You guys, I am so sorry. Life happened. High school happened. I know I'm not back when I'd like to be, but I'm here just the same.

Yesterday I had four tests, including one enormous state test (ninety minutes; our graduation is contingent upon passing it. AAAH!) and my brain was just fried. I had the chapter written but just couldn't post it. So I spent today tweaking and editing, and I'm proud to present you with this finished product!

This is a short chapter, but it's really sweet. (Except for, like, the last three paragraphs). Next chapter starts to get a bit more intense, although there's still plenty of adorable little Crutchie. Don't worry!

I decided there were enough questions / things I wanted to reply to that I'm going to do separate reviewer replies. Here you go!

Queenlmno: Aww, isn't Crutchie adorable? I love him! Thank you so much for reading – please keep leaving reviews!

Unofficialfansie: I'm sorry for the wait, but here you go! Plenty more cute fluff in this chapter, for your enjoyment! I hope you like this one.

Bexlynne: What do I say anymore? I need to PM you back but life's been crazy. Thank you so much for the constant reviews! Yeah, I've heard several of the words ("symbiote charlatan lowlife kakistocracy") individually before, but who knows what happens when you put them together? Insanity. Thanks for all your encouragement. I love you!

Brighteyes421: Good luck learning ASL! I know hardly any myself, but I'm trying to learn. You'll be great at it! And Crutchie's POV is awesome! It's organically evolved so much since the first chapter. School's been insane, but it should get better next week. We're all done with testing now!

MindAboveMadness: Thanks so much! "Teaching" Crutchie signs is difficult, but it's adorable too! Thank you for your wonderful reviews!

Demonwolf: I am so glad to see your constant reviews. I'm sorry, I know it's been awhile, but … high school. I love reading your writing and your comments on mine. Thanks a million

Les Phansie: Yes! Aren't they so cute! I love them so much. And Crutchie is adorable when he learns something new! Thanks so much for reading and reviewing.

SomedayOnBroadway: You… are amazing. Thank you so much. And thanks for the ASL lesson. So I'm trying something new this chapter: I'm underlining phrases instead of words. Because, like, you're right, it doesn't make sense to just plain underline "is," but it would look super awkward to write "What is yourname?" So I'm underlining phrases ("What is your name?") because that is what Crutchie understands and thinks of. Hopefully that'll help. Let me know! Please keep reading and reviewing. I love you so much!

Ava: You have no idea how honored I am to get your review. Thank you so much! It sounds like you've faced some tough obstacles, but you're super strong and brave. I'm sorry you can't sing, but hey, you can still love musicals! Thank you so much for your review; it made my entire day! I hope you enjoy this chapter! Please keep reviewing!

Cottonballpoofs: The new way of teaching Crutchie signs kinda just evolved. I didn't try to do it. But it's turned out well! Thank you so much for your reviews! Please keep reading!

Hilly: Thank you so much!

Kaori-chan: You're awesome! Thanks! Please keep reading and reviewing!

Buxy: Thanks so much. Newsies is amazing! Now, Deaf vs deaf. Deaf, capitalized, generally refers to people who are "culturally deaf," or who are hard-of-hearing and embrace the Deaf community and lifestyle. People who are deaf (lowercase) may not hear, but they aren't part of the culture the same way. I've seen Deaf more respectfully, so that's what I went for. We'll see how it evolves.

OK, this is shorter, but the next one, I promise, will be long. I hope you enjoy!


THREE WEEKS LATER

Crutchie glances up at Jack, reading the older boy's face with perfect accuracy as he rolls his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose with his hands. "The headline's that bad?" the Deaf boy asks in disbelief, and Jack can only nod. "What's it say?"

Jack leans dispiritedly against the wrought-iron gate in front of him. "Traffic," he signs, and Crutchie makes a face. Jack chuckles wryly, despite his frustration. "I know. Who wants to buy a paper with nothing more than they can see with their own two eyes?"

Crutchie laughs. "It will be hard to sell," he comments, as if warning Jack; the older boy can only nod. "Yeah," he says, "I'm only going to get thirty papers."

Crutchie's eyebrows raise. "Thirty? You can usually sell fifty, sometimes seventy!"

In response, Jack gestures at the headline, his mouth open in mock outrage: How do you expect me to sell seventy papes with a headline like this?

Crutchie grins and nods, conceding the point. "You can sell better than me."

"Yes, I can," Jack signs, playfully thrusting his nose into the air; Crutchie giggles slightly, but the sound is unnatural and choked. Jack runs a hand through the younger boy's hair, and he smiles.

By that time, the boys are near the front of the line, and Crutchie is fishing coins out of his pocket; Jack grins at him. The older boy steps up to the window then, his eyes firm on Weisel's pinched face. He looks down at the kids scrutinizingly; Jack fights the urge to scoff.

"I'll take thirty," he says out loud, slapping down three nickels.

Weisel raises his eyebrows. "Only thirty, Kelly? Has reality somehow wormed its way into your inflated head?"

Jack rolls his eyes. "Maybe if you'd give me a better headline, I'd find a way to bring you some more cash."

Weisel just shakes his head and puts a hand on Jack's shoulder, shoving him forwards (although not nearly as hard as he could if he were trying to hurt the boy).

Jack collects his papers, counts them for good measure, then sits down to watch Crutchie. The boys still sell together, but Crutchie transitioned to buying his own papers a few days ago - something he was incredibly eager to do.

Jack just laughs as he watches Crutchie, who's busy talking to Weisel's assistant Danny - the only one of the distribution employees fluent in ASL. The boy has a certain spunk, a certain charm - and Jack can't quite describe it, but he loves it all the same.


"Good morning!" C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E signs cheerfully as he places ten cents on the counter.

D-A-N-N-Y smiles down at him. "Good morning, C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E. How are you?"

C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E grins. "I'm good, thank you. How are you?"

D-A-N-N-Y is about to answer when W-E-I-S-E-L comes up to him, nudges him, and says something to him, talks to him. (That is what the Mouth Thing is really called, talking. C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E is still bewildered by the idea of talking, but he tries not to think about it too much.) D-A-N-N-Y rolls his eyes, but smiles, and says, "I'm good. How many papers would you like today?"

C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E smiles. "Twenty papers, please," he says, gesturing towards the money he has already set down. D-A-N-N-Y nods and takes the nickels. He says something to one of the other men, who starts counting out papers for C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E. C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E walks down, takes the newspapers from him, and smiles. The man just stares at him; but then, ever so slightly, his lips curl into a grudging smile. C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E feels his smile widen, glad to have made somebody else even a little happy; then he heads off to stand with J-A-C-K.

J-A-C-K smiles at him, signing "Good job!" C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E scoffs and rolls his eyes modestly. "It was easy."

"It was hard. You're just good at it," J-A-C-K corrects, and C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E shakes his head. His cheeks feel warm in a way he hasn't felt before.

"Where do you want to sell today?" J-A-C-K asks, and C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E considers that for a moment. Then he says, "Maiden Street? Ilikeitthere."

J-A-C-K thinks, then nods in agreement. "Come on!" he beckons. "Let'sgo!"

Just like J-A-C-K predicted, business that day - even on Maiden - is slow. C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E can get by with his natural charm, with what J-A-C-K calls his "cuteness," but the older boy is having trouble selling more than a dozen or so newspapers. The headline is awful, and even he can't come up with ways to half-truthfully "improve" it. And at almost ten years old, he's far too old to sell based on pity.

By the time the 12:00 bell rings, J-A-C-K still has sixteen papers left; C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E has nine. They use some of their money to buy bread from a nearby bakery. (C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E knows that J-A-C-K doesn't shy away from stealing food, but J-A-C-K is strictly well-behaved around the younger boy and has no idea that C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E knows this.) They eat motionless for a while, before C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E spots a pretty eleven-year-old girl on the other side of the square, grabs a newspaper, and makes his way over towards her with a smile and a wink at J-A-C-K.

He stumbles, his crutch making him trip a couple times; but he's gotten much better and faster maneuvering his way through the streets. And he's found that most adults don't move as fast as they could, and they certainly don't move as fast as a brave, determined five-year-old. Maybe he's taking a risk moving so fast, but for C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E, it's a risk worth taking.

The girl and her mother stop to look in a store window, and C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E has time to make the last few strides over to them. He takes a breath, then reaches out and taps the girl on her shoulder.

She whirls around, and he arranges his face into an expression of pleading helplessness. The girl's face breaks. Her eyes fill with tears, and she tugs on her mother's sleeve and says something. The mother signs and talks to the girl, her face strict and reprimanding. But the girl looks up and begs, pointing at C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E and holding out a hand.

C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E fights back a smirk. The girl is taking pity on him, because she thinks he's poor. Ironically, C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E is far from destitute - simply because people give him money because they think he is. It's a bizarre paradox, but one C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E is fully prepared to exploit for as much money as he can.

The girl's mother sighs, says something (to which the girl nods), and takes out a nickel. She passes it to the girl, who passes it to C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E, who lets his eyes widen in mock surprise. He takes the money, hands the girl a newspaper, and then readjusts his weight on his crutch and makes his way back across the square to J-A-C-K. He tosses the nickel to the older boy, who signs "Good job!" and hands him another piece of bread.

C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E smiles. "Thanks, J-A-C-K." J-A-C-K only nods, swallows his own food, and stands up.


The rest of the day passes easily enough. The headlines that J-A-C-K yells get progressively more bizarre as the afternoon wears on. They go from carriage crashes to fires to murders, and only near the end of the inventive headlines do the papes really begin to sell.

It's almost three o'clock by the time they're done - pathetic, really, considering they had only fifty papers between them. Regardless, though, the papes are gone, the money is in their pockets, and they can go back to the Lodging House for a well-deserved rest.

All in all, it has been a pretty good day.


The conversation at the dinner table that night is almost entirely in ASL, as it has been for several days now. Even the boys not talking to Crutchie sign back and forth - half to increase their fluency (which many of them desperately need help with), half to make sure the little boy can understand whatever they're saying - an astonishingly sweet gesture that Jack hadn't anticipated. The silence is supplemented, of course, by verbal speech and (most prominently) by laughter - as when Elmer mixes up the signs for brown and beer and twists the story he's telling in a way none of the newsboys anticipated - but for the most part, Crutchie can understand it all.

And understand it he is. Jack just watches as the younger boy's eyes sweep across the crowd, picking out words and phrases he knows and following entire conversations. Most of the boys' signs are slow, anyways - they're nowhere near fluent - and Crutchie has soaked up signs in the last few weeks like a sponge soaks up water.

Eventually the boys disperse; Louis has told them to go to sleep, but every single boy in the Lodging House knows that that's the last thing they'll be doing in the bunk room. Pillow fights, card games, and hide-and-seek are generally prevalent every night. Several of the boys don't even try to pretend - Jack and Crutchie among them. Despite being so young, Crutchie can get away with more than most of the boys; Louis has taken a liking to him, and nobody can bring themselves to tell him no.

By the time a churchbell rings, signaling ten o'clock, some of the littles have finally fallen asleep. But Jack still sits with Louis and Sammy and Panther and Specs and Crutchie in what passes as a living room in the Lodging House. That night, another word worms its sly way into Crutchie's vocabulary. Jack has long since given up formally teaching him, but words are everywhere, and Crutchie's thirst is unmatchable.

Panther and Sammy are sitting side-by-side when one boy murmurs something to the other, and Panther is flung back onto the back of the chair, his body wracked with hysterics. He's laughing so hard that his body shakes and trembles, and tears stream down his cheeks. The other newsies start laughing at him, and soon the whole room is submerged in guffaws and giggles and tears.

Throughout it all, Crutchie sits still, a bit bewildered. And after several minutes, once the gales have somewhat subsided, he tugs on Jack's sleeve and asks, "What was that?"

Jack, his face still frozen in a grin and tears still trickling down his cheeks, just signs "laugh", giving a word to the sensation Crutchie has seen plenty of times but never been able to describe. And the younger boy smiles happily and nods, quietly tucking the word into his memory.

But Jack isn't happy with that. Suddenly wracking his brains, he cannot remember a single time that Crutchie has really laughed, really done anything more than giggle slightly at something funny. Even those giggles are choked and cut off. As far as Jack knows, Crutchie has never really, truly laughed.

So he reaches over and attacks Crutchie's stomach with lightning-quick, tickling fingers. And Crutchie falls back into the couch, doubling over, swatting at Jack's hands, and laughing, laughing over and over again, enormous, oxygen-deprived gales of laughter that cover the entire room. It's the first time any of them have heard him laugh, and they all gasp and smile at the sound. It's light and airy and innocent and free, and it brightens the room, somehow transforming the stark white moonlight trickling in from the windows into a radiant golden sunshine.

"Laugh," Jack signs over and over again, his light fingers not leaving the boy's stomach, following him as the kid spasms around on the couch, shaking with laughter. "Laugh."

Tears break through and stream down Crutchie's cheeks now as well, as he flounders, laughing and crying and pawing playfully at Jack's hands. And he keeps laughing, keeps crying out his guffaws and giggles, and Jack swears he has never heard a more beautiful sound in his life.

Eventually he lets up on his tickling, and Crutchie, with tears of mirth still flooding from his eyes, curls in on himself as the giggles slow. Eventually he manages to pull himself upright, and then he can copy Jack's sign: "laugh". He does it with an openmouthed, ecstatic smile: a smile that says so clearly, I don't care what the world thinks of me right now. This is what I think about the world. It is ecstasy, it is joy, it is wonder and awe and love, and Crutchie just giggles as he signs the word again.

"I like to laugh," Crutchie signs genuinely, his eyes still watery but his breathing slowly returning to normal. Jack grins. "Me too," he says. "All of us do."

"I want to laugh more," Crutchie says, and Jack only giggles at that.

"You will, Crutchie," he promises. "You will."


SIX DAYS LATER

"J-A-C-K!" He stumbles his way up to the older boy eagerly. "I sold sixteen!"

J-A-C-K's eyes widen. "Sixteen?" he repeats in disbelief. "In the last half-hour?"

C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E nods eagerly. He is still not selling alone, but he has taken to going a block or so down from J-A-C-K and targeting a different crowd. Apparently, it is working: he has sold sixteen papers in thirty minutes, a new record for him.

"You're a regular newsboy now, aren't you?" J-A-C-K signs playfully, and C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E knocks his hand in the air over and over again: yes, he is.

"You're doing so well," J-A-C-K tells C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E. "I'm proud of you."

Those last signs are somewhat new - he has never learned them formally - but C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E can piece it together, and he smiles, tears threatening at the corners of his eyes. "Thank you," he signs, a bit breathlessly, and J-A-C-K grins.

"I love you, C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E," he says, and C-R-U-T-C-H-I-E just signs it back.

"I love you, J-A-C-K."


If only that day could have lasted forever.

If only time could have frozen in that moment; if only the boys could relive that day over and over again.

But Crutchie had been too successful lately, had smiled too much, had done too well. The world wasn't going to let him get away with that. No, the universe had too much animosity towards the little boy, too much pain in store for him. The universe would not allow him to learn ASL fluently and then sail through life, a far cry from the injured, deprived, abandoned boy he had been a month ago. The world would take him and hurt him and make him struggle, even after he had done so much to pull himself out of the torture of that past life.

No matter what happened, Crutchie was sure he would be okay as long as Jack was right there by his side.

But the world works in cruel ways.


Jesus Christ, apparently I can't do subtle foreshadowing or cliffhangers, because that was quite possibly the most explicit, shove-it-down-your-throat foreshadowing ever written in the history of fanfiction. Fanfic's weird, though, isn't it? Because you post one chapter at a time, you end it in places and with endings you wouldn't if you were publishing it in complete novel form.

Anyways, please read and review. I love you guys so much! Sorry for the shortness, but chapter 6 will be AWESOME. We got up to 15 reviews last time and I would love to see that again! Thanks so much!

See you later! Have an awesome day and week!