Fanfic50 #40: substance.
"Why, Mrs. Lovett. I must say that I was not expecting you and am thus hardly dressed for company."
Nellie threw herself into an armchair and dangled her legs off the edge. "Couldn't be bothered by the fact less, love. Though I don't know why you wouldn't be expecting me."
Turpin raised his eyebrows as he strode towards his bookcase. "Well, my dear, it has been sixteen years since you snuck into my home."
"Exactly." She lolled her head against the armrest. "And I would've figured you'd be expecting me for all those sixteen years and thus're always dressed for the occasion."
"Even so," said Turpin as he reached for a decanter and poured two glasses of alcohol, "I am delighted that you have decided to grace me again with your presence. But I am puzzled as to how you managed to enter. My servants never fail to lock my windows anymore, and I have installed a sturdy deadbolt to the front door, rendering it unpickable. Pray, tell – how did you maneuver inside this time?"
She shifted her skull towards him, eyelids drooping lackadaisically. "It's my best break-in yet, love – so ingenious that you'll hardly believe I thought of it all on my own."
"A little thing I like to call knocking and waiting for the maid to let me in."
She watched him fight against a smirk before turning to her, holding out one glass in her direction. "Port?"
Her lolling head snapped to attention. "So you can dump some sort of drug into my drink? I don't think so."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Don't play stupid with me, Turpin. You put something in that drink. You want to muddle my reality so you can jump on me the way you did Lucy Barker – and I'm telling you that ain't going to happen in a million years."
"You have no faith in me, do you?" he asked as he crossed over to her, seating himself in the chair opposite and placing both glasses upon the tea table, an air of both amusement and disappointment to his words.
She snorted. "You ever given me reason to?"
"I did not ever drug Lucy Barker, my dear. Such low practices were not needed – and they would not be needed with you either."
"Not needed? You actually think I'd ever throw myself at you of my own choice?" she scoffed.
"You did sixteen years ago," Turpin reminded her softly, sipping his port, eyes sparkling over the rim of his glass.
She had to avert her gaze from his, to the solitary goblet upon the table that she would not touch.
"Nonetheless, even though I did not place any sort of 'muddling' substance in her drink," he went on as though there had been no disturbance in the conversation, "Lucy Barker's – eventual outcome was an unfortunate tragedy. I would never dream of disputing that, Mrs. Lovett."
"You also wouldn't ever feel any remorse about it, apparently," said Nellie, squinting into his face.
It was his turn to avert his gaze. She lifted one eyebrow in surprise: she had not expected her remark to provoke any sort of response.
"Why are you here, Mrs. Lovett?" asked Turpin, concealing the moment of weakness as best he knew how, taking another taste of his port. "You never sneak inside without purpose. To what devious motivation do I owe the honor tonight?"
"To enjoy your company, m'lord, is motivation enough," Nellie simpered, then turned serious, sliding her legs off the chair's armrest and positioning herself properly in the chair. "I want you to let Johanna go."
A muscle in his jaw shifted. "She deceived me. She does not deserve to be released."
"Whatever obscure place you stashed her at, she's been there for ten months now. Surely that's long enough for a young girl to learn her lesson – "
"Clearly not long enough. I visit her every fortnight and she has not yet repented."
"You said Lucy was a tragedy," Nellie persisted, "you said what happened to her was unfortunate. Don't make the same mistake twice, don't send the daughter mad like you did the mother – "
Turpin winced as though struck; Nellie's words died in her throat and she shot him a curious, almost appraising look.
"Can this be?" she voiced, astonished. "Can the great Judge Turpin be feeling remorse about something that he did to another human being – "
The tumbler in his hand burst. Nellie let out a gasp as glass and port rained down upon the floor. She reflexively leaned forward to scoop up the mess but froze in her chair when her eyes got caught in the blaze of Turpin's glare.
"Mrs. Lovett," he hissed, and if she didn't know any better she would have sworn that his lips trembled over the words, "if you have any sense left at all in that ridiculous head of yours, you will shut your mouth this instant."
Nellie Lovett was not one to follow orders, especially not from the scum of the Earth. But she was in no position to gamble any more than she already had; whatever she might like to tell herself, Turpin had the upper hand here, and she needed to keep that hand docile if she ever wanted to achieve her objective: to get Johanna free and out of whatever hellhole she currently dwelt in, to let the girl finally have a proper mother and father, to bring even the suggestion of a smile to Sweeney's face . . .
"Why do you still care so much about Johanna, might I ask?" Turpin drawled, wiping the drops of port clinging to his hand upon a handkerchief. Nellie expected him to next begin to clean up the carpet of the shards and the alcohol, but he seemed to prefer and act as though there was no rubble of any sort by his feet. "I know you lusted for her father, but surely you know he's more than likely dead by now. Keeping the girl sane and happy for his sake is no longer a motivation."
Careful here, Lovett.
"I'm not allowed to care about the child separate from whatever girlish fancies I might've had about Benjamin Barker?" she inquired sardonically. "You forget that I tended to her like a mother for months before you stole – "
"I never stole – "
" – stole her from me," insisted Nellie. "I grew to care for her a lot during those months."
"And, even sixteen years later, even having not spent time with her at all during that long interim, you still hold those same sentiments?"
Turpin chuckled. "I'm sorry, my dear: you are quite adept at lying, I'll give you that – but I do not believe you. I think this is still for Barker's sake, not hers. Though how you possibly think this could help a dead man, I can't figure out." He examined his fingernails, feigning disinterest in the conversation. "Nor can I figure out why you would still care to help him. You have another man to lust after now, or so I hear from the rumormongers – and, if those mongers are to be trusted, he is far more receptive to your carnal wants than Barker ever was."
When she did not answer, he raised his eyes to hers, one side of his mouth curling in a lax half-smirk. "Oh? Is the gossip not to be trusted?"
Nellie returned the ghosting smirk. "I never kiss and tell, my lord."
"Does he know you're here?" he asked abruptly.
"Todd," barked Turpin.
"'Course not," said Nellie, startled by his sudden urgency. "What's this got to do with him?"
He relaxed, returning his attention to his nails, still smirking. "Well, I doubt he would take kindly to you spending the evening alone with another man . . ."
"Don't make this into something it isn't, sir. This's a business transaction, nothing more."
"But of course."
"So?" she demanded, losing patience with the pretense of a languid atmosphere. "You going to release Johanna or not?"
The smirk rippled across his lips, expanding over his entire face. "Mrs. Lovett, my dear – I'm sorry, but I am confused on one point."
"And what's that?" she snapped.
"You termed this a business transaction. In such a process, however, the two participants not only give something to the other, but receive something as well. If this is indeed a business transaction, then what am I to receive in return?"
Nellie bit her cheek: and just when she was actually starting to be able to put a little of her wages off to the side, for once, rather than pinching every penny down to the bone. "How much money d'you want, then?"
Turpin chortled. "Do I appear to be in want of money, my dear?" When he looked up from his nails this time, the smirk had vanished from his mouth and instead gleamed in his eyes, simultaneously inviting and already anticipating her acceptance.
She did not shift her position.
"You were eager enough for the opportunity sixteen years ago," he continued, leaning back in his chair, waiting for she to come to him rather than the other way around, deliciating in his power to get his way without brute force. "I was not interested in such a – transaction – back then . . . but I am now."
What're you waiting for? He's saying he'll release Johanna. All you got to do is give him what you were going to give him years ago anyhow. So get up. Get up and get it over with.
Her body would not move.
Her mind knew she must. Her mind told her she must – her mind rattled off all the reasons about Johanna slowly spinning into insanity and Sweeney slowly killing himself and how rescuing the girl would make it all end – her mind screamed at her for not goddamn moving at all –
strong hands upon her body, callused fingers deftly moving over skin, lacerated back clasped tight in her arms, breath of gin and blood on her lips, hot mouth on her breast, quiet groan of "my pet, my love, my fire, oh God" in her ear
She shot to her feet.
"I'm sorry, my lord," she articulated. "I don't think this transaction can be completed after all."
Yes, sixteen years ago, she had been willing to sleep with Turpin – and would have, had Turpin not prevented her. Yes, there was no logical reason for her not to still be able to endure one night for the greater good of countless years.
But sixteen years ago, she had not known what Sweeney Todd's touch felt like. Sixteen years ago, her body would not have betrayed his by sleeping with another man.
Those sixteen years were long gone – and in the here and now, or tonight, or any future moment while her heart still beat, she could not sacrifice the gift of his touch and his trust for any cause, greater good or not.
She looked at Turpin, half-expecting him to spring to his feet and hurl her to the ground, wondering why she did not run before he could. But he only looked right back at her, impassive, the formerly smirking eyes still and reticent.
For reasons she could not explain, she found herself kneeling down by his feet, picking up the broken glass of his tumbler. Normally unbothered by a bit of untidiness here and there, this wreckage was one she could not bear the idea of leaving uncleaned.
"I'll just scoop this mess up, and then I'll be on my way – out the front door, nice and proper like, without picking the lock or anything – and then you'll be shod of me forever, I promise – "
Fingertips lighted upon her chin and nudged her face upward to meet his downturned gaze. She froze.
They stared at each other, she up from his floor with his glass shards in her hand, he down from his chair with her face in his hand. Then, wordlessly, his other hand reached out to graze his knuckles along her cheek. His fingers quivering with desire.
Pull away pull away pull away –
Her body would not move.
Because – God, but it did feel good to feel desired again . . . desired not just in the physical sense, not just because she was there, but because she was her – to be looked at as though she were something precious, something worth desiring, rather than just something to romp with between the sheets before being thrown out of the bed in disgusted rage – and even if it was only because he knew that she wanted to be looked at like that, he still was looking at her rather than right through – and even if it was not the man she wanted it to be, it did feel good to be wanted and not just another meaningless presence in a room and don't you dare Lovett don't you dare –
He pulled up against her chin, urging her to stand – she rose to her feet, dropping the glass shards back upon the floor – then he stood too – then his lips were playing over her forehead, her jawline, her collarbone, so slowly, so tenderly, so unlike – no – taking his time the way he never – stop stop stop – appreciating her the way he did not – you can't do this to him you can't betray him –
She took Turpin's face in her hands and kissed him, softly as she was never allowed, insistently as she always did with any action she performed. She kissed him in defiance of every way that Sweeney had ever hurt her, in confession that she just wanted to be treasured for once.
"You see?" Turpin whispered, his breath
of gin and blood
like his mouth on her breast
against her neck, his fingers
deftly moving over her flesh
no follow your own advice stay in the present enjoy this moment enjoy being cherished for goddamn once
undoing the strings of her dress. "I do not need any sort of drug or foreign substance to get my way, my dear."
She ripped off his cravat. "I know, darling."
"And I'm not going to let Johanna go," he breathed as her dress
tears between his fingers in his haste to remove it and feel her naked against him
dropped, soft and whole, to the ground, fluttering over the glass shards and port droplets, concealing the mess as thoroughly as if it had never been there.
She undid the buttons of his shirt, one by one. "I know that too, love. Trust me – that's no longer my motivation."
Now she just wished for herself to not go mad in the solitude. Now she did not care if Johanna or Sweeney ever escaped from their prisons – now she only cared if she escaped from hers – even if just for an instant, a breath – even if she never could.
And that was his motivation too: to escape. She knew that as well as she knew her own motivation, knew it as he guided her footsteps backwards, assuredly and carefully, until her legs met the edge of the sofa and they both tumbled upon it. She knew it as she fisted her hands in his hair, his mouth
burning its way down the length of her neck like delicious hellfire
wandering across her face, confident but gentle, his hands busy at her undergarments. She knew it from the way his tumbler had shattered in his bare fist at the mention of Lucy and his eyes had flared with hatred that was not directed at Nellie, but himself. She knew it without he even saying a word.
Tonight, they both needed an escape. They both needed to pretend they could still win their battles, these battles that they had lost long ago.
She always thought that she had lost her long-standing fight against Turpin. But as he branded his mouth to hers and trailed icy fingers
so cold for a living man, so unlike the scalding fingers of my dead one
across herbreasts, and as she inhaled port and cologne but smelled only gin and blood, she realized the truth:
She had lost the battle against herself.
A/N: Um. Yeah. Turpett still gives me the willies, dear readers. But I am a slave to my plot bunnies. So I wrote this. And I would thus love to know what you think of it . . .despite the fact that I am now permanently hibernating in my Toddvett cave. ;]