A/N: I might as well get this over with. *hits self over the head with a baseball bat* I'm a procrastinating moron. Also, I have the worst luck in the world with technology. Let's leave it at that. I'M SOOO SORRY. I PROMISE THAT MY UPDATING FAILURES WILL NEVER HAPPEN (this badly) EVER AGAIN.

Also: I'm Generation X American. I'm attempting to replicate Victorian Cockney as best I can while at the same time not confusing the hell out of my readers. It's a very difficult balancing act. So if you have any pointers, PLEASE TELL MEE!

Oh and be warned: I am fusing together the book, the musical, and several film adaptations in a rather confusing way to make this story work, so don't eat me for any irregularities.

Disclaimer: Don't we all want to own Dodger? *sigh* Unfortunately, he, along with all other characters and etc. that you recognize in here, are property of Mr Dickens.

Oh and on an extra note, pieces of the dialogue in this chappie were taken directly from the novel. So . . . yesh. Don't sue me, corporate peoples that could be but most likely are not reading this.

XXX

"DON'T COME NEAR ME, YOU— YOU MONSTER!"

The Artful Dodger jerked awake convulsively at the sudden screeching outburst, promptly whacking his head on a beam in the rafter where he slept.

"Dammeh'" came the boy's groggy curse, his dirty hand flying up to clasp over a rapidly swelling bruise on his forehead. Nursing the injury, he scrambled hastily off his piled-handkerchiefs-bed and shimmied to the floor, whipping his prized top hat from its peg out of habit and tossing it onto his head.

Fingering the bruise with one hand and rubbing sleep from his eyes with the other, the Dodger listened hard to the scene that was unfolding, his mind running overtime to try and catch up. An exasperatingly familiar voice was ranting about something— a voice that the Dodger felt he should've known immediately . . . but something about it was off. This voice was speaking in a tone it had never used before, and the pick pocketing protégée could not for the life of him identify it.

Dodger opened his eyes.

"— I'll give 'im up; I will! I tell you out a' once! 'E may kill me for it if 'e likes, or if 'e dares, bu' if I'm 'ere I'll give 'im up!" a hysterical Charley Bates bellowed at a flabbergasted Bill Sikes; Fagin and Toby sat stock-still in a corner at their usual table, expressions locked into wary, stupefied masks; the rest of the boys were already awake, frozen in their usual spots around the den, faces fixed in varying degrees of shock: A melodramatic tableau that came close to being comical.

The Dodger stepped forward, struggling to absorb Charley's words and the emotions that were flowing off of him and stifling the room like hot smoke. His thoughts groped wildly for an explanation. I'll give 'im up, I will! Charley's shaking, accusing finger had been jabbed towards Sikes as he has said those words. Give 'im up for wot? thought Dodger. An'. . .wot's all this about bein' a monster?

It couldn't have been far past midnight. The room was perilously dim; a single candle was lit on the table between Fagin and Toby Crackit. Its ominous, hungry beams slid slowly across the walls and through empty space like a searchlight, glowing fingers feeling the faces of every occupant of the room. In turn, as they would for an actual searchlight, each boy avoided the light, preferring to stay as detached as possible from the confrontation playing before them.

Yet they couldn't take their eyes off of it.

"I'd give 'im up, so I would!" Charley cried once more, lurching backwards a few feet, gesticulating wildly at Sikes. Charley's clear brown eyes, normally so brimfull of mirth, were wider than saucers and burning with fear and anger. "I'd give 'im up, if 'e was to be boiled alive!" he spat with a ferocity that spurred the Dodger forward to his friend.

"Wot the bloody 'ell is goin' on!" Dodger finally interjected, grasping Charley's shoulder and trying to get the boy to look at him.

"Dodge, you'll neva' wish agin that you could be like Sikes one day!" choked out Charles Bates, shrugging off Dodger's hand, refusing to look at his best mate. "You'll feel dirty tha' anyun eva' compared ye to 'im!"

"Wot're you– "

"MURDERER!"

You could have heard that shout back in Oliver's town of birth, seventy miles outside of London. The Dodger was knocked aside as Charley Bates threw himself at the towering, bemused Sikes and proceeded to buffet the bearlike man with blow after blow. Caught by surprise, Sikes fell to the floor with a writhing Charley on top of him, and twenty pairs of astonished eyes glued to them.

Fagin and Crackit were at a loss.

The Dodger's head was spinning.

Someone's – one of the two wrestling on the floor – foot connected with a leg of Fagin's table, sending the candlestick tumbling to the floor.

Cursing, Dodger threw himself across the floor and caught the candle before it could ignite on any of the loose straw on the floor.

"GET THIS SCREECHING HELL-BABE OFFA ME!" roared Sikes, strong hands encircling young Bates' neck.

The boy's yells halted, and instead a constricted gurgling erupted from his throat.

Suddenly, it was Jack Dawkins lying on the floor with a dangerously flickering taper in his hand.

"Oi! Wotcha tryin' tah do, kill 'im!" said Jack's voice, strong yet tremulous. He leapt up and wrested Charley from Sikes' grip, careful not to lay a hand on the infamous housebreaker himself. Before he did this, he tossed the candle behind him, putting his faith in the reflexes of flash Toby Crackit to catch it.

Luckily, his faith was not ill-placed.

Not so luckily, the poor candle's meager flame was being subjected to far too much abuse, resulting in its premature snuffing.

As the den abruptly descended into darkness, an unnatural silence crashed around their ears, broken only by Sikes's and Charley's heavy breathing. A single streak of moonlight washed through the narrow crack in a boarded-up window of the hideout, and fell across Dodger's face.

For it was Dodger's face again.

The Dodger tightened his grip on a thrashing Charley Bates, dragging his friend with much difficulty away from Sikes. "Ge' off will ya?" said the struggling boy, attempting a jab to his captor's ribs with his elbow. Dodger's only response was to shove him up against a wall.

"Give us a glim, will you?" said Toby to Fagin. The latter fumbled in the darkness for another taper and a match, both of which he eventually located on one of the many paraphernalia-cluttered shelves in the den. The room suddenly burst into glowing, shadow-gold life once more.

Sikes had gotten to his feet. Those sunken, menace-spiked eyes of his glared at Charley, all hints of perplexity gone from them. "You little—" he began, starting forward, fists raised.

Fagin, alarmed, sprang up from his chair and knocked the table over. Fortunately he was still holding the candle. Crackit leapt over the fallen table and drew Sikes back by the arm.

"Now, Bill—" interjected Fagin warily, hurrying over to the housebreaker.

"The boy's gone mad!"

"He's merely in shock, Bill—"

"Clear off, now, and I'll knock 'im outta tha' shock, see if I don't, now let go o' me, Toby—"

"Come now Bill, see reason—"

"Who're you to try an' reason wiv a body, yeh sneaking vagabond—"

"ALL OF YOU, SHUT YER GOBS!"

Fagin, Sikes, and Crackit all whipped around at the Dodger's sudden speech, finally registering the faint yet clamorous shouts that had been rising up from the streets outside the hideout while they were arguing.

Charley, whose struggling against Dodger's steel grip had switched to a stiff, frozen stillness during the aforementioned dialogue, snapped his head towards the boarded up window and began yelling at the top of his lungs. "HELP! HELP! MURDER! 'E'S UP HERE, 'E'S UP HERE, I TELL YOU! BREAK DOWN THE DOOR!"

Dodger stared incredulously at the back of Charley's head, and unconsciously slackened his grip on the boy's arm. Charley felt this and took full advantage of it. Diving to the side, he broke away from his friend and threw himself at the window, scrabbling between the cracks of the badly nailed down boards. "COME! BREAK DOWN THE DOOR! THEY'LL NEVER OPEN IT, I TELL YOU! COME STRAIGHT TO THE ROOM WHERE THE LIGHT IS!" Due to the young boy's machinations, a large chunk of plywood came away from the window and unveiled what was normally a deserted London slum that was now mobbed with enraged citizens, all screaming for blood.

"In the King's name!" cried one of the several Bow Street Runners, London's rather unorganized police force, that were gathered below. He signaled to his fellow officers, and a subtle tremor ran through the house as someone burly threw themselves at the door of the hideout. Several mutinous shouts were heard for Sikes to give himself up.

"Damn you! I'll cheat you yet!" roared the housebreaker out of the dilapidated window, ramming Charley aside and straight into the Dodger, who had been attempting to stand, and the boys were both sent to the floor. Ignoring them, Sikes whirled around, cruel black eyes with the pupils dilated darting about the room, and he barked at Fagin, "Where's tha' Twist boy?"

There was a desperate silence. The old gentleman swallowed. "Now—Bill—" but he could not continue, for suddenly his windpipe was trapped between a wooden pillar and Sikes's calloused hand.

"You will tell me. Where. Is. Twist."

Fagin spluttered and choked, lined face slowly turning purple. The dry voice of a boy came from behind Sikes. "'E can't very well answer your questions with 'is neck bein' crushed, now can 'e!" The Artful Dodger was acting either quite bold, or quite stupid. But since he was by no means a stupid lad, we must assume it was the former. Everyone looked at him, with his pale face half illuminated by the moonlight, the other half sharpened by shadow, hiding the lines of fear that were etched there despite his defiance. Bill Sikes stared at Dodger, and looked ready to rush at him; slowly, however, he refocused on Fagin and extricated his hands from around the older man's neck.

Fagin sunk down the pillar a few inches, breathing raggedly. His eye was met by Sikes once more, and the question was repeated, "Where is Twist?"

Dodger's world was falling apart bit by bit, thread by thread, seam by seam, as if it were the patch-smothered tailcoat that he wore like a suit of armor, a shield against his troubles. The worst part was, he had no idea how or why this madness had ensued, but now that he was right in the thick of it, it was time to shake off all the turmoil that had erupted in his mind and do what he did best— improvise.

The lupine gleam in Sikes's eyes as he interrogated Fagin was what prompted the Dodger's next move; the young pickpocket knew that, whatever the reason was, Sikes was determined to get to little Oliver Twist and once he did, it would not by any means bode well for the small boy. Actually, "not bode well" would be a tragic understatement. Fagin was now (it was obvious to the Dodger) stalling with the verbal cleverness that, to him, came naturally, but that could only work for so long with Bill Sikes. Sooner or later, the burly housebreaker would get tired of roundabout arguments and take matters into his own hands . . . literally.

Dodger could not be entirely sure why Fagin was so reluctant to give Oliver up to Bill Sikes— the old man had seemed to be fond of the boy, but not so much as to risk the wrath of Sikes in order to protect him. It was almost too out of character for Fagin. Yes, the old man could be fatherly— well, grandfatherly— in his own way, and believed in rational, peaceful solutions to a predicament, but the Dodger had known Fagin longer than any of the current gang, and had seen more than the rest of them would probably want to know.

Everyone has their own great flaws. And Fagin's worst one was not stinginess, nor greed, as the reader might think from previous encounters with the old gentleman. No, his greatest flaw was cowardice. An over-heightened need for self-preservation which had led to manipulation of others and less-than-admirable actions on many occasions. The Dodger knew this very well about his mentor, and many a time had resented him for it; so now, Dodger's head spun a bit wondering why Fagin was risking his own life for the good of another person.

The tophatted boy ground his teeth, pushing the conflicting thoughts out of his head for the present as he took action. Gripping Charley's arm, Dodger slunk swiftly along the side of the room and to a back door that led into an adjoining, run-down parlor in another section of the house. Now that he was focused on what he had to do, the sounds of the unexplained mob below and of Sikes and Fagin's verbal sparring bounced off his ears like hail off a windowpane. Only after he had slipped through the door of the parlor with the eerily quiet Charley Bates did he listen in on the world again.

The old house was creaking with the rage of the mob below, and muffled voices drifted from the room they had just exited.

Sleeping soundly on what Fagin had once called a "temporary" bed lay angelic, perfect, lovable little Oliver Twist.

The Dodger spared Oliver a bitter glare before facing his friend. "Charley, we've got to—"

The taller boy shook Dodger's hand off his arm. "So yeh fine'ly see. Gone soft then, eh, Dodge?" Charley's voice was oddly choked, as if he were forcing himself to speak through some wall of greater emotion, through something that was weighing more heavily on his mind.

Dodger kept his face as passive as he could. "I haven't "finally seen" anything," he shot back with exaggerated articulation.

Charley scowled, actually wringing his hands and pacing. Dodger stared at him. "Oi, stop tryin' to sound all posh-like. Y'ain't foolin' no one, Dodge."

It took a lot for the Dodger to resist snapping back with "Don't call me 'Dodge'." Nancy had been the one to begin calling him by that nickname, and he would have preferred if she had remained the only one. It sounded good coming from her; he liked the way she would call him by it whenever she came to visit. From everyone else it sounded undignified, like something you would call a little kid.

Instead, Dodger retorted, "Wotever. But we got to get Oliver to them people out there. 'E's the reason they're after us, if we take 'im down, Fagin can get the rest of the gang out an' we'll just—"

"That's not why they're 'ere!"

Dodger paused, already bending down to shake Oliver awake. "Wot you talkin' 'bout?" Confusion managed to peek its way through his cool façade. "Why else would they be 'ere?"

It was as if Charley was looking at Dodger, really looking at him, for the first time that night. The restraint that the Dodger had sensed was gone, and suddenly angst wiped his features clean of any familiarity to the Dodger.

"You know 'ow . . . 'ow Nance was always fightin' with Fagin an' Sikes abou' Oliver . . . she didn't want 'im kept up 'ere wiv us."

The Dodger knew. Oh, how he knew. And oh, how he regretted what he had done that hot summer day upon spotting the white-faced orphan curled up in the streets of London. "Yeah. So?" was his muttered reply, not meeting Charley's gaze. Dodger had noticed more than Nancy had let on. He could tell she had tried to hide her fury at their imprisonment of little Oliver. He had assumed merely through observation much of what he had learned when Fagin had coerced him into dodging her.

Dodger refocused on his friend, a bit disturbed to find that Charley was staring at him intensely. "Get on with it! There's a buncha mental coves down there tryin' to bust the 'ouse down!"

"Well, you saw Sike's face when you told 'im an' Fagin wot she'd been d-doin'!" Charley slumped against a wall, screwing his eyes up tightly, obviously trying not to cry. "Tha' did it for 'im, Dodge. 'E's off 'is rocker already, b-but tha' jus'. . ."

Jack Dawkins could not move.

"'E killed 'er, Dodger. Tha' bludger killed Nancy."

Oliver Twist, whose milky sun-ray curls were somehow still the cleanest thing in the room, woke up to a sobbing Charley Bates, the sound of people breaking down the door below, and a desperate Sikes barging into the room and grabbing him by the collar. None of these things, however, frightened him as much as the look of utter shocked despair he saw ruling the Artful Dodger's features. Because to little Oliver, if something could shake up Jack Dawkins, it could shatter the entire world.

XXX

. . . yeah . . . pathetic for four months, right? Let me know just how much you hate me! Haha, kidding. But seriously, please share thoughts. :3

Cheers, Jamie