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Breathe Again

Chapter Text

A car drives up the gravel path leading to Arrow house, cutting through the evening fog, the sound of the engine humming drifting across the lawn. It comes to a halt in front of the large building looming over the grounds. Only a few of the windows are lit, making the entire structure seem bigger, like nothing but a massive shadow.  

Michael climbs out first and goes around to open the door for Gina, who makes a grimace when she sets her high heels down on the damp gravel

“This better be worth the drive,” she says and lights a cigarette, shuddering in the chilly air. Michael doesn’t respond, too focused on the building in front of him. He gazes at the windows, eyes drawn to the ones with a bit of light, and to that particular window on the second floor. He thinks he sees a figure behind the curtains. The room is dimly lit, and there’s only a small opening between the heavy folds of fabric. So the figure standing there could be a figment of his imagination. Must be, considering which room it is…  

“You coming darling?” Gina asks while letting out a puff of smoke. It adds to the milky fog. As if the entire garden is full of cigarette smoke. Michael offers his arm to her and they walk up towards the front door.

…..

“-that you have the fucking guts to even suggest shit like this!” Arthur’s voice booms through the room. Seems to echo throughout the entire house. “It’s beyond me. It’s just fucking beyond me-“  

Gina rolls her eyes. Michael squares his jaw.

They’re all seated in the living room, a failed attempt at bringing some sense of normality to the situation. Despite the lit fireplace, the atmosphere couldn’t be colder. Finn glares from where he’s positioned in the green velvet sofa, and Ada puts a hand on his shoulder when he shifts in his seat. Michael and Gina occupy the sofa opposite them and Arthur has folded his lanky frame into a leather armchair next to the small table housing the cannister of whisky. That cannister just came dangerously close to being hurled across the room.

“I think we should at least wait for Lizzie,” Ada says, with a cold look in Michael’s direction, before turning her attention to her older brother. “Arthur-“

“No, don’t use that fucking voice on me!” Arthur hisses and staggers to his feet. “Fuck, don’t you bloody dare try making this sound like I’m being unreasonable!” His face is already flushed from one too many glasses of whisky drunken too quickly. He stabs a finger in Michael’s direction. “You- the- the fucking nerve to talk about this when Tommy is-“

“That’s the entire reason we have to talk about this,” Michael says calmly. “And unless you’ve spent the past month secretly working on some brilliant plan, I suggest you let me finish.” His gaze sweeps across the room but no one meets it. “You all must’ve realised we would talk about this. Why else would we have a meeting?”

His eyes finally land on Arthur, and Arthur’s hands clench into fist where they hang by his sides, knuckles whitening. His nostrils flare and twitch. Ada grows tense in her seat, muscles coiling in preparation.

Michael and Arthur stare at each other for a moment that seems to stretch on forever.

The door opening is what breaks the tension, and the occupants of the room turn their attention to the newcomer. Gina gazes at a painting, exhaling yet another cloud of smoke.

Lizzie enters the room, impeccably dressed in a forest green gown that drapes in soft folds across her shoulders, hair shaped into elegant waves. The only cracks in the façade are the faint dark circles under her eyes and the way her jaw is set a bit too tight.

Michael raises both eyebrows and cranes his neck to glance down the empty corridor before she closes the door, leaving a small opening.

Lizzie gives him a look, but doesn’t comment on the obvious question on his face.

“I see you’ve already helped yourself to the whisky,” she says and lights a cigarette, going to sit in the second leather armchair opposite Arthur, who has returned to his seat.

The air fills with tense silence. Because there’s nothing and somehow far too much to say at once…

Arthur finally clears his throat and speaks: “Is he…” but he lets the sentence die after just those two words, trailing into the tense silence again. Lizzie shakes her head.

“No change I assume?” Michael says and earns himself steely look.

“So much for the drive out here,” Gina scoffs.

Arthur’s anger seems to almost physically swell throughout the room, pushing all the air out. But all he does is refill his whisky glass.

“Well, in that case…” Michael stands. Uses that voice that tells the entire room the meeting has started. “Lizzie, since Arthur wouldn’t leave it alone we did start talking before you arrived, even though I made it clear we should wait. But I think we all know why we’re here.” He looks around the room and only catches Arthur and Ada’s gazes. Finn and Lizzie are busy staring at anything but him; Finn’s eyes nervously flickering, Lizzie’s gaze stiffly straight ahead. “Due to the current circumstances, it’s clear that we need to make decisions and take measures to ensure not only the continued success but the continued existence of Shelby Company Limited.” He pauses. “I think we were all hoping things would be different now. But since they aren’t, I propose that we revisit the suggestion I presented a month ago. I’m willing to take on the role as head of the company, which will ensure a way into the American market. And overall just some general fucking stability that this company has lacked for some time.”

Arthur flies up from his chair again and Michael fails to hide a flinch at the sudden move.  With a sharp outlet of air he goes to pace in front of the window.

“And why the fuck should you take on that role?” Finn asks. “Isn’t this room full of people with just as much right to that position?”

“Well, not really,” Gina smirks. “All I see here is a commie sister who a few years ago cut all ties to the family, only to crawl back when she realised life without money is hard.” Ada’s eyes have turned a shade darker. Gina looks to Arthur, undeterred, “A brother who can’t even keep his own wife in line, and…” she pauses when she comes to Lizzie and smiles. “A… secretary and grieving wife who probably has enough on her mind-“

Ada’s hand clenches around the armrest on the sofa, but Lizzie is the one who cuts Gina off.

“Thank you Gina for that insightful comment. But I think I’m quite capable of handling a multitude of things at once.”

The corner of Gina’s mouth twitches. “You can’t seriously mean that you would have any kind of claim-“

“Well, as Tommy’s wife and member of the board I do think I should have some say in the matter.”

Gina snaps her mouth shut around her reply when Michael puts his hand up.

“You do have some say, of course, Lizzie,” he says. “As member of the board. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have the contacts in America, which is now our biggest and most promising market.” He slowly walks to stand behind Gina, hands coming to rest on the back of the sofa. “And I suppose I might’s well be fucking clear about this: who else in this room is honestly prepared to step up and take on this role, eh?”

The silence is stifling and thick. Cold. As if the fog around the house has seeped in through the windows and filled the room.

“What about you Arthur?” Michael asks. “Are you prepared to take on that responsibility? To have the whole fucking company resting on your shoulders?” Arthur looks out the window and Michael splays his arms out wide. “Anyone?”

“Aunt Polly-“ Finn starts weakly.

“Has made it very clear she wants nothing to do with this company or, fucking hell, this family again, after what happened to Aberama,” Michael cuts him off. “However I’m hopeful that with these changes, she might reconsider and-“

Lizzie suddenly turns to the door, eyebrows furrowed as she cranes her neck to catch a glimpse of the corridor outside.

Everyone watches as she furrows her brow and listens. Then she sinks back into the chair again.

“Thought I heard…” she trails off and shakes her head.

Michael speaks up again, “Nothing will be decided here and now. We’ll of course vote with the entire board. This is to give you some time to think. To make sure that we as a family are united.”

Arthur scoffs at that. But no one speaks, because what is there to say?  

Gina gives Michael a look and he clears his throat. “Now, to the second order of business. I think we have to start seeing things more clearly. Stop just putting out fires and think of the future, not only for the company but… the situation as a whole.”

Arthur turns from the window and comes closer. He picks up his whiskey glass and refills it. Lizzie sits up a bit straighter in her chair.

“We gathered here because we were hoping that perhaps Tommy’s condition would’ve improved,” Michael says. “That maybe he could join us. But it hasn’t. And I think we must face the possibility that it never will.”

Ada sighs. “We already have. Isn’t that why you just fucking proposed that you’d be put in charge? Or have I gravely fucking misunderstood something?”

“I’m talking about getting professional help,” Michael replies. “I’m talking about seeing things as they are: That he’s a danger to himself, and quite possibly others. And that maybe he should be institutionalized.”

Moments pass after he’s uttered the words. Long moments where everyone grapples to just understand them.  

“An asylum?”  Arthur finally breathes out and takes a step closer to Michael, voice trembling when he speaks, “You’re talking, about a fucking asylum?”

“Oh, don’t be so fucking dramatic, “Gina says. “He barely even knows where he is. Might’s well lie in a different bed staring at ghosts. Someplace where people actually know how to handle it.”  

Ada drags Finn back onto the sofa, and Arthur’s eyes widen to impossible size, dark with fury.

“Arthur, I know this is not something you want to hear,” Michael says. “But you have to consider the possibility that… that he’s gone. It’s not about the injury anymore. The damage is inside his head, and it’s been there for a long time. That bullet was just a scratch compared to it.” He holds up his hands in a placating gesture as he takes a breath and continues: “An asylum doesn’t have to mean simply being locked in a cell. There are new treatments, things they do in America-“

“Oh, things they do in America, eh?!” Arthur bellows. “Things they fucking do in America? Is that what she’s told you?” he points to Gina with a trembling hand. “That they’ve got some new revolutionary method- something that’s gonna make it fucking okay to- to even fucking consider locking Tommy up in a place like that-“

“There’s a fucking reason those places exist,” Michael snaps, finally raising his voice as a red flush creeps up his neck. “And you know what kind of people they put in there? Hm, Arthur? People who hear and see things that aren’t there. People who have lost all fucking grip on reality. Who can’t take care of themselves-“

A glass smashes into a bookshelf when Arthur throws it in Michael’s direction but misses with about a mile. A rain of splinters skitter across the floor.

“Face it Arthur,” Michael shouts. “He’s not coming back. If you took your head out of your arse for even a second you’d see that-“

“Stop it!” Finn’s shout shocks the entire room into silence and even Michael falters. Staring down at his lap, Finn takes a harsh breath in through his nose.

“Tommy might be- he might not be… how he used to be. But he’s still part of this family and we- we can’t just send him away-“ his hands are shaking. Ada puts an arm around him, and for the first time in years he accept the comfort like he did when he was just a kid hiding outside the door when meetings like this went down. He leans into her side.

“We’re not sending anyone away,” she says softly, but her eyes are nothing but cold steel when she looks to her cousin. “Michael can’t do that. It’s not up to him.”

“No, it’s up to Lizzie,” Gina says simply. “If she wants to spend the rest of her life looking after a catatonic shell, fine. But you might want to consider the fact that he could decide to try again, and that he might succeed.” Lizzie’s mouth is a tight line when Gina looks at her and quirks an eyebrow, before facing the Shelby siblings again. “So maybe the question is if you’d rather have an alive brother getting the care he obviously desperately needs, or a dead one.”

Now even Ada is out of her chair and Michael steps in front of Gina when Arthur comes towards them

But right then the door opens fully and Frances is standing there.  

“I’m sorry to disturb you Mrs. Shelby,” she says and nervously twists her hands.

Lizzie pinches the bridge of her nose. “What is it Frances?”

“I just wanted to see if Mr. Shelby had joined you,” she says and glances around the room. Lizzie sighs.

“No, as you can see he hasn’t.”

“Well, it’s just that his room is empty and I thought-”

“Try the bathroom.“

“It’s empty, and I’ve checked the children’s rooms and-“

Lizzie’s face has gone completely white when she gets out of her chair and breathes out, “Check the roof.”

Frances is out the door in moments and when her steps disappear down the hallway, it’s apparent that she’s running. Lizzie turns back to the family. They seem at a loss. Always at a loss these days.

“Arthur, you take Finn and start searching the grounds. Ada, get a hold of Johnny dogs. Tell him to bring some people get those out looking too-“

She gives orders with ease and they all follow them, rushing out of the room one by one to carry them out.

“And you,” she turns to Gina and Michael. “You can leave.”

“We’ll stay and help searching of course,” Michael says. “Make sure you find him. We wouldn’t want something to happen-“

Lizzie goes to stand only inches away from him and spits, “You might already have this company in the palm of your fucking hand, but this is my house. Get out.”

Then she turns on her heal and hurries down the corridor. She heads for the roof.

....

The first rays of sunlight peak over the horizon, casting light over a calm sea and slowly burning away the mist billowing over the dark waters. Today is one of those rare mornings when the sea is completely calm, making the beach uncharacteristically silent. And in the silence, there’s a knock on a door. A door that just so happens to be situated on a house right close to that calm sea.

So even though it only results in one quiet rap, it still rings loudly in the silence.

No one opens, because it’s early and no visitors are expected.

Another knock, even more quiet than the first.

The hand falls from the door, faltering along with its owner. Unsteady feet walk away from the door. Unsteady and bare, leaving wet footprints behind. Unable to walk any longer. There’s a soft thump as a body hits the stone flooring, falling into a heap at the foot of the steps leading up to the house.

And the door opens.

Chapter Text

Alfie is none too fucking pleased to be awakened by such a rude thing as knocking. And loud knocking, at that, on his bedroom door. If a man can’t get out of bed in his own fucking time even when he’s dead then what does that say about the state of the world?

”Mister Solomons-” More bloody knocking. ”Sir, I’m sorry to wake you but-”

Alright, Esther keeps fucking talking and he can barely hear it because he’s still half asleep, floating in a blissful kind of deep water and there, far below the surface all the sounds are muffled. But when the godawful knocking just continues, he’s forced to open his eyes and try to reconnect with his body. Always an unpleasant experience. Granted, it’s getting better (which truly is a strange turn of events because who would’ve thought?) and everyday his joints feel a bit less achy- but mornings are still difficult. Not to mention that most mornings half his face feels like it’s somehow stiffened throughout the night, and like he’s wearing some kind of mask made of wax on top of his own, real face.

All in all waking up is an altogether unpleasant experience and it’s not made better by that bloody knocking.

“Alright, alright, fucking hell woman-“ He sits up and rubs his one good eye as the sun pierces through the curtain to add insult to injury. “I’m awake-“

And then the door opens on top of it all. Truly no limits to overstepping boundaries today apparently-

“Bloody hell! Can a man get one moment to make himself fucking decent around here?” he grunts as if his sorry state will somehow shock her. Few things will do that once you’ve had to spend the first months of your employment helping someone in and out of a bathtub. But still, it’s a matter of principle really.

Esther, predictably, is entirely unfazed in that way only a woman closing in on sixty who’s already seen most things the world has to offer, can be.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but this really can’t wait,” she says. “There’s- Well, I don’t quite know how to say this but there’s a… man. Outside.”

Alfie blinks at her.

“A man?”

“Yes. And he appears to be in pretty bad shape-“

This is too much information to take in at this hour and during these circumstances. Unacceptable really. Alfie has half a mind to just lie back down and go back to sleep and see what happens.

“Is he some drifter eh? Some poor sod who’s just wandered off the road and ended up outside my house? Because if so, and not to sound crass here, but if so, then I think that we’ll just leave him be and see if he decides to wander off again, yeah?”

“No, he’s- There’s something wrong. I think he might be injured. Or sick.”

Alfie says a silent prayer for patience, and takes the opportunity to ask his God why he’s decided to gift him with this on this particular morning.

“Right, alright, I’m fucking coming. Just let me get some bloody clothes on first, eh? Reckon a minute or so won’t hurt him.”

With a curt nod, relief washing over her features, Esther leaves the room.

Alfie does get dressed. He just doesn’t do it particularly fast. So when Esther’s steps approach in the corridor outside, he’s just gotten his waistcoat on. But he opens the door before she can knock again, leaving the cane behind and instead shoving his revolver into the waistband of his trousers. Because fuck knows where his holster has gone. Neither Gods nor dead men have any use for a holster.

Alfie Solomons, however, might just have use for a gun when there’s a strange man apparently taking a nap outside his fucking house.

Esther takes the lead through the house to the living room. Or rather, one of the living rooms. His preferred one, with glass doors opening up towards the sea and a staircase leading right down to the beach. Esther moves out of the way when he lets out a noncommittal grunt. Then he opens the door and goes to assess the damage.

First of all, it’s a lovely day outside. Or about to be. It’s the bloody crack of dawn, innit? But the sky is a warm, pinkish orange, and the wind is just quietly rustling through the grass, leaving the sea a glossy mirror.

And at the foot of his steps lies the barely recognizable form of none other than Tommy Shelby.

He’s slumped over the last few steps, curled on his side close to the wall of the house. Dressed in nothing but an undershirt and trousers. Even his feet are bare. And it could be that Alfie’s never seen him dressed in anything but a three piece suit, but he looks absolutely tiny. Impossibly small and fragile, cheeks sunken in and with dark circles colouring the skin under his eyes. The long hair on top of his head falls in tousled curls over his face.  

“I tried talking to him but he didn’t seem to hear me-“ Esther says from behind him, clearly concerned. “Should I call someone?”

Call who? Yeah sure, Alfie could potentially call some of his men in London to have them take care of it, but it’d be hours before they’d arrive. Could call Tommy’s fucking family, but then he’d have the premises swarming with Shelbys and that would be a fate worse than death.

“Nah, just go put the kettle on,” Alfie grunts and steps outside. Esther hesitates but then disappears into the house.

Tommy remains motionless.

“Tommy?” Alfie says as he approaches, gaining no reaction. “Oi, Tommy! Fancy calling before you just decide to drop by like this?”

He halts on the steps where Tommy lies and kicks him. Not hard. Not at all, he’s not cruel. Well, not when it comes to Tommy at least. That does the trick, though. Tommy lets out a pitiful little whimper which for some strange bloody reason sends a pang right through his chest. Won’t do anyone any good to look further into that, so Alfie just kicks him again. But it’s more just a prod with his toe.

“Go on sleeping beauty. Do you mind waking up and telling me why you’ve decided to crash on my doorstep?”

Finally Tommy opens those ice blue eyes. Just a sliver. But Alfie gets the pleasure of watching the long eyelashes flutter and he’s not ashamed to admit that it’s a lovely sight.

Tommy looks up at him. Just looks. Doesn’t speak. Doesn’t move. Just gazes listlessly at him. And that, that unsettles him, doesn’t it? Because even when Tommy stood in his doorway all those weeks ago, with that look of absolute dejection at having a gun pointed at his face, there was some semblance of… somethingbehind his eyes. Perhaps not that sharp spark that usually resided in them, but at least there was more than this complete emptiness.  

“If you wanted to come visit you could’ve just said so,” Alfie says. “No need to be so dramatic about it. Then again I do suppose you have a flare for that, don’t you? Trying to assassinate someone on stage- Figured that wouldn’t work, you silly boy. Is that why you’ve been hiding from everyone this past month? Yeah, don’t think I haven’t heard about it-“

As he talks he stares Tommy straight in the eye. Or at least tries to, because after just two sentences or so, Tommy’s gaze slips down to the pillars bordering staircase instead. Perhaps he’s looking out at the sea?

Alfie throws his hands up in defeat.

“Alright, since you’ve made it perfectly clear you’re not planning to move, or even fucking answer me, I suppose I’ll just go inside. Because I don’t really feel like standing around out here.”

That’s a lie, he absolutely doesn’t mind being outside. Quite prefers it actually. His best past time these days is sitting in his armchair with the glass doors open and read.

He fully expects Tommy to follow him. Or say something. Or just… do anything.

But Tommy doesn’t follow him. Alfie goes inside anyway, because he’s got to at least attempt to keep up appearances.

Esther enters the room carrying a tray with tea, her eyes instantly drawn to the door.

“How is he?”

“He’s just fine,” Alfie mutters, seats himself in his favourite armchair and reaches for his book. “Just sulking a bit, isn’t he?”

Esther furrows her brow and sets the tray down in front of him, before going to look out the door.

“Mister, there’s tea if you’d like some?”

“Just leave him be,” Alfie huffs and pours himself a cup. “Go do something useful instead. He’ll come inside when he feels like it.”

Esther furrows her brow, a huffed breath escaping her. But she leaves.

For a long while, Alfie just sits there waiting. Admittedly there’s some element of excitement to this whole thing. Being dead is peaceful but can get a bit boring at times. So for now, he views this as simply a little break in his daily routine, waiting for Tommy to come inside. Perhaps reveal he’s had some kind of plan all along, that for some reason involved putting on this show…

But Tommy doesn’t come inside.

Alfie drinks two cups of tea and reads not two but three chapters of his book. Or rather, tries to tell himself that he’s reading, while actually just sitting like on pins and needles waiting.

If this is some kind of game, it’s a strange one, but he wouldn’t put it past Tommy…

But then he thinks about it. Really thinks about it; The fragile appearance, the dishevelled clothing... Tommy wouldn’t let anyone see him like that, not even if it was part of some elaborate scheme. The bare feet somehow bother him the most. Those, and the empty look in his eyes.

So once the third chapter is finished, he finds himself closing the book and getting out of his chair without having consciously made the decision.

And Tommy… Tommy is still on the fucking steps. Curled right where Alfie left him, close to the wall, gaze fastened on the opposite pillars. He’s shaking now. Fuck. It’s fucking cold outside, and for some bloody reason Alfie feels guilty for not having considered that.

Leave it to Tommy fucking Shelby to stir up those kinds of strange emotions by merely existing on his steps.

“Alright, enough’s enough, Tommy,” Alfie grunts and ambles towards him. “How about you come inside for a bit, hm? While I call and get a car to come pick you up. How the fuck did you get here by the way-“ He looks up and down the beach, scratching his beard. Not very likely that Tommy would’ve left his fucking car on the beach now though, is it? “Can’t have walked all the way from fucking Birmingham. Or is this some new idea you’ve had? Make a pilgrimage on foot to the newly instated deity, eh?”

Tommy just keeps staring at- yeah at whatexactly? The sea? Granted it’s a nice view, but Tommy isn’t the type to stare at the sea for two fucking hours straight.

Suddenly Tommy’s head jerks a little and he shakes it erratically, eyes wide… Alright, either he’s putting on one hell of an act, or something is seriously wrong. And Tommy may be a scheming little cunt -a scheming little cunt with eyes men could drown in and a face chiselled by God himself, but a cunt nonetheless. But Alfie would like to think the two of them have some kind of understanding. And included in that understanding is that they’re upfront about their schemes and betrayals. This -the bare feet, the haunted look in his eyes, the fucking… sitting on Alfie’s steps for two goddamn hours without moving- this doesn’t seem like something Tommy would do.

Which leaves Alfie with the conclusion that something truly is very wrong. And it’s not very nice conclusion.

“Alright, Tommy, up you go,” he says and crosses his arms over his chest hoping to signal finality. “Get that scrawny arse inside and onto the sofa and I’ll have Esther make you a cuppa. Get you warmed up a bit. And then, like the truly saintly person I am, I’m going to call one of my men and get them to drive you home-“ That word, home, seems to register, even if none of the others do. Tommy shakes his head again, that erratic little shake. Still without looking at Alfie. “Yeah, sweetie, home. To that batshit crazy family of yours-“

That does it. Tommy’s entire body jerks as he stares up at Alfie, terrified. Clutches the arms tightly over his  chest.

“No.”

So he can in fact still talk…

“Sure. Bet they’re wondering where you’ve run off to-“

Tommy shakes his head so fervently that Alfie loses his train of thought. And then he grabs onto his trouser leg which, yeah, just seals the deal alright, something’s definitely wrong with him.

“No,” he repeats, “Please, please- they’ll- let them- Please I can’t- can’t be somewhere like that-“

Alfie decides that he’ll stop trying all together to make sense of what Tommy is saying. Besides, at the moment he’s thoroughly distracted by the fucking scar on the side of his head. He’s kept that side hidden, pressed close to the steps, but now he sees it. A red, angry line. Ridges and rivulets all along it. His hair has grown but that somehow just makes it all the more jarring.

Tommy grips harder onto his trouser leg and continues shaking his head and the thoughts about the scar will have to wait.

“Alright, alright, fucking hell I won’t call,” Alfie says, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “ Let’s just go inside. How about that? You just come inside and sit there for a bit?”

God, why does he bother?

Because he’s bored.

And because he’s always had a week spot for pretty men, with pretty, blue eyes.

And empty, haunted blue eyes are still blue.

Those blue eyes are staring straight at his knee now, glazed over again, as Tommy keeps mouthing the word ‘no’ over and over. A cold gust of wind passes right through Alfie’s waistcoat and that settles it, he’s done standing here waiting. None to gently, he grabs onto Tommy’s upper arms and hauls him to his feet. He couldn’t have done that a year ago, but it’s a miracle what doing fuck all, getting plenty of sleep, and just generally being dead will do to a man. And Tommy was small to begin with, and has by now turned into the size of an injured bird. He sways precariously so Alfie pulls one of his arms over his shoulders. Tommy goes along with it as some kind of puppet with its strings cut.

“In we go, come on. Do you remember how to walk eh?” Alfie mutters and starts walking up the few steps to the front door. Tommy looks back at that spot again, between the two pillars. Because apparently two hours of staring at it wasn’t enough. But he does follow without a fight.

After a worryingly easy walk into the living room, Alfie deposits his precious cargo onto the sofa. Tommy pulls his knees up to his chest and curls himself into a corner, looking almost provocatively vulnerable. Alfie digs out several blankets from a chest he only now remembers he owns, and spreads them out over him without gaining much of a reaction at all.

He pops his head out in the corridor to get an excuse to look away from the unsettling sight, and calls for Esther. She appears moments later at the end of the corridor, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel.

“Make us another cuppa if you don’t mind, Esther. Strong and piping hot.”

With a nod she goes to carry the order out, and Alfie is forced to turn and face Tommy again.  

Tommy is looking right at him, eyes large and feral. They follow him warily as Alfie goes over to his armchair and slumps down in it.

“So, while we’re waiting, do you mind telling me where exactly you got that?” he says in obvious reference to the scar. He grins and gestures to his own, objectively much more gruesome one. “Did you feel a sudden urge to get a matching one, eh?”

Tommy blinks and his eyebrows draw together -second to his outburst a minute ago that’s the first sign he’s given of hearing Alfie at all. His eyes slip to the floor as he reaches up and runs the tips of his fingers over the scar. Patience isn’t Alfie’s strong suit and these interactions are quickly beginning to grate on him. And the thing is, usually this abject vulnerability would fucking provoke him. It doesn’t do to turn up at someone’s house in this state, least of all if that someone is a man like Alfie. Clearly Tommy has stopped viewing him as a possible threat. Silly boy should know better after so many years of this life -you can’t show weakness like that. People will exploit it.

But most of all, Alfie feels some bone deep fucking urge to… hurt whoever did this to Tommy. The list is long so finding someone to pin this on wouldn’t really be a problem.

The problem is that it’s entirely possible he did it to himself.

Tommy is still running his fingers along the scar. Over and over again, the same movement.

His eyes however have turned to one of the corners of the room. Alfie turns to look, it’s a in instinct really, but all he finds are the bookcases and the globe. Then again the bookcases are full of books and objects so there’s no trouble finding something to rest one’s eyes on. He thinks that Tommy might be looking at the stuffed crow.

“Yeah, got a funny story about that crow, don’t I? See that bird, that fucking bird had taken to waking me up every single morning by cawing real bloody loud,” he says and ignores that Tommy isn’t listening. “Drove me near mad. So one day I opened the window and shot it. Mind you it was an impressive fucking shot. Had a friend of mine stuff it to remind me that sleep’s important and all that, and that anyone who disturbs it might meet a quick and violent fate.“ It’s a lie of course, the thing about the crow. It belonged to a departed friend who thought it’d be funny to leave it to Alfie. “Which you have done by the way. Disturbed my sleep. So do you mind at least having the curtsey of answering my question?” He tries catching Tommy’s gaze but it’s hopeless. “Where did you get that scar?”

“I know,” Tommy mumbles to the crow. Or to the corner. Still touching the scar. “I’m sorry. I tried- I did-“

Alfie feels fucking queasy now. He should be used to seeing displays of human fragility, but this is making even him uneasy. When Tommy suddenly takes to violently scratching the scar, he shoots out of his armchair quicker than he’d like to admit, crashes down on the sofa and grabs his wrist. Staring at him with those wide eyes, Tommy fights him, weak as a kitten.

“Fucking hell, enough of this bloody nonsense, Tommy!“ He grabs onto his other wrist and holds it without much struggle, but Tommy just continues squirming, making terrified little noises behind closed lips. His breathing grows erratic, coming in quick bursts and Alfie can feel his pulse race underneath his fingertips.

“Tommy, no, fucking enough!” he barks and tries to somehow latch onto something in those terrified eyes. Tommy keeps fighting him, more of those little noises bubbling up his throat. It’s all wordless and feral and his breathing is so quick and shallow that he must be close to fucking passing out. He knows it’s physically impossible for a human heart to burst through a ribcage but still-

When Tommy pushes a foot out in a badly aimed kick at his ribs, a burst of hot rage swells behind Alfie’s temples- And he lets go of the bony wrists in pure shock.

“Enough!” he roars and when the growl does nothing except elicit another whimper from Tommy, he slaps him across the face. Hard. Seems to do the trick though. But instead of fighting and making those godawful noises, Tommy flings himself off the sofa and scoots backwards over the floor until he’s backed into a corner. There, he curls up into a tightly wound ball of limbs, arms over his head and head tucked in behind his knees.

Alfie just sits there on the sofa. Waits. But Tommy doesn’t move. Doesn’t try to hurt himself, but his entire fucking body is trembling and- Yeah, that’s… that’s not right, is it? Scratching his beard, he tries to swallow down the feeling of guilt bubbling up in his stomach. It’s as unexpected as it is unfamiliar.

It’s at that moment, Esther choses to show up with the tea.

“Oh dear,” she says, as she sets the tray down, eyeing Tommy with wide, worried eyes. “He’s in a bad way, isn’t he?”

Alfie only grunts in response.

“Would you like me to call the doctor? I could call Mr. Adelman-“

He shakes his head and staggers to his feet. “Nah, no fucking doctor. Don’t want to be dragging people out here until-“ Until what? Until he’s figured out what the fuck to do with this broken mess of a person who’s just decided to show up on his doorstep? Until he’s figured out what’s wrong with him? How he even got here… Why the fuck he’s here… Fuck, this is all together too much for one person to handle.

“Tommy? You planning on joining us anytime fucking soon, mate?” he asks and eyes the pitiful figure curled up in the corner. “Oi, I’m fucking talking to you.”

It’s useless, of course. It’s obvious Tommy can’t hear him, that he’s not all together there.

Not there at all.

“Oh for fucks sake!” Alfie exclaims. “All I fucking wanted was to live in peace and quiet, yeah? It was all going fucking brilliantly. And I let you into my house one fucking time and this is what happens? You just decide show up here like some kind of lost fucking dog-“

Esther hushes him. Fucking hushes him. But it takes him aback enough to quit yelling and stare at her instead. She takes a step back, eyes growing wide and he reckons he makes for quite a terrifying sight- the scar and hazy eye has added to that look. But then she squares her jaw.

“Apologies, Sir,” she says firmly. “But I really don’t think you should be yelling at him. That has rarely helped anyone calm down.”

He just stares at her. Bites his teeth together so hard that his molars fucking creak. And she stares back.

“May I?” she asks after several tense seconds have passed, nodding in Tommy’s direction. Tommy, who is still curled up into his protective little ball in the corner, trembling and now back to making those terrible little whimpering sounds again. Fuck, Alfie could shoot him right then and there for walking into his house and overturning everything.

For making him feel… whatever this feeling is.

But all he does is throw his hands up in defeat at Esther’s question and stomp across the room to retrieve his pipe just to have something to occupy himself with.

Esther meanwhile wastes no time, but slowly walks up to Tommy’s quivering form.

“Wouldn’t get too close if I were you,” Alfie mutters and shoves tobacco into the pipe with unnecessary force. “Might not look it but he’s a violent little thing.” And Esther has the guts to fucking huff at him, before she crouches down in front of Tommy.

That woman is all together insane.

Then again there was a reason he hired her out of all people.

“Hi there, love,” she says, gently, without touching him. “Did all that yelling scare you? Well, I promise that his bark is worse than his bite.”

Alfie rolls his one good eye -can’t really tell if his bad one rolls too, it tends to do whatever it pleases. Which Esther obviously can’t see so she continues, undeterred.

“You seem awfully cold. How about we get you over to that armchair, and I’ll give you a cup of tea…”

Alfie holds his breath when she reaches out and gently touches Tommy’s shoulder. He twitches, but does nothing else.

“You poor thing… Seems like you’ve been through enough as it is. But I promise you’re safe here. And I’ve told mister Solomons he can’t be yelling at you like that, so he won’t do that again-“

The fucking nerve. Why does he surround himself with these people willingly?

Esther has started rubbing Tommy’s shoulder and lo and behold, the shaking seems to subside. For some reason it incites more of that guilt, because clearly it’s not fucking impossible to calm him down, it’s just impossible for Alfie.

Underneath it there’s something else. Some unidentified feeling he refuses to acknowledge or put a label on right now, but it’s dangerously close to jealousy.

He focuses on lighting his pipe and looks out at the sea for a while, dreams of calmer, less complicated times when he was just a dead man minding his own business. Times like just yesterday.

Over in the corner, Esther has helped Tommy up on his feet and is now leading him to one of the armchairs. The softest one, with big plush cushions. Tommy’s eyes are flickering around the room, never in one spot for too long, but he obediently sits down and pulls his feet off the floor.

It’s strange, that. Tommy’s always had this rather reserved body language, preferring to cross one leg over the other instead of putting both feet on the floor in that wide stance and lean back in his seat as most men tend to. Not that Alfie pays any extra attention to Tommy or the way he likes to sit, but it’s impossible not to notice things like that and one must always be observant in this business… Point is, even though he always sits like he’s got a stick up his arse, Tommy never consciously makes himself smaller the way he is now.

“Here you go, dear,” Esther says and holds out a cup of tea for Tommy to take. “I don’t know how you take it, but I put a bit of milk in. And it’s not too hot, so you shouldn’t burn yourself.”

Tommy just stares at the cup, blinking. Esther waits patiently, but when he just keeps staring at it, she gently puts it down on the table next to the armchair.

“It’s alright, love, you go ahead and drink it in your own time,” she says softly, but there’s a concerned wrinkle between her eyebrows. “I’m going to go see if I can find you a pair of socks. And a jumper of some sort, you look awfully cold…” And with that she hurries out of the room with a somewhat admonishing look in Alfie’s direction.

Alone with Tommy again, Alfie finds himself at a loss. Clearly he doesn’t know how to handle this, so what is he supposed to do? But gentle and firm seems to be the route to go and he’s fucking capable of that isn’t he?  He’s not an animal. He takes a drag of smoke and watches Tommy, trying to figure out what to do now.

Tommy’s gaze has caught on something on the sofa and Alfie realises he’s staring at the blankets.

“You want them back, hm? Yeah, figure you do, you seem to be fucking freezing.”

He picks up the lot of them and goes over to the armchair. Of course Tommy doesn’t reach out for the blankets. Seems like he’s incapable of making decisions of his own if they don’t involve huddling in a corner. So Alfie picks out the softest one and unceremoniously drapes it over Tommy’s lap, trying to not get too close. But when Tommy doesn’t flinch, he actually takes care to drape the second one over his shoulders with a bit more precision. The last one he drapes across him too.

“There we go. Bet just warming up a bit will help. Never does anyone any good being that cold.”

He goes over to his own armchair and seats himself there; Tommy has gone back to emptily gazing at nothing in particular in that unsettling way, but his shoulders have dropped a bit.

Alfie decides to go back to the book he’s currently working on in an attempt to distract himself from this whole situation for a moment. There are about a million things he should be doing right now: Figure out what the hell is wrong with Tommy, where that scar came from, how he ended up here, why he ended up here... The list goes on, doesn’t it? But just thinking about it all makes him question this whole thing. What right does Tommy have to just fucking show up here and create all these questions? Granted, Alfie could call some people. Try to get some intel about what the hell has actually been happening in Birmingham this past month. But the thing is he was perfectly fine with just being dead. Sure, it may not be the most exciting or riveting of lifestyles but at least he got some fucking peace and quiet…

He’s honestly about to give up and demand that Tommy gets out of his fucking house. And he looks up to tell him that.  

Tommy is asleep in the armchair, blanket pulled up to his nose, bony fingers grasping the fabric. That fit must’ve drained the last bit of energy out of him. Not that he seemed to have much to begin with.

Alfie should wake him up. He should wake him up, drag him out of that chair, out the door and tell him to go back where he came from. So Alfie can go back to being a dead man in peace.

Long, dark eyelashes flutter slightly over the pale skin marred with dark circles. Tommy shifts the tiniest bit under the blankets and sinks a bit further into the cushions.

Alfie should wake him up.

Should throw him out.

But instead he just sits there watching him.

Fucking hell, what’s he gotten himself into... 

Chapter Text

It’s cold.

Why is it always cold?

Might be the fog. It seems to seep in through his clothes, through his skin and settle into his bones as he wanders across the field, bare feet sinking into the cold mud. The mud sticks to him, pulling downwards and making it difficult to lift his feet. The sound of his footsteps is loud in his ears -that wet, smacking sound… And he’s been walking for so long and he’s so tired. But he has to keep walking. Doesn’t know why, just knows that he’s got to.

When he takes a breath, the fog comes in along with the air, filling his lungs until he’s cold from the inside out-

He’s tired and wants to sit down and rest. But if he does he’ll never get back up.

That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

No, the mud will swallow him if he stops walking. It’s deep, and he can feel it moving somehow beneath his feet, like ripples on water. Below him, that’s all there is, yards and yards of nothing but wet, cold mud, and he only stays above it because he keeps walking if he stops it’ll suck him down. He can rest if he gets off the field -there’ll be grass where he can lie down. But his legs are so tired. Maybe he’s going in the wrong direction? It’s hard to tell with all this fog…

If he calls out for someone, perhaps they’ll answer and he’ll know if he’s walking in the right direction?

“Hello?” he calls out, voice disappearing out into the fog,. “Is anyone there?”

He’s answered with nothing but silence. Not even an echo. And he tries again

“Hello?”

More silence.

Then-

“Who are you calling for Tommy?”

The voice makes him stop in his tracks.

He can’t tell where it’s coming from, but maybe it’s coming from inside his head like all the others…

“You should’ve come to me, Tommy, now look where you are.”

He tries to continue walking, remembers that he has to, but his feet are hopelessly stuck in the cold mud, it’s sucking him downwards and the fear grips around his chest makes it feel tight, full of smoke and fog and-

“Why couldn’t you, Tommy? What made you change your mind?”

“I didn’t,” he says, voice cracking. “I didn’t change my mind, I don’t know what happened-“

“Liar.”  

He wants to come up with another answer. One that will make the voice happy. But he doesn’t know the answer, he never knows the answer to all the questions and the fog and the cold and the fear is making it impossible to breathe impossible to speak- He chokes out a pitiful sound, trying to call for help.

“Who are you calling for? Who would help you?”  

The mud claws up his legs and he tries to move, loses foothold and falls. And the surface of the field breaks and he’s engulfed by the cold, wet dirt. It’s everywhere around him and he can’t stop the scream that erupts from his throat, but the moment he opens his mouth the mud floods in, down his throat, fills his lungs and he chokes and screams and-

“Tommy-“

Screams-

“Hey, calm the fuck down.”

Hands are shaking him. Unfamiliar hands, warm and strong and large.

“Fucks sake… You’re alright-“ The voice, unlike the hands, is familiar. And it turns softer now. “Well, alright may be overstating it, but there’s no need to be screaming, now, is there?“ There’s a slap against his face, just hard enough to break through the fog, and then the hands continue to jostle him-

He can breathe. It’s difficult, still, but the mud isn’t pressing down on his chest. Isn’t filling his mouth or throat, and he gasps frantically for air. Opens his eyes to find the field gone. In its place is a room he doesn’t recognize and-

Alfie.

Alfie is standing hunched over him, and it’s his hands on his shoulders. This is a dream too then. No, no, in dreams you don’t realise that it’s a dream. One of the voices has told him that, he thinks that it may have been Lizzie’s voice and he should trust Lizzie’s voice.

And why would he dream up an Alfie with that huge scar and glassy eye to remind him that he ruins the lives of everyone he touches?

Not a dream then but-

“Well, good morning sleeping beauty,” Alfie grunts and squeezes his shoulders once before straightening up. “Or good afternoon, rather. Took quite the nap there. Granted you’re probably due for about… fucking a hundred of those. Considering the state of you-“ More words are coming out of his mouth but they melt together into a droning buzz that pours out of his mouth and into Tommy’s ears - “-really should’ve just called someone-“ it fills his head, like wet mud or cotton and makes it heavy.

There’s soft fabric draped over him and he grips onto that. It’s real and he can touch it. He grabs onto armrest of the chair with his other hand. He can touch it, it’s real- real and there, but why is he in this strange room, and why is Alfie here?

“Don’t you remember, Tommy?“

He turns towards the voice, sees Grace there in the corner. There’s a crow on her shoulder, watching him with curious eyes.

Alfie was talking about a crow before.

When?

“-probably should drink something, mate. And eat, fuckin hell you-“ The water and the mud and the fog buzzes and rustles-

Grace tilts her head a bit to the side. “You went here because you know you could get help. I told you, remember?”

He shakes his head because he doesn’t remember- he doesn’t remember-

The crow flaps its wings and flies to sit on the bookshelf.

“You needed a way out, so you went here.”

“Tommy, oi, try to focus here- stop staring at that bird-“ Hands on his shoulders again but Grace’s voice keeps his eyes fixed on her.

“They took down all the mirrors. And took the cords from the curtains…“

A hand grasps his chin and none to gently turns his head. He’s looking at Alfie again, at that scarred face and hazy eye. But the other is sharp and boring into his.

He hears the crow flap its wings and he wants to turn around to look but the hand holding him won’t let him.

“No, no you just keep focusing on me for a bit now, mate,“ Alfie says. Tommy forces himself to release the grip on the armchair and reaches out to grasp onto the fabric of Alfie’s waistcoat. He can touch it, so it’s real.

Which means that-

“Alfie?” If he says it out loud it’ll be more real. If he can get Alfie to answer him…

“And he fucking acknowledges me! What a bloody honour, eh?” Alfie grins and tries to straighten up, but Tommy grips tightly onto his waistcoat. “Alright, not quite ready to let go yet, are you? Fine then. I’ll be a gracious host and let you hold on.”

Alfie is real. The chair he’s sitting in is real. So the room must be real too. Is this one of the rooms of the house he never uses? He doesn’t recognize it, or any of the things. Or maybe he does? It’s difficult to remember…

Why would Alfie be in Arrow House?

Outside the glass doors, he catches a glimpse of red sky. He blinks and tries to figure out what that means. A red sky can be a sign- or was that a red moon?

The sea is there.

“Yeah, sure it is,” Alfie answers, so he must’ve said something. “Glad your eyes are still working. What with me being one down, it’s good to know that between the two of us, we still got three working ones.”

“You remember when we were kids and used to swim in the cut?” He looks around to see where John’s voice is coming from, but he’s not there. “Used to pretend it was the sea, because we went there one summer with mum, but just that one time…”

There’s a sigh and Alfie crouches down in front of him.

“Hey, try to keep looking somewhat in my direction, yeah? Know this room is full of interesting things, but it’s hard to tell if you’re hearing me when you keep doing that.”

Alfie is here, Alfie is real. He can feel the warmth of his body even through his shirt. Can feel the soft material of his waistcoat against his skin. Alfie is real so he’ll listen to Alfie just like he tries to listen to Lizzie-

But he wasn’t very good at that.

That’s why they…

Why they-

“Alright since you’re obviously not all here right now, mate, let me try to remind you,” Alfie says and the thought fades from his mind before he can fully grasp onto it. “You’re in Margate, alright? In my humble abode. I found you, right, I found you on my steps early this morning, or rather, my housekeeper did. And, being an absolute idiot, I took you in instead of demanding you piss off.”

If he looks at Alfie’s mouth when he’s talking it’s easier to follow. But he’s got that beard, so it’s still not all that easy-

“After some rather unpleasant events that we don’t need to remind ourselves of, you fell asleep in this chair, and so you have remained for the last few hours, so you must’ve been absolutely fucking exhausted.”

He’s in Margate.

Why is he in Margate?

“Don’t you remember why, Tommy?” Grace asks him.

“The voices aren’t real Tommy, they’re all in your head. The things you see, too,” Lizzie always says. “Alright? They can’t hurt you and you shouldn’t listen to them. Do you remember what we talked about?”

“Wish I could’ve taken Esme and the kids to the sea-“ John is standing behind Alfie, looking at him.

“Hey, Tommy, you’re disappearing on me again-“ the warm, broad hand is back on his shoulder and he tears his eyes from John to look at its owner. He tries to focus on all the little details on Alfie’s face, the wrinkles and lines and scars. And when he looks back to where John was standing, he’s gone-

They all go, eventually they go and they come back but always out of reach, so he can’t touch them, can never be sure-

There’s a deep wrinkle between Alfie’s eyebrows and he tries to figure out what it means. Alfie’s other hand comes to rest on his shoulder too. The heat seeps in through his clothes and for a moment it anchors him to the soft chair.

“What happened to you, eh, Tom?” he says and his voice is oddly soft. “Why did you come here?”

Why did he come here?

Because all the drawers were locked and he didn’t have much time, couldn’t risk anyone finding him and the mirrors and the cords to the curtains were gone and someone is always close by-

It’s all in your head, Tommy.

How is he supposed to know if he’s remembering things right?

He hangs on to the fabric of Alfie’s waistcoat. Focuses on how it feels beneath his fingers, and only that.

“Alright, I know this wasn’t a very well received suggestion last time, but how about we call someone?” Alfie suggests. “Get you home where you belong. I think they’re better equipped to help than I am- and I do think that you need proper help-“


Help.

He needs help.

Professional help. Treatment.

The voices told him that, from behind the half closed door. Strange, that. They’re usually closer, inside his head-

But he’d heard them arrive. And it made him get out of bed.

He shouldn’t be wandering around. Lizzie worries if he disappears. But Lizzie is behind the door too, so she’s not here to worry. The voices are arguing. Angry at each other, which is strange because they’re usually angry at him. But they’re talking about him-

He shakes his head.

“Well, here’s where you lose me, Tommy, because I for one very strongly remember you trusting your family far more than they probably deserve-“

He continues shaking his head, has to make Alfie understand that he can’t, can’t go back- they’ll-

The familiar tightness around his chest is back and takes harsh breaths to make the air go down past it, but it’s so hard, because his lungs are full of mud so there’s nowhere for the air to go-

“We’d be better off without you-“  

“Anyone you touch, Tommy…”

He lets go of Alfie. Squeezes his eyes shut and slams his hands over his ears despite knowing it won’t help.

The blood rushes behind his ears and he tries, tries to breathe-

Then the warm hands are around his wrists, firm and strong and despite his resistance they pull his hands down and away from his ears. He squirms but the grip is unrelenting, and it somehow grounds him.

“Fine, won’t be bringing that suggestion up again, bloody hell-“ Alfie’s voice cuts through all the others with its rumbling tone. “Point taken. I’ll leave them out of this. Think you can calm down a bit?”

He continues struggling to breathe, tries to focus on the way the rings on Alfie’s fingers dig into his skin. How the warmth of his palms seep into him.

“ ‘s all fine,” Alfie says calmly. “All you’ve got to do is breathe in and out for a bit and the scariest part will be over- It’s unpleasant but it can’t kill you, alright?”

Somehow, that firm warmth around his wrists help. The hands anchors him to reality. No one ever touches him like that, it’s all featherlight and gentle, as if they’re afraid he’ll break even more, afraid they’ll cut themselves on all the broken shards.

That’s why they want to be rid of him, because he’s broken now. There’s this hole in him in that’s opened up like a raw gaping wound and it’s just swallowing everything around it- Anything that’s good or light or decent. He’s no use to anyone, no good for strategizing or quick thinking so why should they want him around?

“If you’d only listened to me, none of this would be happening,” Grace tells him and he knows, he knows it’s his own fault

Alfie holds onto him so he can’t turn around to face her.

“Oi, eyes over here Tommy. I know I’m not the most pleasant thing to look at but that’s really the fault of the present company, so you’ll just have to live with that, won’t you? Hey-“ Alfie squeezes his wrists and tugs a little at them. His voice is firm and sure, like he knows what he’s doing. It makes Tommy want to listen to him.

Alfie looks… it’s hard to read expressions, but he doesn’t look afraid. Tommy focuses on that.

“Good, that’s good, and now we just fucking breathe. In and out and as slow as you can manage.” Alfie breathes, and Tommy tries to replicate the pattern. “In and out, that’s all there is to it. See when you breathe quickly like that you’re not actually getting any air, so that just makes the whole thing worse-“ Alfie’s mouth is still moving but the words fade at the edges, melting into incoherence. When he has to focus all his attention on just making sense of what he’s saying, all the other voices fade for a little bit. “See, you’re already doing better.”

For just a moment, the room goes oddly quiet. He can’t hear his own heartbeat in his ears anymore, or the too loud breathing. For just that one moment, even the voices have gone quiet. The only sound is the distant hush of waves crashing against the shore.

Alfie nods, pleased, and releases his writs. Tommy finds himself reaching for his waistcoat before he can process the thought. Needs to hold onto something-

“Nah, I need to stretch my legs for a moment,” Alfie says and stands up. He pushes Tommy’s hands back. “Why don’t you hold onto that blanket for a bit?”

He starts pacing slowly over the floor, picking up a pipe from a table and going about filling it with tobacco. Tommy digs his fingers into the blanket that’s draped around his shoulders, pulling it close around his neck and burying his nose in it. And with everything finally quiet for a moment, he gets time to think.

In his bedroom there was little use in thinking because each day was the same as the last and they all blurred together into a haze. But now he’s in Margate…

Why is he here?

Unless this is a dream?

No, in dreams you don’t know that it’s a dream, Lizzie reminds him. He picks at the blanket and focuses on the softness beneath his fingers.

Alfie throws a glance over his shoulder before lighting his pipe and resuming his slow walk back and forth across the floor.

“Know what Tommy, I’m in a bit of a predicament here,” he says. “Because there are things one has to ask oneself when they just find their good friend and business partner curled up on their steps and in such a state.” He nods in Tommy’s direction. “And while you were asleep I thought about it. See I’m leading a rather peaceful life out here, what with the seagulls and the ships and all that-“ Tommy  stares intently at his mouth because the words are blurring again. “- has to ask oneself how the fuck you ended up here. And if, for example, your fucked up family knows you’re here? And are about to knock down my door.”

He shakes his head

He was so quiet. Very careful. Didn’t even go back for his shoes or look for his coat.

“Right. How did you get here? Because I did have Esther just take a short stroll around the grounds and there was no car in sight-“

Car. Did he take a car here? He desperately tries to remember, but it’s all just black. The last thing he can recall is the voices, the half closed door… The feeling of complete and utter panic, filling up all the way from the pit of his stomach and hitting the back of his throat. His skin bathing in cold sweat.

“You have to go, Tommy. Or do you want to be back in the tunnels again? You know they’ll listen to him. Because he’s right, and they know that-“

He shakes his head at that. No, he’s- he’s not-

“Alright, you don’t remember, I get it-“ Alfie’s voice pulls him from the hazy memory and he blinks. Tugs the blanket closer. “Let’s just leave the questions for now then. No point in asking I suppose.” Alfie is watching him, brow furrowed and fingers scratching through his beard. “I reckon you need to sleep for a bit. And drink something. And we’ll try again tomorrow. Because apparently this is also included in my new life, you know, as a God. Taking in strays that have turned up at my door.” He sucks at his pipe and his eyes rake up and down Tommy’s frame. “Yeah, you definitely need to eat something, too.”

Lizzie has stopped sighing when she sees the tray of untouched food. She has stopped expecting anything different-

“Does that sound like a reasonable plan, eh?” Alfie asks. “Oi, I’m gonna need you to nod when you understand something, even if you’ve decided that talking is below you.”

He nods. Alfie does too, looking pleased. Then he goes over to the door and pops his head out into the corridor.

“Esther, could you put the kettle on again? Our guest finally decided to wake up.”

“Right away, Sir!“

Alfie must notice his confused expression when he turns back. “Esther is my housekeeper. You ought to remember her, because she did manage to make you settle down last time you had one of those-“ He waves his hand. “Episodes. What have you. She left some clothes out for you too.“ He nods to the stool by the chair, where a knitted jumper and a pair of socks lie. “Reckon you can stay under that blanket for now, though.”

Alfie sighs and sits down in the armchair opposite Tommy, leaning back and settling his hands on his stomach.

“Well, would you just look at that. Back to this again, aren’t we?” he scratches lightly over the very edge of the large scar. Sitting in silence for a moment, he studies Tommy intently and then says, “I did tell you, Thomas. Didn’t I? I saw that your state had gotten worse. And I told you that.” His eyes drift to the side of his head and Tommy lowers his gaze and turns away.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a glimpse of white fabric.

“Reckon it got even worse, then,” Alfie says, oddly quiet.

“He won’t help you,” Grace says from his side. “He’s changed, so he won’t do it.”

He furrows his brow, doesn’t understand- Alfie is helping him. He doesn’t know why…

“But he is-“

Alfie makes a sound from his armchair. “What?”

Tommy looks towards him.

Alfie furrows his brow and leans forward, settling his elbows on his knees. His forehead is folded into deep creases. 

“Tommy, who are you talking to?”

And he can’t answer. So instead he just looks out at the sea and the waves. The sight picks at something in all the burnt out remnants of his brain. It’s like searching for a tiny shard of broken glass that’s been buried deep in the dirt. Glass, or a landmine. All his thoughts are like that these days; tiny broken pieces that he can’t puzzle together. 

But it doesn’t really matter.  

He pulls the blanket a bit tighter around his shoulders.

At least he’s not cold anymore. 

Chapter Text

”Should we try moving him to a bed?”

Alfie glances over his shoulder at Esther, who has quietly appeared beside him and is now watching Tommy with concern in her eyes. He shakes his head.


”Nah, think that it’s safer to just leave him be for now. Seems like he’s finally settled in a bit. Or, at least he’s been… moderately calm for the past hour.”

Shame that being ‘moderately calm’ translates to staring blankly at the exact same spot without moving, saying a word, or even acknowledging Alfie’s presence.

A piece of toast sits untouched on the tray next to him, but at least he did manage to drink the tea. Slowly, and after much coaxing from Esther. Alfie left the room for a bit during that affair because he got frustrated just watching the whole thing; Esther patiently holding the cup and Tommy squeezing his lips together like a stubborn child.

Thank fuck he’s got Esther…

But once the teacup was empty Tommy’s eyes glazed over again and he sunk into that disconnected fog he has yet to emerge from. Alfie left him be, thinking that perhaps he’d fall asleep. And, if he’s completely honest, because he didn’t have the energy to deal with him right then. But even after hours of sitting perfectly still, Tommy has yet to close his eyes completely -there’s still a shard of blue beneath the long lashes.

Alfie’s not one to admit it out loud, but he’s honest to God become fucking concerned about the situation. Between the intermittent panic attacks, the disassociation and talking to someone not actually in the room, Tommy really is in quite a state.

Outside the window, the sun is setting in the distance, and he decides that a walk would do him good. Just get out of the house and breathe. Not think about certain people sitting in his living room for an hour or so.

He goes to stand in front of Tommy, right in his line of sight.

“Tommy-“ Tommy just blinks slowly when he snaps his fingers before his eyes. Alfie continues, undeterred, “I’m going out for a bit, alright? But Esther’s in the house, so you just let her know if you… well, if you need something. Food for example. Really think you should consider that.”

Tommy tugs a little at his blanket, and that’s clearly the only answer Alfie will get out of him.

He leaves the room and walks past Esther on his way to the hallway. “Could you keep an eye on him? Just make sure he doesn’t wander off.” She follows him to the hallway of course so he adds, “But don’t bother trying to make him eat. Suppose he’ll do it when he’s hungry enough. And just… Yeah, if he starts talking to no-one in particular, maybe just let him know no one is actually fucking there? Or don’t. Suppose talking to no-one won’t kill him.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him, Sir,” Esther says calmly as she takes down his coat from the hanger and holds it up. “And I’ll try my best to make sure he feels safe and taken care of. Poor thing has been through enough.”

Alfie takes the coat from her and pulls it on.

“Yeah, yeah, poor thing,” he mutters. “Poor fucking thing that’s gotten himself in so much trouble.”

And on that note, he takes his hat and walks out the door into the cool evening air. He doesn’t bother with the cane, because it’s essentially useless on the sand. And most days he doesn’t need it anyway.

It helps, getting out of the house. Helps clearing his head a bit, which just over the past few hours has gone alarmingly blurry, full of disjointed thoughts and questions he doesn’t have the answer to.

He steers his step down towards the beach.

What the fuck has he gotten himself into? That’s the question he’s got to face now. He’s also forced think of the consequences of this absolutely insane choice he’s made, to take in that half mad cunt. And why, why the fuck would he do something like that? He still can’t wrap his head around it. Not that he’s tried to either, because analysing that will not do anyone any good.

He looks out at the sea instead.

The water is coloured red in the distance from the setting sun. Red, with little shards of yellow and orange. It’s mirroring the sky, where all the light blue has bled away to give way to the warm hues.

Tommy’s eyes look like the sky.

Just that thought makes Alfie want to walk out into the fucking ocean and not stop…

Fucking hell.

He's going to blame this whole thing on those eyes. Those big, blue eyes and long lashes. Alfie can’t help it that he’s got a soft spot for pretty things, alright? It’s entirely out of his hands. And it’s one thing, right, one thing when it’s about business. There’s a distinct set of rules to play after (or break) and it’s been easier in the past to overlook the fact that Tommy’s got eyes that a man would happily drown in, and cheekbones so sharp they could cut glass. Alfie is good at compartmentalizing.

But what is he supposed to when Tommy just shows up at his door out of nowhere, clutching at him, and staring up at him with those blue eyes full of fear, looking fragile and broken and so ungodly fucking human? Granted what’s always intrigued him is Tommy’s razor sharp wit, and there’s not much of that to be found at the moment it would seem. But what’s been left in its place isn’t just something that enrages and frustrates him, it’s also stirring up all these other fucking feelings that he doesn’t care to familiarize himself with. He chooses to label it as pity. The sort you take on a small bird that’s fallen out of its nest. Or rather, one that’s flown into a windowpane and broken its wing. If he looks at the situation that way, perhaps it’ll be easier to deal with? He’s just found an injured bird, a poor, helpless creature that won’t survive without help. He can tuck it into a shoebox full of soft fabrics and try to handfeed it for a few days. Let it rest.

Well, at least until tomorrow. And then he’ll figure something out.

He might tell himself otherwise, but it’s not like he’s got any other plans this little venture gets in the way of.

And the fact is, the bird chose to crash into his particular windowpane. And that has to mean… something.  

Pleased to at least have a plan for the coming hours, Alfie begins making his way back towards the house.

The wind is starting to whip up frothy waves on the water when leaves the beach.

Tommy is still in the armchair when he returns, covered with all those blankets. He’s got the thick, woven one with the tartan pattern wrapped around his shoulders and pulled up to his chin. Seems to be a favourite, that one, because he’s been clutching it since the moment Alfie put it over him. Well, when he’s not holding onto Alfie, that is, or trying to scratch at his scar or fucking… holding his hands over his ears like a petulant child who doesn’t want to listen.

Esther has lit the fireplace, and in the warm glow, the hollows under Tommy’s cheekbones become even more pronounced. But it also washes his skin in golden tones, chasing away a bit of that ghostly paleness.

“He hasn’t moved since you left, Sir,” Esther says quietly as she comes towards him in the corridor. “Should I stay awake tonight and watch over him?”

“Nah, nah, we’re not disrupting our entire fucking night for an unannounced visitor,” Alfie mutters. “Go ahead and go to bed. He’ll be fine.”

“Sir, I really don’t think we should leave him alone,” Esther objects. “He’s not well. And from the looks of things he needs a lot more sleep than those hours he got earlier today. We should at least try-“

Alfie’s not an idiot, he knows what to admit defeat. So, with a sigh, he goes to stand in front of Tommy, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down at him.

“Oi, Tommy, I know that sleeping is below you, but the other people in this household would like to do that, strange as it may sound. And there’s a good sized bed and a rather nice guest room, if you’d like to move from that armchair.”

Tommy is staring straight past him, at the stuffed crow on the bookshelf. Alfie stares at it too, tries to see what’s so fucking interesting about it. There’s absolutely nothing, of course. He leans down and pats Tommy’s cheek, maybe a bit harder than he intended.

“Mister Solomons!” he ignores Esther’s offended call, because Tommy blinks and actually glances at him

“Did you hear me, eh? Think you could consider moving to a bed?” he asks.

Tommy turns his attention back to the crow.

“Why do you have a bird?”

Yeah. Of course. First complete sentence and it’s absolute fucking nonsense…

“Well, I told you about that bird just this morning, Tommy. Don’t you remember that?”

“Shouldn’t it be in a cage?”

Alfie sighs, looks towards the ceiling and prays for patience…

“No, Thomas, because-“ He walks up to the bird, grabs the podium its seated on. “It’s fucking stuffed, alright?” He knocks the birds head lightly against the bookcase, eliciting a dull thud.

“Don’t hurt it,” Tommy says quietly and looks so distressed that it shocks Alfie into stillness.

This, this is bad.

“Thomas,” he says as calmly as he possibly can. “This bird, right, this bird wouldn’t feel it if you put it in front of a train and ran it over, yeah?” He holds the stuffed animal closer to Tommy’s face. “Because it is long dead. You see that? How it’s completely fucking still?”

Tommy doesn’t say anything else, but when Alfie moves the bird his eyes follow it. Fuck it, Alfie doesn’t have the fucking energy to deal with this…

“Alright, how about we take the bird and let him outside for a bit, eh? It’s a nice evening, I bet he’d like that.”

Tommy watches him as he walks over to the glass doors, opens them and puts the crow down on the steps, making sure it’s out of Tommy’s sight.

“There we go. He’ll enjoy stretching his wings a bit.”

“Won’t he fly away?” Tommy asks quietly. Sincerely.

Fuck, fuck, fucking hell this is bad… Faint nausea rolls in the pit of his stomach.

“Nah, he’ll come back once he’s good and ready and fed up with the blustery seaside,” he says, getting a small nod in return, before Tommy settles his head on the arm rest and goes back to looking at the corner.

Alfie makes his way to the door.

“Well, goodnight then. There’s a room down the hall if you change your mind about the bed.”

He doesn’t get an answer, but he doesn’t expect one either.

“Sir, I really would prefer to stay up and keep an eye on him,” Esther says quietly when he comes out in the hallway.

“Don’t bother. He’ll just be there staring at that corner,” Alfie grunts and holds a hand up when she opens her mouth to object. “And it’s gonna do him no good tomorrow if you’ve been awake all night, because handling him takes two alert fuckin’ people. Alright? We can’t all lose our fucking wits here.”

Esther glances into the room, the crease between her eyebrows deepening. “He really should sleep.”

“Yeah well if you’re not planning on bashing him over the head with something, there’s little chance of that happening,” Alfie says. “But he can sleep just fine in that armchair, should the urge strike him. Just go to bed and try not to worry about him.”

And with that, he heads for his bedroom, grunting a half hearted ‘goodnight’ to Esther. Won’t do him any good to linger in the doorway watching Tommy and agonizing over whether this is the right choice or not. He refuses to put in that kind of energy into this thing… Tommy can sit there quietly staring at things that aren’t there on his own just fine.

As it turns out, going to bed and sleeping are two entirely different things, and Alfie finds himself completely unable to do the latter. And when he finally does fall asleep, it’s restless and full of strange, blurry dreams of blue eyes and black feathers.

A distant banging sound wakes him. It’s unusual, that. Apart from the time right after the little shooting incident when every moment he didn’t spend in a drug induced haze was just absolute agony which made it impossible to get any rest, he’s always been a heavy sleeper.

Then again, knowing you have a half mad gypsy in your living room talking to stuffed birds does things to a man…

So, the banging wakes him up. It’s rhythmic, distant, and he can’t place it. But mysterious noises are something that need to be investigated at once, so he reluctantly climbs out of bed and grabs his gun from its drawer before venturing out into the corridor.

It’s fucking freezing out there, and he can hear the wind howling as he follows the sound to the living room.

The room is empty and dark, the fire long burnt out, and the banging sound comes the glass doors slamming into the façade as they hang open on their hinges.

And there’s no sign of Tommy.

Fuck.

In a few long strides, he’s across the room and by the door, looking out into the darkness. The wind hits him like a bloody wall. The cold too.

He considers, honest to God, just going back to bed. Tommy’s wandered off somewhere? Fine. He didn’t fucking ask for any of this to begin with. So why on earth should he go around searching for him, when all he wants to do is go back to bed and just… forget that he ever showed up here?

But then he thinks of those blue eyes. And, well, if you’ve found this injured bird and decided to take care of it, and said bird happened to tip over its little box because it was confused and scared of its new surroundings, wouldn’t you pick the bird up again?

Additionally, if Tommy ends up dead in some bloody ditch, someone is going to find the body eventually and the Shelbys can smell from ten miles away if one of their own is in trouble, so he’d probably end up getting dragged into that whole mess…

Yeah.

Before he knows what’s happening, he’s rifled through a drawer to find a torch, hurried into the hallway to grab his coat and thrown it over his underwear, stepped into a pair of boots almost as an afterthought, and is out in the darkness.

Thankfully the sky is clear and the moon is shining, which helps light his way. He heads for the beach, because for some reason it feels like the place Tommy would go.

Every now and then he calls Tommy’s name, struggling to overpower the roaring wind.

The moonlight bathes the sand in cold light, and the waves roll in over the shore. It’s a completely different sea from just hours ago, when the waves were nothing but frothy little dunes. Now they’ve been whipped up to threatening peaks, crashing against the sand.

But that’s just one of the brilliant things about the sea, innit? The everchanging nature. Never a dull moment with a scenery like that. Well, depending on how you classify dull, of course.

He shines the torch along the waterline, and his heart jolts in his chest when he sees the small figure out in the water. Hunching against the roaring wind, he sets off towards it.

Tommy is stood with his back against the shore, the water reaching just below his knees. But the waves are high enough that  every so often they crash over his thighs, making him sway precariously.

“Tommy!” Alfie calls out once he’s close enough, stopping just beyond reach for the waves. “The weather isn’t really right for taking a swim, I’m afraid. Far too bloody cold. Not to mention dark. How about you put that off for a bit?”

Tommy doesn’t acknowledge him, but he does take another step out in the water, and Alfie’s heart is suddenly in his fucking mouth for some reason.

“I promise the sea is still going to be there come spring, alright? And then it’ll be.. it’ll be sunny and warm and you can go swimming all you want.”

Thank fuck, Tommy finally turns around. Not all the way, just so that he can look towards the shore. His arms are clasped tightly around his chest, and the hair is blowing in front of his face.

But he doesn’t say anything.

“Tommy!” Alfie calls, using his most commanding voice. The one that usually makes men quiver before him. “You come back here right this fucking second. Enough of this.”

A wave crashes against Tommy’s slight frame, making him stumble. Fuck, Alfie will have to go out there and get him… But God knows if he’ll be able to drag Tommy back to shore if he decides to start fighting. He’s got no doubts about his ability to overpower him during other circumstances, but that dark, ice cold water makes it a more dangerous endeavour.

Tommy is talking to someone now. Quietly, so Alfie can’t hear him over the wind. But he can see his lips moving, see his eyes fastened on something that isn’t actually there.

“Tommy!”

Another wave crashes over Tommy, very nearly knocking him off his feet.

Fuck it.

Alfie tears his coat off, drops both the gun and the torch down onto the sand and starts wading out in the icy water, cursing all the way. It’s like needles on his skin, piercing and relentless and he loses all feeling in his toes within a few seconds.

“Tommy!” he calls out again, hoping to at least catch his attention. Tommy has started walking again, struggling against the waves. The water reaches his mid thigh now and Alfie knows that somewhere right around those parts, the ground drops sharply downwards…

He tries to lengthen his steps, already feeling his legs going numb from the cold. His heart is in his throat, making his entire mouth taste like blood and what the fuck is he doing, wading out here and probably risking his fucking life for some bastard who’s apparently decided his own isn’t worth having? If Tommy wants to throw away his life well that’s up to him isn’t it?

But he can’t stand there and watch it happen.

So this is the only option.

Tommy is still so far away. He calls out again because it’s all he can do-

Alfie’s got the advantage of being stronger and bigger, so thank fuck he at least moves faster than Tommy in the water, and finally he’s nearly close enough to grab onto him. He does it just as another wave comes crashing over them. It knocks Tommy off his feet and Alfie can’t fucking breathe because the cold water makes his entire chest cease up. He’s got a hand winded into Tommy’s shirt and pulls him out of the water, wrapping one arm tightly around his chest. Tommy coughs and splutters but immediately starts to fight him.

Alfie curses and nearly falls, before he regains his balance and can start dragging Tommy towards the shore. It’s so fucking cold, and Tommy squirms and scratches like a feral cat. The thing that saves them both is the fact that he doesn’t have any strength in his limbs, so Alfie manages to keep him firmly pinned against his chest with one arm, while he winds the other hand into his hair.

Still, it’s only the adrenaline that keeps him going.

When they collapse on the beach, Alfie falls to his knees, panting and finally drawing full breaths once the cold water is gone, his entire body fucking burning with the strain. Tommy is kneeling next to him, coughing and shaking violently, curled in on himself.

It feels like an eternity until he finally regains his bearings. Then he  sits back on his heels and hits Tommy across the face.

“You stupid fucking bastard.”

Tommy stares down at the ground, rasping out: “I didn’t ask you to-“  

Alfie hits him again, so hard that he ends up falling down onto the sand in a trembling heap.

“Oh fuck off! Didn’t fucking ask? That’s the dumbest fucking- you shouldn’t have fucking come here then. Why on the entire fucking coast did you have to pick this fucking beach to end up on?”

Tommy sits up slowly, head bowed and water dripping from his hair where it hangs before his eyes. Alfie barely resists the urge to hit him again.

“Go on, why did you fucking come here?”

Tommy doesn’t answer. He’s staring at the gun, where Alfie dropped it onto the sand. Alfie pitches forward and grabs it.


Tommy’s eyes follow his hand, still fastened on the weapon.

“I couldn’t do it.”

The voice is so quiet Alfie can barely hear it through the wind. But it still confuses him enough for the anger to momentarily fade.  

“What?”

Tommy stares at the gun in his hand, arms still wound tightly around his chest.

“ ‘s not easy to…” he mutters. “You’d think- but it’s not so easy. Could shoot you but I couldn’t- couldn’t

Alfie struggles to make sense of the half formed sentences, but a thought begins to take form in the back of his mind…


“The fuck are you on about?” he spits and struggles to his feet, staring Tommy down as he continues panting in an attempt to regain the breath he’s still missing.

“I didn’t want to, but you made me. You fucking made me-“ Tommy says, voice cracking. He shakes his head. “Thought it be easy to- but it wasn’t.”  

He keeps looking at the gun where it hangs uselessly by Alfie’s side. Sits back on his heels, shaking. “You wanted everything to end, so, you made me- And, and now- I thought- I need you to-“

And finally, despite the utter incoherent flow of words, the fucking pieces fall into place in Alfie’s head.

The rage fucking rushes through him, white-hot and blinding

“You want me to shoot you, is that it, Tommy?” he spits. “You want me to shoot you in the fucking head? Because its finally stopped working. And you couldn’t do it yourself so now, now you’re asking me-“ All the cold has been chased from his veins. Now it feels like his fucking blood is boiling instead. “You- you have the fucking nerve, to show up at my door, sit in  my bloody armchair all day and then- then you want me to fuckingshoot you? As if I’m just another fucking pawn-“

His voice has raised to such a roar that it tears at his throat when he screams the words at Tommy, and he can feel his pulse throb against his temple. And in the fingers clutching the gun.

“Fucking answer me, Tommy! Look me in the fucking eye and tell me you want me to shoot you.”

But Tommy doesn’t look up, and doesn’t answer. He’s rocking back and forth ever so slightly, shaking violently. Alfie breathes hot air out of his nose in frantic bursts. Squeezes the handle of the gun.

“Right-“ he grasps a fistful of Tommy’s hair and wrenches his head to the side, trying force him to look up. He presses the barrel hard into his temple. “Is this what you want, Tommy?” he hisses through gritted teeth. “How about I put a bullet right here and spray the beach with whatever’s left of your brain? Spare you the trouble…”

He pushes the gun hard against Tommy’s head, imagines the feeling of pulling the trigger. Seeing the last bit of flickering light leave Tommy’s eyes and watch him slump in his grip. Throwing him down onto the sand. One call, to someone who would come fetch the body and make sure it was never seen again and he’d be rid of this problem. This gigantic fucking problem he did nothing to deserve. He can go back to spending his days reading and shooting at whatever passes the window. Peaceful, calm, and yeah dreadfully boring at times but honestly after the life he’s led he fucking thrives on boredom.

And in just a few hours Tommy has managed to ruin all of it.

Now he standing here in the middle of the night, shoving a gun into the bastard’s head. Soaking wet after just having saved the same fucking bastard from drowning himself

He cocks the gun, the click somehow loud enough to cut through the wind. It’d be so easy. And spare him so much fucking grief.

Fuck he should’ve just let him fucking drown…

Tommy looks at him, finally, the hopelessness in his eyes almost seeming to hit Alfie like a physical wave. He presses the gun harder against his temple. Grits his teeth.

“Fine,” he hisses. Readies himself and holds the handle firmer to brace for the recoil. “Have it your fucking way.”

Tommy closes his eyes.

Alfie takes a deep breath.

Then another.

Then he hits Tommy over the face with the barrel of the gun. And Tommy crumbles down onto the sand in a broken heap.

With a roar Alfie aims the gun out at nothing but the dark water and empties the entire thing, shots ringing through the wind. He just stands there for a moment, chest heaving and with a faint taste  of blood and adrenaline in his mouth.

Tommy has curled into a ball at his feet, arms around his head as quivers wracks his entire frame.

“Please, he whispers. “Please, please-“ Over and over again. Please.

Alfie wants to hit him again. Choke the life out of him, leave bruises all over that beautiful face, split his skull open shake him and force him to turn back to the way he was, the arrogant, smug little bastard who sat opposite him in his office in Camden a lifetime ago and smirked faintly and bled from his fucking nose-

He wants everything except fucking this.

Because the thing is, the stupidly obvious, fucking thing is that right at that moment, Tommy is just a scared little boy, who is all alone in the world, who has finally caved underneath the ever mounting pressure.

And Alfie might not have asked for any of this. And it’s offensive and ridiculous not to mention just fucking delusional, for Tommy to show up here, to demand that Alfie repay some imagined debt

But-

But no one ever asks for a confused bird to slam into their windowpane. It just happens. And then you have to choose how to deal with it.

Alife looks down at the quivering body at his feet for another moment. Heaves a sigh and shrugs into his coat, shoving the gun into the inner pocket. He retrieves the torch from where it’s fallen in the sand.

Tommy struggles a little when he pulls him to his feet, but it’s all uncoordinated and feeble, so Alfie pulls one of his arms over his shoulders, tugging the scrawny body taut against his side. He can feel every single one of Tommy’s ribs through his shirt when he wraps an arm around his waist. And it could be his imagination, but it feels like Tommy folds himself into his body the second he gets close to him. Might be something instinctual; a deeply seated need for warmth. And he stops struggling then. Slumps against Alfie’s side, hiding his face in the fabric of his coat.

By some miracle, he lets Alfie lead him back towards the house.

Chapter Text

Nothing serves to piss a man off like dragging someone through a storm. Especially when that someone has put themselves into this situation entirely by their own volition and rudely interrupted said man’s sleep. It would make the calmest, most patient of people fucking lose it. And Alfie is neither calm nor patient. He asked for fucking none of this. (He very carefully avoids to think about the fact that he was the one who took Tommy in, no one else. Why should he be held responsible for his past stupid ideas? Preposterous.)

Needless to say, he’s pretty fucking fed up when he finally pulls Tommy up the last few steps to the house.  

He drags him over the threshold into the living room, unceremoniously drops his nearly dead weight onto the sofa and goes to slam the glass doors shut against the howling wind. This time, he locks them.

“Get those wet clothes off,” he says and gestures vaguely to Tommy entire body. “Alright? I’m not doing it for you. And be quick about it-” He’s about to add something along the lines of ‘before you catch your fucking death’, but catches himself at the last moment, wiping away saltwater from his beard and trying to calm his near frantic breaths instead.

Tommy is just looking at the floor, again with that glazed look in his eyes. The one that makes Alfie’s blood boil. But which more worryingly awakens a strange urge to wrap his arms around him and hold him so tightly that all the broken pieces stick back together.

Either way it makes his fingers fucking itch.

He snaps them in front of Tommy without getting any reaction what so ever.

“Oi, are you going to be cooperating here, Tommy? You’ve got fuckin’… sand all over. Thought we’d clean some of that off you before bed. And you’re absolutely freezing on top of that.”  

Tommy doesn’t even look up and the anger sparks hotly inside his head.

Fuck, he’s going to end up beating Tommy absolutely senseless if he doesn’t get a hold of himself.

With his teeth clenched tightly together and nails digging into his palms, he takes a slow breath in through his nose and  then grabs onto Tommy’s upper arms. Not hard, just hard enough. The touch finally makes Tommy look at him.  

“Tommy, you listening?”

Tommy nods slowly.

“Good. That’s good. So, you just focus on getting undressed and I’ll go get some water. Clean that-“ he gestures to the sand that’s sticking to the side of Tommy’s face. “All that off. Alright? Because I don’t really feel like a bath is the right… the right thing for you at this precise moment.”

Tommy nods again and, much to his surprise, starts unbuttoning his trousers with shaking fingers.

Alfie clears his throat and makes for the door. “I’ll just be a minute, alright? Just have to get out of these wet clothes first. You can wrap yourself up in some of those blankets…

He’s already out in the hallway when he says that last part and he tries very hard to ignore that he more or less fled the room in a very undignified and obviously flustered way.

On his way to the bedroom, he considers waking Esther up. But truth be told he’s not in the mood to explain this to her. He can already hear the ‘I told you so’ in his head. And she’ll most likely find out tomorrow either way. Might as well postpone the judgements until then.

After quickly getting himself out of his wet underclothes and into a dry set -with the addition of trousers this time, which feels crucial- he makes his way towards the kitchen, pausing just outside the living room to have a quick look. Make sure Tommy hasn’t decided to run off again. He should knock, but this is his fucking house and there’s a limit to the curtesy he will extend to this not entirely welcomed guest.

Tommy hasn’t run off. He’s in the armchair. The plush, soft one he was sat in earlier. And he’s pulled the thickest blanket tightly around himself, curled into a protective ball and hidden everything but his eyes and hair under it. He’s trembling.

And fuck, Alfie’s heart has decided to be entirely against him in this whole thing because it wrenches painfully in his chest. Fucking… twists and clenches as if his ribs are squeezing around it too tightly. Which is just bloody unacceptable and he reminds himself that he is in fact angry at Tommy for a myriad of different reasons.

Shaking his head, he tries to focus on what he was doing. He should light a fire, first of all. If he’s freezing that’s nothing compared to how Tommy must be feeling. Which is what he mutters when he enters the living room, frustrated with himself for feeling like he has to offer up some explanation to his being there.

Ridiculous. It’s his fucking house.

Tommy once again only answers the statement with a nod.  

Alfie occupies himself with lighting a fire, doing his very best not to glance back to check up on him. He may succeed in the odd feat of building a fire in the most aggressive way possible, throwing the logs and muttering curses under his breath when the first match won’t take and when he bumps into the fire poker, making it clatter to the floor. He can somehow feel Tommy watching him the entire time, which is a sensation that is as unnerving as it is irritating.

He just barely bites back some seething comment when he turns around and finds that Tommy is indeed looking at him with wide eyes above the edge of the blanket. He doesn’t particularly care for being scrutinized in his own fucking home, even when it’s by someone who isn’t all there in the head and just a few hours ago was talking to a fucking stuffed bird, and therefore is entirely unable to make any kind of judgement…

“Stay put,” he grunts at Tommy and stomps off to the kitchen, where he uses the leftover water from the kettle and fills a basin with warm water. He slings two washcloths over his shoulder and carries the water back to the living room, incredibly frustrated that he now has to move with some amount of care in order to not spill the water. Which somehow feels like a personal fucking offence.

At least Tommy has stayed in his armchair. And he even turns to look when Alfie enters.

Alfie places the washbasin down in front of the chair, cursing when some of the water splashes down onto the floor.

He pulls up a footstool and sits down.

“Go on, feet,” he says, gesturing vaguely towards the washbasin. “Let’s start with those.”

All he gets is a blink, and he reaches out and taps lightly at Tommy’s leg. Very hesitantly, Tommy stretches his legs out from their curled position. Alfie grabs onto his ankles and shoves his feet into the washbasin, making him flinch.

Some deeply buried, terrible part of him finds it oddly satisfying.

When he picks up one of the feet to dry it, he pauses.

“Bloody hell,” he mutters and stares down at the scratches and bruises covering the entire sole. “Fuck, Tommy, did you get all these now?”  

“No.” Tommy shakes his head, and adds after a bit: “Some are from before.”

Alfie furrows his brow. “Before? From the walk here, eh?”

He gets a small nod in return.

“Right. But you can’t have walked all the way, that’s not fucking possible even with your ungodly level of determination and stupidity.”

“Not all the way,” Tommy says and furrows his brow, as if searching his memory. But apparently that’s all that resurfaces. Alfie adds ‘search for possible car wreck’ to his to-do list. Then he puts Tommy’s foot back into the warm water and dips the washcloth into it. He washes away the worst of the sand from the cuts, before holding one of the feet up to further inspect the damage. Needs antiseptics too, clearly. Would be just perfect if one of the cuts got infected…

When he returns from the kitchen with the first aid kit, he finds Tommy staring towards the doorway as if awaiting his return. He chooses not to comment on that, goes to sit in front of him and pulls his right foot out of the water again.

“It’s gonna sting a bit, this,” he warns him and then goes about cleaning all the scratches with iodine. If it does hurt, Tommy doesn’t let it show.  

Alfie finds himself being more gentle than he’d like. As if he’s some fucking nurse all of a sudden… Which is not to say that’s not a noble and important profession and all, but it’s certainly not something he’s suited to be. And especially not for the present company.

Some of the scratches start bleeding again once they’re clean, but thankfully none of them look too deep. Not in need of stitches or a doctor, anyway. Or a real nurse.

Small mercies.

Tommy doesn’t move or even flinch through the entire ordeal.

“There we go. Now if we can just avoid more of these little barefoot escapades, I bet those will heal up just fine,” he says once he’s finally wrapped both feet in gauze and Tommy has pulled them back in under the blanket.

After yet another trip to the kitchen to fill the basin with clean water, Alfie dips a fresh cloth into it and mutters, more to himself than Tommy, “Now let’s just get some of that sand off, alright? Start off with the hands, maybe?”

The hands feel safer than having to deal with his face.

Tommy hesitantly sticks out one of his arm, using the other hand to hold the blanket up around himself. Perhaps Alfie should’ve offered him some clothes? He reminds himself to find something for tomorrow, and imagining Tommy in his clothes does make the corner of his mouth twitch. At least that’s something to look forward to.

When both his hands and forearms are clean and free of the fine, prickly sand, Alfie can’t postpone the inevitable and moves on to Tommy’s face. He instinctively moves a bit closer, and holds up the towel to clue him in on his plan.

Without a word of protest, Tommy leans his head a tiny bit to the side to give him better access. Alfie starts to wipe away the sand sticking to cheek. There’s already a dark bruise forming there from his hand.

He’ll have to stare at that and be reminded just how close he got to-

He shakes his head to clear it of the thought.

For a while all that’s heard is the wind whistling outside and the crackling from the fire. The silence and the odd sense of calm filling the room gives Alfie more time to think than he’d prefer.

It’s not the first time he’s this close to Tommy. No, there was that unfortunate incident in the warehouse, wasn’t there? Years ago. That whole thing with the priest, and Tommy’s missing kid. Then they were stood inches apart while Alfie yelled in Tommy’s face. But it’s the first time he’s so close for a such an intimate reason, for lack of a better word -and mind you Alfie has spent a good long while trying to come up with one. It does feel intimate. He's suddenly just very aware that Tommy is wearing nothing underneath that blanket. The thought stirs something hot and pulsing in the pit of his stomach. For some reason he fucking chokes on his breath and a stupid sort of rattling noise escapes him. Tommy glances up at him through his lashes.

“Nothing,” Alfie waves the cloth dismissively, desperately hoping it could be passed of as a strange chuckle. “ ‘s just… It’s been a strange day, alright, wouldn’t you say?”

Tommy nods slowly.

Alfie dips the cloth into the water, rinsing the sand off. Then, he wipes along the sharp line of Tommy’s jaw, continuing under his eyes. Tommy closes them. There’s something about that, something about the way he clearly trusts him. At least in that fragile little moment. As if its shielded from all the things from the past.

Right at that moment, it seems like Tommy would let Alfie do anything to him.

There’s a slow shift in the air. Tension building like the string of a bow being pulled back…

A bit of sand is clinging to the skin right next to Tommy’s mouth. Alfie hesitates for a long moment, before bringing the cloth there. Tommy parts his lips just slightly, drawing a slow shuddering breath, lashes fluttering but eyes remaining closed. Alfie finds himself intently focused on it all.

The string is pulled further back.

Tommy barely seems to be breathing, sitting there so quiet and still, save for the tremors wracking him. If Alfie wanted to, he could reach out, run a finger down the side of his perfectly chiselled jaw. Just… wrap a hand around that slender neck and squeeze until he couldn’t breathe. Hold that grip and see his skin shift into blue and feel his pulse race. Tommy would probably let him.

And it’s a bad, bad thing, innit? Tommy just sitting there, quiet and fragile and trusting. He should know better. Alfie did threaten to shoot him not an hour ago, and that’s just the latest in a row of questionable actions. But Tommy doesn’t have the sense to not trust him right now, that much is clear.

Sitting this close to him, so focused on his face also makes him discover other things which will no doubt lead to only trouble…

Like how Tommy’s lips still look soft and full, despite the rest of him being hollowed out.

How his hair wants to curl softly at the ends now when it’s grown a bit longer.

How even when his skin is translucently pale, he’s got light freckles sprinkled across his nose and cheekbones.

Soft firelight does all kinds of strange things to the mind, doesn’t it?

Alfie clears his throat and drops the cloth down into the basin.

“There we go. Think that’s most of it ,” he grunts and gets to his feet, putting adequate distance between himself and Tommy. Tommy blinks up at him. “And now, you’re going to do such a strange and human thing as sleep for a few hours, alright? In a bed.”

He’s not about to take no for an answer, which he tries to make perfectly clear to Tommy by crossing his arms over his chest and staring him down. Tommy doesn’t seem too keen on the idea. Then again, he doesn’t really seem keen on much of anything, now, does he?

“You’re at least going to lie in the bed. Can’t force you to sleep or anything, but it’s a start,” he says. “Better than sitting here and staring blankly at some  fucking corner, I reckon. And most of all it’d give me at least a short moment of peace.”  

He tries to think of Esther -calm, steady, but gentle. Which shouldn’t be completely impossible he tries hard enough. He thoroughly avoids thinking about how he acted down at the beach. But in his defence, Tommy did fucking piss him off. More than piss him off, really, he deeply wounded and fucking offended Alfie-

He ends up calmly, steadily and gently manhandling Tommy out of the armchair

And with Alfie’s hand firmly planted on his back, Tommy lets himself be lead through the house to one of the guest bedrooms, limping ever so slightly.

“Right, there we are,” Alfie says and opens the door, waiting for him to go inside on his own.  

Tommy hesitantly does, looking around the room with big eyes and clutching the blanket under his chin. Alfie reminds himself to have Esther put out clothes for him tomorrow. Or, well, today. At a more reasonable hour.

“There’s a bathroom over there-“ he gestures towards the door. “And books. If you’d fancy reading something. In my own quite educated experience, that’s a good thing to occupy one’s mind with-“

Tommy is looking at the fireplace.

Alfie asks, in spite of himself, “Would you like me to light that for you?”

Tommy twists his hands into the blanket and only continues looking. Alfie inhales to sigh irritably but stops himself in the last second, silently counts to five and says, “It’s no trouble. Not at all. Will be done in just a minute, if you want it. Reckon you’re still cold?”  

“Yes,” Tommy says, voice barely more than a whisper.

And so Alfie goes to light this fireplace too.

Tommy is seated on the bed when he’s finished. On the edge of it, but it’s a step in the right direction. His eyes are fastened on a stuffed pheasant in one of the bookcases. Alfie picks it off the shelf without a word. Then he heads for the door.

“Alright then,” he says on the threshold. He doesn’t know how to holdthe fucking bird suddenly and settles for gripping the little platform it’s displayed on and letting it hang by his side. “Got everything you need then? Bit of warmth. A good bed. Why don’t you try to lie down for a while?”  

Tommy’s eyes look oddly bright even in the darkness of the room. Feels like they could pierce through his skin…

Alfie’s fingers drum against the pedestal holding the bird.

“Well, goodnight then. Do try to at least close your fucking eyes. Bet it’d do you  a world of good.”

Tommy is still sitting on the bed when he closes the door.

He shouldn’t fucking leave him alone. He’s well aware. The thing is that he’s not completely unable to see what the right option in this situation would be, it’s just that he’s unwilling to actually… choose it. Fuck, he’s already spent a good portion of the night on a blustery beach, for some unknown reason trying to save Tommy from himself. He’s not about to spend the rest of it watching over him. He needs at least a few hours of solid sleep in order to stay somewhat sane. Yeah. It’s the only logical option.

And with that decided, Alfie heads to bed.

However, as past instances have shown, simply deciding to go to bed is not enough to actually fall asleep. This time he’d like to blame the cold, however. Because he’s still fucking freezing. But it doesn’t really matter why he’s awake, the point is that he is. And lying awake leads to certain thoughts,which of course have very little to do with reality, or to do with anything at all, really, but it’s not a good idea to lie awake and let those thoughts take up too much time.

Which is why he quickly gives up on sleeping and sets about solving the issue with the cold.

After getting out of bed with a displeased grunt, Alfie rummages around in a drawer until he finds the hot-water bottle he puts on his back when it’s giving him trouble. That should do the trick.

But when he stands there in the kitchen with the warm, newly filled bottle in his hands, another thought intercepts him. And he knows that logically he should pay no attention to it, because he’s certainly done enough today already. But apparently ‘logic’ is a thing he pays very little attention to these days, because instead of going straight back to his own room, he stops outside the guestroom and knocks on the door.

There’s no answer of course, but he quietly goes inside anyway.

There’s a small lump on the bed, and he goes around to the other side in an attempt to find some opening in the mound of blankets.

Tommy’s eyes are just barely visible, but he can see them glinting in the firelight. Not asleep, then.

He clears his throat, and Tommy’s gaze shifts to him.

“Thought you might still be cold,” he says and holds the bottle out. Tommy blinks at it. He’s still wrapped in that blanket from the living room, underneath all the others. It’s peaking up under his nose.  

“Go on, it’ll heat you back up a little,” he says, trying his damned hardest to sound encouraging. “See, it’s of course impossible to sleep when you’re cold. Heard that the best thing for it is a good pair of socks, but that only works if you’ve got some sort of body heat to begin with.”

He holds the bottle a bit closer. Tommy still doesn’t reach out. Alfie resists the urge to just say fuck it and leave again. Instead he places the bottle down onto the mattress, right next to him.  

After a long moment of hesitation, a pale, still quivering hand reaches out from under the blankets and pulls in the bottle in. There’s some shifting as Tommy seems to curl himself around it and then he lets out a little sigh. It’s the first sign that he’s even remotely enjoyed anything at all since he showed up at Alfie’s door. And it’s… it’s nice. Surprisingly nice actually.

At least he’s managed to do one thing right tonight.

“Right,” he says, scratching the back of his head. “So… Try to get some sleep, alright? It’s no wonder your brain decides to start acting up what with the way you treat it. Try counting sheep or something. Fuck knows if it helps but it could be worth a try-“

Tommy looks up at him.

“Why are you helping me?”

Alfie clears his throat.

“Well, not like you left me much of a choice,” he says. “What with showing up unannounced on my bloody steps. Couldn’t exactly leave you there, could I? Or just let you drown right in my backyard. Or, well, front yard depending on how you see it. I don’t fancy sitting in my armchair looking down at the sea and the beautiful scenery and think about how you fucking drowned yourself there. Bet you’d be one of those restless spirits too…”

He trails off, because for once he just runs out of words.

Tommy says nothing. Just pulls the blanket closer and drops his gaze back to the wall.

But when Alfie has left Tommy’s room and is back in his own, once again lying awake in bed, the question rattles around in his brain.

And the thing is, he doesn’t have a real answer.

Why are you helping me?

Because he’s fucking bored, alright? Seemed like a fun and impossible project to put his energy into.

Because he’s curious about how exactly Tommy got himself into this utterly fucked up state.  

Because it’s the right thing to do.

Not that he’s ever cared about that before.

But maybe old age has turned him soft.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

It’s windy outside. Tommy lies awake listening to the sound whistling against the windowpane. His eyelids feel impossibly heavy, but he’s used to that sensation by now. Maybe that’s what they’re supposed to feel like? It’s hard to tell anymore… Hard to know what’s normal. They want to slip shut. But there are too many thoughts whirring around in his brain, rushing so fast that it’s impossible to sleep. Too quick, but fragmented and broken, like shards of glass that won’t fit together.

His eyes eventually fall shut, but he doesn’t sleep. Not ever. Not really.

There’s hardly any difference between being asleep and being awake. He did sleep for a while before, in the armchair by the fireplace. Alfie talked about something, and the next thing he knew he was being shaken awake from a nightmare.

That’s the problem. The thoughts and the voices don’t stop when he falls asleep.

Strange that he fell asleep at all. But he did. Even if it wasn’t very peaceful. Maybe listening to someone talking helped? It made it easier not to listen to all the other voices.

Now, it’s too quiet in the room.

And he’s cold, shaking underneath the many blankets.

Alfie gave him this warm, soft bottle that he could hold. It was warm for a while, but now it’s not anymore. His thoughts got blurrier with every second it cooled down and now it’s cold and his head is just a whirr of nothing. Of fog and mud and too many people talking.

“You should leave, Tommy.”

He tries to ignore Grace’s voice and buries his face under the blanket. Drags the scent into his nose. It smells like… firewood and tobacco and pine something he can’t place.

“There’s nothing here for you.”

He tries to not answer. It’s not good, answering.

“Don’t you see? Why would he help you?”

He doesn’t know. Doesn’t know anything anymore.

He tried making a plan. He pieced together enough of all those broken shards to do that: Find Alfie, ask him- But Alfie refused to see that it would only be fair. Picked apart the pieces again, and now he can’t find new ones to make another plan. Feels like standing on the edge of a cliff and staring down into an abyss, and there’s nothing there, nothing in his head, no thoughts that are his, so how can he make a new plan?

“You have to leave.”

He pulls the blanket up under his nose and squeezes it. It’s real and he can touch it. Alfie gave it to him. He drags more of the scent into his lungs. Maybe it can push away all the mud that’s gathered down there?

Alfie went out in the water to get him. And he didn’t want to come back, but Alfie didn’t care-

Why did Alfie go looking for him?

It’s difficult to think when none of the pieces fit together. That piece doesn’t fit: Alfie wouldn’t go out looking for him, no one would do that, he knows.

No one came, no one-

But Alfie did.

He just went out into the water and dragged him back to shore and- and he doesn’t understand why.

Alfie was angry. And still he wouldn’t do what Tommy asked.

It doesn’t make any sense.

He should leave. It’s the one thought he can grasp, so he should listen to it. But he’s cold and his limbs won’t obey when he tries to move them. And there’s no-where to go.

“It’s not far down to the sea.”

No, it’s not far but it’s too hard. It was hard enough before, walking out into that icy blackness. Maybe if he rests for a while first…

Time passes at a crawl, but he’s gotten used to that by now, it always does. And with every passing second, minute, hour the voices grow louder. There are more of them too, they’re always so many at night, so many and so loud and close, close…

He curls up under the blankets, fingers clenched around the soft fabric and eyes screwed shut. Tries to will himself to relax.

Until finally, it’s getting brighter outside. Pale light is creeps in through the blankets, prickling at his eyes.

“Good morning, Tommy.”

He doesn’t recognize that voice… Burrowing deeper into the blankets, he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to focus on the way the blanket smells…

“Is it alright if I call you that? Mister Solomons hasn’t bothered with any last names-“ Fabric swishes and more light floods into the room. “Such a darling name, too… My niece has a little son named Tommy.”

There’s a weight on top of all the blankets. It could be a hand.

“I’ve got some tea for you. And scones, fresh out of the oven.”

He doesrecognize the voice. From before. Alfie’s maid. There’s a quiet clink as something is placed on the nightstand and he peers up over the blankets.

Grey light is spilling in through the window opposite the bed, and Esther is standing in the midst of that light looking down at him.

“Oh dear,” she says and furrows her brow. “Is that from the little midnight adventure? Let me have a look.” She grabs the chair that’s stood by the window and seats herself right close to the bed. “Don’t worry, love, I’ll be careful.”

Tommy doesn’t even realise he’s hidden his face in the blankets again until she carefully folds them down. He lets her, because it’s easier listening to someone else. And Esther gave him tea and has kind eyes so maybe he can trust her?

“Of course you can’t-“

It’s easier to ignore the other voices when he’s not alone.

He focuses on Esther. She’s frowning, jaw clenched tight.

“Oh, he’ll hear about this,” she mutters, carefully cradling his cheek. “Bashing around people half his size… What kind of behaviour is that?”

He reaches up and runs his fingertips down the side of his face, only then realising it’s sore.

“Well, you must’ve given him a right scare though, love,” Esther says and pours tea into a cup. He clearly lets the question show on his face because she adds: “Yes, I heard. Or rather dragged it out of Mister Solomons when I saw the wet clothes in the living room.”

She knows.

There was a time when he would’ve felt ashamed. Instead he just feels… nothing.

What does it matter?

Esther makes no comments and asks no questions.

“So, if we just get you situated, we’ll see if maybe we can get some food into you,” she says instead and starts shuffling the pillows around. Tommy suddenly finds himself sitting up, because Esther has somehow lifted him.

“Oh, don’t look so surprised,” she clucks and gets dimples in her cheeks. “You barely weigh more than a kitten, love. And, mind you, I used to lug around Mr. Solomons for quite a while, helping him up the stairs, or just out of chairs- See, these arms can lift plenty!“ She flexes her arm and smiles again.

It’s strange, looking at someone who looks so… happy.

Everyone’s faces are so drained. Pale, almost grey, with tired eyes. No wonder they have to find a way out, or they’ll all be dragged down by the end.

It’s for the best.

The door opens less and less often. No one can stand being close to him. And he’s always alone in the bed. That’s okay. Lizzie has to think of Charlie and Ruby, they need her.

“Go on-“

He blinks at the teacup that Esther is holding up before him. His gut churns at the sight.

His insides have all withered away. Instead he’s filled up with that cold mud from the field, all the way up his chest, into his throat and it’s hard to eat or drink then. Impossible.

“He won’t eat.”

The doctor hums and scribbles something in his pad. “Have you tried cutting the food up into small pieces?”

Lizzie sighs.

“Of course we have. It doesn’t help.”

There’s a hand on his shoulder and it brings him back. Esther’s eyes aren’t sad. She smiles at him, and keeps holding the cup in front of him.

“You should know that we got one thing in common, Mister Solomons and I,” she says. “We’re stubborn as old mules, the pair of us. And I don’t mind sitting here.”

He accepts the cup and takes a sip. The heat of the tea makes him realise how cold he is.

He drinks all of the tea, and even though it takes a long time, Esther stays there by his bedside. But then she holds up the plate with the scone and his stomach clenches.  

“Oh, it’s just a bit of bread, love, it’s not going to bite you,” she says. He squeezes his lips together.  

“You always were difficult when it came to food.” He can’t see his mother, he never can. But he can hear her. “Wish you’d inherited your father’s appetite instead of mine-“

“God, Tommy, what are we going to do with you?”

“Esther?” Alfie’s voice is instantly recognizable among all the others and he looks towards the door.

“In here, Sir,” Esther calls out and footsteps approach. Alfie appears in the doorway.

“Have you seen my bloody glasses anywhere?” he asks, paying no attention to Tommy. “I swear they’re moving around on their own.”  

“They are where you always leave them, on the dresser in the hallway,” Esther says calmly. “But now when you’re here, why don’t you keep our guest company for a bit while I go make some soup?” She looks to Tommy again. “See, that’s of course what I should’ve started off with. Always good with soup when food feels intimidating.” She pats his cheek, soft and warm. “Don’t you worry, we’ll figure it out.”

With another one of those dimpled smiles, she gets up and trots over to the door, shoving the plate with the scone into Alfie’s hands.

Alfie stands in the doorway with the plate, eyebrows raised and looking between it and the bed.

He clears his throat. “So, how are we feeling today then?” he waves his hand before Tommy can even fully register the question. “Nah, don’t bother. Know you barely  talk about that on a normal day.” He seats himself in the chair by the bed. He fills it up in a different way than Esther. Then he stares down at the scone. “You really should try this. See Esther’s cooking really is something else. So much so that I’ve had to fucking replace half my wardrobe.” He lets out a quiet laugh. It’s a nice laugh. “Not that I mind. Nah, it’s all part of my new life in retirement, innit?”

He sets the plate down on Tommy’s lap and leans back in his chair, fingers lacing together over his stomach as he squints at him.

“So, did you get any sleep, eh?”

And Tommy shakes his head. Alfie nods slowly and scratches his beard.

“Hm, yeah, got to admit I didn’t sleep much either. Was up thinking, I was. About this… situation.”

An ice cold hand clenches around his heart.

“You see now, Tommy? He’s going to call them,” Grace says and tilts her head as she looks at Alfie. “Or call a doctor. They’ll come and get you-“

His heartrate picks up and the ringing starts in his ears. But then Alfie’s hand is on his shoulder.

“Oi, Tommy, focus.”

“And then they’ll lock you up.”

“I can leave,” he says and looks down at the blanket. “I can- you don’t have to-“

“Leave?” Alfie’s hand falls and Tommy desperately wants to hold onto it. “Leave and go where exactly?”

He tries to just focus on breathing, fighting against the burning sensation behind his eyes. He’s got nowhere to go. That’s the thing. There’s nowhere and no one-

Wants him or needs him or ever wants to see him again and if he could just erase himself from the world and everyone’s memory so that no one would ever have think of him again-

“Well, Thomas, sorry to disappoint you but that’s out of the question,” Alfie says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “See, you might’ve been able to convince me that letting you walk out that door and fend for yourself would be the best option. Bring me some peace of mind and let me go back to my daily life and busy schedule. But it just so happens that I’ve hired the most stubborn and infuriating woman in all of England, and she has very much taken you under her wing. So you’re just stuck here now, aren’t you?”

He blinks and glances at Alfie. Tries to gauge his expression, see if he’s lying. But it’s hard. It didn’t use to be so hard. Now it’s always hard, and takes such a long time for him to puzzle things together. But the corner of Alfie’s mouth twitches and there are wrinkles around his eyes.

“Why?”

Alfie raises both eyebrows. “Why Esther has decided that it’s now hers and by extension my mission to nurse you back to somewhat health? Well, that’s a good question. But I’d bet good money it’s because you have those big blue eyes. See, baby animals got those as well. Large eyes. It incites a burning urge to care for and nurture them-“ Alfie’s mouth keeps moving but now the words are blurring together. At least he could piece together more of them this time.

“Tommy, you are just postponing the inevitable. There’s nothing here for you.

He shakes his head at Grace’s words. Doesn’t want to listen, because it’s warm in here. It’s warm and people smile and he wants to stay. Not face the reality that he’s got nowhere to go.

Grace’s face is expressionless as always. It’s her face, but still not hers.

“You don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve any of it.” She looks at Alfie and Alfie looks at her. For a moment Tommy’s heart is completely still in his chest, before Alfie furrows his brow and looks back at him.

“Alright, I don’t know what other conversations you’ve got going on in that head of yours, but how about we try to focus on the one you and I were having, alright?”

He’s not looking at Grace. He can’t see her because she’s not real, none of them are, try to remember that Tommy…

His fingers run through the fringe on the blanket. The one that’s soft and smells like warmth and fire and that Alfie gave to him. That’s real. And he nods at Alfie.

“Good. That’s good,” Alfie hums. He’s quiet for a bit. “Alright, I know this is going to be hard but do you remember the last time you slept? And not just those uneasy little naps but an actual, full night.”

He doesn’t even try to remember. It’s impossible to rummage around in all the shards and find memories like that. He just has to wait for them to resurface on their own. But he knows it must’ve been a long time. Because the only memories that do resurface are of the dark ceiling in his bedroom and the stifling silence in the large house as everyone else slept.

“See, I think that’s part of the problem here, Tommy,” Alfie says. “I might not be a doctor of any kind, but I do happen to know that the brain, while complicated, does have a few basic things it needs to keep running, yeah? Sleep is one of them.”

He focuses on every word. Just Alfie’s words, and the feeling of the blanket beneath his fingers. What he can actually hear, and what he can actually feel. And when he glances back to the corner, Grace is no longer there.

“Right, so how about you try to eat that?” Alfie nods in direction of the scone. “Think you’d make Esther very happy, see.”

Tommy sinks a little deeper into the pillows. He can’t lift his arms. They’re too heavy, his entire body is too heavy. Like drinking that tea took what little strength he had. Alfie lets out a frustrated huff.  He wants him to talk, like he did before… Talk and talk until all the other voices fade, and sit close to him. He doesn’t want to eat or do much of anything. He just wants to sleep, but he can’t sleep-

Everything feels slow and blurry, this hazy, milky fog that he’s floating in, falling through.

Alfie can’t possibly want him here, and still he’s letting him stay and it’s not making any sense, nothing makes any sense…

“Figures you’d end up like this. Far too much like your mother.”

He can see that Alfie’s mouth is moving and he tries, tries so hard to hear what he’s saying, but his father’s voice drowns it out. He wants to reach out suddenly, hold onto him, because the blanket is not enough, his fingers feel numb suddenly, numb and cold and-

“But even she could manage to fucking off herself properly.”

Alfie is looking out the window, mouth still moving. He’s blurred at the edges. Maybe he’s not real either, maybe none of this is?

“Oi, you still with me.” Alfie shakes him. And it’s like being pulled from that icy water again. He nods, and Alfie goes back to whatever story he was telling.

And for as long as Alfie is in the room, he stays somewhat above the surface, even though he has to keep focusing to do it.

Takes it one moment, one breath at a time.  

The whole day passes in that strange fog, and then the sun is suddenly setting behind the clouds in the horizon. Esther lights a fire, and Alfie comes to stand in the doorway for a bit, arms crossed over his chest and with an unreadable look in his eyes. Tommy waits for him to say something. He doesn’t. And when he leaves, Tommy wants to call out for him, beg him to not leave him alone. But he can’t make a sound.

Eventually the house is enveloped in that silence that tells him everyone else is sleeping.  

The fire burns out too quickly, leaving the room in inky darkness.

Tommy lies awake.

….

There’s a tapping on the window. Alfie’s crow is sitting out there on the windowsill, tapping on the glass. It must be cold outside, and it’s not nice to be all alone in the cold, so Tommy goes to let it in, carefully opening the window. But the crow flies away and his heart drops into his stomach. Alfie will be angry.

He leaves the window open if the crow wants to come back in, and sits down to wait. He’ll feel better if it comes back, so he’ll just wait, he can sit here just as well as lie in the bed. It’s a bit cold, but he’s got the blanket Alfie gave him and he can wrap himself up in that.

If he just waits here the crow will come back and Alfie won’t be angry.

“Tommy, for fucks sake!”

The moment he hears the sharp voice he realises that it’s not dark anymore. Which is strange because he’s been looking at the window all this time but somehow not noticed. There are footsteps approaching but he has to keep looking-

“Fuck, what did you do that for? If you thought it was too warm you could’ve just asked Esther to not light the fucking fire.”

Alfie pulls him up to his feet and leads him back to the bed. Tommy tries to resist, but it’s like trying to move a brick wall. But he has to explain…

“The crow-“

“What?”

“It hasn’t come back.”

Alfie just stares at him.

“Right, right the crow,” he mutters, finally “Well, don’t you worry about that, alright? As I said, he’ll come back when he pleases. It’s good for him to stretch his wings, innit? And there are other crows out there. Crow friends.”

Tommy nods and crawls in under the blankets again. That makes sense.

“Try to just stay there for now, alright?” Alfie says. “Better stay off your feet for another day or two. Give them a chance to heal.”

Then he bends to pick up something from the floor. He flips the hot-water bottle over in his hand and sighs, muttering something incoherent as he leaves the room.

Tommy pulls his knees up to his chest, suddenly realising that he’s shaking. It’s somehow colder now than he was sitting by the window.

Alfie returns and drops the bottle down onto the mattress next to his face.

“Well it’s fucking freezing in here now, innit?” he says and nods towards it. “And you seemed to like that yesterday.” Alfie’s expectant look makes Tommy grab the bottle and pull it against his chest. It does feel nice. Alfie sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Now if you excuse me I’m going to have some breakfast, if you can manage to survive on your own for two goddamn seconds.”

With that, he stomps out of the room.

Tommy hugs the bottle a bit tighter to his chest.

He tells himself that tonight he’ll do better, and he’ll stay in bed.

….

The bullet is still in his head. It’s still there, and that’s why it’s all wrong. If he just digs it out, maybe he can make his head whole again and it’ll start working? If it does, he’ll be useful again, they’ll need him-

Everything hurts. His ears are ringing with the pressure, it’s echoing loudly inside his head as he lies there face down in the mud. The hot blood that trickled down the side of his face has cooled, along with the air around him.

It’s gotten very cold. And dark.

No one is coming.

He can’t get up, can’t make any sounds except muffled noises because of all the mud, but he tries. It comes out as a pitiful little whimper.

No one is coming.

The pain shoots through his head like a hot iron rod and he scratches weakly against his skull.

If he can just get the bullet out-

Suddenly there are hands there. Real, strong hands that pull away his own from his head. But they don’t understand, he has to-

Alfie is looking down at him, eyes oddly wide and face pale in the grey morning light. He holds up Tommy’s hand before him, staring wildly at it. The fingers are red with blood, but there’s no mud-

Now, Alfie’s mouth moves. Maybe he’d be able to hear if it weren’t for the ringing in his ears, the sound of too fast breaths, his heartbeat. He struggles, because he can still feel the metal tearing into his skin. Alfie doesn’t understand. If he can just get the bullet out-

Alfie holds onto his wrists and he tries and tries to get lose, squirms and tries to kick. A slap burns across his cheek and he whines in pain.  

“Tommy, for fucks sake-“

Why won’t Alfie listen, why won’t he understand?

Alfie shakes him and holds on harder to his wrists, so hard it hurts. He presses them down against his chest, pinning him against the mattress. Tommy keeps fighting.

“Tommy, listen to me-“

No, no, no-

He manages to somehow dig a knee into Alfie’s side, eliciting a grunt, but it can’t have been too hard of a blow because he won’t budge.

“Now that’s fucking it-“

Suddenly he’s facing down against the mattress, arms twisted behind him and with a knee digging into his back and it hurts and he can’t breathe- Can’t move and he can’t see and there’s mud in his mouth and lungs and he’s going to suffocate. He lets out a panicked yelp that turns into a scream when he realises he can’t move an inch.

“Tommy, fucking hell, you’re okay.”

Alfie’s voice is there in the darkness right close to his ear. Fingers twist into his hair, turning his head to the side and pressing it against the pillow. It hurts and a pained whine escapes him.

“Alright, try to just listen to me. I don’t know where you are in that head of yours, but that doesn’t matter because you’re not actually there now, are you? You’re in Margate.”

No but-

“And you’re alright. Well not alright, per say, but you’re living and breathing and… yeah trying to kick me in the fucking balls which is just all around incredibly rude-“

His mind seems to somehow latch onto Alfie’s voice and he finds it pulling him somewhere. Out of the darkness maybe. The mud and the fog.

He’s not on the field anymore and he missed-

“And now I just need you to breathe in and out, which might be difficult given the current position. But as long as you keep trying to fucking squash my family jewels with your scrawny knees I’ll have to keep you like this, alright?”  

He missed, so there’s no bullet there to find. Why did he miss? He can’t remember… That part is always like a black hole in his mind. The memories that do resurface sometimes, blurry and faded at the edges, are always of afterwards.

Of lying out there on the cold, muddy ground. The pain and the cold. That no one came- Darkness fell, that slow, creeping darkness that signifies night. And no one came.

He didn’t ask himself why.

“You hear that, Tommy? Just breathe and try to fucking relax.”

But he can’t breathe. There’s no air. But he suddenly realises that even if he wanted to continue fighting it’s impossible. What little strength he had has drained completely from his limbs.

“There we go, that’s more like it, yeah? Not that hard is it, to just… not try to actively fucking hurt yourself, hm?”

He just gives in. Sinks into the mattress, into the darkness blurring the edges of his vision.

“So, you gonna be a bit more agreeable, eh? How about it?”

Alfie’s voice floats away.

He’s vaguely aware of the grip around his wrists loosening, and the weight disappearing from his body. But he doesn’t try to move. His body feels very heavy suddenly. And when Alfie rolls him over he just lets it happen, falling limply against the mattress and finding himself gazing at the ceiling, far away and full of bright lights that dance before his eyes.

“And now we try to fucking pay attention-“ Alfie grabs his face, fingers tight around his jaw. And Tommy forces himself to focus on that. He’s got deep wrinkles on his brow, his one good eye glinting sharply down at Tommy, settling on the side of his head. “Fuckin’ hell just one thing after another with you, innit? Impossible to get even one peaceful morning around here…” He looks towards the door. “Esther!”

The hands are still gripping onto Tommy’s arms, warm and firm but not painful anymore. Footsteps come towards the room.

“What on-“

“Don’t you look at me like that, woman, it‘s not like I fucking did this,” Alfie grunts at someone. Esther. Tommy keeps looking at his face and nowhere else. “Alright? I’m just trying to keep him from making it worse. Get the first aid kit, will you?”

The footsteps leave again. With a sigh, Alfie lets go of him and shoves the blanket into his hands. Tommy buries his fingers in it and drags it all the way up to his nose. Alfie smells just like the blanket.

Esther returns after only a moment. She cleans his bloodied hands, and the scratched up scar. Wraps a bandage around his head. “Just so it’ll be easier for you to leave it alone, alright, love?”

Then she changes the bloody sheets.

Alfie paces, having abandoned his spot on the bed the second Esther entered.

And once Esther has wrapped the bandage around his head, he leaves the room altogether, muttering something Tommy can’t pick up. Esther stays. She sits in the chair next to the bed and talks quietly to him. He’s too tired to quite hear it.  

She stays by his bedside almost the whole day, only leaving for short moments at a time. Which is when Alfie comes into the room, pacing or just sitting in the chair. He talks, but Tommy can’t piece together the sounds into actual words

There’s something different in his eyes, something that glints underneath the frustration.

For a moment, Tommy thinks it might be worry.

But it can’t be.

It doesn’t make any sense. Why would Alfie worry?

He must be mistaken.

Chapter Text

“Well, the good news are that his feet look alright. I’ve taken the bandages off,” Esther says as she enters the kitchen where Alfie is currently pacing. There’s been quite a lot of that these past few days, pacing, and for some reason he felt the need to do it in a different room today.

“Yeah, well, that’s a small bloody comfort,” he mutters. “What with absolutely everything else is going straight to hell.”

Esther sets the tray down on the kitchen table.

“Give it some time, Sir. He’s obviously been through a lot.”

“Well who hasn’t,” Alfie grunts. “Who fucking hasn’t?” Then he sighs and indicates towards the piece of bread still on the tray. “Still not eating anything, then?” Esther smiles a mild, tilted smile and shrugs.

“Well, he did eat some of the soup. It’s better than nothing.”

Alfie is overwhelmed by an uncomfortable feeling that maybe it’s not better than nothing. Maybe betterwould be to just let Tommy fade away… Seems like the more merciful thing.

No, the truly merciful thing would’ve been to shoot him down at the beach.

He shakes his head to rid it of the thought, because he’s fucking told himself to let that whole thing go, and agonizing over it isn’t helping. Instead he focuses on the practicalities; reminds himself to call Ollie tomorrow and get some intel on Birmingham. See if word’s gotten out that Tommy is missing. Really, he should’ve done it already, but it’s a bit hard to focus on things like that when you have a demanding fucking houseguest that needs babysitting at all hours…

“And you’re sure you don’t want me to stay?” Esther asks and pulls him from the musings.

He waves his hand dismissively. “Your afternoon off is your afternoon off. And I know for a fact that you’ve been looking forward to visiting that sister of yours. We’ll survive a couple of hours on our own”

Esther is still frowning as she unties the knot in the apron and hangs it on a hook by the stove.

“But you have to promise to be gentle with him, Sir.”  

Alfie rolls his eyes. “Fuck, woman, he’s not an abandoned kitten we’ve found in some cardboard box…”

Good analogy that, it may be at odds with the bird one but it somehow feels quite fitting too. Esther is not amused.

“May I remind you, Mister Solomons, that the last time I left you two alone-“

“No, you may not fucking remind me, I get it.” Alfie puts both hands up in a gesture of defeat.

Esther gives him a final, stern look. “All I’m saying is that I better not come home tomorrow and find him beaten all black and blue again.”

Fucking hell, the nerve of this woman…

“You have my bloody word. Now go.”

Esther leaves, but only after another reprimand, some intel on the food situation in the house, and saying yet again that Alfie needs to: ‘be patient with him, poor thing, today isn’t a good day’. And fuck Alfie is moments away from regretting his decision before she’s finally out the door.

After debating with himself for a bit, he reluctantly goes to check on Tommy. On his way to do that,  he passes the living room and sees the blue sky outside the glass doors. It’s been a few days of rain, but now the sky is clear, and the wind is nothing but a gentle breeze. He allows himself to linger and tries to somehow store that peaceful scenery inside himself for what is bound to be yet another frustrating and worrying interaction.

Bracing himself, he opens the door to the guestroom.

The room smells of nightmares and fucking… sadness and sweat. As if the misery is just seeping out of Tommy’s pores. Which isn’t surprising considering he’s spent the past four days in that bed without a proper wash, because baths haven’t exactly been a priority.

But spending all his time in a bed doing nothing but talk to ghosts and being utterly lost in various delusions can’t be doing anything for him.

Alfie thinks of the blue sky outside.

And is suddenly all out of his already lacking patience.

He walks up to the bed.

Tommy is gazing at some spot on the wall, the circles under his eyes dark and his skin ghostly pale. There’s only a tiny sliver of blue visible beneath his eyelids, but it’s enough for Alfie to see that he’s indeed awake. Or whatever you may call this state.

He starts off by shaking him quite roughly.

“Oi, Tommy, you’re getting out of this bed.”

Tommy doesn’t react.

Alfie’s hand flies up on pure instinct, but he stops himself at the last moment, letting it drop back down to his side. Instead he painfully crouches down in Tommy’s line of sight, stares straight at him and grabs onto his shoulder.

“Hey, you’re getting out of this bed and into a bath. It’s non-negotiable.”

Finally, Tommy’s gaze shifts to him.

“A bath?” he repeats, a tiny wrinkle appearing between his eyebrows. Good. Not completely beyond reach today, then.

Alfie nods. “Yeah. And then we’re going for a walk. The weather is brilliant and if there’s one thing life has taught me it’s that it’s just not healthy to lie around and give yourself too much time to think about things. And you truly should listen to me because not only am I a God, but I also possess the wisdom of just a very old man-“

Tommy blinks at him.

Ignoring the lack of enthusiasm or just acknowledgement in general, Alfie straightens up, grabs onto his shoulders and pulls him upright. Only when the blankets pool around the impossibly thin waist does he remember that Tommy isn’t wearing any fucking clothes. Which makes him pause. Then he ambles off to the bathroom, grabs a clean towel and throws it at him.

“There’s a tub in here,” he says, nodding towards the bathroom. “And running water. And not that I really fancy the idea of hanging around watching you bathe, I’m also not too keen on finding you fucking floating around in the water, so I’ll be stayiing”

Tommy just looks at him and bloody hell it’s just all around very fucking frustrating dealing with someone who keeps acting like every word you say is a mystery… Alfie points at the towel.

“Go ahead, then. Out of that bed. I can even do you the favour of filling the tub like the fucking saintly man I am. All you need to do is take that towel and get in here.”

He turns and stomps into the bathroom and to the tub, turning the knobs to get the water running. Fuck he really should wait with this until Esther is back tomorrow. Why didn’t he do that? She’s well versed in dealing with this little lunatic by now, and in giving baths. Why on earth would he start on a mission like this on his own?

He pours a glug from a bottle on the edge of the tub into the water and the room fills with some florally scent as bubbles begin forming. Just as he’s about to go back and drag Tommy out of bed by the hair, the door creaks and Tommy appears on the threshold with the towel wrapped around his waist and with that blanket Alfie gave him draped over his shoulders, leaving very little of him uncovered.

He eyes first Alfie and then the bath very dubiously but without any actual glint in his eyes. Just this dull sort of nothingness.

Alfie turns off the water. The bath is just about half full, but that’s going to make it a bit more difficult for Tommy to drown himself in it.

“Get in,” he says and points at it. “I’ll be right outside this door and mind you I’ll be fuckin checking on you.”

Tommy just stares at the bath, but the only option other than physically picking him up and dumping him into it, is to just let him take it at his own pace. And even though that first option is a tempting one, Alfie reckons that would be going too far.

So he leaves the room and closes the door behind him.

“Just so we’re clear, I’m right outside. So don’t try anything,” he says and taps a finger against the door for good measure.

Then he listens for any sound of movement. But either Tommy is being awfully quiet or standing stock still. Feels pretty fucking ridiculous to be standing out there, but what’s a man to do?

There’s a bit of quiet splashing and then more silence.

Deciding to give it a minute or so, he goes to fetch the clothes Esther has laid out for Tommy. She did try to insist on going into town and buying him something that would actually fit, but the weather really hasn’t been permitting any long trips like that. And it’s not like anyone is going to see Tommy, so what does it matter if the clothes are a bit big?

Alfie is certain she’ll return tomorrow with clothes anyway.

With the garments draped over his arm he knocks on the bathroom door.

“You okay in there Tommy?”

Silence.

“Know you’re not very fond of the whole… talking bit, but you’ll have to make a noise or I swear I’ll come in there.”

Still nothing.

These days, that’s about all it takes for Alfie’s heart to get stuck in the back of his throat. And he tugs the door open without a second thought.

Tommy is sitting in the tub, knees drawn up to his chest and surrounded by mounds of white bubbles, eyes glassily fastened on the opposite wall.

“What part of ‘make a noise’ do you not understand,” Alfie hisses and dumps the clothes down on top of the marble sink. Tommy blinks and glances at him, flinching as if Alfie just appeared out of thin air. And Alfie takes one of those slow breaths in through his nose that he’s practiced these past few days.

And doesn’t yell at him.

Or slap him over the face.

“You doing okay?”

Tommy nods.

“How about we try to start using words every now and then, eh?” Alfie says and scratches his beard irritably. “Let’s try that again. Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Tommy says quietly and hunches his shoulders a bit, shifting ever so slightly to curl up tighter into his already tightly wound ball of limbs. Doesn’t look very comfortable or relaxed at all but that would probably be asking too much.  

“Brilliant. I’ve got some clothes here for you.” Alfie gestures to the pile. “They’ll be too big but that’s just something you’ll have to live with. So if you just do less fucking staring and more getting cleaned up, we can go out for a bit.”

Tommy doesn’t move, save for raking his nails across his shoulder.

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

“Right, Tommy,” he says. “I know everything is very new and difficult but you do remember how to take a fucking bath don’t you?”  

If the lack of response is anything to go by, clearly no.

The next deep breath comes out as a sigh with perhaps a bit too much frustration in.

“Right, so just clean yourself up a bit. Don’t have to dunk your head in if that’s… if that’s too much right now. Just wash some of that nightmare sweat off.”  

Alfie grabs a stool from the bedroom, sets it down on the middle of the floor and turns his back against Tommy. “And I’ll just sit right here and stare very carefully at this wall to make sure we get some progress here. See, I can hear if you’re actually doing something besides sitting there staring.”

He can somehow feel Tommy’s eyes boring into the back of his neck and he crosses his arms resolutely over his chest.

“Yeah, this is fucking strange, I’m well aware,” he grunts. “But I’ve made the informed decision that you’re in no state to be left alone, or you’ll just sit there until the water turns cold. And I’m not fucking bathing you. As much as all of my previous behaviour contradicts this, I’m not actually a bloody nurse. So you’ll just have to do it yourself, alright?”

Silence for another moment.

Alfie wonders if it’s physically possible for a body to just explode from pent up frustration. Surely that must be a thing?

Then there’s a tell-tale sound of water moving and dripping down a body.

“Should be a sponge there somewhere,” he says and tries to somehow hear if Tommy starts using it.

He gives it a few minutes, during which he thinks very hard about absolutely everything except for how fucking strange it is to be sitting in the same room as a naked Tommy in a bathtub.

When it goes very silent again, he glances over his shoulder to find Tommy looking back at him. His cheeks have gone a bit pink from the heat and his hair is  curling at the ends from the steam. Fucking unacceptable really, that people get to just walk around and look like that. Alfie would like to take it up with someone. And it’s not like he really pays attention to it but he’s not fucking blind is he? Not entirely at least.

He clears his throat.

“You done?”

Tommy nods. He raises both eyebrows and gets another quiet ‘yes’ instead

He puts his hands on his knees and gets to his feet.

“Well then, Tommy, there are just three more tiny steps that I’d like for you to do, and it’d make both our lives just a whole lot easier,” he says. “Get out of the tub, dry yourself off and put some clothes on-“ Tommy’s eyes have gone oddly glazed again and he snaps his fingers in front of him. “Oi, still talking.” Fucking hell. At least Tommy shakes out of the daze and blinks up at him. “So, steps: out of the tub, dry yourself off, put on clothes. Can you do that?”

Tommy’s eyes narrow just the tiniest bit, and Alfie desperately wishes to see some of that old iciness glint in them. Wishes he’d roll them and say something along the lines of ‘I’m not a fucking child’. Maybe get out of the tub stark naked and-

All he gets is another nod.

“Great. I’ll leave the room for this.” He makes his way out the door, telling Tommy over his shoulder: “Mind you I’ll be back in a few minutes and if you’ve managed to somehow injure yourself in that time I swear I can’t be held responsible for my fucking actions. Alright?”

He slams the bathroom door shut and goes to stand by the window to somehow occupy himself with the view.

Fucking hell it’s only been an hour since Esther left and he’s already contemplating murder.

His mood is marginally brightened a few minutes later, when the bathroom door opens and Tommy comes out dressed in his clothes.

It’s quite a sight. They would’ve been too big for him even years back before the extra pounds around Alfie’s stomach but now he’s is absolutely drowning in them. Granted Tommy’s also shrunk down to barely more than skin and bones. He’s had to cinch in the trousers with a belt because a pair of suspenders would’ve just left it all hanging in a lose sort of tent around him, and the shirt hangs off his shoulders, bony wrists barely poking out under the large sleeves.

Alfie finds himself smirking and gets what almost, by these new measures, could be counted as a glare.

“Right, now all we need is a coat.”

He heads for the hallway, Tommy following a few steps behind.

“Alright, I’ve got a few to choose from.” Alfie sifts through the items in the wardrobe positioned right inside the front door. “All of them will be far too fucking big on you but I suppose we’ll go for the one that’s the warmest.”

He pulls the thick coat out and tosses it at Tommy.

It lands on the floor.

“Well, pick it up, I’m not a fucking maid.” He shrugs into a coat he’s picked out for himself.

Tommy does. Even puts it on, too.

He flinches when Alfie barks out a laugh, but it can’t be helped -it’s just such a fucking  sight alright? Tommy looks like a child playing dress-up in their father’s clothes.

Once he’s equipped him with a pair of boots, he opens the front door to let light flood into the hallway.

“There we go, let’s see if getting some sunshine on that face will help, hm?”

With that, he grabs onto the coat sleeve and tugs Tommy towards the door, over the threshold and out into the afternoon sun.

The crisp air fills his lungs as he sets foot on the gravel path leading up to the house and he allows himself a moment to just stand there and enjoy it before saying: “See, this is quite nice, innit?”

Tommy is still on the steps, blinking in the sunlight and looking altogether very dazed and lost.

Alfie grabs the coat sleeve again and tugs him along, only letting go once they’re out the front gate.

The walk starts off pretty rocky to say the least. Tommy reminds him of a new-born foal, every step unsteady and unsure. And after an initial bewildered look at his new surroundings, he keeps his gaze firmly fixed on the ground. Alfie ignores it and sets off down the path leading from the house and towards a grassy field. Not down to the sea for now, because that would be… an unnecessary challenge.

“Alright, so maybe you’d like to know a little about this beautiful scenery, hm?” he says as they walk down the path, surrounded by frost painted grass. He gestures towards an patch of greenery in the middle of the field. “Yeah, those, of course, are trees. To the untrained eye they might all look the same but I am well versed in most things and know better-”

Still talking, he leads Tommy through the field, pointing at various objects that just so happen to be mostly trees and bushes. And since he quickly remembers that botany was never his strong suit he makes up a few facts, because there really is no harm in that and at least it keeps Tommy occupied.

Tommy goes along with it, sticking close to his side. He still looks mostly at the ground, fingers picking at the fabric of the too long coat sleeves, but every now and then he’ll glance up and look at what Alfie is pointing at.

He doesn’t walk fast, which isn’t a surprise considering the state of him. And Alfie isn’t fucking cruel, alright, he adjusts his pace accordingly. It’s not like he wants Tommy to end up collapsing somewhere. But he’s sort of expecting it, still. Almost waiting for it with this sick sense of curiosity, wondering for how long he’ll manage to stay on his feet. But even though Tommy clearly struggles just to keep moving at all, he does stay upright.

It’d be stupid to overdo it, though, so finally Alfie stops by a chestnut tree and turns to face him, almost tripping over him because Tommy clearly doesn’t understand the concept of personal space right now.

“You getting tired?” he asks and by some miracle keeps the frustration from his voice.

Tommy isn’t listening, because he’s looking at a shiny chestnut lying nestled among the leaves.

Alfie picks it up and studies it.

“Funny things these… See, I have this very distinct memory of not understanding where they came from, you know, when I was a boy.” He rubs his thumb over the smooth surface. “There was this huge tree- well, in one of the parks, of course, there weren’t any fucking trees around Camden now, was there? Well, I distinctly remember always being surprised when I found these on the ground, because it felt like they’d just sprung out from nowhere, right? Coming from those prickly shells…“

Tommy finally holds his gaze when he looks at him. Eyes blue as the sky.

Alfie grabs his wrist, turns his hand upwards and drops the chestnut down into his palm. It’s followed by instant regret, because what on earth possessed him to do a thing like that? Doesn’t matter, now it’s done and he lets go of the bony wrist as if it’s burning hot to the touch.

Tommy is busy looking down at the chestnut, thank God, because he’s pretty sure he’s fucking blushing.

He clears his throat and starts walking back in direction of the house.

“Alright, suppose we’d better be heading back. It’ll start getting dark soon. And we’re not moving all that fast-“

A moment later he hears Tommy’s footsteps on the path and soon he’s got him there right by his arm again. And he should probably be annoyed because he’s walking so close that Alfie nearly steps on his feet a time or two. Which, yeah, does fucking annoy him make no mistake. But then he feels a hand grasp his coat sleeve. And instead of annoyance flaring up at the gesture, he feels a tug at his heartstrings. Fuck, fuck this is badHe lets Tommy hold on, because he must be getting tired now, so it’s probably for the best.

Sure enough, by the time he unlocks the front door, Tommy is swaying ever so slightly on his feet, obviously exhausted. But at least the cold air and the bath has given him a tiny bit of colour on his cheeks, which does make him look less like a ghost, so all in all this feels like a successful endeavour.

“Right, I suggest you go sit down,” Alfie says and shrugs out of his coat, waiting to see if Tommy will follow his example or-

Lo and behold, Tommy does in fact pull the coat off, putting it back on one of the hooks.

“Since Esther is away for the night you’ll have to make do with my tea,” Alfie says and heads for the kitchen. “But I do actually know how to make decent tea, because what kind of fucking person doesn’t know how to do that? So why don’t you go sit in the living room for a bit?”

“Not the bed?”

Alfie stops at the question. Tommy has just stepped out of the boots and is standing there on the carpet looking very lost.

“The bed? No. No, I think we’ll avoid that for now. Doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.”

He’s just about to head to the kitchen, but a voice in the back of his mind tells him he’s about to make another one of those less than stellar choices by leaving Tommy to fend for himself there in the hallway. So he turns back, grabs him by the elbow in what he hopes isn’t too much of a rough grip and leads him towards the living room.

“There. Sit,” he says and releases him right by the armchair. “And stay there.”

Tommy’s obedience is mostly eerie, but it does come in handy in times like these, and he promptly sits down. And at least it’s a sign that he’s somewhat lucid, because otherwise he tends to do exactly the opposite of whatever Alfie is telling him.

Once Tommy has curled himself into that tight ball he seems so fond of being in, Alfie goes to make tea. He tells himself it’s because he quite fancies a cup, and then he might as well make one for Tommy as well.

When he returns to the living room, it’s empty. He very nearly throws the tray into the wall on pure instinct as a response, but catches himself at the last moment, setting it down on a table instead. Would of course be a shame on the porcelain. Not to mention his quite extensive collection of books residing on the bookshelf that almost became his target.

“Tommy?” he calls out, but is already moving towards the door. Fuck, if Tommy has gone ahead and wandered out into the sea again Alfie will just fucking leave him there. This is too much to ask of a person…

But the door is locked, the key still in the lock on the inside, and just as he turns to find someplace else to search, he finds Tommy standing there in the doorway with a blanket in his arms.

“Thought I told you to stay put,” Alfie grunts before he can stop himself. Tommy curls back up in the armchair, now with the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

“I was cold.”

Alfie gestures to the large number of blankets piled up on the other sofa. But then he realises that of course that’s the specialblanket Tommy’s been clutching like a lifeline since Alfie gave it to him.

Right. That explains it.


“Well, there’s tea now,” he says and points unnecessarily to the tray. “I can’t be fucking arsed to force feed you, so I won’t even try. Just drink something, alright?”

After getting a fire going, he can finally sit down with a sigh. He’s moved his armchair a bit to put it closer to Tommy’s. Makes it easier to grab onto him if he tries anything stupid. Which, given his track record, he will.

He picks up his book, sets the glasses on his nose and starts reading, deciding he deserves a moment of respite from all of this.

Meanwhile, Tommy drinks his tea quietly. And things are surprisingly peaceful for a while.

The next time Alfie looks up, he finds Tommy looking at the cover of the book, the empty teacup sitting on the tray.

“It’s a pretty decent book, this,” he says and taps the cover. “Well, I’m just on the second chapter, but it’s Austen, so how bad could it be? And before you say anything I’d like to point out that it’s masterful prose, even though it happens to concern fuckin’… rich folks just strolling around on lawns and sighing a lot.”

Tommy keeps looking at him, and this is longer than he usually pays attention so Alfie continues:  “See in this part, for example, our protagonist’s just having this very long monologue. And I think it’s about to continue on the next page.” He flips to the next page and hums. “Yeah, yeah see, these people really know where it’s at.” Tommy is still looking at him. He clears his throat and starts reading: “The weather’s been dreadfully grey, hasn’t it-“ he glances up at Tommy over the edge of his glasses. “You’ll have to imagine that being a woman’s voice yourself, alright? Because I’m not doing any attempts at that. Well, anyway-” he clears his throat and continues. “Ghastly, I tell you, absolutely ghastly.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Tommy set his head against the back of the armchair, still with his eyes fastened on him.

He finishes the passage where the weather is discussed, and decides he might as well finish the whole page because what could the harm be in that? But when the page is over, Tommy is still paying attention, which is such a remarkable fucking thing that he reads another. And another. By the third page, he feels a slight tug at the fabric of his left shirtsleeve. Tommy has grabbed onto it. And of course it’s right there, on the armrest only inches away from Tommy’s chair, and he did spend a good part of his first day in the house clinging to this very shirt, so maybe it’s not such a strange and momentous thing. But it feels very much like both.

So from then on when he’s about to turn to a new page he puts the book down onto his lap so that he can use only his right hand. If holding onto something keeps Tommy from having one-sided conversations with any of the stuffed birds, or scratching himself bloodied, well then it seems like a small sacrifice to make.

But he’ll just finish this chapter, then it’ll have to be enough. He’s got things to do. Can’t be sitting around here all evening. Not that he can remember exactly what those things were, but it’s a matter of principle, really.

Yeah. He’ll just finish this chapter.

But when he gets to the end of that chapter, he finds himself starting the next one. Just because Tommy hasn’t shifted uneasily or said some cryptic shit for over half an hour, which must be some kind of record, truly. And if that makes Alfie feel more at peace than he has in fucking days and if the way he’s curled up against the armrest and pulled Alfie’s arm a bit closer makes him feel some type of way, then that’s no one else’s business is it?

And neither is the fact that when the sun begins setting outside the window, he’s still reading. Truth be told he’s so engulfed by it that he only notices because the low rays shine into his eyes. He places the book on his lap, spine up, and looks out the glass door.

“Now, that’s really, in the grand scheme of things, why you should have a house by the beach, innit, Tommy?” he says and nods towards the view.

Tommy glances out the windows and makes a little affirmative noise. Which feels like a victory. He’s still holding onto the shirtsleeve, and Alfie’s arm has somehow ended up all the way on the armrest of Tommy’s chair. He pretends not to notice. Like it’s just some lose extremity that’s lying there and not at all attached to his body by the shoulder.

He switches on the table lamp and continues reading. It’s rather nice, reading out loud. Strikes him he’s never really done that before. Cited things, sure. He gladly takes every opportunity to use words from people wiser than him, few as they are, especially if it serves to illustrate a point. But he’s never really read out loud before.

When he finishes yet another chapter, it’s quite dark in the room, so he looks over to Tommy to see how he’s dealing with that. Would be unfortunate if there were more of those scratching incidents, is all…

Tommy is asleep; the fingers of his right hand curled loosely into Alfie’s shirt and with the blanket pulled all the way up to his nose. His left hand is resting in his lap, clutching a small object. It takes Alfie a moment to realise that it’s the chestnut.

He blinks. And is annoyed that an almost giddy feeling of relief swells in his chest, because the sight of Tommy finally relaxed, eyes closed, lips slightly parted and with every line on his face smoothed out, has no business making him so happy.

Right. Tommy’s asleep. Means he can get some uninterrupted time to himself to just… exist and not have to worry about him every fucking second.

Well. It won’t hurt, just sitting here for a bit and making sure he stays asleep.

As if on que, Tommy shifts a little and frowns. Lacking better options, Alfie opens up the book and starts reading again, as soft and quiet as he can. Tommy settles down again and he feels himself relaxing back into his armchair.

And if he falls asleep in that very armchair a few hours later with the book on his chest and Tommy still sleeping soundly next to him, well, no one has to know.