Notes: For arcadii, who complained of 'running low' on her 'quota of Leonard/Spock angst.' I didn't know there was a quota for this stuff, but okay. You asked for it.
Warning: This is pretty damn depressing. Be warned.
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
The Peach Tree
He wakes alone.
After all this time, he wakes still expecting the radiation of heat from someone nearby. He wakes attuned to military time; he wakes as the sun comes up in the summer, and in darkness in the winter. When he wakes with the light, being alone is less painful - but in the end, he remembers all the same, and there's nothing he can do about that.
He wants to say it doesn't hurt like it used to, but he'd be lying.
Sunlight pouring through this empty old husk of a house makes it hurt a little less. It feels like summers when he was young - a lot damn younger - and still had that ridiculous sense of immortality. He still does, but not because he's young; he has it now simply because he's alive, and he's not sure he wants to be.
Jo gets worried about him, living alone out here, but he won't go. There's peach trees in the yard; there's the peach tree Jim planted wonky that year they managed to get everyone together. The last time. It casts a wonky shadow too, an out-of-place smudge over the spring flowerbeds. He loves that goddamn tree. Nyota scratched all their names out; they're faded now, all worn, but he's practiced enough to read them. He can remember them all like his own.
It's early morning, but it's warm enough; he shuffles out into the sun. Jo had her Tom come by and put up a bench so he wouldn't sit in the grass, but to hell with it. He knows his knees and his back aren't really up to it, but he's done plenty of shit he's not been up to. He was still attending metal-plated ceremonies in his eighties, weddings in his nineties...
He sits in the grass under that wonky tree in his slippers and robe. There's a shuttle whining its way into the upper atmosphere somewhere in that cloudless sky, but he doesn't look for it. He knows what it'll be carrying; suited and booted cadets and officers, eager for their launch. He keeps up to date enough to know that. They're launching her again - well. Not her. Her successor. She's gone too. Ships don't live forever, any more than men do.
Those men won't live forever. They think they will, but they won't. Time has moved on, but nothing else really has. Klingons and Romulans - and Cardassians, now, and the Ferengi if the profits don't swing their way, and all the same old unknown stuff that kept the recruitment teams busy on earth and him busy in space...
Of all the men and women on that ship, he least wanted to be there. How is it that he made it back to Earth? Back to sitting in the grass in his slippers and robes, watching the sun inch upwards, breathing the same old air a thousand billion people before him all breathed? How'd he manage that?
Now he's here, he doesn't want to be.
The military changed him. It changed all of them. It changed Jim; sure, he never stopped being a cocky little shit, but he grew the fuck up some, too. He became a hero, and he became the kind of kid worthy of the job description.
It changed Nyota. If Jim was a kid, she was a girl, and he can still remember every inch of the formidable woman that stepped off the ship that girl had stepped onto. She didn't change - could still bust a man's balls at fifty yards with that exasperated face - but she did, too. She softened around the edges with them; she grew spikes and shards with her enemies. She could have had the universe eating out the palm of her hand; God knows she had them doing it long enough.
He misses her suddenly with a sharp pang, slicing through his chest like the sun through the leaves of the wonky peach tree.
Twenty years in total on that ship, with those people, and he watched them grow up and grow out and grow old. He remembers mocking Chekov's age on that disastrous scramble of a first mission; he remembers the same kid with a receding hairline and a brand new wife, every bit as excitable and ridiculous as him. And Ukrainian. They'd milked that one for a good three years.
Most of all, he remembers the dry comment from Spock at that reception that it could only be worse if the bride had been Polish, and the way Jim had had to try and get the wine out of his nose after he snorted it in shock.
Did the 'Fleet change Spock?
Maybe he's the exception - trust the green-blooded bastard to be the exception to the goddamn rule as always. He doesn't remember a whole lot of change there - the same eyebrow, the same almost-eye-roll, the same blank face with jokes and the same air of why didn't I just say on Vulcan, make science, and make pointy-eared babies with T'Whatever? Not in so many words, maybe, but they all knew he was thinkin' it.
And maybe he wasn't.
Because Spock changed him, and his memory isn't so good at separating the two. Did Spock lighten up, or did he just learn to read those eyebrows and that blankness? Did Spock ever learn to crack a joke, or was it he simply learned how to hear them? Would it have been impossible to persuade Spock to dance at the New Year party that first year out in the deep dark blackness, or was it only impossible because he hadn't learned the right way to tell him to do something yet?
He doesn't know; it's too late to find out.
He knows some things never changed.
He still wakes in the night wondering blearily why he can't feel Spock's fingers drumming a sleeping pattern into his collarbone. That never changed. Every night together for too many years to remember, he'd feel it. It would intrude in his dreams, leave dull bruises in the morning, wake him up, whatever. It'd be there. Like that his hair always smelled of some Vulcan fruit thing that he always denied was in his shampoo. Like that little twitch at the left corner of his mouth always meant he was amused, but the right side meant danger, danger, abandon ship! Like if he played his cards right, he'd get both within half an hour. Like that was always the secret to his success.
Hell, that ain't true. He doesn't know his own secrets.
He'll never work out how they did it - any of it. How any of them lived to see the ship stood down; how any of them at all stood in this grass with drinks and food and an old-fashioned cutter and watched a woman who could have maced them all without thinking about it carve holes in a tree. He'll never work out how he knew to keep the Vulcan preoccupied.
He'll never work out how he did that, neither.
The shuttle's drone finally drops out; they're gone. Gone to their deaths, every last one of them. Even if you survive the service, the 'Fleet'll have you in the end. Better to die a hero's death - Hendorff, Chekov, Kirk - than to let the itchy fingers of the past slide it all away from you later - Chapel, Sulu, Scotty.
Himself. Sitting in the morning sun, he can lie to himself, but he won't. The 'Fleet's taken him too. Maybe he's never going to be cut down by enemy fire like Chekov, but the 'Fleet's killed him sure as it killed the kid. He's not decrepit yet. He's not senile and wasting. He could go out, get hold of his life again, rebuild...
But he won't.
He won't, because the 'Fleet took his life, the only life he had that was worth living, and now he's sitting in the grass under a wonky peach tree waiting for the 'Fleet to take him too. Piece by piece, it's taken everything away - everything...
The comm call in the night from Jim, tense and white-faced, when Scotty died. The 'Fleet destroyed him, and he destroyed himself. Might not have pulled the trigger, but it was near as damn it. The news feed when the Einstein went down with all hands, taking Chekov with it, the last stand of a kid with no life outside of the service - and the gun salute for the hero, a month later, the captain who went down with his ship. The phone call from the hospital, when it all took a turn for the worse, and the gathered vigil around Nyota's bed for the final hours.
And then the last-ditch effort against the Romulan Empire, the conscription of the war heroes designated to inspire the new ones...
Jim. Of all the thousands upon thousands of surgeries he's performed in his career, all he can remember is that one.
The wonky peach tree was waiting when they came home, just the two of them. Kirk's tree; the last legacy of yet another name the 'Fleet owns now. They'd sat under it for hours that night, not saying a thing. He doesn't remember if he cried or not, and it doesn't matter. He's done enough of that. There just aren't the tears now.
It didn't hurt so bad, then. Jim was gone, Sulu was gone, Scotty was gone - they were all gone, but he would be next. Until the 'Fleet came for him too, there would be someone there. Someone to poke and prod at, niggle and rile up and wheedle until all the sourness went away. Spock knew he did it; he just didn't care, and it had kept all that emptiness at bay. All the nights he'd wake remembering that last surgery, that last report, that last anything, and there'd be fingers drumming on his collarbone.
He could bask in the sunlight under the wonky peach tree, talking to Jim and pretending it wasn't just to be close to someone else, even if that someone else wasn't Human and was annoying as all hell most days of the week, including all public holidays.
Then the 'Fleet took him too.
That's the part where he wondered - still wonders - how damn old you have to get to stop being surprised when life doesn't play by the rules. He was a goddamn Vulcan; they outlived just about everything.
Except this time. Except the one time it mattered.
He remembers the pains, the tight expression. He remembers the hospital, and being on the wrong side of a door. He remembers learning what it was like to be the helpless one in all of it. He remembers knowing the answers before the doctor - impossibly young, too young, he hadn't been a doctor that young, had he? - opened his smartassed mouth. He remembers checking the readouts himself.
He remembers knowing there was no point in a second opinion.
Summer, eight years ago. High summer, the hottest he'd known in a while, hottest anyone in these parts could remember. Whole days spent out under the peach trees on the picnic blanket, reading padds aloud and arguing about the medication. Sometimes he just argued with himself, just to make some noise. It was real quiet, near the end.
It was wholly silent, at the end.
He remembers that, too. He remembers the moment he became the last man standing, even though he was sitting down. Sitting in the blazing sun, just holding on like he could stop it all, and feeling everything just slowing down. Feeling the whole world slow down, until it stopped. It simply stopped, easy as that, like there was nothing to it. Just stopped, and he was gone.
His world stopped.
Their world - the world, the world's world - kept going, but his world had finally stopped. It had been torn away by the 'Fleet in great ragged chunks, until that one last legacy dragged it away in slippery inches under the wonky peach tree.
And so he sits, every morning and every night in the rising and falling sun, waiting under the wonky peach tree. He could rebuild and go on, but he won't. He'll sit and wait, as long as it takes - because the 'Fleet has taken the world, and he's the only one left.
The last man standing is too tired to stand again.