He hobbled, he tripped, he fell. He scooted, he crawled, he limped. But somehow, Crutchie Morris managed to make it to the bakery. His too-small crutch limited him to either an awkward hunched over stumble or an even more awkward lurching walk. He breathed a sigh of relief as the warmth of the small shop enveloped him and he inhaled the smell of warm bread. He bought a roll with two of his precious pennies and concentrated on leaving the bakery without tripping. On the street, many people cast pitying glances or murmured soft words of hope to the eleven year old boy. He gave small smiles in return, knowing that acknowledging them may earn him a few more pennies. He was used to the pity, used to people only seeing his disability. Nobody ever looked past the fact that he couldn't walk without his crutch, choosing to focus on what he couldn't do instead of what he could. Crutchie pondered the fact as he carefully sat on a crate in an alley to eat his roll, his first food all day. From his location, he could see the sun set around the city-scape, see the red glow the winter sun set around the buildings of the Bronx. So much beauty and so much ugliness existed in the same place, in the same city. He was startled out of his thoughts by a stumbling figure falling into the alley. The figure sat up, shaking his head weakly as he recovered. Snide laughter reached the alley from the street outside of the sheltering walls.

"That's whatcha get for messing with us, kiddo!" Crutchie coughed to get the figure's attention.

"Wha-oh. Jist a kid." The figure was a boy, only a year or two older than Crutchie from the look of him. He had tussled brown hair and eyes that were a bright, clear blue.

"Who is you? I ain't seen ya around here before."

"Jack. Jack Kelly." The boy didn't elaborate. Crutchie stood and stumbled to the boy and held out what was left of his roll.

"Ya look hungry, Jack Kelly." Jack looked suspicious, but took the roll, tearing into it as if he hadn't seen food in a week.

"What happened to ya leg, kid?"

"I ain't dat much younger den you'se!" Crutchie paused before finishing his response. "Polio. When I was real little."

"Oh." He mumbled around a mouthful of bread. "Ya crutch looks a bit small."

"It's from when I was littler den I is now." Jack looked at Crutchie and then at the crutch. He swallowed. Crutchie expected him to say more about his gimp leg, but Jack stayed quiet. Crutchie watched him wolf down the rest of the bread. When the brown haired boy was done, he looked up at what little piece of sky was visible from behind clouds.

"Ya know, kid, sometimes I wonder of livin' here is even worth it. Nobody cares about me dat kin do nothin' about it no more. I jist wanna git out." Crutchie studied the boy, feeling that there was something deeper hidden behind the wish, a past that was controlling him.

"Well, Jack Kelly, it may not seem worth it, but one day ya life will mean somethin', ta someone, no mattah how small it seems ta ya." It felt weird to not be the one receiving encouragement, but to be giving it, no matter how small the encouragement was. Jack barked out a mirthless laugh.

"Yeah, my life is gonna mean somethin' one day, all right. It's gonna mean relief ta da bulls when dey catch me. No mattah how I escape, dey's always gonna be afta me."

"Da bulls is afta ya. Well dat don't mean ya can't mean somethin' ta somebody else too." Jack just shook his head.

"Last time I meant somethin' ta someone, I let 'em down. He got taken ta da Refuge because of me. He got beat because of me. He died! He died because of me!" Jack took a deep, shuddering breath. "Sorry, kid. I'm tellin' ya my life story like ya care."

"I do care." Crutchie saw that Jack really, really needed somebody to care about him, somebody who could help him. So for once in his short life, Crutchie did the helping instead of being helped. He stood next to Jack with a hand on Jack's shoulder while he calmed down.

"Why would ya care about me? I'se jist some street rat."

"An' whaddaya think I is? A kid wid a happy family?"

"No. Sorry. I didn't mean ta say it like dat."

"I care 'cause I see a kid, yeah, a kid, who's lettin' his past define him. An' a kid who refuses ta move on. An' a kid who needs ta let go. A kid...kinda...like me."

"You ain't nothin' like me, kid! It ain't your fault ya bruddah died sick an' miserable, ya ain't got every bull and da Spidah himself afta ya! Don't make yaself as bad as I is!"

"If you'se so bad, den why doncha bring yaself up ta my level. Don't let ya past rule ya life, live for da now." Crutchie tried to smile at Jack, but his talk was more for himself then he was showing. He had a past he needed to let go of too. He, too, needed to forgive and forget.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack was stunned as he looked at the small boy standing next to him. His leg was small and shriveled, clearly not able to support any weight. His hair was sandy blonde, and his eyes were in-between brown and green. He was clearly bad off, yet had given half of a roll to Jack. Jack had heard the boy's stomach rumble as he ate, so it wasn't as if the boy wasn't hungry. But he had given up food. Food was precious. It cost money. It was needed. It was not just given away to unknown kids. Jack wondered what the kid's motivation was. He thought that the roll maybe was bad, hard and old, or moldy. But it was soft, and still had a bit of warmth in the center. After he finished the roll, he looked up at what he could see of the sky. A bit of gray with a few visible stars as the sun was setting. He thought about his brother. His sweet little Benjamin, only eight to his twelve. Dead because of his stupid mistakes and his bad judgement and his lack of courage and him. Dead because of him. He found himself wondering aloud to his brother up there in the stars if life was still worth living.

"Well, Jack Kelly, it may not seem worth it, but one day ya life will mean somethin', ta someone, no mattah how small it seems ta ya." A quiet little voice said from beside him. It scared him for a moment, thinking that his brother had spoken. He turned and saw the little cripple. Comforting him. Nobody had comforted him since his old man had been left on the street to die. He had comforted Ben, but Ben was too young to comfort him back. It was weird, but nice. But the feeling didn't last as he remembered he couldn't allow anybody to care for him. Not with all of the bulls in New York after him. It would just hurt him. And the pain of knowing that exploded out of him in a hateful sentence. The crip didn't leave his side. He just put a hand on Jack's shoulder and lent his silent support. Then left silence behind and spoke.

"Da bulls is afta ya. Well dat don't mean ya can't mean somethin' ta somebody else too." Jack just couldn't bear it anymore. He spilled the story of his brother, though not specifically, in one rush of words carried on a tide of emotions. Of love, of grief, of anger. Most of all, of guilt.

"Sorry, kid. I'm tellin' ya my life story like ya care."

"I do care." Jack shook his head. No. No, no, no. He wouldn't allow it. It wouldn't happen. He would not be responsible for more pain in another young boy.

"Why would ya care about me? I'se jist some street rat." As soon as the words left his mouth Jack realized his mistake. He hurriedly apologized.

"I care 'cause I see a kid, yeah, a kid, who's lettin' his past define him. An' a kid who refuses ta move on. An' a kid who needs ta let go. A kid...kinda...like me." Jack took a breath. This kid was an innocent little kid with a gimp leg and almost no hope for the future. Jack was a boy who had seen more and been through more than enough to keep him from being innocent. The only thing they had in common was that they had no hope for the future. He hadn't realized he had spoken his thoughts aloud again until the kid spoke up again.

"If you'se so bad, den why doncha bring yaself up ta my level. Don't let ya past rule ya life, live for da now." Jack was taken by surprise. "Live for the now." That would mean forgetting Ben. He would never, ever, forget his sweet little boy. Never. And moving on would mean forgetting. But could he move on without forgetting? Could it make him stronger, rather than keep him lost in his past? Jack was confused. It was not a feeling he liked. He was alway in control, always had some sort of a plan. But this was messing him up. Could he move on without forgetting? Maybe. But what if he tried and did forget. If Ben was forgotten by him, he wouldn't be remembered by anyone. A fate worse than death. Because death had already happened, but forgotten meant nobody would know. Nobody would care. And that brought on even more confusion. The crip had claimed to care for Jack. But did he? Jack had more questions than he could count swirling around his brain, more feelings whirling through him than he wanted to admit. But he considered. He thought. And he let himself be drawn to the boy with the crutch. He let himself lose control, and it felt good. Different, but good.

Ok, so this is probably going to end up four or five chapters, which are mostly done. This was originally for Circulation Four, but my muses basically said, "No, no honey. This is all by itself. Write thisfor Circulation Four, and finish writing this and publish it all by itself." At least the nice ones did that. My other muses *cough*mynewsies*cough* were more along the lines of, "Are you kidding me? You call yourself a Fansie? We sent you this idea for the competition and this one for you to have fun with and publish alone! So shut up and publish this for Circulation Four and finish this one later!" My muses are not always the kindest, but they usually have valid points. I'm glad I listened to them, 'cause this took a new direction fast.