Many, many thanks to Unamuerte for beta reading.
Sweeney Todd stared at the inhabitants of Fleet Street through the huge window of his shop. The barber pretended not to hear the cheerful shouts and laughter of the children and (to Mr. Todd's horror) adults who were playing outside in the snow. For many it was a great relief to have a bit of fun in the wintry weather, but not for the demon barber of course.
For him, the only good thing about the cold was the fact that his annoying landlady and her just as irritating adoptive son had left the house an hour ago to "enjoy themselves", as the baker had put it. Of course, they had tried to force him to join them, but he had snarled and threatened until they finally left him alone.
There was nothing to do now but wait until the weather would improve and the snow and ice would melt. Normal life was disrupted because of the unusually extreme winter; it was almost impossible to leave the house, let alone get any work done. It was needless to say that business was basically non existent, and the same was true for the barber's hope of getting rid of Judge Turpin soon. The only good thing was that Mrs. Lovett and Toby were out, but since there was such a noise coming from outside anyway, it didn't really feel as if there was any difference.
"Mr. Todd, Mr. Todd!"
Sweeney tensed visibly as he heard someone yelling his name. He recognized Toby's voice almost immediately and inwardly cursed himself for thinking that the noise outside was as bad as the usual sound Mrs. Lovett and Toby produced. In retrospect the latter two were obviously worse.
The barber didn't react and pretended not to have heard anything, but it was no use; only a few seconds later, the young boy burst into the tonsorial parlor. Sweeney opened his mouth to lecture the boy about doors and people's privacy, but before he could speak, Toby did so already.
"Sir, you have to help her!" he yelled, even now that he was face to face with Mr. Todd unable to calm down. "You're the only one who can help her sir, all those people are just..."
If it weren't for the boy's hysteria, Mr. Todd wouldn't have even attempted to understand what he was rambling about, but something in the boy's tone of voice caught the barber's attention.
"What is it?" he asked, wondering why he could just never have a moment of solitude without anyone interrupting it.
"Mrs. Lovett!" Toby yelled, as if it wasn't clear that he had been talking about his adoptive mother all this time. "She was on the ice, and then, and then... you have to help her!"
In spite of himself, Sweeney felt the sudden urge to smile, feeling the strange sensation of amusement that spontaneously welled deep inside of him for the first time since his return to Fleet Street.
Mrs. Lovett? In deep trouble? So justice exists after all...
All other people would've asked the boy what had happened after the "and then", but not Mr. Todd. He truly didn't care. It only bothered him that the boy wouldn't stop yelling unless the barber would come with him to save Mrs. Lovett; in spite of his chaotic words, it was quite clear that was what the boy wanted Sweeney to do.
"Where is she?" Sweeney asked, inwardly almost laughing as he saw the boy's face lighten up.
If he only knew that I don't intend to rescue her, only to see her suffer...
"I'll take you to her sir," the boy said hastily. "But please, hurry."
Making sure that the boy was always quite a bit ahead of him so he wouldn't notice Sweeney's amused expression, the barber leisurely followed the boy through Fleet Street. In fact, the barber's mood was so good, that he even didn't feel the urge to kill the girl who threw a snowball at him.
A few minutes later, a very anxious young boy and a still obviously relaxed but partly snow-covered Mr. Todd arrived at the northern bank of the Thames. Immediately it was clear what had happened. There was a huge hole in the ice that had covered the river previously, and it shouldn't be hard for anyone, let alone a cunning demon barber, to see what had happened.
"So she can't even go on the ice without falling in a hole?" he asked sarcastically, one corner of his mouth moving in an upward direction.
"The hole wasn't there yet," Toby exclaimed in defense his adoptive mother. "We were just sliding on the ice and suddenly it broke beneath her feet!"
Did I just think something about justice?Sweeney thought, realizing that this was probably the first sign of good luck that he had experienced in a very long time.
The young boy took his hand and dragged the barber forward, until the two of them were walking among a crowd of people that surrounded a small bundle lying on the snow covered ground. As the barber kneeled down next to it, forced to do so by the young boy, he could see that the bundle was actually a human body wrapped up in various articles of clothing. A few tendrils of auburn hair made it perfectly clear who exactly this person was.
He looked at the motionless woman who the bystanders were covering with even more scarves and coats. Only after few moments did Sweeney became awfully aware of the people staring at him. He recognized a lot of them, some having actually visited his tonsorial parlor once or twice with their families. They probably presumed that Mrs. Lovett and he were in some kind of affair since they were both unmarried and lived in the same building; some of them might even think they were actually married.
The mere thought was enough to make the barber cringe, but he realized that he had to do something. Leaving the woman here to die wouldn't do his reputation as a caring barber any good, and perhaps it was even considered a crime to cause someone's death by being an innocent bystander. The last thing he wanted was having the Judge or someone like the Beadle know about this, and end up in jail once more because of this one little incident.
Stranger things have happened...
Sighing deeply, he moved to Mrs. Lovett, who was still lying unceremoniously on the frozen ground where her rescuers had placed her previously. There were a few women gathered around her, trying to revive the baker. But Mr. Todd, having dealt with injuries and dead often enough on Devil's Island, could easily tell that their efforts were useless and pathetic.
Without saying a word, he scooped the woman up in his arms and walked back to Fleet Street, intending to let nature take its course once they were in the privacy of his shop and no one would later know that his claim that he had "done everything to save her" was a lie.
It was a nightmare to carry the woman all the way back. Except for the fact that it was extremely cold and that the wetness of the woman's clothes spread to his body as well, the water of the river had made the clothes of his landlady extremely heavy. It probably was a good thing that the baker herself hardly weighed anything, or even the labor hardened ex inhabitant of Devil's Island wouldn't have hadn't been strong enough to carry her a few hundred meters.
Toby was walking right behind him, nagging on and on about his adoptive mum and how he had warned her not to go too far on the ice, but Mr. Todd was unaware of it. He wanted to get out of this situation and get rid of his landlady's body as soon as possible.
Once they arrived in the pie shop, Sweeney mercilessly shut the door behind him and locked it. He wanted Toby out of his personal space, especially now. The boy cursed and kicked against the door, not wanting to be separated from Mrs. Lovett, especially not at this moment, but Sweeney just ignored him.
The barber placed the unconscious woman on one of her own couches and then immediately distanced himself from her. Only when there were a few meters between himself and the woman, did he actually look at her for the first time that day.
In spite of what he had expected, he didn't feel any satisfaction when he saw the usually so annoying woman. It was somewhat unnatural for her to be so quiet and motionless. And her skin... the paleness of her limbs and face always reminded him a bit too much of his own unhealthy color, but now that her skin had a sickly gray, almost greenish shade and her lips were starting to turn blue...
To his horror, Sweeney realized that he pitied the woman. He hadn't thought that it was still possible, but now it turned out that he could feel human emotion after all.
Carefully, he moved closer to her, part of him expecting her to jump off the couch as if she had been pretending to be dying all this time, just so she could attempt to scare him. The bad thing was, however, that he actually was getting worried about her.
Slowly, he stretched his arm and poked her cheek with one long finger. Her skin was cold, so horribly cold... almost as if the woman was freezing. Sweeney had never thought it was possible to find someone who felt colder than he did, but here she was. He was rather sure that his body, of which she had sometimes said that he could freeze anything with just a touch, was warmer than she was now.
Unable to resist the urge to see if this really was the case, he moved a bit closer to her and moved his hand once again towards her face, and a few seconds later he found himself cupping her cheek with his right hand. Part of him was mesmerized by the fact that this part of her face fitted so perfectly in his hand, but he was mostly concerned because his hand was indeed much warmer than the woman's face.
And suddenly, he was absolutely sure that he couldn't do it. This woman, who had helped and protected him all this time no matter how much he tried not to be aware of that, the woman who had done so much for him and who probably just couldn't help it that she talked too much... He could not just let her die only to get rid of her annoying habits. And besides, as she was just lying there, so vulnerable, she seemed to differ completely from the foolish chattering, slightly crazed woman she usually was.
Realising that every second her situation worsened the more he procrastinated, he ran to her bedroom and randomly opened some drawers in the hope of finding towels. After he had gone through a few cupboards, he found what he was looking for. He returned to the parlor quickly to cover Mrs. Lovett with them in an attempt to warm her.
Before long however, the towels themselves had grown wet because the woman's clothes and hair were still soaked.
In one horrible second, Sweeney realized that there was only one way to deal with this; only one manner in which he might be able to save his landlady's life. Snarling at the mere thought of saving the baker this way, Mr. Todd angrily threw the towels in a pile in the corner of the parlor. The task at hand wasn't going to be a pleasant one, but it was the only way.
Sweeney went back to Mrs. Lovett's bedroom to get some more towels and a lot of blankets; when he had those, he lit a fire in the hearth and then walked back to the couch near the fireplace where his landlady still lay motionless, illuminated by the light of the fire.
Sighing deeply, the barber sat down on the floor next to the couch so he could reach for the woman's clothing, and began untying the laces of her dress, wondering how it was possible that the woman hadn't drowned in the first place. Her clothes were so heavy and restricting that it was a wonder that they hadn't dragged the woman to the sandy bottom of the Thames. Toby had probably been able to alert other people quickly enough, or perhaps the young boy had risked his life himself to rescue the baker. It wasn't something that Sweeney would ever admit aloud, but the boy's loyalty for his adoptive mother was quite touching.
After Sweeney had peeled the sticky dress off the woman's terribly cold body, he managed to get her boots and socks off with relative ease. Her corset however, the thing that clung tightly to her body and prevented the baker from breathing properly, was more difficult to handle.
Mr. Todd fumbled with the laces and buttons for a few moments, wondering how the woman could ever put it on if he couldn't even get it off, but he soon realized that he was wasting valuable time; he took the razor from his belt holster and simply cut the corset clean away from her body.
To make the last part of the procedure less embarrassing than it already was, he covered her with towels and blankets before removing the final layers of her clothing.
When he was sure that the new and dry fabric covered Mrs. Lovett properly, keeping her warm and preventing him from seeing things he didn't want to see, he pushed the couch that Mrs. Lovett was lying on as close to the fireplace as was possible without either of them getting burned.
When the woman's body was being warmed by the fire, Sweeney took the last towel and used it to dry the baker's hair, which wasn't as easy as he wished it to be. Her locks seemed to be even curlier and messier than usual, much to Mr. Todd's annoyance. After a few more attempts he decided just to wrap the towel around her head.
After he had done so, Sweeney presumed that his work was over and he had done all that was needed to save her. It was a strange feeling to be actually helping someone to survive instead of murdering, especially if one considered the identity of the person he was trying to keep alive now. But at the same time it seemed to be the right thing to do; which was, in a way, even more disturbing.
In spite of himself, the barber moved to sit next to Mrs. Lovett again, so he could take a good look at her and find an answer to the question why he cared in the first place. Was it because, as it had seemed before, that he would feel guilty to let her die after all that she had done for him? Or was there a deeper reason for all this?
"That's just ridiculous," Sweeney muttered angrily to himself, at the very moment that he moved a hand to her face to brush a tendril of hair out of her face. "I don't care for..."
Only then he realized what he was about to do. Furious, but mostly terrified because of what he had almost done, he just stared at Mrs. Lovett's face for a few long moments, wondering what on earth was wrong with him to behave like this.Then, horribly conscious of the small action, he moved his right hand and gently swept the hair out of her face anyway.
The barber would've been shocked by the influence that the small gesture had on him, if he had not noticed how cold Mrs. Lovett's skin still was when he accidentally touched it while brushing the lock out of her face.
"Damn," the barber said, no longer bothering to keep his voice down. "What am I going to..."
He sat motionless as he thought of the only way to keep his landlady's body warm enough to survive the day, and, even more important, the night, when it would doubtlessly get much colder than it already was. As he thought of the lack of warmth, he was reminded of the fact that he was far from comfortably warm himself. He had been sitting still for quite a while and most of his clothes were still wet from earlier that morning, when he had carried the soaking form of the woman back to her home.
Cursing under his breath, Sweeney took off his shirt and trousers, wondering why all this had to happen to him, as if he hadn't suffered enough for one lifetime. His underwear was still dry luckily, so he didn't have to take that off, yet it was a small thing compared to what he had to do to keep himself, but most of all Nellie Lovett warm during this impossibly cold winter day.
He would've given a lot to have a set of warm and dry clothes for himself, but the few items of clothing he owned were in his barber shop. Going outside in his state was a dangerous thing to do, and he wasn't sure whether he could leave Mrs. Lovett, even for only a few minutes. Swallowing his pride and dignity, he knew that there was only one way to deal with the situation.
The baker's bedroom was next to the relatively warm room they were currently in and there too items could be found that would make the coming hours hopefully less awkward and more comfortable.
His body shuddering with cold as he did so, the barber stood and went to the nearby room to fetch blankets and the mattress from her bed. Dragging them to the parlor was exhausting and his muscles protested, just like his uncovered skin.
The couch that the baker was lying on was too small for her, let alone for the two of them. It wasn't comfortable enough either; the barber doubted his body would ever recover if he spent only one minute lying on it.
Pushing the couch and the baker on it away from the hearth, he placed the mattress on the area that he had just cleared, covering it with the blankets. With his last strength, he lifted the unconscious woman and the towels that were wrapped around her petite form, and placed the bundle on the mattress, covering her with the blankets from the bed after he had done so.
The demon barber made once again a mental note to himself that he did notwant to do this, but his body was getting increasingly colder, and he just wanted to warm himself, even if Nellie Lovett had to be the source of said warmth.
Sweeney moved underneath the covers as well, making sure that both of them were covered properly, both against the cold and against any physical contact that wasn't necessary. But still, somecontact seemed to be more than necessary.
He was shivering uncontrollably now, and he knew that they both would feel warmer because of what he was about to do. Besides, his landlady was still unconscious, and she wouldn't notice what he was doing to warm them anyway.
Carefully, as if he were afraid that he could wake her by moving too quickly, he closed the distance between himself and Mrs. Lovett. He pulled her close using the blankets that surrounded her body, subconsciously tensing as he felt his landlady against him. For a very long time he hadn't touched anybody, unless he intended to kill a person, and it had been an odd sensation to lay his hand on a person to help; but to touch a woman this way was much stranger and more terrifying.
He forced himself to calm down and relax, telling himself that this didn't mean anything, that he was just trying to help Mrs. Lovett and himself, but it was quite hard to be so close to someone again after all those years of hostility and loneliness.
As he was getting used to the sensation of his landlady's back being pressed against his chest with only a few layers of moth eaten fabric in between them, he dared moving his hand towards her frame. He bit his lip, telling himself how much he not wanted to do this, but yet his hand seemed to find its way beneath the blankets and towels to his landlady's bare skin of its own accord.
Sweeney gasped for air as his fingers touched Mrs. Lovett's stomach. Not because her skin was still colder than his own hands, but because the intensity of the touch overwhelmed him. He had expected that touching his landlady this way would be disgusting because the mere thought of it had almost made him feel sick minutes ago, but now his hand was somehow drawn to the woman's skin and touching her wasn't as bad as he had thought at all. Her skin was cold or as soft as Lucy's had been, not at all, but in a way, it had its own magic, one that he could not describe.
It was quite easy to place the palm of his right hand against the woman's flesh; in fact, his hand seemed suddenly to have the urgency to move. But before Sweeney could begin the inner debate to decide whether he should allow himself to give in to that ridiculous feeling or not, he first wanted to be more comfortable. He probably would be forced to stay like this for at least a few more hours and if he did to have to spend so much time, he'd rather did it in a not too painful way. He may be a demon barber but he had already suffered quite enough for his liking during his banishment; now that blankets and a mattress were available, he'd rather use them.
But, to his bewilderment, neither the blankets nor the mattress made him feel more comfortable – it was his landlady. Or rather, her body. For some reason, their two forms fitted quite nicely together. As Mrs. Lovett was lying on her side now, knees slightly drawn to her chest, Mr. Todd could lie behind her as close as if he was a second skin, his chest against her back and his knees in the space between hers. His arm was already placed over her waist, but it wouldn't be bad if he were to tighten the embrace, or would it?
He was a bit reluctant to place his face in the most useful but not so appropriate place, but as he realized that Mrs. Lovett wouldn't notice as she was still unconscious, he buried his head in the juncture of her shoulder and neck, gently rubbing it with his face - to warm her skin of course, not because he somehow wanted to explore the crook of her neck with his nose. Because the towel around her hair felt quite uncomfortable, as his face was rubbing against it, he removed it. As a result, the still damp locks fell partly in his face, but he wasn't annoyed.
He was grateful that the woman was still wearing something, for he certainly wouldn't have wanted to be with a completely naked Mrs. Lovett if he was also unclothed. But he was still wearing his underwear and besides, the baker's hair was exposed now but the rest of her body was still wrapped in the blankets. Deliberately ignoring the fact that she was naked beneath those, Sweeney continued the task for which he had arranged the two of them in this situation in the first place: getting them warm.
He gave the hand that had earlier felt like exploring Mrs. Lovett's skin permission to do so now; it was highly inappropriate but just in case she would ever find out and would attempt to murder him because of he what was doing now, he could always defend himself by saying that he had done so to save her life. He was telling himself that now, in fact; for he couldn't really admit to himself that he somehow liked touching the landlady like this.
His fingertips gently explored the skin that covered her stomach and then more eagerly, moved his hands to stroke her sides.
Sweeney was absorbed in which he was doing; otherwise he surely would have noticed how his breath was becoming heavier and would've realized that such a reaction was highly undesirable, which doubtlessly would've resulted in him abandoning his current activity. But he wasn't aware of his body's subconscious reaction to the woman, who he considered to be the most useless one on earth that he would've gotten rid of long ago if it weren't be for her unequaled pies.
A deeply buried part of his being screamed that thinking of her so lowly was only an attempt to persuade himself that he shouldn't be doing this, as if it were easier to hold her in his arms like this if he forget entirely about her kindness and loyalty.
As he lay there, gently rubbing his hand against the skin of the woman who was so silent and vulnerable now, he allowed himself to think of the baker and all that she had done for him in the recent past. It was easier to think of that then considering the possibility that she wouldn't survive the night and could die in his arms.
Gestures he had feigned not to be aware of and words that he had pretended not to hear worked their way into his mind without permission. For the first time, he began to wonder why she always had done all the things she did for him so generously and without asking questions.
Mr. Todd wasn't sure whether his actions had any positive effect on Mrs. Lovett, but he certainly felt much warmer as he caressed the baker's skin. And since he was lying so close to her, his rising temperature would do the woman good.
Inwardly congratulating himself on his own cleverness, Sweeney continued to touch the woman with curious and eager gestures, still not allowing himself to realize that he was no longer indifferent, that he hadn't been for quite some time, and that he was doing all this only for Mrs. Lovett.
His face was still buried in the now drying hair of the baker, as if the current developments weren't taking place as long as he didn't actually see him. The fingertips of his right hand traced the curve of her hip, while the other hand moved freely over her stomach now, rubbing the skin systematically to warm her body before it surrendered to the cold comfort of death itself.
For he was aware every second of the fact that he was the last thing standing between his landlady and that which happened to most of those who fell into the water during such a hellishly cold day and didn't get out into a warm environment, immediately.
Only now it was clear to Sweeney that the moments he had spent amusing himself at Mrs. Lovett's expense were extremely valuable minutes –minutes that were lost forever, time that might've made a difference in her survival. But he couldn't change this anymore, couldn't go back to alter his own foolish behavior. The only thing he could do now was do everything in his power to save the woman.
Fortunately, her body seemed to be warmer now, although he couldn't really be sure. His own blood was almost boiling and couldn't tell where exactly Nellie's being ended and his own began.
But then, as if she had heard him, Mrs. Lovett moved a bit. At first Mr. Todd thought that he had imagined the movement, or that he had caused it by rubbing her body too enthusiastically, but then it happened again: she moved her right hand as if she were looking for something to hold on to, and she doubtlessly was: the previous moment that she had been conscious, she had been drowning.
This was quite some time ago now. Sweeney couldn't remember how long; it could be that he had been entwined with her, lying on the mattress of her parlor, for several minutes, but it could have been several hours as well. Usually he was always aware of the passing of time, a habit formed on Devil's Island, where one had to be aware of one's surroundings at all times in order to survive; but now he found himself incapable of guessing how much time had passed for the first time in many, many years.
But she didn't really wake; she hardly opened her eyes and somehow, Sweeney was grateful for that. He didn't want the moment to end so abruptly; he found himself liking the quietness, the safety the little scene presented. In fact, he was almost enjoying it.
The baker turned around a bit, as if trying to get more comfortable, and to his horror (or that's what he told himself) she managed to turn herself around as well, and, before he could stop her, nuzzle against him. What he didn't like (or at least, tried to) was that she was basically lying in his arms now, her face buried in the crook of his neck; the fact that she wasn't wearing anything and he could feel her warm breath against his bare skin now, wasn't making it any better. And her breasts... they were, just like the rest of her body, pressed tightly against his form and he was aware of every breath that she took, every little movement, and he had to bite his tongue to prevent himself from physically reacting to her intimate closeness.
But as she didn't continue moving and seemed to have fallen asleep, Mr. Todd calmed down, also because her breath was more regular and deeper than it had been when she had been unconscious. It was likely that she would rest quite some time; it was only morning (or perhaps it was already past noon, but again, Sweeney wasn't able to tell) and because he vaguely knew that she hardly slept because of all the work she did at night, he presumed that she would be here just the way she was now for quite some more time.
Slowly, the barber relaxed again, breathing in the scent of the woman who was becoming so familiar to him, blowing a few locks of her hair out of his face before he allowed himself to enjoy the presence of the tendrils a bit too much. His fingers now found their way over the surface of her back, to savor the heat that radiated off her now. Even though he was hardly aware of it, he dozed off.
When Mr. Todd opened his eyes again, he experienced a second of blind panic; he was in an unusual place and for a moment, he couldn't remember how he had gotten there. But as he felt the warm body next to, or rather, on top of his own, he remembered what had happened. It became clear too why he had woken: Mrs. Lovett was awake now as well and was, to his bewilderment, cupping his face with both her small hands.
"Mr. T?" she asked, staring intently at him.
"Yes," he replied, raising an eyebrow, wondering why she asked the obvious.
"It is you, isn't it?"
Before he could answer and find out what was wrong with her, if she had perhaps caught a cold or, worse, something was wrong with her brain since her adventure on the ice, she closed the distance between their faces and crashed her mouth against his.
Mr. Todd was bewildered. Shocked. Dumbfounded. Mrs. Lovett was kissing him. Kissing.
It took him a few seconds to process this particular piece of information, but then his mind screamed stopwith all its might. His body said something quite differently, but Sweeney persuaded himself that kissing his landlady was not reasonable or sensible, just nota good thing to do.
And it wasn't even an actual kiss. Nellie's lips were pressed firmly against his, surely, and she tried to force his mouth open indeed, but because he kept his lips tight against each other, he argued that they were, technically, not kissing. He wanted to keep it like that, and better, keep Mrs. Lovettaway, but the deeply hidden part of him that had earlier encouraged him to explore his landlady's body was protesting vigorously.
Instinctively, he tried to push Mrs. Lovett away from him, but she kept pressing herself against him with a power that he didn't know she had. It seemed as if she were driven by something beyond this earth, as if something inside of her was possessed.
"Mr. T," she whispered as she moved back a second to take a breath of air, "I wanted to do this for sucha long time, and now, at last, I..."
She didn't finish her sentence as she pressed her lips against his again, catching the barber off guard as he had been listening to her words with the desperate hope of finding a reason for her bizarre behavior. In the one second it took him to understand that she attempted to kiss him again, she managed to force his mouth open and invaded it with her tongue.
As he felt the heat and wetness of her mouth, he intuitively knew that this would be easier and over sooner if he cooperated – or at least, let her believe he did. So he fully opened his mouth and allowed her to entwine her fingers into his hair and deepen their kiss. And from that moment on, Sweeney was temporarily lost.
It seemed as if he were awakening for the first time in more than fifteen years, as if he saw light for the first time he could really remember. There was heat; not the warmth of their bodies and the blankets but a kind of warmth that seemed to exist within him, chasing the cold in his body away; and there was her smell, like he had experienced before but now so much realer and more intense.
An almost animalistic sound escaped from her throat, but that wasn't what shocked him; the tears that he tasted were what horrified and confused him even more. But for a few moments, he refused to think about it; for a few moments there was just him and her, the barber and the baker, finding a strange kind of comfort in each other's presence.
During those few seconds he forgot why he had returned the kiss in the first place, but then he realized again that it was wrong.As Mrs. Lovett was clinging to him desperately, kissing him as if there was no tomorrow, he flipped them over so he was lying on top of the woman and thus was able to pin her arms against the mattress, next to her sides, and finally break the kiss by simply moving away from her.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he hissed, catching his breath while he straddled the baker, seeing this was the only way to keep her pinned down on the mattress.
Mrs. Lovett didn't answer; instead, she frowned and tried to get up, worry written all over her face.
"Where... where am I?" she asked, as if she hadn't heard his question; she probably really hadn't.
"Where you are?" Mr. Todd echoed, anger rising within him quickly now at the baker's ignorance. "Where you are? What do you bloody think?!"
Only then Mrs. Lovett looked around, for the first time since she had woken up. First she stared at the fireplace, not recognizing it immediately as she had never been so close to it. Then she eyed the mattress and the blankets and her gaze shifted to him, still looking as if he was somehow different than he used to be, and then she stared at the interior of the room where said mattress, fireplace and barber were located. And that was the moment when she seemed to realize something – something rather important, if he gauged her reaction properly.
Her eyes went wide; not her usual "how can you be so silly" or "don't you dare" wide, but really wide, as if she were watching water burn.
"No," she muttered, "No. This can't be. I really thought..."
Once again Sweeney had subconsciously let his guard down while trying to understand the seemingly crazy woman and once more she profited from this by shoving him off her unexpectedly, getting on her feet and quickly heading for the locked door towards the pie shop.
In the barber's eyes, she simply could not go out there. What would Toby think if he saw a naked Mrs. Lovett coming from the room that she had just shared with him for several hours? For that was how long it was, Sweeney vaguely realized as he glanced at the old clock from the corner of his eye.Hours.
And, of course, it was still very cold outside. Even the pie shop itself would probably freeze by now; the parlor was the only place that was warm enough for humans, let alone for a woman who had almost drowned in a freezing river earlier that day.
"Damn it, woman," he muttered as he scrambled on his feet and outran her in a few steps.
"You're not going anywhere."
With those words, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back from the door handle, literally dragging her back to the mattress and forcing himself on top of her again to make sure she couldn't run away again.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Mrs. Lovett didn't reply; instead she just stared at him, as if she was looking at a ghost. Seeing the deadly look in his eyes, the extreme paleness of his skin and the apparent absence of the thing that normal people would call a 'heart' he wasa ghost in a way, but she should be used to that now – and, according to the way she had kissed him only minutes ago, she didn't seem to be disgusted by it.
As she just kept staring at him and didn't seem to want to answer his rather urgent questions, he was tempted to somehow get the answer out of her by force. Only then he saw the tears welling from her eyes.
Mr. Todd was, for quite obvious reasons, not fond of anything that involved emotions. And of all things that had to do with emotions, crying women were the worst. Even Benjamin Barker had always become thoroughly confused when Lucy cried about something, and since she was his wife and the love of his life he knew her better than anyone did; if there was someone who should know what was wrong with her, it had been him. Yet he had never been able to behave like he should in those situations and now that he was here with Mrs. Lovett, a woman who he now realized, hardly knew, this was much worse.
But as a few tears made their way down her face, he couldn't stand it any longer. People weren't supposed to be so unhappy that they cried, not even Mrs. Lovett with all her annoying chatter and usual cheerfulness – in fact, since she had woken up, she had hardly been talkative or happy at all; if it weren't for her strange urge to touch and kiss him, he could almost say that he liked her presence.
Even now that she was crying, he wasn't really annoyed with her; her tears only confused him. He found that he was actually worried about the strangely behaving woman. Suddenly he understood, in a second of unusual clearness in his mind, how it must've been for her to deal with a man like him who behaved so unpredictably and even aggressively – it was quite a miracle she hadn't banned him from her house months ago, or gone to the law in the first place.
"What... what's wrong?" he found himself asking, when the tears didn't cease to fall.
"I... I'm so... sorry," she sobbed, seemingly ignoring his question.
Mr. Todd truly didn't know anymore how he should react. If he had thought in the past that his landlady's behavior was odd, this was nothing compared to it. And those tears... he couldn't stand them. And if even Mrs. Lovett, who had proven to be quite a strong and hard woman during the few recent months he had spent in her house, was capable of shedding all those tears, there was probably really something wrong. If only she would calm down and talk, so he too would know what was going on and he could do something about it...
The only thing that had been able to relax his late wife all those years ago was something he did not wish to perform with Nellie Lovett, especially not in this situation, but in light of the circumstances it actually seemed the natural and only right thing to do. Ignoring the blankets that had fallen off her body minutes ago, he reached for her and pulled her into an embrace.
She struggled and he had to hold her tightly to prevent her from escaping him once more. He didn't want her to go; both because he needed to find out what was wrong with her, and because he found out that he wished to remain lying close to her. But as her small fists were beating his arms and she pushed her legs against him to find some leverage to break free, their current situation wasn't very comfortable.
The skin of her neck was close to his mouth and because the woman didn't seem to stop her almost desperate attempt to run away from him soon, Sweeney brushed his lips against her skin, hoping that this was enough to make her relax. At least he felt better because of the small kiss; touching her when she had been cold as ice had been pleasant even though it really shouldn't be, but now that she was warm and awake, alive in a way that his Lucy never had been...
He opened his mouth further, gently sucking on the skin of her neck. He was leaving a mark, but he didn't care, especially not since Mrs. Lovett was slowly relaxing and leaned into his kiss.
After a few seconds, she was finally lying still and Sweeney took the opportunity to firmly wrap his arms around her; to make sure that she couldn't try to run away again andto bring that deliciously warm body closer to his own. Only one day ago he had rather died than doing something like that, but now he was so busy with his apparent crazy landlady that he didn't have the time to think how inappropriate and wrong, but he acted on primal instincts now, and those instincts weren't minding Nellie's close presence at all.
"What's wrong?" he breathed into her ear.
"I... I'm confused," she whispered, her voice thick with the tears that she tried to hold back.
"Why?" he muttered while moving his hand over her stomach again, hoping to soothe her that way and that the baker would explain this incredibly odd situation to him.
"Are... are you real, Mr. T?"
"Of course I am," he said, raising his eyebrow. "Why should I not be?"
"Because you're holding me."
"Well," he mumbled, "that isquite unusual, yes, but I can assure you this is real."
"But why would you be touching me like this if this is the real world?"
Inwardly, Sweeney cursed. Having to defend himself for his own actions was bad enough, but now that Mrs. Lovett herself started to question him, things were getting really complicated.
"Your body was very cold when I brought you back here after you had fallen through the ice. I thought this was the only way to warm you up again."
From the way she said it, it was quite clear that she didn't 'see' it at all.
"Well," Sweeney started again, hesitantly, "I didn't like the idea myself, but..."
"But what?" she asked, suddenly much more alert.
"But... I found that... it wasn't all that bad."
"Iwasn't all that bad, you mean?"
"Yes," he muttered, looking anywhere but at her now. "You."
"And you claim this is real?" she asked, chuckling darkly. "I don't think I believe you."
"What are you ranting about, you crazy woman?" he said, suddenly much more like his snarly self. Her rambling about 'real' didn't make any sense and no matter how much he detested her foolish chatter usually, she never said anything that was complete nonsense like she seemed to be doing now. "Did you hurt your head this morning?"
"I don't think so," she stated, looking around the room once more. "This does look like my parlor, don't you think?"
"Yes of course it does," Sweeney growled, more annoyed with the woman with every second that passed. "That's because it is your parlor."
Mrs. Lovett raised an eyebrow because of his sudden outburst and turned around to face him. Then, to the barber's bewilderment, she poked his chest with an accusing finger.
"You are fooling me, aren't you? This isn't you, and this is some kind of sick joke!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sweeney yelled, not believing the woman's absurd behavior and regretting that she started to act so oddly only when he had found himself intoxicated by her presence.
"This isn't my house, is it? And this isn't you either... I can tell! You would never have behaved like this before. I have figured it out, but... even now, you're not acting like you're supposed to do!"
Once again Sweeney was shocked. What on earth was this crazy woman talking about? Had a stranger taken her place when she was dying, or had something equally strange happened?
However, her next attempt to break free hadn't come as a total surprise since she had tried to escape before, and this time the barber's arms were firmly around her before she could get on her feet.
"Let me go!" she screamed, "you devil, you..."
Not before she had used so much force in her attempt to break away, as if she was truly desperate. But why?
Since it didn't seem that words would make any difference at that very moment, Sweeney focused on calming Mrs. Lovett down. Regretting that a kiss probably wouldn't help this time, he forced her down against the mattress and straddled her, vaguely realizing that this wouldn't be so horrible if it weren't the situation, but the main thing on his mind was figuring out what was wrong with the woman. She seemed to be delusional; she acted shockingly similar to the men who had lost their sanity in the heat of the deserts where he had spent fifteen years of his life.
"Mrs. Lovett!" he said, hoping to get her attention since she was still looking around her wildly. "Mrs. Lovett!"
This didn't work; in fact, she didn't pay any attention to him anymore at all and that alone was wrong.
Only when he almost yelled her given name in her face, her huge eyes met his.
"It's not funny anymore," she said, whispering. "Make it stop."
"Nellie," he repeated, his voice gentler now, not wanting to scare her. "What are you talking about?"
"The ice...the water, so cold... couldn't move..." she muttered, taking a deep breath before she continued talking in a steadier way. "I died, didn't I? When I woke up, Mr. T. was holding me, and I thought I was in heaven. But now... he doesn't act like he should act, but yet, he is here. Not hurting me, but not loving me either. That doesn't seem as bad as hell to me, but still... where am I?!"
It was utterly bizarre to talk to a person who addressed him in the third person as if he was someone else, let alone that a living human was talking about the afterlife thinking that she was dead, but at least he understood now what the woman was suffering from – she thought she was dead.
"Look at me," he said while he looked her in the eyes, hoping that she would understand him sooner if their gazes were locked. "You're not dead. Toby came to me this morning to say that you had fallen through the ice and that I needed to help you. I went with him and when we arrived by the river, you were lying on the ground. You were alive, and in order to keep it that way, I had to warm you and this was the only way I could think of."
"So... so all this is real?"
"Yes," he said, "you recognize it, don't you?"
"Of course I do," she replied, sounding slightly offended. "At first I didn't know where I was because we are lying on a mattress next to the hearth, but then I saw later that this is supposed to be my parlor. But you were behaving in such an odd way that it made me believe that..."
Her speech faltered, but Sweeney was rather curious to what she had to say.
"That what?" he asked, still staring into her eyes that, he noticed now, reflected the fire from the hearth in an almost supernatural way, almost as if there was a fire burning in her brown eyes.
"That all my dreams had come true," she whispered, still holding his gaze.
The words that she had said dawned on them at the same time. Mr. Todd's eyes widened in disbelief, and so did Mrs. Lovett's.
"Don't tell me I just said that aloud," she muttered in utter horror, closing her eyes frantically as if she could undo her last remark that way.
"You... you..." Sweeney stuttered, feeling as if his entire world was falling apart, "you dreamed about this?"
Mrs. Lovett's mouth opened and closed in a futile attempt to say something, but no words left her lips. To Sweeney however, the lonely tear that slowly made its way downwards from the corner of her right eye to her flushed cheeks, said enough.
In a way, this surprise came as a greater shock than her kiss earlier that afternoon. He could've persuade himself that the previous kiss had been an accident, something that had happened in the spur of the moment, but her most recent revelation made perfectly clear how she thought of him, that it wasn't a mistake at all.
The extent of her feelings for him scared the barber. She wasn't supposed to feel that way for him, especially now that he found himself overwhelmed by her presence. Their current situation was supposed to be a one time thing (actually, it shouldn't have happened in the first place, but Sweeney was far beyond that point now) and just the knowledge that Nellie had dreamed about this would make it so much more tempting in the near future just to give in to that urge to sleep in her arms or be held like this. He would be making two people happy, after all.
It would all be so easy if there wasn't that little voice in his head, telling him that he loved his wife, that this woman was no one, just some kind of forbidden temptation to test his loyalty.
Mr. Todd knew that this wasn't the case, but yet, sometimes he had the sneaking suspicion that all this was only a test, that someone had hidden his dear wife somewhere close and would give her back once Sweeney had proven that he cared for her, that he still loved her, even after all this time, and that he would do anything in the world to get her back. It was silly, of course, and it if actually was true, he should've had his wife back months ago. But he had not, and ever so slowly it started to dawn on him that she was gone and that there was absolutely nothing he could do about it except for killing the Judge who had caused all this misery. But what would happen once that was over?
"I'm so sorry," she said quietly, while more tears welled in her eyes. "I shouldn't have said that; you really shouldn't know."
She buried her face in the pillow, as if she could escape from the situation that way and it would make it seem as if the entire day had never taken place the way it had in the first place. But Sweeney did see her, especially the upper part of her back that the blankets failed to cover.
"I think I'll go to my bedroom to find a dress to wear," Mrs. Lovett said after a long and rather uncomfortable silence, in which Sweeney had simply held her.
"That's not a very good idea," he replied. "It's very cold in your bedroom. The only reason that we aren't freezing here is the fire."
He knew very well that there was a second reason that was perhaps even more important, this being the way their heated bodies had been pressed against each other. But he sensed this wasn't the right moment to mention this. First, he thought, he needed to think, figure out what was going on exactly between the two of them.
"And then how do you suggest…"
"Like this," he said, not giving her the possibility to finish her sentence, for he already knew what she was going to say. Needing time to think or not, he realized that they had to stay warm now, or there wouldn't be any more time after this incredibly cold day.
Not wanting her to be cold and unable to resist the temptation of feeling her close to her again, he moved towards her, pulling blankets over her while embracing her from behind.
As he did so, there was still the nagging voice in his head, telling him that this was wrong, but the strength of the voice was decreasing when Sweeney realized more and more that whether it was 'wrong' or not, he did thoroughly enjoy being this close to the woman he hadn't given a second thought until very recently.
When she was so close to him once more, his temperature rose again almost immediately, to a most pleasant extent that he hadn't experienced for a long time; the last time had been probably been when he had woken up next to his Lucy for the very last time, all those years ago. But once again, his wife wasn't the one who was on his mind in that moment.
"This seems like a sufficient alternate solution," she said, sounding rather content as his arms encircled her waist. However, there was still a badly hidden layer of suspicion in her voice, as if she still couldn't believe that this was actually happening.
But as he reached for her right hand and placed it on top of his own arm that was resting on her stomach, most of the tension in her body disappeared, as if the gesture made her realize that this was actually real, and not an illusion or even a trick.
They made themselves more comfortable, making sure to be protected against the cold as much as possible, and Sweeney sighed in contentment as he cuddled against the small baker whose body already had molded against his own.
"Mr. T," she said softly, after several moments had passed. "I'm glad that you saved me."
Sweeney tensed as she said those words. He was not the one who had saved her after all; or at least, he wasn't the person who had gotten her out of the water before it was too late. Toby was the one who had probably risked his life to save her. He wanted to tell her this, but he felt that it wasn't the right moment to mention her adoptive son. He didn't want the baker to worry about the boy, and he was rather sure she wouldn't like the fact that he had expelled him from the warmest place in the house.
Mr. Todd was sure that the boy had found a good place to spend the night and the remains of the day, probably in the barber shop where a small fire had been burning in the heater the last time that he was in that room, but Mrs. Lovett sometimes wasn't half as trusting when it came to Toby's capability to look after himself as Mr. Todd was himself. Besides, he didn't want the baker to rush over to the boy to thank him – or at least, not in this very moment. He enjoyed holding her too much to let go of her already.
"And I'm glad that you're alive," he said quietly.
The words still came somewhat like a surprise, both to the baker and to himself. But when she removed herself from his embrace so she could turn around to face him, they looked each other right in the eyes at last and they both knew that he had spoken the truth.
"So you have a heart after all," she muttered, placing a now incredibly warm hand against his chest, right above his firmly beating heart.
"So it seems," he replied, staring in those endless brown eyes of hers, only really seeing them now for the first time. He could almost see the reflection of his own hard, black eyes in those pools of warmth.
She whispered his name and very carefully, she moved closer to him again, almost as if she were afraid that he would reject her. But in this very short time, their relationship had grown too solid for that. He already wondered vaguely how it could be that he had never really noticed this woman before, why he hadn't recognized the sadness and desperate longing that he was so familiar with himself.
So the barber reached for her, encouraging her to come closer to him until their lips brushed lightly. Mrs. Lovett sighed with happiness and the last bit of disbelief and reluctance disappeared from her body, as she was completely convinced that this was not an illusion after all at last.
Unable and not wanting to resist the temptation any longer, he pulled the baker closer to him and deepened the kiss. As their tongues met and her small hands caressed his chest and sides, he felt a jolt of desire deep within him, something which he hadn't thought would ever happen again.
All he wanted now was to give in to the need that Nellie Lovett caused and eagerly, his hands slid down her supple body, directly to the places he had so carefully avoided only an hour earlier.
The baker's gasps of surprise and delight were the most beautiful thing he had heard for many years. When they kissed and he explored her entire body with curious fingers at last, her hands caressing his body in return, the last bit of coldness disappeared from his body.
It was becoming undeniably clear to him that he still turned out to have a beating heart after all. And, thanks to Nellie Lovett, it was melting at last.