Mrs. Lovett was a woman of the kind that always tried to look at the bright side of life. No matter what happened, no matter how hard times were, she always firmly believed that every bad thing has at least one minor advantage that comes along with it.
Even when Benjamin was banished, she had managed to find one good thing about this: she didn't have to see the barber and his wife together anymore, a display that had always caused so much jealousy and longing that it actually hurt.
The baker always tried to be optimistic and except for all things concerning Benjamin that did involve Lucy, this had worked quite well. But now, she really couldn't think of anything good that the situation that she was currently in could bring her.
She was lying on the cold floor of the bake house and she was sure that she had been there for at least two hours already. She was in pain and no matter how hard she screamed for help, no one came. She was getting weak and she was afraid that she would faint soon if there wouldn't come someone to rescue her.
At the same time, Mrs. Lovett was extremely angry with herself because something so silly had happened to her. She hadn't been careful enough when she climbed the stairs back to the pie shop and she had slipped – twice.
The first time, her knee had hit the wood of the stairs painfully and except for the tray of pies that had fallen from her hands and had ended up a few meters below with a loud crash, nothing serious seemed to have happened.
But a few seconds and one step later, the damage turned out to be more severe than she had thought, for her leg simply gave out and she lost her balance. This time her knee had crashed against the sharp edge of a step, causing her to moan in pain as her hands moved frantically for support. But they had found nothing but slippery walls and the baker had fell down the stairs, screaming in horror as all this happened within mere seconds.
And there she was, unable to get up, completely helpless and totally incapable of thinking of even one tiny positive point or a bright side of the situation.
She guessed that it was past midnight and she feared that no one would miss her until the following morning. Toby had gone to bed hours ago and Mr. Todd was doubtlessly brooding in his room upstairs.
In spite of her cries for help, no one had come yet to assist her. It made sense that her adoptive son didn't hear her, for he was asleep and knowing all the gin he had consumed before going to bed, he wouldn't hear her even if she could scream twice as loud. But Sweeney Todd… he was probably awake, as alert as he always was. Tears welled in her eyes as she imagined him pacing in his barber shop, ignoring her desperate pleas.
Her voice was gone almost completely because of all the time she had spent yelling for help already, and when pain threatened to pull her into unconsciousness, she was almost relieved.
And then, the heavy door to the bake house was opened and a dark silhouette appeared on the threshold. Mrs. Lovett sighed in exhaustion, very grateful that someone had found her at last.
"Mrs. Lovett?" Sweeney Todd said, "are you there? I still don't have those clean shirt you promised to bring me."
The barber descended the stairs and Nellie wished she could speak aloud, but she was afraid that she would produce nothing more than a pathetic whimper if she would attempt to talk.
Mr. Todd was downstairs now, and only when he was standing right in front of her, he became aware of the woman lying on the floor.
"What are you doing there?!" he asked, annoyance dominating the bewilderment in his voice. "Get up, and get me those shirts."
Nellie closed her eyes, forcing the tears back. Even now that she was obviously in pain, he didn't care about her well being at all. It became clear to her that perhaps not being found until morning by Toby was better than this. Turning her head away from the barber, she pretended not to be affected by his remarks.
Only when a long moment passed and he looked at her more closely, he seemed to realize that she wasn't lying on the cold floor for her own enjoyment.
"What are you doing there?" he asked accusingly.
"I fell," she whispered, daring to try using her voice now that she actually had his attention.
He scowled, as if accidents like this happened to only the clumsiest persons.
"Do you never stumble?" she hissed, unable to do nothing while he was wordlessly offending her.
"No," he said, seemingly uninterested, "because I actually look where I place my feet."
That remark was the last thing that the suffering baker could take. Tears, caused by pain and humiliation, began to roll down her cheeks.
Sweeney remained standing where he was, managing to mock her without saying a word while he just stood there as if she wasn't there at all. To her horror, she realized that he wouldn't do anything to help her own his own accord.
"Please," she whispered, "at least help me to get upstairs."
"Why don't you do so yourself?" he asked, looking anywhere except for her direction, but still he remained standing where he was, as if he actually enjoyed seeing her like this.
"I can't," she replied angrily, spitting the softly spoken words towards his legs, the only part of him that she could see without having to force her body in an even more uncomfortable position. She really wondered how it was possible to hate and love a man at the same time.
"Did you even try?" he snarled.
She detested the revenge driven barber more than she had ever done since he and his impossible behavior had come back to London and part of her wished that he would just go away and leave her in peace, but she knew very well that she needed him to get out of the basement.
"I tried to stand up for countless times, but my right knee is useless; it can't support my weight."
Sweeney made a sound of disgust and kept staring at her, having stopped pretending that he didn't like to see her suffer.
She cursed under her breath but then forced herself to calm down, because she was rather sure that Mr. Todd wouldn't be impressed and probably would only find it funny if she tried to offend him.
"See it like this," she tried. "As long as I am here, I can't bake those pies and you know very well that those corpses that keep ending up in this bake house, thanks to you, need disappear as soon as possible."
This seemed to capture his full attention at last. Staring daggers at her, he knelt down next to her and moved one arm beneath her knees and one around her shoulders. He pulled her up quickly, as if he wanted to keep the amount of time that he was touching her to an absolute minimum. Her neck was bent awkwardly, but he obviously didn't care.
Only when they almost got stuck in the small passage that led back upstairs because of the careless way he was holding her, he changed her uncomfortable position.
"Hold on and get those useless legs of yours out of the way," he snapped when he pulled her body upwards abruptly.
Mrs. Lovett did as she was told. She wrapped her arms around his necks to prevent the two of them from getting stuck in the narrow space and she let her head rest on his shoulder.
In spite of the situation, in spite of him, she couldn't help but savor the moment. She was pressed against Mr. Todd's hard chest and she could basically feel his muscles move against her own body. And then there was his smell, just as intoxicating as always, but so much more closer now than it had ever been before. It was so tempting to snuggle against him and to feel that delicious skin of his, that was within reach at last, right beneath her fingertips. But she knew very well that if she'd do that, he'd personally throw her all the way back to the basement floor.
Once upstairs, the barber closed the heavy door to the bake house behind him and headed for the parlor.
The only couch there that was large enough for her to be placed on was occupied already by Toby, and with a sigh of annoyance, Mr. Todd continued walking and brought her to her bedroom, kicking the door open.
How often the baker had fantasized to be taken to her bed by Sweeney while he was holding her like this, and how ironic it was that even though something out of her dreams was happening now, it was so horrible compared to what she longed for; a nightmare instead of a dream.
Sweeney basically dropped her on her bed and walked away without saying one word. But as Mrs. Lovett was dumped unceremoniously on the hard mattress, she groaned in pain as her knee touched the rough fabric of the blankets and the extremely sore spot was pushed against it by the weight of her body.
The barber recognized the pain and fear that she was experiencing at last when he heard the sound. He turned around, and from the threshold of her bedroom, he actually looked at her for the first time, only then realizing that there was actually something wrong with the baker and that she hadn't been behaving so impossibly earlier just to annoy him.
"What happened?" he asked shortly. His voice was still blank, but at least he didn't sound as bored anymore as he had done before.
"I was bringing a tray with pies to the shop. The steps were slippery, and I fell. My left knee hit the edge of a step, I lost my balance and I fell."
The baker failed to mention that she had slipped twice. She didn't want him to think of her as a complete idiot now that he was somewhat understanding at last.
"I'd better take a look," he said matter-of-factly. "There might be some dirt from the stairs in the wound. It would be a pity if you'd die because of a simple infection. I've seen it happen often enough, the past fifteen years."
How she hated him sometimes. Even if he actually said that he didn't want her to die, the way he stated this made it very clear to her that he would only regret this because of the part she had to play in his grand plan to kill the Judge and the Beadle. She knew well enough that this was the only reason that he allowed her around him, but it got rather tiring that he reminded her of it as often as he apparently could.
"Well, woman, what are you waiting for?" he asked, his eyes almost rolling in annoyance.
"What?" Mrs. Lovett asked, wondering what the barber was talking about this time.
"Your knee, what else?" he said impatiently. "I can't take a look at it when that skirt is covering it, or do you think I can watch right through it?"
"No, I suppose…"
"Well, then do something about it," he interrupted before she could actually say something.
Her body trembled as she moved to the edge of the bed and attempted to sit up. She managed to place her two feet on the floor while her face twisted in pain. She didn't want to stand up, but she had to if she wanted to arrange her skirt in such a way that she could hike it up far enough to give Mr. Todd the opportunity to take a look at her injured knee.
Her legs seemed to be capable of carrying the rest of her body, but as she actually stood up, leaning heavily on her arms to be able to do this, she was standing for only a second when her sore knee weakened suddenly and, without any kind of warning, failed her completely. She stumbled and she would've fallen heavily on the floor, if it hadn't been for two arms that encircled her waist and pulled her upwards, preventing her from being injured once more.
Without saying a word, Mr. Todd entangled her body from his arms and helped her sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"Let me do that," he said, breaking the heavy silence.
Before the baker had even realized that Sweeney had spoken again at last, the barber began hiking up her skirt.
Again, the baker had dreamed of a moment like this so awfully often. How she had longed to feel the barber's hands on her legs, how she had craved for him to remove the offending fabric of her clothing from her body… But once again, the circumstances were very far from the ones she had dreamed of. There was nothing romantic about the way he removed her skirt and cut away the thinner layers of fabric that he found beneath it. The only reason that he was helping her, was that he wanted her to be able to get back to her work as soon as possible.
But as he exposed her knee, cutting through the fabric that had hidden it from his view before, the look on the barber's face changed from the usual blankness to one that was much more unpleasant. She decided immediately that she liked the latter even less than his uninterested expression.
"It doesn't look good," he said, still managing to sound so horribly indifferent.
She didn't reply and refused to look at the source of the pain she was still experiencing, for she was sure that that would make things only worse.
"Can I get a bowl of hot water and some towels?"
"Yes," she said, trying to focus on her voice instead on the pain in her knee. "You can heat water in the kitchen and you can find bowls and towels there in the cupboard."
He was gone before she had fully finished that sentence, but luckily he returned only minutes later. He was carrying clean towels and a bowl of steaming water with him. Sweeney placed the items on the floor and knelt down in front of her once more.
After a long moment in which he scrutinized her bleeding knee without saying a word, causing Mrs. Lovett too feel horribly self-conscious, he carefully reached for her leg, holding it gently while his gaze remained focus on her injury.
"Some of the fabric of your dress is stuck in the wound. I have to pull it away."
She bit her lip as she realized that this was going to hurt. A lot.
"Is that really necessary?" she whimpered.
"Yes," the barber said, his voice somewhat gentle this time, as if he felt some sympathy for her at last. "The wound can't heal as long as there is something in it that isn't part of the body."
When she had been lying helplessly on the floor of the bake house and she had been incapable of getting up without help, she had already feared that there was something wrong with her knee. But now that even Mr. Todd seemed to think it was bad, she was starting to feel really frightened.
"Well, if you are going to have to pull that out of the wound, I'm going to need a drink," she said with a thin voice, hoping to sound braver than she actually felt.
"It's no use," Sweeney said. "No alcohol will help you get through this, unless you drink until you are unconscious, which isn't a very good idea because you might won't wake up again if you do that."
"Is there no other way?" the woman asked, her voice trembling now.
"The most effective way would be to beat you on your head with something until you're unconscious, but… it's rather risky."
In any other situation, Mrs. Lovett would've rolled her eyes at the way he was talking nonchalantly about her.
"However," Sweeney continued after a few seconds, a thoughtful look in his eyes. "With an element of…"
"An element of what?" Nellie asked, wondering what kind of idea the barber had now. She felt that it couldn't be worse than anything they had discussed this far.
"I have an idea," he announced. "It's far from perfect, but it'll have to do. It'll hurt, but considerably less than any other way. And, most important, the anticipation of the pain will be… replaced."
"What do you…"
"You'll have to lie on the bed," he said, ignoring her unspoken question.
Mr. Todd helped her move before she could ask why this was necessary and a short moment later, she found herself lying on her bed, her head supported by two pillows, and a towel beneath her knee, probably to absorb the fresh blood that was doubtlessly going to stream out of the wound in the very near future. But still, she didn't understand why he wanted her to lie down like that. Sitting up with her legs resting on the floor seemed to be a much better way to deal with this.
"Mr. T, I really don't see why…"
At that moment, the impossible happened; the thing that she had dreamed of for so long, but of which she had been sure that it would never be more than a fantasy.
Sweeney Todd kissed her, hard.
For a second, Nellie was completely dumbfounded. One moment he had been talking about her knee, and then… she had understood that he actually seemed to feel sorry for her because of the injury, but this…
But Sweeney was kissing her, and did it really matter why? After she was recovered from the initial shock, the baker returned the kiss.
It was far from perfect; their mouths were pressed together in a rather uncomfortable way and their noses were an awkward obstacle. However, Nellie managed to change the angle of her head and as Sweeney opened his mouth to get some more much needed oxygen in his lungs, the baker took her change to deepen the kiss.
When she felt the barber's tongue slide against her own, all pain disappeared to the background. Desperate for this to continue, she wrapped her arms around Mr. Todd's neck to pull him closer to her and he had no other option than to give in to her urgent wish.
The baker shuddered when his upper body pressed against her own and one of his hands tangled in her hair, while the other kneaded her sides.
Only when the lack of oxygen forced them to, they broke the kiss. Mr. Todd breathed heavily and she felt dizzy, both because she had hardly breathed for quite a long time and because kissing Sweeney Todd was a rather overwhelming thing to do. But still, there was nothing but euphoria and bliss in the moment that he rested his forehead against hers, staring intently at her.
But when she saw the expression on the barber's face, she knew that something was very, very wrong.
"What the hell was that supposed to mean?!"
Sweeney yelled at her, his mouth still close to her face, and his words hurt more than the steps of the stair had done.
"You kissed me," she managed to say. "You did. Not me."
"You kissed me back," he growled, as if that explained everything.
"Well, because you started, I thought that…"
There was a look of realization on his face and her heart sunk as she sensed that he knew now, that he had become aware of her hopeless and desperate, her pathetic love for him. He would hate her, be disgusted by her, ignore her for the rest of her life, because she felt something for him, something deep and strong, something that only his Lucy was supposed to feel for him.
"You wanted this to happen?" he asked, eyes widening.
"Yes," she whispered. There was no use denying it. "There is nothing I wanted more."
He looked at her, once again, an unreadable look in his eyes, but one of a different kind than before.
"Why did you kiss me?" she asked, her voice still nothing but a whisper. She felt that he probably wouldn't answer, but she just had to try to find it out.
"To dist… damn."
Mrs. Lovett looked in bewilderment as the barber's eyes widened even further, as if there was something very important that she wasn't aware of.
"Mr. T, please explain what…"
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to kiss you again."
Nellie was truly confused. For a moment she wondered if her brain was playing tricks on her or that, perhaps, she had fainted in the bake house after all and this was nothing but some kind of strange hallucination…
And then, his lips brushed against hers once more and she was absolutely sure that this was not a dream or any kind of subconscious fantasy. The situation was too bizarre to understand and something else, except for the throbbing in her knee, was obviously very wrong, but she couldn't help but be overwhelmed once more by the sensations that Mr. Todd caused.
Now that she knew what was going to happen and was thus somewhat prepared, she had the change to fully enjoy the moment.
This kiss was different; it was slower and more sensual, less awkward, and it felt as if Mr. Todd was more self assured this time. He opened his mouth slightly now on his own accord and Mrs. Lovett accepted the silent invitation eagerly. They kissed tenderly, holding on to each other tightly.
The baker was completely unaware of the pain in her leg that had tortured her earlier; she only felt Sweeney's lips against her own and his hands that were caressing her. She was vaguely aware that one of those hands began to move, tracing the curves of her body. As if this wasn't assaulting her senses enough yet, he rocked his body gently against her own, capturing her injured leg between his own, and the baker couldn't help but groan in pleasure as his hips were grinding lightly against hers.
After a long moment, they had to move away from each other slightly to be able to inhale some oxygen. But this time, there was no look of shock or disbelief on Sweeney's face. His expression was still impossible for her to read, but she felt much more at ease now, just like she thought she would after just having kissed the barber twice. She still had no idea why he had kissed her and she was too content at that very moment to even try to think of an explanation, for it would surely be one that she wouldn't like at all.
But it didn't matter, not yet, for Sweeney moved closer to her again, kissing her once more with such tenderness that it surprised her. One of his hands moved up to stroke her breasts carefully and she happily closed her eyes, moaning quietly and failing to notice the whereabouts of his other hand. She only vaguely realized that it seemed to have disappeared, had stopped touching her unlike any other part of Sweeney's body, but she couldn't care. For his eyes were right above her, his fingers teasing her, their breaths mingling as she panted with desire. She vaguely wondered why he suddenly looked so guilty, because really, didn't he see to which incredible extend his touches pleased her?
Pain. Unbearable pain, that was accompanied by a sickening sound and a look of pity on Sweeney's face.
Nellie screamed, totally shocked by the intense pain that was burning its way through her body and completely unable to understand where it had come from. Never in her life she had felt anything as horrible as this, all other pain that she had ever experienced paling in comparison to what she was currently feeling.
To make matters worse, Sweeney's comforting presence had disappeared. She sensed that he was doing something with her knee, but she didn't have the strength to sit up to see what he was doing.
Mrs. Lovett felt as if she was thrown in a sea of pain and desperation. She screamed and moaned, clutching the blankets tightly as if the agony would decrease that way. She was grateful when the lurking darkness claimed her at last.
The baker woke up a few hours later. As she opened her eyes slowly, she realized that she was still wearing her working clothes. But to her horror, she couldn't remember why she wasn't wearing her nightgown like she usually did in bed. In fact, she couldn't even remember having gone to bed in the first place.
Wanting to find out what was going on, she sat up. Or rather, she attempted to do so, for the second she moved, the searing pain in her knee returned, reminding her immediately of what exactly had happened earlier that night. She groaned in pain and this sound alarmed Sweeney who was, to her utter surprise, lying next to her in her bed, as if he had fallen asleep while she was unconscious, watching over her until sleep had overpowered him at last. The pain however was what required most of her attention and as she experienced once again the awful throbbing in her knee, she realized what had happened.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
It seemed to her that his voice sounded strange; familiar, but yet, different. Then she realized that for once, he spoke without annoyance or even indifference to her, something he had rarely done before.
"Horrible," she sighed as she tried to sit up again, much more careful this time. "My knee…"
"I know," he said quietly. "It was an awful mess, worse than I had expected. I did my best to clean the wound and ease the pain when you were sleeping. I… I just wished that I had found you earlier, this evening."
The regretful tone of his voice somehow managed to ease the physical pain a little.
"It doesn't matter," she said softly, not sure how to handle the man that had woken up next to her, the man that was most certainly the barber she had known for months, but who seemed so much different now than he had before. "You couldn't help it that you didn't hear me."
She tried to sound cheerful, but her sentence ended with another grunt of pain. Even though Sweeney had cleaned the wound when she was unconscious, it still hurt horribly.
"I'm afraid you can't walk, for the time being."
Mrs. Lovett groaned again, but not in pain this time.
"Can't you bandage it or something like that?" she asked, daring to look at the hole in her knee that had been cleaned but still looked horrifying.
"I can," he said, "but the fabric of the bandage will get stuck in the wound as well."
Nellie sighed as she realized what this meant. Since it would be quite impossible to walk around with a gaping hole in her knee, she wouldn't be able to walk at all for the time being.
"The shop," she muttered, staring at the barber in horror and shock. "How am I supposed to work if I can't…"
"We'll have to think of something," he replied, sighing as well. It was easy to tell that he wasn't happy with the consequences of that one moment of inattention in the bake house, but it was a huge relief that he wasn't going to kill her. That was much better than what she had hoped for when she had been lying helplessly in the basement.
"Mr. T?" she asked carefully, since there was still something that she wanted to know quite desperately. "Why did you bother to help me?"
"Because I need you to recover so you can work in the shop again," he said blankly.
He would've fooled any person with his reply, but not Mrs. Lovett. From the way he refused to look at her and held his arms limply to his side, she could tell that there was an underlying reason for his helpfulness.
"You helped me already by taking me upstairs," she said softly, encouraged by his response and hoping to find the real reason for the kindness that he had showed. "You didn't have to take care of…"
He looked up at her at last, as if that would help him to find the right words, but when he looked her in the eyes, he closed his mouth and didn't continue talking. He just stared at her, as if he was trying to understand her by simply looking into her eyes intently.
"I presume you know now why I kissed you?"
Mrs. Lovett blinked a few times, her mind having some trouble with changing the subject so drastically, especially since the topic was something she hadn't expected to be brought up again by him, especially not now that he had learned of her intense feelings for him only so recently.
"I only did so to distract you," Sweeney said, continuing as she didn't reply immediately. Once more he avoided to look her in the eyes. "During the years, I learned that the anticipation of pain is usually just as horrible as the pain itself, or maybe even worse. I wanted your attention to be focused on something else when I pulled the fabric out of the wound. I had been sure that you would push me away when I kissed you, that I had found the best way to distract you from the pain… I was sure that you would be too shocked and angry by what I had done to notice that I was freeing your knee from the remains of the dress before it was done already. But instead of freeing yourself from me, you…"
He stared at her, again with that unreadable expression in his eyes. She feared that this could mean nothing good. As he reached for her face, she moved away from him intuitively, as far as her injured knee would let her. But instead of attempting to harm her, like she had surely expected him to do after she had misinterpreted his intentions so horribly, he caressed her cheek lightly with one finger.
"When you kissed me back," he whispered, "I was horrified at first, wondering if the pain had driven you mad. But I found myself reacting to you, kissing back without thinking… and as I did, I felt something, something strong, that I do not understand."
Mrs. Lovett quivered at those words, wondering if he really was suggesting that she thought he did. The trembling of her body caused her leg to move lightly as well, and the movement made her groan in pain once more. She bit her lip, trying to be quiet for she absolutely didn't want to ruin this moment, now that Sweeney was at least talking to her about his feelings, and, almost just as important, spoke to her as if she was an actual equal.
Mr. Todd frowned, blinking his eyes as if the moment was broken by the sudden sound and he wondered why he was talking so openly to her. But instead of getting away from her, he reached for her leg, positioning it in a more comfortable way.
"Does the pain get worse?" he asked gently.
"No. It's just…" she sighed, wondering how she could ever explain the depth of her feelings for him and find out what exactly he thought of her without making a horrible fool of herself, or, worse, anger the barber. "Those… those feelings that you mentioned…"
"Yes?" he asked patiently, eying her intently.
But as she returned his gaze, saw those dark eyes focused on her completely, she found that she couldn't speak, couldn't find the right words… couldn't find any words. Her heart pounded violently as she realized that this was the moment, the one that she had been waiting for during almost two decades. This was the moment of truth, in which he would accept her, or, much more likely, would not.
"Nellie," he said quietly as he saw that she was, for once, speechless. "I… I just don't know."
His gaze moved from her eyes to her lips for the briefest moment, but Mrs. Lovett saw it anyway. Hope spread from her heart to the rest of her body when she sensed that he seemed to be interested in her after all, and because Mr. Todd spoke in present tense while making an attempt of explaining how he thought of the two of them.
"Do you think that we might…"
In spite of the liquid encouragement that seemed to be flowing through her veins in that very moment, she didn't dare asking him to spend more time with her in a romantic way, as if all this would turn out to be nothing more than a dream if she would say her wish for the two of them to be together aloud.
"Yes," he whispered, finally seeming to relax a little as he said the one word that Mrs. Lovett had been craving to hope from him almost as long as she could remember. As the tenseness in his body seemed to ease somewhat and he let his guard down at last, she sensed once again the loneliness that almost radiated off him.
Sweeney cupped her face with both hands and moved closer to her, careful not to hurt her knee any more accidentally. As he leant into her, their lips brushing once more, Mrs. Lovett shivered in delight, yet she couldn't help but feel suspicion when the barber's hand run down her body once more. She tensed intuitively but before she could move away from beneath the barber's body, he smiled lightly against her lips and captured her arms above her head, pinning them against the mattress with both his hands to show that he didn't kiss her to distract her this time.
Just before her entire being was lost once again in the sensations that Mr. Todd caused, Mrs. Lovett couldn't help but realize that she had found once again a bright side in a horrible situation; a very bright side in fact. In retrospect, she was very grateful now that she had fallen down the stairs in the bake house. Even though she wouldn't be able to use the sore knee for quite some time, she was now more than sure that Mr. Todd would ease that burden.