Passing Grades - Part II
Sweeney's first step on the ice feels a little like coming home again. A little like sitting down on Nellie's couch for the first time in a decade, or opening a letter that she wrote him in the twenties and re-reading it just because he wants to. It's familiar, comfortable - until his skate catches an edge and he falls flat on his face. He can't blame it on the bumps, either... after hundreds of years, mankind has finally mastered the art of creating a flat ice surface.
Sighing, Todd picks up his stick and stands, skating to the bench to deposit his water bottle on the floor. He adjusts his helmet (doing up the strap this time) and begins a slow skate around his team's end, trying to get a feel for the ice. The other players begin to file onto the ice, most of Sweeney's team falling in behind him as he increases his speed, taking tighter corners and a lower stance. Shivers erupt down his spine, but whether from the arctic chill of the wind on his face or the thrill of speed that feels almost like flying, he isn't sure.
"Hey, nice duds, man." A blonde faux-hawk kid shoves his helmet on and gives Todd a thumbs up.
Eleanor had obviously signed him up for the highest skill level of the tournament, meaning that he was now playing amongst a group of mostly twenty-and-thirty-something young men straight out of university hockey. A couple veterans joined the mix – in their youth, they probably could have skated circles around the youngsters – and even though the practice had just started, they were the clear leaders.
"You ready, grandpa?" This one, with brown hair down to his shoulders and a scraggly attempt at a goatee wires a puck just past Sweeney's head. He has a momentary vision of running the brat through with his stick.
Todd adjusts his gloves. He's ready for anything.
When Todd said he was ready for anything, he had forgotten how much it hurt when a two-hundred-fifty pound defence slams him into the boards. His breath vacates his body as his lungs, chest, ribs, and shoulders meet somewhere in the centre of his body, and stars explode in his head as he crumples to the ice. He hears the man leave, the sound of his skates vanishing behind the shouts of the players and the hiss of blades shaving layers off the ice.
Every inch of his body hurts. The end of the first period, only minutes to go, and his lungs feel like they'll explode at any minute. Not to mention he hasn't scored a single goal. Against children. Against amateurs. It's humiliating. He hates ice hockey.
Seconds after falling, Todd is on his feet again, skating at break-neck speed towards the center of the ice, weaving around defenders with the desperation borne from the knowledge Nellie will haunt him for eternity if his team doesn't win. His arms pump in tandem with his legs and he curls around the boards to ram his opponent into the boards with a perfectly legal check that leaves the other man reeling. He steals the puck and passes it back to the point. The puck dances around the zone like a pinball, never stationary. And then the brat with the scraggly goatee shoots.
It slams into the goalie's leg pad with a heavy 'thud'. And it pops back out again.
Todd is there in a second, past the mammoth defence, past the hotshot left-winger. And the puck is his. He lifts it with his stick, and it rockets over the goalie's shoulder, connecting with the top right corner of the net.
The buzzer goes.
Second period, and they lead 2-1.
Sweeney Todd has his goal.
The opposing team has talent, but when Todd buries his third goal through the goaltender's legs, they begin to get a little frustrated. Half way through the third period, the game stands 5-2 in favour of Todd's team. Confident, no longer recognizing the distant ache of his muscles, Todd skates to the bench as the referee heads to centre ice for the face off. He vaults over the boards and slides onto his seat beside Faux-hawk.
"Nice move," he says, nodding his appreciation to Todd's goal.
Todd nods once in response and squirts his water bottle over his face before directing a stream into his mouth.
"Where do you play?"
Giving a slight shrug, leaning forward to watch the game, Todd sighs. "Nowhere."
"Did you play in school or something? You're like, pro. You could make NHL if you wanted to." And if he was twenty years younger.
"Did." Todd says, and immediately regrets it when the boy's eyes grow larger than oranges.
"Dude, I'll look you up!"
"Can I at least have your autograph? After the game, I mean."
Todd stares at him. "No."And hops back on the ice just as another team-mate jumps through the door.
They win, 6-3. And the next game 4-2.
Sweeney leaves the dressing room a full twenty minutes after the rest of the team, enjoying the peace and quiet an empty dressing room offers. By the time he drags his disintegrating bag into the hallway, sleep lurks at the forefront of his thoughts. If he could collapse into bed right now, he would be the happiest man in the world.
Two games down, three more to go. Sweeney hopes Armageddon begins before tomorrow.
Leaving his bag beside the water fountain, Sweeney wanders down the hall and into the arena where Nellie's team finishes up the final minutes of their third period. They lead 2-1, and judging the uproarious cheering that assaults his ears when he opens the door, it's an exciting game. He wanders along the stands and finds Carol and Tom, mostly by the ear-piercing cheers. Carol could rival a high soprano with the volume and tone of her squeals.
She jumps to her feet, spilling popcorn all over the floor. "GOOO ELLIEEE!"
"She's playing really well!" Tom says when Sweeney sits down next to him, shouting to be heard over the crowd... and Carol. "I didn't know she could play like that!"
Staring down the ice at Eleanor, who deflects the puck into the corner and springs to her feet in one smooth motion, looking for all the world like she was born in that ungainly equipment, even Sweeney feels his exhilaration growing. The opposing team fires a shot from the point, and she catches it. The opposing team (with five men, versus Eleanor's three because of a series of penalties) tries weaving around her, and she stops them. They pass back and forth, but wherever they move, she counters them.
The buzzer goes, and Carol practically explodes in a flurry of blonde hair and popcorn. Eleanor's team files past her, tapping her helmet, whacking her leg pads with affection.
She's very good.
Over the constant hiss of the shower, the splatter of water across his back, Sweeney Todd hears the apartment door open. He sighs through his nose and closes his eyes, listening to Tom set his bags down, imagining the man poking about the living room, probably leafing through the embarrassing makeup-and-fashion magazines Eleanor left on the coffee table, or testing the buttons on the remote. At least he doesn't try to disturb Sweeney's shower – the noise of running water is enough of a giveaway as to his whereabouts.
The warm water relaxes Sweeney's taut muscles, and few good stretches loosen him completely. But the edge in his mind refuses to budge, stubborn as Eleanor when she doesn't get her way, and even when he rinses the shampoo from his hair and steps down onto the bathmat, he feels like his brain is running a hundred miles an hour. He had forgotten adrenaline. He had forgotten the way it feels to be dropping dead with exhaustion and simultaneously gearing up to run an Olympic marathon. Until now. Now he remembers.
Todd pulls on an old t-shirt and a pair of lounge pants and brushes his teeth, even though he knows it'll be at least another hour before he can even consider sleeping. He leaves the bathroom, a towel thrown around his neck, hair dripping around his face, and emerges from the hall to see Tom with his knees on the counter, rummaging through their kitchen cupboards. He clears his throat.
Tom nearly falls off the counter, scrambling to grab the cupboard door. "Hey Sweeney," he says, his hand over his heart but otherwise unphased. "What's up?"
Sweeney's jaw tightens involuntarily. "What are you doing?" he asks, a droplet of water beginning a slow crawl down his back.
"Looking for your popcorn. Found a bowl, though." Tom pulls a metal bowl from the cupboard and hops down, shrugging. "A little help?"
Glancing behind him to the living room (the magazines had indeed been flipped through, and Tom had moved the remote), Todd steps forward and pulls a jar of kernels from one cupboard, the popcorn maker from another, and drops them both on the counter beside Tom.
"Ah. Gracias." Tom pours the kernels into the machine and flips the switch, moving to the fridge to grab the butter. "You played a good game tonight," he says.
Sweeney moves to the couch and grabs the remote. He grunts a response, letting his head loll back against the couch, shifting positions. He begins to flick channels in the vague hope that he'll find something good on t.v., or at least something that will put him to sleep. Perhaps he could watch that Milo and Otis film again...
"I mean, you really surprised me. I didn't know you could play so well. Either of you." The popcorn machine begins to roar, a vacuum-cleaner in reverse. "But man, some of those checks were brutal. You must be hurting something fierce."
Frowning, Sweeney runs his hand along his ribcage. Sore enough, at least. "What are you getting at?"
"I just thought that maybe you'd be just that much better... and safer... if you had some new gear."
Sweeney rolls his eyes and twists around to stare at Tom. "For the last time, I'm not buying any new gear."
Tom holds his hands up in front of him, looking worried that Sweeney might throw the remote at his head. Which is a possibility. "I know." The popcorn begins to explode. "I brought you some. It's in the car."
"Yeah," Tom says, a smile creeping over his face. "Yeah, from my brother-in-law. Ellie's using his daughter's gear right now. Whole hockey family, everyone plays except the dog, pretty much. Anyways, he's out of town for the weekend, and I figured I'd stop by on the way back here..." he shrugs. "He's a pretty scrawny dude, so I figure his stuff will probably fit you pretty well. Even if it doesn't, though, at least it's from this century."
Sweeney scowls, unsure how to take the gesture. He watches the man mix the butter into the popcorn for a moment before answering. "You're still sleeping on the couch."
Tom just gives him a thumbs-up.
The phone rings. At six a.m.
Sweeney growls and buries his head under his pillow, but he's only delaying the inevitable.
Eleanor's voice blares over the answering machine the moment it picks up. "Morning sleepy 'eads!" He briefly considers pulling the phone line out of the wall. "I'm just callin' from the evil phone to remind you that your first game is in two an' a 'alf hours, an' that you both need to get your butts out of bed before we 'ave to come over there."Silence for a minute. "An' make sure you eat breakfast."
Carol in the background: "AND BRING DOUGNUTS! Tom, are you listening? I'm talking to you. Doughnuts."
"An' coffee," Eleanor interjects.
"I think that's it. Now someone answer the phone so I know you're up."
Carol again: "The yelling will commence in five – four – three –"
Sweeney struggles to free his limbs from his bedding , nearly falling off the bed in the process, and stands, managing to grab the phone off the charger and push 'talk' just as Carol reaches the end of 'one'. "Breakfast, doughnuts, coffee, eight o'clock. Goodbye Eleanor."
He shuts the phone off. And there is silence for an entire seven minutes before Tom wakes up.
Despite already playing two games through the morning and afternoon, Nellie's muscles blaze with energy. Which might also be due to the three coffees, four gatorades, and litre bottle of coke she's drunk so far today. Her only complaint is that her equipment hasn't had the chance to dry yet.
Since looking at the revised schedule at four-thirty that morning, before her first game, Nellie has been looking forward to seven o'clock with a growing, restless anticipation. Thanks to her team's winning streak, and an almost incredulous number of goals by a certain barber, she will be meeting Todd in the playoffs. In the finals, and not a moment sooner. She hadn't expected either of them to get this far (in which case they would have already played and be heading home), but in her opinion, it's worth the wait.
She is leaning against the wall beside the water fountain, sipping the last of the jumbo root beer Tom brought her and waiting for the Zamboni to finish cleaning the ice, when Sweeney walks out of his dressing room. His helmet is tucked under the crook of his arm, his stick held tightly in his opposite glove, and he looks for all the world like a conquering hero. Her knight in plastic, fibreglass, and synthetic compound armour. This new gear bulks him up nicely – not that he needs any extra, the whipcord muscles on that man are like steel, even after hundreds of years – and gives him a few extra inches of height, pristine white jersey hanging nearly to his knees and rustling gently when he walks. She has to bury her face in her paper cup to keep from staring.
She only wishes Tom could have waited to give him this new gear until she had given his team at a solid thrashing.
Sweeney turns down the hallway to the doors, following the rest of his team at a distance. Nellie slurps the last of her root beer and drops the cup, scrambling to pick up her helmet, gloves, and stick without falling over, and bounds after him as fast as she can; thanks to her goalie pads, her brisk run turns into more of a retarded penguin waddle. She pulls up beside him, and he spares only a brief glance, holding the door for her to move past him and around the corner.
"Nervous?" she asks, smiling and swatting his shin pads with her stick. He barely blinks – the focus on his stolid face is incredible.
"You should be. I'll 'ave you know that Carol an' Tom are both cheerin' for me."
"An' a bunch of your students are 'ere. Apparently bein' on YouTube 'as its perks... I'm pretty sure 'alf of them are cheerin' for me too."
This time he doesn't even answer.
Nellie rolls her eyes. "Come on, love. This called trash-talk, an' it's not meant to be played alone. Say somethin'. The zamboni's almost done."
But he just pulls his hair out of his face, tucking it behind his ears in a move she finds painfully endearing and lifts his helmet one-handed onto his head. The door to the rink swings open and the players in front of them begin to file onto the ice. Nellie pulls her mask over her face and whacks her pads with her stick, creating a 'boom' which echoes around the chilly air. She butts in front of Todd and has one skate on the ice when he finally speaks.
"I will personally thrash you, Eleanor."
She grins and flips around, skating backwards towards her net. "You can try."
Bloody hell, he's been trying.
For one, Eleanor must have used each moment of her not insubstantial years to prepare for this game, because she seems to know Sweeney's every move as well as she knows him. And secondly, Eleanor's team must have looked at the stats, because their personal crusade is to keep the puck away from him at whatever cost. Such a task isn't easy, but they are ruthlessly efficient. And there are many of them and only one of him.
The new gear has helped, admittedly. He's faster, sturdier, more agile than he's ever been, flying over the ice, but he still can't seem to get the puck into the net. And his team trailing for the first time in the tournament, 2-0.
Growling under his breath, Sweeney opens the door and climbs onto the bench, sitting down with a huff of air. He peels his helmet off and sprays freezing water from his bottle over his face, letting the drops cool his skin before wiping them away with his sleeve. He hunches forward and rests his forehead against the boards in front of him, glad that they're being offered a ten minute intermission between periods and intending to take full advantage of it.
"'Ow's that thrashing coming along, love?"
Sweeney groans, opening his eyes a crack to stare at Eleanor, who has her mask tipped up away from her face, a bottle of Gatorade (complete with a straw she got from who-knows-where) in hand.
"Someone's in a mood."
Sweeney sighs, suddenly exhausted under the weight of a few centuries of aches and pains. "I'm not in a mood."
Nellie snorts. "You're just sore because you got shut down by a girl."
"I was hardly 'shut down'." Most of his attempted shots had been sabotaged by her team before they even amounted to anything.
She quirks an eyebrow and sips her drink. "Oh?"
"I was only just warming up."
"Shut down, warming up. You sound like a computer, love." She grasps the straw between her fingers and pulls it out, sucking the droplets of Gatorade from the end. She throws it at him. It lands on his neck and begins to slide down his shirt. " An' I completely robbed you, don't deny it."
Sweeney brushes the straw away and stands up, climbing over the boards and onto the ice. He looks down at her and sneers. "Awfully high and mighty with all your hockey terminology, aren't you?"
Nellie grins and he regrets letting her suck him in to this game. "I'm sorry, love, I can't 'ear you over the sound of how awesome I am." She rinses her face off with the water bottle and squirts a stream into her mouth. "An' to prove it, 'ow about a proposition?"
Sweeney narrows his eyes. "No."
He scowls, snapping a little too quickly, "No."
She jams her fists under her arms as best as she can with the goalie equipment on, and begins to flap her elbows around, drawing attention and a few scattered cheers from the college students in the stand. Another YouTube phenomenon waiting to happen.
He sighs. "What kind of proposition?"
"The loser of tournament makes winner breakfast for a week."
He considers it for a moment, but the image of Eleanor waiting on him every morning, tray in hand, is too much to pass up. "Deal." They shake, her bare hand nearly engulfed in the navy-blue material of his glove.
The buzzer sounds and she tosses her empty bottle over the boards, managing to land it perfectly in a nearby garbage can. And then she laces her fingers through the bars of her mask and pulls it down over her face, glaring up at him like an animal through a cage. "Bring it on, razor-boy."
2-1, beginning of the third period.
Sweeney breaks past the defender, legs working overtime to carry him further and further with each stride, chasing the puck like his life depends on it. And in some ways, it does. Or at least his pride does. He weaves around the boards, bouncing the puck off his skate and onto his stick, looking for an opening to pass. He narrowly avoids a check – the wind from his opponent cools the sweat on his face – and takes off again, making a beeline along the side of the ice towards Eleanor's net.
One minute, Sweeney Todd is racing down the boards, and the next he's crashing headlong into the glass, the blade of his opponent's stick hooked around his calf, pulling his leg out from under him. The side of his face smashes into the cold glass and he feels an explosion of warmth as the skin over his cheekbone splits, oozing blood down his chin. He grits his teeth and claws at the boards to keep standing, failing and dropping to one knee.
The referee blows the whistle, but Todd doesn't hear it over the buzz in his ears. It starts out like a whine at first, the high-pitched ringing of a serious blow to the head. But then it grows, pulsing with the beat in his throat, and turns into a blistering roar he hasn't heard for years.
His vision is red, maybe because he smeared the blood up over his face – the sticky liquid is too familiar, too comfortable on his skin for him to really notice or care – or maybe just because he wants nothing more than to club his own hockey stick across the other man's head. He struggles to gain his balance, blinking, and spots his assailant, jersey number Eleven, arguing with the referee about the penalty.
Todd skates over, taps him on the shoulder, and punches him square in the nose the moment he turns around. The subsequent crunch brings a smile to Todd's numbing face. He throws his gloves to the ground and brings his fist around to the back of the man's head, pushing past the referees to slam Eleven into the boards, buffeting his face to the cheering of the crowd.
"Get 'im, Mister T!"
Todd pauses for a moment, his gaze flicking to Eleanor, who pounds her stick on the ice along in time with the steady clapping from the stands. Her helmet sits on the back of the net, hair spilling over her shoulders like fire against her navy jersey. The look on her face is exactly the same as the last hockey game, her words a mirror of his fight she'd watched and fully enjoyed while the other women discreetly looked the other way.
Eleven's helmet falls to the ground, and Todd looks back just in time to get a fist to the eye. He growls and the man pushes him away from the boards; Todd grabs a handful of his jersey in one hand to keep him from escaping. Todd has no intention of letting him get away. They begin to circle, a spinning, dizzying dance, weaving and bobbing and ducking, throwing punches that connect with equipment more often than not. Eleven grapples Todd's helmet off and his fist connects with the gash in his cheek.
Todd's knuckles split on Eleven's teeth, and the man goes down. When he falls, Todd grabs the back of his jersey and pulls it up over his head – the ultimate sign of finality.
Taking advantage the lull in action, the referees skate between Todd and his opponent. It takes both to pull Todd away, one on each side. They shout some vague instructions in Todd's ear, pointing him to the penalty box, where an on-call volunteer paramedic (unsurprising, considering it's a hospital charity game) waits with a small box of supplies and a concerned look. Satisfied that Eleven's face matches his own, Todd sits on the bench and slams the door shut, poking his head out only long enough to watch the other man stumble, much less gracefully, into the other box. He leans back and accepts the water bottle from the medic, spraying the cold water over his face and wiping it with his sleeve, which comes away red.
He lets the man poke, prod, clean, and bandage the deeper cut on his cheek, which "will only need stitches if you try something like that again", but waves him off before he can look at the split lip and the gash above his eyebrows. He doesn't need a medic to tell him that they're only minor scratches.
Faux-hawk skates past when the referees call the next faceoff, and leans against the boards. "Hey. Don't shoot the messenger, but your goalie girlfriend over there told me to tell you she thinks that was hot."
Todd follows his gaze to look at Nellie, who waits, crouched and ready to spring, at the edge of her crease. "She's hardly my girlfriend." It was bad enough having this conversation with Nellie on Halloween, let alone with a complete stranger.
He shrugs. "Whatever you say, man. But maybe she should be – I mean, she's pretty in to you. Did you see the look on her face?" He nods approvingly, staring a quick glance over his shoulder when the referee waves him over and starts yelling at him. "Anyways, yeah, she thinks it's hot. But she also told me to tell you that she'll be pissed if your face stays like that forever." He starts to skate away, but then turns back, much to the annoyance of the referee, who threatens to throw him in the box along with Todd for delay of game. "Oh yeah. And 'nana-nana-boo-boo.', whatever that's about." He shrugs, and the game resumes.
Todd wonders how many more centuries it will take before people leave his love life alone.
Sudden death overtime. 2-2.
Nellie hooks her arms over the crossbar of the net, leaning back and sighing. They're entering the second half of the twenty-minute period of overtime, but so far most of the play has been in Sweeney's end, giving her a little time to relax and enjoy the game for its own sake. Usually, situations like this leave her bored, but this time it's a welcome break.
The last few games gave her enough of a workout to stay in shape for at least another two hundred years. Playing four games of hockey in a row, after years of absence from the game, wasn't her best move – her poor bones are about to drop. As soon as she goes home, she plans on sleeping for at least a week. And then when she wakes up, she'll spend at least another week expending only enough energy to read the paper and drink a cup of coffee.
Nellie divides her attention between the clock, the action, and the crowd. The red, electronic numbers tick down on the scoreboard; each second builds the pressure and increases the crowd's steady hum of energy. Nellie thrives on the edge it gives her, grateful of the way it replaces the dwindling effects of caffeine. Down at the other end, Sweeney's goalie catches the puck in his glove and holds it for the faceoff. Nellie glances at Carol, who is surrounded by Nellie's following of college students, and salutes. Carol takes the opportunity to leap to her feet and start the wave, which continues all the way down the line, even through 'Professor Todd's' following of Tom and co.
And Sweeney flies towards her like a rocket, puck on the end of his stick.
Only seconds ago he had been sitting in the penalty box after another tussle with Jensen (who can't seem to go for ten minutes without antagonizing the man), and now he's half-way down the ice. Which, for a split second, doesn't make sense. But those numbers ticking down were also his penalty minutes and his team had shot the puck down the ice... past the defence... just as his penalty had run out. And he had received it. Past the defence.
Nellie tightens her grip on her stick and shrugs her arms off the net, crouching into a solid position and skating out a bit further to confront him, blocking off the angle and leaving him no opening to shoot. She follows the puck with her eyes as he dangles it back and forth, his powerful strides pushing it closer and closer. Matching his speed, she skates backward, keeping her body between him and the net.
He winds up, drawing his stick back to his hip, and fakes a shot. Nellie nearly falls for it, dropping to one knee. He tries to pull the puck around her, but she recovers too quickly, hopping back to her feet and pushing off in one smooth motion to counter him when he tries to drag it around her left side and slide it past her. Shooting her a final, frantic scowl at being bested, he fires the puck up off the backhand. It thuds solidly into her helmet and pops straight up. And then comes down. Right onto his stick, and into the empty net, top corner, just out of her reach.
She watches the puck drop – slow-motion – back to the ice, and groans. The crowd explodes with noise, approval mixed with disappointment. She doesn't get up off her knees, glaring up at Todd with a tight coil of irritation in her stomach. He stares back down at her with an expression nothing short of superiority.
"Alright, alright, thrashin' delivered," she grumbles, clambering to her feet and peeling her helmet off, guzzling the rest of her water bottle.
It takes Todd's team less than ten seconds to bury him in a dog pile. His strangled cries are so satisfying that she struggles to maintain her sorrowful expression when she skates over to her bench, giving a shrug to her teammates, who congratulate her despite the loss. They pat her on the back, whack her in the pads. Jensen even pulls her into a hug, and she contemplates yelling at Todd, hoping to get his attention and maybe a bit of jealousy.
Although, she has a feeling that he wouldn't be able to hear her over the sound of how awesome he is.
When Todd moves to sit in the passenger's seat of the car, Nellie slams the door in his face. "Where do you think you're goin'?"
Sweeney scowls, draws himself up to his full height and stares down at her. "Home."
Nellie props her hands on her hips. "Not like that you bloody aren't." She smacks his hand away from the door handle.
He's been gone for over twelve hours, his face hasn't been so battered since the second World War, and he'd had to wait for what seemed like hours while Eleanor chatted with her teammates and ate pizza. This is not the time for games. Except that Eleanor doesn't look like she's joking. He glares at her and opens the door anyways, planting one food inside the car.
Nellie grabs his collar and hauls him back. "Love, don't even think about it. You're showering."
Fixing his shirt, Todd stares at her, incredulous. Has she lost her mind? "No."
"Why bloody not? You smell like a troll."
Turning his head subtly to the side, Todd sniffs the air. He hardly smells as bad as she thinks. Like sweat, granted, and blood, but those scents are hardly foreign to either of them. He shifts his jaw in annoyance, and recites his answer with as much conviction as a doctrinal creed. "Public showers are akin to the level of humiliation displayed at the stockades. In fact, I'd much rather have vegetables thrown in my face."
Nellie bursts out laughing. "I remember that, too! That was bloody 'ilarious, it was."
He grimaces, and scowls. "Thank you for bringing up such a painful memory."
"You mentioned it first, love. Anyways, I am not lettin' you in my car smelling like..." she wrinkles her nose and scents the air. "Tom's sister's 'usband's hockey equipment. You reek, love. Shower up."
Nellie scoffs. "I'm a woman. I don't reek. I'm aromatic. Plus, I'm 'aving one as soon as we get home." She slams the door and locks it, dropping the keys down her shirt.
Todd stares at her chest for a moment, wide-eyed, teeth clenched, and then looks away. "And why do I not have the same option?" Probably because he scored on her.
She smiles, disgustingly sweet. "My car. My apartment. My shower. My rules."
She follows him back into the arena, and when he turns down the hallway to the dressing rooms, she returns to the lobby for more pizza.
Nellie lifts a big bowl of warm water from the coffee table onto Sweeney's lap and tosses a facecloth into it, spraying droplets everywhere. He scowls, glancing down to the sloshing water that rests precariously on his lap, and wisely stays still as she brushes his hair back from his forehead and scrubs at his eyebrow. He grunts, but remains silent, flicking channels between talk shows, reruns, and late movies.
When the scratches above eyebrow looks clean (she dips her finger in the water to smooth the hairs back into place and smiles at him when he glares at her from the corner of his vision), she hands him an ice-pack for his eye and moves to his cheek. Gently peeling the bandage from Sweeney's face, Nellie stares at the gash and winces. She settles on her knees beside him, sinking down into the couch cushion, and runs her finger along his cheek beside the wound. The corners strain, like his face might split in two, and little bits of adhesive cling to the edges of his skin, the surrounding area an angry red that matches the drying blood. "Ooh, love, that looks nasty."
"And I'd appreciate it you stopped jabbing your finger in it," he growls, staring down at the t.v. guide, glancing between it and the television.
"Well if you'd keep still, I'd 'ave a bit easier time." She gently dabs at his face with the cloth, cleaning dutifully, gently, reaching into her back pocket with her free hand. She pulls out an antiseptic towelette and opens the packet with her teeth. "Sweeney?"
"This might 'urt."
Putting the washcloth back in the bowl on his lap, Nellie opens the towelette up and presses it to his face.
He yelps and jumps to his feet, eyes wide, hand clamped over his cheek. The water bowl wobbles uselessly, upside-down on the floor, a pool of water creeping across the floor. "Bloody hell, Eleanor," he says, bringing his fingertips away from his face, staring at them like they should be covered in blood.
"Love, you're steppin' in the water."
He grits his teeth, eyebrows tightly knit above his stinging gaze. "That hurt."
Rolling her eyes, she huffs, shrugging and twisting around to sit on the couch with her knees drawn up to her chin. She has no intention of soaking her socks like Sweeney. "Told you so." She pats the cushion beside her. "I'm almost done, sit down."
"What're you doing?" he demands, crossing his arms over his chest. "The medic already cleaned it."
"Because it's what I do."
Todd raises an eyebrow. Next explanation.
"You were sweatin' a lot since then." Nellie shrugs. "Could get infected."
They both know it can't. Todd frowns, looking annoyed.
She stares at him for a moment, and sighs. "I'm not mad at you for winnin', you know."
He blinks once and she knows her guess was right.
"None of this 'as anythin' to do with that. I'm just glad you played with me, love. An' I really didn't mean to 'urt you. The disinfectant was just habit, I guess."
Todd's scowl lessens slightly. "Then why are you doing this?"
She shrugs. And then she smiles, the corner of her mouth twitching upward until the grin spreads across her face. "Guess I jus' wanted to." She pats the cushion again until he treads through the water to sit beside her again. She crumples the towlette and tosses it onto the coffee table. "Guess I jus' like fixin' you up." She pauses, tucks his hair behind his ear, and then adds "Stud that you are," for good measure, enjoying the way his mouth twists up beneath her touch.
He raises an eyebrow. "In that case," he says, voice low, a deep growl in his chest that travels through her entire body and turns her knees into mush, "I think you missed some."
Nellie frowns. "Love, I'm a doctor, I did not-" and then the t.v. flashes the bright white of an advertisement, and she sees the line of red gleaming on his lip, which is curled up in a barely visible smile. Her smile spreads. "Well, look at that." She sighs, running her finger along the tiny cut, and leans in close to whisper in his ear. "Want me to get the antiseptic again?"
He leans in closer. "No." And shuts off the t.v. She smiles in the darkness, catching his lip between her teeth, his fingers tangled in her hair.
This was why she wanted to clean him up.
When Nellie's cellphone alarm goes off at seven, Todd wakes up feeling like he's been run over by a train. Besides the fact that his lip is split open again, this time far worse than after the hockey game, besides the single line of dried blood that runs from his cheek, down his face and chin, besides his one eye that is nearly swollen shut, he had slept crooked. And the couch shows no mercy. He groans and shifts positions, unable to turn his head, grimacing every time he tries. He swears loudly and Nellie groans, mumbling a vague "what?" that is more reaction than consciousness. He sighs. "My neck hurts."
Still half asleep, she yawns and nestles closer to him, wrapping the blanket more tightly around herself. "Stop whinin'."
Todd grunts. He pushes her off and sits up, hissing through his teeth. "I'm not whining, pet. I'm stating a fact."
Nellie groans and moves her head from his chest to his lap. "State it quieter, I'm supposed to be sleeping."
Todd rolls his neck and muffles a gasp. It pops loudly, thankfully relieving the pressure. "No you're not."
Nellie sits up, blinking, bleary-eyed, and stares at him. "Love, neither of us 'ave work until noon."
"We have a deal..." he pauses for effect, absorbing the shock on her face as she absorbs his words. "I'd like three eggs, some French Toast, sausage, and hash browns."
She groans, banging her head back against the back of the couch. "I'm going to smother you with a pillow."
He smiles. "After you make me breakfast."
Todd's students file in to the classroom and take their seats. Todd closes his book and stands, beginning a slow pace of the floor until everyone is seated. He clears his throat to get their attention.
"Before we begin today's quiz on the Crimean War that I am sure you all studied for," he waits until the groans subside before continuing, "I have a few quick questions." He holds up a finger. "One: how many of you attended at least one of the games in the hospital hockey tournament this past weekend?" Around twenty hands go up.
"Excellent. Five extra marks." An extra hand sneaks its way up and Sweeney scowls. "Miss Abbot, five marks off." The hand goes down again. "Question Two: How many of you cheered for my team?" Four hands go down. Sweeney begins to point at students. "You, you, you, you, and yes, you also, Mister Cooper, five marks off. You're all lying." He scans the crowd a moment. "Mister Russell," he points to Kurtis and glares, "ten points off."
"Aw, come on Professor, that's not fair."
He puts his hand up to silence the protest. "If you think I'm in the wrong, you can hold a public burning of your 'Boo Professor' sign that you brought to the game last night. As humorous as I'm sure it was, there is incriminating proof of your unfaithfulness. The rest of you with your hands still up, thank you for the support, and you may skip this test entirely. Passing grade."
After handing out the papers, Sweeney digs his small trophy out of his coat pocket and places on the corner of his desk, straightening it slightly.
Monday morning has never felt quite so good.
A/N: A big thanks to everyone who's read this, and of course a gigantastic thanks to Pam.
ILY Pam. You rock.