Disclaimer: Any characters you recognize 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.

One By One

Leaning back on the hard wooden seat, Jack Kelly was trying his best to remember whatever it was he knew about Randall's Island.

It wasn't easy, considering he'd never even heard of the island before last week and none of his pals knew anything more than it was a strange island stuck out past the East River's reach and that it had a shady reputation ever since the House of Refuge had been shut down twenty years ago. It was haunted, he heard, the ghosts of those poor unfortunate children lingering there.

Overall, Jack had decided that most of what he learned sounded more like it belonged in one of those dime store novels rather than fitting a weekend invitation and he dismissed the stories with a charming grin and a chuckle. Now, though, he was more than halfway there and, with the next few days ahead of him, there was plenty of time to learn about his destination. So what if he didn't know anything about the place? Consider it an adventure!

Besides, there were much better things to dwell on just then—like the pretty brunette sitting a little ways farther down the boat, for one. Her head was bowed over some sort of tatting in her slender hands, maybe it was piecework, but she'd already dared enough fleeting glances up and over at Jack for him to know she was worth a little staring back. Who knows? At the very least, if this young woman was going to be a companion during his stay at Randall's Island, it was looking like it might be a good venture after all.

Of course, It would have been even better if the two of them were going to be alone. But seeing as how the small boat rowing them across the river seemed to be carrying more passengers than it probably should, that obviously wasn't the case.

There was the captain, a man called Snyder that Jack found himself immediately disliking, and his patch-wearing first mate who was just too chipper for this gloomy April afternoon. And then, sitting along the bench opposite of Jack—and a little too close to the pretty brunette for Jack's tastes—was a young man in a bowtie with curly brown hair and a furrowed brow.

He was reading a letter not unlike the one Jack had crumpled and stowed in his right hand pocket. A pair of intense blue eyes scrutinized every line, entirely oblivious to Jack's genial interest in his doings, and he nodded to himself before reaching behind inside his jacket pocket and pulling out a pencil. A small, palm-sized notebook followed next. He was lost in his work which pleased Jack slightly. It was his fault if he was so involved in his writing to notice a pretty girl so close to him.

There was only one other passenger sharing this trip, a fourth member to their strange little quartet. Jack hadn't noticed him at first, not when they were boarding, not even when they were first setting off for the island, but midway through the journey he was there as if he'd been there all along. He kept himself standing during the ride, his wiry arms reaching out behind him as he held onto the rim of the boat.

This man was about Jack's size, maybe shorter, but he was a bit bulky. Strong. A faded old derby that had once been black but was now more a burnt sort of grey was pulled down low, covering his eyes, and his expression was pleasantly neutral.

At least, Jack thought to himself, most of the time it was pleasantly neutral. Captain Kelly hadn't come out of the Great War with two medals and all of his limbs still attached without developing—or, in his case, honing—the skill to know when he was being watched and when he was being watched by someone who could very easily be a prospective and formidable enemy. Once or twice he'd caught a glimpse of the stranger with his head turned Jack's way and a cruel twist to his mouth.

Once or twice... but for a seasoned soldier, that had been enough.

He would have much preferred to keep his eye on the brunette but something warned Jack's attention from straying too far from the man in the derby. While he continued to lean back in his seat, the picture of a young man at ease, he was watching the other man watch him when, all of a sudden, the boat hit a particularly choppy wave and gave such a jolt that the girl's needle slipped, the curly-haired man dropped his pencil and Jack jerked in his seat.

The man in the derby hat barely moved at all, though his grip on the rails might have tightened just a little bit. And then, when the pencil rolled with the waves and landed right in front of him, he just turned his head down to look at it—

"Excuse me, sir, bit I believe that's my pencil—"

—and promptly kicked it away with the toe of his boot, sending it spiralling back across the deck where it happened to rest up against the side of the young woman's heeled shoe.

The curly-haired man cleared his throat. "Excuse me, miss. My pencil...?"

"Wha—oh... oh, yes." Setting aside her sewing, she lifted the hem of her plain cream-colored skirt before spying the wayward pencil. "Of course." She leaned over and scooped it up with slender, pale fingers.

"Thank you."

"No trouble at at all," she assured him kindly, handing him the pencil.

The man in the derby made a derisive noise in the back of his throat that the three other passengers ignored—though it was pretty rough for the veteran soldier to pretend not to notice such rudeness. He scowled and hoped the other man noticed.

The curly-haired man accepted his pencil with a sheepish expression and quickly returned to his seat, bowing his head over his little notebook again, scratching away madly. The young woman picked up her sewing again and resumed work on it—but not before she shot Jack one further look out of the corner of her eye. Another look and one last hint of a shy yet coy smile before her piecework stole all of her attention.

Captain Jack Kelly sat up a little straighter in his seat.

A pretty girl, a smart sort of fellow and a shadow... Jack's handsome face brightened a little, never giving away more than he wanted it to. Yes. Whether or not he knew anything substantial in regards to Randall's Island before now or not, this weekend looked like it might prove to be quite entertaining after all.

At times Spot Conlon could be very easily amused—though, really, you would never know it from looking at him.

A rough early life—scrapping for meals on the street, picking pockets in order to survive, fighting for everything he could get until, at the age of twenty-three, he had everything he could ever want—had given him a poker face to kill for. No matter what there was always a hard, steely edge to his brilliant cyan eyes, always a quiet mocking quality that pulled at his smirking lips, and at any given moment he could be plotting your downfall or wishing you the very best and you'd never have any idea until the moment he shook you by the hand or stabbed you in the back.

Just then, as the small dinghy made its way choppily toward Randall's Island, he was content with amusing himself by looking at his two fellow passengers and wondering, if they were both thrown overboard, who would have a better chance of surviving?

He made a point not to count the tiny craft's crew—a strange older man with grey hair, beady rat's eyes and a queer smile as captain, and his first mate, a happy, one-eyed man who cheerfully stowed Spot's case off to the side and welcomed him onboard—because their experience manning this boat had to count for something. It seemed cheap enough. Flimsy. How many times have they capsized already and had to swim back to the docks? Exactly.

No, if it was to be fair, it had to be between these two. They seemed pretty evenly matched. One of them was dark-haired, obviously a short fella though he'd already been sitting along a bench on the other side of the boat when Spot arrived, and he was sucking on a cigar that barely smoked. He was thin, compact, but that could work for him. Spot decided he was probably a good swimmer.

Then there was the other man. He looked to be about Spot's age but considering his baby face, he might have been older. He had darker coloring though his hair was tightly curled rather than slicked back like the other man's; Spot could still see the path of the comb's teeth in the first man's greasy black hair.. This one was definitely a lot more pleasant than his imagined rival—he hadn't lost his innocent, wide-eyed expression or his air of excitement since he followed Spot onto the boat.

Still, he had to have a head on the rest of the passengers, a head at least, and his thick boxer's build proved that he wasn't a man to be trifled with. Maybe he could float, mused Spot. Or maybe he could drown the shorter fella and use his body as a flotation device to get back to New York. Definitely something to consider.

Right now Spot was betting on the shorter of the two swimming away first and surviving but he hadn't quite made up his mind yet. Maybe by the time this rickety little ship docked he'd have a better idea.

Oh, well. At least it kept him occupied.

It was quiet, the only sounds being the slapping of the river against the hull and the muffled conversation between the two members of the crew in the front of the boat. Spot yawned. It was still early out—only mid-afternoon—but it had been a long one last night. Hopefully tonight went a little easier.

Across the way, the first man was absently jangling a hand full of worn dice, almost as if he wasn't even aware that he was doing it. Maybe he had felt Spot's interested eye on him because he kept making it a point not to meet it. Instead, he jerked his head over at the other fella who was standing up, pacing along the backside of the boat.

He broke the quiet up with a voice so stereotypically New York that Spot decided he had to be putting it on: "Hey... You okay, buddy? You don't look so good."

And it was true. As big as he was, there was no denying the greenish tint to his olive-colored skin. He smiled weakly. "Just a little seasickness," the second man admitted. "I'll be fine."

The shorter fella cracked a grin that revealed more than a mouth full of crooked teeth. "And you're taking a boat out tonight?"

"Had to." The sick fella took a steadying breath and exhaled loudly before chuckling softly. "If there was a way to walk to Randall's Island, I would've taken it. You can trust me on that."

"Not just takin' a tour for your health then?"

Despite his queasiness, his expression was just like a puppy dog: eager and faithful. Spot half expected him to lean down and lick the shorter fella's cheek. "Nope. I was invited to stay at the island for a couple days so I'm goin'." His voice, while wavering, was full of earnestness. "I'm sure there'll be some ginger ale when I get there. I've heard the dinners on Randall's Island are fabulous."

The first man, the shorter one, he looked mildly impressed that they were taking the same journey. Spot figured they were all heading to the same place though he didn't intrude on the conversation. He just listened, half interested in what they were saying, half wondering if the big fella's seasickness would make it difficult for him to swim.

The shorter fella scooted down on the bench he'd been perched on, making room for the sick fella to take a seat. "Here," he invited, "go on: take a load off. We've gotta be almost there."

"Oh? Have you been invited, too?" When the shorter fella nodded, the sick one graciously sank down in the offered seat. For such a strong-looking young man, thought Spot, he sure moved a lot more gracefully than he would've expected. "Thanks. I'm Mush, by the way."

"Tony," the short guy answered, "but if we're going by nicknames, you can call me Race."

Well, mused Spot, that certainly explained the dice. A gambler, right. A risktaker, too, but not a particularly good one judging by the wear and tear on his trousers and the stub of the nearly spent cigar Race kept clamped between his back molars during the entire trip so far. He was babying the cigar, nursing it, making it last, all the while while still jangling his damn dice, pretending to be friendly to the mushy fella.

Because Spot could tell he was faking, just like he could tell Mush's friendliness was genuine. He took in Mush's disposition, paying particularly close attention to his seasickness, and awarded another point in Race's favor. He looked like a survivor, that one. A real scrappy fella.

Those thoughts running through his head, he was keenly aware that both of them were shooting questioning gazes over at him but Spot remained blissfully quiet. He just fingered the edge of the cold cane sitting at his side and tilted his head back, staring up at the darkening sky.

He breathed in deep and noticed the metallic tang to the air. A storm was coming. Perfect.

So it seemed as if he was right: the three of them were heading to the same place. Randall's Island. Damn if he could even remember what had gotten him to agree to this trip in the first place, especially if his companions were going to be these two. Not that it really mattered. One night, that was all he planned on staying himself, and not even that long if he had his way.

Until then, he would hope that this dinner was as fabulous as Mush seemed to think it was. Forget the ginger ale, though. Give him a shot or two of the best moonshine whiskey and maybe he'll stop putting these two in fictitious peril—hell, he might even feel inclined to introduce himself at last.

End Note: Okay, first chapter done :) With this chapter, I tried to reveal most of the main characters, as well as a little bit about them. Obviously, there's not much coming out yet - but that's because we're only just starting. That doesn't mean that you guys can't start making bets, though. I'm kinda excited to see what you guys think will be happening as we go along - and whether or not I can keep you stumped through the end.

I should have the next chapter really soon (considering how my Easter goes tomorrow, maybe even as early as then :D), and I'll reveal the last three characters for this plot. After that then the fun can really begin! I hope you're all excited as I am!

Special thanks go out to: Pegasus, Mayarin, Joker is Poker with a J, Spin, Heavely Princess and DanceThroughInsanity for reviewing the prologue. You have no idea how much I appreciated that.

- stress, 04.07.12