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one hand, one heart

Chapter Text

Snap.

 

It's a call to action.

 

Snap.

 

It's a battle cry.

 

Snap.

 

It's your best friend reminding you you're together.

 

Snap.

 

It's family.

 

Snap.

 

It's Eunbi lounging against the wire fence with Hyunah at her side.

 

Snap.

 

It's Gyuri and Sihyun on the hot plastic of the swings.

 

Snap.

 

It's Yunjin painting her nails, lying on her stomach on the basketball court.

 

Snap.

 

It's Yena braiding Ireon's hair.

 

Snap.

 

It's rhythm, a heartbeat, the heartbeat of New York, girls on the pavement in their unfitted skirts or men's jeans snagged from their brothers.

 

Snap.

 

Miyu's here. This isn't Miyu's turf. This is their turf.

 

Snap.

 

It's a warning.

 

Snap.

 

It's Eunbi's voice, careful, mediating.

 

Snap.

 

Miyu retorts.

 

Snap.

 

Faster now.

 

Snap.

 

They stand.

 

Snap.

 

They run.

 

Snap.

 

It's a signal, echolocation, reminding, we're all around you, there's nowhere to hide.

 

Snap.

 

Miyu runs out of the playground - good - then out to the street, through the market, into her own turf.

 

Snap.

 

A block away, Yujin and Chaeyeon swipe some blueberries from the front stall of a Japanese grocery.

 

Snap.

 

They laugh and go to cross the street.

 

Snap.

 

Juri and Erii come out of nowhere and back them up against the side of a truck, leering.

 

Snap.

 

"Tigers!"

 

Snap.

 

It's a call for backup.

 

Snap.

 

Juri turns.

 

Snap.

 

Chaeyeon grabs Yujin's hand and runs.

 

Snap.

 

Down an alley.

 

Snap.

 

It's a dead end.

 

Snap.

 

Juri and Erii are back, with henchmen now, Mako and Tomu. They swing down.

 

Snap.

 

Yujin shouts.

 

Snap.

 

Choyeon, Eunbi, and Minjoo swing down. The Suns are outnumbered now. The Tigers run.

 

Snap.

 

It's the thrill of escape.

 

Snap.

 

Half a mile down, Gyuri calmly paints over some Suns propaganda with blue spray paint.

 

Snap.

 

Miru leers over the top of one wall.

 

Snap.

 

Gyuri turns. Saho is behind her.

 

Snap.

 

There's only one way out, and that's sideways.

 

Snap.

 

Chiyori's there.

 

Snap.

 

Gyuri ducks. Gyuri runs.

 

Snap.

 

They're hot on her heels.

 

Snap.

 

She yells for help.

 

Snap.

 

She's made it to the playground.

 

Snap.

 

She's breathing hard.

 

Snap.

 

There's a hand on her back.

 

Snap.

 

She hits the ground.

 

Snap.

 

She hits the ground hard and the breath races out of her throat.

 

Snap.

 

She yells.

 

Snap.

 

Footsteps.

 

Snap.

 

Miho pulls out a knife.

 

Snap.

 

Tigers and Suns alike arrive on the scene.

 

Snap.

 

Doa and Goeun scale the fence for a better view.

 

Snap.

 

Shouting.

 

Snap.

 

It cuts into Gyuri's cheek.

 

Snap.

 

She screams.

 

Snap.

 

Yuri pushes Miho off her.

 

Snap.

 

Gyuri stands and runs, shaking, into Sian's waiting arms.

 

Snap.

 

Soyou and Yoonjung come into view.

 

Snap.

 

"Girls, girls. What's all this?"

 

Snap.

 

No one speaks.

 

Snap.

 

All we hear is one, final -

 

Snap. 

Chapter Text

"Ladies, ladies." Soyou's voice, the investigator's, is cool, mellifluous. "Break it up, break it up. What's going on here, mm? How many times have I told you to cut this stuff out?"

 

"Why," smiles Chaeyeon. "If it isn't Lieutenant Soyou."

 

"Top 'a the day, Lieutenant Soyou," chorus the girls behind her. Eunbi, to Chaeyeon's left, snorts.

 

"And Officer Bae," adds Yamada Noe, the rival second, from ten feet in the other direction.

 

"Top 'a the day, Officer Bae," chorus the Japanese girls.

 

Officer Bae snarls at them. "You'll be seeing the top 'a my hand -"

 

Soyou places a hand on her arm before her attention is drawn. "Hey, you!" she shouts up to Doa and Goeun. "Get down!"

 

"Ah, but Lieutenant!" protests Yujin, who was halfway up the fence herself. That little shit, thinks Chaeyeon. "We're having such fun! We enjoy the playground!" Yujin's smile is cutting, cold, sharp, like Officer Bae's can be.

 

"Keeps us off the streets," Yuri adds, eyebrows raised and grin sharklike. "The, ah. Foul city streets."

 

These are words Soyou has used in regards to the very streets the Tigers call their own, many a time. The lieutenant rolls her eyes and takes Gyuri harshly by the shoulder.

 

"Which one of these cut you up, eh?" she asks, turning Gyuri to face the Suns.

 

"Ah, well, Lieutenant, you see -" Gyuri protests, reluctant to implicate anyone specific in a wrongdoing. The number one rule of gang life in New York is this - hate whoever you want, but don't rat them out to the cops, because the cops never mean as well as they say. That, and Gyuri's just a sweetheart.

 

"Ah, actually, officer." Eunbi cuts in. She's smiling too. Hers is icy. "We have a suspicion, you see, that the job was done by a cop."

 

"Two cops," adds Ireon from the back.

 

"At the very least," Yunjin tags on.

 

"Impossible," grumbles Officer Bae.

 

"In America," says Matsui Jurina. Leader of the Suns, lethal fighter, and - Chaeyeon admits this, but only grudgingly - a smartass. "Anything is possible."

 

Chaeyeon has to stifle a laugh. Behind her, she can hear at least Yena doing the same.

 

Soyou huffs. "I'm telling you this for the last time," she says, raising her voice. "I've had about enough of this, and so has the precinct. If you wanna kill each other, kill each other, I couldn't care either way, but could you please stop killing each other on my beat! Questions?"

 

"Yes sir," smirks Jurina.

 

Chaeyeon swears she could hear a pin drop. Yena hums excitedly behind her - they may hate Jurina, but she has a special talent for telling off the cops.

 

"Would you mind translating that into Japanese?"

 

Officer Bae glares. "Out, get outta the park, all-a you's!" She makes a shooing motion with her hands.

 

Jurina and Noe exchange looks, then Jurina nods and lays her hands on Erina's back, pushing her out - gently, though. "We're out," she says calmly. The other Suns follow.

 

"Fuckers," mutters Soyou. "As though this neighborhood wasn't already bad enough."

 

This is Chaeyeon's neighborhood, though, and it might be dirty and they might not wear the expensive suits Soyou does in her posh apartment, but it's theirs, and it's been good to them. Yujin growls, almost, deep in her throat, and Eunbi throws a hand back to rest on Yujin's stomach.

 

"I'm on your side, girls," Soyou says finally, after taking a deep breath. "I want Matsui Jurina and her like out of here just as much as you do. Let's be reasonable, mm?" She throws her hands out in a motion that looks almost pleading. The Tigers know better. "Now, listen," she continues. "If this doesn't get cleaned up, I get demoted to a traffic corner, and your friendly neighborhood lieutenant doesn't like traffic corners, mm? So I'm asking you to play nice with the Japanese." Soyou punctuates this with the point of a finger. "I said nice! Got it?" She shouts, and shoves Yuri, who'd turned to mutter a sarcastic commentary to Sihyun. "Because if you don't, and I catch you at it, I can lock every single one of you into the digger. And leave you to rot. Mm?"

 

She's met with silence. Chaeyeon is intentional to harden her gaze into a glare.

 

Soyou sighs. "Say goodbye to the lovely ladies, Yoonjung."

 

Officer Bae snorts. "Goodbye, ladies."

Chapter Text

"Say goodbye to the lovely ladies," mimics Chaeyeon under her breath, eyes stormy-looking. "Get off the streets, they say."

 

"Get outta the park," tacks on Sihyun.

 

"Get outta New York, outta the world!" Yuri adds, pumping her fist in the air.

 

"Whoa there, slow down," Eunbi commands. "Wait." She stops them all short. "Yena. You're cut up on your ear."

 

"Gyuri's cut up," mutters Yuri. Yujin smacks her.

 

"Yeah," Yena shrugs nonchalantly. "Takeuchi Miyu got me with her pocketknife. No big deal."

 

"Probably revenge for you smoking out her dad's store," Ireon jibes.

 

"You helped," Yena points out, to which Ireon grimaces.

 

"How many times do Eunbi and I have to tell you not to play with fire." Chaeyeon shakes her head. "Just because Miyu stole clothes from Sungmin's shop doesn't mean you can burn things. It means you can steal things back."

 

"You're a pyro," Doa smirks. Yena flips her off.

 

"Hey!" A chirpy voice sounds from behind them. Yujin turns and sees someone tall, significantly taller than anyone, except maybe Yunjin. And also Yujin's next door neighbor from childhood. "Hey, hey Eunbi! Eunbi! I was there, oh my gosh Yuri you took Miyazaki Miho down! It was so cool!"

 

Yujin sighs.

 

"Wonyoung, you're fourteen years old. Go home." sighs Choyeon.

 

"But - but - but -"

 

"Wonyoung." Eunbi says it stern. "When you're of age. I told you - we've told you, again and again. Outta here."

 

Wonyoung humphs and leaves. She knows better than to cross Eunbi.  

 

"But Eunbi," says Ireon, careful and tactful, "are we going to… what are we going to do about the Suns? This is our turf, right?"

 

Eunbi nods decisively. "We… we…" she thinks, pacing forward briskly. The other Tigers anxiously await her verdict. "We are going to have… a rumble."

 

Eunbi's announcement (or is it a proclamation?) is made grandly, with a sweeping gesture. Yujin's mouth drops open. Gyuri's reaction seems to be the same; meanwhile, Yuri and Sihyun cheer behind them.

 

"Our best against their best," Eunbi continues.

 

"That's Eunbi, in case any of you all had delusions," inserts Chaeyeon.

 

"And of course we'll need a second."

 

"But you have a second," Yunjin points out, tilting her head towards Chaeyeon.

 

"Nah, nah," Eunbi shakes her head. "A rumble this big? We need Kaeun."

 

Everyone's shocked into silence, then everyone starts talking at once.

 

"Kaeun?" Yena questions. "But… but Kaeun ain't run with us for over a month…"

 

"Kaeun," Eunbi confirms. "Kaeun and I, we founded this gang together."

 

"And besides, she was there when we beat the Rockets," Ireon adds. "We couldn't have done that without her."

 

"She saved my ever-lovin' neck," Gyuri concurs.

 

"But it's like…" protests Yuri. "It's like she doesn't wanna be part of us anymore. She works at Miss Cheetah's store now. This 'clean livin' 'a hers…"

 

"Ah, but who wouldn't wanna be a Tiger!" Chaeyeon cries, loudly, like a battle cry. "When you're a Tiger, you're always a Tiger!"

 

"From the first cigarette you smoke…" Sihyun brings out a lighter.

 

"Till the day you die!" whoops Yuri.

 

"You're not alone, we're a family," Eunbi adds. "And Kaeun is always a part a' this family, whether she likes it or not. Listen, now, I know Kaeun like I know me. You can count on her. She won't let us down."

 

"Okay, but where you gonna find Jurina? To challenge her?" wonders Yujin. They make their way onto an abandoned fenced-in tennis court and she leans back against the chain-link.

 

"Easy. The dance tonight at the gym."

 

"The gym?" Chaeyeon's voice comes out in a stunned whisper. "But Eunbi, that's - that's neutral territory!"

 

"I'm not gonna fight her, now, not there," Eunbi waves her off. "Just gonna… invite her to the parking lot in a few days. It's business." The others nod. "Alright? Meet me and Kaeun at ten. Dress sharp. And walk tall!"

Chapter Text

Eunbi kicks the metal cellar door that leads down to the basement of Cheetah's store. "Kaeun. Kaeun. Kaeun !"

 

The doors fly open as Kaeun pushes them up. "What do you want, Eunbi," she grins.

 

"You're not gonna like this," Eunbi warns, but the smirk still lives on her face.

 

"What, d'ya want me to fight for yous or something?"

 

It's a joke, but Eunbi feels her heart drop because she has to answer "actually, yes."

 

"Eunbi."

 

"Kaeun -"

 

"I left that life. I've cleaned up my act, right, clean livin'? Like we agreed?" Kaeun laughs incredulously and breathlessly. "I like this. I like earning money and working a real job and smiling for reasons that aren't I got drunk at three AM with you and Haeyoon. I don't have to wake up in the morning thinking about tagging or the Suns or the Rockets or the Dreamers. I feel like something big is going to happen soon. Something good." A smile spreads across Kaeun's face and Eunbi hurts inside because for the first time in forever she doesn't have anything to do with what put it there.

 

"But the Suns, Kaeun." Eunbi begs. "They sliced Gyuri across the face today. They're trying to take the playground. They're getting bold and I want to challenge them, their best against ours. And you're our best, Kaeun."

 

Kaeun stops cold. "Eunbi, I told you."

 

"What happened to birth to earth?"

 

"Womb to tomb," answers Kaeun, automatic still. "I may not be in the gang anymore, but we're sisters, and that lasts a lifetime." She pounces on Eunbi, tickling her stomach and giving her light punches to the arms, until they're both giggling and Eunbi's begging for mercy.

 

They stand and Eunbi exhales. Their breaths are still labored and on a bit of a little high from their play fight. "You know," she says, "I miss you."

 

"I miss you too. You know that," agrees Kaeun. "It's just… I really feel like I'm onto something here. Something's gonna come."

 

"Maybe it'll come at the dance tonight," Eunbi theorizes. She doesn't mention that that's where she plans to confront Jurina. But she wants Kaeun by her side in this. They started the Tigers together, she and Kaeun. "You are going to come, right?"

 

"Of course," Kaeun grins, like it's easy. "I'll be there."

 

"See you at ten."

 

If Eunbi had looked back when she walked away, she would have seen Kaeun smiling to herself. And hoping.

Chapter Text

"Pleeeease, Aoi, please!" She begs, thrusting the gown back at her friend. "The neck. Please make the neck lower!"

 

It's a communion dress, one that her friend is doing her a fine favor for turning into a party dress. But Sakura isn't satisfied.

"Kura. No. Your sister will kill me."

 

"One inch!" Sakura pleads. "Will Jurina notice an inch, how much difference can an inch do -"

 

"She's Jurina. She'll notice," Aoi deadpans.

"But this is a dress for dancing," Sakura begs, exasperated. "Not for kneeling at the altar! God isn't watching, so why then -"

 

"Maybe God is going to come to this dance, just to tease you," the older girl smirks. "Maybe God will appear in the form of Natsu or Mina just to spite you. Besides, your sister made me promise, and we all know that Jurina makes the rules around here."

 

Sakura stomps away, batting a stack of blank paper off her desk in frustration. "I've been here how long, Aoi. A month. One month I've been in New York and I've had no fun!"

 

Her friend scoffs. "Jurina didn't bring you here for fun, Saku."

 

"No, she brought me here to sew day and night." Sakura's face crinkles in distaste. "I could have sewn my own dress! With a nice low neckline, too!"

 

"You're still wrong," Aoi sighs, setting the dress down to lean back and look at her. "She brought you here to marry Noe, silly. I know that, you know that, we all know that."

 

"But when I look at Noe, nothing happens. "

 

"What do you think is supposed to happen," Aoi asks her. "Nothing happens when I look at Jurina. It's when I turn my back that things happen."

 

Sakura blinks. She has no idea what Aoi's on about. "I miss Aanya," she wails. "You're no fun, Aoitan." Aoi just huffs and goes back to the dress.

 

Sakura continues her rant. To hell with it, she's so angry at Jurina controlling her all the time - she wants to have fun, meet some girls who aren't Noe. It's a shock Jurina is letting her go to this dance at all. "In America - anything is possible! Why isn't anything possible for me? Jurina, that's why. She leaves me alone in Japan for two years, two years she spent over here doing what, building her gang? That, that's some fun. This? Working in a dress shop day and night, bent over till my hands hurt, and then I have to go straight home, going to this dance is the most fun I've had in weeks and likely the most I'll get for months, and my dress - you can't lower the neckline, you can't even dye it red? Aoi -"

 

"It's done," Aoi interrupts. She tosses the dress at Sakura rather roughly considering how hard she's been working on it and gives Sakura a half nod. The two of them know each other well enough by now that it's nothing awkward for Sakura to strip in front of Aoi and shimmy into the garment.

 

Aoi steers her by the shoulders into the view of a mirror. "Well?"

 

"It's perfect," Sakura breathes. She turns around once, as though to test it. Then again. She spins, and spins, and spins...

Chapter Text

The dance, for the most part, goes as Kaeun expects.

 

She enters, and is immediately accosted by members of the Tigers, clamoring for her attention. "Unnie! You've finally shown your face!" Yena. "You really did follow through." Eunbi. "Ahh, you look so beautiful…" Gyuri. She smiles gracefully and fends everyone off, sticking close to Eunbi and Chaeyeon near the edges of the room. Eunbi's found herself a girl - or maybe two - in the past few months, and is braiding the hair of one while the other giggles off to the side. Chaeyeon is single and increasingly bored with it; much of her conversation with Kaeun is complaining about this.

 

May Lee, a state worker who Kaeun recognizes from helping the other girls prank her back in the day, is supervising the dance. She's trying - and failing - to get the Korean girls to socialize with the Japanese ones and vice versa. What Yujin's told Kaeun about May Lee amounts to this: she's sweet and harmless, but a try-hard, with too much faith in the system she works in. Kaeun's own impression of her is also that she's a bit naive, but genuinely cares. Poor woman. Kaeun doesn't envy her the job of facilitating intercultural relations among teenagers in violent gangs.

 

(Soyou is also there. Supervising. Kaeun likes her perhaps more than May Lee, because she's no-nonsense. The other girls hate her. That's also fair.)

 

Kaeun meets eyes with Matsui Jurina across the room. Much like Kaeun and Eunbi with the Tigers, Jurina and her lieutenants Tomu and Juri had started the Suns. The leaders have a healthy respect for each other as fighters and as leaders, but that doesn't mean Kaeun can't narrow her eyes into a glare on instinct when she sees the shorter girl.

 

Jurina has her own partner, a tiny girl with chubby cheeks who Kaeun vaguely recognizes as having been present the night Erii slashed a scar into Chowon's tricep. They both look ferocious, but Kaeun supposes she could say the same about Eunbi and her little harem in the back corner by the bar.

 

Suddenly, the band halts. Eunbi grabs Ireon and Keueo from where they were socializing with an affiliate of Jurina's called Macharin, Chaeyeon startles and stops jealously eyeing Yunjin and her girl, Kaeun taps her fingers against her thighs in a show of boredom.

 

"We're going to try a little something new," May Lee says. She herds the couples into a circle and somehow, by virtue of her sheer peppiness, commandeers Sun and Tiger girls alike into standing next to each other. "One big circle, one small one. Couples across from each other. Now, when the music stops, you have to dance with the girl across from you. Alright?"

 

Eunbi is the first to nod. Jurina is second. With these approvals, the other taken girls fall in. Kaeun, being single, sticks with Chaeyeon and Hyewon on the side, as well as one of Eunbi's girlfriends who'd elected to let the other participate in the dance. Kaeun knows exactly what May Lee is up to, and knows how this will end, and watches for her own amusement.

 

When the music stops, Eunbi is directly across from Jurina's short, chubby-cheeked girl. They regard each other with a moment of distaste before Jurina reaches across Eunbi to take her girlfriend's hand. Eunbi does the same a moment later.

 

It's then that something - or rather, some one - catches Kaeun's eye.

 

She has stringy red hair but somehow she makes it look beautiful. She seems a little out of place in a place like this in a white dress that's too clean for a dive dance, neckline a little high and hemline a little low, with big ears and pensive eyes.

 

She seems to notice Kaeun too, and a slight smile bejewels her face as their gazes meet. They walk towards each other, in a bit of a daze, Kaeun in her men's-style suit and this girl in a first communion dress, until they're in the middle of the room, uncaring about divides between Suns and Tigers (for surely, if Kaeun had been paying attention, she would have seen…), with just the smiles on their faces and the ever-closing space between their hands.

 

"Hi," Kaeun smiles.

 

"Hi," says the other girl.

 

And that's when it all goes to hell.

Chapter Text

What does she want with my sister, Jurina thinks.

 

Will she hurt her.

 

Sakura doesn't know anything, she's new here and naive…  

 

And so Jurina rips the tall girl - Kaeun - away.

 

The Korean woman facilitating the dance looks shocked, and the music slows to a halt because no one is minding the record player anymore, and all Jurina can do is grab Sakura by the wrist and yell.

 

"Do you know who she is, what were you thinking Kura, do you know what she's done to me - to us, I know you're willful and want to play with fire but this is not the way to do it, you could get yourself hurt, you could get yourself kidnapped, you could get yourself killed , Sakura listen to me!"

 

Miyu and Miho have that Tiger girl pinned against the wall. Jurina is mildly amused at the tiny, skinny, young thing trying to tear them off, and at how the Tigers seem to be ignoring her. A hanger-on, then. She almost finds it cute.

 

An Yujin has punched Noe in the face. That is not at all cute.

 

Aoi whisks Sakura away. Good. She needs to go home. Jurina reluctantly calls Miho and Miyu off with a flick of her hand.

 

That Eunbi woman approaches her.

 

"I'm just as disgusted as you are," she leads in. "I didn't tell Kaeun to do that. But we hate you and you hate us, is that right?"

 

Jurina nods, shortly.

 

"Meet us at Cheetah's bar tomorrow night at ten. I want to end this, once and for all, Jurina, before anything happens with those two - one last fight. One deciding fight to end this. Your best on our best. Whoever wins gets the five blocks, the loser doesn't get to take them back. Deal?"

 

Deal.

Chapter Text

Hitomi isn't usually one for dances. So she didn't go to the community center that night. Which is why she bears full witness to Aoi dragging Sakura in through the door by a vice-tight grip on the wrist, shouting all the while, something about… a boy?

 

Yeah, anything with a boy would cause a fuss, Hitomi thinks. Jurina is damn protective of her little sister.

 

"And if you think for one second, Matsui Sakura, that I or Jurina or anyone else in our community would let you go gallivanting around with that Korean girl -"

 

Hitomi is so startled she drops her glass on the floor and spills her sake.

 

Not just a romantic interest. A romantic interest with… a Korean. A member of the Tigers gang. Otherwise known as, their rivals, otherwise known as, the gang who gave Umeyama Cocona such a fright that she up and left New York for Boston.

 

And this coming from Sakura .

 

"I don't understand," Sakura is shouting. "In Japan no one would have cared if I fell in love with someone. Why is it so wrong here?"

 

"Because she's Korean, Sakku -" Aoi throws her hands up, exasperated. "They hate us!"

 

"They wouldn't have hated us in Japan," Hitomi whispers. Neither of them hear her. "They would have been afraid of us."

 

"I want to go back, then! Back home to freedom and Aanya!"

 

Aoi laughs. "No you don't."

 

"It's true," Hitomi adds, at an audible volume this time. "You wouldn't go back to Japan even for a thousand marriages. You hated it there."

 

"I hate it here too!"

 

"With good reason," drawls Misaki, slamming Hitomi's door open. Hitomi glares at her. "Everyone hates us here. You can't buy anything without them eyeing us up and down like we're gonna steal something."

 

Hitomi tactfully doesn't point out that they do that because Misaki (and Erii) actually did steal something, washing machine parts from the Sears Roebuck most prominently, and that all the gang members of all the gangs do it on the regular.

 

Her roommate Saho comes in then. "She's right, you know. Here, you can't speak Japanese without people shoving you on the street."

 

"But here we have washing machines," Hitomi counters, with a pointed glance at Misaki. "And we can buy lots of new and different food…"

 

"Well, when you say buy …" Saho quips.

 

"Shut up, Sahho, I'm trying to make a point here. And, oh, I don't know. It was so ugly out in the country. I like it here. There's so much to do… inside."

 

Saho, who had known Hitomi since before either of them had come to New York, snorts. Hitomi throws a coaster at her.

 

"Bibian," Hitomi hollers to the tenant in the next room over. "Bibian, get in here, I'm having an argument and I need you to take my side!"

 

Sakura continues to sulk, now perched on Hitomi's kitchen counter. Bibian pops her head in. "Yes? Hiichan?"

 

"Would you rather stay here or go back to Japan?"

 

"Oh, here," Bibian agrees easily. "I'm from Hakata. Everyone was poor and everyone was sick and everyone was… well… everywhere."

 

"You know it's like that here, too, right?" Misaki points out.

 

"Hush," Aoi shushes. "Here there are no meddling aunties and grandmothers about when we'll get married - heaven knows I don't miss that."

 

"No, here there are meddling older sisters," Sakura mutters, to Aoi's chagrin.

 

"Well, you did have Jurina in Japan, too."

 

Sakura kicks the side of Hitomi's kitchen counter so hard she cracks it, and Hitomi makes all of them leave.

Chapter Text

She is angry. She locks Aoi out of the apartment (Aoi has a key, but it's the thought that counts) and then locks her bedroom door and then locks the window behind her as she climbs to sit on the fire escape to stew.

 

She hadn't even caught the girl's name. It wasn't fair. How was she even supposed to know that the elegant girl was Korean, much less a member of the Tigers? Stupid Jurina and her stupid gang that Sakura isn't even allowed to join.

 

Something pings against the metal of the fire escape.

 

Sakura looks down, and the elegant girl is there. "Hey," the girl whispers in Japanese. "Don't tell your sister I'm here."

 

"Jurina's not even home," Sakura blurts out before she can register what's quite going on. "Not yet."

 

"I'm Kaeun," says the elegant girl, whose name Sakura knows now.

 

"Sakura."

 

"Your name is beautiful," Kaeun whispers, some kind of wonderment painting her voice in a soft watercolor… or maybe that's her Korean accent.

 

They take each other in.

 

"Sakura," Kauen repeats, not like she's talking to Sakura, but like she's tasting the name, feeling each syllable, the way it sounds in her mouth, the sense of it, the texture. "Sakura. Will you come down?"

 

Sakura looks down, at the fire escape and at Kaeun and at the pavement below. "Jurina could -"

 

Kaeun shakes her head. "Then I'll come up." And come up she does, grabbing the iron in one hand and kicking her feet at the wall for purchase before swinging up deftly and pulling herself onto the ladder.

 

She sits down next to Sakura, laughs coloring her fast-paced exhales - maybe she's exhausted, maybe she's exhilarated. Sakura looks over at her.

 

"Hi," Kaeun murmurs.

 

"Hi," Sakura repeats.

 

Kaeun leans onto Sakura somewhat experimentally, looking over furtively as though to test - is this okay? Sakura smiles, because yes, it is. She leans back, and so they're resting on each other.

 

"I just think it's all so stupid," Kaeun starts. "This - I mean - the gang stuff. The way your sister reacted when I looked at you."

 

"We're all just human."

 

Kaeun grins. "You get it."

 

She's so pretty when she smiles. It's a kind of smile Sakura's never seen on anyone before, it makes her eyes crinkle up into crescents and she looks just so carefree.

 

"It makes me want to try to be with you. It's - I mean, we don't know each other, but I'd like to try. And I'd still try either way," Kaeun is quick to reassure, "no matter if you were Lee Kura from Daejeon or Matsui Sakura from Fukuoka. There's just something about you."

 

Sakura looks down shyly, and instead of answering, she changes the subject. "You speak Japanese."

 

"I do."

 

There's yelling from the front of the building and both girls tense. "That's Jurina," Sakura whispers. "You should go, Kaeun-chan…"

 

"I wish I didn't have to," Kaeun responds, rueful.

 

"Me too," Sakura nods. "But you should."

 

"I'll come back," Kaeun smiles up at her as she begins to clamber back down the fire escape. "I promise, Sakura."

 

"I'll wait until then," Sakura swears. "I'll wait for you."

Chapter Text

They loiter on the sidewalk.

 

Cheetah's store is busy. They will wait. They will amuse themselves out here, in the suffocating summer heat, until it clears out when the night gets late.

 

"I'm just so fed up with Bae," Sihyeon grumbles. "Feels like everywhere we turn she's there leering at us, telling us we need to see a shrink… or a social worker…"

 

"Or go back into care homes," mutters Chaeyeon, who knows that particular horror a little too well.

 

"Or go home, period," added Yujin.

 

Eunbi gets an idea. Here's the way to pass the time. "Wouldn't you just like to walk up to her and throw every single dumb, idiotic, stupid, ignorant idea she's ever had, everything she's ever said to us… back in her face?"

 

"Well, yes," Doah nods, as though it's obvious. (That's because it is.) "But we can only mouth off to her and Soyou so much, you know, before they call in… other people."

 

"Who says you have to do it where she can hear you?" asks Eunbi craftily. "Here, Yuri, you be Bae." She pushes Yuri down onto the stoop by her shoulders.

 

"Why do I have to be Officer Bae," Yuri whines, but Eunbi's already talking over her.

 

"Here, I'll start. Dear Officer Bae," Eunbi starts, pensive-sounding as though she's writing a letter but nonetheless theatrical. "You gotta understand, it's just how we're brought up. Our fathers are drunks and our mothers are druggies - what are we supposed to do about it?"

 

"Yeah, Officer Bae," Goeun chimes in. "We don't get the love every child oughta get." Her voice drips with sarcasm. "So of course we've gone bad. We've gone rotten."

 

Haeyoon pushes her way through and molds her face into a sickeningly sweet, doe-eyed and clasped-hands mimicry of innocence. "But there's good deep down inside us, Officer Bae! Swear!" She says this in an airy-fairy voice that makes Wonyoung, who's appeared out of nowhere but no one's told her to leave yet, giggle.

 

At this point, Yuri seems to jump headlong into her role as Bae and says, in a perfect comedic mockery of the officer's voice, "Oh yeah? Tell it to the judge! I'll take you to court, Kwon Eunbi!"

 

"Ooh, I'll be the judge, I'll be the judge," says Ireon, sitting up ramrod straight and clasping her hands together.

 

"Your honor," starts Eunbi, laughing internally at this mess she's created and only barely keeping her composure, "My parents mistreat me… they have so much pot, and they don't give me any!" Cue mock gasps from Hyunah and Sian, who together have smoked enough pot with Eunbi to get all the Tigers three times over high for two full days. "It's my punishment for being born, sir - madam - your honor. They didn't wanna have me, but somehow I was had!" She shrugs. "That's all ya need ta know!"

 

"Well," pronounces Ireon, "Officer Bae, you've got it all wrong! Eunbi here doesn't need me, she needs a headshrinker! There's nothing I can do for the psychologically disturbed!" Chaeyeon bursts out laughing somewhere on the outskirts because that's a moniker they'd been given many a time before.

 

"I'm disturbed!" exclaims Eunbi, who admits she's starting to have way too much fun with this. "That's the answer, Officer Bae!"

 

Chowon crosses her legs and leans back against the wall, patting the concrete in front of her - she's supposed to be the therapist, Eunbi theorizes, and lays down at her feet like the sidewalk is a Freud-esque couch.

 

"So," Chowon begins in a regal accent probably trying to mimic the European psychiatrists, "tell. Me. Everything."

 

"Well, my dad beats my mom and my mom beats me," Eunbi ticks off on her fingers. "My grandpa works for Mao Zedong and my grandma sells drugs."

 

"I paint mustaches on my face… and my brother wears my dresses," adds Yena evilly. Sungmin, her older brother, had actually worn Yena's clothes once, but to be fair it was on a dare.

 

"Oh, Officer Bae," Chowon shouts grandly, still putting on the ridiculous accent, "You've come to the wrong place! All Eunbi needs is a job! Take her to a social worker!"

 

Eunbi romps through the group of them, eyes swerving around until they land on Yujin. How hasn't Yujin taken part in this revel yet? "Oh, miss social worker!" She waves cheerily. "They tell me to get a job but they really mean to sell apples and I just can't bring myself to stoop that low… it's not that I don't want to go outside, I'm just… anti-work. Yeah, that's it! Anti-work!"

 

"For the last time, Bae," shrieks Yujin, attracting the attention of some poor, poor normal people crossing the street. "Stop bringing these kids here! Bring them to jail instead! Anti-work? More like just plain no good!"

 

Eunbi plays along and waltzes behind a wrought-iron gate that leads into the alleyway where Cheetah takes out her trash. Doah shuts it after her with a clang.

 

"The trouble is she's lazy!" Yena grins, bopping Yuri on the head with a plastic soda bottle, and when this turned into a bash-Eunbi-and-or-Yuri-fest Eunbi isn't sure.

 

"The trouble is she drinks!" Chaewon grabs the bottle from Yena and follows suit.

 

"The trouble is she's crazy," Gyuri joins in.

 

"The trouble is she stinks!" (Rich, coming from miss never-take-a-bath-Ahn-Yujin.)

 

"The trouble is we're growing -" starts Hyewon

 

"The trouble is we're grown!" Minju adds atop it all.

 

"Haven't you ever stopped to think about what we might be thinking?" Eunbi shouts from behind her makeshift "jail" to Yuri.

 

"Hey!" shouts Chaeyeon. "Officer Bae!"

 

She pauses for effect. Yena winds up for one last shot at Yuri's head.

 

"FUCK YOU!"

 

Chapter Text

They are waiting when Mina comes into the store.

 

Mina calls this position "the herald", even though she's being more of a scout, or a canary in a coalmine. If things are hostile, Mina will be the first one to know.

 

But it's not hostile. Yet. No, it's just seven members of the Tigers sat at tables just off the bar. Eunbi, Chaeyeon, Yujin, Yena, Gyuri, Choyeon, and Hyewon. An odd assortment; Gyuri's always given Mina the impression that she's kind of shy and a bit too much of a softy for this gang business, and Hyewon to her knowledge is simply unskilled. Then again, Mina thought the same thing about Minju and nearly lost her pinky finger for it. So.

 

It's seven, again, on their side, six who've come with Jurina - Natsumi, Miho, Miru, Miyu, Juri, and Mina herself. The bartender, whose name is Cheetah, raises an eyebrow when they come in, flanked like they're about to slaughter the room but with knives sheathed at their hips, but busies herself with reorganizing the perfectly neat liquor shelf perfectly calmly. Jurina says they don't trash this shop - Mina doesn't know why, when it's so clearly Korean - and therefore Tiger - territory. But they respect it nonetheless and as Cheetah spares Juri a smile as she turns around Mina begins to understand just a bit.

 

"Who's speaking?" asks Eunbi, in Korean. Mina knows from hearsay with the Rockets, a gang Macharin has connections to, that Chaeyeon is theirs; she's got a fair command of four languages, making her ideal for inter-ethnic compromising. Mina isn't quite sure who theirs will be, but somehow Juri raising her hand lackadaisically doesn't surprise her at all. Their positions shift so that Juri is at Jurina's right, where Chaeyeon is in relation to Eunbi and where Noe usually would be if this were a fight and not a matter of calculation.

 

"Alright." Chaeyeon lays her hands down and speaks forward in passable Japanese. "We challenge you to a rumble. A final fight, once and for all, on your terms, but we have to settle this. You Suns have been closing in on our territory too long and breaking too many rules."

 

"You started it," mutters Miru.

 

"Hey, who jumped Gyuri this afternoon again," Yujin speaks up, defensive, throwing a hand across Gyuri's chest like to protect her.

 

"Who jumped me the first day I moved here?" spits Natsumi, and then all of a sudden they're trading slurs and Mina has Hyewon by the collar. Jurina eyes them warningly and Mina, suddenly sheepish, lets Hyewon go. The younger woman glares. Mina glares back.

 

"We accept," Jurina says to Juri. Juri parrots in Korean.

 

"Alright," says Chaeyeon again. "Details are yours. Time?"

 

"Tomorrow," Miyu throws out. "After dark."

 

Eunbi holds out her hand for Jurina to shake - agreement. "Place?" asks the rival leader.

 

"The park," offers Miho. Choyeon shakes her head.

 

"The river?"

 

Jurina doesn't take that. Then Miho, from the back, gives a quiet "under the highway."

 

They shake.

 

Chaeyeon is mid-word asking about weapons when the door opens and a girl comes in. Jurina tenses at the sight of her, which means this must be the girl causing all this trouble with Sakura. The girl eyes them all apprehensively before going over to Cheetah and beginning to discuss something quietly.

 

"Anyway," half-whispers Chaeyeon, "weapons."

 

It's a long silence that follows, before Mina finally says, "rocks."

 

Hell, it's a place to start.

 

They escalate, Mina and Yena trading up the hierarchy of weapons, from rocks to bottles from bottles to cans from cans to bats from bats to chains, before the girl - Sakura's girl, even though Mina knows she shouldn't call her that - slams her hands down on the counter from where she's standing roughly twenty feet away and shouts.

 

"Knives, swords, guns! No, but you're just a bunch of chickens, all of you."

 

Eunbi reels back. Even Mina can tell that Eunbi wasn't expecting this from one of her members. There's an in-between moment, a heavy one, before Jurina says, "well, she knows her own."

 

"Cowards. All of you," she continues. She gets a glare from Yujin this time, and geez, why is she doing this, going so far out of line to attract more ire from her own members than from the Suns? "Tough dames who don't wanna get close, you just wanna throw bricks, huh. Just wanna throw things. What does that solve, eh? No, do it a fair fight." She approaches Jurina. What, does this girl want to lose a limb? "One on one. Your best on our best."

 

That's not how rumbles work, Mina thinks. Rumbles are chaos under the cover of night. Rumbles aren't one to one. The Tigers clearly feel the same, as the resulting shouting from Yujin, Yena, and of all people Hyewon seems to imply.

 

"Hold on a minute," Eunbi snarls back to her girls. "The leaders decide. I say yes or no."

 

Eunbi meets eyes with Sakura's girl. Something passes between them enough that Eunbi nods.

 

"Fair fight," she says.

 

Jurina holds out her hand.

 

They shake.

Chapter Text

Everyone, Gyuri included, is startled when the front door to Cheetah's store slams open, the line of bells hanging from the top jangling cacophonously. It's Bae. Gyuri has to elbow Chaeyeon when she sees the younger girl stifle a laugh, almost definitely at the thought of their little game from earlier.

 

Bae smacks her hands down roughly on the counter. "Alright, what's going on."

 

Yujin, the youngest of everyone there, gazes up at Bae with the most innocent gaze she can muster. She's pretty convincing, Gyuri should mention. It's not the kind of innocence that is so clearly a joke - Gyuri would almost believe it herself, but, well. This is Yujin, who not two minutes before had her hands yanking Matsuoka Natsumi's hair. "Nothing, officer," she tells her.

 

"I call bull." Bae snarls. "Suns and Tigers sitting together around a bar table? Something's foul."

 

"I thought you told us to make nice with the Suns," asks Eunbi, clasping her hands in front of her. "I listened to you, officer."

 

Bae wrinkles her nose. "I did tell you that," she acknowledges. "That I did." She furrows her face up in thought for a moment before rounding on the other end of the table. "Juri. What's going on?"

 

"Nothing, officer," Juri plays along. "What, fourteen friends can't sit around a table and drink together?"

 

Gyuri takes a swig of her cheap soju for emphasis.

 

"Not when it's you people." Officer Bae glares.

 

Jurina stands very suddenly. "We're leaving," she barks. "Suns. Fall in." She strides out with a level of regality that Bae could never hope to reach and that Eunbi, in all her loveliness and grace, hasn't matched in a while now. The other Japanese girls stand and follow her. Imada Mina makes an obscene gesture at Bae where she can't see. Gyuri closes her eyes tight so she won't burst into laughter.

 

The moment the door's swung shut behind Shiroma Miru, Bae's whole demeanor changes. She's angling for the good cop now, usually Soyou's route; she smiles and something inside Gyuri cringes away because of just how foreign it is. It's not something she - or any of her members, if she's correct - has ever seen on the woman before.

 

"Come on now."

 

Gyuri is unnerved. She looks to Eunbi, then to Chaeyeon. They are equally flustered.

 

"Tell me," she urges. "What are you planning? Just tell me, what's going to go down? If not what, where? I want them out of here just as much as you do, Eunbi. Tell me."

 

"Nothing's going on. Right, girls?" Choyeon and Hyewon shake their heads in concurrence. "We just wanted to talk things out. Like adults."

 

Something Eunbi injects into her voice must convince Bae enough that she backs down. "Like adults. Glad to see you're finally coming around, Kwon."

 

Eunbi fixes her with a look. It's not quite a glare; a look is the only way Gyuri can really describe it. Bae leaves.

 

Eunbi instantly rushes over to Kaeun, and Gyuri follows. Anyone else - Choyeon, and definitely Yujin - would be noticed if they tried to eavesdrop, but this is something Gyuri's good at. She's innocent and unassuming - sweet Jang Gyuri, the colonel's girl, eavesdropping? No. Never.

 

"What were you thinking?"

 

"I can't just - Eunbi, you don't understand -"

 

"You're right. I don't. What do you think that looked like to me? Are you going to abandon us, Kaeun?"

 

"I wouldn't. Would never."

 

"You sure? Since the dance, you've been acting weird. So strange, Kaeun, even more distant than you were before. I wouldn't have thought that was possible, but now… I do."

Chapter Text

"What's up with Sakura today?" Hitomi whispers. "She's so… smiley."

 

Moe nods. "With how mad she was at Jurina-san and Aoi-san a few nights ago I would expect her to still be moping. But she looks on top of the world today."

 

Sakura hums as she breezes past Hitomi to fetch a length of yellow tulle. There's a funny smile on her face that Nako doesn't think she's seen in months. "What's up with you today," Nako asks, narrowing her eyes and trying to seem threatening despite her tiny, tiny stature.

 

"Oh, nothing," Sakura responds airily. "I'm just feeling pretty today, that's all."

 

"You're feeling pretty," repeats Moe skeptically. "Why so?"

 

Sakura hums. "I just am."

 

"Who is this and what has she done with Sakura," stage-whispers Nako.

 

The girl in question laughs. "Am I not allowed to be happy, Nako-chan?"

 

Nako stammers, flustered. Hitomi comes to her rescue with an "of course you are, it's just… we haven't seen you this happy before. Like, ever."

 

"I'm just having an exceptionally good day…" Sakura's voice trails off into the distance. She pauses at the full-length mirror hanging next to the fitting room and smiles knowingly at herself.

 

Moe, Nako, and Hitomi meet eyes. Moe raises a skeptical eyebrow.

 

Something's definitely up.

 

"I'd bet you money it has to do with that girl," Nako challenges.

 

"You're on," agrees Hitomi. "How much yen?"

 

"We have to use won, silly," Nako corrects her. Moe smacks them both in quick succession - it hurts. Dammit.

 

"I just feel so pretty today," Sakura singsongs to herself.

 

"I swear," mutters Hitomi, "she's older than all three of us, but right now it's like she's the teenager." Moe wrinkles her nose and agrees.

 

Nako muses. She's never seen anyone quite this airy-fairy before, not even when they're dating.

 

"Kura-chan," asks Hitomi, "why is it that you feel so pretty today of all days?"

 

"Oh, well -"

 

"You know we're not going to stop asking until you tell us the real reason why, Sakura," Moe warns her.

 

The oldest in the room huffs. "Okay. Fine. But you won't tell my sister, right?"

 

The three of them shake their heads in comic unison.

 

"Fine." Sakura's smile expands, like she really was holding back - which, earlier, they'd thought she wasn't at all. "Lee Kaeun held my hand."

 

All three of them knew this or something like it was coming. Nako is just glad that the news isn't a kiss. But Moe blanches and Hitomi's grasp tightens on her scissors.

 

"We're happy for you," Moe gets out strangledly.

 

"And we won't tell." Nako's promise is solid and it shows in her voice. More because she doesn't want to be the messenger to Jurina's wrath, but, well. "Right, Hiichan? Right, Moekyun?"

 

"Right," agrees Hitomi meekly. Moe doesn't respond.

 

Doesn't seem like Sakura much cares, though. She slips into the fitting room - much to the shock of all three of them, it really is for customers only, and if their boss Risa were here Sakura may well have been out of a job and the other three too by association - and Nako watches below the curtain apprehensively. Sakura comes out wearing a dress that Nako remembers is a creation of Moe's, and… she does look pretty.

 

It's not just the dress, Nako should get that clear. It's more the look in Sakura's eyes that she wears with it, a self-confidence accompanying her usual naivety, and a hopefulness is there too, hopefulness of the type so many of their friends and family stepped off the boat wearing and that was lost so soon after. It's refreshing to see it on someone again, and not even at the docks.

 

It's transfixing for a moment, and the spell doesn't break even after Sakura turns back, and grabs her own clothes off the floor, and waltzes into the back room. No, it breaks when Hitomi looks at Nako and Moe with a skepticism that rivals that of Jurina when the Tigers promise a truce and says to the others, "She's gone insane. Jurina's going to kill us all."

 

"Not all of us," Nako deadpans, as Moe bursts out laughing because cute, small Hitomi making such grandiose and morbid statements is a contradiction to say the least. "Maybe just you ."

 

"Why me," Hitomi whines, but shuts up as Sakura comes back into the room. She's wrapped the tulle from earlier around her hair like a headscarf, and there's a significant amount of silk that she's turned into a sash of sorts. It makes Moe's dress look even prettier, and when Nako looks to the left she can almost feel how much Moe is fuming, frustrated at how Sakura fooling around made a dress she'd worked so hard on so much better because life isn't fair.

 

"Because you suck," mutters Moe.

 

Hitomi turns and glares and is about to insult Moe back, but then Sakura whispers "I think I'm in love" to herself - maybe she thinks the other three can't hear - and they all three freeze.

 

Chapter Text

"Guess who."

 

Sakura feels hands cover her eyes and hears a familiar lilt to the words, so she giggles. "Kaeun-chan?"

 

She's alone in the dress shop. Risa's out, visiting a friend today, so Sakura is closing all on her own. The hands over her eyes are cool and she can feel Kaeun's laugh behind her at the top of her head. Kaeun is tall. Sakura is not.

 

"You guessed it," Kaeun smiles softly. She comes around in front of Sakura and gives the dress shop a once-over. "So," she says. "This is where you spend your time, huh."

 

"Yeah." Sakura looks down, a little shy. "I mean, it's nothing cool, but -"

 

"It's cute." Kaeun shakes her head. "I like it. Who says it has to be cool?"

 

Somehow, Sakura feels a little bit better.

 

"I guess… yeah. But anyway, this is the shop, I guess." She mentally slaps herself for using 'I guess' twice in the same breath. "It's… it's boring. I spend too much of my time here."

 

Kaeun sets her elbows on the counter and leans forward. "Tell me about all the time you spend here. Give me the grand tour."

 

"Well, okay." Sakura holds out her hand comically - she's not expecting Kaeun to take it, really, it's just for theatrics - and Kaeun places her own hand within. Sakura thinks her ears may be turning red. This is fine.

 

"This is my sewing machine. I sit here all day and it makes my back hurt." She pouts, and Kaeun laughs at her.

 

"Oh, poor baby. I'll rub your back for you," she promises.

 

"Now?" asks Sakura, looking up at her pleadingly. Because really, she would totally take a back rub right now. She's sure she has knots galore in there.

 

"Yes, now!" Kaeun exclaims. "I'm completely serious. Turn around."

 

Sakura startles. She can feel the shiver go down her spine, but she obeys Kaeun anyway. The older girl's hands are firm and feel nice pressing down on her shoulders. At one point, she stops for a moment, and Sakura - missing the touch - turns her head up and to the side to look at Kaeun just as Kaeun's looking down. It's a warm moment, tense and filled with energy, as the dusty light coming in through the ugly front windows shines onto the back of Kaeun's head and lights her up so she can see the glow through the strands of her short-cut hair. For one half of a half of a millisecond Sakura wonders if Kaeun is an angel sent down from the clouds for her.

 

And then Sakura turns her head away, suddenly shy, and Kaeun's hands resume their movements, strangely reminiscent of what Sakura imagines bread would feel like as it's being kneaded.

 

"That feels nice," she whispers.

 

"I'm glad I could help."

 

Sakura shows Kaeun around the shop, showing her where they keep the fabric and the ribbons and the buttons, and the back sink that clanks and spits out kind of rusty water, and lets her play with the lace while she counts the register for the day. It's a long task, tedious, and she worries a little about Kaeun getting bored, but when she looks up she sees Kaeun straight in front of her, wearing a piece of white linen on her head like a wedding veil down her back.

 

"Just imagine, for a second," says Kaeun, seeming a little embarrassed, "our wedding, if we had one. Like… imagine being introduced to my mom."

 

Sakura nearly shivers at the thought. She's afraid of the idea of it - of walking up to a Korean woman and decreeing that she's about to marry her daughter. Kaeun's mother would probably yell at her. Or slap her.

 

"Hey, don't cringe," Kaeun comforts. "My mother would love you. You know how to sew and keep house; I was never any good at that. She'd think you're perfect."

 

"But I wouldn't understand her," Sakura whispers weakly; the denial's like a defense, almost, against the thought that prickles inside her skin - thoughts of it could never and, deeper down, what if .

 

"Don't worry," Kaeun reassures her. "I'd teach you Korean."

 

Sakura blushes a brighter red at that, oddly, than at anything that's happened before.

 

"I'd win your sister over, too," continues Kaeun. "She doesn't much like me now, but I'd be okay. With time, she'd understand. Your parents… what are your parents like?"

 

She decides, in that moment, to play along. To let herself fall into this fantasy world that Kaeun's created, where it would be okay to fall in love, to marry across gang lines, no matter their families or what language they speak or what country their parents are from.

 

"My mother would like you, too," Sakura pronounces. "You're tall. She'd think you're so pretty. And she'd teach you how to bake. She'd like your complexion, too," she adds. "Although because you're so tall you might scare us. We're all short. And you'd greet her in Japanese. She'd like that."

 

Kaeun smiles shyly. "And your father?"

 

"Well, you'd have to ask him for permission," Sakura informs her coyly. "But…" she poses like she's thinking. "Hmm. I have to consider this, Kaeun-chan." Kaeun actually looks nervous, and Sakura's having fun, so she draws this out as long as she can. "I think he'd say yes."

 

"Here," Kaeun starts up. "I'll walk you down the aisle right now. Here's your mom -" she grabs a mannequin in a nice blue dress. "And your dad." She places a mannequin in a suit jacket beside it.

 

"This is your mother. She's so pretty. Hello, eomonim ," Sakura greets her, bowing to the mannequin she places on the opposite side of their makeshift aisle.

 

"Oh!" Kaeun grabs a fourth mannequin. "I almost forgot your sister. Gomen-nasai , Jurina- san ," she apologizes.

 

Sakura holds out her hand, and Kaeun takes it. They walk down together, and for a second - just one - Sakura feels like she's there, at her wedding, with a girl she'll grow to love, with her family looking on and even approving.

 

"Will you kiss me?" Kaeun asks her once they reach the end of the walkway. "Us brides have to kiss now."

 

"Yes," murmurs Sakura. "I will."

 

Kissing Kaeun is like having flowers bloom inside of her. Like painting, seeing the colors move across the paper gently, bringing life to something once bare. Like waking up after being asleep for a long time and feeling the pieces of yourself slowly come together… or like falling into bed after a long day. It's sweet, like matcha, and freeing, like running through high grass with your sister in a sundress on a sunny day.

 

It makes her soul lift higher and higher and she never wants to come back down.