A/N: You all probably know the story of Gift of the Magi, even if not by name . . . about the two lovers who sell their most valuable possessions so they can afford to purchase the other a present, but then find that their gift giving doesn't, erm, go quite as planned (if you don't know the story, you should really go read it! Before or after you read this, I'll let you choose ;]). I think it's an adorable tale, and I love Christmas, and of course I love ST so . . . ta-da! Here is this fic. =D
A HUGE thank you to my beta, fellow musical lover, and friend, MrsRuebeusHagridDursley, who performed what is probably the fastest beta job in the history of the world in order to get this fic back to me in time to post on December 25th. Not only is her speed unparalleled, but she raised my confidence, patiently discussed with me the very important matter of the interior and exterior of Sweeney's razor case, and reassured me that there is nothing wrong with having some fluff in my stories . . . especially at Christmas time. You're amazing, Morgan.
It is three days before Christmas, and this evening, Mrs. Nellie Lovett is decorating the interior of 186 Fleet Street.
Well, and why not? she reasons to herself, grinning into the branches of the silver fir tree she is hauling through the door. Toby has never had a proper Christmas – he told her so just the other day – and goodness knows that Sweeney Todd certainly hasn't celebrated the holiday in fifteen years. She, too, hasn't participated in any sort of winter festivities in more than a decade. It simply would not have made sense for a woman alone who could barely scrape up enough money to eat to purchase decorations, of all things.
But this year is different, and she is determined to treat both her men to a proper Christmas.
She has already hung a wreath on the front door, placed three socks over the fireplace to serve as stockings, settled two white candles into the center of the dining table, and fixed a sprig of mistletoe in the doorway of her shop (how she is going to fix Mr. Sweeney Todd there is another matter . . . but one step at a time). Now it is time to place the tree.
"Mum!" She can't see Toby, what with the fir in her arms obscuring her view, but she pictures him flying into the shop and gaping at her. "What're you doing?"
"Christmas – tree," is all Nellie can manage to grunt out, shifting the tree in her arms. God, the thing's heavy, and it was the smallest one she could find too.
"Honestly, mum, you aiming to kill yourself? Let me take that."
"I'm managing just fine, Toby – "
"Together, then," he says, and she is left with no option but to concede as he grabs the evergreen and shifts it in her grasp so she holds the top and he the bottom. She breathes in deeply and enjoys how no pine needles scratch at her nostrils – and how she can now see where she walks.
"Thanks, love," she tells him.
The pair waddle from the pie shop into the parlor. Nellie scans the room as she guides Toby backwards. "There's a spot in the corner over there, right by the harmonium – if we can lug it there – "
"I didn't know you was buying a Christmas tree," says Toby. Exhibiting strength she did not know he had, he takes the tree entirely into his own grip, totters the remaining distance to the designated spot for the evergreen, and hefts it into position inside the tree stand.
"'Course," says Nellie. "It's an important part of the holiday. And so's decorating." She gestures to the objects spread on the sofa.
Toby's eyes go wide at the array of decorations: a stream of silver tinsel, candy canes, silk ribbons, candles, a small angel. . . . "Mrs. Lovett, how much did you spend?"
Nellie laughs. "Since when are you worried about money, love? Relax – Mr. Todd and I run fine businesses. Besides – save for the candy canes and tinsel – I didn't spend a single pence. Found most of it in the closet."
A slow grin steals across Toby's face, and he reaches for the angel tree topper. "Ah, ah," Nellie admonishes, tapping his nose with a wink, "that goes on last."
They proceed to adorn the Christmas tree, chatting and giggling to themselves all the while. They are so loud about the ordeal that Sweeney Todd, upstairs in his shop, hears. He grinds his teeth. One would think they were holding a riot down there. He shoots up from his barber chair and makes his way downstairs.
The sight that greets his eyes is baffling, to say the least: the boy and his landlady are capering around a silver fir, laughing like fiends. Toby's hands are full of candy canes and tinsel is wound around his neck in either a scarf or a noose. Nellie is busy nestling candles into their holders, the tumbleweed atop her head that she calls hair looking even more ridiculous than normal due to she having hooked several candy canes into the tangles.
"Mr. T!" she squawks in-between chortles when she sees him. Her face lights up brighter than the candles she's placing on the fir ever will. Toby's face, in contrast, darkens when he sets eyes on the barber. "Didn't see you there, love. Care to help us deck this here tree?"
The scene is absurd in every sense of the word, but he can't help a sneer from crossing his face. "I did not know we planned to celebrate Christmas, Mrs. Lovett." They aren't what you would call pious folk, to say the least.
"And why the hell not?" she demands, communicating with her glare what she can't with her mouth: Say anything in front of Toby and you'll be in my next batch of pies. This only makes his sneer grow; it amuses him when she tries to take control. As though she is the one with the control in their relationship.
Somehow he is conned into hanging candy canes from the evergreen's branches, and then into placing an angel on top of the tree. This done, the three occupants of 186 Fleet Street step back for a moment and stare at their handiwork.
Nellie beams. It's beautiful. On her left, Toby ogles the spectacle; on her right, Sweeney is stony faced, the remembrance of what might be a smile – though on second thought, is more likely a smirk – etched on his face. Well, so what if he thinks them partaking in anything religious is funny? She knows he'll appreciate all this in the long run.
"Morning, Mr. Todd," Nellie chirps as she enters the barber shop. Sweeney does not acknowledge her, but not even this can dampen her spirits. Who knew that a looming Christmas could make a demon like you this happy? she thinks, and giggles, drawing a shift of Sweeney's eyes in her direction.
"Something amusing, pet?" he asks.
"No, nothing," she returns with gaiety as she sets his breakfast atop the bureau. "Just thinking about the day ahead of me. I'm planning to go to out to the market today – always such an exciting adventure, don't you think? Never know what you'll find . . . well, I'll see you later, love!"
In a flurry of movement, she is out the door. Sweeney stares at the space she just stood. He is shocked. Whenever Nellie decides to go to the market, she always invites him to go too. It's not that he is disappointed she didn't ask – he isn't. He always turns down her offer (God knows he sees enough of the woman as it is), and when he does end up going along with her, it is never of his own volition.
Still . . . why didn't she ask? It's startlingly out of character for her, for typically she attempts to drag him out of his shop at every opportunity –
She is going to buy him a Christmas present.
Sweeney passes a hand in front of his face. Damn. If she purchases him a gift today – and he cannot deduce any other possible reason she wouldn't have invited him out shopping – then that means she will expect one in return. It is one thing to share the woman's bed – it is entirely another to buy her a bloody present. A gift means attachment, affection, and haven't they already established that there is to be nothing of the sort between them?
On the other hand . . . well, one gift isn't so bad. He can give her one thing. It won't do to not get her anything . . . she will get upset, and if she is upset, she might not be willing to do what needs to be done, and if those bodies sit in the bakehouse too long – he does not even want to entertain those thoughts. He cringes at the notion of handing her a present, of the ecstatic reaction he knows he'll receive, but he cringes even more at the thought of losing her as a business partner.
That settles it, then. After she returns, he will go out and buy her a gift.
Sweeney's thoughts happen to be right on the mark, for at this very moment, Nellie is strolling through the market looking for a Christmas gift for her barber. She is perplexed. What on Earth do you get for a man who cares about so little?
True enough, he's devoted to his razors, but it isn't as though if she bought him another he'd like it, since he's far too attached to the ones he has at present. The man couldn't care less about his appearance, so clothes are out. He's not fussy about furniture, so that won't do either. And she tried several months ago to dress up his room – add a bit of color and life to the place – but he would not have any of that, no sir.
There are shops and objects and potential possessions everywhere she looks – but none that are right for Sweeney Todd.
And then she sees it.
She comes to a dead stop in the street, hypnotized by what is behind the window pane. She is so stunned that she's finally found it, so awed at how perfect it is for him, that movement ceases to be a word she knows the meaning of – until a man colliding into her backside reminds her of it.
"Watch where you walk, hussy," he barks as he slips around her and continues on.
"Sorry," says Nellie, too distracted and shocked and delighted to register the man's rudeness. A woman transfixed, she steps into the shop.
The place is filled with sharp cutlery and barber supplies, with fancy trinkets and elegant toys. It isn't the sort of place she usually dawdles in; you can practically smell the many rolls of money each item costs. But she isn't the poor widow she once was. She is a successful entrepreneur – very successful. She can afford to spend a little more than usual here and there.
She approaches the spindly shopkeeper. "Excuse me, sir. I'd like to buy that razor case in your display window."
"Of course, miss." He goes to retrieve it for her. She watches as he removes the desired object from the exhibit. The razor box is in far better shape than the one Sweeney currently keeps his blades in, with its worn leather exterior and stained velvet insides. This one is made of mahogany wood that is smooth as a fresh shaven customer. Its clasps and handles are coated in a gold facing, and burgundy satin covers the interior.
It is stunning. It will soon be his. His beautiful friends deserve just as beautiful a home, after all.
"I would also like it monogrammed, please," she tells the shopkeeper when he returns to the counter with the case. "With 's' and 't.'"
He nods and then names the price.
Her stomach drops. The cost is higher than she anticipated – far higher. The hefty pouch of coins and bills sitting in her bosom now feels light. She does not have as much as he wants. Not nearly enough.
Her mind races for a solution. She could run back to Fleet Street and take some more of her savings . . . but she knows that even if she were to gather all the money in the house, including the coins slipped between the sofa cushions and the bills scrunched in the floorboards, it would not be enough.
Perhaps she should buy something else for him instead?
No. No no no. This case was made for Sweeney. She'll be damned if she returns home with anything but this in her arms.
"Miss?" the shopkeeper says, shuffling his feet side to side. "Do you, erm, still want this?"
She can come up with the money. She's had to do it before, scrabble around to make ends meet. She'll pawn off something she already owns. But what, though? She doesn't own anything that would be of enough worth to afford something of this caliber.
Then it hits her – she does. It was just last week that she purchased a new dress – a dress that cost a good deal of money. She's only worn it once, and there aren't any stains or tears or anything like that, so she should be able to sell it back without much of a fuss.
But you saved your funds for so long to be able to afford such a lovely outfit . . .
She shakes those somber feelings away. Material possessions have never mattered to her before, why should they start mattering to her at this point? She's gotten along just fine for all her forty-one years without that dress – no reason that she can't get along fine without it now.
"Would you mind holding this item for me for a few hours?" Nellie asks the shopkeeper.
He agrees to do so. She tears out of the shop and rushes home to retrieve the dress.
He'll love it. I know he'll love it.
And she grins.
Several hours later finds Sweeney walking the streets of London, unaware that he is in the same position his landlady was in just this morning: with no bloody clue what to buy his accomplice for Christmas.
He can't buy her something romantic – God knows her feelings don't need further encouragement. But he can't buy her something cheap and of no use either – as has already been realized, if he upsets her, she may abandon her role in their partnership.
This, however, does not narrow down his possibilities by much. What does the woman even want, anyway? She's got supplies for her pies, she's got the tools she needs to make said pies, she's got enough of her precious knick-knacks to last five lifetimes . . . what more could she desire?
And then he sees it.
He draws closer to the window the object is placed behind. It is a necklace made of a thick, interlocking gold chain, tiny rubies dripping from every other link, leading to a much fatter ruby pendant dangling from the center. Every speck of the entity screams Nellie Lovett; it's so large and shiny and faux-upper-class that it must have been crafted with her in mind. And it would match perfectly with that new dress she just bought . . .
He must be staring for a long time, for the shop owner pokes his head out the door and smiles at him. "Can I help you, sir?"
"How much?" Sweeney grunts, pointing at the necklace.
His jaw nearly falls open upon hearing the shop owner's reply. Who in the world has that much money? He is about to walk away but stops himself. There is no chance in hell that he's going to find a more appropriate gift for his landlady. He must buy this necklace. He doesn't have enough money at present, but surely if he shaves all his customers for a few days rather than killing them he could muster up enough revenues . . .
Fool. It's December twenty-third. You can't make enough profits in two days for this.
He scowls at the necklace. How else is he supposed to gather enough money for this thing? He supposes he could sell something, but he owns nothing of any worth. Nothing except –
His throat goes dry.
He puts a hand into his pocket and fists his fingers around his cool, silver friend.
The door to his barber shop wheezes open and Nellie's head peers around the corner. "Merry Christmas, love," she whispers.
Sweeney, arm against the windowsill and eyes on the streets, twists his head towards her. "Mrs. Lovett. It's three in the morning."
She smiles. "Didn't you always used to wake up early on Christmas morning too, so's you could open your presents right away?" He beats back vestiges of memories from another life. "Besides, I wanted to give you your gift before Toby wakes. C'mon downstairs."
He follows her out the door, down the steps to the pie shop, and into the parlor. Nellie dives towards the Christmas tree, whose candles provide the only source of light in the shadowed room, and retrieves one of the gifts sitting beneath it. She hands him his wrapped gift with a flourish, face full of happiness. What is she so happy about? How does she always manage to be so radiant in a world of such gray?
He takes the gift, places it on the settee, grabs his present for her, and puts it in her hands. "You first," he says.
Nellie's skin tickles. She doesn't know what's prompted this behavior, but she isn't about to complain. She didn't even know he bought her anything! Surely this is a sign that he cares. Sweeping one quick glance over his candle-lit face, she rips off the paper to reveal a black satin box. Lips pursed, she opens it – and gasps.
Her eyes well up. It's the most gorgeous thing she's ever owned – so red and glittering and gold and elaborate and oh God this must have cost him so much – but why did he buy it for her? – and what in the world does he think she'll wear it with? She has no gown even a tenth as nice as this necklace –
"Thought you could wear it with that dress you bought last week," he mutters with a trace of – embarrassment? uncertainty? hope? – as she fights against the salt water gathering in her eyelids. When she continues to say nothing, he misreads her silence. "You don't like it."
"No, don't be foolish, love," she rasps. His dark eyes narrow and fix on hers when he hears the tremors in her voice. "I love it, I do. I just – oh – it's all rather silly – see – I sold it."
She can't stop the tears from falling now, even though she can't place why she's crying. For God's sake, she didn't like the dress that greatly. These tears aren't for the dress though . . . she knows that much. She turns her face away from him, not wanting him to see.
What is she talking about? Why is she crying? She was so happy just a minute ago – his present to her was supposed to increase happiness, not snatch it away. He moves a step towards her and takes her chin in his fingers, forcing her to look at him. "Sold what?" he demands.
"My dress," she says, and suddenly she's laughing through her tears. "I sold that dress I bought last week so's to pay for your present." She's smiling now, smiling up at her love, although he's never looked more befuddled. "Go on, dear – open your gift."
His eyes search her face once more, shining like dying embers in the darkness, before he pulls away and picks up the present she bought for him. He unwraps it and stares down at the razor box, face blank.
Nellie isn't sure what sort of reaction she expected, but it certainly involved a little more change in expression than what is currently arranged on his features. Then she is struck with a thought – and, absurd though it is, she can't help but blurt out, "Did you sell your razors to pay for the necklace?"
"No," says Sweeney. He found several of Benjamin Barker's possessions inside Johanna's old crib and sold those instead. He will sooner cut off his foot than sell his razors.
"Oh," says Nellie with another laugh. "Well – that's good, then. Your gift's still usable."
He runs his fingers over the razor case, across the gold fastenings, along the inscribed S.T. Then he puts it down and moves towards her, lifting the necklace from the box and spinning her around. He fastens it around her neck.
"So is yours," he murmurs.
He rotates her around again so they face each other. She beams up at him, genuinely happy even with tears still lingering on her cheeks. He can't fathom it. He can't fathom how she's gone from weeping to grinning so quickly. He can't fathom that this woman would have given away what is most precious to her just so she could buy him this present.
But it isn't what's most precious to her.
He swallows. Suddenly he can't stay here.
"I'll be – returning to my shop now," he says.
Nellie's face falls. She had hoped they would spend more time together this morning, that he would be inclined to linger downstairs for once. Haven't you learned by now that it's foolish to hope and dream? "Alright, love," she says, and trails after him through the parlor and into the pie shop.
He pauses in the doorway, gazing through the panes at what awaits outside. It's started to snow.
"Merry Christmas, love," she tells his back.
"Merry Christmas," he returns in low, vague tones, opening the door; and then all at once he whirls around and claps his mouth over hers. Her back hits the doorframe and she's trapped between it and his body, trapped between the shop and the frosty outdoors, and wind and snow bite at her skin but they're unable to chill her even the slightest bit. His hands cup her face and wipe away the last of her drying tears.
"Mmm, love," she hums when he pulls away, leaning her head against the doorframe as she catches her breath. "Not that I don't appreciate that sort of thing and everything, but – what was that for?"
He is amused. "Isn't that sort of thing what mistletoe is for, my dear?"
Oh yes, the mistletoe. She forgot that she had hung any. Now she grins at the little sprig above their heads. "Yes. Yes, it is." She fiddles with a button on his jacket. "Thank you for the gift. I love it. Even if I did sell what you intended me to wear it with – which I'm sorry 'bout, by the way, I never would've guessed that you picked out a necklace to go with that dress – but that's not to say I regret selling the dress so's to buy you a new case for your razors, 'cause I don't regret it one bit, only I just want you to know – "
Bloody woman never knows when to shut up, Sweeney thinks.
He silences her with another kiss.
A/N: Two years ago on Christmas Day, my mom and I went to the movie theater, as is our tradition (there isn't much else to do on December 25th when your family is Jewish). The movie we saw was Sweeney Todd.
I haven't been the same since. ;]
Merry Christmas, loves.
And as always, any and all reviews are welcome.