Author's Note: Sadly, there is no Toby in this chapter, but I have already started the next chapter, which does have Toby. But this chapter has other stuff, like secrets and Johanna being bloodthirsty.
Disclaimer: I don't own Sweeney Todd. Or a toothbrush holder that I didn't have to fashion out of masking tape and an empty pill bottle, but that's another story.
Chapter Twenty-Five: A Certain Kind of Light
He found her in an austere little garden behind the house, sitting on a stone bench underneath a holly tree. Her head was bowed and her hands were folded in her lap. At first, he thought she was praying and considered leaving her alone for a while. Then she spoke.
"Don't be kind to me, Anthony," she muttered, not looking up. "I can bear a great deal, but your sympathy will undo me. If you mean to leave me, you'd best make it quick."
His temper flared. If she had overheard Mrs. Bamford's warnings, then she had surely heard his replies. He'd done nothing but argue with Mrs. Bamford, so it was hardly fair for her to assume that he'd leave her.
"If you want to get rid of me," he said, "I'd prefer you just tell me to go to the devil. You can't count on me to pick up these hints."
"What are you talking about?" she asked. Her eyes were still fixed on her hands.
"You heard me," he said. When she gave no response, he knelt before her and placed a hand over hers. "I love you and I mean to marry you," he went on. "The only thing I care about is whether or not you'll have me. If Mrs. Bamford was right, then I'm sorry for your sake. It's awful and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, let alone you. But it wouldn't change how I feel about you."
She finally looked at him. Her blue eyes were brimming with tears.
"I know," she said, "but that's just the trouble. You won't leave me. You won't hear anything against me. You'll stand by me, no matter what awful thing I say or do, and eventually you'll curse the day you met me. "
"Like hell I will," he burst out. She stiffened and turned the color of chalk. He was also shocked at his words the moment they left his mouth, but he was truly sick of the way she talked about herself. "What have you done that's so awful, anyway? You wouldn't have shot Mr. Fogg if he hadn't scared and hurt you into it. Don't tell me otherwise."
"I was afraid," she admitted. Tears were coursing down her cheeks now. "I was afraid of the judge, too. He never touched me in an improper way, but the way he looked at me…I couldn't live like that again. I grieve for him—I loved him as a daughter loves her father, after all—but I'd kill him myself if he weren't already dead. Do you understand me?"
"I understand," he said. He couldn't deny that her words and demeanor scared him a little, but neither could he blame her. "I think you're wonderful, Johanna, but I don't expect you to be a saint."
"Is that all?" she asked. "You know what I've done, what I am, and all you can say is that I'm not a saint?"
"That's right," he said. "You're not a saint, but you're not this monster you make yourself out to be. You're Johanna Barker, and that's something to be proud of."
Before the last word was entirely out of his mouth, she'd grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled herself closer to him. Her knees, unexpectedly sharp, jutted into his chest.
"You walked into this with your eyes wide open," she said. Her own eyes glowed like the blue center of a flame. "Never tell me you didn't. I liked you—wanted you—from the moment I saw you. Did you know that?"
"I'm glad to hear it," he said. It wasn't really an answer to her question, but he wasn't really paying attention to what he said. She had never been more beautiful than she was now.
"You looked so free and…well, not quite happy. You mostly looked frustrated, I suppose because you were lost." She sighed and loosened her grip on his shoulders a little. "But you seemed so alive, and you looked at everything like it was new and wonderful. And when you looked at me that way…"
She blushed and shook her head.
"Even now, after all that's happened in the last few days, there's a certain kind of light to you," she continued. "I love you for that, but I'm going to put out that light someday." She paused and glared at him. "Even though I love you, I'm going to ruin you. It's in my nature."
"I don't think you will," he said quietly. He felt almost drunk. The world suddenly wasn't spinning the right way round. "If you'd wanted to ruin me, you could have just left me in Newgate. But you got me out."
"If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have been there in the first place," she countered. "It would've been better for you if you'd never seen me."
"I'm glad I saw you," he argued. "I've never felt for anybody what I feel for you. I wouldn't wish that away for anything. I blame the judge for Newgate. I blame the beadle. I blame Wolfe and Wilson, but you…all I know is that I feel good when I'm with you, Jo."
"No, you don't," she said flatly. When he started to protest, she added, "I don't doubt you love me, but you're already sadder than when I met you. I didn't notice in the carriage, but, when we were having tea, there were a few times when you went all pale and shaky. You looked like you weren't there anymore."
Her face had softened into an expression of worry and he found he couldn't look at her anymore. Instead, he stared at her skirts. He focused on her endearingly bony knees and the feel of her thumbs, which were drawing little circles on his shoulders.
"Something's wrong, Anthony," she said. "Don't tell me there isn't."
"There is," he confessed to her skirts. He thought of the old fairy tale about the princess who told her secrets to an iron stove, because she'd taken an oath not to reveal them to people. "It has nothing to do with you, though. It goes back years before I met you."
Her thumbs stopped.
"The man you fought in Newgate," she said. "You knew him."
"How…how did you know?" he asked, after a few long, excruciating seconds. He felt like she'd knocked the wind right out of him.
"We were talking about the fight when you looked sick," she explained. She resumed making her thumb-circles. "Besides, you wouldn't have hit him unless he really upset you. It's harder for a stranger to do that than somebody you already know. And you said it goes back years. Did he insult your mother?"
"No. Just me." He was suddenly very tired. Even if he could've looked her in the eyes, he wouldn't have had the energy to lift his head. "He never even met her."
"How do you know him?" she asked. It was the question he'd been dreading, but he couldn't refuse to answer it. That would only make her suspicious.
"He was captain of the Bountiful," he said. "That's my old ship."
"I know," she said, sounding mildly irritated. "You told me the day you proposed. I suppose he wasn't a very good captain?"
Anthony laughed, but it came out more like a hacking cough.
"No," he agreed, once he'd got his breath back. "He liked flogging sailors until there was no skin on their backs. I mean that he enjoyed it. Some of them died. This Irishman, Patrick Doyle…he got it for falling asleep on watch. It was my first voyage and I couldn't believe it. Everybody knew what had happened, who was responsible for Doyle's death, but nobody said anything. And I was so stupid, Jo. I didn't know why, so I said something."
"And then you got it," she finished. And that was true—or, at least, as close to the truth as he could get—so he nodded. Presently, he felt her cool hand on his hair. "Oh, Anthony, I'm so sorry. You could have died."
"Yes," he said miserably. That was the truth, too.
"I'm glad you hit him first," she said. The cold fury in her voice made him look up. Her face was white and set, with her sweetly rounded chin lifted like a prizefighter's. "I hope you broke his face open. Blood for blood. What has he been charged with? Do you think he'll hang?"
"More likely than not," he replied quickly, avoiding the first question.
"Good," she said savagely, "although I'd rather they draw and quarter him. What kind of monster would hurt you?"
Despite their violence, her words touched him in some absurd way.
"Don't be too hard on him on that score," he told her. "He didn't know me that well. Why, he called me Harlowe when I ran into him."
It was a weak attempt at a joke, not to mention an ill-advised one. He felt sick as soon as he'd finished it. Johanna's alarmed expression let him know that he showed it.
"We'd better return to the parlor," she said. "Mrs. Bamford will be wondering where we are. Besides, you should have more tea. I hate that slush, but it always makes me feel better."
"It's something," he agreed. He slowly got to his feet. His knees were stiff from kneeling so long and there was dirt on his trouser legs. Smiling, Johanna reached out and brushed off the worst of it. "Thank you."
"You should have proposed again," she remarked. "I'm still disappointed that you didn't get on your knees the first time."
He couldn't help but smile at that, not least because she was joking about marriage.
"Johanna Barker," he started, "will you do me the great honor of—"
"You still aren't doing it right!" she protested. Her eyes gleamed with mischief. "You weren't even listening to me, were you?"
"I was," he said solemnly. "I just don't want to get my trousers dirty again."
She laughed and took his hand. Together, they headed back to the parlor.
Author's Note: The very fact that they're joking about marriage tells me they're not ready! Nah, just kidding. Anyway, Anthony's thinking of "The Goose Girl."