Tommy Shelby, like so many other men, had been shaped by the war. He was a different man because of it; a man who felt on edge if he heard a loud noise; a man who was tortured in his waking and sleeping hours by memories of the war which had been etched into his being just as much as the bullets which had marred his skin. The nightmares which plagued Tommy's unconscious hours were no secret to anyone - his family had, on more than one occasion, heard his urgent cries or whimpers in the small hours of the morning. They had all witnessed the sweat on his brow after he had woken. But what none of them had been capable of doing was stopping it. No matter how much they tried, no matter how much Tommy wished that they could...at the end of the day, he had to face his terrors alone.
It wasn't the first time that Tommy's sleep had been peaceful and free from war memories. It also wasn't the first time he had slept beside her. But coincidentally, both of the times he had finally found peace, it had been with her.
"There wasn't any tappin' on the wall," he mumbled, eyes still closed as sunlight gently warmed his face.
Rose's body stirred at the sound of his voice grumbling behind her; she began to shift until she felt the warmth of Tommy's arms which cradled her to him, holding her there. "What?"
"My nightmare…I didn't 'ave it last night," Tommy admitted, rubbing circles on Rose's bare shoulder with his thumb. "I always 'ave it, every single night. But not this time."
At this admission, Rose's eyes opened and she blinked a few times as the room came into focus. Tiny particles of dust floated in front of her eyes, dancing in the beam of sunlight which streamed in from the window. The wallpaper which was peeling in several places bore a complex pattern which had faded with time, and the table beside the bed was littered with cigarette ash and little boxes of god knows what. The room was entirely alien to her, and yet it felt like she had always known it. One thing was clear from what she could see, though – Tommy was a reclusive man of few possessions who cared little for nostalgia. There were no photographs littering the room – not a single one could be seen, and the only image in the whole room was a painting which hung on the far wall opposite the bed. It depicted rolling fields of green and skeletal trees which stood tall under the grey midwinter sky. Rose wondered if it held any significance to him, and what that significance may be.
After a while, Rose's curiosity got the better of her. "What is your nightmare?" she asked gingerly – afraid that he would turn on her at the request of personal information.
Tommy hesitated before replying. He considered not telling her - snapping to put her off or just plainly ignoring the question. But that seemed a ridiculous notion after the things he knew about Rose. He wasn't used to being open with people, that much was clear. Thomas Shelby wore a facade in front of everyone - even his family. For him to let that mask come crumbling down it would be difficult. He wasn't used to feeling vulnerable, but somehow when Rose's piercing, stormy eyes stared into his, he felt like he had been stripped back to the bone. As if he were nothing in comparison to her; she knew all that he had been and all that he could be, and there was no escaping his darkest thoughts, no matter how deeply he may have buried them in the web of his mind.
"Tunneling," Tommy finally mumbled, pressing his face against her back so that his cheek rested in the crook of her neck. He inhaled her scent deeply - she smelt sweet like a meadow on a hot summers day, but there was also a musky, woodland scent about her which mingled with lavender. "In the war...I 'ad to dig tunnels. It was 'ot as hell and claustrophobic; I spent my days squashed in with my comrades, slowly knock, knock, knocking away at rock and mud. But sometimes, there'd be people tunnelling towards us...and we'd meet. Losin' friends to the war was a lot 'arder when you spent every second right beside 'em..."
Rose could tell that Tommy had become lost in his own tortured thoughts; swept away by a tsunami of grief and suffering and pain. She was acutely aware of his body so close to her own, his breath tickling her neck as it came and went. She reached for his arm which was wrapped around her and took his hand in hers, pulling it close to her chest in an attempt at offering comfort.
"I'd say that I'm sorry," she whispered, voice barely audible, "but I have personal experience with how little those words mean."
"Few people do."
Rose turned over beneath Tommy's arms, laying on her back so that she could see his expression. "Glad to be of help," she laughed a little, unable to pull her gaze away. His face turned suddenly serious, and for a moment Rose was lost in the lines of his crisp jaw and cheekbones.
"Stay, then," Tommy demanded, voice burning with the intensity of a thousand suns. His eyes gleamed as if they were on fire. "Stay, and 'elp me every day. I want to be better, Rose. I found you, and you found me. Stay."
As Tommy's plea progressed, a growing knot of guilt gnawed in Rose's stomach. It was the worst feeling she had ever experienced; his words sounded so sweet that she wanted to agree in an instant, but the curse was holding her back. She could never provide Tommy with what he really needed; someone to rely on, someone to trust in, someone to be a wife...someone to be a lover... She knew they could never be close like that, and the thought of her being the one to end the life of Thomas Shelby was unbearable to even consider. She was quite sure that she could not live with herself if anything happened to him because of her.
Rose began shaking her head gently, closing her eyes so as not to see the disappointment behind Tommy's. "I can't. I can't give you what you want, Tommy - I can't be who you need me to be."
Silence once again cloaked the room, hanging heavily in the air like the smog above the city. It invaded every corner of the room until it was almost unbearable - heavy and poisonous and choking. The space between Rose and Tommy in the bed suddenly seemed to be ten times more prominent, both of them wary of it as if it were meters rather than mere millimetres.
"We should get up," Tommy intoned, "we 'ave a family meetin' to attend."
Rose nodded silently in reply, feeling that if she were to speak she might have burst into tears. Why couldn't Tommy see that this wasn't what she wanted for them - she didn't want to be cursed. She didn't want to be destined to kill him...she didn't want any of this. From the moment her mother had died her life was a train wreck of one unfortunate event after another. Perhaps it would have been better if she had just taken her mother's place instead.
Tommy quickly arose from the bed, picking out a suit from the wardrobe in the corner. He dressed like a man who had had to throw his clothes on quickly one too many times, Rose noted. She said nothing. Instead, she watched his back muscles flexing as he pulled on a shirt, and traced with her eyes the sinuous outline of his arms. She took note of the tattoos which covered his skin; one on his chest where a bullet had once torn its way inside, and another on his arm. Never in her life had she ever imagined she would become so close to a man with tattoos on his body and guns in his belt; never in her life had she ever experienced such insanity as when she met Thomas Shelby. The only problem was that now she wasn't sure she ever wanted to go back to how it used to be.
"I'm not family," Rose finally said, her voice miniscule. She was terrified of speaking to Tommy for fear of his temper exploding on her, yet she couldn't seem to stop.
Tommy donned his suit jacket and then turned to her. "Yer family to me," he replied instantly. "Down the hall and to the right is Ada's room. Get somethin' to wear and be down stairs in ten."
Rose nodded hesitantly just before Tommy strode out of the room. She felt a slight unease at having to creep around in another person's room, going through their possessions and moreover borrowing them without asking. It was a strange feeling to know that she had nothing in the world - no home, no belongings...not even clothes. She had always imagined many different scenarios about how her life might play out, but never once had any of them ended with her being destitute, surviving solely off the good will of a gang leader.
With a great reluctance, Rose finally left Tommy's bedroom and stepped out into the hallway clad solely in her undergarments - the only pieces of clothing which had survived her ordeal. Her footsteps were light for fear of attracting anyone's attention, and the patterned red carpet was cold against her bare feet. They sunk deep into the soft material, which must have been relatively new. Clearly the Shelby's had more money than she had anticipated of an illegal bookmaking company.
The hallway was gloomy, illuminated only by a few gas lamps which hung on the wall. The whole house seemed steeped in mystery and family secrets, although Rose wasn't sure if that was just her imagination running wild. She carefully made her way past framed photographs and paintings, averting her eyes so as not to become lost in the frames of moments past. A great sense of relief swept over Rose when she carefully peeled back the first door she came to and found the room to be empty. The layout of it was much the same as Tommy's room; a bed against the back wall, a bedside table to the right and some drawers opposite the door. The similarities, however, stopped there. Instead of empty sides and plain walls, Ada's bedroom was filled with life - there were paintings dotted around the walls and little trinkets scattered across the bedside table. There were a few photographs there too, but Rose suspected that most had been taken with her when she left. Being in the room for only a moment left Rose with the sinking feeling that she was intruding on someone else's personal space; she quickly made her way over to the drawers so she could escape as soon as possible.
Despite the fact that Ada had run away weeks ago to be with Freddie and have her baby, many of her possessions had been left behind. That struck Rose as rather odd - the room had been left as if she only intended to be away for a short period of time. It did not look like the room of a woman who did not want to return. Sifting through the piles of clothes in the draws, Rose quickly selected a navy blue blouse with delicate pearl buttons, along with a long black skirt. That would do for now - she wasn't exactly concerned with her appearance at this moment in time. On her way out of the room she also grabbed a pair of black ankle boots with a small heel, before running back down the hall way to get changed in time.
The clothes she had borrowed fitted her just well enough to be acceptable, although they remained rather loose on her tiny figure. It was alarming how much weight she had lost in the past few weeks. It felt odd to be dressed in such casual clothing; back home she had sported beautiful, intricately designed dresses with delicately crafted shoes and jewellery. Her hair had always been done into the most elaborate styles...she put even the most fashion-forward young women to shame. Now she was forced to wear another girl's clothes. How time could change things.
Just as Rose fiddled with the last button on her blouse, the bedroom door flew open. Tommy stepped inside swiftly, a cigarette balanced precariously on his bottom lip and hands shoved deep into the pockets of his trousers. "Ready?" he asked, blowing out a cloud of smoke into the air.
Rose ran her hands through her wild red hair quickly, attempting to give it some sort of neatness. Her fingers got stuck in the knots and she soon gave up, leaving it to flow down her back of its own accord. "Yes," she replied, moving towards the door. "As ready as I'll ever be."
When Tommy and Rose reached the door which lead into the room where the meeting was going to be held, Tommy paused and gestured for Rose to follow behind him. She looked up to him with eyes which were wide with gratitude, but he did not reciprocate this glance. Tommy's eyes were fixed straight ahead, at the door behind which his entire family had gathered. Nerves buzzed inside Rose's chest, making her feel sick. She tried to push the feeling away, fixing her eyes down at the floor. Tommy pushed the door open at long last with one decisive shove, and it slammed into the wall as it opened. Rose winced.
The meeting was being held in the part of the building reserved for business; where all of the bets were placed and money was won or lost. Rose had not seen this part of the house before...at least not for long enough to truly take it all in. On the far wall ahead of them, a black board with horses names and odds drawn on was spread across the entirety, and there were tables littered throughout where stacks of paper and records were kept. The whole place told of the chaos and madness which took place there; drunken men with no other place to put their hope, or perhaps poor men who had little else left to gamble on, other than the certainty of their impending death. And yet, the place did not have a bad nor desperate atmosphere about it - instead it seemed alive.
"Alright," Tommy announced his presence, making sure that he stood so that Rose was half behind him at all times. "Is everybody 'ere?"
Rose looked at the gathering of people before her; Aunt Polly, who sat as calm as ever smoking on her cigarette; Arthur, who was already downing the whiskey as if it were water; John, who seemed to have the weight of the world pressing down on the deep black shadows beneath his weary eyes, and Finn, who looked too young and innocent to be sat around a table with the Peaky Blinders. There were a few other people milling around in the room whom she did not know, but she suspected that they were more distant Shelby relatives. A woman with mysterious dark eyes and deep brown hair was sat on the wooden stairs, head stuck in a book.
"We'll begin then," Tommy said, taking the silence which met them as his answer. "Firstly, I'd like to welcome the two newcomers to family meetin's." He gestured to both Rose and the girl who sat on the stairs. "Everybody, as you all know this is Esmee, John's wife. And this is Rose."
Rose smiled nervously as Tommy gestured to her, yet he still did not step away from her. It was as if he was trying to protect or shield her from something. When she was introduced, Arthur put his hands together and gave a small clap, but Tommy quickly shot him down with a glare so steely that it could have killed a weaker man.
"As you all know, we rescued Rose firstly from 'er bastard brother," Tommy spat, his voice vehement, "and then again from Inspector Campbell. We don't know yet 'ow Campbell knew about Rose, but I will fuckin' find out. The problem we now face is that 'er brother is still lookin' for 'er, and there are plenty of people who know she is under Shelby protection. The question is, what do we do about this threat?"
The room was silent for a moment, the only sound being the sipping of whiskey or the smoking of cigarettes. Then Polly spoke. She took a long, pointed drag on her cigarette, before stubbing it out in the ash tray. "In my opinion," she began, her tone of voice filled with bitterness and concern, "for Rose to stay 'ere, it puts us at too much risk. Family come first, and if Charles Moore comes round 'ere with his fuckin' army of men, there aint nothin' we can do. 'E will kill us all. It's family first. She 'as to go."
Rose heard Tommy's frustrated sigh, she saw his hands twitch as if they wanted to curl up into tight fists. "Pol," he reprimanded, rubbing his eyes exhaustedly, "Rose counts as family now. And Rose leavin' on 'er own is not an option."
"She aint blood, and she don't bear your second name. She aint a Shelby, Tom."
Tommy's jaw flexed, but he did not rise with a violent or angry response. Instead, he remained calm, which surprised Rose. "Thank you for yer opinion," he nodded at Polly. "Does anyone else 'ave one?"
"I do." The voice was of John - one of the more quiet and subdued family members, from what Rose could gather. She looked at him with surprise, as did Tommy. "Esme isn't family neither, " he began, "but she is married to me, and I love 'er."
"Steady on, John boy, it's only been a day," Arthur chuckled, knocking back his whiskey in one gulp.
"I love 'er, and if she were in danger, I would expect yer all to do whatever yer could to protect 'er, blood or not. So I think if Tommy wants Rose protected, we protect 'er. We do whatever is necessary."
"Thank you, John," Tommy said. Rose tried to ignore the pain which had started up inside her head, attempting to focus on what was being said by everyone. The pain began dull, but it became searing and impossible to ignore quickly. "I 'ave a proposition. The business is going well, but perhaps it's time for an expansion. To do that, we would 'ave to take on Billy Kimber, who 'as control of the race tracks in the North. I propose that Rose and I go away for a while, try to strike a deal with Kimber. Meanwhile, John and Arthur take over on this end and keep up with the business 'ere. Once the expansion is takin' place, I will also take care of Charles. If it's safe to come back after that, then we will."
Rose only caught small snippets of what Tommy proposed...the pain in her head felt like it was going to explode; her vision became blurred and the world around her span sickeningly. Behind her eyes, she began to see images coming to life. She could see her dark prison cell...she was on the floor, her back damp with the moisture which accumulated there. There was someone on top of her, pinning her down as unwanted hands crept along her body...then suddenly the image changed. She was tied up, her wrists red raw...there was a woman with wise old eyes stood before her, but they were filled with sorrow and regret...Vadoma...she began speaking, whispering something...she was telling Rose to tell Tommy about the curse...and a Gypsy who could fix it...he would know...
Reality hit Rose like a wave of freezing cold water washing over her head. Her vision became clear and the pain in her head vanished, the Shelby betting shop room coming back into focus. Once again, all eyes in the room were trained on her, and Tommy was supporting her with both arms. Her breathing was quick - as if she had been running - and a cool sheen of sweat glistened on the back of her neck.
"There's something I need to tell you," she gasped, as if it had been an age since she had breathed air. "Right now." Tommy looked down at her questioningly, the rest of the room waiting with bated breath. "When I was being held by Campbell, he brought a Gypsy down into the cell, and he got her to curse me. Her name was Vadoma. She did not want to do it, but she had no choice. She...she cursed me so that my kiss is lethal to you," Rose finished, her eyes searching Tommy's face frantically. Confusion had knitted his brows together, and his eyes stared back at her intensely. "She said there was only one Gypsy who might be able to rectify the curse, and that you would know who it is."
Tommy's face lit up with the realisation of what had happened. The rest of the Shelby watched them with curious eyes, yet the moment felt entirely private. It now made sense why Rose had refused him...why she had been so reserved and closed off. The feeling of relief left him quickly, however, for another realisation planted a heavy knot inside Tommy's chest.
"I know the Gypsy," he nodded breathlessly, yet his eyes were filled with worry. "Aishe."
A quiet yet sharp intake of breath echoed around the room.
/Lie to me, lie with me, get your fucking fix/
So there we have it, the memories from Rose's time in imprisonment have finally resurfaced, and Tommy knows the truth. Buuuuut maybe things aren't going to be quite that easy;)
Let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.