A/N: Hey guys, Paradise is back! I think that, because I took such a long break from this, and finished series 3 of Peaky Blinders some months ago, I have a better idea of where I want this story to go. It might take a HUGE AU turn after chapter 5, since I am not overtly fond of Tommy x Grace. I am going to try not to make Tommy /too/ OOC, since I love him just the way he is in the show :). As always, please comment on what you guys think, and I hope to have another update within the next week or so! :)

:::::

"Lauren is actually my adopted name for when I came here. Melissa is my birth name. It's sad though, I'm used to Lauren now. Melissa doesn't exist," Lauren states softly. The three women were in the kitchen, Veronica sitting on the counter, while Lauren and Emma sat on chairs.

Despite the outside appearance, Lauren took great pride in her home and had kept the interior neat and polished. Veronica took in the kitchen and what she could see of the living room. Though most of the materials Lauren possessed were obviously second-hand, nothing looked worn out or out of place.

"Thank you for letting us into your home, Lauren," Emma smiles warmly, her teacher traits coming through.

"No, thank you for coming, both of you really," Lauren says earnestly. "I- I was not really sure if I should have written and... Well, I was- I am afraid. I know that I am asking for a lot-"

"Nonsense," Emma interrupted her. "What you did, writing to Ada, was incredibly brave. We will do whatever we can to make sure he doesn't step foot in the whole of Birmingham for the rest of his miserable life."

Veronica got down from the counter, taking a step so she was right behind Emma. She put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "We are going to go home and brainstorm and then get in touch with you in a couple of days," she says. "However, if you can't wait that long, if anything at all happens and you find that you can't stay here, you just go down to the Garrison and ask for me, okay? We want you safe, Lauren."

Lauren nods, a pained smile forming at her lips, the threat of tears in her eyes. "Please, I don't want to lose my home. I've worked so hard for this," she looks down at her lap, her hands closed in fists. "So, so hard. I have no one here," a sob escapes her.

Veronica walks the short length to the other end of the table, taking Lauren's hands into her own and unballing her hands. "Well, you have us now, okay?"

:::::

Later that night, Veronica sets the table for dinner while Polly puts the finishing touches on the meal.

"I believe it's just the two of us tonight, dear, so don't mind if I pull this out," Polly says, her demeanor sneaky. She opens the cupboard where spices are kept, reaches into the back and presents a bottle of wine. "Only the best," she says, her voice excited, "aged for a few years."

"Well Polly I have to say, I don't know much about wine or what aging it does, but I will gladly drink this with you," Veronica smiles, equally as excited.

As the two women began serving themselves their dinner, the front door slammed shut with a dull THUD.

Polly turned her head to the direction of the noise, only to be greeted by Finn. "Yes! Food!" The younger Shelby exclaimed, sitting down next to Veronica. "Where's my plate, aunt Pol?"

Polly opens her mouth and shuts it almost immediately, choosing instead to get up to fetch a plate and a fork for Finn. Veronica bites her lip, trying not to laugh. So much for a quiet dinner.

"And what do we say?" Polly asks Finn when she's made is plate. "Thank you, aunt Polllll," Finn replies, then starts eating.

"Good," Polly nods her head. "Now, let's get this open," she reaches for the wine bottle and grabs a corkscrew from the counter.

Veronica thanks Polly once she's served the wine.

"Now, Veronica tell me-" Polly starts before she is interrupted once again by the slamming of the door.

"Who is it now?" She says, irritated.

"It's just me, Pol," Thomas says, entering the room. "Please, don't let me interrupt," he says almost sarcastically.

Polly takes a deep breath in and turns back to Veronica. "How are your parents?"

Veronica answers while out of the corner of her eye, she watches Thomas get a plate for himself. Polly, too busy with her food, doesn't notice.

"They are in good spirits, thank you for asking. Oh! And before I forget, they have invited you and your family to come visit whenever you all want, just say the words and we'll make it happen," Veronica smiled brightly at Polly now. She wanted Polly to know just how appreciative she was of her hospitality and frankly, the older woman had turned into almost an extended family member, a testament to how close her and Ada already were.

"And what do you suppose we're to do once we're there, hmm?" Thomas spoke up, a drink already in his hand. He set a plate down on the table with his other hand, but didn't make any move to serve himself.

Veronica narrowed her eyes at him, tilting her head slightly.

"Well, I suppose you'd do whatever it is you don't do here..." she kept her voice light, careful not to offend with her tone.

Thomas waited for her to finish, his eyes boring into her face, studying every feature.

"Relax, Thomas," Veronica offered Thomas a teasing smile. "You are under no obligation to accept, we are just trying to be courteous."

"Yes, do you hear that, Tommy? Courteous," Polly chides him, taking a sip of her wine. Thomas stares silently at his aunt before downing his drink and leaving the table.

Geez, Veronica thinks. He needs to lighten up.

::::

After cleaning up the kitchen, Veronica decided to read. She got a book from Ada's room and choose to read in the living room. Hours passed with Veronica sitting there, flying through the book. Polly and Finn were already in bed, the other Shelby's most likely were not even going to make it home that night.

After checking the wall clock, which read 12:18 as the time, Veronica decided to call it a night, but before she could walk across the room and up the stairs, she heard the front door unlock.

Thomas walked into the living room, removing his cap while he closed the door. When he turned, he saw Veronica staring at him, holding the book to her chest. Thomas made no move to walk past her, instead throwing his cap on the coffee table and taking a seat on the couch's arm.

"Didn't think you'd be up at this time," he stated, his deep voice disrupting the stillness of the house.

Veronica shrugged slightly. "I was reading, the time just passed me."

Thomas didn't say anything, only regarded Veronica with a look she couldn't quite place.

"About earlier, Thomas," Veronica starting. "I know how you took that, and I didn't mean to offend."

Again, Thomas didn't reply, only gave her a look which said, what do you know?

"I know how I may come off, you know, being here. I spend and I go out whenever I please, and I advised Ada to keep her baby-"

"You-"

"No, let me finish," Veronica held up a hand, to which Thomas only quirked up an eyebrow.

"Your family is kind, and funny, and you've allowed me to stay here when you had no obligation to do so. I know that the idea of me inviting you to my home repulses you when we possess things other people have never even dreamed of, I know. My mouth gets the better of me sometimes, and I can only apologize for that, but I cannot change it. However, if I ever say anything that you deem disrespectful to you in any way, please correct me. I want us to be friends, not enemies, and the only way we can do that is if we understand each other, right?" Veronica finished, surprised that she said everything in one breath.

It seemed to Veronica that Thomas was taking her words earnestly, since he hadn't interrupted her nor broken eye contact.

Even after she finished, he peered at her face with slightly narrowed eyes, something Veronica found unnerving. After a couple of beats, he stood up, nodding his head slowly. Thomas dragged his eyes away from Veronica's face, looking at the book she held, then down at the coffee table.

"You seem to be under the impression that Birmingham is for people like you. Just walking in and looking at us like we're some sort of attraction," Thomas broke the silence, his eyes wandering to Veronica's again.

Veronica felt her mouth curl up, but quickly fixed her face before Thomas could say anything. Deciding it was best to keep her mouth shut, she waited for Thomas to finish.

"One bad day is all it will take for you to leave this place. And on the next day, these friends you've made here will wonder where you've gone, and why you've gone, and when you come back, no one will speak to you. No one will look at you. Because they'll realize that you never really lived here, you don't know what it's like. You can call in the experience for a few months, then run home to gold floors and nannies and-"

"Okay," Veronica interrupted him. "Fine, Thomas." Veronica shook her head sourly. "You think I'm spoiled, yes, I guess I am. But I know right from wrong, and, yes, occasionally things here seem foreign to me because, guess what! I'm not from here!" Her voice started to raise a bit, but she was careful to keep it even as she took a few steps towards Thomas. "But you will not bully me out of here. And maybe I will have that one bad day. And sure, maybe I'll leave because it'll be too much for me. But what if I stay? Hmm? What then?" Her eyes flashed across his face, all intentions of being polite seemingly out the window.

Thomas opened his mouth to reply back, but before he could, Veronica turned around, walking towards the stairs.

"Goodnight, Thomas."