Michael Burnham's lips taste of scotch, and she relaxes as her arms slide around Kat's waist.
This is a terrible idea, Kat is thinking, but it's a long way from the worst one she's had lately, and Michael is holding her tight and close, and she's solid and warm and reassuringly real. The rain is beating against the windows of Kat's temporary office, but she's close enough to hear Michael's breathing grow shallow as she kisses the commander's neck and earlobe.
They break the kiss, and Michael says, "I've found myself making unwise decisions lately."
"Me, too," says Kat. Her hands are resting on Michael's hips, and she wants to press her against the couch, unzip her jacket and--
Michael says, "I don't want--"
"Favours," Kat finishes. "You won't get them. I'm very, very good at compartmentalising."
She realises this may no longer be true. And she undermines her own point by kissing Michael, slowly and lightly, with each word.
It must be enough to break a human's attempt at Vulcan logic, because Michael's eyes flutter closed, and she leans in to kiss Kat again.
Somewhere in the last few months, Kat has started to fantasise about sleeping with a phaser. Or a knife. Sometimes she wakes up, wrenching herself out of a nightmare, and finds herself reaching for a weapon.
It's not healthy. But as long as she knows that, as long as she catalogues every symptom, each intrusive thought and self-destructive impulse, she thinks she can hold out.
It's not as if anyone else in Starfleet is doing better.
She's not going to sleep tonight. She's in her Paris office, waiting for the world to end. Either the Klingons will attack Earth, or Georgiou will destroy Qo'noS. All she can do is wait.
Best case scenario, she'll be remembered as one of the architects of an atrocity. The most mundane of monsters, just another person who didn't argue hard enough for an alternative.
Kat checks her comm. No updates yet. She stretches, and pours herself a glass of the scotch she liberated from Ga-- from Lorca's quarters. Raises it.
To all of our grand plans, she silently tells her friend's ghost. At least you never had to see this.
It's late. Or early. And she shouldn't be drinking. She's already self-medicating in other ways: dermal patches to deliver anti-nausea drugs, hyposprays to calm the panic that has dogged her since she saw the wreckage around Starbase One.
One way or another, this has to end. She doubts Lorca -- she is trying not to think of him as Burnham's Lorca -- ever had to flee his bridge to throw up in his private bathroom. He was … cold. Calculating, where her Gabriel was considered. Charming without sincerity. Untouchable. Except, apparently, by Burnham.
She needs -- she needs to find that coldness. Become marble. Emulate the emperor. Starfleet can't spare her. She can't. Can't fall apart yet.
She realises that her glass is already empty, and she's automatically reaching for the bottle to refill it. Stops herself.
She wonders what Discovery's crew are doing. If they know who is sitting in their captain's chair.
"They deserve better," she tells her glass. The dawning horror and betrayal in Burnham's eyes will haunt her for -- well. However long she lives. Somewhere down the line -- maybe on the Ship of the Dead, maybe in Discovery's guest quarters, poring over old maps of Qo'noS, Kat found herself valuing Michael Burnham's opinion. Wanting to live up to the ideals of a woman who, by rights, shouldn't have any left.
And here she argued against Gabriel's decision to conscript her. Only she didn't, because that wasn't her Gabriel, and it wasn't an end to the war he saw in Burnham, but a pawn, and maybe a lover.
"She deserves better, too."
As if on cue, her comm unit chimes, and here's Michael Burnham. Staking her claim to something better. For all of them.
The president is in the Situation Room, deep in the shielded sub-basement beneath Starfleet Command. Their mandibles click as Kat enters.
"Qo'noS?" they ask. "Is it done?"
"They found another way."
The president's antenna flicker with -- hope? Maybe Kat is projecting.
"Unexpected," they say.
"The Klingon fleet has stopped advancing," says Admiral Drake.
"Give me your report, Admiral Cornwell," says the president, but Kat has no words, all she can think is, Michael Burnham has either saved us all, or gambled with the entire Federation and lost.
But she knows L'Rell, and she thinks she knows Michael.
Please. Please let this work.
It's almost noon before the Klingon armada retreats. She makes it to the bathroom before she throws up.
Drake finds her a few minutes later, sitting on the tiles, listening to the hum of the sanitation cycle.
"I know," says Kat. "They need me back there." She's the highest ranking flag officer left. It won't do for anyone to find her like this.
Drake knows she doesn't have to say any of this. She offers Kat her hand.
"We have work to do, Katrina," she says.
One day, when all the players are long dead, everything about this war will be declassified, and future generations of Starfleet cadets will have long arguments about her decisions. It was the sort of debate Gabriel used to enjoy.
If nothing else, Kat figures, she can ensure that Michael Burnham doesn't go unrewarded. She has to call in every favour she's owed to get Michael reinstated, and even then, the Council wants to do it quietly. Sarek negotiates a compromise: discreet reinstatement for Michael, followed by all the pomp and ceremony they can muster for Discovery's crew.
That part is two days away. It's another rainy night in Paris, and Michael is standing in Kat's office. The gold of her insignia contrasts against the science silver of her uniform. Kat isn't all-powerful. Michael will never command a starship. At this moment, she doesn't seem to mind.
"I wanted to thank you," she says. "After my actions on the bridge, you could have thrown me back in prison."
"You saved the Federation. Helped end the war."
"I helped start it, Admiral." Michael hesitates. "Captain Lorca saw me playing a part in bringing the war to an end. Or so he said." She toys with her new-old rank insignia. "I believed him."
"The best lies have a grain of truth in them." Kat finds herself smiling at an old memory. "Gabriel told me that."
Michael raises her eyebrows.
"Second-year exo-biology. Specimen mishap." She feels like laughing for the first time in months. "It's still Academy legend. Ask your friend Tilly if she's heard of Professor L'chax and the Evirth pseudo-toad incident."
Michael looks like she's grateful for a distraction. "What happened to the pseudo-toads?"
"They … removed themselves from the study."
"You lost them."
"No, no," Kat has picked up the nearly empty bottle of scotch and waves it at Michael, drink? Michael nods. "Last we saw, they were making themselves at home on an island off Lucen's southern continent."
"On Lucen." Michael looks equal parts appalled and amused as she accepts her glass and takes a seat on the long couch by the window. "Where they have no natural predators."
"Last time I checked, they'd pretty much taken over that island." Kat's laughing at the memory. "I guess nothing like that happens at the Vulcan Science Academy."
"No." Michael sips her drink and takes a cautious sip. "I realised, when I came aboard the Shenzhou, that I had missed a key step in human socialisation. But I was also excluded from close interactions with Vulcans. It was … challenging." She frowns into her glass. "In some ways, I'm still catching up."
"I know Captain Georgiou -- the real Philippa Georgiou -- taught you a great deal," says Kat, sitting beside her. "I can't replace her, but--"
She falters, because how can Michael trust her, when she gave the false Georgiou command of Discovery and sent her out to commit genocide? She should be asking to learn from Michael.
But Michael looks relieved, not appalled.
"This is not where I thought my life would take me," she says.
"Mine, either." Kat remembers her drink and takes a sip. "When I was your age, I was gunning to make chief medical officer."
"Now you're the de facto Chief of Starfleet Operations." Michael raises her glass. "Is a toast in order, Admiral?"
Kat smiles. "To unexpected developments. And long careers." And no fuck-ups so big they can't be undone, with luck and grace and the strength and persistence of Michael Burnham.
Michael's eyebrows crease as she drinks. Not used to the taste, Kat suspects. She and Gabriel dedicated a whole spring break to developing their palates, because they were arrogant and ambitious and determined to feel superior to their beer-swilling classmates.
She thinks they would have liked Michael back then. Lorca -- the imposter -- had developed a kind of obsession. She can see why. Had they been peers, she and Gabriel would probably have invited Michael to go to bed with them.
The brush of her knee against Michael's is probably an accident. At least, she didn't do it deliberately, and she's cut her self-medicating down to the anti-nausea meds, which don't interact with alcohol.
Or maybe it was Michael who did it deliberately, because she's looking at Kat, head slightly tilted, and Kat can almost hear her thinking. Weighing her choices.
They move at the same time, Michael's lips parting under Kat's, her hands moving to Kat's waist, the small of her back. Kat wants to be gentle, share tenderness with this woman who deserves so much, but Michael is firm, demanding, and Kat responds in kind.
"I've found myself making unwise decisions lately," says Michael.
"I don't want--"
Kat wants to tell her that she doesn't need favours, she will do brilliantly on her own, exceed all expectations. Every success will be earned.
Too many words. She has better things to do than make conversation.
Michael's confidence belies a certain inexperience, but she's an enthusiastic student and a quick study, and she comes with a muffled gasp under Kat's mouth and hands, her blunt fingernails digging into Kat's skull.
Afterwards, Kat lies limp on her couch, Michael's head resting on her thigh. If an emergency call comes in, Starfleet will have a brand new scandal on their hands, but she can't quite motivate herself to move. She thinks she could almost sleep.
Instead, she forces herself to stir, tracing the shell of Michael's ear, and says, "We can't do this again."
"Of course not." Michael sits up, retrieving her bra. "It would be inappropriate." Her eyes are bright and warm. "This was a -- a welcome aberration."
Kat can see her pulling Vulcan dignity around herself like a cloak. She presses a kiss to Michael's shoulder and then releases her, reaching for her own underwear. But she stops to watch Michael dress, the way she looks down and hesitates, then straightens her rank insignia. Considers it, then reaches for it again.
"It's fine." Kat reaches for Michael's hand, then stops. "It looks good, Commander."
A smile touches Michael's lips at the sound of her rank, and it warms Kat as if it were a kiss.
"Thank you, Admiral," Michael says.
She turns to leave, but before she can open the door, Kat says, "Commander Burnham?"
Michael turns back.
Kat finishes dressing, save for her jacket, and all but collapses back on the couch, curling into a foetal position. She'd feel better if she had a knife close to hand, or a phaser, but she thinks it's getting easier.
Or maybe she's just getting used to a life where she wakes up every morning reaching for a weapon, only to remember that she's unarmed and alone, and that she's turned into a person who tried to order a genocide.
Sex with Michael … she can't decide if that's an improvement or a significant misstep. If it's the latter, at least the consequences will be confined.
It's past midnight. She might get a few hours' sleep before the nightmares start.
Kat closes her eyes.