sitting outside of the Jacobs family's apartment, trying to find a comfortable position on the stair so many feet up in the air.
So, with his hand on his cheek to protect him from the rusty, metal railing, Jack sat on the fire escape and waited for Sarah to rise with the sun. And when a firefly glowed greenish-yellow in the distance, he wished its damn light would just go out already.
End Note: I hadn't intended on starting this new fic until I completed Red (which has about 4 chapters left to it) but, since today starts Camp NaNoWriMo, I decided to try my hand at writing a 50,000+ words fanfic during the month of July. So I restarted this and plotted out what I'd like to see happen and decided that I would basically post it as I worked on it. This is the first time I've done a NaNoWriMo project as a fanfic - I've written the first 50k of five original novels through NaNo - and I think it might be interesting to see it unfold.
One other thing... about this story? I've been interested in looking at all of the cliches in Newsies fandom lately and trying to turn them on their head. I've seen one or two really good AU time-travel fics that really made sense and, well, I thought I would try my hand at writing that same-old cliche of giving a canon character a sibling. So, yeah, it may seem like a contrived concept so far but give it a try, okay? I promise it'll all make sense - including what happened in this chapter. Even though it is a prologue, the next chapter will start the arc that leads up to the scene shown above.
So, yes, if you would be so kind as to tell me what you think? And if you're a follower of Red? I plan on having the next chapter out as early as tomorrow - despite trying to write the 50k with Fireflies, I still want to finish Red as soon as possible!
- stress, 07.01.11