Disclaimer: I own nothing and no one except Mrs. Ainsworth. She's all mine.
Dear Readers: Yes, it's me again! I apologize for the slack update rate, especially after I promised to be more regular.
There are several points in my story that frustrate me, and perhaps they frustrate you, too. I'm going to explain them here (anticlimactic, I know, and I may go back and correct the chapters themselves later). If I leave any other confusing elements out, feel free to write and ask. But first as follows: why did Sweeney Todd attempt to engage Pirelli in a shaving contest? In the context of my story, he intended to win money enough to buy Lucy a meal. Next, why does Pirelli's accent suddenly disappear? Yes, I know, I forgot to mention that the entire Italian accent was feigned. I will definitely have to go back and extend the last chapter.
"I am your servant, sir," Todd assured him softly.
"That you are," Pirelli laughed. He reached out, gripping Todd's chin and forcing his head back at a sharp, painful angle. "You don't dare be anything else, do you, criminal scum?"
The insult cut like a knife. The muscles in Todd's face visibly contorted, but he was careful to keep his open blade hidden. His arm was shaking with tension and self-imposed restraint. In Pirelli's laughing face he remembered every cruel injustice he had suffered during his exile, from the pettiest act of malice to tortures meant to break and ruin both body and soul. Even the Beadle had not roused the desperate feeling of hate he felt now, the need to plunge the razor edge into Pirelli's flesh and see red blood flow between his fingers. Still he resisted, acutely aware of Lucy, who clung to him as before in a terrified and trembling grip.
Some of his distress must have shown, for Pirelli's expression was one of satisfaction. The Italian relaxed his hold.
"I look forward to our meeting tomorrow, then," he said. "I bid you good night, Senor."
Todd listened to the man's footsteps receding down the alley. He sat motionless, staring into emptiness as Lucy cringed into him. He could feel her face smothered in his belly, her arms wrapped around his waist as she cried. He caressed her hair but did not consciously direct the motion.
"Did he harm you, Lucy?"
She raised her head, shivering and gasping. "That thing—the thing—he—"
"He's gone." Todd wondered why his voice sounded unfamiliar, as if someone else were speaking. "He didn't hurt you did he?"
"Hit me." Her enormous eyes rolled. "Pulled me hair, he did. Almost tore out my scalp, right rough he was—"
"Ah." He could feel the blood on her. "Shh. I'll fix it, my love. Don't fret."
She raised quivering fingers to his mouth. In the weak, failing glow of a distant gaslight, he could nonetheless see the tear tracks on her cheeks, running like twin muddy rivers on her dirt-caked skin.
"I knows he hurt you," she said, almost inaudibly. "I know, I see what he done to you."
Todd inhaled at her awkward touch but didn't pull away. He turned his rigid face aside.
"It's nothing. A scratch, no more."
He was startled when she turned him to her again, her long, cracked nails gentle as if he were fragile glass. There was a light in her eyes that hadn't been there before, a twinkling of something that was almost sanity.
"It is more," she said, "so, so much more."
She leaned up and kissed his lips.
Todd's muscles seized at the impression of her kiss. He gazed on her with severe astonishment. Before he could respond she finished, drawing back with a lopsided smile and a laugh.
"That's for you, Swee-ney," she said. "You been good to me, aintcha then?"
"Lucy," he whispered. "My Lucy."
He caught her as she slumped back, her head hanging crookedly to one side. Her lifelessness frightened him, and with energy born of panic he struggled to raise her. He gasped under his wife's weight, every muscle screaming at the unwanted burden, but somehow he remained on his feet as he turned, seeking to retrace his steps.
Nellie sat silently before the fire. She was exhausted, but she hadn't been able to sleep. A part of her wished she had followed Mr. Todd on his mission, clandestinely of course, just to make certain he came to no harm. A smaller part prayed he had stumbled into trouble, enabling her to, in the future, nurse him out of it again. Either way, she knew he would come back. If fifteen years of sweat and tears hadn't separated them, neither would London's bad streets.
She was startled out of her musings by a sudden hard knock on the door. Nellie rose unsteadily, wiping the moisture from her brow and drying her hands on her skirt. She laid her cheek on the door.
"Who is it?" she called, only half-daring to hope.
"Mrs. Lovett," came the demanded reply. "Open quick, in God's name."
Her fingers trembled on the bolts. "Mr. Todd, is that you?"
"Open the door!" The voice was now impossibly familiar, harsh and insistent.
Nellie obeyed timidly, gasping when Todd stumbled inside. He looked like a ghost, his wild, unkempt hair clinging to his sweat-drenched forehead, and Nellie was shocked to see the blood on him.
"Lor', what happened, Mr. T?" she breathed.
"Get me a pitcher of water. Hurry!"
She was startled by his brusque, sharp manner until she recognized the limp figure in his arms. Lucy was pale and motionless, her jaws slackly parted. Todd struggled to the drawing room, sinking on his knees as he lowered the ragged woman to the sofa, careful not to jolt her battered form. Nellie was motionless with shock as he passed a hand tenderly over Lucy's face. Feeling the weight of her gaze on him, Todd turned halfway, his eyes blazing.
"What are you waiting for, Mrs. Lovett?" he said.
Nellie's lips quivered, a tempest of warring emotions in her breast.
"I'm going, Mr. T," she said. "I won't be a minute."
She found a jug in the bakery and filled it at the pump just outside. Nellie wasn't comfortable outdoors after dark, but she didn't spare the bad neighborhood a thought as she worked, thinking only of Mr. Todd and that creature he recognized as his wife. Her fingers shook as she shut the bakery door behind her, and when she returned to the drawing room she found Todd unmoved, still studying Lucy.
"Here's the water," Nellie said quietly, setting it on the floor beside him. "Do you need anything else?"
"Is the bath ready?"
Nellie's exclamation was involuntary, bursting from her lungs without thought. To her surprise, Todd made no move to berate her for her outburst, instead concentrating on bathing Lucy's face with the worn tatters of a handkerchief.
"You disapprove," he said.
"I wouldn't say that—it's just—you're not so well off yourself, and she can wait an hour or so while you rest. You look terrible, Mr. T!"
Lucy murmured softly at his continued ministrations, sighing as he dabbed the clotted blood from her forehead. Todd continued to work with meticulous deliberation.
"Mrs. Lovett," he said, "may I ask you something?"
She bent beside him. "Anything, Mr. Todd."
"If it were me—if it was I broken and bleeding, dirtying up your sofa cushions—and there was no one around but yourself, long-suffering, put upon, and worn to the bone—tell me, then, would you pause to sleep even for an instant?"
Nellie's heart stopped. "Why, I—I hardly know what to answer."
"Answer honestly, Mrs. Lovett." Mr. Todd's work remained unceasingly rhythmic. "Give me the truth as you see it."
Nellie doubted if he knew what he was doing to her. Todd had never been particularly clever where she was concerned. The mere thought of him hurt and vulnerable was enough to wrench her with physical pain. From any other man Nellie would have thought his inquiry a prying attempt at winning a confession from her, a trick to coax her final confession of love. With Mr. Todd, she knew differently. His eyes were fixed on Lucy's face, their normally hard blackness softened and wetted, and she knew he didn't really understand what she felt for him or how desperately she desired him.
"Really, Mr. Todd," she said, "I can't say. Now let me attend to that bath you were wanting."