|In the Dark Beside You
Author: roberre PM
When Nellie Lovett's world is torn apart, she discovers that it's much easier to make a new one than to try to fix the old. She never cared much for reality anyhow.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Sweeney T. & Eleanor L. - Chapters: 26 - Words: 183,186 - Reviews: 263 - Favs: 98 - Follows: 48 - Updated: 08-18-10 - Published: 11-03-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4633972
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
In the Dark Beside You
Pushing his mass of papers and books to the floor to make room, Freddie spreads the map out in front of him. He pins the corners flat with an inkpot and a few bookends, and plants his hands against the solid oak of his desk, leaning forward. He stares down at the labyrinth of winding streets, looming above the tiny London like a god – and feeling as helpless as a child.
He sighs and rakes his fingers back through his hair. He leans close, staring down through his reading glasses, and stabs the centre of the map with his finger. Following Fleet Street across to the Strand, he runs his finger along the smooth paper, retracing every alley, tavern, and dilapidated shop in his mind as if he could search them all again by sheer force of will. He draws a circle with his finger the interior of London, keeping Mrs. Lovett's pie shop at the center.
He's been south, across the Blackfriar's bridge. He's been to Hyde Park. He's been to Westminster, Whitechaple, Westbourne.
A handful of hired men search Cheapside and Newgate even now, scouring every nook and cranny for a dark-haired Tobias Ragg, and Nellie Lovett, a woman with hair like fire and a disposition to match. He'd made them study Uncle Samuel's sketches for nearly half an hour before setting out.
He supposes he should be waiting for the police. For their official report to pop up in the morning newspaper, so that he can read about the body of a thirteen year old boy washing up onto a bank somewhere, or the corpse of a red-haired woman popping up in some alleyway, disfigured to the point of being unrecognizable. Necklace stolen, signs of a heavy wedding ring on her finger. But he's not.
They're hardly concerned with his inquiries – some woman on Fleet Street, engaged to Turpin or not, is not as important as Turpin himself. They're making a show of concern in their search for the city's most prominent judge, and whether or not they actually care, they're determined to find him first.
So far, all they've found is blood.
The thought sickens him. If his nerves hadn't already been tight as a drum, forcing him to ignore the plate of breakfast on the dining room table in favour of pacing the room, Freddie thinks he might empty his stomach.
Taking a few long, steady breaths to calm his racing heart, Freddie reties his loosened cravat, smoothes his rumpled waistcoat. He'll check Pall Mall and Oxford Street, and if he finds nothing, regroup with his men in the afternoon.
He shrugs on his jacket, tugging the collars straight. God willing, they'll find something today. Any lead would be better than this infuriating void of information. She can't have just vanished. Women – and bodies – don't just disappear. And even if she does turn up dead, at least he'll know. At least he can hold a funeral, and put her and her son to rest. Beneath a proper stone, beside a proper church – not just languishing in some filthy back alley.
He turns away from his desk and pushes through the half-open study door. His scarf, gloves, and overcoat hang haphazardly over the banister where he'd left them last night. On Freddie's request, Lewis had left them where they lay before setting out this morning with the first group of searchers. If Lewis were a soldier, Freddie would have him decorated.
He pulls on his coat and winds his scarf around his neck. Picking up his hat from its place on the bottom step, he places it on his head as straight as he can and continues down the hallway to the front door. Despite his resolution to leave without delay, Freddie finds his eye drawn by the well-read newspaper on the small table beside the door. He stops beside the table, reaches for the walking stick leaning against the wall beside it, and sighs. He picks up the paper and rifles through the pages. Jaw tightening, he shakes his head and crumples The Times in his fist, throwing it onto the floor behind him. He picks up his walking stick and reaches for the door.
The handle turns before he lays a hand on it, and the grizzled form of Samuel Waters steps inside.
"Top of the mornin', lad," he says, whisking his battered derby from his head, closing the door behind him. He shakes his head, uses his fingers to comb his thick white hair into its customary briar bush tangle, and winks at Freddie. "'Ow's moi favourite Freddie today, eh?"
Freddie swallows, taking a deep breath through his nose. He keeps one hand in his pocket and grips the head of his walking stick with the other. "I could be better, Uncle. And you?"
"Better'n I deserve, I s'pose," he says with a shrug, sending a flurry of snow drifting to the floor.
"I apologize for my lack of hospitality, but I really must be going. If you're hungry, there's bread and tarts in the kitchen, and a fire going in the sitting room. Melody should be in by eleven to prepare lunch. You know where the tea is in the mean time, am I correct?" Freddie steps forward, but Uncle Samuel doesn't move, either to open the door or get out of the way.
Uncle Samuel leans slightly to his left, peering over Freddie's shoulder at the hallway. "See you read Wednesday's article." He points at the crumpled paper with a gnarled, steady finger. He looks Freddie straight in the eye. This close up, Freddie can see every wrinkle in his uncle's face, and the startling clarity of his green eyes. They're far brighter than his own, which are tinted with grey from his mother's side of the family, and they seem to be able to stare into his soul. It's a little unnerving.
"I did read it, uncle," he mutters, looking down to the carpet.
"An' oi take ye didn't loike what ye saw, is that it?"
"Not particularly, no."
"Those blasted papers – didn't do a bit 'o justice to my sketch. Or to my words, neither. Though oi s'pose they got the jist right enough." Wiping his shoes on the rug, Samuel crosses the floor and picks up the paper, smoothing it over his leg. "This why you're upset, lad?"
Freddie pulls his hand from his pocket and pinches the bridge of his nose, turning around to face his uncle. He struggles to keep his voice from shaking. Controlled, quiet, calm. "Perhaps you don't understand, uncle. There is a very good chance that both Tobias and Mrs. Lovett are dead." He pauses to take a breath. He speaks a little louder – his uncle's hearing is fine, as far as he knows, but he can't help it. It rises with the temperature of his blood. "It's bad enough that you told the papers that you saw a demon roaming the streets – that you swear this thing killed Judge Turpin – but I do not have time to entertain these notions for another moment."
Uncle Samuel watches him with unflappable calm, the paper still open in his hands. A tiny, sad smile curls the corner of his mouth. "Go on."
Swallowing to gather his resolve, Freddie presses on. "I refuse to listen to you babble about the little people, or banshees, or demons–" he jabs his walking stick in the direction of door, driving the tip into the wood. He doesn't even care if it dents. "–or why you don't think that Eleanor and her boy aren't lying in an alleyway like so much frozen garbage." "Why d'ye think they're dead, Freddie?"
Freddie scowls. He lets his stick fall heavily back to the floor with a sharp 'clack'. "Why do you think they're not? The judge's house is ransacked and he hasn't been seen for days. Nellie's bedroom is covered in –" his voice gives out. He clears his throat, takes a breath, and continues, a little quieter. "It's covered in blood. Toby was with her. They were attacked and murdered."
"Were they, then?"
"Yes!" Freddie unwraps his scarf – he's getting far too warm. "Either that or they're injured and dying, nameless in hospital."
"The police think 'e was last seen down by Fleet Street," Uncle Samuel says, placing the paper, open, back on the table. The headline 'Murderer – Or Monster Roaming Fleet Street?' stands sharply black against the white paper. A rough sketch of a man with dark circles around his eyes and wild, streaked hair takes up almost a quarter of the page.
"He was on his way to pick up Eleanor, no doubt." Freddie looks away from the Times. He smoothes his fingers along his moustache and turns. Opening the door, he walks outside. Uncle Samuel can follow if he wants.
Freddie makes it to the bottom of the steps when the door closes and Uncle Samuel steps outside, derby back on his head.
"Are ye aware that 'is ward is missing, too?"
"Of course she is. I told you the house was robbed." Freddie waits until Uncle Samuel reaches the bottom step and sighs. He offers his uncle the walking stick, but he waves it away. Freddie starts westwards.
"Ye won't find them," Uncle Samuel says, stepping around a slushy puddle.
He'll search the city a hundred times until he does. "Thank you for your encouragement, uncle."
"Even in a city like this, gone does not always mean dead."
Freddie stops midstep, nearly slipping on a patch of ice. He turns to face his uncle. "You think they just left? All of them?"
"Oi never said all of them, lad."
"... but then why all this nonsense about the 'Demon Barber'?"
Uncle Samuel picks at a string from the fraying cuff of his jacket. "Because people 'ardly ever blame a man for the work of a ghost, my boy. Or a woman, for that matter."
Freddie frowns, brow creasing so deeply he fears it might stay that way until the end of time. "What-"
Uncle Samuel's solemn expression shatters, and he forces a grin that stretches from ear to ear, though his eyes lack their usual twinkle. "Ye keep lookin', lad, an' you'll find what you need, sure enough." He puts his hand on Freddie's shoulder and squeezes, his grip surprisingly strong. "The best of luck to ye."
Freddie watches Uncle Samuel disappear down the street, fading behind the shimmering curtain of snow. He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut.
He'll have Lewis clean out Toby's room in the morning.
She knew it was Todd, long before he touched her shoulder. Before she turned and smiled when she saw his face, she could hear his footsteps across the snow, the sound of his breathing cutting through the still, cold air. The snow creaks with every step, but at least the wind has died down, leaving her alone with her own thoughts and the silent, twinkling stars.
She's never seen them before – not like this. Not in London, and if they were ever this bright on her trip to the sea, when she lay on the beach with her Aunt Nettie and counted them until she fell asleep, then her memory's failed her. They're set like diamonds in the pitch black sky, untouched by light, because the tiny pinpricks of the streetlamps of the city further down the lake don't reach nearly far enough.
"They're beautiful, aren't they?" she asks, sliding her arm through his when he stands beside her. She leans her head on his shoulder. They've been here less than a month – such a short time compared to the seemingly endless weeks it took to reach this quaint little lakeside shop on the outskirts of Toronto – and already she pines for England. She's always wanted to leave, but now that she knows she can never return, it seems to loom in the back of her mind like a ghost, reminding her of all the things she's left behind. Not that there's much. A bloodied house. A few sets of old clothes. Some friends she never really knew well enough to miss.
This place reminds her of England, in some ways. The language – although the folk who've lived here their entire life have a peculiar accent – is the same. A few different terms, a few more Americans visiting up from New York, but it's still English. The farms still look like farms. There are still cabbies, chimney sweeps, rich people and poor people, a city's share of problems. It smells better, though. And – a concept Nellie's not sure if she'll ever come to fully accept – it is colder.
But even if everyone spoke French, like almost half of them did, a few days journey inland from the east coast, the stars will always be the same. And that's a comfort, at least.
"This isn't what you wanted, is it?" Todd asks, effortlessly shattering the perfect silence.
The sound of his voice surprises her almost as much as the question. She'd been perfectly content to stand beside him, listening to nothing but the steady beat of his heart, until they either froze solid or went back inside. It takes her a moment to respond.
"What's not, love?"
Giving her a sideways glance, he opens his mouth, eyes narrowing, and twitches a frown. He gestures to the lake with a quick glance of his head. "This." He looks over his shoulder to their new house, a two-story, red brick building, with a front porch and a scrap of lawn buried by snow. "Everything."
Nellie shrugs. "We could 'ave it a lot bloody worse, you know."
Todd looks out across the lake. She follows his gaze. Except for the tint of black far into the distance, where the ice ends and the lake (apparently) never freezes, it's white as far as the eye can see. The whole bloody country is covered in feet of snow already, and not scheduled to thaw for another two or three months at best. "How?" he asks.
Nellie smiles – until she realizes he's serious. "Well, we're at the edge of the city, for one," she says, rubbing her arms to keep her tiny spark of hope burning strong. "Could 'ave been in God's country. Or worse – by the factories." The air's clear of smog here, and crisp like new linen. "An' we're on a lake, love. Even if it is a bloody iceblock. Might as well be the sea, y'know." If it's big enough for the Royal Navy to parade around on, it's big enough for her.
He shrugs, grunts a noncommittal answer.
She tries to imagine sun, and warmth.
"No doubt this beach'll be swarming with bathers and tourists come summer. We could open up shop in the parlour, we could. Bake some nice things. Sweets, and pastries, toffees an' such. And Toby could 'elp, until we find 'im another master." She can practically smell the dough rising in the oven. From there, it's not hard to imagine Toby's face lighting up when she swats him away from a tray of fresh cookies, or to see him wiping honeyed hands all over his brand new trousers. "An' if we don't find anyone good enough for 'im, so what? 'E'd be a ruddy good baker, too."
He doesn't respond. She doesn't expect him to.
"And Anthony 'as the docks, once 'is hand's all fixed up – and Johanna can surely find a few brats to tutor in the mean time." Not that they're in any immediate danger of running out of money, but folk will get suspicious of a middle-class family who never works, and they can't live off Turpin's pawned candlesticks forever. "An' maybe, if business does good and we start bringin' in some money, we can turn the basement into a cooler and sell ice-cream durin' the summer." She chuckles. "'S not like we'd 'ave trouble gettin' the ice."
He takes a step forward, towards the lake. Away from her.
Her voice fades, along with her smile, into the silence of the night. Pushing strands of hair from her face with the sleeve of her bulky coat, she looks down at her boots, breath streaming from her mouth like a cloud. "What I mean, love, is that we can get by."
He glances over his shoulder and meets her gaze, eyes narrowed, lips pressed tight. "I heard you, Nellie. But that's not what I asked."
"No, love. It's not," she says. "But it's still my answer." She takes a step forward.
"You can do a lot of things, Eleanor," he says through gritted teeth, "but you can't change reality." He twists away from her hand, watching the flickering lights of a ship sail past in the distance. "You can't just imagine it's better. You can build your shop, and talk to your tourists, but this is still going to be your house, and winter is still going to come, love. And you'll be left alone in this wasteland every year..."
She grabs his hand, thankful when he doesn't pull away. "Not alone, love."
"I can't imagine what good I'll be. I can't help you with your shop –"
"You can drag ice, love. At night, when no-one's looking or asking questions." It doesn't matter that they both know she'll be the one waking up with a sore back and wind-chapped skin.
"All I've managed to do is drive you crazy, Eleanor. The world isn't real? Remember that?" The pained expression on his face scares her worse than the vacancy in his eyes.
"Sweeney... listen to me." He hesitates, and turns, fixing his glare on her boots. She smiles and closes the distance between them, taking his face in her hands. She frowns and then pulls her gloves off, throwing them to the ground so she can feel his skin beneath her palms. "Even if this whole thing is a dream, love, I'd rather spend it with you."
He stares at her.
She runs her thumb along his cheek, feeling the day's growth of stubble. "Besides, did you really think I was goin' to let you leave me here to wallow in all this bloody snow?" She pushes a strand of hair behind his ear and plants a kiss at the corner of his mouth. "It was a good try, love, but if I'm stuck 'ere, I'm dragging you down with me."
He's warm, though he's not real, and she doesn't have the heart to stay away any longer. She wraps her arms around him and leans into his chest, interlocking her fingers behind his back.
He sighs, almost reluctantly, and pulls her into an embrace. "What're you thinking, Eleanor?" he asks.
She smiles, the rough wool of his military-style overcoat scratching at her cold cheeks. "I was thinkin' that I could get used to this."
Todd doesn't answer for a long moment. He draws her little closer, tightening his grip on her almost imperceptibly. He presses his mouth to hers. She pushes herself up to her tip toes and throws her arms around his neck, pulling back only long enough to take a breath and mutter, "If I have to."
A/N: So... I wasn't going to write 'the end', but it seemed kind of fitting, seeing as this really is the end of a lot of things. For one, this is the end of the story. Obviously. xD But this is also the end of over a year and a half of work for me. It's the end of a universe I've come to feel very comfortable in. It's the end of something familiar, something to keep me from getting bored, something I've poured my thoughts and energy into. And in a way - I'm sad. But I think it's about time to let go and move on.
Unfortunately right now, I'm not entirely sure what direction that's going to be in - but it looks like I'm going to try to write some original fiction. At least for a while. I'll still definitely post drabbles and short stories on FF dot net (it'll have to be a gradual process of moving away from this fandom, because I love the characters to a ridiculous, unhealthy degree xD) but at the moment it doesn't look like I'll be spending another year and a half of my life on a full length fic like this. It's not a total guarantee... but it's looking that way. Of course, if my original writing attempts completely crash and burn, I'm sure I'll be back. haha. But I want to at least move in a direction that might eventually lead to being published. Even if it's not right away, I want to get closer with each attempt, and I think I've learned just about all I can with Sweeney and co.
If you heard about my band!Todd story from the podcast, or if I've mentioned it to you - I'm still going to try to go through with it, but I think I'm going to try to keep the idea and bring it away from the fandom into something original. It was really only ever loosely connected, and I think it could stand alone if I fiddle around with the plot a bit, and give it some new characters. Who may or may not resemble Nellie and Todd, depending on how well I can separate it. xD I might be willing to post it somewhere eventually, or send it around via e-mail... or it might even find it's way back in the fandom. I'll try to keep you posted. But rest assured, it'll be written somehow, in some form, some day.
So I guess it's kind of the end in that respect, too. But I'll still be around some, so hopefully nobody'll miss me too terrible. ;) I'll miss you. haha.
Who knows what'll happen in a few months anyway. Chances are I'll have 29 new stories posted and will be re-reading this author's note and laughing. xDDD
ANYWAY. I'm sorry I ramble so much. O_O Like a lot. If you've made it this far, kudos. Here's the important bits.
Thank you for everyone who drew me fanart (if I don't have links to it up on my profile yet, please PM me), to Princesstale, who made me a video, and...Thank you EVERYONE. For everything. ^_^ For reading, reviewing, commenting, critiquing, engaging in dialogue, being interested, supporting me, and being awesome.
It's been a wild ride.
[/ramble][/sappy][/In the Dark Beside You]