30 Kisses #27: overflow; fanfic50 #43: spooky.
". . . but on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared . . ."
Sweeney Todd and Nellie Lovett sit on a pew in the back of the local church.
Were it any other day, neither of them would tolerate this: their nightly prayers to His deaf ears had been abandoned long ago. As it happens, though, it is Easter Sunday, and so they can be nowhere else at present. One has to keep up appearances, after all.
". . . and they found the stone rolled away from the tomb . . ."
It wasn't easy to persuade Sweeney that this was necessary. There was a moment, in fact – with she pulling with both hands at a comb that was stuck in his mass of hair (as she'd been trying to shape it into some form of decency) and he growling like a wounded animal stripped of all its pride (well, a wounded animal that, despite its wound, could still probably overpower her any minute) – when she seriously doubted if she'd ever get them both out of the house in one piece.
". . . but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus . . ."
Yet here they are, dressed even finer than some of the other townsfolk (including Mrs. Mooney, she notes with satisfaction), with their hair at least mildly tamed and with their attires free of both flour stains and blood blotches.
Yes, Nellie decides, she did very well indeed.
". . . while they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel . . ."
Not that she has any idea what is going on, or is even trying to listen. It's been fifteen years since Nellie Lovett attended a church service of any sort. Without the holy privilege of gazing at the back of Benjamin Barker's head, his dark locks gleaming gold in the sunlight filtered through the mosaic windows, there were simply no benefits to attending church. Besides, what sort of God would allow for Benjamin to be shipped all the way to bloody Australia without any sort of justice? No God that she wanted to associate with or talk to, that was for certain.
". . . and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground . . ."
Times, however, have changed. Now she no longer has the holy privilege to gaze at the back of Benjamin's head – she is blessed with the miracle of being able to twine her arm with his and lean her skull upon his shoulder. Oh, and people do stare so, but what does she care? If Jesus is allowed to break social propriety (really, but how is it at all acceptable for a man to rise from the grave? imagine if people were to begin doing it all the time; populations would become completely out of whack), then certainly she should be allowed to as well by resting her head against the shoulder of a man she's not properly wed to.
". . . the men said to them, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead?'"
For the first time during the two hour service, Nellie's ears prick, intrigued by the priest's words. So much of the sermon is useless – it's all so irrelevant to every day life; if God actually did care about His people as He's supposed to, he might take a bit more interest in what's going on now than what happened several hundred or thousand or whatever years ago – and yet –
And yet . . .
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
For the first time during the two hour service, Nellie has found something that makes the entire duration worth it, something far from irrelevant. Is that not what Sweeney Todd does every bloody day, after all? Searching for the remnants of his wife among they who still live, nurturing his picture frame and his memories as though she can be called again to life?
". . . he is not here, but has risen . . ."
She turns her eyes upward towards Sweeney, to see how he has been affected by these words, daring to hope they will penetrate his conscious and change the way he lives, the way he treats the spirit of his wife, the way he sees the woman sitting tangible and alive right next to him –
He is staring at his lap, at his hands as they gently weave through the air, fondling the invisible razor she forbid him to tangibly bring along.
". . . Lord Jesus Christ, who upon this day did conquer death and rise from the dead, and who are alive forevermore . . ."
She turns her gaze away, swallowing the dry bile of her fantasies.
And what did you expect, Lovett? For some stupid words from a random bloody priest to change the way he lives when not even you've been able to change it?
". . . help us to never forget your Risen Presence, forever with us . . ."
Besides, she muses, an acrid smile undulating upon her lips, she should learn to practice what she preaches. Does she not do the very same thing as her lover, after all? Trying to make a dead thing live again?
". . . you turn our darkness into light, and in the light, we may see . . ."
Her heart thrums and aches with life, too much life, inside her body; she shudders a gasp through her nostril from its force, clutching a hand to her chest as though about to be sick, repressing the urge to shriek and writhe upon the floor from the pain.
". . . Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer: Christ the Lord is risen today . . ."
The woman sitting next to her glances at her knowingly, her eyes moist. Great. Now everyone in the church thinks she's had a moving, deeply spiritual moment.
Nellie strains a smile upon her face before lolling her head against Sweeney's shoulder and closing her eyes, sweat beading on her brow, sunlight refracting upon her skin. The white rays filtering through the windows are made colorful by the holy mosaics and cause her normally chalky complexion to glow rosily golden, like the picture of a woman luxurious in health and happiness, like a saint.
Please, God. I don't know if you can hear me – or if you're even there – or if someone as wicked as me even has a right to try and get your attention . . . but please, if you can hear, and if you are there, and if you're willing – please let us both exist among the living again.
". . . Amen."
The sounds of rustling fabric against wood and footsteps upon the ground fill the air. Nellie opens her eyes: the service is over. Everyone is leaving.
"Are you alright?" growls a voice very close to her ear.
She tilts her head upon his shoulder to glance into his face: she can't delude herself into thinking his apathetic expression actually is a mask for concern, but at least he's asking about her, at least the words are concerned . . .
And far too late. You've only been sweating and shaking next to him for, oh, I don't know, well on ten minutes now.
"'Course I am, love," says Nellie bracingly. Securing her arm around his, she pulls them both to their feet and joins the throng of people strolling out the doors and onto the sidewalk. "C'mon, then. No point hanging around here any longer than we've got to."
"Wait," he says, pausing just outside the doorway, forcing her to stumble to a halt beside him.
But he's already striding forward and, their arms still twined together, she trips along behind him.
He is heedless of the crowd; people are forced to part around him rather than a mutual side-stepping, and she can only flash them an apologetic smile before they barrel through. She doesn't realize he's pulling her into the church cemetery until she staggers past a cracked, aged tombstone dressed up for the Easter celebration by pure white lilies all around its edges.
Her heart lurches into her throat: he is looking for Lucy's grave.
Swallowing more dry bile, pressing her arm tighter against his to remind him of her solidity and her warmth and her life and her everything that Lucy cannot give him, she says, "Mr. Todd, listen – Lucy doesn't have a tombstone – "
His feet hurtle forward, his head remains facing ahead, not acknowledging her words, as they dash past the headstones and their lilies.
" – suicides aren't – well, they're not a very Christian thing to do – so Turpin wouldn't allow for her to – be properly buried beside a church – "
Still he presses onward, racing straight ahead as though he never intends to stop. His eyes do not dart from gravestone to gravestone as she expects them to as he searches for Lucy – perhaps that is not his purpose? What other possible purpose could he have within a cemetery though?
Sweeney comes to such an abrupt halt that she again nearly topples to the ground, only just managing to catch herself.
Panting, perplexed and worried, she rubs a stitch in her side. "You could warn me when you're about to stop running, love."
He ignores her, or perhaps he cannot hear her: dropping her arm, he strides towards the largest grave marker in the cemetery, a marble mausoleum, and falls to his knees before its steps, legs indenting the spread of grass and white lilies.
Something about the sight – about a living dead man kneeling before the grave of a fellow deceased being – spooks her and jolts a shudder down her spine.
Before she can ask what he's doing, he scoops two of the Easter lilies into his hands, one for each palm, and rises to his feet, lugging his legs in her direction with great effort. When he finally stands less than a foot away from her, he stops and raises his eyes to meet hers, the flowers cupped like glass in his hands. Her breath hitches and her fingers reach out to take the flowers that he is giving her –
"For Lucy," he mutters in explanation. "Lilies were her favorite. Missing flowers won't be noticed from a grave that already has more than it needs."
Nellie lowers her hands. Plasters a smile onto her mouth. "How thoughtful of you, Mr. T."
She spins away from him and starts back towards the kissing gate before her smile crumbles and reveals the pain cleaving her insides. Her lips tremble as she calls out, "Shall we head back now?"
He catches up to her and, side by side, they stroll out of the cemetery and onto the sidewalk, their hair still mildly tamed, their Sunday best slightly crinkled but still unstained, the white rays of sunlight glossy upon their waxy skins, no longer making her skin glow healthily and saintly without the many colors of the church's mosaic windows.
Her heart aches and thrums but she doesn't feel the need to gasp aloud this time, doesn't have to swallow her cries of pain: this pain is silent, ripping at her soul rather than stealing her air, destroying her possibility of a hereafter rather than her chance of existing among the alive.
Alright, God. You've made your point loud and clear: demons should never ask for Your help. Don't worry. I'll never try asking again.
As though He desires to smite her one final time before letting her be, the sun suddenly disappears behind a torrent of dark clouds, siphoning the light from their skins –
And then it starts to rain.
Not droplets, but buckets. Water pours, rushes, gushes down upon them, sloshing from the skies to the cadence of thunder.
They are both drenched in an instant, their hair plastered to their skulls with loose tendrils clinging to their moist faces, their Sunday best sticking to them in a second skin.
"Well, thank you, God!" Nellie screams into the skies, throwing her hands into the air – because if she doesn't scream, she will start to sob heavier than the skies. "It's an Easter miracle indeed – as if you hadn't given me enough already, you've gone and ruined my best dress! Praise the Lord, and Jesus too, and all the angels and saints and whatever the hell else's up there and having a good long laugh at me –"
The sound of his voice always turns her towards him immediately; the sound of his voice filled with genuine panic whirls her towards him faster than the bolt of lightning as it illuminates London and his body:
Sweeney kneels in the middle of the road, on all fours like an animal, head bent towards the ground. As though his clothes weren't ruined enough from the rain, crawling upon the pavement has added a layer of dirt to his pants all the way up to his knees.
"Mr. T – what the hell're you – "
"I dropped one of Lucy's lilies," he says, his eyes scanning the streets as they fill with water, watching the scattered junk of London's inhabitants float by.
Nellie roars with laughter.
His gaze snap from the ground to her face, eyes wide and focused upon reality – upon her – for the first time all morning, all day . . . perhaps all year.
She laughs harder at the sight, doubling over with her hands on her knees: even the dead man who sees nothing can finally see that a woman still living doesn't know how to survive much longer.
"And to think I actually thought the concern in your voice just now was for me," she guffaws. "That makes, what, the third time today I've dared to hope – and actually started to believe – you cared about me? That makes the millionth fucking time in my lifetime that I've believed it?"
Slowly, Sweeney stands, his one Easter lily no longer held gingerly in his palm, but crushed in his fist.
"I'm done believing, love," she informs him, no longer laughing, just shouting into the streets, to everyone and no one who cares to listen. "I'm done believing in you – in you and me – in us ever being together, being more than we are – being alive – "
He starts walking out of the road and back to where she stands on the sidewalk.
" – and I stopped believing God wanted to help me years ago, but I dared to believe in Him, too, today – "
He keeps moving towards her, his feet as purposeful and relentless as when he entered the cemetery, his eyes as fixed straight ahead. His eyes fixed straight ahead upon her.
" – and He let me down, of course, just as He always does – He enjoys watching me suffer – you and Him aren't that different, y'know, you both enjoy that a good deal – "
The ground beneath her feet tilts as he approaches and she finds herself dizzy, light-headed, wobbly on legs that have never before faltered.
" – perhaps you should try talking to Him sometimes, you'd probably have more luck than – "
He continues drawing nearer, nearer, ever nearer.
" – than – than me – "
He grasps her face between hands that practically claw her face with their vehemence and rams his mouth upon hers, swallowing her anger and her torment and leaving her hollow, leaving her capable of nothing but to sag in his arms, drained. He grasps onto her as though he'll drown if he doesn't, as though this rain will overflow the streets and overflow his soul until there's nothing left but the shell of a man, empty and dry.
It's always been a fantasy of hers, to be kissed in the rain. To be ravished by a man's raw need beneath sodden skies, knowing that he cannot wait for a more proper time when they will not be seen by prying, public eyes. To feel the contrast of the cold rain and his hot breath against her skin all at once.
But when she actually finds herself kissing in the rain, it's much less desirable than she's imagined. It's cold out here, and bloody uncomfortable, and she'd much rather be tucked beneath blankets with warm coals than standing out here, sopping wet, her mouth tangled with another's as rain drips down her body and drips between their lips and freezes her to her core.
But she'll be damned if she's going to pull away now, now when he's showering affection upon her heavier than this overwhelming rain. She'll be damned if she's not going to grasp his saturated garments just as firmly, grapple his lips with her own just as brutally, push her body against his just as ardently.
At last he pulls away, but keeps his forehead leaning against her, his breath falling warm and dry against her moist skin. Reluctantly, she opens her eyes, and discovers he is already looking into hers, gaze dark and focused.
Ever aware of her public image, her gaze dives past him for a moment to see if any passerbys have seen: and oh, do they see. There are people everywhere – though admittedly less than before the thunderstorm began, they still mill about the streets – and each and every one of them clearly sees the barber and the baker standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Each and every one of them purses their lips or scowls, averts their gaze, steps into the middle of the road to avoid stumbling into the pair.
A bubble of triumph wells in her stomach. Normally she and Sweeney go to great care to ensure that no prying, scandalized eyes might see their them together indecently. Yet part of her always wished they would see. Then her claim to him would not just be her own, silent, never spoken or hinted of in any hours but the precious few that he permits her in the darkness between her sheets; then her claim to him would be validated by others knowing, by him unable to escape and deny it any longer.
And they have seen now.
The victorious bubble quivers then pops as her gaze finds his again, as the anger and torment he had siphoned from her lips again floods down her throat and convulses through her entire body, dulled by pressure of his fingertips against her flesh but no less thorough.
"I meant what I said, love," she murmurs against his lips. "I'm done willing myself to believe in healing you – in making you realize you're among the alive – in us ever having . . ." She swallows that thought before she can ever vocalize it again, before she can cut herself any deeper than she already has with continued wishing and wanting and believing. "In everything impossible."
His eyes darken and gleam upon her all at once, like the soiled rain spilling from the skies, grimy but still gleaming. Like hope.
He removes one hand from her face and unfurls his fingers, showing her the one Easter lily he still holds. The flower is crumpled beyond repair, its petals distorted and bedraggled, its pure white color stained brown from the road overflowing with dirty water.
"And I mean this, Nellie," he says.
He drops Lucy's lily into the road and allows it to wash away with the stream before again bringing his lips to hers.
A/N: Improbably fluffy? Perhaps. But I figured that I've put you all through enough doom-'n'-gloom lately. Besides, I wanted to end on a happy note.
A final gigantic shout-out to every single person who has ever reviewed, messaged me about, or even just silently read this fic. Writing can be such a solitary, isolating experience, and it's always so wonderful to be able to share my random scribblings with such an engaged audience. Hugs, kisses, and virtual brownies to you all.
Several of you have been asking me if I will now begin a new collection of Toddvett drabbe/one-shot thingies. The brief answer is no. Frankly, I think I need a break from the ST fandom. It's not that I no longer love ST - I do, with a deeper passion than I can ever convey! - but I've been writing in this fandom for around five years. I need to play around with something new for a while.
That said, to all of my readers of my novel, Death Is For The Alive - fear not! That ST work is still alive and kicking, and I have absolutely no plans to abandon it before its finale. To all of you who are NOT currently reading my novel . . . what are you doing with your lives?! xD No, but in all seriousness, if you're looking to get your ST fix and feel completely lost now that I've completed this Toddvett series, do check out DIFTA. In a nutshell, it chronicles the afterlives of our favorite barber and baker. There are currently twenty-two chapters posted, and there are around a dozen more to come!
Thank you again, dear readers, for sticking it out with me for all thirty kisses.
And, please remember, reviews are love.