The Other Side of Life by sterlingsuspenders
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Author's Notes:
I actually had a ton of fun with this. I wrote it per request of a friend and had a blast. If the shift from friendly banter to romantic relations seems a little sudden, I apologize. Personally, they strike me more as best friends than lovers but this was all kinds of fun, nonetheless. Enjoy!
Jack's got two months left before the lodging house stops boarding. Because apparently former strike leaders aren't immune to the rules. That means he's got two months to get a respectable sort of job with a respectable sort of pay. That means he's got two months to find a new place to sleep. That means he's got two months to work up the money to pay for the place to sleep. That means he's got two months to panic and three before snow and four before he's face-down dead because he never did have the common sense to conduct himself in respectable society.

Jack realizes what a bad planner he isâ€"sees now, that even if he got that ticket to Santa Fe he wouldn't have known what to do with it, because Santa Fe would be New York with a different backdrop: streets and dirt and starving to death.

And papers. Even Santa Fe's got papers. Jack can't get away from papers.

Jack's never been so reluctant to get away from papers. Selling the papes sure felt more friendly than a good, respectable job.

Those good, respectable types never did like him much.

"I told you you shoulda lied about your age, Jack." Race takes a drag of his cigarette, lounging against the ledge of the lodging house roof. "I mean, look at meâ€"I'm as old as you are; still got a few years on me before they try to boot me out."

Jack chuckles, snatching the cigarette for himself. "Yeah, but you don't look seventeen, Race."

Racetrack shrugs and grabs it back. "Neither did you a few years agoâ€" gotta plan ahead: get 'em from the start."

Jack just shakes his head and settles himself next to Race. "So, how old they got you down for, anyway?"

"On paper?" He snorts. "I'm twelve." He taps the cigarette over the edge, casting a distracted glance at the scattering tumble of ash. "I don't figure that'll last me too long, though. I'll be outta here... one yearâ€"two years max."

A devilish grin engulfs Jack's expression and he laces his fingers smugly over his stomach. "How ya gonna do that? All you gots goin' for you is that baby-face."

Race gives him an affectionate slap on the cheek. "Yeah, well that mug'a yours ain't nothin' special neither, so don't go getting' your head fulla hot air."

Jack laughs and leans back on his elbows, watching the crooked moon shuffle off behind clouds. After a pause, he says, "Can you believe I'm actually gonna miss this dump?"

"Yeah, I can believe itâ€"you always were a sap."

"Aw, can it, Race." Jack flashes a signature smile, bumping him and resting his shoulder against Race's.

Drawing on the cigarette, Race's eyes trace patterns along the brick of the roof. He grins, shoulders Jack, chimes, "Gonna miss you around here, ya bum," and Jack beams.

"Back at cha, Race."

Race takes one of those important, long, thoughtful drags on the cigarette, his eyes turning skyward. The smoke billows from between his lips in an airy cloud and with it his own tactless kind of approach.

"This whole thing's really gotcha scared, huh Jack?" For once, he's gently blunt. He couples the statement with a soft turn of the eyes, catching Jack's gaze before Jack breaks it.

Jack sputters and laughs and tries to keep composure. "What? Nah, I'll pull through. I'm practically a national heroâ€"who wouldn't want to hire me?"

Race is still looking at himâ€"Jack can't see it, but he can feel it, in the way Race is twisted toward him and the way he can't get enough thoughts together to make the front sound convincing.

Slowly, carefully, bluntly, the facts spill out of Race's mouth: "You led a strike that cost the company you worked for thousands of dollars."

Jack winces, and tries to regain eye contact, but just ends up looking back at his feet. "So my track record ain't great. Maybe I'll try goin' by Francis."

Race props an arm on Jack's shoulder and hands over the cigarette. "Nice try, Jack." He puffs out a wave of breath and scratches at the back of his head. "Look, it ain't much, but I can put in a good word for you down at Sheepshead. Maybe they'll hire ya there."

Jack glances at him. "Brooklyn's a hell of a long ways away."

"Spot'll be there, and you'll get to see my shining face every morning."

Grinning, Jack waves a hand. "It's tempting, but I dunno."

Race nods thoughtfully. "Well, I bet Davey'll be happy to give you a place to sleep 'till you've found a job."

"I can't, Race," he sighs, "They been good to me, but they can't afford to feed another mouthâ€"not with Les gettin' big."

"That's real sweet of ya, Jack." He twists to pat Jack's cheek and Jack shoulders him away.

"Aw, shut up."

"How long you got?" He asks between wisps of smoke.

He rolls his head on his neck. "Two monthsâ€"give or take."

Race sucks air between his teeth, and cranes over to snatch the cigarette out of Jack's teeth while he's in the middle of a drag. Jack sputters and smacks him half-heartedly in protest.

"That's rough."

Coughing, Jack groans, "Cheer me up, why dontcha?"

"Aw, relax." Race gives his shoulder a friendly shove, settling back against his perch. "You'll make it, Jackâ€"if any of us will, you will."

"Whatever you say, Race."

Racetrack watches him with that distinctively Race look that's thoughtful and prying and uncomfortable. It's the look that Jack knows can spot every fear, the look that beams with quiet understanding, the look that's too personalâ€"that makes him want to shrink away.

His hand lands soft and solid on Jack's shoulder, and he doesn't smile, doesn't make light of things; he holds this constant lookâ€"that look of hisâ€"and gives Jack's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

"No one's gonna let you starve, Jack." His face breaks out into a smile. "You're the best of us."

Jack watches himâ€"too shocked or proud or happy to speakâ€"and all at once his arms come up to tug Race into a crushing hug that mashes Race's nose into his collarbone.

"You're too good to me, Race."

Racetrack pats his chest, and after a few more seconds, Jack loosens enough to let him go. "Yeah, that's what you keep sayin'."

They stand within inches of each other for a handful of hurried heartbeats.

Jack's the first to step back, shooting one of those charismatic smiles of his. "I'm gonna turn in. 'Night."

Racetrack nods in farewell, resettling himself against the ledge and puffing on the cigarette.

He watches trails of stars.

Jack's loping beside Race on the way to Sheepshead, hands shoved in his pockets and face turned blissfully to the breeze.

"They're short handed, so they need the peopleâ€"but they weren't too happy 'bout you bein' only seventeen-"

"Near eighteen-" Jack interjects, and Race waves a dismissing hand with a frustrated growl.

"Same thingâ€"weren't too happy that you ain't seasoned yet, but they say they figure they got some grunt work that'd bring home a bit of pay, to say the least. But it ain't no guarantee. They just wants to meetcha s'all."

"I'll take anything."

"Good man." Race claps him across the back. "'Sides, I figure you could still peddle some papes if ya needed the money. Betcha got a good year or two before that cute little face of yours stops reelin' in sympathetics." Jack laughs and shoves and complains halfway to Sheepshead.

"Race, you're a miracle!" Jack all but bowls him over, throwing his arms around Race and planting a dramatic kiss on the top of his head. Race scoffs at the sentiment, patting him affectionately on the shoulder.

"Easy there, Jack," he laughs, pausing in his stride only to sling an arm across Jack's shoulders. "Happy to help."

"I mean it," Jack presses, his face all lit up with child-like delight. "I'd be dead without you."

"Eh, you'd get by." Race's grin inflates, spreading across his face. "But I didn't do too bad, did I?"

Jack shoves him playfully. "Nah, Raceâ€"not bad at all."

"How long again?" They're on the roof againâ€"another of a half-dozen intentional-unintentional meetings.

Jack pillows his head with his hands, staring at the smog-coated swathe of stars.

"'Bout a week. I got just enough to get my own place, now."

Race, from his seat next to him, asks, "Then what're you doin' hangin' around here, eh?"

"Aw, you know me, Raceâ€"just can't keep myself away from that puss o'yours." He reaches up and pinches Race's cheek, grinning like nothing else.

"Ey, hey, hey," Race complains, brushing Jack's hand away. "Don't be a smartass."

Jack laughs brightly and shifts to find a more comfortable spot against the rooftop. His eyes drift closed, lips turned upward, chest moving with contented sighs.

Race watches him, a quiet expression relaxing his face. His hand drifts down to land on Jack's arm. "Way to go, Jacky-boy."

"Ain't much to look at, is it?"

"Hey," Jack crows indignantly, puffing ruffled feathers. "S'better than sharing a bunk."

"Hey, hey, relaxâ€"don't get your panties in a bunch, I'm kidding." He lets out a low whistle and crams his hands into his pockets, looking around the apartment. Chips of cream paint peel away in places to make room for peeking patches of tan. The sink in the kitchen looks temperamental and the bed hardly amounts to more than a little mound of mats and blankets tucked into a corner. But it's Jack'sâ€"all Jack'sâ€"and that in itself is impressive.

"Well, well, well, Jack. Done pretty well for yourself, haven't cha?"

A smug smirk eases itself over Jack's face as he crosses his arms and surveys his kingdom.

"How much's that job at the tracks payin' ya?"

Jack sprawls across the lumpy mound Race assumes for a bed. He shrugs and laces his fingers behind his head. "S'alright. Better than peddlin' papes anyway."

"You been eatin'?"

Jack frowns and twitches his mouth. "I ain't starved."

"The papes been sayin' winter's gonna be cold this year-"

"Aw, quit your bellyachin'," Jack groans, chucking a pillow at him. He props himself up on his elbows. "What are you, me mother?"

Race raises his hands in surrender. "Alright, excuse me; just checkin' s'all."

Jack sighs loudly and tosses his head back to watch the ceiling. "Ah, I knowâ€"I'm sorry." He aims a lazy smack at Race's back before relaxing against the cushions.

"Eh, no worries." He plops himself down beside Jack, leaning back to look at the cracks in the ceiling. "That's probably going to leak." His lips turn down cynically, gesturing in a loose, careless way and dropping his arm back down with a limp thump. His side presses warmly into Jack's.

They just lay there for a while, savoring the luxury of a real apartment and real independence. Jack's arm stretches across Race's shoulders to rest his hand casually against his chest. Race lays his head against the cushion of the arm and eases into the warmth and thinks about selling papersâ€"about selling papers in the snow, about loitering around Jack while he works and pissing off his boss, about walking through the cold.

"This ain't so bad," Race murmurs a little distractedly, "A fella could get used to this sorta livin'."

Jack turns so he's looking at Raceâ€"looking with that Race-esque expression that's too personal.

His handâ€"the one not tucked under Race's headâ€"reaches out slowly and the look in his eyes doesn't change. At some point he can't remember, Race twisted towards Jack, and the arm Jack had draped around him tightened to pull him close. Jack's hand land's softly on the side of Race's neck and seconds and exhales and heartbeats tick by and they wait. They stare.

Movement is sudden. Jack's grip tightens and he tugs Race forward in a rush, crashing their mouths together. Race stiffens, relaxes, falls into it and starts tugging too. His hand rests against Jack's chest only to fist in his shirt and yankâ€"yank him closer, yank him over, yank him into a roll that sends them rolling off the jumble of blankets and onto the floor, with Race pushing Jack into the carpet. There's a tangle of breath and heat with hands roving and pulling and pushing.

Jack turns them over, holding Race against the floor with two heavy hands on his chest. He kisses down Race's throat and gives in when Race's arms snap up to drag him down so Race can snag his lips in eager teeth.

Hands, limbs, tongues struggle for dominance in a flurry of heavy winded sensation. All the while fingersâ€"no real distinction as to their ownersâ€"slipping buttons and popping buttons, until one and a half shirts are wide open, and four palms meet flesh.

They come up for air, wild eye meeting wild eyeâ€"searching adjacent faces for something they can't even name.

Jack's hands shift off Race's stomach to the carpet on either side. There's something worried and fearful in his eyes, and his mouth opens and closes as he searches for words.

Race breaks the stillness, rolling his eyes with a frustrated sound. "Aw, don't look at me like that, ya bum." He tugs Jack to him, drawing his mouth over Jack's jaw and nipping at his lip and Jack falls against him.

On their sides, Jack's arms twine possessively around him and he trails kisses across Race's shoulders.

"Hey, Race?"

Racetrack hums in response, catching he arm draped over his stomach and covering it with his own.

"You should stop by more often."

Jack can feel Race smile, even if he can't see it. "Sure thing, Jack."