AN: Oh ho ho ho! You thought I'd left, didn't you? Well I didn't!
Yet another sloppy love chapter, yay. I am so very fond of them, you really have no idea. But I swear, I promise I'll write something in here that isn't so...fluffy. Yeah, sometime soon. Anyhow, I hope this makes up for my long period of not updating. It's rather hefty, the longest chapter yet.
The chapter title is green because it reminds me of inner calm.
The waves crash against the shore, pounding the sand, cold, and wet. Winds from winter still breeze by, careless and full of recklessness, blasting into a body like a rampaging animal, going through one's skin as if through thin paper, chilling you to the bone, making your teeth chatter.
Cruel storms brewed in the distance, on the ocean's top, spraying white foam up in the air, like blood from an open wound.
But this early morning, Sweeney Todd was not thinking of blood, or battle or fury.
In fact, he was asleep in his favorite chair, an old, beaten up red one, with faux velvet upholstery that was moth-eaten and worn. And yet, it was comfortable, and he had in positioned in the window of the parlor, near both the small stove that warmed the room, and a window looking out to the sea and sands beyond the tiny beach shack.
Cheek and forehead pressed on the cold glass, he slept peacefully, neck craned as his entire upper body leaning against the window pane. His expression was almost peaceful, a slight frown with a set mouth. He breathed lightly.
The wind blew by, rattling the window loudly and forcefully enough to rouse him from slumber, and sit up, immediately wincing as his neck protested its pain in staying in such an odd position all night as he slept. Rotating his neck and shoulders, he sighs, slumping back in the chair, and closing his eyes again.
Silly storms. A downside to living by the ocean in such weather as this.
However, he's warm, because the stove is lit, and there's a coat covering his body.
On any other occasion, he would have been annoyed, and somewhat perplexed as to who had placed this jacket on him. But today...Today, Sweeney Todd only smiles despite himself.
It has been too long since she had had an opportunity to fret over him catching a cold.
He was initially surprised to hear, so long ago now, it seems, that she had lived. But he had thought of her, and that indomitable nature of hers, and now, he was not so shocked to know she'd survived his attempt on her life.
No...She was much stronger than that. And if anything, she probably stayed alive out of fury at him, for killing her. Not that she was justified in such revenge. She had lied to him about his wife.
No...Benjamin Barker's wife.
Sweeney Todd, once known by such a title, had quietly but mournfully accepted that he was not that man any longer. Benjamin Barker was not him, and however much he had tried to make the man's memories and life his own life, his own memories and love, he knew, somehow, that it could never happen.
Too much had happened, and he could not take back what had been done to him.
He was Sweeney Todd, murdering barber. Merciless and clever, cold and emotionless. Of course, he found Johanna was one small deviation from this. When he saw his daughter, not even fifteen years in a prison camp could suppress his pride, and admiration for his darling girl. And while Benjamin Barker would have been a much more suitable parent, Sweeney had dismissed this.
If anything, he would be a good father to Johanna. He could do that; he deserved to love his daughter. It was the one thing they could not steal from him.
Sweeney Todd was not a good man, but he was still human. And now, he wanted to rest.
Sleeping peacefully was still new to him, a new feeling to wake up in the morning, and feel as if he had relaxed. Taking a deep breath, he had never felt so good. So alive.
It probably had something to do with her, of course.
At the thought, he hears a small clinking noise from the kitchen, and leans forward, spotting Mrs. Lovett there, pouring tea from the kettle, her back turned to him.
She's wearing a dress from the old days, when she wore gaudy, showy clothes (mostly, he thinks now, to attract his attention, which it never did) and leaned into him, asking him to look. Today, she wears the dress he killed her in (he loves the thought of this, saying he killed her, but there she is, plain as anything). It has a low back, intricate knots starting at her lower back, giving him a view of her porcelain skin and neck.
But it is the scar that fascinates him.
Like a sunburst, it is red and vicious looking, a ferocious thing, tendrils looping away, spreading almost like wings along her shoulders, tiny intricate lines spreading from the base of the burn mark on her spine. It starts at the bottom of her neck, and ends about mid-back, and he adores her for this mark.
He has told her that it is beautiful; whispered it to her as he runs his hands along it, caressing each twist and turn, soft as anything, even as she squeezes her eyes shut, and steadies her breath.
She has more scars on the inside, he thinks, than these on her back and shoulders. It took him a good deal of time to coax her into letting him hold her, hands resting on her back without her stiffening, shuddering at his touch and closeness.
Their kiss had been an exception; she was more trying to prove a point than anything, and her longing for him exceeded her fear of what had occurred. But afterwards, it had been difficult.
Now, now that she's warmed to him (he laughs quietly at this, thinking how much their roles have been reversed) it has been lovely.
She whirls about, taking easy strides into the parlor, and over the rim of her teacup, she spots him gazing at her, and her eyes sparkle with a smile.
Sitting on the arm of the chair, she rests a hand on his shoulder.
"You want a cup?", she asks, holding it up, steam rising from its depths. He shakes his head.
"Maybe later," he murmurs, eying the fire blazing in the stove. Nodding to it, he looks back at her.
"You lit it? The oven?"
Nodding, she sips from the cup, and stares outside, brown eyes reflecting the grey light from outside. He resists the urge to run hands over her back right now, having memorized every path along the burn, and kiss her. Instead, he rests a hand on the small of her back, to which she straightens slightly, and then gives an apologetic smile.
"Sorry," she begins, "Force of habit now, I s'pose..." She looks somewhat downcast, as if this reaction is saddening. He reaches up, tentatively, and runs a hand down her cheek.
"I'll wait, as long as you need," he says, and then, grins. "Wait, love. Wait."
Her lips curve upward, and she leans into his hand, closing her eyes. "I was always tellin' you...Be patient. Learned your lesson, I think."
"Indeed." He opens his arms, welcoming her, and after a second where she gives him a suspicious glance, allows herself to slide off the arm of the chair, and onto his lap, where he immediately wraps both arms about her waist, and leans his head on her bare (albeit warm) shoulder, giving a contented sigh. She hits him lightly on top on his head, making a huffing noise of protest.
"You only wanted me closer cos I'm warm, is that it?"
He chuckles into her neck, kissing her scar there. She shivers under his touch, which only serves to make him even more amused. Mrs. Lovett squirms, struggling to break away from him, but he only pulls her closer, cautiously, so as not to frighten her. Finally, she seems to give in, surrendering to the job of being a heat source, and leans back against his chest.
The silence between them is comfortable; she has changed in many ways, and this is one of them:
She does not constantly chatter when he's in the room. In fact, while she can speak for a long while as she had before, she is more prone to contemplative silences, and seems to understand his own need for them.
The morning after she broke down his door with a pistol and knife at hand, he was already awake when she came downstairs, hair mussed, cheeks flushed, and upon catching sight of him, sitting in this very chair, she had not (as he had expected her to do) came straight up to him, fawning over him, whispering nonsense to him. Instead, she had given him a look and nod as a way of good morning, and set about making breakfast for herself. The silence that first morning had been frosty, and awkard, as if they hadn't known each other for twenty years (it always amazes him, this number). She had only spoken to him to ask if he wanted anything to eat.
He had declined the food, instead grabbing her arms and pulling her face down to meet his own lips.
"Is it always so horrid?" She asks, glancing down at him, referring to the weather.
He pulls out of his reverie, and shakes his head. "No...S'only like this in winter, and early spring, I think. We'll come into the warm season, soon enough."
At the thought of by the sea, she becomes excited, and she places a hand in his hair, running nimble fingers through it gently.
"Is it lovely, the sea?"
He points outside. "It's out there, Eleanor."
She laughs. "No, not that. During summer."
"Oh." He pauses, remembering the sand, hot and sticking to your legs after walking in the water, and he remembers the sun, not at all like the oppressing sun in Australia, but light, a warm breeze cooling its rays. Looking to her, he finishes:
"Yes, it is lovely, I'd say. It's not like Australia. It's...different. Maybe because it holds better memories..." He trails off, but she seems to understand.
In bed, he sits up, straight, breathing heavy from a nightmare. Sweat drips from his brow, and he turns to his left, eyes searching for...
His heart beats faster. She's not there, and--
Remembering that she's in the guest room, that what happened two nights ago was just...well, he can't define what happened and neither could she, he gets out of bed, and strides quickly into the room two doors away, right up to the bed, and she opens her eyes, eyebrows raised at first, seeming agitated, but upon seeing him, her face softens.
"Here," she says, reaching out a hand.
He takes it, and whispers: "It was a nightmare, and I..." Stopping, he shakes his head, and looks at her, pleading. He can't tell her what it was; he's never been able to tell anyone about the dreams that grip him, pulling him deeper until he is drowning.
She nods, pulling him down onto the bed, sitting beside him. Leaning her head on his shoulder, she says nothing.
But somehow, he feels calmer. She knows, she knows he can't say it. She knows him better, he thinks, than he knows himself.
From that night on, the guest room remains empty.
She has taken their past in stride.
Learn forgiveness, and try to forget.
Yes, they are doing that. It's new now, whatever they have together. Both of them have walked down a path from which there is not return, both experiencing the same things (perhaps at different times, but they know each other because they are so alike in this way) and ultimately being haunted by the same demons.
They share the pain now. And he delights in it.
He loves feeling her fingers trailing circles on his shirt, hand resting on his. He loves her eyes, wild and full of fire, and her smile, as if she is hiding something, and she'll never tell. And he loves that she knows him, that she loves him. It is a strange feeling, to be loved exactly as you are.
As Sweeney Todd, he feels that it is significant.
"It was a living hell, wasn't it?" She whispers, breathing in his ear as her chin rests on his shoulder.
He stays silent, contemplating an reply to such a question. He leans his head back and gazes outside at the broiling ocean, the brewing storm in the distance, and the sand.
"Yes," he says, "They...They kept us in these little rooms, no light, no warmth, filthy little things, and then, they would drag us out into the sun...We were blind, and the sun would burn our skin and backs...It was worse than hell."
"That what changed you?"
The questions are different today, different than they were, five years ago. Five years ago, she asked him such things as "Gilly flowers, Mr. T, or daisies?". Now she wants to know this?
But he complies.
"I suppose...I suppose it was what made the change worse. I was so angry...For the injustice of it all, for what they could do to Lucy and Johanna...It was this huge, massive anger, and then they ship me out there...where they work you until you're almost dead, then throw you in where sun never shines...Then do it all over again. And if you're dragging, you're punished...All of it changed me. Not just Australia."
"Like a match, starting the fire," she observes, her eyes lost in the flames from the stove.
"Yes," he whispers. "Yes, like that."
She is no longer the sort of woman to pry, to coax him into talking, even acknowledging her prescience. She doesn't need him, not really. Not anymore. In fact, she shouldn't need him; he's mostly useless anyway, and a danger to everyone. Including himself.
And yet, in the instant she stood there, staring at him with nothing but adoration in those lovely eyes, unafraid, telling him she loved him, still...
He still cannot express how it made him feel...to know she's willing to love a monster. That she has always loved him, as this new man, this Sweeney Todd.
He might not ever tell, but he loves her for this. In all the ways he can still love (he's not sure he can truly love again, completely). It might not be perfect...But it is all he has, and she has told him (not in words, per se) that she is content with that.
And yet, as they sit there, silent, gazing out at this fantastic storm, warm from the stove's heat, he feels a distinct pain, to think he cannot give her more.
Or at least tell her how much she means.
He stands at the ocean's edge, tentative, feet bracing for the horrid chill of the ocean's water, eyes closed, ready...
Small but strong hands are on his back, and he's off balance...
The water is freezing on his face and neck and shoulders...Soaking, he flips around so he's sitting, sputtering salt water, shocked.
She's standing over him, suppressing obvious laughter, which turns to a squeal of terror as he stands, scooping her up in his arms and hurling her, unceremoniously into the waves.
She's shivering as she comes up, coughing, and he grins.
"Eye for an eye," he teases, and she laughs again.
There are moments like these, rare and few, when they forget what has happened. Forgetting who they are.
Turning to him, she gives him a look of mischief.
"Let's go out, and look closer," she says, almost whispering.
Sitting up, she tugs his arms and drags him out the door, sliding in the sand, clad only in those flimsy shoes she insists on wearing.
Having slept in the parlor, he had had no time to change clothes, and is perfectly balanced as his boots sink into the ground beneath him, following behind her at a distance, watching with curiosity as her hair, wilder now in the strong winds, flies about her face, which requires her to reach a hand to push it away at least every ten seconds or so. Finally arriving on the wet sand, she waits, arms folded in annoyance as she watches him catch up.
The ocean is a deep green up close, furious and swollen, a living thing. The sound is deafening, a series of crashes and whispers of spraying foam, the waves rolling in, constant.
She yells over the noise, "Lord. It's almost beautiful, ain't it?"
He stares at her, a pale thing, fragile-looking and yet, so strong. A constant, never changing thing, she's one thing he knows will never leave, or change so drastically as he has. Her eyes are bright with a child-like wonder, at the same time knowing the weight of this sight they are privileged to look upon. Her mouth moves, and without being able to hear, he knows what she's doing.
By the sea, Mr. Todd, that's the life I covet, by the sea, Mr. Todd...
Without thinking, his hand slips into hers and grips tight.
Don't let go of me. You keep me from drowning, don't you see?
She squeezes back, and the look she gives him tells him it's alright. It's going to be alright, now.
He may not ever tell her how he feels. But somehow, he knows she doesn't need that from him.
For this, he loves her more.