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Bond across universes

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Burnham saunters back to her station in defeat. She tries to school her features, as different thoughts and emotions run through her. Michael definitely feels divided. On one hand she is elated that she doesn't have to hide the Emperor anymore. The presence of her former Captain gives her a strange sense of strength, even if it is a lie. And yes, she dreads the conversation Tilly will initiate when they'll find themselves alone. On the other hand, she cannot help but be suspicious of the plans of the Emperor after seeing a slight smirk on her face. It also unnerves her, how she just behaves with the crew. How is it possible that Starfleet trusts her to this amount? How could they give the Fleet's most advanced ship to someone who kills people without a blink and remorse? What could she want, and more importantly what she has to offer that they didn't even considered telling her that the Emperor will stay in disguise?
"Specialist Burnham, follow me to the ready room, I wish to discuss a part of your plan regarding our mission." the voice of the Captain - no Emperor - breaks her musings.

"Yes. Captain." Answers Burnham hesitantly while giving Saru a questioning eyebrow. He can only give her a glance of uneasiness before the Emperor’s gaze snaps up to him in warning.

"Number one, you have the bridge." clips Georgiou to which Saru can only nod in acknowledgement.

As soon as both the former Emperor and Michael enter the ready room, the Emperor announces "Computer, privacy!" the door closes, the glass dims. Burnham stands ramrod straight, hands behind her back, trying to be prepared for anything. The Emperor saunters to her desk and leans against it hands on the desk.

"I believe you have questions Michael" leers Georgiou "but I'm afraid I cannot answer all of them."

"Why did you asked me here then?"

"I need your help to convince the crew of my identity, the Admiral wishes to keep up the appearance. There are some mannerisms that are quick to catch on and can be quick to fail under certain circumstances. Therefore, I need your input on how your Captain behaved usually. Admiral Cornwell assured me that you'll help without any hinderance."
Had she been without Vulcan guidance in her youth, a growl would have surely left Burnham’s mouth, but displeasure was still showing on her face, earning an amused smirk from the Emperor.

"She did not ask or order anything like that." says defiantly Burnham.
"Would you like me to call her here and tell her that you are threatening to expose me?"
"No."
"Good. I don't have many questions. Let's start, shall we?"

"Can I get some answers in return?" It cannot hurt to try, thinks Michael, she already knows I'm suspicious of her. It is infuriating how this woman can get under her skin under so little time. It is as if she knew her at least as well as her Philippa, with the added danger of being stabbed in the back. No. That's not true. She couldn't kill her. As much as the Emperor puts on an emotionless response, she knows - or at least dares to hope - that she is as disturbed by her late daughter’s presence as she is by her late Captain’s.

"After I'm finished, you can ask one question to which I will answer truthfully."
Michael looks at her, deep in her thought, one question. Does she wanted to know what she is up to? Hell yeah. Would she answer with a concrete answer? Hell no. Maybe she can opt for a more personal question? Or even coax out another answer if she asks way more than one?

Michael relaxes her stance a bit, braces for the questions and nods.
"What do you want to know?"

"How did Georgiou address her crew, you and the Kelpien?"

"She referred everyone by their rank and last name. Sometimes she called Saru" - emphasising his name - ", Mr. Saru. With me she was more familiar, it was not uncommon for her to call me Michael even when we were on the bridge on duty."

"Was she mingling in her downtime with the crew?"
"No."

"I don't believe that she secluded herself."
"No, she didn't, but I wouldn't call it mingling. She toured the ship, asked questions here and there, making small talk with the crew on duty, understanding the crew's needs instinctively, but never really sat down with any of them. I know she had been through a lot in her life, saw a lot of battles and lost people serving under and beside her. I understood both the need to be visible for them and the need not to get too attached to them."

"But you were an exception. Surely the two of you spent some time together outside the bridge." wondered the Emperor.
"After I became her first officer, the two of us had occasional breakfast together and at least a few times in a week dinner, but not with the crew present."
"I see." said Georgiou, slightly turning away from Burnham, with a pensive look on her face.

"How is it then, that you look at me like you look at your adoptive father?"
Michael swallowed. All this time she tried to keep it professional with the Emperor, showing a brave face, but this question threw her off. She began to mull over the answer while casting her eyes down. Somehow her boots seemed to be more helping. She remembered exhilarating arguments, command decisions, quiet conversations on life, humanity and all there is in the universe, the eyes that softened when she came up with an unexpected solution, and the deep gut wrenching pain she felt when she lost her.
"Well?" turning back, asked impatiently the Emperor, causing Michael to fall out of her reverie.
"I ..." thoughts were running wild in Burnham’s head.
"It took time. Time spent knowing each other. She was always nurturing, always looked for ways to broaden my horizons, to challenge my preconceptions." Her vision suddenly became obscured by unshed tears. "From the first moment her presence compelled me to respect her, and I admired her spirit. With time, I began to trust her implicitly, something that up until that time only my adoptive parents earned."

The Emperor stood wary, looking at Michael intently, her heart clenching with a familiar ache. She was also orphaned just as her daughter. When Michael tried to get rid of her tears, she turned away again hiding the pain and compassion from her, and herself.

"I understand, but that doesn't explain her attitude towards you." said Georgiou quietly.
Michael straightened herself out, then began.
"I wanted to visit you later today to show this to you." She dug into her pocket and presented a small object.
"What is this?"
"Her last will to me. Maybe it will give an answer to this question. I wanted you to understand why I was so desperate to decide to bring you here." looking into her hand she took a deep breath and extended the small holographic projector towards the Emperor. Pursing her lips together thinking, "I just ... ", but then she changed her mind, shaking her head "... never mind." looking up to the Emperor eyes steeling herself for a similar berate she got earlier on her weakness.

Georgiou slowly took the device from her, fumbling it in her hands. Then, against her better judgment she decides to give in. Putting the device on the table, she touches the button. As the familiar yet unknown face appears, she steps back. She listens intently to every word. When the late Captain addresses finally Michael - "Know that I'm as proud of you as if you were my own daughter", she smiles faintly. After the recording has finished she turns to Michael standing close to her, who seemed to be engrossed in the words of her former Captain, mentor, surrogate mother.

"I am sorry. But at least in the end you know she loved you." taking a deep breath "I cannot say the same thing about my daughter."
Michael watches her face, only a foot away from her, now that it was unguarded, sadness shadowing her features. In the next instant she saw the walls coming up again, the Emperor masking up the human side of her.

"From what I've seen now, and what I've read from her personal logs ..." begins the Emperor slightly changing the topic.
"You've read what?" cried out Burnham. "How do you have access to her personal logs? Those are only available to the family..."
"your captain was not a person to hold a grudge - I believe she forgave you the moment she sent you to the brig if it gives you any consolation." continued the Emperor as if nothing had happened. "I think showing any animosity toward you would be uncharacteristic of her. Do you agree?"
Michael stared at the Emperor incredulously, noses flaring, then took a deep breath. Exhale and inhale, said Michael to herself. Still she couldn't stop her raging heart, so she steps away from Georgiou and begin to pace in the office. "How could you say like it is a fictional role to play, as if it is a tale to be told? Who gave you access to her files?"

The Emperor huffs and gets a hold of Michael's arm stopping her pace. "The Admiral, of course. If I am to play convincingly a deceased captain, how else would I know her?"
"And she gave you those files?"
A smile formed on the Emperors face, "I demanded for access. It was an interesting experience. There are even a lot of similarities between our histories."
Michael furrows her brows, still not able to think clearly.
"So, what is your answer?"
Burnham stares at her as if she'd grown another head. She just registers that the Emperor's hand is still holding onto her arm.
"Animosity, yes or no?" changing her tone from guarded to playful.
"Yes, I mean, no" babbled Michael. "She never held a grudge." then she steps out of the hold if Georgiou.

"All right. I think, for the moment, that's all what I need now. We need to get back." stated Georgiou and started towards the door.

"Wait!"
"What?" snapping at Michael.

"I still have my question to ask." challenges Michael. The Emperor squints her eyes, tilts her head slightly, looking at her with a semblance of malice, which would have made another person quiver.
"What do you think about when you look at me? Because I think your outburst earlier about my weakness towards my Philippa was as much for yourself as for me."
The Emperor jaw clenches, and begins to saunter back to Michael, her gaze never faltering. Oh, if looks could kill, she would be dead by now.
"Every time I see you, I hear your voice, I have to say a mantra that YOU are not my daughter." says the Emperor angrily through closed teeth.
"Why can't you see this as a second chance?" blurts out Michael.

"What second chance? You're not the Michael that I held when nightmares disturbed her, not the Michael I read bedtime stories, not the Michael who battled victoriously by my side, nor the Michael who called me mother in the last 20 years." lashes out the Emperor. "You bear her face, and against all odds you are so not unlike her. You have the same stance, defiance, same exploring and ever curious spirit, same passionate heart, you even look at me the same way." she stops, tries to calm down, shaking her head "But no, you are not her." Michael hears her tearful whisper.

"As you are not my Philippa. Yet, your presence makes me stronger. Despite all that has happened, even after seeing all those things you are capable of doing, you still reach me." admits Michael in response, tears welling up again in her eyes.
The Emperor looks at Michael. She is trying to determine how much of this conversation is calculated, if she is only trying to stab her in the back. But she can only find honesty in her not daughters' eyes. She slowly lifts her right hand to Michael's face, touching it as she had done in the throne room, stroking it gently. Michael cannot help herself and leans into her hand. She knows it's irrational, that this person is not her Philippa, but it feels like the weight crushing her chest for almost a year had been lifted, leaving only a dull ache behind. She didn't not allow herself this luxury before, not knowing where the Terran Burnham stood with the Emperor. Now, she submerges herself in this lie. It doesn't help that their bond is so strong, that this mother-daughter relationship carries over between universes, and she lets a few teardrops to escape.
"What do you want?" comes a defeated question from Georgiou. She feels herself emotionally drained, which she only felt after learning about the death of her daughter. Seeing her daughter’s face again, then learning her true identity, losing her reign, killing Lorca, pulled into another universe without her consent, a universe where humans were on a brink of annihilation was a shuttle travel through an ion storm without inertial dampeners.
"Truce." whispers Michael. "To have ourselves a peace of mind. To not let it end like it ended before."
Stepping away from Burnham "I'm not her." states Georgiou.
"I know."
"Then why are you pursuing this nonsense?"
"Because this conversation is not becoming of a Terran Emperor. You seem comfortable here, with me."
At this the Emperor frowns, knowing this weakness of hers must be tampered down if she wants to succeed later on.
"Enough. We go back, now."

"Don't doubt her love for you." Michael blurts out before Georgiou could open the door.
"How can you say that? You don't know her!" growled the Emperor turning back again to Michael.
"You said yourself, we are, were, so much alike. If you had been at least half the mother my captain was to me, she surely loved you and never wanted to hurt you."
"She attempted a coup with Lorca!" almost shouted the Emperor.
"She assisted the coup of Lorca." grounded Burnham. "I think she did it to save you. She must have known that Lorca had plans to kill you anyway, whether she helped him or not, so she decided to play along. She either pleaded for your life before or thought that he would spare your life had she asked and surely even had a backup plan if all these were to fail."
"What makes you think that?"
"I've turned against my Philippa because I believed that saving her is more important than the Starfleet's principles. Principles that I've lived by up until that moment. It was even against my Vulcan upbringing that I religiously try to maintain even today. I also knew it would disappoint my father whose approval I've always sought and never got until recently. And yet when it was about her survival, nothing mattered."
The Emperor shuts her eyes, exhaling slowly, willing every emotion to disappear. So far, every new information on this universe’s Michael showed that the two of them were more identical than twins. Both were extremely smart, intelligent, always wanting to prove themselves in the worst possible scenarios and succeeding, they were also too headstrong, and behind their schooled expressions a loving heart resided. Perhaps she is right, she could make peace with her heart, bury her daughter once and for all and treat this Burnham as a stranger. That's the only way, if she wants her plans to come to fruition.
"All right." comes a soft answer.
"Thank you." says Burnham.

"What will you win from this charade?" asks unexpectedly Michael.
"Freedom" comes a fast and direct answer.
"Then what?"
"I've already answered more than one question. You are too curious for your own good." sneers the Emperor and finally leaves the room. Well, at least she confirmed that she has an ulterior motive. Damn. Surak, help us.

As Burnham heads back to her station on the bridge, she glances over to Saru, who looks back at her. All you all right? Comes the wordless question. Her "I'm okay" expression calms the Kelpien down. Stay alert, and Burnham purposefully indicates toward the Emperor, now residing in the captain’s chair.
Surak said that there is Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Well, right now, it seems farfetched. There must be some universal constants to result in this scenario, to be practically adopted by the same person in two fundamentally different universes, to have this unbreakable bond. Maybe they are to have this bond, to overcome whatever the universe is throwing at them. Or someone has a bad sense of humour.
But right now, the Emperor looks pensive, calculating, and Michael cannot even comprehend what goes in her mind. Not that she wants to know it exactly, but she will be paying attention to every little detail from now on to prevent whatever malicious scheme she is concocting. And she hopes that it will be enough, hopes that it will not result in a second, more deadly mutiny, because she doesn't think she can walk away from it unscathed and sane. Hopes that this unlikely bond between them will be enough to stop a war and start anew, in peace.

Chapter Text

"See that she's comfortable!" orders the Admiral and leaves the room with the Vulcan in tow.

The Emperor sits down on the couch, not looking happy. She is pissed. Royally. Pun intended. Michael told Lorca that Starfleet would have helped getting back had he asked. She asked that exactly and yet she found herself still here. The status of the war must be dire if their only solution is to put her in a gilded cage, obscured in the shadows. At least in a real cage she would know what is happening outside. Still she might be able to use this situation to her advantage. This ship is one of its kind, with a lot of firepower, and the disarray of the Federation could prove as an opportunity to escape. Escape to where? comes a whisper from the back of her mind. Anywhere where I can lead again, arrives the simple retort.

"Is there anything you need?" Burnham disturbs her train of thought, standing awkwardly.
Damn Burnham. It is all her fault. And why does she have to be so much like her Michael? Her face is almost as unreadable as her late daughter's, but there are micro expressions fleeting over, betraying the emotional disarray she tries to hide. It was less noticeable aboard the Charon. She dismissed it then to nerves about the premeditation of another coup. Now, in the light of her real identity and history of her Georgiou, she knows the reason is merely attributed to her presence. Though Burnham still stands at attention, her hands are folded in front of her and not behind her back like it would be expected from a soldier, like the Admiral stood. Her fingers are also fidgeting unbeknownst to her, another sign of her state of mind. Georgiou waits for the inevitable continuation of Burnham's pestering while keeping in track of every little detail of movement. Like a lioness on a hunt. Looking for tell-tales of weakness or anything that could be useful later on. Besides the obvious of course.

"Do you require medical attention? Lorca hit you hard, you lost consciousness for a little while." comes the next question. Georgiou can only shrug at it. There were times when her injuries were more severe, yet she kept going on. Her scars beneath her armour are testaments to that. Now she only has bruises on her body and those will fade with or without a doctor. The emotional scars however run deeper and there is no surgical intervention to heal those. Right now, what she needs is to be left alone, and not some fussing doctor nor some nagging child.
"I have some field medic training, we don't have to call a doctor if you only want to have a look on minor injuries." says Burnham as if reading her thoughts.
The Emperor squints at Michael, silently wishing for her to shut up. She doesn't want to lash out on her, she might be her only escape route.

Burnham, seeing she's not getting any answer, purses her lips and goes on, pushing her luck.
"Would you like to eat something? Or drink? Obviously, there are some beverages on the shelf, but if you need something else you can use this replicator." and she indicates to her right on the wall. "You can replicate any kind of food or drink programmed into it."
Before she could stop herself the Emperor retorts cynically "Do you have a good Kelpien soup recipe?" with a dangerous smile. Underneath she is boiling like a volcano ready for eruption.
"Not funny." replies dryly Burnham frowning a little. The memory of her last dinner still haunts her - and her stomach. She still stands there, as if she was a waiting for some sort of order.

"I want to be left alone." forces Georgiou out.
Michael lowers her head in defeat. She can see that the Emperor is not in a good mood, best not to trifle with it. But before she leaves the room, she turns back from the door to Georgiou who looks just deep in thought.
"I'm sorry. Sorry, that we are not in the best state now and cannot show you what the Federation is all about, that you have to stay here in this room for a while." She stops momentarily, trying to gauge the Emperor's reaction, but she closed her eyes, her expression is stoic. Michael is debating whether she should continue, whether the Emperor will accept a little more talking from her before literally kicking her ass out of the quarters. Perhaps later she can ask for a few moves to be taught.

Just when Georgiou could think that Burnham will finally leave her alone, she decides to speak up again. Georgiou rolls her eyes exasperatedly.
"I am however not sorry for saving your life." braves Michael.
"Don't expect any gratefulness on my part." growls the Emperor. "It was my decision to stay and die fighting, you had no right to question it. I've had no reasons left to live on."
Michael nods but counters timidly "You've said as much before. I'd hoped that by bringing you here, you can have one again."
She only receives a hateful glare in response.
"I'll come back later to see if you need anything." and with that Burnham steps out.

Finally. A long sigh escapes her. The stress boils over looking for a sudden release. Georgiou quickly grabs the nearest glass in her reach and throws it hard against the doorframe venting some of the anger. She stands and begins to roam around. Stupid child. She doesn't need her protection. As if it wasn't so infuriating that she plucked her into this universe to be trapped, she also had to look like, hell, act like her own daughter. Someone in the universe must find this extremely funny. Well she doesn't. She hopes she'll find the culprit and choke him, or it, or whatever it is responsible for this twisted symmetry between their universes'.

She also can't stand sitting around and she's definitely not the type to watch things fly by. There was a good reason why she was the oldest ruler in the Empire's history. She always had a plan, and rarely trusted anyone. Except for two people. Her greatest mistake. She even allowed herself to love one of them, and both of them betrayed her in turn. Never again, she vows to herself. She needs a plan. Her anger seemingly smoulders down on the thought of plotting, all excess energy is directed toward thinking. She also needs a drink. Walking over the shelf she opens a bottle containing an amber liquid. Sniffing the contents she is pleased to find it similar to a brandy she likes and pours herself a glass.

Walking over to the viewport of the room her gaze wanders around the stars while sipping from her drink. First, assess the situation. There is great war between the almighty Federation and the Klingons. She assumes the Federation is not winning. The only way to win against those barbarians if they treat them as the animals they are, unfortunately that is against the shiny Federation's ideals. But when they are desperate, they will come to her and she feels that time is near. Her knowledge on Klingons will come in handy when things will turn ugly. And it is definitely not the question of if but when.

Georgiou turns around, sitting down on the sofa, conjuring up in her mind the short conversation with the greeting party. The Admiral tried to act strong, but has no idea what to do. Poor little creature, she could be bent to her ideas with ease. The only problem with that could be the Vulcan seemingly counselling her. Well at least he was intriguing. She needs to investigate him further because she feels, there must be a deeper connection between him and Burnham. Burnham's eyes reflected the same respect and care she looked at her, she even mirrored his stance. If she is right, she could play either side to her advantage. And not to forget that all three people and the Kelpien looked like they were seeing a ghost. It means that her features are almost the same as their Georgiou's. That would explain the foolish, sentimental act of Burnham (Pot, meet kettle! mocks a honeyed voice inside her, Never again! retaliates the Emperor back). So maybe she could pass as her, it would be almost as good as freedom. Granted this new version of Captain Georgiou would most certainly raise a few eyebrows quite fast.

The next stop is to wait for Burnham's return and ask her about the Vulcan. Wonder how long it will take? Probably only a few hours. It is clear that she yearns for her former Captain, to seek redemption and forgiveness and maybe a bit of mothering. Pathetic. Well, she is not her. She is an Emperor and not some replica who is here to replace a weak Federation Captain, just because they share a name and a face. There are no second chances where she comes from, and she doesn't think there is in this universe either. It doesn't mean however that she could not pretend to give Burnham what she wants, to lure her in, lower her defences. One just needs to be patient for a while.

 

Just as the doors close behind Burnham leaving the Emperor's quarters she stops. Her hands are shaking, her feet feel like lead. She must recollect herself. She doesn't know how to deal with all of this. In a desperate attempt to calm her nerves she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, counts to four and exhales. Then, crack. A sharp noise of a glass smashed against the wall is heard. She spins around suddenly alarmed, staring at the door. War is waging within her, whether to go back and check on the Emperor or to stay outside. Time seem to have slowed down. No other sound is coming from the room, there is no reason to intervene. She'd like to think, she understands the Emperor's frustration. Best to leave her be for a while.

What she wouldn't give for a good liquor right now, or just someone to whom she could talk unrestricted. But she can't. She doesn't have that type of relationship with Saru, she always wanted to hide her feelings from Sarek, and Tilly, she can't know who resides in this guest room. Guess the only option for now is the punching bag in the gym, breaking one glass just wouldn't do for herself.