I'm sorry that it took me quite a while to start posting a new story after I had completed the previous one. The thing is that 2011 didn't exactly began in a good way for me - but things are getting back to normal now and so am I.
This also is a different story than the one I mentioned on the last day of last year. This was supposed to be my Christmas one shot for 2010, but as you can see, it turned out quite differently. When this fic is completed, I'll get back to the stories I referred to earlier.
This fic is told entirely from Mrs. Lovett's point of view. Mr. Todd's side of the story will be explained, but not in the first chapters.
She had intended to make sure that he wouldn't be able to get away from her – after all, the boy caused enough trouble even if he was within reach. She had also promised herself not to react when she would return to that place.
But when she walked down Fleet Street for the first time in a decade and her eyes fell on the house where she had lived for the greater part of her life, she found herself standing rooted to the ground, not aware of the oblivious boy who pulled his hand out of her own.
Mrs. Lovett breathed in as deeply as she could, but the frosty air didn't calm her. Large flakes of snow fell down on her, obscuring her view, but she wasn't aware of it. She did know that it was completely irrational to react like this – dangerous, even – but she couldn't help it.
Her former shop and home hadn't changed much on the outside. This was the first thing that had completely surprised her. She had expected that the building would be destroyed by the doubtlessly horrified and shocked habitants of Fleet Street as soon as they had found out what exactly had been going on inside number 186 for months. She had been sure that the place would either be completely demolished or re-build.
Most of the front of the house however looked as if nothing had happened at all. There was some damage of the once brightly painted woodwork and from her position in front of the shop she could see that the furniture inside of it was gone, but except for that it was impossible to tell that so much had happened there, that so much time had passed.
With a jolt of shock she realized that even her name was still visible above the windows of the former pie shop, a reminder of a past so dark that she usually tried not to think of it. But now that she was looking at the building that hardly betrayed anything of the horrors that she – and so many others – had gone through inside its walls, she couldn't pretend any longer that no one of it had ever happened.
"Look Mum, I'm building a snowman!"
For a moment, her attention was drawn to the auburn haired boy who was busy with handfuls of snow on the other side of the street. To her discomfort, he was standing right in front of the entrance to her former pie shop. She intuitively wanted him to get away from there, but she forced herself not to intervene.
"That's lovely, dear," she replied, hardly looking at what he was actually doing. It was unlike her to ignore the boy who meant everything to her, but now that she was catapulted back into the past, she found herself for a moment incapable of caring about the trivialities of the present.
As she looked at the boy, she was reminded of the fact that she was standing still in the middle of the street, right in front of the former home of the demon baker and barber of Fleet Street.
Even though she had fled far, far away as soon as she could in order to safe her life – as far as it was still worth the trouble, after all what had happened – the rumors and stories about the crimes that she and Mr. Todd had had committed had even reached her.
But right now she couldn't bring herself to move to a place where she wouldn't capture as much attention. Her well known auburn curls were hidden beneath a shawl; the fabric protected her against the cold, but the fact that it made it difficult for others to recognize her was much more important.
"It'll be the biggest snowman ever!"
"Yes Teddy, I'm sure it will be," she muttered.
It didn't matter that he couldn't her. It didn't matter that she didn't mean it. The boy's ability to focus on something was even more fleeting than hers had been when she was his age; it was a trait running in the family.
But she supported him anyway, encouraging him and helping him as much as she could, even as she began finding it difficult to keep up with the energetic child now that she was growing older herself.
She wanted to give him a childhood free of worries and discomfort, for as far as he hadn't suffered both of them in great quantity already. He couldn't help it that life was the way it was and although she knew that it was impossible, she wanted to shield him from the harsh sides of human existence for as long and as much as she could. Not because she owed him, but because she loved with with all that was left of her heart.
Even though the baker was drawn to the building of which its other inhabitants had shaped her life, her eyes lingered on the boy for a moment longer. He was rolling a snowball over the ground, making it bigger and bigger that way. Doubtlessly it would form the lower half of the snowman he was building at that moment. While doing so, he was completely oblivious to the people walking around him and the frosty air that even Mrs. Lovett herself was beginning to feel.
For a moment she wished that she was young again as well, that the past forty years could be undone somehow. That she was just a little girl again, moving to London when the farm on the countryside where she and her family used to live provided not enough food to feed a couple, let alone a couple with four growing children.
She had been afraid, unwilling to leave her childhood home, horrified by the city that was completely unlike anything she had ever known. But she hadn't been responsible for anyone and didn't have to do anything except for simply going with them and doing as she was told.
Within a decade however she had been the only one remaining. Her parents and brothers had died; the family had found out the hard way that diseases spread even quicker in the city than they did on the countryside. Her sister survived, but married a merchant from Newcastle as soon as the young Nellie herself was engaged to Albert Lovett, the man whose money had to keep her comfortable – and most of all, alive.
It hadn't, not really, but Mrs. Lovett hadn't wanted it to be any other way. The reason for this was simple: Benjamin Barker.
She didn't want to look at his part of the building, but her eyes were drawn to the former tonsorial parlor anyway. Her heart ached when she remembered the way he had changed once he had come back to London, back into her life. The events that had taken place more than a decade ago were fresh in her memory as if they had only happened a few weeks before now.
The memory that was most clear was the one that was formed by the last night they had spent together – the night that everything had fallen apart. It was no wonder that she recalled the night so clearly; for the past ten years, there hadn't gone a week gone by that she hadn't had a nightmare about it at least once.
In her heart she had always known that Sweeney would find out sooner or later that she hadn't told him the truth about his wife's fate. Of course, she had hoped that he wouldn't, but in her life things never were so simply. But never she would've been able to predict that the effects of the information that she had withheld from him would be so disastrous.
It was a miracle that she had survived at all, she supposed. He had meant to kill her. No matter how much she had wanted it to be otherwise – no matter how much she had tried to fool herself – he had wanted to murder her, as if she was just another one of his anonymous victims. She had seen it in his eyes, even if he pulled her into a waltz, heading for the open oven, pretending to be giving in to her desire for him after all.
She still didn't really know how she had managed to escape; even in her nightmares, the final seconds that she had been with him were blurred and vague. He had intended to burn her in her own oven, at least she was sure of that, no matter how much the mere thought still hurt her.
He was so much stronger than she was - he easily could've thrown her in the fire. She had seen nothing but blankness when she had stared into his black eyes for the very last time, as if pleading him that way one last time to make her dreams come true instead of murdering her in such a cruel way, making her death a lot more painful than the ones he had allowed the men who he hated so much to have.
The thought that he hated her at that moment even more than the Judge and the Beadle hurt her in a way more than the fire would've done if he had actually managed to throw her into it. But there was something – doubt, pity, disappointment... she still didn't know – that made him hesitate for the shortest of moments. That second was all that she had needed to break out of his suddenly limp arms and run, run, run. The image of his eyes, burning with hate and fury, had followed her with every step she took. It still did.
She hadn't stopped running until she was far away from Fleet Street, in an area of London where she had never been before. A carriage driver took her as far away from the City as the money she happened to have with her – which wasn't much – could bring her.
The baker, who had become a rather rich woman in just a matter of weeks, especially when considering the fact that she had been starving not long before, was left with nothing but the clothes on her body and the terrifying memories in her mind. She hadn't looked back, had left her old life completely behind.
Her body had fled to the other side of the country, but her heart had always remained in London and it was a rare occasion when she didn't think of Mr. Todd for longer than a few hours. Even though he was gone and she would never see him again, he still dominated her life, almost just as much as he had done when they had still lived together in Fleet Street.
She wasn't even aware anymore of the fact that she was standing still in the middle of Fleet Street and that she was trembling with hunger even now, her eyes glued to the entrance to the former barber shop.
Even though he hadn't set foot in the house for as long as she had, the building looked as if Mr. Todd could walk out of his tonsorial parlor any moment, with the scowl on his face that she hated so much, muttering about his lost family and vengeance, being completely oblivious to the woman who had longed for him – loved him - for the greater part of her life.
They had never found him. She had made sure to keep herself as informed as possible without raising suspicion. The details surrounding the murders in Fleet Street grew more and more gruesome as the days passed and the people gossiped, but one thing never changed: the barker nor the barber were ever found. Sweeney must've successfully escaped as well, but after all those years Nellie still didn't know whether this was a good thing or not.
Mrs. Lovett had had a decade to think about it, but she still didn't know what she felt for the barber after all what had happened. She should hate him after what he had done to her – and she did. Or at least, she wished that she could. But even though he had tried to kill her after everything that she had done for him, she couldn't help but feel... something when she remembered him. Something that wasn't fear or hate. Something that made awfully clear to her that at least a part of her still loved him.
From the way he was yelling at her, the baker concluded that she hadn't been aware of Teddy even though he was talking to her.
"You can't stand still in the middle of the street like that," he said matter-of-factly when he had her attention at last. "You're standing in people's way."
She allowed the boy to drag her to the relative quietness of the side of the road. Even though he took her closer to her former home than she had been before, she didn't have the strength to resist him, eyes still focused on the door where Mr. Todd used to go through countless times a day.
"Why are we here anyway?"
He looked up at her expectantly, eyes just as brown and expressive as her own. She managed to tear her gaze away from the building as she tried to answer him. Doing so however was difficult, even when she could manage to meet the boy's gaze. Even she herself didn't know why she had come here, why this was the first place that she had visited now that she had returned to London.
"I... I used to live her."
The truth was something she preferred to tell Teddy as often as possible. It was easier, for both of them, but that didn't make it pleasant to do so sometimes. She inwardly cringed because of the torrent of questions that was doubtlessly going to follow her statement.
His eyes were wide with surprise as they looked around with much more interest than before.
"Yes," she mumbled, "I've lived here for a long time."
"It's so dark and crowded - and it stinks," he announced, a revolted look on his pale face. "I don't like it here."
The simple statement hit her like a physical blow. The boy was so pure, so honest... and she took him to a place that was the complete opposite of it.
"I know," she replied weakly. "I don't like it very much here myself. But we... we might have to live somewhere around here for a while."
Teddy's face fell, causing the baker to feel even guiltier.
"But... aren't we going home?"
"Not for a while," she said slowly.
Mrs. Lovett breathed in deeply, wondering how she was going to tell him that she couldn't any longer afford to pay the rent for their small room in Newcastle – and not of any room in the relatively pleasant city. She had tried to explain it to him earlier – or at least, had intended to do so – but she had found herself incapable of telling him the harsh truth. Now she had no choice any longer though.
For a moment, she wished that she hadn't been so weak – the shock would only be greater now that they had left their home already. Once again she wished that she would've been able to persuade the landlord to let them stay just a few more days, so Teddy and she could spend one more week in relative comfort.
But the elderly man had been merciless, giving her only one particular other option to stay for a bit longer. There had been days that she would've accepted to sleep with men in order to ensure her survival, but the thought of the innocent boy waiting for her – and one day finding out about it – made it impossible for her to do so.
"Teddy..." the usually so cheerful boy looked up with dread clearly visible in his eyes. The baker kneeled down so her face was at the same level as his. "When your father died, he left us some money. I earned money as well in the bakery where I worked. But the shop closed a few weeks ago and there was no other place for me to work. We could live from the money that your father left us – until now. I have to find work. This is the only place where I might find it."
She had expected the boy to be shocked, to be angry with her. What she hadn't thought was that he would take it as well as he did, nodding as understandingly as a six year old could.
"It'll be alright Mum," he said with a voice that was stronger and more reassuring than it had ever been before. "I'll take care of you."
Her breath hitched in her throat as she heard what he said. It was typically a thing only a naive child would say in such a situation. He wouldn't be naive much longer if she kept behaving towards him like this – if she didn't succeed in creating a secure life for him.
The look in his eyes was more serious that ever been and she inwardly shivered, her conscience screaming at her for what she was doing to the boy. She was supposed to raise him, not drag him down with her.
"Yes," she said, caressing his cheek in what she hoped was a comforting way, "we will be alright. It won't be easy, but we'll find a way."
"What is it, Teddy?" she asked, hoping that it wasn't about something that she couldn't deal with at that very moment. She felt tested enough for one day already.
"No, I'm not," she answered quickly, only then realizing that there were indeed several tears running down her cold cheeks.
"Yes, you are," Teddy said, even as she was inwardly begging him just to drop the subject, because she was indeed feeling rather desperate and she really didn't want to break down just now.
Teddy sounded surprised, as if he had thought that she was somehow stronger than to give in to her emotions like that. Which was worse, he shouldn't know that their situation was so bad in the first place.
"Nonsense," she replied, furiously wiping the tears away. "It's the cold wind, that's all, and..."
Her voice faltered. As the difficulty of their situation dawned on her fully, she found it impossible to continue speaking.
It was in the middle of another merciless English winter and she was once again almost alone in the endlessly depressing city. She was responsible for a child that she couldn't afford to look after, she had nowhere to go and didn't even know how she could buy a next meal for Teddy, let alone for herself.
Instead of finding a proper house for them like she should, she could only hope that they could find refugee in a church or something like that during the coming night. But if the citizens of London were still as charitable as they had been ten years ago, the chance was small indeed. Having saved her very last pennies to buy Teddy breakfast, she couldn't even remember when she had properly eaten herself for the last time.
As if it wasn't bad enough yet, returning to Fleet Street had made undeniable clear to her that the memory of Sweeney Todd still haunted her, and that it would probably do so for the rest of her life. In spite of everything, she still couldn't help but long for him – for the man he had been, for the man he could have been if only he had let her. Even now that the lives of Teddy and herself were on the line, she couldn't help but think of the man who she kept loving even though he had ruined her life in almost every way possible.
"Don't cry, Mum."
Teddy's arms were suddenly around her as he comforted in a way she was supposed to support him. She didn't want him to see her like this and she forced herself to compose herself, but she couldn't help but bury her face in the crook of his little neck. The fabric of his coat was soft against her skin; it was the last thing she had bought in Newcastle, leaving her only just enough money to pay for the train to London. Teddy would outgrew the coat within months – but really, what else could she have done?
Nellie was unaware of the people walking around her, pretending not to notice the strange boy and woman kneeling down on the snow covered street. They were her former neighbors and acquaintances, most of them knowing at least one of the victims who they might have eaten themselves... but they didn't recognize her now that her hair was covered and her face was pressed against the boy's shoulder.
"Oi!" The baker let go off Teddy as he suddenly turned partly around. "She's touching my snowman!"
The boy freed himself from her embrace, heading for the girl who was standing in front of the pile of snow that he had played with earlier.
"I'll be right back Mum!"
She smiled, even as a few tears that she hadn't managed to hold back rolled down her face. She missed Teddy's warmth, the reassurance that she at least still had him, but it was a relief to see him like his usual, playful self even now. The seriousness that he had just proved to possess as well terrified her.
The baker watched how Teddy ran towards a blond haired girl who was reaching for the snowman once again at that very moment. The girl took something that looked quite a lot like a carrot from a man who was standing next to her.
Just when she wanted to push the item in the powdery substance where the snowman's nose ought to be, Teddy reached her.
"You can't do that," he said, pulling the girl's arm that was holding the carrot away. "That's my snowman!"
"But I'm only..." the girl's voice was soft but clear as she defended herself.
She didn't have the chance to do so however. As soon as Teddy grasped her arm, the hand of the man that was standing next to the girl landed on the boy's shoulder in quite a rough way.
Seeing the stranger's hand on the boy's shoulder, motherly instincts kicked in. Without thinking, Mrs. Lovett approached the man, hardly aware of the fact that she couldn't even see his face because of the way it was hidden in his black coat.
"Don't touch my boy," she hissed, fingers wrapping around the man's wrist and pulling it away from Teddy.
"As long as your boy stays away from my girl," the stranger growled.
There was something about his voice that was very familiar, but she had not the chance to consider it. One moment, she was holding the man's wrist, and then she was slammed against the former pie shop, trapped between the wall and the dark man, his hands right below her elbows as he pinned her arms against the cold stones behind her.
Horror welled up within her as she realized what was happening. Even moments ago she had thought that the lack of money was her largest problem, but it seemed trivial compared to the situation she was currently found herself in now. Within mere seconds, Teddy might not be simply short of money.
But after a few seconds the stranger's grasp relaxed somewhat. Mrs. Lovett thought she heard him gasping. The shawl was yanked roughly from her head, but the hand that had released her temporarily to do so pinned her against the wall behind her more powerfully than before when her characteristic auburn curls were revealed.
"It can't be."
The unknown man's shocked declaration caused her to panic. He had recognized her and even though she still didn't know who he was, it was obvious that he must've lived around Fleet Street ten years ago. He doubtlessly knew the rumors about her even better than she did herself – if he hadn't experienced Mr. Todd's and her crimes at first hand in one way or the other.
Being killed by this stranger suddenly didn't seem any longer to be the worst possible outcome. He knew her, obviously, and now that he had recognized her, there was nothing that prevented him from drawing more attention to her. People were gathering around them already, wanting to see what was going on between the man and the woman.
The inhabitants of Fleet Street remained on a safe distance for the time being, didn't seem to have recognized her just yet, but Mrs. Lovett knew that it was only a matter of time before this would change.
She wished now that she hadn't come to Fleet Street at all, that she had listened to her mind that had told her all along that it was madness to return here out of sheer nostalgia, out of a nonexistent hope that her life in London would enfold in a better way than the previous time, simply because she began at the point where her earlier life in the City had ended so drastically ten years ago. But it was too late. The man held her captured in a way that made it impossible for her to escape.
There was a blur of movement just behind his shoulder. Before she had noticed it herself, the man had realized it already, even though his back was facing the boy that approached him. A second later, Teddy was flung through the air, landing on the pavement a few meters away. She vaguely realized that it was a good thing that there was so much snow, otherwise the boy would've been seriously hurt.
Thinking however wasn't something she could really do now that the man had threatened her boy in such a way. She struggled against him, but she didn't stand a chance. He hadn't killed or exposed her yet, but it was only a matter of time. The baker however could only look at Teddy as the boy groaned with pain, trying to stand up again.
After a few more breathless seconds, the dark man pulled her into the alley right next to the former pie shop, away from the prying eyes. The most curious people followed them, but there was something in the stranger's eyes that drove them away when he pulled her into the darkness.
The girl because of whom all this had started however remained standing where she was, looking from the man to the baker herself and back. Her blue eyes were large but blank and even in that moment Mrs. Lovett was vaguely reminded of the way Johanna had looked during the night that she was freed from Judge Turpin.
Before she could wonder however why she was accompanied by this man and whether the stranger had done something horrible to her, the former pie baker was forced against a wet wall once again.
The man was so close to her now that she could feel the heat radiating off him, his hot breath reaching the sensitive skin of her now exposed neck. His body was almost pressing against her own and once again she realized that she was in deep trouble. Not in the way she had feared at first, but very badly anyway.
"Take care of the boy," the man growled to the girl.
To Mrs. Lovett's horror, the young girl hesitated only for a moment, then simply nodded and turned around, heading for Teddy who just managed to stand up again.
The baker struggled, not knowing yet what was going to happen to her boy, only that it would doubtlessly be very unpleasant indeed.
The last thing however that Mrs. Lovett indented to do, was allowing this man to take all from her what mattered to her.
"Leave him alone," she managed to shriek. "You can..."
A hand covered her mouth before she could finish her sentence. One of the arms that had kept her in place however thus disappeared. The baker took advantage immediately, sensing that she had to fight to ensure at least Teddy's survival.
While biting the hand that was covering her mouth as hard as she could, the baker kicked against the man's shin and tried to wriggle away from him.
But even as the man yelped in pain and Mrs. Lovett tasted the blood that ran from his hand, he kept her pressed against the wall, using his entire body now to prevent her from moving.
The hand against her mouth hadn't been replaced by the other one, but she had too much difficulty forcing herself to breathe to yell for help again. Her eyes too were closed, as if not seeing what he was going to do would make it easier to endure whatever it was that he intended to do.
The pain or terrified screams that she expected didn't come however, but it didn't make the baker feel at ease, not when being trapped between the cold wall behind her and the lean body of the man pressing her against it.
Seconds of silence passed, but they only added to her fear for herself, but most of all for the boy who needed her.
"Please," she whispered carefully against his hand when the man still seemed to be contemplating the fate he was going to bestow on the two of them. "I... I'd do anything. You can do to me whatever you want. But please, let the boy out of this."
She didn't expect him to honor her plea, not really. But as long as there was some hope of getting Teddy out of this unharmed, she would take it, no matter the consequences that this would have for herself.
"Anything?" he hissed in her ear, "you're willing to do anything for him?"
"I am," she whispered although she didn't believe that it would make a difference, trembling even though there was hardly space enough to do so.
She was yanked away from the wall, the stranger dragging her arms behind her back, making it impossible for her to escape once more even as she wasn't trapped against the wall any longer.
"I'm not going to harm him," he growled in her ear, making it more difficult to remain breathing even though his words appeared to be the ones she wanted to hear. "Look at him."
The baker opened her eyes slowly, in spite of what the man had said somehow believing to see the worst. But instead of seeing Teddy in pain – or worse – he was playing in the snow with the girl who seemed to belong to the man who was currently holding her in an iron grip.
They were continuing to build the snowman that Teddy had created earlier, seemingly oblivious to the things going on inside the dark alley. For a moment Mrs. Lovett thought that this was some kind of trick, but as the man held her against him and thus continued to enable her to look at the two children, it was clear to her that there was nothing fake about the way Teddy was smiling as he talked to the girl, their little hands covered in melting snow.
It was a huge relief to see that Teddy was alright and that there didn't seem to be anything that could change this in the very near future. This reminded her however of the situation she was in herself, of the promise she had made to the unknown man who was still holding her.
"What do you want?" she whispered, very much aware now of the bizarre way that the man was treating her and of the way her back was pressed against his chest.
"I'm going to let go off you," he replied, surprising her by doing so, "but you are going to stay right here with me. If you don't..."
He didn't need to complete the sentence in order for her to understand what he meant. No matter how tempting the idea of trying to escape was, it was very clear to her by now that there was no way that she could get away from the man without his permission.
The grip on her arms was loosened slowly, until they were free again. Her back was still facing the man, even as he stepped away from her. His hands however returned on her arms, forcing her to step backwards, deeper into the alley.
There was a rustle of fabric but she could see nothing except for the dark wall that was now in front of her, snow melting at the place where she had been pressed against it mere minutes ago. She vaguely realized that the back of her coat and dress were soaked, but it wasn't important at all.
His voice was low and quite soft, but it was intimidating to such an extent that she obeyed immediately, even though she had no idea what the consequences would be.
Slowly, her feet made the required movements, carrying her body with it. When she had turned completely and her back was facing the wall instead of the man, her eyes were focused on the snow covered ground in front of her feet.
Only after another few seconds had passed, she found the strength to look up somewhat. She didn't know why, but there was something that prevented her from looking at the man who had deteriorated her already quite miserable life prospects within a matter of a few minutes.
Her gaze reached his feet first, but there was nothing particular about the shoes he was wearing or the edge of the trousers that partly covered them. It was rather unlikely indeed that there was something about that part of him that separated him from all men that had not threatened her and dragged her into an alley that day, but she did feel that there was something more than just strange about this man.
She looked further upward, taking in the black pants that he was wearing. They were cleaner and more expensive looking than she had expected from the man who had seemed rather uncivilized so far, but it was a vague observation that paled in comparison to something that she spotted almost at the same moment.
There was something connected to the belt he was wearing. It was an item that was awkwardly familiar to her even though she hadn't seen it for a decade. For a moment she told herself that it was just a mere coincidence – there were hundreds of barbers in this town after all, and thus an equal amount of men who were wearing a holster with a razor in it in such a way as the man who was currently standing in front of her did.
She knew that particular holster however and the few inches of the knife's metal that she could see from where she was standing left no room for doubt, no matter how much she wanted it to be otherwise.
Mrs. Lovett was more afraid than before to take a look at the man's face, but for a very different reason now. If this was indeed the person who he appeared to be, she was in even worse trouble than she had feared.
When her eyes focused on the man's face at last, the world seemed to stand still for a moment. The noises from outside the alley faded until they were inaudible; she was no longer aware of the chilly air surrounding her and even all thoughts of Teddy were forgotten for a moment.
His face was no longer hidden by the edges of the coat he was wearing and the baker found herself staring in the dark eyes of none other than Sweeney Todd.