Chapter 1: Fodder
Things got bad after your brother died.
Who would have thought that the great Freddie Thorne would have been killed by the flu? The coppers, the Irish, hell even the fucking Peaky Blinders would have been a better death for him. Not wasting away in a bed for three weeks.
You were glad that he'd had Karl. It had always been Freddie's dream to have a child, one he didn't think possible after the war. He'd always loved Ada, always loved Tommy too in their fucked up way. At least it wasn't Tommy who was responsible for your brother's death. You knew you would've exacted revenge, even if it was a guaranteed death sentence. Freddie meant that much to you, he always had.
He was a friend, as much as he was a brother. After the war, he'd been incensed by communist ideals, by the fever of revolution and it all made so much sense. It gave you something to fight for, a purpose after the endless barbarity of the field hospitals behind the front. Men had become flesh and fodder. The suffering didn't stop, even if a man's body was healed, their mind was not.
People had thought that the end of the war meant the end of the front. But the front had moved from France to England. You'd witnessed episodes from many a men who could not escape the trenches, the unyielding grasp of the enemy, the everlasting bombardment.
You'd almost been knifed in the gut by Danny Whizz-Bang after trying to calm him down. It had taken over an hour to settle him, and even then there was still that crazed look in his eyes. He'd been a tunneller like your brother. Freddie had told you about the nightmares he had, as you told of him of yours. You wondered if Tommy had the same nightmares of the picks and shovels gradually digging away at him each night.
It felt wrong to go to local party meetings without your brother. The party was mulling over new leadership in the wake of his death and you couldn't bear it. You knew deep down that they had to move on, that the fight must continue, but you couldn't conceive a future without him. You stopped going to meetings, you stopped going to work. Your employer sent you a letter of dismissal, stating that your absence was not acceptable and that your employment was terminated with immediate effect. It didn't make sense for it to surprise you, the letter was inevitable, and yet it felt as if the final tie you had with the world had been severed clean off.
That night you acquainted yourself with a bottle of Irish whiskey, an expensive one that Ada had bought for your birthday. You tried to drown away the grief and the image of Freddie's smile, but the alcohol seemed to only exacerbate the ache in your chest. He'd wanted to die for something, for the cause, for the people who stood beside him, but for him to die so pointlessly. . .
You kept drinking until you could only focus on how dizzy you were, how difficult it became to move yourself from the bed.
In the morning, you woke up with a blinding headache and groaned as you stumbled out of your bedroom to make some tea. You blinked several times when you saw Tommy lounging on the settee with a cigarette in his hand, his eyes trawling down your body.
“The fuck are you doing here?” You asked, rubbing at your temple to sooth the pulsing headache. He carefully glanced over the table in front of him, which was covered in ash from the spilt cigarette tray, a broken glass and the empty bottle of whiskey.
“Long night?” He queried, even though he already knew the answer. He'd always been perceptive, a trait which annoyed you more times than not, and he always ignored your questions in favour of his own. You let out a sigh before heading to the kettle, but before you could pass him, he held out the cig for you. You nodded in thanks before taking a long drag and handing it back.
“Want some tea?”
“I'm alright,” he replied quietly. After getting the kettle going, you pulled the wooden chair from your desk and positioned it in front of the settee. He said nothing for a while as he finished off his cigarette. The kettle noisily whistled as it boiled.
“I'm here to offer you a job.”
“A job?” You let out a breathy laugh. “Thomas Shelby offering a commie bitch a job. . .I thought your company was doing well?”
“It is. But I need someone I can trust.”
“Looking after the books, the accounts, working as my secretary.” You shook your head in disbelief as you got up off the chair. You made yourself some tea after the kettle boiled, careful not to clink the sides of the cup as you stirred. When you sat back down, you managed only a few sips before putting the cup on the table.
“I always knew you loved him, when it came down to it,” you told him, trying to work out his expression. He glanced away for a brief moment before looking at you again. “Freddie asked you to make sure I was looked after, didn't he?”
Tommy nodded reluctantly after a few moments, maybe there was something akin to disappointment in his expression. You weren't surprised that Freddie had asked him. He was the closest thing you had to a brother now. He thought he had assumed responsibility for you and he'd see to it he'd do right by Freddie, whatever the fuck that meant. He'd never been particularly friendly to you, even less so after the war. This was all obligation to him, a duty to be fulfilled, you thought bitterly. He didn't actually care about you.
“You need work and I need a secretary.”
“I've got a job.”
“Not anymore from what I hear.” You gritted your teeth at his words. The bastard had been keeping an eye on you. How many years of this overprotective bollocks had Ada had to deal with? All those years having to sneak her way to see Freddie in case Tommy caught the scent of them together. It had always angered you. You walked over to the small desk by the wall and pulled out the Luger you kept tucked away in the top drawer.
“This might be how you treat Ada, but this isn't going to be how you treat me, understand?”
“I protect my own,” Tommy replied, taking to his feet and turning around to face you. As you lazily pointed the gun at him, he sighed loudly. “What is it with you Thornes and pointing guns at me?”
“Thornes don't take shit from Shelbys.” You moved towards him carefully, knowing that he kept a Webley revolver in the holster underneath his jacket. Freddie had given you a detailed run down of what each of the Blinders carried, made sure you could use any handgun or rifle you might come across. He even taught you how to use the Lewis machine gun after he was sprung from police hands and before he gave the weapon back to the Blinders. Tommy raised his hands mockingly, expression unamused.
“Give me back my key,” you ordered. He pulled it slowly from his pocket and held it out. He tightened his grip on the key when you tried to take it from him.
“You learning Russian?”
“What?” His eyes moved over to the desk where Arina's letters were kept. “Why have you been reading my letters?”
“Had to keep myself occupied while you were snoring,” he gleamed at you, his lip twitching into a smirk. You wrenched the key away from him, half-tempted to take his revolver too just to wipe the amusement off his face. But you wanted him gone more than you wanted him angry. You lowered the Luger to the floor, forcing your other hand to still rather than come up to press against your temple again.
“I'm sure Freddie would have been grateful for you taking time out of your day. You've done your duty offering me the position, but I'm sure you'll find someone else.” You gestured to the door, waiting for him to go and trying not to think about him rifling through your things. Had he already discovered the Luger? Did he leave it in its place because he knew you wouldn't really shoot him?
He tucked his hands into his coat pockets, eyeing you again as he always did. You could never guess what he was thinking. Even now you didn't know whether he looked at you in disdain for being a burden, in judgement for your beliefs or in pity for losing someone who had been your guiding light.
He probably thought you were pathetic and utterly lost without Freddie. You'd always followed your brother, always did as he asked. Tommy didn't seem to understand that you did it of your own accord. You didn't have a way with people like Freddie did. He'd always been in the forefront while you worked behind the lines. It was just how things were.
But Tommy saw it as weakness, saw you as a liability whereas your brother had seen you as an asset.
He moved in front of you, peering down to the gun in your hand like you were a baby carrying a hand grenade.
“Be seeing you soon,” he murmured before leaving. You felt unsettled in his wake, hating the way he'd treated you, the way he effortlessly sauntered into your flat like you were a guest in his home rather than the other way around. He never listened to you, never truly considered your words. It was his way or the rest of the world be damned, and with the Peaky Blinders on the rise, he only seemed to be getting worse.
- - -
It was Polly who'd convinced you to take the job. You knew she wouldn't have gone along with her nephew so easily, she had her own mind and wasn't easily persuaded. You almost felt defeated when she showed you around the den, touring you around the Shelby brothers' offices with pride in each word. Polly was used to getting her own way, just like her nephew.
You needed the money, not only to keep yourself fed and keep the landlord off your back, but for the youth league's branch in Manchester which was still in its infancy. You'd already helped your connections establish a functioning branch in London before Freddie died. Comrades in Yorkshire now wanted their own branch too. You used to stay up long past midnight, wrist cramping as you wrote your letters. There was a relentless drive inside you to do your part and it was constantly bolstered by your brother's support.
Freddie would have wanted you to keep going, to keep fighting, to spread the real message to the people so that they could have a better future for themselves and their children. So you made yourself attend the local meetings again, regardless of the desolation that plagued you.
You stared at the typewriter on Tommy's desk as Polly showed it to you, thinking that might be a great deal faster than writing. But before you could properly consider the idea, Polly interrupted your thoughts.
“I don't want none of your commie business ever coming in here. You try and skim us and there'll be hell to pay, let me assure you,” Polly warned, her voice stern but not filled with the venom she usually had when she was making a threat. You nodded in agreement before Polly continued and took you through the accounts.
To say it needed some work would have been an understatement. Some of the handwriting was barely legible and the numbers seemed to have a life of their own. You focused on it for the next few hours while Esme and Polly got to work, chatting to each other intermittently.
“Told you I'd be you seeing you soon.” You looked up to see Tommy in front of the desk standing smug, eyes bright as they always were. You ignored the way your heart clenched as he leaned in close to check over your work. He then told you to come into his office and he closed the doors after you followed him, gesturing to the chair in front of the desk.
“I'm sure Polly's already told you that the only business we do here is Shelby business,” he told you firmly, leaning back in his chair.
“You'd do well to abide by that.”
“Yeah.” He raised his eyebrows at your tepid response. “Yes, I will.”
“Good. Now your wage will be eight pounds and four shillings a month-”
“Polly's already promised me ten.”
“The extra in case any of your boys get injured, I'll patch them up.” Tommy seemed rather put out regardless of the fact you were worth eleven quid. You'd already attempted to wrangle the extra pound out of Polly, not that she was having any of it.
“A secretary and a nurse, hmm?”
“If you need me armed, it'll be extra.”
“I have no intention of putting you in harm's way.”
“Sometimes harm's way comes to Blinders whether you want it to or not.” His jaw tightened before he leaned in towards you, hands resting on the desk.
“I thought you only fought for the cause?”
“Cause needs money.”
“And how much do you think you're worth exactly?” He meant the question rhetorically rather than to be taken seriously, but the words swirled uncomfortably in your gut. You'd heard them said to you many times before a few years back. Ten shillings for a blow, twenty for a fuck, you had to stop yourself from saying the words. He probably wouldn't look at you the same if he knew you'd been a whore. It didn't matter you'd given up the moment you found out Freddie was free.
You'd left the city for Manchester, found new quarters at a brothel while you earned every penny you could towards a bribe to get your brother out of prison. A subsequent journey to Cardiff had to be made as well.
“A secretary, a nurse and a fighter? I'm not sure whether I could afford you at all,” he mocked, trying to provoke a reaction but you remained silent. “Alright, ten it is.”
He took you through his diary, what he expected of you, the hours, the work that needed to be prioritised, his plans for expansion into London. He emphasised the need for discretion and wouldn't take kindly if the communists became aware of any aspects of Shelby business. You wondered why he bothered to employ you at all before remembering the promise he'd made to your brother.
Tommy was good at heart, though it was buried deep. It was easy to forget that when he belittled and dismissed you. Maybe working for him would be different, maybe it would be a good thing.
As the weeks passed, you settled well into the job, got used to the noise of the den with the seemingly endless hours of odds and bets. It kept you busy for a while, but after the initial rush and as you became comfortable with the workings of it all, the grief started to drift back.
You visited Freddie's grave one morning, laying out fresh flowers as you sat down on your knees. Sometimes you could hear him so vividly in your mind that you half-expected him to saunter his way through the cemetery and chide you taking money from Shelbys. Would he be disappointed in you? Ashamed at how much of your time was focused on Tommy's gain rather than the work that needed to be done? You wished he was here, you needed him to-
“You're over forty minutes late to your shift,” Tommy's voice announced behind you. Turning around to face him, he stood inspecting his pocket watch, disappointment on his face.
“I'm sorry. . .I lost track of time,” you replied, getting up to your feet and brushing the dirt off your skirt. You held your head low as you tried to pull yourself together and wipe your face dry.
“Come on.” His expression had lightened when you looked up at him. “It's going to be a busy day.”
- - -
You kept your visits to Freddie on the days you weren't working and made sure you weren't late to work again. When you left the den, your mind had a tendency to wander and you weren't as productive as you had been. You wrote to Arina about your new job, composing some of it in poor Cyrillic as you enquired about her family, how the Petrograd weather was treating her this time of year. It had felt as if you'd accomplished something when you posted it the next day.
Focusing on the little victories was important. Especially now as sleep became more elusive and the ever-growing loneliness almost made you despair. Each night as you laid awake, you imagined being held and cared for, loved and protected. A gentle finger tracing down your cheek, wiping every tear that you shed. A comforting voice soothing each fear you had, assuring you that this sadness would pass.
But it only got worse. Seeking out Ada's company did little to quell the feelings as she was largely focused on Karl and questioned you about why you'd started to work with Tommy, demanding what he'd had over you while denouncing the Shelby name.
The imaginations began to seep out during the day rather than being contained to merely the night. You stared at Tommy while he spoke on the phone, while he dictated to you, while he smoked and listened to Polly or his brothers. You'd long since had an infatuation with Tommy despite your dislike for his manners. A pretty face like his was easy on the eyes, much too easy.
There was something hypnotic about the way he conducted himself, the way he commanded a room. There was a reason why he was head of the family rather than Arthur who was the eldest.
You woke up one morning after dreaming about him with your hand between your legs, and knew that these feelings had to urgently be overcome. You reached out to an old friend and met him at the Marquis of Lorne. You listened to him for a few hours telling you about his wife and that they were expecting their first child together in a few months. He told you that he'd soon be moving south to be closer to her family too, but he still wanted to keep in touch and urged you to write frequently. You were happy for him, glad that he was settled and moving into a new phase of his life, but a small part of you was jealous of his good fortune. You felt truly ashamed of those feelings.
At work the next day, Tommy came in looking less assured than usual and hung up both his coat and jacket before sinking into his chair. You eyed the shoulder holster that hung over his waistcoat, the revolver sitting snug at his side. It was easy to forget the broad shoulders that he kept hidden away, the strength of his arms, the collar of his shirt tight around his neck-
He caught you watching, and you were frozen for a long moment before you came to your senses and covered yourself by waving a piece of paper in the air. You headed into his office, showing him the note that Polly had left. He watched you intently as you held it out for him, not bothering to take it from your hand. It was as much disquieting as it was intoxicating to have his attention so utterly focused on you.
When he finally took Polly's note, you stared at his revolver before asking him whether you could take a look at it. You needed him to think that was what you were staring at rather than him.
“Arming communist agitators is bad for business,” he commented before dismissing you from his office. You sighed heavily as you returned to your desk, knowing that you had to sort yourself out sooner rather than later.
The next day, one of your comrades called Jimmy had been hospitalised along with his wife after they were both attacked. The fuckers were trying to split everyone apart, instil fear to prevent the meetings from taking place. Members were frequently accosted or intimidated, but the viciousness of the attack had you on edge. You changed your route to the meetings going there and back in case you were being watched.
It had happened a few times in the past, and Freddie had been quick to dispel them. But you didn't have his protection anymore.
You made a visit to the opium dens to pay an informant for descriptions of the assailants. They wouldn't go unpunished, weakness would be prayed upon. It was a lesson your brother had taught you well growing up.
You were becoming more agitated as the week went on and relied more heavily on the fantasies to provide some form of comfort. When you passed Lizzie Stark one evening, you decided to enlist her help. She had quite the reputation but was kinder than rumour made her out to be. It would have been unseemly to go out by yourself to look for someone to bed you, so you offered to buy Lizzie a few drinks to blow off some steam. As the both of you settled into the corner of a pub far from the Garrison, she told you about the correspondence course she was taking and that she'd bought a typewriter too.
You spoke with her at length about it, telling her of your new job and desire to buy your own typewriter to save your wrist from all the letters you'd write. Lizzie's smile grew with each drink, and you were beginning to wonder whether it was only men that were her clients. You had some money, maybe she'd give you a good seeing to if you'd asked.
As a man came over to speak to Lizzie, you shoved the thought away, chastising yourself for thinking such a thing. Lizzie might have been nice, but you didn't know her and you certainly couldn't trust her with a secret like that. If word got out, you'd be fucked. You swore it was only your brother's name keeping you afloat half the time anyway, you wouldn't besmirch the name of Thorne more than you already had.
With Lizzie still occupied, another man came over and focused his attention on you.
“Aren't you Freddie Thorne's sister?”
“I am,” you replied, watching his face fall in disappointment. He quickly turned away without another word and headed back to a group of his mates. They all looked over to you for a brief moment before focusing back on their drinks. Normally the politics hadn't been enough of a deterrent for men looking for a wet cunt.
Did you look like shit? Did the lack of sleep make you truly look terrible? You'd checked over yourself in the mirror before you left, the bags under your eyes weren't too noticeable. You downed the rest of your drink, and passed the rest of the night in a blur. Lizzie saw to it you went home safely before she headed off with a client on her arm.
Had word got out about your stint in Manchester? Surely that would make the men more brazen, make them utter the word whore as you passed by, wave money in your face as they told you to get on your knees. But what else could it be?
A few days later, one of Tommy's boys had been injured by a fight that had broken out. You had to put his nose back into place and stitch up a large gash across his brow. His face would hurt for a good few days and he'd have a nasty scar to show for it, but he'd be fine. As you cleaned away the bloody gauze, memories from the war began to flash across your mind, the endless bandages soaked red, the puddles of blood that seeped onto the floor. Sometimes blood sprayed, other times it dripped, but the worst times it would pool.
You couldn't ever grasp how a man could hold so much blood inside of him. How many hours had you spent trying to clean the red away for only more to be spilt the next day? The metallic tang of it would hang heavy in the air, mixed with the mud and the shit and the piss and the smoke and the-
“You did a nice job fixing him up,” Tommy complimented you as he struck a match to light his cigarette. He took a few drags before offering it out. You waved your bloody hands in the air to show him they were dirty. He shifted in close, positioning himself barely a foot away from you as he held it in front of your mouth. It was difficult to remain composed with his proximity, his unwavering gaze, his wordless insistence for you to comply.
You accepted his offer and pressed the cigarette in between your lips, a small part of you feeling oddly animated. His fingers almost grazed your mouth as he pulled his hand away. He didn't move back, so you blew the smoke out of your nostrils rather than at his face and eyes. Polly then interrupted both of you, berating you for not clearing up the floor sooner. You weren't sure whether to be pleased or saddened at her intrusion.
When you finished work later that evening, you were resolved not to dwell on your memories with the VAD and settled on a cheaper bottle of whiskey. It didn't go down smoothly like the one Ada bought. You tried to focus on some letters that needed to be sent to London. As you wrote and requested for frequent updates on the youth league's search for members, your mind drifted to Tommy. You'd never met anyone with eyes quite like his, with a presence so unforgettable. There was something magnetic about him and it certainly wasn't all to do with his looks.
His intelligence outshone his competitors and he kept a step ahead of them in his seemingly interminable quest for money and power and the status that came with it all. He would have been an asset to the party like Freddie had been if his beliefs were different, but he never had the perspective beyond his own ambition. It was all about fucking profit, not the suffering of the common man. Freddie had been to war and came out of it wanting to save everyone, but Tommy only wanted to save himself.
You huffed in frustration as you'd written out what you'd been thinking and sort it fit to burn the piece of paper. And yet as you watched the flame quickly consume the failed letter, Tommy never left your thoughts.
- - -
Lizzie helped you get reacquainted with Amelia, an old school friend. She was hesitant about your brother's politics at first, obviously hearing about what he'd gotten up to since the war. You managed to distract Amelia with harmless chatter and gossip of Small Heath, but she began to ask about you working with the Peaky Blinders. Trying not to derail yourself, you kept your answers light and brief and moved the conversation onto her position at the BSA.
Two men interrupted you with offers of drinks and Amelia effortlessly flirted with them. One of them took a shine to her, while the other kept glancing at you over his drink. He was less boisterous than his friend and seemed eager to engage you in genuine conversation. A group began to sing rowdily in the corner, some of them stomping their feet to give it some rhythm. He asked if you wanted to dance and you were in too many drinks to decline.
You laughed as he bowed courteously in jest before taking your hands to dance. It didn't matter that he trod on your feet a couple of times, his smile was infectious and the noise of the pub was more than enough to blot out your anxieties.
When he walked outside with you, he suggested you go back to his place for another drink and you accepted, knowing what he truly meant. As you walked down the road hand in hand, his friend suddenly ran up to him and wrenched him away.
“Why didn't you ask her fucking name?” His friend berated angrily before whispering something in his ear. He looked at you in dread before both of them hurried away. You were left dumbstruck, unable to move from the spot as you tried to understand what just happened.
It played on your mind all through the night and the morning of the next day.
“I heard you had a good time last night,” Tommy commented, interrupting your calculations. Looking up at him, you shrugged nonchalantly hoping that he would have better things to do rather than disturb you. “Didn't think you were much of a dancer.”
You wanted to sigh in frustration and you curled your toes hard in an attempt to relieve some tension.
“What I do outside of here isn't your concern,” you responded as collectedly as possible.
“I made your brother a promise.”
“This is not what he meant.”
“He wasn't terribly specific, mind you.” You bristled angrily at the arrogance in his tone. He must have sensed it as he continued in a less mocking manner. “If you want a drink, come to the Garrison. You'll be safe there.”
“There's nowhere safe for communist agitators, especially now.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing for a Blinder to concern himself with.” You stood up from your desk but before you could move past his arm shot out to grab onto your elbow.
“What do you mean?” His voice was low and filled with a quiet rage that was unsettling.
“I didn't mean anything-”
“Don't fucking lie to me.” You cringed at his words but managed not to physically recoil from him.
“Two of our own were attacked, pretty badly. But I'm taking care of it.”
He scoffed out a cruel laugh. “Is that right?”
You grabbed onto his hand and wrenched back one of his fingers until he relented his grip.
“I won't have Blinders poking into our business, or you'll have a war on your hands. You be certain of that.” You walked off through the den, filled with regret for taking a job you clearly should have left well alone.
The rage in your gut didn't lessen as you went off home after finishing work. He didn't respect you, he treated you like a fucking child. You could feel the anger seeping into your muscles, coursing through your body trying to reach fever pitch.
You should have gotten a better hold of yourself. It had made you sloppy as you were almost cornered by two men. You sprinted down a side alleyway and tore your skirt after climbing a chain-link fence. When you landed heavily on your ankle, the men jeered at you from the other side but didn't bother to follow you any further.
“Go on! Take it off, you commie slut,” one of them spat with an Irish accent. You would have sworn at them if you'd landed better so you said nothing. You had to scramble away when one of them started pissing on you. Their purpose wasn't to capture but to intimidate. Maybe they'd caught wind of what happened to Jimmy and Cathleen and wanted to exploit the situation, keep you scared, vulnerable.
You had to get your fucking shit together.
Later that week, you offered to cover a night shift protecting Cathleen in the hospital. It was strange how much more comfortable you felt in your brother's clothes rather than your own as you sat by her. She spoke to you for a long while before she fell asleep. From the information you'd gathered on her assailants, a counterattack was being planned for the day after next. Though it was unlikely they'd return to finish the job, you couldn't take any chances. As you focused your attention on Cathleen, you wished you had the time and expertise to look after her yourself as would have been proper.
You chatted to the nurse on night duty making her rounds and she got prettier with each moment. When she had to move on, you wondered what had become of yourself. The urgency to satiate your loneliness was getting out of control.
You spent the next few hours until dawn replaying the memory of Tommy holding onto your elbow. You were frantic for more pressure, fraught with desire for his fingers to dig into your naked skin and strip you bare while he pleasures you.
It was a relief when Nicholas took over, and yet you left the hospital feeling more on edge than going in. There wasn't a point going to sleep so you went home to change before heading straight to work, not really caring about the state you were in.
Tommy had said very little to you these past few days after your confrontation, only speaking of business. You must have looked pretty bad as he asked what was wrong.
“Couldn't sleep is all,” you replied offhandedly, not letting your eyes stray from the typewriter. Thankfully he didn't probe any further and you finished the day without falling asleep at your desk. As you walked back to the flat, you kept a hand tucked in your coat's inside pocket, ready to pull out the Luger at any moment. At least you didn't have to work tomorrow. Polly had agreed to a switch in your days.
You didn't dream that night, your mind was probably too exhausted to. And yet even with all those hours of sleep you still felt drained the next day.
You laid out Freddie's rifle on the table by the settee and sat cleaning it for a while, remembering what he'd taught you, his encouraging smiles when you did well. The rifle was only a precaution, a last resort if it came to it. The party had agreed to you overseeing the reply to Jimmy's and Cathleen's attackers, as it would be easier for a woman to go undetected. Their plan was to discredit them, sow doubt in the minds of their employers, their friends and family, which had already been well under way. The final blow would be to have them arrested on charges of indecency as long as it was by coppers that weren't already bought. If they weren't arrested, you'd shoot to maim, not kill.
After cleaning and loading the rifle, you put on heavy makeup to alter your appearance and did your hair differently. You put on a heavy coat that was thick enough to conceal the weapon underneath. It took nearly an hour to get to the butchers where both of the men worked, you had to double back numerous times and make certain you weren't being followed. When you arrived, one of your comrades pulled out his handkerchief as you passed him, signalling that all was well, the coppers were on their way.
You positioned yourself just off the main road, lighting a cigarette to keep your hands busy, to make it look as if you were simply waiting for someone. The scene began to unfold outside the butchers a couple minutes later. Affiliates of party members started their loud accusations. An older lady shouted at them, raising her arms and saying how they were a disgrace to god. As a crowd formed around them, two coppers came down from up the road just on time.
The men were too distracted by what was happening around them to spot the coppers breaking through the crowd. They didn't have time to run before they were knocked down onto the ground with truncheons and then handcuffed. They'd be punished for conspiring to corrupt public morals, for being homosexuals. They might never get a job again. It would destroy their lives.
You tailed them to the police station, ensuring that they made it all the way. Revulsion began to swell in the pit of your stomach as you walked home. Maybe killing them would have been less cruel.
- - -
When you went out with Lizzie again, the men kept a wide berth of you. They chatted and flirted with her, some of them promising her a night so good that she would pay them. Their eyes would flicker over to you for only a brief moment before they completely ignored your existence.
You wondered what the fuck was wrong with you. Before leaving the flat, you triple-checked your appearance to make sure you were presentable. You'd even worn a pretty dress. As you sank back the rest of a glass of mild, you remembered what happened with Amelia. The man was about to take you home before his friend had wrenched him away, angrily scolding him for not asking your name.
You had spoken to your comrades and contacts, trying to work out what rumours were circulating around you, whether your time in Manchester had come to light. But they found out nothing of interest beyond the norm, the only new piece of information being that you worked for the Peaky Blinders.
“So how's the job treating you?” Lizzie asked, breaking you away from your thoughts.
“Fine. Pay's not bad.”
“Tommy does pay well, doesn't he?” Your eyebrows furrowed at her reply. What did she-
“I'm sure you've heard those rumours about him, that he hasn't laid with a woman since he came back from France. But I can personally tell you that's not true,” she giggled, finishing off her gin.
“Oh,” you managed to force out. You couldn't look at her, so you kept your hands busy lighting a cigarette. “When did he. . .?”
“Last week. He's barely spoken to me since that whole thing with John a while back, but he knocked on my door in the middle of the night. He was different to how I'd imagined him to be. Let me get us some more drinks, eh? I'll tell you all about it.” You nodded at her, forcing a smile across your cheeks.
When Lizzie went up to the bar, the hurt seeped down in your bones. The loneliness was crippling. The poets and writers spoke of heartbreak and sadness as if it was akin to emptiness, a bleak hole in your chest. But they were wrong, it was the opposite.
Inside your chest was an all-consuming void, oppressive in its weight as it entangled your heart, slowly depleting it of life. Hearing that Lizzie and Tommy had been together seemed to break something inside of you. Everyone else had someone but you. No one wanted you, no one cared about you. The thought of those two together made you feel nauseous.
The noise was suddenly too much to bear. Snuffing out the cigarette, you made your way through the crowd to get to the bar. In the past, if you'd walked near a drunk group of men, there would usually be a wandering hand and fake apologies to boot. But no one touched you.
You told Lizzie you weren't feeling well and she insisted walking you back to the flat, but you declined vehemently. She assured you she'd get home alright herself before you left. You walked out the pub wondering what it was about her that made it so effortless for her to have whatever man she wanted, even Thomas fucking Shelby. What was so wrong with you?
Two men had been on your tail you since leaving the Chain. You'd hoped they go off down another lane, but they were steadfast in your direction. Was it the Irish again? You gripped onto the Luger and set your mind on leading the men to a secluded spot where you could take care of them once and for all.
The world would be better for it. You picked up the pace as you rounded the corner, making sure they continued to follow. Before you could pull out the gun, you suddenly realised that you were going to shoot two men in cold blood.
You weren't a fucking Peaky Blinder giving beatings, cuttings and killings for a mere word said wrong, to whomever you saw fit. It wasn't who you were, it wasn't who Freddie wanted you both to be. You tried to lose the two men by circling round and going into the opium dens. A strong floral scent filled your nose along with the smell of burning incense as you searched for your informant. Thankfully she wasn't with a client and after finding her you asked for sanctuary.
She took you by the hand and swiftly lead you to one of the rooms. A bed was its main feature, along with a mostly undressed man laying on his side fast asleep. The girl gestured for you to hide under the bed, lifted up the sheets so you could crawl underneath. The bed creaked and you sensed movements above, she must have laid down on the mattress.
All you could hear was the soft snoring of the man above you and the muted noises of fucking in the background. A few minutes past when you heard indistinguishable shouts. You were on your back and pulled out the gun to lay flat on your chest. At least the man would obscure the sounds of your rapid breathing.
Blood rushed into your ears as loud footsteps began to get closer. Your grip tightened on the Luger, your heart beating hard in your chest. You heard the sound of a curtain being pulled back.
“Not this one,” a man muttered. His accent was local rather than the Irish you'd expected. Who the fuck were the Irish working with now? The man walked away, presumably with his friend.
About fifteen minutes later, there was movement above you and the girl got off the bed. She left the room and didn't return until a while later. When she came back, she whispered that it was safe and you crawled out from under the bed. You gave her all the money you had and promised you'd get more for her trouble before enquiring about some opium.
- - -
You'd been scared. They'd followed you all the way through the opium dens, probably searched every room by the sounds of it and they did so unchallenged by the Chinese men that protected the place. They must have had money at the very least or powerful allies at worst.
Were they going to take you? Beat you? Make an example of what happened to communist agitators like they did to Cathleen and Jimmy? It was the perfect opportunity as your guard was down after a few pints and you were unaccompanied.
But why hadn't they attacked before? There had been other times when you'd been alone. What were they waiting for? The only motivation you could gleam from them was intimidation. You couldn't let them break you but in your current state you were concerned they just might.
It was getting difficult to lose their tail, and you had to use everything Freddie taught you to lose them before attending the meetings. Another problem with the men following you was that it wasn't just two. There were at least four of them, they worked in pairs, worked in shifts. Their dedication to intimidate you was alarming.
You didn't understand how you'd drawn this much attention in the first place. Were they trying to make an example of you? Gradually break you down until you voluntarily left the party and then move onto the next person and the next until there was no one left?
You didn't want to tell your comrades about the men, resources were stretched thin enough. You were still able to lose them when you tried hard enough. It was the only thing you could hold onto.
You'd never felt so isolated in your life.
Whatever resilience and strength you had was slowly whittling away. Work became monotonous, repetitive. Tommy used to be the only thing cutting through the blur, but now you couldn't look at him the same. You kept picturing him with Lizzie, you kept wondering that if he'd known about Manchester then he would have knocked on your door in the middle of the night rather than hers.
Hours would pass and you wouldn't remember what you'd be doing. The daydreams you used to have that saw you safe and protected had distorted into flashes of you trying to escape relentless predators biting at your heels. Being in the gambling den was the only time you could keep your guard down, the only time you felt a modicum of safety.
Every time you were outside of the den, you had to figure out where the men began to follow you. One evening you spotted them on Wickbury Lane, not too far from work. Another morning, they picked up your tail a few minutes walk from your flat. They probably knew where you lived, or at least which building. Were they going to come in the night while you were sleeping?
When Polly asked what was wrong, you put it down to a bad night's sleep. Esme even took you aside to see how you were, but you told her the same thing. On the surface you were telling the truth, you really weren't sleeping. The ever-growing tension was eating away at you each day and you'd gotten into the habit of keeping the Luger and the rifle next to the bed.
Receiving a letter from Arina didn't improve your mood as had been the case most times before, but rather the opposite. She expressed deep concern for your well-being and offered you to join her in Petrograd with her aunt. What a state you must have been in to not realise how your own words would betray you, even though your reply had been composed with hours of careful consideration.
Arina had written a detailed itinerary of your journey to her, beginning with the trip to London before heading to cross the Channel and then over the mainland to Minsk where she would meet you before returning to her home.
The next morning, you laid on the mattress with your eyes fixed to the damp and mold on the ceiling, the Luger resting comfortably on your chest. You'd slept maybe an hour during the night, mind restless with thoughts of escape to Petrograd and of things that could have happened. What if your informant in the opium dens was busy? What would you have done? What would they have done? Would you have made it out before they-
Your body shook when someone knocked loudly on the door. Who the fuck could it be? You'd paid the landlord on time. Putting on a robe, you switched to the rifle before slowly walking to the door, weapon raised and ready to fire.
“Who is it?” You called out.
“Tommy.” You huffed out a breath in relief before taking the rifle back to your room and slipping it under the bed. Unlocking the door, he stood with his hands in his coat pockets and took off the peaky from his head as you gestured for him to come inside.
“I'm not working today,” you reminded him as he made himself comfortable on the settee.
“I know,” he replied, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches. Before he could light one, you plucked the cigarette from his hand.
“What do you want?”
“Come to London with me.”
“Business, it'll only be a few days. We'll see Ada and Karl too.”
“Ada's in London?”
“Aren't you speaking to her?”
“I am. . .I've just been busy lately.”
“With what? Getting drunk with Lizzie Stark?” Your heart twinged at the sound her name. Had she told him about your time with her? Would it have been before or after they'd fucked? You shrugged without saying a word, not having the energy to fight him. You took a step back when he stood up off the seat. “Or your old school friend?”
He shifted closer towards you until he was less than a few feet from you. You lowered your head and stared at his expensive shoes. How much money did he have? To spend on whores and shoes? He'd paid for the former, but did he pay for the latter? Freddie had told you once that Tommy's suits were on the house or the house burnt down. Did he get everything he wanted through intimidation or bribe? With precisely executed threats or the exact right number of pennies? How did he live like that?
“Come with me. I know you'd find it interesting. Londoners are different to us, poor taste in music but they're more untraditional. . .free-spirited as it were.” Your mouth gaped open slightly, what was he insinuating? Did he know? How the fuck did he know about you? No, no it wasn't possible, he didn't mean anything by it. Only Freddie had ever known, well you'd never told him explicitly, but he'd hinted that he'd read between the lines. Freddie wouldn't have-
“Polly's right, there is something wrong with you.”
"I'm fine, just haven't been sleeping well." He raised a hand to your face, thumb and fingers digging into your chin as he made you look at him.
“What have I told you about lying to me? Have you been smoking opium? Is that why you're like this?” You tried to pull away from him but he only leaned in closer until you could feel his hot breath on your face.
“Do you think I'm going to allow you to do this to yourself?" You stared at him mindlessly, trying to take in the words. He shoved you away from him, causing you to stumble back and almost lose your balance.
"Where is it then?" He asked before he began to ransack the desk, grabbing letters from the drawer and throwing them carelessly onto the ground. He quickly moved onto the kitchen cupboards and the meagre book shelf, not caring when he knocked things over. Tommy paused for a moment while looking over the flat and then headed for the bedroom. After going through the bedside cabinet, he looked over your bed. He threw a pillow to the ground and pulled back the sheets to reveal the Luger resting on the mattress.
"Sleeping with it under your pillow?" He mocked as he checked to see if it was loaded. His expression darkened further when he saw that it was.
He laid it on the side cabinet before opening up the wooden chest at the end of the bed. You tensed as he rifled down to the bottom for anything. Some of your clothes were stored at the top, but the rest underneath were all Freddie's. He moved on not long after and sat on his knees to search under the bed. He pulled out the rifle you'd slid underneath.
"Why do you have Freddie's rifle?" Once again he checked over the weapon, pushing the safety catch back rather than its forward and live position.
"He gave it to me."
"You shouldn't have this," he replied dismissively, holding it up into the air. You grabbed onto the rifle just above the sights.
“He gave it to me,” you repeated. He wrenched it away from your grip, making you let go.
“You're going to get yourself hurt.”
“You're not taking it from me.”
“You've always been such a bleeding heart, haven't you? Trying to make the world a better place.” He shook his head at you. “Nothing you ever do is going to change it. You'll get yourself hurt or worse. Do you know what men would do to you if they had the chance?”
“I have an idea,” you replied, voice low. The intensity of his eyes seemed to wane. He was silent for a few moments, giving you the time to get yourself together.
“I'm not going to London with you. . .I'll see you when you get back.” You stared at the rifle in his hands, hoping that he wouldn't take it with him. Tommy was a vicious fighter, fast and smart. You didn't know how long you could last against him. You didn't know if he'd strike you, maybe he didn't think you could take it because you were a woman. He'd never taken you seriously.
He seemed to have lost the momentum he'd gained after making a mess of your things and discovering the weapons in your room. He laid the rifle carefully onto the mattress.
“We'll talk when I get back,” he told you coldly, securing the peaky onto his head, a razor blade glintering in the weak sunlight. The front door slammed shut a few moments later, causing you to jump again.
He'd left how he'd arrived.
- - -
You stared at the mess he'd made. It was like coppers had turned over your place looking for communist propaganda, for evidence against you.
Cathleen was going to be released from hospital later in the evening. She would be taken to the Donovan's house to fully recover and you were the one chosen to escort her there. You'd tried to get out of it, but your comrades said that Cathleen insisted it be you.
You didn't know you could do it in the state you were in. Tommy had a knack for unsettling you, for making you feel small and insignificant. You grabbed onto the rifle and closed your eyes as you remembered Freddie teaching you how to use it. He trusted you, he believed in you. It didn't matter if Tommy didn't. Your brother was the better man, he should be here, he should be with you, why wasn't he here?
Sitting on the bed, you laid down the rifle next to you before burying your face in your hands. You were so alone without him. You'd never truly appreciated his kindness or his conviction. Tears spilled from your eyes as you swallowed down the sobs trying to make their way up your throat. Cathleen was depending on you. You needed to make sure she got out okay, in case any of her assailants' friends wanted to enact revenge. Freddie would have wanted you to be strong, to complete the task at hand.
You managed to sleep for a few hours, and thankfully felt somewhat rested though emotionally drained when you woke up. After she was safe at the Donovan's, you were going to drink until you fucking passed out. You cleaned up the flat for a while, picking things off the floor and returning them to their rightful places. Tommy had made a complete mess of your letters, so you'd have to reorder them later. After the sun had set, you readied yourself into Freddie's clothes. Putting them on gave you an inkling of confidence. You pulled your hair up tight underneath one of his flat caps, pinning it securely so none would come loose. Shifting your head side to side, you were satisfied the hair would stay in place. You tied up the laces of his leather boots, tucking a small knife into one of them.
When you put the Luger into the side pocket of Freddie's coat for easy access, you checked over yourself in the mirror. You pulled back your shoulders and widened your stance, forcing yourself to be ready.
You went through the back exit of the building rather than the front entrance and climbed over a wall past all the rubbish bins. Jumping down the other side, you looped around the back alleyways and headed to the Cut. There was damp in the air after a light rain earlier. The sky was dark, with no moonlight to illuminate the way. It would have taken you just over twenty minutes if you walked straight to the hospital, but it would take over an hour to work your way round, double backing and making sure you weren't being followed.
Barges lined the canal, and the people walking along its paths seemed to be taking a quieter way back home after a long day's work. You were nearing the Chinese quarter when you passed the rows of terrace houses not far from the Cut. You headed down one of its alleyways, concealing yourself behind a wall to check you weren't being followed. After waiting for a minute, the coast was still clear, so you continued on.
Before you reached the end of the alleyway, a man began to walk towards you. There was something off about his body language, tensing in the shoulders, his eyes purposefully avoiding you, not even naturally glancing up to register the movement ahead.
As you reached for the Luger, an arm wrapped around your throat. Before you could raise the gun, another man knocked it out of your grasp and then punched you in the face. Your lip had been split from the blow, blood seeped into your mouth and down your chin.
There were two men in front of you, and one behind restraining you. Sucking in all the air you could, you twisted your body away from him and threw back your elbow to connect with his face. As he groaned in pain, you immediately lashed out at the man who punched you. After clocking him in the jaw, the other man landed a heavy blow to your gut. You hunched over winded, your body automatically froze to recover its air supply. The delay was too long. Another few punches to your face had you stumbling over and falling onto your knee. You pulled out the knife that was tucked into your boot while the men circled you, eyes wide with adrenaline.
One of them raised his legs to kick you down but you managed to grab onto his ankle, you stabbed him in the back of his calf and wrenched the knife towards you. Before you could let go of him, you received another blow to the head. The next thing you registered was laying on the ground, the men began to kick at your gut so you tried to curl away from them as best you could.
The beating took the breath out of you, your lungs burned for air. You couldn't cry out in pain. Each kick seemed to get worse, the agony blistered into an intensity you'd never experienced before.
But when they stopped, the pain didn't lessen. Taking in a wheezy breathe was excruciating, blood had worked its way up your throat, forcing you to cough. The sensation was unbearable. Your muscles stiffened to minimise the pain but it only seemed to make it worse.
You looked up at the three men, one of them was limping, another had blood on his face. You went out fighting, Freddie would have been proud of you. You waited for them to pull out their guns and finish the job once and for all. You just wanted the pain to stop. The fight in you evaporated, you'd done what you could.
This was just how things were.
One of the men crouched down by you, grabbing you by the scruff of the neck.
“Stay away from Freddie Thorne's sister,” he told you, letting you drop back onto the ground. You stared up at him in horror. “By order of the Peaky Blinders.”
The smoke smelled different in London.
You weren't exactly sure what it was, only that it wasn't home. Meredith held onto your arm as she walked with you to the bakers. It was your first time outside since you'd arrived in the capital over a week ago. The morning streets were busy, grey clouds hovered low in the sky. The expanse of buildings and people continued to amaze you as much as it unsettled you.
Even with her at your side, you'd automatically tense when someone got too close. When you turned a corner, an older man carelessly bumped into your shoulder. Pain rippled out from your ribs as you came to an abrupt stop, and the impact made you wrap an arm protectively around yourself. Your eyes were wide in panic as you waited for the next person to hit the bullseye and have you doubled over in agony. Meredith pulled you off to the side of the pavement before positioning herself in front of you as she guided you along.
“It's just up here,” Meredith reassured you, her voice carrying over the noise of the busy street. Her southern accent was different to yours, hard to get used to. When they'd moved you to London, it had almost been overwhelming to hear such contrasting voices to what you'd known.
The house you'd been staying in for the past week belonged to Meredith's uncle. Inside was a hodgepodge of comrades, some injured like yourself, others in hiding. You shared a small room with an older French lady who was in exile from Paris. Meredith told you that Madame Lemoine's husband had been killed by police in a so-called accident. One of her sons would be taking her to America next month, so she'd sought refuge here in London and would later set off for Liverpool to then sail across the Atlantic.
She often wept before she went to sleep.
Every comrade in that house belonged there, all except you. What happened had nothing to do with your politics, even though you made it out that way. You remembered when they asked you, three men and a woman, Mrs. Donovan, had stood around you in the bed.
“Do you know who did this to you?” One of them asked.
By order of the Peaky Blinders, the words echoed in your mind. You shook your head.
“How many were there?”
“Three men,” you croaked, chest twinging from the effort.
“Three men, alright. What did they look like?” You were silent as you pictured Tommy's boys in the dark alleyway. It was only then you'd realised you'd seen one of them in the gambling den before. The hurt sank down to your bones, tears forming in the one eye you could see out of.
“I know this is difficult but anything you tell us will be helpful. You're safe here. Do you remember if they said anything to you? Anything at all?”
By order of the Peaky Blinders. By order of the Peaky fucking Blinders.
“No,” you told them. Disappointment marred all of their expressions. They needed more, you needed to give them something.
“Was followed for a while. I could. . .slip away when I needed to. Sorry I never. . .” Out of breath, you couldn't say anymore. You hoped it would be enough for them. Mrs. Donovan took your hand in hers, thumb rubbing across your skin.
“If you do remember anything else, let us know, alright?” You nodded, exhausted from talking. The men filed out of the room, only Mrs. Donovan remained. Before she could get up, you squeezed her hand. It took a few moments to speak again.
“Can't stay here,” you murmured, trying to move your scabbed lip as little as possible.
“No one knows about this place. You'll be safe.” You shook your head, tears spilling down your cheek.
“Please.” She held your hand tightly, nodding gently in response.
“I'll make arrangements for you. How does London sound?”
Mrs. Donovan kept you informed as she secured safe passage out of the city. Comrades packed away your belongings in the flat, put everything into a couple bags and the wooden chest. You couldn't take all of it to London, so Mrs. Donovan went through each of your things, whittling it down until you had some clothes, all your own rather than your brother's, a small box of letters, Freddie's pocket watch and the Luger. The rifle was too large to take with you. She said she'd keep the rest of your things until you came back home.
Before leaving for London, you managed to write a letter to Polly, letting her know that urgent business called you away from the city and you didn't know when you'd return. You apologised for the lack of notice, and wrote that you would not accept the wages owed to you as recompense for leaving so suddenly. Finally, you noted that Lizzie Stark would make a good replacement, she had all the training necessary and could be trusted with all aspects of Shelby business.
Though you wanted to enquire about Ada's whereabouts, you didn't ask Polly. You didn't know where you'd be staying in London so you couldn't give a return address for her to reply to. The capital was beyond the reach of the Peaky Blinders, it's why you'd agreed with Mrs. Donovan to go there.
Meredith pulled you inside the bakers and stood at the end of the queue which was five deep. The ten minute walk had been exhausting, and you took the time to catch your breath. She checked over her list as the queue moved forward and you were nearly at the front.
A young boy was perched in the corner behind the counter, watching all of the activity in the shop. When his eyes met yours, he stared for a short while before he turned his attention to something behind you. You must have looked ragged and pale underneath the hat, but at least the bruises were starting to mostly yellow. The first time you saw your face after what happened you barely recognised yourself. The left side of your face was swollen red, you couldn't see out of one eye. Your lip was scabbed over, there was dark bruising around your other eye and your nose too.
The Blinders knew how to send a message, you'd give them that. At least they hadn't used their peakys to slash your face. The doctor who had seen to your care said that it would take a month for your ribs to heal. The lump on the back of your head had mostly subsided, the bruises on your face would fade completely in a week or two. It was something at least.
At the front of the queue, Meredith made her order before the both of you moved off to the side to wait. After it was ready, you insisted holding a bag, if nothing but to give you a little bit of protection on the return journey. You'd nearly made it back to her house when your pace began to falter, you couldn't quite catch your breath. It was only just down the road, a minute at most, you could make it.
But with each step you were getting lightheaded and it felt as if you were going to faint. You shifted to the edge of the pavement, body hunched over, hand wrapped around yourself. The pain made your vision go blurry as you took in a deep breath.
You only coped with one more inhale before the pain became too much to bear. A hand was placed on your shoulder, Meredith told you that you were okay, that the pain would pass. She began to urge you forwards gently, and you managed to put one foot in front of the other.
You were probably making a scene, drawing the attention of the busy streets. Keeping your head down, you forced yourself forwards with Meredith helping you along the way. When you reached the steps going up to the front door, you had to stop again. You were dizzy, you thought you were going to pass out.
She pulled you into the house and when you were inside, you braced yourself against the wall, body hunched over. The shallow breaths you were taking didn't seem to satiate the burn in your lungs. The need for oxygen overrode your desperation to avoid the pain of inhaling deeply. Sharp twinges stabbed at your ribs with each deep breath. You slid onto the floor, hands wrapping around yourself as if it was a delayed reaction in the back of your mind to protect yourself. Too late now, much too late.
You didn't go outside for almost a week after that.
It felt wrong being in Meredith's house. You didn't deserve this sanctuary. What happened to you wasn't to do with politics, the men who attacked you were under orders and nothing more. The sole blame was in his hands alone. Your heart clenched in anguish as you remembered waking up in Mrs. Donovan's house the first time after the attack, the realisation of what he had done to you came like a flood.
Tommy. It was Tommy.
It had all been him, the men following you had been his. They thought you were a man who'd just left your flat and Tommy wanted him punished. He wanted you left alone in the guise of protecting you.
Sobs started to bubble up your throat and you couldn't contain them. He was the reason no man would have you, he'd threatened them away, leaving you utterly hopeless and alone. The boundless anxiety, the putrid self-hatred, the constant paranoia were all at his behest. Did he begrudge what Freddie had made him promise? Did he want to make you suffer for it? Did he truly hate you that much?
Pain seared across your ribs as you cried, only making the sobs even worse.
Had this been his little game? To abide by Freddie's promise to the letter, but to disregard its spirit so maliciously? You couldn't conceive of why he hated you so vehemently. Your relationship with him was never the closest, sometimes contentious when you argued. If anything you thought he was indifferent to you. Your mind was wholly blank trying to think of what you'd done to him, what you'd done to deserve this.
He was different after the war, but all the boys were. Had it turned him cruel? Had he enjoyed seeing the bags under your eyes? Did it please him to have such control over you? To invade your privacy and read your letters? To know your comings and goings? To mock and berate you? He'd ransacked your flat trying to confiscate opium that wasn't there, just in case you'd found something to ease the pain.
Do you think I'm going to allow you to do this to yourself, he'd spat at you. He'd wanted you to suffer.
Was he saddened by your absence now? He must have lost such amusement. You thought you'd known what kind of man he was, what he was capable of, that he'd always have a reason, more often than not to protect his own. You never thought him cruel until now.
The days passed by slowly, but the nights became stagnant. You'd once tried to comfort Madame Lemoine, but she turned away from you to face the wall. It had been difficult not to take it personally. You had to remind yourself numerous times that you were a stranger to her. She wanted the solace of a loved one, too late for her husband, yet too soon for her son.
The loneliness came back worse than before, its long shadows would draw across your heart near to the point of immobilisation. Hours would drag on throughout the night as you longed for the sensation of home, for the comforting embrace of a loved one, for Freddie. The grief reached new pinnacles and you had to swallow down sobs not to aggravate the state of your ribs. None of this would have happened if he was here.
Tommy would have left you alone as he had always done before. But instead he must have spread word around Small Heath and the whole of the fucking city that Freddie Thorne's sister was off limits. That's why that man was dragged away by his friend when he was going to take you home, his friend didn't want him to suffer the wrath of the Peaky Blinders. Tommy knew you'd been dancing that night with Amelia, he had eyes and ears everywhere.
You should have been enraged by what he done, but the anger never came. It hurt to contemplate how much he detested you, the efforts he'd gone to, the men he'd spared.
It was devastating.
The way you'd fantasised about him for hours on end, desperate for his comfort, aching for his pleasure, it was shameful. You should have known better, you had for years, but it all slipped away. You'd allowed your heart to become entangled, if it wasn't, why did you feel so hurt rather than angry? The infatuation had been mutated by the grief and the agony of solitude, into what you weren't exactly sure. When you tried to sleep, you pictured him staring at you. His eyes were blank and cold as he relentlessly peered into your soul, debasing all that you were, taking all that he willed.
He'd wanted you to go to London with him, for business, but his expansion would take months to properly establish. It was a big city. For now you were beyond his scope of interest, outside of the territory he controlled, beyond his reach.
Your fingers twitched for a cigarette most evenings but you couldn't summon the effort to smoke, couldn't bear the pain and discomfort of taking in a deep breath. You mostly stayed in the room, a book in your hands even though you couldn't concentrate on the words, your mind kept drifting away.
The only coherent thing you could think about was how you'd reply to Arina. Should you accept her offer and begin anew? She'd make you feel welcome and you knew she'd put you to work so you wouldn't be a burden to her aunt. You sorted through your letters to find her last reply but weren't able to find it. You must have left it at Mrs. Donovan's with the others. As you wrote to her, you briefly described the move to London, that you were considering her offer but you wouldn't be well enough to travel for a while. You intentionally left it vague, not mentioning the attack, you didn't want her to worry needlessly. Instead of going back to the books, you read all of her letters in your possession, practiced some Cyrillic and composed a few sentences while you were at it.
One morning, Meredith invited you to a local party meeting with a couple others from the house. You were quick agree. It would keep your mind busy, maybe you could be useful again.
Later that evening, you let the words of your comrades wash over you like a warming bath. There were things that needed to be done here in London. You might not have known many here, might not have the connections or the knowledge of how things worked like back home, but you were here now. You had to make yourself useful, you had to give back what you owed, for the time and care that had been given to you without question. You had to get on with the work at hand.
Meredith asked if you were up for being introduced to the group or to wait a little longer. You didn't hesitate to agree and after she had told everyone who you were, the smiles and nods you received seemed to warm something in your heart. You felt a lightness you hadn't experienced in months. An easy smile was on your face as comrades approached you during the break. You met several people who you'd only written to. It was good to put names to faces.
One of them was Kenneth Henderson who'd been instrumental in setting up the city's youth league with you. He talked to you at length, thanking you for the assistance you'd provided and he invited you to the league's next meeting at the end of the month. You happily obliged, wanting to see how your efforts came to be. You had to end the conversation when the meeting was reconvened.
The leader gave an update on the Sabini and Solomon war which had escalated in the last few weeks, it was spilling outside of normal perimeters. He advised which areas to avoid without escort and which places were completely blacklisted for comrades. Your mood soured at the thought of them. They were Tommy's next biggest competition, his plans for taking his business to London had included them.
At the end of the meeting, you spoke again to Kenneth for a short while. After waving him off, Meredith approached you with a young man at her side and introduced him to you.
“This is James, one of our aspiring writers.”
“Are you by any chance related to Ada Thorne?” He asked while you shook his hand firmly. You blinked in surprise, letting go of him.
“She married my brother, do you know her?”
“We met a few weeks ago actually and have become rather friendly in the meantime. I've met her young Karl too, so you must be his aunt. He's a lovely boy, isn't he?”
“He is, and rather spirited too, like his father was." His expression softened, he must have known about Freddie. Before he could offer condolences, you spoke again.
“I had to leave home on urgent business so I never a chance to get her new address. Could you let her know I want to meet her? I'll be at the next meeting if she can make it.” James thankfully promised he would ask, and you spoke a little more until Meredith gestured you over to get going.
On the way back to her house, you thought about Ada. It was without question that you'd neglected your friendship with her. She hadn't been shy about letting her feelings be known about your job with her family. It exacerbated the guilt and shame you felt for working for them, knowing what they'd done and what they were capable of. They sauntered across Small Heath in their expensive suits and shoes and cars, raking up cash at the gambling den with only a care for themselves and no one else.
You'd seen the figures, you knew exactly how much money was coming in each day. But it had barely crossed your mind at the time. The work kept you occupied when you sorely needed it. Having Ada remind you of the bitter truth wasn't something you had the capacity to accept.
You should have spoken to her more. You hadn't even known she'd moved to London until Tommy told you, the smug bastard. He knew too much about you, knew where you'd go, what you were doing. But he knew nothing now, and you wanted to keep it that way.
The day of the next party meeting came round faster than you'd expected. Not long after you'd woken up, you started to feel ill and put it down to nerves. Throughout the past week, Meredith kept you busy with untaxing chores and you'd even met with Kenneth to talk league business. With your health improving and your mind more occupied, you were looking forward to seeing Ada and Karl. He looked so much like his father, you wondered how they'd kept, how your nephew was enjoying the city.
As you readied yourself in the evening, you were glad the bruises had completely faded from your face. That night you were attacked seemed like it happened months ago and yet when you remembered what happened, the memories were vivid and clear like they were only a day old. The sensation was disorientating so you focused on smoothing out your skirt before meeting Meredith and a few others by the front door. You wouldn't all go there together, but separately in two groups as a precaution. The Luger was tucked into your coat pocket, you'd gotten back into the habit of carrying it.
While Meredith walked with you to the meeting, you were starting to feel hot even though there was a chill in the air. Pressure started to built behind the top of your nose like the beginnings of a flu. You ignored the sensation and distracted yourself by talking with Meredith.
When you arrived, Ada hadn't turned up just yet so you hovered close to the entrance to wait. It hadn't been two minutes when Ada came in with Karl in toe. You braced yourself as he came running towards you. Crouching down, you raised a knee to protect yourself from the full impact of an excited toddler.
“Hello Karl,” you managed to reply as he collided into you. Glancing up, the look on Ada's face made the guilt permeate through your veins. You held onto her hand while Karl clung onto your neck.
“Why didn't you write? How long have you been down here?” Ada berated you, concern across her expression.
“I'm sorry I didn't write, there was urgent business. I haven't been here too long.”
“You wouldn't leave home without telling anyone unless something went wrong, so what happened?” You kept quiet, not wanting to lie to her, but not wanting to tell the truth either. She puffed in exasperation.
“We thought something bad had happened to you. Tommy had all his boys scouring the city before you sent to word to Polly.” Karl finally let go of your neck so you took to your feet again. Ada pulled you into a hug but was thankfully much more gentle than your nephew who was now clinging onto your skirt. Her arms were wrapped over your shoulders as you held onto her waist.
“Are you in trouble?” she asked softly, pulling back to look at you.
“No,” you reassured her. “Not here.”
“You promise?” You nodded in response. She pressed her lips together before whacking you gently on the shoulder. “Next time put down a bloody return address would you.”
“I will,” you told her, letting Karl grab onto your hand. He began to ask you where you'd been and what you'd been doing. You managed to answer his questions simply as Ada lead both of you to the seats at the back. You lifted him up onto your lap, talking with him a little more until the meeting started.
Karl was very good throughout the evening, and managed to fall asleep on your lap after the break, only coming to when you got up off the seat as the meeting finished.
“Stay with us tonight,” Ada told you. “We've got a lot to catch up on.”
“Where are you staying now?”
“It's actually quite nice, small but a room for me and another for Karl. Better than the places your brother kept me I can assure you.” You smiled at the casual mention of Freddie.
“He never did understand what it meant to be comfortable, did he?”
“Hadn't a clue that one, and the fidgeting too! My word, some nights I thought he'd turned into a blood badger the way he kept going on.” You laughed heartily with Ada, surprised at how little it hurt your chest to do so.
“So you're coming home with us, yeah?”
“You sure there's enough room?”
“Karl won't mind if I stay with him, but he might insist on staying with you.”
You told Meredith you'd be back some time tomorrow and set off with Ada and Karl to their flat. You managed to carry him most of the way as he asked you all sorts of questions. Her place was as she'd described, compact but comfortable, better than your flat. There wasn't any mold or damp to be seen. Karl excitedly showed you his new toys and after playing with him for a while, he wrangled you into reading him a story when Ada told him it was his bedtime.
When he was asleep, you sat with Ada on the couch talking for a good while. You wrapped yourself up with a blanket when you felt shivers wrack your body, but had to peel it off not too long later when you began to feel too hot.
“I think you're coming down with something,” Ada commented, placing her hand on your forehead. “You're burning up.” She insisted you take her bed and asked if you wanted anything to drink before you went to sleep. You thanked her but declined and felt relieved when you finally laid in bed.
Letting out a deep sigh, you'd never realised how much you'd missed both of them until now. Sleep came easily that night, like it hadn't for a very long time.
- - -
“-ever listen to me!” The sound of Ada's voice broke you from sleep. She'd sounded upset, angry.
“Which room is it?” An angry voice replied. Your heart sank down to your gut as you recognised who it was. Your eyes were wide open now, it was Tommy. He was here, he was in Ada's flat.
“I told you she's sleeping,” she replied, irritation heavy in her tone. Her voice was getting closer. The door to Karl's room clicked shut, making your muscles tense.
It was then that you realised he was looking for you, with only Karl and Ada's room, there was one door left. You clung onto the duvet, forcing your eyes shut, fingers digging into the sheets. As the door handle turned, you made yourself relax, you didn't want him to know you were awake.
You only just heard him move towards the bed, his footsteps slow and light. The mattress lowered next to you, he'd sat down. A hand rested on your shoulder for a brief moment before pulling away. The door was shut not long after.
“What did she tell you?” He asked quietly. “Why is she here?”
“Urgent party business.” He scoffed at her response. “She probably wanted to get away from you lot as well, and frankly Tommy, I don't blame her.”
“Is that what she told you?”
Ada sighed heavily before continuing. “She'll be up for breakfast soon. You can ask her then.”
You didn't understand why he'd touched your shoulder, was he checking to see if you were awake? You laid on the bed for a long while, thoughts racing like your pounding heart. You pulled off the sheets, it was too hot, you were burning up like last night. You didn't want to leave the bed, you didn't want to face him. How could you face him knowing how much he hated you? Ada came into the room a while later. You made yourself yawn, as if you'd just woken up, but ended up coughing a few times instead.
“You're not looking any better than last night,” she murmured, hand pressing against your forehead. “Or feeling any better either.” She sat down next to you on the bed.
“Tommy's here by the way, he wants to see you. Should I call him in?” You shook your head and sat up, telling her you'd be up in a minute. She told you she'd make some tea with honey before getting to her feet and closing the bedroom door behind her. You inched out of bed, trying to make out what Ada and Tommy were saying as you dressed.
You left Ada's bedroom struggling to ignore the ever-growing dread. Your heart clenched when you caught sight of him. Tommy stood leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, one ankle resting on top of the other. His eyes watched you carefully as you took a seat opposite Ada at the kitchen table. She poured you some tea and then slowly sipped from her own cup. Her eyes darted back and forth from you to Tommy, trying to work out what was going on. You managed a few sips of tea, the sweetness of the honey making it go down easier.
“Karl still asleep?” You asked quietly, breaking the silence in the room.
“He is. I think last night knocked him out for six,” Ada replied, a small smile on her face.
Tommy turned to Ada, staring until he got her attention. He conveyed something silently to her and she rolled her eyes in response.
“He'll probably be up soon though so I better go check on him,” she replied, annoyance laced in her words. Tommy lit a cigarette as she left and smoked with his eyes never leaving yours. You couldn't think of what to say, you'd hoped anger would rise up from the base of your gut now that he was in your presence and that it would give you the words to speak. But all you could do was force yourself not to cough as the smoke itched your throat.
“She's been worried about you. Pol has too.” He finally spoke, cutting the silence in the room.
“I know,” you admitted in shame. You swallowed awkwardly as if you were taking the guilt down like a bad tonic.
“Why did you send Polly a letter with no return address?”
"You know what communists are like about sharing their addresses,” you muttered dismissively, trying to lighten the conversation. But Tommy ignored you, as he always did.
“Why did you leave with him?”
“The man you've been fucking.” You were taken back by his words, it took you a moment to work out what he was talking about. His men had thought you were a man leaving your flat, and Tommy had assumed the rest. He sat down where Ada had been, crossed one leg over the other as he continued to smoke.
“The one you had your boys beat up?”
“The one and the same.”
“Do you even know how much-” You couldn't help the few coughs that escaped your throat. “How much they hurt him?”
“He wasn't a complete coward so I'll give you that. Now where is he?”
“Why? Do you want to fuck him too?” You spat at him.
“He made you leave home. I need to find out what his intentions are.”
“To you,” he told you, snuffing out his cigarette in the ash tray and leaning in towards you. “To this family.”
“The only family I had left was Freddie, and he's in his grave next to mum.”
“I'm your brother.”
“Is that your excuse?”
“The excuse you use to justify what you've done. Having me followed for weeks, scaring everyone away from me, doing it all as so called protection.”
“I need you safe.”
“You want me to suffer.”
“Your happiness doesn't come into the equation.”
“Of course not,” you murmured, hating that you'd been proven right. He truly did hate you. You swallowed uncomfortably, trying to satiate the growing itch in your throat.
“Tell me where that man is.” You stared at him bitterly for a long moment. There wasn't an ounce of remorse in his expression. His hatred was steadfast. He wanted you alone, he wanted you to suffer.
“Oh. . .I've been looking after him don't you worry,” you began, finally feeling rage grow in your gut. “After your boys fucked him up, I had to take good care of him. You know me, good nurse and all that. I had to make sure he was comfortable. Very comfortable. I mean. . .it was the least I could do, right?”
You leaned over the table towards him, lowering your voice to almost a whisper. “I make sure he sleeps well each night. And a good fuck is usually the best prescription.” Tommy stood up suddenly, the chair noisily scraping against the floor. His jaw tightened, eyes dark and unwavering. You ignored the growing urge to cough.
“And I don't even have to pay for him,” you told Tommy with a smile on your face, wanting the words to cut him as much as possible. Your arm curled around yourself while you tried to catch your breath. The room felt too hot, the air was hard to take into your lungs but you couldn't stop yourself from continuing. “Unlike you, Thomas. . .I can get all the. . .free fucks I like. I don't. . .I don't have to. . .pay s-someone.”
You felt light-headed, headache blistering at your temples. You had to grab onto the table to steady yourself. “Not everything in the world. . .has a fucking price-”
No longer able to ignore the itch in your throat, you began to cough uncontrollably. Clenching your eyes shut, you hunched over and held a hand over your mouth. It went on for almost a minute, you felt weaker with each cough. Hands grips onto your shoulders to steady you and you realised Tommy had moved beside you. He urged you to lean back against the chair when the coughs began to subside. It was a few moments until they'd stopped completely. Tommy was rubbing the back of your shoulders.
Moving the hand away from your face, blood dripped down from your palm. You squeezed the hand shut and pulled it into your lap, but he tensed behind you, he must have seen.
“Ada!” He called out. “Ada! I need to fetch a doctor!” You turned to see her coming from Karl's room, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“I'm fine,” you wheezed, voice hoarse from all the coughing. Tommy grabbed the wrist from your lap, wrenching back your fingers until you opened your hand. His grip around you was so tight that you couldn't hold back a groan of pain while he showed Ada the blood.
“Why didn't you tell me she was ill?” Tommy accused her angrily.
“It was only a fever last night, I didn't think it was this bad.”
“I said I'm fine,” you repeated. You didn't have the strength to pull away, so you took to your feet in an attempt to move away from him. You only managed to move a step from the table when bright flashes crossed your vision, you felt a wave of lightheadedness.
The next thing you were aware of was arms wrapped around your waist. You were being carried over to the couch, your body was weak, legs useless beneath you. As you were laid out on the settee, you realised that Tommy was moving you.
“Fetch some water,” he told Ada, resting his hand on your forehead. “And a damp towel.”
You looked away from him while he leaned in close but couldn't help staring up at him. He seemed worried. Why was he worried?
Was this unfair to him? Being hurt by illness you rather than his own design? You felt an uncontrollable urge to cough begin to grow again. While you tried to swallow it down, Tommy pulled at your shoulders, helping you sit up. Ada passed him the glass and pressed it to your lips.
“Slowly,” he muttered. “Take it in sips.” You did as he asked and sipped at the water, thankfully the need to cough went away. When you'd finished, he gave Ada the glass and helped you lay down again. He placed his hand on the back your head and lowered you down slowly. Before he got up, his fingers wiped away some water that had spilt down you chin. His eyes weren't like before. They were softer than you'd ever seen them.
“Take care of her while I'm gone,” he told her. Ada sat down beside you, pressing a damp towel against your head. Tommy grabbed his coat by the front door and hurried out of the flat, slamming the door behind him.
- - -
Tommy watched you intently while the doctor examined you and asked questions about how you were feeling. He soon gave you a prognosis of pneumonia, said that fluid had built up in your lungs and prescribed bed rest for the next few days. He then said that you were young and healthy enough to fight it off.
“How would someone young and healthy enough like her get this ill in the first place?” Tommy asked.
“It is uncommon, but not impossible. She should be fully recovered by next week.”
“And if she's not?” Tommy replied, voice low like he was making a threat. The doctor was failing to hide his squirm, he moved his case in front of his body rather than holding it at his side.
“Well, I would suggest that you call for me again.” Tommy stared at him for a long moment. “Or I have. . .I have other colleagues whom I could list for you?”
“You prescribe bed rest and I presume that would mean you also suggest that she can not travel far for a good while.”
“Yes, of course. That is to say travelling a great deal would certainly be detrimental to her health.”
“Birmingham is not too far though. Is it?”
“Well. . .no, I suppose not.”
“But anywhere further is to be avoided for a good few months, isn't that right?”
“Yes, most definitely.”
Tommy looked at you pointedly, eyes never leaving yours as he spoke.
“Would you also suggest that after she has recovered initially from the worst of it, that she leave an unfamiliar environment to return home, where she can be taken care of by her family.” You felt your heart ache at his words. He was admonishing you, using the doctor's authority for his own means. The doctor, unsurprisingly, agreed heartily. He was clearly unsettled by Tommy, had he been threatened too?
You couldn't say anything. Somehow, Tommy was making you feel worse.
The doctor was eager to follow Tommy when he was shown to the door. Ada insisted that you lie back down, but before you could, Tommy said you needed to be moved to Ada's room. He took off his jacket and holster too.
“You would sleep better there,” she told you softly. “And don't worry about me, Karl will love the company, you know what he's like.” As Tommy approached, you swung your legs off the couch. His arms were about to go under your knees so he could carry you, but you took to your feet and wrapped an arm around his neck.
The headrush made you unsteady, and Ada thankfully put your arm around her. Both of them helped you walk to the bed. Tommy's grip on your hand wrapped around him was unforgiving, it was like he wanted to crack the bones in your fingers for not complying.
After they'd helped you onto the bed, Karl came into the room not long after. His face was pale, he looked scared while he took you in. You tried your best to reassure him but kept losing your breath in the process.
Tommy twisted Karl away in a bid to distract and convince him that you were going to be just fine but you needed to rest, and no auntie wasn't going to die just like daddy. He sat down on the chair in the corner of the room, ruffled Tommy's hair after putting him on his lap.
You watched as he quietly told Karl about when the two of you were kids. It wasn't long before you closed your eyes. The soft murmur of Tommy's voice lulled you to sleep.
- - -
You had a coughing fit when you were awake again. The room was dark, you felt someone sit beside you, hands rubbing against your back as every cough became more painful than the last.
“You're alright, you're alright,” Ada hushed you gently.
When you'd finished, she lit a candle on the bedside table and held a glass of water to your mouth. You swallowed down a few gulps before you began to sip at it. She was sitting in a chair next to the bed, a blanket rested on her lap.
You focused on trying to catch your breath back while Ada placed the empty glass on the table and placed a damp towel on your head. It took you a few minutes to summon the energy to speak.
“I don't want to die like Freddie.”
“You're not going to,” she reassured you, holding onto your hand and squeezing it tightly. You tried to squeeze back as best you could. Her comfort only made you feel guilty.
“I'm sorry I made Karl upset.”
“Don't apologise, he's alright. I'm surprised he even remembered what happened with him being so young,” Ada looked away from you, eyes downcast to her lap.
“Freddie wanted to die for something. Not. . .waste away as he did,” you told her, remembering that last week of his made your eyes well up. “We shouldn't have let him suffer. I should have helped him, I should have done something, I should have-”
“He wanted to live for something too. Don't forget that. It was his choice to try and live, suffering be damned. It was who he was.” Ada wiped the tears from your cheeks and you swallowed down a sob trying to bubble up your throat.
“It was who we loved,” she said as she leaned in close, arms sliding underneath you to give you a hug. She stayed there for a few moments and then wiped her face quickly as she pulled away.
“Now shove over, this chair's doing my back in,” she said, waving a hand in the air. You nodded and shifted to the side of the mattress, lifting up the covers for her. She laid down next to you and made sure you were firmly tucked in before giving your hand another squeeze.
“Get some rest now. And you better not be fidgety like your brother or I'll be putting something else in your tea rather than honey,” she warned with a smile on her face. You huffed out a laugh, a lightness seeping into your chest. After Ada blew out the candle, you thought back to your conversation with Tommy.
You were wrong. Freddie wasn't the only family you had left.
Thankyou for all of your kudos and comments! Hope you enjoyed this installment, what did you think? More coming soon!
Chapter 3: Blood
Wow thankyou so much for all your comments and kudos! I'm so glad you're enjoying it! Here's another installment, let me know what you think :D
When you woke, it was late afternoon. Ada helped you out of the bedroom to the kitchen for something to eat. After the first bite, your stomach churned with hunger as your appetite sprung to life. Tommy was thankfully nowhere to be seen and as Ada gave you a second helping, you asked where he was.
“He had to go home. Family business more than like. He was rather vague, but he did say he'll be back day after next.”
“I'll leave tomorrow then.”
“What are you talking about? You barely made it out of bed just now.”
“I can't be here when he gets back. He doesn't need to know where I am.”
“Why does it matter if he does?”
“He's had you followed in the past, hasn't he? Well. . .he did the same to me.”
“He had you followed?”
You nodded. “Only I didn't know it was Blinders that were following me. Not long before this started happening, two of our own were attacked and hospitalised, and then I almost got cornered by a few Irish men. Tommy's boys were on me every time I left the flat, every time I left work, everywhere I went. It was getting almost impossible to give them the slip.”
“That's why you left.”
You mumbled an affirmation before going back to your food. Ada let out a deep sigh.
“Look he. . .Tommy was only doing what he thought was best. He's a bastard most of the time, but he does mean well. He just didn't want to see you get hurt.”
“He doesn't care if I get hurt. He hates me.”
“No, he doesn't.”
“He told me.”
“Those exact words?”
“That doesn't sound right. When he didn't hear from you, he was. . .worried. He kept calling me at work, asking if I'd heard anything from you. He gets a bit. . .deranged when it comes to looking after his family. It's just how he is.”
You were about to tell her what his men did to you that night, but you realised how perfect Tommy's excuse was. He was only looking after his family, he only meant well. He could justify whatever the fuck he wanted. Have you followed for days on end? It was how he was. Have 'your man' beaten up? He was only protecting you. Even if you told her the truth, the excuse would still be intact. Tommy was always a step ahead, always countering his opponents movements before they could even respond. You wouldn't ever win, you just needed to stop playing.
“I don't want him to know where I am.”
“That's easier said than done.”
“You know what he's like when he puts his mind to something.”
“I was scared, Ada!” You blurted out. “I. . .barely slept, I thought. . .I thought they'd come for me in the night.” You clenched your jaw, willing yourself not to get upset.
Her eyes widened and her expression softened as she realised how serious you were.
“Alright. But if you're not well enough tomorrow, you're not leaving. We clear?” You nodded in response. You hadn't wanted to admit to Ada that you'd been scared, but there was no other way for her to understand your insistence to keep away from him. She seemed unsettled by your admission, maybe she was beginning to realise the protection her brother offered was the facade it truly was.
A while later, you managed to convince Ada you were well enough to look after Karl rather than leave him with the neighbour upstairs. She headed off to speak to Meredith about picking you up tomorrow and to run a few errands before sundown.
Karl was nervous around you, so you summoned all the energy you could muster to play with him. As you felt yourself tiring, you convinced him to give you a little show with his toys while you laid on the settee. Your claps and praise brightened him up soon enough and he performed his little show when Ada got back as well. Your nephew had boundless energy at times and you thought it had rubbed off on you at least a little. Ada seemed less worried when she looked at you.
Another good night of sleep did wonders. You certainly weren't back to normal, you felt groggy and tired still, but you weren't coughing anymore and you could move around without support.
Ada didn't hide her disappointment when you were about to leave with Meredith. She told you to visit when you were better and promised you wouldn't let Tommy know where you were.
“You'd tell me if you were going anywhere, wouldn't you? I mean. . .anywhere far?” She asked quietly, worry almost seeping into her tone.
“Of course, plus a return address this time.” She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something else but pressed her lips together and brought you into a firm hug instead. You hugged Karl too and gave him a kiss on the cheek before waving them both off.
Meredith guided you home, asking how you'd been and how you were feeling. She said she'd already spoken to the doctor that visited you before about returning to check on you.
“Even if you weren't ill, he was due a visit anyway,” she told you firmly.
When Meredith took you back to the house, Madame Lemoine hovered by the entrance, face more stern than you'd ever seen. The moment the front door closed, she began to rant loudly, arms waving in the air at you and Meredith. You could barely make out an odd word here or there. Illness. .something about responsibility. Meredith tried her best to settle her down and managed to redirect her to the kitchen. A few other comrades heard the commotion and greeted you, one of them placing a comforting hand on your shoulder. You must have looked as terrible as you'd felt.
A while later, Kenneth came over and stayed to have dinner with everyone. You tried your best to hold your end of the conversation, but you were too tired. Kenneth encouraged you to go upstairs to get some rest, you could talk party business another time. He dismissed your apology for not meeting with him and wished you a quick recovery. After he walked with you to the bedroom, you were more than glad to get under the covers.
Before you managed to nod off, Madame Lemoine came into the room with a candle. She had the same expression on her face when you came in through the front door, she sat down on the bed and placed a soft hand on your cheek. She mumbled something to herself and then moved away to her own bed. Had she. . .had she missed you? Your heart smouldered with warmth.
Your comrades had been pleased to see you. Maybe you weren't so alone after all.
- - -
The doctor visited in the morning and concluded that the pneumonia was caused by the injury to your ribs. Being unable to breathe deeply had caused fluid to build up in your lungs. He recommended several breathing exercises to follow on a daily basis and insisted on proper bed rest for the next two days.
As Meredith showed him out, you felt. . .numb. It made sense, too much sense if anything. But it would never have been something you'd put together, the connection between the illness and the attack that night. A sense of defeat permeated through your veins, like a slow poison working its way to your heart. You sat motionless for a long while, trying to hold onto the fact that you were free of him, for now.
You had to stay clear of his suffocating orbit, of the indirect harm he'd caused. You had to be absent from his designs, from his orders to return you home. He had to be a stranger now. Why the fuck did it hurt so much to think that? How could you still care for someone who hated you? Your happiness doesn't come into the equation, he'd told you. What more confirmation did you fucking need? Would he be glad if he found out that his men had beaten you up, rather than the supposed man you'd been with? He wouldn't show it of course, even with his standards he wouldn't openly direct an attack on a woman. You'd hope maybe Arthur or John would have something to say against it at least.
If the Blinders couldn't find you in their own city, they weren't going to find you here. Ada wouldn't break her promise, and your comrades would keep you safe. Somehow that wasn't enough to reassure you, but it would have to be.
When Meredith came in to see how you were doing, you asked for the pamphlets from all the meetings over the past few months. You couldn't think about Thomas Shelby anymore, it was painful, it was pointless. There were more important things to be focusing on.
After you'd properly recovered, you visited Ada and Karl like you promised. Your nephew was glad to see you and the worry that was once on his face didn't make a repeat appearance. Ada mentioned that Tommy was. . .less than pleased you'd left, he'd even tried to bribe her with money to reveal where you were, where your man was too.
“I don't have a man.”
“Tommy's rather convinced that you do.”
“I. . .I lied about it, I was just trying to get back at him.” Ada laughed mockingly.
“You're both like fucking children, do you know that?”
“He was making me angry.”
“When doesn't he make people angry? It's what he does. Look. . .just keep an eye out. If he was willing to give me money, who knows what people he'll pay in this city for a bit of information on you.”
“And you're calling me childish?”
“You shouldn't have riled him up like you did.”
“He's not my fucking responsibility, Ada. He's your brother, not mine!” You shouted, disturbing Karl while he was playing. Ada was less surprised by your outburst than you were. You hurried over to Karl, apologising and distracting him with the toys. A few minutes later, Ada placed a hand on your shoulder, directing you back to the settee to continue the conversation.
“I know you care about him, and he cares about you. I think it would be better if you just. . .talked it out,” Ada told you delicately. You started shaking your head at her.
“No. He's said. . .more than enough.” You wiped both hands over your face, a feeling of exhaustion starting to creep in.
“I should never have taken that fucking job,” you muttered angrily.
Ada didn't try to convince you to talk it out with him again. You headed back to Meredith's a few hours later, mind replaying what she'd said. What did she mean by she knows you cared about him? Did she mean as a friend? Surely your feelings weren't so obvious when you barely had a grasp on them yourself?
It didn't matter now. Whatever you felt for Thomas Shelby would have to be buried deep and left to rot.
- - -
You were aching in between your legs from the night before. One of the men was rough and you were about to knock him off when he'd finished, much to your relief. He'd left bruises on your hips and thighs, they were too dark to cover up completely. At least he'd not only paid in full, but with a little extra on top.
Not five minutes ago did you hang the vacancy sign onto the door of your tiny room. It was big enough for a bed, a side table and not much else. You'd almost worked through a pack of cigarettes even though your shift had just started. You'd have to pace yourself, it was going to be a long night.
After downing a few shots of whiskey, you lit a couple more candles on the table. There was a knock on the door before a man came in. That was a good sign. The inexperienced and the shy ones were always a little more polite, normally they were the best tippers too.
The man held his head low and closed the door behind him. He awkwardly held out the vacancy sign, giving you a chance to look at him. His hat was pulled down low and he wore a mask like the ones some soldiers were given after returning from the front. It concealed most of his features, only an eye remained uncovered. The injury must have been severe.
After taking the sign from him, he pulled out a small notebook and pen from his pocket and began to write something.
“Ten shillings for a blow, twenty for a fuck,” you told him, getting up from the bed to take off his coat. You hung it up on the back of the door and turned to see him holding out four pounds.
“Do you want to stay the night?” He nodded at your question, his hands were clasped together like he didn't know what to do with himself. You took one of his hands and guided him to sit on the bed next to you. As you reached up to take his hat off, he shook his head.
“I'm not squeamish. I've seen enough injuries for a few lifetimes.” The girls in the house tended to redirect disfigured clients to you. They couldn't bear looking at the men, but it made no difference to you. He shook his head again and wrote in his notebook.
Can you wear this over your eyes?
He pulled out a dark-coloured scarf, gently placing it on your knee as if it was an offering.
“Alright,” you agreed, tying the scarf around your head like a blindfold. You heard rustling like he was taking off his hat and mask. A hand cupped your cheek before you felt his lips on yours.
He started off slow at first and you kept your hands at your sides so he could go at his own pace. He pulled his mouth away, both of his hands holding your face, his thumbs caressing your cheeks. He kissed you again, this time more deeply, his tongue running carefully over your bottom lip. As he became more impassioned, his fingers dug into your hair, he let out a soft moan before he moved from your mouth to kiss your chin and then your neck.
He gently sucked at your skin, his tongue running lightly up your throat. The moans that escaped you weren't contrived. His hands slid from your head down your arms to your wrists. You couldn't help the shudders that rolled through your body as he kissed your neck. You registered something tightening around your wrists when his mouth pulled away from you. He moaned deeply into your ear, his lips barely grazing your skin. You shuddered again and groaned in pleasure at the sensation.
When he stopped, you realised that your wrists were tied behind your back. Something that smelled like leather was wrapped over your mouth and around your head, it was tied so tightly that it dug into the back of your skull. Before you could react, he pushed you backwards onto the bed, pinning you down with his weight on your hips. You lifted your legs off the floor, about to kick at him when something sharp was pressed against your throat.
He hummed low, a soft laugh then escaped him. Your body stiffened as you recognised his voice.
“Letting a stranger blindfold you. . .surely Freddie taught you better than that? But then again, he always had to do everything for you, didn't he?” He mocked you. You winced as he wrenched the scarf away from your face. Tommy stared down at you, amused by the fear in your expression.
“You always followed him around when we were kids. He hated you for that. You were always so needy, so pathetic. All I did was give you a job and you had little crush on me, eh?” With your eyes welling up, you tried to buck his body off you but he merely shifted his hand forwards. Warm wetness dripped down your neck. Unable to move away, you clenched your eyes shut and tried to ignore how your body was shaking.
“Look at me,” he ordered. Your tied arms were aching underneath your back, you couldn't cry out for help. No one would come to check on you while the vacancy sign was down. He pinched your nose with his free hand, cutting off your air supply.
“I told you to look at me.” His low voice marred by a contained rage. You opened your eyes, but he didn't move his fingers away. Your lungs started to burn and he merely tilted his head, watching as you began to struggle for oxygen.
“Do you fall for everyone who shows you the slightest kindness?” He asked contemptuously. Your legs began to helplessly kick out, your head thrashed side to side but his grip never faultered.
“I've already told you. . .nothing you ever do is going change anything.”
His image began to fade into darkness, the last thing you could make out was the brightness of his eyes which seemed to pierce through even the deepest of blackness. Material entrapped your body so you shoved it away, your arms were no longer tied behind you.
Your hands came up to your mouth to pull the gag away but there was nothing on your face. You wildly gasped for air, the feeling of it filling your lungs was exquisite beyond words. Your body was trembling as you tried to work out where you were. The room was dark but you could make out it was small.
Oh god, he was still here. He'd blown out the candles so you couldn't see him, untied the restraints to give you the facade of freedom. You must have passed out. He must have been waiting. The panic that took you made you run for the door and fling it open before sprinting down the stairs and out the front door. You didn't look back, you just kept running. You went flat out, focusing only on making yourself go faster and faster. How close was he behind you? How long would he keep chasing you for?
It must have been about a minute when you began to recognise your surroundings. This. . .this wasn't Manchester. Where the fuck were you? What was-
The realisation hit home in less than a second. You'd been dreaming. You were in London, at Meredith's house, safe. He didn't know where you were. You came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road, hands resting on your knees to try and catch your breath. Forcing yourself to turn around, you wiped your wet cheeks and began to head back. It was the dead of night, colder than it had been, but your body barely registered it.
You quickened the pace, desperately attempting to convince yourself that it hadn't been real even though you could still feel his weight on your hips, his fingers on your nose. There was a dampness on your neck so you rubbed at the skin only to find it was sweat rather than the blood you'd expected.
It wasn't real, it wasn't real, you repeated over and over. Yet from how shaken up you were, from the terror that was yet to be abated, it might as well have been.
Madame Lemoine was awake when you made it back to the house and to the room. She'd lit a candle and gave you a thorough looking over. She gestured for you to sit on the bed while she inspected your feet. She left the room briefly, giving you the opportunity to try to stop your body from shaking, to no avail. When she returned, she washed your feet and tended to the cuts. You hadn't felt a thing as you'd run, but now you were wincing as she cleaned the wounds. After wrapping your feet securely with bandages, she tucked you into bed and returned to her own, never speaking a word.
- - -
You couldn't walk properly for the next few days. You tried to keep off your feet as much as possible to give yourself the chance to heal. The whole incident would have been embarrassing if you weren't so unsettled by the dream.
It had been so visceral. His movements, the way he smelled, the brightness of his eyes, the way he managed to trick you into believing he was someone else completely. You'd lost yourself in the pleasure he gave you. How could he do that in one moment and then inflict so much pain and torment in the next?
The progress you'd made to try and blot him from your mind seemed to have been comprehensively eviscerated. Despair and devastation settled in your gut like when you first arrived in the city. How had you ever let yourself crave his comfort, fantasise about his pleasure? He had confirmed his disdain for you, his desire to return you under his watch and his control. Was what he said right? That you fell for everyone who showed you the slightest kindness?
The dream was splayed across your thoughts like a memory and it took a long while to come to terms with it.
You submerged yourself into work, into meetings, into writing and pamphlets and the message that needed to be spread. You met with Kenneth numerous times leading up to the youth league meeting, preparing a speech to give to the young members. It had to be something worth listening to, something to ignite the passion inside like Freddie had done for you. Even if you opened the eyes of a few, it was enough. Trying to make a change, to make things better was significant in its own right, no matter how small. Sometimes one person was all it took.
Before the meeting, Madame Lemoine's son had arrived to take her to America. Meredith planned a lavish farewell gathering and you spent a couple hours in the kitchen with a few others helping to get all the food prepared. By the time it was ready, there were almost thirty comrades squeezed into the house, heartily enjoying the feast and the multitude of drinks being passed around. James entertained everyone with a few poems and finished off with a poor attempt at a French song that many jokingly jeered at him to stick to paper rather than a stage. Madame Lemoine was rather amused by the spectacle, so it was a success in your books.
You sat next to Kenneth through most of the evening, surprised by how serious and composed he became with a few drinks in him. He wrapped an arm around your shoulder.
“I know what you have convinced yourself to think but I am determined to assure you of the truth and for you to see reason.”
“And what might that be?”
“You're not a good liar, might I add, you know exactly what I'm talking about.” Your mocking smile faded from your expression as he leaned in a little closer. “I have read many a letter of yours, and your ability to inspire is not under question, but your concern for speaking to an unfamiliar audience should not be so entrenched as it is. Though you relied on your brother in the past to deliver such words that is not an option now. To think, as I am certain that you do, that he would be disheartened by anything less than a perfect speech is utterly preposterous. You will be nervous, you may stumble over a few words, but the heart of the message is what's important you must understand, and it is not possible for you to be lacking of heart.”
“You. . .don't think I'm a good liar?” He sighed at you, his hand began to slip away from your shoulder but you grabbed onto it tightly.
“You're too kind.”
“It is not kindness but merely factual observation.”
“Well um. . .thankyou for your. . .observations?” He chuckled at your remark but didn't let you get away with trying to lighten the tone of the conversation.
“You will do well. We'll go everything tomorrow, that is only if we are not totally succumbed by alcohol.”
“Speaking of which. . .” You managed to pinch a two half pints from a tray that was being passed around and gave one to Kenneth.
“To the message,” you toasted with him, clinking your glasses together.
The rest of the evening was filled with laughter and plenty of raucous singing. It was only in the morning that you realised it would more than likely be the last time you'd ever see Madame Lemoine. She was about to leave when she bid you farewell, kissing either side of your face before pinching your cheek. You wished her a safe journey alongside Meredith and the others, waving them both goodbye. Later that day, as you readied yourself to meet with Kenneth, you stared at the empty bed next to yours. She had been so much happier when her son had arrived, glad to be with her family. You hoped she wouldn't cry as often now.
When you left to meet with Kenneth later in the day, you arrived early as you'd tried to do a few times before, but he always managed to arrive first. You mentioned it to him, saying how you were trying to beat him.
“Fine ladies shouldn't be kept waiting,” he replied. You managed to hold back a snort.
“I'm hardly a lady, and certainly not a fine one at that,” you countered.
“Fine friends then, shouldn't be kept waiting.” You couldn't hold back a smile and had to turn away from him to hide the growing blush on your cheeks. The clouds weren't looking promising so he suggested to take refuse in a café for some lunch. He went over the preparations for the youth league meeting that would take place later in the evening, giving you the opportunity to finalise everything.
When the time came, Kenneth had proven himself to be right. You certainly were nervous, and you did stumble over a few words, but your audience didn't seem to mind at all. They seem unbothered when you paused for a few beats too long as you tried to remember the next thing to say.
He congratulated you afterwards, saying that your brother would have been proud. It had been so gratifying to see your efforts come to fruition in the youth league meeting, to meet the young members and to see how friendships had grown between strangers. Kenneth wanted to see you the next day to talk over everything in detail, and begin preparations for the next meeting. You would met up with him as usual by Bishop's Road Station.
The sun was warm when it was uncovered by the clouds. If the weather held out, you'd go for a walk in the park with him, otherwise you'd go for lunch somewhere like yesterday.
Kenneth was a good man, quiet, but enthusiastic about his passions. After Madame Lemoine's farewell dinner, you found out he became particularly eloquent with his words and serious in his disposition after a few drinks. You checked Freddie's pocket watch, wondering if you could beat him to the punch this time around.
When you walked over to where he'd normally stand, your gut ached in dread. Tommy was there, talking to him. Kenneth looked more than uncomfortable, he looked unsettled. Your body froze for a long moment, trying to understand how he'd found you, thinking back to his adamancy in meeting the man you'd been fucking, no doubt to demonstrate how poorly Peaky Blinders took to unchecked strangers.
Kenneth tried to step aside, but Tommy followed suit and stood right in front of him, too close to be polite. You pulled out the knife you carried, fingers clenching onto its handle as you approached them. You slapped a hand down hard on Tommy's shoulder and stood in between them.
“Thomas. I thought you were back home,” you spoke through nearly gritted teeth. He barely glanced at you, his attention focused on Kenneth.
“I am sorry, my former brother-in-law has a very peculiar sense of humour. If you could just give us a moment?” You tilted your head, gesturing for him to give you some space. It was going to be a damn sight easier asking him to move rather than Tommy. Kenneth forced a smile and was about to move away when Tommy spoke.
“We'll meet again, Mr. Henderson. Of that I have no doubt.” Kenneth swallowed nervously before hurrying off into the station. Tommy watched intently as he left, a disconcerting severity on his expression. Your hand dropped away from him.
“What the fuck did you say to him?”
“He's a bit old for you, eh? Doesn't seem the fighting type,” he replied casually, sliding his hands into his pockets.
“Don't go near him again, do you understand?”
“Is it him? Is he the one you chose over us?”
“I came to London to get away from you. I've never met Kenneth before coming here.”
“He likes you.”
“He's a good friend, and a good man.”
“A good fuck too, eh?”
“I just told you, I didn't meet him before I came here.”
“That doesn't stop you from fucking him here, does it?” You bristled angrily at his words and had to look away from him for a moment. He wasn't listening to a word you said. Your lie to try and provoke him was only coming back to haunt you. The people walking in and out of the station didn't take notice of your heated conversation, they simply merged into the background until it was only you and him. Tommy had a knack for doing that, stripping the world bare until there was nothing left but only his and his own. You gripped onto the knife even tighter, trying to contain the rage.
“If I see you near him again-”
“You'll what?” Tommy challenged, eyes filled with nothing but contempt. Before you could stop yourself, you slipped the knife under his vest and pierced the skin above his hips. He grunted in pain, arms moving to stop you.
“Move and I'll sink it in deeper,” you murmured before he could force your hand away. His eyes were wide, but it was in disbelief rather than fear.
“First thing Freddie taught me was that weakness would be prayed upon. That's what you've always thought of me, isn't it? That I'm weak.” You wrapped an arm around his neck, pulling him into something of a hug as you spoke into his ear.
“But I know what's inside of you, Tommy. You're nothing but meat and blood.” He groaned as you pulled the knife out of him, his fingers latching onto your shoulder. His lips parted open but he didn't say anything. Looking down, two inches of the blade were wet with blood. He held his other hand against the wound, expression unreadable. You pulled off your hat and pressed it against his hand until he grunted again and took the hint to use it as an impromptu bandage.
“There's never been any man. I left because of you,” you told him plainly. You tucked the knife into your coat pocket, not worrying about the mess the blood would make. “It's only ever been you.”
- - -
Kenneth barely spoke three words together when you found him. You'd hurried away from Tommy and made sure he wasn't following behind as you headed off with Kenneth. You'd apologised profusely, but his mood never brightened. He was paler than usual too. Nothing you said helped, your multiple attempts to lighten his spirits and keep the conversation going failed miserably. You walked him to his flat, he seemed rather surprised when you arrived, as if he hadn't realised where he was going.
Before you could leave, he suggested you come inside to talk, his eyes darting across the street as if he was checking whether anyone was watching. He was silent on the way up to the third floor. His flat was small, but filled with books and trinkets, maps and pictures adorned the walls, every crook and cranny was used. There was something homely about it. You sat with him in the kitchen, waiting patiently for him to say something.
“Oh, I haven't offered you any um. . .d-do you want some tea?”
“Right,” he nodded, eyes fixed on the table. It took a few moments for him to speak again. “You said he's your. . .brother-in-law?”
“He was. He's Ada's brother.”
“I see. And you. . .know him well?”
“Known him since we were kids, but we're not close. After Freddie passed, I worked for him for a while, though it didn't turn out well. It's why I came here. To call him trouble is to put it lightly.”
“Was he close with Freddie?”
“They had their moments. They drifted apart after the war, but they could rely on each other when it came down to it.”
“Is it the same with you and him?”
“No. He and Freddie grew up together, fought in the war together, it was different. Me and him. . .we've never been close. You couldn't call us friends.”
“I. . .see.”
“I don't know how he found me, I've been trying to keep away from him. I'm sorry I didn't get there earlier.” He merely nodded and didn't ask anymore questions. He didn't try to stop you when you stood up to leave. You mentioned whether you'd see him at the next meeting, and he hummed noncommittally.
On the way to Meredith's house, you changed directions several times, walking down roads you hadn't been down before. At first you thought you were doing it to pass some time and collect your thoughts, but you realised that you were making sure you weren't being tailed. You came to a halt on the pavement. The feeling was back, you hadn't experienced it since you left home weeks ago. It was settled down in your bones like it had always been there, dormant, waiting.
You didn't feel safe.
The next time you met Kenneth, he was almost back to normal, quieter than he usually was, but much improved after his encounter with Tommy. At least this time he could look you in the eye. You were anxious to know what Tommy had said to him even though you could guess close enough. You were surprised that your mind wasn't dwelling on him, worried how he'd ended up getting to a doctor or if he'd gone to a hospital, whether he'd been treated properly, how many stitches he had, if infection had set in. Your words meant nothing to him, he had to be shown.
You were more worried about Ada finding out what you'd done to him, or Polly. When you visited Ada, your concerns came to fruition.
“You stabbed him!? What the bloody hell is wrong with you?”
“I didn't have a choice.”
“For someone who doesn't want anything to do with Blinders, you sure know how to act like one! And don't give me that bollocks, there's always a choice. You just decided to go with the one that gave you the best satisfaction, didn't you?” Your head lowered in shame, not a word she spoke was untrue.
“What the fuck do you think Freddie would say if he were here? He'd give you a worse bollocking than I am now, that's for sure.”
“He was threatening Kenneth.”
“I. . .don't know. He didn't have to say the words.”
“Tommy doesn't do silent threats and even if he did, it's not a fucking excuse. Just punch him in the face next time, like a normal person.”
What do you think Freddie would say, the words echoed in your mind. He'd be disappointed in you that was for certain. But if he knew everything about what happened, you thought maybe he wouldn't be as angry as Ada implied. He would understand, wouldn't he?
Ada didn't stay mad at you for long and you were grateful for that. Things went on as they did before. You met with Kenneth, went to your meetings, did chores around Meredith's house. The only thing different was that she'd found you a job. The pay was shit and the hours were long, but it was work. Though it was only three days a week, nothing but mundane paperwork at that, you were giving some money back, earning your way for once.
A new comrade was settled into the empty bed across from yours. Her name was Lorraine, she was young, barely a woman. She'd been eight months pregnant when she was pushed down the stairs by her father. He'd found out the child's father was a communist and had then discovered her stash of pamphlets. She'd barely survived.
It had been over a month since it had happened and she was still mostly bedridden. In the evenings you'd sit by her, keeping her company, fetching anything she needed. She barely spoke a word that first week. You'd read stories to her which she seemed to bring her out of her shell.
When she was up and about on her feet, you'd take her for walks on your days off. You happened to pass the bakers one morning when you realised that you'd taken Meredith's place, as she'd helped you before.
Did the suffering just pass on from one person to the next? When would it end? Was that even possible?
On one of your days off, you offered to look after Karl while Ada was working in the library. You took him to the park as the rain was holding out and hoped that he'd tire himself out for the afternoon. As you returned back to Ada's building, he claimed he was too tired to walk up the stairs and had to be carried up instead. You supposed you'd done the job, but Karl loved being carried so you couldn't be sure.
After carrying him up the stairs and threatening to tickle him if he didn't stop wiggling like a worm, you put him down when you made it to Ada's floor. As you looked up, your heart stuttered painfully. Tommy was leaning against the wall by her door. Karl ran off down the corridor, screaming Uncle Tommy and he squealed joyfully when he was lifted off the ground. There was a small smile on Tommy's expression, but it waned as you steadily approached.
“Can we go play? Can we?” Karl exclaimed.
“We've just got back from the park, you've tired yourself out,” you reminded him.
“You're not too tired, are you Karl?” Tommy asked, rubbing his knuckles under Karl's chin.
“I can play! I can play!”
“There's a good man.” You forced yourself not to audibly sigh when Tommy glared at you smugly.
The walk back to the park was filled with Karl babbling on and Tommy doing his best to keep up. You didn't know what to say. The only thing you did know was that you couldn't leave Karl alone with him. You sat on one of the benches, watching as Karl ran about, darting around the trees like he hadn't done only an hour ago. Tommy sat down next to you a while later, crossing one leg over the other.
“You shouldn't-” You blurted out before you could stop yourself. He looked at you curiously.
“I shouldn't. . .?”
“Cross your legs like that. It might. . .reopen the wound.” His mouth twitched like he was holding back a smile.
“It seems funny that you'd care when it was your doing in the first place.” There was nothing you could say to that, he was right of course. You turned to Karl, telling him to slow down when he nearly stumbled over a pile of leaves.
“I've worked it out you know, why you came here,” Tommy told you.
“Really,” you mumbled.
“After my boys had your man, he got scared and did a runner. But you loved him, didn't you? And he broke your heart.” You stared at him mindlessly, the ache in your heart sunk down to your gut. Why did his words ring true even though they were so wrong?
“I can finish it if you want,” he mentioned, lighting a cigarette and smoking it for a few moments. “If you tell me where he is, I can finish the job. You deserve better than a man like that.” He offered out the cigarette to you.
“I don't deserve anyone though, do I? My happiness doesn't matter.”
“You being safe and unhurt is more important than you being happy. That's what I meant before.” You tried to let the words sink in and took the cig from him. Fuck, you'd missed having a good smoke. You mulled over his words, thinking back to what he'd said before and how you'd taken it to mean.
You'd taken several drags when you finally remembered to give it back to him, but he'd already lit another.
“So no. . .I don't hate you,” he told you softly.
“That's what you thought, eh?” You closed your mouth when you realised it was parted open.
“Did Ada. . .?”
“She wanted us to stop acting like children, I believe were her words.”
“Sounds about right.” You snuffed out the cigarette when Karl came bounding over. He sat in between you both, chatting away happily while you managed to steal a few glances at Tommy. Your mind was starting to blank, you couldn't process what he'd said. He didn't hate you. He didn't hate you?
Karl ran about for a while longer until he came back truly exhausted this time around. Tommy carried him as you headed back home. The silence between you was strangely comfortable. You took in the surroundings and the grey sky, checking over to Karl to see if he was still napping soundly.
“Is everyone back home alright? Pol, Esme and your brothers?”
“They're all fine.”
“And Finn too?”
“Last time I checked he was still one of my brothers.” You huffed out a laugh at his attempt at a joke.
“Did you take my advice about Lizzie? Is she your secretary now?”
“She is, she's doing well.” You nodded slowly, not quite sure what answer you'd expected. Of course she'd do well, it's why you suggested her. The mention of her made you unsteady, you slipped back into silence again until he spoke again a few moments later.
“When are you coming home?”
“If I come home, she'll be out of a job," you pointed out. He turned to you then with a raised eyebrow, expectant of a real answer.
“I. . .don't know,” you admitted. The conversation lulled into silence once more and the tension seemed to thicken as you neared Ada's flat. He didn't stay long, citing that he had business to attend to. You muddled on in a daze until Ada came back from work, barely able to believe what had happened.
- - -
The sensation was odd. It was like the thoughts that had persisted for weeks, the constant whirlwind of them, reliving the memories of what happened with him, and then the nightmares that came as a result, it all suddenly stopped. That night you replayed what he said over and over, that he didn't hate you, that you deserved better than a man like that. It seemed as if he spoke in earnest, or was he merely lying in order to placate his sister? Tommy had a soft spot for Ada. Perhaps he was trying his best to get back into her good graces.
If what he said really was true, did it mean that his intentions were to protect you, rather than to alienate and isolate you as you'd inferred? Perhaps he was merely treating you like he would Ada. She wasn't able to be with Freddie openly at first in fear of how Tommy would react.
Of course the men had been warned away from you back home. Tommy had done the same to Ada in the past. It was a matter of Shelby pride above all else. He was under the false impression that you were apart of his family, even though you weren't-
Freddie had made him promise to look after you. That seemed to be the crux of the issue. Tommy would protect you as if you were his own, surely Freddie had understood what that would entail? How could he do that? Were they of the same mind? That as long as you were physically well and safe, that your happiness was irrelevant? You'd rather fight for the chance of happiness with the Luger tucked in your pocket, how could Freddie not know that?
Was he truly delirious those last few days? How could he think that setting Thomas Shelby on you would be anything but fucking chaos?
You managed to procure a bottle of whiskey and sat drinking it on your bed while Lorraine was fast asleep opposite. Surprisingly the hangover wasn't too bad when you went to work the next morning. Your mind was preoccupied throughout the day with thoughts of Tommy, like it had been before when you worked as his secretary. That evening you'd recovered well enough in time for another meeting. You met Kenneth and Ada when you arrived with Meredith, and found some seats near the back.
It went as it usually did until the speaker gave an update on the Sabini and Solomon situation.
“I have some unfortunate news for you. There appears to be a new player in the city.” People muttered quietly amongst themselves, more out of curiosity than worry. Kenneth shrugged when you turned to him and Ada simply looked on at the speaker.
“We know very little at this point aside from there being an incident at one of Sabini's clubs. As you can imagine, it was not taken kindly and there will be severe reprisals. I urge caution to you all. We will let you know when we have more information.”
A few more announcements were made before the end of the meeting and you spoke to Kenneth afterwards, asking him if he knew anyone stupid enough to fuck with Sabini.
“I'll meet you downstairs,” Ada told you, she didn't mind too much when you and Kenneth got talking sometimes, but she was eager to release Karl from the woman upstairs.
“I really should get going,” you replied to him, and he gracefully conceded defeat. “We'll meet tomorrow?”
“Same place,” you confirmed, waving goodbye as you began to head down the stairs. After going down the first flight, sounds of a scuffle echoed from below. Looking down, you made out a man's leg, and a flash of Ada's coat. Running down the steps, you pulled out the Luger from your coat pocket, chest filling with panic.
The door to the building was left wide open, and you sprinted through it. Ada was being dragged to a car by two men, her legs kicking out as she tried to fight back. The driver had gotten out to open up the door for them. Forcing yourself to slow to a walk, you opened fire on the men, careful to keep wide of Ada. One of the men fell to the ground while another pulled out his weapon. He fired twice at you before you shot him in the chest, emptying the clip until he crumpled onto the ground. The bastard had thankfully missed.
The car began to pull away from the pavement, you'd missed the driver. You'd missing the fucking driver.
You dropped the Luger and started to run.
You couldn't keep up, within a few moments the car began to disappear from view. Panic and adrenaline shuddered around your body, willing yourself to keep going, but they were gone.
You quickly walked back to the men, noticing that there was wet dripping down your neck. Wiping at it with your hand, your fingers were red with blood. So the bastard hadn't missed after all.
The wound couldn't have been too serious or you wouldn't be standing. One of the men rolled over onto his side, grunting softly in pain as he tried to reach his revolver. You picked it up before he could make it and shot him in the temple, bits of skull and brain splattered onto the ground, wet sprayed onto your face.
Tucking the revolver away, you picked up your Luger and hurried away from the scene before witnesses could start gawking at what happened. You had to get to Karl, you had to make sure he was safe, if they hadn't taken him already.
Your coat was dark enough to hide the blood and you pulled the collar up to hide the wound as best you could. Passing a shop window by a street light, you saw that the bullet had grazed your skin. It would need stitches for definite, but you'd been lucky. After wiping your face, you hurried back to Ada's flat.
When you let yourself in, you grabbed a scarf to wrap around your neck before going upstairs to the neighbour who was looking after Karl for the evening. Knocking on the door, you prayed that he would be alright, that the men had only gone after Ada, as fucked up as that sounded.
“Is Karl alright?” You asked as soon as the older woman opened the door. She raised an eyebrow at you.
“Why wouldn't he be?” She retorted, as if you'd insinuated something about her caretaking.
“Uhh. . .I'm sorry. I only meant that he can be rather shy.”
“The boy's fine. Better that he's quiet really.”
“Of course,” you replied. Thankfully she didn't seem inclined for any more chatter and called out to Karl to collect his things. She held out her hand, and you stared for a moment in confusion before realising she wanted payment and that Ada had the money.
She was rather put out, and demanded to be paid by tomorrow. You apologised again and took Karl back upstairs, grateful that she'd barely taken note of your appearance. On your way down the stairs, you were getting more and more lightheaded and were finding it difficult to deflect his questions about where his mum was and why you were wearing the big fluffy scarf that was for when it snowed and was it snowing.
You told him that mummy wouldn't be long, that she was going to take him out in the morning to have breakfast and he would need all the sleep he could get so there'd be enough room in his belly for all the food.
Thankfully he wasn't insistent about a bedtime story, giving you the chance to take a proper look at the wound. Ada kept a small box with bandages and gauze for when Karl would hurt himself playing or for the occasional nose bleed. There wasn't any needle or thread, and even if there was, your hands were shaking too much. Cleaning the wound and applying pressure to it was the best you could do.
You bit down on the scarf as you poured whiskey over your neck, flesh blistering with pain from the sensation. It took you a while to recover. You held a bandage to your neck while you hobbled to your bag and awkwardly reloaded the Luger. You barricaded the front door by taking one of the kitchen chairs and forcing it underneath the handle. It wouldn't be enough to stop someone if they were determined, but enough to alert you to their presence.
You laid out on the couch, holding the bandage in place rather than wrapping it around your neck to constrict your airway. The Luger was tucked beside you, Karl safe in his room. Your thoughts turned to Ada, guilt and shame flooding your veins knowing you had failed her, mind engulfed with horror as to what might be happening to her.