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It's a Fine Life

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He calls himself Jack again these days, the Artful Dodger left behind in childhood, and he grew up to be quite the dashing rogue. The top hat and tails are long since gone, but in their place are a gentleman's trousers and coat, and if they're a little threadbare along the edges, well, you have to get terribly close to see it.

Oliver has no doubt that his hands are still quick and he could lift a handkerchief without anyone being the wiser, but that's not his bread and butter anymore. He's much more adept at sweet-talking people out of their possessions than lifting them outright.

When Jack passes by the steps of Oliver's offices one cold December morning, Oliver thinks the meeting is chance; after all, they've passed on the street before, tipped their hats at one another and gone on their respective ways. Oliver has never turned Jack in, and Jack has never tried to pick Oliver's pocket. It's a mutually respectful arrangement. But Jack doesn't nod and go on his way this time. As Oliver searches his pocket for the key, Jack hops up the steps two at a time, and suddenly they're face to face for the first time since they were children.

He clears his throat and says, "Jack," first, because otherwise they might've been standing there locked in expectant silence forever.

"Oliver," he replies, his lips twisting up into a grin. "Well look at you."

"I could say the same," he says, but Jack is already reaching out, gripping his shoulders and holding him at arm's length, as though they're merely two old friends who lost touch, when they've always been so much more than that. And perhaps it really is time they moved beyond tipping their hats and nodding their heads and accidentally being in one another's vicinity too often for coincidence.

"Brisk one, isn't it?" says Jack. "Well, I won't keep you. I've just come for one thing."

"And what's that?" says Oliver, leaving off the search for his keys in favour of something much more intriguing.

Jack opens his coat and roots around an inside pocket for a moment, then says, "Happy Christmas," and sets a pair of silver cufflinks in his palm.

Oliver looks at them for a moment, and almost smiles. "Who've you stolen them from, then?"

"Oh, you wound me," says Jack. "Only the best for you, Oliver."

"I haven't got a gift for you," he admits, and doesn't even considering declining them, stolen or not. "I hadn't thought I'd be seeing you at all."

"An' why would you?" says Jack. "You haven't got any idea where I stay. But not to worry, you can make it up to me."

Oliver doesn't know how he might do that, but he nods his anyway because even if he hasn't got a plan, it's a safe bet the Artful Dodger does.

"May I call on you again?" Jack asks, the phrasing of the request making his intention clear, if also easy for Oliver to pretend he doesn't catch the meaning of if that's what he wants to do. It's both a surprise and the least surprising thing that's happened to Oliver in a very long time.

"Yes," he says after a moment, equally careful, "you may call on me again."

Jack closes Oliver's cold hand around the cufflinks with both of his, holds it there for a moment, then turns and, with a jaunty wave, goes.

When he reaches the end of the street and vanishes down an alley, Oliver quickly checks to see that the brass nameplate - Turnbull and Twist, Barristers - has not mysteriously vanished from the door. It might be his imagination, but it does seem a little loose.