" Fate."

The next three years had seen the coming and going of a beloved and fabled boy, Oliver Twist. Although Charley had been released from his prison, he had not been able to regain the Dodger's trust.

Dash's sudden departure had brought about a time of vahue optimism for Fagin's gang, especially so, for the artful one. Though the gang had shrunk significantly following Nancy, Bill, and the old Jew's timely demise, Dodger was contented and did not mind the least. However, he did silently blame Dash for strolling into his life that fateful morning, and yet dashing out of it once more, stealing and robbing a piece of his heart. Strangely, the more he resented her sudden departure, the more he yearned her company.

Much as he thought forlornly of her, life still carried on in its usual monotony. Nearing Christmas, Winter shrouded London in mist once more, but it failed to dampen the spirit of cheerful carolers, straggling at the corners of the streets, singing to their hearts' content. Visibility had been reduced to less than a mile, blanketing the buildings in a dusty white hue. As horrid as the weather had proved, Dodger and his gang could not be kept out of the house.

Walking aimlessly along the desolate street was a lady with a golden chain dangling out of her dress, twinkling at Dodger as she passed under the street lamp. Although pick pocketing got Dodger and the rest of Fagin's gang into all the trouble they could afford, it had moulded their lives. Furthermore, the sight before the artful one was more than he could resist. He gave in to temptation and sifted through her pocket, fishing out her valuables. After all, he was ' The Artful Dodger' and old habits die-hard.

With much stealth, Dodger casually pinched out the lady's gold chain, attached to an old pocket watch. His icy hands, shielded by a tattered woolen sock, clutched at the slippery gold chain and he flipped it on its back before peering at it. His warm breath landed on the cold surface of the hard and tarnished metal, mist forming rapidly on it.

Something about this particular loot forced Dodger to give it a second look for confirmation-confirmation of familiarity that lurked about the corners.

He glanced at the retreating figure once more. The fully-matured figure made him dismiss the thought; but the stagger of her leg said otherwise and was more than enough proof of her reappearance.

Neither time nor fate could separate them.

His heart skipped a beat as he struggled to absorb the thoughts that floated in his head- pleasant memories and a flashback of a certain girl. Despite the full figure of a woman, Dodger could not be blinded, for he saw right through the mask, the image of a girl leaning over a misty bridge… a gunshot… the kiss… a piercing cry… a desperate plea for help.


ENDING 1

He turned back, his instincts telling him to pursue her, to protect her. But as his eyes narrowed on her, he spotted a gentleman with his arms wrapped around her corst-bound waist. He stared after the couple, refusing to believe that fate had mocked him all these tormenting years. Dash was no longer.

Dodger clasped the pocket-watch tightly in his palm, the cold metal stinging his skin, but his eyes refusing to leave the retreating couple. His heart had been pounded and crushed beyond repair. His two feet were rooted firmly to the ground, even as he swayed from side to side, his grievances unsettled.

" Dodge? Dodge? "A voice awoke Dodger from his train of thoughts when Charley punched Dodger playfully in the rib, " Dodger!"

Dodger sighed inaudibly.

" Who were yer lookin' at?" Charley asked.

" Nome. I thought I saw someone familiar."

" Who! Fagin?" The grown-up Charley panicked and hid behind Dodger.

" He's gone and dead, " Dodger said irritatedly, "Don't shoot yer mouth."

" Yer right. We'd better get goin' then." Charley sighed and walked towards their hide-out, " Them boys will be waitin' fer our return."

Dodger kept silent as he thought meditatively, his feet rooted to the ground, staring at the now miniscule figure.

" I was thinkin', Master Chip and Ed make good partners. Ole Conelly works better solo." Charley planned.

Growing more confident, Charley went on, " And that Rosalie. Golly, she's a beauty. Can fetch in big money." He smiled with glee, eveil intentions sprouting in his mind.

Dodger glared at him with fire burning fiercely, " No." He had stopped dead in his tracks again, " Don't go there. Don't ever go there." Along with inheriting Fagin's ability to train prigs, Charley had also inherited his prostitution trade ideas.

" Sorry, Dodge." The boy apologied, " I didn't know yer still thought about her."

No answer came from Dodger. After an elongated pause, Dodger headed home and broke the uncomfortable silence, " Have yer ever thought about the New World?"

" America?" Charley said bewildered.

" It sounds promising." Dodger admitted.

" What... yer wanta migrate?" the mature boy was startled as he stopped midway and faced his partner.

" There's nothin' here left fer me." Dodger looked away from Charley, back at the empty street where he still witnessed the man's arms over Sarah's shoulders. " The young guns are in good hands." He turned away painfully from the sight and forced his eyes back on Charley. With a reaffirming hand, he placed his palm on Charley's shoulder, and smiled confidently at him, his gestures conveying that he thought Charley had done a wonderful, if not better job than Fagin had in bringing up the next batch of pickpockets. " Yer got them going strong."

" What about her?" Charley shifted awkwardly in his stride, feeling rather uncomfortable to mention her name in his presence.

" Weren't yer listening?" Dodger began to flare up, " There's nothin' here left fer me."

" Dodge, yer know that I couldn't do anything without yer help. I need yer around." Charley was not the least afraid to admit his reliance on his best friend.

" No, Charley. Yer owe me this one." Dodger said solemnly. He had set his mind on the New World and no one was going to change it, not even her.

" How long have yer been thinkin' 'bout it?" He gave in to his request.

" Not long." He had not been lying about it. For the idea struck him when he had seen his beloved walk away from him. The pregnant pause ensued and Charley initiated their last conversation they would have till they parted for good.

" Looks like nothin' I say'll stop yer." He took off his hat to Jack Dawkins, " All the best, mate." Charley tipped the hat towards Dodger and smiled at him.

" Yer too." The boy returned the smile, and looking at his partner for the final time, he tipped his hat in his direction and made his way towards the port.

Directly down the deserted street, Sarah had felt a pair of eyes trailing her, hence turning around with her signature spin, before narrowing her vision upon the familiar boy. She saw him walking away from his partner, walking away from her. Her eyes refused to leave him. But with a painful look, she tried to revert her attention back to her companion, her thought never leaving the boy.

She had not believed in it.

Fate.

She had forgotten the pocket-watch, for it had held no meaning for her, she was not Dash, but Sarah Hendersen.


ENDING 2

Dodger ran with all his might towards her. He grabbed her hand and with practiced agility, she spun round to face him. He was face to face with the very creature whom he had had endless dreams about, his partner whose life he had unwittingly ruined. The gawkish girl he had once known was standing right before his very eyes. With a shaky hand, he brought his finger to her face and caressed her cheek. He felt a bump run across the her left cheek and gently turned her face towards the dim light, and saw a thick scar stretching from her ear down to her sharp jawline. Passionately, he grasp her neck and dug his soot-stained fingers into her thick matted hair, bringing a lock to his face and giving it a whiff. Although she appeared wounded through the years, he was comforted by the thought that she had stayed true to him and kept her dignity.

Nothing mattered to the Artful one any longer. His beloved had returned to him. In his eyes, he only saw the remnants of the adorable girl he knew three years before, the very being that sculpted and crumbled his life.

Her worn-out face was quick to pick up at where they had left their relationship. His touch had brought her back to reality, and without shedding a single tear, her wordless reunion spoke volumes. After staring at each other for a while, their arms locked each other in an unending embrace. She collapsed wholeheartedly into his warm arms, and as she looked up at him, their lips met each other's naturally. For the first time, they kissed passionately, falling into the lip-locking session with ease and comfort.

" I believe, " she broke away from the kiss, her voice wobbly from the sudden outburst of passion.

" Believe? In what, Dash?" He whispered as he held her in his arms.

" Fate."