Michael slips off the bed at the door chime, answering it with her PADD in hand. She's not sure who to expect, not Ash, not Tilly's maybe Paul finally needs to talk.
But it's her. Captain Philippa Georgiou.
“Yeah,” Michael looks past her. Even out of uniform, Philippa’s dressed like her captain. In her pyjamas, DISCO shirt over loose pants, comfortable. Her hair’s even down on her shoulders in waves. The Emperor must hate it, but she smiles. Michael could almost believe. “Do you want to come in?”
“Thank you, Michael.” No specialist tonight. Philippa’s even polite, even warm in her town. Did she study acting as the Emperor? Has she read everything about Philippa from this universe? There’s a PADD in her hand there there must be something she wants to discuss. "Where is your roommate?”
“Night shift in engineering. She likes watching the spores.”
Philippa’s little smile could be “I hear they can be quite soothing.”
“We’re all a little tense”
The emperor surveys the tiny room and settles on Michael’s bed instead of one of the chairs. she still sits like it’s a throne, but that at least is comforting. If she was too comfortable, Michael could lose herself, think she had her captain back. That’s the least of her problems with a war and Tyler...
Look at her, stay on guard. This is not your captain.
“You feel you deserve this,” she says, waving her hand dismissively the room. “You’re punishing yourself.”
“I did.” She sits on the bed beside her, staring down at her own bare feet. “I was first officer on the Shenzhou , I had a great view of the stars from my quarters. I used to think it was the best view on the ship--”
“The captain’s view is the best, always is.”
“Were you ever a captain?” She doesn’t even mean to ask the question, but once it’s out, she’s full of curiosity. The faceless Emperor had no biography over there. Was she born to her position? Did she take it with blood and death?
“Of course. I was not born emperor.”
“It’s not in the records.”
“An empire that becomes too much a cult of its leader cannot govern effectively. Over there, it was the idea of my station that had to command loyalty, not the idea of me.”
Michael looks up and Philippa’s gaze burns into, almost unblinking. She’d be so offended if Michael said it, but she’s almost Vulcan in her focus.
“But that means you could be replaced.”
“Anyone can be replaced.” She stares down at her shirt and sighs. “Is all clothing here so dull?”
“I’m sure you can replicate something more interesting. You’re the captain.”
That actually draws a smile, and it’s not even terrifying. “During war time, I shouldn’t spend ship’s resources on anything frivolous. Your Admiral Cornwell made sure I had a rudimentary wardrobe before she left. She knew your Philippa since their training.”
“I’d heard a few stories.”
She speaks with power, not the softness that Philippa had. They’re both calm, still until provoked, but her captain was calm like the sand at night, the emperor is like molten metal.
“They knew each other at the academy, went on a few training missions. Philippa was impetuous, always wanting to run ahead, to fight--” Michael shakes her head, smiling. “I couldn’t believe it when she told me. She was so calm when I met her.”
“She was a captain then, not young and foolish.”
“But she was once young and foolish.”
“We all are, even in my universe.” She taps the PADD in her hand. “I’ve been reading her logs, her journals, some of them could have been written by me, same choice of words, same pride in you, but the rest of it--” She sets down the PADD, staring at the ceiling. “She’s so weak.”
“So soft.” She sinks back against the wall, her feet on Michael’s bed. “And you admire her.”
“She was the best person I’ve ever known.”
“More than your parents.”
Michael swallows, trying to soften the ache in her chest. “They died when I was very young, and I love them. I will always love them, but Sarek and Amanda raised me.”
“Raised you to be Vulcan.”
“Amanda would argue with you about that.”
“Ah yes, the human who married a Vulcan.”
“Let me guess, she’d be slaughtered.”
“She’d have the option of killing him and returning to her people, but...” Philippa shrugs. “No one would trust her after that.”
“So we’re a little less violent about it, but it was hard. She was the first human to marry a Vulcan, and she loves Sarek, and he her, but it’s different for them. Often difficult. There's a lot of prejudice.”
If there’s a thought on her tongue, Philippa keeps it to herself. "But you were close to her."
"She always reminds me how important it is to be human, to trust myself. Not to feel less than."
"You felt less than Vulcans ." There's the emperor again, all sneer and narrowed eyes.
"It's hard to be alone. The one among many."
"But I taught you to be human."
"You were who I wanted to be like," Michael says, staring at her feet. She runs her fingers along the short hair on the back of her neck, trying to find some kind of purchase on herself, on this reality. "You were so together."
"Kind and compassionate." She says the words like they're slugs on her tongue.
"Funny," Michael says, looking up before this Philippa can dismiss the other her as boring. "Sarcastic, not about eating Saru, just...she always saw the good in every moment. Saru and I arguing, or a star exploding. She was warm, you liked being around her."
"The affection you hold for someone is not a standard to cling to."
"Sometimes it is here. If you're not ruling through fear, you need something."
"You need to make them like you."
"She was so good at that."
Philippa's eyes harden again, somehow sharp, and Michael wants to let it all go. To laugh like she did once, but she ruined that. Lost her captain, and this Philippa Georgiou is as broken as she is, or she wouldn't be here. Wouldn't be searching for something.
"Let's have a drink. Tilly's got a stash."
"Of course she does." That's almost a real laugh. "She's so different."
"Hasn't murdered anyone to get ahead."
"But aren't you constantly losing people? Good officers?" Michael opens the crate on Tilly's side of the room, digging out the good Betazoid brandy.
"Good officers don't get killed."
"Not all time. Sometimes someone worse will get lucky." She pours both of them a glass, also borrowing from Tilly's stash of academy treasures. Class of '56.
"You prefer your way."
"It makes you weaker."
"It means that we don't lose promising officers because they make a mistake in the turbolift." She lifts her brandy, meeting Philippa's eyes. Maybe she sees it as a challenge. Maybe this ends with a knife somewhere. Her heart says it doesn't. Philippa came looking for her. She misses her as much. She has too.
"How did I die?" It must have been something like that. A moment of weakness. A slip up. "In a moment of weakness?"
Philippa downs all her brandy and hands over the glass for more. She doesn't even comment, and this is the good stuff. Tilly's mother sent it herself (which means Tilly isn't going to drink it, she hates her mother's taste. Too strong, too red...everything she sends her is just never quite right. Like she doesn't know her daughter, or doesn't want to.
Amanda would know exactly what to send. She'd probably pick out something better that Michael haven't even tried.
How well did Philippa know her daughter? Was she imposing? Threatening? Did Michael measure up? Did they laugh together or subjugate, like Killy and the Emperor?
"How do you know I saw it?"
Michael stares right at her, because Philippa will be the one to look away. She's the one who has lost. "That's in your face."
"I've told no one."
"Was it Lorca?" She doesn't ask the other questions, but they both know it's out there. Was it you?
"He had such plans for the two of you." Philippa finishes another tiny glass of brand and sets it down, her fingers caressing the glass. Fidgeting. "Overthrow me, become Emperor, make the galaxy better than it was under me."
In the silence, Michael swirls brandy on her tongue, waiting for the inevitable. Which one did she die in front of? Lorca or her mother? Whom did she die to protect? "Let me guess, he rushed you, she got in the way."
"Maybe she wasn't really ready to betray me. Perhaps it meant something else when Lorca stood there with the knife in his hand. She moved when he did but I'd always taught her to be faster. To anticipate."
Pride mixes with wavering grief and Michael wants to reach for her, to soothe her if there's any way she possibly can, but she's not that Michael. Can the Emperor even be soothed? Her eyes soften, liquid with grief, but Philippa blinks it away, looks away. She'd never have to make that choice. No lover could make her kill Amanda. No ambition could make her hurt the woman sitting with her now.
Mother or not.
"She made her choice."
"Sounds like she chose you in the end."
"Dying in my arms not his?" Philippa blinks again, and the duranium bulkhead she uses to control her feelings isn't enough. A single tear that neither of them mention is so far from her Philippa, who would be honest with her grief.
But her Philippa had love, family and friends, the whole of Starfleet adored her. She was safe. She could be emotional. This Philippa's daughter nearly killed her.
"I don't know if that's much of a choice. Hopefully your Vulcan made you calmer."
"Logic has its place."
"Made them easy to defeat."
The tear just sits there, running down her face. Michael lifts her hand slowly, careful to move slowly and deliberately. She telegraphs what she's doing, gives her time to move away but Philippa remains still, lets her wipe it away.
"Not everyone has to be defeated."
"If you don't defeat them, how can you trust them?"
"At some point you just do." She fills both of their glasses again, and they stare at each other until Philippa looks away.
Finishing her drink, she sets it down, moving towards the door. "That's how you live with each other here. A whole universe of weakness."
"We don't look over your shoulders, we don't have to. I know someone's behind me, and maybe it's Tilly, or Saru, or the deposed Emperor of the Terran Empire."
Philippa smiles, but it's real this time. Even vulnerable. "You trust me?"
"Pretty stupid, huh?"
"I suppose you'll have to see." Philippa retreats to the door, and Michael examines her back. Her hair looks just like Philippa's, but it's not. She's not.
"She did a good job on my hair, didn't she?"
"Guess she knows me here too." That smile is all predatory, even pleased.
"Well that's-" Michael pauses, chuckles, "-you know. She's been under a lot of stress."
"Let's say it's less now." Philippa rests her hands behind her back. "Goodnight, Michael."