(A/N: I seem to be easily distracted lately. Blame it on midterms. Here's a quick little oneshot that just popped into me head... I'm working on Stakes, I promise!)

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The shop is always busy this time of day. "More meat pies!" calls the crowd, and Mrs. Lovett nearly trips over herself carrying a tray out to the hungry throng that awaits her. Oddly, these are the times- amid the hectic hustle, her hands occupied, her ankles aching- that she feels most relaxed. Later on, she knows, when the shop closes up for the night, poor Mr. T will stumble blindly down the stairwell, a grey shell of a creature, colorless and comfortless. Then he will- must be- the sole focus of her attention; heaven knows taking care of that man would demand anyone's full attention.

But the constant shuttling between the shop and the kitchen, the amiable prattle with the customers about the weather and her health and suchlike: this is mindless, and so she feels these hours are completely her own. She likes to let her mind wander, philosophizing, coining clever aphorisms or spinning out grand yarns about an imagined life by the sea. Today, she thinks about love. Such a funny word, it is.

(Typical of British economy, to compact something so vast into a single syllable.)

Picking her way between the tables, she notices a girl with skin the color of peach-blossoms sharing a pie with her strapping young suitor. The girl's ears are small and pink, like seashells. The lad whispers something into one of them, and they flush even pinker. Mrs. Lovett realizes she saw the same boy here last week, with a different young lady. She moves on to the next table, disappointed for some reason.

(For such an important word, it certainly trips easily off our tongues.)

Now here is a well-to-do man, she thinks, so smartly dressed in his houndstooth-checked suit. She can see something of the dandy about him, his boots pristinely polished, a flower peeping from his button-hole. She also sees that he is a portly gentleman, and his well-tailored jacket bulges slightly at the seams. "You look like the type of man who can appreciate a good shave," she says, winking. "More ale, love?"

(After awhile it has no substance at all.)

"Sweep up, would you love?" she asks Toby when the last of the customers have wandered out and the sign on the door is firmly turned to "Closed." She flops down onto a straight-backed chair and rubs wearily at her temples.

(It's just a habit, now. A verbal reflex.)

Abruptly the dark figure of the barber materializes in the door frame. His eyes are tired and needy. "Bring me some gin, Mrs. Lovett?"

"Yes, love," she says, and her throat closes up queerly as it always does when she calls him that.

(It doesn't mean anything.)