Author's Note: This is it, guys. The final chapter of "How the World Turns". Thank you to everyone who has taken this lovely journey with me, especially those of you who offered your wonderful input in the form or reviews (Like those who reviewed the last chapter: Ealasaid Una, LucyConlon, woundedhearts, Newsies Kraken, JacobsConlonBrooklynNewsie, natalieblack2, mysterygirl, and autumnamberleaves). Y'all have been such a blessing and I've enjoyed writing this immensely.
Chapter 21- Can't Stop Me
Oh I swear to you
I'll be there for you
This is not a drive by
~Drive By: Train~
Jack straightened the bandanna around his neck as he walked back to the Lodge, allowing a smug grin to grace his features. He had just made a visit to a certain Mr. Willet. After hearing about the way he had been treating Sarah, Jack just couldn't get the ordeal out of his mind, so he decided to amend the problem. Just because he wasn't with Sarah anymore didn't mean that some bastard was allowed to boss her around like that. Therefore, Jack had decided to have a little talk with this Mr. Willet. Sarah wouldn't have to worry about being verbally abused by him any longer. Under all the bravado, there was one thing similar in almost every bully Jack had every come in contact with - they were always cowards.
He ran into Mush a street away from the Lodge.
"Heya, Jack. How's it rollin'?"
"Doin' good, Mush. An' yourself?"
Before he could answer, though, he spotted a bedraggled-looking trio making their way toward them from the other end of the street. It only took a second for him to recognize his sister, David, and Kid Blink. David was leaning heavily on Blink and Al was walking with a limp again. It seemed like just yesterday she had finally removed the stitches from she and David's legs and stopped limping. Now she was at it again and, from the looks of it, the cause was a particularly intense fight.
Mush noticed them at the same time Jack did and ran for their friends.
As he got closer, he noticed the bruising and the blood. Just like with Al's limping, it seemed like Al and David's bruises had only just cleared up after having been jumped by Quick Fist's boys. Now Al had a purplish bruise forming on her forehead under her matted hair and another was forming on her chin, but it was nothing compared to the bruising on her neck. The bruising there was already so dark that it almost looked black. Jack almost didn't notice David's injuries because he was so fixated on his sister's wounds, but that quickly changed when he noticed the dark patch of blood soaking through the left side of his shirt.
"What the hell happened to the two of ya?" Jack asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Let's get inside," Blink almost commanded before anyone could respond.
Jack, unaccustomed to hearing Kid Blink order around anyone other than the younger boys or Mush, simply nodded and helped his sister head toward the Lodge. Now that he wasn't so distracted by her neck and David's shoulder, he saw the sizable horizontal slit in the knee of her skirt and that there was a bit of blood on it. He could see more on her shoe.
By the time they made it inside, Jack was simply bursting with questions. This time, they went up to Jack and Al's apartment, per David's insistence.
"Mush, get the foist aid stuff," Al requested. Her voice was deep and grainy. She coughed and it sounded so painful that Jack wished she wouldn't.
When they reached their living space. Al silently directed Blink to help David lay down on the couch. David started to protest, but one particularly fierce look from Al silenced him. Jack put water on the stove, heating it the way Al always had someone do when there was an injury that required cleaning. He wasn't sure why she needed it warm, but assumed she knew what she was doing. Then he grabbed a glass of water for Al, David, and Blink, assuming they would need it.
Mush came in and handed Al the medical kit. She started rummaging through it as Jack asked the million-dollar question:
"Quick Fists tried to kill 'er," David said, grimacing as Al helped him out of his shirt. He looked angry and upset, almost scared, as he said it. "I found 'im strangling her in a back alley. He almost killed her, Jack. She was almost gone." Jack saw the fear in David's eyes as he said it and he felt his own heart stop as his words sunk in. Jack felt himself start to shake as the anger boiled up inside him. Just the thought of losing his little sister was beyond unbearable.
"David!" Les burst in the door, followed by an apologetic-looking Boots. Jack could just see Runner peeking around from behind him, his curiosity winning out over his knowledge that he wasn't supposed to be here.
"I tried to stop 'im," Boots said as Les made a beeline for Al and David. Jack tried to calm his expression as he realized that Boots mistakenly thought Jack was directing his anger at him.
"You're all bloody! What happened?" His eyes shifted from David to Al and grew wide as saucers when they landed on the bruising around her neck. "You got hurt again." His voice sounded small and scared. Jack had never seen Les look so vulnerable. He reached out and touched a finger to Al's neck. He touched it gently and Al did her best not to flinch away. Jack watched the boy's eyes fill with tears.
David smiled at his younger brother trying to play it off. "Yeah, but we won this time, bud. You don't have to worry, it's not too bad."
Les raised both eyebrows as he looked again from David's shoulder, which was clearly a knife wound, to the angry strangulation bruises around Al's neck. He opened his mouth to say something when Jack interrupted.
"Les, Davy's gonna be fine. So's Al," Jack told him, coming around the other side of the sofa and moving toward the door. He motioned for Les to join him and he reluctantly obeyed after Al planted a kiss on the top of his head and mussed up his hair. Jack slung an arm around his shoulder when he came near. "Now we gotta talk about some important stuff. Soon as we're done, you can come sit with Davy an' Al all you want, alright?"
Les hesitated for a long moment, throwing a glance back to his brother. Finally, he nodded and, with a little more coaxing, followed Boots and Runner down to the Lodge.
Jack shut the door and turned back to the others, returning the conversation back to it's former topic. "I'll kill 'im. Where is he?"
"You don't have to," Blink cut in, sounding both resigned and serious. "I already did."
Mush and Jack swiveled their heads toward him so quickly that Jack heard his own neck pop.
"There wasn't any other choice," David answered for him as Al stood to wash her hands and get the boiling water from the stovetop. "He was gonna kill her. He wasn't gonna stop hunting her until 'e succeeded."
Kid Blink looked away while Mush and Jack processed this information. It wasn't until Al limped back into the room that he turned back toward them. "I gotta get outta town."
"They can't tie ya to it," Al croaked as she started to clean David's wound. He hissed in pain. "No one saw."
"Al's right," Mush quickly added. "Besides, David said this was in a back alley. It could be weeks 'fore they even find the body."
Jack saw Blink grimace at the use of the word "body".
"No, Blink's right," he regretfully agreed. "You can't be certain no one saw. What happens if they did or someone finds out an' the bulls take Blink away. He wouldn't go to the Refuge, he'd go to the state penitentiary." The weight of the words hung in the air for a moment and even caused Al to pause and bite her lower lip. He knew she would blame herself for letting Blink kill him and get himself in this mess.
She resumed her work, grabbing a bottle of disinfectant and readying a towel. "Jack, grab 'is hand an' let him squeeze hard as he can." He obeyed and she turned to David, looking apologetic. "This is gonna hoit a bit."
She positioned the towel a few inches beneath the wound and poured a liberal amount of disinfectant over the cut. David's eyes went wide and he grit his teeth. His back arched and Jack felt the pressure bear down on his hand and was forced to squeeze back to keep his friend from breaking his hand. Al dabbed at the cut as David's body relaxed and she kissed him on the temple. She pulled a small bottle of whiskey out the basket and had David take a swig to dull the pain a bit.
"I'm sorry, hon. I know," she murmured as she worked.
"Fact of it is, I'm a murderah. I gotta get out o' the city and go to Chicago or somethin'. How much does a ticket there cost?"
"You're not a murderah, Blink," Al rebuked him firmly, turning to look him directly in the eye. Her voice continued to rasp in a way that made it almost painful to hear. "Murdah is when you kill for fun or out of revenge. Murdah was what he was gonna do. You killed 'im, but ya didn't murder 'im." She coughed and her expression and tone softened. "And don't you worry about what it costs." She looked back to needle she was now preparing. "We're gonna pay for the ticket." Then to David, "This is gonna hoit a bit, too."
"She's right," David answered. "You're gonna need all your-" He hissed as the needle entered his skin and grit his teeth as he continued. "-money to start a new life over there."
"We'll all chip in," Jack picked up. "You desoive it. You saved my sistah's life an', from the looks of it, Davy's too."
Kid Blink allowed himself a little smile.
"I'm coming with you," Mush announced resolutely.
"What?" The smile faded from Blink's lips immediately.
"No one should 'ave to face movin' to a big city by themselves."
"No, you got a life here an' a goil. I can't let you do that."
"You can't stop me."
Jack saw a level of stubbornness he had never before seen in Mush emerge in the boy's dark eyes. He raised an eyebrow at Blink as if daring him to challenge the validity of his words.
"You're the closest thing to a brother I got," Mush continued when he saw that Blink wouldn't contest him again. "I ain't lettin' you go off by yourself."
Blink didn't allow himself to smile this time, but Jack thought he saw a little bit of the hope he seemed to have lost return to his friend.
Three hours later, the details had all been ironed out and both David and Al had been all patched up. The boys would leave early in the morning, using the money given them from Al, David, Jack, and Racetrack (who had been informed and brought into the circle upon his arrival back at the Lodge, due to his status as Jack's second-in-command) for tickets. They didn't have many possessions, so packing wasn't much of an issue, but Al had cried when they retired to bed. They had decided to do their goodbyes tonight instead of in the morning, not wanting to wake anyone else up or answer any questions about why they were leaving or where they were headed. The less anyone knew about the anything involving Quick Fists' final attack, the better.
Now everyone in the Lodge was fast asleep. David was crashed on their couch for the night after Les had gone home and informed his family that his brother was recovering from a particularly nasty fight, but he would be fine. Jack had opted to sleep on the floor by the couch, but ended up going to the roof when restlessness overtook him. Now he stood, looking over the Manhattan skyline with a strange mixture of peace and restlessness warring within him.
Jack sighed and lit up a cigarette, coughing when he breathed in the first drag too quickly. He held it out and stared at the orange glow.
"Couldn't sleep?" Al asked, coming up beside him. He spared her a sideways glance and saw that she was wearing his jacket over her nightgown and holding a glass of water in her hand. Her voice still sounded a bit raw, but it was better than it had been a few hours ago. It didn't make him wince anymore upon hearing it, though it did give him the strange urge to cough.
"You feelin' alright?" he questioned in response.
She threw him an irritated look, as she always did when someone answered a question with another question. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a lil' sore. You okay?"
He nodded and looked back over the skyline. "I'm just glad he's gone."
"Me too," she agreed, leaning her head on his shoulder. "I just wish Blink an' Mush didn't have to go."
They stood there in a comfortable silence for the next few minutes. Jack let his mind wander. He was glad that they didn't have to worry about Quick Fists any longer. He couldn't pose a threat to anyone he held dear ever again. That was a huge relief and it gave him the ability to focus on more important things like training Runner and taking care of his sister.
There was a pause as if Al was looking for the right words to say. "Now that everything's calmed down, d'ya think you'n Sarah are gonna get back togethah?" She asked it tentatively and Jack appreciated her concern. She was afraid that she might be hurting him by asking that question. In all honesty, thinking about Sarah did hurt, but not so much that he felt he couldn't respond. Al had the right to ask him and deserved an answer.
"I don't think so, Al," he answered truthfully. "I ain't ready for that right now. And it ain't fair to 'er."
Al nodded against his shoulder and he moved to wrap his arm around her while took another puff of his cigarette.
"'Cause you're gonna leave." It wasn't a question, but a somewhat timid statement. They both knew it was true, but she obviously didn't like saying it aloud.
"'Cause I'm gonna leave," he repeated, almost quieter than she had. "But I'll stick around here for a while. Wait 'til things're calm. I can't miss Mags an' Skittery's weddin'. An' I can't miss yours." She threw him a playful glare. "Plus, Runner's still too young to run things without me."
"An' there ain't no way in hell I'm takin' ovah again," Al chuckled.
Jack laughed and gave his sister's shoulders a slight squeeze.
"I don't want you to go," she admitted quietly. Jack felt a pang in his chest as she said it. "But I want you to be happy an' you nevah will be if ya don't follow your dream."
Jack nodded. "I don't wanna leave you eithah. It scares me. We been togethah for so long, always watchin' each other's backs… But I gotta."
"It's funny how the world toins, ya know? I don't wanna stay and I don't wanna go." He took a deep breath of the cold October air. "You know that no mattah how far away I am, you'll always have me. You know that, right?"
"Of course, Jack," Al answered. She coughed and took a sip of water before standing up on her toes and planting a kiss on his cheek. "You know that you're the best brother I could evah ask for, right?"
Jack didn't answer, feeling like he really wasn't worthy of that title, but a smile blossomed on his face nonetheless.
A/N: And that's the end of "How the World Turns". I hope y'all enjoyed the ride. :)
Now for the announcement about the next sequel-
I've decided that I'm going to give y'all a release date for this one, basically so that y'all can expect a concrete date on which you can find the first chapter of the final part of the More Than Blood trilogy. I want to give myself plenty of time between now and then to get the plot line fleshed out as well as get a couple of chapters written. I figured choosing a date would not only spur me on to work harder, but keep y'all from wondering if I've died in the meantime. I'm really excited about this sequel and hope y'all are too.
So, the release date is *drumroll please* May 21st!
Unfortunately, I haven't written enough of the final installation that I have a snippet to show you, so I'll give you a short summary instead.
When Al opened the door, it was Racetrack who stood before her. His clothes were ratty and torn, his face covered in bruises, and her heightened sense of smell made her feel like she had been hit by a wall of body odor. She threw a hand over her mouth and nose, half out of surprise at finding her old friend on her doorstep and half to plug her nose so her stomach would stop doing flips due to the stench.
"I didn't know where else to go." He barely finished the sentence before pitching forward into Al's unsuspecting arms. She barely had time to catch him and struggled with the dead weight of his body.
"LES! Les, a lil' help, please!" she yelled.
Les came bounding into the room and upon seeing the scene before him, immediately relieved his very pregnant sister-in-law of the unconscious Italian. He slung one of Race's arms around his shoulder before wrapping his right arm around Race's ribs. "Where do you want me to put 'im?"
"Sofa," Al answered, subconsciously rubbing her belly as she closed the front door and locked it just to be safe. She followed Les into the living room where he was laying their old friend down.
"What the hell happened to 'im?" the sixteen-year-old asked, rubbing the back of his neck the way his older brother so often did.
"I dunno, Les, but I wager we'll find out soon enough."