The Rules

Summary: Mrs. Lovett knows she can be twice the wife Lucy was to Sweeney Todd, and she'll do anything prove it.

Disclaimer: If I owned Sweeney Todd, neither Sweeney nor Mrs. Lovett would have died. So needless to say, I don't own it.

Pairings: one-sided Sweenett

Author's Notes: Assume Mr. Todd did not see the dead beggar woman's face/recognize her. As such Mrs. Lovett survived to be in this story.

Nellie Todd was not allowed to wear white on her wedding day. She had been wearing a white dress—not a wedding gown, just an ordinary white dress—on the day when she and her dear Sweeney were to be married, but he had ordered her to change her clothes. She had not been married in a church, either; Sweeney hadn't wanted a ceremony, just the documents, so the two of them had signed a marriage contract in the courthouse. She had not been allowed to kiss her new husband. She had reached for him after she had signed her name, but Sweeney had gripped her arm and dragged her from the building before she got the chance to kiss him. They had returned to 186 Fleet Street in a carriage, and during the ride her husband had told her that not only had he not bought her a ring, he didn't want her wearing any ring where a wedding band should go. He wanted no one to know he had stooped to marrying her. She had been offended by that at first, but she was beginning to see that it made sense; he could have gotten a woman half her age and twice as beautiful if he'd wanted.

There were other rules, too, ones that she learned after they returned home that evening. She spent her wedding night on the floor of the tonsorial parlor, not asleep as much as senseless, her unconsciousness the result of Sweeney's violent reaction to her asking him if they were going to honor their wedding night in the traditional manner. That was how she learned she is not allowed in his bed at night, even to lie platonically beside him. It was a few days later, after a particularly grueling morning at work, when she decided to take a nap in the lull between the dinner and supper rushes. She slept in his bed because she found the scent of him on the sheets comforting. But he found her there, and he seized her by the hair, dragged her onto the floor and ordered her to burn the sheets. She managed to convince him that that would be a waste, so she washed them over and over while he stood by, waiting for him to tell her to stop. The order came after her knuckles began to bleed. That was how she found out that she is never allowed in his bed, even if he is not there.

She is allowed to show him affection, but for a price. She has worked out the system: when she wraps her arms around him, his hand clamps down on the back of her neck, fingertips digging into the pressure points so hard it takes all her self-control not to scream. When she takes his hand and softly presses her lips against his knuckles, the hand she just kissed cracks her across the face; she has learned to kiss his left hand, because Sweeney's left arm is weaker than his right. When her fingers sift through his hair, it means a blackened eye. When she kisses his cheek or forehead, it means a broken rib or bloodied nose. Once, when she dared to touch her lips to the base of his neck, he nearly crushed her right hand using her own rolling pin; she protested frantically that she couldn't bake with a broken hand, so he wrenched her arm out of its socket instead. He had been kind enough to work her shoulder back into its healthy location afterwards, so she could still bake; it just hurt constantly. A kiss on the mouth would mean her life, he tells her. She still doesn't understand why she deserves the bruises that she gets without breaking any of the rules, but he says she deserves them, which is all that matters. She is still learning everything she has to do for him, everything she can give him after all the horror he has been through.

He has also laid down rules about what she can and cannot say. Under no circumstances is she allowed to say she loves him. She is also not allowed to sing; he doesn't like the sound of her voice. When her customers express concern over her bruised face or her aching shoulder, she is not allowed to tell them the source of the injuries, since Sweeney Todd's Tonsorial Parlor would lose business if people knew he beat his neighbor—they don't know the situation. The most important rule of all is one about speaking: not only is she not allowed to tell anyone that she and Sweeney are married, she is not allowed to tell anyone that he only married her so when she dies suddenly in a horrible accident (or at least he will make it look like an accident), all her property will go to him.

She follows all the rules as carefully as she can. She used to think some of them weren't fair, but she has come around. Sweeney needs her to follow them, and maybe if she's diligent enough, he'll reconsider killing her. After all, he has to see that she's twice the wife Lucy was.

A/N: Yeah, good luck with that, Nellie. Why am I so cruel to my favorite characters? Maybe because they are annoying head cases, and I see so much of myself in them that I have to punish them mercilessly because real world self-harm is a bad idea. *sigh* I got mind-raped by plot bunnies a few nights ago, and I had to get this idea out of my head. Yes, it's highly doubtful that anybody could push Mrs. Lovett around, but the idea behind this story is that she has convinced herself that Sweeney will love her if only she can prove how much she could care for him, no matter what it takes. Besides, she's already completely batty in some ways; this story is just taking her unshakable belief that it's possible for Sweeney to love her to an extreme level.

Oh, and if you liked this, please read my full-length fic Blade of Madness; it's not as sad as this fic and I'm quite proud of it. And if you read the last two chapters of Blade of Madness and didn't review, PLEASE do so, because my muses for that fic have become review addicts and unfortunately I can't find a review dependency rehab center.