In the months since Les and Davey had become newsies, Jack had never seen them more than a few paces apart, not even when Jack had told them splitting up and saying they lost the other would help bump their sales. They either showed up together or they didn’t show up at all. Which was why when little Les started dragging his papers out of distribution by himself one particular morning, Jack was at his side pretty damn fast.
“Hey, careful with ‘em, kid,” he said, reaching down to pick up Les’ stack of papers and hoisting them up onto his own shoulder. “Where’s Davey? Ain’t he usually the one luggin’ these around?”
Les was breathing a little heavy from trying to carry his stack, and shook his head up at Jack. “He’s sick, I’m sellin’ without ‘im ‘til he’s better.”
Jack’s stomach rolled thinking about Davey being sick, it didn’t take a lot for a kid to go down, even if he had somewhere warm to sleep at night. “Sick? What kinda sick?”
“Cold,” Les answered simply, eyes flicking to the papers Jack had stole from him. “Can I have my papers back?”
When Les reached up expectantly Jack took a step back, pushing the kid’s hat down over his eyes before leaning down at his level. “Don’t think Davey’d be too happy ‘bout you sellin’ by yourself, kid.”
“He didn’t say nothin’ before I left,” Les shot back, almost drawing a laugh out of Jack from the way he puffed out his chest defensively. “Besides, the other boys sell by themselves-”
“The other boys been sellin’ longer,” Jack quipped, rocking back on his heels, “and I don’t gotta get hell from their brothers for lettin’ em go off by themselves.”
Les grumbled something under his breath that Jack knew Davey would’ve tried to wash his mouth out over, but he let it go and stood back up, grabbing Les’ shoulder and pulling him along and toward Jack’s usual route.
“C’mon, ya can sell with me ‘til Davey gets back.”
“But that ain’t-”
“Hey, I should be chargin’ ya,” Jack said, sectioning off a chunk of his own papers to hand to the younger boy. “This is a top notch education you’se gettin’.”
Les had already run off ahead though, and Jack watched him collapse into a coughing fit as an older couple walked by, saying something pitiful looking between breaths and catching a nickel for his efforts. Kid didn’t really need much help, he supposed.
“I don’t wanna walk anymore.”
Jack laughed and looked down at Les tugging at his shirt and not even trying to hide the whine in his voice. “Whaddya mean? Sun ain’t even down yet.”
“Me and Davey always finish before this,” Les said, dragging his feet as Jack kept walking down the block. “And I might be catchin’ sick from him.”
“I ain’t fallin’ for that one, kid.”
Actually, Jack managed to sell his last five papes or so with Les acting like he was dying the whole time, and if Jack didn’t know any better he would’ve thought he was actually sick too. But, after he pocketed the last penny and feeling the kid bump into his legs on ‘accident’ again, he rolled his eyes, reminded strangely of when the others were Les’ size and Jack was dragging them around.
Les looked up in surprise when Jack barked out a laugh out of nowhere and looked down at him.
“You’se a bum, y’know that?”
Before Les could shoot back with anything Jack hoisted him up into his back, bouncing in his step once he felt the kid’s arms wrap securely around his neck and laughing again. “Ya Just lucky Davey’d come after me if he heard you complainin’.”
Les shifted so that he was higher up on Jack’s back and giggled when Jack started jogging, gripping the front of his shirt tightly. “You really are a cowboy, huh Jack?”
As soon as the door to the Jacobs apartment opened, Les had hopped off Jack’s back and ran straight for the backroom Jack knew to be Davey’s, mouth running a mile a minute.
“Davey! Jack took me sellin’ today!”
There was a groan and Les’ voice quieted down as Jack made his way toward the room, looking around the apartment as he did. Nobody was home but the three of them, it seemed, probably trying to pick up some slack with Davey out of it, if he could guess.
Leaning against the door frame, Jack let a light smile take over his face as Les climbed on the bed next to his brother and started counting out his share for the day.
“And he taught me how ta settle, and I’m better at gettin’ extra change outta people now, too,” he said excitedly, bouncing up and down a little as he spoke.
Davey, to his credit, grinned at Les’ expression, looking exhausted. His hair was sticking up all over the place, and he looked pale and a little more sunken than normal, eyes glazed as he turned his gaze to look at Jack.
“The famous cowboy came all the way over I see.”
Jack smirked and shrugged his shoulders, walking over to sit next to Les on the bed. “Gotta slum it now and then, don’t I?”
Davey let out a weak chuckle, waving Jack off when he leaned forward, concerned as the laugh turned into a cough. “I’m okay.”
Not fully convinced, Jack tapped Les on the shoulder and nodded toward the door. “Why don’t ya count that in the kitchen and get Davey some of that soup you guys always have?”
Les nodded seriously and picked up his coins, hopping off the bed and leaving the two of them alone.
“You ain’t lookin’ so good, Dave.”
Davey rolled his eyes at the seriousness in Jack’s tone and sat up a bit more. “It’s nothing, I barely have a fever, and Sarah went out to get some medicine from the store. She used her own money,” he added when Jack started to reach for the bag of his own money, “so you don’t gotta worry about it.”
Jack snorted and leaned back on the bed. “You’se awful stubborn, Jacobs.”
“Learned from the best.”
Looking towards the kitchen and seeing Les occupied heating up the soup, Jack smirked and leaned toward Davey, whining when his head was shoved away.
“I’m sick, Jack!”
“That ain’t my fault.”
“You’re such a child .”