A/N: Lightening, Samson and Father Aidan are my characters. All the others belong to Disney and are being used without permission. I am making no money off of this story. Please do not sue me. This story does not take place in the same universe as any of my other "Newsies" fics.
As We Forgive Those
Crutchy Morris removed his hat and accepted a cup of steaming coffee from the youngest of the three nuns. He drank thirstily, then handed the cup back to her and started to move on. The nun caught his arm. "Ethan Morris?" she asked. She was new. Any of the others would have known for sure.
Every morning the message came along with breakfast. If he hadn't needed to eat, Crutchy would have stayed away from the church in order to avoid it. "Yeah, dat's me."
"Father Aidan asks that you come to talk with him." Sister Margaret hoped that she could bring at least one of these children to see the light. Surely, if Father Aidan noticed this boy in particular he could not be beyond reach.
Crutchy read the thought in her face. If on'y she knew. he thought, his facing becoming uncharacteristically hard. "T'ank you, Sista, but tell Fadder Aidan I'd radder not see 'im." He looked over her shoulder briefly at the open door of the cathedral, wondering as he often did, whether he was looking back.
"Hey! Crutchy! What'cha waitin' aroun' for? We gotta sell!"
"I'se comin', Mush."
He ran (more or less) after his friends, his face lighting up when he saw Lightening near the gates. Reigning as the fastest newsie in New York for the past year, Lightening was a drifter - she never sold in one part of the city for long - and Crutchy's best friend. When she saw him coming, she ran over, eyes shining, biting her lip to keep from telling some secret. "Crutchy! How's it rollin'?"
"I'se fine. How's da fastest goil on da East Coast doin' dese days?" he greeted.
"I dunno. When I meet 'er I'll ask." she teased back. "C'mere an' give me a hug, ya bum." She must have recognized something in his face because she sobered. "What happened?"
She knew him too well. "Jist him." he answered.
"Why don't ya tawk ta him sometime? Give him a chance?"
"He lost his chance 16 yeahs ago." Crutchy was the most trusting, most forgiving, most loving person in the world - to all except that one person. "So tell me dis news yer dyin' ta get off yer chest." he changed the subject.
Lightening grinned. "I can nevah fool you, huh?" She was practically bursting with excitement. She took a deep breath. "He ast."
Crutchy's jaw dropped. "Awready?"
"Fin'ly." She wasn't called Lightening only for her speed. Her eyes flashed with happiness.
"Ya said yes?"
Lightening laughed. "A coise! I'se about ready ta ask him meself. For all his reputation, he ain't a fast mover!"
"I don't believe it!" Crutchy grinned. "My Lightenin's gettin' married!"
"My Lightenin', soon." Spot came up and put an arm around her waist, smirking. He'd come to Manhattan to make the announcement.
"An' ta tell da boys ta get out deir suits," Lightening joked later. "Dere is somet'in I can't wait ta see." The two were peddling papers on Henry Street. "Dat includes you, ya know." Her eyes twinkled. "Ya is gonna give me away, ain't'cha?"
"I'd like ta see ya try an' ask somebody else!" Crutchy retorted with a smile. "Who was it found ya on da doorstep, lookin' like a wet rat-" She mimed a blow at him. "-an' convinced da guys ya oughta stay?"
"An' convinced Samson jist what I was stayin' for," she reminded him soberly. "What would I do witout me big brudda, huh?" Almost as one, they clenched their right hands to trace the identical scars along each palm.
Crutchy smiled at her again, then looked away quickly. "Ya picked a date yet?" he asked.
Lightening nodded. "Da foist a' August. Dat gives us two months ta get ready." She flushed. "I'se actin' like a little kid, but I'se so excited!" He laughed. "So how've you been?"
"Not bad." Crutchy shrugged. "It's been kinda slow lately, though."
Crutchy watched Samson sidle over to the new girl. She looked equally nervous and angry. He caught her eye. "Mia, we'se gotta get goin' if ya wanna get ta Central Park before noon!"
The girl looked startled, then nodded gratefully.
"I ain't shoa I can go dat far, though," she confided after Samson had left. "All da runnin' I did yesterday, I don't t'ink me feet could carry me-" She stopped, looking self-conscious. "I shouldn't talk, should I? I mean-"
Crutchy shrugged uncomfortably. "I'se fine. Ya can sell by da church wheah da nuns give out food, though. It's da best place ta sell an' it ain't far. If ya ain't sold all yer papes by da end of da day, da priest'll come out an' buy da rest from ya."
"Why? Ain't nobody else cared-"
He looked away. "He's a priest. I dunno."
"Can ya still sell out on 121st?" Lightening asked.
Crutchy looked at her sharply. "He's still dere." He'd thought the subject was finished.
Lightening frowned. "I can tell ya's upset. Ya don't gotta like him, but ya go all cloudy when ya's seen him. If ya'd tawk to him-"
"Yer mudda din't hate him dis much," she said quietly.
"Dat was da problem."
The reached Tibby's in time to find Jack raising a toast to the newly-engaged. "Ya betta hand me a glass, Cowboy!" Lightening grinned as they entered.
Jack clucked his tongue. "A young lady like yaself drinkin'? An' about ta be married, no less?"
Lightening stuck her tongue out at him. Spot put an arm around her and offered his own glass. She lifted her face to be kissed. Several of the boys groaned. "Save it till afta' da weddin'!"
"Is it August, yet?"
Spot raised an eyebrow, doing more to quiet the catcalls than a glare would have.
In fact, August approached rather too quickly. Lightening wanted a Catholic wedding, and few chapels seemed willing to open their doors to the hundred newsies who would be attending.
"An' dey all try ta be so kind about sayin' dey's too good fer us, too!" Lightening said angrily. "Dey'd be honored ta perform da weddin', but da guests . . . Dey say all members a' da ceremony gotta be Catholic an' I say dat's fine, dey is. Dat's me an' Spot an' Jack an' Myrna an' you. An' dey says dey gotta be shoa all da papers are correct an' legal. An' we show 'em da papers. An' dey say da church has ta be kept neat an' we'se responsible an' dey hedge an' hedge until it comes down ta da fact dat ev'ry single guest 'cept Kloppman, Manders an' Denton is gonna be street trash - an' nevah mind Medda. Spot gave da last guy a speech he ain't gonna fergit! I was proud of him." She laughed slightly. "But none of dat gets us anywheres." She sighed, eyes watering angrily.
"Mia . . ." he gave her a hug.
She looked down, frustrated with her tears, but comforted by the gesture. "T'anks, Crutchy."
"Ya tried da cathedral on 121st?" Crutchy asked, not looking at her.
"Of course not!" Lightening exclaimed. "I wouldn't do dat ta you!"
"I'll be fine. Go ahead tamorra an' ask him. He'll do it."
Father Aidan Morris had just finished praying when a throat cleared stiffly at his left. Standing, he turned in question, then froze. He knew the boy, of course. He'd nearly raised him. That lame leg accused him every time he looked at it, and the face . . . the face was more than familiar.
It's Meg's face, he breathed. Every line of it . . . Except for the eyes. Meg's eyes had been blue. These were as warm and brown and accusing as the ones he faced in the mirror each day. "Ethan, I-"
"It's Crutchy," the boy said shortly. Doubtless, a few of his family of newsboys knew his real name and were permitted to call him by it. Aidan had forfeited the right. I need a - I need yer-" The priest could read Crutchy's reluctance to ask. "I need yer help."
"My help," he stammered. "Of course – anything."
The brown eyes darkened. Anything?
Crutchy sat on the steps of the cathedral, too upset to even begin to sort out his tangled emotions. He hadn't expected the interview to be easy, but neither had he expected the shock of memory and fresh pain.
"Brazen minx!" Ethan turned his head at the muttered comment, but his mother appeared not to have heard. "I'm surprised Someone hasn't smote her for her pride by now!" Two of the older women sat in the pew behind them, whispering.
"Well, the priest doesn't have to let her come to Mass like good people."
"'She is more to be pitied than censured,'" her friend quoted. "Besides you can see the judgment on her in that boy she carries around. Four years old before he could walk on that twisted leg . . ."
"Ethan!" His mother's hushed rebuke drew his head back around, but he found it difficult to concentrate on the service. The whispers followed them everywhere. He couldn't decide which hurt more – the pity or the contempt. It wasn't directed at him, but there was a wrinkle beside Margaret Lane's right eye that he could never forgive them.
"It's time, Ethan." His mother leaned down to whisper in his ear. He would be one of a dozen children taking their first communion. He'd been allowed to sit with his mother instead of with the others because of his limp. There had been murmurings about that, as well. Bad enough that he was being allowed into the Church with the others, some said. The young priest had argued for him, he'd heard.
"And we all know why that is," came a hushed whisper from above his head. Ethan stood amid a forest of black skirts as Father Aidan celebrated the funeral Mass. "He's had his head turned by her like every other man – a priest!"
"They say," another women put in, "he's the one who turned hers. All I can say is he's lucky Meg's boy took after her."
He didn't pay the gossips that much attention. After ten years their spite could only take second place to the grave a few feet before him.
"Ethan." The priest took his hand to lead the way back to the cathedral. The nuns of the adjoining convent managed a small orphanage. Father Morris seemed to see the sobs filling his throat. Abruptly, he lifted the boy up and carried him.
The priest stayed with him all that night. Ethan hadn't thought he'd ever be able to sleep, but he managed. Father Aidan had more difficulty. In the early hours, he dreamed he heard the priest's quiet sobs. A hand stroked his head, and his mother's name threaded through his dreams. "Meg . . ."
"He's yer fadder?" Lightening's eyes were wide.
Crutchy studied the storefront across the street. "Yeah," he said bitterly.
She bit her lip. "But – how – he's a priest . . ." she trailed off and winced.
"I know," he replied shortly. There was a moment or two of silence, then he apologized. "He wants ta take care a' me. Make shoa I'se safe an' 'provided for' or somethin' like dat. He let 'em treat 'er like dat an' he-" He stopped abruptly. Love, it's said, is only the flip side of hatred. The tone in Crutchy's voice was the dark twin to humor. "I loved 'im like a' fadder until da day I found out dat's what 'e was."
Lightening was quiet – the silence of best friends or of lovers.
"So ev'ry day, he tries ta tawk ta me. An' ev'ry day he buys out whoevah's sellin' dere. Cuz he feels guilty!" He sighed and smiled. "Dere's better t'ings ta spend our time tawkin' about."
"Like Spot." Lightening reddened, then smiled sheepishly. "I didn't mean ta say dat aloud."
Crutchy laughed, and tugged lightly on her braid.
"Aw, stop it!"
"And do you, Mia O'Donovan, take Robert Conlon to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
"I do," answered Lightening quietly.
"Repeat after me. I, Mia . . ."
"I, Mia . . ."
"Take you, Robert . . ."
"Take you, Robert . . ."
"To have and to hold . . ."
"Ta have an' ta hold . . ."
". . . from this day forward, for better or worse . . ."
". . . from dis day forward, for better or worse . . ." Lightening's voice trembled slightly.
". . . for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health . . ."
". . . for richer or poor-" Lightening's shaking voice halted, choked, as her eyes were filled, with tears of joy.
The priest continued, smiling gently, "to love and to cherish, till death do us part. So help me God."
Red as her face was, Lightening smiled also and nodded, trying to regain her composure. Spot squeezed her hands briefly. She took a deep breath. "For richer or poorer, in sickness an' in health, ta love-" Another breath. "-an' ta cherish, till death do us part. So help me God."
"I now declare you man and wife," completed Aidan. "You may kiss the bride."
The cheer that rose from the assembled newsies as Spot did so was hardly decorous, but it was more than sincere. As the newlyweds, followed by the rest of the wedding party, started down the aisle, Crutchy's eyes were fixed on his best friend's radiant face.
The priest lifted the stole from around his shoulders and began to place it on its stand. He stopped at a sound from behind him. "Fadder Aidan?" He jumped, knocking over the stand.
Bending to pick up the stole hurriedly, he answered. "Eth - Crutchy, I thought everyone had left for the reception."
The boy shifted uncomfortably. His eyes strayed around the room restlessly instead of meeting Aidan's challengingly as they had on their few other encounters. "I'se goin' in a minute. I hoped – I wondered if ya might hear me confession," he said haltingly.
For a second time, Aidan was caught speechless. He looked down at the stole he still held and rubbed a thumb against the soft cloth, wonderingly. "I-?" No, that was better left unspoken. "Certainly." With renewed reverence, he returned the stole to his shoulders. "Here?" Suddenly, he didn't want to face the boy directly.
Crutchy seemed equally ill at ease. "Would da-?" He gestured vaguely toward the sanctuary. Fortunately, Aidan had been thinking the same thing. He led the way through the cathedral to the row of confessionals. He forced himself not to look back, but he was almost painfully aware of the presence behind him.
"Fadder, forgive me for I have sinned." The traditional opening came with the difficulty of eight years of disuse. Crutchy looked at his hands uncertainly and breathed in. "It's been eight years since me last confession." Eight years since he'd rechristened himself. Eight years since his mother's funeral. "I – lied taday. Not 'xactly in words, but – Taday I gave away me best friend to be married. I spoke for her an' smiled for her an' I nevah told her how much I wanted ta be da groom in dat wedding. I'se always known she loved him, an' he loves her too, an' I know dey's gonna be happy tagedda. I know I could nevah have given her half a what he can, not da least a which is happiness, but right now I can't smile anymore. I can't go ta dat reception an' celebrate wit dem. In a few minutes I'll go an' ain't nobody gonna know I'se still lyin'." He stopped.
At first, there was silence on the other side of the screen. The priest's answer came late, in a whisper. "I cannot give you your penance because you already have my absolution. I cannot believe that a lie told for such a selfless reason can possibly be a sin-"
Uncomfortable, Crutchy felt called on to interrupt. "I don't mean ta sound like a martyr or nothin'. Tellin' her wouldn't do any of us any good, but I can't be – be quiet about it ferevah, so-" He looked at his hands once more. "Dat ain't all I had ta say. Standin' dere next ta her taday, I kept hopin' I wasn't makin' da biggest mistake of me life. I t'ink I did right, not tellin' her . . ." He sighed. "It made me t'ink a' somet'in else." This was the hardest. "I ain't gonna pretend ta know why ya did – what ya did – all dose yeahs ago, but-" He took a deep breath. "-I fergive you, too, fadder."
Stunned, Father Aidan sat back. He heard the shifting of someone moving to stand and the creak of a door opening. His eyes began to fill, as he listened to the door shut again. As if in a trance, he opened the door to his own chamber. As he watched, Crutchy hobbled slowly down the aisle and knelt at the altar rail. His right hand lifted and traced a cross in the direction of the bowed head. "God bless you, my son."