Summary: Mrs. Lovett realizes at the last second that Sweeney Todd plans to throw her in the oven, and manages to distract him long enough for him to hear Anthony dashing up to the barbershop calling the name "Johanna…"
Disclaimer: If I owned Sweeney Todd, neither Sweeney nor Mrs. Lovett would have died. So needless to say, I don't own it.
Pairings: ToddLovett, AnthonyJohanna
Author's Notes: This is my first Sweeney Todd fic. I saw the movie a few weeks ago, and have not seen the musical, but hope to soon.
"Open the door! Open it!"
Her confusion conquering her will, Nellie Lovett obeyed, swinging open the massive oven door with a creak that echoed off the walls of the bakery's basement. She watched as the light was thrown over the floor, illuminating the shapes of a kneeling Sweeney Todd and the motionless body of the beggar woman whom he had just killed. The blood on his face, still damp, glistened. After a few moments, she could hear him singing, but she could not make out the words. He was brushing the lank light-colored hair away from the woman's face, and Mrs. Lovett's heart shriveled in fear as she recognized it as the face of Lucy Barker, who had long ago gone hopelessly insane after her suicide attempt.
And Mr. Todd recognized the face as well.
"You lied," he snarled, looking up at her, his eyes glinting with murder.
"Not lied! I said she poisoned 'erself—I never said she died!" Mrs. Lovett babbled excuses as Sweeney lurched to his feet, backing her into the wall opposite the blazing, still-open oven. "I love you!" she pleaded as Mr. Todd held his arms out to her with the bloody razor in hand, beckoning, his twisted smile urging her not to be afraid of death. He grasped her wrists in a steely grip, swinging her into a mad waltz, shadows dancing over his face as he sang to her, his voice harsh and angry. Even as he sang of life going on, she saw the madness burning in his eyes and the blazing oven spiraling in and out of her peripheral vision. And she knew what he was planning to do.
He dragged her, spinning her in a facsimile of merriment, close to the oven. Strengthened by the animal power of a creature in mortal danger, Nellie tore herself free of his hands. She reached out to fling the oven door shut, crashing against it as it slammed, barely able to stop her head from striking the unforgiving metal. Her heart pounded madly, her senses humming with adrenaline.
The razor rested against her neck, icy silver slicked with crimson. She whimpered. "Open it," growled Sweeney Todd.
"No," she begged. "Please, Mr. T., not me! I was thinkin' of you, I was! Always! I 'elped you, didn't I?"
"So determined to stay alive, are you? Tell me, pet, why should I let you live?" He pressed the razor against her skin, and a hot slice of pain screamed that he was cutting her. She felt a tiny stream of blood drip down her throat. "'No one will miss them,' you said about the poor bleeders who went into your pies. Who would miss you, my dear?"
"I'll do anything." She meant to shout it, but fear closed her throat and the words came out as whispers. "Anything, love."
"Will you, now?" The pressure of the razor let up slightly, but the cut still bled. Nellie held her breath, knowing her life was hanging in the balance. If Sweeney Todd truly wanted her dead, it would not matter to him whether he cut her throat or tossed her into the oven. "Well…all right."
She gasped as he gripped the back of her dress and yanked her away from the oven, hurling her against the cold stone wall. The razor lightly scraped her skin as it slit through the back of her gown and slip, cutting the ties of her corset. She bit her lip fiercely, her mind whirling. Now what was he doing?
She screamed in pain and fear as the razor dug into her flesh.
"After all, there are fates worse than death…you'll be mine now. My little pet. Quit that squirming!"
Her shoulders were twitching as the blade carved letters into her back. He'd begun with what felt like an "s," and now he was completing a "y." Sweeney Todd was engraving his name into her.
"Like writing your name in a book so it won't get lost. So no else will steal it, right, love?" He finished the final "d." "There."
Mrs. Lovett hid her face in her hands, struggling not to weep. She refused to let him see her weakness. He spun her around, smirking.
"I may have spared your life, my pet, but trust me, you'll be begging for death by the time I'm finished with you. Now…what shall I do with you first?"
"Who are you?" she cried. "The Benjamin Barker I always 'ad a fondness for would have never…" She was cut off, choking, when his hand closed around her neck. "You're barkin' mad!" The words sounded like thin twisted ropes of sound, incomprehensible.
"I told you." His horrible smile widened. "Benjamin Barker is dead. I'm Sweeney Todd now."
"Do you hear that?"
Footsteps clattered up the stairs, accompanied by the shout of a name. The voice was familiar, as was the name it called.
"Johanna! Are you there?" Anthony's voice floated down, quiet but audible.
"Johanna…" Sweeney Todd whispered his daughter's name, his grip on Nellie's throat slackening. She pulled away from him and gasped for breath. "You—stay here," he ordered Mrs. Lovett, pointing the razor at her as he stormed—nearly ran, really—from the cellar, locking the door behind him.
Silently, Mr. Todd followed Anthony up the stairs, watching as the sailor walked into the barbershop, still calling for Johanna. The boy Mr. Todd had threatened earlier sat, trembling, in the chair, but when he saw Anthony, he leapt up and the cap fell from his head. Long wavy wheat-coloured hair tumbled down the youth's back, glistening in the moonlight.
That was no boy that Sweeney Todd had nearly killed. It was a young woman who was now tightly embracing Anthony, a young woman whose true name was Johanna Barker.
The demon barber stumbled through the door of his own shop, letting his razor clatter to the floor. The lovers looked up, startled, and Johanna screamed. The light from the windows streamed over her face. Sweeney remembered hesitating to kill Johanna when he looked in her eyes, and now he knew why: their startling blue was the color Lucy's eyes had been.
"Johanna," he said limply.
"Mr. Todd, you know Johanna?" Anthony's brow furrowed with confusion.
"He nearly killed me after I saw what he did to Judge Turpin!" cried the young woman, clinging to Anthony's arm, her delicate face radiating fear.
"You are beautiful and pale, with yellow hair." He hardly knew what he was saying. His mind was half-frozen, his lips moving by some strange unfamiliar instinct. "Like her. Like your mother."
"My mother?" Johanna repeated. "You knew my mother?" She peered out, tentative, from behind the cover of Anthony's shoulder.
He was standing beside the mirror now, and the table where he kept his tools—and his photograph of his family. He did not remember walking there. His hand was picking up one of the frames, and Johanna was shying away as he extended it to her. "You look just like her."
She took the picture, her expression wondering. "This is my mother? And my father?"
Anthony was looking over Johanna's shoulder. "You do look like her. But…Mr. Todd, is that you?"
"It is." Mr. Todd swallowed, hardly able to believe that his daughter was standing before him, that so resembled Lucy's were gazing at the fifteen-year-old photo of the Barker family. Had it really been so long ago that the family was whole? So how old was Johanna now? Sixteen? Seventeen? "Johanna, you're my daughter."
Now she was looking at him, comparing the man who stood before her to the smiling image in the photograph. He found himself wiping at his face, trying to clean off the blood, trying to explain. The words tumbled out slowly, thickly—when was the last time he'd explained himself to anyone? "I killed Judge Turpin because he tore our family apart!"
"He what?" said Johanna and Anthony at the same time.
"He sentenced me to life in a godforsaken Australian penal colony for a crime I did not commit so he could get to your mother. And he did. She went mad, enabling him to take you on as his ward." The familiar barely restrained rage underscored his voice, but there was something new there as well. Something that choked him, accompanied by a rising pressure in his chest and a hot sting behind his eyes. There was water on his cheeks and he did not know how it had gotten there.
Johanna placed her white little hand on his cheek. "Father?" The word was hesitant.
"Yes." He realized what this new feeling was. It was a feeling that had been completely supplanted by rage sometime during his stint as a prisoner. It was sorrow.
"So…this is all true?" That was Anthony, who was now examining the photo.
"It's true. Johanna…" Sweeney Todd was holding his daughter's face in his bloody hands. "I thought I would never see you."
Johanna said nothing, but her eyes filled with tears.
"Johanna, the coach is waiting, and may leave if we do not hurry. Mr. Todd, I'm afraid…I'm afraid we have to leave." Anthony spoke, his voice swollen with regret.
"I know," said Mr. Todd, his eyes never leaving his daughter's as he let her go. "Take care of her."
"I will, sir," Anthony vowed, handing the frame back to its owner.
"No. Keep it."
Johanna and Anthony exchanged a glance, and Anthony slipped the photograph into his jacket pocket. The two of them turned to leave.
"Write to me, will you?" Sweeney Todd called after the departing couple. "And I may follow you, a few years down the road!"
"We will. Farewell, Mr. Todd!" Anthony spoke over his shoulder, and Johanna shouted out as well as she and her lover descended down the staircase.
The so-called demon barber of Fleet Street leaned against a wall, as if he would collapse without its support. The tears were flowing freely now, dripping red-tinged, acerbic water onto the floor. He spoke his daughter's name again. "Johanna. Oh, Johanna."
He turned his gaze to the window, watching Johanna and Anthony hustle down the street, no doubt heading for their coach.
A shooting star arced brightly through the sky overhead.
Nellie curled up against the cold wall exactly where Sweeney Todd had commanded she stay. She pressed her back against the stone, because the coolness soothed the stinging cuts. But despite that, she could still feel the letters burning her flesh like a brand. She had watched the man for whom she had long nursed a tender spot slowly descend into madness and hatred. He raged against the entire human race, including her. She had hoped things would change after he had exacted his revenge, but the knowledge that his wife had been alive all this time had plunged him even deeper into insanity. And God only knew what he would do to her now.
The rasping of the sewer grate startled her, and she watched as Toby clambered onto the floor. He blinked when he saw her. "Mum?" He pronounced the word "Ma'am" in his usual queer way, sounding as if he were addressing his mother.
"Toby! You must get far away from 'ere, love. Mr. Todd is…is very angry, and it's dangerous to stay 'ere at the pie shop."
Toby stood. "So…so he's the one who's been killin' folk what come to his shop? And then…then they go into the pies? Did he kill Pirelli and give you 'is purse?"
Well, close enough. "Yes. You'd best leave before 'e comes back."
"No! I made you a promise, Mum!" He squinted in the darkness. "You been cryin'?"
Mrs. Lovett wiped her eyes hastily. "It's nothing, love. But you must understand, I 'ad to help Mr. Todd. Was a bit afraid of 'im, really. That's why…why I made the pies the way I did. And times is 'ard—a bit more time without customers and I'd 'ave been evicted from me shop." She was stretching the truth a bit, yes, but Toby did look up to her so. "Toby, I'll be all right. Now go before 'e comes back! You're a clever lad; you'll find your place somewhere. And you must promise me, never tell a soul about what was goin' on in this shop. Doesn't matter—I'll likely have to close up soon." She had to force out the last few words.
Toby hesitated. "I'll miss you, Mum."
"And I'll miss you." There was a harsh, rusty-sounding click as the door to the cellar was unlocked. "Now go! Go, quick!"
Toby had barely gotten back into the sewer when the basement door swung open and Sweeney Todd walked in, looking a bit dazed.
"Was it 'er? Was it your daughter?"
He did not reply. He went straight to Lucy's body, picking her up, gently carrying her in a cradle position out the door. He came back moments later, empty-handed, and answered her question. "It was."
"Poor child," whispered Nellie, "havin' no mother for so many years."
"She looks like her," said Sweeney distantly. "Spitting image. But she's gone. With Anthony."
"Oh, they got away together, then?" She sat up, holding back a wince as the movement caused her wounds to hurt. "That's likely for the best. He'll take care of her, 'e will."
Mr. Todd ignored that comment. He knelt beside Mrs. Lovett and put pressure on one of her shoulders, causing her body to twist so he could see his name written in blood. "Did it hurt you badly when I did this?"
"Well…I suppose I was more frightened than 'urt." She spoke lightly, as if to wave off the fact that she had been attacked with a razor.
Sweeney Todd examined his latest work. He had attempted to cut her deep enough to leave scars, but not so deep as to cause permanent nerve damage. But in his anger, he had been a bit overzealous—now a few of the gashes he'd left in Mrs. Lovett's back needed stitches. She was putting on a brave face for him, but she had to be in pain.
"More lies," he murmured. But this lie did not anger him—rather, he was almost proud of her pluck. He let go of her shoulder, allowing her to sit back normally. She looked up at him, struggling to hide her alarm, eyes swimming with confusion. Those damn eyes of hers always vexed him. They were so expressive, sometimes scolding, sometimes mischievous…and sometimes tender, sometimes desperate. He remembered the pain he had seen on her face one cold night when she had mentioned how drafty the upper story got and that he might be warmer if he stayed with her; in his irritation, he had shoved her, called her a harlot and said that she repulsed him. Fear of him was not a new sensation to her, but he had never directly threatened her life before.
"Some of those will need stitches. Come on." He helped her up, not gently, but not roughly either. As they climbed the stairs, he clutched her arm, more to keep her from running than anything else. He felt her softly rub her cheek against his shoulder.
He brought her into the kitchen and ordered her to sit behind the table near the front window. "Mr. Todd? What are you doin'?"
"You have a sewing kit, don't you?"
"Yes…what are you plannin'?" Her voice was a bit higher in pitch than usual.
"You go get that sewing kit. I have to stitch you up. Go!"
Her eyes never leaving his, she stood, clutching the bodice of her ripped gown to keep it from falling. She scurried to her room, returned quickly with the kit beneath her arm. "You think you can stitch me up with ordinary thread?"
"Maybe with the strongest you have. Now, sit."
She sat. He rummaged though her sewing supplies and she saw him take out a midsize needle and her thickest thread, the one used for leather. "You know what you're doin,' Mr. T.?"
"Yes." He did not elaborate, suddenly appearing very intent on threading the needle. "You might want to drink whatever gin is left in your cupboard."
"I'll…I'll stay alert, I think. The pain don't matter so much."
There was only a small pinch when the needle pierced her flesh. She felt Mr. Todd secure a tight little knot in the thread before moving down the cut to make another stitch. He knew what he was doing. "Where did you learn this?"
He tied off a stitch—the fourth, already. "Now. Tell me what really happened to Lucy."
She swallowed hard. "I told you she poisoned 'erself with arsenic, and I tried to talk 'er out of it. That was all true, I swear. But she didn't die—and I wonder if it was really arsenic what they sold 'er. 'Cause it…it drove her mad, see. She was already a bit 'round the twist, but…well, before she'd only been blue, depressed, like. After the poison, she just lay in bed for weeks, and stopped rememberin' things. Me name, for instance—'er own, even. She sometimes recognized Johanna, and the Beadle, and one or two policemen, oddly enough, but she didn't remember Johanna was 'er daughter. And she was afraid of every man what even used the word 'judge,' though she didn't recall the name 'Turpin.'"
"And how did she wind up a beggar on the streets?" He jabbed the needle through her skin a bit harder than necessary.
"She ended up in Bedlam. When they let 'er out after a few years 'cause the rooms were gettin' too full, she came back to Fleet Street and didn't recognize the 'ouse as 'ers. I did try to make 'er come in, I did, but she just wanted to roam the street, offerin' 'erself to men, sometimes sayin' 'Do I know you?' to complete strangers. And it was just after she was packed off to Bedlam the judge took Johanna."
"Ah. And why did you neglect to tell me she was still alive?"
Nellie winced as he again seemingly got careless with the needle—much more careless than the previous incidence. There was no sense in lying. She had nothing to lose. "'Cause I wanted you. 'Cause I love you."
"Well, at least you're honest about it." He snickered dryly.
"I knew what would 'appen if you found out she was still alive!" She burst out. "Your Lucy was completely mad, past all 'ope. If you'd brought 'er in, she might not 'ave even remembered you, and there was no savin' 'er. You'd 'ave spent every second with 'er, not thinkin' at all of yourself, and I would 'ave killed meself takin' care of the both of you. That's not 'ow I want to die, witherin' away watchin' a man I care for doting on a madwoman what used to be 'is wife!" She squeezed her eyes tightly shut. "You probably did the poor thing a favor, killin' 'er."
Sweeney finished another stitch and said nothing. Mrs. Lovett may have inadvertently caused Lucy's death, but her reasoning did make sense. She had had to make sure he ate and slept when he was consumed by his need for vengeance, and she would certainly have had to do the same if he had been consumed by, as she put it, doting on Lucy.
She did not interpret his silence well. "And you might have done me a favor if you 'ad pushed me in the oven, it sounds like."
He tied off the last stitch and turned his attention to the cut on her neck. The blood was already crusting over, turning a sickly purple-brown. It wasn't deep enough for stitches, but something else near it caught his eye—a scar, thin and diagonal, only a few weeks old. "What's this?"
"Oh—you don't remember? Well, I suppose you was blind drunk."
He spread his fingers firmly over her scalp and pulled her head to the side, allowing the moonlight to spill over the old wound. "It looks like I swung at you. You survived?"
Nellie struggled to keep her voice steady as she replied. "You'd had a bad day. No customers. So you drank 'til you couldn't tell up from down. I came upstairs to see if you was all right, and...you was so confused, you thought I was…you thought I was Lucy. And, well, you kissed me, and some'ow noticed just a bit later I wasn't who you thought I was, and you got angry. You came at me with your razor and missed—barely." He didn't, however, miss the shudder that coursed through her body after that sentence. "I ran downstairs, and you didn't see fit to follow me, thank 'eaven."
"Was kissing you all I did?"
"Yes! I got no more reason to lie, love." He let her go, and she sat up, wrapping her arms tightly around herself, as if in an embrace.
"Was that the only time I threatened your life?"
She shook her head no. "There was one night I went upstairs to see if you wanted supper, 'cause you 'adn't eaten earlier. You was already asleep, but you woke up when I opened the door, or maybe you was sleepwalkin'. You nearly killed me before thinkin' twice, and said you would cut me throat if I ever woke you again. And there was the time you'd just decided you was angry at the 'ole human race, you dragged me into the chair and put that damn razor against me neck."
He didn't know if he was angry at her for referring to his razor that way or impressed by her bravery. "I don't remember that." He stared at her huddled form. Mrs. Lovett was a practical creature, yet she had been working with—living with, in a way—a man who had put her life in danger. Surely the meat that went into her pies wasn't worth that much trouble. "You could have turned me in to the police. Likely they'd have believed you if you said I forced you to bake my victims."
"Yeah, but I'm sure you've 'ad your fill of justice what you don't mete out!" She pressed one cheek to her knees. "I was a bit afraid, but I didn't want to turn you in. I 'oped we could 'ave a life together, maybe after you'd done in the judge and I 'ad enough money to retire from pie-makin' and buy a little 'ouse by the sea for the two of us."
Oh, yes, she had wanted to live by the sea. He recalled that irritating little song she had sung for him when she dragged him on that picnic. He also distinctly remembered thinking that he might want to take her to the sea, if only to throw her in, and maybe then she would be quiet. And there had been a rather strong sense of disgust at the notion of her crawling into bed with him. Funny how that idea did not seem quite so sickening now, with the memory of Mrs. Lovett's skin growing warm beneath his hands as he stitched her wounds so fresh in his mind...
She sat up halfway. "What are you goin' to do with me? I mean…" She let out a slightly hysterical giggle. "…you made it clear me life'll be a livin' 'ell now. No 'ouse by the sea for me!" She swallowed hard, attempting to control herself, still trying to be strong.
"I should bandage those," he muttered, almost to himself.
"But Mr. T…!"
"Hush!" he growled at her. She quailed, watching with eyes the size of shillings as he went to her counter and ripped one of her washcloths into strips. "You actually keep these clean now, I hope."
She nodded, not trusting her voice, hysteria still fluttering like a mad butterfly locked in her skull. Nellie had always felt secure when she knew she had control over a situation; right now, her life was in the hands of a madman, albeit a madman who she loved. She kept her eyes trained on him as he returned, noticing that the blood on his face was smeared, as if he had tried to clean it off. She restrained the impulse to reach up and wipe it away herself.
Mr. Todd took her by the shoulders, swiveling Nellie so her back was to him. When he tried to peel the ripped gown from the upper half of her body, she struggled instinctively, and he snapped at her: "Be still. You can't expect me to get the bandages on you with that dress still on." Still wordless, she slipped her arms out of the sleeves and pulled off what remained of her corset. Sweeney wrapped the torn strips of fabric around her and tied them so they covered the wounds, carefully avoiding her bust. "That should hold."
She turned to face him, clutching the ruined bodice to her chest to preserve modesty. "And now what? You never answered. Or are you not gon'na say? That'll be part of the…the torture, then?"
He did not answer, for he did not know what to say. Back in the cellar, when his razor was slicing into the flesh of Mrs. Lovett's back, he had plenty of wonderfully agonizing treatments planned for her. And he still remembered them, remembered wanting to experiment with screams instead of throat-slitting, blood slowly dripping instead of gushing. Yet now, these same thoughts displeased him; he thought of the ragged letters screaming his name across Mrs. Lovett's skin and had no desire to take another knife to her. Since his return from Australia, Sweeney Todd had become like one of his razors: a tool, icy with heartless shine, crafted for revenge and murder. But something, perhaps the warm rush of hot tears to his eyes when he saw his daughter, was melting the blade.
He looked at Mrs. Lovett. She was looking at him constantly, the stills of her eyes quivering behind a burgeoning film of tears. He had seen her frightened, disturbed, upset, but she had never cried in front of him before. Tears rarely solved anything, she once said to him. And even now, he could see that she desperately wished to restrain those tears, but who in her current situation wouldn't weep?
When he had attacked her in the cellar, he had simply seen a liar when he looked at her. A liar who had caused him to kill his wife, and who had been nothing but a thorn in his side since he had returned from Australia. Now, he could see her as a shaking, useless bundle of flesh and bones, but instead he saw a woman fighting to stay calm in a hopeless situation, a woman who had returned his razors to him, helped him to his revenge every step of the way, and attempted to save him from his dependence on bloodlust.
"I won't hurt you."
She laughed her frenzied chuckle again. When she blinked, a single tear slid down her cheek, glistening like a shooting star. "Please, Mr. T, don't play with me like this."
"I mean it. I won't hurt you." At this point, his mind was churning sluggishly, attempting to sort out something that did not involve vengeance or violence. Mrs. Lovett thought he was planning to torture her because he had promised to do so. Now he had changed his mind, and she didn't believe him. What to do to convince her? Perhaps if he used her first name, sounded more personal, that might do the trick. But he had forgotten that name. He had faint fifteen-year-old memories of the Lovetts, the couple downstairs; Albert was the husband's name—he had passed away two years before Turpin had falsely accused Benjamin Barker of a crime. But damn it, what was the wife's name? She'd even mentioned it to him recently. Nettie, was it? No, Nellie. That was it.
She looked up at him, startled. "You've never called me that."
It didn't suit her. "I think what I did to your back was enough."
With a little gasp of relief, she lunged forward and threw her arms around him. "Mr. Todd, I knew there was still some sanity in you!"
Not enough to return her embrace. Maybe if she'd given a bit of warning… "Get off." He pushed her, not hard. Ashamed, she drew back, briefly forgetting that her dress was rent—it slipped, and she pulled it up to cover herself, flushing.
"Wait." Sweeney had seen another scar, possibly the same age as the other one, marking her shoulder. He reached for her torn bodice, working it from her hands; instead of moving the fabric enough to see the scar, he simply let the material fall, exposing Mrs. Lovett's body from the waist up. She gave him an alarmed glance at this, but he did not react. "That." He indicated the healed slash that ran from her collarbone, skipped, and crossed her shoulder.
"It's from…" she trailed off and traced the scar from her neck with her hand, showing him how it was in line with the mark on her shoulder; the two wounds had come from the same swipe of the razor.
"I was drunk." He ran a fingertip down the scar the same way she had just done. She shivered, whether in pleasure or fear he did not know, and she continued to watch him intently as he trailed his hand down her arm. "Well, you should be all right. Get to bed. Get out of that ripped thing." He turned away from her.
"So that's it, then?" She stood as he walked away, folding her arms over her chest. "Let's go over what just 'appened: you nearly killed me, scratched your name in me back, met your daughter after fifteen years, decided to let me live and not make me life a livin' 'ell, and then stitched up the wounds what you gave me."
He faced her. "Get to bed, Mrs. Lovett. I need to be alone."
"I'd imagine." She crossed to reach up and touch his cheek. "But let me clean this off first." She picked up her cleanest cloth from the counter and dampened it with the bucket of water she kept nearby. "Now 'old still, and try not to choke me, will you?"
Oh yes, he had done that, or at least put his hands around her throat; she used to peck his cheek every time she finished cleaning blood off of his face, and one day he had been more irritated than indifferent at this.
She was already finished sponging off his face. "There you are. You can leave those clothes at me door after you've changed. I'll try to get the blood out of them." She stood on tiptoe to give him her customary kiss, but she backed off suddenly before her lips brushed his cheek. "'Night, Mr. T."
He watched as he retreated into her room. That was strange; she had never shied away from being affectionate before. Of course, he was fairly certain that she had been under the delusion that he cared a whit about her, and apparently there was nothing like death and torture threats to let her know she was unwanted. According to her, he had endangered her life before, but this was the first time he had drawn her blood while sober.
He wandered upstairs. Lucy's body lay on the barber's chair where he had left her, wrapped in blankets. He knelt by her side, brushing the limp, filthy blond hair from her still face. Even gaunt and smudged with dirt, her face was still the loveliest he had ever seen. He vaguely remembered seeing her wandering about near the pie shop, babbling. "Lucy," he whispered aloud, "what happened to you?" Mrs. Lovett had said she took arsenic. But why? He understood that she had been traumatized by her rape; she had always been so virtuous, so innocent. Being attacked that way would have destroyed her. But why had she wanted to abandon Johanna, and the hope that her husband might return?
Johanna. His beautiful Johanna, with her startling blue eyes and her wheat-colored hair. There was something in Johanna's eyes, though, that he had never seen in Lucy's. He had seen it in Mrs. Lovett's eyes, too, and his own, before they turned to the cold black stones they were now. It was a subtle darkness, a stillness, that spoke of pain and hardship. What had Judge Turpin done to her? Anthony had said that Turpin kept her locked up in his house; Sweeney prayed that isolating her was the worst thing that had happened to Johanna. Of course, God only knew what had happened to her during her stay in Bedlam, although Anthony had thankfully been quick to help her escape.
He stood, pacing to the window. His mind was still awash with puddles of strange emotions, pools left by the flood of feelings that had overpowered him when he saw Johanna. He thought he remembered some of these sensations: shock, happiness, relief, joy. There were still more, and thinking of them beckoned them back, memories of his first sight of his sixteen-year-old daughter that were not yet faded enough to handle. He pushed them away, scrambling for something else to focus on until he was prepared to deal with such an influx of emotion.
He settled on Mrs. Lovett, the woman to whom he had showed mercy tonight. Up until now, she was simply his pie maker, a necessary annoyance. He dealt with her coy overtures and her fussing over him simply because she was useful. It would have been difficult to conceal the bodies of his victims without her. And he had had to keep her trust so it would be easier to kill her after he had gotten his revenge and she had served her purpose.
Now, though, a sour taste rose in his mouth at the thought of Mrs. Lovett's death. Images of her eyes gone empty and sightless, of her slit throat spurting blood, made him feel ill, though he had used those same images to calm himself when she had irritated him.
Because she wasn't just a bother, that was why. He may not have wanted her to care about him, but she did; she took him in, harbored a murderer under her roof. He had previously thought of her as a completely selfish creature, just like every other mindless biped that called him or herself human. But she had never asked him for assistance in the pie shop; despite Toby's help, it was backbreaking work, and she had even taken on the extra chores of cleaning up the blood he spilled and washing it out of his clothes. She had cared enough to keep his razors for him during his absence while Lucy hadn't cared enough to keep herself alive.
That last thought startled him. Never, not once, had he ever thought badly of Lucy. But no matter how he approached it, the thought was the same: Lucy had attempted to take her own life, despite the fact that her husband would return when his sentence was served and Johanna needed her.
No, no…he would not think that. Lucy was dead and he would not dishonor her memory. His thoughts scuttled away from the troubling thought, again finding the available distraction of Nellie. Nellie Lovett. Her first name did not suit her, but really he had never used it because he did not want their relationship to involve anything but business. Now he had used it, and there was no severing the connection between the name and the woman. "Nellie" sounded like a small, fearful child's name; Mrs. Lovett was a woman, one of the strongest people Sweeney had ever met. In prison, he had seen grown men break down and eventually descend into madness when faced with threats like the ones he had issued to Nellie tonight. She had barely cried.
And she had also barely reacted when he had pulled her dress halfway off. Granted, she had been trying to get him to undress her for quite a while, but not exactly in that situation. She was likely afraid that he would have reacted…adversely…if she had protested.
Sweeney found himself remembering Nellie's white skin glistening softly in the moonlight, illuminating the scars and wounds he had left on her, darkening red-purple like poisonous shadows. He remembered being surprised at how thin she was, her body still displaying hints of the haggardness that accompanied poverty. Despite her thinness, her curves and lines were well-formed, and he found himself thinking that some, perhaps many, would call her beautiful. And before, he would never have said she had a pretty face; she was not nearly as comely as Lucy had been, and she always had enormous black circles beneath her eyes that gave her a skeletal appearance. But tonight, the light had spilled over Nellie's face in a certain way that made him see that her features were delicate and evenly spaced, and if she rid herself of the ugly darkness that ringed her eyes she might be rather beautiful.
Mr. Todd headed downstairs. He did not want to think about his daughter or his wife, not right now. It was too much. To think about Lucy's suicide and Johanna's troubled life involved too many emotions he had sworn off for life. He would face them, eventually, but not now, and perhaps Nellie could distract him long enough to keep the disturbing thoughts away until tomorrow.
She was not asleep, and she sat up when he pushed the door to her room open without knocking. "Mr. T?" Nellie brushed wayward locks of hair back from her face; she had taken out the pins and clips and her vibrant curls tumbled carelessly from her scalp.
Sweeney Todd said nothing, but took a few steps inside and closed the door behind him, his eyes never leaving hers.
She saw immediately that something strange was going on. She pushed her bedclothes aside and stood, walking to him, running her hands over his face. "What's this new look in your eyes, love?" Certainly she saw the fires there, not one of madness, and the way those eyes roved over her body, barely concealed by a threadbare nightgown. She gave a muffled little cry of surprise as his mouth crashed down onto hers with bruising force.
"Tell me, pet," Sweeney growled, his mouth moving to her neck, "how opposed are you to having your rumpled bedding not legitimized?"
He was quoting her song. She reached to his waistband to find that there was no razor concealed there before answering. "Not opposed at all, really."
She did not know what had brought on this advance, but in all honesty, she didn't really care.
Sweeney Todd dozed lightly, unable to remember the last time he felt as if he might be able to sleep. In prison, he had struggled to stay awake at all hours, terrified of abuse from the guards and the other prisoners. This habit had remained with him since he had returned, now augmented by the nightmares that plagued his sleep.
A hand, small, strong and callused, trailed down his arm. "Mr. T?"
He turned onto his other side so he could face her, surprised that she had not chosen to curl up close to him. "What?"
"Did I please you, love?"
"You did." He held his arm out to her. "Come here. I know you want to."
Smiling, she tucked herself against his chest, draping her arm leisurely over his back. He did the same for her, feeling the cloth of her makeshift bandage—by some miracle, it had not been pulled loose. "Did I hurt you?"
She hesitated. "Just a bit. But I think the stitches 'eld."
"Aside from the cuts. Did I hurt you?"
"Yeah. I don't mind, though, not really." She paused, looking up at his face. "Suppose I should thank you."
"For what?" That startled him. Yes, he had made love to her, which was something she had wanted, but he had the suspicion that he had caused her more pain than she cared to tell him.
"I thought Sweeney Todd never showed mercy. But tonight you showed me plenty, mayhaps more than I deserve." She laid her hand on his cheek.
He took her wrist, moving her hand from his face, and laced his fingers though hers. The small gesture made her eyes sparkle. "You wronged me, pet, but you did quite a bit to help me as well. It isn't mercy so much as it is being fair."
"And you actually took the time to think that, did you, love?" Her eyes turned contemplative. It unnerved him how clever she could be. He had never seen that sort of look in Lucy's eyes. "That's not somethin' the Mr. Todd I know might've done. What changed? Was it seein' your daughter?"
He pushed her away from him. "I came down here because I wanted you to distract me from that, not remind me of it."
"Distract you?" she repeated softly. Maybe she should have cared why he wanted her.
He turned onto his other side, but he kept speaking. "It's too much, Mrs. Lovett. Too many things I swore I'd never feel again."
He'd called her "Mrs. Lovett." Not "Nellie." So he'd only been using her first name to… "Well, she is your daughter. And changin' your name and changin' who you are don't change that." She reached over and began to massage his neck and shoulders, hoping that would relax him.
"I'd stopped missing her. I'd given up hope. I'd accepted that I'd never see her again!"
"And then you did," she whispered. "You've thought of nothin' but your revenge since you got back from Australia or wherever they shipped you off to, and now suddenly you meet your Johanna. Nothin' could have prepared you for that, love, not even becomin' Sweeney Todd."
"I love her." His voice was choked, and his hands fisted in the sheets. Her hands stopped moving over his back for a moment; she had never, ever seen him cry. Really, she had never seen him show any emotion besides anger, amusement, or cold indifference. "I love my daughter. I never stopped, damn it, I tried, but I never fucking stopped loving her! I was weak!"
"Shh, shh!" she urged him. "Lovin' someone don't mean you're weak. Just means you're human. And you're a human, Mr. T, much as you'd like to think you're just the arm of justice what 'olds a blade."
With a wild cry, Sweeney sat up, lashing out at her. His hand caught her across the face, and she reeled. "Don't speak of me like you know me!"
"I know you better than you think!" she shouted, instinctively placing her hand over her slapped cheek. "Cor, you never notice anythin' about me, do you? You're angry at the 'ole human race, and you've been ignorin' every other bloody feelin' you could ever possibly 'ave! You think your Lucy was some kind of angel, when all she was was a silly little nit who was too weak and selfish to take care of 'er own family after what 'appened! Too weak in the 'ead to even take enough poison!"
"Don't you dare talk about Lucy like that!" He reached out and seized her by the neck, pulling her down, choking and gasping. He squeezed, watching her eyes widen in desperation.
"You…know…it's…true!" she forced out.
His mind was still screaming at him to tighten his grip until Mrs. Lovett lay still and lifeless, but his hands weakened around her throat. She writhed, freeing herself, sucking in lungfuls of air.
"Why?" his voice came out raspy. The anger that had been simmering and roiling inside him for so long had suddenly failed him.
"Why…what?" The voice that answered him was still struggling for breath.
"Why did Lucy take the poison? She knew Johanna needed her. She knew I'd come back!"
Mrs. Lovett sighed, or maybe she was still trying to breathe. She sat up on her elbows. "Either she just wasn't thinkin', or she wasn't strong enough to keep livin' after what 'appened to 'er, or both. But other women 'ave survived the same."
"Have you?" he shot, grasping at some argument that might undercut her statement. In response, she gave him a guarded glance, then lowered her gaze as if ashamed. He understood. "You have."
She nodded. "I 'ave."
"I was fifteen." For a moment, Nellie seemed to debate whether or not to continue. "Me first beau. He got me alone, thinkin' I'd be willin'. I wasn't, but that didn't stop 'im. And I couldn't either—see, 'e was stronger'n me, and bigger. I was a tiny slip of a thing back then." She sighed heavily. "Lost a bit of me faith in the world that day."
Fifteen. Younger than Johanna was now. And she had survived. "But it made you stronger."
"That it did."
He reached over to touch her neck gently. She flinched as the hands that had just attempted to strangle her now tried to soothe. "I'm not going to hurt you, my pet."
"That's what you said a few 'ours ago, isn't it?"
She did have a point. "I didn't promise last time."
"Well, you promisin' this time? I'm not the only one who's bent the truth."
"Yes…I lied to you?" He drew back from her. "When?"
"After I sang to you about me dreams—me dreams for the future, I mean. I asked if you loved me, and you said yes." She averted her eyes from his.
Ah, yes. Nellie Lovett was an infinitely practical creature, except for her delusion that Sweeney Todd loved her. Well, he didn't…or at least, he hadn't. So many things had changed on this night; God only knew what else still might change.
"You could've just told me you'd kill me as soon as look at me. Wouldn't've changed anything. I still would've 'elped you with your revenge." She lifted her gaze again. "So, 'ave you decided I'm worth keepin' alive?"
"Even though I'm not as much of a 'distraction' as you'd like?" The pain in her voice was manifest.
He lay down beside her, covering them both with the blankets. "Maybe I don't need a 'distraction.'"
"I think you need a willin' ear, Mr. T. Tellin' me about what's troublin' you might make you feel better." She kissed his cheek softly.
And he had never truly noticed her before tonight. Remarkable. How had he managed that? He saw the red marks fading to bruises around her neck and he felt a spark of guilt, another emotion that he hadn't felt in untold years.
Now she was pressing her cheek to his beating heart. "All right, I'm listenin'. Heaven knows I've talked your ear off often enough. Now it's your turn to talk."
Could he open up to her? The last person he had spoken to about his feelings had been Lucy, fifteen years before. But he remembered the overwhelming torrent of emotion when he had looked into his daughter's eyes, and he wondered if maybe telling Nellie about them would distill some of their strength.
"She has Lucy's eyes…"
Nellie suggested that, since Mr. Todd had gotten his revenge on Judge Turpin, he should return to working as an ordinary barber. She was getting rather tired of cutting meat from human bodies, and besides, he could make much more money by not killing his customers before they paid. As for the supply of meat for her pie shop, she had decided to make fruit pies instead. She sold the fine dresses she had bought when her pies had become more popular to buy the fruit, and it turned out more people came by the shop once the stench of burning flesh was more absent. And plenty more men came to Sweeney's barbershop now that there were more live clients to rave about his talents. Between Nellie's new pie enterprise and Sweeney actually bringing in money of his own, both of them were better off, at least financially.
Sweeney had buried Lucy the night after her death. Seeing and touching the body, concrete proof that his wife was dead, seemed to give him the same kind of closure he once thought he had when he decided that he would never see Johanna again—although this time, he feared he was wrong, just like he had been with Johanna. After there was enough money, Sweeney hired a preacher to bless Lucy's grave. Nellie was there beside him when the sacred words were uttered, which he attributed to her feelings for him, considering her disdain for Lucy.
He no longer struggled with insomnia, thanks to Nellie. Their nightly intimacy was cathartic for Sweeney, soothing him the same way cutting the throats of his customers once had. But even when he was murdering gentlemen who had come in for a shave, the brief spurts of blood had calmed him only for a short while, and he had always gone to sleep unsettled if he slept at all. With Nellie wrapped in his arms, he slept soundly, and rarely had nightmares.
But one day, two months or so after the night he killed Judge Turpin, Sweeney was again plagued by bloodlust. Every time his razor glided smoothly along a man's throat, he was tempted to press harder until he was rewarded with a rush of scarlet liquid, and he had fought the impulse, believing it would pass in time. But the day came when he knew he would no longer be able to suppress the urge to draw blood, and he closed the barbershop. And a man who had decided to come to Sweeney for a shave went to Nellie and asked her if she knew why the barbershop was closed.
"Sweeney? Love, are you in there?" she rapped on the door. "There's a gentleman what wants to know why you've closed up today."
"Stay out," came his strangled voice. Of course, to Nellie, that meant she should go inside. So she did, which earned her another shout from Mr. Todd. "I said stay out! You have to get out. I'll kill you. I can't help it."
"Yes you can." She crossed to the window where he stood staring at the street below.
"Get away from me," he growled.
Nellie laid her hand on his shoulder, and he twisted and swung his arm, a glint of silver in his hand. But she was ready, and she caught his wrist, holding the razor against her forearm. She winced as the blade bit into her flesh, but when Sweeney saw the blood bubbling slowly from the wound, he took the blade away. He gently cradled Nellie's arm, watching the rivulet of crimson liquid as it dripped to the floor. The sight calmed him, assuaged his bloodlust, at least for the time being.
He looked at her gratefully, seeing her bruised lips and remembering similar black and blue marks on her body that morning. He realized how she knew he needed to see blood; he had been taking out his need for violence on her at night. Why hadn't he noticed her bruises before?
Sweeney wrapped her in a tight bear hug. "Why didn't you tell me I was hurting you, pet? I promised I wouldn't, didn't I?"
"I knew you weren't doin' it on purpose. I 'oped you'd stop, but it's gotten worse. Did seein' the cut on me arm 'elp you?"
"Well, can't say I'd jump to do it again, but you feel the need to slit some poor gentleman's throat again, you call me." She pecked him a kiss, softly, since it hurt her to do so.
"Nellie, how I survived so many years without you I'll never know." He kissed her forehead, and she blushed—even now, she was always the one who initiated affection. "Send that man up. He'll come downstairs unharmed."
The man had indeed left Sweeney's barbershop with his throat completely intact. In the weeks that followed, though the weather grew warmer, Nellie continued to wear long-sleeved dresses to hide the cuts on her arms. Sweeney was always careful to cut perpendicular to her veins so she would never lose a dangerous amount of blood, and as her bruises yellowed and were not replaced by fresh ones, she never complained. Eventually, her lover's bloodlust dwindled, and the cuts faded to thin scars, as did the engraving of Sweeney Todd's name on her back.
Nellie was fairly certain that hope was the primary reason for the diminishing of Sweeney's hatred and violence. For three months after Johanna and Anthony had made their escape, Anthony wrote to Sweeney that both of them were all right, they had eloped in France and were about to board a ship and sail the world together. The letters came with encouraging regularity, despite Anthony and Johanna's varied whereabouts, and one recent one was written in Johanna's hand, telling Sweeney that the hoped one day to understand why he had killed.
Two and a half years after the night of the judge's murder came the best letter of them all.
"Sweeney!" Nellie burst through the door of the barbershop. He looked up from the razor he was cleaning, startled.
"What is it?"
"A letter from Anthony and your daughter! They're all settled in. They've got a 'ouse of their own now, and they want you to come stay with them!" She handed him the ripped envelope, which contained both the letter and a postcard.
"Settled in? Where?" Sweeney pulled out the letter, unfolded it, and began to read.
"I don't know. One or two sentences just jumped out at me, and I came runnin' up 'ere."
"Johanna's found work as a seamstress. And Anthony gave up sailing and is working on the docks; he didn't want to leave Johanna home alone." He was quiet for a moment. "There are few sentences I'm surprised didn't 'jump out at you,' love."
He slipped the postcard from the envelope and flipped it over so she could see the picture.
"Oh…my!" Nellie gasped in delight, her hands flying to her mouth. The illustration on the postcard depicted majestic seaside cliffs, waves surging and crashing against the stone. "They're livin' by the sea, aren't they?"
"Well, what did you think? I said that Anthony was working on the docks." He wound his arm around her waist. "So, are you willing to sell your pie shop and follow me to the seaside?"
"I've been savin' up, waitin' for this day to come!" she cried gleefully. "Once I sell the shop, we'll 'ave plenty, for sure and certain enough to buy our own 'ouse!"
"I won't stand for you paying for it yourself, you know. I'll have quite a bit after I sell the barbershop."
"If you insist!" She pressed her mouth firmly against his, sealing the deal. "Right then, let's plan this out. When are they expectin' us?"
For once, the London skies were clear the day Sweeney and Nellie departed for the seaside. Before they left, Sweeney paid one last visit to Lucy's grave.
"I've never forgotten you," he murmured over her headstone, "and I never will."
"That's right," Nellie whispered to him. "Don't forget. But don't dwell on the past, 'cause if you do, you can't keep livin.' What's dead is dead."
"Yes." He held her tightly, taking his eyes off of Lucy's grave. "And we have to keep living."
She kissed him. "Really livin,' my love." She stepped outside of the circle of his embrace, rolling up her sleeve and holding her scarred arm out over the headstone. It had been a long, long time since Sweeney had last needed to draw her blood. "Go on. She never really knew all that blood what you spilled was for 'er. Why don't you tell 'er before we go?"
"I don't carry my razor with me anymore," he reminded her.
"Oh—silly me. I know. I brought one for you." She reached into her purse and extracted Sweeney's smallest razor. He took it from her and flipped it open before gripping her arm, making a small vertical cut and watching the blood drip onto Lucy's grave. Circular petals of deep red blossomed on the cold gray stone.
Neither of them spoke at first as the vivid flow from Nellie's arm slowed, and Sweeney carefully rolled her sleeve up over the wound. "Life is for the alive," he whispered, half to himself. He clutched Nellie to him and whispered, "Let's get out of this stinking city, my pet."
She giggled softly as he led her away, then began to sing. "By the seaside, by the beautiful sea!"
Sweeney Todd smiled, very slightly, when heard her singing. He reached over to Nellie's left hand and touched the engagement ring she now wore. They would leave London, the city that he hated, and go to the seaside, the place where Nellie yearned to live. Lucy was dead, but Johanna was alive and waiting for him, and life, after all, was for the alive.
He looked down at Nellie, and she somehow sensed his gaze and turned her face up to give him a brilliant smile. Her eyes were clear and bright, and no shadows rimmed them. She had done so much for him.
The noise and smoke of the crowded train station did not bother either of them as they elbowed their way towards one of the waiting locomotives. For they had a life waiting for them, and they would keep living it.
Author's Notes: Whew! I had no idea this one-shot would end up quite so long. I've had the ideas for this story banging around in my head since winter break, and I had to keep them at bay all though final exams and the week between winter break and finals—and now they're out on paper! Or the Internet. Whatever. Anyway, I really liked the idea of Sweeney changing, or at least softening up a little, as a result of being reunited with Johanna. He was so set in his ways of violence and rage that nothing short of a big jolt like that could sway him, even if it would take time for him to adjust. I didn't want to change him back into Benjamin Barker, because I didn't think that would never happen after all he's been through. But maybe Sweeney Todd could learn that not all humans deserve to die (like his daughter, for instance). And poor Mrs. Lovett could get her house by the sea.