Sweeney stared concerned at Nellie's unmoving form lying on the bed. Pale, frail, but still breathing. And for a man who not that long ago would have gladly been her cause of death, he was more than relieved.
When he woke up in the bakehouse and realised no time had passed in his original—now current— timeline, he feared it would not be the same. That once the glee of finding her alive and well ebbed away, the resentment would grow back into his heart like poisonous ivy preventing him from moving on with her; that his feelings for the Baker had only really bloomed towards her younger self. While both versions of Nellie shared their vivacity, strength and another myriad of qualities Sweeney had reluctantly grown to love, young Nellie Lovett had not lied to him.
She had not culminated the killing of what was left of Benjamin Barker's soul—perhaps not directly but by omission, by encouraging his murderous impulses and supporting his vengeful quest, to the point he was too blinded by hate and bloodthirst that he unceremoniously slit the throat of the woman whose image had anchored him to life for the agonising fifteen years he spent in Botany Bay. Whom he did not even recognise. No, if anything, young Eleanor Lovett was only a martyr, so unlike her older counterpart. Young Nellie was hurt by him time and again as he kept making what he now saw was the wrong choice, to the point that she almost died in childbirth as he cowardly ran away and let her deal with a very unstable Lucy.
At the same time, Sweeney had to admit that going back in time had proved to him that he and Lucy were not as well suited as he'd always believed. That in his desperation to keep himself alive he'd idealised her to the point of giving her almost deity-like qualities and making her the paragon of all good and virtuous. And while she'd been a good partner to Benjamin's naïve and proper demeanour, the demon barber needed a different partner to share his life with. A woman who could be just as amoral as he was, who felt everything just as strongly. Sweeney Todd and Eleanor Lovett were simply bound to be together, and that was something he had to accept.
Furthermore, he acknowledged than in this timeline, the Lucy he returned to was no longer the wife he once loved and cherished. If the events in his former timeline held any validity in this one, she'd began losing her mind way before she took the poison, right after he was arrested, and he had no blame in that. Only Turpin, who was now reduced to ashes at the bottom of that blasted bakehouse oven. Coupled with the effects of the arsenic, the damage on his wife's gentle psyche was irreversible. And Sweeney, who'd always believed death would be a relief, had allowed her to find the peace she'd been seeking ever since she tried to poison herself.
It'd been difficult to accept this and part of him would always feel guilty for being the one who carried the deed. If only he'd recognised her, he now realised he would have liked to tenderly hold her one last time, to tell her he loved her and thank her for the memories of the beautiful years she gave Benjamin. The thrill of the first love, his beloved daughter, the illusion to keep him alive as he planned his return to her… but at the end of the day, he'd still would have slit her throat. It was quick, painless, cathartic. The beggar woman who pranced around Fleet Street screaming about the devil and whatnot was no longer living, merely existing in this cruel world, just like him. He'd released her.
Avenging Lucy was the main reason he kept himself alive once he found out his dream of having his perfect family awaiting his return would never be a reality. But it was not the only one; there was also Eleanor. The things he learnt about her in the other timeline did nothing but confirm his belief that he was indeed in love with the woman, that he'd fallen for her even before he killed the Judge, when they were nothing but partners in crime during the day and the most ardent of lovers at night. Few words of real meaning were shared between them back then, but it was in the little details, he supposed. Nature—or the Watcher—was wise, pulling him to her like the moth to a flame even before they had a proper conversation baring their all to one another.
But she'd lied, and Sweeney Todd detested lies. A lie marred and poisoned everything in its wake, it destroyed bridges and darkened futures. Could the two of them really have a life after that? Could love be strong enough to overpower the bitter resentment that still somewhat festered inside of him, rekindled by the sight of his wife's dead body when he woke up?
It was when they ran into Johanna and Anthony at the docks that these doubts were somewhat eased. He'd revelled in seeing Eleanor's warm motherly tenderness towards the not-so-little girl neither had seen in so long. Had she also taken care of her in this timeline, when Lucy's lunacy before more apparent until that evil vulture of the law stole her? Before Sweeney saw how she was with little Jo, he'd always assumed Eleanor had been more than happy to hand her over to Turpin. Perhaps she'd done so in exchange for money or a favour of some kind, but surrendering her to him nonetheless, happy to get rid of any remnants of Benjamin Barker's happy family so when he came back, only she remained from the good old days—even though for the longest time he only had the faintest memory of her as the fat butcher's young wife. But it was now clear to him that she'd really missed Johanna, that though careful and more subdued in her approach that he'd have expected, her affections were true, perhaps as true as his. It was almost as if they shared a daughter, and they'd finally got her back.
But the Johanna who sailed with them was not like he expected. Fearful, not bright, shy and withdrawn, scared to death of her own father. She was not like he dreamed her, with long yellow tresses and flowing pastel dresses. Rather, she had her hair chopped up into a boyish cut and she was dressed like a lad. Like the lad he'd almost killed at his shop had Eleanor not screamed.
His blood had run cold when he'd come to the realisation that if not for Eleanor, he would have murdered his child too, just like he did her mother. And unlike Lucy, she had a bright future ahead of her he almost robbed her of. But his love for Eleanor and the gripping fear that seized him when he heard her blood-curling scream down in the bakehouse made him drop everything to run to her aid, including the chance of taking that lad's life. If he were to separate himself from his actions and negate his own involvement—which he oftentimes did to better bear the pain—Eleanor had both indirectly killed a living dead Lucy, yet saved Johanna's life before it even begun. That had to mean something.
Thus, his mind was made. Johanna was gone. It was unfortunately too late for them, and he had to let her go. Anthony was a good boy, he'd take good care of her. But Sweeney wouldn't miss his second chance to have a family of his own. Moreover, he reckoned he and Nellie were even in an odd sense of the word. She'd hurt him with her lie, and he supposed he'd hurt her too with his attempt to end hers and their baby's life. And he was certain of his feelings for her as he was of hers, that should be enough, he assumed. The game could now begin anew, and this time Sweeney was determined they would both win.
He'd proposed to her on that very same night as they sailed across the English Channel, without a ring but with a promise: he'd take care of her and the baby and they would have a life together, perhaps not like she dreamed nor like he remembered, but a life, after all. She'd promptly accepted but he could tell something was off. Instead of throwing himself into his arms in ecstasy, her response had been somewhat lukewarm. He attributed it to the stress of the past few hours. And that night, as they lost themselves into one another as if they were already married, she'd begun crying. He didn't know what to do, what to say, so he didn't slow down and once they were both spent, he'd just held her close and allowed her to cry what he convinced himself must be happy tears as he drifted off to sleep, utterly exhausted. Looking back, those should have been the first warning signs.
Because even someone as utterly devoted as Nellie had a breaking point, and he feared his almost-murder of her and the baby had been the straw that broke the camel's back. Even though she'd mostly acted like her normal self, chatting and loving and goddamit, just as enthusiastic to shag him as ever, he now realised that was just pretend. Perhaps for his sake, or maybe for her own, because it was clear to him that her delusions were what kept her going.
He'd deluded himself as well this time, thinking she'd forgiven him and miraculously moved on in the blink of an eye like she always did even if the aftermath of their most gruesome fights, as soon as he showed her some attention. But this… was more than a fight, and he should have seen it. Just like Johanna, Nellie was afraid of him. He knew the look in her eyes as she terrified ran away from him would be imprinted in his mind forever—hung like a painting in the great hall of his darkest memories, next to the disappointed look in her eyes when she realised he wouldn't even spare the baby's life.
She was afraid of him, Johanna was afraid of him. He had a child on the way whom he probably would fail and scare away like he did with everyone he loved, and it was just too much for him. He began pacing as he took out a razor from his holster, examining the way it gleamed under the sunlight, like he always did when he needed a distraction from everything that anguished him. It was then that Nellie began to stir away.
She opened her eyes with difficulty. She was so tired; her head was pounding. The first thing she saw was Sweeney pacing, mesmerized by his razors as he tuned the rest of the world out. He probably dreaming about the day he finally got to slit the Judge's throat like the obsessed bleeder that he was. Typical, she thought with resignation, just another day on Fleet Street. But little by little, recollections began to come back. The fire, the sea, Bristol, the wedding… "Oh, God."
At that, he surprisingly snaped out of his trance. He placed the razors on top of a chest of drawers and sat by her side on the bed. "The baby… Mr. T?" she muttered, her prime concern being her child. She watched him sigh and braced herself for the worst.
"It's fine. A doctor came to check on you and said your fainting spell posed no danger to it. I caught you before you fell so you didn't even hit the floor" he explained. He sounded relieved which Nellie couldn't understand. Surely, his life would be easier without a baby he didn't want. "The doctor said it was likely an episode of emotional stress. You anguished yourself to a boiling point. Why, Eleanor? What is happening with you?"
"Sorry, love, suppose I got a case of cold feet" she said apologetically. That was better than him knowing that she was going to leave him. He sighed again.
"I thought that was you wanted" he said calmly but Nellie knew something was brewing under that cool surface. Probably anger. Because he'd taken care of all the paperwork, he'd contacted the priest and got her the ugly white dress fit for miss Prim the prig in her prime only, and she'd wasted his time and money. She was on edge again but what he said next surprised her. "We don't have to get married if you don't want to. It would be easier to be married for the purpose of our travels, but we can always buy a falsified marriage licence from the man who sold us our new identities."
"Then why did you ask me to marry you?" She asked tentatively, still stupidly hopeful there was a reason he wanted to make her his wife in the real sense of the word.
"I told you, I thought it was what you wanted" he replied sheepishly, not wanting to give his real feelings away. In spite of it, Nellie's heart skipped a bit. He did it for her… and even if this was just a consequence of his guilt manifesting, it was something at least. Perhaps she did mean something to him after all, perhaps he meant it when he said he wanted to leave the past behind and start over with her. Nellie smiled bitterly, for as improbable as it might have seemed only a week ago, she was now the one being held back by the horrors of the past.
"I guess I never shut up about that, did I?" she said redundantly, remembering her colourful dreams about a life by the sea with Mr. Todd that had kept her going for so long. Dreams that he, on the other hand, never seemed to take seriously. As if they were nothing but silly little girl's fantasies. Maybe they were.
"Even if we don't marry legally, I want you to know that I will be there for you and the child. Our child" he stated and for a few seconds Nellie couldn't believe she'd heard him correctly. He was promising her something she hadn't even dared to dream about. To stay with her willingly, not reluctantly. To take care of their baby; the three of them, a perfect little family. It sounded too good to be true but Lord, she desperately wanted to believe him. To delude and deceive herself like she'd always done.
She sat up and leaned forward to kiss him. It was so easy to pretend when she kissed him. She could tell herself that she felt his love in the way he kissed her back, in the way he caressed her. His hands couldn't hold a piercing razor to her neck when they were busy roaming all over her body, intent on taking her to the seventh heaven. She peeled off the bedsheets and sat up with her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck, her mouth never leaving his. Her nightgown had hitched up and he wasted no time in seizing every bit of flesh she uncovered, grabbing her by the thighs and pulling her closer to him. It was so easy to let her mind succumb to the pleasure, to momentarily forget all the ghosts that haunted her. Just the two of us, my love, she thought, no Lucy, no Judge, no bakehouse…
Warm wetness pooled at her core, but it was a different kind of fire altogether. Not like that blasted oven fire he almost threw her into… No! This was good. He was making her feel good. He wouldn't kill her, he cared for her. Her trembling hands moved to his trousers. She began unfastening them as she fondled his hardening manhood through the fabric. He groaned in return. Yes! She was pleasing him, if she pleased him enough, maybe he'd love her, he'd treat her well, he wouldn't feel like killing her… That was all she wanted. It was so easy to dream when she was in his arms… Just a few humping motions with her hips and he'd be mad with desire and his animalistic passion would take over and he'd fuck her until her mind finally shut off and she could finally believe.
"Nell…" he whispered, breaking their heated kiss with some difficulty, but she was not deterred. She needed this, him! She began kissing his jawline, from his clean-shaven chin up to that spot below his ear she knew drove him wild. He gulped and she knew he wouldn't be able to resist, but why did he keep trying to? "Nellie, wait, stop it… Eleanor."
He forcefully grabbed her by the shoulders, tearing her mouth from his sensitive neck as he forced her to look at him. Drunk with desire, just one stern look from those obsidian eyes was enough to make her sober up. Had she done something wrong? Had she angered him? Oh, God… "You're crying" he said matter-of-factly, and she realised that her cheeks were indeed wet with tears.
She didn't know what to say, what to do or how to stop those bloody tears from ruining the mood. She wanted Sweeney! She wanted to feel good and forget about the pain! Why couldn't she keep her emotions in check like she'd always done? Hiding her vulnerabilities behind her walls of deceit.
"Sorry, dear. I don't know what came over me… maybe it's those pesky pregnancy hormones I've always heard expecting mothers complaining about. Or maybe it's the stress of the trip. Leaving one's country is never a piece of cake, especially if you got the bluebottles nipping at your heels. I wonder if those thick buggers will have been able to piece it together by now. The newspapers have been mute so far, only reporting the gruesome fire that destroyed the whole building on 186 Fleet Street, with no known survivors. But nothing on the Judge or the Beadle or… anything else, really. And that was almost a week ago" she babbled about, like she always did when she was nervous. But Sweeney was growing increasingly anxious as she talked about Fleet Street and that horrific night. He huffed and took a deep breath, fearing he would lose his temper.
"It's ok. Just rest" he said somewhat curtly. Nellie nodded, chastising herself as she realised what she'd said. She had not mentioned the beggar woman by name, but it was obvious from the way Sweeney was clenching his jaw that she'd brought back unwanted memories. Suddenly afraid, she did as he said, fearing that disobeying would anger him further. She didn't want to die!
She covered herself with the discarded bedsheets as he patronisingly reminded her that their ship was sailing at 5am the following day and she needed to be well-rested. And she had no choice but to go to America with him, she realised. Attempting to leave him and catch a train back to the heart of England had been a foolish mistake in the heat of a brewing panic attack, she couldn't do that when the bobbies were likely investigating the disappearance of Turpin and Bamford and so many other men. Perhaps her dear Toby had gone to the law… telling them what she and the barber did as a retribution for them trying to kill him. She wouldn't blame him for it.
Without looking at her, Sweeney handed her his handkerchief to wipe her tears, which only made her cry all the harder. Probably done with her and her stupid emotions, he coolly said "Off to sleep now." As if he were a magician hypnotising her, Nellie's eyes began to feel heavy. Just before she succumbed to sleep, she felt him rise from the bed and return to the window, his attention returning to his precious razors, to memories of Lucy and Johanna, perhaps the Judge.
No matter what he said, at the end of the day, he didn't care for her or the baby. And it was high time she bloody learnt not to care about him.