So, um...I'm alive! And I really, really want to finish this story, despite college and moving in and disrupting my entire life. So this chapter's a bit of a filler, just so I can get my head back in the right mindset again. Please, please tell me if you think it's worth continuing... reviews mean a lot, as you all probably know by now.
Ch. 10: Lullaby
"Sit down, sit down, Mr. T. Look, Johanna's on the couch, comfy cozy."
Sweeney looked uncertainly at the overstuffed chair that Mrs. Lovett was offering him, preferring to sit beside his daughter instead. The girl was still burning up with fever, and Mrs. Lovett had put hot-water bottles all around her to try and sweat it out. They had taken the roundabout way to avoid the late Judge Turpin's house which was surrounded by the entire London police force. The sudden disappearance of such an upstanding citizen had thrown the upper-class citizens into an uproar, while the lower-class sniggered behind closed doors and said that he had what was coming to him. They toasted the man brave enough to finish him off, not noticing the sudden absence of the silent barber and his pie-making companion. The constable was all over the place, trying to find at least the body of Judge Turpin. No one would believe that it had smoldered into ashes at the bottom of Mrs. Lovett's bake oven.
Well, maybe some would. But none were brave enough to say it.
The teapot whistled merrily as Mrs. Lovett bustled into the dark kitchen and out again, holding a tray of pastries as well as meat pies for the both of them. The tea she carried in her other hand, dangling out of the sling. She set the tray of food on the table and moved to the still-standing Mr. Todd. She nodded towards Johanna.
"Help me get this down 'er throat. Might help with the fever."
He followed her, knelt beside the couch. They both looked at the restless girl for a moment, then Nellie seemed to snap back into reality. "Prop her up, if you please."
He did so, disregarding the pain that radiated throughout his body. Johanna seemed to stir to life slightly, opening her eyes and groaning. Mrs. Lovett spooned warm tea and honey into her mouth, watching the throat contract to make sure she swallowed it. She grew suddenly aware of Mr. T's head near her own, watching intently. She turned to him, held out the spoon.
"You want t' try, love?"
He took the spoon and dipped it into the mug, holding it steady as Mrs. Lovett tipped Johanna's head back as he put the liquid in her mouth. Johanna swallowed and Nell smiled genuinely. "You did it, Mr. Todd. I'll be right back, you keep doin' just that."
She rose carefully, leaving the barber to carefully make sure that Johanna swallowed every drop of tea. She went into the kitchen, sweeping back the curtains and squinting through the dusty window. Her eyes searched the streets, and she grimaced as she saw the same beggar woman wandering the street across from her shop. Nellie supposed it was too much to hope for, that the one threat to her happiness couldn't just get shipped off to Bedlam again or die or something equally as unpleasant. She couldn't really say what made her hate the crazy woman so much – the simple fact that she had been the sole recipient of Benjamin Barker's love couldn't be all of it, surely. One way or the other, Lucy was going to have to be dealt with.
And maybe once they nursed Johanna back to health, she could convince Mr. Todd to move to the seaside. After all, there was nothing for them here anymore. No supplies for her pies (not anymore, at least), and no customers equaled no money. And they sorely needed money, seeing as they had stretched a bit for the ship.
She let the drapes fall back and wiped her dirty hand on her skirts. When she reentered the living room, Sweeney Todd had the slightest of smiles on his face, and the cup was empty. He sat back on his heels as she bent over to feel the girl's forehead.
"We'll have t' see wha' happens." Mrs. Lovett paused, tapped her finger on her chin. "Might draw up a hot bath for her later. And for me," she added, with a wry smile.
"Whatever you say, Mrs. Lovett," said Sweeney, one arm unconsciously holding his torso.
"Ooh, Mr. T, I'd completely forgot. Lie down," she instructed, looking around the room for somewhere for him to sit. "Hmm. Just a minute," and she rushed back into the kitchen. Sweeney sighed and sat on the ottoman, his hands dangling between his knees like two trapped birds. She came back with a small glass filled with amber liquid. She held it out to him with an encouraging smile, making sure he held it firmly before she dropped her hand.
"Here you go, Mr. Todd. This'll help a bit."
He took the glass and didn't look at her. He swirled the contents of the glass, wrinkling his nose at the smell.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Only a little bit of rum."
He swallowed without hesitation, tipping his head back to finish it off. Mrs. Lovett smiled happily, taking a little sip of her own. Almost at once, a faint blush spread through his death-like countenance, making him seem less like a ghoul and more like a tired, heart-broken man. And any self-respecting heart-broken man, in Nellie's book, wouldn't mind a distraction.
She remembered back when he was Mr. Barker, how affectionate he was with his darling wife; always holding her hand, kissing her shoulder, embracing her as she squealed to let go, she was holding the baby. What had happened to him destroyed that man. Which is why he needed her - even if he didn't know it yet - to put him back together. And truth be told, she had always found the caring, open Benjamin a little naïve. Beautiful, but too trusting.
Now…she looked over her shoulder at him sitting on the chair, slouching just a little, twirling the empty glass between barber's hands that were still delicate and fine beneath all the deaths they had wrought. Well, now he was a man that she could relate too, maybe.
She approached him from her spot near the fireplace, and he held out the good-sized , empty glass to her. Mrs. Lovett took it without a word, refilled it. He downed the second one almost as quickly as the first. She figured that would do him in for a while; he wasn't the big man that her Albert was.
" 'M alright," he muttered, grimacing. He leaned his head back on the chair and closed his eyes. For a second, the deep, almost purple skin beneath his lashes was disguised, and he almost looked like the young man he used to be.
She worked at the tense knots in his shoulders and neck that only seemed to give a little underneath her fingers. She decided that using just one hand wasn't working, and brought the other closer. Her arm felt better, anyway.
"Mr. T, Mr. T…we're going to leave this all behind, my love. I'd make you happy if you let me, I would."
He groaned and settled further into her hands, his heavy head almost resting on her shoulder. Her eyes brightened and she crooned to him like a high-strung horse. "That's right, relax…"
"Is Johanna up?" he muttered, opening one eye and looking back at her.
"Not yet, love. How's your ribs feelin'?"
He shifted and groaned. "Like a man just shoved a knife between 'em and then twisted."
She narrowed her eyes in concern and moved to the front of the chair, staring at his torso with her tongue between her teeth in concentration. She leaned towards him. "If you'd jus' let me-"
"No," was the flat answer. She huffed and went to check on Johanna. The girl's fever had gone down, just a little. She lingered there, watching her face, noting the breaths that went in and out, in and out.
"Mrs. Lovett." It was a statement, not a question. Nellie went to sit down on the ottoman next to him, and was about to answer despondently when he suddenly reached forward and held her face gently with his fingertips. She froze, afraid to exhale. "Aye," she breathed. He studied her face, obviously seeing double, or perhaps triple. He grabbed her hand suddenly and yanked her up, standing unsteadily on his own feet.
"Mrs. Lovett, I have a strange premonition," he began.
"Do you really?" She allowed herself to be dragged to the cellar door, and she opened it herself. He hurried down the steps, peering into the blackness of the empty basement.
"Wot in heaven's name are you doing?"
"Oh," he muttered, "thought someone was there. Someone else. Couldn't have been. Silly of me…saw her face, that I did, Mrs. Lovett, that I did…"
He stood back as she stared at him in amazement. The basement was dark, seeing as the boiler hadn't been lit in days. Strange silhouettes rose out of the gloom, and Mrs. Lovett shivered at the strange environment she had created. She warned herself against falling asleep tonight. She dared not look at the floor where the judge had lain. It had taken her forever to wash the blood out that night.
"So, my pet, what is it you do down here? Or did. Whichever you prefer." Todd waved vaguely around at the silent room, only a couple of moldy pies sitting on the shelves were there was once many.
"I dunno." She shrugged, uncomfortable. It was hard enough not to think while she was cutting up limbs and slicing meat from leg-bones. Now this half-crazy man (oh, but how much she loved him!) wanted her to talk about it. "Well, I dragged 'em over there before they stiffened up, put the meat in th' grinder," and she pointed to the various machines," burned the rest of the body I didn't use in the furnace, and made the pies. Put the finished pies in the oven, and voilá."
He stared at her, eyebrows raised. "You are a bloody wonder, 's what you are. Don't know wot I'd do without you. Where should we go next?"
She closed her eyes briefly at his changed temperament. She couldn't deal with it now. "Well, Mr. T, I'm pretty tired. I think I might head off t' bed, if it's all the same to you."
"Oh." A slight look of disappointment crossed his features, and he turned around, walking away from her. She gazed at his strong back, hidden underneath the worn brown vest.
"I could stay up, though. If you wanted me to," she called after him. He stopped for a minute and then shook his head and kept walking, letting the door close behind him. She heard his footsteps up the old stairs to the loft, and mentally berated herself for losing her chance. It was as if that night on the ship had never happened. He probably wished it hadn't.
She dragged herself to bed after making sure Johanna was comfortable and sleeping easy. Nellie was too tired to even change out of her dress. She only had the energy to undo the laces of her walking boots and kick them off. She lay on her bed, on her back, and stared up at the ceiling.
He was pacing again. Mrs. Lovett counted the steady repetition of his footsteps until they stopped. She frowned at the absence of sound from upstairs, until she heard the jingle of the door. Mr. Todd couldn't stay away from his daughter for too long. It was silent for a long, long time. She was dozing off, half asleep, when her own door creaked open. She sat upright in bed, her heartbeat accelerating foolishly.
Heart in her mouth, she watched his hesitant approach to her bed. He hadn't forgotten, then…she knew he hadn't. Sweeney sat down at the edge, fingers viciously twisting the comforter.
"Mr. T?" Nell whispered, leaning forward slightly.
He surprised her. "Johanna…she's afraid of me," he said, stumbling over his words.
Mrs. Lovett put a calming hand on his shoulder but couldn't help stifling a yawn. He wanted reassurance, and she gave him what he wanted. "She's sick, love. Give her time…she'll come 'round. Lucky t' have a father like you."
He didn't say anything. She yawned again, patting the small space beside her. "Lie down, Mr. T. Those circles under your eyes won't hardly disappear if you keep torturin' yourself like this. Come 'ere," she made her voice as persuasive as possible, and she still felt silly. She felt sure that she saw the beginnings of a smile and his shoulders slumped.
"I've got to check on her."
Mrs. Lovett grimaced. "You just did. She'll be fine."
"No, no," he protested, like a stubborn boy, and got up. Nellie raised herself up on one elbow and watched his hasty retreat with a long-suffering sigh. He would come around. Again. She was sure of it.
As she fell asleep, the strains of a soft lullaby floated through her head. It came from the next room, where the demon barber of Fleet Street sat cradling his golden-haired daughter as if he'd never let her go.