Quick disclaimers: I'm not making any money from this and I don't mean any copyright infringement or anything, but, after all this time, they do belong to me—at least these two do. A big thank you up front to Miss Becky for the quick turnaround on the beta so I could make my self-imposed deadline. Warnings? If you've read this far, you know what to expect. Apologies and other comments at the end of this part.
Anthony didn't realize he was humming as he kneaded the dough until he heard Johanna giggle from somewhere behind him. She sailed into the room, leaned on the counter, and looked up and grinned at him.
"And what's put you in such a good mood this morning, Mr. Hope?"
As always, the first rays of sunlight woke him, but this waking was different from those of the past two weeks, different from any in his life. For a moment, he lay very still, letting the happiness flow through him, thrilling to the knowledge that Todd was his now, as he had been Todd's since the day they'd met. He sent up a quick prayer of thanks for the gift he'd been given, then he opened his eyes and pushed up slightly on one elbow so he could lean forward and touch his lips to the terrible scar on Todd's shoulder.
"I love you, Ben," he whispered.
Todd's head turned, and a smile crept across his face—a smile that Anthony knew had once belonged to Benjamin Barker—but then Todd's eyes snapped open and it was gone.
"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to wake you."
Todd's hand slid up to the spot Anthony had just kissed. He dragged his nails roughly across it and scowled. "It's ugly. I wish I could tear it out of my skin." His voice was low and dark.
"No sir. He was ugly. What he did to you was ugly. But not you. Nothing about you. You're beautiful."
Todd grunted non-committally, but his expression gentled. "Wish I were."
"I always thought you were." He began to move his hand up and down Todd's chest, stroking. "From that very first day on the ship. Even before I knew why. Even before I knew I loved you."
Todd made a quiet sound and rolled onto his back so he could look at Anthony, his eyes widening, as if in surprise.
"Is something wrong, sir?"
"I think...something right."
Anthony understood, and his own eyes widened. "Then...shall I..."
He covered Todd's mouth with his own, letting his lips soften and open and taste, until Todd's eyes slid shut with pleasure and he surged upwards, pushing Anthony onto his back and taking control of the kiss. Anthony went willingly, moaning at the sensation as Todd's arousal brushed against his.
Despite what Todd had asked, Anthony was afraid to touch him, afraid of what a touch might do. It was Todd's hand that slid between them, fingers walking downward until somehow they closed around both their erections, pressing them together. He gasped as Todd's hand began to move, slowly teasing, pulling them tight and then releasing, touch both soft and yet as hard as they were.
"Help me, Anthony," he whispered.
Anthony put his hand over Todd's and they worked together, fingers tangling, then separating, until Anthony was no longer sure whether he was touching Todd or touching himself. He couldn't think—he could only feel, fingers and flesh moving until he groaned with release. He wasn't so far gone in his own pleasure that he didn't realize Todd was jerking helplessly against him with his own orgasm.
And then Todd sank down beside him, trembling, and he came back to his senses. "Sir? Are you..." When there was no answer, Anthony brought his arms up to circle Todd and hold him until he was still again, until he nodded his thanks and pulled away.
"It's been a long time since I woke up...like that." Todd settled back, and then the furrow between his eyes suddenly appeared. "Made a mess of the bed," he grumbled.
Anthony couldn't stop himself. He laughed with the sheer joy of that statement and all it meant, and, after a moment, Todd laughed too.
He'd wanted to stay there, spend the day in bed with Todd, touching him and loving him and trying to elicit another laugh, but Todd shook his head and dismissed him with a quick, "Time enough for that tonight." And so he'd forced himself to get up, clean himself, dress, and go down to start the day's work.
He was snapped back to the present, uncomfortably aware of the result of remembering, and glad his apron and the table hid it. "I...I'm just... It's a...a nice day."
Mrs. Lovett was in the room now, patting him on the shoulder and giving him a wink as she passed by. "I'm bettin' it's 'cause y' didn't sleep on th' floor last night."
He hesitated, then muttered, "No mum. I didn't."
"Guess y' won't be goin' back t' sea now, eh?"
Johanna caught his arm. "Really?"
Anthony nodded. "If it's all right with Mrs. L, I'd like to keep working here and living upstairs with..."
The bell jangled as the door opened, and Todd came in. He froze on the threshold, shifting uneasily, and Anthony realized that all three of them had turned to stare at him. He looked from one to the other and said, "What?" in an irritable tone.
Anthony cleared his throat. "Good morning, sir. Can I get you some tea?"
Todd raised an eyebrow and shut the door behind him, then moved to perch on the edge of the table. "What?" he repeated.
"Anthony's staying here with you!" Johanna all but spun around the shop, ending in front of him and leaning over to kiss his cheek. "It worked!" When Todd only stared uncomprehendingly at her, she put a hand to her mouth and breathed, "It did work, didn't it? That is why Anthony's staying?"
She looked anxious now. "I mean...you did sort everything out, didn't you? And you're together now, and not at odds with each other anymore."
Todd hesitated, glancing quickly toward Anthony, then back, then muttered, "We are."
"I'm so glad!"
"I am too." The words were almost inaudible.
"As am I," Anthony added. "Glad you thought Mr. Todd was asleep when you—"
"I knew he wasn't."
"What?" The word burst from both of them.
Johanna giggled. "I knew Father was just pretending so he wouldn't have to talk to me. That's why I asked you all those things. I knew if you thought he was asleep, you'd be honest, and he'd hear for himself." She turned her attention back to Todd. "Somebody had to do something before you let Anthony leave. I knew how much you love him, and I knew how it would hurt you if you lost him."
"Oh, Father, I do have eyes and a brain. How could I not know? Why do you think I asked you if you wanted me to fall in love with Anthony? Oh, if you could've seen the look on your face..." She giggled again.
"Johanna..." He put his arms around her, pulled her into a tight hug, and kissed the top of her head.
"I want you to be happy, Father."
"I think..." He released Johanna and turned to sit. "I think I'd like that tea now, if you please, Anthony."
"Yes sir." He hurried to the kettle, glad of something to do.
"An' maybe a little somethin' t' eat?" Mrs. Lovett added. "Put some meat on those bones f' y' boy."
Anthony was glad his back was turned to them so they wouldn't see how deeply he was blushing at her words, or at Johanna's delighted laughter.
Todd waited until Mrs. Lovett and Johanna had gone to take the pies down to the oven, then motioned for Anthony to come over to where he sat.
He looked uneasy. "Johanna...what she did... I don't want you to think you're...trapped. That you have to stay here or..."
Anthony put a hand on his shoulder. "I love her for what she did, more than I can say."
Todd gave a sigh of relief. His hand covered Anthony's and tightened briefly. "When you go to the market today, I need you to pick up something for me."
"Of course, sir." He waited expectantly.
"For both of us," he said meaningfully. "For tonight."
"Oh." Anthony felt the color rush to his face again. "Yes sir, I'll...yes sir."
It was worth the embarrassment to hear Todd's soft chuckle.
"Anthony? Somebody t' see ya."
Mrs. Lovett jerked her head toward the door. Todd stood there, looking around the room. Anthony immediately set down the dishes he was carrying and hurried to Todd's side.
"Mr. Todd, sir?"
"I'm going out for a walk. I thought I should let you know, so you won't come up and find me gone and panic."
He wanted to protest, but he knew he'd have done that very thing. "Yes sir. Will you be all right, by yourself?"
Anthony could see the flash of a sharp reply in Todd's eyes, but he only nodded. "I won't be long."
"'ere now." Mrs. Lovett appeared beside them. "Don't y' want Anthony t' go with y'?"
She snorted. "Crowd's dyin' down f' th' night, an' I got Johanna t' help. He's done enough f' one day." She nodded to Anthony. "You take th' rest o' th' night off an' go w' Mr. T."
Anthony looked questioningly at Todd, pleased when he nodded and said, "All right."
"Go on then."
He undid his apron and handed it to Mrs. Lovett, then followed Todd out into the street. "Are you sure you don't mind?"
Todd shook his head once. "I didn't mean to take you away from your work, but I'm always glad of your company."
"Where would you like to go, sir?"
"Doesn't matter. One direction's as good as another."
"That way, then. It's quieter."
They set out, walking in silence for a long time, until Todd suddenly stopped and looked around. "I know where we are. I'd almost forgotten... This way."
They passed through a narrow gate, into a small island of green. Todd dropped onto a bench a little ways in and leaned back, almost instantly lost in darkness, and Anthony settled beside him. They sat there, enjoying a silence which was broken only by the rustling of leaves and the occasional rattle of a carriage on a nearby street.
"We used to come here," Todd said, so softly that Anthony had to lean close to catch the words.
"You and Lucy?"
"I've been thinking about her today. Wondering if I'm abandoning her again."
"You never abandoned her, Ben. It wasn't your choice."
Todd's head turned at the sound of his name. "I know. But still..."
"Don't you think she'd want you to try to be happy again?"
"She wanted everybody to be happy. And..." Anthony heard his breathing go thick. "She's gone. Nothing I can do will bring her back. I've done the only thing I can for her, saving our baby from that monster. And I don't..."
"I don't want to die with her anymore."
He leaned toward Anthony. Anthony put an arm around his shoulders, and they sat there for a long time, each lost in his own thoughts, before Todd pushed himself up with a quiet, "Let's go home."
Anthony saw Connor watching for them from the window almost the minute the pie shop came into view. The man couldn't even wait until they'd crossed the street; he was out the door and coming to meet them halfway the minute he spotted them.
"Mr. Todd, sir. Anthony."
"I wonder, sir, if I could have a word with you." There was something very formal in the way Connor spoke, in the stiffness of his shoulders.
Todd raised an eyebrow. He stopped in the little courtyard, which was now long since deserted, and nodded. "Of course."
"I'll just go in and—"
"You'll stay. Go on."
"Mr. Todd, there is something I want to ask…" Connor cleared his throat and tried again. "I'd like to ask you if…that is, if you would mind if..."
"Spit it out, Davy."
"May I have your permission to court Johanna, sir?"
"Do you love her?"
"Oh yes sir. Very much."
"What does she have to say about this?"
"I don't think she'd have any objections, sir."
"We'll see." Todd stepped to the door and leaned into the shop, where Johanna and Mrs. Lovett were finishing the chores. "Johanna?"
"Join us for a moment."
She hurried out, wiping her hands on her apron. "Yes sir?"
"This boy wants my permission to court you."
She was all wide-eyed innocence. "Anthony? But I thought…"
Connor sputtered, and she giggled.
"Well? Do you want him to court you?"
She bit her lip, as if she were considering. At last she gave them a sweet smile and said, "Yes. On one condition..."
Somehow Anthony managed to from laughing. He waited while Connor and Johanna reached an agreement and sealed it with a chaste kiss, then went inside to help Mrs. Lovett clean up. Eventually, Todd followed him in and took his usual seat.
Mrs. Lovett scowled at him until he moved his elbows and let her wipe down the table. "Where's Johanna?"
"She went for a walk with Davy."
"W'out a chaperone?" she said in mock horror. "Mr. T!"
"I think she's safe enough. Not sure he is, though." He shook his head. "I wonder if he really knows what he's getting into."
"Course 'e does. They're a good match, them two, jus' like th' two o' you." Mrs. Lovett stopped, raised her eyebrows at Anthony, and added, "Looks t' me like y' tired from y' own walk. Why don't you an' th' boy go on up t' bed."
Anthony almost dropped the platter he was holding. "Mrs. Lovett!"
She laughed and swooped by to take it from him. "Don't worry. I'll make sure y' work double hard t'morrow t' make up f' t'night."
"Thank you, Mrs. L." Todd rose. "Anthony."
"I'll… Go on. I'll be right up." He waited until he heard Todd's footsteps on the stairs, then muttered, "You didn't have to say it like that."
"Why? Y' think I don' know what y' got on y' mind right now? It ain't th' shop."
Her expression softened. "I remember wot it w's like t' be young an' in love. Go on upstairs, boy, and enjoy y' night. I'll make sure Johanna stays down 'ere when she gets back."
"Yes mum. Thank you."
Todd was hanging his jacket on the rack when Anthony came in. He stopped just inside the door, suddenly shy. "Sir?"
Todd moved over to light the lamp near the bed, then lowered the wick. He pushed his braces down off his shoulders and began to unbutton his shirt. "Lock the door, Anthony. And be sure the curtains are closed."
Anthony's throat went dry. The bottle of oil in his pocket—which he'd bought from a leering shopkeeper who'd wished him a "happy evening"—suddenly seemed to have tripled in weight.
"Well?" Todd had finished with the buttons on one sleeve and the cuff fell loose about his wrist as he worked on the other. Anthony thought that the sight shouldn't have been so arousing.
"Yes sir." He clicked the lock and fiddled with the curtains, oddly reluctant to face Todd.
"Is something wrong?" He hadn't heard Todd's footsteps, didn't know how near he was until he felt Todd touch his shoulder. "Couldn't you find the oil?"
"No, sir, I found it, but it's..."
Todd remained silent, waiting.
"I didn't think we'd come up here and just...just...start."
"Why not? I'm sure Mrs. Lovett thinks we will. I know you want to."
Anthony turned then. Dim as the light was, he could see something in Todd's expression that made him ask, "Yes, sir, I suppose I do, but do you?"
"Course I do." The answer was too quick, and too devoid of emotion.
"Wouldn't you rather just...talk or something for a while first?"
"I don't know, just...something."
"Because I'm afraid you think that this is something you have to do and you just want to get it over as fast as you can."
"Anthony…" Todd raised a hand, then let it drop. "It's something I need to do. Do you understand?"
He did, and he hated the understanding. "Did he hurt you that badly, sir?" he blurted out.
Todd was silent for so long that Anthony was about to apologize, but then Todd murmured, "I think he managed to hurt me more than anyone else ever did. Not...not so much physically—I'm used to that—but here." He touched his chest quickly. "Knowing what all this had done to you...how I'd had to use you...how...unfair that was, to you."
"But it's over now."
"Surely with time…" His voice trailed away at the look Todd gave him. He whispered, "I thought…"
"What? That just because you've made me feel—made me want—for the first time in years, everything is going to be all right? That because we're together now, all your dreams are going to come true?"
Anthony felt young and ignorant again. "I hoped some of them would be your dreams too, sir."
"I don't have dreams anymore. All I've had for the past fifteen years are nightmares that won't ever go away." There was an intensity in Todd's voice that was almost as bad as his anger. "I wish they would. I wish I could have dreams again, but… They killed my dreams. They had me for fifteen years…almost as long as you've been alive…first Turpin, and then all the others. So many others."
"I know," he whispered.
Todd's eyes closed for a second and he shook his head. "I wish to God you didn't. If I'd known that someday we'd... I'd never have told you so much."
Anthony wasn't sure how to respond, except with a soft, "It doesn't matter. I love you. And I'm not like them. I wouldn't hurt you."
At the words, Anthony's mind suddenly went back to that night on the Bountiful, when Todd had spoken of his years in prison, when he had almost hurt Todd that way, when he had wanted to hurt Todd that way. He could tell from the way Todd ducked his head that he was remembering it too.
"That was different. And you didn't."
"But I wanted to."
"But you didn't."
At the last word, he stepped forward, pulled Anthony's face down to his, and kissed him. Anthony wrapped his arms around Todd, holding him, being kissed and then kissing back, until he felt the shame of the memory wash away from him, kissing him again and again, their bodies so close that Todd couldn't fail to feel his response. So close that he couldn't fail to know that Todd was not responding at all.
"Sir, I want you to enjoy..."
Todd shook his head. "Let it go, son."
"Not tonight." Todd leaned back slightly so that he could look at Anthony. "Do you remember me saying that there wasn't enough soap and water in London to make me feel clean?"
"And you asked if there was anything you could do to help me."
"This is what you can do. Please. Do this for me tonight." He almost smiled. "You're the only one who's ever made it...not unpleasant."
He kissed Todd again and nodded.
They broke apart and Todd held out his hand. Anthony placed the bottle in it, then began to remove his own clothing. When he looked around again, Todd was naked and moving himself into position on the bed. Anthony watched him and thought of all the times he'd been forced to do this, and he thought his heart would break.
"Wait. Don't…not just yet. Let me touch you first. Please."
With a sigh of resignation, Todd shifted onto his side, sliding forward so Anthony could slip in behind him. "It won't change anything."
"It will for me. When I...do what you want me to, I want you to know that it's someone who loves you, not just someone who..."
They didn't speak again for a long time, kissing and exchanging touches, until at last Todd whispered, "I think you're ready now."
More than, but still he hesitated. Todd reached for the bottle, caught one of his hands, and dropped it onto the palm. "You know what to do."
He did—knew what he'd done before—but it didn't seem right, didn't seem to be enough tonight. He slowly opened the bottle and poured some of the liquid into his hand, coating his erection as Todd moved back onto his knees. He lifted the bottle to pour some on Todd, then stopped. Instead, he wet his fingers with the liquid and then, moving slowly, proceeding cautiously, slid one into place. Todd started and gasped.
"What are you doing?"
"Just..." He didn't really know the answer, only that it seemed a thing he should do. He added a second finger, moved them ever so slightly, exploring, until he heard Todd's breath catch. "Did that hurt you?"
Todd's head moved quickly from side to side. Encouraged, he continued what he was doing, feeling the muscles begin to relax and accept him.
It seemed to him that their bodies joined more easily this time than they had before, and he heard Todd give a sigh of relief. He leaned forward to kiss Todd's back, and then he did what Todd had asked him to.
Much later, as he lay beside Todd with his cheek against the scarred shoulder, Todd kissed his forehead and whispered, "Thank you, Anthony."
"Do you feel…better now?"
"I feel cleaner now. Knew I would."
He snuggled closer. "I love you, Ben."
Todd made a quiet sound that might have been, "I know."
"I'm going to tell Davy I'll be back next Monday."
They were lying together in the faint light of almost dawn, Anthony idly sliding his hand up and down Todd's arm. He blinked, wondering why Todd was thinking about Davy and the barber stall now. Besides...
"It's too soon."
"Been almost three weeks. It's time."
"But you're not ready. You're still—"
"Weak?" Todd pulled away, flinging his legs over the side of the bed and stood, all in one motion. "Doesn't take much strength to stand and shave men all day." He reached for his trousers and jerked them on.
Anthony sat up. "But sir..."
Todd spun, eyes flashing. "I'm sick of being useless—doing nothing to earn my keep."
"You don't have to worry about—"
"And don't you have work of your own to do today?" Todd reached for his shirt, buttoning it with quick, angry movements.
"Sir..." Anthony wanted to reach out to Todd and beg forgiveness. He'd thought they were past this sort of thing, that no matter what Todd had said, everything would be all right from now on.
All right. He wondered if he'd ever stop being reminded how very naive he was.
"I'm going out for a walk." Todd didn't bother to stoop to tie his shoes, just shoved his feet into them, grabbed his jacket, and was gone. All Anthony could do was listen to the quick footsteps going down the stairs and hope Todd wouldn't trip over the laces.
"Ain't you lookin' all gloomy this mornin'."
"Sorry, mum." He kept his eyes on the dough, folding, kneading, folding again.
Mrs. Lovett put her hand on top of his. "Wot's wrong? Don' tell me y' two 'ave already 'ad another row."
"He said he was going to go back to working with Davy. I said it was too soon."
Mrs. Lovett reached across the table and gave his ear a hard twist. He looked at her then, blinking with pain and astonishment.
"D' you wan' t' lose th' good thing y' 'ave, y' silly boy?" she snapped.
"No mum, but..."
"Y' gonna smother 'im if y' not careful."
"Smother…? Mr. Todd?"
"'e's not a child. 'e's old enough t' know wot 'e can do and wot 'e can't. If 'e says it's time, then it's time."
"But he's still—"
"No!" She placed her hands on hips and glared at him. "D' y' want t' drive 'im away? Y' not 'is mother, Anthony." A corner of her mouth twitched. "Least I 'ope not, th' noises I 'eard comin' from up there las' night."
He was too shocked to blush. "Did Johanna hear…?"
She did laugh then. "Only teasin' y', love."
She became serious again. "Y' need t' give 'im some room. Don't…'ang over 'im all th' time, always askin' if 'e's okay. 'e might not mind right now, but…"
"He minds," Anthony whispered, remembering.
"Ah. Then let 'im be. 'e'll tell y' if 'e needs 'elp."
"I know 'ow y' feel, boy. 's easy t' think Mr. T's somebody wot needs lookin' after, all 'e's been through, but 'e's a lot stronger than y' think."
"I know." He reached up to rub his ear, hoping she wouldn't notice.
"Y' got flour on y' face now."
"Don' y' forget wot I said."
When Todd came into the shop half an hour later, Anthony quickly poured a mug of hot tea and took it to him. He set the mug on the table and whispered, "I'm sorry."
"I am too, boy." Todd wrapped his hands around the mug. "I am too."
"I'll be back in just a minute, Anthony." Johanna's eyes were sparkling. "Connor's here."
He nodded. As usual, Connor had arrived as the evening crowds were thinning; he and Mrs. Lovett could easily handle the few patrons who were left. Busy with the dishes, he barely noticed her absence, until he glanced out into the courtyard and saw her sitting at one of the tables with Todd and Connor, their heads close together, talking. There was something in Todd's face, something uneasy that the other two didn't seem to be aware of. He moved behind the counter, so he could watch them through the window.
Connor was talking expansively and gesturing to illustrate his point, and Johanna was laughing with him, but Todd... Todd's hands were clenched beneath the table and he was staring past them, into nothingness. Anthony knew that look far too well.
He wanted to join them immediately, go sit by Todd, ask if he were all right, but he stopped himself. Mrs. Lovett was right. Todd would tell him when—if—he needed Anthony's help. And when Connor looked back at Todd, Todd seemed himself again, smiling politely and nodding agreement with whatever proposal was being made. Anthony forced himself to turn away and go back to work.
Todd didn't come back into the shop afterwards. Johanna hurried in, apologizing for being away so long, and adding, "Father's gone on upstairs." She leaned close and whispered, "Davy's had the most wonderful idea for his return."
"Yes, it's...oh..." One of the men still seated had raised his tankard. "I'm sure he'll tell you all about it," she said quickly and hurried away for a refill.
It seemed to take forever for the last patron to finish and leave and for the three of them to clean the dishes and make things ready for the next day, but at last Mrs. Lovett and Johanna bid him goodnight and he was able to hurry up the stairs.
He was dismayed, but somehow not surprised, to find Todd standing at the window, staring out with an expression that made his heart almost stop.
Todd didn't move, didn't look at him, but at least he'd answered. Anthony crossed the room to stand beside him, wanting to touch him, not sure if he should. "I just wondered if..." He sought desperately for some way to ask if Todd were all right without asking. "If you wanted anything else to eat."
"No." Todd's voice was flat, toneless.
Anthony shifted from foot to foot, biting his lip to keep from speaking again, until at last the motion seemed to catch Todd's attention. "What?"
"Nothing. I'll just…"
"He wants me there on Saturday, not Monday."
"Bigger crowds for what he has in mind."
"And what is that, sir?"
Todd finally turned his head toward Anthony and said quietly, "Let's go for a walk."
Anthony knew that, unlike the night before, this was no aimless walk—this one had a destination and a purpose—but he had no idea where they were going until the archway leading to the marketplace loomed up before them. Todd paused briefly, then began to make his way through the deserted stalls to Signor Pirelli's. He stopped in front of the steps and stared up at the darkened stage.
"He wants me to go in back—into the wagon."
"Sir!" Anthony was shocked.
"Not..." Todd shook his head impatiently. "Not for that. He wants me to be in there, with Johanna, so I can make an...an entrance." He almost spat the last word.
And then Anthony understood. "Doesn't he know that there are ghosts in the wagon?"
"Only for me."
"But he should realize..."
"He's not you, Anthony." Todd squared his shoulders and put one foot on the bottom step. "I thought I'd be able to come back—be out here—without…" He took one step, then another, until he was on the stage. He stood there, staring at the wagon, shaking his head slowly. "I didn't think I'd have to go in there." His voice was barely audible.
Anthony hurriedly climbed the stairs to stand beside him. "Couldn't you explain? Surely he'd understand."
"And what would I tell Johanna? That I can't bear to go there because I… No."
He touched Todd's elbow. "Would you like to try to go in there now…with me?"
"You mean let me take you into the back of the wagon and service you?"
The bitterness in Todd's tone made Anthony suddenly realize what he could do—what might be a solution to the problem. "No sir." He let his fingers close around Todd's arm. "Let me take you in."
Todd caught his breath. "Anthony…"
"If you think that would…help," he added. "If you wouldn't…mind."
Todd shook his head, but he didn't protest when Anthony urged him across the open area to the wagon. Anthony parted the curtain, letting the faint light from the outside show him the layout of the wagon, then slipped inside, tugging at Todd's arm.
"Shhh. Let me…"
He dropped the curtain, sending them into total darkness, and pulled Todd over to the spot where he'd seen Turpin leaning against the wall with Todd before him. That seemed like such a very long time ago now. He gently pressed Todd backwards, slowly and deliberately fit his body against Todd's from knee to chest, and kissed him. Kissed him, ran hands up and down his sides, caught his hands and laced their fingers together, broke his mouth free to kiss cheeks and eyes and chin and then lips again.
Anthony hadn't been at all sure that this would work—that he would be able to arouse Todd, especially here—but then he felt a pressure against his hip and Todd moaned his name.
It was awkward work, undoing Todd's trousers without breaking apart, but he managed, dropping to his knees as they opened so that Todd would slip free into his mouth. Todd moaned again as Anthony began to service him, using lips and tongue and more enthusiasm than skill, letting Todd go as deeply as he could stand and moving away only when his eyes began to water, again and again and again. He felt fingers in his hair, on his cheek, and arched up into the touch without breaking the connection.
When Todd gasped and his hips thrust forward, Anthony clung to him, holding him, as he shuddered and spilled, releasing him only when he felt Todd's knees start to buckle against his chest. He caught Todd as he sank down, easing him onto the floor and into his arms.
Todd's shoulders were shaking ever so slightly. Anthony tightened his embrace and forced himself to be silent until at last Todd went still and muttered, "Aren't you going to ask if I'm all right?"
"I'm trying not to, sir." He kissed the top of Todd's head.
"Are you all right?"
"I think I am, now. I think you've sent this ghost away…just like all the others you've sent away. Anthony, I…" He faltered.
"Yes sir." Anthony smiled. "I know."
Word had spread—almost undoubtedly helped along by the Signor himself—that something important was going to happen at Pirelli's today. The crowd was so thick that Anthony thought he and Mrs. Lovett would never be able to find a spot where they would have a good view, but she lowered her head and bossed her way through the crowd, dragging him along with her, elbowing a tall, heavyset man aside and stepping in front of him.
"Here now!" he protested.
She glared up at him. "A man your size shouldn't 'ave no trouble lookin' over th' top of m' head. I ain't closin' m' pie shop f' th' afternoon an' missin' a minute o' this."
Anthony shrugged an apology, and the man calmed and turned his attention back to the stage.
There was a quick and noisy shuffle of anticipation when the curtains parted, but it was only Toby. He gave them a cheeky grin as he hauled out Connor's barber chair and made sure it was in place, then went back for the second one. At that, Anthony heard Todd's name being whispered around him.
The third time Toby came out, he was carrying his drum. He moved to the side of the stage and began to beat a staccato rhythm on it until he was sure he had the crowd's attention, then abruptly stopped and announced loudly, "Signor Pirelli!"
Connor appeared with a swirl of his bright blue cape. He turned from side to side, bowing, accepting the applause, then removed the cape with a flourish and handed it to Toby. He spread his arms wide to silence the crowd.
"Signors, signorinas, mya lovely wifea, Johanna."
Johanna slipped onto the stage, eyes lowered demurely. Connor caught her fingertips and kissed them, then ushered her to the second chair. She perched on the edge and folded her hands in her lap.
"Anda now, returna to us froma his longa journey—Signor Sweeney Todda!"
Anthony cheered as loudly as the others when Todd stepped onto the stage, dressed completely in black clothing that accented the streak of white in his hair. Todd paused, and his eyes swept the crowd until they found Anthony. He smiled and inclined his head and deliberately let the edge of the curtain drop, then moved to the center of the stage and bowed formally to Connor.
To more cheers and applause, Connor seized his shoulders and gave him loud and showy kisses on each cheek. "Welcomea back, Meester Todda."
"A pleasure, signor." Todd's voice was as restrained as Connor's was boisterous.
"Thees isa a very speciala day. Mya lovely bride hasa asked a great favor ofa me." He glanced in her direction once more. She nodded and made a swift gesture, urging him on. After the laughter had subsided, he sighed and went on, "Becausea I lovea her, and I wanta her to bea happy, I havea agreed."
He turned to walk slowly toward his own chair, spinning on his heel to face the audience. "Meester Todda."
"I ama ready!" He dropped into the chair and closed his eyes as if awaiting execution.
Todd looked to Johanna, waited for her nod, then moved behind the chair. He took the cloth from Toby and flipped it around Connor, tucking the ends into the back of his jacket. Eyes dancing with amusement, Toby held up a silver platter. Todd took something from it, then, with a dramatic gesture, raised his hands to show a comb in one and scissors in the other. The crowd roared. And then Todd went to work.
Connor's eyes snapped open at the first cut, and he gave a memorable performance, grimacing as if in pain, pulling his hands from beneath the sheet to wring them, and muttering about what his "sainted mother" would think. Todd worked quickly and quietly, with an economy of motion that left all eyes upon Connor's antics. It seemed only a few moments before he carefully removed the cloth and took a step back. Toby rushed in to sweep up the loose hair.
"Signora." With a wave of his hand, he invited Johanna to examine his work.
Connor slowly raised his hands to his close-cropped hair and moaned theatrically, then turned his head to look at Johanna. She had risen and was circling the chair, examining Connor from all angles, nodding slowly.
"Oh Adolpho, I had no idea you were so handsome!" To everyone's delight, she leaned forward and gave him a brief quick kiss on the lips.
Connor clasped his hands together. "Ah, I weela havea the haircut every day fora such a reward!"
She placed a hand on his shoulder. "Then perhaps we'll talk about that hideous blue suit next."
He looked genuinely stricken. "Hideous?"
"Desperately so, my love."
"Now who's for a shave?" Todd called.
As the crowd began to disperse, except for those queuing up for a shave, Johanna bent to whisper something to Connor, then shook Todd's hand, then looked toward Anthony and Mrs. Lovett. Anthony hurried forward to steady her as she descended from the stage.
"Y'know," Mrs. Lovett muttered as they started back to the pie shop, "as good a show as y' put on, I might jus' 'ave t' let one o' 'em cut my hair sometime."
"As good a show as you put on, you ought to start charging admission."
Johanna linked her arms through theirs and giggled.
Epilogue – Three Months Later
Anthony finished the last bite of cheese, wiped his hands on his trousers, then leaned back against the tree beside Todd. "This has been a good day." He didn't expect a reply, so he wasn't surprised when Todd remained silent. He half-closed his eyes and watched his friends...his family. Toby and Mrs. Lovett were playing some game involving sticks and marbles. Johanna and Connor were walking hand in hand, talking quietly, Connor occasionally bending to steal a quick kiss.
"He'll be asking you for her hand any day now."
Todd grunted. "About time."
"She's going to be a beautiful bride. I know you'll miss having her around—we certainly will—but I think they're going to be very happy together."
"Are you happy, Anthony?"
The question startled him. "Of course I am."
"You don't wish you were Connor? That you had someone like Johanna—someone young and fresh and beautiful."
"I think you're more beautiful than Johanna."
"I have the only person I've ever wanted," Anthony interrupted.
Todd grunted again. "Don't you ever wish you'd gone back to sea? Had a more exciting life than living above a pie shop and being a baker?"
"No sir. Never."
"Are you sure?"
Anthony straightened, his relaxed mood gone. "What is it, sir? Is something wrong? Have I been smothering you again? Is it...are you unhappy with me?"
"No." Todd was staring at the ground between them. He pulled a few blades of grass free and began to twist them between his fingers. "I just..." He was silent a moment, then suddenly muttered, "I do, you know."
"I didn't understand because... It's not like with Lucy. What I… It's not the same. None of it. It's different, but…" He finally looked up, and said the words in a rush. "I do love you."
"I love you too, Ben."
And then Todd gave one of his half smiles and nodded and almost whispered, "You know, maybe I will have dreams again."
Johanna was a beautiful bride.
Theirs was a small, quiet wedding, since Connor and Johanna had supposedly been married since the night of Turpin's death. Johanna wore blue—a pale dress with lace and ribbons, and a wreath of blue flowers in her hair. Todd, obviously uncomfortable in his tight, formal collar, escorted her into the chapel and stood by her side until the moment came when he handed her over to her bridegroom. Then, with a sigh of relief, he stepped back to stand beside Anthony and Mrs. Lovett and Toby.
Mrs. Lovett sniffed and blew her nose throughout the ceremony. Anthony patted her shoulder and Toby rolled his eyes and Todd stared straight ahead, unblinking.
After the ceremony, Johanna hugged each of them in turn, holding on to her father for long moments and whispering something into his ear that made him smile and kiss her cheek And then she and Connor were gone, off for what he had told his customers was "a latea honeymoona".
"What we gonna do now?" Toby asked as their carriage drove away.
"Now?" Mrs. Lovett grinned. "Now we're going to go home and all live happily ever after."
They didn't, of course. Although he mellowed with time, there were always times when Todd would be overtaken by dark moods. But Anthony could always coax him out of them, and they loved each other, and so, when bad times came and bad things happened, they compensated.
I can't apologize enough for taking so long with the last few parts of this story. I promise that if I ever decide to write another long and rambling fanfic, I'll be sure it's finished before I start posting! Oh wait. This one was mostly finished when I started sharing it, but then it made that AU turn and tripled in size and...here we are, finally, done, with a happy ending. I know some of y'all seemed worried that I'd kill Todd, or that it would not end well, but (as I said too often to Evil) I wouldn't have even considered taking it AU if I hadn't known it would not end with Todd bleeding out in the bakehouse.
Many thanks are due to many people. First and foremost, to my friend Miss Becky, for the beta and the encouragement and the visit to Fleet Street. This would never have happened without her. Thank you to everyone who's read this story and sent me such amazing feedback. You folks have made me laugh and cry and think I can really write. Thanks to everyone who read but didn't comment. I hope all of you are happy with the way this turned out. Last, thanks to Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Jamie Campbell Bowers, Jayne Wisener, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Edward Sanders, Laura Michelle Kelly, and everybody else involved in turning my second favorite musical into a film that managed to exceed even my highest expectations.
Although this has driven me crazy with the trying to get parts of it "right", it's mostly been a really fun trip. Thanks again, and happy holidays!