Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you so much to for the review! R/R!
The triumph is a high, more addictive than the opium offered in the dens; it is so full and exuberant that he fails to notice the trembling woman beside him. Sweeney turns the razor slightly, watching it glisten. His own eyes reflect in the silver surface—black eyes alight with the hellish flame of madness and bloodlust. He then focuses on the small image of yellow hair behind him, turning the razor towards her.
Her skin has lost color, and is now white like a ghosts'. Her eyes are wide like those of a hunted doe, and her fingers linger over her lips, which are parted in fear. Her body is tense, as though an invisible hand is choking her.
"What…what are you speaking of?" she asks as she lets her hand drop back to her side.
"Revenge, my dear," Sweeney smiles. His lips are turned up in a sardonic grin.
Picture it! The Judge, unable to defend himself as you swoop for the kill…eyes wide and scream piercing your soul, just like he made your Lucy scream.
He showed no mercy to her, and you show him the same.
He places the razor in its holster and strains his thin neck to see his wife. His heartbeat falters in its victorious beat. His wife crosses her arms, forming a barrier against him. She seems to shiver, wrapping her arms around herself. She suddenly looks down at the floorboards when his black eyes meet hers.
The room caves in around him, its shadows unfriendly and frightful, casting waves of uncertainty through him. Something is taunting him, and defeat sits heavy in his stomach. He has disappointed her, frightened her. What has he done?
"Lucy?" Todd questions, spinning on his heel to face her. He stands in front of her, body rigid as he waits for her to respond.
"Benjamin?" she squeaks, terror laden in her voice. Defeat fills him. She does not approve. Of course, he should have known. Innocent Lucy, she would never approve of his lust for vengeance.
The air grows colder, and he feels the heat be stolen from her body. The grayness from outside the barber shop permeates the windows and lingers like a contaminant.
Trembling, she looks up at him, hesitancy in her gaze. "You…you desire revenge…" Disbelief is in her words.
"Yes." His voice is clipped, merely confirming what she likely fears. He tries again, hoping his words and intentions will soothe her terror. "For all the wrong done to us…to our family. The Judge...he'll pay."
He spits the man's name, venom oozing from his words. His wife visibly winces at the sound of the Judge's name. She looks down abruptly, as though shame is hanging over her.
The Judge. She is thinking of him…of the way he ravished her…used her…Todd guesses, burning with anger. Killing him would put an end to her pain. He watches her and his heart fills with pity. The chains of her shame would finally be broken.
His mind races. The days, weeks, months and years laboring away, every muscle in his tired body screaming for agony…the tears he had wept under the sun, begging to be home with his girls…the anger he had felt at the Judge for ruining him…the plotting of his death—
A hand touches him, warm fingertips on his cold skin like warmth from a candle He jumps at the contact, stiffening. The person withdraws their soft touch and apologizes. Sweeney's vision returns to the present to find his wife standing in front of him, looking up at him with a mixture of fear and love in her soft eyes, hand slightly outstretched. Fifteen years of constantly needing to watch his back has separated him from his wife's loving touch—and he regrets the irrational fear.
"Forgive me," he whispers. He reluctantly reaches out to grasp her hands in his. They are almost too warm in his.
"I'll set things right again," he whispers, his voice sharp and lethal, yet like a lover's whisper. Lucy bites on her lower lip and looks up at him. Her eyes shine, trying to stare down the madness in his own, to smother it as one would smother a fire. In a moment, she clasps her fingers tighter around his own. A secret rage burns in his. Lucy's are gentler, yet firm still in their resolve. Her voice is steady, but quiet. "Would revenge do you any good at all?" she questions.
Sweeney at first does not hear her question, then it sinks into his mind like water sinking into concrete. That same defeat deepens, filling his stomach like rocks. The razor—his old, trusted friend—is cold and constant in his holster. A reminder of his earnest vow.
Ah, but I will have my revenge—with or without her. I cannot let a virtuous angel go unavenged.
Todd finds himself secure as he looks at her, feeling the sleight weight of her warm, slender fingers in his own. She and their daughter were the ones he had slaved away for, the ones he would fervently pray for each night before he lost his faith. Now, she is here, trying her hardest to give him some stability, some sanity. His Lucy. His reason and his life. Yet, could she give him sanity that he has already lost?
Lucy clears her throat, shattering the thick silence. "Our room, do you want to see it?"
Sweeney's glance breaks from his wife to the old door, fear increasing in his stomach. What has happened to the place he loved? Lucy sees the apprehension and gives his hand a small, reassuring squeeze; his fingers are like blocks of cold wood in her own, numb and unresponsive. "Don't be afraid, love. Here," she glides from him towards the door and opens it gingerly, for fear of causing it to creak. Sweeney steps with caution behind her, holding himself back.
Lucy glides into the room, her smile lighting it despite the presence of the old yellow striped wallpaper. She looks alive, happy. The joy looks right for her Sounds and faint sights swim in his mind: Benjamin and Lucy would dance here to no music, would plan for their future, and would sing to their daughter as she slept in her cradle. So happy. So naïve.
Sweeney steps inside the room, crossing the threshold of lost years. A double bed covered in a white lace duvet is soft and inviting, and the polished mahogany furniture stands strong, as though nothing had tarnished it over the years. A table contains a kerosene lamp, few candles, and a vase of violets, along with sheets of paper and a quill with ink. Newer dresses are in an armoire with drawers at its bottom. Shelves line the wall near the window. An old mirror, that appears to have been cracked, is lined against one wall. There is an old bookshelf with leather-bound volumes. Sweeney looks towards the corner where his daughter's crib used to reside, staring longingly as if to will it reappear there.
He crosses the room to look out the window. A sullen gloom follows him even in the bright room. The memories that should have been shared between him and his wife have been stolen from them both. The pain constantly follows him, tarnishing the golden happiness. London's dirt, grime, and darkness seem to cause to room to sigh. He takes in the surroundings, the yellow on the walls and the bright flowers, and he presses his lips together.
He is out of place. This yellow room, a sort of heaven above Babylon, is perfect for his wife, but not him. He is a creature of the night, able to reside in the darkness that he knows now lives in the world.
Benjamin Barker thought he was safe here, he reflects. But demons can lurk even in the brightest of places. Look at them, the vermin out the window. They did not help your family. They are controlled by the Judge. The Judge.
Wait 'till you get him, Todd-
"What are you thinking of, love?"
He snaps out of his morbid thoughts to find his wife standing near his side, seeing her fair reflection in the window. She smiles up at him, inching closer to him. He quickly darts his gaze between them both. There is a contrast between them. She shines with an angelic glow—he has a deathly pallor. Her yellow hair is neat and elegant; his black mane is unkempt and brittle. Her soft, doe brown eyes are warm, and his obsidian eyes are cold and unwelcoming.
Sweeney notices a square object clasped in his wife's hands. He looks down at the object and takes it into his hands. Looking back at him are the figures of a young man and his bride. The husband stands tall beside his wife, kind eyes sparkling in pride, a smile on his lips. The bride wears a white gown, her yellow hair shimmering under a white veil that falls elegantly down her back.
"Our wedding," Lucy explains, nostalgia in her voice. "Do you remember, Benjamin?"
Fuzzy memories, distorted and lost, play in his mind. He remembers the feelings associated with the day: the happiness, the awe of being inside St. Dunstan's church, the anxiety about stumbling over his words, and then the pure bliss and joy he felt once he and Lucy kissed on the altar, finally becoming husband and wife. She had looked like an angel, dressed in her ornate gown with her golden hair and kind eyes.
He gives a tiny nod in response. Barely a movement.
She smiles at the subtle movement, one that is encouraging but prodding. You can do it, try more. "Do you remember when we used to dance around, to no music?" She turns to look at their bedroom, as though imaging their ghosts waltzing around the room.
He nods absently, and Lucy continues to speak, her soprano voice feeding the old, decaying memories. "You were always light on your feet," she comments with a light chuckle. An odd emotion—perhaps fear or strangeness—flickers in his chest. He surveys the room again.
Sweeney darts his eyes to the trunk near his legs. Atop the wooden surface lies fabric of a gown. It is cream colored with lace accents on the sleeves and hem, with thread and a silver needle attached. The needle seems to wink at him in the light. Almost like his razor.
"What is that?" he asks.
"Oh," Lucy begins, focusing on the gown. "I found work eventually as a seamstress. At first I sewed ready-made clothing, but then I gradually worked to sewing gowns. That one is nearly complete," she says with a slight pride. Lucy gives a small smile. Sweeney nods tersely, trying to gather old memories of his wife. Hadn't she done some stitching, such as when he made a tear in an old shirt or when she was knitting a blanket for their daughter? He narrows his eyes in concentration, but the memories do not come.
"Johanna works as well, with Nellie downstairs. She serves pie and ale to the customers, cleans, and does anything else she needs."
Hearing his daughter's name causes his heart to thump in his chest. "Johanna," he whispers. His voice is so faint after a long silence.
His Johanna…his little lamb who has grown up without him there. In Australia, he could not count all the times he would try and recall her as an infant, sleeping soundly on his chest or gurgling with joy as he would laugh and play with her. The old ache of fearing that he would never see his daughter again or be with her to watch her grow bites at him, and he involuntarily wraps an arm around his wife and pulls her close, as though she will merely vanish.
"Our girl has grown up. She is noble, beautiful and kind, a bit headstrong, but she means well. She has always wanted to meet you, and I would tell her that you are a man of your word, and that you promised us both that you would return, that you are a good man. She does resemble you a bit."
He clings to every word, and expectation builds in him. He curls his fingers tighter around the cotton sleeve of Lucy's gown, and her scent engulfs him, as though holding her closer will bring Johanna into the room. Waiting, to him, will be the hardest. He stands on edge, acute to every sensation, and fear bubbles inside him.
What was his daughter like? What were the things she liked, and the things she hated? What did her voice sound like? Did she greatly resemble Lucy, as he had wished? Did many men attempt to court her? Did she miss having a father in her life for all those years?
Lucy pulls herself closer to him and exhales a shaky breath, clinging sweetly to soften the look of pain written on his face. She leans against him, her head on his chest.
"You needn't fear, love. Johanna doesn't bite."
Sweeney stiffens at the sound of footsteps clambering up the stairs to the shop. Lucy lays a hand on his chest—whether in restraint or comfort, Sweeney does not know. The barber shop door announces the entrance of another with the ringing of the little silver bell.
"Loves, where are yeh?"
Sweeney sighs in relief upon hearing Mrs. Lovett's voice. "In here, Nellie!" Lucy calls. She enters, and Sweeney ignores the strange look in Mrs. Lovett's brown eyes.
"Johanna's 'ere. I 'ad sen' 'er out for bake supplies."
Lucy thanks the woman, who then turns on her heel to leave the parents behind to gather the will to see their child.
Lucy looks up at him with reassurance in her brown eyes. Sweeney meets her eyes with uncertainty in his own. "Come now, Benjamin. She will be excited to meet you."
"She will?" he questions, voice rough and yet wet with tears.
"Of course. I've told her about you, that you love us very much and promised to find a way to come home. She's waited to meet you for years now." She smiles fondly, nostalgia in her lovely eyes. "She used to take the photo of you and kiss it sometimes."
He wants to appreciate this, but it only makes the fear and the ache grow. Johanna will meet a man who looks and acts nothing like she had expected. How will she truly react?
"Come. Our little love is waiting." Lucy clasps her fingers in his, leading him out of the room and the barbershop. The two travel down the stairs, focusing on the pie shop. Drowned out voices swim in his ears, and two figures materialize in the doorway. They enter, and they both turn to greet the couple. Sweeney's eyes instantly lock on the young girl with long yellow locks.
She is just as he dreamed she would be. She is Lucy's splitting image, with pale, milky skin flawless as a dove and yellow hair that falls down her back, waved and curled at the ends. Johanna has been blessed with Lucy's china doll features. Her plump cheeks are round and soft, sloping to a heart-shaped chin. Her button nose juts outward slightly, and her rosebud lips are curled into a soft smile. Her round eyes sit below a fair brow, and are colored brown. She has Benjamin Barker's eyes.
Johanna looks towards her mother first, brow furrowing. "Mother? I thought you would be upstairs?"
Lucy smiles and leaves her husband's side, pulling her daughter into a warm embrace. Johanna is stiff with confusion.
"No, my Jo," she says laughingly, tucking her daughter's hair behind her ear. "I was, but…we have a guest. Johanna, there is someone I want you to meet." Lucy gestures towards Sweeney, who is looking at both women with a sort of relief, almost happiness, in his shining dark eyes. His gaze burns into Johanna and shock stiffens his body. His once-year-old-infant now grown. Reality is as cold as ice—this beautiful girl, though his own flesh and blood, is a stranger.
He watches Johanna looks towards Mrs. Lovett, as though asking for help. Lovett's face is blank, eyes locked on Sweeney. Johanna scrutinizes his appearance and shivers slightly. She blinks rapidly and inhales to build confidence.
"…Sir?" Johanna says politely, giving a small smile, yet confusion leaks in her voice.
Sweeney feels as though small hands beat on his chest from the inside, his veins on fire with an urge to hold the girl and comfort her. Warm memories of his baby's laughter and small, shallow breaths as she would sleep on his chest play in his mind, the way her ruddy face would light up whenever she saw him. Old longings that he thought had died resurface, and a strong paternal urge overtakes him, warming the coldness that renders him stiff. He forces himself to temporarily bury the urge to hold her until he has properly been introduced to her.
"Johanna," he says. Johanna does not flinch at his rough tone, attempting to stay calm. She whips around to face her mother.
"Who…who is he, Mother?"
Lucy smiles knowingly at the girl. "Johanna, he is your father."
Johanna looks back at her father with newfound knowledge in her eyes. She takes a few steps forward, legs quaking like those of a lamb. She breathes quickly, fear radiating from her.
He is aware that Johanna is studying him, a mixture of fear, confusion, and awe in her eyes. She is so much like Lucy that it makes his heart ache. It suddenly brings him back fifteen years, to looking at his year-old baby and marveling at how beautiful she was—how much she looked like her mother…
She is still studying him. Looking into his dark eyes, as though willing them to become brown once more, Johanna takes a childish step towards him. The tap of her shoe on the wooden floor sets off a drum of fear inside his stomach.
The air is still and thick, the silence able to be pierced with a kitchen knife. No one speaks, breathes, or moves until Johanna gathers courage. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she breaks the painful silence.
"You…you are Benjamin Barker, sir?"
Sweeney nods, strange emotions bubbling in his chest. The wetness in his eyes becomes a sheet, and the gray pie shop and the golden haired girl in front of him become a blur. He blinks back the tears, despite the awful sting. She is so close that he can feel her, and anxiety builds within him. He is proud of her for the young woman she has become, wishing he could have seen her walk, sing, and play as a child—the moments a father should witness with his only daughter.
"Yes, Johanna. I am Benjamin Barker," his voice becomes a whisper as he says his name, hostility evident in his tone.
"And…and you love us…Mother and I?" Johanna takes a few steps forward.
Sweeney nods again. "Yes, Johanna. I love you and your mother."
Relief fills him. The light tapping of her footsteps fills the room as she stands before him. She is so close to him he can feel her warm breath on his shirt. His nose fills with her lavender scent. Her brown eyes are filled with light, wet with unshed tears.
The girl steps into his arms, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt and leaning her head on his shoulder. Sweeney stiffens from the contact—though his daughter is small compared to the weights he had labored to carry in Australia. His arms suddenly spark to life and wrap around his daughters willowy frame, rubbing her back. Her warm tears spill down her cheeks and land on his shirt. She sobs into him, and Sweeney stares at the crown of her head for a long moment, as though gathering the courage to kiss her head. He finally does, his lips so timid they are faint on her hair.
Johanna suddenly breaks the embrace and opens her arm towards her mother. Lucy smiles brighter and walks into their arms. Sweeney kisses both heads as they both lean on his shoulders. All those years, all the promises he had made to them about his return have finally come to fruition. His beloved family is in his arms, reviving pieces of a dead spirit.
Only pieces of his soul, and not the whole.
As their scents of flowers and their sniffles of tears fill the air, Sweeney can feel the sense of pain they both have felt without him. Nothing will be made right—not till the blood of the man responsible has been shed. Satisfaction creeps into his soul, and his awed smile—the smile of a man who is in unbelief at holding pieces of heaven—becomes one of assurance, of freedom. He cannot break the chains on his soul nor the chains on theirs until it all has been set right.
I will have revenge. All for them.