Being friends with the Shelby family comes with a host of consequences, not all of them good. Sure, the people of Small Heath take great care not to upset you or get in your way, the bakers always give you the freshest bread when you wandered in, and Harry hardly ever charges you for a drink in the Garrison these days.
You cope with the fact that some women give you a wide berth even as they gossip about your attachment to the most dangerous family in Birmingham. You deal with the way men seem to scarper, too intimidated to continue flirting, when the figure out which family you’re connected to. You can even cope with the occasional fight you find yourself entangled in, blood and bruises becoming something you don’t even bat an eyelash at.
The problem, really, is Thomas Shelby himself.
You come to know the Shelbys through John; you’re in the same classes at school, and your easygoing and mischievous nature make the two of you fast friends. You spend years as a frankly dangerous duo, tussling and causing trouble wherever you go. Polly despairs at the sight of you two tumbling through the door, covered in dirt and bruises, eyes fever-bright with whatever victory you snatched that day.
Both your families are convinced that one day you’ll end up falling in love and getting married, but the two of you know better. While you can’t exactly say he’s like a brother to you — you aren’t oblivious to the fact that, objectively, John’s a very attractive man — there’s never been anything romantic between you. You trade a handful of sloppy kisses as teenagers, drunk off of stolen whiskey and blood thundering with adrenaline after another successful trick pulled on Arthur, and it’s… fine. Nothing spectacular, nothing mind blowing, and certainly nothing either of you are quick to try again.
When he meets Martha, you’re the first to know he’d love her. It’s obvious in every line of his face the second he lays eyes on her that she’s the one for him. Everyone expects you to be heartbroken when they announce their engagement, but you’re there beaming wide and bright and unsurprised because John told you first, of course, dragging you to the shops to get your opinion on a ring.
(“You’re a woman—.”
“—Fantastic observation there, Johnny, really.”
“Fuck off, you know what I mean. You’ll know what she’ll like.”)
John is first, but most of the others come to accept you as one of their own, too. Ada is a quick second, the two of you bonding over the annoyance of dealing with boys who think they’re men, and then men who think they know better just because they have a cock in their trousers. Finn’s an easy one, too; you just ply him with sweets until he thinks you’re ‘the best person ever!’ and that’s that.
Arthur comes slowly, the age gap a problem until the day he watches in awe as you drank his brother under the table, and then after that it’s as if there’d never been distance between you at all. Polly’s the slowest to take to you, your bond only really coming when the boys are away at war and still you stay close, helping with the business as much as you could.
Tommy’s the only one to never try, to never bother, even before the war changes him so irrevocably. You’re just a kid, at first, one of John’s friends who spends too much time hanging around the house. You’re simply there, and that’s all. It doesn’t even bother you all that much; Tommy’s attractive and for all that you spend pretty much the entirety of the time knowing him harbouring a tiny fancy for him, he’s John’s brother which puts him firmly off-limits. So, you never try to cross the distance when he makes it clear he doesn’t want to know you.
By the time you’re even old enough to potentially be of interest he’s already written you off, first as the girl John’s so clearly in love with and then just John’s friend, again, who’s probably in denial about being in love with him. Even when everyone tells him otherwise, when Polly herself tries insisting that there was more to you than just John, he won’t listen.
And therein lies the issue. Tommy thinks he has you all figured out, thinks he knows better than you do about how you feel about things and what you’re capable of, and it grates. He treats you like an extension of John, almost like an afterthought, and never bothers to try and get to know you beyond that. The fact that you want him to try, that you want him at all just makes it harder, irritation contending with the hurt that he’s so thoroughly written you off while you remain pining for him in secret.
It only gets worse when they come back from war; Martha is gone, now, and you’ve spent years helping Polly and Ada with John’s kids, looking after them as if they’re your own.
When John comes back, you’re there every step of the way as he tries to figure out how to be a dad on his own. You essentially move in with him, spending more nights than you can count staying too late to bother with the walk home. It’s all to help him settle into life without a war going on, without a wife there to help with the kids and the house and everything he’s never really thought about before, because he’s your best friend and that’s what best friends are about. You help each other even when it’s hard, even when you want to tear each other’s throats out with frustration. You love him fiercely, of course you do, but it certainly doesn’t make you in love with him.
Not that you’ve ever had any luck convincing Tommy of that fact.
“Pol said you wanted to see me?”
You stand in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning against the wooden frame as you speak into the silence of the room. Tommy sits at the table, jacket on the back of the chair and shirt-sleeves pushed up to his elbows. A cigarette hangs loosely from his lips, smoke filling the air, and you notice — not for the first time — how clear and sharp his eyes are as he looks over at you.
“Yeah.” He takes a deep inhale of his cigarette, gesturing for you to sit. “Need to talk to you about something.”
You blink once before entering the room proper, settling in the chair opposite. “Alright,” you say warily, shoulders tense. Tommy pretty much never speaks to you, and his desire to now put you instantly on edge. “What about?”
He considers you for a long moment, gaze steady and intense in a way that makes you want to fidget like a schoolgirl waiting for a scolding. You carefully hold yourself still, instead, refusing to give him the satisfaction of squirming; Tommy knows he’s intimidating, but you aren’t about to feed into his ego by reacting to his stare.
“Ada tells me you’ve been staying at our John’s lately, helping him out with the kids and the house.”
You wait expectantly for the rest, but nothing comes. He just blinks slowly at you, eyebrow barely raised, and your brows furrow as you frown at him. You’re sure there’s a point in there somewhere, but for the life of you can’t figure out what it is.
He exhales sharply, stubbing his cigarette before leaning back in his chair, the picture of casual disinterest. It’s only the clench of his jaw that gives his annoyance away, and you try to convince yourself you’re not distracted by the tick of the muscle there. “Should we be expecting an announcement from the two of you anytime soon?” The eyebrow inches up higher.
Your blood boils as the implication settles; he either means an announcement that you’re pregnant, fucking or getting married, and whatever it is he’s so wrong you want to hit something. Preferably his face.
“Oh, you’re not still on this, are you?” Your eyes narrow, glaring as you cross your arms over your chest. “John and I aren’t like that, Tommy. We’ve literally never been like that.”
He simply blinks again, so unaffected by your annoyance that the urge to lash out at him flares again if only to see some sort of emotion from him. He’s so cold and apathetic and you sort of want to scream; even though he never really took to you, Tommy was never so cut off before the war, and you find yourself wishing for simpler times. It’s not the first time you’ve wished for them.
“People talk, eh?” He speaks deliberately, each word slow and condescending. “A woman staying at a man’s house as much as you’re at John’s… assumptions are going to be made.”
“I’m too sober for this.” You get to your feet and head for where you know the whiskey is kept, pouring yourself a large measure and knocking it back before pouring another. The burn of the alcohol settles you, grounds you, and you turn back to Tommy with a clearer expression, feeling vindictively pleased at the annoyed press of his mouth as you drink the amber liquid.
“I don’t give a flying fuck about people, Tommy.” Your fingers clench the glass so hard your knuckles turn white. You don’t say that you care what he thinks, because that’s pointless and just asking for heartache; you doubt that Tommy thinks about you at all, most of the time.
“John’s my best friend, and he needs me. He needs help, so I’m helping him, alright? I help him with the house and I help with the kids and Christ, I help him when he can’t fucking sleep at night because the war feels more real than home does.”
You gulp down the last of your whiskey before setting the glass aside and leaning forward, hands pressing into the wood of the table as you stare furiously across at Tommy. “I’m not fucking him. I’ve never fucked him, actually. I’m not and have never been in love with him. I’m not staying there in the hopes he’ll fall in love with me and propose and we’ll play happy families.” Your face screws up with anger. “I’m his best friend, for fucks sake. Why can’t you get that through your head, hmm? Just why is that such a hard concept for you to grasp?”
He stands, the movement abrupt enough that it almost knocks his chair to the ground, and he mirrors your position, leaning across the table with palms splayed on the wood. His eyes are dark and he’s scowling, the most emotion you’ve seen from him in an age, and your heart thunders in your chest at the sight of it.
“Cos I’ve spent years watching the two of you together, laughing and joking and hanging all over each other without caring about who was around, love,” he spits, voice low and furious. “Years listening to our friends and our families joke about the big wedding you two were bound to have one day, ‘cause you two ending up together was so fucking inevitable. Just you and John, that’s what it always is, eh?”
“No it fucking isn’t!” The words tear from your throat with force, and you feel yourself shaking you’re so riled up. The fact that despite everything, despite your steady presence in this house with this family that he continues to write you off as nothing more than a part of John gets you beyond furious. The part of you that harbours feelings for him, despite all attempts to bury them, that part just aches and that makes you all the angrier.
“Alright, yeah, we spend a lot of time together, and we’re comfortable together. That’s because we’re friends, Tommy. Just like I’m friends with Ada and Arthur and Finn and even Polly. Fucks sake, we could have been ‘hanging all over each other’ if you’d given me half a fucking chance to—.” You cut yourself off, chest heaving as you gulp in breaths, and with a shake of your head you push off from the table. You’ve said too much, given too much away, and fear surges through you before you stomp down on it ruthlessly.
Tommy’s panting, too, expression stormy with anger as he stares at you. The silence lingers, heavy and oppressing, as the two of you just look at each other for a long moment. You wait for him to say something, anything, to interrupt the quiet of the room, but nothing comes and so you scoff derisively.
“I don’t know why I fucking bother,” you mutter, dragging a hand across your face.
You spin on your heel, fully prepared to storm from the house and get absolutely hammered at the Garrison, but you’re forced into to a sharp halt when Tommy’s fingers curl around your elbow. His grip is tight enough to stop you but not to hurt, and you still as the heat of his fingers seeps through your dress.
“If I’d given you half a chance to what?” he says, voice soft.
You release a shaky breath, shaking your head. Your back is to him and a part of you wants to turn and face him, to see what expression is on his face to go with that uncannily gentle tone, but you don’t think you could cope if it was just that coldly apathetic look again. You straighten your shoulders, instead, staring intently at your shoes.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Tommy’s grip tightens and he tugs on your arm, forcing you into turning so you’re looking his direction, but you stubbornly keep your gaze down. He’s so close that you can smell him, cigarette smoke and gunpowder and the way rain smells, and you half-hate yourself for the deep inhale of his scent you take as he pulls you closer.
“Hey.” He huffs out an irritated breath. “Look at me.”
You’re tempted to deny him, but despite yourself you respond to the command and raise your eyes to his. He’s looking at you a little like as if he’s never actually seen you before, intense eyes drinking in your face and it steals your breath. His fingers trail down your arm, deliberate and slow, and you know he catches the way your breathing hitches at the touch. He stops at your wrist, keen eyes watching your every reaction as you shudder when calloused fingertips drag against your bare skin.
“Tell me,” he instructs, voice low and rumbling.
“John was never—,” you pause, licking suddenly dry lips, and Tommy’s eyes darken as they track the movement of your tongue. “He was never the Shelby I was interested in, Tommy.” You swallow, heart racing and fingers shaking as you finally admit out loud the secret you’ve been trying to hide for years. “It’s always been you.”
You barely have a moment to process what happens next. Tommy’s hand drops from your wrist, pressing into the small of your back instead. His other hand slides into your hair, cradling the back of your head as he pulls your face to his, and between one breath and the next he’s kissing you.
There’s a wild moment where your brain screams about the fact that Tommy fucking Shelby is kissing you, and then everything goes quiet as his lips move against yours, coaxing you from the stillness of your shock. His hand drops from your hair to your waist, pulling you so your bodies are pressed together, and you sigh against his mouth as your arms loop around his neck. He kisses you like he has all the time in the world, languid and relaxed, hands dragging up and down your back with deliberate slowness.
You pull apart only when breathing becomes a priority, staying close enough that every deep inhale makes your chests brush. Tommy’s fingers dig into your waist, eyes dark with want and satisfaction both, and you shiver at the hunger on his face. It’s not an expression you ever expected to see him direct towards you, but you suddenly find yourself wanting to make him look at you like that all the time.
The dizzy haze of lust fades a little, though, as you breath together, and reluctantly you step from his embrace. The way his hands drag across your skin through your dress let you know he’s not happy about letting you go, but he doesn’t stop you from putting more distance between you, and you need it. For all that you’re fucking ecstatic to have just kissed the man you’ve spent an age wanting, you’re confused. Going from accusing you of having something with John to kissing you is such an abrupt change it makes your head spin a little.
“I don’t understand,” you admit, voice husky. “You— you’ve barely made any effort to know me the entire time I’ve been friends with John—.”
“—You really think I have to talk to you all the time to know you?” he interrupts, shaking his head. You stop, allowing him that point with a sigh; Tommy’s observant enough to figure out people without having to talk to them, and you’ve known him to ask after people he needs information about without approaching them personally. “I’ve spent years with you ‘round this house, round my family. I know you, love.”
You bristle at the calm confidence of his words. “Obviously not well enough to realise John wasn’t the brother I wanted, hmm?” you snark, crossing your arms over your chest. You can’t believe how much this man can infuriate you with a few words and yet, somehow, still have you wanting him so bad it’s all you can do not to kiss him again.
Tommy groans, shaking his head again at you, looking entirely done with this conversation. “I’m not claiming to be perfect at reading you, alright? I assumed — everyone assumed — you two were gonna end up together when you were kids.” He shrugs. “It’s possible that clouded what I was seein’. Convinced myself that any attention you showed me was just reading too much into it.”
He huffs out a breath, and you get the distinct impression he really doesn’t want to talk about this, but you make no move to stop him. “I’ve liked you since we were kids, alright? But it was always you and John, and I wasn’t gonna get in the way of that. He’s my fucking brother. I wouldn’t do that to him. If I’d have known— I’ve wanted you for fucking years, love. Years. If I’d thought for a second there was something there for you, too, trust me. I wouldn’t have taken so long to kiss you, eh?”
You bite your lip, watching him with lidded eyes. Part of you wants to continue digging at him for being so oblivious — it’s so unlike him that you can’t help but want to comment on it — but the rest of you is stuck on the fact that he’s fancied you for so long. You’ve wasted so much time already, arguing and pining and dancing around each other for no fucking reason. You don’t want to waste anymore time.
“You’re a fucking idiot, Tommy Shelby,” you tell him, the smile on your face taking the sting out of your words. “Now get over here and kiss me properly, alright?”
He smirks at you, slow and sinful, and a rush of anticipation tingles over your skin. “Getting bossy now, are we?” he purrs, sauntering towards you with a predatory gleam in his eyes.
You smile innocently up at him, saying nothing, and his low chuckle sends shivers down your spine. He walks you backwards until the kitchen counter digs into the small of your back, hands settling either side of you. Trapped by his eyes and body and your own desire, you press against him teasingly, one eyebrow arched.
“I still don’t see any kissing going on here, Mr Shelby,” you point out, one hand running across his chest.
He hums, head tilting down to face you so that his lips brush against yours with each word. “Suppose I’ll have to fix that, won’t I?” he murmurs before capturing your mouth in a greedy kiss.
By the time the two of you finish, Tommy has to add three glasses, a plate and a very unfortunate bag of shopping to his list of things to fix.