Improving the Truth
The sun in Dutchy's hair got all too often in Specs's eyes, so sometimes he forgot to blink. And when it reflected over his glasses, his vision alive and glowing with the sunlight off those golden locks, Specs found that he'd forgotten also how to breathe. These were the little things he noticed, and stored, and kept in his memory forever, so that he wouldn't forget them. Simple things like blinking or breathing weren't ever as important as remembering the different ways the sunlight could filter through the bangs that fell haphazardly over Dutchy's forehead, getting into the blue-flecked, unnamed color of his eyes.
Ever since he first caught sight of them, Specs had been unable to forget those eyes. Perfect, unblinking, clear and bright. For all they had seen, for all they had learned, for all that by the age of twelve they had known more than any child should have ever caught sight of, Dutchy's sea-glass eyes were unfiltered and innocent, in their own laughter, the easy weightlessness with which they sparkled as fiercely as the sun.
The sun, which was setting, now. Over the long stretch of Manhattan streets, bustle quieting over the equally quieting sidewalks, lamplight spots flickering on one by one in the windows, children wandering home for the promise of dinner and a warm bed and a place to wake after sunrise, their mothers leaning over them, shaking their shoulders gently, or crooning them in low voices to a peaceful, even dreamless, sleep.
Specs met Dutchy where he always did, by the edge of Central Park, and they were quiet that day, as only sometimes they chose to be, some sort of equal, instinctive understanding that spoke deeper, told them that as night was falling they were to keep their silence, rather than complain of aching feet or long days or lousy headlines, or the growling hunger in their stomachs. On the way home, they stole glances of each other, faces, lines of cheeks, golden hair in sunlight in Dutchy's case, or dark brown locks, curling over a pale forehead, from where they were hidden beneath a black felt fedora in Specs's.
"Long day, ain' it," Dutchy said as they entered the lodging house.
"Long day," Specs agreed. They collapsed into bed, Dutchy on the top bunk, Specs below, without dinner. It only meant they'd be hungrier in the morning, but with their feet aching and their heads throbbing and their eyes blinded by the sun, sometimes it was better than anything else to have a bed to curl up into, a safe place to sleep. With the sun dimmed and dulled in the darkness above him, Specs fell asleep, dreaming in a tired haze of confusion and weariness.
"So, maybe I'm gettin' a little too old for carryin' th'bannah, y'know Dutchy? A little too old for alla this. A little too old t'have an angle -- guess that means I'm too old t'be a newsie no more, don' it?" It was the sort of words he'd been expecting, and they cut him as deep as he knew they would. Right into the ribcage, sliding deep and breathlessly, so that the blood could run fast, quiet, unseen. What it meant was, Dutchy, I'm too old for ya, too old for any of your nightmares, too old t'meetcha by th'park, too old t'smile when I sees ya, too old t'evah smile that way for jus' ya evah again.
It was the sorta dream that broke Dutchy's heart. "Oh," he could hear himself saying, "yeah. Gotta happen t'a guy, sometime, huh." It seemed it happened to Davey first, that Jack was soon to follow, that all things were unfamiliar now, cold, alone, the lodging house filled with younger boys, better angles, another generation. Things ended, the sun set, you moved on.
Dutchy couldn't move on.
Not from those eyes, deep and brown and warm, just as intelligent than even Davey's -- or so Dutchy thought they were, most of the time, figuring he knew Specs better than anyone else could have possibly claimed to in all the streets in all the world. Not from that smile, which flashed beneath the shadow of the brim of Specs's black felt fedora. You couldn't move on from things like that as naturally as you moved on from childhood, because it wasn't a part of growing up, forgetting about a smile you loved.
For years, that smile, those eyes, had been 'improvin' the truth,' as Jack would say, for countless years. It was a nightmare to even think he'd have to forget.
Specs awoke far before dawn, the room still bathed in the shadows of night. The bed had shifted around him, the covers thrown carelessly aside and caught now around his ankles. The heavy weight against his chest was one he was comfortable familiar with, a body that knew his own perhaps better than he himself ever would, or could. The sensitive lines of his best friend's mouth were pursed but relaxed, his eyelashes fluttering as in a dream. One bare arm was thrown over Specs's stomach, one soft cheek pressed against his chest, causing the feeling of that firm weight against him, as it did so many nights. From the way Dutchy was spread out, legs splayed, hair ruffled, it seemed as if he'd been sleeping that way, against Specs's side, pressed up close, for at least an hour. It meant also he'd been having bad dreams again, ones that he never explained beyond a dark look caught in the depths of his eyes, a slight downward tilt to the smile of his lips. Specs frowned faintly, but then found he couldn't help but smile.
The blonde newsie shifted and made a soft, content smacking sound with his lips, but apart from that he showed no signs of waking.
He wrinkled his brow against hearing his own name in his ear and feeling Specs's breath ghost over his forehead, but still his eyes were closed, face relaxed.
Perhaps, Specs mused, it was selfish of him simply to want to see Dutchy wake, the way his eyes would blink open unfocused and unsure, grappling about for the one familiar, steady thing he knew to latch onto, to focus upon, to thus lavish a few wonderful minutes of attention upon before reality set in, understanding, and those murky blue eyes pulled away. Perhaps, Specs decided, it was childish. That didn't stop him from doing so, as the child in him, the fool in him, happened to want it so terribly he couldn't help himself.
"Specs...?" The question was slurred with sleep, those eyes blinking open, fixing groggily upon Specs's face. A little thrill ran through the brunette's body, clenching tight in his stomach. It felt good, kinda powerful, too, like finding a new angle, or maybe being a kid and a grown up at once, a newsie with brothers who'd protect you as well another powerful suit with an office job and a home to return to and money stored away for safety in the bank.
But Dutchy was home, in a way. The weight of Dutchy against Specs's chest was home. They were brothers. Sort of. More. Maybe. Specs was hard pressed to put a name on it. Home worked best; best friend fell short of the late night intensity; brother seemed inadequate in some areas, though ample in most.
"'Nudda bad dream?" Specs could barely see without his glasses, just a halo of gold around an intent face. Dutchy shrugged, the movement awkward against Specs's form. It was the first time either of them had said anything aloud about why it was Dutchy crawled into Specs's bed, more often than not lately, usually four or five times out of the week when they were younger, more like six, even seven, for the past few months.
Specs shifted, prone to losing himself in thought, feeling suddenly through his silence and pensive musings the feel of Dutchy tensed against him.
"Y'ain' leavin'," Dutchy asked suddenly, "Y'ain'...gettin' outta here, Specs, are ya?"
"What gave ya that idea?" Specs sounded incredulous, and Dutchy ducked his head down to hide it against his chest.
"Dunno," he said finally, voice muffled, "I'se jus' thinkin'."
"Don' think somethin' like that," Specs said, "ain' we been newsies togethah forevah?"
"It ain' been forevah. An' -- an' maybe it ain' gonna be, y'know? Forevah's a long time t'be a newsie."
"Forevah ain' long enough t'be with ya, Dutchy. It ain' about bein' a newsie, s'about you an' me. So," Specs continued, frowning to himself, only half listening to the simple truths he was putting into words, "if I'se gonna leave, don' think I ain' tellin' ya, or askin' ya even, where I'se leavin' to." Dutchy was silent for a few minutes, chewing this over. Specs was too tired to remember that he should be blushing, or trying to explain what it was he had said, or trying to get Dutchy to say something in response. The greatest truths came from the most careless of minds, the most open of hearts.
"Yeah," Dutchy said at last, a smile in his voice, "I guess you'se right." Specs shrugged, grunting softly in agreement. Of course he was right. He couldn't quite remember what it was he'd said that was right, but it was right, and that was the point. "G'night, Specs," Dutchy said, a moment or two later, right as Specs was drifting off. He thought he could feel something moist against his cheek, like warm breath, followed by the brush of soft lips, but he wasn't sure. Wasn't too often anyone kissed him; wasn't really ever, really. Once or twice. Hadn't felt so nice or so comfortable, sort of like a spitshake, but more grown up, less chummy and more up close.
But his eyes were closed, and his mind was tired, and it was hard to fight off sleep for long enough to think about such things a second longer than he'd managed.
"G'night, Dutchy," he murmured, asleep already.
"Ya idiot," he said affectionately into the pulse he felt against his nose, on the side of Specs's neck.
They were just kids, of course, just dumb kids who didn't know anything about life or riches or a world outside Manhattan. But what they did know was pretty clear, and when they chose to admit it, such simple truths wouldn't need the supposed refinement of headlines, grand apartments in the hoity-toity side of town, dinners at nine in the poshest restaurants that cost a fortune.
Nah, Dutchy thought, before he let sleep claim him, some people's gotta improve da truth, an' some people jus' like t'take it for what it is.
And his dreams said, in that round about way dreams had of being warm and sweet and wordless, ain' life grand?