Bill Sikes sauntered down the alley, fishing around in the pocket of his tattered coat. He growled softly, irritated. Where was it? There were the earrings, the pocket watch... He reached down further, and his stomach dropped as his fingers attained a hole. A hole. What if he had lost it? He stopped abruptly, searching his other pockets for any trace of his most prized possession. He was panicking; his cold, agile fingers finding silverware, cheap jewelry, and even a platter. He was on the verge of a full-blown anxiety attack when his hand slipped into the pocket of his trousers. He felt the plain little band of gold with a single diamond that was there all along. It was there. He hadn't lost it. Everything was fine now. Bill allowed himself to take a deep breath, running his other hand through his unkept red hair. He withdrew the ring, holding it up so he could look at it. It was shimmering in the moonlight, beautiful between his calloused fingers. He stared at it for a moment, allowing its beauty to relax him once again.
Sikes decided he should get going. After all, Fagin was expecting him. He put the ring back in his pocket, not letting it go until he was completely satisfied that it was safe. He cleared his throat, and went back on his way.
He didn't need the light of the full moon to guide him to Fagin's hideout anymore; he had long memorized the way. But he told himself that the extra light was why he had postponed the trip until tonight. He'd rather think that he was prone to getting lost than that he was nervous about what he was planning on doing. This whole endeavour was driving him mad, the thief realized as he became aware of his heart hammering in his chest. If he weren't so madly in love, he would have given up long ago. However, he was in love, somehow. Bill Sikes, the most feared man in London, fancied someone. And it was irritating. It got in the way. It made him feel like hurting the only one he loved and cared about. But he didn't want to do that, so he hurt Nancy instead.
Bill Sikes realized he had reached Fagin's place. His heart was racing, his palms were sweaty, his stomach was turning. He felt like a madman. He had brought stolen treasures for Fagin to resell so many times that he shouldn't have even thought twice about it. But tonight was different. He had the ring, he reminded himself once again by finding it in his pocket. Tonight was very different. He took a deep breath, straightening his broad shoulders so that he stood at his full, towering height. There was no more time to waste. He walked to the back door, and knocked three times on the splintering wood. There was no answer. He leaned over slightly, finding a small hole in the door. He peered through, grey eyes squinting through the darkness for some trace of Fagin. Bill then saw the man; he was lighting a single candle, trying not to produce enough light to wake the boys. Sikes was amused as he watched the scene before him. The skinny bearded man was bumbling around in the dark, avoiding all the boys who were sleeping in various awkward positions on the floor. Bill knew for a fact that many found it strange that a single, middle-aged man was living alone with a bunch of young boys. However, he knew that Fagin had no lewd intentions. He cared very much for all the pickpockets as a father would... perhaps more like a mother. Sikes actually smiled at the thought. Yes, Fagin was a wonderful, loving mother... despite having never been a wife.
Bill Sikes was forced to stop spying as the 'mother' succeeded in his task and tip-toed towards the door. It opened with a creak, causing Fagin to cringe slightly.
"Hello, Bill!" he whispered happily in greeting, "what've you got for me tonight?"
The taller man's stomach turned as he remembered his plan. He cleared his throat, stepping back so that the candlelight did not illuminate his flushing cheeks. He reached into his coat, withdrawing the pair of silver and diamond earrings. Sikes dropped the sparkling studs in the palm of the other man's outstretched hand.
"Ooh, very nice!" the brunet muttered happily. He inspected the earrings with care, turning them over and holding them close to the candle. Bill knew that one was damaged, but was surprised at how quickly the shorter man noticed.
"This one's a bit chipped. That's a shame..." Fagin said, his thin, dry lips twisting into a small pout. His brown eyes flicked back up to Bill, sparkling in the dim light of the flame. His nervous smile reappeared, along with the forced little laugh that told Bill that Fagin was afraid. At least that made two of them. Fagin reassured the taller man that he was still extremely grateful, and asked Bill if he had anything else for him as he put the earrings into his pocket. Sikes nodded, withdrawing the gold pocket watch next. The watch itself worked, but the chain had been broken since it was acquired. Bill held it out and Fagin took it with two delicate fingers.
"What happened to the chain? Didja break it, Bill?" Fagin joked.
Had it been anyone else who said that, with a smile, in that tone of voice, they wouldn't have lived to tell the tale. But it was Fagin, so Sikes only clenched his fist and growled.
"Alright, alright, I'm sorry. But anyway, I can repair this chain, and..." he flicked the watch open, and his eyes lit up and he saw it was working. "Blimey, Bill! It works! Thank you!"
Sikes didn't usually care for manners, but something about being thanked by Fagin made him want to say 'you're welcome'. He didn't, however. He never had, and he wouldn't start now. He nodded, watching a smiling Fagin gently close the watch and shove it in his coat pocket.
"Is that all for now?" the thief asked.
"No, there's another thing. For you," Bill said. Fagin seemed surprised. The taller man rarely spoke at these meetings, and even more rarely in a full sentence.
"What is it?"
Sikes' stomach turned one final time. There was no more waiting now. He reached into the pocket of his trousers, and held onto the ring. His heart was racing again, and he was sure his face was redder than his hair as he pulled the gift out of his pocket.
"Give me your hand," he told Fagin. The thief, oblivious to Bill's uncharacteristic nervousness, obeyed. He expectantly held out his left hand, palm up. Bill grabbed Fagin's hand, trying, but failing, to be gentle as he turned it over.
"Ouch! What are you doing?" Fagin yelped. Bill ignored him, taking a final deep, shaky breath as he withdrew the ring. He held Fagin's hand in place as he slipped the band onto the shorter man's ring finger.
Fagin's eyes lit up again, a big smile erupting on his face. "Oh, Bill, it's beautiful!"
A wave of relief washed over the taller thief as he was now certain Fagin liked his gift. But the wave dissipated as Fagin removed the ring, inspecting it as usual.
"Wow... I don't know if I'll be able to sell this..."
The idiot. Sikes growled and quickly snatched it from the skinnier man. "You're not going to sell it, because I'm giving it to you, because I love you. Understand, Fagin?"
Bill didn't understand why the other man looked so shocked until after he realized what he had just said. "Oh, God..." he muttered, angry and humiliated at himself.
"What did you say?" asked Fagin.
"I... Never mind," he said, turning away. He tossed the ring back in Fagin's general direction, hiding the crimson flush of his face with his other hand. "Do whatever you want with it; I don't care."
The shorter thief gaped at Bill as the man stormed away, unsure of what to say or do. Had he heard correctly? Yes, he must have. There was nothing wrong with his hearing. Bill Sikes, the most terrifying person he knew, and the man he had secretly admired for years, had just said he loved him. Fagin chuckled, bending over to pick up the ring that had fallen to his feet. Upon further inspection, it was indeed an engagement ring. He slipped it back on. It fit perfectly on his slender finger.
"He loves me," Fagin muttered happily, exploding into more giggles. He looked amorously at the beautiful ring he now sported. "I love you too, Bill Sikes. Do I ever love you."