A/N-So basically, this started out as my Christmas gift to Robynne. I presented her with the idea of Toby's presence in Passing Strange, and how it might have changed things, or not changed things, in some cases. I was just fiddling around with it, but she really loved the idea, so this is for her. It's an ongoing project of mine that still isn't complete, and I'm posting it because Robynne says it's okay. Haha This is mostly just about Toby and how Sweeney and Eleanor would have interacted with him had he been in Passing Strange. I'm not sure if anyone is interested, so let me know if you are because there's more to post Also, Robynne did not edit this, so excuse any mistakes. I'm practically lost without her guidance. Haha
Disclaimer – The only thing I own is the plot, unfortunately.
Summary - Changing one thing changes all. But can you really fight Fate? What if, no matter what, She always wins?
In Which There Are Negotiations Over Breakfast
Pancakes are stacked precariously atop one another on a small plate on the kitchen counter. Next to the sweet-smelling breakfast food is a bottle of syrup, a dish of butter, and a large tub of whipped cream. Eleanor Lovett stands nervously in front of the impressive display, hands behind her back, as the apartment door opens at exactly four o'clock. She listens as he goes about his usual routine after a long day at school. A heavy sigh, the thud of a bag laden with books hitting the floor, tennis shoes being slipped off and dropped to the floor, and finally, weary footsteps making their way into the kitchen for a snack.
"Mum?" Toby calls. "I'm home! What smells so good?"
Back straightening, Eleanor stands at attention, flashing the boy a brilliant smile when he enters the kitchen. He stops in his tracks when he sees her standing there, eyes narrowing warily. She ignores his suspicion and says lightly, "Made you pancakes, love. Your favorite."
Toby sighs, his shoulders drooping slightly as he shuffles over to the counter and lifts himself up onto the stool. Staring glumly down at his plate, the twelve year old says, " 'E's 'ere again, isn't 'e?"
There is a beat of silence before Eleanor shifts and murmurs, " 'E's in the guest bedroom."
" 'Ow long this time?" Toby snips irritably. "A day? A month? Guess we won't know till 'e's gone, will we?"
"Toby!" She admonishes quietly, her voice pained. "Stop it."
Poking at his stack of pancakes with his fork, Toby frowns guiltily. "Sorry, mum."
Letting out a breathless sigh, Eleanor steps closer to her son and places a soothing hand on his back. "I don't know 'ow long 'e'll be 'around this time, but while 'e's in town I want 'im to stay 'ere." She pauses, watching Toby glare at his plate. "And when e's gone, we'll go back to the way we were. It's the same as always, love."
Toby snorts at this. "Yeah, it is the same. S'why I don't like it. Whenever 'e leaves, you go into this...funk. And it's always at least a week before you really look at me again! I won't let 'im keep doin' this, mum! It ain't right!"
"Sshh!" Eleanor shushes him, glancing over her shoulder nervously before pulling the boy into her arms. She smiles softly, finding it remarkable that after hundreds of years of formal education, the boy still uses the word 'ain't' in his everyday vocabulary. "Hush now. Don't be silly, darlin'. Everythin's goin' to be just fine this time, I promise." Closing her eyes, she runs nimble fingers through Toby's hair. "Don't worry about me, lovey. I 'ave a good feelin' about this." She smiles, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "Just trust me on this one, aye?"
Toby shrugs, still moping. "Whatever you say, mum."
She smiles. "That's my boy. Now eat your pancakes 'fore they get cold."
Breakfast the next morning is awkward as Toby glares at Sweeney from across the kitchen table. The man is ignoring his bowl of cereal and Toby in the interest of reading the New York Times but every so often, his eyes flicker to the boy's glowering ones and he smirks in return.
Eleanor breezes happily into the room and Toby immediately drops his gaze, knowing the scolding he would get for being uncivil at the breakfast table. She ruffles his hair as she passes, on her way to the coffee pot. "Toby, did you get your 'omework finished last night?"
He winces. "Not exactly." His mother fixes him with a reproving look, and he hurries to explain himself. "It's fractions, mum! I've done it 'undreds of times! There's no challenge anymore! It gets right borin' after a while!"
"Well your teacher doesn't know that!" She sighs, looking exasperated. They have had this argument numerous times over the years, but no one ever seems to win. "You 'ave to do your schoolwork, love. 'Ow would it look if ya didn't? We need to blend in - do you want to give us away?"
"No," Toby grumbles.
She smiles, sipping at her coffee. "Then I suggest you pull out that math book."
Sighing heavily, Toby reaches down to grab the book-bag at his feet and pulls out the heavy mathematical textbook. Flipping it open and grabbing his work sheet, he scrambles for a pencil as Mr. Todd flips the pages of his newspaper.
"What are you goin' to do today while we're gone?" He hears his mum ask the stoic barber, and he cringes at the way her voice is always so much lighter when she talks to that demon. Toby doubts she even notices, but he does. He always notices.
Pretending to divide fractions, he listens carefully to Sweeney's reply. "Probably get some bloody peace and quiet," he grumbles, and Toby lifts his eyes just in time to see Sweeney glance pointedly between her and Toby, and watch his mum swat at him.
"Real subtle, love," she huffs with a roll of her eyes.
He tunes out the rest of their conversation, scribbling down homework answers with ease while trying to eat his cereal before it gets soggy. When Eleanor finally leaves the room to dress for work, Toby looks up from his homework to level Sweeney with a glare. The older man watches him with raised eyebrows, folding his paper and smoothing it out on the table in front of him.
" 'Ow long are you plannin' on stayin'?" Toby asks, unable to keep the annoyance from his voice.
"Not sure," Sweeney says unhelpfully, turning his attention to his own breakfast.
Reluctant to let the conversation go at that, Toby glances toward the kitchen entrance to make sure his mum really is in her bedroom before saying, "You'd best say goodbye this time. Nearly broke 'er 'eart last time, leavin' without so much as a note."
Toby is almost sure he sees something like guilt flash in the man's eyes before he glances down at his mug of coffee again. Encouraged, he continues before he loses his nerve. "I won't let you 'urt 'er again. You use 'er, you do. For a place to stay and a few meals." He swallows, feeling his anger toward the former murderer build with his every word. "She may not see through you, but I do."
"I'm off to work!" Eleanor calls cheerily as she wanders back into the kitchen to place a kiss to Toby's cheek. " 'Ave a good day, love." On her way out the door, she calls back over her shoulder, "You too, Sweeney!"
Toby's frown deepens at this and as the door closes behind his mum, awkward silence fills the apartment. Sweeney stares at the boy dubiously over his bowl of Fruit Loops and says nothing.
In Which Monty Python Fixes Everything
" 'E looked just like Toby," she says suddenly, and her voice is still raw from the hours she has spent alone crying over this lost patient. Sweeney wonders briefly why it doesn't matter to her what lives she saves, it only matters when she loses one. He stays silent, waiting for her to continue. "Thought it was 'im at first, my 'eart nearly stopped." She shakes her head, beginning to sniffle again.
"Nothing's going to happen to Toby," he assures her mechanically, staring blankly at the television, where John Cleese and Eric Idle are arguing about penguins. "Surely you know that."
Eleanor nods slowly, nuzzling her face into his shirt, and he tries not to stiffen as her curls brush against his jaw. "S'not fair. No other woman 'as that reassurance. Children die every day. I lost a patient today, but that woman lost her little boy." Covering her mouth with a slender hand, she breathes, "I can't imagine losin' a child." Something must have given him away - the way he'd stiffened, or maybe how he hadn't responded, because Eleanor suddenly straightens, staring at him through red, wide eyes, looking stricken. "Oh, love, I'm sorry. I-I wasn't thinkin'."
Face a blank mask, Sweeney turns his gaze back to the television, no longer able to stare into her eyes and see the blatant guilt lingering there. "Doesn't matter," he mutters darkly.
"It does," Eleanor says, putting a small hand on his arm. "I don't know what's the matter with me, talkin' like that. Your Johanna - "
"Eleanor," Sweeney nearly growls in exasperation. "I said it doesn't matter."
She nods once, and for a moment he's afraid she might start crying again, and while he watches her out of the corner of his eye, he almost feels guilty for being so harsh with her. She's been through enough today without him adding to her stress. However, her eyes stay dry and he finds himself oddly proud of her strength. She has always been a pillar of stability in his world - the practical, strong constant in his ever-changing universe. From year to year, there are new faces, new destinations and names to memorize, but they never last. Nothing ever lasts in his life but Eleanor, and he isn't sure what he'd do if she fell apart on him now.
He sighs, loathing the way she can get to his very core without even trying. "Johanna is dead, Eleanor. I have no idea what happened to her. My greatest hope is that she married Anthony, had children, and died a very old woman." He stops, swallowing hard.
One of many regrets in his very long life is that he never got the chance to know his only daughter, never beheld her face since she was a child. After he fled London all those years ago, he lost track of Johanna and at the time, he'd thought it was for the best. It wasn't until years later, when he realized not knowing was more torturous than seeing her again, that he tried to find her. Despite his efforts, he never did.
Feeling Eleanor's slim fingers lacing through his calloused ones, he blinks, drawing himself away from the past. He won't dwell. Not anymore. "The torture is in not knowing. Be grateful you'll always have Toby - no other parent has that guarantee. Think of it as the only good thing in this damned eternal purgatory."
Eleanor stares at him, head tilted just slightly, as though enthralled and he shifts uncomfortably under her gaze. It's the closest he's ever come to comforting her, and she must be thinking much the same thing. "Thanks, love," she finally breathes, the tiniest hint of a smile tugging at her mouth. "Never thought of it like that." Sweeney shrugs, still feeling uneasy under that knowing stare of hers. As if sensing it, Eleanor's smile widens before she sighs tiredly and returns her head to his shoulder.
They sit in silence for a while, continuing to watch Monty Python until Eleanor hears the apartment door open and close, signaling Toby's return from football practice. There's a thud as he drops his football gear by the door before Toby walks into the room tugging at his hair. Eleanor jumps up so fast that Sweeney nearly drops his Mountain Dew in sheer surprise. He watches as she practically scoops Toby off his feet, hugging him tightly to her and burying her face in his football jersey. "My sweet boy," she murmurs.
Toby looks helplessly at Sweeney as he slowly wraps his arms around his mum, not offering any protest when she begins to tenderly smooth down his hair. Sweeney mouths the words, 'Lost a patient' and the boy's eyes widen in understanding. His arms tighten around his mother and Sweeney looks away, turning his eyes back to the television.
"Toby," he says, still not looking at them. "We're watching Monty Python. Care to join us?" He has a feeling that Eleanor's tight hug is scaring Toby a little, and he doubts Eleanor even wants the boy to know what happened. She protects him way too much for his own good. In any case, they both need a distraction.
Getting to her feet, Eleanor smiles brilliantly at Toby and takes him by the arm, dragging him over to the sofa to join Sweeney. "Come on, love. You missed the part about the exploding penguin, but we can rewind it!"
As they settle together on the sofa, Eleanor's head falls back to Sweeney's shoulder but she keeps a tight hold on Toby's hand. While Toby tolerates Sweeney's presence, the boy is about as fond of him as Sweeney is of Kurtis Russell. His protectiveness over Eleanor rivals that of a Rottweiler guarding its favorite stuffed toy and Sweeney glances at the boy to see his reaction to Eleanor's close proximity to him. To his surprise, Toby only meets his eyes with something akin to gratitude and mouths 'Thank you.'
In Which Sweeney Todd Feels Guilty and Louie Gets A Home
The mutt is still lying on the sofa next to him, spread out and sleeping peacefully. Sweeney, huddled beneath his blanket and sniffling with the effects of his cold, has pushed himself to the very end of the sofa, leaning against the arm rest and determined to be as far away from the puppy as possible.
The dog is snoring, and Sweeney is fairly certain he sees a dribble of drool hanging from its open mouth. Resisting the urge to gag, he grabs the remote control and turns up the volume, hoping to drown out the basset hound's snores and Eleanor's contented humming in the kitchen. He has yet to give her his answer about keeping the dog, but he already knows he is going to refuse. Flicking through the channels, he can't help but wonder why on earth she would think he'd actually want a puppy. They bark, they shed, they slobber, they chew on things, they leave unpleasant surprises on rugs. There is absolutely nothing good about them!
Clicking furiously through the endless supply of channels, he is lucky enough to find Ferris Bueller's Day Off on TBS and settles in to watch it. He can still remember when this had first come out in the eighties. He'd been in town to see Eleanor then, and they'd gone to a theater in her tiny Louisiana town to see it. If he recalls correctly, he spent more time dodging the popcorn kernels Eleanor had chucked his way than actually watching the film.
His faint smile at this distant memory is immediately wiped from his face when the apartment door opens and Toby walks in, home from his after-school activities. Eleanor said something about him tutoring high school seniors in American History but Sweeney had only barely been listening – it could have been preschoolers and their ABC's for all he knew. The boy drops his backpack at the door and heaves a great sigh, running a hand through his hair. From his tense shoulders, one would think he'd returned from a long day of business meetings rather than school. He hasn't yet looked in Sweeney's direction, but the slamming of the apartment has awoken the new addition to the group. The hound immediately jumps up and off the sofa, howling and running in the direction of the sound.
Toby jumps at the unexpected noise and stares in bewilderment as the dog lumbers toward him, howling. His back is against the apartment door when the dog closes in on him, stops barking, and begins sniffing Toby's pant leg curiously. After a few seconds, he apparently deems the boy no threat, and jumps up on Toby's legs, pawing at him playfully. Laughing, Toby bends down to the dog's level and scratches him atop the head.
" 'Ello there," he croons, and Sweeney very nearly rolls his eyes when he realizes the boy is just as enamored with the new mutt as his mother is. "What's your name, little fellow?"
The dog responds by craning its neck and licking the entire length of Toby's face, making the boy burst into laughter and drop to the floor to play. Sweeney sighs and turns up the volume on the television. There is no hope of getting rid of the beastly thing if Toby insists on keeping it as well.
Wandering into the living room with a bowl of soup in hand, Eleanor smiles brightly when she sees Toby on the floor, rubbing the basset hound's belly. "Oh, love! I see you've met the new puppy!"
Toby's eyes widen. "You mean 'e's ours? We can keep 'im?"
She nods, sitting next to Sweeney on the sofa and putting his soup on the coffee table. "One of the nurses found 'im on 'er doorstep this mornin'. Was goin' to take 'im to a shelter, but I told 'er I'd keep 'im instead!"
The dog flails around on his back, groaning happily as Toby continues to rub his belly. "And...Mr. Todd doesn't mind?"
Toby sounds tentative, obviously knowing of the professor's dislike for all things with four legs. Sweeney lets out a heavy sigh and bites out, "Doesn't really matter what I want, does it?"
Eleanor frowns, reaching over to place a hand on his arm, scooting closer to him. Her voice is light, but as he can sense the underlying disappointment as she says, "Sweeney, if you don't want to keep 'im, we won't. You live 'ere too, you pay rent. This place is half yours, so if ya don't want to 'ave a dog around, then we won't."
"But mum!" Toby complains, looking crestfallen as he glances back down at the puppy in his arms.
"Now Toby," she admonishes. "It's only fair that Mr. T gets a say in all this!"
Toby quiets immediately at her chastisement, and settles for half-heartedly fiddling with one of the dog's floppy ears. Eleanor amuses herself with watching Toby and the dog playing on the floor, biting down on her bottom lip. Sweeney hates it when she does that; it makes him feel horribly guilty, even when he hasn't done anything. Well, this time she will not win. He is not going to give in to her pouting.
"Won't be any fun 'avin' a dog around anyway," she continues airily. "Not if you're goin' to be un'appy."
Toby is nuzzling his face pathetically against the top of the dog's head, and Eleanor is watching them with a sad smile, drawing her knees up to her chest. He watches them for a while, eyeing Toby's delighted grin as the mutt clambers into his lap, tail wagging. There are times when he couldn't care less about Toby. But he has continually kept Eleanor company for years where Sweeney did not, has always there for her where Sweeney hasn't been. No child should be so burdened, or see the horrors this boy has seen in his many years. Toby is a one hundred sixty-four year old with a twelve year old's body and mind. He is being punished alongside them for something he had no knowledge of at the time. And Sweeney Todd is going to deny him the small pleasure of a puppy?
And Eleanor. He can't help but think back on the letters he'd discovered in Eleanor's room when he'd been snooping earlier today. It doesn't seem right, somehow. She has always been such a good friend to him, constantly giving and never getting a thing in return. Eleanor has always taken care of him, without so much as a kind word on his part. He'd even tried to kill her once upon a time - though he shudders to think of it now. She's the only thing in this world he has ever been able to count on. The way some people depend on drugs or music or religion to get them through the tragedy of their lives - he depends on Eleanor. Her presence makes his life make sense, the thought of eternity a little more bearable with her friendship. After all their history together - all the times she has let him crash on her sofa, the times when her letters were a lifeline, and he doesn't want to let her keep a dog?
"Oh, have it your way, bloody woman," he mutters with an angry sigh. "Keep the damn thing."
She whips around to face him, eyes wide in unmitigated happiness. "Really? Oh love, I promise I'll make sure 'e doesn't get on your nerves!" Letting out a squeak of delight and flinging her arms around him, she nearly knocks him off balance with her embrace. "Thank you," she murmurs into his chest. He sits awkwardly in her arms, knowing she has gotten her way yet again, but unable to be irritated about it. Pulling away slightly, Eleanor looks up at him, her smile brilliant with gratitude and triumph. He suddenly finds it difficult to breathe properly.
"Mum!" Toby calls, and Sweeney blinks once, as if coming out of a trance. "What are we gonna name 'im?"
Eleanor pulls away from Sweeney, still grinning, and joins Toby on the floor as they begin to toss name suggestions back and forth. When Sweeney ignores their attempts to include him in favor of lying back on the sofa with his blanket and the remote, they leave him alone, discussing it quietly amongst themselves. As he drifts off to sleep again, he hears Eleanor's soft giggle over the sound of Wayne Newton's rendition of Danke Schoen, and decides that maybe all the trouble he's going to have with this mutt will be worth it after all.
In Which Carol Is A Bad Influence
Staying with Carol and Tom is like living with teenagers who think it's cool to hang out with a twelve-year old boy. Toby never has as much fun as when he's with Tom and Carol. They're complete nutters - they stay up late watching sitcoms Mr. Todd hates, they eat junk food his mum says is bad for him, and they don't tell him when it's time to go to bed.
Carol sings show tunes at the top of her lungs while she makes dinner - or rather, looks through the phonebook for the right Chinese restaurant. Sometimes, she grabs Toby's hand in the middle of the sidewalk to spin him around like he's her dance partner. And the strange thing is, he doesn't find it at all embarrassing. The last time she'd done it, they'd bumped into a stockbroker on Wall Street and they'd laughed so hard they'd cried.
Tom makes s'mores sitting in front of the fireplace, roasting the marshmallows on pencils. He teaches Toby how to throw peanuts in the air and catch them in his mouth. When Carol isn't home, they sit in front of the television, feet propped up on the coffee table, and yell at the men playing football on the screen while drinking too much Mountain Dew and eating too much salted popcorn. Sometimes, they even let Louie drink a soda, and when Carol complains that the hound is more hyper than usual, Tom and Toby hide guilty grins in another mouthful of popcorn.
When Tom and Carol are at work, Toby spends his time raiding their refrigerator and helping himself to Tom's collection of Sports Illustrated magazines, or lounging about on the rooftop of their building with binoculars. At first, he'd been furious that his mum and Mr. Todd had left him behind to go on some bloody spring break trip to Atlantic City. Mum has always taken him with her wherever she went, until Mr. Todd showed up for his extended stay.
He doesn't like the idea of them being alone together in another city. He knows Mr. Todd wouldn't hurt his mum, even if he somehow could. Mr. Todd isn't who he used to be. That isn't what makes Toby uneasy. His mum's genuine, unfailing affection for Mr. Todd makes him uneasy. The way Mr. Todd looks at his mum sometimes, with a fondness that the professor himself doesn't even realize he has for her, makes Toby uneasy. Besides, going to Atlantic City would have been a ruddy good story to tell his mates at school.
He supposes his mum had been right, though. Atlantic City with Mr. Todd would hardly have been a good time for him. He's having much more fun here, with Carol and Tom. Every time they move, his mum always manages to befriend the best people. It's like she has a sixth sense for who would be the most fun to spend time with - the people who own pastry shops and can make giant cakes with a flick of their wrist, the people who have keys to a skating rink, the people who personally know David Bowie, the people who used to play professional poker or who get free movie viewings before anyone else. With Carol and Tom, his mum has picked out the craziest, most random and hilarious people in Manhattan. Toby can't imagine spending three days with anyone else.
When he wakes up on the last morning before his mum and Mr. Todd get back from their trip, he wanders into the kitchen to find Tom already at work for the day and Carol at the table, butter knife in hand as she coats a chocolate cake with rich-looking chocolate icing. She hums along to the radio over the sound of New York traffic through the open window, and when Toby drops down onto a seat across from her, she grins at him.
"Cake for breakfast?" He asks, running a hand through his sleep-mussed hair.
Carol bites her lip guiltily. "Your mom is so going to kill me. But yeah, cake for breakfast."
Toby nods his approval, picking up the jumbo bottle of colored sprinkles next to her elbow. "Brilliant."
"I thought so," she says with a satisfied sigh, licking chocolate from her fingers. "It's my personal belief that every day should begin with chocolate. There really is no better start to a morning." She takes the knife and cuts two sizeable pieces before grabbing two forks from the dishwasher. She doesn't bother to get plates, so they begin to eat directly from the cake plate, and Toby hasn't felt so irresponsible in years. "Your mom called this morning and said they're leaving in an hour and should be here around two."
Toby nods, swallowing a mouthful of cake – it tastes as rich as it looks. "They 'ave a good time?"
Carol snorts. "Your mom sounded hung over."
His stomach flips, and Toby tries not to think of all the horrible possibilities if Mr. Todd had let his mum drink tequila. It's the only liquor she can't hold—she tends to get rather silly and outrageous when she drinks it. Toby can only hope Mr. Todd had watched over her and been a gentleman. If he hadn't been, Toby might have to "accidentally" line Louie's dog bed with Mr. Todd's favorite leather coat.
Carol stabs at her slice of cake and says in a voice too light not to be noticeable, "So Tobes, since your mom is so tight-lipped about the dear Professor Todd...maybe you can tell me about him?"
Toby frowns, pausing with his fork still poised above his cake – in all his years, he's learned what this nonchalant voice means coming from women. It means he'd better be on his guard. "What do you want to know?"
An eager, hungry look in her blue eyes, Carol says, "How long have you known him?"
Toby smirks. Since the 19th century. "Since I was born, really."
Carol looks surprised. "So Sweeney knew you and your mom when your mom was still in England with your dad?"
Shrugging, Toby scoops up another bite of cake, shoveling it into his mouth. "I guess so. 'e was a friend of my dad's."
Confusion written all over her face, Carol stares at the tabletop, frowning and murmuring to herself, "How could she pick your dad over Sweeney?" She looks up with wide eyes. "Sorry, kid. No offense."
"S'alright," Toby mumbles around a mouthful, deciding to ham it up a little. If mum and Mr. Todd can go to Atlantic City, he can stay here and practice their backstory on an unsuspecting mortal. "I like Mr. Todd better than my dad too. Mr. Todd's always visitin', it seems. And my dad, well, the bloke ran out on us when I was a baby, y'know?"
"Your mom never talks about it," Carol says. "What's his name?"
"And your mom never married him?"
Toby shakes his head, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Nope. Mum says she's glad she didn't though, cause she was too young to know what love really was." His mum is going to beat him with one of Louie's dog toys for this, but Toby can't seem to help himself. They change their story every few years and Toby has been everything from Eleanor's adoptive son to her nephew. In the earlier years, it was easier for him to be her nephew, or for them to tell everyone that Toby's father had died. Only recently has it been acceptable in society for Toby to be an illegitimate child. Sometimes, Toby thinks Eleanor had been such a strong supporter of feminism just so she could stop pretending to be a widow in mourning.
"So does Sweeney ever talk to your dad?" Carol asks. "I mean, you said he was your dad's friend. And now he's staying with you and your mom?"
Toby nods, knowing he'll have to explain all this to his mum when she gets back. He can't let Carol bombard her like he knows she will. "Never sat right with Mr. Todd, what dad did to mum. They don't speak anymore. An' Mr. Todd got real close to mum while she was with dad. They were friends, I guess."
"They never dated? Not once?" Carol asks incredulously, rolling her eyes when Toby shakes his head. "Well what about Sweeney? Was he ever married?"
Lucy. Toby doesn't want to have to tell Mr. Todd they'd talked about Lucy. And mum would have to see that look that's always on his face when anyone accidentally speaks of her. Almost two hundred bloody years. The man needs to get over it. "I don't think so," Toby says, and he puts another mouthful of cake in his mouth to keep himself from revealing anything else.
Carol glares at what's left of the cake, murmuring, "What the hell are they waiting for? They're perfect for each other." She leans closer to Toby across the table, eyeing him. "You live with them, Tobes. They ever act all lovey dovey? Are they hiding something?"
"I'm there all the time and I never see anythin'," Toby says, and inwardly cringes at the thought. If anything ever happens between them, he doesn't know what he'll do. It's been two hundred years, and he sees the way they look at each other. It's only a matter of time. When the day does come, he supposes he'll just have to throw a right proper tantrum about it. Or gouge out his eyes.
Blowing out a puff of air through her noise and crossing her arms, Carol huffs, "What a load of crap."
She's pouting, and it would be funny if Toby didn't have to face telling his mum and Mr. Todd what they'd discussed. It's a conversation he would rather avoid – in his mind he can see his mum muttering her annoyance under her breath and Mr. Todd scowling at him for not keeping his mouth shut.
Obviously realizing that Toby isn't going to give her the information she wants to hear, Carol tucks blonde hair behind her ears and says resignedly, "Well, I guess we should do something really crazy before your mom comes to get you. You wanna steal some gum? Oh hey, we can prank call Tom at work!"
Toby almost smiles.
In Which It's All The Beatles' Fault
Phone calls at work are rare.
Sometimes, when Sweeney gets home early and has to make dinner for Toby and himself, he calls to complain about her finicky son. And Toby usually calls five minutes later to complain about Sweeney's lousy cooking.
But it's only twelve-thirty and neither one of them should be home yet. When her cell phone rings immediately following an emergency heart surgery, Eleanor sinks down onto a chair in the waiting room with an exhausted sigh and pulls out her phone. It's a number she doesn't recognize and she frowns, answering it with a weary, " 'ello?"
"This is Principal Jennings calling about your son Toby - "
Her heart leaps into her throat. It suddenly doesn't matter that Toby is almost two hundred. It doesn't matter that he can take care of himself, that nothing can hurt him, that breaking a limb is the worst thing that can happen. "What 'appened?" She asks frantically. "Is 'e alright? Is 'e hurt? Did 'e - "
"He's fine," Jennings interrupts. "But you need to come down here."
The answer isn't exactly reassuring, and Eleanor snaps her phone shut with a scowl. She arrives at P.S. 117 in a rather foul mood – her confusion about the situation with Toby and her irritation over the argument with her cab driver concerning his undeserved tip, all working together to wear her patience thin.
Through the glass of the door to the principal's office, she can see Toby sitting in front of the desk, arms crossed, head down and frown on his face as he scuffs at the floor with the toe of his tennis shoe. Mr. Jennings, the principal, regards the boy with a bemused look, his arms folded in front of him on the desk. In the corner of the room, dressed in her usual flat shoes, khaki pants and cardigan, Toby's teacher, Mrs. Turlington, watches them both with disapproval.
When Eleanor opens the door and peers inside, Toby swivels around so quickly that he nearly knocks his chair off balance and blurts, " 'e deserved it, mum, talkin' the way 'e was! I'd do it again if I 'ad to!"
"Calm down this instant Toby!" Mrs. Turlington says sternly, uncrossing her arms and taking a step forward. "You will sit quietly while Principal Jennings speaks with your mother."
"But I – "
"That's enough," Principal Jennings sighs, massaging his temple wearily. "Be quiet, Toby."
Toby huffs and scowls at them all. Eleanor stands frozen in the middle of the room, gaping. "What the bloody hell is goin' on 'ere?" She asks, directing her gaze to Toby.
"We called you because Toby was involved in a brawl in the cafeteria this afternoon," Jennings answers for the boy, picking up his pen to tap it repetitively against the legal pad on his desk.
Gasping, Eleanor leaps forward and swats at Toby's head, forcing him to cringe away lest her hand make contact with his skull. "You did what? Toby! You know better than that!"
"But mum - " Toby begins to protest and she silences him with a glare.
"I'm terribly sorry about this," she says, looking at the other two adults. "Toby 'as never hit anyone in 'is whole life." And that's quite an accomplishment, considering his years. " 'e's always been so ruddy mature. More than me, actually."
"Well he wasn't mature today," Jennings says scornfully. "He gave another student a bloody nose. He's at the nurses station right now, waiting for his mother to pick him up."
Eleanor stares, dumfounded.
Toby has never been a violent boy, and the whole affair is utterly baffling. He won't even look at her now, arms crossed and glaring at the wall behind Principal Jennings. She's never been so furious with him – not even when he told people he was her sister's illegitimate son through an affair with a Duke when they lived in Cuba at the turn of the century, or when he stole weed from one of her hippie friends just because he was curious.
She'd almost think Toby incapable of violence if she didn't have the memory of him launching himself at Sweeney the first time he showed up at their door. Toby had landed a few punches before Sweeney wrestled him to the ground in the middle of their front yard. Eleanor could only be grateful it had been two in the morning and none of their neighbors had been awake to see it. Even so, giving a boy a bloody nose seems so far removed from Toby's naturally protective tendencies that she has a hard time believing it.
"Considering this is Toby's first offense," Mrs. Turlington continues. "We thought it might be more appropriate for you to decide the best punishment."
"But if anything like this ever happens again," Jennings says sourly. "We'll be forced to expel him. We have no tolerance for such violence."
"Of course," Eleanor says, grateful Toby won't have to worry about a mark on his permanent record. Not that it matters, come to think of it. In a few years, when they're forced to leave again, she'll just forge new records for him – spotless records. "Thank you for givin' 'im another chance. I promise it won't 'appen again. Will it?" She looks at Toby threateningly and he scowls.
"No," he mutters, kicking absently at the floor.
"Bloody right you are," she snaps, and then softens considerably at the dejected look on his face. Ignoring the other two in the room, Eleanor steps closer to him with a sigh and kneels in front of his chair. "Toby, love, what 'as gotten into you? It's not like you to strike someone." Toby glares at her, and she's so taken aback that she nearly totters backwards in her heels. She steadies herself by placing a hand on the arm of his chair and gives him a pleading look. "Talk to me, love. Please. Why did you hit that boy?"
Finally, Toby snaps. "Cause 'e watched your bleedin' youtube video, that's why! 'e wouldn't stop talkin' about you, sayin' stuff about you. Like you was a piece of meat or somethin'! I warned 'im to stop. Blighter wouldn't, so I punched 'im." He looks away from Eleanor's stricken face, and she can tell he's struggling to hold back tears. "I ain't sorry. 'e deserved it."
The room is utterly silent, and Eleanor hears Mrs. Turlington shift uncomfortably. She feels sick to her stomach, disgusted with herself. She hadn't thought her escapades in Atlantic City would be quite so far-reaching, and she hates that even Toby has to suffer because of her stupidity. What had she been thinking? She has been telling Toby for years that it's best if they don't draw attention to themselves - it's why Sweeney hadn't pursued his hockey career, why she never got into acting like she always wanted to, why she never sang anywhere outside a smokey nightclub. And what does she do the second day she's in Atlantic City? She stands on a bar, belting out a Beatles classic and flashing her thighs while people record her with the cameras in their cell phones.
Now, she can't go into work without someone raising a suggestive eyebrow, or hearing someone muttering the lyrics to Twist and Shout as she passes them. Sweeney's students will not stop pestering him about his tequila-loving friend and asking him for her number. And now Toby is being taunted by his classmates.
She loathes herself.
And then it dawns on her. Toby had punched someone. For her. Her sweet, loving son had decked another boy for talking about her disrespectfully. She's almost ashamed of the pride that wells up in her chest, and the pleased tears that threaten to spill over. Violence is not something to condone. Even so, she can't help but reach out for his hand, squeezing it affectionately. Swallowing her smile, she says, "It's no excuse for 'ittin' someone, Toby. You need to learn to ignore people."
Toby's brown eyes dart up to meet hers defiantly. " 'e called you a drunken whore with great legs, mum. I ain't sorry I didn't ignore 'im – I only feel bad cause I just made 'im bleed." He frowns, as if disgusted with himself. "I was aimin' for breakin' 'is giant nose. Stupid blighter."
Mrs. Turlington gasps and Principal Jennings huffs in exasperation, but Eleanor cannot hide her grin anymore. She beams at her son and ruffles his head, blinking up at him through her tears. "When did you get to be so bloody amazin', eh?"
The tips of his ears turning pink, Toby shakes his head, biting his lip to smother a grin of his own. "Weren't nothin', mum. I wasn't about to let some bloke talk about you like that – even if you were stupid enough to drink tequila."
Eleanor snorts. "Quite a mouth on you, y'know."
"Live with you, don't I?" Toby counters.
"Dr. Lovett, you can't possibly condone such behavior," Mrs. Turlington interrupts, fuming. "He punched another student – that is completely unacceptable!"
Climbing to her feet, Eleanor turns to look at Toby's teacher and principal, raising an eyebrow. "I believe I 'ave the right to decide what's right for my son, and what isn't. 'e was protectin' another family member when 'e did what 'e did, and to me, that means I've done a better job raisin' 'im than I thought. Certainly a better job than whoever raised that li'tle bleeder at the nurses station." She meets their eyes defiantly. "In fact, to celebrate, we're goin' out for ice cream."
Mrs. Turlington gapes even as Toby pipes up with, "Ben and Jerry's?"
"Whatever you want, love."
"Well," sniffs Mrs. Turlington, and Eleanor arches an eyebrow at her tone. "I guess we know where Toby gets his complete disregard for rules and authority."
Eleanor smiles sweetly. "Got 'is right hook from me too."
The meeting ends shortly after that, frosty glares from principal and teacher the only goodbyes exchanged as Eleanor and Toby stroll from the school and hail a cab to take them for ice cream. They're just finishing up their desserts when they walk through the apartment door and find Sweeney lounging on the sofa, remote in hand and Louie at his feet. He looks as though he'd been about to fall asleep, and he frowns sleepily at the sight of their ice cream cones until Eleanor holds up a cup of ice cream. She heads to the kitchen, calling out, "It's a bit melty, but I'll stick it in the freezer. Eat it later."
Did he honestly think she would go to Ben and Jerry's and not pick up a few scoops of Chunky Monkey - his favorite? Honestly, it's like the man doesn't know her at all.
When she wanders back into the room, Sweeney sits up, making room for Eleanor to drop onto the sofa next to him. Toby sits on the floor, giving the rest of his cone to Louie, laughing at the way the hound licks it up eagerly, tail wagging. "Why are you so late getting home?" Sweeney grumbles.
"Oh," Eleanor says happily. "Toby was sent to the principal's office today."
Sweeney raises his eyebrows, glancing down at Toby. "Congratulations," he says dryly.
Swatting at him, Eleanor says, "I wasn't finished. Hush up, love."
"It sounded like you were finished," he mutters. "What did you expect me to think with such a dramatic pause?"
"Oh for 'eavens sake, stop bein' so bloody difficult," she huffs. "Shouldn't 'ave brought you any ice cream, frustratin' man."
"Well, no one asked you to, woman."
"I was tryin' to be nice!"
As Louie finishes up the rest of the cone, Toby rolls his eyes at them. Fed up with their bickering and just wanting to get on with it, he shouts over their voices, "I punched a bloke at school today for callin' mum a whore."
Both adults turn to look at him, Sweeney staring incredulously and Eleanor looking a bit miffed that she hadn't been able to tell the story herself. Finally, still gaping at Toby, Sweeney says, "You did what?"
"There was a boy who watched the video of me on youtube," Eleanor sighs. " 'e started talkin' to Toby about...certain parts of my anatomy." She pauses, watching Sweeney grimace. "The lad wouldn't shut 'is pie 'ole, so Toby decked 'im."
"Is he expelled?" Sweeney asks. He purses his lips, and knowing him as well as she does, Eleanor can tell it's because he's struggling not to grin outright.
She shakes her head. "The principal said I could deal with 'im myself."
"So you took him out for ice cream?"
"Seemed appropriate for such an act of nobility," she shrugs.
"You're not going to actually punish him, are you?" Sweeney raises an eyebrow when Eleanor snorts.
"Course not! Never been so bloody proud of 'im in all my life." She glances at Toby with a smile, watching him stretch out on the floor and allow Louie to clamber onto him. When the hound begins to lick his face, Toby struggles to get away, laughing.
"Didn't think he had it in him," Sweeney murmurs, watching the scene with her from the sofa.
Eleanor slides her gaze from the spectacle on the floor to Sweeney's face, and as she watches him look at Toby, she sees something new in his eyes. Something she doesn't see often coming from a man like him, a man whose friendship is so hard to earn and even harder to maintain.
She nearly rolls her eyes. Only Sweeney would admire someone for being violent. They're bloody overprotective morons, the both of them. But she can't imagine them any other way.