The Aftermath (Part 1)
Oh look, I’m posting my first fic on here.
Summary: Crutchie comes back from the Refuge a little worse for wear, physically as well as mentally. Jack helps him get through it.
Word Count: 1310
The night the strike ended was a raucous one in the Newsboy’s Lodging House. Everyone was gathered in the dining room, swapping stories (and more than one or two drinks). There was an air of celebration and relief, and Crutchie was right in the middle of it all.
Everyone was glad to have him back, which warmed Crutchie’s heart more than he could say. If he was honest with himself there had been moments- dark moments- back at the Refuge where he had doubted that he would make it back here. Even now, he still had to pinch himself to know that this was real, even though the throbbing pain in his leg told him it was.
“Hey, Crutchie!” Crutchie looked up when he heard his name called to see Davey, Les, Jack, and Katherine approaching him, and he rose from where he had been sitting with a slight groan. He felt as though he was being confronted about something, although he wasn’t quite sure what that something was.
“We’s off to Jacobi’s for a celebration,” Jack explained, his usual easy grin lighting up his features. “Wanna come?”
“It’ll just be the four of us, plus you of course,” Katherine chimed in. “Race looks like he has a pretty good handle on things here, but it’s probably going to get rowdy.”
“Thanks,” Crutchie smiled at all of them, grateful for an excuse to step away. His head was beginning to throb with all the loud exclamations around him. “Sounds like fun. I’d be honored.”
“Great!” Katherine said cheerily, linking her arm with Jack’s. She was clearly pleased, and Crutchie had a feeling that this had been her idea. “Let’s go!”
It was only an hour or two before closing time when Crutchie and the others reached Jacobi’s, and the place was almost empty. They sat at a large table by the window, and Crutchie allowed himself a moment of peace while the others ordered. He loved all the other newsies, but their celebration had gotten to be a bit much for him (and more specifically his burgeoning headache). From Jack’s sympathetic glances across the table, Crutchie knew that he understood.
“What’re you gettin’, Crutch?” Jack asked. Crutchie blinked, startled out of his reverie, and realized that everyone was staring at him expectantly. He flushed pink.
“Oh, uh… I’s fine with just a glass of water or somethin’.”
“Are you sure?” Davey shot Crutchie a questioning look. “I haven’t seen you eat anything all day.”
“Yeah, I’s sure,” Crutchie affirmed, meeting Davey’s gaze evenly to dispel any doubts as to his condition. “I ate earlier.” It wasn’t a lie- he had been given a good breakfast along with every other boy in the Refuge after Snyder had been arrested. Although admittedly he hadn’t eaten much of that, either, and it had been hours ago, but… Jack and Davey didn’t need to know that.
The conversation at the table was stilted and a bit awkward while they waited for food. If it had been just Jack and Crutchie, they would have been chatting away, but the addition of Katherine, Davey, and Les (all of whom Crutchie didn’t know very well) smothered most attempts at conversation.
“Well,” Katherine said after their food had arrived. “I think this calls for a toast. To the strike, to Jack, and, most importantly, to Crutchie!”
Crutchie blushed again as everyone raised their glasses, and Jack made a dismissive gesture to prevent further compliments. “It ain’t all that. Take it easy.”
“Again with the modesty? You need to learn how to take a compliment, Jack Kelly,” Katherine admonished good-naturedly, leaning over to peck Jack on the cheek. “You did much more than you know.”
“Hear, hear,” Crutchie echoed, taking a sip of his water. The pounding in his head hadn’t lessened much since leaving the lodging house, and the muscles in his leg also throbbed as a painful reminder of the last few days, but he still made an effort to behave as normal. He wasn’t going to ruin everyone’s night by admitting how crappy he really felt.
He was fading fast, though- by the time Katherine and Jack had finished their sandwiches and Davey and Les had finished their bowls of soup Crutchie’s eyes had slipped closed against his own will, and he was almost asleep. He only realized that it was time to go when he felt Jack’s hand on his shoulder, and he jerked up with a start at the sudden contact.
“Woah, Crutch, take it easy! It’s just me,” Jack soothed, holding his hands up in a peaceful gesture. “Ya ready to go home?”
Crutchie took a deep breath, partly to bring Jack’s face more into focus and partly to calm his racing heart. “Yeah. I’s ready.”
Standing up proved to be more difficult than Crutchie had anticipated, however- his good leg shook beneath him and he had to lean on his crutch much more heavily than usual just to get his feet under him. Jack held out a hand to help him, but Crutchie shook his head. “I got it, Jack. Just gimme a minute.”
“It’s getting late,” Katherine remarked as she watched Crutchie struggle. “And if I know Race, I bet those boys won’t be done partying until well into the small hours. My house has plenty of guest rooms, why don’t you all stay over?”
“Us? In Pulitzer’s house?” Jack was incredulous. “You hearin’ yaself, Plumber?”
“Yes, Jack. I know it might be a bit strange, but… you’ll get a good night’s sleep, at least?”
She looked so hopeful that Crutchie almost didn’t want to turn her down. And her arguments had a ring of truth to them- Race and the other boys were likely to be still going strong by the time they returned.
“Thanks, but me and Les have both gotta get home,” Davey interjected. “We wouldn’t want our folks to worry.”
“Of course. Travel safely.” Katherine smiled at both of them, and Crutchie gave a little wave as they stepped out into the street and disappeared into the night.
“So?” Katherine turned back to Jack and Crutchie as soon as Davey and Les had gone. “How about it?”
Jack looked at Crutchie for help, who, for his part, only shrugged. Jack rubbed the back of his neck absentmindedly. “I dunno, Katherine. Your folks ain’t gonna like it…”
“My mother and sisters are away, visiting friends upstate, my father isn’t going to leave his office for the next month, and my brothers don’t care.” At Jack’s still-present hesitation, she took his hand. “Come on, please? It will be fun, too, I promise.”
“Oh yeah?” Even at this moment, Jack still couldn’t pass up an opportunity to flirt with Katherine. “What kinda fun are we talkin’ about, Plumber?”
“I swear, Jack, you are the most impossible-”
“Okay, fine!” Crutchie interrupted. They would have gone on for hours if he let them, and his black eye was starting to smart as well. Besides, if Katherine was this adamant about both of them sleeping over, Crutchie didn’t see the harm in indulging her. He wasn’t one to pass up the opportunity to sleep on a feather mattress in a mansion if it was offered.
“Yay! I’m glad at least one of you is sensible,” Katherine said, walking over to Crutchie and ruffling his hair affectionately. She paused when he winced. “Are you okay?”
“For the last time, yes!” Crutchie exclaimed exasperatedly. “I just need a good night’s sleep is all. An’ I ain’t gonna get that if you two keep standin’ there bickerin’ all night.” He rolled his eyes good-naturedly, trying to ignore how even that small action made his head hurt even more, then slowly walked over to the front door of Jacobi’s and held it open. “Come on, then. Let’s go!”
Jack chuckled. “Okay, kid. If you insist.”
Stay tuned for part two, which will feature much more obvious whump!