Word Count: 1617
Warnings: Hints at paedophilia. *is squicked*
Summary: Bill never let Fagin make him his favourite but he hasn’t killed him either so the venture wasn’t a complete failure.
Author’s Notes: This didn’t turn out they way I thought it was going to at all, but I kind of like it anyway. With all sorts of love for karaokegal, hllangel, and michelleann68, who I saw Oliver! with on Friday night and who are basically responsible for this entirely. *grins* I haven’t read the book and I know Dickens is super good at coming up with his own canon, but since I don’t know what his is I’ve made up my own. Obviously, the versions of the characters are based on the current cast in Oliver! (in other words: Burn Gorman and Rowan Atkinson).
I don’t believe I went too far
I said I was willing.
- Tori Amos
Bill never bothered with pocket handkerchiefs; not nearly enough money in it.
His lips always curled back over his teeth, conveying distaste though there was something rougher, angrier beneath it. He never deigned to learn how to unpick initials from the squares of silk brought back by the other boys, either, though no one ever tried to make him. You wouldn’t want to give little Bill anything with a blade, with an edge, with a sharp point.
He was slight, and quiet, and given to silence; but his eyes were pools, dark and muddy and deep enough to drown in.
Fagin has gone to great pains to ensure that everyone believes he has always been old and wily and too self-absorbed to ever know better. Creating his mythology as a shield against the cruelty and sheer stupidity of the world.
Children will see you as ancient even if you’re thirty. Not that Fagin has been thirty; not for a while, anyway. But the first row of children grew up and while he’s not popular he’s known and there’s a general consensus; Fagin is old and slippery as an eel.
He was someone else, once, but that was too long ago.
“Gonna be like Bill Sikes,” little Jack mutters to himself, lithe fingers skipping over the leather of a man’s wallet, eyes gleaming with triumph and ambition.
Jack is good, of course, he’s earned the name Artful Dodger even if the battered top hat is a little ludicrous. But he’ll never be the next Bill; never. He’s too ready with his smiles, with his words; too quick by half.
He’ll never inspire fear, not like little Bill did, whose eyes had that look of inhumanity when he was eight and pulled the wings off flies with a steady concentration that chilled.
The touch of two fingers to the brim of his hat is as much a threat as it is a greeting. Bill’s mouth is pinched, gaunt face frowning. There are men almost twice Bill’s size who stride the streets but shrink back into the shadows, just to keep away from him.
Nancy’s a braver girl than anyone actually acknowledges.
Bill has never, to anyone’s knowledge, ever smiled. His lips might curve, from time to time, but it’s not a smile, and the narrow bark that might just be called a laugh crackles down the spine of anyone who hears it.
In all the years he’s had boys getting underfoot and getting valuables from people’s pockets and, on occasion, getting themselves hung, Fagin has always had favourites; most of the children won’t amount to all that much.
His favourites will always go somewhere, no matter how bad that somewhere might be.
Fagin nurtures them, helps them learn the skills they’ll need. And he gets on their good sides, so when they grow up they won’t come back and murder him.
Bill never let Fagin make him his favourite but he hasn’t killed him either so the venture wasn’t a complete failure.
Catching sight of Bill silhouetted against the end of a street often makes people re-evaluate their beliefs. He’s always been slight; narrow, though never delicate, and so has created his web of control through fear, since he can’t do it with muscle.
One glimpse into Bill’s eyes tends to remind people of the tales of the Devil they heard years ago, before religion got somewhat hazy.
“You’re not afraid of me, are you Fagin?” Bill asked once, mouth loose from gin.
“No,” Fagin responded.
Bill laughed, the unsettling, raw sound. “You’re a fuckin’ liar,” he muttered.
He hasn’t asked since.
Fagin was there the first time Bill cracked a man’s head like an egg, red-white yolk spilt out onto the cobble stones.
He’s wished, in the ensuing years, that he had been elsewhere. Anywhere but that narrow alleyway, when Bill raised his cudgel with an expression of brutal concentration and brought it down on the head of a man barely older than him, who had made the mistake of laughing in the wrong place and at entirely the wrong time.
Bill was fifteen, and had left the hideout two years before. He grinned at Fagin, teeth white in the moonlight.
It’s an ugly little world and they’re ugly little men, when you get down to it, though Fagin chooses to face the world with a veneer of friendliness and Bill chooses the glittering madness of his eyes.
When Bill was young, he was fast. Faster than Jack, though the boy doesn’t need to know the story. Bill brought back handfuls of shine with no expression at all; he sat in corners and scowled and terrified the others, who were willing to treat the world as a game because otherwise it all was too much.
It’s never a game to Bill.
Fagin is given to words, to loquaciousness, to rolling sounds around his mouth and watching them trip out. Creating a blanket of speech to wrap the uncertain new boys up in, until they’re swearing adoration because they’ve been told a hundred things whose true meaning eluded them.
Bill says little, though his every gesture is perfectly understandable. The simple shrug he gives Fagin when they pass in the street is positively eloquent; it says that Bill has enough on Fagin to bring him to an end. But that he won’t, not yet, so long as they both keep playing along.
The puppy was a hideous little rat-like creature, clearly the runt of the litter. Apparently, Bill had got him from a man planning to drop him in the Thames; what had happened to this man Bill didn’t say and Fagin knew better than to ask.
“Gonna call him Bullseye,” Bill said, voice catching rough in his throat as it always did. It made everything he said sound like a threat, made lingering conversation impossible.
The dog was small, but it was fierce, and held in Bill’s folded arms Fagin could clearly see that it would come to emulate its owner.
They’re stuck together in the tight ugliness of their world; horizons cauterised so thoroughly there’s little point in ambition. It would be best to never see each other again, but that would result in ruin for them both.
They have to tolerate each other because they need each other. And isn’t that a thought to keep you awake at night?
Bill, slit-eyed, brings his stolen goods to Fagin’s hideout; he’s upgraded from wallets to candlesticks and delicate jewels that look incongruous against his black-nailed hands.
They barely exchange even the falsest of pleasantries; there’s nothing pleasant about this at all.
Of course, while Bill Sikes is a vicious brute, there’s too much calculation. Oh, he gets as angry as the next man, will happily break a neck if it gets rid of a problem fast, but there’s more to him than that. He gathers things on people; slips of the tongue, things you did thoughtlessly when you should have known better.
It’s there in the look gives Fagin as they pass in the street; it was a dark cellar with too many corners and I was just a boy and do you know how old I was because I do.
They need each other: that’s the plain truth.
Fagin has never needed anyone; and, should something happen to dear old Bill – though of course no one would ever be stupid enough to try that – he would survive perfectly well.
But while the world still has them both in it, for better or worse, they need each other. One doesn’t work, not without the other.
It’s the closest thing to friendship Fagin has had for years, decades; that’s the worst of it, though he’s still not entirely sure he won’t wake up in pieces.
Still, at least it keeps him sharp.
Bill was born broken, born with self-preservation and that nasty look he gets on his face before he pulls someone apart, and with very little else. He’s missing something.
He was six when he was found and brought to Fagin; six years old with a look in his sunken eyes that couldn’t be earned with twenty years’ experience.
Fagin has, from time to time, reflected that he should have just turned away and let the skinny little wretch die. Still, it’s too late for that now, and Bill would probably have survived anyway; broken little bastards like him usually do.
The ring is warm and weighty in Fagin’s hand.
“Oh,” he twitters, “This is all so sudden.”
Bill’s eyes narrow, as though for a moment he’s considering slitting Fagin’s throat, an arc of crimson to splash against the handkerchiefs dangling from the ceiling.
The man has no sense of humour, and he stays silent, mouth pressed closed.
Fagin admires the ring, wondering how he’ll be forced to pay for his words.
(There was an alley, once, years ago; but not as many years ago as he’d have wanted it to be. Bill wasn’t a child, and his hands were cold.)
If he chose – and one day he probably will choose, so Fagin has his escape routes planned because whatever he wants everyone to believe he’s not stupid – Bill could bring Fagin’s world crashing to an end.
He wouldn’t tell the truth, because the truth reflects as badly on Bill as it does on Fagin, but he’d tell something that sounds like truth and he’d wish Bill had just killed him.
They’re both aware of the indelicate balance; a little too much history and its price.
The nasty part, of course, is that Fagin knows he’ll only have himself to blame.