It's late, everyone else fast asleep. Or at least I assume so, they're quiet save for Francis' snores, all breathing deep and relaxed. I readjust myself, rolling onto my side and dragging the blanket over me. I always slept with at least one; sometimes I lent one out to Fagin, but I always had something to make my bed that bit cosier. I close my eyes once more, and hear stirring.
"Can't sleep, Rita?" Dodger speaks quietly, presumably not wanting to wake anyone else. Had he been awake the whole time, or had my stirring disturbed him? I hadn't seen him come home, I'd fallen asleep by that point; perhaps it was his movement that woke me.
I yawn and force my eyes closed, determined that if I try hard enough I will soon drift off. Dodger doesn't sound sleepy- if he's hoping for a late night conversation he is going to be disappointed. "Maybe I could if I was left in peace."
"It's not too cold out, you want to go out for a while? We can have a bit a fun, just you and me," Dodger says. The usual smugness is there, he's flirting with me. This time of night, with no other females around, apparently it's my job to keep him entertained.
"Dodge, you gotta book in advance. Tonight has already been scheduled for 'actually getting some sleep'." In spite of my tiredness, and his complete ignorance of this, I can't help but smile- hopefully he can't see. Dodger will be Dodger.
He grumbles, muffled by the pillows up around his muzzle. That's one comfy looking bed he's got there; only the best for The Dodge. When he was a kid he used to sleep on Fagin's lap a lot of the time, but there's not a whole lot of room for both him and Einstein now he's grown up. Dodger wouldn't want to appear soft anyhow, he likes his own space. Sharing his bed with Oliver that time was definitely a special case. I begin to think he's fallen to sleep when I hear him toss and turn some more.
"Dodgie?" Admittedly, I am tempted. He's not been around much the past few days, hanging out with the kid long into the evening while Jenny's away on school camp. Their friendship is about the cutest thing I've ever seen, and I certainly didn't see it coming. But that doesn't mean I don't miss Dodger when his attention's elsewhere; there's no one else I'd rather be with. "Did you have anything particular in mind?"
Without seeing, I know that he's smirking. He's won and he knows it.
"We could grab a bite to eat, hang out round the park. Maybe find a quiet spot to spend the night together?"
I yawn. "I think any romance is out, unless it wouldn't dent your pride if I fell asleep."
"Hey, I've been around a lot and I've never seduced no one to sleep."
I get to my feet and shake myself, decision made- I'm going out. "There's a first for everything, you know. But I'm up for a walk in the park if you are."
We steal past our sleeping companions. I was always light on my feet, and it takes no effort to move quietly past them. There is a strut to Dodger's step, as per usual, but right now it's a display of his being pleased with himself. He rubs his head against my shoulder as he passes me. It's not easy to tell if he's being affectionate or just showing off- usually, I think it's both. Whatever his intention, it feels nice, and I'm not about to complain.
As we step out into the night, we are greeted by a cool breeze. It's refreshing against my face and immediately I'm pleased that I gave in and agreed to come out with Dodger, even if it has stroked his already impressive ego. It has been too long since I've done this. I stare out at the water; it's calm and beautiful, shimmering under the moonlight. We may not have the fanciest place around, not by any stretch of the imagination, but the view really is something. I must be caught up in my own world, as I don't notice the troublesome gleam in Dodger's eye before it's too late. He barrels into me, taking me by surprise and sending me tumbling off the dock and splashing into the frigid, still water. I gasp at the sudden and intense cold that envelops me.
Furious, I splutter out a few choice curse words as I came up to the surface. For a moment I'm disorientated, my vision obscured by wet fur over my face. The water leaves my fur clinging to my body as I haul myself onto the dock, it's cold and uncomfortable. Dodger is waiting up the top, laughing. He can be a real butthole sometimes. "Are you ever going to grow up?" I scowl at him, letting him know that his idea of a joke is not remotely appreciated.
"Ah, come on Rit, just a bit of fun, baby!"
It's tempting to go back to the barge and take this as a lesson in why it's a terrible idea to let Dodger talk me into running off with him in the middle of the night. I could be warm and cosy in my bed now. He knows I'm not going to; I'm soaked to the bone now, and going back to bed won't change that.
"Bet that woke you up though, huh? No fallin' asleep now." Dodger was still smirking, as if pushing me into the cold, salty water is the cleverest, most amusing thing he's ever done. He leans away as I shake, purposely showering him. He deserves it.
"Come on, if we're going, let's go." I keep walking, not looking at him. Now that I'm out here, I'm not changing my mind. Despite everything, I can't help but crack a smile as he joins my side; how he does this to me I'll never know. Playfully, I shake my head so I hit him in the face with my sodden ear, and I laugh as I run off. He'll take the lead soon enough, he always does.
They call it 'the city that never sleeps', and I guess they'd be right. There is noise all around us, people going about their business, cars screeching, horns honking, drunken voices shouting. This late at night, though, there aren't a lot of dogs around- not pets anyway. During the day, pampered dogs are everywhere; leashed and primped, some even riding around in the purses of their masters'. The city at night is no place for a dog like that, from dusk it is the realm of the street dog. With no immaculately groomed uptown purebreds to tease, it's my attention that Dodger craves. He lives for a reaction; sometimes I wonder what he's like when completely alone. Admittedly, I'm happy to be his primary focus for the time being, no pampered pooches to distract him, none of the guys demanding his attention. When it's just the two of us, Dodger becomes more natural- that little bit less smug and a little more open. There's a subtle change in his tone and in his expression that tells me I've got through the protective barriers he holds up. He has no need to try and impress me, and as a result we can enjoy one another properly. We talk as we carry on our way; he tells me about his afternoon with the kid, I tell him about my earlier encounter with a burly stray who'd attempted to relieve me of my lunch, we laugh as we recall tourists being fooled by Francis' theatrics and the loot we scored from their purses and back pockets as a result.
Our late night snack is an easy fix; a group of loud, intoxicated adolescents are too caught up in a lewd conversation to notice us. In the shadowy light, we almost melt into the surroundings and can stealthily liberate their Chinese takeaway before they know what's hit them. Maybe we're overconfident, it's not like humans can't be terribly dangerous, especially when in a drunken state, but we've both done this a million times. Even now, I still enjoy the thrill; I'm good at what I do, and for that I'll never apologise. We scoot into a quiet spot and tuck in; I take my time, savouring every bite- as free meals go, it's pretty delicious. Stomach full, I gently lick the drips of sauce from Dodger's muzzle and smile as he returns the gesture.
Dodger pulls away abruptly, his expression playful, happy. He drops his forequarters and flashes a cocky grin my way. Without saying a word, he speaks to me, daring me to chase him, to go with him wherever he pleases. I bark my response, deep and melodious, and imitate his stance. I'm wide awake now, ready to meet any challenge he throws my way. He breaks my gaze and darts out into the traffic, effortlessly leaping and gliding between the roofs of vehicles as they pass. The traffic's moving fairly slowly, but even if it wasn't, I wouldn't put it past him. I jump to my feet, full of the joy of my freedom and his company, and soon I am right behind him. Spurred on, I pick up the pace, so that I can hardly take in what's in front of me before I'm there. It's a risky business, sure, but I've got this city's rhythm down, and I feel confident and in control. Dodger just keeps on going faster, climbing higher and leaping further, pushing his agility and bravado to the limits; every now and then he'll look back to me with his signature smirk. He's testing me. Dodger knows I'm the 'sensible one' and he's seeing how far he can push the daredevil in me. I'm not about to back down, not tonight. I'm too caught up in the good feeling of it all to let my better judgement get in the way of having fun, besides, I know what I'm capable of. He finally slows down as we reach the park, and we collapse on the pavement together, laughing. Dodger bites at my neck and ears, growling, and I knock him off with blows from my forepaws.
"So, are we goin' for that walk in the park that you promised me, or what?" I pant, out of breath from the running, the leaping, the laughing.
"Absitively posolutely. Tonight we can do anythin' you want." He's panting too. I suspect that he's trying to find his way back into my good books after his 'amusing' stunt back at the docks. He doesn't need to.
The change of pace is welcome, as is his walking close to my side. I rub my head against his, and he reciprocates. This time he is clearly being genuinely affectionate- there's no chance of anyone else seeing now. His fur is harsh and wiry, and feels rough against my face as I nuzzle him. We talk some more, or rather, Dodger talks some more and I listen. Lack of sleep is finally catching up with me, I wonder if I might actually deliver on my threat to doze off on him.
"You tired, Rita?" Dodger has picked up on my yawning and limited attention. He crawls under a park bench and lays down, inviting me to join him. He smiles as I lay my head against his chest, his soft side shining through. It is just the two of us after all. His fur may not be soft, but still it's familiar and comforting, as is his heartbeat lulling me to sleep…
"Rit! We better get back." A nudge to my cheek wakes me. I hope I've not been asleep long, we should be home.
"What did I tell ya, Dodgie-baby, I can't keep my eyes open." I yawn, taking in the fresh night air. I'm going to be a sleep deprived zombie tomorrow morning, and I'd be willing to bet everything I own that I won't be allowed a lie in- not with Tito around. As we make our way back to the barge, taking every shortcut and weaving between dark alleyways, I know it was worth it. As always, Dodger knew exactly what he was doing, he just can't seem to do wrong.
"Dodge?" I gently call after him as he heads down the stairs back home.
He turns and slightly raises an eyebrow to me.
"Thanks, hon, this was really nice. You want to do it again sometime soon?"
He grins, pleased with himself, and flops down into his bed. "Absitively, baby. Anytime you want."