AN: Hey, Sweeney Todd fans. I'm ba-aaack. Don't ask where this came from; I was just sitting at my computer, listening to some wodnerful bubblegum 50's music (I'm a nerd, okay?!) when suddenly, I cranked out this gigantic load of angst and violence. Yay! I must admit, listening to "Rock Around The Clock" while I typed this was really, really amazingly hilarious. Um, this is sort of a departure from all the optimistic fluff I usually do, so if you expected that, I apologize. It's not that at all.
On the floor
That's enough for you
But I still need more
I jump from every rooftop
So high so far to fall
I feel a million miles away
I don't feel any thing at all
-- "1,000,000" by Nine Inch Nails
The razor is being unruly today.
Sweeney Todd's hand is precise, delicate, a well-oiled machine. It could be said that his hand is not even flesh, or blood or muscle, and was instead sculpted of white marble, polished in the pale grey light of London, like a statue's hand in a museum.
Not that museums interested Mr. Todd.
Today, though, every infinite tendon, every cell in his hand, seems to shiver and wriggle, making it nearly impossible to keep his dear, silver, luminous friend steady.
He imagines it must have something to do with an infestation of that dreaded beast, Thought.
Normally, he keeps a rather simple filing system for his ideas and musings: quite simply, he has two piles, one for revenge (which contained The Judge, Lucy's fate, Johanna's life, or lack thereof) and one for the past (which contained scarcely anything at all, and was now only a series of images and sights and sounds). All other things, such as day-to-day life, and interacting with Mrs. Lovett, were instinctual, sleep-walking activities, for it was an easy thing, to humor Mrs. Lovett.
Today, something about today, had set him upon edge, teetering upon the blade of a knife, between humanity (which he so loathed, so despised) and his cold, easy world.
Today, Sweeney Todd is in a mood, the sort of mood that crawls under his skin like a virus, polluting his every waking moment with a hideous delight, as if today was a new day, a brighter day, as if he himself had just awoken this morning from a deep, long hibernation, to a gorgeous spring day.
He hates it, hates looking out the window and feeling the unconscious twitch at the corners of his mouth, his muscles pulling into a rusty, creaking smile. It sickens him, to think that perhaps he's losing his touch, or rather, regaining his touch with the world. A small part of him seems to be moving independently of his unified Self, rebelling against his one-track brain, stooping on the side of the road that is his and his alone to point out a wildflower, or perhaps a oddly shaped cloud.
All Sweeney knows is that he is disgusted with himself today, and as he looks out the window in bitter surrender and notes the happy children below with a hint of interest, he can't help but want to find someone to blame for this, for his strange contentedness with today.
It's no crime, to be content, a part of him says. You have a good life. Maybe not a well-adjusted one, or even a pleasant one, but it is good for you.
But he can't be happy. That isn't in his plan, isn't in the neatly sorted piles that tell him how to act, how to react. He's not allowed to be happy, not Sweeney Todd, the cold machine. Happiness defeats his purpose, destroys everything that holds him together at the seams, because how can he be even remotely in good spirits, when the things that made him so happy, so long ago were lost to him? How can you love anything, when everything you loved has been taken away?
These sort of questions race through his thoughts, wreaking absolute havoc upon his system, making it impossible for him to even flatter Mrs. Lovett (which is at best done half-heartedly anyways). He can't do a single thing to stop the flow of Thought, can't fight it away or stop it up, like a dam to block the flow of a wild river. He simply drowns in it, choking upon the water, confident that soon, the water will run its course, run until it is dry, and he can once again return to his work. Like a man sweating out a fever.
Because of this mysterious and perplexing mood, however, Sweeney Todd has already botched two jobs today.
The first was a rather old man, who seemed to be living off of his son's money, with a long, curling beard that hung near the man's thin waist, and shook with even the slightest movement. He was rickety on his feet, and Mr. Todd (ever the gentleman, ever the wonderful host) had helped him into the chair with a surge of pity. This was the first sign something was wrong with him; he never felt pity for the men he killed (after all, they all deserved to die, didn't they?). Nevertheless, he had pushed back this feeling of empathy by reminding himself that what with the man's age and obvious senility, he was practically performing a mercy killing. He reminded himself of the books he had read as a young boy, about lions in Africa picking only the weakest zebras to attack, and had pulled back the razor like a serious-faced child winding up to throw a ball.
Only to find as soon as the blade broke the skin, his wrist had jerked and faltered, and suddenly, the razor was stuck in the man's throat, deep in the muscle, blood pouring out of the wound to pool on Sweeney's sleeve, a sickening feeling. He had finally just ripped his hand out, completely disregarding any thought of being able to salvage his chance at a beautiful, clean cut across the throat.
When he sent the body down into the bakehouse, Mrs. Lovett had let out a yell of protest.
"Good lord, Mr. T," she'd called up to him, appeared in the square in the floor, looking very far away. "This is a bloody mess. Heh, d'you get that? A bloody mess."
He'd rolled his eyes and said yes, he did, and that he was sorry for the mess. Mrs. Lovett's eyes had widened and then she'd smiled, a quicksilver thing, there one minute, gone the next, and said:
"Ah, love, don't you fret your head over it. God knows ya got enough in that 'ead o' yours to fill oceans with. I'll jus' clean 'im up, see what we can get off 'im."
The second one, his hand had slipped again, and he'd gone and cut a crooked line, like a forked lightning bolt, down the man's chest to his breastbone. He'd had to clean the floor around his chair for the second time that day, and afterwards, he decided he was in no condition to work, turning the sign on his door so that it said "closed", slumping into the barber's chair with a groan, like a student who just found out he has failed an exam in his very best subject.
As he gazes out the window, forehead pressed to the glass as if to break it, he can think of nothing better than to simply close his eyes and sleep, even though this in itself is an impossibility, because Sweeney Todd never sleeps.
Maybe he does what he does next because of the frustration, because of the futility of everything. Perhaps it's because he's simply tired, tired of living (or rather, trying to live), tired of hating so fiercely, tired of feeling as if he's been cheated out of a lifetime of perfection. It could be that he's angry: angry because he's not strong enough to stay cold, angry because he's going soft, and all because of some silly notion that his downstairs neighbor has gotten into her head, that they're living well, that she's in love with him, that she could give him a good life, if he could only put it all behind. It's possible he does it because he can do it, because it's there and he suddenly wants to.
Whatever the reason, Sweeney Todd pushes away from the window and slams his fist into the large pane, a smudge still there from where his skin was pressed upon the glass.
The instant his knuckles collide with the window, it seems to burst into a million piece in slow motion, a million little shining stars, and even in his rage, his current state forces him to see how sadly pretty it is, these tiny flecks of glass floating past him like the universe colliding together. His hand, of course, suddenly explodes with the pain of it, and as he looks, through the flickering silvers of the glass, his pale hand has suddenly become a mangled mess of red, hot blood. It's strangely ironic, he thinks, as he pulls his arm back through the shattered pane, that only now, for the first time in years, his hands are warm again, warm with the rubies that drip from them, and Sweeney Todd grins like a maniac, holding his hands up to his face like a bandit who has just happened upon a chest full of precious red jewels.
For the first time since he had held a flower up to his baby daughter, cradled in the arms of his wife, Sweeney Todd laughs, a broken thing, sounding rusty and out of use. His laugh is lilting and broken, as if he's forgotten how to do the thing, of laughing. It's suddenly too much for him, to be angry, to be full of thought and pain and feeling.
"Make me unfeel," he whispers, chuckling.
And suddenly, there's a tap on the glass, an insistent rapping that jolt him out of his instant of humour and back into the present.
At the door, a man with a fancy top-hat and coat is waiting, leaning down to peer in through the sign tacked to the frame on the window, eyes widening in alarm to see what appears to be a deranged lunatic, standing in the middle of a ring of broken glass, bloodied and wide-eyed.
Mr. Todd is at the door before the potential customer can blink, however, already putting on his show of being an everyday citizen. Panting, pulling his perfect face into an expression of irritation and dutiful sadness, he gasps to the man:
"Oh, sir! Forgive me, for my appearance. Did you happen to see a young man, about your height, racing down this street?"
The man stutters in surprise, and back a step away, still wary.
"I, uh, I," he stammers out, looking strangely fascinated by this supposed "best barber in London".
Sweeney takes the man by both of his shoulders, the picture of worry and hurt.
"A man just came into my shop, you see," he says, sounding so convincingly upset he almost fools himself for an instant, "Said he wanted a shave, you see. But then, all of a sudden, he's got me pressed against the glass, a pistol to my head, and he takes all my earnings for today. Of course, I fought back, that's why the window's broken, you see? But I'm afraid he was too quick. Darted off, with all my money."
He chews his lip, shaking his head in a sad way.
"I don't really care about the earnings...It's just such a shame, t'see what could've been a fine upstanding gentleman so desperate for a way to survive."
The man gives a nervous, tittering laugh, and then takes off his hat, nodding gravely in agreement.
I've got you, Sweeney thinks, delighted at his own performance, his own quick thinking.
"Ah, it's really, ah, such a shame," the man says, wiping his brow of a thin sheen of sweat. "Society is not what it used to be, I'm afraid."
Putting on his best, most sincere smile, he replies:
"Oh, sir. I could not agree with you more, I assure you. But, you must've come here looking for more than a discussion of today's youth, I should think. A shave, perhaps? You'll have to forgive my shop; it's really in quite a state, but please, do not hold that against me. I still give the cleanest shave in London, sir. Free of charge, even, for your trouble."
The man fiddles the rim of his hat nervously, obviously flattered, clearly charmed by this man's sudden politeness.
"Oh, I, ah, well, yes, I was here for a shave, yes. But your hand..."
Todd holds up the bloodied thing, giving a start if only just noticing it himself.
"Ah!" he cries. "I was so bent on protecting myself, I suppose I didn't even feel it."
Giving a sharp inhale of faked pain, he grips the hand, and smiles assuringly, holding open the door, arm outstretched in welcome.
"However, it's perfectly alright. I'll just take a minute, sir, to bandage it, and then I'll give you that shave. What d'you say to that?"
"Oh, oh. Well, certainly, if you insist. You are the best in London, they say."
Sweeney Todd grins, victorious, as he carefully locks the door behind his new victim, eyes glimmering with a strange hunger, impatient.
"Oh, sir," he drawls, sliding his razor out of its holster at his waist, flicking his friend open with one swift movement, "I'm afraid I really do insist."
He moves faster than he has in a long time, only pausing enough to allow the man to remove his stupid, silly top hat before roughly turning him about by the shoulder to face him, and then, quick as anything, he slams his wounded fist into the fool's nose.
Blood explodes, all over the man's nice coat, over his cravat and shirt, and onto Todd's sleeves, but he doesn't care, doesn't care at all how messy or disgusting or sloppy this is.
He suddenly doesn't feel anything at all, as he drops the cold razor to the floor and bombards the hapless figure with punches, feeling the snap of teeth coming out in his mouth as he makes contact, delighting in how the skin tears underneath such beatings, how he knows a bruise will form here and there.
It is absolutely glorious.
All he can think about is how his muscles are contracting and flexing to pull his arms back, and then fling them downwards, how satisfying the noise is when he hits the customer, how it feels when the skin bends inwards under his blows, the sound of his breathing, ragged, and the feeling of air in his throat, like he's been running for miles.
I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive.
It's all he can think, as blood begins to pool in the curves of the man's face (or what is left of it, because really, it cannot even be recognized as a face any longer).
Sweeney Todd wonders vaguely if this man has a family, but can't bring himself to care, can't stop for anything now.
The man does struggle, of course, finger nails running angry red tracks down Sweeney's arms and hands, over his throat, even, and he punches at this unexpected attacker lamely, seeming to know there's nothing he can do to stop this, nothing he can do to delay his death any more than a few minutes, a few more blows.
Finally, the razor catches in the light as he's propping the man up against the wall, a fist ready, and he notes its glimmer, amongst the shards of glass, remembering. He drags the man into the center of the scattered bits of window, dropping him unceremoniously and picking up the razor, flexing his grip around it delightedly, before sliding the blade along the man's throat, in a clean, steady line, blood immediately pouring from the wound in the wake of the razor, as if the edge is a boat, parting the dark ocean's waters.
But it isn't enough, isn't nearly enough, and so he runs the razor through again, and then, again, stabbing the man in the chest, the stomach, the arm, the face.
The window wasn't satisfactory, wasn't at all as perfect as this is, this simple and easy act of destroying something beautfiful, ruining something that was once a breathing, living, feeling thing.
He doesn't know when the man stopped breathing, but finally, after what feels like forever, like wading through ice water, Sweeney Todd stops, breathing heavily, and gets to his feet, stumbling backwards away from what is really only pieces of a body, and into his warm barber's chair.
There's footsteps coming up the stairs, as his chest rises and falls, and Mrs. Lovett clutches her hands to her mouth as she gazes at the scene, the broken glass, Mr. Todd, panting in his chair.
She says nothing, simply staring at her beloved neighbor, her partner in crime, looking a bit like a mother who is preparing to scold a child.
"Mr. T..." she begins, the name accompanied, as it almost always is, with a heavy sigh.
"I didn't like his hat," Sweeney offers, gesturing to the offending accessory with his wounded hand.
She gives a quiet sort of laugh, gasping suddenly as she notices his injury, hopping over the body to grab it and rest it in hers.
"You're hurt, love," she says, pointing to the hand.
He raises his eyebrows. "Excellent observation, dearest. You ought to have gone into detective work."
Rolling her eyes, she only tsks before pulling a handkerchief out from the pocket of her apron and winding in tightly about his hand, disregarding his hisses of pain and protests.
"Maybe I should 'ave," she replies, brown eyes flicking to the broken window with another disapproving frown, "But I 'ave no idea why you'd want to smash up a window. You feelin' like enlightenin' me, or will I 'ave to guess?"
He gives the window a glance, and shrugs. "I didn't like what I saw outside."
She's silent, seeming to contemplate this as she knots the handkerchief without remorse, jerking his hand as if to exact some sort of punishment for the mess he's made today.
Noticing her silence, he snorts, looking down to his boots, which are splattered with blood.
"I do not expect you, of all people, to understand."
Nellie shrugs. "Seems t'me you're just in a stormy mood, Mr. T."
"Stormy?" He quirks his eyebrow, skeptical.
She flushes. "Yeah, that's what me mum used t' call it. Like, you've got a storm brewin' all around you, and you just can't concentrate on anything else. S'pose this was all just a way to work off some of that."
Seeing that their conversational topics are worn thin, she steps gingerly over the puddle of blood and turns:
"I'll be back up with some hot water, and some rags, Mr. Todd?"
His eyes are suddenly fierce again, full of clarity. He feels awake, after his episode, as if he had been sifting through sand until now. He thinks of all the things she does for him, all of those sleepless nights they've spent, scrubbing the floors until their hands are rough from soap and rags, and thinks of how she's probably spent just as many sleepless nights, imagining things they could be doing, instead of washing blood from his floors.
He nods, and she starts down the steps, only to stop when he calls out her name.
She stares at him, eyes seeming to plead with him, begging for him.
"Yes, Mr. Todd?"
He starts, and stops, then, "Thank you. For...for understanding."
Mrs. Lovett bites her lip, and gives a jerky nod, looking closer to tears than anything else, racing the rest of the way down the stairs, leaving him in his silence, peacefully slumped in his chair, his breathing slowed.
He supposes he should feel a bit upset, or at least guilty.
Glancing down at the body, however, still trickling blood, he cracks another crooked grin, like a jack-o-lantern, and shakes his head, chuckling.
He simply cannot bring himself to care.
He has won the battle over himself.
He can't feel a thing.