The Room Upstairs
Summary: Mrs. Lovett claimed she wouldn't go near the room upstairs at 186 Fleet Street because people thought it was haunted, but was that really the only reason?
Disclaimer: If I owned Sweeney Todd, neither Sweeney nor Mrs. Lovett would have died. So needless to say, I don't own it.
Pairings: Lovett/OC (in a way—read the Author's Notes or you'll be confused)
Author's Notes: This story will involve Mrs. Lovett in what our society would call a homosexual relationship with another woman. However, in the early 1800's, homosexuality was illegal…but all women were assumed to be asexual, or at least incapable of "real" sex with other women (phallocentric society fail). Women were encouraged to be in "romantic" or "sentimental" friendships with other women; these friendships included behavior that would be labeled as sexually motivated now, like kissing, cuddling, sleeping in the same bed, etc. While a few women were well-to-do enough to support themselves and their romantic friends for their whole lives, most women in romantic friendships ended up married and keeping in touch with their friends by letter; many men considered women's romantic friendships to be "practice" for marriage, since women weren't allowed to be affectionate/passionate/etc. with the opposite sex. Since Victorian female sexuality was so repressed, most women in romantic friendships didn't consider the fact that their relationships might possibly be sexually motivated until the late 19th century, at which point the term "lesbian" started being thrown around and same-sex love between women being called a "perversion." (And, because people are stupid, lesbians were also suspected to always be into sadomasochism so strange and twisted it was unfathomable. Also women were becoming more financially independent, so same-sex female couples were *gasp* a threat to male power.) The antifeminist and anti-lesbian movements had started in the mid-1800's, but until about 1900 it was still considered respectable for women to be in chaste romantic friendships. Another note: the term "invert" was used in the 19th century to mean a person of the "third sex", i.e., a woman who had the soul of a man, and who loved women instead of men as a result.
October 1827, seventeen years pre-storyline
Nellie Lovett supposed she was a young widow now. At least, she was twenty-four; not as young as some widows, but young just the same. Too old for most to offer any more than a few cursory words of sympathy, though. Albert's funeral had been just a few days ago and already she was back to work in what was now her shop, in what was now her building. No rest for the weary, it seemed, no time to grieve or cry. She did feel like crying, more so than she'd expected; Albert's heart had been giving him problems for a time, and while her husband had been fond of her and they'd grown to be friends, she hadn't exactly loved him. She would miss Albert a little. But being alone, running a business by herself…that was more daunting than she would care to admit.
Footsteps on the stairs caused her to look up from her work. Her heart quickened when she saw the boots and trouser legs of Benjamin Barker descending the stairs, and she turned away before the entire man was visible. Benjamin was handsome enough to hurt her eyes, and more importantly, he was the gentlest soul she'd ever met. Now that she was alone, her secret fondness for Benjamin would be harder than ever to hide.
She greeted him with a cool "Evenin', Mr. Barker," trying to hide how happy she was to see him. Was he coming downstairs to comfort her? How sweet of him…
"Good evenin', Mrs. Lovett." He paused. "How…how are you keepin'?"
"I'm keepin'. Exactly 'ow I'm keepin', I ain't sure." She laughed to show she was exaggerating.
"Lucy and I were wonderin'…do we…will we pay you the rent direct now, since your husband's passed on?"
Nellie's heart sank. He hadn't come to help her feel better; he just wanted to know about the rent. Well, at least he'd asked how she was feeling; that self-absorbed Lucy wouldn't have even have bothered with that. Stupid chit didn't see how lucky she was to have someone like Benjamin, either.
"Yes, you'll just pay me now."
"All right. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He turned and headed back up the stairs, but halfway up, he stalled. "Mrs. Lovett?"
"I do hope you're all right."
He was so kind. "Thank you, Mr. Barker."
Business was slow that day, but a few moments later, the bell over the entrance to the shop rang. (Nellie wasn't sure what to call the shop now, as Albert had been a butcher and had mostly run the place with Nellie's meat pies being sold on the side. She supposed she'd have to turn the shop into a meat pie eatery, and she could call it something fancy like "Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium.")
"I believe this was a butcher's shop the last time I came in 'ere," said a familiar voice. Nellie smiled a little; the person who had just walked in was Scarlett Torrey, a woman a few years Nellie's junior who was a regular customer and bought one of the meat pies every time she came into the place. Many a time Nellie had fallen a bit behind on her work because she and Scarlett had gotten to talking.
"Well, Miss Torrey, it was a butcher's shop the last time you came in 'ere. Now I think I'll be turnin' it into a meat pie emporium." Nellie stopped her work to look up. Scarlett was already at the counter. She stood several inches taller than Nellie, slight in build, fair in coloring. She was pretty, too, with dramatic eyes and a wide mouth that smiled brightly most of the time.
She wasn't smiling now. "You look quite nice in black, Mrs. Lovett, but it don't suit your disposition."
"Is that a compliment, miss?" Nellie teased.
"I 'eard your 'usband 'as gone to 'is reward."
Nellie raised and lowered her shoulders. "I suppose you've come to ask if you can still buy meat 'ere. I'm afraid you can't, but I'll still be sellin' me meat pies. I'll just be gettin' the meat elsewhere." She smiled a little; though she was supposed to act melancholy after her husband's death, she wanted to show that she could still handle herself.
"No…I came 'ere because I wanted to see you. I wanted to see if you were well."
Nellie's eyebrows rose. "Did you?"
"Well…thank you. I'm…doin' all right, since you asked."
"Surprised I asked?"
"A bit. Nobody seems concerned overmuch."
"Well, that's a shame." Scarlett paused. "Mrs. Lovett…"
She didn't particularly feel like having her dead husband's name identify her, at least not when she was speaking with someone who might be considered a friend. "You can call me Nellie, if you like."
"Nellie, then." Scarlett paused. "Is there…anyone you can go to if you need 'elp with anythin' now that you're alone?"
"Not really. Me parents stopped rememberin' I was alive after I was married, as did me brothers and sisters—all older'n me, of course. I'm sure I'll manage," she added.
"There's no one? Hmm." Scarlett traced a pattern in some spilled flour on the counter with a fingertip. "That's…sad."
"Well, I can't say it ain't a bit sad, but it could be much worse, I'm sure." Nellie went back to working the dough, careful not to ruin Scarlett's flour scrawls. "You know, Miss Torrey, me 'usband may've just passed away, but that don't mean we've got to be melancholy."
"That'll be Scarlett, if…if you wish."
"Pretty name, that is," Nellie remarked.
A faint blush colored Scarlett's cheeks. "Thank you. It wouldn't be melancholy to tell you could ask me if you need anythin', would it?"
Nellie looked up in surprise. "Ask you? Oh, I couldn't impose, and certainly not on a customer. I'd ask someone else…"
"Forgive me, but didn't you just say there really was no one else?"
Nellie flushed a little. "I…well…"
"And you wouldn't be askin' me as a customer. You could ask me as a…as a friend."
"A friend." Nellie smiled. "That sounds nice. You do come in 'ere often enough, don't you?"
"I'll keep comin' 'ere. The pies are delicious."
"Thank you, Scarlett. I just 'ope they'll still be delicious, now that I 'ave to find a new place to get meat."
"I'll still come to…to see you, anyway," murmured Scarlett shyly.
"Scarlett, you're a perfect dear, you know that? Most don't want to spend the time 'elpin' a young widow to feel a bit better."
"Well, I thought you deserved the attention." Scarlett went back to trailing her fingertip through the flour. "I don't suppose you 'ave any pies ready?"
"There's a tray that was done bakin' a few minutes ago, still in the oven. Still warm, I'm sure." Nellie turned to open the oven door, then covered her bare hand with a cloth to retrieve the hot tray. "'ere we are." Nellie lifted one of the pies onto a plate. "Careful—it's 'ot."
"Thank you." Scarlett took the plate. "And 'ow much'll that be?"
"For you? On the 'ouse."
Scarlett grinned. "Thank you, Nellie."
May 1830, fourteen years and six months pre-storyline
Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium was closed for the day. Nellie Lovett herself was seated on the front step. One-year-old Johanna was upstairs, asleep, completely unaware that she was about to be taken away from her home. Nellie had pleaded to keep Johanna, but according to the Beadle, Judge Turpin was insisting on caring for the little girl out of guilt for what had happened to the Barker family, especially Lucy. What "'appened," thought Nellie bitterly. It ain't 'appened to the Barkers; it's what that crooked man did to the Barkers.
She'd seen the damage done to Lucy Barker; after barely surviving her attempt to take her own life, the arsenic had damaged her mind beyond repair. For three months, she lay in bed, babbling, nearly all of what she said incoherent, and even less of what could be understood made any sense. Nellie had taken care of little Johanna while the girl's mother fell deeper and deeper into madness. After those months of watching over both Lucy and Johanna Barker, it had been too much for Nellie and she'd tried to foist Lucy off on the hospital; she'd already been damn generous taking care of Lucy at all, seeing as she'd been a spoiled, shallow-minded creature before taking the poison, whose affliction was no great loss in Nellie's opinion. Of course, the hospital staff had looked at Nellie like she was the mad one and carted Lucy off to Bedlam. And poor, poor Benjamin, transported for life for a crime he hadn't even committed. The night Benjamin had been taken, Nellie had cried much harder than she had the night her own husband had died.
Well, there was nothing to be done now. Nellie would miss Johanna; she'd always longed for a child of her own, and Lucy Barker had never seemed like the maternal sort. She'd been too focused on herself, on how she couldn't possibly survive being without her husband…she hadn't any concern for her poor daughter. Nellie, in her frustration at Lucy's weakness, might have mentioned something that caused Lucy to think about taking her own life, but she hadn't really meant it (probably). She did think she'd be a much better mother than Lucy, of course—if there was ever a woman born to want children, it was Nellie—but now she'd lost that chance. Poor little Johanna. The only thing Nellie could think to do was hide Benjamin Barker's beloved razors, on the slim chance that he would return. It was almost impossible, of course, but that wouldn't stop her from hoping. Few things could stop Nellie Lovett from hoping.
She looked up to see a wonderful sight for sore eyes: Scarlett was standing over her with a bouquet of flowers. Dear Scarlett, who'd been at Nellie's side all through this horrid mess, who had held her when she wept over the loss of Benjamin. She understood how much Benjamin had meant to Nellie, even though the two had been nothing more than neighbors and Nellie's feelings for Benjamin had been a hopeless love. "Scarlett."
"Nellie, you been cryin'?"
"Oh, what's 'appened now?" Scarlett sat beside Nellie and carefully set down the flowers. Nellie slipped her hand into Scarlett's.
"I can't keep Johanna. The Judge claims to feel guilty over what 'e did to Lucy, so 'e wants to adopt Johanna as 'is ward and raise 'er like 'is own. You might say it's lucky for 'er, but…I did 'ope she'd be mine."
"You'd be a fine mother, dearie. I'm sorry." Scarlett squeezed Nellie's hand gently.
"It's all right. I'll…I'll get past it. Same way I'm tryin' to get past what 'appened to Benjamin. That just weren't fair."
"You know you've got me."
"Yes, and thank God for you, dear." Nellie stroked her thumb over her friend's knuckles. "You've been an angel. May'aps I could've made it through the awful things been 'appenin' recently alone, but you've made it all so much easier."
"I see the way your face lights up when you see me," whispered Scarlett. "I'm always glad you're 'appy to see me, 'cause I'm always 'appy to see you."
"Why wouldn't I be 'appy to see you? You've been a Godsend."
"But you've done so much for me, too," Scarlett insisted. "You always find the time to comfort me about whatever fool thing me parents are natterin' about, or buy me a little present, or just talk to me, no matter what it is you're strugglin' with. And that lovely pink muffler you found time to make me even when you were carin' for Johanna…I ain't never 'ad somebody care for me like you."
Nellie felt like kissing Scarlett, so she did, giving her companion a swift, gentle peck on the lips.
"I've been wantin' a kiss from you for a while," Scarlett whispered, her eyes half-closed.
"You've been wantin' me to kiss you? But you could've kissed me, sweet."
"I thought it'd be you to be the one. That's…that somethin' I love about you, that you ain't afraid to show 'ow you feel when you care for someone. But I was afraid."
"Afraid? We already act a bit like most romantic friends; we're near courtin' each other, even. Oh, that reminds me…"
Nellie scampered off and returned with a small jewelry box. Scarlett stood up to get a better look. "I was gon'na bring this to you a few days ago, but I got a bit distracted." She opened the box, revealing a bracelet of polished opals, each stone holding a delicate iridescent sheen. She'd already hocked some of the Barker family's less useful belongings, so why not put the money to good use?
"Oh, it's lovely! And you know 'ow much I love opals!"
"I'm glad you like it." Nellie fastened the bracelet around Scarlett's wrist.
"Thank you, dearie." Scarlett flung her arms around her friend.
"You're quite welcome." Nellie returned the embrace. "You know…one good thing can come of all the terrible things what 'appened to the Barkers."
"What is it?"
"You can move into the room upstairs now."
"Really?" Scarlett stepped back from their tight hug, gripping Nellie's arms. "Move in with you? You mean it?"
"Certainly—we'll be proper friends now. If your parents don't mind."
"Oh, they'll think I'm tryin' to prepare meself for marriage. I'm just 'appy I'll be with you!" Impulsively, Scarlett cupped Nellie's face in her hands and kissed her.
"That weren't so 'ard, were it?" Nellie interlaced her fingers behind Scarlett's back. "See, you can just kiss me anytime you want. I ain't gon'na stop you."
"Are you certain? I was…plannin' on askin' you, just in case…"
"Ask me every time you want a kiss? Not very romantic, is it?" Nellie took Scarlett's hands from her face and rested them on her waist.
Scarlett tilted her head forward so their foreheads were touching. "I just don't wan'na…make you…I don't wan'na cause you any discomfort."
"Trust me, sweet, I'm perfectly comfortable." Nellie extricated herself from Scarlett's arms and picked up the flowers. "I'd better get these inside. Why don't you come in?"
Scarlett followed Nellie inside and watched her set them up in a glass vase with water. "Would you like to see where you'll be stayin'?"
Scarlett followed Nellie up the stairs. "Hush, now—little Johanna's asleep." Nellie slowly opened the door, minimizing its creaking sound. "Come in."
Scarlett did her best to hush her footsteps as she walked.
"It ain't much, but it's in good shape. The Barkers managed, and there were three of 'em. And once you move in, you need anythin', you just call on me, yeah?"
"Nellie, you do know 'ow to make someone fall for you," Scarlett sighed, barely remembering to whisper so as to not wake the sleeping child.
"Why? 'Cause I'm askin' you to move out of a perfectly nice 'ouse just to be with me?"
Scarlett slipped her hand into Nellie's. "'Cause you're you, and I can't say no to you after the way you've been so good to me."
"You can't say no, eh?" Nellie took Scarlett's other hand. "So I can't ask you to pay knowin' you can't refuse."
"Oh, Father'll pay you. Me parents can't wait to foist me off on somebody."
"Scarlett, can I ask you a question?"
"Do you love me?"
Scarlett inhaled deeply. "I think…yes. Yes, my sweet Nellie, I love you."
"Good. Then it's mutual." Nellie gently took Scarlett into her arms and nuzzled her.
"You love me?"
"Yes, I do, very much." Then she whispered, her mouth a hair's breadth from Scarlett's ear, "If you wan'na kiss me now, go ahead."
So Scarlett did.
November 1830, thirteen years and eleven months pre-storyline
There was a light knock on Nellie's door. She had only been dozing, but she felt as if she'd been jerked awake. "Come in," she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.
"Did I wake you, dearie? I'm sorry." Scarlett paced into the room. "Were you dreamin' about Benjamin again?"
"No…I ain't been dreamin' of 'im for a while." Nellie sat up in bed.
"But you miss 'im."
"It ain't a reflection on you, love. You 'elp an awful lot."
"That's all right." Scarlett sat on the corner of the bed. "May I sleep with you?"
"Scarlett, you been sleepin' in me bed off and on for a month. Ain't we talked about this? Just crawl under the covers. You don't 'ave to ask."
So Scarlett climbed into Nellie's bed and found herself drawn into a warm, if one-armed, embrace. Nellie left a soft kiss on Scarlett's lips before nestling her head under the taller woman's chin—they'd worked out that that was their favorite sleeping position.
"No man's kisses are that sweet," Scarlett sighed as she felt her friend's caressing hand sliding over her shoulders, back, waist…she doubted that (should she marry) her husband would ever touch her that way. Men, she'd been told all her life, were lustful creatures and she was to protect herself from them until she was married to one of them, and then that man had the right to use her body however he wished. But she could trust her beloved Nellie to touch her out of love, not some base animal feeling. Belatedly, she realized she should return Nellie's affections and began tracing the line of her shoulder blade with her free hand. Nellie had beautiful shoulders. As far as Scarlett knew—which was far, but certainly not as far as Nellie's late husband—she had beautiful everything.
"Mmm…what makes you say that?"
"Women are so much softer than men, and so much more delicate. Gentler, too. I don't expect any man to ever kiss me like you."
"Well, the man you kiss is like to be your 'usband, and 'e's like to, well…desire you." Nellie's hand slid up to thread her fingers through Scarlett's unfashionably straight but deliciously soft white-blond tresses.
Scarlett shuddered. "I think I'd hate that."
"Hate what? Bein' kissed by somebody that desires you?"
"No…'avin' to let somebody do whatever they want to me, 'cause it'd be me duty as 'is wife. It don't seem fair."
"Most would say it's our lot as women," Nellie sighed. "'Cause a proper woman ain't supposed to feel desire, of course."
"Why can't I just stay with you forever?" Scarlett stopped stroking Nellie to hold her tightly.
"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" Nellie agreed. "Always knowin' we've got somebody we love, somebody who ain't gon'na be unfaithful…"
"Somebody who we can trust." Scarlett kissed Nellie's forehead. "I ain't never understood 'ow there can be love between a 'usband and wife when the wife 'as to give 'erself up like that and she don't want to."
"You get used to it," said Nellie heavily. "It's like bein' a child and lettin' your mum force cod-liver oil down your throat when you're ill; it's awful, but you know there ain't no gettin' out of it, so you learn to stomach it. And a lot'ta the time there ain't any love in a marriage."
"I know many people are unfaithful. And it's all right as long as everyone's polite and proper about it." Scarlett began caressing Nellie's back again. "Did you love your 'usband?"
"We ended up quite good friends, and 'e treated me all right. We didn't love each other, but I was lucky; a lot of women get beat by their 'usbands."
"If I 'ave to get married, I 'ope it's to somebody who's at least 'alf as kind to me as you."
"Maybe we should just run away together," whispered Nellie. "Find a little place on the coast. I've always loved the sea. I could find work in a bakery, and maybe you could be a seamstress."
"Oh, 'ow I wish we could do that! I'm certain you could support yourself. But I'd drag you down."
Scarlett cut her off. "You know it's true. I ain't as…as independent as you."
"Eh, well, I ain't like most, am I? It's like there's word goin' around I'm an invert. People thinkin' I do unimaginable things to you in bed."
"I'm sure not!" Scarlett hugged Nellie close to her again.
"I don't bloomin' care what most think. I just 'ope your parents don't try to marry you off to get you away from me."
Scarlett pressed her face into Nellie's hair. She couldn't breathe after doing that for a while, but the idea was romantic, at least, and Nellie's hair smelled lovely. Even if it didn't smell lovely, it was hers, and that was what mattered. "My beloved Nellie."
"Somethin' you want, sweet?"
"Please kiss me."
Nellie got up on her knees and elbows, gently easing Scarlett onto her back. Ever practical, she rested her weight on Scarlett's hips instead of her chest so she could breathe, then tilted her head down and gave her friend the kiss she'd asked for.
"You know," mused Nellie between kisses, "I've always thought there was somethin' real sweet about sleepin' in the same bed with somebody. I mean, when you're asleep, you're defenseless, right? So you really must trust the person, if you're sleepin' with 'em."
"And it's nice to be near a warm body. It's comfortin'," Scarlett added, nuzzling at Nellie's throat.
Nellie carefully took Scarlett by the waist and shifted them both so Scarlett was on top. "Lay your 'ead down, love. I'd lay odds I'm a better pillow than you."
Scarlett rested her head on Nellie's chest. "Mm. You do make a nice pillow." Slowly, giving Nellie plenty of time to protest, Scarlett nosed aside the fabric of her friend's nightdress, a single button coming undone. Nellie stroked the back of Scarlett's head encouragingly as she touched her lips to exquisitely sensitive skin.
"You're so sweet when you ain't bein' shy. Well, I suppose you're still bein' shy, but only a little."
"I just thought…you're so soft 'ere…it'd feel nice, to be kissed…"
"You thought right, dear."
"I was a bit worried…"
"I know your intentions are pure, love. You could kiss me just about anywhere and I'd still trust you."
"You trust everyone you love this much? And you ain't shy at all about showin' 'ow much you love somebody. That's what I just find so…irresistible about you." Scarlett heaved a sigh against Nellie's skin. "I wish I'd always be with someone whose intentions were pure."
"Ah, Scarlett…don't trouble yourself with thoughts of bein' forced to marry no more. You've got your Nellie now."
April 1833, eleven years and six months pre-storyline
Nellie and Scarlett sat huddled together on the loveseat, the dim red glow from the dying fire in the hearth providing the only light. Scarlett's head rested on her beloved friend's shoulder, and Nellie's nightdress was wet from Scarlett's tears. The younger woman's sobs had mostly subsided, but she still wept quietly while Nellie held and caressed her.
"'ave you met 'im yet?" Nellie whispered.
Scarlett sniffled. "No. I only 'eard 'is name."
"Sweet, are you certain this man you over'eard your parents discussin' is the 'usband they've chosen for you?"
"Would I be cryin' on your shoulder if I wasn't certain? When me parents sent for me, everyone in the 'ouse was so…agitated…I could see preparations were bein' made. Our maid made some comment to me, sayin' she was 'appy for me, and I 'eard me parents sayin' they wanted me to meet this…this Jonah Remington fellow, that it was a 'good match' 'cause 'is family 'ad just come into some money…oh, the family ain't old money, but good enough, good enough…" Scarlett began to weep again. "I feel like they're sellin' me!"
"It 'appens to most of us women this way." Nellie kissed Scarlett's hair. "We're taught it'll 'appen our 'ole lives, but it still ain't fair. Me parents never even bothered explainin' much about marriage to me; I only saw it 'appen to me older sisters."
"Your parents did this to you too, didn't they? You were the last to know about your own marriage!"
"After the fever passed and the doctor said I was barren because of the illness, I'd given up on gettin' married. When Albert offered to take me off me parents' 'ands—'e was a family friend, I think I've told you that—they made to be rid of me straightaway. It was Albert 'imself what told me."
"At least you knew your 'usband—I ain't even met this man. Oh, Nellie, 'ow do most women do it?"
Nellie sighed. "Most of us got nothin' better. You said your parents were dyin' to foist you off on someone. You think they'd continue supportin' you if you told 'em you wasn't goin' to marry? If you ran away, 'ow would you support yourself?"
"I know," Scarlett whimpered. "There ain't nothin' else we can do. So we endure it. But it ain't fair. I know it could be worse…but…"
"But what, love?" Nellie ran her hand over Scarlett's back for a bit before realizing she couldn't feel the touch through her corset and many layers. She reached for Scarlett's hair instead.
"Oh, that feels good…" Scarlett tilted her head into the pressure of Nellie's hand. "Soothin'."
"What were you about to say?"
Scarlett closed her eyes and made a sound that could have been a laugh or a sob. "I'll miss you."
"Miss me! You'll be married, Scarlett; that don't mean you're goin' away forever! I can still call on you, we can take tea together…maybe if your 'usband is away, you can come back 'ere and spend a night lyin' close to me again…"
"I 'ope so!"
Nellie gently gathered up Scarlett's thin body and pulled her into her lap. "Scarlett, you can 'andle life without little ol' me bein' always at your side. Your new 'usband might be good to you."
Scarlett laid her forehead against Nellie's.
"You ain't weak, love. You won't need me forever." Nellie murmured.
Instead of replying directly, Scarlett replied, "Can we go to bed now?"
They got up and walked hand-in-hand to the bedroom that technically Nellie's but Scarlett also shared. All of Scarlett's possessions remained upstairs except for the clothes she brought downstairs each night: a nightdress and her garments for the following day. Scarlett unfolded her nightdress and handed it to Nellie, then began undoing the fastenings of her dress. Nellie understood immediately; she helped Scarlett out of her many layers and carefully clothed her in the nightdress as if she were dressing a doll.
"I know I should get used to…to…takin' care of meself," Scarlett choked, "but I want the last time I spend with you to…I want you to take care of me."
"As long as you can do it yourself when you're without me. 'sides, your 'usband might 'elp you." Nellie kissed her friend. "I like takin' care of you."
"You like takin' care of people, don't you, dearie?" Scarlett reached for Nellie, her hands coming to rest at her waist, fingernails scratching lightly at the rough dress cloth.
"That I do."
"One of the many things I love about you," Scarlett sighed, her fingers creeping from Nellie's waist to the small of her back. "Do you…do you think you'll…'ave another close friend after me?"
"I'm certain I don't know, sweet."
"I just…oh, it's foolish…"
"You say that about 'alf the things you say and I almost never agree with you. What's troublin' you? Aside from you bein' married off, of course."
Scarlett gulped slightly before replying. "I just don't…don't want anyone to replace me, is all."
"Replace you! Oh…people can go in and out of your life, and you remember 'em all, but the new don't replace the old. Bein' with someone new don't…erase the memories of someone you loved before, and it don't make you stop lovin' 'em altogether."
"Makes sense." Scarlett sounded as if she were about to start crying again.
"Scarlett…" Nellie kissed her. "There's a difference between lovin' someone enough to miss 'em and fallin' into melancholy 'cause you can't stand bein' away from that person. I worry about you. If I can still see you at all after your marriage, it's like that I won't 'ave another friend like you, but if I did, I'd still, you know, cherish what we 'ad."
"Don't talk about it like it's already over!" Scarlett clutched at Nellie tightly.
"I'm sorry, love, I'm sorry." Nellie threaded a hand through Scarlett's hair and gentled her scalp in the way she knew Scarlett found comforting. "There I go, tryin' to 'elp and makin' you more upset."
"It's all right, Nellie, really it is. You were tryin' to 'elp, and that's what matters. I'm just bein'...high-strung." Scarlett stepped back from their embrace. "You practically dressed me, now I feel like I should 'elp you."
Nellie fetched a nightgown from her wardrobe. "You can 'elp me into my nightdress if you want…or at least, you can 'elp with me corset."
Scarlett helped her friend undo and peel off ties and layers, then fastened up the buttons on her nightdress. "You're so lovely," she breathed as she trailed a hand down Nellie's arm.
"And you're blinded by love, me dear Scarlett. But you might want to refrain from talkin' about me that way to others. Remember a few years ago, when I told you word was gettin' around I was an invert?"
"It's become more than just a rumor, 'specially with us bein' together for a few years now. Business is sufferin'."
"Really? Why didn't you tell me?"
"What could you've done? I was tryin' to protect you from knowin' something that'd just 'urt you." She sighed. "I'd not care if it weren't 'urtin' me shop…it'd be nice to dream that someday I might be so wealthy it wouldn't be of no consequence what the rumors said…I'd dress meself up so elegant wouldn't nobody dare say such things about me, not if I 'ad status…"
Scarlett got into bed. "Nellie…what does this…mean for me marriage? That people are sayin' those awful things about you? I mean, they don't think I'm an invert too, do they? Can't I think you're lovely without…without desirin' you?"
"Common sense says yes, but I'm sure it's gone 'round I've seduced you to me perverse ways." Nellie climbed under the covers and reached to take Scarlett's hand. "As far as what it means for you…well, I wish I could say your future 'usband will call off the engagement when they 'ear the rumors, but I'd lay odds it'd make 'im want to rescue you from me."
Scarlett made a sound between a sob and a moan.
"I know it ain't what you want to 'ear, love, but wouldn't it be crueler to get your 'opes up and let you down?" Nellie took Scarlett under her arm. "Think about it this way: you knew we couldn't be together like this forever. Bein' married won't be what you want, but with any luck it won't be too 'orrible, and with a lot of luck you and your 'usband'll end up right fond of each other. And there ain't nothin' sayin' we never 'ave to see each other again."
"I'm sorry I'm bein' such a ninny," said Scarlett miserably. "Ain't no doubt you're seein' me at me worst right now."
"Eh, well, part of lovin' someone is lovin' 'em at their worst."
Scarlett kissed Nellie, slow and sweet. "What you said about never stoppin' lovin' someone…no matter what 'appens…I think I'll always love you. Even if we can't be together. Maybe…maybe it'll be a small comfort to me, rememberin' this."
Nellie smiled and stroked Scarlett's cheek. "That's me dear girl."
December 1833, eleven years and ten months pre-storyline
Mrs. Jonah Remington, née Scarlett Torrey, was crying in Nellie Lovett's arms for the last time. She'd been crying in Nellie's arms very often in the past month, apologizing every other sentence for being so distraught during the last moments they had together, and Nellie would kiss Scarlett and stroke her hair even though she was far past comforting, and besides, Nellie was often crying too.
They were both crying because Scarlett's husband turned out to be the sort of man who believed that it was a man's responsibility to take care of his wife and do what was best for her. This was, of course, too good to be true; he was also convinced he knew what was best for Scarlett better than Scarlett herself. Mr. and Mrs. Torrey were only half-convinced that their daughter had been corrupted to the ways of the invert, but Jonah was determined to "cure" Scarlett of her abnormality…and he would do so by taking Scarlett away to his family's villa somewhere far from London, where she would be forbidden to write to or receive letters from the "temptress that was that Eleanor woman," as Jonah put it. He wouldn't even listen to Scarlett when she said that her beloved's given name was Nellie.
At present, Scarlett and Nellie were standing in the entrance to the pie shop, embracing tightly while Mr. Remington waited with the coach to take Scarlett to the train station. "I'll miss you, dearie," Scarlett wept, her voice cracking. "I'll miss you, I'll miss you, I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too, love."
"Scarlett! Come along now, my dear." Jonah's voice was still conciliatory, but with an undertone of impatience.
"Scarlett, sweet, I want you to be 'appy," Nellie whispered in Scarlett's ear. "Promise you won't dwell on me too much. Don't defend me to 'im, 'cause it'll just make 'im say more bad things about me. Agree with 'im and know the truth."
"I'll try! Oh, what about you?"
Nellie chuckled darkly. "I think I can't bring meself to let that room upstairs out to anyone but you."
"Except Benjamin Barker?"
It was almost a joke; Scarlett, of course, knew of Nellie's secret yearning for Benjamin, so she was mostly serious, but the unlikelihood of him ever returning made the statement into a small jest. Scarlett was trying to keep her chin up.
"Yes, love. Except Benjamin Barker."
"Scarlett!" Mr. Remington's tone was nothing less than sharp now.
"Nellie," Scarlett whispered frantically, "I want you to be 'appy too, so…so if anyone else ever comes along, I know you won't forget me…so…just do what you did with me and you'll 'ave someone desperate in love with you."
"And what did I do?"
"You took such good care of me. And you showed me 'ow much you loved me, without 'esitatin' or bein' afraid. You just be your dear, affectionate self."
Nellie kissed Scarlett, a swift little peck that nevertheless seemed to linger on Scarlett's mouth. "That bein' yourself goes for you too, dear—maybe soon your clod of a 'usband'll see what a treasure 'e's got in you."
Slowly, agonizingly, Scarlett stepped away from the protection of Nellie's arms. "I'll never forget you."
"And I you."
Though she had just retreated, Scarlett darted forward and gave Nellie one final kiss. Nellie took a strange comfort in that, that Scarlett was the one to initiate their last kiss when once she'd have been far too apprehensive.
Nellie watched, standing as motionless as a ship's figurehead in the doorway as Scarlett climbed into the coach, perfunctorily taking her husband's hand but not actually letting him help her up. It was only when the driver cracked the reins and the carriage began moving and Nellie saw Scarlett's stricken face in the window moving away from her for the last time that she dashed into the street and screamed "I love you, Scarlett!" She didn't care who heard her.
"I love you too!" Scarlett's voice was muffled and Nellie mostly understood it from reading her lips, but she heard it nonetheless.
Mrs. Lovett's heart was fluttering in her chest as if it were a bird trapped inside her, trying to fly up her throat. As she descended the steps from the upper story to her pie shop, obeying her new tenant's curt "leave me," she thought of how she had barely had time to process it all. Benjamin Barker had, miraculously, escaped from Australia or wherever he'd been, and returned to London…but he wasn't Benjamin anymore, he was Sweeney. Sweeney Todd, a man who she could already tell was wildly different from Benjamin Barker, who was cynical, angry, even tormented. She had adored the gentle-hearted Benjamin, and now, seeing him so transformed…she could already feel that nurturing instinct rising in her, the need to care for him after all the horrible things they must have done to him in prison to change him from a sweet soul into a bitter one. It had been that same feeling that caused her to want to comfort her dear Scarlett when she was upset.
The baker's lips curled into a small smile as she thought of Scarlett; so many years had passed that the memories of her cherished friend no longer caused her pain. But despite the fact that thoughts of Scarlett didn't sadden her, she never rented the room upstairs to anyone. She'd spun that story for Mr. Todd about people thinking the upper story was haunted, and it was partly true, but there had been some interest. She knew it was irrational to keep herself from gaining the money she might get from a renter because she'd told Scarlett no one but Benjamin would have the room…but then again, a small, secret part of her heart had also been waiting for Benjamin Barker, that quiet and illogical instinct that had caused her to keep the razors. It was both Scarlett's memory and Nellie's furtive yearning for Benjamin that had kept the second story of 186 Fleet Street vacant.
She found herself remembering hers and Scarlett's last desperate embrace in the door of the pie shop, and the kind things Scarlett had said to her. "Just do what you did with me and you'll 'ave someone desperate in love with you." Mrs. Lovett's smile widened into a grin as she tilted her head back to look at the ceiling, listening to the creaking of the floorboards above. If she treated Mr. Todd with all the assistance and kindness he deserved and all the affection she wanted to show him, maybe in time he would stop mourning his family the way she had stopped mourning Scarlett. Then he would be hers.
She returned to the grubby counter in the pie shop's kitchen. She'd have to clean up if she wanted to impress Mr. Todd, and certainly she would help him tidy up his new room. She'd do whatever he required. As she worked with her cloth at the layer of grime on the counter's surface, she spoke out loud to the last person to share the building with her. "'You just be your dear, affectionate self.' I do 'ope you're right, Scarlett, my love."
A/N: There you go. I don't usually do backstory fics, but Mrs. Lovett is so insanely convinced Sweeney will fall for her it deserves a little more explanation than "she's psycho and in love." Also, fifteen years of nobody renting the upstairs room of 186 Fleet Street "because it's haunted" doesn't seem all that likely to me. Thirdly, some people theorize that Mrs. Lovett wasn't really in love with Sweeney, she just wanted a husband…but if she really wanted to remarry that badly, why did she go for such a long time without doing so? I personally think she was in love with Sweeney, but still, seventeen years is a long time to go without being married for a 19th-century woman, because financial independence was not easy to come by without a husband. Well, if she's more interested in romantic friendships than another marriage and people are starting to think she's an invert, that would do it.