Once again, Mrs. Lovett found herself spending the night by tossing and turning in bed. It was always the thought of him that prevented her from sleeping and she couldn't remember the last time that the memories of him hadn't kept her awake at night.
'Him' was Sweeney Todd of course, the demon barber that she couldn't help but love, in spite of his aggressive nature and heart of stone, and in spite of the fact that many years had passed since the inferno that had cost the Judge and the Beadle their lives, and almost hers as well.
She had recognized the look in Mr. Todd's eyes when he had glanced hatefully at her at the end of that night. He had meant to kill her and she had known. But in that one moment that his focus had faltered, when he had looked at his dead wife accidentally and he had kept staring at her for a few seconds, so much pain written on his features, Mrs. Lovett had taken her chance. She had run for her life, for the miserable bit that it was still worth after her carefully crafted life with the tormented barber had come crashing down on her in only a few minutes.
She hadn't told Sweeney the truth about his wife (she had never lied), but would he have been happier if she had? No, and that is why she hadn't informed him fully of the tragic situation of his dear Lucy. But still, how often she had wondered what would've happened if she…
Nellie sighed. She had had this internal conversation countless times already. It was driving her crazy and sometimes she feared that she would turn into a madwoman such as Lucy Barker had been. Not because of poison, but because of desperate love for a man who wanted to see her dead, who would rather die than care for her, let alone love her. Even though she knew all that so horribly well, she never had stopped loving him, no matter how much it hurt and no matter how much she hated herself for this weakness.
Years of her life she had spent alone, hoping, dreaming, even praying to the God she had ridiculed by baking His creations into pies. She knew so well that she deserved every second of her thoroughly unhappy life and that it was all her own fault, but she could never fully accept her fate.
Nellie closed her eyes, wishing she could just die in her bed at that very moment, wanting to be done with the life that should've ended that one night years ago.
And then, the absolute silence was broken by a knock on the door.
That was strange, very strange. Not because it was in the middle of the night, but because there hadn't knocked anyone on her door as long as she lived in the small, rotting cottage (by the sea, yes, but she had found out soon that the Channel was rather overrated).
For a few seconds, she remained in bed exactly as she was, horrified because there was someone close to her right now. This person wasn't supposed to be there, no matter who it was.
But then she realized that she did not care. What if it was a mad murderer? Hadn't she just wished for her own death minutes ago? And if it was a robber? He could have the few pounds that were left of the fortune that she had managed to grab from the cupboard in the kitchen when she had fled 186 Fleet Street all those years ago. The money didn't mean anything to her, it only reminded her of him. If the old banknotes would be taken from her, she had at least an excuse to stop going to the little town a few miles away to buy some bread and gin every week. She would just stop eating at all, finding another way out of life.
After all the effort she had made to survive ten years ago, she actually welcomed the silent threat on the other side of the decaying door now.
Mrs. Lovett got out of the bed and crossed the distance to the front door within seconds. She opened it calmly, expecting to see a knife or even a gun aimed at her.
But instead… it was him. Him.
The moonlight illuminating his face left no room for doubt. He had aged, yes, wrinkles visible around his eyes and mouth, and his hair wasn't as thick as it used to be. But the white streak was still there, matched somehow now by his once fully black hair, which was graying now, just like hers. His eyes were as black as ever, but with a restlessness that she had never seen there before.
"Eleanor," he whispered, his eyes roaming over her.
Even his voice was the same.
She eyed him as well, intense gaze sweeping over his form, trying to understand what was happening and, most of all, how.
The mentioning of her name however brought her full attention back to him, forcing her questions back into a corner of her mind.
He didn't even use her formal name. Never he had called her with her first name, never. She had always been Mrs. Lovett, always. She didn't even know he was aware of the fact that she had a first name. In fact, he had never given her any indication that he was aware of her in the first place.
And then she realized. This was a dream, it had to be. How often had she desperately longed for him to come back, and how often would she have gladly given anything for something like this to happen; and had it not, for those ten years, three months and six days, always been nothing but a dream?
How pleasantly those dreams started: Mr. Todd would come back to her, somehow having managed to find her, a task that the entire London police corps had been incapable of; not to murder her like he had once intended to but to declare his love for her. But those dreams always ended in a nightmare, in which he would kill her, taking his time in doing so, torturing her until she begged for him to end it. Every time she would wake up again, sweating and screaming, but another part of her being had died.
But this time, she felt strangely in control of the situation. She wasn't going to allow her vivid dreams to terrify her once again.
Without saying a word, her still mostly limb hands reached for the knob and closed the door to end the nightmare and wake up.
"Don't…" he whispered, his eyes pleading. "Please."
He stepped forward, on the threshold, making it impossible for her to shut the door.
This was strange. Very strange. Could it be that a recurring nightmare could change after ten year? Never before he had actually spoken to her in his dreams; and never in his life he had actually said 'please' to her. Had her haunted imagination come up with a new scenario?
She wanted to scold at herself for being so silly, so desperate for the man who was standing in front of her, nothing but the ghost of her own despair that had been tormenting her for the greater part of her life. But it was only a dream. It always was.
"At least let me in."
He reached for her, and when his hand wasn't turned into dust by the moonlight, or faded while it moved, it was clear, even to her, that it was more complicated than a dream or nightmare – more realistic, mostly.
"So it is you."
He just nodded at those words and she laughed joylessly, raising her arms slightly in a gesture of surrender. Now that the situation she had prayed for was there, she had no idea how to deal with it – or rather, how to deal with the man who had returned.
Sweeney opened the door further, allowing himself to walk into the small living room without having to touch her. Mrs. Lovett blinked, only after a few seconds realizing that Mr. Todd wasn't standing right in front of her anymore.
She turned around to face him, seeing how he settled himself into the only armchair she possessed. At that moment, he was at last just as real to her as her unrequited love for him.
"What are you doing here?"
It was not the best way to start a conversation, but she was just too dumbfounded to think. First, she had to know whether he was there to kill her at last or that there was another reason for this bizarre visit.
"Do I need a reason to visit an old friend?" he asked, his eyes scanning the small parlor.
Mrs. Lovett snorted in disbelief, sensing very well that he was not 'just' paying her a visit. She had lived a life in the shadow of society, far away from London and people that were doubtlessly still looking for her. She had not wanted to be found. And yet, he was here.
Just watching him sit there, so strangely calm, brought back all the feelings of love an lust back to a maximum. But she had fooled herself long enough and she knew very well that he wasn't here with a romantic motive.
"Why don't we just get over with it?"
"Get over with what?"
Her heart skipped a beat when those black depths of his eyes were focused on her. Once more she couldn't help but notice that his eyes were less empty than before, but she couldn't see what it was exactly that burned in his gaze.
"Killing me," she said after a moment. "To do what you intended to do ten years ago."
Now it was his turn to snort, followed by a humorless laugh much like the one she hadn't been able to suppress minutes earlier.
"You think I came here to kill you? That I made all this effort to find you, only to end your miserable life?"
He stressed the second last word while casting another long look on the shabby furniture in the room, which almost fell apart with age. And then she sensed that he knew, that he was aware of her desperate feelings for him, that he had been all this time. She had betrayed herself within mere minutes, probably even by the look in her eyes when she had opened the front door.
"No," he said, standing up from the chair, gesturing her to sit down herself. Since her knees were weak with shame and disbelief, she did as he wanted her to.
"No," Sweeney repeated, "I am here for several reasons, but none of them involve hurting you in any way."
He looked at her, but his face betrayed no emotions.
"One of the reasons I'm here," he continued, pacing through the room like he was once again the tormented demon barber, caged in the tonsorial parlor of 186 Fleet Street, "is to apologize."
Mrs. Lovett didn't visibly react and just stared while her mind tried to understand the meaning of the words that were coming from his mouth.
"Eleanor," he said softly, her first name rolling of his tongue so naturally. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have troubled you the way I did all those months. It wasn't right that I tried to kill you after I found out about Lucy."
His speech faltered and Mrs. Lovett looked up to meet his eyes, her heart beating rapidly in confusion. She found Sweeney staring at her, not with a murderous looking his eyes, not even with indifference… but what was it then that she read in those endless pools of blackness?
The intense way that she scrutinized Mr. Todd in the darkness hurt her eyes and she blinked, blocking Sweeney and the moonlight out of her view for a second.
When she looked again, the barber moved quickly towards her. Intuitively, she braced himself for his attack, but instead of bearing a razor, his hands were empty and he collapsed on his knees right in front of her, burying his face in her lap.
"Nellie," he mumbled, his voice mostly muted by the fabric of her nightgown, "Nellie."
Something that sounded like a sob was heard when Sweeney wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled himself closer to her.
The fact that he had used the version of her name that only her late husband and closest relatives had used, was a shock in itself. The rest of his behavior… it was seemingly unexplainable. No matter how often and hard she had dreamed, prayed and longed for a moment like this, she had no idea how to act and didn't even know what to think.
But as Sweeney remained where he was, not demanding her to react, she just kept sitting there, staring at him. After a minute, her hands found their way into his wild locks on their own accord.
Another muffled sob came from his lips as she did so and he tightened the grip around her to an almost painful level, but the woman wasn't aware of the latter.
And then, just as unexpectedly as it had began, Sweeney let go off her, acting as if nothing had happened at all when he went back to pace through the living room. But his eyes were fixed on her now and to her horror, that familiar predator look found its way on his face.
"Is there someone else?" he asked, breaking the heavy silence suddenly.
"Someone else?" she echoed, not knowing what he was talking about. Wasn't it obvious she was all alone here until he had arrived?
"Some one else in your life," he said bitterly. "A man. Was there someone after your husband… after me?"
Nellie stared at him, her eyes wide, wondering if her ears were playing tricks on her but knowing that she had heard correctly what Mr. Todd just said.
"No. There's no one, there never was. Not even Albert, in a way. You were the only one I ever…"
She closed her eyes once more, not wanting to see the shock that was doubtlessly written on the barber's face. But except for a deep intake of air, she sensed nothing that indicated disgust.
"For a long time I wondered why you hadn't told me about Lucy. And all those years… I thought that I knew what loneliness meant during the months that I was in London. But when even you were gone, I felt truly alone and only then I began to… appreciate that you had always been there for me."
He approached her, slower this time, and kneeled down in front of her once more, gently placing his hands on her knees.
"You wanted to take Lucy's place didn't you?" he asked, his voice nothing but a whisper.
"Yes," she said, very quietly. "I didn't want to hurt you even more by telling you the truth about the poison. I didn't want you to know that Lucy's fate was one worse than death. But at the same time, I wanted you to forget about her. I wanted you to move on, with me."
She hadn't thought that she would ever admit this to anyone, let alone to Sweeney himself. It seemed very cruel to tell him this horrible truth at last, but at the same time a heavy burden of guilt was lifted from her shoulders instantly.
The barber didn't verbally react to her words immediately. Instead, he moved his hands upwards, until they were on her upper legs and he rubbed them in a surprisingly soothing way.
"That's the truth, isn't it?" he asked.
She nodded and when she stared into his eyes again, she could at last see what had changed in them. The pain that the horrible events of that hellish night had caused was fading, his endless search for the reason of it completed with an answer that didn't chance the hard truth but at least made it somewhat easier for him. But at the same time, there was still… as if he was still looking for something.
Sweeney took her hand carefully, as if he feared that she would refuse the gesture, and caressed it lovingly when she didn't pull back.
"I was alone," he continued, "completely alone. I thought a lot about Lucy, and about you. I began to see that Benjamin Barker and the person he has become have nothing in common. Even if Lucy would've been her old self, she probably wouldn't have recognized me, let alone loved me like she used to do. She wouldn't have even accept me. But you, Nellie, you did."
He moved her hand towards his mouth and brushed his lips against her skin, causing her to gasp for air. Because of this, he immediately he let go off her hand, thinking he had crossed the line.
Mrs. Lovett surprised both of them however by taking his hand in her own and leaned forward to kiss his knuckles lightly. When his breath became irregular but he didn't pull his hand away, she was encouraged enough to take his index finger into her mouth. Their eyes locked as they did so, a strange look on the barber's face.
When Nellie moved her tongue along the digit and bit on it teasingly, Mr. Todd closed his eyes and groaned softly. That sound heightened her longing for him to a level that it almost became unbearable.
"We… I need to tell you something," Sweeney said, his breath still quickening, just like hers. The fact that he reacted to the sensation of her tongue against his finger the way he did, made it quite clear that the indifference he had once treated her with belonged to the past now. "You were always there, but only when the years passed and you were gone without a trace…"
The woman let go off his finger, not really wanting to do so but more eager to hear what Mr. Todd had to say, and not wanting to distract him from choosing his words.
"I'm not afraid anymore of a life without Lucy," he whispered, "but I can't be alone any longer. There's no one who knows me the way you do, no one who cares for me like you… there's no one who needs you as much as I do."
Their gazes were locked and at last Nellie could see what the new emotion that had found his way into Mr. Todd's eyes was. It was longing, intense longing, for her.
"I'm thoroughly sorry it took me eight years to face it and another two to find you back. I only hope that I'm not too late."
While he talked, the two of them had subconsciously moved forwards each other, until their noses were almost brushing.
"It was almost too late," she whispered, reaching for him, "but you were just in time."
There were still many, many more things to say and ask, but they both knew this wasn't the right moment. All those questions and conversations could wait.
When their desperate lips met eagerly for a kiss at last, it was intuitively clear to the both of them however that Mr. Todd's departure would be one of the few things that would never be discussed. But once again, this was something that they didn't have the chance to fully realize until quite a few hours later.
For now, the bodies of the former partners in crime entwined passionately, celebrating that they had found each other at last.