Disclaimer: All Newsies characters are the property of Disney; any others are of my own invention. This story contains slash. It also contains political and religious rhetoric, none of which reflects the views of Disney or FFnet or me, for that matter.

A/N: This story is the culmination of my band geekdom and Newsies fanhood. All marching band references are drawn from my own experience, and if any references to characters, names, mascots, or events sound eerily familiar, it's either because marching bands and their particular stereotypes are the same nationwide or you attend the same school as I did. Also, many thanks are due to my thorough and ridiculously encouraging beta clio21000.

Chapter 1 – David's First Day

David surveyed the parking lot. On the blacktop before him swarmed college kids in shorts and t-shirts, some with bandanas or baseball caps on, most wearing sunglasses, and all surrounded by or holding musical instruments. It was early morning and the grass was still covered in cool dew as David knelt to lock his bicycle to a tree at what he assumed was the front of the lot – though he was still a bit confused as to why his first meeting with the marching band was scheduled to meet in a parking lot at all. A week before classes were scheduled to begin seemed too soon for pranks on the new kids – he hoped, anyway.

David unstrapped his trumpet case from the back of his bike and headed toward the crowd. As he neared the clash of students, things began to feel more chaotic instead of less, but it was a chaos David was familiar with, at least; a first day kind of chaos, filled with happy reunions and the anticipation of school-year stresses. Given that this was David's first introduction to Northern Midwest University, he was feeling the stress more than the happy.

He approached what he assumed was the equipment truck, essentially a moving van painted in navy blue with a yellow-gold stripe running through the center, and stumbled over a big black bass drum case lid. Lucky for David, the boys circling the bass and snare drums hadn't noticed. No matter what band you were in, percussionists were scarily territorial and these guys didn't look any different. A scrappy kid maybe a few years older than David with dark hair and face pinched like his cap called over a few drums for someone to throw him a new drum head while a lean – more than lean, downright skinny – boy in a baggy black t-shirt wrenched a drum key on a loose bass drum lug nut. David noticed his drum key was attached to the kid's actual key chain, which was attached to a belt loop on his jeans – the mark of a serious drummer.

"What're you gapin' at?" The boy's quick glare was ice blue and his cheek lifted his lips into a brief sneer.

David was sufficiently intimidated and it took him a few seconds to realize he'd been spoken to. "Nothing. Sorry." He hefted his trumpet case and searched the mass of bodies again for similar shapes. Where were the other trumpets? Was everyone going to be so serious and scary?

As he picked his way through the rest of the drums and cases and around the truck, a freestanding tower of yellow scaffolding positioned at the edge of the blacktop came into view. David stopped in his tracks again and put a hand to his forehead for shade as he squinted up at the structure, wondering why on earth someone would erect a scaffold where there was nothing to reach.

"Hey, you must be new," said a voice at David's elbow. David dropped his hand and was surprised to see he was flanked by two other boys. The blond on his left spoke again. "Hi, I'm Blink. I'm an alto. That's Mush, clarinet."

Marching band short-hand of nicknames and identification by instrument were kind of like identifying yourself by major in every other college setting. Somehow David had made it through four years of high school band nickname-free. "Uh, hi. I'm David." He lifted his case a little, "Trumpet."

The other boy, who had tan skin and a mass of fuzzy dark curls, smiled and welcomed him. "In case you're curious, my real name is Mike. And he's Ryan. We're sophomores. You're a freshman?"

David nodded. "Well, I transferred, so I'm a sophomore in terms of credits, but there wasn't a marching band at my last school, so I'm probably a freshman to you guys."

Blink, the blond, turned more fully toward him and David noticed for the first time that he was wearing an eye patch. He smiled, but looked antsy and kept fiddling with the saxophone reed he tucked in the corner of his mouth. "Yep, you'll be considered a freshman. Don't worry, too much, anyway."

David tried not to flinch. "Right. Thanks."

Mush smiled and David found himself patting his pocket for his sunglasses. He knew without being told that that smile was the reason Mike was "Mush" – mush was what any girl would turn into when faced with that beaming grin. David had a sister; he knew how those things worked. "Anyway, welcome to NMU. We're pretty small, but we got a mighty sound."

A third boy suddenly swooped in between Blink and Mush, slinging an arm around each of their necks. "You mean we brass instruments got a mighty sound, right Mush? When's the last time anybody heard a clarinet from the stands?" The latest member of the welcome party took his arm from around Blink to give Mush a noogie, then extended his hand to David. "My name's Jack, Jack Kelly. Trumpet. You too, huh?"

"Uh – yeah."

"Jack's your section leader," Blink piped.

"And band president," Mush added proudly, though David wasn't sure exactly what inspired the sense of pride.

"Great," he said. "By the way, I'm David." Jack tossed his chin up in acknowledgement of David's introduction and a few seconds of silence passed. David was beginning to remember how much he hated new situations. He tried to make casual conversation. "So, what's the scaffold for? I mean, this is just a parking lot."

Jack's grin was loose-lipped and purely delighted. "This ain't just a parking lot, Dave. It's our practice field."

David heard himself emit a high-pitched laugh of disbelief, then heard Jack echo it. Again with the hating new situations, and people. "He's not kidding, Dave," Blink spoke up and pointed to the pavement. Under David's sneakers was the number 30 painted large and white. He scanned the rest of the asphalt and began to see the white yard lines intersect with the yellow of the angled parking spot marks. An entire football field of markings covered the blacktop. "The scaffold's for Dr. Denton to watch from, it's right on the fifty. Below it there's the podium for the drum major. We're out here rain or shine. Or, you know, snow." Blink's smile was accompanied by a shrug, both of which seemed mischievous.

"I thought you guys had a domed football field, because of the early snow. That's what I read, anyway. I thought I saw it? Somewhere?"

David ignored Jack's snicker and focused on Mush, who was actually answering his question. "We do have a dome, it's over that way," he pointed away from the scaffold. "You probably did see it. But we can't be in there all the time. It's got a track in it and the school rents it out for community stuff. And the football team has to use it, of course."

"Right, of course" David said, trying not to feel stupid. He should have known all this, but his sister Sarah didn't elaborate much on her college life or experiences, and she certainly wasn't thrilled David had transferred to NMU, especially since this was her final year, and she was drum major. In fact, she had made it very clear that the family connection between she and David was not information he should dispense voluntarily, and she stated she had no intention of making his transition into band or NMU any smoother.

Just then a surly young man in a baseball hat lurched up to Jack and hocked a loogie at his foot. "Makin' nice with the kiddies, Kelly? Fresh blood to exploit?"

Jack hadn't moved when the loogie landed next to his foot, and he kept his stance – legs stationed shoulder-width apart, arms crossed at his chest – even as another grin spread over his face. "Exploit, huh Oscar? That's a big word for you. They finally teachin' ya something here at college, or did you master that one with a dictionary over the summer?"

"Speaking of dicks, Kelly, you're the biggest dick in the entire band," Oscar glared.

Jack's grin only broadened. "My understandin' is that's not what dictionaries are all about, Oscar, but thanks for saying so."

David heard Sarah snort as she sauntered by, baton in hand and draping her whistle around her neck – drum major status symbols. "Just to be clear, Jack, he said you ARE the biggest dick in the band. Not that you HAVE the biggest dick."

There was a collective ominous "ooooh" from the veteran band members within earshot.

"Jack and Sarah were together for over a year – got together Jack's freshman year. Nobody knows why they broke up, but it wasn't a friendly parting," Blink explained in David's ear. David wasn't too surprised Sarah had neglected to mention a boyfriend, either.

"Never heard you complainin' none," Jack called after Sarah, a bit belatedly.

Sarah raised her right fist to shoulder height, middle finger extended. "Bite me, Jackass," she snapped over her shoulder.

Blink turned to David and flashed him another impish smile. "Welcome to the Cougarland Band."

David watched as Sarah stalked to the center of the milling students and blew her whistle. When most heads had turned she raised a megaphone to her mouth and called out directions. "Everybody listen up!" David was somehow gratified to find out she was capable of bossing other people around, too. "You've got five minutes to put your cases down along the edge of the field and grab your nametag. Form two lines at the back of the truck. A through L on the left, M through Z on the right. Then gather around the fifty."

David met a few more band mates while in the A through L line – "met" constituting hearing them give their names to Jack and a guy who looked torn out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad while they doled out the tags. Once everyone had obeyed Sarah's initial set of orders, she blew her whistle a second time, even though the crowd was already seated on the pavement and mellow. Attention turned toward the front edge of the lot – field, David corrected himself – where three adults, obviously authority figures, stood. A man not quite of middle age wearing a short-sleeved Oxford shirt smiled at them from the center. His brown hair was ruffled by the slight breeze.

"Welcome to all our freshmen, and welcome back Cougarland veterans! For those of you I don't know yet, my name is Bryan Denton and I'm the director of bands here at NMU. I am excited about our numbers this year, and I'm sure this will prove one of our most successful seasons."

"What's with the bowtie?" David whispered to no one in particular as Denton droned on.

"If you can figure it out, you'll be the first," a girl seated cross-legged in front of him whispered back.

Mush casually leaned toward David's ear. "He wears them even when it's sweltering."

"And they always match his shirt," Blink added. The girl in front of them turned her head and gave Blink a sarcastic look. "Well, they do," he spat quietly.

David cracked a smile.

"We have Ms. Medda Larkson returning as our color guard instructor this year," Denton paused and a woman with almost unnaturally red hair who was wearing a purple sundress and a broad-brimmed straw hat complete with purple scarf gave an extravagant wave. "And of course, our percussion instructor, Dr. Otto Weisel." A round man sporting a somewhat rumpled t-shirt and five o'clock shadow looked nonplused to be at the center of attention. He sneered, and David assumed it was an attempt at a smile because Denton continued happily. "As selected at the end of last year, our drum majors for this season are Sarah Jacobs and Gordon "Skittery" Skitowski."

A small cadre of girls sat to David's left, and he distinctly heard the word "hot" followed by giggling come from their direction. Blink had apparently heard them, too. "There's a fan club every year, but it'll be worse now that he's drum major. Mush gets one, too. You'll see."

On the other side of David, Mush crossed his arms and scowled.

After Denton had finished his greeting he turned the captive audience back over to Sarah, who introduced the section leaders. Each one stood as his or her name was called, and David realized they were all wearing similar t-shirts – white ringer tees with navy blue piping and lettering. The boy in the pinch-billed cap who had been tuning drums was introduced as percussion section leader Tony Higgins, but several students, including Mush and Blink, whooped and hollered "Racetrack!" and "Yo, Race!" so David made a mental note not to call him Tony. Sarah's introduction of Jack was clipped, and she tacked on mention of his band president title as an afterthought. She also barely hid her disgust when someone bellowed out, "'Sup, CowBOY!"

David was interested to learn that the sousaphone – better known as tuba – section leader was Oscar Delancey, the boy who'd loogied at Jack's foot. There was no shortage of drama in among band leadership, apparently.

Jenny, a girl with long, straight hair pulled back in a ponytail with a bandana around her arm bounded to her feet as she was announced as flute section leader. A girl who was obviously a seasoned member of the band stood and gave an abbreviated wave as leader of the clarinet section. Though Sarah had introduced her as Laura, Mush informed David that everyone called her Lou. The mellophone – aka French horn – leader was a smooth-skinned young man with shiny dark hair. A boy whose name David didn't catch but who kept swiping at his nose was charged with leadership of the trombones, while the saxophones – altos and a few baritones – were to be led by a dark-haired, snub-nosed boy.

Blink, who had his elbows on his knees and hands clasped in front of him, grumbled something about eating pie into his chest.

David looked to Mush for an explanation. "Shoulda been Blink," he whispered. "He's definitely a better sax player than Pie-Eater, and when Skittery moved on to drum major, section leader was up for grabs, but Blink . . . got passed over." Blink growled a little more aggressively on David's other side.

Sarah cleared her throat and continued. "Okay, in a few minutes we'll break into sectionals for the next hour to do some marching exercises, so when we do that, look for your section leader. But first, I want to explain some rules." David wondered if that Skittery kid was annoyed that Sarah got to do all the ordering. "Our most important rule during band camp is to ALWAYS be on time. Our second rule: ALWAYS remember your nametag. If you are late, or if your section leader reports that you do not have your nametag, you will have to sing."

David allowed himself a smile. This was the perfect opportunity. "Sing what?" he called as heads of his band mates swung toward him.

Sarah glowered. "You will sing the alma mater and Cougarland fight song."

"But we don't know the alma mater and the fight song if we're freshmen," David feigned stupidity. He'd seen the lyrics printed in the Cougarland Band Handbook every band member received midsummer.

"Then don't forget your nametag and be on time," Sarah snapped. A good comeback, David admitted, but he could already see Jack and Racetrack and a few others trying not to smile at his having flustered Sarah, even if only for a brief moment. She covered by shouting more orders. "Okay, sectionals! One hour, then meet back here at the fifty!"

David spent the next hour listening to Jack and the trumpet section drill instructor – who had already altered her nametag to read "SEXY Lexie" as opposed to "Alexandra" – clap tempos and issue marching commands. The Cougarland band's marching style was similar to David's high school, but their commands were called a little differently. They started with basic eight-to-five roll stepping, making sure everyone could march without moving his/her upper body in a smooth eight steps to every five yards. Then they progressed to traversing, which Jack demonstrated excellently by keeping his shoulders squared to the sideline while he twisted his hips to point his feet left or right, depending on which direction he needed to march. David only messed up once when Lexie called a "to the rear" and David started back marching instead. That slip-up was small compared to some of the rudimentary posture problems and mixing up of lefts and rights he saw his fellow freshman trumpets making.

At the moment he was standing on his designated coordinate (40 yard-line, eight steps forward the hash mark), in what Denton had informed them was their "block formation" that they would use for roll call, warm-up exercises, and full-band marching practice from then on. To prove the sectional time was put to good use, Denton had Sarah run the full group through the marching basics. They mostly practiced combinations of backward marching and traversing. Each time his foot stepped on a white yard line marker, David called out a staccato, "HIT!" like the rest of the band to signify he'd made the perfect eight-to-five. He knew it seemed kind of stupid, and he noticed some of the freshman weren't saying it (though that may also have been because their toes were shy of the line quite often), but most of the veteran members were and he preferred to blend in as an older member of the band, if possible.

Eventually Denton hailed Sarah from his position on the scaffold, where he was accompanied by Medda and Dr. Weisel, and she called a halt. Already, everyone seemed to know halt didn't mean you could break from attention position, and David thought he could sense his sister's delight with her authority as she paused before giving the "at ease" order.

Denton dismissed them for lunch and issued a strong warning that they make it back to the field promptly at 1:30 p.m.

David made it to the cafeteria before most everyone else. He didn't have to wait for other people to pack up since he didn't know anyone yet and he didn't have to waste time looking for a spot to park since he rode his bike everywhere. Unfortunately, this meant he also had to face the near-empty dining room alone once he'd collected the most edible-looking food onto his tray. Several tables near the back of the room that had been pushed together in a long row caught his eye as the most likely place for chummy veteran band members to sit, but though he'd chatted with Blink and Mush, David wasn't sure he was quite welcome to sit with any of the others. If he sat at a small square table he'd likely end up alone or with one of the more annoying kids in the band. He took a chance and seated himself at the far end of the long table.

To his surprise, no one challenged his presence. In fact, Racetrack and Jack sat down across from him and immediately started rehashing their section-leader woes.

"I tell ya, Jack, odds are we won't have a tight line this year. Even Wease thinks it's no good."

"Wease?" David interjected.

Racetrack snorted. "That old bastard Weasel. The drumline instructor? He was that lump standing by Denton this morning."

"Oh," David was a little unsettled by Racetrack's characterization of an authority figure, but didn't push the issue.

Jack spoke up, steering back to the initial topic. "Look at it this way, Race: how often are your instincts about odds right?"

Racetrack glowered over his hamburger. "Hey, that tip last time . . . If you're still sore . . ."

Jack held up his hands in innocence. "All I'm saying is that given your track record at guessing, you might have a better line than you think."

Racetrack pursed his lips, but looked unconvinced. "Did you see that blond kid I got to deal with? The one with glasses? Guy trips over his own feet crab walking."

"It's the first day, Race. Cut him some slack. Our section's shapin' up okay though, right Dave?"

"Um – sure. I mean, we haven't done much of anything yet."

Jack laughed. "Don't worry, Dave, we'll see what you're made of tomorrow."

"Why tomorrow?"

"Auditions, Dave. Gotta see where the talent lies. We'll assign who plays first, second, and third parts."

Racetrack groaned. "The only fun part about auditions is watchin' Spot scare the livin' daylights outta the freshmen."

Spot, David guessed, was the skinny kid with blue eyes he'd encountered earlier and who was currently seated halfway down the table. Also down that way was Sarah, who was in eager conversation with Jenny the flute section leader. David turned back to his lunch before she caught him looking in her direction.

After lunch, the band stood ready in block formation at precisely 1:30, and Denton announced proudly, though David sensed some lingering disappointment from returning band members, that everyone had remembered his or her nametag, thus no one had to sing the fight song. They were, however, going to spend the next four hours learning to march it.

And they did. Drill instructors handed out charts, more experienced band members counted off spots in perfect eight-to-five for jittery freshmen, the color guard was predictably awful at maintaining the perfectly diagonal line that formed the center of the letter 'N' design Denton had plotted, and eventually David's upper back ached from holding his arms up in attention position for so long. But by 5:30, the whole band could form the 'N,' march across the field and back, then collapse it into a tidy rectangle from which Denton informed them they would then play the "Star Spangled Banner" at the beginning of every game.

When Sarah called the final "at ease," David realized he was exhausted and definitely hungry again. Just then Blink and Mush bounded over.

"We wanted to catch you and make sure you knew about tonight's activity," Blink said in a winded rush.


"Every night there's a different band-sponsored event. A getting-to-know-you type deal," Mush explained. "Because we ended early today," David flinched, remembering that for the rest of the week rehearsals wouldn't end until 8:00 p.m., "we're having a pizza party. It starts at 6:00 in the East Hall courtyard. You'll be there? We gotta go set up for it."

"But you'll be there?" Blink echoed.

Though he was slightly annoyed that he'd have to wait another half hour to eat, and he was starting to crave some alone time, David said he'd be there. Mush's face was too earnest to say no to him. As the pair scurried off toward Blink's beat-up station wagon, David noticed several girls from various sections – mostly flutes, though – watch Mush pass with a keen eye and some stifled giggles. Blink had called that one.

David had never seen so many pizzas in one place at one time. Nor had he seen so many pizzas disappear so fast. Most of the band kids who lived on campus – including all freshmen and sophomores by school mandate – lived in East Hall because of its proximity to the Fine Arts building where the practice rooms were. Subsequently, it seemed the entire band had shown up for the free meal of non-cafeteria food.

Just after he'd gotten a few slices of pepperoni, SEXY Lexie had waved him over to where she'd plopped onto the grass with a girl with spiky blond pigtails David thought he'd seen in the mellophone section. He looked around for Blink and Mush, hoping to avoid her, but Lexie was determined. "Pull up some turf and have a seat, Dave. We don't bite." The mellophone giggled.

A few more people joined them, but Lexie proceeded to lord over the conversation. Though she was one of his section's own, David couldn't help noting her typical trumpet arrogance. "Of course, I made the city band when I was a freshman in high school, you know." She was lecturing what appeared to be some first-year flutes. "That's why I have so much ensemble experience. But don't worry, you'll get the chance to play with some professional ensembles some day, too."

David spotted Mush in a group of people across the courtyard and jumped to his feet without realizing it. "Uh, I gotta, um, go. I'll see you later." He scooped up his empty paper plate and Lexie, who was seated with her legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles and leaning back on her elbows gave him a lazy smile over her sunglasses. "See you, Dave."

He hitched himself across the courtyard as quickly as possible and skidded to a halt next to Mush who greeted him with a kilowatt smile, but peeked around him to see which direction he'd come from. "You running from someone?"

David tried not to wince. "Not really. I mean, no. Lexie's just—"

"Ah," said Mush knowingly. "Yeah. Be careful there."

"Careful? I mean, I wasn't . . . I don't . . ."

"Right," Mush nodded as though in agreement. "I know."

David was beyond confused. "What? We ate pizza with—"

"I know. It's cool. Just, you know, watch out. That's all." Mush smiled and turned back to the conversation between a white-haired man with a thick neck David didn't know and a few other band kids, including the kid who had spat at Jack's foot earlier.

"That's good, then," the white-haired man said. "It's settled. Thank you, Oscar, for volunteering." He turned to David and his lips stretched across his face, slightly parted. "Welcome, young man. What's your name?" He extended a hand, and David noticed the other clutched a brown leather-bound book.

"David Jacobs," he said, entering into a clammy handshake with the stranger.

"David Jacobs," he repeated. "A nice Biblical name. I'm Pastor Snyder, David. I am the spiritual director for the Christian Community Club on campus. Many of your band mates are members and they kindly invited me tonight."

"Christian Community Club?" David repeated. "Isn't that kind of a redundancy?"

Pastor Snyder's slit of a smile turned even more grim.

"We usually just call it CCC," Mush broke in.

"Oh, right," David toed at a clump of grass.

"Maybe you would like to join us at our first meeting of the year, David?" Snyder offered. "Oscar here has just agreed to lead our first worship. We meet Wednesdays once the school term begins."

Oscar had a fine fuzz of a developing mustache on his upper lip and beady black eyes. He didn't echo Pastor Snyder's invitation, but puffed up his chest a little at the announcement of his position.

"Yeah, maybe. I'll think about it," he lied. After witnessing Oscar's behavior earlier, David had no desire to be involved in an organization with him. Or be forced to listen to him. He wondered briefly why Mush was hanging out with Oscar and where Blink was, but as he scanned the other faces, they all seemed sufficiently friendly.

"Uh, Mush, I'll see you around. I think I'm going to go up to my room. Or maybe practice for auditions tomorrow."

"Sure," Mush said. "Thanks for coming, Dave. Have a good night."

David didn't wait around to look for Blink, though he wondered why Blink would be so eager to invite him and then not show up. He waved at Jack and Racetrack who appeared to be taunting Sarah, but didn't stop, and she didn't notice him slip by.

Up in his room, David shut the heavy metallic door behind him and leaned against it for its coolness. The courtyard was on the opposite side of the hall, and the only sounds drifting in through his open window were the occasional car swishing past and a dog barking somewhere in the distance. He was glad to be alone. The room was still a jumble of crates and boxes. He'd managed to get sheets on what he'd claimed as his bed the day before, but nothing else was in order yet. He wasn't sure how his roommate would want to arrange the furniture – two beds that were bunkable, a tall dresser, and two desks – and at the moment he didn't care to contemplate.

He kicked off his sneakers and flopped down on the sheets, throwing an arm over his face. Well, he thought, that hadn't gone too badly.