Actions

Work Header

Promises Not Kept

Chapter Text

            The youngest girl, Bessie, a petite redhead was the first with the news. She came scampering into the shared room where the girls would freshen up between clients. Late, as usual, she had a wild look in her eyes.

            “Tha’s Thomas Shelby in the lobby.” She gasped out and clutched at her coat. Stray snowflakes melted in her fiery hair. “He’s back.”

            The rest of the girls were stirred up into a frenzy at the news.

            “Again?”

            “He’s already had me ‘fore, might be comin’ back for me.”

            “Fuckin’ pays well don’t he?”

            Bea, the eldest and most experienced out of the bunch blew out a drag of smoke. “’Course he does. The Shelbys own Birmingham and that means they’re fuckin’ dangerous.’ She glared at the hopeful eyed girls. “None of you should be makin’ ties with that lot. Best to stay unseen.”

            “Still, he’ll be wantin’ a fuck.” Teresa shrugged and eyed herself in the mirror as she applied lipstick. "I ain't gonna turn him or his money down."

            “Don’t you worry,” Bea turned to the young woman on her left. “He doesn’t pick blonde girls.”

            Leah chewed on her lower lip and glanced at the vanity mirror next to her. Indeed, she had honey-colored hair, which usually did her well in her line of business.

            Leah was twenty-five, a prime age for a London prostitute. Not too green but not worn out either. She found herself prostituting after a long drawn out mess of increasingly worse luck. Since 1918, she had been stuck in a downward spiral.

            It could always be worse, that’s what she reminded herself every time she woke up. She wasn’t starving on the streets but she did feel like a piece of her died every single time she closed her eyes.

           

            “Leah?” Billy stuck his head into the room. He was a good man, a hotel employee who was paid extra to introduce clients to the girls. The madam handled the rest of the transactions. But it was a classier transaction up front. The hotel provided a luxurious setting for the wealthy clientele who sought out the harem of girls. Women who were touted as much more than those of seedy whorehouses, although that’s where they all originated. The illusion that the ten women were hand-picked goddesses, submissive in nature (unless a man preferred the roles reversed).

            Respectful. Discreet. Beautiful. Expensive.

            For Leah, the titillating façade wore off fast. She was still a whore. Men faked their love and affection or they didn’t even bother. Despite the money, Leah always felt used. Yet she blamed herself. The naïve daughter of a chemist. Now just a whore.

 

            “Mr. Shelby’s requested someone new,” Billy informed her.

            The other girls went quiet for a moment. Teresa looked irked. “She’s the only one he hasn’t fucked yet?”

            Billy, a gentle man, who looked out for the girls well being, nodded in confirmation.

            “He doesn’t like blondes.” Bea retorted protectively. “He hardly even looked at Rose. Send Teresa out.”

            Leah’s face went ashen. The Shelbys were not people she wanted to be involved with.

            “He insisted.”

            She swallowed and stood. “S’okay, Bea.” She faked a smile and touched the older woman’s arm. “How’d I look?”

            “Perfect.” Bea nodded but looked visibly worried.

 

            The other girls watched as Leah stood, tightening the ties around her peach-colored dressing gown. She followed Billy down the hall to one of the nicer suites.

            “He’s inside.”

            She nodded. “Thank you, Billy.” Her voice was quiet as she stepped inside, shutting the door behind her. Nerves rattled her bones. The Shelby name was not one to be taken lightly. Leah remembered hearing about them when she worked in a brothel a couple of years back.

            Crazy gypsy bastards.

            Fucking animals.

            Bloodthirsty.

            Harsh words that she’d never heard when describing an entire family. But perhaps they weren’t wrong because the Shelbys only became more and more powerful. They were a force to be reckoned with, especially if you resided in Britain’s underworld. Leah did and had for some time. But she had her limits.

 

            “Right, f’ya got heels on, you can take ‘em off.” Tommy was standing by the window, his back to Leah. A half-finished cigarette clenched between his lips. A thin haze of smoke already hung over the room.

            Swallowing, Leah reached down to remove the heels from her feet. She was so focused on the straps she didn’t notice he’d turned around. When she set the shoes aside, she straightened up and came face-to-face with the most dangerous man in Birmingham.

            His eyes were like the coldest winter, much worse than the blustery December evening outside the hotel. He was thin, average height, and sculpted with sharp edges. Everything from his dark hair to his clean-shaven face was pristine. His three-piece-suit wasn’t an uncommon sight for clients but he just seemed more refined. It masked his deeds but intimidation remained.

            He was beautiful there was no denying that. But he had several, if not dozens, of ghosts haunting him. Hanging over his shoulder. Never letting him forget. His hardened stare was hypnotizing but fear-inducing all the while.

            “You’re blonde.” His voice was quiet, deep, like thunder in the far distance.

            Leah didn’t know how to respond. She only nodded. “Yes, Mr. Shelby.”

            He stared at her for a moment. It was nearly unbearable being under the scrutiny of the calculating man. He drew the cigarette from his mouth and parted his lips slightly to release thin wisps of smoke. “Right,” It appeared he’d made up his mind. He shrugged his coat off and tossed it to the side. He averted his gaze from her and began removing the small bits and trappings of a wealthy man. Cufflinks, arm garter, pocket-watch, and finally his glasses.

            Leah was frozen in her spot. Typically, she was outgoing when it came to clients. The more special she made them feel, the more they would pay. But Tommy’s presence was terrifying.

            His eyes flicked up to her in slight annoyance when she didn’t move a muscle. He cleared his throat and made a curt gesture towards the bed, prompting her to move.

            As if a spell had been lifted, Leah began to untie the dressing gown and let it slip off her shoulders to the floor. The reaction she got confirmed what Tommy was there for. A good prostitute could get a sense of why the man was there. Despite his cold manner, he was easy to read. He hardly even glanced up when she cast her robe to the side and walked to the bed clad in lingerie. His indifference said a lot. Tommy was there to deal with an itch, perhaps to further drown out some sorrows. What he was grieving was unknown.

            He put out his cigarette and removed his waistcoat and shirt, still avoiding looking at the woman he was paying for.

            Leah reclined back against the plush pillows. Her eyes kept catching glances of him as he undressed. She knew she needed to keep her head down, not attract any attention from him. But he had such a presence it was hard to look away.

            Tommy handled the situation like anything else in his life. It was a business transaction, nothing more. He moved with such grace and certainty. His thin frame was a far cry from the brutal gangster that people labeled him as. But Leah could see the muscles flexing in his arms and chest when he got on top of her.

            “You’re a quiet one, eh?” He broke the silence again. One hand braced himself against the bed, the other slipped between them. His long fingers grazed down her stomach, catching the bits of lace of her lingerie.

            Leah looked up at him, studying his face once he was closer. He certainly looked years younger without his glasses, but there was exhaustion to his features. It seemed like he’d gone days without more than a few hours of sleep. A small nick of a scar marked his cheek. His eyes were, even more, alarming the closer he was. But his touch was surprisingly gentle at the onset.

            “Do you like having conversations with girls like me?” Leah asked quietly, wondering if she should speak more to him. She’d been a little too busy taking in his form.

            He shook his head and a hint of amusement crossed his eyes. “Try to have some decency, don’t I? M’not a monster.”

            She was quick to correct herself. “'Course not, Mr. Shelby.”

            “Call me Tommy.”

            Something struck Leah like a brick to the head. Tommy. Tommy Shelby. She could see the name written in her husband’s handwriting.

            Tommy Shelby, and his brothers, they act as though death is an old friend of theirs. None of them are scared to go to hell. Nice blokes but there’s something about them.

            Leah’s sudden realization was cut short when she felt Tommy’s finger brush over her sex. Startled out of her thoughts, she let out a hitched moan and let her eyes slide closed. He was no stranger to a woman’s body that was clear just after half a second of him touching her. It wasn’t often she was really turned on by a client. Most were inexperienced, too worried about their own pleasure, or downright awful at pleasure.

            But not Tommy Shelby. He had her breathless before he even entered her. When he did, Leah had to ground herself before she became too intoxicated off him. Her arms looped around his neck, her fingers clutching for purchase in his hair.

            He grunted softly when she knotted her fingers in his dark locks. His head dipped down as his hips snapped forward. He moved with ferocity, chasing something beyond release. There was something he needed but it was something a whore could give him. Yet he pressed on.

            Leah was unraveling at the seam. His vigor was pushing away the thoughts that had clouded her brain before. He brought her somewhere she’d long missed. An electric and primal connection.

            “Tommy…” She breathed out.

            And when he opened his eyes, Tommy felt the spark too. He didn’t see Grace, despite Leah’s blonde hair and vague likeness. There was something about the woman beneath him that rendered him breathless and devoid of all other thoughts. His grief. His anxiety. His anger. It was numbed. He could only feel her body and the warmth of her figure.

            Overwhelmed with the sensation, his thrusts stuttered and he stared at her. Disbelief and lust made his pupils blow, thinning out the icy blue.

            Leah let her hand slip to his cheek. Her lips parted like she wanted to say something but had lost all ability of speech. To solve the problem, he ducked down and kissed her. He pressed so hard into it that her lips were certain to bruise.

            Seldom did she allow a client to kiss her. And if she did, it was for more money or to maybe make a young eighteen-year-old feel special on his birthday. But Tommy wiped her brain, made her forget who she truly was, and made her long for the days she had a man to kiss her. Grateful and drunk on the feeling, she kissed him back.

            Nothing at that moment could pull them apart. Tommy only released her lips to hear her as she climaxed. Hearing her gasp out his name pushed him over the edge.

            He groaned and let the feeling wash over him like a deadly cocktail of drugs and alcohol. He felt alive but cured of all the aches and pain held in his bones. He shuddered out a breath and the ringing in his ears faded. Awareness of the room returned.

            Leah was clinging to him, still riding the waves of a release she had yet to find in years. Tommy let her hold onto him until her arms relaxed and her body unlocked.

            Her hazel eyes met his face but both were too stunned to speak. Finally, Tommy sat up and reached for a cigarette. He offered one to Leah who took one out of courtesy.

            They sat in silence for a moment. Smoke rising to the ceiling. Neither expected to find such a strong emotion in that room. It was scary for both of them and they didn’t know what to make of it.

            “Should I leave you?” Leah finally spoke.

            He swallowed hard and shook his head. “No. Not yet.” He replied quietly. There was a danger lurking. The danger of blindly falling for lust. Doing anything to fill the hole where his heart used to be. But he wasn’t about to release the feeling quite yet. He had a meeting in two hours. He was going to make use of that time. Fuck it, he’d be late.

            Tommy flicked his cigarette into the ashtray on the nightstand. He reached over and Leah let him take hers as well. Replacing the cigarette with his hand. His slender fingers lacing in with hers as he kissed her deeply. His eyes closed and he welcomed the feeling. Taking the drug and following the high blindly.

 

 

            Tommy had her for three hours. Leah returned to the room in quite a state. Her hair was undone and tangled. Her lipstick was smudged to hell and Tommy had ripped her lingerie in the passion.

            When she returned, the girls all stared at her like she’d been gone for weeks.

Bea stood and hurried over to her.

            “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” She asked in a hushed voice.

            Still in a daze, Leah shook her head. “No.” She sat down and started to freshen up. Her movements were slow and delayed. She was still too caught up in the overwhelming sensations. Three hours was not enough, she craved more.

            “Leah?” Bea sat next to her.

            “Hm?”

            “I asked if you were okay.” The older woman looked concerned. “You seem…off.”

            “I’m fine, Bea.” Leah smiled. “Perfectly fine.”

 

            That night, Tommy and Leah coped with the chance interaction. Leah returned to her rented room early in the morning and knelt by her bed. Beneath, in an old shoebox, she kept her husband’s letters. His shirt and those letters were the only things she had left of him. Losing him to the war sparked her downward spiral. She lost her best friend and the love of her life.

            It was always difficult to read his letters. She intentionally tried to put it from her mind. When she read his words and saw his name signed, she was reminded of what she once had.

            She thumbed through the parchment and finally found one of the several mentions of the Shelbys.

            Tommy Shelby, he and his family live in Birmingham. If anything were to happen to me, I think they would be able to take care of you. They’re rough around the edges but they care for their own. I’m just afraid of leaving you alone.

            Leah sat on the hardwood floor for a long while. She held the paper tightly. Her husband had known Tommy. The man she had just slept with. Overrun with guilt and confusion, the young woman curled up on the floor. She held the letter close to her chest and let herself cry. What kind of person was she? When had the world become too much to bear? Would she ever find the happiness she once had?

 

 

            Tommy stood in the foyer long past midnight. Drunk on gin and then whiskey, he’d stumbled out of his office. Arrow House was silent in the dead of night. The large rooms offered no comfort.

            Moonlight filtered in through the large windows and settled on the portrait of himself, Grace, and Charlie.

            “Fuck…” He cursed under his breath as he singed the tips of his fingers on his cigarette. He dropped it and clumsily stubbed it out with his heel into the carpet.

            His eyes looked up to Grace’s painted face. His heart wrenched and he found himself back where he’d begun that morning. Hindsight told him he was a fool for thinking something with a whore would be real. The only real thing he had was gone. He didn’t have her anymore and he never would again.

            Tommy’s face scrunched up, the pain still seeping in despite the copious amounts of alcohol. He’d have to poison himself with gin to be fully numb. It was times like that night when he wondered if he should embrace the devil.

            “Daddy?”

            Probably the only reason he ignored the demons telling him to give up, called out to him.

            Tommy raised his head and saw Charlie on the stairs landing. He clutched a teddy, concern on his small face. “Charlie, s’late.” He walked up the steps to his son.

            “Bad dreams.” The little boy pouted and reached up.

            “Alright, dad’s gotcha.” Tommy picked him up and did his best to walk a straight line back to Charlie’s bedroom. “Everything’s okay, yeah?” He tucked Charlie back into bed but the boy wouldn’t let go of him.

            “Daddy, stay.” He begged.

            Tommy sighed but gave in. “Okay.” He lay down next to his son, letting him cuddle close. “Dad’s not going anywhere. M’right here. You can go back to sleep, eh?” He murmured.

            Charlie obliged and soon fell asleep in the crook of his father’s arm. But Tommy stayed awake, staring up at the ceiling. A hollow feeling settled into him. It wasn’t unfamiliar but it wasn’t exactly welcome either. He tried to fill it with anything he possibly could. So he decided to go back to her. If Leah could fill that space even for a few hours, he’d have it. An addict through and through, Tommy just wanted to feel something other than hurt.

 

Chapter Text

            Friday night and men were filtering in and out of the hotel. Leah was not herself and everyone around her could tell. She was inattentive, too caught up in her own thoughts to fully interact with the world.

            “Leah? Mr. Shelby’s requested your presence.” Billy’s voice pulled her out of the haze.        

            She didn’t even acknowledge the hushed whispers of the other girls as she stood up and walked out of the room. It was like a siren’s song was luring her down the hallway, back to the room, back to Tommy’s embrace.

            He was standing near the window again. This time his eyes were on her as she entered. He crossed the room quickly with his long strides and immediately enveloped her in a searing kiss. He pressed her against the door and hooked his arms under her thighs to scoop her up.

            Everything fell to pieces. The worry and confusing guilt shattered against the floor. He didn’t offer her time to ruminate. There was no space to hold such feelings. There was no space between them. Leah locked her ankles against his back and moaned against his lips when he tugged on her lip with his teeth.

            Tommy didn’t hold back. He fucked her like the world was about to end. The itch for filling that space was unbearable. But she gave him solace. Her breathy whimpers and gasps spurred him on. Her fingernails left marks that he hoped would remain. He wanted it to last, the feeling that she elicited.

           

            Leah watched the end of his cigarette burn. She was in quite a compromising position. Limbs intertwined under the hotel sheets, she rested against his chest, her fingers idly tracing the tattoo on his chest. He was holding her. It was dangerous and they both knew it.

            Swallowing the silence in her throat, Leah spoke. “I think you knew my husband.”

            Tommy lowered his cigarette, tapping the ash off in the ashtray beside him. “Is that so?” A hint of trepidation filled him. Had he killed her husband? Was she still married and he was fucking her? Both were very plausible scenarios.

            “He was a tunneler in the war.” She spoke steadily. She never spoke about her husband in the hotel. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she actually spoke to someone else about him. She was lonely, had been for years. There was no time for friends outside of the hotel and she had no family. So she had no one to talk to.

            Relief passed over Tommy. So he wasn’t crossing anyone. “In France?”

            She nodded, her hair brushing over his bare skin. “Jonah Ward. He wrote about you, at least I think it was you. Could be someone with the same name.”

            Tommy couldn’t stop the sudden reverse back into time. Emerging from the tunnel hauling the man out into the open air.

 

            “Tommy!” Jonah gasped out. His eyes blinked rapidly in the sunlight. “Tom…”

            “Right here. You’ll be all right. Arthur!”

            The man touched his face. Blood covered his palm. “Fucking finally got me…” He choked out a laugh. “Those tunnels. Thought I’d be done in by a German when I came here.”

            Tommy lifted the man’s shirt to find the source of the bleeding. A sickeningly large wound covered his chest. He tried to apply pressure but there didn’t seem to be any hope left for the poor man.

            “Tom, y’need to take care of my girl. My Leah. Back home…London.” Jonah grimaced and threw his head back against the muddy ground.

            “You’re going to be okay.” Tommy’s hands shook. It wasn’t the first man he saw die and it wouldn’t be the last. But he was still fairly new to watching someone die.

            “Promise me. Promise me you’ll look after her when you get back home.”

            “I-”

            “She don’t got anyone. No family. Please, Tommy.” A few tears slipped down the man’s bloodied face. “I can’t leave her alone.”

            “Y-yeah, I’ll take care of her.”

            “She’s beautiful…blonde hair. Looks like an angel.” Jonah opened his eyes and stared up at the sky. His eyes glazed over. “Oh…fucking hell…there she is now.” His voice weakened.

            Tommy glanced up at the sky but there was nothing there. It was only the hallucination of a dying man.

            “Lee…you’ve come to bring me home? I’ve missed you, love.” Jonah smiled before he coughed up blood and forced one more inhale. He twitched twice before going limp.

           

            Cold realization flooded over Tommy. He’d promised. He said he would take care of the woman that was curled up next to him. Was this taking care of her? Paying her for sex? He felt sick to his stomach.

            “Tommy?” Leah furrowed her eyebrows. “Are you okay?”

            He swallowed and nodded. “Yeah.” He dropped his cigarette in the ashtray and took a deep breath. “Yeah, I knew him. I knew Jonah.”

            Leah propped herself up, looking at him with renewed interest. “You did?” Maybe there was something more left of her husband. Memories from another person. Details she didn’t know.

            Tommy scratched absent-mindedly at his cheek. “I was there. I was there when he passed.”

            Leah’s chest deflated and her eyes stung with the obligatory tears she had when she thought of her husband. “W-was he in pain?” Her lower lip quivered.

            “Think he was in shock, he went peacefully.” He would lie to the widow as long as it meant shielding her from the painful truth. She didn’t need to know the gruesome details of the explosion that caused her husband’s demise.

            “Did he say anything?” A tear slipped from her brown eyes and landed on Tommy’s shoulder.

            “He spoke of you. He clearly loved you.”

            She couldn’t help but quietly cry at the news. “He was such a good man. I w-was heartbroken.”

            Tommy bit the inside of his cheek. He felt the same grief she did. They’d both lost someone they loved so deeply it hurt. “I’m sorry…”

            “No, you don’t have to apologize.” Leah wiped at her eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get emotional.” She was well aware of how mourning her late husband was a major turn off.

            But Tommy didn’t mind one bit. “I lost my wife last year.” He said quietly.

            “Oh, Tommy, I’m sorry.” She swallowed and bit her lip. “I didn’t know. M’fraid I don’t much about you.” She admitted.

            He nodded slightly and inhaled shakily. “Most people don’t. S’pose you’ve heard rumors.”

            “I didn’t want to make assumptions about you.”

            Those who didn’t make assumptions about the Shelbys would soon learn it was a mistake. It was better to be overly cautious of fire; a fool tested their luck with it.

            Tommy absent-mindedly lifted the cigarette to his lips but paused. His blue-eyes stared across the room in a daze. “I think I owe you an apology, Leah.” He cleared his throat and discarded the rest of his cigarette. Smoke still curled around him as he met her eyes.

            “For what?” She sat up next to him, letting the sheets pool around her waist. There was no point covering up for a man who tore into her only moments earlier.

            But for Tommy, seeing her bare beside him only drove home the guilt. “When your husband was dying, he asked if I would take care of you.” He wearily ran a hand over his face. “And I promised I would. There’s no excuse for breaking my promise. But now I can offer you a job or-”

            Leah went stiff and subtly pulled away from him. “Oh, Tommy, I appreciate it. But that isn’t your responsibility.” She chewed on her lip and averted her eyes. “My Jonah took care of me but he’s gone now. Don’t think I’ll ever remarry so my well-being is my responsibility, not anyone else’s.”          

            Tommy could see the sadness in her light brown eyes. “But I promised.” He insisted. “I have the means and I can give you a better-”

            Leah turned and placed her feet on the floor. “Tommy, please.” She shook her head and turned her back to him. “I don’t need anyone to take care of me.”

            “This can’t be what you want from life.” He insisted and reached out to touch her shoulder. But he hesitated and withdrew.

            She stood and gathered her things, wrapping herself back up in the robe. “Have a good night, Mr. Shelby.” Her voice was detached and quiet. Her dignity trailed behind her. A whore who refused aid from the king of Birmingham. Jonah only wanted the best for her, but Leah would never be in debt to someone. She was raised to pay her dues and hold her own. So she did. Tommy Shelby wouldn’t carry her through life.

            “Leah,” Tommy called after her but she left and shut the door behind her. Retreating into her grief.

 

 

            Jonah Ward was a good man. Raised by a jeweler, he was educated and respectful. His father’s shop was right across from the Robinsons’ chemist shop. That’s where he met Leah Robinson. The teenagers fell hard for each other and were married when they turned eighteen. He was her best friend and never thought she would ever be apart from him.

            Then the world fell into war in and he was ripped from her arms. In 1916, Leah received a letter that told her the news. An explosion had permanently taken him. Heartache consumed her and the world seemed to darken. Leah could only guess what Jonah would say if he knew what she did to survive. After her first client, Leah got physically ill and cried. She begged Jonah for forgiveness and sentenced herself to a life of hurt.

            Tommy Shelby couldn’t pardon her for her sins. No one could.

Chapter Text

            “Tom.” Arthur rapped at the doorjamb as he entered the dimly lit office.

            “Yeah, Arthur, come in.” Tommy waved his brother into the office.

            “Something the matter?” Arthur asked as he sat. “You’ve been…not yourself the past few days.”

            Tommy’s piercing eyes gazed out the window. “Do you happen to remember Jonah Ward?” He chose not to comment on his brother’s observation. He knew he wasn’t himself since that night with Leah.

            “Sounds a bit familiar.”

            “He was in France with us. I was there when he died.”

            Arthur nodded slowly. Tommy rarely, if ever, talked about their time in France. He seemed keen to lock it away and never dig the memories back up. But they’d always be there for all of them, never quieting in the silence of the night.

            “Yeah, think I can picture the face. Why’d you bring him up?”

            “I promised to take care of his wife ‘fore he died.” He absent-mindedly ran his thumb over his chin. “I never did try to find her. Now she works at Midland.”

            Arthur raised an eyebrow. “So, you’re fucking her.” It was a reasonable assumption. Tommy had gone a little off the rails after Grace died. He was unstable, to say the least, and partaking in some questionable activities. But that was Tommy.

            His brother nodded slowly.

            “And how much is she asking for?”

            Tommy’s blue eyes moved from the window. “Nothing, that’s the problem.” He muttered. “She won’t take any help, I’ve offered her a job, fucking anything and she turned it down.”

            Arthur came to an understanding. “You feel guilty, then.” He surmised.

            The Blinder rolled his eyes. Of course, he felt guilty but he wasn’t fond of people pointing out his emotions. He was meant to be a stoic man; capable of whatever it took to get to the top of the food chain. “I’m looking for advice, not a fucking talk ‘bout feelings, Arthur.”

            “We were raised to uphold our promises, we pay our debts, Tom,” Arthur spoke with gentle insistence. But he didn’t want to rub salt in the wound. “S’pose you can’t force her to take anything, but don’t hurt to try one more time. If she says no, then you’ve done what you can.”

            “She looks a little like Grace,” Tommy admitted in a daze. He couldn’t get the image of Leah out of his head and his thoughts were in turmoil over that fact.

            Arthur sighed. “She in’t Grace.”

            “I know.” He spoke in a voice barely above a gravelly whisper. “I know.”

 

            Leah couldn’t bring herself to go back to the hotel. She needed a few days to clear her head without running the risk of seeing Tommy. She was afraid that if he returned, she wouldn’t be able to restrain herself. His request was a decision she needed to make with a sound mind, not in a lust-addled state.

            But, she still needed to work in order to survive. So the next night she went to the brothel owned by the woman she worked for.

 

            “What’re you doing here?” Madame Rosetta was a stern woman who only enjoyed a profit. A tall, hardened woman, she didn’t care much for the girls in her employ but tended to treat the Midland hotel ones better. Usually, because they made her more money and kept up a constant flow of wealthy patrons.

            Leah could hardly meet her cold gaze. “Was hoping to work here for a few nights.”

            “You givin’ up your spot?” She raised an eyebrow. “’Cause I’ve got other girls who’d kill ya to work there.”

            “N-no, no, I know. I just needed a break from the girls there.” She lied.

            Rosetta didn’t care about catty behavior between her girls as long as it didn’t interfere with her business. “Fine, two nights.” She relented and waved her away.

            It had been almost three years since Leah worked at the brothel. She recognized only a few faces around the front room and bar. There was always a high turnover of women. She’d gotten accustomed to the quiet and space she was granted between clients. Now she had to weave her way through the rowdy area. Drunk men spoke loudly to one another with girls laughing and hanging off them to score tips.

            It wasn’t long before a man grabbed Leah by the wrist. “Why don’t ya take me back to yer room, love?” The man was an average visitor of the den of sin. Middle-aged, working class, slightly untidy from a day’s work or a night’s drinking, and grabby.

            Leah forced a smile. Her stomach turned when she realized she would give anything to be alone with Tommy in that very moment. But she had nothing to give. So she led the man to the back rooms.

 

            Tommy did his best to keep control of the reins. He needed to be sharp, quick thinking and acting swiftly on his feet. He needed to be one step ahead of his enemies and those he was suspicious of. But Leah wouldn’t leave his mind. After speaking to Arthur, he returned to the hotel to try again. But Billy informed him that she wasn’t in. Unsure of where she was, the man couldn’t offer Tommy any explanations. He tried again the night after that but Billy had the same news. Leah hadn’t shown up.

            It got to the point that Tommy was afraid for her safety and afraid she was intentionally avoiding him.

            He sent word out to a few men about her. Someone alerted that she’d been seen at Madame Rosetta’s brothel. So Tommy went there first. But again, he was informed she wasn’t there. Instead, the barmaid said she’d gone back to the hotel. Unbelievably frustrated, Tommy went back to the hotel for the third night in a row. He didn’t have time to chase one woman around London. But he felt like if he gave up, he’d never forget and would never be at peace with it.

 

            It was pouring as he left the car and walked up the hotel steps. He shook out his coat as he headed to the second floor.

            Billy saw the Shelby looking a little worse for wear. He hadn’t been sleeping, was surviving off of cigarettes and alcohol, and had about a million stressors poking at his side. Now he stood there, drenched from the rain and certainly intent on something.

            “Mr. Shelby, can I get you a whiskey?” Billy offered.

            “Can you send her out to me?” Tommy wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries. He was fed up with given the roundabout.

            His face wrinkled in concern. Not many people were fond of telling a Shelby news they didn’t want to hear and Billy had done it twice in the past two days. “I’m afraid she’s just gone back with another gentleman.”

            Exasperated and impatient beyond belief, Tommy started for the hallway. He rounded a corner and saw familiar blonde hair. “Leah.” He called with an unwavering assertion.

            She turned and her eyes widened. “Tommy…”

            “I need to speak with you.” His quiet voice was demanding simply because he was desperate. The thought of her had driven him up the wall and he couldn’t waste any more time.

            “C’mon.” The client intended for Leah protested. It didn’t matter; he was nothing but a pesky fly so Tommy ignored him.

            “I know what you said but-”

            “Tommy, please. Now’s not the time.” Shame settled over Leah. She longed for Tommy but she had to do what she needed to survive.

            “I had no idea where you were. Were fucking worried ‘bout you.”

            “For God’s sake.” The man threw his hands up in disbelief.

            “I was fine. Please, if you’d just wait…”

            Tommy continued to completely block out the presence of the client. “Just come talk to me.” His blue eyes were yearning.

            “Look, mate, you can have her after I’ve finished. That’s what she’s supposed to do.”

            A spark lit inside Tommy, boiling his blood in an instant. “Fucking what?” He whipped around to finally face the man.

            Either he didn’t recognize the Blinder or was unaware, so he went on without knowledge of the peril. “You and I probably couldn’t count how many times she takes it every night. I mean she is a whore.”

            Tommy snapped. He punched him so hard that the man’s head ricocheted off the nearby wall.

            Cursing and clutching his face, the man doubled over. “What the fuck?” He shouted.

            He went to deliver another well-deserved blow when Leah forcefully stepped in. She shoved Tommy’s chest to keep him at bay. “What the hell is your problem?” She cried.

            His anger was hard to pull back in once it was unleashed. Tommy never liked to let a man escape his grip. But he wouldn’t overpower Leah. He put pressure against her hands to try and coax her to step aside but she stood her ground.

            A few of the girls came out of the room to see what the commotion was. Billy had heard the shouting as well and rushed over. He hurried to usher the man down the hall and back to the lobby. The police wouldn’t be called. No one would speak a word about it.

            Except for Leah that is. She grabbed him by the chin to make him look at her. “Answer me!” She demanded. “What is your problem?”

            Tommy’s anger simmered and he swallowed hard. Her fingernails dug into his pale skin, forcing his eyes to meet hers. He didn’t speak.

            She let out a noise of frustration and opened the room that she was about to enter before he interrupted. “You’re making a scene.” She urged him inside.

            Tommy ran a hand through his still damp hair and paced a little. “This is my last time, I promise.” He muttered.

            “What gives you the right to act that way?” She wouldn’t let him control the conversation like he so often did in his life. The woman crossed her arms over her chest.

            He looked at her with wounded eyes. She was beautiful in a dark blue dressing gown, her hair curled, and makeup done up. His insides twisted up and he wanted to drop to his knees for her. Wanted her to bring him back to that place. The high that nothing or no one could bring him.

            “I know what you said to Jonah, but-but he had no right to decide my life for me. I make my own decisions.” Leah’s arms tightened around herself and she couldn’t get him to speak. “You’ve gone and slept with every other girl here. You paid them but you didn’t care that they were with other men before and afterward. Now you suddenly care because you feel like you owe me something?” Her forehead wrinkled and her eyes watered. She wanted to be angry but there was only grief and confusion left in her body.

            Tommy stood stiff, like a soldier awaiting orders. “I need you.” He finally spoke. The words came out unusually weak. His initial reason for being there was thrown out the window. She wouldn’t accept money or help so maybe she’d accept him instead. A terrible alternative to money, in his opinion, but he was selfishly desperate for her.

            Her painted lips parted in disbelief. A tear slipped down her powdered cheeks. “What do you want with me, Tommy?” She begged for an answer.

            He didn’t know for sure. There were many reasons that came to mind but he wasn’t sure if they originated from his ego, his loneliness, or from the heart. He stepped towards her and tilted his chin down.

            “Answer me.” She whispered, her breath shakily passing over his neck.

            “I can’t.”

            Leah knew that despite the two days away from him, she hadn’t come to a conclusion about him. He was an enigma. Maybe it was something she couldn't figure out until she immersed herself in him. Took his hand and followed him into the obscure haze. So she kissed him.

            His lips weren’t desperate like they had been the last times. He moved slow and patiently. A hand cupped her cheek so tenderly it made more tears escape her brown eyes. It had been so long since someone showed her true affection. Tommy’s motives were unknown but there wasn’t denying the softness in his touch.

            He drew away and used his thumb to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Let me take you away from here.”

            The idea sounded heavenly, escaping the hotel, the clients, Madame Rosetta. She could be free of the sickening feeling she got every time she woke up and faced her fate.

            “I can’t.”

            “You’re stubborn like me.” He didn’t move his hand, cradling her face. “I’ll leave you be if you wish, but just know I’ll never forget about you.” He shook his head. “You don’t know how numb I’ve been. Fucking every day…nothing. But m’not numb to you.”  

            Leah touched the scar on his cheek. She had been numb since she accidentally cut her finger while opening the letter of condolence for Jonah. Her knees didn’t feel the impact of the floor as she fell. Her ears blocked out her own screams. She didn’t feel the touch of other men. The burn of alcohol and taste of cigarettes on her lips. But she could feel Tommy. The way his fingers dug into her hips, his lips hot against hers, the heavenly sounds of his moans, and his weight against her. She felt his hand on her cheek.

            “You don’t want me. I’ve nothing to give you. My heart’s broken.” Her voice was thick with tears.

            Tommy reached for her hand and placed it over his chest. “Mine is too.”

            Her knees buckled when she felt his heart beating through his shirt. He supported her weight as she crumbled. “Take me away from here, Tommy.” She sobbed. “I can’t face it anymore. I can’t cope. I can’t…”

            Tommy hushed her softly and pulled her to his chest. “I will.” He promised.

Chapter Text

            Leah trembled as she walked into the room. Five of the girls were there including Bea. Tommy stood outside by the door, his back to the wall to let them have their privacy.

            Bea stood when she saw the conflicted look on her face. “What’s going on?” She demanded.

            Leah was still in tears. She was perched on the precipice of her life. She could stay there as a prostitute with a questionable future or see if she could find what Jonah hoped for her.

            “I’m leaving.” Her voice was thick as she stooped down to retrieve her coat and bag.

            Bea’s eyes flicked to the door. Tommy’s shoulder was visible, the hallway hazy from his cigarette. A flash of anger crossed her features and she stormed out to confront the man. “Who the hell do you think you are?” The woman snapped and jabbed at his chest with two fingers.

            Tommy could tell she was protective over Leah. And he recalled sleeping with her months earlier, but was probably drunk and remembered very little. “She’s free to make her own choices.” He replied calmly. He was accustomed to being on the receiving end of anger and hysteria.

            Bea’s eyes narrowed. “You fuckin’ Shelbys are demons.” She spat.

            Leah rushed out to diffuse yet another argument. She tugged at her friend’s arm. “He isn’t making me do anything, I’ve made up my own mind.”

            But Bea wasn’t having it. “You’re just movin’ onto the next, huh?” She shoved him. The man sighed and took the abuse. “Your wife was murdered ‘cause of you and now you want another victim to have on your arm? You just don’t fuckin’ care, do you? As long as they’re pretty, eh? Fuckin’ monster, you and your kin.”

            “Stop, please!” Leah begged. She didn’t want Bea suddenly having to deal with the Peaky Blinders. “Jonah didn’t want me doing this.” She tried to draw her attention away from Tommy. “He wanted something better for me.”

            She turned to her, green eyes filled with anxiety. “You don’t think I better for you and all the other girls?” Muffled sounds of sex could be heard down the hallway from them. “I want to see you thrive, Leah. But that man right there will get you killed.” Anger slipped back into her voice. “And as soon as you’re dead and buried, he’ll move onto the next.”

            Leah looked at Tommy. His face was hard to read and he didn’t interject to defend himself. But he wasn’t a monster, she couldn’t see that in him. He was simply damaged like her. “It’ll be okay.” She smiled weakly and touched her friend’s shoulder. “I’ll ring you tomorrow.”

            “Lee…”

            She gave her friend a hug and drew away. Tommy offered an arm to her and Leah turned away from the other girls. There was a sense of guilt knowing she was leaving them behind in the same situation she was escaping from. But she couldn’t take them with her as much as she wanted to.

 

            The car was waiting in front of the hotel still, but the rain had let up. Damp darkness hung over the city. Tommy opened the door for her and held a hand out as she stepped inside. The Bentley’s luxurious interior only reminded Leah of whom she was really dealing with.

            Tommy slid into the backseat beside her and told the driver the destination. They were both quiet as the car traveled down the lamp-lined roads of London. Eventually, they arrived in a nicer area of London. The streets were quieter and the houses appeared well maintained.

            “Where are we?” Leah asked quietly, not familiar with the location.

            “My sister Ada’s,” Tommy answered. “You can stay here for the night. I’ll back ‘round tomorrow to talk. I want to give you the night to think about whatever you need sorted.” He got out of the car, helping Leah down. “Whatever I can do to help get you settled again.” He knew they had both been unsettled for a very long time. Tommy was aware that he only moved further from comfort every day. He set himself up for a chaotic life. But if he could help Leah along, it might give him a reason to get some sleep.

 

            Ada was accommodating, despite the late hour. She set up Leah in the spare room before giving her privacy. Then she returned downstairs to where Tommy lingered by the front door.

            “How can you trust her?” Ada wasn’t scared of Leah. The Shelby woman could certainly handle her if necessary. Her small handgun was always within arm’s reach. But Ada was concerned about her brother’s fragile state and what a prostitute might do to further shatter him.

            “She’s harmless,” Tommy replied. “And she’s well aware of what we do. She wouldn't test that.”

            “What you do.” She corrected him fiercely and crossed her arms over her chest.

            “Whatever you say, Ada.” Tommy shrugged and opened the door. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

 

            The next day, Leah was quiet. She made polite conversation with Ada and fussed over Karl, but she was deep in thought. So much so that while playing football outside in the street with Karl, she nearly got hit in the head with the ball.

            Now, noon had rolled around and she sat in the parlor. She was overwhelmed with uncertainty. The night hadn’t done much good and she still hadn’t cleared everything up and made up her mind. Jonah’s face had kept crossing her mind. Those lovely brown eyes that held so much warmth and adoration. His strong hands and his dazzling smile. There was still something deep in Leah that hadn’t accepted he was gone. But she knew that if he were alive out there, somewhere, he would be doing everything within his power to return to her. With every year that passed, another piece of Leah resigned herself to the loss.

            Now she had to deal with the fact that he wanted the Shelbys to take care of her after he passed. Both Tommy and Leah had delayed it, intentionally or not. She wanted to continue dragging her heels more but she wasn’t exactly sure what she was afraid of.

            Maybe because it was Tommy Shelby.

            Maybe his influence and power.

            Maybe it was the way he made her feel.

 

            The front door opened and from where she was sitting, Leah could see Tommy enter.

            “Uncle Tommy!” Karl cried with joy as he catapulted off the stairs and into the man’s arms.

            “Oof!” Tommy grinned and staggered back a few steps from the impact. “You’re getting big, eh? Sprouting like a weed, ‘fore you know it, you’ll be bigger than me and your mum.”

            “Gonna be taller than Big Ben!” Karl beamed. “I played football with Lee, gotta scratch!” He proudly showed his uncle the scrape on his forearm.

            “Look at that. Getting scuffed up on the streets of London already. Don’t tell your mum, yeah?” Tommy chuckled.

            Seeing the tenderness between him and his nephew was striking. Gangsters weren’t thought to have souls let alone be able to love.

            Tommy noticed Leah watching him from the parlor so he set Karl down. “Why don’t you go find your mum, eh?” The little boy hurried off with a clatter of footsteps after being shooed away.

            Leah averted her eyes as Tommy walked into the parlor. “It’s nice to see a man who’s good with kids.” She admitted shyly. She could remember how the neighborhood kids would flock to Jonah because they wanted to see his army uniform and he’d play along when they pretended to be out on the battlefield, holding up sticks as guns.

            Tommy opened the front button of his coat before sitting across from her. “I have a son, Charlie, who’ll be three soon.” He informed her. “Like you said before, Miss Ward, there are things you don’t know about me.”

            She nodded but couldn’t help be shocked by the news. It was one thing seeing him with a nephew; it was another thing knowing he was raising a child. All the while, the world painted him as a devil. “There are things you don’t know about me too.”

            “Would you like to get to know each other better?” The question was an outreach but his face was like stone. It was as if an internal conflict was yearning outwards.

            Leah’s palms began to sweat. His blue eyes sent chills down her spine because she could still see the way he looked at her those fateful nights. “I’m afraid I’m not very interesting, Tommy. I suppose my story is just a little sad. But I don’t need sympathy.”

            He made a low noise of understanding and nodded. “I’m not very interesting either.”

            Leah laughed and shook her head. “I find that very hard to believe. Nearly half the country knows your name. Maybe even more than that.”

            A faint smile formed on his face. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing her laugh. “Do you like kids?” He asked.

            “Oh, ‘course.” She nodded. “I always wanted to be a nurse. My mother was before she and my father opened the chemist shop. I wanted to be a midwife.” She told him.

            Tommy saw a light in her eyes that hadn’t been there before. He wondered how long it had been since anyone saw it.

            “I was meant to go off to school after Jonah came home but…” The light faded quickly at the mention of her husband’s death.

            “Would you like to go now?” Tommy offered. “I know people in the field.” He knew many people in many fields but decided he’d had enough grave injuries to rack up a repertoire with some doctors.

            Leah picked at her fingernails, her eyes downcast with shame. “That’s kind of you, but I think it’s too late for me now.”

            He could’ve argued that it wasn’t too late but decided not to be too aggressive about it. “I could offer you a job at my home in Warwickshire. You could look after my son. His nanny is ‘bout to have a baby and will be on leave soon.”

            She swallowed. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful,” She prefaced anxiously. “But I just don’t think I’m qualified. I have nothing to offer you; I’m just a-” Her voice faltered. Just a whore. That’s all she’d known for several years.

            “I don’t need you to offer me anything in return.” He replied and leaned forward to try and catch her eye.

            It was hard to resist those baby-blues. “It’s not just that.”

            “What is it then?” He rested his arms on his knees, his gaze steady on hers. His presence was strangely comforting. Leah never had intimate feelings for a client. Sometimes she had men blindly profess their love to her but she never even felt infatuation for any of the men. But when she was with Tommy, she felt like she was floating from euphoria. Now she wanted a man she had slept with twice, yet she barely scratched the surface of who he was. “You’re confused about our relationship.” Tommy surmised as she bit her lip and gave him a shy but longing look.

            She nodded meekly. “I know it meant nothing to you because-”

            “Who said it meant nothing?”

            The two stared at each other for a bit. It was clear neither of them was willing to be the first to admit the truth. Both of them were severely deprived of affection and had clear physical chemistry, but it had been some time since they found love. They were rusty on the ins and outs of actual relationships and not just flimsy companionships.

           Leah decided it wasn’t the time or the place to take that chance with him. “Ada said there was a dress shop in Birmingham. I thought I’d inquire there about a job. You won’t have to worry about me after that. You’ve already done enough, Tommy.”

            He frowned. “Would you want that?”

            She nodded and smoothed her skirt. “I just need to get my things from my room and find a flat in Birmingham. It would be nice to get away from London.”

            “Most people don’t want to go to Birmingham.”

            “I do.”

            Tommy sighed slightly. He couldn’t picture the beautiful woman in Small Heath. He thought she belonged somewhere like Warwickshire much more. He could see her all done up in the trappings of a wealthy woman. Just like Grace had embraced it.

            That’s what he wanted. He wanted someone to fill Grace’s shoes. To be on his arm. To be a mother to Charlie. To kiss the top of his head at night and whisper small comforts to him. The realization made Tommy feel like he was drowning in a sea of helpless misery because he couldn’t replace her. But he couldn’t be without her.

            “Right, I’ll find you a flat. I’ll pay rent for you. Anything else you need, you can always come to me.” He offered.

            “I have money saved. I can pay rent.”

            He raised an eyebrow and reached for a cigarette. The day was hardly half over and he already wanted it to end. “The first year, I’ll pay.”

            “First month.” She replied. “Honestly, I’ll be just fine on my own.”

            “First six.”

            “First two.”

            He couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. “Alright. Fair enough.” He stood up and shook her hand. He wanted to add a clause in the verbal contract; he’d get to see her every so often just to ease his sorrow. But he kept that to himself. If luck were on her side she'd find her balance in Birmingham, find her way, and escape. No one in their right mind wanted to be stuck in Birmingham. No one in their right mind wanted to be stuck with him either. 

 

 

            Leah didn’t dislike Birmingham as much as others seemed to. She liked the change of scenery because it reminded what she was leaving behind. She began work at the dress shop. An older man owned the place, but his youngest daughter ran it. Beth was a little younger than Leah but the two got along well. Leah got to know her neighbors and became familiar with her surroundings.

          Then, she started to notice men in flat caps lingering around the front of the shop. At first, she thought it was coincidence, then she realized it was Tommy’s men. They all sported similar shaved haircuts and the signature caps. It was far too often to be a coincidence after the first week. 

 

            “That’s Isaiah.” One morning, Beth pointed out the young man who was taking a smoke across the street. “Isn’t he just as handsome as can be?” She sighed and leaned against the counter, cheek resting on her hand. Her eyes fixed on the young man jostling another boy about. The two were laughing and giving some well-aimed jabs, just acting as boys will. 

            “Who’s that with him?” Leah asked as she swept up around the shop. She looked out the window to see they were somewhat familiar to her. They'd been around the shop a few times in the past week. They were smartly dressed compared to the rest of the city and had the flat caps to prove where they'd gotten the money from. 

            “Finn, he’s Tommy Shelby’s younger brother.” She answered. “They’re all Blinders. But who doesn't like a little danger? Leaves ya breathless, doesn't it?” Beth gave her new friend a coy smile. 

            So he was keeping an eye on her. Leah sighed and shook her head. “I dunno anymore." She mumbled under her breath. 

 

 

            Two days later, Tommy finally made an appearance. He walked into the shop, slipping off his cap. He nodded to Beth whose eyes went wide at the sight of him. The pristinely dressed Blinder stood there, exuding intimidation that came naturally from his reputation and icy blue eyes. “Is Leah in?” He asked while he approached the front counter. 

            In the backroom, Leah could hear his deep voice. She came out before Beth could answer him. “Tommy.” She greeted with quiet shock. 

            There was no mistaking the look of relief on his face. Their eyes met and for a few beats, they didn’t speak. Neither of them noticed until Beth cleared her throat to disrupt the tense moment.

            “Oh, sorry.” Leah’s cheeks went red. “Tommy, this is Beth, the owner’s daughter.”

            He gave her a polite nod. “Nice to meet you.” Of course, she knew who he was just like everyone else in Birmingham, so there was no need to introduce himself. 

            Beth looked a little squeamish that the head of the Peaky Blinders was standing so close. Most Brummies kept their distance if they knew what was good for them. “Likewise.” She said quietly.

            Leah could sense her discomfort. “Maybe we could talk outside. Beth, is it alright if I step out for a mo’? Won't be long.”

            “No, that’s fine.” She wasn’t about to interfere with Tommy there.

 

            The two went out to stand by the shop. Tommy lighting a cigarette once outside. He paced a few steps as he took two drags. “Sorry to interrupt while you’re working.”

            “That’s okay.” Leah could feel her heart beating faster. She had managed to keep herself busy the two weeks she spent apart from him. But now that he was nearby again, she felt the yearning for his touch. “I just thought you’d come around sooner.” She admitted sheepishly. “I know you’ve had your men watching the place from time to time.” She told him honestly. "Beth recognized some of them, your brother was around I guess. I dunno if you knew or..." She bit her lip. 

            “Well…” He shrugged but knew he was caught. Of course, he'd had some men check the shop every so often. He wanted to be sure Leah was safe in his city. It was overbearing, he knew that, but he was away and felt uneasy. “I was in London for a bit. Just wanted to make sure everything was coming along for you. Wanted to make sure you weren’t having any problems either.” He gestured with his cigarette to make it seem like it was nothing but a casual drop by. He cleared his throat and glanced down at his expensive shoes. For a moment he debated whether he had the courage to really go through with what he was planning. His eyes returned to her and the words tumbled out. “Do you want to get a drink with me? Tonight?”

            Leah was surprised but not unpleasantly so. “I suppose that’ll be alright.” She nodded and felt a twinge of thrill and anxiety in her stomach. There was no telling what would happen between them both. They hadn't talked candidly about their complex and confusing relationship. She was afraid that they were on completely separate pages and she would make a fool out of herself. 

            He didn’t speak for a bit, just eyeing her. He was definitely a hard man to read by face value but after spending a lot of time with men at their most vulnerable, Leah thought she could pick out male emotions.

            “Are you lonely, Tommy?”

            His lips parted and a bit of smoke escaped as he let out a huff of bitter amusement. “Do lonely men go to pay for companionship?” It was his natural defensive mechanism, answering a question with another question.

            She nodded with a wrinkled brow and a frown. There was no telling what he was getting at so she indulged his question. “Sometimes, yes.”

            “But you’re not a whore.” He pointed to the door beside her. “You’re a shop girl.”

            Leah couldn’t help but smile. It was refreshing to hear him reinforce the new chapter of her life. “You can still be lonely and want to take out a shop girl. Not all men go to whores when they're lonely.”

            He let a smile tug at his lips but didn't reply. “I’ll see you at the Garrison at nine then?” He pulled his gold pocket watch from his waistcoat to check the time. His little detour was going to make him late to a family meeting but he couldn’t have cared less.

            She knew he was avoiding the root of probably many of his issues. Losing Jonah was definitely the root of her issues. For years she coped on her own without the comfort of anyone else. She could only imagine Tommy was doing the exact same thing. “Okay.”

            He pulled on his cap and went to leave before she stopped him with a touch to the arm.

            “Sorry, I just-” She reached up and carefully brushed a fallen eyelash from his cheekbone.

            Tommy froze when he felt her gentle touch on his skin again. Even a fleeting graze of her finger was enough to make him long for her. It took everything in his power to not bring her back to Watery Lane and resume where they’d left off all those weeks ago. There had been a hunger gnawing at him those two weeks they were apart. Perhaps he had become addicted to her and was coping with the withdrawals. 

            Leah’s eyes fell to a glint of metal poking out from the brim of his flat cap. It was chilling to think that all the men who had been lingering around the shop were probably sporting the same weapon. What was stranger was how Tommy reacted under her touch. Birmingham’s most powerful men looked ready to fall to his knees for her. “Just an eyelash.” She explained, a quiver in her voice. She took a step back to break the spell and let the stray eyelash fall from her pointer finger. “Anyway, I should get back to work.”

            Tommy realized his hand was shaking. “Oh, right.” He nodded stiffly but wasn’t really comprehending her words or his own. God only knew how he was going to get through the rest of the afternoon.

Chapter Text

            The Garrison’s lively hum was muffled from the outside. Bright, golden light poured out into the gray streets beckoning any Brummie passerby.

            Tommy paced a short track in front of the pub. His cigarette smoke trailed after him like a ghost. He continued to ruminate on the idea that he hadn’t been out formally with a woman since Grace. He wasn’t necessarily nervous about it, he was more uneasy about the circumstances. The Blinder was pretty good at taking what he wanted and winning people over. And yet Leah felt strangely off limits to him.

            But he stopped worrying when he noticed Leah walking down the street towards him. When she came into better light, he realized how utterly fucked he was.

            Leah had reclaimed some of the self-esteem she had lost over the years. She held her chin a little higher than before and stood taller. As far as Tommy was concerned, Birmingham didn’t deserve the woman in front of him.

            “Did I keep you waiting long?” Leah worried she had taken too much time getting ready. She had finally settled on a simple blue dress that hung just above the knees.

            He shook his head, jostling his brain out of the fog clouding up his train of thought. “No, ‘course not.” He cleared his throat. “You look very nice.”

            She smiled. “Thank you.” It was a fairly nice comment coming from someone who had seen her naked twice.

            Tommy went to open the pub doors but paused. “My brothers are here.” He warned. Of course, it was rare the Shelby boys weren’t occupying the pub on the weekends. “The won’t bother you if you’d rather not meet them now.”

            “No, that’s alright. I’d like to meet them.” She nodded earnestly. John and Arthur had been mentioned in Jonah’s letters as well so she was keen to meet them.

            “Right,” The Blinder wasn’t sure what sort of grief his brothers would give him when they learned he was on a date. But he wouldn’t tell Leah that. So, he walked into the Garrison with her. The pub was crowded as usual. Mostly regulars lined the bar. Others in the area were too afraid to venture into one of the gang’s dens.

            “Alright, lads.” He approached where John, Arthur, and a few more Blinders sat at the bar.

            “Tommy boy, though you were avoiding us tonight.” Arthur clapped his brother on the back.

            “This is Leah Ward.” Tommy touched the woman’s shoulder ever so slightly. “Her husband served in the 179th with us.” He gave the men a look meant to keep them in line in her presence.

            “Jonah was a good man.” John nodded to her. “Shame what happened.”

            “Very good man.” Arthur echoed. “N’fact, let’s toast to him.” He waved for another round of drinks. John handed Leah and his brother a glass of whiskey as Arthur began. “A toast to Jonah, he gave his life for this country. We won’t forget him.”

            “And a toast to his wife,” John added. “God bless her for being seen out with Tommy Fucking Shelby.” It was clear the man was already drunk.

            Tommy glared at his younger brother but Leah smiled. She raised her glass. “Cheers.”

            “Cheers!” The Blinders echoed and threw back the whiskey.

            “Right, I’ll find us a quieter spot.” Tommy wanted to leave before John or Arthur said anything else. He led Leah to a free table a good distance away from the rowdy bar.

            “They seem nice.” She said politely as he pulled out a chair for her.

            “I’ve yet to hear anyone call my brothers nice.” He sat close to her so they could hear one another amidst the din of the pub. “I won’t tell them that, it’ll only inflate their egos.”

            Leah chuckled and shook her head. “So, Beth said you own this place. It’s beautiful.” She stole a look of the gold embellishments. It was certainly not reminiscent of the city it was in.

            “My brothers look after it more nowadays.” He replied. “Used to come about more but I’ve been traveling.” He flipped open his cigarette box and offered one to her.

            She accepted and leaned closer so he could light it for her. “She also said she knew Grace when she worked here. I guess before you two married. Is that how you met?”

            He nodded slowly and took a long drag. “She sang here.” His eyes moved instinctually to the spot where his late wife used to stand. “Only person in the world who could make this place silent on a Saturday night.”

            “Beth said everyone loved to hear her sing.”

            His eyes moved from the spot before he began to picture Grace standing there. He downed the rest of his whiskey. “Do you sing?” He asked.

            Leah held her cigarette over the silver ashtray. “I think all the cats in Birmingham would show up if I tried singing. I’ll spare your ears.”

            Tommy smiled and felt relaxed by her presence and the burn of whiskey running down his throat. For the first time in a while, he felt comfortable where he sat. There was only so much he could worry about at once, and Leah dramatically reduced that number when he looked at her. 

 

            The night wore on and both Leah and Tommy were throwing back drinks like it was their last night alive. They were both looking to loosen up and to feel more self-assured. It did the trick though because a few hours in and they were talking openly without any of the mental blocks they usually had. Leah was thrilled to actually see Tommy genuinely smile and to hear his lovely laugh.

            Arthur jabbed John and pointed across the room. “Fucking what?” John groaned. He was about ready to call it a night after being goaded into multiple shots and a line of snow.

            “Have you seen him smile like that since his wedding day?” Arthur asked.

            John spotted Tommy and Leah sitting close together. The two were laughing like they were old friends. Indeed, it had been a long while since Tommy had such a happy look on his face. “Hell, I ain’t seen him smile like that since Greta were alive.” He told his older brother.

            “Think it could be something?”

            “Nah, s’just the whiskey and a pretty face.” John shook his head. “He’ll be back to good ‘ol Tommy by the morning time.” He predicted and filled Arthur's glass again. 

           

            “You can’t always be working.” Leah accused and jabbed Tommy playfully. “There has to be something you enjoy doing for fun.” She held up a hand before he answered. “And drinking doesn’t count.”

            He chuckled and let his head fall back for a moment as he thought to himself. His liquor-addled brain was delaying all of his responses. “Well, we’ll go hunting sometimes in the country.”

            “Ooh, that’s posh.” She giggled and leaned towards him, nearly slipping off her chair in the process.

            He rolled his eyes but grinned. His head lolled to the side to look at her with an amused glance. “I tried golfing, fucking hated it. So m’not that posh.”

            “So, hunting’s your thing then?” Leah mimicked holding up a rifle made a bang sound effect.

            Tommy’s hand pressed to his chest, pretending to be wounded and slumped back into his chair. “Got me.”

            It drew a laugh from her. “A man who likes the thrill of a hunt.” She mused. “I could see that about you.”

            He shrugged and finished another glass of whiskey. “Just prefer riding out in the country, really. Grew up with horses so I’ve always liked them.” He told her the personal detail without much hesitation.

            “So, you’re a horseman then? A British cowboy?” Her voice lilted with affectionate teasing.

            “Only when I’m in Warwickshire.” They had run through his cigarettes so they’d been passing the last one back and forth. He offered it to her while he spoke. “When I’m here, I’m focusing on horses that’ll make me money on the track.”

            Leah let the smoke pass by her red painted lips. “Back to business then, eh? You’ll work yourself to death if you're not careful.”

            “I have some time. Gonna teach Charlie to ride when he’s a bit older. He can’t wait, always asks when he’ll be able to. Want to buy him a horse soon, maybe for Christmas."

            The affection in the father’s eyes was clear. There was nothing more important in the world than Charlie. “You must miss him when you’re away.” Her voice sobered up a little despite the nicotine and booze.

            “Well, I’d be a monster if I didn’t.” He took the cigarette back from her and finished what was left. “Better he’s raised there than here.” It was the justification he used for leaving Charlie behind in Warwickshire. The boy would not grow up the same way he had. He promised Grace he’d keep their son safe.

            There was undeniable sadness in his eyes so Leah decided to ease off his heart. “I’ve never ridden a horse.” She admitted. “My mum was afraid of them.”

            “You’re fucking kidding.” Tommy huffed out a laugh. Growing up as Romani, he just assumed everyone was familiar with horses. Being in the city meant that wasn’t always the case. “Well, you haven’t lived until you’ve ridden at least once.”

            “A horse, you mean,” Leah smirked and bit her lip.

            It took Tommy a quick moment to catch onto what she meant. “Cheeky.” He tutted and shook his head. “C’mon.” He suddenly stood up. The room swayed a bit but he righted himself.

            “Where are we going?” Leah snatched up her coat and purse. She was less stable on her feet and nearly tripped over her own feet.

            “Gotcha, gotcha.” He steadied her before she could fall over. He secured an arm around her waist as they walked out of the Garrison. The air mixed with a bitter chill and the overwhelming smoke. It was sobering after a few minutes of traveling down the streets of Small Heath.

            “Where are we going?” Leah asked again.

            “Me uncle’s yard.” Tommy’s accent was slipping off; dropping the ends of words and finding himself back as the rough and tumble boy. The lanky kid who got into at least one fight every day, rode horses with reckless abandon, and snuck out late at night to visit Greta. Such a simpler existence. “We keep the horses there, ‘til they’re sent off to be trained for the track.” He explained. “Got a filly in recently.”

 

            Leah followed Tommy to Charlie’s yard. It was dimly lit in the late hours, but they managed to make their way through to the stalls. The chestnut filly raised her head when she heard them approaching. Her nostrils flared and the warm-blooded horse spooked to the side.

            “S’alright.” Tommy stepped inside and held out a hand to the horse’s muzzle. “Just me. There ya are, that’s a good girl, eh?” He soothed in a steady voice. Leah lagged behind, watching him interact with the large animal. The same tenderness was there when he interacted with Karl or spoke of his son. The man wanted to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. “Good girl.” He stroked the horse’s neck, praising her slowly. His blue eyes moved to Leah and gestured her over. “She’s harmless, just a little skittish with loud noises. Usually, are when they’re young.”

            She carefully stepped forward, minding her feet. The last thing she wanted was the long-legged filly to step on her toes. “It’s like she’s listening to you.” She murmured quietly as she observed the horse’s ears flicking back and forth in response to Tommy’s voice.

            “They’re smarter than people think.” He took Leah’s hand and placed it on the filly’s cheek. “Can sense the weather, danger, emotions.”

            Leah’s hand slowly ran over the filly’s silky coat. “That’s amazing.” She looked into the horse’s eye, the strangely shaped pupil gazing back at her. “What’s her name?” She wondered.

            “Haven’t named her yet.” Tommy shrugged and rubbed the horse’s soft muzzle affectionately. “We’ll give her a name for the track once she’s trained. Curly usually nicknames them but she just arrived.” She nodded and continued patting the horse, adjusting her forelock and running her fingers through her wiry mane. Tommy watched her for a moment. Her touches were tentative, almost how she touched him. She was afraid of being hurt by things beyond her control. A wild horse. A man with a devilish reputation. “Leah.”

            “Hm?” The dim lanterns cast shadows over her face but he could still see the faint sparkle in her eyes.

            The liquid courage was starting to wear off. “I uh…” He shook his head, pretending as if the thought had completely slipped his mind. “Sorry, forgot what I was going to say.” He lied. Of course, he knew what he was going to say. 

            She smiled teasingly. “Maybe we had too much whiskey.”

            “I’m walking, aren't I?” He shrugged but decided to take a seat on a nearby bale of hay. He rested his head back and closed his eyes for a moment.

            Leah stepped away from the filly and cautiously walked over to him. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately because it was too early to tell, she was still free from most inhibitions. “Tommy.”

            “Eh?” He didn’t open his eyes.

            “Are you interested in me?” She chewed on her lower lip and rocked back and forth on her heels like an impatient child.

            “Yeah, think you’re interesting.” He looked up at her through half-lidded eyes. “Why?”

            “No not…I mean-”

            “Oh. You mean do I want to fuck you again?” 

            Her cheeks burned because of his brash response but she gave an amused smile. “Yes, you could put it that way.” She stepped closer so her dress brushed up against his knees.

            Tommy straightened up and reached out to rest his hands on her hips. “Unfortunately, love, I can be a bit of an addict for certain things.” He murmured. “And you’ve been on me mind for weeks.”

            Leah’s heart sped up and she lightly grazed her fingers through his hair. "You've been on my mind too." She looked down shyly. 

            But that wasn't acceptable. He tucked a finger under her chin and tilted her face back up so he could see her. “But this time, we’ll do it our way.” His eyes locked on hers, not letting her look away. “We’re not in that fucking hotel anymore, eh?

            She nodded in agreement. “Okay.” It sounded hopeful to her. There was less fear about Tommy merely using her for sex. Of course, if her friend were there, Bea would scold her. Tell her she was being foolish and naïve despite all her experience as a sex worker. She was just won over by a handsome face, devastating blue eyes, and a longing for attachment. 

            But Bea wasn’t there to turn her away from the Shelby man. And Leah had craved his touch for what was far too long in her opinion. It simply wasn’t enough being in his company for the night. They were both itching for that high and they could push aside the impending questions of commitment. And they would delay it another night. Leah followed him back to Watery Lane and would be sewn into Tommy Shelby’s history for good.

Chapter Text

            Tommy rarely had hangovers anymore. Or at least ones that he even noticed. He usually had a migraine so it made no difference if it was a stress headache or that of a hangover. In fact, he felt a little lighter on that particular morning after the night out with Leah. If anything could get Thomas Shelby to fall asleep it was a copious amount of alcohol and a few rounds of sex. He actually slept through most of the night once he and Leah passed out in bed.

            Itching for a cigarette upon waking, Tommy opened his eyes and stretched an arm out for his always-nearby pack. After regaining awareness of his surroundings, he realized he was pinned to the bed by a particularly cozy blonde. A rare morning smile crossed his face and his mind wandered to how it used to be. Grace always curled up in his arms when they went to sleep. But by the end of the night, she managed to accumulate all the blankets, unknowingly keeping them far from Tommy. He never minded.

            Leah appeared to be the opposite. She was sprawled out over him, her cheek resting on his sternum, one hand resting on his collarbone, the other pressed to his heart. Her legs tangled with his and if she had been a full-grown man, Tommy wouldn’t be able to move. She was fast asleep and he was hesitant to wake her.

            But he needed a smoke. As carefully as he could, Tommy tried to ease out from under her. He froze when she stirred but she merely turned over, flopping off of him and onto the bed. Relieved, Tommy quietly sat up and saw his cigarettes weren’t on the night table. Remembering the night before, he realized he hadn’t gone through his typical night routine.

            After leaving the yard, they’d returned to Watery Lane and Tommy barely let Leah get up the stairs before kissing her. Pressing her up against the wall, his fingers already working at the buttons running down the back of her dress. It took some time but they eventually stumbled upstairs. The room showed evidence of their disregard for the world around them. They were too intently focused on each other. His things were scattered all over the floor. He’d tossed Leah’s dress to the furthest corner of the room and her stockings now adorned the dresser.

            Tommy rose quietly and slipped on a pair of boxers. He searched for his coat and found his cigarette pack. But he forgot they’d run out the night before. Cursing silently under his breath, Tommy hastily got dressed and headed down to find more. He locked the door behind him so no one would wander into the room and disturb Leah. Without his pocket watch, most likely lost among the cluttered room, he had no idea what time it was as he went downstairs.

 

            No one was in the parlor so Tommy entered the betting shop to track down cigarettes. The shop was already bustling with activity. Bets were being called back and forth and money exchanging hand. His employees gave him polite nods in greeting as he maneuvered his way back to his office.

            Lizzie was waiting there for him. “Sleeping in today?” She questioned. It was rare for Tommy to not be up at dawn. The man never seemed to sleep.

            Bogged down by the extra hours of shuteye, he only gave her a glance in reply. He passed by her and dug through his desk for cigarettes. “I don’t have any meetings today, I can sleep in.” He muttered.

            Lizzie sighed and reached into her pocket to spare him a cigarette. Her boss couldn’t function without one nearby. “Arthur said you were out late.”

            “He was too.” Tommy graciously took the donation and lit it.

            "He wasn't sure where you went once you left." 

            He shrugged and set the cigarette onto the ashtray for a moment to fix his cufflinks. He was definitely not as immaculately dressed as he usually was. But his outfit wasn't of any importance that morning, especially to Lizzie it seemed. "I headed down to the yard for a mo' then came back home."

            “He said you were with someone when you left.”

            He leaned against his desk, facing his secretary. After a few anxiety relieving puffs, he met her hard gaze. “You seem surprised.”

            She wasn’t. If anything, she was wounded by his callousness but wouldn’t show him. “Who is she?” Her tone was clipped as she hugged a binder to her chest like a shield for her heart.

            “I have a feeling Arthur already informed you.” Tommy retorted and walked around his desk to sit down. His eyes scanned over the list of things that needed to be done that coming week.

            “Maybe he did. I guess I want to hear it from you.” She lifted her chin higher and didn’t break eye contact even when he did.

            “I knew her husband, he passed during the war. He asked me to take care of her.”

            “So you’re sleeping with her? That’s taking care of her?”

            He cleared his throat and focused on the words in front of him. The last thing he wanted was a conflict with his assistant. Their relationship was complicated enough and he knew that it was mainly his own doing. He could be the villain if she wanted to paint him that way. He wouldn’t blame her. “If I want to talk about my personal relationships, I will. But for now, we’re running a business.”

            Lizzie rolled her eyes and gave a huff of annoyance. “Honestly, Tommy, you’re thick sometimes.” She spat before leaving the office and slamming the door behind him.

            He sighed deeply and scrubbed his hands over his eyes a few times to wake up. If only he could snap his fingers and instantly get rid of all the conflicts in his life. If only.

 

            Leah woke up not much longer after Tommy went downstairs. Dazed and sporting a fine headache, she turned over. The bed was empty beside her, as was the small bedroom. She sat up and stretched her arms above her head. It was nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact emotions she was feeling. It was a mixture of everything all at once. She felt cared for, as Tommy had taken care of that need she had during his absence. He’d been tender with her, much more than when they were at the hotel. They’d taken their time and in that way, she felt more important to him. But in the light of day, fears and suspicions crept up on Leah. Was he just stringing her along for an occasional fuck? Was it simply the alcohol making her think their connection was more intense than it actually was? Was she being naïve?

            Leah bit her lip and stood up to find her slip. Slowly dressing, she glanced at the mirror every so often. Tommy’s presence was still strong, despite the empty room. He’d left bruising marks on her neck where he’d feverishly kissed and sucked at the skin. Her hips were mildly tender from where he’d gripped her so firmly. But she couldn’t remember ever being in pain.

            As she moved around the room, she passed over his discarded clothes. His scent lingered in the air. The evidence of their alcohol intake also remained within the fabric of the night before.

            Tommy’s room was tiny but mostly sparse. There wasn’t anything distinguishing it as his. She picked her stockings up off the dresser and found a drawer partly open. Overly curious, she slid it open and found a few neckties loosely folded inside. But a bit of dull silver poked out from under a black silk tie. She pulled it out and discovered it was his dog tags. The tarnished silver was dirty and dinged up from his service. But she could make out the information stamped into the small circle.

Thomas Shelby

Sergeant Major

179

            Leah’s thumb passed over the indented metal. Jonah’s tags were under her bed, sitting in the box with his letters. She closed her eyes for a moment to breathe evenly and deeply. For a brief moment, she let her mind wander to what might have happened if Jonah had come home to her. She might not have even met Tommy. But she would have her best friend back and in her arms again.

            She dropped Tommy’s tags and buried it back under the black tie. It was no good fixating on an alternate reality. Jonah would never return to her. Now she had Tommy. Or did she?

            “Time will tell.” She whispered under her breath and shut the drawer. She gathered the rest of her things to head downstairs.

Chapter Text

            Leah donned the same blue dress she’d worn the night before. She stepped out of Tommy’s room and found the second floor was quiet. However, she could hear activity coming from downstairs. Men were talking and calling words that she couldn’t quite make out.

            Lizzie was in the parlor and heard Leah coming down the steps. The second she saw the unfamiliar woman, Lizzie could guess why Tommy gravitated her way. She had the same golden blonde hair his late wife had.

            “Sorry, I was looking for Tommy,” Leah explained.

            “You’re the girl he was with last night?” His assistant didn’t give her an answer and sipped at the tea she’d made.

            “Yes, I’m Leah.” She wasn’t sure who she was. But it was obvious the woman had a problem with her despite not meeting her before.

            “Where d’you work?”

            “The dress shop a few streets over.” Leah became uneasy under Lizzie’s harsh stare. It reminded her of how Teresa used to glare at her if a client chose Leah over her. Anger, jealousy, and a hint of threats.

            “And before that?” Lizzie raised an eyebrow. Tommy didn’t just go wandering into dress shops and sweeping the shop girl off her feet. She could tell Leah was new to Birmingham. Tommy had found her somewhere else and Lizzie had a sneaking suspicion of where.

            Leah didn’t look away. “If you’ll just tell him I had a lovely time and that I can’t wait to see him again. I would appreciate that.” She slipped on her coat to leave. There was no use in divulging her past to a woman she just met, and one who was being so standoffish.

            “You’d be wise to get out while you can,” Lizzie warned before she made it to the door. “He’s not a man you want to get involved with. You have to know he’s dangerous and I’m guessing you don’t care.” She set her teacup down and crossed her arms over her chest. “But he’ll break your heart and leave you for something better when it comes along. He’s restless and never happy with what he has. He could have the world in the palm of his hand and he’d still want more.”

            Leah swallowed under her cold gaze. The words were haunting and made her second guess herself. There was nothing she could say in response so she left the home without a word. She burrowed her hands in her pockets and braced against the fall chill. She wondered if she should cry or not.

            Those days, she wasn’t sure which way was up anymore. The world turned around her and she merely stood there. She’d felt numb, practically a ghost drifting about the world for years. People walked right through her without a care in the world. There didn’t seem to be any substance left to her. She used to be so sure who she was. Jonah and her family gave her a sense of purpose and identity.

            Tommy didn’t give her an identity. She still felt lost. But he filled her with feeling, emotions that she thought were unattainable after her loss of self. She could feel her heartbeat in her chest when he looked at her.

            Tears pricked her eyes as she made her way down Watery Lane. Birmingham went about its morning, not noticing the young woman dabbing her tears away. It didn’t feel her guilt and uncertainty. The city didn’t care if she cried.

           

            About a block away from her apartment, Leah could spot a few men. They were lingering inconspicuously around her front step. She paused, wary of their unnatural presence. One of the men turned and she instantly recognized the disfiguring scar over the left side of his face. His eye clouded over, blinded by shrapnel he’d caught in the war.

            Leah’s breath caught in her throat and her chest seized in panic. They were men under Madame Rosetta’s employ. Large men who kept the peace in the brothel, hunted down debts and intimidated the girls into obeying Rosetta.

            She’d been punished several times in her earlier days in the brothel. Anything from tardiness, refusing advances of aggressive clients or drinking heavily on the job.

            Andrew, the partially blind man, was always willing to dish out consequences. The man was rumored to have a high kill count during the war. He was excessively violent and seemed to have no problem with the pain he inflicted. He most likely enjoyed it.

            But Leah was not about to allow him the satisfaction again. Not while she had her life back on track. And especially not when she had Tommy Shelby in her corner.

           

            Before the men spotted her in the street, Leah turned and hurried to the dress shop. The store was closed because it was Sunday, but Beth lived in the flat upstairs.

            The younger woman was surprised to see Leah at her door, especially because the poor woman looked as if she’d seen a ghost.

            “Can I use your telephone?” Leah blurted before Beth could ask what had happened.

            “Um-sure.” She nodded and let her upstairs.

            Leah wasted no time in picking up the line and having the operator connect her to Tommy’s home.

            Polly had just entered when the phone began to ring. “Shelby residence.” She answered formally.

            “Hello, is Tommy available?” She was too shaken up to be polite.

            Not recognizing the voice, Polly was suspicious. “Who’s calling?”

            “Leah Ward, please it’s an emergency.” She begged. Her knuckles were white from gripping the receiver so tightly.

            Beth watched with worry. She couldn’t fathom what had spooked her friend so badly. Now, she was apparently trying to get in touch with Thomas Shelby. No one called a Shelby to have an idle chat. They called for business or action.

            Polly had heard about the woman from her nephews. They spoke about how Tommy had them keep an eye on a shop girl whose husband they knew from the war. “Alright, let me see if he’s nearby.” She could hear the urgency from the other end of the phone.

            Leah paced as far as the phone wire would allow her. She anxiously chewed on her nails while she waited. Beth wordlessly asked for an explanation but she could only shake her head in response.

            “Leah?”

            Tommy’s voice was like an angel’s; he was someone who could protect her. “Tommy, I need your help.”

            The man’s gut wrenched in worry. He’d been confused by his aunt explaining who was on the other line. As far as he knew, Leah was still upstairs in his room. He thought for sure she would come down and find him before leaving. He wasn’t aware of her interaction with Lizzie as his assistant had yet to pass along her message.

            “What’s going on? Where are you?” He asked.

            “I’m at Beth’s home.” Leah’s voice wavered. “There were men at my apartment. I-I don’t know why they were there but I know they work for Rosetta.”

            The mention of Leah’s old employer sparked anger in Tommy. He wanted to give her the freedom from that life. But it seemed Rosetta wasn’t about to let her loose.

            “Are you safe?”

            “Well, yes. But, Tommy I’m afraid they’ve been watching me. How’d they know where I live?”

            “S’alright, love.” Tommy did his best to soothe her over the phone. He didn’t even realize he was using such tender language or tone with her at the moment. “Stay where you are. I’ll take care of this.” He assured her in a steady voice. But he was already standing up and reaching for his gun to tuck into his coat. “I’ll come to the shop when I’m finished.”

            Leah shook her head frantically. “Don’t do anything foolish.” She begged. “I don’t want you getting hurt because of me.”

            “I won’t.” He promised. Tommy was more than certain he could handle a few dim-witted thugs. “Just stay with Beth for now. Take a deep breath and put the kettle on, eh? Calm yourself down, I won’t be long.”

            “Tommy-”

            The line went dead before Leah could interject again.

            “John, Arthur!” Tommy shouted as he exited his office.

            His younger brother was standing at the blackboard writing down odds. He paused for a moment, Tommy’s voice carrying above the bets. Arthur glanced up from a few slips, a questioning look on his face.

            Tommy slipped on his flat cap. “Follow me.”

Chapter Text

 

            Beth handed Leah a porcelain teacup with gold accents around the rim. Steam rose from the chamomile tea, the scent relaxing just enough for Leah to take a deep breath.

            “Thank you.” She whispered and wrapped her hands around the warm cup.

            Beth sat down across from her. “Can you tell me what’s going on or…” She had been born and raised in Birmingham. As a young girl, she had been warned about the Shelby boys. Especially when they came back from the war and began to gain power.

            “If I knew I would tell you.” She pursed her lips together and held the tea close to her chest. Leah wasn’t sure she wanted to tell Beth about what she used to do in London. But past history aside, she didn’t know what she could tell her about Tommy. What could she say if she didn’t even know what was going on? Was she involved with him or was it just a fling? Despite the anxiety of Rosetta’s men at her apartment, Lizzie’s words still echoed in her brain. A man like Tommy wasn’t someone who enjoyed settling down into a subdued lifestyle. He made the choice to continue this dangerous streak of his. There was something about it that he enjoyed or the reward was worth the consequences. Or perhaps he was simply too far gone to get his head out from under the water.

            Leah had no inkling and she had a feeling she might never understand. So did she just leave it? Pretend she didn’t have feelings for the man who practically rescued her from her own despair? He put an end to her self-destructive tendencies and told her she was deserving of much more. Could she really shake the memories of how softly he touched her?

            “I can’t tell you what to do,” Beth said steadily. “But I can warn you that if you do interact with him…you’ll most likely pay a price. I mean Grace…”

            “I know about Grace.” She interrupted her. Leah didn’t want to hear about Grace. She didn’t want to hear people blame Tommy for her death. Maybe it could be argued that she died because of him, but Leah knew that he never intended that to happen. “He’s not callous.”

            “He’s a murderer.” Beth retorted. She leaned forward and touched Leah’s knee. “It’s a cycle, Lee, and I think he knows he’ll end up dead one of these days because of it. But until then, I don’t want you to be a victim of the Peaky Blinders.” She thought about all the young men in Birmingham who either crossed the gangsters’ paths and paid the price, or the ones who decided it was better to join them and got caught in the cross-fires.

            Leah set her tea cup down and nodded slowly. “I understand your concern. You’re not the first one to warn me.” She informed her friend. “And I doubt you’ll be the last. But Beth, I don’t know what to tell you. My life, for the last few years, has been nothing but hell. After I lost Jonah I thought I’d never recover. But since I’ve met him…” Her eyes lowered. The things she accomplished in Birmingham listed off in her mind. She knew that night; she would be warm in a comfortable bed in her very own flat. She wouldn’t have to entertain a stranger, sell her body to make ends meet. There would be no marks on her skin the next morning from clients who abused their power over her. She wouldn’t have to pick up the pieces of her dignity every time she walked home from the hotel, the dawn rising behind her. Her self-esteem was building when before, it had only be crushed every single time she forced herself to act the part of an expensive whore. She remembered how Tommy held her close at that crucial turning point in London. When he promised to take her away from that cycle of misery, promised her everything and more. Promised to take care of her like he had told Jonah he would.

            “You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” Beth’s voice was gentle with sympathy. She could only warn the woman of the potential, or in her eyes, inevitable dangers. Whatever Tommy had done had obviously affected her to the point she wouldn’t change her mind.

            Leah swallowed her tears and nodded. “Thank you.”

 

            “You lads looking for someone?” Tommy introduced his presence on the street. A few smart passersby turned around to avoid the scene altogether. It was never a good sign when all three Shelby men were striding down the street like soldiers entering a battle. With John and Arthur flanking him, Tommy looked positively menacing.

            The three men turned to address him. “Waiting for a mate, ain’t none of your fucking business.” Andrew spat a bit of tobacco onto the sidewalk.

            John smiled smugly and cracked his knuckles. He liked when people underestimated his brother. It was entertaining and usually meant they would be dealing out some punishments. No one spoke to Thomas Shelby like that in the streets of Birmingham.

            Andrew’s cohorts looked uneasy. “That’s Tommy Shelby, let’s just go.” The youngest one decided it was too much to risk over a girl who defected from Rosetta’s harem of Midland girls.

            But Andrew didn’t see the danger in front of him. “I ain’t afraid of some gypsies.” He scoffed.

            Tommy slipped off his cap. He gripped it tightly in his hand and waited for a beat. Rosetta’s enforcer was a good bit taller than Tommy but that didn’t deter him. The bigger they were, the harder they fell.

            And he did fall. A mangled scream left his mouth only moments after taunting the Blinder. His hands clutched over his last good eye, which had been slashed. Those who were willing to challenge the Shelbys in their own domain would receive their signature attack.

            Blood seeped through Andrew’s fingers and dripped down his arm. He fell to his knees first before Tommy delivered a jaw-breaking punch and sent him to the ground.

            Tommy’s ears rang with the familiar static noise that filled his brain when he flipped a switch. That switch that allowed him to crush a man’s very soul while looking him dead in the eyes. It was such an intense state of adrenaline that he couldn’t register the world around him. The numbness he felt on the daily was enhanced, allowing him to detach from the ruthless force he was inflicting. Every sensation was dulled. He didn’t notice his brothers subduing the other two men. He didn’t feel his teeth accidentally bite down on his own lip during the struggle. He couldn’t feel Andrew’s warm blood coating his hands as he grabbed the man’s collar.

            The man was still shrieking in pain and fear while the last bit of vision he had left was slipping away.

            Tommy pressed down on his throat to shut him up and keep him still. He leaned close, not disturbed by the blood. “You go back to Rosetta,” He breathed heavily from the anger that was fueling his strength. His voice was just barely above a deep, hissing whisper. “You tell her that if she even tries to harm Leah, she’ll have the Peaky Blinders to deal with.” He released his hold and stood up. Arthur had one of the men in a headlock while John had the other man on the ground, a foot pressing against his chest.

            “Get him out of here.” He instructed Andrew’s colleagues. “If you come back here you’ll end up in the morgue.” He threatened and nodded for his brothers to release the men. He turned and dug in his pockets for a cigarette. The blood coating his hands stained his coat but he didn’t notice. He hardly even noticed his lip was opened up during the fight as it stained the cigarette red when he took the first drag. It would take a bit before the ringing in his ears died down.

 

            Beth was standing by the windows, anxiously watching the street. She wasn’t keen on having the Peaky Blinders around her home and shop but she didn’t want to kick out Leah either.

            Not too long after Leah’s call, Beth spotted Tommy walking towards the storefront. His brothers had gone back to the betting shop so he was alone.

            “Leah…” She turned to the woman who hadn’t moved from the couch the entire time.

            Without a word, Leah stood and went downstairs. Beth didn’t follow but stayed by the window to keep an eye on them.

            Tommy tossed his cigarette to the ground when Leah came out. Concern etched her brow. “You’re hurt.” She whispered.

            He only shook his head. “No, isn’t my blood.” He assumed she was talking about his shirt, which had been spotted red.

            Leah, in fact, was trying to ignore that fact. She didn’t want to know what Tommy had done but she hoped he had gotten the men to leave her alone. “No, your lip.” She approached him and pulled out a handkerchief from her skirt pocket. “You’re bleeding.”

            He touched his chin where a trail of blood had trickled from his lip. “Oh…”

            “It’s not too bad.” She carefully dabbed at the blood and cut.

            His blue eyes were fixed on hers, the aftermath of the fight was starting to die down. The numbness subsided and he could finally feel her gentle touch. Maybe that was the only thing he would ever feel again. When she moved her hand back, he reached out and wrapped his fingers around her wrist. He didn’t want her to let go.

            So she didn’t. She used her free hand to touch his cheek and pocketed the stained handkerchief. The pads of her fingertips subtly rubbed over his cheekbone. He leaned into her touch, grateful for its sobering effect.

            “The woman in your house this morning…”

            Tommy sighed because he knew exactly what was coming. His assistant had gotten to her first, which was probably why she had left before seeing him that morning. “Lizzie.” He nodded. “What did she say to you?”           

            “She warned me about you.” She answered honestly. “She said you’d get tired of me eventually. Told me not to waste my time because I would only end up hurt.”

            His eyes studied her face. She didn’t seem uneasy if anything she was longing for honesty. “Are you worried?”

            She nodded slowly and moved her fingers to graze down his jawline. “For you? Yeah.” Her voice was quiet through her admission. “Maybe I’m naïve for thinking you felt the same way as I did.”

            He shook his head and let his fingers loosen around her wrist, letting her go. She didn’t move her hand even when he released her. “You’re not.”

            “How do you know for sure?”

            “Because through everything I’ve been through, I feel much better with you.” He explained genuinely.

            Leah bit her lip. “I want to know what kind of man you really are. I don’t want to keep hearing about what other people think of you. You tell me who you really are and I’ll do the same. I just need to know that I can trust you.” Because she had lost the last man she truly trusted. And she wasn’t foolish enough to blindly trust the next person who came along.

            “I can prove that to you,” Tommy said with confidence. He knew there wouldn’t be anything he could do to harm her. Not when she knew exactly what he felt like. She knew what it felt to be numb. Neither of them wanted that anymore.

Chapter Text

            When Tommy entered the dress shop, Beth was with a client. The woman was the wife of one of his men. He tipped his hat to her before slipping it off.

            “Afternoon, Mr. Shelby.” She greeted politely.

            Beth wasn’t as welcoming. She was still highly suspicious of the Shelby. In her opinion, he had no right to her delicate friend. She didn’t know just how much Leah had fared. “She’s in the back.” Despite her doubts, she couldn’t tell him to piss off.

            Tommy nodded and walked to the back storage room. It was a narrow hall stacked almost to the ceiling with fabric bolts and broken sewing machines. The man was so stealthy in his movements that he startled Leah.

            “You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that!” She pressed a hand to her chest. “Gave me a fright.”

            He smiled and he held his hands up in apology. “Thought you heard me.”

            She liked seeing him smile. Especially because he smiled when she turned around and his eyes settled on her face. At that moment he wasn’t the terrifying gangster that everyone else saw. He was just a man who was happy to see someone he was developing feelings for. These feelings were blossoming very slowly and tentatively. He was afraid of them for more than one reason, too many to count in fact, but he didn’t often shy away from things that scared him.

            “While you’re here, can you hold this steady for me?” She dragged a rickety chair towards him.

            “Sure.” He set his cap and newspaper aside to hold the back of the chair. Leah picked up her long skirt and stepped up onto the chair to reach a bolt of red satin. The aging wood creaked and he was concerned over a very loose looking leg. But it held up just fine and she stepped down without incident.

            Her hair swept past him and he caught a whiff of her perfume. It was so alluring he lost his train of thought and the reason he was there.

            “Up to no good today?” Her teasing reminded him he did have a purpose for being there. He wasn’t just there to see her, although that wasn’t a bad excuse either.

            “I wouldn’t bring trouble to you.” He replied with deep fondness etched into his usually intense tone. “I’ve come to tell you I’ll be off to Warwickshire tomorrow. Be gone for the next few days.”

            Leah tucked the bolt of fabric underneath her arm. “Little holiday?”

            “You could say that.” He shrugged and leaned his shoulder against a nearby shelf. “Going hunting with me brothers.” He didn’t tell her about the letter he received from America about his father. His brothers didn’t even know yet so he didn’t think it was right to tell her before he told them.

            “That should be fun.” It was nice to know he’d be away from business for a few days. Especially doing something that he enjoyed.

            “You could come along.” He offered. “Get out of Birmingham for a bit. You’d get to meet Charlie.”

            She sighed softly. “That does sound lovely, but I have to work.”

            “Soon though.” He stepped closer to her. The space getting smaller in the cramped room. “You’ll be safe with me gone?” He asked and brushed a few stray wisps of hair from her face.

            “I’ll be alright.” While Tommy was thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong, Leah was only thinking about how she would miss him.

            “I’ll leave the number to Arrow House.” He let his hand cup her cheek. His eyes were soft on her. “Call if you need anything.”

            “What if I just want to hear your voice?” A playful smile formed on her lips.

            “Then you know who to ask for.” He replied with a chuckle.

            “I’ll miss you.” The words surprised her even as they left her own mouth. But she let them remain between them without correcting herself.

            “Only be a couple of days, maybe less. Be back before you know it, eh?” He tilted his head down slightly to be at her eye line.

            Leah hadn’t realized how much she missed the way he looked at her. The way the ice in his iris melted significantly. “When you come back, can we spend time together?”

            “You want to?” Tommy had a lot on his mind. Things with the Russians were getting more intense. He intended on creating a plan that afternoon and setting it into motion as soon as he was able to.

            Her nod was a little timid. “I haven’t been able to get you out of my head.” She admitted. “Beth thinks I’ve got my head in the clouds.”

            “That such a bad thing?” The corner of his lips quirked up. At least he wasn’t the only one who was getting distracted by the relationship.

            “S’pose not. Unless I’m being led along like a fool.”

            Tommy shook his head and tilted his head to kiss her. He figured the gesture was better. He could talk his way out of any situation but he had trouble with deciding exactly what to say to Leah. It was much easier to show her physically than to have to trip over words like a schoolboy.

            Leah kissed him back, focused on how gentle he was. One hand lightly touched her waist, his other hand combed through her hair, his long fingers slipping through her curls.

            He was about to take the fabric from her hand and deepen the kiss but they were interrupted.

            “Leah, did you find that red satin?” Beth called from the front of the store. “Want me to help you find it?”

            Leah pulled back from Tommy. “Yeah, I found it!” She replied and gave him an apologetic look. “Have fun on your holiday, yeah? Try to relax.”

            There was no promising that he could ever relax. That was something he was notably terrible at. “Give me a ring when you can.” He slipped on his cap again and reached into the inside of his coat to pull out his cigarette case.

            “Okay.” She pecked his cheek and slipped by him.

            Tommy’s hand slipped past the telegram about his father’s death. He sighed and went out the back exit of the shop.

 

            Later that same day, there hadn’t been much activity in the store. Beth and Leah chatted idly but the conversation of Tommy never came up. In fact they both avoided it as well as they could.

            The door finally opened and Georgia, a woman who worked as a typist a few shops down, entered. “What're you still doing here? Didn’t you two hear?”

            “Hear 'bout what?” Beth looked up from her ledger at the counter.

            “Jessie Eden’s having a rally. All the women at the wire cutting factory’ve walked out.”

            “Really?” Leah raised an eyebrow. She was well aware of the women’s rights activists who often held rallies for better working conditions. They were active in London and sometimes Leah would linger in the back of the affairs just to listen in. But there was no chance she could ever participate. The Midland girls, or the ones at the brothel, could never demand better conditions. Either Rosetta would put them out on the street or have her henchmen bully them into submission. But it was lovely to think about getting respect as a human being.

            “All the women in Birmingham are going down to the Bull Ring,” Georgia said. "Going to make a statement about the equal rights we fucking deserve." 

            Beth looked unsure. “S’just us two, we don’t have any men to complain about.” She and Leah chuckled.

            “Then come and show support for your fellow woman,” Georgia replied with a hand on her hip. “Not all of us can be as lucky as you lot.”

            “If all the women are there then they won’t be coming to get dresses.” Leah pointed out.

            Beth smiled. “That’s a good point. Alright, let’s go support our fellow woman.”

 

            Indeed, it seemed every woman in Birmingham had shown up to the rally. Already, there was a buzz of activity. At the center of the crowd, an older woman was standing on the back of a truck, shouting to the women.

            “Oh dear.” Beth sighed. “That’s Tommy Shelby’s aunt.” She pointed to the woman.

            “Up there?” Leah stood on her tiptoes to see over the crowd of women. “She seems passionate.”

            Polly was yelling about a revolution, adding in curses every other word. She certainly spoke like a Shelby. But Leah wasn't sure that Shelbys were so actively public. They seemed to work behind the scenes to get what they wanted. 

            “She seems drunk as shit.” Beth shook her head and laughed. “Wonder what Jessie’s thinking 'bout what she's going on 'bout.”

            “They seem to agree.” The women were calling out things that needed to change and how they agreed with Polly. "I think they really like her." 

            Beth grinned and shook her head. “Well, I’m glad we can get out for fresh air. Just glad we don’t have to deal with men in our own fucking shop. I’d hate to answer to some wanker who doesn’t know anything.”

            Leah laughed and linked arms with her friend. “Maybe you should be up there yelling.”

            “They’re good for fucking but not for thinking!” Beth hollered. They both burst into giggles and joined the women in demanding equal rights.

 

            Beth decided not to open the shop up again after the rally. Leah went home with a smile on her face. She enjoyed the sense of freedom she got from being there. No longer was she a working girl who had no voice. Men didn’t keep her quiet night after night. They didn’t look at her like she was nothing more than an object to be used.

            As she passed through the door, the phone began to ring. Setting her things aside, Leah went to pick up the receiver. “Ward residence.”

            “Were you at the rally this afternoon?” Tommy sounded tired but not angry.

            “Beth and I went to watch.” She answered truthfully. “I can’t imagine anyone didn’t go, the Bull Ring was crowded. I saw your aunt.”

            He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, so I’ve heard.”

            “They all seemed to like her.” Leah couldn’t help but smile. Polly only got more worked up the longer she stood preaching.

            “She can be more pleasant when she’s drunk.”   

            She laughed softly. “Did you have fun hunting?”

            “Shot a stag, so I can’t complain.” He wished she were there with him. Arrow House always felt unbearably empty after Grace passed. It was a little easier the more Charlie grew. He ran circles around his nanny but was a sweet little boy who always wanted to be outside with the horses. He made the house feel a little fuller. But there was an obvious gap where a mother figure would usually inhabit.

            “Well, I’m glad you could get the time off.” She said softly.

            Tommy nodded absent-mindedly although he had thought about nothing but business the moment he arrived in Warwickshire. And now there was a Bentley parked outside in the drive and he had an idea who might be in his office. “Can I take you out tomorrow night?” He asked.

            “Sure. To the Garrison?”

            “I was thinking somewhere for dinner? Somewhere quieter.” He offered. “That way we could talk.”

            “I’d like that a lot.” Leah bit her lip as she smiled. “You can pick me up at my flat?”

            “I’ll see you then.” Tommy couldn’t ignore what he had to do for much longer. There was information he needed and he knew how he could get it. “Have a good night, Leah.”

            “You too, Tommy.”

            He slowly replaced the receiver and took a deep breath. With another breath, he straightened his shirt cuffs and entered his office.

            “I’m sorry I came unannounced.” Tatiana sat at Tommy’s desk, a playful look in her eyes.

            Something, perhaps dread, settled into Tommy’s stomach like a deadweight. He had a feeling he was going to do something he would regret.

Chapter Text

            Leah loved her flat in Birmingham. It was small, but it was entirely her own. She didn’t need extravagant things to be happy. Her family was simple and found joy in each other. Leah found joy in Jonah.

            Ten minutes before Tommy was due to arrive, Leah knelt beside her bed. She pulled out the box of things she had left of Jonah. Amidst his letters, his tags sat waiting for her to hold them again. The tarnished circle fit comfortably in the palm of her hand. She lightly traced over the letters stamped into the thin metal.

            Would he be pleased she found affection after he passed? Would he feel betrayed? Did she even have any love left? The world had taken so much from her, stripped her bare to the bone and yanked her heart right out of her chest. Could she truly stand up again and allow the world another chance to take something else?

            Leah sighed deeply and gently laid Jonah’s tags to rest among his words. She placed the lid in place again and stood.

            Tommy would be around any moment so she decided to wait outside. She slipped on her coat and smoked a cigarette on the front step. Night had fallen and the street was quieter. Some people walked by, heading home or going out for the evening. Leah greeted some of her neighbors who passed. A chill hung in the dark air. She shivered and noticed her cigarette was hearing its end. So she stubbed it out and glanced down both ways of the street. But there was no sight of Tommy or his car.

            “Just running late.” She assured herself under her breath. To stay warm, she returned to her flat to wait. Perhaps he’d call.

            The seat by the phone had a perfect view of the clock. Several emotions washed over her like the tide. Worry, betrayal, sadness, humiliation. Each worse than the last.

            Finally, three hours later, Leah decided to throw in the towel. She carelessly tore off the dress that she thought he’d admire. The black dress that she felt so beautiful in when she initially put it on. Now it felt silly. She kicked off her heels, the patent shoes knocking against the baseboards. Tears slipped down her cheeks as she wiped away her makeup. She felt so foolish.

            Played by a Shelby.

            Just another whore who fell for him.

            Leah turned off the lights and curled up under her quilt. Forget. She was good at forgetting.

 

            Not even an hour later, she heard a clinking against her window. Leah hadn’t been able to fall asleep anyway so it didn’t wake her. She turned over and watched a few stones hit the glass. With a heavy exhale, she got up and donned a dressing gown. Before opening the window, she looked down to the sidewalk.

            Tommy knelt down to gather a few more pebbles off the street. When he straightened up, he saw the light in Leah’s room turn on. She appeared in the window a moment later. And she looked pissed. But she opened the window anyway.

            “I’m sorry I-”

            “I don’t want to hear it.” She interrupted. “I’m sorry for being such a foolish person. Bea, Beth, Lizzie, they were all right about you.

            “I don’t know what they’ve said to you.” He admitted. “But I promised I would show you who I really am, you’re going to listen to rumors instead?”

            Leah scoffed. “I gave you the chance to show me and you did! You stood me up like I was just some foolish girl, sitting by the telephone hoping you’d call. Well, I’m not waiting ‘round for you anymore, Tommy Shelby.”

            “I said I was sorry.” He groaned and rubbed his eyes. He was too tired to argue.

            “Where were you?”

            “I-I was in Warwickshire.” He answered. “We can talk about it, just let me inside.”

            She shook her head. “No, you can stand out there and explain yourself. Maybe you’ll see how it feels to be left out. What were you doing in Warwickshire? You said you’d be back before dinner.”

            Tommy looked down the road and saw a few people walking by. They only tipped their caps in respect and kept moving to avoid getting involved. “I had to take care of business, love.”

            “Don’t call me that.” Leah retorted harshly. She crossed her arms over her chest and was nearly ready to slam the window shut. “I will not be treated like this anymore. Not after I’ve gotten my life together.”

            He was too fucking tired. “What do you want me to say? I’ve been dealing with some fucking crazy Russian Duchess all night. But it’s important that I-”

            Her nose wrinkled in disgust and her eyes stung with tears of shame. “You were with another woman?”

            “Leah, I…”

            “No, fuck off. I’m sick of hearing from you. Go away.” She snapped and shut the window with such force the glass rattled in the panes. She drew the shades to block him out and retreated to bed. They were all right. She was nothing but a little toy to Tommy. She was new and shiny at first, fun to play with for a bit but he grew tired of her very quickly. Leah cried into her pillow, as she thought how Jonah would never break her heart like Tommy did. Perhaps that was her one and only chance at love and fate had taken it away from her.

 

 

            “Little early for whiskey innit?” Arthur entered the Garrison where he found his brother at the bar alone. It wasn’t even seven in the morning and he was already drinking. The nearly empty bottle next to him.

            Tommy hadn’t slept at all that night. After he chased Tatiana around the house, gun in her hand, he was exhausted. Then he got kicked in the gut when Leah essentially told him she never wanted to see him again. “I need advice.”

            “Alright…” Arthur sat down next to his younger brother. “Something wrong?”

            He nodded. “I had to get information from Tatiana last night, I completely forgot I was supposed to go out with Leah.”

            “Ah…” Arthur nodded and grabbed a sip of the whiskey straight out of the bottle. “You’re in fucking trouble then, aren’t ya?”

            “I didn’t sleep with Tatiana.” He prefaced. “But Leah thinks I did. And I can’t tell her ‘bout the deal.”

            “Well, you could tell her after its through.” The eldest Shelby suggested. Once everything’s settled and you know she won’t tell anyone.”

            “I’m not worried ‘bout her telling anyone. I’m worried she’ll get hurt.” Tommy muttered and finished off another glass. “I’ve gotten all fucked in the head, Arthur. There’s too much going on and Leah…” He sighed deeply. “Can’t keep her off my mind. What do I have to fucking offer her? Can’t be like her husband, can I?”

            Arthur put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You’re not Jonah and she’s not Grace. You two ain’t getting your old relationships back. But maybe you can have something new.” He suggested with gentleness he reserved for the people he cared about.

            Tommy shook his head and still admonished himself for pretending he could give Leah a good life. “I care about her.” He said quietly.

            “I know.”

            He cleared his throat and nodded. “I’ve got to kill that fucking priest.” He muttered and stood up. “I’m ending this. Get John, I've got some information that'll help us with the robbery.”

 

 

            “You seem tired,” Beth noted. It wasn't exactly hard to tell. Her friend was ready to fall asleep in front of the sewing machine. 

            “Oh…yes, sorry. I was up late last night.” She answered and stifled a yawn.

            “Were you out?”

            Leah shook her head and straightened up, trying to wake herself up. “No, I was meant to but Tommy didn’t show. He came later but I told him to go away.”

            Beth sighed. She didn’t want to tell her friend that she predicted this a long time ago. It would only wound her more. She walked over and sat down beside her. “There are plenty of men out there who would love being with someone like you. You’ll have no problem finding someone.” She assured her.

            “I just thought we had something different.” She said quietly. The feeling of humiliation bubbled up in her throat again and she wanted to cry. Yet, she couldn’t let Tommy Shelby win one over her. She had to be strong.

            Beth hugged her friend. “It’ll be okay. Just forget about him. He’s on a path of self-destruction anyway. You don’t want to follow him down that road.”

 

            But there was something in the air. Something unnerving. As if something bad would happen that night. Later, Leah woke up with a start. Her heart was pounding and she was overcome with a strange feeling of dread. Something was wrong. She had no idea that Tommy was fighting for his life at that very moment.

 

            We will take your son. We’ll take that pretty new blonde of yours. The prostitute, Leah's her name, yeah? We'll take her and your son. We can do it at any moment. We have people in your life.

 

            In the bleak morning fog, Tommy sat in his office in Warwickshire and put two calls out. One to his brother and one to Leah at the shop.

            “Hello?” Beth answered the phone behind the counter at the dress shop. 

            “Beth, it’s Tommy. I need to speak with Leah.” He was slowly losing his ability to speak clearly. The ringing in his ears kept getting louder with every passing second.

            “Don’t think she wants…”

            “Just put her on.” He ordered.

            There was a moment of silence before Leah got on the line. “Tommy, I told you-”

            He didn’t have time to argue with her. He needed to get to London before he passed out or dropped dead. “There is a dangerous man who will try to use you against me. He'll try to hurt you to get back at me.”

            “Tommy, what’s wrong? You sound ill.” Panic struck Leah in the chest. She was angry with him, yes, but he sounded terrible on the other end of the phone. She couldn’t help but worry about the man. He was slurring his words but he didn't sound drunk. There was obvious pain in his tone. 

            “Just listen.” He pled in a ragged voice. “Listen to me. Go home, lock the doors, don’t answer the door for anyone unless it’s Ada. If you’ve got a gun, make sure it's loaded.”

            “I don’t understand. What’s happened? Where are you? Are you hurt?” Leah was scared for his life as well as her own. What dangerous man could he possibly be talking about? 

            “I’m sorry…I really am.” He felt his stomach churn and he gagged. “Just…go home, wait for Ada.”

            “Tommy…” Tears formed in her eyes as she gripped onto the phone.

            “Go home. Lock the door.” He tipped forward, his eyesight blurring for a moment. Nausea built up and he had to end the call abruptly. He only hoped Leah listened to him. He couldn’t bear it if she got hurt because of him.

 

 

            After pushing through the agonizing pain and the unbearable dinner, Tommy had given all the information he needed to the Soviet embassy member. The drugs he’d used to stay awake were wearing off and his head felt like it'd been kicked in by a horse. The world spun and he couldn’t think straight. The beating had severely fucked him up and there was obvious damage. But he couldn’t stop thinking about Leah. He needed to make sure she and Charlie were safe. 

            He tried to make it downstairs, Ada did her best to support him but he eventually had to give in and slumped onto the stairs. He was sweating and cringed at every wave of pain that pounded through his body. “Ada…”

            “Yes, Tommy, I’m here.” His sister was in a state of paralyzing fear and confusion. She had no clue what happened to him or what injuries he sustained. He was being cryptic and not giving her much information to go off of. 

            “After you’ve gotten me to the hospital, put a call into Leah.” He swallowed a gasping breath and rested his head back. “Tell her to pack some of her things. She'll be expecting you to contact her.”

            “Tommy I…”

            “Just listen.” He commanded despite his brain giving into the darkness of trauma. His voice hitched and he began having a hard time breathing. “Then send a car, have it bring her to Arrow House. Father Hughes knows ‘bout her. They know. She’s not safe.”

            “Okay but…”

            “Do as I say.” He interrupted her and groaned in pain. “Just…go now. I can’t see, Ada. Go, I can’t see.”

Chapter Text

            “Ada? Ada, please, you need to tell me what’s wrong.” Leah was relieved to hear Tommy’s sister on the other end of the phone but she was still in a panic.

            “Just listen to me, okay?” Ada sounded shaken but she wasn’t going to tell Leah anything just as Tommy had instructed before the doctors took him away for surgery. “There’ll be someone to come and pick you up in five minutes. They’re going to bring you to Tommy’s house in Warwickshire. You need to stay there until I come to explain everything.”

            “I don’t understand…”

            “I promise you’ll be safer if you just do as I say.”

            Leah wasn’t worried about her safety, she was worried if Tommy was still alive or not. “Please just tell me he’s going to be okay.”

            The silence on the other end of the line was terrifying. Ada took a deep breath. “He always ends up okay.”

 

            Leah kept a shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders during the drive to Warwickshire. The driver didn’t speak to her because he didn’t know anything about Tommy’s condition.

            It was late when they arrived at the estate. Leah wasn’t sure she’d ever seen such a massive and imposing home. There weren’t many lights on in the house and the dark night shrouded the manor in a haunting shadow. She stepped out of the car and wondered if she was just in the middle of some frightening nightmare. Tommy was fine and she was still in her little flat in Birmingham. But it felt too lifelike to only be a dream.

            A few lights in the home turned on in the front rooms. The doors of Arrow House opened and an older woman walked out to greet her. She was proper but had a kind look about her.

            “You must be Miss Ward. Miss Shelby said you would be arriving soon.”

            Leah swallowed and nodded. “You can call me Leah.” She said quietly. The night’s events had thoroughly flipped her world upside down and she wasn’t sure how to process any of it.

            “I’m Mary. I’ve made up a room for you upstairs, you must be tired.” The maid welcomed her into the home. There were few lights on giving the home an empty sort of feeling.

            Leah walked in feeling severely out of place. She was only used to the feigned luxury of Midland. She hadn’t been subjected to actual wealth before, not the kind of wealth that Tommy was apparently now used to. She paused and saw a large portrait beside the stairs. She instantly recognized Tommy next to Grace and Charlie. Leah couldn’t help but stare at the woman who once had all of his love. The beautiful woman with blonde hair and an air of class. She appeared to be everything Leah wasn’t.

            “Do you need anything else, Leah?” Mary asked, interrupting the woman’s thoughts.

            Leah shook her head slowly. She felt like she was walking through a fog that was delaying all responses. “No, thank you.”

            “If you’ll follow me.” The older woman showed Leah upstairs to one of the rooms. “If you need anything, just give me a ring.”

            She wasn’t used to being waited on before. It felt strange and Leah certainly felt like she didn’t deserve such treatment. “Thank you.” She replied and Mary took her leave. Leah stood in the room, too shocked to move. She couldn’t get Tommy’s voice out of her head. The pain he was trying to hide from her as he struggled to get out another word. She closed her eyes and felt a tear slip down her cheek. She didn’t want to lose him, not after she’d denied him with such anger. Now he was trying to protect her from whatever danger was looming. She was afraid, more afraid than she’d ever been before.

 

            The next morning, Leah was downstairs early in the morning despite the late night she’d had. She needed to know if any news about Tommy’s condition had arrived. While descending the stairs, Leah heard a giggle from a young child. She followed the noise into the parlor and found Mary kneeling on the floor with a young toddler. He grinned cheekily and scooted a toy car around the elaborate rug.

            “Good morning, Leah.” Mary smiled politely. “Are you hungry? I could have the kitchen make you something.” She offered.

            Charlie twisted around to see the visitor. He looked exactly like the portrait over the stairs. And there was something about him, other than appearances, which made him undeniably Tommy’s son. He was a precious little boy with a cherubic face and a healthy appearance. Leah was sure he was every mother’s dream. But his mother wasn’t there to fawn over him. Now, he could lose his father too.

            Leah’s jaw tightened and she tried to force a smile. “I’m not hungry now, thank you though.” She said to Mary. “Hello, Charlie.” She knelt down on the rug near him.

            The toddler smiled and held out the toy car to her. It was clear why this little boy was Tommy’s pride and joy.

            But Leah was a little apprehensive. With little to no experience with children, she was afraid she would do or say something wrong. “Thank you, darling.” She held her hand out and let Charlie plop the car on her palm.

            “Let me make you some tea, dear.” Mary stood. “If you’ll just watch him for a moment, I’ll be right back.”

            “Oh…” Leah paused but Mary was already halfway out the door. She looked to Charlie who had grabbed a toy horse. He handed it to Leah as well and began to quietly babble nonsense. “Thank you…” She smiled and stiffly held the two toys, not sure what he wanted her to do. It wasn’t like she could talk to him as if he were an adult. She was afraid that if she said anything, she’d look foolish if he didn’t understand a word she said. Without much knowledge on childcare, she wasn’t sure what Charlie was capable of. Tommy mentioned he was two but that didn’t mean much to Leah who had no idea what milestones two-year-olds were supposed to reach.

            As if to answer her question, Charlie stood up albeit shakily and toddled over to the fireplace.

            Instinct kicked in and Leah dropped the toys, jumping up from her spot on the rug and grabbing him before he got near the grate. “No, no, that’s hot.” She touched his shoulders to turn him away from the fire.

            Charlie didn’t seem to mind and merely waddled around the room. “Daddy.” He said out of the blue.

            Leah saw he was standing near a side table that had picture frames placed on it. His chubby little hand was pointing to a picture of Tommy standing beside a racehorse. He stood tall and proud, with a stately look of power in his features and one hand on the reins of the horse. He wasn’t smiling but Leah had a feeling he wasn’t one to smile for a photograph.

            She crouched down beside Charlie to see what other pictures Tommy had. There was one of his wedding, the entire Shelby and Burgess family standing outside the church. Again, Tommy wasn’t smiling; he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his arm linked with Grace’s. But he didn’t look unhappy, he appeared content and his eyes held the same pride that she recognized when he spoke of his son. Grace looked happy; Leah couldn’t imagine why she wouldn’t be.

            “Mummy.” Charlie pointed to a silver picture frame, one that held a portrait of Grace. She looked off to the left with a thoughtful look. She was just as pretty as she was portrayed in the family portrait.

            “Yeah, that’s mummy,” Leah said softly.

            Charlie looked at her quizzically for a moment. He frowned and reached out to touch her blonde curls. “Mummy?”

            “I’ve got hair like hers, don’t I?” Something stuck in her throat. She remembered Tommy’s face all the way back at Midland when he realized she had the same honey curls as his wife.

            Charlie seemed confused, glancing back to the picture then to Leah. He looked to the picture of Tommy again. “Daddy home.”

            Leah chewed on her lip. “He’s not here right now.” She kept her voice soft as she spoke to him. “But he will be soon.” She gently straightened a piece of Charlie’s soft brown hair.

            He smiled back at her and returned to his toys. Leah was relieved she didn’t have to explain Tommy’s absence to him. She followed him back to the center of the room and sat down again.

            Mary returned a few moments later with a tray of tea and breakfast. “Leah, Miss Shelby is on the phone for you. You can use the phone in Mr. Shelbys office in the next room.”

            “Oh…thank you.” Leah stood up; hopeful Ada would give her good news. She found Tommy’s office, the large room colder than the rest of the house. Tommy’s desk was fairly organized but with a few loose papers scattered about the large space. She sat down across from his desk chair and picked up the telephone. “Ada?”

            Ada was relieved to know that Leah had arrived safely in Warwickshire. Her brother had kept mumbling on about not letting Leah or Charlie be alone for a second. He repeated himself all the way to the hospital and right up until he was put under for surgery, the words becoming a slurred mess as the damage took its toll. In the end, he was only able to get out Leah and Charlie’s names. Ada held his hand going into the hospital and assured him they would be kept safe.

            “He’s woken up from surgery just a few hours ago. He’s still pretty…” His sister bit her lip. “Incoherent.”

            Leah felt some relief that he was awake. But there was no telling what the chances were for recovery. “What did the doctor’s say? Will he be alright?”

            “They think so. They’re trying to keep him from moving as much as they can while he recovers.” Ada tried to get the haunting images of her brother lying on the bed, the brace around his head and neck like a cage. His gaunt face pale, the stitches on his scalp, and his piercing blue eyes staring blankly up at the ceiling. Every so often he would make a sound of discomfort but there was nothing she could do to help him.

            Leah pressed a hand to her chest. “If you could just have someone drive me, I can be at the hospital soon I…”

            “No, he-he doesn’t want you to come to the hospital.” Ada had asked Tommy, thinking maybe the woman’s presence would make him feel more comfortable or secure. But he mouthed the word ‘no’, not able to shake his head. “It would be best right now if you just stay in Warwickshire.”

            “Ada, I want to see him.” Leah insisted. “I need to know he’s okay.”

            “I’ll keep you updated every hour if you need me to. But trust me, you won’t want to see him like this.”

            Leah’s stomach knotted up and she held back tears of confusion and grief. “I don’t understand though, why am I in danger? What happened to him?”

            “I can’t explain it over the phone. I’ll be around in the next day or so to talk to you. For now, just stay there and don’t go off alone.”

            The instructions only made Leah more concerned. But she didn’t know what else to say. “C-can you just…when he’s more awake, can you tell him that I-” She cleared her throat and shook her head. “I’m sorry and I care about him.”

            “I will,” Ada promised.

            “And tell him that Charlie’s asking for him.” She added.

            “Okay.” His sister took a deep breath to steady her heart. “I’ll call back once he’s talking again.”

            Leah nodded absentmindedly. “Okay. Okay.” She whispered as if trying to convince herself that things would improve.

Chapter Text

            Tommy had spent almost two months in the hospital. Ada kept Leah at Arrow House, never telling her which hospital he was at. But she updated her every day of his progress. He was staying awake longer periods of time, he could remember certain aspects of his life, he was speaking in full sentences, he was eating again, he could sit up, and he was just starting to take a few steps.

            Leah appreciated Ada’s help but it wasn’t enough. She needed to see Tommy with her own eyes to know he was okay. But she couldn’t go dropping in at every hospital in the nation. Most likely, Tommy had made it so he was under a different name or instructed the nurses not to allow anyone to visit. So she had to remain at Arrow House. Beth called, concerned about her well being, but Leah had to assure her she was okay. She would return to work when Tommy returned.

            In the meantime, Leah grew attached to Charlie. It was difficult not to, he was such a sweet little boy. Always smiled when he saw her and began calling her Lee. She took on the role of putting him to sleep at night, telling him stories she recalled from her own childhood. She knew she was digging herself a deeper and deeper hole the more she bonded with him. Soon, she would be back in Birmingham. There was a possibility that Tommy didn’t even want her to be in that role of caretaker. She couldn’t be Grace, so why would he want her to act as a pseudo-mother to his only son. One night, Leah was bringing Charlie up to bed. He was already fast asleep, his cheek resting on her shoulder, clinging to her like a little monkey.

            Leah stopped halfway up the stairs. She looked up at the large portrait of the Shelby family as it once was. Initially, she thought Charlie only looked like his father. But now she was starting to see bits of Grace. Perhaps he acted like her too.

            She chewed on the inside of her cheek, rocking slightly to keep Charlie lulled to sleep. She wished she could ask Grace, bring her back and ask if what she was doing was okay. Of course, if she could bring Grace back, she would bring her back for Tommy. He’d be happiest that way. She knew that if Jonah were returned to her, she would be so happy. It made her feel unbearably guilty, despite the vows she’d made with her late husband.

            Charlie sighed softly and burrowed his face further into her shoulder. She smiled sadly at him and brushed a piece of his hair out of his eyes.

            Human relationships were too complicated to remain free of wounds.

            Before she could finish walking upstairs, Ada came in from the side door. She saw Leah holding Charlie as if he were her own. She knew Tommy would be thrilled to see that. He wanted Charlie to grow up with a mother despite losing Grace.

            Leah acknowledged her but quietly said she wanted to get Charlie to sleep and then they would talk. So Ada lingered in the front room, glancing up at the same portrait Leah had been standing by.

            “Did you see him?” Leah asked when she returned from Charlie’s room.

            Ada nodded and set her coat and purse down. “He asked about you and Charlie.” She smiled. “He was glad to hear you two were getting along well.”

            Leah had to force a smile. “That’s nice to hear.”

            The Shelby woman could see the pain behind her eyes. “I know it’s not easy just standing around. But the doctor said a few more weeks…”

            “A few more weeks?” Her eyebrows knitted together in grief. “Ada…

            “I know, I’m sorry. But he’s not eating like he’s supposed to and I keep telling him-”

            “Just let me see him,” Leah begged quietly. “Tell me where he is, he doesn’t even need to know you told me. I’ll say I heard from someone else. I just can’t sit here and wait for him. I want to be there for him.”

            Ada wrung her hands together. She recalled her brother repeating himself firmly. ‘Don’t bring her here, Ada, I’m serious, she can’t come here’. But the look in Leah’s eyes was heartbreaking. Ada knew what it was to be in love and she could see it in the woman’s eyes. “Alright.” She said quietly. “Alright.”

 

            “Told Ada not to let you come here.” Tommy sat on the edge of his hospital cot with his back to her. He knew she was standing in the doorway. The nurse had come in moments ago asking if he wanted to see Leah. He was too desperate to see her and couldn’t refuse the inquiry. That’s why he told his sister to keep her away. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to refuse her.

            In the hospital room, he was weak and he didn’t like to appear weak. But most of all, he didn’t want her to worry about him. It was hard not to the way he looked. He had just started to walk again, even if it was just a few staggering steps at a time, and his vision was restored although it was blurry here and there. The pain was still an issue, though he was well-drugged most of the night and when he needed it during the day.

            “She didn’t tell me where you were. I heard it in passing. I was worried and I...I just wanted to see you were doing better.” Leah spoke quietly. The hospital setting was starting to make her nauseous. “Ada told me what state you were in when they admitted you. I know what you told her but…” Her voice gave in. How could she tell him the truth without sounding foolish? She had panicked because she thought she was going to lose someone else in her life and the foundation she was trying to set would crumble again.

            Tommy sighed deeply and pressed his hands into the cot to stand. He couldn’t just ignore her now that she was there. His arms shook and his knees buckled as he began to slowly rise.

            Leah dropped her things and hurried to help him. “It’s okay, you can stay there.” She took his arm as he sat back down.

            The man sitting in front of her wasn’t the man she knew before. Seeing him made her want to cry. He was even more gaunt than usual, his cheeks sunken in, dark circles beneath his eyes. His skin was pale and sported discolored blotches where he’d been hit the worst. Worst of all, she could see the stitches on his scalp. His hair had been shaved for the emergency surgery and it was only just starting to grow back.

            “Tommy,” Her voice was weak with shock. Ada’s warnings couldn’t prepare her. “Who did this to you?”

            He just shook his head. There was no way he was going to tell her about the Oddfellows or Father Hughes. The less she knew, the safer she’d stay. If he could just keep her in Warwickshire, away from it all, he would be satisfied. But he knew it wouldn't be enough of an answer for her. 

            “Tommy.” She touched his cheek but was almost afraid she would break him. He seemed so fragile, a massive juxtaposition from his usually stoic and unbending manner. 

            He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. It was a welcome feeling when all he’d felt nothing but agonizing pain and mind-numbing highs for two months. “Ada said you were getting along with Charlie. She said he loved being around you, always asks for you.” He changed the subject.

            She smiled slightly and nodded. “He’s precious, isn’t he?”

            “Always seems to fuss with me.” His chest tightened painfully when he tried to chuckle. "Always preferred Grace to me." He shrugged. 

            “I’m sure he misses you. He always talks to your pictures in the parlor and when we visit the horses, I think he’s looking for you. Always thinks you're going to show up on one of the horses.”

            “Just glad he has someone to be there for him now. Been afraid he's been lonely.” He took a deep breath. “I know I’m not enough for him.”

            Leah stroked her cheek against his sharp cheekbone. It was clear he hadn't been eating enough. He was painfully thin, especially in the face. “That’s not true.”

            “Mhm.” He felt the familiar dull throbbing in his head start up again. That usually meant he was due for another dose of morphine.

            Like clockwork, the nurse came in. “Mr. Shelby,” she was holding a glass vial. “It’s time to rest.”

            “She’ll stay.” He replied firmly.

            Leah went to stand. “Tommy, you should rest.” She said softly. "I don't mind, I could come back tomorrow if you'd like me to." 

            “I can rest while you’re here.” He argued weakly and took the vial from the nurse. He down the clear liquid and reclined back in the hospital cot. Leah stayed sitting on the edge, resting her hand on his knee. He closed his eyes and reached blindly for her hand. “Lay with me.” He requested silently. After two months, he was starving for her affection again. She didn’t argue and curled up into his side. She rested her palm over his chest so she could feel every inhale and exhale he took.

 

           

 

            After another month in the hospital, Tommy could return home to Leah and his son. He was still healing but decided he would fare better in a more comfortable place than the hospital.

            He’d had been sleeping in more albeit he didn’t sleep through the night. His pain kept waking him up. He’d clench his teeth through the pain and try to focus on Leah sleeping peacefully beside him. She never woke up, or at least not when he did. She always stayed close to him through the night, hardly pulling away even an inch. It gave Tommy security that he hadn’t had in the hospital. It made the long nights a little more bearable. And eventually, his body became too exhausted and would succumb to sleep whether he was in pain or not. He didn’t want to smoke opium around Leah or Charlie so he made sure he didn’t have access to any at Arrow House.

            One morning, Mary brought the regular dose of morphine and Leah set it on the nightstand for Tommy when he woke up. She let him sleep, going downstairs to eat breakfast and entertain Charlie for a bit so Mary could have a break.

            Once another hour passed, Leah went back upstairs to check on him. She found the bed empty, so she glanced in the open door of the bathroom.

            Tommy stood at the sink, her back to her as he poured the morphine down the drain. He heard her come in but didn’t stop until the bottle was empty.

            “What are you doing?” Concerned, Leah walked in and saw what he was doing. “Tommy, you-” She reached to stop him but the liquid was gone, swirling down the drain. “Why did you do that?”

            He set the vial on the sink's edge. “Not taking it.” He replied with frost in his voice as he passed her in the doorway. And that was the end of the conversation.

            Leah picked up the glass and sighed. She had no idea how many doses he’d already chucked since he returned home. Perhaps she should’ve been monitoring him more. When she left the bathroom, he was getting dressed.

            “Tell Mary to bring my breakfast outside.” He instructed quietly.

            Leah ignored his slightly demanding tone. She knew he was tense and frustrated by his slow recovery. He pushed himself, desperate to return to the man he once was. The man who had to run a company and take care of business as well as revenge. It took patience to take care of him and she thought that was one of her strongest suits. As long as she was tender and tolerant of his curt requests and clipped replies, the house would be calm.

            Tommy was a man who hated being knocked down. The last three months in the hospital had been hell for him, practically cemented to the bed by his injuries. He was keen on exacting his just revenge and carrying out his plan. He spent the time scheming and had nearly driven himself mad. Now that he was back home, he had some semblance of humanity and identity back. But he was still annoyed by how useless he felt. His brain was still foggy and the pain was nearly unbearable.

            “Easy!” Leah grabbed his arm before he tore a stitch by dressing so quickly and forcefully. Tommy never treated his body well, especially when he was injured. Both Mary and Leah had to remind him to eat and get some rest or he would never heal. Yet he was just as stubborn as ever.

            Tommy let his hands go limp as Leah gently did up the buttons of his shirt. Her slender fingers composed and delicate, unlike his jerking movements as he fought with the pain. She slipped his braces over his shoulders and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. Tender, loving care. That’s what he needed even if he didn’t know it. He stood still, closing his eyes for a moment and actually taking the time to breathe. Even if he didn’t say it enough, he appreciated her unwavering affection.

            “I’ll sit outside with you.” She offered. “Want me to bring the paper for you?”

            He nodded. “Please.” His voice softened and he grazed his thumb over her cheek.

            Leah left with a smile.

 

            The air was warm and the sun was welcome after so many weeks in the hospital. It put him in a significantly better mood but it would sour after he opened the newspaper and found nothing but a jumbled mess of black ink. He squinted and brought the pages closer to his eyes and then further but nothing worked. The letters were blurred and he couldn’t make out a single word. He blinked a few times, trying to adjust his eyes but the blur persisted.

            “Something wrong?” Leah asked.

            Trying to keep his frustration under wraps, he only shook his head. “Nothing.”

            “Someone’s here.” She pointed out.

            Tommy set the paper down and saw Johnny Dogs walking across the lawn. “Just a friend.” He assured her. Leah often asked who attacked him or whom he was trying to protect her from. But he never let on much.

            “You called for me, Tom?” Johnny asked when he got near the iron-wrought table.

            “Yes, just for a quick word. Leah, this is Johnny Dogs, an old friend.” Tommy introduced the two.

            “Nice to meet you.”

            “Heard a lot ‘bout you.” Johnny smiled. “Enjoying paradise here, aye? Tommy’s kingdom?”

            She laughed softly and nodded.

            “Leah, would you go inside and check on Charlie?” Tommy asked. “I need to have a few words with Johnny.”

            She nodded and stood up. She kissed his cheek before heading back to the home.

           

            Leah played with Charlie a bit before he got restless and asked to see the horses. She looked around for his coat but couldn’t find it anywhere. Mary was in the kitchen, so she decided to ask Tommy if he knew since he was the last to take Charlie for a walk.

            She knocked on his study door and waited for his reply. “Tommy, have you seen Charlie’s…” She paused when she saw another man sitting in the study. He immediately gave her an odd feeling, something that settled deep in her bones. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were in a meeting.”

            The man stood up. He had an appearance built for intimidation. His intimidating frame was created by a large coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He wore a scruffy beard and calculating eyes. “Don’t apologize, love. Just having a friendly chat.” He reached to shake her hand, his fingers adorned by thick, gold rings. She noticed a tattoo branded on the top of his hand.

            “This is Alfie Solomons, a work acquaintance,” Tommy told her with a reassuring nod.

            “Nice to meet you,” Leah said quietly and shook his hand politely.

            “You’re the girl Tommy stole from Rosetta, ain’t ya?” He asked brashly.

            Having never met the man before, Leah was surprised he already knew so much about her. “I uh…”

            “Right? That’s you, innit?” He interrupted her.

            “Alfie.” Tommy gave him a warning tone.

            “With all due respect, Mr. Solomons,” Leah found the words after a brief moment of confusion. “I left on my own free will.”

            Alfie narrowed his eyes at her for a moment before cracking a smile. “Yeah, can see why Tommy likes you.”

            Leah smiled but was still uncomfortable in the man’s presence. She glanced over at Tommy who was standing by the liquor. “Tommy,” She sighed and snatched the whiskey bottle away from him as she went for the door. “You’re not supposed to be drinking.” Before he could protest, she left the study.

            He raised an eyebrow but didn’t argue. He set the crystal glass down and went to light a cigarette instead.

            “So, when’s the wedding then, Tom? You gonna invite me this time or am I going to have to fucking read ‘bout it in the paper again?” Alfie asked and sat back down with a heavy grunt. He rested his hands on his cane and glanced up at the Blinder.

            “I’m not planning a wedding anytime soon, Alfie.” He replied and took a long inhale of the cigarette.

            “Right…” Alfie ran a hand over his beard. “You’re going to let her have the baby ‘for you marry her then, following the same plan, aye?”

            “She’s not pregnant,” Tommy replied coolly and tapped some ash off into the crystal tray on his desk.

            Alfie furrowed his eyebrows. “You are fucking insane, then aren’t you?”

            “Not sure what you’re referring to.”

            “Mate, you ain’t ever gonna catch me letting a whore into me fucking house. Two seconds in and she’d be robbing me with a fucking gun pointed at me crotch, wouldn’t she?”

            Tommy wasn’t angry with Alfie; he knew the man was just either trying to get a rise out of him or just talking for the sake of talking. “Leah’s not a whore, she works at a dress shop in Birmingham.”

            The Jewish man peered at Tommy silently for a moment, scratching at his scruffy cheek. “Right…well, s’nice to see you’ve found another thing to fill that hole where your fucking heart oughta be. Really romantic, innit?”

            “You’re here to talk business, Alfie.”

            “Business, yeah, but what’s a little chit-chat between friends, aye Tommy? Just trying to make small talk.”

Chapter Text

            That same night, after Alfie Solomons left and Tommy dealt with some business, Leah was putting Charlie to bed. He was already half-asleep but kept mumbling for her to stay and tell him another story.

            Tommy came in a moment later to kiss his son goodnight. He smiled at Leah who was sitting beside the toddler’s bed. “How many stories have you told him tonight?”

            “Five.” She laughed softly. “I might be running out ideas soon. I'm not that creative.” She admitted.

            “Daddy, story,” Charlie demanded with a big yawn.

            “Not now, Charlie, s’time to sleep.” He answered and leaned down to kiss his son’s forehead. “Leah’s already told you plenty of stories.”

            “Tomorrow will be another brand new day. I'm sure the sun will be out and shining. We'll go outside and visit the horses. Maybe we can eat lunch outside with daddy? What adventures we'll have.” Leah murmured softly and tucked Charlie tighter into bed. “You’ve got your Ted?”

            He nodded and hugged the curly-haired teddy bear to his chest. “Story.” He repeated again.

            “When you fall asleep soon, you’ll have lovely dreams. Dreams of other worlds.” She touched his cheek affectionately. “And dreams are better than any story.”

            Tommy stood up and watched her gently coax Charlie to sleep. It seemed like she’d been raising children for years or was just a natural. It eased the guilt he had for leaving his son while he was in the hospital. At least now he knew he had been in good hands the entire time.

            Finally, Charlie’s eyes slid closed and he dozed off. Leah stood and gave Tommy a smile, walking out of the bedroom with him. “Ada was right.” He said quietly when she closed the door behind them. “You treat him like he’s your own.”

            Leah winced subtly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to replace Grace or…”

            He simply shook his head and touched her shoulder to guide her down the hall. “Charlie needs someone like you in his life. It’s not a matter of replacing her. She’ll always be his mother. But I feel much better knowing he’s got someone who cares deeply about him. Makes me feel like he isn’t as alone.” He opened the bedroom door for her.

            Leah nodded but she wasn’t too sure. Anyone else would probably be better than her. She was worried she was getting too caught up in a life she would never have.

 

 

            Grace stood in front of him. Wearing that dress. That damned sapphire. She looked pristine and with a calm and serene look on her beautiful features.

            That’s when Tommy noticed the gunshot wound. The blood seeping through the silky champagne of her gown.

            “Grace…” Tommy tried to go and help her but found himself immobile. Helpless, just like before.

            His late wife merely hushed him. “It doesn’t hurt, Tommy.” Her Irish lilt echoed right through him.

            “Grace, I’m sorry I-”

            “Wasting time on apologies, Shelby?” Tommy hadn’t seen Jonah Ward in years, yet there he stood, clear as day. The man stood tall in his uniform. The clothing clean and poised. Yet, his torso was torn open just like it had been on that fateful day. Still, he looked just as at ease as Grace did beside him.

            “Jonah…” Tommy’s stomach turned. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know where she was. I should’ve-”

            “Tommy.” Grace interrupted. “We’re gone. We’re not in pain anymore. But look.” She directed his attention elsewhere in the haze.

            Leah was clutching her stomach, a look of agony plastered on her face. “Tommy.” She gasped in pain and lifted her hand. Blood coated her palms and trickled down her arms.

            “She’s in pain, Tommy,” Jonah told him quietly.

            “It could be anywhere,” Grace added in a frighteningly calm voice.

            Every time Tommy blinked, the wound changed position on Leah’s body. To the heart, her stomach, her neck, her shoulder, and finally she dropped to the ground. A clear bullet wound through her head. Her hazel eyes open and glazed over. A thin trail of blood dripped from the corner of her red painted lips.

           

            Tommy woke up shouting. His body was drenched in a cold sweat and his stomach was twisted up in knots. His scream startled Leah awake and she jolted up. Blindly fumbling through the darkness, she reached for him.

            “Tommy?” Her fingertips grazed against his shaking form. “Wha’s wrong?” She blearily blinked through the sleep in her eyes.

            He didn’t answer. The haunting image of Leah dead on the ground had him trembling violently. He'd seen gruesome scenes before, men blown to bits, missing limbs. But seeing Leah in that state was his worst possible nightmare. It was bad enough he actually had to witness Grace go through that pain. He wouldn't allow it to happen again. 

            “Tommy.” Leah’s eyes began to adjust to the dark. She saw his diminished form, hunched over and clutching his knees to his chest. “Tommy, you’re okay.” She attempted to embrace him close to her.

            Still, in shock, he flinched and wrestled her arms away. He was terrified it was the spectral form of Grace, there to show him more gruesome images. But the ringing in his ears gave way and he could finally hear Leah calling his name. He suddenly became too weak and gave in. His hands reached up, clinging to her tightly. The tips of his fingers bruised into her shoulder. But he needed to know she was real. He needed to know that the nightmare was nothing but the product of a damaged mind. One of his hands knotted into her hair, his fingers searching her scalp for any bullet wound. But all he felt were her silky curls. No broken skin, no clots, not a trace of blood matted to her hair. Tommy’s heart rate went down and he let out a breath he felt he’d been holding in for hours.

            Leah didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to ask what his night terror had been about. She was afraid to know. Instead, she held him tightly, not releasing him until she felt him doze back off.

           

            Another two weeks passed and Tommy felt like he was back to his usual physical condition. His mind had some mending to do. But his memory was far better and he’d been outfitted with glasses. Leah said he looked dignified while wearing them.

            Leah.

            He’d assumed his time for love had ended with Grace and his heart had been buried with her. But that was far from the truth because he loved Leah. He loved her patient and understanding nature. He loved her maternal charm with Charlie. He loved the way she smiled at him as if he were the only thing that made the sun rise in the sky every morning.

            She’d been there for him during his recovery. No one else had quite the strength she did for taking care of him. Not when he was moody, in pain, and frustrated with the slow progress. But she eased his hurt both physically and emotionally.

            She told him stories of her childhood and he recounted his days as a boy. It was nearly impossible not to fall for her quiet manner. He knew her losses and she knew his. They’d both been ripped open and had the devil take his share of their souls. But it was wonderful to see her smile. It made Tommy feel like there was still more he could have. He could be a good father and be good for Leah as well.

 

            Such a long time had passed and Tommy was starting to feel his regular urges surface. He thought it strange how their relationship had come to bloom. They’d seen each other at their most vulnerable within minutes of meeting one another.

            Now, after months of carefully developing a relationship, Tommy was afraid to overstep boundaries they’d already crossed. He wanted to respect her recovered esteem and although they had shared many tender moments over the weeks, he stepped carefully. Still, he showed his affection, peppering in gentle touches and stolen kisses throughout the day. He adored the way her eyes shone with warmth after they parted from a kiss.

            But Tommy was still just a man. A man who had spent months in the hospital and was now finally back to his usual self.

           

            After Charlie was put to sleep, Leah was exchanging a book in Tommy’s study. She’d been reading much more during that time than she ever had. It was nice, although Tommy didn’t keep romance novels, only ones with a more serious tone. And she was a little shy to ask for Woolf or Bronte books.

            Tommy found her in the study, scanning the spines of the books on the shelves. Her head tilted slightly to read the titles. He shut the door behind him and came up behind her.

            She gave him a brief smile to greet him but kept her eyes on the books.

            He slipped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. “Finished another one?”

            “’Fraid so.” She touched his hand. “I’ll have to start rereading them.”

            “We’ll just have to get some more then.” He chuckled and pressed a soft kiss to her jaw. “Or I could keep you busy another way.” The tip of his nose grazed along her neck.

            Leah’s cheeks warmed and she tipped her head to the side to give him the go ahead. She wasn't thick, she knew exactly what he was hinting at. And she wasn't going to turn him down because it was as if he'd read her mind. She craved him just as much as he did her. “Yeah?”

            “Yeah.” He murmured in a low voice. “I need a good fuck.”

            “Well, are you asking me or are you just stating a fact? Because I don’t think that’s a very polite way to ask.” She replied with a coy glance over her shoulder.

            He smiled and gently turned her around to face him. He picked up her hand tenderly and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “Miss Ward, would you care to join me in the bedroom?” He murmured.

            She laughed softly. “Lead the way, Mr. Shelby.”

 

            It didn’t take long to find that electricity between them again. In fact, it was nearly instantaneous the second Tommy kicked the bedroom door shut and kissed her deeply. He felt like a dehydrated man who’d been crawling months through the desert. Now he was slowly being revived.

            “Tommy.” Her breath was soft against his lips. It made his knees go weak. She had no idea the power he held over her.

            He knotted his fingers in her hair and backed her up against the wall. “Tell me what you want.” One hand clutched her thigh, hitching her leg around his waist.

            “You.” She gasped the reply. “You, Tommy. I only want you.”

            It was enough to give him the go ahead. He began kissing at her neck, scattering bruised love bites by her collarbone and shoulders.

            She clung to him, her nails digging through his button-down shirt. The feeling was overwhelming and washed away any doubts she had about his affection for her. So much so, that the words slipped out of her mouth. “I love you.” She sighed.

            Tommy lifted his head to meet her eyes. He looked shocked, but not angry or repulsed. His lips parted slightly and he waited a moment. “Say it again.”

            Flushed from his touch, Leah felt out of breath. But she still had enough air in her lungs to repeat it. “I love you.”

            In a snap second, Tommy began to unbutton her blouse, his fingers fumbling themselves. “Again.” He requested firmly.

            Following his lead, she started to tear at his buttons too. “I love you.” Each time she said it aloud she became more confident in the meaning.

            He managed to tear a button off the blouse, letting it skitter to the floor and through a crack in the boards, never to be seen again. “Again.”

            “I love you,” Leah spoke softly as he scooped her up in his arms once they were both rid of their bothersome clothing

            He pressed her to the bed and kissed her again. Drawing back to discard of the rest of their undergarments. “Again.” He was desperate to hear those words from her as many times as he was allowed.

            “I love you.”

            “Fuck.” Tommy gasped out when he entered her. He dropped his head and mouthed at her neck, tugging at her earlobe with his teeth. “I love you.” He finally reciprocated. “I love you…Leah, I love you.”

            Leah couldn’t keep him close enough. There was always a gap between them no matter how tightly she pulled him against her. The experience was almost too much for her physical and mental body to handle all at once. She felt tears in her eyes as she realized she’d found love again. A man she trusted with her life and soul. A man she trusted her heart with. “I love you.” She whimpered. “Tommy, please…” She begged.

            He kissed her when his climax hit him like a train. Her body trembled under him and he muffled her mewl of pleasure. Soaking it all in and injecting it into his bloodstream.

            Out of breath and panting, Tommy pulled off her and flopped onto his back beside her. He rested a hand on his stomach as he refilled his lungs. But he didn’t want to take too long to recoup. He turned on his side and pulled Leah close to his chest. She curled into his body. The two of them laid with each other for a moment in silence.

            “I do love you.” Tommy disrupted the quiet room.

            “I know.” She replied without any hesitation. “I could see it in your eyes.”

            He kissed her hair and rubbed her back soothingly. “Sleep, love.” He murmured. “I’m not going anywhere.” He promised. He was suddenly reassured that they had lifetimes to talk to each other, including how much they loved each other. 

            Gratefully, Leah closed her eyes and felt him draw the blankets around their intertwined forms. “I love you.” She whispered one more time before she dozed off.

            “I love you too.” He murmured. He wanted things to stay that way forever.

 

            But three months of planning were about to go into effect and Tommy needed to steel himself for what was to come.

           

            “Off to the races?” Leah came to the bedroom with her contagious smile. “Or to meet with the prime minister?”

            Tommy chuckled and stepped away from the mirror. “Off to Birmingham.”

            “Really?” She raised an eyebrow and walked over to him. She straightened his shirt collar and coat lapel. “To bring me back?”

            They hadn’t discussed her return to Small Heath or her job. Tommy wanted to delay it. Warwickshire seemed the safest place to be at the moment. But he felt guilty for keeping her cooped up. He knew she liked being around Charlie and him, but she also enjoyed her job and the friends she’d made in the city.

            “The Grace Shelby Foundation is opening the orphanage this morning.” He explained. “They’re holding an event to celebrate.”

            “Oh, exciting.” Leah smiled warmly. Tommy had told her all about the ambitious project and how invested his late wife was in it. He’d been determined to make sure her wishes went through and Leah admired that about him.

            He tried to smile but it felt fake. “I would like to bring you along but…”

            Leah shook her had. “No, I understand.” Her smile stiffened as well. “You’re a public figure.”

            Tommy grazed his knuckles over her cheek. “That’s not it.” He murmured.

            “I’m not daft, Tommy,” Her voice lowered with shame. “You can’t have me on your arm. It would be inappropriate and if people knew who I was…”

            “Leah.” He interrupted her with a firm and steady voice. His blue eyes held hers with sincerity. “Grace worked as an agent of the crown. Her entire family is made up of military officers and my family is…well.” He tilted his head to the side. “We had Charlie out of wedlock and everyone knew. So don’t think I give a fuck what people think about my relationships.” He said firmly. “Because I don’t. You staying out of the public eye is for your own safety.”

            She took a deep breath. What would she be risking if she believed him? If she deluded herself to believe she could become a woman like Grace? It didn’t matter what he said. Grace was respected; she had a respected family and established herself as the woman of the house. A mother and wife.

            Leah couldn’t even imagine the circus she would create if she were spotted on Tommy’s arm at his late wife’s charity event. A whore turned shop girl. A woman that Tommy had once paid for. Someone Tommy had risked a lot for. Britain’s finest would think he was a mad man and she was a witch that cast a spell on him. Money hungry and selfish. A woman who turned tricks and made fools out of men. How dare she take the place of lovely Grace Burgess? Disgraceful.

            She could’ve been speculating but it brought tears to her eyes nonetheless. Tommy noticed the tear slip down her cheek. “Look at me.” He instructed softly.

            “No matter what, I’ll always be that girl.” She whispered. “Always.”

            “Hardly anyone would know, and if they did, who cares? I don’t care what that lot thinks. What matters is I know the kind of woman you are.” He wiped her tears away.

            “Alfie Solomons…”

            “Fuck what Alfie has to say. He was just trying to get a rise outta me.” He explained. “No one will decide who you are, aye? You make your own presence in this world.” He kissed her forehead.

            Leah swallowed. “I never would have believed you before.” She admitted. “But you don’t treat me like that person. You never did, you treat me like an individual.”

            “You deserved to always be treated like that.” He insisted. “And anyone who treats you differently will have to answer to me.”

            She smiled through her tears and hugged him tightly. “I love you.”

            Tommy closed his eyes for a moment and indulged in the hug. She molded perfectly with him. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

            Tommy left a little while later with Charlie. Without the little boy around, Leah realized how quiet the large home became. Suddenly she didn’t have to watch out for him anymore, worrying about his well being every moment of the day.

            She hated it. She would much rather chase Charlie around all day than be by herself with her thoughts. The silence allowed her doubts to fester and plague her rational thoughts. The idea that she wasn't meant to be there. She was a fraud, living out some hope of being a wife again. The hope of being a mother. 

 

            She tried to jot down a few of her thoughts, just to get them out of her head. But it only seemed to make matters worse. Around noon, she decided to get some clean air and go out for a walk.

            “Mary?” Leah called through the house but the maid didn’t seem to be nearby. Figuring she was in the kitchen or on a well-deserved break, she decided not to bother her. She was only going to circle around the property so she didn’t feel the need to inform anyone. Tommy had insisted she stay within sight of someone trusted, but she didn’t understand the gravity of her mistake.

            After bundling up in a coat, she headed out and began a brisk stroll around the back towards the stables. She noticed a black car passing down the road but didn’t pay it much mind. The road was usually quiet but she spotted the occasional car. She continued towards the back pastures near the edge of the forest. There was a chill in the air that she hadn’t been expecting. Her shawl wasn't quite enough to fend off the wind that rolled through the grounds. She hugged herself and kept up her brisk pace to stay warm. It was too soon to turn back. 

            The hairs on the back of Leah’s neck rose when she heard footsteps behind her. Heavy boots pounding through the grass wet with dew. She didn’t want to turn around to see who was behind her. It could very well have been just someone who worked on the grounds. Or maybe a hunter passing by. But the footsteps only got louder as the unknown person approached Leah with speed. At that moment, she knew something was very wrong. She tried to quicken her steps, never looking back.

            Still, the man caught up to her without issue. He grabbed Leah by the waist and she screamed. Instincts took hold. She tried to claw at his arms, kicking and flailing about to free herself. But his arms were like iron around her. He covered her mouth with a cloth to muffle her screams. Leah inhaled twice more before falling completely limp.

            Father Hughes’s men fled Arrow House with Leah before anyone could stop them.  

 

            Tommy’s world was crashing down around him. That fucking priest had taken his boy. He slammed the phone into the wall and stormed into his office. Anger surged through his veins in such a violent panic. He felt he was going to be sick again but there was nothing left in his stomach. His head spun and he had to grab his desk to keep from falling over.

            “Tommy.” A few minutes later, Polly arrived in the doorway. Her nephew was completely shattered. He sat at his desk, his head dropped, hands knotted in his hair. She was heartbroken to see him in such a state. And the news she had would only send him further into a tailspin.

            “Was it Moss?” He asked, having heard the phone ring moments earlier.

            “No, it was Mary.” She answered.

            He lifted his head. “What did she want?”

            “It’s Leah.”

            His stomach lurched again. “No.” His voice was like a distant roll of thunder. The low warning of a storm approaching. The last bits of his sanity clouded over by rage. “Don’t fucking tell me.”

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

            Tommy’s arm swept everything off the side of his desk. He stood up pounding his fists into the wood. “Why was no one there to protect her?” He shouted, finally losing all restraint. "Who was watching the house? How could they just take her?" 

            “No one can read your mind, Thomas.” His aunt retorted and approached the desk. “If you wanted men watching her then you should’ve sent them to do so.”

            “Can’t fucking trust anyone anymore can I?” He demanded and glared at her. “Someone told the Odd Fellows. Someone exchanged information and now they have my fucking son and Leah.” The only two people who gave him the strength to make it through each and every day. Now they were gone.

            But not for long. Tommy stepped over the mess on his floor and passed by his aunt. She tried to touch his shoulder to comfort him but he shook her hand off. “Stay by the phones.” He ordered. “There’s something I need to do.”

           

            Leah woke up on a stone floor. It was obvious she wasn’t at Arrow House anymore. But she didn’t recognize the small room at all. She sat up slowly, her head pounding and entire body aching. There was a small whine as her vision cleared. Charlie toddled over to her, tears running down his cherub cheeks. He looked visibly upset and appeared to have been crying for some time. 

            “Sh, sh, it’s okay.” She fought against the groggy feeling from the ether and fell into her new instincts of comfort. She picked up the toddler and cradled him close to her chest. “I’ve got you.”

            “Daddy.” Charlie whimpered and clung to her tightly.

            Leah’s eyes searched the room for any clues as to where they were or who had brought them there. She got a sinking feeling in her gut when she remembered her last moments awake. There was no telling who her kidnapper was. Tommy never was very clear with the danger he was so wary about. Or perhaps it was Rosetta still trying to get revenge. Whatever the scenario was, it looked grim. There was no telling how far away they were from Warwickshire or Birmingham. They could be anywhere and Tommy may never be able to find them. 

 

            She would get her answer to some questions almost an hour later. The minutes dragged on in fearful silence. Charlie had quieted down and fell asleep on the little cot in the corner. Leah tried the door but it was locked from the outside. There was one window above the cot but it was slim and touching the ceiling. Still, she had to keep calm for Charlie’s sake. He would be able to sense her panic.

            Finally, there was heavy clinking from keys on the other side of the door. Leah slowly backed up towards the cot, ready to defend Charlie if need be. The arched door opened and a priest walked in. Confused, Leah just stared at him. A priest? A man of God had kidnapped them?

            “You look puzzled, Miss Ward.” The Irish man seemed smug with himself as if all of his plans were panning out perfectly. 

            “Who are you?” She replied quietly. “What do you want?”

            “I don’t want anything from you, I’m afraid Mr. Shelby will be the one doing all the work.” He answered, toying with the young woman in front of him. He had complete power over her and there was nothing she could do to help herself. “All you can do is pray he’ll follow our orders and you’ll be returned safe and sound to that gypsy bastard.”

            Leah dug her fingernails into her palm. She wanted so desperately for all of it to be a terrible nightmare. But reality remained, stabbing her in the stomach and making her ill with worry.

            “Best you behave just yourself, Miss Ward.” The priest continued. “I know you were a whore before Mr. Shelby swept you off your feet. Cause me any trouble and I’ll hand you over to my men.”

            Tears formed in Leah’s eyes. Her knees buckled at the sound of being forced to return to the ordeal she once willingly put herself through. Now, she knew what it was to love again. She’d felt safe and secure once more. To have that ripped away from her would be like carving off another part of her soul. “Please.” She begged. “You can’t leave Charlie on his own. I’ll do anything but please, I just want to stay with him.” Despite his holy appearance, she couldn’t trust the man wouldn’t harm the young child.

            “Then we have an understanding.” Father Hughes gave her a satisfied smile. He turned and left the room, locking it behind him.

            Leah curled up on the cot. Charlie was still asleep, not disturbed by the conversation. She gently pulled him into her arms and held him close. She closed her eyes and prayed for mercy. If God was ready to take her, then so be it. But she wanted Charlie to live.

           

Chapter Text

            The hours passed by, each one feeling like another day. Leah did her best to keep Charlie calm. She occupied him with a few trinkets that had been left in the room. He whined for Tommy but didn’t have a complete tantrum. Leah was afraid that if he cried, it would anger their kidnappers. The quieter they were, the safer she felt. The priest’s threat continued to haunt her. She flinched at every noise, afraid he was coming back to take her away from Charlie.

            But they were left alone. Father Hughes brought them food and tried to make her more and more uneasy. All she could do was try to keep her head down and block him out.

            The sun was starting to set. The light from the thin window was fading. Leah found some matches and a small candle to try and keep the room a bit brighter. The closer it got to nighttime, the more scared she became. What sort of timeframe had Tommy been given? What did he have to do? She was terrified he had to do something that would bring him harm or have him locked up.

            With nothing else to do, Leah couldn’t help but ruminate on the panicked thoughts. As Charlie napped, she sat on the edge of the cot, her knees pulled up to her chest. Her breathing got shallower and anxiety crept up on her like the growing night.

           

            Another hour passed and the room was completely dark save from the dwindling candle. Charlie slept but Leah couldn’t close her eyes.

            A loud noise startled her already frayed nerves. She stood and waited for the door to open. Instead, there was a sound of a confrontation outside. Scuffling could be heard on the other side of the wall. Charlie stirred and began to whine. His forehead wrinkled in concern and he reached for Leah.

            “Sh, it’s okay.” She soothed as she picked him up and found a spot in the corner far from the door. Trying to keep him calm amidst the chaos outside was tough. The little boy clung to her, crying for Tommy and Grace. Leah felt tears rise up in her throat and dread sink low in her stomach.        

            Finally, after a long minute, the people outside went deathly silent. Leah closed her eyes and prayed under her breath. The clanging of keys met the door and it slowly opened.

            Still cowering in the corner, Leah did her best to shield Charlie with her body. Could she possibly fight them off? Would that make the situation worse? Could she have Charlie spared?

            “Leah?” The voice was soft and filled with concern, unlike the priest.

            She lifted her head and saw a young man, no more than twenty standing in the doorway. He was soaked in blood; both his well-tailored clothes and face were splattered in it. Leah’s mouth opened in shock. She didn’t know what to make of the man.

            “It's okay, you're safe. I'm not going to hurt you. I’m Tommy’s cousin, Michael.” He explained and approached her cautiously. His whole body was shaking just like Leah was.

            “O-oh, yes, he’s spoken about you.” She replied, her voice trembling. Carefully, she set Charlie down and retrieved a blanket off the cot. She handed it to Michael. “Are you hurt?”

            He shook his head, his eyes glazed over and an absent-minded stare stuck on his face. “No.” He whispered and raised the blanket to carefully wipe away the blood on his face. “I’m not hurt.”

           

            After the harrowing run-in with Father Hughes, Michael was nearly catatonic. He sat in the back of the car, almost motionless, his eyes staring forward. Residual blood streaked the side of his face but he didn't seem to notice or care. Beside him, Leah held Charlie in her lap, the toddler happy to be outside again. Pointing out the window when he saw a pasture of horses and cows. They drove to the office where Polly and Ada were waiting anxiously.

            Leah wasn’t sure whether or not she should cry. She hung back as Polly and Ada embraced Charlie, comforting the crying child. It was as if she could feel her heartbeat in every inch of her body. The ground suddenly didn’t feel stable at all, as if she could fall through the floorboards at any moment.

            Ada saw the damage on Leah’s face. She’d seen it when Tommy had brought her from Midland. The uneasiness in her eyes, the nature of a wild animal, ready to skitter away at any moment. She kept everything compacted in her chest, holding it to her heart and refusing to let the world bear her pain. It was a woman who had learned what grief was at far too young of an age. The roots she once had were ripped out. Now, as she tried growing them back with Tommy, they’d simply been torn out again. It was any wonder why she would try again. The Shelby woman walked over and embraced Leah. That's all she could do to assure her she was safe. 

 

            Leah returned to Warwickshire with Charlie. She considered going back to Birmingham, but she didn’t want to leave the little boy. Deep down, she knew it wasn't just for his sake though. He had Mary and the other help who could take care of him. But Leah had no one if she returned to Birmingham. Charlie was a good distraction and a comfort too.

             It was nearly midnight when they returned to Arrow House. The stars sparkled above when they walked in through the door. The quiet countryside around them was a bit unnerving. Leah was afraid someone would be hiding in the large house or outside in the expansive grounds. There were so many places to hide, so many shadows to conceal evil. 

            “Let’s get you to bed, love. You must be tired.” Leah scooped up Charlie to bring him upstairs. She kept her eyes sharp and listened for any sound that would indicate danger. 

            Mary came out of the study when they walked into the front room. “Leah, Tommy’s on the phone for you.” She explained.

            Her heart beat painfully against her chest. She nodded and took Charlie into the study. “Want to speak to daddy?” She sat at Tommy’s large desk, pulling the telephone close. She picked up the receiver and held it to Charlie’s ear. “Say hello.”

            Charlie grinned when he heard his voice on the other end. He began babbling cheerfully as if nothing had happened. “Daddy! Sleepy!” He giggled.

            Leah chewed on her lip, her leg shaking anxiously. She had no idea what to say to the man.

            Eventually, Charlie twisted out of her lap and he rushed over to Mary who was lingering by the door. “I’ll put him to bed.” The older woman assured her and shut the study door to give her privacy.

            She hesitated before lifting the phone to her ear. “Tommy?”

            The sound of relief in Tommy’s voice was like a warm ocean wave crashing onto the shore. “Leah.” He breathed out and took a moment to compose himself. “You alright? You’re not hurt are you?”

            “No, no, I’m okay.” She said quietly.

            “I’m so sorry if I had known…” His voice cut out and he took a moment. It felt like he’d been holding his breath ever since he heard Father Hughes and kidnapped her and Charlie. “I should’ve had more people protecting you.”

            Leah pursed her lips and dropped her head low. She was too exhausted to even attempt to cry. Her body ached like she'd been walking miles all day. “You don’t have to apologize.”

            “This is my fault. This wouldn’t have happened if I had been more careful. I never meant for you to get involved.”

            What could she say to the man she loved? The man who was so deep in the underworld that he had started to drag everyone else around him down too. Charlie couldn’t choose his father and the rest of the Shelbys couldn’t choose who their family was. But Leah had a choice. She could choose to leave that very moment.

            “I understand if you’re scared. This isn’t what I meant to happen.” Tommy continued when the other line remained silent. “I can’t tell you to stay. If you wanted, I could give you a new life somewhere else, somewhere as far away as you want. But just know that if you stayed, I would give anything for you.”

            Leah covered her eyes with a hand. “Tommy, I wouldn’t be able to get too far.” She broke the quiet of the study. “I love you, I meant that when I said it to you. I love Charlie and I wouldn’t be able to leave either of you. I am scared.” She admitted. “But I’m scared for you. I’m scared what you’re getting yourself into. Do you realize how much it would damage me and Charlie if something happened to you?”

            Tommy closed his eyes. The telephone booth was starting to become too small to breathe. The grime and dirt he was covered in was itching at his skin. The day had been so emotionally overwhelming for him. He began to cry, hunched over the phone.

            “Tommy? Love, are you still there?”

            “I’ll see you in the morning.” He choked out and hung up before she could ask again.

 

            The next morning, Leah tried to return to a normal day. She figured that Charlie would be happiest if they restarted the routine they’d had before. It might even make him completely forget the ordeal. Eventually, he would forget. He was too young to remember it for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Leah.

            A few hours after breakfast, Tommy came home and wasted no time lingering around. He rushed upstairs, sprinting down the hall and into Charlie’s room. The toddler squealed happily when his father dropped to his knees and scooped him up. Tommy reached out an arm and drew Leah into the hug as well. He held them both tight, burying his face in her shoulder and he didn’t let go for a long while.

Chapter Text

            Leah sat in the bathtub for a long time that same night Tommy returned. She wanted to wash the day away and she was afraid to go to sleep. The fear of going to bed and finding out it was all just a dream was too frightening to even attempt. She didn’t want to wake up to find herself still trapped in that dim room.

            Tommy couldn’t sleep either. After putting Charlie to sleep, he sat up in the bedroom chain-smoking. Every so often he heard movement from the bathroom. Leah moving her hand or adjusting her legs in the tub. After a good hour of soaking, he decided to check in with her. He stood up with a groan. His body was aching from the time he spent in the tunnel. Walking stiffly, he knocked on the doorjamb of the open door before entering the bathroom.

            Leah had her knees tucked up to her chest. Her eyes were fixed on the gold plated faucets of the tub. She heard Tommy walk in but didn’t acknowledge him. She was too deep in her thoughts.

            Tommy sighed and sat on the edge of the tub. “Water must be freezing by now.” He commented.

            She lifted her chin slightly but didn’t look at him. “I hadn’t noticed.” Once he mentioned it, she did begin to feel how much time must’ve passed without her realizing.

            “Maybe you should come and get some sleep,” Tommy suggested gently.

            Her lips parted but she hesitated. Clutching her knees closer, she shook her head. “I’ve had dreams before…really vivid dreams.” Her voice was hardly above a whisper. “I’m waiting for Jonah at the train station. He gets off the train and he’s smiling like he used to whenever he saw me.” A tear slipped down her cheek and fell into the bathwater, creating a small ripple. “He takes me into his arms and says we should go back home. I bring him back home and everything’s exactly like I left it last. Then he says how happy he’s home and how much he missed me. He says he can’t wait to spend the rest of his life with me.”

            Tommy bowed his head. He knew how heartbreakingly real dreams like that could feel. Whether it be nightmares of losing Grace or having dreams of her sitting there and holding Charlie. The first moment Tommy met his son. Grace smiled and introduced him to Charles Shelby. 'He looks like you already.' She always said in the voice he missed so much. 

            “It’s so real, Tommy.” Her voice broke and more tears spilled out of her brown eyes. “Then I wake up and have to remember all over again. Remember the letter I got, remember that I'll never be able to bring him home." 

            He reached over and gently wiped the tears from her cheek. “I’m sorry. I wish I knew how to stop dreams like that.”

            “I’m afraid that this is one of those dreams. I’ll wake up back there in that room with Charlie. I’ll wake up and I’ll remember that you’ve been killed. I’ll have to remind myself that you’re gone and no one is left. No one to even remember I still exist.”

            Tommy stood and grabbed a towel that was sitting nearby. “C’mere, love.” He held out a hand to help her stand and step out of the tub. Her legs shook as she found steady footing on the tiled floor. He wrapped her up in the towel and held her close. “This isn’t a dream. You’ll go to sleep and you’ll wake up here, I promise.”

            “That’s what Jonah says.” She choked out a whisper. “He always tells me this time its real. He’s really home. It isn’t a dream.” Her damp hair pressed to his dress shirt. "It's always a dream but he lies and tells me it isn't." She sobbed. "He lies, Tommy." 

 

           

            Leah wasn’t in the mood to talk after that. She stayed up late in Tommy’s arms. She fought back against the exhaustion in her eyes. Her grip was tight around him, nearly convinced that this was their last time together. She would wake up and find out he’d been killed. So if this was a dream and if this was their last time together, she didn’t want to let go.

            But the night wore on and she couldn’t hold on for much longer. Her hands loosened on him and he noticed her eyes start to slide shut. Tommy stayed still so he wouldn’t accidentally wake her.

 

            Luckily, Leah was so exhausted she didn’t wake up for the rest of the night. In fact, she slept through most of the morning as well. She barely even stirred when Tommy carefully unwrapped her from his body and got dressed. He went out to have tea on the lawn. Mary was outside with Charlie, letting him run around like a mad man.

            Tommy sighed and turned his face to the sun, basking in the rays. It was always a blessing to inhale the clean air. He remained in that peaceful moment until he heard Charlie call.

            “Lee!” The little boy rushed over to her.

            Looking much better rested; Leah smiled and scooped him up, resting him on her hip. She said something to him but Tommy couldn’t hear. She came closer to the table and set Charlie down to go back to Mary.

            “Did you sleep well?” Tommy asked as she took a seat next to him.

            She nodded. “Thank you for staying up with me.” Her eyes held his. “And listening to me.”

            Tommy stubbed out his cigarette and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I know what it’s like to have dreams that are so real like that.” He reached up to brush a curl away from her face, gently tucking it behind her ear. “I tried everything to stop them. And if I had the solution, I would give it to you.”

            Leah swallowed and tried to force a smile no matter how painful it was to handle sometimes. “I know they’re just a fact of life for me now. I’m just glad I’ll have you there when I wake up.”

            He smiled and nodded. “So have you thought about what you’re going to do?” It seemed like a natural way to bring up the conversation. She wanted him close enough that she’ll see him when she wakes.

            Leah looked out over the expansive lawns of Arrow House. It truly was something of English paradise. But she still couldn’t see herself staying there. It was as if she were just a guest, not able to fit anywhere. She would never be a portrait on the walls or in the picture frames in the parlor. That was something she just couldn’t expect. “I don’t know, Tommy. I really don't know what to think anymore.” She said quietly. Her voice carried away by the gentle breeze. 

            His eyes didn’t leave her face. In stark contrast to her beliefs, Tommy couldn’t imagine Arrow House without Leah. The months she’d spent with him made her such a concrete installation. He wanted to be guaranteed that she would always be there when he arrived home from Birmingham or London. Wanted her to be waiting for him reading in the parlor, tucking Charlie into bed, making herself tea in the kitchen, or dozing off in bed clutching his pillow close to her. He felt she was safer in Warwickshire, or at least he held onto that excuse just to have her near.

            “Lee!” Charlie yelled from across the lawn as he ran over to them. “Ponies!” He pointed in the direction of the stables.

            Tommy smiled. “Charlie, she’s just woken up. Why don’t you just go see the horses with Mary?”

            “It’s alright.” Leah smiled and kissed Tommy’s forehead before standing. “Let’s go see the horses.” She took Charlie’s already outstretched hand.

            They crossed over to the path leading around the house to the stables. Tommy watched them before they turned the corner. Charlie babbled on to Leah who walked slowly to accommodate his little stride.

           

            A little bit after Leah and Charlie went for a walk, Polly came outside to speak with Tommy. The entire had begun to arrive at Arrow House upon Tommy’s request for a meeting.

            “Is Leah still sleeping?” She asked and sat.

            Tommy offered her a cigarette. “No, she’s gone with Charlie to visit the horses.”

            “He adores her.” His aunt nodded and lit the cigarette. “Thank God she was there to keep him safe from that fucking monster.” She was still reeling now that she knew her son had killed the priest. Michael would never be the same, she knew that.

            Tommy fiddled with his lighter, his eyes moving across the yard, over the well-manicured gardens and the blue-gray sky. “Pol, I want her to stay.” He told her honestly.

            “Stay here? She isn’t already?” Polly furrowed her brow. Leah had been in Warwickshire so long; perhaps she’d just assumed she was going to stay. The older woman had seen how protective Tommy was over her and how they seemed to just click. There was obviously something between them not to mention how much she cared about Charlie. Practically taking responsibility for him even if she hadn’t been asked to.

            “I think she’s thinking of returning to Birmingham,” Tommy informed her. “But, I was thinking of asking her to marry me.”

            It was a shock to Polly. Arthur had tentatively told her how Tommy and Leah met. She knew she was a Midland girl but was once married to a man in the same unit as her nephew. At first, Polly was hesitant to trust a working girl, especially when Tommy was so broken after Grace’s death. But over time, it was clear she wasn’t after him for status, money, or revenge. Polly had seen her tending to Tommy after he returned from the hospital, patiently dealing with his irritated state. She’d seen her tenderly caring for Charlie as if he was her own.

            But marriage. It seemed so sudden and out of the blue. “Oh God, you’ve gotten her pregnant.” Polly raised a hand to her forehead. God help her and her nephews who reproduced like rabbits.

            “No.” Tommy shook his head. Of course, that wasn’t the worse thing that could possibly happen to him. There were far worse scenarios that he knew were about to take place. But Leah pregnant would be a welcome distraction from what he was about to do.

            “Then you’re rushing into things.”

            He frowned in disapproval. “Why? She’s lived her for months. I love her, what does it matter how long it’s been?”          

            “Have you asked her if she would truly want to stay and be the woman of a house like this? If she wants to marry into the Shelby family?” Polly inquired.

            He was quiet for a moment because of course, he hadn’t. Questions like that would only give away his intention.

            “I would think about it a bit more before you decide something so serious like marriage.” His aunt suggested gently. “I know you love her. But you need to remember where she comes from. Not from Midland, but from a very damaged past, just like you.”

            Tommy simply stood and buttoned his coat, checking his pocket watch. “I have to take a drive somewhere.” He said vaguely. “Will you tell her I’ll be back soon?”

            Polly nodded. “Nearly everyone is here, John and Esme will be on their way.” She told him before he could walk away.

            “Have them wait in the big room for me.”

            “What about Leah?”

            He paused. “She can be there too.”

Chapter Text

 

 

            "Tommy, I don't know if I should be here," Leah said quietly to him as he sat himself down behind the desk. The rest of the Shelby family began to filter in. "If this is a family matter..." 

 

            He cleared his throat and reached for a cigarette. "You're practically family now." 

 

            That was debatable to her. She enjoyed Tommy's family; they never gave her a fuss. Ada was always kind as was Polly. His brothers were rough around the edges but they were in good spirits just as Jonah had written all those years ago. But there would always be something holding Leah back from feeling like she was a part of the Shelby family. 

 

            "Perhaps I should go wait upstairs with Charlie instead." 

 

            Tommy was quiet for a moment. He pondered the suggestion with his cigarette. "Right, you can go upstairs." He agreed. If she didn't feel comfortable at the meeting then he wouldn't make her stay. "This won't take too long." His eyes fell to Arthur and John. 

 

            "Alright." Something in the atmosphere of the room felt a little strange. But Leah couldn't place what it was. Instead, she kissed Tommy's temple before leaving. He felt like a stone. 

 

~~~~~~~~

 

            Leah went upstairs to Charlie's room. She played with him to distract herself from the tense feeling she had in the big room. 

 

            "What's that?" She placed his toy car on the floor in front of him. 

 

            The toddler picked up the toy and smiled. "Car!" He chirped proudly. 

 

            She smiled warmly. "Such a smart little boy." There was a lingering thought she'd been having for a few weeks. The idea that she wanted to see Charlie grow. It was a natural reaction to caring for the child for an extended period of time. She could imagine it was exactly how Grace once felt. She simply wanted to see her son grow up. 

 

            Charlie leaned forward and grabbed the hem of Leah's skirt to grab her attention. "Lee!" He waved the car about in the air. "Car!" 

 

            "That's right." She held out her hand so he could wrap his little fingers around hers. 

 

            "Mumma." 

 

            "Hm? Oh, yes, Mummy's over there." She pointed to the side table by Charlie's crib. There, Grace's photograph sat after Leah asked Tommy if she could move it to the baby's room.

 

            Charlie stared at her with his big eyes. "Mumma." He tugged at her hand. 

 

            "Want me to go get the picture?" Leah stood and retrieved the silver frame. She carefully placed it in his hands. 

 

            He stared at the picture of the woman he was slowly forgetting. Each memory he had of her, slipping away every day he grew just a little bit older. Then, he looked up at the woman who had been there for what felt like ages in Charlie's young mind. "Mumma." He pointed at Leah. 

 

            "No, that's your mum." She redirected his gaze to the picture again. A feeling of guilt crept up on her and she tried her best to reinforce Grace's presence. 

 

            Confused, Charlie furrowed his brow and stared at Grace. He returned the picture to Leah's hands, not sure what to make of it. His short attention span turning back to his toys. 

 

            Leah stood again and placed the picture back on the table. As she did, she began to hear shouting from downstairs. It was faint at first but it grew louder. Not sure how Shelby meetings usually went, she wasn't sure whether to be concerned or not. 

 

            "We'll fucking hang!" 

 

            Leah was startled by the words and hurried to the door. 

 

            "Lee!" Charlie stumbled to his feet and waddled over to her. 

 

            "Sh, sh, it's okay." She scooped the boy up, resting him on her hip. Loud footsteps stormed into the house and the shouting only got more out of hand. Afraid, she went to the top of the stairs and saw Arrow House had erupted into chaos. 

 

            Police had rushed the house and began to arrest the Shelby family members. The brothers kicked off, shouting at Tommy, their wives screaming angrily. Leah stood frozen, horrified and confused at the scene below.

 

            "I've made a deal with people even more powerful than our enemies." Tommy's voice could be heard above the fray. He walked out of his office while the officers were dragging his family out of the home. 

 

            And just like that, it was all over. Everyone had been removed and driven away. 

 

            Shaking slightly, Leah walked downstairs with Charlie. The little boy was whimpering fearfully and clinging to her. 

 

            Tommy was standing in front of the open doors, watching the last paddy wagon pulling off. 

 

            "Tom?" Leah's voice quivered. "What've you done?" 

 

            He turned around and walked over to her. "You wouldn't understand. I needed to make sacrifices to keep everyone safe." He ran a thumb over Charlie's cheek to soothe him. 

 

            "W-will they be alright? You're going to get them out, aren't you?" She whispered. 

 

            "It'll take some time." Tommy nodded. "But yes." 

 

            A chill came in through the open doors. The day seemed gray and Leah realized her bad feeling from earlier had been warranted. "What will happen to you?" 

 

            "Everything will be alright. We'll be fine, aye?" He rested a hand on her hip. 

 

            "I still don't understand." She didn't know how or why he'd done such a thing to his own family. 

 

            "I wish I could explain everything to you." Mixed emotions crossed his face. He needed to be certain that everything would work out according to his plan. It was far too late to doubt himself. 

 

            Leah nodded silently. She stepped closer to him and wrapped an arm around him. Tommy hugged her and Charlie close, his back to the open door. 

 

~~~~~~~~

 

            A month after the police raid, Leah was still in Warwickshire. She couldn't find the strength to leave. She'd grown too attached to Charlie and was too in love with Tommy. However, she'd seen a change in the man after what he'd done. 

 

            He worked behind open doors and often traveled to attend meetings. It was difficult to keep the business running without his family's help. But he always returned to his son and the woman he intended to marry. 

 

~~~~~~~

 

            Friday, Tommy arrived home earlier than expected. When Leah went downstairs to greet him, Charlie at her heels, she saw the vardo outside. 

 

            "I thought you wouldn't be home till tomorrow?" Leah asked when he kissed her cheek and picked up Charlie. 

 

            "Canceled a meeting. I was thinking you'd like to go on a little trip with me?" He wondered. 

 

            Leah's parents often took her camping during the summer holidays so she wasn't afraid of roughing it in the English countryside. "Okay." She agreed. "Where would we be going?" 

 

            "There's a woman I need to speak with. She's a traveler but I know her usual whereabouts." He answered. "Shouldn't take more than two weeks." 

 

            Leah silently hoped it would take the full two weeks. She'd been extremely concerned about Tommy. He hardly ever spoke about business to her. Never told her who his meetings were with or what they about. Never spoke about his family, although Leah knew from Ada that John, Arthur, Michael, and Polly were all still in prison for murder. She worried about them. 

 

            She also worried about Tommy. Every night he was in Warwickshire, she had to remind him what time it was. Even then, he wouldn't go to bed. Instead, working right through the night and into the morning, surviving off of whiskey and cigarettes. 

 

            Leah hoped that the journey would be good for his health. "And we'll bring Charlie along?" 

 

            He nodded. "I'm sure he'll enjoy time outside." 

 

            She smiled for the first time in what felt like weeks. "I'll pack a bag then." 

            It was a completely different side to Tommy, one Leah never knew existed. She’d been so used to the man who always wore three-piece suits and appreciated luxury items. But it didn’t matter if he had everything he had always wanted as a child. He was still a Traveler by blood and would never forget that.

            But it was still obvious that he was troubled. He tried to keep up a stoic front but Leah could see the thoughts racing in his mind. She couldn’t blame him for feeling so unnerved, but she had to give him credit for what happened to his family. He had orchestrated everything. Whether or not it was for the greater good or not wasn’t for Leah to decide.

 

            They found Bethany Boswell a day after they arrived in Wales. Tommy asked Leah to stay behind with Charlie while he approached her. The meadow they met in was open so Leah could see them speaking but couldn’t hear anything.

            It felt strange not knowing so much about Tommy’s business dealings. Leah wasn’t sure whether she should be more assertive and demand he disclose that information to her. In reality, she didn’t know whether she wanted know or if it would really change her view on him. She knew he did bad things; she had done bad things as well. There was a huge period of time after Jonah’s death that Tommy didn’t know much about. He didn’t know the things she’d done to stay alive.

            What she wasn’t unsure about was her love for him. Perhaps she was foolish and didn’t realize that one day she might have to pay the price of loving him. The price that most people in Tommy Shelby’s life paid. Sometimes with their life, sometimes with their freedom. Why should she be spared?

 

            They camped that night by a lake in Wales. Tommy hadn’t mentioned anything about what he spoke to Bethany about. He simply put Charlie to bed, kept the fire going, and checked on the horses every so often.

            Leah stayed up with him, her mind too active to sleep. She curled up by the fire, wrapped in a fur blanket. Tommy sat beside her, smoking and watching the sparks pop and fly out of the flames. His hand kept fidgeting, tucking into the pocket on the inside of his coat.

            She felt guilty for doubting him so much in the past few weeks. She was sure that he was taking on enough of a burden for what he did.

            “Tom?” Her voice disrupted the quiet sounds of the nocturnal creatures around them.

            “Hm?” He didn’t look at her, too consumed with his thoughts. Had he done the right thing? Would his family ever forgive him? Did he deserve to be forgiven? Would this be enough to silence his enemies? Would any of it be worth it?

            Leah’s warm hand touched his cheek and guided his gaze to her. Almost instantly, the anxious thoughts in his head quieted. “I’m worried about you.”

            He reached up and rested his hand over hers. “I know. I’m sorry, things aren’t good right now.” He agreed.

            “They’ll get better, won’t they?”

            “Yes.” He needed to be confident with his decision or things would fall through. With a heavy sigh, he stood up. “Can you swim?” He asked.

            “Not very well, but yes.” She nodded with a confused look. “Why?”

            “Need to clear me head.” He answered vaguely and began to unbutton his shirt.

            Leah’s eyes went to the lake and she laughed quietly. “Are you mad? It must be freezing.” She replied.

            “Good way to clear your head.” A faint smile formed on his lips. He stripped down to his boxers and walked away from the fire, heading for the lake’s bank. “Stay by the fire if you’d like.” His tone was a little taunting and Leah rolled her eyes.

            She stood and folded the blanket. She left it on the steps of the vardo, peeking inside to make sure Charlie was still asleep. Turning, she heard Tommy enter the water with a small splash, diving under for a moment. She walked over to the edge of the lake, waiting for him to resurface.

            The moon was bright, uninhibited by clouds and it cast a crisp glow over the small lake. The colors of the world had bled and faded, resulting in what looked like the scene in a movie picture.

            Tommy’s black hair reappeared a few feet away and the moon highlighted his pale skin. He pushed his hair from his face and looked out to Leah. “Not that cold.”

            Leah sighed and began to remove her blouse and skirt. She could feel Tommy’s blue eyes on her when she stepped into the water clad in only her undergarments. It was colder than she would’ve liked but could be tolerated after fully submerging.

            Tommy swam over to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. He kept his feet on the mossy stones covering the bottom of the lake. His eyes were electric in the pale moonlight, almost glowing. “Would you like to know what I was speaking with Bethany about?”

            It was completely out of the blue and Leah wasn’t expecting it. “If it’s your business, then don’t feel like you have to tell me. I respect your privacy.”

            He chuckled softly and dragged his fingers up her bare spine, catching on the water droplets. “You treat me like you work for me sometimes.”

            A blush spread over Leah’s cheeks. “Sorry, I know I don’t fit in sometimes.”

            “You fit in just fine.” He assured her. “You’re just unsure of yourself.” He pressed his forehead to hers and let out a slow breath. “I brought Bethany a ring to make sure it was free of any bad luck. It’s for you.”

            Her eyes widened a bit. “Oh, Tommy, you didn’t have to get me anything. There’s no reason…”

            “I would think a proposal would be a good enough reason.” He replied.

            “Proposal?”

            “Leah, would you consider marrying me?” His tone was serious but eyes were filled with hope.

            “Tom…”

            “I know this isn’t a orthodox situation.” He prefaced before she could decide on a whim. “But I love you and I want Charlie to have someone like you in his life. He deserves that much. And I feel like you’ve brought me back to life, even when I was at my lowest.”

            Leah swallowed and cupped his cheek with her hand. “I love you.” She insisted.

            “But you don’t want to marry me.” He could hear the doubt in her voice. Although he wanted nothing more than to be hers, he knew he didn’t deserve someone like her. She was far too gentle and patient for a man like him.

            “That’s not it. I just don’t know if I’m right for you. Or right for Charlie.” She chewed on her lip and averted her eyes from his.

            “You’re afraid of me, afraid of what I’ve done.” He leaned into her touch. At least he could have this last night with her if she truly wanted to leave.

            “No.” She shook her head. “Should I be?”

            “Would never hurt you. Would do everything I can to protect you. Lee,” He tilted her chin up. “I just want you as you are.”

            “You really want to marry me?” Her eyes finally returned to his.

            “Yes, of course.”

            She waited in silence for a moment before kissing him. Her hand pressed into the back of his neck to keep him close. Her touch was needy and quick.     

            He wrapped his fingers around her wrist, slowing her down, wanting to savor the moment. She kept him on the edge, waiting for her decision while they kissed.

            After what felt like ages, she drew away and nodded. “I’ll marry you.”

Chapter Text

            “She’ll throw me, Tommy, I know she will.”

            “She’s harmless, wouldn’t put you on a horse that would throw you,” Tommy assured her and walked the gentle mare over.

            They were back at Arrow House after the trip to Wales. Tommy’s spirits had lifted considerably after Leah agreed to marry him. It made him much more confident that he would be able to restore his family to the way it used to be.

            “I’m sure she’s sweet but…” Leah sighed and chewed on her lip. “Promise you won’t let me fall?”

            Tommy stopped in front of her, reins in hand. It was a beautiful day in the countryside and he offered to teach Leah how to ride. The groom had tacked up the ten-year-old mare that had been retired off the track for years. A beautiful roan that hardly ever spooked at anything. “I’ll be right beside you.” He nodded.

            She took a deep breath. She’d gotten more accustomed to the horses on the grounds. Charlie went to visit them every single day. Although the little boy was a little braver than she was when it came to the large beasts. It took some convincing to even consider getting up on a horse.

            “I’ll give you a boost.” Tommy offered and held out a hand.

            Leah walked over and carefully stroked the mare’s shoulder. “Hello, Molly.” She said softly. “Go easy on me.”

            “I’ll push you up by your knee,” Tommy explained. “Go on three.”

            Leah took hold of the saddle and rested her knee in Tommy’s hand. On the count of three, he helped boost her up into the saddle, grabbing her leg to make sure she didn’t over jump and slip off the other side.

            “Oh boy…” Leah laughed nervously. “A lot higher up than I thought.”

            “You’re alright, I won’t let go.” He assured her and helped adjust the stirrups’ length. “Better being out here than inside, aye?” He checked the girth and handed her the reins.

            “It is a nice day.” She agreed and nervously took hold of the reins.

            “Thumb on top, that’s it.” Tommy caught sight of the engagement ring on her hand. It gave him a feeling of pride and joy that he cherished during those tough weeks after his family’s arrest. “Alright,” He clicked his tongue. “Walk on, Molly.”

            Leah’s fingers tightened around the reins when the mare began to plod on at a slow walk. Tommy kept an easy stride with them.

            “See you’ll be galloping ‘round before you know it.” Tommy smiled up at her.

            “Oh, I don’t know about that.” She laughed nervously. “Better take it slow.”

            It was stunning to see the differences that made them so compatible. Tommy couldn’t remember the first time he’d ever ridden a horse. Most likely his family of Travelers chucked him up on one the second he could walk. But he was reckless as young as he could remember. He’d suffered a few brutal falls for being so sure of himself and always wanting to go faster.

            He always wanted more out of life and Leah was content to take her time and be patient. For so long she wasn’t given the privilege of being able to take her time. Life seemed to be a never-ending cycle of sleeping during the morning and entertaining strangers at night. Not once could she ask for time off or to be given a break. Now, Tommy gave her the opportunity to truly find her identity again.

            Despite their differences, Leah did her best to keep Tommy’s anxiety and stress under control to a certain extent. Of course, there wasn’t much she could do when he was away for work but when he returned back to Arrow House, she offered him a haven. A place to escape everything.

           

            Summer faded and one day, Tommy announced that Polly, Arthur, John, and Michael were all out of prison. He didn’t tell her that they were half a second from been hung. Despite this news, the family still seemed to be shattered beyond repair. Tommy didn’t like talking about it much.

            Arthur and John had moved out to the country and refused to speak to Tommy. Polly was lost in the tablets and suffering greatly from the trauma she’d met with. Michael and Ada were the only ones who stuck around.

            Leah knew that Tommy pretended not to care. If they couldn’t see the good he’d done for the family then that was on him. But it was obvious he was deeply troubled by the rift in the family and company.

 

            The upcoming holidays didn’t make anything easier. The large house seemed so lonely with just the three of them, and then just the two of them when Tommy was away for business. Leah could feel him drifting away. She assumed everything would remain strong, especially after the engagement. But once the weather changed, Tommy became cold as well.

            Leah assumed it was just because of the family issues. There wasn’t much she could do to remedy it because he never spoke of it, all she could do was just try and be there for him when he needed her. But he stopped needing her or at least pretended he didn’t need her.

            On rare occasions, he was home, he often wandered upstairs to the end bedroom. The door that was always locked.

            Leah passed by it a few times, only guessing what could be inside. One night, she was restless. Tommy was home but hadn’t even attempted to sleep. She’d heard him wandering around downstairs for a bit. Kept her ears open to listen to every footstep he took. Eventually, she heard him travel upstairs but he walked right past their bedroom. She could smell his cigarette smoke and became a little annoyed. Normally, she tolerated his behavior. Let him sulk about the house, smoking, drinking, and hardly ever sleeping.           

            But it had just gotten worse. Leah was starting to wonder if he could ever pull himself out of such a mood.

            Deciding enough was enough and she deserved a little bit of explanation from the man she intended to marry, Leah got out of bed. She wrapped herself in a dressing gown and walked down the hall, following the lingering scent of cigarette smoke. The light in the last bedroom was on so she knocked on the door.

            There was a pause of silence. No footsteps and no words. But eventually, Tommy opened the door for his fiancee.

            He locked eyes with her and waited. He’d been waiting for that day. The day Leah would get tired of his attitude. Whether it was self-destructive tendencies or just a cycle, Tommy knew it was inevitable.

            Leah didn’t want to be angry with him. She wanted to understand why he was torturing himself. Certainly, he had to be miserable but he continued on. “Can I come in?” She asked quietly.

            “No.” He answered flatly.

            Although it wasn’t the response she was expecting, she tried to take it with stride. With a deep breath, she continued on. “This was the room you shared with Grace.” She surmised.

            He nodded slowly.

            “Then I’ll stay out here.” She didn’t mind the restriction. If he wanted to keep the room as it was, he could do just that. She wouldn’t intrude or pretend he was being foolish for wanting to keep that memory of her.

            Tommy rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment. Although she was patient, he half expected her to demand to enter the room. Maybe he wanted her to yell at him. Give him hell for all the hell she put her through. It would ease him a little of his guilt.

            “You miss her?” She asked softly.

            He kept behind the door, the clear line drawn between him and Leah. “I miss everyone.” The words came out before he could stifle them.

            “Of course you do, Tommy.” She murmured and longed to embrace him but stayed in the hallway. “But there are people who love you, people in your family who are still alive and love you. Sometimes you can’t hold onto the people who are gone.”

            Tommy’s entire body was tense. He wanted to argue with her, wanted to tell her she was wrong. He could hold onto Grace, his mother, Greta, the friends he’d lost, hell he could hold onto his father if he damn well wanted to.

            “If you’re holding onto people who are gone then you’re missing out on the people who are alive.” She insisted. “Please, I just want the best for you. It hurts so much to see you like this.”

            “Then why do you stay?” He confronted her with the question that had been haunting him for so long. “Why did you say yes?”

            Leah swallowed and wrapped her arms around herself for comfort. “Because I love you. I think you’re a good man even if you don’t believe it yourself.”

            He took a step back and finished his cigarette. Drifting away.

            “Why did you ask me to marry you if you didn’t want me to say yes?” Leah turned the question back on him. Dread was starting to seep through her bones and her heart began to ache.

            He didn’t answer and his eyes didn’t meet hers.

            “Tommy.” She refused to walk away from him. “Please, you’re breaking my heart.” All she could do was try and extend words out to him instead of reaching out.

            “I do that.” He muttered.

            “You’re only trying to hurt yourself, Tommy.” She was too upset to be patient anymore. “Everything you do to push away the people who truly love you…I-I don’t get it. Why do you keep opening up old wounds? Why do you keep doing this to yourself?”

            Tommy rubbed a hand over his eyes. He was so tired. Couldn’t even remember the last time he’d got a full night’s sleep. “Lee…” He finally stepped out of Grace’s room and shut the door.

            “Answer me.” She insisted. “I don’t understand why. You just want to hurt yourself and I-I can’t stand it. I don’t want to watch you hurt yourself!”

            “I’ll try to be better.” He stepped towards her.

            “It’s not about being better, Tom, it’s about allowing yourself to be loved by other people. Sometimes I feel you don’t want me to love you. You don’t want your family to love you. And I don’t get it. How am I supposed to love a man who doesn’t want to be loved?”

            “Lee.” He tried to touch her waist and pull her close.

            She pulled away from him and shook her head firmly. “No, don’t touch me. Not if you’re just trying to patronize me.” Hurriedly, she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I’m tired, Tommy, I’m so tired. Maybe I don’t totally understand what’s going on. Maybe I have no right to say anything but…” She sighed and her shoulders drooped with defeat. “I don’t know what to do anymore.” She finally admitted.

            Tommy stared at her quietly for a few moments. “I’m sorry. Maybe I don’t know what to do anymore either.”

            Leah just shook her head and turned away from him. There wasn’t anything else to say to him. She returned to the bedroom and shut the door behind her.

Chapter Text

            Leah had suffered through many Christmases alone. The first one she had after losing Jonah was one of the worst. It took a lot of alcohol and crying to get her through to January. She never wanted to face such a gloomy holiday ever again. But ever since their run-in, Tommy and Leah were quiet around each other. Both were too afraid to continue the conversation in fear it would really break them apart. They were trying to at least make it through New Years without arguing again. But the tension still lingered and the only person oblivious to it was Charlie. 

            Unbeknownst to her, Tommy was busy Christmas Eve morning. Things were heating up and his family was scattered about. A family divided was a vulnerable family and that was deadly. There was something unsettling in the air.

 

            “It’s getting late, love.” Leah murmured. The little boy’s eyes had begun to droop as his bedtime approached. They were sat by the fire to stay warm in the drafty house. The toddler was nodding off in her lap, the flames casting shadows over his angelic face.

            “It’s Christmas tomorrow!” Charlie exclaimed.

            “I know, I wonder what Santa will bring you.” She stroked his hair that was starting to lighten, as he got older. He retained certain features that looked like Tommy but he did look like Grace the more he grew. 

            “Charlie, got a job for you.” Tommy walked into the big room with a plate. His son jumped up and hurried over. “We give these to Santa and Rudolph.” He knelt down and handed the plate to Charlie to set out by the Christmas tree. Leah stood up, watching father and son interacting with a faint smile on her face.  Tommy poured a glass and placed it by the tree as well. “Put this out for Santa, for his whiskey.” He smiled and held his arms out. “Night-night, Merry Christmas.” He hugged Charlie. “Go on upstairs with Leah, sleep well.”

            Leah reached out a hand for him to take. Her eyes lingered on Tommy for a brief moment before going upstairs to put Charlie to bed. He nodded and 

 

            “Lee, you stay here, won’t you?” Charlie asked as he snuggled under the quilts.

            “You want me to stay in here for the night?” She tilted her head in confusion. It wasn't like the young boy to need someone to stay with him the night. He tended to be more independent like his father. “Why, poppet?”

            “No, here. Here with daddy and me.” He clutched his teddy bear close to his chest.

            She sighed softly and touched his hand. “Of course, love. I wouldn’t leave you.” And she was speaking honestly. She had no plans to abandon him or Tommy. Not when they needed her the most and not when she loved them both so much. Deep down she knew she needed them both too. 

            “Okay.” Charlie yawned.

            “Now get some rest. Santa can’t come ‘less you’re asleep.” She kissed his forehead. “I love you very much.”

            “Love you too.” He replied sleepily and his eyes slid closed.

 

            When Leah returned back downstairs, she heard Tommy’s sister in the study. She paused for a second, listening to their conversation without intending to be sneaky.

            “If we stay out in the open, isolated, he’ll pick us off one by one. We need to be together in a place even they won’t dare to come.” Tommy’s voice was firm and low as an authority figure.

            Ada laughed in disbelief. “You mean back home?”

            “Within a four-mile radius of the Garrison, every man is a guard and a soldier for us.”

            Leah’s stomach twisted up in knots. What on Earth was he talking about? Who would pick them off? She stepped back a few steps until she heard Tommy raise his voice. “Anyone who wants to live to see another Christmas needs to come where it’s safe.” His tone held a great deal of anxiety even as he tried to conceal it. “These bastards will kill kids as well.”

            She had enough of listening and pushed open the door. Tommy and Ada stopped talking and looked at her. “What’ve you been keeping from me?” Leah demanded without explaining away why she was eavesdropping.

            Silence. Ada glanced over at her brother but he looked caught in the act.

            “Tommy….” Her tone was warning and she couldn’t restrain herself. “Answer me.”

            “There are men who are here to kill us.” He obliged without sugar-coating anything. If she wanted to hear the truth then he would give it to her. 

            Her mouth popped open in utter shock. Of course, she knew that Tommy had enemies but he never took the time to inform her how far things had progressed. “And how long have you fucking known?”

            “We’re going back to Small Heath.” He skirted around her second question in his usual business fashion. “Tomorrow, there’ll be a family meeting. We’re all on his list and as far as I know, no one’s safe.”

            Tears welled up in Leah’s eyes. She felt so far behind everything. Pushed aside because she was some delicate woman who couldn't handle what was going on with the man she loved so much. But now suddenly she was involved because it had grown beyond Tommy's control. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

            “Because I’ve been handling it…”

            “How?” Leah lost her patience and it was a long time coming. She was sick and tired of Tommy’s business tactics. Sick and tired of him trying to pull the wool over her eyes. 

            “That’s nothing for you to fucking worry ‘bout.” His voice rose a bit too. His nerves were completely frayed. “I’m going to keep you and Charlie safe, that’s what matters. But you need to fucking listen and do as I say!” He pointed sternly at her. “Don’t need you questioning me.”

            Her lips parted slightly in shock. “I’m not one of your men, Thomas Shelby.” She hissed. “I don’t follow your commands.”

            “’Less you want to be fucking dead, you’ll listen. You’re not getting shot by these bastards. Not on my watch.”

            “So I’ve to follow you blindly but you don’t have to tell me when my life’s in danger?” She retorted sharply.

            Ada reached out to try and ease the tension between the two. “Why don’t we calm down a moment, don’t want to wake the baby.”

            “I’m not having this fucking conversation. Not when I’m trying to keep all of you alive!” He stormed out of the big room.

            Leah let out a desperate noise of frustration. Everything hit her like a ton of bricks. Tommy’s behavior, the revelation of what he’d been doing for months without her knowing, and the imminent danger. She collapsed onto the couch in tears.

            Ada frowned and rubbed her shoulder. She was well aware of how frustrating her brother could be. “Let’s get you some tea.” The woman only sobbed in response. “Maybe gin instead.”

 

            Leah managed to drift off for a quick nap after a glass of gin. She curled up on the couch, warmed by the fire still blazing in the hearth. Despite the little amount of alcohol she’d consumed, it was enough to relax her mind even for a moment.

            But that was interrupted a while later by Tommy who shook her awake. “C’mon, we need to leave.” His voice was low but agitated.

            She closed her eyes even tighter and shooed him off. “I’m not in the mood, Tommy. Just leave me alone.”

            “That wasn’t a request.” He asserted and hurried over to stuff Charlie’s presents into a bag. “Go get Charlie, we’re leaving.”

            She begrudgingly sat up and rubbed her eyes. “What’s going on?”

            “They know we’re here. We need to be in Small Heath where it’s safer.” He reached out a hand to help her stand up. “I’m sorry. I can apologize for days if you need me to,” He took her face in his hands, his blue eyes searching hers. “But right now I need to make sure you and Charlie are safe.”

            Leah touched his wrist. Fear bubbled up in her stomach as if the second they walked out of Arrow House they would be accosted. “I love you.” She whispered. If they were to die, she needed him to know that. They could argue every once in a while but she would never stop loving him.

            Tommy’s chest tightened. The world was against him and the only people who were standing by him were the people he loved. The people he once loved, who were gone weren’t there anymore. Perhaps in spirit. But he needed to rely on the ones who he could embrace. “I love you.” He murmured back and kissed her deeply.

 

            Leah tried to wake Charlie as delicately as she could. She didn’t want to alert him to anything wrong in fear of scaring him.

            “Is it Christmas?” He asked sweetly.

            “Not yet, darling.” She put his robe on over his pajamas and scooped him up.

            “Mummy!” He looked over her shoulder and pointed at the night table.

            Leah paused and picked up the frame of Grace before leaving.

 

            They were quiet on the way to Small Heath. Charlie had fallen asleep in Leah’s lap in the backseat while Tommy drove. There was no telling what would happen. It wasn’t known if they were overestimating or underestimating the Americans. They just didn’t know the worst was yet to come.

 

            It felt like ages since Leah was back in Birmingham. Even longer since she’d been in Tommy’s room at Watery Lane. The bed was far too small for all three of them but Tommy didn’t even attempt to sleep. He stayed downstairs by the phone, trying over and over again to get in touch with John to no avail. By dawn, he could only pray that Michael had gotten there quickly and was bringing them to safety.

            But the hope was shattered just an hour after the sun began to rise. A phone call came through and Esme was screaming on the other end of the telephone line. It all came out as nonsense, hysterical sobs masking her words. But Tommy finally caught a few snippets of what she was shouting.

            John. Dead. Michael. Dead.

           

            After that, it was just brief flashes of memories. Walking through the hospital. Esme screaming for her husband. Polly running alongside the gurney that held her son. Doctors and nurses hurrying him into surgery.

            He felt so numb as if he wasn’t truly experiencing everything first hand. Instead, he was watching from another dimension, floating through time and space in a daze. Muscle memory carried him through the hospital, every step mechanical and stiff. All the voices around him began to blur into each other to the point he couldn’t tell where they were coming from. He just kept walking forward. That’s all he could do. One foot in front of the other. His brain wasn’t functioning. Nothing registered. Just one foot in front of the other.

 

            Tommy had no idea how much time passed while at the hospital. At least not until Esme forced him and Arthur out of the morgue. As he pushed through the doors, he was met with Leah waiting nearby.

            She looked terrified and grief-stricken. She’d tried to comfort Esme before she stormed into the morgue but with no luck. Polly was also inconsolable, waiting for the prognosis of Michael’s fate.

            It made everything Tommy spoke about the night before feel all the more real. There were truly people out to kill each and every one of them.

            “Tom…”

            “Where’s Charlie?” Panic bubbled up in Tommy’s throat.

            “With Ada.” She answered. “He’s okay.”

            He nodded slowly and walked over to her, right into her open arms. He didn’t speak but began to cry against her shoulder. All the wounds that had finally scarred over were torn open again. Like clockwork, he was forced to face the consequences. Forced to put someone else to rest. Forced to pick up the pieces.

            “I’m sorry.” Leah held him tight. It was clear to her now that they all needed to stick together if they wanted to survive. She just wasn’t sure how long that strategy would work for them. There was no telling when the world would close in on them and began to collapse right from under their feet.

Chapter Text

            Tommy remembered the morning after he returned to Small Heath from France. He was home but he merely felt like a ghost of himself. Everything he once knew felt strange and unlike he remembered it. He wasn’t the man he was when he left for the front lines. There was a brief memory of hearing Arthur and John downstairs, talking animatedly to Finn who was just a boy back then. Tommy stared out the window down to Watery Lane. The street he used to run up and down when he was Finn’s age. Now, he was back. A soldier bruised and damaged far deeper than just his skin. But he wasn’t done. The war hadn’t killed him so he wasn’t finished. The world would know the Shelby name whether it liked it or not.

            The morning of John’s funeral, Tommy stood at the same window looking down at the same street. People were starting to remember the Shelby name. But the cost had been more severe than Tommy initially anticipated. There was no turning back though. He was in too deep.

            With a sigh, Tommy stepped into the steaming bath in the middle of the bedroom. Charlie and Leah were still asleep. The little boy was completely unaware of what was happening around him.

            Leah began to stir as Tommy lit a cigarette. She sat up and carefully detached herself from Charlie who was clinging to her in his sleep. It had been a long night. Most of the family was in a shock, unlike anything they’d experienced before. It seemed unfathomable to think John would ever die. He was such a robust figure of the family. Now the previously shattered family was further broken.

            But at least they were all together for the first time in ages.

            “Tom.” Leah sat up and tried to read his face. His eyes were glazed over, mind obviously elsewhere.

            His head twitched slightly in her direction, the only acknowledgment that he’d actually heard her.

            Leah sighed softly and stood. She picked up her dressing gown and wrapped it around herself. “How are you feeling today?” She pulled up a small stool up to the bathtub.

            Tommy rested his hand on the edge of the tub, his cigarette hanging between his fingers. He stared at the wall in front of him. “I don’t know.” He finally admitted quietly.

            Leah’s forehead wrinkled. “I’m sorry.” She whispered and touched his arm, catching on some of the lingering water droplets from the bath water. “I’ve been awful to you for the past few weeks.”

            He shook his head subtly. “No. I haven’t been treating you the way you deserve.” Guilt pooled in his stomach, building up with all the rest of it he’d felt for everything he’d done. “I can’t promise it’ll all be easy from here on out.”  

            “I know.” She absent-mindedly rubbed her thumb over his arm.

            There was a knock on the door. “Tommy, they’ve gathered.”

            Leah grabbed the towel Tommy had set out for himself. She offered a hand to him as he stood up. “We should let Charlie sleep.” She suggested quietly.

            He nodded and stepped out of the bathtub, drying off with the towel. They both began to get dressed, staying quiet so Charlie didn’t wake.

            “My family’s downstairs.” He explained. “I want you to be there with me.”

            Leah took his outstretched hand. “Okay.”

 

            Tommy only let go of Leah’s hand so she could stand near Isaiah and Jeremiah. But he stopped her and pulled out a chair for her. Leah paused and looked at him questioningly. Sitting at the table was obviously a status she didn’t think she’d earned yet. Not even Finn was seated.

            He cleared his throat and nodded, assuring her without any words. So she sat between Polly and Linda. She caught the gaze of Lizzie who averted her eyes pointedly only a second later.

            The atmosphere of the room was somber. All of them mourning the brother and nephew. All of them worried for Michael still fighting for his life in the hospital.

            “John is dead,” Tommy spoke in a low but steady voice. His hand was tight around Leah’s, pulling every ounce of support he could from her touch. “Esme has gone on the road with the Lees and she’s taken the kids. Michael is badly wounded. They say it’s sixty-forty in his favor.”

            Polly glared at him. “There’s no number, there’s no percentage.” She informed him sternly. “My son’ll live.”

            Tommy didn’t argue with her. There was no point. He wanted his cousin to survive just as much as the rest of them did. “Michael and John were shot because we killed someone. Vincente Changretta. His son, Luca, has come to take revenge.” He reported the reasons for the chaos the day before. “Men from New York and Sicily are here in Birmingham. These men will not leave our city until our whole family is dead. That’s how it works.” He looked to each of his family members. All who were left. “It’s called vendetta. An eye for an eye.”

            Arthur reached into his pocket. “Yeah, well the bullet’s been written. Says Luca.” He twisted it between his fingers before carefully placing it on the table in front of him.

            Leah could see the crude letters scratched into the metal surface of the bullet.

            LUCA.

            “When the time comes. And it’ll come.” He spoke firmly. “I will put this bullet in his fucking head.”

            Tommy rested his hands on the table and looked exhausted. “There’s been some bad blood between us.”

            Polly laughed sarcastically and shook her head. The tension between the two was almost visible and the rest of the room remained silent.

            Still, he persisted. “Until this business is settled, we say together. And we stay here. Small Heath, Bordesley, Hay Mills, down to Greet.” He instructed.

            “Daddy?”

            Leah turned when she heard Charlie’s voice coming from the top of the stairs. She met eyes with Tommy. “I’ll get him.” She said quietly and stood.

            Charlie was standing on the stairs, a pout on his face. “Wanted daddy.” He repeated again, clearly disappointed that Tommy hadn’t come running to retrieve him.

            “He’s busy right now, poppet, I’m here though.” She said softly and held her arms out to him.

            The little boy smiled and trotted down the steps into her arms, still dressed in his pajamas. “Breakfast?” He inquired.

            “Not right now. Everyone’s talking in the kitchen.” Leah rested him on her hip. “Hopefully they’ll be done soon.” She bit her lip and looked towards the door. Part of her didn’t want to know what else they were talking about.

 

            One of the girls from the betting shop would watch Karl, Charlie, and Billy while the rest of them were at the funeral. Leah walked arm in arm with Tommy down Watery Lane, the rest of the family following close behind. There were heavily armed men standing by on each corner, some even up on the rooftops.

            Leah tugged Tommy closer to her, afraid that they would still be attacked even with the battalion of men ready to fight for them.

            Tommy kissed her temple. “S’alright.” He murmured. “Everything will be alright.”

 

            In the field right outside the city, the vardos were already camped out, ready to give John Shelby a fitting farewell.

            Leah quietly placed a bundle of flowers among the pyre. She softly spoke her words of goodbye and thanked him for keeping Jonah’s memory alive. She returned to the group, standing beside Ada.

            “Don’t think I haven’t noticed the ring.” Tommy’s sister said in a voice low enough that those around them wouldn’t hear.

            “I let it be Tommy’s responsibility to tell everyone. Now’s not the right time.” She replied.

            “None of this is scaring you away?” Ada wondered.

            Leah stared ahead. Of course, she was scared. Tommy spoke of a war. A war like the one she’d lost her husband to. They would be in the trenches, fighting a war of vengeance. There was no telling who else they’d lose. “I lost my soul a long time ago.” She spoke steadily. “Tommy’s the only person who ever managed to lead me back to who I used to be. If I must fight beside him then I will.”

            “You might die for him, Leah. What then?” Ada questioned. “You have no stake in this fight. What would you be dying for other than your loyalty?”

            “All this family has right now is loyalty. All we have is each other.”

            Tommy began to speak, disrupting any chance Ada had to try and convince Leah to get out while she could. His fiancee listened to him speak about France. His blue eyes met hers a few times as he spoke. His voice never wavering as he tried to remain strong and keep his family together.

            “You remembered that God spared you,” Polly spoke up after Tommy paused for a brief second. The older woman stared daggers at her nephew with tears in her eyes. “But what did you do with that extra time he gave you? Aye, Thomas?”

            “Poll.” Ada touched her aunt’s shoulder to both stop her from continuing and to comfort her.

            Arthur decided to step in before they argued and lit a match. The family stood silently and watched as the pyre lit and began to envelop the vardo in flames. Snaking its way up the woodwork and setting the canvas cover ablaze.

            Leah stepped toward Tommy and took his hand in hers. He kept his eyes straight ahead. Waiting.

            Suddenly, the funeral was interrupted by a gunshot only yards away. Leah’s heart seized in her chest and she froze. Ada was quicker on her feet and dragged her to the ground for cover.

            “At ease!” Tommy shouted. Along with Arthur, he was the only one still standing. The rest of the Blinders had dropped the instant they heard the gunshot. All of them thought it was their time and the funeral had made them into sitting ducks.

            Leah raised her head when she heard Tommy yelling. “Do not return fire! The men doing the firing are on our side.” He held out a hand to his fiancee to help her stand.

            She flinched when a second gunshot rang out across the field. “What’s going on?” Her eyes were wide with fear.

            “I took the trouble of giving an invitation to Aberama Gold.”

            The name was unfamiliar to Leah. But Johnny Dogs gave her some insight. “Oh fuck, now it’s begun.”

            Leah began to feel dizzy and she reached out for Tommy’s arm. “I feel sick.” She whispered.

            “You used John’s funeral fire as a fucking beacon,” Polly exclaimed in a ragged voice. The disbelief clear on her face.

            “We were never in any danger, Poll,” Arthur said.

            “You used us as fucking bait!”

            Leah’s breathing became shallower and soon Tommy wasn’t enough to hold her up. Her knees began to buckle. “Tommy…” She gripped his arm tight.

            “Finn!” He called out for his youngest brother. “Get a boat

            In the distance, a group of men and horses began approaching the vardos. Leah’s stomach turned again when she saw the limp arm of someone slumped over one of the horses. Visible blood was dripping from the fingertips “Who’s dead?” She asked.

            Tommy ignored her but Polly jumped on the question as well. “Who’s dead?” The woman demanded.

            Leah’s vision began to blur and every word spoken was starting to blur together. Ada looked concerned when she saw how pale the young woman’s face had gone. “Sit, come and sit.” She had to pry Leah off her brother to get her to sit down.

            “Anyone who wants no more part in this, ‘cause this is how it’s gonna be!” Tommy shouted, piercing Leah’s ears before she lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

            Everything about John’s funeral was dramatic. It was something he might’ve actually enjoyed. He always reveled in a little bit of chaos. But things calmed down once Leah was brought to the hospital and the Italian’s bodies were shipped off.

            Tommy’s fiancee was placed in the same room as Michael so the men protecting him could also keep a close eye on her. She’d come to when they were still in the field beside the burning vardo. Polly knelt down next to her, propping her head up on the dew-covered grass while Ada and Tommy stood over her arguing.

            “The first person they’re going to go after is your fiancee, Tommy, they already killed Grace!” The Shelby woman shouted.

            With frayed nerves, Tommy was more than happy to oblige his sister and yelled back at her. “Don’t talk about things you don’t know anything about!”

            “Right because I’m just a stupid woman. Stupid Ada who knows nothing. I know that Grace was killed by Italians. What’s stopping them from killing Leah too?”

            “They’re trying to fucking kill all of us, Ada!”

            Leah’s head still spun, her hand reaching for Tommy, trying to calm him down. Instead, Polly gently took her lifted hand and pressed a cold cloth to her forehead.

            “Stop bickering and help me get her to the car.” Polly snapped at her niece and nephew.

            Tommy huffed and stooped to scoop Leah up in his arms. Bringing her to the car, he assured her nothing would happen and not to listen to Ada. She simply pressed her face into his shoulder and closed her eyes. She didn’t know who to listen to anymore.

 

 

            Michael was still out cold when Leah felt well enough to sit up. She was glad to see the young man was properly stitched up. She didn’t know much about medicine but he appeared to have a good chance of surviving.

            After she sat up, Polly came into the room. She scolded the men slacking off by the door and confiscated their flasks before sending them out to the hall.

            “How are you feeling?” The older woman asked as she slipped off her coat and draped it over Michael’s legs.

            “Better, thank you. I just think it was shock.” She admitted. “I wasn’t expecting all of that.”

            Polly frowned as she sat down. None of them were but maybe they should’ve gotten used to Tommy’s surprise tactics. It would make life a lot easier. “Have you been ill?” She wondered.

            Leah shook her head. “No, I’ve been fine. Maybe just a little…” She sighed and shrugged. “It’s been a difficult few months. I mean, nothing like what you went through, I’m sure.”

            She didn’t want to talk about her time in prison and how Tommy was the one to put her there. “You’re not pregnant, right?”

            Her eyes widened a little in shock. She wasn’t expecting the question. “No, I uh…I bled last week.” She explained shyly.

            “Good.” Polly nodded firmly. Now was not the time to have a baby. Not in the state they were in. A war.

            Leah nodded absent-mindedly and ran her fingers through her hair to fix it. She found a few pieces of grass that had tangled in her blonde curls after lying on the ground. “Tommy and I…I feel like we haven’t even slept in the same bed in ages.” She whispered. Shame settled deep in her bones. How pathetic it was to spend such little time with her fiancee, to be so cold towards each other.

            “My nephew is a complicated man.” Polly agreed and pulled the chair up closer to Leah. Her face had softened since the funeral. It appeared her aggression was only directed towards Tommy and didn’t include his fiancee. If anything she felt bad for the young woman. Anyone who fell for such a man was in for a surprise, and not necessarily anything good. She loved Tommy but he was a huge pain in the ass.

            “Am I making a mistake, Poll?” Leah asked quietly. “I mean am I just being thick?” Her eyes lowered to the ring on her finger.

            “Some people will tell you to be smart and look out for yourself and yourself only. Others will tell you to follow your heart blindly.” Polly rested a hand on hers. “But listen here, despite what people say, women are not meant to be put aside in the corner.”

            She sniffled and let out a little tearful laugh. “Could’ve convinced me otherwise.” Leah thought about all the years she spent being submissive. Forcing herself to be quiet and complacent in order to pay rent and groceries. For a long while, she adopted the personality into her everyday life. If a man cut her in line at the butchers, she never spoke up. She grew a staggering amount of patience for the world around her and its inhabitants. She thought it was a good quality to have but sometimes it led to her being walked over.

            A woman like Polly was something of an enigma to her. A strong person who ran the Shelby company while her nephews were off at war. Took shit from no one and announced her presence wherever she went to make sure people didn’t cross her.

            Still, both women were damaged. That was clear if you pulled back the curtain. They were surviving in a man’s world. Doing the best they could while embroiled in a war they didn’t start.

            “Speak your mind sometimes.” Polly encouraged in a soft voice. “If you keep it all inside then you’re the only one to suffer. A relationship, romantic or not, is a two-way street. The other person should have to listen as much as they talk. If they don’t want to listen then they should just get a fucking parrot. That way they’ll have someone to talk to and someone to agree with everything they say.”

            Leah smiled and felt a little relieved that she wasn’t alone. “I do love him.”

            “I know.” She nodded and squeezed Leah’s hand. “And he loves you. I know he’ll listen, he’s just stubborn sometimes.”

            “Now’s really not the time to talk his ear off ‘bout petty things though.”

            Polly frowned. “If he’s got time to fuck about with the Golds then he has time to listen to his wife-to-be.” She asserted. “Don’t make excuses.”

            Leah nodded. “Alright, I won’t.” She promised. Her eyes moved to Michael’s bed when she heard him stirring.

            Polly hurried over to speak to him for the first time since he awoke from his surgery. “Sh, sh, don’t move.” She soothed softly and touched his shoulder to keep him still.

            As she spoke gently to her son, Leah mindlessly ran her hands through her hair, thinking about all the things she wanted to say to Tommy. It wouldn’t be easy, but Polly was right. She was only suffering by keeping her silence.

 

 

            A few days after the funeral, Leah went to find Tommy at the car factory offices. There was always a good deal of chaos there as it was a working factory, but when she entered, the air was filled with electricity. Something had clearly happened that had riled everyone up.

            It wasn’t long before she found her fiancee speaking with his brother on the first floor. They were standing next to what appeared to be a makeshift boxing ring set up with ropes.

            “Tommy,” She called out his name above the loud atmosphere.

            He turned from talking quietly to Arthur. “Come to surprise me?” He smiled. Things after the funeral had been stuck in a strange stage between the two. They weren’t as cold to each other because there simply wasn’t time to argue or fight. Tommy’s mind was elsewhere but he seemed conscious enough to realize he had to be pleasant towards Leah to keep her spirits up. Especially now that the rest of the family knew about the engagement. All he wanted was to get rid of the Americans and get back to the good relationship he had with Leah. It was a tall order but Tommy was never one to shy away from a challenge.

            She smiled back, hoping they could keep up the positivity, especially since she went to the factory to talk. There were things that needed to be said. Things that she’d been holding onto for some time, especially after her talk with Polly at the hospital.

            “Missed a good fight, Leah,” Arthur told her joyfully. “We’ll make sure you don’t miss the next one.”

            “As long as you tell me who to bet for.” She laughed softly and touched Tommy’s arm. “Can we talk upstairs? I’ve brought lunch, Ada and I made it, put a bit of Linda’s cake in there as well.”

            “I’ve got a meeting, actually.” Tommy wrapped an arm around her waist and began walking towards the stairs with her.

            “You didn’t eat breakfast, I’m sure your meeting can wait.” She insisted hopefully.

            “She’s not a patient person, and I’m already running behind schedule. But you can stay in my office, we’ll have lunch after, aye?”

            Leah nodded slowly. “Okay, I can wait.” She’d waited this long, what was another half an hour?

 

 

            When noon struck, Leah was still in Tommy’s office. She was smoking a cigarette when she heard a commotion downstairs. Shouts and movement lured her back outside to the promenade that overlooked the first floor.

            Tommy came out of the conference room with a stern expression. He stood at the railing watching the factory workers all walking out of the building.

            “Tom,” She attempted to reach out to him but he simply turned to walk into his office.

            He tugged viciously at his tie, pulling it off and tossing it to his desk. Leah could see every muscle in his back was taut when he shrugged off his coat as well. “Close the door.” His voice was firm and he turned to flip the blinds, blocking out the sun.

            She listened and shut the office door behind her. “What happened? Where’s everyone going?”

            Nothing. He simply began to unbutton his waistcoat and carelessly tearing off his cufflinks.

            “Tommy.” She walked over to him and touched his arm. “Talk to me.”

            He turned around abruptly and cradled her cheeks. Before she could react he kissed her fiercely. All of his anger and grief funneled into the kiss. He dropped his hand to her hip and guided her back against his desk.

            Leah’s thighs hit against the edge of the desk. She grimaced and she pressed her hands against his chest to push him back. “Tommy, please, I wanted to talk.” She whispered, reminding him of the reason she’d come to the office.

            His breathing was off-kilter and he touched his forehead to hers. “I can’t think right now.” He muttered.

            “Just a moment…”

            “Leah, please.” He stepped away from her and dragged a hand through his hair. “Now’s not the time.”

            Leah perched hesitantly on the edge of his desk. “Will there ever be a time?” Her eyes lifted and she tried to listen to Polly’s previous advice and not just give in. She wasn’t going to let him just bend her over the desk to release his frustrations. Not if he wasn’t going to listen to her.

            Tommy slipped off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “When I get home, yeah?” His words were hollow, his mind was clearly somewhere far from the room.

            Leah swallowed and stood. Holding her purse close, she went for the door. She paused before reaching for the handle. “Before I go, I just want you to know that I love you. Enough to weather any storm.”

            “Lee…”

            “But if you’re tired of me, then please tell me now. If I’m not worth anything to you anymore, then cut me loose. Because I don’t know how much more I can handle.” Something in her throat stuck but she did everything she could to keep from crying.     

            Tommy reached out to take her hand. “Things right now will get better. But that doesn’t change how I feel about you. I’m doing everything I can to keep this family together.” His eyes were firm on her. “I love you, we’ll talk when I come home.”

            There was a knock on the door and Leah decided to take her leave. Her hand slipped from his and she opened the door.

            “Oh, pardon me.” The man waiting for Tommy apologized. “Mr. Shelby, a delegate from the European Council for Trade is here. He’s here to talk about the import of car parts.” He explained.

            Leah passed through the doorway and went to leave. As she did, she noticed a dark-haired stranger lingering around the second floor. His eyes met hers and a smug smile tugged at the corner of his lips. He was well dressed and Leah noticed the cross tattoo peeking out from his crisp collar.

            She didn’t know who he was, but he gave her a bad feeling. If only she knew it was the man trying to kill them all.

 

 

Chapter Text

            Tommy returned to Watery Lane later than expected. But he was floundering after such a bizarre day. First, he watched a young boy pummel a man nearly twice his size, all his workers walked out, and Luca Changretta had walked right into his office without trouble. Now he was expected to go back and talk about his feelings with Leah. The headache he was sporting was unlike anything he’d had before. His heart was heavy and at his worst moments, he wasn’t one to talk.

            But he couldn’t get shake off the guilt he felt for putting Leah in such a position. The hurt in her voice was unbearable. She assumed that he didn’t want her around.

            It felt like his brain was pounding against his skull with every step. Once inside the flat, Tommy prepared himself to face the music. He cleared his throat as he walked into the quiet space. All the lights upstairs were off but there was a lamp still on in the kitchen.

            He stalled by the door, taking off his overcoat and ridding himself of the day. He checked his pocket watch as he headed into the kitchen.

            Leah was waiting for him in a dressing gown, curled up on a chair, her legs tucked under her. A cup of tea sat in front of her on the table, steam rising from the porcelain. Her blonde hair was loose, curling around her shoulders, brushing against the lace hem of the lilac dressing gown. It reminded him of the color of Grace’s wedding dress.

            God, he was such a mess.

            With a heavy sigh, he kissed her forehead and went to sit down beside her. “I’m sorry.” He whispered quietly. “I’m listening now.”

            Her hazel eyes looked up and she met him with a weak smile. “I’m listening too. I’m not here to just talk your ear off. I want to hear you too.”

            It was a tall order, probably more than she ever realized. But Tommy did everything he could to just keep on. He leaned forward and tucked his face into the crook of her neck. A sign of vulnerability, lowering his defenses and offering himself to her.

            Leah let the room remain quiet for a moment. She pulled her chair a bit closer to him so he wouldn’t have to strain his neck so much. Her fingers reached up to card softly through his dark hair. Every so often, she pressed her lips to his temple. Her fingertips brushed across the scar that he still bore from his surgery. It all seemed so long ago. The things they’d faced together, all of them had started to blur together. It was as if they had been stuck in a maze for ages. They continued to walk through the madness; completely unaware of what lay ahead, every turn revealing another hardship they had to conquer.

            But they were still walking. And they were walking together.

            “I told Grace this, on our wedding day.” Tommy broke the silence. He remained close, letting her cradle his head against her shoulder. “The way I show fear is probably different than what you expect. I can be afraid but keep going on. That’s all I’ve known my entire life. Never had the option to stop or turn back. When I was in the tunnels, I couldn’t turn back. I can’t turn back now, Leah.” He lifted his head to look at her. “I can’t. I can’t run or hide or take back what I’ve done. If I do then the people I love will die. The things I’ll have to do…I don’t want you involved in it. So how I cope is-” He frowned and rubbed his eyes. The weeks of pulling away from her were excruciating when he remembered them. “There’s no excusing it.”

            Leah smoothed down his hair and gently drew his hands away from his eyes. “That’s all I wanted to know, Tommy.” She murmured. Although none of their problems were magically resolved, it was a huge burden off her shoulder to hear him speak candidly to her. “I just wanted to know that you didn’t regret meeting me. Whatever happens next, you know I’ll be there for you. I’m not turning back either.”

            He took a shaky breath and tucked a curl behind her ear. “You could though. You could turn back.”

            She shook her head. “I wanted to turn back but I can’t. I can’t go back to Jonah. So I just wanted to give up. But you came into my life and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. Why would I want to give up the man I love? The family you’ve given me.”

            Tommy swallowed and pressed his forehead to hers. “I love you.” He whispered.

            “I love you too.” She murmured and smiled. It had been a while since he made her feel safe. He finally returned to her. “I’ve missed you so much.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            She gently guided his chin up so she could kiss him. He returned the kiss eagerly and fell into the feeling he’d been neglecting for so long. The day melted off his shoulders as he allowed himself to indulge in her soft touch.

            He pulled away after a few more quick pecks. “Charlie asleep?”

            Leah nodded. They’d gotten a cot for the toddler so all three of them didn’t have to squeeze together in one bed. But Charlie decided he liked to be wedged between her and Tommy instead of sleeping on his own. “He fussed a little but he hasn’t woken up.” She traced her thumb over his sharp cheekbone and down his jaw. A small smile crossed her face.

            “What?” Tommy murmured with an amused look.

            “Polly thought I was pregnant.” She told him, her cheeks going a little red. “Just made me think a bit.”

            “Yeah?” He searched her eyes. “What did you think?” It felt inevitable at that point. A simple equation. But their situation was a bit tricky. A pregnant fiancee was a perfect target for the Italians. Tommy wasn’t sure what he would do if anything happened to her, especially if she were carrying his child. But the prospect of expanding his family with Leah was too tempting. He was a man of gratification.

            She chewed on her lip and hesitated to answer. “It’s something I’ve thought about. Once we’re married, after all of this is over and we’re safe.”

            “Soon.” He promised. “Then we’ll go back to Warwickshire, with Charlie. We’ll get married and then if we’re lucky, we’ll have another little girl or little boy.” He smiled warmly. “Nice thing to look forward to, aye?”

            “Very nice.” She agreed. “Very nice.”

            He grazed his fingertips down the nape of her neck. “Just need to keep moving forward.” He murmured very quietly. “We’ll make it through this.” His blue eyes closed and he took a deep breath.

            Leah saw the stress written on his face. He looked exhausted and running low on energy. But she knew he would never quit. Not when the lives of the people he loved were at stake.

            She kissed his forehead and stood up. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed.”

Chapter Text

            Leah found a sliver of normalcy in Birmingham. A simple routine that kept her sane. She tended after Charlie, doing what she could to give him a sense of calmness among the chaos. It wasn’t an environment to raise a child in, but they didn’t have a choice.

            She did her best to adhere to the strict regulations Tommy set out for the entire family. Never leaving the house without an escort, keeping contact with him every hour or so, keeping quiet about any business discussed, and being wary of strangers. The last thing she wanted was to do something that would put the family in danger.

            In return, Tommy struggled to keep an open dialogue with her. Reassuring her things would be okay. No one else was dying on his watch and it was tremendous pressure.

           

            One night, after speaking with Jessie Eden, Tommy returned to the flat. He felt like he was walking through a fog. The photograph in his pocket was weighing him down, making the trip upstairs difficult.

            When he nudged the door open, he found Leah still awake. Charlie was sound asleep in his cot, blissfully oblivious.

            “Are you okay?” Leah whispered. It was a hollow question and she knew the answer. Of course not. None of them were okay.

            Tommy only nodded and went to slip off his coat. He took out the old photograph of him and Greta. When Jessie had given it to him, he had to hide his surprise. It had been ages since he’d seen her face. It had been ages since he’d seen a picture of himself before France.

            Leah stood up and went to stand beside him by the window. She leaned into him, looking at the picture with him. “Who is that with you?” She asked gently.

            “The first woman I ever loved.” He answered. “I lost her before I went to France.”

            Wild rovers beside the seaside. June 15th, 1915. The handwriting was feminine and Leah didn’t recognize it as Tommy’s.

            “A different man back then.”

            Leah kissed his cheek and went to the dresser drawers where she had packed away a few of her possessions. “Can I show you this?” She handed him a photograph. It was the last picture taken of her and Jonah. “I don’t know that person anymore.”

            Tommy took in the picture of a younger Leah. Her smile was the same and he recognized the kindness in her eyes. Jonah looked happy to be beside her. Grateful for his adoring wife.

            “That’s not the woman who would have sex with men for money. She had a soul and…” She shook her head. “Just a very different person.”

            “Are you okay with the person you are now?” It was as if he were asking both her and himself.

            Leah touched her cheek to his arm. “Well there isn’t much I can do about it, can I?” He hummed an agreement and nodded. “But I know that I’m happy I met you.”

            He smiled gently and kissed her forehead. “I want to take you somewhere tomorrow. Just us.”

 

            Fog hung heavy in the air. The morning held a chill but there was an ominous humidity that gave the river a subdued feeling. Everything felt muted and strangely still. As if the Earth was standing still for them.

            Tommy held her hand as he led her down closer to the river, beside the archways of the bridge. His eyes scanned the area, trying to find familiar markers from his past. He wandered over to the arch, the third one down. His fingers grazed over the stone until he found the initials he’d carved. It felt like a lifetime ago since they’d scratched in the letters, TS and GJ.

            “We used to come here.” His voice was low, timidly approaching his past emotions. “She’d wait for hours for me when I couldn’t make it. I’d wait for her if her family kept her in.”

            Leah stood behind him as she listened. “The girl in the photograph?”

            Slowly, he nodded and turned to face her. “I’ve not been back here since.” He admitted and cupped her face in his hands. “But what you said about the person you used to be…” He paused. “I wanted to come back.”

            Leah’s cheeks were red from the cold. “Tommy, the man you are now is not a mistake.” She touched her fingers to his wrist. “What you’ve been through, the people you’ve loved, it’s shaped you into the man who’s standing in front of me. The man I love.”

            Tommy’s forehead creased. All the guilt inside told him to disagree. But the rational side of his brain concurred. “And it all led me to you.”

            She smiled and nodded. “Will you kiss me?”

            There was no reason to ask, he obliged and kissed her tenderly. Leah pressed backward against the stacks of hay piled beneath the arch. Her hand reached up to brush off his cap.

            His lips parted, touching his forehead to hers. In that moment, he was glad to retreat into the warm comfort he always felt when she was in his arms.

            Leah locked her fingers against the nape of his neck. She let out a soft sigh when he hitched her knee up towards his hip. His name slipped off her lips with a tenderness that coaxed a moan from him.

            “Just forget everything.” She whispered and nibbled lightly on his bottom lip. “We can escape for a moment.”

            Tommy believed her. Just a few kisses were enough to make him forget. Gratefully, he fell into her. His lips bruised against hers as he stepped closer. Her knees slipped open and she wrapped her legs around his slim waist. Her hands dropped, undoing his pants and tugging on his waistband to bring him closer.

            He fought against the urgency building up in his stomach. Instinct drove him to hastily reach that peak. But he wanted to prolong the moment of peace he had. His head lowered, burying into the crook of her neck and allowing her to take control for a moment. When he felt her wrap a hand around him, he tensed up and let out an appreciative groan. It was easier to drift off, focusing completely on the feeling of her slender fingers and soft lips grazing against his ear.

            “I love you.” She murmured and drew her hand back to hike up the skirt of her dress. “I want to feel you.”

            Tommy pressed a kiss to her neck and took the invitation, slipping her panties to the side. Responding to her breathy whimpers, he worked her over with his fingers, building her up until she cried out his name.

            Before she had time to descend, he slipped into her. She gasped and dug her nails into his back. “Tommy!”

            He paused, letting them both adjust. “I’ve got you.” A sense of protectiveness overcame him as he held her close. “Not letting go.” It was a promise he would keep. No matter what, Tommy was going to keep her and Charlie safe. He would see them through this. Even if it killed him.      

Chapter Text

 

            “M-morning, Mrs. Shelby, morning Charlie.” Curly beamed at the two walking into the yard. He crouched down to shake Charlie’s little hand.

            Leah smiled. “Haven’t married Tommy yet, Curly.” She reminded him softly.

            “Oh, that’s right.” The sweet man’s face went red and he shyly wrung his hands together.

            “But when we do, you’ll get a front-row seat, I promise.”

            He laughed and waved them over toward the docks. “Tommy’s over here.”

            Leah held Charlie’s hand as they walked over. A covered boat was starting to slowly pull in but the air was too smoky to see who was on it.

            “Daddy!” Charlie ran over to latch onto Tommy’s leg.

            He jolted a little. Loud noises and unexpected touches had started to make him flinch. It had been that way after he’d come home from France. Before he’d found his purpose. Anything that resembled the sound of a gunshot made him duck, his arms covering his head. Over time, he’d managed to fight the knee-jerk reaction. But it had returned, even worse than before.

            “What’re you doing here, aye?” Tommy scooped up his son and gave him a cuddle. He smiled at Leah. “Out for a walk?”

            “Someone was getting a little antsy inside.” Leah sighed and kissed his cheek. "He wanted to see the horses like in Warwickshire. So I decided to come here and see if you had any horses in." 

            “Who’s with you?” He frowned, hoping she hadn't gone on her walk alone. 

            “Isaiah and Finn.” She glanced over her shoulder to point out the two young men standing like soldiers. Boys who hadn’t been old enough to fight in the War but were suddenly enlisted into one. No more fooling around while they were on watch like they used to. They stood still, like stone, Isaiah holding a rifle.

           “Good.” Tommy nodded. Finn seemed ready to take his position in the family as a legitimate fighter. Perhaps he was trying to do his best to fill the empty spot John had left. Trying to do what he could for the family. 

            “Who’s that coming in?” Leah wondered. The smoke and fog began to clear and Uncle Charlie hopped down to tie up the boat.

            Tommy walked over to offer a hand to the other passenger of the boat, balancing his son on his hip. The woman was dressed very nicely, a stark contrast to the yard around them. “Leah, this is May Carleton.” He introduced. “Helps train my horses for the track. May, this is my fiancee, Leah.”

            May’s eyes fell on Leah. Her eyebrows lifted in curiosity. “I didn’t know you were engaged.”

            Leah gave a forced smile and reached out a hand to greet her. The woman was beautiful and she had a sneaking suspicion Tommy had a history with her. Jealousy aside, she was a bit warier with strangers those days, just like Tommy had warned her to be. May wasn't a stranger to him but she was certainly a stranger to Leah. “I suppose it’s a long story to tell.”

            May shook her hand politely. “I’m sure.”

            “If you two are going to a meeting, I’ll continue on our walk.” Leah took Charlie from Tommy’s arms. “Just wanted to say hello.”

            “Oh, I just need Tommy’s signature,” May explained with what seemed like a hint of disappointment. “Don’t leave because of me.”

            “A signature?” Leah studied the other woman’s face and appearance. Obviously, she was hoping for more than a signature.

            “C’mon,” Tommy wrapped an arm around Leah’s waist. “Rather you walk with me. Finn, Isaiah!” He called out to them. “Take a lap, make sure everything’s quiet.”

           

            “Morning Lady Carleton.” Lizzie chirped from behind her desk.

            “I’m not a lady.” May continued past the desk, following Tommy into his office.

            Leah let Charlie run around the front of the offices. He gravitated towards Lizzie who always had sweets on a silver dish. She followed the little boy, letting Tommy and May speak alone.

            The relationship between Leah and Lizzie was an odd one, to say the least. They’d had such a rocky start it was almost laughable to think they would ever get along. But the more time Leah spent in Small Heath, and around the company’s properties, the more she spent time with Lizzie. Leah never disliked her. In fact, she could appreciate that they came from very similar backgrounds. Both working girls who had found steady ground with the Shelbys. She respected Lizzie’s irreplaceable feelings for Tommy. They clearly had a history together. But as long as Lizzie respected her relationship with Tommy, they didn’t have any issues.

            It was difficult for Lizzie to be angry with Leah. Mostly, she was pissed off at Tommy for toying with her for so many years only to cast her away. Leah took care of Charlie and that was enough for Lizzie to hold some sort of regards for her. Plus, it was nice to have another woman around. After Esme left, the balanced between the Shelby boys and the women who put up with them was becoming uneven.

            Leah sat down across from Lizzie. “What’s the story with him and her?” She asked quietly. "Tommy and May." 

            Lizzie rolled her eyes and fetched Charlie a few pieces of candy. “Before he married Grace, they were…” Her hand waved in the air. “Whatever you want to call affairs with Tommy. But he chose Grace over her once he found out she was pregnant.”

            “Oh…” Leah glanced towards the closed door of his office. “She seems…”

            “Like a snob?” The women shared a secretive smile.

            Charlie wandered back over to Leah. With sweets in hand, he clambered onto her lap. 

            “She’s come for his signature.” Leah rolled her eyes. "All this way for a bloody signature." It was a bit of fun to share a distaste for the same woman instead of being cold towards each other.

            Lizzie found a stack of papers on her desk for the Grace Shelby Foundation. Ones that Tommy had already signed a few hours earlier. She got a wicked smile on her face and held them up. “Should I interrupt them?”

            Leah giggled. “No, no, he’ll only get upset with you.”

            The dark-haired woman scoffed and stood up. “As if I care whether he's upset or not.” Mischief glinted in her eyes while she strode right for the door, papers in hand.

            Leah stifled a laugh and did her best to listen in on the conversation but it was too faint to make out any words. Charlie contently unwrapping the lemon sherbets and popping one after another into his mouth. She smiled and smoothed back his blond hair, placing an affectionate kiss on his temple. “Slow down.” She stopped his hands from unwrapping the last three candies. “You’ll turn into a little lemon if you eat them all at once!" She cooed, making him giggle at the absurdity of turning into a lemon. 

 

            Only a few moments later, Lizzie returned with a slip of paper in hand and a sour look on her face. She sat back down and carelessly tossed the paper on the desk.

            “What’d he say?” Leah wondered.

            “I’ve no idea how you’ll put up with that man.” Lizzie reached for her cigarettes, offering the pack to Leah. "He's so infuriating. Such a..." She made a noise of frustration. "We should all receive sainthoods for dealing with him on a daily basis." 

            She took one of the cigarettes and passed a lighter back to her. “Well, I don't think any of us are as saintly as Linda." 

            Lizzie snorted and gestured towards the slip. “She’s offered a very charitable donation to the Foundation. Flaunting ‘bout her money. Stuck up, whore.” She muttered under her breath.

            Leah picked up the check, finding it blank aside from the woman’s signature. “Well, you ought to decide how much she’s going to donate then if she's being so generous. Let her put her money where her mouth is.” She reached for a pen on the desk and carefully wrote out a number before turning it back over to Tommy’s secretary. “A thousand?”

            Lizzie took a drag of the cigarette. She grabbed the pen and adjusted the amount. “Add another zero and I think that'll teach her.”

            The women shared a laugh but quieted down when Tommy came out. He looked cross as he stormed over to the desk. “What the fuck was that about, Lizzie, aye?” He demanded.

            “Watch your language.” Leah scolded, stepping out in front of the conversation before he could scold his assistant. “Not in front of your son.”

            Tommy huffed but bit his tongue at her request. “A word?” He jerked his head towards his office. “Lizzie, watch Charlie.”          

            Leah was irked at the tone he took with Lizzie but stood up anyway. She set Charlie down and let him go around the desk. She followed him into the office, curious as to what he had to say.

            May was still sitting there, tucking away a folder of papers, presumably the ones she had brought for Tommy to sign. “Miss Ward, Tommy was just telling me a little bit about you.”

            Leah lingered by the door, uneasy by the situation. Her eyes flicked to her fiancee who was pouring himself a drink. “Was he now?”

            Tommy turned. “After events that transpired this morning, I think I need to make better arrangements for you and Charlie.” He began.

            “I’m not sure what you mean.” She replied stiffly and braced herself for an argument. Already she didn't like where the conversation was headed. “I’ve done my part by staying close to you.” There was no telling what events he was talking about. They hadn’t spoken all day so anything could’ve happened from the time he left bed to the time they met up at the yard.

            “Mrs. Carleton was kind enough to offer her home as a sanctuary. Out in Surrey.”

            Every nerve in her body became electrified. “You said that we were safest with you. Now you want to send us to Surrey to be sitting ducks for them?” She demanded.

            “The Italians won’t know where you’ve gone. They’ve lost two more men today, they won’t have enough to keep tabs on everyone.” Tommy continued steadily. May was quiet from her spot in the room. It was any wonder what he’d said to get her to help. She didn’t seem like the type of woman to get involved in such things.

            “I’m not leaving,” Leah affirmed and crossed her arms over her chest. “The move alone would be too dangerous. I’m not risking Charlie’s life.”

            “It’ll be easy to smuggle you both out without any notice. Long as we create a big enough diversion.”

            Leah scoffed and threw up her hands. “So you’re going to use yourself as bait while you ship us off? Unacceptable, Tommy, I’ll not do anything of the sort.”

            “It’ll be safer…”

            “You said Arrow House was safe but I was kidnapped right off the lawn!” Leah snapped.

            The accusation hit Tommy. His fingers tightened around the glass in his hand and his blue eyes didn’t move from her. “May, will you give us a moment?” He requested in a low voice. The other woman looked grateful for an invitation to leave. She gathered her things and without a word, left the office in a hurry.

            The room was quiet for a moment. Tommy set down his glass of whiskey and discarded his cigarette. He looked like he was suffering from an agonizing headache. After taking a second to gather his composure, he walked over to Leah. “This morning, my cousin was almost shot. They were five steps ahead of us. If there is an opportunity to keep you away from all this, then I’m going to take it.”

            “You’re a fool if you think I’m leaving. I’ve done it before, haven’t I?” She challenged. “I’ve sat back, stayed far away while you fought for your life. You damn well wouldn’t even let me near the hospital when you were hurt! You want to fight every war by yourself even though there are people who love and care for you. You cannot take the weight of the world on your shoulders, Tommy.” She urged touched his cheek. “There is no one else I feel safer with than you. And I will be home every night on Watery Lane. I will be there when you come home.”

            He took a shaky breath and rested his hands on her hips. “Ada was right. Once they find out you’re my weakness then they’re going to go after you. They’re testing the waters, Leah. They want to ruin me before they put a bullet in my head.”

            She simply drew him closer to her. “Luckily that’s never going to happen. You’re Tommy Shelby.” Her voice softened. “Nothing is going to happen to you. You’re smarter than them.”

            His face clouded over, his lips frowned grimly. “I wasn’t this morning.”

            “You said you got two more of them.” She reminded him. Her thumb grazing over his cheekbone. “You will win this war. And I will be right here for you whenever you need me. I trust you to keep me and Charlie safe.”

            It was easy for Tommy to want to hide her away. Place her out in the countryside where presumably no one would ever discover her. Allow her some comfort in May’s massive manor. Grant her and Charlie some clean air and an escape from the chaotic neighborhood of Birmingham. But he wouldn’t force her and it was comforting to have her by his side. It made him feel guilty.

            “And when this is all over, we can go back to Arrow House. We’ll get married and create our life together.” Her soothing words managed to get his shoulders to relax and subdue the pounding ache in his head.

            He wrapped his arms tighter around her waist and kissed her slowly. Her lips soft on his, lulling him into a calmer state. When they drew apart, Tommy hugged her close and pressed his face into the crook of her neck.

            “I can’t lose you.” He whispered. The vulnerability he kept hidden was straining to be heard through his voice. No matter how hard he tried to keep it under wraps.

            “You won’t.” She promised softly. “I’m not going anywhere. Especially not Surrey.”

            He laughed weakly. “I think you’re the only person in this world who would rather stay in Birmingham instead of Surrey.” He lifted his head to look at her.

            “I’d rather stay wherever you and Charlie are. Wherever my family is.” She smiled and kissed him again. 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

            Tommy woke early and he was wise to be quiet. Unfortunately, the floorboards of the flat were much squeakier than he remembered. He'd forgotten which ones to avoid, the ones he'd memorized so he could sneak out at night to see Greta. 

 

            "Tom..." Leah stirred when she heard the floor creak under his weight. She blearily reached out, groping at the empty side of the bed. "Tommy?" 

 

            He paused, wondering if she'd just fall back asleep if he didn't say anything. 

 

            Instead, she blinked a few times and lifted her head. She saw her hand resting on the sheets beside her. No Tommy in sight. She turned over and caught him standing absolutely still, a slightly guilty look in his eyes. "Where'ya going?" She mumbled. 

 

            "A few things I have to do." He walked back over and sat down on the edge of the bed. 

 

            "Like what?" Leah yawned and reached up to graze her fingers down the nape of his neck. 

 

            "Few errands." The guns were already hidden. The ammunition concealed in clever spots around Artillery Square. Polly had already tipped Luca off. Tommy was ready to single-handedly bring this war to an end. He fully expected a shoot-out. And no matter how much he planned, he couldn't be certain that he'd make it out alive or unharmed. All he could do was trust his gut and eliminate any hesitation. Hesitation would get him killed. 

 

            Leah sat up, stifling another yawn. "Want me to come along?" 

 

            "No, love, you stay here. Get some more rest, aye?" He murmured and brushed his knuckles against her cheek. "Sun's barely even up." 

 

            She nodded but didn't lie back down, didn't move her arms from around him. 

 

            "Leah." 

 

            "Mhm?" She rested her cheek on his shoulder, closing her eyes again. 

 

            He was sure she could hear his heart racing. His fingers combed through her hair, slipping through her honey curls. "If anything were to happen to me, you'd take custody of Charlie, wouldn't you?" There were plenty of people who would adopt Charlie, Tommy wasn't afraid of leaving his son alone. But he wanted Leah to be the one to care for him. 

 

            "Don't like when you talk like that." She whispered. "Talking like something is going to happen." 

 

            "No one is guaranteed tomorrow." He replied quietly. "You and I both know that as well as anyone." 

 

            She simply gave him a grumble of reluctant agreement. 

 

            He sighed and nuzzled her cheek. "Just want to know you'd always be there for him." 

 

            "Tommy, of course I would be. He's become my life just as much as you have." Her hand pressed to the back of his neck to hold him closer. "I would never abandon him. 

 

            Of course he had a feeling the caring and patient woman would never do such a thing. It was obvious how attached she'd become to the little boy. But it was still relieving to hear her confirmation. It gave Tommy the strength to part from her. "I love you, go back to bed." He left her with a lingering kiss before marching off to battle. A single soldier. 

 

 

 

 

 

            Polly had invited Leah to spend time at her apartment with Charlie. She didn't mention a reason other than to catch up. Leah didn't think there was much to catch up on. The family were limited to such a small area in Birmingham it seemed they knew everything about everyone's movements at all times. But she was naïve to think that there were still things happening in the shadows. 

 

            Leah was sat on the floor with Charlie as he peacefully played with some toy cars. She basked in the warmth coming from the fireplace, making sure the little boy didn't get too close to the grate. 

 

            Polly began to set out teacups, more than just two for the both of them. Leah noticed but didn't ask about the extra guests. She just waited for the door downstairs to open and the footsteps to enter the room. 

 

            Tommy was still a little breathless when he walked in. He seemed a bit out of sorts, stumbling about in a daze. He knelt down to kiss the top of Charlie's head before slumping into a chair. Without a word, he took out a cigarette and his lighter. His blue eyes were fixed on Charlie who didn't seem bothered by his father's slightly off demeanor.

 

            Leah tried to catch his gaze but he didn't budge. Polly walked over to her nephew and took the lighter out of his hand to light the cigarette in his mouth. It appeared to snap Tommy out of the haze as he gave his aunt a thankful nod. 

 

            "What are you going to tell Arthur?" Polly asked, her eyes hinting at Leah as well. Subtly adding her to the list of people Tommy needed to confess about his morning shoot out. 

 

            "I'll tell him the truth." Tommy replied. 

 

            Leah found her voice after the tense moment. "Truth about what?" She asked. 

 

            Polly raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to say something. 

 

            "Just need to wait for the others." He responded quietly and went back to smoking his cigarette. 

 

            The answer was less than ideal but Leah let it slide as long as he upheld his promise of telling her. She touched Charlie's arm. "Go on down the hall, I've set up your train set in Auntie's room." She murmured softly. 

 

            Charlie smiled and stood up to run out of the room and find his beloved train. Leah gathered the cars off the rug and stood up. She placed them on a side table and looked to Tommy. 

 

            He finally met her gaze and held an arm out to her. He drew her close by the waist. "Steady." 

 

            "I'm okay." She whispered back and took his face in her hands. Holding onto the tender moment as long as she could.   

 

            "I'd like to speak with you after I've spoken to everyone." The request was soft and promising so she nodded in agreement. 

 

            "They're here." Polly announced from the window. 

 

            Tommy stood and offered the chair to Leah. He paced a few strides in front of the fireplace as they waited for the others to come upstairs. Leah greeted Arthur, Linda, Lizzie, Charlie, and Johnny as they passed by her. 

 

            Arthur appeared a little agitated as he sat. Without wasting time, he confronted is brother with the news. "What the fuck happened today, Tom? We all heard. Shooting in Artillery Square." 

 

            Leah's eyes widened, enough of a question for Tommy. He didn't flinch simply nodded. "Today I killed three men. Now our enemies are down to eight." 

 

            It knocked the wind right out of her. Had he been ambushed while doing the so-called errands he said he was going to do? Or...

 

            "I suppose they took you by surprise then." 

 

            "No." The response was clear and unapologetic. "I knew they were coming." 

 

            "Unbelievable." Leah couldn't help but let the word slip.  

 

            Tommy heard her but didn't say anything. He could atone later when they spoke about his plans. Instead, he let Polly explain the arrangement between her and Luca Changretta. The arrangement that Tommy had been well aware of for as long as it had been conceived. 

 

            "You're a fucking idiot, Tom!" 

 

            "Look, I didn't get Luca but I got three, all right?" Tommy's tone was clipped. He always had a hard time with having to explain himself. He liked when he was free to do such things without getting reamed out. 

 

            Leah was developing a headache when Charlie's little footsteps came running back down the hall. He entered the room and smiled up at his father. 

 

            "C'mere you." Tommy scooped him up and rested him on his hip. 

 

            Johnny chuckled, always amused with the chaos the Shelbys created. "I mean I thought you'd gone soft. So you got three?" He inquired curiously. 

 

            "Yeah I got three." Tommy confirmed. 

 

           Charlie tilted his head. "Got three what?" He asked innocently. 

 

            Leah tensed up a bit and waited for Tommy to make up a good enough excuse.

 

            "I got three schillings for a two schilling horse." Tommy smiled and tousled Charlie's hair. "Why don't you go downstairs?" He set the little boy down. "Could I have a moment with Leah?" He requested. 

 

           Arthur slapped his brother on the shoulder and smiled. "Sure thing. Come on Charlie boy." He scooped up his nephew and brought him downstairs. 

 

            Once the room cleared out, Tommy shut the door. "Want a drink?" He asked. 

 

            "No thank you." She said quietly. "Why didn't you tell me about this morning?" 

           

             "Because I was going to do it anyways and I didn't want you to worry." He responded with all the honesty he could. "It wouldn't be fair for you to know because it wouldn't do you any good to know."

              

               Leah frowned. The explanation wasn't sufficient but she wasn't going to argue. It was done. He was alive still. "I thought we were going to be open with each other now." 

 

             "I'm sorry. But I need to play my cards close." He admitted. "Only Polly knew." 

       

              She chewed on her lip and nodded. "What did you want to talk about?" She asked as if to forgive him without saying it outright. 

 

             Tommy sat next beside her and faced her. "I know we discussed getting married after this is all over. But after today I'd like to move that up." He said as if he was discussing a business matter. 

 

              "You'd like to marry me soon?" She was surprised to say the least. "Wouldn't you want to wait?"

 

           "We can have another ceremony later but I'd like to make it official. Because now-" He sighed and let his head fall forward, ducking his head as if he were praying in front of her. His hands clasped over hers. "I would want you to legally take custody of Charlie." His eyes lifted to her.  

 

            "Tommy...nothing's going to happen." 

 

            "Please." He whispered softly. "Please just give me this. We can have a proper wedding after." 

 

             Leah couldn't deny him. She nodded and leaned forward to kiss him.

 

//I apologize the last section was formatted on my phone.

Chapter Text

            “Tommy in?” Ada entered the office without much of a warning. It spooked Leah a bit because of how late it was. Charlie was asleep with Finn watching over him and Tommy hadn’t eaten all day. So Leah took the chance to bring him dinner. After that morning’s chaos, she figured it would be a long night.

            “I think he should be in soon.” She answered.

            His sister came in with a huff, tugging off her gloves. “He is unbelievable. I honestly cannot understand why you’re marrying him.” She snarled and flopped into Tommy’s desk chair.

            Leah’s brow wrinkled in worry. “What happened?” She walked over to the desk and sat.

            There were tears welling up in Ada’s eyes but she steeled herself and waved towards the liquor cart. “Can you get me a drink?” She lifted a hand over her mouth when her voice cracked.

            “Of course, gin?”

            “Whatever’s the most expensive thing he’s got over there.”

            Not too familiar with alcohol, Leah glanced at the labels. She figured Tommy would keep only the priciest bottles in his own office so she just picked the nicest looking label. She poured Ada a glass and hesitated a moment before pouring herself one as well.

            “Now tell me what happened.” She coaxed as she passed over one of the glasses.

            “I was arrested by the cavalry.” Ada’s nose scrunched up in disgust. “I know Tommy was behind it.”

            It was as if she were watching a tennis match but Leah couldn’t keep track of where the ball was on the court. She kept trying to find it but every time her head turned, it wasn’t there. It gave her a headache and she had no idea what to expect.

            Before his fiancee had a moment to say anything, Tommy came into the office. He acknowledged Ada with a glance on his way to the liquor. “You’re sitting in my chair.”

            Leah didn’t have to tell him off, Ada did the honors. “Tell me about Colonel Ben Younger. He offered me a proposition. I know you know about it and I also know when you’re lying to me.” His sister glared daggers at him.

            Tommy cleared his throat and poured himself a glass of whiskey. “Ben Younger was an officer with the Warwickshire Yeomanry in Flanders.” He began to explain on his way over to the desk. He rested a hand on the back of Leah’s chair as if greeting her silently. “The only cavalryman who could ride a fucking horse.”

            Ada wasn’t amused by his remark. “I was strip-searched.”

            He looked like he was slapped in the face. Clearly, that hadn’t been a part of the plan. Or he at least hadn’t thought about it. “Ada…”

            “Two officers watched.”

            Leah knew that there was a level of comfort associated with nudity. As a young woman in London, she had to bite back her modesty as she bared every inch to strangers every night. After a few months, she learned to numb the embarrassment and insecurity that came along with allowing someone to see her in an intimate way. But Ada wasn’t like her. She had a great deal of self-respect and no doubt the event was humiliating and horrifying to her.

            “Tommy…” Leah whispered.

            He shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry, Ada, I didn’t know.”

            Ada pursed her lips, crossed her arms over her chest, and averted her eyes. She was practically shaking with anger.

            “Leah, could I speak with my sister alone?” Tommy requested. “Have one of the men walk you home.”

            Without answering, she walked around the desk to touch Ada’s arm. To her surprise, the woman stood and hugged Leah tightly. She hugged her back and whispered in her ear. “Doesn’t change who you are. You’re still strong.”

            Ada sniffled and drew away. “Yeah, alright.” She nodded.

            Leah smiled sympathetically and placed her bag on the desk. “I brought dinner. I’m sure Tommy can share. You two should have something other than booze.” She walked over to her fiancee and kissed his cheek. “Wake me up when you get home.”

           

            Tommy listened and woke her up when he arrived home near dawn. The day was weighing on him and he wasn’t sure whether it was psychosomatic pain or actual pain that was making him so stiff in the back. Climbing the stairs was near agonizing as his muscles locked up and protested against the movement. He was far too tired to draw himself a bath, especially without the built-in bathtub he was accustomed to at Arrow House. So he simply limped his way into the bedroom and began to toss aside the day.

            Every little movement causing him minor aches in his nerves. His hands were trembling ever so slightly as he undid his tie and the buttons of his shirt.

            He wouldn’t sleep much, if at all. But he would at least lie in bed with Leah not just for her sake but for his own.

            Charlie was fast asleep, tucked away in the corner on his small cot. Leah was curled up on her side, her hand grasping at Tommy’s pillow. He had to gently move it so he could slip under the quilt beside her.

            The motion didn’t wake her but prompted her to reach out in her sleep. Her fingers touching the air for half a second before falling to rest on his stomach. Tommy picked up her hand again, lacing his fingers with hers and drawing her closer to his side.

            This time, Leah woke up. “Did you just get back?” Her voice was nearly silent.

            “Yes.” He admitted. His eyes were glued to the ceiling, his thumb hypnotically moving back and forth over the top of her hand.

            “What time’s it?” She slurred and cuddled closer.

            “Quarter past three.” He answered having checked his watch before heading upstairs.

            “You must be tired.” Her eyes closed again and she shifted over to get a bit more comfortable, making Tommy wrap his arm around her instead of holding her hand.

            Only a small grunt was given as an answer. He didn’t even know if he was tired or not. He was just alive. “Why did you want me to wake you up?”

            “Because I didn’t want you to be alone.”

            Tommy sat with her response for a few moments. Unable to find the words. All he could do was stare up at the ceiling. The small crack in the plaster that had been there for as long as he could recall. Although, he couldn’t seem to remember if it had gotten bigger or stayed the same size. The jagged mark that formed like a lightning bolt. The last thing Tommy used to see every night when he was still stuck in Birmingham. Now he had more, much more. And yet there he was, back staring up at the ceiling.

            “The fight’s tonight.”

            “It is,” Tommy confirmed. “This morning, if you’re still willing, we’ll go down to the council.”

            Leah opened her eyes and peered up at him. “To get married?”

            He nodded ever so slightly. “If you’re willing.”

            “Do you think I’m not?”

            His eyes didn’t move from the same spot. “I know you love me. Otherwise, you wouldn’t still be here.”

            She rested her chin on his shoulder. “Then you need to quit doubting my decision. Haven’t gone back on my word, have I?”

            “No.”

            “And I won’t.” She reached up and guided his eyes to her, her fingers touching his cheek. “So when would you like to leave?”

            A faint smile crossed Tommy’s face. “When we get married. Really get married, gonna buy you a horse. A mare…something sound but strong.”

            Leah laughed softly and nuzzled his cheek. “And what will you name this horse?” She inquired, not bothered that he had spoiled his wedding gift to her.

            “Madwoman.” He grinned and kissed her temple. “’Cause that’s what you are for marrying me, aye?”

            Leah only shook her head and rested her cheek back on his shoulder. There were still a few more hours to spare before the sun rose on their wedding day.

           

Chapter Text

            Thomas Michael Shelby.

            Leah Mary Robinson.

            She picked up the license with shock and wonder. Mrs. Shelby. She was now a Shelby.

            It was nothing more than signing a few documents and citing their legal vows. But Tommy held Leah’s hand the entire time. His blue eyes with a softness that was reserved for her. When he kissed her, it sealed the promise that they made to each other. Tommy would always be there for her and protect her. And if need be, Leah would care for Charlie.

            But she was optimistic and the license held a possibility for them. The possibility of being a family. A family that Leah had lost hope for a very long time ago. A family that Tommy was desperately trying to hold together.

            Once everything was said and done, Leah had to sit down. The lobby of the council was quiet, only a few people sifting in and out. She found a bench to sit down on as she was trembling.

            Tommy followed her, not letting go of her hand. “Alright?” He asked quietly and knelt down in front of her.

            She smiled and nodded even though there were tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t ever expect myself to find love again.” Her hands shook as she reached forward to touch his cheek. “Never expected to make those vows again. After everything, I’ve done…I thought I never deserved love.”

            He gently brushed a thumb over her cheek to wipe away her tears. “Lee,” His voice was low and soft with affection.

            “When you came for me at Midland-never gave up on me. Tommy, I’ve never gotten over that.” She admitted sheepishly, her lower lip quivering. “I fell for you then and there. I was afraid that you’d never feel the same way because of who I was.”

            Tommy touched his forehead to hers and brought her in close. “Doesn’t matter where either of us come from. Matters where we are now. You’re my wife and I’ll never stop loving you. We’ll be alright, aye?”

            With a nod, Leah pulled back and sniffled. “Didn’t mean to get all emotional.” She laughed weakly and wiped her cheeks. “All weepy.”

            He smiled and brushed his thumb over her cheek once more before standing up. “No need to apologize.” He held out a hand to help her up off the bench. “C’mon, I’ve got a few things to straighten out ‘fore tonight.”

 

            “Mummalee!” Charlie chirped from upstairs.       

            Tommy smiled when he heard his son’s mixed up adaptation of Leah’s name. “You ought to just let him call you mum, might be easier in the long run.” He slipped off her coat for her to hang it up.

            “Oh I dunno. I don’t want him to…” She sighed. It was the same excuse she’d used so many times. It was a fine line that she walked every single day with the little boy. Every day, Charlie forgot about Grace just a bit more. Soon, he wouldn’t remember anything about her. He was far too young when they lost her. But Leah didn’t want to take the title away from the woman who had given him life. The woman that gave Tommy a son. A male heir to the Shelby throne.    

            But at the same time, Leah didn’t want to continue to correct Charlie. She didn’t want to alienate him, make him feel like she didn’t want to have a family with him. If they were to have another child, Leah wanted Charlie to feel like he mattered just as much as his half-sibling. How awful it would be if Charlie felt like he was a black sheep just because he wasn’t Leah’s son by blood.

            “I suppose if you’re okay with it, then it would be alright. But I still want him to know about Grace.” She relented.

            “He’ll learn about what happened when he’s old enough to understand the truth.” Tommy agreed.

            “Mummalee!” Charlie called again. “Daddy! Where’s mummalee?”

            “Come on down, Charlie, mumma’s right here,” Tommy responded.

            The sounds of little feet came pattering down the hall and down the stairs. Charlie scampered down to the front room and leapt into Tommy’s arms. He giggled and looked at Leah. “M’hungry.”

            “Yeah?” Leah stroked his hair back and kissed his cheek. “What would you like for lunch, love? Let me make you something.”

            “Actually, Auntie Ada’s coming to pick you up, Charlie,” Tommy said gently. “She’ll make you something.”

            The little boy pouted. “Why?” He whined, dragging out the word.

            “’Cause you’re going to stay with Karl and Mary for the night.”

            Leah gasped, trying to make Charlie excited. “Won’t that be so fun? You get to play with your cousin all day!”

            Charlie didn’t seem too convinced but didn’t argue. “Alright.”

            “And you’ll be good for mumma and daddy?” She murmured and nuzzled his cherub cheeks.

            It drew a small laugh from him and he grabbed a handful of her hair. “Yeah!”

            “Good lad.” Tommy went to open the door when he heard Ada knock.

            Leah kissed Charlie’s forehead. “I love you.” She said and placed him on the floor. “We’ll see you later, poppet.”

            He beamed and ran to greet his aunt. After chatting briefly with Ada, she left hand-in-hand with Charlie. Tommy shut the door and turned to his wife.

            She smiled and tilted her head to the side. “Alright, then, what have you got planned?”

            “Planned?” He asked innocently. After locking the door, he began to head upstairs. “Got nothing planned.”

            “Yes you do, why’d you have Ada get Charlie early?” Curious, Leah followed him.

            “It’s our wedding night, isn’t it?”

            A coy smile spread over her face and she picked up the pace. “And we’ll be spending our wedding night watching a boxing match?”

            “Well, this is only our first wedding night.” He reminded her. “We’ll have to make do.”

            Leah could hear the click of his cufflinks as he began to remove them. Once inside the small bedroom, he turned and began to kiss her in the doorway. It only took a brief second and he took her breath away. With just barely enough sense to tug at the buttons on his shirt. His fingers replaced hers and he swiftly discarded his shirt behind them.

            Tommy could feel her hands trembling against his chest. “Easy, love.” He murmured against her lips. “Easy.”

            “I just need you.” She whispered breathlessly. “Stay this close.” Her fingers traced over his tattoos.

            “How’d you need me, love?” His voice lowered deeper with desire. “Tell me how you need me.” He began to undo the ties of her dress.

            The desperation in his voice drew a whimper from her. “Tom…” Her voice shuddered helplessly.

            “Tell me, Leah.” Blue eyes firm on hers, his pupils blown with lust.

            “I’m yours now. Mark me, I want to feel you. I want to know you’re mine.” The words fell from her lips, dripping with need and endearment.

            It was the perfect response for Tommy. With no one else in the house or the betting shop, there was no reason to hold back.

 

            It was only a few hours until the fight. But Tommy was still in bed with Leah. He knew he had to get ready and brief his men, but it was too tempting to stay under the guilt with her.

            His wife had dozed off beside him, curled up against him. She wore nothing but her engagement ring and the love bites that Tommy had scattered over her skin. Bruising marks, the pressure applied making her gasp loudly and beg for more.

            Leah left a few of her own on her husband. Denting his pale skin, sucking and kissing at his tattoos. The final one was a strong nip at his shoulder, just a few inches from the bullet wound marring him. He closed his fingers around her hair and came so hard he saw stars.

            After the intense climax, he petted her hair and kissed her all over. Murmuring words of adoration against the marks he made. Calling her his love, his wife, his one and only. His wife. Mrs. Shelby.

            It was a moment of bliss before the chaos they faced. The fight was bound to bring danger. But all of them would be there. And if things came to an end for him, Tommy would have that last moment with his wife.

Chapter Text

           

            “Can’t say I’ve ever been to a boxing match.” Leah walked arm in arm with Ada to the venue.

            “It’s only entertaining towards the end.” The Shelby woman shrugged. “I brought something to make it a little more exciting.” She coyly showed Leah the bottle tucked away in her purse.

            Her sister-in-law giggled and shook her head. “You Shelby girls just love getting in trouble.”

            “Well, you’re one of us now,” Ada replied pointedly. “Although I hope Tommy doesn’t make you wait too long for a nicer ceremony.”

            “He said he and Grace were married in the church down the road from Arrow House.”

            Ada nodded. “I can remember the looks on her family’s faces. They were horrified at the idea of Grace marrying him.”

            Leah smiled softly and followed her to the front of the building where a line of men was waiting to enter. “But they loved each other.”

            “It’s difficult to measure love.” Ada shrugged and pushed past the men, not even waiting for the bouncers at the door to greet them. “But you can see it in people’s eyes.” The two women had to squeeze close together to get through the narrow hallway packed with loud shouts.

            “No weapons! Empty out your pockets, lads! No admittance with weapons!”

            Past the hallway, they finally entered the seating area. The rows were already starting to fill up with onlookers.

            “Do you wonder if you’ll ever find anyone else?” Having never known Ada when she was married, Leah wasn’t sure if she was overstepping her boundaries. The woman spoke about Freddie every so often, especially when saying how much Karl looked like him.

            Ada found their seats at the front row where Linda and Lizzie were already sat. Polly appeared to be speaking to her nephews a little bit away. “Sometimes I wonder.” She admitted. “But I suppose I won’t know until it’s clearly obvious.”

            Leah smiled warmly. “I suppose you never know.”

            Polly walked over and sat beside her. “Ada, I hope you brought what I asked you to.”

            Ada pulled the bottle from her purse and began handing it down the line of women. She also exchanged a cigarette with Leah and her aunt. “How’s Bonnie look?”

            “Like he’s going to rip someone to shreds,” Polly answered and lounged back in her chair. “The Lord put too much power in such a small little thing.”

            “Do you think he actually has a chance?” Leah wondered. She’d only seen Bonnie in passing and he looked hardly big enough to throw a punch. Meanwhile, Tommy said that Alfie Solomons’s nephew was built like a tank. Leah thought her husband was kidding when he called the boy Goliath. But apparently God did have a sense of humor.

            “Gypsy boys never stay down. They always keep getting up.” Polly gazed out over the ring. “I once broke up a fight between the boys and some Irish kids who they argued with constantly on the streets. Tommy was on the ground and I thought he’d had his entire face kicked in.” She grimaced at the memory of her bloodied nephew, no more than twelve or thirteen at the time. “Could hardly make him out, didn’t think it was him for a moment. I got them separated and out of nowhere Tommy springs up like a fucking animal. Leaped at one of the boys from behind me and brought him to the ground, fucking broke the poor lad's arm like it was a twig.”

            Ada only chuckled even though the event sounded harrowing. “Doesn’t fight like that anymore does he?”

            “Fights behind a desk.” Lizzie agreed. “Wouldn’t want to get those suits of his dirty.”

            Leah smiled weakly but couldn’t get the image of her head. A young Tommy who never stopped fighting. Had he ever stopped? As long as she’d known him, he continued fighting. It was anyone’s guess what he would take on next.

           

            When the fight began, Leah hadn’t seen Tommy at all in the venue. The rest of the front row seats were all taken except for one that was across the way from her. “Ada, where’s Tom gone off to?” She leaned over, talking in her sister-in-law’s ear so she could hear her over the crowd. The men around them were beginning to get amped up as the fighters made their entrance. The odds looked clearly in their favor.  

            “Polly says he’s been wandering in the back, somewhere in the locker rooms.” She replied.

            Leah stood, an uneasy feeling suddenly coming over her. “I’ll be right back.” She called.

            Ada grabbed her arm. “No, stay! We’ve got plenty more to drink!” She shook the bottle at her, the clear liquid sloshing around. 

            She smiled weakly and shook her off. “Well then save some for me.” She made her way through the crowds, finding a hallway that led to a quieter area. Before she reached a doorway, a broad figure came turning a corner and nearly running into her. Leah gasped quietly and stepped back in shock.

            “Sorry, love, didn’t mean to clip ya.” Alfie tipped his hat and glanced up at her from under the wide brim. An amused glint of recognition crossed his blue eyes. “Fucking hell, Rosetta’s girl. Well, ‘scuse me, Mrs. Shelby now, innit?” He placed palm over his heart.

            Leah’s spine locked and she made sure to keep her distance. “Mr. Solomons.” She nodded a curt greeting.

            He smiled. “Be honest, right, I were surprised to hear you were still sticking ‘round Tommy. Then, fuck, I’ve heard you both snuck down to the council to seal the deal, didn’t ya? But he’s gotta knack for keeping women ‘round, don’t he? Reckon it’s them blue eyes, yeah. Makes you forget ‘bout all the things he’s done, aye?” His eyes narrowed as if he were examining right through her and into her soul. “Wonder why he rushed the wedding. Yeah, sorta insurance. Someone to watch after his boy after they’ve gutted him like a pig. Clever lad, ain’t he?”

            Leah didn’t think she could breathe anymore. Panic had overtaken her and risen up to her throat.

            “Yeah, hm, well.” He grunted and tipped his hat again. “I’ve got a train to catch. Have a good fight, Mrs. Shelby.” And with that, Alfie passed by her in the hallway and walked into the light of the venue.

            Leah mindlessly clutched at the necklace she was wearing, trying to get herself to breathe properly again. Worried, she rushed into the room to find Tommy.

            Her husband was sat on a bench, slightly hunched over his knees. He looked to be in pain, most likely a migraine. When he heard her heels on the smooth floor, he glanced up.

            “Tommy,”

            “Yeah, yes…love, what is it?” He didn’t seem to really hear or see her.

            Leah approached him and crouched down to meet his eye-line. “Tommy, look at me please.” She begged.

            He did. But he was looking straight through her. “I see you.”

            Her gloved hand touched his cheek, beckoning him away from the pain. Trying to pull him towards her. Pull him out of the daze that he was stuck in. “What’s going to happen, Tom?” That was the source of her uneasiness. This wasn’t just a night of sport. It was all planned. Tommy held the puppet strings but it was only a matter of time until his grip slipped and everything came tumbling down.

            He didn’t reply. Didn’t say anything that would ease her worry. He simply rested a hand on the nape of her neck, his eyes dancing around her but never truly met her face.

            “If something is going to happen then you need to tell me.” She pressed. “If we’re in danger…”

            “You’re not in danger. Everyone was searched.” His answer was automatic. Rehearsed even. “No weapons are in the building except for the ones we have. Told you I’d protect you.”

            Leah’s pulse quickened and she fought the urge to scream at him. To demand he tell her what his plan was. Instead, she grabbed his hand and moved it to her bare collarbone. To a mark that he had left on her the night before. The bruising bite covered partially by makeup, but not enough that he couldn’t see it.

            “I’m yours, Tommy.” She reminded him. “Every bit of me is yours. Everything.”

            Tommy swallowed and for a hint of a second, his eyes flashed vulnerability. His head tipped forward and kissed the mark he’d left. His lips lingered there for a moment and his eyes closed.

            “See us through this.” She whispered.

            “God’s not listening to any of us anymore.” He mumbled against her skin.

            “I’m not asking God. I’m asking you.”

 

 

            Leah returned to her seat with no reassurance. But she attempted to join the women in the fun. Drinking and drunkenly cheering on Bonnie. Still, a dark presence hovered over her shoulder. Everything felt wrong and upside down. A strange nightmare that was completely out of her hands. All she could do was sit, strapped down to reality, and accept the world in front of her.

            Towards the end of the fight, Tommy and Arthur’s seats went up missing again. Polly noticed first and stood up. But Leah didn’t notice as she was turned to Lizzie.

            She didn’t notice anything amiss until the fight was over and the entire building was losing their mind over Bonnie’s win. That’s when Polly returned and whispered something to Linda. The blonde woman’s eyes widened and she crumpled like a leaf in the wind.

            Out of the corner of her eye, Leah noticed Tommy coming in like a wild-eyed horse. He haphazardly ducked under the ropes of the ring and stood in the spotlights. Without warning, he fired shots into the air. The excitement quickly turned to fear and all the onlookers ducked.

            “Close the doors!” Tommy shouted. “No one fucking leaves!”

            Leah’s heart pounded against her chest and she slowly lifted herself up a little to inch towards the ring.

            “My brother is dead!”

            A hushed shock waved over the room. Hardly anyone moved a muscle, terrified they’d fall victim to a Shelby with a gun.

            “Do you hear me?!” Tommy’s voice raised even louder. “My brother is dead!”

            Leah slipped under the ring ropes and tried for the gun. Grabbing a hold of it and trying to wrestle it away from him before he did anything rash.

            Tommy reacted, trying to shake her off. But instead, she grabbed onto him and refused to let go. She let him fight for a moment before he went limp in her arms.

            The venue erupting into chaos around them. Accusations and grief suddenly filling the large space. Leah clung to Tommy, feeling him breathe heavily and unevenly against her. Drops of sweat pressing into her bare shoulders. His knees buckled and Leah couldn’t hold him upright. So they fell to the ground together.

Chapter Text

            “Blow the wind blow.”

            Click click.

            “Swift and low.”

            Click click.

            “Blow the wind over the ocean.”

            Click click click click.

            Leah paused singing and looked over at Tommy. He had been brooding in the corner since they returned from the fight. He shied from her touch and had gone completely silent. Yet he wouldn’t leave the small bedroom. Normally, in Warwickshire, if he was in such a mood he would wander the grounds. Circling back and forth around to the stables, the pastures, inside upstairs into Grace’s room. Back out onto the lawn and towards the stables again.

            But in Small Heath, after the loss of Arthur, he refused to leave Leah and Charlie’s side. And he was so agitated that he couldn’t sit still. His gun was in his hand, spinning the barrel around and around. The clicking noise, accompanied with Tommy’s intense presence was inhibiting Charlie’s ability to fall asleep. He kept tossing and turning, his eyes blinking tiredly but never closing for very long. But Tommy didn’t notice and continued the fidget.

            “Uh…breakers rolling to the coastline.” Leah’s voice shook and she reached for Charlie’s small hand. He latched onto her hand and yawned. “Bringing ships to harbor.”

            Click click click click.

            Leah swallowed and gathered Charlie into her arms. “Is Finn still downstairs?” She asked.

            Tommy nodded wordlessly.

            “Maybe Charlie’ll sleep better in his room then.” She stood and went to bring the exhausted child into the next room. There he wouldn't be disturbed by his father's grief.

            Her husband reacted like a lightning bolt. He kicked the chair back and slammed a hand on the door before she could even reach for the handle. “He stays in here.” His words were ice cold, colder than the frigid blue of his eyes.

            Leah instinctually tightened her hold on Charlie in shock. He'd been short with her before but never had he been so abrasive. “He can’t fall asleep in here, I think it would be better if he had a quieter…”

            “Neither of you are leaving my fucking sight.”

            Charlie snuffled and whined against her shoulder. Tommy's angry tone shaking him. “Mumma.” His fingers wrapped around her blouse collar.

            She gently rocked him, trying to reassure him he was safe. “Tommy, he’s exhausted and you’re keeping him awake. He’ll be fine in the other room.”

            “Don’t fucking argue with me, not now.” He demanded and refused to move his hand from the door. "Of all the times you want to fucking argue with me?" 

            Charlie whimpered and ducked his face. "Mumma!" He cried louder. 

            “You’re scaring him, Thomas.” She scolded quietly. There was no way she was about to have a full-blown argument in front of the boy. “I’ll have Polly sit with him in Finn’s room.”

            Tommy’s jaw clenched but he could see that Charlie was cowering away from him. After a brief second of clarity, he removed his hand and stepped away from the door. Leah left the room before he changed his mind. She brought Charlie into Finn’s room and got him tucked in again.

            The little boy rubbed his eyes and pouted. “Daddy’s mad.”

            “No, poppet, he’s just stressed.” She smoothed the quilt over him, making sure he was warm enough and handed him his Teddy bear. 

            “Wha’s that?” Charlie hugged the ted close, partially burying his face in the curly fur.

            Leah chewed on her lip. She wasn’t sure how to define the word. “It’s…it’s when you’re very sad and worried.”

            “Oh.” Charlie yawned again and could hardly keep his eyes open any longer. “Will he be happy soon?”

            “I hope so.” She whispered and kissed his forehead. “Now it's time to sleep. I'll stay and sing until you're dreaming." With a promise, she began singing again. "Gulls against the morning sunlight,” She brushed her hand over his blond hair and started the lullaby over again. No matter how many times, she would sing until he was asleep. “Flying off to freedom…Blow the wind, blow. Swift and low…”

 

            After Charlie fell asleep and she got Polly to sit up with him in Finn’s room, Leah returned to Tommy’s room. He had sat down on the bed but the gun was still in his hand. His thumb spinning the barrel. There was murder in his eyes. An obsessed fixation on getting retribution. Avenging both of his fallen brothers.

            Leah walked over to him and reached for the gun. He tensed up, his shoulder locking and pulling away from her. “Tommy, please just put it down.”

            Instead of facing her, he glanced over his shoulder and drew back the lace curtains. There were men flooding the lane. Soldiers armed and prepared to die for him. But Luca wouldn’t come tonight. No, there was already a plan. Tommy had constructed it. The Italians merely assumed they were the ones in control.

            Relenting, he handed Leah the gun. She made sure the chamber was empty and placed it on the dresser. Curiously, she opened the drawer that she had explored the night after their first date. She pushed aside the expensive ties and found his tags from the war. She traced his name in the tarnished circle of metal. “Why did you keep this but not any of your medals?” She turned and showed him the tag. “Ada said you were decorated.”

            He cleared his throat and pulled out a cigarette. “Didn’t want to lose my name. They stamped that and gave it to me before I left. Every time I could get some sleep, I checked to make sure it was the same. That it hadn’t changed. That’s all I had to remember the man I once was.”

            Leah nodded and placed the tag on the dresser next to the gun. “Tommy, I changed my name for you.” She took the cigarette from between his fingers and took a drag. He reached for it back but she tossed it into the ashtray. Looping her arms around his neck, she straddled his lap. Planted right in front of him, he didn’t have much of an option but to look at her.

            The touch seemed to relax him slightly and he wrapped his arms around her waist.

            “I’ve gone from Leah Ward to Leah Robinson, to Leah Ward-Robinson. Now I write Leah Shelby and I will do so until the day I die. I’ll never introduce myself any differently.”

            He lifted a hand to comb through her blonde hair.

            “Do you trust the woman who changed her name for you?”

            He nodded ever so slightly, a hint of curiosity in his eyes. To him, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason for her question. But he answered it honestly.

            “Then trust that you will win this war. You will come home to me and you’ll be free. That bastard won’t take any more lives. He’s the last person to die in this battle.”

            Tommy’s thumb grazed over her bottom lip. The amount of tension had been building up in the hour or so after the fight. And he was about to hit a boiling point.

            “Charlie fall asleep?”

            Leah nodded. “He was so tired, he went out pretty quickly.”

            “Will you be able to stay quiet?” His eyebrow raised.

            Leah’s pupils dilated and she immediately picked up on what he was implying. She mindlessly nodded again. Her eyes fixed on his lips.

            “You sure?”

            “Yes.” She breathed.

            Tommy picked her up and placed her on the desk, pushing the solid piece of furniture against the wall. He grabbed the nape of her neck and kissed her forcefully.

            Leah moaned and her knees tipped open so Tommy could step between them. “Tom…” She gasped out when he pulled away from her.

            “Sh…” He whispered and nibbled on her lower lip.

            She whimpered and knotted her fingers in his hair.

            Tilting back slightly he took in her flushed face. “Listen to me.” He commanded in a deep voice. “You’re mine, Mrs. Shelby. You’re mine and mine alone.”

            Leah’s lips parted and she tried to pull him in for another kiss. But he kept a hold on the back of her neck. She pouted. “And who do you belong to?” She replied.

            The scent of her perfume and her warmth had Tommy reeling. “Yours.”

            “Then show me.”

 

            “Daddy…mumma.” The next morning, Charlie nudged open the door. Tommy was awake but Leah was still fast asleep, curled up under his arm. Luckily, she’d donned Tommy’s shirt before they went to bed so there was no reason to turn Charlie away.

            “C’mere.” Tommy smiled and beckoned him over.

            His son crawled up onto the bed and immediately went to wedge himself between Tommy and Leah. But he stopped him. “Don’t wake mumma.” He picked Charlie up and set him down on the other side so he didn’t disturb Leah. “Didya sleep in Uncle Finn’s room last night?”

            “Yeah,” Charlie answered quietly and cuddled up to Tommy’s chest. A little hand stretched over to touch Leah’s shoulder. Content and feeling safe, the little boy smiled and closed his eyes again.

            He gently rubbed his back, holding his son and wife close. It was a moment of peace before the inevitable storm that was due. 

 

 

            If Leah were in the right state of mind, she might’ve noticed the stark differences between John and Arthur’s funerals. Polly, Linda, and Tommy all acted solemn, but there was something slightly off. But Leah didn’t pick up on any of it. Instead, she joined the mourners in the field. Ready to send off another Shelby in smoke.

            After placing a flower on the ornately decorated vardo, she stood beside Tommy, wrapping a comforting arm around him.

            He kissed her temple. “S’alright.”

            “Tom!” Someone called out, alerting something was wrong.

            Leah looked across the field to see an older woman she didn’t recognize. It could’ve been a distant relative or perhaps someone from another Traveler family come to pay their respects. But this woman was holding a white flag as she approached the funeral slowly.

            Tommy slipped away from Leah and held out a hand to put everyone at ease. “Let her come.” He addressed the woman. “Until we’re finished.” He spoke cryptically before returning to Leah’s side.

            The woman backed up a few steps and waited. Her eyes were cold on the group of mourners. Her distaste for each and every one of them was clear. But her body language was passive. There would be no attack brought on by this woman.

            Still, it raised alarms for Leah. “Who is that?” She whispered to her husband.

            “Luca Changretta’s mother.” He answered honestly.

            “What?” She hissed in response, her guard instantly going up again. “What is she doing here and why did you let her even come near?”

            He hushed her softly. “She’s not looking to harm anyone, merely looking to settle a vendetta.”

 

            Charlie banged on the window with his open palm. “Outside!”

            Leah sighed and scooped him up. “Not now, poppet. We need to stay inside.” She nuzzled his cheek but the little boy squirmed in her arms. He’d been cooped up all day under the orders of Tommy. The man couldn’t risk anything until his plan went through.

            “Wanna go outside!” The famous Shelby temper was beginning to show as she brought him away from the window.

            Leah could reassure Tommy that he was in control but she had to face facts. There was no telling what was to come. Would a bullet come flying through the window, hitting Charlie? Would men break down the door and assault them? Had they laid an explosive somewhere and a certain movement would trigger it?

            Being inside all day had begun to wear Leah down as well as she was only left with Charlie and her anxious thoughts.

            “C’mon, love, I’ll make you lunch-”

            The door burst open and Leah jolted. The fears that had been weighing her mind down jumped to life. She shielded Charlie but only for a moment until Tommy’s familiar voice called out.

            “Leah?”

            She exhaled in relief and set down Charlie so the little boy could run to his father. Steadying her racing heart, she picked up the book she had been reading out loud to try and entertain Charlie. She came out into the hall and startled.

            Arthur was standing in the doorway with Tommy. He smiled sheepishly. “Hello, sister.”

            Leah dropped the book and froze. “Wh-how? You said-”

            “I’ll explain everything,” Tommy promised. “But for now, we can pack our things for Arrow House.”

            Two more shocks hit Leah. There was a small cut on his neck from an obvious struggle and he had said they were able to return to Warwickshire. “I don’t understand…” She couldn't decide what to ask first. How in the world his dead brother was standing at the door? What had happened since he'd left that morning? Were they safe in Warwickshire?

            He walked over to kiss her cheek. “It’s over.”

            “Over.” She repeated dumbfounded.

            A small smile on his face told her everything. The man hell bent on destroying the Shelby family was dead. Never had Leah been relieved another human was dead. “Once we’re back at Arrow House, I’ll make arrangements for the wedding.” He tucked a stray curl behind her ear, his blue eyes fond on her. "And we'll have the family we're meant to have." 

            Leah let out a noise of joyful disbelief. “Really?” She threw her arms around him.

            Tommy lifted her off the ground, supporting her with strong arms wrapped around her waist. He felt like the door of the jail cell had opened and all of them were finally released. Able to step out into the sun again, leave Birmingham without fear, and return to a normal existence.

            Or as normal as life could be for them. Because Tommy was still looking forward. Looking towards the possibilities, the opportunities, the places he could claim. The thrones that were up for grabs.

Chapter Text

 

            Charlie was elated to be back at Arrow House. He leaped out of the car and dashed across the lawn. “Mumma!” He beckoned Leah, pointing at the stables. The entire drive back he’d chattered nonstop about seeing the horses again. Listing them all off one by one by name. Reminding Leah which one was which. Although Toffee and Honey were the exact same color, Toffee had a white blaze and Honey had three white socks.

            Leah smiled; I was so nice to see the little boy able to run about. She didn’t have to worry if he was outside. He could roam the large space as long as she had him in eyesight.

            Tommy opened the passenger side door for her and helped her out. “Glad he’ll be able to tire himself out.”

            She hummed in agreement. “I suppose we should walk with him to the stables though. He’ll never stop pestering us.” She began to walk but his fingers slipped from hers.

            “There’s one last thing I need to do.” The fall in her face was unmistakable. Things were supposed to be perfect once everything was settled. But there was still one loose end Tommy needed to take care of.

            “Tom…”

            “I’ll be back later tonight with a bouquet of flowers that’ll be too heavy to carry.” He promised with an endearing look.

            Leah pouted but sighed. “Be quick then.”

            He kissed her cheek and waited until she was off with Charlie to the stables. Then, he got back in the car and headed for Margate.

 

            Tommy returned just after Leah and Charlie finished dinner. He wasn’t lugging along the purported bouquet. Instead, he was holding his side and leading a massive dog.

            Mary was the first to spot him from the window. The man stumbling up to the front steps. The older woman hurried out to help him.

            “Is Johnny here?” Tommy wheezed and tossed the dog leash to Mary who looked bewildered.

            “He’s in the dining room with your wife and son. Mr. Shelby…”

            He waved her off. “Take Cyril inside, he’ll be needing water. Maybe some food as well.”

            Mary awkwardly held the lead and looked at the slobbering dog. The beast was huge but seemed very docile despite the circumstances they’d just come from.

            Tommy managed to get inside and to the dining room. The room was starting to spin from the pain he’d been in for the long drive back home. He burst through the doors of the dining room where Leah was talking with Johnny; Charlie was sitting on her lap nearly half-asleep.

            Leah jumped up when she saw her husband doubled over in pain. Blood was seeping through the fingers that were pressed to his side. The white shirt he’d left in, had been stained deep red. “Tommy!”

            “Johnny, I need you to take a bullet out for me.”

            “Daddy?” Charlie’s eyes widened and he clung to Leah. Weighing the consequences, she swept the little boy out of the room so he wouldn’t have to see his father bleeding. “Dog!” Charlie’s attention quickly turned when she brought him into the foyer.

            Leah jolted to a halt when she saw Mary standing there with a bull mastiff. “What on Earth is going on?” She exclaimed by the maid seemed just as dumbfounded as she was.

            Charlie squirmed out of Leah’s arms and rushed over to greet the four-legged visitor. “Hi!” Without hesitation, he wrapped his arms around the dog to give him a great big hug.

            Cyril sniffed his blond hair, his tail beginning to wag happily. After he lost his owner, the little boy’s affection was a welcome one.

            “Mary, please watch him,” Leah said before turning back into the dining room.

            Tommy’s blood-stained shirt was on the floor and Johnny had pulled out a blade.

            “Leah, woulda bring that vodka over?” Johnny asked.

            Shaking, she grabbed the bottle of clear liquid and handed it to him. “Tommy, what happened? Who did this?”

            Her husband had gone pale and was sweating from the pain and blood loss. He simply shook his head.

            “Gonna hafta hold him down, this won’t be pretty,” Johnny informed Leah. “Take a drink, Tom.”

            Tommy took a swig from the bottle. Then Johnny doused the bullet wound and his blade with the rest of the vodka.

            Leah got behind Tommy and wrapped her arms around his upper body. His sweat soaking into the thin sleeves of her silk blouse. She pressed her cheek to his temple. “I’ve got you. It’ll be alright.”

            Tommy tensed up when he felt the tip of Johnny’s blade start to work at the bullet lodged in his skin. He jerked against Leah’s arms and pinched his eyes shut.

            “Sh, sh…” His wife hushed as steadily as she could. She tightened her grip around him, doing her best to hold him back as he fought against her.

            “Easy, Tom, nearly got it out.”

            Tommy let out a loud shout of pain and he struggled in Leah’s arms. “Fuck!”

            “Breathe.” Leah kissed his cheek and tried to keep his attention away from the pain.

            “There ya go.” Johnny dropped the blood-covered bullet onto the pristine tablecloth. “Keep that on it, put pressure on it. I’ll find some proper bandages.” He handed Leah a cloth napkin to press on the wound.

            She held the napkin in place and came around to face Tommy. “It’s over.” She grabbed another napkin to dab the sweat off his face.

            His chest heaved as the pain slowly diminished. He tilted his head back and he blindly reached out for Leah. His hand met her cheek, thumb smoothing over her skin.

            “What happened, Tommy?” She whispered.

            “I killed Alfie.” He responded with brutal honesty. “He shot me to get me to pull the trigger.”

            “Why would he do that?” The notion sounded outrageous to Leah.

            Tommy opened his eyes and lifted his head. The feeling of water sloshing around in his brain made him dizzy again. “He wanted to die. Knew it was all over, said he had cancer. Wanted to die on his own terms.”

            It sent a shiver down Leah’s spine and she wasn’t sure how to respond. She swallowed and briefly checked the bullet wound. “And the dog?”

            “His name is Cyril. I couldn’t leave him.”

            “Is this over now?”

            His eyes slid closed again. “Yeah, love. We’ll get married and I’ll take a break. Told Polly I would.”

            “Good.”

            Tommy’s hand fell from her cheek and he let out a heavy exhale. “Need to rest.” He needed to rest before he walked into the House of Commons.

 

 

 

            Cyril was loyal to a strong presence. Before his death, it had been Alfie. But once the bullmastiff adjusted to living at Arrow House, it was Tommy. Cyril loved Charlie, adored trotting after the little boy as he romped about the manicured lawns. He also liked Leah who called him handsome and gave him tummy rubs.

            But at the end of the day, Cyril listened to Tommy. Always came when he called, sat at his feet when he sat down, curled up on the floor on Tommy’s side of the bed every night. Tucked his tail between his legs in shame when Tommy scolded him. Not that the man could be mad at him for more than a few seconds. Cyril’s sad eyes and droopy face were too difficult to stay mad at.

           

            So on Tommy’s wedding day, Cyril followed the man around, as he got ready. Pushing aside the other Shelbys to get the closest to his owner.

            Arthur wrinkled his nose at the large dog. “Tell me why you kept it?”

            “He’s a good companion for Charlie,” Tommy replied, concentrating on fixing his bowtie.

            Of course, that was an afterthought on the beach. What sealed the deal was when Tommy gathered the strength to sit up. The mastiff was sitting over Alfie’s body as it bled out. The dog’s harmless eyes met his and Tommy’s gut wrenched. He tried standing and was going to turn to leave without the mastiff.

            But he couldn’t get more than a few shuffling steps across the sand he’d stained red. So he stopped and turned around. “C’mon, then.” He’d called.

            But Cyril didn’t move. He sniffed at Alfie again, nosing at his shoulder.

            “C’mon Cyril.”

            He didn’t budge.

            “He’s gone, come along.” Tommy winced in pain as he patted his thigh and whistled, trying everything to get the dog to follow. Eventually, after calling several times and feeling like an idiot, he crossed the gap between him and Alfie and gathered Cyril’s leash. Pulling it from Alfie’s limp hand. “He wanted me to take you. You’ll be alright.”

 

            “Sorta…goofy ain’t he?” Arthur raised an eyebrow at the comically large dog.

            Indeed, he was goofy. Didn’t seem to acknowledge his own size. Despite it never working, Cyril tried to climb up on Tommy’s desk chair while he was working in his office. There was absolutely no way a dog of his size would fit but it didn’t seem to bother him as he smushed his way into Tommy’s lap before the man shook him away.

            Leah said he was a living vacuum cleaner, always able to find the tiniest of crumbs on the floor. He crawled his way under the tablecloth and rested his chin in Charlie’s lap, his eyes begging for scraps of food. Even after inhaling his own dinner, the dog seemed to always have room for more.

            Tommy especially loved when he found Cyril curled up with Charlie in bed. The two listening to Leah tell them a story. The mastiff waited, along with Leah, until the little boy fell asleep. Then, Cyril carefully jumped off Charlie’s bed and followed Leah to bed.

            He was goofy, but he was a member of the family.

 

            “Well, how’d you feel then?” Arthur smiled and clapped his brother on the back. “Walking down the aisle, again?”

            Tommy hinted a smile and nodded. “A long time coming.”

            “Well, rumor is the bride looks a picture.” Arthur passed him a flask. Tommy took a quick drink. “Now let’s get you to the church.”

 

 

            Since Charlie was older than he was when Grace and Tommy got married, he was able to be at the wedding. In fact, he was given the task of being the ring bearer. All dressed up in a little suit and practicing walking down the aisle with his aunts and uncles before the big day arrived. Leah encouraged it because Charlie was a big part of the arrangement. She was marrying Tommy but they were formally creating a family. And although Charlie wasn’t her blood, she had left behind the worries she once had. Never would she disparage Grace’s memory. But Charlie was her son now and would be until her dying days. Nothing would ever change that.

           

            While they waited for the bride, Charlie clung to Tommy’s leg. He looked up at his father with innocent eyes.

            “Mumma’s coming now?” He asked for the third time.

            Tommy smiled and ruffled his hair. “She’s on her way.” There wasn’t any doubt that Leah would show up. Perhaps that was his ego being overconfident, or maybe it was simply the trust they’d built up.

            “She’s gonna look pretty. That’s what Auntie Ada said.” Charlie pressed his cheek to Tommy’s leg.

            “She always looks pretty.” But Tommy couldn’t help the stunned look on his face when the doors to the church opened and Leah walked out. Tradition be damned, Polly was escorting the bride down the aisle.

            Leah was draped in a delicate blush dress, a thin veil of the same color concealing her face. She held a bouquet of roses and baby’s breath. She linked arms with Polly, tilting her head slightly to say something. Tommy’s aunt simply smiled in response.

            Charlie shyly peered up at Leah as Tommy took her hand from Polly.

            Tommy had to steady his heart as he gingerly lifted the veil from her face. Her blonde hair was curled to perfection and she wore a glow that couldn’t possibly be created by makeup. The two smiled at each other, almost in disbelief that they’d made it to the altar.

            “Mumma,” Charlie whispered. “You look pretty.”

            Leah crouched down to kiss his cheek. “Thank you, poppet.”

            Tommy couldn’t keep his eyes off his bride even as Jeremiah began the ceremony.

 

            The reception was in full swing and Arrow House was lit up like a Christmas Tree. The inside and outside were flooded with people all dancing, drinking, and laughing. Two bands kept the party going and most of the Blinders were already drunk enough to start up some sport. Johnny had already received permission to start up bets on a race.

            Unlike his last wedding, there wasn’t much for Tommy to worry about. No Russians trying to ruin the evening. There was no one that needed to die. Everything was running smoothly.

            It was around ten when Charlie began to sulk and grimace crankily at everyone. Crossing his arms over his chest and sticking his lower lip out. So Leah scooped him up to bring him upstairs to bed.

            “Wanna stay up!” He whined.

            “It’s well past your bedtime, poppet.” She murmured softly. “Besides, it’s a boring grown-up party.”

            Cyril padded behind them, his ears perking up at every sound that traveled up the stairs from the party.

            Charlie scrunched up his face. “No…”

            “Yes, it’s no fun. I wish I could go to bed.” She teased and kissed his cheek. “I’m awfully tired.”

            That prompted a yawn from the child who hadn’t realized how tired he was. “Okay.” He ceded, too exhausted to argue.

            Leah got him dressed in pajamas and tucked into bed. She didn’t need to read him any stories or sing a lullaby because he was out cold by the time his head hit the pillow. She instructed Cyril to stay there and shut the door behind her to vainly try to block out any noise of the reveling downstairs. Hopefully, Charlie would be tired enough to sleep through the rowdiness.

            As she stepped into the hall, she found Tommy was smoking by one of the large windows. “Ada said you brought him up to bed.”

            “He was exhausted, took only a second to fall asleep.” She smiled and gathered the skirt of her dress in her hand to walk over to him. “Why’re you up here?”       

            “Needed some time away with my wife.”

            “Is that so?” Mischief glinted in his blue eyes and he jerked his head towards the bedroom door. Not saying anything else but speaking with his eyes. “We’ve guests downstairs.” She reminded him but was already gravitating towards him.

            “I have a reputation for disappearing during parties. They’ll understand.”

 

Chapter Text

            It was so easy to block out all the noise from the reception below. Once the door of the bedroom was closed, Tommy and Leah cast aside the outside world. In that space and in that moment, they were the only things remaining.

            Leah hastily worked at undoing the buttons of his suit. Her worries about keeping their guests waiting weren’t even in the back of her mind. She simply wanted to express her physical love for her husband.

            But Tommy set the pace. His fingers wrapped around her wrist to slow her down. Kissing her languidly, he murmured affectionate words against her lips. “So beautiful. So fucking beautiful.”

            “Please…” Leah gasped softly.

            He didn’t relent and kept his steady pace. Taking his time, making her wait. “Turn around.”

            She did so without hesitation. A soft sigh slipped off her lips when she felt his hands carefully undoing the ties of her dress. Every touch was lasting, burning through the fabric and just kissing her skin. Her toes curled when she felt Tommy’s breath on her bare shoulder. His lips grazing over the skin. He paused beside her ear. Playfully tugging at her lobe with his teeth before whispering to her.

            “You’re mine, Leah.” His deep voice had her reeling with lust. “No other man will ever touch you this way again. Only I’ll get to see you like this. Undone.”

            “Tom,” She whimpered. “Please don’t tease me any longer, please.”

            “Say it.”

            Leah knew what he wanted her to say. “I’m yours, Tommy. Forever.”

            In a flash, he grabbed her by the waist and turned her so she was facing him again. But this time, she stopped him before he could kiss her.

            “Now you say it.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Say it, Tommy.” His lips parted, small pants of want all he could muster. “Say it.”

            He groaned with desire and pulled her flush against him. “I’m yours.”

            “No other woman will touch you the way I touch you. Make you feel the way I do.” She ghosted her lips over his jaw causing a sharp jolt of electricity to travel down his spine.

            “Yes.” He responded. It was difficult to hide the breathiness in his voice. He was too far gone to even attempt it.

            “Then take what’s yours.”

            Tommy didn’t need to be asked twice. He picked her up and brought her to the bed they shared. He pressed into her, letting her feel his weight. One hand hitched her thigh up to his hip, simply rocking together as they kissed.

            Leah was dizzy with desire. For as many times as he’d kissed her before, somehow the feeling still overwhelmed her.

            Tommy pushed himself up so he could get rid of the rest of his clothing. After he tugged his undershirt over his head, Leah saw the fresh bandages that still covered his side. Though it had been some time since his confrontation with Alfie on the beach, he was still healing.

            Wordlessly, his wife grazed her fingers down his abdomen. Just barely touching the edges of the white gauze. She traced back up, dipping between the planes of his ribs and flattening her hand over his chest. Her palm resting over his tattoo. “This is the end of this, Tom.” She whispered. “No more. I can’t take you getting hurt again.”

            He didn’t look away from her even if he couldn’t outright promise her he would never get harmed again. There were far too many people who would love to get a crack at him. “I’ve got more important things to focus on.” He responded, hoping it was enough to keep her satisfied on their wedding day.

            A soft smile spread across her face. “Like?” She prompted.

            “Like raising a family with you.” He lowered down, leaning on his elbows. “How’s that sound, aye?” His nose brushed over her jaw, his hair tickling her cheek.

            She squirmed with want and looped her arms around his neck. “That sounds nice.”

            He drew back to give her a devilish smirk. “Then I’ve got to get you pregnant, Mrs. Shelby.” He replied coyly.

            His wife giggled and chewed on her lip. “Cheeky boy.” She accused before attacking him with kisses.

 

 

            As they attempted to reassume their put-together look of wedded bliss, Leah and Tommy lingered in the bedroom.

            “So I was thinking about things we could do while you’re taking a break.” She said from her spot at the vanity, trying to fix her hair as best she could.

            Tommy was sat on the bed putting on his cufflinks and arm garter. “Yeah, any ideas?”

            “Well, I know how much Charlie would love to take the horses out. Find somewhere to picnic. I think you ought to take him out riding at least every other day. It would make him so happy.”

            “Yeah, alright, I will.” He nodded in agreement. Spending time with the horses and his son sounded relaxing enough.

            “And of course you can go hunting. Maybe even try to golf? Sort of posh but…” She laughed softly and shrugged. “You owe it to yourself to relax.”

            The idea made Tommy absolutely sick to his stomach. But he faked a complacent look as he stood up. “Be nice to try new things.” Of course, he wanted to try new things. Wanted to try his hand in politics. Wanted to show those rich bastards that a workingman could speak just as eloquently as they could. Wanted to see changes he pushed for put into action.

            But he wasn’t meant to be doing anything while on his holiday.

            Tommy stood behind Leah at the vanity, resting his hands on her shoulders. She glanced up at him in the mirror. “I can’t tell you how happy I am right now.” She touched his hand. “Not only being married but…but being able to see you relax for the first time well…ever.”

            The smile on his face was detached. Still, he bent down to kiss her cheek. “Take your time getting ready, I’ll stall for you.” He murmured and went to leave the bedroom. He was surely going to be sick if he had to keep talking about the holiday he was dreading.

 

            And things were okay for about a month. Tommy and Leah bickered a little bit about the duration of his holiday. Eventually, she convinced him to wait out the summer. Three months of doing nothing but relaxing. No work. No business. No politics. Nothing.

            Tommy was grateful for the memories he’d made in that first month. Charlie and Leah kept him busy enough that he didn’t feel like he was sitting around and twiddling his thumbs.

            Together they took long rides out into the pastures. Charlie’s little pony tied up alongside Tommy’s gelding. Sometimes they went out to the stream that fed into a crystal clear pond or up to the glens to find the perfect meadow.

            On shorter trips, they took Cyril along who liked to romp around the tall grass, chasing butterflies and rabbits in the thicket.

           

            On a particularly sunny afternoon, the three, plus Cyril, went out to the pond. It was a warm day so they decided to take Charlie so he could swim. For a brief moment, Tommy was serene.

            He lounged in the grass by the pond, legs outstretched, resting on his elbows. Cyril was sat near him, the mastiff paying close attention to Leah and Charlie. Leah had hitched up her skirt so she could wade into the water with Charlie who was swimming around like a little frog. He kept chirping at her to watch as he practiced ducking his head underwater. Leah praising the little guppy every time he resurfaced with a triumphant grin.

            The hazy summer day felt like a romantic dream. The opening of a novel or a play. When everything was just perfect and airy. The mesmerizing blues and greens of the lush forest sparkling with mystique. The sun reflecting off the water and shining a façade. The laughter of his son and wife sounded too melodious. They appeared to glow in the summer shine.

            Something in Tommy’s gut twitched. His forehead creased and he looked down at his hand resting in the dewy grass. It was shaking.

 

Chapter Text

            “Frances?” Leah called into the other room.

            “Yes, Mrs. Shelby?” The maid entered the doorway.

            “Is Tommy still out fishing?” She checked the clock a second time. Her husband had been due to be home half an hour ago. He’d promised that they would all have lunch together on the lawn. When he left, he seemed to be in a daze but Leah assumed he would keep his promise and arrive home at the time they agreed on.

            “No, Mrs. Shelby. I haven’t seen him arrive home. Should I ask one of the stable boys to go and fetch him?” Frances asked politely.

            “No need.” Leah stood and set aside the letter she was writing. “I’ll go get some fresh air, it’s not too long of a walk.”

            “It’s a bit chilly out, let me fetch your coat.”

            “Oh,” Leah stopped her before she left. “fetch one of Tommy’s riding coats, I don’t want to get any of mine dirty. It’s awfully damp out there.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

 

            The walk to the pond took Leah around the back of Arrow House’s property and into the trails. She often took walks on them with Charlie, so she was familiar with the route. Although it wasn’t raining out, there was a heavy damp feeling to the air. The sun had barely made an appearance all day but Tommy still insisted on going out. After all, he was meant to be relaxing.

            But Leah could tell he was on edge. Strangely, even more so than when they were all under threat from Luca Changretta. It obviously seemed backward, but Polly mentioned the possibility of a change in Tommy’s demeanor. So Leah did her best to watch for the signs and act accordingly. He was entering his third month of holiday. But Leah couldn’t see how that would contribute to his uneasy behavior. How could anyone on a break get so anxious?

            Leah arrived at the pond and found Tommy still there. He noticed her coming but didn’t stand to greet her. His eyes stared out across the marshy pond, glazed over in deep thought.

            “Caught anything?” She asked softly.

            His head barely shook to the side to answer.

            Leah touched his shoulder and cleared her throat. There was tension radiating from him but she couldn’t understand why. He was simply sitting there, sitting by a peaceful pond, no enemies holding guns at his head. No danger in sight. “You’ve gone quiet the last few days. I’ve been worried.”

            The muscles in his jaw flexed but he still didn’t say anything.

            “Tommy, if there’s something bothering you…”

            He heard it before she did. And he heard it differently than she did.

            Planes.

            German planes.

            German bombers.

            Tommy reacted quickly. He grabbed Leah by the waist and dropped them both to the ground. Tucking his head under his arm, he braced for the impact.

            Leah hardly could react in time. “Tommy!” She pushed him off. “Tommy, they’re just hunters!”

            His ears stopped ringing when he heard another gunshot. Then another accompanied by the cheerful rejoicing of hunters and a bark of hounds. Slowly, he released his hold on Leah.

            She stood up in disbelief. “What the hell was that all about?” She demanded and took in her now mud-covered dress.

            Dazed, Tommy looked around and then up at her. He tilted onto his side and remained there for a second. “I heard planes.” He whispered.

            Leah looked up at the gray sky. “Well, I hardly think there are any planes flying that low.”

            He shook his head. “Bombers. I heard bombers.” The soldier stood up and held out his hand. “I’ve got the shakes now.” He’d known for weeks now. Couldn’t seem to get control of it even when he dug his fingernails into his palm or sat on his hands. Still, he had yet to tell Leah about it.

            His wife took his hand, resting it gently over her palm. Indeed, his hand was trembling violently beyond the man’s own control. “I’ll call the doctor.” Her irritated tone softened. “He’ll be able to see you on Monday. Maybe sooner if you need it.”

            “Don’t need a doctor.” He muttered and began to pack up his fishing gear.

            “I’ve heard about this, men who came back from the war suffer…”

            Tommy cut her off. “Don’t need a doctor.” He repeated in an icy tone and turned his back to her.

            Leah wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms over her chest. “So now you’re not going to listen to me at all?” She kept at him even when he gathered everything and started walking down the trail. “Even though I’m your wife and I’ve got every right to be worried about you?”

            His strides were much longer than hers and he didn’t slow his pace. Instead, she had to jog a few steps to keep up with him. “Leah, I’m not having this conversation. Forget about it.”

            “Forget about it? I’ve heard you up all hours of the night. You drink all day and all night. You’re always angry!” She snapped and slogged her way through the muddy path to catch up. “Charlie’s terrified you’ll be upset with him. He asks after you because he has no clue what’s gotten into you. Neither have I!”

            “Leah…” Tommy spoke her name in a warning tone but didn’t stop or slow down.

            “I’ve been dreaming about this for weeks, being able to relax and live without the worry of being killed. But now you’ve changed so much and you won’t even talk to me!” She wouldn’t relent. Too many times she’d sat back and stayed quiet. No more. Polly had given her more than enough wisdom on how to deal with a Shelby man at his worst.

            So she stopped in the middle of the path. “Thomas Michael Shelby you fucking stop and speak to me this instant!” She shouted.

            Tommy’s gait stuttered. It was so seldom that Leah raised her voice that it caught him off guard. But it didn’t relieve the building tension inside. So he kept walking and left her there.

 

 

            It was a good thing Arrow House had so many rooms. Because Leah did not want to be in the same room as Tommy for at least the rest of the day. She was already deciding which room to sleep in because damned if she wanted to sleep in the same bed after what he’d done that morning.

            To spare Charlie, she did her best to conceal her anger. There was no need for the little boy to worry about both of his parents.

            But when Charlie asked where Tommy was, Leah instructed him to go find him. She stayed behind, tidying up his room so she wouldn’t have to see her husband.

            Not much time passed before Leah heard glass shattering. She got up and hurried into the hall, worried Charlie might’ve fallen and hurt himself. Instead, the little boy was rushing upstairs in tears.

            “Something’s wrong with daddy.” He whimpered.

            “Oh dear.” Leah mumbled under her breath and scooped Charlie up. “He’s alright, poppet, he’s just…sad.” She walked downstairs to find Mary so she could watch after the trembling child.

            Another loud noise came from the big room and when Leah stormed in, she was met with a disaster. Self-Destructive chaos that Tommy inflicted on himself. Several glasses had shattered on the ground. Some books and papers were knocked off the desk that Tommy was using to try and stay upright.

            No matter how much he drank, he did have a limit. And it appeared he had reached that limit about three glasses of whiskey ago.

            Not noticing Leah’s entrance, Tommy fell to his knees, gripping his hand. He let out a sob and hunched over. Such a powerful man with such an air of confidence had resulted in nothing but a drunken mess on the floor.

            It stabbed Leah right in the heart to see him in such a state. She didn’t think he was stupid or being silly. He was hurting.

            “Tommy, what’ve you done?” She sighed and picked her way over the broken glass to get to him. She knelt down and reached for his hand.

            “Lee…” He groaned and lurched forward a little.

            She let him lean on her shoulder and grabbed his injured hand. The broken glass had sliced open his palm and blood was beginning to trickle down his pale skin. “Goodness.”

            “Doesn’t hurt.” He slurred and slumped against her shoulder. “Can’t feel it. Can’t feel anything.”

            Leah pinched his arm making him yelp. “You feel that? That’s your bloody wife about to take care of you.” She said firmly. “Now sit still and wait. Don’t be touching anything else.”

            With some help, Tommy leaned against the back of his desk, legs outstretched and slouching like a petulant child. But he obeyed and stayed put while Leah grabbed a cloth to apply to the cut.

            The two of them sat surrounded by glass in the rich carpet. The sunlight was starting to fade and they were left in darkness soon enough.

            “M’sorry, Lee,” Tommy whispered after his wife grabbed a bit of gauze to wrap around his hand.

            “Don’t apologize. You can apologize to your son in the morning when you’re sober.” She replied tersely.

            He nodded sloppily and let his eyes slide shut, his head resting against his desk. “D’you still love me?”

            Leah scoffed. “That’s a ridiculous thing to ask, Thomas. And now’s not the time.”

            “Do you?” He didn’t seem to hear how peeved off she was.

            “Of course I still fucking love you.” She huffed. “If I didn’t love you then I wouldn’t be here putting your pieces back together, now would I? If I didn’t love you then I’d’ve taken your Bentley and disappeared. But I’m still here, aren’t I?”

            “Yeah.”

            Finishing with a knot in the gauze, she let Tommy’s hand go limp in his lap. “I don’t know what goes through that big brain of yours.” Her eyes were steady on him. “But I know that you’re hurting. And you can’t continue to live this way. Maybe I’m not the person who can help but I need you to know that I’m always here for you.”

            He grumbled in response and leaned forward, burying his face in the crook of her neck. She wrapped her arms around him and cradled him close.

            “It’s okay to be hurt, Tommy.” She soothed. “It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to have emotions. It’s okay not to be okay.”

            He shuddered against her, the substances in his blood causing him to lose the calm demeanor he was so proud to keep even in the worst of situations. Years of suppressing emotions had finally caught up to him. He was able to ignore them in the fast-paced life he kept. The life or death situations keeping the dark thoughts at bay.

            But after three months of living quietly, he couldn’t continue pushing them away. The things that haunted him, creeping over his shoulder and whispering in his ear, were now standing in front of him and screaming in his face. The men he watched die, the earth burying him, the song they all sang together, the sound of the enemies approaching. The men he had killed. Grace’s death. The moment he realized Leah and Charlie had been taken.

            Tommy’s fingers curled around Leah’s shoulders, gripping onto her. “It’s too much.”

            “Sh, let me take it then. Let me handle it. For a moment.” She whispered and pressed her lips to his hair. “Give all the thoughts, all the burdens to me.

           

            After reassuring Charlie that everything was okay, Leah got Tommy to bed. She practically had to undress him; he was still thoroughly fucked up by the whiskey. But eventually she got him under the covers and he passed out seconds after hitting the pillow. Before long, he was snoring away.

            Leah stayed up reading, her hand gently rubbing Tommy’s back as he slept. She was emotionally exhausted after the day. It scared her seeing him so out of control. But there was little she could do to put him back together. That was up to him. All she could was be there for him and try to support him.

            With a sigh, she realized she wasn’t really absorbing any of the words on the page. Instead, she had been reading the same paragraph over and over again while her mind ran amok. She put the book aside and reached over to turn off the lamp. With the room swathed in darkness, she was left alone with her thoughts.

            She knew she was pregnant. Had known for almost a month. There were suspicions when her period was late and then Polly confirmed it for her. Leah was ecstatic to tell Tommy, but couldn’t bring herself to. Not when she noticed the decline in his health and behavior. What would another child do to him? Scare him? Anger him? Cause him more stress? Anxiety?

            He seemed so unstable; there was no way of knowing. And yet, Leah knew that she needed to tell him soon. Before she began to show and he accused her of lying.

            She also needed to go to the doctor. But Polly warned that the second she did, Tommy would know. He knew all the doctors in Birmingham and they all answered to him whether they liked it or not.

            Leah rolled over and wrapped her arms around Tommy, pressing her forehead against his back. “Tommy, I’m pregnant.” She whispered. She wanted to hear the words, test them out on her tongue. Even though she knew he was out cold, panic bubbled inside. What if he suddenly waked and demanded to know what she was talking about?

            She waited for a beat, but Tommy’s breathing didn’t stutter and he didn’t stir.

            “I’m pregnant.”

            Nothing. The whiskey had done its job of knocking him out for at least another few hours.

            Leah lifted her head and pressed a kiss to the bullet wound on his shoulder blade. “I’m pregnant with our child, Tom.” She whispered. Once she said it, she couldn’t stop. “Polly thinks it’s a girl. I want to go to the doctor and hear the heartbeat. Think about it. A sister for Charlie. A beautiful little girl with your eyes. She’ll be here soon. Soon enough.” She swallowed and rested her head back onto the pillow, her arms withdrawing from Tommy’s waist. “I’m pregnant.” She said aloud one more time before pressing a palm to her abdomen.

 

            Tommy woke up the next morning with an unbearable headache. He could hardly see for a moment and his body groaned with protest as he sat up. The bed beside him was empty and bright sunlight shone through the curtains. So he naturally assumed it was late in the morning and Leah was already up and out.

            “Fuck…” He swung his legs around to press his feet to the floor. The pounding in his head was merciless as he rubbed his eyes. But he was slowly starting to remember a few things about the night before. The gauze on his hand reminded him of the glass cutting his palm. The careful application of the bandage reminding him that Leah was there to take care of him. Her gentle hand escorting him to bed. And he’d dreamed something. Something odd. Leah sitting up in bed beside him, holding a baby girl in her arms.

            Strange.

Chapter Text

            “Mumma?”

            “Yes, my love?”

            Charlie looked up from the anthill he had been examining. The little boy was laying in the grass on his stomach, peering down at the mound of dirt that had been built up by the insects. Curiously watching the line of ants traveling through the grass with bits of food, their methodical marching captivating his attention for a good while.

            Leah was lounging on a blanket a few feet away. She’d kicked off her shoes and stockings so she could feel the grass tickling her toes. Keeping Charlie in her peripheral vision, she basked in the warm August sun and read.

            “Why were you and Auntie Pol talking ‘bout babies?” Charlie asked casually.

            Leah jerked in surprise. She thought the little boy had been playing quietly in the room next door when she was talking to Polly. She thought he was well out of earshot, but apparently that wasn’t the case. “We uh…”

            “Auntie said you got a baby in your tummy.” Charlie pushed himself up and wandered over to the blanket to sit beside her.

            Leah cleared her throat and placed her book to the side. She had a sinking feeling that he wasn’t going to let her brush the conversation under the rug. “Well, poppet, I uh…” How on Earth could she explain pregnancy and childbirth to him when she hadn’t even told Tommy yet? Not to mention she wasn’t about to have that discussion with Charlie at such a young age. And yet, it was only a matter of time until she began to show. She already saw the baby bump, although others who were blissfully unaware, like Tommy, wouldn’t look twice.

            Gratefully, Leah saw Tommy walking across the lawn with the newspaper tucked under his arm. “Oh, look!” She redirected Charlie’s attention to his father. “Daddy’s come out to join us. Why don’t you go show him the anthill?”

            Charlie liked the idea and shot up like a rocket, dashing towards Tommy. The man smiled and scooped his son up. They had slowly begun to creep back towards normalcy after Tommy’s breakdown. He and Leah made a compromise that seemed to be doing well. He would leave the majority of the business up to Arthur. And in return, Leah would support his run for election. When he brought up the possibility of being a member of parliament, she thought he was kidding and laughed. Of course, she didn’t doubt his ability, he spoke like a politician when he needed to and he was more than clever enough. But this revelation came mere days after she found him on the floor in such a state of woe. So to hear that he was planning to embark on this big campaign was unbelievable to her. But he was dead serious and quickly showed her.

            Before long, he was setting up a plan of action. A way to get enough votes to secure the seat. That included the women’s vote. Leah wanted him to slow down. To take time to breathe after all they’d been through with Changretta. But she couldn’t deny that he was in better spirits. He didn’t seem so on edge or like he was forcing himself to be happy. She only wished that there would be a day when he could be satisfied with what he had.

            “‘N the ants get food and carry it up to the hill ‘cause that’s where they all live!” Charlie was chattering away as Tommy carried him back over to Leah.

            She smiled hesitantly and hoped Charlie had forgotten about his prior question.

            “Show me then.” Tommy set his son down, kneeling to observe the anthill. “They’re busy, aye? Always moving?”

            “Yeah!” Charlie beamed and plopped back down on the grass. “Daddy, guess what?”

            “What?”

            “Auntie Pol said mumma’s got a baby in her tummy.” He blurted out before Leah could try to stop him. “Isn’t that silly?”

            Tommy’s head snapped up in utter shock. His blue eyes finding Leah. Completely frozen, he barely heard Charlie continue to ramble on about how babies didn’t live in tummies and that Frances had said they were delivered by storks.

            Leah sheepishly met his bewildered stare. For a moment, she couldn’t read his expression. He obviously looked stunned but she couldn’t tell if it was in a happy or angry way. Then his eyebrow raised, asking her a question without speaking. He wanted to know whether it was true or not.

Slowly, Leah nodded and let a hand slip to her abdomen.

            A second wave of shock knocked Tommy right in the gut. He shakily got to his feet and walked over to her. She stood to meet him and opened her mouth to explain. To apologize for not telling him earlier.

But he didn’t give her the chance. Instead, he enveloped her in his arms, hugging her tightly. Leah let out a quivering laugh and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Tears came to her eyes, tears of relief. He wasn’t upset. He was happy. They could be happy.

 

They didn’t talk about it until Charlie was asleep in bed. Tommy figured it would be better to discuss the best plan of action for telling his son. The little boy still thought it was a riot that Polly thought babies lived in people’s stomach.

“That’s where food goes, daddy, it’s so silly!”

Tommy agreed that it was silly just so Charlie wouldn’t ask any more questions and further complicate the matter.

           

            “Did Polly tell you the gender?” Tommy asked quietly.

            They were sat in bed after Charlie had finally fallen asleep. Intertwined with each other as they spoke softly in the dimly lit room. Leah draped her legs over Tommy’s lap, her husband holding her close.

She pressed her forehead to his cheek and smiled. “A girl. Won’t that be perfect? Charlie’ll be the best older brother.”

Tommy smiled in disbelief. “A girl…” He whispered. “I can hardly believe it.”

            “I was so shocked but I’m happy.” Leah touched his cheek and lifted her head so she could meet his eyes. “Are you happy?”

            “Of course.” He replied genuinely. “It’s what we’ve wanted.”

            “I know, I just...I was worried that you’d be…” She sighed and chewed on her lip. “I wasn’t sure if it was the right time or not.”

            “Wouldn’t be a better time.” He responded and lightly grazed his fingertips up and down her thigh. “I said we’d have a family after everything was settled in Small Heath. It’s been settled so now we can have a family.” He made it sound so simple but Leah knew it was far more complicated. Especially once he announced his bid for a seat in parliament.

            But at least he was happy.

            “Think she’ll look like you? Blonde hair?” Tommy mused with a faint smile. He wound one of her honey-colored curls around his finger.

            Leah shook her head. “I want her to look like you. Blue eyes and dark hair. She’ll be beautiful.”

 “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, aye?” Tommy lifted his wife up and laid her down on the bed. Slowly, and with care, he hovered over her. He pressed his hands into the bed as he lowered himself to place kisses down her body. Pausing at her abdomen, he took in the slight bump that he could now see. The little swell of her stomach and the way it looked swathed in the cream-colored silk of her nightgown. Tommy was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and pride. A daughter. His beautiful wife was going to gift him a daughter.

            Smiling, Tommy kissed her stomach. Things were going to be perfect from then on. He just knew it.

Chapter Text

            Charlie was thoroughly confused. One minute his nanny was telling him storks deliver babies and now his parents were saying otherwise. He was sitting in the big room by the fire. His feet just barely dangling off the deep armchair that Tommy had sat him down in. Leah was perched on the arm of the chair, her hand affectionately smoothing back his blond hair. Tommy was kneeling in front of Charlie, a hand placed on his son’s knee.

            “M’I in trouble?” Charlie sunk into himself, looking a little sheepish. Maybe his father had found out he was the one that knocked over the vase in the foyer because he was roughhousing with Cyril. He’d blamed it on a ghost but wasn’t sure it had really worked or not.

            “No, poppet,” Leah assured him. “Daddy and I just have some news to talk to you about.”

            Tommy smiled. “Charles, what would you say about being a big brother in a few months?” He asked.

            Charlie’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Big brother?”

            “You’d have a little baby brother or sister. Like your cousin Billy. He’s a baby, right?” Leah murmured.

            “Oh. Okay.” The little boy suddenly perked up. “So the stork’s r’gonna bring me a baby!” He appeared overjoyed at the idea of getting a present when it wasn’t even Christmas or his birthday yet. “When?”

            “Well, it’s going to take some time. Mum’s got to deliver the baby.” Tommy tried skirting around the uncomfortable conversation of where children came from. But he was also afraid that Charlie would freak out once Leah began to show.

            “Mum delivers the baby...but she’s not a stork.” Charlie looked even more confused.

            “The baby’s going to live in my stomach until they’re grown enough to be born.” Leah hoped that would be enough of an explanation but of course, it wasn’t.

The thought made Charlie’s eyes widen in horror. “Mum ate a baby!?” He yelled.

Tommy did his best not to burst out laughing. He put a hand over his mouth to stifle the reaction and let Leah take over for a bit.

            “No, poppet, that’s where babies come from. They don’t come from storks.” She winced. It would be one of the first blows to Charlie’s childhood imagination. Hopefully, it would be some time until they had to break the news that Tommy was Santa Claus.

            The boy pouted and crossed his arms over his chest in defiance. “Frances said they did.”

            “Frances was just telling stories, Charlie.” Tommy regained his composure.

            “Oh.” Charlie was still perplexed. “So the baby is in mumma’s belly.”

            “That’s right, and soon you’ll be able to feel the baby kick,” Leah explained. “Won’t that be exciting.”

            The boy squirmed in his seat. That did not sound exciting, in fact, it sounded mildly terrifying to him. “I guess…”

            “When the baby’s born you’ll be able to show them the horses.” Tommy tried to get his son excited for the new arrival. It wouldn’t do anyone good if he suddenly got possessive and jealous. “You’ll be able to teach them so many things.”

            Charlie seemed a little pleased at the notion that he would be older. He was getting to be the age where he resented being called a baby. And although he loved affection, he sometimes got a little huffy if Leah babied him too much. “Okay.” He straightened up a little. “So when will the baby come?” He wondered.

            “In about seven months,” Leah answered. “We can mark it on daddy’s calendar.”

            “That’s such a long time!” Charlie complained.

            “Trust me it’ll go by fast.” Tommy sighed and stood up. He remembered how fast Grace’s pregnancy went. One moment he learned she was expecting, the next he was being brought into the room to meet his firstborn. And Charlie sprouted like a weed. Sometimes the man was utterly shocked to see how tall his son had gotten. It seemed like only yesterday he was holding a little bundle. He hoped that time would slow down so he could enjoy his family.

 

            But before he knew it, Leah was as big as could be. The date Charlie marked on his calendar was coming extremely close. Tommy put a pause to his campaign for a little bit just so he would be around if his wife unexpectedly went into early labor.

            Polly said that most likely wouldn’t be the case. She was as healthy as can be, glowing just like Grace did. Tommy’s aunt assured him that the baby would be born when the first flowers of spring were just starting to open up. And it appeared she was going to be right, as always.

           

            It was early morning in mid-April when Tommy went downstairs to have a smoke. The pregnancy had made Leah sensitive to the smell of cigarettes, making her nauseous almost immediately. So Tommy had to make sure he was on another floor to avoid making her sick. He wasn’t strong enough to quit quite yet.

            He exhaled a breath of smoke and wandered over to the windows in his office. The rose bushes that lined the house had begun to crawl up to the window sill. The thorny buds were just starting to show hints of scarlet red colored petals. Tommy guessed they were only a week or two away from unfurling. So if Polly’s predictions were right, Leah was due any day.

            Finishing up the cigarette, Tommy found the packet of gum he’d started to keep in his desk. The mint chicle washing away the taste of nicotine so Leah wouldn’t be able to taste it if she kissed him. It was never a good sign when your pregnant wife pulled away from a kiss and looked sick to her stomach. So Tommy picked up the habit of brushing his teeth or chewing gum to avoid that reaction again.

            He went back upstairs to return to bed and found Charlie had taken his place. The Blinder chuckled under his breath and scooped his son up. “What’re you doing?”

            “Wanted to feel baby kick.” Charlie latched onto Tommy, his brown eyes sleepy.

            Tommy laid down, letting the boy sprawl out on his chest like he used to when he was just a baby. “Mumma’s asleep.”

            “I know but baby didn’t kick last night!” Charlie complained. He was absolutely chuffed when he first felt a kick against Leah’s stomach weeks earlier. He thought it would be weird, but the experience left him smiling and waiting patiently for another kick. He spent his nights curled up with Leah as she told him a story before bed. He would quietly whisper things to her stomach, but it was too soft to understand exactly what he was saying. Still, Charlie was convinced that the baby understood him.

            “Well, she was probably asleep,” Tommy replied.

            “Who was asleep?” Leah yawned and turned over. Her eyes were still closed but she was clearly awake.

            Tommy always got a sense of pride when he saw her bump. To say he was overly affectionate was an understatement. He took every opportunity to show his wife how pleased he was. She was enduring the pregnancy all while rarely complaining. In fact, sometimes it was hard to tell who was more excited about the baby. More often than not, Tommy and Leah would talk quietly before they went to sleep. Discussing names for their daughter, what day they thought she would be born, what features she would get from which parent, or what her first word might be. It always left them smiling as they fell asleep, dreaming about their daughter.

            “The baby,” Charlie answered. “‘Cause she didn’t kick last night.”

            “Oh, right.” Leah yawned again and opened her eyes, blinking a few times. She smiled when she saw her husband and son curled up together. Soon three would become four. Five if they were counting Cyril who had decided to start sleeping at the end of their bed.

            Charlie mimicked her yawn and closed his eyes. “Still sleepy.” He mumbled.

            “Then sleep, poppet.” Leah moved closer to Tommy and smoothed Charlie’s hair back. “Sleep a bit longer.”

            She didn’t need to say it twice, the boy was fast asleep within another five minutes.

            Tommy gently rubbed his son’s back as he slept. “You sleep well?” He asked.

            Leah hummed and nodded. “I had a dream.” She told him.

            “Yeah? What about?”

            “Your brother. John.”

            Tommy chewed on the inside of his cheek. Sadness always seeped through him whenever he thought about his fallen brother. It was hard not to miss him. “Did he say anything?”

            Leah shook her head and reached for Tommy’s hand. “No.” She squeezed it comfortingly. “He simply smiled. And I was thinking, maybe we name the baby after him.”

            “Pol thinks we’re having a daughter.” He reminded her. They always spoke about their baby as a girl. Polly had such a reputation that they only assumed she was right.

            “I know, so I was thinking about names. How does Johanna sound? Johanna Elizabeth Shelby?”

            Tommy chuckled. “My aunt convinced you to name our daughter after her?” He raised an eyebrow.

            Leah smiled and shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I?”

            There was no arguing that. “Johanna Shelby.” He tested out the name and nodded. “I like it.”

            “You do? We could call her Jo for short. Maybe Joey?” She giggled softly. “Wouldn’t that be just adorable?”

            He chuckled and wrapped an arm around his wife. “Whatever you say, love.” He murmured and kissed her hair. The roses would be blooming soon. “But maybe we give her another name? Johanna Elizabeth Rose?” He offered.

            “Rose?” Leah looked up at him. “Why does that name come to mind?”

            “Because Polly said she’ll be here when they bloom. And I’m hoping this brings a new chapter to our lives. A new spring. Get rid of all the hurt we felt through the winter of last year.”

            Leah smiled and nuzzled her cheek against his shoulder. “Thomas Shelby, you could be a poet.” She cooed.

            “A politician needs to speak well. I think I’ll stick with that.” He shared a smile with her and drew her close for a kiss.

Chapter Text

Charlie Shelby did not like his sister. Or at least not like he expected to. The pink, chubby little thing wrapped in a blanket that Tommy introduced him to was not something he was interested in.

            She didn’t do anything except sleep and cry. Couldn’t even hold her own head up. She cried for no apparent reason and smelled funny when she needed a nappy change. But the one thing that Johanna Shelby did that annoyed Charlie the most, was steal everyone’s attention. From the day she was born in late April, Charlie felt like he’d suddenly gone invisible. Everyone always paid attention to the baby. Family came to see the baby, not him.

            It was Johanna this and Johanna that.

            Charlie was livid. He stuck his tongue out at his baby sister and promptly got a scolding from his father. The little boy argued that she wouldn’t even know what he was doing because she was too little and stupid to know anything.

            So Tommy sent him to his room for calling his sister stupid.

            Leah tried her best to keep Charlie involved but felt stretched thin with a newborn. Whenever she managed to get Johanna to sleep for a bit, she napped as well. That meant there was little time to spend with Charlie.

           

            One night, Charlie began to cough. Leah came to his room to wish him goodnight. As she kissed his forehead, he coughed pointedly in her direction.

            “Oh, poppet, are you okay?” She touched his forehead to feel for a fever.

            “M’sick.” Charlie pouted.

            “You seemed okay at dinner.” She said softly and felt his cheeks too. He didn’t seem flushed or warm so she wasn't convinced he had a fever. "Are you sure you don't just have a tickle in your throat?" 

            “No.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “M’sick.” He repeated.

            Tommy entered the bedroom and Charlie coughed again. His father frowned. “What’s that coughing about?” He asked.

            “He says he’s feeling ill,” Leah said with a worried look. “Perhaps we should call the doctor.”

            Tommy caught the glint of triumph in his son’s eyes. Ah, so he was fishing for attention. “Uh-huh. Well, don’t need to call the doctor. We’ve still got some of that cough medicine leftover from when he had a cold this winter. Still, have it in my medicine cabinet, I’ll grab it.”

            Charlie’s eyes widened at the mention of the thick, dark-colored, nasty tasting syrup. “No!” He suddenly shouted.

            Tommy stopped and raised an eyebrow. “Well, if you’re truly sick, Charles, you’ll have to take it.”

            Leah caught onto what her husband was implying. She was a little disheartened. No matter how hard she tried, it was obvious Charlie was feeling left out. “Maybe see how you feel in the morning.” She said softly. “If you’re still feeling ill, we’ll call the doctor.” But she had a feeling that Tommy calling his bluff made the mysterious cough disappear.

            The little boy looked positively disgruntled that his scheme had fallen through. “Mumma…”

            “Yes, love?” Leah tucked him in and stood up to turn off the nightside lamp.

            “Is Johanna gonna live with us forever?” He pulled the covers up to his chin and looked up at her.

            She laughed softly. “What do you mean, poppet?”

            “Can we send her back?”

            Tommy stifled a laugh but Leah didn’t think it was funny at all. “Back? Why would you want to send her away?”

            Charlie shrugged and frowned grumpily at the ceiling. “Dunno.”

            “I know she may not be much fun now, but soon you two will be able to play together,” Leah said gently, hoping to change his mind. He didn’t seem convinced but nodded begrudgingly. "Alright then, goodnight, love.”

 

            Leah closed the door to Charlie’s room behind them and gave her husband a look. “I don’t think this is funny, Tommy.” She scolded. “He’s feeling neglected.”

            Tommy rolled his eyes. “Neglected? He’s got a roof over his head, three meals a day, a stable full of horses ‘n every toy he could possibly want. I wouldn’t consider that neglected.” He began walking back to the bedroom.

            “Every child needs attention.” She followed him. “He thinks we’re giving Johanna too much attention.”

            “Newborns need attention,” Tommy replied and opened the door for her. “I have four siblings, Leah, the boy needs to learn the world doesn’t revolve around him.”

            She sighed. “Just try to make sure he doesn’t feel so left out.” With that, she went to check on their daughter in the adjoining nursery.

 

            Tommy listened to his wife but it didn’t seem to do much good. Charlie had it deadset in his mind that Johanna was there to replace him, he was no longer loved, and neither his mum nor his dad would care if he disappeared.

            So that’s what he planned on doing. The morning after his failed attempt at crying wolf, Charlie gathered up a satchel of his things and took hold of Cyril’s collar. The bullmastiff seemed happy to trail after him. He marched downstairs to where his father was discussing business with Polly in the big room.

            “I’m running away!” He proclaimed.

            His father and great aunt looked at him. Polly, who had seen more than her fair share of announced runaways from her time helping raise the Shelby children, looked amused.

            “Very sad to hear that, Charlie,” Tommy replied coolly from behind his desk. “Your mother, sister, and I will miss you very much.”

            “Well, I’m never coming back.”

            “You don’t think mum will cry when she finds out you’ve left?”

            Charlie faltered a little. “I-I don’t care!”

            “Okay, well I suppose I can’t stop you.” Tommy sighed. “Did you pack food? Don’t want to get hungry on your journey.”

            He hadn’t thought to pack food. “No…”

            “Well, go ask Abby to make you something to bring along. If you change your mind, your Aunt Pol and I will be here.”

            Charlie pulled a face and stomped downstairs to the kitchen with Cyril in tow.

 

            Leah, who was upstairs with Johanna at the time of the declaration, came down with the newborn. She found Polly and Tommy still talking.

            “Oh, there she is.” Polly smiled and held out her arms to hold Johanna.

            Leah handed her over. “Just up from a nap. Tommy, have you seen Charles anywhere?”

            “Yes, he’s run away,” Tommy replied without looking up from his paperwork.

            For a second, she thought she misheard him. “Come again?”

            “He’s decided to run away from home. I told him how sad we’d all be in his absence but he insisted.”

            “Thomas!” Leah gasped. “Run away? What on Earth do you mean? Why are you just sitting here? Go out and find him!” She exclaimed in a panic.

            He just chuckled. “Leah, I would bet a lot of money that he is perfectly safe in the stables. He’s not going to go anywhere.”

            “Tommy did the same thing when John was born,” Polly told her. “Said he was going to run off because no one loved him anymore. He came back five minutes later so he wouldn’t be late for supper.”

            Leah’s forehead creased with worry but she managed to take a breath. “Will you please go out and bring him back in then? I don’t want him to be out there alone.”

            Tommy saw she didn’t find the scenario funny, so he sighed and stood up. “Alright. I’ll be right back.”

 

            Charlie was, in fact, sitting on a bale of hay in the stables, Cyril curled up by his feet. His face was buried in his arms and he was crying. It made Tommy feel guilty for being so blase earlier.

            “Charlie…” He sighed and sat down beside his son.

            “You don’t love me ‘nymore. Only care ‘bout Jo ‘n not me!” He sobbed.

            “That’s not true at all.”

            “Yes, it is!”

            “Sh, sh…” Tommy scooped him up and let him cry onto his shoulder. “Your mother and I have enough love for both of you. “Newborns need a lot of attention, you need to understand. They need us to take care of them. Soon enough Jo will be walking and talking and won’t need us as much. You’ll be her big brother and I know she’ll love you very much.”

            Charlie sniffled and clung to Tommy as he used to as a babe. “Promise?”

            “Of course. I’m sorry you’ve been feeling left out. I’ll try to spend more time with you.”

            “Love you, daddy.” Charlie whimpered. “I don’t wanna run away.”

            “I’m very glad to hear that." Tommy stood up and began to carry him back to the house with Cyril trotting alongside him. “Now, let’s go have biscuits with auntie and mum.” 

 

 

            Johanna wasn’t an easy baby but she wasn’t too difficult to handle. It was helpful to know early on that Tommy’s voice could put her to sleep in almost an instant. Something about his calm, deep tone was soothing to her. So, Leah enlisted Tommy whenever she was having a hard time trying to get Johanna to settle down.

 

            On a particular night, Tommy was exhausted after the drive back from London. He didn’t think being an MP would be as tiring as it turned out to be. The second he walked inside he heard Johanna crying upstairs. He was too tired for the whole newborn thing but went up anyway.

            Leah was standing between the bedroom and the nursery waiting for Tommy to get home. She was rocking Johanna in her arms and trying to sing to her. But her daughter wasn’t having it and was red-faced from crying. Tommy shrugged off his coat and waistcoat. He could see how exhausted his wife looked. Certainly he had a difficult day but she also had two young children to watch after. “C’mere, I’ll take her.” He offered.

            His wife sighed in relief. “Thank you.” She handed Johanna to him and kissed his cheek.        

            “Go on to bed.” He said softly and brought their daughter into the nursery, shutting the door that separated the two rooms.

            Johanna wriggled around in his arms, thrashing her fists about in displeasure.

            “Sh, sh, I know.” Tommy planted himself down in the rocking chair by her cot and rested her on his chest. “You can’t use words so you’ve got to cry. I get it.” He spoke softly, trying to pull her attention away from whatever was irritating her. “Sometimes I wish I could just scream. Must feel better than trying to get people to listen to your words.” He rested his head back and closed his weary eyes. “Can’t imagine the things I have to sit and listen to all day in that bloody room.”

            Johanna whined but began to settle down. The sound of her father’s voice becoming soothingly familiar along with his heartbeat.

            “Grown men who are the most selfish, insincere fucks I’ve ever met. I hope you never have to deal with people like them.” Tommy rubbed her back comfortingly. “Guess all I can do is try to make the world a better place for you and your brother.”

            Johanna let out one more whimper before finally settling against his chest. Her teary eyes finally closing and her breathing becoming deeper. 

            “Will try to give you everything.” He promised and kissed the top of her head. “That’s all I can do anymore.”

Chapter Text

 

            “Daddy!” 

            Tommy smiled and crouched down with his arms open wide. “C’mere, c’mere, c’mere.” He scooped Johanna in his arms and kissed her cheek. He passed by the large grave being dug for Dangerous. A grimace quickly settled on his face. “Get ‘er done, Johnny.” He muttered to the man. 

            Leah stood up from the vardo steps when Tommy came near. “Everything alright back home?” 

            “Fine, everything’s fine. Where’s Charles?” 

            She sighed and nodded her head to the door behind her. “Won’t come out.” She lowered her voice. “Heard Johnny talking in Rocka about you shooting Dangerous. I guess he knows more words than we thought. Certainly knows more words than I do.” 

            Tommy groaned and set Johanna down. “Charlie, come out.” He called. There was a pause before the little blond-haired boy emerged from the wagon. “Have a seat.” 

            The little boy crossed his arms over his chest and refused to listen. It seemed with every passing day he was becoming more and more like his father. Of course, there were ups and downs to that. 

             “Look at me.”

            Charlie pointedly looked the opposite direction and pulled his I’m-Not-Listening face. 

            Tommy exhaled sharply. “There was nothing we could do, your horse was very sick, he was in pain. Even Curly couldn’t help him.” He tried to explain in a steady voice. “Sometimes, sometimes.” He reached out to grab Charlie’s hand. “Sometimes death is a kindness.” 

            Charlie wrenched his hand away from his father and retreated back into the vardo. 

            “Doesn’t fucking listen,” Tommy muttered and roughly passed a hand over his eyes. “Never fucking listen.l” He snarled and stood up. pointing at the door of the vardo.  

            His wife sighed and touched Johanna’s shoulder. “Tommy, please…” 

            “No one ever fucking listens.” He stalked over to the edge of the grave. The sight of the dark horse lying lifeless in the ground made his chest tighten painfully. There was a shuffle of small footsteps beside him. Johanna reached for his hand, wrapping her tiny fingers around his. 

            Tommy forced a smile and squeezed her hand. “Dangerous, my beautiful horse, too wild to race wouldn’t take the reins or the whip. Should have been a warhorse. Got tired of the pasture. Now free.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “In the bleak-” His voice gave out and he swallowed back a sob. 

            Johanna glanced up at him. “You crying?” She asked gently. Being so young, she didn’t understand what was going on. Didn’t understand that the horse in the ground wasn’t just sleeping like her mother had said. Didn’t understand that fathers could cry too. She’d never seen Tommy cry before. 

            “No, love.” He cleared his throat and started again. “In the bleak midwinter.” 

            “What’s that mean?” 

            He scooped his daughter up and held her close. “Nothing, Jo. Nothing.” 

            Leah walked over and ran her fingers through Johanna’s hair, the same color as her father’s. The little girl smiled but it faded. “Why’s Charlie sad?” She asked. 

                “He’ll be alright, Joey-bear.” Tommy avoided her question. He didn’t want her to know about death yet. Best to keep her innocent for as long as he could. 

           

            A little while later, Tommy was lounging in the grass with Johanna. Leah was inside the vardo with Charlie trying to console him best she could. 

            Johanna wandered a few feet away to pick wildflowers and returned to place them on her father’s stomach. 

            “What color’s that, love?” Tommy held up the newly picked Jacob’s Ladder, twirling the stem in his fingers. 

            “Murple.” 

            He chuckled. “Purple.” He corrected softly and tucked the purple flower behind her ear. 

            “Purple.” She mimicked and smiled sweetly. 

            “Good lass.” 

            “Daddy, look!” Johanna pointed towards the car that was rumbling towards them. 

            Tommy scooped up the flowers and set them to the side as he stood up. Seeing his brother behind the steering wheel, he lowered his defenses. But there was certainly something wrong if Arthur was coming to talk to him in person. 

            Arthur parked and got out with the newspaper in his hand. “Tom, I had to tell you in person.” 

            Tommy frowned and took the paper, scanning the headlines. “I told Michael about this on Friday. I warned him this would happen.” 

            “Yeah, well he held on.” 

            It was like a kick to the gut. Tommy stood there stunned for a moment. “He held on.” He whispered. “Michael fucking held on. Michael...carried on dancing and playing and fucking through the snow.” Rage settled in his eyes. “Charlie!” He shouted. 

            Leah picked Johanna up, the little girl starting to cower away from her father. “Tommy.” 

            “Charlie come out here!” When there was no response, Tommy turned, wild-eyed, to his wife. “Kid never fucking listens, Leah. Never listens! What do I have to do to get people to fucking listen to me?” He roared. 

            Johanna whimpered and buried her face in her mother’s curls. “Tommy, that’s enough.” Leah scolded sharply. “We can all hear you. Now stop shouting.”

            Tommy paced back and forth a few steps, his hand dragging over his face and tugging at his hair. 

“What do we do now, Tom?” Arthur asked. 

            “Take Leah and the children back to Birmingham. To the Midland. Call a meeting of the board tomorrow at noon. A full meeting.” Tommy commanded like a sergeant. 

            Leah bristled at the way he was writing her off. “What’s wrong with today? Where are you going?” She set Johanna down and followed her husband as he started towards his horse. 

            “I need to think.” He muttered. 

            “For God’s sake, Thomas, stop!” She grabbed him by the arm. “Look at me. Look at your fucking wife for once!” It was only a matter of time until the magic of Arrow House wore off. When they settled into the routine of having a family, as well as Tommy, being an MP, cracks began to form. It started off with Charlie’s attitude. He was a young boy so it was understandable that he would talk back from time to time, especially regarding who his father was. But it grated on Tommy’s nerves especially if he was exhausted from traveling back and forth from London. Johanna was a fairly quiet child albeit full of energy. And when Tommy denied her time to play, she usually had a fit. 

He did all he could. But it never felt like enough. He was never enough. Being in such a hot-cold mood all the time, his relationship with Leah was strained. 

            He begrudgingly turned away from the horse to look at her. His beautiful wife. Mother of his daughter, adopted mother of his son. 

            There were tears in her hazel eyes. “You can’t even spare me the second to explain what’s going to happen to our family?” She whispered 

            “I learned the news at the same time you did.” He replied, trying to soften his voice but ultimately failing. 

            She scoffed. “You’re supposed to be the smart one.” 

            “Go with Arthur.” He repeated. There was no use in arguing right then and there. 

            Without warning, Leah pulled open his coat and dug through the inside pocket. It was the spot where his hand had been obsessively twitching towards the entire day. She wanted to know what it was. Pulling out the small glass vial, she held it up. “What is this?” She demanded. 

            Tommy’s defenses went up and he jerked back. “Give it here.” 

            “Tell me what it is.” 

            “Leah!” He snapped and grabbed her wrist. “Drop it now.” 

            “What’s so goddamn important that it’s pulling you away from your family?” She tried to pull away from him but he held her firm. 

            His fingers dug into her skin, threatening to bruise. “Leah…”

            “I’m not going to drop it.” She replied. “Is it the morphine that you refused to take when I was taking care of you?” She demanded. “What are you taking it for, Tom?” 

            “It’s none of your fucking business what I’m taking!” He tightened his grip on her wrist enough to make her yelp in pain and drop the vial. The dark glass falling into the tall grass. Tommy instinctively reached down to pick it up, but he paused when he heard Leah crying quietly. He looked up to see her holding her aching wrist, tears falling from her eyelashes. 

            “Is that your way to tell me where I stand?” She accused. “That I mean less to you than fucking dope?” 

            Tommy’s shoulders slumped and he stepped towards her. “Lee, I’m sorry.” 

            She withdrew from him and shook her head adamantly. “We’ve been here, Tom. So many times. You think you can just fix it with two words. Two words and I’ll be fine with the way you’ve been treating me. The way you’ve been treating the children. What do you think it does to them when you yell like that?” 

            “What else am I supposed to say, aye? You want me to be apologetic, that’s what I’m doing. I’m telling you I’m sorry.” 

            “Apologetic?” She dropped her wrist. “Apologetic means you’re going to change your behavior, not just go back to doing what you were doing before.” 

            “I’m the man you married. That’s never changed.” He challenged. His character was not something to be questioned in such a trying time. 

            “Good.” She threw her hands up. “So it’s my fault that I married you. Again, you blame me.” She turned away from him and pinched the bridge of her nose trying not to cry too much. 

            The vial of morphine was taunting him from the grass. Every inch of him wanted to pick it up and finish it off. But instead, he stepped over it and wrapped his arms around his wife. “Listen to me.” He said steadily. 

            Leah sniffled and shook her head. “No, Tommy, I’m sick of it.” 

            “Listen.” He hushed her gently. “Send the children back with Arthur and come back to me.” 

            “Why?” 

            “Because I miss you and I can’t think clearly.” 

            Leah sighed and closed her eyes. “So you’ll have me tonight and just pretend I don’t exist tomorrow?” 

            “I need you to keep me together.” He kissed right behind her ear. “You’re the only one who has ever been able to.” 

            Leah shook his arms off and headed back to the camp. “Give me five minutes.” She called behind her. 

            Tommy smiled slightly but it didn’t last long. He frowned and stooped down to pick up the vial, uncorking it and taking a quick swig of the clear liquid. 

            “Better not let her see what you’ve done, Tommy.” The familiar Irish accent ghosted over his shoulder. 

            He didn’t need to turn around. He knew she was there. 

Chapter Text

            “What does it mean?”

            The sun had begun to set by the time they reached a suitable spot for a fire. Tommy let his horse out to graze and began the fire. Leah was quiet for a bit before she thought it was a good enough time to start asking questions.

            “What does what mean?” Tommy heaved a sigh as he sat down beside his wife. He slipped off his coat to place around her shoulders as the night temperature began to set in.

            “Michael held on. So, he didn’t sell the stocks and the market crashed. What does that mean for us?”

            “It means that he lost me a lot of fucking money,” Tommy muttered and pocketed his lighter once he got a good enough flame going. “And he’s going to have to answer to me once he comes back.”

            Leah’s forehead creased. “Tom, what does it mean for our family?” She reiterated.

            He rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t know exactly yet. We’ve still got some money, just not the kind of money we were depending on before.”

            “So…”

            “So, it puts me in a tough position.” He wrapped an arm around her to pull her closer.

            Leah touched her forehead to his cheek. “I trust that you’ll see us through whatever we have to face.” She murmured softly. “But I can’t have you shut me out again.”

            “You always liked to take things on yourself, didn’t you?” Grace appeared across the fire from them. She smiled serenely. “But you still like to talk to your dead wife, aye, Tommy?”

            He swallowed and kissed Leah’s hair. “I’ll try, love.” He whispered. “And if I do, I’ll need you there to remind me.”

            She lifted her head to look at him with softness. “I can do that.”

            “You were never satisfied. Never.” Grace continued.

            He tried to block out her voice but knew it was him who conjured her. He’d taken the drugs for a reason. He wanted to hear her.

            Leah noticed her husband’s eyes kept flicking over to the dark expanse of the forest beyond the fire. “What is it?” She touched his cheek.

            “Gonna check on the horse.” He muttered and stood up. “Stay here and keep warm.”

            “Alright,” Leah replied but felt a little letdown but trying her best not to show it.

            Tommy wandered through the darkness with a dim lantern. Zeus was grazing nearby and he lifted his head, ears tipped forward curiously.

            “Just me, boy,” Tommy said quietly and held out a comforting hand. The horse snorted contently and went back to eating.

            “Why have you taken her here?” Grace appeared behind him. “Don’t you like being alone?” She walked towards him and touched his shoulder.

            The phantom touch made Tommy shudder. “I can’t abandon her, not anymore.”

            “Then why do you still use that bottle of dope to see me?” His late wife wondered.

            “S’for the pain.”

            “You need the warmth.” Grace embraced him, although the touch was hollow and his senses were so addled that he couldn’t distinguish whether it was real or not.

           

            After a bit, Tommy stumbled back to the fire. Leah was curled up in his coat and half asleep.

            “Tom?” She blinked a few times to bring herself to. “Everything alright?”

            Instead of answering, he knelt down and captured her lips with his. She didn’t push him away, only opening herself up to him. With care, he brushed the coat off her shoulders and laid it down beneath her, cushioning the forest ground for her.

            Leah reclined back and dragged her fingernails over the nape of his neck knowing it made him shiver. When he drew away, she whispered in his ear, “I can’t take it if you pull away from me again. I have everything you need, Tommy, please just stay with me.”

            Her breathless pleads overwhelmed him with guilt and possessiveness. Nevertheless, he carried on as he always did.

 

            At the very least, Leah appeared happy. She got enough confirmation that her husband wouldn’t drift away from her again. If she’d been thorough, she would’ve checked his coat to find he’d finished the vial that was full earlier that afternoon. But she still had enough trust left in him to leave the matter alone.

            After Tommy held the meeting with his family, he, Leah and the children returned to Warwickshire.

            Early morning, Leah was getting Charlie ready for school. He’d only just started his first year and Leah was so proud. Sometimes she forgot how big he was getting. Getting taller and outgrowing everything within a month it seemed.

            “There you go, why don’t you head downstairs for breakfast. I’ll be down in the minute.” She smiled and let him run off. After tidying his bedroom, she checked on Johanna who was still soundly asleep. Next, she went back to her bedroom where Tommy was getting ready for work.

            Standing by the mirror, he was quite the sight in his expensive suit with all the trappings of a wealthy MP.

            She smiled coyly and went to fix his collar. “I bet you’re the most handsome man in the Commons.” She purred softly.

            He chuckled. “I don’t think they’re going for looks, Lee. It's about how well you can talk.”

            “Hm, well, I still think I’m right.” She tugged his collar to kiss him. "I think all their wives would be jealous of me because I've got you." Her words danced over his lips. 

            He smiled and pressed his lips to hers. They indulged in the early morning kiss until they both heard Charlie calling from downstairs.

            “Mum, dad! There’s someone in the field!”

            Startled, Tommy pulled away from his wife and went to the window. Indeed, there was a strange silhouette of someone outside in the barren field. Instantly, he switched into defensive mode and went to grab his gun. There was no way his family was being attacked at their own home. A man had to protect his castle and that's what he would damn well do. 

            “Tommy?” Leah followed him downstairs. Charlie was peering out the window trying to get a good look at the figure. “Tommy, who is it?” She ran outside, trying to keep up with her husband’s long strides. On top of the hill, she observed the crucifix posted in the field. “What on Earth is that?” She whispered. “Is that a real body?” It certainly looked hauntingly real from a distance. 

            Tommy’s jaw was tight. “Go inside, gather the kids.” He commanded firmly. “Don’t come out until I come get you.”

            Scared out of her mind, Leah listened and hurried Charlie upstairs. “What’s going on?” The little boy asked. “Who was it?”

            “No one, poppet. Only a scarecrow.” God she hoped it was a scarecrow.

            Johanna was starting to stir and was glad to see Leah and Charlie come into her bedroom. “Mummy!” She exclaimed joyfully. 

            “Hi, love.” Leah scooped up her daughter and went to the window. Bouncing Johanna on her hip, she found Tommy making his way into the field. Her heart was in her throat. What if it was a trap? What if it was actually someone dead? She shook away the bad thoughts. It was just a prank. A hoax, nothing more. Trying to stay calm so the children wouldn’t pick up on her nerves, she smiled at Johanna. “Let’s play a game in mummy and daddy’s room, okay? How does that sound, Charlie?” Her heart froze when she turned and there was no sight of the boy. “Charlie?” The sound of the back-door slamming shut made her stomach drop.

            Putting Johanna back in her cot, Leah dashed downstairs and ran out the door. “Charlie!” She shouted after the boy.

            Tommy had just realized he was standing on a mine. Whether or not it was live or not, he wouldn’t know until he lifted his foot. Then he heard his wife’s shouts. He turned and saw his son running towards the field that was littered with potentially active mines. Throwing caution to the wind, Tommy began sprinting towards his son.

            He caught him right at the entrance of the field, picking him up and getting a safe enough distance away from the field. Leah caught up to them, gasping with panic.

            “Sh, sh, sh.” Tommy wrapped an arm around her, holding them both close. “It’s nothing.” He whispered not wanting to alarm her. It was best he kept the note and the mines a secret at least until the kids were taken care of. “Just go upstairs.”

            “Tom…”

            Instead of answering anything else, he handed Charlie over to her. “Go, it’s okay.” He urged and waited until they were both safely inside.

            Leah heard the explosions from upstairs. They were too close to possibly ignore. Huddled close to her daughter, with Charlie peering out the window, she assured them both it was okay. “Daddy’s just doing some target practice.” She forced a smile. “So, he can get better at hunting.” She rocked Johanna back and forth, praying that this wasn’t an omen. Things would be okay. They had to be okay.

Chapter Text

            “I think you ought to stay home from school, poppet.” Leah gently removed Charlie’s uniform coat and hat. “Have a day off?”

            “Why? Dad says I can only stay home when I’m sick.”

            “Erm, right, well the weather’s looking a little grim. Best we keep you home.” She lied after seeing dark clouds rolling in.

            Charlie shrugged. “Okay.” He smiled, happy for any excuse to skip school. He went running off to play before Leah changed her mind.

            “Let’s see what dad’s doing, huh love?” Leah scooped up her daughter and brought her downstairs.

            Tommy was in his office finishing up a phone call at his desk. His wife waited patiently in the doorway until he was finished. “Is that my Joey awake already?” He held out his arms.

            Leah let Johanna down and she scrambled up into Tommy’s lap. “G’morning!” The little girl chirped happily.

            “Good morning, love.” He kissed her forehead. “Did brother go off to school already?”

            “Mummy says he don’t have to go.”

            “Doesn’t. Doesn’t have to go.” Tommy corrected. His children were to be well educated but of course, they still had relatives who hadn’t finished much schooling, himself included. But Tommy refused to let them grow up like he did. They’d speak properly and act accordingly. They weren’t being raised in that massive house for no good reason.  

            Johanna giggled. “Doesn’t.” She mimicked.

            “Good lass.” He smiled. “Right, then why don’t you find him and go get breakfast. Maybe some toast and jam.”

            “Okay!” She pecked his cheek and hopped down to search after her older brother.

            Leah lingered in the study. “Who was on the phone?” She was afraid it had something to do with what was left out in the field.

            “Michael’s returning home.” He cleared his throat and adjusted some paperwork on his desk.

            The message left a bad taste in her mouth. Accompanied by the look of disdain on her husband’s face, Leah knew there was trouble brewing. “Tom…he’s your cousin.” She reminded him.

            He didn’t reply for a few moments. His blue eyes staring hard at the empty hearth. “He also lost me a lot of fucking money.”

            “But he’s family.” She insisted again and approached his desk. “I’m sure he didn’t intend to. I was reading the paper; a lot of investors were told to keep faith. He was probably advised the same. He’s so young…”

            “I hired him into this company under Polly’s advice and his assurance that he was smart enough to avoid things like this. I told him specifically to sell and he didn’t listen.” Tommy snapped. “No one fucking listens.”

            “I listen.”

            His eyes met hers. “Yeah.” His voice softened. “You listen.”

            She smiled and went to kiss his cheek. “Are you off then?”

            “Couple of minutes.” He nodded and rubbed a hand over her hip. “Tonight, I’ll come back for dinner. Gonna put the kids to bed. Then, Mrs. Shelby, I’m going to fuck you so hard you won’t be able to walk straight tomorrow morning.” He growled softly.        

            “Tom…” Leah’s cheeks flushed pink. “What’s gotten into you lately?”

            He heaved a sigh and pulled her close so his cheek was pressed into her stomach. “I want to feel nice things, Lee.” He whispered. “No matter what I still want to feel you.”

            She carded her fingers through his dark hair. “Alright, well I’ll clear my nightly schedule for you.” She murmured teasingly. “’Long as you’re not late.”

            He shook his head and let her pull away. He stood and began to gather his things. “Won’t be late.”

            “Oh, you’ve got Johanna’s birthday on your calendar as well?” Leah asked. “It’s next week.”

            “I know.” He nodded. “Haven’t forgotten.”

            Leah smiled before leaving him alone in his office. Tommy sighed and looked at the phone. Michael was going to pay. One way or another.

 

 

            Ada came to visit Leah in Warwickshire as often as she could. The two had grown close over the years they’d known each other, especially once Leah became a mother as well. Ada was helpful with advice for raising Johanna. From then they became close enough to see each other as a sister.

            Charlie and Karl went outside to play while Johanna tried to keep up with them. Ada and Leah sat in the sunroom that faced the patio and back lawn. That way they could keep an eye on the children but keep out of the cold.

            “I’m pregnant.” Ada dropped the news without much lead-up.

            Leah tried not to have a strong reaction, who was she to judge? But it came out of nowhere. As far as she knew, Ada hadn’t seen anyone romantically since Freddie passed. At least, that’s what she told the family.

            “Pregnant?”

            Ada pursed her lips and nodded, her eyes gazing outside. “Just a few months along.”

            “Well that’s…that’s wonderful.” Was it? Leah didn’t want to make any assumptions.

            Her sister-in-law let out a defeated sigh and put her head in her hands. “I don’t know what to fucking do. I haven’t told the father and it’s…I can’t-” Her voice broke.

            Leah moved her chair closer to Ada. “It’s alright. Just take a deep breath.” She touched her shoulder comfortingly. “Take your time.”

            Ada worked through a few deep breaths and dropped her hands from her face. “It’s Ben Younger.” She confided.

            “From the cavalry?” Leah had never met Ben before but she recognized the name from when Ada confronted Tommy about her arrest and strip search.

            She nodded and chewed on her nails.

            “Does Tommy know?”

            “I’m sure he knows I’m pregnant.” Ada rolled her eyes. “He’s probably got all the doctors in London on payroll. But I don’t think he knows Ben is the father. So, if you could keep it between us.”

            “Oh, of course.” Leah agreed and noticed the anguish in the Shelby woman’s eyes. “How are you feeling about it?”

            Ada squeezed her eyes shut and let out a bitter laugh. “I don’t know anymore. Every time I see him, I tell myself I’m going to tell him. But the words won’t fucking come out.”

            “Oh, Ada, I’m sorry,” Leah said gently. “I know this can’t be easy.”

            “I’m only making it harder for myself the more time passes.” Ada grimaced and opened her eyes. Taking a sip of her tea, she shook her head. “There’s just so much going on.”

            “What else is there?” Leah asked even though she was well aware there was always a medley of things poised to make their life difficult. They were Shelbys, after all.

            “Your husband has begun to talk to a very dangerous man,” Ada reported.

            After she discovered Tommy’s bottle of dope, Leah was tense and at the ready to be disappointed again. Perhaps she’d accepted that it was a cycle. He hid something from her, they argued, he made it up to her, and the wheel kept turning. She swallowed and wished she had gin in front of her instead of tea. “Who?”

            Another MP. Oswald Mosley.” She answered. “The two were going on about Ireland and some promotion. I don’t trust him.”

            “Does Tommy?”

            “No. But that doesn’t mean he won’t entertain the man.” A dark look clouded over Ada’s face. “You know that’s how he operates, Lee. Whatever he thinks he can get from Mosley, he’ll try for. No matter what.”

            Leah bit her lip and nodded. “Yeah.” She whispered. But there was no anger inside of her. It was disappointment in herself.

            “Mum!” Charlie came bursting in through the back door. “Andy says Duke fell in the paddocks.”

            Leah looked up and saw the stable boy waiting outside. He looked anxious, clutching his cap in his hands. “Oh dear.” She stood up. “Tell him I’m going to call daddy. I’m sure everything’s okay, there’s no need for panic.”

 

            After confronting Michael, Tommy was in a bad mood. It only got worse once he got a call from his wife saying one of his prized horses had taken a fall. The drive back to Warwickshire, Tommy was stewing over everything. Michael, Mosley, no one listening to a god damn word he had to say. It was bound to drive him mad. Maybe it already had.

            It was getting dark by the time he arrived home. Leah was waiting by the door, a worried look on her face. Over the hours, the prognosis only looked worse for Duke. According to Andy, the break was bound to be impossible to heal.

            “What happened?” Tommy asked curtly. He began striding towards the stable, his wife following close behind.

            “Andy says he didn’t see it happen. But he says it’s bad.” Leah admitted.

            “Fuck,” Tommy muttered and entered the lantern-lit stable.

            “Mr. Shelby…”

            Tommy ignored the young stable hand. He took off his coat and knelt down next to the horse on the crossties. Duke’s leg was in a sling to keep any weight off it. He examined the swollen leg, barely touching it as to not cause the horse more pain. Like Andy had reported, it was too far gone. There was little chance that the leg would heal properly, leaving the horse crippled.

            He put a hand over his face. “Fuck…fuck!” He shouted suddenly, spooking a few nearby horses in their stalls.

            “Tom…” Leah tried to step in.

            Her husband stood and stroked Duke’s cheek. “Andy, take him out to the pasture.” He muttered. “Put something over his eyes.”

            “Tommy?” Leah’s forehead wrinkled. “What are you doing?”

            Andy began to lead the horse outside. He was smart enough not to question his employer’s decision.

            Instead of answering his wife, Tommy picked up his coat and found his gun then took a lantern off the wall. “Go inside.”

            “I can be there for you.”

            “Leah, I said to go back inside.” Tommy snapped and shot her a glare before leaving the stable and heading into the pasture.

            She didn’t go inside. Instead, she went around to the fence of the pasture where Tommy most likely wouldn’t be able to see her. She watched as Tommy spoke a few words to Andy. The young man nodded and headed back to the stable.

            Now alone, Tommy stood in front of Duke. The horse’s eyes covered. Even from a distance, Leah could see his hand shaking as he lifted the gun to the horse’s forehead. There was a long pause and she looked away when she heard the shot finally go off. There was a loud thud as Duke hit the cold ground, dead in an instant.

            When her eyes looked back up, to her horror, Tommy had the gun pointed at his temple. Without a second thought, she ducked under the pasture fence and rushed over to him. “Tommy!” She screamed.

            The man, who assumed she was inside, turned and slightly lowered the gun in surprise.

            When she reached him and the dead horse, Leah wrestled the gun from his hand. “What the fuck are you doing!” She unloaded the bullets and threw the gun into the long grass.

            Stunned he’d been caught, Tommy didn’t move a muscle or speak.

            Out of breath, Leah stared at him in disbelief. “What were-why?” The words tumbled off her tongue before she had time to organize them.

            “I’m sorry.” He whispered.

            “Don’t apologize I just…why?” She asked again. “Tommy, why?”

            His head shook ever so slightly. “I don’t know.”

            Her chest still heaving with adrenaline, Leah roughly ran a hand through her curls. “Well what am I supposed to do after seeing that?”

            Tommy swallowed. He didn’t want her to know that it wasn’t the first time he was moments away from ending his life, doing the same thing when he had to shoot Dangerous. Seconds from punching the land mine in the field. “Nothing.”

            “Nothing?” Leah threw her hands up. “Tommy, you were pointing a gun at your head!” She exclaimed. “And I’m supposed to just turn away and pretend I didn’t see it?”

            “Lee…”

            “I’m not dropping this, Tommy, not this time.” She warned. “Maybe it’s the drugs, or the drinking, or the War…” She began to pace. “We should call a doctor.”

            “Not calling a fucking doctor.” Tommy’s body unfroze and he began to walk away from her. Heading back to the stables to tell Andy to cover Duke’s body until a grave could be dug.

            “Then I will!” She called after him.

            He ignored her. Maybe if he never brought the matter up again, she would be satisfied and forget. If only she would forget.

 

            “Daddy?”

            Tommy lifted his head from his desk. After squabbling over calling a doctor, Leah gave up in frustration and locked him out of their bedroom. He could forgive her for not knowing what to do with him. He didn’t know what to do with himself either. Exhausted, with his mind whirring, Tommy retreated to the big room. It was doubtful he would sleep, but it didn’t matter.

            Johanna peered into the room from behind the heavy door. She knew not to bother her father while he was working, but had heard him and Leah fighting.

            “S’late, Jo, why aren’t you in bed?” He asked.

            The little girl shrugged and wandered into the office. “Are you sad, daddy?”

            He sighed and opened his arms out to her. She took the invitation and crawled up onto his lap. Leaning back in his leather chair, Tommy held his daughter close to his chest. It reminded him of the days when she was just a newborn. When Leah needed a rest, he’d lay the tiny babe on his chest. His heartbeat and breathing lulling her to sleep.

            He smoothed a hand over her long hair. When had she gotten so big? “No, love, I’m alright.” He lied.

            Apparently, even his own daughter could see right through him. “When I’m sad, mummy sings to me.”

            “I know, Joey, mummy loves you, doesn’t she?”    

            Johanna nodded and yawned. “Yeah.”  

            Tommy was quiet for a moment. He closed his eyes and couldn’t help but see Duke falling to the ground. The rush of that overwhelming feeling that overcame him following seconds after. The urge to drive a bullet through his own brain. Leah’s scream echoed in his head. Would he really have done it if she hadn’t been there?

            “Daddy?”

            He opened his eyes. “Yeah, Jo?”

            “I love you.”

            A faint smile crossed his lips. “I love you too.” He murmured and pressed a kiss to her dark hair.

 

 

            Despite the many arguments ensuing in the week to follow between Tommy and Leah, they didn’t come to a solution. Tommy refused to speak to any professionals about his behavior and Leah refused to drop the subject. She couldn’t get it through his head that she was doing this because she was concerned, not because she wanted to see him suffer. But he was deaf to her explanation. Just forget about it and carry on, that’s what he continued to urge her to do.

            There was a sort of armistice when Johanna’s birthday arrived. Neither wanted to ruin the day by fighting. Tommy worked most of the day so they held a celebration after dinner.

            In the library, Frances brought out a big chocolate cake with pink roses. Johanna’s eyes lit up when she saw the cake. As Tommy, Leah, and Charlie sang to her, she bounced happily with a thrilled smile.

            “Blow out the candles.” Tommy instructed gently. “Make a wish first.”

            Johanna giggled and leaned forward to blow out the candles. She reached out to grab a handful of cake before Tommy stopped her.

            “Ah, ah, wait.” He chuckled. “Why don’t you open your presents while Frances cuts the cake?” He coaxed her attention elsewhere.

            “C’mere, poppet.” Leah beckoned and pulled out the gifts for her. “Open them up.”

            Charlie came over to sit by his sister as she tore open the toys. The two chattered excitedly.

            Tommy’s smile faded when a set of headlights danced across the room. He stood and went over to the window, drawing back the thin curtain to look out to the driveway.

            Leah frowned. “Who is it?” She asked.

            He shook his head and stalked off towards his study to retrieve a gun.

            Panicked, Leah stood up and hurriedly herded the kids upstairs. Johanna protested. “I wanna eat cake!”

            “We will, we will. We just need to go upstairs.” She scooped up her daughter and took Charlie by the hand, quickly leading them upstairs to the nursery. Frances followed and took Johanna from Leah as she went back downstairs. A commotion from outside was starting to kick up on her way down. With her heart beating in her chest, Leah stopped in the big room and selected a handgun from the closet. Loading it, she stepped outside and found a frenzied scene.

            Aberama Gold was pointing a large rifle at Tommy while Johnny Dogs was on the gravel, clutching his ribs.

            Leah had had enough. This was supposed to be her daughter’s special day. She would not stand to have it interrupted. Pointing the gun at the sky, she fired off two shots. “Get away from my fucking house!” She shouted and fixed the gun on Aberama. “It’s my daughter’s birthday and you will not ruin it! I’m sick of this!”

            Tommy walked over to her and snatched the gun away. “Are you fucking mad? Walking out with a gun like that?” He emptied the pistol.

            “I’m sick of this.” She hissed. “I’ll have no more of it.”

            His jaw clenched and he went to confiscate the gun from Aberama next. “You need me.” He snapped. “Everyone fucking needs me!” Turning back to his wife, he gave her a firm look. “Now go call for an ambulance or the man loses his arm.”

            She saw Aberama holding his arm to his chest. Tommy’s orders were starting to weigh on her and she nearly told him to piss off. If it weren’t for Aberama’s injury then she might have. Instead, she went back inside and called for help. On her way to the phone, she passed by the abandoned cake in the library.

Chapter Text

            “So, you’re just going to disappear the rest of the day and pretend like nothing happened?”

            Tommy startled. He was almost certain that his wife had been sound asleep as he got ready. It was only four-thirty in the morning and the last time Leah had woken up so early was when Johanna was still nursing.

            Leah sat up and crossed her arms over her chest. It was a miracle she had actually allowed Tommy to sleep in the same bed as her. But after an ambulance arrived for Aberama, they didn’t have much time to argue. Johanna insisted on enjoying her cake and opening the remainder of her presents. From there, the parents divided and conquered. Leah gave Johanna a bath while Tommy read to Charlie. They swapped, Tommy, going to kiss his daughter goodnight while Leah made sure Charlie had brushed his teeth and was washed up. They met up in their bedroom but neither said a word as they got ready for bed. Leah turned off the light before Tommy had a chance to apologize. Of course, maybe he could’ve apologized sooner.

            “I have to do something important with Pol before I leave for London with Arthur and Michael.” He rattled off his agenda so she wouldn’t be suspicious.

            However, the lack of details made her plenty suspicious. “What are you doing with Polly this early?”

            “Visiting an orphanage that the company funds.”

            Leah chewed on her lip. There were so many things she wanted to say. But would it just drive the wedge further between them? Should she wait until they could properly sit down and talk? That seemed to work in the past, even though they were right back at square one. “It’s Polly’s birthday.”

            “I know, I’ll give her your well wishes.” He said, finishing up getting dressed.

            “I was going to visit her. Frances said she’d watch the children.”

            He shook his head. “I have a job for her this afternoon. You two can see each other another day.”

            Leah was less than pleased with his response. But she tried to let it roll over her like the ocean’s tide. “What are you doing in London with Michael and Arthur?”

            “We have a meeting with another member of Parliament.”

            “Is it Oswald Mosley?”

            Hearing her speak the man’s name gave Tommy quite a shock. He turned around. “Where did you hear that name?” He demanded. Fear spiked him right in the chest. Had Mosley approached Leah without his knowledge?

            “Ada,” Leah replied. “She said he was an evil man and you’re doing business with him.” Her tone was accusatory.

            Relieved that Leah hadn’t been in contact with Mosley, Tommy let his guard down slightly. “He is. But you don’t have to worry.”

            She scoffed and threw her hands up. “Worry? Tommy, why on Earth do you go picking fights with people? For once, we have something nice going. We have a family, you got elected. Now you’ve decided to stir up trouble again?”

            “There are matters that you don’t-”

            She held up a finger at him with a deadly glare. “Thomas Shelby, don’t you dare tell me there are things I don’t understand. I understand that you’re never satisfied with what you have. I understand that you’ll fight anyone who comes walking by. I understand more about you than you understand about yourself.” She spat and threw back the sheets. “What I’d like to know is when you’ll tire of me? Because I’d like to know beforehand. These children, your children, deserve better.” She passed by him in a huff and went to Johanna’s room.

            Tommy groaned and rubbed his eyes. It was too early.

 

 

            Leah didn’t smoke as much as she used to. It was a crutch she used when she was working in Midland. Something about having a smoke was comforting and at least consistent. When she found some sort of consistency with Tommy, she didn’t feel much of an urge to reach for a cigarette. Then, when Johanna came along, she hardly ever thought about having one.

            But after her early morning argument with Tommy, she found herself rummaging around the big room for a pack. As she rifled through his drawers, the phone rang.  

            “Shelby residence?”

            “It’s Ada, I’ve just been at the hospital with Michael’s wife.”

            Leah frowned and sat down. She’d only heard about Gina in passing. Tommy had ranted about Michael and mentioned the marriage. She found it sudden that Tommy’s cousin had returned with a pregnant wife. But he had been away for quite some time. “Is she alright?”

            “It was just a check-up for the baby. They heard a heartbeat, so they said everything’s okay.” Her sister-in-law reported.

            “Oh, that’s good.”

            “Yeah, has Tommy said anything about her to you?” Ada wondered.

            “Well, no…not much. He mostly goes on about Michael.”

            There was a sigh from the other end of the line. “There’s something…off about her.” Ada admitted. “I don’t know what it is but there’s something. Never mind that she and Michael are acting all high and mighty.” She grumbled.

            “Off? Well, we don’t know her very well.” Leah knew how wary Shelbys were of strangers in their family.

            “Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? The more time I spent with her the odder things were. It’s just like she knows something that I don’t. I don’t like it.”

            “I’m sure she’s harmless,” Leah assured her. “Maybe over time…”

            “I think you should meet her first.” Ada interrupted. “I wouldn’t trust her until then.”

             

 

            It didn’t help that Leah was left to ruminate on her argument with Tommy. She much would’ve preferred to go out to Birmingham to visit Polly. The worst came when Charles was scheduled for a violin lesson after school and Johanna had gone down for an afternoon nap.

            Leah shut herself in Tommy’s study to smoke. She tried reading but her thoughts kept intruding and causing a stir. Frustrated, she put down her book and went to pick up the phone.

            After consulting with the operator, she was connected to a solicitor. As the telephone rang, her eyes wandered to the picture frames Tommy had on his desk. The most recent was Tommy’s birthday. The family was standing outside in front of Arrow House. Tommy was holding Johanna in one arm, his other arm wrapped around Leah’s waist. Charlie stood in front of his parents, Leah’s hand on his shoulder. They looked so cohesive, a single unit that fit so perfectly together. And Tommy. The man never smiled for photographs, that was to be expected. But even with the lack of a smile, he looked so proud. Proud of his wife, his two kids, the house behind them. He was proud.

            “Law offices of Mr.-”

            Leah hung up before the secretary had the chance to finish her greeting. She wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up. No, she wasn’t a martyr for trying to make a marriage with Tommy Shelby work. But at least she hung up the phone.

 

            Tommy was fully prepared for a war when he returned home. He trudged up the stairs, going into battle, accepting the reality that he would most likely lose said battle. Ah, the duties of a husband.

            Johanna and Charlie were already asleep so he couldn’t stall. Instead, he walked down the long hallway to the bedroom. The door wasn’t locked, so Leah was welcoming him into the trenches. He wouldn’t get another night to prepare, unfortunately.

            His wife was sitting on her side of the bed, facing the window, her back turned to him.

            Cautiously, he removed his coat and holster. “Lee?” He tested the waters.

            “How did your meeting go?”

            Tommy was mildly surprised. To him, she didn’t sound angry and it was unusual for her to ask about work if she was upset. “As well as it could’ve gone, I s’pose.” He answered. “How was your day?”

            She shrugged. “I called a solicitor.”

            Fuck. He cleared his throat and moved towards the bed but stayed on his own side. “Any particular reason?”

            Leah stood and went to close the curtains. “Because I thought it was a mistake that I married you.”

            When she turned to finally face him, Tommy realized how wrong his assumptions about how the night was going to go. His wife was talking about divorce but was standing in nothing but a pastel blue lingerie set and a matching silk robe. The situation was so topsy-turvy that he was frozen in place.

            “I hung up.”

            “On the solicitor?”

            She nodded. “Because if I hadn’t married you then I wouldn’t have had our daughter. And there is no way in hell that she was a mistake.”

            Tommy was a bit relieved but still confused. “So…”

            “So, I married you because I love you. Sometimes I have no clue but I do. And even if I did divorce you, I would still love you.” She walked over to him and took his face in her hands. “Look at me.”

            “I’m looking, Lee.” He replied gently.

            “I would walk through fire for you, Tommy Shelby. I will lie and deceive and harm. I will even kill to keep my family together.” She spoke firmly, her eyes never leaving his. “So, don’t you dare do anything that intentionally tears us apart.”

            He nodded. “I promise.”

            Her severe expression softened. “Alright.”

            Sensing a breakdown of her walls, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. “Before the War, I wanted justice.” He pressed his forehead to hers as he spoke quietly. “This man deserves the justice I have planned for him.”

            “As long as it doesn’t hurt our family, and you come home to me I understand.” She replied. “But you need to keep your thoughts in check. I fear what might become of you if you don’t work through your own thoughts.” The haunting image of Tommy pointing a gun to his head returned.

            He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “That’s why I need you. You clean out all the shit.”

            She laughed softly. “Muck out that big brain of yours?”

            “You’re my wife, you know best.” He murmured and picked her up.

            Leah wrapped her legs around his waist and kissed him. It was so much easier to get lost in the allure that Tommy always had with her. The mysteriously powerful man who commanded every room he entered.

            For a moment, she pulled away. He instantly went to kiss her again, but she placed a finger over his lips. “This is the deal.” She whispered. Her warm breath ghosting over his neck. “The secrets between us are over. You don’t lock me out anymore.”

            His blue eyes searched her face. “Lee,”

            “You don’t lock me out anymore and I’m yours until the end of time.” She finished. “I’m yours, Tommy Shelby, as long as your mine completely.”

            The fear of vulnerability often plagued him. But when he was already vulnerable, moments away from intimacy, for example, he had a tendency to embrace it instead of fear it. “I’m yours and you’re mine.” He replied deeply. “Nobody touches what’s mine.”

            It was a victory in Leah’s eyes. Something she could reference if he ever tried to throw up his walls again. “Tom,” She breathed and reeled him in for a deep kiss. All she needed to do was hold the pieces together. Keep a tight grip on everything and keep them close to her chest. She would hold her ground even if the world around her was burning to ash.

Chapter Text

            Charlie Shelby was positive he was dying. Spending hours in the dressmaker’s shop in Warwickshire was certain to do him in. It didn’t matter to him that they’d only been there half an hour. To the restless little boy, it felt like a lifetime.

            Ruby was contently playing on the floor with the dolls she’d gotten for her birthday a few weeks earlier.

            “Muuuuuuum.” Charlie whined and flopped over one of the chaises that decorated the back room of the shop. “I’m boooooored!”

            Leah was standing as still as she could so the shopkeeper, Harriet, could pin adjustments to the dress. She glanced back at Charlie in the mirror. “Charles, poppet, why don’t you play with your sister?”

            He made a guttural sound of discontent and buried his face into the silk pillows of the chaise.

            Leah sighed and gave Harriet an apologetic look. “Alright, go into my purse and you can get something at the candy store but you have to get something for your sister as well.”

            He leapt up like a spring and dashed for Leah’s purse to retrieve a few coins.

            “Be quick and come right back!” Leah called after him as he dashed out of the shop. She sighed. “I’m sorry.”

            Harriet, a pretty young woman, just smiled. “It’s alright. Can’t believe how big he’s gotten.” Harriet was the daughter of the dressmaker who had opened the shop. When she was learning the trade, she helped make dresses for Grace Shelby.

            “I know. They just keep growing.” Leah looked at her daughter on the floor. How long her hair had gotten. It was incredible.

            “I’ve heard of what Mr. Shelby’s doing for your birthday.” The young woman commented. “How extravagant.”

            Leah smiled sheepishly. “I told him it was a little much but he insisted.” Deep down, she was afraid he had ulterior motives for the party. But he wouldn’t exploit her own birthday, would he?

            “Well, I’m sure it’ll be quite the night.”

            “I’m hoping it’s quiet,” Leah admitted, her brow wrinkling. “That’s all I can hope for anymore.” She mumbled under her breath.

 

            There was a new hole in the ceiling of the Garrison, he was going to come into seven tonnes of opium, and he’d just seen his dead wife on a barge. Never a dull day. Tommy arrived home with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

            “Daddy!” Johanna skittered down the stairs in her pajamas. She launched herself off the last two stairs into his arms.

            “Did you escape mum, aye? You’re supposed to be in bed, Joey-bear.”  

            The little girl giggled mischievously. “Mummy’s fallen asleep.”

            Tommy frowned. Leah usually didn’t go to bed so early. She always waited until the children were asleep before she headed to bed. Sometimes she even stayed up to wait for him to come home. Checking his watch, he saw it was only nine o’clock.

            Johanna chattered on about her day at the dressmaker as Tommy carried her upstairs. He put her back to bed, despite her protests, before going to find his wife.

            Leah was fast asleep in the rocking chair in Charlie’s room. There was a book on the floor beside her, appearing to have slipped out of her hand as she fell asleep.

            Charlie was out cold as well, Cyril curled up on the foot of his bed snoring away.

            Tommy stepped inside quietly and carefully scooped Leah up in his arms. She hardly stirred, only coming to on the way to their bedroom. He nudged open the door with his hip and she began to wake.

            “Tom?”

            He smiled. “There she is. The kids wear you out today?”

            “No, I…” She stifled a yawn as he gently set her down on the bed. “I don’t know why I’m so tired. We only went to Harriet’s, didn't do much else aside from that.”

            “Hm.” He began to undress. “I thought you already got a dress for your birthday.”

            Leah slid under the sheets and got comfortable against the goose-feather pillows. “I did but it wasn’t fitting right so I had her take it out a little.”   

            “Sounds like she’s expecting again, Tommy.” Grace arrived without much warning. She appeared behind him and went to sit on the edge of the bed. “Were you expecting that?”

            Tommy swallowed and tried to keep his eyes away from the hallucination. That’s all she was. A drug-fueled vision. He hadn’t seen her on the barge. He hadn’t seen her in his office. “Are you excited for your birthday?” He asked casually.

            Leah smiled. “Well, my husband has made quite the spectacle of it, hasn’t he?” She teased.

            He chuckled and drew the curtains shut. “Only because she deserves it.” 

            “That’s the only reason? You’re not planning on anything else, are you?” Leah rolled onto her side and propped her head up, resting on her elbow.

            Tommy paused. He planned to get the check endorsed by Mosley. Planned to get Polly engaged. Planned to have Linda return to his brother. “It’s your birthday.” He spoke and turned around to face her. “That’s all I’ll be focused on.”

            “How long do you think she’ll tolerate you lying?” Grace wondered, sitting at Leah’s vanity. The sapphire had reappeared around her neck.

            Leah looked a little relieved. But she noticed her husband was tense. “How was your day?”

            “Be honest, Thomas.”

            Tommy’s jaw clenched. Grace was slowly wearing him down. He cleared his throat and shook his head. “It was fine.” He turned off the lamps and lay down next to her.

            Leah was happy to cuddle into his arms. “I love you.”

            “I love you too.”

            “Goodnight, Tommy.” Grace murmured as Tommy closed his eyes. “Maybe you’ll wake up and tell her the truth.”

 

            “How on Earth did you get a ballet company to come to your bloody house?”

            Tommy knew he couldn’t say anything about Mosley’s failure to knock before entering his office. Not that it didn’t grind his gears. “It’s an independent dance company.” He responded curtly. “I’m a patron, I also gave them a lot of money.”

            Mosley approached the desk. “And this date is your wife’s birthday.”

            Tommy’s blood ran cold. There was no telling how much this evil man knew. What did he know about Leah? About his children? But he had to keep his cool and ignore the direct comments aimed to make him uneasy. “Yeah, the party’s for her.”

            “Well, I’ve done some research. And your wife has led an interesting life, hasn’t she?”  

            The Blinder swallowed and grit his teeth. Already he knew he was going to have

to work hard to keep his temper in check. “I don’t see how that’s relevant to her upcoming birthday.”

            The man chuckled and took a drag of his cigarette. “Well, I just wanted to avoid any uncomfortable situations before her birthday. It is an interesting past though, isn’t it? You watched her husband die in the War. Then the poor girl fled to Midland.” Mosley leaned up against the wall, facing Tommy in his desk chair. “I was a frequent customer of Midland. I’m almost certain we would’ve crossed paths once or twice.”

            The hairs on the back of Tommy’s neck stood up. “She didn’t seem to recall your name when I mentioned you.” He responded.

            Mosley looked smug. “I don’t believe it would be my name that she would remember, Mr. Shelby.”

            Tommy took a deep breath and tried to picture how Mosley would look with a bullet in his head. It was mildly comforting.

 

            “Oh, lovey look.” Leah had treated Johanna before she was meant to go to bed. Ahead of the party, after the dancers arrived, Leah let Johanna go outside and see their costumes as they warmed up for the performance. “Aren’t they pretty?”

            The little girl giggled shyly and clung to her mother’s leg. “Pretty.” She agreed.

            “Lee?” Tommy strode across the lawn having just arrived home. The sun was starting to set and it would be an hour or so until guests started to arrive.

            “Daddy!” Johanna squealed. “Pretty dresses!”

            He forced a smile and tousled his daughter’s hair. “Yeah? Why don’t you go say hi, Joey? Go say hi to the ballerinas.” He coaxed so he could have a moment alone with his wife. Johanna smiled and curiously wandered into the tent to greet the long-legged ballerinas who looked like fairies from the stories her mother told her and her brother.

            “Oh, Tom, she shouldn’t interrupt them.”

            “I’m paying them enough, it’s fine.” He retorted. His eyes were clearly shifty and he appeared uptight about something.

            “What’s the matter?” She asked cautiously. All day, Leah had a sinking feeling in her gut. Despite being her birthday, there was a nagging feeling that something was amiss. That her husband hadn't been honest with her when he said it was merely a party and he had no other intentions.

            He shook his head and ran a hand over his mouth. “I just…I need to tell you something later.” He mumbled.

            “Later? You can tell me now.” She urged but he had already slipped away from her.

            “I need to get ready.”

            Leah sighed and looked back at her daughter. The young lady dressed as the swan was gladly showing Johanna how to twirl about on the stage. She smiled weakly and wrapped her arms around herself. There was a chill in the air that she hadn’t expected.

             

Chapter Text

            “Mrs. Shelby.” Frances stopped Leah as she came back in with Johanna. “Mr. Shelby’s requested you meet him in the kitchen.”

            Leah frowned. “The kitchen? Alright.” She bent down to kiss Johanna’s cheek. “Go up to bed, Frances will tuck you in.”

            “What ‘bout daddy?” The little girl pouted. “Needs to read me bedtime story.” She protested even as she took Frances’s hand.

            “He’ll come kiss you goodnight soon but he can’t tell a story tonight,” Leah replied honestly.

            Johanna’s shoulders slumped in disappointment but followed Frances upstairs. Once they were gone, Leah headed downstairs to the kitchen.

           

            “Tommy?” She turned the corner to try and find him. “Tom?”

            “In here.” He called her over to one of the pantries.

            She stepped inside. “Why can’t we speak upstairs?” She wondered.

            Still tense, Tommy was pacing near a shelf of crystal glasses. “Needed somewhere private, the guests’ll be here soon.” He mumbled.

            “Which is why we should be upstairs to greet them.” She retorted. “Now what did you have to tell me?”

            He walked over to her and his face softened. “Not right now.” Gently, he grazed his hands down her arms knowing how it gave her goosebumps and sent a shiver down her spine. After years of knowing each other and a few years of marriage, Tommy knew Leah better than anyone had before and probably better than anyone ever would. It went far beyond the physical nature of their relationship. Although he knew what made her tick, he had a good insight into her thoughts as well. Even in times of trouble and during arguments they were in sync. “I just want to forget everything for a moment.”

            “Tom…” She protested weakly because she knew the guests would be there any moment. But once he started to kiss her neck, she couldn’t help but follow his lead.

            “We’ll be quick.” He promised.

           

            What was meant to be quick, turned into something much longer. Before both of them knew it, they started to hear the hum of guests mingling upstairs. But both were too far gone to stop.

            Leah wrapped her legs around Tommy’s waist as he rocked against her. The rhythmic movement pushing her into the cabinet, shaking the glasses on the shelves.

            “Happy birthday, Mrs. Shelby.” He growled playfully into her ear.

            She smiled and kissed him tenderly as they both reached their peaks moments apart.

            Panting hard, the two separated for a breath. Tommy’s grip loosened around Leah, setting her back down on her feet. She fixed her dress before sitting down.

            Tommy lit a cigarette and sat down beside her. He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. “We should probably talk now before we go upstairs.”

            Leah nodded. “Okay.”

            “The man Ada told you about, Mr. Mosley. He and I spoke a few days ago about a few things. It’s possible that he’s met you before.” Tommy explained carefully.

            She frowned. “I don’t recall his name. I’m sure if you hadn’t met him before becoming an MP than I wouldn’t have met him either.”

            “He said he would go to Midland often.”

            The name of the hotel made Leah’s blood run cold. It was rare that she ever thought about her past. Sometimes she reminisced on the odd circumstances that brought her and Tommy together, but she didn’t like to linger on it. The worst was when she had nightmares of being forced back into one of those suites. She would scream and cry, saying she wasn’t a Midland girl anymore. She was a well-respected woman, a wife, and a mother. But no one would listen.

            Those days were behind her and she never wanted to return to them again. Now Tommy was implying there was someone from her past there at her birthday party.

            “Would you even remember him?” He asked.

            Leah’s jaw clenched. “I drank a lot back then.” She mumbled. “I don’t remember a lot of people.”

            “Well…”

            “Tommy, if he told you this days ago, then why is he still invited to come tonight?” She demanded. “If you knew there was a possibility that I knew him from Midland?”

            Tommy paused because in all honesty, he hadn’t considered uninviting Mosley. Would it have been nice? Probably. “I need him to endorse something.” He mumbled, knowing the excuse was pitiful.

            Leah stood up with a scoff. “Endorse something. Honestly?! You couldn’t’ve done that in your office during the week?” She threw her hands up in disbelief. “I asked you twice whether you were planning something else for this party and you lied to me, twice.”

            “Lee…I’m sorry. I just didn’t want you to worry about anything but-”

            “Worry? There’s a man upstairs who knows I was a whore!” She snapped and tears began to fill her eyes. “At my own birthday party, which my husband is treating like another day of business. I thought you were really trying to make a special occasion out of this but no, I should’ve realized you were planning something.” She left in a huff before Tommy could apologize his way out of trouble.

 

            Ada caught her sister-in-law as she came upstairs in a cloud of fury. “Where’ve you been?” She asked in disbelief. “I’ve been looking for you!”

            “I need a drink,” Leah muttered.

            It was clear the woman was upset. “What’s happened?” She asked.

            “Nothing. Just…” Leah took a deep breath and tried to look a little happier for the sake of her party guests. “Please try to keep Mosley and my husband away from me.”

            Ada nodded slowly even though the request was fairly strange. “Alright, I’ll do my best…”

            Leah stopped a waiter and took two glasses of champagne off the tray he was carrying. She would need a few drinks before she was in the mood to mingle.

           

 

            In the brief time before the ballet was to begin, Leah did her best to keep her distance between her, Tommy, and Mosley. She was successful and when the start of the dance was announced, Leah went outside, chatting with Polly.

            Before she could really react, Tommy came up to her in the tent. “I’m sorry.” He whispered to her.

            Leah found her seat and shrugged her husband off. “Save your breath, Tommy.” She retorted coldly and averted her eyes from him.

            Tommy sighed and sat down next to her. He had a feeling it would take more than a simple apology to win back her trust. The whole night had put a bitter taste in his mouth but it was far from over.

            Halfway through the ballet, Tommy reached over and attempted to interlace his fingers with Leah’s. Instead, she pulled her hand away and crossed her arms over her chest.

            Disgruntled and kicking himself for his actions, he looked over his shoulder. A flash of headlights reminded him of another one of his missions for that night. Tommy cleared his throat and tried to get Michael’s attention, jerking his chin towards Arthur who had dozed off.

            Michael reached over to jostle his uncle awake and inform him of Linda’s arrival.

           

            Leah was unaware of what was happening until Tommy made a beeline for the driveway. She hadn’t heard the gunshot over the sound of applause, but he certainly had. Other members of the family also made a speedy exit and she was left confused but trying to keep a calm face.

            As the ballet dancers took their bows, Leah slipped away from the crowd and attempted to find Tommy and the rest to see what the commotion was about.

            But halfway across the lawn, she came across Oswald Mosley.

            To her horror, she did recognize the man. He hadn’t changed appearance-wise much since those days. It was also his nature that made him a memorable client. Leah spent the night with him maybe once or twice, but he had a reputation among the other girls who saw him far more often. They remarked that the more they got to know him, the rougher he got. Almost to the point where they considered him violent. Some girls returned with bruises that took weeks to fully heal. Another trait was his overwhelming narcissism.

            He smiled devilishly when he saw her. “Mrs. Shelby, I dare say you’ve spent the entire night avoiding me. I can’t say you’ve been a very becoming hostess. Although your husband isn’t much better, to be fair.”

            Leah’s jaw clenched and she looked towards the headlights in the driveway. Despite the open lawn around them, she felt trapped by the man’s presence. “I apologize, Mr. Mosley, I’ve been quite busy speaking with other guests.”

            “Now see, I do remember you.” He pointed at her as if he had just sparked a memory. “The pretty blonde from Midland, just as I suspected you were.”

            “I’m sorry, I don’t seem to recall you.” She replied, daintily lying to him. There was no way in hell she was giving him the satisfaction.

            Instead, Mosley just looked amused. A cat playing with a mouse. “Well, if you’d like me to jog your memory, I’ll be staying the night. I was thinking I’d fuck the swan but two women at once is always a treat.”

            Leah’s entire body was practically shaking with anger. “You will never ever, lay your hands on me, do you understand? I find you absolutely repulsive.” She spat.

            Mosley chuckled. “I understand why Shelby married you, you’ve got quite the little bite, don’t you? He always likes a challenge, doesn’t he? Well, I hope it’s known that if your husband ever betrays me, I will destroy him and his company.” The smug smile didn’t fade off his face. In fact, it appeared he enjoyed threatening her.

            Leah stepped toward him, her eyes narrowing. “Do not ever threaten my family.” She snarled. “I suggest you call your car around because you will not be staying another minute in my house.” And with that, she stormed past him and went inside.

Chapter Text

            Leah heard Linda screaming from inside. “What happened?” She demanded as she rushed into the dining room.

            Tommy grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to guide her out of the room. “I’ll tell you later. Go check on the kids and return to the tent. Tell people nothing’s wrong.”

            “I’m not going back outside.” Leah knew that Mosley was out there most likely still blocking the path to the tent. “What happened?” She asked again trying to shake off his grip and see what was going on. She thought it was her business if there was someone dying on her dining room table. 

            “Leah, listen to me-”

            “No!” She shouted back at him. “Not after everything you’ve done tonight. Now tell me what’s happening.”

            “Mumma?” Charlie was stood on the stair landing. He was trembling slightly from the noises coming from the dining room.

            Tommy and Leah shared a look. “Charles, go back upstairs.” He commanded sternly.

            “Go back in there.” Leah hissed at her husband and pushed his hands away from her shoulders. She headed up the stairs to console her son. “It’s okay, it’s just noises from the ballet.” She soothed softly and scooped him up into his arms. “Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s okay.” There was no telling how many times Leah would be able to say that until the guilt caught up to her.

 

            Once Charlie fell back asleep, Leah closed his door and found the house was quiet again. She stood in the hallway and considered going back downstairs and joining the party again. Maybe she could put on a brave face even after everything that had happened. Then she heard her husband speaking quietly to Mosley. Their voices traveled to the big room before the door closed and their voices became muffled. The man’s voice was enough to convince her to stay upstairs. She would be ecstatic to go the rest of her life without seeing his face ever again.  So, she returned to her bedroom and locked the door.

 

            The night passed on and Leah was comfortable in her room, far more comfortable than she would've been downstairs. She watched a few cars leaving while a few guests settled into their rooms for the night. It wasn’t long before the doorknob tried to turn but was inhibited by the lock. She didn’t move to open it; afraid it was Mosley trying to carry out his intentions. She hadn't seen whether he'd left or not. 

            “Leah?” Tommy knocked. “C’mon, I just want to talk.”

            She considered leaving him out but knew there weren’t any empty rooms due to their guests and she didn't want him to disturb the children. With a huff, she stood up and unlocked the door before returning to her spot on the edge of the bed.

            Tommy entered cautiously. He didn’t like to admit it but he was thoroughly shaken. After the confrontation with Linda and Mosley’s speech in the tent, he was afraid of what he’d gotten himself into. But it was far too late to turn back. It remained to be seen how that would affect his marriage.

            “Mosley said you wouldn’t allow him to stay the night.”

            “This is my house just as much as it is yours.” She replied curtly, her eyes refusing to look at him. Her arms crossed over her chest.

            “I wasn't questioning that. I just wanted to know why.”

            Leah tried to keep her nerve but her lower lip quivered. She was so angry and upset over the disaster of a night. “There was once a time where if a man spoke to me the way he did earlier, I would be afraid you’d kill him. Now I’m afraid that you won’t even listen to how it makes me feel. Let alone that you’d stand up for me.” She whispered.

            Tommy’s stomach sank. “You did recognize him.” He surmised. And as a follow-up, he guessed that Mosley had said something to thoroughly upset his wife. That was unacceptable. The man would die. 

            His wife didn’t answer. Her silence was enough to confirm his suspicion. “I love you, Tommy. I’ve loved you through the worst of the worst. But I can’t understand this. I can’t understand why you’re putting your family on the line.”

            He crossed the floor and sat down beside her. “Are you pregnant?”

            She let out a short, bitter laugh. “I didn’t think you’d notice until I’d gone into labor.” She replied coldly.

            “There are two things I can do.” He reached for her hand. She reluctantly let his fingers interlace with hers. Tommy wasn't going to talk about plan details with her. There was no reason to involve her in the gruesome bits. The further away he could keep her from such things the better. That way if anything was to come crashing down, she wouldn't have any culpability. “We can carry on. And I can promise you that things will get better once my plan goes through. Or I can take you and the kids to stay somewhere safe until then.”

            “Where?”

            “Purgatory, if you will.” Tommy took a deep breath. “Somewhere discrete and somewhere unknown to my enemies. You’ll be safe there and you won’t have to deal with me.”

            Leah looked down at their intertwined hands. “Remember when you tried to ship Charlie and I off to May’s in Surrey, to try and avoid Luca Changretta? Do you remember what I said to you?”

            He nodded. “You said you’d be home every night for me when I came home.”

            “I’m angry with you, Tommy. I can’t lie to you and say that I’m not. But I know who you are, better than most people. And if I know you, that man will be dead before your plan is through.”

            Tommy nodded. “He’ll be dead before our child is born.” He kissed her knuckles. “Believe me when I say that.”

            She believed him. “What are you going to do until then?” She asked quietly.

            “I’m moving seven tonnes of opium and starting a new party in Parliament.”

           

            “Three Shelby/Gray girls pregnant.” Polly sighed when she heard the news.

            Leah smiled sheepishly. “It was a surprise. We weren’t planning on it. I think we were banking on just two kids and leaving it at that.”

            “Well, babies can help calm things down sometimes. Having a family reminds you of your priorities.”

            Leah was at Polly’s apartment, Johanna and Charlie were playing downstairs while the two women had tea. Leah was still trying to find her bearings after her birthday party. She knew she needed to trust Tommy but it felt like something was looming over them, waiting to strike and ruin everything. Polly was always a grounding figure even during the most chaotic of times for the family. Leah was always comforted when she got advice from the older woman.

            “Tommy gave me the option to take the kids somewhere safer.”

            “What did you say to that?”

            Leah focused on the way the milk in her tea disappeared in a swirling motion. “I told him I promised to stay with him. Family is meant to stay together.” She chewed on her lip. “Pol, am I being foolish?”

            “How many times have you asked me that before?” Polly touched her arm comfortingly. “If you go through life doubting your every move then you’re bound to fail.”

            She frowned. “I know you’re right, I just have trouble with-well I just don’t know how to help him anymore. Every time I feel I’ve broken through; I find another wall. It sounds like he’s so close but when I turn around, he’s so far away…”

            “I can’t begin to explain love,” Polly said, her eyes wise and gentle. “It’s very strange and frankly it’s fucking idiotic. But for whatever reason God has placed you two together. Now if it’s time to separate-”

            “No.” Leah blurted.

            Polly raised an eyebrow. “What made you say that so quickly?” Her tone wasn’t accusing or poking fun. Instead, she was trying to turn the mirror onto Leah so she could understand herself. If she couldn’t then how could she understand Tommy? And how could he understand Leah?

            “Because,” She paused and thought to herself. It was rare she got quiet time to contemplate over her relationship. Either the kids or life was begging for her attention. Or, she was too deep in an argument with her husband that it skewed her thoughts. If she was alone, she tended to curl up into herself, plagued by the thoughts of hopelessness or questioning her worth as a wife. But being with Polly, a calming presence, she was allowed to step back and think rationally. “Because I know he’s flawed. I’ve known that since I met him. But I also know that he loves me. He loves our children. But he’s so lost in this idea of what he thinks he needs to be. The things he wants from life.” She sighed and rested her forehead against her hand.

            “If you want to stay here, please don’t lose focus on what’s important.” Polly reminded her.

            Leah nodded and rested a hand on her abdomen. “I suppose Ada, Gina, and I have to start a little club for pregnant women.” She joked half-heartedly.

            A sour look crossed Polly’s face when her daughter-in-law was mentioned. “I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.”

            “Don’t worry.” She picked up on the way Polly walked on eggshells. “Ada gave me a sort of…warning.”

            Polly shook her head. “I love my son but I worry about his intentions. And what influence she has over him. He’s not the same boy who left for America.”

            Leah locked her fingers together over her stomach. She tended not to get involved with inter-family politics. There was a fine line that could be broken easily. Trust wasn’t abundant and she was worried bridges could be burned down with the smallest of spark. “Maybe I could meet with her? She might be worried, being in a new country with a baby on the way.”      

            “That girl isn’t worried.” Polly glanced up at the clock over Leah’s shoulder. “But you may cross paths with her soon.”

            “Mummy! Daddy’s here!” Johanna exclaimed from the foot of the stairs.

            Leah looked confused and she stood up. As far as she knew, Tommy was meant to be working the entire day. But as she got to the top of the stairs, her husband was coming in. “Tom?”

            “Go upstairs, hi, not right now.” Tommy kissed Johanna’s cheek as she held her arms up to be picked up. “Go upstairs.” He repeated breathlessly. “Leah, can you come with me? Charlie and Johanna, you stay here with auntie.”

            Polly came out of the parlor. “Tommy? Is something wrong?”

            The two kids came skittering up the stairs going to grab onto Polly’s skirt. “Do we get to stay the night?” Johanna asked hopefully.

            “Can we go visit Curly and the horses?” Charlie added.

            “Hush, hush.” Leah quieted them. “You won’t be staying the night. You’ll just stay here until mum and dad get back.” She explained and went downstairs. “What’s going on?” She whispered to her husband.

            He was pale in the face, his eyes wide with shock. Something had clearly rattled him and there were any number of things that could’ve happened. “I’ll explain on the way.” He mumbled back to her and helped her into her coat. “I need you to come to Ada’s with me.”

Chapter Text

            After delivering the news about Ben Younger’s death, Leah sat in the car. She stared ahead in a daze. How much more could they lose? The deaths just kept getting closer and closer to them. When would it be her turn? Would she die at the hands of her husband’s work? What if Tommy was killed? Leah would be left pregnant and alone just like Ada. Three kids and no father.

            It made her stomach turn just thinking about it.

            Tommy got in the driver’s seat and paused for a moment to take a breath. He didn’t speak for a long moment. The silence settled over in the car as he lifted his hand to turn the key in the ignition.

            Leah glanced over at him when she didn’t hear the car engine start. Her husband was staring in the rearview mirror, his face flushed and his hand on the key shaking. “Tommy.”

            Grace reached from the backseat and touched his shoulder. “Come home to me, Tommy.” She whispered. “Turn the key and come home.”

            “Tommy.”

            Jonah sat beside Grace and leaned forward. “Bring her home to me, Tom. Be a man and bring her home, let me hold her again.” He coaxed.

            “Tommy.” Leah was growing more concerned as her husband’s eyes didn’t move from the mirror.

            “Come home.” Grace pled softly.

            “You’ll be doing the right thing, mate.” Jonah agreed. “Let me hold my Lee again.”

            As if driven by an unnatural force, Tommy turned the key and braced himself. But the fiery arms of an explosion never met him.

            Instead, he was left sitting in a car chugging to life. The ghosts in the backseat disappeared. Only Leah was left behind. Staring at him with immense concern.

            “You’re ill.” She whispered. “Tommy, you’re really ill. I know you are, just please tell me.” She begged. “Tell me and I promise we’ll get you help. I’ll be with you every step of the way.” She reached for his hand. Trying to pull him back to the world of the living.

            But Tommy was so content with one foot in the grave. His body tensed up when she touched him. “I’ve been seeing Grace.” He wiped a hand over his face. His skin felt numb. So numb.

            “What?” She whispered in disbelief. “What are you talking about? You mean you see people who look like her?”

            “No.” He shook his head adamantly. Continuing to pull away from her. “I hear her. She was just sitting in the back seat. Sitting with Jonah.”

            The sound of her late husband’s name alarmed her a great deal. But hearing him describe his hallucinations was even more alarming. Leah knew there was no one in the backseat but she still looked over her shoulder just to confirm that she wasn’t the crazy one. “Tommy, you know that’s not real. They’re just visions. You’re under stress, maybe that’s causing-”

            Tommy laid all his cards on the table. He reached into his coat and showed her the vial.

            Angry tears formed in her eyes when she recognized it. “No...God, no.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “No, you said…you promised!” Leah frantically grabbed at his arms in a daze. Her rage controlled her muscles, snatching the bottle away from him and tearing at the sleeves of his coat.

            “I’m in pain, Leah!” Tommy rose his voice and tried to push her off. "What else can I do? I'm trying to keep this family together on me own! It doesn't matter what I'm taking!" 

            Suffocated in the tight space of the car, she ripped open the door and stumbled out into the street. “You promised me! You said you wouldn’t take it anymore!” Her fist tightened around the vial, threatening to shatter it. Instead, she threw it to the ground and stomped on it with her heel. The blue-green glass crunching helplessly, the liquid flowing across the crevices of the cobblestones. The cracking sound released something inside Leah. The things broke since the very start of their relationship. Everything was so broken and she thought she could just hold him tightly and keep the cracks from showing. But Tommy Shelby would always be Tommy Shelby.

            He got out of the running car and came to her. “I’m sorry. I don't know what else I can say apologize.” Even he knew the apology was weak. How many times had he apologized over their relationship? 

            “You promised.” Leah was sobbing uncontrollably at that point, her knees giving in from the crippling grief and anger coursing through her veins. “You promised me, Tommy!” She screamed. “You promised me everything and you just…you just break everything. You break everything! You’ve never kept a promise, never, never, never.” She resulted in nothing but repetitive rambling. The stress seizing her, gripping onto her and refusing to let go. 

            Tommy caught her before she fell to the ground. The explosion, the death of Ben and the young boy. Everything overwhelmed him. She was right. He broke everything. It was about high time he broke Oswald Mosley.

 

            “Mumma, where are we going?” Johanna had woken up from her nap in the backseat. Charlie was peacefully watching the scenery pass by the window. Cyril was wedged between the two children, panting happily.

            “A little holiday, won’t that be fun, love?” Leah asked from the front seat. Tommy drove beside her, driving down the winding roads to the destination he’d once been before.

            “There’s the ocean!” Charlie exclaimed. Cyril barked happily when he began to recognize his surroundings. His tail began to wag and he pawed at the seat in front of him.

            “Alright, alright, calm down.” Tommy hushed the large dog. “You’re gonna flip the car over.” He pulled down the long driveway to the large manor on the ocean.

            “Now, this isn’t our house so we have to be on our best behavior,” Leah said gently as she opened the door to let the kids and Cyril out.

            The bullmastiff ran right for the front door that opened once the car pulled up the drive

            “Hello, Alfie.”

Chapter Text

            “Hello, Cyril. Hello, boy. Yeah, there’s a good lad.” Alfie took the first few minutes to greet his dog. The bull mastiff’s tail was wagging almost violently as he whined and pressed into Alfie’s legs.

            “Well, he hasn’t missed you at all.” Tommy joked.

            “Dogs, yeah, they’re smarter than most people, mate. Got real strong loyalties.” Alfie straightened up. “Let’s have a look see, then. The Shelby family.” He put his hands on his hips.

            “Charles, Johanna, this is Mr. Solomons.” Leah introduced the man, trying not to gawk at his left eye. The injury her husband left was horrible and she couldn’t imagine how painful it was. It was a wonder Alfie had survived it.

            Johanna beamed up at Alfie, not too put off by his marred eye. “Hi.” She waved at him.

            Charlie, however, was old enough to know that most people didn’t have scars like Alfie did. “What happened to your eye?” He blurted out.

            “Charles.” Leah bent down. “That’s not nice.” She scolded.

            “S’alright, Leah.” Alfie held out a hand to reassure her. “It’s quite a story, Charlie boy. S’got dragons and monsters so if you’re good, I’ll tell it to ya.”

            The little boy’s eyes widened in awe and he nodded.

            “C’mon in then.” Alfie let them inside. Cyril made himself right at home, trotting into the parlor and sniffing around.

            “You have a lovely place, Alfie,” Leah said as Tommy took her coat for her. "And right on the ocean, it's quite the view." 

            “Thank you, yeah, s’nice to be here year ‘round now, innit?” Alfie walked down the hall. “Want tea?”

            “S’pose we should sit down and have a chat.” Tommy agreed.

            “Would it be alright if the children played outside?” Leah wondered. She had a feeling the conversation wouldn’t be something the kids should hear. Not after the confrontation the men had years ago. 

            “’Course, they can fucking tear up the garden if they’d like. It’s getting overgrown anyway.”

            “Alright, I’ll get them settled.” Leah looked to her husband. “Maybe you two should talk first.”

 

            Charlie and Johanna went out to the front lawn to play with Cyril. Leah stood out with them for a moment before heading back inside. She entered the parlor where Tommy and Alfie were talking.

            “Come in, come in.” Alfie greeted her. “Just having a chat ‘bout your husband’s shit aim and the number he’s done on me face.”

            Leah sat down in one of the many comfortable chairs in the parlor. Her eye was drawn to the strange oddities that Alfie kept in the room. Taxidermy animals, antiques, and gadgets that looked valuable. All things that were sure to keep the children entertained for the week that they planned on staying there. Of course, the timing was tentative. It all relied on Tommy’s plan going smoothly or not.

            “I was glad to hear you survived.” She said but the words sounded strange and awkward.

            Alfie appeared amused. “Well, you are one of the few to actually say that.” He folded his hands over his stomach.

            “Well, thank you for taking us in at such short notice.”

            “Curious to know, Tommy, how did you even find out I was dead?” Alfie didn’t want to appear weak by giving refuge to the mother and children. Of course, he would protect the innocent, even if they were Tommy’s family.

            “You wrote me a letter, Alfie.”

            “Did I?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise.

            Leah looked shocked too. Tommy had failed to mention that letter. She was sure that he would tell her about a letter from a man who was supposed to be dead. It pointed to the distance in their relationship. 

            “You asked about your dog.”

            “Yeah, well I were on a lot of drugs.” He gestured to his face. “On account of being shot in the face by a cunt.”

            Leah bit her lip. “How are you faring now?” She hoped being gentle would be her best bet.

            “Learning to live with just one functioning eye.” Alfie shrugged. He glanced over at Tommy. “Think I’m doing better than your husband. You’ve gotten yourself into fascism, aye, stupid boy?”

            Tommy didn’t react probably in the way Alfie hoped. Instead, he just calmly took a drag of his cigarette. “I’m planning on killing Oswald Mosley.”

            “You’re going to kill the man and then you think you can kill the message.”

            “I will kill the message.”

            Leah looked down at her hands and felt like just curling up into herself. She didn’t want to know what dangers they were really facing. If she focused on it then she may have tried to stop Tommy from leaving.

 

            But he did leave. After kissing the children goodbye, Tommy got in the car and started to drive back to London. Leah stood in the doorway, watching his car drive off. Her chest was tight with fear and it felt almost paralyzing.

            “Woulda like to bring the kids down to the beach?” Alfie came up behind her. “Get your mind offa things?” His tone was significantly gentler once Tommy was gone. The gangster act he upheld so well could be set to the side. He didn’t need to keep his reputation for Leah and her children.

            She turned. “Oh, yes. I’m sure they would like that.” She forced a smile.

 

            Johanna and Charlie were delighted to visit the beach. Alfie brought down a little pail for Johanna to collect shells and a ball for Charlie to throw for Cyril.

            “Forgive me, but I didn’t think you’d be so…”

            “Nice?” Alfie chuckled. “Funny thing when you die and become resurrected. Makes you think ‘bout all the things you used to do, right? Spent decades fighting. But a man can’t fight forever.”

            Leah’s forehead creased. That didn’t ring true for Tommy. He couldn’t relax, couldn’t accept a quiet life. He always needed to fight and she didn’t understand why.

            The two were quiet as the stood near the dunes of the beach. Watching Charlie running around with Cyril was refreshing. The little boy was allowed to forget about the grief he had over his horse and the misunderstanding between him and his father. Johanna seemed content as she trotted around with the pail. She dragged it through the sand as she would stop, crouch down and pick something up.

            “This is the first time you didn’t call me Rosetta’s girl.” Leah realized quietly. "Before you used to call me that every time we met."            

            “That right?” Alfie didn’t seem surprised. In fact, it appeared that he knew what she was talking about. “Well, to be honest this were the first time you’ve looked like your own person.”

            She looked at him in surprise. “Pardon?”

            “You’ve got two kids, a life of your own, yeah? Sure, you’re married, but you ain’t lost anymore.”

            Leah wanted to ask what he meant by ‘lost’ but then it hit her. She wasn’t lost. Alfie was correct in that. She had found her place in the world. “I’m afraid everything is going to unravel.” She admitted. Never in her wildest dreams did she think Alfie Solomons would be a confidante for her.

            “Your husband’s campaign is foolish. But at least he’s doing something that no one else will.”

            “You believe he can do something about all of this?” She asked in disbelief. Encountering Mosley was a different experience. The man gave an impression of arrogance that was almost justified. The kind of man that thought he could get away with anything because he had already gotten away with so much. Knowing Tommy was up against him scared her. 

            He looked over the horizon where the ocean met the sky. “Time will tell, won’t it?”

            “I suppose.”

 

            Once the sun began to set, they went inside to wash up for dinner. The kids waited in the parlor as Alfie’s maid prepared the meal. Johanna sat on the floor with the pail, pulling out each shell and rock to show Alfie. The little girl decided she like the man, despite his appearance. Even Charlie warmed up to him almost instantly.

            “Lookit.” Johanna handed Alfie a smooth stone.

            “That looks like a skipping stone. You know how to skip stones, Charlie?”

            “Yeah, dad taught me.” The little boy nodded. He was sat outside on the balcony overlooking the ocean with Alfie’s binoculars. 

            “Let’s save this one, aye?” He set the rock aside. “Your brother can skip it tomorrow."

            “See?” Johanna held up a conch shell next.

            “Look at that!” Alfie turned the shell over in his hand. “Hard to find ones that are complete like this, no chips or pieces missing.” He showed her the inside. “That’s where little critters live. They hole on up in there." 

            “And this!” Johanna passed him something else.

            “Let’s see then. Well, lookit here. Tha’s sea glass, Jo.” He held the smoothed over green piece to the light. “Lucky find, that is.”

            “This is for mummy.”

            “Oh yeah? What’s this?” Alfie gently took the scallop shell, his thumb smoothing over the pinkish cream-colored inside and then over the ridges of the outside. “Want to give that to mum?”

            “Yeah.”

            “You have the other half? Oh yeah, look.” Alfie touched the two halves of the shell together. “Critters live in here too 'til they outgrow ‘em and find a bigger shell. How’s ‘bout you give the other half to dad?”

            “Okay.” Johanna agreed and continued sifting through the pail, the objects clinking against the metal.

            Leah came into the parlor after freshening up for dinner. “Looking through your treasures?” She kissed the top of Johanna’s head. 

            The little girl beamed up at her mother. “I found s’glass.” She chirped happily.

            “Maybe you can leave Alfie some, I’m not sure we’ll be able to bring all of that home.” Leah laughed softly.

            Johanna cupped her hands, picking up a handful of rocks and shells and promptly poured them into Alfie’s hands. “Tha’s yours."

            “Oh well that’s very kind, that is. We’ll have to find places to put ‘em.” He smiled and stood up.

            Leah walked out to the balcony and sat down beside her son. “See anything?” She smoothed his blond hair back and briefly thought about having to get him a haircut soon. 

            “Yeah, there are ships.” He continued looking through the binoculars. 

            “I wonder where they’re going.”

            Charlie simply shrugged. He had something else on his mind. “Why didn’t dad stay here with us?”

            “He’s got to work.” She replied. “He’ll take a holiday with us this summer.” She promised and hoped it was something that would come true. At that point she was just hoping everyone ended up alive. They could discuss holidays later.

            “Mum,” The boy lowered the binoculars and set them down in his lap. He looked up at her with concern in his eyes. “Is dad okay?”

            It was everything Leah was afraid of. It didn’t matter if Leah and Tommy argued behind closed doors. Children picked up on everything even if it was unsaid. That’s why Johanna liked Alfie. She could see beyond his tough exterior. Charlie could see the decline in his father’s mental health. It didn’t matter how hard Leah tried to keep a positive atmosphere in the home.

            “Sometimes, people struggle with being sad. Daddy will be okay but…” The words got stuck in her throat.

            “But what?”

            “But we need to give him lots of love to help him.” She tried to smile but her muscles felt too tense to even function correctly. “You and Joey can do that, right?”

            Charlie nodded. “Yeah.”

            “Mummy, I got a shell for you.” Johanna came wandering over with the scallop shells. “And this is for daddy.”

            “Oh, thank you, poppet.” She took the shells in her hands and kissed her daughter’s cheek. “Daddy will love it. C'mon you two, I'm sure dinner'll will be done soon."

           

 

            After dinner, Leah got the children to bed and went into the parlor to read for just a little bit. She noticed some of the shells that Johanna had collected were now placed among the artifacts on Alfie’s shelves and cabinets. Some sand lingered on the wood surfaces.

            Alfie came in with a cup of tea and settled into his armchair. He glanced out the balcony to where the sun had disappeared. The sky blooming into an array of purples and blues.

            “Did Tommy tell you I was pregnant?” Leah wondered.

            “He did.” Alfie nodded. “Used it as a threat. If I hurt you-such and such.” He waved a hand.

            Leah tilted her head in acknowledgment. That sounded like her husband. “It’s funny. When I was pregnant with Johanna, I thought it would make things better. Tommy would settle down more.” She shook her head. “It was stupid to think that.”

            “What’s your end goal?”

            “My end goal?” She paused. Most days, she didn’t even know which way was up. So many things had rocked her world beyond repair. It ended up that she couldn’t only think one day at a time. As long as her children were safe in bed at the end of the day, it was a success. But long term? “I don’t know.” She admitted quietly. Could she even guarantee tomorrow? Could she guarantee that she wouldn’t get a call saying that Tommy had been shot dead?

            “Something to think about.”

            She frowned and felt some anxiety bubble in her stomach. “I don’t want to wish for something that’s not plausible. It’s not worth the time spending if it’s unrealistic. I just want my children to be safe and have a good life.”

            He watched her with thoughtful eyes. “And you don’t think you can provide them with that?”

            Leah paused. When she lost Jonah, her world came crashing down. But she didn’t have children to care for back then. If she were to lose Tommy, she wouldn’t have the option to break down again. She would have to hold everything together for the sake of Charlie, Johanna, and the baby on the way. “I want Tommy to be okay.”

            Alfie nodded. “Think doctors can get into that brain of his?”

            She sighed quietly. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m close and he slips away.”

            The man was quiet for a moment. “Well, I wouldn’t want to be fucking married to ‘im that’s for damn sure.”

            Leah shared a laugh with him. “It’s hard to explain love." She admitted. "But I'll never stop loving him." 

Chapter Text

            “Cyril, sit. Sit…Cyril, sit. Sit, now, sit!” Charlie frowned and gestured wildly at the mastiff who merely stared at him, drooling slightly. “See, he doesn’t listen to me. He only listens to dad.”

            Alfie walked over. “You need to make sure he knows you’re serious, mate. Look ‘im in the eye and say it with authority. You ain’t yelling, you’re being firm. Cyril, sit.”

            Charlie was amazed when the dog’s rump instantly dropped to the floor. His tail wagging.

            “Dogs are loyal creatures, they like being told what to do. Gotta be the leader. They were bred from wolves, ya know that right?” Alfie scratched Cyril behind the ears to praise him.

            “Yeah.”

            “So, you’ve gotta be the pack leader. If he were the pack leader nothing would get done, silly boy that he is.” Alfie chuckled.

            Charlie smiled and looked at his dog. “Are you gonna take him back when we leave, Alfie?” It had been weighing on the young boy the entire week they’d been at Margate. He did his best to show that he was taking good care of the dog.

            “Has he got a warm bed in Warwickshire?”

            Charlie nodded.

            “Two meals a day?”

            Another nod.

            “You and your sister play with him?”

            Nod.

            “Then why on Earth would I take him back, aye?” Alfie tousled Charlie’s hair and went to sit back down in his armchair. "If you take such good care of him, wouldn't be fair to take him away from you." 

            “Because he was your dog. That’s what dad said.” Charlie crouched down beside Cyril to pet him.

            “Nah, mate, he’s been with you long enough. He’s your mutt now.” Alfie assured him.

            The front door opened and Johanna came running inside. “Hi!” She greeted the maid first, then Cyril, her brother, and finally Alfie.

            “Back from the shops?” Alfie smiled at the little girl.

            Leah came in after her daughter. The trip to the little town half a mile away had taken up a good chunk of the afternoon. It was Wednesday, a week after they’d arrived at Margate. There wasn’t much news from Tommy so they remained in limbo. Purgatory, as he’d so aptly called it earlier. All Leah could do was keep the children occupied and keep her mind off of the mess they were avoiding in Birmingham.

            Nights were the hardest. Once the kids were asleep, Leah had a hard time staying up and coping with the what-ifs. She lent a lot of her remaining sanity to Alfie who would stay up all hours of the night even if she didn’t ask him to. An outside opinion, the man provided better insight than she could’ve anticipated. Maybe partially losing his eyesight and spending his days reading the Torah gave him clarity. Or maybe they were all just driven mad.

            “Mrs. Shelby, your husband called half an hour earlier. I said you’d return the call when you and Johanna came back.” Alfie’s maid informed her.

            “Oh, yes, thank you. I’ll call him back right now.” Leah entered the parlor. “Charlie, Johanna, I’m going to call daddy if you’d like to say hello.”

            The two children followed her to the phone in Alfie’s study which was very rarely used. Not like in the days when he used to bring paperwork from the bakery on holiday with him. No, most of those documents had been burned. All that was left were more oddities that he collected. An egg that suspiciously looked like a Fabergé, a collection of shark teeth that he’d found on the beach, and peacock plumes.

            Johanna cuddled up on Leah’s lap as she called for Tommy. Charlie lingered by the desk but appeared more interested in the things Alfie had in his office instead of the impending phone call.

            “Hello, daddy!” Johanna chirped as Leah handed her the phone first once Tommy picked up.

            “Charlie, come say hello,” Leah whispered softly and beckoned for the young boy.

            He looked at the phone but balked and shook his head.

            As Johanna babbled on, answering Tommy’s questions about her day, Leah frowned. “Charles, don’t be silly and get over here, now.”

            He got a sour look on his face and backed away from the desk.

            “Charles Shelby, come just say hello.” She reiterated strictly.

            His face clouding over, he turned on his heel and left the office. Startled by her mother’s snap, Johanna stopped talking to Tommy. “Mummy…”

            “It’s okay, let me talk to daddy.” Leah took the phone from her daughter and shooed her out of the room.

            “Leah?” Tommy hadn’t heard the argument with Charlie.

            “He doesn’t want to even say hello to you.”

            There was a pause. “Who?”

            “Your son!

            “Oh, well, that’s okay. I can speak to him later.” Tommy didn’t seem too bothered. He’d been scorned by his son before, he chalked it up to just being a bratty Shelby child. He’d been a similar way once before. Maybe even still.

            Leah sighed and put her head in her hands. “I can’t keep holding everything together Tommy.”

            “There’s nothing for you to hold together, love, I’m going to make everything better. You can bring the kids home and it’ll all be okay.”

            There was so much she wanted to say. So much she wanted to shout at him or cry to him about. All the worries and anxious thoughts that kept her up late at night. The thoughts she could somehow disclose to Alfie Solomons but couldn’t tell her own husband. “How are you?” She whispered quietly.

            They were both putting on facades for each other over the phone. Tommy had just set off an explosion, breaking out his mentally ill war buddy with intent to make him an assassin again. But he wasn’t sure who would be listening to his phone lines so he couldn’t tell his wife. “I’m doing alright.”

            She swallowed and closed her eyes. “Do you miss me?”

            “What sort of question is that?”

            With a tearful scoff, she shook her head. “A valid one.”

            “Why wouldn’t I miss the only person who gives me any sort of peace?” He replied.

            A few tears slipped down Leah’s cheeks. “Tom, please.” She whispered. “What would I do if something happened to you?”

            Tommy knew that he could keep telling her the same thing over and over again. Nothing would happen to him. He’d be alright and soon enough they’d all be home together again. But it always reached a point when they just became words and words became meaningless. If they had limited time together, why would they waste that time with meaningless words?

            “Love, can you go get Alfie?” Tommy asked. "I'd like to speak with him about something." 

            Leah wiped her tears. “Yeah, okay.” She rested the phone on the desk and left the office to find Alfie.

            Johanna was playing with the new doll they’d bought on their trip to the shops. Charlie had his back turned to them, sitting on the balcony with the gold-plated binoculars. Alfie was reading in his usual spot, Cyril wandering back and forth between him and Charlie.

            “Alfie, Tommy was wondering if he could speak with you?”

            The man looked surprised but nodded. “'Course.” He patted Cyril and went to the study.

            Leah sat and chewed on her lower lip. She looked to Charlie but decided there was no use in arguing with him anymore. All she wanted was to make sure if they lost Tommy, Charlie would never have any regrets. He wouldn’t be haunted by that single phone call. The one he could’ve said hello to his father for the last time but didn’t. But the boy was too young to understand that.

            “Mum?” To Leah’s surprise, Charlie broke the silence in the parlor. She assumed that he would sulk and pout the rest of the day away without speaking a word to her or anyone else. 

            “Yes?”

            “Who’s that down there?” He pointed to the beach below the balcony.

            She stood up and went to see who he was talking about. “I’m not sure, love. Just someone passing-” There wasn’t much chance to see what the man looked like. All she saw was him lift a rifle and point up towards the balcony.

            Reacting quickly, Leah grabbed Charlie by the collar and tore him backward. Johanna screamed when the loud bang went off. The bullet went through the parlor and hit the opposite wall. Heart pounding, Leah grabbed her daughter and shielded her children with her body. Another shot went off, hitting a glass cabinet above their heads. Johanna was wailing in fear over Leah as she whispered the Lord’s Prayer to them and her unborn child.

            One more bang went off and everything went silent. Heavy footsteps entered the parlor.

            “S’alright.” Alfie came in with a pistol tucked in his waistband. He helped Leah and the children up. “S’alright.”

            Leah sat on the floor with Johanna in her arms. She hushed her softly, rocking her back and forth to soothe her.

            Charlie wandered over to the balcony. The man was still there but he was on his back, the rifle had fallen away from his hand. Dark red seeped from his head into the damp sand beneath him. He couldn’t look away from the dead body.

            Alfie came up behind the young boy. He placed a spent bullet, the one that had landed in the cabinet, in the boy’s hand. “Here. C’mon now. I’ll have Maggie make you something to eat.”

            Charlie nodded silently and followed Alfie to the kitchen like a zombie. Passing by his distraught sister and his spooked mother. He sat in front of the jam sandwich placed in front of him but he didn’t eat.

 

Chapter Text

   

            It was a miracle the children went down for the night. Johanna didn’t know any better. She was just spooked by the loud noises. Charlie was in a daze for the rest of the night and went to bed without saying much. He closed his eyes but couldn’t fall asleep, little to Leah’s knowledge.

         The woman was too worked up to really tell if he was asleep or not. She paced in the parlor about ready to tear her hair out. “He’s lied to me so many times. He lies and he lies and he lies.” She ranted over and over again.

         Alfie sat in the room with his gun at hand just in case. He’d done a good few rounds around his land making sure there wasn’t anyone else straggling. As he got rid of the body, he took note of the man’s identification. Perhaps he was just a lone wolf looking to get even. Maybe he’d heard of Alfie’s resurrection. Maybe he’d followed Leah and the children to Margate.

         Leah didn’t seem to care what the reason was. She was sick of feeling like they were in danger everywhere they turned to. “No more.” She stopped in her tracks. “No more.”

         Alfie could see her resolve was breaking. The hope she held out for Tommy Shelby. “What are you gonna do then? What’s your goal?” He asked her the same question he’d asked days before.

         “My children come first.” She insisted. “Not Tommy Fucking Shelby.” She spat. “I will not have their lives put at risk. They deserve to grow up safe and happy.” Tears filled her eyes.

         “So, what are you gonna do?”

         “I’m leaving.” The words came out before she could really process them. “I’m leaving…I’m going somewhere else. Somewhere far…America. I’ll go to America if it means keeping them safe.” She wiped her eyes. “His actions won’t put them in danger anymore, I won’t let him.”

         Alfie nodded but didn’t say anything else. He simply let her sit with the idea.

         Leah wrung her hands together and let out a gasp of air. “Tell me I’m crazy.”

         He simply shrugged. “Not my decision to make.” He pointed up to the ceiling. “I leave that shit up to God.”

 

         In the morning, Leah had all the bags packed. She didn’t call Tommy to tell him they were leaving Margate. Instead, she called Polly and headed to her flat in London. 

 

         “Up you go then, thatta girl.” Alfie helped Johanna into the backseat of the car. “And there goes Cyril. And last but not least, Mr. Charles.”

         Charlie looked up at the man. “Are we gonna see you again soon, Alfie?” He asked quietly.

         “I should hope so, mate. You, your sister and Cyril can come visit anytime mum says it’s okay.” Alfie smiled and tousled the boy’s hair.

         Leah walked up to Alfie after he shut the car door. “I can’t thank you enough. I’m sorry to leave on such short notice. And I don’t mean to have Tommy give you any grief for what I’ve done.”

         “I can handle whatever grief Tommy wants to fucking give me. Now you remember that this is his battle he’s fighting. Ain’t yours and it ain’t the kids’ either.”

         “Thank you, Alfie.” She kissed his cheek and went to get in the car.

         “Bye, Mr. Alfie!” Johanna called out the window.

         Alfie waved to them as the car pulled out of the drive. He wandered back inside and waited for the phone to ring and for Tommy Shelby to rain hell down upon him.

 

 

         Leah promised Polly that she would sit on the decision for a few days. Besides, it would take a few days to secure a ticket to America. Tommy wouldn’t know they were with her. Instead, he assumed they were still in Margate. Alfie sent a telegram to Tommy in Leah’s name saying that the phone line had gone down and it would be a few days before it would be operating again.

 

         “I’m so sorry, Pol,” Leah whispered.

         It was day three of their stay at Polly’s. Leah had made up her mind. The children were packed to go to America with her. The tickets were booked and she didn’t intend on going back on her plan.

         Polly and Leah were sat in the kitchen. Johanna had fallen asleep in Leah’s arms. Charlie had already retired to bed for the night. In the morning, they would be on their way to the docks. Leah still wasn’t sure how she would tell them that Tommy wouldn’t be accompanying them.

         “Why are you apologizing?” Polly asked.

         “Because I’m taking the children away from you and the rest of the family. It’s not right I know-”

         “A mother’s intuition is never wrong.” Polly touched Leah’s shoulder and gave her a firm look. “Why should I blame you for wanting to keep them safe from harm? If you think this is best, then it’s best.”

         Leah bit her lip to try and hold back her tears. “Tommy’ll be so angry with me.”

         “Maybe he should have seen this coming.” Polly mused. “He can’t play God and think that everything will be okay.”

         Leah listened to Johanna’s soft breathing against her shoulder. “I love him, but I can’t sacrifice my children for him. It was so close, Pol. If I hadn’t been there…” The words were caught in her throat. She couldn’t get the haunting thought out of her head. What could’ve been if she hadn’t pulled him away in time?

         Charlie laying in the parlor, blood seeping into the carpet. There would be nothing she could do. He would be gone before she could even react.

         Polly hushed her softly and handed her a handkerchief. “But you were there. And you’re here now with them. Trust that you know what’s best for them and follow that path.”

 

         So, Leah did. Polly gave her the necessary funds to make do in America. Johanna was still asleep in Leah’s arms as they boarded the ship. There was a chill in the air so Leah kept her head down. Charlie stuck close to her, holding onto her skirt so he wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.

         “Mum, dad’s not coming with us, is he?” He asked quietly once they were settled in their cabin on the ship.

         Leah set Johanna down on the bed so she could nap. “No, poppet. We can’t be with him right now. I’m sorry.” She replied, trying to keep her voice steady and calm. But every nerve in her body was on alert. Part of her wanted to turn around and run back to Tommy. Part of her wanted to never go back. 

         He nodded slowly and stepped onto a piece of luggage to look out the porthole. There was nothing but the ocean ahead of him. When he thought Leah wasn’t paying attention, he reached into his pocket. The bullet Alfie had given him safely tucked away. It was odd, but he knew why they were leaving without Tommy. He knew why they couldn’t stay. His father shot things. Sometimes things shot back.

 

 

         Tommy allowed the charade of the phoneline excuse to go on for three days. The day Leah left with the children; he began asking questions. The telegrams were starting to sound very unlike his wife. In fact, there were some clues that Alfie Solomons was the author.

         Tommy was livid. He delayed his meeting with Barney to drive to Polly’s. Only a stop before he intended to go to Margate and make sure Alfie Solomons hadn’t done away with his family.

         “It’s been three days, the fucking telegrams aren’t being written by her.” Tommy stormed into Polly’s flat unannounced.

         Polly had been waiting for her nephew to catch up to things. “Tommy, sit down.” She requested firmly.

         Tommy’s eyes were wild as he turned to her. Something was up, he knew it was. “Where are they?”

         “Sit down.”

         Nerves frayed, he had no desire to sit down and be talked to like a child. “Where are my fucking children?!” He roared.

        So,  Polly stood up instead. “They’ve left. Leah’s taken them to Boston.” She told him point-blank.

         So many emotions hit the man all at once. “Fuck!” He shouted and looked for something to break.

         Instead, Polly grabbed him by the arm before he could make any sudden or destructive movements. “Don’t you understand what you’ve been doing to her? What this has done to the children?”

         “She can’t take them away from me!”

         “Charlie was nearly shot in the fucking face, Thomas!” Polly shouted back at him.

         It was as if a bucket of ice water had been thrown over him. It was news to him. Since the gunman was killed, no information had gotten back to him. No ransom notes or threats. 

         “Alfie wasn’t sure who it was but he found the house and shot at Charlie while he was on the balcony. The only reason he survived was because Leah pulled him out of the way.”

         Tommy’s muscles began to give out on him. His aunt pulled up a chair for him and guided him into it when she saw it looked like he was about to keel over. “She felt backed into a corner, she wanted to keep the children safe.”

         He put his head in his hands. The weight of his reality felt like it was crushing him to bits. A mere thread, that's what he was holding onto. Leah and his children were the only genuine thing he had left. His only source of happiness. “I tried, Pol…I fucking tried. I did everything I fucking could." He felt close to dry heaving. The room was closing in on him. "It wasn't enough." He whispered.

         “I know you did.” She touched his shoulder. “We all did. But maybe we can’t keep her safe.”

         He inhaled sharply and lifted his head. “Where is she staying?” He stood and started to compose himself. There was no way he'd be able to find them if he lost his sanity, or what was left of it. 

         Polly pursed her lips. “She asked me not to tell you. She entrusted me and I don’t take that lightly, Thomas.”

         Tommy snapped in an instant and swept everything off the table. “Where is she fucking staying?” But it was no use, his aunt had dealt with enough of his tantrums and knew not to cave it. When he was stonewalled, he stood up with a fury. “Fine, I don’t fucking need you to tell me. I’ll find out on me own.” He growled and left the flat, slamming the door behind him.

 

         The first night knowing his family was in America, Tommy lost control. He felt like he'd lost control of everything. His career, his business, his finances, and now his own fucking family. He’d spent the rest of the day putting out alerts to all the contacts he had in Boston and even New York just in case. Anyone under the name Leah Shelby, Leah Ward, Leah Robinson, anyone who matched her description or the children’s description was to be reported back to him as soon as possible.

         When he called every person he possibly could, he drank and he downed as much morphine as he could find. Maybe it would finally kill him.

           Slumped over on the floor of the big room, Tommy looked up to see Grace standing by the fireplace.

         “Aren’t you happy, Tom?” She asked softly. “They’re away from you, finally. They’re safe now. An entire ocean between you.” The blonde woman sighed softly. “I remember when I tried to run to America. I could never keep you off my mind. Maybe she can learn to forget you. Maybe she won’t make the mistake I made by returning to you. Maybe if I stayed in America, I’d still be alive.” Blood began to seep from the sapphire around her neck. But she smiled peacefully. “I know you want her to stay there. You know something will happen to her if she comes back.” 

         Tommy screamed until his throat felt raw. When he lost his breath he threw the nearest bottle at the hallucination of his dead wife. The glass shattered and knocked several picture frames off the mantle over the fireplace.

         He got up shakily and wandered over to see which ones had faced a causality. He dropped to his knees, ignoring the broken glass digging through his trousers and into his skin. He was too numb to feel the pain. He’d always been numb without her.

         The one of Charlie on his first pony. His wedding to Leah. Johanna’s first birthday. They’d all escaped from their silver-plated frames and were let loose in the stray glass shards. Tears streaming down his face, Tommy picked the photographs out of the glass. He held them close to his chest and prayed to either see them again or to let God finally take him.

 

Chapter Text

            “Tommy, mate, it is polite to call ahead,” Alfie muttered as he made his way to the sitting room. “You should know that, being a big fancy parliament member, aye?”

            “Your phone lines are down, Alfie, remember?” Tommy replied, his jaw tense. 

            It didn't catch Alfie off guard. He simply lied effortlessly. “Well they’re back up now, should’ve tried to ring before fucking trudging all the way out here.” He sat down with a sigh. 

            Tommy stood like a soldier in the center of the room. “Where are my wife and kids?” 

            No use in pretending he was hiding them away. Best to divert the man’s attention back to London. “Your aunt’s, although I’m sure you knew that.” 

            “She’s gone to America.” 

            “Has she?” Alfie raised an eyebrow. “To be honest, Tom, I were only half certain she’d go. Thought maybe you still had some sway over her but I guess not.” 

            That was enough for Tommy. He pulled out his gun and jammed it under Alfie’s chin. Trembling with rage, he glared at him. “I gave you specific fucking instructions.” 

            The Jewish gangster looked thoroughly unbothered by the gun pointed against his skin. “I ain’t on your fucking payroll mate, you don’t order me ‘round. I were doing you a fucking favor, weren’t I?” 

            “She wasn’t supposed to leave. She was supposed to stay here, that’s what we all agreed on.” 

            “Well, what would you have me do, Tommy, aye?” Alfie retorted. “Lock her in a closet? Fucking hell mate, she didn’t leave ‘cause of me. She left ‘cause of you!” His eyes narrowed at the Brummie. “But you knew that didn’t ya? You fucking knew that but you, yeah, ain’t never liked to take responsibility for it, right? You want to come here and finish me off ‘cause scary, mean ‘ol Alfie Solomons made your wife run off.” He scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Give me a fucking break, Tommy.” 

            Tommy bit down on his tongue and jerked the gun away from Alfie. He stuffed it back into his coat and pulled out a cigarette instead. 

            Alfie watched him pace around the room for a moment. “Tommy, I can appreciate, right, that you’re angry. But your son was nearly fucking killed right over there.” He jabbed a finger at the balcony. “They weren’t safe here.” 

            The Blinder didn’t say anything for a good while. 

            “You’ve made a deal with the devil, mate. Don’t mean she did.” 

            “You don’t know that she’s safe in America.” 

            Alfie shrugged and cracked his knuckles. “Think you’re enemies are gonna be focused on you here, not what’s on the other side of the Pond.” He shrugged. "Something to consider." 

            Tommy sighed and stood up. “Fuck off, Alfie.” He muttered before going to leave. 

            “‘Fore you go, there’s a shell on that cabinet.” He pointed across the room. 

            Tommy looked over and found the shelf with a few shells scattered over it. “Which one?” 

            “Scallop shell. Johanna found it, meant to give it to you but left it behind. Leah’s got the other half.” 

            He picked it up and showed it to Alfie. “This one?” 

            “That’s right.” 

            Tommy smoothed his thumb over the ridges over the top of the shell. He swallowed and pocketed the shell. “Thank you.”

 

            “Mrs. Robinson?” 

            “Yes, sorry, I’m here.” Leah returned to the phone after stopping Cyril from snatching something off the counter. 

            “As I was saying, my name is Headmistress Sutton and I’m calling about your son, Charles.” 

            Boston was different, very different. But Leah accepted the change and embraced what it had to offer her. She took the challenges in stride and did everything that was in the best interest of her children. 

            She found work after a few hard weeks of relying on Polly’s money. But even after securing her job as a secretary, she had to work for very little. It was tough but she much preferred it over the potential of her children being gunned down. 

            Still, she wasn’t without stress. It didn’t take long before Johanna started asking about Tommy. She seemed happy to go about her new life as a young girl in America. But come nighttime, she was aware of the inconsistencies. Mainly, Tommy wasn’t there to kiss her goodnight.

             “Mummy, is daddy coming home tonight?” She’d ask several nights a week.

             “No, love. I’m sorry, daddy’s not here. He has to be in England.”

             The little girl was sad at the reality and often cried for Tommy. All Leah could do was hold her and reassure her that they would go home eventually. She just didn’t know when.

            Charlie began to retreat into himself, never talking more than a few sentences at a time and only when prompted. But Leah didn’t think it had anything to do with school. She assumed it was only because of Tommy’s absence. But apparently the loss had been seeping into other aspects of the young boy’s life.

 

            “Is he alright?” Leah’s blood ran cold as all the horrible possibilities popped into her head. 

            “He’s okay. He’s in the office with me at the moment. I’m calling as there was an incident between your son and a few other boys while in the schoolyard.” 

            “Okay, what happened?” 

            “I’m afraid your son became quite aggressive with the other boys. I will have to suspend him for the rest of the week for his actions this morning. Are you available to come collect him now?” The woman asked. 

            Leah’s heart sank. “Yes, I’ll come and get him right away. Thank you for calling.” She hung up the phone with a resigned sigh. 

 

            Charlie was indignant as they walked home. “I didn’t start it.” He muttered. 

            “We’ll speak about this when we get home,” Leah replied coldly. 

            “But I didn’t!” He protested. “They were calling me names and threatening to beat me up. Dad ‘n Uncle Arthur said I should always defend myself! That's what they said so I did!” 

            Leah suddenly grabbed Charlie by the upper arm and pointed at him accusingly. “You will not fight like your father.” She scolded. “I never want to hear of you fighting ever again. Do you hear me?” 

            Charlie made a face and looked away from her. 

            “Charles, do you hear me?” She demanded. 

            “Yes.” He mumbled. 

            “Good.” Leah dropped his arm and continued walking on. 

           

 

            “Am I boring you, Shelby?” Mosley glanced up from the paper he was reading off to his colleague. 

            Tommy blinked a few times and realized he had been staring at the clock for a good while. “Not at all.” He cleared his throat and straightened his jacket. “I’m listening.” 

            “I imagine you’re thinking about your wife.” 

            The hairs on the back of Tommy’s neck stood up. He hadn’t mentioned anything about Leah to him. Not since she’d gone to Margate with the kids. Mosley hadn’t asked so he didn’t divulge anything. 

            “It will be nice to see her, it’s been a long day,” Tommy replied casually. 

            “So you’ll be crossing the Atlantic? I should think it would take you longer than a night.” Mosley raised an eyebrow. 

            The room went silent. Tommy swallowed and became hyper-focused on all of his muscle movements. He didn’t want to appear hostile. The plan was on a razor-thin edge. One slip up and it was down the drain. All the effort and work, wasted.

            “Shelby, understand that there is nothing you can keep from me,” Mosley said as if he were gently scolding the man for a minor error. “I have eyes and ears all over this country.” 

            This country

            Maybe America was safe. 

            “Has she left you for another man then?” Mosley tilted his head to the side and clicked his tongue in disapproval.  

            “No,” Tommy replied steadily. “She’s gone on holiday with the children. I was unable to join her because of our business.” He averted his eyes by focusing on lighting his cigarette. “She understands.” 

            “Hm. That is quite interesting. I didn’t expect she would miss our rally, it is important.” 

            “She’s not one for politics.” He began to gather his things. The meeting was over, he couldn’t be in the same room as Mosley for much longer. “She enjoys being with the children most.” His chest tightened at the mention of them. 

            “It is remarkable.” Mosley smiled. “Honestly, Shelby, you must tell me how you took in a whore like her and made her into who she is now.” 

            Tommy’s hand clenched into a fist and it took all his restraint not to deck the man right then and there. Patience. He had to have patience. “Afternoon, Mosley.” He ignored the question, bid the man goodbye, and left before he lost his temper. 

 

            “Mr. Shelby, you’ve a letter.” Frances greeted him at the door. “It’s from your son.” 

            Tommy perked up. After the emotional day, a letter from his son was enough to make his heart skip a beat. “Thank you.” He took the envelope into his study and sat down at his desk. 

 

            Dear dad, 

Sorry if you can’t read my handwriting. I’m writing this sort of in the dark. I don’t know if mum wants me to write to you. She gets real sad when Jo and I ask about you. I don’t know how to call you but I remembered our address. I hope this reaches you. 

            Boston is good. Mum works and Jo and I go to school. I don’t like school. But I like playing football with the other kids who live in our building. Max is my best friend. He has a dog too. He doesn’t know much about horses. I miss my horses. 

            If you can, will you come visit us? Jo misses you a lot. I think mum does too but she won’t say. 

            I miss you too. 

            Love, 

            Charlie Shelby

 

            Tommy was almost in tears by the time he reached his son’s sloppy signature. They wrote their ‘y’s nearly the exact same way. Suddenly, he realized something that should’ve been the first thing on his mind. He grabbed the envelope he’d torn up and turned it over. Relief washed over him. 

            “An address.” 

Chapter Text

             “Oh, Debbie you didn’t have to.” Leah was pleasantly surprised to open the door and find her neighbor with a plate covered in foil.

             “Nonsense, it’s Joey’s birthday!” The plain but caring woman beamed.

             “Come in for tea,” Leah welcomed her inside. “I’ll put this in the fridge. I can’t thank you enough, I hadn’t enough time to make something. I was going to have Charlie watch her so I could pop down to the bakery.” She peeked under the foil to find a lovely little cake. It wasn’t anything like the beautifully decorated cakes that Frances used to make at Arrow House. They had to make do with what little they had during the Depression.

             Leah had the extra money Polly sent every so often kept in a locked jewelry box underneath the floorboards. No one trusted the banks anymore, especially in the United States. But she seldom tucked into the savings anymore now that she had a secure income. She could pay for rent and everything her children needed. They certainly weren’t living like they used to in Warwickshire but that was okay. They didn’t need luxury if it cost them their safety.

            

             Leah put the kettle on and rummaged around in her drawers for any candles she might have for the cake.

             “Honestly, Leah, I don’t know how you do it.” Debbie sighed. “Being on your own with two kids and another on the way?”

             She smiled and uncovered a few candles leftover from Charlie’s birthday as well as matches. “They’re good kids, they hardly give me any trouble, luckily.” It had been quite some time since the incident at Charlie’s school. He hadn’t gotten into any more fights and generally held his tongue. He spent more time outside playing than he did with his family. But Leah figured that he would much rather play with his friends. 

             “Maybe it’s the British in them.” Her neighbor rolled her eyes. “Max’s got a mouth like a fucking sailor. I’ve no idea where he gets it from.” She muttered into her teacup.

             Leah laughed and shook her head, not commenting. She checked the clock on the wall and made note that the kids should be running through the door at any second. She made sure the cake was properly hidden in the refrigerator before going to sit down at the table with Debbie.

             “Have you heard from him?”

             Leah had been pretty open with her newfound friends, the women who lived in the same apartment building as she did. Ones with children all around the same age as Johanna and Charlie. They all played together in the street and Leah was so glad to see them socializing more often than they did in Warwickshire. She felt that Charlie was gaining more confidence and Johanna was growing into her bubbly self. But it was good to have a few confidants to talk to about her troubles back in England. Although she didn’t get into the hairy details of it all, she admitted her husband was still in London and she wasn’t sure when they’d return to him. If at all.

             “No, I haven’t heard from his aunt either.” Leah glanced down at the teacup clasped in her hands. “It’s been seven months now, I thought…” She bit her lip. “I assumed he would’ve found us by now but maybe he’s listened to Polly. Maybe he’ll give us the space we need.”

             Debbie’s brow furrowed in sympathy. “You must miss him, all the same.”

             She swallowed. “Of course, I do. I think there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t miss him, he’s my husband. But I don’t miss the things he put us through. There are times I just don’t understand him and I don’t know if I ever will.”

             “I wish I could offer you some translator to get through to him.” Debbie smiled and touched her friend’s hand for reassurance. “Men are so difficult to read sometimes.” 

             The door to the flat opened and Debbie’s children came bounding in after they found their mother’s note telling them where she’d be. Max, one of Charlie’s best friends, led the pack of his three younger sisters.

             Leah frowned when she saw they were alone. Johanna and Charlie always walked with the gaggle of kids who lived in the building, especially Max and his sisters. “Max, where’s Charlie and Jo?”

             “They went with someone else. I dunno where they were going.” Max shrugged. “They didn’t tell me.” 

             Instantly, Leah’s alarm bells went off. She stood up. “With who?”

             “Erm, he had dark hair and a big black coat.” The young boy answered.

             “Oh my God.” Terrified, Leah dashed out the door without even grabbing her coat or hat. She ran down the route the children took to and from school. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she passed the schoolyard and spotted a figure walking with two young children. “Charles! Johanna!” She yelled.

             The kids turned around and Johanna beamed, eagerly pointing at the man beside her. “Mummy, look! Daddy’s home!” She said just as Tommy turned.

             He and Leah stared at each other for a long while. He looked thin, almost gaunt in the cheeks. It was obvious he hadn't been sleeping or eating much at all. Leah, on the other hand, was heavily pregnant with his third child.

             Johanna skipped across the road to her. “You didn’t tell us daddy was coming home. Silly mummy!” She scolded playfully. 

             Charlie looked immensely confused but he stuck by Tommy’s side. He seemed to know that the arrival of his father wouldn’t be something Leah would neglect to mention to them. Even if it was some sort of surprise for Johanna's birthday, he was sure Leah would've told him first. Besides, his mother looked just as stunned as they were. So if it was a surprise, she wasn't in on it. 

             There were footsteps running from behind her as Debbie came to help look for the kids if needed. “Leah?”

             The woman pursed her lips and turned to her neighbor. “Will you take them to your flat for a bit?”

             “Sure, c’mon birthday girl.” Debbie smiled at Johanna and held out a hand.

             “Charlie, go with Deb. I need to speak to your father.”

             The boy glanced up at Tommy before silently walking across the street to follow his sister back to the apartment building. 

            Once they were alone on the sidewalk, Leah wrapped her arms around herself. “Why are you here?” 

            “It’s my daughter’s birthday,” Tommy replied a bit frigidly. He wanted to embrace her, to take his wife into his arms and tell her how much he missed her. But at the same time, she was still the same woman who fled with his kids without so much as a warning. 

            Leah didn’t want to be given the Shelby treatment. The business-like approach to emotions. It made her sick to be around it again. “How dare you?” Her voice was trembling with hurt. 

            Tommy looked taken aback by the question. “Excuse me?” 

            “How dare you show up and take my children out of school without coming to me first?” She demanded. “I was sick to my stomach when they didn’t arrive home on time. You had no right!” 

            “No right?” An incredulous look formed on his face, his eyes turning to ice. “ I have no fucking right? What gave you the right to fucking take my children without my permission, aye? Take them across the fucking globe without a word. You had Polly lie to me. Everything you did was completely uncalled for.” 

            “I don’t want to speak to you.” She turned and walked back to her apartment. “I can’t even look at you.” 

            Tommy was close behind, not about to let her slip away from him again. It had taken so much time and energy to find her, he wasn't going to let that be the end of his journey. “If you think I’m going to get back on that boat without you and them…” 

            “You aren’t forcing us to do anything. I will not have them in that warzone that you created.” She snapped. 

            “Well, you’re not keeping them here. I won't allow it.” 

            “You won't allow it?! You’ll take them over my dead body.” She snarled. “They are my children and I will die before I put them in danger. You’d put your own damn pride in front of their safety. You’ll put them in harm’s way just because you’re lonely and you need us to be there for you when you come home. We're just a security blanket for you? I've had enough, Tommy, I won’t stand for it anymore!” 

            “I have as much right-” 

            “You lost your right when you chose this madness you’ve gotten yourself into.” She stormed into the building and stomped her way up the steps, not caring whether Tommy followed her or not. “We could’ve had everything after you almost got everyone in our family killed by those Italians! We were given a new lease on life but you couldn’t be satisfied. Tommy Shelby always wants more!” She ranted and raved as she went down the hallway to her door. As she entered, she tried to keep him out but he made his way in before she had the chance. 

            “Don’t shut me out.” It wasn’t a request; it was an order. 

            Leah was already tired of arguing with him. She didn’t take kindly to the way he was treating her but there was little energy she had left. “I don’t understand, Tommy. I don’t understand why we weren’t enough for you.” Her resolve was cracking. Weakness in the resiliency she’d built up while on her own was starting to show. “I thought I was enough for you.” 

            Tommy ran a hand over his face. The journey across the ocean had been taxing. The entire time he was worried about the welcome he would receive. He didn’t delude himself into believing that Leah would be overjoyed to see him. He didn’t expect her to jump into his arms and gush at how much she missed him. She didn’t move to America because of how much she loved him. But there was still something that he expected. Even a tiny sliver of the attachment they’d had ever since they’d met at Midland all those years ago. “You are enough for me. All three of you are.” 

            “You can say it how many times you want, but the truth of the matter is, you don’t act it. You always need to involve yourself in something because you’re...bored? I don’t know, Tom, I honestly don’t. I can’t put myself in your brain. You had everything and you risked it all.” 

            “I didn’t mean-” He groaned and shook his head. “That wasn’t my intention.” 

            “Then you’re honestly thick. To think that despicable man would just leave your family alone? That he wouldn’t try to control everything? How could you not have seen that?” 

            Tommy thought about the moment he decided to go after Mosley. The justice-seeking young man still inside of him wanted to see things made right. The well being of his family hadn’t come to mind because he kept those things separate. There were Leah and the children and then there was work. Truly, he didn’t anticipate Mosley to be so dangerous. So vindictive. So evil. 

            Maybe he had been thick. 

            Feet aching from her mad dash to rescue her children, Leah sat down at the kitchen table where her abandoned teacup remained. “I don’t know what to tell you anymore, Tommy. I had to make the choice of what was best for the children. It had very little to do with my feelings for you.” She looked at him with sadness in her eyes. “That’s the thing about being a parent. You have to put your feelings aside for their best interests. I will love you until my dying days, I gave you that vow. But that doesn’t mean I’ll tolerate your behavior.” 

            Tommy cautiously approached his wife at the table. “I’m trying to keep everything together.” 

            “I know you are.” Leah swallowed. “I know you’re not doing this intentionally. But that doesn’t change anything.” 

            “Please.” He sank to his knees in front of her. “Leah, I cannot get back on that ship without you or without the children.” 

            “I can’t follow you back there. Not in good conscious, it would be...be reckless!” She stood up and stepped around him. A wince crossed her face when a tight pain in her abdomen gripped her. Pausing at the kitchen counter, she held her stomach, heavy from the pregnancy. 

            Tommy picked himself up. “Lee.” 

            She went to open her mouth but only a sharp exhale came out. She gripped the counter nearby and dropped her head. 

            “Leah?” He heard her sound of pain and was instantly beside her. 

            “The baby.” Although foolish, she tried to skirt around thinking about the inevitable. That her child would be born far before she was ready. The due date kept creeping up on her and she wanted so desperately to ignore it. Logically, she assumed that Tommy would be absent but that was apparently not going to be the case. 

            “Are you going into labor?” Her husband wrapped an arm around her waist and helped her into the parlor. The timing seemed right. Seven months gone and she would be in the late stages in her pregnancy. 

            “I think so…” She swallowed and shakily tried to breathe. “The woman upstairs. Apartment thirty-five. She’s a midwife, she said to call her.” 

            “We need to get you to a hospital, Leah.” He insisted. “I’ll call for an ambulance.” 

            “No, no. Get her first. I don’t need to go to the hospital.” 

            “Leah…” 

            “Tommy, I’ll not have you hijack this! I've carried this baby, I'll deliver them how I see fit.” She snapped. “Go upstairs and get her or I'll do it myself.” 

            Not intending to alienate himself more from her, Tommy did as he was told and hurried upstairs. 

 

            Charlie was out in the hallway, prepared to go back down their flat even against the advice of his neighbor. “Dad?” He wasn’t sure if Tommy was running to find him and his sister. 

            “Charlie, go back inside.” He attempted to usher his son back into the open apartment door. 

            “What’s going on? I want to know what’s going on.” It was more than the boy had ever demanded out of Tommy. He’d always been quiet and when he was angry, it came out in short bursts before he retreated elsewhere.

            Tommy wanted to spend the time he’d lost with his son. To sit down with him, apologize and discuss what he’d been doing in Boston. But it wasn’t the time for small talk or apologies. He crouched down and put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Mom’s going to have the baby, so I need you to go inside. I’ll come and get you and your sister later.”

            “Now?” Charlie looked alarmed. “But it’s Jo’s birthday.”

            “Trust me, I know.” Tommy sighed.

 

            The midwife was a tall woman with a heavy Bostonian accent and a firm handshake. Nina assured Tommy that she’d delivered hundreds of babies in her career. She’d made sure to keep an eye on Leah, getting her to check-ups, and discussing symptoms.

            The two made their way back down to the flat and found Leah still in the parlor trying to stay calm. “Are you going to have to celebrate two birthdays in one day or do you think this one’ll wait until midnight?”

            Leah struggled to laugh. “You tell me.”

            “Let’s have a look see then. Sorry, my hands might be cold.”

            Tommy knelt down by Leah’s head. “Are you in pain?” He asked gently.

            “A little.” She admitted. It suddenly hadn’t become the time for arguing anymore. There were much more important things to focus on. She could be mad at him once the baby was out of her.

            Nina frowned as she checked the progress of the labor. “Still got some ways to go.” She announced. “Let’s draw you a bath so you can relax.” She stood up. “Tommy, if you’d keep an eye on her.”

            He nodded and smoothed Leah’s hair back. “I’m sorry.” He whispered. “Lee, I’m sorry. But I’m here now.”

            She focused on her breathing, trying to keep calm. “I know. I know. That’s all I need.”

 

            Tommy helped Leah out of her dress and into the warm bath. He rolled up a hand towel to place under her neck just to make her a bit more comfortable.

            “Guess we’ll be surprised by the gender this time around. Pol didn’t get the chance to tell you before you left, did she?”

            Leah smiled weakly and shut her eyes to try and relax. “No, she didn’t. I wanted it to be a surprise.”

            Tommy pulled up a step stool to sit down beside the tub. “I’ve missed you so much.” He said quietly. “Every morning I couldn’t…”

            She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at him. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I know that’s not an excuse but I didn’t. I didn’t do it to spite you. It was so close, Tom.” Her voice hitched with tears building in her throat. “If the bullet had hit Charlie…neither of us would have had time to say goodbye to him. He would’ve been gone in a second.”

            Tommy dropped his head in shame. “I know. I didn’t do enough. I wasn’t careful enough. I’m sorry.”

            She chewed on her lower lip. “Did you kill him?”

            His jaw tensed and he shook his head. “No. Someone leaked the plot. They killed my assassin.” He ran a hand over his face as the memories of that night came flooding back. "They killed Aberama too. Polly was a mess...I still don't know what to say to her." 

            The news was like a familiar sense of dread. Mosley seemed invincible but it still made her sick with worry knowing he was still alive and yet more death had plague the Shelby family. “What now?”

            Tommy sighed and tilted his head to the ceiling, his eyes staring up blankly at the plaster surface. “I don’t know. I couldn’t think without you. I went mad all alone in that fucking house.” He mumbled. “I needed to see you and the kids.”

            Tears slipped down Leah’s cheeks and dropped into the bathwater. “You could stay here. We could start over.” She reached a wet hand toward him.

            He took it, allowing the warm water to slip down his hands and dampen the cuffs of his shirt. He kissed her knuckles, smelling the lavender scented oils. “Let’s just have this baby first, aye?” He whispered. The offer was tempting. Cut off everything in London, make a new life in the States. It was tempting, but Tommy knew he could never do that. Still, he wasn't going to tell his wife that while she was in labor. 

            Leah nodded, her grip on his hand tightened when she felt another contraction ripple through her body. “Hopefully it won’t be too long. Although I don’t think Johanna wants to share her birthday.” The two shared a smile but the light between them was much dimmer than before. It would take a near miracle to return to the place they were before. 

 

            Johanna had to celebrate her birthday with her neighbors and brothers. Her father stopped upstairs to bring her the gifts he’d packed before going back downstairs. Leah was still in labor well into the night. Nina assured Tommy that things were going alright; they were just slow-moving.  

            He stayed up through the night by her side. Trying to keep her mind off the pain and agonizing wait. They talked about many things but not much about the future. They didn’t know what it held for them.

            Finally, around seven in the morning, the baby began to crown. It was as if she wanted to respect her older sister’s birthday.

            Another girl. Tommy and Charlie were officially outnumbered, unless they counted Cyril.

            Exhausted and drained, Leah slumped against the headboard of her bed, cradling the screaming baby to her breast. She laughed weakly. “Look at that, Tom.”

            He sat on the edge of the bed and smiled. “Barely any hair, aye?” He chuckled. Indeed, it looked like Johanna would be the only Shelby child with dark hair. The newborn had only wisps of blonde hair. But when she opened her eyes, she had the telling blue eyes.

            “Gorgeous.” Leah sniffled. “She’s beautiful.”

            Nina stepped in to clean up the baby and swaddle her, allowing the parents to talk.

            “I wanted to name her Molly.” She said. “Molly Shelby.”

            “Molly Ada Shelby?” Tommy proposed.

            Leah smiled. She missed her sister-in-law so much. “That’s perfect.” She agreed. 

            Tommy sat down on the bed beside her and kissed her temple. It was easy to believe that the new baby would mend things. Maybe this was a new light they needed in their life. But it was deluded. Both of them knew that a newborn couldn't solve their issues. Still, for a moment, things were quiet. 

           

 

  

Chapter Text

         When Johanna and Charlie awoke, their neighbor brought them downstairs to meet their baby sister.  Leah was curled up on the sofa with the newborn in her arms.

         “Oh, darling, I’m so sorry I missed your birthday.” She kissed Johanna’s forehead as she skipped over.

         “It’s okay, mummy.” The little girl beamed and peered into the bundle of blankets. “Hello.” She greeted her sister with a warm smile.

         “This is your sister, Molly.” Leah murmured softly.

         Charlie walked over and sat on the arm of the couch. He recalled the birth of Johanna and how much it had rocked his world. The jealousy he felt for all the attention she was given. But this time around, he knew that Tommy and Leah had more than enough love to give no matter how many children they had. In fact, there were a lot more things that disrupted his world, bigger than having another sister. Although he was a bit disappointed that Leah hadn’t had a boy. Oh well.

         Johanna crawled up onto the couch and rested her cheek on Leah’s shoulder, her eyes fixed on her baby sister. “She’s little.” She whispered.

         “Very little.” Leah agreed. “She whispered.

         “Very little.” Leah agreed.

         Tommy walked into the room and Johanna sprang up to greet him. “Hi, daddy!” She jumped into his arms.

         “Hello, love.” He kissed her cheek. Despite the deep issues, it was nice to have his family back. Perhaps even for a few days, they could pretend everything was perfect, ignoring issues that were below the surface. Just a family with a newborn. A beautiful and loving family that paid no mind to the ugly world outside.

         “Daddy, I’ve got a sister now,” Johanna reported proudly.

         “You have. You’re an older sister now.” He smiled and went to sit on the couch, placing his daughter on his lap. “What do you think, Charlie?”

         His son shrugged. “She’s got hair like me.”

         “That’s right, got mum’s hair, doesn’t she?”

         Charlie glanced briefly between Leah and Tommy. He wrinkled his nose as a memory from his childhood began to surface. The framed picture of a blonde woman that used to sit on his nightstand. Before it was moved back into his father’s study. It wasn’t of Leah, that much Charlie knew. For some reason, it was giving him a feeling of dread. He looked at his sisters in the arms of his mother and father. For whatever reason, he was feeling left out even though he was right by their side.

         “You alright, Charlie?” Leah murmured softly. She noticed the faraway look in his eyes.

         The boy blinked a few times and nodded. “Yeah, sorry.”

         Leah smiled. “That’s okay, would you like to hold Molly?” She offered.

         “Sure.” Charlie sat on the couch between his mother and father. Leah gently set the newborn in his arms. He looked down at her pink face with round cheeks. He smiled slightly but there was still that doubt in the back of his mind. He didn’t fit. 

 




            “We’re going for a walk if you’d like to come.” Leah stood at the door with Molly in her arms and the pram by her side.

         Both Johanna and Charlie were dressed for the brisk weather. Charlie had a ball tucked under his arm and Cyril’s lead in hand, and Jo had a bag of bread crumbs.

         Tommy cleared his throat and nodded. He stood up and donned his coat. He’d been in Boston for two weeks. Most of the time was spent tending after the children, helping Leah take care of them. The house was so busy, and most nights they were kept up by Molly’s crying, there was no time to discuss the future. Not to mention tough emotions that neither of them had the courage to speak of yet. 

But a nice walk in the park sounded like a peace offering. Maybe an opportunity to discuss the things that had been set to the side. 

         “Daddy, we can go see the swans and the duckies.” Johanna chirped happily.

         “Oh yeah?” He helped bring the pram down the front steps and parked it out front so Leah could tuck Molly inside.

         “There you go, love.” She murmured softly, adjusting the blankets as the newborn slept peacefully.

         “And the geese,” Charlie added.

         “The geese are mean.” Johanna frowned and reached for Tommy’s hand. She didn’t need much explanation for his return. Her father had simply returned so things could go back to normal. She didn’t have much of a capacity to hold a grudge against him. “They make mean noises. I like the duckies though. They’re nice. I give them bread.” She shook the paper bag. “’N they make funny noises.” She did her best quacking impression.

         Tommy chuckled. “Sounds like a duck to me.” He agreed.

         Leah smiled and felt overwhelmed with a sense of peace. Although it felt artificial. As if they were forcing themselves to pretend things were okay, not even for the sake of the children, but for their own sake.

 

         Once they arrived at the Boston Commons, Charlie let Cyril off his lead and began kicking the ball around with the large dog. Leah and Tommy found a bench near the pond’s edge so Johanna could feed the ducks. The birds seemed to recognize the little girl or at the least the sound of the crinkling bag in her hand. A gaggle of ducks came waddling over, quacking loudly for her attention.

         Johanna giggled and tossed a fistful of crumbs toward them, mimicking their noises.

         Tommy watched her for a bit and then Charlie and Cyril. Leah gently pushed the pram back and forth to keep Molly asleep. There was so much she wanted to say but felt suppressed by so many overwhelming emotions.

         Finally, Tommy broke the silence. “I want things to be better, Lee.”

         She swallowed and nodded. Looking over the pond’s water, she watched two swans glide by in the water. “You know, in the summer, the sky is so blue here.” She told him quietly. “I would bring the children here to play and I’d look up at the sky. And I wanted to be happy but all I could think of were your eyes. Because they were the same color as the sky and I-” Her voice cracked. “Tommy, I never stopped thinking about you.”

        

              “I never stopped thinking about you either.” There were constant reminders of Leah back in England. Almost to the point where Tommy couldn’t take five steps without thinking of her. It was painful. Catching a whiff of her perfume in their bedroom, coming across dates she’d marked in his diary. Charlie’s birthday, Johanna’s. Christmas. Boxing Day. New Years. All the holidays written out in her neat penmanship. He couldn’t bear going in the children’s room. But he still kept Johanna’s shell in his study at Arrow House. Pages of their drawings were tucked away in his desk. While searching for a pen cap that had fallen underneath the sofa, he unearthed one of Charlie’s toy soldiers.

         It broke his heart. He sat there on the rug, the small wooden toy in hand, staring at it as if it had the answers.

         Every day was another reminder that he was losing time with the people who mattered the most to him. Instead, spending that time with the lowest forms of humanity. Liars, cheaters, evil men who only wished him harm.

         Tommy swallowed and reached for his wife’s hand. “I’m not a good man. I’ve done wrong, so much wrong. But I’m numb, Lee. So fucking numb without you.”

         How long ago had it been since he held her in Midland? Embraced her as she cried in his arms. Assuring her that he would take her away from that life. He would give her more, give her better. How long had it been since he placed her hand over his heart? His broken heart. She could still feel the smoothness of his shirt, the warmth of his hand over hers. And that subtle, faint beating. His broken heart.

         “I’m numb without you too.” She whispered tearfully. Her fingers intertwined with his. “But I don’t know if I can do this anymore. Maybe I’d rather be numb if it means keeping my children safe.”

         Tommy was close to getting on his knees. He could promise her everything. Whatever money could buy, he would have it for her the next day. The next hour, even. But he knew that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. The one thing she wanted; he couldn’t buy for her. Couldn’t assure her. Security. Safety. Peace. Everything a husband should automatically give, free of charge, no questions asked. And yet he couldn’t give that to her or his children.

         “I’m so sorry, Lee.” He kissed her knuckles and pressed her hand to his cheek. “I don’t know how I botched it. I don’t know who told. I don’t know who I can trust over there, but I know I can trust you. I can only trust you anymore.” 

 

         “Bath time, bath time, bath time!” Johanna hopped up the stairs one step at a time. She sang her improvised tune loudly while waving her arms in the air. “Bath time!” She stomped onto the last step.

         “Joey doesn’t seem to mind baths anymore.” Tommy chuckled and sat down at the kitchen table where Charlie was scribbling in a journal.

         His son rolled his eyes. “She does this every night.” He grumbled. Tommy smiled and lit a cigarette. They sat quietly together for a moment before Charlie set down his pencil and looked up at his father. “Are you gonna stay with us here? Or are we gonna go home?”

         Tommy cleared his throat and lowered his cigarette. “Where would you like to be?” The last thing he wanted was to create a division between him and Leah.

         "I want to be with everyone. I want us to stay together.” He said quietly as if he were ashamed to say.

         “I want that too.”

         “Then why can’t it be like that?” Charlie asked.

         “Things aren’t so simple anymore. It’s adult things, and-” Tommy was interrupted by soft crying coming from the nursery upstairs. “We’ll talk more about it with mum.” He promised.

         Charlie looked a little crestfallen but nodded. “Yeah, I get it.” He mumbled.

         Tommy touched his son’s shoulder before heading upstairs to fetch Molly. He scooped her up and rested her against his chest. “I’ve got you, s’alright now, aye?”

         Molly wailed and wrapped her fingers around Tommy’s shirt. 

         Holding his daughter was like a deja vu moment. Charlie and Johanna had both been around the same size as her. Now he was repeating the cycle all over again. How soon would it be until he ruined this child’s life too? He assumed he’d done a good enough job on Charlie and Johanna. Splitting up the family and being absent. 

            Tommy sighed and sat down on a blanket chest. He closed his eyes and hushed Molly softly. “I can change.” He whispered to her. “I can make things different. I can be there for you, always.” 

            He could do all those things. However, they were the same things that he promised his other two children. 

            Molly snuffled and began to settle down as he spoke to her in a steady, deep voice. Her little hands stayed latched around his shirt, though. Almost as if she knew how flighty he could be and wanted to keep him there. 

 

            Johanna fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. She had no more energy after an exciting day. Charlie lingered downstairs for a bit, wondering if he and Tommy would continue their earlier discussion. But Leah ushered him to bed with no explanation on the subject. Tommy got Molly to fall asleep as well, so the two were finally left alone with some quiet. 

 

            Leah settled into the small bed with him, remembering how big their bed was at Arrow House. So much so that if they were upset with one another, they could effectively ignore one another with space between them. With her bed in Boston, there was little else they could do but curl up together to share the limited space. 

            It was an ice breaker, at least. 

            There had been something weighing on Leah’s mind ever since Tommy showed up. It had to do with the level of trust she was willing to give him should she accept him back into their lives. 

            “Did you sleep with anyone since I’ve been gone?” She asked quietly, not meeting his eyes. 

            “Of course not.” 

            “Not even Lizzie? I’m sure she’s been there for you, to comfort you…” Leah mumbled. 

            “Would it make you feel better if I had?” Tommy asked a hint of accusation in his voice. “Would it give you more justification?” 

            She wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms over her chest, sitting up. “That’s not why I’m asking.” 

            “I think it is.” Tommy propped himself up on his elbows to look at her. “You want me to have cheated on you so you have another reason to tell me to hit the bricks.” 

            Leah scoffed and rolled her eyes, shoving the quilt aside and standing up to pace. “I’m asking because I don’t know if I should trust you anymore.” 

            “Leah, I was too fucking worried about you and the children to even think of doing something like that.” He snapped. “You think I was jumping for joy once I found out you left? That I was just waiting to fuck someone else?” He demanded. “How would you feel if I asked you the same thing?” 

            “I was pregnant, Tom!” She retorted. 

            “And I was grieving the loss of my family!” 

            They stared at each other for a moment. Leah huffed and turned away. “There’s a man who lives on the bottom floor. He runs a restaurant a few blocks down. He looks so much like Jonah. He took a liking to me and the children, making sure we had everything to survive. Made sure I had a nice job. For a second I wondered if I could start over again with someone who was more reliable.” 

Tommy’s heart froze. It took all his restraint not to grab his gun and confront the man downstairs. 

“But I knew that I could never leave you. Not for good, at least. Because even when I was offered a new life somewhere safer, I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t get you out of my head because I’ve never loved anyone like I love you.” Tears fell from her hazel eyes, telling Tommy felt like her gut was being carved out with a dull blade. “And I just want that life with you. I just want to be okay with you.” 

            Tommy put his head in his hands, too confused by all the emotions piling up in his chest. It was like a never-ending migraine that he could never find relief from. 

            “What do you want from me, Tom?” Leah asked. She didn’t remember, but it was the same question she asked when he showed up at Midland. Soaked to the bone from the rain, his hand smarting from punching the client in the hallway. “What do you want from me?” 

            “You’re my wife. The mother of my children.” He lifted his head, feeling like he was raising a deadweight. “The love of my life. I just want you.” 

            “At what expense? Are you willing to bring harm to us?” 

            “I just need to kill him. I’ll kill the message. I can’t turn back now, Leah. I’m in too deep.” His hands began to tremble. He wasn’t even asleep but the sounds of shovels began to pound at his skull. The sound of mud and dirt caving in on him. The room was becoming too small. His breathing became shallow and his heart rate sped up. “I can’t breathe...Leah, I can’t fucking breathe.” His voice broke and the vulnerability showed through the cracks. 

            Leah saw the panic rising in him. Heard his gasping breaths, his shoulders rising and falling quickly, and his face scrunching up in fear and pain. 

            “I can’t breathe.” He covered his head with his arms, tucking into himself like he did when the sound of planes flew over them in France. 

            “Tommy…” His wife came over to the bed and tried to comfort him. “You can breathe, just slow down.” 

            Tears pressed into his shirt sleeve. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” He let out a sob. 

            “Tommy, look at me.” She pried his arms away from his head and grabbed his face. “Look at me, please.” She begged. 

            Hyperventilating, his entire body shook beneath her. “I can’t breathe….” 

            “Just let me hold you.” She begged and tried to pull him into her arms. He resisted at first, not willing to feel more claustrophobic. But eventually, he gave in. “Just let me hold you.” She cradled him close, trying to keep him as stable as she could. 

            “I can’t breathe.” He kept whimpering over and over on a loop until he exhausted himself and slumped against her. “I can’t breathe anymore, Lee.” 

 

Chapter Text

 

            It took nearly the rest of the night to calm Tommy down. Some points in the night he wouldn’t let Leah near him, other moments he would panic if she so much as moved an inch from him.

            Five in the morning and Leah was still awake. Tommy had become so exhausted from hyperventilating and grinding his teeth that he’d knocked himself out cold. But she couldn’t imagine getting any sleep in. Not after the night she just had. She’d thought she’d seen Tommy at his lowest before but it appeared she was wrong. Never had she seen him so anxious and riled up. For a moment, Leah wondered if he would ever calm down or if he’d have a heart attack from getting so worked up. But finally, around four-thirty in the morning, Tommy’s gasping breaths slowed and he slumped back in the bed. His grip on her went slack and soon enough he was asleep.

            Leah was startled by the quiet. She tried to compose herself, gently rubbing Tommy’s back as he slept deeply. It was a gift when she heard Molly start to fuss in the nursery.

            While nursing Molly, Leah came to a conclusion. She needed to be needed. Growing up in a loving family, she always felt like she was the apple of her parents’ eye. When she met Jonah, he opened her eyes to a romantic relationship. Tommy, well, as much of a difficult person he was, she wanted nothing more but to help him. Parenting was such a gift to her. She adored being the person her children could turn to when they needed something. There was nothing she loved more than having Charlie and Johanna cuddle up with her. It made her feel complete.

            The issue with Tommy was his inability to be helped. Fiercely independent, he always wanted to take things on himself and handle everything. He needed Leah for affection but that’s where her job ended. She wanted to be there to support him, to comfort him, to help brainstorm solutions to his problems. She learned from Jonah that marriage wasn’t just something intimate. It was a partnership. But Tommy had a hard time passing along the reins. He would much rather take everything on until it physically crushed him.

            Leah stayed up with Molly for another hour. Six in the morning and she went downstairs to start making breakfast for the children. It was Monday even though it just felt like an extension of the day before.

            Six-thirty and Johanna woke up without fail. She came bounding downstairs and excitedly told her mother about her dream. Leah listened with a smile and put her at the breakfast nook, a plate in front of her.

            Seven in the morning and she went back upstairs to wake Charlie. She made sure his school clothes were laid out and went to check on Molly.

            Seven-fifteen. Charlie came downstairs and Johanna went upstairs with Leah to get dressed. Molly woke up and Leah bounced her on her hip as she coached Johanna through fixing the buckles on her shoes.

            Seven-thirty and Charlie was reminding them of the time. Leah went back downstairs and checked with Charlie that he’d fed Cyril. He confirmed. Johanna pulled her coat off the rack but it ended up toppling over, nearly missing her. Leah handed Molly to Charlie and went to her daughter’s aid. She cleaned up the mess and wiped Johanna’s tears.

            Seven-forty and they were running a bit behind. The mess was cleaned and Johanna was back to her bubbly self. Both children were bundled up and Leah was pulling out the pram to take Molly.

            That’s when Tommy came downstairs. All evidence of the night before had been hidden away, aside from subtle tells. Dark shadows under his eyes, the whites of his eyes slightly red, and he yawned a few times.

            “I can walk them to school.” He offered. “You stay here and rest.”

            Leah looked unsure but Johanna appeared thrilled at the idea. She grabbed onto Tommy’s hand and pulled him toward the door.

            “You can meet my teacher, daddy!” She exclaimed.

            “I can come with you I-”

            “It’s alright.” He smiled slightly and pulled on his coat. “Let’s go then. Bringing Cyril?”

            “Yeah, he walks with us.” Charlie had the mastiff on his lead already and waiting by the door.

            “Alright, say goodbye to mum and sister.”

            “Bye!” Johanna chirped before jumping down the front steps.

            “Bye, mum.” Charlie followed his sister, Cyril trying to catch up with her before she got too far.

            Leah walked up to her husband with Molly on her hip. “You okay?” She asked quietly, concern in her eyes.

            He nodded and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back.” He promised and closed the door behind him.

            She went to the kitchen window, parting the lace curtains to see them off. Cyril walked by Charlie’s side, the young boy looking confident with the dog. Johanna was swinging her hand entwined with Tommy’s back and forth as they walked. She was chattering about something, Leah couldn’t hear. Tommy had a smile on his face as he listened.

            Leah sighed and went to place Molly in her bassinette in the sitting room so she could clean up the kitchen. She was tired but didn’t feel like lying down to rest her eyes. She simply wanted to get along with her day. Hopefully, it would put some distance between her and the night before.

 

            Twenty minutes later, Tommy returned from bringing the kids to school. Cyril entered the sitting room where Leah was rocking Molly back and forth in her bassinette. The mastiff’s tail wagged as he sniffed curiously at the little hand peeking out from the blankets.

            “Cyril, heel,” Tommy ordered as he sat down beside his wife. The mastiff listened almost immediately and went to sit by his owner’s feet.

            Leah reached for Tommy’s hand, silently inviting him into the moment.

            He gently squeezed her hand in reply. “Thank you for staying up with me last night.” He said quietly. “I’ve been-I’ve had episodes like that since you left but no one was there. I-I had to go through it all alone.”

            “I’m sorry.” Although Leah wouldn’t apologize for what she did, she would apologize for her absence when he needed her the most. After all, he’d apologized for doing the same thing.

            “It’s awful.” He mumbled and ran a hand over his face. The glint of his wedding ring reminding her of something so simple. It made her mindlessly glance toward her own ring. “Feels like I’m gonna die.” He admitted. “Just-I’m not sure.”

            “It was awful to watch.” She agreed quietly. “I think I feel the worst when I know there’s nothing I can do to help you.”

            He shook his head and let his hand drop to her knee. “You helped me more than you could know. Just being there is enough. When I was alone, I couldn’t handle it. I felt fucking hopeless. Lee, knowing that I fucking failed at everything including my own wife and children, it was too much. I didn’t want to face myself anymore. I couldn’t stand being in me own fucking head anymore. I just wanted to-” He paused and swallowed his words.

            Leah was so tired she couldn’t even attempt to keep her tears at bay. She simply let them flow as they were meant to. It hurt less than if she tried fighting them as she usually did. “You wanted to end it.”

            Tommy was brought back to the thick fog hanging over the pasture. His own screams echoing across the landscape, spooking the large black horse in front of him. The cold metal of the gun in his hand, the unbearable pressure of the weapon against his temple. His finger loose on the trigger.

            He would’ve done it too if Arthur hadn’t tackled him from behind and wrenched the gun away out of his hand. The brothers fought, both shouting at each other but neither listening. Luckily, Arthur had gotten his younger brother subdued and refused to let go until Tommy had no more strength to fight back.

            “I’m sorry.” He muttered quietly as he brought himself back to the parlor with Leah.

            “Why are you apologizing?”

            “Because I-it was selfish.” He glanced over at Molly. The newborn was sleeping silently with no hardships to fuss about.

            Leah let go of the bassinette and faced her husband. “Tommy, you weren’t doing it to intentionally hurt me or anyone else. You’re in pain. I just want to get in your head an-and help you. Just try to get you to realize that you have so much good in your life to speak of.”

            He dropped his head to press his forehead to her shoulder. “I wish you could too.”

            She gently ran her fingers through his dark hair and brought him closer. “I can be here for you but you need to let me in.”        

            He nodded slightly and wrapped his arms around her.

            “I think its best we go home,” Leah said after a while.

            “To England?”

            “Yeah.”

            Tommy lifted his head. He cradled her face in his hands, wiping away a few tears from her cheeks. “Are you sure?”

            She nodded and rested her hands over his. “But you need to promise me this.”

            “Anything.”

            “Once that man is dead, you back off. You focus on your political career, no funny business behind the scenes. The business goes legitimate the second it’s financially viable. I’m willing to make compromises if you are.”

            Tommy took a deep breath. “I can’t beat him, Lee.”            

            “Then who can?” She asked because there was no way she was about to share the world with a man who had tried to have Charlie killed. Mosley could make jabs at her all day about her past, but she wouldn’t allow for the violence against her children.

            Tommy shook his head. “I’m not sure.”

            “Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” She recited. “Who hates Mosley more than they hate you?”

            Tommy couldn’t help but chuckle a little. “I’m not sure, I’d have to take a poll.”

            “I think you’ll find that the number is more than you might expect. I can imagine Alfie Solomons is on that list.”

            “He’s retired.”

            “Retired enough to let a fascist run wild in his own territory?” Leah raised an eyebrow. “I may be a woman, Tommy Shelby, but I’m not stupid and I’m not blind. Maybe you need to get out of your own head and listen to others.”

            He smiled weakly and brushed his thumb over her cheek. “I’ve missed you so much.” He whispered softly.

            She smiled back and let him kiss her. It felt like they’d gone ages without the sun shining. As if they’d broken through the darkness finally and met each other in the sunshine.