A New Day Dawning: Feeling the Light
Some mornings, not even the heaviest of draperies could block out the sun. Like certain go-getting Newsies, that light wouldn't take "No" for an answer. And like the biggest mark who had ever walked the Earth, this morning, Jack couldn't either. And after last night, he could've used the sleep. He and Crutchie had... well, they'd... He huffed out a short laugh. They'd sure done their best to tire each other out was what they'd done. He hadn't been sure he'd been ready. Even seven months on from when they'd started this thing, he still hadn't been able to get much past kissing and a bit of heavy petting. It wasn't fair to Crutchie, but... he just couldn't quite do it. And then had come this -- an envelope slipped under the door of the tiny, dingy little apartment he shared with three other young newspaper men. It was unsigned, but it was addressed to Jack and held within it a key, a receipt for an upcoming overnight stay at a hotel written out to some man he didn't know... and a letter.
The letter began: ~You'll forgive me for forcing a pseudonym upon you, but though this establishment is known for being discreet, it seemed prudent...~ It had gone on to explain that the letter's author had been watching him for some time and felt that a little nudge was in his best interests and that perhaps he and his friend might find the conditions at the date and address enclosed more suitable to a tryst than the rooftops they'd been frequenting.
Jack would have been horrified... except he recognized the writing on that letter. So, he'd taken the gift for what it was, plucked up his courage, and invited Crutchie to spend the night with him at the hotel. He still hadn't known if he'd be able to do what they were going there for, but for the first time, he was at least game to try.
When they'd arrived, they'd been informed that should they wish to dine, the tab was being picked up by a most generous benefactor and they should feel free to order whatever they liked from room service. One glance at the hoity-toity dining establishment had quickly convinced Jack and Crutchie that that would probably be in everyone's best interests. They'd followed the bellhop to the room -- via an elevator, no less! -- and ended up spending a good twenty minutes just exploring the place. There was a huge bed, softer than anything either of them had ever slept on, a huge tub in their own private washroom, and a gorgeous view of the city. There was a pair of armchairs and a fireplace, too -- not that they expected to need the fireplace in this heat, but it certainly added to the ambience -- a dining table and chairs and more space than either boy had ever had to himself.
It was a little piece of Heaven. They'd overindulged on room service and Jack had even ordered a bottle of wine. He was still nervous, wasn't sure he'd be able to... but best not to think about it, right? After dinner, they'd made use of the bathing facilities. Jack had let Crutchie go first so the water would be hot for him, but it turned out that there was plenty of hot water to go around. Jack felt bad leaving his friend by himself, but by the time he was done with his bath... Crutchie had taken advantage of the privacy and Jack could well appreciate the result.
Crutchie had dimmed the room lights and lit a few candles, scattered them in strategic places to create a cozy, relaxed -- and somewhat provocative -- play of light and shadow that Jack's artist's eye couldn't help but approve of. He'd placed himself just as carefully on the bed, bare torso gleaming in the firelight, head propped up on one hand, the blanket draped over him up to his waist. And the look in his eyes... Jesus. Jack still wasn't used to it -- those moments when Crutchie would step up and take control of a situation. It had happened more and more often after he'd taken up with Spot last year, but still... Jack was used to being the one calling the shots in a relationship -- his time with Katherine being a glaring exception -- and it was unsettling when his usually meek best friend upended the normal game board on him.
Still, Jack couldn't deny that he'd needed the help. With the wine a pleasant buzz in the back of his mind and Crutchie's smile and gentle hands guiding the way, he'd discovered that really... there was nothing so frightening about this at all. Crutchie went slow with him, careful not to push him too hard or too fast outside where he was comfortable, but he didn't let Jack back away, either. He was done with Jack's hesitance and false excuses. By the time kissing had melted into the slow, languorous petting that was as far as Jack had dared go before, he'd all but forgotten why he hadn't been willing to go further. The feel of Crutchie's hands on him, of the play of his friend's muscles under the skin, the sheer ecstasy that sparked when they finally pressed up against each other... Jack could no longer imagine why he'd ever thought he might not want this.
Crutchie went out of his way to make things as easy as he could for Jack, showed him a glimpse of all the things he knew, all the ways they could please each other, and Jack was humbled. He'd thought himself a skilled lover -- he really had -- but now that he'd let himself go, the ease with which Crutchie handled him, taught him what he needed to know... his friend put him to shame. By the time Crutchie had brought him off with nothing but the touch of his hands and, Christ on a crutch, his mouth, Jack was ready to start babbling apologies for taking so long to get over himself and never stop.
Crutchie had put a halt to that before Jack even had a chance to get properly started. He'd put a hand to Jack's lips and shook his head, said simply, "You don't got to apologize to me, Jack. You was scared. You didn't know. And your friend was right -- open rooftops is nowhere to learn. Now, you know and it'll be different... and even if it ain't, that's OK, too. I never thought I'd have anything like this from you and that I got your love was more than I ever dared dream for, either. It would've been enough. That I got this, too, though..." Crutchie smiled, "If I died tomorrow, I'd die a happy man." That smile slid into a smirk, "But if you're up for more... it's possible I could die a happier one."
Talk of dying aside, once he'd had a minute to recover, Jack had most definitely been up for more. While he took that minute, Crutchie hobbled into the bathroom. While he was gone, Jack found himself staring up at the ceiling, feeling so blissfully happy that he wasn't even sure what to do with it. He couldn't remember a time when he'd ever felt this happy and he wanted to shout it from the rooftops -- or he would, if he even had the energy to sit up. So, rather than wasting his energy on the happy jig of a dance his heart was insisting was necessary, Jack just rolled onto his side and hoarded what little energy he had left.
...and that put him at just the right angle for a unique opportunity. When Crutchie walked back in from the bathroom Jack had a perfect view of him -- and it was only then that he'd realized that he'd never seen his friend fully in the nude before. He was gorgeous, and Jack couldn't get enough of looking at him. The only shame there was that Crutchie would never see himself that way -- the way Jack did... as beautiful. Still, Jack could, and he'd enjoy it while it lasted.
When Crutchie resettled himself on the bed, he bent back to take Jack in his mouth, again, and Jack almost protested. What about...? Again, Crutchie stopped him, this time with a smirk. That smile said simply, "Oh, don't you worry, Jack. I'm gonna get exactly what I want." Once Jack was hard and slick with spit -- which would be the point, he'd later find out -- Crutchie had lain down on his side, eased his bad leg forward and pushed teasingly back against him. A sudden flash of memory -- of a cold, December night, high on the rooftops of Manhattan, of a secret tryst to which Jack should not have been privy, of this same copper-tinted hair tossed back against someone else's shoulder in ecstasy -- told Jack everything else he needed to know. He needed no further guidance. After all, he'd dreamed of this moment for eight months and the fulfillment of that dream couldn't have been more wonderful if he'd planned it.
Afterwards, Crutchie had instructed Jack to get a wet hand towel to clean them both off. That accomplished... well, even teenagers run out of energy, eventually. They'd dropped right off to sleep. And between the events of the night and the comfort of their surroundings, Jack had figured he'd sleep until noon. No such luck. He wasn't sure why he didn't wake Crutchie to suffer with him, but... maybe it was because he looked so peaceful.
Crutchie was sprawled gracefully over his half of the bed -- far softer, far more relaxed than he ever was in waking motion. He lay on his left side, one strong arm tucked under his pillow supporting his head, the other stretched out in Jack's direction. They'd kicked off the heavy covers sometime during the night, leaving only the crisp, white top sheet covering them both. Towards morning, even that had seemed too much, and they'd both ended up with the sheet rucked around them in odd places, bare limbs sticking out from beneath as though seeking cooler air. And there was something about that pose -- and the blissful smile that hadn't left his friend's face even in sleep -- that made Jack's hand itch for a piece of charcoal.
Moving as quietly as he could, Jack eased his way out of bed and crossed the room to rummage in his bag for his drawing supplies. Now that he was selling his illustrations to the papes full-time, he tried to never be without them, never sure when something picture-worthy would happen in this city, but he wasn't sure he'd packed them tonight... Ah! Smiling triumphantly, Jack pulled the sketchpad and charcoals from his bag and returned to their bedside, this time perching in the window so as not to wake his friend too soon.
As Jack bent his head to his project, he couldn't help but smile thinking about what Crutchie would say if he was awake to see what he was doing...
"Jack! You're crazy. I ain't no model. Go draw something pretty or something that'll put money in your pocket. Don't waste your time on me."
Yes, Jack knew his friend's uncertainties all too well. This past year had gone a long way towards dispelling them, but there was one matter on which Crutchie wouldn't budge. He looked at Jack, looked at Spot, looked at Davey and Racer and Specs... and found himself wanting. He wasn't as fast, wasn't as strong... wasn't as handsome. And Crutchie falsely equating "handsome" with "having two good legs" was a notion that Jack couldn't seem to disabuse him of no matter how hard he tried. And what did it matter, anyway? Crutchie did just fine with only one good leg and two good legs or no, Jack thought he wasn't just handsome, but beautiful. He'd always been beautiful. That copper-tinted hair, those big brown eyes, high cheekbones and upswept nose... that smile that wouldn't quit. Jack was an artist now, for cripes' sake! If Crutchie could trust anyone's opinion on beauty, it should be Jack's, right?
Jack paused, smirked as Crutchie shifted, exposing more of his leg from beneath the sheet. Then again... Jack was admittedly biased.
Acres and acres and it's all yours, right, Jackie-boy? That's what Spot had said one day when he'd caught Jack watching Crutchie from across Washington Square as he sold his daily papes. There was a hint of residual envy in his voice and Jack couldn't blame him. After all, Crutchie had been his just a few months before then, would still have been his now if he hadn't decided to be the better man about it In spite of his feelings for Jack, Crutchie had been willing to stay with Spot, willing to give up that chance at something more, and Spot hadn't let him, had pushed him away when he hesitated. And Jack was so grateful for that that he was willing to forgive that residual envy... and to feel sorrow for it.
If you'd asked Jack ten years ago, two years ago, one year ago, what he saw in his future... well, shacking up with his best friend after said best friend had broken up with their other best friend wouldn't have been the first thing that came to mind. Then again, he also wouldn't have believed he'd be making five to ten bucks a pop for one of his drawings, so what the hell did he know back then?
Predictably, just as Jack finished off the outline of his sketch and began shading it in, Crutchie stirred again, this time with more intent. His eyes squeezed tightly shut, then slowly blinked open. Unfocused and still sleepy, they still found Jack with no trouble, and when their gazes met, Crutchie's smile widened. Jack couldn't help but smile right back. Crutchie had that effect on everyone and Jack was glad that familiarity had never made him immune. He said, "Mornin'. You was sleepin' pretty good. Didn't want to wake you. I hope you don't mind."
Crutchie shook his head, moved his free hand to cover a yawn. When he lowered it, he said, "I don't mind, Jack. That was the best I slept in... well... in a real long time. You sure we gotta leave?"
Jack made a face as he nodded, "Yeah, we only got this room for one night. Sort of an anniversary of the strike present, you know? I can't afford a place like this regular."
The truth was, he wouldn't have been able to afford a place like this, at all -- not even on five to ten bucks a picture. No, this was all thanks to that unsigned fairy godmother of theirs. Still, unsigned or not, Jack had known who arranged all this -- Katherine's friend, Darcy Reid. It couldn't have been anyone else. He'd confessed to Jack months ago that he was the same as Crutchie, the same as Spot... the same as Jack. And he was just as much in love with his best friend as Jack was with his. Problem was, Darcy wasn't so lucky as Jack. His love was going to remain unrequited, probably forever. Plus, as he'd said, there were advantages to being a Newsie, to being an orphan. You answered to no one but yourself and your friends and that bought you a certain amount of freedom. Being heir to a great newspaper empire... well, that left Darcy with far fewer options than Jack. But, instead of being bitter about lost opportunities, Darcy had responded to their situations by gifting Jack and Crutchie with things whenever he felt sore about it. And this -- this one night oasis of privacy in the middle of an overcrowded city -- was the most thoughtful gift anyone had ever given Jack. He'd have to find a way to thank him someday.
On the other hand, the false name he'd left along with the key was something else he'd have to thank the man for... maybe with a fist up his nose. Really... Francis Sullivan? Did he look like a Francis? He'd asked Crutchie that last night and the other boy had just laughed and refused to answer. Francis. Ridiculous.
During Jack's silence, Crutchie had woken up more completely, pulled himself into a sitting position... and finally noticed what Jack held on his lap. He reached over and pulled the pad down to get a closer look, always interested in what Jack was drawing and used to having permission to look whenever he liked. And, sure enough, the minute he saw what was on that paper, he pulled the sheet over his exposed, crippled leg and the protests began, "Jack! You're crazy. I ain't no model. If you wanted to do some drawin', you should've woken me up sooner so we could get gone. You shouldn't waste your time drawin' me. 'Specially not, you know... all uncovered and such." He waved his hand over his now covered leg.
Jack sighed, put his sketch pad and charcoal to the side and wiped his fingers on his robe. Shaking his head, he stood and moved to sit on the bed next to his friend. He slid one hand along Crutchie's fiercely reddened cheek and tilted the other boy's face up to place a soft kiss on his lips. When they parted, he said, "Crutchie... Some day I's gonna fill a whole damned gallery with nothin' but pictures of you and make you sit and watch while rich folks parade on through and hail your beauty. But, until I got the money for that... maybe you could just take it on faith that I'm an artist, knowin' what's beautiful is my stock and trade, and just believe me when I tell you that you's it?"
"But..." Crutchie plucked at the sheet covering his leg.
Jack leaned over, planted another kiss on Crutchie's lips, then slid further down the bed and slowly teased the sheet off of Crutchie's legs. He looked up at his friend and said softly, "What do you see when you look at yourself?"
Crutchie winced, made as if to cover himself back up. When Jack wouldn't let him, he shrugged, "I don't know, Jack. I'm short. I look like a kid, even though I's nearly nineteen. And..." He waved a hand at his crippled leg, "You can't look me in the eye and tell me you think this is beautiful, Jack. It's... it's twisted and too small and covered in scars. It don't bend right. It don't support my weight. It aches constantly, especially when the weather's gonna be bad and... it's just ugly, Jack."
Nodding slowly, Jack said in answer, "You want to know what I see when I looks at you?" When Crutchie shrugged, Jack reached over and pulled his sketchpad off the ledge. He held it out to his friend and said, "I see this."
Crutchie rolled his eyes but took the pad from him. Jack just sat back and watched. Crutchie flipped through the pages of that book, eyes slowly widening as he did. Jack knew what he was seeing -- page after page after page of pictures of himself. There were pictures of him sleeping, like this morning, pictures of him in Washington Square, selling his papes, pictures of him with the other Newsies, laughing and talking and playing whatever game they were playing. Mostly, though, there were pictures of that amazing smile that Jack couldn't get enough of in all its brilliant variations.
After a few minutes, Crutchie looked up from the book, a stunned look on his face, unable to form any question, much less the one he needed to get any answers. Jack spared him the trouble, merely smiled and said, "You tell me, Crutchie. Lookin' at those pictures... do you even notice you got a leg?"
Crutchie's answer was a raging blush. He ducked his head, muttered, "Oh, good. So you's blind on top of the crazy. That's a ringin' endorsement if there ever was one."
Jack laughed, "See? That's what I mean. That sense o' humor of yours, that smile... the way you look out for everyone and the way people just knows they can trust you. Crutchie... beauty ain't about havin' two good legs or bein' tall or fast or lookin' like you's your age. Speakin' o' which -- you ever stop to consider what it's gonna look like when we's forty? People is gonna think I'm robbin' the cradle goin' around with such a young guy -- I bet you'll be happy for it, then!"
Crutchie's breath hitched halfway through Jack's little explosion of words. When Jack finished, Crutchie said softly, "You... you think we's still gonna be together when we's forty?"
Jack shrugged, "Don't know, really... but I'd sure like to find out." Taking Crutchie's hand in his, he added, "And it ain't no lie that I'd count myself lucky if it turns out to be true."
Having caught Jack's gaze, Crutchie seemed to be searching for something -- what it was, Jack couldn't have said, but he put as much sincerity as he could in his eyes because he'd meant every word of that speech -- especially the last bit. Eventually Crutchie nodded once, said, "OK, Jack. I still think you're crazy, but I think I might like your kinda crazy just fine. So, how's about we leave it at that?"
Jack smiled back at his friend... now his lover, as well, and leaned forward to kiss him, slow and deep. When they parted, he said simply, "I think I can live with that. And I will... for as long as you'll let me."