Disclaimer: The character of Spot Conlon in this story is the property of Disney and his likeness is only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.

Author's Note: This is part of my NML Secret Santa gift to Acorn :) The prompt I used was this sentence: "The air smelled of burnt almonds " and, well, this is what I made of it. I hope you enjoy!

Merry Christmas, Acorn!

Roastin' on an Open Fire

= A Secret Santa 2011 gift for Acorn =

It was the night before the night before Christmas and the lodging house at 61 Poplar Street, Brooklyn, was all full up for the holiday.

It wasn't quiet—they left the early nights and tense hopefulness to the chumps... 'sides, it wasn't Christmas Eve just yet—but a content sort of almost hush fell over the bunkroom because, well, the alternative was Mrs. Kirby, the matron. The Christmas feast would be in two days, it was darn cold outside, and none of the rough and tumble Brooklyn boys were foolish enough to get themselves kicked to the street this time of year.

Spot Conlon was the leader of those boys. Currently he was keeping an eye on a game of dice that was so very crooked but, ultimately, pretty entertaining as he watched Wednesday roll the boys over and over and over again when they all knew Wednesday had a pair of loaded dice. He'd have to break it up eventually, making sure none of the fleeced got fleeced too badly, because even if the formidable threat of Mrs. Kirby finding out wasn't enough, Spot being angry was… and even a hardened cheat didn't try to hold onto his ill-gotten gains too much.

Besides, Spot decided, it wasn't as if the other fellas didn't know that Wednesday was as twisty as a corkscrew. If you asked him, some of the fellas probably deserved to—

His thought stopped right there.

Wait. What was that?

Something wasn't right. It didn't… it didn't smell right.

He took a deep breath and nearly coughed. What was that stink? It was strong and smoky—it smelled like the color black, for some reason—and Spot got the sudden impression of something burning that shouldn't be burning. His head instinctively turned to look behind him at Scotch O'Reilly's bunk.

No surprise: it was empty. Because, whenever something strange was going on, like half the boys' trousers going missing or the candles in the basement being replaced by slivers of soap or the stink of fire seeping up to the bunkrooms when all but one window was clamped shut and there was no sign of heat or flame to be found... because, whenever there was something Spot Conlon couldn't quite explain, it was always a safe bet that Scotch O'Reilly was involved somehow. Not even Racetrack Higgins, Manhattan's premier odds-giver, would even take up those numbers.

Clearing his throat, Spot nodded at the runner of the game: Wednesday, a boy who only had one working eye but ten fingers quicker than anything to make up for it. "You smell that?"

Wednesday didn't take his good eye off of the game but he did take a sniff. "Something... burnin'?" he asked, jerking his shoulders in a half shrug.

He wasn't anywhere near as concerned as someone living in the third floor of an old building in Brooklyn should be but that's why Spot was the leader. He took care of that sort of stuff—

—which was just what he was going to do.

"Yeah. That's what I thought." Spot pushed himself up off the bunk he was leaning against. After slipping his golden-tipped cane under one of his faded red suspenders, he nodded at the game. "I'm gonna go check it out. Don't wrap this up until I come back."

Not even Wednesday could ignore the easy warning in Spot's voice. For the sake of Christmas, he nodded.

"Gotcha, Spot," he said, with a smile as sweet as butter—and just as oily.

He waited until Spot had left before he used an old sleight of hand trick and pulled out his other other set of dice before any of his chumps noticed. The first set just guaranteed he'd win most of the time. The second—all of the time. And, considering he only had a few precious moments before Spot Conlon came back, Wednesday thought he'd take all the luck he could get.

"All in, all in, next roll is double or nothing..."

Outside, the air smelled of burnt... almonds? Walnuts? Filberts?

Some kind of nut, Spot decided. There was a definite nuttiness to the air outside, a bitterness, a... a smokiness that made Spot's nose twitch and his eyes water. It was a huge improvement over the rank of cat piss and spoiled garbage that clung to this corner of Poplar, but barely. The burning smell was overpowering and all Spot had to do was breathe shallowly and follow the rich stink to the far end of Buckbees Alley to find its source.

Halfway there he caught sight of a shadowy figure hunched over something Spot couldn't quite make out. The figure moved slightly to the right—probably avoiding the smell, Spot thought, cause it was pretty awful—and suddenly the bright orange and yellow flames were visible. There was a fire down there, a fire too close to the lodging house for Spot Conlon's liking, and he strode forward in the certainty that nothing at the end of that alley ever be as terrible as what was heading towards it.

"What's goin' on out here?" Spot called out, his hand straying to the cane at his side just in case. "You better not be tryin' to burn down the lodging house. We don't take too kindly to that around here."

"Aye, and if it isn't Spot Conlon come to make sure I don't turn our home into kindlin'." The shadowy figure didn't turn around—he knew Spot from his voice alone which made sense considering Spot knew from the first word, and the slurring Irish accent that followed, who was messing around out back. "Care to join me in some festive holiday merry making? No arson intended, I promise ya."

Spot nodded to himself because, just then, it was better than having to shake his head; it was Christmas, time to be charitable. Anyway, somehow he just knew it had to be Scotch. He let his hand fall restlessly back to his side as he approached his lieutenant.

The fire was contained, a small set of waving, dancing flames sticking out from the top of a barrel. Spot didn't know what Scotch could be burning to make it glow so brightly, or why he was out back, warming his hands over a fire—merry making, as he said—when there was more than enough merry to make inside where it wasn't so cold.

"You've got me stumped, Scotch," he said. "I don't see what's so festive about standing around a fire like some bum."

Scotch turned to look over at Spot, the fire throwing shadows across his gaunt face, making him look more stretched out and hollower than usual. But he was grinning and there wasn't anyone in the world—except for the ladies down at the Girls' Home, that is—who could stay mad at Scotch O'Reilly when he grinned at you like that.

"Look at what I got," he said, gesturing at the top of the barrel. There was an overlarge stick threaded with five or six nickel-sized nuts placed securely over the edge. They were blackened from the fire, smoke pouring up from each one, and Spot felt vindicated. He knew he'd smelled nuts. "Chestnuts roastin' on an open fire," added Scotch. "If that ain't festive, I don't know what it is."

Spot glanced at the nuts again. They didn't look like any chestnuts he'd seen before. "Chestnuts, Scotch? They look a little on the small side for chestnuts."

Scotch returned the stick to the flame, rotating it so that the other side ended up just as black. "Well," he said, drawing out the word, "maybe that's because they're not really chestnuts. Next best thing, I find."

"If they ain't chestnuts, what at are they then?"

There was a pause, a touch of hesitance, and then an embarrassed exhale—

"Acorns." Scotch shrugged apologetically, giving the threaded acorns a little shake. "It's all I could get for two pennies, but at least they threw the stick in for free."

Spot had a brain—more than half of one, in fact—and he knew that, since this winter had been a cold one but not particularly snowy yet, there were plenty of acorns still lying around for free if you went for a look around Prospect Park. Sticks, too. But he didn't point that out to Scotch. The other boy seemed so proud, and, like Spot thought before, it was Christmas.

So instead Spot said: "Acorns roastin' on an open fire?" He gave his head a small, pitying shake. But that was all right. Scotch didn't see it. "Doesn't have the same ring to it."

"Yeah," agreed Scotch, "and they're the devil to get to pop. And, between you and me, Spot, they taste like burnt dirt. Don't smell much better, either."

Spot looked at the stick that was still roasting over the edge of the barrel. The fire licked hopefully at one of the larger acorns and even it didn't seem to want to go back for another taste.

"Let me get this straight: they don't pop, they smell like fire and taste like dirt. And the reason you're still out here, roastin' 'em is—" Spot stopped right there. This was Scotch. He already knew the reason. "For a girl?"

Scotch put his free hand to his heart and swooned a bit. "A bonnie lass of the likes you've never seen before."

Spot doubted that. He'd seen Scotch pull the same swooning act over a squat girl with a bit of a squint and only half a mouthful of teeth. It was no secret that sometimes Scotch could get so desperate that he would lower his standards in the hopes of getting any girl but even Gummy Gertrude had turned him down. Still, Scotch was his reluctant second-in-command, Spot had to look after him, and, besides, it wasChristmas though, at the rate Spot was giving out kindnesses, he couldn't wait until it wasn't Christmas any longer.

Reaching deep into his trouser pocket, Spot pulled out a quarter piece. He'd been saving it for a night down at the local pub but, well, it was Christmas. He handed it to Scotch. "Take this. Buy yourself some real chestnuts. Acorns are acorns but I think you'll do better with nice, hot Christmas chestnut."

"Really?" Scotch wasn't a fool. He didn't waste any time with pride or stupid emotions like that. He took the coin before Spot thought better of it and then elbowed his old friend in the side; Scotch was maybe one of two or three people—Jack Kelly of Manhattan being another—who could get away with that and still have two elbows when they were done. "Anyone ever tell you you got a heart of gold?"

Spot scowled. He slipped his cane out from under his suspenders, handling it so that the flames reflected right off of the gold tip. "Say something like that again, Scotch, and I'll show you what else I got that's gold."

Scotch just laughed. If he had half a penny for every time the leader of Brooklyn threatened him, he never would've had to roast Christmas acorns in the first place.