sulu: is awesome

Sulu ficlet: Second Choice is Best Choice

Title: Second Choice is Best Choice
Character: Sulu
Rating: PG-13
Summary: for the prompt "flight school wasn't his first choice" at eppic' Sulu off. Cleaned up since I originally posted it.

Sulu grows up on a smuggling ship. He thinks it's normal for a good ten years, until he and his dad try to smuggle an enslaved Orion woman to freedom, but she's discovered by the crew and she kills herself because every second she's alive in their possession is a chance for something to happen to her that's even worse than death. He realizes then it's not a normal life, and the crew of this ship are not normal people if someone as good as Amaia would kill herself to get away from them. And so, for a long time, his ambition is to be normal. He doesn't even know what that means, really, except that it probably involves wearing a suit and working in an office and having a wife and a dog (probably a lab) and two children (one boy and one girl). And it is nothing he could learn or do here.

So, when most of the kids his age are learning to download porn, he quietly downloads Peterson's Guide to the 258 Best Universities in the Federation, reads up on standardized tests, and contemplates a list of the ten most stable professions. He reads these things late at night, facing the wall with his covers pulled over his head, so his father won't guess what he's up to. It works for a few months, maybe even a year, before he starts to tip his hand. Once he asks his friend Dominique about her future, and when she stares at him blankly, he realizes that no one here expects to do anything other than exactly what they are doing now.

Have a good run. Make a few credits. Blow it on booze or a whore, hopefully have enough left over for food and cigarettes till the next take. If they're lucky, they'll pull of a really big job, the kind that people talk about for years. Maybe they'll kill someone and inherit a ship; maybe they'll get one legitimately. As legitimately as anyone gets anything around here, anyway. Those are the options, except they're not really options because nobody ever chooses them; they just happen.

He doesn't know which is more shocking: the realization that he's so different from all of them, or the sudden discovery that his dad is just like them.

"What did you want to be when you grew up, Dad?" he asks one night, probably because all those articles and guides have convinced him this is a question normal people would ask.

His father looks up, fixing him with the same appraising stare he uses on people who come to him with a job and people he wants to con (who, to be honest, are quite often the same). It doesn't last long before he looks back down at his plate and grunts, "You are who you are. Best accept that."

Then he picks up another bite and swallows noisily, and the moment is gone, never to be spoken of again. Or so Sulu thinks, except that he really shouldn't underestimate his dad. Sulu brushes his teeth before bed, and when he steps out of the head, his father is standing in the center of the room with his college research padd in his hands.

"You decide to leave, you be careful," he says, and Sulu nods back curtly. He's right. The crew wouldn't hurt him, or at least he doesn't think so. There's a loose kind of honor on the ship, one that prohibits doing permanent harm to one of their own. But then, if he wants to leave, maybe he's not one of them any more, and it's best not to test that. So he works the cons and stashes the merchandise and sticks to wearing hand-me-down flightsuits and military surplus from a hundred different civilizations no matter how badly he wants to look like the nice, clean, normal people in all the college brochures. And he learns to fly. First they need a getaway pilot, and when he's good at that, they promote him to the helm because he's the only one who can pick his way through asteroids, minefields, and Federation security buoys. He doesn't think about liking it or not liking it; he's just grateful to be good at it because it keeps his belly full till he can escape. Three years later, he's the best pilot for parsecs, and he's starting to feel the pull of this world's ambition. He gets a good take, even on the jobs he doesn't work, because the ship can't do without him. He's solid and dependable enough to be trustworthy, but good enough at smuggling to prove he's really one of them. People talk to him sometimes, ask if he'd take them on a ship of his own, and he knows instinctively who he'd trust and who he'd just as soon toss out the airlock.

One morning he wakes up and there's twice as many credits in his account as there should be, and he tells his dad there must have been a mistake.

"No mistake," his dad says, and keeps shoveling scrambled eggs into his mouth till the truth sinks in.

"Dad, you need that -- "

"If you're going to leave, now's the time. Else you'll be here for good."

It's true. He thinks about a lifetime running from the law, trapped in dingy corridors, living from take to take and job to job. He thinks of his captain, stripped of his humanity so slowly he didn't even notice it going. He wouldn't become that, would he? But then, what had he said to himself, just a few days ago? That he knew who to keep and who he'd just as soon toss out an airlock. Maybe he'd only said it in his head, and he knew he didn't really mean it. But the day would come when he would have to toss someone out an airlock, and that would be the first step to becoming the kind of person escaped slaves killed themselves to get away from. He can feel the blood draining from his face. He pushes his breakfast aside, the first time in his entire life he's broken the sacred rule to eat everything that's put before him because who knows where the next meal is coming from.

"Hikaru," his father says warning. "You can take the boy off the pirate ship..."

Months later, in a dirty alley in San Francisco, he realizes it was the last time anyone ever called him a boy. He and his father had parted without fanfare. He left in the night on one of the smuggling shuttles after transferring an appropriate number of credits to the captain's account. He couldn't risk them coming after his father after he was gone.

"You be all right, Dad?" he'd asked, and his father had nodded back, a clenched jaw his only sign of emotion.

"You be all right?" his father had asked back, and Sulu had responded with his own curt nod. They'd hugged once, clapping each other on the back like men do, and then he was gone. It took a few months to get to Earth, where he transferred all his credits to an organization that was a little better at rescuing Orion slaves than he and his father had been. Then he got a job at a restaurant in San Francisco, washing dishes and dragging crates of produce to the walk-in till someone pressed him into service on the line. He was good at that too, so he worked double shifts and told himself he was saving for college even though he never could figure out exactly what he wanted to do. Walking home late at night, he'd look up at the stars and think of his dad, who had loved him enough to let him go. It was stupid to feel sad, really. So many people, even here in the bastion of normalcy he called Earth, never had a family at all, and he'd had the good fortune to be loved for a good sixteen years. But he missed his dad. Maybe that was why he never could stop looking up at the stars, charting courses around the gravitational pull of imaginary planets and moons.

Then one day an ad for Starfleet caught his eye. It was different from the others, which all promised a lifetime of adventure or called on young men and women to be all they could be. This one was a photo that looked almost candid. An Andorian, a Tellarite, and two humans lounged against each other, uniforms undone. They looked tired, like they'd just come back from a tough mission, but they were laughing and smiling with sparkling eyes. Beneath them, in block letters, the caption said, "Starfleet: The Best Family You'll Ever Have."

He didn't bother with any of the cramped, dimly lit enlistment offices littered around the city; he went straight to the Academy. There was a recruitment center there too, bigger and more brightly lit, staffed by purposeful-looking people in several different types of uniforms.

A gray-haired man behind the counter looked him up and down with the same kind of appraising look his father had, but without all the sharp edges. Like he'd gotten his wrinkles from laughing instead of worrying.

"What do you want to do, kid?" the man asked.

"I want to fly," Sulu said. He was home.
Oh, this is delightful. It explains so much about Sulu. :D
Oh god I love this, and thank you for the link to the Sulu fest,there really isn't enough Sulu fic in the world!

I love the idea of Sulu hungering for more, but not sure what it is he's looking for, except that it's not this.
Okay, so, I love normal-American-kid-who-grew-up-in-SF Sulu, possibly because I'm from SF too, and maybe because in AOS he seems like the only candidate for "normal American kid", given how messed up Kirk's life is. But something about the quiet toughness of this fic really resonated with my general image of Sulu, so I get behind this backstory too.
Sulu centric fic is everything I was hoping for on this 3 day mission of searching through livejournal. Thank you so much for writing this!