Holding Onto a Memory
Gisele curses as she straightens from her bent position. She turns the light off her phone and runs a hand over her face. She can’t see the problem, no matter how much she twists and turns and inspects the engine.
There’s a baby seat in the back, and its occupant squeals in attempt to catch her attention. It works. She walks around the car, open the door and leans inside.
“What’s wrong Maya?” she asks in a cooing voice. The baby flaps her arms and legs widely, pouting and humming. Gisele sighs, unfastens the seatbelt and picks her up. Now that she is in her mother’s arms, Maya settles and coos softly again, her tiny hand reaching out to grab her necklace. She wonders if her daughter senses her irritation.
They are in the middle of a parking lot and her car refuses to start. Her Japanese is rudimentary at best and she has no idea who to call. Satsuki, her usual babysitter, may have been able to help, but she has gone to visit her family for the day. Her knowledge in car engine is better than most, but even she cannot figure out what makes it stall.
And Tokyoites don’t care if a gaijin looks utterly lost in the early evening. For the nth time, Gisele wonders what had pushed her to move to Japan. A year ago, she had woken up from a coma with half her memories missing, in a very poor physical state, and pregnant with god-knew-who’s child. Eight months later, Maya made her way into the world. Three months of physical reeducation later, Gisele had walked out of the hospital, daughter in hand, feeling very confused as to why she was insanely rich and no longer a wanted criminal.
“Hey, need a hand?”
The voice is masculine and eerily light but effectively brings her back to the present. She turns around and sees another Asian –though he doesn’t look quite Japanese and his English doesn’t have the hint of an accent. He is taller than her by a few inches, dark silky-like hair, and a pleasant physique. Not overly muscular, but just fit enough to suit her customary taste in men.
And he’s suddenly staring at her like he’s seen a ghost.
“Do you know anything about cars?” she asks. The newcomer is focused on her face, pale and perhaps a little afraid. Her senses go on alert. Maya babbles something in her neck. The man’s eyes zap to the baby. They grow even wider in shock.
“Are you alright?” she goes on. She isn’t comfortable with his behavior now. The man slowly focuses back on her and forces a smile.
“Sorry, you just look a lot like someone I use to know,” he replies. His voice is slightly shaky. He sounds considerably upset. “I own a garage a few blocks away.” He pauses. “Han Lue.” He adds, almost as an afterthought.
“Giselle Harabo,” she replies. He is turning his back to the closest light, so the shadows on his face are a little more pronounced, but she could swear she sees him blanch. “If you can figure out the problem, you’d be a lifesaver.”
He twitches as the last word, but nods wordlessly and bends under the hood in turn. He flips the light on his phone and glances over the engine, touches the tubes. He kneels on the ground, checks if anything might have leaked on the concrete, frowns and plunges back under the hood.
“I have good news and bad news,” he says, standing straight and slamming the hood shut. “I think I know what the problem is.”
Gisele guesses the rest.
“But you can’t fix it here.”
He shakes his head.
“You have a leak. I need to go under, but I don’t have the material here. I can stop by the garage real quick and trail your car back. It should be fixed in a day or so.”
Gisele knows she has always been the impulsive kind. She joins the army after a heated argument with her parents, she leaves the army after her brother dies in her arms, and she starts working for Braga because why not? Ever since her memory loss and the arrival of her little bundle of joy though, she tries to anticipate things more.
Still, that impulsiveness shouldn’t justify why she finds herself allowing this stranger to drive her home, especially when his car screams ‘street racer’ and he’s looking at her like she’s a ghost in the flesh and wants nothing more but to touch her to make sure she’s real. But her guts tell her she can trust him, and Gisele has always trusted her guts. She considers inviting him in, but he speaks of returning fast to his garage to trail her car before the police decides to do it for her. He still carries her groceries upstairs but leaves before he can set foot in her apartment. Probably for the best, she thinks later, as she lays Maya to sleep. He stirs something inside her and his presence gives her a bit of a headache.
Probably for the best, she repeats to herself. But when he calls the very next day to tell her the car is ready, she senses a strange anticipation grow in her chest.
Gisele calls Satsuki to babysit Maya a few hours, dresses with her casual black jeans and sleeveless shirt and waits for him to pick her up. No car means she is doomed to call a taxi, but Han volunteers to get her without her needing to ask. She’s waiting at the bottom of the building when she sports his vehicle, scolding herself for feeling like a young girl on her first date. He smiles nervously at her behind his fancy-very-likely customized car. This one is yellow and black, sleek and smooth, far more elegant that yesterday’s.
“Way to impress a girl,” she teases once she shuts the door.
Han puffs with pride like a teenager.
“I’m not showing-off,” he protests, but there’s a twinkle in his eye. He starts the car. The engine purrs like a cat as he smoothly guides her through the streets of Tokyo.
Gisele has always favored bikes over cars. That had to change when Maya arrived, but sitting beside Han, feeling the speed creep in her bones, she thinks she might grow to like it. When she glances at the driver, he has that peaceful expression on his face. She pictures herself sitting in his lap and making out with him while they’re driving full speed…
Immediately chases the notion and focuses on the road. She doesn’t believe at love at first sight, but that guy distracts her very easily and without even trying. When they arrive at his garage, she’s relieved to leave the enclosed space to properly breathe. His garage is occupied with a group of teenagers lingering around. Some of them follow her with interested eyes. Others smirk with a knowing look. Gisele feels slightly irritated they all think she’s here for something else than her car. Afterthought, maybe they’re not quite wrong.
Han explains the problem with her engine, but she barely listens. All she sees is the way his hands move nervously when he speaks, the cool and calm façade while his eyes clearly show he is no cool and calm. She wonders if she makes him feel weird too.
“How much do I owe you?” she asks when he’s done. Han hesitates.
“Five thousand yens,” he replies eventually. Gisele makes a mental math. Forty bucks, given the work he’s just described, is very reasonable. “Your key’s in my office.” He adds before nodding towards a semi-closed door.
She follows him. As far as an office goes, this one is the real definition of office. Files with invoices, brochures –and what she’s pretty much sure is administrative paperwork –is stacked in a corner, right next to an old-looking battered desk. Given the décor, she assumes he must only come here to deal with unpleasant business. Han closes the door behind them and walks around the desk, reaching for a box filled with car keys. He picks hers, hands it to her. Gisele takes them. Their fingers brush.
His mask cracks ever the slightest.
She reads the longing he can’t quite hide in his eyes. She sees his fingers taping against his thigh, itching to touch.
She makes up her mind. She steps closer, into his personal space, reaches for his face and presses her mouth to his. Han freezes, surprised or caught off-guard, but doesn’t stay immobile very long. He kisses her back slowly, one hand already on her waist to draw her close. Gisele closes her eyes, let herself enjoy the –impossibly familiar- taste of him. He knows her, she thinks. He knows her. There is no other explanation for why he’d go straight for the spot under her ear, why his hand would press in her back in a way that makes her knees go weak. He knows her.
And she knows him.
Her mind might have forgotten, but her body certainly hasn’t. She responds and touches him in ways that makes him whine. She arches and melts and shivers and reaches for his pants. Han guides her back against his desk. She sits on the border, wraps a leg around his waist. He’s hard already. One hand is under her shirt, cupping her left breast. His mouth is hot on her neck. Gisele’s head is spinning, and while the thought of being screwed on a desk sounds a little vulgar even to her, she can’t wait to find out how much more Han can make her feel.
“Hey Han did you –HOLYSHITSORRY!”
The door slams closed. Han and Gisele freeze. He steps back, avoids her gaze and clears his throat. She rearranges her clothes and doesn’t meet his eye. She misses his warmth already.
“I shouldn’t have-“
They start at the same time, pause. Gisele starts:
“So we know each other.”
Han slowly nods. His pupils dilated, but it’s not just lust she can read in his eyes. He looks at her like she’s…something else. Something precious.
“We met on a job in Rio,” he says quietly. “Dom called you to be the backup. I was the chameleon.”
She has no idea who ‘Dom’ is, but notes that detail for later.
“You fit everywhere,” she completes.
He gives her a small, approving smile.
“It was a big heist. We earned with around ten millions each. You and I left together.”
He’s speaking the truth, she thinks. Eyes like his don’t lie.
“We traveled around the world. We were in Hong-Kong when Dom called us for a last job. We were supposed to earn our freedom if we brought down a team of racers. The last part, the last race ended on a landing runaway. We were trying to infiltrate a plane about to take off.” He pauses and adds quietly: “You fell, shooting a guy about to kill me.”
She doesn’t remember any of this. Only the pleading, the pain in his eyes tells her it is the truth.
“We all thought you were dead,” he goes on. “We all thought –it would have been a fucking miracle for you to survive that fall. The plane came crashing and the projections…it went all over the place.”
She meets his eyes calmly. As far as theories go, even she can’t miss the obvious.
“Did you know I was pregnant?”
He shakes his head.
“If I had, you would have never set a foot on that plane to London and neither would I.” He swallows thickly. “We would have gone to Tokyo straight ahead.”
Gisele crocks her head on the side.
He gives her a half-smile.
“We always talked about Tokyo.”
She thinks she understands. And while she doesn’t remember him, she thinks she might have indeed loved him. Han is familiar, and he makes her feel…safe.
Someone knocks at Han’s office door.
“Hey, Han, dressed up again?”
He rolls his eyes. Gisele grins.
“In a second,” he shouts to his visitor. “Let me deal with him and then I’ll kick them out so we can talk properly.”
“Come to my place after work,” she offers instead. “Perhaps it’s time to properly introduce you to your daughter.”
Han’s bright beam could have lit the whole city.
The evening is a quiet diner –takeout, because she’s a passable cook at best and Han is no better and she doesn’t want to have to do the dishes. They talk about the year and half she has erased from her memory. He shows her pictures on his phone –mostly the ones Mia keeps emailing him in the hopes he will finally give them some news. Gisele thinks she recognizes Roman and isn’t surprised when Han recollects how she pulled a gun on him. In turn, Gisele summaries the past year, from her waking up from a coma, the astonishment at finding herself pregnant and having no memory of the father, the absolute refusal to abort –because if that baby refused to leave her womb when she should have lost it, then she wasn’t going to stop it from growing. And then her shock at finding out how much she had on her bank account, this urge she had to join Tokyo…and her current struggling to catch up.
Thankfully, her daughter is there to break the ice when things get too heavy.
Maya is still in a phase where it doesn’t matter who she gets attention from, she’ll enjoy it nonetheless, and Han is fascinated by her. She barely leaves his arms, even when she starts pulling his long hair and drooling on his shirt. When it’s time for her to sleep, he stands close behind Gisele and watches her with undisguised fascination.
And then, he looks at her with those eyes, full of wonder and awe, and maybe they’re going too fast but Gisele knows what she wants and so does he.
She has scars on her side, consequences of her rough fall. The doctors who spoke to her when she woke up had no idea how she survived, how she didn’t miscarriage. They adorn her skin like an engraving, faint but still there. Han is kneeling in front of her, touching them with pain and guilt. She knows the more he’ll see, the more he’ll feel ashamed for not looking for her, or even asking after her dead body. So she runs a hand in his hair, pulls him up, and distracts him with something else entirely.
It’s funny how the simplest things return to her when she’s with him. He’s a hands-on man, moving against her in all the ways she likes. And with his touch and kisses return more memories.
She makes out with him while he’s driving excessively fast on the autoban, on their way to Madrid.
He’s offering her chips from a half-eaten bag after commenting on illegal cockfights in Brazil.
She’s walking to her target with confidence clad in that flattering purple bikini, and she feels his eyes on her in every step.
When they’re done, he spoons her, one arm firmly thrown over her waist and his head buried in her hair. She likes his chest pressed in her back, the scent of their recent lovemaking, the sweat and the warmth that sends her into sleep faster than it had in months…
‘I’ve got you,’ he says, and then she’s dropping and his eyes are wide in horror as he screams her name and still reaches even though it’s too late-
Gisele is awakened by his loud gasp and him crying out her name. She turns on the light, sees him pale and in sweat and staring at her with those frightened eyes, and she knows what kind of nightmare had just plagued him. She lets him pull her in his arm, and if Han’s grip is a little vice-like, she doesn’t care and return it fiercely.
“This isn’t a dream, right?” he whispers, his voice raw. “Please, tell me it isn’t a dream?”
Gisele, trembling a little too, assures him that this, this is reality, and she won’t leave again, not when she’s starting to remember, and liking what she remembers. She released him, she sacrificed her life so he could live, because she loved him and thinks that she can relearn to love him too. She doesn’t tell him that if she had to do it all over again, she would in a heartbeat.
The next morning, breakfast is quiet, but light. Maya has no trouble eating her food when Han feeds her. She’s quick to understand he’s very interested in her so she preens and smiles, wrapping him further around her little finger.
Gisele doesn’t have anything planned for the day, so Han declares neither does he. She insists he shows her where he works and he introduces her to his crew. The boys –mostly teenagers –are stunned to see that Han has a girl (both literally and figuratively). They are even more stunned when she makes him laugh –something that is, according to them, as rare as the sighting of the Yeti. The next day, she gives Satsuki a call and Han takes her for a ride in the mountains. She feels alive at the vibration of the engine, shrieks in delight as the landscape and even if Maya decides to be pout the rest of the evening, she feels nothing can bring her down. Han shyly suggest moving in two days later, and while Gisele’s memory is still a little fuzzy on things, she remembers the essentials and gives him the copy of her key without blinking twice.
She has no idea where she’s going, but she thinks that with Han tagging along for the ride, things might be alright.
Of course, life isn’t simple and things aren’t alright.
One night, perhaps two weeks after they’ve reunited, he comes from work pensive and clearly bothered. He waits until Maya is changed and fast asleep to broach the subject.
“We need to leave Tokyo,” he tells her bluntly. “Soon.”
Gisele stares at him in mild confusion.
“I thought you always wanted to live here?”
“It was more about the journey than the end, you know that.” She does. She still doesn’t get why he wants to move. “Back when you-“ he pauses. No need to debate about what he’s mentioning. “I didn’t handle it well. I came straight here, no detours. Got involved in street racing. No surprises here.” He pauses again. “Takashi, a young punk, recommended me to his uncle, a yakuza.”
Gisele narrows her eyes, slowly getting to what he’s hinting at. She isn’t stupid enough to believe his garage could afford all the pieces he orders from all over the country. She knows from whispers of the punks occupying his garage and the few nights he’s been absent that he must be running deliveries or something illegal to make that kind of money.
“I may have been double-crossing them for a while,” he adds, sounding vaguely ashamed.
The words take a few seconds to get to her brain. When they do, she is furious.
“You did what?” Gisele explodes quietly –Maya has just gotten to sleep. Han runs a hand in his hair.
“I had just arrived, alright? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself. And then this kid offers me a job, something I’m good at, so I just jumped at the opportunity.”
“I can’t believe –I nearly died to keep you alive,” she protests hotly. “Playing with fire is how you decide to repay me?”
“You don’t get it Gisele,” he snaps back. “This past year –it’s been hell on me too!”
She snaps her mouth shut, glares at him. He goes on:
“You were my home. We were talking about settling down! I never thought I’d want to settle down someday, never thought I’d have that chance, ever. And you were it. You were it, and when you saved my life, when you-“ he glares at her and for the first time, she realizes he has never really grieved. “I threw the guy you shot through the plane’s reactor, Gisele. I threw him through a reactor. And yes, I came to Tokyo, and yes I built my gig and had money and girls and everything –but it wasn’t living.” He shifts closer, cups her cheek. His hand is burning on her skin. “I waited thirty years to feel like my life had meaning. When you died…you have no idea what I would have given to have you back and feel worthy of something again.”
His hand is trembling. Gisele swallows, unused to seeing so much in his eyes. He looks desperate and scared, and she wonders if he’s toying with the idea that she might kick him out if she’s angry enough.
“Cheating the Yakuza was the only thing that gave me any kind of thrill. I lost the fear of dying when I was a kid, but I wanted to stop feeling so numb. Now that you are back –now that you two are back, I have a lot more to lose."
She sighs, closes her eyes. She wants to be angry –she is angry, but part of her understands what he means. When she opens them again, her resolve is steel. Han has fucked up and she can yell at him all she wants later. For the time being, Maya might become a target and that is the most important part they need to remedy.
“They found out?”
“They’re suspecting something. My boss made some comment about loyalty and trust. I’m pretty low on his employee list so he’ll have no qualm getting rid of me.”
Gisele breathes in and out, sooths her irritation, and plans.
“We don’t wait,” she declares. “Pack our stuff, I’ll take care of Maya’s and check the flights from Narita. Our priority is to get out of the country. Then we can decide where to go.”
She sees him fight a relieved smile and rushes out before he does or says something that might vex her. Gisele grumbles as she gathers their identification, the necessary items for Maya and checks for anything that could be important for their impromptu escape.
She finds a flight early in the morning off to Beijing, books for the three of them, and drops a relieved sigh once the confirmation comes through. Out of reflex, she glances out the window. There are no suspicious cars in the street –all belong to her neighbors, she memorized them upon arrival, old habits hardly dies - which she takes as a good sign. Han’s boss might not think he has noticed something amiss yet. Then again, Han is a lot more perceptive than he lets on most of the time.
“Suitcases are ready,” Han announces as he carries two large duffle bags –she doesn’t drag a wardrobe with her and he only left a few shirts in her apartment. If they are fleeing the country, they will buy all the necessary goods when they arrive. They have been on the run before, they know how to do this. The hardest part will be on Maya, but Gisele knows that if she was stubborn enough to cling onto life in her belly, she will be strong enough to handle the change. At her age, as long as she is clean, well-fed and gets enough attention, she won’t complain much.
Gisele stands, hurries to Maya’s room, wraps her in her baby comforter and carries her without waking her up. They will use her car to drive to the train station, far more humble than Han’s beauty. Then they will ride to the airport, and this time, hopefully, start anew for real.
1 months later; O’Connor-Toretto residence
The barbecue is supposed to start at twelve, but since some people are running late, the present ones have no qualms at beginning to devour the chips and drink the beers. Dom and Letty have showed up early to help. Roman and Tej are both arguing about the latest so-called fashionable cars. They have both made the trip from their respective place across the world after hearing who would also be there. The news has spread around like wildfire.
Han is back in the States. For good.
Even Hobbs, when he hears, promises to stop by and say hello.
From the little news he has given, Han has settled in a nice place outside of San Francisco. It’s temporary, at least until he finds something to do, and then he’ll iron out the details. The rest of the crew can’t wait to meet him, especially since the last time anyone has seen him was at the last barbecue over a year ago. After that, he had packed his bags and flown straight to Tokyo. No news since. No-one would have known he had returned at all, had Mia not sent her customary invitation to the barbecue.
“Hey Mia, he said he was coming, right?” Roman asks when the needle stops at twelve fifteen.
Mia checks her mails again on her phone. His reply to her last message confirms his arrival at the right date, right time.
“Maybe he’s been delayed?” Brian suggests. “He did mention somewhere he was coming with his own car, right?”
The moment he speaks the words; a black Nissan slides into the street. The windows are tinted but the engine purrs, and no-one usually drives by at this hour.
“The prodigal brother returns,” Roman said enthusiastically and pulls his phone to record his arrival.
“You’ll look damn fine if it’s not him,” Tej mutters, but discreetly stands on his toes to check the car.
The car does parks in the free spot in front of their house. It is definitively Han stepping out of the driver’s seat. He looks good, in good shape and more importantly, he’s smiling.
That’s when Gisele steps out of the passenger’s seat.
The rest of the family is stunned into silence.
Han walks to the back seat, opens the door, and after a few manipulations inside, retrieves a small bundle of clothes that strangely looks like an animated doll.
Because surely, it can’t be a baby.
And then Roman drops his phone in shock because holy shit it is a baby and since when did Gisele returned from the dead-
The two walk up the steps to join the very quiet-before-the-storm group gathered on the porch. Gisele looks a bit nervous but well and very much alive. Han can’t seem to stop grinning. The baby is twisting her head, humming sounds in curiosity.
As expected, Roman breaks the silence with a very eloquent:
“What the fuck man?”
Han and Gisele exchange a glance. The baby coos in blissful obviousness. Both face together the rest of the family.
“Well,” Han says. “It’s a long story…”