Thank you so much to everyone who's reviewed, you're all wonderful. I hope this chapter's OK, I'm a bit ehh about it, but I felt really cruel for not updating sooner and all that jazz. : ) So I own nothing.
It was a multitude of familiar sounds and smells that brought Jack back to consciousness. Nora was clattering around in the kitchen, and John was puffing at a clay pipe. The boy blinked his eyes open. The ceiling above him was strung with cobwebs. There was a large gap of wall missing opposite him, and rain was dripping through it, into a bucket waiting below.
A woman in a red dress was loading bread and cheese onto a tin plate. A man with a beard and curly black hair sat at a tinytable, his knees brushing the edge, huffing away through the mouth of his pipe. They were not Nora and John. Jack sat up, and the blankets that had been pulled up to his neck fell away. The man turned at the movement, and sniffed.
"Nance. The kid's awake."
"Oh!" Nancy dropped the plate and hastened over to the bed. She felt Jack's forehead, and then smoothed back his hair. "You alrigh' my love?"
"Yeah, I..." Jack's voice caught as it hit him. Norawasdead.Hewasalone.Tears welled up in his eyes, and Nancy gathered him up into a hug, rocking him gently, humming a ditty in a soft voice.
"You ain' gonna be alone now, alrigh'?" Nancy says gently. "Fagin thinks you'd be a valuable member to the gang."
She says it slightly bitterly, and Jack looks up, still crying silently.
"The gang. Fagin's lot. Where I come from. Kids your age. It's... fun."
"My mummy wouldn' want me to steal," Jack says, his voice cracking on the last word. Bill grunted angrily.
"Well yer muvver's dead, ain' she."
The man shrugged and returned to his pipe. Nancy wiped the tears from Jack's pale cheeks.
"So, what do we call you, 'ey my love?"
"Jack Dawkins," Jack said, sullenly.
"Problems wiv your old man?" Nancy says, sympathetically. "We've all got 'em. Some worse than others. We 'ad a kid a few years ago 'oo reinvented 'imself. What did he call 'imself, Bill?"
"The Fiddler," Bill replied snappily.
"Tha' was it." Nancy nodded.
"Oh?" Jack said. He brushed away the last of his tears and fixed his eyes on the woman. "Why?"
"Cos he played a violin," Nancy explained. "Nice boy."
"Not quick enough," Bill snarled from the corner. "Got 'imself caught."
"Always the good 'uns," she agreed. "But not you, love. You'll dodge 'em all. Done a pretty good job of it so far. Artful, one might say." Jack started.
"Oh..." he said, burrowing back under the coverlet. "I though' you said Art."
"You knew one?"
"'E died," he said, his voice muffled by the thin blankets. Nancy pulled him up.
"C'mon," she said. "Mister Gloomy-Guts, let's get you some fresh air."
Bill coughed, and Nancy turned to him immediately.
"Kid'll be cold," he said, gruffly. "Give 'im this." He whipped the hat off his head, and threw it at Nancy, who caught it, beaming at him. She placed it on Jack's head, and they marched out of the flat, the boy deep in thought.
"Can I?" he said, eventually, as they skipped over a puddle of mucky water, Nancy holding her skirts up so they wouldn't get wet.
"Can you what?" she asked, smiling at him.
"Yeah. Can I?"
"Course you can," she said. "Shall we call you..."
"Artful," he said, immediately.
"Artful indeed," she laughed. She scooted out the way of a drunken man wandering out the pub amidst gales of laughter, and he ducked round him, rejoining her at the corner.
"The Artful Dodger," Nancy decided. "Cos from wha' Fagin says, you're pretty damn good at avoidin' the traps."
So review...? And I will be calling him Dodger from now on I think. : ) SO next chapter we meet the gang! (I have it written so it'll be up quite soon)