A/N: Last chapter:D Hope it doesn't disappoint. Oh, and kudos to Sir Gawain of Camelot, who figured out that I got Bonne's name from the actress who played Ruth in TOS.
It was the smallest spike. A tiny little irregularity in Jim's heart beat. Barely enough to even register on the monitor, but it was definitely there.
A few minutes later his eyelids flickered, just slightly. Another few minutes after that his hand twitched.
Spock was doing it. Leonard didn't know how, but he was.
He was freeing Jim from the Black Mercy's control.
"You can do this," Leonard whispered to his friend. "You have to. Wake up, Jim. Please wake up."
Kirk frowned. "Did anyone else hear that?"
"Yeah, the storm's really picking up," George agreed.
"No, it's…" Kirk trailed off. "Never mind."
His brother's words still weighed heavily on his mind. Kirk had already decided that he would have to choose Ruth over Spock, but after talking to his brother he was beginning to feel like it would be a huge mistake.
Which made no sense. Sam had told him that if he picked Spock, he wouldn't just be rejecting Ruth and their unborn child, he'd be cutting himself off from the rest of his family as well. When the choice was either his family or Spock, the answer should have been obvious.
And still, when he looked over the living room, at the joyful faces of his family members (all but Peter, who was already in bed), his eyes inevitably fell back on Spock. It felt almost like… almost like Spock was the only real person in the room.
But that was ridiculous. His family had always been the most important thing in Kirk's life, more important even than his career at Starfleet.
For what seemed like the hundredth time that night, Spock's eyes locked with Kirk's from across the room and yet again, Kirk had to squash down the longing in his chest. He couldn't keep doing this.
"I must talk to you, captain," Spock said suddenly. "In private."
"Oh no, you don't," Sam said angrily before Kirk could respond. "Whatever you've got to say to Jim, you can say in front of us."
Spock glanced around the room, but his expression did not waver at the borderline hostile looks Kirk's family was giving him. "We must leave, Jim."
"Leave?" Kirk was confused. "We can't go anywhere in this storm."
Spock stood up, and at the same time Sam and Ruth got up, blocking his way to Kirk. "Please, Jim," Spock said and Kirk could almost detect the pleading in his voice. "You must wake up."
Kirk opened his mouth to protest, he was pretty sure he was already awake thank you very much, but for some reason he couldn't. He couldn't… there was something off and he couldn't…
Wake up, Jim.
"That's it," Ruth hissed. "You're out of here. I don't want you in this house and I don't want you anywhere near Jim."
"Ruth-" Kirk got up, but George grabbed his arm and stopped him from stepping forward.
"You've been nothing but trouble since you got here," Sam said. "I don't know what you did to convince Jim that you're worth his time, but you're not."
"Jim," Spock said, ignoring both Sam and Ruth. "Think. You know this is not your reality."
"No my-" Kirk muttered. His head was beginning to swim again. Images flashed behind his eyes, vague memories and people he didn't know and yet seemed so very familiar. In the distance he could hear the windows tremble as the wind picked up once again. "What's happening, Spock?"
"You need to wake up," Spock pleaded. He stepped forward and several things happened at once.
Sam grabbed his shirt.
Spock let out a terrifying cry.
Kirk rushed forward, catching the Vulcan just as he collapsed.
"Jim, stay away from him," Ruth commanded, her voice shaking. "He's trying to manipulate you. Can't you see it?"
Kirk didn't move from Spock's quivering form. Didn't think he could. Spock's screams had trailed off into small whimpers as he was clearly trying to get himself under control.
"Jim," he ground out and Kirk could tell that it was taking up every bit of energy just to speak. "You must believe me. You must wake up, or you doom us both."
"Don't listen to him," Sam said. "He's lying."
But Kirk only clung harder to his first officer. "If this isn't real," he muttered to Spock. "Then what will happen once I wake up? Is my family waiting on the other side?"
"Jim, you can't be serious!"
The house was creaking and shaking dangerously now as the storm outside battered it. Kirk barely heard Spock's quiet response over the noise.
Kirk swallowed. "Then I'm sorry."
He looked up at his family. At Sam, red-faced with anger, and Ruth, with quiet tears running down her face. At his parents, looking pale and more helpless than Kirk had ever seen them. "I love you all, but… but if you're not real, then I have to let you go."
And he squeezed his eyes shut as the front doors shattered and the storm tore into the house. The world around them fell and all Kirk could do was tighten his hold on Spock.
Spock stood on the observational deck, enjoying the peace and relative silence around him. He had no doubt Doctor McCoy would track him down soon enough and he was resolved to take advantage of his solitude until then.
Two days ago, Jim had once again done the impossible. He had broken his mind from the Black Mercy's hold and woken up from an apparently irrevocable coma, killing the plant in the process. When Spock had left he had still been asleep after getting the plant remains removed from his body the previous day, but Doctor McCoy had been optimistic in his belief that the captain would be back to normal soon enough.
The one responsible for Jim's condition was now under the Black Mercy's control herself, voluntarily. Doctor McCoy doubted she would recover, but he did not seem to have given up on her yet. It was a quality Spock reluctantly admired him for.
Behind him, Spock could hear the doors slide open and he did not need to turn around to know who it was. Staying in a meld with Jim for hours had made Spock incredibly aware of the captain's presence. He was slightly surprised he had not sensed Jim approach sooner, but he supposed he had other things on his mind.
Jim walked closer. "I thought you might be here. I don't know why, but…" he fell silent. "I came here to thank you, I guess. Although thanks seem kind of inadequate right now."
Spock turned. Jim wearing pajamas and there was a bandage wrapped around his head. He most likely did not have permission from Doctor McCoy to be out of bed yet. "You do not need to thank me," Spock said quietly. "I did only what was necessary."
Jim smiled. "I'm sure you did." He cleared his throat, suddenly awkward. "Actually, I didn't just come here to say thanks."
Spock waited for him to continue.
"I probably should have told you this a long time ago," Jim muttered, "but I didn't. I've always been bad at sharing stuff. But here goes. It's about Ruth. Specifically, my relationship with her."
"There is no need to discuss this now," Spock said quickly. "When you are feeling better, perhaps-"
"No," Jim cut in. "I want to do this now. It has to be now. I need you to understand.
"Ruth was my first girlfriend. Hell, she was my first actual friend. Back then I can't remember a single person actually wanting me around, until Ruth came along. Our relationship was… well, to be honest I don't really remember."
Jim scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "When I look back on it, it always seems like it was perfect. And Ruth seems like the perfect woman. I know that wasn't the case, but I can't really help it. To think of her, of our relationship, as anything less than perfect seems almost disrespectful.
"What I do remember though is that I was seriously messed up back then. I had some serious problems with authority and I was already getting into fights and drinking excessively. But Ruth was just this… this impossibly held-together person. She had it all under control. Until one day, when she suggested that we commit joint suicide."
Spock blinked. He had not been expecting that.
"I said no, of course," Jim said, "and she seemed to forget about it. But then, on our one-year anniversary, she brought the idea up again. I refused again, and she got angry and picked up a nearby steak knife. I was sure she was going to kill me, but instead she stabbed herself in the stomach."
Jim shook his head. "I was in no way prepared for that. I didn't even call for help. I just… held her while she bled out. It didn't take long, just a couple of minutes. I doubt help could have arrived in time. But it seemed to stretch on forever at the time. And for years after, I blamed myself."
Spock opened his mouth to talk, but Jim held up his hand, stopping him. "I don't anymore," he said. "Whatever mental issues Ruth had, she hid them too well. I couldn't have known what was coming."
Jim sounded rehearsed, as if he had recited the words to himself a hundred times, to train himself into believing them. Spock did not doubt this was the case.
"I thought about following her a couple of times," Jim admitted. "That was probably what she had planned when she stabbed herself. But when someone's given up their life to save yours, it seems kind of ungrateful to just throw it away."
Spock stepped forward and hesitantly reached for Jim's hands with his own. Jim smiled gratefully and took them, sending sparks up Spock's arms.
"I think…" Jim paused. "I think the reason Ruth was there in my dream and not you, is something part guilt and part convenience."
"Convenience?" Spock muttered.
Jim nodded. "Our relationship was simple, on the surface anyway. Easy to replicate. What you and I have is much more complicated. It's beautiful and convoluted and nowhere near perfect yet. At times I've even wondered if we made a mistake starting it to begin with.
"My point is, if the Black Mercy had tried to copy that, or if it had replaced it with something easy and simple, I would have realized the deception right away. So it made me forget we even had a relationship at all. Does that make sense?"
"It does," Spock assured him.
"We have the potential for something amazing," Jim said. "I don't want to lose that because of some stupid fantasy of mine that has no basis in reality."
"Nothing is lost," Spock promised. He leaned in, but just as his lips were about to touch Jim's, a thought occurred to him. "I apologize, Jim. It seems I forgot to wish you a happy birthday."
Jim smiled and kissed him softly. "It's okay. I don't really celebrate it anyway."