With some difficulty, Sweeney opened his heavy eyes only to find himself no longer on Fleet Street but in a room as white as freshly fallen snow. Only that instead of feeling cold, there was a pleasant warmth as if he were close to a burning fire, but certainly not the one in the bake house, stinking with the calcined remnants of all the men and women he killed. Sweeney let out a deep breath and squinting to better tolerate the brightness in the room, he looked around. He pinched himself once, twice, surely he was dreaming. But he didn't awaken. He moved his hand to his belt, looking for his beloved razors to offer him some protection in such a strange setting but much to his dismay, they weren't there. He then reckoned he probably was in some sort of hospital or perhaps in bedlam, although the floors were too pristine for that. Its white marble reminded Sweeney of a palace, not that he'd ever set foot in one, but flooring was always described as such in the books he used to read to Johanna when she was a baby, that he remembered as if it were yesterday. Because it had been yesterday, when she sat reading the same books to Toby.
However, instead of a lavishly furnished room with a grand golden throne in the middle, Sweeney saw nothing. No source of fire, no furniture, not even walls– the ends of the room seemed to be delimited by white smoke that looked like clouds. He was starting to suspect he was dead. Anxiety began to rise in his chest and it surprised him, as he'd been wanting to die for a long time now, ever since he learnt of Lucy's fate –or what he thought was her fate. Surely he'd wanted to live long enough to avenge her and set Johanna free but he wasn't really living, he was merely existing. Except when he was with her. He pushed that thought out of his mind, not willing to spare her a single second. After all, her soul was probably burning somewhere in the pits of hell, paying for her sins.
But where was he? If such a thing as hell existed, he should be there too. He deserved nothing less after the countless lives he'd taken. Sweeney Todd was no longer a Christian. For a while he willed himself to believe that there was a God watching over them, protecting him and his little family for their devoutness and the goodness in their hearts but he'd long realised there was no such thing as an almighty deity that guarded the pious and punished the evil, so perhaps heaven and hell were nothing more than an earthly fabrication to appease those dreading the unknown. In that case, what lay ahead of him? Was there some sort of afterlife? Would he be condemned to a life wandering around on earth as a ghost haunting the living? Or perhaps this was all he would ever get? White, empty, nothing. For all the eternity.
"Do not worry, you are not dead" a feminine voice reverberated through the room, seemingly reading his mind. But he didn't see anyone.
"Who is it? Where am I?" he asked desperately but he received no reply. Growing anxious, he stood up and walked towards the white smoke, expecting an exit of some sorts hidden behind the fog or at least a hard concrete wall, but much to his surprise he found himself in the same room. He tried again on the other side but the result was the same. He was trapped. Was this some sort of modern prison? Had the police found him surrounded by rotting corpses after he burnt Mrs. Lovett alive and they brought him here? To this torture chamber composed just of identical empty white rooms divided by curtains of smoke. It wasn't physical pain like the lashing or the forced labour he'd been subjected to in Australia but he knew he'd surely go mad if he remained there long enough.
"No, you are not in prison either and you won't be here long. Just until you reconsider your choices" the mysterious female voice spoke again and he kept probing her for answers. But once again he received no reply. The room remained in silence for what felt like hours, leaving Sweeney alone with his thoughts.
Alone. Over the years, he'd never been truly alone. He had his wonderful family growing up, guiding him to become the good man he once was. He then had his angel Lucy, who showed him what love and happiness truly were, and later on his little lamb Johanna, whom he loved more than life itself. Even when he was transported to Australia, he was never alone in the actual sense of the word, cramped up in a cell with the other prisoners, working alongside them in the fields. Even in solitary confinement there would always be a guard pacing nearby. He'd been alone floating in the middle of the sea before the Bountiful rescued him but the memories of his wife and daughter, the promise of seeing them again kept him company. When he returned to Fleet Street after fifteen years and found out that their much-anticipated reunion would not be possible, there was her. Eleanor Lovett, who'd actually been alone years after her husband passed away, with no family, few clients and even fewer friends and attached herself to him like a leech, always blabbering around, touching him, offering herself to him like a whore. Not letting him enjoy the time alone he craved to think, to plan, to remember his Lucy. He'd always order her out but he could nonetheless feel her presence in the house, hear the thuds of her rolling pin hitting the countertop downstairs, her humming or occasional singing, her laugh as she chatted with Toby or the stupid customers that flocked to her shop when they started their little enterprise. Eventually, he warmed up to it, warmed up to her light that threatened to banish loneliness forever. But all the while, the true light of his life was alive begging on the streets, with no one taking mercy on her, no one helping her remember. While he gave himself over to the baker, he'd left her alone.
He tried to picture his Lucy, to conjure up the memory of her in the good old days to battle the loneliness he now felt, just like when he was in the middle of the Pacific. Yet, as mighty as he tried, he could only picture Eleanor. But not the good times, not their nights filled with passion, not even the haunting moment he learnt about her deceit. Sweeney could only remember the last look in her chestnut eyes before she died. He didn't see fear nor hatred as he'd been expecting. Just hopelessness and disappointment when she realized he would not spare their baby's life. She, who'd forgiven his every trespass, his ungratefulness, his indifference and every time he had the cold blade of his razor pressed against the warm skin of her neck, had died disappointed in him. As it should be, he thought bitterly, ignoring the knot in his throat that threatened to suffocate him.
"You are in love with her" the voice spoke again after what felt like an eternity. Its matter-of-factly tone angered Sweeney.
"I am in love with Lucy" he corrected.
"Perhaps once, but now your heart belongs to Eleanor. It was only a matter of time" Sweeney sensed some pride in her voice, as if she'd been the matchmaker, the puppeteer pulling Mrs. Lovett's strings and prompting her to deceive him in her quest to win over his heart. It only angered him more but he fought to keep himself calm. It was pointless to get angry at a faceless nameless stranger, even if it seemed to read his mind.
"How are you so sure? Who are you? Where am I?" he tried again.
"Because I can see through you, Sweeney. I can see what you are, were and will be and what you so desperately want to become. I control life and death and time. I myself wrote your destiny in stone the moment you were conceived."
"So you are God, then? I thought God was a man" he huffed, thinking of it as some sort of delirious dream. It was surreal enough.
"Some indeed call me God, Allah, Yahve… you name it. But I refer to myself as The Watcher. And I have been watching you, Sweeney. You are one of my favourite subjects. I've been following you closely for years, watched you follow the path I carved out for you. Until now, that you dared to defy me."
"So you are the reason I was shipped to Australia? You planned it all along?" he asked, it was becoming more difficult to stay calm. But what could he do? Get up and beat up the smoke like a mad man?
"Everything happens for a reason. Your time in Botany Bay helped you become the man you truly were all along. Only away from civilised society, from your loving family and your doting wife could your true nature flourish"
"Are you saying I was this monster all along?" he couldn't hide the disgust in his voice. He'd been a good man once; he was sure of it.
"Not a monster. Someone who acts on his impulses, perhaps. Someone with a commendable strength. Who longs for justice and fairness and who rejects the hypocrisy that's far too common in your time"
"And you were saying I loved Eleanor? The most hypocritical bitch of my time" he said sardonically. His suspicions that this was nothing but a feverish dream were only growing and the chance that he might just be talking to the voice of his conscience made him all more willing to entertain it. After all, he'd probably wake soon and his subconscious attempt at introspection would be forgotten.
"She is not a hypocrite but a woman who knows what she wants and she did everything she could to achieve it. Amazing willpower she has and also a commendable strength, even more so than yours. She is another of my favourite subjects".
"Was" Sweeney corrected her again, unable to hide the amusement in his voice.
"Eleanor is alive, Sweeney, just like you are."
"She is dead. I pushed her into the oven myself" he smirked proudly. "I regret nothing."
The voice seemed to chuckle and he heard something that sounded like a snap of someone's fingers before the white smoke dissipated somewhat and a mirror materialised in front of him. He stepped closer and looked at the moving image it projected. It was his body on the floor of the bake house, seemingly unconscious. Next to him was Eleanor Lovett, cradling his head just like he had cradled his Lucy's, instead of running for her life. What a bloody fool she was. He could see her finger caressing his face, her lips moving whispering something. He was startled when he actually heard her words, faintly, as if spoken from a lengthy distance instead of just above his ear. I love you. You are going to be okay, we are going to be ok. It all looked and felt far too real to be a hallucination. He was starting to believe that perhaps he hadn't succeeded in killing her but that could not explain why his body lied unresponsive in the bake house and he was stuck in that limbo, watching the real world through a mirror as if it were a window. Was he comatose? Had he lost his mind?
"You slipped on a puddle of blood before when you tried to push her into the oven and suffered a concussion. That's how I brought you here. Do not worry, it is nothing serious, you will awaken with no aftereffects, once you have come to your senses" Sweeney looked up quizzically. "You tried to kill Eleanor. In fact, you almost did. And not just her, your baby too."
"She deserved it for lying to me. And who knows if that is my baby, she is such a whore" he said, as if the voice couldn't read his mind and thus find that he had no doubt the baby was his. Eleanor Lovett was too obsessed with him to let anyone else touch her. Unless was raped, he thought regretfully, unable to supress the shudder that came over him at the possibility.
"It is your baby, and I am not going to get into detail on her motives, nor try to defend her. I am here to merely inform you that Eleanor is your destiny and there is nothing you can do can change that."
This time, Sweeney laughed, though it was a mirthless laugh. "She is my destiny? I'd rather be dead that end up with that hateful deceiving bitch."
"Whether you like it or not, it's been written in the stars since the moment of your creation. You see, Sweeney, every time someone is created, the universe finds a match for them, a soulmate, if you wish. It can be close to you, or oceans away. You can find yours early in childhood or later in life but is in that person one is to find true happiness, your happily ever after, as you humans call it. Eleanor is your match."
"You are wrong there. I already experienced true happiness once, with Lucy, and Johanna. The only thing I felt for Mrs. Lovett was lust."
"That's not true and you know it" said the voice authoritatively and somehow forced him to remember the times he'd been worried about her, the times he'd been jealous, the recurring nightmares that showed him what it would be like to lose her and be truly alone. But all that, that protectiveness and care he might have felt for here were erased the moment he discovered she lied about Lucy and because of that, she was dead.
"Perhaps I became somewhat… comfortable in her presence. I certainly enjoyed her company at times but it is nothing compared to what I felt for Lucy. I only started paying attention to Mrs. Lovett because she kept throwing herself at me, for Pete's sake! Tempting me with those low cut dresses, she was always so willing, so desperate and I am a man after all" he explained, trying to rationalise what he felt. It was no use trying to fool the omnipotent voice that seemed to know him to his core.
"Mmm… Perhaps I made it all too easy by giving Eleanor a case of love at first sight" the voice seemed to ponder to herself.
"Yes and her whore-like tendencies made it almost impossible for me to resist. But If I had not been sent to Australia and returned to an empty house I never would have given her a passing glance. Not if I had my Lucy, the light and love of my life"
"So you are saying that if Eleanor hadn't been in love with you, you wouldn't have fallen for her."
"For the last time, I have not fallen in love with her. I was just…" he made a pause to find the right words "bewitched by the person I thought she was, at most. But yes, that is exactly what I am saying, if I still had had my Lucy and Mrs Lovett had not whored herself out for me, I would be truly happy right now"
"That is… interesting… for you to be so confident you can cheat your destiny. It almost makes me want to try something… but no, I possibly couldn't. It goes against the laws of the universe" that piqued Sweeney's interest more than anything the voice had said so far. But just like before, it remained silent for a while. His anxiety grew and his hands sought once again the belt holding his razors, looking for some familiar comfort. But his friends hadn't magically found their way back to him. He was alone, and defenceless.
"Very well, Sweeney. I think I am going to do it; it seems like a nice experiment. It certainly will keep me entertained for a while." He could feel the voice was smirking even though he still saw no one. "What do you say if I told you could have a do-over of some sorts?"
"What do you mean?
"There is something called timelines. You live in the main one of course but there are… others, just in case something goes wrong. Some massive catastrophe wiping out the entire world's population, for instance. In them, life goes almost parallel to life in the main one, only with some minor adjustments. I sometimes I use parallel timelines to test out some decisions, some challenges or blisses I want to send my mortals. I could send you to one of these timeliness, to before it all began. To the days when you still had your Lucy and without Eleanor pining for you."
"Yes! Do it!" he eagerly said. Part of him still couldn't believe the voice was listing a real possibility and not just pitching ideas for a fantasy novel but Sweeney willed himself to believe. Because there was nothing he wanted more than go back to his wife, to his family. Back to when he was happy. But a thought kept nagging him at the back of his mind. "But you said life runs parallel to the one in this timeline. That my destiny is already written. Does that mean… that I will eventually be sent to Australia? That Lucy will try to poison herself and lose her mind? That Johanna will end up with the judge?" That he would come back hardened and only Eleanor Lovett would be there waiting for him. He didn't know whether it was worth it. To go through all that again for some fleeting days, weeks, months with his wife and daughter? Not long ago, he would have given everything for one second of bliss with them but now the choice didn't seem so easy. Perhaps he'd reached the point where he just couldn't bear any more pain.
"Yes and no" the voice replied. "Those happenings are indeed in your destiny, but as I said, there can be some adjustments… After all, you'll have the gift of anticipation now. Just remember, those events are part of your life story and you'll experience them in some form or other."
These seemed to somewhat appease Sweeney. He would do everything he could not to go to Australia, he'd protect his girls no matter the cost. But it all sounded too good to be true. "What's in it for you?"
"Me? Nothing more than the entertainment of seeing you try and fail to change your final destiny, to escape your match" He knew he was talking about Eleanor, whom the voice said was his match. "Do not worry, she will not be there madly in love with you. Offering herself to you, as you put it."
"And what if I don't manage to escape her? What if I do fall in love with her?" he asked just to be sure, not that he thought there was any chance. Not if he still had his Lucy.
"Then you will meet your destiny" replied the voice, but Sweeney barely heard it. He was growing tired by the second, his eyes dropping. His limp body fell to the floor with a loud thud and darkness enveloped him.