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Miracles and Curses

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Jack Kelly was not a particularly devout boy. In fact, he did not particularly believe in god, or angels, or miracles, or anything else of that nature. He wasn’t entirely sure whether this made him bad, but he figured it didn’t much matter whether he believed or not; the nuns regularly called the newsies depraved, and they didn’t have any clue what they believed, so apparently that wasn’t even relevant. 

Besides which, life, in Jack’s experience, was a varied, rich tapestry, filled with all sorts of things you didn’t expect, and approximately none of those things ever seemed miraculous. You might not expect to get locked up for no good reason, and then to be locked up again when you got out just because you’d tried to sneak food and blankets in to some of the boys still in the Refuge, but the new sentence didn’t seem like a miracle any more than the Refuge seemed like a place of safety. Doors didn’t even unlock themselves to let you escape from places like that, even if you’d been doing the right thing by bringing food to kids who were starving because the Spider was too busy lining his own pockets to bother feeding them. Hell, you didn’t even sell better on days you didn’t lie, unless the stories were particularly bloody.

Still, there was something to be said for mundanity. You didn’t get miracles, but sometimes you did get luck, even if it was very explicable luck in the shape of politicians who wanted to look good by spending time with children who were being reformed into upstanding citizens, and who didn’t have anyone watching their carriage very closely. And even if doors didn’t unlock themselves, and being honest didn’t sell papes better, well, doors didn’t usually lock themselves on you even if you were the one who’d stolen Race’s last cigar and you were no likelier to get rained on if you lied about the headlines than if you didn’t. 

But all of his experiences of life did mean that Jack wasn’t particularly prepared to bank on any kind of luck, even if he was ready to grab it if it came his way, or to bet his life on a good thing happening when a bad one might happen just as easily, and he didn’t expect the basic conditions of his world to change.

You always had to be ready to embellish a bad headline. You didn’t want the cops to catch you. The Refuge would always be waiting, and any boy who ended up in there had a fifty-fifty shot at best of making it back out, and a much smaller chance of making it out unscathed. 

So when Crutchie was taken during the rally Jack didn’t hope for a miracle, because no matter how much it had felt like they were changing something that morning, Jack wasn’t stupid and the Refuge was the closest thing he knew to a constant. Specs bringing him Crutchie’s letter and telling him that it had been handed to him by one of the other boys currently locked up in the Refuge had seemed like pretty good confirmation of his worldview; it would have taken a miracle for all the boys to get away from the rally safe, and they hadn’t gotten one, so they hadn’t, and they hadn’t gotten one, so Crutchie couldn’t get out of bed to go to the window, and they hadn’t gotten one, so Crutchie hadn’t eaten in a day, and they weren’t going to get one, so Crutchie was going to be stuck in there, and it wasn’t a curse either, just like there hadn’t been a miracle. Because neither one was real. It was just an inevitable result of him being stupid, starting up a dumb strike, and now Crutchie was in the Refuge and Jack had as good as put him there. 

And the thing about luck, the kind of random luck that had let him escape the first time, was that you could be grateful for it, but you couldn’t count on it. Roosevelt wasn’t up for election, so he wasn’t going to be visiting the Refuge any time soon, and anyway he’d probably visit some other place the next time he ran, New York was a big enough state.

And then David showed up, David who had made the strike seem possible (Jack did not appreciate the little voice that pointed out that Jack had spent a bunch of time convincing David of that first), and he got back to it, along with Katherine, and Les, insisting that the whole reason any of it had happened was that Pulitzer was scared. 

What Jack couldn’t say was that he thought it would take a miracle for it to work, for a bunch of kids to get what they wanted, but if he was going to be consistent then he had to admit that if they weren’t just being punished by some higher power (and they weren’t, because if miracles weren’t real then curses weren’t either), then there had to be an actual real life reason to call in cops and strikebreakers on a bunch of kids, and David’s rattlesnake theory didn’t seem so crazy. And if Pulitzer was scared, and the cops were somehow scared enough to go along with what he said, then this was big. The kind of big that could give them bargaining power, especially if Spot had been serious about showing if they didn’t give up. 

And then David carried the whole thing to its logical conclusion, and pointed out that if they could win the strike then they could make Crutchie’s release part of the terms. And that was something Jack could actually do. It didn’t seem like he had any hope of breaking Crutchie out, not when his own escape had been so hard, and taken so long, but this he could do. 

And of course it had all fallen apart then, with Pulitzer making it obvious that the newsies really did have him scared, but also making it obvious that he had more than enough power that it didn’t matter, and Jack felt like everything was coming crashing down, reminding him that miracles weren’t real, that he couldn’t just talk a dream into being, and he was telling the others to give up the strike, and hoping desperately that it would keep them safe, and being handed money and running. And then almost as soon as all that had happened, Katherine was showing up and just like David she was telling a story, and insisting that the story could have power, that they could make it real, even if Jack wasn’t so sure. When she described it, each piece seemed like it made sense, but all together it started to feel like too much, too big, too good to be anything but a miracle, and Jack didn’t believe in miracles. 

And then. And then Pulitzer didn’t fold, said he couldn’t bring the price all the way back down, but he agreed to buy back the papes that didn’t sell, and that was more, that was the kind of thing that could actually change things, and if Jack didn’t say it out loud then no one had to know that he almost felt better not getting the price all the way back to where it was supposed to be, just because this seemed more real, more possible, more like something that wouldn’t be taken back, wouldn’t turn to dust if he tried to hold it too tightly. Give and take made sense in a way that a straight win couldn’t have. 

And then all of that flew out the window, and Crutchie put handcuffs on Snyder, and the world changed, and Jack Kelly saw a miracle. And he tried very hard to ignore the little voice in the back of his mind saying that if this miracle could happen then a curse could too.