A/N: For fanfic50, prompt forty-one, smoke.
Many thanks to the lovely Robynne, aka Saime Joxxers, for betaing this. She has the amazing ability to turn my incoherent ramblings into coherent ramblings (or something resembling coherent, at least ;]).
I swing open the oven door and instantly receive a face-full of smoke. It winds up my nose as snakes of vapor, twisting through my nostrils and into my mind before I can catch them. Coughing, I pinch the bridge of my nose as a headache attacks the tender space behind my eyes. Another batch of burned pies; I can do nothing right.
I ascend from the bakehouse with the tray of pastries just as she floats into the kitchen like air. My frantic babble fills the room: "I'm sorry, mum, I'm so sorry, the pies, I didn't realize they was getting black – "
"Hush, love." She puts a hand on my shoulder. "There's plenty more where that came from. But you've been awfully distracted lately – care to share what's on your mind?"
I hesitate and run my fingers over the pies, blackened beyond hope.
"Toby. C'mon, love, tell me. You can trust me – you know I trust you."
She does. She treats me like a proper adult rather than a child, something few others have ever done: caring about me, confiding in me, even giving me jobs in the bakehouse that most ladies would never dream of giving down-and-out boys like me who most people don't trust with anything.
"It's just – I'm worried about you, mum."
"About me?" she laughs, rumpling my hair. "It's me what should be worrying about you – "
"Mr. Todd is dangerous."
Her laughter halts at once.
"I know you care about him, Mrs. Lovett, but – but he ain't to be trusted. He'll use you – is using you . . . he's tricking you into bad things – and don't tell me that none of that's true 'cause I know it is," I press on as she opens her mouth. I don't know if she was on the verge of a retort or not, but I don't want to find out: I'm going to say what I need to first.
"We've got to get out of here, mum, and we've got to stop him – I know you love him, I know it won't be easy, but you've got to know that I'm just wanting what's best for you . . ."
For a long time, she doesn't say anything. Just stands and stares, lips parted in a silent and unmoving syllable, face white. I swallow and shift my weight from foot to foot, but I keep my eyes on her. I'm not going to back down. Not now that I've finally got someone who cares.
Her hands spring out towards me in a flash and I flinch on reflex – but she doesn't slap me: she pulls me into a hug so tight I feel my bones might snap and so warm I know I'll never be cold again.
"Thank you," she whispers against the top of my head.
"Thank you?" I repeat, my face crushed against her shoulder, muffling the words. "For what?"
"I've known – I've known I should leave, but I've not been able to, not with how much I care about him . . . but you're right. You're absolutely right. I shouldn't do this to you – or myself – any longer."
She draws away from me, smiling through tears.
"Go pack your bags," she whispers. "We'll leave tonight. First to the police station, then we'll be on our way, far away – together – how's that sound?"
And it isn't but half an hour later that we walk along the streets, hand-in-hand, searching for a carriage to take us both far away from all this. I'm smiling so hard I wonder if my face might break.
I wouldn't care even if it does.
Once inside the coach, she embraces me again, murmuring "thank you" again and again into my hair, arms secure and promising as they wrap around my body –
And my arms strain against the straightjacket to hug her in return even though she's not here.
I feel that my face is wet before I realize tears are leaking from my eyes; I see the steadfast walls of Bedlam quaking from the throbbing sounds before I hear myself screaming.
They run into the room at once – those rough men with their sharp pins and sneering, loathing eyes – and jab a needle into my skin. The familiar dark smoke creeps over my vision, pressing, coating, caressing my eyeballs in wisps and waves – I smell smog, and blackened food – and there's so much dark smoke covering my eyes – the pies must be burning –
I swing open the oven door and instantly receive a face-full of smoke.