It was an unusually busy day in the pie shop, something Mrs. Lovett wasn't used to at all, especially not on horrible winter days like those. The customers weren't afraid of the cold however and kept entering her shop; not the one or two she was happy to have before, but dozens of them. Again and again they asked for new pies, and she and Toby were hardly able to serve them as fast as they could eat. For every pie they paid much more than the few miserable pennies she had to accept only months before, so she wasn't complaining. She kept working, even when her arms hurt from carrying the trays with food, and she seemed to be unable to set one more step when it even wasn't noon yet.
Money wasn't the only explanation for her motivation, and was in fact inferior to the real reason why she did so much effort to sell as much pies as she could. The pies needed to be sold, because no matter how bizarre and disgusting it was, they contained the bodies from the men her neighbor Sweeney Todd had murdered. Many women would've faint at the mere thought, but not Mrs. Lovett. Practical as always, yes, but even if the pie making wouldn't earn her a single penny, she would still work with the same stubbornness. It was her adoration and love for Mr. Todd what really kept her going.
For a few seconds she allowed herself to get lost in her daydreams, thus forgetting all around her, and a small smile reached her lips. Oh yes, Mr. Todd. What a man he was. His behavior was impossible, but who would be normal after experiencing what he had been through? Being locked up for fifteen years on false charges, and escaping only to find out both his wife and daughter were lost?
And for her, it was impossible not to love him. The realization he'd never love her back hit her every day again, but as long as she told herself that there was still the smallest change that…
"Hey, you there! Hurry up, will you? I'm hungry!"
"Of course sir," she answered politely, though she rather would send him up to the barber immediately.
She hurried away, desperately looking for Toby, when she noticed that in one minute of inattention three new and hungry customers had arrived.
"Can you work even slower, useless woman?" one of them asked annoyed.
His rudeness startled Mrs. Lovett. People's manners seemed to get worse every single day. Life was hard, very hard for most people, it couldn't be denied, but it was no excuse. She too had been very poor, but she always kept hoping and never showed any signs of anger, rudeness or impoliteness.
But now almost everybody was so easily offended, annoyed so quickly, and were willing to kill for a few pounds. Animals, that was what most of them were becoming. Mr. Todd was right; they all deserve to die.
Perhaps that was the trouble: Sweeney Todd seemed to be on his way to actually achieve that; the amount of human bodies on her basement floor, which were directly 'delivered' there via the chute which led from his shop to her bake house, increased every day and she had a hard time transforming all the bodies into pies. But she did and never complained. If Sweeney Todd wanted her to do the work, then she would. Everything he asked for, she did, and much more. His wish was her command.
Suddenly some of the customers got even more restless than usual and then became very quiet one by one. After the few seconds in which she had to ban Mr. Todd from her mind, she heard it too. Strange noises came from the room above the shop, and immediately she knew what was going on. The customers probably had a hard time explaining the screams which could be heard through the ceiling, and the sound that could be described best as a body that fell on a floor. The men around her were listening silently, suspicion written on their faces. They didn't know what it was, but it couldn't be good.
"Oh no, are those cats fighting again?" Mrs. Lovett lied innocently. "That's the third time this week. Better let's see what's going on."
There hadn't been any cats in the neighborhood since Mrs. Mooney had discovered how well they tasted in pies, but it was the only thing she could think of that moment.
"Toby!" she shouted to her adoptive son. "Bring some ale to all the gentlemen on this table, they get it for free."
The men looked at her with a stupid expression of surprise on their faces, but then cheered, not yet believing their luck, and totally forgot the noise from upstairs. Men – how easy they were to fool. Except for Mr. Todd of course.
She listened for a while, ignoring other customers who demanded their food; and sighed relieved when the noises couldn't be heard anymore. She hurried to Toby and told him he had to manage things alone for a few minutes.
She left her shop and avoided with difficulty the frozen and thus slippery water just before the stairs. She headed towards Mr. Todd's barber shop while making sure there was no one around who could peek into his room; she expected to find something there that shouldn't be seen by others.
She opened the door to the shop only far enough for her to be able to enter, and quickly shut it after she had turned around the paper in the window so it said 'closed' instead of 'open'.
Immediately she saw the cause of the noises she had heard. A body, which obviously had been stabbed numerous times, was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The sight even made Mrs. Lovett feel sick for a few seconds. But she was almost used to it, and what really caught her attention was Mr. Todd, who was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, motionless and expressionless; he was covered with blood.
"Mr. T.," she cried anxious, "are you hurt?"
He didn't react, even not when she was standing right in front of him.
"Is that blood yours?"
Only when she grasped his shoulders to shake him out of his thoughts, he seemed to be slightly aware of what happened around him.
"It isn't mine," was all he said.
"But Mr. T., look at you. It seems like your clothes are dyed red! What happened?"
"He saw me attack him with the razor before I could cut his throat. He jumped out of the chair and tried to fight me… but he lost."
"Of course he did. But Mr. T., this must be cleaned. It isn't noon yet, if someone sees this… we have to clean this bloody mess."
"Yeah," he said blankly, while doing nothing but staring into the distance.
"We need to clean this mess before other customers… Yeah, I know," she sighed. "I have to clean it."
She didn't mind though, for how could she hate to do something that would help the man she loved?
She closed the door carefully behind her and hurried downstairs, jumping over the ice that was on the pavement. A few blocks from her shop was a public pump where she could fill one of her buckets with water. Usually she let Toby do that, but he was busy enough attending all those customers by himself. Ah, well. She had to look after Mr. Todd.
A few minutes later she returned to the barber shop with a bucket, which was filled with almost freezing water. She had to walk carefully to make sure she wouldn't spoil it all, but her body was exhausted from the hard work and she needed to put down the heavy thing as soon as possible. She just kicked open the door and didn't mind to made sure it closed completely after she had entered.
She put the bucket on the ground next to Sweeny Todd. He still was sitting there, exactly the same way as she had left him. For a few seconds she observed him quietly. His eyes were dead and he was covered with blood; even his face was red. Others would say he truly was a madman, a demon, but Mrs. Lovett thought he looked more like an angel of revenge.
Even here she could hear the customers from her shop, and she pitied Toby enough to make haste.
"Mr. T., I have to go back to the shop, we have to hurry. Now help me move that body to the…"
He wasn't listening at all again. She was worried; he was even more absentminded than usual. She hadn't thought it possible, but he proved it.
"Mr. Todd! Wake up! What's wrong with you? Are you ill or something?"
"I'm alright," he said after several seconds, which obviously was a lie. "Do you know what day…?"
His speech faltered.
"Can you finish your question?"
He shook his head.
"Of course not," he muttered, but not to her.
He blinked a few times, and returned to reality.
"We need to clean up this mess," he said to her.
"That's what I told you minutes ago," she said, feeling the slightest hint of annoyance.
Again he gave her a blank look, or what should pass for it; despite all the hate she could read sadness in his eyes, and she just could nothing but pity him, and love him even more than she already did.
He walked towards the corpse and she hurried after him. Together they managed to drag the body into the barber chair so Sweeney could open the trapdoor in the floor so the body fell to the basement.
"Ready for the next customer," he said emotionless after the faint and sickening sound caused by a breaking neck was heard.
"Of course not, silly man. Just look at you, all covered in blood. You need a new shirt, and you need to wash. If people see you like this, you'll be hanged the same day. And we don't want that to happen, do we?"
"Of course not," he repeated.
"Well, what are you waiting for? For the Judge to drop dead without your help? The blood doesn't remove itself, you know."
He didn't even look at her, and inwardly she sighed, again.
"You're impossible Mr. T.. Now, come on, let me help you."
Reluctantly he allowed her to wipe the blood from his face with a handkerchief she found in her pocket. The blood was drying already, so she needed to wet the handkerchief in the bucket first. Because she didn't have any soap and the water was so cold, she had to rub forcefully to make sure all the red strains would disappear from his face. She didn't mind this at all. Touching his face without being killed for it was something she had wanted to do from the moment she recognized him when he returned to her shop.
"What day is it?" he asked out of nowhere.
"It's Thursday, love" she answered when she recovered from the initial shock which was caused by him asking her something instead of the other way around, no matter how useless the question seemed to be.
"No, the date. I need to know the date."
"End of January? Twenty-five, thirty? It's all the same."
"What's the DATE?!"
"Now, Mr. T., what's this? It's just like all the other days, why do you… well alright," she said quickly when she sensed his anger. "Let me think… 29th, no, that was Tuesday, when we went to the market. So yesterday was the 30th… it's the 31st."
"Yes love, what's so special about it?"
He didn't answer and she shrugged, she hadn't really expected him to anyway, he hardly did that.
Finally his face was clean, but his shirt was still looking like… well, like the owner of it had fought a badly bleeding person.
"You need another shirt, Mr. T.. Luckily your pants are still clean at least."
Without bothering to ask him where she could find one, she looked for another shirt in the corner of the room where he kept his few personal belongings. She ignored the images of Lucy and Johanna, which he protected with his life, and found another shirt in the bag he apparently hadn't unpacked since he had returned to his former home.
She picked up the shirt after she had wiped her hands clean on the handkerchief to prevent herself from creating any stains on the clean shirt before Sweeney had even worn it.
One more glance on him told her he wouldn't change the shirt himself, ever. She needed to do it herself.
In her dreams she had taken off his shirt very often, but it had never been like this.
She had always imagined that if she would ever had the possibility, it would be dramatic and sudden, and very romantic – not so casually on his cold attic, next to a pool of blood on the floor. Yet, her fingers trembled when she unbuttoned his shirt and moved his arms so she could take the cloth off. Although she tried hard not to, she couldn't help but stare at his bare chest and she had to suppress the need to reach out and caress him. Perhaps he wouldn't have ever felt it, for he seemed completely lost. But this moment she didn't really mind, because he would probably personally bake her into a pie if he knew what she was thinking, and her flushed cheeks and slightly parted lips probably said enough.
He shivered slightly, but of course it was just because of the cold and not because of her. Mentally she slapped herself for being so silly, thinking it was actually because of her.
At last she found the will to stop staring and threw the dirty shirt to the doorway, so she wouldn't forget it on her way out. She wanted to put on the new shirt and leave before she couldn't control herself any longer, but only then she realized the blood from his unlucky customer had not only reached his shirt, but his torso too.
"Mr. T.," she gasped, almost breathless, "you're…"
She only just could prevent herself from saying 'dirty.'
Cursing her own fantasy and disability to think before saying something when Sweeney Todd was around, she forced herself to hurry. Who knew what the customers, or Toby, would do at her absence, or what if someone saw Mr. Todd like this, still covered in blood?
First she wiped the blood from his front. She had to close her eyes; if she could see how vulnerable and close he was, she would do something she'd regret later very much. Yet her hands shook so much she dropped the handkerchief twice. And still, he was so lost in thought, or maybe just lost, that it didn't catch is attention.
When the blood was removed from his front, she shoved the bucket aside, cleaning the handkerchief – which would probably never be really white again – and sat down behind him. There was hardly any blood on his back, but he couldn't see that, could he? She studied his back. There were hardly any scars, like she had expected there to be; but even if they would've been there, she knew his most gruesome scars were inside; the continual pain was in his mind.
No matter how much she fooled herself by thinking so, she just needed the idea of him being hers; if only for the shortest moment. She placed her hands against his back. Both to her relief and disappointed he didn't react at the delicate touch.
Slowly she traced the line of his shoulders, one hand on each side of his neck, and let them slide down over his arms, savoring the feeling of his muscles in his upper arm beneath her palms.
Again he shuddered, and so did she. She told herself it wasn't because of the coldness from her hands, which were purple between the knuckles because of the almost freezing water with which she had cleaned him.
"January 31st," he whispered again, almost inaudible.
"Yes love," she said, not knowing how it could possibly matter, and pronouncing the word 'love' extra carefully.
He didn't stop shivering. She wanted to prevent him from catching a cold, and looked around for a blanket, but there was nothing available to offer any warmth or comfort.
"Why is it so warm?" He asked suddenly, sounding bit confused.
"It's freezing here, love."
"Is there a fire or something behind me?"
She was incredibly glad he took notice of things again, but upon realizing he somehow thought she was a fire now her body, that radiated with heat because it was so close to his, she wanted him to believe it was from something that wasn't her.
"It's a heater," she said. "It feels nice, doesn't it?"
He even nodded.
"You want to sit closer to it?"
Again he nodded, and her heart made a little jump.
She hesitated briefly before she wrapped her arms around him and pressing her warm upper body against his back.
"How does that feel, Mr. T?" she asked, while trying to keep her voice normal.
"Good," he replied, almost immediately.
To her immense surprise he even placed his hands on her arms that were protecting his torso from the cold. It almost seemed like the freezing water, or maybe the warmth, or perhaps even the incredible amount of blood, chased the darkness away from Sweeney Todd's mind, so he was again like the man he once had been.
It might was because of her own warmth, but it felt like he was melting, slowly but surely.
She almost didn't dare to believe it. But maybe, maybe things could change.
He was so close, and no matter how good it was to hold him, she wanted more to make sure this wasn't a dream like all the others.
She moved her face towards his neck, but when her lips almost caressed his skin, the jingling bell of the door announced the arrival of a customer.
"Good day Mr. Todd, I'm coming for a sh…"
Only then the man saw the half naked barber sitting in the room, and the woman whose arms were wrapped around him and was about to kiss him.
"Ex-excuse me, sir," he mumbled before turning around, clearly embarrassed, and left the shop as quickly as he could.
This saved them both; because the man was in such a hurry he hadn't see the pool of blood which was still on the floor in a dark corner of the room, but Mrs. Lovett couldn't care less. Almost, almost had she kissed him, and maybe she could've got away with it; but she felt that moment was gone forever.
For a few seconds there was a dreadful silence.
"He's gone…" Sweeney muttered.
"Yes, he's gone," she said to his skin, which was still so close. "But it doesn't matter, love."
She almost jumped at the sudden outburst, and quickly made sure there was some distance between them.
But not only the customer was gone, but also the part of Benjamin Barker that seemed to have returned, had disappeared again.
"Get out," he snapped. "GET OUT!"
There was so much hate in his eyes and voice that she didn't dare to disobey. For the first time she actually feared him.
She left the room almost running. She left the blooded shirt where it was, and didn't care for the pool of redness, which was on the floor like spoiled paint. She even didn't make sure the door was totally closed, even now she knew how treacherous doors – and closed/open signs – could be. While she descended the stairs, she looked back to the barber shop, where she saw Sweeney Todd removing the blood on the floor with a devilish energy.
She realized how cruelly fate was playing with her. If she had taken a few extra seconds to close the door after she had got the water, it wouldn't have opened again, and the wind wouldn't have blown the 'closed' sign on the ground. The customer wouldn't have entered, and… she couldn't think of it. The thoughts of loss, of 'what if', of missed changes… and suddenly she understood him.
Her emotions were so strong when for a few minutes there had been a very small change she could have something she so desperately wanted... imagine how he must felt, after something that had truly belonged to him was taken in the most terrible way. They had been so happy; Benjamin and Lucy, and baby Johanna… who was born almost ten months after their…
And them Mrs. Lovett realized what the barber had been rambling about. January 31… how could she have missed it? How often she had thought of that day, how often a different version of it had appeared in her dreams.
She counted quickly and cursed herself for her own ignorance. Today it was exactly twenty years ago that Benjamin had married Lucy. The barber simply couldn't have known it; the only persons he spoke to except for her, were his customers, who where dead before they were able to chat about trivialities such as the weather or the date.
Could the connection between two people really be so strong, that they felt things like that even if they were parted like Benjamin and Lucy?
She sighed sadly; she was sure she would never know. It had been certain that Benjamin Barker would never love her, since the moment he had seen Lucy, so many year ago. And only now that realization dawned upon her.
Slowly she descended the stairs; each step she took was one more out of the life of the man who had once been Benjamin Barker.
It was hard, but somehow it was a relief too. Somehow what she had feared all this time, that he couldn't and wouldn't love her, even when Lucy was gone, had been confirmed now. And no matter how hard that was, she could try to move on now. It wouldn't be easy, but…
"Madam! Watch your…"
It was too late; she had forgotten about the slippery ice on the pavement just after the last step, and now her feet were desperately looking for balance.
She shut her eyes tightly and expected to hit the ground at any moment, but she never did. Instead two arms caught her and when she opened her eyes again she found her head hidden in a brown coat that was soft and warm, and the awareness of the arms which were around her waist to prevent her from falling. She looked up into a pair of magnificently blue eyes.
"I'm sorry madam," the man to whom the eyes, arms and coat belonged to, said. "I didn't mean to..."
He stared into her eyes and seemed to have totally forgotten what he was about to say.
"Did you come here for a pie, sir?" she asked softly when she had recovered from the initial shock.
"Well, actually…" he said slowly. "Pie you say?"
She managed to nod.
"I'd love to have a pie…" he looked around to the front of the shop, and the name that was on it. "Is this your husband's shop?"
"It used to be, but it's mine since he passed away a few years ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, but his eyes smiled, just like hers.
"And you sir, what brings you here?"
"I'm going to visit my mother, she lives near the center. But before I do so, I'm here to buy a wedding ring."
"A wedding ring…" she muttered, unable to hide the disappointment that his statement somehow caused.
"Yes," he said, before looking at her. "No, I mean... Please let me explain. I hardly see my mother, because all she does is trying to persuade me to marry a respectable woman. I am told that they sell nice and cheap rings in this area and that's why I'm here. If I buy a ring and wear it when I visit my mother she'll bother me a few how hours with questions I'll answer as 'truthfully' as possible, and after I have told her we are too busy with our new house and things of which just married couples have to worry about, she'll hopefully leave me alone for a while. You see, madam, the problem is, there are many respectable women. But there are none I love. At least... that's what I thought until a few minutes ago."
He looked quite shyly, and in a part of her heart that had been just as dead as Sweeney Todd's soul, something stirred rather powerfully.
She smiled happier than she had ever done for a very, very long time.
"Would you mind to come in, sir?"
"It would be a pleasure, madam."
He smiled sincerely to her, thus causing her heart to beat wild, and he offered her his arm when he had opened the door for her. He was completely focused on her, and had totally forgotten that he always had declared that love at first sight didn't exist.
Mrs. Lovett felt his positive attention somehow in her entire being. It was something she had never experienced before, and somehow the future didn't seem so depressing anymore. She had never really thought about it, but except for Mr. Todd other men did exist.
When the man's hand accidentally brushed hers she felt an unfamiliar sensation in her entire body. She looked up to find him staring at her. She smiled shyly to him and offered him a place in a quiet corner of her pie shop. She signed to Toby that he had to tend the other customers by himself a little longer, before she sat down herself and started a very enjoyable conversation with the man, while she wondered how it could be she felt so much at ease and so excited at the same time.
Perhaps moving on would be easier than she could have ever thought.