Luke shoved Cory behind him; They couldn't both fit through the doorway.
In a shack at the end of the road, his cousin sat inside, sitting on a turned over crate and staring out the opened window in the back. It took him a moment to realize who it was. When he did, he turned around to a full, eyes wide.
"I was starting to think you didn't get my letter, old friend," Luke softly said, walking in, eyeing the older boy with a certain dislike.
Luke sighed, picking up the piece of parchment from an inner coat pocket. "How could I lose sight of your arrival? It always stirs... misfortune, and anger."
"Well, well." Luke crossed his arms and strutted over to the window, smirking. "You'd best take that back, Pat."
Instead of playing along, Patrick propped his elbow up on the sill, his eyes distant; Something else was clearly on his mind.
Luke didn't expect Cory's presence to snap so close from behind, which was why he jumped when the loud yell of, "Pat!" sounded beside him.
"What do you two want?" Patrick grumbled, his hand sliding from his face to his dusty, blonde hair.
"I don't know, cousin," Luke mimicked his miffed tone. "Say, a few days of your time?"
"And no more?" Patrick scooted around on the crate to face the two other boys.
"No more than that, Pat," Luke said with another grim smile. He looked out the window again, plotting in his mind. "Now, will you aid me?"
Patrick stood up from where he sat. "Fine. I will help. The only way to repay me is by leaving me be in the end, worse off or not."
Luke chuckled. "Oh! You don't understand, Pat; If we fail, I will never leave you alone."
"Nice. I'm flattered."
Cory was gritting his teeth from in between them now, as though worried something a little more intense would break out in a matter of seconds.
On the contrary, Patrick pointed to the door. "I decide when we start."
Luke opened his mouth to object, but his older cousin cut him off. "Tomorrow sounds just right."
Cory grinned nervously and barred Luke back in practically the same way he came across the room, but the sixteen-year-old slapped him away, and a little harder than he intended at that. Patrick was up in an instant, pushing Cory aside and grabbing Luke close by the throat, eliciting a squeak from him.
"Keep your hands off him."
"I can't promise anything," Luke managed to croak.
"If you can't, then I'm no different."
"Oi, wait," Luke grunted when Patrick pushed him away with great force, his hand flying to hold his neck as quickly as he could. "I won't touch your friend anymore."
Patrick narrowed his eyes at him. "I'm not looking forward to tomorrow."
"Nor am I," Luke stated, a ghost of his grim smile seeming to return to his lips. "It's got to be done, though. That's that."
"Oh, just great."
Sweeney ducked back into the shelter of the hospital, pressing his back against the wall and grabbing Toby's forearm in a tight grip. He reached out and gripped Johanna's hand as well, making her freeze in place.
"Can you not hear the rain?"
Johanna frowned and, discomforted, wriggled free of Mr. Todd's hand around her own, not noticing the somewhat dejected look on his face in result.
It wasn't his usual glower. It was a look of sheer disappointment and dismay.
"I'll walk back in the rain."
"Will you?" Sweeney arched a brow, and a curious smile fell upon Toby's face.
"Will you?" Johanna blinked at him. She spoke before he could reply, however. "I've watched storms from my window at Turpin's. To walk through one would surely be something that only I would relish in."
"So..." Toby pointedly shook his arm to grab the sullen barber's attention - Sweeney was still holding onto him without realizing - and get him to let go. "I suppose we'll be meetin' you there?"
"Of course not," Mr. Todd muttered, pushing away from the wall. He ignored the strange stares that people coming and going were giving the three of them; They were, after all, an odd bunch, and he could only imagine the stares they'd get if Anthony was also in their presence.
"Are we leaving, then?"
Sweeney couldn't muster a glare that was cold enough. Not for his daughter. He merely shifted around her, impressed when she didn't turn on the spot to face him like she normally would. Now inclined to, he placed his hands on both her shoulders, nudging her for the door. "I think that walking through buckets of pouring water is a fine idea."
Toby poorly tried his hand in hiding a grin. "No, you don't."
"Am I not aloud to be sarcastic, lad?"
Johanna turned at this sentence, peering up at him with faint annoyance. "If you think it's a bad idea, I'll go alone."
"Don't." Sweeney shook his head; He hadn't realized just how uncensored he had become since spending all of the free time he had with Toby. "Will you... know the way back?"
"It ain't rainin' that hard," Toby said, stepping behind Johanna's turned back to look outside again. "I knew it wasn't that cloudy when we left. Hardly any clouds at all, in fact."
Sweeney stiffly nodded his head. When Johanna repeated this action herself, she turned away, and the barber allowed a smirk to trace his lips as he strutted past Toby. "I thought you never went to school."
Toby snorted. "I know where rain comes from. That ain't something you learn in school."
As the three of them stepped outside - Johanna first - they were pelted with raindrops. Everyone on the cobblestone street with them was stepping under the rims of shop roofs or newspapers.
"I know the way back from here," Johanna said.
"So do I," Sweeney interjected, unable to help keep the wary tone from his voice. "So why don't you follow my lead instead?"
"I've been here longer, haven't I?"
Really, it was funny; When Sweeney pictured his daughter, he didn't picture her as one to hold an argument for very long. It seemed he got everything but one thing in particular right about her.
"I've gone from my home to the hospital and back by myself," Johanna added.
"That-That sounds fine," Toby muttered, his hair already slick from the rain. "Anything to get out of this." A fond smile found his lips as Johanna started walking her own way, and Mr. Todd had a look on his face that suggested he intended on going in a completely different direction.
"Your moment to shine'll come, Mr. T," Toby promised teasingly, and he reached up to pat the barber on the shoulder, but said barber caught it.
"She's nothing like her mother."
Toby hadn't exactly expected that to leave Sweeney's mouth so flatly, without much effort, let alone when he grabbed his wrist so abruptly.
"And... And what?" he stammered, startled.
"And... nothing." Sweeney let go of Toby, fruitlessly wiping off his wet forehead with the back of his pale hand. He started following in Johanna's path and Toby watched him, still, for the shortest of moments.
When he was living out a poor life in the workhouse, did he ever consider the possibility of being dragged into such a bizarre, melodramatic setting? And worse, care so damn much about it?
Toby stared at the backs of the fairily older girl and the barber he'd admittedly grown quite fond of saunter off into the drizzle, and he followed, breaking into a run to catch up.
Mr. Barker peered out the window of the coach he resided in, regrettably alone. Since the death of his wife, all the time he spent doing anything was spent alone. Contact with his two children had long been broken off, and... contact with another child of his had been put to use such a while ago but soon became irrelevant in terms of usage.
He lived in Plymouth by himself. Interesting things happened from time to time, though it was pretty rare when he himself was involved in them. It was sometimes why he felt inclined to involve himself in situations by force, whether it was helping a passerby with directions or spontaneously prompting a conversation out of a stranger. Mr. Barker believed he did these things to keep himself associated with the world, despite the knawing feeling in the back of his head that sneered at the idea, continuously performing the cruel deed of reminding him that he was slowly slipping away from it all. And to ever so subtly add that when he eventually did slip away for good, no one in the world would be near enough to care, if immediate.
Absentmindedly, the old man pressed his forehead against the cold window that was streaked with raindrops, and what he saw outside alarmed him enough to reach over and open the door, gritting his teeth against the rain that was coming down harder than he thought previously. He called up to the man who held the reins of the horse that was trotting with a freaked trot to its gait, and he assumed that the large equine wasn't taking too much of a liking to the downpour either.
"Henry! Stop the coach!"
"Why, sir?" The young man known to Mr. Barker at the beginning of his carriage trip as Henry peered down at him, bemused. He appeared to be stifling any emotion about the rain, most expectantly appreciating when others deemed him a professional at the job.
"Just do it, son!" Mr. Barker sputtered through the droplets that hit his face. He then sunk back into his seat while keeping the door a small bit ajar, blinking the water out of his eyes as the coach veered off to the side of the road.
"We should've stayed," muttered a very unpleasantly familiar Mr. Todd, who was walking with the equally familiar small boy nearly clinging to his arm and an independent Johanna walking a little further ahead, looking around with her eyes squinted determinedly.
"Ms. Barker?" Mr. Barker opened the door, looking out at her and, soon, at the seething man and the younger boy who were a little closer in earshot.
"'Y'talkin' to us?" the young boy asked, looking straight at him.
Johanna heard the voices behind her and turned, a small look of dismay crossing her face when she saw Mr. Barker. "What are you doing here?"
Mr. Barker stared at her, and then the two others, for a few bated heartbeats. Then he reminded himself that they were all getting soaked by the rain, and he found his voice. "Get in."
The young boy didn't waste any time, and ignoring Mr. Todd's hand which instinctively shot out to grab him before he got too far, he bolted the short distance and slowed to a stop when he approached Mr. Barker, his dark hair slick against his head with rain. "Does that include us?"
"Toby," Mr. Todd grumbled, storming over to grab the boy's arm successfully and yank him back. "We don't need-" He stopped mid sentence when Johanna gingerly stepped around them, nodding her head meekly to Mr. Barker with quiet grace. Toby didn't need to see anymore after Mr. Barker nodded to him as well to get in.
That left Mr. Todd in the rain, glaring defiantly at Mr. Barker whom had a look of sly superiority tracing his wrinkled features.
"It'll be cramped, but it'll work," Mr. Barker stated curtly, noting the barber's automatic iciness at the sight of him. "I don't think you want to leave your two... acquaintances... alone with me."
Those mere words appeared to send Mr. Todd's blood boiling with rage that could surely warm him in the cold climate.
"I may just talk them to death," Mr. Barker carried on, just then realizing a newfound love for pushing the younger man's buttons for some reason he couldn't fathom right away.
Mr. Todd grudgingly stepped up past the elder, a scowl on his pale face. "If it was only you and I alone, I'd gladly kick the driver to the curb and steer this coach into a lake."
"Ooh. Morbid, isn't it?"
How the four of them fit inside the small space was a mystery to Sweeney. There was even space for him to sit with the three others - the three others who were actually comfortable with sitting together. No. He stood, but was slouched a bit. It wasn't that he outright refused to sit. It was rather unconscious resistance.
He went from wanting to remain inside until the rain passed to going because Johanna wanted to, which then led to him regretting this decision before again wanting to go back out for the sole purpose of getting away from Mr. Barker.
All in all, it had been a wild day, but it was only about to get wilder.
"Thank you," Johanna murmured politely as she took Mr. Barker's hand to step down to the wet cobblestone, off the small stairs of the coach.
Toby hopped out after her, and Sweeney tentatively followed, his eyes darting every which way for a possible sign of something risque about the place the coach halted. It was Anthony's and Johanna's house, however, and nothing was wrong, apart from Mr. Barker's presence near it.
The barber sauntered behind the three of them, not listening but eyeing the body language of his daughter and the older man. Johanna was speaking quietly to him, and he was slowly nodding at what she was saying to him, as though hesitantly agreeing to something she proposed.
"I... know we've been avoidin' folks, sir," Toby stated awkwardly, falling into step with Mr. Todd. "But this seems a lit'le over the top... even for you."
Sweeney glanced down at him, not ceasing in his walk. He had yet to piece together why, exactly, this peculiar old man got such a great deal on his nerves. The only feasible explanation he could conjure up (but never openly admit) was that Mr. Barker was acting as more of a father to Johanna than himself, while he and Johanna were off to a pretty rocky start, their bloodstained encounter back on Fleet Street included.
No doubt, Johanna still saw him as a raving lunatic. He didn't blame her, though. He couldn't. That was what he was, wasn't it?
Toby nudged him suddenly, and Sweeney blinked out of his trance directed at the cobblestone ground beneath their feet. "Looks like we've got a visitor for a few hours."
Sweeney scowled; Johanna was letting that stranger in. Ruddy perfect. "No, Toby. We won't be staying here much longer. She's got a visitor. Not us."
"So... what exactly are we doing?" Patrick asked, unable to help the meekness he felt from reaching his voice; He knew nothing of Luke's plans, and this fact alone worried him. This boy, though younger than himself, often made himself out to be the superior of the two of them. While this angered Patrick most of the time, it scared him the rest.
"We need a coach," Luke replied without turning, craning his neck every which way as the three of them slunk across the street.
"What for?" Cory asked importantly, sounding excited for the mission at hand, if not determined.
"Oho. You'll see." Without looking at the face of his 'companion', Patrick could tell Luke was smirking widely. Insanely. "I think I know just the place to find one, too."
"Since you're here, Mr. Barker, would you like to stay for dinner?" Johanna asked, ever polite. "You haven't got any place to be, do you?"
Mr. Barker was preparing to decline. But the second question left him unsure, and finally, sure of the opposing decision. "No. I don't." He smiled warmly at Johanna. "Thank you for the offer. I think I'll take it."
Sweeney had to stifle a groan, but not on purpose. Toby squeezed his wrist, as though to remind him. Johanna, after all, would probably not take kindly to it. If anything, it'd startle Mr. Barker into wariness. Confusion.
Mr. Barker, however, seemed to notice the younger man's strange frustration without a mere groan to indicate it. The moment Mr. Todd broke away from Toby to stomp into the dark, unlit kitchen, Mr. Barker muttered a brief explanation to Johanna - who seemed to notice Sweeney's angsty exit herself - before following the man in, taking a swift look back at the two youngsters and then promptly shutting the door.
Sweeney flipped around at the gentle sound of a door closing, squinting. He was rendered silent when he saw who it was, too set on knowing he'd say something foolish if he were to say anything at all.
"I've... never experienced such blind hatred before," the old man said loftily. "I'd like to know why, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
Mr. Todd suppressed a snort, but the remains of a scoffing puff of air seeped through his nose, regardless. He didn't answer, however. He just couldn't.
"You've had nothing but a scowl on your face for as long as I've laid my eyes on you."
"Well, I do-
"Please," Mr. Barker interjected, sounding oddly.. desperate, given the circumstances. "Don't interrupt me, sir. I'd like to ask more, but to be fair, the only thing I ask of you for now is to question your whereabouts in this young woman's life. An explanation about that boy wouldn't hurt, either."
Sweeney managed a real snort this time, leaning against the counter and shaking his head. "You speak as though you've claimed custody over her."
"Has she anyone else to look after her? Besides that boy that she spoke so highly of?" Mr. Barker crossed his arms.
"Many, many people care about her," Mr. Todd murmured wistfully, his dark eyebrows pulling together as he frowned at the counter top. "Not all are alive."
"Who raised her?"
Sweeney mulled over this question for a few heartbeats, wondering just how to answer it properly. "Her parents raised her for a short while. Then, after they died, she was looked after by the landlady of whom took the family in in the first place."
"Had they known the landlady long?"
Sweeney cringed, though the action and the face he pulled was probably hidden in the darkness. "The father did. Much longer than he'd known Lu-" He broke off, his mouth snapping shut. A little more than a minute into the conversation and he'd already failed at keeping his problems to himself. Mr. Barker wasn't saying anything though, which again left an opening to perhaps cover up his mistake of slipping up.
"Why do you want to know all these minor details?"
"Because," Mr. Barker began, sounding greatly intent on the subject at hand. "I don't believe they're minor details. I think they're more." He stepped a little closer.
Had he not made a sound, Sweeney still would've known he moved. Somehow.
"How do you know about Johanna's parents, and their landlady?"
"I was an acquaintance of theirs." The lie so smoothly flowed from Mr. Todd's mouth, it shocked even him for a moment. Then he realized he needed to continue in order to sound convincing. "An avid visitor to the pie shop below the barber shop above where the parents resided with their daughter."
Before Mr. Barker could make a comment, the door to the kitchen slowly creaked open, and Johanna very meekly poked her head in. "S-Sorry." She grinned a sheepish grin as she bustled across the room in a rush and dropped a lit candle down where Sweeney was leaning. She then trotted out, smiling gently at Mr. Barker as she passed, closing the door on her way out to provide the two men the previous privacy they had before and obviously proving that she hadn't been listening in on what they were saying.
The room was brighter now. Bright enough for Mr. Barker to turn around and see the fond, half smile that Mr. Todd wore as he watched the place Johanna vanished from. "Mr. Todd?"
Sweeney blinked and faced the old man, an air of his familiar sternness returning. He didn't say anything, as though the young girl had never made an appearance at all.
"Suppressed affection," Mr. Barker said suddenly, his tone so blunt that Sweeney's attention was grabbed regardless of what he said. "I'm capable of spotting it wherever you put me."
Sweeney pushed up from where he leaned, giving him a look that could surely kill. "You don't understand what's happening here. I could bring back the lives of so many others who would."
"Her parents, perhaps?" Mr. Barker challenged. "You speak of nameless people. I've never gotten a name from you. Not one. How much do you know?"
"More than you ever will!" Sweeney hissed. "You aren't her father! You never will be!" He wasn't thinking. He wasn't being tactful about what he said. 'Tactful' wasn't an option anymore. He was beyond that.
Mr. Barker, in time with the younger man, backed up until he was nearly touching the door, with Mr. Todd towering over him like a deranged animal who hasn't been fed for a month and jabbed repetitively with a stick that is too long for him to be able to reach the one who wielded it.
"You're the type of man who barges in on a family who doesn't need anymore problems than they've already got! I can tell! Why do you suppose I speak of Antony with such scorn?" Putting aside the fact that he had never spoken of the sailor in Mr. Barker's presence, of course. "Right now, that irking young man is growing on me in comparison to you! At least he has a grip on what's going on, whereas you try to act like you do when you don't." He paused for a few seconds to breathe and take in the petrified face of Mr. Barker, who was staring up at him with unemotional persistence, shockingly blank.
Sweeney recoiled from him, starting to feel the slightest bit lightheaded; That was the most he'd ever said out of anger in a very, very long time. Thinking about it simply made him feel worse, and he settled for leaning against the wall beside the door. More notably, right beside Mr. Barker, who hadn't moved from his spot yet.
Feeling the need to break the silence before he passed out, Sweeney spoke more softly, his inflection dark with quiet hatred that was most likely building up in preparation to explode again. "Toby would be half way down the street by now." He watched Mr. Barker's unshifting eyes, which gradually moved to meet his own. He met the man's gaze, unknown to him that it mirrored the color of his iris perfectly. "Would you like to know why Johanna requires my unwavering attention, now that I've finally found her again?"
Mr. Barker, after a moment of confused hesitation, nodded.
"Because she escaped my grasp one too many times, in more ways than one. Malicious intention. Loving intention. It doesn't matter to me. Every time she's within my reach, she gets snatched away." He sighed against the wall, his chest wallowing in agony that he'd grown quite used to. "I... don't ask for precise happiness, but when I think about it, having her near would make me pretty bloody happy." He spoke in a carefully suppressed tone, as though his voice would break if he handled it too loosely. "Do you... know the father I spoke of?"
Mr. Barker had long turned his head to face the barber, his eyes lowered to the floor. Sweeney didn't wait for an answer though.
"I'm.. I'm him, sir."
If he had stopped talking there, he would've saved his dignity from crashing hard around him. He did quite the opposite, however.
"I can't even begin to tell you how much... Just... Johanna and Lucy both. Th-The relation I have with Johanna's been too unstable for repair." He tightly shut his eyes, feeling a familiar sting behind them as he leaned back first against the wall. "I'd change so much. Everything. What happened would never h-have happened had I known. And... my... my own daughter would never give me a look like I was loony if I tried to tell her how much I loved her."
Mr. Barker was staring at him, wordless. He let him speak. He let him get out all the stuff that had obviously been waiting for the right opportunity to escape tearfully to the correct person. His own mind, however, was swimming with one possibility and one possibility alone.
Sweeney covered his eyes with one hand, only moving it a slight when the distinct murmur of "Ben?" brought him out of his flurry of bad memories.
"What?" he whispered, in no mood to be answering to a different topic.
"Don't answer, boy." Mr. Barker slid his arm around Sweeney's upper back in an awkward attempt to pull him closer.
"I don't-I don't have to-"
Mr. Todd swallowed back the lump in his throat and shakily breathed against the older man's shoulder, until he could no longer resist the urge to rest his head down on said surface and focus his eyes on the wood of the door, his vision blurry with tears.
"Don't worry. I'm here."
Well, eh... This turned out way vaguer than I planned for it to.
It seems Sweeney's emotions latched onto the right person to spill to. *strokes his arm sadly* The beginning of the next chapter should definitely make clear of what happened at the end there, if it isn't clear enough already.
Now, I promised I'd finish this story, and I will. It may not be before the year ends, but a little over the beginning of next year will be fine... So long as the world doesn't end, that is.
I hope you enjoyed! Here's to hoping I finish the next one quicker!
Really, it should. I'm excited to write the next few events that go down. Should be fun. ^^