Elektra had said the child was in a mood.
When Matt mentioned this to Foggy, Foggy claimed that sometimes, you just had to let kids cry themselves out. Then he’d promised Matt that he would see him later, after he came back from dinner with his family. He’d told Matt to tell Elektra that he said ‘hello.’
Now, Matt did not consider himself in any way an easily manipulated or soft-hearted person but he was having a hard time understanding how these two goody-goody brains had decided that now was the moment to abandon Samuel to his devices.
The kid had been hiccupping and wheezing for nearly fifteen minutes solid.
“It’s grief, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Elektra told him when his face apparently strayed away from hers and back towards Samuel and his “tantrum.”
“Grief for what?” Matt asked.
“His mother,” Elektra said.
“No, his real mother.”
“No idea. He goes through cycles of this.”
That didn’t sound super normal to Matt, even though he too, had lost his mother at a young age. The most he remembered of her now was a light world going to burning, aching dark with her hands on his soft cheeks.
He and Dad had never talked about how it was Mom who’d blinded him in the end. It had been too much to bear when Mom was in the hospital, paying for that sin with a slow, slipping mind.
Matt couldn’t remember mourning her when she finally slipped all the way away. In some ways, it had felt like relief because the wait was finally over. The dam had broken. All the things he and Dad had been holding back crashed forward and they could talk to each other again and they could talk to Mom candidly after a while, even though her body was gone and she didn’t answer back anymore.
He couldn’t remember the grief of losing her, even if he could remember wailing and holding his arms out to Dad like a kid far littler than he had been at the time.
It wasn’t like it had made much difference. Dad had already been reaching out to hold him anyways.
Matt remembered Dad’s grief. He remembered waking up in Dad’s arms when he hadn’t gone to sleep in them. He remembered rocking and really tight—too tight—cuddling and every so often, a soft sniff. A warm, heavy drop of something. A fierce kiss on the forehead or hair.
One time, he’d woken up with a fistful of Dad’s shirt in his hand to the whispered words, “all I have left of her.”
They’d both loved Mom. But it seemed that only Dad had known how to grieve her properly. Matt had just felt breathless and empty. Lonely, even when there were people around.
Thinking about it now, maybe he had cried in class a couple of times. Or was it out on the playground at recess?
Or maybe it was at church?
He thought he remembered people whispering around him. Calling him all kinds of names.
He thought he remembered something like “lost his mother. Lost his sight. All in one night—it’s shocking he’s not just screaming.”
That was why he hadn’t grieved for Mom.
He’d been busy being so unbearably, unbelievably scared.
Dad used to hold him all the time because he’d just been so scared. So confused.
It had been so dark at first.
Now, it didn’t seem dark at all.
But he understood.
And so now, he just stood.
He made his way over to where Samuel sounded like he was too exhausted to properly whine anymore. He’d just started making these little half-sounds in between the hitching and sniffing. Little moans almost. He felt hotter than usual. He smelled damp and warm.
He didn’t reach up to Matt like Matt had to Dad. He’d had that impulse kicked out of him early. But his noise-making did dial down a little as his heat swayed, probably confused. Probably trying to understand why Matt had crouched down before him when everyone else was leaving him to his struggling.
Probably wondering if a slap or a kick was on the verge of bursting into existence.
Not father. Not Dad. Matt would never be one.
“Come here, you,” he said. He offered his hands.
Sammy was much smaller than Matt had been when Dad had gathered him up from the side of Mom’s hospital bed. He fit more easily in Matt’s arms than Matt must have in Dad’s.
Instinct took over and Samuel was small enough to settle on his hip. Fingers dug into his suit and the hitching sound slowly started to fade off.
Elektra didn’t intervene. She was just watching. Matt could feel her watching.
Instinct told him to sway.
Instinct was one of the most powerful forces in the world. It was a life-preserver when you had nothing, and it proved itself time and time again in Matt’s experience to be a trusted and true one.
So he listened. And he swayed. And Samuel wriggled in his grip a bit so he could crush a hot, hot cheek into his neck. It was sticky. The boy’s wheezing and sniffing was grating in Matt’s ear. But his tiny fingers clenched in the suit jacket and he did not wail.
Not like Matt had.
Sammy was far braver at six years old than Matt had been at eleven.
He deserved the occasional leniency, if for nothing else then the constraints of his biological development. If for nothing else, then for the fact that, after everything he’d been through, he was still a cheerful, obedient kid on the whole.
He was as adjusted to having fallen through the cracks into a devastating, bleak existence as anyone could possibly be. And he coped with the reality that he would never have the things that other people did by being good. By being quiet. By being gracefully grateful for an honestly shit lot in life that a kid like him was too good to have been thrust into.
“I’m sorry, little one,” Matt told him in Japanese because the boy didn’t deserve to have to parse English in a time like this. “I’m sorry it’s so hard. I’m sorry it’s so empty.”
Samuel’s fingers flexed slower now on his shoulder. He made an unintelligible noise and repeated his cries for his ‘Mama.’
Elektra was still watching. Her gaze brought heat to Matt’s shoulders.
He brought the boy over to where they had been sitting at the table and took his earlier seat.
Elektra’s mother had died too early for her to know her. She had no conception of what it meant to have and lose a mother. It wasn’t her fault. She was doing her best now with what she had. It was her strong point, that.
But sometimes, man.
Kids just had to be held.
It was the only thing between them and being swallowed up by that horrible, hollow hole yawning itself open wider and wider in the space underneath their sternums.
Samuel’s hitching breath gave way to one full one. Then other.
“You’re so good with him, Matthew,” Elektra said, finally breaking the surface of all the things they weren’t saying.
“Kid was makin’ himself sick,” he said. “Can’t leave ‘em to cry it out for that long. They’ll hyperventilate.”
“Mm. Noted,” Elektra said. “Give him here?”
No, not yet.
He was almost to sleep.
She could have him when he slept.
Samuel’s biological mother lived somewhere in Fuzhou, Elektra thought. She didn’t know for sure. By the time she’d met him, he’d been shifted to a more southern port, surrounded by a new dialect and words written in English.
His documents had been held by the company that had paid money for them. They were pitiful.
Elektra had had a time and a half getting enough pieces together to present to an adoption agency. And even they’d been skeptical.
The company that had, in effect, purchased Samuel claimed to be a school for acrobats. A prestigious one. They claimed that all of their students came from families who knew exactly where they were and what they were doing. They claimed that many of the students traveled back home on a regular basis.
But they held back the praise for their side-gig. The one that they charitably called their ‘children’s home.’
Elektra said that seven of the kids from the company were part of its ‘children’s home.’ Six of them had gone to with state when Elektra was finished ploughing her way through the company and its siblings’ illusive director.
She’d brought him into state custody for mass human trafficking. His hundreds of victims scrambled out from the rubble and slowly began to make their ways home with as much help from as many local agencies in Hong Kong as Elektra’s contacts could scrounge up. But while all those people got sorted out, there were these seven kids, all under the age of ten. The two ten-year-olds were old enough to know their names and where they’d come from and how they’d come into the company’s hands. The seven-year-old had been a particularly bright kid—a star act—who’d known the name of his mother and who’d had the benefit of said mother causing a fuss in his hometown and beyond, trying to find him. The three girls, the three-year-old and the two five-year-olds had had enough of their documents given to the company at the outset of their non-negotiable indenture that chances were good for them to be reunited with their lost families.
But the four-year-old, baby Sammy, didn’t even have a passport. Not a birth certificate. Not an ID. He had an outdated immunization record that had called him Chung, but it had been torn and faded, and that was all Elektra had known of him. He’d been given the English name ‘Samuel’ by the company when he’d entered Hong Kong for them to put on their program, but it wasn’t clear if that was a bastardized version of the name he’d been born into or if it had been chosen for him at some point over the year he’d spent traveling with no name besides Chung.
He responded to ‘Sam’ and its Mandarin variations, though. So Elektra thought that while it might not have been his name from the start, he’d had it longer than any other one now.
When the other kids had been swept left and swept right, Samuel had been left standing all on his lonesome and he’d taken that just as he took everything still: quietly.
Elektra had only noticed that he was sat by himself just as she had been about to leave the authorities to do their thing. She said that he’d been sitting by on the ground while police officers and social workers chatted and bustled, leaning on the heels of his hands and just far enough away from the others to make her do a double take.
It was like Samuel was invisible.
It was like no one saw him, patiently waiting his turn to be processed.
Elektra said she watched him for ten minutes and it was as though people’s eyes slid right over him.
People started to leave. They’d gathered the little ones up and made to take them out of the place they’d called home for the last month or so, and Samuel had watched them for a moment before he’d gotten up off the ground and apparently decided that maybe he should follow.
Elektra watched him touch a police officer’s hand and be swung upon in shock.
They asked him what he was doing there.
Samuel didn’t know how to answer. He was only four at the time. He didn’t say anything. He cringed back and scurried away to go hide in the room he’d been sleeping in with the others at the start of this all, but Elektra caught him.
She said that he’d been hers from that moment.
She’d known because he’d fought her like the devil himself. Biting and punching and dropping his weight until she let go of him to keep him from hurting himself, and then he was off like a shot.
She’d chased him into the street and lost him.
It took her two days to get ahold of him again and, again, he fought like his life depended on it—and who was to blame him?
Experience so far had told him that it was.
Eventually, she’d gotten him handed over into care. She’d thought that was it. A job thoroughly done. All loose ends tied up.
But she couldn’t stop thinking about this little invisible boy and the strength he had hidden there in that invisible heart of his.
She went back and asked social services if he’d been set back up with his family and had found out about the lack of records. She’d gone back to the company’s offices and ransacked the place, but as far as she’d gotten was a file with the name ‘Chung’ on it that had been recycled for a different person’s documents.
Samuel certainly wasn’t seventeen-years-old. And the dialect he slipped into and out of wasn’t Northeastern.
Beyond the scrap of his immunizations, he didn’t exist.
He was almost truly invisible.
The only thing keeping him from vanishing completely was his heart and his vague, toddler memories of Fuzhou. He remembered the ocean. He remembered a city. The lilt in his voice placed him there.
Elektra extracted what little other information she could about Samuel from a trafficking partner she located in that city.
They claimed that the boy had been brought to them by his mother. They’d offered her a chance to make sure her son went to a good school. They promised her that he’d get a job. They told her that she’d receive letters to update her on his progress. She could write to him. Phone him. The whole deal. They’d look after everything else.
She’d been poor, Samuel’s mother. Young. Desperate and alone.
An easy mark.
The trafficker claimed that they didn’t know if she knew that her kid was gone for good now. It wasn’t their job to make the rounds and keep up the charade.
Sam was just another trafficking victim then. A kid with a made-up name and a couple of shots. That was his whole identity. His whole world came down to a measles vaccine.
Elektra had started visiting him at his temporary placement.
She’d fallen in love with him as he opened up a little.
She said it had been so long since she’d met someone who was so warm, that she’d forgotten for a moment, that such people existed. That people could be grateful. Happy over almost nothing.
She’d decided to adopt him by her fourth visit, against all good sense.
She asked him what he thought. She told him that she had to leave him in Hong Kong for a little while, so he had plenty of time to think about it, and he told her he’d think about it.
She left him for about a month. By the time she came back, she said that she thought he’d given up on her, maybe even forgotten her, as little kids are wont to do. But Samuel knew her and told her that he’d had a good think and decided that no one else would want him and he didn’t want to get left behind anymore.
So he said he’d go with her if she taught him how not to get left behind anymore. He promised he’d be good and quiet and he wouldn’t eat much and he’d find his own place to sleep and he’d make money for her by doing acrobatics on the street.
He promised her that he wouldn’t cry or yell or do any of that.
His social worker told Elektra that there was a chance that he’d have permanent emotional issues from what he’d been through. She said that intense therapy would help him work through some of the abandonment issues. But the skittishness and anxiety would probably be a lifelong struggle.
Elektra didn’t think that she was Samuel’s only hope. Far from it. Anyone would want him, she thought. The problem here was money.
Samuel was a nobody. And no one had any money to spend on making him a somebody, much less a somebody who could function in society.
Elektra came from a long line of money. And she’d just been paid. And her father had been nudging her left, right, and center about when she was getting married for nearly a decade now.
So she decided that she’d invest, and Samuel experienced yet another transaction over his body.
He’d had a new identity made for him. He was now Samuel Chung. Chinese citizen from the city of Fuzhou. He got more shots. He got a passport.
He didn’t have a home, though. He didn’t have a bed. He barely had new clothes.
Mostly, what he got, after falling into a near-silent depression, was a mask.
Elektra knew how to fix short-term problems. She didn’t know how to cope with long-term ones. And she didn’t know how to help a tiny boy with a scrap of a sense of self and no direction or purpose. So she offered him what she—what they—knew best.
A way up. Not out.
A way to make sure that he would never be stood on again. A way to ensure that no one would ever beat him into invisibility. A way to make himself known. Seen. Heard and felt.
And Samuel was just newly five years old.
Taking the mask was the only option he understood that he had.
Elektra became his mother devil.
Matt had some time and some money that wasn’t his. So he thought that maybe, for his nephew, he’d do a little digging.
Samuel had settled better in the last day or so. He didn’t mention his mother again. Or rather, his ‘Mama’ again.
Okasan was a different story.
Okasan, he would follow to the grave.
And for ojisan, he’d made a little crane. An origami thing. He’d drawn Matt a picture, Elektra told him, but had gotten halfway through before getting distressed at the realization that Matt wouldn’t be able to see all the colors.
Cat had tried to eat the crane twice now, and so the crane had made the perilous journey to the Big Desk at work.
It sat now right in front of Matt’s refreshable braille display.
He had time and where Elektra had unparalleled combat ability and an intuition sharper and more sensitive than a mercury thermometer, Matt had academics. Research. A nose for trouble.
He now managed an empire that trafficked all sorts of things.
He knew how traffickers thought.
Three years ago, there had been a fuckload of kids who’d gone missing in Fuzhou. Many were found. Many were not.
4 had Chung as their surname.
All 4 had been found.
Two years ago, another fuckload of kids had gone missing in Fuzhou.
1 had Chung as their last name.
The child was found dead.
A year ago, a slightly smaller fuckload of kids had gone missing.
3 had Chung as their last name.
2 had been located.
The last one was suspected to have been murdered.
None of them were boys.
There were precisely a million people with the last name of Chung in Fuzhou. A quarter-million or so of these were young women within child-bearing age. A shitload of them had had sons six years ago.
The name ‘Samuel Chung’ was unusual in China because of its Anglicized first part. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t a lot of Samuel Chungs out there in the world.
Only one of these was listed in an outdated website for a performing company.
Chasing the company name back led to a load of nothing. Just as Elektra had said.
Talking to Samuel while he played Pokémon and learned how to spell the names of animals that did not exist was enlightening. Not least of all because Samuel climbed into Matt’s lap and wrapped arms tight around his neck unprompted.
Matt felt something wide happen in his chest at this. He decided that it hadn’t happened. He pulled the boy back and had him do some more spelling—this time with the names of of animals that did exist—and managed to get out of him a slurred mention of what Mama’s name might once have been.
It took him a long time to clarify the slurring, but that wasn’t anyone’s fault.
Samuel had been far too young at the time of separation to know his mother’s proper given name. Now, he said something that sounded like ‘louie.’
Matt noted sharply that he did not use the name Chung.
He spoke to Elektra about this.
“Maybe daddy didn’t know?” she offered.
“Sammy?” Elektra asked sweetly a beat later. “What’s your papa’s name, hun?”
Samuel was perplexed by the question. He shook his head and went back to spelling ‘lion’ out loud to his phone. It made a perky ‘da-ding!’ sound and told him to spell ‘bird.’
Matt hummed himself.
The boy was unaware of his father. The boy’s father possibly was unaware of him. If that was done purposefully, then there was a chance that Samuel’s mother was trying to keep him a secret. Putting up missing fliers and making a report of him was probably not on her agenda then.
It was really, honestly like Samuel had been born to disappear.
Matt felt now, more than ever, that he would have too, if Elektra’s latent maternal instincts hadn’t sprung forth at the last possible moment.
Samuel came over to him making a sad noise.
Matt knew by now that this was his ‘this video will not play’ noise.
He had no idea how Sam found so many videos with the parental block on them. He could only assume that the kid wasn’t clicking on the ones offered to him by the platform’s algorithm and was instead searching for very specific ones.
The one in question, Sam’s phone read out to him, was about alloys.
Why was he looking up steel-manufacturing videos?
Sam made his unhappy sound again and ground his forehead into Matt’s hip.
Okay? Sure? The kid wasn’t going to be melting down any metal anytime soon. Might as well let him watch tedious bullshit. He’d get bored of it and go back to watching the dancing penguins he was so fond of pretty soon afterwards.
“Thank you,” Sam tittered as Matt put the phone back into his hands.
“Good manners,” Matt told him.
“Good manners,” Sam mumbled before bouncing off to go flop back down his pillow.
The boy was made to disappear and someone had gotten very, very close to making that situation a reality and Matt found that he was kind of intrigued by it. A bit pissed, yes.
It was misplaced, this anger.
Samuel had only recently become one of his things. Insult done to him before that point was none of Matt’s business. Insult done to him now, Matt would ensure would not go unpunished.
Elektra told him that he could just say that he loved his nephew.
He told Elektra that he would, as soon as she contacted her father and told him that she was back in the states and he had a grandson now.
A stalemate attained, Matt went back to his side project.
Samuel interrupted his research by asking him what kindergarten was and why the cartoons on tv talked about it so much.
Sam then asked if he could go to school soon.
Matt didn’t actually know.
Sam’s citizenship was complicated because he was fairly newly adopted. Legally, he had been in Elektra’s custody for about a year now. In China. By Chinese law. That was the sticking point. He needed another year or some extra legal hoop-jumping before his American citizenship could be cemented. In the meantime, with Elektra still bopping around all over the place and taking Sam with her, school was difficult.
Sam had a tutor. Elektra wasn’t incompetent.
He also had his English games, which he adored. And there was a Chinese school that Elektra took him to on weekends that he seemed to enjoy.
But none of that was school in the way that Sam was referring to now. And Matt wasn’t sure how long it would be before that kind of school became something that Sam would participate in—or even if he would.
It depended on Elektra, honestly.
It depended on whether or not she intended to put down roots.
If she didn’t, which wouldn’t be surprising, then Sam would probably live a life of tutors.
“Maybe,” Matt settled on. “Why do you ask?”
Sam mumbled something unintelligible and settled in next to Matt to munch on the strings of his hoodie. Matt left him to it.
That was what Samuel had been trying to say.
Well now, that made life a whole helluva lot easier.
Finding one Lu Wei in a sea of Lu Weis was almost as much of a pain in the ass as finding a Samuel Chung, but with a little help in the form of Elektra’s ability to speak and write in Mandarin, they tracked down a woman by that name who had given birth in Fuzhou six years ago.
On Samuel’s birthday.
To a baby with the last name of Chung.
Blessed fucking be.
“This is Sammy,” Elektra said in awe at the birth certificate when Matt had finagled his way into getting a copy sent to them.
“What’s so funny?” Matt asked her.
“His name,” Elektra said. “His name really is Samuel.”
“No shit,” Elektra said. “Hey, you,” she called over to Sam in the living room. “Come here, baby. I want to show you something.”
Sam was reluctant to come. He was being mesmerized by the penguins. But, as was his way, he dropped the phone and came over to stand at Elektra’s side.
“Look,” Elektra said, crouching down. “Do you know what this is?”
Sam did not. He called it homework because Matt and Elektra had taken to calling their researching that—because apparently it was inappropriate to say that you were digging up shit on politicians and doctors and the like in front of a child.
“This is a birth certificate,” Elektra explained in Japanese. “It’s a very important piece of paper that tells people when you’re born and who your mama and papa are.”
Samuel was not interested in this homework. He wanted Elektra to give him a hug. She circled an arm around him and pulled him in close.
“This one’s yours,” she said.
Sam perked up at that.
“Mine?” he asked her.
“That’s right,” Elektra said. “It took us a long time to find it, didn’t it?”
Sam was now interested in the paper.
“This says your mom’s name is Lu Wei,” Elektra explained to him. “And it says that your name is Samuel Chung.” She sounded out the symbols for him so that he would know how his mother had spelled it for him.
“Me,” Sam said. “I’m Samuel.”
“That’s right, you have been this whole time,” Elektra said.
Sam seemed pleased with this.
“This is mama?” he asked as Elektra stood back up.
“This is mama,” she said. “I bet she’s looking for you, too.”
Sam considered this. He did not have a meltdown. That was a good start.
“Can I look for mama?” Sam asked instead, coming in to grab at Elektra’s shirt.
“I think we can,” Elektra told him. “But we have to be patient for now, okay?”
Elektra took Samuel with her for a job in the Philippines shortly after. They came home for two weeks, and then they were off again for Singapore.
They were there for three weeks.
Matt almost forgot about the whole thing until he got a text from Elektra that said simply, “Matt, she’s not there.”
He didn’t understand for a moment. Then he did.
EN: not in the country.
EN: without warning. Two years ago.
Two whole years ago?
As in, this woman had left the country right when Samuel had been brought out of trafficking?
That was unfortunate for the boy.
Chances were that she’d given him up to get the hell out of dodge.
It would be a difficult thing to explain to him if he ever asked about it.
MM: is he aware?
EN: no. He’s wiped. I haven’t told him I’ve been looking.
MM: where did she leave for?
EN: you’re not gonna like it.
Oh, was he now?
MM: try me
EN: Go to your window. The south-facing one.
MM: I’m here.
EN: now turn about 20 degrees east.
EN: approx 3 miles. Chinatown, New York City.
Well played, Lu Wei.
Well played indeed.
This was his city though. His before anyone else's.
He found Lu Wei.
She worked many jobs.
He could have laughed.
MM: you would not believe what I have found.
EN: go on
MM: we ought to be ashamed.
MM: we are among allies, sister.
MM: we should approach with caution. Could get ugly. Stay back. I will handle it.
EN: no. I won’t have this. He’s not hers anymore, Matt. I don’t want him anywhere near them.
MM: I will handle it.
But first, a costume change.
Among the Hand, he was known, respected, and feared. He was held in esteem among the uppers. They welcomed him back with open arms for a report on the on-goings of the underground empire.
They were pleased with him.
It felt like nothing.
It always felt like nothing.
But he accepted the praise. Didn’t tell them everything. Made the visit a quick one, and on the way out, caught ahold of one of the handlers’ shoulders and asked them in a dead tone who the archer on his team was.
Matt knew who she was.
The handler agreed to an introduction.
Lu Wei was not a small woman. Nor was she large. Matt did not know if she looked like Samuel, if traces of her might be seen in his nephew, but at this point?
He didn’t care.
“Nice to meet you,” Lu Wei said to him politely.
It really wasn’t.
“I’ve heard interesting things about you,” Matt told her.
Lu Wei stiffened. Her heart skipped a beat.
Scared, my darling?
“Good, I hope,” she said.
Matt said nothing. He dragged out the silence so that he could listen as her heart started beating faster and faster.
“I would like to invite you to a conversation,” he said. He felt around his pocket for his card and then held it out her way. “Send me an email so that we might arrange.”
It was an order and she knew it.
“I look forward to our chat,” he said.
Then he left.
Elektra was coming back the day after the arranged meeting. She said that she doubted Samuel would be in any condition to meet with Lu Wei.
He handled jetlag well for a six-year-old, but poorly by any other standard. He tended to just sleep the day away after such a long plane ride.
That suited Matt.
As far as he was concerned, this meeting was not one about happy families.
It was one about blackmail. About twisting an arm and showing someone how karma is truly, truly a bitch.
Not even the Hand can help you escape, Lu Wei.
Not even the Hand.
Lu Wei brought with her a child. A baby.
She supported its back as she eased stiffly into the chair Matt generously waved her into across from him. He’d already bought her a coffee. He didn’t care of she drank it.
“What’s this one’s name, then?” he asked kindly over the child’s erratic noise-making.
“Hannah,” Lu Wei said after a moment of intense decision making.
“Hannah…?” Matt asked.
Lu Wei did not want him to know the name of her second child.
“Why have you asked me here?” the woman demanded.
“Know your place,” Matt told her harshly as a reminder of the hierarchy that stood between them.
Lu Wei must have lowered her eyes. Her silence spoke of an apology.
Matt settled his shoulders.
“I wanted to ask you what you knew of a name,” Matt told her. He presumed she looked back up at him. Her head moved slightly.
“What sort of name?” Lu Wei asked as her baby cooed in front of her.
“An associate of mine spent some time in Hong Kong,” Matt said measuredly. “She has come across something which I suspect may have meaning to you.”
“I am not from Hong Kong,” Lu Wei said. “I’ve spent no time there. My family are farmers.”
“Very traditional, I presume?” Matt asked.
“Conservative, maybe?” he asked.
“What is the name?” Lu Wei asked.
“Chung,” Matt said.
Lu Wei’s heart leapt. Her breathing stuttered.
“Where did you hear that name?” she asked.
Matt said nothing.
“Where did you hear that name?” Lu Wei demanded.
Matt let her be angry. He let her slam a fist onto the table between them and demand him to answer the question over and over in different iterations. He waited until she had clutched his tie. Until she’d started threatening him through grinding teeth.
Then he removed the hand with the necessary force. He smoothed down his tie and stood up.
“Ask yourself, Lu Wei,” he said. “Where did you leave it?”
Samuel was grumpy. He was sleepy. He buried his face in Matt’s stomach as a greeting and dozed there while Elektra gave him a run-down of their most recent adventures. Samuel had a piece of gauze wrapped over his knuckles, which, when tapped, he muzzily explained were a match to ojisan’s.
Matt could feel the judgment in Elektra’s stare.
She told him to stop punching walls.
He told her that he didn’t punch walls anymore. He punched hulking, incompetent idiots.
She told him to stop hiring and then punching hulking, incompetent idiots and she had him there.
“Can I borrow this one?” he asked her at the end of this discussion, pointing a finger down to Samuel.
“Depends on the trauma involved,” Elektra said. “Give me a number on a scale from one to ten.”
“A two at the very most,” Matt told her. “We’re just going to go for a walk.”
Elektra breathed very evenly.
“I don’t want him near the Hand, Matthew,” she said. “I don’t care who she is. She will not touch my son with hands that do their work.”
“My hands do their work,” Matt pointed out.
Elektra said nothing.
She didn’t have to.
They both knew that wasn’t as true as it once had been.
“Give me the boy,” he said. “I’ll take him for the night so you can sleep. I’ll feed him and return him to you tomorrow afternoon. The woman is watching me very closely. She won’t interact, I’m sure of it.”
“She won’t know who he is,” Elektra said. She stepped forward and began to gently extricate Sam from his comfortable spot.
Matt stopped her with a hand on Sam’s shoulders. Samuel nuzzled into him.
“She’ll know,” Matt said.
Elektra’s hands hung empty.
“I’m trusting you with my child, Matthew. Brother.” she said.
“My nephew deserves a relationship with the woman who makes him grieve, sister,” Matt said. “If he learns of her later, he will search for her and he will try to fill the hole that comes from not knowing.”
Elektra’s heartrate held steady. Then her shirt rustled with the fall of her shoulders.
“You’re right,” she said.
“He will be safe,” Matt promised. “Let him meet his mother.”
Samuel did not want dinner, but he slowly munched his way through the bowl of rice Matt gave him. The carrots were regarded with the usual suspicion, but Samuel acquiesced to eating a few of them when kimchi was inserted into the situation.
He was too sleepy to be chatty. He didn’t want to speak in English either.
Matt waited until he’d finished the last bite of rice before allowing him to leave the table for a bath.
Samuel was displeased at yet another step between him and unconsciousness. He submitted to a bath only if Matt would join him.
The kid was dastardly.
Matt hated baths.
Why take a bath when there was a perfectly functional shower right there?
The boy usually wanted to sleep on the couch, but Matt and Elektra were playing a new game with him called ‘get thee unto a mattress.’
Samuel didn’t like this game.
He didn’t like Lola sleeping in any room with him either. It took some coaxing and frustrated munchkin sounds to get him to sleep more or less peacefully on the cot Matt had purchased for him for when he stayed the night. Once horizontal, however, the child became far more manageable.
Knocked right out.
Totally forgot about the misgivings with the dog.
Excellent. Optimal. Lovely.
He would be furious to be woken up in four hours for an early breakfast.
As it was told, and so it was.
Sam was on the verge of an actual tantrum when Matt woke him up at seven for a quick trip down to the bakery around the block.
Not even promises of pastry could improve his mood.
He stubbornly latched onto Matt’s waist and made distressed sounds into his stomach.
“Don’t feel good,” he eventually whimpered.
Yes, well. There was a reason sleep-deprivation was such an effective torture method.
“Where?” Matt asked him.
Samuel grunted in frustration.
“If you’re going to act like a baby, I’m going to carry you like one,” Matt warned him.
This got a reaction. Another frustrated grunt.
“Fine, kiddo. It’s your funeral,” Matt told him.
The layers of unhappiness Samuel was currently experiencing were so deliciously stacked that it was hard not to smile at him.
He was so upset.
Not even understandably upset. Just a ball of muzzy, hateful aggravation.
“Down,” he whined for the fourth time.
“No, no. You’re tired. Go back to sleep,” Matt told him.
Sam put a hand on his cheek and pulled Matt’s jaw so that he was facing him.
The fury was nothing short of fucking adorable. Matt didn’t even need to see it to know how beautiful it was.
“Down,” Sam repeated.
“Not very polite,” Matt scolded.
Sam repeated the command in Japanese with politeness so sharp it could stab someone.
Oh, he was going to be so much fun when he got a bit older.
“Go to sleep, little one,” Matt told him. “Time will go faster. I just can’t leave you with the dog for now.”
He could, actually. But that wasn’t the point.
Sam groaned again but decided that the aggravation wasn’t worth it. He dropped his head heavily onto Matt’s shoulder to make sure that he knew that he wasn’t doing this because he wanted to. He was just too tired to deal with Matt’s bullshit at the present moment.
Matt hiked him up a bit more comfortably and carried on along his way, stick in hand. The woman at the till at the bakery asked if Samuel was his son.
He said no.
“My nephew,” he said. “Sister’s son. Adopted.”
“Aww. He’s so sweet. She must be so proud.”
She certainly was.
But what do you think, Lu Wei?
Samuel woke up properly around eleven. He blearily pawed at Matt and asked him where okasan was.
Okasan was sleeping at home for now.
Matt reminded the kid of his love of cinnamon rolls and then spent a wholly unnecessary amount of time trying to explain how the little cup of cream cheese icing that was meant to go on top of the bun was different from the mayo that came with the French fries from okasan’s favorite Greek food joint.
Sam was determined that they were one and the same. No, he had no evidence. No, he wanted nothing to do with either of them. Yes, he was going to make that sound of despair every time Matt tried to smear some of the sugar-cheese onto his pastry.
By noon, the kid was ready to go home and Matt decided that Elektra had probably gotten enough sleep for the time being.
It was amazing how quickly things moved after that.
“That’s my son,” Lu Wei snarled at Matt with an arrow cocked his way. “Give him back.”
“Why should I?” Matt drawled. “You’re the one who gave him up to begin with.”
“This is sick. How dare you. He was safe.”
“Safe?” Matt spat. “Safe? You think he was safe?”
“He was safe,” Lu Wei insisted.
“You sold your son to a trafficker,” Matt scoffed. “Did you not even realize?”
“I’d—I’d never sell my child.”
He took his time coming back from it. Lu Wei’s fingers trembled.
“If I were you, Lu Wei,” he said with the roll of his head. “I’d do a little research before you came around these parts, pointing arrows where they’ve got no business pointing.”
Elektra declared her household human again by Wednesday, which was good timing because Matt had a lady on his back and she would not fucking quit.
“She wants to see Samuel,” he told Elektra over her kitchen counter. “I’ve got work to do. I can’t be organizing this anymore.”
“Is “work” destroying the Irish again?” Elektra asked.
They’d already been handled.
“You have two broken fingers.”
Handled. Get it?
“Does Foggy know you’re picking fights with other syndicates again?”
What Foggy didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him and anyways, this wasn’t about Matt’s fingers. It was about heroin. And more than that, it was about Samuel.
It took Lu Wei one week of awareness to come to a decision.
“Daredevil,” she said.
Elektra lifted her face away from her mark.
Matt stepped back into the shadows. There was no need for Lu Wei to know of his and Elektra’s partnered activities.
Elektra stood up all the way.
“Hand soldier,” she said. “Is this how you want to die?”
Lu Wei held her weapon for several beats, then dropped it.
“You know who I am,” she said.
“I don’t,” Elektra said.
“You do. That man. He’s your—he’s your—”
Elektra breathed carefully.
“We were made together,” she said dangerously. “The people who you’ve joined made us together. Made us into one. They’ll do the same to you. They’ll use you and break you and throw you away—”
“This isn’t about me,” Lu Wei snapped.
The resulting quiet in the alley felt cold.
“Give him back,” Lu Wei said, her voice shaking. “My son. Give him back.”
Elektra didn’t move.
“GIVE him BACK,” Lu Wei cried. “Please. Please. I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know what they’d do to him. Please. He’s—I just wanted him to be safe.”
“He’s safe now,” Elektra said.
“He’s not,” Lu Wei snapped. “You’ve trained him to follow you like a dog.”
“He was sleeping on a concrete floor when I found him,” Elektra said forcefully. “Is that safe to you? He thinks I’ll beat him if he doesn’t finish all his food. He doesn’t know when he’s tired, he’ll work through it. He’ll work through bone bruises. Where do you think he learned that, huh? Does that sound safer to you than what I’ve taught him? Than what his mother abandoned him to do?”
Both women’s breathing was shaky now.
“Please,” Lu Wei said softly.
“I’m sorry,” Elektra said.
“He’s my child. He’s my son. I love him so much,” Lu Wei gasped through a thick throat.
“I’m so sorry,” Elektra said again. “I took him in to keep him safe from the Hand. And I’m sorry. I’m truly, truly sorry. But you’ve become the Hand. And I will protect him from you if I have to.”
“I never meant for things to come to this,” Lu Wei choked.
Elektra sighed and dropped her sai blades.
“You’re scaring him,” she said.
Lu Wei sucked in a tiny, sharp breath.
Matt felt Samuel’s fingers digging into his hip.
“Matt,” Elektra said.
Lu Wei took a step back in shock.
Matt took the opportunity to step forward with a hand cupping the back of Samuel’s head. He said nothing.
“You,” Lu Wei snarled.
“He protects him,” Elektra interrupted firmly.
Lu Wei whirled around towards her.
“He threatens him. He threatens me,” she snapped.
“He protects him,” Elektra repeated. “Our allegiance is not to the Hand, Lu Wei. Matthew and I were forged in those fires and we do not agree on the paths the other has taken. But our allegiance has always been and will always be to each other. Matthew will protect my son, his nephew, as if he were my own.”
“He’s not your son,” Lu Wei said.
“He is,” Elektra said. “Legally, he is.”
“Okasan?” Samuel whimpered.
Matt pressed him back into his side. The women needed to work this own among themselves. They needed to reach an agreement before the boy would be allowed to touch either of them.
Lu Wei scoffed.
“You’ve taught him Japanese?” she asked.
“Sammy’s talented,” Elektra said. “Smarter than anyone I’ve ever met. He learns what I teach him in a matter of weeks. It would take others months to advance as quickly as he does.”
“You put him in the line of fire,” Lu Wei said.
“You put him in the hands of traffickers,” Elektra countered. “Listen to what you’re saying, woman. I’m telling you that I’ve adopted your son. I’m sorry that it’s worked out that way. I looked for you. I did. We all did. But you weren’t there and we had nothing to work with to know who he was. What was I supposed to do? Would you rather I’d left him there with no one and nothing?”
A pause. Samuel tipped his face up at Matt, trying to get reassurance and an explanation for what was happening. He certainly knew that this was about him. He was certainly trying to hide. Imagining the harsh tones as somehow his fault.
“We already had nothing,” Lu Wei said quietly. “Nothing. No money. No space. Barely enough food. His father wants nothing to do with him. My family was resentful. I couldn’t marry. What was I supposed to do?”
“Give him a name,” Matt said into the tense quiet. “A passport.”
Lu Wei turned his way.
“How dare you,” she said.
“He grieves you without understanding,” Matt told her.
He could feel her anger draining somewhat.
“We just want to help him, Lu Wei,” Elektra said. “Matt found you because we want you and Sam to have a relationship. We want you two to know each other. But we—I just. There is so much mess here. You’ll understand that I’m doing my best. It’s not enough, but it’s all I have to give him. And it sounds like it was all you tried to give him, too.”
Lu Wei’s heartrate was dropping.
“Can I--?” she asked.
Matt waited for Elektra’s nod. Then he took his hand off Samuel’s head. Sam clutched at him and shook his head hard, not wanting to be left on his own in the conflict.
“It’s okay, Sammy,” Elektra said. “You’re okay. Come here. I have someone I want you to talk to.”
Samuel didn’t like that one bit. He wrapped fingers around Matt’s stiff, broken ones.
“Stubborn,” she said to Lu Wei. Then she cocked a hip. “I’m gonna count to three,” she said.
Sam huffed and tugged his hands away from Matt’s. Matt could practically feel the ‘traitor’ directed his way.
He rolled his shoulders and shifted his weight back while Sam edged around Lu Wei and tucked himself hurriedly into Elektra’s side.
“Sammy,” she said, fishing him out. “This is your mama. Do you remember her?”
“Uh? He’s not usually like this,” Elektra promised.
Lu Wei tried speaking softly to Samuel in Mandarin.
He still wasn’t having it.
“Sammy, that’s rude,” Elektra scolded.
Sam made a hurt sound.
“I’m not mad,” Elektra told him. “But you need to be nicer. Your mama’s trying very hard.”
Sam’s hurt sound turned to hiccupping and Elektra’s tone dropped into soothing as she crouched down and rubbed her hands up and down his arms.
“No, no, baby,” she said. “You’re okay. No crying. It’s okay. What’s going on, huh?”
“He doesn’t remember me,” Lu Wei said, on the verge of tears herself.
“He’s just a little confused,” Elektra told her. Then to Samuel, she said “Hey, hey. Look at me. There you are. Sammy, okasan’s not giving you away. I’d never do that. You’re never getting left behind ever again, remember? I promised you. I just want you to talk to this lady. She’s the one who carried you in her belly. She loves you a whole lot—look how much she loves you, she came all the way to America just like we did! That’s a long way, isn’t it? And look, Mama says she didn’t know that those bad people were going to hurt you, yeah? She says that her mama and papa were very, very poor and she didn’t want you to grow up like she’s had to. She was trying to give you the best life she could, honey. But you know, sometimes, things don’t go right. And people aren’t nice and they don’t keep their promises. You know this—think of Spiderwoman, huh? Does everything always go right for Spiderwoman?”
Samuel sniffed and shook his head.
Matt resisted the urge to scoff and scowl.
The spider couldn’t stay in her own lane even when she wasn’t in the damn street.
“That’s right,” Elektra continued. “Your Mama is like Spiderwoman. She did her best, but she needed some help. And now I’m here to help. Here to help Mama and Spiderwoman and any Sammys I can find. What do you think of that, huh?”
Sam thought positively of this. His noise-making started to die off a bit.
“Atta boy,” Elektra said. “Now what do you say? Can we talk to Mama a little bit? Is that okay for now? Just saying ‘hi?’”
Matt wasn’t sure what the movement Lu Wei did, but he figured it was something friendly. Judging from Samuel’s lack of response, it wasn’t effective.
“Okay, maybe we’ve got a lot going on right now,” Elektra said.
“No, I uh. I appreciate this,” Lu Wei finally said. “It’s okay. He’s scared. We can—maybe another time.”
The first reasonable thing said all day.
Matt was busy being evil.
He’d spent so much time uniting families and shit that he needed a solid week and a half to do horrible shit to horrible people, just to get back to equilibrium.
Elektra called him and told him that she’d had a second meeting with Lu Wei.
“It went much better,” she said.
“I thought you weren’t letting the Hand cross your threshold,” Matt said, toeing off his shoes and unfastening Lola’s harness.
“I let you cross my threshold all the time.”
Not all of it.
“Anyways, Sammy’s decided that Mama is more or less unthreatening. He’s not completely there yet, but I think he’s happy to have someone to speak Mandarin with.”
Was that a good start?
Matt didn’t know anymore. He was busy being evil, remember? Good starts didn’t concern him.
“Matthew. You’re exhausting. The point is that I now have a complete medical history and Sam’s birth mom no longer wants to murder me. Hurray!”
“Can you just, like, try to be happy for us?”
“Alright, alright. I’m so happy for you,” he grumbled. “I’m just fuckin’ thrilled to have an even more complicated relationship to the Hand. I love that.”
“Sammy misses you.”
“I’m bringing him over in an hour. Be decent.”
“Sorry, no can do. I’ve got a kinky evening planned. I’ll talk to you later, sis,” Matt said.
“You do not—”
He hung up.
No feelings were allowed in this house. None. Not of the adopted variety. Not of the grateful variety. Not of any variety.
“Isn’t that right, Cat?” he asked the beast himself where he was perched on top of Lola now.
That was damn right.