Author's Note: So, this is the first fic that I've written in a long, long time. I'm hoping that it'll open up the floodgates and cause me to write loads of new stuff with the greatest of ease, but damned if I know how these things work. Anyway, this fic is dedicated to my elaborate theories about Beadle Bamford's disturbing sexual preferences. The title comes from the version of the nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down" that I grew up with. "Iron bars will bend and break, my fair lady," is how the specific line goes, I think.
Warnings: Oh, boy. Well, we have suggestions of alcoholism, misogyny from the POV character, a Marquis de Sade reference, prostitution, multiple uses of the word "whore" (mostly applied to actual prostitutes, but also to non-prostitutes Johanna and Anthony), other nasty language, general violence and blood, mentions of sexual abuse under the guise of practicing medicine, rape, frottage, and murder. I think that covers it. Oh, and Beadle Bamford is generally a creepy, mean little fuck throughout. Plus, it's not precisely a canon murder, so this is technically AU.
Disclaimer: I don't own Sweeney Todd. It belongs to other people. I also borrowed some phrases from "Big Black Smoke" by the Kinks, which belongs to...Ray Davies, and maybe some other Kinks? Yeah. Oh, and it was William Blake who said that every whore was a virgin once, but he said it differently. But I don't own William Blake, either. That's what I'm trying to say.
Bend and Break
The moon is high and yellow over London when Beadle Bamford stumbles out of a seedy dockside tavern whose name he can't remember. He must have lost it an hour or so ago, around the time that he lost count of how many pints he'd downed. Most of the time, he only drinks enough to blur his vision and dull his thoughts, but tonight there doesn't seem to be enough alcohol in the city. Nothing can blind him, even temporarily, to the terrible world that he helped build. Not that he regrets anything. The race is not to the swift, but to the ugly and the brutish, and he wants to be always on the side of the victors. Besides, he wouldn't belong in a world that was beautiful and gentle.
Pushing away the thought, he places a hand on the cold, rain-slicked wall for balance and continues down the street. He's not sure where he's going. Home, perhaps, where there's nothing to drink but sweet white wine and his wife barricades herself in her bedroom. Or the home of Judge Turpin, who Bamford imagines has fallen asleep in the library with a copy of Justine splayed on his lap and a half-empty glass of brandy on the side table. Bamford would like nothing more than to go to him, put away the book, and persuade him not to spend the night in an armchair, but he knows that he wouldn't be welcome at this hour of night. Anyway, Turpin wouldn't acknowledge his efforts. If you love somebody enough, it shouldn't matter if he doesn't love you back, but it does get to be exhausting. Bamford doesn't think that there's anything improper in what he feels for Turpin, but sometimes he fears that he feels too much.
So, it's to be home, he thinks. He looks for something that will tell him where he is—the name of the street is among the things that he lost at the tavern—and sees a woman and a man talking in low voices across the street. No doubt they are negotiating her price. Spots of rogue decorate her cheeks; white powder hides the ravages of age and disease which must mark her face. Her hair tumbles onto her scrawny shoulders and has the same texture as straw. She has dyed it the same bright yellow color. Bamford can see the black roots even from several yards away. Her dirty pink dress reveals the swells of her breasts, also caked with powder.
All women are this foul underneath. Some of them just disguise it more cleverly. He remembers Miss Johanna with an odd sort of admiration. She used to drift around Turpin's house, pale and silent like the ghost of a wronged woman in a ballad; she used to sit by the window with her sampler and gaze at the sky, bone-thin and bloodless as a medieval saint. Bamford has never liked her. He doesn't miss her pale blue eyes staring at him accusingly, or her tense little hands, so white that he could see the bad blood coursing through her veins. Still, he must admit that her deception worked. He never thought of her as a whore. Of course, he should have known. Her mother seemed as pure as snow, too, and now she makes her living on her back. He still can't picture Miss Johanna twisting the sheets as she writhes and moans beneath a man, but, then again, she's a good actress.
He can't see the face of the man conversing with the whore, but he's tall, with long, thin legs like a stork's. He has long hair that might be blond or brown; it's hard to tell in the flickering lamplight. His heavy blue jacket marks him as a sailor, or perhaps a longshoreman or a fisherman. There must be thousands of men like him in London, made indiscriminate by poverty and exhaustion and loneliness, haggling with women like her tonight. In vain, they seek comfort in decaying flesh. The thought should sadden Bamford, or at least disgust him. Turpin would disapprove, but he is a man meant for greatness, despite his unfortunate weakness for women. Bamford is meant for nothing but sordidness; he takes comfort in knowing that there is a place for him among the vermin.
For the first time this evening, he feels properly drunk. He continues to observe the scene with mild interest. He decides that the whore looks like a burlesque of Miss Johanna, with her yellow hair and white bosom. The customer's blue jacket makes it easy to cast him in the role of Miss Johanna's would-be rescuer. Her only hope, Bamford thinks, suppressing a snort at the bad pun. He learned the sailor's name at least a month ago, but it still amuses him. It's a rather cruel joke at Miss Johanna's expense, considering her current situation, but that's probably why he enjoys it so much.
You and your young man are no better than those two across the street, he wants to tell her. There might be dragons in this world, my fine lady, but he's no St. George and you're hardly an innocent maiden in need of saving. A whoremonger and a whore, that's all you are in the end. No better than the rest of us.
Never mind that she's locked in a madhouse a little way down the river. Never mind that her lover appears to have skipped town weeks ago. If she expects him to save her, she's sadly mistaken. Smirking at the thought, Bamford watches the man drop a coin into the whore's hand. It occurs to him that he's seen this before, but the gears of his mind are so rusted by alcohol that they refuse to creak into action. Then the man glances about him. Bamford only sees his face for a moment in the half-light, but he recognizes the wide pretty eyes and full lips at once. Suddenly, he knows why it's so easy to imagine the owner of the blue jacket as Miss Johanna's young man. It's easy because Anthony Hope hasn't left London at all. Instead, he's standing a few yards away, patronizing a third-rate prostitute in one of the worst slums of the city.
For a moment, Bamford can only think of how good it would feel to strike that damnably sturdy blue jacket with his cane until fabric and skin give way. He tells himself that he wants to do this out of anger. Why shouldn't he want to punish this upstart young man, this almost-criminal, who helped that little harlot break Turpin's heart? It's the most natural feeling in the world. He tries to forget how many nights that he's imagined the sailor carrying off Miss Johanna and leaving him alone with the judge at last; he tries to ignore the way that his cock stiffens at the thought of blood in that golden hair, of those long legs sprawled across the cobblestones. It's no use, though. The strange adoration that he feels for Turpin goes back twenty years. The urge to bend and break somebody else has been with him even longer. Sometimes, he feels as though it's been waiting for him since the beginning of time.
He tries to think of the most unappealing thing in the world to distract himself from what's happening in his trousers. Cold, strange Miss Johanna comes to mind immediately, but then he remembers how she struggled when she was examined at the asylum. Two orderlies had to hold her legs apart and Bamford had to twist her arms behind her back so that the doctor could lift her voluminous skirts, yank down her pantalets, and discover if the sailor had ruined her. She bruised the orderlies' arms with her kid leather boots, scratched Bamford's hands until they ran with blood, and screamed so loudly when the doctor discovered her maidenhead that she almost drowned out Bamford's smirking remark that the sailor had not been entirely successful. Even she has a kind of charm when angry and humiliated. His cock grows harder.
Stop it, he thinks. Not now.
He wills the sailor to disappear into the nearest alley with the whore. Now that he's paid her, they can't have much to discuss. He wonders if the sailor is stalling. After all, he blushed and stammered like the virginal heroine of one of those silly novels Mrs. Bamford likes to read when Turpin lured him into the library and offered to show him those drawings. Perhaps this whore will be his first. Perhaps he's nervous that he won't know how to do anything, that God will cut him down for fornicating, or that he's somehow ruining himself for Miss Johanna. If Bamford didn't hate him for what he's done to Turpin and his abominable taste in women, he might feel some sympathy. He knows what it is to take his pleasure in low places because he can't get it where he wants it the most.
Get on with it, he thinks. His heart beats so hard that he thinks that they must be able to hear it across the street. Go fuck against a wall so I won't have to think about you anymore. The whore lifts her pink skirt, exposing her skinny, unwashed thighs. Bamford licks his lips. He wonders whether they're really going to do it right here, where anybody could see them. Well, it wouldn't be the worst thing he's seen in this neighborhood. His cock jumps at the thought of the sailor grabbing the whore by her scrawny hips and thrusting into her repeatedly while she digs her nails into his shoulders.
He's so absorbed with picturing the scratches on the sailor's wiry back—he's never seen it unclothed, but he knows how it feels from the time he threw him out of Turpin's mansion—that he hardly notices the whore tucking the coins into a pouch tied around her thigh and letting her skirt drop. Neither does it register with him when the sailor extends his hand and the whore, after staring at it for a second and letting out a crow-like laugh, shakes it. He thinks nothing of what he's seen until the sailor walks away and leaves the whore where she is, leaning against the wall of a rag-and-bone shop as though she has all the time in the world.
For a few seconds, he holds his breath. He waits for the whore to follow the sailor. He waits for the sailor to come back and drag the whore behind the shop for a go-around. When he finally realizes that it's never going to happen, he grips his cane so hard that his hand aches. How dare that little son of a bitch give money to a whore for nothing? How dare he shake her hand as though she weren't the scum of the earth? How dare he not be all the things that Bamford wants him to be? He needs the sailor corrupt and disloyal and vicious and wrong, just like everybody else in this world, with the possible exception of Turpin. Instead, the boy insists on playing St. George before his eyes. Right now, it feels like the worst betrayal of all.
Almost before he knows what he's doing, Bamford stalks across the street to where the whore is standing. She doesn't even have the chance to say, "Hello, love, looking for a good time?" before he slams her back against the wall.
"What did that boy want?" he demands. She just stares at him with her mouth gaping. Her two bottom front teeth are missing and she has deep wrinkles around her eyes, but her body feels underdeveloped and childlike beneath him. She's probably thinking about how ugly he is. If he weren't so furious, he'd laugh at the irony. "Tell me or I'll knock out what teeth you have left," he growls. "What did he want?"
"He…he was just looking for someone," she says immediately. She speaks with a Cockney accent and sounds just as much like a crow as she does when she laughs. Still, she knows the way of things. He likes that in a woman, as much as he can like anything about a woman. "A pretty young lady with yellow hair and pale skin, wearing a blue silk dress last time he saw her," she continues, her tired eyes widening. "I told him Mother Lizzy has a girl like that in her house, and he gave me tuppence for it. A real gent, he was."
He finds himself gripping her thin shoulders even harder, hard enough to leave bruises in the morning. She's probably used to that sort of thing from her customers and, anyway, he doesn't care. The sailor is searching for Miss Johanna. He's been staying in London, a city where he knows almost no one and can get no decent work, for weeks on end in hopes of finding her. He's proving himself to be the devoted lover that Miss Johanna needs. It makes Bamford want to be sick. Everything is always about Miss Johanna. Everybody loves her. There isn't a person in the world that wouldn't give up his whole life and go to ridiculous lengths to serve her, to save her, even though her talents are limited to embroidering well and crying prettily. He wishes that he still thought the sailor was giving money to the poor out of the goodness of his heart. It would be much less nauseating.
"Sure you wouldn't like a good time, sir?" asks the whore, in what she probably thinks is a seductive tone. Beneath the purr, though, she sounds hesitant, as though she suspects that she should be running as fast as she can in the opposite direction instead. She shouldn't be asking the question, of course, because there's no point. All Bamford can hear from her is caw, caw.
"I wouldn't be getting that from you, filthy slut," he snarls. Then he slams her into the bricks one more time, leaves her to crumple against the wall, and begins the long walk home. There's nothing more for him to do tonight.
He's only traveled a few blocks when he hears footsteps behind him. At first, he doesn't bother to turn around. The best way to deal with thieves and the disgruntled friends of the criminals whom Turpin has sentenced, he finds, is to be aware of them, but give no sign that he is. That way, he's one step ahead of them. Besides, he thinks it more likely that the person isn't following him at all. There are far more amusing things to do on a Saturday night than trailing an old beadle. Given the choice, he certainly wouldn't be spending it with himself.
When he turns a corner, though, he happens to glance over his shoulder. He only gets a flash of blue jacket and skinny legs before the figure darts behind a building, but he immediately knows who it is. He gives no indication that he's seen anything. Miss Johanna is just one of Turpin's prisoners, after all, and the sailor is nothing but another vengeful friend. He just continues walking down the street, looking straight ahead while he listens to those big, awkward feet in their sturdy boots slap against the cobblestones behind him. Something in his blood shifts in response to the uneven rhythm. Despite the ale he's drunk, his senses have never been sharper, and his mind feels as well-organized as a good Swiss watch. Feeling something akin to joy, he leads the sailor down increasingly narrow and isolated streets. He needs to maneuver the sailor somewhere far away from the lively taverns and brothels and gambling hells. Those places are frequented mostly by people who will return to their respectable jobs and families at the break of dawn. They come here to try on sin as if it were a too-daring waistcoat, or to take off their masks of respectability for one night. They don't want to be wicked, at least not all of the time, so they'll feel obligated to intervene if they see him take his depravity too far. He and the sailor need to be among the ones who are serious about immorality, who make a living off of it, who turn a blind eye to anything as long as it doesn't affect them.
He glances from side to side as he walks, searching for an appropriate alley. He's familiar with this part of town, so he has a fairly good idea of what lurks inside each one. This one is too wide; the sailor will have plenty of room to escape, and Bamford isn't stupid enough to think that he can outrun him. That one is too narrow; there's no way that the sailor could fail to notice him standing inside. That other one is occupied by a harlot plying her trade. To Bamford, she sounds just like the whore in the pink dress. Caw, caw.
At last, he finds one that suits his needs. It's a little wider than he'd like, but the crates and barrels stacked inside make it seem narrower and provide him with a place to hide. Without a pause, he turns into it as though he planned to go there all along. Then he ducks behind a pile of crates and waits for the footsteps to catch up with him.
Seconds later, the sailor appears at the mouth of the alley and walks inside. He doesn't even bother to look around him; his eyes stare straight ahead, most likely looking for the other end of the alley. He's about to pass the stack of crates when Bamford sticks out his cane and trips him. Before the sailor can get back his balance, Bamford jumps from his hiding place and gives him a hard shove from behind, sending him sprawling to the ground. He has no time to break his fall and lands flat on his face. Bamford can scarcely wait to see the scrapes on his forehead, the blood trickling from his mouth. The only thing keeping him from hauling the sailor to his feet and taking a look at him right now is the fear that he'll get away. Bamford knows better than to underestimate an enemy, even one built like a scarecrow, all skin and bone and oversized clothes. The sailor is younger, healthier, taller, and faster than he is. Bamford won't give him any more advantages, even as a gesture of contempt. He has no interest in symbols, anyway; those are for men like Turpin who possess quality and power, rather than just brute strength.
He watches the sailor raise himself on his elbows, groaning and saying words that Bamford never suspected him of knowing. Even the most determined innocent, he supposes, can't help picking up a few things on a ship. He lets the sailor pull himself to his hands and knees before bringing down the cane as hard as he can across the boy's shoulders. He doesn't wait to see how the sailor will take it, whether he'll crumple to the ground right away or try to hold himself up for a few more seconds. Instead, he hits him again and again, harder and harder. His cane whistles through the air as he rains blows all over the sailor's back, legs, and arse. He even strikes him on the back of the head, although only once; he manages to remember that he doesn't actually want to kill the boy. In the morning, the sailor will be marked from head to toe, if only on one side. It should be perfect. It's not.
He doesn't know what's wrong with him. The sailor has given up trying to rise. Now he's just attempting to curl into a ball and shield as much of himself from the cane as possible. He's not screaming—he probably doesn't have enough air in his lungs to scream—but he's making gasping, sobbing sounds that Bamford should find just as gratifying. Blood pours from the wound in his head and mats his golden hair. Any reasonable man would be satisfied, but it's not enough for Bamford. The way that the sailor's taking it, covering his head with his arms and crying no more than anybody getting beaten half to death would cry, comes infuriatingly close to being practical and dignified. There's no fear, anger, or humiliation here. There's only pain, the kind that even the most stupid animal can inflict on another. Bamford may be a simple, brutish creature, but he can do better than this. He drops his cane, leans down, grabs the sailor by the collar of his jacket, and drags him to the nearest wall. The boy shouts and kicks and flails, but he's too badly hurt to do much damage. Bamford pulls him to his feet and, with one hand, pin his wrists against the wall, right above his head. Then he forces a knee between the sailor's thighs, just to ensure that he won't squirm out of his grip. At last, he looks the boy straight in the eye.
"Fancy meeting you here, Mr. Hope," he says.
The sailor's pretty blue eyes grow even wider than usual. All the color drains from his face. There's a nasty cut on his forehead, dripping blood into his right eyebrow, and his lovely mouth is smeared with red, but everything else is a sickly white. His eyes are streaming; his nose is running. Bamford can't remember the last time he had something so nice at his mercy.
"Beadle Bamford," the sailor whispers. It's not the most brilliant observation that Bamford's ever heard, but he always suspected the boy of having more guts than brains. "What're you…?" He stops speaking and goes even paler than before. His eyes roll back in his head a little. "Oh, no. Please, no. God…"
"That's right, sailor boy," Bamford replies, not waiting for him to finish his undoubtedly witty remark. "You're not as good a spy as you think you are."
The sailor doesn't react to this last comment. He just continues trembling and mumbling variations of "no" as though he's reciting a litany. Bamford begins to find this tiresome, so he lifts his free hand and traces the boy's lips with his index finger.
"All that blood," he says. "You look like a painted whore, you know."
This gets the sailor's attention. His eyes snap into focus and glare at Bamford. In those eyes, Bamford sees all the outrage, confusion, and panic that he could ever want. Somehow, though, it still isn't enough. Everything is not enough.
"Damn you to hell," the sailor spits out. The words sound strange coming from his mouth. He tries to twist away his face from Bamford's finger, with little success. "You disgusting bastard. I'm not a—"
Bamford drops the sailor's wrists, grabs hold of his shoulders, and kisses him on the lips. He kisses him good and hard, muffling the boy's shriek of protest. Then he forces his tongue into the sailor's mouth, which tastes like coffee underneath the metallic flavor of blood and gravel. The sailor tries to bite it, but this only arouses Bamford more. His cock feels as though it's about to burst, so he grinds his crotch against the sailor's thigh in hope of relief. The sailor whimpers and squirms beneath him, unwittingly driving him closer and closer to climax. It's not long before he comes.
For a few minutes after it happens, all he can do is lean on the sailor's shoulder and breathe heavily, feeling his semen soak through his trousers. The sailor stops fidgeting, but his whimpers gradually turn into big, gulping sobs. This is just what you needed, Bamford thinks. He's not sure if he's addressing himself or the sailor, but he's overcome with such lassitude that it hardly matters. It takes all his will to pull himself off the boy and stand up straight. When he does, he notices that his enemy has a white stain on the front of his trousers. Quickly, he buttons his coat to cover his own stain. Then he regards the sailor, who has started weeping into his hands.
"Believe me, love," he says with a sneer, in imitation of a common streetwalker, "I'd no intention of insulting you. Every whore was a virgin once, you know."
With that, he picks up his cane, turns on his heel, and strolls out of the alley. When he gets home, he knows, he'll sleep like a baby without so much as a glass of Madeira to help him. In the morning, he'll go to the Old Bailey with his conscience clean and his peace of mind intact. Turpin's indifference will only hurt him a little. Perhaps he'll even be able to tolerate his wife when he goes home in the afternoon. Stranger things have happened, after all.
His thoughts are so happy that he thinks little of the rush of feet behind him, or the steady rhythm of sobs that never seems to get any quieter. He takes no notice of anything until he feels something stab him somewhere between his shoulder blades. Before he knows what's happening, he's on the ground, with pain slicing through him again and again and again. Then the sailor—pretty little Anthony Hope, the boy with the silly name who knew no sin and did no wrong, the one he had to break because he wouldn't bend—is standing over him with a knife, six inches long and covered to the hilt in blood.
"I'm not sorry," he's saying, through a mouthful of blood and floods of tears. At least, that's what Bamford thinks he's saying. Everything sounds so far away. It occurs to him that the sailor will never be caught for this, let alone punished. Bamford chose the neighborhood too well and, as a man of the law, he's a less likely object of sympathy than a common sailor. Not that it matters. He isn't sure where the heart is, but he knows that the knife is far too close to his. "I hate you," the boy continues, sobbing so hard that he can barely speak. "I know what you are and I'm not sorry. I'm not, I'm not, I'm not."
I don't see why you should be, Bamford thinks faintly. I know what I am, too.
This is the last thing he thinks before the sailor disappears into the big black smoke of London. Then he never knows anything else again.
Author's Note: So, yeah. I hope you enjoyed this...you know, on a certain level. Or something.