Disclaimer: Not mine. Used without permission or remuneration but with as much love and respect as Sweeney has for his friends.
Prompt: The Queen of Hearts. Lily of the Valley, Calla Lily, stephanotis and a drop of cherry.
This one is rated M for blood and sex. Thank you to hereswith for betaing!
It was easy to get to the heart of a dead man. Manipulating her cleaver and saws on Mr Todd's latest delivery to her, Mrs Lovett prided herself that she was just as much an artist with a knife as he was.
The hard part was removing their clothes. She had only ever done this for Albert (she'll overlook the little indiscretions in the years between his death and Mr Todd's return – a woman alone had to keep body and soul together somehow, and it wasn't as if she had gone on the streets like ever-chaste Lucy), and the first time she had had a corpse stretched out on her butcher's table, she had fumbled like a girl on her wedding night.
As she had gingerly opened the dead man's trousers, the thought of brides and grooms reminded her, like the diamond wink of an engagement ring, of why she was doing this. Closing her eyes, she told herself it was Mr Todd under her hands. She had the garments off in double-quick time.
He was down in the bakehouse with her tonight, doing some chopping and carrying the cut meat to the grinder for her while she performed the finicky filleting and boning. It was quite companionable, the two of them working together, even in silence. Mr Todd, as usual, met her attempts at conversation with grunts, or no reply at all, and in the end she had decided she had better concentrate on the task at hand. The rebuff didn't upset her unduly; he'd probably had a hard day, she told herself, and besides, though it might not smell that nice down here – she was grateful for the perfume he had given her, else she would stink like that herself – the enclosed darkness of the room and the warmth emanating from the oven conferred a strange intimacy on this nightly endeavour. Remembering that it was the two of them against the world, at work in the secret depths of the earth long after those that they preyed on – that would prey on them given half a chance – had lazily retired for the night, gave her a thrill of satisfaction and shared confidences. Did Mr Todd feel that too?
He was bound to, she thought, smiling at his averted face.
It wasn't easy to keep her mind from wandering, with him so close. With him working at the other end of the table, not looking at her, so she could observe unnoticed, watch the sure movements of his elegant hands, the way his dark hair fell over his forehead, how the firelight and the shadows played across his face – and when she took the corpses' privates off, well, it did make her wonder about him. Even more than she already did.
She tutted, examining her scratched palm. There she went again, drifting off into daydreams when her own flesh was at stake. She wasn't serving up pies made from her own meat.
Mr Todd finally glanced up at her exclamation (was it her imagination, or did he look at her with more interest when he realised what the matter was? He was funny about it when she hurt herself). He silently passed her the cloth he wore on his belt to bind the wound. She pressed it to the cut, with murmurs of "thanks," and "what a gentleman you are, Mr T." Such a gentleman that, when her fingers lingered on his, he jerked his hand away – to avoid compromising her, of course.
She had sliced open what palm-readers called the Mound of Venus. Perhaps, she thought, looking at the stain on the cloth, like virginal blood on snow-white bridal sheets, it was an omen.
Gloves were such a useful fashion. The customers did not notice her hand was injured when it was covered with spider-web mesh. They would not have wanted to see it, to be obliged to ask; they preferred to think of her as Mrs Lovett, the purveyor of fine meat pies, the automaton who dispensed them and smiled and smiled and was no villain. Especially the gentlemen, who would buy more pies precisely because it did make her smile.
If only it were that easy with Mr Todd. She was the merchant queen of Fleet Street, her domain the pie shop was filled with admiring courtiers, and yet the consort who had made all this possible would not even look her in the eye.
No matter. The dear Queen herself, they said, had had to propose to her Prince Albert, and she had got everything she wanted in that paragon of manly virtue. Mrs Lovett's own Albert had wooed her with a garnet ring (long ago sold) and a promise of a successful butcher's shop. See where that courtship had got her. Yes, there was something to be said for the lady making her own choice.
"Mrs Lovett," one of the customers – a well-dressed man who could easily afford to buy two or three pies more and still have money left over to pay for a shave – said to her as she swept regally past, imagining that the ruby Mr Todd would surely give her on their engagement was already on her hand (how Mrs Mooney would spit!).
"Mrs Lovett," the customer said again, bringing her back to the present, "you're an excellent cook. That was quite delicious."
She beamed at him, as artificial as gaslight. "Why, thank you, sir. Can I tempt you to another?" This met with assent; he was looking her over in an intimate way that she did not like. She would certainly recommend a shave to the presumptuous man. "Veal or pork?"
"One of each – provided they are served by the same fair hand that made them."
He definitely needed shaving. "I like a man with an appetite," she said (meaning nothing of the kind – gluttony was such a waste. Mr Todd's abstemious habits might be a disappointment when it came to plying him with food, but at least it was thrifty), and bestowing a final smile upon the customer, turned away to fetch his last meal. She should have suggested he got shaved before eating any more, then they could have kept the pies for sale to someone else.
Out of habit, she glanced up at the barber shop as she crossed the courtyard. And saw Mr Todd on the balcony, surveying his potential victims and looking down at her the way the Nonconformists would at the Scarlet Whore of Babylon.
The man who had so offended her sense of propriety escaped with his throat intact; heat rising in her cheeks as Mr Todd's disgusted glare bore down on her, she had scurried inside, scooped up the pies, and slammed them on his plate without speaking another word to him. How dare he make Mr Todd think ill of her? Then her rage flared at Mr Todd himself – how could he think ill of her under any circumstances? She only did it for him!
By that evening, her ruffled feelings had been smoothed by time and a healthy day's takings, and she could think about the incident with a clear head. Perhaps it was a good sign. He must feel something for her, mustn't he, to have reacted that way? If he cared at all what she did, that must mean he cared about her as well? And perhaps he would realise that now?
Thus reassuring herself, down in the bakehouse, slicing up his takings for the day, she coyly asked him, "Are you jealous?"
She got a sneer and a black eye.
Grand passion, she told herself the next morning, powdering over the swelling as discreetly as she could. Grand opera. You couldn't expect the course of true love to run smooth. Toby eyed her worriedly when she emerged, but thankfully said nothing. The poor child was too young to understand.
So began a very long day of explaining that she had walked into a door, and enduring the pity of the cynical and the spectacle-maker recommendations of the credulous.
Oh, Mr Todd, she sighed to herself, if you only knew what I put up with for your sake.
Testing the pies, she supposed there was something promiscuous about having had so many men in her mouth.
That train of thought led her immediately back to Mr Todd. For several nights, he had refused to help her in the bakehouse, and had only returned tonight because she had point-blank insisted – she couldn't get through all the bodies without him, not with everything else she had to do (and it was all for him; laundry every day, so many bloody shirts…). Her bruise had faded now; she comforted herself that he must not like seeing the consequences of his temper on her face and that had to be why he had been avoiding her.
To let him know all was forgiven, she pressed herself close to him when she said good night, and kissed the hollow beneath his ear, between his jaw and his throat, breathing in his cologne, her breasts rubbing against his arm as she came down from her tiptoes.
He made no response then, but the next time that she made sure to bend over in front of him, opening the view down her dress perilously far, she was certain that – for the merest instant – he looked.
For the time being, she made her inroads towards his stony heart – still safely ensconced in his chest, where as yet no loving word or gesture of hers could reach it – careful ones. He didn't like it when she was direct – well, what prince would like to be reminded that he could be defeated by a woman, no matter how powerful a queen she was? So she reined in her instinct to throw her arms around him at every opportunity, kept her touches feather-light and subtle, and waited.
Then late one night in the bakehouse, she had just been contemplating her left hand shining ruby-red with blood and thinking how well an emerald would become it, particularly with her hair, when she unconsciously rubbed her weary neck and transferred the stain from her hands. With a sigh at her absent-mindedness, and thinking of all the water she would have to heat and carry for a proper bath, she was making to wipe it off, when she noticed that Mr Todd was looking, staring in fact, at her. At her blood-bedaubed throat.
Later, washing the blood out of her hair and thinking ruefully, in the midst of her glow of triumph, that those stains down the back of her dress were never going to come out, Mrs Lovett reflected that she hadn't expected to have a woman on the butcher's table, still less that she herself would be the woman had on it. She wasn't sure she liked the way Mr Todd had pushed her down and pulled her legs apart with as much tenderness as if she were in truth the meat that that table usually saw, but never mind, a conquest was a conquest, no matter what its terms. They could negotiate better ones later. She had no real rivals now to wrest her overcome prince from her, she thought, brushing aside the suspicion that if she cut out Mr Todd's heart as she did with all them shavers, she would find Lucy engraved upon it.