Title: A New Day Dawning
Fandom: Newsies, Musical-verse with a borrowed Movie-verse Spot
Pairing: Jack/Crutchie... with a little detour or two ^_~
Rating: NC-17, but only in chapter 4. The rest of the story is a pretty tame PG-13.
Word Count: Chapter 6 - 6322; Whole Story - 36,082
Warnings: Slash, angst, reference to rape, spoilers

Summary: [Musical-Verse] Anyone who'd ever been in the same room with them knew how Crutchie felt about Jack. And after Crutchie's arrest, how Jack felt about Crutchie was equally obvious. Unfortunately for them, however, the only ones who didn't know those things... were Jack and Crutchie. Jack/Crutchie, post-musical.

Disclaimer: Neither the musical, the movie nor the boys belong to me. If they did they'd be soulfully staring into each others eyes and singing duets about running away together. *pause* *blinkblink* Huh. Look at that... they do. *eg* :D ((Newsies, the movie, was written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White with music by Alan Menken and was adapted for the stage by Harvey Fierstein and Alan Menken.))

11/12/11: Last chapter! :D Mental note: I do not like to edit as I post. It sucks. Don't do it again. :-P *coughs* Anyway, this story is finished. There may or may not be an epilogue whose sole purpose is to get Jack and Crutchie into bed together. We'll see. I have two papers to write and I'm already getting distracted by likeナ three other fics. O_o;;; So, we'll see on that one.

Enjoy! And please rememberナ comments and review are love. ^_^

A New Day Dawning, Chapter 6
by Renee-chan

Jack had been on his best behavior tonight, he really had. He'd stayed away from the wine. He'd stayed away from the dance floor. He'd stayed away from Mr. Pulitzer. He'd almost stayed away from the buffet tables, too, but he was so nervous that he'd worked up a major appetite. Still, he stuck to the things that he knew were intended to be finger-foods so he could at least avoid the silverware issue. With each hour that passed without incident, Katherine's smile got wider and her eyes a little more relieved. Jack relaxed along with her. He could do this. He could do this. Eventually, though, the dancing issue came up, like he should have known it would. Deciding that discretion was definitely the better part of valor on that one, Jack bowed out, deferred to Bill. Katherine was disappointed, but took the escort swap with good grace. Jack did his best to ignore Joe Pulitzer's triumphant smile at the exchange. Instead he wandered over to sit with Darcy Reid.

Darcy had been sitting alone most of the evening - when he wasn't talking with Bill Hearst, anyway. Jack generally didn't like to bother a man who was clearly trying to avoid people, but he needed to put himself somewhere where he wouldn't be in the way. And, unlike most of Katherine's friends, Darcy at least tolerated his presence and didn't treat him like he was a trained monkey. When he sat, Darcy lifted his glass of wine in a small salute and drank down half of it before talking, "So... you finally had enough of dancing attendance?"

Jack blinked and replied, "Huh? Wait... what?"

Darcy snickered softly to himself as he downed the rest of his glass and motioned to one of the servers to bring him another, "She does have quite a gravitational force around her, does she not? She draws in every eligible male in a three mile radius whether they wish to be drawn or not. She's like a force of nature, our Katherine. Were she a man, she'd doubtless be running the country by now."

Jack only understood half of what the other man was saying but he caught just enough to get the gist and to tentatively agree. Darcy wasn't wrong. Katherine was bright and smart and ambitious and she had a way about her... you just found yourself doing what she wanted even if you'd started out directly opposed to that course of action. It was how Jack had found himself at these parties to begin with. He shrugged, "Yeah, but that's part of what I love about her, I guess. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. Ain't no shame in that." He winced then, covered his embarrassment over the word slip by grabbing a glass of wine when the server came back with Darcy's refill and taking a sip.

Darcy snickered softly into his glass before taking a drink, "Yes. Exactly so, Jack. 'Ain't no shame in it,' at all."

Jack frowned and leaned a little closer, "What the hell's wrong wit' you, Darcy? You drunk or somethin'?" Sure, the other man would occasionally indulge in a round of good-natured teasing, but he wasn't usually this blunt or mean-spirited about it.

Darcy leaned forward to rest his head on his folded arms and, staring wistfully across the dance floor, said softly, "Definitely 'or somethin',' Jack... but working my way steadily towards the former."

Jack followed the other man's gaze to see what had him so worked up, but the only thing of interest to stare at in the direction that Darcy was looking was Bill and Katherine, twirling around the dance floor, eyes sparkling and laughing with innocent joy. He turned back in time to see Darcy sit back up and finish off his second glass of wine - though who knew how many the other man had had before Jack sat down with him? The way he was acting, Jack would put his money on "more than one." He breathed out softly, "Jesus... what is wrong wit' everyone these days? You in love with Katherine or somethin'?"

Darcy laughed a little bitterly as he snagged another glass of wine. When Jack pulled it out of his hand before he could take a sip, Darcy just frowned and gritted out, "'Or somethin',' again, Jack Kelly. Now will you kindly return my drink? As I believe I mentioned, I am attempting to achieve a pleasant state of drunkenness and you, my friend, are inhibiting my efforts."

Jack wordlessly handed over the drink and turned back to look at Katherine and Bill. He frowned. Darcy might claim that he wasn't in love with Katherine but from his words earlier and the way he was acting... Jack froze, cursed quietly to himself. Jesus. Oh, Jesus Christ. It was like now that he knew what he was looking at he saw these people everywhere! He turned back, whispered almost urgently, "You... you ain't in love with Katherine. You... Jesus. You's in love with Bill?" He all but squeaked that last.

Darcy winced, choked on his last swallow of wine. Jack cursed, leaned forwards and patted the other man on the back until he stopped choking. Darcy's face was red - from embarrassment or lost oxygen, Jack couldn't have said, but as soon as he got his breath back, he grabbed Jack's arm and desperately hushed him, "Mr. Kelly, I don't know where you got that idea from, but please, for the love of all that's holy, keep it to yourself."

Jack raised an eyebrow, then said, "Huh. That ain't what I was expectin' you to say, Mr. Reid - since we's on a last name basis, again, suddenly."

Darcy stared at him for a moment, slowly blinking in confusion, before leaning back and saying, "And what, pray tell, were you expecting me to say?"

Jack just smirked, leaned in close and whispered, "I was expectin' you to deny it." As Darcy's face paled a shade or two, Jack lifted his own glass in mock salute, "Tellin' me to keep my trap shut ain't the same as tellin' me I was wrong, now is it? In fact... I'd say it's about the opposite, wouldn't you?"

Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was something in Darcy recognizing something in Jack or maybe it was just that the other man was hurting and any ear was better than no ear at all. Whatever the case, Darcy grabbed Jack's sleeve, lifted a bottle of wine and two glasses from a serving table and dragged Jack out onto the balcony. Jack only caught a brief glimpse of Katherine's confused face before Bill turned her attention back towards the dancing and Darcy got Jack outside.

It was biting cold out here and Jack didn't know how Darcy didn't feel it, but he was grateful he hadn't taken off his suit jacket this time even if he'd have preferred his coat. Darcy neatly solved that problem by settling down into a little alcove containing a small coal brazier. Neat little trick that. These muckety-mucks thought of everything, didn't they? When Jack settled down next to him, Darcy wordlessly handed over a glass full of red wine. Jack took it, took a small swig and said, "All right. I'm here. You's wantin' to talk, I guess."

Darcy gave a short laugh and covered his face with his hands. When he looked back up, his eyes were red and full of such frustrated, bitter longing... Jack looked away first. Eventually Darcy began speaking, softly, quickly, as though if he got the words out fast enough, they would maybe go away, "You have to understand something, Jack. Bill has been sweet on our Katherine since we were children together. In truth, I was just as sweet on her as he was, for a time. She was a safe choice. She understood the world we lived in, understood what was expected of us just for being the sons of our fathers. And unlike the other young ladies of our class, she could keep up with us, even surpass us. It made her quite an attractive prize to win, strictly on her own merits. Add to that that she was her father's only heir and that she would thus someday inherit his newspaper empire... well, let's just say that it made her doubly attractive as a marriage prospect. Our fathers encouraged our friendship as much as they dared, but it quickly became apparent - to me, at least - that in the end, Katherine would choose neither of us. She is Joe Pulitzer's daughter to the core. She wants more from life than to be an ornament on some man's arm. You understand that better than any of us, I suspect."

Jack nodded, took a sip of his wine, "Yeah, she's somethin' special, all right. She's goin' places wit' her life and G-d help the man who gets involved wit' her and can't keep up. She'll leave him in the dust wit' all the rest of the trash."

Darcy nodded, smiled tightly, "Yes, yes, that's it exactly. I gave up on winning her ages ago, knew that we wouldn't be a match, even though I can keep up with her - Bill and myself are two of the only ones among our cohort who can. It's why she still engages our company and aid from time to time, I suspect." His voice dropped lower, so low that Jack could barely hear it, "I never expected this to happen. I didn't want it to happen. It's wrong. I know that. The Church... the Church has very specific and damning things to say about it. My father would disown me, run me out of town, if he even suspected..." He paused, buried his face in his hands and took a deep, shuddering breath, slowly let it out, again, "And yet..."

Jack quietly finished for him, "And yet you still can't help feelin' how you feel... can you?"

"No... no, I don't think I can. And believe me... I have tried," Darcy said. His breath caught on those last words and he reached blindly for his glass, tried to take a sip only to find it empty. Wordlessly, Jack took the bottle and refilled it for him. Darcy acknowledged the kindness with a small nod and drank it down in one long gulp.

They were silent for a moment, neither quite sure what to say. Eventually Jack asked, "Does... Does Bill know? How you feel about him?"

Darcy's eyes widened and he frantically shook his head, "No. No, he does not. And I'd not thank you for telling him, if that's what you were thinking."

Jack held up a hand and said, "No. I wouldn't do nothin' like that. Your feelings is your own business. If you don't wanna tell him, I'll respect that."

Darcy slumped, then reached out a hand for the bottle and shakily refilled his glass, "I thank you for that, then. And..." He took a deep breath, looked up to meet Jack's eyes, "...I thank you for your understanding and your silence. I don't... good gracious, I don't even know why I told you any of this, but you listened without judging or condemnation and that is a damned sight more than any of my 'friends' would have done."

And seeing Darcy's eyes then, so starved for someone to just tell him, "I get you," to look him in the eyes and tell him he wasn't alone, that he wasn't a freak... to not have to hide for just one night, one moment... suddenly, Jack couldn't help but draw parallels. He'd seen that look before. He'd seen it in Spot... and he'd seen it in Crutchie. He'd been seeing it in Crutchie for years. And he'd seen another look from Crutchie, too - the one Darcy had worn when he'd been staring across the dance floor at Bill. Crutchie had been looking at Jack like that for years. Crutchie... Jesus Christ. Crutchie was in love with him... But if Crutchie was in love with him, then why hadn't he...? Fuck, it didn't make any sense. Suddenly, Jack had to talk to his friend. He had to know why Crutchie had kept that to himself all these years when he usually told Jack everything. He had to know why, even when Jack had offered to reciprocate those feelings, Crutchie had pushed him away. There was too much he needed to know. And Jack had already missed their time together at Christmas. Suddenly, he felt like if he let the year close with this unspoken between them, with those questions unanswered, he was going to miss a lot more than that. Jack abruptly stood up, "I... Darcy, I'm sorry, but I gotta go. I... there's a guy I gotta see."

Darcy saluted him with his glass and said bitterly, "Well... I suppose there goes my last chance then." Jack paused long enough to shoot him a confused look. Darcy said, "As long as you were courting Katherine, Bill didn't stand a chance with her. I was... not entirely disappointed with that situation. But with you out of the picture, Bill is the most logical choice. And... you will be out of the picture... won't you?"

Jack swallowed hard, hesitated at the edge of the alcove, finally said, "Yeah... yeah, I think I will be. I... I hope I will be. I... I gotta friend, see, and..."

Darcy's eyes softened and he said, "...and based on the timing of this revelation of yours, he's been quietly pining for you as long as I've been quietly pining for Bill?"

Jack winced, slowly nodded, "Yeah... I think he has. And I didn't know it 'til recently... but I think I been pinin' for him just about as long."

Darcy nodded, saluted him again with the glass before taking a small sip, "Well, then, I suppose I will wish you the best of luck." He laughed then, "Perhaps I should try my hand at being a Newsie. There's certainly something to be said for the freedom afforded to you by being beholden to no one."

Jack smiled, "Yeah... I never thought about it that way, but I guess there is, at that. And thanks."

Darcy shrugged, "Don't mention it. Just... someday promise you'll tell me if it all works out. I do so love a happy ending." He smiled then, small and sad, but real.

Jack dropped a hand down, gripped the other man's shoulder, "Yeah... I'll do that."

After one more exchange of glances, Jack took his leave, went back in to the party. He had one last thing that he had to do before he left... and he was not relishing the thought, especially when he realized he'd been silently bracing for it for weeks. He found Katherine off on one side of the dance floor, standing alone. When he approached, he said, "Sorry 'bout that... where's Bill?"

Katherine sighed before turning to face him, "I sent him off to fetch me a glass of water. After all that dancing, I was positively parched. Where did you get off to, anyway?"

Jack shrugged, "Eh. Nowhere in particular. Just keepin' Darcy company for a bit."

Katherine's eyes took on a sad cast at that, "Ah. Darcy. He has been under a great deal of strain lately, I think. Thank you for that." She paused, looked down at her clasped hands before continuing, "Jack... we can be honest about what's happening here, can't we? You didn't come over here to ask about Bill or apologize for abandoning your escort duties."

Jack shook his head, "No, I guess I didn't."

Katherine's lips stretched into a small, tired smile as she said, "Well, then let's be done with it, shall we?" She abruptly looked up, straight into Jack's eyes, and held out a hand for him to shake, "No tears over this, all right, Jack Kelly? We tried our best, we had some laughs, we changed the World. Not small accomplishments for a summer romance, are they?"

Jack smiled, relieved at the dance of mischief in her eyes and the answering smile playing about her lips. She was disappointed, but she wasn't broken. She'd probably seen the writing on this wall weeks before he had. That was his girl, after all. Jack said, "Not small, at all, Katherine Plumber. Not small, at all."

They shook on it, then both laughed. Katherine raised one small hand to cup his cheek and lifted herself onto her toes to lightly kiss his lips. She whispered into his ear, "Don't forget me when you're a famous artist." She leaned back to look him in the eyes, a wicked twinkle in hers, "I'll want an exclusive interview, of course."

Jack laughed, pulled her into a tight hug, "And you... when you're runnin' this pape - or runnin' more than that - don't you forget me, neither. The boys and me is countin' on it."

Katherine tilted her head at that and repeated, "Running more than this paper?"

Jack smirked, chucked a hand under her chin, "Way Darcy tells it, if you was a man, you'd be runnin' the whole damned country by now... but if I know you half so well as I think I do, you won't be lettin' that stop you for long."

Katherine's gaze turned distant for a moment, her smile widening, "No... no, I don't think it should, either... You, Jack Kelly, are a wicked man and I love how you think." She kissed him once again, soundly, for good measure, then said quietly, "You... Jack... Tell him to take good care of you. Tell him I asked it of him. Will you?"

Jack's breath caught and he said, "Katherine...?"

She blushed a little, reached out to fuss with Jack's shirt collar, "Anyone who's ever been in the same room with the two of you knows how he feels about you." She paused, then continued, "And anyone who was around you after he was arrested knows how you feel about him. I... I don't know entirely what to think of it, but I do know that you're both strongest together. So... take care of each other, all right?"

Jack smiled, pulled her against him for one more kiss - a real one this time - then said, hoarsely, "Thank you, Katherine... we will. I'll make damned sure of it."

She let him go then, said she'd pass along his apologies - then pertly added "and his your welcomes" - to her father. He didn't waste any more time after that. It was almost midnight and this appointment was already long overdue.

After Spot left, Crutchie didn't have the heart to go back inside. He couldn't face the other boys. How could he explain Spot's abrupt arrival and departure? Should he even try? Jesus, what would they think if he did? If he really told them the truth...? Race... somehow, Crutchie thought Racetrack might understand, might at least hear him out, but the others? A lot of them already thought he was useless, thought he only got by because of that pity he so despised. They thought he was damaged in the head somehow because he was a crip. And maybe he was. These days it sure as hell felt like it. How else could you explain all the things he'd been thinking and doing?

No. No, Crutchie couldn't tell the other Newsies. And if he couldn't tell them, he couldn't go back inside, not when he was already sitting up here feeling like his heart was breaking. He'd hurt Spot and Spot had been so busy trying to protect him that he'd brushed that little fact under the rug. He'd hurt Spot when that was something Crutchie had sworn he'd never do. He hadn't even meant to, but he couldn't control how he felt. He'd been trying for too damned long already to not know that. And Jack... Jesus, in spite of what Spot had said, Jack couldn't possibly want him. Jack had Katherine. Jack was with Katherine right now. He wasn't leaving her for anything or anyone. Crutchie had lost them both in one fell swoop and hadn't even had the wherewithal to protest it.

Crutchie slowly pushed himself to his feet, hobbled the short distance to the railing and leaned against it, stared out over the city. Normally, he didn't dare. If Jack wasn't nearby to grab him if he over-balanced, he wouldn't go near the edge. Tonight, though... tonight, Crutchie didn't care. If he fell and couldn't catch himself, so be it. Maybe that would be for the best.

Time passed. Crutchie had no idea how much. He hadn't kept track. What finally distracted him, though, from the silent vigil he was keeping at the fire escape railing was the fulfillment of a prediction he'd almost forgotten making. And as that first big, fat flake of snow drifted lazily down from the sky, all he could do was stare. It was followed quickly by another... and another... and another. Soon there were hundreds of them falling, ever bigger and wetter than the first. This was all going to stick, Crutchie could tell already. And now, damn it, he really was stuck up here until Jack came home... if he came home at all tonight. Crutchie didn't dare brave the fire escape when it was all covered in snow like this. He'd fall for sure.

With a heavy sigh, Crutchie returned to his musings, his staring off into the city. There wasn't much else he could do. After only ten minutes of letting his mind be blessedly blank, however, something else interrupted his attempts at mental oblivion. This time it was a dark figure on the street below, determinedly churning its way through the quickly piling snow. Crutchie blinked in confusion at the vision. He'd have sworn he'd know Jack anywhere - and that that was Jack - but Jack was at Katherine's party... and he wouldn't have left before the New Year's bell rang.

Crutchie watched as the figure glanced up towards the clock tower, then redoubled its efforts to push through the snow drifts. Once or twice the figure fell, stood back up, shook himself and continued. By the time he reached the boarding house - because that apparently was his destination - he was liberally peppered with white patches of fresh snow. He threw open the door to the boarding house and pushed his way inside. A few minutes later, Crutchie heard the ruckus the man caused as he went through the sleeping hall, voice raised with questions and clearly not liking the answers.

Crutchie should move away from the railing. He really should. It... it would look bad. It would look... fuck, he didn't even know what it would look like. But he just knew that that was Jack and Jack couldn't find him standing bent over the railing like he was thinking of doing something stupid. Because he wasn't. He really wasn't. And Jack would overreact. He always did. Before Crutchie could convince his cold-locked muscles to move, however, Jack was already climbing the fire escape, dark eyes boring holes into Crutchie's as he stared down at Jack from over the railing. When Jack saw him there, he cursed, started climbing faster. No. No, no, no. That wasn't good either. If Jack took the ladders too fast, he would fall.

Before Crutchie could open his mouth to say that, though, Jack had already reached the last landing. Jack flung a hand up, a look of... of... panic? Fear? Concern? Crutchie didn't even know what to call it. Anyway, he had this look on his face and he was fixing it on Crutchie and then he opened his mouth and said, "Don't. Move. Crutchie, I'm comin' up to get you, OK? So, just... don't move. Damn Spot. I can't believe he fuckin' left you up there. Didn't he think you might need help getting' down in all this?"

Crutchie wanted to laugh at that. Of course, Spot would have thought of it. He also would have thought that if Crutchie was dumb enough to hang around up here until the snow made it impossible for him to get down... well, then maybe Crutchie deserved to get stuck, right? Right. Damn it.

When Jack climbed the last ladder and swung himself over the railing, he wrapped an arm around Crutchie's shoulders and ushered him quickly away from the edge. As stiff as his leg had gotten from the cold, Crutchie was forced to hop to keep up. He hated that, hated that he was going to seem weak for this confrontation... whatever it was going to be.

Jack pushed Crutchie down firmly onto one of the crates and stood over him for a minute before cursing and sitting down next to him. A moment later, he was back on his feet, then kneeling on the ground at Crutchie's. Finally, he pulled another crate around and sat down directly across from Crutchie and took the other boy's hands in his, pressed them together and tried to chafe some warmth back into them. And as he did, he started to speak, low, intense, urgent... and Crutchie drank in his words like a man dying of thirst.

Jack said, "Look. I know you told me to think about all this. Well, I did. I thought about it. I did nothin' but think about it all week. And you know what I came up with, Crutchie?" When Crutchie just mutely shook his head, Jack looked up, fiercely met Crutchie's eyes and said, "I don't give a rat's ass what you call it... but it don't feel right when you're not around. It feels like everything's broken and nothin' makes sense. And I think it's the same for you." Jack laughed, short, a little bitter, "Maybe Katherine had the right words, in the end... we's stronger together than apart. We take care of each other. Crutchie... Brian... I need you. I've always needed you. I'm always gonna need you. I don't know what the hell else to call that... if it ain't love."

Crutchie stared at Jack for a full minute before he was able to come up with a response. Of all the things he'd thought Jack might have had to say to him when he came up those stairs, this sure as hell wasn't it. It wasn't even close. And Spot had clearly been wrong about one thing - Jack might not be ready to say the words yet, but he'd just proved beyond a shadow that he knew what he was feeling. Because he was right. If that wasn't love, well, then Crutchie didn't know what love was, either. He swallowed hard, stared down at where his hands were pressed between Jack's and said, "Yeah... Jack, I think you're right. I... I didn't know what it meant, neither, not for the longest time... but yeah, that's gotta be love." His voice dropped into a whisper, "I think I love you, Jack. And not just like family, neither."

Jack smiled then, brilliant and happy, all the shadows chased clear from his face. He breathed out, "Yeah?"

Crutchie smiled back, heart hammering in his throat and answered, "Yeah." Crutchie then pulled one hand free from Jack's grip and raised it to touch his friend's face. He slid it along Jack's cheek, smiled at the feel of stubble rasping along his palm, eventually buried his hand in the hair at the nape of Jack's neck and used that new grip to pull himself closer. It was new, this kind of touching, more intimate than any other touches they'd shared before. Jack had stopped moving, eyes wide, a little scared. Crutchie smiled, squeezed Jack's hand once before pulling that hand free, as well, and using it to cup Jack's other cheek. Crutchie leaned in then, and pressed their lips lightly together.

For a long, drawn out moment, Jack didn't respond and Crutchie's heart began to hammer for an entirely different reason. What if... what if he'd been wrong? What if this wasn't what Jack had meant? What if this wasn't what he wanted? Crutchie squeezed lightly at the back of Jack's neck, shifted forwards on the crate to get closer, urged his friend on with the movement of his lips the best he knew how. Still Jack didn't respond. Heart sinking, Crutchie admitted defeat. He released Jack's lips, let his hands start to drop away and readied an apology. He never got a chance to utter it.

As Crutchie started to pull away, Jack seemed to wake up. He made a small noise, hands rising to cup the smaller boy's face and pull him back in. This new kiss was full of desperation, need and enough rising passion to make Crutchie shiver with it. He gave back as good as he was getting, opened his mouth against Jack's to let the other boy in. Jack proved then that he did, in fact, know what he was about when it came to kissing, plunged his tongue inside with another needy moan. Crutchie answered in kind and shifted his grip to Jack's shoulders, used that new leverage to pull himself forwards to straddle Jack's lap. It was awkward, uncomfortable with his twisted leg, but Crutchie didn't care. He needed to be closer and he needed it now. He'd already waited too long for this.

Jack moaned again, dropped his hands to Crutchie's waist to pull him closer, still. Crutchie pressed in towards that warmth and, driven purely on instinct as their bodies aligned and unable to help himself, he rocked against Jack.

And that was when it all broke down.

Jack froze, mouth going slack against his, hands closing convulsively on Crutchie's hips. Crutchie braced himself, expecting to be pushed away and kicking himself for being ten kinds of a fool. Jack didn't shove him off his lap, but he did lean back, eyes wide, again, in fear. Crutchie winced, hunched his shoulders and whispered, "Too fast?"

Jack let out a huff of a breath and nodded frantically. Crutchie sighed, gave the other boy a soft smile of understanding and levered himself off of Jack's lap to settle back on his own crate. That separation was painful for more reasons than one, but it was for the best. The last thing Crutchie wanted was to scare Jack off when he'd only recently gotten his head around the idea. Crutchie should say something. He should say something reassuring... he just couldn't think of a single thing that would fit the bill.

Jack finally reached out and took Crutchie's hand in his. The rasp of a callused pad across knuckles was familiar, at least, reassuring in its own way. Crutchie gave Jack's hand a small squeeze in return. Jack's smile was pained, "I... Sorry. I don't... Crutchie, I want to. I just..."

Crutchie squeezed Jack's hand again, "It's OK, Jack. You don't gotta... I get it."

Jack frowned, "But that ain't right. Crutchie... it ain't right. You deserve better than that. You had better than that." He abruptly rose from the crate, buried his hands in his hair and cursed, "I knew this was gonna happen. Crutchie... what if I screwed this up for all of us and then can't..." He blushed and waved a hand in Crutchie's general direction.

Crutchie met Jack's eyes, soft hazel forgiving, almost apologetic, "Jack... it's OK. Really." When Jack just stared incredulously back at him, Crutchie smiled, rose to his feet and limped over to stand next to his friend. He slowly leaned into the warmth of Jack's body until Jack let out a choked laugh and wrapped an arm around him. Crutchie pressed closer, slid an arm around Jack's waist in return, and said quietly, "Jack... when I tell you it's OK, I mean it's OK. You ain't Spot. You ain't me. You ain't had months and years and a boatload of godawful memories to help you get used to the idea. It ain't gonna happen overnight." Crutchie pressed his face into Jack's chest, nuzzled softly into that warmth, "And if it don't happen at all... that's OK, too. This... this is all I ever really wanted. Just you... however I can have you. It's enough. OK?"

Jack crushed the smaller boy to him, buried his face in ginger hair and let out a shaky breath, "Christ. I don't deserve you, you know that? I really damned well don't."

Crutchie laughed, "Well, then I guess we both oughta be glad that it ain't your opinion that counts on that one, right Jack?"

An answering laugh slipped past Jack's lips, "Yeah... yeah, I guess so." Somewhere out in the city, beyond this little circle of warmth and friendship and love and who-only-knew-what... a soft gong started to sound. Jack looked up, smiled softly into the distance, "Well... huh." At Crutchie's querying noise, Jack looked back down and said, simply, "Happy New Year, Brian."

Crutchie's breath caught at that, that simple declaration, just the thought that it was New Year's Eve... no. It was New Year's Day, the first day of a brand new century, and Jack was here with him. He wasn't alone. He hadn't been left behind. He was never going to be left behind again. Crutchie bit his lip, ducked his head against Jack's chest in an effort to rein in the emotion of the moment and not embarrass himself. He should have known that Jack wouldn't let it go at that. The taller boy slipped a finger under Crutchie's chin and gently tilted his face upwards. The beaming smile he bestowed on Crutchie was the only warning the smaller boy had before those smirking lips covered his own. This time, the kiss was soft, gentle, almost tentative. And if it was a step backwards, Crutchie didn't care. He was glad enough that Jack had taken a step, at all.

When they parted, Crutchie turned to look out over the city, his back pressed into the warmth of Jack's chest and Jack's arms wrapped securely around him. Suddenly, the snow didn't seem an insurmountable obstacle - suddenly nothing did. It was soft, gleaming, almost sparkling in the moonlight and it made the city seem fresh and new in a way it hadn't for Crutchie in years. It was a new year, a new century, and the world was full of promise. Maybe there was even room in it for a crip like him to do something good, something meaningful, with his life. For the first time since he was a child, with Jack's firm and loving support at his back, Crutchie actually felt like he might be ready to try.

Jack leaned down, nuzzled his face into the crook of Crutchie's neck and placed a few soft, teasing kisses on the exposed skin there. Crutchie bit his lip, arched his neck to give Jack better access. After a few more teasing touches, Jack stopped, simply leaned his cheek against Crutchie's and said, "That's our world out there, Brian. Ours. And together, you and me is gonna seize the hell out of it."

Crutchie smiled, and simply murmured, "Are."

Jack paused then, eyes narrowed, and said, "Huh?"

Crutchie laughed, just a short puff of frigid air before he answered, "Are. 'You and I are going to seize it,' Jack."

Jack gaped at him for a second, eyes disbelieving, before he finally laughed. The tightening of his arms around Crutchie was all the warning the smaller boy had before he was spun, tossed over Jack's shoulder and dragged across the roof to be deposited on the mattress. He yiped when he hit it - in spite of the protective sheet Jack had draped above it, some snow had still fallen through and the thing was cold - but as Jack's warmth settled over him, it suddenly didn't seem to matter. Jack smirked down at him and said, "Oh, I'll give you some seizing, you... you... smartass."

Crutchie slanted a glance from under his bangs, turning that sultry look on Jack for the first time. With an answering smirk that tipped into a leer at the corners, he said, "But I thought you liked my ass smart..."

Jack froze, stared down at Crutchie like he'd just spoken in French or something, and Crutchie just smiled wider. A minute later, when Jack still hadn't responded, Crutchie started to sweat, but waited, rode it out. He was well rewarded. Jack's eyes had glazed and he suddenly gave a convulsive shiver and leaned in to take Crutchie's lips with a dazzling ferocity that Crutchie could all-too-well appreciate. When they broke for air, Jack stared down at him in wonder and Crutchie just smiled knowingly back. This was a side of Crutchie that Jack had never seen. It was a side of Crutchie that even Crutchie hadn't known existed... not until Spot. But Crutchie liked it. He liked being this person, liked the freedom it gave him... the strength. And Jack was apparently no more immune to its charms than Spot.

They spent the rest of the night exploring different kinds of kisses. It was familiar and it was all Jack could do. Crutchie didn't care. It was enough. It was more than he'd ever dared hope for. And in the silent dark of a barely there slip of moonlight, as though even the moon was holding its breath on the new century, Crutchie dared let another side of himself free to hope... to dream... to wish. And so, it was Brian who looked over Jack's shoulder as he slept, eyes fixed on that tiny slip of a moon... and smiled. Today was a new century and Jack was right. It was theirs... and tomorrow they were going to seize the hell out of it.


Crutchie: *gapes* No. Oh, no. You are not leaving it there. You can't. O_O

R-chan: *smirks* Of course, I can. I'm the fic author. I can do whatever I want to.

Crutchie: *whimpers* Butナ butナ I'm not OK with that!

R-chan: *points upwards at the fic* But you said you were.

Crutchie: *splutters* I never did! *accusingly* You put those words in my mouth!

R-chan: *eg* Like I saidナ I'm the fic author. I can do whatever I want to.

Crutchie: *gapes* Iナ I think I see what those other people were saying, nowナ

R-chan: *slow predatory grin*

Spot: *smacks the chibi on the back of the head* Knock it off.

R-chan: D: That wasn't nice!

Spot: *smirks* *mockingly* I'm one of the oldest chibis around here. I can do whatever the hell I want to.

R-chan: *pouts* Not nice.

Spot: *rae* Your point?

R-chan: *stares at Spot*

Spot: *stares at R-chan*

Both: *slow smirk*

R-chan: *chuckles* OK, OK. You're right. You win. I'll try.

Claude: *stares wonderingly at Spot* Wow. Some of you guys are downright scary.

Spot: *shrugs* It helps when you get yourself established when they're still kids. Remember that next time.

Claude: _ Next time?

R-chan: ^_^

Questions, comments, gingerbread cookies?