Work Header

Jack Kelly and The Newsboy Strike of 1899

Chapter Text

Jack woke up the next morning from Crutchie trying to get down early. “Where are ya goin… Crutch the mornin’ bell ain’t rung yet....”


“I-I wanna beat the other fellas down ta the streets.” He said. Jack raised an eyebrow at his younger friend rolling up the drawing he drew the night before of the refuge. It may have been a year but the thoughts haunted him. “I just… I don’t want anyone ta see…. I… uh… I ain’t been walkin so good.”


“Quit gripin…. You know how many guys fake a limp for symphony? Kid, that bum leg of yours…. It's a goldmine.”


“But… if someone gets the idea  that I can’t make it on my own…. They’s gonna lock me up in the refuge… fer good.” He said. Jack froze. He stuffed that drawing away trying to shake off all memories of the refuge. Spida can’t find ya, you’s safe. No more of the belt, or the knife, or the stupid whip, or his dumb cane that he used only for you. The spider is out of your life now, has been for a year. Last a little longer Kelly, then you’s eighteen and he can’t take ya. He hated that Crutchie was afraid of that place. He hated that Crutchie was scared he could get locked up just for being a cripple. “Be a pal Jackie, help me down?” He said trying to get down, Jack wasn’t paying attention until he heard Crutchie fall. He immediately shot up and ran to pull him up. 


“You wanna bust your other leg too!?” He scolded.


“N-No… I wanna go down.” He said


“You’ll be down there soon enough…  take a moment! Drink in my… my penthouse!” He used Race’s joke, Crutchie smiled. “High above the stinkin streets of New York”


“You’re crazy!” Crutchie giggle nudging him. 


“Why, cause I like a breath of fresh air? Cause I like seein the sky n’ the stars?” Jack smiled nudging him back.


“You’s seein stars alright.” Crutchie grinned, Jack was proud he taught Crutchie how to be quick on his feet with a comeback.


“Listen kid… them streets down there… they sucked the life outta my old man… years of rotten jobs…. N’ stomped on by bosses… n’ when they finally broke ‘im they tossed him ta the curb like yestadays paper!” He said trying not to get upset thinking about it. How could they do that to his dad? They knew he had a young son at home and lost his wife, Jack couldn’t imagine doing that to someone. They stressed his father out so much he died, the boy was old enough to know that now. “They ain’t doin that ta me.” He said.


“B-But everyone wants ta come here…” Crutchie said so innocently.


“New York's fine!” He said. “If ya got a big strong door ta lock it up.” He shrugged. “But I tell ya! Crutchie! There's a whole notha world out there! So you can keep ya small life in a big city…. Give me a big life… in a small town.” He grinned. Crutchie let him ramble on about Santa Fe getting his hopes up that maybe some fresh air could fix his leg. Jack sure knows how to make him feel better. The boys went down getting ready to sell, Jack and Romeo had noticed a new girl. 


“Well hello, hello, hello beautiful.” Romeo smiled.Jack pushed him out of the way. 


“Step aside Romeo! Nothin that concerns you here.” he smirked and turned to the girl. “Mornin miss. May I interest you in the latest news.” He said with a grin as all the boys watched.


“The paper isn’t out yet…” She said, obviously not interested in him, which made him try harder. 


“Oh I’d be delighted to deliver it ta you… personally.” He said grinning. Her friend took a step closer, Jack raised his arms in mock surrender until the girl stopped it.


“I’ve got a headline for you.” She said. Jack smiled wide. “Cheeky boy gets nothing for his troubles” She said. His face dropped.


“OH!” All the boys teased him, Romeo wrapped his arm around Jack. 


“Back ta the bench slugga, you struck out.” He grinned. Jack pushed him.


“I’m crushed!” He shouted in the girls direction. She ignored him. He smirked.


 They got to buying their papers where they noticed a new kid, and his little brother. A real little brother. Davey and Les, Jack immediately took a liking to them and agreed to help them sell before they even wanted help. Davey may have not been very fond of the idea at first but all of them told them selling with Jack was a good idea. At night Jack met up with them to split their money, like the deal they had to which Les proved he was no idiot. Jack saw a lot of himself in the fearless nine year old and loved it. They invited him to dinner, in the one day they knew him they knew he does everything for the kids and doesn’t eat every day. He said so feeling uncomfortable. He already intruded with Alice and Eliza he doesn’t want to do that with a new family. He had to think fast.


“Thanks for the invite, but I just remembered I got plans with a fella. He’s probably waiting on me right now.” He said with a reassuring smile. Les noticed a man who had been watching Jack like a hawk slowly moving closer. 


“Is that the guy your meeting?” Les asked pointing. Jack turned around and saw the spider. 


“KELLY” He shouted. Jack grabbed Les.


“Run for it!” He shouted, both of the Jacob brothers noticed the fear grow and had no idea why Jack was so scared but he was running fast.


 “Officer! Grab him!” The spider shouted. “You! Jack Kelly, Stop!” He shouted, hearing the anger terrified Jack. That man was ready to kill him. “KELLY!” He shouted.


Jack sprinted. He lead them into a theater. “Slow down… we lost ‘im.” He said catching his breath.


“Someone want to tell me why I’m running? I got no one chasing me!” Davey said. Jack looked at him with a frown.  “Who was that guy?” He asked more friendly now.


“That was Snyda the  Spida. A real sweetie. He runs a jail for underage kids called The Refuge.” He hated every part of saying the name of that tell hole. “The more kids he locks up, the more money the city pays him. Problem is, all the money goes straight to his  own pocket. Do yourself a favor and stay clear of him and The Refuge…” He frowned


“Hey you up there, no kids allowed!”Jack heard a familiar voice he loved.


“Not even me, Miss Medda!?” He smiled.


“Jack Kelly! Man of mystery. Get yourself down here and give me a hug.” She said. He laughed running down giving her a hug. “Where have you been keeping yourself kid?” She said squeezing the life out of him and he loved it.


“Neva far from you miss Medda!” She laughed. Jack introduced her to the boys. It was going well until she embarrassed him telling Davey and Les that he painted the backdrops. He brushed it off by saying it was just some trees and changed the subject. 


“Miss Medda, I got a little uh… situation out on the street. Mind if I hide out here a while?” He said. She hugged him again. 


“Where better to escape trouble than a theater?” She ruffled his hair. “Is Snyder after you again?” Jak frowned and gave a little nod. His mood shifted when Les then asked about Jack’s last escape that Jack was so proud of. Medda teased him saying he didn’t actually know Roosevelt, but she did. 


“Miss Medda! You’re on!” A worker called.


“I am! How am I doing.?” She asked. The man stared at her so she turned to the boys who laughed.
“Boys, lock the door and stay all night. You’re with Medda now.” She said. The smiled. They all huddled backstage and watched. After her song Jack hugged her and asked if he can go to the box when he noticed a girl. She let him up there and he realized it was the girl from before.


“Well hello again.” He laughed. She rolled her eyes.


“This is a private box.” She said. He smirked.


“If ya want I could lock the door.” He got closer. “Twice in one day. Think its fate?”


“Go away I’m working.” She said. He was impressed.


“A workin girl huh? Doin what?” He said so innocently, getting the girl to smile a little bit at how innocent his ‘doin what’ was.


“Reviewing the show for the New York Son.” She said. He smiled.


“I work for the World!” He said proudly.


“Wow. Somewhere out there someone cares. Go tell them.” She sassed. He took a glance at her again. 


“The views betta here.” He grinned.


“Please go. I’m not in the habit of speaking to strangers.” He chuckled.


“Well then you’s gonna make a lousy reporter.” He stopped laughing. “The names Jack Kelly.” He smiled again.


“Is that what it says on your rap sheet?” He laughed. 


“A smart girl. I admire smart girls.” He looked at her smiling again “Beautiful, smart, independent.-”


“Do you mind!?” She raised her voice. The people below told them to shut up. 


“You got in for free. At least pay attention.” Miss Medda called, scolding Jack specifically.  


“I’s sorry miss Medda.” He smiled at her. He then turned back to the girl and sat down. He drew her, she was much better than the show. He smiled so wide and signed it ‘Jack Kelly’ so she’d never forget him. She caught him.


“What are you doing?” She asked.


“Hey! Quiet down! There's a show goin on!” He smirked.


“You are the most impossible boy-”


“Shh” He grinned.


“Ever.” She said and turned away. He finished up, left it there and went down. He went back home and got some sleep.


“I caught you again Jack Kelly.” The spider laughed whipping Jack. He yelled.“That’s right you bastard.” He laughed.


“Stop… please.” He begged.


“Never Jack” He said all while hitting the boy. Loving when he screamed. 


“Why the hell would you do that. Kelly you could have cost me my job. Roosevelt's carriage!?”


“That was the goal. To cost ya your job.” he said. The man hit him again.


“You’re worthless Jack. You’ll be beat for that escape until the day you die.” he said.


“Why? It was a year ago. Drop it.” He said. The mak kept hurting him and had his men drag out the boys. Every single Newsie. They all had to watch Jack suffer.


He shot up in the middle of the night. He stopped himself from crying and drew the refuge again stuffing it away. He then checked on Crutchie ruffling his hair making sure he was safe and was able to get himself to sleep. They woke up the next morning. Jack wasn’t in the best mood from his dream but cheered up with the boys. That’s when he learned the prices went up and Jack took on the role of a strike leader. He had no idea what to do but had to do this. They then went to Jacobi’s where they decided who would get to tell the other newsies, they were serious about this strike. That’s when that girl came in. 


“Why’s everyone so scared of Brooklyn?” She asked. After seeing all of them get scared when Jack mentioned Brooklyn.


“What’re you doin’ here?” He smiled.  


“Asking a question. Have you got an answer?” She said.  


“Brooklyn is the sixth largest city in the entire world! You got Brooklyn, you hit the mother load.” He grinned getting closer to her. “For someone who works fer the New York Sun, you spend an awful lot of time  hanging around at the World. So, uh, what's that about?” He chuckled, then his eyes widened. “You followin’ me?” He teased hiding behind Davey.


“The only thing I’m following is a story.” She rolled her eyes. “A rag-tag gang of ragamuffins wants to take on the kingmaker of New York. Think you have a chance?” She teased.


“Shouldn’t you be at the ballet?” 


“Question too difficult? I’ll rephrase: will the richest and most powerful men in New York give the time of day to a gang of kids who haven’t got a nickel to their name?


“Hey!” Crutchie folded his arms “You don’t gotta be insultin’.... I got a nickel.” He said. Jack laughed at how cute he was and ruffled the kids hair. 


 “So I guess you’d say you’re a couple of Davids looking to take on Goliath?” She said. 


“We… We never said that.” Davey said.  


“You didn’t have to. I did.” She said.


“I seen a lot of papers in my time and I ain’t never noted no goirl reporters writin hard news.” He sassed. 


“Wake up to the new century. The game’s changing. How about an exclusive interview?” She said. 


“Ain’t your beat entertainment?” He grinned. 


“This is entertaining…” She said, he raised an eyebrow. “so far.” She smirked.  


“What’s the last news story you wrote?” He took a step closer. 


“What’s the last strike you organized?” She also took a step closer.


Romeo pushed past Jack “Out of your league, Kelly. Methinks the lady needs to handled by a real man.” He grinned. Jack once again raised an eyebrow.


“You thinks wrong, Romeo.” She said. He excitedly went over to Jack.


“How’d she know my name?” He grinned. 


“Get outta here.” Jack pushed him. 


“Jack, I say we save any exclusive for a real reporter.” Davey said. Jack nodded.


“Do you see somebody else giving you the time of day?” She asked looking upset, that’s when Jack felt horrible. Maybe he went too far. “Alright, so I’m  just busting out of the social pages. But you give me the exclusive, let me run with the story, and I promise you I’ll get you  the space.” She said.


“You think we could be in the papes?” Crutchie asked so happily. 


“Shut down a paper like the World and you’re going to make the front page.” She smiled. 


“You want a story? Be at the circulation gate tomorrow morning and you’ll get one.” He grinned “And bring a camera. You’re gonna wanna snap a picture of dis.” He smiled. Mister Jacobi kicked the kids out and they all went home, all minus Jack. Who had to talk to this girl. 


“So, what’s your story? Are you selling newspapers to work your way through art school?” She asked.


“Art school? Are ya kiddin’ me?”


“But you’re an artist. You’ve got real talent. You should be inside the paper illustrating, not outside hawking it.” She said showing him what he drew the night prior. 


“Maybe that ain’t what I want.”  


“So tell me what you want.” She said. He had the perfect response.


“Can’t you see it in my eyes?” He said flirting. He liked this girl a lot, he liked her spunk, she wasn’t afraid to sass him. He loved it. 


“Okay... “ She said. “Have you always been their leader?” She asked.  


“I’s a blowhard. Davey’s the brains.” He shrugged. 


“Modesty is not a quality I would have pinned on you.” She said. 

“You got a name?” He grinned again. 


“Katherine...Plumber.” She said. 


“What’s the matta? Ain’t ya sure?” He smirked. 


“It’s my byline, the name I publish under.” She said. He nodded seeing no need to ask for her real one. After all, he never said his was Sullivan. “Tell me about tomorrow. What are you hoping for?” She asked. 


“I’d rather tell you what I’m hopin fer tonight.” He bit his lip. She blushed. 


“Mr. Kelly…” 


“Today we stopped the Newsies from carrying out papes, but the wagons still delivered ta the rest of  the city. Tomorrow, we stop the wagons.” He smiled.


“Are you scared?” She asked. 


“Do I look scared?” He chuckled. “But… uh, ask me again in the mornin’.” He said. 


“Good answer!” She said writing that down “Good night, mister Kelly.”


“Come on, where you runnin’? It ain’t even supper time!” He said.


“I’ll see you in the morning. And, off the record, good luck.” She smiled at him. 


“Hey, Plumber. Write it good. We both got a lot ridin’ on you…” He said. He ran into The older boys on the way home. Red and Blue had started families which was crazy for Jack. Ten years ago they were just his fearless big brothers who adored him. Now they were fathers. Backbone and Emma were planning on starting a family as well. The three of them all hugged Jack.


“Strike leader huh? The hell you gettin yourself into?” Red asked


“I dunno… I didn’t mean ta…” He said.


“If you need anything come to us.” Blue said.


“I know…”


“Scared?” Backbone asked.


“No.” He grinned.


“Jesus Christ when did you of all people get so old?” Red ruffled his hair. He smiled.


“Twelve years ago we found ya… what the hell happened… time flew.”


“Yeah I know…” He said.


“So kid… how you doin this strike?”


“Stoppin the wagons tomorrow.” He said smiling. 


“Jack… you know what kinda trouble you boys can get into…”


“Cops ain’t gonna care bout a bunch of kids… this ain’t the trolley strike.”


“Cops won’t, bulls will. And you know damn well if you’re SEEN there the spider will  come for no one but you.” Blue said.


“I-I don’t wanna think bout that…” He said.


“We know ya don’t… but you need to know what you’s risking.”


“My life.”


“Not your-”


“Yes my life.” He said. The boys treated Jack to some food before letting him go home. Telling him to be safe tomorrow. He nodded. He got himself to sleep.


 The boys woke him up the next morning. Jack told all the littles they got a day off and it was the big kids only. He couldn’t risk having the little around. They were there first and quickly realized the boys from other parts of the city weren’t coming. Jack wasn't even mad at Spot for not showing up. It made sense that he wanted to make sure they wouldn’t back down. Spot was smart like that. Much smarter than Jack. They realized they had to do this on their own. And it went horrible. The cops arrived and Romeo ran up happily, hoping for help, the cop just slapped him. 


“Cheese it! it’s the bulls!” Jack yelled. They immediately started beating the boys. Jack didn’t even care about himself. He got as much kids out of there as he could. 


“You can’t run forever Kelly!” he heard the spider. Jack grabbed Les and shoved him out, he wasn't letting the youngest person there get caught. He got what he thought was everyone out and then ran. 


“Jack! Wait for me!” He heard. 


Holy shit I left Crutchie.


“Where do you think you’re going?” Oscar laughed at him. Crutchie called for more help. 


“Shut it, crip.” Morris knocked him down. Jack had to watch the spider beat Crutchie with his own crutch. Jack screamed for it to stop, ready to fight the spider. Something he never dared to physically do.


“It’s off to the refuge with you, little man. Take him away.” The spider told the officer who obeyed the command. 


“CRUTCHIE!” Jack screamed but couldn’t bring himself to go down. He wanted to but couldn’t move. 


“Jack Kelly!” The spider said now pointing at him.  That’s when Jack’s body allowed him to move and sprint off to the rooftop. He streamed, he stomped his feet, and he sobbed his eyes out which he hadn’t dared to do in what felt like ages. He cried all night long and realized he couldn’t dare face the boys. He failed them. They were all hurt because of him. All hurt because the idiot that Crutchie called Captain Jack failed them. He had to go. He couldn’t afford Santa Fe so he ran to Medda’s. This time he’s paint and accept the money. Anything to run away from the mess that he caused. Medda opened the doors to her theatre and saw a sobbing Jack Kelly. By then everyone knew what happened. She hugged him and held him for a while, he sobbed the entire time.


“Jack, baby, it’s all going to be okay. It will work out. I promise.” She said. He couldn’t respond. That’s when he realized the older boys were there. He forgot they come here all the time now. He sunk into Backbone’s arms still sobbing.


Backbone's fearless. Backbone wouldn't leave Crutchie like a dumbass, Backbone wouldn't get the boys hurt. You will never be a better leader than him. 


“They got Crutchie... They got Crutchie n’ it’s all my fault.” He sobbed, he was absolutely defeated and broken and they all could tell, if he was so upset he teared up in front of them, they knew it was bad. Now he was in front of them sobbing his eyes out. 


“Jack… it’s not your fault kid…”


“I shoulda shut my big mouth. I’s an idiot…” He said. 


“Jack, raising the price without talking to you boys ain’t right. You was right n this situation. You were doing the right thing.”


“N’ now Crutchie’s in the fucking refuge!” He kept sobbing. 


“I know kid… we know it’s scary…”


“‘S his first time… n’ I ain’t ever told him what it’s like… he-” Blue opened his mouth to cut off Jack and help him calm down. 


Blue wouldn't do what you did. You's a dumbass Jack. You were never fit to be a leader. Look at everyone with you. Blue never got anyone hurt, Blue was perfect. Blue saved your life. Here you are ruining lives. And Red, Red was with him the day they found you starving. They both saved your life. Red made sure to be protective until you had to be an idiot eight year old get caught again. And then Backbone. He was there for you until you were thirteen. They're who you had to look up to, and you screwed up. They would never do this. My God you suck at everything. 


“Kid… how do you think we felt with your first time. It’s horrible, it’s scary. We know.” Blue said.


“You don’t know… I dunno why but the spida loves me there. Crutchie’s my best friend… you know what he’s gonna do ta him-”


“He ain’t gonna do shit Kelly, he’s gonna use him ta bribe you.” Backbone said.


“That ain’t all true… he’ll do that yeah… n’ yeah I’s gonna go… but he’ll have no problem beatin a crip.” He said. The tears slowed down a bit but still were streaming down. 


“So what’s your plan Jack. What are you gonna do kid. You can’t hide from those kids.”


“Yes I can. They’s all gonna hate me. I got every single one of ‘em hurt and got Crutch thrown in jail.”


“Yeah and judgin by your face they got a few good swings at you. You all got hurt, everyone expected that Jack, so what are you gonna do?” Red asked. Jack just wiped his eyes.


“Don’t say Santa Fe. You’s stayin here and you’s gonna figure this out, then you can go wherever.” Backbone said. “Deal kid?”


“Deal…” He frowned. “B-but… can I still stay here fer the night.”


“You crazy? We’d all be idiots if we let you leave. You know they’re out lookin fer YOU.”




“Hey, cheer up, think bout that goirl who’s helpin ya.” Backbone nudged him.


“Kath’s gonna hate me too… she-”


“She's a writer, you gave her a story. I wouldn’t hate ya if I was her.” Red said grinning. 


“We’ll go home now kid… calm down and get some sleep okay?” Backbone ruffled his hair


“Uh huh…” he frowned. They left. Medda hugged him again and kissed his forehead goodnight. He may have done that to every single one of his boys but no ones done that to him since his father died. He hugged her tightly again. 


“Bed baby, you can paint all day tomorrow, I’ll need new back drops.” Medda said giving him a warm smile. He nodded. Somehow he managed to sleep, not well, his dreams haunted him.


 “Jack! Wait for me!” followed by the sight of the evil spider beating up the fourteen year old crippled boy.