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Race to the finish line

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Mudd twirls the key like it’s a moustache, grinning at them. Tilly adjusts her phaser, aiming for the shoulder instead of the torso; Mudd looks like he’ll go for the door, but there’s a vent on his other side she thinks he might be hiding something in.

“-and all my troubles…will be gone. There’ll be a poof – then, ha! I shall be over a dozen years in the past and you shall have in custody a random nobody to whom I will eternally be grateful for replacing me,” Mudd puts a hand to his heart and the new Chief of Security shoots the wall behind his head. Tilly glances at her – Commander Nhan is calm as can be. Cool as a cucumber.

“Hand over the device,” she demands. Mudd stares at her, before quickly pressing his hand to the gaudy pin on his chest. Tilly feels the electricity building immediately, the air almost quivering. Mudd drops the key unceremoniously.

“Oh, you fools,” he taunts, grinning. “Why would I show off the key to my invention?”

“It’s not your invention,” Michael beside her steps forwards, Commander Nhan backing away and stepping around the side, stopping him from being able to get past the door. Mudd barely looks at her, waving his hand.

“Fine, Iroft’s invention.”

“Yes, Doctor Iroft’s invention,” Michael says, lip turning up at the side, “and we found it, reversed the polarity and decided exactly when you’ll be arriving.”

Mudd’s expression falls. Tilly feels her hair collecting with static and promises herself it’s for a good cause.

“No,” he says.

“Yes,” Michael grins and Tilly loves that smile – it’s the one she gets when there’s nothing heavy on her mind, when she wins a game of chess or laughs at one of Tilly’s jokes. The one she always, always makes when they have a free moment and they kiss, like the universe isn’t right outside their quarters and full of war and chaos – like they haven’t been duped by a captain that abused their trust and loyalty and like they aren’t Starfleet officers, fraternising between levels.

Michael says to Mudd: “and as soon as your replacement arrives, we’ll get your exact location thirteen years in advance and return them. It’ll be prison for you, Harry.”

An audible whine builds up in the air and Mudd drops to his knees, knowing his plan is foiled, moaning in failure. The electricity sparks and then, with barely more than a small flash of white, Mudd is gone – replaced by a young girl who has her eyes squeezed shut and her hands splayed across her face.

Tilly immediately lowers her phaser. “Oh my god, that’s a kid.”

“…hello?” Michael tentatively approaches them, tucking her phaser away. She edges closer to the girl, crouching down and trying to get a good look at her. Tilly looks at the girl from afar, somehow finding her remarkably familiar, despite how she knows only a single young child, her nephew. She thinks it must be the hair – it’s the wrong colour, a dark brown more like Michael’s than her red, but the curls are the same.

She’s probably what mine and Michael’s imaginary kid would look like, Tilly thinks to herself jokingly. She’s got the same shade of skin as Michael too, perhaps even darker. The girl’s brow furrows as Tilly makes her observations and opens her eyes, meeting Michael’s gaze.

Ko-mekh?

Tilly gasps immediately, shocked, while Michael abruptly reaches out, hand touching her shoulder. The girl reacts immediately, giving a full-body sigh before lunging into Michael’s chest, arms wrapping around her tightly.

By the door, Nhan looks to Tilly. “What did she say?”

“‘Ko-mekh’ – it’s Vulcan for mother,” Tilly practically spits out in her hurry to tell her. “We swapped Mudd with Michael’s daughter from the future, holy shit.

The girl’s gaze snaps to her, eyes wide. “Mama, you swore! Ko-mekh, Mama said a bad word!” She bats at Michael’s arm, trying to get Michael to do something. Tilly gapes. Nhan raises an eyebrow.

“Okay, this just went from weird to weirder. Kid – what’s your name?”

The girl stops hitting Michael for attention, wrapping her arms around her neck instead. “I’m Phil! Phil Tilly!”

“T-T-Tilly?” Tilly questions, stuttering. Michael slowly stands, lifting the little girl up – lifting Phil up – only for said little girl to unwind her arms from her neck and reach out for Tilly. The ensign scrambles for what to do, giving in when she sees her chin wobble and her eyes start to water. Taking Phil from Michael’s arms, Tilly puts her on her hip like she did whenever her step-sister foisted her nephew on her so she could go out and tries not to wince when tiny hands latch onto her ponytail.

“You said I’d see you,” Phil says, practically sinking into Tilly’s chest. She’s heavier than she looks and it’s a strange sensation – Tilly’s nephew had only ever been tired enough to do this once. Tilly’s nephew is the only child she’s ever had contact with. I’m going to drop her, Tilly thinks in panic, tightening her grip. Phil only wiggles into the faux-hug more.

Michael takes her communicator out. “Burnham to Discovery, we have the replacement person.”

Burnham, that’s good to hear,” Captain Pike replies cheerfully. “How are they? Or rather, who?

Michael and Tilly share a stricken look, before Michael carefully answers. “They’re tired. Identity has yet to be fully given. She said her name is Phil.”

Did she know what was going to happen?

“Yes,” Michael says. “Apparently we told her ourselves.”

That’s great news,” Pike says, still painfully ignorant to the truth of the situation. “Doctor Iroft say’s the readings for his invention are normal, but the power was more than expected. Inform Miss Phil that we’ll have her back home tomorrow at the earliest.

“Is she old enough to understand that?” Tilly blurts out, Michael’s immediate expression of panic telling her that she’s made a mistake.

There’s a pause. “…old enough?” Pike asks warily. “Commander, how old is this Miss Phil, approximately?

Michael looks at Tilly’s chest – at Phil, who has her thumb in her mouth. At Pike’s question, showing she’s listening, Phil raises her hand to show four fingers, before attempting to put her thumb back in her mouth. Michael reaches out, stepping closer to take Phil’s wrist.

“Phil, no.”

Phil whines, wiggling her arm in Michael’s grasp, nearly elbowing her in the face. “Ko-mehk, no! Let me!”

“Listen to your mother,” Tilly says sternly, the words falling out of her mouth without her permission. Immediately, Phil stops, going limp and sullen. Instantly, Tilly realises she sounds like her own mother and it horrifies her.

Michael looks at Tilly with undisguised hope.

Does she want children? Tilly doesn’t remember Michael having ever mentioned them before. Do I want children? Tilly then asks herself, wondering if she does. There is living, breathing proof in her arms that it happens. She wonders who carries her – who gets to be the birth-mother and who gets to be the gene-mother. Tilly tries to imagine herself pregnant and inwardly recoils from the thought, never wanting a child inside her own body.

But being a mother? Tilly untangled Michael’s fingers from Phil’s wrist, holding her hand briefly, squeezing. I could do that, right?

She wonders if it would be inappropriate to ask Michael to be her girlfriend in public, stuff the regs.

Commander Burnham, Ensign Tilly,” Pike starts sternly, shocking her out of her thoughts. “Do you want to explain that? And also, tell me why Commander Saru is having a choking fit at his station? What the hell is a co-meck?

Michael winces. “It’s better explained in person, sir. Four to beam up.”

You’d better,” Pike says, “We’re readying the transporter. Prepare to be transported.

The transporter beams them away. Their molecules are dematerialised and the next thing Tilly knows is the familiar transporter room of the U.S.S. Discovery, Phil snuffling into her uniform. Adjusting her grip, Tilly silently carries Phil out of the room towards the turbolift, noticing how the child – she’s barely more than a toddler, she’s so tiny! – reaches down to fiddle with her Starfleet badge, eventually removing it.

Do I take it off her? It’s kind of sharp… Tilly eventually decides that if she wouldn’t let her nephew have it, she’s definitely not letting Michael’s daughter – my daughter, our daughter – have a vaguely dangerous triangle of metal.

“No, sweetheart,” she murmurs and Phil, surprisingly, lets her take it out of her hand to put in her pocket. Said hand returns to her hair a moment later, so Tilly figures future-her either lets it happen or has something else so distract her. Tonight will be hell if she’s missing a toy to sleep with, she thinks.

They arrive on the right level. Commander Nhan stands with Michael, glancing back with an entertained smirk every so often. Tilly gives her the stink-eye behind her back.

All of the bridge glances over at their entrance, but more than a few do double-takes when they catch sight of Tilly with Phil.

“Uh – civilian on the bridge, captain,” Tilly says nervously, readjusting Phil once again. Her arm is burning from holding her up even for a few minutes.

“Right…” Pike stares at Phil for a few seconds, before standing up and coming over, leaning slightly to greet her. “Miss Phil, is it?”

Phil shifts her head, glancing at Pike. She pauses, seeing something behind him. Tilly nearly drops her when she starts to wriggle, arms waving about.

“Uncle Saru!”

“Jesus Christ,” Tilly mutters, trying to keep a hold of her as the captain backs up, Saru staring at Phil with trepidation. Fuck it, she thinks, before just putting her on the floor. Phil falls briefly onto her backside, looking absolutely adorable just sat there on the deck of Discovery in her animal onesie – Tilly can’t figure out if it’s a bear or a dog – before she wobbles up onto her feet.

Then she fucking bolts for Saru, who takes a step back as she collides with his legs, hugging him tightly.

“Saru! Saru! Mama an’ Ko-mekh took me to Earth for a holiday an’ we saw the sea and lots of- of-” Phil stutters, repeating herself and sounding somewhat like a broken robot, before she finally stumbles over a full sentence. “We saw the sea and fireworks – lots.”

“Ah, well…that sounds wonderful,” Saru says, reaching down tentatively to unlatch her from his legs. He holds her hands, Phil not at all concerned by how his differ from her own, beaming up at him with a wide smile that makes Saru visibly melt. “Your name is Phil…that would happen to be short for Philippa, would it?”

Tilly hears Michael choke slightly and she reaches out, taking her hand and squeezing tightly as Phil shrugs, smile fading slightly as if the topic disinterests her.

“Phil,” she says shortly. “Philippa’s my opah. I have two opah’s called Philippa, but I only get to see the maharajah.”

Saru’s expression twists and he glances at Pike. “She is referring to, uh…Philippa Georgiou.”

“Commander, I’m aware of Emperor Georgiou, no need to beat around the bush,” Pike says, putting Tilly somewhat at ease – the whole bridge, which had been racketing up tension, seems to let out a breath.

Saru inclines his head, before looking back down at Phil. “You look like your mother.”

Phil gives him a confused face, swinging his arms a little. “Mama?”

Ko-mekh,” Tilly corrects and Phil smiles at Saru’s compliment – that’s Michael’s smile, of course she looks like her – even as attention is drawn back to her. “Uh…Michael, Phil referred to her as ko-mekh on the planet’s surface.”

“We heard,” Pike shifts, looking directly at her. He scrutinises her, eyes pausing at her absent badge. Tilly is quick to pin it back on, but the damage is done. “Why didn’t she want to go to Burnham, then?”

“Yes, Tilly, why not?” Commander Nhan asks, smirk still firmly set in place. Out of the corner of her eye, Tilly can see Phil react to her name, glancing backwards at the Chief; she can see how Saru notices.

Pike glances between them all before nodding his head sideways. “We’ll continue this in the ready room. Commander, if you could take the conn while we discuss Miss Phil, here.”

“Of course, Captain,” Saru says, before lifting Phil up into the air by her hands. The girl giggles immediately, legs kicking out. “Michael, if you would please take your adorable, time-travelling daughter? I’m sure your future self is frantic and it will do us all well if she is returned home safely.”

Michael steps forwards, tentatively grabbing the girl from behind. Phil wiggles a little again, trying to look up at her, but Michael lugs her under her arm like a parcel, turning her sideways. Phil laughs a little, but quieter than before, enjoying the novelty. Tilly stands at Michael’s side as they trudge into the ready-room, Commander Nhan pulling up the rear.

“What happened after Mudd activated Doctor Iroft’s device?” Pike asks as they converge around his lowered table – the ready room is a warmer, more comforting area now that Pike has taken over and redecorated. Tilly is grateful for it.

Michael places Phil on the tabletop, her legs swinging. “There was a charge in the air. It wasn’t an immediate reaction and I told Mudd what we’d done. When he switched place with Phil, she recognised me as her mother.”

“My congratulations, by the way,” Pike interjects, grinning. His eyes fall on Phil, smile still in place. Tilly thinks he looks kind of wistful. “Who’s the lucky person who gets to parent this little one, eh?”

“She’s four,” Michael demurs from answering, which Tilly notes that Nhan realises. Her smile fades. “The more important question is whether or not Doctor Iroft will be able to return her. We’re assuming that our future selves will be able to hold Mudd long enough to activate the machine from their end.”

“Because Phil is too young to remember her exact coordinates in space-time,” Pike grimaces, smile falling away.

“She might,” Nhan interjects, stepping up on Michael’s other side. “Phil?” Phil looks up at her. “Do you know exactly where you were? Exactly-exactly?”

“Mama made me remember,” Phil confirms, “I sing. It’s a number song! Mama, you sing it? You sing the number song?” Phil beseeches Tilly, who stares at her, confused.

“Phil, I cannot sing,” she informs her. “I’m like a foghorn and I’m always off-key.”

“She called you ‘mama’…” Pike starts, trailing off, “and I see that isn’t a surprise to you.”

“Not really, Captain,” Michael winces as she shakes her head. Pike purses his lips.

“The fraternisation policies are in place for a reason,” he starts sternly, pausing before he continues, softer, “but I’m sure Starfleet will forgive you in time, considering it’s to prevent a paradox.” He winks and Tilly lets out a relieved gust of air, before Phil whines.

“Number song!”

Tilly reaches out to tap her nose, grinning at her, feeling elated at what was essentially Pike giving them permission to be together while under his command.

“Why don’t you sing it for us, huh, comet? Come on, I’m sure you know it all,” she encourages. Phil visibly struggles with answering, before she finally leans forwards and whispers to Michael.

Can I sing to Uncle Saru? Only Saru?

“Of course, ko-fu,” Michael takes one of her hands, tucking it between her own. “But make sure he can hear you.”

Ko-mekh,” Phil starts, sounding as if she’s scolding her – it’s remarkably adorable and catches Tilly off-guard. “Uncle Saru’s Kelpien. Uncle Saru can hear lots and lots. I can be very quiet and he could hear. Uncle Saru always knows when I’m not happy when I’m asleep.”

“Well, I’m sure ‘Uncle Saru’ would love to hear you sing,” Pike says, walking around them and the table towards the bridge, “One moment.”

He leaves and if Nhan wasn’t there – if Phil weren’t on the table in front of them as well, for that matter – Tilly would hug Michael, because the both of them are pretty overwhelmed by events right now.

“Hug,” Phil then demands, reaching for them both. Michael and Tilly exchange an awkward glance, not sure how to refuse, but they’re saved by Saru entering the ready room.

“What is this I hear about a lovely number song?”

Phil is ecstatic, of course and because of how she wants to sing to just Saru, they go to either ends of the ready room. Saru and Phil curl up together on a chair, Phil’s quiet voice barely audible. Tilly still tries to strain to hear, of course, but Michael takes her elbow and says hey.

“I just want to know,” Tilly whispers frantically. “Like, what if I don’t know the song when I have to teach it to her?”

Michael reaches up and Nhan is right there, but they go through the familiar motions of a comforting kiss, Michael gently tilting her chin and Tilly pressing their foreheads together afterwards.

“I just worry,” she mumbles.

“I trust you,” Michael says, kissing her cheek before parting as Saru returns from the other end of the room, Phil cradled in his long arms. Her animal onesie hood is up, a strange fabric horn in her grasp and in her mouth, pulling at the material. It’s better than the badge, at least, Tilly thinks, still bothered that she can’t figure out what animal it is.

“Young Phil has informed me most kindly where she was, when Mudd replaced her,” Saru says, before smirking somewhat. People need to stop smirking at us, Tilly thinks. “Thirty-six feet east, four feet to the north and two stories up from the place where ‘Mama’ married ‘Ko-mekh’ – which happens on Earth, apparently. A spoiler, but necessary.”

“A number song…about our wedding?” Tilly asks and suddenly, she’s blinking back tears. “Oh my god, I’m gonna cry.”

Michael chuckles, but she’s scrubbing at her eyelids as well. “Of course,” she says, before reaching forwards to take Phil from Saru, holding her close, “What other planet would actually make a sehlat onesie?”

“A sehlat? What’s that?” Tilly questions, realising that Michael has known the entire time what their daughter is wearing.

“Vulcan dog-bear,” Phil chirps, though through the fabric horn it sounds like wulcan dug-bur.

“Vulcan is weird,” Nhan says, “and I hate to point it out, but the ‘number song’ solves nothing when Tilly and Burnham haven’t got married yet.”

“But that is not quite true,” Saru says, raising a hand. “The song did indeed have coordinates dotted throughout the verses. I was simply being vague for the sakes of Michael and Sylvia. She is excellent at memorisation, by the way – you truly will have an amazing daughter, when the time comes.”

“Thank-you, Commander Saru,” Tilly offers, before the Kelpien inclines his head to Nhan, the two of them leaving the ready room. Tilly, Michael and Phil are left alone. “So…”

“So,” Michael repeats, holding Phil close and Tilly realises with a spark that she does want one of her own, one day. Our little comet, Tilly thinks, reaching forwards to brush Phil’s wild curls back behind her ear. “I must say, this is a nice surprise.”

“Happiness?”

“That and the fact that you’ll definitely be around when I have it,” Michael says and Tilly can’t help it. She presses up against her, Phil between them and she kisses Michael. Michael, who mentored her; Michael, who she became best friends with – Michael, who she fell in love with. Tilly kisses her and does so until Phil reaches up and grasps her hair again, literally wrenching her out of place.

They laugh.

Phil laughs too, copying them like all children do. Tilly presses a kiss to her forehead and Phil beams with Michael’s smile.