A/N: I've been sitting on this one for about five months now. I don't know if it makes any sense, but, well, I've nothing to lose by sharing it.

For fanfic50, prompt number one, heart.

You can kill a lifetime without feeling anything but skin. – Chuck Palahniuk


Thrumming in your throat is something you long ago forgot about, something you long ago thought had left you, something that pierces you straight and sharp like an arrow and gets right to your center. It makes blood rise from your chest and up your throat, filling your mouth with that coppery taste you'd nearly forgotten, you'd nearly forgotten to lust after it after not tasting it for so long, but now you do taste it and it tastes wonderful, like golden rain or beautiful flowers – if you had liked flowers, that is – or her skin beneath your tongue . . . her bloody, coppery, smoky taste with a hint of dough . . .

You can't get enough of it. Of her.

It breaks through the oppressive routine that is your life. So long as this tastes lingers on your tongue, so long as you can still breathe this in, you know you're still alive. Alive enough, at least. She is an addiction that gives you the illusion of living, for your soul died long ago.

But her intoxication – the illusion of living – is not nearly as good as really living.

As this.

You run your hand over the edge of your friend and smile as the rubies smear into your fingertips, spreading into the lines of your fingers and mapping crimson tracks into your skin. You gaze once more at the figure in your barber chair, slumped cold and prone like a marionette whose strings have been cut, before stomping on the foot pedal and letting him tumble into the bakehouse.

And you hear her scream.

You bolt for the door and hurtle out into the night, not even remembering to check if your clothes are stained with blood until after your skin is exposed to public scrutiny. Thankfully, there is none on you save for your fingertips, hidden by hands curled into pockets. It has been too long, far too long . . . you would not have forgotten to check had this still been your routine, had this not been the first time in so long . . .

"Why did you scream?" you say the moment you step into the bakehouse.

She whirls on you from where she stands by the stringless marionette, cheeks aflame a red deep enough to nearly match the rubies on your fingertips. It sets your skin tingling.

"Why did I scream?" she echoes. She descends on you in a flash, a viper poised to strike – yet now that she is near enough, you can see there is no anger in her eyes, only cold, pained confusion. "Why d'you think I screamed, Mr. Todd? There's a human body in my bakehouse."

You lift an eyebrow; already the delicious coppery taste is fading from your tongue, dissolving with your spit, as you again begin to forget what it is to pulse with life. "And you've become squeamish in your months off, is that it?"

She pushes her palms against her eyelids, as though wanting to siphon away your image from her retinas. When she removes them, the blood has drained from her face, remaining only in her lips. "Took me by surprise, that's all, while I was down here grinding up beef. I just thought you were – done with that . . . it's been months, as you said – "

"No time like the present, eh?" you say with a ghosting smile that she does not return.

"Butchering a thousand men isn't going to bring the judge back to life, love."

"I am well aware of that, Mrs. Lovett," you snap, muscles seizing. "Turpin's death does not erase the wrongs these other men have done. It won't detract me from my purpose."

She lays a hand on your shoulder, and the tension in your body uncoils. You don't know when you developed this addiction to her – when she ceased to be a presence of mere annoyance and became one that calms rather than agitates, one that you need rather than are forced upon, one that complements you so well – and though it disgusts you to be dependant on anything, there is nothing to be done about it now.

Tonight, her typically cooling heat dulls – yet fails to quench – your charred nerves.

"I know you're upset that you couldn't get to Turpin in time, love," she says, fingers scratching gently at your shoulder through your shirt, "but you've got to – "

You dive away from her touch, again studying the marionette behind her. "This has nothing to do with Turpin."

"Sweeney," she says, and the use of your first name surprises you enough to lift your eyes to hers, "you haven't killed anyone since Turpin died of pneumonia three months ago."

Your spine aligns itself straight and tall, desiring to imitate a soldier, desiring to courageously lift itself high in the face of danger and wield a bayonet and duck for cover when the enemy fires. Duck and be protected from harm.

"A momentary lapse," you say.

She approaches you again. You flinch as she laces her fingers through yours, but you don't pull away. "Love," she sighs, "I know this's hard for you – "

"You know nothing," you snarl, but her hand stays within yours, warm and callused and firm, squeezing yours so tight you can feel her heartbeat shuddering inside her fingertips.

" – not ever having the opportunity to get the judge yourself and take your revenge . . . but he's dead, my love. You've got to leave all this behind you now. He's gone. You keep looking down into the grave, you're never going to look up. And life'll just pass you right by."

Her hand is too warm, scalding your palm and sure to leave a mark – too callused, scraping at your skin – too firm, throttling whatever demonic spirit still keeps you standing upright.

"Life is for the alive, my dear," she breathes, raising her other hand and placing it against your cheek, fingers embracing your clean-shaven face. You take the opportunity of her closeness to inhale, to breathe her in, infusing your body with her fragrance of flour and coriander and smoke –

But even this – even she – can no longer provide the delusion of living. Not now that it's completely shattered.

"So let me ask you something," she whispers. "What're you living for now?"

You wrench away from her. Her hands fall to her side and land with muted thuds against her dress.

"I'm not alive anymore, pet," you whisper back, the shade of a smile lighting your face.

Her eyes stare into yours and they are dying.

You gesture with a single sweep of your hand towards the marionette, the coppery taste on your tongue already faded, forgotten. "This is all that's left."

A/N: Reviews are what keep ME alive, dear readers. ;]