His breath curls in snow-white clouds the moment it leaves his lips, and Jack Kelly shrugs his shoulders up towards his ears. It's always colder after dark, but this time of year it's downright frigid. He really needs to get a sturdier coat, but he doesn't have the money for that just yet. Besides, he's made it this far into winter with his current one; if he can tough it out a few more weeks, it'll start to warm up, and he can put off buying the new coat until next winter.
The few people still out this time of night shoot curious looks at him, but Jack ignores them as he follows the familiar path. Over the last year, he has memorized this route as firmly as the ones he walks for papes or down to the boarding house. He rounds the corner onto Hill Street and feels something leap in his chest when he spots the figure backlit against the soft glow of a window.
Careful not to look too eager, Jack all but jogs down the road toward the building. He's only halfway there when he sees the figure on the fire escape turn to him, straightening up as they obviously spot him. By the time Jack reaches the bottom of the fire escape, someone is waiting against the wall. "Now what's a respectable fella like you doin' out this time'a night, Mr. Jacobs?"
Davey laughs, the sound bursting out in spirals of mist, and shrugs his coat tighter around his body. Jack drinks in the sight of the lean form propped against the bricks, all long lines and sharp angles. This isn't the nervous boy Jack first met a summer ago, this is a young man grown into himself.
Of course, both of them sliding into adulthood in the last year has done nothing to change the way those blue eyes and rosebud smirk affect Jack.
"Who said anything about being respectable?" Davey replies, pushing off the wall and bumping his shoulder into Jack's. "Gotten into my fair share of scraps with you, haven't I?"
"Well, sure, but now look atcha," says Jack. "All done with schoolin' and got ya'self a proper job and ev'rythin'. Youse all grown up into a real gent now." He slings an arm around his best friend's shoulders, and the cold weather gives them an excuse to not step apart, sharing their body heat. "Well, so long's youse out, up for one more adventure?"
"I wouldn't be out here in this cold if I wasn't," Davey responds, and Jack catches a brief glimpse of that smile - not his normal one but the one full of mischief and trouble. Jack is the only one who ever really gets to see this smile, the one that inspired a revolution, and it never ceases to make his heart race in anticipation. "What're you planning?"
Jack chuckles. "Nah, that's a s'prise," he says and winks. Davey smirks and rolls his eyes. "C'mon."
The streets of Manhattan are dark and empty as Jack and Davey wander through roads and alleys. More than once they have to duck into a side alley to avoid the Bulls patrolling for folks out past curfew, but it's nothing new to them. Even Davey, for all his schoolboy wits, has learned to avoid being seen nearly as well as the street kids. He tries to pretend it annoys him, darting around in the shadows, but Jack knows better; Davey enjoys the rush as much as any of them.
When they slip into the back alley behind the Irving Hall theatre, Jack hears Davey make a sound behind him, something torn between exasperated and entertained. "Breaking into the theatre again?" Davey asks when they stop at the door.
"Ain't breakin' in if you got a key," Jack says, digging the heavy brass key from his pocket and holding it up where it'll catch the light of the streetlamp at the other end of the alley.
"Medda give you that?" Davey asks in disbelief. "Or did you steal it?"
"Hey, I'll have ya know I got this for honest work, thank ya," says Jack, mock offended. "Meds lemme have it for the night in pay for doin' a new backdrop." He turns and fits the key into the lock of the backstage door.
Davey hums curiously. "I don't suppose you're about to tell me what we're doing, are you?"
Jack glances over his shoulder to flash a smile and then pushes the door open without a word. He steps back and gestures Davey ahead of him with a showy bow. Davey snorts but goes inside, letting Jack follow him in and lock the door securely behind them. The backstage is nothing more than towers of shadow, and Davey yelps as he inevitably runs into something.
"C'mere, you," Jack says, and he manages to snag Davey by the sleeve. Holding onto the narrow wrist, Jack leads him carefully through the maze of props and set pieces to the stage. They slip through a gap in the curtains, and Jack stops, steadying Davey with a hand on the shoulder. "'Kay, wait here a sec," he says. As he steps away, he adds over his shoulder, "And close your eyes."
"I can't see anyway," Davey replies with a laugh. "The lights are all off."
Jack crosses to the nearest lantern, digging a matchbox from his pocket and striking it. He slowly turns the lamp up to a soft glow, and when he looks back, Davey is obligingly standing there with his eyes shut, arms folded on his chest. "Gimme just a sec," Jack says, grinning, and he hastily lights the two other lamps staggered across the stage, and then the pair of old pillar candles in the middle.
Shaking out the match, Jack stands. "'Kay, can open your eyes now."
Davey raises an eyebrow, the corner of his lips quirked in that way that means he's about to say something smartass, but then he opens his eyes and freezes. "Oh, Jack."
"It ain't much," Jack says quickly, hand jumping to rub the back of his neck self-consciously. It's stupid because Jack Kelly doesn't get self-conscious - except, apparently, where Davey Jacobs is involved. He glances down at the small set-up; an old quilt spread on the stage floor and a tiny wicker basket, waiting expectantly in the middle of the trio of lamps. It's not very bright, just enough to fill the center of the stage with a ring of pale gold, a private little circle of light among the larger shadows. "Just thought it'd be good, ya know, havin' a bitta time fa' just us."
Davey's eyes pan across the dimly-lit stage, and when they finally turn back up to Jack, he's smiling. "We're alone?"
"Hundred percent," Jack agrees with a nod.
In a flurry of motion, Davey crosses the gap and pulls Jack up into a kiss. His lips are hot and feverish, grasping hands pulling him closer. Jack groans against his mouth and sinks into the feeling that hasn't lost any of that spark in the last year since it started. They don't get to do this near often enough, and never really like this. Most of the time they're lucky to sneak a few stolen kisses, only ever in the shadows or back alleys or rooftops when they're sure they won't be caught.
They break apart only when they are both desperately gasping for air, and Jack nudges his forehead against Davey's. The hand fisted in his shirt smooths out, Davey's elegantly long-fingered hand splayed against Jack's chest directly above his heart. "Jacky," he breathes, and the ragged edge to his voice sends a chill down Jack's spine. "This is incredible."
"Neva say Jack Kelly dunno how to woo," Jack says, grinning. Davey laughs, shoving him half-heartedly. "C'mon." He tugs at Davey's wrist, and they move to sit on the stage in the middle of the lamps. As Jack rearranges the candles to sit at the foot of the blanket, out of the way, Davey peeks into the basket and chuckles. "I know, it ain't much."
"Jacobi's?" Davey asks as he lifts out the paper-wrapped sandwiches. Then his eyes light up. "And the caramels from the corner store?"
"Ya said they's your favorite," Jack says, fighting a blush as Davey twists one of the little caramel squares through his fingers. The old man at the shop had given him a funny look for buying the handful of penny candies, but the thrilled smile on Davey's face makes it so much more than worth it.
They relax into the quiet of the stage, sitting with their sides pressed together as they eat their little supper. Jack loves spending time with Davey anywhere, but there's something more when they can be alone like this. When they can brush hands without having to flinch away. When Davey's free hand can rest on Jack's knee without getting stares. When Jack can lean in and kiss away the speck of mustard at the corner of Davey's lips without risking jail.
Here, for tonight, they can just be two kids falling in love.
As the night rolls on, they shift from sitting and talking to lounging together. Jack is stretched out on his back with Davey's head pillowed on his stomach. Davey is rambling on about his job at the paper - he's an apprentice typesetter at the Tribune and learning about journalism from one of the staff writers on the side. Jack cards a hand through Davey's hair distractedly; he's always loved the feel of it, thick and soft, and how it curls at the tips when he needs a haircut, like now.
"I'm listenin'," Jack says immediately, a knee-jerk reaction after getting caught daydreaming one too many times.
Davey chuckles, amused. "I know," he says. "I was just thinking - not that this isn't amazing, because it is, but what's this about?"
"Whaddya mean?" Jack asks, frowning.
"I mean, this is a big thing, here," Davey explains. "All of this, I know how much effort you must've put into it. We've snuck off together before, but this is more than that. I have to think there's a reason behind it."
Jack makes a concentrated effort not to tense, dragging his fingers lazily through Davey's hair. He cushions his head on his other arm, staring into the middle-distance above him. "It's nothin'. Just wanted ta' do somethin' nice togetha, is all." Davey makes a skeptical noise, jabbing a thumb below Jack's ribs. "Ow, hey! Fine. It's just - we ain't kids no more, Davey. And what we got, it's good but it ain't - ya know..."
Davey turns onto his side, propped up on an elbow so he can see Jack's face. "No, I don't know," he says slowly, a slight edge to his tone. Jack can see the shutters going down behind Davey's eyes, a defensive shield sliding in to mask his nerves. It's a look Jack recognizes, the look he'd worn when they first met and Davey was a scared kid in new territory trying to hide behind a brave front. "What ain't it?"
Jack exhales heavily, pushing up onto his elbows. "I ain't stupid, is all," he says. "What we's doin', we can't keep doin' forever. Someday, and soon pro'lly, youse gonna wanna, ya know, get married. Have a family. All them things folks do when they's grown up. And I know it, and I don't blame ya, I just - I guess I just wanna enjoy it while I can."
"While - oh." Realization washes over Davey's face, and his gaze drops to his hands, fidgeting with the wax wrapper from one of the sweets.
A heavy silence falls between them until Jack slumps back onto the floor with a weary sigh. "Look, can we just forget I said anythin'?" he asks hopefully. "We was havin' a good time. Tell me more 'bout that-"
"Jack." Davey interrupts him, nudging him in the side with an elbow. "You know, I've spent the last year just enjoying this while I could. I kept waiting for the day you decided I'm not worth all the trouble of sneaking around."
Frowning, Jack turns onto his side, so he's facing Davey. "Course youse worth it," he says, twining his hand in Davey's. He grins and adds, "I mean, ya don't just do a union strike with any old fella."
Davey laughs, some of the tension leaving his shoulders, and he uses his other hand to trace the lines of scars across Jack's knuckles. "I've actually been thinking," says Davey, pensive, "I want to focus on my career. I'm learning a lot from Denton, and he even seemed impressed by an idea I had for an article the other day. Another year or two, I might even make writer."
"They'd be dumb not ta' hire ya," Jack says decisively. "Ya stuff is good, and I've seen a lotta headlines in my time." He rolls down onto his back and drags Davey with him, curling the taller boy against his side. Davey falls naturally into place, head nestled into the curve of Jack's collarbone.
"So you know, if I spend all that time working on my career, I might not have time for marriage," Davey continues in a tone of deliberate casualness. "No dame's gonna want a husband who's out chasing stories all the time. And I've never really wanted kids all that much anyway. I half-raised Les; that was more than enough for me."
Jack buries his smile in Davey's hair, something in his chest feeling like it's expanding to fill his entire ribcage. "Ya think?"
"Never really seen the appeal, honestly," Davey says. "And my parents have got Les and Sarah to give them grandkids, so they'll be fine." His long fingers pluck idly at a button on Jack's shirt. "What about you?"
The derisive snort Jack makes ruffles Davey's hair. "Ya really see a fella like me settlin' down for a family? Nah, don't think guys like me is meant for all that. Ain't like I ever learned how to be a father anyway, my own was no good at it." He feels Davey tense slightly, aware that they're breaching into sensitive topics; it's not that Jack's never mentioned his parents before, he just doesn't make a point of talking about it. "'Sides, that's part'a bein' an artist, ain't it? It's all 'bout the art, ain't got time for marriage."
"Yeah, I've heard that," Davey agrees. "You artist types, you're hopeless."
"Hey now," Jack says, huffing.
Davey smiles, propping his chin on Jack's chest. "Last week you go so lost in that backdrop you were painting you forgot to sleep," he points out, lifting an eyebrow. Jack rolls his eyes, murmuring 'was one time' under his breath. "Heaven help you if you ever have to manage on your own. You know," Davey pauses and bites his lip, "you should really have someone to keep an eye on you."
"Oh yeah?" Jack asks, an eyebrow arcing up questioningly. "Who gonna do that? Ain't like a fella like me can afford a housekeeper. Still ain't even got the money for a place'a my own for them to keeps in the first place."
"Not by yourself, maybe," Davey says. As the implication sinks in, Jack's heart leaps. "Well, I've been thinking it's about time I move out of my parents' place. They're still struggling and all, so it'd help them out to have one less mouth to feed. Thing is, it's gonna be hard to afford a place with what I'm making right now."
Jack wonders if Davey can feel the way his heart is hammering, with the way his chin is still resting on Jack's chest. "Sounds like maybe ya oughta find a roommate," he says, aiming for casual and not completely succeeding. "That's a thing folks do, innit?"
"Mm, yeah, good idea," Davey agrees, fighting a smile. "Nothing wrong about two poor bachelors rooming together to save on money. You know anybody looking for a place to stay?"
"Not off the top my head," Jack says, pursing his lips thoughtfully. Davey scoffs and rolls his eyes, folding his arms on Jack's chest. "Though, ya know, Kloppmann's been hintin' at me to get outta the boardin' house since I turned eighteen, pro'lly gonna gimme the boot if I stick around too much longer. And I like the fellas, but it'd be nice ta' have some space for myself."
Davey beams and the pure hopefulness in his expression is like sunlight. "Well, sounds like it's just going to be you and me, then."
"Damn shame," Jack remarks and laughs when Davey jabs his side again. By the time he's recovered from his fit of giggles, Davey is leaning over him, arms bracketed on either side of Jack's head. "Guess it could be worse."
"Could be." Davey nods, leaning in and capturing Jack's lips. Heat surges in Jack's stomach, and he pulls Davey closer, hands fisting up in his shirt as he drags the thinner boy down against his chest. Davey settles across Jack's hips, and his eyes are bright when he looks down at Jack. "You're not going to call me a cissy if I say it, are you?" he asks teasingly.
"Say what?" Jack asks, but he thinks he knows. He hopes he knows. Dear God, he hopes he knows.
Davey's smile softens into something tender and genuine. "I love you, Jack Kelly."
Christ in heaven, it's so much better than he ever dared hope. Jack's heart feels like it might burst. He rolls, pinning Davey beneath him and crushing their lips together. As he sinks into the moment, Jack can see the future sprawling out in front of them.
Two bachelors scraping a living in their little apartment, Davey rising through the ranks at the paper, and Jack doing his illustrations at the World and pouring every extra cent he can spare into his paintings. It's not uncommon, men sharing a place while they get their feet under them. And if they just so happen to get so embroiled in their careers they never have the time to get married and settle down, well, there's plenty of bachelors in New York City.
No one would think twice. No one would care enough to wonder what happens behind closed doors. Just the opportunity to spend every day with Davey, to share meals and stories about their days and, under the darkness of night, everything else. It's far from perfect, but it's as close as they're ever going to get, and that's good enough for Jack.
Pulling back enough to breathe, Jack nudges his nose against Davey's and grins. "You too," he echoes. "Love ya too, I mean." The sun comes up behind Davey's eyes again, bathing Jack in its warmth like the first rays of summer sunlight in his penthouse. "Looks like youse stuck with me for a bit longer."
Davey smiles, reaching up to trace Jack's jaw with the pad of an ink-stained thumb. "Guess it could be worse."