Jack cursed himself inwardly. He wanted to help, he really did, but Crutchie was right. Every time he heard the words "The Refuge," his anxiety kicked in to the point where it took all his focus not to panic. The experiences were still recent for him. Some days he could barely function, let alone comfort one of his boys suffering from the same memories he faced. Crutchie was his rock, his constant, his sole confidant.
There was a reason Jack slept on the roof. It wasn't because he liked the stars and fresh air- come on, this was New York. No, he slept on the roof so his nightmares weren't broadcasted for all to hear. He had lost count of the times he had woken up covered in sweat, his voice hoarse, Crutchie shaking him awake. It wouldn't do for his boys to see him like that. A leader had to be more. Jack Kelly had to be more.
The last of the boys had just returned to the Lodge House, settling in for the night, when a knock sounded at the door. All heads whipped in that direction. It was late, and the newsies almost never had visitors. Jack was first to break the silence, crossing to the door and throwing it open.
A ragged looking figure stumbled into the room, sending them a cocky smile. "Miss me?"
"Race!" Romeo shouted, throwing himself at the newcomer.
Race winced at the impact and took a step back, holding Romeo at arm's length. "Hey, pal," he said, ruffling the younger boy's hair. "How ya doin'?"
"How's he doin'?" Crutchie repeated, tucking his crutch under his arm and limping towards them. "How're you doin'? Race, you'se a mess."
He was right. The fourteen-year-old had a split lip and a black eye, not to mention dark bruising on his arms and face. His clothes were torn and dirty, and he had lost weight.
"Were ya in the Refuge, Race?" Romeo asked, already knowing the answer.
The room was quiet -an impressive feat for the newsies- as they waited for his answer.
"Yeah, kid, I was," Race said slowly, his face an unreadable mask. Then some of his spunk seemed to come back, and he said, "Ya know what? I could really use a cigar right about now."
Romeo's face lit up. "I'll get one!" he cried. "Don't worry, Race. I didn't let no one else touch 'em, not the whole time you was gone."
He disappeared, making Race grin.
"You lot should be gettin' ta bed, too," Jack said. A couple boys protested, but he waved them off. "Race'll be up in a minute," he said. "Promise."
Crutchie stayed behind as the other boys crowded up the staircase. Jack noticed, but didn't mind. It was still warm enough out that the two of them slept on the roof most nights, and the ladder to the fire escape always gave the younger boy some trouble.
As soon as the other boys were gone, Jack turned to Racetrack. "Ya were gone for two weeks, Race," he said, sounding strained. "How bad they mess you up?"
Race's cocky smirk disappeared. "Jack," he choked out, collapsing into the older boy's arms.
Romeo couldn't keep the smile off his face. Even Race's beat-up appearance couldn't dampen his good mood. His brother was home, and he was safe, and now everything would be okay again.
Cigar in hand, Romeo froze just inside the doorway. Race was... crying. He had never seen Race cry. The Italian had a reputation for being cocky and suave, with his gambling habits and his cigars and his jokes. Racetrack Higgins was Romeo's big brother. Big brothers didn't cry, did they? Romeo felt his whole world falling to pieces around him. For the first time, he realized that they were all the same. All of them at the Lodge House, even the older boys, were just kids. Just kids on their own, kids who fought and laughed and cried and got scared. Romeo felt pain squeeze his chest. This city they were living in was real, and it was dark, and he knew that. He had never feared the city. He had trusted his friends to protect him, guys like Jack and Race.
But Race was a broken mess right now, and Jack? Jack wasn't a god, or a king, or even a man. He was just some fifteen-year-old kid trying to run Manhattan. What good was he against the world?
Romeo shook his head, backpedaling and heading for the stairs.
Crutchie glanced up in time to see Romeo disappear from the doorway. "Hey," he called softly.
Romeo froze. "Hey," he said cautiously, taking a few steps into the room.
Race looked up, somehow still putting on a show of bravado despite his wet eyes. "Hey, kid," he said, patting the seat beside him. "Guess these past couple weeks have been hard on both of us, huh?"
"Harder for you," Romeo said, climbing onto the chair. "You was in the Refuge."
Race flinched at the name. "Yeah," he said. "Now I know what you'se been through, kid. You'se stronger than me, ya know. I was there two weeks and I'm fourteen. You lasted twice that long, and you was only eight. How'd ya do it, kid?"
"I brought ya a cigar," Romeo said instead, changing the subject.
Race grabbed for it eagerly. "Ya gotta light?" he asked Jack, sticking the cigar in his mouth. Jack found one, and Race seemed to relax some as the nicotine entered his system.
"Y'know, Rome," he said after a while. "I'se been riskin' my hide for yours for 'bout three years now. Took me that long ta realize that this brother thing goes both ways, and that I need you 'bout as much as you need me."
Romeo tilted his head, brushing his long dark bangs out of his eyes. "If there's one thing I'se learned, it's that you guys ain't poyfict."
Race leaned back and grinned. "Aw, Jack, ya gave away my secret?"
Romeo acknowledged him with a smile and pressed on. "You older guys get yourselves in trouble, too. And that's when us younger brothers come in. Right, Crutchie?"
Jack looked surprised, and Crutchie beamed his sunshine smile. "Right," he said.
Jack grinned, throwing one arm around Race and one around Romeo. "It's late," he said. "You bummers get ta bed. We'll see ya in the mornin'. Carryin' the banner."
Racetrack pulled Romeo into a one-armed hug. "Carryin' the banner."
"Race?" Romeo said as they got ready for bed.
Race glanced up. He had changed in the bathroom, not yet ready to show the others the array of bruises he wore.
Romeo paused, looking the older boy up and down. He looked better, now that he had cleaned up some, but he was still bruised, pale, and much too thin, with that familiar haunted look in his eyes.
"You can wake me up if ya want to," Romeo said finally. "If ya have a nightmare, I mean."
Race stopped, a smile growing across his face. He fixed his features hastily, trying not to show how much the gesture meant to him. "Thanks, kid," he said. "I might... I might take ya up on that."
Romeo looked up into Race's eyes. They were tired and weary, with drooping eyebrows above and dark circles beneath. He knew the following weeks would be hard, but he didn't care.
"That's what brothers are for."
Jack hung back, watching as his boys bought their daily papes. He paid special attention to Race. Instead of teasing the Delanceys like he normally did, the Italian simply took his papes and moved on. Dark circles under his eyes indicated he hadn't slept much the night before.
"Hey," Jack said, stopping him.
Race looked startled, but he recovered quickly. "Whaddaya want, Cowboy?"
"The nightmares," Jack said. "I get 'em, too."
Race's dark eyes mirrored his surprise. "You? Jack Kelly?"
Jack scowled. "Yeah, Jack Kelly," he said. "Bein' in the Refuge... It ain't about how tough ya are. Heck, even Spot Conlon's shaken up by the place, and he's the toughest kid in New Yawk." He hesitated, contemplating his next words. "What I mean is, ya can come ta me any time."
A glimmer of a smile appeared on Race's face. "Thanks, Jack."
Jack grinned, pushing Race's cap over his eyes. "Aw, that's what brothers are for," he said offhandedly.
Race's grin widened. "Yeah," he agreed. "Brothers."
(A/N): Hey again! This is the end of That's What Brothers Are For. Hope you guys liked it! Shoutout to my Newsies sisters Flash and Trip for encouraging me as I wrote this, and to BookLuv, Sheila Prior, and my guest reviewer for reviewing! I'm thinking of writing some more Romeo/Race brotherly fics in the near future, now that it's getting to be summer and I have more time. Let me know what you think in a review!
Read, review, favorite, follow, and keep carryin' the banner!