Author's Note: This is, in short, one of the ideas that everyone thinks you are insane for pursuing. This is, in short, one of the ideas that, when you tell your fellow fanfiction-writers about it, they laugh really hard for about five minutes and then go, "wait…but you're not REALLY thinking of writing it?" And then you say yes and they laugh even harder. This is one of those ideas, that became one of those fics.
The idea really is a simple one: every year, there is an annual all-borough dance-off. This is the scene for our story, a narrative rich with betrayal, loyalty, new slashy pairings (really!),and more musical numbers than you can shake a wet Chita Rivera at.
DALTON: An if anyone happens to have a wet Chita Rivera—
If all else fails, look at it this way: we all knew something interesting had to happen when you gave a bored slash-whore with pneumonia a bottle of industrial strength Robitussin and access to a whole archive of those wonderful borough war fics. So, if you love it, tell me! Send Chita Rivera! Help sew sequins for the boys' costumes! And if you hate it, I understand. Lots of brilliant ideas were misunderstood, you know.
Like the lightbulb.
And now, on with the fic!
Dirty Dancing—Manhattan Nights
For many years, New York City was a world ruled by war. Among the newsies, property disputes, battles for leadership, and anything else that caused more trouble than a talk over sarsaparilla and Vienna sausage couldwork outwere solved by full-fledged warfare. Leaders became generals, and newsboys became soldiers; the alleys, side streets, and public parks of the city became battle ground. Lives were lost, heroes were made, and legacies were ushered in.
As these things happened among a class of people unnoticed by historians, it is impossible to tell the exact dates or statistics of these campaigns, but talk to any New Yorker on the street and they might reveal to you a family legend, about the Battle for the Brooklyn Bridge in 1891, or the war that took a thousand lives and lasted ten years, started when Shanghai Jim, the leader of the Harlem newsies, took a girl named Helly—rumored to be the most beautiful whore in Lower Manhattan—away from Nick Schiavelli, the most feared newsie in Little Italy.
Not even the newsies themselves could have told you when the custom of war started, or exactly how long it had been going on, while the rest of society took no notice at all, but anyone could tell you exactly when it ended: January fourteenth, 1895, when a young Manhattan newsie by the name of Kid Blink Ballatt was mortally wounded. He had been standing in an alleyway on Alexander Avenue along with six of his friends from the Duane Street lodging house, waiting to ambush Cloudy McClusky, the leader of the Bronx newsies. Before he could leap into action, however, an icicle fell from the gutter above, straight into his left eye.
It was only later that afternoon, his wounds patched up and fifty percent of his vision lost forever, that Kid Blink remarked, rather thoughtfully, that a guy could really get himself hurt in a war.
His revelation spread like wildfire through the city's leaders, all of whom saw with late coming clarity the utter truth of this statement. Within twenty four hours, a summit meeting was held, and an outright ban was put on warfare of any kind between boroughs. But a new way to solve important issues had to be decided, and so the decision was given to the boy who had made them toss out borough warfare in the first place: Kid Blink Ballatt.
Upon hearing the news, Blink thought for a moment, his lone eye squinted in concentration, and then came out with the solution that would solve all of their problems: every year, he said, there would be an all-inclusive dance competition between boroughs. Each lodging house would work together to plan their own routines and variety shows, write and choreograph their own original musical numbers, sew their own costumes, do their own hair. And every year, the best newsie dancers in New York City would be awarded their trophies, and given the choicest selling spots, the greatest power, and—the most coveted prize of all--a thirty dollar gift certificate to IHOP.
And every year from then on, that was exactly what the newsies did.
March first, 1900, was to be fifth annual all-borough dance-off, and the first of the new century. The excitement level all across the city was high, not least of all at the Duane Street lodging house. The boys were practicing around the clock--they were wearing through their ballet shoes at the rate of three pairs a week, their fingers bloody from helping to sew on all the sequins for Snitch and Skittery's costumes; Kloppman had even temporarily repealed the no-tuba rule for nightly band practices. A week into February, the atmosphere was one of heightened expectation, and anyone you asked would tell you just how exciting it all was—everyone, that is, except for Jack Kelly.
In the past, Jack had always been one of the most enthusiastic participants of the dance-off. Last year, his Interpretive Western Dance had won him top honors in the Modern category, a distinction that had won him a lot of the respect that he now enjoyed. Kid Blink had long been the star of the show—ever since the accident, anyway, and not the one that had befallen his left eye, either—but Jack was a tireless and enthusiastic participant, constantly willing to make punch or help to round up celebrity judges. He had never wanted to miss the chance to show off his skills, and enjoyed bonding with the rest of the boys during the endless practices and rehearsals. But this year, as he surveyed the festivities with a dead eye, he seemed almost not to notice what was going on around him. The dance-off was in less than a month, and he didn't even have a routine planned.
Everyone had some idea what was going on, but their suspicions were finally confirmed one night, a little over three weeks before the inaugural ceremonies of the dance-off, when Jack leapt up onto his bunk to give one of his famous impromptu speeches.
It was just after suppertime, and everyone was crowded into the bunkroom, working on their routines. Specs and Dutchy were huddled on the fire escape, sharing their last cigarette as they worked out some of the scoring on a song from the musical they were working on ("that one word should be held out a little—like only death will paaaaaaaaaart…us now, 'stead of just only death will part us now. 'S more, uh…what's the word for it, Dutch?" "Poignant?" "Yeah, that's it. Poignant"). Snitch and Skittery were practicing their steps for the thousandth time, although they still hadn't decided who would lead, and Bumlets, taking a break from his own planning, was helping the littler kids synchronize their steps for the big can-can number that would come as part of the introduction. Racetrack was the only unproductive one among them, except for Jack; he was lying on his bunk, arms crosses, staring moodily out the window while he tried to make his cigarette last. Everyone knew not to bother Race during dance-off season—but then it wasn't as if they didn't have anything better to do. Everyone was busy working on something, but everyone stopped whatever they were doing when they heard Jack's call to attention. All eyes were suddenly on him.
"Well, uh, boys…" Jack tugged at his collar a little, suddenly realized how much attention he was getting (not normally a problem for him), "I see you're all doin' pretty well now, an' that ya hardly need me to help you along…" Racetrack, from his bunk, drunkenly hummed a few bars of the Interpretive Western Dance song, which Jack politely ignored. "An' I'd just like to say that I won't be around much the next few weeks, what with sellin' being what it is…an' I'll be gone early tomorrow mornin'. But that ain't nothin' to worry about." He sat down abruptly on his bed, visibly troubled, even Racetrack saw, about how much he should tell. Of course, Racetrack knew more than most of the others anyway, and if you knew half of what was going on in Jack's head, the other half wasn't that hard to decipher.
"So, anyway," Jack said, "uh, g'night, boys. Dance good. Win that gift certificate."
"Hey, Jack! Wanna see us practice?" Tumbler called, but by then Jack had already rolled around and begun, very loudly, to feign sleep.
Jack was gone the next morning, but he had thoughtfully left a note, stuck to Racetrack's forehead with a wad of chewing gum. (Gum has been around a lot longer than most people think.) It read:
I HAVE GONE TO HELP SPOT LERN TO DO THE ACKY BREAKY HEART IN THYME FOR THE ANUAL BROOKLYN DANCEOFF
BACK BY 6
Racetrack calmly crumpled the note into a ball, and tossed it out the window. He knew it would be best not to let the others find out that Jack was helping the enemy to win the dance-off; it might have seemed like a joke to him, sure, but what about the ones who cared—what about Kid Blink? What about Mush? What about Tumbler, for the love of God? If they found out that they had been betrayed by their leader, they would be heartbroken. Heartbroken. And this note didn't even tell them the half of it. They had been practicing for months—Bumlets had been perfecting his break dancing since April—and for all their efforts to be ignored like this while the person they most admired helped their greatest adversary was unforgivable.
Racetrack was just washing the gum off his forehead—piña colada flavored, no less, and if that wasn't the gum of choice for heartless backstabbers, then Race really didn't know what was—when Swifty sashayed up to him in search of his toothbrush. Yes, sashayed was really the only word for it. Racetrack sighed. This was going to be a hard one to break to the boys.
"Hiya, Race!" Swifty said excitedly (Swifty said everything excitedly), and Racetrack's mood might have been lightened a little had Swifty's mouth not been full of toothpaste at the time.
"Hiya, Swifty," Racetrack muttered, as soon as he managed to clear some of the foam out of his eyes. "What's goin' on?"
"Oh, nothing much," Swifty sing-songed, doing a little impromptu soft shoe. "Y'know, the usual. Sellin' papers. Brushing my teeth. Oh, and…practicing for the all-borough dance-off, of course," he added slyly. "But you already knew that."
Race just nodded wearily and went over to his bunk to check for an extra pair of clean socks. Swifty, of course, simply followed him.
"Yep, the dance-off's gettin' pretty close…only two weeks away now. And we'll have some stiff competition this year. Good thing we've cooked up a pretty good routine. We'll really blow their socks off, that's for sure." Swifty leaned over and stared expectantly at Racetrack, who of course showed no reaction.
"I SAID, WE'LL REALLY BLOW THEIR SOCKS OFF, THAT'S FOR SURE."
"I bet you will," Racetrack conceded, in what he hoped was as uninterested a tone as possible.
"Oh, do you want to hear about it, Race?" Swifty asked innocently.
Racetrack thought for a moment of making a break for the window, but he decided that the least he could do to soften the blow of Jack's betrayal was listen to Swifty's stupid dance-off plans, so, with a sigh, he sat down on his bunk and turned to his friend. "I'd love to."
"Oh, really, Race? Ya mean it?"
And so Swifty and Racetrack spent nearly an hour and a half in the deserted bunkroom, long after everyone had left, talking about the coming dance-off, and the big musical that Specs and Dutchy were collaborating on for the mandatory all-lodging house ensemble piece, and Bumlets' break dancing, and how they had been really worried a while back when Skittery stubbed his toe and dislocated it and they thought he wouldn't be able to do his signature tango with Snitch, but then Sarah had been nice enough to fix it for him, since she was training to be a nurse, after all. And they talked about how well Boots did the robot, and the discount tiara they had found for Kid Blink, and how they were teaching the littler kids to play instruments, and on and on and on, until Racetrack felt that his head might explode. He only avoided it by completely tuning out, until finally, after a very long time, he noticed that Swifty was looking at him expectantly, and realized that he should say something.
"Um…is Dave performing?"
"NO!" Swifty gasped, utterly horrified. "Race, why would you say a thing like that? Of COURSE he isn't going to be in the dance-off. You silly boy…"
"But Dave's a newsie," Racetrack persisted, oblivious. "I mean, I know he can be…strange, but he sells with the rest of us, doesn't he? An' after all, he's Jack's best friend."
"Yes," Swifty coughed. "Friend. But, uh…well, it ain't just that, Race. Dave's a great guy and all, he really is. But he's…well…different from us, y'know?"
Racetrack just stared at him blankly. "No…"
Swifty swallowed hard, and then, with a slightly distressed expression, he leaned forward and whispered in Race's ear: "He hasn't got…rhythm."
Racetrack jumped back as if he had touched hot coals. He stared at Swifty, aghast. "But—no, Swifty, you can't really mean…" In the Duane Street lodging house, being called a bad dancer was the worst insult anyone could even think up; uttering it, even in reference, even in jest, could silence a crowd. A false accusation ranked as the highest cardinal sin there was, even worse than leaving your wet towel on the floor, or taking one of Racetrack's socks. And for someone to say that about a friend—even worse, about a fellow newsie—was never to be taken lightly.
Swifty nodded, his expression grave. "I've seen it, Race. We've all seen it. Everyone except you, and that's just because you're the only one here who ain't doin' something for the dance off." There was an uncomfortable pause at the mention of this, but Swifty quickly cleared his throat and went on. "He's got no taste. No style. The guy can't tell the difference between a merengue and a box step. He's got—"
"No. Don't say it, Swifty."
"It's true. Race, he has two left feet."
"There's hope for everyone," Racetrack said weakly.
"Look," Swifty said gently, putting a hand over Racetrack's, "what we really need is to have you back. You were our star dancer, Race. Sure, Kid Blink's great, but you—you had somethin' special."
"Swifty, I can't…"
"Nothing big, I'm not pushin' ya. You could be a can-can dancer for the piece Skitts is choreographing, maybe work up to something more. I know it's been tough for you since…since the accident, but…"
"No," Race said through gritted teeth. "Don't say another word." And with that, he stood up from the bunk so fast that he nearly lost his footing, and charged out of the bunkroom with a heavy, decidedly arrhythmic step.
((in an announcer voice)) Will the story behind Racetrack's fear of dancing ever be revealed? Will the other boys learn of Jack's betrayal? In Snitch and Skittery's waltz, who will lead?
DALTON: Do any of us really care?
Find out the answers to these things (maybe), and more! Next time! On "Dirty Dancing: Manhattan Nights"!
DALTON: Reviewers will be rewarded with a hot sweaty Patrick Swayze.
Or a Racetrack Higgins, if you so prefer...