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Common Tongue

Chapter Text

Angel Island, San Francisco
May, 1923

Kiku spent only a few hours on Angel Island; the immigration officers had known he was coming.

There were a few other Japanese men who had flouted the law and braved the crossing, but all of them were much older and rougher than he was. Kiku - eighteen, well-dressed and soft-spoken - stuck out like a sore thumb in the rag-tag myriad of passengers. He spent most of the journey holed up in his bunk, studying a dog-eared book of English grammar and vocabulary, planning out conversations that he’d probably never get to have in real life.

When they docked at the checkpoint - an island a few miles from the harbor - a group of uniformed Americans came on board and began to separate the passengers. The few women and children were pulled - sometimes forcefully - away from their families, and the men dictated to stay where they were. It was clear that none of the officers spoke Chinese, which was the common language of the ship, and while some passengers accepted the situation, others grew distressed. Kiku picked up his two locked suitcases and made to stand with the other men but someone took him by the shoulder before he could reach them.

A young officer compared his face to a photograph.

“You’re coming with me,” he declared, making no room for argument. “This way.”

Kiku felt the eyes of his fellow passengers on his back as he descended to the pier. The sun was already high in the sky, making him sweat beneath his collar. His father was always stressing the importance of the first impression and so Kiku had worn a suit for this occasion. But as they strolled up the hills, the officer set such a brisk pace that Kiku struggled to keep up. He couldn’t drop his suitcases and take a break; it felt rude to even ask. He tried to breathe deeply as they pressed on.

After their hike, they came upon their first destination. The government-operated checkpoints were decidedly intimidating, clusters of stone buildings that had the stars and stripes flapping proudly out front, in a stark reminder. But inside the buildings, it was a bit cooler. A woman sat at a desk, fingers flying over the noisy keys of a typewriter. A group of men idled nearby, smoking heavily. They waved to Kiku’s officer and called out an incomprehensible greeting. Kiku tried not to trip over his own feet or draw any attention to himself.

They marched through a maze of brightly lit halls until at last, they reached a room containing just one table and a pair of chairs. Inside, an older man sat with a clipboard in hand, waiting. Kiku’s guide handed over the photograph and walked out with barely a word. The door slammed definitively shut behind him.


Kiku put down his suitcases and sat.

“State your name for the record.”

Western order, he reminded himself.

“Kiku Honda.”

“Date of birth?”

In English. “February 11, 1905.”


“I was a student.”

The man lifted his eyebrows. “Parents’ occupation?”

Kiku failed not to wince. “They are dead now. But while he lived, my father was a businessman. Imports and exports.”

It was a lie, but one that Kiku had repeated so often that it nearly sounded like truth.

“Sorry to hear that,” said the officer, in a flat voice. “Where do you plan on living in the United States?”

“New York. I have train tickets.”

Again, the eyebrows raised in suspicion. Kiku swallowed, worrying that he’d said too much.

“It says here you’ve got a sponsor.”

“Yes,” he said, worrying even more because now Kiku realized that he’d forgotten all about Western honorifics. There was a particular word, an equivalent for ‘-san’ that he couldn’t remember. He wanted to be respectful but had no idea how.

The officer merely sighed and made a note. “Damn, the old dog’s really pulling out all the stops for you, kid. Cross-country travel ain’t exactly cheap, you know?”

“I - I’m sorry.”

The man stared. “What the hell for?”

Kiku blushed.

Another sigh. The officer’s pen worked quickly as he grumbled, “Well, if you make it to the Big Apple in one piece, tell the old dog that Georgie O’Malley sends his best.”

It took a moment for Kiku to realize that he’d been dismissed. He lunged for the suitcases.

“Y-yes. I’ll do that. Thank you.”

The next stop had the worst part. All new arrivals were required to take a medical examination. It took place in a separate cluster of buildings and Kiku had been warned that the exam was thorough but still managed to be humiliated when the doctor ordered him to strip naked. His jaw clenched tight with anxiety as he was poked and prodded by an indifferent man in a white coat. Eventually, when Kiku was declared safe and healthy, they allowed him to redress and leave.

At the last station, a third officer and his perky, blonde secretary handed Kiku a set of documents printed in English.

“Keep these with you at all times. No exceptions, got it?”

Kiku nodded.

“I’m told that you’ll have someone to meet you at the wharf. And after that, you’ll travel to New York. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Kiku, hoarse. He very much wanted to get out of these sterile, indifferent halls but the thought of setting foot on American soil terrified him. He reminded himself that he had no choice in the matter. “And, ah - thank you. For all of your help today.”

The officer’s face twisted into something almost sympathetic.

“Bit of advice? Let your buddy do the talking. No offense,” he added. “But you seem like a nice kid. They’re going to eat you alive out there.”

With that final warning, Kiku was turned out of Angel Island and into the new world.

The first snow of winter came and took Kiku’s parents away.

It was December of 1922. Honda Kazuma received an extravagant gift from a friend in Italy - as payment for a favor, he’d said, winking. It was a new automobile, the first of its kind. Kiku’s father had visited Italy once before the war. He promised to take Kiku and his mother there, so that they could all see the eternal city together. He promised that he would teach Kiku to drive but Kiku declined his first lesson since his university entrance exams were coming up. He could tell that his mother, Shiori, was pleased with the decision; she’d privately confessed to Kiku that the automobile intimidated her.

When they left, Kiku allowed one of his pet cats into the house. Technically, they were feral but Kiku had been feeding them so long that they were practically tame. He let the little calico curl up on his lap under a blanket. Surrounded with books, watching fat snowflakes drift lazily downwards into the garden, Kiku had never felt more at peace.

His parents slipped on a patch of ice and crashed the car.

It could’ve happened to anyone.

The next week passed in a blur. Kiku went about his routines. Wake up, wonder why his parents weren’t having breakfast as usual, remember the accident. Go to school, study until his eyes felt tired, come home to an empty house. He forgot to eat more than once. Sleep came the easiest.

On the third or fourth day, his literature teacher - a lady barely older than Kiku himself - pulled him aside.

“I know that this is all very sudden and you’re enduring a lot,” she told him. “But you need to know that no one will blame you if you just take a few days for yourself. Your studying can wait.”

“That’s alright,” said Kiku, startled by the unexpected kindness.

“No,” she replied boldly. “No, I don’t believe it is. You act as though you’ve just accepted everything that’s happened to you. But you’re allowed to feel upset. You’re allowed to grieve, to cry, to get angry - do you understand that? Showing strength in the face of tragedy is very admirable but this - this flatness is very worrying to me. Do you understand that?”

He hadn’t even cried - not once since they’d come to deliver the news. And this was the first time someone had asked if he was alright. Being Honda Kazuma’s son wasn’t exactly the path to social stardom, so he’d never had many friends and his teachers usually left him alone provided that he did his work on time. It was like the world had stopped moving. Kiku only continued to exist because he knew that he was supposed to. Logically, he also knew that he should grieve, and yet…

He said, “I don’t know what else to do.”

Kiku buried his parents under a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

His father had no family but his mother had three sisters, who came out for the funeral. They dabbed at their eyes with handkerchiefs, humbly accepted the condolences of mourners, and put on an excellent show. While he lived, Honda Kazuma had been a great lover of theater, something he’d passed on to his son. And so Kiku knew that his aunts’ grief here was just an act. He heard the things that they said when they thought that no one else was listening.

“Well, we warned her about that man…”

“To be honest, I was so glad when I heard it was an accident.”

“Yes, yes… At first, I thought it would have something to do with that man and his -”

“Shh! We shouldn’t say things like that here.”

“None of his horrible friends came to the ceremony, did they?”

“They wouldn’t dare. This is a place for family.”

“What about that boy of hers? What will he do after all of this?”

“I think he’s an adult now, anyway. It’s not really our problem.”

His aunts patted Kiku’s shoulder and told him that his mother was in a better place now. Kiku despised them. They never referred to his father by name. It was only ever “that man.” They had no idea how much Honda Kazuma had loved his family. That he used to sneak extra helpings of dessert to his son when his wife wasn’t looking, or that he put flowers on the family dog’s grave every week, or that he kept buying cat food just because Kiku liked to feed the strays. They didn’t understand anything about their sister, or her family. And when the funeral was done, these women would go back to their families and pretend that Kiku didn’t exist. He was tainted with the blood of “that man” and they wouldn’t deign to touch him, even as an act of charity.

After the ceremony, Kiku stood over the graves for awhile, until the cemetery had emptied and all he could hear was the stillness of winter. He was freezing, feet numb in the wet snow and lips pressed tight against the cold, but still, he did not move. He had always been a simple person. He liked to read, he liked his pets, and he liked to be with his family. Now his family was gone, and Kiku would have given absolutely anything to have them back.

Even his life. Especially his life.

He had no idea how long he stood there - only that eventually, someone came for him.

“Kiku Honda?”

The strange order of his name forced him to turn his head. The voice belonged to a tall, graceful woman with hip-length hair and sharp, dark eyes. Apparently immune to the cold, she wore a long coat open over a deep green cheongsam. She was foreign, Kiku suspected - Asian, but foreign. She spoke with an accent but her presence was gentle. She dipped her head politely in greeting.

“I am so terribly sorry for your loss,” she told him. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but time is short. Do you speak any English?”

Kiku nodded. He blinked hard; it felt like his entire body was coated with ice.

“My name is Tham Thi Lien. I’m one of Yao Wang’s associates.”

The name was familiar. It conjured images of long hair, golden eyes, American cigarettes, and a lot of dinners where Kiku had to be escorted from the room before he heard things that were inappropriate for children. His father’s “business associates.” All Kiku knew was that at some point just before the war, Wang Yao took over his father’s work - whatever it was.

He nodded again, not daring to speak.

“I just so happened to be in the area,” she told him, reaching into her coat and handing him a letter. “News traveled fast. Yao wanted me to deliver this message.”

The letter was printed twice, once in English and once in Chinese. It contained strong, dark handwriting that matched straightforward instructions. Kiku read it slowly, frowning.

“Miss Tham.”

“Lien,” she corrected.

“Miss Lien,” said Kiku. “This word – asylum…”

“It means refuge,” she told him, thinking that he could not translate. “Shelter. You would be very safe in the United States. Yao can protect you.”

“But I don’t need protecting,” said Kiku, looking at her. “Why would I go to America?”

Lien studied him.

“I was told that your father could smuggle anything out of this city. Money, weapons, drugs – even people.”

Kiku flinched.

“You do realize,” she continued, “that he planned to name you the heir of his organization when you turned eighteen?”

“My mother wants me to go to university,” said Kiku desperately. “I can go to Tokyo. My exams are so soon – I can’t –”

“A nice dream,” said Lien. Her voice was worse than the cold. “But not realistic. Your parents are dead and now you won’t be safe at university, or any other place in this country. Your father had many enemies – and many friends, too. All of these people are a threat to you now. But they can’t follow you to America. Yao has agreed to sponsor you and cover the expenses of your passage. It’s an extremely generous offer.”

Kiku only had a few vague ideas about America, taken mainly from books and his father’s stories. He didn’t know what to think, except that he didn’t want to leave Japan. This was the only home he’d ever known. Standing over his parents’ freshly dug graves, talking about leaving for some foreign land – it was so wrong. Even if it was dangerous for him to stay, he had to believe that the life he was meant for was possible.

“I can’t,” Kiku repeated. “I can’t.”

Lien gave him another long, hard look.

“You have a full bank account, no criminal record, and they say you’re intelligent. So you should have no trouble completing the immigration process. But take some time to think about it. Here,” she added, handing him a business card. “This is the address of where I’ll be staying. There’s a telephone, if you want to call. If I don’t hear from you in two weeks, then I’ll leave the country. But if you change your mind, I’ll be happy to assist you however I can.”

She left him there, standing in the snow.

Not three days later, someone slit the throat of Kiku’s favorite cat and left it on his doorstep.

It was a warning, and the only one that Kiku needed. He called Lien at her hotel and within an hour, she and her trunk had arrived at his house. They buried the cat beside Kiku’s old dog, and afterwards, they walked down to Yokohama’s government offices to obtain the immigration papers. The next few months were spent writing letters and telegrams, attending the necessary meetings and interviews, selling everything he could stand to lose and many things that he couldn’t. In the evenings, Lien cooked their meals and went to sleep in a spare room with a gun under her pillow. Though they didn’t speak much, the arrangement wasn’t totally unpleasant.

For his part, Yao Wang was delighted by Kiku’s decision and proved extremely helpful. When sakura season came around, he sent a thick envelope containing train tickets from San Francisco to New York, and requested only that Kiku sent a recent photograph in turn. Lien obtained a camera to comply with the request.

But when it came time for Kiku to leave, Lien surprised him: She had taken pictures of everything – the house, the garden and the flowers in the park, the cats. She had tracked down pictures of their family, and even taken the liberty to copy recipes from Honda Shiori’s favorite cookbook. All of this Lien presented to Kiku in a leather-bound album.

Kiku was so overwhelmed that he could barely speak to express his thanks.

Lien only told him, “It’s important that you remember where you came from.”

She went to see him off the next morning, but now Kiku supposed that he would never see her again.


San Francisco was a relentless city, built on top of a mountain, all steep angles and bright colors. If it bore scars from the earthquake that had devastated the area nearly eighteen years ago, it didn’t show. Kiku could not bring himself to be impressed, especially when he took note of the smell of fish, trash, and human stink that permeated the harbor.

The docks were swollen with bodies. While the other immigrants who had been granted entrance into America crowded the exits, Kiku hung back, frightened and shamed. He did not recognize a single one of these people. He had heard that the unlucky could spend months or even years at Angel Island, waiting for the right document or interview to process. But none of those people had Yao as their benefactor. Kiku could just imagine his mother’s face. If she only knew the price he’d paid to get here; she would be so disappointed.

There was a massive rush to get off the boat. Kiku was pushed and shoved in every which direction; unlike before, there were no officers to guide them. Now it was every man for himself. Kiku struggled to hold his suitcases as he descended to the pier.

Kiku stood there on the wet concrete in amazement. There were so many people; the crush of sweaty human bodies made it so difficult to move. The melodic tones of Chinese clashed violently with the clipped English-language signs, and none of them seemed to have useful information. His head began to swim, his heart racing until he felt lightheaded. He was really alone now – in a foreign land where he had nothing, knew no one – and everything was so strange and frightening –

Someone seized Kiku by the shoulder and yanked him bodily to the side.

Kiku gasped as he entered into a pocket of space – fresh air – and the person spun him around. He dropped his suitcases, and for a split second, feared that he was going to be robbed. But his possible rescuer was simply another young man with an unfamiliar face.

“You must be Honda, right?” he said casually. “The name’s Im Yong Soo, eastern order – but you can call me whatever the hell you like! You’re lucky I happened to be in town for an extra week. Another few days and I’d be off on my summer vacation, but Yao was afraid you might drop off the face of the Earth if he left you alone. Pleasure to meet you!”

The only thing Kiku could think to say was, “H-how did you know it was me?”

Yong Soo grinned. “Cause you’re the only guy on that boat who looks like he doesn’t want to be here, that’s why.”

Kiku bit his lip and sank into an automatic bow, only for Yong Soo to smack him lightly on the head.

“Don’t do that,” he said, and though he sounded scornful, his face was a bit more sympathetic. “You’re an American now; you don’t bow to anyone, for any reason. Keep your chin up and look people in the eyes.”

He stuck out his hand. Kiku shook it hesitantly.

Yong Soo sighed. “Not bad for your first time, but we’ll work on it.”

After this brusque introduction, Yong Soo picked up one of Kiku’s suitcases and began to weave a path through the crowd. Kiku thought it might be better once they left the harbor, but the street only turned out to be worse. The language grew more languid and romantic as they walked past barber shops and restaurants with links of sausage hanging in the windows. His shoulders hunched and he kept ducking and dodging the Americans, who walked with such confidence that Kiku feared being knocked over. A group of girls with bobbed hair and beaded bags giggled as Kiku and Yong Soo strolled past – modern girls, Kiku thought, unable to help his staring. His mother was always a traditional sort; she’d warned him to avoid this sort of woman for when he got married. Even now, the thought made him blush nearly as much as their obvious gawking did.

But if Yong Soo noticed, he didn’t care. He was as proud as any man on the street.

“We’re putting up in a hotel tonight,” he declared, as they climbed one of the steep hills. Kiku watched a trolley roll up past them, envious of the passengers. “Train’s bright and early tomorrow! Yao doesn’t want to waste any more time than necessary, so he’s pulled out all the stops for us. Still, the trip will take time. Just fair warning.”

“Have you worked for him long?”

Yong Soo grinned wolfishly. “Family business. Just carrying on a tradition, I suppose. Why?”

“It’s just that ‘Im Yong Soo’ doesn’t sound like a Chinese name.”

It must’ve been the exhaustion of his journey that caused him to speak without thinking. Kiku was horrified with himself and started to apologize, but Yong Soo only laughed.

“Perceptive! See, I knew you were smart. You’re absolutely right, my friend. I’m related to Yao but ‘Im’ is my mother’s name. It’s not that I don’t love my dear old dad, but it’s just easier for me to get around this way. My family always seems to get stuck with the dirty work, but sometimes the boss does us a few favors in return.”

While Kiku was glad that he hadn’t offended Yong Soo, it didn’t change the fact that his new companion had just openly admitted to being a gangster. He felt the need to change topics.

“Oh… so, you were born here?”

“Correct! But you’ve still got your papers, right?”

Kiku patted his breast pocket to check.

“They weren’t kidding about keeping those on you,” said Yong Soo. “Seriously – don’t mess with it. But think of it this way! If you do end up getting into trouble, just tell them you’re not Chinese and they might go easy on you! That’s what my family did when they tried to come over. See, that was right around the time that they started passing all these laws to keep Chinese people out of the country. They said my dad could come over without Mom, but he wouldn’t do it – so then they tried to argue that Mom could come in because she’s Korean, and so the laws didn’t really apply to her!”

“And that worked?”

“Hell no!” said Yong Soo cheerfully. “My parents still complain about it. But it makes a good story, right?”

Kiku was not sure he agreed. They had reached the top of the hill, allowing Kiku to look back over the harbor. He wondered if there was still time to say that he’d changed his mind. Japan may have been dangerous for him, but at least Kiku belonged there.

“You hungry?” Yong Soo asked, not noticing. “We can make a detour, if you’re up for it. There’s this really great deli out here that –”

“I would rather just go to the hotel.”

Yong Soo raised an eyebrow. “Really? When was the last time you ate?”

They had regular, if unappetizing, meals on the ship. But Kiku was sure that he would vomit if he tried to eat anything now.

“I’ll be fine.”

Yong Soo shrugged. “Well, suit yourself. I’m going out. I’ll save you some leftovers.”

Kiku didn’t respond. All the day’s excitement was finally catching up to him; the only thing he wanted now was sleep.

At the hotel, Yong Soo gave Yao’s name to the receptionist, who seemed to know instantly what to do. Kiku found it in himself to be amazed. His father had once told him that the true measure of a man was in his connections to others. And Yao’s influence seemed to stretch across the globe, from gambling dens to government offices, from New York to Shanghai.

Your father had many enemies – and many friends.

Perhaps this was what she’d meant.

A bellhop escorted Kiku to a tiny individual room, barely big enough for a bed and bath. He dropped his suitcases, pausing only to take off his shoes and jacket before he flopped down onto the bed. The mattress springs squealed shrilly as he did. The sun was still out, but it felt like a thousand years had passed.

Welcome to America, the land of opportunity.

There was no chance of going back now.

Chapter Text

For most of their stay together, Kiku was afraid to ask questions of Lien. But once, he did. He couldn’t recall exactly how they got around to the topic but he admitted that it was hard for him to understand how she had gotten into this mess - gangs, lawlessness, violence. She was a good person and he was deeply worried about what might have driven her to this place. But Lien’s eyes misted with the memory and she told him her story.

“When I was a little girl, I grew up in a village where there was a large Buddhist temple. Children often came from across the continent to study there. One of them was a boy from Siam, who was about my same age. I loved him very much, truthfully. He was my closest friend in the world. But when I was a bit younger than you are now, he got very sick. I was afraid of losing him, so I traveled all over, searching for the medicine that would cure him. Eventually, I came to Shanghai, where Yao’s relatives found me. They told me that I could get the medicine, but doing so would cost me greatly. That was almost ten years ago, I think.”

Kiku’s eyes went wide as she set a bowl down in front of him and started to eat her own portion.

“And so - you’re still paying off the debt?”

Lien nodded, saying only, “It’s worth it because my friend lived. For me, living is enough.”

Kiku tried to keep this in mind as they traveled across America. Yong Soo idly explained the different regions and towns, why it was necessary to stop here or change trains there. Though their tickets were accepted without complaint, Kiku was frequently asked to display his papers and they were often made to sit apart from other passengers. The regulations baffled Kiku in more ways than one: He had never seen so many types of people in one place before. When they stopped in Nevada, half of the people seemed to speak Spanish, which Yong Soo was not able to translate. In Chicago, he heard Italian and Polish being shouted across the platform by its workers. In Philadelphia, a boy stood near the tracks with a stack of German newspapers in hand. He had never seen a black person before, and now he shared dining cars with them and their families. Were all of these races and nationalities supposed to be “Americans”? And what was the reason for the separations between them?

But it was the daunting size of the country which shocked Kiku more than any restrictions on his mobility. The train took them through a great red desert, when the day was so blue that Kiku felt sad when the black train smoke stained the cloudless sky. In Colorado, he saw mountains. At first they reminded him of home, but these were not serene or gentle as mountains were in Japan. The Rockies were jagged and rugged, the steep slopes dotted with pine forests and stony settlements. When they passed through the flat prairie in the center of America, the vastness of it all actually frightened him. The endless golden grasses, fields of wheat and corn that seemed to stretch on forever. One night there was a thunderstorm, the purple clouds building into a tower as rain came down in torrents, lightning cracking the gray sky.

It was more beautiful and terrifying than Kiku could have ever imagined.

They spent much of their time in the passenger cars. Yong Soo was vigorously friendly, even to those who rejected his initial offer of friendship. At first, the other passengers and staff eyed them warily – it seemed that they were the only Asian men on the train – but after a day or so, people inevitably warmed up to Yong Soo’s smile. He made them laugh with stories from his time at university. He played cards, knew the right songs and jokes, the right slang.

Kiku hovered uncertainly in the corners. He studied his grammar books and wrote down lists of new vocabulary, wondering if he’d ever understand the proper nuances of American English, worrying that his accent was apparently difficult for the others to understand. When the passengers realized that he was less fun than Yong Soo, they left him to his business. Homesickness ate a hole in him, destroying his appetite more evenings than not.

Yong Soo’s attempts to cheer him up were decidedly unhelpful.

For example, when they made a stop in Iowa, he pawned a bottle of homemade liquor from the conductor. Kiku refused to partake, knowing it was illegal, which made Yong Soo call him “a bluenose.” After this, he tried to ask Kiku more personal questions and acted annoyed when he received silence in turn. But the final straw didn’t come until they had departed on their last stretch to New York. They were eating breakfast in the dining car – Kiku picking moodily at a plate of eggs while he flipped absently through his photo album – when Yong Soo nudged him and indicated one of the black girls on the train, who was eyeing them with obvious curiosity.

“I think she likes you,” he said eagerly. “Go on, introduce yourself!”

She was definitely pretty, pretty in a way that was unlike anything Kiku had ever seen before. His shoulders hunched defensively, curling up over his album.

“I would rather not.”

“What the hell are you looking at that’s more interesting than this girl?” Yong Soo leaned over, and Kiku immediately clutched the album to his chest, feeling oddly possessive. These were his only memories of home; they were not for Yong Soo’s prying eyes. “Oh, for the love of God, put that away. You’re making yourself miserable like that. I’m gonna have to explain to Yao why I dragged a tombstone out to New York instead of a person. Come on,” he said impatiently. “Put that away. It’s the twentieth century, pal, live a little.”

Kiku glared at him. “Have you considered that she’s looking at you?”

“Course I have,” said Yong Soo, flippant in a way that made Kiku sting with dull jealousy. “But frankly, you need this a lot more than I do.”

Kiku blushed. “N-no, no, no – no, I couldn’t…”

“Easy there, brother,” said Yong Soo, laughing. “Don’t cast a kitten, alright? What’s the problem? Not your type?”

It was far too early for this kind of talk. The sun was barely up over the horizon. Kiku risked a glance over at the girl, who appeared to have lost interest and gone back to eating breakfast with her family. Yong Soo was probably just imagining her interest – or making fun of him.

“It would be inappropriate,” he said. “To – to take responsibility, I mean.”

Yong Soo snickered. “You don’t have to marry the girl – just introduce yourself and see what happens! Come on, what’s the harm in trying?”

Easy for him to say. Yong Soo was definitely the type of man who had received so many confessions that he now considered them a bore. Kiku, on the other hand… Back home, he was not only a social pariah, but worse, he was plain. He wasn’t especially tall or athletic, or handsome at all. Being smart was good, but not good enough.

“Well, what about you?” he managed to ask. “Don’t you have someone?”

Yong Soo flashed his flawless smile. “Buddy, the last girl I tried kissing knocked out one of my teeth.”

“I – really?” This was incredibly worrisome to hear. Girls back home mostly ignored him, and that was bad enough. But would a wrong move in America seriously result in a violent reaction? If a man like Yong Soo could be rejected so easily, Kiku doubted that he had any chance at all.

“Yeah. You’ll like her, she’s a great pal.”


“Oh, didn’t I tell you? That girl’s meeting us when we get to the station.”

“The one who punched you?”

“The very same!” Yong Soo confirmed, apparently amused by Kiku’s nervousness. “And it’s like I said, she’s the best – you don’t have a thing to worry about! Who knows? Maybe you’ll even like her enough to reconsider your old-fashioned notions on –”

“No! I told you no. How many times do I have to –”

The words failed him. He struggled and sighed, slumping into his chair.

Yong Soo’s eyes widened suddenly. “Oh, that’s it, isn’t it? Don’t tell me – you carried a torch all the way here?”


“A girl,” he said. “You left someone behind in Japan. Is that why you’re so upset? Did she give you this?”

He tapped on the photo album, and Kiku immediately moved to yank it from his fingers.

“Come on, what gives?”

“There was no one,” said Kiku, pressing his lips together.

“Okay, so then why in the hell –”

“I just don’t want to! I don’t want your help. I don’t want to talk to anyone.”

Yong Soo’s expression cooled, his jaw tightening as he sat back.

“Fine,” he said. “You want to sit around and mope over nothing, be my guest. ‘Boo hoo, I’m Kiku Honda and I was forced to leave my giant mansion and come to America where the streets are paved with gold, my life is so difficult.’ Yeah, cry me a river.”

Kiku stared at him, confounded by the sudden change. A low anger bubbled in the pit of his stomach.

“You have no idea what I went through,” he said quietly. “You have no idea.”

Yong Soo rolled his eyes. “You didn’t go through jack shit. Yao wired three hundred bucks to the right guys and told them to get you on the mainland in twenty-four hours or less. My mom lived in that hellhole for eight months before they let her set foot on land. My dad was in there for two years before that.”

“I didn’t ask for that,” said Kiku, even as shame burned him to his core.

“That’s not the point. God, look at you. How much did that jacket cost you? Or those shoes? They’re new, I can tell. Probably wanted to look nice for your time in exile. Your old man probably left you everything he had. I’ll bet you’ve got five, maybe six hundred dollars stashed away in your suitcase right now.”

It was Lien’s suggestion – removing a portion of his inheritance and keeping it rolled up in his clothes. The sum was more than enough to get him settled in a new country. And that was before he even touched the money he’d gotten for selling his family’s possessions. Kiku had always known that he was wealthy, but he hadn’t expected it to matter this much.

“Let me ask you something,” said Yong Soo. “You had any pets back home?”

Kiku remembered the blood on his doorstep, his cat’s jaws open in a yowl, as if it had been crying for help when it died. He remembered his father putting flowers on Pochi’s grave. He shuddered but answered, “Yes.”

“One of these days, I’m going to take you down into the Bronx – onto some of those old Polish streets. And you’re going to realize that your pets back home ate better than their kids.”

Seeing Kiku’s startled expression, he went on furiously, “Does that surprise you? Poor people exist in America just like they exist everywhere else! But you’re a spoiled little rich boy and you never think about the little guys until it turns out you might have to step on a few of them. The only difference between Japan and here is that some people are going to automatically hate you for what you are – where you came from,” said Yong Soo, jabbing a finger into Kiku’s album again. “And the rest are just going to hate you for having what they don’t.”

Kiku had no answer for this. He shrank back, feeling bruised.

They spent a few hours in sullen silence, until Yong Soo finally got up and started up a conversation with one of the dining car’s attendants. By the time they reached Philadelphia, Yong Soo was acting completely normal again – but he did not apologize for anything he’d said.

In a way, Kiku felt that he was right. After all, there were poor people in Yokohama, too – men who carried long knives behind their brightly tattooed backs, lurking in the shadowy underworld that his own father had ruled. Kiku had been foolish to think that he could escape what he was – who he was. His legacy was blood and money. Weapons, drugs, even people, shipped from one end of the earth to another. That was why he hadn’t even stood up to Yong Soo’s needless lecture. He’d already known that it was hopeless, that his chance for a new life had died.

Yong Soo did not complain about him looking at the pictures anymore, and so Kiku continued to keep the album close at hand, living in the world he’d left behind him.

Hell’s Kitchen, New York City

It was a day of celebration. William O’Hara had finally proposed to Colleen Kelly, and the whole neighborhood was getting ready to celebrate. Amelia repositioned her scarf against her caramel-colored curls, determined to tie it on straight this time. Arthur always said that she wasted her money, but Amelia considered shoes and headache bands a worthwhile investment. Just because she lived in the grimy, gangster-infested streets of Hell’s Kitchen didn’t mean that she had to dress the part. And today of all days, she wanted to look her absolute best.

As her hair finally settled down, her uncle’s rich tenor voice boomed from down the hall.

From Bantry Bay down to Derry Quay
From Galway to London town
No maid I’ve seen like the sweet colleen
That I met in County Down

Niall’s fiddle was quick and erratic – he was almost definitely drunk again. Her uncle was mostly harmless when he drank; he just liked parties. Amelia could only imagine how her other uncles would be by the time this night was over. Not that she could blame them; Mr. O’Hara had been in love with Miss Kelly nearly as long as Amelia had lived in Hell’s Kitchen. It was about damn time he’d proposed.

Actually, Amelia was looking forward to the party. The Rabbit Hole would be packed to the rafters and at least one of Colleen’s sisters was a good cook, so they’d be spared the worst of her uncles’ attempts to produce an old-country meal. But there was a lot to do; the whole Kirkland clan would be hard at work today, even her half-brother Matthew. But Amelia had more important things to do than wipe tables and chop vegetables.

Niall’s fiddle sang as they reached the end of the tune:

No pipe I’ll smoke, no horse I’ll yoke
Til my plow turns rust-colored brown
And a smiling bride at my own fireside
Sits the star of the County Down!

Colleen wasn't even from County Down but the song felt right anyway; The Star of County Down was one of her mother's favorites. Amelia left her room smiling.

The Rabbit Hole was small and cozy, with a fireplace clustered with chairs and tables, the walls lined with booths. One wall was entirely covered in newspaper clippings and photographs – a testament to the pub’s history, as well as Owen Kirkland’s eclectic hobbies and interests. A bar was pressed against the back, beside a door that led to a makeshift kitchen and private seating area. Formally, the pub did not sell alcohol, but a little Prohibition had never stopped anyone. Amelia knew that Arthur would oversee the stocking; he was the most meticulous. If he caught her, she’d be confined to the kitchen with Owen, or worse – forbidden from attending the party at all. She tried to creep down the stairs as quietly as her heeled shoes would allow.

It was a straight shot from the stairs to the door, which was propped wide open. Alastair and Matthew were carrying in chairs and tables from the outside, trying to cram in as much seating as possible for the party. Arthur’s head was bowed beneath the bar, cleaning or making a count. Amelia knew this was her chance.

She took a deep breath, and moved – and she almost made it, too.

“Where do you think you’re going, young lady?”

Amelia grimaced briefly and then turned to Arthur with her most charming smile.

“I’ve got a date,” she said. “More of a simple errand, really. Won’t take too long but I’m already late, so I’d rather not be Edisoned – you understand.”

Arthur did not look up from the glass he was cleaning. “I see. And where is this errand taking place?”

And then, Matthew said, “Wait a minute, isn’t Yong Soo coming back today?”

“What, that Chinese boy?” Alastair frowned. “I thought he ran off out west.”

Amelia glared at her brother and mouthed, Thanks a lot. Matthew shrugged in apology.

Of course, Arthur had probably figured it all out by now. He just needed explicit confirmation so that he could forbid her from going.

“Soo is actually half Korean,” said Amelia, even though his wouldn’t help.

“Yes, I do recall hearing about that.” Arthur looked up at her critically. “I also recall hearing that he’s recently completed his initiation.”

He meant for the Chinatown gang. Amelia felt suddenly defensive.

“Look, we’ve been friends for an awful long time. Ten years, in fact – a whole decade! And he's been gone a terribly long time, though not without reason. Did you know he’s trying to become a lawyer out in California?”

Arthur snorted. “A triad man studying the law – now if that isn’t the funniest thing I ever heard.”

“He’s good,” said Amelia, “is the point I’m trying to make.”

“And I believe you,” said Arthur. “So it follows that he will forgive you just this once. You see, I believe that you were correct in thinking that Owen needs a bit of help preparing for dinner.”

Amelia bit her lip. “That’s not fair! We’ve had plans for weeks.”

“Which you saw fit to keep secret.”

“Would you have let me go if I told you everything from the start?” Amelia shot back. “You’re always like this! I’m not one of your bootleggers, you know – you can’t order me around!”

“The hell I can’t. You are seventeen years old, young lady, and frankly it’s inappropriate for you to be spending time alone with these strange men –”

“But Soo isn’t a stranger!”

“These gangsters –”

“Everyone in this family is a gangster!”

“And Chinese gangsters, at that!”

“He’s Korean!”

Arthur scowled. Upstairs, Niall's fiddle gave a shrill cry and he belted: "'Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming alone... All her lovely companions are faded and gone..." 

From his position beside the fireplace, Alastair heaved a sigh. “Ah, let her go. She’s been on probation long enough and it’s not as if we don’t know the lad. Not like there’s much real danger in letting her welcome him back to the city after a few months, eh?”

Due to the messy situation between Amelia’s grandparents, the Kirkland brothers had a wide range of different accents. Arthur’s smooth voice spoke of an education in London, while Alastair’s gruff one called back to the Scottish Highlands where he’d lived and worked before the family moved to New York at the turn of the century. Alastair was older than Arthur by ten years, but that didn’t mean much in the Kirkland clan.

“That’s not at all what I’m worried about and you know it,” Arthur said. “She’s proven time and time again we give an inch and she’ll take a mile. I’m responsible for her safety and wellbeing, as per Maura’s last will.”

“Aye,” said Alastair, exasperated. “You’re on all the papers, but you’re daft if you think you’re the only member of this family that counts where Amelia is concerned. Initiation be damned, all things considered I’d say that Wang trusts this lad about as far as he can throw him. Mia, will ye promise to come back to help with supper and clean up after the party?”

“Absolutely!” said Amelia swiftly. “Cross my heart!”

Her uncle made a pointed gesture in her direction. “Happy now?”

Owen chose this moment to open up the kitchen door and stick his head out. The walls were thin enough that he’d probably been listening the whole time.

“Something to add?” asked Arthur.

He gazed around at them all, bleary-eyed.

“She’s allowed to have friends, brawd bach,” Owen declared, and shut the door again.

Defeated, Arthur sighed.

“Oh, alright. But I want you back here at seven on the dot – not a moment later, do you hear me?”

Amelia was already out the door.

She made it halfway down the street before she whirled around to face the pub’s painted rabbit – hanging proud on a wooden sign – and stuck out her tongue. Childish and impudent, but oh-so satisfying. Bunch of fire-extinguishers, the whole lot of you! Arthur had never liked the idea of her being friends with someone so close to Yao Wang – or the idea of her hanging out alone with boys, for that matter. But none of that changed the fact that Yong Soo was her best friend in the world, and nothing short of divine intervention would have kept Amelia from seeing him today.

She shouldered her purse and stalked out of Hell’s Kitchen with her head held high.

Chapter Text

Penn Station made everyone feel small. It was all the marble, Amelia reasoned, or perhaps the gold trim overlaying everything, or the high arched ceilings lined with black iron, or the statues of great men from days long past arranged here and there. Footsteps tended to echo, conversations carried, and everyone dressed ritzier than you.

The hanging clock above the stairwell chimed for two, and within moments, the stairs swelled with bodies. Amelia craned her neck to get a better look into the crowd. Bowler hats, neckties, the occasional string of pearls distinguishing the blur of faces - and then, emerging from the tops of the stairs, a face she’d grown up with.


Amelia gave him a five second window to locate the sound of her voice before tackling him.

Im Yong Soo barely flinched when she tackled him; he lifted her off her feet and spun her in a circle, the sound of their combined laughter echoing in the cold marble atrium, drawing stares from every high-hat in the station. Amelia was so happy that she didn’t even care. There was no law against visiting your friends.

As soon as Yong Soo set her down, she smacked him playfully.

“You are never allowed to leave again!” she declared. “It’s been absolutely the dullest, most insipidly boring time you could possibly imagine - you missed everything that happened and I’ve had no one to talk to! Di Mi, I don’t even know where to start!”

He grinned back. “Have they missed me?”

“Oh, terribly so! Everyone draped all in black and the wailing -”

At last, Yong Soo returned her earlier blow, tapping her on the forehead “You’re all wet. Everyone knows you wear white at Chinese funerals. Speaking of which, I hope you bought a nice dress for my burial.”

Amelia snorted. “No, no - Tommy’s moved out to Chicago!”

“No foolin’?”

“And you’ll never guess who he’s marrying!” Amelia added. “Go on, guess.”

“Don’t tell me it’s you-know-who.”

“It is indeed,” Amelia confirmed, stifling her relieved giggles when Yong Soo gave a theatrical groan and put a hand to his forehead. “A match made in heaven! I hope she gives him syphilis.”

“We don’t know that she has syphilis…”

Amelia waved him off. “Please - any girl with that many umbrellas has got to have all manner of disgusting diseases!”

“Right, because you’re the patron saint of chastity?” Before Amelia could think of a suitable reply, Yong Soo clapped his hands and exclaimed, “Oh, and speaking of which! There’s someone you’ve just got to meet! Don’t just stand there, you big lump, come and say hello!”

He turned and gestured towards the top of the stairs. For the first time, Amelia noticed that someone had been standing there, waiting for his introduction. Though he was Asian like Yong Soo, this new person seemed to have no difficulty blending in. He carried a pair of heavy-looking suitcases and bit his lip as he came over to stand at Yong Soo’s side.

“Kiku, this is Amelia, the one I told you about. Mia, this is my latest project - fresh off the boat from Japan! Presenting the one and only Kiku Honda!”

Amelia looked him over from head to toe. His clothes were clean, well-tailored, and obviously of good quality but he was rather thin and in desperate need of a decent haircut. He was also shorter than her, though Amelia figured it wasn’t fair to hold that against him since she was wearing heels. There was an unhealthy tinge to his already-pale skin, which made her wonder if he’d been ill on the train. Altogether, Kiku Honda gave the impression of being somewhat frail and nervous.

Naturally, she liked him at once.

She stuck out her hand with a smile.

“Amelia Jones - it’s a real pleasure to make your acquaintance!”

He stared at her, before shaking her hand very quickly. Amelia studied his face with fascination. His eyes were much darker than Yong Soo’s, so brown that they were almost pure black. A pretty scarlet color blossomed at the tops of his cheekbones, darkening by the second the longer she watched.

“Japan’s real far, isn’t it?” she prompted. “Whole other side of the world, right? I will be the first to admit that I slept through every last one of my geography lessons at school, but I do know that it’s close to China! Are they similar because they’re so close? I think our Chinatown here is positively the cat’s pajamas, so I’m sure that Japan is just swell in it’s own special way, you know what I mean? You’ll have to tell me all about it. What’s your angle now that you’re in the city? Will you be staying with Soo for very long?”

And still, Kiku stared at her and said nothing.

“Oh, Di Mi,” she said, turning to Yong Soo guiltily. “I’m so sorry! No English?”

But Soo only laughed and clapped his companion hard on the back.

“Great English - just kind of a wallflower. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to him!”

Amelia didn’t mind shy people in the slightest. Shy people made great listeners. She didn’t know a lot of shy boys, however. And Kiku seemed to take offense to Yong Soo’s description of him. He cleared his throat and announced, “Thank you for coming to meet us today.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all!” Amelia told him, smiling again. “I’m just glad to get out of the house for a few hours. Did you know,” she added to Yong Soo, “that Matthew and Arthur have scarcely let me out of their sight since your going away party? I’ve been positively suffocating.”

“My party wasn’t that wild,” said Yong Soo, even though he was smirking at her.

“It was, too,” she said. “So I’ve got to get back by seven or Arthur is going to lock me in a tower for the rest of the summer. But I’m trusting you to be positively exhausted from your long cross-country trip so that we can have a nice quiet afternoon to catch up - and,” she added, smiling at Kiku so that he wouldn’t think he’d been left out, “we’ll give you the best and fastest impromptu tour of New York City that you can get!”

“Sounds swell,” Yong Soo agreed. “What do you say we grab lunch and head for the park? I’ll grab a dimbox and we can get going!”

He grabbed his bags and rushed off, leaving her with Kiku. Amelia noted the puzzled look on his face for a moment before it gave way to something almost akin to horror. His cheeks went red again - oh, Di Mi, thought Amelia, who had to stifle her delighted laughter once more at the warm, bubbly sort of pleasure that rushed through her. He really is shy. But it wouldn’t do to tease him too much on his first day in New York. She hadn’t been much better when she first came to the city from the countryside. Amelia cleared her throat and reached for one of his suitcases.

“Oh,” said Kiku awkwardly, putting out a hand to stop her. “That’s alright. You don’t have to.”

“Everything’s jake!” Amelia said, and then corrected herself. “I mean, don’t worry. I’m a lot stronger than I look. And besides - you lugged these things across the ocean, and then again across the whole country, so the least I can do is help you carry them outside!”

For the first time, though his embarrassment was clear, the sour and nervous expression melted from his face. He smiled very softly.

“Thank you.”

Amelia could’ve danced as led them through the station.

When they got onto the street, they found Yong Soo leaning up against a checkered cab and chatting with the driver amicably. Kiku nearly dropped his case and gasped out loud.

“Dimbox!” he said. “The taxicab. Of course!”

For a split second, Amelia didn’t understand - then she burst out laughing.

“You didn’t realize? Oh, but you should’ve said something! I would’ve told you!”

Kiku blushed again, stammering. “I’m sorry. No, I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to -”

“Next time there’s something that confuses you, just tell me,” she assured him. “You want to know something? I think that you and I are going to be great friends!”

 Kiku had no idea what he was supposed to think of Amelia Jones.

She was every inch a modern girl, from her carefully styled curls to her heeled shoes - but instead of intimidating Kiku, she was charming and likable. Though most of her words were meant for Yong Soo - it seemed he had missed several vitally important scandals while he was in California - she was careful to include Kiku in conversations, even finishing his sentences when his English skills faltered.

They picked up slices of pie wrapped in white paper and coffees from a delicatessen on 49th street and walked into Central Park. His companions pointed out the sights to Kiku as they walked but most of it involved trivia such as, “Hey, there’s the place where Tommy Zhang beat me up for the first time,” and “That’s the drug store where I drank five sodas in a row and made myself sick,” and “This is the house of Doris Alderman, my second least favorite person in the world.”

Kiku was starting to feel genuinely anxious now, trying and failing to picture himself living in a place like this. He couldn’t ignore the strangeness of his surroundings. The skyscrapers glaring under the sunlight, the constant sound of automobiles made him skittish. Everything seemed to move very fast and he had so little time to process what was happening. Amelia kept asking him questions, which was the kind of thing that might’ve annoyed him yesterday but today - it seemed like her voice was the only thing keeping him on the ground, in the present.

“So, what’s the name of your hometown? What was it like where you grew up? I know it’s your first day and all, but do you think that New York is very different in comparison?”

How to describe Yokohama to someone who had never been there? Kiku missed the sound of windchimes, the smell of flowers and the sea. He missed ramen booths and shrines; he missed buildings that were made of wood instead of steel. Central Park was lovely, but even the trees looked wrong. They weren’t the same as the ones he’d grown up with. Everything about Yokohama was so lovely in his memory, despite all the things he knew had been lurking beneath the surface. 

“It’s different,” he said at last. “But I worry that some things are the same.”

“Worry!” Amelia glanced at Yong Soo, who was polishing off his slice of pie and not paying them any mind. “Worry about what? New York’s easy. You’ll get the hang of it in no time. If I can do it, then so can you!”

Kiku’s brow wrinkled.

“You’re not… eh, the word I’m looking for… ?”

“A New Yorker,” Amelia guessed. “And that’s correct! I grew up in Vermont.”

Kiku didn’t know where Vermont was but felt it might be impolite to ask. He asked tentatively, “And so, how did you meet Yong Soo?”

Behind her, Yong Soo choked on his last bite of pie. Amelia grinned.

“You mean he didn’t tell you the story?”

Kiku shook his head.

Well. When I was seven, I came down to the city to visit my family for Easter and after Mass, my parents and I decided to take a little walk in the park. I wandered off because I was seven and that’s what I do. Suddenly, I come upon this group of boys who are all yelling at each other - and in Chinese, so I can’t understand what’s going on - but one of them is Yong Soo, and before I can figure out if I’m supposed to call for help and break up the fight, he waltzes right up to me, grabs me, and kisses me right on the mouth.”

“It was a dare,” said Yong Soo mournfully. “A stupid dare.”

“Now,” said Amelia, turning to Kiku as if they were conspirators. “We flappers have been racked through the mud of every paper in this city but I am a proper Irish girl. I was raised with self-respect, so I don’t let any boys kiss me unless they’ve bought me dinner and flowers first. So I punched him as hard as I could in the face.”

Kiku’s eyes went wide.

“Wait, so you -”

“That’s right!” Amelia laughed again. “And of course, that’s the exact moment that both of our mothers showed up. So Yong Soo was on the ground, crying because he’d been hurt and I was crying because I thought I was in trouble. Naturally, Soo and I have been the very best of friends ever since.”

Kiku blinked rapidly and looked between them.

“So you two are not - um. You’re not a couple?”

Amelia and Yong Soo laughed in unison.

“Of course not! Whatever gave you that idea?”


“Japanese people tend to be really closed off,” Yong Soo said matter-of-factly. “Showing affection isn’t really common over there. So, for example, a hug tends to be reserved for married couples only, you know what I mean?”

“That’s not true,” said Kiku, immediately put on the defensive. “It just seems inappropriate to act - to act as you do - in public.”

Amelia shrugged. “Well, I don’t see the problem. I think that if you like someone, then you ought to be able to show them that you care however you please. Don’t you agree?”

The beat of awkward silence fell heavy. Kiku wasn’t sure he agreed with the idea of showing one’s affections so openly - like picking up a girl and swinging her in a circle in the middle of a crowded train station, for example - but to his surprise, even Yong Soo looked a little uncomfortable. They’d spent so much time together in the past few weeks, and this was the first time that Kiku had ever seen his companion appear uncertain or ashamed.

“Let’s change the subject, eh, Mia?” said Yong Soo.

She turned back to Kiku, smiling. “Did you like the coffee? Don't feel pressured to say yes, I know it's completely bitter and horrible. What’s one thing you want to eat here in New York? We’ve got every kind of food you can think of, so use your imagination! Next time we see each other, we'll take you to where the good coffee is and it will be my treat!”    

All in all, apart from those brief mishaps, it wasn’t a total waste of an afternoon.

Chinatown was like another world. Narrow buildings with wires draped every which way between them, covered awnings with woks steaming beneath them, men and women pushing wagons full of fruits, vegetables, and meats of all sorts. Automobiles wove between the crowds, their horns blaring constantly in warning. Men lounged around smoking from pipes and thin black cigarettes, playing checkers and cards at low tables on the streets, and children ran around beneath their feet - there far, far more men than women on the street. People stared hard at Kiku as they walked; even Yong Soo wasn’t his usual self. He set a brisk pace, not making eye contact with anyone.

Near the center of the district, they came upon a separated, Western-style house. Yong Soo passed easily through the front gate and knocked on the door.

“Yao, it’s me! I made it!”

There was a minute of silence. Afterwards, there was the heavy sound of a lock being undone.

They called Yao “the Dragon of Manhattan,” and though his face was delicate - unlined, almost feminine - he carried an air of fearsome, superior authority that translated even in photographs. But the man who answered the door did not look like a dragon in the slightest. His long hair was piled up messily on top of his head with a few long strands framing his face. He wore slippers, a flower-patterned apron, and was carrying a large ladle.

“You’re late,” said Yao irritably. “I told you dinner was at six - what were you up too? Where have you been? I was starting to think I’d have to make a trip to the police station and bail you out. And to drag poor Kiku along in one of your hair-brained schemes - I would’ve thought that they taught you some responsibility at college, at the very least! But I can only assume that whatever it was, at least you got away with it.”

Kiku stifled a noise of surprise.

“You taught me well,” said Yong Soo, grinning. “I was just giving Kiku a little tour, that’s all!”


“Central Park, Broadway, you know - the good stuff.”

Wang Yao gave a long-suffering sigh and put the ladle to his forehead. “I don’t know why I bother with you. I hope he didn’t give you too much trouble, Kiku.”

Kiku swallowed around the lump in his throat. Yong Soo’s smile was as impeccably shiny as always. If Kiku hadn’t known that he was lying - the same way that Kiku lied when he said the words “my father is a businessman” - he would have never been able to tell.

“No,” he said stiffly. “There was no trouble. Thank you.”

“Of course!” said Yao, suddenly much warmer. “Anytime. You’re just lucky I happened to get a late start. Come in - yes, shoes over there, if you please. Leave your things in the hall, you’re staying here tonight - and don’t argue with me,” he added before Kiku could protest that it wasn’t necessary. “I don’t want to hear it. It’s better that you don’t spend your first night in the city alone. We have a perfectly good couch for you to sleep on. It’s comfortable - much better than the beds on those ironclad monstrosities that pass for convenient transportation.”

Inside, the house was an eclectic mix of east and west, the modern furniture blending seamlessly in beside hand painted calligraphy and antique vases full of delicate, leafy-looking plants. The whole house smelled strongly of chilis and garlic and cooking oil; Kiku’s mouth began to water and he finally realized how little he’d been eating since he left Japan. He had never had Chinese food before but he was suddenly eager to try it. While Yao and Yong Soo chattered, Kiku followed his nose into the kitchen, where two teenagers were setting out plates, cups, and bowls at a round table.

At the moment he stepped into the doorway, the shorter of the two - a girl with very long, thick hair and in a petal-pink, Western-style dress - looked up and met his eyes. Kiku opened his mouth to introduce himself but she squeaked, hands flying to her mouth - which caused the spoons in her hand to clatter onto the tiled floors.

“May!” said Yao, materializing over Kiku’s shoulders. “We talked about this!”

“Sorry,” she said, cheeks turning the same color as her skirts. “I just -”

She bit her lip and fidgeted slightly before ducking beneath the table to gather up the utensils. The boy who must’ve been her brother rolled his eyes and set his last bowl down hard before flopping into a chair. He looked very much like a younger Yao, but with a stronger jawline, shorter hair, and heavier brows. 

“Kiku, these two are my younger siblings,” said Yao. “My sister, May -” The girl nodded politely, shooting a pleased but sheepish grin over the top of the table. “And the one with the attitude is -”

“Leo,” said the boy, sticking out his hand across the table for Kiku to shake.

Yao’s expression hardened. “Jia-Long.”

“It’s Leo,” the boy insisted, matching Yao for stubbornness. Bewildered, Kiku shook his hand.

“Jia-Long is a fine name,” said Yao. “More than fine. It was our great-grandfather’s name.”

“Well, then, he can keep it. I’m Leo and my brother is a prick.”

It stunned Kiku to hear someone speak so badly about their elder to that elder’s very face. But Yao didn’t seem to take the insult seriously. Seeing Kiku’s expression, he shrugged.

“He’s going through a phase,” said Yao. “At that age, what can you do?”

"I’m fourteen!” said May, helpfully emerging from beneath the table with her arms full of spoons. “Leo is almost sixteen! His birthday is in July!”

“Oh,” said Kiku. “That’s very nice. Do you want help with - ?”

May squeaked again but managed to hold on to her spoons. “No! That’s fine!”

Leo grumbled something to Yao in melodic Chinese.

“English in front of our guest,” Yao replied curtly. “He needs to practice. And speaking of which, what is Yong Soo doing now? Probably saw a butterfly and ran off after it, I swear he hasn’t changed a bit since he was four years old… YONG SOO! WHAT EXACTLY IS TAKING YOU SO LONG? YOUR FOOD IS GETTING COLD.”

There was so much energy in this house that it made Kiku feel more disoriented than ever. He’d always thought of “home” as a quiet place, a place where one went to be surrounded by loved ones and put the mind at ease after a long day. Conversations were private and personal. His parents never raised their voices in front of Kiku. Yao casually shouted through the house, still walking around in his slippers and only removing his flowery apron when it was time to sit down. His two much-younger siblings spoke very freely and even Yong Soo didn’t seem like a stranger here. He sat down and served himself heaping portions of tofu and vegetables before helping May to pour her tea.

Everything was delicious - “I know,” said Yao, when Kiku told him this, “but I’m glad that you said so anyway.” - and for some reason, Kiku ate more that evening than he had in the last three weeks combined. Yao seemed to think that he was underfed and kept trying to refill his plate. May talked about how glad she was that school had ended and Leo rolled his eyes when Yao asked him if he’d considered attending university after high school. Yao scolded Yong Soo for not visiting his parents, who ran a restaurant three blocks over. Kiku could not believe that this man was one of the most infamous criminals in the world, heir to a dark legacy even longer and bloodier than Kiku’s own.

Eventually, Yao found an excuse to send Yong Soo off to his parents and his siblings to bed. He brought Kiku into the living room, where the couch had been piled with pillows and blankets as a makeshift bed for him.

“We’ve picked out a new apartment for you near Little Italy,” said Yao, setting a glass of water on the table while Kiku changed into pajamas. “It’s a little small but it will suit you while you’re living on your own.”

“That’s very kind,” Kiku said, over his shoulder.

“Not really.” Yao leaned against the back of the couch with a cold glint in his eyes. “This city is the meanest place on Earth. I only got you that place because we’re a little strapped for housing at the moment and couldn’t find anything nearby.”

Kiku frowned. “Oh.”

“Not to mention, this district’s a little much compared to what you’re used to,” Yao went on. “But it's all we've got. Anyway, you made it out here in one piece and you'll have a roof over your head, which is the most important thing for now. You know, in my organization -" Kiku winced. They'd gotten through the whole day without any mention of criminal activity; he'd nearly forgotten the reason why he was here in the first place. But it went unnoticed. "- we think of each other as family. I've taken you under my wing, and that means that Yong Soo and I are your honorary brothers now. You can ask us for anything - starting tomorrow, when we move you in. If you don't like the building or the neighborhood, then all you have to do is say something. I happen to know a couple of nice places in the Queens borough, across the bay. There’s more Japanese people there, if that would make you more comfortable.”

“That’s not necessary,” said Kiku, who thought maybe he would like to be around more people who were like him but also wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and rest after such an exhausting day. He was full and overwhelmed and every cell in his body screamed at him to lie down and close his eyes to the city. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

“Yong Soo was out with Amelia today, wasn’t he?”

Kiku sat down hard on the couch, surprised. Yao gave him a wry smile.

“I knew it,” he said, sighing. “That boy hasn’t changed one bit. In fact, I think living in California has made him even more reckless than before.”

Amelia’s lovely, strikingly blue eyes swam to the forefront of Kiku’s vision. He swallowed.

“Is there… something wrong?”

He couldn’t say “with her.” Did Yong Soo do something wrong by spending time with her today? Did I? 

Yao studied him for a moment and then said, “We can talk about it in the morning. You’re tired, so rest. You’ll need it for tomorrow. I’ll wake you when breakfast is ready.”

Chapter Text

In the morning, Kiku woke to the sound of the stove being lit. He pushed himself up over the couch and saw the silhouette of Yao tying an apron across his waist. Kiku rubbed his eyes and dressed quietly before joining Yao for tea.

It was early, though the sun was high and bright, casting squares of light in the kitchen.

Yao reminded him, quietly, that it was probably best for him to avoid Amelia Jones.

“She’s a good girl,” he conceded, “all things considered. But I’m sure that by now you’ve noticed the way things are here. Pretty girl like her and men like us? There’s no telling what could happen. It won’t matter if you say there’s nothing to it, we’re just friends, just walking… Here it’s a little easier to mix but that’s not the case everywhere you go. And on top of that, there’s - well. It’s a little early for all that. Drink your tea while it’s warm.”

Within moments, a pair of footsteps thudded down from the second story and Yao was scolding May for waking the neighborhood with all that stomping. Leo yawned and poured himself a glass of orange juice. By the time a table had been set, the doorbell rang and Yong Soo appeared - fully dressed and smiling expectantly. Yao shouted instructions to his siblings while Kiku grabbed his bags and prepared for another long day.

Kiku’s apartment was three small square rooms and a bathroom. Yao and Yong Soo pushed in a mattress for a Western-style bed, a few chairs, a table, and a chest of drawers. When they left, it was almost too quiet and tidy, even for Kiku. With unspoken courtesy, Yao provided a small cabinet in the living room which Kiku was able to convert into a makeshift shrine for his parents. He bought a small bundle of flowers for a thin glass vase and put his photo album in the top drawer.

His next task was to find a job. Kiku explained about his inheritance but Yao told him, “Your father’s money will only get you so far, you know. Let me know if you have any trouble - I’ll be able to set you up with a few of my friends.”

He’d never worked a real, paid job before. He was pretty sure that simple household chores wouldn’t count as “work experience.” Yong Soo was similarly unhelpful. “I don’t get paid working for Yao, you know? School is my job. You have any idea how much school they make you do before you become a lawyer? It’s cruel and inhumane, honestly. Other than that, sometimes I help my parents out but we’re not hiring now. Let’s ask Mia what she knows.”

“But -”

“But what?”

Kiku bit his lip and told him what Yao had said. Yong Soo’s brow furrowed.

“Look, I totally get it. Yao thinks I don’t but I do - listen. Would I lie to you about this?”

“You already lied to Yao.”

“Yeah, but that’s like, lying to your parents,” said Yong Soo dismissively. “Everyone does that now and again.”

Kiku had never lied to his parents. Not directly, anyway. Not like this.

“Look, Mia and I have been friends for ages. You can trust us. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Even you said, on the train -”

“Yeah, cause you were being a jackass! You want a real job or you want to work for Yao?”

Kiku did not want to work for Yao, and so once again, they met Amelia in Central Park.

It was two weeks since Kiku had arrived in New York. The weather grew warmer by the day, and the sun felt sharp on his face. Amelia beamed when she saw him sitting on the bench beside Yong Soo. She was wearing blue, which made her eyes even more startling. Her heels clicked on the stones as she marched up to them.

“Kiku!” she said. “I’m so happy to see you again! You look much better. Are you settling in? Did you like your new apartment? What are our plans for today? Wanna go to the pictures this afternoon?”

It seemed to be her custom to greet people with as many questions as possible.

“I’m alright,” Kiku told her, folding his hands for lack of something better to do. “The apartment is nice but…”

“Kiku’s deathly afraid of becoming a regular dewdropper,” Yong Soo informed him.

“I see!” Amelia gave him the same look she had during their first meeting - eyes sliding from his hair to his shoes, and back up to his eye level, at which point he’d look away. Her gaze felt heavy, inquisitive, and significant. He became highly conscious of his presence, wondering if she thought that he was inadequate somehow. Color rose in his cheeks again and hoped that, if Yong Soo intended for the three of them to spend time together more often, that he could get used to Amelia soon. It wouldn’t do to keep blushing around her like this.

“I know just the place!”

It was called Bonne Chance - a small restaurant in Midtown. Even Yong Soo looked surprised.

“Are they even gonna let us in here?”

The sign was sleek, gold and white and dotted with electric bulbs for when the streets went dark. There was a menu posted on a black stand outside the elegant glass doors, and even if Kiku couldn’t comprehend the French meal offerings, he balked at the sight of the prices. This was the kind of place that served millionaires - people who’d made their money the honest way - not people like Kiku.

“I’m a friend of the owner!” Amelia declared. “Come on - we’ve got fifteen minutes before the doors open. Let’s make some magic happen!”

Kiku and Yong Soo glanced at each other. In the glass, their expressions matched precisely.

Amelia took them both by the elbows and dragged them in through the doors.

“How d’you do, Miss Lucille?” Amelia smiled sweetly at the bespectacled woman wearing - Kiku’s eyes widened - trousers and a waistcoat which only emphasized - Kiku bit the inside of his cheek in his haste to jerk his head doward, staring at his feet. “Is Francis in already?”

The woman sighed critically. Kiku refused to look upward but he imagined that the stern expression she’d been wearing while they walked in had only gotten stonier. She spoke with a distinct but sophisticated accent.

Monsieur Bonnefoy has been… how shall I say? Difficult to manage these last two weeks.”

Amelia said, “Oh?”

“Yes,” said Lucille. “If you would be so kind as to speak to your, eh… uncle, was it?”

“Oh,” said Amelia, in such a flat voice that Kiku could hardly believe it was her voice at all. “Is it about the order?”

“Indeed, but I think perhaps that is not all… Perhaps an in-person meeting would suffice?”

“I don’t know.”

“It would be a great favor,” said Lucille, who seemed like the kind of person that wasn’t in the business of having her requests be refused. “To all of us here. And I am sure it would cheer the monsieur greatly to have company.”

Oh,” said Amelia, normal again. She giggled. “Oh, Lucille, sweetie, you nearly slayed me just now! Not to worry, I’m on the trolley - and if that’s all it is, then you should’ve just said so in the first place! I’ll be more than happy to help! Let me guess, the kitchen? Right, swell - thanks for your help as always, Lucy, you’re a real doll!”

This time, both Amelia and Yong Soo dragged Kiku away. He nearly tripped over one of the white-draped tables with the force of their hands, finally managing to shake them off when they’d nearly reached the door.

“What was that about?” Yong Soo hissed. He looked about as confused as Kiku felt. “Does the rock of ages have a name?”

“She’s only twenty-five,” said Amelia dismissively. “And she says she’s related to some kind of prince, I haven’t a clue - just don’t get on her bad side, okay? She’s a regular snakecharmer and she’ll rob you blind before you can say, ‘Monte Carlo.’ Now!”

Frowning intently, Amelia took Kiku’s face in both of her hands and slightly turned his head from side to side.

“Ah -”

She smiled and clapped her hands again to both his shoulders, checking his posture.

“You’re absolutely perfect!” Amelia declared, which made Kiku feel like melting into the floor. “He’s going to love you. Now, as they say in show-biz, time to break a leg!”

The expression did not reduce Kiku’s nervousness in the slightest as Amelia practically shoved him through the double doors. Bonne Chance had a kitchen nearly as big as its dining area, heated with the fires of stoves and ovens, thick with the smell of seasonings and cooked meats, people in pristine white coats moving here and there with massive silver knives in their hands. In the middle of it all stood a man with shoulder-length hair pulled with a ribbon over his shoulder, frowning critically at a pot of soup with a wooden tray of spices in front of him.

“Francis!” Amelia called, waving. “Over here!”

The man blinked and looked up. At once, the hardness vanished from his face. He smiled and opened his arms as he strode towards them.

“My dear girl,” he exclaimed, kissing Amelia on both cheeks. “How is it that I never see you anymore, hm? Quelqu'un regarde ça pour moi, s'il te plaît - and your relatives - ah, merci, Andreas! - are nearly as bad as you are. Where is your brother now, for example? His job is still waiting for him!”

Amelia smiled. “Well, luckily for you, I’ve brought someone even better. These are my friends - this is the one I told you about.”

“Ah, yes,” said Francis Bonnefoy, turning to Yong Soo and shaking his hand. “I have heard everything about you.”

“I hope not,” Yong Soo replied with a grin.

“Only the best, of course. You are most welcome here.”

“And this is Kiku,” said Amelia, nudging Kiku on the shoulder to prod him forward. “He’s new to the city and needs a place to work. Do you think you can make space for him?”

Bonnefoy looked at Kiku, sizing him up as Amelia did. He was tall, handsome in middle age despite the shadows of stubble at his jaw, and Kiku felt like another species by comparison. He bit his lip and averted his eyes.

“Kiku,” said Bonnefoy. “That’s an interesting name. Where are you from, mon ami?”

“Yokohama, Japan!” Amelia chimed in. “Ask him about it - it’s the bee’s knees!”

“So you’re like me.” Bonnefoy’s voice was warm with sympathy. “Like all of us, in our way. We have all come to America for some reason or another and now, we must - eh, what’s that saying?”

Amelia said, “Break a leg!”

“That’s the one! What do you say, Kiku? Can you cook?”

“A little,” Kiku mumbled. “Not like this.”

“Not to worry,” said Bonnefoy. “If you would like to learn to cook in the French style, you are welcome to start here! In the meantime, there are plenty of other jobs. Are you a tidy person?”

“Yes, but I think -”

“Then you may start with cleaning,” Bonnefoy declared. “I only ask that you do your best and show up to work on time. If you are late, I will accept bad traffic or emergencies as an excuse, however -”

“But -” Kiku finally blurted out, so anxious that he couldn’t stand it. “My English is -” His breath caught, tight in his chest, and he lowered his head again, fighting the instinct to bow. “I can’t do this work. I’m sorry.”

“It will be perfectly alright,” said Bonnefoy, not even missing a beat. “I speak horrid English. People don’t come to my restaurant to hear English - they come to eat the most delicious food in the city. And since I own this place, I’m allowed to hire anyone I like. You will be among friends here, Kiku.”

Kiku looked at Amelia - who nodded eagerly - and Yong Soo - who dipped his head lightly in approval. For some reason, Kiku felt a little more relaxed, knowing that there was no harm in staying around. He stuck out his hand, and Bonnefoy shook it.

Parfait! You shall start on Monday - be here at eleven o’clock. And Amelia, mais charmante -”

Amelia rolled her eyes but smiled. “I will personally drag them out here so that we can all have dinner. How’s next Friday?”

Bonnefoy took her hand and kissed it.

“That was way too easy,” said Yong Soo as they left. His voice was suspicious those he still wore an amazed expression. “How in hell did you get connected with the Ritz?”

There was already a line forming outside Bonne Chance. Yong Soo tried to wave down a cab but it flew past, though it seemed to be completely empty.

“You’ll really like working there,” Amelia assured Kiku. “He pays well and makes sure that you get enough to eat. You know what they say about French people - that they’re all high-hat and snooty? Francis isn’t like that at all. He’s a true gentleman - and a war hero!”

“No foolin’?” Yong Soo clicked his teeth as another cab passed them by. “What’s he doing out over here?”

“Who knows? Maybe he likes the city.”

“I don’t know anybody who’d take New York over Paris,” said Yong Soo, sighing as he finally managed to flag down a driver. The three of them squeezed into the backseat. “So, what’s our angle for the rest of the day?”

“Don’t you work?”

“Nah, not this weekend.”

“Di Mi, it’s been ages since you’ve had off on a weekend, and Kiku just got his first job - we ought to do something fun! Celebrate a little!”

“I could use a little hair of the dog, now that I’m thinking about it.”

Amelia and Yong Soo looked at each other, grinned, and then looked at Kiku, who immediately opened his mouth to say that whatever their plan was, he disapproved.

Her uncles were pleased to hear about Francis’s dinner invitation - except Arthur, who pretended like Amelia had inconvenienced him in some way. She had no idea why he disliked Francis so much, since he was easily one of their best customers. He paid top dollar for imported wines - from Canada and Europe, smuggled in the bowls of ships into New York harbor - and never complained if an order was late due to uppity bureaucrats who wanted advance payments on their bribes. 

Officially, the Rabbit Hole didn’t sell alcohol - probably the only Irish pub in the world to make such a bold claim - though Arthur was well-known to deal under the table. Tonight, he’d be off making his rounds with Alastair and Matthew. Below, Niall was leading the customers in a round of song - he only ever sang when drunk and he got drunk so often that it was a wonder they hadn’t been raided yet. Amelia hummed the lyrics as she applied rouge and lined her eyes with a heavy, black kohl. She checked an open magazine at her dressing table.

The last step was to paint her lips in scarlet - and she’d be as glamorous as any Hollywood starlet.

She wondered if Kiku would like it.

Tonight, the pub was so crowded that she hardly had to hide, walking straight up to the bar where Owen was pouring a round of cheap beer from some of the port workmen, still in their overalls and stinking of fish. They looked at her but knew better to say anything with two of her uncles within earshot. Owen glanced at her face as she sat on a stool and said, “Making trouble are we, cariad bach?”.

“Visiting friends.”

“At this hour?” Owen sighed and held out his hand. Amelia reached into her purse, withdrew a small silver flask and handed it to him. Owen grabbed a bottle of gin from the top shelf and filled it for her. “My dear youngest brother will have a fit.”

Amelia took a swig from the flask before tucking it into her purse. “Didn’t you hear? I’m off probation.”

“He’ll be late,” said Owen, leaning over the bar. “Keep quiet as a mouse, he’ll never hear from me. On one condition…”

Amelia smiled, patient and expectant.

“Come with your uncle to Mass this Sunday - and attend confession.”

Amelia groaned. Religion was the messiest thing about their family. Arthur was an avowed atheist, Niall a Catholic, Owen talked of nature spirits and collected religious iconography from around the world, and Alastair once walked into a Methodist church by mistake and declared it, “Nay too unreasonable.” Amelia thought church was dull and old-fashioned; she never thought about whether or not she believed in things like heaven or God. But sitting through an hour of preaching was certainly better than the lecture she’d get from Arthur if he knew she was going out drinking.

“You drive a hard bargain, Unc,” said Amelia, offering a handshake. “But it’s a deal.”

Owen took her hand and kissed her palms. “Be safe, cariad bach.”

They said that you hadn’t spent the night in Manhattan unless you spent it with the Queen of Sheba. Perched at the northernmost edge of Central Park, right on the streets where Harlem began. In the daylight hours, it was Queenie Lloyd’s Bakery, owned by the widow Queenie Lloyd and staffed by her two daughters and a nephew up from Tennessee. On weekends - and nearly every night in the summer - it was The Queen of Sheba, the best speakeasy in New York state. 

Kiku was looking much better than when he arrived. A few weeks of steady meals had put the color back in his complexion, though he still blushed whenever she got within two feet of him. Amelia smiled and spun in a circle when she saw him approaching with Yong Soo, who’d slicked back his hair and worn a brightly colored bowtie for the occasion. He whistled.

“Those are some glad-looking rags, sister!”

Amelia smacked him on the arm, shaking her head. “What do you think, Kiku?”

Kiku went scarlet, as she’d hoped he would, and stammered, “S-sure. Glad rags. I didn’t understand the meaning first but -”

Yong Soo gripped his shoulder and gave him a shake. “I keep trying to get him to loosen up but, alas, he’s useless.”

Amelia looped her arm through Kiku’s, allowing Yong Soo to take another draught from his own flask. “You look great, too, you know. Just relax a little. I promise, you’ll have the time of your life.”

Yong Soo whistled to the tune of, Every morning, every evening, ain’t we got fun? Amelia laughed and told Kiku, “He’s ossified, but that’s a college boy for you! I’ll bet you a dollar that he’s been drinking since we decided to come out here.”

Kiku pressed his lips and looked down. Amelia patted his arm reassuringly as they made their way down a darkened alley, out of the view of the streetlights. It was early enough that the big crowds hadn’t arrived and late enough that the party had been on for a few hours already. Perfect timing. Yong Soo knocked on the bakery’s back door three times, then twice, then three times again.

Queenie’s nephew, Louie, answered the door in a bright shirt and smart bowtie. “State your business.”

“Louie, you know us,” said Amelia, surprised. Her family had personally stocked Queenie’s bar and though Amelia wasn’t sure how, she knew that Yao Wang and his gang must’ve contributed their part as well. Every gangster in the city was invested in the place, the only truly free club in the city.

“Not him.” Louie pointed to Kiku.

“He’s my escort for this evening,” Amelia said, beaming. “Jealous?”

“Always.” Louie sighed. “But seriously, we’ve got some new rules around here. Hey, Soo.”

Yong Soo smiled, all charm. “We’re for tea with the queen.”

“Which one? I hear there’s two or three.”

“Three times three to be precise!”

Louie smiled. “Always can count on you, Soo.”

Yong Soo pretended to tip his hat. Louie opened the door and took their coats.

“So, when’s your shift up?”

“Not long now,” Louie said, folding up the coats and shoving them into a hall closet. “My auntie’s been saying she got a bad feeling, so we hired a couple of guys from the Kingsley brothers to keep lookout. Even di Silva’s chipping in for security.”

“Di Mi, that sounds serious,” Amelia said. The idea of something happening to Queenie Lloyd’s club was unthinkable. She was a fortress. No one could bring her down. Amelia took out her flask and drank deeply, hoping that the gin would let her forget that she was worried sooner than later. “You ought to join us when you’re out! We’ve got sooo much to catch up on! I know - Soo will save you a seat!”

“Looking forward to it,” said Louie, smiling.

Yong Soo blinked as they turned the corner and descended the steps.

“Why’d you tell him that?”

Amelia smiled. “Didn’t you hear? He broke it off with that high-john from Brooklyn not three days before you came back.”

He beamed and swooped down to kiss her on the cheek. “You’re my best girl, you know?”

“I know.”

As the reached the bottom, a pair of thick velvet curtains appeared. They did the bare minimum to block out the cacophony of sound - high, fast jazz music, laughter, the buzz of conversations, the swish of fabric and the clink of glasses and the clatter of dancing shoes. Beside her, Kiku was stiff as a board with nervousness. Poor thing, Amelia thought, drawing herself closer, letting him know that he wasn’t alone. For her, the moment before the curtain came back and it all hit you - that was the best part. For him, the thought of a crowd seemed to inspire not excitement but dread.

Yong Soo pushed the curtain back and the Queen of Sheba rushed in.

Almost instantly, Kiku lost his sense of space and time. He’d never been in a place like this - there were some jazz clubs in Japan, and many in Yokohama, where there were more foreigners to operate them. But they were nothing like this. Nothing was like this. Overwhelmed by the glitter and the lights and the sounds - his brain seemed to go on autopilot. Amelia and Yong Soo led him to a small circular table surrounded by velvet-covered bar stools. Soon enough, there was a bottle on the table and a little cup in his fingers, and they were egging him to drink.

Kiku took a sip and choked.

Amelia and Yong Soo laughed.

“Christ, brother, you don’t sip moonshine - knock it back, like so!”

Yong Soo lifted his glass and drained it. Amelia put her hand on his arm again, curling her fingers lightly into his sleeve.

“We can get you something else if you don’t like it. Here, let me.”

She took his glass from him, knocked it back, and called for a waiter.

Great. Kiku wasn’t sure how he felt about a woman being able to outdrink him like this - even if he’d never had much experience with alcohol before. Worse, it was Amelia. He must look pathetic to her now. Yong Soo poured him a glass of whatever was in their bottle. It wasn’t nearly as bitter as the moonshine but it still burned in his throat. Kiku forced himself to drink the full glass, letting it settle in his belly. Yong Soo laughed again and refilled it for him. The waiter returned with a cup of something golden and fizzy, which Amelia assured him that she would drink if he wasn’t going to.

A few more drinks passed through their hands; between the three of them, the bottle emptied quick enough. Kiku found that the more he drank, the more he enjoyed himself. He felt looser, freer than before. Like maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to say what’s on his mind. Like maybe he could touch Amelia as casually as she touched him.

“So, what do you think?” she asked, shouting to be heard over the music. This music… It was the kind of thing his mother would’ve hated but his father would’ve loved. The trumpet screamed out a finale note, and everyone turned and applauded. A woman in a sleek black dress with pearls hanging from her neck took a round microphone and announced the next act - a group of girls in the shortest skirts that Kiku had ever seen, shimmering like diamonds, all smiles as the band struck up a new beat.

Men and women alike moved through the crowds - a myriad of faces, colors, and drinks in all their hands. Across from them, two women were holding hands as they talked, their faces pressed together in a way that was decidedly not sisterly. A tall blonde man was chatting with a lady in dress that looked like it was made from rose petals, the rich color accentuating her deeply brown skin. A couple with graying hair and wedding bands on their fingers sat on the edge of the dance floor, singing along to the band’s tune.

“I don’t know,” said Kiku.

“You need another drink to figure it out!” Yong Soo said, pressing the glass into his hands again. Kiku tilted his head back and drained the contents. The liquor had decided to bypass his stomach now, and went right to his head, filling it with fuzz and air. His heart pounded hard against his ribs like it wanted to escape from its bindings.

A man in a white suit stumbled past, grimacing. His drink sloshed over the rim of his cup, nearly spilling in Kiku’s lap.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” he said, as Amelia pulled him off his stool and to safety.

“Matter of fact, I think that’s our cue,” she said, her lips close to his ear. “Let’s dance!”


Amelia tugged him in the direction of the teeming crowd of bodies. Kiku managed to glance back at the table - and found that Louie the doorman was sliding into his empty seat. A trio of glitter-dusted women in startling purple moved to block his view just as Amelia tugged, and Kiku at last had the good sense to yank his arm back.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m not -” he said. She was so unbelievably lovely under the lights, eyes and lips shining when she looked at him. “I don’t dance.”

Amelia blinked. “I don’t understand, do people not dance in Japan?”

“They do. Not me, though. I never learned.”

Amelia looked almost sad for a moment before she smiled, and took his hands in both of hers, giving a reassuring squeeze. The crowd cheered and applauded as the girls took a bow and the band picked up a slower, sweeter song.

“Well, then I’ll just have to teach you! Everything’s jake - you know what, we don’t have to dance right now. There’s a few more people I wanted you to meet! Here, let’s go.”

She looped her arm through his again, and this time, they walked side-by-side.

They came up to the shining metal bar where a trio of dark-skinned women in neat, formal skirts were serving drinks, hands flying over glasses and bottles with ease. One was middle aged and seemed to command an almost fearful respect from the customers, who kept tipping hats and offering her thanks as she diligently swept piles of coins and green bills into a jar. Of the two younger, one worked efficiently, expressionlessly, her hair tied up at the back of her head with a simple headache band as decoration - the other had flowers woven into her hair, and seemed to be flirting more than she served.

“Jordan!” Amelia cried, practically jumping over the bar to hug her.

The bartender gave a shrill cry of happiness. “What hole did you crawl out of? I haven’t seen you in months!”

“Finally off probation!” Amelia said, clutching both the girl’s hands. “You know how family is.”

“What’re you drinking, sis? It’s on us!”

“Just a pair of gin and tonics, if you don’t mind. One for me and one for my escort.”

Kiku could not tell if the flush in his face was from all the drinks or from the fact that Amelia had implied that they were “together.” Jordan gave him a look and briefly bit her painted lips.

“You’ve got great taste in umbrellas, sister.” Kiku frowned; he’d heard that word before, but used negatively and his suspicion was confirmed when Amelia started to protest. Jordan ignored her, shouting to the other young bartender. “Hey, Vi - can we get a couple -”

“I heard you!” the other bartender replied curtly. She was already pouring their glasses, sliding them down the sleek countertop without spilling a drop. “Howdy-do, Mia?”

“Kiku, Violet,” said Amelia. “Vi, Kiku.”

“Pleasure,” said Violet. “But quit distracting my sister. She’s not here to flap her gums.”

“Oh, hush.” Jordan leaned over the bar on her elbows. “Vi’s just stressed cause of the wedding.”


Violet held out her hand, allowing them to admire the golden ring on her finger.

“I’m moving to Detroit,” she said with pride. “My fiance has a job lined up with the Ford company. We’ll make good money and I’ll finally get out of this place.”

“I dunno,” said Jordan with a sigh. “The Middle-West seems kind of… je nes se quois?”

“But you won’t have to work anymore,” Amelia said, sipping on her drink. “You must be so excited.” To Kiku, she added, “These lovely ladies are Miss Lloyd’s own daughters. That’s her, down there -” She gestured to the middle-aged woman. “She built this place after her husband died in the war, and now it’s the best club in town. Cops drink for free so it never gets raided and she never turns people away. She’s a legitimate businesswoman and an inspiration to us all!”

Kiku took another drink, feeling his tongue loosen. “Running an illegal club is legitimate business?”

Violet Lloyd raised her eyebrow before she turned away, going back to her original set of customers. “Honey, this is the United States. Anything that makes money is legitimate business.”

“Kiku’s from Japan,” Amelia told Jordan, who was still ogling him with obvious fascination.

“Like Sessue Hayakawa? Be still my heart!”

“Please,” said Amelia, smirking. “He’s old hat. Now, Rudolph Valentino -”

“You’ll never convince me!” Jordan cried, pointing. “Don’t even speak that usurper’s name!”

It took Kiku a moment to recognize the name. “Hayakawa Sessue - iie… The one with the…”

He tried to make a serious, wicked-looking face. Jordan and Amelia laughed beautifully.

“Isn’t he just dreamy?” Jordan said. “Isn’t he just the greatest star to ever walk the Earth?”

Kiku couldn’t help the look on his face. He’d seen a few Hollywood Hayakawa pictures with his father and they’d both come away disappointed that a Japanese man would allow himself to be portrayed as a villain so frequently, when there were perfectly good Japanese cinemas where he could be cast as a hero. “Not really. He’s Japanese but his movies are… not realistic.”

“Oh? So what’s it really like in Japan, if it’s not like the pictures?”


Before he could begin his explanation, Yong Soo grabbed him and yanked him off the stool, white as a sheet.

“Mia - Kiku - we gotta blouse, now.”

“Where’s the fire, high-boy?” asked Jordan playfully. “Party’s just getting started!”

Suddenly, someone screamed.


And just like that, it was over.

It was absolute mayhem, the likes of which Kiku had never seen before. Amelia locked Kiku in an ironclad grip with one hand, and clung to the back of Yong Soo’s shirt with the other, as he pushed - sometimes physically - through the chaotic crowd, half running and half stumbling, using his height to his advantage. Everyone was shouting and screaming - the floor was slick and sticky with alcohol and sweat, dotted with shattered glass where people had dropped their drinks in haste. Police in dark blue uniforms swelled the ranks of the crowd, wielding silver handcuffs and heavy nightsticks and bottle-openers. The band, trapped by their instruments, were all quickly arrested, and anyone not fast enough to dodge the strong, grasping hands of the raiding force would be next.

“WHERE’S LOUIE?” Amelia shouted, pulling Kiku so hard that he almost tripped. His palms were sweating and he felt like he wanted to vomit. The room swung dangerously from side to side. Yong Soo didn’t answer; he’d reached the stage where the girls had been dancing, and pulled Amelia and Kiku on top of it.

They ran into what must’ve been the dancer’s dressing room, which had been totally abandoned, littered with high heels, miscellaneous pieces of clothing, opened jars of rouge and khol, tins of glitter and fine white powders. Kiku hoped that the girls had gotten away safely.

“Jesus Christ,” said Yong Soo, flushed crimson, his carefully styled hair falling into his eyes. “Somebody must’ve snitched.”

“They wouldn’t!” Amelia’s makeup was smudged, only visible now that the light was clear. “Not to Queenie.”

“You know, about twenty minutes ago, I would’ve said the same thing. Shit.”

“What’s happening?” Kiku asked, leaning towards Amelia. “I don’t -”


Amelia cupped her hand over his jaw, leaning into Yong Soo, who put his arms around her and crouched, forcing all three of them behind a dressing table. The three of them huddled together, listening to the distant shouts of protest and the shattering of glass.

“They’re coming closer,” said Yong Soo. “Shit, shit, shit, shit -”

“Can’t we get out through here?”

“Sure,” said Yong Soo, nodding to the door on the opposite side of the room. “That’ll take us up through the bakery, but we’re not gonna make it.”

Amelia looked at him, and then at Kiku. Her jaw set with determination and she stood up.

“Gimme your flask.”


“Flask, Soo. Now!”

Kiku raised his eyebrows. Yong Soo’s mouth snapped closed and he handed over his flask. Amelia traded him for her feathered headache band.

“If you lose, I’ll kick your ass six ways to Sunday,” she declared, and without further ado, pulled up her skirt to mid-thigh, revealing a pair of garters. Kiku was so startled that he nearly fell flat on his face in his attempt to avert his eyes, stunned cold by the idea that a girl was practically undressing herself in front of him.

Amelia unclipped her garters and rolled her stockings down to her ankles. She racked a hand through her curls, shaking her head to let them loose, and then dragged the hand across her face, smearing her makeup even further. Then she took Yong Soo’s flask, unstopped it and put it to her lips - and choked.

“Mary, mother of God, what did you put in this thing?”

“Coffin varnish,” Yong Soo muttered guilty.

“Wait,” said Kiku. “What -”

Amelia held her nose and drained the flask.

“Well, how do I look?”

Yong Soo said, “You’re a mess.”

“Perfect! When the coast is clear, run for it.”

“Amelia -” said Kiku, rising halfway to meet her, but Yong Soo grabbed him and yanked him back down again.

She strode over to the stage door and opened it, revealing a trio of uniformed officers. Kiku’s breath caught in his chest and Yong Soo slapped a hand over his mouth just as Amelia had.

“What the -?”

Amelia swooned and threw herself directly into the arms of the youngest and blondest officer.

“Oh, why, excuse me - I didn’t see you there!”

The officer carefully tried to extract himself from Amelia, who didn’t budge.

“Isn’t this just the swellest party you ever saw? Except I had nooo idea that it was a costume party! I’ve been feeling awfully silly, can’t believe I wasn't on the trolley for it! This is so pretty -” she added, tapping the officer’s shiny badge. “You look just like a real copper! Where’d you buy it? Macy’s?”

Uncomfortably, the officer said, “Miss, please -”

“Oh, don’t be so formal,” Amelia gushed. “You know, you look precisely like my boyfriend… but that dewdropper gave me the absent treatment aaaaaall evening and so now I think I ought to find myself a new dancing partner, you know what I mean?”

The officer actually blushed at this. “Miss, I really insist that you -”

“What do you say, Officer?” Amelia leaned heavily into the officer’s broad chest - he leaned back as far as he could manage - squinting at his badge. “B - beil? Bell? Beil-smith? Schmidt? Beilschmidt! What a nice name. Very German of you. Say, Officer Beilschmidt, do you dance?”

Officer Beilschmidt plucked Yong Soo’s flask from her hands. He opened the cap, sniffed it, and made a face.

“Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”

“Where?” Amelia giggled, pushing him backward as if she’d stumbled in her haste to press close to him. “Are we gonna go somewhere to be alone -?”

“Now, Miss, this is incredibly inappropriate -”

“Come on, Beilschmidt, she’s half your size!” One of the officer’s other companions finally stepped in, realizing that their companion was not socially equipped to deal with a forward-thinking drunk girl. Silver flashed and Amelia was handcuffed. Kiku gasped against Yong Soo’s palm, which made him grimace and pull Kiku to his feet.

“Oh, this is exciting!” Amelia was saying as the officers led her away. “Where are we going? I’ve never been in a real cop car before -”

When all three had their backs turned, Yong Soo lunged for the side door and pushed Kiku through it.

They ran, Yong Soo pulling Kiku by the arm until Kiku worried that he might actually yank it out of its socket. He didn’t seem to have a destination in mind, just “away” from the flashing lights of the police cars that had surrounded the Queen of Sheba. They made turns at random and if it weren’t for the lateness of the hour, they would’ve made quite a scene. When at last, Yong Soo was satisfied, he let go of Kiku, allowing him to sink to his knees on the sidewalk. Yong Soo began to pace back and forth in a pool of yellow lamplight.

“Jesus Christ on a bicycle,” he said. “Jesus Christ -”

“We -” Kiku gasped for breath. He put a hand to his stomach, as if he could will himself not to vomit. Fear and moonshine made for a potent cocktail. “We shouldn’t have -”

“What?” Yong Soo threw his hands in the air. “What the hell was I supposed to do?”

“We have to go back.”

“Why, so we can get arrested? Fat chance, pal.”

Kiku sucked in several lungfuls of cool night air, feeling dizzy. “Amelia was arrested.”

“Yeah, she’s a real saint, and next time we see her, you better thank her for saving your goddamn life!”

At last, Kiku lifted his head and saw the furious expression on Yong Soo’s face. Now he was even fiercer than the one he’d worn when he’d lectured Kiku on the train. The flush of alcohol and his mussed hair made him look disheveled in a way that he never way. There were no more smiles, no more smirks or condescension. It occurred to Kiku - in the very far back part of his mind that was approaching sobriety - that he must be worried about Amelia too, perhaps even more than Kiku was.

“What do you think they would’ve done if they caught you in a place like that, huh?” Yong Soo demanded. “Yao told you what it’s like here, remember? Mia’s family is gonna let her stew in the station overnight to teach her a lesson but you? They wouldn’t even bother with the bail. They’d toss you in the harbor and make you swim back to Japan.”

Kiku could not recall the last time he’d been genuinely angry about something. He disliked the itchy, rising sensation beneath his skin, like a heat wave, like a match had been struck in his chest. His jaw clenched.

“Then why did you bring me?” he asked, slowly, clearly. “You knew it was illegal. You understand that, right? Against the law. You knew, and you brought me anyway.”

Yong Soo racked a hand back through his hair. “It’s not that simple, pal.”

But it was that simple. Kiku did not understand this country at all. There was no sense of unity, no code of conduct. People just went their own way with no regard for the safety or feelings of others. Was he supposed to think of it as heroic - for Amelia to take the fall for his stupidity? He never should’ve agreed to come out to a place like this. If he had been a real friend to her, he would have insisted that they stay in. They could’ve gone to dinner, or to the cinema. The thought of Amelia in a jail cell made him want to be sick. He should have tried to protect her, instead of hiding like a drunken coward.

“Look, you’re still buzzing. We ought to get back before someone spots us. Here, take the headband. She really will kill us if we lose it.”

He offered Kiku a hand. Having no other choice, Kiku took it, stood up, and accepted Amelia's now-wrinkled feathered headband.

“Too late to catch a cab!” Yong Soo declared. “Luckily, I happen to know a shortcut.”

Kiku bit his tongue to keep from complaining, and followed him.

Chapter Text

Officer Beilschmidt diligently avoided her for the rest of the night and well into the morning, though Amelia spied him supervising the other officers as they interviewed the arrested one by one. She slept curled up in a corner of a cramped stony cell packed with drunk flappers and their dates, and even though she’d been stained with booze and dirt, even though she’d been bruised by the handcuffs and lost one of her shoe buckles - the sight of Officer Beilschmidt’s ashamed expression whenever he caught her eye made her feel almost smug.

It was a long night, despite the fact that it was nearly morning when she was arrested. Amelia figured that, best case scenario, her uncles would send Matthew to fetch her and save the lecture for when he brought her home. Worst case scenario, Arthur drove down in person and the force of his righteous anger struck her dead on the spot. Just after dawn, an officer came to announce that her bail had been posted, at which point she learned that all four of her uncles and Matthew had come to fetch her.

She swallowed a note of fear and shame, blinking the pale morning light from her eyes when she took them in, crowding the sidewalk outside the station. Then, she raised her head, snatched her purse from the officer’s hand, and marched forward with what she hoped was dignity and poise. Her hair was a rat’s nest and her face certainly hadn’t improved since she smeared all her makeup. But damned if she was going to apologize for what she’d done.

Niall swooped in and threw his arms around her, crushing her into his vest.

“Bleeding fucking sons of bitches,” he said, loudly. The officers shot reproachful looks over their shoulders. “Treating a little girl this way. Look at me, treasure. Have they hurt you?”

He smelled like moonshine and cigarettes and was probably more hungover than she was, and yet he’d still come. “I’m fine.”

“Shove off, ye sap,” said Alastair, glaring at the cops. “She said she’s fine.”

Owen patted the back of her head, smoothing down her hair. “This was not what I meant by staying safe, cariad bach.

Matthew sighed.

Arthur shook both officers’ hands. “Thank you for your help, gentlemen. I can assure you that this will not be happening again.”

The officers grumbled until he slipped them their cut of the bail money.

At last, Niall and Owen released her. Matthew tapped her lightly on the shoulder, nodding to Arthur as he strode past his elder brothers, to where the family car was waiting on the curbside.

“Come along, Amelia.”

Amelia bit her lip as she slid into the passenger’s seat. Nobody else followed, except Arthur, who took his place a the driver’s side and waited.

“I’m not sorry,” she told him, folding her arms and staring straight ahead. “So don’t ask.”

“This is precisely why I didn’t want you hanging out with that boy -”

“It wasn’t for him.”

“You told Owen that you were visiting friends.”

“I have more than one friend!” she snapped.

“Amelia -”

To her amazement, Arthur appeared to physically bite back whatever he was going to say, take a deep breath, and sigh.

“I realize that it may be - well - hypocritical of me to lecture you on drinking given our family business…”

Amelia snorted and didn’t bother to hide the roll of her eyes.

“But you must realize that this has consequences that go far beyond you and your friends. This was an extremely thorough operation and I’m afraid that Mrs. Lloyd has been put out of business for good. A few of our own are even facing arrest themselves. The fact that whoever orchestrated this can outsmart us is worrying, frankly. And if something like this were to happen again, I am not sure that I would be able to trust my own resources to get you out - to get you home, safely. That’s all I want. I just want you to be safe.”

He wasn't lying, and she knew it. That was the worst part. He made it impossible to be angry.

“Amy, dear,” he said, which was what he’d only ever called her a handful of times when she was very small and unable to sleep. “Can you at least explain to me why you let yourself be arrested, knowing what kind of risk that poses - not only for you, but for our family?”

Amelia bit her lip. Her feelings briefly played tug-of-war.

“He’s my friend. He just came from Japan at the end of May and so I was trying to help. We were out celebrating because he got his first job and I was scared that they’d deport him if they caught him. I wasn’t trying to - I just wanted him to be -”

Comfortable. Safe. Kiku had eyes like a frightened deer. He always looked so sad. She wanted him to be happy, here in New York, with her.

“Is he working for Wang?”

A wave of bitterness crashed over her so powerfully that it was all she could do not to burst into tears when she said,“No!”

Arthur put a comforting arm around her. Amelia let herself lean into his starched white shirt, just for a minute or two, until she composed herself again. She hadn’t been really afraid while she was in jail but she was angry that she’d had to go. There was always something. It wasn’t fair that Kiku could be deported for trying to enjoy himself. It wasn’t fair that she had to meet her friends in secret, speaking in passwords and sending coded letters. It wasn’t fair that influenza killed her parents when she was ten and now all she had were a mismatched bunch of gangsters and the boy her mother had been too ashamed to raise but too afraid to abandon.

When she could breathe normally again, Arthur handed her handkerchief so that she could clean her face. Amelia took it mutely, and only in a million years would she admit that she was grateful for the understanding that they shared in times like these. Her other uncles and Matthew were milling around outside, pretending like they hadn’t been trying to eavesdrop as Arthur leaned out the driver’s window.

“What are you lot doing out there? There’s work to be done, in case you’ve forgotten!”

Her relatives piled into the car, and Arthur drove them all home.

Despite being exhausted, Kiku’s anxiety kept him wide awake and he didn’t crash until dawn broke over the city skyline, face down in his sheets and already feeling a hangover coming on. When he woke - late into the afternoon, sweating, feeling like his mouth was full of fuzz - he was horrified. He cleaned himself up shakily, barely managing to keep his insides from turning themselves out, and set off to track down Yong Soo.

He had Yong Soo’s address - but when he got to the restaurant, he found it crowded, full of tourists and hungover flappers seated beside work-weary locals. The mixed clatter of Chinese and English made Kiku’s head spin. There were people waiting for tables, the hot steam carrying the scent of tea leaves and noodles carrying onto the sidewalk.

When he walked in, a woman with braided hair and laugh-lines around her eyes addressed him Chinese.

“Sorry,” said Kiku, awkwardly. “I’m looking for Yong Soo?”

The woman looked puzzled - and then, smiled.

“You must be Kiku, right? Call me Soo Jin,” she said, by way of explanation. “I’m his mother. I’m terribly sorry but my Japanese isn’t very good at all - even worse than my English! But he told me you might come by today. Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll fetch him?”

Soo Jin spoke clean, crisp English with just the barest hint of an accent. Kiku found it in himself to feel baffled as she directed him to sit at a rickety table. She disappeared into the steam-filled kitchen, where the sound of Chinese conversation nearly drowned out the sound of sizzling food. Within moments, Yong Soo appeared from the steam. He smiled and waved.

“You look like hell, Houdini! Give me two minutes.”

Kiku grimaced as he disappeared once more. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he had led them on a wild goose chase through the city until just before dawn, he appeared totally unaffected by the events of last night. When Yong Soo reappeared, he was holding a heavily laden tray and a pot of tea, which he set down in the center of Kiku’s table.

The bowl of noodles was massive but cool to the touch. There was a large fried egg seated on top of the broth but it didn’t look like any kind of food that Kiku recognized. He frowned as Yong Soo continued laying out smaller bowls, including two piled with steamed rice, and utensils. At last, he sat in the other chair and seized a pair of chopsticks.

“What is this exactly?”

“Cold noodles. It’s hot out and my dad makes them so spicy that they’re a guaranteed hangover killer. Just try them, it’s good for you. Here -”

He took Kiku’s rice bowl and added a pile of something red and flaked in chilis.

“Make sure you eat or my mom will never let me hear the end of it.”

His mother was indeed lingering in the door to the kitchen, an empty tray in her hands and her eyes on Kiku. She didn’t even appear embarrassed when he caught her eye; she smiled, kind but expectant. At least, Kiku didn’t want to appear rude in front of her. He picked up his tea first, hoping that it would soothe his nervous stomach.

“So, what brings you out here?” asked Yong Soo, around a mouthful of noodles. “I mean, I know I told you to drop by anytime, but -”

“I want to know if Amelia is okay,” Kiku interrupted. “But I don’t - I don’t want to go to the police by myself. I’m worried that we were spotted when we left.”

“We weren’t.”

“How do you know?”

Yong Soo shook his head, smiling still. “Even if we were, it’s not like they can arrest us after the fact. Even if that Beilschmidt fellow did recognize us - which there’s no way that he would - and brought us in on some trumped up charge - which he definitely wouldn’t because as I said, he has no idea we were even there - Yao would have us out in an hour.”

“But Amelia -”

“Honestly, Kiku, you really think Arthur Kirkland is gonna let his only niece rot in sing-sing? There’s not a boss worth his salt in this whole city that’ll let employees sit in jail, much less family. She’s been at home for hours.”

Yong Soo’s flippant attitude was starting to grate Kiku’s nerves down to nothing. He didn’t know who Arthur Kirkland was, apart from knowing that the name belonged to a member of Amelia’s family. He stared at his largely untouched food.

“Fine. I’ll go and see her for myself. Give me her address and I’ll go.”

Yong Soo snorted into his bowl as he tipped it back to drink the broth. “Funny.”

“I’m serious,” Kiku told him. “Give me her address.”

Yong Soo set the bowl down and stared at him.

“Ah, Christ,” he said, rubbing his temple. “You don’t want to do that, pal. Come on, just eat -”

“And why not?” Kiku demanded. “I thought that the two of you were friends. Why don’t you care to at least check in on her?”

Yong Soo’s eyes darkened. Good, Kiku thought. It was about time he took something seriously.

“If we go and visit Amelia, we’ll get shot.”

At first, Kiku wasn’t sure he believed it. But there was no lie in Yong Soo’s eyes this time.

“Come on, didn’t Yao explain all of this to you? You said he’d told you everything.”

“No -” Kiku hated everything about this conversation. “What are you saying? Does Amelia live somewhere dangerous?”

“Well, obviously. It’s called Hell’s Kitchen for a reason, you know?”

“What? Why?”

“Hell’s Kitchen,” said Yong Soo impatiently. “The place where all the Irish wound up when they came over here. It wasn’t exactly the Ritz-Burg back then but it’s even worse now because everyone’s turned into professional embalmers and they all picked up Tommy guns - for crying out loud, Amelia’s uncles are the Kirkland brothers. They run the whole joint! You know the White Rabbit gang?”

Kiku didn’t know what the White Rabbit Gang was but he wished that he could’ve stayed ignorant of this information regardless.

“So we can’t go and visit her, and she can’t come here either because everyone knows who she is,” Yong Soo explained. “Yao hates that we’re even friends because he and Arthur hated each other from the minute they laid eyes on each other. That’s why we hang out in Harlem and the park, savvy? It’s easier that way. Harlem doesn’t want to deal with anything happening east of Fifth Avenue or south of 125th Street and nobody gets in trouble for walking outside. Now, are you gonna Edison me to death or are you going to eat your noodles? Come on, these are my dad’s special.”

He tapped the edge of the bowl lightly with his spoon. Kiku felt a curious wave of tranquility come over him - curious because he still felt a little sick from drinking and because he was certain that this was the most upsetting conversation that he’d had since he arrived in the United States. He wondered if he would ever cease feeling amazed at Yong Soo’s ability to reveal horrifying truth about the present, as if the idea of Amelia living in a place named after the pits of hell and being related to gun-toting gangsters didn’t mean anything.

“Is everything alright?”

Yong Soo’s mother paused at their table on her way back to the kitchen, a tray of empty dishes in her hands. She smiled down at them.

“Everything’s jake!” said Yong Soo, smiling back. “We’re just deciding what to get Mia for her birthday! Never to early to start planning, you know?”

He lied so easily that, if Kiku hadn’t known better, he would’ve fully believed those words.

“Oh, it’s been ages since she’s come by. Why don’t you invite her over again? Aren’t you hungry, Kiku? You don’t seem to be eating.”

Under Yong Soo’s persistent stare, Kiku sighed, and forced himself to eat a few bites. The food was delicious - the spices seemed to scorch the hangover from his head in moments - but he didn’t want to admit it. Soo Jin looked pleased and patted his shoulder.

“Kiku, make sure to let me or my husband know if you need anything else, okay?”

“Thanks, Mom!” Yong Soo leaned over the back of his chair, waiting until his mother was safely out of earshot before he continued. “And whatever you do, don’t mention yesterday to my parents - got it? They know all about Yao, obviously, but they’re not involved and they want to keep it that way. Plus, Mom hates it when I go out drinking because -”

A glass shattered up front. Yong Soo dropped his spoon, going pale.

Kiku turned in his chair - and ducked his head, a rush of unease bowing him.

Yao was smiling as he helped a young waitress right herself, gently nudging a pile of glass away with the tip of his shoes.

“There, you see?” he said. “No harm done. Be more careful next time, alright?”

There was kindness in his eyes, but he was flanked by no less than five men who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Kojiki-Yato - the places where Kiku’s father had done his business. Shadowed eyes, hands hidden beneath coats and deep within pockets in a way that was only meant for concealing weapons, posture coiled like snakes preparing to strike. Yao wore a light-colored suit, making him like a beacon. He looked too clean and sharp for a modest, colorful place like this. He reminded Kiku, very suddenly, of his father.

The girl with the shattered cup backed herself into a table, head hung low with shame. The American flappers looked baffled - torn between amazement at this sharply dressed newcomer and annoyance that he’d interrupted their meals - while the Chinese all seemed to have suddenly lost their appetites.

A red-faced man emerged from the kitchen, throwing off his apron and speaking to Yao so fast that it made Kiku’s head spin.

Yao smiled patiently and replied, a few soft words.

The man backed up, and Yong Soo stood up from his chair.

“Ah, there you are,” said Yao, in English once more. He nodded to Kiku. “Excellent. Good to see you as well, Kiku. I’m glad it seems like you two are getting along! However, I don’t think I’ll be needing your assistance today.”

“My -”

“Let’s go, Yong Soo,” said Yao.

Kiku looked at him imploringly as he stepped away from the table. Yong Soo caught his eye, shrugged, and followed Yao as he walked out of the restaurant, just as quickly as he’d come in. Heavy, uncomfortable silence lingered for a moment. The man who had thrown of his apron stood still for a moment, his hands clenched into fists until Soo Jin appeared, putting her hand on his shoulder and murmuring something softly. Kiku realized belatedly that this man must have be Yong Soo’s father. His jaw worked, eyeing the door, before he sighed and picked his apron up off the floor.

In minutes, the restaurant had entirely returned to normal. Kiku sat in his chair, dumbfounded for a moment, until Soo Jin approached him as well.

“Kiku, I’m so sorry you had to witness all that,” she said, all compassion and mothering that was so familiar it nearly made this situation worse. “Please, don’t worry about it too much. Yao is a cousin of my husband, and so we can’t always avoid these kinds of situations. I’m just sorry that Yong Soo…”

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“It’s no matter!” she declared. “Everything will be alright in the end - I just wish I could tell you whether or not Soo will be able to come back today. Yao is so unpredictable with these kinds of things and my Yong Soo isn’t the kind of person to refuse family. Please, feel free to stay as long as you’d like. I can bring you more tea…”

Kiku found that he’d lost his appetite as well. He stood.

“Actually, I think I should go as well.”

Soo Jin patted his shoulder again, eyes soft with understanding.

“Please, come back any time.”

The thing was that Kiku liked Yong Soo’s family. They were obviously warm-hearted people, good like Lien was good. Like his own mother had been a good, kind person from a respectable family. How did it come to all of this? Kiku wondered all the way back to his apartment. How was it possible that the best people found themselves inexorably bound to the worst?

It wasn’t fair.

Captain Zwingli was drinking his fifth cup of coffee, which Ludwig knew from experience was a bad sign. He cleared his throat once he was through explaining - for what must’ve been the thousandth time - the details of their raid, down from the precise minute that they’d broken down the club’s back door and up to the second that the last officer had closed his car doors and driven back to the precinct. Ludwig’s throat was beginning to ache from the excess talking. His fellow officers were jaded as a rule but seemed reasonably impressed - or, dare he think - even proud of his initiative and leadership. Kohler even told him that he’d make captain in a year or two if he kept at this rate. But Basch Zwingli was notoriously hard to please. 

“And you were sure they had members at Sheba?”

“Yes, sir,” said Ludwig promptly.


“All of them, sir. The White Rabbits, the Italians - even the Chinese. Our informant -”

“Our informant is a bootlegger with an axe to grind,” Zwingli snapped back at him. He wasn’t really angry. Ten years at NYPD had shown him every dark, strange thing that the city had to offer. It was no wonder his temper had frayed over time. “Has anyone talked?”

A few of the girls and their dates, along with most of the jazz band, had come away clean. Their bail money was up before lunch - including the drunk girl who’d tried to feel him up on the stage. Ludwig repressed a shudder of humiliation, pushing the memory back. His colleagues would be teasing him about that one for years to come.

“We’re still making our way,” said Ludwig, frowning. “But I’m sure that Mrs. Lloyd -”

Zwingli snorted. “It’ll be a cold day in Hell when she gives up her sources.”

“Yes, sir. But this was our best shot.”

“You couldn’t have gone for one of the little guys?” Zwingli grumbled. “You just had to shoot straight for the top dog?”

Ludwig didn’t flinch away from his superior’s scathing tone. “The Queen of Sheba was the only place in this city where a Harlem racketeer could meet up with an Irish rumrunner and an Italian loan shark and nobody comes out in need of a Chicago overcoat.” He cleared his throat abruptly. “If you get my meaning, that is, sir. The point is, given the choice between one of the small-fry and the Queen of Sheba, losing Sheba hurts their profits more in the long run.”

Captain Zwingli downed his coffee and grimaced.

“Every cop in New York was getting their fix with Sheba,” he told Ludwig. “You made yourself a lot more enemies than friends with this one.”

“I know, sir. We’ll keep interrogating until something comes up.”

“You know what they say about the definition of insanity,” Zwingli said dryly as Ludwig stood up. “How long have you been here, Beilschmidt?”

Ludwig paused. “In - the country, sir? My whole life. I was born here.”

“No, you nincompoop, I mean in the precinct. You look like shit.”

“It…” Ludwig actually had to think about it; he could scarcely remember the last time he’d slept in his own apartment. “Forty-eight hours, since before the operation.”

“Christ,” said Zwingli. “You’re a real monster. Your new assignment is to go for a walk and get some damn fresh air, and then go home and don’t let me catch you in this dump until Monday morning. Capiche?”

It was a testament to how exhausted he genuinely was that Ludwig didn’t protest the order. He got his coat and went for a walk in Washington Square Park.

There was a man who liked to set up shop near the marble arch, selling roasted peanuts and bitter, watered-down coffee. Ludwig bought a snack, drained the coffee cup in one go to keep himself awake, and then took a seat. The moment he did, the muscles in his legs seemed to release at once and he nearly groaned with relief. His fingertips burned slightly as he dug into the bag but the bittersweetness eased the pangs in his stomach. Ludwig didn’t know if there was even any food in his icebox and he knew that once he took off his shoes, he would not be getting back up until tomorrow at least.

It had been almost four years since he joined the police force, and in that time, Ludwig had scarcely taken any off time. He worked long hours for low pay, sometimes barely managing to cover his own rent at the end of the month. He slept little, ate irregularly, and had few friends outside the station. All things considered, it was a miracle that he hadn’t gone insane.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon. Washington Square Park was crowded with children, with tourists, with lovers, with vagabonds selling petty trinkets at inflated prices, playing music with their open cases full of spare change. Ludwig let their noise and life wash over him, feeling his chest tense, unwind, tense again, and again, until he could at last begin to relax. The fresh air really did work miracles on a clouded head. Ludwig felt a bit like waking up, even as the need for sleep seeped into his bones. It took longer and longer each time, for the weight to ease. He worried that he might turn out like Zwingli - bitter, cynical. That one day, he might lose who he was.

There was also the possibility that - his his quest to clean up the streets of New York - he would make some kind of mistake. Any mistake in this line of work could be a deadly one. The Irish and the Chinese had no qualms about killing those who stood in their way; the Italians were known for an attachment to conflict resolution but even they would push back if they’d been threatened. They already had no respect for rule of law; it wasn’t as if they cared who they hurt. Even innocent people - bystanders.

Ludwig closed his eyes, pushing it all back.

That was why he was doing all this. To save lives.

When Ludwig opened his eyes again, the rhythm of the park had shifted just so.

It was only his experience that gave him this knowledge. Immediately, Ludwig straightened up and swept his eyes across the crowd, looking for the thing that had changed. His eyes landed first on one of the vagabonds - a young man with coppery curls and paint-stained hands, sketching a portrait of a pair of giggling young ladies. His chatter towards them was white noise but it was clear from his posture that he felt completely relaxed in the crowd.

He did not see the man with a knife hidden in his palm, approaching and eyeing his jar of tips.

Ludwig went up to him without hesitation. He opened his coat, allowing his badge to be visible. He took off his hat, made an effort to soften his face while making himself extremely visible to the wannabe thief.

“Afternoon,” he said to the young ladies. They both collapsed into a fit of giggles.

Their artist smiled. “Afternoon, officer! I’m afraid you’ll have to wait in line. I’d hate to give you less than my full attention.”

Ludwig eyed the wannabe thief, watching the color drain from his face.

“That’s alright. I was just heading home for the day. I have plenty of time.”

The artist beamed. His pencil brushed against the outline, adding texture to one of the girls’ hair. “You know about art, officer? And I’m terribly sorry, I think you ought tell me your name since I try not to paint for strangers. Except you know, I’ve got a terrible memory!”

The blonder half of the duo pouted. “You didn’t ask us for our names!”

Without missing a beat, the artist replied, “For you lovely ladies, I of course made an exception! I have been waiting all day to paint someone as pretty as you.”

Both of them swallowed this line without thinking, clutching each other’s hands and whispering excitedly. The artist flashed a knowing smile at Ludwig, who felt his cheeks heat up. He swallowed, adjusted his collar, and turned once again to the thief, who had been frozen in place all this time, as if he were still deciding to attack.

Ludwig turned and leaned, as if he were admiring the artist’s work. It gave the thief a view of the weapon he had strapped to his side.

“What do you think, officer?” the artist was saying. “A true likeness?”

“You’re very talented,” Ludwig agreed, watching out of the corner of his eye.

“Just the finishing touches now!”

The blonde girl told Ludwig excitedly, “He’s not even gonna charge us for this one! It’s a special - isn’t that right, Feli?”


Ludwig glanced down at the artist’s can of tips. It was not very full at all. Was he really not going to charge these two girls because he liked them? And for that matter, why on Earth would a thief care to steal that small a sum?

Luckily, he didn’t have to answer the question. The thief slinked off without causing a scene. Ludwig allowed himself to feel relieved as the artist peeled off the sketch from his easel and handed it to the girls. When they departed, he kissed their hands in a courtly fashion, which sent them over the edge. Their laughter echoed in the space, high above the rumble of cars and the clatter of shoes as they walked around Ludwig and the artist.

“You know, you still haven’t told me your name!” he said, cleaning off a brush. “Unless, somehow, your first name is ‘officer.’”

Ludwig coughed and told the young man his name. “And yours - Feli?”

“Feliciano in full,” said the artist, beaming up at Ludwig. “It’s a bit of a mouthful. Italian, you know. It means ‘joyful one.’ My parents named me in earnest and my brother as a joke, but it turned out that my brother is the hardworking one and I’m the layabout artist drawing pictures of pretty girls in the park! Isn’t it funny how life works?”

“Yeah,” Ludwig said, wanting to get out of here now that the danger was passed. “Funny.”

“And I think it was very kind of you to try and protect me from that bum just then, but he’s really a harmless fellow - hangs out here all the time, you know! And besides, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself!”

Ludwig stared. “You knew?”

“Of course I knew! Like I said, he hangs out in the park all the time, his name is -”

“I don’t care what his name is!” Ludwig blustered. “You - he had a knife! You could’ve been seriously injured!”

Feliciano blinked. “Well, I suppose that I’m certainly flattered that you care so much! Is it just because you’re a cop that you went and stuck your neck out for a perfect stranger?”

“Y-yes.” Ludwig had no idea why he was stammering. Feliciano had a boyish sort of face - youthful, though he couldn’t have been that much younger than Ludwig. He had rather long eyelashes and a dimpled smile. But he smiled with such confidence, like they were sharing secrets instead of exchanging pleasantries in broad daylight.

“You’re very noble,” said Feliciano, patting his arm. “But please don’t worry about me too much. Everyone is always worrying about me and getting upset, but I hate to upset people. And you know, that’s why I draw them so beautiful, no matter what they really look like! Tomatoes or no, I want to make them happy. But you - I wouldn’t have to beautify you at all in a painting. You remind me of a Michelangelo - he was fascinated with the male form, you see, so he studied construction workers instead of aristocrats. He thought that a strong jawline and a muscled arm were far more beautiful than anything else!”

Ludwig had no idea why Feliciano was telling him all of this. He was starting to get genuinely nervous, and in the back of his mind, he registered a profound irony. He regularly dealt with professional killers and men stalking innocent artists in a park couldn’t scare him - but the eager look in Feliciano’s eyes and his charming smile… terrifying.

“And just between us,” said Feliciano, and winked. “I agree with Michelangelo.”

A hot, powerful flush shot straight to Ludwig’s cheekbones. He’s insane. Ignoring an armed robbery, speaking in this way to a uniformed police officer - it was unthinkable. Ludwig was so shocked that it took him almost a full minute to figure out what he wanted to say.

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” he mumbled at last. “It could be taken out of context.”

Feliciano shrugged, and to Ludwig’s horror, he was actually smirking as he continued to clean his brushes. “I wouldn’t charge you either,” he said. “If you want a portrait.”

“I ought to be going home.”

“That’s fine,” said Feliciano, humming an upbeat tune as he worked. “You seem tired. But not to worry! I’m here almost every day except for Sundays, since I still go to Mass with my family. I usually arrive late in the morning but I pack up before the sun goes down. Since it’s summer, I have extended hours! Come back whenever you’d like.”

Ludwig told himself that he wouldn’t. Wouldn't look back, wouldn't remember this incident as soon as he'd left this day behind him. But as he exited Washington Square, he glanced over his shoulder and saw that Feliciano was watching him leave. He lifted his hand and waved cheerfully at Ludwig, who resisted the urge to turn up the collar of his jacket and run for his life.

He was doomed.