A/N: Just a lovely piece of fluff I dreamt up the other day :) For anyone who is reading A Perfect Machine (you're amazing by the way! especially if you review!), don't worry, I'm still working on it... I just had this urge to write Todd/Lovett fluff, RIGHT NOW, and since long stories have pesky things like plots I had to set this little morsel off on its own.
ALSO. I am completely oblivious and JUST REALIZED that there was a "review reply" O.O I feel horrible now that I haven't been replying to all my reviews! I'm so sorry you guys! I will definitely make sure to use this feature in the future!
Rated T for language.
They were fighting again. Often, he wasn't even sure how it started. Something she would say, some stray gesture would grate on his nerves and he would fly into one of his furies, razor in hand, stomping about the room and cursing everything that breathed. Including her-- especiallyher.
He knew it wasn't her fault; not really. But sometimes the charade that was life became just a little too wearying, and the hunger for vengeance a little too acute, and all that hopeless helplessness would bubble up and pour forth as rage. Then all he wanted to do was hurt something, anything, and she was right there and so very easy to hurt. At those times the anger would blur his vision and all he would see was her face, so pathetically worshipful, and he would feel such loathing, as if she personally were responsible for all his miseries. And it was her fault, wasn't it? She had let Lucy take the poison, had allowed the Judge to steal his daughter, had told him to wait when he should have acted, should have seized his chance... He justified himself deftly, blunting the guilt even as he watched her flinch, every barbed word hitting its mark. Mr. Todd was an expert rationalizer.
Mrs. Lovett cringed as she watched the familiar hatred blazing in his eyes. She was used to it by now, his violent volatility, the easy way the shadow of madness crossed and then vanished from his face at intervals. She knew he needed this, this explosive release. Lord knew the man had suffered enough to earn his right to be angry. And so she was more than willing to be his whipping-boy, to volunteer her suffering so that he might have the briefest catharsis. Bitch, he hissed, bitch slut tramp whore, and she took it with characteristic stoicism. Still, she wouldn't pretend it didn't hurt.
This time, though, she knew she had deserved it. She had needled him, goaded him to the breaking point with some admittedly caustic remarks and mocking speculation about just what that Judge might have in mind for his Johanna. The truth was, she had wanted to provoke him; had basked in his wrath even as each savage syllable stung her to her core. Better to be the object of his contempt than nothing at all.
It ended as it always did, with his razor pressed against her throat. He did this so often that it was almost a formality, a ritual they shared. She almost didn't feel afraid anymore, almost could believe that it was an empty threat. Almost.
Her heart was beating a fierce tattoo against her ribcage, frantically proclaiming its desire to live. Still, she managed to smile up at him. "Now, Mr. Todd. You can't afford to lose me. Not now, anyway."
Usually that was enough. Today, however, he kept the blade where it was, eyes gleaming oddly. He leered at her, and Mrs. Lovett felt ice flood her insides. "How many bakers are there in London, Mrs. Lovett?" he asked softly. "And who among them would not sell his soul to learn the secret of Mrs. Lovett's famous meat pies?"
"People would notice," she suggested doubtfully. "They'd wonder where I'd gone..."
He could see the uncertainty flickering in her eyes, and he sighed. It wasn't enough. Even now, she wasn't sure whether to be afraid. She sickened him, so secure in her own immunity.
"You?" he spat, and the razor pressed dangerously against her jugular. "You, who have no family- no friends- only me and that thick orphan you keep. You think your customers care where their pies come from? You are nobody, Mrs. Lovett. Unexceptional- erasable- and oh so replaceable..."
"Replaceable?" she sputtered, more with wounded dignity than with terror. Dimly, Mrs. Lovett was aware that her life was in danger, but even so she felt her face flush with indignation. If there was one thing Mrs. Lovett prided herself on, it was her baking ability. "You think it's easy, do you?" she sniffed. " 'S a real art form, bakin' is. They don' call me the best pie-maker in London for nothin'."
Todd snorted. "You were the worst before I came along."
"Well tha's not me fault, is it? I 'adn't the proper supplies. Even an artist can only do so much, fillin' 'er pies with somethin' wot she found growin' on the wall of--"
"Very well. Point taken." Todd's lip was twitching faintly in amused disgust. His could feel his anger ebbing away as the clash dwindled into a simple quarrel. The hand holding the blade relaxed.
Mrs. Lovett wasn't finished, however. "Well, s'about time someone 'ppreciated me 'round 'ere. Hackin' them limbs to bits, slavin' over an 'ot oven all day, people yellin' for more faster'n I can bake 'em, while you sit up here twiddlin' your thumbs, pacin' about, gettin' your jollies with them slashin' tantrums of yours. You 'ave it easy, you do--"
Mr. Todd's expression darkened and he growled roughly. Mrs. Lovett's eyes grew wide as she felt the razor's edge one again digging uncomfortably into her flesh.
Well played, Nellie, she thought bitterly. You've done it this time.
For now, though, the blade didn't press any further. Mr. Todd laughed harshly. "Do you envy me, then, Mrs. Lovett?" He lowered the silver edge from her throat (much to her relief) and offered it to her with a sneer. "How about it? Fancy a go with one of my friends?"
She swallowed and glanced away. "Di'nt mean it like that," she mumbled sulkily. "I was jus' pointin' out you ain't the only one with an 'ard job..."
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "You place pastry-making on a plane with murder?"
She scowled, stung by his condescension. "I'd like to see you try it, then," she declared, primly dusting some flour from her dress. "In fact," she announced impulsively, "I'll wager you can't." She tilted her chin at him in defiance. The gesture was a guarded one, however; she was keenly aware of the razor that still gleamed at his side... It occurred to her that it was probably not wise to gamble with Mr. Todd. Then again, it probably wasn't wise to come within a mile radius of him, let alone share a house with the man.
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What are we wagering?"
"Well. Seein' as you insulted my livelihood..." she huffed. She tapped her chin thoughtfully. Then her eyes lit up and she flashed him a wicked grin. "If you lose, you'll let me kiss you."
Todd's nostrils flared and his hand tightened around the blade at his belt. How he would love to carve rebukes into her flesh, make her pay for insulting the memory of his Lucy like that. See her writhe... But she was already backing away, placing a protective distance between herself and her unstable tenant. The woman might entertain the most ridiculous fantasies, but she was no fool. She would be on her guard now, until his mood passed. True, he was stronger than she, and could presumably do what he liked regardless of her prudence; but that wasn't what he wanted. Oh, he relished the way human muscle and sinew yielded beneath his hand; the initial resistance, and then that soft surrender as all that delicious crimson blossomed forth... but part of the pleasure was in how very willingly his customers bared their throats for him, seating themselves in his chair as they voluntarily offered themselves for slaughter. He would never get that kind of submission from Mrs. Lovett. Unless... and a devilish smile crept across his face. Besides, he never could resist a challenge.
"Very well, I accept. But if I win..." --and he brushed his blade along her collarbone in what was almost a caress-- "I get to see you bleed."
Mrs. Lovett gulped. "Them's high stakes, Mr. T."
A smirk twisted his face unpleasantly. "Then you forfeit our wager?"
Their eyes clashed.
Yep, another multi-part oneshot. I guess I just like keeping you guys in suspense, even for my shorter pieces The second, and probably final, chapter should be up in a few days.