A/N: Based on a prompt from tumblr: "Church is actually a ghost".
Leonard L. Church died for this war, but it goes on without him.
He comes to understand the inside of the walls and the grainy darkness there, and to look more slowly at the gray metal bases. ("Understand", for Leonard Church, means "barely tolerate".) Everything becomes very temporary. Clothes and bottles and ammunition left on the floor feel so unimportant that they flicker like a time-lapse video. Maybe he is losing time. He isn't sure. He just knows that he hasn't gotten what he needs yet, and that that need changes over time – often it is Tex that he needs, and other times it is to even the teams. Either way, he needs the base to even out something, so he stays around.
He gets to know the place differently, and better than he ever has. Along with the thickness of the walls he learns where the most dust settles and where people tend to trip. He finds new drafts, and mutters aloud to himself that since ghosts are supposed to make cold patches in the air, why does he also have to walk through them himself?
Death was a quick crunching sound, the worst he's ever heard. Coming back was the slowest, coldest thing in the world.
He waited by Tex's grave, calling for her, waiting for her to come back like she always does. When grass grows over the graves and he becomes so lonely and irritable that he considers trying to get Tucker to see him, he drifts some more and wonders whether she's there next to him, on some other other plane of existence, looking for him. Maybe he can find her somehow. If he can ever find a way to speak to someone besides himself, or touch things, he will spend all his time trying.
Tucker uses the spare robot kit for target practice, bored and fearful that Command will know that Blue Team is hardly doing anything except monitoring the enemy. Shiela protested the misuse of the robot, prissily, while Church sat on her gun and kicked his legs.
Caboose sometimes seems to notice when Church stands near him, turning his head and speaking to the air, and Church remembers that some people say that dogs can see ghosts.
The Reds try to charge over a few times but there isn't much fun in it when Tucker and Shiela can hold Grif and Simmons off well enough.
Sarge is shot in the head and resuscitated. Church wonders what he saw in the afterlife, because it was a lot less permanent than what Church got. Maybe it didn't look like a shoddy base.
He has heard of house-ghosts, barn-ghosts, and church-ghosts, but no base ghosts. People in the war don't normally stick around to see them. Blood Gulch, though, is his home now. He remembers long dirt roads and open skies from when he was young but that is all in the past now, and will be in the past forever.
In the past forever, he thinks. What kind of philosophical crap is that? I've gotta sleep standing up or lay on Tucker's dirty clothes because they took my bed and made it into a barricade and then a lunch table, and the most I have to worry about is whether the past will be in the past forever? This is freaking ridiculous. I'm going home.
That's his default: I'm going home.
Except he's already there, and he'll be stuck in Blood Gulch with this stupid war forever and all he wants is Texas, his girlfriend and his state all wrapped up together in one tangle of wanting….until the apathy comes back, and he wisps through the base, fascinated by the dust.
Being dead is mindless tedium. Sometimes he thinks he'd rather have his nails torn off.
At least torture would feel like progress of some sort. It would matter.
He's got no one to torture, except himself, and no body to show scars on, so he hums along when Simmons plays the banjo and when the Warthog comes cavorting up the hillside with its music blaring.
Leonard Church gets calmer, over the years.
The Reds and Blues get a doctor. They all bumble along. Church tries to get Doc to notice him but he gets no reaction and the green scanner light does not change. Doc is about as harmless as Donut, and Church spends some time that feels happy listening to Sarge complain about how he doesn't understand him.
Command notices that Blue Team is down a member and delays sending one.
The grass doesn't grow and the sun never sets, and Church wonders whether that was the case before he died.
Tucker visits his grave less every week, although Caboose goes every day, in the mornings, with the disoriented shuffle of a sleepwalker.
Church begins to think that perhaps the gray ceiling of the base is in fact the brown rafters of a hayloft. He remembers walking past this barn, cars passing on the highway, and looking at the rafters not out of any great appreciation for them but because they were there.
They were back home, on his own planet, in America.
Caboose has fixed up the robot kit, compulsively, patching and repairing it every time Tucker shot it, sometimes even running into the line of fire protesting. Church chuckled as he did it, wondering if Caboose was finally going to die by accident instead of killing someone else. But the rookie survived somehow, every stinking time. The robot ended up patched and riveted like a mechanical doll, a slipshod Tin Man. Church calls it a waste of time to Caboose's masked face, but the rookie doesn't hear.
Sometimes the robot is a scarecrow and Tucker is firing .22 shots with a wooden rifle.
Finally, Command sends a new Blue. It's some lieutenant from another canyon. Church actively haunts him.
Caboose lays in the grass and tells Church's grave about the new guy. "He's nice. But he's not, you know…he's nice."
The words fade off into a yellow evening and Caboose is kneeling in a wheat field beside a crooked cross on the highway.
Church accepts that he is fading into his own memories of Texas and the earth because of the colors. It isn't Blue and Red out there in the heat: it is sienna and russet and navy, all fading together like spilled paint, and it's real. He's sure of it.
Leonard Church is very good at deluding himself, so he knows for certain when he isn't.
Dying is a pleasant process, helped along by the team going about their usual business of living.
Church sees the base and the walls of the canyon gradually fade to flat plains and the beginning of stars. He takes his helmet off and scratches through his hair, then his beard. He hears Simmons screaming in his head about why would a beard grow on a ghost.
If you're going to live in a memory you might as well make it a good one, he thinks, but it isn't like he chose or controlled this, so Leonard Church walks into his past kicking at the dirt and cursing at the cows mooing in the distance, because it's not like they're improving anything, and Church can barely tolerate them.
(Somewhere, a man named David is sleeping soundly.)