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iv.

Arthur's tallying their day’s takings from tracks when a spate of deep, chesty coughing erupts upstairs and derails his count. "Holy fuckin' 'ell," he growls, throwing down his pencil. "Is 'e gonna be doing that all fuckin' day?"

"Bite your tongue," Polly says absently, scanning over her own stack of papers. "It's not Thomas' fault you can't count past twenty. Give it here, if you're so easily distracted."

Arthur picks up the pencil and slaps in into her waiting hand.

"I'll do this," she says. "You go up and check on your brother."

Arthur rolls his eyes. "For fuck's sake, Pol, he's not a kid. He doesn't need checkin’ on."

"Arthur," Polly says, not sharp but warning all the same, and he subsides. "I know what happened last time—"

"He fuckin' hit me," Arthur mutters.

"— but he's not himself right now, and besides, he's done far worse for you than taking a tap on the cheek."

"Yeah, yeah, fine." He pushes himself up. "If he breaks my nose, I'll make sure to bleed over all your carpets."

"You wouldn't be the first," Polly replies evenly, without looking up. "Go on."

 

Tommy's sitting hunched over on the edge of the bed amid a mess of tangled sheets and blankets, one hand white-knuckled around the thin mattress and the other pressed against his chest as he wheezes out heavy, laboured breaths. His shirt hangs strangely, damp with sweat, and Arthur can almost feel the heat coming off of him. Tommy looks up when he comes in, looks up with dull, red-rimmed eyes, and his irritation vanishes on the spot.

"Jesus, Tommy," he hisses, "what're you doing? Lie down, come on." He takes him by the shoulders – fuck but he's hot – and tries to get him back where he belongs, but Tommy shakes him off.

"They're coming," he says hoarsely. Arthur freezes. "Got to go."

"Who's coming?" Arthur asks carefully. Tommy just sways forward, and Arthur catches him by the shoulders again, crouches down to his level.

"Who's coming, Tommy?"

"Shovels," Tommy mutters, and tries to push himself up. "Can't you hear the shovels?"

Cold rushes down Arthur's back, because Tommy's supposed to be the sane one, supposed to be the one who made it through unscathed, supposed to be the one not haunted by memories and nightmares but fuck.

"There's no shovels, Tommy," he says quietly. "You're home, but you're sick, so you need to lie down now, alright?"

For a second time, Tommy shoves him away, and actually manages to get to his feet. He doesn't last long, though – only makes it one step before he's pitching forward into Arthur, who just barely manages to catch him in time to keep them from sprawling to the ground. "They're coming," Tommy mutters again, face pressed against Arthur's neck and he's so, so hot.

"No they're not," Arthur says, trying for firm as he shuffles them back towards the bed. "The war's over, innit? How many times've you told me that? 'The war's over, close the door on it.'"

"I can hear them," Tommy insists in a slur, fighting clumsily against Arthur's arms. "I can hear them, they're getting close."

"No one's coming except a fucking doctor," Arthur grunts, and with one final shove he gets Tommy back on the bed, where he lands with a wheeze and starts coughing that deep, chesty cough from before. It shakes the bed – shakes the whole room, it feels like – and sounds like to tear Tommy apart from the inside. And fuck, he doesn't know what to do, does he?

Nothing he can do but let it run its course, seems like, and when it has he pushes Tommy back down against the pillows as firmly as he dares and digs the blankets out from under him to cover him with again. "Stay put," he orders.

Tommy just looks at him through half-lidded eyes and pulls in deep, shaking breaths that catch and rattle in his chest.

He goes downstairs to the kitchen and slams through the cupboards and drawers until he finds a clean towel.

"How long have you lived in this house?" Polly asks lazily, watching his search through a haze of cigarette smoke.

"Did you know 'e was that bad?" Arthur demands. "Did you fuckin' know?"

Polly's eyes go hard and sharp in the space of a heartbeat. "No," she says flatly, and stubs out her cigarette. "How bad?"

Arthur shows her, and the second she sees him she snatches the wet towel from his hand with a muttered curse and stalks across the room.

“He’s hearing things,” Arthur tells her, waiting by the doorway. “Not sure if it’s the fever, or…” Polly knows just as well as he does that the war never really left anyone behind, not entirely, but if Tom’s hearing the shovels now, maybe it’s not the first time he’s heard them. And that, well. Not his fucking business, is it. Not anyone’s business.

“Probably bloody is,” Polly snaps, but he can see that she’s being gentle with him as she feels his forehead and listens to his chest. “The cough needs a poultice before it tightens up any more, and apparently the fever needs closer minding.” She shoots him a look as she finishes, half challenge, half concession, and he sighs.

“All right, yeah. I’ll sit with ‘im.”

Tom’s been sick for a few days, now, and spent most of that time alternating between hours of dead-heavy sleep and short bursts of violent agitation. He almost bit Polly yesterday, and he’s hit his brothers more than once, but it’s never been malicious, right. It’s just panic. Just terror. And if he’s back in those fucking tunnels, it’s no wonder.

After that outburst, though, Arthur doubts he could so much as lift a finger from the mattress, let alone a hand against him.

He pulls up a chair and drops into it, rubbing at his eyes. When he opens them again, Tommy’s fixed him with a glassy stare that’s more through him than on him, but at least his breathing’s settled down a bit.

Polly brings up a mustard poultice, and Tommy just lies there, sweating like a flogged horse as she puts it on him. The fumes are fucking horrible, and even Arthur’s feeling sick by the time she comes back to clear it away. He stays, though, and he stays through the night, and by the morning, Tommy’s resting easier.

 

ii.

Tommy tries to quit the fucking opium three times before it sticks. Arthur only knows that because he’s there for the third time, and Tommy tells him. Tommy’s saying all sorts of shit that he probably don’t mean to say, when he can get words out between the shaking and the retching, which to be fair isn’t all that often.

Best as Arthur can tell, he’d found him right around the peak of it: he’d looked bad for a couple of days, then just fucking vanished. It’s not like he’d never go off like that, without telling anyone where or when or why, so no one took a lot of notice. Arthur, though, Arthur’d had a bad feeling this time, and decided to go through his usual haunts and see if he’d turn up.

He’d found him in the stables, curled up in an empty stall and shaking like he was dying of cold.

He’s still shaking, but he’s got a couple of blankets around him now, and Arthur behind him, holding him as he tries to fly apart and helping him sit up and lean over when he needs to be sick.

It goes on for-fucking-ever – feels like it, anyway – but as the thin light coming in the windows moves around to the other side, getting on towards evening, Tommy’s calmed down some, more restless and miserable than thrashing and agonised. He’s still clammy, still muttering from time to time, but he’s kept down the sips of water that Arthur had given him and at this point, spending the night in the stables is probably gonna do more harm than good.

Arthur’s pretty much numb from the neck down after sitting wedged into the corner of a stall for the better part of a day, so he’s not in any huge fucking rush either, and over about five minutes he manages to get them both upright. The walk back to the house is hard on both of them, Arthur having to take more and more of Tommy’s weight as the shakes come back, and Tommy having to stop about halfway to lose that water after all, but they make it inside in more or less one piece, without even being seen.

Tommy’ll probably be pissed as all hell when he comes back to himself and realises where he is, but he’d have to be well and truly mad not to be grateful for a warm fucking bed.

 

viii.

When Arthur goes to the hospital to collect him, he finds him sitting on the edge of the bed in that cave-like room, staring at the floor by the far wall with nothing to his expression but lines and shadows.

He's dressed in his own clothes, but they fit badly, and the edges of his waistcoat hang forward, buttons not done up.

"Ready to go, then?" Arthur asks. "Got everything you need?"

Tommy's vacant stare wanders a little to the right, a little towards him, and his head barely moves as he nods. Bad day for this, then, but it's not like there've been a lot of good ones.

"Papers all signed?"

"Yeah."

"Right." Arthur hesitates a moment, then goes into the room and crouches down in front of Tommy. In the pale light coming through the high window, Tommy's pupils are pinpricks and his left hand is shaking and twitching where it rests on the mattress.

Tommy doesn't say a word as Arthur buttons up his waistcoat for him, just keeps looking through him at the floor, but when Arthur stands and takes him by the arm, Tommy stands as well and lets Arthur lead him out.

 

The morphine holds him through the drive, more or less, but he’s clearly in a bad way. The housekeeper – what's her name, he can never remember – meets them in the hall, and together they get Tommy up the stairs and into his room.

Ada's taken Charlie for the time being, so there's no one else in the house needs worrying about, but that still leaves room for a lot of worrying, don't it.

Arthur gets Tommy down to his undershirt and shorts and gets him under the covers, then pulls all the curtains shut. He doesn’t like this house, doesn’t like its echoes and its emptiness and its pointless fucking grandeur. It makes him an outsider, makes him a stranger. A stranger to his own fucking brother.

Well, Tom’s a fucking stranger to him right now, so fair’s fair.

 

He has no fucking idea how Tommy managed to fool the doctors into letting him leave, but he must have somehow, because he’s a fucking wreck.

It’s not just the headaches, or the dizziness, or the fact that his eyes don’t work well enough to read, no. It’s that sometimes Arthur’ll come into the room and Tommy’ll stare at him like he has no fucking idea who he is. It’s that he’ll get lost in his own house – which, granted, is fucking huge, but Tommy can’t walk far enough to get out of his fucking bedroom without help. It’s that sometimes the entire left side of his body seems to forget it’s fucking there, and to all appearances Tommy don’t even notice.

It’s not normal for him not to notice things. At least, it didn’t used to be. There’s a lot that he don’t notice now, and Arthur has to notice it for him.

Notice when he thinks he’s smoking but the cigarette is burning to ash between the fingers of his motionless left hand.

Notice that he’s already had his morphine for the day and shouldn’t take another full fucking dose two hours later.

Notice when he loses days at a time to sleep so deep it’s practically a coma.

Notice that he’s pale because he hasn’t been outside in two months and needs the open air.

Notice that he’s skinny as a rail because even when he fucking deigns to eat, anything on the left side of the plate goes un-fucking-seen.

Three weeks later, when Polly climbs down from her high horse and starts acting like she gives a damn about the rest of them, Arthur is sick to death of noticing things.

 

i.

They’re still young men when Arthur realizes that being the oldest isn’t enough to be a leader. It bothers him at first, Tommy being smarter than him, but as they grow older he recognises the good of it. Arthur’s loud, but Tom’s charismatic. Arthur can keep people in line, but Tom can make them want to be there. Arthur can call the shots, but Tom’s the one to tell him to. Together, they’re a force, a front, and there’s not much in Small Heath that can stand in their way.

War’s not in Small Heath, though, is it.

And shells don’t give a fuck who they blow up.

And brains and bravery ain’t enough to get you through.

They’re young when Arthur realises that Tommy’s the real leader of the family, ‘side from Polly, and in years they’re still young when he realises that leader or not, he’s still Tommy’s older brother, but they’ve aged so fucking much by then.

They get split up early on, the three of them, Tommy going off with Freddie and Danny to crawl right into hell’s gaping maw, and it’s easier to be an older brother to John because he always has been, hasn’t he? He’s always known where he stands with John, so it’s easier to watch out for him and drag him out of trouble.

He fucking worries, though. They all do. Him and John the rest of the boys in their unit. They all worry about everything all the time, is the thing, but he and John worry about Tommy, off god knows where and how deep underground.

He tells himself that Tommy’s smart, he thinks quick, he’s got good instincts. He tells himself that they’re all at risk of being slaughtered out here. He keeps an eye on John, focuses on following orders unless they’re insane and following alternate orders when they are, and tells himself so many times that Tommy’s fine, Tommy’s fine, Tommy’s fine, that he doesn’t see the obvious until the war’s over.

Because another thing about Tommy, right, is he’s always been good at pretending. Good at voices, good at persuading, good at lying.

By the time the war’s over, Tommy doesn’t do that anymore. He just makes his face go fucking blank and doesn’t say a single word he doesn’t mean to. And Arthur used to think that was pretending, too, thought it was a stoic front that would come down once it was safe.

It never comes down, though. It never comes down, and Arthur realises that Tommy isn’t fine at all.

 

x.

Tommy’s mad dog, they call him, and they’re not wrong.

He hates it, but they’re not fucking wrong.

He tries, God knows he tries, but something in him’s been broken a long time, and nothing seems to fix it.

He hates the way he loses himself, hates the way he always feels that weight shifting around inside himself, ready to tip to one side at the slightest provocation, hates the way he’s used and distrusted and fucking managed.

He wants to be his own man, but he fucking can’t be. Not like this.

He wants to be in control of himself, wants to know who he is, wants to know what he wants. Wants to have a say in what he will and won’t do, wants to decide what he doesn’t and doesn’t have to fucking tolerate.

He doesn’t need to be the leader, but he needs to be a person. A fucking human being.

But he can’t. He isn’t. He’s the mad dog of the family, the beast, the monster, the devil. It’s who he is – what he is – and as much as he hates it, it’s the only role he knows how to play.

When Mosley doesn’t die, though.

When Mosley doesn’t die and somebody’s a traitor and Tommy has failed, he sees him, sees Tommy, holding a gun to his own head and shouting into the emptiness like his humanity’s being ripped from his chest, and he knows.

He knows that rage. He knows that emptiness. He knows that loss.

Tommy’s as much of a dog as he is. And maybe nobody’s seen it yet, but under that empty fucking face, he’s twice as mad.