A/N: I hope you like this one-shot. This is how I'd envision a romance between Sweeney and Mrs Lovett. Extremely Screwed Up. Thanks to F8WUZL8 for the idea!
"So, lovers dream a rich and long delight,
But get a winter-seeming summer's night."
~ John Donne, Love's Alchemy.
She'd probably done something wicked in her past life. She'd been a pick-pocket, or a hang-man. Or a witch. Yes, that was why Mrs Lovett never had a day's rest.
"No rest for the wicked," she muttered, picking up the empty trays from the crust-ridden tables and piling them haphazardly on top of her palms and shoulders.
The boy burst out of the pie-shop, face beaded with sweat and the stench of ale and meat-crumbs. "You need 'elp mum?"
"You could say that, love," Mrs Lovett said wryly, doing her best not to drop the fifteen or so trays stacked on-top of her body like a circus trick. She raised her eyes up to the barber-shop, where a faint light still glowed. "Not that the great oaf upstairs'd give a snuff if I wos to drop dead tomorro'."
Toby started on cleaning the tables, which amounted to sweeping the crumbs onto the floor. "All done," he said proudly.
"Ah-uh – ova there dear." Mrs Lovett spied two stray trays sitting on a bench. "Pop them two on me head.
Toby looked doubtfully at her bird-nest tower of dust, flour and grime. "Lemme take 'em mum surely it ain't no trouble – "
"The trays, love," she continued stubbornly. Her feet ached and the corset was pinching the sides of her ribs. All I want is a nice hot bath…'cept there ain't no hot water. "It's much quicka if I do it."
The boy obeyed, nestling the trays in between the voluminous hills of Mrs Lovett's hair. He stepped back. "Honestly mum you is overdoin' it – "
"Fetch the door, dearie, there's a good lad," the baker said snappishly, taking each step forward precariously as if she were walking the plank on a pirate ship.
But Mrs Lovett must have be wicked, because just as she was about to take one foot across the threshold, her dress caught on the door, and the whole lot came crashing down around her ears.
"Flamin' pigs! Stuff their faces but won't offer a poor old woman a hand wif the dishes! 'Ow I hate Londoners!"
All the noise and crashing and clattering inevitably drew the attention from the silent figure pacing in the faint-lit room above the stairs.
"What's going on?" Sweeney Todd came onto the top of the stairs, in the middle of polishing his razors.
Toby looked between them both, darting sharp glances at Mr Todd.
Mrs Lovett clucked her tongue. "It's a mess ain't it?"
The barber remained still for a few moments, the gleaming silver suspended in his hands.
His face was shielded by the low, smoking lamps below, and Mrs Lovett wondered what he would do if she were to go to him now, and sit on the edge of the steps by his feet, and share a cup of gin together. They might watch the whores and the gentleman and the orphans and the gypsies all slip and sneak and stride up and down the length of Fleet Street, completely unaware they were being watched by the most devious pair of all. They would be the Rulers of the Depraved, looking down from their throne-room of the steps. He would laugh at her ideas, Mrs Lovett knew. If only he would ask her. They could have such a good time together. She would gladly bring it up to him, a cool cup of gin, if he would only ask…
"Best pick them up now, Mrs Lovett," Sweeney Todd said smoothly, making the razors disappear into his pockets as if he were a magician. "I would like to go to bed, this evening preferably, without that racket…"
Of course he'd say that. Never offer, never leave his precious razors an' forget one instant he was a preacher on a very special mission that couldn't wait until they were all lying six foot under…
"Oh stinkin' rotten fish bugga off!" Mrs Lovett stormed past the mess and ran through the parlour room into the dingy confines of her room.
The boy was shouting after her like she'd left him on a street corner on his own. Let him cry. Let him do the dishes this once.
"Let 'em all go to 'ell," she whispered bitterly, hunting through her dirty laundry and bed linen to find the precious item. "There you are sweetheart," she said inaudibly, picking up the worn cover of the book and caressing it. "Help me now Mr Donne, coz I need it!"
He was always her favourite poet. Good old Mr Donne. The poor witty thing. She'd whiled away many dismal evenings in front of the fire with the book before her, before and after Albert had passed on. It had kept her mind glued together – she could forget, just a little while, what Mr Barker had been enduring in that hellish colony.
And he would help her now.
"Come on Mr D," she hissed, flipping through pages impatiently. "I needs your 'elp."
In the end there was only one thing for it: Mrs Lovett shut her eyes, flicked the pages against her face like a fan, and stuck her finger in the middle of one of the pages. It was like being told her fortune, only far more exciting. "Ah! You is a wise one, Mr D," she said, smiling hopefully at the page before her.
"Love's Alchemy," she read. She thought she'd read them all. But not this one.
She lay on her stomach, kicked her feet up in the air and let the skirts of her dress fan around her neck.
The pages of the book were flour-stained and smelt faintly of meat. It was impossible to tell whose meat. There were probably a dozen-or-so specks and crumbs of human being smeared into the corners of those pages when Mrs Lovett had flopped down on her bed after a long shift and hadn't bothered to wash or scrape her nails. Probably a mix of lawyer, dress-maker, chimney sweep and who knows what, she thought dimly, forcing her eyes to scan across the first verse.
She wasn't really concentrating. Mrs Lovett had the habit of reading aloud to herself, but even now, in one of her most crotechty, despairing moments, it didn't help. All she could picture before her was the image of Mr T hunched over in his chair, polishing those silver friends of his into oblivion. Or maybe he was lying back, face to the moonless window, travelling far beyond them stars to a little woody mountain-top where maybe he might take himself and Joanna and live alone from the rest of the world after his cruel business is finished.
Whatever he was thinking, if he thought at all, Mrs Lovett was fairly certain she was not a part of it. Whereas in the pathetically lit, mould-stinking corner of her room, all she did was fill her spare time with thoughts of him. And frequently, all her busy time as well.
It was a good thing he hadn't been there that evening, when a customer had stopped her and requested half a dozen pies for his family. Mrs Lovett rubbed her cheek painfully at the memory.
"To-by!" she'd shouted. "Half a dozen more Sweeney Todd's for th' gen'lemun."
"Looks like ma'am's got more on her mind than pies," said the gentleman, grinning from ear to ear.
"Oopsy-daisy," was all she could manage before running off with the jug of gin.
And now she was going through her nightly prayers, sitting on the filthy bed trying to read a poem or two to cheer herself up. 'Course, she never actually finished them prayers, since they always featured Sweeney and herself running on the sand on the beach by the sea, and everyone knew God didn't send sinners to heaven, even an earthly heaven. But ah well. She could sit here, or she could do something about her predicament. She didn't have Sweeney's heart – that was certain enough.
But perhaps she could win it.
"I got it!"
She sat up straight. Alchemy! The process o' turnin' dust inta gold, filth inta treasures, rags inta riches. Ugly ducklin's into swans….widows inta….wives.
"It's so bleedin' obvious! Why didn't I think o' it before?"
Toby knocked softly on the door. It didn't sound healthy for his mum to be mumbling away to herself in there. "Is you alright mum?"
"Oh just smashin' love!" She yanked the door open, and her face flushed with a fever Toby hadn't seen before. She bustled past him, tapping the back of her hips with her hands.
"Can I 'elp, mum?"
"'Course you can. Bottom left-hand kitchen cupboard."
Toby opened it. "Wot am I searchin' for?"
"The bleach, love. Fetch the bleach! Tonight, we's alchemists!"
He had no idea what an alchemist was. But from the slightly mad look in his mum's eye, it surely couldn't be a good thing. Could it?
"Turnin' dust into gold, Toby, that's wot we're gonna cook up!"
"Are you sure about this mum?"
It had only taken them a total of five minutes.
Mrs Lovett was seated with her head resting against the kitchen bench. She was holding a dirty rag to shield her eyes. "Course I'm bloomin' sure! Just do it, love!"
Toby could tell she was frightened. Her gloved hands were squeezing the sides of the bench. But an order was an order, an' it wos his mum. "Don't breathe," he warned, and tipped the whole bottle on top of her head.
It didn't take long
"It's burnin' dearie!" Mrs Lovett said screeched, clutching the boy's shoulders. "Is it meant to burn?"
Toby panicked. She was biting her lip, and stamping her foot against the floor as if she were doing some sort of country village dance. "I ain't a bloody surgeon mum! Maybe we should get Mr T?"
"No, no," she hissed, closing her eyes as the bleach slowly settled into the roots of her hair. "It's just a scalp-burn, love, nothin' I can't 'andle."
He ran for a jug of water. "If it's burnin' we gotta wash it off!"
Mrs Lovett shook her head, knocking the jug out of his hands. "I'm keepin' it, even if it kills me."
* * *
It was the morning after.
Not, of course, the morning after what Mrs Lovett dreamed would end all other mornings after – the constant fantasy she had where she slipped too much gin in Mr Todd's tea and water and supper and got the barber so intoxicated that before he could blink he was slipping into her bed…
No, not that morning after.
For once he wasn't in the barbershop. He was downstairs, for a change, at the table by the door. She'd made him buttered eggs, since Mr T couldn't stand the smell of meat.
Mrs Lovett set the plate down with a clatter, and put her hands on hips. He didn't look up.
Hadn't he noticed? Wasn't it half-obvious?
"You know I'm quite fond of you dearie."
"Well there's no beatin' about the bush, it's true. I'd do anyfin' for you, Mr Todd."
"Is that so."
Sweeney barely glanced up from the morning papers. More bloodshed, more rape, more Jack-the-Rippers parading up and down London's streets, it seemed. Charming little world. But Sweeney wasn't to be out-done. He was quickly out-stripping Mr Ripper, with a little help from Mrs Lovett of course. What other deviants except them could boast such an efficient establishment, such as the one they ran? Who else could set man upon man, so neatly, so tidily? One could blink, and miss the rivers of blood.
"Did you 'ear me, Mr T?" She had to pick up his plate of eggs, and give them a good slam.
Then he heard her. Or rather saw her.
"What…" Sweeney threw the paper aside. "Is this a joke, my pet?" He stared at her for a long time.
Mrs Lovett picked the dandruff at the back of her neck. Well at least he was looking! There'd been some nasty burns on the top of her head, but she'd managed to cover them with the rest of her hair. Bird nest hair wasn't good for nothing, she thought amusedly.
She almost hoped….that he'd like it.
"My wife, my pet, isn't to be made fun of." He stood, deliberately knocking the plate of eggs onto the floor.
He was coming towards her, a train steaming for a broken track, but she didn't really want to prevent it. It was surprising, how easily her neck slotted in between his hands, and how she almost seemed to fly upwards into the air, instead of him lifting her. He squeezed slowly, as if she were a flimsy balloon having the air let out of her.
He dropped her.
"It's not funny, pet," he repeated, stepping over her wheezing form. "Not funny at all."
The splattered eggs stuck beneath Mrs Lovett's freshly washed dress. The day had begun.
* * *
They didn't see each other until the day was almost dead.
Mrs Lovett was in the parlour room, quietly reading some novel.
Sweeney had put out the 'closed' sign, and was wandering through the parlour to see if the baker hadn't poisoned herself or electrocuted herself out of shame.
"Mrs Lovett…" he trailed off.
Before the firelight it appeared as though her hair had jumped into the flames, or arisen out of it. Which, Sweeney couldn't say.
It was such a forlorn figure, the widow clasping the back of her arms, and reaching up to touch the powdery tops of her head when she thought she was being unobserved. She wanted him to hold her, he knew. She wanted him to take her rough, grimy hands, and wrap them behind the crevice of his neck. There was even a worn spot in the floral chair by the fireplace, where she must have spent her time reading and filling her tea-cups with gin.
Sweeney knew, because he had his own worn spot in the barber chair. He never slept, never came down in the night from the shop. Just sat and stared in his chair into fires long smoked.
Neither of them slept, and both of them longed.
But he wasn't going to do it.
And she turned, seeing only the empty space where Sweeney had briefly stood.
What had gone wrong? She'd done the alchemy thing, hadn't she? Turned dust into gold? Mrs Lovett frowned. Maybe this alchemy thing was more like Signor Pirelli's Piss-and-Ink Elixir….
Suddenly she brightened. She hadn't gotten around to reading the second half of the poem – maybe there wos more hidden instructions there?
Mrs Lovett dashed back into her room and fetched the book of poems. She found "Love's Alchemy" and skipped all the way down to the very last two fines – no one wanted to hear about the depressing waiting and mourning for the person you loved, did they?
"Hope not for mind in women; at their best
Sweetness and wit, they'are but mummy, possess'd."
Oh me stars, thought Mrs Lovett. "Dreadful!"
She tossed the book all the way down the hall. Let the rats nibble at it. Let Mr T wipe his boots on it. Ain't even good for wiping your –
"That Mr Donne told me lies," Mrs Lovett moped, throwing herself stomach-up onto her bed. Here I wos, hopin' for a miracle after I tried everythin' ta make Mr T look at me – and wot does I find? Mr Donne is exactly like Mr T, only written in a book. He must a been a glum, gloomy man when 'e wos alive, Mrs Lovett supposed.
"Have a care, Mrs Lovett," trailed the familiar voice down the hall. It was familiar, alright. It was the only male voice she'd heard in this house in seven years.
She sat up straight, wishing she had the corset off so she could breathe. "Wot?" she called out.
There was a knock at the door. "Are you seemly?" he asked.
Seemly. Since when was she ever seemly? "I got clothes on, if that's wot you mean."
"Better," said Sweeney, waiting outside the door until she'd gotten up and lit the lamp at her bedside.
"Now wot's this business, Mr T? A woman needs 'er sleep, an' – "
"Your book, my dear. You left it in the hall. Unless you were planning on giving the rats an early Christmas present?"
Mrs Lovett blushed, half-wondering if he could read her thoughts. "Wot you doin' snoopin' near me room anyways?" she pretended chattily.
"You forget, the bathroom is just across the hall." There was a pause, as he handed her the soiled book on the threshold. She had to reach out and touch it, and for the first time she noticed the tattoo around Mr Todd's right thumb.
Her eyes didn't drop. Mrs Lovett couldn't be coy in such circumstances. "You don't 'ate me, for wot I did?"
"Hate, my pet?" Sweeney rolled the word around in his mouth. It amused him. "I hate everything." He fixed his dusty eyes on her suddenly, as if he were an old book being brought out and had its pages turned roughly.
"Not everythin'," she replied quietly. "I wish….I know it ain't right….but can't cha know why I did it?"
Sweeney shook his head. The fury had gone now. It was difficult to take Mrs Lovett seriously, when all he could see was the piss-yellow head of frizzy hair crowding her face. "You're not half-right in the head. What you did…."
He turned his gaze up to the ceiling, as if he could see Benjamin Barker and Lucy playing with their child in the far, far away past. Mrs Lovett's fraudulent attempt at becoming Lucy was something he'd come to expect of her. It was Mrs Lovett, and she was as odd and sick and depraved and damaged as Sweeney Todd. He knew, when his mind had little spurts of rest in between contemplating the Judge and His Revenge, that if he had his Lucy and Joanna back, right now this very minute, that he wouldn't have a clue what to do with them. They wouldn't know him, and rightly – he was desperate man now.
And desperate times partnered desperate people. It was in a strange way a comfort – ever since he'd become Sweeney Todd, he'd never known a person as desperate as himself.
Until Mrs Lovett came along.
She was rubbing her bottom lip, as if she were attempting to coax some sort of elixir out of it. They were chafed, and cracked, like his, those lips. And her eyes too, cracked around the corners, like worn tea cups, and the inner pools, like fouled tea left to congeal in the sun. Not Lucy, but something infinitely more promising. He wasn't seeing an effigy, a yellow angel, a dove, the blonde marble goddess that his Lucy had become.
He was seeing….himself.
"Well, my love." He smiled wickedly at her ruined hair. "It's like what old Mr Donne says. Hope not for mind in women," he quoted, blowing dust off the corners of book.
The book was snatched back, and the door was slammed in his face.
He knocked again. It was almost amusing, sporting with someone as rough-tempered as Mrs Lovett.
Her weary face appeared in the doorway. "Wot?" she snapped.
"I am a barber, Mrs Lovett." Sweeney crossed his arms, and unfolded them. He unleashed his razors from his pockets.
"Musta escaped me notice," she said bitterly.
He pivoted towards the kitchen. "Perhaps we can do something with that hair," he suggested, and walked the end of the hall.
He did not have to wait long. He heard the creaking of the door, and the thumping of boots. Mrs Lovett trailing down the hall at his heels.
The ghost of a smile flowered between them.
It was ridiculous. Mrs Lovett fluffed the corners of her yellow hair. "Just make sure it's stylish love."
* * *
So we've established Mrs Lovett doesn't suit being a blonde. =D Reviews?