A/N: PLEASE READ (AT LEAST A LITTLE BIT): Alright, so here's the next installment, finally. It's nice and long too, because who knows when I'll get chapter five out. So here's hoping this chapter doesn't suck too bad. I've read it over only a million times, and after doing that to piece of my own work, I begin to notice certain picky details that I'm sure you fine readers won't give two craps about. I get the feeling that my prose was a little rushed here, but maybe that's only my observation. Hopefully.
Now to more important matters that I'd really like to touch on before anyone reads this. First of all, I'd like everyone to notice that this story is told, solely, from the perspectives of the characters. So far, its only been the three main individuals (Turpin, Lovett, Sweeney). I tried really hard to capture the essence of these perspectives and to dive into the subconscious of the character at hand so that I could accurately anticipate their reactions to certain situations.
I don't want anyone to misinterpret these perspectives with my own biases or opinions. Virtually no opinion or attitude expressed in this piece is my own. This is especially important to note in this particular chapter, as I have begun to deal with Lucy's rape. PLEASE keep in mind that I am depicting this occurrence from the point of view of the characters and it is not my intention to take the act of rape lightly, or to justify Judge Turpin's actions (even if he makes an attempt to do so in this chapter). I wasn't sure if this would even be an issue of controversy for my audience, but I thought it would be good to clarify just incase.
On a lighter note, I'd like to refer my readers to some amazing YouTube videos that inspired me to continue this story. The first can be found at /watch?vBL4md6ptP60 and is called 9 Crimes. It showcases a Nellie/ Sweeney/Turpin love triangle in a very artistic and beautiful way and was created by Danno4ever. The second is at /watch?vnYv0Rl9FZks and is called Between Love and Hate by angicuddles. This video is also well edited, but is a bit shorter and is a solely Lovett/Turpin shipping piece. If I could, I'd make these both trailers for my story. (BTW, are there any video editing wizards out there in need of a project just for fun? I'd love to have a trailer for this fic but, quite frankly, I don't have the time and Windows Movie Maker sucks butt. Let me know if you're interested, I'd be very appreciative.)
Okay, I think that's everything. Thanks for reading my digressive rant. As a treat, here's the story you intended to read in the first place.
"Do you think you'd ever marry Mrs. Lovett, sir?"
Toby gazed at the Judge with beaming admiration from his seat across from him in the dimly lit parlor. The older man returned both the question and the expression of the boy with a raised eyebrow and, as he often did when he felt perturbed in a social situation, a shift in his chair.
"And Is Eleanor Lovett your mother?" he queried with a feigned chuckle, attempting to change the direction of their conversation.
"I guess you could say that, yeah," Toby answered, shrugging. "She didn't pop me out on 'er own or nuthin', but she took me in just as if she had."
An uneasy, half-hearted smile crept up on the Judge's face in response to Toby's explanation, and he began searching the surrounding area for any signs of the woman he awaited.
"Any idea of when Mrs. Lovett will be ready, boy?"
Toby shook his head, replying, "No, but I was talkin' to her a moment ago and she seemed nearly done. I'll go check up on 'er."
Judge Turpin was relieved to see the boy disappear up the stairs to his foster mother's room. He wasn't sure how much more inquisition he could endure. It was unfortunate enough, he thought to himself, that Nellie Lovett had a son, but the fact that the boy appeared to be completely enamored with him was almost too much. He had never taken too fondly to children in general, accepting Johanna only because he felt it would be admirable of him to do so in the social eye, and perhaps out of some misplaced sense of obligation. Even then, he had hired nurses to monitor Johanna's behavior and tolerate the nasty childhood quirks. Little girls were fine with him, as long as they were kept a safe distance away and only presented when they were clean and charming. Boys, however, he avoided at all costs. His abhorrence only grew as Johanna got older and he had taken it upon himself to keep their filthy, lecherous claws away from her. Little boys seemed to maintain an aversion to gentility or charm, two traits that would make them much more appealing had they appeared at an earlier age than twenty-one.
Deciding to deter his thoughts, Judge Turpin rose from his chair and began to survey the decoration of the parlor. The wallpaper of choice was slightly floral, appearing to be of the kind that is quite expensive, when it wasn't charred at the very ends like the kind he observed now. Still, he felt that the color went nicely with the rest of the furniture and the overall aura of the room and mentally commended Mrs. Lovett on her fine tastes. He then transferred his attention to the millions of photographs she had resting in every available spot. Half of the photos seemed to depict what he'd assume to be elderly relatives, the other were of Albert and Nellie.
His thoughts began to wander to the rather familiar territory of sexual deviancy. There was no point suppressing these otherwise disturbing ideas, he had decided long ago, like the matter of how Albert was able to make love to Eleanor's petite frame without crushing it beneath his girth. He had always known Madam Lovett to be of the indestructible sort, but a feat such as that was far out of anyone's league that didn't match Albert in physical structure. He could only guess that she had to have been in the dominant position, a form of love-making that most Victorian men laughed at and applied only to those husbands that were kept on leash and chain by their wives. Which, of course, made perfect sense for Albert Lovett, as all the fellow males knew he fell under the aforementioned category. The thought was enough to excite the Judge, causing him to anticipate with great mirth the occasion in which he could literally, and figuratively, put Nellie Lovett in her proper place. The woman needed a firm hand to match her defiance, a challenge he was willing, and eager, to undertake.
"Sorry to keep you watin', sir," a feminine voice behind him apologized, audibly void of any breath.
The Judge turned around to view a woman he nearly didn't recognize. It was only when she lifted the edge of her skirts a good six feet off the ground to adjust her stockings that he could accurately identify her. Nellie Lovett could clean up well, that much he was now sure of. He had actually been hoping she would have made a ridiculous spectacle of herself in an attempt to look nice, and instead resemble something close to a harlot. That would have made the other gentleman especially envious, and the stuck-up ladies that accompanied them turn-up their noses in offense, and out of a suppressed jealousy of their own. Somehow, though, he imagined that she would have no problem leaving her mark on the company of the finest, even if her dress of choice was especially refined and elegant.
"No need to apologize, madam," he assured, taking her gloved hand delicately in his and kissing it sweetly, as he had done before.
She smiled at him most invitingly, waving her fan in front of her face as though to hide a blush.
"You're too kind, sir," she gushed, glancing slightly behind her as she added, "Unlike most gentleman of my acquaintance."
Her current demeanor was beginning to drive him mad. It was like role-playing, a certain type of foreplay he personally preferred over all others. She was acting the proper, well-behaved lady, while he stole mischievous, knowing glances from her that suggested otherwise. It was teasing that he was beginning to enjoy greatly, yet didn't know how much longer he could withstand before she let him take her somewhere private and rip-off her metaphorical and, more importantly, physical disguise. This growing captivation was almost enough to distract him from whoever it was she was referring to when she mentioned "most gentleman", but curiosity got the better of him.
At the top of the stairs behind her, shrouded in shadow as to not be seen, yet still have his presence known, was the abhorrent barber. His sallow, sunken eyes stared menacingly down at the scene before him, particularly into the sockets of The Judge. The glint of his razor blade was the second most defined aspect of his physical presence in the dark, the second being the soul-piercing gaze. The silver shine would periodically disappear beneath the cover of a ratty cloth as he attempted to polish it, sporadically and mindlessly. The immaculate item was obviously not in need of such attention, making the action all the more unsettling.
"Are you ready, my dear?" Turpin asked, momentarily redirecting his attention to her. "I have a coach waiting outside."
"Oh, a coach!" she exclaimed with an abrupt inhale of air. "Blimey, I can't even remember the last time I went anywhere without usin' me two feet."
The Judge placed a hand strategically on the small of her back to guide her out the door, shooting a smug grin over his shoulder towards his audience at the top of stairs. He could almost hear the other man's teeth grind, satisfied with having successfully demonstrated to him that he wasn't intimidated.
The pair exited the shop, Turpin behind Nellie Lovett so as to open her door for her very chivalrously, and to get a good glance at the sway of her bustle as she walked to the carriage. His hand had only just graced the metal handle of the coach door, when bursting out from the pie shop came barber Todd, still wielding the tool of his trade.
This sudden action startled both of them, but more so Nellie, evidently, then the Judge. The look on the other man's face was what Turpin could only describe as crazed, utilizing what little he had of human insight. There seemed to be other emotions swimming beneath the most prevalent, that much he could tell, but he was a bit apathetic towards identifying them.
"Do forgive me, sir," Todd excused hoarsely, approaching Nellie and placing a firm hand on her shoulder opposite him. "I would like a word with my landlady before she departs for the evening."
The Judge sucked his teeth impatiently, eyeing the intruder with an unmistakable air of resentment. Nellie, however, had her back facing the Judge and therefore was able to safely give her accomplice an expression that screamed, "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?"
"Very well," Turpin resigned with reluctance, attempting to appear much taller and physically dominant to Todd. "I suppose after one ward, what's an evening escort among friends?"
Todd feigned amusement at Turpin's sarcasm, but didn't bother to conjure up some sort of sob story to explain his conspiracy with Anthony. He figured there was no point in wasting the effort, and after all, he was certain Mrs. Lovett's role in this charade would win him his defining moment with the Judge. He hastily dragged Nellie by his grip on her shoulder closer to the storefront, far from earshot.
"I intend to follow you," he mentioned to her softly after pausing in the same position, keeping their backs to the coach.
"What?" she exclaimed in a loud whisper, to which he responded with a death glare at her dangerous volume level. "You're barkin' mad! What'sa matter then, you don't trust me?"
"It's been fifteen years…" he uttered through gritted teeth, piercing her eyes with his own. "This may be my last chance. I can't risk it."
Mrs. Lovett reared back from the huddle he had somewhat forced her into, crossing her arms over her chest with a huff.
"I'm not daft," she argued defensively. "and I'm a little disappointed with your lack of faith in me."
"Not daft?" he repeated abrasively. "And what in the bloody hell do you have to be to consent to be alone with the man who raped Lucy?"
"So, you're comin' to protect me, is that what I'm supposed to believe?"
Sweeney opened his mouth as if to refute her, but found himself at a loss for words. His expression seemed to ridicule her for suggesting such a stupid possibility, yet contrasted with an underlying horror of the unexpected realization that it may not have been too far from the truth.
"I hate to interrupt," The Judge called from the vicinity. "But to make good time, we should be leaving soon."
"Almost done here, I assure you!" she responded sweetly to the Judge before whipping around to face Sweeney once more, her face tight with infuriation.
"You stay put, ya' hear me?" she warned, pointing a gloved, silken finger alarmingly close to his face. "You're as stubborn as a bleedin' mule and you're gonna blow the lid off of this for both of us. We've got to do this delicately, yeah?"
Though at first offended by her blatant disrespect, Sweeney withheld retaliation due to their presence in public and the fact that she still resembled some intangible, ethereal deity that he would have felt uncharacteristically remorseful for harming. It was only skin deep, he assured himself. Her usual self, expressed by her constantly blabbering mouth, was compromising her safety from him smacking her right then and there. And as much as he hated to admit it, she had a valid point.
"Fine," he spat, teeth clenched tightly. "Have him here by midnight, sharp. If you don't show I'll assume he had his way with you and go deal with him myself, privately or otherwise."
Mrs. Lovett smirked, tossing her skirts to the side as she turned to make her way back towards the coach.
"Darlin'," she began slyly. "No one has his way with Mrs. Lovett. Mrs. Lovett has her way with them. I'll have him paralyzed and sound asleep in bed before the nights' out, wait and see. Then ya' can come and do what you do best."
Sweeney scoffed, turning on his heel and storming back into the pie shop without a second glance, slamming the door behind him. Nellie, outwardly ignoring her barber's insolence, smiled apologetically at her company as she approached him.
"Rats," she chuckled explanatively, shrugging. "We can't seem to think of a thing to do with 'em."
If the size of the cavernous ballroom wasn't intimidating enough, the blinding lights of the chandelier and thick air that swam in an aura of sickening instability certainly achieved the title. Mirroring it's bulging number of guests, the grand room itself seemed to be drunk and queasy, sauntering and threatening to stumble over in a stupor.
Everyone present wore elaborate Venetian masks, each one depicting a different animal or otherworldly deity. Some were hauntingly beautiful, with feathers and embedded rhinestones that shone in the glow of the candlelight. Others were not so, resembling pigs, wolves, or any other form of demonic creature that appeared as though it could have clawed its way from the depths of hell. The dense crowd engaged in all manifestations of merriment, ranging from dancing, the tamest, to the most taboo, such as touching, drinking in excess, open-mouthed kissing, over-eating, and fondling.
These high class, normally well-behaved citizens reveled guiltlessly in the carnal pleasures of the seven deadly sins from behind the shield of their masks, as if by wearing them they assumed another identity, one that was allowed to indulge in such delights. From behind the disguises they were incognito, and therefore would not have to account the next morning for what happened the night before, after they returned to their respective, proper roles.
Nellie watched the scene unfold with wonder as she and the Judge entered through the large doorway. She couldn't seem to shake the sudden neurotic feelings that overcame her as her eyes wandered around the luxurious pit of mindless immorality. She had been to many evening gatherings before, but all had been held by fellow members of the lower class, individuals that were expected to be morally bankrupt and acted so on a daily basis. There was nothing particularly frightening or unexpected about a coal factory worker stumbling around drunk at the pub, or the strumpets and barmaids allowing themselves to be groped in exchange for a few shillings. The sight of a young heiress, however, who Nellie normally saw sipping tea with her mother on Saturday mornings at the prestigious café, sprawled intoxicated on a the lap of a man with a sneering fox face was enough to make her sick to her stomach. There was something extremely disquieting about the higher class acting like the lower, wearing the faces of hell beasts while doing it, to make matters worse. The entire situation reeked of dangerous unpredictability, and Nellie couldn't help but link the vision before her to the one described by Lucy Barker the night she came home robbed of a soul. As feelings of terror for her own safety began to grow, she turned around towards the entrance doors, as if to leave.
She met the face of Turpin instead, who stood as barrier between her and the only way out. He, not surprisingly, did not seem to share her emotions of intimidation, and so she attempted to hide them beneath the façade she had been using with him all evening and had temporarily discarded in the heat of moment.
"I didn't know you were takin' me to a masked ball!" she exclaimed, unraveling her fan to flush the heat of fear from her cheeks. "I'm goin' to look out of place. Shame on you for not tellin' me."
She tapped his forearm lightly with the closed handle of her fan after giving herself a few good wafts of air, attempting to flirt by playful scolding.
"Ah, but you won't be out of place," he responded slickly, revealing a noticeably sized rectangular box from the inside of his coat. "I've provided accordingly."
She accepted the black gift box, which was wrapped tastefully with a silk ribbon that matched in color. She glanced at him with amused speculation as she unlaced the sable bow, took off the lid and discarded the sheets of tissue. Beneath the concealment of gift wrapping accessories, lay the gorgeous face of what she could only equate to be a raven, manifested into a half-mask. The sockets of the eyes were dotted with miniscule diamonds that shone from the ebony material like stars against the night sky. Slick, charcoal feathers that shone in the firelight, stuck out sharply from both the right and left outer-corners of the eyes.
"Oh, gosh…" she breathed. "It's beautiful. Must a' cost a fortune too, no doubt."
"Not quite," he assured her, linking an arm beneath hers as he produced a mask of his own. Nellie was relieved to see that it was rather reminiscent of Amadeus' Don Giovanni, and did not match Lucy's description from the fateful night, though she didn't completely perish the thought of meeting the same fate and kept her wits about her.
But as she and the Judge strolled casually into the swarm of carefree sinners, her preconceptions and misgivings began to melt away in the heat of the firelight from the aforementioned chandeliers that hung pendulously from the ceiling. The raven mask that was now strapped to her face operated as a shield as well as a costume. She was protected by being a member of the crowd, blending in instead of sticking out like sore thumb, or in the case of Lucy, a fresh piece of meat for the predatorial guests to pounce on and devour. In this case, she was the predator.
It suddenly became apparent that the ball had assumed a different type of dancing game, in which guests were expected to switch partners every two minutes or so, or whenever the music changed to another genre. Giggling ensued as couples and groups split to seek stimulation in the company of someone they didn't know, or simply didn't accompany to the event.
"Ah, pity," The Judge sighed, turning to face the raven on his arm. "It appears our first dance will not be our own."
"No complaints here," she responded, brushing him off superficially. "I was getting' a bit tired of you, anyway."
The Judge, wise to the reemergence of her flirtatious sarcasm, grinned at her mischievously.
"Perhaps we'll see each other again," he offered, detangling his elbow from hers.
"If I don't find someone richer," she retorted, tapping the end of the nose on his mask with the hilt of her fan before sashaying away, being sure to swivel her hips invitingly for his viewing pleasure.
She commended herself on her performance so far, as she navigated through the crowd of anthropomorphic, affluent miscreants. Her acting seemed to have swayed the Judge to the palm of her hand, wherein she could crush or cradle as she saw fit. She knew her accomplice would have had to take pride in her seductive abilities, had he been given the opportunity to witness it first hand. On the whole, though, she was glad she encouraged him not to come. His unstable mental condition was no match for this scene, and she dared not imagine what course of action he'd be tempted to take while submerged in the same company that consumed his beloved Lucy.
These people were fortunate he left his razor at the shop, he commented to himself. Had he been suitably equipped he would have taken the whole lot of them down in a bloodbath, one by one, beginning with the Judge. Wherever he was. The ballroom was so thick with corruption and depravity, he was certain this was the same scene witnessed by poor Lucy on the night of her rape, and no doubt the same people that stood by, laughing.
He had only just entered, identity safe behind a half-mask that made the upper half of his face look like a barren skull. His trademark hair was even slicked back enough so as to appear unidentifiable, and his clothing choice was a high quality suit with a cape. No one would have expected this assumed persona to be concealing the barber of Fleet Street and no one, he assumed, would be sober enough to be so observant.
His eyes scanned the crowd as he made his way over to a nonchalant corner, searching for Mrs. Lovett and Turpin. He had noticed the guests began to engage in a certain form of contra dance, so he didn't attempt to search for one in order to find the other, knowing they could be on opposite sides of the room from one another. His main concern was to observe, after all, or intervene in someway if needed. He was not here to take action or bring matters into his own hands, as tempting as it may have been. In order for this to go smoothly, as Mrs. Lovett had advised, he was forced to leave his vengeance-thirsty friend at home, equipped only with his growing desire to harm and no medium to express it.
"Well, well, look at you…"
Nellie Lovett felt the hairs stick up one by one on the back of her neck, as the all too-familiar voice crooned not far behind her. Beadle Bamford had a way of entering a situation quietly and unexpectedly, so when he made his presence known, it was startling and a bit perturbing to the other party. It was like opening a drawer to find a cockroach crawling all over the nonperishable food items within, spoiling treats with relish and making one feel ill at the sight.
"You're the bell of the ball, you are, Nellie Lovett."
She turned around to face his much shorter figure, getting a good glimpse at his weasely, shifty expression that was revealed as he slipped off his mask, appropriately depicting the pointed face of a rat.
"Bamford, dear," she acknowledged with feigned cordiality, remembering that in present company, displaying a mutual desire for the other individual was the key to control, not attempts at defiance. "You're lookin' quite dashin', as per usual."
The Beadle grinned, revealing the rows of crooked, yellowed teeth that protruded from his receding gum line.
"Not nearly as ravishing as you, my pet," he attested, putting his palm forward so to accept her hand for a kiss.
Nellie conceded, given that no contact would be made between her bare flesh and his crusted lips due to the protection of her glove. She was forced to suppress a small urge to retch in the back of her throat when she felt the pressure of his mouth on her knuckles, and consequently beam graciously at him when he glanced back up at her.
"May I have the honor of this dance with you, my sweet?" Bamford requested contritely, maintaining his low bow.
Once again, Nellie had no other choice but to indulge his wishes enthusiastically, even when they commenced waltzing and the Beadle proved himself to be a terrible dancer. It was somewhat embarrassing, positioned with a man almost half her height who couldn't seem to avoid stepping on her toes or strategically placing his hands in areas that she would have rather he left alone. To make matters worse, he attempted to start conversations with her that were riddled with innuendos and sexual suggestions, to which she had to continuously make up witty retorts that sounded equally as philandering, but that would put a momentary end to his speaking.
This has got to be the longest bloody song in history, she thought to herself, as the orchestra maintained the same melody and she was left with her undesirable partner.
From the corner of her eye, she could see the Judge gallivanting around the floor with a tipsy, twenty-something redhead with a swan face that couldn't seem to stop laughing at whatever it was he was saying, or pressing her supple young form against him. Nellie attempted to make eye contact with her escort in pursuit of a rescue from her current situation, but the Judge was far too entrenched in his own felicity to notice her desperation.
Well, I'm glad one of us is enjoyin' ourselves…
He finally discovered her in the covetous grasp of the Beadle, stumbling oafishly about in a pathetic excuse for waltzing. Having danced with her before, he knew this ridiculous display was caused by the Beadle and not by Nellie Lovett, who suffice to say had extraordinary grace, in lieu of her many other shortcomings. Though her mask did not veil her convincing smile, he could feel her discomfort from the other side of the room, and noticed the way her body flinched whenever the Beadle placed his hand in an uncomfortable spot.
The shriek of the violin commencing a new song queued him into action, and he strode over to the pair purposefully, elbowing heathens out of his way as he did so. Without saying a word or making his presence known before hand, he grappled the side of her waist with his arm and pulled her opposite hand towards him, bringing her into an immediate whirl that took her away from Beadle Bamford and into the sea of shimmering jewels and extravagant fabrics.
"Oh, thank you, sir," Nellie gasped gratefully, as she glided with the skull-faced stranger across the floor. "I don't know how much longer I could have suppressed me vomit…"
He sighed at her open vulgarity, yet couldn't hold back a smirk of amusement from the mutual disgust. She didn't seem to notice, as her mind was clearly pondering other matters. Something about this situation registered as familiar, her face read, she just couldn't seem to pin-point what it stemmed from.
She eyed her new partner for a brief moment, as he returned the gaze, daring her to identify him.
"Mistah T?" she breathed, her eyes growing to a remarkable size.
"What the bloody hell are you doin' here?"
"No more chances, no more risks. One trail and error is one too many." he explained firmly, his attention redirecting to the crowd in hopes of locating the Judge.
"I told you to stay put, ya' bloody wanker." Nellie growled through gritted teeth, to which the masked barber reacted with a look of surprised offense. "And I suppose you've brought your lil' toys as well, have you?"
Sweeney purposefully crunched hard on her toes at the following beat, causing her to yelp unpleasantly and attempt to leap back away from him. He only reeled her back in forcefully, holding her tight to him and peering down at her menacingly as he warned,
"Now's not the time for foolishness, Mrs. Lovett,"
To this, Nellie held her tongue, but more so out of anger towards Sweeney than fear. She also refused to look him directly in the eye, a habit she usually had difficulty abstaining from. He didn't seem to mind the silence or the purposeful indifference as the two continued dancing, weaving through the miles of boozed party-goers who were too wrapped up in their own alcoholic, sensual reverie to notice the blanket of hostile tension that had fallen over this particular couple.
"Why don't ya' trust me?" she demanded to know, breaking the momentary silence between them. Her soft tone was painted with hues of disappointment, outrage, and the kind of desperation that is associated with an emotional aching.
He glanced at her feathered, shimmering face uneasily, quickly diverting his eyes from an inability to meet the raw pain in her expressions, even if a majority was covered by the mask. It wasn't often that he felt remorse for anyone other than his late wife, but lately Nellie had been especially genuine with him and it was beginning to destroy his defenses. There was something about the reality and honesty of her internal suffering that made him slightly regret causing it.
"It isn't about you," he muttered, avoiding her eyes. When he searched his mind for a probable excuse, however, he found nothing. It wasn't really about the Judge; he knew it wouldn't take much for Nellie to get him alone, barber chair or no. It wasn't about impatience; he knew that attempting to gut Turpin in public wouldn't work. He'd be restrained before the blade could even grace the skin.
So why was he here?
He made an effort to promise himself it had nothing to do with the strange, territorial feelings that arose within him when he saw Judge Turpin touch Nellie the way he did back at the shop, or the alarming recalcitrance she had begun to display towards him, as if she no longer felt the need to butter him up so that he wouldn't deny her. He didn't even mull it over thoroughly before making the decisive choice to go to the ball, assuming it had something to do with a predictable need. But now that his back was to the wall and everything was on the line, Sweeney began to realize that his reasoning for being here was not something that he desired to acknowledge.
Once more, the music struck a noticeable chord to signal the beginning of a new dance, interrupting Sweeney's train of thought. Nellie yanked herself away from him with an excess of strength, as he made no attempt to defy her. Instead, he stood there, motionless and limp from his overwhelming thought processes, eyes seeking a rational answer in the floor boards.
"I can take care of this," Nellie whispered sharply. "You shouldn't 'ave come."
She then turned away from him in a huff, too distracted by outrage to notice that the Judge was standing close behind to receive her for the next dance. She collided into his chest, jumping back slightly in surprise. He had placed hands gingerly on her forearms, holding her in a skeleton of an embrace as the two laughed at the incident. The barber could only watch in disgust as the Judge disappeared into the social abyss with Nellie, leaving him, as he typically found himself, alone in a crowd of detestable strangers.
Her first waltz with the Judge was not as unpleasant as Nellie had predicted. When they first assumed the positions and began gliding rhythmically around the floor, she was still too infuriated to think of anything but her prior encounter with Mr. Todd, and how tired she was of being pushed around by his chronic need for dominance. She didn't know where this newfound sense of integrity stemmed from, but she appreciated its presence. She never would have imagined that a simple, harsh word to the barber would be enough to catch him off guard and momentarily prevent any more of his verbal abuse.
But her thoughts began to deter to the moment at hand, as she began to notice her dancing partner was excessively talented, more so than her, and definitely more so than Sweeney. She had never been given the pleasure of waltzing with a member of the higher class, someone who had no doubt been given professional lessons since childhood, but the sensation of it was like wearing an excessively luxurious and expensive frock that she knew had to be worth more than her.
"I notice the Beadle found you," The Judge mentioned, alluding to her first dance of the evening.
"Oh, did you?" she responded, remembering how unobservant he was in the arms of swan-masked young woman.
"He could talk of nothing else. I do apologize if he seemed rather forward. The Beadle's etiquette around the opposite sex leaves something to be desired."
That was for sure. Beadle Bamford had been an acquaintance of hers for most of her life. She was well-versed in his crude attempts at chivalry, and otherwise was not in need of an excusal. But not wanting to explain the tedious details of her many run-ins with the slimy man, she simply replied,
The two continued twirling about in silence, temporarily. Nellie was still too vexed by Todd's out-of-line behavior to make idle, flirtatious chit-chat, though she hoped that the incident wouldn't color the rest of her evening. All-in-all, she was enjoying being immersed in the underworld of the finest, disguised as one of them, dressed in a fine gown and jewelry, being treated like a lady for the first time in fifteen years, even if it was superficial and fleeting. She knew she'd be back where she started from before dawn, covered in a coagulated mixture of flour and blood, dismembering Turpin's body so that her dear, sweet barber and she would not be convicted. But for now she let herself enjoy the pleasures of the dream and tried not to think about the dreaded rooster crow that would thrust her mercilessly back into reality.
"Who in god's name chose the flowers this evening?" Nellie heard Turpin mumble distastefully, eyeing the different arrangements as the two spun around to different corners of the room.
"Had to 'ave been a blind circus monkey with no taste to 'ave put geraniums with dahlias," Nellie quipped with a smirk, pleased to be immersed in a conversation topic of personal interest.
"Not to mention the color choice," Turpin added. "It's offensive enough to mismatch the varieties, but if the hues clash you might as well cancel the entire event. I'm embarrassed for them, really."
"I would have chosen lily's." she commented, confidently. "There's no need for showy flowers at a masquerade, it'll only detract."
"Ah, yes," he responded pensively, eyeing the room with possibility. "How about a calla lily arrangement? Something simple and understated would achieve the desired effect, I think."
"Now you're talkin'."
She and Turpin then shared in an unexpected, genuine chuckle at their floral interchange. Both of them were a little surprised at discovering a mutual interest, particularly of that nature, but were not entirely imposed to relishing in the joy of it. It wasn't often that either one of them got the opportunity to talk flowers with another educated individual.
"You must 'ave picked out that bouquet on your own," Nellie guessed, admiringly, referring to the arrangement her sent her earlier that day, which had gained an entirely new significance for her.
"Of course, my dear. I wouldn't trust the obligation to anyone else." he responded, before pausing a moment to survey her. "Well, except you, I'm beginning to think."
The current song, which was beginning to seem to Nellie Lovett like the most brief of the evening, came to a seemingly spasmodic halt, ceasing the rhythmic flow of their dance and accompanying pleasant conversation. The conductor of the orchestra informed the crowd that there would be a temporary hiatus of music as he and the band took a moment to recharge. The party's response was a communal disappointment in the lack of melodious sound, but not long afterward, the focus was redirected to alcohol and sensual practices.
"Come with me to the parlor," Turpin whispered in Nellie's ear so that she could hear him clearly over the roar of the guests, or so she desperately wanted to think. Perhaps this was the moment in which he requested a sexual favor, what she knew to be the main purpose of this night for him. She began to wish she hadn't of sent Sweeney off yet, as it would have been nice to know he was hiding somewhere in their private getaway, ready to strike before anything carnal could occur. Instead, Nellie acted on impulse and decided to wing it, hoping for the best.
"I'll bring the wine," she offered, winking, as she grabbed an un-open bottle from the refreshment table before following him unsuspectingly towards the solitary retreat, imitating his motion of shedding her mask before entering the intimate space.
"I know what its like…"
The drastic shift in the tone of his voice caught her a bit off guard, making it difficult for her to swallow the very unladylike swig of wine she had helped herself to when his back was turned.
"Beg 'pardon?" she choked, holding a handkerchief to her lips in hopes of hiding the inevitable drops of alcohol that had seeped from her mouth.
He remained with his back to her, facing the parlor's single, colossal bookshelf with a seemingly unadulterated fascination, as if he was searching for a particular title. The response was denied from her for a short period of time, allowing her a moment to notice the way the light from the fireplace glinted off the silver touches of his waves of hair, like coins embedded in dunes of sand.
"…to desire something that couldn't care less for you in return…"
Her eyes shifted around the room to a resting point on the ground, giving her an expression not unlike a guilty suspect who's crimes are beginning to surface to the public eye.
"I don't know wha' ya mean, sir…" she replied, attempting to fake obliviousness.
"And you try everything in your power to prove your love…" he continued to the bookcase, giving the impression that his conversation was being shared with someone other than her. "…but it is all for naught. Nothing you could ever possibly, humanly accomplish will mean anything…because to them, you mean nothing."
Nellie set her glass down on a nearby end-table, proceeding to stand up from the loveseat she had been lounging in and gather her skirts nervously, preparing for her escape from the increasingly uncomfortable conversation.
"It's gettin' late, I really should-"
"I know how you feel about him," he said suddenly, whipping around to face her.
Her efforts halted and she stood frozen in position, avoiding eye contact with him at all costs, gripping the edge of the end-table that housed her abandoned wine glass for support.
"Who…?" she replied with a tone that heavily suggested she already knew the answer.
He sighed, smirking and eliciting a soft chuckle as his posture relaxed.
"As if I couldn't see it in your eyes, or the way you carried yourself, in the way you gaze…every movement betrays you, madam, especially so when you love some one with as much ferocity as you love him…"
"I…um…I-I'm afraid I don't know what-"
His sudden, close proximity to her severed the remainder of her sentence. Her eyes eventually wandered upward to meet his with the same reluctance and spirit of a guilty dog that has been caught chewing his master's slippers. She expected his expression to be riddled with resentment, revealing his knowledge of the plan she and her barber had concocted. She assumed his eyes would be narrowed, his teeth clenched, his nostrils flared. She had anticipated seeing Sweeney in his face, as she had become so adept to looking at a man and seeing nothing but aversion.
Instead, she saw a face ruled by compassion and concern, which contradicted greatly to the tone of his words. His auburn eyes reminded her of Toby's, not solely because they were a similar hue, but because they, too, seemed to possess an unfathomable honesty and sincerity. And, unlike Mr. T, his stare was clearly meant for her. His gaze didn't seem to seep through her, as if she was an apparition and there was something much more interesting on the wall behind her. Judge Turpin was the last man on earth that she would have ever imagined to look at her that way.
"I know," he said softly. "I know what its like."
She narrowed her eyes at him quizzically, wondering what manner of deception this was that he was pulling over on her. Surely there was no earthly way that Judge Turpin, a man with less remorse than she, could be filled with such compassion.
"Who was it, then?" she queried challengingly. "Who were you so infatuated with?"
His lips pursed slightly as his eyes fell downward.
"You're mocking me," he whispered, voice quivering.
"No, no sir…" she responded quickly, having regretted her obvious display of disbelief when it was apparent he was opening the flood gates to a very sensitive subject.
"It was a legitimate question, sir, I assure you."
The Judge didn't answer right way, and instead slunk away from her to an arm chair at the opposite end of the room. From his resting position, he surveyed the blaze of the fire place, the sole source of light in the entire space. His position was slumped forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his head seemingly having a hard time staying afloat with no adequate support.
Nellie, having developed an alarming sense of sympathy for the pathetic specimen before her, eased her way over to the chair opposite him, not yet decided whether she was going to sit down. The usual aura of precariousness that she received around him began to return, but not for the same reasons as before. This lack of trust in his motives stemmed from the unusual amount of pity he was able to elicit from her, as well as the unsettling sense of sincerity that dominated his facial expressions. She knew what he was capable of, what he had been capable of and helped himself to in the past. Of course Sweeney was probably just as dangerous, but she knew he was on her side. Or, at least she was fairly certain.
The Judge, however, was an enigma. She never anticipated him to be this much of a sympathetic figure. It bothered her even more that she seemed to have more than a few things in common with him. Feeling anything other than disgust or contempt for him was terribly wrong, she knew, and had to be some form of betrayal to Mr. Todd.
"Lucy Barker," he uttered hoarsely, interrupting the erratic flow of Nellie's thoughts. "To me, was Aphrodite personified. There was something so angelic, so trusting, so niave, so intangible. You have to understand I only did what I did because of my age, hedonistic as I was. I loved her, but I had to have her, consensually or otherwise. I couldn't let her get the better of me."
Far be it from her to call out anyone for their misdoings, she thought to herself, but she still couldn't push away the fact that he had permanently harmed an otherwise innocent woman that had done him no real harm. What logical force would prevent him from striking again when he felt as though his honor had been compromised?
"I know," she replied softly, studying the intricate designs of the carpet beneath her feet. "I understand. You jus' have to promise me that you aren't thinking' of doin' it again. You can't expect me to stand here feelin' sorry for you and scared for myself at the same time."
His focus shifted from the fire to her, but she failed to return his glance. She appeared particularly vulnerable at that moment, staring fixedly at the floor, her spirals of dark crimson mahogany falling down the crests of her snow-white shoulders. Her usual persona of indestructibility was notably absent, her defenses cast aside.
"I was young," he explained. "Young and foolish. In hindsight, I realize that my action was coarse and unnecessary. I would have much rather obtained her through another means, perhaps one that did not involve force."
He stopped momentarily to observe the flames of the fireplace as they licked against the charred brick.
"I didn't fully understand the weight of consequence my action would have on her. I thought I'd only be teaching her a lesson, making her realize that I wasn't a force to be denied. I don't think it was ever my intention to send her reeling into madness."
She gently sat down in the chair across from him and leaned forward to meet his gaze, mirroring his position of the elbows propped up on the knees.
"I don't mind givin' you the benefit of the doubt. It's not my place to judge a man for his actions," she assured, seeking eye contact.
"No, I suppose not," he sighed in response, meeting her gaze. "That would be my jurisdiction, after all."
She grinned slightly, albeit somewhat against her will. There were many things about Turpin that she had been weary of before accompanying him that evening, mostly having to do with his particular course of action in the past that neither of them wanted to mention in great detail. She never imagined that finding herself charmed by his antics would be any threat at all. Nevertheless, here she found herself, satisfied with his explanative reasoning and free to be beguiled without shame or fear.
"What's it to you about me and Mr. T?" she questioned, attempting to change the subject as she leaned nonchalantly back in her seat.
"I consider it a crime to waste a beautiful woman's affections," he clarified matter-of-factly, to which Nellie Lovett couldn't help but blush.
"Ah, go on…" she smirked, shrugging off his compliment as best she could.
"Though I'm beginning to think that isn't his only infraction…" he mentioned, examining his fingernails unsuspectingly.
To this statement, she couldn't suppress the sudden lump that swelled in her throat, or the look of terror that quickly dominated her features. The Judge knew too much, she decided. The only question that remained was how much he knew, and for how long she could successfully play dumb.
"Though conspiring with that repulsive sailor and disrespecting a lady's feelings don't warrant any legal action that I could reasonably give, I'm sure he's done something that wouldn't sit well in the eyes of London's public," The Judge muttered with a thick layer of contempt, interrupting Nellie's surprise pang of fear and somewhat settling her suspicions that he may have been wise to their schemes.
"What man has not…" she scoffed, easing back into the cushions of her chair with a newfound, yet temporary sense of relief.
His eyes flickered at her in response to the familiar statement, rubbing his stubbled chin pensively as he regarded her.
"Sorry?" he grinned, reveling in the irony and the deliciousness of the situation.
She shifted her line of sight from the fire place to him, in time to observe his amused, and slightly impressed demeanor that served as reaction to her statement. She returned his unexplained delight with a quizzical look and a cock of her eyebrow, accompanied by an uncontrollable half-grin that grew cancerously on the right side of her face.
"I'll be perfectly honest with ya', dear," she began, abandoning all formalities. "You're a particularly strange man."
"You're a particularly strange woman," he retaliated, to which she couldn't argue and instead shrugged, allowing her unwelcome smirk to grow indefinitely.