Her mouth dropped open as a bright idea popped into her head. He glanced at her confusedly for a split second, but he wasn't paying attention to her, of course, his thoughts mired in the past and his own plotting as always. They were sitting on the counter in her shop, she a little closer to him than he might have liked, had he noticed her at all. The Italian was in the trunk upstairs, probably still oozing blood everywhere. Poor bugger. Oh well. Waste not…

"Seems a downright shame," she said purposefully, trying to engage him in conversation.

"Shame?" he asked, though distractedly, still stuck in his own little world.

She glanced over at him and continued, "Seems an awful waste. Such a nice plump frame what's-his-name has—had—has, nor it can't be traced…" She nudged him with an elbow, but he was unresponsive. "Business needs a lift…debts to be erased…Think of it as thrift, as a gift, if you get my drift…No?" He was now looking at her with a puzzled expression on his face. At least she had a little bit of his attention for once but, Jesus, he was an idiot. What was she going to have to do, spell it out for him? She jabbed a finger at the Italian's hat and said pointedly, "Seems. An. Awful. Waste." Nothing. Christ, he was thick.

She rolled her eyes, smoothed her hair absentmindedly, trying to think of a clearer way to paint the picture for him without coming flat out and saying it. But men just didn't appreciate subtlety. The fool was back in his own little world again, playing with his razor. She'd just have to be a little more obvious, it seemed. "I mean, with the price of meat what it is, when you get it, if you get it…"

She saw the realization dawn on him as he said, "Oh…" and, realizing that she had a toe in the door to capture his interest, she placed the hat jauntily on her head and barreled on. "Take for instance Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop: business never better using only pussycats and toast. Now, a pussy's good for maybe six or seven at the most, and I'm sure they can't compare as far as taste." She could see she had piqued his interest now, and she was getting worked up herself at the idea. This was her chance to have a successful business for once in her lifetime.

And her chance to get him. He was finally listening to her, really listening, and he said, "Mrs. Lovett, what a charming notion, eminently practical and yet appropriate as always—"

"Well, it does seem a waste," she interjected.

"Mrs. Lovett, how I've lived without you all these years I'll never know!"

She grinned. She was speaking his language now, and he was responding. Responding to her. She bumped him playfully with her shoulder and continued, "Think about it: lots of other gentlemen'll soon be coming for a shave."

"How delectable!" he laughed. "Also undetectable! How choice! How rare!"

"Won't they?" She stared at him, trying to catch his eye. "Think of all them pies!"

He was staring into the distance, in his own world again, but this time she was a part of it. "Oh, what's the sound of the world out there?"

She surprised him by responding, playing off him: "What, Mr. Todd, what, Mr. Todd, what is that sound?"

He looked her in the eye and then out into the distance again, bringing her with him as he painted his vision of the world. "Those crunching noises pervading the air…"

She had him hooked now, so she continued to stroke his ego and respond to him. "Yes, Mr. Todd, yes, Mr. Todd, yes all around!"

He placed his hands on the counter behind him, leaned back nonchalantly, and continued, "It's man devouring man, my dear—" and they said in unison, "Then who are we to deny it in here?" He grabbed her hand, clasped it between his own and pressed it to his heart, and they moved their faces so close to each other that their noses almost touched, both cackling with delight at their wicked little idea.

He hopped off the counter and wandered away from her, musing, "Ah, these are desperate times, Mrs. Lovett, and desperate measures are called for."

She knew she had to keep speaking on his level to keep his attention on her, so, quick-witted as she was, she began making a show of it. He was up for it, she could tell. She grabbed an empty plate from the shelf and brought it over to him, using it to pantomime and saying, "Here we are, hot from the oven!" He caught on right away this time, now that she was playing to his interests, so to speak, and they both leaned in to take in the imaginary delicious aroma emanating from the imaginary pie, sighing.

And he gave her just what she wanted, playing along with perfect seriousness. "What is that?"

"It's priest," she said, casual as can be. "Have a little priest."

"Is it really good?"

"Sir, it's too good at least. Then again they don't commit sins of the flesh so it's pretty fresh."

He gamely pretended to wipe residue off the plate she held out for him, saying with a grimace, "Awful lot of fat."

She shrugged. "Only where it sat."

"Haven't you got poet or something like that?" he asked, affecting a mock-snooty pose.

She responded, "No, you see, the trouble with poet is how do you know it's deceased?" and he made an "of course" face. She cajoled, "Try the priest."

He grabbed the imaginary pie and took a bite, exclaiming, "Mm, heavenly!" and she cracked up laughing. "Not as hearty as bishop, perhaps," he continued, "but then not as bland as curate either."

She was surprised that he was so into it, but if there was anything Nellie Lovett knew, it was how to play her cards when she had a good hand. She elbowed him and responded, "And good for business: always leaves you wanting more. Trouble is, we only get it in Sundays."

He looked at her for a second, and she waited…and then he laughed, a good hearty belly laugh, and she laughed with him and at her own success in gaining his interest. She couldn't remember the last time she had heard him laugh, if ever, in any way that had real mirth in it. And he was laughing at something she said. She, Nellie Lovett, who hadn't been no more than a shadow in his periphery before this, no matter how visible she tried to make herself to him. He even swayed towards her ever so slightly and bumped her shoulder with his own. Playfully, even. She was making progress. So she launched right into her next fantasy pie filling. "Lawyer's rather nice."

"If it's for a price," he countered, rubbing his thumb and first two fingers together.

"Order something else, though, to follow, since no one should swallow it twice."

He leaned his back against the counter and put a hand to his stomach. "Anything that's lean."

She pointed at him and started towards him, holding out the plate with the imaginary pastry. "Well, then, if you're British and loyal, you might enjoy Royal Marine." She punctuated this with a jaunty little back-kick and a salute, and then touched him lightly with a finger and then leaned her side into his chest briefly. "Anyway, it's clean." Waving the plate around, she crowed, "Though of course it tastes of wherever it's been!"

He moved slightly forward, so that her upper arm was flush against his chest for just a second, taking her by surprise, and then he moved his body away before she could say anything, but his hand remained at the small of her back for a moment. He continued their game, pointing out into space. "Is that squire on the fire?" His hands went back to brace the edge of the counter.

She pointed casually at the same spot and then brushed the fingers of that hand lightly on his chest before placing them demurely on her own sternum. "Mercy, no sir, look closer. You'll notice it's grocer."

He moved away from the counter, holding his arms out at his sides and lumbering mock-heavily, and he said, "Looks thicker, more like vicar."

She followed him, pressing close to his side, and retorted, "No, it has to be grocer—it's green." She looked at him, and he laughed.

Then he fell away from her but grabbed her hand, pulling her into what she thought, given the bantering mood, would be a lighthearted waltz to imaginary music. Instead, he held her close, and they swayed, shifting weight only slightly back and forth, his hand on her waist and hers on his shoulder. The mood was decidedly darker than she expected, though she wasn't complaining. He looked straight into her eyes as he returned to his earlier refrain. "The history of the world, my love—"

She smiled knowingly and interjected, gesturing idly with the hand that rested on his shoulder, "—Save a lot of graves, do a lot of relatives favors—"

"—is those below serving those up above." He gestured with their clasped hands slightly upwards.

"Everybody shaves, so there should be plenty of flavors," she added.

He released her waist and moved a little away from her but kept their hands together, guiding her with him as he said, "How gratifying for once to know—"

And she caught on, joining him to say, "—that those above—" They pointed up at his shop. "—will serve those down below." She pointed exaggeratedly downward, leaning over in front of him in her oh-so-subtle seduction, and, as she hoped, he seized the opportunity to slap her rear. She smiled and took a few steps away from him, satisfied that she was getting him in the mood a bit, and he shocked her by chasing hungrily after her and grabbing her ass with both hands. She squealed, wheeled around to look at him, and gave him a playful open-mouthed grin before moving to get another plate. He put on a self-satisfied smile and prowled around the shop, his tightly-coiled energy now focused in a different direction—towards her.

She returned to him with a plate in one hand and a lid in the other, smiling, her walk noticeably more seductive, as he stood with his legs slightly apart, smugly adjusting his tie. Now that he was feeling securely in control and wanting her, just as she had wanted, she could kick things up a notch and have a little more fun with him. Lord knows she always liked a bit of a flirty game with her man, and it had been far too long since she'd had a bloke, regular-like, that she could play with. And Mr. T. himself hadn't been with her in the present times enough yet to play along, really there with her and interested. Well, she had him now, di'n't she? He needed a bit more cajoling yet to ripen fully, but she knew exactly how to play him.

She presented him with a plate. "Now, let's see…we've got tinker."

"No, no," he said, waving it away with a scowl while continuing to fool with his tie. "Something pinker."

"Tailor?" she asked, displaying the lid like a platter.

"Something…" He got a mischievous look on his face. "…paler."

"Potter?" she offered, as he straightened his collar.

"Something hotter."


"Something…" He thought for a moment, and then, smugly, "…subtler." He folded his arms across his abdomen, proud of himself, with a conceited smirk.

She was chewing on the inside of her cheek, and she flicked her eyes over at him and then held out a plate and said dryly, "Locksmith?"

She ran her tongue over her teeth nonchalantly, glanced away from him, as he thought for a second and then realized her trick and deflated. She scratched her nose idly and then looked back at him and moved closer, until her chest was nearly touching his arm, and held out another imaginary offering, taking up the game again. "Lovely bit of clerk."

"Maybe for a lark."

"Then again, there's sweep if you want it cheap and you like it dark." He shook his head, and she offered the other plate. "Try the financier. Peak of his career."

He backed away. "That looks pretty rank."

"Well, he drank." She glanced down at the plate, and took a step back with mock surprise. "No, it's a bank cashier! Never really sold; maybe it was old."

He was getting impatient, and he moved back towards her, folding his arms and growling, "Have you any Beadle?"

"Next week, so I'm told." He rolled his eyes. She shifted slightly closer to him and waved the lid above the plate in enticing circles. "Beadle isn't bad 'til you smell it and notice how well it's been greased." She slammed the lid down onto the plate and rubbed her fingers together, and she then stepped in towards him. Their faces were inches away, his attention riveted on her, and she repeated, "Stick to priest." Then she had an idea, tapped his bicep quickly before striding back to the counter, placing the plate on one end and lifting the lid with a flourish. She posed, still brandishing the lid in one hand and pointing to the plate with the other, and said, "Now this may be a bit stringy, but then, of course, it's fiddle player."

He had moved to the other end of the counter and had been facing her with his hands on the corners, but he moved into more casual position, leaning his hip sideways into the counter and saying, "That's not fiddle player, that's piccolo player."

"How can you tell?" she said flatly.

"It's piping hot." She laughed a little, and he smiled smugly at his own joke.

She waited until he looked back towards her and said, quietly and meaningfully, "Then blow on it first." And they both laughed heartily, she slamming the lid back down onto the plate and kicking one leg into the air before leaning over with both hands flat on the counter, and he taking a few off-balance steps away from the counter.

He began his favorite line again, holding his arms out for her. "The history of the world, my sweet."

She smiled open-mouthed with glee and flung her arms out wide to him before grabbing onto her hat with both hands and taking several large steps towards him. She held her hands straight out to him again and he grabbed on and began twirling her under his arms several times as she said her part. "Oh Mr. Todd, ooh Mr. Todd, what does it tell?"

He twirled himself under her arms. "Is who gets eaten and who gets to eat." He grabbed both her hands again, and they leaned away from each other and swung around in great circles.

He was looking at her with such hunger in his eyes as they spun, and she responded to him, "And Mr. Todd, too Mr. Todd, who gets to sell."

He dropped his arms to his sides, just looking at her with undisguised lust, and said, "But fortunately it's all so clear—" and she joined in, "—that everybody goes down well with beer." She dug her nails into his shoulders, pulling him closer and then wrapped one arm around the back of his neck when she had him close enough, the other on his hip. As their bodies collided, he possessively grabbed handfuls of her apron, skirt, and body, bringing their hips together. Their faces nearly collided too, their noses touching, but their mouths remained just a fraction of an inch apart as they said the word "beer," the only part of their bodies not touching. She moved her full lips in expressive, soundless undulations, a breath away from his mouth, and he responded in kind, teasing.

She then suddenly moved her face away and took a step back from him, though she felt the energy between them crackling in the air. He was almost ripe, but she wanted to savor the game. She grabbed his tie, giving it a flippant toss, and his eyes followed her hungrily, stalking her like an animal.

"Since Marine doesn't appeal to you," she said, placing her hands on her hips and thrusting herself back into his face, "How about rear admiral?"

His hands were hanging at his sides, his fists clenched with barely-contained energy as he watched her, and he growled out, "Too salty. I prefer general."

"With or without his privates?" she immediately countered saucily.

Their eyes had been locked electrically, but at her words he collapsed slightly inward, breaking the contact to look down at his. Her eyes followed his gaze.

"With," she said, "is extra."

He took a few seconds to regain his balance as she was standing motionless, hands still on her hips, pursing her lips in dry victory over him. When he did, he valiantly pointed out at another imaginary pie and asked, "What is that?"

"It's fop," she tossed off effortlessly as he folded his arms, bringing one hand in front of his mouth in a gesture of connoisseurship. She continued, "Finest in the shop. Or we have some shepherd's pie peppered with actual shepherd on top." He let out a bark of laughter, and she flipped her hands in the air and persisted. "And I've just begun. That's a politician so oily it's served with a doily." He was pantomiming a sore stomach and moving away, so she pointed at him and asked, "Not one?"

"Put it on a bun," he replied, still moving away from her. She followed him, and he turned back towards her. "Well, you never know if it's going to run!"

She smiled, touched his arm quickly, and moved away, crowing, "Try the friar; fried, it's drier!"

He watched her, responding, "No, the clergy is really too coarse and too mealy," and sketching a cross in the air with two fingers.

She strode back over, waving her arms excitedly. "An actor; that's compacter!"

He followed her. "Yes," he said dryly, and then made some overexaggerated arm movements and continued pretentiously, "and always arrives overdone." She laughed, but he seemed to lose his patience for the game all of a sudden, whirling around and stomping towards the back of the shop, bellowing, "I'll come again when you have judge on the menu!"

She didn't want to lose him. She was so close to having him in her grasp. "Wait." She followed him around to the other side of the counter. "True, we don't have judge yet. But would you settle for the next best thing?" She was drawing him back into the palm of her hand.

"What's that?"

He was standing behind the counter, and she put a knee up on one of the chairs, braced herself on the counter, and leaned decisively towards him. Moving her mouth very deliberately, she said with purpose, "Executioner."

"Have charity toward the world, my pet," he said immediately, and she straightened up with satisfaction as his focus returned to her.

"Yes, yes, I know, my love," she replied as he turned his head to look at her, and then his whole body to face her.

She put one foot on the chair behind the counter, and he followed her lead, continuing, "We'll take the customers that we can get."

"Highborn and low, my love," she said, and they both stepped fully onto their chairs and clasped hands.

He looked into her eyes. "We'll not discriminate great from small." They each slammed a foot forcefully on the counter, rattling the dishes. "No, we'll serve anyone—"

"—meaning anyone—" she joined in, and they stepped completely onto the counter. They glanced straight into each others' eyes and continued in unison, he raising his razor and she her hat in a flourish, "—and to anyone at all!"

A beat, and then they looked at each other again and dissolved into wicked cackling, their bodies turning slightly toward each other as they bent inward with laughter. "Come now, Mrs. Lovett," he said, tucking his razor away in his back pocket again. "Surely the finest men of London will be arriving for a shave any moment." He pulled her towards him with the hand that still held hers, and then he released her hand and settled his own in the small of her back again as he pressed her to him, as if to dance with her again. "And the lowliest men, too." His free hand grabbed the hat from her and tossed it away, forgotten almost immediately.

She waited for him to continue, her breath labored just in the slightest, snaking one arm up underneath his own to press against his back and draw him even nearer to her. This was closer than any dancing she'd done for a long time. "Yes, Mr. Todd," she breathed, her face inches from his. "Do go on, Mr. Todd." Her other hand was on his waist, her fingertips very close to the back pocket where he had tucked his razor. If she could get that…she wouldn't have to worry so much about his volatile impulses and she could keep him under control. It was practically an extra limb for him when he was plotting, so if she could get rid of it, might keep his thoughts off revenge for a spell and let him focus on her and what she wanted him to do. She should never have given them things back to him, but he prob'ly wouldn't have stayed with her if she hadn't done. But since he had only just put that razor back in his pocket, it probably wasn't the time to snatch it yet. She curled her fingers firmly into his waist instead, digging them into the muscle right above his belt, and she heard him suck in a breath as she did so.

He placed his free hand on top of hers, pulling it away from his waist and intertwining their fingers by their sides. "We ought to be careful," he murmured. "We need to be prepared when they come." He took a step backwards, leading her, and his heel hit the edge of the plate and lid she had left on the counter and sent them sailing onto the floor, where they landed with a metallic clang.

They both glanced at the sound, and she took the opportunity to break free of him again and step nimbly down onto a chair, and then to the floor. He was watching her like a predator stalking its prey, so she had no worries about losing his attention this time. It was all on her. His hooded eyes followed her as she walked around to the plate and crouched down, giving him a as best a view as she could of what she had to offer up top, though her apron weren't really designed for the best display of 'em. He jumped off the counter, suddenly, and landed heavily, shaking the floor of the shop. She straightened, plate and lid in hand, as he stalked slowly towards her, and she turned her back on him cheekily and went to put the dishes on the high shelf that comprised the back wall. Lifting a heavy sack of flour off the shelf with both hands, she turned to face him and raised her eyebrows mockingly. "Well, if them gentlemen'll be arriving any moment for a shave, I'd better see to me baking, hadn't I?"

He grabbed the sack of flour from her rather forcefully and tossed it onto the counter behind him with a dull thud. It wasn't the flour he was interested in at this point. "On second thought, perhaps they won't arrive until tomorrow," he said in a low voice. He was a foot or so in front of her, his arms at his sides, his eyes full of lust.

She took a step towards him. "You may be right, Mr. T.," she purred, wrapping her arms around his waist. "It is getting late. The boy's in the back room; I gave him a big tot o' gin, so he'll be out cold." His arms were enclosing her as well, but her nimble fingers alighted upon the razor in his pocket and pulled it out. She backed towards the wall again, taking him with her. His eyes were on her lips, so she kept talking as her arm reached up to the shelf and tucked the razor back as far as she could, in an empty roasting pan near the wall. "And nary a soul in London knows you're here yet, just those what saw our little triumph over the Eye-talian. They'll tell their friends, but it'll take a few days. The Beadle, he knows too, but he'll be comin' round soon enough. And once your customers are servin' mine, that Beadle, he can't resist a nice juicy meat pie any more'n the rest." Her hand came back down to drape over his shoulder, while the other was still around his waist, and she grabbed handfuls of his shirt, pulling their bodies even closer together.

Their noses were touching again, the fraction of an inch between their mouths crackling with energy. He growled, "'Slow, love, slow,' isn't that how it goes?" And without waiting for an answer, he brought his mouth down on hers, hard and hungry.

Once the connection had finally been made, they were equally matched in their ferocity. They were clawing at each others' bodies with their hands, catching and releasing skin and muscle and fabric, while their mouths were wildly and viciously attempting to devour each other. Nellie reflected idly that her Albert had never used his teeth near so much as Mr. T. was doing. He was a prig anyway though. No one now to tell her what weren't proper for a lady. She was every bit as intense as Mr. T. was, if not more, and Albert'd been dead longer'n Mr. Todd'd been away, so she had done waiting enough. She lunged into his mouth, biting his lower lip hard enough to elicit a feral growl from him, and he pushed her whole body the last distance until they slammed into the wall of the shop below the shelving, their mouths still connected and as fierce as ever. The flimsy wall of the shop shook with the impact, rattling the dishes and various sundries on the shelving above them. He had to duck slightly to fit under the first shelf, though she was small enough to squeeze in just perfectly.

His hands were braced around her ribcage, and she dug her nails into his biceps, hard, as he pressed her into the wall with his body. She raised her leg slightly between his, brushing against him with her thigh, and at the contact he sucked in a rapid breath around her lips and pressed his body even more crushingly against hers. They were still fervently exploring each others' mouths, and when he attempted to gain a new angle, he straightened slightly and banged his head against the bottom of the first shelf. He let out a roar of frustration and pain, muffled into her mouth, and rapidly swung her around, taking several steps forward and pushing the chairs violently out of the way with one hand, slamming her roughly against the side of the counter.

She lifted one of her hands to stroke his smooth head where he had hit it, somehow managing to do so with both tenderness and urgent desire. At the slightest downward pressure from her hand, not even enough that he would notice her guiding touch, he lowered his head and moved his mouth away from hers and to the side of her neck, alternating between the use of his tongue, lips, and teeth, tasting her skin. She moaned, her eyelids fluttered, and her other hand came up to grasp the back of his neck firmly while she continued to stroke his head. His mouth encountered the necklace she was wearing, and his hands left her body for a split second, undid the clasp, pulled the jewelry away and dropped it to the floor. He dispensed of the Italian's scarf with similar ease, untying the loose knot with one hand and letting it float away, forgotten as soon as it left her neck. Mr. T. was never one to do things sloppily, she thought. He could have ripped her clothes off right there, but he was economical, he was. He knew exactly how to do things the fastest and cleanest way. Besides, he was consuming the skin on the side of her neck as zealously as he had done to her lips, just as she had wanted him to do, even leaving a hot trail of bite marks and wet skin down to the curve where her shoulder began, so she weren't going to complain. And his body was still molded firmly to hers against the counter, so she could tell that things were fine by him too.

He seemed to tire of her neck shortly and returned to her mouth again eagerly as his hands moved to the front of her waist and the tie in her apron strings, and she let him. Having had enough waiting, she decided to join in on the work to be done as well, and their actions moved to an even more turbulent pitch. She brought both her hands to his collar and tugged his tie loose haphazardly while her mouth and most of her mental functions were engaged in surveying the surprising smoothness and heat of his lips. The tie was tossed to the floor, and several buttons went flying as she yanked on his crisp white shirt. Meanwhile, he had got the apron undone, and they broke contact swiftly so that he could lift it over her head, and then it was thrown aside. His hands pushed her gauzy jacket violently off her shoulders and sent it drifting away, and she gave the edges of his shirt another forceful tug, popping off the rest of the buttons and exposing his pale, muscular chest. He took the hem of her black tank in both hands and yanked it over her head, she raising her arms briefly to assist him, and then she returned the favor by pushing his shirt off his shoulders and down his burly arms. He finished the job, pulling the sleeves all the way off behind his back, while her hands played flittingly over the landscape of his chest. His own hands had returned to her waist, and he slid them up and down the curve of her body, and she savored the coolness of his palms against her fiery skin. The roughness of his hands, callused from hard labor, playing over her skin caused a shiver to run through her. She hadn't had such a tactile sensation in what seemed like a lifetime, and that was just his hands. He was still exploring her mouth in the meantime, as if that were all he'd ever wanted to do to her. But she got the feeling that he was just channeling all his ferocity in one direction, as he tended to be rather single-minded, and that his focus would shift once they got down to business.

As his hands settled at the waistband of her skirt, slipped just between the fabric and her skin and began traversing the equator of her hips, hers found the spot on his chest where she could feel his heart beating, his pulse fast and heavy. She decided to thrill him a bit too, since she'd had him do for her a bit earlier what she liked. She broke off their kiss and brought her mouth to that spot, moving her full lips over it, feeling his blood rushing just under the skin beneath her lips, and opening her mouth wider so that she could run her ardent tongue over the area. He made a rumbling noise in his chest, and he bent his head over her shoulder so that he could see the zipper in the back of her skirt. One swift motion from his nimble fingers and the garment dropped to the floor, and she idly lifted her feet and kicked it aside. His fingers once again found the space between fabric and skin at her hips, but he seemed to become distracted by her hands at his waist, fumbling with his belt as her mouth continued to work that one hot spot on his pectoral. She also knew she was distracting him with the tiny nips she was beginning to take on his skin, and he took certain matters into his own hands, undoing his belt and pulling it out of its loops as he kicked off his shoes.

Let him finish the job and get his own trousers off, she thought; she wanted to feel his muscular chest again, so she put her palms flat against his abdomen, marveling at the tautness there. Her mouth was still attached to him like a leech, and, as he shoved his pants down his hips and kicked them away, she bit through his skin. He howled.

She took her mouth away, though her lower lip had a dark wet shimmer that she licked off, relishing the coppery tang of his blood. She thought it just a bit of fun wickedness. But he looked down at the trickle of dark red against his white skin, looked back at her, and she saw appear in his eyes not just the lustful ferocity of before but that distinctive blackness he got when he thought about his revenge plots. She saw, and she braced herself. He had a bloodlust, that was it, and it was this tiny view of his own blood what was doing it for 'im. She didn't know what he was going to do when he got like this, she realized, and those were the times she was really afraid of him. This was what made him unpredictable and uncontrollable and dangerous.

His hands shot out like striking vipers, grabbed her on either side of her waist, and lifted her seemingly without effort onto the counter. She landed next to the previously discarded bag of flour, and his hand moved to toss it aside at the instant she realized that it had split a seam when he had thrust it so violently aside earlier.

"Bugger," she blurted, as his hand grabbed the top of the sack and whipped it away, leaving the flour itself pouring out into a pile on top of the counter and swirling into a fine white cloud in the air around them.

Through the cloud she felt his weight land on the end of the counter, with the mound of flour between them, but any view of him was obscured by the haze of suspended flour. She waved her hand through the dust in the air, trying to see him. "Mr. T.?" she said, tentatively and timidly, straining her eyes.

And then suddenly he was there, his face coming at her out of the dust as he lunged towards her. His eyes were black as pitch, she noticed, before his mouth collided with hers again and his teeth latched onto her lower lip, digging into it so hard that she worried he would bite through it, and she moaned in some twisted combination of acute pain and murky pleasure. At the same time his hands grabbed her shoulders roughly, twisting and lifting them, so that it forced her to swing her legs up onto the counter and sort of crab-crawl away from him. She was still wearing her shoes and stockings, not to mention her bra and panties, and the clunky wedges made it difficult for her to get any sort of purchase for stable movement on top of the slippery, floury counter. The cloud had settled into a fine dry layer on their skin, turning her black satin undergarments a sort of ashy grey, and as he moved his body towards hers to catch up with his still-brutal mouth, his bare knees kicked up even more flour, turning him even paler than he already was. He looked like a specter, all white with dark, hollow eyes, mesmerizing her as he attacked her mouth sadistically. She squeezed her eyes shut against the dust, so that her only sensations were of his body hovering above her without touching her and the scorching, searing heat of his mouth. When she dared to open her eyes again, she saw that his remained wide, their deep black pools staring at her full of hunger and menace, and she recoiled instinctively in fear, scuttling back a few more inches away from him, her knees bent, lifting up on her elbows to gain a little leverage.

Her movement had broken off their kiss, but he crawled viciously forward again and moved over her so that he was straddling her waist, and he pinned her wrists under his knees. Leaning down, he reached around under her arms to her back and unhooked her bra, and then he swiftly lifted his knees, plucked up both her wrists in one hand, and pulled the bra off with the other, releasing her wrists briefly to get it all the way off before shackling them in his hand again. He dropped the hand down so that it, and her own hands, rested on her abdomen, and he could then get a better look at her exposed breasts.

How long had it been, she wondered as she watched him, since he had seen a woman's breasts? 'Course his devotion and idealization of the lost Lucy suggested that he wouldn't have wanted to have any other woman but her, but Nellie knew that a man with appetites, 'specially a man so intense as he was, wouldn't have gone fifteen years without a woman. No, he probably had taken women, whores and filth and trash from the gutter, but he wouldn't have looked at 'em. He would have just pretended they were Lucy, and it would have been her breasts he saw when he looked at them other women's. If he looked at all, if it weren't just a quick poke in a dark alley, lift their skirts and then off they scuttle back to the sewers. She realized then that it was a significant victory for her that he was kneeling over her, silently and intensely drinking in the sight of her full breasts rising and falling rapidly with her ragged breathing. Maybe it meant that she could really be his. Or, rather, that he could be hers. Di'n't much matter, really, when she thought about it. Either way, 't'would be her, Nellie, 'stead of Lucy. That was a bit of comfort, that she at least had some pull over him still, especially now, when he was completely dominating her physically.

As she was ruminating on her victory, he seemed to have had enough of just looking at her. He raised the hand that still held her wrists bound, stretching out his arm until hers were pulled above her head as if she truly were a chained prisoner, and he flattened his palm against the counter, her wrists pinned underneath his one large hand. Though he was still on his knees, the movement brought his torso even closer, and she could feel the heat radiating from his skin as he leaned towards her. His free hand came to her chest, so that all his weight was supported between his knees and the hand anchoring her arms, and he started exploring her breasts tactilely, but brutally. It was wonderfully painful; he was practically kneading them, one at a time with his single free hand, spreading the dusty flour from the rest of her body over her newly-exposed breasts as if they were dough to be softened. It was a dull pain, but he was grasping them hard enough, working them harshly enough, that it was excruciating. She inhaled sharply and tried to hold her breath against the agony, but all of her nerve endings were firing at once and the conflicting combination of pain and pleasure overwhelmed her. She let out a strangled wail, arched her back automatically, and strained against his binding hand.

Her resistance only served to stimulate him. He growled, pounded her wrists down hard on the countertop, and raised his other hand, placing it on top of their combined hands to enforce his actions. He was still kneeling on either side of her waist, bent forward at his waist to stretch his arms out fully above her head, and he looked directly into her wide eyes with his deep black pools, his face a breath from hers, and said in a low, threatening tone, "You don't want to provoke me, my pet."

She was already breathing hard, and she could almost see specific threats written in the inky darkness of his eyes as they stared each other down. But her fear of him was overwhelmed, just enough, by the sheer force of her desire. So she blinked, said confidently, "Yes, Mr. Todd," and, lifting her head as far as she could when she was so shackled, kissed him.

Her initiative caught him off-guard, but he quickly pressed into her lips with his own, forcing her head back down to the countertop. He brought his body down too, stretching out his legs and lowering his chest on top of hers so that it was skin on skin. It was a much more natural position for him, she realized, and the skin-on-skin contact certainly was delicious, but she could barely breathe under the weight of his muscular frame, especially with her arms and torso forced to stretch to their limit by his long reach. Her vision was becoming hazy from the lack of air, and she was seeing stars winking at her over his shoulder.

She had to whip her head quickly to the side to break off their kiss, since her head was already flush against the countertop and her limbs completely immobilized. Even then, he was diving after her lips again as soon as the contact was severed, and she had to quickly gasp out, "Mr. Todd…I can't breathe, Mr. Todd."

"My sincerest apologies, Mrs. Lovett," he hissed acidly, not sounding apologetic at all, but he did release her wrists and raise himself onto his elbows, elevating enough of his weight that she could breathe again before going after her mouth once more. She couldn't tell if he was just put off that he had to give in to her will for a moment, knowingly, or if he had really wanted to smother her. But at this moment she really didn't much care. She knew Mr. T., impatient as he was, was tired of waiting, and that was fine by her. That was probably why he was so perturbed, she decided; he was raring to go. At least, she hoped that was why.

Almost before she had finished her thought, his mouth left hers again and he was back on his knees, though this time he was kneeling between her legs. He grabbed one of her ankles in each of his hands and bent her legs back towards her body, placing the soles of her wedge heels against his chest directly below his pectorals. His hands then went to her hips and the waistband of her knickers, curling his fingers around the edge and pulling them to her knees, she lifting her hips slightly to help him. Grabbing both her ankles in one hand, he lifted her feet off his chest and to the side, using the other hand to pull her knickers all the way off, catching them slightly on her bulky shoes, and tossing them to the floor. They sent up a puff of flour when they landed.

Her feet came to rest on either side of him, knees bent, and he leaned down again, lowering himself back on top of her, ready to kiss her again and more. But he felt an insistent drumming at his hip and looked over.

She was tapping his side with the toe of her shoe, and she said from behind his turned head, "Ain't you forgetting something, Mr. T.?" She then pushed the toe of her shoe against the waistband of his shorts, managing to move it slightly, so she tried to do the same with her other foot. The soles of her shoes rubbed his skin red when she shoved his shorts over his hips and down his legs, as far as her legs could reach, but he didn't bat an eye at the pain, of course, and he was then able to maneuver them the rest of the way off without too much fuss.

Right, she had known he was gettin' impatient. She di'n't need much coaxing either, it having been so long since her last bloke. She'd had a few fellows since Albert had kicked the bucket, natural enough for a healthy woman with her tastes, but they were the sort of bang-and-dash blokes that caught her eye in the shop and didn't linger past breakfast. And the evening's engagement with Mr. Todd 'ad already been even more drawn-out than she had expected, given both their appetites. So it was no surprise to her that she received him quickly and easily, and she savored that long-forgotten sensation of fullness for a second before he started moving.

She raised her legs, wrapping them around his powerful frame and hooking them at the ankles. Her shoes clunked together every time he moved, and her coarse fishnet stockings rasped at the skin on his back, leaving swaths of red on his white skin. He was strong and forceful, his labored breaths sounding almost like growls. His forearms were under her shoulders, his hands tangled in her hair, pulling at the bits that were long enough to grasp, but there were other sensations overwhelming the pain in her scalp. He pounded her into the counter with every movement, to the extent that she was sure her entire buttocks would be one big purple bruise tomorrow, but the sensation of having a man in her again was wonderful. Especially so because it was him, Benjamin Barker, the man she'd wanted for as long as she could remember and never been able to have.

No, that weren't entirely true. He weren't really Benjamin Barker anymore. Benjamin Barker had been skinny, almost underfed, his weak limbs reflecting the delicacy of his work, hadn't even looked like he had a heartbeat, nearly. Benjamin Barker had been sweet, quiet, respectful, timid, always knew his place. Benjamin Barker had never once looked her in the eye or made any sign that he knew she existed. The man whose hot, humid breaths were now scalding her ear, the man whose powerful body was so deliciously entangled with hers, the man who was ravishing her so viciously and sadistically that she was sure she wouldn't be able to move for weeks to come, the man who growled "Mrs. Lovett" with every other thrust into her…that was not Benjamin Barker.

She moaned, purred, "Oh Mr. Todd," wrapped her arms around his powerful torso, digging her nails into his back hard enough to leave little half-moon bruises, and squeezed her legs even tighter around him, bringing him even further into her. Delicious.

They had kicked more flour into the air again with their fevered motion, and it moved in slow-motion swirls. Nellie gazed at them for a second over his shoulder, entranced. She could also see the dust settling onto his sweat-soaked skin, coating his body with a thick, moist layer. She ran her nails up his back, hard, watching them form bright red tracks in the flour. He growled a little louder at the pain, but he was already starting to move faster, and her momentary focus on the flour was dissipated by his increased assault on her senses and body. She saw stars again and, though she was panting, it was not from lack of air this time. She arched up instinctively, squeezing him between her legs even harder. His hips pounded hers down on the counter again, brutally, repeatedly, but she barely noticed. The sensations overpowered her, and she sucked as much air as she could into her already-strained lungs and screamed, a ragged wail of ecstasy.

She was vaguely conscious of him letting out some sort of roar as well, and then his arms gave out and he collapsed on top of her. Luckily this time he had the sense to roll to the side a bit, shifting most of his weight off her heaving ribcage and extracting himself from her. Their legs remained entangled, and his arms were still loosely encircling her, one hand cradling the back of her head and the other arm across her chest, underneath her breasts, the hand still looped under her shoulder. They lay there silently for a few moments, catching their breath, both bodies sticky with sweat and fluid and saliva and flour.

Soon enough the sweat began cooling off their fiery bodies, for while the shop was occasionally heated by the warmth from the bakehouse, the ovens had been pretty cool of late. That'd change, she thought, with her new business partnership with Mr. Todd. Well, business and a li'l bit o' pleasure too. The ovens would be firing all hours of the day, keeping the shop nice 'n' warm for the customers, and she and Mr. T. would warm it up at night with their own kind o' fire.

She smiled and reached a hand up to stroke the top of his head. At the tenderness in her caress, he moved closer to her, snuggling in, and his head came to rest on her chest just below her chin, pillowed on the tops of her breasts. His lips moved ever so slightly, placing a feather-light kiss on her breast. The action thrilled her. She suspected that he wasn't completely aware of her or of his own actions at the moment, but to be frank it didn't much matter to her.

This was the kind of tenderness she remembered seeing him demonstrate towards Lucy, she thought with a triumphantly smug smile to herself as she stroked his head and back. Back then, she was young and naïve, a three-years' widow of a stifling marriage, and she wanted him to love her like that. She'd learned from her between-times blokes over her years alone that gentle lovers were overrated, that she had more fun with the rougher ones, but she was still lonely and carryin' a torch for the lost Benjamin Barker. When he'd come back, and even earlier in the evening, she had thought that he'd never forget about Lucy, that he'd never love her the way she loved him, but that she could show him love and at least get him to appreciate her and to give her a bit of fun. It was one of the things she'd wanted from Benjamin Barker at least, if not everything. But this…this tenderness towards her, Nellie…it was nearly all she'd dreamed of. He never failed to surprise her with his abilities to oscillate between such extreme violence, or in this case brutal passion, and his affectionate longing. He'd forgotten about Lucy for the moment, at least, and if she could keep his attention on her enough to continue that tenderness towards her…well, that was about the best she could hope for to begin with, and it'd be enough. Especially if they did more of what they'd just done.

"Mr. T.," she murmured with a wicked smile in her voice, "you seem to have rumpled me bedding, in a manner of speaking. And me, a lonely old widow all these years, now havin' you to share me bed…why, it's a scandal. What will the neighbors think?"

"Let them think what they want, my love," he rumbled, his lips brushing the side of her breast as he spoke, giving her chills. He sounded distracted, half-asleep, and rightfully so.

She smiled and nuzzled the top of his head a bit with her chin. "Then you do love me, Mr. T.?"

"Mmm, yes, my love." He snuggled his head a little more into her breasts, and she could feel that his breathing was slowing quickly, that he was almost asleep. His breath moved ever so lightly over the sensitive skin of her breast, tickling the fine hairs and giving her goosebumps, her nipple tightening with the sensation.

She knew, of course, that he di'n't mean it the way she wanted him to mean it. She wasn't no fool.

But she didn't care.

She was in control now all the same. She'd have to give his razor back soon, she knew, but as long as it was out of his reach while he was…inflamed, whether with lust or violence or both, she'd be safe. She could keep him under control. She had to keep him under control.

It'd be a balancing act for sure, if the business was successful, she mused, trying to arrange in her mind all the elements she'd need to manage. The reg'lar customers ought to slake his bloodlust enough to keep him tamed for awhile. If the Beadle'd come in for a nice hot pie or a shave, that'd be even better. That'd keep him satisfied for a good long while. She didn't guess that that bloody judge would be comin' anytime soon, but no doubt Mr. T. would find a way to get to him eventually. And Johanna…sweet little thing she must be. That sailor could do all the work for 'im in figuring out how to get her here, and Mr. T. didn't seem to be terribly attached to the lad, so he'd have no qualms gettin' rid of him.

The boy…well, he was a weak link, but not a threatening one. She could pacify him with a little motherly affection. He was already showing signs of devotion to her, even after only a few hours, and she could cultivate that to her advantage. If she was successful with him, there wouldn't be nothing he wouldn't do for her. And the Italian had treated him none too good, so there'd be no reason for the boy to hold any loyalties to him.

The old woman would be a problem. Always hanging about Nellie's establishment. Hmm. Couldn't let her near Mr. Todd, so couldn't have her done away with…at least, not without finding another man willing to break the laws of God for her. Lucky for her there weren't no Commandment against desecratin' the dead. Was it truly adultery, she wondered, if a man di'n't know his wife wasn't dead? She hadn't had much formal Bible schooling as a young thing, though Aunt Nettie used to make her recite the Commandments whenever she came to visit. That blasted Aunt Nettie. What a prig. If she hadn't been rich, and if she hadn't lived by the sea, Nellie would never have visited her a day in her rotten old life. As it was, she only endured the time spent reading Bible passages to Aunt Nettie so that, when the old bat dropped off to sleep, Nellie could sneak out to the pier and spend hours wading in the waves. She didn't even care when the stupid local boys teased her or threw mud at her or just watched her skinny legs when she hiked up her skirts above the water.

The sea, that was the place. She wondered if she could keep Mr. Todd under control long enough to collect enough money to move them out by the sea. London was bad for him, and for her future with him too. Too many memories there, shuffling the streets just outside the shop like specters. Dangerous.

Almost as if he could hear her thoughts, even in sleep, his arm moved slightly lower behind her head, his fingers curling lightly around the sides of her neck. She held her breath, waiting, wondering. She had already had several experiences of that hand around her throat, experiences she didn't much care to repeat. But his hand was relaxed, and he was firmly asleep. She exhaled.

Yes, she'd have to keep him under control. She'd have to watch him constantly, not let the certain success of the business lull her into thinking that he was pacified. Even in sleep he threatened her. She could never resist him physically, as he had demonstrated most effectively during their malicious games. But she knew how to manipulate him, and as long as she stayed in control, she'd be safe. Of course, she'd keep him lusting after her, and she could relinquish her control when they were in bed, as long as she kept his mind off Lucy and his hands away from the razors.

How was she going to keep that blasted old woman away from the shop? The boy could keep an eye out for a short while, provided the shop wasn't overwhelming for a lad of his abilities, but there had to be a better way. Perhaps she could just keep Mr. Todd away from her instead? But she couldn't watch him twenty-four hours a day, and even if she could, he'd get suspicious. She would have to be vigilant but subtle. She sighed exhaustedly.

And while he slept soundly with his head on her breast and his hand on her throat, she lay awake, building her house of cards in her mind.