IMPORTANT NOTE-

(so as to understand the story)

This is the story which Torch starts to tell at the end of my other story "Learning to Trust"; but the neat thing is, you can read which ever story you choose first! Because they work either way!

One last thing- although Torch is telling the story, this first chapter is not from her POV. Thank you so much!

Steel glanced this way and that, and then ducked into a dark doorway, the entrance to a dilapidated house.

Upon entering, a ragged cheer greeted her.

"Don't celebrate too soon," she warned them, "I don't know if I got the right medicine for Crutchy. Here, Snitch- Snatch, don't pull your sister's hair!- take these rolls, Catch, they're too busy fighting-"

While she spoke, she dropped a kiss on her older brother Crutchy's head, poked Snatch, smoothed Snitch's hair, and handed her little sister Catch the rolls, still warm.

"So, sister-mine, who have you "raided" lately?" Crutchy, fifteen, smiled up from his dirty bed as Steel sat down and took his fevered hands in her calloused ones.

"Humph." She sniffed and lifted her chin, then began, with bright eyes, to spin a winning tale of adventure for the benefit of the small, dirty urchins who had gathered close, widening their eyes while stuffing the bread they clutched into hungry mouths.

"And so then I dashed around the bend- and ran straight into baker! There was no way of escape!- I was doomed, they would soon find who I was- and then- suddenly-"

She broke off, grinning cockily, while the children at her feet, starry-eyed, protested with shrieks and whines of, "What next, Steel, what happened next?" and "Oh go on! Do go on!" and "Oh, Emma-" This came from Catch, the "baby" at five, and was instant shushed.

"Oh Catch!" Steel said reproachfully, "you know you're not sup-"

"I know, I know!" Catch sighed, and recited, "don't go outside unless Steel is with you; don't say each other's real names; don't make too much noise; don't talk to strangers-;"

"Yes, yes, you don't have to go through all that. I know you won't do it again. Anyway-" Steel, a born storyteller, who had been telling stories literally out of the cradle, hated the anti-climax, and hurried to mend things. "-Anyway, so then- well- remember, I was doomed, doomed, I tell you!- and then- out of the blue- there comes this boy- about- oh, sixteen, I guess, and he was so tall. . . and ha-aa-andsome. . ."

She fluttered her eyelashes, and pretended to faint, while the others shrieked with laughter. They knew full well that their sister didn't care anything for handsome boys, and that she disliked people saving her, being extremely independent.

"Oh honestly-" now she rolled her eyes instead of fluttering them, "il a été un idiot! Il était si stupide!" Steel had learned some French somehow, and when very agitated, annoyed, or angered, would speak it; sometimes mixed with smatterings of German, Spanish, Irish, and Italian. It irritated her family at times, as they generally couldn't understand what she was saying. They knew, however, that she was insulting him. That much was very clear. (Interestingly enough, Steel was known to insult people she hated and people she loved alike and with the same amount of heat. . . strange, non?)

She shrugged, and calmed. "Anyway, he had a gang, and they distracted the baker and the grocer while I got away. Still-" her voice softened slightly- "-still, I wonder if they-der tapfere idiotens!- got away. . ." Her voice trailed off. She shrugged again, then grinned.

"Muck-a-wiss!" She cried gaily. This time the children knew what she was saying. It was a word that their oldest sister (there had been eight of them) used to say. They were not sure how it had originated other than that, but it meant "come".

0o0o0o0

They are dancing. And the boy lying on the bed is clapping and singing. It's an Irish song.

". . .Step we gaily, on we go,

Arm in arm and row on row!

All for Marie's wedding! . . ."

Now, I should like you to know a little of this family's past. These children did not have an abusive father or a drunk mother; rather, they had had loving and caring parents, and, though poor, and often without food, they were not denied the love which young hearts hunger for. Until that fatal day, when their father had been shot by a drunk while trying to share the gospel, and their mother had died in the childbirth of Catch. Far too familiar a story, I am afraid, in those dangerous and disreputable streets.

They had another older brother (married, and living out West), and their oldest sibling, a girl, was likewise occupied, and then another sister, who was looking for a better life for them- however, the legendary Spot Conlon, King of Brooklyn, had made an entry into her life, and she was busy dealing with him.

And also- oh, wait. I'm sorry, but further unveiling of their past will have to wait till a future time, because now something very important is occurring: Someone is banging on their door, causing it to fall in. The knocking personnel likewise tumbles into the room, landing in an undignified heap on the floor, revealing-

0o0o0o0o0

-"Sneak!" squawked Steel, paralyzed. Somewhere in the distance, as if on cue, a bang was heard. The noise seemed to bring her to her senses. She gasped and threw herself across his body.

"You, um, know him?" Crutchy asked rather uncertainly.

No answer.

"Um- could I- have a little, er, help, uh, here?" The heap said quite as dignifiedly as can be expected from someone who has just knocked over a door and himself.

"Yes- " -turning to his siblings- "-Snitch, Snatch, Catch, go help him." Turning back to the stranger, he explained apologetically, "I would help you but I can't. I have the fever, and I'm lame."

The others knew that Steel would protest at this; she disliked for him to admit a weakness to anyone, much less, a stranger. However, strangely, she remained silent.

Snatch, the nine-year-old boy, investigated. "She's- she's bleeding!" He was shocked.

Crutchy, with a strangled cry, leapt from his bed, grabbed his crutch, and threw himself on the ground beside Steel.

"Steel!" He screamed, crying, "Steel!" He stared down at her unconscious face.

Her back was bleeding at an alarming rate.

She had been shot.

"No!" The howl was torn from him.

Someone- the stranger- tugged at his sleeve. "Listen, kid, I'm really sorry that your broad* got shot. Really. But listen- " as Crutchy attempted to brush him off- "I come to tell you that you guys better get outta here. They're comin' after you. Cause your girl stole from 'em."

"Oh-" Crutchy was still wild with grief "-she's my sister! My sister. . ." Tears poured down his cheeks.

Abruptly, after about ten seconds of this, he sat up, the boy's words penetrated.

"Are you the kid that helped her today?" He inquired weakly.

The boy nodded. "I'm Sneak."

"Oh." He smiled a weak, pitiful smile. "She said you were handsome. And she was worried about you."

The boy seemed pleased. "She certainly didn't express those sentiments just then. She called me some unrepeatable names in French."

"Oh, you know-?" Suddenly, Crutchy gasped. Outside the angry voices of men could be heard.

"Quick, quick! We gotta move!" Sneak scooped Steel up in his arms- She would be soooo angry if she knew!- and barreled towards the door, Snitch, Snatch, and Catch helping Crutchy- "Wait!" Crutchy cried in a stage whisper. "They'll just be waiting for us to come out that door!"

"Well, what are we gonna do about that? We've got a dying girl on our hands and not a second to loose!"

Crutchy winced at this, but yelled back, still in a desperate whisper, "There's a secret exit. C'mon, follow me!"

Sneak hesitated, then rushed after him. Crutchy showed him a trapdoor which led out into another shop. They went through it, and then sneaked through the shop and out onto the street.

They took all the back alleyways so that they wouldn't get caught.

Finally Crutchy grew worried. He didn't have a clue as to where they were, or where they were headed. "Where are we going?" He inquired of Sneak.

"'Hattan Newsies Lodging House." Sneak replied briefly. "They'll give the little lady help. Kloppy's a doc."

Crutchy was wondering who "Kloppy" was when suddenly they came to a stop in front of a building that, in the dim light, he could make out the words "Newsboy's Lodging House".

"All right," Sneak whispered, "here we are. You and your family can get work as newsies, and you can live here."

"Thanks," Crutchy whispered back, genuinely grateful, yet there was something about this boy that he didn't trust. Something- dark and. . . secretive-

His thoughts were cut off abruptly as they entered the LH and confronted some boys. "Hiya Jack, Race, Blink," he nodded to each in turn. "I need to see Kloppy, this girl's been shot."

Jack came over, smoking his cigar nonchalantly, but Crutchy could see the wary look in his eyes.

So- this Sneak guy must really be dangerous! I mean, if Jack Kelley's afraid of him! Thought Crutchy in amazement. He'd heard (of course) of the legendary Jack Kelley.

Jack looked her over- felt her over (which made Crutchy grind his teeth) and then nodded. "There's no rip-off," he murmured to the others, and Crutchy heard him. So did Sneak. He bristled. "I told you I'd gone straight," he said stiffly to Jack.

Jack smirked. "Yeah well I've learned a thing or two since then. Such as, to never trust the likes of you."

Sneak seemed to have a sense of the dramatic. "I don't care what you think of me," he said quietly in thrilling tones (why is it that the hero always talks "quietly" and in "thrilling tones"?). "All I care about is that this family here gets help."

Just then Steel awoke. "Very- noble- of you- I'm sure-" she managed to groan haltingly.

"You must not use your strength!" cried Sneak desperately.

"Heaven save me the drama." moaned Steel, and then completely collapsed.

"See!" exclaimed Sneak dramatically, "I told you I'd gone straight!"

Just then Kloppman came up and enlisted the help of Kid Blink and Mush to help him with Steel.

"Yeah well," said Jack, "I'm just thinkin' of that oddah time you said you'd gone straight. Remember, with Davina. . .?" His voice trailed off.

"I'm guessing this may not be appropriate for the tiny tots?" Crutchy muttered, looking very hard in the direction of Kloppman's disappearance.

"Yeah well," Sneak sneered, "that was different. She was so perfect, I had to mess her up."

"So you're saying Steel isn't perfect?" Crutchy bristled.

Sneak nonchalantly examined his cigar, which he'd just grabbed out of Race's mouth. "Yeah, sure. I mean, she would be awfully boring if she was perfect." Then he swaggered down the hall to where they'd taken Steel. Crutchy, concerned about him and Steel being together, hurriedly hobbled down the hall after them.

That was a nice long one, so- I WANT NICE LONG REVIEWS! Do be decent enough to drop a line, just a single solitary word even.

*"Broad" means basically a girlfriend. So Sneak thinks that Steel is Crutchy's girlfriend, and he (Sneak) doesn't know that they (Crutchy and Steel) are brother and sister. =D