Notes: A very odd oneshot, completely open to interpretation, and possibly nonsensical.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
He never believed in...
The first time...
The first time, he was just a kid. He was nine years old, and it was high summer, and Gramma had died. Momma said she'd gone to sleep, but Len was old enough to know the difference. You didn't bury sleeping people; you didn't put 'em in boxes.
They put her in a box and buried her, and then everybody sat around Grampy's house and sat how she weren't suffering no more, but Len knows the truth. He's been to church. Gramma weren't no angel, and she ain't gone to Heaven, 'cause there's a million sins that send you to Hell, like killin' people and stealin' and bein' a faggot. Gramma weren't no angel. They buried her, and her soul's in Hell.
He ran. Not away, no point in runnin' away 'cause God and the government find everybody, but he ran. The asphalt was sticky under his shoes, and Poppa was gonna take the belt to him if he ruined his Sunday shoes, but Len didn't care. He just ran. It was sticky-hot, and he threw away his jacket somewhere between the school playin' fields and the park, and the narrow alley between the tennis courts was covered in dust, and it flew up like a sandstorm.
He stopped runnin' when he hit the brook. It weren't much of anything – a muddy bank under the flyover – but it was lonely, and there was nobody with a sad face and the Holy Book, and he ruined his Sunday shoes.
"I hate you," he told the water – a trickle, in the summer. Not even a reflection. "I hate y'all. I hate you, and I hate Momma, and I hate Gramma, and I hate God."
And then he looked up and there was this other kid.
He didn't scream. Course he didn't. But the other kid just came outta nowhere and he was all creepy-lookin' – 'cause who wears long sleeves in Georgia in the summer, huh? And he had this dumbass (yeah, dumbass, 'cause it's not like God's gonna tell Momma) haircut and he looked like a dweeb and Len could take him.
"Who the hell are you?"
The kid was just standing in the mud, only he didn't leave no footprints, and he just stared.
"You deaf or somethin'?"
"So answer me!"
"Who are you?" the kid parrotted, and Len clenched his fists.
"I could take you," he challenged.
The kid said nothin', and he was all creepy in his long sleeves, and maybe he was some kind of idiot. Momma had rules about that kinda thing.
Len walked away. When he looked back, at the back of the tennis courts, the kid was gone, but there weren't any footprints.
Someone wrote in his prayer book, and Momma shouted at him and sent him to bed without any dessert.
He was a bit older, the second time. It was summer again, just as hot as the first time, and he had hid from the heat in the attic, away from Momma and Aunt Isobel arguing – about him, about just like Stephen, and Marianne, Stephen was...
Uncle Stephen was dead like Gramma, that was what Uncle Stephen was. Len wasn't stupid. He knew the story – everybody knew the story, and he wasn't a little kid anymore. Uncle Stephen saw the devil in a packet of fuckin' cornflakes and blew his own head off with a sawn-off shotgun, that's what Uncle Stephen did. And your Lenny, Marianne, your Lenny...
Nobody ever came up in the attic. If he needed someplace to go, away from the idiots at school and Momma's fussin' and flappin' and the sheer boredom of the summer months, with no place to go but the swimmin' baths or the movie theatre showing chick flicks and shit (not like Momma could read his brain)...
Nobody ever came up in the attic, not since Gramma'd died and all her stuff had been put away. Her writin' desk was in the corner under the skylight; window was broken, and it was covered in bat droppings. They'd be up if Momma and Auntie Isobel didn't shut up. And he hide from the heat, tucked outta the way behind the boxes of Christmas decorations and a whole pile of framed family pictures from way back when he was a baby, and he watched the dust dancin' in the sunlight comin' in through the broken glass.
"He might not be sociable but that don't make him no freak, Isobel!" Momma shrieked, and the dust jumped in the air.
Someone had been writin' on the inside of the window; there were grease smears, and when Len looked close enough, peering up through the sunlight and the dust, he could make it out.
Only it wasn't on the inside, but the out.
Sometimes, he dreamed.
Father Parker would deliver his sermon at the towering pulpit, condeming the sinners and the damned and the nigger-lovers to an eternity of being sodomised by Satan with a flamin' pitchfork while the lesbians poured salt on their genitals and jeered, and then the hellfire would swallow him whole and leave the whole land like dust, ashes in the wind – and out of the ashes would walk a young man in heavy dark robes in a cold wind. His name would be smeared across an orange sky in green blood, and he would leave no footprints in the ash of a ruined world.
"Of whom shall I be afraid, Leonard?" he would ask.
Sometimes, Len would wake to a cold sweat and a hot breeze ghosting in from his bedroom window.
Others, he would wake and wish to sleep again.
He was seventeen years old, and the church cast long shadows in the grass outside. The sermon was long since over, and his Sunday shoes no longer glistened with polish between the pews, and he raised his head to the cross.
"Can you enter a church?"
There was no shadow in the doorway, but when he looked, a man stood there all the same.
"So you're not Satan, then?"
He stepped across the threshold, and made no sound.
"I should be afraid of you," Len said, turning back to the cross on the wall.
"Of what are you afraid?"
"You're not real."
The church door closed with the heavy clump of the latch and the muffled air.
"I am as real as you, Leonard."
He did not move – and yet he felt the incline of the man's head.
"How long have you been watching me?"
"Long enough, Leonard."
The candles at the altar were flickering, but when Len rose from his seat, their shadows did not change.
"Leave me the hell alone, Spock."
When he turned, the man – the Spock – was gone.
He knew, by then, it wasn't that easy.
He never set foot in a church again.
Jocelyn Merrick was a beautiful girl with a beautiful smile and a mind sharp as a scalpel. Len didn't know what she saw – brooding dark eyes and a solemnity, perhaps, that turned freshman students tired of macho college idiocy, right on – and whatever it was, she would sometimes purse those ruby-red lips and frown.
"For an atheist, you sure got a love affair with that prayer book, Lenny," she said, and she'd tug it out of his hands and toss it away.
By morning, it would be back on the nightstand; Spock's name was written on every page.
He was real.
Spock was real, damnit, and Len didn't believe in no damn ghosts, but the facts were the fuckin' facts. The baby cried whenever the shadows stilled, and she just about hated that prayer book, screamin' herself blue if it were so much as in the same room, and some days Len could swear she hated him too, would cry if he so much as looked at her.
"Just leave us alone!" he screamed at the walls one night, Jocelyn standing in the kitchen and crying along with their screamin' little girl. "Just leave us the fuck alone! What do you want? What do you fucking want?"
Psalm 9:17, scored through deep enough to tear the page. On the tattered remains: it is time to come home, Leonard.
She took the baby; he drove all night and burned the prayer in a God-forsaken dustland just shy of Nevada.
When he got back in the car, it sat on the passenger seat, perfectly intact.
He looked up into the cracked mirror – motel bathrooms, and the grime that came with them – to see his face. He had become familiar, impassive and waiting, like the reaper out of the corner of your eye.
"Are you death?"
"I am Spock."
"Don't tell me a whole lot, does it?" he grunted, and spat out the toothpaste. "You gonna kill me?"
"I am not."
"No predictions? No threats?" he jeered. "What are you? Some demon come to taunt me, like outta that stupid show?"
"We both know that I am."
The sink gurgled, and he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "I'm goin' goddamn mad."
"Quite the contrary, Leonard," and Spock unfolded, suddenly, to do something so human as to sit down on the sagging mattress of the single bed in the corner of the room. It did not sag further under him. "You are recovering quite nicely."
"Gee, thanks," Len snarled. "So I'm meant to be mad, that it? Is home the crazy ward?"
"You will see."
"What, when you kill me?"
"I will not kill you," Spock brushed an invisible something from his robe, and peered at the dusky Arizona sky outside. "You will perform that task yourself."
And then he was gone, and the prayer book pages were fluttering in an invisible breeze. Let Satan stand at his right hand.
"Y'ever gonna leave me alone?"
Spock said nothing.
"Jesus. I'm twenty-eight and talkin' to a ghost."
"I am not a ghost."
An eyebrow rose.
"Can it," Len drawled, and put out his cigarette on the wall. "Stuff's vile. Goddamn. You smoke?"
"If I so chose, which I do not."
"Fuck off," Len said. "You've – you're driving me mad. Fuck off. Go home. Wherever your home is. Go there."
"Only when you come home also," and the setting sun threw those features into sharp horror.
"You're the hell Gramma warned me about."
"Please, Leonard. There is no such thing."
"Then what in the fuck are you, an angel?"
"I am not human, but there the similarity ends."
"And what'm I, if you're takin' me home?"
Spock did not look at him, these days, and Len found himself glad for it.
"Merely lost, Leonard. You are merely lost."
There's a long straight road outta New Mexico, and a blazin' sun, and no other life for just about a hundred miles in every direction, and Len stepped outta the truck and walked until he couldn't see it no more. He walked until even that shadow hangin' over his shoulder for the past twenty-odd years fell away, and then he looked right up into a screamin' blue sky and said, "Well here you go, God, you wanted to talk to me, so talk."
God, of course, said nothing.
"Y'ever read a prayer book?" Len asked, when the weight settled in the room, and he tossed the prayer book over his shoulder.
"What did you think?"
Len hadn't laughed in just about fifteen years, and it felt...damn good.
He went north, one winter. From the way Spock studied the landscape – the sheer white of it all – he reckoned devils mustn't remember all that much of Heaven.
"I've never heard of an Archangel Spock," he drawled.
"Perhaps," Spock replied serenely, tracing his fingers through the snowdrifts without a care for the cold, and leaving no impressions in the ice-dust, "because there is no such being."
"I ain't never heard of no Devil Spock neither."
"Perhaps you are looking in the wrong places."
The prayer book tells him nothing, for the first time; Spock's eyes, dark and glittering like the night sky in January, tell him even less.
He feels like he oughta know.
Spock failed to appear for a month, once, and when he did, his presence was – quiet, somehow. Thinner. As though he was like the ghost Len once mistook him for, and fadin' out.
"Where're you goin'?" he asked.
"Home," Spock said, paused, and added: "It will be time. Soon."
He turned thirty-five, and a page was torn from the prayer book. He never found out which one.
When he was thirty-six, Spock told him a story, in the dead of night in another nameless motel on the side of a highway he couldn't remember driving along.
"Many of the human religions tell a story," Spock said, "of a being too prideful, and who challenged the supreme ruler, and was struck down for his arrogance. Some neglect, but some remember, that when he was cast out, his followers too were struck down. They were scattered, far and wide, and never came back together again, torn asunder into helpless chaos by an angered master."
"Listen," Spock admonished. "Among the number stood one being that held fast to his belief that the challenger was correct, or at least correct in standing up for that which he believed. And that being, too, was struck down, but not torn from his home completely. He left behind one who remember him for his virtues, and not his sins, and so he could never be parted from that home entirely."
The ceiling – cracked, dusty, dirty – was spinning.
"Home," Len echoed.
"Civilisations rise and fall, and wounds are forgotten in time even by those who survive to watch time itself grow old," Spock murmured, his voice a single low note in the darkened room. "Masters decay and die; the cities change, but home remains if certain factors do not change. His name – his virtues, his beliefs, his righteousness – never left, and so neither did his home. And in time, a new challenge was issued: if the virtuous could be brought home, then they would be permitted to remain."
The sun was rising in the east.
When he turned his head, the sun washed through the room. Spock cast no shadow on the wall.
He dreamed, of a thunderous man in gold and a shadow on white steps. He dreamed of white light and marble, of a feeling light as air under his shoulders, and of a courtyard with grape vines climbing stone pillars, the heavy fruit dark in the sunlight.
He dreamed of a man in robes sat on the corner of the fountain, tearing the pages from books, and he dreamed of wishing to remember his name.
His own, and the man's.
Spock's robes were faded; they swallowed him. He looked...
He was disappearing, like sand through fingers, and for the first time in his memory, Len wished for him to stay.
"You're going home," he said.
"It will not be home," Spock said, "if I must go alone."
The dust no longer jumped when he appeared.
Grape wine under an orange sky.
He remembered a lyre.
Spock appeared in the passenger seat; it was daylight, and the seatbelt almost visible through his chest.
"You and me," Len said. "It was you and me, once. And I did something, or stood up for someone who did, and got kicked out. And you made some deal that if I came home with you, I'd be allowed back in. Right?"
"In essence, yes."
"Was it Heaven? Home?"
"No," Spock looked – amused. "Merely home."
"Did I fuck with God?"
"You flatter yourself."
The bite was familiar, but Len had never heard it before. He laughed; the sound was almost obscene.
"You," he dredged through his dreams, "you never left footprints in the ashes, and there was – there was a fountain. You liked the fountain."
There was a tree as well; a tree with fat orange blossoms, and they had glowed against Spock's hair.
"You and me," he said eventually. "We were home."
"I don't remember."
"You do," Spock corrected calmly, sounding for all the world as though – as though – Len doesn't know. He can't remember. "You simply do not know that you do; any other would have feared my appearance; you were unsurprised."
And unafraid. It bothered him, somehow, that he had never been afraid of Spock.
"I shoulda been."
"Yes. But you never were."
He means before, and Len cannot remember.
The moon was full; Spock slept, and Len had never seen it.
He did not dare to touch.
"It is time."
Spock spoke early in the morning; his face was gaunt, his eyes mere pits in his face now, and Len felt afraid.
"What happens if I don't come home?" he asked.
"To you, nothing."
"And to you?"
Spock said nothing, and Len rose from the bed.
"You've driven me insane. I'm probably mad. I'm probably about to – what happens to you?"
"I return. Alone."
"Home will be gone."
"You struck a deal to bring me home," Len said. "With – with the fountain and the grapes and the blossom tree."
Spock cracked a faint smile in the dawn light, and it is – it is terrible and beautiful, like the whole world a second before the Lord strikes it down.
"There was no tree," he said, "and you mourned the lack. You would conjure them out of the dust in the courtyard."
Because they were beautiful in his hair, Len knew, even though he could not remember doing it.
The car was too hot, and too lonely; Spock slept against the window, shimmering like a mirage in a fickle sunlight, and Len didn't dare to reach out for him.
They were peach blossoms. He could smell them.
The road fell away before them, long and straight to the cliff-edges, swerving around the towering desert stacks like a river of man-made futility.
The name hung oddly in the air, and when he stirred from the door, he no longer looked so grim and ethereal, but tired.
Tired, and strangely beautiful.
"I don't remember," Len said, and hit the gas. "There's a courtyard in my dreams. And grapes. You were always readin' by the fountain, but you'd stop for me. And I – you – I can feel your hands, but I can't remember them."
The tyres smoked on the road.
"I don't remember you doin' it."
The wheel was straight in his hand, and he dropped the other, reaching out.
"Take my hand. Just – just take my hand. Take my hand, and take me home."
The dashboard exploded in a carpet of peach blossoms – fat and bursting, stinking of fragance, spilling over into a cascade down his jeans and decorating Spock's fraying robes.
"C'mon, Spock," he urged, eyes fixed on the immoveable stone rushing up to meet them. "One last thing, and we'll go home."
A cool hand slid into his.
Long evenings in the courtyard, watchin' the swallows swoop down for the fountain water, and listening to the kitchens beginning to spark up for the evening meal. The heat was fading; the dust settled, and Leonard scooped a handful into a cupped palm, blowing until the petals unfurled and a pale orange blossom tickled his fingertips as he deposited it carefully on a dark head of hair. When he dropped his hands, smooth fingers slid into his – silent, cool, pale and familiar – and nothing was said.
Len – Leonard, damnit, don't you try charmin' me with that kind of trick – squeezed a familiar hand that he had never felt before.
"Home," he said.
His hand was squeezed in return – and the desert disappeared.
The wreck of a battered pick-up truck with a Georgia plate at least twenty years old was recovered from the cliff wall some forty hours after the crash, but the wreck had to be an old one. The pedals were coated in dust; a burned prayer book, rendered useless, lay in the passenger seat, and there were no bodies to be found.