Casualties of War

The mid-morning sun mixed with heavy clouds and filtered down into the streets of New York City, casting intermittent rays of warmth among the otherwise chilly day. Fresh snow had fallen the night before and, though the boys had put forth a valiant effort to responsibly buy their papers and sell to the men and women out shopping for Christmas gifts, the very idea of work had been abandoned, favoring fun and games in the several inches of fluffy whiteness and the promise of a round of hot cocoa at Tibby's once they'd all had enough.

It was hard to remember exactly who threw the first snowball, but the newsies had quickly divided into teams; Blink had claimed one team captain position while Jack was unanimously named captain of the second team. Even with the distinction of teams, all players had dispersed into their hackneyed hidey-holes and hastily formed snow forts in lieu of staying grouped together and strategizing the winning approach.

It was just as well, really. Blink had developed some sort of elaborate scoring system that no one seemed to care about except maybe Mush, and about two minutes in, everyone just ended up throwing snowballs at everyone else. Meanwhile, Skittery, who had vehemently decided not to take part in the winter festivities, made some comment from the sidelines about someone killing themselves before anyone was satisfied.

"Jack! Incoming!" came Crutchy's cry from across the square, and Jack reacted just in time by diving behind the statue of Horace Greely, barely dodging the large snowball Mush had launched at his head.

Of course, he landed on his right side in a pile of slushy snow at the base of the statue, which immediately permeated his too-thin winter coat and the wool sweater David's mother had knitted for him the month before.

"Shit!" Jack cursed under his breath. He rolled over and hopped up, maintaining a low crouch behind the statue and set to work brushing himself off.

"Wow, Jack. Graceful."

Jack didn't even have to look up to know that the person above, standing over him with his head no doubt cocked to the side ever so slightly, had blue eyes and a little smirk, and the thought of all that made his stomach knot up a little and his breath catch in his throat and his head feel a little fuzzy for some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on. So Jack did the only thing he could think of to do at the moment.

He grabbed David by his wool scarf and jerked him down into the wet snow, causing David to topple over on top of Jack, which sent Jack down into that same patch of slush he had become friends with earlier.

"What the-Jack! Just because you're wet and cold doesn't mean I- "

Jack put a finger to his lips as he scrambled out of the wet snow once more. "Shh! First rule of warfare, Dave: don't let the enemy know where you are."

David raised an eyebrow. "Warfare? Really? We're calling snowball fights warfare now?" he laughed, that trademark little bark of amusement that most people found to be a bit condescending and arrogant, but Jack thought was just perfect. "And I'm pretty sure everyone just saw you throw yourself on the ground back here mrphrrhmm-" Jack clamped his hand across David's mouth and made the "Shh!" motion again.

"Quit bein' so logical. ‘S'all in fun. Gotta be fast and sneaky, else you get hit and you're out." Jack grinned. "Now start makin' us some snowballs so we can win this."

"We?"

"Davey's on my team!" Jack hollered.

"Big surprise there, Cowboy!" Racetrack hollered back from his hiding spot somewhere nearby.

David threw Jack a sideways glance. "I thought we were being quiet."

Jack elbowed David. "Thought you were makin' some snowballs." There was that stupid cocky smile again, the one that David always thought should make him angry, but instead usually gave him the feeling like he'd been holding his breath under water for a little too long. So, against his better judgment, he set to work. Meanwhile, Jack kept an eye out for infiltrators.

Blink let out a war cry as he pummeled Bumlets with a shower of smaller snow pellets, and he let his guard down just long enough for Mush to run up behind him and dump a pile of loose snow on his head. Meanwhile Race, displaying a great amount of stealth, managed to team up with Dutchy to unleash a shower of snowballs on Skittery, loudly proclaiming, "If you're gonna be a wet blanket about having a little fun, might as well be a real wet blanket!"

In that bit of time, David had managed to craft a series of nearly identical snowballs, packed thick and stacked in a nice, neat little pile between him and Jack. "Here you go."

"Ain't just for me," Jack replied, and winked. You're in this war, too."

David's eyes grew wide and he shook his head. "Oh, no. No, no. I can't throw, I don't want to. I'm just here to make the snowballs. I'm the accomplice, not the warlord."

"You're crazy. ‘Course you can throw. Everyone can."

"Not me. I'll break something."

"Knock it off. It's just snow. You'll be fine." Upon seeing the utter trepidation on David's face, Jack sighed. "Okay. Target practice, then, how ‘bout that?" He nodded at a mailbox a few yards away, near the bakery. "There. Chuck a snowball at that mailbox."

"No."

Jack picked up a snowball and pressed it into David's gloved hand. "Just one, okay? For me."

David stared at him for a second, then turned and tossed the snowball halfheartedly in the general direction Jack had indicated. It landed a few feet away from where they hid and plopped down into the snow-covered ground.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Not like that, Dave. C'mon. Throw it like you mean it!" He handed David another snowball and gave him an encouraging smile.

With a sigh, David wound up and threw as hard as he could. This time, the snowball went whizzing through the air, right toward the named target. And then missed by several feet and hit the bakery window.

The snowball hit the window with a thud, and David breathed a sigh of relief. Seconds later, a sharp crack sounded as the glass splintered in thousands of different directions and stretched the length and width of the picture window.

David's jaw dropped.

The glass shattered.

David's heart sank into his boots.

As if on cue, everyone emerged from their hiding spots and stood to see what had happened.

"Oh, man-cheese it! Cheese it!" Jack yelled. The other newsies scattered, but David seemed to be rooted in place. Jack shook him.

"Dave! We gotta move before the owner comes out." He grabbed him by the sleeve of his coat and hauled him off, out of the square and into an abandoned alley. There, David seemed to snap back into it.

He shoved Jack up against the alley wall and held him there, hands splayed across Jack's chest, unleashing a newfound anger at the whole situation. "I told you I couldn't throw! I told you I'd break something! But no! You can't just take what I say and leave it at that, can you? ‘Target practice,' you said! ‘You'll be fine,' you said! ‘It's just snow?!' And I was dumb enough to listen and now I can't ever show my face around here again! I can't pay for that and oh, what will my mother say? I'm a criminal now and it's all your fault."

"Davey! Calm. Down. No one saw it was you and even if-"

"Don't tell me to calm down! I'm not listening to you ever again! I can't believe this!"

If David didn't look so positively livid, Jack would have laughed. At least he was smart enough to know that would have been a bad idea. Instead, he settled on a good reassurance speech. "Look, nothin's gonna happen. No one saw, we left before anyone could catch us and we're fine. Trust me. I've been livin' on the streets and doin' stupid stuff long enough to be able to tell you that." Seeing David wasn't entirely convinced, Jack put his hands on David's shoulders. "Dave. Look at me. I promise I won't let nothin' happen. I've got a bit saved up. I'll pay for it all myself if I have to. I'll take the heat. You ain't got nothin' to do with any of it. Please, just trust me. I know you're upset and I'm sorry. I'll take care of it, okay? Promise."

David opened his mouth to say something, possibly to yell some more and tell Jack just how stupid he was but thanks for the offer, or something, anything, but he suddenly became very aware of how close he was to Jack, and Jack's eyes and his lips and his hair that was hanging just right across his face and his chest…David's hands were still on Jack's chest. He closed his mouth and simply nodded.

"Good," was Jack's reply. He wracked his mind to find a way to change the subject since David seemed happy, but David's hands were on him and that felt nice and he was preoccupied with the thought that the scarf David was wearing made his eyes look more blue, so all he could come up with was, "You, uh, you look cold."

David didn't really seem to comprehend the comment. "Your sweater's all wet," he murmured, running his fingers across the damp wool across Jack's chest.

Jack, who was now finding it rather hard to think clearly, could only say, "Yeah."

If David would have lifted his head just a fraction of an inch more, or if Jack had leaned in a little, they'd be kissing. Jack considered this, and realized he wouldn't really mind that happening. Maybe if he just-

"Hey!" came Racetrack's call from the other end of the alley. David took an instinctive step backward, away from Jack at the sound of the intruding voice. "Coast's clear!" Race continued. "Told ‘em it was a Delancey brother. No worries."

Snapped out of his stupor and a little annoyed, but not wanting to show it, Jack drew in a breath and let out a quick laugh. "See? That's even better than what I was gonna do. I like the way Race thinks." He grinned and gave David a light punch on the arm. "So, uh, the fellas said they wanted to go to Tibby's for some cocoa. Wanna come? It's on me, since, y'know. All of this."

"Oh. Sure. Yes," he nodded, straightening his coat. "That'd be great. I could use something warm to drink." David knew his cheeks were red, but he hoped Jack thought it was just from the cold.

They headed toward Tibby's in amiable silence, each alone with their own thoughts about what had happened and what should have happened. David fought down yet another blush as he remembered Jack's heart beating under his palm; Jack was preoccupied with nothing else but blue. When they stole a glance at one another out of the corner of their eye; however, they came to the same conclusion.

If it meant another go at it, I'd break every window in Manhattan.

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