Crutchie was in pain as he lay on the hard ground in the alley, gasping for breath through the pain radiating from his leg. He was slightly cut, his leg was bruised and twisted more than normal, and his too-small crutch was lying next to him in two pieces.

"Jack!" he whispered into the night. "Pease, Jack, ya gotta find me!" He knew Jack would know something was wrong, because Crutchie was always back before 9:30, and he was still out much after ten. He pulled himself up as best he could and dragged himself to a crate so he could at least sit up. "Please, Jack!" He and Jack had been selling in Manhattan for almost a year, making friends with the newsies and living at the lodging house; Jack had even become a sort of unofficial lieutenant. "Jack." He whispered. It was so cold, he was shivering mightily. A cough escaped his mouth. No. No, no, no please! He thought. Another cough left his mouth. Then he was coughing uncontrollably, heaving, scraping coughs that refused to stop, that left his throat sore and dry.

"Crutch-ieeeeee! Crutchie, please! Crutchie!" He heard through his coughs.

"J-jack?" Crutchie managed to get out from between coughs. "J-jack? Is dat you'se?" He spat it out a little louder. The coughing subsided a little, and Crutchie could hear footsteps running towards the alley.

"Crutchie!" Jack panted, taking in the sight of his friend sitting on a crate. "What happened? What happened ta da crutch?"

"Some boys-" Crutchie stopped to let a few more coughs out. "Some boys jumped' dey...dey broke...da crutch….so I'se couldn't….couldn't walk home."

"You'se sick! C'mon! We'se gotta git ya someplace warm, where you'se can get better!"

"I'se fine, Jack. Jist a little cold, is all." Crutchie ruined his argument with another round of sharp coughs.

""All it takes ta git you sick is a little rain or five minutes in da cold. You'se sick."

"I ain't neither!" Jack just shook his head and pulled his friend to his feet. He looked down at the broken crutch, then kicked it away.

"Ya needed a new one anyways. We'll find one for ya soon." He said.

"Thanks." Crutchie said quietly. He knew that Jack would keep his word. He always did.

"It's what brothers do." Jack said absently, looking around to check for gangs or more boys who might want to jump them. Crutchie smiled at the word. Brothers. Crutchie couldn't imagine having a family, not after living how he had been.

"Brothers." He whispered. The coughing started again, as bad as before, and Jack pulled him to his side to try and warm him.

"What'd ya say?" Jack asked, supporting his friend and shuffling forward.

"Brothers." Crutchie said stronger through the coughs. Jack faltered, pausing in his pace and looking at his friend. "You...called us...brothers." Jack urged him on, but looked him in the eye. If Crutchie hadn't still been coughing, he would have laughed at the thought that Jack was likely to run into a light post from not paying attention.

"Yeah, I did." He was quiet at first. "Ain't we brothers?" Crutchie smiled, leaning into Jack for warmth and because there was a new feeling between them. Something stronger than the bond of friendship, something Crutchie hadn't felt since before the polio. Since his family.

"Yeah, I guess we is." Jack smiled back briefly, before he actually did run into a light pole. Crutchie started laughing hysterically even as he fell over, amused at the expression on Jack's face, one of both joy and utter confusion. "I knew you would end up doin' that!" Jack started laughing too, and he helped Crutchie to his feet.

"Let's just get home, hey?" Crutchie nodded and slung an arm around Jack's shoulder, supporting himself as they headed home, Jack's body keeping him warm and helping the subsiding coughs.


Jack sat in the common room, watching out the front window nervously.

"I'm sure he's fine, Jacky. He can take care of himself." Bear said, looking up from the book he'd snagged off Specs.

"He's always home before now. Always!" Crutchie wasn't home, and it was making Jack very nervous. "I'm going out to find him."

"Jack, you're only thirteen! You can't just go out alone at night! Especially not while you're on track to being second in command when Al leaves!"

"I'm not leaving him out there! Something is wrong!" Jack stood up and walked to the door. "If I don't find him soon, I'll come back for help, but I know that he needs help somewhere. I know." Bear watched him go.

"Whistle like the Bird taught you if you need help." Jack walked quickly, trying to shield himself a little bit from the winter wind.

"Crutchie! Crutchie! Crutch!" He called, peering down alleys. "Crutch-ieeeeee! Crutchie, please! Crutchie!" He paused, listening. He thought he heard coughing, and when he really concentrated, he heard the voice.

"J-jack? Is dat you'se?" He ran into the alley it had come from, seeing Crutchie hunched over on a crate, coughing hard.

"Crutchie! What happened? What happened ta da crutch?" He took in the bruises and cuts, and the crutch that was broken in half on the ground.

"Some boys...some boys jumped' dey...dey broke...da crutch….so I'se couldn't….couldn't walk home." He was coughing. Jack could hear the roughness in his throat. Crutchie was sick, and when he got sick, it was scary.

"You'se sick! C'mon! We'se gotta git ya someplace warm, where you'se can get better!" Crutchie tried to protest that he was fine, but the way he was coughing between sentences told Jack otherwise. He pulled Crutchie up, kicking the crutch away and slinging Crutchie's arm around his shoulder. "Ya needed a new one, anyway. We'll find a new one for ya soon."

"Thanks." Crutchie looked down. For a moment, Jack was reminded of his brother. Crutchie had the same air of innocence, the same gentle acceptance of whatever happened to him. For just a second, instead of seeing his best friend, he saw the dark hair and big eyes of his brother.

"It's what brothers do." He said, not really thinking about the words, checking to make sure they were safe. He heard Crutchie whisper something, and then he started coughing harder than before. Jack hugged him into his side, trying to keep him warm. When the coughing slowed down, Crutchie spoke up again.

"Brothers. You...called us...brothers." Jack looked at him.

"Yeah, I did. Ain't we brothers?" He was hopeful. There was something between the two of them that he'd never had a name for until now, that he'd just realized what it really was. They really were brothers. Crutchie flashed his huge grin.

"Yeah, I guess we is." Jack met his eye and grinned back, until he hit something and ended up sprawled on the ground, Crutchie laughing beside him. Jack looked up and saw the light post he'd run into.

"I knew you would end up doin' that!" Jack couldn't help but start laughing too, as they lay on the sidewalk with people just walking around them like they weren't even there. He stood and helped Crutchie back to his feet, pulling him in close again.

"Let's just get home, hey?" Crutchie nodded, and they started the walk home. Jack could feel his cold body warming against him, and he smiled to himself. This is what being brothers meant. Always helping each other, always there for each other. It was what Jack had had with Ben, and what he had with Crutchie, and it was amazing. It was good.

The end. Not sure how this ended up, but oh, well.