Hell's Kitchen, 1924
Arthur grimaced when the door to the pub slammed shut, noted the way that Amelia's hands clenched and her nose wrinkled as she passed by the windows, storming down the street. He went back to his work, grumbling.
"A real fuckin' princess," Alastair agreed with a sigh. Suddenly, he snorted. "God, ye remember when Maura was that age?"
Arthur couldn't even bring himself to crack a smile. Seventeen - that was precisely the age when Maura had finally, successfully run away from home. She'd been trying to get out of Belfast for years; it was really only a matter of time. But the result was a nightmare of a month. Letters coming every day, sleepless nights, blackened eyes... Arthur had been thirteen years old, in the middle of studying for his final exams for the spring term. Finally, Owen had tracked Maura down in Dublin and when he returned, he assured everyone that she was well and safe - as safe as a seventeen-year-old girl can be when they are miles from home with no connections, that is. Alastair had been furious, nearly lost his job trying to find passage to Dublin just so that he could drag Maura back to Belfast himself. Just thinking about the event made Arthur's head ache.
"Vividly," said Arthur. "Though I prefer not to."
Alastair laughed. He laughed much more than he used to, when he was young. "Just like her ma. Can't believe it."
"Yes," Arthur said absently. "She looks just like Samuel, though, doesn't she?"
"Aye," Alastair said, brushing his hands off on his pants. "That she does. Matthew, you got that alright?"
Matthew set the chair he was carrying down with more force than normal. Arthur glanced up, surprised.
"Fine," said Matthew, a bit breathlessly. He cleared his throat as he straightened back up. "Sorry. I almost tripped." He pushed his shaggy, ginger-blond curls back from his head, fiddled with his glasses, and then quickly shoved his hands in his pockets.
Alastair probably didn't notice it, but Arthur certainly did.
"Do you need a break, Matthew?"
"Ah, he's fine." Alastair clapped Matthew on the back, a solid sound. The young man didn't flinch, but his smile was strained. "Little accident but no harm done. Isn't that right? Much tougher than you look, eh?"
"I wasn't talking to you," said Arthur. "Matthew?"
Matthew only smiled.
"I'm fine, Arthur, but thanks."
Upstairs, Niall's rich tenor voice sounded once more, the fiddle straining to keep up as he set a quickfire tune. Alastair laughed, bellowed at him to be quiet, took Matthew by the shoulder, and went to collect the last of the chairs and tables for the party tonight. Arthur watched them go, deep in thought.
Arthur was sorely tempted to order him to rest - just to give the poor boy a few minutes to clear his head. Sometimes it was all too easy to forget Maura was also Matthew's mother, and a bit of a touchy subject for him. Even though the mention had been short, even if Matthew wouldn't admit it - he was twenty-one, a grown man, a responsible man - still, Arthur knew. Arthur knew that wounds inflicted by family could strike deepest and hurt longest. And Matthew had, in many ways, more cause to be upset with the long-dead Kirkland sister than any of them.
On Owen's wall of photographs - testaments to the pub, Owen's eclectic hobbies and interests, and to the Kirkland family's budding legacy - there was one very old, faded picture. It was nearly obscured by a newspaper article about the Spiritualist Movement and a magazine add for wool stockings, but it was there. Arthur remembered the day that they'd christened the pub and opened its doors to the public. Owen had insisted that they delay the opening just so that he could pin the photograph to the wall.
"For good luck," was his explanation.
The picture had been taken on the day they'd left Belfast, and it was one of the only photographs they'd ever taken as a family, which made the result that much more pathetic in some ways. Alastair was nearly out of the frame, already in motion as they prepared a carriage to head for the harbor. Owen had set up the camera and was at his side, clearly convincing him to come back and stand for the picture. Arthur was framed by the doorway of the house, struggling to handle his suitcases. He was gawky and awkward at sixteen, all freckles, his brow furrowed in concentration. Only Niall was looking at the camera; he had posed with his arms outstretched, a wide grin on his face. Out of the five of them, only Niall had ever really called Belfast 'home.' He had lived there all his life, right up until the day that their father died. Maura had returned for the funeral - and it was her idea to come to America. She was grinning too, fearsome and lovely, her eyes cast to the horizon, where the sea lay out of sight, her finger pointed straight west. It gave the impression that she was guiding them forward.
Maura. Arthur's only sister, the prickly girl who'd spent most of her childhood running away from things. Kirkland women, he decided, had a tendency to do that. His mother had run from her marriage when Arthur was just three years old; Maura had run from Belfast, and then from New York.
Arthur thought about the fire in Amelia's eyes when she argued with him.
Yes, she was very much like her mother - and that was precisely the thing that worried him.
Belfast. November, 1900
Arthur's last impression of the flat was just a sense of unbearable relief. He was so glad that he hadn't grown up in a place like this.
Due to a combination of poor work ethic, excessive drunkenness, and a quick temper, Mr. Kirkland had swindled nearly ever penny he ever had. This flat was a testament to it - tiny, cramped, in the heart of Belfast's industrial district, where you could taste the smog in the air every time you tried to breathe. Arthur could feel his lungs growing blacker by the second. He really had been spoiled, he realized. That damn school - soft sheets, rooms full of books, pressed uniforms and full, regular meals - he felt almost ashamed of himself. He thought of Niall, who had eked out a living in this place, supporting their father in the years before he died.
Still, he couldn't be fully glad that they were leaving, knowing where they were headed.
The front door swung open. Arthur craned his head around the doorway, spotting Alastair at the entrance. His eldest brother resembled their father most - a big, broad man with thick red hair and an equally red beard. Most of the Kirklands had red hair - with Arthur and Owen being the exceptions, of course. But with their father gone now, the five of them - Alastair, Owen, Maura, Niall, and Arthur - were all that was left of the family.
"Come on," said Alastair, in his usual gruff way. "Owen wants a photograph."
"Where the hell did he find a camera?" Arthur demanded. Photographic portraits could be expensive and it wasn't like they had a lot of money to spare for frivolous memory-making. Even their steamship tickets had been won in a gambling match.
"Friend of his, he says."
Both of them grimaced - Owen seemed to have friends in every random pocket of the world - then, they noticed that they wore the same expression, and hastily tried to pretend that it hadn't happened.
"Anyway," said Alastair. "Friend says he'll mail us the picture, as soon as we're in New York."
"Owen wants it 'for posterity,'" he said, mimicking his brother's mild, affected voice. Arthur hid a smirk. "Just get yer arse downstairs, will ye? We don't have much time to get out of this place."
Arthur swallowed hard. There was a heavy lump in his throat. "Right. I'm nearly there."
Alastair grunted to show that he'd heard, and stomped off. Distantly, Arthur heard him shouting, "THE PRINCE'S STILL DONNING HIS FUCKING SOCKS," or something along those lines. Laughter drifted up from the cool, frosted streets below. Arthur felt his ears begin to burn as he furiously returned to work, signing and sealing the letters that he'd written. He thought of Michela and Krishna - the girl of his dreams and the princely senior who had at last begun to acknowledge Arthur as his equal. Technically, they were his only two friends at school. And he would never see them again.
At the very least, they deserved to know what had become of him.
And besides, it wasn't as if anyone else at school would care.
Arthur tucked the letters into his pocket and heaved his suitcase. He had left most of his possessions behind at school, but he'd managed to scrounge up extra clothes and shoes. The rest of the space was taken up with books - poetry books that he'd (albeit accidentally) stolen from the school library. Niall thought it was funny; he didn't see much use in poetry. Ignorant sod.
The cold wind bit into Arthur despite his scarf and gloves. It would be a hard journey. Not for the first time, Arthur felt a stab of fear, wondering if they'd really thought all this through or if they were dooming themselves, somehow.
"WE'RE LEAVING WITHOUT YOU, LITTLE PRINCE!" Maura's voice.
Arthur grit his teeth, struggling down to the first floor of the building on the narrow, rickety staircase.
"I'D GET THERE A BIT FASTER IF YOU'D HELP ME CARRY THIS BLOODY THING," he shouted back, sticking his head out the window. His siblings were crowded together, while a strange young man - must've been Owen's friend - fiddled with a camera on a tripod. Owen hovered behind him, probably trying to help. Maura was looking up, grinning and waving. She was the most excited - as damn well she should be, Arthur thought. This was all her fault, anyway.
Niall waved. "COME ON, ART!"
Arthur grumbled, "Don't call me that," grit his teeth and resumed his work.
By the time he reached the ground floor, the carriage had already arrived. Like so many things, it was borrowed - a neighbor, who had agreed to drive them to the harbor on the condition that his son could have the flat after they were gone. Owen was looking distressed, his voice raised in urgency as he urged Alastair to come back and stand for the portrait. Arthur grimaced and lifted his bag - it was slightly too wide for the doorway; he turned awkwardly to correct himself.
"Can I get a little help, please?" he called.
Predictably, no one answered.
Click - and with a whoosh-ing noise, the air filled with smoke. The photograph was taken. Maura and Niall, the only ones who had posed, cheered. Arthur sighed.
Owen turned to his friend, wide-eyed. He nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to turn back, dropping Alastair and rushing over to seize the photographer by the shoulder. "You bastard, didn't even bother to wait for me...!"
The man shrugged. "Sorry, mate. But once the timer's set, I can't much -"
"But am I in the photograph?" Owen asked, more anxious than Arthur had heard him sound in years. "You at least got my face in it, right?"
The photographer grinned and playfully shoved Owen off. "Sure I did. And you can see for yourself when I mail you the picture."
Owen did not look pleased. The twins laughed at his expression, arms around each other.
Arthur grunted with effort and finally pushed his suitcase through the door. The ground was slick and wet, layers of ice as thin as paper cracking under his shoes. The smoggy smell was heavy this morning. Arthur couldn't wait to be out to sea.
If he closed his eyes, perhaps he could pretend he was sailing back to London - to Michela and Krishna, instead of...
"ALRIGHT, YE LITTLE SHITES," said Alastair, picking up his and Owen's cases. "Everyone board up! I really will leave without ye."
Niall dragged Owen off, snickering at his complaints that they'd all ruined the big photograph, he'd planned everything out... Maura glanced back at Arthur, frowning.
"You alright back there, little prince?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Just grand, no thanks to you."
His sister giggled. "Oh, God, you're too posh now. I can't take you seriously when you talk like some high-society pansy boy."
"I'm not!" he said, hating his voice, the rounded inflections and the smoother tones that he'd adopted since he was a boy. It was a defense mechanism. He was already mocked for everything from his freckles to his brains to his lower-class background; God only knew what these spoiled Londoners would have done if they had found out that he was really Irish.
Maura just shook her head.
"You're probably right," she said, surprising him. "After all, no high society prince would have every pulled a stunt like this."
Arthur looked away, pressed his lips together.
"It was your idea to leave," he reminded her. "And Niall was the one who got the tickets, and Owen was the one who took care of the place while..."
He trailed off, memories of the past few weeks flooding back at once, fragmented and unreal. He remembered that day in the infirmary, stubbornly insisting that Michela head back home, that he could take care of himself, laughing when she refused, adoring her when she kept coming up with new songs, new stories, new games to occupy him. He remembered the nurse's somber face when she broke the news - "I'm so sorry, Arthur, but I've just been informed that your father has died." - and the way he'd felt like he should have known it was all too good to last. And then, the trip to the home that he'd never known, to visit the family he hadn't seen since his mother died five years earlier. He remembered the wake - the drinks, the fights - and then, the funeral.
Niall won the tickets. Maura had convinced them to take the opportunity. Owen had minded them while Alastair was...
And Arthur - he was the one who'd pulled it off. He'd gotten the money, saved their skins, made it so that this was possible. It was a good thing; his elder siblings were all rather impressed with him. But Arthur couldn't help his shame. What he'd done was illegal - harmless, but illegal. He'd sacrificed any future he could have had in this country for the sake of his family, who until recently had been as good as strangers to him.
She wouldn't understand it if she explained.
Maura snapped her fingers under his nose, bringing him back to reality.
"Seriously, blondie boy. We'll leave you here."
"Right!" said Arthur, reaching for the suitcase. "Er, sorry."
To his surprise, Maura reached down with him and helped him carry it to the carriage.
"We're off!" she announced, when Alastair hauled it into the holding bin and had closed the doors on them. It was cramped and already overheating thanks to the crush of bodies. But Maura couldn't have looked happier. She threw one arm around Arthur's shoulder, and one around Owen's. "I'm bidding farewell to the lands of my youth and the home I loved so well -"
"No," Owen groaned. "No singing. This is sad."
"Why? Because ye fucked up the photograph?" Alastair asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes! And it was your fault for running off like you did, brawd mawr!"
"Brah - what in the hell does that mean? What the fuck happened to you when you went to Wales?"
"It's a beautiful language, you ought to be more open minded..."
Maura went on loudly as the carriage jolted, rattling down the road to the harbor: "And the mountains so grand in my own native land, I'm bidding them all farewell -"
"Maura, for Christ's sake!" Alastair snapped. "Giving me a fucking headache with this noise."
"Oh, don't you remember? Mama had the most beautiful singing voice," said Owen musingly.
Arthur bit his lip, not really in the mood to agree with either of them at the moment, though both of them were right.
"With an aching heart," sang Maura, beaming around at her brothers, "I'll bid them adieu..."
Niall gave a laugh, and then joined his sister in the song, their collective voice drowning out their brothers' protests.
For tomorrow I'll sail far away
Over the raging foam, for to seek a new home
On the shores of Amerikay