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in another universe, maybe we were more than friends

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David Pulitzer is tired.

Tired of the way he always has to prove himself as a journalist because of how he works for the paper his father owns. Tired of how his father is always trying to drag him into courtship with some other rich man’s son just so that he can claim the wealth their family holds. Tired from late nights spent draped over a typewriter, begging the words to flow just a little faster so he can finally make this damn deadline and hopefully, maybe, possibly get a promotion so he can stop writing about vaudeville shows and social calls and get into something real meaty. 

But right now? Dave’s tired of Darcy, the son of one of the owners of another newspaper, and the way he talks incessantly about ‘my father’ and ‘when I take over the company’ and is just so boring . Dave would rather eat a cactus than spend another moment being bored by Darcy and his plans for the newspaper. 

“You know, my father believes that we have to make the most out of the shoddy employees we are given,” Darcy says, under the impression that this would impress Dave. (It didn’t.) Counting the cracks on the sidewalk suddenly seems a lot more interesting to him than the sound of Darcy’s voice.

“Why, hello hello hello beautiful,” comes a voice from in front of them. Dave looks up, coming face to face with a short man, scruffy dark hair on his head and dirt on his cheeks. A cheeky smirk is painted on his face, one arm leaning against the wall beside them and the other shoved carelessly in a pocket. 

“Step aside, Romeo—” comes another voice, and all Dave can think is Romeo? How fitting considering he’s hitting on me and doesn’t know my name before the owner of the second voice steps into the street, pushing Romeo behind him. He’s considerably taller than Romeo, a blue shirt underneath a worn gray vest and a flirtatious smile hiding beneath a dirty grey cap. Dave notices he’s been ogling the guy, and tunes back in, and “— concerns you here.” 

The man turns to Dave, subtly — but also very not subtly — pushing Romeo into the alleyway behind him. “Morning, sir, may I interest you in the latest news?” A newsie, then. Dave has a lot of respect for those that hauled around newspapers all day and yelled until their voices went hoarse just to sell enough papers to make a living. 

“The paper isn’t out yet,” Dave replies, because even if this guy had a nice smile and surprisingly toned arms beneath that blue shirt, he’s with a ‘suitor’ and it definitely won’t look good for him if he flirts with someone that not only Darcy but his father considers way beneath them. 

The man’s grin spreads, shifting from flirtatious to downright cocky, and hey, Dave thinks he might hate this guy a little, even if it’s only because he knows he’s all that and a can of beans. (Even if he had dimples and warm brown eyes, two of David’s biggest weaknesses.) “Well, I’d be delighted to deliver it to you.” He pauses, lowering his head a little and gazing up at Dave from beneath the longest and thickest set of lashes Dave had ever seen on anyone. “ Personally .” His accent, all rounded vowels and near-slurred speech, both pulls Dave in and makes him want to run, so far from the comfortably crisp consonants and short sounds he’s used to.

Darcy looks the man, then back at Dave, a mix of disgust and conceitedness on his face. Dave sighs inwardly, knowing what he has to do. (He’ll only half regret it, so is it really something to sigh about?) “I’ve got a headline for you: Cheeky boy gets nothing for his troubles.” His words are so different from this mysterious newsie’s, all sharp consonants where theirs was round vowels, enunciated so different he almost can’t believe they're speaking the same language. The boys behind him hoot and holler, the man giving them a wry smile as he turns back to his crowd. Darcy offers him his arm, and Dave (reluctantly) takes it, heading down the street and toward the office where he works.

And suddenly, with the morning sun shining down on him and the image of a dimpled man in a blue shirt with more wit than he needs still fresh in his mind, Dave doesn’t feel so tired anymore. 

+

Jack’s excited for today.

Running into the prettiest boy he ever did see before even getting to the newsies wagon? An instant win. Even if the rest of the day is awful, at least he has that incredible start. 

But no, the day keeps getting better. The girlsies met them at the gate like they always did, groaned with them about the trolley strike being the only thing the World could find interesting enough to put as their headline, and as Jack watches the lineup after getting his papers he sees something unusual in these parts — a new face.

“Pst. Specs.” Specs walks over, eyes flicking between the papers in his hands as he counts them. Jack juts his chin out at the line, gaze catching on a girl with red hair hidden beneath a muddy brown cap. “Who’s the new girl?”

Specs shrugs, stuffing all the papers but one into his bag. “Beats me. Ask her yourself, if you’s so interested.” He walks away, and Jack lets out a small breath, shifting to lean against the wall beside him. 

“Hey, Mr. Weasel ?” the girl says, eyes as fiery as her hair. Jack feels the corners of his lips turning up — she mispronounced his name on purpose. “You only gave me nineteen papers. I paid for twenty.”

Wiesel scoffs, spitting a piece of tobacco on the sidewalk. “Psh, see how nice I was to this new kid?” Oscar and Morris Delancey jeer behind him, shoving one another lightheartedly behind Wiesel. “And what do I get for it? Unfounded accusations.”

Jack presses forward, grabbing the papers from her hand as Wiesel spits and coughs and insults her, counting them quickly before handing them back. “The girl’s right, Weasel. You only gave her nineteen.” He holds his hands up, a look of fake innocence plastered on his face. “I’m sure it’s just an honest mistake, on account of Oscar can’t count to twenty with his shoes on.” The newsies behind him cheer and laugh, and Jack floats on their buoyant attitude as he grabs another paper from the stack and hands it to the girl. “Jack Kelly.”

The girl takes the paper from him, almost reluctantly. “I didn’t realize we were giving out names as a form of currency for favours these days.” 

Jack lets an easy smile come to his face, holding his hands up, the picture of playful innocence. “I never said nothin’ bout payin’ me back. I just wanna know your name.” 

The girl stuffs the papers into her satchel, barely giving Jack a glance as she says, “Katherine. Kath Jacobs.” 

“Katherine, eh? Stuffy name for a girl out here workin’ the street with the rest of us bums.” 

“Hey, we ain’t bums!” someone hollers from behind them. Probably Race — damn blondie couldn’t keep his mouth shut to save his life. Jack ignores them, starts to walk after Katherine. 

“Whaddaya say we works together?” he asks, voice carefully neutral. He’s been hit by one too many girls (and guys) after offering to help. “I know this city like the back of my hand and how to work the people who live in it. And, you’s new. You don’t got the tricks like I does.”

Katherine gave him a tight smile, readjusting her cap as she began to walk faster. “Thanks, but I can fend for myself.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t be too sure about passing up an offer like that,” someone cuts in. Jack looks behind them — Albert, with a shit-eating grin on his face. (To be fair, Albert’s default expression is a shit-eating grin. Comes with the whole ‘funny-but-almost-not’ personality he’s got going for him.) “You get to work with the Jack Kelly. Ain’t nobody dumb enough to say no to him.”

Katherine rolls her eyes, then sticks out a hand towards Jack. “Fine. But only until I get my bearings.” Jack grins, as wide and big as the blue sky above them. 

“Deal.”

 +

Panting, out of breath, Katherine says, “If workin’ with the famous Jack Kelly has me running for miles without knowin’ what for I don’t think I want to work with you anymore.”

Jack pulls himself up onto the railing overlooking the backstage area of Medda Larkin’s theatre. “Snyder the Spider,” he says, voice just as weak and rough as Kath’s. “That’s who we’s running from. Locks kids up in the Refuge to fill his pockets with the money the government gives him. He’s been after me ever since I rode outta there with Teddy Roosevelt.” He grabs Kath by the shoulders, her wide eyes full of alarm. “Do yourself a favour and stay clear of him and the Refuge, a’ight?”

Katherine opens her mouth to respond, but is cut off by a voice from below. “Hey! No kids allowed in the theatre!”

Jack grins, leaning over the railing to peer down at a woman with a large pink hat and and even larger pink dress, the train of her skirt trailing on for miles. “Not even me, Miss Medda?”

The woman gasps, a surprised smile alighting her features. “Jack Kelly! Man of mystery.” She lets out a laugh, watching as Jack pulls Katherine down a staircase from the landing and towards Medda. “Get yourself down here and give me a hug.” 

They embrace, and Katherine’s eye is drawn to a woman standing just behind them, wearing a powder-blue dress and a hat that could rival Miss Medda’s. She’s got tan skin, lighter than Medda’s but more rich and warm than Kath’s or Jack’s. Despite the fact that they’re backstage in a theatre, the girl isn’t wearing much makeup — gentle eyeshadow illuminating big brown eyes, soft pink lip tint colouring full lips, the corners of said lips pulling up in a small smile as she watches Jack and Medda. 

“Miss Medda,” Katherine asks once her and Jack have released one another, “who’s the lovely lady behind you?” 

“My daughter, Anne Larkin,” Medda says, holding a hand out in a very theatrical way to present her. “And also the top performer of the theatre.” She gives Jack a wink. “After me, of course.”

“Of course, Miss Medda,” Jack says, but Katherine barely hears him over the beating of her own heart. Anne gives her a small smile, waving nimble fingers and giving out glances beneath thick eyelashes as though they’re candy and Kath is nothing more than a child. 

“I’m not really your daughter, Miss Medda,” Anne says. “Though I appreciate you taking me in all those years ago.” And suddenly Kath understands why she’s the second best performer in the Bowery Theatre. 

She carries herself with elegance that Katherine can only hope to replicate, all fluid water and easy grace where Kath is crackling fire and whip-sharp wit. Her voice is soft and warm and deeper than she expected, but rings out as beautifully as the church bells on Sunday morning, clear and strong and awe-inspiring.  

“So you get paid to sing?” Kath asks, hitching her newsies satchel up higher. “Sounds like a nice, easy life.”

“Tell that to my vocal chords,” she replies. Anne pulls a fan out — from where, Kath would love to know — and Kath watches, mesmerized, as her dainty hands snap the fan open, the powder-blue feathers creating a soft wind and serving to hide half of her face. How did covering her face only make her prettier? 

Anne pauses the fluttering of her fan, giving Kath a grin so small she thinks she might have dreamed it, then pulls something white out of thin air — again, where is she storing all this stuff? — and with a flourish, presents it to Kath. It’s a ticket, thin and white and pristine, so different from the flimsy, almost yellow papers the newsies haul around. “Say, if you’re not doing anything tonight, why don’t you sneak up to one of the private boxes and watch the show?”

Kath takes the ticket with trembling fingers, heart catching in her throat. “I, uh, yeah. I’d like that.” 

Anne grins, giving Katherine a glimpse of white teeth that only serves to send her heart aflutter and her stomach into a gymnastics routine. “I’d like that too.”

+

As much as Dave resents the fact that he’s only allowed to write about theatre shows and fluff pieces, he doesn’t hate the shows.

Sure, they’re over-the-top and cheesy and sometimes too loud, but the music is always a nice escape from a reality he isn’t too sure he’s happy to be living. And so he sits in his private box in the theatres, taking notes on a too-small notepad with a too-small pencil, drowning himself in the music and the lights and the flashy costumes, and dreading the moment when he has to return to the sun and ‘real life.’

“Hello again.” 

The voice, familiar yet unfamiliar, shocks Dave right out of the semi-conscious state he’d gotten himself into, watching piece after piece after piece. He turns, surprised, to the source of the voice. “This is a private box!” 

It’s the boy from earlier, the one with the blue shirt and the warm brown eyes. A rush of excitment surges into Dave’s chest, and he has to remind himself he doesn’t even know the guy’s name. He gives Dave a roguish grin. “Well, maybe you should lock the door.” The grin spreads into something bigger (but just as cocky), and he says, “Twice in one day. You think it’s fate?”

Dave sighs, turns his attention back to the girls wearing nothing but corsets and tights, turning feathered parasols in circles without a care in the world, singing something about doors and knocking. “Go away. I’m working.”

“A working guy, eh? What’re you doing at a show like this?” He leans back against the railing of the box, the stage lights behind him casting a shadow on his face and making him nothing more than a silhouette. 

“I’m a reporter for the World,” Dave replies, trying (and failing) to focus on the stage. “I review the shows here. What’s it to you?”

“Hey, I work for the World!” His grin is almost playful now, less mischievous. “So we’s colleagues, eh?”

Dave shakes his head, sighing as he scribbles something into his notebook. “I’ll refrain from answering that. I try not to make it a habit of talking to strangers.”

The guy lets out a laugh, short and sweet and higher than Dave expected. “Well, you’s gonna make a lousy reporter.” He pushes himself off the railing, extending a hand towards Dave. “The name’s Jack Kelly.”

Dave shakes it reluctantly. “If you think I’m just going to tell you my name like that you’ve got another thing coming.”

Jack’s smile calms down a bit, returns to the roguishness he toyed with when he first came in. “You know, I admire smart boys. You’s smart. Independent. Beautiful .”

“Would you stop?” Dave asks, voice raising in volume, hoping the way his voice grates on his ears covers the blush spreading across his face. Enough that the showgoers beneath him get annoyed, apparently, because one starts banging on the bottom of the box with his cane and won’t let up until he can’t hear anything from above him. Jack gives him a look that’s almost sheepish (or, as sheepish as you can get from a cocky self-absorbed bastard like him), then ambles off to the other corner of the box, finally leaving Dave in some sort of peace to enjoy the show.

Another number starts — or rather, the second half of the one that had just finished — and Jack watches. Watches the way Dave’s blue eyes track the dancers on the stage, the way he lets out a little breath of excitement every time one of them does a fancy kick or spin. And suddenly there’s this intense pressing on his chest, and he has to do something — so he pulls out an old paper from his bag and starts to sketch, the familiar weight of charcoal in his hand easing the weight pushing down on his lungs. 

It isn’t until the drawing’s half done that he realizes it’s of Dave, with his wide blue eyes and the sharp slant of his nose and the way his hair curls gently against his forehead, and realizes he’s been humming along with the new singer on the stage, some deep-voiced woman singing the antithesis to the high, giddy, saccharine sweet song of the dancers — something about ‘moonlight’ and ‘poetry’ and ‘plans.’ 

“What are you doing?” Dave asks, trying to peer over Jack’s shoulders as he quickly covers the drawing with his body, taking care not to smudge the charcoal. 

“Quiet down!” Jack yelps, turning back to look at a very confused Dave. “There’s a show going on.”

“You are the most impossible boy—”

Jack puts a finger to his lips. “ Shhhh.”

Dave lets out a huff of air, voice lowering in volume considerably. “— ever.”

He returns to his seat, and Jack lets out a sigh of his own, adding a few last strokes to the charcoal recreation of David’s face before leaving it on the vacant seat beside him and sneaking out the side of the box, singing along quietly with the alto as he left.

I never planned on no one like you .

(Unbeknownst to Jack, a mile-wide grin spread across Dave’s face at first sight of the drawing, and he tucked it into his notebook for safekeeping. Dave hadn’t planned on this either, but who was he to say no when opportunity came knocking on his door?)

+

The sun rises again, and it seems like a normal day for Jack — at least, until he sees the new headline. 

“New prices for the newsies? What is this!” Racetrack complains, not even bothered by the fact that Albert stole his cigar. “How’s I s’posed to buy something for Spot if I’s paying more to lousy old Pulitzer?”

“They’s probably just messin’ with us, Race,” Jack says, ignoring the seed of doubt that’s been planted in his mind. “Look, I’ll go talk to Wiesel myself.” 

He slaps two quarters onto the top of the coinbox. “A hun’red papes.” Surely it was just a joke — Pulitzer wouldn’t cause kids to starve to death just because he wants to sell more of his lousy papers, would he?

“Can’t you read?” Wiesel sneers, the Delancey brothers sniggering behind him. Jack’s heart falls into his shoes, jaw clenching with the sudden realization that yeah, Pulitzer is that greedy. “New prices for the newsies! Pay up or get out.” Face burning, Jack takes his coins back, sitting on the sidewalk, too aware of the fact that the other guys are watching him. 

“It’s real?” Crutchie asks, like he’s afraid saying it as a statement will make it more true than it already is. Jack nods, unable to form words.

He throws his satchel to the ground, suddenly furious. “Hey, listen up! Ain’t nobody sellin’ no papes until they put the price back where it should be, eh? Nobody’s walking past that window til we getting paid what we deserves.” 

“Like a strike?” Katherine says from the side, and Jack stands up, pointing at her. 

“Exactly like that! Newsies, we’s on strike!” The gathered newsies around them let out a yell of agreement, several mimicking Jack and slamming their empty newspaper satchels against the pavement. 

“Wait, it doesn’t just work like that!” Kath interrupts, shooting Jack a glare. “We need a union—”

Jack gestures at the newsies gathered around him. “I’d say we got a union right here, wouldn’t you?”

“And— and officers—”

“I nominate Jack president!” Crutchie chimes in, eager and ready to do anything to help out. The rest of the guys let out noises of agreement, nearly shoving one another into the street in their excitement.

“And look at that, we’s got a union!” Jack says, catching Kath’s eye with a playful grin. “We’s gonna watch each other’s backs, right?”

The guys all yell in agreement, and Kath lets out an exasperated sigh despite the smile on her face. “Well, if you’ve got a union and a president and membership, I can’t stop you from going on strike.”

“Newsies of lower Manhattan!” Jack yells, and everyone around him is suddenly hanging onto his every word. “We are officially on strike!” 

+

Later, in Jacobi’s deli, everyone orders their water and Albert orders his seltzer, only to turn it down in favour of free water two seconds after being told the price, as is the usual for the newsies after a day of work. Except they hadn’t gone to work. They’re still on strike, and Jack finds it so odd to be sitting in the shop while the light’s still streaming through the windows and catching every dust mote that dare pass in front. 

“We gotta tell the other newsies,” Jack says, once the water has been consumed. Newsies jumped up left, right, and center, claimed Harlem and Midtown and Queens and so on until nearly all of New York had been claimed. 

“Who wants Brooklyn?” he asks, and suddenly everyone’s got their caps on, staring at the feet or drinking their water. Jack scoffs, knowing Brooklyn isn't anything more than just a piece of turf with an (admittedly intimidating) leader. “Not even Race? I thought you’d never pass up a chance to see Spot!”

“Not when it’s over something that’ll put me at risk!” Race replies. “I ain’t stupid, I wanna keep my eyes!”

Jack sighs. “Alright, Kath and I will take Brooklyn.”

“Hey, who says I’m coming with you?” Kath’s voice burns with fire and defiance, but there’s something cold and almost scared in her eyes. (In her defense, she’s been here a day. She might not know shit about Brooklyn, but everyone else’s reactions are already enough to scare her off.)

“Why is everyone so scared of Brooklyn?” 

Jack’s head whipped towards the door, and was greeted with a mess of dark curls and eyes bluer than the sky outside of the dirty windows. “What’re you doing here, beautiful?” 

“Looking for an answer,” is Dave’s response, looking around at the rest of the newsies. 

“Brooklyn’s the sixth largest city in the world,” Jack says, standing up from his seat and walking towards Dave. “You get Brooklyn — you’ve hit the motherlode.” He stops when he’s mere inches from David, sticking a hand out and running a finger down his blue tie. “Y’know, for a reporter you spend an awful lotta time hanging out with us workers. Whassat about?”

“I’ve found a story.” Dave’s voice sounds almost strained, and Jack nearly feels bad for the guy. (Nearly. He’s having way too much fun teasing this sheltered little boy.)

Jack pulls away, swinging back around to where Kath’s sitting by Romeo and hopping up on the table. “A story, eh? Enlighten me.”

“I mean, your band of underdogs looking to take on one of the most powerful men in the city seems like a pretty good story to me.”  Dave gives Jack a wry grin. “Guess you could say you’re a bunch of Davids looking to take on a Goliath?”

“Ey, we never said that,” Race cuts in.

“You didn’t have to,” Dave replies, jotting something down on his notepad.

“Hey, uh, ain’t your beat entertainment?” Jack asks, pushing himself up from where he was sitting on the table and meeting Dave’s piercing blue gaze. “Don’t see many show reviewers writing about strikes these days.”

“Let’s just say I’m trying to expand my career,” Dave says, giving Jack the barest hints of a grin and god, Jack thinks he’s going to go crazy. 

“Jack, let’s save our story for a real reporter,” Katherine interrupts, shooting a pointed glare at Dave. “Not one that reviews vaudeville shows for a living.”

“Do you see anyone else looking into your story?” Dave shoots back, gesturing around at the deli filled with newsies. “You can get on the front page with news like this, but first you need someone to write about it.”

The room goes quiet, tension hanging so thick Jack can practically see it. “Be at the circulation gate tomorrow,” he says, snapping the tightly wound threads hanging in the room and cutting the thick silence. “And bring your camera. You’re gonna want to take a picture of this.”

Jacobi kicks them out, telling them he has to set up for customers, and as the newsies file out of the deli Jack can’t help but feel a glimmer of excitement and anticipation in his chest, a small flame burning bright.

 +

Dave approaches Jack after the other newsies have left. “So, what’s your story?” he asks, drawing Jack’s attention away from the retreating back of Katherine. “Are you selling newspapers to work your way through art school?”

Jack lets out a laugh, clean and crisp and ringing out loud in the nearly empty street. “Art school? You’re joking.”

“But- but you’re an artist,” Dave says, and he has to physically stop himself from glancing down at the drawing he’s clutching tightly in his fist. “You’ve got real talent.”

“Maybe art school isn’t what I want.”

“What do you want, then?”

Jack walks closer to Dave, close enough that he can smell him, a rich, earthy scent that reminds him of fields and farms and summer. “Can’t you see it?” he says, head lowered but gaze directed at Dave through eyelashes that are way too long for anyone to legally be allowed to have. His voice is husky, deep, like the rich whiskey Dave’s father drinks while the room fills with the smoke of some exotic cigar and he lectures David about how much he stands to lose by choosing to write for the paper instead of run it. “In my eyes?”

Dave swallows, heart suddenly racing. There was too little and somehow too much space between them. “...Yeah okay.”

He steps away from Jack. “Uh, hey, so, have you always been their leader?”

Jack lets out a small laugh, seemingly unaffected by the almost too awkward interaction not even twenty seconds earlier. “Hey, I’m a blowhard. Kath’s the real brains.”

Dave pauses, gives Jack a small grin. “Modesty. Not something I expected from you.”

Jack didn’t reply to that. “You got a name?”

“David.” Dave panics, knowing he can’t give his real name to Jack or a whole box of shit would open that he just isn’t ready for. “David, uh, Plumber.”

Jack cocks his head to the side, an easy grin gracing his lips. “You ain’t sure?”

“I-it’s my byline,” Dave says weakly, an attempt to cover up the fact that he seemingly forgot his own name. Jack didn’t say anything. “So, uh,” Dave starts, wracking his brain for something to distract Jack from his obvious blunder, stepping closer to this mysterious man, “what are you hoping for tomorrow?”

Jack takes a step forward, close enough that Dave can smell him again, the scent making him lightheaded and woozy with how good it is. Close enough that he can see the day-old scruff on Jack’s stupidly prominent jawline, ghosting up his cheeks and into his mass of messy brown hair. God , he was attractive. Almost painfully so. But Dave wasn’t sure whether he’d risk his whole career for a boy with brown hair and a playful grin.

“How ‘bout I tell you what I’m hopin’ for tonight?” Jack says, voice low and rough again, and Dave can feel Jack’s breath brushing his cheek, wants to feel the rough stubble on Jack’s chin brushing against his own, wants to feel Jack’s lips pressed against his. David is so ready to risk his career for this beautiful boy with the most beautiful drawings he’s ever seen, but he has a job to do first.

Dave gestures at the notebook in his hand, not trusting his voice to not betray him. Jack lets out a small groan, and David almost grabs him right then and there, nearly pulls him back by the collar of his shirt and presses Jack’s lips against his, but he restrains himself. (Somehow.) Jack steps away and says, “Today, we stopped the newsies. Tomorrow, we stop the wagons.”

David writes that down. He pauses, looking back up at the boy whose brilliant brown eyes are illuminated by the quickly setting sun, catching the amber flecks hidden deep inside their earth-like irises. “Are you scared?”

Jack scoffs. “Do I look scared?” But then he pauses, gaze drifting towards the rest of the city. Tanned skin catches quick-fading sunlight and turns amber, eyes glimmering and honeyed and filled with equal parts apprehension and anticipation. He turns back to Dave. “Ask me again in the morning.”

Dave allows himself a half-grin. “Good answer.” He tucks his notebook into his pocket, turns around to leave. “Well, good night, Mr. Kelly.” God, it feels so weird to call him Mr. Kelly, to give him that barrier of formality and separation when all he wants to do was kiss him until he can’t breathe. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Jack lets out another small groan, clutching onto a street light like it’s his lifeline in the midst of a mighty storm. “Hey, where’re you goin’? It ain’t even suppertime yet!”

“I’ve got to get home,” Dave says, turning back around to catch one last sight of this mystery wrapped in blue and roguish smiles. 

“Hey, Davey,” Jack says, and David’s heart leaps into his throat, chest blooming in an explosion of light and warmth at the sound of the nickname. Jack pauses, almost unsure of what to say. “Write it good.”

Dave nods, and with regret in his heart turns away from Jack and towards home.

 +

“David, what the hell are you doing?”

Dave looks up blearily from his desk, where he was just smashing his head against the polished oak surface in some attempt to glean inspiration. “Don’t say hell, Les, that’s a bad word. Dad would kill you if he heard.”

Lester stuck his tongue out, crossing the threshold between the hallway and Dave’s study (yes, he had a private study. Yes, it was a gift from his father. Yes, it was given in the hopes that if he supported Dave’s dreams and they failed, Dave would come running back to Pulitzer and beg to take over the family business. No, Dave is not going to give in.) and wriggling into Dave’s lap. “Hey, you’re getting kinda big for that,” Dave says, feeling the breath being squeezed out of him by the weight of his younger brother. 

“I’m only ten!” Les protests, curling into a small ball in Dave’s lap. “Besides, you’re always so busy. I miss you.” 

Dave lets out a small sigh, stroking the top of Lester’s head gently as he snuggling up closer. “Yeah. Sorry about that, Les. Just trying to catch a story, you know?”

“Well, have you caught one yet?” Les says, big dark eyes blinking up at Dave expectantly. “I heard from Darcy that you’re … what’d he say? Canoodling with newsies.”

Dave chokes on his own spit, coughing and red-faced as he tries to collect his thoughts. “Mr. Darcy to you, Les, you’re a lot younger than him — and I’m not canoodling with anyone!” (Although he wants to be.) “They went on strike, and I want to run their story in the World. Except I can’t figure out how to write about it, for some reason.” He lets out a laugh, short and dry. “It’s a lot different from reviewing those theatre shows I go to.”

Lester’s eyes light up, and he turns to Dave with more hope and joy in his voice than he’s heard in a while. “Make them seem like heroes! You’d have to be, to stand up to Dad like that.” 

Dave nods slowly, words and thoughts piecing together like a big puzzle in his brain. “You know what — you’re right, Les.”

“I am?” Les says, confused and incredulous. He sees the way that Dave is in his own mind, and understands that he just unlocked some big piece of this big puzzle Dave is putting together. “I am!”

Dave presses a quick kiss to the top of Les’s head, then sets him down on the floor beside him, telling him to lock the door on his way out. “I’ve got to turn a man into a legend by tomorrow morning, and the stories aren’t going to write themselves!”

 +

The new day dawns, and the amount of newsies readying themselves for the strike is a lot less than Jack hoped for. Brooklyn isn’t coming, and none of the other sectors can be counted on unless Brooklyn can be counted on, so it’s just the Manhattan newsies that want in on the strike, and Jack, and his big mouth that got him stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“What, so everyone’s suddenly a no-show because Spot Conlon can’t be bothered to give the strike a shot?” Katherine says, punching Jack on the arm as she walks up to the circulation gate. “Jeez, you’d think this kid walked on water or something. All he is is small and buff, guys! Ain’t much to be afraid of when he’s shorter than I am.” 

Jack allows himself a small laugh, grateful for Kath’s uplifting presence despite the grim reality of the situation. “Hey, I wouldn’t say that if I was you. Spot’s gonna come all the way down from Brooklyn just to kick your ass.”

Katherine grins, fierce and full of fire. “Let him try.”

The Delancey brothers open up the gate, and reluctantly the newsies head towards the circulation window to pick up the day’s papers. Kath stops Race in his tracks, says something Jack doesn’t hear, but he just pushes past her and towards the window. She goes up to another newsie, and this time Jack can hear snippets of what she says — “can’t put this off” and “push through” and more like that until it’s almost painful to watch as he brushes her off and keeps going. She turns to Jack, an almost desperate look on her face. “Jack, you gotta tell them. We gotta do it now, or— or it’ll all have been for nothing.”

Jack takes one look at her face, then marches towards the line already forming by the window. “Hey— hey! We can’t back down now, alright? No matter who does or doesn’t show.” He looks at the newsies, so willing to give up already. “You like it or not, now is when we’re taking our stand.”

“How’s about we just don’t show up for work—”

“They’ll just replace us,” Jack says, voice almost despairing. “They gotta see us hold our ground.”

The newsies grumble, but stay in their line. Jack turns to Kath, face pleading, not sure what else to do or what words he could pull out of his ass to make them believe that this was the right thing to do. Kath takes a deep breath, steeling herself, then walks up to the group. 

“Look, I know we’re all scared,” she says, and the boys grumble, denying the mere possibility of fear. “Hey! No, I know we’re all scared. We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t. But we gotta push past that fear.”

“Jack!” Crutchie’s voice sounds out from just past the circulation gate, and he hobbles forward quickly, and excited grin on his face. “Lookit what I made!” He holds out his crutch, a piece of white cloth with the word “STRIKE” written across it messily. Jack grins, slapping Crutchie on the back.

Kath catches sight of Crutchie’s sign, and Jack can see something in her change. “You see Crutchie? You don’t think he’s scared? But he’s pushing through it, and that’s real courage.” The boys stop their grumbling, holding onto every word that leaves Katherine’s lips. “You want things to change?” she asks, eyes as fiery as her voice, fueled by the cheers of the newsies around her.

Katherine grins. “Then let’s seize the fucking day.”

The next time David sees Jack is backstage in Medda Larken’s theatre, painting backdrops of places he’s never seen and looking more worn and tired than he ever thought he could be. 

He’s with Kath — she was the only one who even knew where Jack could be found — and god, it hurts him to see Jack like this. Completely and utterly beaten. Jack hasn’t seen them yet — he’s too absorbed in the strokes of his paintbrush against the canvas. “How about letting a friend know you’re alive, huh?” Kath yells, running down the stairs from the landing into the backstage. Dave follows her, almost unsure of whether he belongs, but when his eyes catch on Jack’s, so worn and tired and yet still so full of life, he knows he’s exactly where he needs to be. 

“You ever think I don’t want to be found?” Jack says, voice dull. He rinses out his paintbrush, wipes it on his apron before dipping it in another shade of pink. 

Kath rolled her eyes. “You’re painting places you’ve never seen. You’re hiding from a movement you started. Someone’s gonna call you crazy soon.” She pauses, holds a hand over a mouth shaped like an ‘O,’ the picture of faked innocence. “Oh wait — I just did.”

“I ain’t crazy,” Jack grumbles, turning his attention back to the backdrop.

“You’re running away, Jack, from something you picked up off the ground and carried on your own back.” Kath crosses her arms, glares at Jack. “Sounds crazy to me. Especially because we’re winning .”

“You don’t know that,” is Jack’s reply. He pauses his painting, facing Kath and Dave. “I’m pretty sure we’re losing, actually.”

“So we lost a battle,” Kath says, rolling her eyes. “We haven’t lost the war. Pulitzer’s scared, I can tell! Why else would he send the goons and the cops and god knows who else just to stop us?” Katherine grabs Jack by the shoulders, forcing him to look her right in the eye. Her voice is softer, less harsh and fiery. “He knows we can win, Jack. And so do we.”

Jack pulls himself out of her grip. He sighs, picks up the paintbrush again — and sets it down. “Y’know, you may be right.”

“Thank you God,” Kath mutters under her breath. She nudges Dave, who starts at the sudden contact. “Davey, show him the article.”

“Hey,” cuts Jack’s voice, eyes glaring at Kath like daggers. “Only I can call him Davey.” Kath puts her hands up, a mockery of innocence, and Dave pulls the newspaper out of his pocket, ignoring the warmth that floods through him and the butterflies that shoot through his stomach at the sound of the nickname.

“Front page, above the fold,” Dave says, handing it to Jack with a note of glee in his voice. “I still can’t believe I managed to get it in the paper, considering I work for—” He caught himself, almost saying ‘my father’ “— Pulitzer’s newspaper.” 

Jack let out a small laugh, grabbing the paper. “Well, wouldja look at that. It is above the fold.” He looks up at Dave, a small grin on his face. “Hey, uh. Thanks, Davey. For all that you did.” 

And Dave swears he can hear his own heart pounding straight through his chest. 

 +

“Good afternoon, boys.”

Dave sucks in a breath, head spinning. The one voice he’d hoped to never hear in his father’s office was right behind him, so close that if he dared spin the chair around he’d come face to face with Jack Kelly himself. 

Pulitzer lets out a short laugh, full of brambles and thorns. “And which Jack Kelly is this — the charismatic young strike organizer, or the petty thief and convict?” Dave hears a short huff of air that could only have come from Jack, a sure sign he was caught off guard. Stay strong, Jackie .

“Depends — which one gives us more in common?” he replies, and Dave can practically see the mischievous grin on his face, the way his cheeks dimple and eyes glimmer. 

“I don’t much appreciate impudence from my employees.” 

“Oh, well then I suppose you’d be surprised to hear that a few… hundred of your employees are planning a rally for tonight. I came around to offer an invite, figured you’s should be allowed to speak your side to the newsies.” Dave nearly bursts — the confidence and charisma is just roiling off of Jack in waves and he wishes desperately to be able to see him so completely in his element while being so far out of it. “So what d’you say, Joe ?” It takes everything in Dave to not burst out laughing, despite how completely and utterly inappropriate it would be. 

Pulitzer doesn’t say anything for a good long while, then Dave suddenly hears footsteps. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees his father take a seat at his desk. “I’d like to offer you a proposition, Mr. Kelly. You testify at the rally tonight against the strike, and I see to it that your criminal record is expunged. And — as a bonus — we line your pockets with enough cash to send you on a train right down to Santa Fe.” He pauses, the closest thing Dave had ever seen to a grin crossing his face. “A little birdie told me you want to head out west.”

That line catches Jack off guard, throws him from his carefully crafted balance for just a moment, just long enough for Dave to remember it was him who said that, him who got caught talking to Les about Jack and revealing countless more of the newsies’ plans in his rage-fueled rant afterwards. “What’s the catch?”

“Well, if you refuse — which surely you wouldn’t do, you seem a smart man — I’d see to it that every single one of your friends is locked up in the refuge.” Dave strains his ears, catching a shaking breath from Jack, and his heart sinks, knowing that his father hit Jack right where it would hurt the most. 

Jack let out a small growl. “Just wait until tomorrow’s headline comes out, Joe. You’ll be singing a very different tune.”

“Ah, but how? The only reporter who would publish your story is unfortunately unable to repeat that silly blunder.”

Jack pauses. “How d’you knows that?”

Pulitzer laughs, and it’s nothing like Jacks — rough and sharp and angled where Jack’s is warm and round and makes Dave feel like he’s floating. “Why, he’s right here. Meet my son — David Pulitzer.”

The chair Dave had been sitting in is turned around, and he comes face to face with Jack, looking more shell-shocked than he had ever seen him. “Jack, I promise I didn’t say anything—” he starts, but he’s cut off with a hurt glare. 

“So you’s been spying on us the whole damn time, huh?” Jack says, voice trembling with barely masked frustration. 

Pulitzer ignores him. “You may be asking, why doesn’t he work with me? Instead of for me, writing fluff pieces about theatre shows. I offered David a life of leisure and wealth — and yet, he decided to pursue a career.” He picks up a newspaper from his desk, tossing to Jack. It’s the article that David managed to get on the front page of the World. “At least, until this recent lapse .”

Dave is frozen, legs encased in ice along the dark oak floors, words, the words he trusted to get the job done sticking in his throat as he watches Jack. “Jack, I swear, I didn’t mean—”

“Shut up, Dave ,” he growls, and his voice is so raw and hurt that Dave can barely bear to listen. He’s trapped, stuck in a room without a key to escape, walking in circles around himself because there is nowhere else for him to go, and he just wants to run to Jack but he knows that’s the last thing Jack wants right now.

“So what’ll it be, Mr. Kelly?” Pulitzer says, an arrogant grin on his face. “Cowboy or convict, I win either way.” Jack says nothing, merely stands there with a scowl on his face, refusing to look at Dave. Pulitzer lets out a laugh, gesturing behind Jack to where the Delancey brothers are guarding the door. “Gentlemen, please escort our guest to the cellar, where he may reflect on his decision.” They drag Jack away, but the whole time his gaze never leaves Pulitzer. 

Dave wishes Jack had looked at him, if only to reassure him that he’s not alone.

 +

“Hey! How’d you get up here?”
Dave startles, his knuckles turning white from how hard he’s gripping the paper in his hands. “Specs showed me.” He pauses, and so does Jack, the light of the moon illuminating his face. “That was some speech you gave back there.”

Jack doesn’t say anything, just pushes forward and rips some of the drawings out of Dave’s hands, rolling them up and stuffing them into their little round container. “Did Specs also tell you to go through my stuff?”

“It was just sticking out over there, how was I supposed to know what it was?” Dave relaxes his grip on the paper, looks down again at the charcoal drawing. “Is this really what it’s like in the Refuge? Three boys to a bed, rats everywhere…”

Jack practically rips it out of his hands, voice trembling in anger. “‘S a little different from where you were raised?”

Dave elects not to respond, watching as Jack rolls up the drawing. “Snyder told my father you were arrested for stealing food and clothing. This was why, isn’t it?” He gestures at the paper, watching Jack turn around. “It was for the kids locked up in the Refuge.” Jack says nothing, no discernable expression on his face, and Dave can feel the anger bubbling up inside of him. “I— I don’t understand — if you’re so willing to go to jail for these boys, how can you turn your backs on them now?”

Jack sticks the container back where Dave found it, jaw clenching and eyes alighting with anger. “I don’t think you’re one to talk about turning your back on people.”

“I never betrayed you,” Dave says, voice evening out with resolve, “or anyone else.”

Jack laughs. “Oh, of course not, all you did was double cross us with your father. Your father! ” he yells, brushing past David to the other side of the fire escape. 

“My father has eyes on every part of this city!” Dave shoots back, following Jack as he storms away. (Not that there’s a lot of space to storm away in, but he gets an A for effort.) “He doesn’t need me spying for him. And I never lied.” Dave pauses, because technically—  “I just didn’t tell you everything.”

Jack scowls, grabbing the railing of the fire escape and clenching it so hard Dave could see his knuckles turn white in the moonlight. “If I didn’t like your pretty face so much you’d be tryna talk through a fist in your mouth,” he spits out through clenched teeth.

“I told you I work for the World, and I do,” Dave says, voice evening out now that he’s got a thread to dangle from. I told you my professional name is Plumber, and it is.” Dave gives Jack a lackadaisical shrug. “I never lied. You just never asked for my real name.”

“I didn’t think I had to!” Jack bursts out, turning back to face Dave. “Maybe if I’d known I was dealin’ with a backstabber —”

“Watch what you say,” Dave warned, feeling his blood almost boil over in anger. He raises a fist in what he hopes is a menacing fashion. “Or you’ll be looking at me through one swollen eye —”

“Then give me your best shot!” Jack yells, and his eyes are still warm despite the cool white light of the moon, skin turned to rippling silver over layers of well-defined muscle and sinew, and he still smells like earth and sun and freedom, and Dave just wants a taste— 

He grabs Jack’s face and kisses him, rough and desperate and passionate and pouring out the feelings he can’t seem to get rid of. It’s lips and teeth and tongue, and there’s a terrible moment where Jack doesn’t kiss back until he does, pushing against Dave with just as much passion and force and slipping his tongue into Dave’s mouth. Jack tastes like apples and cinnamon and a little like cigars, and Dave wants to kiss him like this forever.

They pull apart, and the only thing between them is their heavy breaths. Jack pushes his chin forward, like he’s going to kiss Dave again, but Dave pulls back and Jack lets out a small sigh instead. 

There’s something he needs to ask Jack, something standing in the way of Dave and Jack and their happy ending. “I need to know you didn’t cave for the money.” His father offered Jack so much to just… go against what he’s been fighting for, leave the city and never come back, and with how much Jack wants to just drop everything and go to Santa Fe? Dave knows he’d be tempted. He needs to know that Jack didn’t do it just for the material pleasures he was promised. 

“No, I just… You heard your father, he ain’t giving up no matter how long we strike for. I…” Jack looks… lost, almost, gaze shifting from Dave to the fire escape below them to the New York skyline. His eyes meet Dave’s again, and there’s something in them Dave can’t read. “I dunno what else we can do.” 

Dave knows how Jack is thinking by this point, and in his eyes? He’s right. The newsies did everything they could  — they formed a union, they did an official strike, they were beaten and bruised and hell, even put in jail for fighting for what they believe in, and no matter how long they strike, no matter how hard they fight, Pulitzer has the resources to go longer and harder. 

“Good thing I got an answer for you.” Dave pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolding it and handing it to Jack so he can read. “The strike was your idea, the rally was Kath’s, and now mine will take us right to the finish line.” He bites his lip in anticipation, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet as Jack scans the page. 

“The Children’s Crusade…”

“You— you made it so that it wasn’t just about the newsies, Jack!” Dave’s hopeful for once, (and a little desperate, if he’s being honest) but he knows that Jack and Kath and the rest of the newsies, and everyone else in this city can fight, and can face Pulitzer and win. “You challenged every working underage kid in this city to stand up and fight for a place at the table. If we make this a city-wide strike, my father can’t do anything to stop us and deny us our rights this time.” Dave deflates a little, remembering only now the biggest — and only — flaw in his plan. “Only, we don’t have anywhere to print it.”

“C’mon, there’s gotta be one printing press your dad doesn’t—” Jack pauses, an almost tormented look flashing over his face. “Oh, no. Oh nonono—”

Dave looks at him in confusion. Jack sighs, dragging a hand down his face.“There’s a printin’ press. Down in your father’s basement.”

A smile spreads across Dave’s face, hope lighting a small flame in his chest that grows bigger and brighter with every passing second. “Then what are we waiting for?”

“Wait—” Jack says, and Dave’s already starting down the fire escape but he pauses, “what about this?” Jack looks lost again, but Dave knows it’s for a much different reason than earlier. “About us?”

Dave thought there was nothing more to be said. That his feelings had been laid out on the table, plain and bare for Jack to see, and that they could finally be okay now. “What about us?”

“I—” and Jack gets heated, voice filled to the brim with passion and pain, “guys like you don’t end up with guys like me! And I don’ want you promisin’ nothing you can’t keep, alright?” He’s hesitant, and Dave doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jack this hesitant before. It lets him know how much Jack cares about this, about them. “I don’t want tomorrow to come and change it all.”

“Look, Jack—” Dave says, and he can’t hold himself back from climbing back up the fire escape and pressing another kiss against Jack’s lips, soft and sweet, “even if it all comes and changes tomorrow, we had tonight. And I promise you we’ll have another tonight.”

Jack kisses him again, a smile spreading against Dave’s lips. “Another tonight?”
“Let’s make today our tomorrow, Jackie,” Dave says, because he’s intoxicated from the taste of apples and smoke on Jack’s lips and wants to try something new for once, goddamnit, and knows there’s nothing he wants more than a future with Jack at his side and several successful articles under his belt. “Let’s make a future together.”

They descend into the streets of New York, the quick-fading light of the setting sun catching Dave’s blue eyes and Jack’s warm skin, the promises of tomorrow still soft and sweet on their lips.