A/N: Yesterday I posted a turplovett, so I thought I should only be fair and give you all a sweenett xmas one-shot =D Inspired by the Lacuna Coil song "Spellbound".
"Toby, quick smart with that tray o' pies."
The boy rushed past her with the tray almost sliding out of his arms.
Sweat drenched her chest and the insides of her arms. The baker thought about making another round of pies in the bakehouse and her stomach churned. She rested briefly beneath Sweeney's staircase, and lifted her eyes heavenward. Some soldier was taking holiday leave and thought to go up for a shave. She half-wished he'd send them all back down again but no, just as she was looking at the splintered wood of the stairs another man went up.
It was Christmas, of all times, and she was standing there day dreamin' of Mr T coming down the stairs and takin' her meat-stained gloves off her hands an' leadin' her out along London's fancy streets to watch the Christmas lights and all the heavenly food smells. He might even surprise her with a gift, she imagined, at the end of the evening. Sit her on some rich man's steps and kiss her under the stars. She might well imagine, because when Mrs Lovett looked up again, there were only chimney stacks and fog. No stars.
A glass shattered on the outdoor patio, and Mrs Lovett came to her senses. She got the spare broom from under the stairs, and smiled at the couple. "Not to worry dears. 'Tis easy replaced." Not so men's hearts, she thought miserably. She tried not to watch them speaking low and holding hands under the table. There was only so much Christmas cheer even she could stand.
"Mum! There you is!" Toby came rushing over. "That couple there says they want another batch o' pies to take away for Christmas day."
The baker squinted at another older couple picking the crumbs on their plates and looking pleasantly about them. She tried to imagine Sweeney living to a ripe old age, and found she couldn't. He was already up to the brooding life has-no-joy stage. He was bored out of his mind before he was even 45. I wonder how old he is, seein' as he's got all them lines but never seems to 'ave any trouble climbin' them stairs up an' down an' pacin' all day long in his shop.
"Mum!" Toby was looking concerned.
Mrs Lovett gave him an agreeable smile and went off to skin some more poor dead men for someone's Christmas lunch. The bell jangled as she juggled a dozen empty trays and jugs in her hands, nodding and smiling and merry christmasing all the customers. Inside, it was just as noisy out. Light and noise and laughter had been going all day and she had to partake in it, whether she liked it or not.
Down to the bakehouse she went.
It had been pointless wearing her nice gold dress after all. By the end of the night she had dried blood and meat stains stuck to the bottom of her skirts. She'd been careful not soil the upper part, and for the most her customers had liked to see her bustling around in the dazzling dress, just as if she were a Christmas beetle testing its wings in the festive air. But it hadn't lasted.
After fifteen trips up and down the sweltering stairs, the baker collapsed in the pile of muck left sitting inside the bakehouse entrance. Her knees gave out, and she fell front forward in the blood. There was no salvaging the dress. "Bollocks."
* * *
She met Sweeney coming into the kitchen after closing time.
His eyes briefly lingered on her back. He said nothing, as usual.
He'd been getting his own meals the past week, and tonight was no different for him. She doubted he even knew what day it was. He didn't even turn around to tell her she looked frightful – which she did. He kept his back to her, taking his meal from the bench and going to sit on the table across from her kitchen. Of course he didn't remember.
"I'm off to clean the mess upstairs," she said, and the bell jangled as she stole outside into the warm night air.
He didn't answer her. When she peeped through the glass in the door, he was busy munching on the steak and peas, staring moodily ahead at the wall. He wouldn't mind if she poked around a little in his shop. Just a little.
She went to collect Mr T's present under the first step of stairs.
A gold box with black ribbon to match her dress. Inside it, a chocolate in the shape of a sea shell. Chocolate was especially expensive this year – she'd had to haggle with the chocolate shop owner to give it to her half price. It weren't no ordinary chocolate, mind. It had caramel and white swirls sculpted through the whorls of the shell, just as if the ocean foam had been scooped up and put inside it. Her secret hope was that Mr T might want to share it with her…if he was feeling generous.
"Mum…what you doin' up there?" Toby asked. He was sweeping the crumbs under the benches.
"Nothin' dear," she answered, half-annoyed. "Why don't you take the night off? Get stuck into the rest o' me gin an' pies, dear? Hmmm?"
The boy beamed, dropped the broom and disappeared into the shop.
As soon as he was gone, Mrs Lovett traipsed upstairs, smoothing her dress and hair as best she could.
It was the only plan she could think of. She knew Mr T hadn't remembered, but perhaps when he saw her with the box and the dress…
Then she remembered the dress was ruined. Mrs Lovett slid into Sweeney's room, and began to walk the perimeter.
She placed the gold box on the window sill, and went to inspect herself in the broken mirror. She turned away quickly – she could do nothing about the melted face, the unloosed curls, or the nice lovely tear down the middle of her left sleeve. The dark blood splatters against her breast and stomach didn't rate a mention either. Even her fingernails were coated with the filth of all manner o' things foul – but then she supposed Sweeney didn't look too flash neither.
The weather wasn't snowing as she'd hoped, and the sky was fitful grey, but that didn't stop the baker from finding pleasure in the empty space. The only sound came from her boots clicking against the wood, the rustle of her skirts, her own stilted breath, and the tick of the clock on the wall. There was not even a candle to light the darkness. The dim squares of light that did land on the floor seemed as beautiful as the holly wreaths and Christmas lamps decorated up and down St Dunstan's square.
No one's shadow clouded her, no one shouted for more pies. She was completely bathed in those faint squares, and with her eyes shut Mrs Lovett could pretend there were little fairy drops of snow falling through the ceiling and landing on her nose. She put her arms out in the emptiness, and began to twirl. There was fairy floss, and clowns, and carousels, and stilt walkers. She was five years old again, wandering across the circus grounds. Laughter burst forth from her lips. She spun faster. It was unexpected. She'd found joy... in a place of death.
"Snow fall down while we dream my sweet," she sang with longing, "snow fall down my sweet."
She was still twirling into oblivion when he came pounding up the stairs and stood there watching her outside the door.
"Mrs Lovett." He stood there rigidly. "I heard singing."
She opened her eyes and looked, blinking twice to check it was really him and not some phantom from her dreams. "Me...I mean..."
"I know that song," he said foggily. "Where have I heard it?"
She opened the door for him and bundled him inside. "From the old days, per'aps?"
They stood there for a few moments. If Mr T had come up to talk to her, he didn't seem to know what he'd been about to say.
He looked down at the floor, and then up at her. "Will you teach me it?"
"If you like. It ain't so hard to learn."
He watched her humming as she bustled around the pits of his shop. He'd never heard her sing...properly. Only the garbage about the worst pies in London, and that business about the pies and priests. Even then she always half-spoke the words. This song was different. It was about snow and lost love and a forlorn traveller standing in the middle of a bare field, waiting for the woman he loved to meet him along the highway. He had stood at the bottom of the staircase, and listened to her sing. For once he hadn't wanted to get rid of Mrs Lovett, or get her out of his hair, or shoo her away. He was spellbound.
"I would," he said after another of spell of staring. He didn't know what to say.
"I have a present for you love," she blurted, going to the window sill to retrieve the gift.
"Why?" he frowned, stepping back toward the threshold.
His shadow threw them both in darkness, and the baker wondered why he hadn't thrown her out.
"Don't you know, Mr T. It's Christmas." She had the gift in her hands, and was unwrapping the ribbon for him as she spoke.
One step forward from the barber, and the depth of his expression had her fumbling her hands and feet. The entire gift went tumbling onto the floor.
The shell spilt onto the floor, and she scrambled to pick it up.
Sweeney stood there staring at the gold box, at her stained dress. He prodded the shell, now covered in dirt and dust.
"Well, it was your present." She sat there exhausted forlorn on the floor. "Sorry dear, me bones ache."
He didn't stop her from sitting, and continued to stare. "I've nothing for you," he said awkwardly, picking at the bits of filth under his nails.
"S'alright love," she said quickly, looking down. She let her hair veil her face so that he would not see the torn quivers of her mouth.
"Mrs Lovett," he said absently, sitting suddenly on the floor beside her, "it's Christmas, isn't it?"
The darkness went briefly out of his eyes then, and she knew from the way he was looking over into the corner of the room where Johanna's crib used to be that he was thinking back to old days.
"We never spent it together," he said, after the light had grown so pale that he could look at the woman before him and see only a dark facsimile of her face.
Mrs Lovett knew implicitly who he was talking about. She'd been preparing for it all day, all month even. She hadn't expected anything else. "You can't conjure up the past, love," she began, and realised it was pointless telling him what he'd already done. What he'd always do.
"It is your first Christmas since Mr Lovett – "
Mrs Lovett gave a little gasp. "Yes." He did pay mind to some of the things she said. She found herself fumbling for his hands in the darkness. "I'm oceans sorry for your chocolate, Mr T," she said sorrowfully.
"I don't like chocolate, my pet," he said. He wondered how it was they still existed, the two of them, when they had already swallowed so much darkness inside them.
"Oh." She was still grasping his hands, and they weren't at all clammy, like she'd imagined.
He didn't pull away.
Mr T might be a man of few words, but he was still a man.
She slid against the fold of his chest, as if she were falling into bed. He might possibly be the only person in the whole of London who didn't mind the stench of dried blood on a woman's dress, and she the only woman who didn't notice the blood spots of a dozen or so men inked into the fabric of his shirt.
"Merry tidin's, an all that festive rubbish, Mr T," she muttered, running her hand up the side of his cheek.
He didn't reply.
The words people craved were so often thrown about, or wasted, or untruthful, or taken back. He didn't believe in saying them. Words didn't interest him, but this…strangely did. She fit so completely against him. His mind didn't wander to the barren walls, or his friends sitting on the desk, or the blood-smeared photo of Lucy and their lost babe.
He was looking straight down at Nellie, at the wild hair and the torn sleeve. It wasn't because she'd forced herself on him. He would look at her, because he wanted to.
He would look. And she would never know. Only guess.
"I'll spend it with you," she said, already half-asleep against him.
* * *