A/N: Because I really sympathize with Mrs Lovett and her completely impractical corset. Believe me, I've worn one. O_O
"I want to die."
Not the sort of thing she'd announce out loud, but Mrs Lovett had said it, and she did not regret it.
The bakehouse made its usual cauldron boiling noises. The oven gave a slight crackle and creak.
There was nothing fancy to alert her that the pies were ready – Mrs Lovett just knew. But for the first time in over three months, she was far away from ambition and dreams and plans of sewing Mr T a dozen collars and coloured neck ties and crumpets and tea by the sea.
She was on the floor, dissecting the floor and ceiling with her eyes.
Her hands dug into the blood splattered tiles. She was beyond reprieve – or at least her uterus was. It wasn't like the times she had thrown up during her miscarriages – back when Albert had still lived and mopping the mess off his gout ridden leg had been her sole duty. There were no waves of pain, only one consumptive God of Pain that tugged and pulled and tore at her insides and absorbed even the most private sanctum of her body.
There was no dignity being a woman, Mrs Lovett thought. Not when the height of her existence, her months of breathin' the same air as Mr T, ended up spent a wretched beggar-like mess lying belly down on the bakehouse floor. Never had she paid so much attention to the grotty tiles, and the stained rivers of labyrinthine like blood that wound their way into the drains.
A fresh river, bleeding straight from the mouth of death itself – a half cut up body by the grinder, snaked elegantly toward her.
She put her practicality into practice, and tried to ignore it, but tolerance became rather difficult once the stinking liquid ran under her dress and coated her arms.
She crawled onto her feet, and the action caused her to gasp and double over immediately. She collapsed back into the blood pool.
The pressure of the hard surface under her stomach was all that prevented her from passing out.
Coming down the bakehouse – wait, gettin' out o' bed this mornin' had been a mistake. Mrs Lovett tried to think of the series of bad mistakes she had made over the course of her life, but contemplating anything but the knife-dagger pain in her gut was something her womb forbade her.
An hour passed. Then another. The dinner rush would soon be upon them. Toby was napping in the parlour and she hadn't the strength to shout.
When the boots finally appeared within the bakehouse, she felt no relief.
"Mrs Lovett." He saw immediately she was in distress – even Sweeney Todd wasn't entirely benumbed.
He came to her aid decisively. If she wasn't healthy and efficient, how could he keep honing his craft?
"Up." He lifted her, and she flailed against him, smearing his jacket with blood.
After all her years of steadfast prayer, Mrs Lovett never thought she would find herself begging for Sweeney to end her life.
"Mr T, I can't stand it no more. Will you do it?"
He pretended not to hear her. But he knew immediately what she was talking about without even having to ask. They knew each other too well.
He shook his head and bore her up the stairs and into the spare room.
People were already lined up outside the shop. He dragged the boy off the couch and told him to put switch the sign to "closed."
The white laced dressed was ruined. She would have to change into another. "Please." Her head lolled into his collarbone.
"Are you with child?"
It would explain a lot of things. The copious amounts of food she ate. The snappishness. The tears. And now this: her hands shook uncontrollably. A pale sweat broke out on her forehead. Sweeney had witnessed this many times with Lucy.
"No," she managed to wheeze, darting furious looks at him. "I haven't been with a…not since Albert."
He didn't know whether to believe her. In the end it didn't matter. Mrs Lovett could love whomever she wished, as long as it didn't interfere with his revenge. And whatever illness she had was doing that just now.
"I will not do it pet," he said firmly, allowing her head to slip into the comfort of his lap this once. For the time being, for the night at least – he would forget the Judge. If he helped her, Mrs Lovett might be back on her feet tomorrow morning. He closed his eyes. He'd been clenching his teeth so fiercely his mouth ached.
"It's been three months." She was clinging to his arm with both hands. Her sweat began to coat him.
What could he do to reassure her? He knew even less about these womanly matters than most men. Lucy had never mentioned the pain.
"Shut herself up in her room, did she?" Mrs Lovett could read his thoughts sometimes, just by the crinkle of his forehead or the raising of a brow.
Sweeney vaguely remembered being sent out to fetch various teas and herbs and warm syrups. That was all. "Tea?" He suggested helplessly.
She was looking straight at the ground, as if staring a hole through it might relieve the pain. She was never a woman to compose herself. The baker spat out laboured breaths that made him wonder if she wasn't truly with child, and every moment that passed would turn her face into another wincing, writhing state of human suffering. He had not been there for Johanna's birth (or he did not remember it), but Sweeney found his hand moving instinctively to cup the side of her cheek. "You were always such a wayward woman."
Her eyes flickered from the floor up to his. "Really?"
He didn't remember anything from the old days. But she did. It would bring her comfort.
"Oh yes," he said, finding his hands less awkward than his voice. "You'd come in asking for the rent every second day. Always bothered me at the most importune moments."
A smile burst out unexpectedly. "Not much 'as changed."
"No, it hasn't." He smiled in return.
Her dark eyes fluttered closed, and he saw her mouth speak silent words. A prayer. He stiffened, thinking of Lucy buried in an unmarked grave.
It grew audible. She'd forgotten him for the time being. The blood loss had made her delirious. "Come here, angel. Let me rest, please God let me rest. Let them poor fools we done in be at rest. Let 'im love me. Let him, please."
He wanted to cure her suddenly. He was no doctor.
But lying stomach down on the parlour lounge, her arm digging into the fabric, the other gripping him, she reminded him of a young girl who'd never heard of the world of men and demons who robbed all good folk of their dearest dreams.
"Let me try this." He fossicked around the parlour drawers. He couldn't say how he knew.
Instinct led him, and when he opened the second drawer, it was where she'd left it all those years ago. She'd kept it.
Hoarding woman that she was. "It's been many years," he lamented, rejoining her by the lounge and putting the thin wooden instrument to his lips.
The action jolted him – he caught flashes of winter snow and the fire place crackling and two women sitting by the fire smiling, one light, the other dark. One had a swollen belly beneath swathes of white muslin, the other was tight and trim within the ribbed corset and navy blue gown.
"Play it love," she urged from the couch, meeting his eye desperately. "I've forgotten."
So had he. He held their gaze, and found his fingers their rightful holes, and let the sound of ages past fill up the hopeless gloom of the unlit parlour. Somewhere throughout the songs, perhaps many hours into night, the woman drew herself into a sitting position, and draped herself contentedly against the half of his body. She breathed easier, and he saw that her hands had stopped shaking.
It was only now that he smelt the blood, and saw the deep stain on the fabric where mere moments ago her body had rested. It was ranker; not the blood of men, but an ancient blood. The blood of the earth: of all humans. It was as if part of her had died, only to be reborn.
She sensed him looking, and coloured. "I'll clean it up love." She went to rise.
His lips left the flute, and let it fall by the wayside.
"Rubies, Mrs Lovett," he said without a hint of emotion, "I don't need to cut you to watch you bleed."
They sat watching the stain absently for a few moments.
"Although," he said, getting to his feet suddenly, and taking both her hands in his, "there's the smell to consider."
"I can bathe."
There was no warm water at such an hour. He knew she knew this.
"I will boil you some," he said patiently, not even bothering to pick up the razor when it fell from his pocket.
It would be there tomorrow. It was a decent walk down the bakehouse to the dingy tub, and she could not manage it without him.
* * *