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She orders that Lorca be brought to her quarters as early and as often as she dares.

"Agonizers are just so...impersonal. He deserves better," she says in the brig, the first time. She doesn't even have to conceal her disgust at this place; she can let it work for her, let them make their own assumptions about its cause. She manages to twist her mouth into a smirk as he presses a hand against the glass, pleading. "Or, rather, worse."

When they haul him out and drop him at her feet, Burnham reminds herself that she can't help him up, can't let him lean on her. She crouches and forces herself to speak, keeps her voice low to conceal her horror. He's blinking, his eyes red, his fingers flexing, as though about to grab onto her — whether to strangle or to plead, she couldn't say.

"You didn't think I'd forgotten about you, did you?" She only recognizes the words, the tone, as hers because the way it sounds, via bone conduction, reminds her of something of her own true voice. "That I'd be content to let you scream down here, where I can't hear you?"

She's close enough that one of them could kiss the other, and when, at last, after a couple of seconds, his gaze focuses on hers, she makes herself roll her eyes, then close them, just a little longer than if she were blinking, before purring, "This is the least of what I owe you, Lorca."

She catches him by the collar, no more roughly than she has to, and pulls him to his feet. He staggers, though, lurching after her, and they've barely made it a meter before he stumbles again, falling this time. Looking down at him, she sneers, "How did he ever make it to captain? Tempting as it is to make you crawl the whole way, Lorca, I fear that by the time you make it to my quarters, I'll be back on duty. Not much fun in that. Transport us directly."

When they rematerialize, he's smiling, a little, and lets Burnham help him up.

There had been a couch in this Burnham's quarters. Connor had removed it, but most of her effects were still in storage on the ship. She learns this when she's assured, by the end of the second day, that she'll find her cabin exactly as it was before. It's the couch Lorca makes for first, but she catches him by the elbow — gently — and steers him instead toward the bed. He needs it more than she does. He starts to croak a protest. Croak — ah, of course, his voice is hoarse from screaming — but even after that realization, which by rights ought to force her to retreat into meditation, if not reduce her to weeping —

(Starfleet officers shouldn't be so petty as to hold grudges, Vulcans do not obey tradition for its own sake, Starfleet officers don't pass judgment, Vulcans don't make assumptions, Starfleet doesn't fire first)

-- somehow, she manages to keep her reaction to raising an eyebrow and saying, "Now, sir? Now is the time for chivalry?"

"Well," he rasps, "if you insist. I won't pretend I object to a gorgeous woman wanting me in her bed."

Her own laugh is near as weak as his, but he lets her steer him, at least, lets himself be seated on the edge of the bed slowly, carefully.

Once he's settled in, slightly, she pours tea from the pot she's kept warm on the table. Lots of lemon and honey, just like Amanda used to make for sore throats. When she presses a cup into his hands, he doesn't drink immediately, only holds it close enough to smell, his eyes closed, the steam wafting up. When she sits down beside him, he finally speaks. "You can't call me 'sir', Captain Burnham."

"If anyone is monitoring what goes on in quarters, then they'll already have worked out, from my private demeanor and conversations with Tyler, that something's amiss. In private, therefore, my using your title won't raise any suspicions that haven't already been raised."

"Maybe not, but what if you slip up outside of your quarters?"

"I won't slip up."

"No," he allows. "I don't think you will. But we can't afford the risk, Michael."

It's the first time he's ever used only her given name, and it sets her off-balance. But it also makes her look at him for a moment. His eyes are still closed, and he looks younger, somehow, than he did when she first brought him here. Or maybe the light in her quarters is just more flattering. At any rate, after a moment, she nods, and says, "A valid point. All right. But I would prefer, at least, that you not call me Captain in here."

"I thought you might," he says, opening his eyes at last and taking a sip of his tea. He winces at the heat, and looks over at her with another little smile. "I don't suppose you've got any whiskey for this, do you?"

"Alcohol is the last thing you need right now. The first being sleep."

"Disagree. On the alcohol, at least. You're absolutely right about sleep."

But fortunately for him, she's already on her feet. There were a few bottles tucked away; she hasn't touched them herself, but she finds them easily enough, picks one with dark amber inside. When she hands him the bottle, unexpectedly, a grin blooms on his face. "This is one of my favorites," he says, adding some to the tea. "Wasmund's single malt. Maybe you're turning my luck around."

"Indeed," she agrees drily. "We may be stranded in another reality, this may be only a temporary reprieve from torture, and we must allow said torture to be inflicted upon you so as not to raise suspicions, but the other me has your favorite whiskey in her quarters. Things are certainly starting to look up."

"Scoff all you like, Burnham," he says, smiling at her over his mug. "It's very good whiskey."

 

She sleeps on the couch. When Ash wakes her, gently, to say that she'll be needed on the bridge soon, the bed is empty, the covers still tucked in. The fear must show on her face, for Ash lifts his chin, indicating the armchair beside her. Lorca's lying across it, his head so near her own that she can hear his breathing, now she listens for it. The bottle is next to the chair's leg, still mostly full; the mug his tea was in is next to the bottle, empty. It can't be comfortable — though, of course, given his other accommodations here...

She's washing her face when there's a low cry from the room behind her, and she whirls to see that Ash has Lorca pinned face-down on the floor. Ash's hands are around his wrists, his knee pressed to Lorca's back, but still, Lorca's hands are scrabbling.

"I tried to wake him quietly," Ash says, as she crouches, touches Lorca's shoulder gently. His eyes snap to hers, he blinks, and all the fight is gone from him, just like that.

Ash releases him, rises slowly, and offers Lorca his hand. "Sorry about that. I know what it's like to have a strong startle reflex."

Lorca takes his hand. "Terrans don't apologize, Tyler," he mutters, once he's on his feet.

After she's pulled on the ridiculous breastplate, Burnham notices that he's grimacing at himself in the mirror.

"You look fine," she says, bemused.

He doesn't answer, he only looks at her for the moment it takes her to sink back into this role, to remember. "Ah. Looking fine would be a problem, yes."

Still silent, Lorca crosses to the table, where there’s a collection of knives...and then picks one up by the blade and turns to offer the hilt to her.

She doesn't say anything now, either, only gazes back into his eyes.

Lorca looks away first, sighing, flips the knife around to hold the hilt himself, and goes back to the mirror. Hefts the knife in his hand, getting a feel for the weight, and studies his reflection, then, at last, leans a little closer, just to make sure he's got it right, brings the knife to the skin of his cheek, just beneath his left eye —

 

The next time, about half a week later, she grants herself the luxury of not facing the brig, and simply orders him beamed directly to her quarters. A note or two of his scream hangs in the air even as, still sparkling a little from transport, he gasps and crumples, the terrible tension vanishing from his body in the absence of the agonizer. Before Burnham knows what she's doing, she's at his side, helping him up. As before, he makes for the couch first, but, trembling, he doesn't have the strength to resist as, together, she and Ash lead him to the bed.

The whiskey is already on the table along with the tea, and she hands him the bottle along with the mug.

"Thanks," he says, pouring in a shot. She has her own mug as well, more to give herself something warm to hang onto than anything else, and she shakes her head when he catches her eye and offers her the bottle.

"More for me," he says, with something that might be a distant relative of a smile.

"You're welcome to it," she says, sitting next to him. "If you're wondering how to pay me back, perhaps you'll consider actually sleeping on the bed this time. You hardly need a stiff neck on top of everything else."

"That's the second time she's tried to get me into bed, Tyler," is his only answer, offering Ash the bottle.

Ash just smiles, holding out his own cup. "You should be so lucky," he says, as Lorca pours.

 

Burnham wakes with a start, and she couldn't say precisely why. It takes her a moment to make sense of her surroundings, her position — she's slumped against the side of the bed, sitting on the floor, one arm...flung over her head?

Her half-wakeful state is muddled further by the realization that someone is in the bed — your bed, some voice inside reminds her, yes, that's right, her bed, she recalls that vaguely — someone is in the bed, sleeping, and she is sitting on the floor next to the bed, and her arm is flung up onto the bed because both of whoever-it-is's hands have enfolded her own. They're holding her hand so close to their face that she can feel breath on her knuckles.

Not Ash's fingers. Not Ash's breath.

This is inappropriate, is her first clear thought, and then she nearly laughs out loud at herself, still concerned with propriety when they're undercover in an alternate universe; so concerned, in fact, that even before she was completely aware of just who it was asleep in her bed, clutching her hand in his sleep, she assumed it was someone with whom she oughtn't be holding hands.

At some point, she notices dimly, as she's drifting back to sleep, one of the pillows from her bed ended up under her neck, and a blanket ended up around the fetal curl of her body.

 

Once again, he offers her the knife first. Once again, they only stare at each other. Once again, he blinks first.

 

"He wants you," Ash says, a couple of days later. He doesn't seem bothered by it; he says it matter-of-factly even as he's holding her, even as the sweat is drying on their skin.

She rolls just enough to look over her shoulder at him. "Who?" she asks, foolishly; there's only one person he could mean.

Ash is gracious enough not to mention that, though, just raises his eyebrows meaningfully, and she almost laughs, shakes her head. "That seems highly unlikely," she says, settling back against him again. "The situation's created a certain amount of intimacy, but then, how could it not? He's the only other person who knows the truth of who we are and what we're doing. When he's here — here — " she opens her eyes again, she doesn't slam her hands down on the bed but the muscles in her arms tighten, just a little — "it's because he needs rest, and he needs to be reminded of who he is. We all do."

"Yeah, we do. And look how that's played out for us," Ash says, but he's smiling, wearily, as he says it. "Besides, I wasn't talking about what he needed. I said he wants you."

Burnham only sighs, takes one of his hands, splayed over her stomach, in her own. There's a quality to their silence now, a sense of waiting, and at last she says, "Does that bother you?"

Another silence, as Ash's arms tighten just a little about her. "We all have to find a way to survive this," he says, finally. "We have to keep each other whole. These people are jealous of everything. They'll hang onto what they have tight enough to rip it to pieces if someone else so much as catches on it, and if that keeps anyone else from having it…"

"So much the better," she finishes, remembering what she told Tilly, that last time — no. No, not the last time. It will not be the last time -- about the false courage of this place, the bravado that hides a deep, all-consuming fear.

"Exactly," Ash says, and then, so quickly she almost wonders if she imagined it, he stiffens, as if lightning were running through him on its way to the ground. It's half a heartbeat, and then he's still again, and murmurs, "We can't let them make us like that, too."

His fingers, twined with hers, grip just a little harder, and then he adds, "So, no. It wouldn't bother me, as long as it doesn't bother you."

"All right," she says, and rolls over again, to face him, so that he can see the gentleness in her smile as she says, "but I still think you're wrong about him."

Ash smiles, too, just a little. "Well, I guess we'll see."

Half-dreaming already, her last dim thought before she falls asleep is, it's odd that he's never offered Ash the knife.

 

It's nearly two weeks before Burnham chances retrieving Lorca for a third time. Detmer made a comment last time, about how special this — ahem — prize is. She doesn't think anyone suspects anything more than one-on-one torture, anything more than ordinary — for this place — sadism and desire for vengeance, but they can't risk it.

He doesn't make for the couch this time, doesn't resist when she nudges him toward the bed. When she hands him the whiskey, he pulls out the stopper and takes a long drink straight from the bottle. "Thanks," he says, letting his head drop back against the wall behind him and closing his eyes.

When she sits down next to him, he leans against her, offers her the bottle.

Burnham smiles, shakes her head. "She has more of a taste for it than I do, apparently."

"Hm. Apparently." He only takes a sip this time, sets the bottle down beside the bed, and shrugs out of his jacket.

 

When she wakes, in the space between dreams, they're both still sitting up — barely. They're slumped against each other, her head on his shoulder and his head on hers in turn. Also, once more, her hand is fitted snugly into one of his. His other arm is around her shoulders, his fingertips just barely touching her, just brushing her skin enough that she notices.

Oddly, the realization of the way they're near to folded about each other is less confusing than last time, when he was only holding her hand.

She tugs lightly at his hand, and it startles him awake, his arm tightening around her and his hand clutching hers as if by instinct. "Mrg," he grunts, and then, barely discernable as words, "Michael, please."

"Captain?" she says, out of some unknowable instinct, something that is satisfied by precisely the reaction it gets — his eyes focus on her, he blinks hard, breathes deep, and looks at her, his brow settling into a frown.

His grip on her loosens a little, but he does not release her just yet. His gaze is not actually focused on her. He draws a deep breath, opens his mouth. "You can't say — "

"I know," she says. There's something in his eyes, something hard and bright and desperate, and something, some instinct, makes her add, "I know, Gabriel."

He blinks once more, hard, but his eyes are focused now — and then, suddenly, too focused, his pupils are just smaller than the right size, as if there's something a little too bright in the place where she's lying. The hand that grips hers goes tight, and at the end of the arm around her shoulders she feels the pads of his fingertips in five hard points on her skin. His instincts, his panic, have made him cling to her all the more fiercely.

She is aware of that, brutally, painfully aware, when she takes a breath, and finally speaks again. "Gabriel. Gabriel, I was testing you." And somehow, she's forcing that strange tone into her voice — the one it's much too easy to slip into.

His grip on her relaxes. He is not clinging to her — trying to wrap himself around her, or maybe pull her so that she can wrap herself about him, she couldn't say — any longer. He breathes deeply, and something in his eyes suggests that he's seeing her again, truly seeing her.

"Michael," he whispers, his fingertips hard on her skin, not clutching her exactly, but — five little points on her back, something below thought calculates, five others on the back of her hand — not clutching, no, just trying to be sure. "Michael Burnham."

I'm sorry, she wants to say, because waking him was an accident, but of course that's not he needs to hear. So she shushes him instead. "Go back to sleep," she murmurs, “you did well.” And she couldn't say when, exactly, but eventually, she slips back into sleep herself.

 

When she wakes, he's still hanging onto her. They’re lying down properly now, both of them on their sides, foreheads touching. He's holding both of her hands, has them pressed against his chest.

It was Ash who woke her, putting a blanket over both of them. Catching her eye, he mouths, Told you.

She rolls her eyes and gives the smallest shake of her head. He only leans down and presses his lips to her temple, briefly, before heading for the couch. When she settles down again, she sees that Lorca's eyes are open, that he's gazing at her.

There's something like a question in his eyes, but he doesn't speak, and neither of them moves. Whatever it is, something in her eyes seems to have answered it, for he closes his eyes again and shifts a little closer to her, tightening his hold on her hands for a moment. Softly, so softly she might already be dreaming again, she pulls one of his hands to her lips. His eyes flutter open again, and there's just enough light for her to see him, barely, smile.

 

This time, when he offers her the knife, he says, quietly, "Michael, please." His voice doesn't quite break. "Don't make me do it alone this time."

She reaches out. She takes the knife.