Racetrack Higgins was the best card player in the Lodge House. Possibly the best in Lower Manhattan. He liked to think he was the best in New York. But today, even he was out of his depth. He was winning, sure. But he had cheated to get this far, and he had a sneaking suspicion the men he was playing knew it.
Okay, he thought. Time ta get outta here. Even if I stop now, I'se won me enough cash ta be livin' like a king for a week.
"Pleasure doin' business with ya," he said, sweeping his winnings into his cap. His two opponents -a blonde-haired man with a cigarette and a stocky, barrel-chested Irishman- glared at him simultaneously. They didn't take kindly to losing to a kid, and a cocky one at that. Race saw some unspoken message pass between the two men, and he decided it was his time to get out of there... fast.
Clutching his cap tight in his fist, he got to his feet and pushed back his chair. The blonde stuck out a leg as he passed, causing Race to trip and sending him sprawling across the floor. "Son of a..." Race cursed, but he trailed off as the second man leaned over him. For a second he thought the Irishman was going to help him up, but then he reached into Race's sleeve and extracted a card. An ace of diamonds. Race closed his eyes. It had been years since he had been to church, but he couldn't recall a time he had prayed harder than he was right now.
"What's ta say we teach our little friend here a little lesson about cheatin'?" the blonde said, grinding his cigarette against the tabletop.
A smirk crossed the Irishman's face. "I was thinkin' the same thing myself," he said, grabbing Race's collar.
Race was panicking. Even though he was surrounded by strangers in a bar in Brooklyn, he couldn't help yelling for Jack.
Romeo hesitated at the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge. Jack said Race would be fine. Jack said Race always came back late from poker night. But Romeo knew his brother, and he knew Race wouldn't do that. Race wouldn't worry them like that, especially not with the threat of Snyder and the Refuge hanging over their heads. Taking a deep breath, Romeo squeezed his eyes shut and summoned his courage. Jack would be furious if he knew he snuck out. Setting his jaw determinedly, Romeo stepped onto the bridge... over the threshold of Brooklyn.
Ten minutes later, he had to admit he was lost. Race sold in Brooklyn all the time, but Romeo had never even crossed the bridge, except for those few Fourth of July parties at the docks. Besides, his brothers had been there then. He hated to admit it, but he was a little scared to face Brooklyn without them by his side.
"Hey,"a voice said roughly. "Watcha doin' in my turf?"
Romeo jumped nearly out of his skin, whirling around in the direction the voice had come from. A pair of silver eyes glittered in the dark. Romeo's heart pounded in his chest. He knew who those eyes belonged to. Jack and Race had been spooking him with stories of Brooklyn since he had first joined the newsies, and this character was always prevalent in them. The figure sauntered toward him, out of the shadows, wearing red suspenders and a gray cap, with a gold-tipped cane stuck through his belt loop. Spot Conlon.
"You'se from 'Hattan, ain't ya?" Spot said, crossing his arms. "I oughta soak ya right here and now." He snatched his cane from his belt loop, pushing the head up against Romeo's chest and shoving him hard against the wall.
"Wait!" Romeo yelped, helplessly pinned to the wall. "I'se lookin' for Race. Can ya help me?"
Spot's steely gaze softened some. "He ain't back yet?"
Wordlessly, Romeo shook his head.
The Brooklyn leader cursed under his breath, his cane leaving Romeo's chest. "He left our place hours ago," he said. "I know a bar where he plays sometimes, though. We can check there." He squinted at the younger boy, sizing him up. "You'se that kid who's always hangin' around him, ain't ya?"
Romeo nodded. "He's my brother."
That seemed good enough for Spot. "Let's go find 'im, then."
Romeo quickened his pace yet again to keep up with Spot. Not only was the other boy older and stronger, he knew Brooklyn like the back of his hand and wasted no time in combing through side streets and alleyways.
Suddenly, Spot stopped in his tracks, causing Romeo to run into him. The Brooklyn leader stood in the entrance of a narrow back alley, solidly blocking Romeo's view. "Get Kelly," he said, his voice sounding choked.
Romeo stood on tiptoe, trying to see around him. "Spot?"
"I said, go get Kelly!" Spot ordered, whirling around and shoving Romeo hard in the chest. The younger boy fell backwards, landing on his butt in the snow. "It Race," Spot added in a quieter tone.
Romeo's eyes widened. Without another word, he spun on his heel and took off in the direction of the bridge.
Spot watched him carefully for a few minutes, making sure he was headed in the right direction. Satisfied that the younger boy was a safe distance away, he stepped forward to examine Race closer. He figured Romeo must have seen Race after quite a few fights, but nothing this bad. The last thing that kid needed was to see his big brother beaten and lying in the snow.
"Jack!" Romeo shouted, bursting into the Lodge House.
The older boy was on his feet in an instant. "Romeo!" he said, taking in the kid's appearance. The younger boy was breathless and panting, staggering into the room on cold and tired feet. In spite of the cold, he had worked up a sweat. Crossing the room in two steps, Jack grabbed a fistful of Romeo's collar. "Rome, what'd I tell ya 'bout sneakin' out ta find Race? He knows his way 'round Brooklyn, he'll be fine! But you... kid, you coulda died!" He punctuated his angry words with a shake.
"Jack, I found him," Romeo said, trying to pry his shirt out of his brother's grasp.
Jack's eyes narrowed. "Where?"
"In a backalley in Brooklyn," Romeo said. "I think he's hurt. Spot's with 'im now. Told me ta run for you."
Jack scowled, and Romeo couldn't tell if he was mad at him or Race... or both. "I'm gonna go get him," he said, letting go of Romeo's collar and snatching his coat off its peg on the wall.
"I'm comin' too," Romeo said stubbornly.
Jack gave the younger boy a long look, noting the glint of determination in his dark eyes. "Alright," he said finally. "Do us both a favor and try ta keep up."
Spot paced back and forth like a caged animal. He wanted to get Race out of the snow, but he didn't dare try to move him in this state. He toyed with the idea of whistling for his birds, but quickly dismissed it. What good would they be here? Pausing in his pacing, he sent a glance back at his unconscious friend. Race looked small and pale, wrapped up in Spot's coat and with his lips tinged blue. Blood stained the snow around his head, and there was enough of it on his face that Spot couldn't tell where it was coming from. He was covered in bruises, and his right arm rested at an odd angle. That was what worried Spot the most, and what made him wary of moving his friend somewhere safer.
"That kid better know what he's doin'," he muttered, glancing off in the direction of Manhattan. He expected to see nothing, like the last fifteen times he had checked, but to his relief he caught a glimpse of Jack coming around the corner. When he saw the smaller, dark-haired figure trailing along beside him, Spot swore out loud.
"I sent the kid away for a reason, Jackie-boy," he hissed, dragging Jack off to the side. "Race is in bad shape."
Jack's eyes widened as he saw his friend. "How long's he been here?" he asked, fighting to keep a straight face.
"Dunno," Spot said briefly, looking away. "The kid and I found him 'bout twenty minutes ago. He left our Lodge House 'bout two hours before that."
Jack crouched down in the snow, using a corner of his shirt to clear away some of the blood on Race's face. He was relieved to see that most of it came from a bloody nose, not anything worse. "Think he got jumped?" he asked.
Spot snorted. "Nah," he said. "He brought this on hisself. That buildin' there?" He nodded to the wall that formed half of the alleyway they stood in. "The man what runs it turns a blind eye ta kids sneakin' in. Business is business, y'know? Race usually heads there afta leavin' our place. You'se known Race 'most as long as I have, Jackie-boy, and there's two things true about him. One, he's the biggest cheater in New Yawk. And two, he'll try ta fight anyone who calls him on it."
"Yeah, I know," Jack said, standing up and kicking at a clump of ice. He immediately regretted it as the frozen slush soaked through the worn leather of his boots. "Can ya help me lift 'im?"
Spot grunted. "We'se gotta set that broken arm first."
Jack nodded. "I'll hold 'im down, you set the arm, 'kay?" he said
The two leaders positioned themselves on either side of the unconscious boy. With them out of the way, Romeo got his first glimpse of his brother. "Race..." he gasped. Jack glanced up. He had almost forgotten that Romeo was there. Wordlessly, Romeo crossed the alley to kneel beside his brother.
"We'se gonna set his arm," Jack explained to the younger boy.
"Is it gonna hurt him?" Romeo asked.
"Yeah, it'll hurt like the fires a' hell," Spot said matter-of-factly.
Jack slapped his forehead with an open palm. "Spot!"
Romeo's dark eyes were wide, but other than that he didn't react. "Do it quick, Spot," he requested.
"Right," the Brooklyn leader said, pulling the arm straight to set it.
The pain snapped Race awake, and he sat bolt upright, a string of curses on his lips.
Jack sat back on his heels, breathing a sigh of relief. "Rome, don't repeat any of that," he ordered, unable to keep the grin off his face. "Ya gave us a scare, Race."
Groaning, Race massaged is temples with his good hand. "Did I take a hit ta the head, or am I just hungover?" he asked.
"Prob'ly both," Jack said wryly. "And as soon as you'se better I'se gonna soak ya again. Race, what were ya doin' in a bar?! You'se thirteen!"
"That's my cue ta leave," Spot said, getting to his feet.
"Thanks, Spot," Jack called. "We owe ya one."
Spot waved them off. "Yeah, yeah," he said. "I'll add it ta your tab."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "I have a tab?"
"Yeah," Spot said, polishing the head of his cane on his sleeve. Then he smirked. "Race has a file."
Race snorted. "Jerk. Jack, be a pal and help me up."
Jack scoffed. "Ya were unconscious a second ago! If ya think I'se gonna let ya walk all the way back ta 'Hattan then you must've taken one hit ta the head too many."
"I can help ya, Race," Romeo said, eager to help his big brother.
Race winced as he got to his feet, carefully testing out his shaky legs. "I might take ya up on that," he said. "Say, Rome, what're ya doin' in Brooklyn? Thought you was scared ta death a' this place."
"Thanks ta you and Jack!" Romeo protested, grunting as Race leaned some of his weight onto him.
Jack immediately stepped in, supporting Race's other side and turning them in the direction of Manhattan. "Lay off, Race," he said. "Romeo's the one who found ya here. You'se alive thanks ta him."
Race's face showed his surprise. "Really?" He grinned, ruffling his baby brother's hair. "Thanks, kid. I owe ya one."
Romeo grinned. "I'll add it to your tab," he said, in his best Spot Conlon impression.
Race and Jack burst out laughing. "Spot on, kid," Race gasped.
Jack shook his head, still laughing in spite of himself. "The two of ya, makin' fun of Spot all the time," he said. "You'se is lucky ya don't get soaked."
Romeo grinned, feeling a sense of contentment as they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Shh," Jack cautioned as they came through the door to the Lodge House. "There are boys sleepin' upstairs. Race, come on with me. I'se gonna get ya fixed up. Not you," he added when Romeo started to follow. "Ya look dead on ya feet, kid. Head on up ta bed."
Romeo was too tired to protest. As he headed upstairs, Race flopped down on one of the couches. His broken arm was still wrapped up in Spot's jacket. "Here," Jack said. He sorted through their makeshift medicine closet and found a few long strips of cloth. "Let's wrap up that arm and wash the blood off ya face. Anythin' else 'sides that?"
"Just a bunch a' bruises," Race said with a shrug.
"Serves ya right," Jack muttered. "Y'know, I was gonna soak ya myself, 'til I saw how beat up ya were."
"Hey!" Race protested.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Don't tell me ya don't think ya deserve it," he said, tossing Spot's coat aside.
Race was uncharacteristically silent for a few minutes. "Yeah, I guess I do," he said finally.
Jack glanced up from wrapping Race's arm. "So somethin' finally got through that thick skull a' yours," he said. "What was it, the broken arm or the twenty punches ta the face?"
Race ignored his sarcasm. He knew Jack was on edge, and honestly, he couldn't blame him. "It was Romeo," he said quietly. "Kid's terrified a' Brooklyn. But he came down there for me, and he got Spot's help ta boot. Spot don't help no one, ever." He bit his lip, contemplating his next words. "If someone'd go ta that much trouble ta save my skin, I prob'ly shouldn't be riskin' it in stupid stunts like this one."
"Good thinkin'," Jack said appraisingly. He knotted the cloth behind the Italian's neck, fashioning a sort of sling to keep the arm snug against his chest.
Race let out a hiss of pain. "Easy, Cowboy," he said.
Jack shook his head with a grin. "C'mon. Let's head up ta bed."
Upstairs, Jack gave Race a boost up onto the top bunk, not trusting him to manage it with one arm. "G'night, Racer," he said, brushing back the Italian's messy curls and kissing his forehead.
"Night, Jack," Race whispered back.
The next morning, Jack woke up his boys as usual. They got ready as they always did, joking and laughing and jostling each other for space, but when Jack led them outside there was a surprise waiting. A scrap of paper was pinned to the rough wood of the front door, held in place with a jackknife.
Jack read the message silently, then handed it to Race with a grin. "It's for you," he said.
Unable to contain his curiosity, Race made a grab for the paper. A brief note was scrawled on it in pencil.
Ya still have my coat, ya idiot. Rest up and bring it back to me tomorra. It's cold, I need it. Don't do anythin' stupid, and make sure ya thank that kid a' yours. He's got guts.
Race grinned and stuck the note in his pocket. "Hey, Romeo!" he called. When the ten-year-old looked up, Race held out his good arm for a hug. With a smile, Romeo ran to Race's side and threw his arms around the older boy's waist, burying his face in his chest. Race brushed the younger boy's dark hair back, flicking a stubborn lock out of his eyes. "Thanks, kid," he said. "I guess I owe ya one this time."
Romeo grinned up at him. "Nah," he said. "We're even."
(A/N): Hey guys! Sorry I haven't updated for so long, school has been reaaally crazy lately. College, man. I hope you liked this chapter! Lots of Hurt!Race and big brother Jack. I swear, Spot wasn't supposed to be in this chapter as much as he was. He just manages to sneak into whatever I'm writing. Special thanks to SomedayonBroadway for giving me the request that inspired this chapter! Her stories are amazing, you should go check them out. (Lots more Hurt!Race and big brother Jack!) And I would love some more requests, guys. The more requests I get, the faster I can put out chapters for y'all.
If you're out there and you're reading my stories, please REVIEW! Reviews are super encouraging as a writer and it absolutely makes my day every time I get one. Love you guys! Keep carryin' the banner!