All his life, Han Lue has kept one eye on the horizon.
His past is nothing special; nothing he can point to, really, and say 'this is why I started breaking the law'. He grew up in Atlanta in a fairly ordinary neighborhood, and if the people of the South tend to be a little skeptical of differences as a whole, in person they are often kind, warm, and open. He wasn't particularly oppressed. He wasn't particularly poor. He just was.
He likes big cities, though: the wealth of personalities and possibilities to be found there, and the benefit of modern conveniences. If he happens to be a little vague about the legalities sometimes, and occasionally bites off more than he can chew... well, there's always somewhere else to move on to.
And for as long as he can remember, the ultimate horizon-- the place he's always assumed he'll end up one day-- has been Tokyo. The cowboys in the old spaghetti westerns he watched as a child always made a run for Mexico, but Mexico's too close to the States, and not electric enough to inspire him. Besides, he's never been farther east than the city where he was born. Why not Tokyo, after all?
Gisele Harabo, though, turns all those restless daydreams upside down. For the first time in years, Han's enjoying the journey too much to worry about what'll happen when it's over. They visit Berlin, where she closes up her apartment, and Madrid, which he's always wanted to see. Israel, for her family. Then half a dozen other countries where they drive fast, spend half their time in five star hotel rooms, and generally behave like tourists without any particular talent for trouble.
Tokyo, when they finally get there, becomes just one more stop on their journey. They find the city's race scene polarized around a pair of young drifters: Takashi, a kid with a chip on his shoulder and an uncle in the Yakuza, and Sean, a scrappy Navy brat with a crush on Takashi's girl. Sean's skills are still rough, but Han is reminded of Dom's friend Brian when he looks at him; the kid has the same raw talent and determination. Han likes him, and Gisele thinks the girl could use a few pointers, too.
They stay long enough to help Sean dethrone Takashi. And then they pull up stakes and move on.
Sean's eye has always been caught by pretty girls and hot cars. Han, one of the local racing heavyweights Twinkie introduces him to, has both. Sean wrecks one of the latter in a fit of bravado, and isn't surprised when Han demands he work at his garage in payment, though he's still not sure why the guy gave him the opportunity to begin with. The former, though, is so far out of his league Sean hardly knows what to say to her.
She smiles and introduces herself as Gisele; he does his best to greet her politely in return, and is puzzled when she laughs and says something teasing to Han about someone named Toretto. She's gorgeous, with legs that go on for miles, a motorcycle even hotter than Han's cars, and a sureness about her that draws his attention even more than Neela's beauty. He feels like a kid with a crush on his teacher every time he sees her.
"How'd the two of you end up here?" he asks Han one day, after the guy takes him to the hills for a drifting lesson. Between work and preparing for the challenge pending between him and Morimoto, he's been spending a lot of time in Han's company and he still doesn't know much about him. He's glacier cool, except for being in love with his girlfriend, and he seems to like Sean; that's about all.
Han gives him a faint smile. "You can't keep running," he says. "I know it feels like freedom, like you're leaving your problems behind you-- but you can't stay ahead of them forever. Eventually, you're going to have to pick a place to stop and face them."
Sean knows Han's right, he's just never felt ready to. "How'd you do it?" he asks.
Han chuckles. "Gisele. Without her, I probably would have got involved with the Yakuza just to keep from getting bored. But she thinks I'm a better man than that."
"And so you are," Sean grins. He really kind of likes Han; he likes them both, more than he probably should.
He hardly notices Neela anymore; and when his father kicks him out, Han and Gisele's apartment is the first place he turns to. They take him in, offering their couch as long as he needs it.
Sean can't help wishing for more. But he'll take whatever they're willing to give him.
"Fifty percent of something is better than a hundred percent of nothing," Han tells the kid who reminds him all too much of friends long left behind him.
It's a lie, of course. He doesn't gamble, doesn't feel the need to own a Koenigsegg CCXR; there's still a lot left over from his ten million dollar take. He has money. What does he need to fuck around with the Yakuza for? The real answer is even simpler, and one he doesn't want to share. He likes the way Sean looks at him, the respect more precious coming from such a forthright, determined character, and he doesn't want to ruin that.
He knows what Gisele would've said. He can still vividly recall the laughter in her voice when she'd challenged him about the way he always keeps his hands and mouth busy. He'd replaced that addiction with something more stimulating than cigarettes after meeting Dom in Mexico; but now that the adrenaline-mad Italian's mostly retired and Gisele is gone, Han's feeling the effects of withdrawal. It's like drifting in a fog, with no idea where the walls are; snarling himself up in Takashi's business had at least given him lane markers to steer by.
"You don't sound too convinced of that," Sean replies, raising his eyebrows. "If I was you, I'd be worried he's screwing you under the table."
Han snorts. "Yeah? And why's that?"
Sean shrugs. "You're just as much gaijin as I am, for all you blend better. Something goes wrong, it won't be any skin off his nose to tell his uncle it's your fault."
"How do you figure that?" Now Han really is curious.
"I'm hash at speaking Japanese, I know. But I understand better than I let on, and I've got an ear. Your accent's just as American as mine is. L.A., maybe?"
"All right, so you're smarter than you look," Han admits, with a rueful smile. "So what if he is screwing me over? So what if I'm screwing him?"
"Be a damn waste," Sean says-- and the quick smirk and sweep of his eyes down Han's chest tells him he's fully aware of the double entendre.
Han blinks, suddenly feeling more awake than he has in months. Maybe it would be worth being a little more careful with his side deals for awhile. Just until he sees how far this is going to go.
Sean doesn't know why, but he's already fumbling with his buckles before the Evo's even finished jerking to a halt. He's breathing hard, nerves crackling with fear and adrenaline, and he just has to be out of the car right that minute. Like it'll make any difference when Han and D.K. drift by, but he can't just sit there with Han in danger. Even though Neela's looking at him like he's crazy.
He's half running already as the two cars peel by, D.K.'s flipped around in reverse; D.K.'s got his gun out, Han's still trying to break away. Sean swallows, hoping against hope Han can make it-- but Han takes his eye off the road for a fraction of a second, and some other car just smashes into him, lifting his RX-7 and flipping it side over side.
Sean's breath hitches, and he runs faster, screaming in denial. It can't end this way. It just can't. He won't let it. Han wouldn't even be in this position if he hadn't dropped back to get the heat off Sean and Neela-- and D.K. might not've been so angry if Sean hadn't kept pissing him off.
He slides to his knees in front of the wrecked car, flopping down and lunging through the broken window. Fuel's leaking from somewhere, he can smell it, and with all the NOS in the car he'll be lucky to get back out before it blows, but Han is bleeding and dazed, and he won't leave him to die. Sean wrestles with Han's buckles, clicking them open, shaking as he verifies he's not pinned anywhere; then he snakes backward, heart thundering so fast he's getting spots in his vision, and pulls Han after him with every bit of strength he has.
The explosion, when it comes, knocks them both to the ground. Sean lays there for a moment, dazed, not sure which way is up; then his brain reboots and he pats awkwardly at the body half-plastered over him. "Han? Han."
He can hear Neela calling his name in the distance, hear D.K. taunting as he drives off, but there's only one voice he's listening for.
Finally, finally, Han stirs. "Sean?" he groans.
Sean closes his eyes again in relief. They still have a shitload of trouble ahead of them, he knows. But he still feels like he just won the most important race of his life.
One of the kids carries word that Kamata's limo was seen pulling up to D.K.'s, and Han feels the blood drain out of his face. The jig's up. Kamata only visits D.K.'s place rather than the reverse when something's fucked, and Han would have noticed if anything else were going on.
He looks up at Sean, who's trying to comfort Neela over a cup of tea; yeah, that'll only make things worse when D.K. comes to avenge his honor. Han turns and casually sends Twinkie up to get Sean's duffel, then strides across the garage to retrieve his emergency go-bag.
"Sean?" he calls as he slides into the driver's seat of the RX-7. "C'mon, let's go for a drive."
"What?" Sean's forehead furrows as he looks down from the platform above. "Now?"
Han can't rescue them both, and he's sure Neela will be fine. She's a Japanese citizen, with a non-Japanese mother who never married; that means her father has to have recognized paternity. Given that D.K.'s grandmother took Neela in, that must mean she's some kind of family; Kamata will look out for her. Sean has no such protection, especially since he's been cast out of his father's house.
"Yes, now," he says, raising his eyebrows.
Sean heaves a sigh, then makes his farewells, and Han feels a stab of satisfaction at having won the battle for Sean's attention so easily. He keeps it out of his expression, though; he's about to completely uproot the kid's life and he doesn't want to start things off on the wrong foot.
"So where we going?" Sean says as he climbs in.
Han guns the car out of the garage. "Want to take you to visit a friend of mine," he replies.
"Yeah, who?" Sean asks, interestedly.
"Her name is Gisele. I think you'll like her." He's pretty sure she'll like Sean, too.
"Where's she live?"
"Moscow," Han answers gravely, giving him a side-long look.
Sean's head whips around in shock and he just stares for a long moment, jaw dropped. Then he pales, turning around to take in the skyline of Tokyo. "That bad, huh?" he breathes.
"I'm sorry," Han nods. Then he reaches over and briefly rests a hand over Sean's. "Don't worry, though. We'll take good care of you."
"Shit," Sean swears feelingly-- but he doesn't flinch away.
Han lets out a relieved breath. They're going to be fine.