Disclaimer: Any characters you recognize in this story are the property of Disney and their likenesses are only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.
To the Waters and the Wild
The first thing people noticed when they met Charles McElroy at the start was the rouge; he made sure of it by powdering his face first so that the red would stick out even more. With the carefully styled black curls and the painted cheeks, it was easy to look past the fact that, while he was very tall and willowy, there were taut muscles stretched out under his pale skin and his height was a great advantage in a fight that only someone foolish and unprepared might start. Though he was a city boy now, Charlie grew up in good old Ireland where his fanciful ways left him a punching bag for the local lads until he learned not only to punch back but to bite, kick, scratch back too.
Trev struggled because, like many who met Charlie for the first time, he thought him weak and strange. It only got worse when he realized that, besides the fact that he couldn't escape Charlie's grip, every time he yanked on his hand, the pain was absolutely unbearable.
"Me," Charlie said with a cheeky grin. He didn't let go of Trev's fist. "You want to tell me why you were gonna strike dear Kathleen here?"
Trev spat at Charlie's feet; he wasn't so far gone that he actually spit on the Irish man himself, though it was pretty clear he wanted to. "Ha! I don't have to tell you nothin', you damn fair—unh!"
"Sorry 'bout that, boyo. See, I like holdin' onto the hand of a strappin' young fella so much, sometimes I just gotta squeeze to make sure they don't get away from me. Didn't hurt, did it?"
Trev was panting. Kit had the vantage point of being able to see both his reaction and her uncle's. Uncle Charlie was visibly enjoying himself, though she could tell he was seriously considering what would have happened if he had stepped out only a second or two later—to be honest, Kit was kind of wondering that, too, but not much because what would wondering do?—but Trev... he was being forced to his knees, his face twisted in pain. Whatever Uncle Charlie was doing to Trev's hand, he was hurting.
Good, she thought bitterly. He deserved it.
With his free hand, Charlie tapped the edge of his chin thoughtfully. "Fairy, mm, what an interesting word. It seems to me you were tryin' to call me a fairy earlier and, you know, you're spot on there. So's most of my pals right behind me, aye, and they'll come right on out here if I holler for 'em. See, now, I might not be too interested in a big bloke like you who's keen on hittin' girls, but the Rabbit... we accept 'em all inside. We sure get 'em all, and I'm thinkin' you'll fit in all right, plenty of the fellas wouldn't mind a piece of you—oh, dear, you're lookin' a wee bit pale..."
"Trev," supplied Kit, who was watching this exchange with all the relish of an afternoon at the flickers.
"Trev, yes," cooed Charlie, "those cheeks have lost all their color. I'd offer you some of my rouge but something tells me ye wouldn't be interested... So, aye, why don't I tell you a secret about fairies instead? You want to hear it?" He squeezed Trev's hand again, not as tightly before, but tight enough to remind him of the pain. Trev gasped, just managing to nod. "I thought you would. The thing about fairies is, if you catch us in a good mood, we don't mind grantin' wishes. Now, Trev, what is it you wish?"
Contrary to all evidence otherwise, Trev had some brains inside that thick head of his. So, rather than come up with a smart remark, he simply gulped. "I wish I was anywhere else but here." He glanced over his shoulder where Kit was getting ready to light up another cigarette. "I wish I never laid eyes on her."
"Ah, now that's a good one," Charlie said amiably, and he finally released Trev's hand. "Wish granted. Now get the hell on out of here, boyo, before I introduce you to me pals."
You could see it, Kit thought, the split second of indecision when he wondered just how quick he'd have to be to kick Uncle Charlie in the gut and maybe even give her a slap for his troubles before half the Rabbit was on him. No matter how quick, though, he'd never be quick enough and Kit's lips curved around the end of her cigarette when she saw the realization dawn on Trev's face. He really was sort of handsome... if only he wasn't such a twit.
Cradling his bloody hand close, Trev cast one further look at Kit—it was a look of pure loathing, though he couldn't quite hide the lust still—and then started down the rest of Bleecker Street at a pace much quicker than a walk and just shy of a run. Kit struck a match and thought of the dull ache in her arm. If he came nosing around this part of tiown again, it would be too soon.
Maybe, mused Kit as she shook her match out and took the first drag off her smoke, standing outside the Black Rabbit wasn't as bad an idea as she thought...
As soon as they had seen the backside of Trev, Charlie swooped in and kissed Kit on both of her cheeks. "Kit, a leanbh na páirte, they told me you were out here. Been waitin' long?"
With Uncle Charlie around, Kit found it only too easy to lapse back into her normal manner of speaking; the brogue wasn't as thick as it used to be, but it was something. "Aye, uncle, long enough for that goon to think he could try something," she told him, waving her hand dismissively, ashing her cigarette as she did so, "but I'm just fine now, thanks to your habit of knowin' just the right time to come out."
"Thank you," Charlie said with a mock bow, "thank you. No trouble, I assure ye."
"He was all hot air and posin', if you're askin' me, but I'm grateful all the same." Kit said with a shrug because, now that Trev had run off with his tail between his legs, she wasn't going to let him bother her anymore, though she still had to add, "Only..."
Her blue eyes sparkled in curiosity. "What did you do to his hand? I saw the blood, I saw him lookin' like he was gettin' ready to bawl, though I can't say I understand how ya managed it."
"It's like I said... the Black Rabbit," admitted Charlie, "we get all sorts. It's best to be prepared." And he opened his hand to reveal a set of small, sharp razors twisted onto slim pieces of metal in order to resemble the most dangerous rings Kit had ever seen in her life.
She let out a small laugh and, on impulse, gave him a quick hug. "I'm sure gonna miss you, Uncle Charlie."
Charlie patted her on her head affectionately—he was the only one living in this world, save for maybe Gideon, who could get away with that and still have five fingers left when he was done—though he couldn't quite hide his frown when Kit stepped away from him again. "So ye find it then? A place of your own to stay?"
Kit nodded. "I just finished settlin' things with Mrs. Heartwick—"
"Mrs. Heartwick? You mean Arthur's mama? The boy who runs that black and tan club? Heartwick's Saloon, aye, it must be."
In the six months since she had been living with her uncle, Kit had long ago stopped being amazed at how it seemed like Charlie McElroy knew everyone in Greenwich Village. She nodded again. "Aye. She's givin' me a bunk over at her lodging house. It's nice... clean, three floors, a rooftop and it's only five cents a night. Same for meals." She hesitated for just a moment before continuing, "It's a place for girls like me, uncle. And it's not like I don't like livin' with ya... it's just—"
"It's just not the right place for a seventeen-year-old lass," Charlie said knowingly, finishing Kit's sentence for her.
"Exactly," she agreed, though she'd rather cut her own tongue out before admitting that it wasn't Uncle Charlie's style of living that convinced her that she had to go but, rather, the fact that, for once in her life, she wanted to live on her own, be on her own without someone—her Da, Gideon, Jimmy, Uncle Charlie...—watching out for her. For the first time ever, Kit Harding was going to look out for herself. "But I'll still visit," she added, because being on her own was one thing, but she still knew the value of holding on tight to the only family she had left. "I'll come by to check in with you whenever I can."
It was Charlie's turn to laugh as he reached over and pinched Kit's dusty cheek. "You're damn right you will, a leanbh na páirte." He waggled his finger in such a stern impression of his older brother that, for one heartbeat, she was almost convinced he was her father—if her strait-laced, God-fearing father ever powdered his face or deigned to wear rouge. "I expect to see your ugly mug at my table every Sunday for supper, and no, I won't take any excuses from you, either, young lady!" He laughed again and, when he held his hand out, there was no gesturing finger—just an expectant hold.
Kit wordlessly handed her cigarette over. Her uncle took a great big pull, the end lit up to a cherry red, and when he exhaled, he looked like he was breathing smoke. "So, Greenwich Village Lodging House, huh?"
"Why not Little Italy? Don't you sell your papers down that way sometimes, dear? And your Italian's been improvin' lately, even Giuseppe says he can stand to listen to you now without wanting to stick cotton in his ears."
She thought of her uncle's friend, Giuseppe. A middle-aged Italian who spent more years in Italy than living in America, he was the first one Kit went to when she decided that knowing some of the language would help her blend better in this neighborhood. He lasted two hours, complained that her accent was atrocious and that she made it sound like Gaelic no matter what, and refused to teach her another word. So Uncle Charlie's friend Nunzio took over and she was actually passable at it after a few months of early morning studies.
"Grazie," she said before switching accents right back to match her uncle,"but I thought it best if I I stuck around."
"Close enough to the Rabbit but not too close?"
"Something like that," agreed Kit.
"Good. Can't have me venturin' out of Greenwich Village anyway." Charlie took another drag, his blue eyes—the same as Kit's, with that same dangerous edge—sparkling mischievously. "Irish and a fairy? Good Lord, even He wouldn't be able to save me then."
She didn't know if she should laugh or sigh and settled on a mixture of both as she said under her breath, "Ah, uncail..."
It was still light out when Charlie finished Kit's cigarette and, with another kiss on the cheek, left her to make her way over to the Greenwich Village Lodging House on her own. After the run-in with that Trev, he was a little more hesitant than usual to leave her be but Kit insisted and there was nothing even Charlie McElroy could do when his wayward niece had her mind set on something.
Besides, the Black Rabbit was set at 183 Bleecker while Mrs. Heartwick's Greenwich Village Lodging House was located just down the street, at number 127. Not even Kit could get into trouble in such a short trip.
The lodging house was a big enough building, three floors and a rooftop that could be reached by a set of metal stairs that ran from the ground up, a fire escape right on the second floor. As she walked up to it, she saw the steps—four or five of them, tops—that led her right to the wide porch and a shiny brass plaque overhead proclaiming the place to be the Greenwich Village Lodging House.
There were a set of white wicker chairs set at the corners of the porch but they were unoccupied. Which was strange, Kit thought, considering there was a girl sitting on the uppermost step, her head bowed down, overlooking something she had something in her lap. As she drew closer, Kit saw that she was holding a pencil, scribbling in some sort of book.
Unsure if it would be wise to interrupt her or not, Kit didn't say a word though she made a point to walk with a little more force than was necessary as she approached the entrance. Her shoes echoed against the ground until she was at the foot of the first step and she paused, waiting.
After only a few seconds, the girl paused in her scribbling before glancing up. She noticed Kit standing there and made a point to close her journal. She left it resting in the lap of her dark green skirt, placing her pencil gently on top before folding her hands neatly over it. She smiled, the same sort of dazzling smile that seemed at home on her pale, fair-featured face, and waved Kit closer.
Kit waved back and pointedly stayed where she was.
The girl laughed. "Now," she said, and from the first word the rich and lyrical lilt of her Irish brogue was even more noticeable than Kit's, "I think I've seen ya before but your name escapes me, love. What was it again?"
"Kit," Kit told her. This girl... this girl could have her nickname. After all, she'd given it to her yesterday, hadn't she? This wasn't a place for Kathleen's.
"Nice to meet ya, Kit. They call me Footsteps. Footsteps Callaway."
She remembered. "We met yesterday."
Footsteps slapped her hands on top of her closed book, just missing the point of the pencil. "Aye, and we did. For shame for me forgettin' ya." She snapped her long, slender fingers. "Showin' ya 'round the House and the Village if I remember right. I see you've got it in your head to stay. I'm glad. Welcome."
"It seems a nice place."
"It is," Footsteps agreed, though Kit thought she heard a touch of wistfulness in the girl's soft voice. Almost, it seemed, as if she was trying to convince herself of that fact more than Kit. As if she thought that, perhaps, there might be someone better...
And, like the day before, she stopped to wonder how in the world Footsteps earned her nickname. But she wouldn't ask. Just like she wouldn't ask what Footsteps was doing when Kit arrived. It didn't escape her notice that Footsteps guarded that little journal like a dragon on a hoard and, despite her friendly facade, Kit knew better than to trust a pretty face.
After all, she was one. And, she admitted, one would be a right, daft old fool to trust her.
So, rather than ask any questions at all, Kit reached behind her again for her treasured box of Our Little Beauties, fishing inside the rough cardboard interior until she snagged a fresh cigarette. There was only one more left—she'd have to stop and buy another box if sales went well tomorrow—but, in a rare gesture of friendship to someone who wasn't Yeats, she wordlessly offered it to Footsteps.
"No, not me," Footsteps said, shaking her head. Her long wavy hair swayed with the motion and, almost as an afterthought, she gathered it all up with an ink-stained hand and let it settle over her shoulder. "I could never get the hang of breathin' out smoke like some sort of steam engine."
Kit shrugged. Oh, well. One more for her then.
The two girls fell into a sort of quiet then, Footsteps lost in whatever thoughts Kit had interrupted her from thinking, and Kit too focused on smoking her cigarette properly to have anything else to say. But it was growing colder out as the sun went down and Kit was beginning to feel a deep, biting chill in her hand. She made up her mind to step inside the lodging house as soon as she finished her smoke.
It seemed as if Footsteps had the same idea right about the time Kit did.
Using her free hand to push herself up off of the stairs, Foosteps unfolded like a tall, thin ladder before absently straightening out the wrinkles in the folds of her skirt. Enough of her shoes were revealed to Kit long enough for her to notice that Footsteps' heels were filed down even more than her own—not in a point like Kit's, but filed shorter. To Kit, Footsteps was another one them giants. The girl was at least a head taller than Kit even though she bowed her head just enough to appear smaller, as if she was aware of that fact.
She cleared her throat and smiled when she had Kit's attention. "You comin' in?" she asked, hugging her journal to her chest.
Kit thought about it for a moment. She had spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon taking a tour of the Greenwich Village Lodging House with Footsteps before she had to interview with Mrs. Heartwick and make up her mind if she wanted to stay, and she knew from past experience that Footsteps, once started, she certainly didn't mind the sound of her own voice. Not, Kit mused to herself, that that was a bad thing, really, especially since she found it interesting to hear someone talk about Ireland with such passion and such fondness, but she feared another talking at if she followed Footsteps right in.
So she nodded. "Aye, but in a moment. I'm just... I'm just gettin' my bearings, you know?"
Footsteps echoed her nod. "I'll see ye inside, Kit."
"Luath," she promised.
Alone again, the weight of the world—the weight of our her own story—settled back on Kit's shoulders. The cold was nothing but in the background, the various passersby who traversed up an down Bleecker Street all hours the day nothing but a distant hum, and she sighed.
She resumed a familiar pose, one hand folded across her flat chest, her open palm cupping her elbow, her fingers holding loosely to a cigarette that waited to slip between her lips again. Kit nearly forgot about it for the moment as she looked up at the big building and asked herself the same question that had been plaguing her ever since she left Leitrim—
How in Heaven's name did I end up here?
End Note: And now we actually get to begin the story. The next chapter will basically start a really long flashback that shows Kit's journey from a small village in Ireland to the bustling Greenwich Village in New York City. We will see the characters mentioned in the last two chapters as well as the moments she only briefly touched upon. There will be Newsies characters cropping up midway through, but first we'll really get to know Kit. And, after meeting her uncle, I hope you guys are even more interested in her story :)
Thank you so much to settingthesunrise and Joker is Poker with a J for their reviews! I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested in this sort of story and I was really glad to see that you guys like it.
- stress, 02.12.12
grazie - thank you
a leanbh na páirte - term of endearment, lit. my dear child
uncail - uncle
luath - soon