A/N: So here I am with my first multi-chapter Sweeney Todd fanfic! Excitement! =O
Before I begin, I would like to thank everyone who reviewed my other stories, because it was a big confidence booster and I now feel that I'm ready to undertake a larger story (this one). I hope you enjoy it, and please review if you feel you have the time.
AND. BIGGEST THANKS EVER to Pamena, who has been integral in the creation of this thing. She is my beta reader, my pal, and my idea bouncing board, and she helped me more than I can really express. She kept me from jumping off a cliff during the most painful writer's block pretty much ever, helped me hammer out the details, and has been very honest in her opinions about what kind of stuff works and what doesn't. Without her, this couldn't have happened.
And even though pretty much EVERYONE has read her stuff, if you haven't, do it now. No kidding. Well, maybe when you're finished reading this. xD Anyways, I hope you enjoy this.... and don't get too mad at me for what I may or may not be about to do with this story. –shifty eyes–
Summary: 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 anyway.
Disclaimer: I don't own all this stuff, honest. If I did, I'd be much less worried about how the heck I'm going to afford university. =/
In The Dark Beside You
"Morning, Mister T," Lovett calls as she balances the tray of oatmeal and tea on one hand, "brought you some breakfast, dear." She steps forward into the shop and closes the door behind her. The bell jingles in a distinctly cheery tone that is out of place amongst the gloomy blue-greys and blacks, a far too common sound to be present in this lair of revenge and violence. A scrap of normalcy in a twisted world. Then again, perhaps that's what she's always liked about it.
Unsurprisingly, Mister Todd is at the window again, leaning with one arm pressed against the pane above his head. The other arm dangles loosely by his side, fingers as motionless as a statue even as his hand swings gently back and forth. Thinking about the only two things that ever occupy his mind, no doubt. His precious Lucy and how to avenge her. Why does he still bother with her, so long after she's gone from his life?
"Mister T, can I ask you a question?" Before she even registers that she is speaking, the query is out.
"What?" He is not demanding an answer, though it could sound like he is from the callous tone of his voice. He's simply responding because he knows that she will continue whether or not he gives her permission and this is the only way for him to feel like he's still in control. At least, that's what she figures. It's still too early to hope that it's because he actually cares.
"Your Lucy... what did she look like?" To Lovett, the name only brings a glimpse of a mad, raving woman to mind. Pale as a sheet, skeletal and deranged. Screaming for her child long after Turpin whisked the little songbird off to her cage.
Maybe it had been for the best. Lucy would never have left Johanna alone if she could get to her – the way the beggar woman still lurked around was proof of that – and the life Lovett cold have offered the little dear would have been far less than she deserved. Of course, marrying the lecherous cad wouldn't be a walk in the park either, but Mister Todd would soon fix that and all would be put to rights.
"She had yellow hair," he says after a moment. Unless she's imagining it, his voice trembles slightly.
"Can't really remember, can you?" she asks, putting the tray down on the dresser, pushing aside bottles of creams and perfumes to make room on the dusty surface. "You've got to leave all this behind you now. She's gone." It's at once a lie and the truth; after all this time, Lovett almost believes it herself. Each time is a little easier. "Life is for the alive, my dear." And she put her hand on his arm, hoping he will realize how very much alive she is.
She feels him tense slightly beneath her touch, pull away ever so slightly. "We could have a life together, us two." She expects him to scream at her, to command her to leave – anything. But there is only silence, this heavy painful silence that is at once inspiring and disheartening. There are clues in his body language that he is having trouble ignoring her as well as he usually manages and it is enough to prompt her to continue. "Maybe not like I dreamed, maybe not like you'd remember. But we could get by."
His fingers tighten into a fist, clenching and unclenching to the beat of his pulse. Swallowing, – her throat seems to have been completely abandoned by moisture – Lovett steps back. She doesn't expect that anything will come of it. She isn't Lucy. She isn't good at feigning perfection or smiling whether everything is alright or not. But she loves him and will continue doing so until they put her in the ground... in a grave next to his, preferably. "I'd best be going," she says under her breath, and her gaze glues itself to the back of his jacket. She's just about to make good on her promise when he turns. And looks at her as if seeing her for the first time as a person, rather than a business asset or an annoyance. Looking at her instead of through her.
Every feature of his face is as sharp as his razors, set into relief by his hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. Dark shadows fill the crevasses and lines, gleaming white islands of a nose and sculpted cheekbones barely managing to surface past the black. He's more beautiful than she can stand.
Unbidden shivers rack her body, the products of an exquisite combination of longing and disbelief that is as much pain as it is pleasure. She can hear her heart in her ears, feel it pounding ever more frantically as she is swept away in his dark gaze. His eyes devour every inch of her face, sliding down her slender neck to the dress she had purchased just the other day (and with him in mind, as usual.) If she were any other woman she would have been blushing furiously, but instead, she just smoothes the material over her corset as if absently adjusting it. There is nothing absent, however, about the look on her face as Todd takes a step closer to her and opens his mouth to speak.
"Mrs. Lovett," he says. Her name is something suddenly wonderful when it's on his lips and she can't help but to smile up at him, wrapping her fingers around the thin material of his barbering jacket to pull herself just a little closer to him.
"Mrs. Lovett," he says again. He appears unsure of how to continue; the corners of his mouth twitch as if the words that are formulating in his mind are desperate to escape but are held back by the barrier of his tightly closed lips. He swallows hard and takes a breath, his head moving slightly as he glances around the room, looking anywhere but at her. "Nellie. I –" He stops a second time, though this time the twitch of his mouth is one of discomfort. He blinks once and pulls at his neckerchief.
And he begins to cough.
It's quiet at first, air being forced through his nose in a kind of breathy grunt, but it doesn't remain that way for long. His chest heaves and his lips part. He places his hands over his mouth, nearly bending double as the fit overtakes him.
She is frozen for a moment, eyes wide as he gasps for air. But even before her mind truly kicks in, registering the situation, she rushes towards the tray of breakfast and snatches up the mug of tea. It's still hot, but not enough to do any serious damage. She practically shoves it into his hands, her heart in her throat until he drains the liquid. He coughs some out across the floor, but the moisture on his throat seems to sooth the irritation for a moment, and he gets control of himself. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, Todd staggers over to his barbering chair, careful to avoid stepping on the foot petal when he sinks down into it. His head hits the back heavily and he closes his eyes, letting out a soft moan as he greedily sucks in the air.
Lovett moves to his side and squats beside him, ignoring the protest of her knees. "When did this start, Mister Todd?" she asks, staring up into his face. She's not sure what to feel, caught in a crossroads of a thousand options. Anger, fear, concern. So she lets instinct take over, her instinct to talk to him and help him and try for the thousandth time to entice just a tiny speck of life to flow from the tangled mess of his mind. A cough like this does not get this bad in a night or two. He's been hiding it from her.
But he doesn't answer. He simply continues to stare up at the ceiling, breathing and existing, each inhalation shaky. He's been hiding it from her, only now he can't any more.
"If it gets any worse, you're seeing a doctor," Lovett says, pushing herself to her feet. "I'll go get something to clean up this tea."
"Mister Todd, you've been coughing for a week. You're not getting any better, love. Why don't you close shop for a while? Get some rest? Nobody'll even want to come in 'ere, you keep barking like that. How do you think you'll get to the judge if you're busy hacking up a lung, eh?" When he remains silent and shows no sign of acknowledging her presence any time soon, she throws her hands up in the air in defeat, letting her palms smack down upon the rough wooden table where they are both sitting. She leans forward. "This is serious, Mister T."
"I will get to the Judge," he says, taking another swig of gin from the tumbler. He taps his long fingers against the glass and swirls the drink around in his mouth.
"No doubt," she says, perhaps a little more sharply than intended. "That's all you think about. The bloody judge. Day and night, he's buggering away at your very soul. If you could think someone to death, he'd be six-foot under by now."
She sighs and stands up, moving to the window. The cold seeps through the thin glass and she rubs her hands over her bare arms, trying to take the chill off as she stares at the throngs of people moving meaninglessly along the streets. Oblivious to everyone else but themselves, they are the dregs of society, representing everyone and anyone. Faceless men and women, as blind to Lovett as she is to them. Behind her, Todd coughs a couple of times and clears his throat, almost as if his own body is trying to prove her point to his stubborn mind.
"You told me to wait," he says, draining the final drops and putting the cup down. "I'm waiting."
"Don't suppose you could just let it go," she says, glancing away from the constant river of human filth (heaven forbid, even her thoughts are beginning to sound like his) to fix him with an imploring stare. His dark brows draw over his even darker eyes and he scowls at her, apparently not finding her glibness funny in the least. But she is only half joking. "Honest, love. The boy is going to get Johanna and whisk her away to who-knows-where, and eventually the Judge is bound to come around looking for her here. Why can't you just forget about it for a few minutes, since it's sure to happen anyways? No use fretting."
Continuing to frown, though his lips are pursed in thought now, he rises slowly from the table and strides over to where she stands. He leans against the sill and stares out the window, though Lovett is sure that the reflection of his eyes are pointing directly at hers. "If I'm not to work, and I'm not to 'fret'," he narrows his eyes slightly at the word, "then what do you propose I do with all this extra time?"
He rests his hand heavily on the back of her neck, effectively shutting down any answer that might have come to mind. His every movement is so deliberate, almost pre-meditated in its perfect execution. Each twitch of his fingers serves a purpose. Every step seems as if it is vital for the world to continue turning. He has the grace of a predator and the beauty of deadly intellect that is perhaps the only sign of life in his otherwise cold features.
"Just get yourself better," she says once she finally recovers her power of speech. Her throat is dry, muscles jittery with the curious electricity that blazes from his fingertips. Any other time, she would have given him a very different answer, but she can hear the sickness when he breathes. The wet, sickening rattle wells up in him just before another fit and another terrible few minutes where Lovett can't do anything but watch him waste away from the inside. Consumed by this terrible thing.
That's it," she says. "I'm bringing a doctor here."
"I don't need a doctor." He pulls away from her and she whirls on him.
"I don't care if you don't think that you need a doctor, but I'm bringing one. Right now," she's almost hysterical. Her voice his trembling even as she seethes quietly against him, though this kind of quiet is only a step away from a scream. There is no assault of words against him, as there usually is. No meaningless chatter to fill this complete silence between them. Her defences are useless right now. She is so angry that she feels faint. Angry and scared, and he needs a bloody doctor right now.
"He's dead. He is dead. Mister Todd is dead."
He isn't, not yet. Any day now, the doctor has said, so it's really only a matter of time. But he's not quite gone yet; she just tries to prepare herself while she still can. "Mister Todd is dead." It's a funny thing. Only two days ago, she had been saying the exact opposite thing in this very spot, in front of this mirror where she stands and watches her mouth form the words without conviction. Mister Todd will live, she said, over and over and over and over. Like a prayer. But that hadn't worked and he is going to die.
She figures that maybe if she says it, says that he's dead while he is still breathing away upstairs – if his laboured gasps can really be called breath – that it will be easier somehow. That she'll be able to accept it when her empty words are made true. Then again, she's always been good at deceiving herself. "Mister Todd is dead." The lie is obvious. Although she's wearing mostly black, like usual, her dress is not mourning clothes, too fancy and low cut to be proper for a funeral. Also, her words are mechanical, without tears or any feeling at all. Just words, because this is practice. A test she puts herself through to see how Nellie Lovett really holds up through situations like this. So far, so good.
Footsteps upstairs: the doctor. Not a cheap one either – she put off buying the harmonium she has wanted so that she can pay for him. He came every other day for the last two weeks to look at Mister T, though he has come the last three days in a row as things have taken a serious turn for the worse. He said that there wasn't much he can do for the barber. But as long as he's alive, there's hope, and as long as there's hope, Mrs. Lovett will do everything she can to keep it from failing. Including expensive doctors, because she doesn't want her empty words to suddenly mean something.
No matter what, she knows that all the preparation in the world will not make her okay when the time comes. She'll break, and she's not a woman accustomed to breaking. So that day better just not come at all.
The quiet ticking of the clock on the wall suddenly grows much too loud, escalating into the front of Lovett's thoughts, returning from wherever it had vanished to when she had become preoccupied enough to stop hearing it. Gritting her teeth, she glances at its reflection in the mirror. Though she doesn't want to be reminded that there's work to do, she knows that she can no longer keep putting it off. It's nearly five, the beginning of the dinner rush.
She doesn't care. And it doesn't matter that she doesn't care.
Sighing, she directs her attention to her own appearance. Ironically, she looks as healthy as ever. She twists a finger around one of the auburn curls that escapes the messy bun atop her head, tucking it behind her ear to frame her pretty face. A bit tired, perhaps, and a bit sad, but her cheery smile enters with the first customer and doesn't leave until the last of them are gone, so no one will even notice her reddened eyes and the dark circles beneath them. And they certainly won't know how much effort it takes her to keep her voice from trembling whenever she prepares from the final departure of the man she's loved for fifteen years.
After the dinner rush, she goes up to the barber's shop. The place already smells of death. Not the kind of death she is used to, the scent of pies, or the coppery stench of blood and rotting corpses – but a new kind of death. The slower type. Urine, sweat, and unwashed skin, all lurking just beneath the sickly-sweet cleanliness of doctor's chemicals. The type of death that does not suit Sweeney Todd at all.
She covers her nose and mouth with her hand, taking a few steps forward and cursing the squeaky floorboards. He's sleeping by the looks of it, his eyes shut, his rattling chest rising and falling. The real Sweeney is lost within that broken man somewhere. Maybe beneath the sunken cheeks, or the feverish groaning.
Taking a place on the crude wooden stool beside his cot, she reaches out and brushes a few sweat-drenched locks of hair from his marble forehead. He's burning up, has been for days now. His skin looks as if all his blood has somehow transformed to milk within his veins. The only evidence to the contrary is the sickly red stain on his lips, the flecks of blood dotting his chin, and the sodden, scarlet handkerchiefs littering the floor around him.
He moans softly in his slumber and draws a rattling gasp that is not quite in sync with his previous pattern of breathing. He coughs, ineffectually, and rolls over to his side to let the long strand of blood drop from his mouth to the floor. He clutches at the blankets and Lovett puts her hand over his. He doesn't move for a long while. "What do you want?" he asks, panting even as Lovett gently sets his head back on his pillow. His speech is as gruff as always, if a little quieter than usual.
She twitches a smile that she doesn't feel and that doesn't last, flicking her eyes from the floor to meet his gaze. For once, she has absolutely nothing that she can say. Everything is meaningless. Empty words and shallow attempts to offer some sort of comfort. He won't accept that, so she has no reason to give it. Her final defence has failed her, leaving her heavy silence to speak alone. And it reveals more than she would like. The irritating heaviness behind her eyes turns into a burning as she stares at him, and it's only a matter of minutes before the first tears sneak down onto her cheeks.
Her footsteps are heavy on the stairs, breath hitched in her throat and refusing to exit except in gigantic, shaky sobs. Wet with tears, her eyes are reddened and swollen. When she reaches the bottom step, she sinks down onto it, hugging her arms tightly to her chest .
"Mum, are you alright?" It's the outline of her son standing before her, a clean white towel hanging loosely from his hand as he stares at her. Even as blurred by the tears as he is, she can see the concern he has for her as he slowly walks forward, wrapping her in a warm embrace. She chokes a snivel and shakes her head, burying her face in his jacket and letting out a long, low moan.
"Aww, mum," he says quietly, stroking her hair. "I'm sorry."
She's told him more than enough by her actions for him to understand, but she can't stop her mouth from forming the most meaningful words she has ever spoken. "He's dead, he is. Mister Todd is dead."
A/N: Uhm. Surprise?
Oh, and I also need to credit Pam for this format of my story, the unbroken lines instead of having to bold my entire author's note. I think it looks nicer, so I stole. Heh.
Anyways, whether you liked it or hated it, review? And I can promise you that it's not all going to be a 'Woe is me, Todd is dead' fic. Promise. Stuff will DEFINTELY happen. 8D Thanks for reading!
... now go and read Pamena's stuff.