Happily Ever After
Mrs. Lovett only realized how late it was when Mr. Todd rushed into her parlor with a sour look on his face. She had been so engrossed in the adventure story that she was reading, that she hadn't been aware of the passing of time.
"My tea?" he asked, looking at her with annoyance. He referred to the cup she always brought him in the evening, a few minutes before he usually tried to go to sleep.
"I wasn't aware you actually drank it," she said sweetly, for once irritated that the barber dared disturb her for something that he didn't want anyway. She didn't even bother to look up from her book, wanting to make clear to Sweeney that she was getting tired of his behavior, even if she wouldn't have been reading such an exciting story.
He never drank the tea she brought him; every morning she had to remove a cup with cold but flavored water from the exact spot that she had placed it the previous night, when she was bringing him his breakfast – something he didn't touch as well. She wondered why he was asking her for it now anyway - perhaps because he liked to torture himself by having food within his reach that he didn't allow himself to eat.
The barber didn't answer, but the silence told her enough: her reaction had angered him. For once, she found that she didn't really care; she just wanted to continue reading. She felt she had a better relationship with the fictional characters in her book than with Mr. Todd; and at least they didn't threaten her and didn't demand so much of her. They only offered her a way to escape from normal life, if only for a few hours, and reading about their adventures made her relax; something that Sweeney Todd never did and doubtlessly never would.
Mr. Todd however didn't like her lack of reaction. He didn't march out of her room like he usually did when something was once again not to his liking; instead, he grabbed the book out of her hand and quickly read some paragraphs of the page she had been reading herself, snorting as he scanned the text with his dark eyes.
"A three headed snake and a lion as big as five men... Mrs. Lovett, I do hope that you realize that this story is completely ridiculous."
"Why?" the baker asked, not seeing what was so strange about it, or why he cared in the first place.
"Because such creatures do not exist."
"Says who?" she replied sharply, wondering if Sweeney was really even going as far now as to bash her favorite stories, and why he would actually do such a thing in the first place. "It's not that I've ever been out of London; so how can I know that those animals aren't real?"
"Obviously, the writer himself has been nowhere but in England," the barber muttered.
"So what?" Nellie really didn't see why Sweeney was making such a fuss about her book and why he just couldn't let her enjoy something as innocent as reading a novel.
"This is poison for the mind," Sweeney snarled. "This so called writer should at least do some research before attempting to create a story."
"Who are you to judge this book?" she said, her voice louder than she realized. "People like me can only dream of traveling and have nothing but books like this to learn about other countries."
"And some of us want nothing more than to stay at home," Mr. Todd said, his voice almost inaudible but much more unpleasant than it had been before. Nellie gasped as she realized what she just had said.
"I... I'm sorry," she muttered, "I didn't mean to..." Luckily, the look on his face softened somewhat as he accepted her apology. "It's just... I have no idea about anything outside of London, let alone England, and reading those books is is the only way for me to satisfy my curiosity."
Sweeney nodded and scrutinized the book for a long moment.
"I might be able to tell you about the colony and the harbors that I visited when I was aboard the Bountiful, if you'd like me to, and if it would make you stop reading this... trash."
The baker's eyes widened as it became clear to her that Sweeney was willing to actually talk to her, and not about silly things such as the weather or their customers, but something that was about him and something she had been wondering about for a very long time.
"I'd love to," she said breathlessly. Mr. Todd's own stories were probably much, much better than anything that happened in her favorite series.
She had expected the barber to leave her after that statement, only to come back and to talk whenever it suited him – or perhaps, not to come back to tell her those stories at all. He was Sweeney Todd after all.
But to her surprise, the barber awkwardly sat down on one of her couches, and began to talk. He spoke reluctantly and slowly at first, but as time progressed and Mrs. Lovett got lost in his story about not only the prison but the colony as well, he told his tale with more ease. The baker's eyes shone with excitement as she heard his vivid tale, feeling as if she could actually see and hear the sea and the desert and the people and all the other things on the other side of the world that he talked about.
The barber only stopped talking when he was sure that she had fallen asleep. But she wasn't aware of it at all; she didn't even realize she had been falling asleep. Now that her eyes were closed, she still heard his voice, and she was on the island so far away, experiencing the journey that Sweeney had made once he had escaped the prison. As she dreamed of dolphins, endless amounts of clear water, palm trees and beaches with white sand, a small smile found its way on her face.
A few weeks later, Mr. Todd found himself sitting on a couch in Mrs. Lovett's parlor, talking about his almost deathly encounter with a crocodile that had taken place many years ago. He had told that particular story three times already, but he didn't really care, just like he didn't actually mind that the baker who he was talking to was cuddled against him and that he had wrapped his arm casually around her waist.
It was strange how his stories had formed some sort of bond between them. He hadn't expected it, but it was a relief to talk to someone about his experiences, even if this person was Mrs. Lovett. At first, he had mostly told her the things that she wanted to hear; about wild animals, strange vegetation, unfamiliar landscapes and more of that kind of visual things. But as they spend more time together, his tales had gradually shifted to his more personal experiences in the colony and he had told her about the horrible things that he had been through when he was held in prison.
He had found out that the baker was even better at listening than she was at speaking. A patient and interested person who was willing to listen to him was something of which he had forgotten what it was like and he it turned out to have a strangely calming influence on him. It was comforting in an odd way to be able to speak about the things he hadn't been able to talk about for such a long time.
And during the long evenings that he spent in her parlor, telling her about his adventures, he had found out that the way her head rested on his shoulder when she was tired and the way they sat close to each other was almost... pleasant.
When he sat back after another hour of story telling, making himself more comfortable while making sure not to disrupt the way the baker was curled against him, he felt something hard press against his back instead of the soft and worn fabric of the couch. Without thinking, he reached for the object behind him.
A moment later, he was holding a book in his hand. Unlike the novels she had read before, there weren't any exaggerated drawings of exotic animals printed on the cover of this one. It was blank, just as blank as the cover of the book that Mrs. Lovett had been reading an hour ago when he had stepped into her parlor. The first thing he had done when he had entered the room, was throwing some more wood on the fire in the hearth, turning his back to her in order to be able to do so. When he had faced her, the book had disappeared. He hadn't thought about it then, for he had been eager to continue the conversation with her that they had ended the previous evening, but now that her cheeks burned just like the flames that he had fueled earlier, he was quite curious.
Quickly, he opened the book at random, and began to read quickly. The groan of frustration coming from Mrs. Lovett's direction made it rather clear that she didn't want him to find out what was in the book. Within seconds, when he realized what he was reading, he knew why.
"Nellie," he said slowly, idly wondering when and why he had began addressing her in such an inappropriate manner, "no matter how glad I am that you stopped reading those horrible so called adventure novels, I don't see why you had to turn to this... waste of ink and paper instead."
She blushed even more, but she replied quietly, looking everywhere but at him.
"If there are things that I haven't experienced myself but of which I want to know what they're like, I read about them in books. That's why I read about far away countries, until you told me all about them that I ever wanted to know. Now I began reading about another topic of which I hardly know anything."
"So that's why you are reading romance novels?" Sweeney asked, one of his eyebrows raising as he realized what her words implied. It was hard to believe; Eleanor Lovett, the beautiful and cheerful baker who did everything with so much enthusiasm and passion, didn't know much about love?
"Albert and I didn't love each other," she said quickly, sensing his disbelief. "We cared for each other, but it never was a secret among us that our hearts belonged to others."
"Others?" he asked weakly, his mind trying to process that particular piece of information.
"Yes. Albert was in love with a charming woman who was a few years my senior, which wasn't strange since he was quite a few years older than I am. They... were together sometimes, but I didn't mind, especially because he always told me about it and promised me that he would stop seeing her if I wanted him to."
Immediately aware of his skepticism, she quickly continued.
"They had been in love already when our parents arranged our marriage. Since I loved someone else as well, I thought that it wouldn't be fair to blame him for something that I was guilty of myself."
"Someone else?" he echoed.
"There is a man I love," she said quietly.
"And?" he asked before he could stop himself, strangely curious for the answer.
"He... disappeared before I could ever tell him how much he meant to me."
"And... that's it?" he asked, unable to believe that the baker, who recently had turned out to be quite a pleasant woman in spite of her flaws, hadn't achieved more than that.
She nodded, looking sadder than he had ever seen her, staring at him with those endless brown eyes that had an unfamiliar emotion written in them.
Then he remembered what she had told him; that she wanted to know about things she had never experienced. Once again, the books she read about the subject weren't very reliable ones and even though his stories of this particular part of his life wouldn't be as good as the actual experience, he was rather sure that he would be more able to make her understand what it was like to love and to be loved back than those horrible and unrealistic books did. Without really thinking about it, he began to talk about his Lucy and what he had felt for her, hoping that the baker would understand how miraculous it was to be in love, just like he had been able to explain to her how things are on the other side of the earth.
He talked for minutes, for almost an entire hour, without realizing that he had been speaking for so long and about things so personal, and he wasn't aware of Nellie's reaction. He was lost in the past, remembering his wife with more detail now that he actually spoke about her aloud, until he was done talking at last and he noticed that the baker was crying.
Before he could even wonder why, the baker hurled herself at him. The movement caught him completely off guard and before his mind had analyzed what was happening, it was too late already. He closed his eyes intuitively, the rational part of his being not knowing how to react, only hoping that she didn't intend to harm him. Even the deepest part of his being, that had always reacted on its own accord whenever it was necessary, when mere logic or strength couldn't save him, had abandoned him.
When he dared open them again a few seconds later, he found himself being tightly embraced by Mrs. Lovett. She was holding him in a way she had never done before. Recently, their behavior towards each other had been much friendlier and more casual than it had ever before, but there had always been a certain boundary. It hadn't been crossed and he was sure that it would never be - until now. This time, there was something more than friendly about the way she clung to him and buried her face in the fabric of his vest – much more.
And when she looked up to face him, after a long moment, there was something in her eyes... he couldn't describe it. Somehow, she had always had that particular look in her eyes when she gazed at him, but now it was so much more obvious and...
She moved back somewhat, removing her arms from him but her warm hands lingering on his shoulders. Before he had the chance to find out what this meant, she moved forward once more and her lips crashed against his.
Sweeney was dumbfounded, having no idea why Mrs. Lovett was doing this - why the hell she was kissing him.
His arms moved on their own accord, ready to push her off him even though his mind was too shocked with this recent development to try to stop her.
But as he tasted tears and he sensed how she was clinging to him desperately, as if he was the one and only that mattered to her and that she feared that he would be gone the moment she loosened her grip, he remembered what had happened earlier. She had spoken of a man that she loved, a man who had disappeared, and he realized now what exactly he had read in her eyes moments ago – and all those weeks before. Love.
His body, and mostly the arms that had been about to push her away, went numb when realization crashed down on him, even when her lips were pressed against his. It was not just a man she had been talking about earlier, and her feelings for that man hadn't stopped when he had 'disappeared' like he had initially presumed. No; he was the one she had been talking about; he was the one she had fallen in love with so long ago and she hadn't stopped loving him when he was banished – in fact, he sensed now that she had only grown to love him more. And he had probably been the one who she was thinking of whenever she had been reading those horrible romance stories in those cheap books of hers; God only knew what she had felt every time they had sat so close to each other in a way that he had so innocently thought to be 'casual', and when he had shared his deepest secrets and thoughts with her.
After a short moment, she broke away from him, looking more miserable than she had ever done before. She refused to look at him and it was obvious that she feared his reaction. To his own surprise, he wasn't angry with her and only felt pity for the woman.
"I'm sorry Mr. T," she said weakly. "But I just… just wanted to know what a proper kiss feels like."
"That wasn't a proper kiss," he replied slowly, remembering vaguely, as if the last moment had been nothing but a distant dream, how their noses had bumped awkwardly and that he hadn't opened his mouth to give her more access.
"Oh," she said quietly, staring at the floor while her cheeks reddened even more. "Well, it's not that anyone bothered to kiss me properly in the past."
It was clear that there was something he could do to make her feel better, even though this was something that he usually wouldn't even consider. But now that he had spent so much time with the baker and he had grown to understand her to a certain level, he couldn't stand seeing her so sad. The idea of giving her what she wanted didn't disgust him like he thought it would; instead, the retrospect of kissing her just once was, strangely, quite pleasant.
"Lie down," he said quietly, pointing at the pillows on the side of the couch where she was currently sitting to make clear that he wanted her to make herself comfortable.
His words were confusing her but she did as he told her. A moment later, she was lying on the couch, her knees bent awkwardly because there wasn't enough space for both of them this way. Sensing this problem, Sweeney stood up, giving her the room she needed, then parted her legs a little and sat down between them on his knees.
Mrs. Lovett looked at him, her eyes still wide, obviously not believing that this was truly happening, and perhaps wondering whether this was a dream, a scene from a story in which she had probably always imagined herself and him instead of the actual main characters. Or she might know that this was real in a way that her beloved books would never be, but she feared that his intentions were like those of the antagonist of the books, who had nothing but bad intentions for the heroine.
Wanting to calm her, he reached for her face, caressing her skin. He hadn't really touched a woman for more than fifteen years, let alone like this; and even in the past, it was only Lucy who he had ever touched that way. He had no idea whether the current gesture was actually calming, for he couldn't even remember in detail how he used to touch his late wife's face. Mrs. Lovett's eyes however fluttered closed and she relaxed visibly, making it clear to the barber that he somehow still was able to touch another human being in a comforting way. He hadn't been exactly sure before whether he was still capable of this. He hadn't given it any thought because it hadn't seemed to matter; it was not that he had to worry about such things now that Lucy was gone. But now that there suddenly turned out to be a woman who still cared for him and of whom he was quite fond of himself, it was somehow important once more.
Carefully, he moved himself on top of her, making sure not to crush her beneath him. Smiling was something that he had found himself incapable of for a long time, but as he looked into her eyes, that were wide now with anticipation and basically seemed to shine with love and adoration, his lips curled upward.
For a long moment, they simply remained like that, his body molding against hers and their faces only inches away from one other. Sweeney felt a tinge in the pit of his stomach; something that hadn't happened to him for so long that he'd almost forgotten what it felt like and how delicious the sensation was. He had always been sure that Lucy was the only one who could provoke such reaction within the core of his being, but now it seemed that he had been wrong.
"Please," the baker whimpered. He didn't know what exactly she was almost begging him to do, but he was rather sure that there was something that he wanted to do.
Slowly, he closed the last distance between them. Their lips brushed lightly, curiously, until she opened her mouth, eager for more. The kiss deepened and Mr. Todd noticed with satisfaction that the baker moaned quietly while she held him tightly. Especially for a woman who claimed to never have been kissed 'properly' before, he thought that she was reacting wonderfully to him.
Sweeney found himself moving his hands into her hair, as if to make sure that she wouldn't move away. He didn't know what made him do it, only that there was something about her in that very moment that made it impossible for him to fight the initial urge to stop this madness as quickly as possible.
Almost an entire minute later, the kiss came to a slow end. The baker and the barber stared at each other, their foreheads resting against each other, both breathing heavily and unable to believe what just had happened. He was still holding her, and as he looked intently at her, a strange feeling welled inside of him.
"That was even better than I had imagined," she muttered at length.
"Indeed," he said quietly, the words escaping his mouth before he could stop them.
"What do you mean?" she asked, looking at him intently.
"I never thought about kissing you, but now that I did, it was… not unpleasant."
She gazed at him, once more with that incredibly sad look in her eyes. He understood now why, even though he couldn't see how all this had happened, how it had come to this.
"I'm sorry Mr. T," she whispered. "I know that I shouldn't trouble you with this, but sometimes it's just too hard to…"
New tears welled in her eyes and began to fall. This time, the salty substance didn't dumbfound him. He reached for her face, wiped the tears away with his hand and caressed her cheek with the other, hoping to be able to calm her once more.
This approach worked; Nellie relaxed immediately when his fingers brushed against her skin and she tried to smile. But even now that she was quiet again, his hand lingered close to her face, subconsciously tugging a loose curl of hair behind her ear.
She moved towards him again quite abruptly, but this time he was prepared. So when she flung herself at him once more, he wasn't surprised, even though he didn't know why she acted like this for the second time. He simply held her again, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her closer to him.
They remained like that for a few long moments and Mr. Todd was relieved when the baker simply sat still, her face buried in the fabric of his vest once more. He didn't like to see her upset; he had grown too fond her during the past few weeks to be indifferent towards her any longer. But even though he found himself enjoying the baker's presence more and more, he wasn't at ease with the fact she harbored such intense feelings for him. Kissing her had been something that had felt shockingly good, but still, this wasn't something that he could simply accept.
When her fingers found their way beneath the hem of his shirt, carefully stroking his sides with warm and gentle fingers, he held his breath for a moment, then picked up the book she had been reading once more. He liked to think that he only let her touch him like that because he didn't want to see her hurt by his rejection once more. That was easier than admitting than he actually enjoyed the way she caressed his sensitive skin, whether he was able to handle that or not.
Trying not to like the pleasant sensations her small fingers caused too much, he skipped to the last chapter of the book, reading it quickly with the part of his brain that could still focus on the badly printed words.
He cringed as he read the last few paragraphs. The ending of the story she had been reading was just too... too... happy.
Wanting to get rid of the offending text as soon as possible, Sweeney threw the book in the still burning fire without thinking about it twice.
The sudden movement startled Mrs. Lovett. The shock that the barber's unexpected motion had caused however was nothing compared to the horror that clearly overwhelmed her when she realized that he had just destroyed one of her beloved books. Only then it dawned on him that what he had done wasn't wise, certainly not considering the circumstances.
The baker stared at him, her eyes widening once more (he wondered for the first time how it could be that all her facial expressions involved her eyes to such an incredible extent, and why he liked the expressiveness of those two pools of emotion so much). Sweeney feared that he had gone too far at last and had pushed her beyond her breaking point by doing something as unthoughtful as burning the book that had caused all this between them.
"It's poison for the mind," he said quietly, remembering what he had told her a few weeks ago about the adventure stories she had still been reading then.
"Are there in this book creatures that doesn't exist as well?" she asked, obviously even more psychically hurt than before, and even less willing to believe him than when he had told her that the animals in the books she had been reading before only existed in the mind of the authors, even though those writers themselves often claimed otherwise. But this time, he didn't blame her.
"No," he said, shivering lightly at the sudden coldness he experienced when she moved away from him. "It's the ending. Real life isn't a fairy tale for grown ups like the story suggests; it doesn't have a 'happily ever after'."
"But it's nice to think that it does," she muttered, staring at her book that was being reduced to ashes.
"It's no use fooling ourselves," he replied, but his gaze was focused on the baker, only to be averted quickly when she looked at him once more.
When he stared into the fire himself, not wanting to meet her eyes because he knew too well that they were both fooling themselves already, both with their own alternate story. He was allowing himself once more to create the happy ending in his mind; the one that he had never known and would never know, except for those few rare minutes in which he could make himself belief that the past fifteen years had been nothing but a nightmare, that his Lucy was still with him and that their Johanna was only one year old; that he would wake up soon, trembling, but only to realize that all those horrors hadn't been real and that his wife was there to comfort her, just like she had always been.
But it wasn't his wife who ended the moment of make-believe, but the tormented baker who he had temporarily forgotten when his mind had retreated to the past and had surrendered to unjustified hope for the shortest moment once again.
Mrs. Lovett sat down behind him, resting her chest against his tense back and wrapping her arms tightly around his upper body. Her head rested on his shoulder, her warm breath teasing his neck.
"Do you really believe that?" she whispered, her mouth dangerously close to his ear. "Do you really believe no one can have a life with a happy ending?"
"I don't only believe, I know," he said, but his voice wasn't as firm as it had been now that she was so close to him. "Or perhaps it doesn't go for everybody, but it certainly does for me – and I'm afraid for you as well."
"I refuse to think like that," she said. "I like to think that even if our own story doesn't have a happy ending, that we can write our own one, making it up while the years pass, so we all can have a happily ever after eventually."
Sweeney merely snorted, wondering when the seemingly endless source of positive energy within the baker had finally run out of hope and optimism.
He didn't believe what she said, but at the same time, it would be so tempting to listen to her. It was not that he really thought that he could ever be happy again, let alone with her, but perhaps it would be good to give her what she wanted. He would make her happy then and although he couldn't give her love, he could give her friendship and, perhaps, a few kisses every once in a while – he had just found out that that wasn't as bad at all as he ever could've thought. She couldn't mend his broken heart, but she would be able to calm him, soothe him, give him the peace of mind that he needed.
Perhaps, he thought, when she snuggled closer against him, making herself comfortable so close to him, the baker had been right after all when she had said there was hope of happiness, even when the supposed to be fairy tale ending of one's life was destroyed.