"They're here, they're here!" Lucy muttered incoherently as Sweeney cradled her face but she didn't even seem to register his presence. "Sign of the devil, sign of the devil. He's going away!"
"I'll go get a doctor" Eleanor said as she picked up a fussy Johanna and left the flat.
Sweeney remained with his delirious wife. She must have taken the arsenic… but how? He'd destroyed the bottle as soon as he was done spiking the rum but then again, that apothecary seemed to give out poison "for rats" as if it were candy. She must have been very determined to leave the house and buy it, considering she never liked to go out anymore. He didn't understand it. Things were finally looking up for them money-wise and they were going to move out and start over…
It didn't make sense. Had anyone hurt her? Did the judge have his wicked way with her behind his back? He wondered pathetically, because deep inside Sweeney was aware he was the only man who'd hurt her this time. Ever since he came back, he'd done nothing else, crushing her gentle spirit until she just lost her will to live. This timeline's Lucy's life hadn't been ruined by that vulture of the law but by her own husband, the man who should have cared for her, protected. Or rather, by the man her loving husband had become. All because he was obsessed with another woman.
He shouldn't have gone back, he shouldn't have, he kept telling herself as he pushed his index and middle finger into her mouth until they touched her uvula, making her gag. "I'm sorry, Lucy" he said truthfully, because it was due to his selfishness that she was in this situation. If only he hadn't gone back… maybe Lucy would have been happy for the remaining months she had with her Benjamin until the Judge crossed their path. Lucy would have been Benjamin's priority, but Sweeney was too caught up in his conflicting feelings for Eleanor Lovett to pay his beautiful wife the attention he deserved. In both timelines, Lucy's fate was equally horrific and not only did he not prevent it, he drove her to it.
He kept making her gag until she finally vomited all the contents of her stomach. She seemed to calm down, she was no longer convulsing and her breathing was stable. He breathed a sigh of relief. "Benny" she called softly. "You're here." He was grateful that the arsenic didn't seem to have messed with her head, at least not to the extent it did in his original timeline. He held her even closer, he'd saved her this time. But he could not bring himself to promise her the happy ending they once dreamed about. Not when, even though he would always love Lucy, it was Eleanor who made his heart beat.
He saw it clearly now, that not all loves are the same. Because he loved Lucy, he wanted her to be alright, to thrive and be healthy and happy. They'd always have a special bond, for they shared a daughter. But it was Eleanor he wanted to kiss, Eleanor he wanted to make love to. It was her company he craved, the wicked adventures the two lived together… her smile, playful, teasing yet so authentic. From the first time he saw Lucy, he was blinded by her beauty, her marble chiselled face that looked as if it'd been sculpted by a divine power, her gentle manners and her sweet character.
Now as Sweeney, he realised he didn't want that in a woman. Even though he didn't see it at first, he wanted challenge, action, he wanted every day to be different after the monotony of his days at the colony. Eleanor was all that. It didn't escape him that even though, he was worried sick about Lucy and desperately wanted her to recover, it had been Eleanor who made him feel like the world was ending when he thought she was going to poison herself…
Sweeney Todd loved Lucy, but he was in love with Eleanor and there was no point in denying it now. That he had this epiphany with his weakened wife in his arms made the truth even more poignant, but it also made his guilt worse. Lucy was innocent, Lucy loved him, Lucy was the mother of his child. But Lucy also gave up on him, abandoning Johanna too. Even in this timeline she all but let herself wither when he was arrested and neglected their daughter, to the point she would have likely died had Eleanor not stepped in. Eleanor… even if she lied in another timeline, she always had unwavering faith in him. He couldn't forget how, with her patience, determination and love, that infuriating woman who didn't take no for an answer saved the dying heart of a demon, enough for it to love again. Even if that meant sacrificing her own.
He didn't deserve any of them, not his innocent wife not the lying, cunning yet somehow genuine Eleanor. But Lucy was his wife… unlike Eleanor who could fend for herself, Lucy needed him. He had to protect her, he had to save her. And there was also Johanna… they were a family. A happy one, they were once. Even if he now regretted his decision to leave his original timeline, he had to man up and own it. He had a responsibility now. And that included both Lucy and Johanna, but also Eleanor and a child who could be his, whom he wanted to be his. He didn't know how, but he was determined to be there for all the people that mattered in his life.
"Do you love me, Benny?" Lucy muttered as if she were reading his mind. "I love you. Don't ever leave me"
"I love you" he reassured her. Not like he loved Nellie, but he did love her. Most importantly, she needed him to say that. He kissed her cheek.
The door burst open, revealing an agitated Eleanor with Johanna in her arms. A competent-looking yet scrawny doctor accompanied them and he wasted no time in approaching Lucy's body to check her vitals, motioning for Sweeney to move back as he took over.
His eyes met Eleanor's at the door. Hers shone with unshed tears as she held Johanna close. Sweeney was sure his mirrored hers. "We'll be downstairs. Everything will be alright, Sweeney, she'll be alright."
With that, she left, closing the door for the doctor to have more privacy as he examined Lucy. It wasn't after an hour later that he finished and after assuring Sweeney she was fine and giving her an herbal remedy to help her rest, he made for the door.
"How much do I owe you?" Sweeney asked, afraid of the answer. This doctor, whom he'd learned was the prestigious Doctor Higgins, Albert's personal doctor, was known for charging quite a fee.
"Nothing, Mr. Barker. Mrs. Lovett has already taken care of it" he answered and tipped his hat as he left. "Good day, sir."
Once alone, Sweeney gulped. Nellie, whom he was sure hated Lucy, did not only found her the best medical care in the area but also paid for it. The things she did for him… and how did he repay her? By hurting her. But not again. Never again.
Lucy was soundly asleep and according to the doctor would not wake up in at least five hours so an exhausted Sweeney Todd wasted no time in going down the stairs to her. Admitting to himself that he was in love with Nellie had lifted a huge weight off his shoulder and he no longer felt guilty to seek her comfort. She, after all, always made everything better. There was no room in his mind for the nagging thoughts reminding him that he didn't deserve her, just need. And not the usual need, the sexual need, he felt for her. He needed her love. Would he find it? Could she ever grow to love him like her other self used to?
The parlour was empty, not even Albert's body was there so he assumed someone came to take it to the morgue while he was preoccupied with Lucy. Eleanor's beautiful singing beckoned him from the master bedroom. "Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky"
He quietly pushed the door open and marvelled at the scene before him. It was Nellie softly cradling Johanna, trying to put get her to sleep. She had her back to him so he took this opportunity to take everything in. Although this image would have angered him beyond measure a few months ago, it now brought tears to his eyes. Why was he becoming so soft? If he kept this up, he wouldn't be able to keep calling himself the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, but maybe that was a good thing. No longer naïve Benjamin, no longer the devil incarnate, but someone better.
"Mama" his daughter babbled and Sweeney tensed.
"No, no, little lady. I'm not your mama. I'm your auntie Nellie" the baker tried to explain but Johanna just repeated what she said. "Lovey, I know we've been spending so much time together lately but I'm not your mama. Your mama is named Lucy and she loves you so much. She's a bit poorly at the moment but soon she'll be fine to play with you all day long."
"Mama" the babe kept calling her. At one, she couldn't really comprehend anything Eleanor was saying but kept repeating what was her first proper word. Mama. Yet it wasn't directed at Lucy but at her neighbour. That was the extent of her neglect, her baby was calling someone else mama. The person who'd seemingly been a real mum to her these past months.
"No, I'm not your mama, duck. But I love you like one" she whispered as she gingerly put the now asleep-girl on her bed and placed a tender kiss on her forehead.
She sighed and moved a hand to her flat belly, where her own baby was growing. She would be a great mum to him or her. No, she was already a great mum, even to a child that wasn't her biological one. She turned around and froze when she spotted Sweeney at the doorway. There was fear in her eyes that he was angry at what she was sure he'd overheard. And angry he was, but not at her. He smiled and she visibly relaxed.
"How's Mrs. Barker?" she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
"She's asleep now but the doctor thinks she'll be fine" he paused and ran a hand through his messy locks. "It wasn't poison what she took. She had a laudanum overdose. I don't have the foggiest on how she got it without a doctor's prescription but apparently, she's been taking way more than the recommended dose for quite some time" he told Nellie, ashamed at himself because he had no idea an abuse of opium was the cause for his wife's permanent state of sleepiness.
"I didn't give it to her!" Nellie said defensively. Just a few weeks ago, he would have been quick to blame her, he'd have accused her of trying to do to Lucy the same she was doing to Albert so she could have him. But now that the fog had cleared, he could see that even though she could be cunning and self-serving when she wanted to, she would never take part in anything that harmed Johanna.
"I know, Nellie" he said confidently. "I'm thinking Albert or maybe she bought it illegally at one of those shops of ill repute. But Nell, it's not only that she was taking it, I think she gave it to Johanna!"
"What!?" she exclaimed, loud enough for the girl to stir in her sleep. Nellie glanced at her and grabbed Sweeney by the elbow, leading him to the kitchen so they could continue their conversation without waking Johanna. "Want a cuppa?" she asked and when he nodded, she began frantically rummaging through the drawers. Her mind was racing just like his when he'd came to the realisation. They'd been so lucky… "I just can't believe it, love. Blimey, I know she's out of her mind and as witless as one can be but has she never read a paper? The government is about to ban opium on children because way too many die every year! Why would she do that!?"
"To quiet her, I suppose. So Lucy wouldn't have to listen to her constant crying as she starved" Sweeney said calmly. Not because he was at peace with any of it, but because he was deflated. Guilt was eating him alive. The always perceptive Nellie easily picked up on that. She put the kettle on the stove to boil and sat in front of him, holding his hand. She was so good to him.
"Don't torture yourself, dear, you couldn't have known. You work all day to bring food to their table and she wasn't stupid enough to do it while you were round" she comforted him. "I didn't have an inkling myself and I checked on that sweet babe every day to make sure she ate something and got some playing time because that silly little nit only…" she caught herself and bit her lip apologetically. Experience had taught her that the barber didn't take any offensive comments about his wife kindly, even if they were rooted in truth. "Sorry, love. Anyway, you know I'm not yet a mum so I thought her sleeping all day was normal. It just didn't ring any bells. But what's done it's done and we can thank the Heavens your little lady is fine as she can be. Soon your wife will recover and you'll live your happily ever after in Tottenham or wherever the wind takes you."
Despite her cheerful tone when she wished them well, Sweeney knew she wasn't telling the whole truth. There was lingering sadness in her big brown eyes. She quickly averted her gaze and stood up to check on the boiling water and poured it into two cups. Sweeney too stood up and walked until he was behind her. He longed to hug her, to wrap his arms around her and never let go. But he didn't know how she'd react to that so he simply spoke. "I want to ask for a favour, Eleanor" she nodded but didn't say anything. His closeness made her uncomfortable. "I want you to take care of Johanna. As much as your work at the pie shop allows you, of course." Still, nothing from her. "Lucy… she's not fit to take care of a babe and I know I have no right to ask you this but I know you love my daughter."
"Like me own" she said softly, her voice quivering. Her chirpy mood swiftly returned when she turned back, moving to the side and widening the distance with Sweeney. She smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. "But dear, Tottenham is quite far away. I assume you'll be working round that area too and that's simply too far for you to come and drop Johanna every day. You'll surely find another nice neighbour who can babysit your delightful girl."
"I'm not going anywhere, Nellie" he told her firmly as he approached her again. "I want to stay right here, with you, for you."
Their faces were only inches apart and he could see and feel everything, how her breathing became more laboured, how her pulse quickened and her eyes filled with tears and was that fear what he saw? He panicked. Was this not what she wanted? Had he lost her forever? Without thinking, he did what his heart screamed for him to do and leaned closer so he could kiss her.
It wasn't their usual kiss, hurried and passionate. The way he kissed her was slow, loving and some could even call it sweet. It had no secondary intentions, other than showing her what he didn't dare to say with words. That he was truly, madly, deeply in love with her. The kiss came to its natural end and Sweeney scanned her eyes for an answer, but he didn't see what he hoped to.
"So now that your wife is losing her mind you suddenly want me… to warm your bed" she said bitterly. "Or maybe it's because you need me now, to take care of your daughter and you know I'm a fool who'd do it for free because I'm terribly fond of that little angel. I told myself I wouldn't let you use me again…"
He sighed; her distrust was not unexpected. After all he'd said and done… Even if she said she forgave him, that didn't mean she forgot about all the pain he inflicted on her… He was going to tell her that wasn't true, that he cared about her and her baby and that he wanted to be there, but she beat him when she spoke again.
"But I'm just so lonely, and I'm sad, and tired, so tired of hurting that sometimes I wish I'd never been born at all. And you, you've caused me pain too, you've caused me more pain that I thought possible, but you're also the only person who's ever helped me, the only person who's ever cared enough to even try. You killed a man for me... Sweeney, you are my only friend, my villain but also my knight in shining armour" she gingerly caressed his cheek as his own eyes filled with tears. "I know you won't ever love me. I know your heart belongs to your golden-haired goddess. But maybe… maybe silver is good enough for me, Mr. Barker."
She smiled tenderly but an air of melancholy hung over her like dark cloud before a downpour. His throat suddenly felt dry and words failed him. He loved her, loved her like he'd never loved anyone, but he couldn't bring himself to tell her. He could only open his arms and wrap them around her small frame as both cried the tears they'd been holding back for so long. I love you, I love you, I love you, his heart screamed. Love me, love me, love me even if just a fraction of what I love you, hers begged. But no words left their mouths, they just basked in each other's loving embrace, clinging tightly to one another as if their lives depended on it. Please, don't hurt me…
"I know I don't deserve you" he said truthfully. He didn't, he wasn't even sure he deserved her older, more corrupted version he always took for granted. But he loved her, just as much as he did in the other timeline. The difference is that he now owned it. "But I will try my bloody best to make you happy, Nellie. In any way I can. You mean so much to me."
That was the closest he'd ever gotten to confessing his love to her. But he just couldn't say those three words both his heart and hers so yearned for. He already had a wife. A wife who needed him, a wife he couldn't leave because she was very obviously sick. He just couldn't play with Nellie's heart like that, let her build sandcastles in her excitable head that they could be a proper couple one day, a proper family. In this timeline that just couldn't be, as much as the fact hurt him.
A kiss broke him from his thoughts, followed by her wanton placing of her hand on his crotch. He looked down at her and she smirked before she captured his mouth in a much deeper kiss. Like too many times, she was turning to sex to alleviate the aches of her soul. He was guilty of that too, in the past, when he just sought relief in her wondrous body whenever his inner demons threatened to win the battle. But he now knew sex was only a bandage, the wounds were still bleeding underneath. Thus, for the first time Sweeney Todd did not just shag Nellie Lovett, he made love to her. He slowly undressed her and carried her to the settee, where he let her know with his tender caresses that this was more than just two bodies taking pleasure in each other. He took his time to love her, to tenderly kiss every spot of her soft skin until she was begging for more. When they finally joined, he didn't rush it, savouring every second of bliss inside the woman he loved and held her close when they were both sated.
Because he was in love with her and only love would help them heal.