Long and Winding Road
It was a stormy Sunday morning in winter. London was tormented by hail and wind, but for two people this went by unnoticed.
Sweeney Todd had escaped from the city; not in the literal sense of the word, though it almost felt like that. Being in his barber shop in London was to him like being locked up in a small cage filled with animalistic human beings. But on that one day in the week he could be sure that the Judge wouldn't come for a shave, Sweeney fled out of London, where he tried to find some peace of mind by wandering through the woods. Usually it didn't work, but now that the storm was not only inside but outside of his head too, some of his hate and anger seemed to be taken away by the wind. And thus not the demon barber, but a very, very lonely man, walked through the forest, each step bringing him further away from the great black pit that he hated so much.
He often wished that he could leave London, or that he hadn't returned at all – being in banishment with the thought that his wife and child were waiting for him at home was better than the living hell he found himself in when he returned and heard of the fate of his family. All that was left from the old days was Mrs. Lovett, but she wasn't of any real use to him. Of course, she was practical, but only in business matters. What Sweeney Todd needed was someone to understand him, someone who knew what it felt like to long desperately for someone who wasn't there. But he was sure such a person didn't exist and that he was stuck in the town of his nightmares, from where he would only really escape if he managed to kill the Judge, the despicable man who had caused all Sweeney Todd's misery. Until that moment there was nothing Sweeney could do, except for practicing his killing skills on other customers and taking long walks in the woods like today, hoping that the horrible memories of his imprisonment would leave him alone.
Sweeney walked on the same road as he always did; though it was more like a path. It went on for dozens and dozens of miles, though it turned often, as if the creators of the road hadn't been sure which direction to go. Although the route of the path was hardly visible because no one used it anymore, to Sweeney it was better than all the streets in London; those were broader and paved but covered with dirt and filth as well.
Walking that seemingly endless road for hours and hours was the only thing in life Sweeney could enjoy a little bit. It was so boring, that his mind automatically fell asleep in some way, and while he walked, he could find the rest he never got in London, even not at night when he couldn't sleep, no matter how hard he tried.
Sweeney didn't know where the road ended, but he promised himself that when he had killed the Judge, that he would just go away, to walk that road until his legs wouldn't be able to carry him any further and he would fall on the ground, to die somewhere alone on that endless road.
To Sweeney it seemed like a good ending, something that suited his life, especially the horrors he had been through the last fifteen years.
The road was long and winding, just like his life, and no one ever walked there. Maybe that was why Sweeney liked it so much.
Suddenly he heard a sound that shouldn't be there. Not only because he hadn't really heard anything for hours, but mostly because the noise was clearly caused by a human being, and in all the times Sweeney had been on that road, he had never met another human before.
His hand reached for the razor that was in the holster on his belt and slowly he stepped forward, toward the direction the sound came from, breaking his usual slow rhythm now that he wanted to know what was disturbing the peacefulness of the quiet road he considered his own.
He passed another turn in the road and the trees weren't blocking his vision anymore. Now he could see a lonely figure that was sitting in the middle of the road. Sweeney walked closer, but the person didn't see him. The barber however, did notice something. The person, who he had presumed to be a man, wasn't a male like he had expected to find there in the wilderness, but a woman. The way her shoulders and almost her entire body were shaking told him that she was crying. For some reason Sweeney immediately felt some sort of connection between the stranger and himself. Apparently they were both in a situation where only tears were some kind of solution. Sweeney wouldn't cry, not anymore, not after all those years; but because of this the sight of the crying woman had a big impact on him.
The woman still didn't see him, but Sweeney suddenly wished that he could see more of her than just her back, especially when he noticed that there was mud on her dress. Apparently she had been out for a long time, maybe even that night when it was still raining.
He felt a strange kind of connection with the woman, and for a few moments he didn't think about his own trouble but wondered what life could have done to that poor woman that was sitting only yards away from him.
He approached her carefully, not knowing exactly why he didn't just ignore her. Maybe because she really looked like she needed a shoulder to cry on… and well, Sweeney could use a companion too.
He walked around her, but she didn't look up; all he saw was her head that was bowed to the ground, and the dark curls of her hair, in which were small leaves, like she had actually slept in the woods.
When he stood right in front of her, she finally looked up at him. Only then Sweeney Todd saw that the woman wasn't a stranger at all.
It turned out that Mrs. Lovett was the one who was sitting there on the road. But she wasn't his landlady like he knew her: she wasn't cheerful or happy; it was obvious that she felt extremely sad. Her eyes were red from crying and the circles around her eyes were even darker than usual.
"Mrs. Lovett," he greeted her, expressionless, not sure of how to act.
She didn't respond, which surprised him: usual she was the one who started a conversation and kept it going, no matter what the circumstances. But now, she bowed her head again, and sobbed out loud once more.
Sweeney was mesmerized now that he saw his strong landlady so upset, and the fact that her sorrow seemed to be even bigger than his own confused him. What had happened to the bright Mrs. Lovett?
Knowing he could at least try to comfort her since she did so much for him, he sat down next to her and clumsily patted her on the back.
But her tears didn't stop streaming; she only cried more.
The sight of her small body moving violently in grief was too much for him to behold. Her tears made him feel almost emotional too, although he had thought that he wouldn't be able to feel anything after all that time.
Suddenly it didn't seem so strange and wrong to embrace her, so he would have someone close to him, even if that person happened to be Mrs. Lovett instead of Lucy Barker. His wife was gone after all, but Mrs. Lovett was there, and she needed comfort, just like him.
And so it happened that he was holding his landlady closely against him only a few seconds later. He caressed her back gently in a way that he hoped was reassuring.
She calmed down after a while, but she kept sitting close to him, and he was somehow thankful of that. They had both been out for a very long time, and only now he noticed how cold he was because of the little bit of warmth that he felt in her body.
Finally she was completely done crying, but he just kept holding her, almost enjoying to be close to someone again.
"Do you feel better?" he asked after a few minutes.
"Yes," she said, her voice unsteady. "Thank you for being here, and for being so kind to me. I'm glad now that I found you here; though if I would've known that I'd run into you, I wouldn't have been here."
He didn't understand that last remark, but she was shivering from the cold and that caught his attention. She was only wearing a dress, and it was chilly in the woods, especially because of the increasing storm and the rain that had started to fall. Sweeney took off his jacket and placed it around her shoulders. She replied by giving him an uncertain smile that was beautiful and sad at the same time.
"Thanks so much Mr. T," she said, "You have no idea how much this means to me."
"You're welcome," he heard himself saying. "I 'm glad that I can do something back after all that you've done for me. It makes me wonder why you, of all people, are here. You're so sad; just look at you, you look like a ghost. There's mud on your dress, like you have been here when it rained last night, and there are even leaves in your hair!"
"So you noticed Mr. T?" she asked, sounding even more hurt than before.
"Yes," he answered, not understanding why she said that.
He stared into her eyes and he read such an incredible sadness in them that he wondered how it could be that he had never noticed it before, and most of all, he had to admit to himself that this was the first time that he actually looked at her. Had she been like this yesterday, or last week, or when he returned to London? He couldn't remember, he had never taken the effort to check.
It must be the weather, he thought broodingly. There was something in the air… some sort of electricity. Sweeney Todd had experienced it many times during his banishment in Australia; and back in England he blamed the lightning again for the strange tension. He didn't even consider that it was caused by something between him and Mrs. Lovett.
"What are you doing here?" he asked her, suddenly feeling very worried about her. He sensed there was something going on; otherwise she wouldn't be so upset. "Mrs. Lovett?"
She didn't reply, and he didn't fail to notice that this was the way he usually reacted to her. Only now he realized how annoying that was, and he almost started to feel guilty about his behaviour towards her in the past.
"Nellie," he said quietly. It was odd to pronounce her first name; he had never done so and he hadn't thought that he ever would. But in this strange situation it somehow seemed right.
"Nellie?" he asked again, and lifted her chin gently. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said, avoiding his gaze, thus telling him she was lying.
"I know there's something going on," he said, wondering why he cared anyway. "What's wrong? You can tell me. "
Finally her eyes met his, and it was like he was looking into a mirror where he saw his own orbs reflected. Both pair of eyes were filled with immense grief.
"You really don't realize it, do you?" she asked, almost inaudible.
"What don't I realize?" he replied, bewildered by her statement.
But his question caused her to burst into tears again.
Unable of enduring one more of her heartbreaking sobs, he pulled her against his chest and rocked her gently in his arms, hoping that she would calm down. She wrapped his arms around him when he did so, causing his coat to fall from her shoulders. He didn't notice that, nor did he mind that she was so close to him. It was good to be so near to someone, to have something real to hold on to instead of old memories; even if the person next to him wasn't his wife. Now he thought about it: especially since his return to London, Mrs. Lovett had been almost like a wife to him. At least, she was: always loving and caring, helpful and supportive, never failing to try to relieve his gloom. So now that she was the one who was so sad, it was even more unexplainable to Sweeney.
"If there's something wrong… you can tell me, Nellie."
Addressing her with her first name was unexpectedly easy; it felt natural in a way, just like it suddenly felt normal to try to help her.
He moved up his hand to remove a curl of his landlady's face that was blown there by a sudden gust of wind. But halfway he stopped the movement, wondering why he would do such a thing. Yet, after a second his hand continued on its own accord, and he gently wiped the hair out of her face, his fingers touching her cheek briefly. She looked straight at him, and it seemed like there was some sort of fire in her eyes. He stared at it, for her gaze was hypnotizing him. He didn't notice that her eyes weren't focused on his orbs anymore, but on other parts of his face.
Only when Sweeney found himself staring at his landlady, he realized how much he had missed it to look at somebody, to hold somebody, to…
Suddenly he felt Mrs. Lovett's lips against his neck. Not at just one place, but she touched his skin repeatedly on different places.
She kissed his neck tenderly and before he fully realized what was going on, her lips were touching his jaw line shyly. She softly said his name while their eyes locked again.
Then her mouth slowly moved towards his, and before he could stop himself, he found himself reaching for her too. But even if he would've been able to control himself, he probably wouldn't have pulled back, for he didn't want it to stop.
Her lips brushed his and when he didn't pull back, she pressed her lips against his. Sweeney found himself completely lost when she caressed his lower lip with her teeth. When he bit her lip softly and she tangled her hands in his hair, he knew it was a lost cause.
After a few seconds the shyness in the kiss was replaced by despair. She clung to him so blindly that they both fell over in the mud, but none of them really noticed that: at that moment, there was nothing except for the two of them in their own world.
Sweeney didn't know why Mrs. Lovett kissed him, but he presumed it was for the same reason that he was kissing her: a need for comfort in the cruel reality. The desperate kiss formed a strange kind of bond between them, and when they let go after a while, suddenly timidly avoiding eye contact, Sweeney knew that things would never be the same again. But it didn't feel like something bad; especially because she didn't look sad anymore. But there was a strange look in her eyes. Happy, but not in the fake way she used to be; real happiness radiated from her.
Yet, she was a mystery to him, but maybe... getting to know her, really know her, wouldn't be such a bad thing. It might make the near future a bit more bearable.
Mrs. Lovett had cured a part of his grief, caused by permanent loneliness during many long and bitter years. And maybe, he would be able to do something in return.
For example, he could try to actually listen to her if she had something to say, and he could help her a bit when she needed support or comfort.
He couldn't tear his gaze away from her, and he kept wondering how it could be that her eyes and lips had gone by so unnoticed before.
Sweeney loved his wife, of course, and he would never stop doing so. But getting to know Mrs. Lovett, trying to find out why she had been so sad, and trying to do something about it… it couldn't be wrong, could it?
No more words were said when they stood up, but there was never much space between them while doing so. Sweeney put his coat around her shoulders again, though she felt nicely warm now. So warm, in fact, that he placed an arm around her just to feel more of that heat that radiated from her.
And to his surprise, she didn't prevent him from pulling her as close as possible when they returned to London on the long and winding road of hope.