Author's note: because my laptop crashed last week and I lost a lot of almost finished fanfiction because of this, all my WIP stories and some planned one shots are on hold for the time being. I'll try to keep posting new one shots, until I know for sure that the documents I lost are really gone and I'll have to start writing it all over again. There is a chance my cousin is able to bring my laptop and even all the data that it contains back to life, so I obviously really hope this will be the case.
It happened on a seemingly normal day. After a lot of effort, Mrs. Lovett had persuaded Mr. Todd to go with her to the market to buy some supplies. And this is how the demon barber found himself walking behind the endlessly chattering woman only half an hour later.
Sweeney cursed under his breath, heavily regretting his decision. As he followed her over the market like some sort of dog, he snarled and glared daggers at anyone who came too close to him for his liking.
And then, without any sort of warning, a small miracle happened. It started to snow. During his exile he could only dream of things like ice and snow, but here it was again, just as unexpected as his banishment to Devil's Island. One tiny snowflake was floating in the air, right in front of his face, as if it was teasing him. Because of the light breeze, the little thing didn't fall to the ground, but kept soaring through the air in front of him.
The snowflake intrigued the barber to such an extent, that his eyes kept following it and he took a few steps into its direction as it was blown away from him. At last the snowflake landed on the cobblestones, but now there was another one floating in front of Sweeney's head, and another one, and another one. Sweeney had hardly been aware of Mrs. Lovett before, but now that he was witnessing snow for the first time in almost sixteen years, he wasn't aware of her at all.
The demon barber of Fleet Street watched the snowflakes around him with wide eyes, as if he was only a small boy, witnessing snow falling for the very first time in his life. In a way he was; Benjamin Barker had seen snow often, but the man that he had become knew nothing except the extreme heat of Devil's Island and the rain that seemed to never cease falling in London.
Together with the snow, memories entered his mind, memories from the time when he had still been a boy, something that he couldn't have recalled if it weren't for the snow that was falling, so much like what the younger version of himself once had seen.
He remembered how he watched the snowflakes fall down in a similar way when he was a child, how he had gone out to play with the girl next door and how they had thrown snowballs at each other. It was so long ago, and now those beautiful moments were gone forever, reduced to nothing but memories.
It took him a few seconds before it dawned on him. Part of those memories weren't lost; in fact, they were still there, right under his nose. The girl next door, his childhood friend… she wasn't his 'little Nellie' anymore, she was Mrs. Lovett now, but she was basically still the same person.
The thought of his landlady and former best friend brought him back to the present. He blinked slowly, finding himself on an unfamiliar street.
He turned around to find his way back, a thick layer of snow now covering the cobblestones, much to his bewilderment. As he was recalling those vague memories from his childhood he hadn't been aware of all the snow that had fallen, let alone of all the time that had passed and the unknown place that his feet had carried him to. Because of the snow and his footprints in it, it was easy for him to find his way back to the point were he recognized the buildings and roads again.
Half an hour later, he found his landlady, the woman who once had been so important to him, standing in the threshold of her pie shop. She looked around, a worried expression written on her face and an air of sadness around her. In the place of his chest that had once contained a beating heart, something stirred as he felt that she was waiting for him.
Sweeney stepped backwards, not because he didn't want her to see him, but because he wanted to quietly observe her for a few moments. She seemed so different now that she wasn't aware of him watching her; she was more like the sweet and innocent girl she used to be.
She looked sad in a way that he had never seen from her before. She had always been a happy young girl, who had grown into a cheerful young woman. What had happened to her to make her so unlike her positive self?
Suddenly, he wished he could see her smile again, just like she had done so often when they were children and teenagers, in those long forgotten days before he met and married Lucy. Yes, he longed to see her laugh again, he wanted her to be happy. He remembered that there had been a time when he had been happy whenever Nellie was happy, and perhaps he would feel a bit better himself if the poor woman didn't look so damn miserable.
As he stared at her, more memories found their way back into his mind. He remembered how they had always been together when they were children, playing outside or in their parents' shops, or going out to dance, or even going to the theater when they were older. He wondered vaguely why he had not recalled this before, why he hadn't ever looked at her properly before, and realized it was because he had totally forgotten about her the first time he had seen Lucy, falling deeply in love with the yellow hair woman. And only now that he was watching the other woman, it seemed so odd that he had never thought of her again, not once during all those years. The two of them had been very happy as well. They had greatly cared for each other, they had loved each other in their own way, and perhaps if he hadn't met Lucy, he would've married the cheerful daughter of his parents' landlord.
In a way, Nellie had changed just as much as he had. It hurt to see her so sad, and as he stared at her, something deep inside of him started to melt, just like the snowflakes that were falling on his hair, his face, his clothes.
Perhaps if he could remind her of that time, the time in the snow, the time that had been so great to him, and hopefully great for her as well, she wouldn't look so down.
Still making sure that she couldn't see him, he kneeled down to grasp a handful of freshly fallen snow and knead it in the right shape; then he quietly stepped away from the wall he had been hiding behind, aimed carefully, and threw the snowball in Nellie's direction.
His technique hadn't exactly improved during all those years in banishment, but his creation of snow hit the baker square in the face. For a moment he considered jumping back to his hiding place, but he didn't want the woman to think she was attacked by a random stranger or that this had happened accidentally, so he kept standing where he was.
Mrs. Lovett wiped the snow from her face, standing motionlessly for a few moments, dumbfounded. Then she looked in the direction the snowball had come from, only then noticing the barber. And then, just like he had hoped she would do, she smiled.
It was not the small smile he had expected to see, but a huge, excited grin that made her entire being seem so much younger and happier. He almost had the idea that she wasn't glad because of the playful banter, meant to distract her from whatever she had been worrying about, but because she had seen him.
"There yah are!" she yelled, still smiling.
Before Mr. Todd even realized what was happening, she had thrown a snowball, which hit him as well, and was laughing loudly.
The corners of Sweeney's lips lifted dangerously and he took another handful of snow to throw back to the woman. This time he missed, causing the baker to laugh again as Sweeney dodged the snow that was thrown back in return.
The other people in the street raised their eyebrows at the behavior of the two adults before quickly leaving that part of the road, afraid to be hit by the snow themselves and giving the barber and the baker all the space they needed.
Mr. Todd noticed quickly that, although he could throw the snow further, Mrs. Lovett was much better at aiming than he was. Within only a few minutes, he felt that he had been hit so many times that he had become some sort of living snowman; Mrs. Lovett however had very little snow on her.
As the barber focused on their little game, he felt at ease for the first time in fifteen years. He had forgotten that joyful games like this even existed.
His current approach wasn't a very successful one however, so he switched tactics. He moved closer to the woman and then kicked some snow in her face to distract her. It was a rather sneaky thing to do, Sweeney had to admit, but he simply couldn't allow Nellie to beat him; she would remind him for the rest of his miserable life if he lost.
The woman wiped the snow out of her face and had to stop throwing snowballs, giving Sweeney the chance to close the distance between them and tackle the baker. As she was now lying on her back in the snow, Sweeney saw a perfect way to defeat her in the game.
Forgetting they were in the middle of Fleet Street and dozens of people were watching them, Sweeney straddled the tiny baker to make sure that she couldn't get away. Then he took a handful of snow and rubbed it in her face.
Mrs. Lovett laughed loudly, much to Sweeney's delight, as she laughed in almost the same way she did so many years ago. And just like then, he found himself enjoying the sound.
"Tha's no' fair," she chuckled as she shook her head, trying once again to get the snow out of her face.
She struggled a bit to break free, but even though it was only a playful attempt, Sweeney found himself leaning over her to pin her arms above her head against the snow-covered stones, making absolute sure she could not get away. Because of this, his face was suddenly very close to Mrs. Lovett's, so close, in fact, that their noses were almost touching. Sweeney stared down at her face, which was wet from the melting snow and flushed from the cold. There was still a bit of snow on her forehead. Droplets of water ran down her face, heading for her eyes, and this clearly bothered her. Since she could do nothing about this herself, he took both of her wrists in one hand and moved the other to her forehead to brush the snow away himself.
The moment he touched her face, he was startled by the contrast of his cold hands and the heat that radiated from her skin. It reminded him of something else that had happened many years ago, in a time when Nellie and him had been younger, before he had met Lucy and before she was Mrs. Lovett. The skin to skin contact brought back a memory, but it was just out of his reach. He did have the odd feeling that something like this had happened before, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
He looked at Mrs. Lovett's face, still right beneath his own, as if the answer to the question that he asked himself was written there. Or rather, her mouth, for that was the part of her face that he was staring intently at. He was strangely fascinated by her parted lips. He could even feel her warm breath against his skin and he quite liked it.
The hand that had wiped the snow away, was still next to her face and, reluctant to pull it away from her, Sweeney moved the hand to cup her right cheek. A strangled sound came from his landlady's lips, but she clearly wasn't objecting to his touch and, surprisingly, neither was he. He kept staring at her lips, which suddenly seemed so familiar, as if he had studied them before, as if he had touched them before.
The vague memory kept nagging him in the back of his mind, making him rather sure that those lips were holding a secret, that they knew an essential piece of information from his past that included Nellie and himself; a memory that was lost to him after he had been rotting away in prison for a seemingly endless amount of time.
But perhaps, if he just…
Slowly, very slowly, he moved his face closer to the baker's, until their noses actually were touching. Even then he moved closer, until their lips brushed lightly. Again, pieces of a moment long ago flashed through his mind. The memory seemed more complete now; Nellie and himself, lying in the snow… kissing?!
Perhaps this image in his head had a strange influence on him, but the entire world around him disappeared. The only things he was still aware of was Nellie's flushed face, closed eyes, and most of all, those slightly parted lips. They were so tempting, as if they held a promise of something new and good. Closing his own eyes and feeling his heart beat rapidly in anticipation, he brushed his lips more urgently against hers.
But before he had the chance to actually kiss the woman, there was a sudden movement and seconds later, he found himself lying on his back in the snow. From the corner of his eyes, he saw that Nellie ran away from him.
The people around him were now openly chuckling in amusement, as if they were enjoying a play in the theatre, but Sweeney was far from amused. Luckily, the men and women around him lost interest when they saw that he wasn't going to hurry after the pie-maker, and they walked away, leaving a bewildered Mr. Todd with his inner turmoil.
Sweeney remained lying in the snow, feeling thoroughly confused. He had almost kissed Nellie Lovett; he had been enjoying the anticipation, he had wanted to feel and taste her – and then she had shoved him off of her and had run away!
After a few more moments of contradicting thoughts, he stood up and headed back for his room, wondering what was wrong with Mrs. Lovett – and with himself. He was the one that had initiated the kiss after all. Perhaps she was just shocked and angry with him, and she had pushed him away because she didn't want him to kiss her. Yes, that made sense to him. Sweeney started to realize how odd and inappropriate his behavior had been. What had he been thinking?
He changed directions and headed for the pie shop, hoping to find Mrs. Lovett there so he could apologize for his actions. The shop, however, was empty, but since Sweeney was feeling worse and worse about what he had done earlier, he had to talk to her and somehow gain her forgiveness at this very moment.
He knocked on the door of the parlor, but got no response. In spite of this, he expected to find Mrs. Lovett behind the door and, assuming she was hiding for him, he quietly opened the door.
The parlor turned out to be empty as well, but from the corner of his eyes, a movement in another room caught his attention. He moved in the direction of the other room, but stood dead in his tracks when he was on the threshold.
For then he saw that it was not just a room that he was looking into, but Mrs. Lovett's bedroom. The woman herself was there as well, totally unaware of his presence since her back was facing him.
At that moment he knew that there were worse things than walking into her personal space without her permission, and that was walking into her personal space when she was undressing. Right under his nose, the baker was taking off her dress, which was soaked from all of the snow that had found its way into the fabric when they were outside.
For a few seconds, the barber couldn't help but stare in awe at the view in front of him. Her body was still covered since she was wearing so many layers of clothing and had only rid herself of her dress, but the parts of her back and legs that he could see now made his heart beat faster. He wished he could just stand there longer to admire her, but she would doubtlessly sense his presence soon and he didn't want the situation to get any worse than it already was.
He stepped back quickly and cleared his throat, thus letting Mrs. Lovett know that he was there and hopefully letting her believe that he hadn't seen her. However, she turned around the moment that he walked back and found him staring at her anyway.
He had expected her to be mad for lurking on the threshold and watching her at that very inappropriate moment, but to his surprise, she didn't seem to be angry at all.
"Mr. T," she said weakly, "wha' are yah doin' 'ere?"
"Well, I…" he couldn't really think of an suitable answer.
Instead, he noticed there was something on her face. It seemed like a bit of water, as if there were still melting snowflakes on her body. But all of the snow was gone from her hair; she was still holding the towel that she had just used to dry herself. When he looked closer, he realized that it wasn't melted snow on her face after all.
"You're crying," he said.
He spoke the words before he thought of the consequences they could have; but instead of angry, like he had expected her to be after he had mentioned something that didn't concern him at all, she looked sad again, sadder than he had ever seen her.
And then, before he even realized what was happening, she lunged forward and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, clinging to him desperately, and buried her face in the crook of his neck. From the way her body shook and the sobs he heard, he understood that she was crying again.
His initial reaction was to push her away, but then he experienced once more that strange sensation, the same one he had felt when they were in the snow together, and he intuitively knew that he just had to keep holding her to keep that wonderful feeling.
The barber patted the woman's back in a way he hoped was reassuring, and tried to find the right words to say, but he came up empty.
As he listened to his landlady's heartbreaking sobs, he wondered why she was so sad. Perhaps it had something to do with what had happened outside only minutes ago? Now that he thought of it, that was the reason why he was here in the first place.
"Mrs. Lovett," he said awkwardly, clearing his throat, "I meant to tell you something. When we were outside, making… ehm, making a fool of ourselves… I didn't mean to do what I almost did. I don't know what was wrong with me. It was highly inappropriate and I apologize for…"
However, at those words, that had supposed to be comforting, the barker's crying got only worse.
"I didn' wan' ta push yah away, but I 'ad ta," she sobbed. "Mr. T, I wanted yah ta kiss me, but those people…"
She looked up to face him and he tried to understand what the women and men she mentioned had to do with their situation. He didn't have the chance to find an answer.
Out of nowhere, Mrs. Lovett closed the distance between their faces and a fraction of a second later, her lips crashed onto his own.
Sweeney tried to back away from her in both disbelief and shock, wanting to get away from the apparent mad woman as soon as he possibly could, but then he remembered something. A memory, seemingly forgotten, but one that had been there all the time; well hidden, but present beneath the surface nonetheless – it was the very memory he had tried to find back by kissing the baker in the first place.
As her hands weaved into his hair and he deepened the kiss, past and present seemed to become one in a moment of terrifying clearness and realization.
All those years ago, in a winter just as cold as this one, Nellie and he had been out in the snow. He had straddled her when she ended up on her back in the snow, they had kissed…
Only months later he had met Lucy, his dear, late wife. He had been blindly in love and had soon totally forgotten about his childhood friend and first love. But still, in the short time that Nellie and he had been in love, in those moments of rather awkward but at the same time pleasant hugs and secret kisses, he had been happy, and even when he didn't know Lucy yet, he had felt the butterflies in his stomach every time he laid his eyes on the auburn-haired girl. He had played music for her, brought flowers to her. The barber remembered well, remembered how he used to love to rub snow in her face, only to lick it off moments later himself…
Sweeney growled into the kiss, the force the memory came back with overwhelming him, just like the way Mrs. Lovett tasted and fit perfectly in his arms, exactly like she had all those years ago. He tasted the salt of her tears, he felt her trembling body, so small against his own, and even though she was not Lucy, he experienced a strange feeling of completeness, as if something that was lost had been returned to him at last.
The despair and hunger of the kiss lessened and instead, they kissed slowly, hands threading into hair and fingers gently caressing skin. To Sweeney it seemed as if he was melting, just like the snow, and Mrs. Lovett was absorbing him. It felt so relaxing and comfortable, that he just let her.
Almost a minute later, the kiss came to its natural end and the baker and the barber found themselves staring into each others eyes, both breathing heavily, an odd mixture of pure happiness and confusion on their faces.
"Yah remembered, didn' yah?" Mrs. Lovett asked once she came to her senses. "Abou' us, all those years ago?"
"I did," he said, now seeing the woman who, in the past few months, hadn't been more than a piece of furniture to him in a totally different light. "Why… why did you never mention that we… used to be together?"
"There was no poin'," she said, the pain in her voice horribly clear. "Yah wouldn' 'ave believed me. Yah forgot me tha day tha' yah met Lucy, and I hadn' expected yah ta ever remember that she wasn't tha only woman yah ever loved. Bu' I never forgot. Wasn't i' obvious?"
Mr. Todd stared at the floor, knowing she was absolutely right. It had been so clear how much she cared for him. All those seemingly unnecessary touches, those apparently unexplainable glances she always cast him, her worry for him and all the effort she did to help him…
"I know that yah loved 'er so much more than yah ever loved me, and that you'll never love me tha way yah loved 'er. You'll probably think that i' was wrong ta kiss me, but no matter what yah think of me, if you don't care or even hate me for what jus' 'appened, I want yah ta know that…"
She stared intently into his eyes and he had no choice but to look back. How well he remembered those eyes of hers, and how often had a younger version of himself stared into the same pools of liquid warmth, wishing he could do so for the rest of his life.
"I never stopped loving yah," she whispered, "and in spite of everything, I pro'bly nevah will."
She stepped away from him, as if she had angered him with those words and feared his reaction, but Sweeney didn't want her to move away. He stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist so she couldn't do anything except lean back against his chest. She didn't really seem to mind, though.
"Why did you stop me from kissing you?" he asked quietly, his mind still processing the things that she had just revealed, things that were so unexpected for him. All those years, and she had never stopped loving him? Those twenty years?! "If you wanted that all this time… why didn't you let me do it?"
"Because of all those people," she sighed sadly. "Didn' yah see them? Neighbors, ol' friends… Yah've changed, Mr. T, bu' Fleet Street di'n't. They remember me an' 'ow I used ta spend all my time with a boy – they remember 'ow we used ta kiss in tha snow. They remember tha name of that boy, an' what 'ad 'appened to 'im. An' some of them… they were there again today. Older, yes, but not stupid. They doubtlessly saw tha resemblance between tha things that 'appened in tha pas' an' what 'appened today."
"Do you… do you think that they know? That they recognized me, that they know who I am, who I used to be?"
"No," Nellie whispered, tears welling in her eyes again, "they know that it 'as ta be someone else, because I would nevah prevent Benjamin Barker from kissing' me."
Sweeney himself didn't even know how it happened exactly, but a few seconds later Nellie and he landed on the bed. He had doubtlessly cause this, finding himself on top of her.
He pinned her hands above her head, like he had done many times in his life, and his hand brushed her face. Some of the melting snowflakes in his hair fell on her face as he was leaned over the baker.
He stared at the watery substance for a few moments and then looked in Nellie's eyes, where he read the unspoken request.
He bent his head and after one moment of hesitation, licked the snow from her face. The baker shivered as he did so, and so did Sweeney; it amazed him that the simple touch could still bring this reaction from him, even after all those years when he had loved another woman.
Instead of kissing her again, he embraced the baker, feeling incredibly grateful to experience such a moment of tenderness and warmth.
"Mr. T," she whispered in his ear, "do yah think… do yah think that we coul' continue where we stopped all those years ago? Before Lucy, I mean?"
There were so many reasons why he should not and could not… reasons that would make him feel just as miserable as he had felt in the past few months.
"Perhaps," he said quietly, pulling just far enough away so he could stare longingly into her eyes, "we could try again."
She smiled at those words, a smile so happy and generous that it didn't seem to belong in that cold, dimly lit room in a snow-covered Fleet Street, a smile that found its way into his heart.
Four words, just four words. It wasn't much. But as Sweeney surrendered himself to another gentle, almost shy kiss and he felt those strange sensations again, along with feelings that he had believed to have died during his years in prison, he knew that it could be enough.