Pretending

'Mrs. Lovett, clean this up.'

'Mrs. Lovett, those pies need to be baked tomorrow.'

'Mrs. Lovett, I need new shirts. Now.'

'Mrs. Lovett, my shop is too bloody. Do something about it.'

'Mrs. Lovett, GET OUT.'

Mrs. Lovett's mind was about to explode from frustration and anger. It had been going on like this for months. Sweeney Todd commanded her like she was his wife, while he never even thanked her. And he could show his gratitude so easily; just a kiss, or at least a hint of affection…

But he didn't, not at all. And Mrs. Lovett was sick of it.

"Mrs. Lovett!"

She didn't run to Sweeney like she usually did, but just kept sitting there, in her favorite chair in the living room.

"Mrs. Lovett!"

Sweeney Todd burst in the room. He had probably just killed another customer and she presumed that he wanted her to get rid of the body. Usually she immediately went to the bakehouse to do the work, but now she just kept sitting where she was.

"I need your help."

"Oh really?" She asked nonchalantly, pretending not to be interested.

"Yes, really," he snarled. "Now, bake those pies, before…"

"I think it's about time you do that kind of thing yourself, Mr. T." she said, not giving him the chance to say whatever he wanted to say. Because of this, he looked at her in shock, not believing that she had actually said that he had to bake the body into a pie himself.

"What?"

"You heard me."

"But, I, I…" he mumbled, not sure whether he was angry, shocked, or both.

"Yes, you. It's always about you. I know life has been cruel to you, but that doesn't mean you can boss me around the way you've been doing for months."

"All right," he growled. "Can you clean it, please?"

"No."

"No?"

He walked towards her, and she stood up. She didn't really fear him anymore; yet she stepped back, still intimidated when he took the razor from the holster on his belt.

"No?"

Her back was pressed against the wall, but she wouldn't give in. Not this time.

"I'm on strike," she said, trying to sound like she was sure of herself.

"You're what?"

"On strike."

"And why exactly are you on strike?"

"Because I…" she tried to think of something. "Because I want to…"

She didn't know what to say, because she hasn't really thought about that part of the plan yet. But it wasn't really necessary. He blinked a few times in confusion, and then he stepped closer to her, placing one of his 'friends' against her throat.

"Mrs. Lovett, you know what happens if you don't…"

"Yeah, kill me," she said boldly, hiding her growing fear. "And who would look after you then, huh?"

He stared at her, realizing she was right.

"And when will you go back to your work?" he asked after a few seconds of very uncomfortable silence.

"When you finally show me a bit of gratitude," she said, deciding that she would tell the truth now instead of confusing both him and herself.

"But you know how much I appreciate your work, don't you?"

He was obviously lying, like always. But she wouldn't let him get away with it.

"No, I don't," she said, "and I think it's time you show me."

There was an awkward silence, this one lasting longer than the previous one.

"And how do you want me to… Should I help you clean? Be nicer to Toby? Help you in the bakehouse? Or… you don't want me to go with you to the park again, do you?!"

"No, not at all," she said quietly. She felt very uncomfortable and wasn't sure at all about the plan that had seemed so good only minutes ago. But if she wanted to do it, she had to act now.

"I want something completely different from you."

There, she had said it. There was no way back, it was up to him now. The nervous tone of her voice must have given him an idea, for he looked at her in disbelief, panicking.

"I want you to kiss me," she said while she still had the courage.

He looked at her like she had gone completely mad.

"But Mrs. Lovett, I can't… are you… this is absurd, I can't… you…"

"Hush," she said loudly, not wanting him to ruin it. "No arguing. Kiss me, or go away and never come back. Don't let me suffer like this."

"Suffer?" His eyes widened even more.

"You have no idea what you are doing with me," she replied, raising her voice while looking straight into his eyes, "and I respect that, but it's killing me. I want to know what it's like. Just once."

He stared at her like she was totally insane. He expected her to admit it was some sort of sick joke any second, but when she didn't do so, it slowly dawned on him.

"I will never…"

"Yes, you will. If you want me to continue working like a slave, you will."

"But…"

"You can't talk yourself out of it," she said, her heart racing, because she felt she might be able to persuade him. "And don't dare even consider hurting me; you know what happens if I won't be able to do your work anymore."

He gave her a long look before he nodded. He hardly moved his head, but he did nod. He put the razor away, but looked even sadder than usual.

"I won't forgive you for this, Mrs. Lovett. And if you ever dare to trick me like this again…"

"I won't. I promise."

It hurt her, having to say this; but rather once than never.

"One kiss. That's all I ask."

His eyes bored into hers; he was probably trying to scare her, but she was the only person who wasn't afraid of the darkness in his orbs.

He stepped closer to her and she felt his breath on her cheek. She held her own breath in anticipation and waited, longing, her eyes closed. When nothing happened, they snapped open again.

"Mr. T?"

"I did what you asked," he said, blankly.

He sounded less dangerous than usual, but now she sensed an inner turmoil within him that was even scarier.

"There," he said while pointing at her cheek.

"I didn't feel anything," she said, not entirely sure how to react. "It's not that easy, Mr. T."

She took his hands, and though he flinched at the contact, she pointed his finger at her lips

"There," she said, while holding his wrist.

He cleared his throat, apparently trying to say something. Mrs. Lovett pitied him, since he even seemed to be unable of 'betraying' Lucy to continue his quest for vengeance.

But when Mrs. Lovett remembered the envy she had felt every time that Benjamin and Lucy had kissed, right in front of her, she was sure of her plan. Of course it wasn't about the work – she didn't really mind it because it was to help the man she loved after all. She just wanted to experience it once, feeling the way Lucy must've felt when she was kissed by the one and only Benjamin Barker.

"It won't take long Mr. T. Just do it, and I'll never mention it again, and you'll make me very happy."

He just stood there, his eyes never leaving her, and nerves crept up her spine.

Then, he slowly moved towards her again. She closed her eyes, not knowing what to expect, but dying to feel his kiss.

His lips brushed hers lightly for a second. Although it hardly was a real kiss, it certainly felt like that to her. Her heart beat so hard it seemed to break her ribs. It was like he showed her heaven, just for a very short while, even though there wasn't any emotion in his touch.

His hands rested on her shoulders, and when she opened her eyes again, he didn't look as depressed as she had expected him look.

No matter how good it had felt, it wasn't been a real kiss – and that was the deal.

"Do you really call that a proper kiss?" she asked, trying to sound sarcastic, though her voice trembled.

"One kiss, you said." He spoke not with the usual anger, but with something she didn't recognized.

"You promised," she replied.

He bit his lip and his eyes darted from her mouth to her eyes and back, and even down her body. When she found him staring at her cleavage for a second, she understand what the problem was – she was tempting him. If she persisted, he would snap. And there was one very easy way to make him lose control – though she would only find out in a good or a bad way if she tried it.

"Mr. T," she said, taking a deep breath again. "It's not that hard. Just close your eyes, and pretend that I'm Lucy."

He gasped for air, his eyes widening again. He stared at her for a second in total disbelief, and then he dragged her away from the wall. She closed her eyes herself now; this time in fear.

She had gone too far, and she knew it.

She expected the razor to cut her throat at any moment; but for a second all she felt was that her feet didn't touch the ground anymore, and then there was something soft against her back. For a few moments she thought he'd try to strangle her on the couch, and she managed to scream.

But the sound was muted by his mouth, which slammed onto hers. Her mind couldn't react now that what she had dreamed of for such a long time finally was happening, but no matter how overwhelmed she was, her body knew exactly what to do.

She kissed Sweeney with the same hunger and despair as he touched her, and she pulled him on top of her, strangling her hands in his hair. If the world would have stopped at that moment, she wouldn't have noticed it, for she was lost in his arms already.

Mrs. Lovett knew that Sweeney pretended her to be Lucy; she realized he didn't want her, he wanted his wife, and yet, he was kissing her hungrily and he was holding her.

That single minute of bliss was worth all the uncertainty and unrequited longing from the past. When they were holding each other and kissed while their bodies were pressed closely together, part of her realized that he had never kissed his wife like this. He wasn't Benjamin Barker anymore after all; he was Sweeney Todd, a completely different man.

Finally, he let go to catch his breath and he was staring at her once more with those hypnotizing black orbs.

To her surprise, he didn't immediately leave, nor did he kill her. Instead, he kissed her forehead before he stood up to leave the room.

"Nellie," he said, hardly audible. "Thank you."

After he had left, Mrs. Lovett let herself fall on the cushion of the couch again, still not fully believing what had happened. The events played in her head again and again, and slowly she realized that she had finally achieved it: she had persuaded Sweeney Todd to kiss her at last. Not by seducing him or something like that, but simply by offering him the possibility to pretend – just like she had lived in make-believe for so many years. And instead of angering him, or making him desire his wife even more, she had broken his resistance. She didn't know yet what this meant exactly, but it was clear to her that he hadn't only used her to forget about the past for a while; there was something more in his eyes when he broke off the kiss. She had given him love and tenderness, and maybe that was exactly what he was looking for, and he realized this only now that she had forced him to experience it. He had even thanked her and addressed her with her first name after all, thus making clear that she was more to him than just his landlady or his partner in crime.

For the first time since many long years, Mrs. Lovett felt hope again, while she recalled all the details of the kiss, feeling as if she was still in heaven when doing so.

The strike was over, that was for sure, but there was another thing the baker was quite certain of: Mr. Todd would come back to 'pretend' once more.