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Blue Eyes

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Small Heath, 1920

            The Garrison was alive just like every night. The Shelbys were entertaining the regulars from Small Heath. A tight-knit community of Brummies drinking their cares away now that the Great War was finally over and done with. While the demons lingered, they could ignore them for a brief moment with shots of whiskey and gin.

            Ella Shelby was laughing at her eldest brother’s antics. She was a welcome sight at the bar. The youngest daughter of the Shelbys, just a bit older than Finn. Birmingham was her realm as her brother ruled with an iron fist. No one touched, looked, or spoke ill about Ella Shelby. Anyone who did would disappear, never to be heard of again.

            Having grown up during the building of Shelby Company Limited, Ella was veiled from the dirty work. But she frequented the betting shop, learned from Polly, and doing what she could to help her brothers. She was closest to Tommy, despite the ten-year age difference between them. He and Arthur practically raised her and the other younger Shelbys. She was the apple of his eye, his Ella, and he protected her ferociously. As Tommy staked his claim, he spoiled his sister as well as the rest of his family. They were raised as Travelers, scrounging and only having each other. But as long as he was around he would give them the life he felt they deserved. He bought her horses and let her get a taste of the luxury they never knew.

            The Romani princess of Birmingham.

 

            “A toast to baby Ella.” Arthur bellowed, holding up his glass of gin. “Our beautiful sister is growing up so fast.”

            Ella’s cheeks burned as the rowdy bar turned their attention to her. “Arthur, please…” She shoved him.

            But the eldest Shelby was already drunk and had no filter. “Nineteen! Last I remember you were just a little thing toddling ‘round the wagon, begging for a horse of your own.”

            “Now she has one for every day of the week.” Tommy piped up as he lit another cigarette.

            “We’ve come a long way.” Arthur nodded. “By the time you turn twenty, we’ll be ruling London!” He crowed boastfully. The crowd cheered and raised their glasses.

            A bit soberer than her brothers, Ella just rolled her eyes and shook her head. They truly were like Ancient Rome in their desire of expanding their empire. Nothing was ever enough for the Shelby boys, they always wanted more, no matter the cost.

            The bar was so loud that people barely heard the gun go off. But the shattering windows grabbed everyone’s attention.

            Tommy sobered up immediately and pushed Ella to the ground. “Gun!” He shouted. The barmaids screamed as rapid-fire hit the tables, chairs, the bar, and bottles. Glass shattered and rained down from the shelves behind the bar. Wood splintered as bullets lodged in tables and chairs.

            Ella held a hand over her head and prayed. It was the first time she’d been put in the middle of chronic violence. Her seasoned brothers whipped out their own guns to return fire.

            Tears streamed down her face as the shots seemed to never end. She pinched her eyes closed and it felt like the entire bar was crashing around her.

            After just half a minute, the frightening sounds finally ceased.

            “Ella, are you okay?” Arthur knelt down next to her and helped her up. “Were you hit?” He held her arms, making sure she wasn’t bleeding.

            She trembled as her older brother hugged her close. She couldn’t even answer him. Her body was numb but she knew she hadn’t been shot. She could hear Tommy barking out orders to find out whoever shot up the bar. People carefully got up, assessing the damage. Some people had been grazed but no one was fatally hit. She glanced over Arthur’s shoulder and saw a man holding his side. Blood seeped through his shirt and Ella felt sick at the sight. Her head spun and she had to press her face to Arthur’s shoulder so she didn’t vomit.

            Her ears were ringing for nearly an hour after the attack. She stood against the wall, her eyes shifty and paranoid. Their kingdom had been exposed and Birmingham would never look the same to Ella.

 

 

            “Come in.”

            Ella cleared her throat and walked into Tommy’s office. “Are you busy?” She asked quietly. “I need to speak with you.”

            Her brother glanced up from his paperwork. “Not too busy to talk.” He held out a hand, allowing her to sit. “Do you need something?” He stubbed out a cigarette in a crystal ashtray.

            She sat down across the desk from her brother. “I’ve been thinking.” The young woman pressed her fingernails into her palms. “I’ve decided to go to London.”

            “Yeah? For the weekend?” Tommy never imagined what she announced to him next. He was quite content with keeping his family close. If he needed them for anything or if he needed to make sure they were safe, they’d always be nearby.

            “No, to live there.”

            He looked up at her, his eyebrows furrowed over his icy blue eyes. Confusion crossed his face for a moment but simply shook his head. “No.” He answered curtly and looked back down to his work. That’s where he was going to leave the conversation. Most people wouldn’t push the issue when they were denied. But Ella was not afraid of him.

            “I wasn’t asking for your permission.” Her jaw clenched.

            “You belong in Birmingham, not in London.” He replied. “You’re safe here where we can watch after you.”

            “Safe?” She let out a sarcastic laugh. “You’re kidding me, right? I’m not fucking safe here, Tommy.” She snapped at her brother. “We were all almost killed in our own pub!”

            He cleared his throat and averted his eyes. Truth be told, Tommy had blamed himself for the mess on his sister’s birthday. They’d managed to track down the men responsible and give them a fitting execution. But he knew that wasn’t the end of it. The Irish were ready to start a war and Tommy wasn’t about to back down. He didn’t want to involve his baby sister but he didn’t want her in London either. “Why London?” He asked.

            Ella pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. “Where else would I go? Ada’s there.”

            Tommy nodded. “You don’t trust I can keep you safe?”

            She let out a noise of disgruntlement. “Will you stop? I never wanted to be a part of this. I thought…I thought that maybe I could ignore it forever but I can’t. You, of all people, should’ve realized it would affect me one day. You’ve made Small Heath into a warzone for what?” Her forehead creased. “So you can be on top? It’ll catch up to you one day, Tommy, you know that.”

            He glanced out the window. “If you want to go to London, I can’t stop you. But don’t think that its safer there for you than it is here. You’re a Shelby and you should never let your guard down.”

            Ella stood up. “Maybe I don’t want to be a Shelby anymore.”

            Her brother raised an eyebrow, his icy-blue eyes flicking back to her.

            “Not if this is what it means to be a Shelby. I’m not sacrificing my life for some fucking pissing contest between men.” She turned to leave the office. She hesitated for a moment and looked back at him. “There is more to life, Tom.”

            “Go live your life then, El, not chaining you to your room am I?” He retorted. Tommy couldn’t exactly beg for her to stay. She wouldn’t change her mind and he’d just look foolish. But that didn’t mean he would break his promise to keep her safe.

            His sister rolled her eyes and left without a proper goodbye.

 

 

            “Where’s El?” Arthur hurried downstairs after passing by his sister’s room at Six Watery Lane. He had to do a double take when he discovered the room was empty. It was a stark change because his sister was never the neatest. She never made her bed, often had clothing strewn about the floor, and always a bouquet of fresh flowers on her vanity. But the room was completely stripped of all traces of her. The bed was made, the floor bare, and nothing was left on the vanity.

            Tommy sat in the parlor, a newspaper partially hiding his face. “She’s gone.”

            His older brother looked incredulous. “Gone? The fuck do you mean she’s gone?” He demanded.

            “She’s gone off to London like Ada.” He replied steadily.

            “Fucking say that again?” Arthur violently snatched the newspaper out of his hands and threw it to the side. “You telling me you let her leave? She ain’t old enough, Tommy!”

            “Says she doesn’t want to be a Shelby anymore.” He picked up his nearby glass of whiskey. “I can’t force her to stay anywhere, Arthur, she’s an adult.”

            “Barely!” Arthur grabbed the glass next and lobbed it at the wall.

            Tommy barely winced as the glass shattered. “It’s not like she’s gone to America, she’s not far.”

            “We’ve got enemies in London, Tom.” He hissed. “They’ll cut her throat once they find out who she is!”

            Tommy sighed and shook his head. “She’s changed her name. There aren’t any Ella Shelbys in London. But there is an Ella Thorne who lives suspiciously close to our Ada. I’d bet me best horse on that not being a coincidence.”

            Arthur’s face was turning red as he fumed. “So, you’re just going to forget she exists?”

            “Calm down.” He replied. “I’ve got men watching the apartment and Ada is keeping in touch with me. She’s safe. She’s found a job as a typist so she’s just trying to keep out eyesight.”

            At least Ada was near. Arthur had to take a few breaths to relax. He paced a few steps and grabbed the bottle of whiskey to take a swig. “This is bad, Tom.”

            “Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll come home soon. She’ll miss being around family.”

Chapter Text

 

London, 1924

            Ella Thorne spent her twenty-third birthday with close friends. They went out dancing at a popular club that January night. It was well liked by the young adults of London who liked frivolous fun mixed with intrigue. There, the ordinary rubbed elbows with the wealthy and the criminal. It was great fun and perfect for a birthday celebration.

            Amelia, Ella’s best friend who she met at work, was a carefree spirit who loved the era. She wore her hair short and her dresses even shorter. She mastered the smoky eye and used her alluring appearance to lure men like a siren’s song. Often times she had multiple men trying to win over her affection at the same time. There were rumors that she’d had affairs with American mafia and European royalty. But behind all the showmanship, the young woman was a kind soul and a loyal friend.

            “Don’t you want to dance with that boy again?” Amelia pointed out a dapper man who had asked Ella for a dance earlier in the night. He stood by a group of well-dressed colleagues. His green eyes kept returning to Ella and he gave her a smile whenever she returned the glance.

            “Oh, I think my shoes have given me a blister.” She replied and nursed her gin. “He’s sweet but not very interesting.”

            “His mate said he’s a banker. Might be well off?” Amelia shrugged.

            Ella smiled but shook her head. She knew money wasn’t everything. “What about you? I’ve seen you dancing with four different men tonight.”

            “Five.” Amelia corrected with a smug smile. “They’re nice and all, but none of them could keep up with me on the dancefloor.” She sighed dramatically and leaned against the bar. "So I assume they couldn't keep up with me in life." 

            “I don’t think anyone could keep up with you, Amelia.”

            “I know but…oh shit, look!” She gasped and pointed towards the entrance of the lavish club.

            “What?” Ella tried to see over the crowd of dancers and drinkers but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

            “That’s Alfie Solomons. Bloody hell, what’d you think he’s doing here?” She asked.

            Her friend saw the crowd start to part slowly like the Red Sea. She saw a small group of men making their way through. “I don’t know who that is. But he’s at a bar, I’m assuming he came here to drink.”

            “No, El.” Amelia shook her head firmly. “He’s a gangster but don't let him hear you call him that. Controls Camden Town, s’fucking terrifying. He doesn’t come to clubs unless he has a reason.”

            Ella furrowed her eyebrows. The men drew closer and she finally got a good look at the man leading the pack. Barflies quickly moved aside to let him through. They seemed afraid to be caught in his line of vision. He appeared very intimidating. A black hat cast a shadow over his face; he wore a big coat and multiple rings on his fingers.

            “Just keep your head down,” Amelia whispered to her friend over the loud jazz music. "Ignore him and he'll ignore you." 

            Ella had never seen her friend shy away from anything. But she apparently had a good reason just like the rest of the club. She turned and faced the bartender who had gone a little pale.

            The gangster arrived at the bar; he was given a wide berth despite the packed nature of the club. “Evening, Louis.” He greeted the man behind the bar.

            “Mr. Solomons, can I help you with anything?” The bartender swallowed hard and approached him slowly. "A drink maybe?" 

            “Nah mate, just out having some fucking fun, ain’t I?”

            “O-okay…”

            Alfie chuckled and gestured for the man to come closer. Warily, the bartender leaned in. With frightening speed, the gangster grabbed the man by the collar and slammed his face against the bar top.

            Ella jolted and watched the bartender pick himself up and stagger back a few steps. His nose was clearly broken and blood streaming down his face. She’d never seen anyone react so violently when they were unprovoked. But no one else seemed surprised. In fact, even the bartender looked like he had been expecting it the moment Alfie walked in. He simply grabbed a towel from under the bar and pressed it to his bloodied nose, wincing from the pain.

            “Your boss is fucking late again, mate. You know I don't give people a third chance. Fuck, you're lucky I gave you lot a second chance.” Alfie continued talking like he hadn’t just bashed the man’s face in.

            “I-I’ll get him on the telephone…” Louis stammered behind the towel.

            “’Course he ain’t here again.” Alfie sighed heavily and adjusted a gold ring on his index finger. “Fucking hiding out and making you face the consequences, s’a disgrace, innit? He's a coward, yeah, and people like that in my fucking neck of the woods don't survive very long.”

            “Yes, sir…”

            Alfie pointed at him with two fingers. “You get him on the phone, yeah, you tell him if he innit down here in two minutes with the proper money he owes me, I’ll fucking kill you both. Right? Good lad.”

            The bartender nodded shakily and hurried off.

            Ella was frozen in place. Her blood had run cold as she listened to the threats the man was dealing out. She wasn’t sure if he would really kill the poor boy but she wouldn’t put it past him. 

            “Did’ya hear me?”

            Ella was in such a state of shock that she didn’t even notice the gangster had turned his attention to her. She met his eyes and was partially surprised to see how handsome he was, albeit rough around the edges. He certainly wasn’t the clean-cut gentleman that Amelia fawned after. But had had lovely teal green eyes and a spine-chilling scar that marked his right cheek, not completely hidden by his beard. He was interesting even on face value and Ella couldn't look away even if it meant her safety. 

            “Sorry?” She wasn’t sure how she found her voice again. It was nearly impossible to think straight in his presence. It was such a strange contradiction that she felt. She’d watched him harm an innocent young man, continue to threaten his life, and now she was caught up in his appearance.

            “Said your drink’s empty, love.” He repeated himself. A small smile graced his face.

            “Oh uh…” Ella glanced down and saw that she had finished her gin. “Yes, well I…”

            But he didn't let her finish. “Fucking hell, you’ve got blue eyes, don’t ya?” He bent down slightly to come eye to eye with her. “What’s your last name, love?” There was only one other person on this planet that had eyes like her.

            “Thorne,” Ella answered. She’d successfully gotten the name Shelby out of her mouth during those four years away from Birmingham. “Ella Thorne.”

            Alfie nodded slowly. Tommy never mentioned having a relative named Ella. “Alfie Solomons.” He introduced himself in turn. “Sorry, ‘bout the little show.” He gestured to the blood on the counter. "But it's all business, innit?" 

            “N-no it’s okay,” Ella replied. She felt someone tugging her arm and saw Amelia give her a look of alarm.

            Alfie raised an eyebrow. “Am I interrupting something?” He asked.

            Amelia shook her head firmly. She looked immensely uncomfortable when his attention turned to her. “No, Mr. Solomons. I uh…”

            “Go and dance, I’ll be right here,” Ella assured her friend. It took some convincing but Amelia did eventually retreat to the dance floor, looking over her shoulder every so often.

            “Ah, your friend’s told you who I am.” Alfie surmised by Amelia's reaction to him. 

            “She knew your name,” Ella admitted. But she remembered not to say anything about his profession to his face. 

            “And you didn’t.”

            “I can’t say I know everyone in London.” She smiled shakily. "It's such a large city." 

            He nodded with an amused look and ran a hand over his beard. “Just an innocent bit then, aren’t you? Small life in a big city, aye?”

            Her lips parted and she thought about her family. She certainly didn't have a small life when she was in Birmingham. The Shelby name gave her a larger appearance. London did make her feel smaller but that was good. Fewer people paid attention to you when they didn't care what your last name was. “Do you judge people based on how they look?”

            Alfie leaned back to take in her appearance. “You a Soviet spy or something?” He cocked an eyebrow.

            Ella couldn’t help but giggle at the outrageous idea. She'd never been accused of being a spy before, let alone one from Russia. “No.”

            He actually let a small smile make his beard twitch. She had a charming smile. “Well, they usually send beautiful women that’ll catch you off guard, don’t they? And when they've got you naked and tied up, they stick a gun to your fucking head.”

            Her cheeks flushed red when he called her beautiful. She was strangely used to crass language. She grew up swearing like a sailor because of her brothers. She tried to be a little more refined now that she was a professional woman, working in an office. But habit was hard to break and Amelia always laughed whenever the girl got too drunk to speak English and reverted to Shelta. The young woman ducked her head and shrugged. “You spoke to me first, Mr. Solomons.” She replied.

            He chuckled and tapped his fingers against the bar top. “Cheeky.”

            “Do you always think you have spies on your tail?” She wondered and tilted her head to the side. “Most people aren’t worried about spies."

            “I’m just a baker, love.” He smirked. “What would spies want with me?”

            The bartender returned with a nervous looking man following him. His eyes were shifty and he looked like he was going to be sick when he saw Alfie standing there. “Mr. Solomons.” The man cleared his throat and tried to look him in the eye.

            Alfie looked displeased that he would have to conclude the business he’d come there to carry out. He was a little more interested in the woman to his right. The one with the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. There was something about her that was drawing him.

            But business was business.

            “Is that money I see in your hand?” Alfie looked surprised. “Really? To think I was going to have to fucking beat it out of you.”

            “I-it’s…” The man’s sentence stopped abruptly and he shook his head. “Erm…here.” The owner of the bar handed Alfie the envelope of cash.

            Ella had seen massive wads of money before and hats full of coins. She often wandered around the betting shop, helping Finn read the betting slips, following Polly around, and seeing if Tommy would let her drive the family car. Sometimes she glanced over her aunt’s shoulder as she opened the safe. It was unreal to see that much money in one place. But her brothers made it happen.

            But Alfie seemed displeased when he took a peek into the envelope. “Seems short. Ollie, count it.” He handed the envelope to the curly-haired man standing to his left. As his assistant swiftly counted the bills, Alfie kept a hard look at the owner of the bar.

            “It’s only half,” Ollie informed his boss and returned the envelope to him.

            Ella saw the owner of the bar go even paler than before. She clutched her purse close to her side and looked for Amelia in the crowd.

            “Half. Fucking half? Louis, mate, did I ask for half or did I ask for the full amount?” Alfie narrowed his eyes at the bartender.

            “F-full, sir.” He answered.

            “So why do I only have fucking half of the payment in me fucking hand?” He demanded.

            Ella wondered briefly if this was how her brothers handled business. She could for sure see John and Arthur carrying out in such a way. She’d seen Arthur threaten men for far less, like accidentally bumping into her on the sidewalk. But she wasn’t sure about Tommy. She often wondered if Tommy was capable of hurting anyone. He was intimidating, sure but that didn’t mean he would be as brutal as her brothers or the man beside her at the bar. She usually considered him the brains of the operation and not the force.

            Alfie pocketed the money in his coat. “I’ve got to take care of some business, love.” He turned to Ella.

            She nodded and realized she wasn’t afraid of him like she probably should’ve been. Like Amelia and the rest of the club was. She knew how gangsters were. They were only scary to the people who had reason to be scared of them. She wasn’t afraid of her brothers because she was under their protection. Alfie didn’t seem like the kind of man who would harm her unless he had good reason to.

            “Have a good night then, yeah?”

            “Yeah…you too,” Ella replied even though she had a good feeling he was going to seriously injure the men behind the bar. But what was that compared to all the men her brothers had harmed? Maybe she'd grown too accustomed to the idea of violence even while she was away. There was always a reminder in the back of her mind that her brothers were dangerous and she didn't even know the half of their deeds. 

            He smiled and tipped his hat to her before turning and walking towards the back door of the bar. His entourage followed him as well as the owner of the bar who would be found in the Thames the next morning.

 

 

            Ella woke up with a bit of a hangover. Amelia had kept her out into the early morning hours. She’d only managed to get a bit of sleep before the sounds of London woke her up. After getting dressed, she went downstairs and picked up the mail. She sorted through the pile and stopped at a cream-colored envelope.

            Miss Ella Shelby

            She rolled her eyes and knew who it was from. Only Tommy insisted on calling her by her given name. She often missed her family but she felt she had a good reason to stay in London. She had Ada who seemed happy to keep her distance from the family business too. Although these days she found herself more involved.

            Tommy called Ada frequently to make sure Ella was safe and doing okay. He snuck small amounts of money into her bank account, just enough that she wouldn’t get suspicious. He just wanted to feel a little less guilty. Tommy missed his youngest sister but he had to carry on. He just thought she’d be back in Birmingham by then but four years later and she didn’t show any signs of giving in.

            Ella opened the envelope and furrowed her eyebrows when she read the invitation.

            Cordially invited…Wedding…Thomas Shelby…Grace Burgess.

            “What?” Ella whispered under her breath. She shook her head in disbelief and left her apartment to walk to Ada’s.

 

            “Married? I thought Grace was just the barmaid at the Garrison, what on Earth?” Ella shook the invitation at her sister. “What is he trying to pull?”

            “El, it’s not some master plan,” Ada assured her. “Sit, I’ll make you tea.”

            Instead, Ella threw the invitation on the table and followed her older sister into the kitchen. “Ada, he wrote Shelby on the envelope!” She exclaimed. “I told him…”

            “He misses you. They all miss you.” Ada interrupted her. “You know how much they care about you.” She started the kettle and pulled out two teacups.

            Ella huffed. “Why is he marrying her?” She asked suspiciously.

            “They have a child together now. He only thought it was right and I think he really does still love her.”

            Her mouth fell open. “A…what? A child?”

            Ada sighed softly. “You’ve been away from Birmingham for longer than you think.”

            “I…” She scoffed in disbelief. But the shock of the news hit her in the heart. She hadn’t known her brother was a father now. She didn’t know her new nephew even existed. “When’s the wedding?” She asked quietly.

            “Next month,” Ada answered and poured her sister a cup of tea, adding in the milk and two sugars she always requested. “I think it would mean the world to him if you were there.”

            Ella looked at her feet and sighed. “I know.”

            “He’s got a lot on his plate right now. The Oddfellows, the Soviets, the London outfit.” Ada listed off and went to sit down in the parlor.

            She sat on a sofa and slowly stirred the milk into her tea. She wrestled with the idea of attending her brother’s wedding. Could she really be heartless and refuse to go? Or would she be protecting herself? She had hardly any clue what Ada was talking about anymore. Used to be her brother only dealt with the other gypsy families, the police, and the people in Birmingham. “The London outfit?”

            Ada waved her hand with a shrug. “Other gangsters who work from London. The Italians, the Jews.”

            Ella had a sinking feeling in her gut. If Tommy was getting involved with firms in London, then she was more open to being victimized by his enemies. “Are we safe?” She asked.

            Her sister nodded. “Of course. Tommy knows what he’s doing.” Both of the Shelby girls weren’t completely sure about that but he always seemed like he had a plan for any possible scenario. “I would just stick to the areas you know. Stay out of Camden and don’t trust anyone who says they’re a fucking baker.”

            Ella stared at her. “A what?”

            “A baker. Usually means they work for a distillery in Camden Town.”

            “Oh…” Ella felt her chest tighten. Had she come into contact with one of her brothers' enemies? Was that why he asked her last name? He thought she was a Shelby because of her blue eyes. She had just lied to a very dangerous man and now she could only pray she never came into contact with him again. Even though she had thought about his playful eyes all night and how her heart had skipped a beat when he called her beautiful. A fucking baker. Tommy would have a fit if he found out.

Chapter Text

            Ella remembered always wanting to be a princess. As a young girl, her head was filled with stories of fantastic adventures. Her brothers spooked her with stories of dragons and a lady that played cards with the devil. Polly wove yarns of fairies and princesses. She decided, after careful consideration, she would be a princess who was also a knight. Why should she limit herself? She could rule the land and slay dragons. And of course, Ella found that she didn’t like being dressed up as a princess. Her Sunday clothes were itchy and stiff. Polly would scold her if she returned home with scuffed shoes and torn stockings. But a girl couldn’t ride a horse with a skirt, not properly anyway. She wouldn’t sit sidesaddle and let her brothers win races because she was slipping right off her pony.

            As she grew, she learned to appreciate dresses. They had their time and place. Tommy’s wedding was that time and place. But what would she wear to a wedding that was in such strange circumstances? She was sure her brother was trying to promote their family as a little higher end than from where they began. Especially because Ada had said Grace came from a military family. Figuring Polly would know best, Ella packed a few of her finer dresses and left London with Ada.

 

            “El!” Arthur’s loud voice boomed across the front lawn. The boys were arriving back from a ride. Her eldest brother quickly dismounted and tossed the reins at a young stable hand. He jogged to embrace his younger sister, hoisting her up and spinning around about as he used to when she was much smaller.

            John and Finn followed close behind him, each getting their chance to greet her. Ella was nothing but smiles as she reunited with them. Sometimes it was hard to know how much you’ve missed someone until you’ve seen them again. And when she saw her brothers, her heart ached painfully. 

            “Look at you! All grown up now.” Arthur shook his head in disbelief. “Feels like you’ve been gone for ages. Swear you've gotten taller s'well.”

            “It’s only been a few years, Arthur.” She reminded him gently. Her blue eyes wandered over his shoulder to see Tommy lagging behind his brothers. His hands were in his overcoat pockets as he looked on. “Are you going to just stand there?” She asked. “I haven’t been able to properly congratulate you.”

            “’Fraid you weren’t coming.” He approached her. Indeed, Tommy had called Ada a few times over the month to confirm that Ella was still going to attend the wedding. He was anxious to see his sister and hope they would be able to mend some wounds of their relationship. Not having her in their life was strange. There was always a gap in the family with Ella's absence.

            “I wouldn’t miss your wedding, pral.” She smiled and went to hug him.

            Tommy felt relieved that he could finally hug her again. “How’s London treating you?”

            “Good.” She smiled but a brief thought about Alfie Solomons poked at her. She wasn’t going to tell Tommy that she’d met him the day before his wedding, or ever. But she was hoping to get some more information from her brothers if she could.

            “Want you to come meet Grace and Charlie. You need to meet your cousin, Michael, as well.” Tommy was eager for her to meet his new family. He was hoping she and Grace got along. Perhaps the wedding would give her a reason to return to Birmingham.

            The chatted idly as they walked to the massive house. “I can see you’re doing very well for yourself,” Ella noted. Never in her wildest dreams would she imagine being at such a house. It was a kind of house that lords and ladies lived in, not Shelbys. But it appeared that Tommy was trying to change that perception of the family name. 

            “There’s always room for you to be apart of the company. You could be very useful. Michael and Polly are working on making the firm legitimate.” He informed her, hoping it would impress her and make her feel safer in Birmingham.

            “I dunno, Tom.” She said with a shrug. After agreeing to attend the wedding, she used the month to think through her relationship with her family. Part of her wanted to return to the people she loved more than anything. But she was afraid of getting herself into another scenario like the Garrison four years earlier.

            “Think about it, aye?” He said gently and held open the front doors of Arrow House for his sister.

            Ella nodded. “I will.” She promised and stepped inside.

            “Look who’s here,” A soft Irish voice floated down from the stairs. Grace came down with Charlie in her arms. She smiled warmly when she saw Tommy's sister. “We’re so glad you’re here, Ella.”

            The Shelby girl smiled. “It’s nice to see you again, Grace. And this must be my nephew.” Ella cooed.

            The young boy giggled and reached out for her. “Go ahead, love.” Grace handed Charlie to her to hold.

            “Oh, he’s precious.” Ella murmured. “Yes, you are.”

            Tommy chuckled. “He’s a rascal, that’s what he is.” He slipped off his coat and cap. “I’m sure you’ll get to see how he is when he’s cranky.”

            “That’s okay, he probably gets it from you, Tommy.”

            Grace smiled and nodded. “That’s what I said.”   

            “Guess London hasn’t changed you that much.” Tommy rolled his eyes and touched her shoulder. “Polly and Michael will be in the study I think if you'd like to see them now.”

            Ella gave Charlie back to Grace and followed her brother down the hall. “Did you find her daughter too?” She remembered brief memories of her cousins. She was very young but she remembered hearing about them being ripped away from Polly. They all thought it was nearly impossible to find the children again until Tommy gained such connections.

            “I found out she passed away,” Tommy answered quietly. “Pol’s handled it well though. Think she’s glad Michael’s back.”

            “That’s a shame.”

            When they entered, Polly stood in surprise and rushed to hug her niece. “Thank God you’re well.” The older woman touched her cheeks to make sure she looked healthy.

            Ella bit her lip and felt a little teary. Polly was practically her mother and the years away from her had been tough on the young woman. “I’ve missed you, Pol.”

            “We’ve all missed you too.” Her forehead creased and she sighed softly. “But I’m just glad you’re okay.”

            Ella saw the other person in the room stand up. “And you must be Michael, it’s been a very long time since I've seen you.” She smiled and took in the young man who seemed like he had thoroughly embraced the Shelby lifestyle. He was well dressed and holding a cigarette. 

            He nodded.  “You're Ella, I don’t remember much but it’s very nice to meet you again. I've heard a lot about you.”

            Polly looked proud of her son. “He’s a big help in the company, very clever.” She boasted.

            “Then you really are Polly’s son.” Ella laughed softly. "Grey's are very clever." 

            “Come sit and tell me what you’ve been doing in London.” Her aunt ushered her over to the couch. “Tommy, I’m sure you’ve got things to do for the wedding.”

            “Well, as far as I know, I just need to get dressed and make it to the church.” Tommy reached into his coat for a cigarette. “But I’ll let you all catch up.”

           

            “Fucking uniforms,” John grumbled. 

            Ella laughed softly and shook her head. She glanced across the aisle to Grace’s side of the family. The men had faces like stone and the women looked highly displeased with their surroundings. “I’m sure Tommy told you to be on your best behavior, John boy. Can't be violent at Tommy's wedding.”

            Her brother muttered a few curses under his breath. “Also fucking told me they wouldn’t be in uniforms.”

            “Try to ignore them, they'll only try to rile you up." She drew his attention away from the men. "Listen, have you heard much about a man named Alfie Solomons? From Camden Town?” Ella asked, trying to sound as casual as she could so she didn’t raise any alarms.

            John wrinkled his nose. It was hard to mention the name without garnering some type of reaction. The Shelbys normally had a bad reaction. “The fuck do you know about him?”

            “John!” Esme hissed and smacked her husband’s arm. “We’re in fucking church, don’t swear. Giving a bad example to the kids.”

            Ella giggled but her brother looked suspicious that she had brought up the Jewish gangster’s name. Before he could ask anything else, the organ music began, announcing Grace's arrival.

 

            “No fucking fighting!” Tommy shouted after repeating himself many times in the kitchen. The Blinders all around him, grumbling and muttering about how unfair he was being. 

            “Tom.” John adjusted the pick in his mouth.

            “What? Are you seriously asking a question?” His older brother asked, turning to him. “You can’t possibly be confused about what I’m saying.” Finn and Isaiah snickered at the comment.

            “No, it’s ‘bout Ella.” He clarified.

            Tommy looked concerned. His shoulders slumped slightly and he worried she had already left. Maybe he’d pushed the issue of her returning to Birmingham too much. “What about her?”

            “In the church, she was asking about Alfie Solomons.”

            “What?” Arthur demanded sharply. “What the fuck do you mean she’s asking ‘bout him?”

            John just shrugged. “I dunno, she didn’t tell me why.”

            Tommy paced a few steps and took a puff of his cigarette. “Fuck.” He muttered under his breath and dragged a hand over his face. “Just…don’t mention it again to her. I’ll take care of it.” He really didn’t want to discuss Alfie on his wedding day and he certainly didn’t want to know how his baby sister knew about him.

            “Don’t want Alfie fucking Solomons sniffing 'round her.” Arthur snarled. "If he does he'll regret it." 

            “She might’ve just heard his name before.” Finn offered.

            Tommy shook his head. “Just drop it.” He ordered. “I don’t want to hear you bring it up ‘round her again.”

 

            After a few hours into the reception, Ella wandered off. She found the stables after a bit of roaming around the grounds. As she inhaled the familiar scent of horses, she realized she was much more comfortable there instead of in the lavish Arrow House. She came across a beautiful dapple-gray horse; a large gelding that certainly would’ve caught her attention as a young girl. She would never tire of braiding the horse’s silver mane and tail, brushing its coat until it gleamed in the sun.

            “You’re a beauty, aren’t you?” She let the horse sniff her hand before stroking his soft muzzle. “Maybe Tommy’ll let me take you out for a spin tomorrow.” It’d been a while since she’d ridden. She missed the horses at her uncle’s yard. She missed far more than she could even count. She sighed and stroked the horse’s cheek. “He’ll probably make me agree to come back to Birmingham though.”

            The horse snorted softly in reply. He sniffed her shawl for any treats, his tail swishing, and ears perked. 

            “Thought I noticed you missing.”

            Ella glanced over to see Tommy walking into the stables. “Getting a bit rowdy for me. I don't think I could listen to another one of John's jokes. I forgot how fucking awful they were." 

            Tommy chuckled and nodded. “Well, it’ll only get rowdier, the boys are coming to race.” He warned her.

            She nodded. “Okay, I’ll go back inside then.” She had a feeling her brothers wouldn’t let her stick around and watch the race. In fact, she had a feeling they were going to fix it just to get one over on the cavalry. So she made her way to the barn door. 

            “Before you go.” Tommy reached out and grabbed her arm as she went to pass by him in the stable aisle. “You need to explain why you brought up Alfie Solomons to John.”

Chapter Text

            “Alfie Solomons?” Ella raised an eyebrow. “I don’t…”

            “John told me you were asking about him in the church.” Tommy interrupted so she knew he wasn’t about to let her pull the wool over his eyes.

            “Oh,” Ella shrugged and tried to remain aloof about the subject. “Amelia might’ve mentioned the name to me. Have I told you about Amelia? She’s got all sorts of stories ‘bout London.” Technically, her best friend was the one who told her about the gangster. But Tommy didn’t need to know that was only after Ella had seen the man in person.

            “Why would she bring him up?” Tommy’s icy blue eyes studied her expression. He was usually very good at telling when someone was flat out lying to him. But it was hard to distinguish when Ella had mastered the art of lying like a Shelby. Be evasive, answer questions with other questions, omit details, and stay cool, calm, and collected. Plus, Tommy had a weak spot for her sister; he never assumed she was lying, unlike other people he encountered in his line of work.

            “She’s always got a story to tell.” Ella made sure to maintain enough eye contact so he didn’t grow more suspicious.

            Tommy let the cigarette in his fingers burn in the air for a moment. The smoke curled around his hand and disappeared out of the barn door into the dark night. “You should tell her it’s wise to avoid talking ‘bout that man.” He said firmly. “You don’t want to be connected to him even in passing.”

            “How do you know him?” Ella turned the spotlight back on her brother, hopefully, to acquire information John didn’t give her earlier.

            “We’ve crossed paths before.” He admitted. “Nothing you need to worry about.”

            Ella tilted her head to the side. “Do I have to worry about him finding out I’m a Shelby?” Of course, she didn’t think Alfie would be able to connect the dots just with a brief meeting.

            “Doesn’t matter, because you won’t be going near him,” Tommy replied with a stern look. “You keep away from Camden Town and the Jews there. They all answer to him as far as I know.”

            “You’ve changed, Tommy.” His sister noted quietly. “You’ve seen more things…done more things since I’ve been ‘round.”

            He took a drag of his cigarette to avoid the question for a moment. “You said you didn’t want to be part of it, don’t think that’s something you have to worry about.”

            “I’m your fucking sister, I can worry about you,” Ella replied, irked by his cold demeanor towards her when business was being spoken about. Back in Small Heath, when she was still just a teenager, he’d often tell her with a proud smile that they were moving up in the world. He’d promise her horses, luxuries, a new home, and when she was old enough, a car. Now he was acting like she had no right to even inquire about his well-being. “Tom, you used to tell me everything.” She furrowed her eyebrows. “You didn’t even tell me you had Charlie.”

            He didn’t look at her for a long while. “You told me you didn’t want anything to do with Shelby Company Limited.” He echoed himself. “You went off to London and I didn’t hear from you, El. M’too busy to keep track of someone who’s gone and done a runner.”

            “I didn’t run,” Ella argued, her temper was beginning to bubble up in her stomach, moving to her chest and throat. “Can you blame me for what I did?”

            Tommy shrugged and finished his cigarette. “You were keen to tell me you could make your own choices. I can’t blame you.”

            Angry tears stung Ella’s blue eyes. “Arthur and John were happy to see me. Polly understood my choice. Ada supports me in London. You’re the only one who’s still acting like a fucking brat!”

            Tommy’s jaw clenched. “Don’t speak to me like that.” He retorted fiercely and pointed at her. “You’ve no right to come in and pretend we’ve abandoned you when you decided to leave.” His face clouded over with anger. “Now either you’re apart of this fucking family and you put up with what the rest of us put up with, or you go back to London and pretend we all don’t exist. You can’t have it both ways, Ella. You’re not a child anymore.”

            Ella balled her hands into fists. Her Traveler instincts kicked in, the days she spent in the meadows outside Small Heath. The boys she had to beat up to prove she was a Shelby. The time she broke an older boy’s nose because he was running his mouth about their family.

            “Gypsies.” He taunted. “Gonna read my fortune? Pick me pockets?”

            It took both her older brothers to wrench her off the boy who dared make fun of her and her family. Now Tommy was questioning her, questioning the decision she made. Maybe she was wrong and being a hypocrite, but she was far too upset to think rationally.

            “Everyone talks about the curse on the Shelbys. Our fucking cursed family. It’s you. It’s you, Tommy! You’re the fucking curse!” She shouted and caused a few horses to stir in their stalls nearby. “You’ve poisoned this family and continue to do whatever you want, without giving a fuck what the rest of us think.”

            Tommy stood straight in front of her, not interrupting or moving away. He stood like a soldier, braced against her venomous words.

            “You can fuck your wedding. Fuck your company. Fuck your indifference.” Ella spat and turned on her heel to leave the stables.

 

            A group of men was staggering across the lawns, gearing up for the race they were about to fix. 

            “Where’ya going, Ellie?” John’s voice boomed across the grounds. He grabbed her by the shoulder. “Come watch the race! We’re gonna show those uniforms how s’done!”

            “Fuck your big mouth!” Ella shouted at him and jerked away from his touch. "You're just a fucking little messenger to Tommy, aren't you?!" 

            Arthur looked concerned at her sudden outburst. He thought everything had been going well with the return of his younger sister. But now she was glaring daggers at the group of Blinders. “El?”

            “Fuck this whole bloody cursed family!” She continued ranting on her way back to Arrow House. She promptly grabbed her things and took Ada’s car back to London without telling anyone she’d left.

 

           

            Ella was stewing for a week after the wedding. Her family members, minus Tommy, had been trying to reach out to her. But she ignored all their calls and letters. Ada visited her home a few times but Ella turned her away.

            She felt snubbed by Tommy who was once her closest confidante and friend. When they had nothing, she had Tommy to rely on. He'd comfort her if she was picked on by kids her age. He'd keep her company when she felt lonely after the death of their mother. He was more than just a brother, he was a support system. 

            At night, she stayed up staring at the ceiling. Her mind raced and kept her awake for hours. Maybe she’d been wrong for leaving the family, but she was terrified. Tommy couldn’t appreciate how scared she was. He was unafraid of death. She almost thought she had gained the confidence and strength to return to Birmingham, but not after that debacle in the stables.

            Ella would toss and turn, thinking about what Tommy had to say. The way he’d spoken to her like she was nothing more than a stranger. How could he be so cold? If he was so twisted about everything else then maybe he was dead wrong about Alfie Solomons.

 

 

            The next time Ella saw Alfie, she’d wandered close to the edge of Camden Town. She decided it was most likely an indirect middle finger to her brother who had warned her to stay away. Tommy didn't choose where she could go anymore. If he didn't want her in the family, then she could go anywhere in London.           

 

            “You on your own?”

            Ella was walking down a strip of stores when she heard his voice. She turned and felt a spark of intrigue.

            He stood just as he had in the club. Broad shoulders, exaggerated frame, and militant stance. This time, he had a large bullmastiff with him.

            “My friend was busy,” Ella answered with a faint smile. “Is that your dog?”

            He moved a little closer to her. The gangster had been happy to spot her piercing blue eyes in the crowd of shoppers and wanderers. Ever since the night at the club, Alfie had been unable to get her face out of his head. It was highly unusual for him to think twice about a woman he came in contact with. He hardly had the time to think about something so trivial as a chance encounter. Relationships were agonizingly complicated and his life was complex enough. He worked too much and lived too brutally for a woman to handle, or so he thought.

            But there was something about this woman that he couldn’t overlook. Beyond her blue eyes that were as hypnotic as they were alluring, there was something else. She wasn’t like anyone he passed by in the street. A keen eye could see she held secrets and a substantial past.

            And Alfie couldn’t help but appreciate the way she looked at him. It was so strange because she didn’t look at him the way others did. Not with hatred, like his enemies, not with malice, like his foes, and not with fear, like the rest of the population who knew his name. No, she looked at him like a person, nothing more, nothing less. Just a man. Not a man shrouded in myth and stories. Just a man.

            “Yeah, this is Cyril, s’a real softie.” He said. "Likes attention, he does." 

            Ella smiled. She’d grown up closer to horses but as a child, she bonded with a few of the hounds they used for hunting or protection. Dogs and horses were similar in nature. You had to gain their trust, and when you did, they would be loyal to you until the ends of the Earth. “He is handsome.” She said and reached out to stroke the dog’s ears. His tail began to wag fiercely and his droopy face almost resembled a sad smile. He was a massive dog, his shoulder meeting her hips. He was nearly the size of a little Shetland pony but appeared to be just as Alfie had described him. He gratefully let her pet him, his head tilting to lean into her touch and his eyes closing contently. 

            “You got a story, love?” Alfie asked out of the blue. He acted like it was a natural question between people who were near strangers.

            Ella glanced up from Cyril. “A story?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, I s'ppose everyone has a story, Mr. Solomons.”

            “Call me Alfie.” He corrected her with a gentleness that contradicted his appearance. He didn't address her with the harsh tone he took towards the bartender and club owner the first night they met. 

            “Alfie.”

            The gangster didn’t know how he could be so affected by the way someone said his name. But the way she spoke his name was unbearable. She said it with a smile and a small nod. Her blue eyes shone in the sun that was starting to break away from the gloomy clouds. Alfie’s heart made itself known by beating heavy in his chest.

            “What’s your story, Alfie?” She turned the question back on him.

            He chuckled and ran a hand over his beard. “S’quite a long one.” He warned. "Not sure you'll want to stick around, yeah, to hear all the details." 

            “Mine's long too. But I'm sure yours is much more exciting than mine is.”

            “Well then, right, can’t spend all day standing here telling our stories, aye? Guess I’ll have to take you out to dinner so we have enough time.” He stated coolly.

            Surprise marked Ella’s face. Inner warning bells chimed off but she shooed them away. The man seemed sweet and she had spent enough time around dangerous men to know that she could handle them. Her brothers had prepared her for that. If her brothers could get away with the things they did, then who were they to speak poorly about Alfie? Resigned and partially rebellious, Ella nodded. “I’d like that.” She replied gently.

            “Yeah?” It was Alfie’s turn to be surprised. What kind of delicate looking woman, who knew who he was, agreed to dinner with him? Thoroughly in disbelief, he nodded a few times too many. “Right, well…this Friday I’ve got some time.”

            “I’m free on Friday.”

            “Friday then. We’ll meet here.” He decided. “I know a nice place ‘round here for dinner.”

            “That sounds lovely.” A week was more than enough time to edit her brothers out of her life story.

Chapter Text

            “What happened last week?

            Tommy was just a second into lighting a cigarette and raised an eyebrow. His aunt strode into his office without warning. “I got married, Pol, you were there.” He replied tongue in cheek.

            Polly glared at him. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.” She snapped. “I’m talking about why your sister left without telling us.” As far as Polly was concerned, her nephew was lucky she’d given him a week to enjoy his wedded life. Now she was going to confront him about Ella.

            Tommy exhaled a breath of smoke and set his lighter down to the side. “She decided to leave. I don’t see what that has to do anything with me.”

            She narrowed her eyes. “She left after talking to you. Now she won’t speak to anyone, not even Ada. You need to tell me what you said to her.” She folded her arms over her chest and rooted herself in his office, a clear indication she wasn’t going to leave until he was honest.

            He already felt a headache coming on. “She was asking ‘bout things that weren’t any of her business.”

            “Like what?” Polly demanded. She didn’t care when he pinched the bridge of his nose with a look of displeasure at her persistence. “Like what?” She pressed.

            “Don’t know what to tell you. She’s the one who left for London. It’s not my job to keep tabs on her. She can’t get upset if things happen here and she’s not told.”

            Polly rolled her eyes. Sometimes getting the Shelby siblings to all get along was like pulling teeth. And it usually fell to her to keep the peace. “Life is short, you two need to make amends and stop with this fucking tantrum.”

            Tommy didn’t react. He had a feeling his aunt would step in and try to make them play nice. “She’s not the little girl we helped raise anymore. She's changed.” He replied and went back to his ledger.

            “What are you on about?” Polly asked with a frustrated sigh.

            “M’fraid she might be getting involved with a man.”

            “For Christ sake, she’s a grown woman. You three can’t lock her up in a tower to keep all the men away.” She retorted and turned on her heel to leave.

            “I think you’d lock her up in a tower if you knew it was Alfie Solomons,” Tommy spoke just loudly enough for his aunt to hear.

            She stopped dead in her tracks in the doorway. That was one name she didn’t want to hear associated with her niece’s. “You better not be playing with me.” She warned sternly and spun back around.

            He raised his eyebrows as if he were surprised that would rattle her. Of course, he was fairly good at pushing Polly’s buttons. “She asked John about him. I asked and she lied to me.”

            “How do you know she lied?” Polly reached over his desk to snatch up his case of cigarettes.

            Tommy helpfully held out his lighter for her as she sat. “Because our Ella doesn’t take part in gossip. If she heard his name in passing then she wouldn’t bring it up days later. The only reason she’s asking is because she knows who he is and what he does. I would bet a lot of money that they’ve crossed paths.”

            Polly took in the information with a disappointed look. She assumed Ella would stay far away from men like Solomons. Wouldn’t she be able to tell the parallels between him and her brother? “So you got in a row about that.”

            “Partially.” He nodded and stubbed out his cigarette. He leaned back in his leather desk chair and tilted his head back. “I’ve already sent men out to keep tabs on her.”

            She gave him a look. “You really think that’s going to win her trust back? If she finds out, she’ll kick your teeth in.”

            “She can kick me teeth in when I know she’s not involved with that man.”

            Polly sighed and closed her eyes. “You know that the more you press, the further you’re pushing her away.” She warned thoughtfully. “She’s a young woman, she’s got your mother’s blood in her. She may dress a bit nicer now but she’s still a gypsy girl at heart.”

            “That’s what I’m fucking afraid of.”

                       

            To say Ella was excited was an understatement. Wooing men had never been her strongest suit. As a young girl, she would much rather punch a boy in the face than hold his hand. Consequently, she left a lot of bad impressions on the boys who grew up around her. It didn’t help that her older brothers would threaten any guy who decided to invade her personal space. So the odds were stacked against her.

            But now, Alfie had taken an interest in her. Just thinking about him was thrilling. She didn’t know what had attracted him to her, perhaps she would find out in due time.

            The location of their meet up wasn’t too far so Ella was going to walk. She donned a scarlet red dress that the shop girl had convinced her to try. It turned out she was right as Ella did a few turns in the mirror, appreciating the beaded bodice and stylish fringe. She smiled and slipped on her heels, hat, and coat before stepping out.

            It didn’t take long before her excitement was doused with icy water. Standing on the block corner near her apartment were two men in familiar caps.

            Blinders.

            She knew they were, even if her brother thought he was being tricky. They were men who weren’t around when Ella lived in Birmingham, but she had spotted them at Tommy’s wedding. Despite how clever her brother was, sometimes he overlooked how observant she could be.

            “Tommy fucking Shelby.” She muttered under her breath and saw one of the men glance her way. The taller one, a lanky boy who looked like he had the devil in his eyes, attempted to look casual. But he stuck out like a sore thumb. The other looked like he was nothing but skin and bones in his hand-me-down coat.

            Ella held her head high and strode past the men. They weren’t very well trained because they followed her far too closely. She rolled her eyes at her brother’s incompetent men. If you wanted a job done correctly, you did it yourself, but Tommy rarely did his own stunts anymore.

            It wouldn’t take a lot to shake them off, especially in London’s evening crowd. She inserted herself into the thickest crowds, slipping through the thin cracks between groups of young men and women or families out on the town. When she figured they had lost her, she dipped into a back alley and took off her hat. Pausing for a second, she spotted the taller man walk by with a confused look on his freckled face.

            Ella smiled and returned to the street, continuing on.

           

            Alfie did his best to look cool and collected. However, he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been on a date. Maybe when he was a teenager? A young man? Even then, it was very rare. Most fathers would shield their pure, Jewish daughters from the Solomons boy who liked trouble. During the war, he had his fill of the nurses and French whores. But they weren’t meaningful.

            When he returned, he had no time for women. For Ella Thorne, however, he would make time.

            Still, his stomach was in knots. Why in the world was a man like him afraid of a little dinner? He’d faced death hundreds of times before and didn’t bat an eye. The battlefield, both in France and in London, was his forte. He was a force to be reckoned with and he didn’t care how he came across as long as people respected or feared him. Yet, he didn’t want Ella to fear him. He wanted her to look at him the way she had before. Gently and with care.

 

            “Fuck, I’m sorry, I should’ve sent a car ‘round to pick you up.” Alfie realized his mistake when he saw Ella walking towards him.

            “That’s okay.” She smiled reassuringly. “It wasn’t a long walk, did I keep you waiting?”

            “’Course not.” He felt his chest tighten. Yet again, he forgot how blue her eyes were. It was as if God had taken his time with her, sitting her down and mixing all the blues he could until he found the right combination. Experimenting with the strongest pigments to see how stunning he could make the woman.

            “Thank you for taking me out tonight,” Ella said softly. “I really needed this.”

            Alfie held out an arm to escort her down the sidewalk. It was polite, something his mother would be proud of. “Yeah, s’been a while since I’ve taken some time for meself.” He agreed. “Always working.”

            Ella toed the line while still remembering Amelia’s warning. “You’ve got a very busy bakery then?” She kept her eyes to the sidewalk to make sure her heels didn’t catch in gaps of the cobblestones.

            “Very busy.” There was a hint of a smile behind his mustache. “And you, what do you do?” He was much more interested in talking about Ella than himself. He couldn’t divulge too much about himself until he knew she could be trusted. A set of blue eyes wouldn’t loosen his lips.

            “I’m a typist for a law firm.” She answered with a shrug. “Nothing too exciting.” She kept close to Alfie to avoid running into people passing on the sidewalk.

            Alfie caught a whiff of her perfume and felt his heart quicken. He was sure they were quite the sight, a sinful man next to such a warm, tender creature. “Sometimes exciting ain’t always a good thing.”

            Ella glanced up at him as if he’d read her mind. “You’ve no idea.”

 

            Alfie Solomons was a charming man. He’d been so brutal in the bar the night they’d met, but Ella realized that was all a front. A man who needed to establish himself as someone who would resort to violence if necessary. But sitting across from her, he was a smooth talker and a charismatic personality. He was warm but twisted his way around certain questions. It led Ella to believe he didn’t want to talk about his business.

            Still, they didn’t run out of things to talk about. He was much more than his business dealings. He was much more educated than Ella expected on face value. Education wasn’t as important in her family. You couldn’t learn the tools necessary to be a Shelby at school. The siblings were street smart and quick-witted.

            Alfie seemed to be similarly raised, yet he had taken time to become more learned on elite subjects. Perhaps it was to fit in better in London. It would be extremely helpful to speak the language of both street rats and aristocrats. Ella had a feeling her brother was trying to accomplish the same thing.

            “You’re a quiet little thing, ain’t ya?” Alfie asked about halfway through the dinner. “Not boring you to death, am I?”

            “No, no, of course not,” Ella said hurriedly. “I’m just not as…worldly as you.” She admitted shyly. “Never even been outside the country. I mean, you’ve been to France. I’ve always wanted to go there, I just don’t think I’d fit in very well.”

            Alfie simply shook his head. “Love, those Parisian women would kill to be as fucking gorgeous as you are.”

            Her face went bright pink and she ducked her head in embarrassment. “Oh, I dunno.”

            “Here’s the thing,” He reached over and tilted her chin up with the lightest of touches. “I wouldn’t lie ‘bout something like that, right?”

            Her eyes searched his face, lingering on the long scar across his jaw. “Would you lie about something else?” She asked quietly.

            “I don’t lie often, love. I wouldn’t lie to you, know that for certain.”

            She chewed on her lower lip and thought about all the things she was keeping from Alfie. Maybe he would lie to her, but she knew for a fact, that she was the first to lie.

Chapter Text

            Despite the secret she was keeping, Ella was unable to stay away from Alfie. He was one of the most intriguing men she had ever met and that was saying something coming from a girl raised by Irish Travelers.

            Not only was he interesting but he also treated Ella like she was one of the world’s natural wonders. She had never gotten attention quite like the type Alfie gave her. He took every lull in the conversation to compliment her. No matter how many times he called her beautiful, it still made her flustered.

            It got to the point that Ella stopped thinking about their dates as an insult to her brother. In fact, she rarely thought about her family when she was with him. He had a way of capturing her full attention and making her forget about the world around them. She often forgot about his reputation as well. There would be some hints to it, several people dodging his path and giving Ella a side-eye when they saw her on his arm. It wasn’t much different to the way she was once treated in Birmingham. People would either greet her politely to stay in the Shelbys’ good graces or avoid her entirely. She could only imagine the things they whispered about her behind her back. Gypsy girl. Sister of demons. Hellion.

            Now, she’d created a new image for herself. One that was unique to London. And it was far from the woman she wanted to become in her new home. For a moment, she wanted a quiet life with no fuss or activity.

            But Shelbys were never satisfied with silence. Something deep in their blood craved the adrenaline. And men like Alfie Solomons were akin to a drug.

           

            “Lucky guess.” Alfie frowned. He squeezed her hand while they walked through Regent’s Park. Spring was in full bloom and the gangster was happy to spend the warm morning with Ella.

            “It was not a lucky guess. I had one-twelfth of a chance of guessing correctly.” She replied firmly. “And I knew you were born in November.”

            “You guessed that I was born in November.” He smiled and shook his head. “Anyone could guess that.”

            “Mhm, sure. It’s in me blood, I know when people were born.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “But you don’t have to believe me, not everyone does.”

            He chuckled. “I like you a lot, Thorne.” He murmured. Alfie did, he truly did. In fact, outside of family members, he wasn’t sure he’d ever cared so much about someone. Ella was the type of woman he didn’t think existed. A beautiful woman with a clever wit, sharp tongue, yet a softness that was underappreciated by others. Most would focus on her strong will rather than the gentleness in her eyes and touch.

            Ella smiled and glanced up at him. “I like you a lot too.” She replied with a blush spreading over her cheeks.

            Alfie found them a bench to sit so they could talk. “M’fucking glad I met you.” He said quietly, tilting his head down to converse privately with her.

            She took his hand in hers, the tips of her fingers grazing over his calloused palm. She smiled at the memory of one of the Lee girls insisting little Ella would be married before she was thirty just by reading the lines on her palm. Ella had merely laughed and proclaimed she was never getting married. Now, it appeared the Lee had really predicted something viable.

            “I feel the same way.” Her nails grazed across his wrist, over the veins, and to the bracelet he usually wore. “I always used to scoff at love.” She admitted. “I thought it was just blind foolishness.”

            Ella’s soft touch sent a shiver down Alfie’s spine. He felt undeserving of her affection but wasn’t going to deny it. “What do you think ‘bout it now?” He murmured.

            She smiled at him. “I still think it’s foolish. But I’d rather be foolish with you than miserable with anyone else.”

            He chuckled. “Cheeky girl.”

            She didn’t answer with words. Instead, she replied by touching his cheek and leaning in to kiss him. 

            Alfie was unsure what he did to deserve such a gesture. Surely God wasn’t blessing him after all the atrocious sins he’d committed. But there was no way in hell she was some sort of punishment or demon in disguise. She was far too tender and her touch was sincere.

            Ella’s hand rested on his cheek, her thumb grazed against the scar cutting through his beard. The pads of her fingers tickled across the skin as if she were healing him, cleansing him of sin.

 

 

 

 

            “Thorne residence.” Ella got to the phone as she walked into her apartment.

            “Ella, it’s Lizzie.” Tommy’s secretary greeted on the other line.

            She furrowed her eyes in confusion. She hadn’t spoken to Lizzie in a few years. The woman had a complicated relationship with the Shelby family and Ella didn’t have too much of an issue with her. But, she couldn’t ignore the grief she had caused John. “Oh, hello.”

            “Tommy asked me to call you and see if you were available this weekend.” She explained.

            “Really?” Ella raised an eyebrow. Now Tommy was resorting to having his secretary call her? “Why?”

            “He invited you to come to Warwickshire and come hunting with him.”

            Tommy always had a reason for everything. He never just set up a casual gathering. Tommy Shelby didn’t waste time. Either he wanted something from her or wanted information from her.

            Fine. Two could play at that game. “Tell my brother that I would love to.” She replied. “Have him send a car for me Saturday morning.”

 

            It had been a while since Ella had gone hunting. For a while, they didn’t have the opportunity when they were in Birmingham. But she learned to shoot a gun when she was only eight-years-old. She’d trail along with her brothers through the forest, hunting rabbits and hedgehogs a short distance away from the vardos. Her aim was good, not as good as John’s, but she was shit at trying to sneak up on an animal. Tommy was always able to get the closest to the critters.

            When she arrived at Arrow House, she was a little annoyed. Not because of her brother’s behavior, but because she had been excited on the drive to Warwickshire. Hunting with just Tommy was always the best when they were younger. She still held out hope that things could go back to the way they once were. But her rational brain knew that was impossible. Not after all Tommy had done and not after she’d kissed Alfie Solomons.

            Mary, Tommy’s maid, directed her to the stables where he was waiting.

            Tommy was standing outside with his black gelding and the gray she’d been admiring at his wedding. “Thought you might want to try him out.” He said as if offering the horse as an olive branch. “He’s a smooth ride but stubborn.”

            “I put up with you and you’re stubborn,” Ella replied and took the reins from him.

            He tossed his cigarette to the side. “I’d like to apologize for the way I spoke to you.”

            His sister studied his face. He appeared genuine, but she was sure he still had ulterior motives for the day out. “Well, I’m sorry as well. I think we both said things we regretted.”

            “You’re a part of this family. But you have the right to live where you wish. I should’ve told you about Charlie and Grace.”

            “Mhm…” Ella was worried that he could sense the guilt radiating off her. Surely he knew she was hiding something from him.

            But he merely smiled. “Should we head out?” He asked. “Need a boost up?”

            She rolled her eyes. “’Course not, m’not little anymore.”

            “Right, of course.” He watched as his sister heaved herself up into the saddle from the ground. It looked difficult but she’d never ask for his help, not like she used to.

 

            They began down the trail, the two horses plodding along side by side. There was a chill in the air and fog hung low in the meadows they passed through. The remained in silence for a bit. Ella focused on getting used to the horse underneath her. As Tommy said, the gelding had a smooth gait but continued to try and bend to the left. He was strong, but she had fought with stronger horses before.

            “Do you miss riding?” Tommy asked. They could probably talk about their shared interests in horses without breaking out into an argument.

            “Yes.” She nodded without explaining it away or defending her actions.

            “Well, whenever you need fresh air, you can come out here.” He offered. “There’s a bay mare that loves to jump. There are a few stonewalls on a path that she could get over without breaking a sweat. Very fast too, but couldn’t get her to behave on the track.”

            Ella nodded. He must remember how she loved horses that could leap over fences and fallen logs with ease. She adored the feeling of being airborne even for just a few seconds. The thrill was unlike anything she would ever know. Although, the swooping feeling in her stomach could probably be compared to kissing Alfie. She smiled faintly.

            “So, how’s London?” Tommy asked.

            “Don’t you know?” She raised an eyebrow and glanced over at her brother.

            “I haven’t been in some time. Been in Birmingham or here.”

            “Well, I’m sure your men could tell you. They are shit at their jobs though.” She shrugged casually. “You should find someone better.”          

            Tommy let out a low chuckle. “Can’t get anything past you, can I, El?”

            “It’s patronizing, Thomas.” She replied sharply. “I don’t need your daft boys on me tail whenever I leave the fucking house.”

            “Can you blame me for being worried?” He kept a level head. The last thing he wanted was to break out into another fight with her. One more and she might move across the Pond to get away from him.

            “I’ve been on my own for four years. I think I can handle myself perfectly well. If you were really worried, you could’ve sacked up and come to me personally. Instead, you’re treating me like one of your enemies.”

            “No.”

            “Yes, Tommy. Do you have John or Arthur followed? What about Ada?” She pointed out. “No, just me because I’m not under your thumb."

 

            “You’re my baby sister.” He insisted. “If Finn was in London on his own, I’d do the same. You two are still young and don’t know just how dangerous the world can be.”

            Ella stopped the gelding in the middle of the path. “Tommy, I’m older than John was when he went to war.” She pointed out.

            Tommy paused, slowing his horse down as well. Was that true? He’d been twenty-five going on twenty-six when they left. John was five years younger. Ella was now twenty-three. He sighed. “Yes, I s’pose that’s true.”

            “I think I have a right to worry about you more than you have to worry about me.” She nudged the horse on when they came into another open field. “I’m going to let him stretch his legs.” Before her brother could get another word in, she clucked her tongue and prodded the gray into a canter.

            Tommy lengthened the reins, allowing his horse to extend his neck out. The gelding trotted a few steps through the long grass, tossing his head about every so often. He kept an eye on his sister, thinking about how little control he had over her. It terrified him and made him worry about the trouble she could get into. Trouble that he might not be able to get her out of until it was too late. Then he thought about the men who he’d tasked with watching her. They were definitely ready for a job evaluation when he returned to Birmingham.

 

            After bagging three hares, Tommy and Ella rode back to Arrow House. The sun was high in the sky and they were both generally in pleasant moods. The hunting trip had reminded them of how it used to be and how silly it was to keep arguing. It was a compromise of sorts. Tommy said he wouldn’t have her watched anymore and Ella said she would keep in better contact with the family. They could both be satisfied with the stipulations.

            Grace had arranged to have tea outside when they came back. She and Charlie were in the back lawns, the toddler sitting and pulling at the grass.

            “Successful hunt?” Grace asked with a smile when she saw them return.

            “No stags, although Tommy promised we’d find one.” Ella shot her brother a look.

            He chuckled and sat down next to his wife at the iron wrought table. “If we’d found a stag, you would’ve made me carry it the whole way home.”

            Grace was happy to see they were in good spirits. She’d talked to Tommy before his sister had arrived. She reminded him that they were family and no matter how he felt about the wedding night, he needed to make amends as Polly had said. But she had her doubts. The woman knew how volatile Shelby siblings could get with each other when they had a reason to be.

            Still, it appeared that the morning out together had been a success. Ella hadn’t left and they weren’t at each other’s throats.

            Ella knelt down in front of Charlie. “I swear you’ve grown a meter since I saw you last!” She cooed and picked him up. The little boy laughed and grabbed at his aunt’s hair.

            “Careful, he’ll yank out a few pieces if you let him,” Tommy warned.

            “Well, he is a Shelby. Finn was a terror growing up. Took off running from us the moment he could stand on his own.”

            “We were all like that.” He nodded. “Luckily, he’s taken on Grace’s personality as well.” He took his wife’s hand and she smiled.

            “You’re a natural with him, Ella,” Grace said gently.

            “I’ve helped Ada with Karl after Freddie passed.” She explained and smiled fondly at her nephew.

            “Do you think you’ll have any of your own?” Her sister-in-law inquired.

            Ella laughed with a wince. She stood up with Charlie on her hip and sat at the table. “I’d have to be married first, wouldn’t I?”

            “Oh, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of London boys falling over themselves to win you.” Grace smiled and poured her a cup of tea. “You’ve got those Shelby blue eyes.”

            Tommy sighed and offered to take Charlie from his sister. “Ella used to spit at any boy who tried to kiss her. We had to make sure she wouldn’t bite them too.”

            Ella rolled her eyes and plopped two sugar cubes into her teacup. “Yes Tommy, I still spit at any man who would dare speak to me.” She said sarcastically.

            Her brother looked amused and let Charlie hold his pocket watch. “Forgive me if I can’t imagine you with a man.”

            “I do just fine, thank you for your concern.” She replied and thought about Alfie.

            “So we’ll get to meet him soon then, aye?” Tommy let Charlie down as the boy began to squirm and whine. The boy toddled off to pluck a few dandelions out of the ground and carry them around in his pudgy hand. Tommy pulled out a cigarette and offered the pack to Grace and his sister.

            “Don’t know what you’re on about.” Ella took a cigarette but Grace turned it down. “Meet who? There isn’t anyone to meet.”

            “Maybe you’ll just end up on your own in the countryside then?” Tommy chuckled. “Like you always wanted. Small cottage with stables full of horses.”

            Grace smiled. “Sounds like a lovely retirement plan to me.” She took the dandelions that Charlie offered her. “Thank you, love.” She kissed his forehead.

            “A couple of horses and a dog.” Ella shrugged. “Don’t need much else.”

            “Didn’t think you liked dogs.”

            She thought about Cyril who had grown attached to her. Alfie took him along whenever they took walks in the park. If they sat, the bullmastiff would rest his head on her lap. His sad eyes would close contently when she scratched his ears. His droopy cheeks would leave drool on her coat but she never minded.

            “You did like Jeta Lee’s, foxhound as a girl.” Her brother recalled the dog that would always hunt for a little snack from the Shelby children if they were in the Lee camp. 

            “Yeah, or something bigger.” She shrugged casually and sipped her tea to hide her small smile.

Chapter Text

            About a week after her hunting trip with Tommy, Ella was at Ada’s. She was watching Karl for her sister while she was at the library. Her five-year-old nephew was always a joy to be around. Ella had grown much closer to him and her sister when she moved to London. They were the only family members she kept constant contact with. They were sat in the parlor, kneeling on the floor and constructing a train set that Arthur and Linda had sent him for his last birthday.

            “Is your dad in heaven too?” Karl asked out of the blue.

            Ella glanced up in surprise. The young boy had been starting to ask odd questions. But they were innocent. Where did babies come from? Why does a caterpillar live on Uncle Arthur’s lip? Where does the sun go at night? Can he go to the moon next summer?

            But this question completely disarmed Ella. “What do you mean, love?” She asked gently.

            He shrugged and struggled to interlock two wooden pieces of the train track. He furrowed his eyebrows and looked uncannily like Freddie. But he still had Ada’s soft eyes. “Mummy says that my daddy lives in heaven now, that’s why I can’t see him.” He explained.

            Ella chewed on her lip. She felt terrible for Karl because she knew what it was like to grow up without a dad. She reached out and helped him get the track pieces to fit. “Yes, but he still loves you very much.” She said softly.

            He looked up at her with a smile. “That’s what mummy says.”

            “It’s true.” She brushed her nephew’s brown hair back.

            “I think it makes mummy sad though.” He shrugged and grabbed the train to set on the incomplete track. Mindlessly, he pushed the train back and forth. The small wheels squeaking. 

            “It’s hard to lose someone.” Ella agreed. “But you still have many people here who love you.”

            Karl was quiet for a moment. He looked at his aunt’s hand as she continued to build the track for him. “Where’s your thing?” He continued asking questions that had been on his mind all morning.

            “Where’s my what?” She smiled and tilted her head to the side with a quizzical look. "What're you talking about?"

            “Your thing.” Karl pointed at her left hand. “Mummy has a thing there.”

            Ella held up her hand and observed her bare ring finger. “Oh, a ring?” She nodded. “I don’t have one, poppet.”

            “Why?”

            “Because I’m not married. People wear rings when they’re married.” She explained helpfully. “Your mum was married to your dad so that's why she has a ring.”

            “Why aren’t you…married?” He tested out the difficult word.

            “Because I haven’t found the right person yet. Why aren’t you married yet?” She teased and grabbed him.

            “Auntie El!” He squealed in protest when she pulled him into her lap and tickled him. “Stop!”

            Ella smiled and kissed his cheek, letting him free. “Silly boy.”

            Karl plopped back down on the rug and smiled cheekily. “Fuck!”

            Her eyes widened when he blurted out the cuss word. “Karl Thorne, where on Earth did you learn such language?” Of course, she knew exactly where he had picked up the word. She knew for a fact that she had learned all the words she knew from her brothers. From an early age, she’d had a mouth like a sailor. It was easy to mimic her brothers and the words they spit out every two seconds. Frankly, it wasn’t too surprising growing up in Birmingham. But Karl was in London and in a nicer area at that. Ella was sure Ada would get some looks if her son was walking up and down the block spouting out obscenities.

            “Uncle Arthur!” Karl beamed proudly. “’N Uncle John, n’ Uncle Tommy, n’ Aunt Es, n’ Uncle Finny.” He listed off all his bad influences.

            “Jesus Christ.” Ella rolled her eyes. “Karl, sweetheart, don’t listen to a word they say. And certainly, don't repeat the things they say.” She instructed gently.

            He frowned. “Mummy says I’m s’posed to listen to them 'cause they're old.”

            “Mhm.” She sighed because she'd been told the same thing. Respect your fucking elders. Her foot was tingling, about to fall asleep underneath her, so she stood up to stretch her legs. “Want a snack?”

            “No.” Karl shook his head and flopped onto his stomach, making the toy train deviate wildly off the track.

            “Alright, stay there, I’m gonna make myself tea.” When she headed to the kitchen, the front door opened and Ada walked in.

            “Hello.” Her older sister smiled. “Sorry I kept you longer than I said.” She took off her coat.

            “That’s okay.” Ella shrugged it off. “I don't have anything to do today so I don't mind one bit.”

            Ada glanced in the parlor to check on Karl before following her into the kitchen. “Tommy came to the library.”

            Ella raised an eyebrow. “Our Tommy in a library?” She scoffed and fetched the kettle. “Whatever for?”

            Ada sat in the small breakfast nook to the side of the kitchen. “He was asking about someone. Russians. Something happened at his wedding and now I think he's getting more involved with it.”

            She stood in front of the stove, completely still for a moment. She sighed deeply and shook her head. “I don’t care.”

            “El…”

            “No, Ada, I don’t fucking care.” With a sharp turn, she glared at her older sister. “And you shouldn’t care either. You’ve got Karl to think ‘bout now. You can’t get involved in this…this shit storm that our dear brother keeps kicking up.”

            Ada rolled her eyes and let her boots knock idly against the chair leg. “We’re a family, El.”

            “Oh, for Christ sake don’t you start too.” Ella moaned and lit the stove. “’We’re a family, Ella, you’re just as involved as the rest of us, Ella, we’re all in danger, Ella’. I’m sick of it Ada, Tommy and I can play nice but I’ll be damned if I deal with any fucking Russians.” She snapped and let the kettle boil. Digging into her skirt pocket, she came up empty and remembered she’d smoked her last cigarette the day before. With a heavy sigh, she sat down across from her sister. “If you’re bored, Ada, have at it. Get involved with whatever Tommy wants. Not my place to tell you off.”

            Ada merely looked at her in amusement. “You? You’re telling me I’m bored? You’d tempt an angry bull just to get your kicks. You couldn't sit still for two seconds as a kid.”

            “Do you have a smoke?” Ella was not about to have this conversation without a cigarette.

            Her sister nodded and reached into her purse to find a pack. “You’re telling me that you’re completely satisfied with your little ol’ life in London?”

            Ella’s hand trembled as she tried to light a match. “I’ve made peace with the family, does it matter what I do now? I'm sorry that I'm not risking me life everywhere I turn. I can play nice with Tommy and everyone else, but what I do on my own time is my own business.”

            Ada’s eyes narrowed because she noticed the major tell. She let her sister take a few drags of the cigarette before she confronted her. “You are up to something.”

            “Nope.”

            “Yes you are, you’re a shit liar, Ella.” Ada retorted. “Tell me what you’re doing.”

            Her blue eyes glanced out the window across the room from them. The lace curtains allowed some light into the kitchen but kept the street from looking in. “I’m not doing anything.”

            “Don’t you trust your own sister?”

            “Not when I know she’s going to go to Tommy.” Ella shot back with a bit more venom than intended. But after John had scorned her and told Tommy she wasn't going to confide in any of her siblings, not when it was about Alfie. 

            Ada pursed her lips in disappointment. She assumed they were close enough that Ella could trust her enough. But apparently, the young woman was still going to treat her like the others. “I wouldn’t do that to you unless I knew you were in danger.”

            Ella stood, her cigarette hanging between her fingers. “You and I have very different definitions of danger.” Most, if not all of her family considered Alfie Solomons danger. So there was no way she could confide in any of them. They would all go to Tommy about it; it was simply the nature of a Shelby. All of them would be terrified for the baby of the family and alert Tommy. Then Tommy would make a trip to Camden. Then Alfie would find out. Ella shuddered at the thought of what sort of chaos that would incite. But she’d deluded herself to believe she could keep it a secret for as long as she wanted. Chaos could be avoided as long as she kept her mouth shut. 

 

            That night, Ella’s phone was ringing practically nonstop. She’d answered a few times. First, it was Ada, coaxing her to talk openly. Then Polly called and said Ada was concerned. Finally, Tommy tried to call but Ella was not in the mood to speak to any of them. Yet, they continued ringing.

            “For fuck’s sake!” Ella snapped when the phone rang again, rattling noisily. She stood up with a huff and grabbed her coat.

            It was Friday night, and the clubs were just starting to open as the sun was setting. Ella pushed through the crowds on her way to Camden Town and straight to Alfie’s. Sometimes, after a stroll in the park, Alfie would bring Cyril back home so the two of them could go to dinner. That’s how she knew where he lived.

            Ella was still frustrated with her family when she knocked on his door.          

            Alfie was home earlier than usual from the bakery. Cyril began to bark when he heard someone at the door. He rarely had unplanned visitors at his home. So he grabbed his gun and kept it close at his waistband just in case when he stood to answer the door.

            The gangster was thoroughly surprised to see Ella standing at his door. “El…”

            “Will you take me out?” She asked with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

            He furrowed his eyebrows. “What’s wrong, love? Something happen?” Of course, it was a pleasure to see her, but such a visit was unlike her. They kept carefully planned dates together, always working around their schedules. The young woman wasn’t someone to pop up out of the blue without a reason.

            “I’m just…” She sighed heavily. Alfie’s presence instantly calmed her down. She was so fond of him that her burdened heart brightened. “I need to be with you right now.”

            He nodded but was still concerned for her. “Right, well, m’not too good of a dancer.” A sheepish look crossed his face and he rubbed the back of his neck. “Bad hip, yeah?”

            “That’s…that’s fine.” She shook her head and felt dumb standing there. What was she thinking? Just showing up at his doorstep and demanding he take her out. “It was silly of me to just drop in on you unannounced…”

            “Let me get me coat.” He stopped her from turning away. With a fond smile, he let her inside to wait. “Then we’ll go.”

 

            On the way to the club, Ella walked arm in arm with Alfie. She was quiet but moved close to him. “I know the owner here.” He said nodded to a club with a long line waiting by the door.

            “Okay.” Ella followed as he bypassed the line completely and walked right through the doors without so much as a word. Clearly, he knew the owner and he knew what sort of repercussions would occur if Alfie Solomons was denied.  

            The man at the door nodded and greeted him without hesitation. “Evenin’, Mr. Solomons.”

            They left their coats with the attendant, Alfie leaving his derby hat on as usual. The club was buzzing with activity and there was barely enough room to move. But Alfie commanded the crowd without so much as a gesture or a word. People moved out of his way as if they were opposite ends of a magnet. He kept Ella near and guided her through. A jazz band was playing on a large stage at the front of the dance floor. They were playing a milder song, nothing too fast or upbeat. Still, Ella felt electricity surging through the room when Alfie pulled her close. He held her hand and rested the other on her waist. He smiled at her and she practically melted.

            They swayed together, simply listening to the music instead of talking. Alfie kept them by the edge of the dance floor, never straying too far. Every so often, his eyes would move from her face and glance over her shoulder. She didn't know what he was looking at, but he would always return to gaze into her blue eyes. They drifted closer as the smooth music filled the club. Ella moved her hand from his shoulder to the nape of his neck and drew him towards her. He tilted his head down and touched his cheek to hers.

            Ella closed her eyes for a moment and tried to focus on the music and Alfie’s touch. But it was so hard to keep everything at bay. “I want my family to like you.” She blurted just loud enough for him to hear her over the noise of the club.

            Alfie didn’t react in any way to make her feel worse. He simply kept dancing with her to keep her at ease. But, it was the first time she ever mentioned her family. She’d made hints to them once or twice, but he assumed they were either gone like most of his was or they were estranged from her. “I’m a hard man to like, love.” He attempted to keep the mood humorous.

            “Not to me.” She replied stubbornly and nuzzled closer to him. Her fingernails lightly grazing up and down the back of his neck, speckling goosebumps over his arms and causing a shiver to go up his spine.

            “Well, I could meet them.” He offered. “And if they don’t like me, well-” He frowned to himself. Of course, they wouldn’t like him. Any reasonable family would be horrified to find their daughter or sister was fraternizing with a man like him. Someone who was barely seen as a man, but something more of a monster. But maybe he was too selfish to walk away from someone like Ella. Someone who gave him so much affection. He couldn’t even imagine turning around and walking away, never to see her again. “It’s your life, El. You need to decide what you think is best.”

            She drew back slightly to meet his eyes again. The rest of the world falling away, completely meaningless to her. The warmth and adoration on his face were too much to ignore. “I care about you, Alfie. I just wish things were simpler than they are.” Her chest seized with heartache. If only she could be from a normal family without the reputation hers had. If only they could accept how she felt about Alfie. The thought of having two separate lives was difficult to handle. But if she needed to live the rest of her life like that to be with Alfie, she would do so in a heartbeat.

            “Life ain’t simple.” He agreed. “But…things are simpler with you.”

            Ella swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She drew him closer again to kiss him. The rest of the club was nothing but background noise. A dull hum out in the universe. Meaningless vibrations that didn’t affect the two of them. It was just Alfie, standing right in front of her. The center of her universe. Truly, a magnificent discovery. It was any wonder why her family or the rest of the world couldn’t see what she saw. Still, it didn’t matter if they were blind to it. She could see him clear as day and he was beautiful.

Chapter Text

            Ella went almost half a year with keeping everything in her life under control. Five blissful moments with Alfie and five months of being on better terms with her family. But Icarus flew far too close to the sun and so did she. She became too confident that her brothers would never find out. So confident that she hardly even thought about Tommy and how he was still suspicious about her.

            But he had bided his time. Ada had hinted that Ella was acting strange. After the mention of Alfie Solomons, he wasn’t about to give up that easily. His sister had purposefully slipped away from the men he had sent to watch her. So there was something she was hiding.

            With Ella’s own advice, he sent men who were more competent than the last two. And it did the trick.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            There was something unsettling in the air but Ella ignored it. She should’ve listened to her aunt who told her never to ignore a gut instinct. Instead, she met up with Alfie again.

            They’d become so familiar with each other. It was like being with an old friend and a brand new love. He listened to her like no one ever had. He’d often bring something up long after she told him. It gave Ella a skip in her step. Far too frequently she felt ignored by her family. She was just the baby Shelby, too young to understand anything. Too young to know what true emotions are. She wasn’t in the war. She hardly even knew their father. She didn’t know what it was like to be so neglected. She didn’t know anything.

            But Alfie respected her. He validated her and assured her that her fears were reasonable. Not once did he shrug her off and tell her she was just being a silly little girl.

            Still, Ella didn’t know how strong of an effect she had on Alfie. It seemed every second of the day she was on his mind. And every time her blue eyes flashed across his mind, he couldn’t help but smile. Truly, he thought he’d found the one. The woman he didn’t even think existed. A woman he would be chuffed to spend the rest of his life with. It was a terrifying thing to consider. Laying his emotions all out on the table like a deck of cards. Each one facing up, ready for her to read and react to. Very seldom did he find himself in a vulnerable position. But that changed with Ella. This wasn’t a business interaction. This wasn’t a battle. So he felt completely unprepared. And yet, he was more than willing to follow her into an uncertain future.

           

            They continued to go out together. Out for a walk, out to dinner, or dancing, which was just an excuse to hold each other close. It was endearing and tender, something neither of them were used to in the slightest. Each time was like digging into a sugary treat. Every time was like heaven and they parted ways still craving more.

            But they carried baggage along with them, secrets and lies they couldn’t completely wash away. And they couldn’t continue to ignore them any longer.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~

            Tommy was in London, finishing up some business halfway into the evening. He was walking back to his car when one of his men approached.

            “Mr. Shelby.” Franklin, a young man who had been in the war with Arthur, jogged over. He was one of three men who Tommy had enlisted to follow his sister. It had been weeks without any news.

            That night, everything changed.

            “Evening, Frank.” Tommy greeted and paused by the open car door.

            “It’s Ella.” The dark haired man caught his breath. He’d run all the way from the Camden area to find his boss before he left the city.

            “She alright, something happen?”

            Franklin shook his head. “She’s fine, but you said you wanted to hear about any information regarding her and Alfie Solomons.”

            Tommy’s blood ran cold. Part of him wanted to believe he was overreacting. A large part of that came from his wife. Grace scolded him for still not trusting Ella and insisting he allow her to live her own life in London. Another week and he probably would’ve thrown in the towel and chalked up his worries to just being an overprotective sibling. But now, his worst fears had been confirmed.

            “Where are they?”

 ~~~~~~~~

            Alfie always walked Ella home. He didn’t trust the city or its inhabitants. He always walked right up the first two steps. That way, Ella could be eye to eye with him when she stood on the top step. Perfect position to kiss him.

            “Lovely night.” Alfie looked up to the clear night sky. “More reasons than one.” He smiled at her.

            Ella grazed her fingers down his cheek and searched his face. She loved picking out the little features that only someone close to him would get to see. The complex cool colors of his eyes, the very faint spread of freckles congregating around his nose, and how his beard avoided the scar on his right cheek.

            He always leaned into her touch, allowing her to carry just a tiny bit of his weight even for just a moment. A man who was so used to carrying his own weight and sometimes those of others. Now he rested in the palm of this women’s hand. Allowing his vigilant eyes to close.

            She drew him out of his moment of silence to kiss him. Completing their typical Friday night together. A soft kiss that got deeper and more familiar every night they spent in each other’s company.

            Their collective guard was so low that they didn’t hear the expensive car pull up on the street behind them.

            Tommy caught sight of his sister kissing Alfie Solomons and he about blew a fuse. He got out of the car, ripping off his coat and slamming the door behind him.

            The loud noise finally startled the two out of their love filled stupor. Ella looked over Alfie’s shoulder and she felt dizzy with panic. In an instant, she had gone from kissing the man she adored to seeing her enraged brother crossing the street.

            Alfie saw the terror on her face and turned. His brow furrowed in confusion. “Tommy…”

            “You fucking having a laugh?” He didn’t let the man speak. No, this time he would be the one in control of the conversation. “After I give you the benefit of the doubt more than once you fuck me over again?”

            Ella froze. She wasn’t sure who her brother was talking to before she realized he very well could’ve been addressing them both.

            “Tommy, mate, what the fuck are you on about?”

            In response, the Blinder grabbed his gun and pointed it right at Alfie’s forehead without hesitation. “You fucking think I wouldn’t find out, aye?”

            “Tommy, stop!” Ella quickly tried to get in between the two men but Alfie held her back.

            The situation got even stranger. How in the world did Ella know Tommy Shelby? “You on the drink again, Tom?”

            Tommy nearly popped a blood vessel at the man’s callous remark. “Don’t act stupid. You fucking crossed the line, Alfie. You can do what you want to me business but this is…” He sputtered over his words, to angry to think straight. His sister had lied to him multiple times. His business associate who had screwed him over one too many times was going behind his back yet again. But this time he was messing with his family.

            “Mate…”

            “She’s my fucking sister!” Tommy shouted loud enough to wake up the whole block.

            Ella could feel Alfie’s entire body stiffen. She knew her world was on fire even if she couldn’t smell the smoke yet. “Alfie…” The wait for his response was agonizing.

            The man turned to her after a brief moment of shock. “Fucking what…?” His voice was quiet but unmistakably upset. His jaw clenched as if he’d taken a blow to the stomach.

            Ella’s shoulders heaved with anxious puffs air as everything around her unraveled. “Alfie, I didn’t know how to tell you. I’m sorry I-” She reached out to touch him but he jerked away like she was hot to the touch.

            Tommy gritted his teeth and put away his gun. However, he still wasn’t done with Alfie. He grabbed the man by the shirt collar and shoved him away from Ella’s front stoop. “Are you mad? She could’ve been killed ‘cause of you! You think you can just walk 'round with her and think no one will try to get at her?” He kept an iron grip on Alfie.

            “Tommy, stop!” Ella jumped down the stairs and tried to separate them.

            “You think I knew? Really? You think I’m stupid enough to do something like that?” Alfie wrestled Tommy away. His voice getting gruff and defensive. “Mate, she didn’t fucking tell me either. She’s been lying to the both of us.”

            Tears formed in Ella’s eyes. Her knees felt weak but she continued to try and tear her brother away. She’d already hurt Alfie enough, she didn’t need her brother harming him too.

            “You fucking stay away from her or I swear to God I’ll put a bullet in your head and leave you out on the street.” Tommy spat in a low voice. He finally relented and stepped away from the Jewish gangster.

            Alfie punched out a sarcastic laugh. “Don’t have to worry ‘bout that, Tom, you can take her back to Birmingham where she belongs. Take her back to you and your kin. Don't ever want to see her again.” His voice was full of poison but he couldn’t even look at Ella. It was purely defense, trying to shield himself from the massive hit to his heart. Before she even had time to stop him, he turned and walked off. Going home to tend to his wounds and build another protective layer around himself. Should’ve known the second he saw those blue eyes. He didn’t understand how he had the wool pulled over his eyes just by a pretty face. The man wanted so desperately to be angry. But he was too hurt to even feel it. Everything had become so numb.

 

            Ella stood in the middle of the street. Her body stiff with shock. Her blue eyes found her brother through the blur of her tears. She choked out a heartbroken sob. “You’ve done it then, haven’t you? Satisfied? You’ve completely ruined my entire life. You’ve broke my fucking heart!” She shouted, her voice shattered and hoarse.

            Tommy never used to bear watching his baby sister cry. He typically felt awful about it and kicked himself for weeks. But he didn’t take too kindly to being lied to. He stood straight being the soldier he was. “You’ve ruined your own life.” He replied steadily. “You lied. That’s what happens when you lie, everything falls apart.”

            Ella felt sick and wondered when she would wake up from the nightmare.

            “Get in the car.” Tommy opened the car door for her. “You’re coming home.” He grabbed her upper arm.

            “I am home.” She spat back at him and lashed out, shoving and slapping at him. “Fuck off!”

            “Ella, get in the fucking car!” He raised his voice again. He wasn’t going to leave her in London, not after she lied so much to such a dangerous man.

            Too weak to fight him anymore. She got in the backseat of the car. The entire way back to Birmingham she cried, but couldn’t find any more words to speak.

 

            They pulled up to six Watery Lane and she rushed inside. Polly was in the parlor and was shocked to see her niece running in. Tears staining her pale cheeks. Ella collapsed in her arms, clinging to her as she used to as a child.

            Polly had no idea what was going on, so all she could do was hold her as she cried.

Chapter Text

            “She won’t eat.” Ada came downstairs and placed the untouched plate of food on the table. It had been three days since Tommy caught Ella and Alfie together. The Shelby girl refused to leave her old bedroom. “She won’t even open the door.”

            Her brothers were all sat in the kitchen, Polly putting on the kettle. Tommy was on his third cigarette of the morning and he hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet. “Are you pleased with yourself?” Their aunt put her hands on her hips and glared at Tommy. 

            “Pol, not now.” He muttered and rubbed his eyes. He was still trying to get the image of Alfie kissing his sister out of his mind. Trying to forget the sound of her crying every night in the room next to his. It made him conflicted, pulling him in two different trains of thought. He wanted to apologize and yet he wanted to scold her for being so careless and lying. 

            “You could’ve taken her aside and asked her about it.” His aunt ignored his weary request. "You didn't have to have her followed. I'm sure it would've gone better if you just asked about her in private. 

            “So she could just lie to me again?” Tommy retorted sharply. "Pol, I gave her plenty of opportunities to admit it to me and she just looked me right in the eyes and lied." 

            “I’m just upset you didn’t fucking shoot him,” Arthur spoke up. "Fucking deserves it didn't he?"

            Tommy wanted to say yes, he did deserve it, but there was a matter of policy. “He didn’t know. Was just as surprised as I was when he found out. If he does it again I will shoot him.” He promised. 

            “What in the fucking world does she see in him?” John asked in disbelief. He’d nearly keeled over when he heard what happened from Arthur. Never in a million years did he expect it, even after what happened at Tommy's wedding. "I mean honestly? He's just a fucking psychopath, ain't he? She's not crazy enough to fall for someone like that." 

            Ada leaned against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest. “Maybe you should all be a bit kinder to her. She was hysterical when she came home.” She scolded her brothers. “Maybe she knows him better than you lot do.”

            “Oh, pardon me, Ada, shall I tell you ‘bout the time he shot Billy Kitchen and had me nicked?” Arthur retorted. “’Cause the entire fucking time I was thinking, ‘what a nice bloke he is, yeah, wish he’d kiss me fucking baby sister!’.”

            “Don’t speak to me that way!” Ada snapped.

            Suddenly, Tommy held a hand out. “Sh, shut up!” He smacked his brother upside the head when he wouldn't shut up. “Shut your fucking mouths and listen.” The kitchen went quiet and finally, everyone heard what he did. Footsteps on the roof. John and Arthur withdrew their guns, thinking it was an enemy or some intruder, but Tommy knew better. “She’s making a run for it.” He jumped up and rushed out of the apartment. “Ella!” He came out onto the street and caught his sister traversing across the top of Watery Lane. He cursed himself for teaching her how to escape via the roof. “Get down here now.”

            His sister ignored him, instead carefully picking her way over the shingles towards the back of the building. There, she had enough wires, balconies, and window ledges to safely make it down.

            Tommy cursed and went back inside, pushing past his family and running through the apartment out to the back alleyway. He caught sight of her disappearing through the narrow alley, hidden by clothes and sheets on laundry lines. “El!” He shouted and chased her.

            It was a pretty even match. Both of them knew Watery lane like the back of their hand, Tommy was fit but Ella was petite and could slip easily between the gaps of the cramped buildings.

            Still, Tommy was always a bit sharper and he took a shorter way to cut her off.

            Ella screeched to a halt and faced off with him, breathing heavily from running. “Tommy, I’m going back to London.” She warned in a low voice. “You can’t keep me here against me will.”

            “You think I’m trying to punish you?” Tommy made sure he was close enough to grab her if she decided to take off again. “I’m doing this for your own fucking good, El.”

            “Really?” She scoffed. “Is that what you call it?”

            “You’re playing with fire, you don’t even know.” He cleared his throat to catch his breath. “Do you know what he would’ve done if he found out and I wasn’t there?” He demanded.

            Ella’s chest tightened when he even hinted at the idea. “He would never hurt me.”

            “You being so naïve tells me that you’re not ready to live alone in London. Now he could have people looking for you. You’re staying here. I'm making sure he doesn't get revenge for what you did to him.”

            “He would never hurt me!” She repeated herself louder. “You don’t know him like I do, he cares about me.”

            “Didn’t look like it to me!” Tommy raised his voice to meet her volume. 

            “The only reason he left was because of my family. The one thing in my life I can’t choose. But I’m going to make it up to him. I never want to see you again. Not after that shit you pulled.” 

            “If you go back there, he’ll kill you.” Tommy was so sure of it. Someone who deceived Alfie Solomons didn’t have a good chance of survival. He'd only narrowly avoided such a fate so many times. 

            “He’s not some monster.” Her hands curled into fists. “He was kind and sweet and for the first time in my fucking life I had someone listen to me.” Tears formed again in her ice blue eyes. “He listened to me and he cared about me more than you lot ever did. A-And I lied to him, but I know he still cares for me.”

            Tommy could see in his sister’s eyes that she truly believed the words she spoke. The pain on her face was undeniable. She truly had fallen for that man. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head.

            “I’m not staying here.” Ella asserted again. “I have a life in London. And if Alfie never wants to see me again, then so be it. But I’m not rotting away in Birmingham. I’d rather be heartbroken in London.”

            He couldn’t imagine the weeks of hell he’d have to go through if he attempted to keep her there. Endless amounts of escape attempts crossed his mind. It sounded like a nightmare. His sister was an adult. Ada and Polly wouldn’t let him get away with locking her in her room for the rest of her life no matter how much he might want to. “Stay at Arrow House for a week.” He tried to bargain.

            “No.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

            “Just until I know that you’re safe.”

            “No.”

            “Ella…” He groaned and raised his head to the small sliver of gray sky poking out between the gaps in the buildings. “Just one week and I’ll pay your rent in London for the rest of your life.”

            She pursed her lips. “And I can have the dapple whenever I visit Warwickshire.”

            “Fine.”

 

            Tommy was getting used to the stares he got when he walked through Camden Town. But this time, it was as if he’d grown three heads. Everyone stopped to watch him walk towards the bakery. He did his best to ignore it and went straight for Ollie who was by the heavy double doors.

            The curly-haired man looked up. A nervous look crossed his face. “Alfie’s not seeing anyone right now.”

            To say the Jewish gangster was in a foul mood was an understatement. The night after his heart was broken, Alfie raged through the bakery. He shouted at anyone who even remotely stepped in his path, threatened anyone slacking off, and knocked out at least five men. No one knew what had set the man off, but it had something to do with the Blinders because he kept mumbling about ‘fucking Shelbys’ under his breath.

            “I don’t care,” Tommy replied. He was angry with the man as well. Angry that he’d been so foolish with his sister, traipsing about London with her on his arm. Putting a target on her back for the Italians, the Titanic, anyone who decided Alfie Solomons needed to be knocked down a few pegs.

            Ollie chewed on the inside of his cheek and nodded slowly. “Let me ask, wait out here.”

 

            Alfie had barked out a laugh when his assistant said Tommy was waiting outside. A storm formed in his eyes when he allowed him to pass through. Ollie searched the Blinder and let him into the office.

            “Morning, Mr. Solomons.” Tommy took a seat across from the man’s desk.

            “Cut the shit, Tommy, whatdya want?” Alfie demanded. “M’very fucking busy.”

           He calmly took out a cigarette and lit it. “My sister lied to the both of us. I understand you’re upset. But I want to know that her life isn’t in danger.”

            “She’s a fucking Shelby innit she? Her life is always in danger.” Alfie didn’t want to even speak her name. He felt so scorned and yet, he couldn’t get the image of her out of his head. To think only her last name kept him away from her.

            “I was talking about you.”

            He scoffed. “Mate, you don’t hafta worry ‘bout me, right, ‘cause I never want to see her again. She ain’t worth the trouble, already wasted enough of me time on her.” He tried convincing himself that everything they shared was nothing more than a farce. It was meaningless. But he was tormented with the memories of her smiling at him, speaking tenderly to him, making him laugh, and touching him without flinching. How could she appear so genuine when she was keeping such a big lie?

            “Then we’re settled.” Tommy stood and took another drag of his cigarette. “As long as you stay away from her, we won’t have an issue.”

            Alfie stared off into space, his fingers grazing over his beard. “Just fuck off, Tom, I’ve had fucking enough of your gypsy family.” He snarled.

            Tommy lingered just to remind the man that he would return if so much as a finger was laid on Ella. “Don’t make me come back.”

            That was enough to make him snap. He rose with such a fury, his hands slamming down on the desk. “You fucking threatening me?” He shouted. “You’re lucky I don’t shoot you right now, mate!”

            “You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you the other day,” Tommy replied coolly. “You’re lucky me brothers weren’t with me because they wouldn't have even let you get a word in.”

            Alfie’s eyes narrowed and he pulled out his gun from his waistband. With a click, he pointed it at the Blinder’s forehead.

            Tommy merely flicked his cigarette to the ground and calmly walked back over to the desk. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead to the barrel of the gun. “Do it.” He prompted casually. “Then she’ll finally see what a fucking monster you are. She’ll never go back to you.”

            Fire raged in Alfie. He wanted so desperately to pull the trigger. His shoulders heaved and he glared right at the man. But then Ella’s touch returned to him. The way she clung to him, buried in the crook of his neck. What she said to him when they swayed together in the crowded club.

            I want my family to like you.

            Alfie’s hand shook as he slowly lowered the gun. No matter how angry he was with her, he could never do that to her. “Get out of me fucking office.” He growled.

            Tommy waited for a breath before turning and leaving without another word.

 

            Ella returned to London after a week of staying at Warwickshire. She didn’t enjoy the little break from the city air. She was still thinking about how she’d hurt Alfie. How there was little to nothing she could do to make it up to him. She attempted calling him late at night when no one was awake in the large estate. But he never answered.

            When she returned to her apartment, she felt lost. The established life she had made for herself in the city was suddenly lacking the appeal it once had. She realized she didn’t have a place anywhere anymore. Not in Birmingham, not in Warwickshire, not in London. Alfie had made her feel so at home and so assured in herself as a person. But she had lied. Now she felt fake and undeserving of anything. Certainly, she didn’t deserve Alfie’s affection. He had trusted her and she had taken that trust and tossed it aside.

            It kept her up at night, her conscious admonishing her for being so cruel to a man that had treated her so well. But her heart still longed for him. She couldn’t stop thinking about him even if there was little to no chance that they would ever be together again.

Chapter Text

            Alcohol was a vital medication for Shelbys. The cure for anything. Everything from general pain, headache, insomnia, to heartaches. Ella told herself she would never turn out to be the drunkard her father was. The angry man who she only had memories of how he always stunk of gin and whiskey. She never drank like her brothers did. Usually only accepting a glass or two when they were celebrating. The rest of them seemed to turn to liquor at every viable opportunity.

Now, she knew why. It alleviated so many of her pain. So every night after work, she kept a bottle of wine close. Every weekend she went out to the club with friends. Every morning, she woke up with a massive hangover that she was slowly growing used to. Every morning, she wanted to cry when she saw herself in the mirror. The face of a woman who had shattered the only man she loved.

To cope, she simply found comfort at the bottom of a bottle.

Ada became worried and called every night and every morning to check in with her, making sure she arrived safely home and hadn’t drunk herself to death. She voiced her concerns to her brothers but they couldn’t get close enough to talk with Ella. Polly tried showing up multiple times but her niece was always out.

~~~~~~~~~~~

It all came to a head one Saturday night, but no Shelby was there to save her from herself and the world around her.

“El, think you’ve had enough.” Even Amelia, who was used to partying, was growing uneasy from her friend’s reckless behavior.

Ella ignored her and took the glass of gin from the bartender. “Nonsense,” she giggled and shrugged her friend off. “It’s still so early, we've got the entire night ahead of us!”

Amelia’s forehead wrinkled. “El…”

She threw back the drink, hardly affected by the bitter taste anymore. “I’m going to go dance, don’t wait up.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alfie did not like going to clubs anymore. He’d gone back to despising the loud, crowded spaces. It reminded him of the times he would take Ella dancing. How they would have intimate conversations on the dance floor, the way she clung to him while they swayed. Now he was accompanied by his men, cursing under his breath at the rowdy clientele. 

He grumpily shoved his way through the crowds to get to the bar. He had debts that were owed by the owner. Now he was in a terrible mood that he had to be there himself instead of sending one of his men. The last time he’d done that, the owner threatened them. So Alfie had to go himself.

Ella was oblivious to the Jewish gangster’s entrance. She was dancing with a man who was a complete stranger to her, but simply the first open arms she had spotted. She was having the time of her life, buzzed on the gin she’d consumed, and so happy to be distracted by her heartache. But she wasn’t too keen on the man letting his hands wander. She was just clear-headed enough to push him away.

“Fuck off.” She slurred and tried to pull away from the man. She felt light-headed from the loud music, stuffy room, and the smell of liquor. Her efforts to free herself were a little sloppy and weak compared to how she would be sober. 

“C’mon, love.” He kept an iron grip on her and grabbed at her. His fingers dug into her skin.

“Ow, stop!” She shouted and stomped down on his foot with her heel to get him off her. “I said fuck off!”

He cursed, staggering back a little. His face darkened and he raised a hand to backhand her across the face.

Unfortunately, his wrist was caught by Alfie Solomons. The gangster looked livid with the seedy man trying to assault the woman. Ella froze and for a moment thought she had drunkenly conjured up an image of Alfie. She hadn't even seen where he'd come from. He just suddenly appeared like an angel. 

“Mate, I suggest you fucking step away from the lady.”

The man went a little pale at the sight of the notorious baker. “Mr. Solomons…I weren’t…she started it.” He stammered out the lame excuse.

Not looking amused, Alfie laughed sarcastically. “Oh fucking hell, you should be thanking me for stepping in when I did, mate. That girl right there was ‘bout to fucking gut you like a pig. Yeah, keeps a blade on her. Then, ‘course, I couldn’t help you after that, not Kosher, is it?”

“I-” The man backed away with wide eyes. “I’m sorry…” He spluttered before disappearing into the crowd of dancers.

Alfie and Ella stood face to face on the dance floor. She was swaying slightly from the alcohol.

“You need to be careful, love.” He spoke to her like a young child. 

“Oh fuck off.” She spat back at him. “Don’ pretend like you’re some knight in fuckin’ shinin’ armor.” Her accent became thicker and she was only another drink from being completely incomprehensible or reverting back to Shelta.

He wasn't in the mood to listen to her go off on him. His wounds were still raw and he just wanted to get her to safety and leave. It was nearly impossible to try and pinpoint how he felt seeing her again. So, like most difficult emotions, he did his best to stuff them down. His obligation was to get her home safe, that was it. “You’ve been drinking too much.” He grabbed her by the upper arm but she fought him off.

“So what? Can do whatever I want.” She retorted and nearly fell backward when she tried to rip away from him. “M’just a fuckin’ Shelby to you anyway. You never cared ‘bout me.”

Alfie rolled his eyes. Angry words bubbled up in his throat but he shoved them down. “C’mere, I’m taking you home.” He’d deal with the club owner and the bartender who had over served Ella, later.

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere with you!” She ripped her arm away from him. “You stand there, thinkin’ you can boss me ‘round?”

“Not arguing with you here.” He asserted firmly and continued ushering her to the door, ignoring her attempts to shove him off. Eventually, he got her out of the club and onto the street. She scratched his hand a few times but he felt like she was going very easy on him.

Still, she got one more shove in, but it backfired. Ella leaned forward too far and toppled over. She caught herself before she faceplanted into the curb but scraped up her hands. A drunken mess, she sat on the ground for a moment, holding her scratched up palms in front of her.

Alfie sighed and held out a hand to help her up. 

Tears sprung from Ella’s blue eyes as she slapped his hand away. “G’off.” She snapped and tried to get up by herself. “Don’t need you…don’t need my bloody family…don’t need any man.” She staggered to her feet and pointed at Alfie. “You. You just turned away from me like I weren’t worth anythin’ to you.”

His brow wrinkled at the accusation. “’Scuse me, but did you or did you not lie to me?” He retorted.

“What’d you want me to tell you, aye?” She held out her arms wide. “I’m a fuckin’ Shelby? I’m a gypsy girl? What difference does it make? Thought you liked me for me!”

Her words were like thin blades of ice, stabbing through Alfie’s chest and piercing right through the armor he’d formed over his heart. He stared at her and merely listened, taking on the verbal abuse without so much as flinching. But deep down he felt like he was being brought to his knees.

Ella wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Her makeup smudged and she looked to be in some state. Her dress was dirty from her tumble and a trickle of blood began to travel down the lines in her palms and drip from the tips of her fingers. She emulated the wild girl she once was. The Shelby girl who always was quick to roughhouse with her brothers to prove herself. Now she was proving her worth to Alfie. She was proving how hurt she was.

“Amelia told me all ‘bout you ‘fore we even spoke.” She continued on. Her voice thick with tears and words slurring from the gin. “But still I talked to you because I saw somethin’ different. I saw the man behind that fuckin’ reputation. Because I know people think me brothers are monsters. But I know that they aren’t. You’re the same fuckin’ way. You want people to fear you but deep down, you’re just as fuckin’ scared as the rest of us.” She approached him, invading his space, and getting right up to his face. Her blue eyes narrowed as she glared at him dead on. “You’re afraid of dying just like everyone. ‘N you’re afraid of people forgettin’ the name, Alfie Fuckin’ Solomons.”

Alfie wondered if he’d forgotten how to breathe or Ella had somehow stolen the air right out of his lungs. For a split second, he wasn’t sure whether to be angry or to apologize. Apologize for being lied to? He scoffed at his own thoughts and shook his head. “Your brothers are monsters, love.” He sealed himself off from any feelings. Numbed himself up like an anesthetic and shoved away all the desperate thoughts he had for her. “And you’re their kin, ain’t ya? You lie just like them.”

Ella’s jaw clenched and she gritted her teeth. The alcohol in her system wasn’t doing her any favors and shut off any rational thoughts. She slapped him hard.

He should’ve been expecting it. After all, she’d been denied hitting the man in the club and Alfie was winding her up. But it was still another sharp blow to his ego and his heart. He couldn’t even react. She spat at his feet and cursed at him in Shelta before storming away.

So he watched. Watched the only woman he ever loved walking away from him. Just like he had walked away from her. Her slap still stinging his cheek as she disappeared into the night.

Disgruntled, angry at the world, and possibly under some gypsy curse, Alfie decided it was a good time to go home.

~~~~~~~~~

Ada had the only spare key to Ella’s apartment. After the run-in with Alfie and Tommy, the Shelby woman had to use it much more often than usual. She received a frantic call the next morning from Amelia saying she had no clue where Ella went.

So, Ada walked over at the break of dawn and used the key to let herself in. She found a few dishes shattered across the kitchen floor and it caused her stomach to drop in fear. Had her sister been robbed?

She ran upstairs shouting for Ella. Down the hall, the door creaked open. Her younger sister stood in the doorway in a complete mess.

The rough night lingered on Ella like a cheap perfume. Her hair was still tangled in some pins, her hands were stained with dried blood that she hadn’t cared to tend to, and her entire face was blotchy from crying. Dark circles lingered under her bloodshot eyes and she still stunk of gin.

“El…” Ada sighed partly in relief. At least she knew her sister was somewhat okay, albeit a little worse for the wear. “What happened to you? Amelia called me in such a fright.”

“Sh, don’t talk so loud.” Ella closed her eyes and ushered her sister into the darker bedroom. She collapsed on her bed and moaned. “Ada, I feel like me whole life is falling apart.”

Ada frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “What happened last night?”

“Alfie was at the club.” There was no use in lying anymore. She was too tired and didn’t care what her family knew anymore. It didn’t matter as far as she was concerned.

The mention of the Jewish gangster’s name was enough for Ada to need a seat. “Good God…”

“I got so angry.” Her younger sister continued, lying on her back and staring at the ceiling. “I just-I want to hate him but I can’t. I cared so much ‘bout him and I thought he felt the same way.” Fresh tears began to flow and she hiccupped helplessly. “Ada, it hurts so much.” She wailed.

Ada’s shoulders fell and she stood up to comfort her sister. “Sh, c’mon.” She sat on the bed and let Ella rest her head in her lap. “I know you’re hurting. I wish I could make it better for you.”

“I want him back.” It was a harsh realization to arrive at.

Her older sister gently stroked back Ella’s dark hair. She had said the exact same words when she lost Freddie. The world was falling apart around her as she gripped onto Polly for support. The fierce denial had driven her into a manic state. ‘I want him back! I want him back! Bring him back!’ She had screamed and cried for hours.

Heartbreak was the most painful emotion. Ada knew her sister was naïve when it came to love, but there was so much hurt in her eyes. What she was feeling wasn’t a little crush. Whatever she had with Alfie was something she hadn’t experienced before.

“I never asked to be born into this fucking family.” Ella closed her eyes. Her entire body was aching and exhausted from the night before.

“I know, none of us did.” Ada bit her lip. “Let’s get your hands cleaned up.” She suggested and prompted her to sit up. “I’ll put the kettle on too.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Ada called this morning.” Polly walked into her nephew’s office with some documents to sign.

“About Ella?” Tommy knew about Ella’s downward spiral. But she wouldn’t speak to him about anything but day-to-day things.

How’s Charlie, Tom?

How’s the missus, Tom?

Get that new filly in, Tom?

Her words were detached over the phone, so much so that the pleasant conversation made him worry more. He would much rather her scream and rant at him about what he’d done. That way he’d know that it was still his sister on the other end of the telephone line.

Tommy wasn’t about to apologize for stepping in. He could forgive Ella for lying to him, but that didn’t mean he wanted her to go waltzing on back to Alfie.

“She’s hurting,” Polly replied when she set down the papers in front of him. “But I think you know that.”

Tommy studied the contracts but the words didn’t register. “Not sure there’s anything I can do ‘bout that, Pol.” He reached for a cigarette, tossing the papers to the side to sign later. “She’s facing the consequences of her actions.”

His aunt raised an eyebrow and looked disappointed. “Do you think you would’ve reacted better if she came to you and told you the truth? Because I’m fairly certain you’d’ve done the same damn thing.”

His icy eyes flicked up to her. “Are you going to tell me I should allow her to see that man?” His voice was steady but challenging.

“That’s not what I said.” Polly was very good at squaring off with her nephews. They often liked to go toe to toe with her, stupidly forgetting how strong-willed she was. Out of all of them, Tommy probably pressed her the most. “But you can’t blame her for trying to find someone. I’m sure she feels lonely.”

Tommy cringed at the idea of Alfie keeping his sister company. “I’ve spoken with him and he doesn’t want to see her again. That’s the end of that.” He insisted firmly. “I’m done speaking about it.”

But Polly wasn’t done. “I’m well aware you think you know everything but I was put on this planet to remind you that you don’t. What has Alfie Solomons done that you haven’t?”

“Polly,” Tommy spoke in a warning tone and eyed her with a cold look. “I said I’m done speaking about it.”

She sighed in exasperation. “One of these days, you’re going to push that girl so far that she’ll never want to come back to this family. And I hope you’re happy when you’ve finally done it. This family needs to stay together, otherwise, we have nothing.” She jabbed a finger at him. “Don’t forget that you’re nothing without your family.”

Tommy allowed her to walk out with the last word. He knew she was right; he would never be where he was now without his family by his side. But that didn’t excuse Ella’s behavior. He just hoped she would get over Alfie soon and he would forget about it ever happening. 

Chapter Text

            The call came late at night. Ella thought she was still dreaming when she heard the words.

            “Grace is dead.”

            Her sister sounded just as stunned.

            Funeral arrangements would be made in due time. She’d be notified when the time came.

            Italians. A war was starting.

            Ella looked out the open window of her bedroom. She hung up the phone on her sister and in a daze, went to close it. They weren’t safe anymore. Hell, if they had ever known what it meant to feel safe. Ella wondered if she, or any of her siblings, had truly been at peace before.

 

            Sunday morning, Ella arrived in Warwickshire. Tommy didn’t even acknowledge her. But she knew it wasn’t because of how tense things were between them. It was shock. It was as if he wasn’t registering the world around him. His piercing eyes looked right through people as if they were ghosts.

            He held Charlie through the entirety of the funeral. The boy cried but Tommy merely blankly stared ahead, tormented by silent demons.

            Ella had lost before, they all had. But Tommy had suffered significantly. She remembered clearly when her brother lost Greta. He was still the Traveler boy with light in his eyes. He never left her bedside those last few days. When it happened, Ella wasn’t sure if her brother would ever be the same again. He clung to Polly, crying like Ella had never seen him cry before. Then he returned from the war. He stood behind as Arthur and John hugged her, Ada, and Polly. She saw his eyes on that train platform. The light had been snuffed out. From that point on, he would never again be the person she once knew. God never stopped taking from him. Carving out more and more of him, leaving behind all the emotions that drove the gangster.

 

            Ella followed him out of the church. The same church where he’d married Grace. It felt like yesterday that had happened. Now Tommy was storming off. He handed Charlie to Ada as he passed her. The toddler wailed and grabbed at the air for his father but he didn’t look back.

            “Tommy!” Ella called.

            “Leave him.” Her aunt said quietly and touched her shoulder. “He’s not right in the head, he needs some time.”

            She didn’t listen and kept following him all the way to the stables. “I know you can hear me.” She continued talking to his back. “Stop and talk to me.”

            Her brother didn’t stop. Neither did she.

            At the stables, a groom was waiting with Tommy’s favorite horse already tacked up. He’d apparently planned his escape after the funeral. Tommy snatched the reins and mounted the horse in a fluid motion.

            “Tom!” Ella watched him spur the horse off towards the pastures. She huffed and turned to the groom. “Get that gray ready for me.” She demanded.

            The young man nodded, a little too familiar with Shelby moodiness.

 

            Tommy had a head start on Ella, but she figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find him in the open fields. He wouldn’t travel too far from Arrow House, not without Charlie.

            Eventually, she followed a billow of smoke that had begun to climb up to the gray clouds. She found her brother sat beside the fire, his knees pulled to his chest like a child pouting. “Go away.” He muttered. Although he wasn’t surprised she hadn’t let up and continued to follow him. She was never one to take 'no' as an answer.

            Ella dismounted and allowed the horse to graze. “You obviously don’t know me very well if you think I’m going to leave you here to sulk alone.”

            “Thought you hated me.” He poked at the fire with a stick, causing it to crackle and spew out sparks.

            “I could never hate you, pral, I’m just…” She sighed and sat next to her brother. “I think we’ve gotten too caught up in life. We’ve let our emotions rule us.”

            Tommy didn’t move an inch. “Maybe.”

            Ella stretched out her legs and reached down to take off her shoes and stockings. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a flask filled to the cap with gin. Perfect remedy for sadness. After taking a long sip, she handed it to her brother almost as a peace offering.

            Tommy never passed up the opportunity to drink, especially in the state he was in. The siblings passed the flask back and forth a few times. Neither one spoke for quite some time. The simply kept the foggy afternoon at bay with the warm fire.

            Ella couldn’t help but miss the memories she had with Tommy, just the two of them. The time he’d taught her how to fish, how to set a rabbit trap, how to gallop on a horse, and how to clean a gun without shooting yourself between the eyes. Although the information was valuable, she recalled how patient he was with her, even as a loud, wild girl who became disgruntled after failing the first time. She treasured the quiet moments they had together. The silence they held as they sat in the forest, listening for any sounds of animals. The peace between them while walking their horses through empty fields.

            She sighed and lay back in the long, damp grass. The gin enveloping her in a false sense of calm.

            “Do you remember when mum died?” Tommy held the flask, his fingers tapping dully against the metal surface.

            She turned her head, her cheek kissed by the dewy grass. “No, not really. I think I remember Polly telling me but I dunno. Can’t even remember what she looked like.”

            Tommy pursed his lips for a second before screwing the cap back on the flash and placing it to the side. He slipped off his cap and sighed. “Arthur told me. Sat me down to tell me she wasn’t gonna wake up. You, Ada, and Finn were so little. Even John was too young to understand. Dad wasn’t going to take care of us so Arthur and I made a pact. We said, no matter what, we’d take care of everyone. We’d make sure this world wouldn’t hurt you the way it hurt us.” He shook his head and lifted his eyes to watch the smoke curl up into the air. His blue eyes were full of tears but he didn’t let one spill. “What a shit job we’ve done, aye?”

            Ella couldn’t help but laugh despite the sadness in her brother’s eyes. How silly it was that her brothers thought they could take on the entire world. Hold all their siblings up like Atlas holding the Earth. No wonder they were so protective and stressed all the time. “You think it’s easy taking care of four gypsy kids? I think you and Arthur’ve done the best you can. None of us are dead, s’pose that’s something. We ain’t homeless either.”

            “Life isn’t about just staying alive. It’s about finding happiness.” He shut his eyes, letting the dull sunlight graze over his face. “I was happy with Grace. Thought I could make it last.” His jaw clenched. “You were right, El, I’m the curse.”

            She chewed the inside of her cheek and propped herself up on her elbows. “That’s not true.” She scolded herself for saying something so daft even in the heat of the moment. “You’re the one who’s kept us together all these years.”

            “El, I interrupted what made you happy.” Her brother opened his eyes and looked down at her. “Polly and Ada told me but I was too upset to see it. Alfie made you happy. Maybe I’ll never understand why or how but he does. Weren’t right for me to intrude.”

            Ella’s heart seized up and she wanted to cry. “S’alright, Tom.” She sat up and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Doesn’t matter anyway. I think I’ve burned that fucking bridge beyond repair.”

            “That’s what I thought when Grace left for America. But things have their ways of working out.”

            “I wouldn’t count on it.”

 

            “Oi, am I gonna hafta start taking fingers or are you lot going to get the lead outta your shoes and get to work?” Alfie shouted as he stormed through the bakery. The man’s threats were starting to become routine, almost like clockwork. But they weren’t empty threats, much to the dismay of his workers. Plenty of men had faced his wrath even for the littlest things.

            Ollie was almost sure the activity would die down but he was starting to think there was no end. Despite being his assistant for so many years, that didn’t give him any sort of job security. Alfie was so hurt it drove him to be irrational. A man who handled heartbreak with anger was never one to be tempted.

            So, the younger man treaded cautiously and chose his words with care.

 

            “Sir, Tommy Shelby sent a telegram,” Ollie informed his boss. Any mention of the name Shelby was almost guaranteed to cause a violent reaction. One poor lad had mistakenly mentioned something about the Shelby’s horse at the derby. Alfie hit him so hard with his cane; it was as if he were trying to send him back to 1920.

            Alfie grunted with displeasure and waved his assistant into his office. “Yeah? He did, did he? Trying to threaten me more?”

            “No, sir, something about business with Russians and a robbery.” Ollie frowned as he double-checked the block letters on the slip of paper. Such a scenario sounded so convoluted but leave it to the Peaky Blinders to get involved with international heists. “He said he wants to speak to you over the phone or in person to discuss details.”

            “Really?” He scoffed. “That man puts a gun to me fucking head and suddenly wants me to help him?”

            Ollie shrugged. “I’m not sure, sir.” He set the telegram down in front of his boss to read himself. He couldn't answer any questions about the behavior of the Peaky Blinders. 

            Alfie put on his glasses and scanned over the words. He snorted and shook his head. “Those fucking animals. Fine, he wants to meet, so be it. Question is, should he trust me?” He looked up at his assistant as if looking for an answer.

            “Sir?”

            “Obviously not, Ollie, fucking hell, lad.” He snapped. “Those fucking gypsies made a mistake by lying to me. They want to trust me now, that’s their own fault. Don’t be daft.”

            “What are you going to do then?” Ollie wasn’t sure double-crossing the Blinders was prudent. Alfie had done so before and it never worked out. But the man was hurt enough to be chomping at the bit for revenge.

            “Can’t let them get the entire cut from the robbery, then can we?” Alfie tossed the telegram to the side and leaned back in his desk chair. “I’ve got some people who would be interested to know their plan. We can make easy money off of this.” He removed his glasses. At that moment, he wasn’t thinking about Ella. He was hell-bent on making her brothers, specifically Tommy, pay for threatening him.

 

            “Look at the size of that fucker.” Ella whistled low as they approached the stag. The poor beast had fallen over, its big eyes glazing over with its last breath.

            Arthur chuckled. “Ain’t half the size of the last one we hunted, eh, John boy?”

            “That thing was fucking huge. Practically the size of a draft horse.” John agreed with a cigar dangling out of his mouth.

            Ella rolled her eyes at her brother’s boasting. “Then you won’t have any problem hauling this thing back to camp, then.” She replied. “Won’t need my help at all.”

            Tommy chuckled. It had been such a long time since anyone had heard him laugh. But he was in considerably better spirits after consulting with Bethany Boswell and getting rid of the sapphire necklace he’d given Grace. He was starting to heal. Unfortunately, that meant he was back to his plan involving the Russians.

 

            After getting back to camp, it had started to drizzle. Ella wrapped herself up in a blanket as she watched with morbid curiosity while her brothers cut the stag. She chatted idly with Curly, Isaiah, and her Uncle Charlie by the horses. It was a good day, despite the gloomy weather. Ella enjoyed being out with her brothers in the forest doing something they all liked. Being far from London helped her forget about Alfie.

            “El.” Tommy waved her over to the fire. “C’mon, having a chat.”

            She excused herself and went to sit by Arthur. Her older brother smiled and wrapped an arm around her, squeezing her affectionately.

            Tommy cleared his throat and pulled a letter out of the inside of his thick, black coat. “This letter, says dad’s dead.” He announced.

            Ella frowned and reached for the letter. “How?” She opened the creased paper and Arthur read over her shoulder.

            “He was in Boston, at some bar called the Mickey Free. Two men waiting in an alley, shot twice.” Tommy explained matter-of-factly. 

            “Who’s Rosie Rice? Some fucking whore?” Arthur muttered in a clipped tone. News of his father never failed to put him in a sour mood.

            “She’s the woman that took the time to write to us.”

            Ella wasn’t sure whether to be upset or not. She hardly knew her father at all. Just one brief memory of Arthur holding her as their father screamed. His voice like thunder, rattling the entire house. She had no clue what he was saying, but it was followed up with a loud smack and the sound of Tommy yelping in pain. It was a foggy memory but always made Ella sick to her stomach.

            “She wanted us to know that while he was dying, he asked for our forgiveness. The only thing he taught us was how to kill and cut a stag.” Tommy continued to summarize the note. “Finn, John, Ella, you won’t remember.”

            “I remember,” John looked hurt but kept up a strong act. “Cannock Chase. He got drunk and sang Silver Dagger ‘bout a hundred times.”

            “One weekend,” Arthur grumbled and took the letter out of Ella’s hands, folding it back up and passing it to Tommy. He didn't want to read any more of it. “One weekend he was like that.”

            “The stag is to remember him.” He nodded. “We eat and we forget, no need to forgive.”

            Ella looked down at her hands and trembled from the chill in the air. What a fitting farewell. Another person in the family gone for good. She looked around the fire and for a second, wondered who was next.

           

            When Tommy began talking about the robbery, Ella lagged behind. She passed from horse to horse, idly patting them and sneaking them bits of an apple she’d packed. But it was nearly impossible to tune out the conversation completely. Call it Shelby curiosity but she wanted to hear.

            “The rest we take to America to invest in legally acquired property,” Tommy spoke about the direction of the Shelby Company. It was hopeful to hear he wanted to keep his promise to Grace and Linda. But Ella wasn’t sure whether it would ever be possible. Grudges weren’t easy to erase and the Peaky Blinders had made more than enough enemies.

            The men returned to the fire to eat after confirming plans. Tommy kept Ella behind for a moment. “Need you to do something.” He said quietly and handed her a sealed envelope.

            Ella didn’t take it right away. “What is that?” She asked suspiciously. Although she listened in on the plans, she wasn't keen to get involved in any of it. Her brothers could play their dangerous games, but she wouldn't. She liked to think she was smarter than that, or at least more conscious of the repercussions if things were to go wrong. 

            “A letter for Alfie Solomons.”

            Her nose wrinkled. “Fuck off.” She pushed him away, refusing to even go near the note as if it were an open flame. “That’s what you brought me out here for?”

            “Pena, listen.” He insisted in a low voice and rested a firm hand on her shoulder to keep her from running off. “Listen to me, I wouldn't be asking if I could go to someone else. You’ll be safe, I promise.”

            “That’s not what I’m worried about, Thomas.” She snarled. “I think I can take care of myself. But I’m not going to speak to him after everything I’ve done. Doubt he would even agree to see me.”  

            “I need you to do this.” He repeated and pushed the letter towards her again. “We need his help for this job and you’re the only person he wouldn’t harm.” 

            She scoffed. Whether or not that was the real reason didn't matter to her. “And what the hell do you base that on? You were the one saying he'd try to kill me if I stayed in London” She reminded him with a glare.

            Tommy sighed and nodded. “I just know he wouldn't. You’ll get a cut of the money. I promise.”

            Ella snatched the envelope from him and stuffed it into her skirt pocket. It was a snap decision and she got a sinking feeling in her stomach the second that letter touched her fingers. She had no clear reason for agreeing. Maybe she wanted to prove she was over Alfie even if she wasn't. Maybe she wanted to prove to Alfie that he hadn't crushed her to bits when he abandoned her. Maybe she wanted to ask for forgiveness. No matter the reason, it was too late to turn back after she took the letter. “You’re foolish to think you’ll ever quit, Tommy.” She told him. “You like doing this too much to turn it into a legitimate company.”

            “I promised Grace.” The gangster didn’t disagree with her. Maybe because he knew she was right but had to keep his vow to his late wife. He reached into his coat again. “Bring this with you.” He held out a brand new pistol covered by a handkerchief to hide it from view.

            “No thanks, I’ve got my own that I prefer.” If Alfie Solomons wanted to think of her as just another Shelby, then that’s what she would be. Maybe she was stupid to think she could ever turn away from the family business. Some things you could never truly escape.

Chapter Text

 

            Pistol holstered at her thigh, letter in hand and heart covered with armor, Ella walked through Camden Town. She kept her chin high. London knew she was a Shelby now. There was no escaping that. Even her friends knew now and were treating her differently. Alone and behind closed doors, she could be hurt about it. But in public, she had to embrace her old identity. The London life she once had would never be returned to her.

           

            Ella arrived at the bakery and pushed through the heavy double doors. Immediately, Ollie stopped her. “S’cuse me…”

            “I’ve got a letter from Tommy Shelby.” She interrupted the man before he could even attempt to stop her. “To be hand delivered to Alfie Solomons.”

            Ollie was thrown off by her clipped manner. Before Alfie found out the truth, he’d mentioned Ella a few times. Said she was the nicest woman he’d met, with kind blue eyes and a smile that lit up the room. Instead, Ollie was met with icy eyes and a look that eerily mimicked Tommy’s silent neutrality. It was any wonder how Alfie didn’t recognize her as a Shelby. But love was blind.

            “Right…I need to pat you down though.”

            She cocked an eyebrow. “You’d frisk a lady then?” There was no way she was giving up her pistol. She usually didn’t like using her gender as an excuse to be treated differently, but sometimes it came in handy.

            Ollie’s mouth opened but was gratefully interrupted by his boss. Alfie’s heavy boots shuffling towards the door.

            “S’alright Ollie...” Tommy had called Alfie saying he was sending someone to deliver a message. But the Blinder didn’t mention who it was.

            Now Alfie was stopped in his tracks, unhappy to see it was the Shelbys' sister. The two stared at each other for a moment. Neither sure what to do for a long moment.

            Finally, Alfie broke the tension. “Well, come in then.” He said curtly and waved her down the hall into his office. “Don’t waste me time.”

            Ella gritted her teeth, ready to face whatever hell Alfie was about to put her through. She fully expected it seeing as she’d scorned him. She passed by him and walked into the office.

            He shut the door and went to sit down at his desk. “Have a seat,” He held a hand out to the chairs across from him.

            “I’m not here for a chat, I’m just here to give you this.” She remained standing and held out the envelope to him.

            “Right, suit yourself, just trying to be polite.” He muttered and leaned forward to take the letter from her hand. “That all then?”

            Ella froze and pursed her lips. It felt as if her entire body was in excruciating pain but she refused to let it show. Her chest tightened, squeezing the air out of her lungs and constricting her heart. Her stomach knotted up and seized with every second that passed by. Her legs were weak, her mouth dry, her throat cramped, her head nothing but a flustered mess of overwhelming thoughts and emotions. It felt like she was trying to keep in a large ball of emotions, holding it in so it wouldn’t explode and lay waste to the world around her. But it was simply too much to handle.

            “How was it so easy?” She blurted out.

            Alfie raised an eyebrow, turning the envelope over and over in between his fingers. “What you on about?”

            “How could you just…just walk away and pretend like you didn’t feel anything?” She demanded. Now that she had begun to speak she couldn’t stop. Aunt Pol said it was something in the Shelby genes. You couldn’t stop a Shelby once they started on something.

            Alfie should’ve expected for an argument the second he saw who came into the bakery. It was only a matter of time. “You think I wanted this to happen?” He snapped. Gearing up for battle, ready to cover up his heart and come out with guns blazing. Men with emotions didn’t fare well in battle. He learned in the war that it was far easier to stuff down all emotions. Nothing to distract you while you were storming No-Man’s land. And this was a battle, anything with a Shelby was. “You think it were fucking easy to find out that Tommy was your brother?”

            Ella kept her stance. Arms crossed over her chest and chin held high. She learned a few things from her brothers about war. Polly framed a picture of the three Shelby boys, clad in their British military uniform. Such a strange contrast to the wild boys Ella knew her brothers as. She’d asked her aunt why they didn’t look scared. Surely, war must’ve terrified them. Polly merely replied, ‘They can’t be scared if they want to stay alive’.

            Never let your opponent see your true emotions. She really tried, but she didn’t want to see Alfie as her enemy. “I don’t understand. My family doesn’t change who I am. And I’m the woman you said you cared about. Then you just act like I’ve dropped off the face of the planet.” She argued, doing everything she could to stay firm. “My family shouldn’t change the way you feel about me.”

            “What changed my view of you was how you lied to me.” Alfie stood up, allowing the letter to drop to his desk. He pointed at her with narrow eyes. “You chose not to tell me and chose to let me find out by your brother pointing a fucking gun to me head!”

            “I didn’t tell you because I loved you too much!” She shouted.

            The word hit the gangster like a brick to the face. He stood as stiff as a board, staring at her, finally at a loss for words. They had now entered dangerous territory. A true war of emotions and no one could escape unscathed.

            Tears filled Ella’s eyes but she refused to look away from him. “Yeah, surprised? Did you think that Shelbys couldn’t fall in love? We’re too fucking evil to ever care for someone other than ourselves? Well, you’re wrong. Because I didn’t know what love was until I met you.” She told herself so many times that she didn’t want to cry in front of Alfie. Never wanted to give him the idea that he had finally gotten to her. But it was too difficult to hold the tears back. “Yes, I lied to you. I didn’t tell you about my family. I’m sorry. Alfie, I’m sorry that I chose not to tell you. But I just wanted to be with you, I didn’t want to involve my family or-or have this blow up into the mess it has. I just wanted to be with you.” A tear slipped down her cheek and she dropped her head. Defeated by her own silly feelings. She was just another daft girl who’d been stupid about love. “And you just turned away from me like I never mattered one bit.”

            Alfie walked around his desk and stepped in front of her. He sighed heavily and rested a hand on her cheek; his thumb caught the tears and swept them away. He tilted her chin up to look at him. “Lost so much fucking sleep over those blue eyes.” He admitted. The anger in his voice faded away. The grudge he’d been holding fell to the floor between them. Seeing her in such a state was too much to handle. He hadn’t wanted to understand her reason for lying. He wanted to plug his ears and continue telling her she was a liar. But she seemed so genuine, so hurt by everything, and remorseful. She wasn’t his enemy. “Just wish you’d told me.”

            “Then you never would’ve even looked at me again.” She replied. “I didn’t want you to see me as just a Shelby.”

            “That’s…that’s not how I see you, love.” He kept his hand on her cheek, afraid that if he let go she would disappear. “But this won’t work out. Your brother would fucking cut me into pieces and chuck me in the cut, wouldn’t he? He and I don’t play nice.”

            “He doesn’t have to know.” Ella was just desperate to hang on to the shred of chance she had left with him.

            Alfie sighed. “That’s what got you into trouble last time, love.” He reminded her. “He’d figure out anyways, gypsy senses.”

            She laughed quietly but it faded quickly. “Maybe he wouldn’t care anymore.” She curled her fingers around his shirt and pressed her forehead into his chest. “After Grace died he apologized for what he did. Said he just wants me to be happy.”

            It was too tempting to withdraw from her. Alfie hadn’t realized how starving he was for the attention she’d given him. He slipped one hand around to rest on her back and one settled in her curls. His fingers weaving in between her dark hair. “Then the next day he’ll decide I’m a son of a bitch, right, for even going near you.”

            “I don’t care.” Ella closed her eyes and picked up on his heartbeat. “Please, Alfie.”

            She was testing his resolve. But he was already walking a fine line with the Blinders. Tommy was planning something big and wanted Alfie to have a part in it. It was most certainly a test. Could they trust him after everything that happened with Ella?

            “Your brother’s enlisting my help.”

            She nodded. “Russians.” Her head lifted to look at him.

            “So I’ve heard.” He sighed and suddenly felt exhausted. “He gonna use me as Jewish bait or something?”

            “It’s jewelry,” Ella said. “They’re guaranteeing him a reward. He needs you to appraise it all.”

            Alfie raised an eyebrow. “That’s all? Seems a little too clean cut for you lot.”

            “Well…” She tilted her head to the side and glanced at the letter on his desk. She didn’t know what was in it but she assumed it laid out the plan so Alfie knew. “They’re going to rob it once he knows what’s inside and what the security’s like.”

            “Fucking hell.” Alfie chuckled. “I thought they were just going to flat out rob the joint but they’re getting all cozy with them?”

            Ella just shrugged. “I think he wants to trust you.” She said quietly and idly wrapped a finger around the gold necklace he was wearing, retrieving the Star of David charm from under his shirt.

            Alfie watched her smooth her thumb over the gold surface. “Do you think he should?” He pressed his tongue into his cheek and thought about how many men would be willing to pay a decent fee for rare Russian jewelry. Men who wouldn’t care if it’d been stolen.

            She nodded. “I trust you. And I hope that you’ll be able to trust me in time.”

            Guilt sank deep in Alfie’s gut. “El…” He caught another tear that slipped down her cheek. He didn’t know what to say anymore. Rarely was he caught empty-handed in a conversation.

            “I know it doesn’t seem like it could work ‘tween us, I know.” She chewed on her lip and looked up at him with those eyes that made his knees weak. “But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. I-I just don’t feel complete anymore. You changed me.”

            Alfie couldn’t even begin to explain the change she’d caused in him. “Love, you need to realize, right, that I ain’t the man you want to be with for the rest of your life. I’m the bad guy.” He forced a smile and tried to play it off like he didn’t care that he was the bad guy. But it didn’t work. He wanted to be better for her. It just didn’t seem feasible.

            “Alfie Solomons, you’re speaking to a Shelby.” She reminded him. “I come from a long line of bad guys.” A small smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “Far longer than yours, I’m sure. We’re not god-fearing.”

            He snorted and tilted his head back a bit. “Fucking hell, you’re going to send me to an early grave.” The devious look on her face made his stomach flip-flop. He was fucked.

            “Think about it, please.” Ella guided her eyes back to her. “I’ll ask Tommy, I’m sure he’ll be more understanding this time around.”

            It was an enticing enough offer for him to nod in agreement. “But you’ll warn me if he’s out for blood? Like to be notified if he wants to rip me head off.”

            “I’ll make sure you’re the first to know.” She left a small kiss on his cheek. The piece of her that felt empty was starting to fill back up again.

 

            Upon Tommy’s request, Ella returned to her flat in London after delivering the note to Alfie. She had a little skip in her step as she walked down her street. The first thing she did was call Tommy but received no reply. Figuring he was busy, she planned to call back later.

            But when night started to fall, Ella’s phone rang and she was met with a panicked Ada on the other end.

            “You need to come over here now.” Her older sister demanded before Ella could even get a word in.

            “What? What’s wrong?”

            “Just come over!” She shouted and hung up the phone.

            Startled, Ella quickly gathered her coat and ran down the street to Ada’s. The front door was left slightly ajar so she pushed her way in. She was met with a sight that sent her into the same panic Ada projected over the phone.

            Tommy was slumped down on the stairs, covered in sweat, and slurring his words.

            “Stay with him, I need to get an ambulance,” Ada shouted when she saw her sister come in.

            “What’s going on? Tommy, what happened?” Ella ran over to the stairs. She knelt down and took off her brother’s cap.

            “Just need a hospital.” He mumbled. “Me fucking head hurts.”

            “What happened?” She urged again. “Who did this to you?” Tommy closed his eyes and didn’t answer. “Tommy!” She grabbed his hand. “Stay awake!”

            Begrudgingly, he opened them again. “Can’t see.”

            “What?”

            “Can’t see anything.” His breathing went shallow. “Can’t see you, El.”

            “I’m right here, Tom.” Ella began to cry. It was the worst state she’d seen him in. And she’d been there after Black Star day when he was shot. “Tommy, please don’t go anywhere. I need you.”

            “Sh…” He hushed her. “Everything will be alright, pena.” He murmured to her in Shelta. Blindly, he reached a hand out to her. He found her shoulder and weakly pulled her close.

            Sobbing, Ella pressed herself into his chest, clinging to him as if he would simply fade away. Then he said something that chilled her to the bone.

            “I can see you dad. I know you’re there.”

           

Chapter Text

            It took a while before Tommy was coherent again after waking from surgery. He’d slipped in and out of consciousness for a bit before being able to fully grasp reality around him. For a few hours, he hadn’t even noticed Ella was sitting by his bedside and Ada had been flitting in and out of the room. Tommy’s eyes flicked over to her because he couldn’t seem to move his head or neck. In fact, his entire body felt too weak. He opened his mouth but couldn’t get any words out. It was as if his brain was malfunctioning. A useless wheel that kept hitting a wall.

            Ella saw some movement and leaned forward. “It’s alright, the doctor said you wouldn’t be able to talk for a bit. Just try to relax.”

            He blinked a few times and started to really see the room around him, or at least the brace around his head. The drugs in his system kept him from panicking or losing his cool. But he was still unnerved by it all. With some concentration, he was able to wiggle his hand.

            His sister held it gently. “Go back to sleep, I’ll be here.” She promised.

            It was two days before Tommy could really speak again. He also could sit up in bed but often he was too exhausted to remain that way. It was certainly a far cry from the resilient man Ella knew as her brother. Seeing him in such a state frightened her.

            So she needed to know who put him there.

 

            Tommy’s eyes were half open when she walked back into his hospital room. He smiled faintly. It was nice to see a familiar face. “Did you get some rest?” His speech was delayed and he couldn’t raise it above a whisper.

            Ella nodded and went to sit down beside the cot again. “Tommy,” She looked at him seriously. “I need to know who did this.”

            “You don’t need to know.” He muttered, unable to shake his head no.

            “Yes I do.” She insisted. “Whoever it was, they need to pay.” Her brother closed his eyes for a moment and she was afraid he’d drifted off to sleep. “Tom.”

            “I heard you, Ella.” He replied in a hoarse voice. “But I’m not speaking ‘bout it.”

            “You’ve told Arthur and John then?”

            “I’ve already said I’m not speaking…”

            “Thomas Shelby, whoever did this to you needs to die.”

            He opened his eyes when he heard the pure rage coming from his sister’s voice. Her hands curled tightly around her purse, her knuckles going white. Her jaw was clenched as if she were trying to crack her own teeth. “El…”

            “What if I were in the state you were in, aye?” She retorted before he could write her off again. “You’d be hunting that fucker down before I even got outta surgery!”

            Of course, he would. Any man who harmed his sister or anyone in his family for that matter would be dead before the sun rose the next day. “That’s not your job.”

            “It’s not a job, it’s called being your sister.”

            Tommy’s head began to pound and he knew he needed another dose of morphine in the next hour or so. “It’s already in motion.” He assured her. “He won’t be living for much longer.”

            That seemed to put Ella at ease even just a little bit. She leaned back in the chair and pursed her lips. “Fine.”

            “Did you do what I asked?”

            She nodded. “Yeah.” Alfie had called her the morning after Tommy’s injury just to check in with her. The gangster wasn’t sure where they left their relationship although it seemed to be on a positive note. He was unnerved to hear how Tommy was beaten half to death. He offered to come to check on her but she said she needed to sort out her head for a day or two.

            “And?” Tommy coaxed more of an answer out of her.

            “And he took the letter.” She replied curtly.

            “Ah.” He chuckled weakly. “So you’ve found your way back together.” It was a bitter taste in his mouth. His sister with Alfie Fucking Solomons. The man who had taken it upon himself to threaten him with deadly intentions several times, and managed to double cross him more than once. He was a useful ally when he decided to be an ally and not an enemy. His connections and knowledge of certain things were valuable but his demeanor and reactions to things were certainly not desirable. It wasn’t the kind of person Tommy wanted around his baby sister.

            Ella lifted her chin and looked away from him. “If you must know, he said it might not be a good idea. Said you two don’t get along so it wouldn’t be good for anyone.”

            Tommy looked suspicious. “Really?”

            “Yes, Thomas, really.” She snapped. “You’ve all got your heads so far shoved up your own arses that you can’t manage to get along for two seconds!”

            “I didn’t say…”

            “I love him, d’you know that?” She posed the question harshly.

            “Oi, hang on.” He cut her off firmly. Despite being in a hospital bed with barely any energy to hold his own head up, he could still manage to hold control of a room. Or at least he tried.

            “No, don’t tell me I don’t know a thing ‘bout love. How would you even know? Were you there for any of it? No. I was happy with him and I still would be. But he in’t sure because he doesn’t want the Peaky Blinders breathing down his fucking neck every second!”

            Tommy bit his tongue. Love. What on Earth could his sister know about love? And love for Alfie? He sighed deeply. “Maybe I don’t know.”

            “You don’t.”

            “Right fine, I don’t fucking know. But I know that things that are happening once I’m back on me feet. Things that you don’t need to be involved in. Things that Alfie will be involved in.”

            “You trust him to help you with these things but don’t trust him around me. Even when I’ve told you he’s only ever cared about me.”

            “Listen.” He looked at her. “You can do whatever you like. But the Shelbys need to stay close now more than ever. We’ve got enemies, yeah, people who hate us and the Jews. What’d you think if they saw the Shelby girl with him, aye? A Shelby girl who’s won the heart of Alfie Solomons. What a perfect target. Kill two birds with one stone.”

            Ella’s stomach tightened up. The way Tommy spoke it felt like there was a group of people already watching them, plotting their deaths. They’d certainly gotten close with Tommy already. “I can hold me own, Tom.” She replied quietly. “D’you know that if our roles were reversed if I were in that hospital bed, the men who’d done it to me would have targets placed on their backs. Not by just you or John or Arthur. But by Alfie as well. I know what you think of him. But maybe its time you realized that he could be very helpful to you. More than you might’ve already thought.” She snatched up her purse and left the hospital room without elaborating any further.

            Tommy groaned. The conversation had his mind all in bits and it was painful. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an indisputable connection to Camden Town? The thought was strange and didn’t seem rooted in reality. Of course, there would always be a chance Alfie would double cross him. It was like a sport to the gangster. But maybe…just maybe if Ella were that connection, Alfie wouldn’t even give it a thought.

            It physically hurt and Tommy had to call the nurse for morphine.

 

            Ella returned to London and headed to the bakery the next morning. She was itching to talk to Alfie. Just to know that everything she said to Tommy was right. Just to reassure herself. Ollie didn’t argue with her this time around when she strode into the bakery. His boss had made it clear that she could be allowed inside if he was in his office.

            Alfie stood when she walked in. “You doing alright, you sounded fucking terrified over the phone.”

            She swallowed and nodded. Without a word, she rounded the desk and walked right into his arms.

            He didn’t question her. The way she sounded over the phone made it obvious that she needed some comforting. “What’s going on, love, talk to me.” He coaxed gently.

            “They’re wrong, Alfie. They’re wrong aren’t they?” She whispered desperately.

            “Wrong ‘bout what?”

            “About you. About everything.” She closed her eyes and inhaled his familiar scent. The woodsy smell soaked heavily with rum had become an easy way to escape her current situation.

            “Well…” He knew there were plenty of stories about him out blowing in the wind. Whether all of them were true or not was on a case-by-case basis. So he didn’t know exactly what she was referring to.

            “You can manage to settle things. You and Tommy. Things could be alright, couldn’t they?” Ella was tired of it all. She didn’t know how her family did it. Constantly aware of the enemies Tommy and the rest of them had made by direct or indirect contact. She didn’t want Alfie to be unsure of being with her because of the past he had with Tommy.

            “Ain’t that simple.” He stroked her hair. “Wish it could be.”

            “You’re helping my brother.”

            “Right…”

            “Can’t this be it, you two can just get along and that’ll be the end of everything. Both of you could benefit from each other’s business. It’ll be alright, just please…” She gripped onto his shirt. “Alfie, I’m scared.” She admitted.

            “What’re you scared of?” He asked in a soothing voice. It really was an enigma, a Shelby admitting fear.

            “I’m scared of what Tommy’s doing. I’m scared that he’s involving you. I’m scared that I’ve got a big fucking target painted on me back because of it. You should’ve seen him at Ada’s. He was so…I thought he was dying, Alfie.” Her voice broke. “Thought I was going to lose him.”

            Alfie sighed and mentally cursed Tommy for involving his sister in such a mess. “He’ll be alright, love.” As far as he was concerned, it was nearly impossible to kill the damn Blinder. He always managed to get back up. “He and I, we wouldn’t let anything fucking happen to you.”

            She raised her head to look him in the eyes. “I love you, Alfie.” Her hand touched the back of his neck, making a shiver go down his spine. “And I love my family. I don’t see why this can be a good thing. Small Heath and Camden Town. It could work.”

            He chuckled bitterly. “Oh, El, I dunno…water n’ oil don’t mix, do they?”

            “Say you love me.” She whispered, her eyes yearning for more.

            “You know that I love you.” He replied without hesitation. Of course, he loved her. The only woman he couldn’t get out of his head for even a second. He actually felt physically ill when he argued with her. Someone who caused such a severe change in him. “But this world ain’t built for lovers.”

            Her shoulders slumped. “So that’s it then? What am I meant to do?”

            Alfie took a deep breath and shook his head. “Maybe I can talk to Tommy.” He ceded. If only to give her some sort of false hope. “But you’ve got other family members, love, they don’t really like me either.”

            She studied his eyes. “Just want things to be okay.”

            “I know.” He nodded with a sympathetic frown. “But you’re the only one who sees me the way you do. And at the end of the day, don’t want your heart broke because I can’t be what you need.”

            Ella shook her head firmly. She didn’t want to hear it. If only she could block her ears and just focus on the man she loved. Close her eyes and ignore the violence around her. Forget the chaos. If only.

Chapter Text

            “I don’t want to go back,” Ella whispered to Alfie.

            Six simple words that led Alfie to shelter her in his big coat and escort her out to the car. After requesting to be brought back to his flat, they were quiet during the drive. But he kept a comforting hand over hers. They arrived and Alfie helped Ella step out of the car. He wished his driver a good night and led her inside.

            Cyril was ecstatic to see the young woman again. It had been so long since he’d seen her. His tail was practically a blur from wagging so fast. He trotted up to her and pushed his face against her hand, itching for a pat.

            Ella smiled and fussed over him for a few minutes, cooing softly to him and ruffling his ears.

            Alfie took his coat from her shoulders, hanging it up and retiring to the kitchen. “Want me to put the kettle on?” He offered.

            “Sure.” She responded and made her way into the parlor, Cyril following at her heels. She’d only ever been in the front room of Alfie’s flat. It was very interesting to finally see inside his personal space. You could tell a lot about a person by their home. Even little bits that they themselves didn’t notice. Habits they hardly even realized anymore.

            Alfie was far neater than she was. Maybe it was because he was always working and hardly ever home to make a mess. The room was fairly sparse. Cyril jumped up onto a well-loved couch that the large dog decided to claim as his own. His long legs sprawling out as he fit into the perfect mold he’d created in the cushions.

            Ella continued wandering around the room, passing by the tall bookshelf. She’d never been much of a reader. She learned her alphabet and arithmetic in the betting shop. Her brothers would often tease Ada for being a bookworm and she didn’t want to be made fun of either. So she pretended she was too tough for school and anything that came with it, including reading. But she secretly adored when Ada would read to her at night.

            Her fingers grazed across the bookshelf as she ambled over to a large but handsome looking radio. One that was surely top of the line. She smiled because she never imagined Alfie listening to music in his free time. They’d go to the club together but he never mentioned ever enjoying what the bands played. Toying with the dials for a moment, she wondered what sort of music he listened to. Classical would surely bore him, wouldn’t it? A man who got his kicks from large amounts of money and guns. But she couldn’t picture him listening to popular jazz music either. He wasn’t one to follow trends of the modern age. He was so deeply set in his ways.

            “Here we are.” He entered the room and set down two teacups. “Cyril…” He rolled his eyes at the dog that had taken up the entirety of the couch. But he had too big of a soft spot for the mutt that he didn’t shoo him off.

            Ella knelt down and started tuning through the radio waves to find a clear music station.

            “Hardly use that thing.” He admitted, lingering behind her. “Waste of fucking money.”

            When she found a good song, she stood up and turned to face him. “I don’t think so.” She smiled and stepped toward him.

            “Yeah, why’s that?” Like a magnet, she drew him closer. It became instinct, upon hearing music, to automatically take one hand and rest another on her waist.

            She melted into his embrace, wrapping an arm around his neck and resting her cheek on his chest. “Because what else would we dance to?”

            His chuckle sent vibrations through her. “S’pose that’s a good enough reason.”

            They fell quiet, simply listening to the music and swaying together, somewhat out of sync from the song. It was their own rhythm that they found together. It was enough to push out the rest of the world. For at least one song, they could pretend like everything was okay. There was no harm or foul being so close. She wasn’t a Shelby, she was simply Ella and he was simply Alfie.

            After at least five songs, and long after Cyril had fallen asleep on the couch, Alfie’s lips grazed over Ella’s ear. “Should take you home, love.” He murmured. “Getting late.”

            “I am home.” She replied stubbornly.

            He really wished she were home there in his arms. Forever nearby. “I’m sorry.”

            “Just one more song.” She pled. Both of them were aware there wasn’t much they could do about the reality that awaited them outside. Still, Alfie didn’t have the heart to tell her no. So they danced one more song.

 

            When Tommy was released from the hospital, he returned to Arrow House and requested Ella follow. She insisted she had a job to keep but he assured her the law firm wouldn’t dream of firing her.

            “Are you saying you lot are threatening them?” She retorted sternly and helped Tommy tug on his coat.

            “Don’t need to.” He shakily stood and took Ella’s hand for support. "Don't need to threaten anyone, El." 

 

            Since Tommy would be on his own at Arrow House, Ella decided it might be a good idea to accompany him even for a week. She wanted to help tend to Charlie and make sure that her brother was healing. Their siblings were all too busy with their jobs regarding the upcoming robbery so it was left to Ella and the staff of Arrow House to take care of him in the last stages of his recovery.

            Being in Warwickshire allowed Ella to clear her head. Being away from London’s smoke and soot and breathing in some clean air did wonders for the brain. She thought about the shit her brothers were getting into and how it affected her and the rest of the family. Whether it was fair or not really wasn’t an issue anymore. They’d done what they’d done and now they’d all have to deal with the consequences.

            Ella knew that it was nearly impossible to escape the reality of her family. Unless she skipped across the Pond and established herself a new life somewhere in Boston or New York. Maybe even as far as California. But she would miss everyone far too much, Alfie included.

            So perhaps it was wiser to simply find her niche in the Shelby world. Tommy could have his fun but she could establish herself as a Shelby too. A Shelby who decided her own fate. And if she damn well wanted that fate to include Alfie Solomons, then she would. Tommy and the rest of them would just have to deal with it. She had plenty of ammunition to retaliate with if they ever tried giving her shit.

            She just needed to convince Alfie that they could find their way in such a chaotic world.

 

            Weeks passed and Tommy recovered steadily. Ella had fun bonding with her young nephew and spending time with the dappled gray that she had nicknamed Bean for the little bean-shaped mark on his chest.

            Tommy rolled his eyes whenever she called the gelding that but never protested. He was just glad his sister was sticking around. Things were about to get more complicated but he needed to get the ball rolling. He wanted that damn priest dead and wanted his share of what Tatiana promised him.

            One of his more difficult bits was approaching and he wanted Ella to be there instead of hearing about it later. Bad blood would have to be put aside and that wasn’t a strong suit in his family, especially for Arthur. Maybe the Christianity thing would help.

 

            “El, I’m going to sit outside for a bit!” Tommy called upstairs.

            “Oh,” His sister came to the top of the stairs. “I have the paper, do you want it?” She asked.

            He grimaced. He’d already tried reading the paper that morning but was unsuccessful. Something from the injury messed with his eyesight and he couldn’t make out any of the printed words. “No, thank you. Just going to enjoy the sun.”

            “I saw Johnny outside, has he brought a new horse?” She wondered hopefully.

            “’Fraid not. Here on different business.” He explained. “Charlie’s up, right?” He asked.

            “I think he’s with Mary. He’s been pestering her all morning for sweets.” Ella walked down the stairs with the newspaper in hand.

            Her brother chuckled. “Cheeky rascal.” He shook his head and started to make his way towards the patio door. “He’s starting to act like you. Wonder why.”

            Ella grinned and followed him. “I have no idea what you’re on about.” She paused in the hallway. She noticed Johnny Dogs out in the lawn, basking in the dull English sun. “Business ‘bout the robbery?” She wondered.

            “Putting things into motion.” He nodded.

            She chewed on the inside of her cheek and rolled the newspaper up to occupy her hands. “Are you going to need me to do anything?”

            “Not unless you want a job. Rather keep you out of this one.”

            She lingered by a portrait of one of Tommy’s racehorses. “I’ve been thinking, Tom. Maybe…if there’s something I can do.”

            He held up a hand to stop her. “No need. Things are already planned.” He assured her vaguely. But he didn’t elaborate any further. Instead, he opened the glass French doors to step outside.

            “What do you mean?”

            “All in due time.”

 

            Worried that Tommy acquired more brain damage than previously believed, Ella lingered on the first floor of the manor. Charlie was still with Mary so she didn’t have to look after him. She was too confused by Tommy’s hint to really focus her energy on anything.

 

            A knock at the front door officially sparked Tommy’s plan. Mary opened the door but passed by Ella as she was going to alert Tommy.

            “Who’s here?” The younger Shelby wondered.

            The maid looked perplexed. “Your brothers are downstairs, but there’s another man who’s arrived asking for Tommy.” She answered.

            “Huh.” Ella walked by Mary, letting her outside. She made her way into the front room and was stunned to see who was standing there. “Alfie…”

            The man turned away from the many portraits on the wall adjoining the stairs. He looked just as surprised to see her. “El…”

            “I uh-” She paused and tried to dig up some words. But it had been nearly a month since she last saw him. All the while she was thinking about him nonstop. “Tommy didn’t tell me you’d be here.”

            “I thought you were in London.” He admitted. “Tried calling you.”

            Her lips parted and she suddenly felt stupid for failing to tell him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I’d be here this long. You…you tried calling me?”

            A sheepish smile crossed his face and he tilted his head to the side. “Well, s’pose we left things a bit open-ended.”

            “I didn’t think you wanted to complicate things.” She ushered him into the big room to talk. “But I’ve been thinking.”

            Alfie wandered over to the window next to Tommy’s leather desk chair while she sat. “What’ve you been thinking ‘bout?” He wondered.

            “If I must be a Shelby, then that’s what I’ll be.” Ella crossed her ankles and held her chin high. “But that doesn’t mean my brothers control me.”

            His blue eyes studied her face, overshadowed by the brim of his hat. “That’s brave of you, innit?”

            “Think I’m brave to still want you too?”

            He chuckled and ran a hand over his beard. “Extremely brave.”

            “Then I’m brave.” She spoke softly. “But I don’t care. S’long as I’ve got you.”

            The gangster took a big breath, his broad shoulders lifting a weighted burden along with the inhale. He opened his mouth to speak but Tommy decided at that moment to walk in.

            “Ah, good, you’re both here.” He nodded complacently and went for the liquor table.

            Ella raised an eyebrow. It was a strangely calm reaction from her brother after seeing her with Alfie. “You’re not supposed to be drinking.” She reminded him. "Not with the medication you're taking." 

            “El, do you mind giving Mr. Solomons and me a moment alone?” He ignored the concern about the whiskey in his hand. He also failed to mention he wasn't taking the medication prescribed by the doctor. 

            She glanced at Alfie who looked similarly confused. But the Jewish man nodded subtly. “Okay…” She stood and left the room, heading downstairs to greet John, Arthur, and her cousin.

 

            Tommy poured himself a drink and held out the bottle to Alfie. “Drink?”

            “Nah, don’t touch it, mate.” Alfie tried to shake off the feeling of seeing Ella. He couldn’t be in that mindset while conducting business, especially with someone as shrewd and cutthroat as Tommy. “Why’m I here, Tommy?” He asked bluntly.

            “Do you know something, Alfie, This morning I tried to read the paper and I realized that the only consequence of my terrible accident is that I now need glasses.”

            Alfie furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “Right…” He walked around the desk and sat down next to the Shelby man. “Well, I know a man who can make you a pair of these.” He held up the glasses that always hung around his neck. “He’s a magician, mate. Not only will you be able to read your newspaper but you will also be able to see the future. Now I know this, ‘cause he made me this pair here. And I’ve seen what you’ve been up to.” He leaned back and dropped his glasses. “You’ve been fucking with Russians, aye? Silly boy.” He spat sternly.

            Tommy just looked mildly amused. “If you can see the future, Mr. Solomons, then you’d know what I’m about to offer you next.”

 

            After greeting her brothers, Ella sat on the stairs fidgeting with the hem of her skirt. She couldn’t hear what Tommy and Alfie were talking about and she was growing increasingly nervous.

            There was the sound of a bell and a few moments later, John, Arthur, Michael, and Johnny came up from the kitchen. Johnny smiled and tousled her hair affectionately before entering the big room. She smiled weakly and stood up.

            Arthur was last to walk in the room but after only half a second in there, he turned around to exit. His sister looked confused before she heard Tommy beckoning their eldest brother back inside.

            He glanced at Ella for a moment, debating ignoring his brother. He huffed out a sigh before turning back around and going into the room, closing the door behind him.

            Ella frowned and wondered if she was still asleep and just having a strange dream. What an odd day. She sat back down on the stairs and waited for the door to open again. Instead, less than five minutes later, she heard Arthur and John loudly protesting something.

            “Are you fucking mad?”

            “What the fuck? You’re kidding, right? You're just having a laugh.”

            Alarmed, Ella stood up and reached for the door handle. It turned before she could get to it and Arthur threw open the door.

            “Arthur, come back,” Tommy commanded in a stern voice.

            “No, you think this is a fucking game? You’re going to hand her over like she’s one of your horses?” He shouted in response.

            “What’s going on?” Ella demanded, raising her voice to be heard over them.

            John looked ready to strangle Tommy. “They really fucked up tryna put that brain of yours back together!” He snarled.

            Ella pushed her way into the study and saw Alfie sitting by the desk. The man looked out of words, something extremely rare in the presence of Tommy Shelby. He always seemed to have something to say to the Blinder. “What’s going on?” She asked again.

            “He’s going to pawn you off like he did to me!” John answered angrily.

            “What?”

            Alfie slowly stood, his blue eyes flicking to her and back to Tommy. He simply shook his head and walked out of the room without another word.

            “Tom…”

            Her brother finished off a cigarette. “You’re getting what you want, El. I’ve offered a union between the Camden Jews and us.”

            Ella’s stomach dropped in realization. He was going through with what she mentioned to him. He was going to arrange her marriage to Alfie. “Wh-why?” She had no idea what to feel at that moment. So many emotions mixed together to create something inside that made her entire body go stiff.

            “Because he’s drunk with power!” Arthur yelled.

            Tommy didn’t seem too bothered by his brothers shouting left and right. He maintained eye contact with his sister. “Because I can’t have him double-crossing me this time.” He said steadily. "He's not going to fuck me over, not with so much on the line." 

            Confused tears started to form in her eyes. “So you’re leveraging a deal with me as some collateral damage?”

            “You wanted to be with him, you’re getting your wish.” 

            It infuriated her to no end that he kept his stony composure, not even showing a lick of emotion. “Fuck off.” She spat and left the room before she further deepened the rift in their already fragile relationship.

            She hurried outside to find Alfie walking towards his car waiting in the drive. “Alfie!”

            He stopped and turned. “El, I don’t know what to fucking say.” He muttered in an apologetic tone. “I didn’t know he’d pull something like this.”

            “Well, he didn’t tell me either so that makes the two of us.” Ella crossed her arms over her chest. “But I…” She sighed and shook her head. Her mind was a mess.

            “I want to be with you, love.” He whispered, his forehead creased in concern. “But I ain’t doing it on Tommy Fucking Shelby’s terms.” He jabbed a finger angrily towards the house.

            “W-we can do it on our terms.” She stammered. “It doesn’t matter what he says. We’ll do it our own way!” She stepped towards him.

            “You saw their fucking reaction, Ella!” He laughed bitterly and threw up his hands. “Think I want to marry into that? Not to mention you ain’t even Jewish.”

            She recoiled a bit. “I didn’t know that would be an issue.”

            Wearily, he ran a hand over his face. “There are a lot of issues, love. Lots of fucking issues. I can’t…I need to take some time. Tell your brother I’ll help him with the jewelry but as far as that there ain’t anything else I can do right now.” He opened the car door.

            “So you’re going to leave me here?” She demanded, her voice rising in pitch. “What does it matter what they think? When did Alfie Solomons care what other people thought?”

            “Call me when you’re back in London.” He replied. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing else he could do. He loved Ella more than he could ever express to her. But he wasn’t going to jump when Tommy Shelby commanded him to. There was no way he’d marry her in a business transaction.

            So he closed the car door and instructed his driver to bring him back to London. Leaving Ella standing in the driveway.

Chapter Text

            Tommy wouldn’t miss his Bentley. Or at least he wouldn’t miss it until he noticed it was gone. Disappeared from the garage along with his sister. Despite his brain injury, Tommy was convinced Ella was the source of all his migraines.

            “That fucking girl is going to put me in an early grave.” He muttered with a cigarette already in his mouth. Mary had just reported that the Bentley was seen driving away by one of the stable hands.

            Arthur was still cooling off after the inflammatory meeting. He held a glass of whiskey so tightly in his hand it seemed like just seconds away from shattering. His foot tapped impatiently on the floor, hard eyes staring across the room. His face was still slightly red from shouting. “Where’d she go?” He demanded.

            “How would I know, Arthur?” His younger brother replied and leaned against his desk. “Probably skipped back to London after you lot were screaming.”

            The eldest Shelby let out a sarcastic bark of a laugh. “We’re the ones that drove her away? John and I? Really? Don’t fucking think it was that you were trying to dangle her in front of that psychopath like bait?” He growled.

            “Arthur…”

            He slammed his glass down and stood up, ready for round two of an argument. “She can get over him but you’ve got to keep pushing the issue. Luring her back to him to help you out with business?” He jabbed a finger at him.

            Tommy just calmly blew out a breath of smoke. “This deal with the Russians is more dangerous than I think you realize. She’s going to keep going back to her. Look at us, aye? Family of addicts. She won’t quit him and he won’t quit her. Might as well speed up the process and get to the point to where he’s family. We’ll be bound by blood and he won’t dare to cross us.”

            Arthur made a disgruntled noise to the notion of Alfie ever becoming blood. “He’ll fucking break her heart, you want that to happen?”

            “He wouldn’t do anything of the sorts. He’s weak for her, Arthur, anyone could see that.”

            He narrowed his eyes. “What the fuck are you on about?”

            Tommy took a drag of his cigarette before explaining himself. “After I caught them together, I went to Camden to tell him to stay away from her. He pulled a gun on me but didn’t shoot.”

            “Didn’t shoot you ‘cause he knew what would fucking happen if he did.” Arthur didn’t see the correlation.

            “Exactly. Ella would never give him the time of day if he shot her brother. She’s got a hold on him, like nothing I’ve seen before. So excuse me for trying to make sure the man doesn’t use this robbery for his own personal gain.”

            Arthur felt his stomach churn. “You’re using your own sister to drive a man to his knees.” He spoke with a hint of disgust behind his voice.

            “Considering what I’ve done, I think it’s pretty mild.”

            “Oh fuck off.” He spat and returned to his seat on the couch. With an angry swig, he finished the whiskey. “So she’s gone off to find him.”

            “People in love are fairly predictable.” Tommy finished off his cigarette and went to get himself a whiskey and to refill his brother’s glass.

            Arthur snorted. “Love, ain’t never gonna convince me that that animal could love anyone.”

            “I’m sure he’d say the same about us.”

 

            As Tommy predicted, Ella drove the Bentley right to Alfie’s. She was relentless, banging on the door. It was hard to pin down the exact emotion she felt. There was anger for her brother’s audacity, defeat when Alfie left her, confusion because she didn’t know what she wanted anymore, and overall exhaustion.

            Alfie knew who was at the door but answered it anyway. He wasn’t going to leave her standing outside in Camden Town. Plus, Cyril was barking up a storm when he heard the knocking. Perhaps the mastiff knew who was on the front stoop as well.

            Upon opening the door, Ella inundated him with a strange question. “How do I convert?”

            He frowned and grabbed Cyril’s leather collar before the massive dog could go bounding out of the flat. “Pardon?” He had no idea what she was talking about.

            “You said since I’m not Jewish it wouldn’t work out, we wouldn’t be able to get married. How do I convert? How do I become Jewish?” She repeated herself.

            Alfie sighed and ran a hand over his face. These Shelbys were relentless. So was Cyril, who was practically choking himself on the collar trying to get to Ella. “Fucking hell, just come in.” He said so his dog wouldn’t suffocate himself.

            Ella stepped inside and knelt down to greet the excited Cyril.

            Alfie sat on the stairs and took a deep breath. “Love, I don’t want you to convert.”

            “Why not? Wouldn’t that make things easier? I wouldn’t be a Traveler girl. I-I could be Jewish and no one would care if we got married. Anything I have to do, I’ll do it for you.” She insisted. Her blue eyes looking up at him with a glimmer of sadness.

            It made his gut wrench. He’d left this woman, a woman who was willing to change religions for him, alone and without explanation. “I ‘ppreciate that, Ella, really I do.”

            “Don’t…don’t say that it wouldn’t work out.” She begged quietly and stood up. She stepped in front of him and reached for his hands. “It could, Alfie.”

            He took her hands, encasing them in his calloused hands and bringing them to his lips. His eyes closed for a moment and he took in her familiar scent. He wanted it to envelop his flat, take over so he would become so accustomed to it that he would notice when she wasn’t around. Wanted to sense it on the pillow beside him, in the sheets, on the couch by the radio. The rose and honey aroma he craved to have permeate his very existence. Wanting it to linger even when she was gone.

            “S’pose I told you I wanted to adopt your way of life. Said fuck it and became a gypsy. Converted, were a Catholic like your aunt.” He looked up to her. “That wouldn’t really be me, now would it? Your kin would still think of me as that Jewish man.”

            Ella swallowed because she knew what he was getting at. That she could convert to Judaism but she would still be an outsider. “Then how can we make it work?” She usually didn’t like to accept defeat, just like her brothers and just like Alfie. In a lot of ways, they were all on the wavelength but there were still huge obstacles that separated them.

            “I love you.” Alfie prefaced and opened his hands to gently kiss her knuckles. “I do, El, but what your brother is doing is…well s’fucking insane, innit?”

            “I didn’t ask what Tommy did. I know what he did. I’m asking what we’re going to do.” She insisted.

            His eyes were steady on her and he lifted a hand to cup her cheek. “If I said fuck tradition, right, fuck Jewish law, and we got married tomorrow, Tommy gets it his way. He gets me, yeah, in a fucking headlock, don’t he?”

            “That’s not how it has to be. He is not a part of this relationship!” Ella grew increasingly frustrated.

            “But he just made himself a part of it. By giving me your hand like he were giving me some sort of contract to sign. I marry you, right, and he gets to hold that against me whenever he fucking pleases.”

            She bit her lip until she tasted blood on her tongue. “I can tell him to forget it. Forget the deal, forget everything. We don’t have to get married tomorrow, but I want to be with you.” Stubborn as a mule, she persisted on.

            “I want you too.” He admitted and smoothed his thumb over her cheekbone. “We can work something out.” It would be nearly impossible to turn her away. He’d done it more than once and it physically pained him to see the look of betrayal on her beautiful face. The tears in those Shelby eyes. “We can be together here and me business with Tommy can be separate. He don’t even have to know.”

            Ella got a bad taste in her mouth and she wrinkled her nose. “So I’ll just be your whore?”

            “What?”

            “The woman who comes by every so often, never causing a fuss, never taking her ‘round the people you love and care about or being around the people she loves and cares about.”

            “Ella, for Christ’s sake what do you want from me?” He raised his voice in frustration. Dropping his hand from her face and looking up to the ceiling as if searching for answers. “I tell you I love you but that ain’t enough? You want me to have fucking tea with your brothers twice a week, play nice, be in all the family portraits, why don’t I just change me last name to Shelby. Would that make you fucking happy?”

            “Don’t yell at me!” She snapped back at him. “You can tell me you love me all you want but given the opportunity to marry me, you balk! Love is just a word, Alfie, it loses its meaning the more you keep saying it and keep doing nothing to back it up!”

            The gangster pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned as if the conversation was causing him enormous pain. “That wasn’t a marriage proposal, Ella, that was a business proposal. You want that to be the story you tell your kids? How mum and dad got together? Oh me fucking brother chucked me onto the auction block and Alfie Solomons took home the prize!” He announced sarcastically, throwing his arms up. “Tommy don’t fucking care about your feelings!”

            “Yes, he does!” She shouted tearfully. “What do you know?”

            “If he cared then he would’ve given us his blessing, right, ‘stead of an ultimatum. Marry me sister but never fuck with me again or you’ll be sorry.” Alfie laughed bitterly.

            “Why would you even want to do that? You and Tommy aren’t fighting anymore, you don’t have to double-cross him. Things could work out, you just keep focusing on the wrong part of it!”

            He bit his tongue, actually thinking before he spoke which wasn’t typical. But he couldn’t tell her that he had buyers lined up for whatever he’d find in that jewelry vault. Buyers that Tommy had no idea about. Buyers who were well aware of the robbery and would exploit it in a heartbeat. It was far too late to take that back even if he did agree to Tommy’s terms. Everything would backfire in his face in the end. Maybe that’s why he turned her down. “Things you don’t understand, El. Things you ain’t ever gonna understand. You can bounce back and forth ‘tween Birmingham and London but you still won’t understand the things your brother and I do.”

            Ella fought against her instinct to burst into tears. It would only prove his point that she was just a naïve woman who didn’t know anything. “I…” Her ability to speak started to deteriorate in front of her. She felt scorned, taken advantage of by her brothers and Alfie. Lined up for failure, poised to hit a brick wall. None of it was fair. But she couldn’t go crying around about things being unfair. Or she’d just be little baby Ella who thought the world was always against her. Poor baby Ella. Doesn’t understand the real world.

            “Well, I’ll tell Tommy that he can take his offer and shove it.” She muttered and turned away. Cyril was sitting near the stairs, his sad eyes following her as she went for the door. “Told you I’d do anything for you and now I know you’d do absolutely fuck all for me.” This time, she left Alfie alone. Sitting on the steps, forced to listen to the door slam closed. Forced to sense her perfume fading away.

 

            It was late afternoon when Ella returned the Bentley to Warwickshire. She parked it up front and kicked the door closed with a frustrated grunt.

            Tommy was waiting by the front door, having seen his missing car pull up the gravel drive moments earlier from his study window. His hands were deep in his pockets, eyes watching her mumbled obscenities under her breath all the way to the front door.

            She passed by him, shoving her shoulder forcefully against his. Pushing her way into the big room and going right for the liquor cabinet.

            He silently followed her. Taking in her upset nature as she disregarded a glass and grabbed his most expensive whiskey, popping the cork and drinking right from the bottle.

            She didn’t need him to start up the conversation. “So this is my life now.” She said between large drinks from the bottle. “Yo-yoing back and forth between Alfie Solomons. Dealing with me fucking brothers. That’s it. God fuck it all.”

            Tommy sat there without speaking for a moment, letting her go on if she needed. Instead, she just kept drinking. Finally, he had to step in and pry the bottle out of her hands. “C’mon now.” He scolded sternly when she went to take it back from him. “Guess what, you were born into this family. Sorry, that’s what fate gave you. You fell in love with a man like Alfie. Can’t tell you why. But you’re a Shelby.” He reminded her firmly. “You play the hand you’ve been dealt. We were born into nothing. Barely enough to eat. You wore all of our hand-me-downs, not just Ada’s. You wore Arthur’s old shirts as nightgowns. We lost mum before you could even know her. Our father beat us while you and Ada and Finn were there crying your eyes out in the room.”

            Ella’s throat tightened and she finally let the tears she’d been holding in front of Alfie began to flow freely down her cheeks.

            “But we kept surviving. We did what we had to do and now look where we are now. Look what you’re wearing and what you’ve got. I promised you all that I would take care of this family until the day you burn me body. You may not understand my methods or question if what I’m doing is good. But that doesn’t matter at the end of the day when we’ve all got a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep on, and food to eat.”

            Ella sank into a chair and wiped at her eyes. “Why’re you telling me this?” She whimpered weakly.

            “Because,” Tommy knelt down in front of his sister. “I’ve asked Alfie to help us and if he crosses me, then he crosses all of us. He could ruin this family with the things he knows. I know you love him, but you don’t know some of the things he’s done. He loves you, and I know he wouldn’t hurt you ‘less he wanted to sign his own death certificate. This proposal was to keep this family safe.”

            “Well, he doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want to marry me.” She sniffled. “Am I stupid, Tommy? I thought he loved me enough.”

            Her brother sighed and pulled her into a comforting hug. “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.” Even though he hated to admit that fact. “Means he hates me enough to spite himself and push you away.”

            Ella couldn’t think straight anymore. She just fell into a heap of tears on the floor in Tommy’s arms. He gritted his teeth and knew he had to pay a certain someone a visit in London very soon.

Chapter Text

            Alfie’s fingers drummed impatiently on his desk. He was itching to just get the meeting with Tommy over with. He’d suffered enough as far as he was concerned. Seeing Ella cry, being the reason for her tears. Unbearable. But his hands were tied, what else could he reasonably do?

            Still, Tommy was prolonging the visit. Taking his time walking to Alfie’s office, sitting down, adjusting his tie pin (pretentious ass), and painstakingly lighting a cigarette.

            Alfie stifled a groan in the back of his throat and rolled his eyes. “For fuck’s safe, what?” His patience was wearing unbelievably thin. Another five seconds and he was sure he would start doling out well-deserved threats.

            “You made my sister cry,” Tommy informed him as if he didn’t already know.

            The man narrowed his eyes. “I did? Me? I’m the one who made her cry? You sure ‘bout that, mate?” He hissed.

            It was infuriating that nothing he could ever do would disturb the Brummie. He simply raised an eyebrow and watched the end of his cigarette slowly burn away. “What can I do to make you change your mind about my proposition?”

            “Proposition.” Alfie laughed bitterly and toyed with a pen to keep his hands busy. “Tommy, you’ve been ‘round the block before. Surely you must know that a woman doesn’t want to be offered up as a token for loyalty. So what you can do, right, is take back your words and leave me be on the matter. Sound good?” When he didn’t get an immediate answer, he switched subjects. “You’re here to talk business, meeting the Russians tonight. I must urge you to inquire about Faberge eggs. You can toss ‘bout diamonds and sapphires or whatever, yeah, but that’s the real prize, innit? With a couple of fine pieces and an egg, you’ll easily get your fill of forty grand.” What came across as helpful was simply Alfie setting up the opening stages of his own plan.

            Tommy nodded and looked interested in the possibility. “I can do that. They’re tricky but perhaps you’ll be able to persuade them a little further.”

            He crossed his arms over his chest and grunted in agreement. “Whatever I can do, mate.”

            But apparently, the Blinder wasn’t done with the previous issue. “So you have no intention of marrying my sister.”

            Alfie nearly blew a gasket. “You fucking Birmingham folk don’t ever let go of things, do ya?” He snapped.

            Calmly, Tommy tapped a bit of ash off his cigarette and cleared his throat. “It’s a simple question, Mr. Solomons.”

            “Don’t think it’s any of your business, mate. Never has and frankly, it never will.” He growled. “That’s my decision, innit?”

            “I’ll take that as a no then.”

            “Fuck off.”

            Tommy took one last drag before standing up. “Just trying to clarify, Alfie.” He buttoned his coat and flicked the cigarette into the ashtray on the desk that was really only used by him whenever he visited. “I’ve got other alliances I can make. You think our kin should stay with our kin. Since Ella isn’t Jewish and you’re so adamant about that, I s’pose it’s only fair to uphold our own roots. I’ve got inquiries from a family of Travelers.”

            Alfie’s hand slowly went to his waistband where his pistol was tucked away. Anger in his blood started to rise to a boiling point. His fingers curled around the pistol, ready to pull it out on the Blinder for what seemed like the hundredth time. It was a miracle Tommy wasn’t already riddled with bullets so late in their business relationship.

            “They’re worse than we are. You’d think we were the poshest folk you’ve ever seen if you met them.” Tommy continued to bait Alfie, taunt him and get him to the point of no return. Get him to realize that Ella wasn’t to be toyed with and her brother wouldn’t tolerate this game Alfie was playing with her. “Savages, really. But they’re effective, aye? An alliance with them would give me enough power to start taking more areas. Maybe areas a little closer to Camden.”

            “Tommy, I swear to whatever fucking pagan being you believe in, I’m going to blow your brains all over this fucking office.” Alfie’s face was starting to go red with rage and he was ready to pull out his pistol. Of course, he knew the man was just trying to rile him up. Manipulate him into doing his bidding. Ride or die, that’s how they both operated. But Alfie also knew that Tommy was ruthless enough to go through with what he was threatening. He’d made an alliance with the Lees by marrying John off. He very well could do the same to Ella. And Alfie would lose her for good. It made his heart compress painfully at the thought.

            Tommy put a hand in his pocket and retrieved something. He approached Alfie’s desk and dropped the small item. “That was the ring my father gave my mother.” He explained in a steady voice, fully aware that Alfie was armed and angry enough to do exactly what he threatened. “I’ll leave it with you for a week. After that week, if you haven’t made your decision, I’ll return and I’ll take it back. Rest assured, Mr. Solomons, after that, the ring will go to someone else who won’t wait.”

            Alfie’s jaw clenched. “I can’t fucking wait to spit on your grave.” He snarled viciously.

            “Neither can I, Alfie,” Tommy responded without skipping a beat and took his leave.

            Alfie loosened his grip on his gun and heaved out an exasperated sigh. He eyed the ring sitting on the desk near the ashtray where Tommy’s still smoking cigarette sat. For a moment, he didn’t even want to touch the thing, convinced it had some gypsy curse on it. But curiosity got the better of him and he picked up the piece of jewelry. It was a simple gold ring that needed a good polishing. Mounted was a round cut topaz stone that was small enough for him to scoff at. No wife of his would wear something so modest.

            But that wasn’t why Tommy gave it to him. It was the sentiment behind the gem that would mean more to Ella.

            Alfie turned the ring around in his fingers for a little bit, his mind racing. What would he do if he learned Ella had been pawned off to some gypsy clan? God was truly testing him. The only woman he ever loved just happened to be the sister of the most infuriating man to ever grace the planet. Just his luck.

            He grumbled a few obscenities under his breath and tucked the ring into the inside of his pocket.

 

 

            It was always a strange phenomenon seeing the Shelby Company at work. Socialites mixing with folk who grew up in the slums. Some could say it was possible to move up in the world. To step into another social class and fit right in. Some disagreed. Just because you put on a nice outfit and some gold didn’t make you anything different. You were still the person you were born as just dressed to the nines.

            But Ella thought her brother looked like he fit right in. As he stood in front of the group gathered for the opening of Grace’s foundation, he didn’t look out of place. Even with a Brummie accent, he spoke with the esteem of a businessman. Because that’s what he was. It didn’t matter what he did to make his company rise from the dirt, he conducted business. They all did, to a certain extent. And if Tommy’s predictions were sound, they’d be a legitimate company. Still, the suspicion and fear would linger, there was no denying that. Whispers would continue to float around about how the Shelbys grasped the reins of power.

            After he spoke in front of the gathered crowd, Tommy slipped out of the room. Ella stood and excused herself to Ada who was sitting beside her. She followed her brother out into the hall.

            He leaned against the wall, arms crossed, and eyes fixed on the photograph of his wife. Grace’s serene expression surrounded by wreaths and garlands of flowers. Some of her favorites when she was still alive.

            Ella went to stand beside her brother, touching his shoulder to alert him of her presence. “Doing alright?” She could imagine it was an emotional day for him. He would see the production of his wife’s dream without her there beside him. On top of the added stress of everything else going on.

            He nodded solemnly, his eyes never moving from Grace.

            “Mum’s ring is missing.” There wasn’t concern or anxiety. Ella had a sneaking suspicion of where it had gone. Only her siblings and Polly knew that she kept the family heirloom in her jewelry box. “I couldn’t find it when I was putting on my earrings this morning.”

            “I know,” Tommy answered. “I took it.”

            She glanced over at him, hoping for more of an explanation than he offered. But she wouldn’t get the chance to ask any follow-up questions.

            “The absence of my invitation for this event was obviously an oversight on your part, Mr. Shelby.” The thick Irish accent was unfamiliar to Ella, but Tommy appeared to be well acquainted with it. His jaw immediately clenched as he turned around.

            Ella did the same and saw the priest standing in the hallway. Something about the man gave her a sinking feeling in her gut. Based on Tommy’s reaction, she could assume this was the man that they planned to kill. A man of the cloth.

            “Ah, Miss Shelby, I don’t believe we’ve met.” Father Hughes smiled with malice in his eyes.

            Tommy placed himself subtly in front of his sister, taking a step forward to place her behind his shoulder.

            “The woman who fell in love with the Jew.”

            Ella was unsure how this man had managed to stay alive so long. He’d pissed off the wrong people too many times. People like him didn’t last long when it came to the Peaky Blinders. But she had a feeling there was a reason Tommy was waiting. All it took was the right moment. And certainly in the middle of a social event opening an orphanage in broad daylight was not the right moment.

            But what really sent a chill down her spine was how he seemed to know everything. Things that the average passerby didn’t. He knew about Alfie.

            “Go to the reception, El,” Tommy said quietly.

            “Tom…” She was uneasy about leaving him alone with the priest.

            “I’ll be right there, go.” Her brother replied firmly.

            Reluctantly, Ella nodded and made her way down the hall to find her family. As she passed, Hughes gave her a sickeningly smug smile.

 

 

            Ella couldn’t shake the bad feeling she got from Father Hughes. She stayed close to her family to feel safe, bouncing back and forth when the conversation bored her.

            Ada sighed and tried to soothe Charlie who was fussing loudly. She rocked him back and forth. “He doesn’t want to play with Karl after he took his train.” She shook her head.          

            Ella smiled. “So much like Tommy.” She agreed and tried to hush her nephew to no avail.

            “I know, love, you want dad? Here we go, let’s find him.” Ada decided and headed over to her brother to pass Charlie off.

            Ella lingered by the table with pastries and finger sandwiches but she didn’t have much of an appetite. Her mind was like a switch, flipping from one worry to another. Why did Tommy take their mother’s ring from her jewelry box? What had he talked to the priest about?

            When Ada returned, the sister’s chatted about nonsense. Ella tried to get her mind off her anxiety and hoped she was simply overreacting. But the bad feeling turned into something all too real.

            Tommy walked over to them. “Where’s Charles?” He asked with a confused look.

            Ada frowned. “I gave him to you.”

            “Where is he?” Tommy demanded again.

            “He was just here.” Ella felt immediate panic spark in her chest, rising to her throat. “Where could he have gone?”

            Tommy rushed over from family member to family member asking the same question. And within seconds, madness ensued. The Blinders were scattered about, searching the building and running outside to find the missing boy. Ella felt dizzy as she ran through the halls of the new building, trying every door, which was firmly locked.

            “Charlie?!” She shouted, her voice following her through the vast hallways.

            “El!” Ada’s heels clicked across the smooth floor. “They’ve taken him, they took him into a car.”

            “No, they…he was right there!” Ella was shaking with fear. The threat was so close, maybe none of them even realized. The entire time, they had enemies breathing down the back of their neck. If they could simply snatch a toddler in a crowded room with his father right there, then there was no telling what else they could or would do.

 

 

            The rain sounded like pebbles against the window. It was mildly soothing but the night was heightened by anticipation and fear. Polly gently stroked Ella’s hair as they waited in the betting shop.

            Tommy entered like a storm. Dripping from the rain and with a silent fury that filled the room. “Where’s Linda?” He demanded.

            “With Esme.”

            “Esme’s water broke.” John entered from the back door still wearing his coat and hat.

            “I need to know who spoke.” Tommy’s eyes passed from each of his family members in the room. “Our enemies know everything. Everything. I need to know who spoke about business outside.” His voice became more insistent and his steely expression turned paranoid. “I need to know who spoke and who they spoke to, now.”

            Arthur tried to step in but Tommy was already too far gone. The man looked from person to person, his face still stained by the rain.

            “Your wife, Arthur? Or Esme getting cash for cocaine. And you two.” Tommy turned to his sisters. “Back in the family, aye? Out of the blue.”

            Ella’s eyes narrowed. “You think I’d let something like this happen?” She challenged.

            “If anyone has talked about the tunnel to anyone else, I need to know this second!” Tommy snapped.

            She stood and gave him a disappointed glare. “I’m not going to sit around and let you speak to me like this. Not after everything you’ve done to this family.” She could sympathize with her brother. He lost his only son, the only thing of Grace he had left. But somewhere along the line, he’d found himself in that position because of his own choices. Ella left the betting shop and retreated upstairs to her room.

            Tommy looked to the doorway where she disappeared. There was someone else. Someone else who knew. Not only that, it was someone who held that damn egg.

Chapter Text

           

            Ella spent the night in her room, curled up in bed under the quilts. The rain continued until the morning, leaving a fog over Birmingham. The first thought upon seeing the daylight filtering in through the lace windows was about her nephew’s safety. There wasn’t much more she could do other than pray he was okay.

            It was hardly seven in the morning when there was a brief knock at the door and the knob turning.

            “El, get up.” Tommy entered a second later.

            “I’m still sleeping.” She said even though she was staring at the opposite wall while lying on her side.

            “It wasn’t a request. I need you in the car, now.” He looked disheveled, most likely he didn’t sleep at all that night.

            “I’m not doing any of your dirty work, Tom. Not after the way you spoke to everyone last night.” She made no effort to get up.

            “Ella, fucking get up and be downstairs in two minutes.” He ordered in the voice she used to fear. The voice that used to let her know that she was in trouble. Maybe for telling fortunes at school, biting John’s arm, or hiding from him when they were called inside for dinner at dusk. He had been an authority figure in her life ever since she could remember. But she’d gotten sick of it. Fed up with his complex.

            She sighed heavily and sat up. “I’m only doing this because of Charlie, not because of the way you’re acting now.” She made sure that was clear before he left.

 

            Tommy parked outside of a large warehouse that Ella was unfamiliar with. She was sat in the backseat while Michael sat in the passenger seat. Neither of them cared to explain what they were doing there.

            “Wait here,” Tommy ordered firmly and stepped out of the car.

            Ella let out a frustrated sigh. “So he’s just brought us along to make us wait outside?” She lamented to her cousin.

            Michael shrugged and made himself busy by loading his pistol with bullets. “He has a plan.”

            “Yeah, always seems to have some sort of plan.” Ella decided she wasn’t going to just sit in the car and went to step out.

            Michael turned around in the front seat. “He doesn’t want us to…”

            “I’ll be fine.” She cut him off and shut the door behind her. Tucking her pistol in her holster tucked under her fur-lined coat, she made her way into the warehouse.

            Her entrance caused a pause in the conversation. But she was the most surprised when she saw Alfie standing a little bit away from her brother. His blue eyes watched her with a hint of apprehension, unsure what her reaction would be to him.

            Tommy was the first to speak. “Ella, I told you to wait in the car-”

            She didn’t listen and began walking straight for Alfie. The man beside the Jewish gangster tensed up a bit at her fast approach. But Alfie waved him off and let her step right into his space.

            Without a word, she reached into his heavy, black overcoat. Searching his inside pockets until she found what she was looking for. Her mother’s ring.

            Alfie almost looked guilty. Guilty for having it. Guilty for keeping it, instead of giving it back to Tommy. Guilty for holding onto the physical hope that he could still have Ella.

            She held it up to his face. Her lower lip trembled but her eyes didn’t dare move from his. “Why’d he give this to you?” Her voice shook. Everything continued to pack on, putting more and more weight on her shoulders and making her more and more confused. The push and pull was agonizing and she was going to end it.          

            “Ella,” Tommy spoke firmly, trying to get her away from Alfie.

            “Answer me.” She ignored her brother unaware that he had drawn his gun.

            Alfie noticed the pistol. “Go back to the car.” He spoke gently but wanted to get her out of the way.

            “Why did he give this to you?” Ella shouted. Her words echoed through the large warehouse and caused a few birds to spook off their perches.

            The space went silent for a moment, and then Tommy cocked his gun. The metallic clicking sound was too familiar to Ella. Initially, it used to mark the thrill of the hunt. Getting ready to claim a prize after tracking it patiently through the woods. Now it meant death. Retaliation. Fear. Power.

            Ella turned around but didn’t move out of the way. Standing in front of Alfie, she glared at her brother. “Tell me.”

            “Ella, move.” Tommy’s hand didn’t lower but she noticed it was shaking ever so slightly.

            “Why did you give this to him?” She repeated herself.

            “It was a mistake. You can take it back.” Tommy looked past her, over her shoulder at the gangster. “It’s not his to give anymore.”

            “Why?”

            “He left the richest name off the list.” Her brother answered, his eyes were cold.

            “What are you…”

            Tommy’s anger was palpable as he continued to point the gun forward. “He made a deal with the Oddfellows. Told them about the tunnel, told them about the deal with the Soviets.”

            Ella froze for what felt like hours. She didn’t want to turn around and face the man she loved. The man who had held her heart in his hands while he went behind her back. “No…” The word came out long and sounded foreign to even herself. Finally, she faced Alfie again. “You did this?”

            The man was facing two worlds colliding together. Two different faces of his self. The brash, unapologetic, ruthless gangster and the man who found the one person on the planet who saw his vulnerable side. “Things you don’t understand…”

            “Tell me what I don’t understand!” Ella snapped. She was beyond the point of acting patient and listening to the men in her life speak. It was her turn. She’d waited long enough. “Everyone ‘round here thinks I don’t fucking understand anything. So, please, fucking enlighten me. Tell me what I don’t understand!”

            “I told you he couldn’t be trusted,” Tommy spoke up.

            Ella just laughed sarcastically. “And yet you were willing to marry me off to him.” She snarled and pointed at Alfie. “You proud? Proud of what you’ve done? The damage you’ve caused. They’ve got my nephew and we don’t know if he’s even still alive!”

            Alfie couldn’t keep a neutral face. He had no idea about Charlie, no idea what the Oddfellows were up to. But in his anger and humiliation for being lied to, he chose to make a deal.

            Ella closed her fingers around her mother’s ring and walked towards her brother. “Nothing but a pawn to you lot. Isn’t that right, pral?” She gave Tommy a scathing look. “Are we all just pawns? Charlie too? Moving your little pieces ‘cross the board while you stay safe, protected by your soldiers?” She yelled. “Are you both proud? Proud of what you have? Guess what. In the end, when we’ve all died ‘cause of you, you can be comforted by your money. All ‘lone in an empty house, satisfied that you won. Never caring about the people who loved you!”            

            “I didn’t know about Charlie,” Alfie replied honestly. “But if your brother wants to fucking kill me now then let him do it. Step aside and let him. But don’t you fucking dare tell me that I never loved you. Were ready to give you that ring because Tommy were threatening to pass you off to someone else. And I’ll be damned if I let him use you.”

            “If you loved me you never would’ve gone against my family!” Ella matched his volume and clenched her hands into fists. The topaz gem on the ring digging into her palm as her knuckles whitened. “You wouldn’t have put an innocent little boy in danger!”

            “Then step aside, let him shoot me!” Alfie stepped towards her, his cane slamming down onto the concrete. “That’d solve your problems, love. Once ol’ Alfie Solomons is dead and gone, you won’t have any more fucking issues. You can go off with your family and forget ‘bout me. Let me pay for me fucking sins, step aside.”

            Everything inside of Ella became so wound up the more he spoke. Her entire body trembled from all the immense pressure pressing down on her heart. “That’d solve your problems.”

            “I never stopped loving you!” Alfie barked over her voice. “Not once, even when I made this deal. And I fucking hated myself ‘cause of it. The world ain’t built for us, love, no matter what.” He pointed his cane at Tommy. “He’s always going to want to do away with me, won’t he? Even if we were married, he’d want me gone. So better off he does it now.”

            Tommy lowered his gun. “Stand down, Alfie.” He muttered and tucked his gun away. “Michael,”

            Ella hadn’t noticed their cousin had run into the warehouse once he heard all the shouting.

            “Go and tell Moss, it’s Palmer.” The Blinder instructed. “Ella, get back in the car.”

            She took one more look at Alfie. Her body ached from the emotional toll he’d caused her. Despite it all, she still yearned for the past days when things had been so simple between them. When they were in love and it didn’t cause such a fuss. Now she felt like she’d been stretched so thin.

            “I’m sorry.” He mumbled quietly so Tommy wouldn’t hear. “I wish it could work. But I’m being realistic, love. You’re better off without me.”

            He pushed her away with his words. Most likely it was his intention all along whether he realized it or not. With him, Ella would know nothing but friction. She wouldn’t know peace. And as much pain, as it caused him, he would rather see her walk away than suffer beside him. It didn’t matter how in love they were. What mattered was how the odds were stacked against them from the very beginning.

Chapter Text

            Ella had broken her arm three times. The left twice and the right once. The first was when she was playing football in the streets with her brothers. At only eight, she overestimated her strength and tried to steal the ball from John. It only ended up with her tripping and getting trampled.

            She broke her left arm again only half a year later. Polly said it was because it wasn’t fully healed from the first break. But Ella had lied to her aunt and told her she’d only taken a tumble down the stairs. In actuality, she’d fallen after trying to follow Tommy and Arthur up the roof.

            When she was twelve, she broke her right arm after taking a nasty fall off a horse. Tommy advised her to stay away from the gelding. He was wild, unpredictable, and strong on the bit. But she hadn’t listened and ended up getting bucked off.

            “Never learns.” Polly scolded when her niece returned, clutching her mangled arm and wailing. “You need to learn from your mistakes, chavi. You can’t just keep at it, thinking you’re smart enough to avoid the consequences.”

            Ella thought she’d learned her lesson a long time ago. She never broke her arm again. She continued playing football with her brothers and the other street kids. But she simply learned to hold her own and if they hit her, she’d hit back harder. She continued climbing the roof. But she learned which shingles to avoid, the loose bricks, and the faulty cables. She kept riding any horse that came her way. But she learned to never let go of the reins and never let herself be thrown.

 

            “Idiot.” She whispered under her breath. It was dawn and Charlie’s yard was starting to stir with activity. Horses began to call out to each other, workers came filing in, and various languages were passed around in the air.

            She’d been awake all night, wandering around her room in Watery Lane until she became too claustrophobic. So she bundled up and went outside. Passing by the drunks who were staggering home, the laborers going home to sleep for an hour before returning to their second job, and the homeless who had nowhere to go.

            She wound her way around Small Heath, ending up at her uncle’s yard. No one questioned her, letting her roam about as she pleased. Finally, she came to rest, sitting at the edge of the cut with her knees tucked to her chest.

            There were no learning moments. She’d broken her heart and it was the worst break she’d ever suffered through. And she wanted to beat her head against a wall because she wanted nothing but to go back. Do it all again.

 

            The morning wore on without much notice from Ella. She barely even registered the sun rising. It wasn’t until someone came to sit down beside her, did she finally realize how long she’d been sitting there.

            “Charlie’s been returned,” Arthur said gently as he lowered himself to sit. “He’s at Arrow House.”

            Ella didn’t know why she started to cry. Everything was just too much to handle. “Tommy?”

            “He’s on his way back,” Arthur assured her. “S’all over.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

            She shook her head. “No, it’s not. It never is.”

            Her eldest brother was quiet for a moment. Of course, she was right. When did they ever quit? “Linda wants to go west.” He informed her. “If you’d like, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you came along.”

            Ella just laughed bitterly. “You’re not fucking going anywhere, Arthur. None of us are. We’re all going to die here, don’t you see that?”

            “El.” Arthur gave her a stern look. “You make your own decisions in life. No one else does. You can keep blaming Tom for everything, or you can change the way things are. You can choose to go to America and leave this all behind. Or you can choose to stay here.” He stood and held out a hand to her. “But first, you go get your money from Tommy. What he owes you, then you decide. C’mon, he wants us there by noon.”

 

            “Miss Shelby?”

            Ella turned. Technically she was the only ‘Miss Shelby’ left in the family. Ada had established herself as Mrs. Thorne. Esme and Linda were both ‘Mrs.’ now. So that just left her.

            Mary was standing on the first landing of the stairs. “There’s someone on the phone for you.”

            Confused, Ella followed her upstairs to the phone in the hallway. Anyone who would bother calling her was at Arrow House. And none of her friends in London were aware of Tommy’s manor in Warwickshire. “Thank you, Mary.” She said when the maid took her leave. “Hello?”

            “You need to get outta there.” Alfie’s gruff voice was unmistakable. He skipped the pleasantries or even an apology. There was no time for words that would fall on deaf ears.

            Ella’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”

            “Got a tip from the coppers that work for your brother. Said they’re planning on arresting you lot. Tommy told ‘em everything.”

            A cold stream of anxiety trickled down her spine. She weighed the odds. Alfie could be lying; lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time. Or he could be telling the truth, Tommy wasn’t exactly saintly. She wouldn’t put it past him to pull a stunt like that. She gritted her teeth. “Why should I ever trust you again?” She demanded.

            “Because I’ve nothing to gain by telling you this.” His voice was hard to read through the telephone wires.

            Her hand tightened on the receiver. “You’re acting like a knight in shining armor, tryna save me after what you’ve done.”

            There was a moment of silence on the opposite end of the line. “Yeah, call it what you fucking want, right, but there’s gotta be a threat if I’m looking to save you.”

            That was the moment Ella realized her brother had in fact, tipped off the police. She could hear her family talking downstairs, all idly chatting. Unaware of what was about to come next. She couldn’t fathom why Tommy would want them all behind bars. Something for leverage, obviously. Whatever the case, she wasn’t going to run. She’d face it beside the rest of her family.

            “Why’re you really telling me this?” She asked.

            “Because I haven’t stopped caring ‘bout you,” Alfie spoke candidly. “What I’ve done is wrong. I didn’t mean for it to get so outta hand, didn’t know Charlie would be involved in it.”

            Ella never trusted someone over the phone. If she couldn’t see their face, she couldn’t truly see if they were being honest with her. But the shame in Alfie’s voice was hard to ignore. She closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m sorry that the world wasn’t made for us.” She whispered.

            “I’m sorry too, love.”

            “El!” Arthur called upstairs. “C’mon, we’re getting started!”

            She slowly exhaled a breath and straightened her back. “Well, don’t think Tommy can put me away for too long. I'm sure I'll see you 'round London soon enough." 

            “Wait, what are talking about? El, you need to leave-” Alfie panicked but she hung up the phone.

 

            Downstairs, Ella sat in the front row of the meeting. Her blue eyes fixed on her brother behind the desk. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited for his big reveal. Everything she told Arthur was right. No matter what they did, Tommy would always get them right where he wanted. Pawns.

            She watched as Tommy passed on parcels of money promised to each of them.

            “El.” Tommy pushed the money towards her.

            She snorted and rolled her eyes. “You know I won’t be needing that.”

            It didn’t even faze him. He simply left the wad of money on the top of the desk.

            Linda stood up, her lips pursed. “Come on, Arthur. The train for the dock leaves in one hour. Then we’ll get the boat to New York and it’ll all be in the past.” She sent a glare Tommy’s way.

            Arthur stood slowly and looked to his siblings with tears in his eyes. “I’ll see you, brother.” He embraced John tightly before moving on to hug Ella.

            She didn’t budge. “You’re not going anywhere, Arthur. I told you.” Her eyes never left Tommy. “You won’t even make it out the front door.”

            Her older brother looked perplexed. “What’re you talking about?” He asked, his arms still held out for a hug.

            “You want to tell them or shall I?” Ella asked Tommy.

            “I spoke to Moss.” He broke his stony silence. “He told me that the Chief Constable of Birmingham has issued warrants for your arrests.”

            “Fantastic.” Ella stood up and began removing her earrings and necklace. The rest of the office began to erupt in panicked chaos as Tommy began rattling off the charges for each of them. She plopped the gems on his desk and finally pulled their mother’s ring out of her pocket. “Should I even trust you to protect these while I’m gone?” She hissed.

            “There are people more powerful than us.” He replied. There were shouts and loud bangs as the police began to storm Arrow House. John and Esme’s baby began to wail adding to the cacophony of arrests. She could hear her brothers fighting the cops tooth and nail as they were restrained.

            “And you need to be more powerful than them.” Ella was shaking. So much anger and fear coursed through her veins but she didn’t want to show him. She didn’t want him to know he’d finally gotten to her. Not after all the years of acting tough for his sake. “I get it, Tom. Your family is worth nothing to you. All we’ve done is nothing. You’ll be alone but at least you’ve got power.”

            Two policemen entered the room and started to roughly pull Ella’s arms behind her back. “Miss, you’re under arrest for aiding and abetting.” One of them barked.

            “You’ll understand,” Tommy said steadily. “You just need to trust me.”

            “I’ll never trust anyone again.” She snarled and resisted against the police as they tried to wrestle her into handcuffs. “I will never call you brother again!” She shouted in Shelta while she was being dragged out of the room.

 

            Ella wasn’t aware of how cold a room could feel. Beyond temperature, that is. She’d suffered enough long nights without enough firewood or quilts to keep her warm to know what cold was. But the jail cell she was pushed into was unlike anything she’d experienced.

            Nothing but unyielding concrete and harsh metal confining her. There was no wonder why people went mad in prisons. Ella wondered how long she’d be in there and how long her sanity would last.

            Her own arms weren’t enough of a comfort as she sat on the thin cot, hugging her knees to her chest. The only thing that kept her warm was the fierce anger and betrayal held in her heart. It kept her heart beating.

            The night passed and by dawn, she’d created a personal prison for her trust. She locked it up tightly and tossed the key into oblivion. No one on God’s green Earth would ever win it back. She would not be fooled again. That was her lesson learned. 

Chapter Text

           

            “Shelby.”

            Ella lifted her head to see one of the prison guards at the cell door. It was morning, the sun had just risen. She had hardly slept and the exhaustion was starting to take hold.

            “You’re being released.” He said and unlocked the cell door.

            Ella wondered if Tommy had managed to get them released. She didn’t think it would only take a night to get what he wanted in exchange for damning information about his family. But she wasn’t going to question it.

 

            Relieved to be in her own clothes again, she stepped out of the prison walls. She half expected her brother to be there, ready to enlist her onto another job. But there was no one waiting for her outside.

            Puzzled, the woman looked up and down the street, unsure of where to go. There was no way she was going back to Warwickshire. She had a few things at Watery Lane but decided to just leave them there. She didn’t want to risk running into her brother.

            So, she headed for the next train to London.

 

            Amelia looked absolutely stunned when she saw her best friend sit down at the desk across from her. “Where on Earth have you been? I thought you’d disappeared!” She hissed, leaning over her typewriter.

            Ella was exhausted as she set down her purse and picked up a few papers that had been left in her inbox. “Someone in my family was sick.” She lied. “I’m surprised I still had a job here.” She admitted and began to load a fresh page into her typewriter.

            “Please, Mr. Harding is terrified of your brothers, he wouldn’t dream of firing you.” Amelia laughed. But she could sense the extreme change in her friend. “Everything alright?”

            “No,” Ella answered truthfully and began to type up the notes. “I need a drink.” That was a plus of being at Arrow House. She could walk around with a whiskey and no one would question her.

            Amelia smiled. “Well, once we get off work, we’ll go out. We need to catch up!” She insisted.

            It sounded like the perfect remedy to her growing headache. All she could hope for was that she didn’t run into Alfie Solomons.

 

            “My cousin’s visiting from Paris. I invited her to come along, I hope that’s okay.” Amelia linked arms with Ella as they walked down the street towards the club.

            “Yeah, of course.” She shrugged. It hurt to know that even a mention of something as harmless as Paris could conjure up memories of Alfie. It made her grind her teeth knowing that he had become so woven into her existence. It would take a while to pick out all of the threads.

            The two women chatted as they waited in line to enter the club. Ella’s eyes danced over the crowd a few times. She kept expecting to see the familiar movement of people that signaled Alfie’s arrival. But the club-goers went about as per usual.

            “El, did you hear me?” Amelia asked as they were about to enter the club.

            “Hm?”

            Her friend giggled. “You’ve got your head in the clouds. I was asking ‘bout that man who hangs ‘round your brothers. The fit one, Isaiah. He seeing anyone?” She chewed on her lip. The Peaky Blinders were starting to become well known in the London area. Especially to those who liked the intrigue of gangsters mixed with their night activities. After they brutally took over the Eden Club and started making their moves on other venues, people took notice. People like Amelia who loved the thrill.

            “Oh, I dunno.” Ella shook her head. She thought about her younger brother’s friend. She suddenly felt nauseous. She’d disappeared to London without checking in with anyone. Her fear of running into Tommy kept her from making sure the rest of her family was safe. Her stomach knotted and she wobbled a little on her heels.

            “El, you’ve gone pale as a ghost!” Amelia gasped. “Are you okay?”

            “Yeah, I…” She suddenly pulled away from the line in front of the club. “I uh, I forgot something at my flat. I need to go get it.”

            Her friend looked baffled. “Well, I’ll come with you…”

            “No, you stay here. Meet up with your cousin. I’ll be just a mo’!” Her heart raced as she ran down the street. It was only a ten-minute walk to Alfie’s. Less if she ran. Longer if she twisted her ankle from her damn shoes. But she managed to get to his front stoop without falling on the uneven sidewalk.

            It was Saturday, Shabbat. That usually meant Alfie was home. So she banged on his door. Cyril’s barks echoed the noise and she could hear his nails clicking on the wood floor as he rushed for the door.

            Heavy footsteps followed. “Oi, quiet down!” Alfie scolded Cyril before opening the door.

            It was relieving to see Ella, not in prison. The man nearly had a vein pop when he heard what Tommy had done. Ollie wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the man’s face so red. It took him a good few hours to pull enough strings to get Ella released and the charges dropped. He decided Sunday was a good day to visit Tommy. It was only fair to inform the Brummie that if he ever pulled something like that again, Alfie would make sure no one, not even God, would ever find his body.

            “It was you, wasn’t it?” Ella asked. She was breathing hard from the run. Her hair was falling out of place and her eye makeup had started to run a little as well.

            Alfie cleared his throat and adjusted the cuff of his sleeve. “Does it matter?” He asked quietly. He didn’t want her to owe him anything. Maybe it was the least he could do to try and make it up to her. There was no winning her back. Even if he never came to terms with that and pined after her for the rest of his godforsaken life, he knew it was true.

            “I want to know.” She insisted. Her throat tightened. “Because…because if it was then it means they’re all still in there. My brothers, my cousin, my aunt.” Her breath was shaky and she couldn’t help but tremble in fear. “And they’ll hang.”

            Alfie nodded. “I tried, love.” He admitted. It wasn’t his plan to free all the Shelbys. That wasn’t his job, but he owed it to Ella to at least try. “But the things they’re facing…I ain’t got people in high ‘nough places.”

            “They’ll kill them…they will. They’ll all die and I can’t…” All the pressure pushing on her finally broke her down. The arrest, the night in prison, Tommy’s betrayal, it was too much. She fell to her knees on the stoop and burst into tears.

            Alfie’s shoulders slumped. He bent down to scoop her up in his arms and bring her inside. Cyril whimpered and followed them into the parlor. He looked on as Alfie set Ella on the couch.

            “Listen,” His voice was low but gentle as he knelt in front of her. “Can’t imagine what your brother is doing, right, and what he thinks he’s gonna get from all this. But I know that he won’t let them face their sentence.”

            Ella curled into herself, hiding her face in her arms. “H-how could he do this?” She hiccupped. “I tr-trusted him.”

            Alfie stood and went to get a blanket folded on the back of the couch. He carefully draped it over her shoulders and went to turn on the radio. There were no words to comfort her. He couldn’t tell her what Tommy was planning. But he did know that Arthur, John, Michael, and Polly were valuable assets to him. The man wouldn’t let them be hung.

            Still, Alfie couldn’t preach about trust. He’d lost her trust just as much as Tommy had. The only thing he could do was go and start the kettle, leaving her with Cyril and the soft jazz music playing.

 

            It took a few hours before Ella was coherent again. Cyril was stuck to her side like glue, letting her stroke his fur to calm down. Alfie remained in the room too, but at a distance. He sat in the armchair near the radio, his elbows resting on his knees as he waited. Waited for her to say something or to leave. He fully expected her to get up and walk out. Maybe say something about his character. Tell him he failed her in more ways than one. Or perhaps she wouldn’t even waste her breath.

            But instead, she looked up from Cyril. Her blue eyes were puffy from crying. All the makeup wiped away on the back of her hand or sleeve, allowing Alfie to see the faint dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks.

            “Why did you do all this?” She whispered. “Tell me what he was planning and then getting me out?”

            He clasped his hands together. “Because I still love you.” No use in skirting the truth anymore. He could tell her the truth, didn’t make any difference.

            Ella sniffled and wiped her eyes again. “Can you stop?” She begged quietly. “Can’t take it anymore. I don’t want you to love me.” Her voice broke and a new wave of tears threatened to spill. “Because I want so badly to love you back but I can’t. It would be easier if you just hated me.”

            “I know.” He nodded slowly and felt an all too familiar ache in his chest. “But I can’t, love.”

            She just laughed tearfully. “I don’t know what to do anymore. Most of my family is ‘bout to be killed, I can’t trust Tommy, I can’t trust you, and I still love you. An-And I don’t ever want to leave.” Her eyes met his again. “I don’t want to leave you again. I don’t want to leave this room, I don’t even want you that far away from me.” The few feet between them were causing her to panic. Every cell in her body was fighting against each other. She couldn’t forget the trouble Alfie had caused, but she couldn’t forget the way he loved her either.

            “I wish I had the answers for you,” Alfie said sympathetically. “But I’m just as lost as you are, love.” He laughed weakly and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry.”

            Ella let go of her knees and let her feet fall to the floor. “I have no place in this world anymore.” She whispered. “I can’t go back to Birmingham, can’t go back to the life I have in London. I can’t just pack up and go somewhere new because I’ll know it’s all wrong. Alfie, you were the only place I felt like myself. I just…I thought I knew you.”

            The aftershocks of his deal with the Oddfellows was still painful. He couldn’t get the image of Ella’s face after she heard what he’d done. The disbelief was heartbreaking. It only reminded him that he could never be a good enough man for her. “You know me better than anyone.” He said sheepishly.

            “We’ve lied to each other.” Her forehead creased. “What’s stopping us from just repeating the cycle?”

            Alfie stood and went to sit on the opposite end of the couch. Keeping his distance, he stared at the opposite ceiling. The one with nothing but a clock on it. “We could start over.”

            She glanced over at him. “You said the world wasn’t built for us.”

            “Yeah, it weren’t.” He shrugged and scratched Cyril behind his ears. “I ain’t ever gonna be good enough for you, love. But I also know that I ain’t ever gonna get over you. And I’m fucking selfish.”

            Ella rubbed her eyes and shrugged the blanket off her shoulders. “Everyone’s selfish.” She mumbled and stood up. “I’m selfish enough to protect myself. I won’t ever trust you, Alfie. But that’s just how I’ll operate from now on. Protecting myself.” She sighed and started to walk out of the parlor.

            Alfie furrowed his brow and stood as well. He expected her to turn left and walk out of his flat. But instead, she turned right and he heard her footsteps going upstairs.

            “El?” He called and walked out of the room to see her halfway up the stairs.

            She paused and turned. “I’m too tired, Alfie. I’m tired of pushing you away when I’m going to just keep coming back. So might as well just stay. But I told you I won’t trust you. So tell me to leave.”

            He stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her. His mouth parted slightly in surprise. “And what if I don’t?”

            “Then I’ll stay.” She replied without hesitation. Her hand rested on the banister as she waited for his decision.

            He was silent for a moment. There was no use in pushing her away. He was too fucking far gone. “Don’t go.”

            “Okay.”

 

 

            Alfie walked into the car factory, traveling upstairs to the offices. He swore under his breath at the expensive décor. He much preferred his bakery to the posh office setting that the Shelbys had set up. Trying to make themselves look like they weren’t born poor Irish travelers.

            The man who greeted him at the door showed him to Tommy’s office. The Blinder was sat behind a large desk, dressed in a three-piece suit as the majority of his family was behind bars.

            The nerve.

            Alfie forcefully let his cane thump against the wood floor to mark his entrance.

            Tommy barely looked up. “You got Ella out of prison.” No pleasantries.           

            “Yeah, mate, no thanks to you.” Alfie didn’t sit down. Instead, he walked right up to the edge of Tommy’s desk. “Did that brain injury of yours really fuck you up so badly? Aye? What sorta man sells his entire family to the crown? ‘Specially when he’s the one, right, who most deserves to be locked up, don’t he?”

            The man’s blue eyes flicked up. “Is there a reason for your visit, Mr. Solomons?” He asked curtly, maintaining his low, steady voice. The tone that drove Alfie absolutely mad. If the rest of the world were crumbling down around Tommy Shelby, he’d simply keep talking in that tone and probably light up a cigarette.

            “Yeah, there is. Thanks for getting me straight to the point.” He rested his hands on Tommy’s hands and leaned down to meet his eye line. “Came here to give you a fair warning, right? If you ever, ever, put Ella in harm’s way again, I’m gonna rip every bone outta your fucking body. We clear ‘bout that?” He growled.

            Tommy hardly even blinked. At least Alfie was keeping up the creativity of his threats. “She’s with you, then.”

            “Ain’t any of your fucking business.” He straightened up and grabbed his cane. “She makes her own choices.”

            “And she’s chosen you.” Tommy reached for a cigarette and slipped off his glasses. “Again.”

            Alfie shook his head. “You like this, don’t ya? This cycle. You use the people ‘round you for your own gain. Then you bring them back just to use ‘em again, aye? This is fun for you.”

            “Well, I haven’t killed you yet, Alfie. Suppose you could be useful again.” Tommy averted his eyes from the man and focused on lighting his cigarette. “But you and Ella make your own choices, don’t you?”

            It was infuriating that Alfie couldn't actually shoot him. Instead, he could only leave with a, "Fuck off." 

Chapter Text

            It still surprised Alfie to wake up with Ella in bed with him. Even though it had been nearly nine weeks of the routine. He’d been counting, yes. Because every Saturday morning, when he allowed himself to stay in bed a little longer than usual, he remarked at the sight. The next day would be the ninth Saturday.

            It gave him time to notice certain things about Ella in a setting he hadn’t seen her in before.

            Without fail, she always slept on her side. So there was a fifty percent chance she would be facing him when he woke up. It was one of those mornings. Her hand wedged between her cheek and the pillow, her lips parted slightly as she slept soundly. Her dark hair had grown longer than she usually kept it. It only made sense, she said Ada or Polly usually cut her hair. They always had.

            She’d rotate between wearing her slips to bed and swiping one of Alfie’s freshly laundered shirts. He didn’t complain. He liked the way it overwhelmed her smaller frame, grazing mid-thigh, and the sleeves over her hands if she didn’t roll them up.

            Alfie didn’t complain about a lot of things those nine weeks. It was comforting to have Ella with him. It had blossomed into a strangely domestic scenario. She never left after the night they reunited. She’d simply gone to work the next day and arrived that night with most of her things.

            He didn’t even bat an eye. Because it felt right. More than anything, it was what he craved. The woman he loved always there. Becoming accustomed to her rose and honey perfume and lavender soap, the feminine scents taking a hold of his flat. She arrived home from work far earlier than he did. Sometimes he’d find her in the parlor listening to the radio or already in bed, depending on the time of night.

 

            Alfie would’ve loved to bury his head in the sand and accept that it was heaven. But he couldn’t. The outside world was still threatening to spill into the quiet home they kept.

            The Shelbys were still in prison and Alfie could see Ella’s hope waning with each passing day. He saw the uneasiness in her eyes. The distrust of everything around her. Her blue eyes always glancing at the quiet telephone or out the window.

            It made Alfie agitated because he couldn’t fulfill her wishes. To make sure her family was spared. The only man who had that power was being an unbearable prick and Alfie was sure he would cause bodily harm the next time their path’s crossed.

            Of course, he wouldn’t. He’d bide his time. Wait for Tommy to make a move. Because there was something the Blinder knew that Alfie didn’t. Something brewing on the horizon and only Tommy was at a high enough point to see what it was. And if it involved Tommy, it involved the entire family whether they liked it or not. That meant Ella so inevitably; Alfie would have to gear up for whatever battle. He wouldn’t let Tommy’s past fuck-ups affect her anymore.

             All he could do was try to win her trust back, even just the little bit he would allow her. Ella had doubled down on her decisions, cozying up in Camden with Alfie. But she listened. Watched. Waited for that sign that something was amiss. Anticipated the next time he would lie or betray her. Maybe he’d lead the police right back to her. Maybe he’d send her back to her brother. She loved him, enough to believe he wouldn’t do such a thing. But there was once a time she thought her own brother would never let his family go to prison.

            As the weeks passed, however, it became increasingly difficult to keep up her guard around him. Not when he was so gentle and cautious around her. With every passing day, she was reminded of why she found him so endearing.

            She’d truly laughed for the first time in what felt like ages because of him. When he scolded Cyril in Russian for snatching half a loaf of bread off the kitchen counter. But only a moment later he was sneaking the mastiff table scraps.

 

            They made love for the first time a few days after the seventh Saturday together.

            Alfie had returned late from work. It wasn’t strange, but Ella was anxious to see him after a long day of work. She stayed up in bed for a bit before she realized she hadn’t left out anything for Alfie to eat.

            Ella wasn’t much of a cook. Not that Alfie seemed to mind much. He often made himself breakfast as he left for work much earlier than she did. And if he did come home early enough for supper, he was more than content with whatever Ella came up with. She learned her way around a kitchen from Polly and Ada. Neither were symbols of a perfect housewife. She certainly could feed a clan of Travelers. Skinning a rabbit seemed much easier than producing grand meals from scratch. It was especially intimidating to consider cooking traditionally Jewish dishes. She thought Alfie might like the gesture, but was terrified to disappoint. How embarrassing would it be to only point out the obvious? That she would never be the Jewish wife his family expected him to have.

            She was ruminating on this occurring fear as she cut up a loaf of bread in the kitchen. Cyril stood by her side, his tail wagging expectantly.

            When the front door opened, he turned and rushed over to greet Alfie. Ella heard the man quietly greet the dog, his heavy boots joined by Cyril’s paws padding on the hallway floor.

            “El?” Alfie looked puzzled to see her still awake.

            “I didn’t really make anything for dinner I…” She turned and gasped.

            He was sporting a black eye that certainly hadn’t been there that morning. He winced, knowing he wouldn’t have been able to hide it from her even if he tried. “Don’t worry, dealt with the fucker who did it.” It was mildly pleasing to know that the man had a bag of bricks tied to his ankle and dropped into the river. Clean cut. No blood. Wasn’t exactly eye for an eye but Alfie didn’t play that way.

            Ella grabbed a cold cloth to give to him. “Put that on it.” She instructed firmly. She had nearly a lifetime’s experience with tending to black eyes both her own and her brothers’.

            “What’re you still doing up, love?” He asked, gently pressing the cloth to his bruised eye.

            “Well, I’d gone out to dinner earlier with Amelia. I completely forgot to make you anything. If you’d like, I could put something together…”

            “Ain’t your job to feed me,” He chuckled and sat down to take off his boots. “Who’da ever thought you’d become such a little domestic mouse after a couple of months?” He teased.

            Ella couldn’t help but smile and walked over to unbutton his waistcoat and kiss his forehead. “Well is Cyril going to take care of you?” She murmured back tauntingly. “Because you’ve got a black eye, love.”

            “In me own fucking house.” He shook his head and playfully grabbed the skirt of her nightgown. “Toying with me in me own house.”

            She giggled and batted his hands away. While leaving the kitchen, she glanced over her shoulder. “Eat something. I’ll draw you a bath. Or would you rather I go to bed?”      

            “Cheeky girl.” He grunted and stood up. “Go on, I’ll be up in a minute.”

            She smiled and headed upstairs.

 

            After a long soak to ease the ache in his body, Alfie dried off and walked into the bedroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. Ella’s blue eyes followed him across the room as he went to rummage through the dresser.

            Maybe it was just timing, but she’d never seen him so vulnerable. Stripped of all the trappings he used to boost his stature. Never seen the tattoos that crawled over the blade of his shoulder, around the cuff, and onto his chest. Symbols, words, letters she didn’t recognize. Scars etched into several places on his body. A new one shown with every movement of his muscles. Some mildly faded nicks. Others angry and deep-set.

            It was hard to get over how beautiful he was.

            Ella stood from the bed and crossed the floor between them. Alfie heard her shy footsteps on the creaking floor and turned, a shirt in hand. He didn’t speak for a moment and neither did she. Her eyes scanned his torso as if she were cataloging every inch of it.

            Alfie’s breath hitched when she reached up and touched his chest. Her eyes found his again.

            “You’re not meant to have sex ‘fore marriage in your religion.” She clarified without much context.

            He swallowed and shook his head subtly. “No, not really.”

            Her fingertips were light against his skin. “How many women have you slept with?”

            “I uh…” He wasn’t sure what sort of answer she was looking for. But he decided sticking to the truth was ideal. Probably wouldn’t believe him if he testified he was untouched. “Didn’t keep count.”

            Her expression of curiosity didn’t falter. “I’m the last one then.”

            Alfie’s pupils blew wide. The unexpected bout of possessiveness from her was indescribable. It was like a hand reaching right into his chest and clutching at his heart. Without a second to spare, he scooped her up in his arms, hands firm on her thighs. “Ain’t ever made love before.” He walked her to the bed, her arms and legs wrapping around him tightly. Eyes fixed on him. “So you’d be the first and last woman to claim that prize.” A smirk crossed his lips.

            “Gladly.” She murmured and kissed him without abandon.

           

            It was like sticking a hand into a fire without getting burned. Ella couldn’t have Alfie close enough. She needed to feel every inch of him against her. Her fingernails dug into his shoulder blades, clinging to him with every movement.

            With every flex of muscle, they stoked the fire fostered between them. At the peak, Ella cried out and buried her face into his shoulder. She was trembling so badly, Alfie was terrified he’d hurt her.

            When he regained his voice, he drew back and cupped her cheek. “You alright? Did I hurt you?”

            Ella laughed breathlessly and released her grip on him. Her fingers carded through his hair. “The complete opposite.” She captured his lips again.

           

            She was beautiful. Alfie couldn’t look at her without thinking that. It made his heartache when he woke up to her beside him. As each Saturday passed, he became more and more comfortable with the idea of forever. Forever having her, forever being hers. Used to be he didn’t know what forever was. That was until he found himself in her eyes.

            It was terrifying for a man like him. Someone who didn’t think he deserved forever with someone like her. But she’d firmly rooted herself in his home and his life. And he would never turn her away, not when he knew how devastatingly painful it was.

            So every morning, he kissed her forehead and whispered three words.

 

 

            Around the twelfth Saturday, Alfie noticed Ella was confining herself. For good reason, she hadn’t been back to Birmingham. But she didn’t roam in London. She’d been keeping herself to Camden much to his surprise. It was nice, she told him about the women she’d met including Ollie’s wife.

            He wasn’t sure if it was a tactic to try and forget her family. It didn’t seem like a healthy strategy but he wasn’t sure how to bring up the matter. Besides, she appeared happy enough. There were always the subtle hints she unwittingly gave up about her worry. But she would brush him off if he ever inquired if she was okay.

 

            One night, Alfie came home to the house smelling like an actual bakery. Warmth radiated from the kitchen and Ella had the radio loud enough so she could hear it from the parlor.

            He greeted Cyril while hanging his coat up. “What’s she up to then?” He asked the mastiff and followed him into the kitchen.

            Ella was humming along to the music, subtly dancing around the kitchen. She spun back and forth between the counter and the table. Her curls pinned up to accommodate for the longer length they were. She’d fashioned a small scarf into a headband to hold back any stray pieces of hair. She had what appeared to be a new apron tied around her waist and was wearing one of Alfie’s button-down shirts, the sleeves bunched up around her elbows, and a pair of loose-fitting trousers.

            Alfie smiled and snuck up behind her. She shrieked when he tickled her sides. “Alfred Solomons!” She smacked his arm. “Don’t fucking do that.”

            He laughed and surveyed the scene in front of him. “You baking, love?” There was flour everywhere, even in Ella’s dark hair and across her cheek. The scent of bread also wafted from the oven.

            She pulled a sour face when she sensed the hint of amusement in his voice. “So what if I am?” Her hands went to her hips.

            Alfie wrapped his arms around her waist. “Didn’t think you liked baking, s’all.”

            Ella frowned and slung her arms around his neck. “Not much good at it.” She admitted. “Minnie tried teaching me. Says I should learn how to make Challah.”

            “That’s nice.” He nodded and recognized the name of one of his neighbors down the street. She was one of the women Ella had befriended. “Made a fucking mess but smells good.” He brushed the flour off her cheek and tried to comb it out of her hair.

            She shrugged. “We’ll see how it turns out. Trying to be proper, I s’pose.”

            Alfie’s brow furrowed. “That what this is ‘bout?” He tilted her chin up so she couldn’t avoid eye contact. “Love, you don’t need to do all this. You’re not…” He waved a hand around to find the words. “Don’t need you to be like them.”

            “Like Minnie?”

            “Right. I know that’s not you. Don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not, right, if ya just trying to please me. Love you the way you are.”

            Ella stuck out her lower lip, her eyes flicked sheepishly away from his face. “Just thought you’d…I dunno.”

            Alfie reached around her waist to untie the apron, slipping it off and tossing it onto the flour-covered counter. He took her hand and coaxed her into the parlor where the music was loudest.

            She pouted but accepted the gesture and followed him down the hall. Her arms slipped back around him as he pulled her into a slow dance. Her cheek pressed into his shoulder.

            “Me mum, yeah, wanted me to marry a good Jewish woman. Someone to take care of the house, cook Kosher, pop out Jewish babies. If I wanted that, I would’ve tried to find someone like that long time ago, right? But I didn’t because I were looking for you, weren’t I?”

            Ella smiled slightly. “Looking for trouble? ‘Cause that’s all I am.”

            “Trouble or not, you’re fucking worth it, ain’t ya?” He grazed his lips over her temple.

            “Alfie, I’m afraid.” She admitted in a voice just loud enough to hear over the music.

            “Afraid of what, love?”

            She chewed on her lip and listened to his heartbeat for a moment before she answered. “I’m afraid of what’s to come and how it’s gonna affect us. Something’s coming, I know it is.”

            After speaking to Tommy weeks earlier, Alfie agreed with her. There certainly was something in the air. “We’ll be okay.” He murmured. “Won’t let anything happen to you, yeah?”

            “Just want to stay like this.” Uncertainty made her voice waver. “Please let it stay like this, Alfie.”

            He tightened his arms around her to comfort her. “Sh, sh, s’alright. It’ll be alright.”

Chapter Text

            Every Wednesday afternoon, Ella would travel down the street to Minnie’s flat. There, she would hold tea for the friend group. The location never varied. Minnie was one of the few women in the group who didn’t have children. So the rest of the group took the afternoon as a welcomed break from the kids. Either they were in school, or they would drop them off at a relative’s house for a few hours. Sometimes, they’d bring the kids along, letting them play with toys in Minnie’s parlor while they talked in the adjoining kitchen.

            Ella adored all of the children the women had. Ollie and Elsie had four kids ranging from even to eight months. Ruth had a two-year-old daughter who was her entire world. Annie was pregnant with her first, having only just gotten married. Nora was also pregnant but with her third child, already having two young boys. And finally, Lydia, the oldest of the group, took home the prize of most children with six little ones.

            Every opportunity, Ella took to babysit. She missed her nieces and nephews, wishing she could see them again. It wasn’t their fault the family had been torn apart. She’d made note of Charlie’s birthday and had cried when she realized how long it had been since she’d seen him.

 

            Still, she kept her sanity despite the seemingly irredeemable loss of her family. The relationships with the Camden women and women from work helped. Along with Alfie, they reminded her that she had a choice of who her family was. Last names didn’t matter one bit.

 

            On Wednesdays, Ella left work early, freshened up at home and headed over to Minnie’s. Sometimes she brought along baked goods she had tried to make. It was usually just to ask Minnie what she’d done wrong because they didn’t quite taste as good as they did when they’d made the same thing together.

            She adored the small, tight-knit group of women and was grateful they had been so welcoming to her. It did help that most of them were wives of men who worked for Alfie. Some women in Camden would hardly look at Ella not because of her lack of religion, but because of her affiliation with the gangster boss.

            They were quite different from the women she’d been raised with. They were modern women in an orthodox community. Their hair was covered because of their marital status, never wore trousers, they attended temple without fail, and were devoted to their husbands. They were the Jewish women that Alfie’s mother probably wanted him to marry. But times were changing and they’d secured some freedoms. Among friends, they were chatty and loved to have a good laugh. They tittered about topics that most men would deem inappropriate for women. Some even had a good deal to say about the current climate. But it was all good fun.

            They especially liked having Ella around. The Shelby girl was extremely interesting to them both because of her different upbringing and her unorthodox relationship with Alfie. The women were careful not to discuss the Shelby family. Ella had been clear that she no longer associated with them and would rather not go into too much detail about the situation. Minnie, the one closest to Ella, knew a bit more than the rest of the group. Ella had confided in her about the actions Tommy took to get her arrested. Also how her family was still facing the death sentence.

            But they did hawk her about Alfie. Most of them had known him for a very long time but only knew him as the gruff, intimidating man who had violent tendencies towards his enemies and questionable morals. None of them ever expected him to find someone to love.

 

            “My mother would always steer me away from him.” Ruth wrapped her hands around the warm teacup. “You should’ve seen him before the war, El, just a troublemaker.”   

            Ella smiled and tried to imagine her Alfie as a young man. Clean-shaven, thin, always scuffed up from a fight or arrest. “Why am I not even surprised?” It was sound. Men like Alfie always got their starts on the streets. All of the Shelby children did. The Italians did as well. The rejected bits of society. The bottom of the pyramid, the people the elite snubbed and continued kicking to the dirt. Most took their fate with stride. Others refused to accept it. A poor Jewish boy, a poor Irish Traveler, poor Italian immigrants. They simply kept getting up, dusting themselves off, and raising more and more hell. Louder and louder until they were impossible to ignore.

            “Such a little hellraiser.” Nora agreed. “The police all knew him by first and last name. They knew his mother’s name too.”

            “Do you remember when he came back from France?” Minnie set down a plate stacked with treats.

            “Sure, he came back the same day David did,” Nora answered. “Saw him at the train station. Something different about him, but they all changed when they were over there.” She shrugged.

            Ella nodded, her eyes glancing down at the tea in front of her. She hadn’t noticed how she was absent-mindedly stirring the tea for much longer than needed. “He never even dated anyone?” She wondered. Alfie hadn’t gone into detail about his past relationships. Neither of them had decided it was important enough to discuss. They didn’t realize that neither of them had ever held a serious relationship.

            The women chuckled in response. “There isn’t much dating here,” Elsie explained. “Usually your parents make the arrangement.”

            “Oh…” Ella tilted her head to the side. “That’s usually how gypsy clans do it too.” She admitted and thought about what Alfie had said a while back. About how her brother was ready to offer her up to another family. Maybe one of the Lees or the Youngs.

            “He’s had his good share of fine women from France.” Annie hid her smile into her teacup.

            The women laughed and Ella looked amused. The comment didn’t faze her. “Oh, I’m sure. We’ve had the discussion about our purity. Or lack thereof”

            They all shared a sly look. “And I’m sure he’s given you the spiel that sex before marriage is never explicitly mentioned in the Torah.” Annie giggled and nudged Ella’s arm.

            Her face turned red. “Well, no he didn’t mention that specifically. Just said it wasn’t really proper.” She shrugged meekly.

            “Alfie does what he likes.” Minnie sighed and shook her head. “He always has, but you’d have to be blind to miss the way he looks at you. Didn’t think he had that sort of affection for anyone.”

            It warmed Ella’s heart to think about the subtle smile he tried to hide whenever he looked her way. Minnie was right; it was damn near impossible to miss the softening of his features, the way his muscles slightly relaxed, and the fondness written in his eyes. “He is much more than his reputation. We’ve had our ups and downs…but he is a good man.” She smiled sheepishly. “I ought to think he likes me if he’s stuck around this long.”

            Ruth chuckled. “Are you mad? He’s crazy for you. Surprised he hasn’t swept you off to get married.”

            Ella tapped her heel against the leg of her chair and clicked her tongue. “Well, since I’m not Jewish…I dunno.” It was so easy to forget the clear lines of division between her and the rest of the Camden community. When they welcomed her with open arms, she could disregard their differences. But something would always pop back up to remind her. “We haven’t spoken about it since I’ve moved here.” She purposefully left out the part when Tommy tried to barter her hand for loyalty.

            Minnie rolled her eyes. “Again, the man does what he likes, love. He’s not exactly what I would call a traditional man.”

            “He’ll probably bribe Rabbi Halberg.” Lydia joked.

            They shared a laugh but Ella shook her head. “No, no, I wouldn’t want to disrespect anyone. We’ll just have to make do I suppose.”

            “His brother married a catholic girl,” Annie recalled. “Before he and Alfie went to fight in France. Actually…no, did Joseph fight in France?”

            Ruth frowned as she searched her memory. “He enlisted far sooner than Alfie did, even before the war started. He was older. I believe he was shipped further East.”

            “Perhaps. Well anyway,” Annie waved off the minor detail. “He met a nurse and married her just months after they met. Don’t believe they had much of a ceremony, just went to the court to have the marriage licensed.”

            “Oh, but what’s the fun in that?” Nora frowned. “I want to dress her up!”

            Ella laughed but cringed a little. It was a nice fantasy, dressed in white, walking down the aisle with flowers and the whole shebang. But it just didn’t seem plausible. Maybe she lost the desire when they argued about it after Tommy’s proposition. Their relationship wasn’t standard so they wouldn’t follow standard procedures. “I don’t think Alfie would want a large ceremony anyway. Besides, I never saw myself as marriage material. Minnie knows, I’m shit at cooking and I’m messier than Alfie and Cyril combined.”

            “He doesn’t want a housewife. Just a wild Shelby girl to call his own.” Nora assured her. “He’ll just want to put a massive rock on your finger and brag about you. He loves you and men in love are very foolish. They’ll act like circus clowns, flipping over backward for your affection. And when they’ve got it, they’ll do everything they can to keep you happy. Not to mention he’ll want to show off a beauty like yourself.”

            The women agreed and teased Ella over her face turning bright pink. “Like Ollie. Elsie, tell her the story.” Ruth prompted.

            Elsie grinned and shook her head. “Talk about a fool. When we met for the first time he was so nervous. I thought he was going to faint!”

            “And your father was afraid he’d made the wrong choice!”

           The women continued on, telling Ella about the first time they'd met their husbands. She smiled and laughed along with them but in the back of her mind, she wondered about what the future held for her and Alfie. 

 

 

            Monday evening, Ella was walking home from work. Alfie wasn’t fond of the arrangement. He offered to have a car pick her up but she brushed off his concern. She had to remind him that she’d been walking city streets on her own for a very long time, both Birmingham and London. Safe to say, she won that battle and enjoyed the walk to and from work.     

            It was nearing dusk and it was a mild night out. She was getting close to Camden Town, only a few blocks away from the flat she now called home. It was quiet out, only a few other people making the commute home as well.

            “Miss Shelby!” An unfamiliar voice from behind called her name.        

            Ella paused and turned.

            A man in a nondescript, heavy black coat and derby hat approached her. She didn’t recognize him from anywhere. Not as one of Alfie’s men or a Blinder. If Tommy were having her followed, then they wouldn’t outright address her.

            “Pardon, do I know you?” She kept her guard up, her hand subtly tucking into her coat where her small handgun was kept.

            “We haven’t met before.” He pulled out a badge to show her. “Inspector Ian Blackwell of Scotland Yard.” He introduced himself.

            “Uh-huh.” It didn’t matter whether he was actually from the Yard or pretending to be. Either way, she was wary. “Can I help you with something?”

            “I’m sure you can.” His smile was unnerving. Strangely arrogant and yet secretive. “You’re the younger sister of Arthur, Thomas, and John Shelby? The niece of Mrs. Polly Gray?” He asked.

            “I’ve no ties with my family anymore.” She replied frigidly and kept her distance from him. “I haven’t spoken to any of them in months.”

            “I’m sure you haven’t. All of them were in jail, save for Thomas.” Inspector Blackwell tucked his badge away.

            The corner of Ella’s mouth twitched as she tried to keep her surprise under wraps. “So they’ve been released?”

            “You didn’t know?”

            She wasn’t fooled. That was a tried and true Shelby response to an interrogation. Answer questions with more questions. “If they’re not in prison anymore, Inspector, then why are you so curious about them?”

            He chuckled and stepped towards her. “What about a Mr. Alfie Solomons? What do you know about him?”

            Ella leaned away from him, trying to keep her distance without stepping back. She didn’t want him to know she was uneasy in his presence. “That name is unfamiliar to me.”

            “Really?” An amused glint passed over his face. “Shouldn’t you know the name of the man you’ve been living with for months?”

            “This conversation is over, Mr. Blackwell.” She hissed and went to turn away from him.

            Before she could reach for her pistol, the much bigger man snatched her by the arm. He wrenched her towards him and tilted his head down to whisper in her ear. “I don’t like people like you, Miss Shelby. Think you’re above the law because you’re fucking a gangster. If you make this difficult for me, rest assured I’ll make you pay. Or, you can comply and I’ll spare you.”

            “Or I can shoot you square between the eyes.” She replied in a cold voice. Her blue eyes glared back at him, refusing to show him any fear. “Do you know what’ll happen after that?”

            His jaw clenched but he didn’t respond.

            “I’ll let you know.” Her eyes narrowed. “I shoot you, spray your brains all over the street, leave you to bleed out like the pig you are. No one calls the police. Instead, four men arrive after I’ve gone. Jewish men. Very honorable men. They pick you up and bring you to a bakery down the street. They cut you into pieces, remove your teeth, burn off your fingertips, and pack you up into sacks. Around midnight, they take those sacks to the cut. Weigh them down with bricks. Come morning, there isn’t a trace of you. One could argue you never even existed. Your little friends can come here and ask what happened, but no one will know. You were never here. They’ve never heard of you. Then like that you’ve disappeared.”

            “You bitch…”

            “Thing is, Mr. Blackwell, it doesn’t matter who I’m fucking. Doesn’t matter who my family is. At the end of the day, I’m just as dangerous as they are.”

            “You and your dirty gypsy kin will hang.” The inspector snarled and tightened his grip on her arm.

            “We control the ropes, inspector. We decide who hangs.”

            “Miss Shelby?” One of the young men who worked for Alfie, Ben, was walking down the street. He paused when he saw the woman being accosted by the much taller man. “What’s going on?”

            The inspector loosened his grip and Ella took the opportunity to rip away from him. “This is Scotland Yard business, none of your concern.” He snapped.

            “You’re in Camden, anything ‘round here is Alfie Solomons’s business.” Ben reached a hand towards the gun tucked in his belt. “So I suggest you move along and leave Miss Shelby alone.”

            Blackwell narrowed his eyes but took a step back to show he was surrendering, even for just a moment. “Was only asking her a few questions, I'm well within my rights.”

            Ella moved to stand closer to Ben. “Will you walk me home?” She asked him quietly. Her eyes didn’t move from the detective, making sure he didn’t make any sudden movements.

            “Of course.” Ben nodded and gave the inspector one last glance.

            “I’ll be seeing you again soon, Miss Shelby,” Blackwell said with a hint of malicious glee in his voice. Despite her threats, he gave her a smug smirk before turning to walk away.

            “C’mon, let’s get you to the bakery.” Ben touched her arm to guide her in the opposite direction. “Alfie’ll want to hear what happened right away.”

           

 

            Alfie was very interested in what the inspector had to say. But he flew into quite a fit before Ella had the chance to give him specifics. Once he heard that Ella had been stopped by someone from Scotland Yard, he dished out orders. Several men were set out to see if they could track down the inspector and others swept out to see if there were any other cops that were unfamiliar to the area.

            “If you find that fucker, you bring him back here so I can deal with him properly,” Alfie demanded before slamming the office door behind him.

            Ella was curled up in his leather chair, concern etched into her face. “Alfie, I didn’t mean to cause all this stir.” She said quietly. "I'm afraid I might've riled him up a little. He wasn't the only one tossing 'round threats." She admitted. 

            “No, no.” He shook his head and rounded the desk. “’Nough of that, love. None of this is your fault.” He knelt down in front of her and took her hands. “Did he hurt you at all?”

            She shook her head. “No. He grabbed me but it’s nothing.” Her hand subconsciously rubbed the bruised area on her arm. “He knew about us…knew about my family. Alfie, they’ve been released from prison.”

            His eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Must’ve been recent, haven’t heard anything ‘bout that.”

            “Things won’t be able to go back to normal.” Her eyes gazed off, blankly staring at the filing cabinets. “I’m glad they’re safe but…what did Tommy do to get them out of prison? Why did he arrange it all to begin with?”

            “S’pose that’s what that inspector is trying to figure out,” Alfie suggested with a slight shrug. His thumb grazed back and forth over the top of her hand, trying to calm them both down.

            “If the Yard’s questioning me then they’re questioning everyone. I bet they can’t even get to Tommy though.” She muttered. Her brother always had a tendency to avoid consequences. 

            It was reasonable to assume Scotland Yard wanted to figure out what went wrong. Wanted to know how the members of the Shelby family just simply walked. But Alfie was not willing to let Tommy involve Ella in his mess again. Even if that meant keeping the Yard away from her. “I’ll handle it, love,” Alfie promised her.

            “This isn’t about you. This is Tommy’s doing, he should have to handle it. I’m sick of feeling the aftershocks of his decisions.”

            He clasped her hands in his. “This Blackwell, he mentioned me too, didn’t he?”

            Ella nodded hesitantly.

            “So then it’s ‘bout me. I’ll handle it.” He insisted firmly, holding her gaze. “El, I know that you’ve lost the trust of everyone including me. ‘N maybe I’ll never win it back. The only thing I can do is show that I’ll take care of you. ‘Cause I will. No matter what I’ll take care of you.”

            She leaned forward to hug him. “I wish I could be different for you.” Her voice broke. The fearlessness she’d shown in front of the inspector was beginning to fade. Those days, there was only one person she showed her vulnerability to. And he was holding her close.

            “Love, I don’t want you to be any different than you are right now.” He murmured.

            Ella buried her face in the crook of his neck, refusing to let go. “If I were different, your life would be so much easier.” She argued glumly.

            “If you were different, yeah, then we wouldn’t have fallen in love. Then me life would be fucking miserable, wouldn’t it?” He stroked her hair back and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Love you just the way you are and that ain’t ever going to change.”

            She whimpered a disagreement but was too tired to fight. Instead, she leaned into his arms, letting him take some of the weight from her shoulders. Her eyes closed and she honed in on his breathing.

            “Don’t worry about this, okay? I’ll take care of everything.”

Chapter Text

 

            Some time passed but Ollie reported that none of the men had come across Inspector Blackwell in their territory. So Alfie called off the search and brought Ella back home. She was a little out of sorts. Although she’d held her ground against the man, she felt unnerved after the fact. Not only did she now know her family was freed, but she was terrified that whatever Tommy’s plan was it was beginning soon.

            The confrontation also interrupted Ella’s little bubble she had created with Alfie. It was all she could do to try and keep a hold of that peace.

 

            “Want to take a bath? Have a cuppa?” Alfie suggested as they entered the flat together. He helped her out of her jacket, gently rubbing her shoulder.

            “I don’t know.” Ella wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying. She knelt down to give Cyril a pat.

            Alfie frowned with worry and locked the door behind him. He checked out the small window beside the door. Two men stood across the street, watching the house under Alfie’s orders. It might’ve been excessive, but Alfie wasn’t taking any chances with a man of the law. “C’mon, love.” He offered a hand out to her and kissed her cheek. “Why don’t you head upstairs, I’ll make you tea.”

            She nodded absent-mindedly and went up to the bedroom. Her thoughts were consuming too much of her mind to think straight. Almost in a haze, she slipped into a nightgown and went to sit on the bed. Slowly, she began to pluck out the pins in her hair. Her curls were starting to graze past her shoulders. Every time she realized how long it had grown, her heart ached for her sister and aunt. That inevitably led to missing her brothers and cousin. And finally, her thoughts would settle on Tommy. Anger and hurt enveloping her until she was close to tears.

            The hairbrush combed through her hair mindlessly, her eyes fixed on the open bedroom door. She didn’t stop brushing until Alfie came upstairs with tea in hand. His entrance snapped her out of the daze and she set the comb aside.

            “What’re you thinking ‘bout, love?” He asked gently and placed the teacup on the nightstand nearest to her. He knelt down in front of her and took her hands in his.

            “My family.” She admitted quietly.

            “Maybe you should call them? Least your aunt.” Alfie suggested softly and kissed her knuckles. “Or have Ishmael drive you over? I’d go with you but I…” He winced. “Don’t think they’d want to see me.”

            Ella closed her eyes when she felt the sting of tears beginning. “That’s just it, isn’t it?” She mumbled. “Things can’t go back to the way they were. Ever. But I’m…I’m starting to become okay with that.” After focusing on her breathing for a moment, she opened her eyes to look at him. “I love you. And if that doesn’t mesh well with my family then that’s that. Won’t change anything.”

            In response, he forced a weak smile. He desperately wanted to agree. Fuck her family; they were perfect on their own. Things could keep going as they were for another lifetime. But it wouldn’t be in her best interest. Alfie knew her family would always be in the back of her no mind no matter how many times she denied it. He couldn’t take the place of her entire family.

            “Perhaps you should call Polly.” He said again. “Just to make sure she’s okay. I’m sure she’s wondering the same about you.”

            Ella sighed and relented. “I’ll ring her tomorrow. Tonight, I don’t want to have to think about anything else. Just want to go to bed.” She frowned and reached for the tea that was still steaming on the nightstand.

            “I’ve got a bit more paperwork to do downstairs.” Alfie stood up, shaking out the stiffness in his leg from kneeling.

            “No, stay.” She pled quietly. Her blue eyes yearning for him. “Please?”

            She made him absolutely weak. Paperwork could wait. “Alright, just let me wash up, just be a mo’.”

            Ella smiled victoriously.

 

 

            “Hello?”

            Ella was appalled at how quick she was to cry those days. Perhaps she just had too many emotions all building up that they were eager to break out for any reason. The sound of her beloved aunt’s voice was one such reason.

            She was sat on the steps in Alfie’s flat one evening. The telephone wire threaded between the banisters so it would reach from the table in the front hall. She spent the day mulling over what Alfie had suggested the night before. Finally, she gathered the courage to dial Polly’s number.

            “Pol, it’s Ella.” She choked out the words.

            “Ella!” The older woman sounded delighted to hear from her niece. “I’ve been speaking with your father…”

            The single sentence was more alarming than anything Ella had expected to hear. She supposed Polly would ask if things were okay or tell her what happened to get her released from prison.

            “What do you mean? He’s dead, you know that.” Even if Arthur Senior had faked his death for whatever reason, he wouldn’t go right to Polly. Their relationship had been very strained over how he treated her nieces and nephews.

            “Full of regret. They’re always full of regret.” Polly didn’t sound all there. Her voice didn’t carry the same vigor and strength that it normally did. It almost sounded like she was drifting away due to an extreme high. She’d seen it happen many times to different people before.

            “Pol.” Ella tried to interrupt the ramblings of a lost woman. “Polly, can you give the phone to Michael? Is he there with you?”

            Instead of answering, there was a shuffle of movement and Michael stepped onto the call. “Ella?” He was in disbelief. Tommy had said she’d been released from prison but didn’t mention her again. Michael didn’t know what happened or where she went after she abandoned all her things at Watery Lane. “Where are you? Are you alright?”

            “I’m perfectly fine. I’m more concerned about your mother.” She insisted. “What’s she on about hearing my dead father talking to her?”

            There was an uncomfortable pause on the other end of the line. “She’s been taking tablets that the doctor gave her for sleep. Now she’s all in sorts, saying she’s communicating with spirits.”

            Ella put a hand over her eyes and had to wait until she spoke again. She heard Cyril’s nails clicking on the wood floor, approaching her from the kitchen. Her eyes lifted when she felt his wet nose nudging at her hand. He rested his chin on her knees, his brown eyes on her, and his tail wagging. She smiled weakly and began to stroke his fur. The motion calmed her down enough to reply to Michael. “Well, why don’t you tell her to stop taking them?”

            “She won’t let me. Afraid she’s worse when she’s off them. What happened…it really affected her.” His voice wavered. They had all suffered. The event had rocked Michael to the core and all he could do was try to be there for his mother and hold himself together as well. But nearly every night, he woke up in a cold sweat. That stark white room loomed in his mind. The three ropes hanging from the ceiling. The way the noose felt around his neck. It would drive anyone mad.

            “Then talk to the doctor to see what else can be done.” She urged. “This isn’t normal.”

            “Tommy said I should agree with her. Say the spirits are real.”

            A white-hot venom shot through Ella’s veins in a split second. “What?” For a moment she wasn’t sure she’d heard her cousin right. “You mean you’ve spoken to him?” She let out a scoff and stopped petting Cyril for a moment. “Bloody hell are you still working for him?”

            Another drawn-out pause lingered between the telephones. It was enough of an answer for Ella but Michael did admit to it. “He needs me right now. Without John, Arthur, and my mum he’s understaffed.” He tried to explain steadily.

            “Understaffed. We’re his fucking family, not his soldiers!” She shouted into the receiver. “Michael, that man is the reason your mother is like this. And you’re listening to him? Obeying his orders? Still?!”

            Cyril whined and scratched at Ella’s leg as if to try and comfort her. Alfie, who was upstairs, also heard the commotion. He came out of the bedroom and stood at the top of the stairs.

            Ella’s back was still to him and didn’t hear his footsteps over her own voice. “That man has destroyed this family and it is never going to be the same again!”

            “Ella…”

            “No, fuck off!” She screamed and tossed the receiver away from her. The wire caught on the banister and limply hung off the hook. “That fucking disgrace!” She stood and stormed past Cyril. The mastiff looked up at Alfie who was a little dumbfounded.

            Hesitantly, he walked downstairs to follow her into the parlor. He wasn’t sure whether he should interrupt or if she wanted to be left alone. “El?”

            “What?” She snapped and spun around. Her hands clenched into fists and fire in her ice-cold eyes.

            His body subtly retreated, one step out of the parlor and holding up a hand in defense. “Sorry, just wanted to know if you were okay. But you can tell me to fuck off if ya want.”

            Ella deflated a little when she realized she was taking her anger out on the wrong person. She slumped onto the sofa and put her face in her hands. “He’s ruined so much but he never faces the consequences.” She whispered.

            Alfie walked over to her, assured she wouldn’t lash out at him. Even if she did, he was sure he could handle it. “What happened? What did Polly say?”

            “She’s lost her fucking marbles because of him. Can’t handle it anymore and now she’s seeing spirits ‘round the house.” She told him honestly. After furiously scrubbing her hands over her eyes a few times she looked up at him.

            By all accounts, Alfie heard that Polly was a very strong woman. It was disheartening to hear that she had been so traumatized. Not that there was anything he could personally do about it. “Well, I…” He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest. “There’s a good doctor I know, right, might be able to help with any sort of…” He was really struggling to find tactful words. “Issues of the brain.”

            Ella chewed on her nails, her foot shaking with agitation. “This isn’t a matter of doctors, it’s a matter of making Tommy pay for what he’s done.” Rage clouded her sight and judgment. She stood up suddenly and made a beeline for the door.

            Alfie grabbed her before she could pass by him. “Oi, where you going at this hour?”

            “Doesn’t matter.” She shook him off and reached for her coat.

            “Fucking matters to me, don’t it?”

            “Fine.” She huffed while hastily stuffing her arms into the sleeves. “If that inspector wants to harass us then he ought to harass the right fucking person. I’m going to go find him and tell him everything Tommy’s done. Anything that’ll get him the same sentence he gave my family.”

            “No, no.” Alfie stepped between her and the front door. “Be having none of that. Why don’t you go sit down, take a few breaths?” Despite his attempt to be caring, his tone came off as demanding.

            “You telling me what to do?” Ella challenged and stepped up to him. “You know as well as I do that my brother needs to be accountable for his actions. He leaves a fucking mess in his wake no matter where he goes. His wife is dead ‘cause of him. His son will be motherless. My aunt’s gone off the deep end. For God’s sake, we’ve all gone off the deep end at this point!” She shouted.

            “If you go off spouting what he’s done then you’re just gonna get wrapped up in it, ain’t ya?” Alfie spoke over her, trying to grab her attention. Try to make her think rationally even in the state she was in. “They could damn well lock you and your family up again because everything Tommy does, he’s involved you lot. You’re his collateral damage, yeah? Because if he’s going down, so is everyone else around him. That’s just how he works, innit?”

            Her lip trembled and she hit her fists against his chest. It didn’t hurt much as her entire body had gone weak with grief. She let out a sob and pressed her forehead into his shoulder. “We’ll all be dead ‘fore December.” She cried. “Something’s coming, I just know it is.”

            “Hush now, love.” He gently removed her coat and wrapped his arms around her. “Polly’ll be alright. Just need to keep on.”

            She whimpered a reply but the words were lost into his shoulder. Her fingers wrapped around his shirt and held him close.

            “Just promise me you’ll stay away from that inspector.” Alfie kept his voice soft but he hoped she could tell he was being serious. Any information about Tommy could have a lot of people locked up, himself probably included. And he couldn’t free Ella again if he was imprisoned too.

            Still, he agreed with her. Tommy certainly was up to something and it was about time Alfie figured it out. He didn’t want to be blindsided by anything. If it was something he could handle, then he wanted to be prepared. If it weren’t, then he would plan for that as well. Probably fuck off to Margate with Ella and live the rest of their lives in peace. If that was even possible.

            Alfie kissed her hair. “Want to get away for the weekend?” He asked softly. “Leave London?”

            “I have to work.” She mumbled into his shirt.

            “Yeah, so do I but I don’t fucking care now do I?” He smiled and tucked a curl behind her ear. “C’mon love, I know somewhere nice. Not too far.” He coaxed.

            Ella sniffled and after a thoughtful moment, she nodded. “Okay.”

            “Good. You’ll love it, I promise.”

Chapter Text

 

            The Friday before they were due to leave for Margate, Ella walked to work as usual. Alfie tried again to get her to take the car. Would even let her drive it as long as she wasn’t walking. Now that he knew there was a detective looking to extract information from her, he was even more worried about her well-being. But she won the battle a second time.

            “Strong women don’t adjust their routine even if there’s a pesky fly trying to disrupt it.”

            At risk of calling her weak, which Alfie was more than positive wasn’t true, he relented. Simply watched as she loaded her small handgun and slipped it into the holster by her side, and tucked the blade into the holster on her thigh. She did it with such daintiness and disregard. Truly the air of a woman who had been raised around weapons her entire life.

           

            However, that Friday morning, it appeared that Alfie’s worries were warranted. Out of the corner of her eye, halfway to the law firm, she spotted the flash of someone familiar. The inspector doing his best to blend in with the rest of the early morning crowd shuffling along to work. Ella’s pace didn’t stutter, she didn’t speed up, and she didn’t try to shake him off. She simply changed direction. A man collecting donations by the steps of the church smiled and tipped his hat towards her. She smiled back and headed into the church as if it were her destination the entire time.

            The chapel was empty and nearly silent. Void of any hymns or organ music. Ella’s heels echoed through the lofty vaulted ceiling. Steadily, she made her way halfway down the nave, stopping at a row. With a deep breath, her eyes lifted to the vacant altar. A single candle burning. She knelt and made the sign of the cross just as Polly had taught her ages ago. Another set of footsteps made their way into the church by the time she was sat.

            Calmly, Ella placed her hands in her lap and tried to adjust to the wooden pew. She’d nearly forgotten how hellishly uncomfortable they were. Her eyes remained ahead as the footsteps stopped and shuffled into the row behind her. The wood creaked as someone sat.

            “I didn’t know you were religious, Miss Shelby.” Inspector Blackwell removed his hat, placing it on the pew beside him.

            She didn’t glance back at him. He’d be able to hear her just fine without looking at his smug face. “I’m not. I’ve lost my faith a long time ago. As has the rest of my family.”

            “And yet you’ve led me to a church.”

            “A sanctuary. A good detective wouldn’t harm someone in the lord’s house, now would he?”

            There was a low chuckle from behind her. “Your family likes to play games, isn’t that right, Miss Shelby?” The wood whined as he leaned forward. “You think the rules don’t apply to you, but you use them when it suits you best.”

            “Were you in France, Inspector?”

            A moment of silence indicated his confusion. “Yes.” He answered, unsure of where the young woman was leading him. Detectives of Scotland Yard were usually commanders of the conversation, but not many of them had the pleasure of speaking to a Shelby.

            “My brothers were commanders of the Small Heath Rifles.” Ella sat straight, her eyes barely moving from the elaborate altar. The gilded candelabras and large crucifix hanging high above so that all in the church could see. “They left for France when I was thirteen. Claykickers. The absolute worst fate. But shouldn’t we all be used to it by now? Forced into the ground, the walls shaking, threatening to cave in and bury us all. I trust you know a lot about our family by now Inspector, but you’ll never know what it’s like. Born into the lives we were. And then my brothers, to be sent to France only to be placed underground again. No one above them giving a flying fuck whether they made it out of that tunnel or not. My aunt and I received a letter saying their unit had been buried alive.” Ella gritted her teeth. “They returned to us. But they were dead. Dead men. That’s why they’re not afraid of you, Inspector, because they’ve met Death and made acquaintance with him.”

            “That’s all well and good, Miss Shelby, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re criminals. And I’ll be happy to put them back underground. Underneath the prison to rot. You can join them if you’d like.”

            A hint of a smirk formed on Ella’s face. “The other day, I was about to give my brother up to you. Tell you everything you’d need to lock him up. Bury him under the prison. Then I remembered I fucking hate cops, much more than I’ll ever hate my brother. I may be angry with Tommy, but I’ll never betray my family the way he did.” She stood and turned to finally look at Blackwell. “You’ve made a grave mistake, Inspector.” She informed him smugly. “You’ve upset my dear Alfie and now you’ve received attention from the Shelby Company. I wonder what it’s like to have two of the most dangerous men after you.” She shrugged and went to exit the pew. Before walking out of the church, she paused. “When one of us dies, we burn them. We’d never bury them again. But rest assured Inspector, we will bury you so that you might know what it fucking feels like.” She smiled. “Good day.”

            Blackwell stood up before she could walk off. “I think you’ll be interested to know about a warrant I’ve issued.

            “I’ve been to prison before, Inspector, I think I could handle it again.” Ella attempted to sound reassured even if she spent less than twenty-four hours in a cell.

            “It’s not for you.” Satisfied that he was controlling the conversation again, the inspector smiled and took a step towards her. “It’s for Alfie Solomons.”    

            Her jaw tightened and stinging pain of fear stabbed her in the side. “For what? You have no evidence against him for anything.” She forced the words through her teeth.

            “I’ll charge him with whatever I damn well please.” He grinned and picked up his derby hat off the pew seat. “Extortion, assault, burglary, murder. Whatever will have him sent faster to the gallows.”

            “I don’t believe you.” She whispered and did her best to hold her ground. The man was doing nothing more than trying to intimidate her. Trying to scare her into spilling information about her family.

            “Then you can believe it while I lead him away in handcuffs.” He shrugged and adjusted the collar of his coat. “But it’ll be too late then.”

            Ella’s eyes flicked towards the doors of the church. She had to remember all the things her brothers taught her. Every trick to make herself appear tougher and colder even if she was shaking with anger inside. Like she was reining back a wild stallion, she rolled her shoulders back and lifted her chin. Stay in control. “What would make you rip up the warrant?”

            “Now you’re asking the right questions, Miss Shelby.” He chuckled and tipped his hat back on his head. “Your brothers, aunt, and cousin were all released because of information Thomas Shelby had. Now he walks around with an OBE. As far as I’m concerned, your brother ought to be locked up. Instead, he’s wandering around doing the same things he’s done before.”

            “I told you,” Her voice was like daggers, anger seeping out beyond her control. “I don’t know what he did. I have no contact with him anymore.”

            “Then you best give him a ring.”

            The thought of calling Tommy was enough to make Ella see red. But the threat of Alfie’s arrest was enough to make her feel nauseous. “He wouldn’t tell me anyway.”

            Blackwell clicked his tongue in disappointment. “Well, that’s a shame.” He began to walk past her.

            “Wait.” She called after him. Her hand twitched by her side. She wanted nothing more than to shoot the inspector where he stood. Instead, her fingers curled into a fist. “Give me a day. I’ll find out what you want to know.”

            “You have until Sunday, noon.” He continued walking down the nave and exited the church.

            The heavy doors closed, creating a ripple of sounds across the empty space. Ella hugged her arms around herself and turned to face the altar. She didn’t want to choose one or the other. No longer did she want to be pulled back and forth. But Tommy left her no option.

            “I’ll ask for forgiveness later.” She whispered to whoever would bother to listen in the silent chapel.

 

 

            Alfie knew there was something wrong with Ella. But he figured that she simply needed some time away from London. Everyone did at one point or another. An escape from the constant smoke, the sounds, the crowds. Alfie loved his city but there was nothing like Margate.

            He hoped to see the relief on Ella’s face when they finally arrived at the beachside cottage. To be fair, she seemed happy, but there was still a hint of apprehension in her blue eyes. Ella took his hand as he helped her out of the car. Cyril jumped out of the backseat too and began running around the shell-covered drive.

            She smiled as she took in the beautiful spot of land. A small stone cottage resting comfortably on a good-sized lawn nestled among an untamed garden. Roses flourished in the thick growth of lilies, and begonias. Ivy crawled up the cottage, etching itself into the grooves of the stones. A waist-height fence enclosed the little parcel of paradise. A path of flat rocks led away from the gate of the fence and snaked around the length of the fence, beckoning towards the bluff that overlooked the ocean.

            “It’s beautiful.” She said softly.

            Alfie was pleased. It was modest, certainly not a countryside estate that Tommy had, but it was peaceful. Damned if he ever needed more than just a few rooms to live comfortably. “Had it for a few years. Don’t come here as often as I like.” He picked up their bags and walked with her to the front gate. “Cyril loves it, loves having space to run ‘round. Don’t ya, mutt?”

            The mastiff barked and bolted into the lawn. He sniffed around the perimeter as Ella and Alfie brought their things inside.

            “Want to have a walk around before lunch? Town’s not too far from here. We could walk if you’d like. Or drive, doesn’t matter much.”

            Ella didn’t answer at first. The cottage was cozy on the inside. There wasn’t much ornate detail or unnecessary luxury. The front room led into the kitchen and small breakfast nook. Further back was a sitting room that faced the ocean and was encased in glass almost in the fashion of a greenhouse. Warmth radiated from the room, soaked up by comfortable armchairs. Finally, a hallway led to two small bedrooms on the side of the cottage.

            She paused in the sitting room by a bookshelf bolted to the wall. The books were sparse, unlike Alfie’s flat in London. Instead, photographs, shells, sea glass, and uniquely formed driftwood took up the shelves. Ella picked up one of the frames. “Is this your mum?” She asked quietly.

            The woman in the worn photograph wore a scarf over her hair denoting her status as a wife. She wasn’t smiling but Ella surmised it was from a time when photographs took much longer to take. A smile was too difficult to hold for the amount of time it took. But Alfie’s mother didn’t look harsh or cold. She had a gentle look to her eyes, which Ella imagined were the same blue color as Alfie’s.

            Alfie nodded. “Yeah, that’s me mum.” He said quietly. Her picture stayed in Margate for good reason. He didn’t want to remember her as the woman who suffered in London. The widow who took care of two unruly boys who were nearly always brought home by the cops before the sun set for the day. The woman who worked tirelessly to keep food on the table but still never had enough to scrape by. In London, she was always tired, sore, and heartbroken.

            In Margate, Sofia was brought back to life by the salty air and sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. It was simply a short holiday they took every summer when Alfie and Joseph were younger. When she stood on the shore, watching her boys splash around in the cold water, she felt at peace. And that’s how Alfie wanted to remember her.

            “She was beautiful.” Ella murmured. She carefully set the frame back in place next to a peach-colored conch and a perfectly intact scallop shell.

            “Yeah she were, weren’t she?” He smiled and ran a hand through his hair. “Unbelievable she had someone like me for a son.”

            Ella stuck out her lower lip and turned to him. “Are you fishing for compliments?” She teased and touched his chest.

            He chortled and shook his head. “Fucking hell, you think I need to be told nice things?”

            She tilted her head to the side. “Everyone likes to be told nice things.”

            “Eh, don’t need to be fluffed up with things that ain’t true.”

            “Well, I’m telling you the truth right now.” She replied firmly and moved her hand to his cheek. “You are, by far, the most handsome man I’ve ever met. And I adore seeing you every day.” She inched closer to him, her lips mere inches from his. “You’re charming and sweet and affectionate and clever and funny…”

            Alfie’s lips parted and he felt like he was burning up with a fever. “Fuck, you tryna butter me up for something, love?” He asked a little breathlessly. His eyes dancing between her pink lips and blue eyes.

            Ella smiled coyly and shook her head. Her thumb grazed over his bottom lip. “No, just trying to remind you how much I love you.”

            “Message well received.” He laughed and tried to close the gap between them and kiss her.

            But she slipped away, taking his hand. “You said you’d show me the beach?”

            He groaned in disappointment. “Cheeky girl.”

            “C’mon, I’ll kiss you on the beach.” She promised and tugged on his hand. For just an hour, she could ignore what she had to do. The call she had to make. The information she’d have to extract in order to keep Alfie out of handcuffs. Sunday. Sunday could wait.

Chapter Text

            Ella had never seen the sunset on a beach. She could recall a few times where she’d gone to the beach as a child. Most likely when they were traveling by caravan or maybe even the rare holiday. Somewhere off the coast of wales. But she remembered spending more time around ponds and lakes. The ocean was something so different.

            Living in a city of so many people, it was hard to get a good perspective on one’s impact. Especially since she was a part of such an influential family and living with a man who practically owned Camden. But looking at the ocean made Ella feel so small. Its absolute power and vast size were humbling, to say the least. She could be out floating among the waves and be completely lost within seconds. Just a little speck.

            And yet she felt like the world was pressing down on her shoulders. Why? Why was she standing, her knees buckling under the weight of all the responsibilities that weren’t her own? The guilt and consequences she didn’t deserve? Why couldn’t she handpick out all the things that were hers and let loose the rest? Cut ties with the burdens that did her no good? The burdens that others weren’t meant to carry.

            She could let them drift off into the ocean, never to be seen again.

 

            “You look a little lost, love.” Alfie murmured, bringing her back to shore.

            “Oh, I…” Ella blinked a few times and started to regain the feeling of the sand beneath her bare feet. “I was just thinking.”

            “’Bout what?” He wrapped an arm around her waist.

            “Don’t you ever want to stay here sometimes?” She glanced up at him. “Stay somewhere calm and peaceful. Somewhere no one will be able to get to you?”

            “S’pose everyone wants peace at one point or another.”

            Her hand moved to his chest. “But it could last. It could stay like this.”

            He frowned when he heard the desperation in her voice. The yearning for something that he was so unfamiliar with. Peace. “Ella, what were you thinking about?” He asked again. “What’s wrong, love?”

            “I’m just so tired. Being here, I feel like I can actually breathe. I love being in Camden with you but I still feel…lost. Don’t feel like I belong.”

            Alfie felt guilt pressing against his chest. He’d sensed her trouble faintly but hoped that as long as he loved her, he could ease that trouble. “I’m sorry, love if I can-”

            “It’s not a matter of what you can do to help it. Alfie, you’ve given me so much already.” She murmured and drew him closer. Her intention wasn’t to make him feel bad. All he’d done was treat her well and took care of her. “They’re my issues. Point is that being here with you, I’ve gotten some perspective. More than I’ve had in the last few months.

            Alfie’s forehead was creased with worry but he nodded, allowing her to continue.

            “We could be like this-stay like this. Stay here. I mean, what good is London to us, aye? It’s perfect here and we’d be so much happier.” She had effectively convinced herself over the last few hours that they had found paradise. No one would ever be able to find them or break through their wall of serenity. It was foolproof. How could anyone in their right mind ruin their happiness?

            “Love, as much as that sounds fucking amazing, it ain’t realistic, is it? C’mere.” He lowered himself onto the sand and held an arm out for her to join him. She cozied up to him even if he was about to break the bad news. “I’d love to just take all the money I have, right, and fuck off to some remote island with you. But we both know that it’d never work out.” He gently tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “You’d miss your family.”

            “No-”

            Alfie held up a hand. “’Fore you say that you wouldn’t, think ‘bout it for a mo’. Do you really never want to see them again? I mean, honestly, El, I ain’t stupid.”

            She pouted and wrinkled her nose with a defiant sniff. “Don’t matter.”

            “We can come back here anytime you want, yeah? But you can’t keep running from things you don’t want to fucking see. ‘Cause one of these days they’ll catch up to you.”

            A chill went down Ella’s spine. They had already caught up to her. She was still caught in the middle between the man she loved and the family she vowed to be loyal to. “Okay.” She whispered.

            “Didn’t mean to make you upset-”

            She forced a smile and stood up. “You didn’t. Just tired s’all.”

            “Right, well.” He dug his hand into the sand to stand up with a grunt. “We can head off to bed. Always sleep better here, them waves are like a mother’s lullaby.”

 

 

            Ella disagreed. She didn’t sleep at all. Stared up at the ceiling with her hands over her heart. Sounds of the waves, Alfie’s breathing, and Cyril’s snoring were calming. But she couldn’t stop her thoughts from whipping up a storm. Turning her round and round until she was dizzy with anxiety and hurt.

            Soon, it became too much to stay lying in bed. So she did her best to quietly get out of bed and sneak past Cyril on the floor. She walked slowly through the cottage, her arms wrapped around her. The stars were easier to see. There were hardly any clouds in the sky and no pollution to blur the twinkling lights. She watched the sky for a little in the sitting room. The glass wall giving her a good view of where the inky expanse dipped into the ocean. The moon reflecting off every wave.

            Still uneasy, Ella continued her pacing. Passing by the bookshelf of picture frames and into the kitchen. It was a bit quieter on the side facing away from the ocean. In the front room, she could hear crickets outside in the garden. She paused for a moment and started to pick up on a new noise. Soft shuffling in the front lawn.

            Fear perked her senses and she took a step back. It could be any number of people who were willing to follow her to Margate and intrude on the cottage’s peace. Not ruling anyone out, she inched quietly towards the coat rack where her holster was left. She slipped the handgun out and cocked it.

            The noise continued and a soft whining began to move closer to the door. It was squeaky and almost sounded like the whimpers of a newborn. Ella drew back one of the lace curtains that faced the front step. It was too dark to see much but she saw the shadow of something small hobbling around in the lawn. It moved on all fours and she assumed it was a raccoon or fox. But the sounds were unlike anything she’d heard from a woodland critter.

            Almost grateful for the distraction, Ella opened the door. She kept her gun in hand just in case it was some sort of trap. The whimpering paused for a moment and the animal turned to look towards her.

            Ella squinted to try and see what the thing was, moving a bit closer with trepidation. Finally, she came close enough to see that it was nothing to be afraid of.

            Standing in the lawn was a puppy. One so small that its belly was grazing the grass. It whined and approached Ella.

            “What’re you doing, little thing?” She scooped the animal up with one hand. As she did, something wet and sticky touched her skin. It was then that she realized the pup was bleeding.

            Panicked, Ella rushed back into the cottage and turned on a light in the kitchen. Setting her gun aside, she held up the puppy to seek out its wounds. The poor thing was shaking and continued to cry helplessly. There was a gash on top of its head from where the blood had trickled.            

            “Alfie!” She called, not concerned with what hour it was. “Alfie, come quick!”

            The man woke in a disheveled state of alarm. He stumbled out of the bed with Cyril quick at his heels. “What, what?” He found Ella in the kitchen, still half-blind from sleep.

            “It’s bleeding, I dunno what to do!”

            Alfie rubbed his eyes and peered at the little thing in her arms. “Fucking hell, where’d you get that?” He asked.

            “He was out wandering in the yard, I brought him in and…” She held the puppy out to him. “Do something!”

            “Alright, alright, calm down.” He lumbered over and gingerly took the puppy from her hands. After examining the wound, he waved a hand towards one of the cabinets in the kitchen. “Get a towel will ya?” He walked over to the water pump and began carefully washing away the blood.

            Ella retrieved a hand towel and hovered nervously by his side. “Will he be alright?”

            “Yeah, nothing too bad. Already starting to close up. It’s a girl, also.” He informed her as he did his best to keep the squirming puppy still. After successfully rinsing off all the blood, he handed her back to Ella to dry off. Alfie washed his hands and shut off the water. “Must be a stray.”

            Ella wrapped the puppy up like a swaddled infant and held her close. “What breed’s it?”

            “Pitbull.” He answered and scratched his beard. “Sorta have a bad reputation.” With a yawn, he sat down at the kitchen table. “Were used in sport, bred to be vicious.”

            The slate-colored pup hardly looked vicious. She snuggled right up in Ella’s arms and her dark eyes began to slide shut. Exhausted from wandering around in pain all night.

            “Shouldn’t matter what breed they are, should matter who raises them.” She mumbled quietly. “A dog with a mean owner’s bound to be mean too.”

            Alfie watched as she inexplicably came enamored with the furry thing. “You gonna name her?”

            She looked up in surprise. “You mean you want to keep her?”

            He chuckled and shook his head. “Don’t see you ever giving her up. Might s’well name her so we can all go back to sleep.”

            “Oh, I…” Ella thought to herself for a long moment until she finally smiled. “There was a book that Ada used to read me. Silly little thing really. There was a character named Cyril so perhaps we should name her after another one of the children from the book.”

            Alfie looked amused at the prospect and nodded. The idea seemed to delight her so he wouldn’t deny her. “What were the other children named?”

            “Well, there was Hilary and Robert.” She frowned with a puzzled expression. “I can’t remember what the younger sister was named…but the older sister was Anthea. I always loved that name, wanted it to be my own.” Her cheeks went a little red. “But I think it’s perfect.”

            “Anthea?” He stood and gently stroked a hand over the dog, being careful of the injury. “Sounds like a very intriguing name for a mysterious little pup.” He agreed. “What’d you think, Cyril, aye?”

            The mastiff’s tail was wagging with uncertainty but he appeared pleased, albeit a little tired.

            “I suppose that’s a yes, then.” Alfie smiled and kissed Ella’s cheek. “C’mon, love, let’s get to bed.”

Chapter Text

 

            Alfie offered to go into town the next morning. They’d have to get more puppy chow for Anthea as they’d only brought just enough for Cyril. And the mastiff was certainly not going to share with the little pitbull. Ella offered to go along and the two made their way down the dirt paths to the main road. Alfie holding Cyril’s leash and Ella carrying Anthea like a little babe.

            Alfie knew the town well. He knew some of the folks who lived there year-round but not very well. More often than not, he spent his time there at the cottage and only went to town if he absolutely needed something. But enough people were familiar with him and his reputation. The Jewish gangster from London who liked to take holidays on the shore.

            He was most acquainted with the older couple that owned a shop along the main road. A few years ago they had explained that they were going bankrupt because of the wife’s failing health. Alfie didn’t hesitate in the slightest. He stepped in and saved the store, all while ensuring the woman got proper care from a well-respected doctor. Ever since then, Margaret and Frank Robinson treated Alfie like one of their sons.

            “’Morning Peggy.” Alfie greeted as he walked inside, Cyril by his side. Ella had gone across the street to a boutique with Anthea, lured over by a few dresses in the window.

            “Alfie!” The older woman’s face broke into a smile. “Was wondering when you’d show your face this summer. I hope you haven’t been working too hard.” She scolded.

            “Found a better balance.” He admitted honestly. Ella certainly had given him a better balance. “You and Frank alright?”

            “Just fine, haven’t been coughing as much.” She began tending to a customer at the till. “Doctor in London’s done wonders.”

            “Good to hear, good to hear.” He let her cash out the man, heading back through the aisles.

            “Alfie, my boy!” Frank was stacking cans when he looked up. “I thought I heard your voice. But, eh, my hearing’s going so I thought it was just an illusion.”

            He chuckled and shook the man’s hand. “S’long as you can hear your wife, don’t matter do it?”

            Frank laughed and knelt down to scratch Cyril’s ears. “Hello, Cyril, look healthy, aye? Oh, Alfie,” He glanced up and pointed towards the counter where Margaret was making change for the customer. “Man over there’s lost a pup. Haven’t seen little pitbull ‘round have you? Think he lives by your cottage so it may’ve wandered over to you.”

            A shock went down Alfie’s spine. “I’ll talk to him.” He agreed and returned to the counter.

            The man by the till was just starting to take his bag of groceries from Margaret. He was a squirrely looking man with a thin mustache and shifty eyes. Not much taller than Alfie but thin as a stick.

            “Heard you’ve got a dog missing, mate.” Alfie’s voice was a bit louder than necessary, scaring the man who hadn’t heard him approaching.

            He turned and nodded. “Little pitbull, thirteen weeks I think.” His voice stammered under Alfie’s steely glare. “S’a blue-nose. Got a white paw.”

            “Hm…” Alfie pretended to think to himself, leaning back and forth on his cane. “Might’ve heard some scuffling ‘round my cottage. Anything else ‘bout it? I’ll keep an eye out for it.”           

            “Erm, she’s got bit of an injury on her head.” The man’s eyes averted, jerking to the side to avoid Alfie’s stare.

            “That right?” Alfie’s hand gripped tightly onto Cyril’s leash. He wanted so badly to beat the man into a bloodied pulp. But he wouldn’t bring that sort of chaos into the Robinsons’ store. “What happened?”

            A sour look crossed the man’s face. He clearly didn’t like the question. Maybe because he knew Alfie wouldn’t like the answer. “Does it matter?”

            His jaw clenched. “Nah, mate, guess it don’t. Where’d you live, I’ll bring the pup ‘round if I find her.”

            “Uh, sure…” The man gave Alfie his address, only half a mile away from the cottage.

 

            After watching the man skitter off, Alfie finished his shopping. Anger coursed through his veins but he did his best to keep it under wraps. He crossed the street to find Ella at the boutique.

            One of the shop girls at the counter looked alarmed when the rough-looking man entered with his massive dog. “Erm…sir, could you leave your dog outside?”

            Alfie didn’t even look at her. “No. El?” He called.

            A curtain covering one of the changing rooms was pushed back. “Are you done already? I’ve only tried on two dresses.” She pouted.

            He stopped in his tracks. She had on a black dress with a fitted beaded bodice and fringe that began mid-thigh and ended by her knees. She looked like a positively sinful angel.

            Ella saw the glint in his eyes and she smiled playfully. “D’you like it?” She turned around a few times to show off.

            “Like it? Love, it’s gorgeous on you.” He replied huskily. A hand dragged over his mouth. “You want it?”

            She bit her lip and nodded shyly.

            “Right, any others you’d like?”

            “Yes, but you can’t see anything else. They’re a surprise.” She warned and grabbed her purse out of the changing room. “Here, Anthea’s asleep.”

            Puzzled, Alfie took her purse and found the pit bull pup contently curled up inside, her head lolled out the side as if it were meant to be a dog bed. Simply put, Alfie would buy the entire store for Ella if she’d like. He’d get her a million puppies. And he’d get justice for her puppy. She was much more than a pretty face to him. She deserved respect and peace. And Alfie was sure she’d sleep much better knowing the son of a bitch who hurt Anthea suffered some consequences.

           

            While Ella changed back into her regular clothes, Alfie paid for her purchases. He didn’t even bat an eye at the price. She returned and took her purse and Anthea back. “What time’s it?” She linked arms with Alfie, pressing her cheek into his arm.

            “Um…” He checked his pocket watch. “Half-past noon.”

            “Are you all set here? I need to make a phone call soon.” The joy in her blue eyes faded.

            “Sure, love. We can head back home.”

            It was home. They had their home in Camden but Margate had already become a home to them.

 

            “Do I hafta wait for my surprise?” Alfie gently set Anthea down on the kitchen floor, offering her a bowl of food. Cyril sulked behind him, even though he’d had his share.

            “Yes, until tonight.” Ella went into the hall, closing the kitchen door behind her to give herself some privacy.

            “Testing me patience,” Alfie mumbled to the dogs.

            Ella took a deep breath and reached for the receiver. Her hand trembled slightly but she pushed through and dialed the number. The brief wait for an answer was agonizing.

            “Shelby.” Tommy’s deep voice had become so foreign after her months away from him.

            “Tom, it’s Ella.”

            There was a pause as he struggled with the shock of her call. “El? Where are you calling from?” He thought the operator had said Margate but he was nearly certain Ella was in London with Alfie. Last he heard, they’d been living together ever since her release from prison.

            “It doesn’t matter.” She swallowed and curled the phone wire around her hand. “I need to speak to you.”

            “No one’s heard from you in quite some time.”

            “That’s not what I’m calling about.”

            “What’re you calling about then?”

            Ella’s stomach turned with anxiety. She was afraid of what she might hear. But the prospect of failing to get the information was enough to get her to press on. “I need to know why you had the family arrested.”

            There was a soft sigh from the other end of the line. “You’ve all been released, what’s it matter anymore?”

            His disregard made her grimace. “Because it was all very traumatic for us and I want to know what grand plan you had.” She demanded. “I think I’ve a right to know why you were so keen on sacrificing us. What’d you get in return?”

            “That’s information for those involved in the Shelby Company Limited.”

            “Don’t even start that fucking nonsense with me!” She snapped. “I’ve had enough with your behavior. Either you tell me or I swear to God…”

            “You’re threatening me now, El? Alfie rubbed off on you, aye?” Tommy’s voice filled with venom.

            Hearing him speak Alfie’s name with such distaste was enough to make Ella want to scream at him until the sun went down. Her body quivered with anger as she tried to hold back. “Thomas, tell me. I will not lose the man I love because of your insolence.”

            Tommy was confused. “What do you mean?” He asked.

            The image of Inspector Blackwell’s smug smile crossed her mind. If she needed to make amends with Tommy even for a second to save Alfie from arrest, then she would do it. “A detective from Scotland Yard has been threatening me.”

            Her brother pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ian Blackwell.”

            “He approached you as well?”

            “Yes. And you are not to tell him anything.” Tommy warned in a low voice. “I’m handling it.”

            As much as it angered her, hearing him say that was a little relieving. At least her brother could handle himself with police. “He’s going to arrest Alfie.”

            “And why should I stop him?”

            Ella nearly bit right through her tongue with fury. “Because I’ll never fucking look at you, speak to you, mention your name, or think of you.” She snarled. “For once in your life, stop thinking about yourself and think about the family you supposedly love.”

            Tommy was quiet for a while. “He won’t arrest Alfie.” He replied firmly. “But you need to call me if Blackwell ever approaches you again.”

            The fear on Ella’s shoulder released in an instant. “Thank you.” She said quietly.

            Her brother hummed an acknowledgment. “You’re alright, then?”

            Ella unwound the phone cord from her hand. She was eager to end the conversation and return to paradise with Alfie, Cyril, and Anthea. “Do you even care?”

            “Yes.”

            She frowned and lowered the receiver away from her ear. She held it over the hook, only inches from hanging up on him. It was reasonable. She could just end the call. End the discussion. End the line of contact between her and Tommy. But then she would just be using him the way he used her and the rest of the family. She always thought she was better than that.

            Slowly, she lifted the receiver back to her ear. “I’m fine, Tom. Better than I’ve been for a long time.”

            “That’s good.” Tommy cleared his throat. “That’s good to hear.”

            “And you?”

            “Busy.” The word was clipped and obviously there was much more behind the response. It was a clear indicator that things were not okay.

            “Alright-”

            “I’ve got to head off to a meeting, El. Thank you for telling me about the inspector.” He sounded as if he were ending a call with a business associate.

            “Okay.” She whispered and allowed him to end the call. She returned the receiver onto the hook and stood stock still in the hallway. Alfie was safe. Tommy had actually done her a favor. And now she could return to her life with her love without having any debts.

Chapter Text

            When Ella heard the jingle of Cyril’s lead being pulled off the coat rack, she knew something was up. “Alfie?” She poked her head out of the kitchen to look down the hall.

            He stood there, pulling on his coat and hat. Cyril was eagerly waiting by the door, his tail wagging and thumping against the wall beside him. “Yeah, love?”

            “Where’re you off to? I’ve just started dinner, it’ll be done soon.” She rested a hand on her hip in disappointment. She was looking forward to having a nice dinner before showing him the outfits he’d bought for her.

            “Need to take Cyril out.” He replied casually.

            “I’ve already let him and Thea out just an hour before.”

            It threw Alfie for a loop but he rolled with it. “Just want to make sure he’s got all his energy out. Don’t want him playing rough with the pup.”

            Ella frowned but nodded. “Alright, but be quick or you’ll eat a cold dinner.”

            He chuckled. “Be quick.” He agreed before leaving the cottage with Cyril trotting beside him.

           

            Alfie walked down the sandy path towards the address the man had stupidly given him. As far as the gangster was concerned, the man sealed his own fate by beating on a puppy and giving out his address without a second thought.

            The sun was just setting by the time he arrived at the small cottage. It was very similar to the one he owned. Although the garden was a little more well kept and tended to. It was clearly adored by someone. The roses were perfectly pruned and showed off every color and hue. A few vegetable plants lined the beds as well, chicken wire protecting them from the abundance of bunnies who roamed the area.

            Alfie tied Cyril to the fence and entered the lawn. There were lights on in the cottage but the curtains were drawn. It didn’t deter him. He had a gun just in case things went a bit more south than he intended.

            It was only fair to warn his victim, so he knocked on the door. Hindsight made him glad he did because a petite young woman opened the door. She had the same demeanor of a turtle who disliked looking outside of its shell. With thin blonde hair and curiously strong emerald green eyes, she was beautiful. But her face had been disfigured by a black eye and her neck had the telltale signs of bruising fingermarks.

            “Can I help you?” She asked in a timid voice.

            Alfie was caught off guard but composed himself. “Your husband home?”

            “Peter? Yes, I…I’m sorry are you a friend of his?”

            He was going to answer but an angry voice from inside interrupted him. “Gale, who the fuck are you talking to?”

            “Stay outside.” Alfie ushered the woman out of the doorway and into the lawn. She was already cowering at the sound of her husband’s loud voice. Instinct causing her knees to buckle and hands to lift to her face for protection.

            “You’re alright, stay out here.” He assured her again and stepped into the cottage.

            The man, Peter, stepped into the hallway. He frowned at the sight of Alfie in his home. “You?”

            “Yeah, mate, found your dog.” Alfie’s shoulders squared and he tucked a hand into his pocket just in case the fucker had a gun of his own.

            “Don’t look like you have a dog. Where’d my wife go?” He demanded. His body swayed slightly and his eyes were bloodshot.

            A drunk or high man was an easier target, although Alfie was hoping for a bit of a fight. He wanted to give the man exactly what he deserved. “Well she’s a home, don’t gotta worry ‘bout her. You think it’s fun to pick on things smaller than you, mate?” His eye twitched from the anger that was building.

            “Whatever my wife said’s a lie.”

            Alfie clenched and unclenched his fist a few times. “She didn’t say anything. I’ve got enough fucking intuition to know what’s going on.”

            Peter took a shaky step backward. His eyes widened and his fingers fidgeted as if he were looking for a weapon or a way out. “I know the constable.”

            “That’s neat, innit? I know lotsa coppers. I’ve killed my fair share of some too.” His face scrunched up. “But only those who fucking deserved it, yeah. One, right, one was beating on this chap for no good reason other than he were black.” He continued stalking towards the cowering man. “Another one thought it were a good idea to call me…what was it again…Jewish scum? Yeah, he screamed pretty loudly. They usually do. Cowards, the lot of them.”

            Peter stumbled backward into the kitchen. His hands flailing out to catch himself. But he missed a nearby chair and fell.

            Alfie towered over him. “Most recent one? That fucker decided to assault me cousin. A fucking blind little girl. Innocent. Helpless. A grown man taking advantage of a woman. Disgusting, innit? Or what ‘bout a defenseless little pup?” Alfie pressed his boot down against Peter’s chest so he couldn’t get back up. Increasing pressure whenever he tried to inhale. He wanted the man to be in as much discomfort as humanly possible before he finished the deed. “Don’t fucking like men like you.” He hissed. “You don’t deserve to breathe the same oxygen as me, mate.”

            “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I won’t ever do it again. I promise!” Peter’s eyes were filled with tears as he wheezed out a panicked apology.

            “Oh good.” Alfie moved his foot from his chest and held out a hand.

            Relief flooded the wiry man’s face and he took Alfie’s hand to stand up. He was right-handed then.

            Once he was stood up again, Alfie punched him so hard he was certain he’d broken the man’s jaw. “Don’t you fucking dare bleed in this house.” He snarled. “Your wife’s innocent and she ain’t gonna be questioned by your fucking copper friends.” Alfie snatched up a nearby dish towel and carefully wrapped his pistol in it. He wiped it down as Peter clutched his face, whimpering in pain.

            “Now fucking walk.” Alfie pointed the gun at the man’s head.

            Peter shakily raised his hands in surrender, his jaw already starting to swell. “Wh-where…”

            “Outside,” Alfie instructed calmly and led the man out the back door at gunpoint.

 

            The cottage lights dimly lit the sandy pathway down to the beach. The ocean swirled and stormed angrily, a black mass pounding at the shoreline. Clouds covered up any glimpse of the moon or stars.

            “Please…pl-please I’ll never hurt her again.” Peter continued to stammer on their way to the beach.

            “Your damn right you won’t. Dead men can’t assault their wives, now can they?” Alfie retorted.

            “Please!”

            He heard enough of his whining and pistol-whipped him across the face. “Men like you never change. Ain’t no second chances for you.” He knocked Peter’s feet out from under him, forcing him to his knees. The man tipped forward but Alfie grabbed him by the collar, pulling him back upright.            

            “Men like you don’t last long in my part of the city. They end up dead in the worst possible ways.” Alfie crouched down in front of the man, making sure the gun wasn’t within his reach. Although Alfie wouldn’t have minded if the man challenged him. But he didn’t want to return back to the cottage a bit banged up. Ella would certainly ask questions if Peter managed to get a hit in.

            Peter choked out a sob. Sweat poured down his temple, staining the collar of his disheveled shirt. It was cold out on the shore but the alcohol in his blood boiled his adrenaline.

            “Yeah…didya think ‘bout your wife? Did she cry?” Alfie spoke in a low voice just over the sound of the waves behind them. His eyes narrowed.

            “I-I…”

            He stood and kicked Peter right in the side, making the man yelp in pain and double over. His face pressing to the sand, leaving a sticky mess of blood on the pristine beach. Peter coughed violently and grabbed his ribs.

            Alfie loomed over him, his face shadowed over. “What’d you think? Your coppers friends are gonna find you here or will the tide come in and fucking wash you away?”

            Peter’s blood-shot eyes closed and he moaned in pain. “Please…”

            With a grim chuckle, he grabbed the man by the collar again and yanked him back up to his knees. “World ain’t gonna miss you.” He cocked his gun and pressed it against the man’s temple. But he didn’t shoot him right away. Instead, he waited, forcing the man to wait for death. Hoping to instill the fear that he caused his wife and Anthea.

            Alfie counted the number of times the current rolled in. Waited for five and pulled the trigger.

            True to form, the cowardly man died instantly and slumped onto the beach. His limp body sunk into the damp sand, blood still trickling out from under him. Alfie glared at the dead body for a second before wiping the gun down again and chucking the weapon into the ocean.

 

            Peter was left on the beach and Alfie made the walk back up to the cottage. He walked around the area of the fence and found Peter’s wife, Gale cowering by the gate. She was knelt down by Cyril who was sitting protectively by her.

            Her green eyes widened when she saw Alfie’s dark shadow emerge from the bluffs. “Please, I-I have jewelry under the bed. We d-don’t have much money.” Tears streamed down her cheeks.

            “Easy, easy, m’not here to hurt you,” Alfie spoke gently as to not frighten her further.

            Still unsure, Gale made herself as small as possible against Cyril. “Where is my husband?” Stress and fear had taken its toll on her for the years she was trapped in an abusive marriage. She was thin, pale, face gaunt, and still sporting older injuries. It was obvious she was more comfortable with Cyril than Alfie.

            “He’s erm…perhaps you have relatives to stay with?”

            Gale chewed on her lower lip. “Is he coming back?” She whispered. A learned volume. Never did she want to raise her voice in fear she would attract attention and anger from Peter.

            “No,” Alfie answered bluntly and shook his head. “But you ought to gather some things. The police won’t bother you but I don’t want you to be here when they arrive.”

            A mixture of relief and apprehension split her expression. “Okay.” She shakily stood up but her hand lingered on Cyril.

            “I’ve got money if you need it. But the further you can get away, the better.”

            Tears still filled her eyes. But it was simply confusion. She’d been granted freedom away from an awful man. “I-I’ve got family in Wales.”

            Alfie nodded. “I’ll watch the house while you get your things, just what you can travel with.”

            Gale’s face wrinkled in concern. She went to enter the gate again but paused. “Is the pup okay?”

            “She’s alright. Should heal in week’s time.”

            Her lower lip quivered. “He killed the others…” She admitted, her voice cracking. “I let her out hoping she’d make it out alive. I-I didn’t know what else to do.”

            Alfie swallowed hard and considered going back to the beach to shoot the abuser again. But he risked drawing attention from neighbors. “You’re safe now.”

           

 

            It was late when Alfie returned from escorting Gale to the train station. Cyril found Ella and Anthea in the reading room. The pitbull puppy curled up in her lap.

            “I was ‘bout to send out a search party for you!” Ella exclaimed when she heard Alfie’s heavy boots on the old hardwood floors. “Where on Earth did you go off to?”

            He sat down heavily on the sofa beside her. “Don’t want you to be angry but I ain’t gonna fucking lie to you either.”

            Anthea yipped happily and scrambled over Ella’s lap to Alfie. He smiled, happy to see another one of Peter’s victims happy.

            Ella frowned. “What’d you do?” She asked in a warning tone.

            He picked up the puppy and cuddled her close to his chest. Her little paws scrambling up against his shoulder. “When I were at the shop, I ran into the man who hurt Anthea.”

            The news caused a sharp reaction in Ella. Something that she’d learned by instinct from either John or Arthur. A snap of anger that sparked in her gut and nearly caused a physical jolt. “Well, where is the fucker?”

            “Dead,” Alfie admitted. “His wife…he’d abused her too.”

            She cooled off a bit when she realized he’d already gotten justice for the newest addition of their home. “Where did you kill him?”

            “On the beach.” Alfie returned Anthea to Ella’s lap so he could slip off his boots. Wet sand still stuck to the soles and crumbled onto the rug. “I brought her to the station. I’ll make sure the police rule it a suicide.”

            Ella nodded and sighed. “Even on holiday…”       

            “I’m sorry, love.” He winced. Of course, he wasn’t planning on killing anyone there.

            “Don’t apologize.” She curled up against him, draping her legs over his lap. “I’d’ve done the same thing you just got to him first.”

            A hint of a smile tugged at his lips. “Shelby girl.” He teased.

            She laughed quietly but it faded. His honesty triggered guilt. “I’d like to tell you ‘bout the call I made this afternoon.”

            He rested his hand on her thigh, his thumb grazing over the thin material of her nightgown. “Sure, love.”

            She focused on stroking Anthea’s smooth fur. Although she didn’t expect a negative reaction from him, she was worried she would lose some trust. Trust was such a touchy subject between them even months together. “The inspector, the one I told you about…he followed me to work.”

            Alfie’s arm muscles flexed instinctually. “Fucking what?”

            Ella moved closer to him and touched her forehead to his cheek. “He threatened to arrest you. I was so afraid…I called me brother.” She couldn’t pinpoint the exact emotion behind the long sigh he let out. Disappointment, betrayal, concern, anger?

            But he brought her relief when he began to carefully remove the pins from her hair. Her curls unwound slowly around his fingers. The scent of rose oil filling the air. “Hair’s gotten so long.” He commented quietly.

            Indeed, her hair had begun to grow past her shoulders. She chewed on her lip and closed her eyes. “You mad at me?” Her lips kissing against his neck.

            “No, El, I’m not mad. I’m fucking mad at that copper.” He grumbled and tossed the hairpins onto the coffee table before combing his fingers through her hair.

            “Tommy’ll take care of him. I won’t let him arrest you.”

            Alfie wrinkled his nose. “Don’t want to hafta owe Tommy for keeping me outta handcuffs.” He mumbled.

            “It’s my favor, not yours. And I don’t owe him anything.” She lifted her head and kissed his cheek affectionately. “He owes me more than he’ll able to pay off in his lifetime.”

           

Chapter Text

 

            For what it was worth, Alfie wanted desperately to stay at Margate. There would come a time where he would come to rest eternally there. But he wouldn’t lie down until there was nothing left to do. And he had plenty to do.

            Whispers were starting to become louder. Although they were whispers about the Shelbys, it was inevitably going to affect everyone within their grasp. More than ever, that included Alfie.

            Rumors were just that, rumors. But Alfie learned it was wise to always keep an open ear when it came to rumors about Tommy. If they were false then there was no harm, no foul. But more often than not, listening to rumors brought him valuable information.

 

            Ella and Alfie were quiet on their way back to London, returning with one more dog than they’d left with. Ella was at ease once she knew her brother would take care of their Scotland Yard issue. Alfie was uneasy by the phone call he’d had with Ollie the night before they left.

            Something about Italians. Something about Americans.

            A vendetta was the last thing he wanted to get involved with. The Shelbys had dug their own graves. Unfortunately, they’d also dug one for Ella.

 

            “Did anything happen at Tommy’s wedding?” Alfie asked halfway through the drive back to London.

            “His wedding?” Ella frowned and thought about her brother’s wedding to her late sister-in-law. Grace’s funeral felt like a lifetime ago, the wedding felt even more distant. “Not that I can remember.” She shrugged. “I left early.”

            “Does the name Angel or Vincente Changretta sound familiar?”

            “Changretta…” Ella perked up. “That was our teacher’s name. She was lovely. Of course, my brothers were such a terror for her but she liked me. Always snuck me sweets because Ada and I were more behaved than they ever were. I believe her husband was named Vincente.” She tried to recall the long muddled memories of her childhood.

            Alfie’s lips pursed and he grunted grimly. “Both of them ended up dead. The wife, your teacher disappeared I think.”

            The hairs on Ella’s arm rose. “Dead…do they know who-” She blinked and grimaced. Italians had killed Grace. But Ella never knew they were working under the orders of the Changrettas. She hadn’t been around to find out about the feud with Angel that revolved around Tommy’s wedding. She’d been blissfully pining after the man in the driver’s seat beside her. “My brothers.”

            He nodded. “One can only speculate.”

            She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Oh give me a break, of course, it was them. For fuck’s sake.” She scrubbed a hand over her face. It felt like all the relaxation from Margate was tossed out the car window in an instant. Mention of her brothers tended to do that. “Why are you bringing that up now?”

            “Ollie called me last night, told me about some rumors that’ve been flying ‘round.” He explained. “Rumors ‘bout Angel’s brother.”

            Ella shut her eyes and took a few deep breaths. “He wants revenge.”

            “Well, s’all us folk know innit? They kill one of our men, I kill one of theirs. Then it cycles ‘bout ‘till we’re all fucking worm food.” He attempted to be light-hearted about it but she clearly wasn’t in the mood.

            She peered over at him. “Should I be worried?”

            Alfie gripped the steering wheel and kept his eyes steady on the road in front of them. “No, love.” His tone didn’t match the words of comfort. But Ella didn’t call him out. “You don’t hafta worry about anything.”

 

 

            Minnie liked to bake with cinnamon when the weather turned. The chill of fall swept through Camden and the sky grayed. The scent of the spice kept the kitchen warm and created feelings of joy instead of the gloominess of the impending winter.

            “Elsie’s boy just started to walk,” Minnie called from the kitchen. “Took his first steps yesterday.”

            “Is that right?” Ella smiled, as she kept warm by the fire. Cyril sprawled out on the floor, his body pressing up against her legs. Anthea was curled up in her lap.

            “I bet she’s worrying. The moment Isaac learned to walk, he began wandering off everywhere. I remember once she asked Alfie if she could borrow one of Cyril’s leashes. She wanted to clip it to Isaac’s shirt so he couldn’t run off in public.” Minnie giggled at the memory and walked out of the kitchen. She brushed her hands off on the apron around her waist. “Just another ten minutes and they’ll be done.” She said and sat down beside her friend by the hearth.   

            “Do you think Alfie would ever want children?” Ella asked, shyly focusing on Anthea’s coat.

            She smiled coyly. “Have you been thinking ‘bout children?”

            “No, no, I mean…you brought it up.” She mumbled and rolled her eyes.

            Minnie reached up to fix her hair scarf, adjusting several of the pins that had come loose while baking. “Alfie likes to show you off, doesn’t he? Dress you in the finest things, make sure people know you’re his, wants you to be seen on his arm?”

            Ella blinked. “I uh, I hadn’t noticed.”

            “I think you have.”

            She smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know what that has to do with having children.”

            Minnie stretched out her legs, wiggling her stocking-covered toes as they warmed by the fire. “Can’t you just picture him walking up and down Bonnie Street with a little bundle in his arms. Stopping everyone to introduce his son or daughter. He’ll explain the meaning of the name you’ve both chosen. Show everyone how they’ve got the same eyes as you.”

            Ella bit her lip and ducked her head to conceal the chuffed smile. Of course, it sounded a dream. A tiny newborn all swaddled up in Alfie’s arms. She could almost see the look of pride on his face as he met his child for the very first time. “Don’t get too caught up in that idea, Minnie, it’ll be a long time before that happens. If it ever does.” Since she had such indifference for a relationship in her younger years, Ella hadn’t much considered a family. She had the odd dream where she would be expecting or mothering an unfamiliar baby. But she didn’t feel strongly one way or another. Being one of the youngest of the family, she had little experience raising children. She could just barely remember her baby cousins before they were taken from Polly. But she in no way thought she had that instinctual motherly quality that all her friend’s in Camden seemed to have. “I think Alfie would much prefer a family of dogs. They can’t talk back to him.”

            Minnie smiled but wagged a finger at her. “I think you might be hiding how you truly feel. I also think you ought to discuss these things with Alfie. Best to be open instead of tiptoeing around such big decisions. You never know when you might miss your monthly.”

            Ella’s eyes widened. “Don’t even say that!” She snapped as if her friend was cursing her with an immediate pregnancy. “We’re, y’know, erm-careful…”

            They were not. Far too often Ella and Alfie got a little carried away with things and caution was tossed out the window. Since both of them had sporadic pasts of intimacy, and none that were exceptionally remarkable, they were a little frantic. Trying to wring out every ounce of lust for each other. But it appeared it was endless. And anything could trigger it.

            A simple look, a comment, or a kiss that started out innocently enough. If both of them had enough energy, it often progressed into something more. Even at the most inopportune times. They were like teenagers who were completely magnetized. If Ollie had job security, he would mention how inappropriate the two were at the bakery. It was inevitable that one of these days, they’d forget to lock a door and he’d walk in on something he would never be able to unsee.

            It didn’t seem to matter what circumstances they were under. Careful wasn’t a word they could use. Whether it was a lazy morning spent in bed, a hasty tryst against Alfie’s desk, or a playful romp in the kitchen, Alfie and Ella were both good at forgetting where they were. And forgetting the consequences.

            “You can be as careful as a nun and it’ll still happen.” Minnie shrugged. “Although I’m not sure you’d fall under the immaculate conception criteria.”

            Ella’s mouth popped open in shock but then the two women burst into giggles. “You’re the worst!” She smacked Minnie’s arm.

            “I’m just saying!” She defended herself. “These things happen out of nowhere. Better to discuss it than be surprised.”

            That made Ella groan with discomfort. Sitting Alfie down and talking about kids sounded like a crapshoot. It was anyone’s guess what his reaction would be. “I’ll think about it.”

            “Better think about it quickly. Elsie talks, love. She says Ollie complains about you two going at it like rabbits in Alfie’s office.”

            Her cheeks went bright red. “Don’t tell Alfie that, he’ll knock the religion out of Ollie. And besides, that’s our fucking business.”

            Minnie snorted but just shook her head. Some people were very foolish in love.

 

 

            “Wonder if Santa’s gonna come tonight,” Alfie remarked on Christmas Eve as he got ready for bed.

            Ella was already snug under the covers, doing everything she could to ward off the brutal chill in the air. “Santa?” She raised an eyebrow. “You don’t celebrate Christmas, Alfie.” In fact, the two had already celebrated Hanukah with friends and family. Or at least, their Camden family. The arrival of the holiday season had only pressed the knife further into Ella’s heart. The idea that she wouldn’t see her family at all. She’d missed birthdays and other special occasions but she couldn’t remember spending Christmas without them. Even when she was living on her own in London for a few years, she had Christmas with Ada and Karl.

            Instead of brewing on it, Ella tried to immerse herself in the festivities with Alfie and her friends. Trying to adopt new customs instead of hanging on the old ways that would never again be a reality.

            Alfie and Ella had already exchanged gifts. And he’d gone a little overboard as far as she was concerned. But at the end of the last night, they were curled up in bed happy as clams to be together. That was the best gift.

 

            “Nah, but you do.” Alfie shrugged and walked over to the dresser. “And he’s s’posed to come if you celebrate. That right?”

            Ella smiled and shook her head. “You’re being silly, I hope you haven’t bought me anything else.” She said in a warning tone.

            “I didn’t buy you anything, love.” He gave her a sly glance over his shoulder. “M’just saying. Santa might’ve.”

            “That’s not fair, I didn’t buy you anything!” She protested.

            He picked up an envelope off the dresser and wandered over to the bed. “I don’t celebrate Christmas, Santa ain’t gonna bring me anything.” He grinned and passed the envelope to her. “I forgot, this came for you this morning.”

            Ella took it from him. “I’ve already received cards from everyone I think. Ada, John, Arthur…Tommy too.” She tore open the envelope without reading the return address.

            Inside was a card wishing her happy holidays, accompanied by a black hand. Ella frowned. “I don’t know what this is.” She held it out to Alfie to see if he could decipher the odd message.

            He grabbed his glasses off the nightstand but realized he didn’t need them. The black print was big enough to see clear as day. “Fuck.” He grimaced and tossed the card to the side. “Fucking hell. Should’ve realized.” In a frenzy, he threw open the bedroom door and went out into the hall to get the phone.

            “What is it?” His reaction obviously alarmed her. “Alfie?” She jumped out of bed and pulled on a dressing gown.

            “Warwickshire.” Alfie barked into the receiver, giving the operator Tommy’s address.

            That was enough to send Ella into a panic. Why on Earth was he calling her brother? “Alfie, hang up!” She commanded.

            Instead of responding, he waited until Tommy picked up on the other end. Then, he unleashed his tirade. “Why’s there a fucking black hand in me fucking house, Tommy? Aye?!” He shouted into the telephone but listened for Tommy’s response. “S’got your sister’s fucking name on it, that’s who it’s addressed to. Yeah he’s fucking signed his name. Who else on this bloody Earth would send a black hand? You and your fucking brothers have gotten yourself into this mess but now you’ve fucking dragged Ella into it. So now, you’ve got an issue with me, mate!”            

            Ella’s stomach churned. Black hand. An omen. Had to be. She returned to the bedroom and found the card on the floor. Cyril and Anthea came over to her as she knelt down to pick it up. She opened the card again and read the signature.

            Luca Changretta.

 

            There was officially a hit on her head.

Chapter Text

 

            “No, Alfie, don’t even fucking speak to me right now!”

            Ella was seething with rage. Her darling brother was the reason everything had suddenly come crashing down. The perfect little bubble she’d set up with Alfie. Her slice of paradise in Camden and in Margate.

            But Thomas Shelby would never stop. There was no reason to. Not when there was money to be made and power to be held.

            “You ain’t gonna want what I pack for you, so you might s’well do it yourself. I don’t know what you want to bring.” Once he was finished chewing Tommy out over the phone, Alfie returned to the bedroom and pulled out Ella’s suitcase.

            “I’m not fucking packing anything because I’m not going anywhere!” Ella retorted and tore up the Christmas card Luca had sent her. “I’m going to bed, that’s where I’m going! It’s late and I’m tired.”

            But Alfie had already opened her suitcase onto the bed, leaving her no room to lie down comfortably. “D’you just want skirts, dresses? What do you want to bring?” He started opening dresser drawers.

            “Nothing.” She crossed her arms over her chest and sat on the bed, turning her back to him.

            “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” Alfie threw his hands up. “Of all the possible times, now? Now is when you’re acting like a child?”

            It was all too reminiscent of when her older siblings diminished her to her younger age. Ella spun around and crossed the room to get into his face. “Don’t you dare speak to me like that.”

            He didn’t back down. Not when there was so much at stake at that moment. “Ella, I don’t like your brothers. I don’t fucking like anything about them. I also don’t fucking like Birmingham. And I would never voluntarily go there unless I bloody well had to. But right now there’s a fucking wop threatening your life. And if I have to be in Birmingham around your fucking brothers to keep you safe, then I’ll fucking do that!” He snapped. “So do not fight me and get your fucking things together.” Trying to cut off any potential argument, he began to pack a few of his own clothes.

            Ella clenched her hand into a fist and felt like punching something. “You said I never had to go back there! That I never had to speak to them again unless I wanted to.”

            “It’s called extenuating circumstances love.” He muttered through a tight jaw.

            “You can protect me here.”

            “I’m not risking it.”

            “I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I want them to stay the way they are now!” She pled. Maybe if she begged a little it would sway him.

            “El, it shouldn’t matter where we are. Where we are doesn’t define us. If we’re in Birmingham then we’re in fucking Birmingham. But we’re together. Things between us won’t change.”

            Her stature slumped. “I don’t want to leave home.” She whispered. “This is my home now Alfie, I don’t think you understand that.”

            Alfie sighed and walked back over to her. He wouldn’t tell her, but she was making things very difficult. Of course, he didn’t want to leave Camden Town either. But he had to ignore her puppy dog eyes and make sure he delivered her to safety. He gently touched her arms. “Tommy’s going to have an army there by the time we arrive. Small Heath’ll practically be a fortress. London’s too big to control who comes in and out. If you’re there, I can be sure you’re safe.”

            Ella chewed on her lip. She wanted desperately to ignore the danger if it meant uprooting the foundations she had only just begun to set. But it was becoming clear that Alfie wouldn’t let the issue go. “Promise me that things won’t change.” She whispered.

            “I promise, love. You’re my priority. C’mon, I want to leave before the hour’s up.”

 

            Ella slept on her way to Small Heath. She hoped that when she woke up, she’d find herself in bed with Alfie. They’d be in Camden, Cyril and Anthea sleeping on the foot of the bed. The Christmas morning beginning to dawn. Everything would be perfect.

            But she was disappointed to wake up still in the passenger seat of Alfie’s car. Cyril and Anthea curled up in the backseat, both half asleep.

            The sun had yet to rise but the sky was starting to lighten. As Alfie let out the dogs and helped Ella out of the car, Ada came out of Six Watery Lane.

            “El…” Her older sister sighed in relief and rushed over to embrace her tightly.

            She was immediately brought to tears when Ada hugged her. “I don’t understand what’s going on.” Ella cried. All the emotions that had been stewing since Alfie made the phone call spilled over.

            “It’s alright.” Ada petted her hair comfortingly. “Tommy says we’ll be safe here. He’s got a plan.”

            The sister’s parted and Ada saw Alfie lagging behind with Cyril and Anthea sat by his feet. He didn’t appear uneasy, perhaps disgruntled. Birmingham wasn’t his domain so it was likely that he would feel undermined by the Shelbys. Something he absolutely hated.

            “Alfie.” Ada greeted the man tentatively.

            “You alright, Ada?” He replied as friendly as he could possibly come off.

            “Yeah, I’m fine.” There was a delay when all three of them realized the automatic nature of her response. Of course, she wasn’t fine. There was no possible way they could be. Not when there was a man out there who was risking everything to possibly kill every last one of them. But Ada didn’t correct herself. Instead, she cleared her throat and straightened her back.

            “They’re inside. But…Tommy asked that Alfie go to Polly’s for a little bit.”

            Ella’s face clouded over. Only her brother would try to control the conversation before they even came face to face again. “Well, Tommy can go fuck himself.”

            Ada sighed. “I’m just trying to tell you what he said. There’s no need to take it out on me.”

            “S’alright, El.” Alfie was a bit grateful for the option. He thought it might be a good idea for the siblings to reunite on their own. If he were involved, things would get…messier. “I’ll get the dogs settled and come back.” He kissed her cheek.

            Ada didn’t say anything but was a little taken aback. Tommy said the two had been living together for quite some time. But she could never see her baby sister with a man like Alfie Solomons. “Here, I’ll let you in,” Ada said and began leading Alfie down to Polly’s apartment.

            Ella took a deep breath before walking inside.

 

            Arthur stood up when he heard the door open. “Ada? She here yet?” He called.

            Ella walked into the kitchen. There was a bit of reluctance behind her step. She wasn’t there by her own volition. Like Alfie said, they were extenuating circumstances.

            “El.” Her eldest brother looked positively heartbroken. With his long hair and tired eyes, he appeared aged.

            She swallowed her tears and went to hug him tightly. “I’m sorry.” She whispered.

            “Ain’t nothing to be sorry ‘bout, sister.” He soothed softly. “Just happy you’re here now. Safe, aye?”

            “Is Tom here?” She asked.

            “Upstairs.” Arthur let her draw away from his arms and offered her a seat at the table. “On the telephone.”

            Six Watery Lane was suspiciously quiet. Especially when the family was in such turmoil. “Where is everyone?” She listened for voices but couldn’t even hear Tommy upstairs.

            “Polly’ll be around soon.” Arthur answered and went to pour her a cup of tea. “Finn’s at the Yard. There’s a war starting, El, and we’ve gotta plan for one.”

            She frowned at his choice of words, but decided to ignore it. “What about Michael and John?”

 

 

            “Oi, get offa there.” Alfie shooed Cyril off of Polly’s couch. “You can do that at home but not here. They’re already gonna give me a fucking hard time without you shedding all over their couches.”

            Cyril slunk off to lie down in the corner of the parlor, Anthea eagerly following.

            Ada had returned to the other flat, leaving Alfie alone at Polly’s. He felt extremely out of his comfort zone but he kept reminding himself that he was there for Ella’s sake. It didn’t matter what he thought as long as she was safe.

            But it didn’t make him feel at home there. He awkwardly strolled around the parlor, glancing at the various things Polly had to decorate the small space. Typical things to make the room a bit more feminine. Then he found a few photographs on the mantle. He got closer to make out the figures.

            There were a few people he didn’t recognize. Ella’s mother and father. Polly’s husband and a few other relatives on the Gray side. But then he came across an older picture that was dated 1908. And there was no mistaking who the photograph was. The six Shelby siblings.

            Arthur was twenty-one, standing like the man of the family but with a mischievous smile on his face. His arm was slung around Tommy who was eighteen. The light in his eyes still burning. No dreams of shovels haunting him. In front of him was Ada, just twelve, and lugging a bundle of blankets that held the newest Shelby. Little Finn who was only a few months old when the photograph was taken. John was thirteen and looked chuffed that someone was taking his picture. And finally, beside him, who had just turned seven. She was proudly showing off the gap in her smile from the tooth she had lost.

            She was so bright-eyed and rambunctious at the time. They all were. A couple of poor kids who only had one another to survive. A time when their name meant nothing. Only conjured up a few unpleasant memories of their father. Who would’ve ever thought things would turn out the way they had?

            There was a price to be paid when your last name opened doors. There would always be someone there, ready to take that privilege from you.

            And that’s when Alfie heard banging on the door. Something in the atmosphere shifted and the game would never be the same again.

Chapter Text

            Alfie stormed through the hospital. Ada had arrived at Polly’s flat in tears. Her speech was so hurried and jumbled that he couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. But he heard John’s name. And he heard her say something about the hospital. So he followed her there.

There was chaos already forming in the waiting area. Blinders were everywhere, trying to figure out what happened. The Shelby family was in hysterics. Arthur was shouting at cowering nurses who didn’t have a clue what to do. Polly was holding onto Esme who was wailing and could hardly stand upright.

Amidst the fray, he saw those beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. Ella ran over to him. How was it that in the brief moments they’d been apart, her world had been torn down.

“My brother’s dead. My brother’s dead.” She sobbed. They were the only words she could get out. A scratched record playing over and over again, the horrible message stuck in her mind. “He’s dead, he’s dead, Alfie.”

Alfie embraced her tightly as a cold chilled him to the bone. He spotted Tommy through the chaos. The leader of the Peaky Blinders looked seconds away from falling over. His face was like stone but his eyes were full of anguish and anger.

It made Alfie sick to his stomach. The Italians were playing with fire. They had thoroughly pissed off the wrong people.

“C’mon, love.” He ushered Ella over to a quieter hallway. She stumbled along beside him, her grief taking up every ounce of her being.

“He’s dead. He’s dead, Alfie.”

He sat on the stairs and took her into his arms. “Easy, love, I’ve gotcha now.”

Ella curled up instinctually into his lap, pressing her face to his shoulder and bursting out into loud tears. “He’s dead…he’s dead.”

 

She was inconsolable for nearly an hour. Alfie stayed sitting on the stairs with her, never once letting go of her. All he could do was whisper softly to her and try to comfort her.

Tommy and Arthur eventually left the waiting area to go downstairs to the morgue. They passed by the hallway where Alfie and Ella were sat. Tommy paused when he saw the scene at the end of the hall.

“I know it hurts, love, I’m so sorry.” Alfie murmured to her. He noticed movement and glanced up to see Tommy staring at him.

What could either of them say? For years, Tommy and his brothers were Ella’s source of comfort. But they’d been through too much to support each other anymore. They’d caused each other such grief and from behind their blinding armor, they discovered they were only fighting each other with no real results. Blame wasn’t the issue anymore, neither was healing. It was vengeance.

They had a common enemy. Sometimes that’s all that mattered in war. Sometimes it was more than enough for rivals to set down their weapons and make a pact. A pact to see them through this until their enemy was dead.

But emotions were hard to keep in check after the loss of a loved one. And Ella would set fire to the powder keg.

 

So much pain built up in Ella. It stewed and boiled on the trip from the hospital to Watery Lane. So much uncertainty was in the air. Her cousin was clinging to life and she had no answers about her brother’s death other than it was the Italians.

She stepped out of the car and saw Tommy going for the door. Alfie lagged behind, unsure what she planned to do or say. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Her voice was strong and carried well down the lane.

Tommy turned to face her. “What would you like me to say?” He looked exhausted. They all were.

“What would I like you to say…” She laughed sarcastically and tossed up her hands up in disbelief. “That’s your problem, innit?”

“El,” Alfie touched her arm.

“Go inside.” She didn’t look at him. Her entire body tensed up and rejected his touch.

“Ella.”

“Alfie, I’m going to talk to my brother alone, go inside.” She spoke through clenched teeth.

Alfie cleared his throat and nodded. No use in arguing with her when she was all riled up. “Right, I’ll be inside then.” He passed Tommy and disappeared into the house.

“You don’t even know how much I fucking hate you right now.” Ella’s voice shook with rage once the door closed.

Tommy stood like a soldier. His shoulders squared, back straight, fingers outstretched as if reaching for a trigger, and tilted forward slightly. “Go on, tell me. Tell me how much you hate me.”

Her eye twitched. “I should’ve stayed away. We all should’ve. Should’ve never let you bring it to this point. We’re all to blame for enabling you. But you’re the one who sent John to his fucking grave.”

“Fucking what?” He hissed and strode towards her. “You think I wanted this to happen, aye? Wanted him dead?” His voice rose. The usual steady tone he held was faltering. It was what Ella wanted. She wanted him to shout. Wanted to see that he was just as angry as she was. Sometimes it was easy to believe her brother was completely void of any emotions. When his stony façade broke, it reminded her of the young boy who was passionate about what he believed in.

“You kept pushing and pushing until there were consequences. Were you really stupid enough to think that this wouldn’t happen? Stupid enough to believe you were fucking untouchable?

“Not my fucking fault that you all scattered. How’m I supposed to keep tabs on you when none of you would ever respond?”

“Not your fault?!”

He didn’t mind talking over her anymore. If that was the only way he could talk then he would shout over her for days. “They’re going to knock us off one by one. They take it as a game when you take them on a little chase. I know what’s best to keep you all safe, you need to listen to me. If I wanted you all dead, I would let them kill you!”

Ella shoved him away from her. “You’re the reason they’re even after us, to begin with!”

“Keep living in the past, Ella. While I’m trying to keep us all alive.” He didn’t react to her push, simply stepping towards her again. “This family only has a chance if we stay together! You’re a Shelby like it or not-”

“I’m not! Not anymore!”

Tommy rolled his eyes and dragged a hand over his face. “This game again…”

“Which reminds me,” She reached into her purse and blindly ripped out the torn up card that had been delivered to her on Christmas Eve. “Next time you see him, tell Luca Changretta he’s addressed his death threat to the wrong person.”

“What?”

Ella tossed the card and enveloped to the ground. The paper sticking to the wet sidewalk. The envelope’s address facing up towards Tommy.

Miss Ella Shelby

“Next time he wishes to address anything to me, or you for that matter, you can send it to Mrs. Ella Solomons.”

 

Mrs. Ella Solomons.

 

The name hit Tommy like a well-aimed brick to the head. His stomach lurched and he was afraid the world had completely tipped upside down if it hadn’t already before. “Fucking what…” He hissed.

“I won’t be accepting any mail that’s not properly addressed.”

“You married him?” Tommy’s blue eyes went wild with anger. “You fucking married him without telling any of us? When?”

“What does it fucking matter, aye?” She’d been waiting for a long while to drop the news. Waiting to show Tommy that yes, he may have tried to dictate her life, but no longer. She married Alfie on their terms and not his. “You’re just upset that I didn’t do it when you told me to. That I didn’t jump when you said so.”

“That man allowed me son to be fucking kidnapped!” Tommy shouted and closed the gap between them. “He could’ve had us all killed!”

“You let half the family have a noose tied ‘round their neck!” She screamed back at him, her voice starting to go hoarse. “John is dead! Do you get that, you fucking animal? Cold, unfeeling, selfish, arrogant, poor excuse of a man!”

Her brother was shaking with anger. A lifetime ago, he would’ve scolded her and sent her off to her room. Made her pout on her bed for the rest of the day. But there wasn’t a suitable punishment for what he considered betraying the family by marrying Alfie. So he grabbed her by the arm and made her look at him. “I don’t fucking care what you’ve done. That man is not a part of this family ‘n he never fucking will be.”

“Then neither am I.” She fought against his hold but he dug his fingers into her skin, bruising her pale complexion. She very well could’ve hurt him. He himself had taught her how to defend herself.

“You will stay here in Small Heath and he’s going back to London. I’ll not have him in my city.”

Your city.” She scoffed with a dark look in her eyes. “Your fucking city? Your city is burning, Thomas! It’s falling and you’re standing in the middle of it pretending like you’re some fucking god-sent king meant to save us all!” She used her free arm to try and get a good punch in. It had been a long time coming, as far as she was concerned.

But the close proximity allowed Tommy to restrain her, overpowering her before she could clip his jaw.

It only took a glance out the window for Alfie to lose his cool. The sight of Tommy wrestling Ella back sent him over the edge. He burst out of the door. “Oi!” He shouted and grabbed Tommy by the collar. “You fucking cunt, let go of her!”

Tommy didn’t mind turning his anger onto Alfie. “Stay out of this,” He pushed Ella away from him and whipped around to confront him. “You’ve no horse in this race. This is my family and I’ll be damned if I let you hang around just so you can betray me again!”

“I trust him more than I’ll ever trust you.” Ella spat.

“You’ve gone angry, Tommy, aye? Turning on me when you’ve got plenty of other people to be angry at. I’m a fucking easier target than Luca Changretta, ain’t I?” Alfie squared his shoulders, fully expecting the Blinder to tackle him to the ground.

“He’s trying to help you, Tommy, you need as many people as you can!”

Tommy’s entire body was tense as he shook his head. “Just…”

“Either he stays with me here or I go back to London.”

“Enough!” Tommy shouted over them both.

Ella had never heard him speak so loudly before. It silenced both her and Alfie. The two stared at Tommy, Watery Lane turning quiet after his voice had finished echoing across the tightly packed buildings.

“Go inside.” Tommy finally spoke again.

Ella instinctually gravitated towards Alfie. “I’m not…”

“Both of you get in the fucking house!”

Although Alfie didn’t like being yelled at and or told what to do, he wrapped an arm around Ella’s waist and led her into the flat. Tommy followed and slammed the door behind him.

“In the kitchen.” He snapped.

Ella grimaced but walked into the kitchen where the rest of the family and a few of the Blinders were congregated. All of them a little unnerved by the yelling.

“What on Earth is going on?” Arthur stood up. His eyes narrowed when Alfie walked in. “The fuck is he doing here?”

“Arthur, stop,” Linda said gently and tugged on his arm to get him to sit again. “Now’s not the time.”

Tommy didn’t answer, he jabbed a finger towards the table. “Sit.” He commanded them both.

Alfie grumbled incoherently under his breath and pulled up a chair for Ella. He stood behind her, hands protectively resting on the back of the chair.

Arthur stiffly sat down at the request of his wife. His eyes never left Alfie, critically suspicious of the man’s proximity to Ella. After his exoneration, he felt it was crucial to splinter from the family. If only for his sanity. But he frequently reached out to Ella. She responded only vaguely, assuring him she was perfectly safe and very happy. Never once did she mention she was shacking up with one of the men Arthur hated.

Tommy paced a few steps, his mind racing at migraine-inducing speeds. His brother was dead. His sister was married to Alfie Solomons. He was going to make deals with the Golds. He paused and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Fine. He could handle this.

Ella stared at her brother, anger still coursing red hot in her veins. Alfie was more than uneasy. He was greatly outnumbered even if Ella was a strong fighter in his corner of the ring. But he noticed everyone was curiously glancing his way. Finn, then Ada, then Lizzie, then Johnny Dogs, then Charlie. Polly didn’t seem bothered, smoking with her back slightly turned to him. Arthur continued sending him deadly glares.

As if she could sense his discomfort, Ella reached up to touch his hand resting near her shoulder. Arthur noticed. He also noticed the two rings on her left hand. Coincidentally on her ring finger.

It clicked in his head and the eldest Shelby nearly seized in horror. “No fucking way.” He pointed at his sister. “Don’t even fucking say it.”

Ella clenched her jaw and refused to look at him. “I don’t have to say anything.” She retorted firmly.

“Thomas!” Arthur looked to him for backup.

Tommy dropped the hand from his eyes and took a deep breath. “John is dead.” He turned to face his family and friends. “Esme’s gone on the road with the Lees. She’s taken the kids. Michael is badly wounded. I can stand here and make excuses. We can go into the history of what led up to this. But we’ll be here all night. John and Michael were shot because we killed a man. That is why we’re here now. If you’d like, we’ll all sit here and focus on what the past brought. Can all have a little chat ‘bout who did what. Or, we can finish this for good.”

Polly made a little noise of disbelief but didn’t speak up. There was no need for words.

“Until this business is settled, we need to stick together. Small Heath, Bordesley, Hay Mills, down to Greet.” Tommy waved his cigarette towards Ella. “You can have your room upstairs or take one of the flats we own now. Number ten, two doors down.”

Ella crossed her arms over her chest. “Alfie stays with me.”

“He’s not fucking staying anywhere near this place.” Arthur hissed. “We’re talking ‘bout the people we can trust.”

“Well, I don’t trust anyone in this room except my husband.” She responded. It knocked the wind out of a few people in the room. Not only her proclaimed distrust but also the affirmation that she had married Alfie without their knowledge.

“Tommy!” Arthur exclaimed, trying to prompt a reaction, preferably a violent one.

“That’s fine. He stays with you.” Tommy ignored his brother and Ella’s blatant disrespect. “But none of his men can enter this territory without my explicit permission.”

“What?!” Arthur stood up again.

Tempers flared again and Tommy slammed his hand down on the kitchen table, causing a few of them to flinch. “If you want her to go back to London and get shot then be my guest. She will not stay without him. This is not the issue right now!” He shouted in Shelta.

Ella pretended not to listen and tugged Alfie’s arm to rest a hand on her shoulder. She pressed her cheek into his arm.

He will cross you again. Have you not learned the last time?” Arthur demanded in their native tongue.

If he does, he knows the consequences. As far as I am concerned right now, he is another person who will protect her.”

It surprised Ella and she perked up. Of course, it was true, Alfie was as much of a protector as the rest of them. If anyone were to hurt her, he’d be first in line to cause bodily harm to the perpetrator.

Polly shifted in her seat to face her niece. There was no mistaking the adoration and fierce bond that had developed during the division of the family. She could sense Ella’s unwillingness to part and Alfie’s determination to defend her. The older woman reached out for her niece’s hand.

Ella smiled and took it gratefully.

“She has reason to distrust all of us,” Polly spoke. “We all have reason to distrust. But for all of our sake, we need to be together. Even if it’s temporary.” Her eyes landed on Tommy.

He nodded in agreement. “Arthur, sit down. We’re done discussing this. Now is the time to discuss plans of action.”

 

Before John’s funeral, Ella went out to the fields with Alfie. Several people were already there setting up the pyre but most of the family had yet to arrive. She needed to breathe and that wasn’t easy back in the midst of Small Heath.

Alfie sat at a small table that was set up with some food and drinks as she wandered about the long grass. She was so exhausted, it was difficult to cry. But that didn’t stop the tears from falling. Memories of her brother kept finding their way to the forefront of her mind.

The time John tricked her into thinking unicorns were real.

When he’d tote her around on his shoulders, mimicking horse sounds to make her laugh.

The beautiful summer afternoon that she would never forget. When she went riding with just him and they ended up in a small glade littered with dandelions. John sprawled out in the grass, toothpick hanging out of his mouth, and arms behind his back. He patiently let her place dandelion crowns on his head. Proclaiming himself king of the forest.

One morning when he socked a boy so hard in the gut because he’d made fun of Ella’s two missing teeth.

Every time he’d cover for her if she managed to get in trouble. Bravely taking scoldings for her or conjuring excuses to get her off scot-free.

Ella’s stomach turned and she doubled over in pain. She let out a loud sob and curled into herself, tucking over her knees.

The swish of grass alerted her to someone walking over. Alfie knelt down and wrapped his arms around her. “S’alright to cry, love.” He murmured sympathetically.

She leaned into his hold, clutching all the memories to her chest even though they kept stabbing her heart.

 

He held her when Arthur lit the pyre. The rest of the family was too grief-stricken to care or comment. And Tommy was simply waiting.

 

Waiting for the gunshots.

 

When they echoed across the field, everyone ducked. Alfie shielded Ella and withdrew his gun. Fuck if he knew if this was some sort of gypsy tradition. He wasn’t going to risk it.

“Do not return fire!” Tommy shouted and held his arms out. “The men firing are on our side.”

While the panicked funeral attendees recovered, Ella sprung up. She instantly went for Tommy’s throat, trying to tackle him. “You fucking monster!” Her brother struggled against her, grabbed her wrists so she couldn’t strangle him. “You used John’s funeral? Used us fucking bait?!” She shouted. Her eyes wild with rage.

Alfie tucked away his gun and grabbed his wife around the waist to pry her off Tommy. “Easy, easy! No need for that. Enough!” He scolded.

“You’re taking his side?” She demanded in a huff.

“What?” His eyes widened in disbelief. “Of course not, but I ain’t gonna let you fucking beat him up while your brother’s not even buried…er…burned.”

Ella narrowed her eyes at him but decided not to waste her anger on him. “Who’s shooting?” She pointed across the field where the sound of the gunshots had originated. Figures began to cross over the tall grass towards the vardos.

“I took the trouble of inviting Aberama Gold.” He answered.

“More gypsies. That’s just what we fucking need right now.” She spat.

“Are you not a gypsy anymore, El?” Tommy accused. “Not the gypsy girl you used to be proud of being, aye? What’re you now?”

“I’m me own fucking person now, that’s who I am.” She shimmied out of Alfie’s grip and stalked away from the funeral. She could hear her brother commanding the family.

“This is how it’s gonna be!” He shouted, partially directing the demand right towards Ella. 

She ignored him and kept walking. Eventually, she intersected with the men who were walking towards the pyre. Two painted gypsy cob horses with long-kept manes plodded towards her. Two plainer horses followed with two dead men tossed over their backs.

“Miss Shelby.” The hoarse voice was instantly recognizable. The man who was proclaimed as too wild even by Traveler standards. With his long graying hair and gold hoop earring, he was difficult to miss.

“Mr. Gold.” She nodded curtly. “Bonnie.” She greeted his son on the other cob.

“My condolences about your brother.”

She simply shook her head and kept walking. “You’ll want to save your breath. We’ll all be dead soon anyway.”

 

Chapter Text

            Alfie let Ada into Ten Watery Lane even though Ella explicitly told him not to let any of her family members in. He probably would’ve turned Tommy away after the fiasco of a funeral, but it didn’t feel right turning Ella’s sister away. And he was sure Ada wouldn’t listen to him.

            “She’s upstairs,” Alfie told her.

            “Did you try talking to her?” Ada removed her coat, letting him take it.

            He nodded and hung the coat up on one of the hooks by the door. “When I got here she locked herself in the room. Won’t open the door for me or nothing. Only told me to keep you lot away.”

            “She’s good at isolating. It’s what Tommy does.” Ada replied. She’d known Ella since she was born. Had seen nearly every temper tantrum the girl pulled. For a while, she was just like the rest of the siblings. A Shelby who was damned good at kicking up a fuss until she was red-faced and screaming profanities that she’d only just learned. But as she matured, she turned to locking herself away to keep out the world. She learned from the best, Tommy, who could effectively block out everything for a good period of time.     

            But despite their brother’s death, Ada wasn’t going to let Ella retreat into herself. They all needed to be on their toes. Their world wasn’t safe anymore.

            “Can I get you anything, Ada?” Alfie asked. He figured one of them had to be civil. And since Ella had taken the aggressive route with her siblings, he had to play the peacemaker. The role was making his skin crawl. He never could’ve imagined being in Small Heath playing nice with all the Shelbys. It was like a bad nightmare. But he didn’t have an issue with Ada, so that was something.

            “No thank you.” She replied and headed upstairs. Halfway up, she could hear someone crying. When she knocked on the door, it quieted a little.

            “Alfie, I’m not hungry. I told you.” Ella spoke, her voice stuffed up from crying.

            “It’s not Alfie,” Ada replied. “Can I come in?”

            There was a moment of silence as Ella considered the question. “I told Alfie not to let anyone in.”

            “Well, I think it’s a good thing he didn’t listen to you. This isn’t what you need right now.”

            Another minute of quiet before there were footsteps and a click of the door unlatching. Ella opened the door and let her older sister inside. Cyril was sprawled out on the floor, his long legs stretched out and Anthea was sleeping on Alfie’s pillow.

            Before she came in, Ada enveloped her in a big hug. “I’m not your enemy.” She whispered. “When have I ever been against you?”

            “When you ratted me out for sneaking out late with Tommy and Arthur,” Ella mumbled into Ada’s blouse.

            Ada laughed softly and stroked her baby sister’s hair back. “Okay, when have I been against you in the last ten years?”

            “Never.”

            “Exactly.” She ushered Ella over to the bed so they could sit. “Nothing about this is ideal.”

            Ella sniffled and curled up into Ada’s side. “It’s all gone to shit.”

            “I know. But there is hope and I think you know that.” Ada murmured softly. “You’re married, that’s something isn’t it?”

            “No one was happy ‘bout it. Arthur’s angry with me. So is Tom. They don’t want me to be fucking happy.”

            “I’m happy about it because I know he makes you happy.” Neither of them could speak on their brothers’ behalf although their reactions were strong. “Give it time and I think they’ll accept it.”

            “They won’t accept him.”

            Ada sighed. “Well, they didn’t accept Freddie at first.” She reminded her. “Just give it time and I promise things will get better.”

            “If we’re not all killed before then,” Ella muttered cynically and withdrew from her sister’s side. She scooped up Anthea and snuggled the puppy close.

            Ada decided it wasn’t in Ella’s best interest to keep harping on the bleak situation they were stuck in. “Where’d you get this little thing?” She wondered.

            “I found her in Margate when Alfie and I were on holiday,” Ella answered. Her fingers grazed over the mark on the pit bull’s head that was nothing but a scar at that point. She wanted to brag about how Alfie had made Anthea’s abuser pay for what he’d done. How he saved the woman who had been abused too. But she didn’t think Ada would understand.

            “What’d you name her then?” Ada picked up the puppy from her sister’s arms.

            “Anthea. I named her after that book you used to read me.”

            Ada smiled. “Five Children and It. Yes, I remember.” Long winter nights when she sat by Ella’s bed. Reading fantastical stories to keep the cold chill at bay. Ella would smile and ask if they could go to Neverland or Wonderland or find the Secret Garden. Ada couldn’t break her free spirit so she said, yes. They would go as soon as they could. It was enough to keep the little girl optimistic even in the slums of Small Heath.

            Now, what could they do to escape when they were caged in? Fairytales weren’t enough anymore.

            “I couldn’t remember all their names. I couldn’t remember the other girl. I remembered Robert and Hilary. I named her that because of Cyril. Cyril was one of the children. The oldest one.” Ella rambled on quietly.

            “Jane,” Ada recalled. “Jane was the younger sister.”

            “That’s right.”

            The sisters went silent. Ada set Anthea down and let her curl up in Ella’s lap again. Her fingers stroked over the pup’s sleek slate-colored fur.

            “El…”

            She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Ada, please, I don’t want to argue.”

            “No, I’m not here to argue,” Ada replied. “I told you that I’m not against you. I wanted to know what happened. When did you get married?” She hoped that the light conversation would help her sister open up a little bit instead of burrowing further into her shell.

            It appeared to work because a small smile crossed Ella’s pink lips. “He asked me to marry him a few months ago. Said he didn’t want to live another day without me as his wife.” She shrugged sheepishly and glanced down at the wedding ring on her finger. It rested comfortably beside her mother’s ring.

            Ada smiled warmly. “It’s clear how much you love each other.”

            “He’s everything to me.” Ella fiddled with the diamond ring. “I feel like I can truly be myself with him. I just want things to be okay so I can be with him.”

            Ada tucked a piece of Ella’s hair behind her ear. “You will.” She promised softly. There was no certainty anymore but at least they were together again. “Your hair’s gotten so long. Do you want me to cut it?”

            Ella nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t want to do it myself and fuck it up.” She mumbled.

            “Alright, I’ll grab my scissors and we can do that.” Ada stood up and kissed Ella’s forehead. “You should eat something, Alfie’s worried ‘bout you.”

            Ella nodded when she felt her stomach rumble. “Okay.” She smiled and followed Ada out of the room and out of her isolation.

 

            From then on, things were shaky with her family. Ella relied more on Ada and Polly instead of her brothers. Arthur was still heated about her relationship with Alfie but it was clear he missed his sister terribly. Tommy, on the other hand, was too caught up in his responsibilities to fix anything. They needed to get along by necessity. Small Heath was well…small. They couldn’t avoid each other at all, instead, they had to be cordial.

            As John’s death sunk in, the Shelby siblings began to realize the implications of holding their grudges. There was no telling if something else would happen to one of them. None of them wanted their last words to be ones of anger. So they slowly began to lower their defenses around each other.

            Ella bit her tongue and did her best to smile more instead of kicking off. It worked in her favor and they managed to keep the peace even as the Golds infiltrated their lives and their territory.

 

            “Snuck you in some chocolate.” Ella entered the hospital room where her cousin had been healing. She shooed away the Blinders standing on guard by the door. “The good stuff, from Switzerland.” She pulled the bar of chocolate out of her purse. “I know where your mum keeps it.” 

            Michael smiled. He still appeared weak although he was in much better condition than the day before. “Happen to sneak in some gin too?” He joked half-heartedly. 

            “Next time.” She winked and went to open the shades a little more. 

            “My mum with you?” Michael began to peel open the wrapper of the candy. It was the first time he didn’t feel nauseous while looking at food. 

            “She’s on her way. We took different cars because I need to be somewhere else after this.” Ella explained and wandered over to the table that had a few bouquets of flowers. She cleaned up a few fallen petals and leaves, tossing them in the bin. 

            He eyed her with a raised eyebrow as she cleaned up. “Who are you and what have you done with my cousin?” 

            Ella stuck her tongue out at him. “Sorry I don’t like living in a pigsty like you apparently do.” She retorted playfully.

            “No, I just didn’t think you’d be all…wifey.” 

            She involuntarily flinched at the word. After the strong reaction from her family, she didn’t really want to bring it up again. Best they all just ignored it until they could all go their separate ways. Her bitter side wanted to shove it right in their face. Tell them all how much she loved Alfie and how well he treated her. But it would only stir the pot. Bite her tongue, that’s all she could do anymore. “Tommy told you?” 

            “My mum did.” He shrugged but the movement made him wince. “Feel like the world’s gotten all shaken up.” He mumbled. They all knew she’d been living in Camden for quite some time with the Jewish gangster but they didn’t expect marriage without some warning.

            She stopped tidying up and chewed on her lip. “I know but things will work out and we can all go back to normal. I suppose we just have to listen to Tommy.” The idea gave her a sour taste in her mouth. 

            “Your normal is back to Camden?” Michael’s tone was a little accusatory but she paid him no mind. It wasn’t Ella’s decision whether her cousin continued to blindly follow Tommy. 

            “I’ll be returning to my life with my husband, yes.” She said in a clipped tone. Sometimes her cousin was too much like her brother. It was strange how time with the Peaky Blinders had changed him so much.

            The doors to the hospital room opened and Polly interrupted the curt conversation between cousins. She went to sit beside her son’s hospital’s bed. “How are you?” She murmured softly and smoothed his hair back. 

            “Well, he’s talking, that’s for sure,” Ella muttered and passed by her aunt. 

            Polly frowned when she appeared to notice something startling. “C’mere.” 

            “What?” 

            “Come here.” She insisted again with an irritated glare and beckoned her over insistently. “Did you forget that I don’t like to repeat myself?”  

            Ella sighed and walked over to the older woman. “What?” She asked again. Without warning, Polly cupped her left breast. Ella jumped and tried to bat her hand away. “Oi! I don’t go ‘round grabbing your tits without fucking asking!” 

            She let go after a moment but only to do the sign of the cross. “Lord help me, you’re pregnant.” 

            Michael nearly began to choke on the piece of chocolate he’d bitten off. “Fucking what?” He wheezed. 

            Ella froze and stared blankly at her aunt. “No…” 

            Never liking her intelligence second-guessed, Polly raised an eyebrow. “When’s the last time you bled?” 

            “Could you have this conversation elsewhere?” Michael pled. If he wasn’t being held together by stitches then he certainly would’ve gotten up and left. 

            “Hush.” His mother scolded him. “Ella Laura Shelby, you answer me this instant.” 

            “Ella Solomons not Shelby.” She mumbled defiantly. “And I don’t remember. I left my diary in London. Didn’t have a chance to take it with me.” 

            “Well, you’ll be having twins then.” Polly dug into her purse for a cigarette. “Boy and a girl.” 

            Ella let out a hysterical little laugh and fell into a chair, a hand over her forehead in disbelief. “Fuck off! You said Frances Lee was going to have twins and she just had one.” 

            “She had Irish twins.” Polly rolled her eyes. “I was fucking close enough.” 

            “I’m not pregnant.” 

            “Do we even have other twins in the family? Isn’t it a genetic thing?” Michael wondered. If he had to be in the room for the conversation, he was going to listen. 

            “No, must be from Alfie’s side.” Polly shrugged. “Can’t recall having any twins in the immediate family. Maybe some distant cousins but none very close.” 

            “I’m not pregnant!” 

            “Tommy’ll have a fit,” Michael remarked, ignoring his cousin’s interjections just as much as his mother was. 

            “He’ll be fine.” Polly brushed off the concern. “I think he’s got other things to be concerned about. Maybe children will settle some of the dust.” 

            “I’m not fucking pregnant!” Ella snapped and stood up. “And you two better not go running ‘round blabbing that I am. This conversation doesn’t fucking leave this room.” She jabbed a finger at both of them. “It ends here and now because, and fuck me if I have to repeat myself again, I’m. Not. Pregnant.” 

            Polly looked vaguely amused as she smoked. “Fine, just don’t come whining to me when you’ve gone into labor. I’ll deliver the babies but only after you’ve apologized.”          

            Her niece let out a frustrated noise and stormed out of the hospital room. 

Chapter Text

            Alfie was not fond of Small Heath. There were plenty of reasons why but the one that stuck out the most, aside from the persistent smell of coal, was how small it felt. Not to mention it wasn’t the place he wanted to spend the first year married. Ella, in his opinion, deserved much more. After consulting with Tommy about what in the hell he planned to do, Alfie returned back to Watery Lane. 

            Ella was sitting by a gramophone. No music played, she was holding two records in either hand, her eyes flicking back and forth between them. It appeared she was trying to decide what to play, but Alfie could see she was wrestling with something much bigger. 

            “How you doing, love?” He slipped off his hat and coat. “Thinking ‘bout your brother?” 

            She didn’t look up from the records. Simply a soft hum answered him. 

            “Right, well…these things take time. Jews, yeah, we have a particularly long mourning period.” He lowered himself down on the sofa beside her. Cyril came trotting over to place his head in Alfie’s lap. “Thirty days at least. Then for parents, it’s a full fucking year.” She didn’t say anything in response, simply made another noise of acknowledgment. Her eyes were gazing out into space, staring at the songs listed on the record. “Me mum died when I was in the war. Sorta when I started to grow me beard. Not supposed to shave or anything for that time. Just so happened it covered up my scar.” He chuckled weakly and rubbed the back of his neck. 

            “Your mum…” Ella finally spoke. 

            He glanced at her. “Yeah…what about her?” 

            Her eyes snapped up from the record, fixing instead on the wall across from them. “Did you have any twins in your family?” 

            It seemed like a sharp detour from the conversation Alfie was having with himself. And such a strange question. He blinked and gathered his surprise. “Erm…yeah.” He said. “Me mum had twin sisters. One died in Russia while they were tryna escape.” 

            Ella’s breathing became shallower and the room spun. Polly was right. She had to be, when was her aunt ever wrong? Dark spots danced in her sight and Ella swayed to the side. 

            “El, what on Earth has gotten into you? You’ve gone pale!” Alfie touched the back of his hand to her forehead to see if she was running a fever. “Love, talk to me.” He coaxed. 

            “I uh-” It was as if the words were lodged in Ella’s throat. She couldn’t even fathom getting them out. Letting them sit in the open air between them. “I think you need to call my aunt.” She whispered. 

            “Polly? Why?” His worry peaked. It wasn’t the time to brush off concern. Something had clearly spooked his wife. Had the Italians gotten to her? Had they sent her a message while he was absent? 

            “Just, please call her.” 

            His brow furrowed but he stood and went straight to the phone to dial Polly’s number. 

 

            “Gray residence.” 

            “D’you know why me wife’s gone catatonic?” Alfie asked gruffly. 

            “And hello to you, Alfie.” Polly didn’t sound at all worried. Of course, she knew her niece was stunned. She’d gotten some very stunning news that she was no doubt still trying to deny. 

            “Do you know or not?” 

            “She’s asked you to break the news?” 

            Alfie threw his hand up. The way Shelbys were so vague sometimes made him want to scream. He much preferred it when people were blunt. “What news!?” 

            Polly assumed that Ella had granted her permission. That or she couldn’t say it out loud without throwing up. “She’s pregnant.” 

            He felt a massive shockwave tremor from the Earth. His jaw fell and a hand lifted to his mouth. It felt like hours until he heard Polly speak again. For a long while, it felt like the rest of the world had fallen away. 

            “Did you fall over?” 

            “No.” The word slipped out without volition. It didn't even feel like he was the one speaking.  

            “Talk to her. I’m sure you’re both a bit scared. But it is a wonderful thing. A gift to a marriage.” Polly’s voice was soft. It would be something to have a new life brought into the family after such a devastating loss. 

            “Yeah…right…okay.” He mumbled and slowly hung up the phone. Dazed, he wandered back into the parlor. 

            Ella was still waiting on the couch, her eyes wide with apprehension. It was obvious that Polly had broken the news but she was still hellbent on denying it. “I’m not pregnant.” She whispered. 

            Alfie couldn’t help the scoff of disbelief. “Then why’d Polly tell me you fucking were?” 

            Immediately, tears began to form in her eyes. She crumpled into herself, tucking her knees up to her chest. 

            He sighed and walked over to her. “I’m sorry. I just…I was caught off guard.” His voice softened and he gathered her into his arms. 

            “I’m not…she’s wrong.” 

            Alfie wanted to tread carefully. The last thing he wanted was to make her feel worse or make her think he was angry with her. She buried her face into his chest and cried softly. “Love…” He sighed away some stress and held her close. “You sure ‘bout that?” 

            She sniffled and shrugged. 

            He puffed out his cheeks before exhaling heavily. “If you are…ain’t saying you are. But if you are, I think that’d be all right. Don’t you think?” If anything, he felt a little daft for never discussing the idea of children with his wife. He had thought about it, what husband hadn’t? Had noticed Ella’s gaze lingering at the prams that passed by on the street. Saw how well she handled her friend’s children when she watched after them. He was also well aware that the Shelbys typically had larger families. It was uncannily Jewish. Get married and see how many kids you could pop out before you dried up and hoped that at least one of them would be grateful enough to care for you in your elderly years. 

            But perhaps it was the secretive way they’d wed. A brief ceremony at the council. Afterward, they held a dinner with friends and family who rejoiced over the news but were disappointed they’d been robbed of a large Jewish wedding. Most of them assumed that when it came to the unlikely couple’s marriage, Ella would convert. That way the wedding could be legal and Godly. Plus it would allow their future children to be raised in a fully Jewish household. 

            And yet, maybe they should’ve considered how unorthodox the whole thing was. It seemed Alfie and Ella couldn’t have cared less whether or not they’d be accepted by anyone. Not even God. 

            “Alfie this is the worst possible time for me to be pregnant.” Ella reminded him. “If you forgot, we’re being hunted.”

            “I mean…” He ran a hand over his eyes and stifled a groan. “Did you not want kids? Know we never discussed it…sorta just figured.”

            Ella let her head fall backward. “I dunno I can’t even think straight right now.”

            “El, look at me.” Alfie guided her eyes to him. “This is gonna be alright. I want a family with you. And this stuff with the Italians, it ain’t gonna ruin us.”

            She dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve. “I’m just scared.”

            It wasn’t fair to lie to her, he knew that. She was in a fragile state and the last thing she needed was false hope. But she’d been hit with such a streak of bad luck, as had the rest of the Shelby family. And Alfie hoped that maybe this one glimmer of good news would change things. Make her see that there was some good in the world. Make her smile again like she used to in Camden. He would see them through this, that’s all he could do. But it killed him inside to see her so bitter and angry. So much so that she couldn’t even be happy about the news of her own pregnancy.

            “I’m scared too, love.” Alfie murmured and stroked her hair back. “Fucking scared to have two newborns at the same time. D’you think they’ll be nice to us and stay on the same schedule?”

            She furrowed her brow. “What?”

            The corner of his lips tugged into a smile. “I mean, we’re absolutely fucked if they got our stubbornness. One’ll wanna go to bed and the other’ll be up screaming all night.”

            Ella couldn’t help but picture the scene. Alfie trying to lull a baby who was in full temper tantrum mode. Maybe he’d be singing softly, or rocking the babe back and forth. Maybe Anthea and Cyril would pitch in and start howling. Perhaps the other twin was fast asleep in the crib. Or maybe both babies were wide awake and crying. One in each of Alfie’s arms.

            “Guess we’ll hafta take shifts then.” Alfie sighed. “’Course it’ll be worth it. Won’t it? Having two little ‘uns with your blue eyes.”      

            Finally, his wife began to smile. “I suppose.”

            “Figure we can get a good routine going. Kids like routines? Like Cyril does? I have no fucking clue.”

            “Maybe. I’m not sure.”

            He chuckled and ran a hand through his hair. The realization that he would be a father soon was still setting in. “Maybe they’ll be easy, won’t cry too much. I mean, s’alright if they do. But it’d be nice to have an uninterrupted sleep schedule.”

            Ella couldn’t help but laugh. “You think two kids with Shelby and Solomons traits are going to be perfect angels?” She asked with a raised eyebrow. “I’ll have you know, each and every one of us were absolute terrors. Just ask Pol.”

            “Shit.” He faked a grimace. “Well…too late I s’pose. Will hafta make with what we’ve got.”

            She sighed and cuddled close to him. “You’re something else, Mr. Solomons.” She murmured.

            “Well, you married me, Mrs. Solomons. So you must like that ‘something else’.” He replied cheekily.

            “I like you alright.” Ella kissed his cheek and rested against his shoulder. “I guess I’ve got to tell everyone before Polly and Michael let it slip.” She mumbled begrudgingly.

            “If they have a fucking issue with it, then they can speak with me.” Alfie responded protectively. “Ain’t nothing wrong with a husband and wife starting a family together.”

            He made it sound so simple. As if there wasn’t a war raging around them. They were simply a man and a woman planning for the arrival of twins. It comforted Ella for just a moment. But she couldn’t forget where they were or what they were up against.

 

            Tommy let his head fall to the desk not caring when his forehead hitting the wood surface. Pregnant. His baby sister was bloody pregnant with Alfie Solomons. No matter what he did, he couldn’t catch a break. Surely God was punishing him for his long line of sin.

 

Fine. That was fine.

 

            Ella stood in front of the desk; her arms crossed over her chest. Alfie stood beside her; a bit on edge. Either Tommy took it well, or the Shelby man took it poorly and jumped over the desk to strangle Alfie.

            “Can I get one fucking moment of peace from you two?” Tommy demanded, lifting his head. His eyes flicking from his sister to his, for Christ’s sake, brother-in-law.

            Ella pulled a face. “Oh, I’m sorry, everyone else in this family is allowed to have as many fucking kids as they want, but I can’t? Even though I’m happily married.”

            The word made her brother cringe. It would admittedly take some getting used to. “That’s not what I fucking meant,” Tommy grumbled and rubbed his eyes. “Who else knows?” He asked.

            “Polly and Michael,” Alfie answered. “Haven’t told anyone else.”

            “Keep it that way.” Tommy asserted firmly. “That’s all who needs to know right now. Me, Polly, and Michael. Don’t go talking about it to everyone in Birmingham.” He looked pointedly at his sister. “We don’t need this news getting out. After this is settled, you can go tell everyone who’ll listen.”

            “Oh, well, thank fucking God for your permission, Thomas,” Ella replied sharply. “I don’t see why it’s such an issue that our family knows.”

            “I agree with Tommy,” Alfie spoke up. “Best it’s kept quiet until we can trust the people ‘round us.”

            His wife looked annoyed that he’d agreed with Tommy but relented. “Fine. No one else will know.”

            “Good.” Tommy found it odd that Alfie was helping him win battles with his sister. Odd, but slightly gratifying. At least the two weren’t teaming up against him. He pointed his cigarette at Alfie. “I’ve heard your nephew fights in the ring.”

            “Goliath? Yeah, fucking Southern County’s Welterweight champion. Fucking animal, that lad is. Ain’t got no soul.” Alfie nodded. “Why’d you ask?”

            “Think I’ve got a worthy opponent for him.”

            Ella narrowed her eyes. “You’re talking about having a boxing match? Now of all times? What, so I can’t tell people I’m fucking pregnant but you can have some show?”

            “We’re not hiding in tunnels, Eloise,” Tommy replied. The migraine that had been plaguing him all morning was really starting to do a number on him.

            Ella rested her hands on the desk and leaned towards her brother. “What the fuck did you just call me?” She hissed.

            “Your name.” Tommy retorted deadpan.

            Alfie frowned. “Hang on, is Ella short for Eloise?” He looked puzzled.

            “No, it’s the name of our bastard father’s mother. And I do not go by it. Ever.” She glared at Tommy. “Are you trying to get a rise outta me, Thomas?”

            “You’re pregnant, El, not good to get all worked up.”

            “Men.” She spat and grit her teeth. “Fucking Shelby men who think their world is theirs to own. Think they can get away with fucking anything.” She threw her hands up and stalked out of the room, deciding it wasn’t worth a screaming match.

            Alfie went to follow her but paused. “So, I’m to assume that if I ever called her Eloise, I’d get me cock chopped off.”

            “Only if she’s got a knife in her hand, Alfie.”

             “Right, got it.” He gave a curt nod before leaving the office.

Chapter Text

            Tommy found his sister at their uncle’s yard, standing by the canal. It was early morning and a thick fog hung over the dark water. Ella was wearing a thick wool coat with fur lining. The heavy fabric covering any hint at her pregnancy. 

            So she was listening to him. At least for now. 

            Ella didn’t look over at him when he came to stand beside her. She simply remained still. Waiting for him to speak first. But he only tossed his spent cigarette into the still water. 

            “Do you remember the first horse you bought me?” 

            Tommy tucked a hand in his pocket and nodded. “It was a paint. You wanted one because the Lee girls all rode paints. That’s what you told me.” 

            “Do you remember what I named her?” 

            “No.” The name of his baby sister’s first horse from years and years ago was not his priority. Tommy had more than enough to worry about. 

            “Liliac.” She told him. “I’d weave lilacs in her mane. She was beautiful. Then she fell in the pasture and broke her leg.”

            Tommy didn’t need to be reminded of the memory. He remembered examining the horse’s leg. Curly called it even though it obviously pained him. Said the horse would only suffer if they kept her alive. So the horse was shot and Tommy had to return to Watery Lane and inform his sister of the news. She was heartbroken. Tommy promised to buy her another paint but that only made her cry harder. 

            “I keep dreaming about her.” Ella’s voice was faint beside him. “I want to follow her but I can’t. She has two foals with her...both identical.” 

            “Just a dream,” Tommy said quietly. 

            She wrapped her arms around herself when a shiver went down her spine. “It just doesn’t feel right.” 

            “Where’s your husband?” He asked, wondering why Ella was out so early without an escort in sight. 

            “He’s trying to phone Goliath, about the fight.” 

            Tommy grunted an acknowledgment. 

            “You need to tell me now if this fight is more than just a boxing match.” Her tone was colder than the morning air. 

            “A night of sport will keep everyone’s spirits high.” It was impossible to ignore the insincerity in his voice. 

            Ella scoffed and turned away from the canal. “One of these days, Thomas, I swear to God.” She made her way through the hay and mud before she made a threat she would regret. 

 

            Alfie was finishing up on the phone when his wife arrived back from her walk to the Yard. “I fucking know your brother is having me calls monitored.” He complained. 

            Ella hummed and slipped off her coat. “Girls in Digbeth. They fancy him so they’ll listen to all the calls that have anything remotely to do with the company.” She bent down to greet Cyril and Anthea by the door. 

            Alfie grumbled a few curses under his breath. “Well, Goliath’s ready for a fight. No fucking clue what Tommy thinks he’s up to.” 

            “No one knows but him.” Ella went to make herself a cup of tea. Anthea and Cyril trailed after her hoping for a biscuit or belly rubs. 

            Alfie followed as well and lingered in the doorway of the tiny kitchen. He watched as she moved about the space. It was different from how she was in Camden Town. He adored hearing her flit about the warm kitchen, humming to herself, tossing Cyril a piece of whatever she was attempting to make, and cursing like a sailor if she dropped something or burned her finger. 

            The kitchen on Watery Lane felt colder and she moved stiffly without a lick of joy. She was deep in her thoughts as she filled the kettle and set it on the stove.

            Alfie sighed and went to wrap his arms around her waist from behind. He pressed a kiss to the shell of her ear. “Talk to me, love. No use in keeping it all in that beautiful head of yours.” 

            His sweet-talking didn’t conjure even a hint of a smile. “I want to go back to Margate.” She whispered. 

            Her husband closed his eyes and buried his face in her recently cut hair. Her dark curls back to their usual chin-length. “I know. I’d rather be fucking anywhere but here.” He concurred. “No offense.” 

           “None taken.” She muttered and rested her hands on his arms. Her fingertips grazing the cord bracelet on his wrist, reaching out towards the crown inked on his hand. “You know, my brothers were born on a boat.” 

           “Huh.” Alfie wasn’t sure he’d ever heard of such a thing. 

           “John, Arthur, and Tommy. Same boat. Ada was the first one of us born here. Six Watery Lane, upstairs in Tommy’s room. I was born downstairs in the betting shop, ‘course it weren’t much back then. Just some extra rooms. Finn was born in the parlor. Polly helped deliver me. She said I didn’t stop screaming for hours. My father called me a banshee and my brothers always held their hands over their ears around me.” She blinked a few times as if to pull herself out of the daze she had been in all morning. “My whole life I’ve wanted to be heard but never felt like anyone was listening.” 

            “I listen, love.” 

            “I know, that’s why I fell in love with you.” 

            Ella chewed on her lip. “I want the children to be born in Margate.” She told her husband. 

            “Yeah? Any reason?” It sounded like a good idea to Alfie but it was the first time she’d mentioned it to him. Of course they hadn’t had much time to discuss it. Tommy made them keep it hushed and Alfie was helping the Shelbys organize an army. 

            “Because I want them to see the ocean once they open their eyes. I want them to see there’s much more to life than Birmingham or London.” 

            Alfie nodded. “Then they’ll be born in Margate.” He was just glad she didn’t suggest the twins were born in Birmingham. His children would be born there over his dead body. 

            Ella leaned into his touch. “Will you get a bottle of morphine from my brother next time you see him?” 

            He frowned with distaste. “Why?” 

            “Doesn’t matter.” 

            Not satisfied with the answer, Alfie put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around. “Why?” He asked more firmly. 

            She looked at his face but avoided his eyes, focusing instead on the scar running down his cheek. “I’m sick of dreaming.” 

            “Morphine ain’t gonna help you, El, only make it fucking worse.” He argued. 

            “Well what do you suggest I do, Alfie?” She retorted. The pregnant woman was exhausted. She’d slept only a few hours before waking up in a cold sweat. The dreams had left her in such a state that she wandered the flat the rest of the night, only returning to bed when she heard Alfie stirring. With little sleep and the tense situation only getting worse, her nerves were frayed enough. 

            “They’re just dreams. They shouldn’t bother you. You’ll always wake up.” He cradled her face in his calloused hands but she pushed him away. 

            “Don’t tell me what should or shouldn’t bother me.” She snapped and moved away from him. 

            “M’only tryna fucking help.” He threw his hands up in disbelief. “Sorry I can’t stop you from dreaming, you know that if I could I fucking would!” 

            “Fuck off, Alfie. I’ll do it myself.” Ella left the kitchen. 

            His jaw tightened. “I ain’t gonna have you using your brother’s fucking dope while you’re pregnant!” He shouted after her. His anger was more directed at her brothers', getting her accustomed to the use of drugs from an early age. Of course, she saw no issue with it. 

            “Oh, so you control me now?” Ella laughed sarcastically and tugged her coat off the rack. “First you make me come to Birmingham and now you’re telling me what I can’t put in my body.” 

            “That shit’ll do nothing but hurt you.” Alfie stormed down the hallway. It was inevitable. Small Heath was too small, too cramped. It felt like every side of the city was pushing down on him, putting so much pressure on him that he was bound to snap. The news of the pregnancy delayed the explosion for some time, but an argument only sparked it. 

            “I can’t fucking sleep!” Ella yelled back at him. “You think it’s better that I can’t sleep?!” 

“Why didn’t you fucking tell me you couldn’t fucking sleep?” Alfie demanded and yanked the coat from her hands so she wouldn’t leave. If he had to stand between her and Tommy’s drugs he damn sure would. “You keep these things from me, Ella, then expect me to read your mind so I can fix everything!” 

            Tears were flooding her blue eyes as anger coursed through every inch of her body. “Because you wouldn’t understand. You’re just as miserable here as I am!” 

            “Just calm down and go sit.” He pointed towards the parlor where Cyril and Anthea were hiding out. 

            “Don’t tell me what to do!” Her voice almost rattled the old flat. 

            The two squared off in the foyer for a moment, neither backing down. Ella clenched her hands into fists but decided she was too tired for a screaming match. “I’m going to my aunt’s.” She didn’t even attempt to get her coat back from him. 

            Alfie froze as she opened the door. “If I fucking find out that you’ve gone to your brother…” 

            “What? You’ll leave me?” Ella narrowed her eyes at him. 

            “Oh for fuck’s sake.” Alfie groaned and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Fine, fine! You want to go get high so you can’t fucking dream. Go right the fuck ahead. But I ain’t gonna help you when you’re coming down and realize that the world’s still the same fucking hell hole.” He turned on his heel and stomped upstairs. 

            Ella made a noise of frustration and slammed the door behind her. Once the house settled, the kettle in the kitchen began to whistle.

Chapter Text

            Niall Devlin was having quite a day. The Shelby brothers had been winding up the entire factory with an impromptu boxing match and they were still unaware of the revolution. The man blamed this on Tommy’s lack of listening. Not that Devlin thought it would matter whether they knew or not. It would just spare him so grief later on. 

            Bonnie had displayed his fighting prowess much to the shock of the workers. There was still a lingering crowd, all buzzing with disbelief at what they’d just witnessed. 

            That’s when the doors to the factory flew open and Mr. Devlin’s day got even hairier. 

            Most of the works quieted when Alfie Solomons stormed across the floor. No one dared stand in his way because he looked beyond pissed. 

            The Jewish man snapped his fingers at Niall, assuming he had at least some sort of power because he was better dressed than the others and holding a clipboard. “You. Where’s Tommy?” He demanded. 

            Mr. Devlin looked rattled. “Erm, he’s upstairs in a meeting now.” He relayed. 

            “Great.” Alfie began climbing the stairs, his cane falling heavily on the wood floor. 

            “Well-wait, sir, I cannot have you interrupting Mr. Shelby.” Niall scurried after him. “It’s very important and-”

            Alfie stopped halfway on the stairs and looked at the assistant. His eyes teeming with rage from under the brim of his hat. “Mr. Shelby and I are family now. Family is very important, innit? S’pecially to him. Family comes first, therefore,” He put a hand over his heart. “I come first.” With that, he continued towards Tommy’s office. 

            Mr. Devlin swallowed nervously and trailed after the man, ready for Tommy to chew him out for letting Alfie that far. 

            Alfie banged on the door, rolling his eyes at the S initial embellished everywhere around him. 

            “I’m busy!” Tommy yelled back. 

            Frankly, it was laughable that anyone thought they could turn Alfie away. So he barged through the door. 

            His brother-in-law, fuck that would take some getting used to, looked incredulous. A woman was sat across from him at his desk and looked a little annoyed, albeit confused by the intrusion. 

            “Alfie, I’m in a meeting.” 

            “Oh, that’s nice, mate. I don’t fucking care.” Alfie spat. “Love, if you could give us a minute, this is about family matters.” He addressed Jessie. 

            The woman scoffed. It was difficult enough trying to secure the appointment with Tommy, she wasn’t about to let it be interrupted. “I think you could wait a minute.” She shot back. “And don’t call me that.” 

            Alfie raised an eyebrow. “Tommy I didn’t think you associated with women who actually fucking stood up for themselves.” 

            Jessie wasn’t impressed. “We have business to discuss. If you wouldn’t mind…” 

            “To be honest, I don’t fucking care if you’ve got business.” 

            Tommy removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily. “Jessie, he won’t leave until I’ve spoken to him.” He informed her frankly. “It’ll only be a moment and we’ll resume talking.” 

            Jessie frowned sourly but stood up to leave. 

            “Thank you.” Alfie shut the door behind her. “Did Ella come here?” He demanded. 

            “No. I haven’t seen her since this morning.” Tommy replied. It was exhausting going back and forth between business and family issues. 

            “Did she ask you for anything?” Alfie remained standing, both hands placed over the top of his cane. 

            “No.” 

            “Nothing? You fucking sure ‘bout that?” 

            Tommy placed his glasses back on and looked up at the man. “She spoke to me about unsettling dreams she was having.” 

            “Right, mentioned the same thing to me. Now she wants you to give her dope so she won’t dream. Won’t fucking listen to me, right, when I tell her to stay away from that shit. Any reason why?” 

            “Alfie-”

            “‘Cause her fucking brothers drink that shit like it’s fucking water!” Alfie shouted. “You’ve got her thinking it’s the answer to all her issues ‘cause you lot like to repress your fucking emotions!” 

            Tommy took a deep breath. “I never told her it was okay.” 

            “Oh right, mate, do as I say not as I fucking do.” Alfie rolled his eyes. “She is pregnant and if I find out that you or anyone in your family has given her drugs, I’m going to wrap you up in a nice little bow and hand-deliver you to Luca Changretta. 

            The Blinder looked mildly amused. “Is that a threat, Alfie?” 

            “Oh, you’re damn right it is, mate.” He snarled, his face clouding over. “Something about Birmingham, yeah, that makes you more violent. A pit of hell, innit? Guess that fucking explains why you’re the way you are, Thomas. But mark me fucking words, my wife and I are walking out of this place unharmed. Won’t have Birmingham fucking her over. Even if that means we have to walk over your dead body.” 

            Tommy lit a cigarette. He’d grown used to Alfie’s colorful vocabulary a long time ago. Sure he knew that the London gangster was more than capable of keeping his vows, but Tommy had a feeling he wouldn’t do anything of the sort. “If she comes to me asking for anything I’ll turn her down.” He responded. “I’ll warn the others to do the same, I’ll pass along your message.” 

            The other man had been expecting a little resistance. Tommy did love to argue with him. But it appeared they were on the same page this time around. “Good. Then we won’t have any issues.” Alfie retreated a little from the desk. “I’ll send her back in. Oh, and Tommy, try not to get this one pregnant, aye? Two children outta wedlock, well that’ll just tarnish that glowing reputation of yours won’t it?” 

            “Alfie, kindly fuck off.” 

 

 

            The soft nicker was all too familiar. It was the sweet sound that was like a melody to Ella. The warm greeting from a friendly horse, an old friend, even.

            Ella pushed through the fog on the moor. The rocky terrain unsteady under her bare feet. Her hair was long, almost to her waist, just as she used to keep it as a child. Polly and Ada would braid it for her to keep it out of her face, sometimes sticking wildflowers into the plaits. It made her feel like a Romani queen. Wild and one with the forest. 

            Lilac’s sturdy frame came into view. The perfect specimen of an Irish cob. Built to pull and traverse through the toughest of environments. Her coat was a painting of God’s. Beautiful black and white patterns swatched over her form. Her mane was long but kept clean and untangled. The heavenly scent of her namesake wafted in the air. Dried lilacs falling from her wiry mane. 

            The mare nickered again to her beloved Romani chavi. She bobbed her head as if nodding to coax the girl over. 

            Ella smiled serenely and continued through the fog. When she grew closer, she saw the two foals that had been hidden by the thick fog. Both splattered with identical black and white patterns. They stood on shaky legs, staying close to Lilac. 

            Then, they all began to walk away from her. 

            Ella wanted to call out to them, to tell them to wait for her but she couldn’t speak. The air was trapped inside her chest. So she kept following the three horses, trying to run to catch up to them but stuck at a walking pace. 

            Finally, one of the foals stopped and turned to look at her. Then, a haunting voice traveled over the moors. 

            “Mumma?” 

 

            Ella shot up in bed. Sweat plastered her hair to her face, her heart was beating relentlessly against her chest. Through the darkness, she let out a sob that startled Alfie, Cyril, and Anthea awake. 

            “El?” Her husband grumbled and groped the sheets to try and find her. “Whasamatter?” 

            Cyril whimpered and padded over to the bed, pressing his cold nose to Ella’s hand. 

            “The babies...the twins. It’s them. Something’s wrong.” Ella’s voice quivered with fear as she rambled on. 

            “What?” Alfie blinked blearily and reached for the bedside lamp. “Ella, what on Earth are you talking ‘bout?” 

            “The foals. The foals...oh my God.” She cried and tucked her knees to her chest. “It’s the twins. Something’s going to happen.” 

            Warm light flooded the room and Alfie reached out to her. “Ella, it was just a dream. I told you it’s nothing.” 

            “It’s not nothing!” She threw the covers back and got out of bed. 

            He didn’t want their argument from the previous day carry on into the next but they needed to get through it. “Ella, I’m listening to you. But you need to speak! I want to hear you! If you pull this Shelby nonsense of keeping everything inside ‘til you explode then what am I supposed to fucking do except damage control?” 

            “These dreams mean something. Something bad is going to happen!” 

            Alfie could’ve argued that bad things were already happening and had been since her brother was shot dead. But he decided being a smartass wasn’t the best course of action. 

He rubbed the heel of his hand into his eyes and groaned. “Okay, so what’re you gonna do ‘bout it, love?” 

            “I need to talk to Polly.” Ella grabbed Alfie’s discarded shirt off the floor and threw it on over her nightgown. 

            “Hang on, you’re gonna go there now?” Alfie got up as well, disturbing Cyril and Anthea at the end of the bed. As he followed his wife, he spotted the time on the old clock in the hallway. “It’s past midnight, love, you can talk to her tomorrow morning.” 

            “No, no, no, this is important.” 

            “Ella.” 

            “This is important.” She repeated again as if they were the only words she knew. “This is important.” 

            Alfie reached out to stop her and pulled her into his arms. “It is important. It’s important, love. But we can wait a few more hours. If you don’t want to sleep then I’ll stay up with you until the morning.” 

            Her knees went a little weak as she cried against his chest. “I don’t deserve you.” 

            “Nonsense, don’t think like that.” He scolded softly and guided her back to the small bedroom. “Let’s just both calm down.” With care, he got her settled back into bed. “Take a deep breath and just try to forget ‘bout everything.” 

            Ella was shaking with anxiety but stifled her quiet sobs and reached out to Alfie. 

            “I’m here, I’m here.” He assured her and laid down, letting her cuddle close. Cyril rested his chin on Ella’s feet and Anthea scrambled to sit in her lap. 

            She sniffled and pressed her lips to the pitbull’s head. 

            “Take a breath.” Alfie soothed again. “Pretend we’re in Margate. Just pretend we’re far away from here.” 

 

 

            “You look like you haven’t slept much.”

            Ella muttered a sarcastic reply under her breath but she was too tired to argue with anyone. After Alfie had managed to calm her down the night before, she didn’t fall back asleep.

            “What was that?” Polly raised an eyebrow.

            “I said can you read my leaves?” Her niece spoke up and chose not to repeat herself in the risk of losing Polly’s help.

            “Why? You know you’re pregnant and I’m glad you came to terms with it too, saves me a lot of arguing in the future.”

            She yawned and tugged a hand through her tangled curls. “Are you going to help me or not?”

            “Not with that attitude.” Polly retorted and refused to move from her spot by the kitchen table.

            “Please?”

            Her aunt moved to the stove while muttering something about Shelbys. Ella dozed off a little at the table while the water boiled. The sound of the kettle whistling woke her up.

            Polly poured the tea and handed her the pale yellow cup before sitting down near her.

            Growing up with Polly and the Lee girls, Ella had her leaves read many times before. Most were vague readings about fortune and misfortune. She’d become a little disillusioned with the practice in her later years. But the dreams of Lilac had reawakened the Traveler beliefs in her. There was a reason for the recurring dream and there was no use in ignoring it anymore.

            Her palms warmed against the porcelain surface. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, smelling the rich leaves.

            “Right, here.” Polly took the cup back leaving Ella in her semi-peaceful state. As her niece kept her eyes closed, she examined the patterns in the dark leaves.

            Something caught her eye and she felt her stomach twist in fear. Clearing her throat, Polly put the cup aside.

            The clink made Ella open her eyes again. “And?”

            “It says you’re in danger,” Polly admitted truthfully. “But that’s clearly because of the Italians.” That had to be it. Ella wasn’t in any more danger than the rest of them were.

            Ella wasn’t too alarmed by the reading. It seemed sound enough. Of course, they were in danger, that came with being a Shelby. Their family was cursed. “Did it say anything about the horses in my dreams?” She leaned over the table to try and see inside the cup even if she couldn’t decipher the pattern.

            “No, it’s just a dream.” Polly forced a comforting smile and touched her shoulder. “Go home with Alfie and rest. If the dreams come, welcome them. Ask what its purpose is. Perhaps you’ll get more answers if you stop fighting.”

            Ella swallowed and nodded. “Thanks, Pol.”

 

            Alfie was still waiting by Polly’s front door when Ella came out. He was pleased to see she was noticeably more at ease. The tension in her shoulders and worry in her eyes had diminished significantly. The man knew he would have to thank Polly later. “Feel bit better?” He offered his arm to her.

            “Yeah, think so.” She smiled lightly and let him escort her down the street. “I’m sorry about everything. I didn’t mean to scare you or make you angry.”

            “Love, relationships ain’t ever perfect, yeah? They’re work but it’s work that’s fucking worth it.”

           

            Instead of going home to rest, Ella wanted to walk around Small Heath for a bit with Alfie. The morning was bleak but that was standard for Birmingham. They talked softly, both happy to be back to the semi-normal they could have in Small Heath. They spoke about returning to Margate once it was safe again. It sounded like paradise. The promised land. A little beachside cottage with a newborn boy and girl on the way. A perfectly even family of six. Ella smiled at the idea of Cyril and Anthea meeting the children. How they would get to grow with the dogs and have a bond with them. It was the heaven that seemed so close.

 

           

            “Hang on, the strap on me shoe’s slipped.” Ella grimaced and leaned down to fix her heel. “Bloody things are giving me blisters.” 

            Alfie was stopped a few feet away from her. “Well, take ‘em off then, I’ll carry them for you and we can head back.” He offered.

            “And get my stockings dirty?” She rolled her eyes and straightened up just as a car passed them on the uneven road.

            Neither noticed the window of the passenger side roll down. Nor did they see a gun being pointed out. “Per Angel e Vincente!” Someone shouted in Italian before three shots rang out. 

            Alfie’s blood went cold when he saw the look on Ella’s face turn into shock. A hand went to her abdomen. 

            “Alfie…”

 

Chapter Text

            Instinct set in quickly. He drew his gun and turned to fire at the car that was already speeding off. His hand was shaking and he only managed to hit the side and a street lamp. 

            “Alfie.” 

            Her voice brought his attention back. Alfie pocketed his gun and rushed to her. Both hands clutched over her stomach. Blood was already starting to seep into the blue fabric of her dress. 

            His hands were shaking. He’d seen countless wounds of all sorts. In France, he had to learn a little bit of trench first aids to keep his subordinates alive. He knew how to get a bullet out and wasn’t too shabby at stitching someone back up. But seeing his wife bleeding caused him to hurtle into such a state of panic that he couldn’t even see straight. 

            “A-Alfie.” She began to cry. Her blue eyes rolling up to look at the sky above her. 

            “Sh, sh, s’alright.” He had to force his brain and body to work. Pulling off his coat, he wrapped it around her torso, pulling at the sleeves to keep it snug. It was no proper tourniquet but it would have to do. “I’ve got you. It’ll be alright.” He bent down to pick her up. 

            She inhaled sharply at the movement and wailed in pain. 

            “I know love, I know.” Alfie’s heart was racing so fast. Closest ally. Polly. Polly was one street over. Closest ally, closest telephone. 

 

            Polly was a bit more levelheaded than Alfie but that wasn’t saying much. The woman couldn’t take another loss so she was damn well sure her niece would survive. 

            “Finn!” She shouted for the youngest Shelby. “Call an ambulance!” She rushed Alfie into the parlor and got Ella onto the couch. “Go to the kitchen, get as many towels as you can.” She ordered Alfie. 

            “Polly…” Ella moaned. “Polly, the babies.” 

            “Hush, chavi, you’re safe.” Her aunt soothed and opened Ella’s blouse so she could find the wound. 

            Her breathing began to become shallower. Tears streamed down her face. “Polly, please. Please save them.” She pled helplessly. 

            Alfie returned with the towels and passed them over to Polly one by one. He crouched by Ella’s head, holding her hand and trying to calm her down. 

            She screamed when Polly attempted to soak up the blood and apply pressure. It wasn’t out of pain. It was agonizing grief and rage. 

 

            The ambulance arrived shortly after and whisked Ella to the hospital. While she was in surgery, Alfie waited outside in the hallway. It felt like he was slowly being crushed. He slid to the ground, his arms over his head. Ella’s screams echoed in his mind.

            He stayed there. Long enough for Tommy to pass by him and speak with the doctor. The man returned to stand across from Alfie. But he didn’t speak. 

            Finally, the silence got to Alfie. He was terrified of the answers to the questions that he asked. “She okay?” 

            “Yeah,” Tommy answered. “She’s sleeping now. Doctor says she’ll wake up in a bit.” 

            He exhaled shakily. “The babies?” 

            There was a pause. Tommy was afraid of unleashing Alfie’s wrath in the middle of the hospital but he had no choice. “They’re gone. She miscarried.” 

            Alfie’s hands curled into fists over his head. 

            “We formed a blockade. Stopped and searched every car. We found one with two men who had guns. Italians.” 

            At the news, the Jewish gangster stood up with the strength of a hurricane. “Where are they?” 

           Alfie once found himself thinking about death. For so long he’d become indifferent to the idea. But that was before he met Ella. Before he held another person’s heart. Before he realized he would take an infinite amount of bullets for her. It got him thinking about the death of his family. Something he’d long tried to cover up with the notion that he was stronger than grief. Too busy to properly mourn. And yet they were always there with him because he had yet to let them go. It was safe to say that he would never let them go even if he did acknowledge his grief.

             But death was inevitable, wasn’t it? What was the use in fighting something that was guaranteed to happen? All he could do was make the best of what he had now and worry about greeting death once he was finished.

             That was all well and good but it didn’t account for the fact that Ella would also die. Before or after he did, there was no way of knowing. But it caused him immense pain to consider she would go before he did. Then what would he do? What would he do if she were taken from him too soon?

             He’d once slogged through knee-deep mud in a trench with one of his wounded men on his back. He pushed through the pain to get him to safety and to a nurse. And that was a man he hardly even knew. If something happened to the woman he loved? He was sure he would rip the fabric of time.

             These men, these cowards had nearly taken his Ella from him. Even worse, they had ended the lives of his children. They would learn to hope for immediate death, but Alfie would keep them alive. He’d keep them alive for at least two torturous days. One for each child. 

 

            The warehouse door made a loud bang when it was slammed closed. Alfie stepped inside and felt it was torturous to even walk.  He wanted to jump across the room and rip out the throats of the men who had killed his children. 

            The two young men were tied up in chairs side by side. The fear in their eyes only grew when they saw Alfie stalking towards them. 

            The epitome of rage. A man who had been brought to the edge and shoved off without warning. A sinner with nothing left to lose. 

            “Who are they?” Alfie demanded, not glancing behind him to where Tommy was standing. “They Changrettas?” 

            “No,” Tommy replied. “Just Italians from London looking for something to give them credibility.” 

            “Fuck.” Alfie began to pace. He was too angry to stand still. “Not even fucking part of…” Unable to finish his sentence, he grabbed one of the men by the throat. “I’d love to hear your reasons, mate, yeah? Reasons for what you fucking did. ‘Cause I can think of two very good fucking reasons to squeeze your neck so hard your fucking eyeballs pop out.” He snarled. 

            The man spluttered but couldn’t get any words past the grip around his neck. And the longer Alfie held him there, the more purple he turned. 

            Finally, most likely seconds from choking the man out, Alfie released his hand. 

            “What ‘bout you? Aye?” The gangster grabbed the second man by the hair and forced him to look him right in the eyes. “Any reasons? Make ‘em good to, ‘cause they might be the last fucking words you speak.” 

            “L-Luca…” 

            “Luca nothing.” Alfie backhanded him. “Luca ain’t your fucking boss, me colleague’s just told me. Luca didn’t shoot me wife in the street.” 

            The man whimpered and held back a sob. “Please…” 

            “Tommy, you gotta flask?” Alfie interrupted. 

            The Blinder reached into his coat and handed it over. 

            “Now it’s been years since I last drink, yeah, drank while I were in the war.” Alfie began to speak as if he had an audience. An audience of men headed right for the gallows. Dead men breathing. “Drank to forget ‘bout all the atrocities I came across. Now you lads look like your too fucking young to have even fought in the war. Don’t mean you haven’t seen your fill of violence, yeah. But I’ll tell you a story. Story ‘bout Italians.” He made a show of unscrewing the cap off the silver flask and pocketing it. “Italian like you, fucking pain in the arse, weren’t he? Kept calling me nasty names. Nasty weren’t they? Disrespecting me religion. The chosen people.” With a measure of grace, Alfie began pouring the gin over the two men. It wasn’t enough to drench them, but enough to douse their hair and clothes. When the flask was empty, he threw it to the side. The echo of the metal on the concrete echoed a few times. Alfie put his hands on his knees and bent down slightly to look the men in the eyes. “So I took a fucking nail and I drove it right through his brain. But I weren’t satisfied. Wanna know why?” He raised an eyebrow. “Why? Well, ‘cause he didn’t suffer. He died like that.” He snapped his fingers. “Woulda liked him to suffer a little. Yeah, some sufferings good. I get a headstart on the devil, don’t I?” Alfie straightened up and held a hand out to Tommy. “Your lighter, Tom?” 

            The Blinder obliged without questioning. 

            “Already know what flesh burning smells like.” Alfie flicked the lighter a few teasing times. The men were sweating and quietly pleading for mercy. “You two wanna find out?” 

            “Please!” One of the men broke down in tears and struggled against his restraints. 

            “You’d be so lucky.” Alfie snarled and returned the lighter to Tommy. “No, I’m gonna fucking tear you to shreds with me bare hands. You’ll stay alive, awake until I fucking let you die.” 

            “We didn’t mean-”

            The words fell on deaf ears. “She were fucking pregnant!” Alfie’s voice rumbled through the room like thunder that was near enough to feel in the ground. You killed my children! Killed them ‘fore they were even born!” His face turned red and he heaved a few breaths before continuing on. “If they don’t get to live, then neither do you.” 

 

            Alfie kept his word. The two assailants were kept clinging to life until forty-eight hours were up. Tommy didn’t leave. In fact, he participated for much of it. Alfie wasn’t the only angry one. 

            Once the men stopped breathing, Alfie slumped into a chair. He was covered in blood. His white shirt soaked almost completely, his arms sticky and flecks of red spattered over his face. 

            Tommy walked over with a towel. He’d gone to call a few people and wash up a bit. “Ella’s asking for you.” He said quietly. 

            Alfie took the towel and weakly scrubbed at his arms. “Didn’t help, Tom.” He muttered. 

            “I know. It never does.” 

            He put his head in his hands. “Both of ‘em. Fucking hell, I could’ve lost all three of ‘em, mate.” 

            “You didn’t though.” Tommy reminded him. “Ella’s going to be okay. You’ll both be okay.” 

            To Tommy’s surprise, the man let out a strangled sob. “We were happy, Tom.” His voice shattered beyond repair. All the embellishments he used to convey confidence had fallen to the floor. All that was left was a man stripped to the bare bone. A man who lost a dream and nearly lost his source of joy. He laughed bitterly and wiped at his eyes. Blood streaking over his forehead. “She fought it at first but-but we were happy. Was gonna have the babies born at Margate. She wanted them to see the ocean. Not this fucking-fucking shithole.” His fist clenched but he dropped his hand after a moment. Too weak to fight anymore. “I shoulda taken her away. Brought her somewhere else. Overseas. Somewhere safe.” 

            Tommy swallowed and felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. He’d promised his family they’d be kept safe. Now John was dead and his sister and cousin had both been shot. 

            “What do you need from me, Tommy?” Alfie lifted his head. Tears welled up in his blue eyes. “Aye? What do you need from me to make sure those wops pay?” 

            His brother-in-law took a deep breath. “I need this boxing match. And I need people to think Arthur was killed during it. I need you to take a job from Luca.”

 

 

            Ella was turned on her side in the hospital cot. Her back faced the door. 

            Alfie had scrubbed away all the blood. Patched himself up, wound gauze around the cuts on his hands. He walked into the room. The sun was filtering through the thick, glazed glass. Everything was white and hollow.

            A few bouquets had been left in Alfie’s absence. An outreach to try and comfort Ella even when most of them couldn’t fathom the loss. 

            Polly was sat beside the cot, her hand steady on her niece’s shoulder. An anchor point to remind her the world was still spinning and she was still alive. But when Alfie entered, Polly stood and went to give the two privacy. 

            But before she left, the older woman paused and touched Alfie’s arm. “This wasn’t your fault.” She said quietly. 

            Alfie didn’t believe her and simply nodded. After Polly shut the door behind her, he approached the bed. Ella’s form hadn’t moved in response to his heavy footsteps against the clean floors. 

            “Love.” He tested out the air between them. 

            She didn’t react. 

            He sat down with a sigh. “El, please…” 

            “Do you know what it’s like to have your heart pulled out?” Her hoarse voice whispered. 

            Alfie leaned forward so he could hear her. “Yeah, love.” He whispered. “Know how much it fucking hurt me but dunno how much you’re hurting. Can’t even imagine.” 

            His wife pulled the thin sheet further over her shoulder. “I felt it. Just like that, they were gone. Both of them. Both of them, Alfie.” She shuddered a sob. 

            “Ella, please.” Alfie’s chest tightened and he pressed his face to her shoulder. “Love, please look at me.” He begged. 

            “They said I might never have kids again. Not after this. M’all fucked up.” 

            “That’s not the problem right now. What matters is you’re okay.” 

            She let out a bitter laugh. “Okay? I’ll never be fucking okay.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “M’nothing anymore. They took everything from me. Everything...everything. Everything and everything.” 

            “They didn’t take me away.” He asserted. “I’m still here and ain’t anyone taking me away from you.” 

            “Everyone leaves.” She whispered as if she was only talking to herself and Alfie wasn’t there. “Eventually.” 

            He wanted to shake her, pull her into his arms and never let go. But he knew she would push him off. “I ain’t going anywhere.” He asserted again. “Believe what you want, love, but I’m stitched to you. Stitched right to your side ‘n that’s that. That’s the end. I’m yours until the end.” 

            Her eyes glazed over and she pressed a hand to her stomach. “They’re foals now.” She whispered. “With Lilac. They’re so beautiful. Called me mumma. Isn’t that so nice?” A tearful formed faintly on her pale lips. 

            Alfie frowned. Something had turned as if she were taken over by something. Possessed. He stood up suddenly and went outside to where Polly was waiting anxiously. “What’re they giving her?” He demanded. 

            Polly was chewing on her nails and gave him a strange look. “What are you on about?” 

            “Drugs. What’re they giving her?”  

            “I-I’m not sure.” 

            “Fucking-” He grabbed the nearest nurse by the arm. A startled petite blonde looked aghast at him. “What’re they giving me wife?” He jabbed a finger at the door. 

            “Oh, I…” The nurse shook her head and gathered her thoughts. “Morphine, sir, for the pain.” 

            “Fuck.” Alfie released her and pressed his hand to his eyes. 

            “She’s in pain without it,” Polly replied in a warning tone. “It’s not bad unless they’re giving her too much.” 

            Alfie’s jaw tensed. “Fine, but we need to keep an eye on her after she’s outta here. ‘Fraid she’s gonna get lost in it if we’re not careful.” 

Chapter Text

          It was as if losing her unborn children was the final straw. Ella had put up with so much heartache in her life but fate had taken it too far. The doctors said she wasn’t healing very quickly because she was refusing to help herself. 

            “She’s given up.” The doctor shrugged. “This is often the case with mothers who have miscarried.” 

            Alfie sat by her bedside as long as she would allow him to. When she was lucid, she was angry. She cried and begged to be put out of her misery. The pain was too much to bear, that’s what she sobbed. Alfie didn’t know whether she meant the physical pain or the emotional hurt. He never asked. 

            When she was doped up, she slept or lazily stared up at the ceiling. Sometimes she’d mumble about the horses. Lilac and the foals. Other times she would forget what happened. She would idly chat with the ceiling about how her children would be named after the ocean. That was the first thing they would see. The beautiful ocean. They’d be beautiful. Ocean colored eyes. Beautiful. 

            Soon, the nurses began to give Ella heavier doses of morphine to keep her subdued. Her outbursts while coherent were too much to handle when Tommy, Polly, or Alfie wasn’t there. When Alfie found out, he nearly tore the entire hospital apart. Tommy had to hold him back from strangling the nearest doctor on call.

 

 

            So Tommy tried to enlist Alfie to help with the end of Luca Changretta. Hopefully, he could direct the man’s anger long enough to end the war and get Alfie and Ella out of Small Heath. 

            Because according to Alfie there were two things driving his wife to insanity. Small Heath and the morphine. And he was adamant that the second Luca had a bullet through his head, they’d be gone. 

            Tommy didn’t doubt him. So, he used Alfie’s resources while he could and soon enough they came upon the night of the boxing match. 

 

            Alfie visited the hospital before the fight began. Tommy’s own plan was in motion and if things went to plan, Luca would be dead before the week was up. 

            He walked into the hospital room and took his usual seat by the small bed. Ella was asleep, curled up on her side and facing him. It was always a shot in the dark when he visited her. There was no telling what sort of state of mind she’d be in. 

 

            “Love?” He gently touched her arm to wake her up.

            She stirred, which was a good sign that she hadn’t been taking as much morphine. Usually, when she was doped up, it was hard to wake her once she was asleep.        

            “El, I hafta go soon, I wanted to see you before tomorrow morning.”

            Her husband’s voice woke Ella and she opened her eyes. “Where are you going?” Through all the emotional turmoil and the painkillers, her memory was spotty and slow.

            “The boxing match, Bonnie’s fighting Goliath tonight.” He smiled weakly. “’Fraid we’re gonna have to wipe that poor boy up off the floor once me nephew’s done with him.”

            A dazed smile formed on Ella’s lips. It wasn’t her usual smile; Alfie hadn’t seen that in quite a while. In fact, he couldn’t remember exactly when it was. All she could muster was a blank gaze and a detached smile. “No, he’s a gypsy boy.” She replied quietly. “Gypsy boys never stay down.”

            “What about you?” Alfie adjusted her sheets, pulling them further over her.

            “Me?” She hummed and closed her eyes again. “I’m so lost, Alfie. But that’s okay, some people just get lost. My mother did, long time ago. Much before I could remember. They said she fell into the canal but I know better. She comes in at night.”

            Her husband tried not to let her notice his alarm. She spoke often about the children she lost but that was to be expected. The loss greatly affected her, how could it not? But he’d yet to hear her speak of her mother. “What d’you mean? Like you dream ‘bout her?”

            “Comes in right before I fall asleep.” Her eyes remained closed as she recounted the visions she had while high on morphine. “She tells me to come visit her. To follow her. Says she’ll show me how to see my little ones.”

            Whether Ella knew or not, Alfie immediately picked up on the context. In her altered state, her mind was goading her to end her own life. His stomach tied into knots and he hesitated to leave her alone. But he knew that if he didn’t show at the match, the plan wouldn’t go through.

            “El, please listen to me.” Alfie touched her cheek.

            Her eyes opened but the light behind them had died out. When she looked at him, there was hardly anything there.

            “I know you don’t think there’s much left here for you. But know that I still need you here. If you won’t fight for yourself then consider doing it for me. Because there ain’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. But I need you here with me.”

            Tears welled up in her eyes and Alfie was afraid he’d pushed a nerve. “Why would you ever want me?” Her voice cracked and she shoved the thin cotton sheet away from her. Sitting up with a grunt of pain, she pulled up the hospital gown. “Why would you want this?”

            Alfie had only seen the dressings over her wound. He hadn’t actually seen it after her surgery. Though considerably healed, it was an angry, gruesome reminder of what they’d lost. There was still bruising around the stitches where the skin was pulled taut.

            “I’m broken, Alfie, there’s nothing left of me. Those bastards took it all!” The volume of her voice began to rise. Panic and fear filled her chest.

            There was no reasoning with her once she got into that state of heightened anger and fear. “Alright, alright.” Alfie leaned away to give her space. “M’sorry.” It took all of his power not to fight her. To tell her that even if she’d lost all her limbs, if her face was marred beyond recognition, if she’d gone deaf or blind, he’d still love her. No matter what he would love her.

            In a huff, Ella fixed her gown and tugged the sheets back over herself. She sucked in a breath of pain as she lowered back down against the pillows.

            “What can I get you, love?” Alfie asked quietly.

            “Something for the pain.” She replied and took a deep breath.

            His jaw tightened. “When was your last dose?” He asked.

            “How should I know, Alfie, I’ve been sleeping all day.” She retorted with an agitated frown. “I don’t want to be in pain.”

            He couldn’t fight her. So, he stood up and leaned over to kiss her forehead. “I love you.”

            “I love you too.” She replied. But the words sounded like they were spoken merely out of habit.

 

            “Did you see her earlier?” Tommy came into the locker room and sat down on the bench across from Alfie.

            The man was sitting stiffly, resting his hands on the cane in front of him. He nodded briefly. “Yeah.”

            “And?” His brother-in-law struck up a light for his cigarette.

            “And she’s fucking hooked on whatever they’re giving her.” He responded harshly. “I knew this would happen; I told your aunt.”

            “They’ll start weaning her off once she’s ready to be discharged,” Tommy assured him. “It takes time.”

            “No, I’m taking her to Margate once this is finished.” Alfie disagreed.

            “That’s too dangerous. The withdrawals could make her more ill.”

            “Then what do you fucking suggest, Tommy, aye? She’s withering away in that fucking hospital and I can’t stand seeing her like that anymore!” The man’s shouts reverberated across the room.

            Tommy coolly took a drag of his cigarette. “Bring her to Arrow House. I’ll hire a nurse or two to watch after her. She can be weaned off the morphine there. Maybe she’ll have an easier time outside of the hospital.”

            Alfie gritted his teeth but considered the offer. “Alright.” He muttered. “Alright, yeah, that’ll be fine.”

            “I know it isn’t easy, seeing her like that. But she doesn’t love you any less.”

            He stood up with a heavy sigh. “Yeah, mate, sure.” When he saw her shining blue eyes again, only then would Alfie believe it.

 

 

            Arthur Shelby was supposed to be dead. Alfie knew much better and decided not to tell Ella of the plan. The last thing they needed was to have her go into another fit when she heard about what Tommy had cooking for the rest of the family. Instead, Alfie stayed with her in the hospital mere hours before she was due to be released to Arrow House.

            Alfie helped her dress, taking careful mind of her injuries. “Easy, there you go.”

            “Will the dogs be coming with us?” Luckily for Alfie, Ella was a bit subdued. She was lucid, but not in too much pain.

            “Yeah, they’re at the flat. We’ll pick them up on our way out. Everything’s all packed.” Alfie was thrilled to be finally leaving Small Heath. They’d leave it all behind, all the hurt and drama that Birmingham seemed to bring them. As much as he wanted it to be a quick change, he was wise enough to know that wouldn’t be the case. Tommy had warned him to be prepared for a long recovery.

            “I miss them,” Ella said quietly.

            “Yeah, love, they miss you too.” He smiled and helped her into a soft cardigan. “Warm enough?” He asked.

            She nodded and sat back down on the hospital cot. “When are we leaving?”

            “Soon as your brother calls me.” Her husband pulled up a chair to sit across from her. Taking her hands in his, he gently kissed her knuckles. “Things are gonna get better, El, I promise.”

            A look of doubt crossed her face but she didn’t argue with him. Instead, she pressed her cheek against his hands and let out a slow exhale.

 

            Anthea and Cyril were ecstatic to have the large space to romp about. They gleefully galloped up and down the pasture fences, barking at the horses and taking in the scent of the crisp country air.

            Alfie wanted to be just as happy as they are but things were not going to plan. Once at Arrow House, Ella retreated into herself. The first few days, it appeared things were looking up. She began to walk around on her own and was finally eating enough to get some weight on her.

            But once she heard plans of slowly diminishing her morphine dose, she raged. She screamed and fought the nurses, her husband, her brother, anyone who tried to calm her down.

            “I’m in fucking pain, Alfie! It’s the only thing that makes me feel better!”

            Alfie had to hold her back as she tried to push past him. He wanted to note that she seemed okay enough to fight like a rabid dog but knew that would only piss her off further. There wasn’t much left to be in pain over. Her stitches had been taken out a week after arriving at Arrow House, the wound healing quite well. The only pain she had was the addiction to the painkillers.

 

            It all came to a head one night a few weeks into their visit to Warwickshire. Alfie hadn’t been sleeping much at all. If anything, he slept better in Small Heath. The countryside was too quiet for his tastes. Camden Town always had the London sound and Margate at least had the ocean to lull him to sleep. Arrow House was near-silent aside from the faint sound of crickets.

            That night, he awoke to find Ella was gone. She’d been sleeping much better than he had. Either from the small dose of morphine, she was given, the amount shrinking despite her insistence. Or she made herself exhausted after getting worked up about her pain.

            Worried, Alfie got up and started to search through the enormous estate to find her. He didn’t find her on the second floor so he went downstairs. Almost immediately, he found her trying to jimmy the lock of her brother’s office. The nurses had been keeping the morphine in the big room because Tommy held the only key. When they wanted to give her a dose, they had to consult with him. That way there would be no double doses or attempts to keep Ella calm by giving her a little extra.

            Unfortunately, Ella was aware of the location from arguments with her brother. He’d shouted a few times that the morphine was locked up and he wasn’t going to let her anywhere near it.

            And now it appeared she was taking matters into her own hand. Most likely she would’ve gotten in if Alfie hadn’t woken up. Her brothers had been helpful in teaching her how to break her way through even the heaviest of locked doors.

            “Ella.”

            Alfie’s voice made her jump. She dropped the pin in her hand and turned around. “What?”

            “What on Earth are you fucking doing?” He descended the rest of the stairs.

            She bit her tongue and angry tears stung her eyes. “You don’t understand.”

            “Love, I’m trying to understand!” He rubbed his tired eyes. “Really, I am. I understand that you feel like you need it. I know you’re in pain, but it’s only gonna get fucking worse if you don’t kick it now!”

            “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She replied sharply and bent down to pick up the pin again.

            Alfie went to stand between her and the door. “Under no circumstances am I letting you get away with what you’re doing.” He crossed his arms over his chest firmly. “So, I suggest you go back to bed and I’ll get you a cup of tea.”

            “Or how about you go get shot and then try to handle it without painkillers.” She spat. “Because that’s what you’re doing to me.” She tried to push him aside to get to the doorknob.

            He grabbed her wrists. “Ella, your stitches are out, you’re nearly completely healed. There were no infections or anything. I’ve been shot plenty of times, love, so you can’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like.”

            Furiously, she tugged away from him. “Shut up, just shut up! You have no idea what I’m going through!”

            “Ella, enough!” Alfie suddenly shouted. Weeks of hurt had pushed him over the edge. “We lost our children, I know. I lost them too, everyone lost them! Your family lost a niece and nephew. I lost a son and a daughter. You ain’t the only one who lost them.”

            “I was carrying them.” She was more than happy to kick up a fuss again. The anger fueled her like the morphine did. They were the only two states of being she’d known for what felt like ages. It was so easy to be mean and venomous. Much easier than accepting the loss of what were supposed to be her greatest gifts. “Me! I was the pregnant one, not you, not anyone else. None of you know what it was like to lose them!”

            “So that gives you the right to completely abandon the rest of your family? What’re you gonna do the rest of your life, aye? You gonna stay doped up for the rest of your life? Because allow me to let you in on a little secret, love. Soon it ain’t gonna be enough. You’ll want more ‘n more until it kills you. We’re all doing you a favor by taking you off of it now.”

            Ella shook her head furiously and tried clawing off his hands from around her wrists. “You don’t know anything. You don’t know anything!” She shrieked. “Get off me!”

            Tommy came rushing from upstairs once he heard the commotion. “Alright, break it up.” He pried his sister away from Alfie. “Ella, Ella, stop.” He restrained her once she began to attack him. “Enough!” He yelled and hugged her tight so she couldn’t move. “I’ve had quite enough of your behavior. Both of you!” He eyed Alfie.

            “Me?” He threw his hands up. “I’m doing everything I can for that woman!”

            “Fuck off!” She kicked at her brother. “I hate you; I hate both of you!”

            “Shut it!” Tommy barked. “This isn’t working. Ella, you can’t do this anymore. Either you kick it or I’ll send you somewhere else.”

            “Oh yeah? You gonna send me to an asylum, Thomas?” She spat.

            “He ain’t gonna send you to an asylum, El, just stop being so dramatic.” Alfie began to pace. How in the world did they end up there? Shouting in a posh house because his wife was so hooked on something, she was trying to break down a door to get it.

            “Dramatic? Look me in the eyes and say that again.” She challenged.

            “Fucking hell, woman, what do you want from me?” Alfie shouted. He stopped in the middle of the foyer to glare at her. “Don’t you think it fucking kills me every single day that I didn’t take that fucking bullet? That I couldn’t step out in front of it? That I would die if it meant keeping you and those kids alive? I’d give up my fucking life right now for you but I’m the bad guy because I won’t let you fucking kill yourself with them drugs!”

            Ella’s knees wobbled and she sank to the ground, slipping out of her brother’s arms. Collapsing into a pile on the floor she sobbed.

            Tommy and Alfie shared a concerned look, but the Shelby man stepped back allowing for him to intervene.

            Alfie sighed and scooped up his wife. “C’mere.” He soothed. She cried out and tried to fight against him but was too weak to do anything else. “Stop, stop…just sit with me.” He sat down on the steps with her curled up in his lap. “Just do that. Just sit. Don’t need to do anything else.”

            Exhausted too, Tommy slumped to the floor, rubbing a hand over his weary face.

            The three of them sat there for a good while. The grandfather clock in the foyer keeping time of their silence. Ella hiccupped and sobbed but didn’t move to fight her husband. Her body was twitching with the early signs of withdrawals.

            “Listen to me, can you listen for a moment?” Alfie smoothed her hair back and wiped her cheeks. “Let’s say you and I go to Margate, aye? Like we planned. Maybe the ocean air’ll do you some good.” He thought that her morphine dose had been decreased enough that she’d be able to go cold turkey without getting too sick.

            “You don’t want me anymore.” She whimpered. “I’m so messed up.”

            “Ah, love, don’t say that.” He murmured. “You could scream at me all day and it wouldn’t change a thing. I know you’re in pain. Trust me, I know. But I ain’t giving up on ya.”

            She sniffled. “Okay.”

            There was a triumphant feeling in the air. Tommy nodded at Alfie appreciatively. Perhaps this was the breakthrough they all needed.

 

            At least the ocean was pretty. It gave Ella’s personal hell a better setting. The first few hours after arriving at Margate was uncomfortable. She tried to take the dogs for long walks on the beach but often got tired and weak. Alfie did his best to keep her mind off of the drugs but she got more and more agitated as time went on. All Alfie could do was to try and not engage with her. Try not to take anything personally because he knew she was pushing his buttons to get a rise out of him. Maybe then, he would give in and let her have what she was craving so badly.

            Her symptoms got worse a few days on. She hardly slept as she was in a perpetual state of cold sweat. She constantly applied and stripped off layers of clothing throughout the night and day. Chills racked her body so badly that her teeth were chattering and grinding. The nausea was almost unbearable as she spent most of the day dry heaving in the bathroom. She couldn’t even think of food let alone try to eat. She was nearly skin and bones after her stay at the hospital and those few days didn’t do anything to help.

            Towards the end of the hellish week, she appeared to be getting better. She could stomach some light meals and began taking walks again with Alfie. The light in her eyes had started to return and she was significantly more stable regarding her emotions. But she had been left in a slump. Without the usual high she got from the morphine; she was forced to face reality. She’d lost her twins and there was nothing she could do to get them back. It left her in a depressive state.

            Going on the second week, Alfie turned on the radio in the sunroom. Ella was there curled up in his armchair, staring out over the horizon where the sun had begun to set. Her blue eyes landed on him as he knelt down to fiddle with the dials. After a moment, he found a clear station playing a soft song.

            He walked over to her and held out a hand.

            Ella frowned. “Alfie…”

            “Just one song.” He begged softly.

            Damn if he wasn’t so endearing. She sighed and took his hand, sweeping the knit blanket off her shoulders. He drew her close, letting her cheek rest on his chest. They swayed gently to the music, just enjoying each other’s company for the first time in what felt like years.

            Ella nearly forgot the way he made her heart pound mercilessly in her chest. The warmth he gave her. All at once, she felt so guilty and horrible for the way she acted.

            Alfie heard her crying softly against him. “What is it, love? Talk to me.” He coaxed.

            “I’ve been awful to you. To everyone.” She whimpered.

            “Nah, that weren’t you. That were the drugs talking.” He replied. “I ain’t mad with you. I was hurt but only ‘cause I couldn’t help you.” He kissed her hair and rubbed her back comfortingly. “But that’s in the past now. I just need you to come back to me.”

            That brought on fresh tears that bled into his shirt. Of course, Ella knew she wasn’t the same woman that had married Alfie. She missed the way they were happy together. But she felt she’d lost too much to ever be the same.”

            “Just come back to me, love, please. Can’t bear it anymore.” He pled. “Just come back.”

            Cheeks stained with tears; Ella lifted her head to kiss him for the first time in weeks. He cradled her face tenderly, drawing her back. She clung to him, refusing to part again.

Chapter Text

            Alfie came upon the stash quite by accident. It had been two weeks at Margate and things were going better than he could’ve imagined. Ella was slowly returning to the woman he fell in love with. Her bubbly nature coming back to life after shriveling up in a hospital room for so long. She didn’t speak much about her lost children but Alfie figured that one day they would come to terms with the loss in a healthier way. At that moment, he wanted to focus on her health.

            Ella was out on her daily morning walk with Cyril, strolling along the frigid ocean. Alfie had stayed behind because the brisk air was doing a number on his hip. Instead, he remained inside with Anthea who was more content to play indoors.

            As he flicked through paperwork, he kicked a ball back and forth for Anthea’s amusement. The growing pitbull bouncing to and fro trying to catch the ball, skittering across the wood floors of the cottage.

            Eventually, the ball became wedged under the sofa. Anthea whined and scratched at the cushions, much too large to fit under the narrow space.

            “Alright, alright, I’ll get it,” Alfie grunted as he stood and went over to the couch. “Where’d it go then?” He knelt down and tried to spot the ball. “All the way back there? Fucking hell…” He grumbled and practically had to lay down so he could reach under the couch. He groped around the dusty space until he came across something. It didn’t feel like the rubber ball that was slobbery and had chew marks. Instead, it felt like a piece of cloth.

            Curious, Alfie fished out the mystery item and brought it into the light. It was a large kerchief that was tied up. As he maneuvered the cloth, a clinking sound came from within. It didn’t look at all familiar to him so he untied it and opened it up. As he did, a vial tumbled out and fell to the ground. Luckily, it didn’t break but simply rolled to a stop.

            A sickening feeling gripped Alfie as he saw the entire kerchief was full of the bottles all with a various amount of liquid inside. He searched through a few of them and found that they all bore the same hospital label with dates from when Ella was in recovery.

            It didn’t take Alfie long to crack the case. His wife had been hoarding doses of morphine when she was in the hospital, most likely because once she was at Arrow House she had no access to the vials.

            Suddenly enraged that he’d been played a fool, Alfie bundled up the kerchief and stormed outside. Gripping the makeshift sack tightly, he traveled down the dunes to the shoreline.

            Ella was just returning from down the beach, Cyril already wet from romping about in the cold waves. The bullmastiff galloped toward him, his tail wagging.

            His wife smiled when she saw him coming. “Is your hip feeling a bit better?” She asked once they were close enough to hear each other over the crashing waves.

            Alfie tossed the vials onto the beach between them. “What the fuck is that?” He demanded.

            Ella’s face lost all its color. She swallowed and shook her head. “I-I didn’t…”

            “Don’t fucking lie to me, Ella!” He jabbed a finger at her. “You tell me that you’ve been hiding this from me the entire time I was trying to take care of you.” He accused.

            “I couldn’t do it, Alfie!” She cried. “I was too sick an-and I wasn’t properly taken off of it.” Tears stung her eyes. “I felt like I was dying!”

            “Unbelievable.” Alfie ran a hand over his mouth in disbelief and turned away from her to pace a few steps. “Fucking unbelievable. I trusted you and this is how you thank me.”

            “Well, fine. You can’t trust me. I’m a fucking Shelby, isn’t that right?” Ella held her arms out wide. “That’s all I’ve ever been to you.”

            “No. No.” He turned around. “None of that. I’m sick of that. The names and all that shit. You’re my fucking wife, that’s what you are. I promised I wouldn’t lie to you and you did the same.”        

            “I wasn’t taking it.” Ella crossed her arms over her chest and refused to look at him.

            “Good, then you won’t be bothered if I toss this nonsense in the sea.” Alfie stooped down to gather the vials up in the cloth.

            His wife twitched violently and she lurched forward. “Don’t you fucking dare.” She snarled.

            “I knew it. I fucking knew it.” He retorted and held the stash away from her. “You look me in the eyes and you tell me that you weren’t fucking touching any of it.”

            She was silent and didn’t move an inch. Instead, she looked out over the ocean and did her best to ignore the internal itching. The itch that demanded she do whatever it took to get those little bottles back. But she refused to go through another withdrawal. Not when she felt like she was mere inches away from death. Not when she woke up in a cold sweat seeing the blue eyes of her children. No. If it killed her then so be it.

            Alfie hardly had enough time to react to Ella pulling out a gun. She pointed it right to her temple, her finger resting on the trigger.

            Her husband’s eyes widened. “Ella…”

            “I’ve had it!” She shouted across the beach at him. “This is how it goes! I’m a Shelby and we’re cursed!”

            “Ella, put the gun down.”

            “No!” She sobbed, her hand shaking violently. “No-no I’ve had it. I wanted them, Alfie. I wanted them because they were mine! They were supposed to be mine. They were supposed to be born here.”

            Alfie kept his distance just in case a sudden movement caused her to react. “Listen to me…just listen for a moment. Okay? Listen.” He tried to soothe softly; his eye kept on the gun. From how badly her hand was trembling it was only a matter of time before it went off.

            “I-I can’t…”

            “You can, you can listen for a moment. Please, love, put the gun down and come over to me.” He coaxed as if she were a spooked horse. “Ella, I’m begging you. I know you’re in pain but I ain’t going anywhere. I’m gonna be standing right here. I can’t live without you, love.”

            “It hurts.” She wailed but she slowly began to lower the gun away from her head.

            “I know, love, I promise it’ll get better.” He held his arms out to her and began to inch towards her. “C’mon, c’mere.”

            Finally, Ella set the gun down in the sand and took a few staggering steps towards her husband. Alfie caught her before she fell and sank to the ground with her. He hadn’t noticed he was shaking too until he had her safe in his arms. His heart was pounding so badly it was hard to hear the waves nearby. But he could hear her crying.

            Cyril came over and nosed his way between the two, licking at their tears.

            “There you are…I’ve gotcha.” Alfie rocked her back and forth. “I won’t let go.”

 

            Ella didn’t watch as Alfie discarded the vials. She was curled up in the sunroom, her entire body trembling. Alfie draped a blanket over her for comfort and shepherded the dogs into the room to keep her company while he called around.

            Tommy didn’t answer on the first ring, neither did Ada. Karl answered and said his mum was out running errands. So, Alfie called Polly. In all honesty, he felt stupid for not trying her first. He considered her very wise and level-headed compared to the majority of Ella’s family.

           

            “Have her withdrawals come back?” Ella’s aunt asked after Alfie gave her the gist of what happened that day.

            “No, she admitted she took some this morning.” He answered and scratched his beard. “I thought things were looking up…didn’t fucking think I was this clueless.”

            “She’s always been good at hiding things. She managed to hide you from her brothers for a good while.” Polly pointed out.

            Alfie smiled weakly and shook his head. How simple things were back then. All he had to worry about was Tommy, Arthur, and John trying to kill him. He’d take that any day over Ella suffering. “I’m scared for her. She was so sick withdrawing last time.”
            “You don’t want to see her like that.” The woman surmised.

            It made him feel guilty at the thought. He wasn’t the one suffering through the awful pain of quitting something as addictive as morphine. Shouldn’t he be lucky to be on the other side? But deep down, it made his gut turn thinking about another withdrawal. The last once had put such a strain on their relationship. It tore at him inside and out to see his wife in agony. The uncontrollable shakes, the vomiting, the unyielding sadness. She didn’t deserve any of it. But life wouldn’t give her a break it seemed.

            “What do you suggest?” Alfie asked instead of answering Polly.

            “Maybe you two need some time apart.” She suggested cautiously. After Alfie and Ella had arrived in Small Heath, Polly got a clear enough of a picture of their relationship. The man was obviously fiercely protective over her and yet absolutely head over heels for her. When she moved, so did he. What happened when a planet was knocked out of its orbit around a star? Was it possible to find its way back?

            Alfie gritted his teeth. “I need to be here for her, I promised.”

            “Being there for her doesn’t mean you’re glued to her side, Alfie,” Polly replied firmly. “What if giving her some time was your way of supporting her?”

            Although the concept sounded terrifying to him, Polly’s sage manner made him consider it. Most likely if Tommy had suggested the same thing, Alfie would either laugh at him or tell him to fuck right off. “Where would she even go?” He asked after mulling over the option.

            “I suppose you could ask her.”

            “Yeah, I guess I can.” Alfie turned and looked down the hall to the closed door. Could he be making things difficult for her? Would she be able to find clarity on her own for a bit? He knew he would sacrifice the sun and moon for that woman. So, what was a little time apart? Heart-wrenching, that’s what it was. But Alfie knew something had to give.

 

 

            Traveler therapy. It sounded absolutely ridiculous to Alfie. But the man was hesitant to be away from his wife for the length of time Tommy was talking about.

            “The Lees are like family.” The Shelby man explained upon Ella and Alfie’s return from Margate to London. Alfie mentioned Polly’s suggestion of space to his wife. Ella appeared wary and hesitant. The larger part of her wanted to cling desperately to Alfie, afraid she would lose him. But there was something inside of her that grasped onto the words. A solution, perhaps. Her Alfie’s burden lifted for just a brief time. Her focus turned inward. Was that so bad?

            “She already knows most of them. One of the girls just lost a baby to pneumonia so she’ll have someone who can understand what she’s going through better than any of us can.”

            Alfie pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. “Right, so you talking ‘bout a month or what?”

            “It’s up to her. She wants to go.”

            “I ain’t…tryna control where she goes or fucking whatever, but how’m I supposed to know she’ll be safe?” He asked. The nerves of being separated from Ella were far greater than he expected. It’d been quite some time since they’d gone more than a few days without seeing one another. He’d gotten accustomed to having her as his constant in life.

            “She’ll be perfectly safe,” Tommy assured him. “They know the land better than anyone.”

            “Right…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Right, well, I want her to be happy, yeah, so if that’s what she wants.”

            “It’ll be good for her. Mark my words.”

 

            So a few days later when things were settled and agreed upon, Alfie traveled with Ella to the outskirts of the city where the Lees were camped. Cassandra Lee, one of the matriarchs, came out to greet them.

            “Look how much you have grown, chavi. But all skin and bones! I will make you something to eat.” The older woman kissed Ella’s cheeks and embraced her.

            The scent of damp pine and roaring fires sparked something that had long been suppressed in Ella. The wild gypsy girl who loved to be outside as much as she could. The girl who begged to sleep out under the stars and go hunting with her brothers. It was a miracle it had been kept under wraps for so long. When for so long she’d insist she’d always be the princess knight of the forest.

            “Come, Isabel has been expecting you.” Cassandra took Ella’s bag.

            “Right, well, I’ll be getting a move on then.” Alfie cleared his throat. He had no idea what Cassandra said but took it as his time to leave. “Tommy said you maybe could call sometimes…or write. But I uh…don’t want you to think you hafta. This is ‘bout you, yeah?” He forced a weak smile. “Just know I love you and I hope you ain’t gonna find some gypsy boy who’s a bit more spry than your ol’ husband.”

            Ella’s blue eyes brimmed with tears. “You silly man.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’ve found the love of my life and I intend to return to him.”

            Alfie sighed and hugged her back. “Come back to me, El.” He kissed her temple. “You take your time and you come back to me how you like.”

            She smiled and pulled him in for a long kiss. “Absence makes the heart fonder.” She whispered softly against his lips.

            “Yeah, love. It sure does.” He already missed her.

Chapter Text

            Alfie was not a patient man. Of course, he would cross land and sea for his wife, didn’t mean it was easy to wait for her return. To keep his spirits up, he reminded himself that it was for the better. She was clearing her head after the months of trauma she endured while in Small Heath. He imagined the day they reunited. It couldn’t come soon enough.

 

            Alfie turned over and felt a warmth coming from Ella’s side of the bed. In his sleep-addled state, he furrowed his brow and blinked a few times. “El?”

            Cyril lurched forward and began licking his owner’s face. He had taken it upon himself to travel from the foot of the bed, where he usually slept, to take Ella’s empty spot.

            The man grumbled and shooed the mastiff away. “Oi, fuck off. Your breath smells like shit, mate.” He sighed and flopped back onto the pillows, staring up at the ceiling.

            There was a soft whimpering from the window. Alfie turned over onto his side and saw Anthea with her front paws resting on the window sill so she could look outside. Her brown eyes watching the street below.

            “Thea, what’re you doing?”

            The pit bull whined and dropped down to pace around Ella’s side of the bed.

            “Yeah, I know, I miss her too.” Alfie rested a hand over his eyes. “I miss her too.”

 

            Ella had forgotten how sharp the forest air was in the early morning. She nearly forgot the stinging cold of a river as she washed. Her teeth chattered as she worked quickly, scrubbing away the dirt under her fingernails. But she paused when she dragged the soap over her abdomen. The scar was ugly, ugliest she’d ever seen. Still slightly bruised and purple with what was left from the stitches that had been removed.      

            She frowned and passed the soap over the scar once, twice, three times. Hoping with every scrub that it would disappear.

            “Brought you some warmer clothes.”

            Ella jumped and turned, her eyes going to her gun which was concealed in the pile of clothes she’d left on the bank of the river.

            “Easy.” Isabel stopped a few feet from the bank so Ella wouldn’t spook more. “It’s just me.”

            Her shoulders fell in relief and she began to rinse the suds off her skin.

            “Mum was right, you Shelbys have gotten jumpy.” The young woman laughed softly. Isabel was a Traveler girl through and through. Her long ash-brown hair.

            “Sorry,” Ella mumbled and stepped out of the river, reaching for the towel that was hanging on a nearby tree.

            “No need to apologize.” Isabel smiled. She’d been partly made responsible for trying to help Ella through her withdrawal and see her through the grief. It had been a year since she’d lost her own daughter, who was only sixteen months old. There, of course, was a mystique around the Shelby family. But Isabel had known them growing up. It was strange to see how much Ella had changed but it was understandable.

            As Ella dried off, Isabel handed her the long skirt and jumper. “You must be freezing, you’re so thin.”

            “I lost weight in the hospital.” She mumbled and pulled on the warm clothes.

            “Well, I know we’ll get you back to a healthy weight.” Isabel smiled and sat down beside the river.

            Ella ran the towel through her hair. “Do you think people want me here?” She wondered.

            Her friend frowned. “Why wouldn’t they?”

            “It’s been a long time. I know Esme was on the road with you for a bit.” Ella couldn’t imagine that her former sister-in-law was gushing about how amazing the Shelbys were. Not after her beloved husband was gunned down.

            Isabel nodded and pulled her knees close to her chest. “Mhm, she’s with the Youngs now. Might see her in the spring or at the fair.”

            “Still.”

            “I think you’re forgetting that gypsy families take care of their own. Your brother made a deal with us and that’s that. There’s no ill blood between us.” She smiled.

            Ella sat down beside her. “I miss my husband already.” She sighed.

            “I can imagine. I saw the way you two were looking at each other. You must love him very much.”

            Tears stung her eyes. Coping through the withdrawal made her cry at the drop of a hat. Everything seemed to make her sad or angry. She tried her best to keep it under wraps. After all, she was a guest to the Lees and the last thing she wanted was to lash out at them. But it was gnawing at her insides like a parasite. “We’ve fallen so far apart. I didn’t want to fucking go to Birmingham but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He wanted to protect me. Instead, my life ended.”

            Isabel wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “El, your life isn’t over.” She said softly.

            “Yes, it is.” She sniffled. “Alfie and I were meant to have a family together. Twins, a boy and a girl. And then Tommy’s fucking mess got me shot. Everything just came apart at the seams and I couldn’t do anything to fucking save it.”

            “But Alfie still loves you, you know that.”

            “There’s something in his eyes though, every time I look at him.” She hiccupped. “I know it’s bad. It’s like looking at me makes him sick.”

            “Oh Ella, that’s not true.” Isabel soothed. “You want him to be angry at you. You want him to hate you because you think you deserve it. But you don’t.” She began to trace spiraling designs in the wet sand of the riverbank. “When I lost Flora, I blamed myself. How could I let her die? She got sick so that made me a bad mother. But there are things in this world that we can’t control.”

            Ella wiped her eyes and felt a tremor go down her spine. She desperately wanted to numb the anguish inside.

            Isabel saw her friend start to tremble and twitch. “Here.” She took her hands and dipped them in the ice-cold water. Ella instinctually went to withdraw her hands but Isabel kept them submerged. “Just focus on the cold. Feel that?”

            Ella wanted to push her away but she forced herself to stay still. The chill in the water traveled up her arms leaving goosebumps. It was like a stinging injection right under her skin. A shock of the senses.

            “You’re alive, Ella.” Isabel urged. “That’s not a mistake. I know you don’t want to feel anything but you need to. It’s the only way you’re going to get through this.”

 

            Alfie scratched at his beard while he read through the numbers. “You double-check these?”

            Tommy nodded from his spot across the desk. “Polly did.”

            “Right, well, fucking trust her more than I trust you, mate.” He set the documents aside.

            “Most people do.” The Blinder didn’t seem insulted.

            “Good, right, it’s a deal then.” Alfie tipped his hat at the paper. It was funny how simpler business interactions went after he and Ella got married. Of course, he and Tommy could go down the usual course of negotiating until one of them pulled out a grenade or a gun. But both of them were well aware the other was flat out bluffing. Neither of them was willing to face Ella’s wrath. So, the trick lost its fun and purpose.

             “You hear from Ella?” Tommy asked once they signed documents and shook hands.

            “Yeah, got a letter yesterday,” Alfie answered. The handwritten pages were tucked inside his waistcoat. He’d pulled them out various times throughout the day to reread them. Reading his wife’s words made her feel closer to her despite the difference. “They’re in Wales. I suppose she’s having fun but there’s still…” He gestured with his hand as if trying to pluck the word out of the air.

            “Sadness.” Tommy nodded. “It’ll take time.”

            “Right, I know.” He grumbled and slipped off his glasses. How strange it was to have Tommy as sort of a confidante? Of course, the man wasn’t an expert on the relationship. But at least he was there and listening. Alfie wasn’t about to start monologuing with Anthea and Cyril. The day he did that was the day he committed himself to an asylum. “Just miss her.”

            “The whole family does.” Tommy nodded in agreement. “But I think we’re all hoping she finds some clarity. That’s the end goal, aye?”

            “Yeah and…” Alfie paused and held up a hand. His brow furrowed. “Hang on, did you just group me in with your family?”

            Tommy hadn’t realized what he said. After telling his sister Alfie would never be considered a part of the family, he’d been carefully walking the line. Sure he could consider the man his brother-in-law for legal purposes. But to see Alfie sitting in future family meetings made him want to both laugh and cringe in horror.

            “I think you’re reading into things.”

            Alfie raised an eyebrow. “Here’s the thing, Tommy, I’d rather be hung from me fucking thumbs than be considered a Shelby. So you don’t hafta worry ‘bout me going ‘round saying I’m a part of your fucking family. Just married your sister. We ain’t brothers.”

            “Touching, Alfie, truly.”

            “Oh, fuck off.”

 

 

            Roddy was possibly the largest dog Ella had ever seen. He very well could’ve been the largest dog on the planet. But Isabel treated him like he was her baby. A massive Irish wolfhound, Roddy hit well above Ella’s waist. He was taller than her standing on his hind legs. Despite his unthinkable size and wolfish appearance, he was just as gentle as Cyril. It was a good thing he was around too because Ella missed her dogs. Having the shaggy gray-haired dog was a good comfort.

            Isabel took Roddy along with them on their early morning walks. For the first few weeks, Ella got physically sick nearly every morning. But her friend still insisted they go out. Ella complied but didn’t make it very far. Less than half a mile and she was begging to go back to camp to lie down. As the weeks turned into months, they traveled further every morning. Often times bringing food along because they wouldn’t return to camp until after lunchtime.

            Ella went barefoot as she used to as a child. The cold earth beneath her feet was soothing. She kept her right hand out to the side, grazing across the rough bark of passing trees and the fragile leaves of bushes and flowers.

            Three months in, Isabel, Roddy, and Ella found a beautiful clearing. They were stopped near a town called Geufron on the River Severn. Ella had done her best to take no notice of the distance they’d traveled. She was afraid that if she knew how far away, she was from Alfie and her family, she would panic. Instead, she kept following them west, never calculating how long they traveled between each stop. She simply was wherever they landed.

 

            Roddy loped through the clearing, scaring away a few birds. He dropped to the ground and began to roll around in the long grass. Isabel laughed softly and found a spot to rest.

            Ella sat as well and watched the wolfhound traipse about. Despite having most of her withdrawal symptoms faded, she was still left in a dark space. Being out in nature helped somewhat, but the sadness felt almost permanent. How could she possibly ever get back to her past self? The woman she was before returning to Small Heath?

            “You were crying last night,” Isabel commented gently after a few minutes of silence between the two.

            Of course, her friend heard her. The two slept only feet away from each other. “I’m sorry, didn’t meant to wake you.” She mumbled and picked at her nails.

            “You always apologize for things that don’t need apologies, El.” Isabel pointed out with a frank smile. “Have you ever apologized to yourself for treating yourself so badly?”

            Ella gave her a funny look. “Apologized to myself? For what?”

            “Well, have you been very kind to yourself lately? Or have you been negative?”

            The question was a difficult one for Ella to really think about. What nice things could she possibly say to herself? Kudos for losing your children? Good job for getting hooked on drugs? Bravo for screaming at your husband more times than you could count? “Negative.” She finally admitted.

            “You’re still angry.” Isabel noticed.

            She shrugged. “I suppose. I’ve got a lot to be angry ‘bout.”

            “Scream.”

            “Huh?”

            Isabel gestured to the open, empty space around them. “Go on and scream. Get some of the anger out. It’s doing you no good just stirring up inside you.”                                           

            Ella scoffed and shook her head. “I’m not going to scream.”

            “So, you’re just going to keep it balled up inside of you?”  

            The question was hauntingly familiar. Hadn’t Ella said that to Tommy at one point? Gazing blankly at the blue sky above them, she realized how much she had turned into her brother. “Fuck.” She grumbled and stood up. For a moment, she felt stupid. But then something punched her in the gut. It was anger, anger at so many things and so many people. Raw hurt and pain that had been eating her from the inside out. Tears stung her eyes and she began to scream. She kept at it until her lungs began to burn and her voice went hoarse. When she finally lost the energy, or she was satisfied enough, she looked up. Roddy was staring at her, his tail and ears perked up in confusion. Isabel was smiling.

            “How was that, then?”

            Ella took a deep breath. Admittedly, she did feel a bit lighter. “Felt alright.”

 

            “Ab-.” Alfie frowned and peered at the name again. “Abers-Aberysh-fucking hell.” He scratched the back of his neck.

            Aberystwyth.

            That’s where Ella said they were headed towards. A town by the ocean in Wales. Their journey west would come to a stop and they’d head south before heading back east. Ella didn’t tell Alfie, but she had a choice. Isabel gave her the option of going back east with her family or meeting up with the Youngs to go further north, thus prolonging her time away.

            Still, Alfie didn’t question the date of her return. The last thing he wanted to do was pressure her. But he couldn’t help but have a sickening worry for her all day and all night. To say he didn’t trust the Lees was an understatement. Despite being married into a family of Travelers, the Shelbys weren’t nomadic so Alfie could relate to them a little better. But the Lees were always on the road. It made him uneasy, not to mention he didn’t know any of the clan.

            Tommy had to reassure his brother-in-law that the Lees were allies. Had been ever since Esme married John. And despite John’s fatal fate, that alliance was still strong. The Shelbys had grown substantially stronger than they were over five years earlier. Tommy assured Alfie that the Lees were well aware of the consequences if something were to happen to Ella.

            However, many times he was told this, it didn’t completely sway Alfie’s opinion. Did he think Ella was in immediate danger? No. But he couldn’t imagine any good came from constantly being on the move. If she hadn’t been sending him letters the entire trip, he might’ve gone insane.

            She was brief, to her husband’s dismay. But Ella described some interesting things and people they came across. It was a much simpler way of living, as she wrote, and most of the day-to-day tasks went into keeping camp. Doing chores took much longer than they did in the city and filled up most of the day. But she seemed content with this. She gushed about how nice it was to be around horses again and to be submerged in the Welsh wilderness. It made Alfie smile when she spent an entire paragraph writing about the family of deer, they came across one day. She couldn’t get over the speckled fawn with its spindly legs and fidgety movements.

            Reading her write about the simpler things in life reminded Alfie of how they fell in love. When she admitted she wasn’t very worldly. Alfie could scoff at that statement looking back. Sure, maybe she hadn’t been to France or even have left the country. But she saw the world through lenses that some people could only dream of. Her gentle and thoughtful nature was beginning to blossom again. As well as her fiery spirit that had nearly been snuffed out by the coal filled air of Small Heath.

            So, while Alfie worried, he also gained some hope. It was just a matter of time before his Ella returned to him. He couldn’t wait to see the light in those blue eyes again.

Chapter Text

            The ocean made Ella think about Margate and her confrontation with Alfie on the beach. It was a strange paradox because it felt like a lifetime ago but it was still so fresh in her memory. She sighed deeply and submerged her hands into the damp, cool sand. The coarse texture grounding her. It was as Isabel had taught her. To use nature to her advantage. It was uncanny how the prickly feeling of a piece of bark, a smooth stone, or the unbearable cold of a river would startle Ella back to her senses. To remind her that she didn’t want to be numb, she wanted to be alive.

            She had come out to the beach, about half a mile walk from where they’d camped, to make her decision. The Youngs had arrived the day before and offered to take Ella north with them if she so chose. Even Isabel offered to accompany her if she did decide to go north.

            Ella’s heart longed for Alfie but she didn’t want to make the choice based on their separation. There were plenty of times that she wanted to go home simply because she missed him so much it hurt. But she wasn’t there to escape him. She was there for a purpose, to find herself. The decision had to be based on whether she had truly come to terms with her losses.

            Mind still whirring, she stood up from the sand and walked to the shore’s edge. She waded through the water up to her shins, gathering her long skirt to her thighs to keep the fabric dry. The Atlantic was relentlessly chilly and the sharp stings of cold cleared her head within moments. She let her toes sink into the sand. The salty air whipped up around her, stirring up her hair and loose blouse.

            She didn’t see Lilac in her dreams anymore. She hadn’t dreamed of the foals either. They had moved beyond the fog, out of sight, to a different place. They were at peace. And so was she.  

 

            “Ella Shelby!”

            On her return to camp from the beach, a man on a horse approached. Once he got close enough, she recognized the face from her past. Isaac was one of the Young boys. They ran into each other quite often at fairs. His brothers often tempted her brothers into boxing but Ella couldn’t recall who won the most.

            Isaac appeared to have grown into his awkward, gangly height. No doubt from being on the road his entire life.

            “How are you, Isaac?” Ella greeted politely.

            “Good,” The man pulled his horse up to walk beside Ella. “Heard you’ve been traveling with the Lees, finally leave Birmingham behind? Going back to your roots, aye?” He wondered.

            “I’ll be returning to London very soon.” She informed him firmly. Even though she'd only just made the decision to go back home, it felt concrete. It was a good indicator that she'd made the right choice already. 

            “Thought you were gonna come up north with us.” He looked a tad disappointed at the news.

            “I’ve decided to return home.” The two approached the camp where Isabel was out with Roddy. “I’ve a husband to return to. It’s been a long time we’ve been apart.”

            “Married?” He snorted. “To think Ella Shelby actually got married. I never woulda believed it. Lashav, to think you were holding out for me all these years.” He pressed a hand to his heart and dismounted his horse.

            Ella rolled her eyes. “You’d be so lucky.”

            Isabel walked over, giving the Young man a look. “So keres?” She confronted him.

            “Nothing, Izzy, just greeting Ella,” Isaac replied. “Didn’t know she married a gadje.”

            “Va, I’ve seen him and he could probably eat you alive.” Isabel retorted and linked arms with her friend.

            Isaac only chuckled and shook his head before heading into camp with his horse in tow.

            “Idiot,” Isabel muttered. “How was your walk?”

            “Good.” Ella nodded and followed her back to the vardo. “Got to clear me head a little.”

            “And did you decide?”

            Ella glanced over her shoulder to where Isaac was. “Well, I’m sure as not hell traveling anywhere with him.” She laughed and sighed. “Besides, I miss Alfie too much to go any further. I’d like to go back.”      

            Isabel smiled warmly and squeezed her friend’s arm. “I’m so proud of you. Let’s get a letter out to him as soon as possible.”

 

 

            Nine months after she left with the Lees, Ella sent a letter to Alfie saying she would be returning to London. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest when he read those words. He’d been waiting every day for that letter to finally arrive. Reading it through felt like a dream. His Ella was finally returning to him.

            Alfie drove out with Polly and Tommy to greet Ella and welcome her back home. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the vardos and smoke rising from the fires. He got out of the car with energy in his step.

            “Alfie!”

            The sight of her struck him like a bolt of lightning. There was a glow about her that Alfie hadn’t seen in so long. He thought that side of her had been torn away from him for good. But there she was. Ella had gained back the weight she lost in the hospital and the sparkle was back in her blue eyes.

            Alfie couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when he saw her running over. Her hair had grown out and the Lee girls had intricately braided wildflowers into her dark hair. An alluring nymph of the British countryside. She moved across the long grass with such grace and weightlessness that was otherworldly.

            “There’s my wild gypsy girl.” He laughed and swept her off her feet, spinning her around. “Fucking missed you like hell.” He groaned and buried his face in her hair.

            “I missed you more.” She replied with all the charm and wit that had been covered with anger and sorrow. “Oh! I helped a mare foal!” She exclaimed joyfully. “We named her Lilac, she’s an Irish Cob. Oh, there’s so much I need to tell you.”

            Alfie chuckled at her enthusiasm. It was so relieving to see her so happy. It truly made the wait worth it. “Well, you’ve got plenty of time to tell me everything, love.”

            Ella was overwhelmed with the distance that had been put between them. Spurred on by the reunion, she kissed him. Both were a little too caught up in the moment to remember where they were. Alfie let her back down on her feet but continued to kiss her, gently parting her lips and pressing a hand to the small of her back.

            Tommy rolled his eyes and cleared his throat to break the two apart. “Are you going to say hello to us too?”

            Ella and Alfie drew away, both looking a little sheepish. He let her go so she could greet her brother and aunt.

            “Where’s this foal then, chavi?” Tommy asked.

            “She’ll be with her mother now; Isabel is out with them I think.” She said and waved her brother along to follow her to the pastures they were camped.

            Alfie and Polly followed a bit farther behind them. “She looks much better.” Ella’s aunt noted. “You did the right thing.”

            He shrugged. “I would wait years for her if it meant she’d come back better.” He watched Ella and Tommy go out to see the mare and foal and the sun felt a little brighter. 

 

 

            Ella was afraid that Cyril and Anthea were going to have a heart attack when she walked into the room. The two tackled her, tails wagging and licking her cheeks.

            “Hi, hi!” She giggled, dropping to the floor and trying to hug them both close. “I know, I missed you too! Oh, Thea, look how big you’ve gotten.”

            “Yeah, she’s taken up to chewing on the fucking baseboards,” Alfie grumbled and hung up his and Ella’s coat.

            “Oh, naughty girl.” Ella cooed. “Were you giving papa a hard time while I was gone?”

            Alfie chuckled. “They were alright, missed you like hell though. Everyone did. Can’t tell you how many times your brothers asked if I’d heard anything from you.”

            Ella stood up and walked over to him. “I missed you all too. Missed you the most though.” She touched his cheek.

            “I won’t tell anyone you said that.” He winked at her and rested his hands on her hips. “Let me get a look at ya.” He murmured, his eyes grazing over her. Studying her face. The features that he had memorized. Seeing those blue eyes again was like a dream. He lifted his hand to trace the braids woven in her hair. “Grown it out again, have you?”

            “Your hair’s longer too.” She remarked once she saw him without his hat on. 

            “Yeah well…” He cleared his throat. “’Member when I told you ‘bout Jewish mourning?”

            It was quite fuzzy. Alfie had told her only moments before it got out that she was pregnant. “Yeah, I think so.”

            “Parents are s’posed to mourn for a year. Now I know that I weren’t…” He blinked a few times and shook his head. “Never mind.”

            “Alfie.” She lightly scratched her nails over his cheek and drew his eyes to her. “It’s okay.”

            “I should’ve taken that fucking bullet.” He mumbled and touched his forehead to hers. “I’m sorry.”  

            “But we can’t go back. All we can do is go forward. So that’s what we’ll do. I’ve learned not to apologize for things that were beyond my control.”

            The two held each other close in the hallway. Reuniting and syncing their hearts to beat as one again. 

Chapter Text

October 23, 1929

Camden Town, London

           

            “El, can you please do some gypsy magic to get this baby out of me?” Minnie bemoaned from her spot on the couch. The woman was heavily pregnant and trying to reach her stockings to fix them. After a few attempts to stretch over her massive stomach, she gave up with a disgruntled noise and flopped back against the throw pillow.

            Ella laughed as she came in from the kitchen. When Minnie’s husband was working, she’d taken up to helping her friend around the house. It was a good way to spend the time now that she didn’t work at the law office anymore. Instead, she was back on the Shelby payroll so long as she fostered good communication between her husband and brothers.

            “I’d have to ask my aunt she might have some tricks.” She set down the tray of tea and lunch for her best friend. “Here.” She offered to help adjust her stockings.

            “Just take ‘em off,” Minnie grumbled. “Not like I can go anywhere looking like a beached whale.” She folded her hands over her stomach with a pout.

            Ella smiled and shook her head, tugging off the stockings and placing them over the arm of the couch. “Anything else you need?”

            “Oh, El, you’re such a gift.” Minnie sat up and touched her friend’s cheek affectionately.

            “Well, as long as I’m the top choice for babysitting.” She teased. In the years that had passed since her miscarriage, Ella’s life had been very steady. It was something she enjoyed very much. The consistent routine was a joy to her and there was very little she would change. Her relationship with Alfie was strong and she was learning to trust her family again. It was comforting to know she could balance the two and that her love life and family life didn’t have to be at constant odds. Even though Arthur gave Alfie deadly looks and Tommy did his best to come out on top in negotiations, they were becoming accustomed to having him around.

            “I’ve got to get my nails done before Thursday.” Ella frowned at the chipped polish on her nails. "They look a mess." 

            “What’s the occasion?”

            “Oh, Alfie and I are going to Paris for his birthday. His birthday's on the first but he’s got a meeting that weekend so we decided to go early. We figured the longer we waited the worse the weather would be." 

            Minnie smiled coyly. “How romantic.”

            Ella rolled her eyes but couldn’t help the silly smile on her face. “He’s calling it the honeymoon we never took.” She admitted. "I think he's just being silly is all." 

            Her friend squealed. “Oh, bless you both. Still so in love after all these years.”

            “We haven't been together that long.” She winced playfully. “I’d hate to grow tired of him after four years.”

            “Well for your fifth anniversary he’ll have to take you somewhere else if you’re going to Paris this week. Now I’ve heard Venice is just gorgeous.” Minnie gushed. “Or somewhere on the Mediterranean. Warm weather, beautiful beaches. The water's actually warm and clear instead of the shit we've got here.”

            Ella just laughed. “I think I’d be quite content celebrating our anniversary in London. Sometimes it’s nice just staying at home.” She hoped that by their anniversary next year, things would still be peaceful and unnoteworthy.

           

 

October 28th 1929

Paris, France

 

            “Alfie, love, will you do up my dress?”

            He came out of the hotel suite’s bathroom, fixing his cuff links. It was fairly rare those days that Alfie got so dressed up. He and Ella frequented some of the Shelby events but he certainly wasn’t going to imitate Tommy with his immaculate tuxedos and expensive trappings. But for a dinner with his wife, he’d dress to the nines.

            “Fucking hell.” He quipped from the doorway. “Ella Solomons, how many times have I told you to warn me ‘fore you put on a number like that?” He put a hand to his heart as if the sight of his wife had nearly knocked him right off his feet.

            She giggled. “Oh, stop it.”

            “Honestly, love, you look a dream.” He continued and began buttoning up the back of her royal blue dress. Alfie adored the color on her as it always managed to make her eyes appear even more bright than they already were. When he finished, he took her hand and led her into a little spin so he could see all angles.

            Ella blushed and spun around teasingly. The deep blue gown cinched at the waist but had a loose bodice with stunning silver beads. The skirt grazed the ground but had a slit that reached just to her knee, giving Alfie a sinful glance at her silver-colored heels.

            “Swear you make everything look good, El.” He remarked.

            She smiled and drew him in for a deep kiss. “I think it’ll look better on the floor.” She purred against his lips.

            Alfie groaned. “You wanna make us miss our dinner, love?” He growled playfully, pulling her flush to him.

            “No, I’m starving. Just wanted to give you a little preview for tonight.” She pecked his lips and slipped away from his grip.

            He chuckled. “Cheeky girl.”

 

            After a few filling dinner courses, Alfie and Ella decided to take a walk around Paris before returning for the rest of the night’s activities.

            “I have something for you.” He said as they walked hand in hand through the lively streets.

            “Me? It’s your birthday coming up, not mine.” She replied and poked his side. She'd already given his birthday gifts before they left, that way she wouldn't have to travel with them and risk losing the presents. Alfie was chuffed to open the finely made matching leather collar and leash for Cyril and Anthea, a beautiful fountain pen with the date of their wedding engraved in the silver, and a scarf since he'd been complaining audibly about the turning weather. 

            “I know but I don’t need an occasion to spoil you, now do I?” He stopped and pulled a box out of his pocket.

            “Alfie…” She took the jewelry box with a look of hesitation.

            “Go on, open it. I ain’t waiting for Hanukah to give it to you.” He smiled encouragingly.

            Ella sighed and opened the box. Embedded in plush was a gorgeous necklace, the chain embedded with tiny diamonds, all linked together ending with a teardrop-shaped blue-gray Alexandrite stone.

            “Alfie…” She stammered in disbelief. “It’s gorgeous.”

            He smiled. “You like it?”

            There were tears in her eyes as she nodded. “You didn’t have to…”

            “None of that, now.” He carefully took the necklace out of the box and helped put it on. “Had them add the diamonds to give it a bit more. Looked sorta plain without them. Took me forever to find the gem though, clearest one I could find.”

            She laughed. Her husband was such a jewel critic. He’d refuse anything that wasn’t absolutely perfect. “I don’t know what to say.”

            Alfie rested his hands on her shoulders and turned her back around after he did the clasp. “Don’t hafta say anything, love. You deserve everything, no questions asked.”

            Ella kissed him softly. “I love you.” Her fingers began to work at his bowtie, slowly undoing the silky black fabric.

            “What’re you doing?” He murmured, a little too occupied with kissing her.

            “I want you to take me back to the room,” She left kisses over his cheek, moving to whisper in his ear. “Take this dress off me but leave the necklace on. Take this,” She placed the undone tie in his hand. “And use it to tie me to the bed.” She nibbled on his ear lobe. “And fuck me however you like.”

            Alfie was afraid his knees were going to give in right then and there. “Fucking hell, woman, you tryna do me in?” He groaned helplessly. "Ain't even me birthday yet and you've already treated me like a king." 

            Ella pulled away and gave him an innocent look. “Not sure what you’re talking about Mr. Solomons.” She batted her eyelashes and reached a hand out to him. “But will you escort me back to the hotel?”

            “You minx.” He shook his head and gladly led her back to the suite.

 

October 29th 1929

Paris, France

 

            Alfie and Ella slept through most of the morning. After the eventful night together, they were more than happy to sleep in. With no engagements to attend, they could stay in bed the rest of the day if they so pleased. But the phone began to ring in the early afternoon interrupting their piece of heaven on Earth. Alfie groaned and threw a pillow over his face to try and block out the noise.

            Ella stirred and cuddled close to her husband. “Alfie, who’s that calling?” She mumbled absent-mindedly.

            “Dunno, love. Not important though.” He wrapped his arms around her bare body. 

            She smiled sleepily and pressed her cheek into his chest, content to ignore the ringing, just waiting for it to stop.  

            It did, for a moment. Alfie kissed her forehead and ran his fingers over her hips and thighs. “How are you?” He asked.

            “Good.” She threw a leg over his hips to straddle him. “I don’t think this has to end though.” She murmured and kissed his neck. "I think we're well rested enough to continue last night's activities." 

            “You’re relentless.” Despite that statement, he began to wake up more and captured her lips.

            Then the phone began to ring again. The loud, obnoxious chiming along with the vibrations of the receiver rattling. They parted and Ella moved to get up. Alfie wrapped his arms around her waist to keep her in bed. “Ignore it.” He coaxed again and rolled them over so he was hovering over her. The ringing continued for a bit as he kissed down her entire body, grazing each little mark he’d left the night before.

            Ella soon forgot about the phone and giggled, wrapping her arms around her husband’s neck as he lavished her with love. "Oh, Alfie." She sighed adoringly, gratefully indulging in her husband's affection.

            But the phone went off again.

            “Fucking hell,” Alfie grumbled, the third calling really beginning to turn the mood sour. 

            “It’s gotta be important.” Ella bit her lip. “You should get it.”

            Alfie ceded and reluctantly left his wife in bed, getting up to answer the phone. “This better be fucking good.” He barked into the phone. 

            “I’m guessing you haven’t read the news,” Tommy replied.

            “No, mate, I’m on holiday with me wife, I haven’t had the chance to read the fucking news.” He retorted, grumpy that his brother-in-law had interrupted their morning. Nothing like Tommy Shelby's voice to completely turn his mood upside down. 

            “Well, I suggest you do. The world’s burning.”

            “Tommy, I ain’t in the mood for your gypsy mystique.” Alfie turned around to his wife. “Ella, love, will you go get the paper?” He requested. 

            She looked a bit confused but got out of bed. After putting on a robe, she stepped outside and picked up the newspaper that had been left at the hotel door. She read the headline as she walked back into the room. “It’s in French, I can’t understand it.”

            Alfie took the paper and tried to pick out any words he recognized. But his French was very limited. “Tommy, for fuck's sake, just tell me what happened. Neither of us read French.”

            “The stock market’s crashed.” He finally answered. The words were still difficult to get out. It was as if saying them made it true and he desperately did not want that to be the fact.

            “Well, that’s what you get for investing in America, mate. I never trusted them.” Alfie shrugged.

            “The whole world’s fucked, Alfie, this affects you just as much as it affects my company.” Tommy retorted with a bite in his voice. He wasn't in the mood for Alfie's superiority complex over him. 

            Ella perched on the edge of the bed and watched her husband discuss the matter with her brother. Although she was listening, she wasn’t too sure what was going on. But the longer Alfie spoke with Tommy, the more worried he looked.

            “Didn’t think you wanted me at family meetings, Tom,” Alfie said after Tommy said he and Ella needed to return to England to attend the family meeting the next day.

            “Things have changed,” Tommy replied in a clipped tone. “Noon tomorrow.”

            Alfie was going to say something else but his brother-in-law promptly hung up the phone. “Don’t think we’ll be able to make noon tomorrow.” He muttered and scratched his beard.

            “What’s happened?” Ella asked.

            “Stock market’s crashed. Things aren’t looking good. Your cousin’s gonna get thrown in the cut once he gets home. Your brother’s right pissed at him.”

            “Things are looking good…so what does that mean?” She shook her head. The news was a bit of a shock. According to Michael, the New York Stock Exchange was going to make the company a fortune. There was no ceiling, in fact, it would only keep going up.

            “It means the world’s in for quite a shock.” Alfie sighed and ruffled his hair as he thought through what Tommy had told him. “I’ve got to make arrangements to get us back home.”

            She frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “We’ve got tickets for Thursday to return home.” They had, after all, planned to be in Paris all week before Alfie’s birthday.

            “I know, love.” He walked over and kiss her hair. “But Tommy wants to address the family.” The two embraced, a little stunned by the news. “I suppose that includes me now too.” He grumbled into Ella’s hair.

Chapter Text

            Ella had been to plenty of Shelby family meetings. However, she had yet to take her husband to any of them. Mostly because Tommy wouldn’t allow it and Ella wasn’t too sure it would go over well for anyone.

            “You’re going to behave, right?” Ella asked as Alfie opened the door for her.

            “Behave? Love, I’m gonna be a perfect angel.” He replied but there was a glint of mischief in his eyes.

            She sighed. “This is serious, Alfie.”

            “I know. I know. Just let me get one jab in at your brother.”

            “I suppose I can't stop you even if I tried.” Ella found Arthur speaking with Linda. “Has it started yet?” She interrupted their quiet but obviously tense conversation.

            Arthur smiled when he saw his sister but it immediately got smacked off his face when he saw her husband had come along. “No. No, El, he ain’t a part of this.” He pointed accusingly at Alfie.

            “Tommy invited him,” Ella replied firmly. If she had to go to bat for her husband, she always would.

            “Well Arthur’s the chairman, Ella, he’s running this meeting,” Linda informed her in a stern tone. 

            She wasn't bothered. “That’s good news, Lin. But Tommy still insisted he be here.”

            “Arthur, mate, I’m family now, ain’t I?” Alfie placed a hand over his chest as if appealing to him. Not that the man would ever grovel to a Shelby. 

            “No…”

            “Your lovely wife is able to sit in, right, so Ella’s lovely husband should have the chance to sit in as well.”

            Arthur’s hands balled up into fists and his face began to turn red. A common symptom of Alfie’s presence. “Ella, I said no.”

            “Arthur, he’s here to help, nothing more.” She responded and linked arms with Alfie, walking into the meeting room. Polly, Lizzie, and Ada were already sat at the large table with a man Ella wasn’t familiar with.

            Polly stood to greet her niece, kissing her cheek. “How was Paris?” She asked gently.

            “Wonderful before we were so rudely interrupted by the stock market.” Ella attempted to smile but it felt forced in such an uncertain time.

            Alfie pulled out a chair for Ella before he sat next to the unfamiliar man. “Lizzie, how are ya? How’re the little ankle-biters?”

            The woman looked a little surprised that he was being so cordial. She’d never had a run in with Alfie before, but she was well aware of his reputation. During her days as Tommy’s assistant, she’d facilitated calls and meetings between the two and they often became heated. “Oh, uh, they’re fine, thanks for asking, Alfie.” She responded.

            “How ‘bout you, Ada? How’s Karl?”

            Ada looked mildly impressed and glanced subtly at Arthur. “He’ll be turning eleven next month.”

            “Eleven? Fucking hell they grow quick don’t they?”

            Ella smiled a little smugly. She knew that her family was just waiting for Alfie to kick off but she took pride in being able to shove that prejudice back in their faces. She reached for her husband’s hand and squeezed it gently.

            “While we wait for Tommy,” Mr. Greene began with a smile. “Could I just lighten the gloom and express as a new member of this company, what a pleasure it is to be in a boardroom that has so many females. And females who are both sharp-witted and decorative.”

            Lizzie, Polly, Ada, and Ella all made faces at the man’s comment. Alfie just chuckled and shook his head. “Oh, mate, you don’t know Shelby women very well do you?” 

            Arthur didn’t like Alfie speaking so he tried to gain control. “Yeah, we’re a very modern company, Mr. Greene.”

            “Oh boy…” Ella mumbled and shook her head.

            Finally, Tommy entered the room in a bit of a flurry. It looked like he hadn't slept at all. “How far have we got?”

            Polly didn’t look up from the paper in her hand. “We’ve established that ladies are decorative.” Ella and Ada snorted in agreement of the absurdity of Mr. Greene's comment. 

            “We’ve just sat down, Tom.” His older brother answered from the head of the table. “I’ve got some documents.” He began to hand out papers down the table for everyone.

            “What documents?” Tommy asked, not taking a seat, instead just standing. Ella reached over to hand him one of the papers outlining the outreaches of the market crash. 

            “Well, we’re fucked.”

            “Tommy, mate, how fucked is the company?” Alfie asked.

            “Excuse me, but if you’ve got a question, you can ask the chairman of the board.” Linda snapped before Tommy could even answer.

            Alfie looked exasperated. “Pardon me, love, but your husband doesn’t take too kindly to men, now does he? Tommy, at least, answers my questions.”

            “Because you beat him up and had him arrested.” She retorted, rising to the challenge of Alfie’s argument.

            “Hang on, hang on.” He held out a hand before Ella could jump down Linda’s throat. “First of all, that were years ago weren't it? Second of all, I apologized for that, now didn’t I, Arthur? Tom?”

            Tommy nodded silently and Arthur made a grunt neither confirming nor denying.

            “I apologized, right, ‘cause that’s what me religion says I should do. Contrition, right? In fact, Linda, you and I’ve got the same God, now don’t we? You were the one who so kindly introduced Arthur to Jesus. Therefore, we can put our differences aside.”

            “Arthur, Alfie is a part of this family now whether we like it or not,” Tommy spoke steadily, ignoring the death glares Linda was sending Alfie. “We’re going to use as much help as we can get.” Arthur still looked grumpy but sat down almost in surrender. “As for your question, Alfie, a large portion of our funds were invested in American stocks and shares.”

            Ella’s husband scratched his beard. “Right, so you’ve dug your own grave and those of your family as well.”

            “What is the return they’re offering now?” Ella touched Alfie’s shoulder to get him to drop it. It would do them no good to keep pointing fingers. They were far beyond that point anymore. 

            Tommy grimaced and removed his glasses to rub his eyes. “Five cents to the dollar.” The room buzzed with disbelief and worry. “There is hope.” He interrupted before they all got worked up over the news.

            Alfie scoffed. “You gonna use some gypsy magic, Tom? Aye? How are you meant to fix the fate of America’s stock market all on your own, aye?”

            “As nonexecutive director of the company, I need permission of the chairman.” Tommy pointedly ignored his brother-in-law.

            “Let me guess.” Alfie continued, despite being snubbed. “You’re gonna go back to your roots, aye, Tom? That’s why you’ve asked me here. ‘Cause you know there’s nothing that makes me itch more than legitimate business. You want to get back to the good ‘ol days, that it? The man that fixed races then killed Billy Kimber.” He grinned. “Now that, is something I can get on board with. Tell us your plan then.”

            Tommy hated that Alfie was right. He sighed. “We need to rely on cash. And there are very reliable ways to get large sums of cash.”

            Ella pinched the bridge of her nose. “And we’re back to square one.” She muttered.

 

            “Ella Laura, as I live and breathe.”

            Ella smiled. “Hi, Uncle Charlie.” She skipped a few steps to hug him tightly.

            “Thought you’d forgotten ‘bout Curly and me.” He teased.

            “I’m sorry. I’ve meant to visit but I’ve been busy.” She sighed, inhaling the familiar scent of the Yard. Burning coal and hay. “What’ve you got for me, then?”

            Charlie chuckled and led her over to the stables. “Wild filly going to the tracks soon. One of Curly’s favorites, a draft mix. Only seven.”

            Ella’s fears and worries melted away when she found herself enveloped in the warmth of the horses. The familiar scent and sound of their snorts and hoofs against the shavings. “You know I’m impartial to wild but I think I need something steadier. I need to clear my head.” She gravitated towards the large gelding with massive hooves and a stocky frame.

            “I’ll grab his tack then.” Charlie agreed.

            “Hello, love.” Ella cooed and stroked the horse’s soft muzzle. “You are handsome, aren’t you?” She chuckled as his lips mouthed over her hair and clothing, looking for a treat. “How’s about I give you sugar cubes after our ride, aye?”

 

            It was freeing to be out on a horse, riding past the city limits of Birmingham. The large horse, that Charlie said Curly had nicknamed Kennedy, plodded along the damp grass. His long and steady gait allowed Ella to process the company meeting. She blankly gazed at the trail ahead, her hands loose on the reins.

            How could Tommy return his family to 1919? The days where nothing they did was legal and the threat of enemies and police were always looming over their heads? The days where trouble was always lurking around the corner. The days where their pub was shot up.

            They’d come so far and Tommy promised that they’d be fully legitimate in the nearby year. No longer would they have to be concerned with legal issues or threats on their lives. They could just live as they were meant to.

            It didn’t matter whose fault it was anymore. What matters was they were all at the mercy of money. And there was no telling what deeds Tommy would drag her husband into. It angered Ella that only in times of crisis did her brother invite Alfie into the family. Not when they were married years prior? But wasn’t that just how Tommy was? People’s worth was based on their helpfulness to him.

            Deep in her thoughts, Ella was hardly paying attention to the road ahead. So, when a black cat jumped onto the path, she didn’t have enough time to gather the reins. Kennedy neighed shrilly in alarm and reared.

            Ella desperately tried to grab ahold of the horse’s mane or the saddle, but it was too late. She was thrown off into the grass. Kennedy leapt over her, his large hooves only barely missing her as he took off back towards the Yard.

            She groaned in pain and rolled onto her back. “Fuck…” Her arm had gone completely numb and she was familiar with the feeling. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” She forced herself to sit up and found herself face to face with the black cat. It stood in the center of the path, staring at her with green eyes.

            “You fucking…” She spat at the animal, making it hiss and run off into the long grass. “Fucking cat.” She staggered to her feet, clutching her arm. Kennedy had already gained a big head start and Ella could only hope that he was returning to Charlie’s or she’d never hear the end of it.

 

            Alfie was down at the Yard by the time Ella finally made it back. Kennedy had, in fact, brought himself back to his stall sans rider. Charlie panicked a little and called up Tommy who told Alfie who rushed down to find his wife.

            “El!” He hurried over to her. “What happened? You alright?”

            “Think I broke my arm.” She mumbled. “I need to lay down.”

            “Yeah, yeah, c’mon, love.” He wrapped an arm around her waist to lead her back to Watery Lane.

           

            Polly helped get her niece into a makeshift sling. “Never too old to break your arm, isn’t that right, chavi?” She teased to lighten the mood.

            Ella smiled weakly and sat at the edge of the bed. “Is Tommy around?” She asked.

            “He was at the Garrison,” Alfie answered. “Do you need him?”

            She nodded. “Yeah, I need to tell him something. You can stay, I don’t mind.” There were no secrets between her and her husband.

 

            Tommy arrived at Polly’s after Alfie had called the pub to tell him what happened. “Did you ride that filly?” He asked. “I told Charlie she was too green, May needs to work with him a little longer.”

            “No, I was out with the draft.” She shook her head. 

            Tommy frowned and sat down. “That thing’s never spooked at anything.”

            Alfie crossed his arms over his chest. “Well it did and now she’s got a broken arm.” He retorted grumpily. “So, what’re you gonna do about it?”

            “Easy. It’s fine, I’ve fallen off before.” Ella soothed. “But it was a black cat that spooked him.”

            Tommy’s face paled a little. It had only been moments earlier that he was recounting his black cat dreams to his family.

            Alfie looked confused as the siblings shared worried looks. “Black cat? Like it’s bad luck or something? That old wives tale?”

            “Sort of.” After her miscarriage, she’d taken to paying more attention to omens and nightmares. It might've been from her time spent with the Lees, awakening the part of her that used to believe in such things. Whether it was just a coincidence or not, she wasn’t going to risk it. “It means there’s a traitor nearby.”

            “I’ve had the dreams,” Tommy admitted and ran a hand through his hair. “I think you’re right.”

            Alfie’s brow furrowed. “Hang on, it’s a fucking animal. I think you lot are looking for signs that aren't there.” 

            “Always a good idea to be wary of omens, Alfie,” Tommy replied calmly. “Otherwise you’re caught off guard when you could've been on alert.”

            “And you’ve got no one else to blame but yourself for ignoring the signs,” Ella said quietly agreeing with her brother. An eerie feeling overcame her when she remembered who was missing at the family meeting. “When’s Michael coming back?”

            He nodded as if they were thinking the exact same thing. “Soon. He’ll be here soon.”

            “And you’re going to keep an eye on him?”

            “Naturally.”

 

            “Alfie?” The frustrated sigh came from upstairs. Ella and Alfie had returned back to London and she was finding it difficult to function with her broken arm.

            “Yeah, love?” Alfie was downstairs in his study reading about the market crash. It made his blood boil how just a few greedy businessmen could screw over the entire world, leaving destruction in their wake.

            “Can you help me?”

            He got up, glad to abandon the newspaper on his desk and go upstairs to his wife. Cyril followed him, alerted by Ella’s call. “You need something?” He asked as he entered the room.

            “I can’t bloody get anything done.” She protested. It was natural to assume that after breaking her arm several times before as a child, she would be able to navigate. But she’d forgotten how strenuous it was to have only one working arm.

            “Got a broken wing, little dove?” He smiled and stepped behind her.

            “Lucky I have you then.”

            “Mhm, I think I’m luckier to have you.” He kissed the nape of her neck and slowly undid the buttons.

            They stood in silence for a second before Ella glanced behind her. “Alfie, things are going to be okay, right?” She whispered.

            He couldn’t help the hesitation in his voice. “Of course not, love. The stock market doesn’t have a fucking thing to do with our relationship. We’re gonna be perfectly okay.”

            “But my brother…”

            “He wants to get his hands dirty again, then he can. But I tell ya what, think he’s going to get in more trouble in Parliament than on the streets of Small Heath.” Alfie turned her around so she was facing him again. “He’s already claimed royalty in Birmingham. But he wants more, don’t he? There are fucking dangerous men in Parliament. You ought to warn him now, ‘fore he gets into something he can’t get himself out of.”

Chapter Text

            “Tommy, can we talk?” Ella knocked on the door jamb before stepping into his office. She often visited her brother at the House of Commons because it was closer than having to go to Birmingham or Warwickshire.

            He cleared his throat and held a hand out to the empty chair across from him. “Didn’t know you’d be coming ‘round. How’s the arm?”

            Ella glanced down at her broken arm, still wrapped tightly in a sling. “It’s alright. I’m managing.” She sat down and shrugged off her coat. “I was hoping to talk to you about something Alfie said to me earlier this week. I’ve been thinking a lot about it.”

            Tommy took off his glasses and set aside the speech he was penning for his next session. “What were you talking about?” After everything the siblings had been through, they were both trying to wave the white flag. Extending peace treaties and an open hand. Though, it was mostly formal, if anything. It had been quite some time since they were as comfortable around each other the way they used to be as kids. Ella could remember so many times telling Tommy things she wouldn’t even tell Ada or Polly. She trusted him so much back then. He was her hero, her protector. But trust was difficult to grow back and as far as Ella was concerned, her trust for Tommy hadn’t even begun to bud again.

            “I may be worried about the things you’re planning to do to help our family.” She tilted her head to the side. “But Alfie’s a bit more concerned with your dealings in Parliament.”

            “Why am I not surprised that your husband has a problem with politics?” Tommy opened his box of cigarettes and offered one to his sister.

            “Do you have any sweets?”

            He chuckled and opened one of his desk drawers. “I’ve got peace babies for when Charlie and Ruby stop in.” He handed her the bag. “But go easy, those are Ruby’s favorites.”

            “Oh yeah? Or are they your favorite?” Ella teased. “I’m sure you don’t just keep them in your desk for your kids.”

            Tommy rolled his eyes. “They get stuck in your teeth; it isn’t worth the trouble.”

            “So, you have tried them.” She pointed out coyly, picking out the strawberry flavored gummy candies. "I knew it, you always had a sweet tooth when we were younger. Pol had to hide chocolate from you." 

            “You came on an important matter, not to discuss sweets.” He diverted the conversation away from his childhood habits.

            “Yes, well-”

            “Shelby.” Someone came interrupting their conversation, strolling into the office without so much as a knock.

            Ella twisted around in her seat and locked eyes with the man who would haunt her for some time after the fact. There was something about his eyes and smug expression that made her subtly shudder in uneasiness.

            “Pardon, I wasn’t aware you were in a meeting.”

            “Mr. Mosley, this is my sister, Ella. Ella, this is a colleague of mine, Oswald Mosley.” Tommy introduced the two even though Ella was more than happy being unacquainted with the man.

            “Please, Miss Shelby.” Mosley smiled and nodded politely.

            “It’s Mrs. Solomons actually.” She replied, eyeing him suspiciously.

            The fact didn’t appear to bother the man. He still had a predatory look about him. “But of course, a beautiful young lady like yourself would be married.”

            Appetite lost, Ella folded over the bag of candies and placed them on her brother’s desk. “If you two need the room, I should be on my way.” She stood up, almost afraid to let Mosley in her blind spot or to turn her back on him.

            “I’ll ring you soon, El?” Tommy called after her as she gathered her things.

            “Mhm, sure.” She replied and took her leave. There was something severely troubling about Oswald Mosley and Ella was afraid Alfie was right to worry about Tommy’s dealings in Parliament.

           

            After visiting her brother, Ella stopped by the bakery to talk to Alfie. Cyril and Anthea greeted her by the door. “Hi, lovelies.” She cooed and patted them. “Where’s papa? Huh?”

            Anthea barked and started loping down the hallway towards Alfie’s office. Ella followed with Cyril plodding along by her side.

            “Oi, what’s all the barking about, aye?” Alfie grumbled from his office as Anthea came careening into the room, nails skidding across the floor. "You mutts are gonna do me head in with all that noise."

            “She was just excited to see me is all.” Ella walked in. “Sometimes she gets more excited to see me than you do.”

            Alfie smiled when he saw his wife. “That right? Well, why don’t you come over here, yeah, and I’ll make it up to you?” Grinning playfully, she rounded the desk. He wrapped his arms around her waist and tugged her close. “Oh, love, I swear you get more beautiful every fucking day.” He murmured softly, his eyes locked on hers. 

            Ella’s cheeks flushed and she grazed her fingers over his cheek. “I think your eyesight is going.” She teased.

            He laughed. “You calling me old?” He squeezed her sides, where he knew she was the most ticklish, making her double over in giggles.

            “A-Alfie, stop!” She squealed and wriggled away from him.

            There was a knock on the doorframe and someone cleared their throat. Alfie grimaced and let go of his wife. “Ollie, lad, come on in.” He waved in his assistant.

            “Sorry to disturb you. Hello, Ella.” The younger man greeted.

            “Hello, Ollie.” She smiled and maintained a more professional distance between her and Alfie, much to her husband’s dismay.

            “You’ve got a meeting soon, sir. You asked me to let you know when they’ve arrived.”

            “Meeting with who?” She wondered.

            “Business as usual, love.” Alfie groaned and stood up using his cane. “Tommy, yeah, wants me to look for possible places of cash income. I’m particularly good at that, ain’t I?”

            Ella sighed and straightened Alfie’s collar. “Unfortunately.” She made a face of displeasure.

            “It’ll be alright.” He promised and kissed her forehead comfortingly. “Business as usual, right, nothing’s gonna happen.”

            Ella looked to the doorway and noticed that Ollie had left. “Alfie, wait.” She reached out and grabbed his arm. “I think you’re right.”

            “I’m right ‘bout a lotta things.” He chuckled. "What was I right about this time 'round?" 

            “I mean about Tommy and Parliament.” She clarified. It knocked the smile right off his face. “I was visiting him and…a man came in. I don’t know what it was about him but he just gave me a bad feeling.”

            Alfie knew that his wife was more sensitive to her intuitions and signs. And as much as he wanted to discredit it. He knew he couldn’t. His gut had saved him plenty of times. “What’s his name?”

            “Mosley. Oswald Mosley. I don’t know his party or what he’s about but there’s just something in his eyes…I don’t know.”

            Alfie sighed. Leave it to his brother-in-law to attract trouble even in the House of Commons. “I’ll talk to Tommy about it.” He promised. “Make sure he innit getting himself into trouble. This family don’t need more trouble.”

            “This family.” Ella smiled knowingly. “You mean the Shelby-Solomons family?” She inquired.

            He blew out an air of discontent and shook his head. “That ain’t what I meant.”

            “Yes, it is.”

            “Nope.”

            “Alfie, admit it!”

            “I’ve got a meeting, love.” Alfie skirted around her before she could tease him anymore about the slip of tongue.

           

 

            “Michael’s back home in Birmingham,” Tommy announced to his sisters.

            “I knew I had a bad feeling when I woke up this morning,” Ella mumbled and wrapped her arms around herself as if there were a draft in the room. “What’d he say, then?”

            “That he didn’t betray me. He’s also brought along a wife.” Tommy stood up and gathered his notes for the session that was to start in a few minutes.

            “A wife?” Ella asked in disbelief. “What is he trying to play at?”

            “Maybe you two are being too distrustful. He is our cousin.” Ada played devil’s advocate.

            “The black cat doesn’t lie, Ada,” Ella replied to her sister.

            The older Shelby threw her hands up in disbelief. “You two have gone on for years saying you aren’t gypsies. You wanted to be respectable members of society, not just seen as gypsies. Now you two have turned into drabarno.”

            “Some things you can’t ignore, Ada,” Tommy said and took his leave. “I’ll see you two after.”

            “I worry about you two sometimes.” Ada shook her head and started toward the door. “Are you coming?”

            “Yeah, just give me a second. I need a sweet.” Ella snuck behind Tommy’s desk and began rifling around to find the bag of peace babies he’d given her a few days before. Instead, she found three vials stashed away.

            Frowning, Ella popped the rubber cork of one of them and sniffed the liquid. It wasn’t alcohol so that left only one more possibility. Disappointed, she pocketed the vials before leaving.

           

            After listening to Tommy speak from the gallery of the House of Commons, Ada and Ella joined their brother for a drink as planned. But Ella made sure to stop him as they entered.

            “I need to speak with you privately,” Ella told him as they walked into the high-end bar. "Before we sit down." 

            “Ada, go and find a table.” Tommy waved his sister on and remained behind with Ella. “What would you like to speak about that Ada can’t hear?”

            Ella reached into her purse and produced one of the vials she found in his desk. “What is this?”

            An angry look passed over his face. “Haven’t you learned not to go fucking snooping?” He demanded, knowing full well that he hadn’t left any of the doses out in the open.

            “What is it?” She repeated.

            “It’s none of your business. Now give it back.” He grabbed her wrist and yanked the small bottle away with a significant measure of force.

            She didn't react in pain. Instead, all she found was disappointment. Just as their relationship was starting to improve, he was going off to do something else to damage it. “I’m meant to turn a blind eye then, aye? What is it, Thomas?”

            His eyes were shifty and his jaw visibly tightened. “I’m not having this conversation with you.”

            “I’m worried, Tommy. I’m very worried about what this has done to you. It was a blow to us all but if you are struggling-”

            “I’m struggling with the fact that no one will fucking listen to me.” He hissed agitatedly.

            “When can I worry about you then? When you’re passed out on the floor? When you’re foaming at the mouth? When you’re dead?”

            “When I’m dead, everyone can rest. But until then, there’s fucking work to be done and I’ll fucking do it how I see fit.” And with that, Tommy went to join Ada at the table.

            So angry she could spit, Ella reluctantly followed. She wanted to scream at him for being a hypocrite. Scream at him how much his family cared about him and how she wouldn’t let him waste away. But she was complacent and sat quietly.

            “Mr. Shelby, I must say, you sing like a songbird in the House.” 

            The sound of the man’s voice made the hairs on the back of Ella’s neck stand up. Mosley approached from behind her, and he rested a hand on the back of her chair causing her to tense up.

            “And you’ve got two pretty finches with you. Ella, lovely to see you again.” He greeted with a chilling smile.

            “Mr. Mosley, this is my other sister, Ada.”

            “Who’s pregnant,” Ada jabbed in response to keep the man a good distance away from her.

            “And dangerous,” Tommy added.

            “Mr. Shelby, you had a horse of that name,” Mosley remarked and took a seat at the table beside Ella.

            She bit her tongue and forced herself to stay seated even when instinct told her to get up and leave immediately. Leave and go back to the warm embrace of her dear husband.

            “How do you know about the horse?” Tommy asked coolly.

            “We have a mutual acquaintance.” The other man answered. “May Carleton.”

            “Huh.” Tommy nodded as if the news didn’t bother him. Just like everything else, it was hard to tell if it did or not.

            “Mrs. Solomons, I’ve done a bit of research on you.” Mosley turned his attention to Ella without warning.

            “Have you. I’m sure you found it unremarkable.” Ella replied.

            “Actually, quite the opposite.” He smiled and studied her face. “You married to Alfie Solomons…two years ago, was it? Right before your brother John passed away.”

            Ella’s eyes flicked to Tommy but he didn’t say anything. Ada looked ticked off but she was silent as well. “That’s right.”

            “A quiet ceremony, purely legal circumstances as far as I’ve heard. This man, your husband, a Jew isn’t he?”

            “I don’t know what my husband’s religion has anything to do with this conversation.” She replied venomously.

            “Well it does and it doesn’t, Mrs. Solomons.” He gave her a faux friendly grin. But she could see the malice in his eyes.

            “My husband has no dealings in politics. Therefore, he has nothing to do with this conversation.” She reiterated firmly.

            “Not in politics, no. He has dealings in many other things. Very…questionable things. Isn’t that right?”

            Ella realized if Tommy wasn’t going to listen to her then she wasn’t going to hang around and play the weak woman. She stood up suddenly. “I’ve lost interest in this.” She announced to the table. “You two can play your games but you keep Ada and the rest of the family out of it.” She asserted and turned on her heel to leave. Fuming, she stormed out of the bar. The nerve of some people.

Chapter Text

            Ella did her best to forget the leering look that Mosley had given her. But even a week later, she couldn’t get his smug look out of her nightmares. Everything about the man gave her a bad feeling. She thought Tommy was thick for even making an acquaintance with him. But according to Ada, their brother was doing far more than that.

            It took an unnatural amount of patience to not disown Tommy again. No matter how tempting it was, Ella knew it wouldn’t do anyone any good.

            She was sure that if she didn’t have Alfie, she would’ve gone mad a long time ago. But her husband kept her sane, kept her grounded, and always reminded her what true love was.

           

            One night, she decided to drop in at the bakery about half an hour before Alfie usually closed up. She needed to relieve some stress but didn’t necessarily need it to be in a comfortable way. Instead, she just wanted a good thrill.

            Most of the men had already gone home by the time Ella came through the bakery, heading towards Alfie’s office. Everything was normal until she reached his office. There, she saw a woman standing in front of Alfie’s desk. Her husband sitting and listening to her. Something wasn’t right. Sure, Alfie could speak to other women, that wasn’t an issue. There were plenty of women in the community who knew him well. But Ella couldn’t think of any who would visit Alfie so late in the evening, unaccompanied.

            Ella knocked on the doorjamb and pointedly cleared her throat. Her husband glanced up with a smile. The unfamiliar woman turned, her eyes going a bit wide.

            She was beautiful. Drop-dead gorgeous, in fact. No one could deny that. It was almost as if she’d arrived right from Hollywood. A beautiful actress with pristine red lipstick, an alluring smoky eye, a figure-defining black dress, and shiny blonde hair.

            “Miss Davis, this is me wife, Ella. Ella, this is Miss Davis. Your brother sent her along for a potential deal.” Alfie introduced and stood up to greet Ella.

            “My brother?” That didn’t ring true one bit. Tommy wouldn't do that. On a rare occasion, he may have asked before doing such a thing.

            “Mr. Shelby said your husband was someone to talk to about London business.” The young woman explained but there was a waver in her voice. A tell of a loss of confidence. 

            Ella knew she was lying. “What business are you in, Miss Davis?” She gravitated possessively toward Alfie.

            “My late husband ran a successful law firm. I’m doing my best to keep it running.”

            “And my brother sent you here to get help for that?” Ella questioned again.

            “El, everything alright?” Alfie frowned.

            The woman seemed shaken by Ella’s presence. “Well, it’s getting late. Perhaps I ought to send you a telegram instead, Mr. Solomons.” She smiled and backed towards the door. “I hope to hear from you soon.”

            “Nice to meet you.” He nodded.

            Ella’s eyes narrowed, watching the stranger leave. “What a load of…”

            “Here.” He held up a small business card between his index and middle finger.

            “What’s this?”

            “It were stuck to the back of the fake business card she gave me.” He explained as she took it from him. "Like you, I found the exchange very strange. But that seems to offer some solution." 

            She read the information on the card and her blood began to boil. “That snake. What on Earth is he up to?”

            “You should ask your brother.” Alfie shrugged. “They’re apparently close now, ain’t that right?”

            Oswald Mosley. Why would Mosley’s card be in this woman’s purse? Why would she give Alfie a fake card? “He’s going to get this family in another situation where our lives are on the line.” Ella was so angry she began to pace, waving the embossed card in the air.

            “I’ll try to talk to him, love, but you know what happens when I try.” Alfie folded his arms over his chest.

            “He’s using dope.” She informed her husband. “I found it in his desk and he lashed out at me. That fucking hypocrite.” She made a frustrated noise and threw her hands up. “I went against my better judgment and started to trust him again. And this is what I get? His new ally is making plans with you and me?”

            “Easy, El, maybe he’s got a handle on things.”

            She turned around quickly to give him a look of disbelief. “Are you honestly defending him?”

            “Not defending him, but he must have a reason.” He shrugged.

            “That’s the problem, he can justify anything.” With a deep sigh, she walked around the desk and plopped down in Alfie’s lap. Pouting, she curled into herself.

            He wrapped his arms around her and placed a comforting kiss on her hair. “It’ll be alright, love, I’ll talk to him. But don’t give up on him. If he’s using then I’m sure he needs you. You two are close, yeah?”

            “If you said something like that a few years ago I would’ve thought you’d been replaced by a doppelganger. My Alfie, concerned about Tommy Shelby.”

            He chuckled and shook his head. “You get more docile as you age, I s’pose.”

            “Not him. He’s just running himself into the ground and taking us all with him.”

            Alfie didn’t answer, he just hummed in acknowledgment and held her. “Why’d you drop in so late?” He wondered. "I were on my way home, you could've rang." 

            The question only made Ella’s frown deepen in disappointment. “It was meant to be a surprise.” She grumbled.

            “Yeah?” He gently squeezed her hips. “Just popping in to make me day?”

            Ella bit her lip and turned around to straddle his hips. Perhaps the moment wasn't lost after all. “I went shopping too.” She toyed with the buttons on her long wool coat.

            Alfie perked up. “Oh yeah? What’d you get, love?”

            “Something for you.” She leaned forward to kiss him.

            He gladly accepted the kiss, inhaling her rose perfume. It always gave him a high that was unmatched. Sometimes it felt like he knew Ella’s body better than his own. How many minutes, hours, days, had he spent indulging in her soft skin, shivering when her dark hair tickled him, hypnotized by her blue eyes, and all of his nerves electrified? It never felt like enough. He could never get enough of her.

            Pulling away from the kiss, Ella got up to close and lock the office door. She drew the blinds of the windows as well just in case. Alfie ran his hands over his thighs, licking his top lip in anticipation. “You’ve kept me in enough suspense love.” He protested.

            She turned and began to undo the buttons of her coat, revealing the thin black nightgown with lace trimmings and stockings to match.

            Alfie looked like he’d taken a significant blow to the stomach. “Fucking hell.” He dragged out, lust in his voice. He stood up with a groan and walked over to her. “Look at you.”

            “I don’t want to think.” Ella wrapped her arms around his neck and touched her lips to his ear. “Just for an hour or two, I don’t want to have to think about anything.”

            Her husband sensed the urgency in her voice. They all needed somewhere to escape. He was just glad she could escape to his arms. It made him feel he was doing something right. “What do you need from me, love?” He murmured.

            “Just take me as yours. Make the decisions. Make me forget my own fucking name.” She begged quietly.

            So, he did. And for a moment, Ella really felt like there was nothing outside the office door. In fact, the entire world was contained within that room. They were the only two people left alive. There was nothing to worry about except each other. Alfie held her so close, she gripped onto him so tightly. They both bruised.

            The sun dipped below the horizon by the time they were spent. A little weak in the knees, Ella perched on the edge of Alfie’s desk to fix her stockings. His office had thoroughly taken a beating. Everything had been swept off his desk onto the floor, papers spilled everywhere. They’d knocked the desk chair into a cabinet, causing a bit of a dent in the metal. Alfie pushed Ella against the wall so hard that a picture frame fell to the ground, the glass and frame cracking.

            But they were both too satisfied to care.

            After dressing, Alfie came to stand between Ella’s knees. “I love you.” He murmured and kissed her softly.

            “I love you too.” She smiled up at him. “I’m glad you weren’t swayed by that ‘Miss Davis’.” She grumbled and stood up to find her coat among the fray.

            He scoffed. “I ain’t never had a thing for blondes. I much prefer darker hair.” He caught her around the waist from behind, pulling her close to his chest. “With blue eyes. Blue eyes like the fucking clearest topaz I’ve ever seen. Beautiful with a wit to match. Girl with the biggest heart.” He kissed down her neck.

            Ella smiled and closed her eyes in bliss. She didn’t want to leave their little world, not quite yet.

           

 

 

            It felt like an endless string of birthdays. First, it was Ruby’s, then Polly’s, and finally Lizzie’s. Ella didn’t mind, but she wasn’t in much of a mood for festivities. Especially when she got the invitation to Lizzie’s party, something extravagant and over the top. No doubt Britain’s elite would all be invited and if Tommy was keeping up his charade that meant Mosley would be attending. And that made Ella sick to her stomach.

            But she was getting ahead of herself.

            On the day of Ruby’s birthday, Ella packed the presents into the car and drove out to Arrow House. Alfie was working but sent along his well wishes.

            The birthday girl was thrilled to see her aunt arrive. She ran outside as the car pulled up the gravel drive. “Auntie El, auntie El!” She squealed.

            “Look at you all dolled up!” Ella scooped up her niece and kissed her cheek. “Did mummy get you that dress?”

            Ruby nodded. “For my birthday.”

            “You look like a proper lady.” She carried her inside to greet Lizzie. “Where’s Charlie?”

            Lizzie’s face fell a little. “He’s still upset about Dangerous. Spends nearly all his free time in the stables.” She explained.

            “Brother’s sad.” Ruby pouted.

            “Want me to go talk to him?” Ella set her niece down.

            “You can try.” Lizzie bit her lip. “But I’m afraid it won’t do much good. Will hardly speak to anyone, especially Tommy.”

            “I’ll be back,” Ella promised and headed out back toward the stables. As she walked across the lawn, she remembered the time she spent at Arrow House in all the different periods of her life. It felt like ages ago when she arrived to celebrate her brother’s wedding to Grace. Her standoff with him in the stables about Alfie. It felt almost unfathomable to think about all the things she’d been through since then. A marriage, multiple losses, a miscarriage, an addiction, sobriety. For a moment, it didn’t even feel like she lived those events. Instead, they were someone else’s story. A drama that she had been watching play out from the audience. But no matter what, she woke up with the scars.

            The stable was warmer than the chill outside as Ella stepped inside. She found Charlie sat on a step stool near the tack.

            “I was sad you didn’t come out to greet me.”

            The boy looked up. He appeared happy to see his aunt for a moment before the sadness in his eyes returned. “Hi, Auntie El.” He greeted gloomily. 

            She smiled weakly and found a bale of hay to sit on. “Mum says you’re still down about Dangerous.”

            Charlie nodded absentmindedly, looking down at his hands.

            “I know how hard it is to lose a horse.” Ella tried to sympathize with him. “I remember losing my first horse and I was very sad. But I promise things will start to look up.”

            He shrugged half-heartedly. “Why did dad have to kill him?”

            Ella winced. “It’s hard to understand sometimes. But Dangerous was in a lot of pain. Sometimes…sometimes it’s better to let the horse rest instead of living in pain. There are things that you can’t cure.”

            “Dad said death is a kindness.”

            Ella thought about her time at Margate when she was still addicted to the morphine. The pain that she suffered through when she was between doses. The strong urge to sleep. Go to bed knowing that she’d never have to wake up again. The thoughts came from such a dark place and it was alarming to recall them. Alarming because she realized that must be where her brother was. The dope was a good enough indicator but hearing Charlie recount what Tommy said was enough to give her concern. They were Shelbys after all. They were cursed.  

            “Let’s go inside, aye? I’ve got presents for Ruby that you can help her open.”

 

 

            Ella planned on staying the night at Arrow House instead of driving back to London. When Tommy returned home, she requested to speak with him. They had a lot to talk about but she had a feeling he was going to be a pill about it.

            After he settled behind his desk, she began. “I need you to be honest with me.”

            “I’m always honest with you, El.” Tommy pulled out a cigarette to light.

            “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that to me so we don’t have to argue. Tom, I know how deep you’ve gotten. You’re drowning and you’re looking for a way out.”

            “I don’t follow.” He was looking at her but avoiding her eyes.

            “Let me just say that if anything were to happen to you. No matter what it was, you’d be leaving your entire family behind. The family that needs you for better or worse. This family can’t take another loss, we just can’t.”

            It was clear in his face that he knew exactly what his sister was talking about. Sometimes he hated how intuitive she could be. “Okay.” He nodded.   

            Well, at least he’d heard her piece. Sometimes that was all she could. Make sure he heard her. “Secondly, we need to speak about your involvement with Mosley.”

            “Your husband already called me about the matter.”

            “That’s fine, now we can discuss it.” She didn’t care whether Alfie had talked Tommy’s ear off already.

            Tommy cleared his throat and gestured for her to continue.

            “He sent a woman to my husband’s office only minutes before closing. Whatever his intentions are, they’re evil. He’s looking to control you, Tom. He's looking to ruin this family. I think you of all people would be able to see right through his act.”

            “Ella, listen very carefully to me.”

            “Don’t take that tone with me.” She retorted with a warning.

            He raised an eyebrow at her. “Are you going to listen or are you going to interrupt me.”

            Disgruntled, Ella kept her mouth shut.

            “You’re right, he’s an evil man with evil intentions. That’s why I’m doing this. Fascism won’t have a place here in Britain if I can help it. He’s the messenger. We kill the messenger; we kill the message.”

            “What if he creates more chaos before you have the chance? You can’t just kill a member of Parliament and expect to get away with it.”

            Tommy set his cigarette to the side. “All I can do is assure you I have a solid plan.”

            “And I’m supposed to trust you.”

            He simply shrugged. That was something he knew well. He couldn’t force anyone to trust him.

            Ella took a step away from his desk with a sigh. “Frances is going to bring Ruby’s cake out soon.”

            “Have you and Alfie ever thought about adopting?” Tommy asked out of the blue.

            She looked surprised. “Erm, no. We haven’t talked much about children after…well.” She sighed. Despite her time with the Lees and with Isabel’s council, she found it difficult to talk about her miscarriage. “Why?”

            “Just wondering.” Tommy stood up and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “C’mon.” He walked with his sister to the parlor.

 

            Ella didn’t think too much of what Tommy mentioned after that night. Mostly because her curious thoughts were quelled by the arrival of Johnny Dogs and Aberama. Both badly wounded and shouting in the drive.

            As Lizzie brought the children upstairs, Ella hurried out after Tommy.

            “The man’s gone fucking mad, Tom!” Johnny shouted, clutching his ribs and trying to crawl away from Aberama.

            “They killed him. My son!” Aberama shouted, holding a gun with one arm. “They shot him and put him up on a fucking cross and he’s fucking dead!”

            Ella was startled in her path. The words were too chilling to be real. Bonnie wasn’t dead. He was perfectly fine. Aberama had just lost his mind. That was all. Just lost his mind. They’d all lose their minds at one point or another.

            “I swear to God, I never told a soul.” Johnny moaned in pain.

            “My fucking son! They fucking took him from me!” Aberama continued to rant loudly.

            Tommy held his hands out, trying to calm him down. “Your shoulder is shattered. If you don’t get it fixed; you’ll lose your arm.” He spoke steadily as if talking to a spooked stallion.

            “They crucified my son, for you!” His voice broke with grief.

            That’s when it started to dawn on Ella. These were no ramblings of a mad man. These were the anguish cries of a father who lost a son. She was about to ask who did it when gunshots had her dropping to the ground. Instinct had her protecting her abdomen.

            “Get away from my house!” Lizzie shouted.

            Tommy walked over his sister and snatched the gun away from his wife. “Everyone, enough!” He roared. The night went silent again. A peaceful night in the countryside. He turned and helped Ella up. “Everyone quit it.” His voice lowered and he turned to Aberama. “If you want to take on the Billy Boys, you need me. Everyone fucking needs me.” He glared back at Lizzie. “Call an ambulance or a man loses his arm.”

            Ella stood frozen in the driveway. Bonnie. Crucified. “Tom, who are the Billy Boys?” She whispered as he passed by her.

            “Mosley’s foot soldiers.” He muttered as he helped Johnny up and to the house. Lizzie and Aberama entered the house as well, leaving Ella outside by herself. She looked up at the stars in the sky. She closed her eyes when she felt tears welling up. The sound of the gunshot echoed in her ears and made her stomach ache.

Chapter Text

           

            “Crucified, Ada. Fucking strung up on a bloody cross and shot.” Ella was smoking on the front steps of Midland with her sister. “It’s all going to shit. Tommy’s gone mad.”

            “It’ll be okay.” Ada tried to assure her. She wanted to have faith in their brother. Wanted to believe that he could crush the fascist movement. If there was a man to do it, then Tommy Shelby was the one.

            “Mosley is trying to get to my fucking husband. I swear to God if anything happens to Alfie…”

            Ada hushed her as their sister-in-law came out. “We’re here to take you to the clinic.” She stopped Gina.

            Ella took the woman in. She was beautiful, and no doubt that was what drew Michael to her in the first place. Dressed smartly, she looked like a movie star. “Nice to meet you, sister.” She said and flicked her cigarette to the sidewalk.

            Gina didn’t appear pleased. “I already told Michael, my husband or no one.”

            Ella frowned. The retort put her off almost instantly. “Well, Michael’s not here and we’ve got a car.”

            “There are taxis, even in this fucking city.”

            She scoffed. “This city? Our family owns this city, so you might as well give it some respect.” Sure, Birmingham had some bad memories and maybe Ella preferred London or Margate. But she highly disliked Gina’s tone when talking about Small Heath.

            Ada stepped in before Ella got nasty. “Look, if they don’t hear a heartbeat, they’re going to give you options, none of which are nice.”

            Gina didn’t listen to her appeal. “My husband may do as he told but I don’t.”

            Ella’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe you should be a little more accommodating to your new family?” She spoke tersely. “We’ve come as support.”

            “I don’t need support,” Gina replied.

            Thoroughly finished with her dismissive attitude, Ella couldn’t hold her tongue even though Ada gave her a warning glance. “Some of us don’t have the privilege of getting pregnant.” Her voice full of venom. “So why don’t you accept the company and stop being so fucking cold?”

            Gina’s mouth popped up in disbelief. But Ada spoke up again to try and stop the situation from becoming hostile. “C’mon, let’s all just start over again.” She said gently. “We genuinely want to be here for you and Michael.”

            Gina held her purse close to her body and took a deep breath.” Fine.” She agreed and continued down the steps toward the car.

            “Relax,” Ada whispered to her sister before she followed Gina.

            “If she’s going to take an attitude with me…”

            “Just leave it.” Ella’s older sister warned. “This isn’t the time to create rifts in the family.”

            “She’s not family,” Ella muttered under her breath but held her tongue for the rest of the day.

           

            “Special delivery.” Alfie came into the sitting room and handed Ella an envelope.

            “Hm, I don’t remember the postman being so lovely.” She teased and drew him close for a kiss.

            He chuckled against her lips. “Cheeky girl.”

            After he pulled away, Ella carefully tore open the thick envelope. “Let’s see…” She pulled out the cream-colored invitation with careful penmanship. “It’s an invitation to Lizzie’s party.” She’d been expecting it ever since her brother mentioned the occasion.

            “Right, penned it my diary.” Alfie agreed and settled into his armchair with a heavy sigh. “Just a dinner, right?”

            Ella frowned. “No.”

            “No?”

            “There’s going to be a ballet. A ballet?” She read over the words a few more times in disbelief. “A ballet at Arrow House? How on Earth…”

            “Now hang on, I didn’t agree to go to a ballet.” Alfie protested, a look of grief crossing his face.

            “Well, I didn’t either!” Ella exclaimed and tossed the invitation to the table. “Bollocks.”

            He chuckled. “What? I thought you’d like a ballet.”

            “Why would you think that?”

            The man shrugged and cracked his knuckles. “You’re a woman.”

            His wife scoffed and raised an eyebrow at him almost in a challenge. “So, I should automatically enjoy ballets?”

            Alfie knew when he was beat. He’d made the mistake of underestimating his wife before, so he decided to admit defeat. “I supposed an abhorrence for ballet can be universal.”

            Ella grimaced at the invitation as if it was leering at her from the table. Typical of Tommy to try and get his family to obey the social laws of Britain’s elite. He wanted so desperately for the Shelby family to fit into the social standing. They weren’t made of old money. None of them had inherited a cent. Instead, they made their way, something that most of Britain’s old money would never understand. What was the use in trying to pretend they were one in the same with people who were born in estates and never went hungry? In Ella’s eyes, they were weak and weren’t cut out for the real world like the Shelbys were. They could play both cards, mingling at a social function and wouldn’t be afraid to walk home through every dark alley. The streets were more afraid of them.

            “I need to walk.” Ella stood up. “I don’t want to think about this.”

            “Do you want some company?” Alfie offered.

            She nodded. “If your hip isn’t giving you too much trouble.”

            He heaved himself up out of his chair and whistled for Cyril and Anthea. “Of course not.”

 

            After bundling up properly and getting the dogs on leads, Ella and Alfie left their flat. Arm in arm, the two were a familiar sight in Camden. The couple frequently took walks together either during Alfie’s lunch break or in the evening when he returned home. Passersby tipped their caps and gave a polite greeting. Sometimes they stopped to chat with neighbors they were close with. It was a familiar landscape and Ella appreciated that. Camden had been her home for so long that she didn’t feel like an outsider as she used to. She wasn’t Jewish but the community had accepted her best they could. Whether it was out of their good graces or fear of backlash from Alfie, Ella wasn’t too sure. But that didn’t matter anymore.

            Passing through Camden Gardens, they arrived at the canal. The dogs tugged on their leads, barking at the ducks that swam past them.            

            “Tommy asked whether we would ever consider adoption,” Ella told Alfie.

            “We’ve already got two dogs, ain’t got enough space for another one.” He replied his mind clearly elsewhere.

            “Not adopting dogs, silly, adopting a child.” She prodded his arm.

            That snapped Alfie out of his daze. He glanced over at her in surprise. “Adoption…what’d you say?”

            “Well, I said we hadn’t thought about it much.” She replied with a shrug. “We haven’t talked much about children at all.”

            Alfie chewed on the inside of his cheek. He had thought about children after the miscarriage. He thought frequently about the things they’d lost and how their children would be nearly three years old had they survived. He tried to imagine how different their lives would be. Chaotic, perhaps, with two toddlers and two dogs. But how lovely it would’ve been. Other than ruminating over what could have been, Alfie hadn’t considered the future of having a family. The doctors pretty much assured Ella that she wouldn’t be able to have children after the shooting. So, they could mourn, but Alfie hadn’t considered the option of adopting. Maybe he’d been caught up on the idea that he wanted children that were his own blood. Was it selfish? Maybe, but it was something he often thought of.

            “I didn’t want to upset you.”

            Ella nodded in understanding. “It’s been a while though.” She reminded him. “Maybe we should talk about it.”

            He met her eyes and considered the possibility. "We can talk about it.”

            There was a silence between them as they stood by the canal. Anthea sat between them, her ears perking up every so often with passing sounds of cars and other people walking.

            “I would like children.” Ella broke the silence. “And wouldn’t it be nice that we could give a child a good home?”

            It did appeal to Alfie’s altruistic side. The man that would take home any pup he found discarded in the street. And to make his wife happy, well there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do. “Right…but m’fraid that once we adopt one, we won’t stop. Soon it’ll be ten kids all running ‘round the flat because we couldn’t turn them away.” He grinned.

            Ella smiled and touched his chest. “Well, we’ll start with one, how ‘bout that?”

            He nodded and kissed her forehead. “Tommy’ll help us out then?”

            “Well, he owns several orphanages so I’m sure he would.”

            Alfie smiled and hugged his wife close. “I want you to be happy. You being happy makes me fucking happy as can be. You want ten kids; we’ll adopt ten kids.”  

            She giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I think you just want a big Jewish family.” She teased.

            “Well, it were destined, weren’t it? ‘Ccording to me mum at least.”

            “You’ll be the perfect father,” Ella confirmed. “Any child would be lucky to have you as a father.”

            Alfie rested his chin on top of her head as she cuddled into him. He wasn’t quite sure about that. But it didn’t diminish the desire to have a family with Ella.

 

 

            The idea of a ballet was nauseating for both Ella and Alfie. But Shelby family events weren’t to be missed unless you were dying in a hospital or going into labor. Since the couple was neither dying nor delivering a baby, they had to attend. Alfie, at least, had the joy of seeing his wife all dressed up like a member of the royal family.

           

            “Happy birthday, Lizzie.” Ella kissed her sister-in-law’s cheek. “Hope you’re well.”

            “So glad you could make it.” She replied and greeted Alfie. “I hope the drive wasn’t too much of a bother.”

            “Not at all.”

            “Where’s Tommy then?” Alfie looked around the room of elite members of British society.

            “I saw him going into the big room to talk to Mosley,” Polly answered after hugging her niece.

            Ella bristled. “He invited that man?” She snapped. “On what grounds?”

            “On the grounds that he wants to get closer to him,” Lizzie replied with a less than pleased expression on her face.

            Ella looked to Alfie but he just shrugged. She took his arm with a sigh. “Just don’t leave my side.” She mumbled to him. The last thing she wanted was to be caught alone with the MP.

            “Of course.” He replied softly. But secretly, he was hoping to get time alone with the man. Time alone to warn him that if Alfie ever caught him sniffing around Ella, he’d end up buried alive. “Oh look, there’s Michael.” It had been a while since Alfie had gotten a chance to harass the young man.

            “Ella, stay behind for a moment.” Polly requested.

            Reluctantly, Ella let Alfie slip away from her on the promise that he wouldn’t venture too far for too long. “Yes?” She asked her aunt.

            “There’s a woman here asking after your husband.” She directed her niece’s attention toward the blonde woman standing by the fireplace.

            Ella almost would’ve laughed at the absurdity. “Oh yes, we’ve met.”

            Polly frowned. “Who is she?”

            “Why don’t you ask Tommy and his best friend?” She stopped a waiter and grabbed a flute of champagne. “She apparently wants to conduct business with Alfie. She was sent by Tommy but she works for Mosley.”

            “What do you make of it?”

            Ella downed the champagne and made a face. “All I know is he better stop.” She snarled. “This isn’t about Alfie.”

            Polly sighed and kissed her niece’s temple. “Well, you look beautiful. Just try to keep your chin up.”

 

            Alfie kept his promise and stayed by his wife. He stayed by her when Tommy waved them both over.

            Ella’s grip tightened on her husband’s hand when she saw Oswald Mosley standing beside her brother and sister-in-law.

            “Am I gonna hafta hold you back, love?” Alfie teased. But inside, his blood was boiling. Oh, what he wouldn’t do to take this poor excuse for a man out back and blow his brains out.

            She gritted her teeth. “Perhaps.”

             Tommy cleared his throat as the two approached. “Alfie, I’d like you to meet Oswald Mosley. Mr. Mosley, this is my sister’s husband, Alfie Solomons.”

            The MP put on a nice smile but there was a hint of smugness behind it. As if he knew he already won. “Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Solomons.”

            “Does it? Well, I s’pose people talk, don’t they?” Alfie was on edge but didn’t show it. He could walk into the belly of the beast with a self-assured smile on his face and a laid-back demeanor. It’s how he called the bluff of so many men who wanted to destroy him. “But this night is about me sister-in-law. Mazel Tov, Lizzie.”

            The Hebrew seemed to cause an involuntary twitch in Mosley’s face. But he recovered quickly. “Yes, the birthday girl. In an effort of being honest with each other, I believe it was a bottle of champagne and an evening well spent.”

            Ella’s jaw dropped. “You little-”

            Lizzie stopped her from going off on the man. She reached into her purse and pulled out a coin. “Actually, it was an evening wasted.” She plopped the coin into Mosley’s drink. “For the champagne and brandy you bought me. I appear to recall it was the booze that put you to sleep prematurely.”

            Tommy, Polly, and Ella all hid their smiles in their drinks. Alfie, on the other hand, wasn’t as good as holding back. He burst out laughing and clinked his glass with Lizzie’s. “I tell ya, Mosley, you ain’t never known a strong woman ‘til you’ve married into the Shelby family. Mazel Tov, Lizzie. Happy birthday, love.”

            Before tempers flared, Tommy stepped in. “The dance will be beginning soon.” He explained and began to direct them towards the back door.

            Ella pointedly looked a Mosley before leaning in to kiss Alfie. “I love you.” She murmured adoringly.   

 

            Alfie was close to falling asleep. He wasn’t quite out cold like Arthur was, but he was dozing off. Ella was a bit more attentive but wasn’t completely taken by the ballet. If anything, she was a bit concerned, she didn’t think humans could be so flexible. It was quite alarming.  

            Bored, she glanced over to see her aunt had disappeared. At the same time, Tommy was trying to get Arthur’s attention.

            Ella kicked her eldest brother awake. “Psst.” She pointed over to Tommy once Arthur stirred. She noticed a pair of headlights flooding over the lawn and became a bit unnerved. It was unlikely to be a late guest.

            Alfie grumbled under his breath when he felt his wife shift in her seat. “El, where’ya going? Is it over?”

            “No, stay here.” She whispered and quietly slipped out of her seat and out of the tent. She tried to catch up with her brother but his strides were much longer than hers. Halfway across the lawn, she paused to try and see who was standing in front of the headlights. Before her eyes

could adjust to the blinding light, she heard a loud gunshot crack across the dark night. Instinct brought her to the ground. Curling into herself and protecting her stomach.

            Everything went quiet for a moment. In the distance, she could hear the music from the ballet as it came to a bloody conclusion.

Chapter Text

             Ella wasn’t sure how long she waited, curled up on the grass. But she sat up eventually to decipher what was going on. She saw a figure approaching her, framed by the headlights.

         “C’mon. We need you inside.” Tommy spoke steadily but urgently. He helped his sister up.

         She was shaking and pressing a hand to her stomach, right over where her scar lingered. “What happened?”

         “Pol shot Linda.” He answered and walked her inside.

 

         Luckily, Linda was out cold by the time Ella came inside. “Can’t we just have one night without this shit?” She muttered under her breath. Standing in the doorway of the dining room, she watched Arthur sit beside his wife. He was shaking and almost in tears.

         “Apparently not,” Tommy replied with a weary sigh.      

         “Did I hear a gunshot or is Swan Lake a bit more entertaining than I assumed?” Alfie came storming into Arrow House.

         “It’s alright, it’s taken care of.” Ella touched his arm.

         “Yeah, well, your guest of honor’s decided to take the stage, mate.” He told Tommy.

         “Is he talking about the new party?” Tommy lit a cigarette.

         “Fuck if I know, I didn’t want to listen to him.” Alfie crossed his arms over his chest. “He’s talking like some…fucking dictator or something. It really puts a damper on the party, but everyone else seems to agree with him.”

         “I’m going to go back out.”

         “I think Alfie and I are going to head home early.” Ella linked arms with her husband. “I’ve had enough of this.”

         “El, it’s late. We said we’d stay at least until tomorrow morning.”

         She frowned. “You want to stay?” She asked in disbelief. It had been like pulling teeth trying to get him to go to the party in the first place.

         “Alfie and I have business to discuss later,” Tommy explained.

         The night’s events were starting to wear on Ella. How foolish it was to think they could have a fun, festive night for Lizzie’s birthday. “That’s fantastic, I don’t care. You can discuss business during business hours. Because that’s how business works. It’s not about sneaking around in the shadows, always looking over your shoulder to see if anyone’s fucking listening or not.”

         Alfie looked tired but resolved. There was no need to argue but he did need to speak to Tommy. “You can head to bed, Ella, that’s okay.”

         “What are you going to talk about?” She inquired. “Can I sit in on your little chat?” Tommy and Alfie shared a look of discomfort and it was enough to set Ella off. “So, you’re both keeping secrets from me now? Of all the times, Alfie.”

         “Love, it’s…” He groaned and rubbed his eyes. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

         “Well, I’m worried now!” She threw her hands up. “I’m done with this. You two have your conversations, I don’t care anymore.” She stalked off to find one of Tommy’s booze stashes. 

 

        

               Tucked away in the big room, Ella pulled out a bottle of Irish Whiskey. Forgoing the glass, she drank straight from the crystal bottle. The number of people she was angry with had doubled in one night. It must’ve been a record. She didn’t appreciate her husband keeping secrets from her. Tommy, she could understand. He’d done it before and it was silly to think he wouldn’t do it again. But Alfie? It was like a kick in the gut. How many times had she told him he was the only person she trusted? The very last person left in the world that she relied on and trusted with her heart.

         Stewing at her brother’s desk, she did not want to be interrupted. But nothing about the night was going as planned.

         The door opened and Mosley entered as if he owned the place. Ella’s eyes narrowed but she didn’t say anything as he walked in and glanced at the bottles of liquor near the door. “You Shelbys throw quite the party.” He looked around, taking in the sights as if everything was amusing to him.

         “I don’t recall welcoming you in.” She replied venomously. “This is my family’s house after all, not yours.”

         “You hold a great deal of malice for me, Miss Shelby.” Mosley sat down across the desk from her, completely ignoring her jab.

         “I’ve told you many times, it’s Mrs. Solomons. You can address by my married name or don’t address me at all.”  

         “Ah, yes your husband. Interesting man, isn’t he?” Mosley folded his hands over his lap.

         Before he could continue, Ella interrupted him. She knew the games men like him played. He wanted to work her up, make her so angry that she’d let something slip. But she wasn’t about to let that happen. “My husband is my world. I would put my life on the line for him without hesitating for a second.” No matter how much it nauseated her, she kept her eyes on Mosley to make sure he took her seriously. “You will not bring harm to anyone in my family. I’ll make sure, don’t you worry yourself with how I do it. But if you ever so much as give my husband a fucking dirty look, I’ll have you rotting out in the middle of nowhere, your body riddled with fucking bullets. See that’s the thing about us gypsies, Mr. Mosley, we know the best places to bury a body. Somewhere it’ll never be found. We can throw elegant parties and play the part, but there are some things you can’t take out of us.”

         The threat only seemed to amuse the man. “Do you think your husband would do the same for you? Lay his life down on the line?” 

         “Without a question.” Ella folded her arms over her chest. There was no doubt what Alfie would do for her.

         “He’s loyal? Faithful?”

         “Yes.”

         Mosley pretended to be intrigued. “Then why would I have some intelligence of a young woman seen entering and leaving your husband’s place of business? At all hours may I add?” He studied her face, waiting for the reaction of disbelief or betrayal.

         Instead, Ella just laughed. “Yes, Miss Davis. Is she on your payroll or are you simply using her?”

         If Mosley was alarmed, he didn’t show it. “I don’t follow.”

         “You can play dumb all you fucking want. But maybe next time you make sure your employee doesn’t carry around your card. Or it might end up in the wrong hands. You fucking keep her away from my husband or there’ll be hell to pay.” Ella stood up, done with the conversation. “I have no issue of doing away with her. I won’t lose sleep over it.”

         “How do you know he’s being faithful to you, then?” He tried again even if his initial plan had apparently been foiled by a misplaced business card.

         “Because my husband doesn’t enjoy the company of many people. There are a select few he loves deeply. Fortunately, I’m one of those people. I trust him more than I’ll ever trust anyone ever again. But I appreciate your attempt to drive a wedge between us. I wonder what Tommy will think of that.” She went to leave.

         Mosley stood up suddenly and grabbed Ella’s wrist. He pulled her close. Anger began to seep through his expression for the first time that night. His true colors began to show. “I would urge you to reconsider your alliances.”

         “Put your fucking hands on me again and I’ll have my husband remove them.” She spat and ripped her arm away from him. On her way out of the big room, she ran into her brother.

         Tommy looked confused. “El…”

         “Don’t you dare fucking speak to me.” She replied harshly and pushed past him.

         “Your sister has quite the mouth, Mr. Shelby. Not very becoming of a lady.” Mosley regained his composure and sat down again.

         “I don’t think she considers herself a lady,” Tommy replied and went to pour them both drinks. He looked for the Irish whiskey and was puzzled to find it already on his desk, the top opened. “Just a woman. She’s never one for social standing. I think she’s content with what she has now.”

         “And are you content with that? Your family is an extension of yourself, after all. If you have unruly family members, your reputation is severely threatened.”

         “She likes to stay out of the family business so that wouldn’t be an issue for me. She’s not a face of the company.”

         “That doesn’t matter in the public arena. It’s best to squash a problem before it becomes too much to handle. Now, what I propose, and I suggest you take this advice, you would have her married off to someone of significant standing. It would boost your appeal and perhaps tame her at the same time.”

         Tommy’s brow furrowed. “She’s married.”

         “Ah, yes, the Jew.” Mosley swirled the whiskey around in the crystal tumbler. “Well, after you’ve heard me speak, I think it should be common knowledge that you won’t be able to have a Jew as your lawyer let alone your brother-in-law.”

         Tommy’s blood went cold. He paused for a moment before speaking. “It sounds like you want me to break up my sister and Alfie.”

         “I’ve already attempted to do so. But your sister proves to be more stubborn than I anticipated. It was foolish of me if she’s anything like you then she’s as stubborn as a mule.”

         He swallowed and his eyes went to the door that his sister had just left. Tommy was sure that if she heard any of this conversation, she would have a go at the both of them. Guns would probably be drawn. “She would never leave him and vice versa. I’m not sure what else you would suggest.” Play the part, he had to play the part. Any slip would give his intentions away.

         “Get rid of him or I’ll do it for you,” Mosley replied coolly. As if murder was no skin off his back. “I know you have a reputation for making people disappear. He could prove a challenge but I trust your expertise.” Then, like it was just a bullet point on his business list or things to do, he transitioned. “Also, our friend Jimmy McCavern has asked for control of the racetracks north of Wincanton.”

         Tommy was in too much of a daze to really process what Mosley was saying. He simply nodded.

         “And Shelby, drink less.” Mosley left his whiskey on the desk and took his leave.

         Bothered by everything that happened that night, Tommy reached over and took a long drink of the whiskey that Ella had left out.  

        

         “The nerve of that man. And the fact that Tommy’s even listening to him! That he’s fucking entertaining him!”

         Alfie was tired of not only the night but the whole affair. He almost wished that he’d gone home earlier when Ella requested. “I don’t have any answers, love, I’m sorry.”

         “The fact that he was trying to frame you. For cheating?” She scoffed. “Honestly!”

         “C’mere,” He was proud that Ella trusted him. The thought of being unfaithful never crossed his mind even at their lowest point in the relationship. It was laughable, in fact.

         Pouting, Ella walked over to him sitting on the bed. “I don’t want to deal with this anymore.”

         “We don’t have to.” Alfie rested his hands on her hips. “I’ll talk to Tommy.”

         Ella touched her forehead to his, her eyes closing. She felt like she needed to scrub away Mosley. Scrub away the looks he gave her and the way he grabbed her wrist. It made her feel grimy and unclean. “Alfie…”

         “Yes, love?”

         She shook her head. What was there to say? The world was crumbling to bits. She didn’t know which way was up anymore. The only constant was him. All she could do was draw his lips to hers and sink into a kiss. After everything, at least that was comforting and normal.

         But it wasn’t long before there was a sharp knock at the door. Alfie drew away even though Ella tried to get him to ignore it.

         “It’s probably your brother.” He explained and picked her up to set her on the bed beside him so he could stand up.

         Ella crossed her arms over her chest, not in the mood to speak with Tommy at least for another week if she was lucky. But she wasn’t.

         “Tommy, you’ve got more to talk about?” Alfie asked.

         “Can I come in?”

         “No.” Ella asserted from the bed.

         “I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say.” He replied.

         Alfie stood back, letting the man into the room. “What is it?”

         “I’ve just spoken to Mosley.” Tommy shut the door behind him, worried that the man could have ears anywhere even in his own goddamn house. It was wise not to take chances.

         “That’s not news,” Ella muttered.

         “The fascists have a very strong belief when it comes to…”

         “Jews.” Alfie nodded gruffly. “I’m well aware.”

         Ella’s eyes widened. “What the fuck are you talking about?” She knew Mosley had questioned her husband’s faith before but she thought it was because he was a special breed of asshole. She didn’t think the entire emerging party felt the same way.

         “Should’ve heard him out in the tent, love,” Alfie said sarcastically. “Talks about putting the blame for everything on us Jewish rats. Innit that right, Tommy?”

         Ella looked incredulous. “Thomas!” She snapped loudly.

         Tommy looked at his wits end. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I’m going to handle it.” He told her. “The message dies with him. It dies with him, okay?”

         “Well, we’re all waiting for your big plan! You know the one where you supposedly kill him? You’ve been talking about it for months but that fucker is still alive and walking around!”

         Alfie leaned up against the armoire. He looked grim but didn’t seem to hold the same anger for Tommy as Ella did.

         “Alfie, say something!” She urged.

         “He’s gotten closer to the man than anyone else has. If anyone has a shot at defeating this party then…” He met his wife’s look of disbelief. “Well, fuck, I know that he’s mental, Ella, we both know that! But sometimes it takes crazy to beat crazy!”

         “Exactly my point.” Tommy lit up a cigarette. It didn't matter if he was called crazy. As long as he was given the leeway to carry out his plan. In fact, he was banking on crazy to see it through. “There’s someone, once we get him, this will all be over within a week or two.”

         Ella’s eyes narrowed at him. “Who?”

         “An old friend.”

         “Who?!” She wasn’t about to let him run around her with secrets.

         “A member of the 107th. Best sniper I've ever known. He’s locked up in an asylum right now but once we break him loose, we…”

         “An asylum?” Ella threw her hands up and wondered if she had been caught in a nightmare. “A fucking asylum, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

         “What’s your plan?” Alfie asked.

         “Oh my God. Alfie, please don’t entertain him, he’s probably all doped up!”

         “Hey! You wanted a plan; I’m trying my best to get everyone out of this!” Tommy’s defenses went up when she mentioned his drug use.

         “I wanted a plan, not a crapshoot!” Ella stood up from the bed and took a few threatening steps toward her brother.

         “Hey, hey, c’mon now.” Alfie got between them before their showdown attracted the entire house’s attention and woke Linda from her sedated state.

         “At a rally, I’ll have a bullet put through his fucking head. That’s the best chance we’ve got.” He continued. “If you’ve got a better idea, I’d love to hear it.”

         “What about our safety?”

         Tommy’s face fell a little. “I think it would be best if you and Alfie made yourself scarce until I’ve sorted everything.”

         Alfie frowned. “That wasn’t what we spoke about.”

         “I know. But what he said to me tonight…I’m very concerned about the safety of both of you.” His voice quieted.

         Ella was breathing heavily, anger built up so much that it was spilling over. “What did he say? Verbatim, Tom. I want to know what he said, word for word.” She hissed through gritted teeth.  

         Tommy took a deep breath. Either way, he would incur the wrath of his sister so he decided to at least be truthful. “He said I needed to deal with Alfie or he would do it for me.”

         “Deal with him. Like kill him? That man is going to kill my husband?” She pushed away from Alfie and went to get her gun tucked away in her purse.

         “El, Ella!” Alfie grabbed her before she got the chance to load her pistol. “No, no, no, put that down right now.” He wrenched the gun away from her shaking hands.

         “I’m going to fucking kill him; I swear to God.”

         “No, you’re not,” Tommy replied firmly. “We’re doing it my way because it’s the only way this family makes it out unscathed. Nothing is traced back to us, we smother the message. That’s how we’re going to do it.” He spoke firmly.

         Alfie wrapped his arms around Ella who was shaking so badly she could hardly stand up straight, even her vision was blurred with rage. “Are you happy with yourself?” She questioned fiercely. Huh? Are you fucking happy?!”

         “Ella…”

         “What do we do, Tom?” Alfie tried to keep the siblings from escalating even more. He had to keep a level head. Yes, there was a man not too far away that wanted him dead just because of his religion. But if that man was murdered in Arrow House, the Shelbys’ lives would be on full display to the public. It could land them all in prison, or maybe on a trip to the gallows. It would be difficult for Tommy to wrangle everyone out of a situation like that.

         “We have allies in Wales. The Youngs and Lees. The further west you are might be best. I’d keep you away from the north and away from London.” Tommy’s voice evened out again.

         “They found the Golds. We’re not safe out there.” Ella argued.

         “They won’t know you’ve gone out that way. I’ll send them information saying you’ve traveled east.”

         Ella looked indignant. Alfie looked disturbed. “I ain’t leaving my business alone.”

         “We’ll be able to take care of everything for you.”

         “No, no, that’s not happening, mate.” Alfie shook his head. “I’ll be running business as usual, I ain’t afraid of some fucking fascist. And I certainly ain’t gonna go live out in the middle of fucking nowhere in a caravan.”

         “He intends to kill you, Alfie.” Tommy reminded him as if the man misheard him.

         “Yeah, lotsa men have intended on killing me. Guess where they are now? Rotting at the bottom of the canal.”

         Tommy finished his cigarette and sighed deeply. “I suppose I can’t force you to do anything. But I would warn against staying in London.”

         “Yeah, well, fuck your warning. Not running off to Wales with me tails between me legs.”

         Ella’s stomach flipped and she ripped away from Alfie’s arms to rush to the bathroom. She became physically ill, the anxiety overwhelming her senses. They were all fucked.

 

         Tommy locked up Ella’s gun for the night and advised Alfie to keep an eye on her. Mosley would walk out of Arrow House alive. But his days were numbered.

Chapter Text

            It was late when the doors of the bakery were stormed. Three men, three assassins broke in. Alfie was the only one on the first floor. Ollie was in the basement working on inventory. His assistant startled when he heard gunshots from upstairs.

            He rushed up the steps, his gun drawn. But the men had already fled once Alfie started returning fire.

            The Jewish gangster was now on the floor, bleeding out from the gun wound on his face. In an instant, everything changed. Ollie panicked and dragged Alfie into his office, just in case the armed men returned.

 

            It was the phone call that made Ella seize up in anxiety. She could imagine it was the exact same helpless feeling Alfie felt when she was shot by the Italians. Her husband shot in the face. There was no telling if he would survive or not.

            “He’s going into surgery now. I don’t know-” Ella dropped the phone and grabbed her coat to leave the flat. There were too many thoughts running through her mind to process at once. But on her way to the hospital, all she could do was pray for God to keep him alive.

 

            Ollie met her at the hospital. He explained to her as she shook in panic and anger what was going on. The only thing they could do was wait until Alfie got out of surgery. Then they would find out what sort of fate Alfie faced.

            Ella paced in the waiting room for a moment but stopped. “Ollie.” She turned to the young man.

            “Yes?”

            “The minute Alfie gets out of surgery, call my brother. Tell him Alfie’s dead. Tell him that Mosley’s men killed him.”

            Ollie looked bewildered. “Ella, they’re giving him a good chance of survival-”

            “I don’t care. You tell my family that my husband’s been gunned down by Oswald Mosley’s men.” She insisted.

            He nodded and went to find a telephone to break the news that wasn’t quite true.

 

 

            Tommy rushed to the hospital after Ollie called. Heart in his throat. He met his sister in the waiting room. “El…” He reached out to her but she lashed out in response.

            Hitting his hands away she yelled at him. “You bastard! I told you! How could you let this happen?” She sobbed.

            “I-”

            “My husband is dead because of you!” She pushed him away from her. “Dead!”

            It was almost unbelievable that a man with such a reputation like Alfie could be killed. Luckily, Ella pulled off a convincing enough reaction. She was angry that Alfie had gotten hurt. But she’d also learned from the best liars in the game.

            As Tommy calmed his sister down in the waiting room, wrapping his arms around her and trying to soothe her, Alfie was being brought out the back of the hospital. Still knocked out from the drugs, he was driven out of the city.

 

            “Oh fuckin’ hell.” Alfie tried to reach for his head. He wanted to clutch his head to try and quell the awful headache he had. “Jesus Christ…”

            “Alfie, sh, put your hands down, you can't touch your face.”

            He could hear his wife’s voice but it began to dawn on him that his eyes were open but he couldn’t see anything. “El? Ella? Ella, why can’t I fucking see anything?” He tried to sit up but found her arms holding him down.

            “Just try to relax for a moment…”

            “Ella, why can’t I fucking see?” He demanded. Anxiety overcame him as he had no memory of what had happened.

            “You were shot. Right in the face.” She gathered his hands in hers, kissing his knuckles. “The bullet didn’t get stuck but you bled a lot.” Her voice was shaking as she tried to recount the details. “They said the vision in your right eye might return but not your left.”

            Ella was brought to her knees when she saw Alfie upon arriving at the small hospital west of London. He had lines of ghastly stitches that held the majority of the left part of his face together. When he opened his eyes, she cried.

            The doctors had warned her. There was no chance for his left eye. They said it was lucky he didn’t lose the eye entirely. But with the amount of nerve damage, he wouldn’t be able to see. They hypothesized that his right eye would be temporarily blind simply from the trauma to his head.

            When she saw for herself, it was too much. One eye was left as she knew it. The blue that came straight from the ocean. The very blue-green that touched the sky on the horizon. However, his left eye had been completely clouded over. A gray that was exclusive to the coldest of winter months. The light haze of fog that hung over the moors. The same fog that concealed the foals in her old dreams.

            “Mosley?” He muttered.

            “Yes.” She replied quietly. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t there…”

            “How’s it look, then?” Alfie felt like he’d put his foot in his mouth. Maybe they should’ve taken Tommy’s advice when they had the chance. He was prideful, yes, and would’ve had a difficult time relinquishing even the smallest bit of control over the bakery to someone else. But what if they had targeted Ella first? His business wouldn’t have mattered then.

            Ella was quiet. “It looks painful.” She whispered in response.

            “Can’t feel it.” He closed his eyes and let his head fall back into the pillows. He figured the doctors had him on a cocktail of drugs. A shot to the face would be painful but he was numb. “Ugly then?”

            “No.” She insisted and squeezed his hands. “You could never be ugly to me.”

            A faint smile crossed his face. “I don’t get you sometimes, El.” He mumbled wearily.

            “I know.”

            “Think he’ll come to finish me off?”

            “No. We’re not in London anymore. And Tommy thinks you’re dead.” She reported the goings-on of when he was out cold.

            That amused Alfie. “That right?” He laughed. “Oh, fucking hell, can’t wait to jump out at him like a ghost. Scare the shit outta him.”

            “You need to stay quiet until this is over,” Ella replied, not really finding much humor in the situation. “I can’t have that monster finding out that you’re still alive. Tommy’ll tell him you’re dead and that’s that. He’ll stop coming after us.”

            “What about you?”

            “I told Tommy I was going to America. Told him I didn’t want anything to do with the family anymore.” She bit her lip. “I don’t think I really do. I’m so tired, Alfie, of everything.”

            “I know, love.” He replied quietly, his eyes still closed. The drugs were starting to take their course again and the rest of his body felt like it was floating. Utter numb bliss. “You’ve said that ‘fore though.” He pointed out.

            “I know.” She swallowed and rested her cheek on his chest. “Get some rest. I won’t leave.” She didn’t need to tell him twice. He was out cold again within moments. Ella rested against him, listening to his heartbeat and every breath he took. Just an assurance that he was still with her.

 

            “Nurse?”

            The older woman passing by stopped into the room. “Yes, Mr. Solomons?”

            “Will you please mail this letter out?” He held out an enveloped sloppily addressed to London.

            “Yes, of course.” She took the letter and took her leave.

            Only five minutes after Alfie handed off the letter, Ella arrived. She’d gone back to the inn she was staying at to tend after the dogs and wash up.

            It was two weeks after the shooting and Alfie had regained his sight in his right eye. It was a relief to everyone, especially Alfie who told his wife that it would be ‘a fucking shame if I never got to see those beautiful eyes of yours again’.

            But there were still adjustments that would need to be made. Being partially blind would take some getting used to. However, Alfie was so drugged up that he didn’t make much note of it.

            He’d requested early on to be tapered off the drugs, he wasn’t fond of the idea of being on pain medication. Not after what Ella went through. But only an hour after a lower dose, Alfie was begging to be numbed up again. The pain was too much to bear, even for a tough man like himself. He’d known pain before, but this was something else entirely.

            Ella did her best to keep him comfortable while in the hospital. She brought Anthea and Cyril to visit often, despite the disapproval of the hospital staff. She spent nearly all her time with him even as he slept. Sometimes she read to him to soothe his mind and keep his thoughts occupied away from the pain. She wanted to return the patience he had granted her while she was healing from her miscarriage. Although the experience seemed a little unfairly matched.

            Ella was aware of her standoffish and frankly explosive temperament while on the pain medication. Alfie, however, acted like he was on the most relaxing vacation when he was suitably doped up. He dozed off here and there. When he was awake, he joked with his wife and rambled about inane things. Nonsense, really, although it was amusing, to say the least. Sometimes, he talked about her like she wasn’t there. Either he assumed he was alone or was talking to a stranger. He informed her about how they met and how taken he was by her from the onset. He bemoaned the awful times they were apart and how it soured his mood a great deal. Ella especially loved when he recounted their unplanned and very brief wedding.

            A dreamy smile on his face as he spoke in a slightly slurred voice, his accent deeper than usual. “Fuckin’ knew ‘er brothers would be out to get me, right, once they found out. But I didn’t fuckin’ care. Loved ‘er too much, ya know? Wore this blue dress, always loved blue on ‘er. It were erm-sorta-whatchacallit-fuck-turquoise? Yeah. Bluish-green. Simple but fuckin’ ‘ell it looked stunnin’ on ‘er. Glowed. ‘Er smile. Fuckin’ ‘ell, gorgeous. Told me she ain’t never loved someone like she loved me. And I thought, right, me? Really, love? Me? Fuckin’ person that I am. Yeah. She married me. She did.”

            Ella would smile and kiss his hand as he predictably nodded off. She married him, alright. And she would protect him until the ends of the Earth just as he would protect her. If that meant lying to everyone, then so be it. She would lie through her teeth for as long as she needed to. 

 

 

            Then, Alfie's letter arrived at Tommy's office in Parliament. Dated and signed by a dead man. 

Chapter Text

            “Mr. Shelby, this was delivered to you.” Tommy’s assistant at the House of Commons set the envelope down on his desk.

            “Thank you.” He set his pen down for a moment and picked up the letter. It did appear addressed to him although the penmanship was very unkempt and blotted. Either way, Tommy opened the envelope.

            Inside was a very brief letter written in the same scrawling handwriting with several errors in spelling and grammar, almost as if a child had written it.

           

            Dear Tom,

Try an stay awy from black horrses. Rmind El ta feed Cril n Antea.

            Alfie

           

            It was utterly puzzling, to say the least. Tommy was holding what seemed to be the drugged-up stream of consciousness of a man who was supposed to be dead. If the letter was coherent, he would’ve assumed it had been sent before Alfie was shot. However, it wasn’t only the disjointed writing that proved that theory wrong. Up in the top right corner, no matter how much pain medication he was on, Alfie still managed to scribble out the correct date.

            Three days after he was supposedly gunned down.

            It took Tommy a moment and he wondered if he was mistaken. The idea seemed so outlandish but he had some sort of evidence.

            So, he picked up the telephone to find out where his sister was.

 

            To Ella’s dismay, it didn’t take Tommy long to find her. She wasn’t surprised when she heard his voice on the other end of the line, but she was disappointed.

            “Packing for America, then?”

            “Are you taking that tone with me while I’m grieving?” She retorted.

            Tommy leaned back in his desk chair and removed his glasses. “About that. I realized I never offered my help in assisting with the burial.”

            “Well, Jews have their own customs. They’re not like Travelers, they’ve got different ways of doing it.” She replied. The phone call had come out of the blue. Ella had returned to her room at the inn after walking the dogs to visit Alfie at the hospital. She brought them back and planned on returning to him once Cyril and Anthea were settled. Tommy caught her with one foot out the door. 

            “Right.” He nodded. “Does that include addressing a barely readable letter to their brother-in-law?”

            Ella froze in place. Alfie was starting to slowly be weaned off the medication. He hadn’t mentioned anything about contacting Tommy, in fact, they both agreed that they’d lay low. At least until things were properly sorted and there wasn’t an evil anti-Semite threatening them.

            But she hadn’t been there by his bedside every second of every day. “I don’t know what you mean…”

            “I just received a letter from your deceased husband warning me about black horses and asking me to remind you to feed your dogs.”

            “I’m not sure what he meant, but I’m sure he sent it before he passed.” Ella clung onto the lie. The veil of falsehood was all she had to protect her husband as he lay vulnerable in a hospital bed. Absolutely no one could know.

            “Does he date his letters for the future?” Tommy inquired, clearly not buying what his sister was trying to sell him. He’d bought the tears but he liked cold hard facts.

            “Must’ve been a mistake.”

            He rolled his eyes. After all, he only had himself to blame for teaching her how to be such a damn good liar. “Where is he, Ella?”

            Silence.

            “My husband is dead.” There was no telling who was listening to Tommy’s calls in the Commons. Even if she was going to admit the truth to him, it wouldn’t be over the telephone. “But if you’d like to say goodbye to me before I leave for America, you’re welcome to do so. I would ask Polly of my whereabouts.” She wasn’t even willing to divulge her location just in case Mosley decided she was a loose end that needed taking care of.

            Tommy glanced at the phone and began to pick up on what his sister was implying. “Alright. I’ll talk to her.” He said. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything about Alfie. I misread the date on the letter. His fours look like nines. It wasn’t fair of me to confront you while you’re grieving.”

            Ella could hear when Tommy was lying to her. He was playing a part over the line just like she was. “Alright, come soon then, I’ll be leaving within the next week and I don’t want to miss you.”

            “I’ll come as soon as I can.”

 

 

            Tommy consulted with Polly who didn’t know Alfie was alive but did know Ella was still in England. She was in Southampton, still giving off the impression that she was leaving the country.

            He arrived at the small inn and met Ella at the door.

            “Where is he?” He asked the same question but with the intention that he was going to get the truth this time.

            “The hospital.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

            Tommy ran a hand over his face. “Why…why?” He asked. “Why did you lie to everyone? Ollie said…then you told me…”

            “What was I supposed to do, aye?” She snapped. “Let it get out that Mosley’s men missed the mark? They’d be storming the hospital room within hours. And they wouldn’t leave him alive the second time around.”

            It was a valid point that Tommy couldn’t refute. He sighed. “How is he?”

            “He’s making slow improvements.” She admitted quietly. “He’s blind in the left eye now. The stitches will heal but they’re worried about damage to his brain. He’s always complaining about pain if he hasn’t had medication. Said his head hurts.” She swallowed, her brow wrinkling. “But at least he’s alive. That’s all I can thank God for now.”

            “I’m sorry, El.” Tommy pulled his sister into a hug. “I really am, I just…”

            “Who’s doing it?” She asked, her voice muffled into his shirt.

            “Who’s doing what?”

            “Who’s killing this son of a bitch?” She pulled away. “Because I want to do it.”

            “I already recruited someone. I need you to stay as far away from this as you can.” Tommy replied firmly.         

            “That man tried to murder my husband solely because of his religion.”      

            “And if he finds out that you want to kill him then he could put hits out on our entire family.” He interrupted. “And if you killed him, the police would lock you up.”

            Ella looked disgruntled but dropped the matter. It was true that she didn’t want to worsen matters. She just wanted a little revenge. “Fine.”

            “Are you going to go see him now?”

            “Alfie? Yeah, I was just about to leave.” She nodded. “Do you want to come see him?”

            “I need to discuss plans with him.”

            “Plans? No, no, no, Alfie is not a part of this anymore. It’s over, Tom. He’s dead to everyone except you and me and that’s how it’s going to stay.”

            “I need his help for this to go through…”

            “No!” She shouted. “You keep pressing and pressing and I’ve had enough. He is in the hospital, nearly off his rocker because of the drugs they’ve had to keep him on because of how much pain he’s in! I could’ve lost him, Tommy, another centimeter and he would’ve been taken from me.”

            Tommy didn’t know what to say. At the end of the day, he knew that Ella didn’t control Alfie’s decisions. But it was rare that Alfie would disagree with her to agree with Tommy instead. Still, he knew he needed men from the Jewish community to cause a stir at the rally. And Alfie was the only way to ensure that.

            “Can I at least talk to him?” He asked.

            “You can talk to him for as long as you want. But under no circumstances will you put his life back in danger.” She jabbed a finger at him before starting to walk off.

           

 

            Alfie wondered if he was starting to see things now. His dose of morphine had been decreased but it still affected him. Still, he’d yet to have hallucinations.

            “Tommy?”

            “Hello, Alfie.” The Blinder walked in and took a seat. “I was hoping to talk to you about something.”

            “Hang on,” Alfie looked to his wife for clarification, “I thought I were s’posed to be dead to you.”

            “You wrote me a letter, Alfie.”

            “Did I?”

            Ella frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, you did.”

            “Well, fuck, m’sorry for what I did while I was on drugs. I were shot by a fucking cunt, weren’t I?” Alfie grumbled. “What’d I write to you about then?” He asked.

            “You told me to stay away from black horses,” Tommy replied.

            “Oh, right, right…see I’ve been having dreams, mate. Dreams, yeah, ‘bout you with a horse. Big black horse out in a field, right, and you said goodbye. Then, bang.” Alfie folded his hands over his stomach. “What’d you reckon that is then, Tom, aye?”

            “I would say it’s the drugs talking,” Tommy replied coolly.

            “What’d you want to talk ‘bout then?” Alfie asked.

            Ella perched on the edge of the hospital bed. She wasn’t going to leave and let Tommy talk Alfie into doing something silly. She had a feeling her husband might be pissed off enough to be talked into getting some revenge. Hypocrisy at its finest, as far as she was concerned.

            “I’m in need of some of your men. There needs to be a disruption at the rally Mosley’s speaking at. I need a distraction.” Tommy explained short and simple.

            Alfie pondered the idea. “Right, how much then?”

            “How much? Alfie, people need to think you’ve passed. You cannot get yourself involved in this again!” Ella exclaimed in disbelief. “You were nearly killed and now you want to put another target on your back?”

            “No, love, what I want is for this fucker to be killed. So if Tommy needs some of me men, then he can pay for that privilege.”

            “It’s never enough for you two, aye? You can be shot a million times over but as long as you fucking survive, you’ll keep at it. When will you learn? Because I’m fucking sick of this!” She snapped and stood up to leave.

            “El, Ella, c’mon!” Alfie groaned as she slammed the door behind her.

            Tommy sat quietly for a moment. “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, Alfie.” He reminded him.

            “I fucking know that.” He muttered in response. “But I ain’t just gonna sit ‘round doing nothing, am I? You need men, that’s fine. People are bound to find out ‘bout my survival anyway. Long as the right people don’t know then that’s fine. But you’re gonna need to offer me something in return.”

            “I’ll offer each man twenty pounds,” Tommy suggested.

            “Nah, mate, I want protection for Ella. Twenty-four-seven. From good fighters with good aims. ‘Cause if I do this for you, and it gets out that by God’s good grace that I’m still alive, he’ll be after her. Don’t fucking care if he offs me. But I’ll be damned if he even goes near her, right?

            Tommy nodded. “Alright. I can do that.” He stood up to shake his brother-in-law’s hand.

Chapter Text

            When Alfie’s stitches were taken out, he requested to leave the hospital. Ella was a little unsure but couldn’t convince him otherwise. Besides, she’d gotten sick of spending nights alone and having to stay in the sterile environment all day. She didn’t like leaving Alfie on his own at night, knowing that if danger came their way, she would need to protect him. With Tommy’s help, they traveled to Margate to hide away.

 

            As Ella got Alfie settled, Tommy helped bring their things inside from the car. The siblings passed each other in the hall.

            “Have you considered what we spoke about a while back?” Tommy wondered.  

            Ella turned on a few lights in the entryway to brighten up the place again. It had been quite a while since they’d been to the beach home. “What did we speak about a while back?" 

            “Adoption. I was just wondering if you’d talked to Alfie about it.” He explained and handed over her purse that was in the front seat of the car.

            “We did a bit before all of this.” She answered. “I think…” She sighed and shut the front door. Open entryways were starting to worry her. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. We agreed to it but now look at us, Tom.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “What do I mean?” She scoffed in disbelief. “Tommy, we’re basically hiding away. You want us to adopt while we’re in this state? I don’t want to put a child in danger, we don’t even know if we’re out of the woods yet.”

            “I didn’t mean right this second I just-” He frowned and reached into his inner coat pocket. “There was a delivery at the Grace Shelby Institute last night.” He reported and handed her the telegram that had been sent to him early that morning. “A box with two babies inside. They’re guessing they’re about three months old, at most. Twins. Boy and a girl.”

            Ella read over the brief note, tears brimming in her eyes. “I don’t understand…”

            “They were abandoned. The home took them in but I,” Tommy shrugged. “I wanted to know if you and Alfie would take them in.”

            His sister wiped at her eyes and let out a noise of confused happiness. It certainly wasn't the news she was expecting that day. “I don’t know what to say, Tom.” She gasped.

            “You can have time to think about it.” He assured her. “Ask Alfie. Maybe this is what you two need right now. Something good to wash out some of the bad, aye?”

            “Do they always tell you about abandoned children?” She asked, dabbing at her eyes.

            Tommy put his hands in his pockets and nodded. “Ever since you were shot, I asked them to report to me.” He answered honestly. “I just wanted you to have options.”

            Ella hugged her brother tightly. “Thank you, pral.” She whispered.

            It had been the first time she’d called him brother in years. Tommy hugged her back. “Just call me if you decide on it and I’ll have the paperwork along.”

 

            Alfie groaned and set down his Torah. Reading, as it so happened, gave him a nasty headache. It didn’t help that he was trying to adjust to reading with just one working eye. He muttered a few curses under his breath and leaned back in the comfortable armchair.

            The front door shut and Ella came into the sitting room. “How are you feeling?” She asked softly, considerably in a better mood after talking to Tommy. A rare occurrence. 

            “Head hurts.” He mumbled and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment to try and quell the pounding ache. “But I’m alright. Tommy leave?”

            She nodded and went to sit on the arm of his chair. “He told me something.”

            “’Bout what?” Alfie rested a hand on her knee, hoping it was good news.

            “A set of twins that were abandoned at the orphanage in Birmingham.” She spoke with shaky excitement. “Nearly newborns, only a few months old.”

            Alfie looked stunned at the news. They hadn’t spoken about children since he was shot. It didn’t seem to be a priority with everything else going on. “I uh…” He could see the hope in his wife’s eyes. Hope that he wouldn’t want to crush but they needed to be reasonable. Alfie had seen himself in the mirror. What Ella described as a noble injury, he described as positively ghastly. What child would look at him and smile? In fact, he’d venture to guess that he would frighten most children.

            He cleared his throat. “El…don't know if I’d be much of a good father after-” He gestured to his eye.

            “What does that have to do with parenting?” She asked, not seeing what he saw.  

            “Well, don’t ya think I’d sorta be a monster to them?”

            “Alfie!” She leaned forward and touched his cheek that wasn’t scarred. “I don’t want to hear you talk about yourself like that. You’re perfect in every way and I won’t hear otherwise.” She scolded. After hearing him ramble in his drugged-up state about all the things he loved about her, she felt like she needed to repay the favor. Even if he didn’t remember saying the things he did. “This wasn’t your fault and I hardly think appearance has anything to do with how perfect of a father you’d be. Once the pain gets easier to manage, you’ll be perfect. Doesn’t matter what you look like.”

            He wanted to trust and belief in her. But there was hesitation that was hard to get over. He could imagine the children getting older and wondering what happened to dad’s face. But when had he ever denied his wife? “You want to go through with this?” He placed a hand over hers.

            “I know it’s a big decision but I just want some good in our life. I don’t want everything to be hijacked by this psychopath. We deserve to have happiness, you deserve happiness, Alfie.” She said softly. “Please believe that.”

            No one deserved happiness more than his wife. “Alright, love. Figure we can convert the second bedroom into a nursery. The one that overlooks the ocean.”

            Tears fell down Ella’s cheeks as she embraced him, slipping from the arm of the chair and into his lap. “Oh, Alfie…”

            He smiled and kissed her temple as he held her close.

 

            Tommy was busy, but he put the adoption on the forefront. If he could do this one thing for his sister, maybe it would right the ship. Especially once the assassination at the rally went through. Things were stabilizing, they had to be.        

            Some documents had to be forged. Legally, Alfie was dead so he couldn’t be put on the adoption papers. And Ella herself couldn’t adopt them on her own, so Tommy doctored some of the paperwork. Not that anyone would question him. An MP that ran the orphanage, no one would dare tell him no, or inquire about little bits in the paperwork.

 

            Ella had to travel to London once for a signature. She arrived at the House of Commons as to not interrupt her brother’s work schedule too much.

            Tommy stood and smiled when she walked in. “How was the trip in?” He asked.

            “Not too bad.” She hugged him and kissed his cheek.

            The two silently agreed that Alfie wouldn’t be a topic of conversation anywhere outside of Margate. Neither of them knew how safe they were anymore. Any sliver of information could lead back to Alfie and could cause their world to fall apart.

            “Here’s the paperwork.” Tommy produced the papers and handed her a pen. “I’ve marked where I need your signature.”

            Ella stood over his desk, signing her name. Her hand wobbled a little when she signed Solomons. It had been tough leaving him on his own, but Alfie assured her he’d be alright. The maid was there to help if needed and he had a loaded gun nearby.

            “Shelby, excellent speech today.”

            Ella’s entire body locked up when she heard Mosley’s voice enter the office. The pen blotted as her hand tightened.

            “Ah, Miss Shelby, I wasn’t aware you were coming around. I did want to give you my condolences on the loss of your husband.” There was an obvious smugness to the MP’s voice. He knew exactly what he was doing to taunt her.

            She turned around and laid eyes on the man that attempted to murder her beloved husband. The man who had cost Alfie half of his eyesight and forced them into hiding. “I don’t want your fucking condolences.” She spat.

            He maintained his measure of steady arrogance and the confident belief that he had won. If it didn’t put Alfie at risk, Ella would’ve gladly told him how he hadn’t won.

            “I do say, Miss Shelby, you become ever-increasingly hostile towards me.” A faint smirk tugged on his lips. “Have I done something to upset you?”

            “My husband may be dead but I am still Mrs. Solomons, nothing will ever change that.” She dropped the pen on Tommy’s desk and gathered her things with a huff.

            “You poor dear, widowed at such a young age, unable to have children. Hardly the life of any respectable woman.”

            Ella lunged at the man, not afraid of the consequences of a punch to wipe that smug look off his face. But Tommy wasn’t about to allow his sister to be brought down by Mosley. He grabbed her by the forearms and held her back. “You slimy, arrogant, disgusting, pathetic bastard!” She shouted. There was no telling how Mosley acquired such a detailed report on everyone in the Shelby family. It could only speak volumes about the contacts he had stretched across the country. There was no telling how long it would be until he found out the truth about Alfie.

            And that only angered Ella more. But Tommy successfully reined her back in and began pushing her towards the door. “You’ll have to excuse my sister, she’s grieving. You must imagine.” He explained.

            Ella fought him but he managed to get her outside of the office, even if he had to nearly pick her up and drag her out. “Let go of me!” She demanded and wriggled out of Tommy’s grip. “How dare you stand there and let him speak to me in such a way!”

            “Do you want him dead or not?” He hissed back in reply.

            “Yes!” She exclaimed. “We all fucking do!”

            “Well I can’t do it in the House, now can I?” He sighed. “Patience, Ella, is what wins wars.”

            Her face scrunched up in disgust but didn’t argue any further. “Sometimes I think you like to drag things like this out just for the fun of it.” She mumbled and reached into her purse for a cigarette.

            “Trust me, he’d be cold in the ground by now if I got my way.” He replied under his breath. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.” He touched her shoulder and veered her off towards the stairs so she didn’t get a second wind and go back after Mosley.   

 

            Despite her encounter with Mosley, the focus turned to the arrival of the twins and Alfie and Ella felt like they could heal better. Ella could put the anger she had for Mosley out of her mind. Because she simply didn’t have the time to worry anymore. In the end, she couldn’t stop the man. Tommy had the hands on the steering wheel and knew more than anyone else did at such a late stage. No matter how much she wanted to put a bullet in the fascist’s head, she had to leave it up to Tommy. Patience.

            Alfie mused about the concept the nights they spent together in Margate. Although he continued to have headaches, he made a point to read even just a little bit of the Torah every day. He mentioned the idea of giving power up to God.

            Ella remarked that Shelbys weren’t great at relinquishing power. Least of all, Tommy. Even though she knew that her husband was keen to be the one in control, he knew when to step back. Tommy had no concept of such a thing.

 

            “Why’d you think that is then?” Alfie inquired.

            Ella was curled up on the floor by the fireplace. She rested her head on Cyril’s stomach and had Anthea sprawled out over her feet. “Because none of us had any power when we were growing up.” She turned her head to look at Alfie. “Just poor gypsy children being raised by the streets. I always felt safest when I was on the road. Small Heath was home but…” She sighed and folded her hands over her stomach. “Being around the other Travelers was more comforting. People outside of the community always looked down on us. They were the ones in control, not us. But Tommy and Arthur, they always wanted to prove them wrong. They wanted to come out on top and then one day, they’d stand up and look down on the people who tried oppressing them. Then they’d say ‘who’d you think is in charge now, aye?’”

            Alfie seldom forgot how similar his childhood was to the Shelbys. Poor children of an oppressed people. The worst card to draw. “That’s the end goal then. Keep finding thrones to take until he dies by the sword.”

            The words were chilling and Ella swallowed fearfully. Family was a funny thing. No matter how many times Tommy raised hell, he was still her brother. Family was the key to their survival; it always had been. “I hope not. I hope he sees that there’s more to life.” She whispered.

            Alfie stood up with a grunt and went to sit beside her on the ground. “He’ll be alright, love.” He said softly. He hadn’t meant to make her fearful of Tommy’s future. Although, it was a rational concern.

            Ella sat up and went to cuddle up in his lap. Resting her cheek on his shoulder, she sighed softly. “I’ve probably spent my entire life worrying about him. And everyone else for that matter.”

            He gently stroked her hair back and kissed her forehead. “So maybe it’s time to worry ‘bout yourself.”

            She smiled weakly and shook her head. “Selfishness isn’t really a desired trait, Alfie.”

            “Nah, it ain’t selfishness.” He disagreed. “S’called priorities. Soon you’ll have two major priorities, aye?”

            Ella’s smile brightened. “That’s right.” She murmured. “It almost doesn’t feel real.”

            “Because it’s something good, yeah? Something you deserve.”

            “You deserve it too.” She looked up at him and traced her fingertips down the nape of his neck.

            Alfie gazed back adoringly at her. “Aw, love, you still look so fucking beautiful even when I only have one good eye left.”

            She laughed and tugged on the collar of his shirt to pull him in for a kiss.

 

 

            One morning, Tommy gathered the babies and birth certificates and drove them down to Margate.  

            Ella and Alfie were waiting outside when he pulled up. His sister had been crying on and off all day, waiting for the arrival of the twins. Alfie was leaning on his cane, a look of happiness mixed with apprehension on his face. It had been the first time in weeks he’d been able to focus on something other than the pain.

            Tommy got out of the car and opened the backdoor. “Congratulations, it’s a boy and a girl.” He announced with a smile. 

            Ella ran up and burst into tears. “Oh, Alfie…” She carefully scooped up the little girl and handed her to her husband so she could pick up the boy.

            Alfie cradled the baby in his arms and felt his chest tighten. Blood-related or not, he instantly felt the fatherly connection that others spoke about. The undying commitment to protecting them and the unconditional love.

            “Both healthy.” Tommy continued. “I’ve got their birth certificates with Ella’s name. When the time comes, Alfie, we can add yours as well.” He explained. Ella was too busy crying over the tiny bundle in her arms, cradling him close and kissing the wisps of brown hair already growing on his head.

            Alfie swallowed and held his daughter in one arm so he could shake Tommy’s hand. “Thank you.”

            Tommy simply nodded. He figured it was the least he could do for his sister and brother-in-law. Even with the adoption, he still had a lot of things to make up for. But there would be more time for that. Once Mosley was dead, they would all have more time. 

 

            Since they’d agreed to adopt the children, Ella and Alfie had been discussing names leading up to the arrival. They settled on names that meant a great deal to Alfie. Sofia Eliana, named after his mother. And Ezra Shai, after an uncle killed in Russia.

            With the names given and the nursery set up, Ella and Alfie found themselves immersed in parenthood. The experience that had been robbed from them once before. There was a peace that blanketed over their life. The outside noise of Mosley and the fascists were far in the distance and quiet compared to the ocean waves and heartbeat of two babies.

 

            The first night, Alfie found his wife sitting in the nursery. Ezra slept peacefully against her chest as she rocked back and forth in the rocking chair. Sofia was awake but merely quietly observing the world from her cot.

            Alfie walked over to the crib, reaching in so she could hold his index finger. The young child smiled up at him and yawned. Overwhelmed with all the emotions of a new parent, he could only smile back and gently wiggle her tiny toes.

            When Sofia let go of his finger, he went over to his wife and son. “Tired yet?” He asked quietly.

            Ella shook her head. “I’m too happy to be tired.” She whispered. She gently stroked back Ezra’s soft hair. Her eyes fondly watched him sleep. “I keep thinking they’re not real. They can’t possibly be real, they’re too perfect. I’m afraid that if I fall asleep, they’ll only be a dream when I wake up.”

            Alfie knelt down in front of her, touching her cheek. “They’re real, love, I promise ya.” He murmured softly. “I’m just happy, right, you can have what you deserved all along. This is a second chance for us.”

            His wife bit her lip and nodded, tears in her eyes. She kissed Ezra’s head and carefully stood up to put him in his cot.

            “Besides, love, I don’t think we’ll be getting much fucking sleep. They’re still gonna wake us up in the night.”

            “I can’t wait.” She giggled and embraced her husband tightly. “I’m so happy, Alfie, I can’t even explain it.”

            He knew what she was trying to grasp. The emotions that pressed right against his heart. The unbearable love and adoration he had for these little tiny beings. The worry that he wasn’t enough or that something bad would happen to them. The realization that time was passing right before their eyes. Soon enough these tiny babies would grow and grow. Soon they’d be walking and talking. Running around outside and going to school. It was tough to slow down his racing thoughts and hammering heart. It was a cocktail of feelings he’d never experienced before.

            “I know.” He kissed her forehead. “I am too.”

 

            Alfie was correct in his prediction that the twins would keep them up that night. Not that either of them slept very deeply. Ella dozed off in her husband’s arms but he merely stared up at the ceiling. The sound of the ocean rolling in from the ajar window beside them.

            Alfie waited, his arm around his wife, his other hand resting on his stomach. His ears were open, waiting for any sounds from the nursery. Eventually, about an hour of staring blankly at the bare ceiling, a soft whimper traveled down the hallway. He slipped away from Ella and stepped carefully over Cyril and Anthea sprawled out on the floor.

            He entered the nursery and discovered it was Ezra who was awake. “You up already, mate? Hungry?” He asked gently and scooped up the tiny baby. “We’ve got a bottle in the kitchen.” A tremor went through Alfie when he realized how utterly unprepared, he felt. How could he ever know what his children needed until they were able to voice their thoughts? “Maybe a nappy change?” He proposed too as if Ezra would answer him. “Erm…right.” For a moment, he stood in the center of the nursery, holding his crying son. “Let’s try…let’s try a bottle, aye?”

            Ezra wailed and thrashed about in Alfie’s arms as he carried him into the kitchen.

            “There, there, daddy’s got ya.” He did his best to balance the babe while he retrieved a bottle. He went to sit in the sitting room and offered the bottle to Ezra.

            The baby’s face was red from crying but settled down enough to touch his hand on the bottle curiously. He hiccupped a few times and began to suckle on the bottle.

            Alfie sighed in relief and relaxed his shoulders. “There ya go. Good, lad. We did it, huh? Figured this whole thing out. Scary as it is.” He chuckled weakly. Ezra’s eyes began to slide shut as he continued eating. “Not so bad, huh? Think I could actually be good at this thing? I dunno. Your mum seems to think so. I’ll certainly try me best, that’s all I can promise, I s’pose. One day at a time, yeah?" He hummed and rested his head back against the chair, letting his eyes rest for a moment. "'Ccording to your aunts and uncles you'll grow faster than a fucking weed. Will blink and you and your sister will be walking 'n talking 'fore your mum and I even realize. That's alright though. We'll just take things as they come." 

 

            Father and son stayed up together a little longer. Alfie cradling Ezra close, talking softly to him as he fed. There was such a stillness to the night that it almost felt like time wasn't moving forward. They were stuck in some sort of pause in the Earth's rotation. A quiet haven in the universe for only them to bond and enjoy the peace. 

           Unfortunately, the world was still spinning. And Birmingham was roaring with activity as a certain rally reached a crescendo.