Chapter 1: It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)
All I do is sit and think about you
If I knew what you'd do
Collapse my veins
Wearing beautiful shoes
It's not living if it's not with you
All I do is sit and drink without you
If I choose then I lose
Distract my brain from the terrible news
It's not living if it's not with you
Dedicated to AniRay and juuliaagooliaa for their lovely comments and support. I hope you guys enjoy it <3
Twenty One Months Later
“Would you… would you like to go out with me sometime? To dinner?”
“Uhm,” Tessa said. She had a biting wit. She had snappy retorts. And for whatever reason, despite these things, she absolutely, without fail, could not string more than two words together when put on the spot. Jack blinked at her. “I… I… sure. Why not?”
He smiled. He had thin lips but nice teeth, straight and white, and eyes that were a honey brown, and he was really not terrible to look at, all things considered. Perhaps a bit plain for Tessa’s tastes, but she had decided that those had changed and plain was what she liked now. Plain as a cracker. Although she hadn’t done so much as nibbled on a saltine recently. Maybe that was part of the reason she had said yes, even if she wasn’t particularly attracted to Jack. She could make do. She realized she had been staring off to a spot past his shoulder while internally reviewing all of this, and snapped back to attention, hoping she wasn’t coming off as completely unstable.
“Great. I’ll find you after work and we’ll make dinner plans, yeah?”
“Sure,” Tessa said again, adding a smile in an attempt to cover for her earlier hesitation. Jack returned it, and then left, shrugging his brown overcoat on over his thin shoulders as he left the room. She shook her head a bit to clear it, and then continued on the path she had been following to the editor’s office. Her heeled boots clicked on the polished hardwood floors that blended into the smooth paneling on the walls, an attempt to modernize the worn stone of the old building. She lifted a hand to knock on the closed door, on which a shiny golden plaque proclaimed D. M. Sutherland, Editor in Chief.
“Enter,” a robust voice called from inside the room. She turned the handle of the heavy oak, shouldering her way in, adjusting her grip on the papers in her arms so she didn’t crease them. Sutherland was a large man, both in height and size, with a full beard and head of thick, dark brown, nearly auburn hair that was streaked with gray, long in length but smoothed back in a professional manner.
“Hello, Tessa, lovely dress. Do you have the mock-ups for tomorrow?”
“Thank you. Yes, sir, here.” She placed them on his sprawling desk. Her dress was white, under a muted teal peacoat. She was restricted to cool tones for her clothing, because reds and oranges and yellows clashed horribly with her hair.
“And the article on the trade embargos, is that ready?”
“It’s there as well, sir.”
“Also, you asked me to remind you that Fischer is meant to interview the Chief of Police for his piece on the increase in city crime rates, and that was meant to be tomorrow at noon, I don’t know if you had time to contact him about that-,” She continued.
“Shit.” Sutherland sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Tell him for me, would you? And remind him about that bonus I gave him last christmas if he makes a fuss.”
“Of course, sir,” Tessa said, unsurprised. Sutherland had much more on his mind than crime rates and, while he was an imposing political figure and central to the newspaper’s continued publication, the details often slipped his mind. Which was where Tessa came in.
Sutherland lit a cigarette, took a drag, and waved his large hand in the air to fan the smoke away from his face.
“Speaking of Fischer. Has he gotten the balls to ask you to dinner yet? I have a bet with Mary about it and I want my shilling.”
Tessa choked back a laugh. “He just did, actually, yes.”
Sutherland chucked and shook his head, sucking in another breath of smoke. “You watch out for that one. What he hasn’t got in guts he makes up for with cunning.”
Tessa’s smile faltered slightly. “Don’t sorry, sir. After my last, he’ll be like wrestling a duckling.”
Sutherland laughed at that, full-bodied like a good drink. “Well, I pity the man who thinks he could upstage you, at any rate. You’re free to go home, if you’d like, that’s all I have for you today.”
Tessa nodded at him and gave him one last smile, heaving her weight on the heavy door again as she bowed out of the room. “Have a good evening, sir.”
“Who is that?” Tommy asked, tossing his expensive coat onto an open chair, flicking open his cigarette case and not even bothering to look at the “who” in question.
“Our interim secretary,” Polly said, leaned over a desk, inspecting records and also not looking at the dark haired girl sat at the secretary’s desk.
“We need an interim secretary?” Tommy asked, around his cigarette.
“Lizzy will be gone to London three months. You think I have time to keep the books and manage the office all at once? Some of us need to sleep, Thomas.”
Tommy scoffed, but quietly. “What’s your name?” He called, finally, to the girl at the desk, who was watching the interaction like she wasn’t sure if, and when, she was supposed to interject.
“Lucille,” she said. “Most people call me Lucy.”
“Alright, Lucy,” he said, walked over and stuck out his hand. He had had a whore named Lucy for a while, but he didn’t tell her that. “I’m Thomas.” Her hand was smooth and cool like paper, and her eyes had a slight angle to them, but her voice was completely unaccented. She was looking at him intensely, but seemed too timid to say anything else, so he turned back to Polly, content that he had fulfilled his social responsibility as boss to greet the new hires and ready to discuss company matters he actually gave a shit about.
“The bookies at Epsom have been giving us trouble. Send Arthur down there tomorrow to sort it out, have him take Finn with him but leave him in the van. There’s a strike threatening at one of our factories in Cardiff, so I want a ten percent cut on all wages in the region until none of them so much as fucking think the word “union”. Michael gets back from New York next week with the proposition from the American buyers about our potential partnership, so we’ll have a family meeting then to discuss what we plan to do about sending them our supplies,” Tommy rattled off, keeping his wording as vague as possible with a relative stranger present. He would need to have a talk with Polly about hiring outside of the family without consulting him.
Polly nodded, a movement that would normally have sent her dark curls bobbing, but she had had them cut short recently, to keep up with the times.
“I have to make some calls, but I’ll need you in my office in an hour,” Tommy said, and added, “Please,” when he saw the look Polly shot him over his tone. She fluttered her hand.
“Fine, go.” He turned to leave, and she called to him, “Finn is out with Charlie, make them bring us some sandwiches from that shop I like!” Tommy didn’t respond, continuing into his office, the afternoon light glinting off his dark hair. “I’m fucking hungry, Thomas!” Polly shouted at the closing door. “That man,” she muttered under her breath, with a tight sigh, belatedly remembering that the new girl was still present and had overheard the entire conversation. Her dark eyes watched Polly like a bird in a tree taking in the scene underneath it’s perch. Polly had long since learned to subdue the anxiety that arose over opinions of her family’s interactions, but even still, it felt invasive to have a silent onlooker observe and dissect her and her nephew’s relationship like they were actors on a stage.
“Sorry about him,” she brushed off insouciantly. “You’ll get used to it.”
Lucy seemed unconvinced, but that wasn’t Polly’s problem. The girl was a temporary solution to a temporary problem, whereas Thomas Shelby was an eternal dilemma, an inexorable conundrum to which there never seemed to be an answer, even a provisional one. Polly cocked her head at the young girl sitting across from her. She had done well enough on her first day, and Polly had been told she would be able to handle the somewhat challenging atmosphere, but still. It was always best to know firsthand.
“He’ll probably try to fuck you, you know,” Polly said, guaging the reaction. As she expected, a warm flush rose high on the girl’s cheeks, giving her a pretty color. She really was very young. Lucy shook her head slightly like she was trying to clear out her ears.
“I’m sorry, I-,” She began.
“Don’t apologize,” Polly said. “Tommy hates it.” She sighed. “I suppose I’ll go get my own sandwiches.” She stood, and plucked her fur coat and purse off the rack. Lucy looked like she was trying to convince herself Polly had been joking, but looked too uncomfortable to really believe the platitude. “There’s letters that need addressing, Lizzy left them in the upper drawer. Go ahead and send them off once you’re done.” And she click-clacked out of the office in her thirty-pound heels.
Jack Fischer was waiting for her outside of the building when she left. Either that, or he had been accosted by someone to discuss Very Important Events, which seemed to happen to him with shocking frequency. Someone was always nearby, waiting to tell him some new tidbit, to get his perspective on the most recent happenings. Tessa appreciated his intelligence, but could never manage to be quite as invested in the daily workings of London as he was. The world was much bigger than this one grey city, but Jack appeared to have little interest in the rest of it. A Tory to the very end.
“Jack,” She called, and he turned, and his face lit up. That was charming, really, but she wasn’t ignorant enough to not have noticed it was something that tended to happen quite often when men saw her.
“Hullo, love. Have a good rest of your day? Sutherland let you out early, I see.”
“It was tolerable,” Tessa smiled. “Speaking of Sutherland, he forgot to tell you, but you’re meant to meet with the Chief down at the station tomorrow to discuss the article on crime increase.”
“Christ,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “What time?”
“Noon,” she told him, shielding her eyes from the sun, which was making a brief but aggressive appearance from behind the unremitting clouds. The stone steps to the building reflected the increased brightness, their light wash harsh against Tessa’s unadjusted pupils.
Jack shook his head. “Alright, I’ll be there. How Sutherland ran this paper before you arrived is beyond me.” Tessa inclined her chin in a nod of gratitude, but found she didn’t have much else to say, and was a bit eager to be off.
“Do you need a ride home? I have to stop to make, but I could drive you there after, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“I appreciate it, but it’s alright. My father insists on sending a driver,” Tessa said, as modestly as she could manage, which was not very.
“Rich girl,” Jack teased, and she gave him a small smile. “How is your father?”
“He’s adjusting, I think. The wheelchair was a big change.” Jack nodded like he knew, and he didn’t, but it was fine. Tessa didn’t want him to. She had told anyone who inquired that her father had been mugged, which was close enough to the truth that she wasn’t usually forced to elaborate on the details, including those surrounding her involvement.
“About dinner-,” He began, and she realized she had completely forgotten she had accepted his invitation. “I was thinking tomorrow, around eight? There’s a place called Francisco's, dunno if you’ve heard of it. Great Italian.”
Tessa grinned, and it was almost entirely genuine. “I love Italian,” she said, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek for his efforts. His five o’clock shadow was scratchy against her lips, and he looked inordinately pleased at his reward.
“Right. Eight, then.”
Tessa waved, and made a mental reminder to paint her fingernails before the dinner, as they were currently bare. “See you then,” she said, and then rounded the corner of the limestone to where her father’s car awaited her.
The door that read Shelby Company Limited burst open without so much as a preliminary creak as a warning, making Lucy jump in her hard, wooden chair.
“Where is Polly?” Thomas demanded, his bright eyes landing and fixing on her for the first time, his previous gazes only brief sweeps of blue. This, in comparison to the drizzle she had seen, was a flood.
“She went out for sandwiches,” Lucy said, wishing she didn’t have to be the one relaying that information. She was going to have a difficult job if she didn’t even want to tell her boss about inopportune sandwich fetching.
“Uh-huh,” Thomas said, still looking at her. “And did she happen to say when she would be back?”
“No,” Lucy half-whispered. Suddenly, Thomas seemed almost amused, pulling a cigarette case out of his expensive-looking vest, the back of which gleamed a tarnished silver like the spokes on a car’s wheels. She had seen it when he had walked into his office after meeting her, pulling tight across his shoulders. He brushed the cigarette across his lips, quickly, twice, and then lit it.
Lucy wondered whether he was about to barrate her, and considered briefly what she would do if he did, but she really wasn’t sure and he spoke again before she had a chance to decide.
“When she does come back, make her share with you. And then send her into my office.”
Lucy blinked. “Okay,” she said, and then he was turning again, vest flashing, cigarette smoke trailing behind him. He’ll probably try to fuck you, Polly had said. That didn’t sound so bad.
When his office door finally creaked open to admit Polly, it was quarter till four.
“The fuck have you been?” Tommy asked. Polly shed her coat like a snake sheds it’s skin, dropping it gracefully on a rack behind the door.
“Convincing the Epsom coppers to let Arthur do the job you gave him. They didn’t like the idea of blood being spilled on a legal track under their watch.”
“And no blood will be spilled,” she paused, pouring herself a glass of dark wine in a crystal glass from his station. “Under their watch.” She added.
“Good. Now. About the girl.” Tommy said, folding his hands in front of him and gazing at her pointedly. When she didn’t respond, just watched him back over the top of her glass as she sipped her wine, he unlinked his fingers and made a gesture and expression that said, “Well?”.
“I know her mother,” Polly said. “Lives down in the Chinese sector, worked for Zhang. She has too many children and no husband and not enough coming in, so she needs the money. Won’t let her daughter risk losing the income by opening her mouth.”
Tommy looked at her. “And?”
“You get antsy if you don’t get a fuck.”
“What?” Tommy said, sharply. Polly rolled her eyes.
“Lizzy’s gone. That’s what the girl’s for. I’ll not be in the same room with you past week two, otherwise.”
“The fuck, Polly?” Tommy said, angry. And surprised. And offended. “Fuck makes you think I need your help with that?”
Polly shrugged her lean shoulders. “I don’t. But she’s there now, if you want her.”
“All this means is that I would be paying twice,” Tommy said, his tone still biting.
“So don’t pay her. I’m betting on how she looked at you that she wouldn’t mind.” Polly said, focusing on reaching into a smooth black briefcase. “Now, can we talk business?”
Tommy half sighed, half scoffed, said, “And she wonders where I get it from,” but under his breath. If Polly heard him, she didn’t bother to respond with anything more than a flutter of papers as she handed them over and began reviewing the weekly expenses.
Chapter 2: Dinner and Diatribes
Oh, let there be damage ensued and tabloid news
In that kind of love
(That's the kind of love I’ve been dreaming of)
“The dinner was nice, really. The place was quiet, the food was good. He even made me laugh, once,” she was saying, her mouth twisting in a bit of a frown. “But that might not have been entirely on purpose. I may have thought it was a joke and it was really meant to be serious. Anyway, he asked if I wanted to go again, and I said yes, but I do feel rather bad about it because none of my reasons for saying yes have anything to do with him, and that’s not really fair. But I also have a responsibility to look out for myself and I can’t only talk to you and Ada for another year.”
Her companion said nothing, continued munching his grass. She sighed, leaning back on her hands. “Papa isn’t doing well. Jack keeps asking about him and I wish he wouldn’t, but I’m sure Papa would love him. All either of them want to do is read and then write about how smart they are because all they want to do is read. Of course, you know me, I love reading. I just find writing about reading to be a bit counterproductive. Do you know Jack told me he wants to write a book about the correct approach to literary pedagogy that explains to people how to read correctly? I mean, the pretension…,” She tore some grass out of the ground and idly shredded it between her fingers, mimicking the movement of her horse’s busy teeth. “It’s like writing a book about riding a horse. At some point you have to actually get in the saddle. God, it drives me insane. I hate theory, I really do.” Chase’s ears flickered as he listened. She wondered how long she had been talking for, wondered when the last conversation she had had with a human that lasted this long had been. And then she remembered, and she felt like her heart had dropped out of her chest. A familiar feeling, by now. She laid back and looked up at the sky, at the wispy white clouds spinning over the lovely blue, deepening at the distant corners of the horizon as twilight approached like a slowly moving train. The sky looked huge from that perspective, it was all she could see, like it was all that there was.
“I can’t even look at the fucking sky without thinking about him,” she said, out loud, and then mentally chastized herself for it. She did everything in her power to not speak of him, to not think of him, to not remember him at all. Or she told herself that she did, anyway, to make herself feel better for her lack of reserve. “I wish it was always night, just so I didn’t have to look at the blue. But of course, night reminds me of him as well. He was a good listener, like you.” She rolled onto her side, and Chase lifted his head from where he was grazing to snort at her gently. The field smelled fresh and open like the sky.
“Do you miss him, too?” She asked. Chase went back to his grass, his tail swishing in the still summer air. “You liked him. Papa didn’t. Jesus. Every other word out of his mouth now has to do with ‘that Birmingham racketeer, that gangster, god damn that To-’,” She cut herself off. “Anyway. It’s hard being back here, but America was harder. I was… sick. I think I’m still sick. Ada and I both. At least I can talk to her about it, but sometimes, baby… sometimes I wish I could talk to him.” The sky was darkening, gradually, but the darker it got, the lighter her chest felt, like each word was picking pieces of lead off of it, like removing bullets, one by one. “Ada says they’re well of now, as rich as Papa, probably more. All thanks to him. It’s a wonder he’s survived this long, really,” she forced her voice into nonchalance, like the idea of his death was only a statistical probability to her, nothing more, “he’s always finding himself new wars, and they say you can’t win them all. Well, most of us can’t. Maybe he can.” She sighed, and closed her eyes. She lay in the middle of an open field, in silence, with her horse, and she did not think about Thomas Shelby. She did not think about Thomas Shelby. She did not think about Thomas Shelby. “It’s like that thing people say,” she mumbled to herself. “Someone tells you ‘don’t think about an elephant’, first thing you do is picture one in your mind.”
She looked up at the unforgiving sky. “Just rain,” she told it. “Rain all the time. I don’t want to see in color anymore.” Red was blood. Black was night. And blue was always, always him. She lived in between the greys.
It didn’t take him long, and really, he should have felt more shame over it. Or any shame, at all, you’d think he would be able to muster some up, but if there was any left, it was too smothered in gin by then, and need, and blended into the swirls of everything else he kept down so that he could keep on. He took her to see the London clubs as an excuse, because she had said she wanted to, and she was lovely, and shy and demure, wearing a red dress that no girl with red hair would ever be able to pull off, but that looked stunning against her skin that was the wrong kind of pale, that was flawless and poreless and completely free of freckles, no matter how hard he looked. And he was angry at himself for looking, and he took it out on her even though it wasn’t her fault, and Tommy knew that and he was even angrier at himself for being poison to anyone who dared touch his skin, but he fucked her anyway, in the hotel suite he had booked, and she smelled like vanilla instead of apples and for a moment he wanted to breathe through his mouth so that he could pretend, but he didn’t, because he had made a promise to himself about being honest about who he was.
The next morning, he met Polly and Arthur in the offices above one of the London automobile factories, a real one that the company owned, not a cover for booze shipments. Which was good, all things considered, because Tommy was relatively certain that if he got even a whiff of gin he would vomit all over his suit, and he was wearing a particularly expensive one today, to make up for the circles under his eyes. His head felt like two cymbals clashing with every step, but he let nothing show in his expression. If anything, the pain kept his eyes sharper, enough that the men in the factory ducked their heads and avoided his gaze as he passed. Polly and Arthur were talking in low voices in a run down room when he entered, the two exposed brick walls hung with various blueprints and diagrams of car parts, the others made from flimsy-looking wooden panels, with large but gritty windows overlooking the rest of the shop. When Tommy entered, Polly took one look at him and scoffed quietly to herself.
“Something funny, Polly?” He asked. It was a facade, and she saw through it, but raised her hands in surrender. Tommy lit a cigarette, and Arthur handed him a flask.
“Hair of the dog,” he said, and Tommy took a pull, ignoring his heaving stomach, grateful that Arthur was dependably drinking Irish Whiskey and not the white gin he had overindulged on the night before. He replaced the mouth of the flask with his cigarette, sucked it in, so used to the smoke he could hardly feel it enter his lungs, but grateful for the way it helped his blood run through his veins. He handed the flask back to Arthur.
“So, what is it, then?”
Polly had her hands steepled in front of her, and her serious expression on her face. Arthur leaned his shoulder against one of the brick walls.
“The Germans are back. Some man who works here told Arthur about it, said they’ve been causing trouble for the London coppers for a while now. Robberies, muggings, that sort of thing. They’re staying out of Birmingham for now, but Arthur’s man said he heard them talking at a pub, said they mentioned the name Shelby. Seems they think they owe you a debt.”
Tommy smacked his lips, pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers.
“Fuck,” he said, his voice sounding tired even to his own ears. Around and around we go again. “We need more information. We need to know how many men are here, what they’re planning, if anything. If we should even take this seriously. We can’t overturn the entire city over some half-assed threat by a pissed off second cousin. We need to figure out if these men have means, if they’ve served, what they look like, who they’re connected to. We need to be prepared this time.”
“We were prepared last time,” Polly said, “and you ended up having to take out their entire organization with Johnny Dogs and one gun!”
Tommy held up a hand to silence her. He remembered. He couldn’t stop remembering. “Arthur,” he said. “Who do we have in London that we could put in charge of information?”
Arthur shook his head. “Michael won’t get back from New York for another five days. I’ll find someone, while we’re down here.”
“Make sure it’s someone we can trust,” Tommy said, forcefully. His brother nodded, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Alright, I have work to do. I’ll call you both tonight, and you can tell me if there’s any more news.”
Arthur cleared his throat and stuffed his hat back onto his head, its brim hiding his eyes. “Stay frosty,” he said, and then turned and left, his sharp footsteps echoing off the old walls, arms held out to accomodate for his holster. Tommy lifted his cigarette for the last pull, dropped it at his feet and crushed it under a shiny shoe.
“Tommy,” Polly said, and her tone made him look up, his head swimming slightly. “Speaking of news, there’s something you should know that Ada told me, a while ago. Maybe six months.” She paused, her gaze flickering over him, and he was given the distinct feeling she was appraising whether or not he was steady enough to receive whatever news she was about to relay. “She’s back,” Polly said. “She’s in London. You should put some men on her, find out if she’s still living with her father. The Germans may already know.”
The smoke in Tommy’s lungs was beginning to burn, but he couldn’t seem to exhale. When he did, it was with a slight cough. “Six months?” Was all he said.
“I wasn’t sure you would want to know,” Polly said, looking as sympathetic as she ever did towards him.
“I didn’t,” Tommy muttered, “but when has that ever mattered?”
“So there’s an event coming up,” Jack said, perching on her desk, his long limbs folded over each other. “It’s rather a big deal, actually, plenty of important people are meant to attend. I was wondering if maybe you would want to accompany me. I have no doubt you’ve plenty of dresses suitable for the occasion,” his eyes twinkled. He wasn’t wrong. She did. And she dearly enjoyed having excuses to wear them, but she was afraid that this was a step farther from their usual casual dinner and pictureshow routine.
“When is it?” She asked, feigning for time.
“Saturday,” He said, and she raised her eyebrows.
“This Saturday? That’s two days from now.”
“I know, but you know I’m awful with planning things in advance.” Jack prided himself on being spontaneous. “Will you think about it, at least? Let me know by tomorrow.”
Tessa nodded, running a hand through her hair. She really did love wearing pretty dresses. Jack leaned down for a quick kiss, and she swatted at him.
“I’m working! Get out of here,” she said, but gently, and he chucked and sprung away like he kept springs in his feet, and she took a moment to envy his endless, self-sustaining energy. An Event. She already knew which dress she wanted to wear. Shit. She sighed, admitting silent mental defeat.
Chapter 3: Glitter
Glitter, in the dark
You got stuck to me like the sky and the stars
Glitter, my desire
Burning so bright I got lost in the fire
The Summer Solstice Fundraising Gala for the Fleming Charitable Foundation was not only an incredibly long title, but it seemed to have an incredibly long guest list to go with it. Jack led her by a suit-jacket covered arm into the milling crowds, nearly shouting over the voices and the music so that he could be heard.
“There’s meant to be an auction later, but I’m skint, so if you see something you like I’ll bet on it for you but I hope for your sake you’re in a charitable mood because I won’t be the one saving the sick children with all of my endless fortune,” he called, and she smiled. It really was all a bit gratuitous, but her expensive taste allowed her to enjoy it more than she would readily admit. Chandeliers dripped from the ceiling like melting ice, piles of white roses and lilies graced every entryway, adorned every table, and everywhere she looked she saw someone who was Someone, actresses smoking in the corner, politicians sipping whiskey at the bar. She loved it.
“How did you get invited to this, again?” Tessa asked, in Jack’s ear.
“Cortez was meant to take it, but he’s just not as familiar with the current political landscape as I am, so I convinced Sutherland to let me cover it instead.” Jack was the Pall Mall Gazette ’s number one reporter, a position fixedly above Tessa’s measly “assistant” title, so at least that salved the burn of their skewed financial positions a bit, although Tessa could tell that it was still a touchy subject for him. There were a few of those. She steered the conversation away from politics before Jack had an opportunity to begin a rant about Cortez’s inferior knowledge and opinions.
“See anyone interesting?” She asked, as they wove through the dense crowd.
“No one more interesting than you,” he said, and she made a face at him for the line. “Really, though, everyone here is interesting. And I could read all about them in the papers if I wanted to.” He stopped their attempt to find an open table, and pulled her into an alcove near a tinkling fountain instead. It was shaped as a swan with water pouring out of its mouth, and all Tessa could think about was how uncomfortable the swan would be if it was live and not made of stone. “But you,” Jack said, catching her eye. He was freshly shaved for the occasion, which Tessa appreciated, but it made his ears stick out more, and she rebuked herself for noticing. “I don’t know nearly anything about you.”
Tessa clicked her tongue. The sweet smell of lilies wafted over to her, mingling with the scent of the champagne in her hand that had been presented to her by Jack, which she hadn’t touched. “Nobody knows anything about me,” she said, and a contrary voice in her mind retorted, except for a horse. And Ada. And a man-, but thankfully Jack was pushing insistently on, and interrupted her thoughts.
“I want to,” he said, nodding a bit to emphasize the fact, which was odd, because while he did ask after the health of her father and do his best to work out the jigsaw puzzle of her moves back and forth from America, Jack hadn’t seemed overly concerned with her past up until this point, which was how she liked it and was one of the main reasons she had agreed to continue seeing him.
Her head shook to foil his nods. “No, you don’t,” she said, and considered biting the bullet and drinking her champagne to make the rest of the conversation more tolerable, but even the floating bubbles smelled like her childhood, like being eleven years old and finding her mother passed out, a gilded bottle in her hand, and she wished she hadn’t even thought of it, wished she wasn’t even holding it. She put it down on the base of the swan fountain. “Look, Jack, I think you’re great, but-,” And of course, at that very moment, someone spotted Jack, even sequestered away in the little alcove, and approached him genially, saying something along the lines of, “And how DO you feel about that Cup Final, old chap?” or something of that sort, and Tessa resigned herself to ducking under the other man’s meaty arm to get drunk at the bar by herself, because even that miserable proposal sounded better to her than listening to two men go on about Cup finals for the next hour. The sheer beaded sleeves of her dress fluttered with her movement over the dance floor as she cut directly across it, the ivory silk swishing around her ankles as she walked, maneuvering between bodies as best she could. She looked like she was going to get married, but as it was unlikely to ever happen at the rate she was going, she thought she might cash in her one excuse to wear a gorgeous white dress while she still could.
Once she had managed to reach it, she leaned on the intricately carved marble bar, wondering at its workmanship, the pure wealth it so proudly displayed, the shimmering bottles behind it, lit by the glittering lights of the chandeliers at the ceiling of the ballroom.
“Drink, madam?” The bartender called, and she jerked her gaze from the extravagant scenery.
“Vodka, please, with three cherries.” The bartender smiled at her. He was a young black man, younger than her, his accent pleasant once he dropped the forced layer of civility.
“Women really aren’t supposed to drink alone up here, but we could say that you’re drinking with me, vodka with three cherries,” he said, a playful look in his eyes, as he filled her a crystal glass.
“We could say that,” Tessa said, and she could tell he was about to smile, but then his gaze fixed on something behind her suddenly, and before she could turn around a deep, familiar voice over her shoulder said,
“‘S Alright. She’s with me,” and she turned her neck so fast she was surprised it didn’t crack, and then there he was. In a tuxedo, because of course he was, of course he would be there, with his hair and his cheekbones, the moment she was getting drunk alone at a bar after failing to break up with someone. The bartender raised his eyebrows and slung his pristine white cloth over his shoulder in a way that gave Tessa the impression he was typically employed at a place far less high society than the event he was currently working, and went to help another couple who had just approached the bar. Tessa’s heart was beating erratically, and she wished she could check her hair, her lipstick, wished she was meeting him again in literally any other circumstance wherein she had been even slightly more prepared to.
“What are you doing here?” Tessa almost spat, giving herself a mental pat on the back for managing to get the words out at all.
“Didn’t even ask if I wanted a drink,” Thomas Shelby said, staring at the bartender with irritation in his eyes for a moment, eyes that he then turned onto her, and she wondered if there was a way for her to ask him not to look at her without giving up any of her pitiful amount of remaining pride that she was clinging desperately to.
“Thomas,” she said, “why the fuck are you here?” And he just kept looking at her, his unreadable eyes even brighter, somehow, than she remembered them, even more indecipherable, and her heart was doing all sorts of weird shit in her chest, and then he looked down at her drink.
“Got invited. I get invitations to all kinds of posh events these days.” His eyes flickered back down to her glass, then up to her face again. “Cherries?” he asked, and she remembered with a vicious kind of clarity how specifically difficult he was to deal with. Every interaction felt like a chess match, and she was always one move away from checkmate, while he manipulated and schemed and played and let none of it show behind his blue, blue eyes.
“I’m having a bad night,” Tessa mumbled, plucking one of said cherries out of her drink and popping it into her mouth, its sweetness covered by the burning taste of the vodka, then realized that shame over her childish impulses was not her main concern, and he had succeeded in distracting her. She lost a piece on her imaginary board, and he watched her, inscrutable. “Why are you here?”
“You look good. For someone who’s having a bad night,” he said, raising his fingers at the disgruntled barkeep with an expression on his face that said ignoring him for a second time would likely be a mistake. The younger man behind the bar gave Thomas a resentful look, but pulled out a glass when Thomas said, “Whiskey. Irish, neat.”
If Tessa could have kicked herself in the shin for her reaction to his comment, she would have. She kept staring at him, her mouth slightly open, blinking, hating herself for how easily his hurricane drew her back into the storm. He knew what to say to people like he knew where to shoot them, where to hit them, how to control their lives and how to end them. She lost another piece. It was too easy. He said you looked good. Good as in passable, good as in okay. Not fucking ravishing. Get a fucking grip on yourself. She did not return his compliment, even though she was willing to admit to even her grudging inner-self that the past years had only made him more handsome, his eyes the same fluorescent shade of blue, his sharp lines even sharper, even harder. He looked like he was cut from marble like everything else in the room, and it was almost funny, that in all the times she had seen him covered in blood, she had never seen him in a tuxedo, but really… it was something to see. He swallowed his whiskey in one fluid motion, like a true proletariat, and she realized she was watching the ridiculous cut of his jaw, and that he was watching her watch him, and then it occurred to her how fucking pathetic she was being. This was not how she wanted to present herself after not seeing him for two years, moping and alone, letting him talk to her and compliment her. Barely compliment her, but even still. She remembered when she first met him, how much she had disliked him. She hadn’t been wrong to feel that way. What did you expect, Tessa? His words echoed back in her ears through the cracks in her heart where she kept them, and when she remembered them she was right back on a hill with him in a bare, dusty sunrise, covered in blood. If your father survives, remind him that he owes me a lot of money. She saw his hands wrapped around a man’s throat in her mind’s eye, saw him shoot another point-blank. I have no love, he had said.
“I told you to stay away from me,” She said. “You already got your payment, a long time ago.”
“Mm. I can’t,” Thomas said, in a tone that sounded like he would have preferred to, as well, which stung her a little bit, and acknowledging the sting hurt worse. She shouldn’t care.
“Why?” She asked, and he pulled out a cigarette, lit it, looked at her, didn’t answer. She realized something, incredibly belatedly. “Did you know I was going to be here tonight?”
He shrugged, briefly, with one shoulder.
“God, Thomas,” She said, because it wasn’t enough, that he had thrown her away like his war medals into the cut, he had to do this, too, and his eyes stopped roaming over the room when she said it to settle back on her like a buzz sinking into her brain. She took a drink, and then another, but stopped herself from a third because she didn’t want him to think she was drinking because of him. Because she wasn’t.
“Go enjoy your posh party,” She told him. “Try not to kill anyone while you’re here or you’ll end up on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. They’re writing a story about the night.”
“Where’s your date?” He asked her.
“I came by myself,” she said.
“No, you didn’t,” He said, lifting his cigarette to his lips, which were slightly pink like maybe he had been kissing someone, and she glared at him.
“I could get invited to these kinds of things, too, you know-,”
“That’s not what I meant,” Thomas said, observing his empty, shimmering glass like he was debating getting another. She could see the blue of his eyes even through his lowered lashes. “No one who looks like you comes to a charity gala without a date. He should have known better,” he nodded at the barkeep, who was very obviously listening to every word Tommy was saying, and who stalked back to the other side of the bar with a scowl on his face after hearing them.
“Oh,” Tessa said, and she couldn’t think of a reply to that, and there was a moment where they just looked at each other, and he was as unabashed as always, and then she said, “You’d better not order another one. He’d probably spit in it.”
Tommy ticked his head to the side briefly, his white collar tight against the smooth skin of his neck, the black material of the tuxedo only slightly darker than his hair. “I’ve had worse in my drink.”
Tessa nearly smiled, stopped herself. “Why are you here, Thomas?”
“All the fancy invitations in the world can’t get me out off having to provide some kind of protection, it seems,” he said, dipping his fingers into her glass and taking one of her cherries, her protests quieted before they were even formed as she watched him place it in his mouth, watched his tongue dart out to swipe the residual vodka off his lips. “Goodbye, Tessa,” he said, and then he left, as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving her confused and angry at herself for not being angrier at him.
Chapter 4: Death of Me
One man's hell is another's God
It's all about perspective, a parallax
You're a cold-blooded killer only after dark
But I don't mind
'Cause I'm a sucker, I'll do 'bout anything
Just to get those hands on me
Keep me hanging on so desperately
Maybe I'm crazy, I know you're danger
I'm falling, fading, and seeing angels
Baby, you could be the death of me
listen...... not to be dramatic but this chapter is one of my favorite things ive ever written probably
Tessa sat at the bar, vodka finished, another ordered, trying to process past the alcohol in her brain. Some kind of protection. So not the kind offered by the Blinders, but what other kinds were there? Protecting himself? He had been alone, and had men for that anyway, she knew without a doubt. No one who looks like you. She didn’t think he had given her so many compliments in as long as she had known him than he had in that five minutes. She couldn’t stop thinking about the fucking cherry. She drank the rest of her vodka.
The reality was that for twenty one months, there was a part of her that only wanted to see him again. And there was a part of her that never wanted to see him again, and normally she couldn’t tell which of the opposing voices in her mind shouted louder, but with him standing there with no warning, right in front of her, she wasn’t thinking about the things she was supposed to be, the reminders she clung to so that she did not forget what he had done to her. She had spent the year in America with her very extended family, aunts and uncles, away from her horse and her injured father, just to get away from him. She had told her father it was what she needed, which may have been true, but she had stifled most of her possibilities for recovery with cocaine and whiskey that tasted like him and men and women that didn’t. She hated thinking about the power he had had over her, hated how quickly she reverted back to giving it to him, when she had told herself that the time away from him had changed her, that she was stronger now. She shouldn’t have spoken a single word to him, just punched him right in his absurdly handsome face, tuxedo and all. She didn’t know how to decipher any of the things he had said, or any of the things he meant by them, starting with him coming to a party he knew she would be attending, seemingly with the sole intention to give her cryptic warnings and steal her cherries. She had no doubt he had other reasons for attending, but since she couldn’t even process why he might have intentionally sought her out, she didn’t even attempt to guess what they might be. The vodka was making her head feel pleasantly blurry, the lights and colors and sounds brighter. She swayed a little to the music, a bouncy jazz tune. The live band was on the opposite end of the room, and it was a huge room, but the tune carried over the air, over the laughter infused with gold and voices dripping in melted shillings. She wondered if she sounded like these people. She didn’t feel like she belonged to them, but she never felt like she belonged anywhere, so she decided to not be overly bothered by it. Or the vodka decided, anyway.
“Tessa!” Jack said, and she watched him materialize suddenly out of the crowd of dancers. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” he said, concern written on his face, which, after Tommy’s recent appearance, seemed even less suited to her tastes than usual.
“Been here,” Tessa said, waving her hand in a motion like a butterfly’s wing.
“Are you drunk?” He asked, the concern deepening. She was not, completely, but that was actively being remedied.
“I am on my way,” she said, steadily, somewhat sourly. He shook his head.
“Well, turn around. This is a respectable event-,”
Tessa did not respond well to being told how to behave. Her mother, father, and brother could attest, had any of them been present and two-thirds of them not been dead.
“Do try to remember which one of us is more acclimated to attending such ‘respectable events’,'' she said, her voice cold, standing from her seat at the bar, which had become warm from how long she had occupied it. She finished the quarter inch of clear liquid in her glass, felt it burn down her throat and then further into her chest, making to storm off into the mesh of black-tie clad bodies, but Jack caught her arm.
“Tessie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. Don’t be upset.”
In truth, she wasn’t. She didn’t much care about what Jack had to say about her actions. She cared about the fact that her mobster ex-boyfriend was somewhere in the crowd of hundreds, probably watching the current interaction like a king viewing his subjects and finding it incredibly amusing. That made her angry, angrier than Jack Fischer could ever manage to. She acknowledged this, past the haze of liquor, which she thought was very mature, and she calmed down.
“I’m not upset. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you. And I’m not drunk, either, I promise.”
Jack’s brown eyes were gentle. He really wasn’t a bad man. Maybe that was the problem. God, what is wrong with me? She asked herself, drawing her bottom lip into her mouth and worrying it between her teeth to force herself to focus.
“Do you want to get out of here?” He asked. “I have more than enough for the story. We could find somewhere for dinner, maybe a quieter bar.”
It was such a nice suggestion that she found herself nodding, and then immediately wanting to change her mind, buzzed and torn. Another Someone appeared suddenly like they had been summoned out of thin air by her indecision, saving her from the difficulty of making a coherent choice, this time a Someone she recognized, not due to her own merit, but to catching glimpses of his face in Sutherland’s office as she passed. Some high-up political advisor of some sort. She thought his name might be Courtney. She couldn’t be sure as they had never properly been introduced, but she was not incredibly eager for that to change.
“Fischer! Looking sharp, mate, looking sharp. And what a date you’ve snagged. Beautiful dress, my dear, just beautiful.” Maybe-Courtney looked at her, and at her chest, a bit too long for the paternal tone of his greeting to really hit home. She smiled at him anyway, a little mockingly, but he did not notice.
“Thank you, sir, and may I say, what a rally you organized for the cause, really something-,” Jack continued, and Tessa let the conversation fade into the background, contenting herself to gazing vaguely around at her surroundings, but she was brought back in by a familiar name much sooner than she had anticipated.
“-told you I would find him around here somewhere and introduce you, and there he is, come, there’s Mr. Churchill, you must hear his story about his housekeeper, had me in stitches-,” Tessa found herself dragged into an opposing corner of the room, her hand encased by Jack’s larger, slightly sweaty one, but she could hardly blame him. Winston Churchill himself. She tried to peek over the heads of the other guests to the table she was being drug to, but even with her heels, she came up to most of the men’s shoulders at best. “Here he is, right over here-,” Courney was saying, she could hardly hear him over the increasing volume of the music as they grew closer to the stage where the band was playing, and then there he was, Churchill in the flesh, sitting at one of the glamorous, flower-laden white tables, right in front of an incredibly familiar head of dark hair, cut into that unmistakable hairstyle, bathed in the golden light of the ballroom. Tessa almost physically jerked Jack back with the inertia of her complete stop, but he tugged on her hand in as petulant a way as he could in front of one, well, two, really, of the most powerful men in Britain.
“Tessa, come on, what’re you doing?” He hissed, and she said, “Jack, hold on, I really don’t think-,” but he wasn’t listening to her. He dropped his hand to escape her clutches and she could faintly hear his gushing, “Mr. Churchill, sir, such an honor to meet you,” when Tommy turned around like he could sense her presence behind him. His eyes flickered quickly between her and Jack, who was wringing Churchill’s hand with such intensity it looked like he wanted to take it home as a trophy, and the cold arrogance in his gaze was almost palpable.
“Fuck,” Tessa said, under her breath, forcing her feet to move foreward.
“And this is Tessa Reilly, sir, my- my-,”
Tessa interrupted Jack’s awkward splutter and reached across the table to shake Churchill’s hand, saying, “Pleasure to meet you, sir,” and catching the amused glimmer in his eyes as he kissed her hand instead of shaking it.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he said, his voice distinctive, his eyes sharp. “My dear Tessa, Mr. Fischer, this is Thomas Shelby, OBE, DCM, MM, a friend and colleague, and his lovely companion, Ms. Lucy Wong.” Tessa’s head was swimming. OBE. Friend and colleague of Winston Churchill. She hadn’t even noticed the other occupant at the table, a slight Asian woman in a small but tasteful black dress. She was young, and beautiful, and his companion. Tommy did not offer to shake Jake’s hand, even though Jack was standing directly next to him, which Tessa was not surprised by, but instead he said,
“Miss Reilly and I are previously acquainted,” because of course he did, in a low but carrying voice that made the cigarette perched between his lips bounce a bit, watching her. Tessa physically closed her eyes for a moment in an extended blink, trying to compose herself so that she didn’t give into the impulse to slap him, and giving him the most threatening look she could muster when she opened them again, which Thomas did not react to in the slightest, but that she thought Churchill might have caught, which was lovely, really. Just wonderful. What an impression she was making.
“You are?” Jack asked, his thin brows furrowed, thankfully having missed Tessa’s nonverbal chastisement.
Tessa prayed to whatever gods might exist that Tommy wouldn’t say “Intimately”, because she knew him and his ego well enough to predict that he wanted to, but thankfully, the presence of either his date or the upcoming minister of the empire seemed to temper his worst impulses, if only somewhat.
“Oh, yes. She stole my car and used it to commit arson. You should ask her to tell you the story sometime, I’m sure you’d find it quite amusing,” Thomas said, taking his cigarette out and gesturing at Tessa with it in his right hand, looking like he was the one who found it quite amusing, but only because she knew him well enough to see the tiny spark behind his guarded eyes. Jack’s mouth opened and closed as he tried to decipher whether or not Tommy was trying to make a joke, and Tessa was trying to decide what the appropriate punishment was for someone casually revealing to central political figure who had the power to have you executed that you committed two felonies while you stood in front of them. Tommy’s date was now glaring daggers at Tessa, but Tommy hadn’t so much as looked at Lucy since Tessa had arrived, and the tension was making Tessa’s alcohol-leaden brain feel like it was going to crack, so she cleared her throat, trying to think of some way to smooth over the six various points of contrition Tommy had managed to create in about twelve words, as he was wont to do, when a black suited waiter appeared and offered a glorious distraction.
“Champagne?” He asked, and Lucy said, “Please,” in a strong Birmingham accent that rather took Tessa by surprise. Tommy took a glass for himself, and one for Lucy, and Jack tried to hand one to Tessa, ignoring her protests of “Oh, no, thank you, I’m alright, I don’t-,” but Tommy interjected before Jack could physically shove the glass into her hands.
“She doesn’t drink champagne,” Thomas said, and Tessa widened her eyes at him slightly to ask What the fuck are you doing but he wasn’t looking at her, and was instead gazing fixedly at Jack, his head tilted slightly, who looked incredibly taken aback.
“Er,” Jack said, which was fair, really. “You don’t?” He asked her.
“I don’t,” Tessa said, and decided if they asked for an explanation, she would just refuse to give one, damn manners and Winston Churchill himself, because she was too overwhelmed at the moment to try to come up with a lie as an excuse.
“Well, I’m sure she will make an exception, given our present company,” Jack said, nodding at Churchill, who immediately began, “Nonsense, don’t make the lady bend her morals on my account-,” and Tessa turned her widened eyes on Jack instead, incredulous, but his ignorant insistence was interrupted by a strange sound, and it took Tessa three whole seconds to realize that the noise had been Thomas’ laughter. She was relatively certain she had never heard him laugh before, not even once.
“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just good to watch someone else try to get her to do something she doesn’t want to.”
And before his comment, it’s implications, or the humor he found in it could be dissected, he stood, and she hated how much she liked watching him.
“Will you dance with me?” He asked her. In front of everyone. In front of her date. In front of his fucking date. In front of Winston fucking Churchill, whose expression was so entertained it was now quickly approaching glee.
“Oh, no, I, um,” Tessa stuttered. Why did men keep doing this to her? Her hair was tickling her exposed lower back, or maybe it was Tommy’s hand, she thought he might have moved closer to her, did he move closer to her?
“Hey, mate, what are you-,” Jack began, his tone brimming with irritation, but Tommy’s eyes snapped to him and he said,
“Did I ask you?”, his voice hard, and Tessa was amused that he was wasting his tone on one hundred and forty pound Jack Fischer, and even more amused at Jack’s expression, and then she was anxious because she realized Jack was about as unlikely to continue his attempts to stand up to Tommy and save her as Churchill was to suddenly get up on the table and begin to tap dance. Tommy was looking at her, with the same expression he had worn so, so long ago, once upon a time in a hospital storage closet, and Lucy was looking at her, and Jack and Churchill, their faces ranging from rage to shock to amusement, and she meant to say, No, I will not fucking dance with you, you broke my fucking heart and I never want to look at you again but it came out as, “Yeah, alright.”
Chapter 5: Despicable
The boy who fell into the sky
Had no one there to watch him cry
He looked at you with his empty eyes, and said:
"I'm doing you a favor,"
And if I were you, I wouldn’t love me either
Just wanted to take a moment to thank you guys for all of your support, it's been so wonderful :,) and very motivating, as you can see haha got me making NaNoWriMo my bitch
She felt good in his hands, in his arms, and he got her away from the three sets of prying eyes as quickly as he could, got her away because he had to, because she smelled and looked and felt so good and he couldn’t have her so close after so long and just to sit and watch some pathetic, dog-looking fucker touch her.
“Are you going to tell me what that was all about?” She asked him, and he resisted the temptation to bury his face in her hair, for a moment of peace, or maybe the opposite, he didn’t care.
“What what was all about?” He asked, and he liked the confident way she moved, like she was so elegant and refined it was written into her blood and she didn’t even have to think about it.
“Thomas,” she said, and he sighed, and it made her red hair, done in spiraling, shining curls, flutter a bit over her shoulder. I missed you, he wanted to say, and you smell incredible and I will kill anyone who tries to take you away from me, but he had already said too much, much too much, and she wasn’t his to be taken from, so he just danced with her. The melody slowed. She sighed too, like they were passing them back and forth like cigarettes.
“Some old Thomas Shelby, hmm?” She said quietly.
“I don’t know. I think I’ve improved greatly since I welcomed Jesus into my life and have become devoutly religious.”
“Is that so?”
“No.” he said flatly, and she laughed so loudly the couple next to them stared. He smiled.
“I’ll be sure to tell your date not to expect any premarital nonsense tonight, then,” Tessa said, and he groaned and shook his head.
“Dont. That may give her the impression that I want to talk to her instead, and that might actually force me to seek religion,” he told her, because he wanted to make her laugh again, and she did, but she moved her hand off his shoulder to cover her mouth with it as she did so, like she was ashamed of herself for it.
“Tommy, that’s a fucking awful thing to say,” she told him, but she was still smiling, her white teeth flashing under the glittering lights of the chandelier. “You’re incorrigible.”
“Hmm,” he said, using his grip on her waist to pull her closer, which the slower tempo allowed for. Her curves were smooth under her beautiful dress, under his hands, her skin was smooth under his fingers where they brushed against it. She closed her eyes against his touch, and he reveled in the physical feeling of satisfaction it gave him to see her react to it, like the split second after you shoot a man between the eyes and you forget that the man was a human being and all you can think is good shot. She was quiet for a moment, letting herself be carried by his lead and the alcohol in her veins, waiting for him to tell her the truth when he was ready, and he wasn’t ready yet, he wanted to wait, to marvel for just a minute longer. She was the only thing that ever made him feel that way, at all other times he was pushing, pulling, always in motion, always moving forward. It was the only way to keep everything else behind him.
“Thomas Shelby, OBE,” She said, her soft voice, with it’s odd accent, incredulous. “Nice ring to it. You’ve been busy.”
“You should see me fucking house,” Tommy muttered, spinning her a bit to avoid another couple, the grand manor standing tall in his mind’s eye, still an unfamiliar sight, and she didn’t respond, suddenly silent, and he realized how she may have interpreted it, and he thought that that probably meant that the one perfect, shining moment had popped like a soap bubble, so he bit the bullet, and said, “The Germans are back in London. Polly thinks they might try to come after you.”
He watched her face, waiting for her reaction, but her beautiful features were blank, so he continued. “I need someone to help me gather information on them. I hear you’re a reporter now.”
“I’m an assistant to the Editor in Chief. I’m not a reporter,” she said, automatically, and Tommy rolled his eyes, his chin following the motion. “You want me to work for you.”
Tommy shook his head, his fingers fluttering against her smooth hand. “No. I need you to work for me. We don’t have anyone else down here we can trust.”
“What is it that you want , then, Tommy?” And just her saying his name awoke a part of his brain that wanted to take and take and take and he wanted to keep her safe, he did, and he wanted to ride away with her on her horse sometimes, and he wanted a new mind, one that knew how to rest, but he couldn’t have any of those things so he listened to the other parts of him that wanted money and power and control instead. I was in the war, and now I am the war, and he put the weakness and the sentiment and the pining, grovelling, pathetic desires back into the box in his mind where they belonged.
“I want to hit your date,” he said, instead, which was still true. Tessa scoffed. “Come on, Tessa. Him?”
“Careful, or he’ll write an expo on you,” She said, her lips curving like petals on a flower.
“Terrifying.” She smirked, but there was something else layered in her eyes, which looked darker against her white dress, the huge pupils surrounded almost completely by grey. She wasn’t high, he could tell, but that was only in this moment.
“You still playing in the snow?” He asked her, and she turned the fire in her eyes up at him like he had lit a match.
“Don’t,” She bit out sharply.
He was going to. He never knew when to stop, how to stop, it wasn’t even an option.
“Don’t act like you know me, like you get to have a say in what I do or who I do it with.”
Tommy scoffed. “Oh, you don’t want me to act like I know you.” He didn’t know how she did this to him, why she did this to him, always him pushing her and her pushing back, like two magnets facing the same poles, but sometimes one of them would flip and give, and then he was thinking about having her up against his bedroom wall back in Small Heath, and the skin of her exposed lower back was warm under his hand and he slipped his fingers under the delicate material of her lovely white dress, to the curve of her waist, pressing them against her and pulling her to him before he had even really thought about doing it. He felt her chest move against his as her breath hitched, and she froze for a moment, and he ducked his head against her neck so that he could breathe her in, and then he felt her put her slender hand against him right above his heart and pushed him away.
“You can’t just fucking take whatever you want all the time, Thomas,” she told him, and he looked at her, running his tongue on the inside of his teeth, neither of them moving in the middle of the gilded dance floor, surrounded by swarms of wealth and color. He let his gaze travel down the length of her body, then back up, slowly, taking in the porcelain skin, the jut of her collarbones and the curves of her breasts, her parted lips, hair like fire, watched as just his gaze made her attempt to repress a shiver.
“Why not?” He asked her, and she shook her head, her jaw set, rendered speechless, then glanced up at the ceiling like she was searching for help from the Almighty himself and said, “Christ, I hate you,” quietly, her tone equal parts venom and exasperation, and he scoffed.
“But not for the reasons you should,” He said, and she met his eyes, and hers looked like they were the first light that God gave the world, and she repeated, like a confession,
“But not for the reasons I should.” And for a split second, she looked like she might cry, or she might smile, but it then it was gone.
Tommy jerked his head at the distant exit, across the room of milling bodies, wondering if, had she been armed, she would have shot him. “Feel free to storm off now,” He said, and with a sardonic smirk, she did.
Right back to the bar, hoping that the young man that had been so affronted by Tommy would forgive her and agree to serve her more drinks if she smiled at him enough. He did, but his acquiescence did not go so far as to prompt him to attempt to strike up another conversation with her, which she was actually deeply grateful for, and he frequently glanced around at the milling crowd like he was preparing for Tommy to appear again. But he didn’t. He wouldn’t, Tessa knew, and Jack could come find her if he so desired, whenever that might be, and until then, she was going to drink. No cherries, this time, she let the vodka burn down her throat and stared at the delicate, curling patterns on the wall past the bar, thinking. The Germans are back. She took a sip. Why not? She took another, holding it in her cheeks for a moment before gulping it down. Some kind of protection. Miss Reilly and I are previously acquainted. But not for the reasons you should. Eventually, after she didn’t know how long, Jack slid into the open seat next to her, the one Tommy had occupied. The crowd had thinned significantly, and Tessa wondered how many hours she had passed on this one stool.
“So,” Jack said, and when she turned her head to look at him, her vision swam slightly, so she turned her gaze back to the spot on the wall that she had been inspecting. “Thomas Shelby.”
“Thomas Shelby,” she said, slowly, and then she scoffed, and went to take another drink before she realized her glass was empty. She sighed.
“Were you with him?” Jack asked, and she couldn’t decipher the tone of his voice.
“No one is ever really with him,” she said, tapping her crystal glass on the marble, making it ring slightly.
“Yes, that’s rather the impression I gathered from his plus one,” Jack said, smoothly, then, “Does that mean you stole his car as well?”
She turned to him and moved her lips in the shape of a smile, but it wasn’t one, and didn’t respond.
“I’ve heard things about him. Even met him once, actually, but I don’t think he remembers. It was right after he got his OBE, I asked him how it felt, he looked at me like I was crazy. He’s a big subject for my mates in the political arena, very dividing topic, but no one seems sure what it is he actually does-,” Tessa cut him off with another heavy sigh.
“I don’t want to talk about politics. And I don’t want to talk about him,” because she fucking didn’t, and Jack raised his eyes but didn’t offer any further comments on the subject. Tessa was starting to forget where she was, why she was there, how many drinks she had had.
“Tessa, whatever happened with him, I’m sorry,” Jack said, and she wondered if he was, if it mattered, decided that it didn’t. He was there, and that was enough, it had been enough for years, just having anyone there. She leaned forward and kissed him, and that poor bartender probably thought she was some kind of whore, but she didn’t care, didn’t care about a random barman and didn’t care about men with blue eyes like the sky. Jack’s mouth was stiff with surprise, and then hesitation, but she used a swipe of her tongue against his to encourage him, and he was only a man, after all, and when she asked, “Do you want to go fuck?” There was really only one answer he could give.
She stood from her beloved stool, wobbling a bit on her heels, and waved to the barman who had witnessed almost her whole, miserable night. “Put my tab under Thomas Shelby,” she said, and she turned around before she could see his resulting expression, locking her arm in Jack’s so that she didn’t lose her balance.
Chapter 6: CoDA
You love me like cocaine
Jack owned a car, but only barely. It was a shabby mess, looking like it was made out of a collection of parts from several other vehicles, held together by desperation and blind hope. It was parked amidst the transportation of the other guests, gleaming Bugattis, Rolls-Royces, Mercedes. Tessa couldn’t even tell the make or model of Jack’s car, which she found rather endearing. She missed the fleeting month when she had a car, a stunning custom Bentley, a present from Tommy that he had then promptly had blown up, which was just like him to do, really. And then she was thinking about Tommy again, the image of his eyes and his lips and the cut of his jaw superimposed across her blurry mind, and as she walked hand in hand with Jack to his sad excuse for a vehicle, she pulled away so that she could take a bottle out of her purse. Jack’s eyes flickered from her hands to her face, his expression inscrutable, or she was just too drunk to interpret it. She leaned her shoulder against the car, the metal cold through the sheer sleeves of her dress, and let him watch her, let him have his chance to say something. He didn’t.
“Are you going to let me in?” She asked, and he sighed like he was being pulled along to something he wasn’t sure he had agreed to attend, but he unlocked the door and held it open for her. Why he even bothered to lock the car was beyond Tessa, really, but she supposed that that was probably a very entitled way to think. He walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side, and she watched him through the windshield, his long limbs looking tense, his movements even jerkier than usual. Tessa wasn’t quite capable of expending any energy contemplating his mental state, or how the night was impacting him, and wasn’t horribly sympathetic, in any case. In her personal opinion, she thought the night was going rather well for him. She had intended to break things off with him, and now, due to unforseen circumstances, he was going to get to fuck her. She tapped out white powder onto the dashboard of the old car as he settled into the seat, his long-fingered hands on the wheel. He had nice hands.
“So what is he?” He asked, even though she had already told him she didn’t want to talk about it. She wasn’t sure she appreciated his commitment.
“A predator,” she said, and it made her laugh, a little.
“So… banker, lawyer, Wall Street investor?”
She scoffed. If only it were that simple. Jack continued guessing, moving his hands a bit to punctuate his confusion, palms up. “Rich son of some family with coal money who gets off on spending his father’s money? Is he related to the fucking Rockefellers?”
“I doubt he was even born in a hospital,” Tessa said, folding over a pound in her fingers so that she could use the edge to cut her lines. She rolled the note up, leaned over and sniffed one, Jack watching her intensely. It cut through the haze of the alcohol, cut past whatever words her heart had to say about seeing Tommy again, cut past whatever expression was moving across Jack’s face. Confusion, pity, anger, she didn’t care.
“And he was sitting with Winston Churchill.” Jack said, his tone impassive.
“He was. Bully for him,” Tessa said, fighting rather hard to form a coherent sentence and not entirely sure she had succeeded. She held out the rolled up note to Jack, and he looked at it, and it felt like a very long time to Tessa but it was probably only a moment. The old metal of the car creaked as he leaned forward to take it from her, taking the next line with a slightly unpracticed but not a completely foreign air, which surprised her a bit. The color of the lines of snow on the dash was the same shade as her dress, and they both looked extremely bright in the darkness surrounding them, and suddenly she was thinking of Tommy again, Tommy standing in front of a burning car with two bodies inside, his silhouette and the harsh cut of his hair and the harsher cut of his cheeks and the flames reflecting off his eyes in the darkness like gasoline burning on the surface of the ocean. She took the pound back from Jack and did another line, to drown it out, to keep it down, breathing in deep and closing her eyes. The images in her mind and maybe in front of her eyes faded into more disjointed impressions of colors, white, orange, blue, and her head swam and blurred, and she realized her eyes were still closed, which was odd, because she could have sworn they were open, she felt like she could see without them, see inside her own head, but no, they had been closed, because when she opened them, Jack was there still. She had forgotten about him for a second, forgotten where she was, which was what she wanted. He brushed the edge of his nose with his hand, sniffing a bit.
“If I work for him, maybe I’ll get a cap with razor blades too. Make it easier to cut the snow,” she mumbled, her fingers buzzing, and Jack said, “What?”
“Never mind,” she said, and she leaned forward to kiss him, and he kissed her back, and she crawled over the threadbare seat onto his lap, let him hitch her expensive dress up.
“You’re not what I expected,” Jack said, against her neck, his voice half formed by breath.
“You were warned,” she said, hands fighting with the buttons on his suit pants, her brain clouded, not processing, not questioning, just a voice in her ears that rang why not? Why not? Why not? And with every repetition it hit her a little harder, echoed a little louder, and there was no reason why not, and then the voice changed, and it was saying, yours, quiet and heavy and bare and she could hear it like it was happening, like he was there again, and in her mind she wasn’t in an almost broken down car with a brown-haired man with brown eyes, she was by a lake in the middle of nowhere and he was everywhere, pushing inside of her, and she almost said his name, and he said hers, but his voice was wrong, and-,
“Tessa,” Jack said, “God, you’re-,”
She leaned down and bit his bottom lip between her teeth, hard enough to silence him. “Don’t talk,” she muttered against him, and he nodded, and if he knew she was thinking about someone else, and he knew who it was, he didn’t say it, he didn’t say anything, because the rhythm of her hips against him was making his eyes roll back, and Tessa gave up, gave in, stopped trying not to think about him, stopped trying not to want him, for just a moment, and between the cocaine and the vodka and the years, his name slipped out between her panting lips, and she said “Fuck, Tommy,” as she clenched around Jack, and his breath hitched for several reasons and then he tensed and shook underneath her, and the next day she couldn’t for the life of her remember how she got home after.
“Do you want to have sex?” Lucy asked him, from her spot on the bed, lying on her stomach. She was wearing a silk nightgown, the color of a pink-tinged sky when the sky goes down, the color of Tessa’s lips, and Tommy sucked in his cigarette, undoing his constricting bow tie.
“No,” he said, wishing he was alone so that he could have a drink from his little brown bottle, so that the warmth could seep into his veins and his bones and help him because he needed it, he needed help sometimes and he could never admit that, and it was the only thing that did. He pulled his tie off, started working on the buttons of his crisp white shirt.
“Because of her?” Lucy said, her beautifully angled eyes narrowed, her small lips formed into a frown.
“No, not because of her,” Tommy responded, now shrugging the shirt off, watching her watch him, not bothering to pretend he didn’t know who she was referring to. “I have to go back to Birmingham.”
“Tonight?” Her soft voice held more contrition in it than he had ever heard before.
“Yes. My business in London is done and I have things to do tomorrow.” He slipped another shirt on, this one less formal but still more expensive than a night at the hotel they were currently in, and it was a very nice hotel. He fixed his cufflinks.
“Your business with her, you mean.”
Tommy looked up at her, finally making eye contact, his expression one of mild irritation. “Yes, partially my business with her, but mostly gathering enough support from the London gangs who report to me to ensure that I’ll be notified if there is any more talk of a German uprising of some kind. I don’t know why you fucking care, you’ll still be getting your checks whether she’s on my payroll or not.”
Lucy reflected that for all his intelligence, Thomas Shelby was rather dim when it came to accounting for anything other than money. He was putting on a vest now, a dark navy blue with very faint pinstripes.
“So you’re leaving, then?” She asked him, and he nodded, his cigarette moving up and down with the sharp motion of his chin.
“Check out of the hotel by eleven. I’ll send a Shelby Company driver to wait for you,” he said, shrugging on his new jacket. “Do not get into any other cars. And tell Polly to let me know when Tessa Reilly calls.”
“Okay,” Lucy said, and he nodded at her as a goodbye before he walked out the door, leaving the smell of smoke behind, and that was all she got. She dropped her face against the thousand thread count sheets with a sigh.
Chapter 7: Snap Out Of It
It sounds like settling down, or giving up
But it don't sound much like you, girl
Thank you all so much for your comments, I love them love them love them
“Tommy wants me to work for the company,” Tessa said, before Ada had gotten a chance to say anything past “Hello?”. The shiny golden telephone was heavy in her hands. She had asked her father to install one in her bedroom, because he was always using the one in his office for business.
“Tess? He what? You saw him?” Ada asked, bewildered and sounding slightly distant.
“Yes. The other night, at that Gala that Jack took me to.”
“Shit,” Ada said, her voice tinny over the receiver.
“Did you tell him I would be there?” Tessa asked, despite the voice in her head telling her she should trust her best friend implicitly, even when it came to family affairs. Ada seemed to hold the same opinion as Tessa’s internal moral compass, because her response was frosty.
“No, I certainly did not. Although he hardly needs me to tell him things anymore. Polly was the one who told him you were back in the country in the first place, and that’s only because she’s worried for your safety. I think she may have been keeping it from him, before.”
“Why?” Tessa asked, tangling the cord between her slim, pale fingers. Ada scoffed on the other end.
“It’s Tommy. Some things he’s better off not knowing.” She paused for a beat, and Tessa could tell she was preparing to ask something that Tessa wouldn’t want to answer, even without being able to see her face. “How… how was it, seeing him again?”
Tessa breathed out a short, aggravated sigh, more over her own actions than anything else. “I did cocaine and fucked Jack afterwards.”
“Ah,” Ada said, and Tessa could hear Karl squeal faintly in the background. “Poor Jack.”
“Yeah. And I think I might have said Tommy’s name,” Tessa bit out, through gritted teeth. Ada gave a quick, incredulous laugh, which she immediately tried and failed to pass as a cough.
“Well,” she said, in a consolatory tone, “wow. Poor Jack.”
“Mm-hmm. Poor Jack,” Tessa agreed, pressing her knuckles to her eyes and then pulling out a cigarette from the case on the table next to her bed. She couldn’t see Ada, but she could imagine her, in her meticulously designed parlor, with Karl playing at her feet. It made Tessa feel slightly better to picture it. “Anyway, now that I’ve ruined your week by talking about fucking your brother, you have to tell me what to do.”
“Takes a lot more to ruin my week, nowadays,” Ada said, nonchalantly, but it cut Tessa nevertheless. “And I do, do I?”
“Yes, because otherwise I will make some impressively terrible decision, Addie, and you know it.”
Ada chucked again, softly. It was a beautiful sound, her laugh. It was quieter now, but for a long time Tessa hadn’t heard it at all, for months and months after the farmhouse. She thought about Tommy laughing at the gala, and wished she had been at all prepared to hear it, so that she could have absorbed it better, languished in it like a bath.
“Did he tell you about the Germans?” Tessa asked, hesitantly, because she hated bringing any of it up unless Ada initiated the conversation, especially this, especially a new threat.
“He did,” she said, and Tessa was afraid she would shut down, turn her mind off like she still did sometimes, retreat into a quiet place within herself. But she said, “There’s already about twenty men stationed outside my house. He probably put some on yours too.”
“Great. Papa will love that. If he did, I hadn’t noticed,” Tessa said, berating herself for not being more aware. “I’ve been… sleeping it off.”
“I bet you have,” Ada said, clearly smothering her amusement. Tessa cleared her throat, and Ada tactfully continued, “So, are you going to be employed by Shelby Company Limited?”
“Mm, no,” Tessa said, slowly. “I think my mother would roll over in her grave if I started working for a man this complicated.”
“‘Complicated’ is one word for it,” Ada said resentfully. “And what if things got smoothed out between the two of you, do you think you would consider it then?”
It was Tessa’s turn to laugh. “You want me to say yes!” She accused, and Ada scoffed.
“I might, a little. It would be fun, us working together.”
“He wants me to help him track down a German crime syndicate, Addie,” Tessa reminded her, and she could almost audibly hear Ada roll her eyes.
“Yes, well, that can still be fun. Fuck those bastards, anyway. You’re telling me you don’t want to help them get what they deserve?”
Tessa huffed. “You’re as bad as he is, you know that?” She said, and she pictured Ada shrugging as she said, “What can I say? I learned from the best,” before she was interrupted by a shrill but distant cry of “Mommy!”.
“I’m sorry sweetheart, but I’ve got to go, Karl has been trying to get me to play Trains with him for an hour now,” Ada said, and indeed, Tessa could hear a faintly insistent “Choo choo!”
“Let me know when and what you decide, yeah?”
“Yes, of course,” Tessa responded, smiling a little. “Stay safe, Addie,” she added.
“Like Tommy would let me be anything but,” Ada said, and then, with a rather rushed, “Love you, daling,” she hung up the phone, but not before Tessa caught her saying, “Yes, alright, Karl, choo choo time,” which made Tessa’s smile wider. She hung up the telephone and stretched across her bed, curling her toes against the thick golden duvet before rising and plodding across her room in her bare feet, out the door and down the left side of the split staircase that led into the foyer and the lower level of her father’s grand house. There were hundreds of paintings on the walls, but very few photographs, as her father was not a particularly sentimental man. The paintings had all been chosen by Tessa in her youth after her mother died and she had moved back with him from America, in an attempt to make her feel more at home, a gesture she had was incapable of truly appreciating at the time but which she recalled fondly whenever she walked down the vast, luxuriously carpeted halls. When she reached her father’s office, she knocked on the mahogany door gently, waiting for him to call “Come in,” before she entered. The office was really a library, and one of the largest rooms in the house, complete with full length board table, sofa and chairs, and a fireplace with a magnificent mantle tucked between two massive windows looking out onto the house’s grounds. Spiraling staircases led to the second story, which was devoted entirely to housing her father’s collection of hundreds upon hundreds of books. It was, and had always been, her favorite room, easily beating her bedroom for the top slot. She had always felt a bit of a stranger in her bedroom of the London house, like a visitor at a hotel, and missed the smaller but somehow warmer room she had lived in while with her mother in Chicago. Her father was sitting at his sprawling desk, his comfortably plush armchair of years past replaced with the stiff backed wheelchair that he was required to spend the majority of his time in after being shot in the spine and partially paralyzed from the waist down. He could walk on his own, but it was a slow and painful affair, and the doctors had been quite insistent that he avoid it as best he could, so now, it was the chair. “The Chair”, as he called it, as if it was a sentient entity, and Tessa didn’t blame him for needing something to direct his anger at, but she wished it sufficed to help smother at least some of the rage, because the rest was often expressed in long-winded rants about his hatred of one Thomas Shelby, and he was not going to like any of the news she had on that topic.
“Hello, dear,” he said, glancing up at her and then back down at the papers strewn in front of him, his spectacles glinting in the light of the lamps and the fire, the sun setting outside of the impressive windows in an array of fading pastels. “I sent Vivian by your room earlier to ask you to tea, but you mustn’t have heard her, she said you were using the telephone.”
“I’m sorry, I was talking to Ada,” Tessa said, moving unhurriedly into the room, gazing around her and drinking in the familiar scene. It smelled like the sweet smoke of cigars and the aged pages of books, soft and nostalgic. Her father grunted slightly. Ada had won him over with her wit and sweetness, but he was still hesitant to accept her completely, due to her maiden name.
“She… had some news, actually,” Tessa continued, willing herself to get the inevitable conversation as quickly as possible. Her father looked up from his paperwork, his brow crinkling. He still possessed an aura of power, despite the age and now “the chair”, if not physical power then the kind that results from wealth and intellect and social status. He kept his hair cut shorter, now, but it was still full and neatly arranged, his skin lined but even-toned and his eyes sharp. Tessa had inherited his eyes, their indecisive shade of grey-green overshadowed by constantly dilated pupils, even without the snow.
“News? What news?” He asked, giving her his full attention. She rather wished he wouldn’t. She sucked in a breath.
“About the Germans who took you. They call themselves the Perish Judah.”
Her father’s stare intensified, as did his grip on the handsome golden fountain pen in his hand.
“They’ve been active again, recently. Here in London.” He said nothing, so she continued, wishing she could light another cigarette but knowing he would never allow her to smoke in his presence. “Ada is afraid they might come after us again.”
“And who gave her that information?” Her father asked, and Tessa held back a sigh, but only barely. Here we go, she thought, bracing herself.
“Thomas was told that members of Perish were overheard saying the Shelby name in some London pubs,” she said, quite quickly, in case he tried to interrupt her, but he just tutted and went back to his papers.
“Well, that is no business of ours, then. We have no connection to that name or to that family.”
Tessa’s temper, so easily ignited, flickered to life. “How can you choose to be so intentionally ignorant? You can believe whatever it is you’ve convinced yourself is true about Thomas Shelby, but he saved your life, papa, he saved my life, and now this? This is complete denial of our actual circumstances-,”
“What I have convinced myself is true?” Leonard repeated, like he couldn’t understand what she was saying, like they hadn’t had this exact argument hundreds of times in the past few months. “I watched that man shoot an unarmed soldier pleading for his life point blank, Tessa-,”
“A soldier?! He shot a fucking fascist who abducted you, and me, and Ada!”
“He has you brainwashed, and I will have no part of it,” her father said, stubbornly, and instead of imploding, Tessa said,
“He wants me to work for his company, and I said yes,” because that was more satisfying than any retort she had already hurled at him several times before, taking a moment to revel in the shock and anger on her father’s face before she turned on her heel and stalked out of the room, wondering what it was about parents that could turn even the most mature adult into the worst version of their petulant fourteen year old selves, and she went to her room, picked up the phone, and called Polly Gray.
Chapter 8: Kiwi
She sits beside me like a silhouette
Hard candy dripping on me ‘till my feet are wet
And now she’s all over me, it’s like I paid for it
It’s like I paid for it, I’m gonna pay for this
The next day, when Tessa woke in the morning from the few hours of sleep she had managed to her shrill alarm to prepare for work, Vivian was at her door only seconds after she had first opened her eyes.
“There’s a Thomas Shelby here to see you, ma’am,” she said, and Tessa was having a very difficult time deciding if she was still dreaming or not, because she had been dreaming of him, of his fingers, of his mouth-,
“There’s- what?” She said, rubbing her eyes and trying to gather her loose hair in her hands.
“Thomas Shelby. He’s in the foyer,” Vivian said, her lips pursed.
“What time is it?” Tessa asked, wanting to go the fuck back to sleep. She hated mornings. The sunlight was streaming in through the cracks in her heavy curtains, insistent like Thomas’ presence.
“Seven AM, ma’am. Said he came from Birmingham only this morning,” the old maid told her, the disapproval in her tone evident.
“Jesus Christ,” Tessa muttered, forcing herself to move away from the sweet embrace of her bed, and its warm covers, and continue blearily into the attached bathroom, calling out, “Tell him to fucking wait a moment,” as she closed the door. She splashed rosewater on her face, ran it through her hair as best she could, but the waves were tangled and messy and unless she wanted to spend five or ten minutes forcing it to behave, the red mane would just have to be wild. She sprayed her perfume, because if she wasn’t going to look pretty, at least she could smell it, and pulled her satin robe on over her nightclothes. When she began her (still rather unfocused) descent down the grand staircase, she saw that Vivian had not been lying in the slightest. There Thomas Shelby stood, in her house, at barely seven in the morning, looking immaculate in a suit of the darkest heather gray, before she had gotten a chance to brush her hair and was still wet from her dream about him. She wanted to ask him if he was doing this to her on purpose, if he had every single inopportune moment where he could accost her already planned out in his mind, but she highly doubted she could have successfully formed the words required.
“What?” She snapped, instead, crossing her arms. Vivian sent her a look over her shoulder for her rudeness towards a guest as the older woman left the room, turning down the hallway to the kitchens, probably to begin preparing breakfast.
“Nice house,” Thomas said, pulling off his hat, which made his dark hair flutter. Then his eyes took in her appearance, his stare too heavy for so early in the morning, and she didn’t know what the fuck that was supposed to mean.
“If you don’t tell me why you’re here in the next five seconds, I am going to murder you,” Tessa said, in the most monotone, apathetic voice she could, and Tommy’s lashes fluttered at her, from ten feet away, and she thought about killing him even if he did tell her, because it just wasn’t fair.
“Polly told me you had agreed,” he said, and yes, she had done that, hadn’t she? He lifted his left hand slightly, and she noticed the briefcase he was holding for the first time. “I’ve business in London today, so I came by, to make it official.”
“Ah,” Tessa said, her brain stalling.
“You changing your mind?” Thomas asked, eyebrows raised slightly, the expression on his handsome face a challenge, the rough syllables of his accent clashing against the picture he struck with his suit and briefcase.
“No! No.” Then, “Maybe,” she said. And then her sleep-heavy brain stopped communicating with her mouth and just started spewing shit, and she found herself saying, “I don’t know if I can trust you.”
Tommy took a few steps closer to her, which did not make her trust him any more, and said, “Then don’t. Doesn’t matter, I trust you. And after all, we are on the same side,” like he couldn’t have cared less about her trepidation towards him, which also didn’t help, but there was something to be said for honesty, and, well. I trust you.
Tessa pressed her lips together and cocked her head at him. “Yes, we are on the same side,” she agreed. Thomas stuck out his hand, and she remembered this is what he did for a living, now, made deals with people. She wasn’t sure how she felt about being one of them.
“Partners?” He asked, hand still extended, rings glinting in the crisp morning light. She contemplated it, then him, with his odd haircut that identified his occupation and somehow suited him so well. She was surprised he still kept it that way, wondered if it prompted questions. Perhaps not. Perhaps people were too afraid of him to ask.
“For a probationary period,” she said, and then slipped her hand into his, his grip and his eye contact strong, him in his three piece suit and her bare feet cold on the marble floor.
“Good,” he said. “Do you have anywhere we can sign these?”
Tessa was leaned over a handsome, shining dark table in an even handsomer room, and Tommy wouldn’t say it out loud, but he liked the house, and he liked the way she looked bent over in her nightgown, with her tousled hair, signing her name on papers that he proved he had some kind of claim over her, even a probational one, even a platonic one. He leaned over her, to see if she was done, and she jumped away, more skittish than he had ever seen her.
“There’s one more,” he said, pointing to the spot, and she huffed and wrote out “Tessa J. Reilly” in artistic, swooping letters once again.
“May I go now? I have to be at work in an hour,” she asked, and he could tell she wasn’t actually as disgruntled as she was pretending to be, but he didn’t know why. There was a faint blush on her smooth cheeks and the imprint of the pillow her face had been pressed against, and her eyes were like the weather, different every time he saw them, long lashes and fine arched brows a few shades darker than her fiery hair.
“On one condition,” he said, pulling out a cigarette. She waited, and he couldn’t tell if it was an apprehensive kind of waiting. “You have to tell me what the J is for.”
“The J?” She asked, blankly.
“In your name, your middle name.”
“And what if I don’t want to tell you?”
He pulled out his lighter, flicked, lit, inhaled, shrugged. “You have to. It’s in you contract. I’m your boss now, like it or not,” he said, and took another drag, watching her.
“It is not, ” Tessa said, leaning over the papers on the desk like she was really going to read through all of them to check.
“Well, you could spend an hour making sure, or you could spend five seconds telling me. Your call,” he said, and she hid a yawn behind her hand.
“Fine. It’s Juliette. My mother loved Shakespeare. As if you couldn’t have found that out on your own, you fucking creep.”
Tommy shrugged again and offered his cigarette to her, which she accepted gratefully. “Maybe I just wanted you to tell me yourself.” She blinked at him, eyes large and dark, the hand holding the cigarette pressed against her lips.
“What’s yours, then?” She asked, and he decided to tell her, because she was smoking his cigarette and talking to him, and there was a time not too long ago when he would have thought both those things impossible. She was going to fucking work for him, for christ’s sake.
“Michael,” he said.
She nodded. “How very boring,” she replied, yawning again as if to punctuate the point.
“Mm. Yep. Still better than ‘Jack’.”
“Is it?” She asked, teasing, her chestnut hair lit up in the morning light, tumbling against her creamy skin, the faint smattering of freckles across her nose and her shoulders, and he realized he had been staring at her and not responding, and all he could think about was that fucking brown-nosing reporter getting to run his hands over her, getting to kiss her, getting to-,
“Did you let him touch you?” Tommy asked, his voice low, and he didn’t have a fucking clue why he said it because why would he want to know that, why would he give her that leverage over him, but when she said, “What?” like she was sure she had heard him wrong, he still asked again, and he moved closer to her on top of repeating it, and she smelled like sunshine, somehow, her lovely mouth slightly open because she was so taken aback, smooth lips parted.
“Tessa, did you let him touch you?” He said again, tilting her chin up with his knuckles. She stared back at him, her eyes flitting across his face, awake, now. She wrapped her delicate hand around his wrist, and stepped closer to him, almost pressed against him, so sweet and so good and not enough, it wasn’t nearly enough, only enough to remind him how much he wanted it, a drop of opium for a sawed-off limb, and she was still gazing back, unblinking, and she said,
“Yes,” her voice and eyes hard, and he breathed out harder.
“Where?” He asked, forcing his hands to stay still, forcing himself to not force her even if he thought she would agree, thought that she wanted to agree even if she wouldn’t admit to it. You can’t just fucking take whatever you want all the time, and he wanted her to come to him. She tilted her head, like maybe she pitied him, like maybe she knew the power she had over him, and told him, “Everywhere,” and then she did press herself against him, and held her soft palm up to his cheek, and he balled his hand into the back of her robe, his fingers twisting in the silky blue material. “And not just him. Others, too,” she said, watching as her words made him see red behind his eyes, and he could feel the length of her sleep-warmed body against him and he wanted to kill them, all of them, whoever they were, and he wanted to be them. He was breathing hard, his back straight and his cock getting stiff, trying to get himself under control, trying to figure out why that thought made him want to rip out throats and blow off heads, trying to figure out why he wasn’t inside of her, already, showing her that she had been wrong to be with them, to let them anywhere near her, when she stepped back, dropping her hand from his face. She had let go of his cigarette at some point and it had burned a hole into the plush green carpet.
“I think you rather enjoy it, the idea of me with someone else. After all, if no one else wanted the prize, the game wouldn’t be worth playing, would it?” she said, and she was wrong, at least a little bit, but he didn’t tell her, and a gruff voice that he recognized as her father’s called out “Tessie?” from some other room and he was suddenly horribly grateful that her father had been shot and couldn’t walk in on the scene. Tessa looked at him for a moment longer, and then he let her turn around and leave the room, bare legs and feet and beautifully mussed hair calling to him or his heart or his cock and he ran his hand down his face roughly and said, “Fuck.”
Tessa made it to work on time that morning, but only just, doing everything in her power not to scream at the elderly man who her father employed as a driver to ask if he could possibly go any bloody faster. She didn’t even end up having time to brush her hair, and had to tuck it into a rather rushed updo on the back of her head instead, the weight of all the thick red strands already making her neck ache a bit. She nearly flung herself out of her father’s car, rushing up the steps to the Pall Mall Gazette, completely distracted and out of sorts. Once she made it down the polished wood halls and to her desk, she was huffing, trying to compose herself, and copper wisps of baby hair were already escaping, trailing into her field of vision. And then she saw Jack, and wondered, in the instant before he noticed her, if she had time to commit ritual seppuku with a letter opener. And then he saw her, and started walking over, and she did everything she could to keep her blushing, frazzled face blank, and probably failed miserably.
“Hullo,” he said, evenly, much more pleasantly than she would have expected, but she was too embarrassed to really process his tone. She had rather assumed he would never speak to her again.
“Hi,” she responded, subconsciously scanning the large room for escape routes. There were desks dispersed throughout the open space, where other reporters were stationed, but hers was the smallest and most removed from the others, situated closest to the hall that led to Sutherland’s office, due to the requirements of her occupation as Editorial Assistant. There was a very tense, extended pause between them, as Jack’s brown eyes scanned her with an expression she could not for the life of her decipher, and she waited for him to speak with the very specific feeling of having a tooth pulled, her hands tight on the briefcase she was resting against her desk.
“Interesting night we had,” Jack remarked nonchalantly, leaning against his hand on her desk, observing her. She pressed her lips together and nodded, glancing up at him and then back down again. His tie was crooked.
“Yeah,” she said, and then she yanked the proverbial tooth. “Listen, Jack, about that, I’m sorry for the way I behaved, it was-,” but he held up a hand to silence her.
“It’s all right,” he said, like he had known she would be ashamed, which just served to make the shame worse, and then made her feel reflexively defensive. He looked at her like she was an interesting bug on a tree that had caught his attention. “You’re rather complicated. Like a good story that needs to be unravelled before I can begin writing it,” he said, and she only responded with “Uhm.” He waited for her to continue speaking, but she could not come up with a concise enough response to his comment to be appropriate because she had yet to really work through it in her mind, so he spoke again for her.
“I’d like to see you again,” he told her, which was about the last thing she had expected.
“You would,” She said, blandly, feeling completely turned upside down. Her day had plans for how it was going to go that did not require her input, it seemed.
“I would. Is that… okay with you?” He asked, and the trepidation made sense to her but the fact that he was asking at all did not.
She paused to consider it, watching as two men in conversation passed them, and both of them turned back to look at her after they had passed, either in appreciation or because she was potentially being followed by fascists, and the fact that those were the reasons she had to choose between left her incredulous.
“I don’t know,” she said, finally. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“I’m not afraid of you, Tessa,” Jack said, gazing at her imploringly, which she thought was a rather odd thing to say, and also rather stupid of him. If she wanted to, she could break his heart like a dropped lollipop.
“It’s not me you should be afraid of,” she muttered instead, pulling some papers out of her briefcase.
“Are you talking about him? Is he bothering you?” Jack asked, looking around like Tommy would appear suddenly out of thin air, and like Jack would do anything but cower if he did. Tessa sighed. Always, yes, she thought, but out loud she told him,
“I’ll think about it, yeah? And let you know. I have to get to work, I’m late to meet Sutherland already.”
Jack’s brown hair was smoothed back today like it had been at the gala, like a professional man, like he was putting effort into his appearance, when usually he looked like he had simply sprung out of bed and headed out the door, but he fiddled with his tie like he couldn’t stop himself, which explained why it was crooked. Habits are too hard to break. We want to change, but we just keep coming back, rewarding ourselves for drinking water by drinking more whiskey. He kept his eyes locked on Tessa for another moment, and she felt hungover again and wondered if somehow her sickness had somehow managed to last three entire days.
“Alright, take your time,” he told her, and she nodded distractedly, trying to remember which memos Sutherland needed to be notified about, and by the time she had found them, she looked up and he was gone.
Chapter 9: Desolation Row
And Cinderella, she seems so easy
"Well, It takes one to know one,'' she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets, Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
"You belong to me I believe",
And someone says "You're in the wrong place, my friend, you’d better leave,"
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row
Ya'll KNEW I had to put some My Chem in here, can I get an amen for that reunion? My emo heart was so happy
I know I say this like all the time but thank you for reading, it really means the world <3
It was a long day. Tessa could not find time to eat, or visit the loo, or sit, hardly, running back and forth between Sutherland and whatever errands he needed her to complete, paperwork, people, meetings, scheduling, phone calls, outlines, drafts, assignments, until she almost wanted to lock herself in the closet and take a nap on the dirty floor. She worked less out of any necessity, because truthfully she had none, than she did to keep herself occupied, to keep herself from sitting alone in a dark room, thinking about being alone in another room with her wrists and feet bound, listening to Ada’s screams, thinking about feeling a man’s throat opening under her knife. She had spent too many days doing that, doing nothing but that, one after another, until she told her father she was getting on a boat to America or else she was worried she would walk into the lake by their house carrying a heavy stone and never come out again. So he let her go, and then she surrounded herself with people and was still alone, more alone, but not for lack of trying. Eventually, as she watched the sunrise from some strange city they called San Francisco, she began to miss her horse. And so she came back, and got a job, and stopped inhaling so much snow. Well, aside from the night of the gala, in any case. She was doing better. She was forcing herself to do better, or she had been, trying to convince herself that she had come to terms with not having Thomas Shelby in her life unless she was being pursued by a German mafia. But now they were back again, so he was back again, and she was having a rather hard time coping with it, because she had spent so very long telling herself that it was something from the past, something to process, something to overcome. Not something that could or would ever begin again. She didn’t know how to deal with the newly required mindset, or situation, or any of the recent developments, really, so she walked rather blindly down the halls of the Gazette, so lost in her own head it was a wonder she wasn’t bumping into walls. By the time she was stumbling out of the building at the end of the work day, the summer sun still bright in the sky but hidden behind a cover of clouds, she was planning to spend the rest of her night huddled under her heavy golden duvet and make the maids bring her food to her room so that she did not have to emerge again. But her father’s driver, Clarence, was nowhere to be seen, and she waited for fifteen minutes, then thirty, pacing on her sore feet, before she sighed and went back indoors to phone the house. Vivian answered on the third ring, her voice clipped and professional.
“Reilly household, how may I help you?”
“Viv, it’s me. Did Papa need Clarence today?”
“No ma’am, Clarence arrived back at the house just a bit ago.”
Tessa wanted to hit her head against the wall. “Well, he fucking forgot to take me there with him,” she said, and Vivian sounded extreemly confused.
“No, ma’am, we were instructed by a Mr. Shelby to not have Clarence assist your transportation anymore, he said-,”
“He did what?” Tessa said, and she was pretty sure she could shoot him, she could find a way. “Why on earth would he-,”
“Said he had arranged an alternative service, ma’am-,” Vivian continued, sounding displeased at being interrupted.
“Would you excuse me, please, Vivian, I have to go commit a murder,” Tessa said, and slammed the phone back on to the reciver, and marched back outside to confront whatever “alternative service” Thomas had taken it upon himself to arrange, and as she did, Jack caught up to her, because of course he did. She wanted a gun now just to fire it, she really did, she felt like it would help.
“Tessa! Wait up!” He called to her, and she glanced back and slowed down slightly but did not completely stop, too irritated to remain motionless. “You heading home?” He asked her once he had reached her side, and she rolled her eyes.
“I guess we’ll fucking see,” she said, and he might have thought she was being cryptic but she didn’t bother explaining herself. When they pushed open the large oak double doors in front of the limestone steps leading up to the old building, the sun was graciously hidden behind a smattering of gray clouds. In America, it had been sunny nearly every day, and she was grateful for the drab English weather. She still didn’t want to look at the blue. In front of the newspaper building, two cars were parked, one black and one a reflective silver, and Tessa heaved a sigh, bracing herself. Sure enough, a man clambered out of the car parked in the front, the driver’s side, and she didn’t need him to take his cap off to know what his haircut would look like.
“Miss Reilly,” he said, approaching her, adjusting his coat, and she felt Jack grow tense by her shoulder.
“Yes, hello,” she replied, rather wearily.
“I was sent by your employer,” he said, and she snorted a bit, and could almost feel Jack’s radiating confusion.
“So he wants me to be escorted everywhere by an armed guard?” She asked, sharply. “This is London, not Birmingham. That is about the least conspicuous thing I could possibly imagine.”
“Mr. Shelby is not concerned with being inconspicuous,” the man said, and Tessa mumbled, “No, he bloody well isn’t, is he?”
“Shelby?” Jack said, quietly, but she could hear the distaste in his voice nonetheless. She didn’t answer him, instead addressing the Peaky Blinder.
“Tell him that I said no.”
The man smiled a bit. “He said you might say that,” he told her, and Jack was puffing up his chest like he would try to defend her if the man tried to cause her harm, but Tessa, who was actually aware of the situation and not just what it looked like, knew that it wasn’t a threat. She had been threatened before, and this wasn’t it. Tommy’s man just thought it was funny that the boss himself was being told “no” point blank by a five foot two woman. “And he said if you did, to give you this.” And he pulled a note out of his pocket, which made Jack jump almost a foot in the air, like he thought it was going to be a gun. Tessa elbowed him to make him calm the fuck down. They weren’t going to be shot in midday, on the steps of a historical building in downtown London. Not by Tommy, anyway. There was little she would put past the Perish. She took the paper from the man’s gloved hand, and in surprisingly neat letters that she somehow knew were written by Thomas, it said, YOU KEEP THE CAR, YOU KEEP THE MAN. TS. She gave a short, incredulous laugh. Jack was peering over her shoulder to try to read the note, but he needn’t have bothered, because she asked the Blinder,
“So that’s the deal? I let you come with me, I can drive? They’re not going to follow?” She jerked her chin at the second vehicle, whose windows were so dark she couldn’t see inside, but she bet her life it was full to the brim of men and guns and men with guns.
“‘S what he said,” the Blinder told her, taking off his cap so that he could scratch his head. As she had predicted, the sides were shaved. “Truth be told, I don’t think he ever expected you to agree in the first place.”
“He didn’t. He only gave me two options to force me to choose the other one,” Tessa said, looking at the car. It was a flat black Rolls-Royce with gleaming golden accents, probably with an armored body. It was no custom Bentley, but it would do. “My father is going to have a fucking fit,” she said, to herself, and then, to the Blinder, she said, “What’s your name?”
“Benson, ma’am,” he said, with a small smile, but he didn’t say if that was his first or last name. That didn’t bother her much, but Jack seemed to have reached his capacity for amount of time spent not interjecting.
“What is he talking about, Tessa? Your employer? You’re working for that fucking bastard?” He snapped, and both Tessa and Benson’s eyes fixed on him, but Benson raised his hand as well, sliding it under his coat, his intent clear.
“The Peaky Blinders do not respond well to insults, mate,” he said quietly, and Jack’s face blanched, his eyes widened. He glanced from Benson, to the cars, back to Tessa.
“He’s a fucking gangster,” he whispered, like someone had just told him that fish could walk, that the sun was made out of lemon tarts, that humans actually aged backwards. Tessa grabbed his hand and yanked on it.
“If you ever say that out loud in public again, you’ll not make it to next week,” she said, not really sure if that was a true statement and rather hoping it wasn’t, but needing him to believe it. Jack’s mouth was moving silently as he tried to form words. How he was the Pall Mall’s most accredited reporter was beyond Tessa. Perhaps he was just blinded by his proximity to this specific story. She gave him the benefit of the doubt, but was more concerned about his reaction to finding out Thomas’ true occupation.
“Jack. I’m serious. You cannot talk about this, alright? To anyone. Especially at the paper.” He nodded dazedly, like she had just clubbed him over the head. Taking pity, she said, “Don’t worry. He... ,” She was going to say he’s not what you think, but then she realized that unfortunately, Tommy was probably exactly what Jack thought, so she recovered by continuing, “He’s not going to do anything to hurt me.”
“I cannot believe you’re working for him,” Jack said, finally finding his voice, and Tessa snorted.
“You and me both,” she told him, and then looked at Benson. “Alright, Mr. Benson Blinder, let’s be on our way, then,” and as she walked around the car to the driver’s seat, Jack called out again.
“Tessa,” he said, “did you get a chance to think it over?”
It took her a moment to remember what he was referring to, and his sheer determination, and his persistence, but mostly the fact that she was really rather eager to get to drive a car again, made her say, “Sure, Jack, sure, I’ll see you again,” and then she opened the door and slid into the seat and started the engine.
“Stop buying me fucking cars,” Tessa said into the receiver, which she had balanced between her ear and her shoulder as she painted her toes a blue so dark it was nearly black. It took him a second to respond, as he identified her voice, and then he said,
“It’s a company car. Says so on the boot.”
She hadn’t noticed that, but still said, “Mm hmm,” like she didn’t believe him. “And the man?”
“Benson, yeah. Good lad. Fought in my regiment at the Summe.” His voice was deep and pleasing, but she did not let herself enjoy it.
“Well, I don’t want him.”
“I don’t care what you want,” Tommy said on the other end, and she heard the telltale click of a lighter igniting.
“But I will agree to keep him around if you agree to do something for me as well.”
She almost heard him roll his eyes. “This is already doing something for you. He’s there to stop you getting killed.”
“Fine. Do something for me or I’ll ditch him and when I get shot, you’ll have to explain to Ada why you did nothing at all to prevent it from happening.”
“Fucking hell,” Tommy said, exasperated. “What?”
Tessa braced herself, clenching her teeth before spitting it out. “I need Jack Fischer’s help tracking down the Perish,” she said, “I need you to agree to let him in.”
Tommy breathed out on the other end of the phone, probably smoke.
“No,” he said, simply.
“Thomas, there’s places I can’t go, or I can’t go alone. And those places are all the ones where the Germans will be, and you know it. I can get as many names as you want, but if we don’t know where they are or what they look like, it does us no good. I need Jack to be my partner.”
Tommy scoffed. “Your partner, eh?” He said, and Tessa sighed.
“My wingman. I don’t give a shit what you want to call it, it’s necessary and you know it too. Do we have a deal?”
“You’ll let Benson look out for you,” Tommy said, like he was debating, which was more than she had hoped for.
“Yes,” Tessa said.
“And you’ll make Fischer do the heavy lifting?”
“...Yes,” Tessa said, which wasn’t really true, but she thought Thomas probably already knew that.
“He can’t know fucking anything about the other work I do. With the Blinders.”
“I don’t even know anything about the other work you do,” Tessa told him, matter-of-factly. “He knows you’re associated with them, but nothing else. And he’s much too afraid to go spouting that kind of thing off, anyway.”
Tommy said “Hmm,” like that thought made him happy. “What makes you think you can convince him to help you, then?” He asked.
“He told me he thinks I’m some sort of mystery. Like a story that needs to be written or some other such nonsense.” Tommy didn’t respond, and she wondered why she had told him that, like they were friends, like he hadn’t dropped her like a dirty penny for two years and only picked her back up again when her life was in danger. Like she had forgiven him for it.
“My father will be home soon. I have to tell him why there’s a car with Shelby Company Limited written on it in the drive.”
“I’m putting men on your house, so be sure to tell him that too,” Tommy said, and then hung up.
Chapter 10: Do I Wanna Know?
Crawling back to you
Ever thought of calling when you've had a few?
Cause I always do
Maybe I'm too
Busy being yours to fall for somebody new
Now I've thought it through
It turned out that Tessa did not have to go looking for her father, because he came to her immediately after arriving home, wheeled in by Vivian, not even bothering to take off his heavy coat before holding his hand up to the maid to signal to come to a stop in front of Tessa, where she was seated at the large dining room table, idly dipping her spoon into a bowl of lukewarm soup that she was mostly ignoring due to being preoccupied worrying about her father’s reaction to the new vehicle parked out at the front of the house, not to mention the several strange men standing at the entrances to both the estate and the manor itself. And, if his expression was anything to go off of, her concern had been legitimate. He had hardly ever scolded her when she was young, partially because he was rarely present, but mostly because he quickly discovered it did little good. Now, however, his face was ashen and stern, how brows furrowed, and Tessa reflected briefly on all the missed years of discipline she had missed out on and was likely about to make up for. She looked up at him, and then back down at her soup.
“Before you begin, I’d like to remind you that the men outside are the very ones you enlisted for help two years ago against the exact same threat we’re dealing with again, so I would appreciate it if you considered any potential hypocrisy before you spoke to me,” she said, and his lips thinned.
“We are not dealing with a threat, we are dealing with a mental case,” he said, slowly, and Tessa immediately tossed her spoon down so hard it splattered soup on the table.
“Are you insinuating that I’m insane?” She demanded, feeling like maybe he was right, unable to believe the depth of his denial, angry that he would say such a thing to her, his own daughter.
“I’m saying that you are like your mother, too emotional, too passionate, and it gets you-,”
“It gets me what?” Tessa said, snapping, like a bone, like her thumb, like she wanted to at almost everyone in her life at this point, and let her father take the hit, because she was at her limit, with him and everything else. “It gets me a grave, is that it? You think that I’m like her, that I’m going to drink myself into the ground, or get shot like Sam, or go mental like grandpa? Is that what you think?”
And her father, knuckles white on the sides of his chair like he wished he could physically break it apart, bellowed without any warning,
“I THINK THAT YOU’RE MY DAUGHTER!” His powerful voice ringing off of the crystal glasses on the table, and she was shocked to see his eyes glimmer, shocked to see his strong chin wobble. He never cried. At her mother’s funeral, he had sat and held Tessa’s hand with his face set like stone, when he told her that Sam wasn’t coming back from the war, it had been in a voice like he was reminding her not to cross the street in front of carriages. “You are my only daughter,” he said, his voice breaking, and her heart breaking too. The fire in the hearth cracked and popped in the silence between them, as she sat, speechless, watching a tear drip from his eyes, so like hers, behind his glasses. “My only daughter, and he is a man who volunteered you to be kidnapped, who wears suits stitched out of blood money and calls himself a hero, who kills everything he touches like poison. Tessa,” he pleaded, wheeling forward a bit so that he could take her hands in his own, his eyes searching her face, imploring her. “He cannot love you.”
Tessa watched his face, so familiar, so safe, smelled the aftershave he had worn for as long as she could remember. I have no love.
“I know, papa,” she said, and the voice in her mind that she didn’t listen to, the one that was honest, wanted to say, But what if I cannot love anyone else? but the words caught in her throat and she couldn’t get them out and didn’t want to, and the truth of it hit her like a train, that he was beautiful, but broken, just like her, and broken edges can’t fit together, even if they are shattered in the same way, so she took an uneven breath and gave her father a more uneven smile. “This isn’t about him, anyway. This is about us, about keeping us safe. To get rid of these bastards once and for all. And if you’re right and the threat isn’t real, then what’s the harm, anyway?”
“Bunch of gang members outside of my house,” her father muttered, his watery eyes downcast, and Tessa’s smile became a bit steadier. “It’s hardly respectable, Tessie.”
“Ah, papa,” she sighed, “if there’s anything I’ve learned from the Shelby’s, it’s that respectability is outdated.” He huffed and patted her cheek, shaking his head slightly.
“When most fathers say they have difficult daughters, they mean that they show too much skin in public. Mine had to be the one who became involved with a mob boss.”
“We’re not involved,” Tessa said. “In fact, I’ve been seeing a man from work, named Jack. He’s a reporter.”
“Does he have razor blades sewn into any article of his clothing?”
“No,” Tessa smiled.
“Then I approve.” He sighed slightly and leaned back in his chair with a creak of wood, appraising her. “The men can stay. But I still don’t want you working for him.”
She leaned forward in her seat to place a gentle kiss on his cheek, and then stood from the table, turning around slightly to address him over her shoulder once she reached the door to the room.
“He likes horses, dad,” she said, and his eyes were intense but unreadable as he watched her leave, and she could tell he knew that she didn’t mean Jack.
Tommy sat with his brothers in a pub. Everything was painted a dark, ivy green, with spiraling, faded golden letters spelling The Garden above the dimly lit bar. It was small, and dingy, and John kept forgetting not to put his elbows on the table and was getting sticky residue on his suit.
“Feels odd to be drinkin’ in a pub we doesn’t own,” he said, sighing when he saw that the corner of his sleeve had a large dark splotch on it.
“Yeah, but I don’t much mind not ownin’ this one,” Arthur said, taking a swig of his beer and glancing around. “Part ‘o me misses the days when sayin’ that woulda started a brawl.”
“Careful what you wish for,” Tommy muttered into his glass, and Arthur shot him a look.
“Why you got us spending all this time up in London recently anyways, Tom? I thought you’d found somebody to look into our… eastern issues.”
“I did,” he said, taking a drink. Despite the questionable atmosphere, the whiskey was tolerable, smooth and warm.
“And?” John prompted, less patient even than Arthur. Tommy cleared his throat.
“It’s Tessa,” he said, finishing his drink. John blinked.
“Tessa Reilly? That fine, rich girl we saved from the Germans the last time?” He asked, and Tommy looked at him and nodded slowly.
“That’s the one,” he said, pulling out his cigarettes. Arthur tsked with his tongue.
“Last I remember, her father wasn’t too happy with you. How much you ask him for, again? Ten thousand, was it?”
“Twenty,” Tommy said, lighting his cigarette up. John whistled.
“Ah, ladies’ fathers never like Tommy, it ain’t his fault,” he said, and Tommy smirked around his smoke.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Arthur scoffed, downing his mug and drawing a flask out of his inner jacket pocket.
“You’re in a fucking pub, Arthur, the fuck you carrying that around with you for, you daft bastard?” John asked, yanking it out of his hands and taking a swig.
“Because this is fucking free, isn’t it? It’s mathematics, John boy,” he said, and John responded, “Everything is free for us,” and their voices faded into the background noise of his mind as Tommy looked out across the pub. There were four men crowded around a table in the corner, not speaking, not looking up no matter how long Tommy watched them for. That was all he needed to know.
He tapped his knuckle on the table to get his brother’s attention.
“This is the pub where our name was overheard,” he said, and John said, “Fuck!” and Arthur rolled his eyes.
“Are you ever going to fucking tell us these things beforehand, Tom?” John asked, his fingers flexing subconsciously like he was preparing to wrap them around a throat, or a trigger, or curl them into a fist.
“They here, Tommy?” Arthur asked in a low voice, his eyes scanning the room agitatedly.
“In the corner, next to the bar,” Tommy said, taking a hit of his cig. Neither Arthur or John looked at the men in question, but he could see them scanning exists, counting the number of occupants in the room, potential weapons and defensive positions instead. What his brothers might lack in strategy, they made up for with physical capability.
“We having that brawl after all, bruva?” Arthur asked, his nose twitching. John’s sharp eyes were steady.
“I think so,” Tommy said slowly, breathing in again, and when he breathed out, the smoke stayed in the air like mist.
I will always wish that when they used this song in the show it was for a slow motion shot of Tommy strutting around through fire or whatever, but I'll take him pushing open the doors to the office like he's Aragorn I suppose
Chapter 11: DEVIL
My god, you said it yourself that you would never stop
Until you felt the needle drop
So nobody move, cause I was sent to warn you
The devil's right beside you
Hellloooo my beautiful babies, I just wanted to put a disclaimer on this chapter for violence-related triggers, because there are some graphic scenes, but you've seen the show and the tags so you know what to expect. Also, you all have been SO WONDERFUL and I genuinely live for your responses and feedback, so. Just wanted you to know <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If they left at once, they would have to turn their backs and move single file, and if he fired a shot off into the ceiling it could cause a stampede, or the Germans could just start shooting into the crowd, so Tommy told John to wait outside, told Arthur to make sure it looked like they were drunk and stumbling with an arm over Tommy’s shoulder so that he could hold a gun without being spotted, and to act like he had no idea there was a potential threat in the corner.
“They won’t attack in the open. They’ll follow us out,” Tommy said to Arthur, who was pulling a blue bottle out of the chest pocket on his vest. Arthur tapped some out on his hand and offered the bottle to Tommy, who paused, weighing the options. He would crash, later, but later didn’t matter, might not even exist. He held out his hand. Arthur met his eyes and gave him an approving nod, saying, “Good man,” before Tommy ducked his head and sniffed, and when he came back up, it felt like it was in slow motion, felt like he could have taken on the four Germans in the corner all on his own without any hassle, like his body had been dunked in cold water without the water or the cold.
“Time to go,” he said, standing, his fingers and mind buzzing. Arthur stood with a practiced sway, like he couldn’t hold his balance, tipping over onto the table. “Easy, brother, had a few too many, eh?” Tommy said, and then, at a much lower volume after glancing into the corner, “They’re watching, they’ll come,” Arthur’s pistol flashed briefly as he tucked his arm over Tommy’s shoulder, and they ducked through the pub, Arthur’s footsteps dramatically uneven to solidify the performance. Arthur’s lean frame jostled against him as they walked out of the pub’s entrance, the sounds of the boisterous crowd dimming to a vague roar after the door closed behind them. Tommy had forgotten he wasn’t in Birmingham, and the comparatively clean London air, smelling of chimney smoke instead of the reek of the cut, burned down his sinuses, surprising him. Tommy could see John up ahead, at the corner of a dark brick alley, smoking a cigar with his right hand resting in his jacket. The pub door opened again behind them, and Arthur tensed but Tommy kept walking, trying to put more distance between the civilians and the inevitable altercation.
“You’d best turn around if you don’t want a bullet in the back, tinker,” a scratchy voice behind them said, and Arthur whipped his arm off of Tommy’s shoulders, leveled his pistol, and shot, before the other man even had a chance to lift his and fulfill his threat. The shot echoed like the sky had cracked, and Tommy thought he could hear his blood in his veins, thought he could hear the pub go silent, light spilling on the dark ground from the windows, illuminating the arm of the man whose body had just dropped, and the German man’s companions opened fire, but John, ready and aiming from behind the wall that formed the corner he was crouched behind, hit one in the leg and sent him down, and Tommy had ducked and rolled the moment he felt Arthur move. He was watching from behind a parked car, could see the feet of the remaining Germans past the spokes of the wheel, his heart pounding and adrenaline pumping like it was replacing all of the blood in his body, and mixed with the cocaine, he felt invincible, he felt like he could have stood up and walked out into the raining bullets and left without a scratch. A man was attempting to make it around the corner where John was reloading, and Tommy shot at him but he ducked, and then two hands clamped around Tommy’s head, wrestling him to the ground, taking advantage of his momentary distraction. He held fiercely on to his gun, trying to get an angle that wasn’t blocked by his own body, the German holding him down and scraping his face against the harsh gravel of the street, the night quiet except for the distant sound of sirens and their labored breathing, and Tommy got his elbow up behind him and made contact with the German’s face with a crack and a jolt of pain down his arm. He switched his gun to his left hand and shot before the German had even recovered from the recoil of the hit, the shot going through the other man’s neck, a dark hole that looked like a piece of the dark sky had latched onto him. Tommy’s brain was flooded and he couldn’t feel his body, couldn’t feel his bleeding face, moved out from behind the car with his pistol pointed because the moments that had just happened had already passed, it was over and done and he needed to find his brothers. Arthur was on all fours, hovering over a body, his fists swinging like pendulums. Tommy’s fingers were fluttering on the trigger of his gun, the metal heavy and warm from being under his coat, pressed against his side, always, unless it was in his hand.
“Arthur!” He shouted, not over the fate of the nameless man whose body was being destroyed, and who would probably die the most painful and slow way a person could, because Tommy didn’t care. “Where’s John?”
Arthur didn’t respond, probably couldn’t even hear him, so Tommy kept his gun up and stalked over, and then stood at the head of the man Arthur was turning into a pile of red meat, and put a bullet between his eyes to snap his brother out of his trance.
“Where’s John!?” Tommy asked, in his face, yelling to try to drown out the voices in Arthur’s head. His brother looked at him, his eyes glazed, then looked down at his bloodied hands and said, “Don’t know,” in a whisper.
“Fuck,” Tommy said, quietly, and then again, louder, but at that moment, John came stumbling out from behind the corner of the building, grasping his arm with a hand that was also holding a hat that gleamed silver.
“Fucker got me,” he said, happily, looking down at the deep cut on his bicep like it was the most interesting thing he had ever seen. “I paid him back, though. Left him alive in case you wanted to talk to him, Tommy.”
Tommy nodded, holstering his rifle and yanking Arthur to his feet, his veins thrumming, the power surging, the horror, the life the life the life. “Take me to ‘im.”
The man was lying prone in a puddle of his own blood twenty feet down the alley John had been using as cover, his breaths coming in pants that sounded incredibly loud against the walls of the close buildings. Tommy crouched down beside him.
“You’re from the Perish?” He asked, and the man didn’t respond, but Tommy didn’t expect him to. Where his eyes had been there were deep, leaking slashes, and Tommy thought, based on the sounds he was making, that he was probably choking on his own blood. Tommy wanted to look away, to walk away, he had enough of these images to see behind his own eyes at night. He didn’t. “You might make it until they find you,” Tommy said, “but it will hurt until then.”
Arthur sniffed behind him. Tommy reached into his coat, which was covered in coal dust from his tussle on the street, and lit a cigarette. The man, in a surprising display of moral fiber, sat up suddenly, knocking Tommy in the face with his head as hard as he could, sending him rocking back on his heels, catching himself on his hands. Arthur collided his shoe with the man’s ribcage with a muffled thud, and Tommy no longer felt any sympathy, his eye feeling like he had been hit by a frying pan. The man was curled on his side, muttering curses in German, and Tommy stood up, stood over him, and took another drag of his still-lit cigarette.
“If you do make it,” he said, pulling it out of his mouth as he inhaled, thinking about finding Ada half naked, running down a street, the horrible bruises around Tessa's neck, the snow awakening his demons the same way the opium smothered them, “you tell the Perish to keep my name out their fascist fucking mouths.” And he flipped the cigarette, and pressed the lit end to the man’s bloody mouth, letting him choke on the ash as he screamed.
This is why the writers of the show don't let Tommy do coke lmao
Chapter 12: Jealou$y
Rest in pieces, peace of mind.
“You want me to work for a Birmingham gangster to bring down an English subset of a German political movement that is using organized crime as a stronghold for an upcoming facist takeover. With you.” Jack said, flatly. They were sitting on a park bench in the warm summer breeze, and Tessa was mindlessly tearing off pieces of bread from her sandwich to throw to the birds. She hadn’t had much of an appetite, recently.
“That’s right,” she said, pulling one leg over the other and abandoning her sandwich completely to cross her fingers over her knee. She was wearing dark grey dress slacks, her favorite pair.
“You do too much cocaine, Tessa,” Jack said.
“This is real, Jack. I’m serious.”
He looked at her, squinting a bit. He needed to shave again, his narrow face slightly shadowed at the edges.
“Alright. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that it is real. How are you involved in it, again? I can’t recall you mentioning that part.”
Tessa blew out a breath, hesitating, trying to decide how to word it, how to begin, if she should begin. Jack scoffed like he had anticipated her silence, and she started talking, only because she knew she would never be able to convince him otherwise.
“I broke Thomas Shelby out of my father’s hospital,” she said, watching the birds instead of looking at him. It was so, so odd to discuss this with someone other than Ada, someone who knew nothing about it all, who didn’t even believe it had really happened. Tessa had a hard time believing it had happened too. “My father asked me to approach him with some kind of proposition, but he didn’t say what it was. The Germans came after Thomas, some gang turf war, I thought, but it turns out that the same Germans that were after him were blackmailing my father for political leverage for his support of their new fascist party. And I was the leverage against him.” She sighed, and pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “My father wanted to ask Thomas to protect me, said he would pay him for it, and the Germans found out somehow, so that’s why they went after Thomas and tried to kill him. Then they took my father. And the only way to find out where they took him was to let them take me, too, so I did.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jack said, still looking like he wasn’t sure if she was making it all up or not, but even if she was, he at least seemed to appreciate the insanity of the story. “Your father… the wheelchair. He wasn’t mugged, was he?”
Tessa shook her head, smoking.
“How the fuck did you get away?” Jack asked, his boyish voice incredulous, like they were ten years old and she was telling him scary tales to keep him up at night.
“In a lot of ways, I didn’t,” she admitted, looking out into the park, the gentle green of the trees, the grass and the paths. So peaceful. What a world we live in, where there can be such violence and such peace, she thought, and then she realized Jack was still looking at her, waiting for her to continue. “Tommy came. They took his sister, Ada, too, and they put her in the same place they were holding my father, but Tommy had no way of knowing where she would be, so he sent his men to go looking for her and came back for me alone. I saved his life, in the hospital, so I think he felt like he owed me.”
Jack nodded and reached out for a puff of her cigarette. “Churchill said he won medals, in the war.”
“I know. Should’ve gotten more that night,” she said, closing her eyes briefly. When she opened them again, Jack was still scrutinizing her.
“Are you using your reporter tactics on me?” She asked, joking a little.
“No,” he said, seriously. “Tactics of any kind don’t work on you.” She snorted.
“If only that were true,” she said, bringing the cigarette back to her lips. A slight breeze rustled the branches of the trees, like the earth was sighing. “Still, talking about it is…. ,” she trailed off. She wasn’t sure what it was. “I’ve never really talked about it. Ada was there, obviously, and I hate bringing it up for her again. And I don’t want to burden my father further.”
“You don’t talk to Shelby?” Jack asked, and she couldn’t tell if there was jealousy in his voice or just curiosity. Tessa laughed.
“Does he strike you as the kind of man who sits around and talks about things?” She responded rhetorically, stubbing out her dead cigarette with the toe of her high heel. They were quiet for a moment, and then Jack said,
“What do you need me to do?”
When they re-entered the newspaper building, Sutherland swooped over to Jack like a massive bird of prey.
“Fischer, I need you,” he said, waving a large hand, and Jack gave Tessa a brief glance with his eyebrows raised before following Sutherland’s already-retreating form. Tessa stood, torn, unsure if she had the proper qualifications to follow without an invitation, but Sutherland boomed,
“You too, Tessa, come on, then,” and she hurried after them into his office, shutting the heavy door behind her.
“Right,” Sutherland began the moment the lock had clicked, rubbing the inside of his nose next to his eye like he could not possibly be having a worse day. “Last night, three bodies were found outside a pub in Paddington.”
Jack snapped to attention so quickly Tessa was surprised he didn’t somehow materialize a pencil and a notebook out of thin air as well. “How old?” He asked, his gaze focused, and she realized she had never really seen him do his job before.
“The police heard shots and were on the scene almost immediately. “Almost” being the imperative word. There were at least two suspects, and all we could find out from witnesses was that they sounded like they were from Birmingham. Nobody wanted to say much about it. Especially the fourth victim.”
“What?” Jack said sharply. “I thought you said there were three bodies.”
“There were,” Sutherland sighed. “The last man was still alive when the police arrived, but not for long. Couldn’t get anything out of him, either, and he did not go easy.”
“So what do you think, sir? More gang activity?”
“Most likely, but I want you to go down there anyway, scope out the scene, see if there’s anything you can find. I’m putting you on the story. Tessa can help you.”
“Sir?” Tessa asked, unsure of the implications behind his words. He turned to her, and his face was still grave but there was a twinkle in his eye.
“Come now, Tess, I know you didn’t want to be my assistant forever,” he said, and then pointed one thick finger at the door. “That will be all, now, thank you. You’ve a story to write.”
Tessa followed Jack out of the room, rather dazed. “Did I just get promoted?” She asked, and Jack flashed her a small grin, which she didn’t return, because the news overshadowed everything else. Sounded like they were from Birmingham. Four victims. He did not go easy.
The story was not going well. He had little to no details, and what he did know pointed quite directly to the Peaky Blinders, a gang he was now affiliated with, somehow. How the fuck did that happen? If only his uptight, banker father could see him now. So he would have to write a flimsy excuse of a report and potentially harm his future career, to cover for criminals, because that was what he had agreed to do, in the park that morning with Tessa. Of course he agreed. It was getting to the point that she could ask him to shoot someone point blank and he wouldn’t hesitate. They had gone down to Paddington together, seen the place where the bodies had been. There was still blood on the ground and the air smelled wrong, somehow, but Tessa didn’t react. She talked to some of the regulars, some of the locals, but she didn’t seem particularly interested in reporting, and he wondered what she was doing at a newspaper, of all things, if she didn’t care for reporting, what it was she actually wanted to do. She did seem interested in whether or not anyone had gotten a visual on the suspects, and Jack was relatively certain he knew why. She was worried about Shelby, about his well-being, about him potentially actually having to experience the repercussions of his actions, like a mere mortal. Jack shook his head, and rubbed his forehead with his hand. The low light of the lamp on his desk was casting dark shadows on the walls of his office, a tiny cubicle of a thing, but one that he was rather proud to have been allotted, nonetheless. Only three other reporters in the building had been granted private offices, and when he was ignorant and naive, he had hoped that that fact might impress the beautiful new assistant, but he should have known that there was already a man impressing her, by buying her cars with drug money. He checked his dented pocket watch, and it read 12:37am, and he sighed. The story was as complete as it was likely to get, which was not very, but at the moment, he had bigger issues than one piece of flimsy reporting. He began to shuffle the countless papers on his overflowing desk, when he heard footsteps echoing down the handsome, polished wood of the hallways, a sharp clack clack clack, like whoever was coming was coming with purpose in tow, like a dog on a leash. Jack’s breathing hitched and he stood with a jerk. He didn’t own a gun, or even a knife, although he told himself he could figure it out if he had to. He had never had to. He fumbled through the papers he had just attempted to arrange, trying to find scissors, a paper weight, anything, but before he could, his door creaked open. He hadn’t even considered the need to lock it. And in the doorway stood Thomas Shelby, who was watching his useless attempts to locate a weapon with more judgement than Jack thought he had ever seen so openly displayed on a person’s face before. He had a brilliant black left eye, and a harsh scrape down the other side of his face. Jack did not like what that insinuated about his involvement in recent events.
“Mr. Fischer,” Shelby said, casually, like they had arranged this meeting, like he hadn’t just committed B&E at half past midnight. “D’you mind if I smoke?”
“You can smoke,” Jack said, through lips that felt numb like he had just done a line of Tessa’s snow. Shelby inclined his chin at him as a brief, perfunctory gesture of gratitude, pulling a silver cigarette case out of his long black coat and flicking it open, speaking without looking up.
“Tessa told me she desires your assistance with the job I gave her,” he said, the cadence of his voice betraying his working-class roots. At the very least, when weighed on the scale against Thomas Shelby, Jack had his education, and that counted for something. He told himself it did, anyway. Shelby’s black eye only made the blue of his irises stand out brighter against the deep darkness and dull, warm light in the room, the low position of the lamp dancing the shadows off of his cheekbones like they were taunting Jack for his plain features. He wished he had a gun, just to even things out a bit. It occurred to him, with a bit of a shock, that Shelby likely did, and he felt like a mouse trapped under the paw of a lion. He wasn’t sure he had ever known he was having a conversation with an armed man before, while it was still happening, at least. Thomas continued like he hadn’t noticed Jack’s hands curling into white-knuckled fists over the desk. “Said she needs you to get her into the pubs, that you have connections. She also said you agreed.” His eyes flickered down again as he lit his cigarette, breathed in to ignite it and then pointed at Jack with it between his two fingers. “Why did you agree, Jack?”
“You’ve been talking to her?” Jack asked, before he had considered whether that was an intelligent thing to say. Shelby ignored him.
“She trusts you, but she’s like that, y’know? Trusting. More than she pretends to be. See, me,” he shook his head, like it was an awful shame, “I’m just the opposite. I pretend to be more trusting than I am. Makes people feel safe, makes them tell me things.” Jack was having a very difficult time imagining the kind of person who would feel safe around a man like him, or describing him as “trusting” in any capacity, falsified or otherwise. Shelby was watching him, his face as blank as a mirror you could only see your own reflection in. Jack shivered a bit, unnerved at the scrutiny. After a pause, which Shelby used to take a drag, he said, “And I don’t trust you, so I’ll ask you again. Why did you agree?”
Jack felt like he was being approached like he was a small child who had stolen from the cookie jar and was being interrogated about it. “Mr. Shelby, this is unnecessary-,” he began, but Shelby cut him off, flicking ash onto the floor.
“I can decide for myself what is and isn’t necessary, Mr. Fischer,” he said, his voice quiet and his tone low.
Jack steeled himself. “Tessa talks to me too, you know. She told me what happened, two summers ago.”
“Did she now?” Shelby asked, clearing his throat, and before Jack could respond and say yes, and you sounded like just as much of an arrogant bastard then as you are now, because he convinced himself he could have gotten the words out, Shelby said, “You don’t have any whiskey, do you? It’s been a long day. Or days. Can hardly keep them straight anymore.”
“No, I don’t have any whiskey. This is my work office,” Jack said, in a tone that heavily implied that he wouldn’t have shared it if he did. Shelby blew a dismissive breath out of his nose, smoke billowing out with it.
“What happened to your eye?” Jack asked, nodding at it, before he could overthink the consequences. Shelby’s eyes roamed over his appearance and then steadied directly on his, the scratches on his sharp cheek red and angry. Jack waited for him to blink, and he didn’t, just smoked his cigarette. Jack spared a moment of resentment that this man knew things about Tessa that he himself didn’t, things he didn’t come close to deserving to be told. “What do you need, Mr. Shelby? Don’t you have bodies to count?”
Shelby made a sound like he was amused, but he clearly wasn’t. “Oh, I don’t count anymore,” he said, and Jack’s jaw clenched. “The counting isn’t what matters. As long as you still know your number, there’s hope for you. What matters is when you stop.” He took another drag. “And the only one who’s keeping track for me and me brothers by now is God.”
“Here’s hoping he’s weighing them against your soul.”
“My soul,” Shelby repeated, actually smiling, very briefly, just a flash of defiance in the face of the prospect of eternal damnation, like he couldn’t possibly have cared less. “I’ve no doubt.”
Jack was having a hard time believing what he was seeing, what he was hearing, that it was possible for a man to be so completely empty. “You don’t even deserve to know her name,” he said, and he meant it, with all of the heart that beat in his chest, where Shelby probably had just bullet shells, as destructive and empty empty empty as the rest of him.
“So you think you’re in love with her, then,” Shelby said, idly, and Jack’s heart stopped. He wondered if he would be shot for his answer, and wondered if his answer changed whether or not he was going to be shot.
“I don’t think it. I am in love with her,” he said, his voice wavering slightly, and Shelby’s lips twitched.
“Mm hmm,” he said, and was quiet for a moment, and then told him, “Well, that’s good, because I’ve decided you can have her.”
“I’m not sure she’s yours to give away, mate,” Jack said, because it felt like the right thing to say, envious of the confidence, even more envious of the facts it was based upon.
“Isn’t she?” Shelby asked, and the twitch of his lips became the barest hint of a smirk before it disappeared and his features smoothed back into a cold mask, and Jack had no choice but to think about Tessa saying Thomas’ name while he was inside her, no matter how badly he didn’t want to. He hated Thomas Shelby in that moment in a way he hadn’t known he was even capable of until it hit him in the chest with a burning heat that felt like it was singeing his veins.
“She said she doubted you were even born in a hospital,” he said, to strike back, but Shelby just made a sound of agreement.
“I wasn’t. Born on a lovely boat named the January.” He reached into his coat and moved closer, which made Jack flinch back, and he could see Shelby catalogue the movement behind his dangerously guarded eyes. But when he pulled his hand out of the coat, whose lining flashed a red silk that matched the blood on his face, instead of a gun he was holding a stack of pounds thicker than Jack had seen anywhere that wasn’t a police impound, which was probably where it belonged.
“That’s six months wages,” Shelby said, then inclined his head slightly and added, “for you,” like the lingering pause between the words was accidental. Jack bristled. “Buy Tessa a new necklace. And keep her off the snow,” he ordered, like he was narcissistic enough to assume they would be blindly followed, and then, “Oh, and Fischer? She’s not a fucking mystery novel, mate. Say the wrong thing one too many times, and she might cut your throat.” And he dropped his cigarette on Jack’s floor, crushed it with a perfectly shined shoe, turned with a soldier’s grace, and walked back out the door, his sharp footsteps echoing down the hallway again. In the silence of his office, with a stack of money on his desk and a dead cigarette on his floor, Jack Fischer said aloud to whatever entity or fly on the wall that might be listening; “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
Tommy has truly been in rare form these last chapters huh? an entire ass but an iconic one
Chapter 13: Hang On To Yourself
Diamond dollface, dreamer girl
With the messed up coke teeth, poppies and pearls
Wearing in my new cold sweat
Like some viewed up deadbeat minor threat
Friday black out guarantee
Full of cocaine, champagne, enter the sleaze
Passions black tar, silver spoon
On a downer baby, fly to the moon
“Who is Tessa Reilly?” Lucy asked, one day, when Tommy had been especially distant the night before. He was always distant, his hands and mouth and body on her but still somehow separate, restrained, the facade never cracking, no matter how she pushed or prodded or phrased her questions. He brushed them off, brushed her off, and she liked it a bit, how composed and isolated he was, but she wanted to be the one who was able to slip past the cracks of his defenses, and she didn’t think she was. She thought it was the small, beautiful girl with the red hair that fell down her back like flickering flames. She looked exactly like the kind of woman Thomas would be drawn too, rich and sophisticated and privileged. Lucy wondered if she knew what it was Tommy really did, how she would like his pretty face as much if she knew the truth.
“You know who she is,” Polly said, sparing her only the most cursory glance before returning to the checkbook she was balancing at her desk in her office. Lucy leaned her shoulder against the worn door frame, the familiar, dusty smell of the betting shop warm in her nose. “You met her.”
“Meeting someone doesn’t mean you know who they are,” Lucy responded, and Polly ticked her head in grudging agreement.
“Her mother was in the pictures, in America. An actress. Her father is the Chief Medical Officer of England, but he’s an Irishman. That’s all I know,” Polly said, with an air of having given Lucy a great deal of information she wasn’t sure she had earned.
“But what does she do?” Lucy persisted, because all being given a rundown of Tessa’s family history had done was solidify what she had already gathered about her. Rich, sophisticated, privileged.
“What she wants, by Tommy’s account,” and Polly’s lips twitched, which made Lucy want to throw something, because she had been trying for months to win the older woman’s approval, to no avail, but all Tessa had to do was “what she wanted”.
“Sounds rather like Thomas himself,” Lucy said, and Polly snorted slightly. “She seemed a bit enamored with him, at the gala.”
“Do you know, sometimes she does sound rather like Thomas,” she said, like she was still mildly amused. “And of course she’s enamored with him, it’s Tommy. Everyone is. That’s what makes him him.”
“How do they know each other?” Lucy continued, like she was completely uninterested, but aware that she was beginning to cross Polly’s threshold for number of prying questions.
“Why don’t you ask Tommy about this?” Polly countered, her dark eyes slipping back down to her open book.
“He wouldn’t tell me,” Lucy admitted, which she then realized was likely not the correct answer. Polly’s gaze returned to her face, but this time it was sharp.
“And what gives you the impression that I would share information with you that Thomas wouldn’t?” She asked, her curving eyebrows raised slightly. Lucy had enough experience with that expression to know it was time to back off.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Gray,” she said, softly, hoping her tone would subdue the fire in Polly’s eyes. “He just never talks to me. I can’t get him to talk.” It was true, and it bothered her, but her curiosity went to a deeper and more personal level than concern over Tommy’s emotional wellbeing. Or lack thereof. Tessa was a threat. Her mother had taught her to learn about what you felt threatened by until it no longer held power over you.
Polly softened at that, if only slightly, like she understood, and said, “She’s friends with his sister. Now get back to your desk, there’s calls to be made.” And Lucy ducked her head obediently and returned to the wooden chair, drumming her fingers on the desk and picking up the phone, trying to figure out why some rich girl who was friends with his sister would matter so much to a man who could have whatever and whoever he wanted.
Jack and Tessa were in a nightclub. Her golden dress was cut low, both in the front and in the back, and he was having such a hard time not staring at her that he kept tripping on the steps leading up to the dancefloor from the bar, which was on a lower level. Both of them were holding drinks, but not drinking. “Serious business only,” he had said, while pouring some of his whiskey into a nearby potted plant to make it look like he had been sipping it so as to better blend in with the crowd, to which she had responded, “Sure, serious business. You have a feather in your hair,” and then she spun and ascended the stairs to the floor on her high heels, her movements in mindless tandem with the flowing music, and he followed her, hypnotized, pulling the bright pink feather from his hair, from the boa a dancer had draped across his shoulders, much to his embarrassment and Tessa’s entertainment.
“So you have a tip-off?” Jack called after her. He felt like he was always chasing her, metaphorically and otherwise, and she glanced back over her pale shoulder at him, her hair cascading down to her lower back, shifting to reveal inches of exposed porcelain skin.
“From Ada. She said she heard this was a popular spot for German transplants, the sons of exiled oligarchs, families who relocated after the war. But that was from years ago, when she was involved in the communist movement, so the situation could have changed since then,” she responded, her accent still falling slightly oddly on his ears. He lengthened his stride to keep pace with her onto the outskirts of the dimly lit dance floor, surrounded by tables in alcoves and others lining the walls rather haphazardly, like an afterthought.
“Thomas Shelby’s sister is a communist?” Jack asked, incredulously.
“Was,” Tessa corrected, but that was all she said, like the subject was off-limits, which just made him more curious.
“And he didn’t have her shot for it?” He said, and her head snapped to the side to fix him with an angry glare, her almond eyes glinting in the low light, her hair and the jazz swinging.
“Tommy loves her. Probably more than anyone else in the world,” She snapped, as if that would impress him.
“Which says very little,” Jack countered, his recent conversation with Shelby fresh and brutal in his mind like a new bruise. Tessa stopped walking completely, and tilted her chin up so that she could look him directly in the face. Her lovely face was scrunched, her eyebrows pulled together over narrowed eyes.
“What part of the concept that a man might care for his family is so hard for you to conceive?” She asked, and he made a disbelieving face, already realizing he was digging himself into a hole but unable to help himself. He needed her to see truth, no matter what it took for her to realize it, and no matter how painful that realization may be. It was the only way to suck the poison out.
“The part where you refer to him as a “man”.”
Tessa scoffed and rolled her eyes. “And what else would he be?”
Jack shrugged. “Evil incarnate. The physical manifestation of Satan. Beelzebub,” he listed, ticking the options off on his fingers as he did so. “Take your pick.”
“Stop being so fucking dramatic, will you?” Tessa said. “We have work to do. And you’ve had maybe twenty seconds of interaction with him, anyway. I thought reporters were meant to know better than to make snap judgements.” She started walking again, scanning the room, her eyes lingering on the shadowed faces of the people in the alcoved tables, the high rollers who had payed for private seating.
“Oh, I think my judgement is quite accurate,” Jack told her, but she wasn’t listening to him, the amber jewels on her ears glittering like sparks thrown from a horse's hooves on cobblestones. The club was incredibly warm, the press of moving bodies and low ventilation making sweat gather on Jack’s starched collar. “Tessa,” He reached out to grasp her wrist, and she flicked him off so quickly it seemed like a reflex, facing him again with an absolute lack of patience in her expression.
“You have to stop defending that bastard,” he said, earnestly, because he knew what was best for her, and she didn’t, clearly, and no one else seemed bothered to tell her.
“ You don’t get to offer your opinion on what you believe I have to do, because that opinion,” she articulated clearly, her words punctual, a pin to pop a balloon of ignorance, “holds absolutely no relevance over my actions. Are we clear?”
The song in the background faded out as the band prepared to begin another, and two men passed the couple as they argued, giving Tessa approving looks despite Jack’s presence, and he had the stupid, useless thought that they would never had dared such a thing if she had been standing in a club with Thomas Shelby, OBE, instead of Jack Fisher, reporter from somewhere, maybe. There was an angry flush across Tessa’s cheeks, and even through his frustration, he acknowledged that he couldn’t quite blame them for staring.
“He came to visit me. In my office. Dropped by for a chat.” Jack relayed in staccato syllables, the memory of the memory still making his heart pound in anger, and a fear he was unwilling to admit to. Shelby’s arrogance, his money on the table, his confidence in Tessa’s affections. Jack wanted to take him down. Someone had to take him down, somehow, in any way they could.
“He did,” Tessa said, a question but her tone flat, looking like she wanted to tell herself he was lying, but that she knew better. A smart girl. Too smart and too good to be wasted on a man like Shelby.
“He did. And do you want to know what he said?” Jack asked, and he felt rather ashamed of it, but the power he held over her, for a change, for once, for even a moment, felt good, a relieving, if undoubtedly temporary, flipping of the dynamic.
“Mm. Not particularly,” Tessa bit out, fluttering her elegant fingers at him as if to physically brush his words out of thin air.
“He said you were his to give away, and that he had decided I could have you.” Tessa’s chin jerked, almost imperceptibly. She blew a soft breath out of her mouth that he couldn’t hear over the chattering voices passing them like they were rocks in the way of a stream, and didn’t respond. She was rarely speechless. He waited for her to speak, to react, but she didn’t, just looked out over the crowd with a blank expression.
“Well?” Jack prompted, agitated. “Do you see? He’s not just dangerous, Tessa, he’s evil-,” and his words were silenced when he realized with a horrifying jolt that somehow, without him noticing, she had reached into her purse in the darkness and pulled out a .22, and was holding it under his chin, the small round barrel pressing against his throat right in the middle of the crowded dance floor, the other guests not questioning their proximity or interpreting it as anything other than an amorous embrace.
“Never talk to me about Thomas Shelby again. Ever.” She said, her beautiful voice low, her lips bared slightly in an almost-snarl that exposed her straight, white teeth. He didn’t know if he wanted to kiss her or cry. He nodded, frantically. She dropped the gun, replaced it in her little black purse, and said, “The ones in the farthest east corner are Germans. And I’m going to talk to them.”
It took Jack several seconds to find his voice again, forcing it not to waver. “How do you know?”
“I’ve developed a sixth sense,” she said, a bit sarcastically, and he suddenly remembered the terrible tale she had told him, sitting on a park bench.
“And how are you going to get them to talk to you?”
She looked at him like she thought he was an idiot, but at least not one she was a hair away from killing. Anymore. “I’m going to walk over there,” she said, like it was obvious, gesturing at her body. “That’s what the dress is meant for. You can stay here.” And he did, even though his feet were yearning to follow her, to keep her safe, to propose marriage, he wasn’t sure, but he reminded himself she would probably do a better job keeping herself safe than he could, and if he proposed, she would either laugh in his face or put a bullet in it, so he moved to the edge of the crowd and watched her approach the table alone, watched the huge bodyguard in a suit lift the crimson velvet cord separating the secluded section from the rest of the club for her the moment she graced him with a smile.
Chapter 14: Hollow
You could burn up like kinder flay
Could plug up to razor blades
Or you could just throw me away
Because I'm hollow
Two Months Later
Tessa made her way into the shop, the clicking of her heels muted on the soft wooden floor. There were a few men still lingering, placing their bets, discussing the outcomes, the odds, and several of them went silent when they saw her, staring at her like she was a sexually appealing ghost. Jack grunted and jerked his head at them from behind her to signal them to fuck off, which was more than he would ever have done two months ago, but constant experience had made him slightly more savvy. Polly was seated in her office, counting stacks of money like it was nothing, the massive safe cracked open. Jack stared so hard he didn’t even notice that John was in the room as well, leaning in the corner, and jumped when he took the toothpick out of his mouth to bark,
“An employee,” Tessa responded. “Hi, Pol.”
Polly glanced up from the pounds and gave her the quickest of smiles with a mouth that was soundlessly forming numbers. “Fifty, sixty, seventy,” Tessa could see her lips form, and she took a seat in the rickety chair across from her and let her count, lighting a cigarette. Jack stood awkwardly, obviously trying to avoid John’s eyes, which were still trained on him. Tessa sighed and exhaled her smoke, which caught in her throat as she tried to speak.
“Jack Fischer, meet John Shelby, John, meet Jack.” Jack stuck out his hand but it was left in midair as John made no move to cross the room to shake it.
“Civility really runs in the family, doesn’t it?” Jack said, because he never knew when to shut up, and John removed his cap slowly, with obviously forced nonchalance, fingering it in his hands. The brim flashed.
“Got a problem with what runs in my family?” He asked, and Jack’s mouth snapped closed, and Tessa thought Thank god.
“One twenty, one thirty, one fourty,” Polly said, aloud, her stacks of paper beginning to wobble precariously. “Hello, Tessa.”
Tessa smiled at her, and flashed a consoling look at John as well, which seemed to quiet him down a bit, the muscle working in his jaw coming to a rest.
“Things have been going well for you, I hear,” Polly said, and Tessa handed her her cigarette across the desk. She took a pull and watched Tessa pull out a new one, her lips curved and her sparkling eyes sharp. She had always reminded Tessa of a raven, a bit. Intelligent and clawed.
“They’ve been worse,” Tessa responded, flicking her lighter. Polly hummed. “I have more names.”
“Let’s hear them,” Polly said, knitting her fingers together on the desk.
“Gerard Balmer, Arnold Drucker, George Feldman. All have ties to the Central powers, and have been identified as potential members of the Perish.”
“The once-Central powers,” John interjected, and Tessa nodded.
“The once-Central powers. Let’s keep it that way.” There was a sharp knock on the doorframe, and Tessa turned to see Lucy, who was wearing a blue blouse and long gingham skirt and and expression like she would rather have seen Scotland Yard enter the room and start ramsaking it than have it be Tessa who was sitting in the chair.
“Mrs. Gray, there’s a phone call for you.”
“Who is it?” Polly asked, brusquely.
“It’s Ada Shelby, ma’am,” Lucy said, like there was another Ada that Polly might have confused her with. Polly sighed and stood, her tailored suit highlighting her lean frame. She put out the cigarette Tessa had given her in a crystal ashtray on the desk, and stepped out from behind it.
“Excuse me, Tessa, I’ll be just a moment,” she said, and Tessa responded, “Of course,” and John shouted, “Tell hello from me and Tess!” as her footsteps receded from the room. There was a rather odd silence as Jack appraised John warily, and Lucy lingered at the door behind Tessa, and all Tessa wanted to do was go home and try to sleep. She was having nightmares again, if she got any rest at all, and the shadows were starting to show under her eyes.
“So you work for us now?” Lucy said from behind her suddenly, her soft voice surprising Tessa, who turned in her chair to look at her. Lucy’s shining, dark hair was shorter than it had been at the gala, cut into a fashionable bob that framed the delicate structure of her face nicely.
“I work for the Pall Mall Gazette ,” Tessa said. “I’m a reporter.”
“You reporting on this?” Lucy asked, jerking her head at the betting shop. Tessa smiled, but not particularly kindly.
“Not if I want to keep getting paid.”
“So you are working for us.”
John was watching the exchange like a tennis match, his eyes flickering back and forth under the cap he had replaced back on his head. Jack shifted agitatedly.
“I’m working for myself,” Tessa said, shortly. “Which is something you might want to look into. Isn’t Lizzy due back from London this month?” Lucy’s eyes narrowed.
“Thomas has offered me a permanent position. Said with the company expanding, they have need for more than one secretary.”
“Thomas offers lots of women lots of different positions,” Tessa said, and Jack snorted, quickly turning it into a cough, but John laughed loudly. Tessa took the last drag of her cigarette and snubbed it out, the smoke curling from it from the ashtray into the tense air.
“Like you?” Lucy asked, and Tessa was rather impressed with her audacity, but it was overshadowed by irritation.
“No, not like me. I’m sorry, did you need something?” She asked, and Lucy gave her a once-over, which Tessa observed with her chin tilted up slightly, before stomping from the room.
“Cannot believe Tommy wants her full-time. Absolutely mental, that one.” John said, shrugging his shoulders, his expensive suit wrinkling with the motion.
“That’s probably why he wants her,” Jack said, and Tessa caught the glance he didn’t mean for her to see him send.
“Well,” Tessa said, standing. “I think that’s business done. John, it was lovely to see you, please give Polly my apologies for leaving without giving her my farewell.” John nodded, and, in a gesture that shocked her, crossed the room and gave her a brief hug.
“Sorry about Tommy,” he said, in her ear. “He doesn’t mean it.” Tessa nodded like she was grateful for his words, but all she could think was, so everyone fucking knows. Wonderful. She patted John’s cheek, gently, and then said, “Come on, Jack,” and he followed her out the door like he was her loyal pet.
That night, Tessa took Chase out for a long gallop of the miniature track that had just been built on her father’s land past the stables. Her father’s land, but her money, as the Shelby Company had been providing her with a gracious income, on top of her comparatively minuscule payments from the Gazette, and coupled with her almost complete lack of expenses, it had left her with rather a large amount of funds she had no real use for. So she donated some, because she might as well, and built a racetrack. She owned a racehorse, after all, and while she loved riding through the fields and in the ring, it wasn’t the same, wasn’t what he was bred for. He should have been a Derby champion. She loved watching his hooves flash out in front of him underneath her, loved the soreness in her legs and the adrenaline of giving him the lead and letting him run and run and run, sending dirt flying out under his powerful strides, and when she was in the saddle, high above the world, she felt like a queen on her throne. The earth was potent in her nose and Chase’s breaths were loud in the quiet twilight, the cold making him snort and her hands cold around the reins, the rest of her body drenched in sweat, warm and aching from the exertion. But it didn’t last. She wanted it to clear her mind, to occupy her thoughts and shove everything else out, but the moment they slowed, and they always, eventually, had to slow, the memories crept back in, like little monsters she could only outrun on her horse’s back at a gallop. She slid down from the saddle after walking him round the track several times to cool him down, his sides still heaving slightly. “Good boy,” she told him, patting his neck, kissing his cheek, his coat stiff under her lips. He snorted again and rustled his mane, his dainty ears pricked, the sloped profile of his head raised against the darkening sky. “Time to go home, now. I told Ada I would call her tonight,” she said, and felt odd as she did, because saying it felt odd. Home. She was always waiting for that word to ring true. She brought him back to the stables and rubbed him down, replaced the tack, gave him some hay. “I’ll let you out to the pasture after dinner, I promise,” she said, and watched his long tail swish from side to side, his large eyes watching her intelligently, like he knew what she was saying. She had always felt like he did. “It’s just you and me, baby. Just you and me,” she told him, and then she walked back up to the house, her body tired but her mind unable to quiet.
She ate dinner with her father, and let him talk politics, and hardly listened, but if he noticed he didn’t begrudge her for it. She had not wanted to talk much, recently, to anyone, even Ada, and their phone conversation was rather brief because of it. She kept herself busy, and she was very busy indeed, and forced herself to eat and speak even if she didn’t want to, forced herself to exist even though she wasn’t particularly interested in doing so. Everyone in her life kept their respectful distance, and allowed her space, and allowed her to be caught up in her own head, and it made her miss Tommy, miss the way he was able to make her feel things, anything, to make her react and respond and actually be fucking alive and not just putting on a show of it, but she had finally admitted that they were right. Jack, and her father, and probably her dead mother and brother and grandfather and everyone else in the world were insufferably right about Thomas Shelby, that the glimmers of affection he had shown her were a result of nothing more than physical attraction, that she was a doll he had played with, gotten tired of, and thrown away. So she stopped feeling and stopped missing him, too, but missing him was that last thing to go.
ahhhh sorry about the short chapters but i pinky promise it'll be worth the wait <3
Chapter 15: Save Me Some Sunshine
We're only human and I'm missing you, babe
And wherever I go, don't take my sunshine away
TWO updates for you guys today bc you deserve it <3
Arrow House was beginning to get cold at night. The maids kept fires burning, the lick of the flames often the only sound whispering through the empty corridors, and Tommy wondered sometimes why he had bothered moving out of Small Heath, where the forges sent warm blasts of air through the biting autumn air and accomplished what small hearth fires could never hope to achieve, into a house with eight bedrooms that were often empty. Johnny stayed over, usually bringing an entire rambunctious crowd in tow, which Tommy didn’t much mind. The noise reminded him of the days before the war, when the whole Shelby clan was restricted to the house and the betting shop and the Garrison, and of course those places still belonged to them, but so did so much else, now. That was why he bought the house. Because he had seen it on a drive outside of Birmingham, and he liked it, and he could. But it was true that it was cold and drafty and had eight empty bedrooms, and Tommy didn’t spend much of his time there, anyway, the staff becoming much more permanent residents than it’s owner. The leaves shivered on the large trees bordering his property, and he watched them out of the huge windows of the master suite, but he was ambivalent about the cold. It had been cold in France, when the snow leaked into the holes in his boots, his fingers numb on the grip of his rifle, limited to one pair of gloves that did little to keep out the sting of the frost so as not to restrict movement, in case they had to be prepared to open fire at any time. Stay frosty, Arthur would say, almost as a joke, and they did, trading watches throughout the bitter nights and kicking each other when one got close to falling asleep to make sure they didn’t, because they might never wake up again. That was cold. The kind of cold that was more a sensation than a temperature, just pain, which was how everything had been in the war. Less an experience than a feeling, morphing and blending and blurring into the same one, the same thing, just pain. Tommy flicked ash off of his cigarette and watched Ada’s car pulling down his long drive, and he could tell it was her driving because he knew the rhythm of her movements so well, precise and controlled. He waited until Frances came to inform him that his sister had arrived, lost in his own head, her knock at the closed door cautious. She was still unsure around him, anxious, but she needn’t be. She was neither someone he hated or loved, so she had nothing to fear from him. It was those who existed on the other ends of the spectrum that he always seemed to damage.
“I’ll be down in a moment. Would you bring us some tea?” Tommy asked, and she nodded quickly and bowed out, like if she didn’t fulfill his request the moment he spoke it, she was afraid he would level his pistol at her. He supposed the fact that it was currently slung on his holster likely did not help. His steps echoed on the wooden stairs as he descended them, the Shelby family portraits on the walls observing him with the mild judgement they always seemed to wordlessly convey. Ada was settled onto the couch closest to the fire, her expensive mink coat folded carefully over the seat beside her but her gloves still on. She hated the cold.
“Hullo, Tom,” she called, as Frances came bustling in with a tea tray. “It’s freezing in here.”
Frances glanced up at him like she expected a rebuke for her lack of control over England’s weather and the drafty house, but Tommy sat down in an armchair across from his sister with a sigh.
“Oh, that’s just me heart,” he said, and Ada chuckled, and even Frances gave a timid smile before giving a small bow and leaving the room.
“Something tells me your maid got to see a Tommy fit recently,” Ada said, pouring the tea with a steady hand and a sharp look at him.
“A Tommy fit?” he asked, and she nodded.
“That’s what John calls it when you go mental and start shouting.”
“Mm,” Tommy said, displeased, but unable to deny it. The voices had been loud, lately, growing louder, and sometimes he snapped and screamed back just to drown them out.
“Drink this,” Ada said, pushing a cup towards him, the amber liquid sloshing slightly.
“‘M alright,” Tommy said, distractedly, thinking about the telephone call he had had with Churchill earlier in the afternoon.
“Drink the fucking tea, Tom,” Ada said, pursing her lips like Polly. They were painted a dark rouge, and he noticed she didn’t wear the bright reds she used to prefer anymore.
“Prefer some whiskey,” he told her, and she said, “No.”
“Can I put some whiskey in it?”
He sighed and lifted the cup, took a sip, and it burned his tongue. Fucking tea. Whiskey would never burn your tongue, just your throat and your insides and your demons. Ada blew on hers, the steam curling off the top, because she really was the smarter sibling, observing him.
“Tessa has more names,” she said, and Tommy suppressed the vague sense of pride the news gave him.
“Is she ever going to tell me that herself?” He asked, expressionlessly, and Ada’s blue eyes travelled over his face anyway, trying to learn from it. But she wouldn’t, couldn’t, not if he didn’t want her to. And he didn’t want her to.
“She’s not going to talk to you.” There was judgement in her tone, and he cursed women and their feelings and their loyalty to each other’s feelings. He nodded and sipped his tea. “She told me what you said to that Fisher fellow.”
“Yeah, I gathered. Lots of hearsay in that sentence.”
“So you’re denying it?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Ah,” she said, leaning back on the couch cushions. “You just thought you could get away with it.”
“Will you just give me the bloody names?” Tommy asked, holding back another sigh. She blinked at him for another moment of scrutiny, then reached into the pocket of her folded coat by her side and pulled out a slip of paper, which he opened and read, her writing untidy for such a proper lady. But they hadn’t started out proper. When he looked up, she was watching him again, so he watched her back. They had staring contests when they were young, and he had always won, her toothy mouth breaking out into a smile within fifteen seconds, her eyes crinkled in giggles. She wasn’t missing any teeth, now, and she didn’t giggle, but she still caved first.
“Are you okay, Tom?” She asked, and he would really rather get shot again that sit and talk about his emotions.
“I’m fine,” he said, firmly, but she was relentless.
“The Perish hasn’t bothered us for months since you left your… message with them,” she said, evenly, like she was speaking to a skittish horse. “Perhaps we drove them away for good. It might be time to take the men off my house, and Tessa’s. And apologize to her.”
“I haven’t done anything that requires an apology,” he said, and she scoffed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“And what would one have to suffer at the hands of the great Tommy Shelby to be worthy of an apology?” She questioned, spreading her hands like the options were endless. Her fingernails were the same shade as her lipstick, burgundy like the falling leaves on the trees. “Because whatever it is, she’s endured it. We all have. But she’s not family, Tom, she doesn’t have no choice like the rest of us.”
“You don’t consider her family? Now you owe her an apology, too.”
“You don’t,” Ada said, pointedly, and he ignored her implications. He sighed, unable to hold it back any longer.
“How’s Karl?” He asked, and she tutted.
“He’s alright. I think your men have been a bad influence on him. Caught him carrying around a shoe the other day, pretending it was a gun.”
“As long as he’s pretending,” Tommy said, wishing he could pour some whiskey and settling on lighting a cigarette instead. “Any other news?”
“The American deal went through. We are now supplying direct to buyers in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Prohibition is holding firm. Five hundred crates a month, a hundred bottles each.”
“And the snow?”
“Passed through the buyers to the dealers. We’re taking the forty percent you agreed on when you visited the states.” Tommy had just returned from America with Michael, a journey he hadn’t much enjoyed.
“And the rest of the business?”
“Production is up in our factories. Steel, automobiles, everything. The new orphanage in Camden is two weeks away from finishing construction, and from what I hear, you’ve been made some offers by Mr. Churchill.”
Tommy nodded. “He has been very appreciative of our information on underground German movements. Shelby Company Limited is becoming one of the main providers of the British military.”
“Thanks to Tessa,” Ada said, looking rather smug.
“Yep. And she’s getting paid for it,” Tommy responded, bringing his smoke up to his lips. Ada sighed, and he took it as a sign that she was finally admitting defeat.
“Are we safe now, Tom?” She asked, softly, and he could see her, again, on the side of a dirt road leading up to an abandoned farmhouse in her underwear, no shoes, blood splattered on her ankle and a terrible horror in her eyes.
“I don’t know, Ada,” he said, and hated that he had to. Her eyes flickered down to her hands, and he stood, taking her small fingers in his and tugging gently. “Come ‘ere,” he told her, and she rose, slowly, let him put his arms around her and rested her head on his shoulder. He put his hand on the back of it, softly, her familiar curls tickling his palm. He felt her sigh.
Chapter 16: Heavy
I will put you down for king and for country
You can't trust a man at war with himself
Come heavy or don’t come at all
Warning for violence (again)
Tommy stood by the canal at Charlie’s yard, staring down into the murky gray water as Charlie relayed the updates on recent shipments. The sky was trying to decide if it wanted to commit to rain, making the afternoon seem later than the true hour.
“Boats and trains carrying contraband all over the fucking country, and now all over the fucking world,” Charlie summarized, flicking his ashes into the cut. Tommy watched the gray specks disappear into the gray water under the gray sky. “And they gave you an OBE for it.”
Tommy didn’t respond, just smoked and put his hand into his pocket, looking at the water, his cap shielding his face from the drizzle that had finally begun to come down. Footsteps approached from behind them, and both men turned as Johnny Dogs called out in a cheerful voice, his tone at odds with the grim weather and scene.
“Hello there, lads! Big things in tha works, eh?” He said, chirpy as a bird. Charlie snorted.
“Ask Tommy. The rest of us wouldn’t know,” he muttered, and Tommy cleared his throat.
“What do you have for me, Dogs?” He asked, and Johnny raised his hand jovially, which was holding an envelope.
“Some people been hearin’ ‘bout you, some ‘o my people. They want in on your distributive services,” he said, handing the manilla envelope to Tommy, who took it from him with the barest hint of a frown.
“We don’t do business with Irish,” Charlie said, and spit into the canal for good measure. “With you special exception, Dogs.”
“Ah, Charlie,” Tommy tutted, “we do business with everyone, these days.” He slit the letter open with a knife from his pocket, and skimmed it quickly. Charlie waited for his reaction, which he did not give.
“So what’dya say, Tommy? Going to team up with some o’ my kin?” Johnny asked him, and Tommy brought his cigarette to his mouth.
“We’ll see,” was all he said, and Charlie rolled his eyes like he could have predicted Tommy’s answer verbatim. Johnny shrugged.
“Well, you think on it, Tom, and let me know. I’ve a lovely lass waiting for me, and she’s not the patient type, ya know, so I’ll be off now, if I know what’s good for me,” he said, and Tommy snorted.
“When have you ever known what’s good for you, Dogs?” He asked, but Johnny just gave him a flimsy two-fingered salute and spun on his heel, heading into the shop.
“What’s he doing in there?” Charlie asked, craning his neck after Johnny’s retreating form. “If he’s stealing my whiskey again, I’ll have his balls-,” but as he was speaking, right before the bomb sounded, the hairs on the back of Tommy’s neck prickled like a cold breeze had blown over them, and suddenly everything felt wrong, and then the noise registered, a horrible, ground-shaking BOOM, and the shop exploded. The heat and pressure almost sent Tommy into the canal, and Charlie, who had been about to take a step, was blown backwards, his grunt of pain not making it past the ringing in Tommy’s ears as he regained his balance and started moving forwards, ignoring Charlie’s shouts from the ground as he attempted to stop him.
“Tommy! Stop! What the fuck happened, Tom?! Tommy, stop! There could be more!”
But Johnny was in there, and he had saved Tommy’s life, followed him to the farmhouse without hesitation, so Tommy kept walking, past the open doors, the billowing flames so hot it felt like they were physically pushing him back. He moved further into the shop quickly, the roar of the fire receding slightly as the fuel from the bomb ran out, now beginning to lick up the walls, setting fire to the damp wood, the foundation rumbling and metal creaking. There was a body on the floor, in the center of the wreckage, and voices somewhere around him, and everything was confused and smoky and burning hot, and as he got closer he recognized the body’s face.
“Don’t come any closer, Tom!” Johnny choked out, and there was blood and black ash all over him, everywhere, something was buried in him, sticking out of his side, and Tommy took out his gun, took another step. “They’re still here!”
His voice was wheezing with the effort it was taking him to produce it, and Tommy scanned the room, the voices shouting in German, and a shot echoed out from somewhere in the shop, and part of the roof was gone, it’s pieces covering the floor around Johnny. Tommy ducked behind a large wooden support beam, sucking in a breath that was mostly smoke, aimed blindly and shot in the direction that the bullet had sounded from, unable to identify a target, hardly able to see. Shoot again, he silently begged, shoot again so I can find you. They did, and suddenly there was the shape of a man, black through the smoke, and Tommy lunged before the man could find him, too, trying to close the distance between them. Johnny was coughing, a wet, sloppy sound that made Tommy’s gut clench, and he moved through the smoke as quickly as he could, the silhouette of the man slipping in and out of his vision, and suddenly he was on him, and Tommy got him by the throat, wrestling his gun away with his other hand, the man spitting and choking, sending a shot off through the wall that was covered in flames. The man lifted his knee into Tommy’s side, knocking the wind out of him, and as he was gasping, sent to the ground, unable to breathe, the German said, “The Perish sends our regards. We will burn you, and we will burn you to the ground,” in a tight, breathless voice, leveling his gun, but Tommy kicked and swiped his legs out from under him, sending him toppling to the ground beside him with a thud of flesh on the hard steel floor, and shot him in the chest. Then he rose, scrambling away, and he couldn’t breathe he could not breathe he couldn’t-, and his heart wouldn’t beat, there was smoke in his lungs and in his eyes and clouding the room, but he yelled, “JOHNNY!” trying to find him again, bleeding out somewhere on the ground, and he nearly tripped over the dark shape of his body. Johnny’s eyes were flickering as Tommy dropped to his knees beside him, and there was a piece of splintered wood a foot long protruding from his side.
“Johnny,” Tommy said, wanting to vomit, from the sight or the smoke he didn’t know. Tommy’s head was spinning like a top, around and around, he wanted something to hold onto.
“Jus’ wanted some whiskey, Tom,” Johnny said, his words barely legible, blood leaking slowly out of his mouth. The heat was blistering, the supporting beams of the shop beginning to crack and groan ominously. “For me an’ the lass.”
“I know, Johnny, it’s alright, we’ll get you some, we’ll get you as much as you want, but we have to get out of here first,” Tommy said, trying to figure out how to move him without causing more damage. Johnny chuckled, and it made the blood in his mouth bubble. A beam fell twenty feet from them, sending red sparks shooting through the blackening air.
“There’s no gettin’ out for me, Tommy,” he said, his eyes closing like he was at peace, like he had found peace in the burning, firey hell, his face streaked with black ash and blood. “No gettin’ out.”
And Tommy shook him and shook him, but he didn’t wake up, and Tommy’s vision was slipping in and out, going dark around the edges, darker than the smoke, and the thought about just lying down, lying next to Johnny and going up in flames, but through the haze of smoke he could hear Charlie yelling, searching for him, and a crystal memory sliced him like a knife, like he was reliving it, Tessa’s voice screaming his name, years ago, Tessa laughing, Tessa pointing at the stars and asking him their names, so he got to his unsteady feet, took one last look at his friend, and tore out of the burning building, listening to it crash around him, behind him, and feeling like it was the whole world that was coming down onto his head instead. He grabbed Charlie by his jacket as he passed him and drug him out with him, ignoring his demands of, “Where’s Johnny, Tommy? Where is he?” The smoke was trapped and burning in his lungs like ten thousand cigarettes, until they were out and away and standing under the falling sky, the clean air like a rush of water through him, the rain pattering and gentle and cool and so opposite it didn’t seem like it could be real. Tommy put his hands on his knees and sucked in oxygen, his mind spinning, like a tossed coin, and Charlie stood with his hands on his head, watching the yard burn, the rain preventing the flames from spreading to the other buildings, but the shop a blackened, crushed mess of wood and steel that stood against the sky like a metal skeleton of a great, ancient beast. There were puddles forming on the ground, and Tommy could see the sky reflected back in them, like everything was upside down, and he wanted to scream. He wanted to scream. He wanted to scream.
“The Perish are here. They’re back,” he said, instead, his voice hoarse and choking and gritty, coal rubbing against coal. “Johnny is dead, and they got away. I got one, but the rest got away,” he said, and then, again, quieter, “They got away. Fuck.”
Charlie didn’t say anything, watching the flames flicker against the gray sky, the orange glow glinting off his wide eyes, distant echoes of the booming furnaces and approaching sirens the only sound between them. Breathing felt like the fire was inside his lungs, and his chest ached, and his head throbbed, and he couldn’t take enough breaths, they weren’t doing him any good, and his eyes were open but instead of the burning shop he was seeing Johnny’s face. He straightened up, and coughed, and then said,
“I have to go.”
“What the fuck do you mean, you have to go?” Charlie snapped, tearing his eyes from the fire. “There’s two dead men in my yard, police on the way, where the fuck is it you think you’re heading off to right now?”
“Tell them whatever you want. Give them whatever they want. Say it was a gas leak, hide the German’s body, dump it in the cut and I’ll deal with it later.” Charlie looked like he might clock him with his fist. Tommy didn’t care. He turned and began walking to his parked car, ash gathering on the Bugatti’s black hood.
“And what about Johnny?”
“Let him burn. It’s what he would’ve wanted.” It was the truth, anyway. There was no caravan, and no ceremony, but it was close enough.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Tom?” Charlie yelled after him as he started the ignition, and Tommy’s fingers fluttered on the wheel and said, aloud but to himself, “What fucking isn’t?” And started driving, past Small Heath, past his own house, all the way to London, fighting with his clenching gut and fading eyes and screaming mind.
Chapter 17: Heroin
Now she's in me
And I can't let her go
And my bones are caving in
And she stole my faith again
Exhale her oxygen ‘
She burns like heroin
This chapter is for Nxrdist and Lady luck, who have been waiting so patiently for some good Tommy + Tessa time. Love to you angels, and all my wonderful readers <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He parked his car in front of her father’s house, the wheels screeching, and her car was out front, and Benson was standing by the door of the manor, smoking, dropping his cigarette in shock when he saw Tommy leap from the seat of the Bugatti, his clothes and face covered in ash.
“Where is she?” Tommy asked, and he thought he saw a flash of fear in Benson’s brown eyes, which he hated, and he hated that it was warranted.
“She’s on the track,” Benson said, after a brief hesitation that made Tommy contemplate pulling his gun on him.
“By the stables.” Benson responded, slowly, grinding his teeth a bit and making a muscle jump in his jaw. The last time Tommy had visited, the Reilly estate hadn't included a track, but that had been months ago.
“Yes,” the other man said, like he wasn’t sure where Tommy was going with his questions. Tommy walked over to him, taking his time, his hands starting to shake, like they always did after he pulled a trigger on a man, but he put them in his pockets and ignored them.
“Listen to me. You never,” he said, his voice even but very quiet, “ever let her out of your sight again. You understand?” He was in Benson’s face, and although the other man was taller, he cowered slightly.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Shelby,” he said, rebuked, and Tommy said, “Good,” and then walked down to the stables, breathing in, breathing out, the whispering voices in his mind growing louder, and louder, with every step, and they said murderer murderer murderer.
Tessa was indeed on the track, standing by Chase’s head and stroking his nose, talking to him in a low voice, like music, and Tommy stopped walking to try to hear what she was saying, but then she looked up, and looked at him, and pulled out a gun from a holster on her thigh before she recognized him.
“Tommy?” She said, sounding so confused it was like she forgot for a moment that she hated him, but she did not lower the gun. Her hair was pulled back from her face, and her jodhpurs clung to her, and he never wanted to look at anything else ever again.
“Still got that .22, eh?” He said, sounding completely normal, completely composed. He had given her the gun, months ago, when she had agreed to work with him. That was all she had ever gotten from him, a gun and a broken thumb. He wanted a cigarette but wasn’t eager to put more smoke into his lungs.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” She asked, her voice flat, carrying across the distance between them.
“Came to see you,” he told her, and he wanted to walk towards her, run towards her, loaded and leveled weapon be damned, but he stood still.
“Well, I don’t want to see you,” she said, and he couldn’t quite see her face through the descending darkness, but he didn’t want to.
“Yeah, I know,” he told her, and her soft scoff bounced off the ground like a ricocheting bullet.
“Right, my mistake. When has Tommy Shelby ever cared what anyone else wanted?” She asked, rhetorically, finally dropping the gun and turning, pulling Chase’s reins over his head so that she could lead him, probably past Tommy, up to the house, and he couldn’t let her walk past him, couldn’t let her go.
“Tessa,” he said, moving closer to her, and he thought he might even have reached out a hand, he wasn’t sure, the voices were so loud, and he saw her expression change as he came into focus, her cold apathy flickering.
“What the fuck happened to you?” She asked, and he shook his head, and she approached him warily, her movements thoughtlessly graceful, and Chase followed her, nickering a bit. She put a hand up behind her to halt him, wordlessly, and he obeyed, his nostrils flaring and his beautiful head held high. Tommy loved that horse. “Jesus Christ, Thomas,” she said, her eyes taking in his appearance, keeping herself away, out of arm’s reach, and he couldn’t see her look at him like that, like she pitied him but in a detached way, so he looked up at the sky, the clouds completely masking the stars.
“Johnny is dead,” he said, and she started.
He nodded. She gave a little gasp, a sharp inhale of breath, and said, “Tommy, I’m so sorry,” because of course she did, because even after everything he had done to her, she was still kind to him, and he was reminded again how he didn’t deserve her, not even a little bit, how he never would, reminded again and again and again. He looked at her, let himself look at her, because that, he would allow himself to do.
“What happened?” She asked, quietly, and his knees buckled very suddenly, and he found himself resting on them in the grass before the neatly groomed dirt track.
“A bomb. In Charlie’s yard,” he said, “the Perish.” And she moved closer to him, looking like it was against her own better judgement, crouching in front of him, her eyes roaming over his face.
“You’re not fit to drive, Tommy. You might need a hospital,” she said, and he laughed bitterly.
“Fuck hospitals,” he said, and spots were appearing in his vision.
“Shit,” she cursed, her face swimming in front of his eyes, and then he felt her lift his arm and put it over her shoulder, heaving him up with her small frame, was only somewhat aware of them walking, of her speaking to Benson at the front of the house, leading him inside, and then he wasn’t aware of anything at all.
When he woke, he was lying on his back on a plush couch in a handsome room, surrounded by shelves and shelves of books, a fire crackling gently under an ornate mantle positioned between massive windows that looked out into the darkness. Tessa was seated in a chair across from him, a book cracked open in her lap, but she was observing him instead of reading it. It was odd, to see her in her own house, in such a domestic setting. It occurred to him that he had spent most of his time knowing her away from her, that there were millions of things about her that he didn’t know. His lungs ached, and he sat up with a groan. Her hair was down again, brushing her elbows, her arms crossed on her lap over the book. Defensive and wary, but there, and if she was concerned she did not show it.
“How do you take your coffee?” He asked, and she blinked at him.
“Do you have a concussion?” She answered in response, her eyebrows raising slightly. He considered it for a moment.
“I might,” he said, “but there’s nothing can be done about it now.” She looked at him, like he was crazy, like she couldn’t possibly fathom what went on in his head. “Do you sing?” He asked, and she shook her head, nonplussed.
“Not to people,” she said.
He hummed, and it scratched his throat.
“What is this about, Thomas?” She asked, leaning back in the chair, it’s dark teal contrasting with the vivid red of her shining hair, her pale skin, her dark eyes. She looked like a painting of someone who couldn’t possibly be real. He wanted to tell her that, but didn’t. “Your man is dead and yet here you are, asking me questions like I’m at a fucking tarot reading.”
“And what would you tell the witch about how you take your coffee?” He asked, putting his aching head in his hands, waiting for her to speak, to say anything, for her voice to drown everything else out.
“I would tell her that that had nothing to do with the current situation,” she said, pointedly, and he scoffed. That hurt too.
“It might. You’re not the one who’s gypsy,” he told her, looking up at her again, his ears ringing slightly.
She analyzed him for another moment. “Sugar, no cream,” she said, and he nodded, like that told him everything he needed to know, everything he had ever needed to know. He knew her middle name. He knew how she took her coffee. He knew she hated him. What else was there, really?
She pulled her bottom lip between her lips and sighed. It was warm in the room, warmer than Arrow House ever seemed to be, and he wondered what the trick was. Why he could never seem to be anything but cold, no matter how he tried. He wondered if there was a heaven and he had been wrong all along, and he wondered if Johnny had made it there. Probably not. He wanted a cigarette, but everything burned, and he wanted it to stop, he wanted all of it to stop, and he pulled a little brown bottle from his coat.
“What is that?” She asked, and he didn’t tell her, because it wasn’t something he told people. It wasn’t something he did in front of people, either, but he couldn’t smoke, and he couldn’t stand the way she was looking at him, and he couldn’t stop thinking about Johnny, so he popped the cork and tipped it back, generously, letting the bitter, flowery taste coat his tongue. He sighed, and she stood, taking the bottle from his hands, putting it under her finely carved nose and sniffing. He waited for her to say something, to chastise him, but she didn’t, her face blank. When had she become this person to him, this stranger whose expressions he couldn’t read, who had universes inside her that he had never seen? The pain was fading, already, his body warming, and then he wasn’t cold, finally, he wasn’t cold. She was still holding the bottle, fiddling with it a little, and he waved his hand at her.
“Help yourself,” he said, as it flooded through his veins, a better kind of burn, so, so much better, and she hesitated for a moment, like she was tempted, then stoppered it again and put it in her pocket. She had changed, as well, into a silk dress, like she was trying to fucking kill him, under the same blue robe she had worn what felt like years ago, when he had hired her. She should have said no. She should have left the day they met. She sat down on the couch next to him, and he reminded himself that he wasn’t allowed to touch her.
“Do you believe in God?” He asked her.
“Do you believe in God?” Tommy asked her, and she pressed her lips together, his bright eyes following the motion.
“I’m not letting you get behind the wheel of a car right now, but Benson can drive you home. I’ll survive a night without him,” she said, her tone as cold as she could make it.
“Tessa,” he said, like a sigh, closing his eyes and tipping his head back. She found herself staring at him, even though she shouldn’t have, because it was so infinitely much harder being angry at him when she looked at him, his cheeks like they had been chiseled, the jaw that begged to be between her thighs, and he looked relaxed, but he had just downed half a bottle of opium, so of course he was. She couldn’t recall the last time she had seen him without his constant, insurmountable walls, the ones he only took down when it suited him, when he wanted to make her confused and unsure and suddenly questioning her own, justified anger, make her think about fucking him. And then she remembered, He said I could have you, and the rage returned, and it felt good.
“What are you doing here, Thomas?” She snapped, and his closed eyelids flickered.
“Came to see you,” he said, and she scoffed.
“Yes, you said,” she responded, keeping her voice even, not letting herself ask why, what he wanted from her, because she had given him everything she could and he had decided it didn’t much interest him, and then he didn’t speak to her for two years, and then he had thrown her away like a crumpled paper doll. He was quiet, and she watched him, the expressions passing over his face, unguarded, hypnotizing. His eyebrows knitted together, like he hated what he was seeing behind his eyes, and she felt a brief pang that she couldn’t quite suppress, no matter how she tried.
“It’s all darkness, Tessa,” he said, surprising her by speaking, surprising her even more with his words. “Everything.” His voice was soft, and low, and sent shivers down the backs of her legs with its cadence, it’s deep, slight rasp, his accent heavy like he wasn’t trying to cover it in a false layer of respectability. His eyes opened, like a geode cracking, so fucking blue that she drew in a breath, glazed like he wasn’t even looking through them, the like he could see past the ceiling he was gazing at. “Everything,” he said again, like he was pondering it, his fingers shifting slightly where they rested on his knee, “except you.”
Her heart might have dropped, but she was done listening to it, and was only taking advice from her head, and her head was still very, very angry, now even angrier. “You don’t get to say that shit to me,” she snapped at him, and he chuckled, which made her want to slap him, and herself, for enjoying the noise.
“Why not?” He said, and they were back in a gilded, golden room, spinning across a dance floor.
“I swear to fucking Christ, Thomas-,” she started, but he interrupted her unfinished threat on his life.
“So do you?”
“Do I what?” She snapped, almost yelling.
“Believe in God.”
She put her face in her hands for a moment, didn’t respond to him, felt his eyes watching her as she pulled his bottle out of her pocket, because she could not fucking deal with him, pulled the stopper out and took a tentative sip. It tasted almost floral, almost medicinal, and it coated her tounge thickly. She was about to start reprimanding him, again, undoubtedly a useless endeavor, because he never changed, probably didn’t even want to, when she realized it didn’t much matter, did it? Nothing mattered, and then she felt like she was floating, or sinking, she wasn’t sure, and she said,
“Oh, fuck,” and Tommy smiled. An actual smile, his lips plush and his teeth white, and he closed his eyes again.
“That’ll make you believe in ‘im,” he said, nodding at the bottle she was holding without opening his eyes, and she tried to nod too, but she was still floating, or sinking, so it was hard, and then she was shaking her head.
“No,” she said, and he looked at her, his head tilting lazily, everything was tilting. “No, I don’t believe in God.” He raised his eyebrows, briefly, like that didn’t surprise him, and she found herself continuing. “My mother did, but that didn’t stop her, and my brother, but it didn’t stop him either, and isn’t that supposed to be the point?” She asked. “For it to stop you.”
Tommy didn’t ask what it was meant to stop you from. He was looking up again, like he was trying to see into the heavens, to see if there was anyone up there. “Do you?” She asked him, even though she thought she probably already knew.
“No,” he said, his low voice half a scoff. “I don’t believe in a god.” She found herself moving closer to him, like he was a planet and she was a moon, and he had ash on his cheek. He looked back at her, and she froze, or she thought she did, but the opium was moving everything and it might have been moving her too. She opened the bottle again, and took another sip.
“What do you believe, then?” She asked, and he thought for a moment, and she thought he would say, “Nothing,” and she would be able to live the rest of her life knowing that he really was empty, and power hungry, and cruel. But he said,
“We’re all our own Gods, Tess,” and she wasn’t angry at him anymore. She couldn’t be. “In the Bible, it tells people not to worship false idols. But God himself is man-made.” She was looking at him, and he was so shockingly beautiful, all lines and colors, and she rather wanted to kiss him, to see how good it felt while her body buzzed and blurred, because she couldn’t remember what it was like to kiss him, really, it had been so long, all she could remember was that it had been good, and he had been good, and she wanted something good again, and then she really did jerk back, and he saw her do it, and she was afraid it would make his eyes close off again, make the walls come back up, and at any other time, they probably would have. But now, he kept speaking. “There’s a gypsy ritual. Name on a bullet. When I got back from France, I wrote ‘god’ on one, and loaded it, and put it up to my head.”
“Thomas,” she said, softly, and she wanted to reach out and touch him but was afraid he would brush her away, so she sat still.
“Wish you had met me before France,” he said, and he sighed and blinked once, his dark lashes fluttering, his eyes the color of tears. “You wouldn’t have hated me so much, then.”
“I don’t hate you, Tommy,” she told him, her voice quiet, almost a whisper, and his eyes snapped up to meet hers, and ensnared her, and he lifted his hand and held it to her face, slowly, his thumb brushing across her cheek, and he smelled like he always had but the opium made it stronger, the pounding blood in her veins made it stronger, sandalwood and smoke, and he moved closer, like he was being pulled in, like they were magnets, and she closed her eyes and he kissed her, and he tasted like mint and ash and poppies.
Also, Tessa with a thigh holster, am i right??
Chapter 18: Gently Break It
Been trying to love the safety
Wish a good man’s touch could make me feel whole again, I’m tryna be whole again
Wish I had amnesia lately
Cause a distant memory is coming so close again
I want you close again
I’m with him, it’s wilting, fake it
I’m with you, you got me shaking from head to toe
Where is my head at, though?
Caught up in this game I’m playing
Seconds away from having my cover blown
You make me an animal
Why does your danger lead to my devotion?
Feeling like I’m due for an explosion
There’s something about you
Treat me bad, because I crave you
I can’t fight back but I can take it
Treat me bad, baby I’m praying
Won’t you hold my heart
And gently break it?
juuliaa, you already know this one's for you. something tells me you guys are going to really enjoy this chapter. just a hunch.
Tommy moved on top of her, pushing her back onto the couch, and her head was swimming, like she was being deprived of oxygen or drowning in it, his weight on top of her and body pressed against hers, hard and warm, supporting himself with one arm against the armrest behind her head. She was breathing him in, his lips so soft but his breaths hard, sending heat pooling between her legs and shivers down her spine, his other hand behind her head, cradling it with a restrained strength, but she didn’t want him to be retrained, she never had, he was too much, always too much, it was already too much, and she wanted all of it, she wanted more. He slipped his tongue past her teeth, barely, and she threaded her hands into his hair like silk so that she could pull him closer, the short, buzzed portion of his skull tickling against her palm, his mouth so soft and so slick and so warm, and she arched up against him, and he moaned against her parted lips, softly. His smell and taste and body were all around her, all over her, like he was an ocean and she had jumped into him. She pressed up farther, so that she could pull her dressing gown off her shoulders, and it slipped to the ground like a puddle. He pulled back from her, yanking off his vest, his fingers making short work of the buttons, and they flashed as the vest followed her robe to the floor. And then he hovered, above her, looking down at her, for a moment, panting past his flushed lips, holding her eyes with his own, his fingers brushing her side and making her jolt, and he looked so good that she almost didn’t mind his pause, almost. But before she could complain, he ducked down again, and pressed his lips to her neck, which made her release a noise that was embarrassingly close to a whimper, and if she was sober, she might have cared, but Tommy didn’t, making an appreciative sound in his throat in response and pressing his hips against her for the friction. He pushed her dress up, and tugged her underwear down, then off, his hands warm and just barely rough, moving back up to grip her thighs with a delicious pressure as he began descending down her body.
“Tommy,” She said, protesting, but he pressed his mouth to the inside of her bare thigh, and she was shaking. “Tommy,” she said again, “Jack is-,”
“You don’t care about Jack,” he said, from between her legs, his voice rolling over her, the brush of his breath making her shiver, and he was right, because she didn’t, in that moment, care about Jack, not at all, not when his mouth was so close to her, leaving tantalizing, hot, open-mouthed kisses down her legs, and he slipped his pointer finger inside her, slowly, curling it, making her hips jerk.
“Easy,” he said, like she was a spooked horse, and she could almost feel him smirking against her, and she was unraveling before he had even put his mouth down, gripping the headrest of the couch with one hand and weaving the fingers of her other through his dark hair, and when he finally, finally pressed his mouth against her, she said, “Tommy,” but not because she was trying to get him to stop, this time, because within fifteen seconds of having his tongue flick against her, moving in tandem with his finger, she could feel the tension building, the pleasure shooting through her, and he added another, drawing out a moan, her head tilted back and eyes squeezed shut, and he shifted and moved up her body to brace himself over her again, and she missed his mouth the moment he took it away, but then he asked, in her ear,
“Can I fuck you on your father’s desk?” and she was suddenly much less upset, and she was about to respond, about to say you can do absolutely whatever you’d fucking like to me, when there was a knock on door to the study and it opened with a loud, jarring, awful creak.
“Tessa?” A shocked voice said, and there stood Jack Fisher, and behind him, poor old Vivian, who had a wrinkled hand clamped against her mouth. Tessa’s brain was whirling, spinning, Tommy’s fingers slipping hastily out of her, and she could not remember how to speak, her lips numb and her body humming, and her brain absolutely blank, and Tommy, who was staring at Jack like he wanted to shoot him, dropped his head on her shoulder and muttered, “Why does this always fucking happen,” and she thought about how, eons ago, Polly had walked in on them in his bedroom in Small Heath, and she choked on a laugh. Which was the worst thing she could have done, anything else would have been better, anything, because it lit a fire in Jack’s eyes that she had never seen before, and he crossed the room with four long, committed strides, and said,
“Get the fuck off of her.”
Tommy raised his eyebrows and rose, swaying slightly, and she wondered how much opium he had really drank, but as Jack’s knuckles cracked across his face and he hardly flinched, she thought it had probably been plenty. He pressed a hand to his jaw where Jack had hit him, working it back and forth, his dangerous eyes flashing, the room in front of Tessa blurring. She wanted to stand, too, but wasn’t sure she could manage it.
“Gentlemen, please, this is absolutely unacceptable-,” Vivian was saying, but Jack was in Tommy’s face, leaning over so their eyes were level, yelling something, she was having a hard time making out the words, and Tommy just watched him, his face blank and sharp and unintimidated. Jack lifted a finger to jab into Tommy’s chest, and Tessa wondered if Tommy had a gun, somewhere, but he just stood, like Jack was screaming at a brick wall, saying,
“What happened to ‘I’ve decided you could have her,’ huh, Shelby?” To which Tommy responded,
“I’ve changed me mind,” choosing that exact moment to wipe the back of his hand across his mouth, slowly, audaciously, and Jack lunged forward.
“Jack, stop, it’s not- he’s not-,” Tessa started, but wasn’t sure how to finish, and hearing her voice made Jack abandon his attempts to pummel some regret into Tommy, and spun on her instead.
“How could you?” He was asking her, his voice pained like she had shot him, “After everything he’s done to you, after everything you know about him? How could you?!”
But she couldn’t respond, because she didn’t have the answers, and her mind was clouded and something must have shown on her face because realization dawned on Jack’s.
“Is she fucking high right now?” He asked Tommy, who regarded him coldly, and he continued, like walking brazenly into a nest of hornets, “Is that the deal? You get her high so you can fuck her like some whore you found on the street-,” and Tessa could see the snap happen behind Tommy’s eyes, even though his expression didn’t change, saw him pulling a butterfly knife from his pocket, and she said,
“Tommy,” sharply, and he looked at her and she shook her head, hard, and he flipped it open with a snick but didn’t move, didn’t lift it, and Jack watched them with horror on his thin face, his eyes flickering back and forth between them.
“I love you, Tessa,” Jack said, his voice cracking. “I love you, and this is what you choose to do with it.”
“You don’t love me, Jack,” she said, finally managing to get words out. “You love the picture of me that you have in your mind. Paint it, hang it in your wall of memories, and move on.”
A cloud passed over his face, or a shadow, and for a moment none of them moved, Vivian watching from the doorway, Tommy tense like steel.
Then, “You’re right,” Jack said, and Tessa was relieved for a moment, just a split second, before he continued, “I was wrong about you. You’re just another Peaky Blinder whore,” and in the next moment, Tommy had bridged the space between them, moved so quickly Tessa couldn’t even process it, and pressed the blade of his knife to Jack’s throat. A few crimson drops of blood appeared, and Jack was shaking, but Tommy was still.
“If you ever,” he said, softly, staring into Jack’s face, “call her that again, I’ll cut you. And next time, I won’t stop cutting, not until you don’t have any fingers or eyes or ears left for me to take. Nod if I’m making myself clear.” Jack nodded, violently, making the knife slip across his neck. “Good,” Tommy said, like he had just finished conducting a pleasant business deal, and shoved Jack away so hard he stumbled. He looked at Tessa from across the room, like a kicked puppy, like a human broken heart, his eyes shining, and she thought she pitied him, but she wasn’t sure.
“Just leave, Jack,” she said, and he gave her one last, bleeding look, the cut on his neck and his flushed cheeks the same color. And then he turned and left the room, looking like he would have slammed the door if Vivian hadn’t been in front of it. The old maid tutted.
“Your poor father,” she said, and Tessa sighed.
Chapter 19: Ozone
I've been dreaming 'bout you in my bed
probably not what you think oops
Tessa lied on her back on her bed, next to Tommy, not touching, smoking a cigarette. His eyes were closed, like he had lived three of his nine lives in the past twenty-four hours, and she granted that maybe he had. He wasn’t asleep, his chest rising and falling too quickly, but he was quiet, and she didn’t prompt him, even though she wanted to. Her head had settled back down into its home in her skull instead of floating around above the earth in the clouds, and she was grateful for it, and she wasn’t. The room was lit only by the moon and the stars outside the large window past the floor-length curtains, the night surprisingly illuminated, or maybe her eyes had just been adjusting to the darkness as they lay together.
“Where’s your father?” he asked, his eyes still closed.
“Medical conference in Ireland,” she said, and then added, “luckily,” which he didn’t reply to, instead waiting a few seconds before he spoke again.
“So were you born there, then?” Tommy said, reaching his hand out for her cigarette, and she realized that this might be the first time in as long as she had known him that she was smoking and he wasn’t. “Your father’s Irish.”
“He’s not, really,” she said, taking the smoke back from him, looking at the pattern of veins that ran across his hand and up his arm, disappearing under the rolled sleeves of his white shirt. People said sometimes that blood runs blue before it’s exposed to oxygen, but that wasn’t actually true. Blood is always red, it just depends on how it is perceived. His eyes opened, the color of blood that didn’t exist, and looked at her. “His parents were immigrants, moved here when he was young, way back when. He’s as British as they come.”
“And you?” Tommy asked.
“I was born in Chicago.”
“Mm,” he said, and she couldn’t have guessed what he was thinking if she had ten thousand tries.
“Have you ever been?”
“No,” he cleared his throat. “Company business keeps sending me to fucking New York.”
She smiled a little. “I don’t much care for New York. Chicago is better, cleaner. Cold, though, in the wintertime. Ada would hate it.” Tommy scoffed quietly. “What company business is there in New York?” she asked, because she was part of the company now, too, which still felt odd.
“The kind that’s funding your new racetrack,” Tommy said, reaching for the cigarette again. She held it away from him, and he raised his eyebrows at her, the moonlight glancing across the planes and angles of his face in a way that was truly unfair, but she held firm.
“You’re not getting this until you tell me,” she told him, and he fluttered his eyelashes at her, his version of an eyeroll.
“I could just take it from you,” he reminded her, unhelpfully, and she set her chin defiantly.
“What business, Tommy?” She asked, and he rolled back to stare up at the ceiling with a sigh.
“Bad business,” he said, shortly.
She took another breath of her cigarette, the last one, and tapped it out. “Guns, drugs, and money, huh?”
“Yep,” his eyes were roaming around her room. “Guns, drugs, and money. And the bad business is what drives the good business, and the good business runs the world.”
“And that’s what you want? To run the world.”
He leaned over her, suddenly, and she pulled back in surprise, the smell of his cologne tickling her nose again, but he just swiped her cigarette case and lighter from her bedside table and sat back again. She was trying not to watch the way his arm flexed through his shirt as he lifted his hand to flick the lighter. She was trying, and she failed. He inhaled, like he was breathing in the purest mountain air and not smoke.
“Yeah, that’s what I want,” he said, playing with the smoke in his mouth, letting it escape from his lips and then breathing it right back in. She was not thinking about his mouth playing with her. She wasn’t. She was. She watched him. He held out another cigarette for her, and she leaned foreward so that he could light it, the flicker of the flame catching briefly in his eyes.
“Where were you born?” She asked, blowing out smoke.
He snorted. “Ask Jack Fischer,” he said, and she had no idea what he meant by it, but she told him, “I doubt he’ll ever answer a question ever again, long as it comes from me,”
And Tommy said, “I reckon so.” Which didn’t make her feel much better, but there wasn’t really anything that could. They were quiet again, and Tessa’s mind felt like a rusted old bike whose spokes wouldn’t turn, the wheels spinning and spinning but getting nowhere. She didn’t want to talk about Jack. She couldn’t get the image of his expression out of her head. She had killed a man, and she still wasn’t sure she had ever hurt one like that before.
“When is your birthday?” Like they were on a first date and she was trying to figure out his horoscope. She wondered if gypsies cared about horoscopes, and she wondered how she had managed to go so long knowing him without having any idea when his birthday even was. He took a drag before answering her, because of course he did.
“Don’t have one,” he told her, and she rolled her eyes.
“Are you truly afraid that if you tell me, I’ll find a way to use your birthday to bring your empire toppling down?”
“Not particularly afraid, no. But if I don’t tell you, then it isn’t a possibility at all.”
She snorted. “It wasn’t a possibility in the first place. If I was that handy with information, I’d have a better job.”
“You’re a reporter,” he said. “You’re meant to be good with information.”
She was forced into silence, because she didn’t have a retort for something so undeniable, and he spoke again.
“1890,” he said, somewhat reluctantly, and she did some quick mental math before correcting him.
“I meant the actual date,” she said. She had known he was older than her, but she would likely have aimed lower. There was an ageless quality about him that made the idea of him having something as universal as a birthday seem odd, somehow, like such a mortalizing concept held no sway over him. Maybe he didn’t have one, after all.
“I know,” he said, and he was so dependably difficult she was almost amused. She began speaking, unprompted, hoping that maybe it would convince him into even a tiny moment of vulnerability.
“Mine is October fourteenth. When I was young, my mother used to take me to the Municipal Pier every year, and let me pick whichever boat I wanted, and buy us passage on it. We ended up in the strangest places, just me and her, but she was never concerned. People loved to do what she told them to, because they recognized her from the pictures, and even if they didn’t, because she was so beautiful. Once we got on a boat and it never left, just floated there for three days, and so did we, stealing food from the kitchens and playing cards and hide-and-seek,” she said, speaking softly, looking out her window at the darkness beyond it, the moon cracking through it like a hole poked in the lid of a child’s bug collection to let them breathe, and she felt small. “And then she died. I hated my birthday after that, until my father gave me Chase.” She could hear his even breaths, but she didn’t turn to look at him. She was quiet for a moment, and then said, “People like to tell you things because they don’t have to fear your response to them, because you never give them one. I think that’s why you don’t respond in kind, because you don’t want to see the way that they might react.” She brushed her empty hand back and forth across her plush duvet, the soft texture comforting under her fingers. He breathed out heavily, like an admittance, like a surrender.
“On the first of December, 1914, I was shipped off to France,” he said, his deep voice low, and she wondered how many different ways he could possibly break her heart, because he seemed to keep finding new ones.
“You were deployed on your birthday?” She whispered, trying not to let the sadness creep into her tone because she knew he wouldn’t like it, and he nodded like he didn’t much care, but he no longer celebrated it, and she knew that was the reason. It was fitting, him being born in December. She couldn’t imagine a world in which his birthday was in May. The opium was fading, its lingering traces brushing her mind like the faintest touch of fingertips on skin. She looked back at Tommy, and his eyes were flickering under shut lids, and she couldn’t believe he was there, in her bed, after months, after years, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
“The Perish is coming,” he said, like that was normal too.
“You sound supremely unconcerned about that.”
He sighed, long and soft.
“I am concerned. That’s why I’m here.”
“Is that why?” she asked, before she could stop herself. He didn’t respond.
“Talk to me more,” he said, softly, and she loved watching his mouth form the words.
“What about?” She asked, echoing back what he had once said to her.
“Anything,” he told her, and sighed again, like it hurt to breathe. “Anything but death.”
“There’s an old story,” she said, taking a drag of her cigarette. “A powerful king wanted to seek out the wisest man in the world, so he formed a riddle that he believed had no answer. He asked all the philosophers in his kingdom, and none had answers that pleased him. He asked the other kings, and he asked his servants. And none of them could provide him with the knowledge that he sought. And then, one day, a beggar came to his door, and said, “My king, I have an answer for your riddle.” Tommy’s breathing was slowing, his face loosening, and he looked younger, softer. “The king was dubious, but he told the old man to speak. To tell him something that could remedy all sadness, but also all joy. And the beggar said, “This too shall pass.”
“This too shall pass,” Tommy repeated, so quietly she could hardly hear him. She put out her cigarette.
“Goodnight, Tommy,” she said.
Chapter 20: Bob Dylan
No one ever thinks of you as much as I do, not even you
When he woke the next morning, she was already gone, and he was surprised at how high the sun was in the sky, but only for a moment, before he remembered the taxing events of the previous day, the opium and the fire. His bones complained of mistreatment, his body still aching with exhaustion and the after effects of inhaling all the billowing black smoke. The sun glinted off the distant lake, the large trees bordering it losing their remaining leaves in a fleeting burst of yellows and orange and red, beautiful, but paling in comparison to Tessa’s flaming hair. Her smell clung to the sheets, and he let himself inhale, for a moment, even though it made his aching lungs protest, and the scent was like the morning sunlight streaming in through the massive windows, crisp like the morning leaves. He closed his eyes again, reluctant to rise, to continue, to keep on. He wanted to want to stay, to be able to make himself want to, to just rest, but instead he wanted to go, because there was either everything or nothing and there were never any lingering moments in between, not for him. There were so few things he could not have, now. He did not waste his time thinking about them, about the in-betweens. The only rest for him was death, so he was only dead or he was moving, and he chose to move. Every morning he woke and chose movement, without ever debating the decision, without wasting time wishing for another option. But here, in her room, for just a moment, he did. He stood up.
The house was elegant, and huge, with graceful, sloping lines. The split, curved staircase that led to the sprawling lower level was cut from marble that flowed into the floor of the foyer, and Tommy observed it appreciatively, turning down a random hallway once he reached the bottom, wandering aimlessly through the manor. Arrow House was imposing, but directly so. The Reilly estate spoke of old money, of surety and confidence in its continued privilege, something no member of the Shelby family yet possessed. Tommy allowed Leonard a grudging ounce of respect as he moved down the halls, glancing into the open doors of the rooms. Moving through the ranks of society with immigrant parents, and creating such a kingdom, was no easy feat. He finally pushed past a cracked open mahogany door at the back of the house, which led into a shockingly large parlor. Tessa was curled on a velvet-backed couch with her feet tucked under her, a book cracked open in her hand. She looked up as he entered, and her smooth lips were painted a vibrant shade of red, her dark, indecisive eyes made darker. He felt the usual possessive tug in his gut at the sight of her, torn between wanting her to have no choice but to belong to him, and for her to only belong to him because she chose to, and he tamped it down, irritated with himself for his uncharacteristic sentimentality. He sat down across from her, with his arms across the back of the armchair, and she dog-eared the page of her book and set it down.
“What’s that?” he asked, as a greeting, jerking his chin at the volume.
“The Tempest. Shakespeare,” she said, glancing down at the cover.
“Do you like it?”
“No,” she said, making a face. “I’ve read it before. Shakespeare’s comedies bore me.”
“Unfortunate opinion for someone with your middle name,” Tommy remarked. She gave a half smile. “Why are you reading it, then?”
“Reminds me of my mum,” she said, her voice rather distant. “Are you hungry? I can call Vivian and have her bring you something.”
Tommy snorted. “D’you think she’ll poison it?”
Tessa’s smile became genuine, if rueful. “It’s a distinct possibility, but otherwise you’ll have to go down to the stables and see if Chase will share his oats, because you can’t survive exclusively on cigarettes and whiskey,” she said.
“Is that a bet?” he asked, and she laughed, and he wanted to listen to her forever, her voice, her laugh, her moans. She stood, and he was reminded of how small she was. He never thought about it, coupled against the brightness of her presence. The length and color of her hair might have contributed to his skewed perception, as well, and she saw him watching her, but said nothing about it.
“I’ll go find her,” she told him, and his eyes followed her out of the room, openly appreciating her form. She was gone for a few minutes, during which he gazed idly around the room. The walls were a dark navy, pleasingly offset by white trim, the furniture the comfortable kind of expensive. It would have been easy to picture Tessa here even if he had not already witnessed it, and he thought her father had probably decorated the house with her in mind, whether he was aware of it or not. It made Tommy think briefly about the kind of place he would make for her, the home she would want to live in, and he shook his head slightly to dislodge the thought, and she returned through the large door, her expression indicating that during her brief absence, something had transpired.
“My father’s car is coming down the drive,” she said, without any preamble, her lips pressed into an anxious line. Tommy did not react, but if he had thought there was a way to get out of what was to come, he would have preferred to avoid it. “He’s not supposed to have returned until Tuesday, but…,” she trailed off, and sighed. “He’s here now.”
“Mm,” Tommy said, unsure what else there was to observe about the situation.
“Tommy,” she said, and he glanced at her. “Please behave yourself.”
“When am I not behaved?” he asked her, and she shot him an incredulous look that was cut short by the sound of a cane tapping slowly down the wooden hall. Tessa visibly winced, looking like she wished she had something to start praying to. Her father, in a long traveling coat and a top hat and a cane, looking every bit the distinguished politician, emerged from the doorway, his face scrunched slightly with the effort it took to stand upright, saying, “Tessie, whose vehicle is that in the-,” his words stopping abruptly when he spotted Tommy sitting in his chair, his eyes traveling between him and his daughter. Tommy dropped his arms from behind him and adopted a slightly less arrogant posture, clearing his throat, but that did not seem to make Leonard’s glare any less intense.
“What is he doing here?” he demanded, immediately, and Tessa, who looked like she was scrambling for a feasible excuse and coming up empty, said,
“Hello to you, too, papa,” which Tommy thought was a rather transparent stall. He met Leonard’s stare from across the room, not speaking. Tommy was wearing the same clothes he had the previous day, and they were scuffed and still streaked with dark ash, a detail that he could see Leonard’s eyes observing with distrust and distaste.
“Tessa, give us a moment,” Reilly said, his voice firm even as his hands shook where they were crossed over his cane. Tommy hadn’t known he was still capable of walking at all.
“You should be in your chair, dad,” she told him, concern on her lovely face.
“Tessa.” He said, a warning, which she didn’t heed.
“Have Vivian fetch it for you. The doctors said only under extreme circumstances-,”
“Tessa!” His voice held no residual softness. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and she cocked her head slightly, fixing him with a glare, but she turned and headed out of the room after a moment anyway, calling out, “I’ll bring it my damn self, then,” as she left. Tommy watched the interaction completely expressionlessly, waiting patiently for the inevitable. He was not threatened by an old man who couldn’t stand without assistance, despite his good taste in interior design, but he had no real desire to endure the next several minutes, either. Her father cleared his throat as he stared at Tommy through his spectacles.
“So,” he said, prompting, and Tommy just stared back, smacking his lips slightly and scratching his cheek, silent and defiant.
“I like your house,” Tommy said, eventually, when it was obvious that Leonard would take some goading, and he was eager to get the altercation over with. The older man grunted. “It must pay well, the political arena. I’ve been thinking of trying my hand at it myself, actually.” Leonard laughed, disbelievingly, but Tommy’s cold exterior did not so much as tremble.
“My god, you’re actually serious,” Reilly said, shaking his head when Tommy continued regarding him. “Who would ever vote a murderer into office, Mr. Shelby?”
“Oh, I think you’d be surprised,” Tommy said, wishing he had a cigarette. “Lots of your comrades are murderers. The only difference between us is that I have the self respect to do it with me own hands instead of sitting behind a desk and sending out orders I don’t understand the gravity of under the guise of respectability.”
Leonard did not seem to appreciate Tommy’s astute comment on the hypocrisy of his world in the slightest, which Tommy found insufferably predictable. They never did. Reilly looked like if he could walk, he would have liked to cross the room and throttle him, and Tommy was torn between amusement and annoyance and pity.
“What are you doing with my daughter?” He asked, finally, and Tommy cleared his throat and ticked his head.
“If I’m being honest with you, Mr. Reilly,” he said, and reveled in it a bit, because the satisfaction was far from pure, but it was still good, like it always was, like paying for sex, like drinking opium to sleep, “it would be easier to tell you what I’m not doing with your daughter, at this point.”
Reilly’s knuckles turned a tense white where they wrung the head of his cane, just as Tommy had predicted they would, and Tessa returned at that moment, pushing a wheelchair, and Tommy was half incredibly relieved she had missed the last few seconds of conversation and half disappointed, because he knew she would have either slapped him for his comment, or laughed, even at her father’s expense. Her gaze travelled between her father, who was so angry he was almost shaking, and Tommy, who kept his face completely blank, and the realization clicked in her mind and she shot Tommy a look that very clearly said what did I fucking tell you? He shrugged, very slightly. She said a few whispered words to her father that Tommy didn’t catch, but that seemed to convince him to finally take a seat in his chair, looking like it was only because he was losing the ability to have the option to continue standing. The moment he was seated, Tommy rose, an intentional maneuver.
“As I’m sure Tessa has informed you, there is a an organized group of German fascists who is threatening the safety of both our families. As such, and to our mutual distaste, I’m here to offer you a stronghold with a solid defensible position and ample protection.” He paused, and met Reilly’s eyes. “At my house.”
Tessa’s mouth opened, looking incredibly confused, but without even a second of deliberation, her father said, firmly, “No. Absolutely not.”
Tommy tsked. “Mr. Reilly, you do not understand the severity of your situation. Yesterday one of my men was caught in the crossfires of an explosive meant to target me. You, your daughter, and your entire estate are in immediate danger.” Tessa was clearly unhappy that he had neglected to mention any of this to her, but it was her father that he was concerned with, for the moment.
“It sounds to me,” Reilly said, stubbornly, “that the only danger is being in proximity to you.”
Tommy did not bother to retort, because that was arguably true. “Even so. You can accompany me willingly, or my men will take you to safety by force. The choice is yours.”
“‘To safety by force’”, Leonard repeated, scoffing, and Tommy allowed himself to see the irony, but that did not make his words any less legitimate. “I will not be going anywhere with you, and neither will my daughter.”
“Perhaps you should let Tessa speak for herself,” Tommy suggested, evenly, his words only provoking Leonard further, and he opened his mouth to counter, but Tessa cut him off.
“Dad,” she said sharply, the fire dancing behind her eyes in the way that Tommy loved. “He’s right. We’re all alone out here, even with the Blinders at the door, and everyone and their mother knows where we live. It’s not safe.”
“He’s not safe!” Leonard accused, pointing a finger in Tommy’s direction but staring at Tessa imploringly.
“Be that as it may, I’m your best shot at survival. Funny, isn’t it?” Tommy asked, fixing his eyes on Leonard, and Tessa was glaring daggers at him for his lack of diplomacy. “How this situation keeps reoccurring.”
Leonard was shaking his head, so hard it was almost disturbing his neatly arranged gray hair. “I will now allow it.”
Tommy felt a distant flash of pity. “She’s coming with me, Reilly,” he said, softly. Leonard turned to look at his daughter, his face ashen. Hers was set.
“Tessa?” He said, and she told him,
“If you care about me at all, you’ll put your pride aside and do this for me.”
His jaw worked back and forth, his mustache quivering. “So you’re agreeing, then? You’re going to go with him, the gangster, the murderer?”
Tessa took a deep breath, her eyes infinitely sad, deep like forest pools. “I love him, papa,” she sighed, like she was doing everything she could to keep her voice from cracking. Tommy’s heart stopped. She looked over at him, her eyebrows pulled together slightly, her lip caught between her teeth, and his heart was still forgetting it’s only purpose, couldn’t even restart, he wondered if maybe he was having an attack. “I’ll be in the car,” she told him, quietly, and she gave her father one last, pained glance, before she turned around and walked past the door and down the hall.
Chapter 21: We Move Easy
I've been waiting this whole time
To hear you tell me that you are mine
short but kind of sweet! who knew i was even capable of something resembling fluff
They didn’t speak as they drove, but Tessa was more than fine with that fact, because talking could mean talking, and she would rather have thrown herself bodily from the moving car. She was grateful for the reminder that Thomas wasn’t that kind of man, didn’t push people into discussing things they would rather avoid. In fact, knowing him, it might never be brought up again, and she hoped for it, foolishly, but it was too late in either case. It didn’t matter. He knew, now. It didn’t change anything, really, she rationalized. It had always been true, and he had probably always known, she had just never vocalized it. Tommy cleared his throat, suddenly, from the driver’s seat, startling her a bit, and she realized she had been staring so absently out the window of the car that she hadn’t even processed where they were heading.
“This is Birmingham,” she said, dimly.
“You’re very perceptive,” he told her. She huffed.
“You live in the city?”
“No,” he said, his hands moving on the wheel, and she watched them, the surety in them, the power, fine-tuned like an instrument of war, like a gun. “I have business to do and I don’t want you by yourself. I’m taking you to Ada’s.” Tessa didn’t ask why it was he didn’t want her by herself, because there could be all sorts of reasons, and it wasn’t really worth dissecting because she lit up at his words anyway. She hadn’t seen Ada for weeks, too busy torn between her dual jobs and dual lives.
“Really?” she said, giddy.
“Yep,” he said, balancing his knee on the wheel so that he could reach into his pocket and pull his cigarettes out of his dusty, ashy coat. She leaned over and grabbed the wheel for him, piloting the car around a bend in the street. And then she realized how close he was to him, and moved back, and then felt strange for moving back, and started thinking about the other night, before they had been interrupted by Jack, and realized she was blushing for some idiotic reason like she was twelve and had never even held a boy’s hand, and saw Tommy watching her, looking slightly amused behind his impassive eyes, and she went back to staring resolutely out of the window. He hadn’t been lying, though, as within ten minutes, Ada’s handsome townhome came into view. Tessa nearly flung herself out of the car. Tommy had exited as well, to open her door for her, and she had to pass by him on her way down, and it made her shiver and she was trying to figure out what was wrong with her that was making her so jumpy. She was able to cover it, that time, by pretending it was because of the cold September air. Tommy pulled a cap onto his head, and she realized it must have been in his car, because he hadn’t been wearing it the night before.
“I’ll come by and get you later,” he said, with no gauge as to when “later” might be. “I’m late for a meeting.”
“With Winston Churchill?” she asked, trying to make a joke, but he looked at her oddly and said, “Yeah.”
“Oh,” she replied, flustered, then, “well, yes, probably best not to keep him waiting.” There was an odd beat of silence between them, and then Tommy cleared his throat and said, “Alright, well-,” just as she began to say “See you later, then,” and then they both fell silent, again, and Tessa was so embarrassed she actually closed her eyes, but when she opened them after a moment, Tommy was smiling, just a bit, his plush lips lifted at the corners, his eyes shockingly blue against the drab gray sky. She fought off a sudden, unbidden impulse to kiss him, and said, “Right, I’ll tell Ada you said hello,” very quickly, and all but sprinted up to the door of the townhouse, lifting and dropping the knocker with a bit more gusto than was entirely necessary, and biting back a smile, feeling like maybe she really was twelve and had gotten to hold hands with the boy she fancied.
The door swung open just as Tommy’s car pulled back down the street with a screech of tires, but it wasn’t Ada who answered.
“Arthur,” Tessa said, surprised, and Arthur said, “Tessa,” in the same tone, and then he glanced at Tommy’s receding Bugatti, and back at Tessa, and then he suddenly remembered that she was standing outside in the crisp air without a coat, and said, “Right, well, come on in,” and backed up so that she could enter the house.
“Was that Tommy?” Arthur asked as he shut the door, and Tessa nodded, gathering her hair up in her hands and twisting it into a knot at the back of her head. “Been looking for that bastard all night. Ada’s still out searching for him, god knows where, could have at least given us a bloody call.”
“Ah,” Tessa said, because between her father and Jack, she had admittedly forgotten completely about the Shelby family’s recent bereavement, and she felt a heavy wave of guilt. Johnny had saved her life, and her father’s, and she had been too caught up in her own world to even consider grieving for him. “Well, it’s been a bit hectic for him, recently.”
“You two’re talking again, then?” Arthur asked gruffly. Tessa sighed.
“It seems so,” she said, and he patted her gently on the shoulder.
“‘S’Alright. We all try to stay mad at Tommy, never works for none of us neither.”
She smiled at him. She had a place in her heart for Arthur, although she couldn’t have said why. He reminded her a bit of her grandfather, before his mind had slipped away, rough around the edges.
“So you’re here to see our Ada?” He asked, meandering from the hallway into the parlor, his long strides slightly swayed, and she wondered if it was from drinking or shell-shock or perhaps if that was just his natural gait. She followed him, glad that the townhouse was kept at Ada’s preferred temperature of just above hellishly warm, after the cold of the outdoors.
“I’m here because Tommy decided this was the right place to leave me,” she said, tracing a finger along the familiar white walls.
“He ain’t wrong,” Arthur told her, collapsing into one of Ada’s dainty chairs and looking like he might snap it with the force. “Tommy’s put about thirty men on this house and Polly’s. Left me and John alone, though, makes you wonder where his priorities lie.”
“You would never let a bunch of Blinders peek through your windows, Arthur, and neither would John,” she said, moving to warm her hands in front of the crackling fire in the grate. Arthur nodded reluctantly.
“‘S’pose you’re right,” he said. “I trust ‘em but I don’t need ‘em to do my job for me.”
“He’ll probably want to double the watch again, after what happened,” Tessa said, and then immediately wished she hadn’t, because Arthur’s face fell like an armful of dropped kindling.
“Yeah. Poor Johnny,” he said, then looked around the room, and Tessa knew instinctively that he was searching for a bottle of whiskey. “Right under our noses. Could’ve gotten Tommy and Charlie, too, easy as that.”
Tessa’s stomach clenched uncomfortably, and suddenly she wished for some whiskey as well. But Ada drank gin, and she drank it like a lady. Some inkling of her thoughts must have shown on her face, because Arthur suddenly looked hesitant.
“Are you two, uh-,” he said awkwardly, gesturing vaguely with his hands, “you know-,”
“No!” Tessa said, much too loudly, and the whole interaction was a mess. “No, he, erm. Asked me to come stay with him.” She paused, and then retracted her words. “Well, he told me I had to come stay with him, and then he threatened my father if he didn’t do the same, in case the Perish try to come after us next.”
“Ah, Tommy always did have a way with words,” Arthur said, his lips twitching. Tessa snorted. The front door clicked as the lock was turned, and then another, and then it swung open with a creak, and Ada’s voice called,
“I can’t fucking find him, Arthur, no one has seen or heard from him since the explosion, I-,” and she appeared in the hall as she was speaking, unwrapping a fur shawl from around her neck and looking harried but as royal as always, the darkness under her eyes only making her more distinguished, somehow. “Oh,” she said, when she saw Tessa, her face morphing from concern to pleased confusion. “Hi, Tess, when did you get here?”
“Tommy dropped me off,” Tessa said, and watched as Ada’s face, so much more expressive than her brother’s, passed from relief to slight smugness.
“So he is alive. Who would’ve known. Not his family, that’s for certain, but why would he tell us where he went barking off too after diving headfirst into a fire?”
“He dove into a fire? I thought a bomb went off,” Tessa asked, perplexed.
“Bomb did go off. Caused the fire. Charlie said ‘e went running right into it, tried to pull Johnny out,” Arthur said, and Tessa sighed, and thought about how fucked she was, because she was so fucking in love with him, and said,
“Yes, that sounds like Tommy,” and the three of them shared a rather bonding moment reflecting silently over the difficulty of being close to Thomas Shelby and his absolute lack of knowledge regarding the concept of self preservation.
“Well, I need a drink,” Ada said, despite it being barely noon, and Tessa shared a quick, amused glance with Arthur over the fulfillment of their unspoken wishes.
Chapter 22: Nothing Personal
Bad omens around the eyes
I'll take your crown, I'll make it mine
As you sulk your days away
Numb yourself and think of me
I'll be the king, you'll be the filth I wash away
Nothing personal, personal, personal
I am the light, I am the truth, I am the way
Lucy Wong’s mother was a prostitute. Had been, anyway. That didn’t bother her much, anymore. It used to, when the other children would relentlessly attack her for her mother’s occupation, for her father’s unknown identity, calling her names and shoving her down in the narrow cobbled streets of the Heath. She thought her father had probably been white, but that was all she knew about him. She was the eldest of four children, two boys and two girls. Most times, when a whore got pregnant, she was expected to get rid of it. It was just assumed. Her mother hadn’t, not even when it happened again, and again, and Lucy was grateful to her, because without her she would never have been born, but she resented her, too. For her selfishness, for bringing children into such a harsh, cruel world, into a harsher, crueler life. She would die before she gave her mother any inkling of these thoughts, of course, and she had no one to share them with, anyway. Her own problems she kept eternally hidden from her siblings, from her few friends, from her many lovers. You would think that having a prostitute for a mother would make her wary of men, but it had almost the opposite effect. It taught her what men wanted, the only thing that men wanted. And if you can give someone what they want, you can control them. She learned control from a very young age. Control over her sentimental emotions, the ones that didn’t serve her. Control over her voice, so she was never interpreted as a threat. And control over men, who would otherwise have a limitless arsenal of power over her. And because of this, she had power over Jack Fsicher. She was good at getting people to tell her what she wanted to know, except for Tommy. Always except for Tommy. She had learned not to even try with him. But Jack Fishcer was not Thomas Shelby, and he was wringing his hands nervously behind his desk like he didn’t even know what he was doing it.
“Of course, it will be a bit of a risk,” he was saying, monologuing on. “And I know what it is I’m asking of you. But really, being employed by the company in the first place is much riskier, and if you consider it logically, this is a defensive maneuver. They can’t react without solidifying our claims. We become shielded by stepping into the light-,”
Lucy could tell that he had rehearsed this speech. It was unnecessary. “Mr. Fischer,” she said, softly , but he stopped talking before she was required to raise his voice. “It’s alright. I’ll help you,” she said, and he gave a rather twitchy, nervous smile.
“Yes. But we need to be smart about this. Someone has probably already told Thomas that I’m here.”
Jack’s mouth fell open in shock, like a fish on a line. “Wha- but-... really?”
“Yes. So we must come up with an excuse for our frequent meetings,” she said, smiling at him, a little, like she couldn’t believe the words she was saying. He gulped. “Do you know what I mean, Jack?”
He looked at her for a moment, and then nodded, slowly. He was an intelligent man. He was rather pleasant to look at, and seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. But the Shelby’s would eat him alive, and Lucy knew that with absolute certainty as she nodded slightly back at him.
Churchill was seated at his desk, a large hand wrapped around a puffing pipe, and he didn’t look up as Tommy walked into his office.
“Ah, Mr. Shelby,” he said, still not even glancing up from his papers. “You’ve gotten a haircut.”
Tommy had indeed gotten a haircut, but as he went every two weeks like clockwork and got the same thing done every time, it was an odd thing to comment on, and it was an odder thing to comment on without having even looked at him or the hair in question, but that was simply how Churchill operated and he had grown used to it, so he just said,
“I ‘ave,” and sat down in the chair before the desk, crossing his legs and pulling out a cigarette.
“And I was saddened to hear of a death within your family,” Churchill said, not looking at all saddened, still not even looking up, which for anyone else would have been considered exceptionally rude bordering on malicious, but made Tommy almost want to chuckle, before Johnny’s face was swimming across his vision again, bloody mouth and blackened face.
“Not within the family, but adjacent to it.”
“Well, in any case, you have my condolences,” the other man said, like those were something Tommy had been fervently seeking. Tommy nodded at him, before he remembered he was being ignored.
“How is business?”
“Business is good,” Tommy said, which was funny, because just last night he had been telling Tessa that business was bad. Bad, but profitable.
“And how is that lovely redhead from the gala? A- something? I’m quite dreadful with names,” Churchill said, like he had plucked Tessa from Tommy’s thoughts, and Tommy didn’t ask why he was asking about Tessa and not the woman that Tommy had actually taken as his date.
“Tessa,” Tommy said, taking a drag of his cigarette. “And you know something, Winston? Tessa is surprisingly good as well.”
Churchill finally looked up, so that he could smirk at him. “I’ve no doubt she is,” he said, in a knowing tone, and Tommy cleared his throat. “So what do you want, then?” Churchill asked, going back to his reading. Tommy rubbed his nose.
“I need to borrow a plane. A fighter plane.”
Winston’s sharp eyes snapped up to him over his glasses, and this time, they held.
even shorter! ah! i'm sorry! but things are Happening(tm)!
Chapter 23: If Ever I Stray
But if ever I stray from the path I follow
Take me down to the English Channel
Throw me in where the water is shallow
And then drag me on back to shore
'Cause love is free and life is cheap
And as long as I've got me a place to sleep
Some clothes on my back and some food to eat
Then I can't ask for anything more
“So,” Ada said, gazing knowingly at Tessa over the top of her shimmering crystal glass. Her first glass. Tessa had had three. “You’re speaking to him again.”
Tessa sighed and leaned her head back on the chaise lounge she was reclining on, balancing her gin on her stomach. She rather strongly disliked gin, but after three glasses, she was willing to admit that the taste had improved somewhat.
“Yes, I’m speaking to him again. He kidnapped me from my home, I hardly had a choice.”
Ada snorted gently, like she very much doubted that was the case. “And is that all you’re doing with him? Speaking?”
Tessa turned her head to glare at her. Ada was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, cross legged. “You have absolutely no tact,” she accused, avoiding the question.
“Mm hmm,” Ada said, taking a sip of her gin, like Tessa’s deflection was as good as a confession. Tessa huffed. “Well, whatever you’re doing or not doing, I’m rooting for the two of you.” She set her glass back down on the floor and stretched her slim hands out towards the fire, despite being in such close proximity to its radiating heat. Tessa gave a rather halfhearted laugh.
“You’re the only one,” she said, thinking about Jack, and her father, and Lucy, and God himself, at that point.
“And Arthur and John and Polly as well. They’ve missed you, these past few years.”
Tessa didn’t like to think about the past few years. It left a bad taste in her mouth, like the burning gin.
“Yes, well,” she said, stretching her stocking-covered toes, her heels discarded on the floor. “You can thank Tommy for that.”
Ada looked at her quizzically, like she was a doctor and Tessa was her long-suffering patient, which, in a way, Tessa supposed was rather true.
“Have you spoken to him about it?” Ada asked, casually, and Tessa frowned.
“What do you think?” she retorted, taking another drink of the gin in her lap and lifting her head slightly so that she was able to do so.
“I think you’re both idiots, frankly, and that most of this could be resolved with one easy conversation.”
Tessa sat up to stare at her. “An easy conversation? You think that this could be resolved with an easy conversation about personal emotions with Thomas Shelby?” The gin emphasized the incredulity in her voice, and Ada smiled reluctantly.
“Alright, fine, fine. Maybe not easy. But very likely necessary.” Tessa grumbled something inaudibly and crossed her arms in a defensive position, and Ada shook her head, her dark curls shimmering against the firelight, looking amused. Arthur lumbered back into the room, pointing over his shoulder towards the rest of his house with his thumb as he did so.
“Jus’ got off the phone with Pol, she’s bringing Karl back in a bit. Been looking after him with Esme.”
“Was he behaving himself?” Ada asked, and Tessa wished for a moment that she had met her when she was younger, and more wild, but from what she had seen of Karl, he had inherited only his mother’s respectable and measured side.
“Course he was. Little prince, that one,” Arthur said, looking gruffly proud of his nephew. Ada smiled slightly, her gaze on the floor. Tessa rose, only a bit unsteadily, carrying her glass, and went to sit beside her on the floor, resting her head on her floor and breathing in her familiar lavender scent, like a field in the summertime.
“I think I’m besting you, Arthur,” Tessa said, observing the small remaining amount of gin in her glass as she held it up against the light of the fire for inspection, and Arthur’s mouth turned down in a frown under his mustache like his family name was being dishonored, pulling a flask from his jacket pocket. Tessa should have known better. She grinned.
Polly did indeed arrive relatively quickly, Karl in tow, and, to Tessa’s surprise, Esme and John as well.
“Sure, everyone, come on over,” Ada mumbled, taking Karl’s hand as he babbled happily. “Don’t mind me, it’s only my house, help yourselves,” but no one but Tessa heard her, due to her close proximity, over their loud chatter. John greeted Tessa warmly, his jovial swagger and toothpick both permanent and unchanged, and Esme’s dark eyes and hair as wild as ever. Soon they were all gathered in Ada’s dining room, her sorely unprepared maids rushing to provide dinner for the unexpected guests, John and Arthur shouting at each other over their plates, Karl running through the legs of the adults with his cousins in a game of tag that Esme’s best efforts to prevent had absolutely no effect on. Tessa watched the commotion with a smile from behind a warmly buzzing veil of gin, and when Tommy walked through the door into the dining room at sometime around seven, taking his cap off and patting Karl fondly on the head as he embraced his legs, she smiled openly at him, his bright eyes shining out even across the room. They lingered on her mouth for a moment that felt strangely drawn out, somehow, as if time flexed and slowed in the space between them, but he was distracted by Arthur slapping him on the back rather drunkenly and asking him question in an unnecessarily loud voice. Tessa went back to her content contemplation, reflecting on how strange, and rather sad it was that this was the first time in several years that she could remember being truly happy, and not simply distracted. She was worried, distantly, about Jack, about the Perish, about the safety of everyone in the room, about her father, but she pushed it all aside and closed her eyes, leaning against the wall of the dining room and swirling her drink gently in her hand.
“Having fun?” A voice asked by her side, and she hummed in agreement without opening her eyes, the warm room and happy voices lulling her.
“How was your meeting?” she asked, and she could hear his cufflinks clink against his crystal glass, smell the smoke and the earthy spice.
“Productive,” Tommy said, and she could imagine his expression as he did so, and she realized she was missing out on an opportunity to look at him and see him for real instead of just in her mind, so she opened her eyes. He was looking at her intensely, and she said,
“What?” quizzically, in response to his stare, but he only shook his head slightly, which she could have predicted.
“I’m assuming ‘productive’ translates to you getting something that you wanted,” she said, taking a drink, and his eyes flickered down to her lips again, and he looked impossibly good, his angles impossibly sharp, his colors impossibly bright.
“Not everything,” he said, his voice low, sweeping her with blue like a stroke of an artist’s brush, and then gazing off into the rest of the room. Her gut clenched. “Come on. Let’s get you home before me brothers start chucking dessert at each other,” he said, and reached out his hand to pull her off the wall. Her gaze snapped back up to his, her mind popping like soap bubbles over the casual way he said home, over the way he didn’t let go of her hand. She fought to keep her voice even when she asked,
“You don’t want to stay and toss biscuits at John’s head?” And he smirked a bit over his shoulder and told her,
“There’s better things to do,” and her knees went a bit weak but he was holding her steady, his hand warm and strong, leading her past the long dining room table. Their attempts to escape unnoticed were quickly foiled by Arthur, who shouted,
“Alright then, Tommy! Atta boy!” As Ada swatted his arm and Tommy shot him a silencing look. Tessa smothered a laugh, but her shoulders shook hard enough for Tommy to shake his head in mock disapproval ahead of her, saying,
“Goodbye, Arthur!” very firmly, which only made her laugh more. She could hear Arthur yelling something about “Tom showing her who’s boss” even as they left the room and made it into Ada’s posh hallway, covered in elegantly scrolling wallpaper and shiny wooden paneling. Tessa was rather proud of herself for her ability to walk in a straight line, and she was going to comment on it to Tommy, but as she opened her mouth to speak, her turned to look at her behind his shoulder, all plush lips and sharp jaw and ridiculous cheekbones and blue blue blue eyes, and her muddled brain yanked on his hand to stop his progress down the hall before she had rationally considered it in the slightest. He didn’t ask what she was doing, just watched her with mild curiosity as she moved closer to him, and then closer, until she could see the scars on his cheek and above his eyebrow, the long, fluttering lashes, and then until she was almost against him, and he stayed still until she pressed her mouth to his, standing on her toes even in her heels. She kissed him gently, just her lips against his, but his were soft and plush and she found herself moving closer until their bodies were flush, the gin and the feeling of his mouth swirling in her head, and she opened hers for him, coaxing, dragging her nails slightly across the back of his neck. He made a very faint sound in his throat, half surprise, half pleasure, pressing her against the wall of the hallway with a muffled thump like he hadn’t even thought about doing it, but then he pulled back and said,
“We should go,” against her mouth, smooth and sliding against her own, making her stomach swoop again and her head buzz like a drag of a cigarette. She nodded, and she tried to stop, she really did, but instead she pressed her lips under his ear next to the cut of his jaw, because it was right in front of her and it was so easy and he smelled so good, and she felt his body tense, so she left another right below it. “I will pick you up and fuckin’ carry you out of here,” he told her, and she would have challenged him, would have made him do it, but there were voices in the hallway from the dining room, growing louder, so she just smiled at him and raised her eyebrows slightly, and he was looking at her with his eyes so bright and his hair so dark and an expression on his face like hunger, like he was going to eat her alive, and Ada was somewhere in Tessa’s periphery with her hands on her hips, saying, “Oi! Not in my hallway! You’ve a house, too, you know!” And Tessa was laughing and apologizing and Tommy was all but dragging her by the hand out of the townhouse and into his car.
ANOTHER happy chapter?? wow who am i (maybe it's on purpose tho oh no look at me messing with you guy's poor feelings again)
Chapter 24: Feel Good Drag / Old Wounds
Was this over before it ever began?
I fell in love with your sin, your littlest sin
They say don't open old wounds
But this is still brand new
And I've got nothing left to lose besides you
And I've already lost you once
What more could you do?
I think I could love you until the day that you die
They say not to open old wounds
But I'm going to
She walked into the foyer slowly, taking her time, her steps steady and sure despite whatever she had been drinking, and despite her heels. Gin, probably, knowing Ada. He could taste it on her tongue when she had kissed him in the hallway, sweeter than the vodka she usually chose. He watched the cascading waves of red sway slightly as she moved, and waited for her appraisal, prompting her when it was not forthcoming.
“So,” he said, following her into the house like it belonged to her instead of him, their footsteps echoing slightly in the large entrance. “What’d you think?” He jerked his chin at their surroundings, the handsome carved bannisters of the stairs and high, arched wooden doorways, the expensive rugs covering the floor.
“It’s rather cold,” she said, and he looked at her, and she broke into a smile, so beautiful it almost hurt him to look at her. “I like it. Very austere. Very you.”
“You think I’m austere, eh?” He asked her, coming up behind her and slipping his hands around her small waist, feeling like he shouldn’t be able to, shouldn’t be allowed, which just made him want to touch her more. She hummed in his arms, her body slight and warm.
“Certainly. For instance, any welcoming person would have already asked me if I wanted a drink, upon arriving at their house for the first time.”
He chuckled slightly against her ear, breathing in the smell of her hair, watching her slender fingers flicker across the backs of his hands in front of her, skimming the sleeves of his suit. “You need more to drink, do you?”
She cocked her head. “No,” she said, her voice lilting as her accent caught on the word, and she smelled like springtime. “But you do.”
“That so?” She nodded, her soft copper hair tickling his chin. “Come on, then,” he said, pressing a quick kiss to the side of her head, catching the smile it put on her face in his heart like it was a fist. He led her to his office, trying not no think about all the different ways he could fuck her in there, pulling his cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He offered her one and lit it for her as her eyes scanned the room, the blue-green-gray irises almost completely overshadowed by her black pupils, her curving lashes blinking in appreciation. She didn’t say she liked the room, but he could tell anyway. Her lips were still stained by the lipstick that he couldn’t seem to stop staring at, and they left a faint red imprint on the cigarette as she drew it out of her mouth to ask,
“What’s your favorite book?”
He lit his smoke and moved to the bar, unstopping a bottle of whiskey with the hand he wasn’t using to light it.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he told her, and she said, “Very funny.”
“The Divine Comedy”, he said, pouring his drink, and her mouth dropped open.
“You can’t be serious. That is the worst-,”
“Nicomachean Ethics, Paradise Lost,” he continued, and she put her hands over her ears.
“Please stop,” she said, fighting a smile and losing.
He grinned a little, but turned his back so that she wouldn’t see it. “I enjoy philosophy. Did you want another drink or not?”
“I do, suddenly,” she mumbled, like he had offended her in a way only alcohol could possibly remedy. He poured her one as well, and brought it to her as she sat in the chair in front of his disk, as he circled back around to sit behind it, his cock twitching a bit, insistent, but he just sat and looked at her, because she was there, in his house, and he could. She was staring down into her whiskey with a slight frown, like she was deliberating something, and when she said,
“Tommy,” in a soft, questioning voice, he downed his glass in one go, because he could hear it her tone that he would likely need to.
“Tessa,” he replied, keeping his voice flat, letting her continue but putting enough of an edge in his stare that she would be able to tell he didn’t want her to. She did anyway, beginning slowly.
“After the farmhouse…,” she said, and he sighed, blowing out smoke.
“We don’t need to talk about this,” he said, meeting her crackling eyes, and she crossed her arms in front of her, sloshing the liquid in her glass that she wasn’t drinking slightly.
“Yes, we do,” she snapped, so easily ignited, a fire you only had to breathe on to evoke flame. Tommy held back another sigh and stood, clearing his throat, to pour himself more whiskey.
“Well, I don’t want to,” he said, and she scoffed from behind him as he stood at the bar cart, but her irritation changed nothing. He didn’t need to talk, or want to, because it was over and done and talking never changed anything. Words had no sway over the past. Words were an instrument to shape the future, and if that wasn’t the purpose they were fulfilling, they were being wasted.
“Sometimes people have to do things they don’t want to,” she said, and then it was his turn to scoff, and he turned around to look at her, his whiskey refilled, bringing his cigarette back up to his mouth.
“I’m not those people.”
She glared at him, a slight flush of color rising across her smooth, pale cheeks. “You do things you don’t want to all the time, Thomas. When is the last time you killed a man?” She asked, like she knew he wouldn’t tell her, and she watched him as he worked his jaw slightly, staring back at her. “Did you want to do that?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said, her eyes narrowing, leaning back in her chair slightly, making it creak.
“What you do or don’t believe isn’t my problem.”
She was shaking her head. “I’ve seen you, after. Like their ghosts begin to follow you everywhere you go the moment you pull the trigger, like they never leave you alone. That’s how you look. Haunted.”
“Tessa,” he said, around his cigarette, “stop.” He didn’t add “if you know what’s good for you,” but it was evident in his tone, as evident as the fact that she didn’t, that she wouldn’t. She stood, so that he wasn’t staring down at her, but kept the distance between them.
“Ada gets taken, you send every man you have to go search for her. Johnny dies, and you drink half a bottle of opium.” He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to think about it, about any of it, didn’t want to talk about it, to make it all brand new. “You react. You can pretend that you don’t all you’d like, but you do. And you don’t revel in pain, and you don’t enjoy inflicting it, and you aren’t cruel.” He took a drink and opened his eyes, even though he would have preferred to not have to look at her, because she was too lovely and too wrong about him and he didn’t deserve her. You don’t even deserve to know her name, Fischer had said, and he had been right, and Tessa was wrong. “And you left,” she said, the hard edge to her voice quieting, her eyes softening, like she would forgive him, if only he could give her a reason, but if he could, he wouldn’t, couldn’t bring himself to. “For years,” she added, the unguarded hurt cutting into him, a vulnerability he doubted she would have shown without the aid of the gin. Her eyes fluttered down to the glass in her hands like she had forgotten it was there, and she took a drink, grimaced at the taste, and he watched her. “Why did you leave?” She asked, still staring down, like she couldn’t bear to meet his eyes, but then she looked up, and he chastized himself for ever assuming she wouldn’t, for thinking she was ever putting on a show like Lucy often did to try to manipulate him, that she would soften her words like Ada, that she was anything like anyone he had ever met before. She was genuine, and real, and her, and he was just the knife she still didn’t know better than to not play with.
“Couple of months ago, I put my cigarette out on a man like he was an ashtray,” Tommy said, flicking the one he was currently holding in his fingers. Tessa didn’t react, just watched him behind guarded eyes. “I’ve shot them and stabbed them and blown them up, and now I’ve more money than I could ever need because of it. If that doesn’t qualify as cruelty, it’s your moral compass that’s off north.”
“The world’s cruelty. Not yours,” she told him, and he snorted like it was funny.
“You can only take advantage of something for so long before contributing to it. Like how you can only do snow so many times for fun without not being able to have fun unless you do it.”
She stiffened, slightly, and took another drink, and so did he, even though he shouldn’t have. “I don’t do snow to have fun. And we’re not talking about me.”
“What are we talking about?” he asked, idly, watching her intensely, making it obvious there were other things he wanted to be doing other than undergoing an interrogation, but she held firm.
“We’re talking about why you left,” she said, sharply, “so that I can decide if I should forgive you for it.”
“So that you can fuck me without feeling guilty?” He asked, and she pressed her lips together like she was holding a lie inside of them, a disagreement, and he moved closer to her, still leaving several inches between them. “Is that what this is about?” He watched his words hit home, and watched her stormy eyes grow angrier for them. He lifted his hand under her chin, tilting her face upwards slightly, and he loved watching her respond, even in anger, even directed at him, loved how alive she was, how vibrant. “Or is it because you think you should feel guilty, but you don’t? Just like me.” He waited for her to pull back, but she didn’t, just watched him, “We should, but we don’t, and even if we do, it doesn’t stop us. We do it anyway.” Her chest rose as she inhaled, and she slapped his hand away.
“That’s not true,” she said, like she didn’t really believe herself, and then, “and that’s not what this is about, anyway.”
“What the fuck is it about, Tessa?” Tommy asked, his patience run out.
“It’s about why you fucking left!” She shouted, throwing her hands in the air like she couldn’t deal with him, like he was the one who was pushing the issue, who wouldn’t leave it well enough alone. He ground his teeth silently, for a moment, and he watched her and she watched him, and then he said,
“I left because I had things to do.”
“You had… things to do,” she repeated, like she thought maybe she had heard him wrong, her brow furrowed.
“Would you care to elaborate on that?”
He sighed sharply. “I had things to do, with the company.”
“And those things couldn’t have been achieved without you completely disappearing for two years?” She snapped, and he said, very matter-of-factly, “No.”
She recoiled a bit, like he had hit her, like she was too angry with him to even be able to form words.
“So you left because I was some kind of fucking liability for you?” she asked, like she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer, couldn’t fathom the betrayal, and he told her,
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
She took a step back, slightly unsteadily, and shook her head as his words landed, and then seemed to change her mind and moved forward again, raising her hand to slap him, but he was faster, and caught her wrist in his hand, cigarette still smoldering between his fingers. ‘Do you know why?” he asked her, and she wriggled her arm, trying to break his grip.
“Let go of me,” she spat, but he squeezed tighter and told her,
“No. Do you know why?” And she stopped struggling to glare at him, her eyes alight, hair like fire.
“No, I don’t fucking know why, because you never tell me shit-,”
“I was scared,” he said, and her face was a puzzle, pink mouth open in confusion, the fight in her face being replaced by blank shock. “At the farmhouse. I was fucking scared. You told me once that being afraid of nothing and being afraid of everything were the same, do you remember?” She didn’t respond, her eyes searching his face, but he didn’t expect her to. “You were wrong,” he told her, quietly, loosening his grip on her wrist, but she didn’t pull away, standing still like she was frozen. “Because I wasn’t afraid of anything, not even before France, until I met you. And it’s much worse, being scared of something. I can’t do what I do if I’m afraid. I had to keep you safe, Tessa,” he said, quietly, and he hoped that she understood, he needed her to understand. She was silent for a moment, and then another, her face unreadable, her eyes clinging to his like she was trying to see if he was lying. And then she yanked her wrist out of his hand, and said,
“That isn’t better.” Which was fucking exactly why he hadn’t wanted to talk about this, and he watched her turn and walk away from him, out of the room, and when she reached the door, she looked over her shoulder. “You’re a fucking coward,” she told him, her face set, and he looked at her, silent, and she slammed the door behind her as she left.
I KNOW you hate me rn lmao you can yell at me in the comments it's alright i deserve it
Chapter 25: Poppies
I don't need drugs when your lips are like poppies
I'm strung out on a kiss from your heroin hips
For mliz18, befham, and JungBluth, who have waited <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tessa stormed through the house, up the stairs, opening random doors. She passed a few maids and didn’t say a word to them, which was quite rude of her, but her blood was boiling and she didn’t want some poor maid to have to face her unjustified wrath. Why she was so angry, she couldn’t quite have said. A combination of the gin, and the years, and the repressed feelings that she had about and for and regarding him that she was suddenly drowning in like a tidal wave that she couldn’t swim against. It was worse, being in his house, even if it was a relatively impersonal house. He was a relatively impersonal person. She wanted to break something rather badly, but withheld the impulse, on account of the maids she was trying and failing not to offend. She opened a large dark oak door, and it led to his bedroom, and she didn’t know how she knew it was his, but she did. Because it was massive, and pristine, and had the largest amount of natural light possible. She shut the door, hard, and moved back down the hall until she found another bedroom, not his, closing and locking the door behind her. She wondered how many there were in the house, why he bothered having so many, how often they were occupied, how often his was occupied, and she leaned her head back against the closed door behind her, sighing heavily. This room was smaller, but nicely furnished, because of course it was, with what would likely have been a stunning view of the grounds out of the window that was currently gazing out into the darkness. There was a small nook in the windowsill, and Tessa crossed the room to sit in it, looking out into the night. It was difficult to see much of anything but the dark, distant outline of trees, and the sight was not engaging enough to calm Tessa’s tumbling mind. She had some snow in her pocket, but she knew that would hardly help, and she would rather have lost a toe than ask Tommy to share more of his opium, so she just sat, wishing she had more gin, or whiskey, or common sense. Eventually, after her legs became sore from being curled up in the same position and her brain felt wrung out like a dirty washcloth, she moved to the bed, but her eyes refused to close and her mind refused to quiet. I was scared, he had said, and she rolled over, kicking off the restricting duvet. We do it anyway. His low voice rang in her ears, like he was still there, like he was whispering to her, and she couldn’t decide if she wished he was or not, if she wanted to go to him or not, if she wanted to fuck him or kill him. She unlaced her dress and peeled it off her slightly sweaty body, hot despite the cold of the house, worked up and confused and close to hitting her head against the wall just to have an outlet for her frustration. She felt better without the smothering covers and the cool air on her exposed skin, but only physically, and she threaded her hands into her hair in agitation, staring up into the darkness of the ceiling. Her brain was still spinning from the alcohol, and she thought about her father and how she was meant to convince him to accompany her to the house of the man he hated most in the world, and about the Perish and what their next move might be and how they should defend themselves from it, and if Tommy had a plan, and about Johnny Dogs standing on a hill with Ada and a machine gun, and she thought about Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, until she was exhausted and sober, but still she felt like a fire that had been left burning, with no one to put it out. She began questioning what time it was, but she didn’t have a watch or any way to find out without leaving the room, and she had steadfastly decided that she was not going to leave the room, in a rather pathetic show of defiance. And then her lock snicked, quietly, and she didn’t move from where she was lying on her side, staring resolutely out of the window from her spot on the bed in her underwear, covers discarded on the floor. His footsteps were silent, because he only let people know he was coming when he wanted them to, after closing the door behind him. He had picked the lock, because of course he had, and the bed shifted slightly when he moved onto it, but Tessa refused to turn, to so much as acknowledge him, even though she wanted to yell at him for having no concept of privacy, wanted to curse and scream at him for making her feel all sorts of things she didn’t know what to do with. He was quiet, and she waited for him to speak, because she certainly wasn’t going to be the one who did.
“‘M sorry,” he said, softly, and she didn’t respond or look at him because if she did she was worried she would forgive him, again, like always, shitty apology and all. He was quiet again for a bit, and she listened to him breathe, and hated how it calmed her.
“Tess,” he said, and reached out to touch her, gently, on her bare shoulder, and that did not calm her at all, but not for reasons she wanted to admit.
“Breaking into someone’s room is a terrible way to apologize to them,” she said before she could stop herself, but she wished she had, because he moved closer to her, interpreting her response as permission, the epitome of been given an inch and taking a mile. She could feel his body behind her, now, and she was frantically trying to focus on something, anything else, because she would not sink to that level, refused to let herself be so weak. Then he shifted, and she could feel his breath on the back of her neck where it met her shoulder, sending goosebumps down her arms, and she told herself it was because the house was cold.
“I’m sorry,” he said, again. “You’re right. I’ve been a coward, and I’m sorry.” Tessa’s brain was short-circuiting, not only because of his words but because his breath ghosted over her skin when he said them and it was making their impossibility even harder to process. Tommy did not apologize, and he did not admit he was wrong, and he certainly did not admit to cowardice. She could smell the sandalwood and smoke and mint and whiskey and it went straight to her head like cocaine, like her mind couldn’t be this near to him and also form coherent thoughts simultaneously, so she stayed silent, reminding herself that he had made her miserable for the better part of two years, that he was an actual, literal gangster, that he could kill men as easily as blinking. It only partially worked. The warm hand on her shoulder trailed down to her waist, testing, and she offered no reaction, forcing herself to remain still, as his fingers fluttered across her hip like he was hardly aware of what he was doing. She overpowered a strong impulse to turn and look at him, and gave herself a mental pat on the back for it, but his touch on her side became less hesitant, and she reacted to it, only slightly, and he felt it, and she took her mental pat back, cursing herself and her traitorous body, his hand slipping down the curve of her side, from her ribcage to hipbone, and she could not possibly fathom how something like that could feel as good as it did, could make her want to arch back into him and never leave and never let him stop. He added pressure, drawing his palm and fingers against her, over her skin, catching slightly on the edge of her underwear, like he could hear her thoughts, like he owned her, like he had no doubt that he was allowed to, that she wanted him to, and the presumptive arrogance should have pissed her off, but she could hardly chastise him past the lip she was biting to restrain herself from giving him the satisfaction of a response, and he smelled so good she was taking deep breaths just to fill her lungs with it. He was solid and firm behind her, leaving a centimeter between them, but she could still feel the warmth coming off his skin, the tension in him, like he was barely restraining himself. He pressed his lips to her neck, softly, and she shivered before she could try to stop herself, her eyes closing.
“I’m angry with you.” She told him, shortly.
“‘S alright. You can take it out on me, if you’d like,” he said, against her neck, pressing his mouth down again, soft and hot, and Tessa’s breath hitched, ignoring the insistent pressure low in her stomach. His hand moved across her stomach, skimmed her breast, and came down again to brush against her inner thigh, fleetingly, leaving another kiss on her neck, this time pressing his teeth against her skin slightly.
“Thomas,” she said, trying to sound composed and disciplinary, but hearing her say his name only made him respond with a low, rumbling “hmm,” like he liked her saying it no matter what tone she used, and use his hand to grip her hip and pull her body against his, his mouth still on her neck, and Tessa was gripping the bedsheets with one hand, hoping that somehow he wouldn’t notice. He moved his lips below her ear and sucked, and she found herself tilting her head to allow him better access, which made him chuckle, very quietly, a sound that for some reason went straight down between Tessa’s legs.
“You want me to stop?” He asked her, his voice impossibly deep and lovely, like music, his lips soft against her ear, her skin lighting up with shivers, and she kept herself still, because she knew she didn’t have the control to say yes, but she was meant to be upset with him, and he couldn’t just break into her room and crawl into her bed and expect her to forgive him, just like that. She was given the distinct impression that he was able to interpret all of her inner thoughts through her silence.
“In France, before I was made Sergeant, I helped break in the new horses,” he told her, his warm breath tickling her, his hand moving lazily against her. “And I was the best at it, because the other men didn’t understand that control isn’t about power. It’s about finding what they liked.” His fingers dipped under the band of her underwear, slightly rough, entirely tempting, and she reminded herself to breathe, her chest rising and falling unevenly, and she wondered if he could hear the thumping of her heartbeat, reflected in the throbbing between her legs, and he kept speaking. “Some of them liked being touched. Some of them liked being talked to.” His hand slipped down again, lower, and a noise escaped her lips before she pressed them resolutely together. “Do you like being talked to, Tess?” he asked her, in her ear, his voice low, and her resolve cracked like a flooding dam as his fingers slid against her, Tommy making an appreciative sound at how wet she was, Tessa unable to hold back the moans he was drawing out of her with the small circles he was making with his hand.
“Can’t even look at you without needing to be inside you,” he told her, and each pass of his fingers was making her shake. “Drive me fucking insane,” which was funny, because she was the one coming apart in his arms, her breathing coming in sharp pants, trying to push back against him, but he moved away from her, took his wonderful, wonderful fingers away, which made Tessa whine. “Get up,” he told her, his voice rasping slightly. “Come on, on your knees,” and she obeyed, rather eagerly, in fact, not caring that she wasn’t supposed to have forgiven him so easily, only preoccupied with getting his hands on her again, on listening to his voice, and he said, “Good,” and slid his arm around her and lifted her up from behind and pressed her against the wall at the head of the bed, making the frame rattle. His body was tight against her, hard, all muscle and unforgiving angles, his breathing quick against her ear. He drew his fingers up her thighs, then used his hands to push them farther apart, making her slide lower against him, the pressure making his hips lift slightly against her ass. He moved back again, and she needed him to stop doing that, needed him to be closer, so much closer, needed him to fill the aching desire inside of her, and then she realized he was sliding his pants down, which she was highly supportive of, because he was wearing far too many clothes, and she cursed her inability to help remedy that fact, facing away from him like she was, gripping onto the headboard of the bed like it was a lifesaver and she was floating in the ocean. She rather felt like she was, too, her mind completely blank, her thoughts quiet, but her body demanding, screaming for him, and she was having trouble keeping the pleading from escaping from her lips. Tommy yanked his shirt off like it had done something to personally offend him, throwing it blindly across the room, his arm reaching up in front of her so that he could wrap his hand around her throat, using his leverage to press against her again, his other hand reaching down to move her underwear to the side. Tessa was distantly concerned about hyperventilation, because it was seeming like a very distinct possibility, the way that her breaths were coming in like she had run a race. His hand moved from her throat down to her breast, cupping it with a gentleness that rather surprised her, but there was nothing gentle about his teeth on her shoulder, her nails pressing into his legs through the pants he hadn’t bothered to fully remove. He shifted, suddenly, dropping his hand to grip her thigh, and everything was him, his smell and his sounds and the feeling of his hands on her body, and he was lining up against her entrance and then sinking her back down onto him, all the way, making her yelp with the sudden, glorious stretch, her thigh shaking as she tried to relax her muscles. Tommy made a comforting sound in her ear that became a groan as she wiggled experimentally against him, testing the way he filled her, her knuckles white on the headboard, her other hand braced flat against the wall. He gave her another moment, but just one, before he began moving, his strokes slow but deep. Tessa breathed through her nose a few times, and the moment she was able to make a noise that wasn’t a whimper, she said,
“You can do better than that,” but the challenge in her voice overshadowed somewhat by the moan she released immediately after finishing her sentence as Tommy almost lifted her off her braced knees with the depth of his next thrust. He hummed in agreement, but didn’t rise to her bait, toying with her, and she breathed in through her teeth at the depth he was hitting. She whined, and he gripped her hip, using it to pull her closer to him, speeding up, just a little. “So is this it?” She asked over her shoulder, holding back her sounds and asking herself what she was getting herself into. He bit her earlobe, softly, still not giving in, keeping up his leisurely pace. “The extent of the powress of the great Tommy fucking Shelby?”
She glanced behind her, at the shadowed portion of his face that she could see over her shoulder, and he was smirking, the moonlight shining off of his hair.
“You using my name in vain?” he asked, like they were taking a casual stroll through a park, and she huffed and pouted, and said, “No, and if you want me to you’ll need to try a bit harder,” when he slid his hand up to her neck again and drug her upright against him, the pressure of his fingers making her mind buzz, the stretch of him inside of her making her ache.
“I don’t need to ask you to say my name,” he said, his voice low, his hips slow, his hand around her throat, and the surety in his voice made something in her mind go off like a spark, made her tense reflexively, but she said, “Really? Because-,” and he squeezed his hand to cut her off, releasing after a moment, his other hand drifting down between her legs, circling her in time with his strokes, and she gave up on her failing technique of taunting him and resorted to begging, because she was very, very weak and she had come to accept it and she no longer cared at all. “Tommy, please,” she said, and he said, “Please what?” And she sighed and swallowed her pride and breathed in his smell and his fingers flexed slightly against her throat, right under her jaw, his other hand slipping against her, and she said, “Please go faster,” and he responded, “Oh, that’s what you wanted, eh? Could’ve just asked,” but his voice was gruff with cracking restraint, and she told him “I really hate you,” and she half meant it, but he just laughed softly and she loved the sound.
“No, you don’t,” he said, and he moved back into her without warning, the headboard shuddering, flicking his hips up in a quick, practiced motion that made her squeeze her eyes shut because of the spot it hit inside of her, and she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of the sounds it caused her to make, but she no longer had any choice in the matter, his movements making her feel like she was made of liquid, like she was going to explode, like her brain might just overload and shut off completely. “Fuck,” she said, and his hands went to her hips to change the angle, gripping hard enough to bruise, hers clenched around the polished wood of the headboard, bracing herself and riding out the waves of pleasure coursing through her.
“Better?” he asked, breathlessly, and she nodded because she couldn’t speak, eyes still closed, or maybe she did speak, maybe she said “yes,” over and over again, she didn’t know. She only knew when she started saying his name because it made him move even faster, his smooth movements hitching slightly as she clenched around him, and he said,
“Tell me again,” which her poor, overstimulated brain could not decipher, so she asked,
“Tell you what again?” In between panting breaths, and he said, “What you said to your father,” and then he was sliding into her in a way that made her knees shake so hard she could hardly remain upright on them, and she would have told him anything, in that moment, absolutely anything he wanted to hear.
“I love you,” she said, and he pressed his mouth to her neck, “I love you,” and he was drawing little circles on her clit again with his fingers, coaxing her, and her focus was slipping like an ice cube down her hot spine. “I love you, only you, It’s always been you,” she told him, “all the others, every time, all I thought about was you- Tommy- I’m-,” but her words faded into loud cries and her mind went completely blank, in absolute bliss that no amount of opium or cocaine or vodka could ever recreate, and he was still moving inside of her, his hips rolling against her, and he said, “Again,” half a question, half a command, and her body obeyed him like it was a dog and he was the master who had snapped his fingers at it, sending her toppling over the edge before she had half a chance to recover, almost painfully hard but somehow the exact opposite of pain, and she could feel his hips jerk as she squeezed around him again, hear his sharp exhale and then his low moan as he finished inside her, hot and slippery, and her shaking knees gave out and she collapsed in a rather undignified way against the wall, sucking in breaths, her ears ringing. Tommy laid back on his elbows on the bed, his bare chest rising and falling rapidly, his eyes closed, and Tessa mumbled, “Jesus Christ,” before she could stop herself, which made the ghost of a smile flit across his lips.
“It’s Thomas, actually,” he corrected her, looking, in that moment, like he had never gone to war, like he had never killed a man, like he was just a beautiful boy who rode horses and women and did it very well. Tessa reached down to smack him, half heartedly, and his eyes cracked open to look at her, amused and self-satisfied and just satisfied in general. “Alright?” he asked, and she gave movement another unsuccessful attempt that sent her legs trembling and snapped, “Yes, I’m fine, just give me a moment, would you,” and he chuckled again and she was overpowered suddenly by a wave of emotion so strong and unexpected it almost brought tears to her eyes, but it faded somewhat in the light of her afterglow. She finally managed to lie down beside him, feeling like a human puddle, and he gave her her space, lighting a cigarette, neither action surprising her at all. Tommy Shelby was not the type to participate in post-sex cuddling sessions, but he did pass her his cigarette, not even complaining when she held it hostage and refused to return it, just shrugged and pulled out another. The smoke cooled her electrified nerves and she drew it in gratefully, her mind floating peacefully.
“The fuck are you doing all the way over there?” His voice asked, pulling her thoughts back to earth with a mild shock. She raised her eyebrows at him. “Come here,” he said, and perhaps she had been wrong.
“Ask nicely,” she instructed him, but he just gave her a sweeping glance in the darkness, his irises almost an anti-color in the dark.
“You still can’t move, hmm?”
“I can move,” she said, fluttering the hand not holding the cigarette in demonstration. He looked at her pointedly, and she sighed, and said, “Fine. Not really, no.”
He regarded her for another moment, and she appreciated the way the low light caught on the sharp lines of his face, still graceful, somehow, and then he leaned over and scooped her up in his arms, ignoring her small sound of protest and depositing her halfway on top of him.
“Ah,” she said, making a face.
“What?” he asked, and she didn’t want to tell him, because he smelled so nice and his skin was so smooth and warm, but the spot she was now lying on was-,
“The bed’s soaked,” she told him, and he looked like he found it entirely amusing, but that was because he wasn’t the one lying in it.
“That’s your fault,” he told her, which was likely true, but even still, it was hardly necessary of him to point it out. She glared at him, and his lips twitched, and he gave a rather unbelievable sigh.
“Fine,” he said, and he picked her up again, which was not what she had been angling for or expecting at all and took her by surprise, and this time he stood, tossing her over his shoulder.
“Tommy,” she said, and then again, louder, as he made his way towards the door. “Tommy, I haven’t got any clothes on,” she hissed, which was not entirely true, as she was somehow still wearing her dripping underwear, but they weren’t covering much, and all she could think was the poor maids . “Where are we going?”
He hummed in agreement, like he was aware of and appreciated her statement, and smacked her lightly on her exposed ass, which made her glare at the back of his head. “Wherever we want,” he said, through his cigarette, “it’s my fucking house.” But she had a feeling he was carrying her to his bedroom, and her hunch was proven when he used his free shoulder to push open the door. He deposited her unceremoniously onto the bed, just to make her huff, and crawled over her, putting his cigarette out while he did so.
“You still upset with me?” he asked, leaning down, his mouth inches from hers, and she sighed.
“It’s not fair of you to ask me what while you’re between my legs,” she said, and he kissed her, gently, softly, and she wondered how it was possible that she should still want more of him. “No, I’m not upset with you,” she told him, and he settled down with his head on her chest, moving his arms up around her, a gesture of vulnerability she had never seen him even come close to displaying. She threaded her fingers through his hair and felt it’s silky strands slip between them like water, and he made a soft, content sound, and they were quiet together, and Tessa had the odd sensation of knowing that she would remember that moment for the rest of her life with absolute certainty, his head on her chest and her fingers combing through his hair, the night peaceful and silent past the large windows of his bedroom, like they were the only two people in the world.
there you go
Chapter 26: Doomed
So come rain on my parade
'Cause I wanna feel it
Come shove me over the edge
'Cause my head is in overdrive
Hello my lovelies I missed you!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tommy couldn’t sleep that night. He should have. He was tired, moderately, but nowhere near as tired as Tessa, even though he had tried to be gentle with her. Tried being the imperative word. What good was his restraint, really, when weighed against her asking him to fuck her faster? No good at all, it turned out. He should have predicted that. He should be sleeping, should be predicting, should be should be should be. He wasn’t. The insomnia came and went. Or it came, and then hovered in the doorway of his mind, and then walked right back into the room like it had forgotten something. So he lay awake and stared up at the ceiling, listening to Tessa’s quiet, even breathing beside him. Eventually, after several hours, he drifted off, and then he was standing on a hill. It was beautiful and green, like France, or the parts of France he had only barely seen, from in between the wooden slats of a cattle truck. Tessa walked up to him over the hill, and she was wearing a white dress and smiling. He reached for her, but the space between them felt hard and impenetrable like glass, her hair swirling and whipping around her like licking flames. Her smile faded slightly as she regarded him.
“Come here, Tommy,” she said, holding out her hand, and he wanted to, on that beautiful, sun-kissed hill of long, swaying grass, but he couldn’t. Like he was frozen. He wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t do that either, couldn’t form the words or get them out of his mouth. Her lips turned to a concerned frown.
“What are you so afraid of?” she asked him, but there was a small trickle of blood running out past her lips, then dripping out of her nose. He wanted to scream, but he was still suffocating, his voice silenced and his heart stopped, as gashes appeared on her pretty white dress, blossoming red. Then gashes opened down her wrists, and she looked down at them and then at him, blood running down her beautiful face, accusation in her eyes that were crying red, like he was the one doing it, or he should be the one stopping it, he couldn’t stop it, and then the earth was caving in, crumbling, and he was underneath it, surrounded in it, buried alive, and there were bombs going off like they were deep within the belly of the earth, with him, dirt in his mouth and his nose and his lungs, crushing him-,
He woke with a start, and someone something an enemy was touching him and he reflexively whipped his hand up to snatch it away before he even remembered where he was, he had to get to her, she was dying, he couldn’t breathe-,
“Tommy,” her voice said, and he panicked, because she was calling for him and he was stuck he was frozen he couldn’t see- and then he realized, slowly, that he couldn’t see because it was dark in the room, the moon setting in the night sky. “Tommy,” Tessa said again, very softly, “you’re hurting my hand, love,” she told him, like it didn’t bother her at all, she just thought that perhaps he might have been interested in knowing, and he immediately dropped her fist where he was squeezing it within his own with his full strength.
“Fuck,” he said, and scrambled away, as fast as he could, out of the twisted, hot sheets, out of the bed. “Fuck,” he said, again, once he was standing, pressing his palms against his eyes. She watched him silently, her eyes gleaming pinpoint of reflective light in the dark, her silhouette the darkest navy. He wanted to send her away. He wanted to send her far, far away, as far away from him as possible, back to America, where he couldn’t hurt her. He had had the right idea the last few years. He tried to calm his labored breathing, hating everything about the situation, hating knowing his weakness seeped out of him when his guard was down, when he was around her, when he was sleeping, when he was high. He needed to stay awake and celibate and sober and keep this shit out of his head, but it felt good to let his grip slip for a moment, and now he was paying for it. He always paid for it. She rubbed her hand slowly, just regarding him, and he wondered if she was afraid. If she should be more afraid of him or the Perish, and the image of her with blood dripping from her mouth was superimposed behind his eyelids, a frozen frame at the pictures. His heart was thudding in his chest from the leftover adrenaline that had shocked him awake, and he was at a complete loss for words, scrambling, trying to pick up the pieces of his mind.
“Are you alright?” His voice sounded rough, like sandpaper, and he realized with a powerful surge of shame that this was the second time she had seen him snap, as he remembered the time he had pulled a gun on her in Small Heath. He wondered if this was all they were doomed to do, repeat pattens until one of them took the fucking hint and realized they were fated to a damaging process of replication. But then he remembered the look in her eyes with the gun under her chin, the terror, and now her eyes gazed back at him through the darkness, unblinking, like a nocturnal animal.
“I’m fine, Tom.” She sat up a bit on her elbows. “But you’re not.”
He grunted dismissively, moving slowly back to the bed, trying not to scare her, mentally pleading that she wouldn’t flinch away from his approach. She didn’t. He lowered himself onto the mattress, his breathing finally returning to a normal rhythm.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, quietly.
He expected a rebuke, but instead, she just said, “Okay,” her voice even softer, almost a whisper. He closed his eyes, and behind them there was mud and darkness and pale wrists sliced by an invisible blade, so he opened them again and stood, walking to his dresser and opening the top drawer. There were little dark bottles resting on top of neatly folded clothes, and he took one, rolling it in his hand. Tessa stood as well, and padded over to him, her bare feet almost silent on the floor. She took the hand he was holding the bottle in in her own, even though it was the same one whose thumb he had almost broken again not five minutes prior.
“Don’t,” she said, her voice still low like he was a frightened colt, and he wondered if maybe she was an angel who was supposed to save him from his wicked ways, and if so, he thought her cocaine habit was slightly ironic. “We’re not going to be afraid any longer, Tommy.”
What are you so afraid of? She had asked him in the dream. The bottle’s stopper was slightly slick in his fingers, and he wasn’t sure, for a moment, which Tessa was speaking, the one who was worried for him and speaking so gently, or the one with blood running down her cheeks, and he wasn’t sure what the difference between them really was, anyway. He pulled the cork out of the bottle and lifted it to his lips, and Tessa put a hand on his arm, and it was her touch, the surety that she was there and that he could reach her and there was no invisible wall or knife or suffocating mud that made him hesitate, despite her fingers resting only feather-light on his arm. And it was her saying, “Please, Tommy. For me,” that made him halt, the scent of the opium overpowering under his nose, the dream still lingering on the edges of his consciousness, Tessa’s long, delicate fingers on the inside of his wrist. He lowered the bottle and put the cork back, looking at her. She smiled a little, encouragingly, and he wanted to tell her not to, because he knew she was thinking shit about him that just wasn’t fucking true, like that there was a shot in hell at rehabilitating him somehow, a chance for his redemption. But he couldn’t bring himself to, not when she should have run from him, long ago, should have slapped him for crushing her fist, should have lashed out over his complete lack of self control, over the danger that came along with something as simple as proximity. Instead, she slid her fingers down his wrist and interlocked them with his own, tugging slightly.
“Let’s go back to bed,” she told him, and he was reminded, inopportunely, that she was almost naked, wearing nothing but her expensive-looking brassiere and knickers, and he gave a tired, internal sigh at the constant mental battle his logic waged against impulse. He let her lead him back to the bed, and sat down on the edge wearily, resting his elbows on his knees and putting his head in his hands. He still didn’t want to touch her. He didn’t want to want to, but he did, because he never wanted the things he should. And his dream had needed very little physic interpretation, so blatant he was rather disappointed with his subconscious for not being able to construct even a slightly more complex riddle to represent his inner turmoil. Inner turmoil. He didn’t want to fucking think about it. He wanted it all to go away, and he would never let it go away, because it was him now. He didn’t exist without it. He was afraid he wouldn’t even exist without it. Tessa sat next to him and ran her fingers slowly up and down his back, her cheek against his shoulder.
“You should find someone else, Tessa,” he told her, and wished he could command her like he did everyone else, wished he could say that he would actually do it even if he could.
“Fuck off,” she told him, and pressed a kiss to his skin, which felt cold, but her lips were warm. “You don’t want me to.”
“No, I don’t fucking want you to,” he admitted, “but that’s not what matters.”
He felt rather than saw her shrug, looking out the windows of his bedroom, at the barely-lightening sky.
“It’s what matters to me,” she said, and he sighed and ran a hand down his face.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked, quietly, not able to look at her. He felt her head shake from side to side on his shoulder, her skin soft.
“Only for a moment.”
“That’s one moment too many,” he said, and his mind was saying this time. This time. Next time, what will you do? You don’t know. You can’t know.
“What were you dreaming about?” she asked, and he shook his head too, like he could brush her question off. White wrists slit vertically down. The ground beneath his feet dropping vertically down. He felt rather ill, he noticed, apathetically. He had half a mind to stand up and retrieve the bottle again, but he remained, for whatever reason, sitting with her by his side. He remained because she was by his side. Her hand moved slowly across his back, smoothly, in mindless patterns, and he focused on her movements and only that, as hard as he could, trying to rein in the black smoke horses that drove the chariot of his mind right down into hell. Vertically down. He closed his eyes and breathed in, deeply, and Tessa was silent, and by the time he opened his eyes again the sky was several shades lighter.
“Lie down, love,” she implored, softly. “It’s alright.” It’s not alright, the voices in his head told him, and they sounded like every man he had ever killed, all at once, a hive mind. “We’re safe, it’s okay.” You are not safe. They are coming for you. We are coming for you. “I’m right here.” They will take her. They will take her from you. We will take her from you. He lay down again, beside her, but he did not close his eyes, and instead watched the color creep back into the sky, wishing he was holding a gun that could shoot the night away.
Bruh I straight fuckin LOVE this song it's one of my all-time favorites, BMTH is absolutely insane live
Chapter 27: Only Angel
I must admit I thought I'd like to make you mine
As I went about my business through the warning signs
End up meeting in the hallway every single time
And there's nothing we can do about it
Told it to her brother and she told it to me
That she's gonna be angel, just you wait and see
When it turns out she's a devil in between the sheets
And there's nothing she can do about it
Once it was finally, officially morning, or close enough to it, he rose quietly, bathed and dressed. Tessa didn’t even stir, her long waves draped across the pillow under her arms. She really was shockingly beautiful, and he looked at her as he clipped on his cufflinks, and he remembered the first time he had ever seen her, through a haze of blood and pain, a lifetime ago, in the hospital. And then he realized he had been standing by his dresser, watching her sleep, for more time than it was really acceptable to stand around and watch someone without them being aware of it, so he tore his eyes from the inches of exposed, porcelain skin and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Downstairs, Francis was hurrying out of the dining room, wringing her hands and calling out behind her “And tell Sarah to remember to take that bread out of the oven!”, so concerned over the possibly burnt loaf that she almost ran headfirst into Tommy’s chest.
“I- Oh! So sorry, sir, I shouldnt’ve been watching my feet,” she said, rather quickly, and Tommy brushed it off.
“I forgive you,” he told her, selfishly wishing she was capable of at doing a better job of at least pretending not to be terrified of him. “There’s a woman upstairs, she’s to be our guest for a while. I’m sending for her things today, please see that they are sent to my room when they arrive.”
“To your room, sir?” Frances asked, briefly managing to meet his eyes in her surprise.
“That’s what I said,” Tommy told her, pulling out his cigarette case. He had dealt with relatively little maternal authority in his youth, and morality to the Shelby’s tended to fall on a rather grey spectrum anyway, but he was cognizant of the restrictive social expectations of the rest of society. Expectations he had the money to buy his way out of, and he wished good luck to anyone who desired to prevent him from doing so. If he brought women home, which was rare but not unheard of, he drove them home the next day, or had a driver take them, depending. He much preferred hotels, partially due to the expression Frances was currently wearing. He was better off not seeing the look on her face that would result from knowing how many of the nights he spent away from the house were ones in which he was kept company. But Tessa was different. He felt this should be obvious, and didn’t plan on wasting his breath to explain. He lit his cigarette.
“Of course, sir,” Frances said, clearly still a bit taken aback. “And will she be wanting breakfast?”
“Assuming you can ever manage to wake her, I’d wager she does.”
“Ought I to wake her, sir?” Frances asked, her brow furrowed, and Tommy held back a sigh, taking a drag instead.
“No. That was meant to be a joke,” he clarified in a flat tone, and mentally declaring the conversation another failed attempt on his part to convince Frances not to be so apprehensive around him. “It’s still early, let her rest. She likely needs to.”
Frances blushed deeply at that, and it took Tommy a moment to decipher why, because he had been internally reviewing the shipments that were coming in that day instead of paying much attention to what he was saying. He had really been referring to the weight Tessa was under due to the threat on her and her father’s life, and Tommy’s own interruption of her sleep the night before with his nightmare, and had actually quite forgotten that it was certain the maids had heard them fucking the previous evening. Tommy had absolutely no interest in doing anything that encouraged Tessa to keep quiet, so he hadn’t. Rather the opposite, in fact. He wanted to smirk a bit, reflecting on it, but didn’t let himself, observing Frances’ fidgeting cooly.
“Right,” she said, then, “yes, sir. Anything else I can do for you?”
Tommy regarded her, smoking. “Yeah. You can take the day off tomorrow. Go to the country, something like that.”
Her eyes widened, like she wasn’t sure how to interpret the meaning his words. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again, and Tommy waited for her to speak. Finally, she managed, “Are you upset with me, sir?” Which made him want to his his head against the wall.
“No, Frances, I’m not upset with you,” he said, slowly, painfully. “Take a day off, you deserve it.”
She eyed him warily, and he decided this was the last effort he was going to put forth for the Convince My Head Maid I Am Not Going To Murder Her In Her Sleep objective. And then she smiled, barely, like she was worried he would snatch it off her face if he saw it.
“Thank you, Mr. Shelby,” she told him, and he nodded.
“Inform me when Ms. Reilly wakes,” he instructed her, “and make her some coffee.” And then headed to his office, and resisted the strong urge to pour himself a drink.
Tessa’s eyes opened blearily, and for a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was. And then she did, and she couldn’t remember why she was there, or what had happened, and then she remembered all those things too. Fighting with her father, fighting with Tommy, fucking Tommy, waking up to his hands twitching and his eyes moving frantically under closed lids. Her body was pleasantly sore but her mind was less pleasantly full, and she wanted to take her head off her shoulders for a bit, just to have a break from her heavy thoughts. A knock sounded on the handsome oak door of Tommy’s bedroom.
“Come in,” she said, knowing it wasn’t him for the sole reason that he never knocked. She pulled the blankets up around her to cover her mostly bare form and remembered that her clothes were on the floor of another bedroom somewhere in the house, and she would need to be reacquainted with them eventually, preferably soon. A frazzled, worried looking woman entered, carrying a tray.
“Hello, miss,” she said, her tone unobtrusive. “Mr. Shelby said you would likely be hungry.”
She was hungry, now that she thought about it. “Thank you, um-,”
“Frances,” the older woman said, and Tessa bit back a smile over how fitting the name was.
“I’m Tessa,” she said. “Pleased to meet you. I apologize that our acquaintance is occuring while I am wearing mostly bedsheets.”
Frances smiled slightly as she put the tray of food down on the table by Tommy’s bed. His covers were dark blue, Tessa saw in the pale morning light, something she had missed the night before, due to the darkness. Several kinds of darkness. “That’s all right, miss,” she said. “It’s kind of you to introduce yourself at all.”
“Ah,” Tessa said, lifting an eyebrow. “Do the others not?”
If Frances had still been holding the tray, Tessa thought it would have clattered. “Oh, no, that isn’t to say-,”
Tessa waved her hand. “It’s fine, I’ve met him, I know what he’s like.” There was something like acid bubbling in her stomach, but it was probably just hunger pains. After a moment wherein Frances stood by the bed like she wasn’t sure if she was meant to speak again or leave the room, Tessa found herself asking, “Are there many of them?” Like she wanted to know, like his poor maid would tell her. Frances pressed her lips together and looked torn between sympathy and fear.
“He doesn’t share much with me, miss,” she said, which was really all Tessa needed to know, and everything she already knew. She nodded and looked down at the brushed texture of the duvet and the view of the grounds outside the window, and then realized Frances was still beside the bed.
“He... asked me to bring you coffee,” Frances told her, like she really wanted to say something else, like she was speaking in code and Tessa was meant to translate. And it was true, she realized belatedly. There was a copper cup of coffee on the tray, looking odd and out of place next to the expensive set of nearly translucently delicate china. Tessa smiled before she could stop herself and reached for it eagerly, Frances’ sharp eyes following her, her thoughts flickering across her slightly lined face like the pages of a storybook, but Tessa paid her no mind.
“There’s a bath through there,” the maid said, nodding at a closed door that was connected to the bedroom. “And a shower, too, if you prefer.”
“Thank you,” Tessa said, genuinely. “Where’s Tommy?” She wasn’t likely to go searching for him immediately, but she wanted to know, for some reason, to ensure that he was safe, that he was alright.
“In his office at the moment, ma’am,” Frances responded, adjusting her apron and then tucking her hands primly behind her back.
“Ah, alright,” Tessa said, distractedly, thinking about how she knew where his office was because she had yelled at him in there the day before, something Frances, and all the other maids, had likely overheard, and then she was considering all the other things the maids had likely overheard, and she took a large gulp of coffee to cover her embarrassment.
“If there’s nothing else?” Frances asked, her tone covered in a layer of respect Tessa doubted a bit was genuine. Tessa was probably just another girl Tommy Shelby had brought home and left for his maids to deal with, to Frances. Tessa didn’t care much. People always believed what they wanted to believe.
“No, that’s all, thank you,” Tessa said, and Frances was bowing out of the room when she remembered. “Oh, actually, er. My clothes are… not here,” she finished lamely, but Frances just nodded.
“Mary’s already washed them for you, dear. I’ll have them brought up.”
“Oh,” Tessa said, not liking the implications that held for the frequency at which such events occurred. “Thank you,” she repeated, and Frances gave her a small smile before leaving the room for good, closing the door softly behind her.
“I am very late,” Tessa said, instead of greeting him, bursting into the dining room and desperately trying to run her fingers through her damp hair. Why didn’t he own a brush? Just that useless little comb that snapped two teeth the moment she tried to pull it through the thick red strands. Men.
“Late for what?” he asked, not even looking up from his paper, the prick. His hair was dark like an oil spill in the bright morning light, impeccable, of course, his three-piece suit three shades away from being the same color.
“For my job? Where I work? At my place of employment?” she responded, trying not to be distracted by the view of the long dining room, or him, yanking her gaze from the portraits of the Shelby family on the wall.
“You can’t go to work,” he said, like it was obvious, still not looking up.
“Like hell I can’t,” she said, and he rolled his eyes, and she realized suddenly that he was wearing glasses, a round pair of spectacles that quite suited him, actually, but everything fucking did.
“There’s an army of fascists out there who want to blow you up with fucking grenades. You can’t go to work.” He was speaking to her like he did to his family when they weren’t following his orders, like she was being ignorant and refusing to listen to reason. Reason being him. He could be right, too, and it bothered her to admit it, partially because she didn’t want to give in and partially because she was hardly a fan of the idea of being bombed.
She crossed her arms. “You can’t stop me.”
Tommy sighed and put his paper down. “Tessa,” he said, like that would convince her. It almost did. “You don’t need to, anyway. It isn’t worth fucking dying over.”
“I like my job. And I can’t just stay here, cooped up like some hermitress whore.”
His plush lips twitched, ever so slightly. “Hermitress whore?”
“Yes,” she said, aggravated. “You know, like a prostitute who is paid through room and board but can never leave.”
“Oh, right. Just like that, because that is a thing that exists,” Tommy said, his expression and his voice completely neutral but his blue blue blue eyes crackling at her like electricity behind the golden rimmed frames.
“Shut up and take me to work. You can leave Benson with me if you must, I’m sure he would prefer my company to yours anyway.”
“Rude,” Tommy remarked, standing at the head of the table and taking off his glasses so that he could use them to point at her in accusation. “I can’t leave Benson with you as I sent him to deal with the other Reilly, but I’ll have Finn put some men on the Pall Mall building.”
Tessa smiled and walked closer to him, dragging her fingers idly on the smooth wooden table as she did, his eyes following the motion. “So you’ll let me go?”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “For today, yes. I’ve got business in the city so you won’t be much safer here anyway. It’s better to move about, not stay in one place for too long.” Tessa approached until she was standing in front of him, and then regarded him critically. He had known that she was going to ask before she had, and she wasn’t sure how she knew that, but she did, which meant he had decided to let her go before she had asked as well. She sincerely doubted she had caused him to change his mind once it was already made up, and thought if she was anyone else, he probably would have responded to the threat on her life by just throwing her in a storm cellar until it was all over. She took another step closer to him, until her heels were almost touching the tips of his shiny dress shoes.
“Has anyone ever commented on how spoiled you are?” he asked, his voice a low rumble, his head cocked just two degrees to the side, but his words fell short of sincerity as he reached out to put a hand on her hip, his fingers flexing slightly. Her smile grew, and she tilted her head up to look him in the face.
“No,” she said, flippantly. “Never. I suppose that points to more spoiling being required.”
“Is that so?” he asked, running the back of his other hand up her arm, slowly, the whisper of his touch making her shiver.
“Mm hmm,” she said, because if she was being honest, she had forgotten what they had been talking about, breathing in his smell and forcing her flickering fingers not to jump up to his face to trace the line of his jaw, his cheeks, his lips. His hand rested under her chin, his fingers warm, the scent of smoke lingering on them.
“Do not get yourself blown up for some shit newspaper,” he said, and she held back her smirk. She could see the fractals in his neon eyes like the reflections of light on the bottom of a pool. He looked at her curiously, all his intelligence and concern and intensity directed at her, and it felt like being under a microscope, made the blood thrum in her veins like it was filled with cocaine. “Do you even want to be a reporter?”
“Are you going to kiss me or not?” she asked, instead of answering, because she didn’t, really, but it was close enough, good enough for now, and she had been staring at his mouth while he was talking and it was getting to the point where if he didn’t do it, she would, and his hand slipped behind her head and his fingers threaded into her still-damp hair as he did, his lips like drugs.
happy thanksgiving, love to my lil fireflies
Chapter 28: Dangerous, Dangerous, Dangerous Animals
They say you are dangerous, but I don't care
I'm going to pretend that I'm not scared
If this only ends in tears
Then I won't say goodbye
'Cause I couldn't care less
If they call us reckless
Until they are breathless
We're made to love, but you're dangerous, to both of us
a REAL chapter this time because i am briefly escaping the clutches of all my various responsibilities. this one is for oceaneyes as a belated birthday present, because you deserve all the celebration in the world <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The day was overcast, but in a noncommittal sort of way, like the sky didn’t want to bother with actual rain, not even a drizzle, was content to just be dull and grey like a tarnished kitchen pan. Tessa didn’t mind the dreary weather much, but she did mind the knowledge that she was soon going to have to encounter Jack again for the first time after the Tommy/Opium fiasco, and Tommy was, for once, not helping distract her from the thought, clearly lost in his own head as he navigated mindlessly through the streets of the city, the interior of the Bugatti smelling like his cigarettes and aftershave. He remained silent for the duration of the drive, and Tessa didn’t prompt him, her own mind plenty occupied, until he pulled to a stop outside the front of the large stone building. His eyes scanned it like he expected it to topple at any moment.
“Tommy,” she said, as comfortingly as she could. “It’s fine.”
“Mm,” was all he responded with, still eyeing the imposing, high rising outline. He reached into his coat, pulled out his silver cigarette case and flicked it open, selecting one with nimble fingers and brushing it across his lips. Tessa slipped her lighter out of the pocket of her dress and reached over the front seat to light it for him, watching him inhale to start the embers burning.
“I have to go,” she said, “Sutherland will have a fit.”
He nodded, almost imperceptibly, but she couldn’t bring herself to move, still looking at him even though his eyes were fixed through the windshield, the monochrome, bustling London scene and the paleness of his skin igniting the viciously blue shade of his irises, his profile sharper even than the color of his eyes, sloping nose and neck offset by the cut of his jaw and cheeks. She didn’t want to be a reporter. She wanted her only occupation to be sitting and staring at him all day, but that was a fanciful idea, albeit a pleasing one. She leaned forward again and slipped his cigarette out from where he was holding it between two fingers, stole it for a drag, let it burn slightly in the back of her throat and held the smoke in her lungs for a moment, before breathing it out and placing a soft kiss on his cheek, which was smooth from having just been shaved. She tore her eyes from him and moved back, grabbing her small black bag from beside her on the seat and opening the door to the car.
“Tess,” he said, and it occurred to her that he never shortened anyone’s name but hers, which gave her a fluttery sort of feeling in her stomach. He looked at her, finally, like there were words he wanted to say but had never learned, and after a pause, told her, “Someone will be here to get you at the end of the day.”
She wanted to ask if it would be him, but his tone implied that it wouldn’t, so she just nodded.
“Goodbye, love,” she said, and he just watched her, his face closed, and she wondered what he had been thinking about during the drive that had made his walls reappear. She slid out of the shiny black car, her heels snapping down to the cobbles, and walked to the steps of the building, resisting the urge to look back over her shoulder because she knew somehow that he was still there, watching her go, that he would not leave until he saw she was safely inside the building. Maybe he was a murderer, a gangster, but it could never be said that he didn’t stand by his own convictions. The interior of the building was cool and dark when she pulled open the heavy door, but voices echoed down and bounced off the large hall, blending with the clicking of her heels and the footsteps of other employees, some of whom offered her slight smiles or greetings as she passed. The secretary at the front desk, Mary, who had placed the wager with Sutherland over Jack’s ability to ask her on a date, which felt like eons ago, did not, glaring at Tessa over the papers she was holding. Tessa just looked back at her as she passed, irked by the intrusive expression but unbothered by the judgement it held. If prim little Mary had a chance to sleep with a man like Thomas Shelby, she would jump on the opportunity as well, and Tessa was irritated over the false pretense and the flimsy defense of Jack’s honor or social propriety or whatever other delicate sensibility she felt Tessa had offended somehow. Tommy was right. The mentality of the “upper class” was so inexorably tied to hypocrisy they might as well be synonymous. She continued down the hall into the huge, open room filled with reporter’s stations, one of which she had recently been allotted as her own, which included an upgraded amount of desk space and less foot traffic constantly rushing past her to Sutherland’s office. She sat in her hard chair and began arranging her notes on the most recent article that had been assigned, ignoring Mary’s continued glances at her from across the room, and got to work.
Alfie Solomons was late. Perhaps he was worried that if he showed, Tommy would shoot him on sight, which would still not really be out of pocket, considering that he had royally fucked Tommy in his last interaction with the Germans. Their first encounter after that night had been tense to the point of both of them rather blatantly holding their fingers on the triggers of their respective weapons, but despite the vast differences in the ways in which they chose to do so, they both agreed that conducting business was still the bottom line, and any personal contention must be put aside for its sake. Tommy understood, but he resented it, and would not go far enough as to sympathize. Solomons was a nearly irreplaceable contributor to Tommy’s export, or his illegal export, at least, and without his partnership, Tommy would lose a significant source of income, income that he was attempting to use to fund his bids for legitimacy. When Tommy thought too hard about what had transpired at the farmhouse and was tempted to cut ties with Solomons completely, he went out and bought something absolutely, ridiculously expensive with the money he was making from their joint venture, fifty year old whiskey or three dozen roses for Polly, just to remind himself of why he was still enduring the spikes of rage that arose whenever he considered the betrayal. He heard rather than saw Solomons when he finally approached, his distinguishable gait slightly lopsided without the use of his cane. His wide shoulders were covered in an unusually cut black coat, which flapped behind him in the breeze, but everything about Alfie was at least moderately unusual. The metallic tang coming from the water of the Thames was sharp in Tommy’s nose, and he blew the next drag of his cigarette out through it to clear it.
“Morning, Alfie,” he said, keeping his tone neutral if not pleasant, as if Alfie could give a fuck what Tommy’s opinions of him were.
“Eh,” Alfie grunted, crossing his hands in front of him and coming to a stop in front of Tommy, staring at him instead of out over the river like most men would. People passed around them on the busy bank, hardly sparing them a glance, and part of Tommy grudgingly appreciated the anonymity. He wasn’t very fond of London, but it was a nice change to be able to go out in public without being recognized by half of the population. Everywhere he went in Birmingham outside of his own house, he felt like he was approached or very intentionally not approached by every member of the public he came across. “‘S alright, I suppose.”
“What is?” Tommy asked, taking a smoke.
“The morning,” Alfie said, gesturing with a wide hand out at the rather dreary day.
“I didn’t comment on the quality of the morning,” Tommy said, dryly.
“Oh, I know. I noticed. I corrected your mistake, mate, because it was the respectable thing to do.” His nose twitched, and Tommy cleared his throat, letting him get his idiosyncrasies out of the way. He looked out over the water, dropped his cigarette at his feet and stomped it out, crushing it under his shoe and reaching into his jacket for another immediately.
“Cigarette?” He asked, offering the case, and Alfie made a face.
“Mmph. No.” He scratched his cheek and observed Tommy thoughtfully. “Don’t have enough smoke in your lungs from all that shit in the air where you’ve chosen to live, eh? Not enough from them guns an’ bombs in France?”
“Keeps things homogenous,” Tommy said, from around his new cigarette. Alfie scoffed and puckered his full lips slightly in distaste.
“Ah, yes, hmm. The invariably explosive Thomas Shelby. Mm hmm,” he said, a bit mockingly, his voice rough. “What is it you need, Tommy? Got things to do other than acquiescing to the summons of little gypsies, you understand.” He regarded him with a sharp look from under his lowered brows. They were the same height, but Tommy did not bother to comment on it.
“I’m laying a trap. Need to borrow some of your men.”
Alfie laughed disbelievingly, a great guffaw, like how a bear would laugh if bears could laugh, but Tommy cut him off. “You owe me for that shit stunt you pulled two years ago.”
“Still hanging on to that, are we?” Alfie asked, and Tommy didn’t respond. “Who you laying this trap for, then, mate? You still fucking about with them Germans?”
“At the moment, they’re the ones fucking with me. And that situation needs to change,” Tommy said curtly, tapping out ash with his finger on the smooth edge of his burning cigarette.
“And how is it you propose we do that, Tom, huh? You going to tell those fuckers to come meet you by the bank of the Thames like you done with me?” Alfie asked, his glittering eyes quizzical, adjusting the wide brim of his hat slightly and raising his arm to do it, probably to remind Tommy of the pistol slung in his holster. Tommy blinked slowly.
“Something like that,” he said, and Alfie huffed shortly.
“Crazy fucking clay kicker,” he muttered, but there was a note in his voice bordering on hidden approval. “So what’s the plan, Tommy? You tell me, and I’ll tell you how fucking insane you are and that I won’t be getting within a thousand yards of whatever half-cocked operation you’ve come up with.” So Tommy told him.
“Sutherland wants to see you.”
Tessa looked up at Mary’s slightly pinched face, like Tessa was shit she had just stepped in on the street.
“Alright,” she said, evenly, not commenting on the other woman’s blatant tone or expression. “Did he say why?”
Mary’s brow furrowed, her pointed look turing to a glare, which Tessa found irritating. It wasn’t like she had said anything antagonizing. It wasn’t like it was Mary’s business who she was or wasn’t fucking. She should never have gotten involved with a man she worked with. It was odd, that she felt more regret over her relationship with a no-name reporter than the most infamous crime boss in Birmingham.
“You’re welcome to ask him yourself,” the other woman said, her thin blonde hair shifting with the aggressive jut of her head that accompanied her words. Tessa looked at her, rather disbelievingly, and cleared her throat, going to stand, her back aching slightly from spending hours hunched over her desk. Mary gave her one last, disapproving glare, and said,
“And you have a mark on your neck.”
Tessa’s hand went up unintentionally to her exposed neck, where her hair was swept to the side over her shoulder. She wasn’t entirely surprised, because it was just like Tommy to state his claim in such a public way, but she wished she had been aware of it in order to prevent the current interaction. She had rushed out of his house so quickly that morning that she had hardly spared her appearance a glance.
“Jack is a good man,” Mary continued, her voice lowered to a hiss so as not to be overheard, but Tessa did not bother to quiet her tone when she responded.
“If only he could be as good in the nighttime as he is during the day,” she said, tossing her hair to cover Tommy’s mark. Mary gasped slightly at her audacity. “Excuse me,” Tessa told her, not waiting for her to take a step back before she brushed past her, anger making her steps clipped and loud. She took two deep, steadying breaths once she reached Sutherland’s office, composing herself before lifting her hand to knock, forgetting, in her annoyance, to wait for his permission to open the door.
“Well, hello, Tessa, do come in,” Sutherland remarked rather dryly, only briefly looking up at her from where he was standing by his desk, reviewing the papers spread across it.
“My apologies, sir,” she said, reining herself in and walking further into the room, pressing the fingers of her right hand against her opposite thumb. It still became sore sometimes, if she kept still for too long.
“It’s quite alright,” he said, taking a deep breath that made his vest strain against his bulk. “Take a seat,” he told her, gesturing at a handsome leather chair at the head of the desk. She did, with the distinct sense of being disciplined in school as a child. She had gotten into rather a lot of trouble with her teachers during her primary school, and so had a solid amount of experience with the feeling, and therefore with handling the forthcoming chastisement, although she couldn’t predict what it was she had done wrong. Sutherland sat with a tired huff, reaching across his desk to grab his cigarettes.
“Smoke?” he asked, and she said, “Please,” gratefully. He handed her one, and struck a match, which surprised her a bit. These days, most preferred the ease of lighters.
“Mary is rather upset with you,” he informed her, gazing at her over the lit end of his cigarette. She took a match and lit her own, cupping her hand around the flame and breathing in, then shaking it out in her fingers.
“Yes, so I gathered,” she said, smoke drifting out with her words. Sutherland’s cigarettes were huskier than Tommy’s, less smooth, less expensive, probably, despite his position of authority through the newspaper and in the political arena. That’s what you get when you stick to legitimacy, Tessa thought. Matches and harsh tobacco and a sense of moral superiority. She liked Sutherland, actually, more than the majority of people of similar social standing to her that she met. But she still couldn’t decipher why it mattered that Mary the receptionist was cross with her.
“Talked my ear off about it all morning. It was bloody painful,” Sutherland said, his cigarette crinkling a bit as he crushed it between his teeth to speak. Tessa laughed, and then admonished herself for doing so, but his eyes crinkled like his smoke, so she supposed she couldn’t be too far in the doghouse. “The thing is, Tessa, you’re a smart woman. I’ve read some of your writing, and it’s good. You’ve a talent for getting people to open up when they don’t want to, and we need that for what we do.” He cleared his throat, like he was having to force the next words out.
“But?” Tessa asked, prompting him. He glanced down at his hands.
“But Thomas Shelby is a polarizing figure. One that this paper cannot be in any way associated with. And according to Mary, you and Jack Fischer have both been under his dual employment for a matter of several months now.” His grey eyes raised to meet her, serious under his bushy eyebrows and flickering across her face behind his glasses.
“My involvement with Thomas Shelby in no way correlates to my position within this company,” Tessa said, as firmly and quickly as she could.
“True as that may be, public perception rarely depends on truth. And newspapers are run by public perception. If the Gazette was implicated in any sort of scandal, it would be the end of us.”
“Sir, I promise, there’s no threat of scandal-,” she began, but he cut her off.
“You’ve seen yourself how rilled people become when private affairs become public. Look at Mary, for Christ’s sake.” Tessa had no rebuke to that, so she just sat in the comfortable chair, pressing on her thumb, angry at the injustice. Sutherland continued, his tone softening slightly when he saw her gnawing on her lower lip.
“All I’m saying is to cut ties with him. We don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose you. And I know about Mr. Shelby,” he told her, which she doubted. “He’s been linked to several illicit activities in Birmingham, paying off the coppers so they leave him and his family alone. I don’t want you to become unknowingly involved in all of that.” Tessa held back a scoff, which was a very good thing, because she did not want to try to explain exactly how knowingly involved she was with Thomas Shelby. “All right?” He asked, and she managed a nod, even though it wasn’t. “Good. So. Regarding the article you’re currently assigned to. There’s been new information that’s come up, some eyewitness just reported to the police,” and as he spoke, she tried her best to listen, but her current piece was doomed by her busy head to suffer in quality, because she could not for the life of her focus on his words.
“Hello,” a deep voice said from above her, making her jump about a foot in the air.
“Tommy!” She said, her voice rather too loud, and he raised his eyebrows slightly as he stared at her with those piercing, unnerving eyes of his. “I, ah,” she fumbled, trying to recover, “I didn’t think it was going to be you who fetched me.”
“Well, it is,” he said, and she heard the unspoken question in his tone, a is that going to be a problem? A silent and rhetorical one that he never had to even speak aloud or be given an answer to. Tessa was stressed. Mary wasn’t at her desk, but would likely return at any moment, or Sutherland would walk out of his office and see the man he had explicitly told her not to contact standing right there, by her desk, at her work.
“Give me a moment,” she said, hastily arranging her papers and filing them away in her heavy oak drawers. He watched her curiously, and she wondered how he seemed to become impossibly more attractive every time she saw him, like she forgot in the space of a blink what his features looked like and then was surprised all over again how handsome he was when she opened her eyes.
“Alright, let’s go,” she said, briskly, grabbing her black clutch from where it rested on her desk and then grabbing his arm to turn him towards the door, which he let her do after a moment of resistance that proved he was only allowing it because he had chosen to.
“In a hurry, are we?” he asked, his tone mildly amused, and mildly concerned. He was walking slowly just to vex her, reaching into the pocket of his long black coat to pull out his cigarettes.
“Yes,” she hissed, remembering, in a brief flash, dragging him through the nighttime hallways of a hospital. They finally made it out of the large, open room, into the slightly darker and more private hallways leading to the front doors. “You’re not meant to be in here.”
“Oh, I’m not, am I?” Tommy asked, looking around like the knowledge of attempted prohibition made the building suddenly significantly more appealing to him.
“No,” she said, flatly, digging in her heels and yanking on his coat-covered arm, trying not to notice that she could feel the hardness of his muscles even through it and his suit. “Can you move?”
“I like it right here. How was your day?” he said, his tone unhurried, and she couldn’t tell if he was genuinely refusing or just mocking her insistence.
“Fucking terrible,” she said, honestly, still heaving her weight against him to no avail, and was so taken aback at him moving closer to her that she lost her breath for a moment, like it had been snatched out of her lungs by an invisible hand and replaced by the smell of his cologne. His lashes fluttered at her, and she knew she needed to be moving, and she could have sworn she was commanding her feet to walk. It wasn’t her fault they were refusing to listen to her, just like the irritating man in front of her, standing in her personal space suddenly, much too close to be appropriate for a public setting.
“I could fix that for you,” he said, all arrogance and inopportune timing and florescent, supernaturally blue eyes, his voice a low rumble that sent heat flooding down between her legs, and then voices trickled faintly down the hallway, and she finally managed to peel her cement feet off the floor and put some space between her body and his before she let him take her in the hallway and get her fired and maybe even arrested. The voices grew louder, but his eye contact did not waver, the low light of the gas lamps flickering off his high cheekbones, and she stared back at him like she had been put in a trance until she jerked her gaze away with all the willpower she possessed and there, at the end of the hallway, stood Jack Fischer, and on his arm was none other than Lucy Wong.
there's three songs for this chapter because i could easily do an entire playlist devoted to the concept of dangerous, i cannot express in words how much i love that that's what may named Tommy's horse. what an icon honestly. also i adore writing Alfie he is so much fun. thank you all so much for reading ahhhhhh
Chapter 29: I Don't Care
Say my name and his in the same breath
I dare you to say they taste the same
Pull a breath like another cigarette
Let the guitar scream like a fascist
Sweat it out, shut your mouth
Free love in the streets but in the alley it ain't that cheap
I said I don't care what you think
As long as it's about me
The best of us can find happiness in misery
A very very happy birthday to juuliaagooliaa, who is probably getting sick of all the chapters dedicated to her because i do it so often, but that's what you get for being so wonderful. i hope you like it, my love <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tessa Reilly was standing in the hallway, holding Tommy’s arm like she had forgotten it was in her grip. It made sense that she would be there, and it was something that Lucy had anticipated and as a possibility, and maybe even mentally encouraged, a bit. The look on her face from seeing Lucy standing with Jack was as satisfying as she had imagined it would be, but the fact that she was, for whatever reason, standing next to Tommy, was not. Her delicate lips were open slightly, like she was about to say any number of words that started with “w” and ended in a question mark, her finely arched eyebrows pulled together, several shades darker than the bright copper of her hair, watching them approach. Looking at her tended to make Lucy rather angry. Everything about her made Lucy at least slightly angry, from the top of her shining, privileged head to the soles of her expensive high heels. There had been two Irish girls that Lucy had played with growing up, in the dirt and barefoot running through the streets. They had been scrawny and freckly and their hair was less red than a sickly kind of orange, and they had always shared their lunch with Lucy, even when it was just a dry loaf of bread split between the three pairs of grubby hands. Tessa Reilly had never eaten the burnt bread out of a baker’s trash. Her hair flowed in perfect waves down around her shoulders and cascaded to the small of her back, a bright auburn like the changing leaves outside of the city, like melted metal. Her nose was straight and fine, perfectly proportioned, the line of her small, sharp jaw and the curve of her lips making her look like royalty, like everyone who looked at her was beneath her somehow. Lucy was beautiful. She knew it, and if she had ever had a doubt, it would have been confirmed the night Thomas Shelby had taken her to London and fucked her in the hotel, because if she wasn’t, he wouldn’t have. But against the dark of Tommy’s suit, Tessa’s ivory hand looked like a snapshot from the Sistine chapel, the red of her hair contrasting against the almost-blackness of his, in a way that Lucy’s never would. And in the moment, looking at Tessa, Lucy was very angry. Very angry indeed. Tessa, however, was hardly looking at her.
“Hi, Jack,” she said, softly, her odd, half-American accent catching on the vowels.
“Hullo,” Jack said, evenly, and Lucy mentally applauded him for his composure, especially in front of Tommy, who was staring at him with the same expression he wore on the rare occasion that one of his fixed horses lost a race and was not even attempting to conceal it, which was very out of character for him. If he was angry enough to let it show on his face, he was very angry indeed, which made two of them, at least. Although over what, Lucy had absolutely no idea. Then he cleared his throat and looked at her, and she felt like she always did when his attention was directed to her, like she could drink and drink and drink from it and never quench her thirst.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, and she had missed the low, rolling cadence of his voice. She couldn’t even remember the last time they had spoken. It felt like years, but it was likely a little over a week. She could, however, remember the last time they had fucked, rather vividly, sitting in the large chair behind the desk in his office, but that had been even longer ago. She wondered if she told Tessa about that, whether she would look so proud to be holding his arm.
“Jack and I are going to dinner,” she said, which was true.
“Oh,” Tessa said, surprised, finally dropping her hand from Tommy’s arm, but not moving away from him. Tommy looked at Lucy critically, and she forced herself to meet his gaze, because she knew if she didn’t, she would be telling him things without meaning to. “That’s… you’re…?” Tessa trailed off, looking at a loss for words, knowing better than to even bother looking at Tommy for assistance, as he was still studying Lucy like she was a difficult equation he was working out in his head, not sparing Jack a second glance after the glare that he had shot him across the hallway when he realized who he was. Jack fidgeted next to Lucy’s side, the brown tweed of his jacket brushing her shoulder. Tessa tried a different tact to divert the tension, a useless endeavor.
“Has Sutherland spoken to you yet?” She asked Jack, who regarded her with a coldness in his expression that Lucy had never seen on his thin face before. She had known that he and Tessa had fallen out. His feelings for her were evident the moment he had come to Lucy to ask for her help, seeking revenge and retribution over Thomas Shelby. It had been even more evident when he had shown up on her doorstep three days ago, piss-drunk and mumbling about heartbreak and opium, none of which she could string together into a cohesive explanation of what events had transpired. Lucy had agreed to help him, to gather information on him to pass to Polly and finally earn her trust, a true double-agent, but she had told the Shelby’s nothing of their meetings as of yet.
“About what?” Jack asked, like it was against his better judgement to even respond but he was too pressed by the internal demand for knowledge to stop himself.
Tessa winced like she hadn’t thought about the inevitable outcome of the conversation before she had began it. “About… Shelby Company Limited,” she answered, hesitantly, bringing her hands up in front of her and pressing on her left thumb with slim fingers. Tommy briefly halted his visual assault of Lucy to glance down at her, like the information was new to him as well. “He says we’re to cut ties or we’ll be let go.”
“Done,” Jack said, harshly, and then he looked like he was going to say something else, and Lucy watched Tommy’s flashlight eyes finally fix on him again, as if daring him to continue, but Jack’s thin lips snapped shut. So the man could learn, after all.
“Well, then, I guess that’s that,” Tessa said, and she flicked her hair back over her shoulder, and Lucy could see a dark imprint on the porcelain of her neck, like the color of lipstick her mother had worn when she was younger, but only for her most valuable clients. And suddenly, everything made sense. Jack’s evident despair, Tessa’s hand on Tommy’s arm, the mark the mark the mark on her neck. Tommy hadn’t even belonged to Lucy, and Tessa had to take him anyway, just because she could, because a girl like that with diamonds on her wrists never had to beg for attention, never had to sell her body for her next meal, was just given everything she ever wanted and never, for a second, paused to think twice about it.
“You know, my mother was a whore,” Lucy commented, idly. “And even she would never be seen in public with something like that on her neck.”
Tessa didn’t speak, but her large, greenish eyes roamed over Lucy’s body, and if Tessa had been a man, Lucy would have been offended at the blatant judgement. As a woman, it was worse.
“What would your posh mum say, I wonder? If I told her you were parading yourself around, jumping from man to man like a fucking frog.” Lucy returned her gaze straight-on, black eyes meeting Tessa’s wide black pupils. It made her look slightly wild, like a cat about to pounce, offset against the slightness of her form. Jack put his hand around Lucy’s wrist like he thought the words were coming out of her fingers and he was trying to stop them, but it was too late, “Maybe she would approve. Maybe she’s where you learned it from,” Lucy spat, her voice still low and soft but full of venom, full of resentment, full of jealousy and rage. Tessa blinked slowly, her long lashes brushing through the strands of red hair that were resting against her cheek.
“My mother is dead.” She said, the sharp lilt of her voice precise like an incision. Lucy did not let herself react to her words, thought Tessa might take a step closer, or, two, thought she might scream in her face, but instead she remained where she was and slid her hand across Tommy’s chest, slowly, not breaking their stare. “And if you ever speak ill of her in my presence again, you will be too.”
And she slipped her hand farther, past Tommy’s heavy black coat, and he let her do it. He let her do it, stood still and didn’t resist, as she reached under his arm and pulled out his pistol, and she didn’t blink again, not even once. She slid the pistol out of the holster far enough for the shiny, dark metal to glint in the low light, finally breaking away from her stare into Lucy’s eyes to glance down at it, like she was observing something as commonplace as a pigeon on the sidewalk, and then looked up at Tommy, whose blue irises flickered down to meet hers, and then he smiled. It was only for a moment, like it escaped from him despite his own intentions, a bird fluttering out of an open cage, and he ducked his head to hide it, but it was bright and beautiful and it changed him in a way that Lucy could never have anticipated, and it hurt more than actually being shot. She had never made him laugh. She had hardly ever seen him smile, and never like that, only sarcastic half-smirks or a dry twitch of his lovely lips. Tessa slid the pistol back into the holster, still looking at him, and then dropped her hand and entwined her fingers with his, and Lucy saw him press on her thumb the same way Tessa had mindlessly done earlier, and for one, shocking second, she wanted to cry, because she had told herself so many things about him just because she needed to believe them, and she had been wrong. She had been wrong about him, because she was wrong for him, and it should have been something that she was able to accept. She should have told him then and there that Jack was writing an article, with her assistance, to publicly reveal the Shelby crime syndicate once and for all, like she had been planning to, but she didn’t. She listened to Tessa say, “Please can we go now?”, watched them turn, hand in hand, heard Tessa call back over her shoulder,
“Have a good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fischer,” in a voice that was cold and taunting, as she and Tommy made their way down the hall, and without turning to each other, or any sort of intention, both Lucy and Jack spoke the same words at the same moment.
“Fuck the Peaky Blinders.”
They walked to the car hand in hand, and Tommy managed to hold back his laugh until he had helped Tessa climb into the passenger seat, but it escaped despite his best efforts once he had closed his own door.
“What?” Tessa asked him sharply, but her own lips were twitching upwards.
“You couldn’t have threatened her with your own fucking gun?” he asked her, and she rolled her eyes slightly, a flush of color high on her cheeks.
“I could have,” she said, clearly forcing her voice into neutrality, which made him snort again. “I’m comforted that you find attempted murder so amusing.”
He flickered her eyes over her, shaking his head. “What am I going to do with you,” he muttered quietly, and Tessa giggled slightly, a sound that he would never have expected to come from her, and that made him look over at her again. She was pressing the back of her hand against her lips like she was trying to keep the mirth caged behind her teeth, but it was escaping out of her sparkling eyes anyway. She dropped her hand and scooted closer to him, and he wondered if she kept perfume in her clutch next to her .22 or if he just found the scent of her skin that intoxicating.
“I have some ideas, if you’re interested in hearing them,” she said, her voice in his ear and her breath tickling across his neck, and he gripped the steering wheel so that she couldn’t see him shiver.
“I think I might be, Miss Reilly,” he said, his voice still low, and she pressed her lips to the edge of his jaw, then right below his ear, then on his neck, and with every soft touch, he could feel his cock getting harder from the pumping blood in his veins.
“Drive,” she whispered, and he started the ignition and pulled away from the Gazette building, and if the wheels squealed on the cobbles, then it was only fitting.
Jungbluth, i got you baby <3
Chapter 30: Spectrum
Say my name
And every color illuminates
We are shining
And we will never be afraid again
They didn’t make it even halfway back to Birmingham before Tommy pulled off to the side of the road, driving partially down a quaint country lane under a grove of poplar trees.
“Something wrong with the car?” Tessa muttered, her fingers tracing distracting patterns on his thigh.
“No,” he said, bluntly, shaking his head, once, not bothering with his usual contriving, because it was Tessa, and he needed no pretense with her. She smirked. “I’m going to fuck you.”
“Oh, you are, are you?” she asked, her hand ghosting over the buttons on his pants. He watched her, consciously working on keeping his breathing even.
“Do I need to make you ask for it again?” he asked, and her eyes flickered down to the hand that was slipping down lower at an achingly slow pace, and her lips pressed together, which was exactly the reaction he had been seeking. He lifted a hand to tilt her face towards his so that he could kiss her, her velvet lips parting easily for him, and his cock twitched at the small noise she made in the back of her throat when he sucked her bottom lip into his mouth briefly, grazing it past his teeth as he released it. He wanted to lift her into his lap, and the ease with which he could accomplish it was horrendously tempting, but so was the agonizing wait, laying the bait and waiting for her to succumb to her own desires. He felt that with her constantly, a strange pull to ensure that she was with him of her own provocation, on a par with the much more familiar drive for control that he felt at all other times and with all other people. Tessa was the only one who he wanted to see him for who he was, and choose to stay. Everyone else would stay because they had to, and if he gave a fuck about that, it was something that had become such a mundane hurt that he no longer noticed it, or no longer allowed himself to notice it. But as he kissed her slowly, he took his time, exploring her mouth carefully, waiting for her to break, because if she was with him, it would be of her own free will or not at all. He knew what he wanted her to choose, and part of him still wanted to make her choose it, because the uncertainty felt like writhing snakes had made a home in his stomach, but a forced choice was no choice at all. He threaded his fingers into her thick hair at the back of her head and pulled gently to access a deeper angle against her lips, sliding his tongue across her teeth, under her plush upper lip, and she tasted how she smelled, like nectar and spices.
“Are you playing games with me?” she asked, breathlessly, against his mouth. The slick movement of their lips was making it difficult for Tommy to continue restraining himself, and her slim hand reaching down and grasping his length caused him to make an unintentional sound, which she seemed to appreciate, because she squeezed again.
“When I’m playing with you, you’ll know,” he told her, his voice slightly rough, and those words seemed to do the trick, because she broke away from the kiss and her slim fingers made quick work of the buttons on his vest, and he shrugged his heavy coat off of his shoulders with some difficulty in the small quarters, as the windows began to fog and scatter the fading light of the sunset into a million fuzzy particles of color. She slipped her lovely hand down his waistband and pressed her palm slowly against him, the unexpected touch of skin to skin and the wonderful pressure sending pleasure coursing through him. He hissed softly through his teeth, and her hand kept moving, her graceful fingers creating warm friction that made his vision blur and had him dropping his head back slightly, bracing against the seat behind him, his muscles tense with with restraint and his body aching for her touch, for more, always more, more until he found the limit and then more still. He wanted to own the Earth, and then after that, he wanted to come for the sky, until all of the oxygen in the air and all the dirt on the ground was his to command, until everything, everything was his, bending to his will just like he was under the movement of Tessa’s hand, and he wanted her by his side, glowing like the sun that everything spins around.
“Lolo chavi,” he said, his words half breath, “Kasco san, pakvora?” Her beautiful eyes flickered up to his face, and she sucked audibly sucked in a breath, her rosy lips slightly parted to reveal a glimpse of her white teeth. Her movements faltered momentarily, and then picked up again, and he watched her and kept speaking, could almost feel how hard she was listening, how focused she was on his voice. “Mira yog monashay. Roca mira nav, rinkeni.”
“Fuck,” she said, under her breath, and he had her, sliding into his lap and kissing him with her hands on his face, burning, hungry, popping buttons off his shirt as she yanked it open so that she could touch the skin of his chest, and he smirked very barely against her mouth, sliding his hands up her thighs and around her back, sitting up and almost slamming her against the steering wheel, picking her up and flipping her onto her back on the front seat, her body soft and giving under him, her legs crossed behind him so that she could press herself closer, arching up against his chest. She moved his shirt the rest of the way off his shoulders, and he broke away for a moment to help her tear it off, rutching her pale blue dress up past her hips, the same one she had worn the day before, because she had been with him and hadn’t gotten a chance to change into another, she had been with him and she was his she was his she was his. Her hair splayed out on the seat behind her, a wash of color even in the darkening light, her eyes closed but her mouth open, panting past her parted lips, and he slipped his hand down between her legs and brushed his fingers against her, watching her react, feeling her nails dig into his bare shoulder. He leaned down over her so that he could press his lips to her neck, the scent of her hair filling his nose like he was walking through a garden, darkening the mark he had left on her the night before, grazing his teeth against her smooth skin until she was keening, a high, whining noise full of need. He traced the delicate inside of her thighs, pushing them down and as far apart as he could manage with the restrictive front seat, then trailed a hand back over her knickers, feeling their dampness and holding back a moan against her neck because of it. Her hips jerked demandingly against his hand, and there would be time, later, for him to take. He would hold her down and make her wait, make her beg, but now was not that time. He snapped the garters holding her stockings up against her soft skin, and then undid them, probably breaking the clasp in his haste, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Lift,” he said, and her hips rose obediently, and he pulled her knickers down and past her legs, and the view of her open and exposed and waiting underneath him, pale skin and flaming hair and half-lidded eyes, made his throbbing cock ache. He slid against her, once, teasing, feeling her wetness coat the head, and then his resolve cracked like an egg dropped on the street and he pushed inside, past the resistance of her tightening muscles, bracing his hand against the passenger door behind her head, her sharp sound of surprise shocking through him like an electric jolt. He halted for a moment, until her fluttering eyes opened and locked on his, holding the contact as he moved against her again, pushing in until her breath hitched, burying himself in her warmth and letting out a low groan as she shifted underneath him, trying to draw back from the depth, but he sank down into her again, making her squeal and clutch his elevated arm.
“Where do you think you’re going, eh?” he asked her, and she shook slightly, her thighs quaking against him, but he did not break away from his stare, despite her heaving chest. He thrust again, and she said,
“Nowhere,” past gritted teeth, her nails skidding down his side and digging into his arm.
“Mm. That’s what I thought,” he said, kissing her cheek, then down, his free hand coming up around her neck, not squeezing, but warning, and she moaned loudly as he drove into her, “Not unless I tell you to.”
“Yes, sir,” she gasped, which made him just about finish right then and there. He pulled himself back from the edge with a tremendous effort, reaching down to lift one of her legs over his shoulder, giving her a moment to adjust, keeping his thrusts shallower. The car’s windows were covered in a layer of mist like smoke, the tiny droplets catching and refracting what little light was left in the sky, one of Tessa’s pale hands gripping the dashboard of the car, the other threading into his hair and pulling hard enough to make him increase his pace, her sounds increasing in volume as he did so, and he tensed his fingers around her throat, which just made her louder, and he could feel her moans vibrating through his hand like she was an instrument he was playing. She clenched tightly around him, hot and wet and smooth, and he could feel his control slipping, the only thing keeping him grounded were the sharp feelings of her fingers tugging on his hair, her nails cutting into his back, the world blurring like the colors through the foggy windows as the wonderful pressure grew and grew. Tessa’s moans became words and she was saying his name, driving him faster, harder, until she was arching up against him, her body tense like a loaded gun waiting for the pull of the trigger, and he loved listening to her, loved the cries she could not suppress, the slick press of her bare thighs against him, and he wished he had taken the time to get her out of her dress so that he could see all of her, but the image of her under him, like royalty, wearing a crown of red, her cheeks flushed and her eyes squeezed shut, was more than enough. He moved his hand down from her throat to between her legs, right above where he was pushing inside of her, and touched her gently, and she whimpered at the intensity nonetheless.
“Esti al meu,” he told her, and she shivered with every pass of his fingers, jerked with every thrust into her. “Al meu.”
“Yes ,” she said, even though she didn’t know what she was agreeing to, and then she said it again, and again, her voice a crescendo, and as she peaked it caused her to tense around him so tightly he could barely move, but it hardly mattered, as his world burst in a rush of pleasure so intense it blotted out everything, everything else, a wave of pure bliss that made lights burst behind his eyes and left him gasping after several moments when he came back down.
“Fucking hell,” he muttered, gasping in air, Tessa looking dazed under him, like she was having a hard time remembering her own name. She laughed, breathlessly, pushing her hair out of her face.
“Not bad,” she said, and he rumbled, “Mm,”, leaning down to kiss her. Her lips were slightly salty from sweat, her mouth sweet like the cherries she put in her drinks. He rested against her for a moment, still inside her, and he could have gone again, he thought he might be able to keep going, forever, if it was with her, but he wanted to get her somewhere where he had a bit more room to maneuver, so once he had gotten his breath back, he slid out slowly, probably leaking all over the Bugatti’s expensive leather seats. Tessa sat up slowly, her waves tumbling around her, a small grin on her lips.
“Let’s go home,” Tommy said, quietly, and kissed her again, so that he could taste her smile.
Tommy says "Red girl. Whose are you, beautiful? My fire girl. Say my name, pretty," and then "You're mine. Mine," or something close to it, or not close to it at all, knowing the reliability of google. Tessa has a language kink, who can blame her
Chapter 31: Thunderstorm
I can feel the clouds hang over me
Darkness from the shadows all I see
I can feel the clouds hang over me
Rolling like thunder
Gonna bring you to your knees
Don’t need no one’s help, no
Just need us and our pistols
We’re coming after all y’all, again
Tommy knew something was wrong before he had even made it onto Arrow House’s drive. There were too many lights on, too many vehicles out front. The house was lit up like a beacon of danger, and he pulled his Webley out of its holster and flicked off the safety in one motion, but as he drew closer he realized he recognized the cars, that they were Bentleys, not Volkswagens, that the men gathered around them were all wearing flat caps and grim faces. He pulled the Bugatti to a lurching stop, his stomach clenching, Tessa’s eyes scanning the scene wildly from beside him.
“What’s happened?” she asked, her voice low and urgent, and he wished she was less perceptive, wished she knew nothing about his life and the implications of four vehicles parked in front of the manor, wished she was dull and unassuming and thought he was just being gatecrashed by some of his mates. But she wasn’t, and he didn’t have any mates, because Johnny was dead and Alfie was a traitor, and she was reaching into her clutch and pulling out her little pistol.
“Stay here,” he commanded, and he yanked the driver door open and leapt from the car, slamming it behind him so that she couldn’t hear whatever information he was about to receive. Benson approached him immediately, and if Tommy had had even a sliver of a doubt that he was bearing bad news, it would have been crushed the moment he saw the other man’s drawn expression.
“Tell me,” Tommy said, shortly, because the longer he put it off, the less time he had to react.
Benson only hesitated for a moment, like he was trying to find the best way to word it, but he seemed to fall short. “The Reilly estate was burned down. The house, the stables. Grenades through the doors, the windows. Twenty of their men in black vans, got past our Blinders at the gates. I was there, collecting Leonard.” He took a breath. “I got him out. But if I hadn’t been, he would be dead for a certainty.”
“And the horses?” Tommy asked, and Benson shook his head.
“There was no time.”
Tommy closed his eyes, very briefly, a sharp pang shooting through his heart like he had dropped it on a shard of glass.
“Inside,” Benson said, gesturing at the house. His jacket was torn, the seams ripped. Tommy cleared his throat, pushing down the pain he felt on Tessa’s behalf, trying not to think of her beautiful horse, choking on smoke, or obliterated within an instant, if the animal had been lucky. He hoped it had been painless. He did not want to have to be the one to tell her. He did not want anyone to tell her at all.
“Right,” he said, “Get Arthur on the phone, get him and John out here. Tell him to bring Esme and the kids. Send three cars to pick up Polly, put her in the last one. They’ll assume she’s in the first or the second, if they target her on the drive. I sent Ada out of town, but get a connection to her anyway, tell her to stay away until I have this shit fucking sorted out.”
“Yes, Mr. Shelby,” Benson said, and underneath the fluttering panic, Tommy felt a twinge of appreciation for his composure. Benson was staring at Tessa’s profile inside the dark interior of Tommy’s car, and Tommy remembered that he had spent the last few months in her company, that he knew exactly how much Sunchaser had meant to her, and for a cowardly half second, Tommy thought about letting him be the one who broke the news to her. He would likely do a better job.
“I want coppers in a two mile perimeter around the house. Tell Moss to pull all our men on the force, they have new orders tonight.”
“Yes, Mr. Shelby.” He glanced at the Bugatti again, and then his eyes met Tommy’s, brown on blue. “What are you going to tell her?” He asked, his voice quiet, like he was afraid Tessa would be able to overhear his concern.
“The truth,” Tommy said. “Go.”
Benson nodded, with a jerk of his chin, and touched the brim of his hat. There were no razor blades sewn into it, not yet. He had not been awarded the honor, the signifier of rank, but Tommy made up his mind that that would change, if any of them made it out alive, as payment for getting Reilly to safety. He turned, his shoes crunching on the gravel of the drive, and Tommy fished his cigarettes out of his coat pocket with his left hand, still holding his revolver. He should holster it, but he couldn’t bring himself to, didn’t want to put it down or away for even a single second, he wanted seven more guns and hands to grip them. He lit his smoke and inhaled deeply, watching the embers burn on the end, their red glow like Tessa’s hair, and he sighed sharply. The door of his vehicle opened and closed behind him.
“I told you to stay in the car,” he said, without turning, because he didn’t want to fucking look at her, couldn’t bear to see the expression on her face.
“What the fuck is going on, Thomas?” she asked, and he had a feeling if he didn’t tell her, she would put her gun against his temple. He would let her do it. It might make her feel better. But he spoke anyway, out of some twisted form of mercy, like taking a bullet out of a wound to allow it to heal.
“Your father is safe,” he began, staring out into the darkness past the grounds of the house, past the stone walls and manicured hedges. A bird called out through the night, a lilting tune at odds with the grim, oppressive sense of immediate danger that felt like it was pressing down on him like the blackness past the light filtering out of the windows. She hesitated, like she knew there were questions she had to ask, but wasn’t sure she wanted the answers to.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” she said, her voice calm. Tommy took another drag of his cigarette, hard enough that he could hear it crackle audibly.
“The Reilly manor was just burned down.”
She was silent, and he knew he had to turn, to look in her face and in her eyes, and he took another hit like the smoke would help numb it.
“The house was insured.” Was all she said, and he tapped his fingers on the barrel of his gun, and turned.
“The Perish blew up the stables, too,” he said, and empathy was not his strongest suit, it was true, but when he saw her mouth open, like she had been shot and surprised by the hit, he felt it too. A shimmering, fearful understanding gleamed in her eyes, followed by an immediate, desperate denial.
“No,” she said, softly, like maybe he was lying, like there was a way it was some sort of cruel joke. His fingers were fluttering softly against his gun, and he wanted to shoot it, at anyone and anything, anyone who had done this to her.
“I’m sorry, Tessa,” he said, and he meant it, but he knew it didn’t matter. Her breath was shuddering.
“They killed my horse?” she asked, and the crack of her voice jerked his feet towards her of their own volition, like if he got closer to her, he could absorb some of her pain, could protect her from it. “Why?” As if having a logical reason would make it easier to swallow.
“Evil doesn’t operate on reason. It just fucking takes,” he said, and he didn’t have the words to help, because there were no words to help. He had a horse in the war. A big bay that Tommy had called Dante, because his coat had looked the fires of hell. He had slipped into an old German trench during a charge and broken his leg into too many pieces, and Tommy had had to leave him there, running from the hail of bullets from the oncoming push, and he had never gotten to go back for him. He would have. Tessa’s lower lip trembled and she clenched her small fists as if that would keep her together, like she didn’t want to cry, because if she did that would mean she accepted it. He took another step towards her, but she took one back, shaking her head as if opening her mouth would break an already leaking dam. “I’ll buy you another horse, love. I’ll buy you a whole fucking herd,” he told her, and maybe it would have been better to show her no sympathy, because her face crumpled at his words, a breath gasping out of her lips.
“They killed him,” she said, and the verbal admittance cracked the fissures and the tears began dripping out of her eyes, catching in the low light, little, glittering drops of sorrow. Tommy stared at her, kept everything off his face, closed up the emotion behind his eyes. There was nothing he could do. Nothing he could do, but get revenge.
“I have to make some calls,” he told her, and he wanted to reach out and touch her as he moved past, but her shoulders were shaking with silent sobs that made his chest clench like it was being crushed, and he didn’t think she wanted him to. So he continued towards the warm glow of the house, anger and hatred and pity all pumping through his veins and igniting them like cocaine.
I thought about having this chapter be from Benson's perspective and show the Reilly house burning, but it was painful enough to write Tessa's reaction and I couldn't bring myself to do it ah