sulu

Fic: Lucky in This Life (Sulu, gen)

Title: Lucky in This Life
Characters: Mainly Sulu and his mother, with appearances by Spock, Uhura, and McCoy
Rating: Teen
Content Advisory: Discussion of death and grieving
Summary: Sulu's mother was the captain of the Farragut, and she died in the Battle of Vulcan. Or so he thought.
Notes: Thank you to thistlerose for the beta, and to everyone who encouraged me to get this finished. This is a prequel to The Place Where They Have to Take You In, though both stories stand alone.
Word count: 3500



It took Hikaru nearly a whole day to figure out his mother was probably dead. It hit him suddenly back in his quarters, where he was holding a bag of frozen peas over his black eye because raiding the mess hall had seemed easier than waiting in Sickbay's triage line. His mom had taught him this trick a long time ago, the last time she had had a posting on a starbase and they could live together. And then he realized that, fuck, some of the wreckage out there had been the Farragut, and his mom was probably dead.

But what was he supposed to do with that knowledge? He waited to feel something, but the sadness wouldn't come. Neither would guilt, or anger, or anything else he expected people felt when someone very important died. He just lay there on his bunk, holding the bag of peas over his eye, feeling stupid and vaguely confused. His hand twitched for his communicator, but he pulled it back. He wasn't sure who to call, and anyway, what was he going to say?

Somewhat mechanically, he rose from the bed and deposited the peas on his night table, where they would probably melt and make a puddle. He looked at them stupidly for a moment, paralyzed by indecision, and then marched out the door, leaving the peas behind. Driven by a sudden, deep desire to fix something, he let his feet lead him to Engineering, where rumor had it that Mr. Scott was not turning down any willing hands.

Soon he was ensconced in a Jeffries tube, his fingers slowly braiding together red, yellow, and green wires. The simple, repetitive work soothed his mind, kind of like doing kata, except with less likelihood that someone would stop him to ask about his sword. My mother is dead, he thought. It didn't seem real. Captain A.N. Matapeng of the U.S.S. Farragut perished in an ambush while attempting to rescue billions of Vulcans from the destruction of their home world, he tried. Still not real.

He snipped off a spare bit of wire and the sharp edge grazed his thumb. He studied the blood for a moment before he wiped it on his tunic, which smelled of smoke, and he tried to picture how she had died. Had she even known what was happening, he wondered, or had Nero simply blown the Farragut to pieces before anyone could even process the sight of the Narada on the viewscreen? He hoped she had had a moment to think; it seemed unfair that a woman as vibrant as his mother might have been killed – no, destroyed – without a chance to form at least a final thought. He pictured her on her bridge, shouting one last command to fire. She would have watched the torpedoes sail out before the ship split apart around her, and she would have thought, at least I can take you out with me. Then nothing. Yeah, that would have been alright. He snapped the wires back into place and the control panel glowed with blue and green light. He swallowed against something tight and hot in his throat and crawled toward the next broken control panel.

There wouldn't be a body, he supposed. The thought didn't bother him now, but he wondered if it would at the funeral. He didn't know; he had only been to two funerals before, and neither of them had been for anyone close. Maybe it would be easier. He would not have to decide what to do with her remains. He did not know if she would want to be buried, or cremated, or have her ashes scattered or her body launched into space. He had wondered about that, off and on since he was old enough to realize that Starfleet was dangerous and not just cool, but he had always been too much of a wuss to ask. There were a lot of things he hadn't asked, actually, and suddenly they all seemed very important. The plasma drill slipped, and small, hot sparks showered down on his face. He let them burn for a moment before brushing them away.

Regret is illogical, he thought, and he remembered that Spock had lost his mother yesterday too. Her remains were out there too, probably mingling with his mother's. It was a kind of nice thought, that she wasn't alone. That she was out there with other people's mothers. Maybe, he thought, he could go hang out with Spock. “My mother died too,” he'd say, and they could both be logical about death together. Or maybe not. He realized with a start that he had finished repairing the control panel. He snapped the cover shut and crawled toward the next one.

He did not come out of the Jeffries tube until Dr. McCoy poked his head through a hatch several hours later.

“Scotty says you've been up here for six hours. It's time to come down, kid. Doctor's orders.”

Oddly, it was being called 'kid' that finally broke him. The lump in his throat did not go away this time, no matter how many times he swallowed. Tears began to trickle down his cheeks, slowly at first, then so quickly that he could not distinguish the individual drops. He shoved his fist against his mouth and bit down on his knuckles so that he at least would not make a noise. He should have been embarrassed, but instead he thought, my mother deserves this. My mother deserves at least this much grief.

The doctor crawled into the Jeffries tube with him. It was awkward – McCoy was tall – but he managed to put an arm around him, and Sulu leaned against his shoulder. His father hadn't been around when he was a kid, and he had never missed him, but now he thought it might have been nice to have had one.

“It's all right, kid, let it out,” McCoy was saying. Sulu thought he felt the doctor's arm tighten around his shoulders. “We're all hurtin' today.”

***


He did not tell anyone what had happened. He didn't want to say the words.

Spock was the first to figure it out. They were alone on the observation deck, trying to repair damage to the sensor array. A pink and gold nebula spread out in front of them. Sulu hadn't known it existed before, but then, he had never traveled through this quadrant on impulse power either.

“Lieutenant Sulu, may I make a personal inquiry?” Spock asked. His voice was different from the brisk, efficient tone he used to give orders, and Sulu nodded hesitantly.

“Your mother was the captain of the Farragut, was she not?”

Sulu nodded.

“She was.”

Speaking about her in the past tense did not break him.

“I grieve with thee.”

They lingered on the observation deck for a long time after that, staring out at the stars. He found Spock up there once or twice over the following days. The first time, he left. The second time, he only got one foot out the door before Spock said, “Lieutenant, it is better not to grieve alone.”

He stayed.

It got easier after that. Even though he and his mother didn't share a surname, it wasn't exactly a secret that he was the son of a Starfleet captain. No one asked him directly, but they figured it out. McCoy and Uhura took turns making sure he ate enough to keep going, and Chekov, whom he had barely known at the Academy, made sure he wasn't alone unless he wanted to be, even though rumor had it that the kid was dealing with a loss of his own. Kirk invited him over to watch holovids when they came off beta shift together, and it gave him an excuse to fall asleep on the captain's couch when the silence of his quarters was too much to bear.

He never had to speak the words, “my mother is dead,” which was perhaps the kindest thing of all.

He shouldn't have been surprised though. The whole point of Starfleet was that someone always had your back.

Three days after the battle, he made a pact with Chekov, Uhura, and Kirk to stop watching news and reading lists of KIAs and MIAs. The rest of the crew followed suit. Now there was nothing but the Enterprise and her repairs in front of them, and it made them feel like they were going forward even though most of them still had goodbyes to say to their pasts.

After reassuring his grandmother, four aunts, and approximately fourteen cousins that he was alright, Sulu stopped checking his inbox. He did not want to answer questions or read condolences, and he could not live with the constant – and constantly disappointed – expectation that a message would appear from a friend he had assumed to be dead. That was why he didn't find out his mother was alive until they docked at Utopia Planetia.

The hangar bay, normally crowded and bustling, was cavernous and empty. He stopped and stared.

“Where is everyone?” he asked. He'd been here hundreds of times to greet his mother at the end of her missions and later, to embark on simulated missions of his own. Each time, the docking bays had been full and hangar floor had been crowded with maintenance personnel, equipment, and Starfleet officers moving back and forth between the ships.

“We're the only ones who came back,” Uhura said simply. Sulu hadn't realized she'd followed him off the ship. It was kind of her, he thought.

The bay grew louder as more of the Enterprise's crew streamed from the ship. A small crowd of friends and relatives waited on the other side of the bay, and at the very edge, Sulu saw his mother. His heart leaped, and then he shook his head to clear it. It wasn't her; it couldn't be her. He looked away hastily.

“I'm an idiot,” he said, more loudly than he realized. Uhura looked at him sharply, which didn't stop him from adding “I'm a fucking idiot.” He figured he deserved it for being the kind of sentimental fool who imagined he saw his dead mother waiting for him at the shuttle port. His mother deserved better than being mistaken for the first vaguely similar-looking lady in a gold tunic and captain's stripes, and hell, he deserved better than making himself the victim of his own sad delusions.

“Hey, is that your mom?” Uhura said, standing close behind him. Then her mouth opened and shut a couple times before she stuttered out, “I'm sorry. Of course it's not. I'm tired. I'm sorry.”

“It's okay,” Sulu said softly. “I thought so too at first.”

And she was walking toward him, slowly at first but gaining speed when Spock said, “Your mother is no longer among those listed as missing in action.” Spock was scrolling through a padd, and for some reason, Sulu watched that instead of looking at the woman who was increasingly obviously his mother. There was a news story on the screen. The headline said Miracle Survivor of the U.S.S. Farragut and there was a picture of his mom next to it. It was one of the publicity photos that the recruiting office had taken, and when he was a kid, he had scaled it down and carried a copy in his wallet with an equal measure of reverence and resentment.

“I believe that woman is your mother,” Spock said, which meant it would be perfectly logical for Sulu to turn around and run to her. Except he couldn't. He could not, no matter how hard he tried, believe that it was her, and he really wanted to postpone the moment when he and this woman had to accept that their happy reunion was actually a tragic case of mistaken identity. So he stared at the article on Spock's padd a little longer, pretending that his feet weren't glued to the ground and he could move anytime he wanted to. He listened to his mother's footfalls on the metal deck growing faster and faster until finally they stopped behind him. His heart thumped wildly; she clamped a hand over his shoulder, then let go almost convulsively. He could imagine her, the exact expression on her face, when she realized that there were all these people and she did not show affection easily, especially not to her son who had always preferred a good sparring match to an embrace, her son who had said awful things he did not mean the last time he saw her... He knew all of those things in a single split second, which meant he knew it was her, which meant it was safe at last to turn around because his mother really was not dead.

“Mom.”

His voice was very small, and the one word really wasn't enough, but then her arms were around him and maybe he was crying, but he didn't care. This was his mother. She was beautiful; she was tough; she was frequently absent, never quite soft enough, and nothing like the mother of anyone else he had never known. Above all, she was his, and without her, he would never have had the stars. And she was alive. Yeah, Sulu thought, that was worth crying over, even on a crowded hangar deck in front of half a dozen people whose respect he would quite literally die for. It was, after all, the best day of his life.

***


His mom's apartment was just like he remembered it. He sat for a minute, trying to figure out how it could be so clean without feeling spartan. He hadn't appreciated it before. The walls were buttery yellow, the dishes were brightly colored, and holographs flickered comfortingly on the walls. Looking at all those smiling pictures of the two of them together made him feel guilty for assuming they were headed to his Lola's place in the Philippines when his mom had said, “Let's go home.” He wondered if she knew that was what he'd thought, if that was why they were staring at each other awkwardly across the pale blond planks of the kitchen table. He realized suddenly that he had no idea what you say to the sole survivor of a destroyed starship.

“Are you --”

“Don't ask me if I'm okay.” Her voice was hard and husky, like maybe she'd been crying before, but Sulu couldn't tell. “It's a stupid question, and I'm tired of being asked.”

“Well, are you? Okay, I mean.”

How could he possibly not ask that question?

“I'm alive. I guess that counts for something.”

“Yeah. Counts for a lot actually.”

He had a sudden horrible thought that maybe she was sorry to be alive. She was a captain, a good captain. Maybe she would rather have gone down with her ship. I dare you to tell me you wish you were dead, he thought, and wondered if she understood the fierceness on his face.

They stared at each other for a minute, mirror images with gold command tunics and half-faded black eyes. Finally, his mother cracked half a smile.

“What's first? Food or sleep?”

“Food,” they said together, and it was so like his mom to answer her own question that he grinned. She was up from her seat, keys in hand, in one fluid motion and then they walked out the door together, pace perfectly matched. At the supermarket, they filled the cart with beer and potato chips and candy bars, and yeah, maybe one or two little tubs of pre-made icing. It was revolting, but dammit, he liked it. When he came back from the frozen section with a couple gallons of ice cream, he caught his mother hiding jars of tamarind paste and fish sauce behind the junk food.

“Sinigang?” he asked, hardly daring to hope, but then he caught himself and added, “Not that you have to, you know, cook for me. Not today.”

It was selfish, but he really did want that sinigang.

“I need to,” she said. “You're my crew now.”

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” There really was nothing else to say to someone who looked as simultaneously hopeful and devastated as his mother right now.

***


Late in the evening, when the sinigang was almost gone, Sulu remembered he had important things to say. Things he should have said a long time ago, and really, how could he have forgotten them now? What kind of wuss was he, that he hadn't apologized to his mother as soon as he saw her? He scrubbed his face with his hand, and his mother's head snapped up, concerned.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said hastily, and the rest of the words stuck in his throat. He tried again. “The last time we saw each other, I, uh, said some things.”

Said some things did not cover it. They were not even things that he, as an adult, thought. They were things he had thought when he was twelve or fifteen, and somehow, because he had carried them for so long without the courage to say them, they had had to come out. Naturally, in the most terrible and painful way possible. Afterward, they had pretended that nothing had happened, but he could still feel the weight of his words looming over every conversation they had. He had wanted to apologize, but nothing had ever felt equal to what he had said before. So instead he had aced every flight simulation and sent his mother the score, sometimes with little notes about the things she'd said that helped him out. And he'd intended to graduate as close to the top of his class as possible. He couldn't get to number one – he'd been fucked as soon as James T. Kirk walked onto that recruiting shuttle, although he hadn't known it then – but if he got close enough, he hoped he could show his mother that he hadn't meant any of it. He didn't hate her for going away; without her example, he never would have found the stars. It was a good plan, and it probably would have worked, except that he had almost died before his graduation, and so had she. And she would have died alone in outer space without knowing that he wasn't angry, he was grateful, and he loved her more than he had ever loved anyone in his life. He couldn't risk her not knowing that, ever again.

“The things I said... They weren't...”

“Doesn't matter,” she said. Snapped, really. That intensity was the only way she knew to say how much he was forgiven. He was getting better at decoding her as he got older.

“Hey,” he said, making his voice as soft as hers was sharp. “Let me say this.”

He was getting better at contradicting her as he got older too.

She shook her head.

“No. It really doesn't matter. It didn't before, but if there was ever day to come home with no questions asked and no apologies needed, this is it.”

“But you know I'm sorry, right?”

She smiled and ruffled his hair, which he allowed with a minimum of eye rolling.

“Yes. Absolutely. You think I couldn't see it on your face every time we talked? Now let me make your bed.”

“Mom. I'm not going to go to sleep and leave you here alone.”

“Of course you are. You haven't slept.”

“Have you?”

“There aren't exactly lots of things to do while adrift on an emergency escape pod.”

She was lying. It seemed more humane not to call her on it.

“Feeding you and putting you to bed is what I am here for.”

It was the kind of thing everyone's mother said, except that she was gripping his shoulder so tight it actually frightened him a little. She relaxed her hand slowly and carefully, like letting go of him was something she had to will herself to do. He could hear what she didn't say -- feeding you and putting you to bed is why I survived – and he swallowed hard.

“I...it will make it better. Please, Hikaru.”

“Okay.” He wondered how many people had asked her if they could do anything to help. He was probably the only one she'd asked for anything.

It was embarrassing, really, how easy it was to fall asleep. The world was fading to black when he felt a blanket fall over his shoulders. He reached back to shrug it off – it was too hot for heavy covers – before he realized that his mother must be tucking him in. He grabbed her hand instead and held on tight till he felt her settle on the edge of his bed, the fingers of her other hand raking through his hair. I will give you whatever I have to give, he thought, and hoped that she could hear it in the strength of his hand wrapped around hers.
This ... is ... amazing. *blinks in awe* I ... just holy crap, it's amazing! I mean, considering my all-encompassing love of Sulu, it was a good bet I'd enjoy this fic, but I think that this is one of the most lovely Sulu stories ever and one of the most touching post-Narada grief fics I've read. Powerful and touching. I teared up several times during this.

The details about his realization and how he didn't feel anything but thought that he probably should. And how he kept busy and how amazing the crew was and how he never had to say it and how they protect and look out for one another (oh, Enterprise crew love and that family-like atmosphere, so much love) The details about Chekov suddenly being around constantly and Kirk making it easy for him to crash on his couch and Spock's solidarity and grief.

And I particularly loved the lines that showed the realism of his reactions-- the non-polished, pretty thoughts. The silly or random asides, those very real reactions-- because we never grieve according to those "proper" grieving procedures that everyone thinks we're to follow. Oh my gosh, my heart. Maybe, he thought, he could go hang out with Spock. “My mother died too,” he'd say, and they could both be logical about death together. Or maybe not. That line slayed me, because it's so ridiculous but so genuine at the same time and I just want to hug them so tightly and sob onto their shoulders and wipe away all the tears that those damn stoic boys aren't crying.

And the scenes with his mother were so beautiful. I love their relationship and how it's not perfect and how they've had their issues and how she's terse and tough and a little brusque but how deeply she loves her son and how much she needs to take care of him, because she doesn't know what else to do. Their mutual grief is devastating and oh my gosh, I'm all shiny-eyes and wanting to cuddle my dear, wonderful Hikaru and his amazing, strong, beautiful, hard-ass but soft underneath mother.

I'm incoherent. I love this. Goodness gracious. You and your ways of making me sob and love Hikaru even more than ever. I'm all heart-achey and full of joy and still all teary-eyed.
You always leave the best feedback, and I never know how to properly thank you for its awesomeness! I'm so glad their stoicism worked for you; I really struggle to make male characters feel like *men* and I think the way they handle emotions is a big part of it. And I'm so, so glad that his grief reactions seemed genuine. I leaned a lot on the episode of Buffy where her mother died for help with that. Really, thank you for this comment - I worked on this story off and on for eight months, so it means a lot that it worked for you!
Thank you so much! I'm really glad you thought it hit the right balance between emotion and angst.
Hoyl F@#$ this is awesome. I love distancing of Hikaru from his emotions and then how they hit him at last. I love that his mom is really alive. I REALLY love how what they do is go buy garbage loads of junk food, because that's what people DO when the world hits them.

Just LOVE, bb.
Thank you so much! I worked on this story months and months, and it means a lot that you liked it :)
This really, really wonderful. Both Sulu coming to grips with thinking her dead and then being her life line when she is struggling with being the only survivor.
This really kicked butt.

> He hoped she had had a moment to think; it seemed unfair that a woman as vibrant as his mother might have been killed – no, destroyed – without a chance to form at least a final thought. He pictured her on her bridge, shouting one last command to fire.

So broke my heart. Most people would want it to be painless-- that's what I thought. And here's this whole different perspective. Wonderful.

> Maybe, he could go hang out with Spock... and they could both be logical about death together.

Such an amazing thought. And then it happens. Really great insight.

I love that all of Starfleet has your back-- and you show that. Really wonderful piece.
Thank you! I always thought that one of the saddest things in the movie was knowing all those people were probably obliterated before they even knew what was happening; it seems like such a terrible, unfair way to go. I'm glad you enjoyed that perspective. Thank you for leaving such a lovely comment!
Very thoughtful, layered and, though sad, oddly comforting story about family, loss and social support and growing closer after time and some tough choices. Wonderful. Thank you for sharing. :-)
This is absolutely amazing. *sniffles* It all feels so real -- Sulu's numb reaction to the loss at first, and his inability to believe that it really was his mom coming toward him. Because I'm me, I loved the little moment with McCoy being all fatherly (♥Bones♥), and the last scene between Sulu and his mom is really powerful.
Thank you so much! I've been working on this off and on for eight whole months, so it means a lot that you liked it this much :)
I'm reading this with a little child tantrumming in the background, thinking abnout family, with twears in my eyes.

*hugs you*
*dashes to deal with little child*
Oh this was wonderful. So heartfelt and I don't know why, but the image of Sulu up in the Jeffries tube is so wrenching. And then McCoy coming in and holding him... My h/c buttons, let me show you them.
Thank you so much! This story took me forever to write, so it means a lot that you enjoyed it!