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Nothing Unreal Exists

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1. What is, is.

The female human’s name is Amanda. She tells Michael this, her name, while Michael cries. She is gentle, this human woman; her words are careful, her touch is careful. Her fingers slide across the back of Michael’s head and stick to Michael’s back as it heaves. Her hand is warm, its touch light but reassuring. It stays on Michael until Michael ceases to cry, until her sobs turn into silent tears turn into quiet hiccups and she rolls over in bed, away from Amanda, and buries her head into her pillow. Before she closes her eyes, Michael catches a watery vision of the Vulcan, Sarek, over Amanda’s shoulder, lingering by the doorway. His hands are clasped in front of him as he regards her. His face is blank. There is nothing written there. No sadness, no worry. His face is not like her father’s. Michael Burnham, Sr., was emotional, expressive, unbound. Was. Had been.

Michael burbles with fresh grief. She breathes and releases it. Releases the urge to continue crying. Her eyes burn.

Sarek continues his impassive watch.

But Michael remembers him, remembers him being inside of her mind, as she drifts into nothingness.

And she is grateful.

 

2. Nothing that is is unimportant.

She grows, she adapts. The Learning Center explodes around her. There is no logic in this violence, nor in the expression of the pain it engenders. She breathes and schools her face so that she appears as serene as she wishes to feel. No, not feel. Be. To be free of her human emotions.

Amanda reads to her from a book that turns itself inside out and backwards. It is a wonder. It is confounding and maddening and thrilling. On those nights that Amanda reads from the book, Michael drifts and dreams. She tastes and grows and shrinks and endures. She is happy.

She safeguards the book for years; forever. It stays hidden until one day she takes it out of her trunk aboard the Shenzhou and shows it to Philippa, who is visibly pleased at the disclosure, at this human attachment made manifest. Michael isn’t sure when Philippa’s pleasure becomes her pleasure as well. It is such a small thing.

It is the most important thing.

(It becomes nothing.)

 

3. In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace.

Philippa Georgiou welcomes her aboard the USS Shenzhou. It is not, of course, the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, but it is, Michael finds, acceptable.

In time, it becomes more than acceptable.

In time, Michael cannot fathom her life outside of Starfleet, aboard any other vessel but the Shenzhou; cannot, will not, contemplate standing, day by day, beside anyone but Captain Georgiou.

It occurs sometime in that first year. Michael could examine her own logs--she keeps meticulous records--but there would be nothing about this there. She would have expunged the information. Worse, she would not have said it aloud at all. There would be no oral or written transcript. Nothing saved of that most human fallibility--feeling.

A heavy lightness, a trembling surety. An emotion she dares not name. It settles in her chest, becomes a permanent guest, a host, an invader, a refugee, an interloper. It is unwelcome, and embraced. Michael devours it whole, tends to it, depends on it, rejects it, pleads with it, with herself. Accepts.

Accepts.

Stands beside Philippa Geourgiou at a distance--at a respectable, measurable, distance. At a palpable, strained distance. Steps apart, on the bridge, at times. Mere steps. Sometimes an arm’s width away. It is a distance.

A distance that burns.

 

4. Wanting is more pleasurable than having.

Had she learned restraint on Vulcan, living in Sarek’s home; at the Center; at the Vulcan Science Academy? Had she ever truly learned how to sublimate her own, physical, desires? Had she ever been tested before now?

She has been at Captain Geourgiou’s side for three years. She has made herself valuable. She is noticed. Philippa Geourgiou notices her.

Smiles. Briefly touches an arm. Congratulates her on work well done. Encourages smart observations. Makes jokes that are at times wildly inappropriate. Makes her a commander. First officer. Captain Geourgiou’s number one.

All the while, Michael stands with her hands clasped behind her, fingers held together tightly. She is hypercompetent. She is professional. Her face reveals nothing, she is sure of it.

(She feels Philippa’s eyes on her. Philippa watching. It heats Michael’s blood, this watching. This careful scrutiny. Philippa’s gaze becomes an instrument of torture. Of delight. Michael reveals nothing. She is sure of it.

Isn’t she?)

 

5. My mind to your mind... my thoughts to your thoughts…

Five years in, Philippa shares her telescope. When Michael finally leans in to stare through the scope, the universe opens up. Planets, yes, but beyond that: Philippa’s hand on her elbow, warm and present. When Michael looks up, Philippa does not move. Her hold is firm, unwavering, but she blinks at Michael’s questioning look.

“I am your superior,” she says quietly.

“Yes,” Michael says, just as quietly. She swallows her fervor. Her desire to say more, more, more. She waits for Philippa.

“And older than you,” she adds, raising an eyebrow. Her fingers twitch, squeezing Michael’s elbow. It is then that Michael bites the inside of her mouth. The pain keeps her from revealing everything. From allowing her face to become an open book.

(But does it work? Philippa’s expression changes in that moment, softens. Her eyes are bright as she shifts closer. It is a perceptible distance. Michael always keeps measurement. This is not professional, not protocol.

Fuck protocol. Her heart--her human heart--beats fast and faster. Sarek would be disappointed, but Sarek is not there to coolly reprimand, and Michael is, in that moment, emotional, expressive, unbound. Her eyes feel wet; her throat is dry. She licks her lips and watches Philippa’s gaze drift and settle on her mouth.

“I know,” Michael responds. “I’ve considered the consequences.”

Philippa stutters, then. She never stutters.

“Have you?” she asks, her careful tone betrayed by the roughness in her voice. She clears her throat before asking again: “Have you really, Michael?”

“I have.” Michael pauses. “I have, Philippa.”

When they kiss, Michael’s heart becomes an open wound. She is a woman fully engulfed in flames. It hurts; she is alive.

They fall into bed with singular purpose, singular resolve. After years spent side-by-side, next to one another but apart, they become one. Philippa--Pippa she calls her, eventually, but only when they are like this, only when their breath mingles--kisses the side of her neck, whispers in her ear. Her words are sweet, caring words. Philippa is full of them; they spill onto Michael’s skin and she takes them in, accepts them. They stay in that bed for as long as they can, whenever they can--whenever duty allows them a reprieve. Michael reads from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Pippa’s head on her shoulder. There is nothing in the universe but that bed.

When they are apart, forced to confront reality, Michael’s memories of that bed nourish her.

She knows--can never forget--how Philippa tastes.

She is a woman fully haunted by feeling. She names it love.

 

6. Live long and prosper.

She sifts through her memories now, memories of Philippa, of nights spent pretending there was nothing of the universe but their bed. She doesn’t mean to remember. Those memories were supposed to be gone, thoroughly erased. How is she meant to survive if they linger? If they creep up on her, unasked for? She does not wish to feel. Emotions make you weak, vulnerable.

She was in love. In love one moment, and then energized off of the Klingon corpse ship, her fingers inches from Philippa’s, unable to reach, the next. If only she could have touched her… If only...

(Captain Geourgiou, the superior she betrayed and abandoned. Michael Burnham: mutineer. Where does love fit in this narrative? There is no place for it. Michael cannot think of a time when she can be allowed to keep Philippa Geourgiou’s love, to think of it and feel it. No, Michael has never loved.

Better to give away Pippa’s willed--beloved, my beloved--telescope. It belongs to Saru. He was proper and faithful. It belongs to him. If Michael stops to remember gazing out of that scope while Philippa’s fingers rested on her shoulder and she spoke of the centuries upon centuries that had passed, the people who had lived and died and kept it safe so that it would be there for them to look out into the universe, together, it would be too much. The grief would be unimaginable. And Michael cannot grieve. Grief would make it real.)

 

Nothing unreal exists.