Every time Jack thought back to that day, he remembered the cold. It was the winter of '89, a few weeks before Christmas.
The day had felt different from the moment Francis Sullivan woke up. A storm was on the horizon, and the entire sky was dark. Slushy snow covered the sidewalks, and anyone who went out for more than a few minutes would come in soaked to the bone and freezing.
All day, he had stayed by the window, feeling the chill radiating off the glass and watching the people come and go. Even in this rotten weather, New York was a city of action.
He pretended not to hear when the neighbor woman called his name.
"Francis," she tried again.
He didn't look away from the window. Hot tears streamed down his face, but he refused to look up.
"Francis, your ma wants to speak with ye," the woman said, taking his arm.
He tried with every fiber of his being to ignore her. He didn't want to say goodbye. Saying goodbye would make it real.
But then he heard his mother's voice. "Francis," she said weakly.
He turned around, his eyes adjusting from the brightness of outside to the dim light of the tenement building. Mabel Sullivan lay on the bed, looking pale and weak. Numbly, he crossed over to her bedside.
"I love you, Francis," she whispered. "You give me world so much light." She spoke with a beautiful light Irish brogue. Francis had always loved to hear her talk. But not now; not this.
"Ma," he pleaded, the tears starting fresh again. "Don't go."
She touched his cheek gently. "Ye take care of yourself, Francis. Be strong, and don't you forget about me."
She had died hours later, leaving him on his own.
Nine-year-old Jack perched on the fence rail, watching the cowboys in awe. The members of the Texas Traveling Rodeo were truly a sight to behold. They rode horses, roped cattle, and even fought the bad guys in a stick-'em-up showdown. To a nine-year-old newsie, they were heroes.
Especially Kelly. The first night the rodeo was in town, the young cowboy had noticed Jack. He had even talked to him after the show. Jack had come back each of the five nights the show was in town, and it had become routine.
"Kelly, your kid's here ta see ya," one of the cowboys said as he passed. Kelly came around the corner, grinning when he saw Jack waiting outside the tent.
"Ya headed back ta Texas?" Jack asked.
"Yep," Kelly replied, spitting a stream of tobacco juice onto the grass. "Packin' up tonight."
Jack spit on the grass, too, imitating him. Kelly hid a grin.
"What's Texas like?" the little boy asked.
"Aw, Texas is nice enough," Kelly said. "But it ain't my home. Me, I'm from Santa Fe."
"Santa Fe?" Jack said, wrinkling his nose. "Where's that?"
Kelly almost swallowed his tobacco. "What do they teach in these fancy New York schools?" he muttered when he had recovered from his coughing fit. "Santa Fe's in New Mexico, way out west and down south. It ain't nothin' like here, boy. Hot, dusty, an' dry. Most folks give up and head back east, but I love it."
Hot, dusty, and dry. "I love it, too," Jack said automatically.
Kelly grinned, ruffling the kid's hair. He liked being this young, scrawny street kid's hero. He would miss him when the rodeo left town tomorrow. "I'll tell ya what, kid," he said, crouching down to his level. "If you're ever in Santa Fe, you look me up. Ya know my name, Kelly. Folks'll know how ta find me. In Santa Fe, everybody knows everybody."
Jack nodded solemnly, his big brown eyes fixed on the man.
Kelly grinned, leaning back against the fence post. He liked having an audience. "Close your eyes, kid," he said. "I'll tell ya about Santa Fe."
"Them streets down there," Jack "Cowboy" Kelly said, gazing out over the railing. "They sucked the life outta my old man. Well, they ain't doin' that ta me."
He heard the familiar step-thud step-thud as Crutchie hobbled over to join him. "But everyone wants ta come ta New Yawk," he said.
Jack threw an arm around his brother's neck. "You keep your small life in a big city," he said. "Gimme a big life in a small town. Close your eyes, Crutchie. I'm gonna tell ya 'bout Santa Fe."
Santa Fe, he was sure, could fix anything. If his ma had been in Santa Fe, she would have been away from the cold that caused her pneumonia. She wouldn't have gotten sick, which meant his father wouldn't have stolen medicine to help her. Santa Fe had something for Crutchie, too. He just knew it.
"No one worries 'bout no gimp leg in Santa Fe," he said. "You just hop a palomino, and you'se ridin' in style!"
Crutchie laughed a little, his eyes still closed. "Feature me, ridin' in style!" he joked.
"I bet a few months of that clean air and you can toss that crutch for good!" Jack said blithely.
Crutchie's eyes flew open, and his whole face lit up in a smile. "Ya mean it, Jack?" he said.
"Yeah," Jack said, feeling a slight twinge of guilt at getting the smaller boy's hopes up. Time to change the subject. "Just you wait. In Santa Fe I'll work the land, chase the sun." He spread out his arms. "Swim the whole Rio Grande, just for fun!"
Crutchie struggled to his feet, assisted by his crutch. "Watch me stand! Watch me run!"
The longing in his voice made Jack's heart ache. "Hey," he said. "We'se a family. When I go ta Santa Fe, I'm takin' you with me."
Crutchie smiled. "Thanks, Jack."
Jack collapsed against the railing on his rooftop, trying to calm down long enough to collect his scattered thoughts. With a grunt of frustration, he whirled around and punched the wall, cursing when blood oozed from the scrapes on his knuckles. He sank to his knees with a sob, pressing his forehead into the cool metal of the railing.
Every time he closed his eyes he saw Crutchie being dragged away, heard his screams as he was beaten with his own crutch- with his own crutch. And he ran. Jack Kelly ran from the bulls while Crutchie got taken down by the Delanceys.
Desperately, Jack tried to console himself the only way he knew how. "In Santa Fe..." he began.
A deep, shuddering sob racked his body, and he had to stop before continuing.
"I'm done with this city!" he shouted. "Why should I spend my whole life breakin' my back for a few lousy cents? I'm only seventeen! This shouldn't be my life!"
His shoulders slumped in defeat. His voice sounded ragged, like he had been to hell and back. In a way, he had.
"What's ta stop me from leavin' it all?" he asked the sky. "Huh? Is there anyone up there? God, my ma, anyone? What's ta stop from hoppin' a train tonight?"
He knew the answer without even thinking. Crutchie. He would never make it to Santa Fe without his brother by his side.
"Hang in there, Crutchie," he said in a low voice. Then he spoke up again, addressing the sky. "Please be real," he begged. "Just be real, is all I'm askin'. And save a place for me, 'cause I got nothin' if I ain't got Santa Fe."
Jack glanced over at Crutchie. He had had to help the younger boy in onto the roof. His leg wasn't working too well these days. At only a week after the events of the strike, his bruises from the Refuge were only just starting to fade.
"Hey, Crutch?" he said.
Crutchie looked up, giving his usual sunshine smile. "Yeah, Jack?"
Jack paused. The smile was fake and he knew it. Crutchie kept trying over and over to prove that he was okay, but he wasn't. Of course he wasn't.
"You'se more important to me than Santa Fe," Jack said.
He said it without thinking, like he had about Santa Fe curing Crutchie's leg. This time, though, he meant it.
Crutchie's smile widened, and Jack could instantly tell this one was real.
"Thanks, Jack," he said.
Jack grinned, looking out over the New York skyline. Sorry, Kelly, he thought. But I got my Santa Fe right here.
(A/N): Oof. This was supposed to be short and cute, but angsty Jack Kelly is so much fun to write. He basically demanded that those last three sections become a thing. Let me know what you think of my explanation behind Jack's love of Santa Fe, and of him adopting the name Kelly, in a review! Seriously, you'll make my day. (And special thanks to my newsie friends Flash and Trip for letting me share ideas with them and just being awesome.)
On another note, a couple people who reviewed That's What Brothers Are For (thanks, btw! you know who you are!) requested that I write some more Race/Romeo centered fics. If anyone has prompts or requests (for that or anything else) I'd love to hear them!
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