Blade of Madness
Chapter One: Revelations
Summary: The storyline is dramatically altered one night when Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium is broken into and Sweeney Todd's true opinion of his neighbor is revealed. Not Sweenett…yet.
Disclaimer: If I owned Sweeney Todd, neither Sweeney nor Mrs. Lovett would have died. So needless to say, I don't own it.
Pairings: AnthonyJohanna, eventual Sweenett (maybe)
Author's Notes: This is my second Sweeney Todd fic, and my first full-length one. Just a warning: updates will be sporadic and unpredictable (if they exist at all) until I graduate from high school in June. Oh, and in terms of the songs in the musical, this story begins after "God, That's Good" but before "By the Sea."
It was a night like any other on Fleet Street.
Sweeney Todd occasionally wondered why it did not trouble him in the slightest to sit in the barber chair where so many had met their ends. But tonight, the thought did not cross his mind as he reclined, the cold silver of the moon pooling in the face of his friend. It rested in his palm, clean and calm and cool, assuring him that one day its blade would sink into the throat of Judge Turpin. A slow, mirthless smile curled his lips as he imagined it; the brief resistance before the flesh gave, the hot hissing rush of blood, the judge gasping and guttering…
A clatter from downstairs broke his reverie, and Sweeney's expression turned sour. No doubt Mrs. Lovett was cleaning up after a long day in the pie shop, but did she have to be so bloody noisy? Not for the first time, he wondered if he should kill her after Turpin was dead. At first, he had been grateful to her for her help, for returning his razors to him and for disposing of his victims, but recently she had been such a nuisance. She was always making noise, singing or humming or clamoring in the kitchen, and constantly babbling about one thing or another when he was around. And something else: she used any excuse to be near him, and she was oddly clingy, often reaching out to squeeze his shoulder or trying to link her arm through his—she'd even made an attempt to touch her lips to his cheek that morning. What exactly her problem was, he had no idea. But if she didn't cease to be so irritating, it might mean her death after Sweeney had gotten his revenge, it very well might…
The sounds from downstairs distracted him again. He heard men's voices. That was strange; the pie shop should have been closed. More noises, sounding like a scuffle, accompanied by Mrs. Lovett shouting in anger. Were there intruders in the pie shop, then? There was more hollering, clattering, then a resounding thud. Mrs. Lovett's voice came again, the tone very, very different this time. It sounded like…a cry for help?
Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium had been flooded with hungry customers that day, which meant Nellie Lovett herself was exhausted but content. She had already ground the meat (which she had obtained courtesy of Mr. Todd) for tomorrow and placed it in the icehouse, ready to be baked into pies in the morning. All that was left to do was to tidy up the kitchen. She was doing the job alone, as Toby had gone to bed long ago, but she didn't mind being alone with her thoughts for a few moments. As she scrubbed the countertop, her mind wandered upstairs to her neighbor. He was likely stroking his razors and brooding about revenge. She'd have trouble getting meat after Mr. Todd killed the judge and wouldn't feel the need to slit his customers' throats anymore, but she had plenty saved up now. She might even be able to close up the shop, and then she and Mr. Todd could move to the seaside. The notion brought a smile to her face.
The sound of creaking wood not a few feet away caught her attention. Three hulking shadows were clustered at the front door of her shop. Through the window, she saw a dull glint from something clenched in one shadow's meaty fist, and that something was grating heavily against the lock.
Nellie's heart leapt into her throat. Robbers! Fleet Street was not exactly in one of London's safest neighborhoods, and her shop's success made her a target here. Armed with her rolling pin, she could dispatch one or even two robbers, but this would be a challenge. She reached into a drawer and withdrew her weapon, fingers clenched around one handle. She swallowed hard, as if to force her hammering heart back into her chest.
"The shop is closed!" she shouted as brazenly as she could, lifting her rolling pin so the thugs could see it. She hoped that the sight of her weapon would be enough that the would-be robbers would be dissuaded, but not necessarily provoked into a display of bravado by a diminutive cudgel-wielding baker. "Get away!"
No such luck. They laughed at her as they forced the door open and piled into her shop. The one with the crowbar towered over her and was as solid and hulking as his fist had warned he would be. The second was not quite as tall, but just as beefy, and the third one was both the tallest and thinnest of the three. Their faces were cloaked in shadow, contorting their ugly features into misshapen lumps. They stank of smoke and alcohol and the first one leered at her with his thick lips and drunken eyes.
Nellie gripped her rolling pin hard.
"Put down the rollin' pin and just stand to the side, and we won't 'urt you, that's a good girl." The second one's voice was a low rumble, not as slurred as she expected.
"I won't. Get out of me shop!" She raised her weapon above her head. The thugs snickered.
"Feisty lil' slattern, isn't she?" That was the first man, the one with the crowbar, and he sounded much more inebriated than his companion who had already spoken.
"Get out!" She swung the rolling pin at the intruder with the crowbar, slamming it into his shoulder, and tremors from the impact rocked her from wrist to elbow. He yelped and dropped the tool as Nellie attacked again, the paunchy stomach of the second invader bending around the shaft of the rolling pin. She hefted it a third time and the last robber backed away from her. Her arms trembled with fear and exertion as she swung, missing by a hair's breadth, and she realized just a second too late that the two burglars behind her had only been temporarily disabled and surely they would come after her if she didn't turn around and assail them again…
An enormous fist crashed into the small of her back. She reeled, barely able to keep her hold and the rolling pin. It slipped in her damp, sweaty hands. Nellie scrambled to her feet as she felt herself dragged from behind. Panic seized her and she could almost feel the blood charging through her veins as she struggled and kicked and lashed out. Somehow the rolling pin was knocked from her hands.
"That's enough!" the second one bellowed as the man who had been holding the crowbar finally got a firm hold on Nellie's arms.
"Lemme go!" She fought uselessly, and her captor laughed.
"Keep a good strong 'old on 'er, Jerry. We'll take care of the rest." The second man, apparently the ringleader, smirked at her. She felt the uncontrollable urge to spit in his face, and she acted on it.
"Well, I still get me spoils, don't I?" complained Jerry even as his companion shouted in disgust and wiped his eyes.
"Just keep that wench still!" The leader snarled. "Get over 'ere, Bill! Apparently this little harpy's pie shop 'as been turning a fine profit, so let's see 'ow much of this profit we can get our 'ands on, eh?"
"You bastards!" Nellie shouted, straining to extricate her arms from Jerry's ham-like hands as the two other thugs sauntered to the counter and began searching the various drawers for the place where she kept her money. "If me neighbor upstairs finds you 'ere, 'e will kill you for sure!"
All three of them snorted with laughter and the one called Bill spoke for the first time, in a voice layered with drunkenness and sarcasm. "Aye, and 'e's sure to take care of you, isn't 'e?"
"Pretty wench like you," came Jerry's slur from behind her, but there was no irony in his tone, and her flesh crawled when she felt his hot stinking breath on her cheek.
Everything happened very quickly after that. The abrupt, painful solidness of the floor against her back came out of nowhere. The jarring sound of fabric being rent filled her ears, and the air was cold, a warning striking her vulnerable skin.
It was only when she saw the robber Jerry's ugly leering face looming over her that she even knew to scream.
"Mr. Todd! Mr. Todd, help me!"
Sweeney fingered his razor as he slowly descended the stairs. He needed his pie maker to continue hiding his victims, but if Mrs. Lovett was clingy now, he shuddered to think how irritating she would become if he came to her rescue. He would help her only if her life were in danger, he decided. From what he had heard, it was likely whoever had entered the pie shop was beating her in order to subdue her. Well, maybe being bruised and battered would take her down a peg and she would be less obnoxious.
He quietly surveyed the scene from midway down the steps. Two robbers were rooting through the drawers in the pie shop's counter. A third had a struggling Mrs. Lovett on her back on the floor, her dress torn halfway off. None of the intruders seemed to be armed. So his baker would likely be a bit shaken the following day, but still able to make the pies, which was all that mattered.
The barber turned his back on the grim tableau, ignoring Mrs. Lovett's shouts of fear and pain—still occasionally screaming for help, even. Stupid woman, didn't she realize he wasn't going to come to her aid? Sweeney was already upstairs before Mrs. Lovett's attacker had the presence of mind to stifle her yells. A sour expression crossed his face as he sank into the chair. He certainly had nothing good to say about that particular robber's taste.
With the noises mostly absent now, he gazed into the blank glistening countenance of his friend, and his smile returned.
Nellie huddled against the wall, curling herself into the smallest shape possible. She felt oddly detached from her shaking, violated body, the lungs still choked by a foreign stench, the skin ravaged by creeping sensations of revulsion. Maybe there was blood tricking down her thighs, or maybe she was imagining it, the way she'd imagined hearing Mr. Todd's footsteps on the staircase. He rarely slept and she knew it, surely he had heard her scream—why hadn't he come downstairs? Why had he abandoned her?
She forced herself to sit up halfway, vaguely aware of the floorboards scraping her elbows raw. All three invaders were clustered around the counter, grumbling. They wouldn't find her money, she thought with a faint sense of triumph; she kept all of it stored in various hiding spots in her bedroom. As she lifted limp body up more, her quivering fingers brushed something familiar, smooth-textured and hard, that moved slightly away from her as she touched it. Her fallen rolling pin.
Nellie Lovett reached out slowly to clamp her hand around her weapon, and as she stood and steadied herself, it seemed to melt into her palm, so easily lifted, so easily swung.
They thought she was finished. They thought she was done fighting. They never heard her sneaking up from behind.
The rolling pin slammed into Jerry's skull with a satisfying crack. He dropped to the floor like a stone, and the other two jumped, staring at her as if she were a ghost.
"I said, get out!" The words ripped themselves out of her throat as she lost control, wielding a simple rolling pin like a battle-axe, raining blow after blow on the two remaining invaders. Caught off-guard, they could only lift their arms in defense, which she smashed out of her way as she charged at them, a woman possessed by shame turned to rage.
It almost surprised her when she saw them running down the street in front of her and she realized that she had chased them out of the shop. She stood still for a moment, watching them run, barely able to believe what she had just done. As she stepped backward, she glanced over her shoulder and saw the bulky corpse of her assailant lying behind her, and the separation between her consciousness and her body was severed.
The rolling pin fell to the floor and she followed it, her arms wrapped around her own body as if in an embrace. She felt steeped in dirt, horribly compelled to scrub every inch of her skin until she bled.
Nellie covered her face with her hands and wept.
The first thing Sweeney Todd managed to think was: Bloody hell.
When he had heard Mrs. Lovett scream the second time, he had proceeded downstairs again to see if he had been wrong and her life actually was in danger. But instead of seeing his neighbor in mortal danger, he had seen her beating the living daylights out of robbers twice her size using only a rolling pin.
He watched as she chased the thugs out of her shop and then collapsed on the floor, sobbing. Well, what the blazes was wrong with her? She had just expelled three thugs (well, expelled two and killed one) by herself and now she was in a puddle of tears.
He walked all the way down the stairs. He had to see whether or not she was still fit to work.
She gasped and leapt to her feet when she noticed him. "Mr. T!"
Sweeney turned his head to the side, faintly disgusted. "For God's sake, cover yourself up."
Mrs. Lovett wrapped her torn dress around herself. "Sorry, love, I just…wasn't thinkin' about…" She trailed off, wiping the tears from her face. "So you didn't 'ear me cryin' for 'elp, then, but you can figure out what 'appened."
"No. I heard you."
She looked up at him, eyes wide with shock and betrayal. "So…so why didn' you…?"
"What? Come rescue you?" He couldn't resist adding a bit of disbelief to his tone.
"Tell me somethin,' Mrs. Lovett. If I had come to your rescue, how would you have reacted?"
"Well, I'd…I'd 'ave been right grateful!"
"And do you think I'd enjoy you followin' me around gratefully?"
She took a few steps backward, shaking her head in disbelief. "When I told you what 'appened to your wife, you asked me why no one 'elped 'er, and you let the same thing 'appen to me? Because you don't like me bein' grateful to you?"
"Do not compare yourself to Lucy," he snarled.
"I'm not comparin' meself to 'er! I'm just sayin'…"
"I don't want you hangin' all over me. I came down here to see if you were fit to work in the pie shop tomorrow."
Mrs. Lovett tightened her grip on her ripped gown. "So that's it. You wouldn't save me from bein'…attacked, and all you care about is whether or not I can still bake."
Sweeney did not think it necessary to reply. Instead, he turned and walked back up the stairs.
"Mr. Todd!" Now she was clinging to his arm, and starting to cry again. What did she expect from him, love and kisses?
"Get off." He pulled his sleeve from her fingers.
"Mr. Todd!" She called after him again, voice breaking, as he made his way to his barbershop. He did not turn around or even reply, and Mrs. Lovett realized that if she were looking for sympathy, she wouldn't get any from Sweeney Todd.
Nellie sank to the bottom step, chin in hand. She did not feel like tidying up the pie shop. She would much rather tidy herself up, but she was not sure there was enough water in London, in all of England, to wash her clean.
The demon barber of Fleet Street was in an especially foul mood the following day. He slept very little—his bloodlust was all he needed to keep himself awake, and he had learned in prison that sleep was a time of vulnerability and night terrors—so he was not irritated from lack of sleep. But the nighttime hours after Mrs. Lovett went to sleep were the most peaceful, and he could contemplate his revenge uninterrupted. Unfortunately, Mrs. Lovett had not slept any more than Mr. Todd. From the sounds Mr. Todd had heard, his neighbor had taken at least four baths and then been unable to sleep due to either nightmares or distraction. So when the morning came, he again paid a visit to Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium to see if the pies would be baked.
Mrs. Lovett looked horrendous—or at least, more horrendous than usual—but she was already busy, mixing up the dough for the pies with just a touch less than her usual vigor. Her eyes were sunken and ringed, likely from both crying and sleep deprivation, and her wild, frizzy auburn hair was wilder and frizzier than he had ever seen it. She greeted him with a "Morning, Mr. T." and an attempt at a smile.
"I see you're bakin' already. Good."
"I know you need me to be workin' like always today. And, well…anythin' for you, Mr. Todd."
Wordlessly, he made to return to his barbershop.
"Mr. T., wait."
He waited, certain he was not going to like what he was about to hear.
"You know, it 'urts me you didn't come 'elp me when I needed you last night."
He didn't care, so he said nothing. He had developed a habit of meeting this sort of comment from Mrs. Lovett with either silence or indifference, believing that she would be less productive if he hurt her feelings. Then again, maybe she would simply be less annoying. After all, she had just said she would do anything for him, whatever that was supposed to mean.
"You know I care about you, right?"
Sweeney did not like where this was going. He did not like that half-hopeful, half-affectionate look in Mrs. Lovett's eyes.
"I suppose," he said grudgingly.
"No…" She laid down her wooden spoon and paced slowly towards him; he backed up. "I mean…" Typically oblivious to Sweeney's disdain for her, she reached out and laid her hand on his cheek. "I mean, I really do care for you, Mr. Todd."
Her palm was cold and callused. He pushed it away. "What exactly are you trying to say?"
She swallowed hard, mustering courage before speaking. "I'm saying that I love you."
That took him a few seconds to absorb, and it made him flinch when he finally absorbed it. He knew she was clingy, but she was saying she loved him? And he assumed she wanted him to return those feelings…well, the very idea of treating her the same way he had treated Lucy made his stomach turn. All those years ago, when he was still happily married to Lucy, he had often thought of his beautiful, soft-hearted wife as an angel come to Earth. Mrs. Lovett was just another homely little shrew running a struggling shop in the slums of London. She was ten a penny, she was nothing, and she expected him to care about her?
"So you can see why I…"
Sweeney Todd cut his baker off mid-sentence, shoving her against the wall, pinning her arms to her sides. "Are you bloody mad?"
"Well, I thought…" Fear flashed across her enormous eyes. "I thought you might care about me, just a little…"
"Well, I suppose you couldn't have been more wrong. Oh, come now, you aren't goin' to cry now, are you? Really, pet, you should have admitted this to me sooner, so I could have revealed me true feelings to you." He almost snickered. Mocking Mrs. Lovett was much more entertaining than his usual unresponsiveness, and hopefully it would dampen her over-exuberant spirits.
She did look like she was about to cry, but she did not. "So that's really why you didn't 'elp me last night? You don't…care?"
"Just trying to get everythin' out in the open. And while we're on the topic, do you have any more revolting little secrets for me, pet?" He leaned over to whisper in her ear. "Because if you do, and you elect not to tell me now, I could be so disgusted I might just kill you."
Nellie's heart raced. She was thinking, of course, of Lucy Barker, and how she was not dead, but alive and hopelessly mad, wandering the streets and offering herself to any man who passed. Poor Mr. Todd had been through enough; seeing what his wife had become would crush him. How much could a human heart endure? But if she neglected to tell him the truth, he would not hesitate to kill her if he found out later. Of course, he also might kill her if she told him now, but she could only hope he would have the presence of mind to realize he still needed her to wash his bloody shirts and bake his victims into pies.
"Lucy's alive," she whimpered.
"What!?" he growled, shaking her so hard her head snapped as her neck was jolted. "You said she died!"
"No!" she cried in desperation. "I said she took arsenic—I never said she died! But you don't want to know what really 'appened to 'er, Mr. T., it'd break your 'eart!"
"You didn't tell me she was alive. You were jealous, weren't you? Thought you had a chance if I thought Lucy was dead?" He pushed her against the wall again, enjoying the dull, heavy sound her head made when it struck the bricks. She cried out.
"Yes…no! I was thinkin' a bit of meself, but really, love, I did it for you!" Despite her attempts to keep her composure, Sweeney Todd's betrayal last night and fury this morning were too much to handle for a woman so lovelorn, even one as strong as Mrs. Lovett. Pools of tears swelled in her eyes.
Sweeney Todd found that somehow his razor had leapt from its holster into his hand, although he had let go of one of Mrs. Lovett's wrists to catch it. "Jealous," he hissed at her. "Jealous that Lucy had me, that she was ten times the woman you could ever be, that she was twice as beautiful than you could ever dream of bein'!"
"Don't say that! I love you!"
He lashed out at her, razor in hand. Before she could blink, a gash burst open on her sallow face, running from her right temple to her chin, slicing the corner of her mouth. She shrieked, her free hand flying to the cut.
"You wanted to be as beautiful as Lucy? Well, you'll be the ugliest hag in London now!" He gripped her underneath the chin, holding her head still as he went to work with his razor, cutting the left side of her face from cheekbone to jaw, opening two thin, almost-parallel wounds on her forehead, then crossing the first cut to make a narrow X-shape on his latest victim's right cheek. "Now, where is Lucy?" he growled as Mrs. Lovett made futile attempts to wipe the dripping blood out of her eyes.
"I…I dunno. Outside, somewhere, likely not too far away. She likes to roam the streets."
"She what!?" He threw her to the floor, and she twisted to face him, her fear and anger piercing through her new mask of blood.
"She's nothin' but an insane beggar now, only fit for pickin' old bones from the trash and offerin' 'erself to strangers! I told you when you first got back 'ere, she's gone! She was too weak and stupid to survive what 'appened, and between that and the bloody arsenic, she's round the twist! She's not the same Lucy Barker you once knew—she might not even remember you! You don't want to see 'er!" Mrs. Lovett's salty tears slid into the fresh wounds, making them sting and burn and raising her voice from a wild shout to a scream.
"Mum?" Both Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett looked up, startled, as Toby staggered into the room, still groggy from sleep. The grogginess disappeared, though, when he noticed his guardian's face. "Mum, you're bleedin'!" He glared at Sweeney. "What did you do to 'er!?"
"Toby, love, please stay out of this!" Nellie begged him.
Sweeney stormed out of the pie shop, no doubt to search for his erstwhile wife.
Mrs. Lovett sat up slowly, raising herself to Toby's eye level, tilting her head downward so her blood drizzled onto the floor instead of her dress.
"Why'd 'e cut you?"
"Toby, get me a clean cloth, that's a good boy."
He did as he was told. "But why'd 'e cut you, Mum?"
Distantly she wondered why he called her that. She didn't know if it was some odd way of saying "Ma'am," the way he called Mr. Todd "Sir," or maybe he truly thought of her as his mother.
"Well…I…I did somethin' bad, love." She took the cloth from Toby and dipped it in the bucket of fresh water she kept by the counter before pressing it to her face. "Or Mr. Todd thinks it's bad, at least."
"What'd you do?"
"Kept a secret from Mr. T." She hesitated before telling him any more, but surely Mr. Todd would be back soon with Lucy on his arm, and Toby would want to know why the insane beggar woman who he had had to throw out of the pie shop was now to be staying in the upper story. "I told somethin' that made 'im think 'is wife was dead, but really she went barkin' mad. I didn't want 'im to know."
"Why would 'e want to know 'is wife was mad?" Mrs. Lovett had stopped wiping the blood from her cuts, so Toby took the cloth from her hand and awkwardly placed it against his guardian's forehead.
She laughed bitterly. "'Cause 'e loves 'er."
"So…so 'e'll be back, then. With 'is wife."
"More than likely." Nellie moved Toby's hand away from her face. "I think the blood's stopped flowin', mostly."
"It's all right, Mum. When Mr. Todd comes back, 'e won't 'urt you again." In an impulsive gesture of kindness, he reached out and squeezed Mrs. Lovett's hand. "Nothin's gonna harm you, not while I'm around."
She squeezed back, hard. "Thanks, love. But that's really not necessary."
Toby was fairly sure that the strength of Mrs. Lovett's grip negated her last statement. "Nothin's gonna 'arm you, no sir, not while I'm around. Demons are prowlin' everywhere nowadays. I'll send 'em howlin', I don't care, I got ways!"
Even though it hurt, she couldn't help but smile. Of course, there was no way Toby could protect her from Mr. Todd, but really, it was a sweet gesture.
She put her arms around the boy she had come to think of as her son. "I'll say the same to you, Toby, me dear."
He hugged her back, and despite the fact that he had just been attempting to comfort her, she could tell it was the embrace of a lonely little boy in need of a family. Poor Toby. God only knew what he had been through, and at such a young age! So she escaped from her waking nightmare of last night's attack and this morning's disaster by pledging to herself that no matter what Mr. Todd did to her, she would protect Toby. Because for her, it was probably already too late.
"You all right, Mum?" Toby queried as she let go of him.
Nellie sighed, both considering and struggling not to consider the still-smarting wounds on her face, the lingering sensations of weakness and shame from the previous night, and the unforgiving anger of the man she loved. "Well, I can 'onestly say these past two days 'ave been the worst of me 'ole life, so, truth be told, dear, I really don't know."
A/N: I know, I know: I'm so cruel to Mrs. Lovett. She can't seem to get out of my stories without some horrible scars, can she? It seems as though I take my favorite characters, the ones I identify with the most, from certain fandoms and torture them with fics—probably not psychologically healthy, huh? But still, it was fun to write about Mrs. Lovett kicking ass with a rolling pin. Anyway, this will (obviously) be a multi-chapter story, and it will get happier…eventually.