Disclaimer - I own two pairs of boots reminiscent of Mrs. Lovett's in By The Sea, but that's about it.
Author's Note - So just to be clear, in this alternate universe the judge never had his way with Lucy, and she never took the poison. Lucy and Johanna are living above Mrs. Lovett's pie shop, just as before Benjamin Barker was shipped off. I've had this idea for several months, and I've been slowly piecing it together with the help of Robynne, who is amazing and I couldn't have done it without her. Seriously, we brainstormed SO much and she helped me more times than I could possibly count. She's a supergenius. Go read her stuff! Thanks to DojoGhost as well, for assisting me in overcoming the intimidating, ever-mocking cursor with her helpful advice:D Oh, also, take a look at my bio page. Bloody Pumpkinhead drew a scene from The Shadow Proves The Sunshine, and it's completely awesome. So look at it, comment about her amazing ability, I'm sure she'd appreciate it!
Summary - A world in which Lucy never took the poison, Johanna is no one's ward, and Sweeney Todd comes home to a normal family. Sweenett.
Proof of Heaven
If there's one thing she cannot stand, it's dawdling. When she wants to do something, she does it. When she needs something done, she gets it done. She simply cannot tolerate sitting around idly. Everything Eleanor Lovett does has a purpose.
The work day is nearly finished, all the pies have been sold, the tables wiped down and the spilled flour mopped up. The only thing keeping Nellie from collapsing into a chair and propping her feet up for the remainder of the evening is a couple and their two misbehaving children. The man and his wife are smiling at each other over the table, talking in low whispers and seemingly oblivious to the little boy scraping his fork repeatedly over his plate with a loud screech and humming some abominable song, or the young girl who jumps up and down in her seat, hands over her ears, shouting at the top of her lungs that she wants her dolly.
Twilight has broken out over London's gloomy streets, bathing every decaying building and cobbled street in a strange, ethereal glow. Only minutes ago, the rest of her customers had paid for their food and drink before setting out for their homes. Most of them are probably warm and content by their comfortable firesides by now, and yet, this family continues to linger over their empty dinner plates.
Watching them from behind the counter, Eleanor sighs and pastes on a smile. "Need anythin' else, dears?" She asks sweetly.
The man blinks, as though startled to find that he isn't very much alone with his wife, but at a table in a pie shop. He turns to look at Eleanor. "No thank you, Mrs. Lovett," he smiles. "We're just fine."
She frowns as he returns his attention to his wife, settling her hands on her hips as their children continue to shout, scrape and otherwise make a nuisance of themselves. Huffing a little out of exasperation, Nellie turns on her heel and disappears into the kitchen. Over the clatter of clean dishes being put away, she hisses, "Bleedin' 'ell, can't they go 'ome and ogle each other?"
Johanna whirls around, balancing an armful of plates as she stands on a rickety wooden stool to reach the cabinets. She smiles patiently at Eleanor and returns to her task. "I think they're sweet. Besides, I heard they've been having a bit of marital trouble lately. Don't be so hard on them, Auntie Nell."
Nellie scowls. "You been listenin' to all that rubbish 'ave ya? What 'ave I told you about those gossip mongers I call customers, eh?"
The girl sighs and repeats dutifully, "Don't believe anything anyone says over a glass of port."
Nodding once in satisfaction, Eleanor takes up a damp rag to busy herself with wiping down the counters. "That's quite right. No one means anythin' they say when they're full of ale and 'ot food. Don't forget that."
"How could I?" Johanna asks, laughing. "You say it so often."
Ignoring her, Eleanor glances over her shoulder at the kitchen door. "They've 'ad their dinner, all the other customers are gone...You'd think they'd take a bloody 'int!" She gestures widely with the limp rag, flinging droplets of water all over the place. "The shop is deserted!" She grumbles to herself under her breath, scrubbing furiously at a particularly stubborn spot. "Me poor bones is ready to drop, an' it's 'alf an hour before closin' time - which means they should go fawn over each other in the comfort of their own 'ome and take their wretched children with them."
Biting her lip to keep from laughing out loud, because being amused will only encourage the baker in her rant, Johanna slides the last of the plates noisily into the cabinet. Hopping from her perch, she smooths down her apron and fixes her aunt with a look of fond indulgence. "Would you like for me to tell them we're closing early?"
"Course not," Nellie frowns, turning to her. "That would be rude."
Johanna can't seem to hold back her laughter any longer, and she covers her mouth with a slim white hand as she does so. "Oh, and gossiping about them behind their backs isn't?"
Eleanor offers the blonde a cheeky grin. "What they don't know won't 'urt 'em, love."
Shaking her head and leaning against the counter, Johanna watches Nellie's persistent scrubbing disinterestedly. "Today was good, at least. A lot of customers - more than last month." She sighs tiredly. "I've feel as if I've been serving pies and ale for half my life. My poor back is positively throbbing!"
Snorting, Eleanor tosses the dish rag into a nearby bucket of soapy water and wipes her hands on her skirts. "Oi, wait till you get older, dearie. It only gets worse; my poor knees ain't what they used to be." She moves toward the door, hoping to spot her customers readying themselves to leave. "Oh well. I sup'ose that's the bright side in only bein' able to afford meat for a couple days out 'o the month - you don't 'ave to work nearly as often."
Peering out into the pie shop, Eleanor spies her customers preparing to go home. The man helps his wife into her coat and they depart, their obnoxious children in tow. "About bloody time," she huffs, scuttling quickly over to the door and locking it behind them before anyone else can barge in. Turning the sign to closed, she leans against the door with a heavy sigh, puffing a stray curl away from her face in the process.
Johanna makes her way over to the table, gathering the coins in her hand and counting them out with a furrowed brow. "One and six!" She exclaims, gaping at the money in her open palm. "What rubbish."
Outraged and fully knowing the tip should have been much more generous considering all the times she'd topped of their ale or asked if they needed anything, Nellie whirls around to peer out the shop door. She wonders if she might be able to catch the miserly couple halfway down the street and give them what for. Fuming, she spits out, "Oh, that odious little family! Next time they come in 'ere, I'll toss 'em out on their soddin' 'eads. You just watch!" She glares out into the street, unable to spot them. "Of all the bleedin' - "
"Eleanor," comes a soft, sharp voice from the parlor down the hall. "Please watch your language in front of my daughter."
Just because she isn't visible to the other woman from her spot by the door, Nellie makes a very impolite face and drops into a mock curtsy, as if bowing to the queen herself. "Of course, Lucy, dear." By the window, Johanna turns away, her face red as she tries desperately to muffle her laughter into the cloth of a curtain. Pleased with her reaction, Nellie watches with a smirk as Johanna straightens her shoulders and bites her lip, trying to compose herself.
"Really, Auntie Nell," Johanna chides quietly, but Eleanor waves her away and takes the money from her.
Moving behind the counter to collect the rest of the money so they can begin counting their spoils for the day, Eleanor gestures broadly to a table near the window. "Might as well 'ave a seat. The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can - "
"Help me with my knitting?" Johanna reminds her gently. "You promised, remember?"
Nellie deflates, her expression somehow becoming even more weary. "Of course, my love. 'ow could I forget?"
"Because you hate it," Johanna laughs knowingly. "And because you can't seem to complete knitting anything - whether it be a pair of socks or a scarf."
Carrying the tin stuffed with money to the little table by the window, Eleanor glares at her. "Just because you're so much better at a silly thing like knittin' is no reason to gloat. Knittin' is 'ardly as useful as bakin', I'll 'ave you know. Without bakin', you'd 'ave nothin' to eat." She smiles knowingly. "But without knittin' - "
"You would have cold feet," Johanna interrupts, leveling Nellie with a smug grin.
Eleanor frowns. "Never 'eard of anyone dyin' of a case o' cold feet, love. Case of the sniffles, per'aps."
Before Johanna can reply, their friendly debate is interrupted by a faint, almost hesitant knock on the door. Both women turn their heads to stare, befuddlement plain on their faces. A knock on the door after sundown is rarely ever a good sign - it either means they're about to be annoyed by a bothersome tax collector or murdered. The two women stare at the door for several seconds, unmoving. Finally, Johanna says, "Did you turn the sign over?"
The baker nods, not taking her eyes away from the locked pie shop door. "Course I did."
"Perhaps they can't read," Johanna suggests with a smile.
Eleanor laughs. "Well I s'pose I'm goin' to 'ave to read it for 'em." In her sweetest voice, she calls out, "Sorry, we're closed! Come back tomorrow and there'll be a nice pie in it for ya!" She turns back to the table and Johanna, thinking the matter entirely dealt with but she scarcely removes the lid on the tin of money before the knock comes again, this time louder and more insistent, as though the knocker will not be deterred so easily.
Johanna's amused eyes flicker to Eleanor as the baker lets out a frustrated growl. "Perhaps they're deaf as well."
Clearly not amused, Eleanor jumps from her seat, allowing her chair to teeter on two legs for several moments before crashing back into its rightful place. "If it's the beadle come with more talk about taxes, I swear I'll lop 'is fat 'ead off with my cleaver." Johanna stifles a giggle into her hand even as her Lucy clears her throat in disapproval from the parlor.
Brushing off her skirts and striding angrily toward the door, Eleanor grasps the doorknob and yanks hard, glaring out at the stranger standing on her doorstep. "Look 'ere you, I said we're bloody - " She stops and inhales sharply as her eyes adjust to the dim street lights outside, her eyes focusing on the slender man with broad shoulders looming over her in a worn leather jacket.
She feels as though the world has narrowed drastically in the few seconds it has taken for her to open the door and recognize the pale figure for who he is. Dark hair with an odd shock of white, pale face, furrowed brow. She registers all of it, but for some reason, Eleanor can't bring herself to look away from his eyes. The gaze is harder, somehow, but the eyes themselves are still very much the same. A deep brown, the color of chocolate and at one time, nearly as sweet. She remembers another lifetime ago, when she used to stare into them when he came down for a pie, hoping to God that one day he would look into hers and see something stronger than friendship harbored there.
A hand flutters to her chest in shock, and she's very much aware that her mouth must be hanging open, but she can't bring herself to move because Benjamin Barker is standing right in front of her, just as alive as she is. They stare at each other silently, each sizing up the other with a quiet scrutiny. Though his complexion resembles more of a deathly pallor than the healthy glow she'd always likened to that of a Greek god, and his mouth, once curved into a some sort of secretive grin, now seems to be more accustomed to frowning than anything, it hardly matters a wit to her.
Whatever he has seen, whatever evils have befallen him, it doesn't matter. He's still the most handsome man Eleanor has ever laid eyes on. Heart pounding in her ears and the blood rushing to her cheeks as they regard each other, Eleanor finally realizes she isn't breathing and she draws in a deep, shuddering breath, gasping as if coming up for air after a long spell under the sea.
"Auntie Nell?" calls a soft voice. Nellie glances quickly back inside the shop, her face white. "Is everything alright?"
Eleanor slowly turns her bewildered gaze back to the man standing outside, silent as the grave. "I-I'm fine, love. Everythin' is just smashing." Practically gaping at the ravaged remains of Mr. Barker, she opens the door a little wider and steps aside. "Well...No sense hoverin' in my doorway. Come in, then."
He takes a tentative step inside, glancing around the dim interior curiously. Nellie suddenly feels terribly self-conscious as she glances around the shop and notices the dough splattered rolling pin still lying on the counter, the yellowing curtains that must have been a cheery white the last time he was here and she dreads the thought of him peering into the parlor, with its faded wallpaper and worn furniture. Her home can hardly be the way he remembers it.
She wonders if anything will be the way he remembers it. Certainly not his daughter, and perhaps not even his wife. His darling Lucy, safely tucked away in the parlor with a book in her hand, has no idea that her husband has just walked back into her life, darker and decidedly more terrifying. It seems as though they've only just settled into what could be called a normal existence without him, and now Benjamin Barker has returned to throw their lives off balance once again.
Fiddling nervously with her hair, Eleanor watches his eyes alight on Johanna. His face changes instantly from stoic apathy to a vulnerable, wounded look. Johanna is the very picture of her mother - everything from the light sprinkling of freckles across her delicate nose to the gentle, gold-spun hair framing her face - and Nellie feels a melancholy ache settle in her chest, knowing that Mr. Barker is looking at his child for the first time since she was a mere squalling babe. He hasn't been here as Nellie has, to see Johanna learn to walk, or bake her first pie, or watch her grow into the lovely young woman she's become. Unable to imagine not being around to witness Johanna's childhood, Eleanor wraps her arms around herself, blinking back tears.
Johanna regards her father warily, a slight frown on her pretty face as she stares back at him. She doesn't speak, obviously aware of the very delicate atmosphere she has unwillingly been thrust into but she returns Mr. Barker's gaze without hesitation, studying him through the same dark eyes. Shying away from anyone remotely intimidating isn't in the girl's nature - Johanna often deals with their more rowdy customers when the baker isn't around to do it herself - and Eleanor knows she'll sit there, gazing at him until Mr. Barker looks away.
When he speaks, breaking the strange spell that has fallen over them all, Johanna nearly jumps. His words strangled, he mumbles, "My little lamb," and stumbles back a bit. Nellie hovers near his elbow to catch him in the event that he collapses from the shock.
"There, there, dear," she says in a high, panicked voice. "Sit yourself down, now."
Mr. Barker doesn't move at her request, turning his head quickly to gaze at her, and Eleanor very nearly wilts beneath his scrutiny. The look in his eyes is desperate, almost pleading and Eleanor has a feeling of trying to placate a lost and frightened child. "Where is Lucy?" He asks, sounding gruff and timid all at once, as though terrified to discover the answer. His eyes slide back to his daughter, and they soften immediately to see the girl still staring at him.
Nellie takes a moment to watch his throat contract as he swallows hard before she breathes, "Johanna, my love. Go get your mother."
Johanna stands, frowning. "Are you sure - "
"I'm quite alright, dear," Nellie reassures her. "Now 'urry along." The girl scurries from the room, a blur of blonde hair and pale blue skirts. Alone now, Nellie takes Mr. Barker by the arm and nearly forces him into a chair. "Sit. I'll get you a drink, Mr. Barker." When he gives a tentative nod, she springs into action, practically sprinting behind the counter to grab a glass and a bottle of gin. Having something to do that doesn't involve wringing her hands and gaping is such a relief that she barely hears his softly spoken words. "What's that, Mr. Barker?"
He hesitates, and she tries to remember if he's always been so reluctant to speak or if Botany Bay had put that timidity in him. "It's not Barker. Not anymore."
For a moment, she loses herself in his dark gaze, stunned into breathlessness to find such intensity behind such simple words. Before she can find her voice again to ask what he means, or what name he's calling himself nowadays, the sound of footsteps from the parlor interrupts them. Heart in her mouth, Eleanor stops in the middle of pouring the former Mr. Barker his drink, too fascinated by what's about to happen next to focus on trivial things like aiming alcohol into a glass. Unable to decide whose reaction would be the most interesting to watch, she settles for flitting her gaze back and forth between Lucy and her long-lost husband.
The yellow-haired mother and daughter appear in the doorway, Johanna walking into the room ahead of Lucy, immediately moving to Eleanor's side as if to reassure herself that this strange man hasn't harmed her while they were alone. Nellie is too busy staring at the couple to do anything but grasp Johanna's hand tightly in her own, hoping the strength of someone else will be enough to stop the quaking in her knees. The girl looks perplexed by her aunt's peculiar behavior but she squeezes back, fingers tightening around Nellie's. and suddenly the baker feels a little stronger than she had before.
Together, they watch Lucy stop in the doorway, looking enchantingly angelic in a white gown, her blonde hair pulled back in an intricate bun that Eleanor had spent half the morning pinning up. Her fair brow furrowed sweetly, she glances first at her daughter and the baker before turning to their visitor.
The dark-haired man stares at her, lips parted and eyes looking suspiciously wet. So slowly that his movements themselves seem hesitant and deliberate - just like the way he speaks - this new man stands, nearly trembling in his place. "Lucy," he says reverently, and Nellie remembers that he always said her name that way, like he was uttering a prayer to some bloody saint on high.
"Auntie Nell," Johanna whispers, tugging on their joined hands. "What's going on?"
Nellie smiles faintly. "Just wait, dearie. It'll all become too bloody clear in a tick."
Recognition dawns in Lucy's stunned expression, and she stares, tears beginning to fill her wide blue eyes. Lucy seems just as stunned as Eleanor had been to see the state in which Benjamin has returned to them, the gentle barber gone and a hardened man, twisted by time and life's cruelties in his place. Lucy opens her mouth to speak, falters and takes a step forward instead. The pie shop is so quiet that Eleanor can hear the sounds of London's nightlife beginning to stir; beggars hobbling up and down the lane in hopes of finding somewhere to sleep, the rattle of carriages hurrying to their final destinations, sooty-faced chimney sweeps starting for home with cheerful whistles and those who can afford the drug heading to opium dens for their fix.
Lucy finally manages to find her voice, the words faint and cracked as she whispers, "Benjamin?" Watching tears slip down Lucy's cheeks, Eleanor barely manages to glimpse her former tenant's terse nod. Lucy takes another step and before any of them can blink, she's thrown herself into his arms, sobbing into the leather of his jacket.
The man's arms slowly come around his wife, almost mechanically, and Nellie imagines it's been a very long time since he embraced anyone. They're quite the odd sight, Mr. and Mrs. Barker - like a living contrast between the glow of morning and the dark of night. Two things that are never associated with one another, and actually seeing them together, like the look of the morning sky before the moon has disappeared, is enough to momentarily render the watcher breathless. The sight of the two of them, wrapped in each other's arms in the middle of the pie shop, is too much for Eleanor and she turns from them to look at Johanna.
The young blonde is staring at her parents, shocked tears in her eyes and if Eleanor has to see one more person cry she thinks she might scream. Using the hand that Johanna isn't clinging to, Eleanor brushes her knuckles against the girl's smooth cheek and says, "Come with me, darlin'." She leads Johanna into the kitchen, and the blonde follow meekly, obviously too stunned to do otherwise. Eleanor doesn't leave the couple alone merely for the sake of their privacy in a tender moment, but because she has suddenly realized that looking at them together doesn't hurt any less than it had fifteen years ago. She wonders if her heart will ever stop aching at the mere sight of Benjamin Barker looking at his wife so affectionately. Surely fifteen years is long enough to get over even the most intense infatuation?
In the kitchen, Nellie helps Johanna onto one of the stools lining the counter and lingers just long enough to make sure she's stable enough to keep her balance before moving quickly to the cabinets. She takes up a bottle of gin, uncorking it and murmuring, "Don't tell your mother," as she pours the girl a glass.
Johanna takes it gratefully, sipping like she would on a cup of tea and Eleanor resists the urge to roll her eyes. For a while, neither of them speaks; the only sound is Lucy's faint sobs from the front of the pie shop, and a low murmur that must be Mr. Barker's voice.
"That-that man is my father?" Johanna finally asks in a quivering voice over the rim of her glass. Eleanor nods, patting the girl's hand soothingly. Johanna shakes her head, the crease over her brow deepening somewhat, and Eleanor can't help but think she looks adorably confused. "But...he doesn't look anything like mother's pictures."
Nellie frowns. Those blasted photographs. Lucy is forever brooding over them, staring at the images of Benjamin with their infant daughter on his knee, smiling his secret smile. In Nellie's opinion, she has spent far too much time over the years ruminating on the man she has lost, and too little of her time living in the present, with her daughter - the other family she had left. "Those pictures are what 'e looked like in the past, love," she reminds Johanna gently. "Prison can change a man just as surely as the years can."
"But Auntie Nell - " Johanna stops at the sound of approaching footsteps, quickly sliding her glass of gin over to Nellie, who picks it up to pretend as if it had been hers all along.
Lucy opens the door timidly, peering inside with wet cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. "We're," she stops when her voice cracks, clears her throat and begins again more confidently. "We're going to go upstairs for a while."
Standing quickly from her stool, Johanna takes a step toward her mother. "Mother, are you sure you wouldn't like for me to come with you?"
Lucy shakes her head, but looks a little unsure, glancing quickly behind her. "No, darling. Don't be silly. I'll...I'll be fine." She turns blue eyes from Johanna to Nellie, a pleading look on her pale face. "Eleanor, could you - "
"Already a'ead of you, dearie," Nellie forces a smile and nods behind Lucy. She can't see him, but she can practically sense Mr. Barker's dark presence standing behind his wife. "Run off, now. I'll 'andle this."
Breaking into a relieved smile, Lucy says, "Thank you, Eleanor." Sparing one last reassuring look at Johanna, the blonde disappears through the door again and seconds later, the creak of the stairs echoes through the silent house - a light, dainty step followed by the louder scuffle of heavy boots.
"I don't understand," Johanna whispers once their footsteps fade away. "I thought he was never coming back. You told me he'd been sent away for life."
Eleanor lifts one frail shoulder in a shrug, sliding the glass of gin back to Johanna. " 'e was. Must 'ave escaped." She frowns. "And I never said 'e wasn't comin' back, I said wasn't s'posed to come back. There's a rather large difference, love."
"Only to you, Auntie Nell," Johanna smiles fondly. Hesitantly, she traces her index finger over the rim of her glass, looking very deep in thought. "And...you're sure he didn't do what everyone says he did?"
Stunned, Eleanor places her hands on her hips and regards Johanna through narrowed eyes. "Pet, I must 'ave told you a thousand times since you were a tiny bit of a thing that your father was a good man what never did anyone no 'arm."
Johanna nods hurriedly, biting her lip. "Yes, I know. I always believed you, of course. In mother's pictures, he seems too gentle and kind to do anything unlawful. But...now he looks entirely capable of doing something untoward." She ducks her head with a shameful blush, as though regretting her own words.
Nellie feels her heart go out to the girl - she can't imagine being sixteen and never knowing her own father - and she reaches out to brush Johanna's hair from her face. "Now, stop this. Your father may look different, but I'm sure that once 'e's 'ere for a tick, 'e'll be just as sweet-natured as 'e used to be." Remembering the haunted look in Mr. Barker's eyes, she very much doubts this to be true and while she prides herself of being honest with Johanna, Eleanor doesn't have the heart to do so now. She smiles, running her thumb along Johanna's cheekbone tenderly. "Your father's home again, love. That's a good thing, eh?"
Johanna nods meekly, the beginnings of a smile making itself known on her young face. "Yes, I suppose it is." She turns dark eyes above their heads, to the ceiling. "What do you think they're doing up there?"
Her heart constricts at the mere possibilities - that Lucy is up there with him now, holding him and listening to the voice they've all been deprived of for so long - but Eleanor forces a strained smile anyway. "Talkin', I imagine. 'aven't 'ad a conversation in fifteen years, they must 'ave quite a bit to say."
"What are they talking about, though?" Johanna asks, and Nellie decides she doesn't like someone so young looking so troubled.
"The weather," she deadpans, and Johanna breaks into an amused grin. "What? You don't think so? It's terribly cloudy nowadays. I wouldn't wonder if Mr. Barker finds it a bit unsettlin', with all that time 'e spent in Australia. Bloody sunny there, y'know. Not that you can tell from lookin' at 'im."
"Auntie Nell," Johanna laughs. "I'm trying to be serious."
"So am I," she says mockingly, sending the girl into another fit of laughter and it relieves Eleanor to hear the familiar, carefree sound when her very world is altering and changing even as she stands there.
Pouring Johanna another helping of gin, Eleanor tries not to think of what the Barkers could really be doing all alone, in the rooms they used to share so many years ago. In truth, she can't stand the thought of them upstairs together, talking and doing God knows what else while she's down here, plying their daughter with the comfort of gin and trying to keep herself from flying apart all at once, exploding all over the pie shop in a mess of lace and hair pins and flour. Her mind can only focus on one thing, one thought that leaves her light-headed and trembling.
He's home. He's home. Benjamin Barker is home at last.