It was common knowledge that Racetrack sold his papers down at Sheepshead. Somehow he had worked out a deal with Spot Conlon, allowing him passage through Brooklyn. It was normal for him to be back after dark. He likely had the longest walk out of all of them, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge every day. Even so, he had never been this late.
It was almost midnight, but in the Lodge House on Duane Street most of the boys were still up. Jack was pacing the floor, twisting his cap in his hands. The other boys were scattered across the room, seated on various couches and chairs, watching Jack.
"Quit pacin'," Mush said finally. "It won't do no good, and you'se makin' me dizzy."
Jack perched on the table instead, shoving his now-wrinkled cap on his head and drumming his fingers against his thigh.
"Jack," Crutchie said, sending him a look.
Jack sighed. "All of you'se better get ta bed," he said, hopping off the table. "We'se gotta work tomorra."
"We'se gotta work every day," Skittery muttered.
Jack ignored him, waving the boys toward the door. "Carryin' the banner," he said.
"Carryin' the banner," a couple boys echoed.
As they made their way upstairs, Romeo hung back. He lingered just outside the doorway, straining to hear Jack and Crutchie's conversation.
"He's in the Refuge, Crutch," Jack said wearily. "That's the only reason I can think of for him bein' gone so long."
Romeo didn't wait to hear Crutchie's reply. He ran up the staircase, his throat growing tight and his heart thudding in his chest. The Refuge. He knew the place. Oh, he knew it, alright. But no, Race couldn't be there. He just couldn't.
The boys were talking about Race as they got ready for bed. No one batted an eye as Romeo joined them, listening to their crazy ideas. Kid Blink insisted Race was part of a long-standing turf war in Brooklyn, and that he was leading the Brooklyn boys in a revolt against Spot Conlon. Mush took a different route, claiming that Race had gotten himself a girl and had lost track of time. "The right goil will do that to ya," he said, authority on the subject that he was.
Romeo couldn't take it anymore. "He's in the Refuge," he said in a low voice.
Heads came up around the room.
"We don't know that," Specs said, resting a hand on the younger boy's shoulder.
Romeo shrugged it off. "I do."
A couple of the older boys exchanged glances.
"Maybe he got lost," Finch suggested.
Romeo made a quick dash at his eyes with the back of his hand, hoping none of them would see. "Race don't get lost," he said. "He's in the Refuge. I know it."
A heavy silence fell in the room.
"Maybe Jack'll think of somethin'," Kid Blink said finally.
"Yeah," Specs agreed, latching onto the idea. "He always does. Buck up, Rome. By tomorra mornin' Jack'll have a plan ta bust Race out."
Jack fell into step beside Romeo as they left the distribution center. "Ya didn't wake me up last night."
Romeo barely glanced up. "I never wake you up," he reminded him.
Jack paused. "I know," he said. "Ya always go ta Race. I just figured, since he wasn't there...
Romeo looked up finally, his eyes searching Jack's face. "Ya gotta plan ta get 'im out yet, Jack?" he asked.
The silence that followed was a few beats too long to be convincing.
"No," Jack said slowly. "Rome... It ain't easy, breakin' outta the Refuge."
"You did it!" Romeo countered. "Four times, ya said. On the back of Governor Roosevelt's carriage! Why can't ya do that for Race?"
"Kid," Jack began, but Romeo cut him off.
"I bet if it was Crutchie you'd get him out!" he shouted. "Just 'cause it's my brother insteada yours doesn't mean ya gotta leave him there!" He turned his head to hide his tears from Jack and ran, getting lost in the crowds and people of New York.
Jack slowly unclenched his fists, letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Please hang on, Race," he begged silently.
It was late, but Jack was still up. He was on the roof, sketching Santa Fe. He had picked up some lumps of charcoal earlier, and he wanted to use them in his drawing. Something stirred behind him, and he stopped with his hand still poised over the paper. It wasn't Crutchie; the younger boy was asleep on a mattress a few feet away. Who was on his roof?
"Hey, Jack," a voice said.
Jack resumed drawing. "Hey, Romeo," he said. He held up the paper for inspection. "Whaddaya think?"
The dark-haired boy lowered himself down next to Jack, dangling his legs off the fire escape. "It's nice," he said. "Jack... I had a bad dream."
Jack's face hardened. "'Bout the Refuge?"he said abruptly.
Jack started to launch into his speech about how everything would be fine and he didn't have to worry, but Romeo interrupted him.
"I've been there, Jack," he said, his words coming out in a rush.
Jack looked up sharply. "What? When?"
Romeo counted on his fingers. "I think... three years ago?"
Jack frowned slightly. "It was three years ago when ya came here," he said.
Romeo lifted one shoulder in a sort of shrug. "The Refuge was before," he said. "Right before."
Jack put down his pencil. "Kid," he said, a pained expression on his face. "You was in the Refuge when you was eight and ya never told us? Ya never thought any of us should know?"
Romeo kicked his feet a little, staring down at the street below. "Race knew."
Jack's eyes softened. "I get it, kid," he said, pulling Romeo into a hug. "I miss him, too."
"I can't take it anymore!" Jack said, pounding his fist against the wall.
Crutchie remained unfazed. He was used to Jack's outbursts by now, years into their friendship.
"Those kids look at me like I'm some kinda hero!" Jack growled. "They think I can snap my fingers and make everything better. Well, I can't! And now Race is locked up in that hell-hole because of it, and I just hafta sit back and wait..."
He whirled around, kicking the brick wall, then cursing as he hurt his foot. "Ain't ya gonna say anythin'?" he asked, finally settling down enough to actually talk to Crutchie.
The tow-headed boy frowned slightly, thinking. "You'se tryin' ta be the brave an' fearless leader, Jack," he said. "You'se actin' like nothin's wrong, like ya don't still freeze up when ya hear the name of that place. But actin' like everythin's okay ain't gonna make it that way. Even if ya can't help Race just yet, you'se gotta help the boys here who still need ya. Look, I know the Refuge is a terrible place. But if you'se all wrapped up in your own memories of the place, well, then you'se doin' just what Snyder wants."
Jack had grown still during Crutchie's little speech, a stark contrast to his normal restless movement.
"I ain't tryin' ta tell ya what ta do," Crutchie said hastily, misinterpreting his silence. "I know I ain't never been there-"
"And ya never will," Jack broke in. "That much I can promise. You ain't never gonna end up in that place, Crutchie. Not while I'se still breathin'."
Crutchie smiled. "I know," he said. "I trust ya, Jack."
Jack grinned properly for the first time in days. "Thanks, Crutchie," he said, ruffling the thirteen-year-old's hair. "I couldn't be the leader is it wasn't for you helpin' me out all the time."
Crutchie flushed, embarrassed at the praise. "Aw, that's what brothers are for," he said.
(A/N): Hey! Hope you guys enjoyed chapter one of That's What Brothers Are For! There will be two chapters total, and I'll post the second after I've gotten ONE review. (Yes, I'm going to be one of those people. But hey, I've never gotten any reviews before. You'll make me really happy.) Special thanks to my amazing friend Flash who lets me bounce ideas off her and who told me to make this fic longer... I complied, y'all. Also, thanks to my awesome brother, even though he'll probably never read this, because that's what brothers (and sisters) are for. :)
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