Characters: Bashir, Richard, Amsha, Garak. And Kukalaka.
Warnings: Spoilers up to Doctor Bashir, I Presume.
Timeframe: Pre-series through sometime just before Call to Arms.
Length: 1,668 words.
Notes: I started this more than a year ago, and I decided to finally finish it because I am struggling with my longer stories I'm writing for NaNo. It isn't betaed, but it is revised.
Summary: Snapshots from Julian Bashir's life, from three to thirty-two.
You are three years old the first time the woman who smells like rubbing alcohol comes to your house with a bunch of pictures and drawings for you to look at. She lays out three pictures on the kitchen table and asks you which one doesn't belong.
Before the woman got there, your father told you to focus really hard on the questions she asked, so you look at the pictures for a long time. They all look kind of the same and kind of different. You look up at your mother. Her hands are clasped under her chin and there's a deep line between her eyebrows.
You say you like all of them, but the woman says again that you have to choose the one that doesn't belong. So, you point at the middle picture.
Everyone looks so disappointed, and they won't tell you why.
You are five years old when you spot Mum putting Kukalaka in the trash bin. You wait until she's gone, and you dig him out again. Something gross is on his face. You shake him until it's gone.
"Jules!" Mum runs over to you. "Jules, what are you doing? No digging in the trash! I just cleaned this floor."
She tries to take the bear away from you, but you hug him close to your chest even though he smells a little funny now like Dad's breath in the morning. There is a little tug-of-war that you win because she doesn't want to hurt your arms.
"We'll replicate you a new bear, Jules."
You shake your head.
"Why do you want this one? It's torn." She pulls at a bit of stuffing sneaking out from where his shoulder meets his neck. "We'll get you a better one. How's that?"
"You don't got to throw him away 'cause he's not best. I love Kukie."
Mum looks different all of a sudden. Like she's maybe sad or scared or angry. You hold on to Kukalaka as tight as you can, because you're starting to think you did something really bad.
Finally, she says, "Let me help you fix him."
Later, you will alter the story so that it seems like you were always a genius, but today you sit at the kitchen table with your mum and drink your juice while you watch her put Kukalaka together again.
You are nine the first time you make an honor roll.
Mum wakes you up the Saturday morning afterward, ignoring your complaints that it's too early, and you find that the living room is filled with balloons. Dad's standing in the middle of it with a big grin on his face, and he hands you a plaque. It has the list of your subjects etched into the metal, all with A's next to them, and on the top it says #1 Student.
He gives you a big, crushing hug and lets you eat ice cream for breakfast even though Mum gives him the you're-in-trouble look about it.
You sit with your dad on the sofa with five scoops of ice cream each. He makes a big mess on his shirt, but you don't spill a drop.
You are fifteen when your childhood comes to an abrupt, screeching, horrible end.
All three of you are at the kitchen table. Not the same one that your mother fixed Kukalaka on, but this bizarre curved one that your father bought from some up-and-coming designer that no one will ever hear of. Mum's the one who says the words for the first time. She has always been the most direct person in the family when she's finally pushed far enough.
"We did it for you," Father says.
"It was such a struggle for you," Mum adds.
Your arms are crossed over your chest, and you follow the lines of design on the tabletop with your eyes.
After a moment, Father asks: "Isn't there anything you want to say?"
"May I be excused?" you ask, quietly. But you don't wait for an answer. You just go to your room.
And you stand with your back against the closed door. Your heart is racing so hard that it's making you dizzy, nauseated. There isn't an emotion to describe it -- not anywhere in all the dictionary pages you know by memory, not any of the languages you'd learnt too easily.
You'd thought you were gifted. You'd thought you were special. All that time you spent in school rooms with a smirk on your face because it came so much easier to you than the other kids. Every test you've ever aced, every award you've ever won.
You were cheating.
All the lazy or dumb or mediocre kids you looked down on. All those kids who just weren't as perfect as you.
They were all better than you. Fundamentally better. Undeniably better. Because they might not have succeeded the way you did, but at least the success they did have belonged to them.
Your success belongs to some scientists on Adigeon Prime. Your success belongs to your ever-so-clever parents who traded in their disappointing little flawed mess for an improved model.
You look up, your eyes so hot and dry that it feels like they'll turn to dust in the sockets, and you see it.
That stupid plaque. That stupid plaque that you hung up there when you were nine, and you haven't taken down since.
You calmly walk across the room. Take it off the wall. And throw it straight through your window.
You are thirty-two and a Starfleet officer (still), but it doesn't feel much different than fifteen.
"I'm sorry I wasn't the one to tell you," you say quietly, not quite looking at Garak.
He is the one who is taking the news the worst, which you would usually argue with him about because it's rather hypocritical, but this is too close to the bone.
"I wasn't trying to trick you, I--"
His derisive snort interrupts you. You clench your jaw until your teeth ache.
Finally, he says, "There was no reason for you to tell me, Doctor. Of all people, I suspect I am the one you would have least reason to tell."
"It wasn't personal," you say, and you cal feel his silent disagreement from across the table. "I didn't want anyone to know. I simply didn't want to lose my job."
"Ah, Doctor, you think because you successfully hid the truth from me on this one issue, you can lie to me about anything you like?"
You frown, unable to defend yourself. You wish you could tell yourself he just doesn't understand, but after spending a few months with his father, you cannot fool yourself quite that much. You wish you could tell yourself too that it is only Garak who feels differently about you now.
Without an answer, Garak says "If you'll excuse me, Doctor," and stands to leave without eating his lunch--one of the few lunches you've had time to share with him in at least a year. You want to simply let him leave, but you speak his name almost against your will.
He looks at you curiously, waiting for you to speak again.
"I... I must seem like a fraud to you especially. Our entire friendship is built on things I probably would not have understood if I hadn't been--" You wet your lips. "Altered."
Slowly, a smile spreads across Garak's face. He rests his hand on your shoulder. "Of the two of us, I would hardly call you the fraudulent one."
You rest your hand on his, and you leave it there until it slips away and he is gone. You try to finish your lunch, but you give up. That old feeling of not being good enough has risen in your throat, and you cannot swallow around it.
The night after you got Kukalaka back from Leeta, you take him back off the shelf you just put him up on, and you set him on your knees to stare at him.
It is not a question. If there were all the stuffed bears in all the universe to choose from, Kukie would probably be the last that anyone else would choose. He was cheaply made to begin with--the fabric tears easily, and the stitching is shoddy--and he was never meant to be fixed. Only replaced.
You laugh weakly at yourself, and you remember when you were fifteen and you found Kukie again. You were tearing through old boxes finding every lie and throwing it out. It was meant to be catharsis, but it only made you more and more numb as you stripped away everything that you thought was you but which had been something else. Some perfect child your parents had molded.
You found Kukie lying at the bottom of one of those boxes, musty and forgotten. One of his eyes had fallen off and the fabric was worn away in spots. You stared at him for a long time until, reverently, you picked him up out of the old progress reports and top-of-the-class essays and awards. You held him to your chest, gently to keep him from falling to rags in your hands, and you leaned against the walls beside you.
For a long time, you stayed like that. A fifteen year old boy clutching his stuffed bear trying to be too adult to cry.
Perhaps you have not come very far since then, because you find yourself holding that raggedy old bear against your chest--experimentally at first, then fiercely, as though someone might try to take him from you.
You are not sure how you can feel such affection for an inanimate object so poorly constructed he's more a collection of patches than a bear. But if you can love him just as he is, you tell yourself, and not as he could be, maybe someday someone will do the same for you.