Title: the journey, not the destination

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: Luke unfolds the map across the hood of the car, shaking out the sharp pleats and smoothing it flat with a brisk hand. 1000 words.

Spoilers: Tag for "Safe" (2012)

Notes: For lyonie17 in Yuletide 2012. Gen. Because road trips. And Jason Statham.

Luke unfolds the map across the hood of the car, shaking out the sharp pleats and smoothing it flat with a brisk hand. New day, new state: new plan. They're nowhere near Seattle yet, but that's more in the nature of a goal than a deadline. It'll be months yet before the next school year starts.

"Here," he says, stabbing a finger at a dot just off one of the marked highways. "This is where we are. Where to next?"

Mei cracks the lid on her bottle of juice, still chilled from the convenience store fridge, and takes a sip as she eyes the map. She has something close to an eidetic memory, Luke knows, and she'd picked up half a dozen tourist brochures from the motel lobby when they were eating their complementary waffles that morning. She probably has half a dozen possible destinations in mind.

"Here," she says after a moment, reaching out to cover the state capital with one small fingertip. A spiderweb of thick yellow lines joins up to circle a city there: the Crossroads of America.

"Indianapolis?" Luke replies, furrowing his brow. They haven't exactly been avoiding metropolitan areas – at least, not those where neither Han Jiao's people nor Emile Docheski's have any real interest – but they've mostly kept to the back roads to avoid leaving a trail. Or, in Mei's words – bad business. "What's interesting about Indianapolis?"

She shrugs, affecting nonchalance. "It's the twelfth largest city in America," she says. "Eight hundred twenty-nine thousand seven hundred eighteen people, last census. Murder rate five times the national average in 2005."

He wonders what pamphlet she got that last fact out of, or if it's something still rattling around in her head from her time with Uncle Han. Something no child should have to think about.

"And? What else?" he prompts her.

He can handle taking out a little more garbage while they're there, if he has to. Lord knows, he's got no problem leaving a community cleaner than he found it; it's only good guest policy, and a higher crime rate might give him the opportunity to pick up some of the fifty thousand he and Mei still owe the Triads. He'd taken as much cash as he could from the Russians' credit cards, but that'll only go so far.

Still, he wants to make sure there's more than just 'good business' to each stop they make. Mei's one of the most practical people he's ever met, but she is only eleven. And if Luke has to use his own unfamiliarity with Middle America to get her to take a few moments to be a kid, he's got no problem playing tourist. Unlike him, she's still young enough to bounce back from everything she's been through, given enough opportunity to heal and pursue her own interests.

Mei makes a considering face and fiddles with the hem of her shirt. They'd gone shopping for new clothes after securing their insurance policies, exchanging her cotton dress and hooded sweater for jeans and screen print tees. It's helped her blend in better, even look a little older – though not enough to turn aside suspicious looks from small minded folk whose first thought is not 'mixed-race family'. Today's shirt is a faded purple with ornate scribbles shaped like guitars, purchased at a theme restaurant in Louisville that had made her eyes light up with curiosity.

"There's a canal, and a monument, where the road goes in a circle," she says, then hesitates, just long enough for Luke to take note. "And a museum, with sculptures outside."

Sounded like a pretty place. But – "Sculptures? Of people?"

The first image to come to mind is that famous guy propping his chin on his fist. But Mei's spent the last year playing human calculator; he doubts she's had the time to cultivate an interest in classical artforms.

Mei bites her lip, shaking her head. "No. There's ninety-two of them, on the walls outside. Like symbols, one for each county. And a steam powered clock that plays music every fifteen minutes!"

"A steam powered clock?" Luke raises his eyebrows at that, bemused by her enthusiasm for the subject. "I've heard about the one in Chelsea Farmer's Market, but I'm pretty sure that one doesn't run anymore."

She nods, the corner of her mouth tucking up in a tiny, pleased smile. "This one does. It's the only one in America."

"You got a thing for clocks? Or steam?" he has to ask. Most of what he knows about fine machinery has to do with circumventing it, not maintaining it. "Like, what d'you call it, that Steampunk stuff?"

She shakes her head again, smile brightening in amusement. "Not clocks," she says, darting another glance up at him as if to gauge his reaction. "I don't know machines. Not good business for me to learn. But – it's unique. And it has function, but that's not why it was built. It makes no profit. Someone just put it there for it to be."

Unless you count tourism revenue, Luke supposes. But he knows what she means. She's not the only one who's been used.

Might be nice to start creating things, rather than tearing them down. He'll have to make sure that gifted school in Seattle's got an artistic track of some kind, or they might have to look for another.

"Indianapolis it is then," he replies, and refolds the map.

It doesn't quite fit back into its previous tightly packed shape – cheap atlases aren't made for ease of reuse. But Mei's started a collection, highlighted with the places they've been, and that's another habit Luke doesn't mind encouraging. It's easier to keep an old life separate from the new when you have physical evidence of the distance between them.

He smiles as she tucks it away and rolls up his cuffs. Day's a bit warmer than he'd been expecting. He might just have to pick up a tourist tee shirt of his own today, to match.