Author's Note: Behold my new project! If people generally like it, this will be the first chapter of a long story. It's AU, and basically a retelling of the Sweeney Todd story but with some alterations. I'm definitely setting a challenge for myself here- the whole project is rather ambitious in terms of both the characterizations and the planned length, so pleasepleaseplease make sure to review!
The title is a lyric snippet from 'The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.' I guess it's meant to be ironic since the story is basically an exploration of the ways in which Sweeney- and the other characters- are imperfect and human.
London! In the months that he had been on the ship, Benjamin Barker had almost come to believe that the earth was nothing more than an enormous black ocean, cold waters heaving and extending in all directions. But now there it was, the distant silhouette indicating that they had reached their destination at last. The monstrous skyline of the great city had sprouted suddenly at the horizon, looking for all the world like a row of jagged teeth.
The sailor, Anthony, had noticed it as well. He began babbling excitedly. "Oh, look, Mr. Todd! There it is! The greatest city in the world!"
That boy is a fool if I ever saw one. Benjamin felt the words brush the back of his mind like icy fingertips.
He frowned at that, for the thought was an unkind one. The lad reminded him of himself, in many ways. He rather envied him his youthful ignorance. With a sigh, Benjamin returned his attention the familiar outlines of the city he had once called home. He tasted vinegar as a pang of bitterness stabbed through his gut. Everything; that pit of depravity had stolen everything. Still, his hostility was softened by thoughts of the family that awaited him. Nestled somewhere among the filth and corruption were his wife and child... Johanna would be a young woman now, he reflected sadly. And Lucy--
He became aware that he had been speaking this entire time.
"...the most extraordinary levels of malice and debauchery. I, too, have seen something of the world, and men are maggots wherever you go. But London- ah! There is no place like London..."
The naive enthusiasm had melted from the young sailor's face, to be replaced by anxiety and doubt. Benjamin felt a spasm of guilt. "I beg your indulgence, Anthony," he said apologetically. "My mind is far from me today."
The boy has to learn sometime. There it was again. The throaty, serrated whisper of the voice that called itself Sweeney Todd. On the whole, Benjamin thought it wise to follow its advice; it had helped him to engineer his escape, after all. Past experience notwithstanding, however, that voice never failed to send chills down his spine. Perhaps it was because its dry, rasping quality conjured up images of the desert, and awakened memories he would rather forget...
The Australian sun glared down upon him like an angry red eye. The other men had watched him drop without sparing him a second glance; the finer human emotions of pity and compassion could not long survive in this merciless climate. Every day men fell and never got up, dying quiet, dry deaths under the sun's cruel gaze. Ben himself had looked on impassively as his companions writhed in the sand, begging for a final sip of water. Now that it was him on the ground, he hardly expected any more sympathy.
"So I am to die," he said evenly, to no one in particular. He felt eerily calm about it. After experiencing what torments man inflicted upon man, what fear could death hold for him?
He wanted to drift away, to sleep and sleep and sleep, but the prospect of death seemed to snap his mind to acute, painful consciousness. His vision seemed sharper, clearer now. He watched an ant scuttle by the bridge of his nose. Perhaps when he was dead, the ant would signal his fellows and they would devour him. He pictured himself, a glistening writhing mass of tiny black bodies. One by one, the creatures would scatter, until nothing remained but smooth, dry bone, barren and pristinely white. The idea was oddly comforting.
His eyes roved upwards; the sky above him was pitilessly blue. Blue like the sea... was he underwater? Perhaps that was why his sight was so hazy, why everything seemed to shimmer before his eyes. But then why was he so very thirsty?
He turned his gaze away from the blue water-sky. It confused him. He focused, instead, on the rich bright yellow of the sand. Yellow, yellow. Lucy's hair was yellow. Oh yes, he remembered her. He wasn't even sure who he was himself. But forget Lucy? Never. "Lucy," he murmured, "My angel, my darling..." Benjamin had long ago lost faith in a benevolent power, but all the same he offered up a desperate prayer. Please let her be happy. Please don't let the Judge... Ah, the Judge. He remembered him, too.
The bile rose at the back of his throat. He pictured it for what must have been the thousandth time, the hundred-thousandth time: his razor kissing the Judge's bare throat, the blood spilling sweetly forth like the most beautiful of fountains. He closed his eyes and smiled. It would be a pleasant image to die to.
Dead men cannot take revenge.
Oh, he knew he was dying now, for though he was certainly alone he thought he had heard a voice, sibilant as a snake's and cold as a metal blade.
Yes. We are dying. But it is not too late... only gather the strength to live another day, and I can help you. We can escape. We can make the Judge pay.
A noise that might have been a laugh issued from Ben's parched throat. "And who are you exactly?" A pause. His vision swam. "Who am I?"
We are Sweeney Todd.
"Mr. Todd?" Anthony was peering at him curiously. The scorching sun vanished, and Ben shivered to find himself standing on the squalid streets of London. The boy's proffered hand dangled in his face. Vaguely, Ben shook it, his thoughts still far away. With an effort he came back to himself long enough to deliver a wan smile.
"If ever you need anything, you might find me on Fleet Street," he said generously.
The sailor's face flushed with gratitude. "I hope we meet again, Mr. Todd!"
"He saved our life," thought Ben, watching with concern as the youth strode confidently into the polluted heart of the metropolis. "We owe him at least for that." He didn't know at what point he had slipped into Todd's habit of referring to himself in the plural.
Innocence like his cannot long survive. Before he has spent a week in this city, that boy will have grown wiser, or he will be dead. Either way, he will not need our help.
Benjamin Barker didn't bother arguing. He had more important things to attend to.
End of chapter one... don't forget to review! I bake your reviews into delicious meat pies and feed them to my story, so without them the poor thing will just wither away.
Also, be aware that I am in school and have exams coming up soon, so updates may not be as frequent as you or I would like. I'm thinking a chapter a week is a reasonable goal, but we'll see.