"You what?"

Sweeney's eyes snapped open as Nellie's voice broke the sudden silence that had followed after...

The barber blinked, trying to force his brain to retreat from the heavenly places where it had just wandered. But the room he and Nellie were in was dark and there was nothing that reminded him of anything that he might have said or done that surprised the baker so much.

There was nothing indeed, nothing but Nellie. Nothing but the softness and warmth of her skin, the feeling of her spine beneath his eager fingertips, the wild curls that tickled his face and made it seem as if he could almost taste her scent. There was nothing but the beads of sweat on her body and her heart that was still beating frantically beneath his head that was resting on her chest. Nothing but the quietness, comfort and pleasure they shared so frequently now and had brought some light and hope back into his life.

"It's alright," she said gently, running a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. "I understand that you didn't... mean to say that."

In spite of her words, the slight pain that his lack of reaction caused her was obvious to him now, even though he wouldn't have noticed until a few weeks ago. He had said something while he had caressed her as their bodies slowly recovered from just having found release together once more. Something that had surprised her so much that it had interrupted the lazy minutes of satisfaction that usually made her feel just as deliciously lost as him.

"It's really alright," she whispered, "don't worry about it."

She brushed her lips against his, as if she was hoping to made him forget about what just had happened that way. Or perhaps she wanted to forget, because she couldn't believe whatever he had apparently said.

Sweeney however wanted to remember the words that his mouth had whispered in her ear, somehow sensing that whatever it was that he had said had been of great importance.

As he deepened the kiss, his being was again overwhelmed by the sensations that kissing Nellie Lovett caused and he gladly surrendered to them once more. He shivered as she made soft noises of contentment when he kissed her slowly and ran his hand down her back, caressing the curve of her waist.

The kiss they had just shared had made him think of a place far away from London, somewhere by the sea perhaps, in a small but comfortable home where he wanted to live with her, where he would wake up next to her for the rest of his life. And as he kissed her again, the images became clearer in his mind, until they were so real that they could almost touch them.

He intuitively knew that they were parts of a life he could have if he stayed with her. And for the first time he fully realized that he wanted that life, wanted it with his entire being – and that he wanted her, everything of her that she had offered him so generously and would continue to offer him for many years to come.

The physical joy of feeling her body against his own and the visions of an unexpectedly bright future, pulled him once again in a world of hope and delight.

As he was lost in another kiss, the feelings that had broken to the surface earlier rose again, but this time he was actually aware of them.

He was so much at ease in Nellie's presence these days that he often found himself saying things without fully thinking about them. The words he said that way were at least just as true as they otherwise would've been, but it somehow shocked him how easy it was to tell her things without being careful. A very short while ago he had even been off guard to such an extent that he had whispered of feelings he experienced before he himself was actually fully aware of them.

The emotions he felt should shock him, for he had always been entirely sure that he would only feel such things for Lucy, no matter what would happen. But Lucy was gone, having disappeared a long time ago, and no matter how unlikely it seemed, there was someone else now who made him feel like his late wife once had done.

He remembered now what he had said to Nellie, and why she had been so surprised and shocked by it – she had expected the declaration even less than he had.

Sweeney ended the kiss gently and moved somewhat away from her, leaning on his forearms so he could look at her face, that was illuminated now by the first rays of sunlight of the spring's day.

He took a deep breath, wondering for a moment whether he should really repeat what he had just said almost accidentally. But as he stared in her eyes, that were just as dark and hopeful as his, he knew that acknowledging what he had said earlier in a moment of tenderness wasn't only what he truly wanted, but also the only sensible thing to do, the only way to ensure a life for both of them that would be so much better than anything they had known for one and a half decade.

Caressing her cheek with his thumb, he was this time fully aware of what his lips whispered as he repeated what he had subconsciously said a few minutes ago.

"I love you."

The End

Wow, I kinda can't believe I completed this story within a year! But here it is, the final chapter of this fic. It's short but (I hope) sweet.

My next story, also a Sweenett romance (but this time a smutty one!), will be called Choice. I think I'll post the first chapter next week. I also want to continue my half-completed Sweenett fic Miracles at last.

But for now: Happy New Year!