Warmth from the fireplace seared hot against Nellie's chilled face and, wiping the icy tears from her cheeks, she looked about the den with an expression of belligerent anxiety—business at the bakery was worse than ever. Legs swung out carelessly over the arm of one of the chairs facing the fire but not facing her left her with the none too pleasant knowledge that she was not alone in the room, however much she might wish to be, and her bad temper reached a peak of broiling intensity. If she had found upon closer examination that little Toby had flung himself across the chair he would have then and there received quite a spirited cuffing. But it was Sweeney Todd who lay sprawled out on the cushion, fast asleep.
Nellie wanted to hit him. She wanted very much to pummel him good. In her mind she dug up all the little things he'd ever done that had irked her, and built them up so that now they seemed starkly mean-spirited, and well-deserving of a little meanness in return. She was a very violently disposed woman, thanks to her harsh upbringing and attentive nature. Of course she was a bit afraid of Mr. Todd—who wasn't?—and the gleam of one of his precious razors clutched fast between his fingers worked wonders in staying her hand—she wondered if she might get rid of the thing—things—and—and—if she were able to filch them, Mr. Todd would be like everyone else, and at everyone else's mercy, too.
She was reaching out, stealthily and very, very slowly, when his eyes snapped open. They snapped open, yes, and were fixed squarely and unswervingly on the unfortunate Nellie's guilt-ridden face. He knew what she was up to. She gave a gasping sob and would've reeled back but he caught her wrist with his free hand and held her. Nellie's eyes were squeezed shut; she knew what was coming; or did she? Whatever his next move, it would be painful—for her.
She was pulled towards him with gentle firmness, and she heard him sit up on the bulky old chair, his grasp on her tightening as he heaved himself upright. She was pulled nearer, and as she couldn't see a thing she stumbled against the chair, and would've pitched head-first into it if Mr. Todd hadn't let her hand go and put out his arms to catch and settle her more comfortably beside him. She shuddered and stiffened and opened her eyes wide, looking at him, scared out of her wits. Of course she looked for his razor, too. But that was safely tucked away with the others.
And yet it struck her, even as she sat there, tense and only somewhat less panicked, that she had never seen Mr. Todd so plainly unwell. He always seemed sickly, thanks to his paleness, but now he wasn't so much pale as a dull shade of gray, and a thin sheen of sweat overspread his features. He was near enough the fire—his dampness wasn't too surprising—but he shivered, too, just barely, and his expression—usually so quick and sharp—was one of simple exhaustion.
"I'm sorry," Nellie said, softly, "sir."
Mr. Todd stared at her, half uncomprehending. "After my fine friends, were you?" he rasped. "They are worth a pretty sum."
She clenched her fists. "No," she said.
"Ah!" Mr. Todd's head dropped on her shoulder. His skin burned with fever. "Then 'tis an assassination attempt, which is far more noteworthy in my book."
"I didn't want to—to—" Nellie hesitated. Then, in one great rush, "I didn't want to do you in, sir."
"Of course you didn't, my pet," said Mr. Todd, his tone sickly sweet. "We are all a lot of innocents, at heart."
He put his arm around her and pressed her close against his side. Nellie put up no resistance. Truth be told, she would've liked this very much if it hadn't been for that queer aura that hung about him—he smelled of illness, fever, disease. Tentatively she tapped at his wet forehead with two fingers and then gasped, drawing them swiftly back, the surprised jerking of her body jolting Mr. Todd to a more wakeful state as he slumped against her.
"Mr. T," she said, "you've got the plague, sure as I'm breathin'!"
"I haven't," he said.
"Let me fetch the apothecary—you must see—"
"Don't," he hissed, his sweat-slick fingers digging into her shoulder. "I will see no one."
Nellie composed herself as best she could. "Mr. Todd," she said, "you are on fire, sir—you're a regular oven—and you ask me to watch you roast alive? For all we two know, Mr. Todd, you're dyin', and I can't very well have the customers think that m'shop is not only haunted but a pit o' illness as well. That'd sink the bis'ness right quick!"
"I just need some time to myself, is all, Mrs. Lovett," said Mr. Todd, a trifle sharply. "I'll come 'round again before you know it."
Nellie wondered what he meant by "time to himself" when he had her pinned down next to him, but she didn't much want to remind him of that—so she said,
"Let me fetch y'some water, Mr. Todd, then. Eh?"
For a moment he didn't reply. When she glanced at his face, his glittering eyes were boring into the fire before them, and he involuntarily attempted to moisten his dry lips with his clumsy, fever-parched tongue. "I thirst not for water," he said, his voice thin and weak but firm in its severity nonetheless, "I thirst for blood."
Nellie felt a chill run up her spine, but she gave him a quick squeeze and said, "Alright then, love. I'll fetch you a glass."
"Of blood?" She was taken aback to see a little smile twitch at his mouth.
"Of water, Mr. Todd, sir. Even if I have to force it down your throat, I'll see y'drink—"
"Mrs. Lovett!" he cried out, "I must—must—have him! I must, d'you hear! My very life is based upon his death. As long as he lives, I am sick—ill—mad at heart—! But if I had him in my grasp, at last, then—ah!—then would I feel whole again—!"
"I thought y'said you was 'alive again,' 'n' all that good stuff, after you'd decided to kill the bloke dead."
"A man can be alive, Mrs. Lovett, and still deprived of health," said Mr. Todd.
With a shrug of her shoulders, she tried to pull free of his embrace. "I'll go get that water now."
"I must get him." He looked at her almost pitifully, his eyes wet with agony. "I must."
"Got yourself all worked up over that, have you, then, Mr. T? Well. Now I understand. I daresay you'll be right as rain before tomorrow morning, at the latest—but y'must remember, Mr. Todd, that we've all got troubles to suffer an' bear up under, and this is yours. I grant ye tis quite a behemoth of a load, sir, but still! So's mine, the way the bis'ness is goin'."
A murmur of pain escaped him. He clutched at her with the unyielding hold of a drowning man. "Help me."
Mrs. Lovett found she hadn't the heart to turn her back on him now, not when things were getting so interesting. She kissed him. His lips burned unhealthily against hers, but it was a pleasant feeling, all in all, and she pressed nearer, one hand slipping to rest over his heaving breast, the other tightening in his hair, forcing his head down. If he had held her any tighter he would've surely broken her arms, but he restrained himself so far as that, and even released her, his hands clasped behind her back. She leaned against him, kissing his face, his neck—abruptly he drew back—she would've followed him, but he held her away, and there was a coldness in his expression that checked her passionate abandon.
"I am a fool," he said.
"All men are, Mr. Todd." You needn't feel singled out.
"You'll be the death of me yet," Mr. Todd said, his face white and grim. "I'm out of my mind."
"I'd say we both are, Mr. Todd."
"Leave me," he hissed. "I want to be alone."
"Yes of course, Mr. Todd." Mrs. Lovett couldn't keep her voice from trembling with anger as she rose. It was that Lucy's fault, of course—he had thought of her, and in thinking of her he had shamed himself into right unhelpful and inopportune gentlemanly behavior. Well, one day she'd fix that. He couldn't hold out forever. He needed her.
"Bring that water, won't you, Mrs. Lovett? You're ever so kind."