Disclaimers: All copyright disclaimers apply. ST belongs to Stephen Sondheim, Dreamworks, Warner Bros., et. al. This story is posted purely for entertainment and no profit is being made (more's the pity...).
Also - I have not been able to read through all 43 pages of ST fanfic on this site, so I have no idea if this is an original concept. If another author has already posted something along these lines, I am not aware of it and no copyright infringement is intended. I'm also aware that some themes are common to other pieces - the heroes don't die, they escape on a boat, blah blah, etc. etc...All I can say is, how else am I going to get them to Fall River?...So, again, as far as I know this is my own interpretation, and any resemblance to elements of other works is entirely coincidental, no plagiarism intended.
A/N: This chapter has been extensively revised from the original ch. 1. The storyline is essentially the same; there's just more background. I hesitated to do this because so many of you liked the original; but...I just kept thinking it didn't make much sense as it was. The way I had it set up, it just felt like the relationship moved way too blasted fast. Please review and let me know what you think. If it's no good, I'll restore the original - even though I poured so much blood, sweat, and tears into this... j/k, seriously - if I've wrecked the story I'll put everything back the way it was.
I do apologize for the amount of italics...these are Todd's memories and I didn't know how else to effectively mark them off...
1891. Regarding Sweeney Todd's Thoughts on Recent Events. The Escape to America. Mr. Todd's True Opinion of his Former Landlady.
The RMS Belle Harding prowed through the icy waters of the North Atlantic, throwing frigid spray up over her decks under a stygian sky. The sea was rough, but that was all right for Mr. Elijah Barstow. He stood gripping the rail, letting the spray wash over him, watching the ghostly silhouettes of icebergs slide past, feeling the wind in his unruly hair, inhaling the scent of the sea, the scent of freedom, recalling the last time he'd traversed the Atlantic. He'd thought then that he was heading home.
His name had been Benjamin Barker then. He smiled wryly at the recollection – the name felt foreign to him now, like the name of some distant relative he'd only met once. He'd sailed on the Bountiful, earning his keep with hard work as a member of the crew after he'd been found drifting on the open ocean on his makeshift raft. His savior, young Anthony, had asked no questions; and Barker certainly hadn't volunteered that he'd obtained that raft at Botany Bay. By the time he'd set foot on the Bountiful's deck, though, he'd already left Barker behind forever and become Sweeney Todd. When the ship had pulled into London, Todd had raced up to Fleet Street, intent on finding the family he'd left behind through no fault of his own fifteen years prior. Instead, he'd found ashes.
And Nellie Lovett.
He shook salt spray from his hair when he thought of her, lying asleep in the cabin down below, and his mind went back over the strange journey they'd shared since his return. She'd given him a place to live. She'd given him his precious razors back – and she'd taken care of them, hidden them away and kept them polished and cared for them all those years, hadn't sold them even to provide basic necessities for herself. She'd come up with the idea to challenge Pirelli, to help Todd establish a name for himself, particularly for the purpose of getting the intended victims of his justice into his shop (and, Todd admitted, the time they'd spent preparing for that little performance was the first time he'd come close to smiling in fifteen years). She'd stayed his hand when he'd nearly killed Bamford right out in public, almost buying himself a trip to the gallows.
That moment – when he'd sprung forward, unthinking, to dispatch the beadle – when he thought about it later, it was an eye-opener. That one moment had made him realize that he'd been away from civilized society for far too long and had utterly forgotten how to live in it. How ironic…when he'd arrived at the prison colony it had been exactly the same way. He'd left civilization and had to learn to survive in this new and ruthless society, and had succeeded thanks to luckily falling in with one of the gangs that took him under its wing, showed him the ropes, taught him what he'd have to sacrifice of himself in order to just get by. And now he needed to forget it all and start all over again.
That was how he'd known he wasn't going to make it in this world, wasn't going to be able to cope long enough to serve his justice, unless he had a guide. And, he'd decided, everything Nellie Lovett had done since his return proved that she was more than shrewd and pragmatic enough to do the job.
Besides – what better guide to have than one who appreciated his vision like no other could?...
They turned from the window, panting and dizzy from a combination of their spontaneous waltzing and exhilaration over the plan they'd concocted. Todd carelessly tossed the cleaver into a corner and Lovett followed suit with her rolling pin, both still grinning and chuckling…Then Todd suddenly, roughly took Lovett's face in his hands and impulsively placed a noisy kiss on her hairline. "It's brilliant," he said. "You're perfect."
Her eyes shone into his – those dark eyes, so expressive, churning with emotion, drawing him in like maelstroms as he'd whirled her around the shop; he'd felt he was falling into them. Those words had not been the ones he'd intended. He'd meant to say "You're brilliant. It's perfect." But there was no taking them back, and he only stood dumbstruck at his own foolishness, held motionless by her gaze. She'd always been beautiful; but now her beauty was like a classical ruin, like a fallen Greek temple proud with the shadow of its former glory. How well he remembered her as she was so long ago, vibrant and healthy and full of great dreams. For the first time he really saw the ravages of the long years, in the hair-fine lines that etched her too-pale features with stories of too many burdens, too much hard scrabbling to eke out an existence; in the shadows beneath her eyes that spoke of too little sleep; in the way the shoulder of her ancient, threadbare dress kept slipping from her too-thin frame, silently confessing that she'd gone without proper sustenance on far too many occasions. Her hands – he'd noticed while they were dancing – were calloused from so much hard work, and what had it gotten her? She was one of those who'd been mashed into the muck and mire of life by those who ascended the heights of ambition on the backs of men and women who committed the unforgivable crime of being born and trying to claim a small place for themselves in this world.
Just like me.
And yet she'd never given up. She'd kept fighting for that place all these years, and still was; she'd kept getting up every morning and facing the hell she knew full well awaited her – the fathomless loneliness, the pointlessness of continuing to operate a business that only grew more redundant by the day, the despair of knowing she could do better if only she had the means to obtain something to work with, closing her eyes every night with nothing to look forward to the next day.
All of this, as it registered in Todd's mind, only made her all the more radiant in his eyes: he found himself wanting – needing – to avenge these wrongs by restoring what had been stolen from her, just as he was going to avenge what had been taken from him. And he knew just where to begin…Uncertain, hesitant, he reached down, took hold of her fallen sleeve, and slowly drew it back to its proper position. "When the money starts coming in," he murmured, "the first thing I'm going to do, Mrs. Lovett, is see that you have a new dress."
He made the mistake of meeting her eyes again, and instantly he wanted to look away; he didn't want to see the affection there – no, it was beyond affection; she was looking into him intensely, looking right down into him and seeing him for who he was now, Sweeney Todd, broken and ruined and brutal, and still wanting him. And with every fiber of his being, he didn't want to see that.
But he couldn't look away, and he knew it was because they were of the same mind, he and Nellie Lovett. Just when he'd been convinced that no human being could ever understand him, the sudden realization that he was wrong, that it was still possible for him to be one with another in some way, was a shock. And it had felt so good, so good, to dance with her like that; he hadn't danced in fifteen years…one of the dreams that had kept him alive during that time was of coming home and dancing with Lucy again, and now half of that dream had come true; and he found that the other half, the fact that it was Nellie Lovett smiling in his arms, turned out not to be a disappointment. And it had been so natural: they'd fallen together effortlessly, like the friends they'd once been, slipping easily into their new familiarity as he casually placed his hand at the nape of her neck, dipped her in the crook of his arm, playfully holding a cleaver to her throat as she smiled up at him…
It had all felt so right.
He was so close to her now that he was breathing her scent, he could feel her breath on his lips, felt her warmth, the hard form of her corset as she pressed herself against him…or was it Todd who was drawing closer?...
"You know me, Nellie Lovett," he said hoarsely. "We're the same, you and me."
And so suddenly that Todd barely realized what he was doing, he closed in and planted a hard staccato kiss on her parted lips, his heart like a great bird hammering its wings violently against the cage of his ribs. Lovett gasped in surprise, but she didn't move, she didn't look away; he found himself fastened once again on her eyes – questioning, hopeful, telling him the fear and joy and desire she was incapable of speaking. His hand moved to her hair – so soft – and he kissed her again, the same way, quick and furtive, and her trembling hands slipped under his jacket and rested just above his belt.
It happened again and again, these short, guilty kisses, as if they'd forgotten how, or might be discovered – Todd's hands skimming slowly from her neck to her waist and back again, Lovett tangling his hair, stroking his chest, grabbing fistfuls of his clothing, responding to him so perfectly he could no longer tell who was initiating contact.
"You feel so right, Nellie," Todd softly rumbled, overcome by the truth of that statement; and he soon found himself slowly running his tongue along the curve of her lips, taking his time, enjoying the taste of her, feeling her inviting him to deepen this new, profound, exquisite kiss; and God in heaven, he was on fire…she was all he wanted, all in the world; everything and everyone else could go to hell as long as she was here, his guide, his accomplice, his counterpart, his dear longtime friend –
Oh God, what am I doing?...
He broke the kiss and tried to pull away from her, but she protested by holding him fast, surprisingly strong – so he turned his head, felt her lips on his cheek, placed both hands on her shoulders – the bare skin made him shiver – grasped her upper arms, covered by sleeves, much better – and pushed himself away.
At his return to this formal name, she froze, and he was able to back away a step, but he was shaking from the effort of tearing himself from her arms. He didn't look at her, kept his gaze on the floor, as he said "Forgive me. I forgot myself." And he turned to leave, but –
"No," she whispered, grasping his lapel. "Don't be sorry. Don't go."
He half-turned back to her, but he didn't need to look up, to meet her eyes – he could feel them on him, longing for him, pleading with him – not to love her, but to only, only allow her to love him.
His lungs seemed to have frozen.
"I can't – "
He was cut off by her finger on his lips. "I know."
"Can you accept that?" he whispered against her finger, unable to stop himself from lightly kissing it in the process.
"Can you accept that I love you more than my own life?"
He did raise his eyes then.
"I can accept anything, Mr. Todd, if it means you'll let me hold you."
He nodded. And that was part of their unspoken agreement – he never responded when she told him she loved him, because – as he told himself – it was all right to seek comfort from her as long as he continued to reserve what was left of his heart for his dead wife.
But he never protested her saying it, either.
From that time on, she'd been his refuge, his release, his opium; being with her was an extension of the thrill he experienced every time he sliced open a man's jugular, every time he looked down from his landing and saw her moving about the crowd with a sweet smile on her face while the two of them enacted their macabre secret choreography. He'd go to her when he needed to engage that sense of getting away with something forbidden, when he was weary of his life, when memory plagued him into nightmare and he needed to be numbed for a while. Over time, he'd found that her mere presence was enough to achieve this, like an anchor preventing his mind from spinning off into all-too-familiar horrors, and he began seeking her out to find this welcome oblivion in simply being near her...
He rose from the floor where he'd been kneeling over the lifeless form of his Lucy, the cruel gash in her throat inflicted by his own hand. Moving across the gore-slicked stone like a man trapped in a nightmare, his head reeling, he slowly approached Mrs. Lovett.
"You lied to me," he rasped, inches away from her, and when he spoke those words a terrible, sickening, incomprehensible ache formed in his chest.
She was shaking her head frantically. "No, no I didn't, I never lied – "
And this, of course, was just one more lie.
Then his hands were around her throat, pushing her to the floor.
He was calling her every filthy name that came into his head, screaming them, shrieking that she'd turned him into an adulterer, blaming her that he'd become a murderer, his locked grip tightening around her neck as if he would snap it, until he felt her struggle for life begin to weaken. The infernal light from the bake oven burnished the gleaming wetness on her face: whether from her tears or his own, he couldn't tell and didn't care. He was racking with agony inside, for everything: for his wife, for the daughter he'd never know, for the fiend he'd turned into, for this woman, who he'd thought was a real friend.
Her eyes closed at last, and she was still. Spent, quaking with fury, he let go his hold on her throat. "I trusted you," he whispered, nearly choking on the words.
She'd hurt him. More than he'd realized he still had the capacity for feeling. That was how he knew that he'd come to care for her far more than he'd known, or intended – the sheer depth of how much she'd been able to hurt him.
He didn't know how long he knelt there, cradling his wife's corpse, shaking in dry sobs over it; but at some point, when his mind began going back over everything that had led up to this, he remembered Nellie Lovett, and his teeth gnashed together as he let out a roar of fury. She had been the cause of everything – all of this – encouraging him to start over, trying to make him forget his past, cheering him on in his murderous plans so she could stuff those bloody pies…
Lying to him.
He lifted his head to find her filthy corpse so he could throw it into the bake oven and watch her destruction…
…but the great room was empty.
He blinked, casting his gaze about wildly. She couldn't have gotten away. She was dead. He was sure he'd felt her windpipe crumple under his grip.
He gently placed Lucy's body onto the cold, hard floor and rose unsteadily, another harsh scream tearing from his throat as he lurched to the open door and up the stairs, nearly blind with rage…His feet automatically took him to the parlor off of the shop; there was a faint glow in that direction, as of a single lamp, and he instinctively headed for it.
And there she was, sitting on the settee calm as you please.
He pulled up short when he saw her, because the rage was instantly replaced by an awful, draining hollowness down in the very core of his being.
He bared his teeth in a chilling sneer. "Not running away, my dear?"
"Nowhere to run to," she answered with a bitter smile, her voice no more than a wisp of sound from the damage he'd done to her throat, and even that made her wince.
"You betrayed me." He'd meant to scream it, but the words came out in barely a whisper.
He stepped into the room, wanting to pounce on her and finish her off; but he found that he couldn't approach any further.
"You," he hissed…"you incited me…in everything."
She was silent.
"All of this…you…goaded me into killing all those men – "
Her eyes flashed at him. "You'll recall that murdering the entire population of the world was your idea, love, not mine."
He was across the room in an instant, bearing down on her, his face an inch away from hers, his arms trapping her, one on either side of her head, hands gripping the back of the settee. "But I'd never have done it if it weren't for your encouragement…your brilliant plan…"
He was shaking with rage. And she still wasn't afraid of him.
God, he despised himself; he despised that he'd given her this kind of power over him without even realizing it. Because even now, even now, some part of him, some unruly part he wished he could slice out with his razor, ached to sit down beside her, like he always had before – bad day, no custom, too much memory, too much monotony: go to Nellie, be there with her, tell her about it, sit there in silence, listen to her low, rich, sweet voice saying things would get better tomorrow – wanted to ask her what he should do in the face of this horror, because she was his guide – wanted to fall into her arms and let her make him forget.
Help me, save me, numb me, soothe me out of this nightmare like you've done with all the others –
"You made me grow accustomed to it," he was saying; but his voice was quivering now, faltering. "If I hadn't killed so many…I wouldn't have…"
Killed Lucy. Like she was nothing.
Even the thought didn't seem real.
"If you'd told me the truth, I could've saved her."
Nellie drew a shuddering sigh, closed her eyes, let her head fall back between his hands.
"But you couldn't have that, could you?" he went on. "She knew me. You knew she would. She recognized me – "
His voice was breaking, and he couldn't go on.
Nellie was slowly shaking her head. "Oh, love," she said, gently and sadly, as if trying to disabuse a small child of a dearly held but erroneous notion. "Even if she did…she couldn't ever come back the way you remem – "
He gripped her upper arms and shook her, raging "Shut your goddamned mouth!"
But her eyes blazed right into his, challenging, daring him. "You said Benjamin Barker was dead," she seethed, "because you're not the same man anymore. Just like Lucy wasn't the same woman. So what is the difference between your lie and mine?"
Todd didn't know how to respond to that, and he certainly wasn't in the mood to attempt to decipher her logic. All he knew was that he could no longer stand to face the impassioned boldness with which she was defying him, showing that, in spite of everything, her high spirit remained. And he'd always liked that about her, so he wanted nothing more at this moment than to snuff it out.
"I'll end you for what you've done to me," he choked out between his clenched teeth.
But she only smiled and sighed, "I wish you would."
Todd stopped short at that, searching her face, trying to get her meaning. She looked into his eyes, tears glistening in her own, and breathed, "What d'you think is left for me now? Nothin'. I'm worse off now than I ever was before you walked back through that door. I've lost my work, I've lost Toby, I've lost…well, I never had you, really." Now the tears began escaping, making her grimace with pain as her wounded throat constricted; but she managed to rasp, "I wish I'd never laid eyes on you, Sweeney Todd."
Todd was frozen, loathing what that remark did to him and unable to do a damn thing about it.
Moments passed, Nellie weeping silently, breathing raggedly; Todd leaning over her, warring with himself, bewildered, indecisive…why the hell was this confusing him so much?...
Then she suddenly seized his hand, hissed "What the bloody hell are you waitin' for?" and forced his hand to the razor holster at his belt. Clenching his jaw, his blood boiling for the opportunity to finish this once and for all, Todd scrabbled for the cold silver that should be there…
It had to be down in the bake house, where he'd dropped it when he recognized Lucy.
Both of them stopped: their eyes simultaneously flicked to the spot where the blade always resided at Todd's side, then back to each other, confused, hopeful – for a fleeting second. Then Todd snarled "I don't need a blade for this," and in an instant had moved behind her, one hand below her tear-wet chin, the other at her temple, ready to wrench her spine.
"More than your own life, you said…"
"Yes…more than my own life…"
She leaned her head into his hand, giving him permission. Oh, he was ready. So why did he suddenly find his hand slipping to her shoulder, his face nuzzled in her hair, his fingers trailing through its sweet, fiery curls?...
With a howl of frustration he wrenched himself away from her, hefted the first thing he saw – a small table – and hurled it across the room as though it was nothing, followed by everything else within his line of sight, until the only objects left intact were the settee Nellie was sitting on, motionless; and the armchair, into which Todd finally collapsed, exhausted, sweating, shaking.
"Damn you, Nell," he muttered.
Now, standing on the deck of the Belle Harding, Todd swallowed hard and passed a hand over his face at the memory, at how close he'd come to killing her.
At the time, that night seemed to last forever; looking back on it now, it was all a blur, it seemed to have happened so fast. After sitting in the stillness for what could have been ten seconds, or ten minutes, or an hour, Nellie had slowly made her way to the bake house and Todd had followed her, and together they'd worked to destroy the evidence of their crimes. Neither voiced this necessity aloud; but they both knew that if the authorities traced Judge Turpin to this place – Toby had put the note into the man's own hands; but there was no telling whether the latter had notified anyone of his destination – the law would be all over them first thing tomorrow, when Turpin failed to appear at his daily work. Perhaps sooner – a few hours – if the stench of burning human flesh pouring from the bake house chimney attracted further attention. Nellie helped deal with the remains of His Honor and Bamford (Todd handling the beadle's spilled brain, since Nellie, even hardened to gore as she was, wouldn't go near it); but when it came to Lucy, she had the grace to leave him.
By the time he'd gone back to the parlor, she was sitting at the desk counting their savings – never placed in a bank, in the event speedy access became necessary – and she informed him that they had enough to get all the way to America if they wanted. Todd had nodded and rushed up to his shop, threw a few things into a valise, cleaned up and changed clothes, and returned to her, insisting they leave immediately. Lovett had wanted to wait for Toby's return, but Todd had informed her that he'd likely already gone to the law and they couldn't afford to waste time. So, in an unspoken agreement that seemed perfectly natural, even after everything that had happened between them, they headed for the docks and were lucky enough to find a White Star steamer to America, which they promptly and gratefully boarded, posing as Mr. and Mrs. Elijah Barstow.
There were unshed tears in Nellie's eyes all that night. Todd could tell that her heart was silently breaking – over Toby, over him. Part of him wanted to return the favor she'd done for him so many times, he wanted to comfort her; but he couldn't bring himself to do so. Her betrayal had wounded him more deeply than he cared to think about.
Now, four days off the coast of England, with yet another new name, the barber felt he could finally breathe easy. If a person wanted to disappear – so Todd had heard – there weren't many better places than the vast United States.
Sweeney sat on the edge of the berth in his shirtsleeves, gazing down on Nellie's slumbering face, bathed in the moonlight that filtered through the porthole of their shared second-class cabin. They could only afford the one – well, they could have done two, but the wisest thing was to conserve funds as much as they could, in order to have something to set themselves up with when they arrived.
Sweeney's back was stiff from sleeping in the chair three nights running.
He'd seen her this way more times than he could count – deep in sleep, breathing evenly, sometimes smiling with secret dreams she wouldn't remember the next morning when he asked her about them. And sometimes he'd reach out and stroke her hair, or let his fingers drift over her skin, and she'd sometimes respond by mumbling his name in her sleep.
Damn. She'd gotten to him, affected him on a disturbingly deep level. He'd never meant that to happen, or even imagined it possible. Only the place she occupied in him kept him from being completely empty. Seeing his Lucy that way, seeing what she'd become, had hit Todd severely. Since that night, he'd been forced to be honest with himself and realize that Nellie had been right: even had he known that his wife lived, he could never have her back. Her mind was too far gone, even though she had recognized him in that last moment. It would never be the same. The best he could have done would have been to pay for treatment in a proper asylum for the remainder of her life. And, he assumed, his daughter had made her planned rendezvous with Anthony, and the two of them had gone off…somewhere. He hoped they'd be happy. Anthony seemed a good man.
So everything about his former life was dead and gone. Nellie Lovett was all he had now.
Todd stretched out a hand and softly stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. So lovely, he thought...until his eyes trailed down to her neck, its graceful curve marred by the cruel, still-visible bruises from his strangling her.
His fingers traveled lightly over the marks they'd made. He'd been filled with regret and remorse ever since; and the civil, awkward coldness between them, the lack of contact with her, the formality they'd returned to, was killing him. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, the words coming of their own accord. But his touch lingered too long; she stirred, and her eyes opened. He jerked his hand away.
"Mr. T," she said sleepily. "Everything all right?"
Her hand went absently to her neck and rubbed the damaged skin. Sweeney knew then that she'd been awakened by the pressure of his touch on the bruises.
He suddenly couldn't look at her, and turned away. "I didn't mean to wake you, Mrs. Lovett," he whispered hoarsely. "Go back to sleep."
He felt her hand on his back. "You should sleep too."
God, there was tenderness in her voice. After what he'd done.
He wanted to reach out to her, but he couldn't, not until he had an answer. Not until she was honest with him, if such a thing was still possible.
"Why did you lie?"
He heard her sigh behind him. "You must know the answer to that – "
"I want to hear you say it," he hissed bitterly.
For a moment she didn't respond; then her voice came through the darkness, barely audible:
"I suppose I thought…if you thought your Lucy was dead, you could mourn her and move on, like any other man. And then, when that was done, you'd see me there waitin' for you."
See you?...you have no idea...
"Tried to convince myself it was all for your sake. Told myself that every mornin' and every night, only way I could sleep. Almost managed to make myself believe she really was dead after a while. But you were never the reason, not really. I'd waited so long…and then, after thinkin' I'd never see you again, after bein' alone with the memory of your face for fifteen years, there you were, like a bolt from the blue, and I finally saw my chance. So I took it. And then I finally had a reason to get up in the mornings. I almost told you so many times, but…you have no idea how terrified I was that you'd disappear again. For good this time, forever."
Todd said nothing, only tried to choke down the horrible knot in his throat.
"I'd ask your forgiveness if I thought you could give it," she said.
His breath caught, and he felt an uncomfortable burning behind his eyes.
"Did you really try to stop her taking the arsenic?"
Again, she hesitated.
"Knocked the bottle right out of her hand, I did. Thinkin' about that little baby o' yours, mostly. She just went right out the next day and got another bottle from a different apothecary. Took it in the middle of the night when she knew no one'd be around."
Finally, she was telling him the truth. He felt it, he knew it.
"Forgive me, Nellie."
The words came out in a strangled whisper, but he could tell that she heard them, because she sat up and began stroking his hair.
"I forgave you as soon as you'd done it, love. It's not like you're the only one who's done some hurt between us."
Sweeney suddenly whipped around and grasped Nellie's shoulders, but her back was to the light now and he couldn't see her face.
"I'll never hurt you again. I swear I won't."
She reached up to touch his face. "Nor I you, my heart."
He was overwhelmed, couldn't stand it anymore, too worn out to keep resisting…took her in his arms, fiercely pressing his lips to hers, her heart thundering against his own, both of them breathless in the pale light, rocking, rocking with the motion of the sea.
A/N: (covering eyes) Oh, God...did I wreck it? (peeking out) ... is it all right?... (covering eyes)