The Star Trek universe is the copyrighted property of Paramount, and borrowed solely for the use of this story. The story is copyright 1997 by Ariana (ariana@alpha.ndirect.co.uk). All rights reserved. Do not distribute without the present header and the author's written permission. Please contact the author if you wish to include this story in an archive.

Le Q entre deux chaises

by Ariana

"Il m'a aimé toute la nuit, mon légionnaire
Puis me laissant à mon destin
Il est parti dans le lointain plein de lumière
Il était mince, il était beau
Il sentait bon le sable chaud, mon légionnaire"*

-- "Mon Légionnaire" (R.Asso/M.Monnot)

*"My legionary loved me the whole night long and then, leaving me to my fate, disappeared into the shining distance... He was slim, he was beautiful, he smelled of warm [desert] sand, my legionary."

The day shift had just finished on the brand-new Enterprise-E. The captain left the bridge to Counsellor Troi, who was reluctantly putting her Commander's rank to good use. He walked slowly to his quarters, looking forward to reading his book, a new French novel he had recently downloaded to his personal Padd. He was greeted by polite nods as he passed the occasional member of his crew in the diffused lighting of the corridors. Without families and civilians, there were half as many people on the E as there had been on the D. It made sense, he reflected. The D had been engaged in battle far too often, risking the lives of too many innocent people.

There was less pressure on the E. It was no longer the flagship of the entire fleet, since the court-martial had inevitably tarnished its crew's reputation. Admittedly, Starfleet had not demoted or decommissioned anyone, and the fact that they were all together on another Enterprise was proof that they must have friends in high places. Picard could think of one or two admirals he had called upon to pull some strings, and the ploy had obviously worked. It was also a PR move for Starfleet -- the names Enterprise and Picard were famous far beyond the Federation. Picard had even been Arbiter of Succession for the Klingon Empire, and, with the volatile situation due to the breakdown of the Klingon-UFP alliance, that was a card Starfleet wanted to be able to play if necessary.

Anyway, for the moment, the Klingon situation had calmed down thanks to Worf and the people on his station, and Starfleet could relax a bit. Which included Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise being able to relax a little, too.

He entered his quarters and changed out of his uniform. Rumour had it he wouldn't be wearing this particular uniform much longer, as some new design was supposed to be in the works. The news didn't surprise him particularly. In the last ten years, Starfleet had put him through four different uniforms, from the tight jump-suits that had been introduced while he was on the _Stargazer_, to the predominantly black costume with a lavender undershirt he was taking off right now.

Dressed in casual black trousers and a light blue shirt, he got himself a cup of tea, settled on his couch, and began to read.

He had been reading for about a quarter of an hour when he suddenly got a strange feeling he was being watched. Considering all the strange things that had happened to him in his fifty-odd years with Starfleet, he wasn't particularly alarmed by the feeling, though he did put down the Padd to have a look around.

He had got up and was looking behind him when he heard an all too familiar swishing sound and caught a bright flash in the corner of his eye. He spun around, but was surprised to find that the creature before him was an unfamiliar, tall woman.

"So this the famous Jean-Luc Picard," she sneered, peering down her nose at him.

She was a good deal taller than him, red-haired, with a pale face that was presently sporting a most unattractive expression of scorn. The dress she was wearing was similar to something from the 23d-century, a skin-revealing costume that looked as though a length of shiny material had been casually wrapped around her body, covering her breasts and spreading out into a full-length skirt below the waist, but leaving one side and most of her back uncovered. Her ruddy hair was simply drawn back into a tight bun and decorated with a twirling band of silver. The effect was quite exotic and reminded him very much of something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Some picture of the time, probably... something to do with Kirk, perhaps? Certainly not something he was used to seeing in his quarters, at any rate.

"You have the advantage, I'm afraid," he said. "I don't know who you are."

He looked her over deliberately. Obviously, she wouldn't have dressed in this way if she didn't want to be looked at. In fact, she even struck a pose for him, placing a hand on her hip and lifting her head even higher.

"I am Q," she announced ominously.

He had suspected as much; if nothing else, the flash had tipped him off. But he did know this wasn't the Q who visited him every year or so. Aside from Amanda, and she was still very much human the last time he had seen her, he had never met another Q. He only had Q's word for it that there *were* other Q (though he had no reason to doubt the entity's word).

"Obviously not our Q," he said.

"Oh, he's 'your' Q now, is he?" she said, leaning a little towards him, her eyes momentarily flashing anger. But then she seemed to relax a bit, and casually lifted an eyebrow. "Yes, I suppose he *is* your Q... Goodness knows we call him the 'Human's Q' in the Continuum." She straightened up again with a wicked laugh and turned her back on him to walk around his room.

He noticed the skin on her back was flawless, a detail that struck him as strange. She evidently hadn't bothered to create some of the inevitable moles and freckles that a real white-skinned human would have. An illusion Q, his Q, had been careful to create for his own male form.

"So, now we've established that we have a common acquaintance, perhaps you could explain what you're doing here?" he said.

She continued to circle the room, picking up objects and putting them back in the wrong place, visibly unimpressed by his collection. She then turned towards him, again positioning herself for maximum effect. *And I thought Q was fond of posturing,* thought the captain.

"I just thought I would come and see what you look like." She looked him over, evidently even less impressed with his appearance than with his artefacts. "It obviously isn't your looks," she said, half to herself.

Picard struggled to resist an involuntary smile that was trying to make its way to his lips. He settled on his couch again.

"Even by the standards of your mortal little species, you're a remarkably ugly specimen," she continued with a dismissive wave of her hand, her tone and facial expression still deliberately insulting. She was momentarily distracted by the sight of her hand. "Oh, how perfectly strange, you can see pieces of yourself as if they belonged to someone else!" This was evidently a big surprise to her, because she continued to move her hand and observe it for a moment. Now that the look of scorn was gone, he realised she was actually quite pretty.

"Anyway," she said, recovering from her examination of her hand and returning to her examination of him. "There's obviously something I'm not seeing. Not that I could see it in any of the others, either..." Picard didn't react to this, but she nonetheless gave him a sly look. "There are others, of course. You're not that important. He's found plenty of other very entertaining humans to visit in this galaxy."

"I'm very gratified to hear that. Maybe he will leave me alone, then," he said, sipping his tea. He put it down again with an expression of disgust. It was quite cold.

"Leave you alone?" She looked at him strangely, and then he felt something in his head. He automatically put his hand to his temple, a painful expression on his face.

"You can feel me reading you... Interesting," she said, going to sit on the coffee table opposite him. "You are quite a peculiar human. Maybe the intelligence of your species is inversely proportionate to the amount of cranial hair," she sneered.

She leant forward, her lips parted seductively, or so he thought. "Tell me, what are your feelings for Q?"

He was surprised. But then he allowed his latent smile to show and shifted to the edge of the couch, leaning over until his face was only a few centimetres from hers.

"Why do you ask?"

She let herself move just a little closer to him.

"You don't particularly like him, do you?" she said.

His face moved slightly nearer to hers.

"Not particularly. He has done a lot of damage to my ship and crew in the past."

"Poor Q," she murmured, her lips now dangerously close to his. "He really has a knack for choosing the wrong humans."

"May I ask you a question?" he said, his breath tickling her red lips.

"I suppose you may," she said magnanimously.

"What exactly do you want from me?" he asked.

As he expected, she pulled away, a look of hurt pride on her face.

"Why would I want anything from *you*?"

"I don't know, you're the omniscient one. Or did Q lie about that?"

"We *are* omniscient, as well as omnipotent."

"Very well, why are you here? Or is it a secret?"

She thought about that for a second.

"I thought I should visit some of Q's acquaintances. Just to see what kind of company he's keeping," she said cautiously, with only the slightest diminution of her disdainful expression. "We're rather concerned about him these days."

"Ah, well, I'm glad to know someone in the Continuum shows some concern for him." Now this was something new. As far as he knew, his Q seemed to be in a state of perpetual exile from the Continuum. It had never occurred to Picard that other Q could feel concerned about him.

"He is not in 'perpetual exile'," she protested vehemently, standing up. "He's just... a little misguided at times. He likes to stay away from his kin and consort with lower life-forms, bad-mouthing the Continuum. That sort of behaviour is very bad for him. And now... he has caused no end of trouble for us. He really ought to be punished," she added casually.

Picard was really quite thirsty. "Oh, I quite understand the need for punishment," he said, going over to the replicator. "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot... In fact, I find it rather reassuring to think that the Continuum is keeping tabs on him at all. Is it the Continuum that has sent you?"

"No, not exactly," she admitted, looking a little less sure of herself. She was almost forgetting to pose.

"Please, do sit down," he added, indicating the couch. "You might find it a bit more comfortable here." Knowing Q's habit of draping himself over tables and other irrelevant furniture, he wasn't sure she would obey, but he still thought it was worth a try.

As it was, she took his advice and reclined majestically beside him.

"So, Q," he said. "What brings you here? Private business?"

She laughed and it wasn't a particularly pleasant one, though it did make her ample bust heave in a rather attractive manner. "Yes, I was hoping to... well, no not really hoping, but expecting to find him here. And I thought I would just take this opportunity to have a look at you. But I see I was quite wrong to see you as a threat!"

"As a threat?" Picard genuinely didn't understand.

"Oh, of course, you humans are so obtuse... I was forgetting how limited mortal species really are. I wonder what Q sees in you all."

"I'm afraid I can't help you with that," he said, sipping his tea in a dignified manner.

"To think he actually considers you superior to us!" she laughed more gaily and floated off the couch in her mirth.

Picard made a very undignified noise with his tea, which had somehow defied the laws of gravity prevalent on the ship and gone up his nose. He had to get a towel to wipe his front off.

"Ugh, do you always do that with your food?" she asked, utterly disgusted.

"You said he considers us superior?" exclaimed Picard as if he didn't have a tea stain on his shirt.

She deposited herself on the couch again, but nearer him.

"Here, perhaps I can clear that up," she said, making the stain disappear. "A little cleaning service I'm all too pleased to provide."

He looked at her.

"Are you sure you're not my Q?"

"Quite positive," she said, completely unfazed by his question. "We are two distinct entities, though you probably wouldn't be able to tell us apart in our natural state. I remember once looking at a picture the Iconians had taken of myself and one of our other siblings, and quite frankly, I wouldn't have known it was us. Of course, it was just a picture of the light we emit in your dimension, not of us at all. And we can't see ourselves in our non-corporeal form."

Picard was enthralled by this piece of trivia about the Q. Iconians?

She looked down at her body, or more precisely at her bust, which probably obscured a good part of her view. "This is actually quite an interesting experience. You can see the light you reflect. I suppose it's normal when you think about it, since your perception is based on light, but, of course, I never thought about it. I had better things to think about."

"I gather this is your first time as a human," said Picard.

"Actually, yes, it is. I used another form for that other creature Q was consorting with so much. Scared her off nicely, too," she added with a grin.


"What do you mean, why?"

"Why did you scare her away? Who was she and what was she doing?"

The expression on her face darkened considerably. "She thought he was hers," she enunciated disdainfully. "But I showed her the error of her ways. That cow dropped him sharpish."

"Was that Vash by any chance?"

"Yes, Vache, that's what I said," she said sniffily.

Picard couldn't repress a little embarrassed laugh as light finally dawned.

"Oh... I see," he said.

"What do you see?"

Picard hesitated. It took a moment for what he had understood to sink in, and for some reason, the idea bothered him very much. A lot more than it should have, in fact.

"You're... his... mate?" he said, visibly amazed.

"Mate?" she spat it out as if it were a dirty word. "We don't do anything so disgusting as to *mate* in the Continuum. We don't need to procreate," she declared righteously.

"Well, that's a reassuring thought," murmured Picard.

"I'm his companion," she stated primly, crossing her legs and folding her hands on them.

"Ah... well, I suppose that does explain your concern for him."

Q actually had a mate -- companion, whatever -- in the Continuum? Picard was sincerely surprised, and the more he thought about it, the more surprised he was. And curious as to why this had never transpired before.

"How long have you been together... if I may be indiscreet?"

She probed the upper layer of his conscious mind and found the real reason for his question.

"We have been together for about four billion years," she said. "...I gather he never mentioned this to you."

"No... not, mind you, that we ever discussed his private life at all."

"Ah." She seemed rather disappointed.

Picard couldn't help looking her over with curiosity. He knew, of course, that this female form had as little to do with the Q wearing it as 'his' Q's male shape had to do with Q. The entity had, after all, chosen to appear as an Aldebaran serpent on his second visit to the Enterprise. Though that was the last time he appeared in anything else than his male human form.

Anyway, Picard observed the female form of Q's companion and thought she looked like the sort of woman for Q (it was too difficult for him to think in anything but in terms of gender). She was probably only a little shorter than Q -- it had been a while since he saw him, so he couldn't remember precisely -- and quite pretty if she could just keep that miserable expression of disdain off her face. They would make quite an attractive couple, by his standards of human aesthetics. Which said absolutely nothing for what sort of Q couple they made.

He realised she was having a good look at him, too.

"I think I know why he never mentioned me... That cad probably wanted you to think he was a gay bachelor."

"What in the Galaxy for?"

"Well, what do you think, Captain Picard?" she said, obviously exasperated by his obtuseness.

"I don't understand," admitted Picard.

"Neither do I. I mean... that reproductive drives might overtake him when he's in human form is one thing. Being in a corporeal body is... quite distracting," she said, again looking down at her body and running a tentative caress along her thigh... something Picard *definitely* found distracting.

"Q is a martyr to sensations of any kind," she continued, though she was still pursuing her innocent investigation of the sensations this particular body offered. "And I understand the reproductive drive is stronger among males, so if he appeared as a male, all he needed was a willing female... or two, or three," she added, the thought evidently making her angry again, and diverting her, much to Picard's relief, from her sensual explorations.

"But why males?" she asked, puzzled.

Picard was trying to take all this in. Three females? *Males*? What in the Galaxy was Q doing in his spare time?

"Human sexuality isn't geared purely with a view to reproduction," he said in his best professorial tone, trying to cover his confusion with the enunciation of plain facts. "It is also a means for us to express companionship." The minute he said the word, he realised it was a big mistake.

She sprang up and, crossing her arms, stamped angrily.

"I *knew* it... The bastard! I'll scatter his atoms all over the universe! I'll turn him into an Markoffian sea lizard! I'll take away his powers! How dare he treat me like this!"

As she paced around the room, she glared at the innocent coffee table, which promptly dissolved into a pile of dust, dropping Picard's tea all over the floor in the process.

"And all this because of you!" she declared, suddenly turning on him.


"Yes, you were the first. Without you, he would never have made us kick him out... and we wouldn't be in the state we're in. All this is because of you!"

She was now more distraught than angry.

"I don't understand," said Picard, at a loss.

"It all started when he met you. Then he wouldn't stop talking about humans, how much better they were than us. It made us doubt... Since then, we have had to exile him, accepted a human in our midst, and seen one of our own commit suicide! And I have seen my Q forsake me... And all this was your doing."

Her expression was now of cold anger. She nearly snorted in her contempt.

"Your race isn't even worthy of our attention. If he hadn't been so eager to protect you, and subverted others to his cause, we would have destroyed you all long ago. We found you guilty of being an unworthy species, and he managed to help you thwart our destruction sentence. All I have to do is snap my fingers, and I can destroy you myself."

She positioned her fingers as if she were about to do just that. Knowing what the Q were capable of, he raised his hand in a gesture of peace.

"No! You must let me explain."

She shook her head.

"I won't let you seduce me like you did my sibling. I'll destroy you right now."

Picard was about to protest again when there was a flash behind her. Never before had he been so happy to see the tall human shape of the entity standing there.

"Q! What do you think you're doing?!" intoned Picard's Q with uncharacteristic anger.

"You Klingon targ! You Regulan blood worm! You Terran toad!" thundered the other entity. "Is *this*--" she indicated Picard "--what you left *me* for?"

Q looked at Picard with the slightest hint of embarrassment, before turning his attention back to his companion.

"Don't be so obtuse," he sneered, though he did give her human form an appreciative look-over, particularly her bust and her naked side. It didn't distract him from what he was saying, though. "You have no idea of my motivations."

"Because you have systematically shut yourself off from us. You are disrupting the Continuum with the ideas you picked up from these people. We were perfectly content with the status quo, but, no, you had to go and consort with these creatures and get all these high-flying ideas about change and revolution!"

"These high-flying ideas are our best hope of survival as a species," he snapped angrily. "And if you think tracking down my human acquaintances and forcing them to ignore me is going to help, then there is definitely a problem in the Continuum."

Her human expression didn't change, but Q had obviously got some reaction from her, because he laughed.

"Of course, she didn't tell me, she just argued that she was tired of me. And that much was true. But equally true was the fact that you suggested rather forcibly that she might be better off with a human lover." He looked more serious. "Which is a good point. I'm a good distraction for a human, but it can hardly go further than that. Frankly, I think you're overreacting..."

"Then why bother? Why not just stay with me?"

"Well, I just thought I might have a little fun occasionally," he said more calmly, observing his nails nonchalantly.

"You can have fun with me," she protested.

He guffawed. "Ha. Don't you see that's part of the problem? You have no sense of fun. In fact, you have no sense of humour..."

"And he *has*?" she exclaimed, pointing at Picard.

"He has his moments," admitted Q.

"After all we have been through together, you would just abandon me for this creature?"

"Who is talking about abandoning you? Besides, I don't recall that you and I have been 'through' all that much together. In fact, you have a habit of vanishing the minute I'm in trouble."

"That's not true!" she protested crossly.

"Then where were *you* when I was exiled?" he demanded, the emotion in his voice surprising Picard. Some of the artefacts and books were projected off their shelves as the Q let out some nervous energy. "What right have you to criticise my desire for companionship with a species *you* exiled me to! I needed you, and you all turned your backs on me. "

"Oh spare me your whining about that. Of course you hated it -- that was the point," she said dismissively.

"You have no idea what I went through."

Since she was still unimpressed, he moved towards her as if he were about to hit her, but stopped short of actually touching her human shape. She nonetheless reacted as if she had received a blow.

"You deserved that punishment!" she gasped. Picard guessed Q had given her a taste of his experience. "Exile has to be complete to be effective. I would have risked exile myself if I had gone to see you."

"That's a great consolation," he said, his voice positively dripping with sarcasm.

Her eyes narrowed more confidently and she moved nearer to him.

"You love your humans so much, you don't even remember how they treated you when you came to them, lost and defenceless. And this creature, here," she pointed at Picard, "whom you trusted, more than anyone. He didn't even believe you had lost your powers."

Picard felt the need to intervene, though he wasn't sure he would do any good.

"If I may just interrupt your discussion at this point, I would just like to say that, if this occurred now, I think my reaction, and that of my crew, would be significantly different."

The Q in female form laughed. "That's what you think, but a plain probe of their minds proves that Riker and Crusher, at least, would be more than willing to throw Q out of an airlock, given half a chance."

Picard had to admit to himself that this was quite probable. Not the actual airlock business, but the fact that they might still hold a grudge.

"Of course, Crusher is just jealous," she added with a contemptuous smile.

"Takes one to know one," said Q suavely.

She gave him a murderous look, and Picard understood how apt her female form really was. She played the part of the jealous lover of ancient Earth literature perfectly.

"I do not have petty human emotions like *jealousy*," she said dangerously, bringing her body closer to his in an unmistakably provocative manner.

"No, of course not." Q seemed to have recovered his composure after his earlier outburst. "Though I fail to see why you think jealousy is limited to humans. I believe Cardassians, Ferengi and Klingons can get quite jealous if given a chance."

"Yes, certainly when they are given as much of a chance as I have. But I'm not jealous," she said, running a seemingly gentle finger along his jaw. "I'm *furious*!" she exclaimed, suddenly slapping him. He responded with a similar blow, which had as little effect on her as she had had on him. They engaged in a struggle that was obviously totally pointless, since they were apparently of exactly the same strength, despite their different builds.

Picard had to cover his eyes as they both returned to their native state, combining in a large, apparently immobile sphere of intense light to fight their own way. The result of the confrontation was unclear to the human when they both rematerialised in their previous human forms. In fact, he thought they had made up.

Q's hands were around her waist, and she had her arms wrapped around his neck.

"I hope you didn't mind me borrowing this, by the way," she cooed seductively. "Since you never use it... I just thought the red hair would suit it better."

"You're beautiful as a human," he said, but he sounded a bit subdued.

"Really?" she purred, her hand running through his hair. Picard guessed from her tone and over-affectionate stance that an outburst of some sort was coming up.

Q was evidently unaware, or didn't care, because he just kissed her cheek. She moaned gently at the touch. It occurred to Picard that his Q might not be the only "martyr to sensations", as she had said earlier.

"Don't you feel this?" he murmured. "The feel of a mortal in your arms." His hands moved to stroke her back, bringing on another moan of pleasure.

Picard wondered how long he should let this go on before reminding them they were in his quarters and he might not want to assist at their amours.

"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer some other shape?" she asked, barely disguising her contemptuous tone, though her hands were caressing his neck. Q just rolled his eyes, something only Picard could see, since she chose that moment to kiss him on the cheek.

"How about one of your other lovers?"

She turned into a couple of unfamiliar women, and then into Vash. Picard was quite shocked at this transformation and let out a gasp.

She turned to look at him.

"Ah yes, of course. She was your lover, too. You have so much in common, you two. A pity he dislikes you so much," she leant up to half-whisper in Q's ear. "You're not going to enjoy this. He'll throw you in his jail like last time."

She looked the other Q in the eyes and smiled.

"No, this is the wrong female, isn't it?"

She changed into a small blonde woman in a Starfleet uniform. Her hair was done in an elaborate French pleat, and she looked vaguely familiar to Picard.

"Is this who you want now?" she said in a rasping, deep voice.

Definitely familiar, thought Picard, but who was she? Her rank pips might have helped, but he couldn't see them from where he was sitting.

"You have no idea..." sneered the male Q.

Picard didn't get a further chance to place the blonde woman, since the Q changed back to her original human form.

"You are pathetic, Q," she said with obvious contempt. "You would have me change into a human female so you can treat me like your mortal lovers--"

"I'll admit I wouldn't mind... with a body like that," he looked her over again.

"You pervert. You're a disgrace to the Continuum!"

"Presumably that's why you want me so much," he said seductively.

She slapped him again, but this time, the blow left a red mark on his cheek. Q winced and automatically rubbed the sore spot.

"You have no right to do this," he said irritably, though he seemed quite resigned. "I'm needed in the Continuum."

"I may not have the right, but I evidently have the power. And that's something *you* don't have right now. The Continuum can wait."

She looked at Picard.

"We'll see if he and his minions can resist throwing you out of an airlock before tomorrow morning." She looked at Q again. "He doesn't want you, you know. I doubt he'll be willing to put up with you, even for twelve little hours. Goodness knows they couldn't last time." She gave him a sensual kiss on the lips, running her hand flat on his crotch. "We'll see how irresistible you are."

And with that she disappeared, leaving a rather forlorn Q behind.

"I hate my species!" declared the creature despondently, flopping down onto the couch. "...I hate the human body," he added, more vehemently. "It's only fun being a human male when you're actually an all-powerful entity. Then, you're in control. But I'm in control of nothing in this body. It just goes and does exactly what it thinks it will. How am I going to stand twelve hours of this? Eating, defecating, getting an erection for no reason." He paused for a moment, a look of utter disgust on his face, and then resumed his tirade. "I hate this! I should never have let her do it... and now what do I do about this?"

There was a pause in the room, filled only with the hum of the warpcoil.

"I find a cold shower can sometimes be a help."

Picard's deep voice seemed to reverberate through the room, and Q glanced at him with an annoyed sigh.

"I see. That's presumably why you humans spend so much time bathing. I shudder to think what your sexual appetites would be like if you didn't wash," he said contemptuously, though after all he had heard in the last hour, Picard was inclined to think the tone was just pro forma.

"The bathroom is over there," said Picard, pointing in the appropriate direction.

"Well, I must admit, *you*'re taking it all very calmly, Jean-Luc," grumbled the humanised entity. "Especially considering all the lies Q has been telling you."

"I gather she's taken away your powers," said Picard, desirous to assess the exact situation before discussing Q's lies.

"She caught me off guard," protested Q. "I'll show her... tomorrow, when I get my powers back," he added more humbly.

"You've only lost your powers until tomorrow? That doesn't sound too terrible."

"She can't keep them any longer than that, because the rest of the Continuum will feel my absence. My friends would eventually send someone to get me back, and then there would be an enquiry into what happened, and Q would be in a lot of trouble. It's just simpler to take my powers away temporarily. The point was to drop me here with you, anyway."

"What for?"

"She's probably hoping you'll throw me out of an airlock."

Picard smiled. "I would never have done that under any circumstances."

"Even last time? You seemed pretty anxious to get rid of me then," said the Q bitterly. "She's right, you didn't exactly greet me with open arms."

Picard felt a pang of guilt when he remembered exactly how he had treated Q.

"I know... all I can say is that my attitude seemed justified at the time. Quite frankly, you were a pain, and you arrived at a really bad moment. But I think you've changed a bit since then. In fact you've changed quite a lot. You've matured."

"Oh pur-*lease*, don't insult me," said Q.

"...And now I realise I owe you quite a lot," concluded Picard softly.

Q looked at him curiously.

"Yes, you do," he said simply.

They were silent again, sitting side by side on Picard's couch with the stars flowing past the windows behind them.

"Q makes a very pretty human, doesn't she," remarked Q. "That is... 'she', 'he' or 'it', whatever. Funny, I never thought of Q as a female before. I think it was an appropriate choice."

"Yes, you go well together," said Picard, not sure what to say.

"Of course we do. We're companions... besides, that's my female form she's wearing."

"You have a female form?" asked the human, vaguely surprised.

"Yes. I was thinking about trying it out on you, but I decided I liked this one better. It's a bit more intimidating. To you, at any rate. I think other people think it's quite attractive."

Picard observed the entity's profile and his eyes focused on the mole in front of its right ear.

"It is," said Picard, almost without thinking.

"Oh," said the entity, apparently at a loss for words.

They looked at each other, neither quite sure what to make of the situation. The warpcoil continued to hum, the ship continued to fly by the stars, they continued to look at each other.

"I... ah, I think I'll go and have that shower," said Q finally.


Part II

After a quick course by Picard on how to use the shower, Q splashed around the bathroom for fifteen minutes. That seemed like quite a long time for a 'quick' shower, but whatever it was, Picard preferred not to think about what he was doing in there.

The captain sat on his couch again and idly poked at the dust of his coffee table with the toe of his slipper. He asked himself what he had done to deserve all the trouble Q had caused over the years. Although he believed he understood the powerful entity a lot better now, and could even entertain a certain grudging tenderness for it, he did think, deep down inside, that he was being punished for something. This latest twist of fate was no exception. He wondered what he was going to do with the creature for a whole night. A couple of unwelcome ideas presented themselves, but he brushed them away with a reluctant smile, and went to pick up some of the bits and pieces that had fallen off his shelves. Some of them were broken.

"I'll put them back together again tomorrow," said Q's voice behind him.

Picard turned to look at him and found the entity was towelling its head.

"Q, you should really put something on," remarked the captain.

"What in the Universe for?" he protested. "I'm perfectly presentable now."

The human was crouched down, picking up the pieces of an ancient pottery. He gave the entity an annoyed look.

"I should think you've been around humans long enough to understand what for."

"Oh, all right, then."

Q stormed off to get dressed. Picard allowed himself an amused grin.

"Perfectly presentable," he muttered, shaking his head.

He replaced the fallen books on their shelf and pushed the other debris into a pile on the floor. He hoped Q was serious about restoring them, there were some precious antiques in the pile.

The Q returned, this time fully dressed.

"Is this better, mon capitaine?" he asked superciliously, turning around as if to show off his Starfleet uniform to Picard. "No more bare flesh to offend you?"

"You look lovely," said the captain unconcernedly.

"You're just making fun of me," said Q.

"Yes, of course."

Picard had finished his pile and stood up again.

"Now what do we do?" asked Q.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, here I am bereft of powers and at your mercy, as usual. So what do we do?"

"I don't know... fancy a brisk walk to the nearest airlock?"

"Very funny. I always knew you had a sense of humour," said the Q sarcastically.

Picard looked at him, not quite sure what to do.

"I suppose you can stay here..." he started.

"Oh, very generous," sneered Q. "I can't actually go anywhere else, anyway. So, what are you going to do? Put me in the brig like last time?"

The captain sighed.

"I suppose I should ask Deanna to prepare some quarters for you."

He smiled reassuringly at the entity, whose hair was still wet and ruffled. He wondered how Deanna would respond to the request. Not that she had any personal grudge against Q, at least, not as far as he knew.

"I really don't feel like facing your crew. I had much rather stay here, with you... that is, if you can bear it," said Q, with just a hint of sarcasm.

It didn't seem unreasonable that Q should want to stay away from the Enterprise's crew, but on the other hand, Picard didn't see himself entertaining the entity for the next twelve hours.

"Q... I'm not sure that would be a good idea."

"I think it would. I'll tell you all about the Continuum if you let me stay," said the Q with a bright grin.

"Oh, well, that makes all the difference," said Picard with gentle irony. "Maybe I will let you stay a while, but you'll have to sleep somewhere else."

"I see, you wouldn't go *that* far to spare your crew the bother of meeting me again."

Picard didn't know what to say to that, so he kept quiet. He wondered how long he would have to entertain the entity, and if he would have any success at doing so. Not, of course, that he felt any obligation to make sure Q wasn't bored.

"Well, Jean-Luc," said Q. "Now that you have magnanimously agreed to let me enjoy your witty personality, what's your plan for the evening? Do I get to sit around and watch you read your book?"

"Actually, you can sit around and watch me eat, if you like. It's time for my dinner," said Picard.

"What are you going to have?" asked Q.

"Why, are you going to join me?"

"I might. I have on occasion eaten some human food... it seemed to be a prerequisite for sex in some cases."

"Oh." Picard wondered where Q's sudden obsession with sex came from. On the other hand, he didn't feel much like asking. That would probably lead to topics he didn't feel like discussing right then.

"I think I'll just have a sandwich," he said, making for the replicator.

"No hot date with Dr. Crusher, by the way?"

"No. Parisienne sandwich and a glass of water," he ordered.

"Ah yes, I forgot. You're just good friends, aren't you?" The Q was apparently looking at the books on the bookcase.

"Yes." Picard took his demi-baguette sandwich out of the replicator. Cooked ham and pickles... very tasty.

"You have a lot of books," remarked the entity. "It's a pity I can't read."

Picard swallowed his mouthful in a hurry. "You can't read?"

"Evidently not," he said pensively, taking a book out and looking at a random page. "It probably didn't occur to her I would need the skill. I hope she forgot to give me a bad back, too."

He came to sit beside Picard, who had settled on the couch again to have his light meal.

"Is that any good?" he said, pointing to the sandwich.

"Why? Are you hungry?"

Q thought about that for a moment.

"No, I don't think so."

He thought about it some more.

"Well, maybe just a little bit."

Picard rolled his eyes.

"Get something from the replicator, then," he said, continuing his sandwich.

He expected the entity to protest, to complain that ordering food was beneath him, or something, but Q just looked at him, and then at the replicator. He got up and walked over to it.

"How do I know what I like?"

"I suppose you should try different things... though I don't think you have time to try that much tonight. I should just order a sandwich."

"What was that you're having? A Parisian sandwich?"

"Parisienne, yes. I think you'll get something else if you order a Parisian one."

"Parisienne sandwich," ordered Q.

The replicator complied.

"I'll probably hate it," said Q as he sat down again.

Picard repressed a sigh and wondered why he had let himself in for this. If it was just because of his guilt regarding Q, then he wasn't so sure it was worth it.

Q ate his sandwich in silence, something for which Picard was grateful, even though it did mean the awkward silence seemed to fill the room. Having finished eating, the entity was pensive.

"I don't think I liked that," he said.

Picard smiled involuntarily.

"Well, it usually takes a long time to sort out what you do and don't like. I quite like this sort of sandwich, but maybe you don't like pickles..."

"Can I try something else, then?"

"...On the other hand, I notice you didn't have any trouble getting it all down."

The Q brushed the crumbs off his knee, adding them to the dust of the coffee table.

"Maybe the Q don't like pickles... I'll bear that in mind."

Picard chuckled gently. "I think you have a touch of the Tiggers."


"An old Terran children's story," explained the human. "Tigger was a character who didn't know what he liked to eat. So he went and saw each of his friends, and tasted their favourite foods. And when it was something he didn't like, he would say 'that isn't what Tiggers like', or something like that."

The entity looked vaguely interested.

"And what did he like?"

"Someone's cough medicine, as I remember."

"Hmm... I hope it doesn't turn out I like Klingon gagh or something."

"Well, if you're still hungry, feel free to order something from the replicator... though you might consider consulting me first. There are some foods some species can eat that are poisonous for humans."

"No, it's all right, I'm not hungry anymore."

That seemed to put an end to their conversation. They listened to the warpcoil again.

After a while, Q looked at Picard's pensive face.

"What are you thinking about, Jean-Luc?"

"You," admitted the human with a smile.

"Ah. Nothing bad, I hope."

Picard shook his head. "I was just wondering why you seem to be so fascinated with humanity."

Q shrugged. "You're just one species among many others. Trapped in time and matter by your limited bodies."

"Then why have you been telling the Continuum that we're superior to them?"

Q laughed. "To get their attention, mainly. I was rather hoping Amanda would shake them up a bit, but it turned out she didn't want to. She's off wasting her powers in your timeline instead of helping me. But then, she probably had more to lose than I do."

It was on the tip of Picard's tongue to say he didn't understand, but he decided that would just open him up to Q's sarcasm, so he said nothing.

"Considering what happened to her parents, she'd be running the risk of being destroyed completely if she got involved in Continuum politics. But she had the experience to change things... it's a pity."

"'Continuum politics?' Why would you want Amanda to get involved?"

"It's a long story," explained Q dismissively.

"Tell me," said Picard. "You promised you would tell me about the Continuum if I let you stay, remember."

The Q smiled and let out a little sigh. "I did, didn't I?"

"So go ahead."

"I'm just not sure you'll understand... In fact, I'm not even sure I can explain in my present state. What do you want to know, exactly?"

"Well, you could perhaps just start with an explanation of where the Continuum is, what it looks like, how it functions."

Q thought about that and smiled.

"What it looks like? What a typically human thing to ask. I have no idea what it looks like: I can't see it when I'm there. In fact, in my native state, I don't *see* anything at all. I just perceive objects as they are, as a combination of their constitutive elements. I don't hear sounds, either, nor do I have any need for tactile information. I just *know* what objects in the universe are like."

"You have no sensations at all?" asked Picard, finding this information rather interesting.

"No. In fact, the only *sense* I could be said to have is the so-called sixth sense: the ability to perceive things that cannot be perceived by a physical body. Because, of course, I don't have a physical body as a Q."

"That's fascinating."

"I'm sure it is. However, I really shouldn't go into more detail. You will probably make a report to Starfleet about it, and the next thing is, I would become a lot more familiar with the Markoffian sea than I ever expected."


"Why? Because I can't go around giving the Federation intimate knowledge of my species. We have to keep some aura of mystery," he said, looking down at his nails.


The human was visibly disappointed. Q chucked him under the chin, something Picard definitely hadn't expected.

"Oh, cheer up. I'm sure you can live without knowing what I'm made of. In fact, I'd much rather you didn't know," he added pensively. "It would probably put you off me completely."

"What are you made of?" asked the captain immediately.

"No idea," admitted the entity. "I mean, as a Q, I know what I'm made of, but there's no word or concept for it as a human. Even if I could describe it, you wouldn't be able to grasp it. I can tell you I have no substance, unlike most creatures native to your universe. No limbs, no cells, not even atoms." He looked at his hands again. "I'm just about as far removed from your species as you can get."

Picard thought about his next question. Even though the entity had placed no limit on the number of questions, he didn't want to waste time by asking silly ones.

"You said 'my' universe. I assume from this that you are from a different universe?"

"No." For a moment, it seemed Q would stop there, but then he continued. "Will you give me your word this won't appear in a report to Starfleet?"

Picard nodded. He wasn't really friends with Starfleet these days, so he thought they could live without whatever information the Q was about to give him.

"Right," said Q, obviously looking forward to the lesson he was about to give. "I've been dying to tell you anyway. Now, concentrate, human, and hopefully, this might clear some things up. There are things I can't tell you, but we'll make do with a simple explanation of what the Continuum is. Simply put, it exists in another dimension, but I think you might find it difficult to conceive what that means, so we'll have to resort to a little demonstration.

"Let's start with a quick reminder of where you live. In theory, your timeline is more or less a unidirectional straight line with a beginning and an end point. This is a gross over-simplification of the reality, which is infinitely more complex. But I won't even get started on that; it's making even my human mind boggle.

"Now, your existence, and that of most of the creatures in your universe, takes place almost entirely in this time flow. You're born, and at some later point in the timeline, you cease to exist. Your lives move in the same direction as the time flow. We'll ignore the sort of time travel you are currently capable of, which is something I *definitely* can't discuss with you.

"So, for the moment, we have your timeline running as a straight line. The Continuum also has a timeline, but it's a timeline more or less on its own. We won't discuss the less. Suffice it to say the Continuum *is* its own timeline. Like you, the Q live nearly linear, unidirectional lives in that timeline. Everything clear?"


"All right, what have you understood so far?"

"The Continuum is a timeline like ours except that only the Q live in it."

"Mmyes. That's just about it."

"Is the Continuum a parallel universe to this one, then?"

"Oh help, no. Parallel universes are a completely different thing altogether. No, the Continuum and your universe don't run in the same direction at all, and they can't be called parallel, since they intersect. Not just in one point: they intersect in whatever points creatures pass from one to the other."

"Are creatures from our universe able to enter the Continuum?"

"Yes, but they have to be brought in by a Q and quite an elaborate illusion has to be sustained, otherwise, they would be totally unable to comprehend what they were seeing."

He paused and seemed to be recalling some amusing memory because a soft smile spread on his face.

"It isn't too difficult to do, of course, but the result can be quite an eye-opener. The Continuum looked absolutely terrible the one time I tried that. I had no idea it was such a dull place. Well, I mean, of course, I did know, but seeing the analogy I came up with made me realise the extent of that dullness. I'm pretty sure it used to be a better place. But it turned out to be a sort of Smallville in the middle of an American desert."


"Haven't you ever heard of... oh, never mind."

"Who did you bring in?" asked Picard, just slightly annoyed that *he* had never been invited in. Though given his past hostility to the entity, maybe that was understandable.

Q looked just a little bit as if he had let the cat out of the bag on that one.

"That's not something I can discuss," he said grandiosely.

"Why not?"

"Oh, reasons like the fate of the Universe, and what a mess I've made of it, things like that."

"What a mess you've made of it?"

"Yes, well, it's a long story, and definitely something that would deserve a term as a Markoffian sea lizard if I were to say much more."

"I suppose we wouldn't want that, now, would we?"

"No, we wouldn't. Markoffian sea lizards are not only ugly, but they're just about as boring a living creature as you can get. I'd have more fun as a coral. And I'd be better looking, too... once I was dead, of course."

"Still, presumably, if you were a Markoffian sea lizard, you would never know the difference."

"I'd still rather be a coral."

Picard wondered why they were suddenly talking about the compared advantages of being a lizard or a coral. He paused and then said, "I am still puzzled as to why the Continuum is so interested in humanity."

"That's an easy one: they're interested in humanity because I'm interested in humanity. I have spent decades telling them what a swell bunch you are."

"All right, then. Why are *you* interested in humanity?"

"Lots of good sex," said the entity with a wink.

Picard just rolled his eyes. Q was obviously obsessed with human sex. His companion was right. But something Q had said suddenly drew his attention.

"Wait a minute," he said more seriously. "You've spent *decades* studying humanity? I thought our encounter at Farpoint was the first time you met humanity. Or am I wrong?"

"Well, it was the first time humanity actually met the Q as such, yes. And it was my first mission to your species. But," he playfully tapped Picard on the tip of the nose, "if you had been listening, my dear, you'd know I haven't been patiently playing around in this time period. Nor have my siblings. I suppose you never stopped to wonder, considering that our first meeting was on stardate 41153.7, how Amanda's parents -- and I -- happened to be on Earth thirteen years earlier."

"You re-entered our timeline at different points after Farpoint."

"Not the best of puns, but yes, that is correct. My, my, maybe I have underestimated your intelligence after all."

"Yes, I've been thinking that for years."

"I must say," continued Q, ignoring Picard's remark, "you're a very boring lot these days. Still a savage race, but a lot more like... a lot less interesting."

Picard smiled as he realised what Q had probably been about to say, but the entity continued. "So self-righteous, so arrogant... not that the arrogant bit is different in any period -- being the only sentient species on a planet does that to creatures. Actually, to tell you the truth, I did a lot of travelling in different periods before choosing the right one for the trial. There are some fascinating people around, I must say."

"How long have you been studying humanity, then?"

The Q shrugged his shoulders. "I can't evaluate my experience exactly when I'm in this form. This brain was made to deal with your time, not ours. But I would reckon I have about two hundred years of experience with you."


"Yes, why do you think I'm going grey?" said the entity with a triumphant smile.

"Why *are* you going grey, by the way?"

"Well, it's a fact that human flesh gets old eventually," he said, self-consciously running his hand though his thinning hair. "I reckon this body has been used about ten or fifteen continuous years since I first met you. It was still pretty young then, but it's not getting any younger. Certainly not in your time flow."

"You mean you actually grow older in this form?"

"I'm growing older in any form," pointed out the Q irritably. "I don't know anything that gets younger. The more experience you have, the older you are."

"I mean... I would have thought your shape would stay the same, since it isn't your real form, but an illusion."

"Ah, no, it's not an illusion. It's a real body. Obviously, it is right now, but it is when I have my powers as well. What do you think I am? A Talosian?"

Picard only had the vaguest idea who the Talosians were, but he gathered Q was trying to make a point.

"I won't go into the technicalities of the process. Suffice it to say I might have to get myself a new body soon."

"It still looks all right to me," said the captain innocently.

Q gave him a flirtatious smile.

"Really? Oh well, I'll probably keep it for another decade or so, since everyone seems to find it so irresistible."

"I wouldn't go that far... But if this body isn't an illusion..."

"I said that, didn't I?"

"...how did you appear older in that future you showed me?"

"That, my dear, is a trade secret."

"Stop calling me 'my dear'."

"Yes, darling."

Picard sighed.

"So, are you satisfied?" asked the entity.

"Satisfied by what?"

"My explanations about the Continuum, of course."

"No, not really."

"Well, you'll just have to ask me more questions, my dear."

"All right." Of course, now he had an opportunity to ask them, all the excellent questions he had been planning all these years dropped right out of his head. He tried to think of a good question, but gave up. "How old are you?"

"'What are you made of?' 'How old are you?' Really, Jean-Luc, I would have thought you could come up with something better than that."

Picard agreed, but getting Q to answer this question would at least buy him some time to think of a better one. The thought occurred that he really wasn't very good at asking Q questions.


"So what?"

"So how old are you?"

Q looked puzzled and had to consider the question for a while.

"I have no idea," he finally admitted. "I have several billion years of experiences, so I'm presumably about that old."

"I thought you were omniscient," said the human with a hint of sarcasm.

"Not in this form, I'm not. And, you know, being omniscient just means you *can* know anything, not that you *do* know everything. I could work out my age if I had my powers. Anyway, age is irrelevant, as your friends say."

Picard shrugged off the bad joke.

"My life isn't determined by time the way yours is," explained Q more gently. "When you look back on your life, you know how many years, months or days have passed since this or that event occurred, because there are thousands of external cues to tell you. You can calculate it from your ship's computer, from the number of orbits your planet makes around its sun, from the changes in your body... the spots on your hands," he added, taking Picard's hand in his to look at the age spots on it. "But there is no external means of reference in the Continuum. We calculate the passage of our time by our experiences. It's probably one of the reasons we have perfect memories. The only way I could calculate my age is to estimate how long each of my experiences lasted in your time and add them all up." He grinned. "So far, I haven't bothered. Maybe hanging around humans has made me sensitive about my age."

"I see," said Picard gently pulling his hand away from the entity's. "But how can a creature so different, an immortal, non-corporeal being from another dimension be so interested in us?"

"You know, I heard that question the first time you asked it. I can't tell you. It would defeat the purpose of the exercise."

"What exercise?"

"The whole business of the Continuum paying any attention to your species at all," said Q, lifting his hands in irritation. "We went through all that years ago!"

"All right. I have another question: how many Q are there?"

"No idea. Hundreds."

"Hundreds? That doesn't sound like much for a whole species."

"How arrogant. Just because there aren't as many Q as there are humans, you automatically presume we aren't a species. Data is all by himself, and last I heard, he was a species."

"True. I'm sorry."

"Still, you're right, it's a small world." Q's face was far more serious. He leant forward, resting his chin on his hand in a meditative pose. He was evidently thinking about something rather sad, because his brow puckered and he let out a heavy sigh.

Part III

Picard was not used to seeing the entity in such a pensive mood.


"Hmm?" Q looked at him, a bit dazed. "Oh, sorry. It's been a hard century."

He leant back in the couch.

"You're really lucky, you know. You humans have so little to worry about."

The human laughed.

"I think we all underestimate the problems of others. I've often caught myself thinking that about someone."

Q shook his head.

"No, you really have no idea."

"Then tell me."

Picard fixed his hazel eyes on Q, and the entity turned to meet his gaze. He was silent for a while, and then he smiled in his usual supercilious manner. At that moment, Picard found it difficult to believe Q had lost his powers.

"I can tell you lots of things, my dear. But will you understand them?"

"Try explaining them so I can."

"I'm afraid I don't know enough words of one syllable."

"Oh? I believe there are plenty of monosyllabic words in English. Far more than in French. You're just not trying."

"My, my, but we are witty tonight."

"Then tell me something I don't know."

Q was silent, but a slow smile spread on his face and he shook his head gently.

"I wouldn't know where to start," he said.

"Why are you here?"

"You do know that. Q left me here."

"And you couldn't do anything to stop her?"

Q grinned at the table powder at his feet.

"Well... maybe I thought this would be a good idea," he admitted.

"You know what's really funny about you, Q? For all your deceitful ways, you're not a very good liar. Ask a direct question, and you immediately answer."

"Why's that funny? I thought you humans valued honesty and other such rubbish. Besides, I don't see why I should lie to you."

"It never occurred to you that I might want to chuck you out of an airlock if I discovered you were here under false pretences?" asked Picard, visibly irritated.

Q looked at him, his face an open book. It obviously hadn't occurred to him.

"I... I wanted to talk to you. I mean not just talk, but really have a conversation, without any intervention from the Continuum... I... oh well, never mind." He sighed dramatically. "Maybe Q was right. She thought this would be a good punishment for me. I should have known better than to believe otherwise."

"So you let her leave you here on purpose?"

"She did win our fight. But..." he shrugged, "I thought I would give it a try anyway."

"What were you hoping for?" asked Picard, who had some idea.

Q was silent, his face set in a petulant expression, like a child who discovers some elaborate lie has been uncovered. Then he turned to Picard again.

"Is it time to go to bed yet?" he asked brusquely.


"So it is true humans go deaf with old age... I asked if it was time to go to sleep," said Q, raising his voice.

"You asked if it was time to go to bed, actually."

"I see, so you were just pretending to be deaf. Anyway, bed, sleep... it's all the same. And since you no longer want to talk to me because I might have done this on purpose, I suppose it's time for me to retire. So, where are you going to put me, since you said I couldn't stay here?"

"Well, I don't know... I suppose I should call Troi and tell her to prepare some quarters for you..."

Q looked nonchalantly at the distant bookcases.

"Of course, I'd still rather stay and talk, boring though your conversation may be. I don't have a very fond recollection of the last time I went to sleep."

Picard was silent for a while, observing Q's Antique profile outlined against the blurred background of the replicator and dining table.

"Q," he said finally, "what do you want from me?"

Q turned slowly towards him, his face neatly laid out into an ironic smile that made Picard's heart sink.

"What makes you think I want anything from you, *mon capitaine*?"

Picard sighed and rolled his eyes.

"You are incorrigible," he said irritably. He got up, not so much because he had anything to stand up for, but simply to give himself something to do.

"I thought that was part of my charm."

"Charm? Don't flatter yourself," said the captain, going to inspect his pile of broken artefacts, even though he knew they were as neatly piled as possible.

"All right, so I'm not your favourite person. But put yourself in my place. My life isn't exactly easy, and I do think you could be nice to me once in a while."

Picard turned to look at him, straightening up to his full height to glare at him with maximum effectiveness.

"Nice to you? You have gone out of your way to antagonise me since we first met and you expect me to be nice to you?"

"Of course I do," Q grinned brightly. "Think of all the nice things I've done for you in the past few years." His expression darkened just slightly, and he added, "I'll admit things didn't always work out quite as planned, but at least I was trying."

Picard wondered which plans gone awry Q was referring to.

"You have my gratitude," he said. "But you really can't expect more from me."

Q shrugged.

"Oh, I know that. If you knew how much I've done for you, there would be nothing you could do to repay me, anyway. Not that you'd necessarily be grateful, either. You'd probably rail at me for changing history or some damn thing. Linear thinking, as usual."

"What are you talking about?"

"Something you don't know," said Q with big grin.

Picard rolled his eyes.

"What's the point of saying things like that if you're not going to tell me about them? What have you done for me that I don't know about?"

Q seemed to be weighing whether he should tell him or not. He evidently decided not.

"Never mind," he said. "I'd rather keep you grateful." He looked at the captain brightly. "You couldn't try and be just a little more grateful, by any chance?"

Picard just leant against the bookcase and shook his head gently.

"Oh well, it was just a thought," continued Q. "Anyway... you wanted me to tell you something you didn't know, didn't you?"


"The Q are having a civil war."


"That's something you didn't know, isn't it?"

Picard was amazed. If this was true, Q was being very calm about it. He had obviously said it for effect, but on the other hand, as Q had said earlier, there was no reason for him to lie.

"A civil war?" he said.

Q looked down at the floor and nodded.

"Oh yes, complete with all the lovely hatred and killing that usually go with it."

"What happened?"

"Not all Q see eye to eye. We are all siblings in the Continuum, and I'm sure you know how bad sibling rivalry can get."

Picard knew exactly how bad. If he and Robert had been Q, there would have been civil war in the Continuum, too.

"But it had never degenerated to actual war until recently, and that was largely my fault. Well, not entirely my fault, even though everyone wants to blame me, as usual. Q has a lot to answer for, too, wherever he is."

He looked very thoughtful.

"Nowhere, of course. That's where he is... vanished into nothingness."

"Q... what are you talking about? Who was this Q?" Picard asked gently, sincerely concerned about Q's apparent melancholy.

Q promptly shook himself out of it.

"He was the spark, if you like. To cut a long story short, he committed suicide, and all hell broke loose in the Continuum."

"Why did you say it was your fault if he was the one whose death caused the war?"

"I gave him the poison," he said simply, still looking into the middle distance, as if remembering that moment.

"I'm sorry," said Picard, wondering when this had occurred and why Q had not mentioned it before.

"Anyway," said Q, giving no indication that he had heard the human, "that certainly shook us up a bit. It has lead us all to question what our species is all about, and unfortunately, we don't all agree on that. The trouble is that it reminded us that we can be just as mortal as any other species, and that there are a limited number of us around. As you said, hundreds is not much for a species. It's fine for an immortal species, which is what we are, at least in theory, but it won't do if we keep having to execute our own when they become contaminated by mortal ideas. And there is definitely something wrong when our people prefer non-existence to existence as a Q."

"There's always something wrong when a creature chooses to terminate its own life."

Q let out a heavy sigh. "Yes, especially when their own brother helps them."

"Why did you help him to die?"

"He said he could not continue to live under the conditions prevalent in the Continuum. We had exiled him to a comet three hundred years ago, but when he was released..." He hesitated and then continued, "We granted him mortality, and he chose to use that opportunity to kill himself. Since that was what he really wanted, and I had the means to help him, I materialised the poison, and he drank it. I know how desperate you need to be to commit suicide. It takes a lot of determination, and a lot of courage. It isn't easy," he concluded.

Picard was touched by his story. It was strange to hear Q talking about suicide so seriously .The last time the entity had mentioned the subject, it was in a throwaway manner just before he brought Picard and his crew into a silly Robin Hood fantasy. But he had had no idea the Q lived such complicated lives. Somehow, aside from some brief insights into their drastic punishments, he had got the impression they spent most of their time gallivanting around the universe annoying people. At least that's what this particular Q seemed to do.

"How do you know what it takes to commit suicide?" he asked gently.

"Oh, that's a long story," said the Q, obviously not desirous to continue that conversation. "But he certainly achieved his goal of shaking us out of our apathy... right into a war."

"Are you and your... companion participating in the war?" he asked, for want of something better to say.

"Oh yes, I'm actually public enemy number one," said the Q proudly. "I am, after all, the Q who let Q die, that has to count for something." He looked a little more serious as he added, "But it's all very well starting a war; you also need to be able to stop it. And since we have no means of replenishing our species, this particular war had better stop soon."

"Sounds like you need to reproduce," said Picard with a little smile.

Q's horrified expression made it clear that was not an option.

"Reproduce? Like rats, or insects, or Markoffian sea lizards? No Q could stoop that low," he said, making no effort to conceal his disgust.

"Well, you must have come from somewhere -- I presume your species was once capable of reproduction."

"Not since we became Q. The Awakening changed all that by making us immortal. When you're immortal, you don't need to perpetuate your species by creating new specimens. All you need to do is stay alive, and there is your species perpetuated. Of course, that doesn't take executions, suicides and war casualties into account."

"No, and more generally, it seems to me it doesn't leave much scope for improvement."

"Improvement? We are omnipotent, omniscient and immortal. What more could any species want?"

"Change? Progress? Something to strive for?"

"Touché, mon capitaine." Q paused and smiled. "Strange how you humans think alike," he said half to himself. "You all believe that is your greatest advantage -- the fact that you are constantly struggling to reach some goal or other, perpetually on the lookout for more challenges."

"So that's why you're interested in us."

"Well, that was something you didn't know, wasn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose it was. So now I know," said the human, pleased to find the Q had recognised his species' best traits. "You would like the Q to be more like us because we are driven to improve ourselves, to become more than we are, because humanity has always striven for a higher goal, a..."

"I wouldn't go quite so far, my dear. Most humans have far less idealistic goals, even those in the Federation who don't need to fight for their self preservation. But there are enough of you who push for that little something more to make your species slightly more interesting than, say, the Klingons, who, aside from playing around with their ridges, are about as interested in bettering themselves as molluscs or Markoffian sea lizards. And yes, it is that desire for progress that has drawn my species to study yours. We were once..." He interrupted his speech with an abrupt smile and a modest tilt of the head. "Well, suffice it to say, I am beginning to believe we could learn from you in some cases. After all, what species has more experience of recovering from civil wars?"

"Does all this have anything to do with you being here?"

"You already know what I'm doing here. That's why you're standing as far away from me as possible," answered the creature with a pleasant smile. "Though actually, you look quite nice over there."

Picard rolled his eyes, and, for want of anything else to do, went to get himself another cup of tea. He decided he would show Q he was not afraid of him, and walked back towards the sofa. But Q rose to meet him half way. *Oh merde,* thought the captain, fearing the worst. It turned out he was quite right, since the entity took the cup from his hand and put it on the nearby table. Then, it placed its hands gently on his shoulders and leant down to kiss him.

It was just a rapid, almost tender kiss, but it seemed to make his head spin. He knew the entity had no powers to use, and yet the touch affected him a lot more than he had expected. He wasn't used to being kissed without his permission, though this sort of thing *had* occurred before, but he was sufficiently surprised, both at the event and his reaction to it, to forget to protest.

He did, however, place his hand on the entity's chest so as to push it gently away.

"Q," he growled in a soft, but warning voice.

"I know, I know... I just thought I would give it a try." Q's voice had nearly, but not quite, regained its usual sarcastic tone.

Picard really didn't know what to say to this rather unexpected turn of events. Although his conversations with both Q had given him an inkling of what this Q might feel for him, he had not expected the entity's feelings to be expressed in quite so direct, so *sexual* a manner. The enormous discrepancy between the power and alienness of the creature and its desire for a plain human like himself was mind-boggling. And while Picard's mind boggled, Q handed him back his tea.

"Jean-Luc, are you all right?" the Q sounded concerned.

Picard snapped out of his reverie and nodded.

"Good. I was afraid I had got those Terran legends wrong, and that kisses actually made humans go to sleep instead of waking them up." Q's attempt at some measure of his usual flippancy made Picard smile. "That's better. It seems my outburst of affection shocked you... I should have thought of that years ago."

They stood in silence.

"I'm sorry," said Picard finally, wanting to somehow acknowledge his renewed guilt at not having understood exactly what he meant to the powerful being.

"Oh tush." It seemed that the captain's words had deflated the entity's facade somewhat, because its expression was less confident.

"But..." Picard couldn't help it, he wanted to know more. "How could you possibly be interested in *me*."

"I assure you the interest is entirely scurrilous."

Somehow Picard didn't look convinced.

"What do you want me to say?" said the entity with an exasperated sigh. "That your superhuman greatness brought me, an omnipotent creature from another dimension to seek *you* out as a lover?"

Q paused to see the human's reaction, but Picard just looked amused as he put his cup of tea back on the table.

"No," he said, "but I really don't understand what you could possibly see in me. For a start, I'm a human, and therefore mortal, a being trapped in that timeline you described. And by human standards, I'm not all that attractive, either." Picard was lying of course; he thought rather highly of himself. "Vash was at least young and pretty, but I'm an old man. Besides, she actually *liked* you. I don't think there has ever been anything in my attitude to justify this sort of interest in me. I'm not perhaps quite as hostile towards you now as I was a few years ago, but, if it had ever occurred to me that this could happen, I would have dismissed my idea as excessive anthropomorphism. Though I'll admit that when your companion came here and told me that..."

A soft mouth stopped his torrent of words.

"My, my, *mon capitaine*. You don't half like the sound of your own voice."

There was another kiss, and Q drew back to see the captain's reaction. Whatever he was capable of as a Q, he wasn't so sure of his welcome as a human. Picard's hazel eyes were fixed on his, his expression inscrutable.

The human saw the doubt on Q's face. His own feelings were in turmoil. Although he had never entertained any romantic interest in the creature, he had to admit that the situation was intriguing. Aside from the fact the entity had chosen a rather handsome human shape, it was immensely flattering to think it cared enough to wait and seduce him, rather than just using its powers on a whim. Also, the gentle kisses had awakened a desire in him he wouldn't mind satisfying.

But his sense of honour and righteousness forbade him to take advantage of the creature under false pretences.

"Q, I don't think it would be fair of me to let... this situation continue," he said, though he didn't sound very sure.

"Oh," said the Q, deciding to take this rejection with humour. "Does that mean getting naked and engaging in unnatural practices is out of the question?"

Picard gave him an amused glance and noted that Q was still standing very near.

"I suspect so, attractive though the proposition might be." He self-consciously gave the entity a rather flirtatious look.

"Aha! I always knew you would love to be propositioned by a powerless entity."

That made Picard laugh outright.

"This is getting a bit silly, Q."

"Oh, it's very serious silliness, I assure you. But far be it from me to want you to descend to any state beneath your dignity."

"Aside from getting naked?"

"And engaging in unnatural practices, don't forget." Q was evidently enjoying himself and, to tell the truth, Picard was a lot more relaxed, too. "Although, I suppose we could just start with the first part. How about a shower?"

Picard turned to look at his cooling tea, so that he didn't have to meet Q's gaze fixed on him.

"It wouldn't be fair of me to pretend, to let you think I share your feelings. Whatever they are, I don't share them. It is quite possible that I have misunderstood your attentions, but if I haven't, I should just say that there is no chance of a... romantic relationship between us."

"I know," said Q seriously. There was a pause, and then he said, "How about plain old basic sex?"

Picard shot him a half-annoyed glance.

"As a general rule, I prefer to engage in sex with people I'm romantically involved with," he explained. "Most humans do."

"Hmm... Vash excluded, of course. Which, by the way, also excludes you, by definition. If you slept with Vash, who sleeps with people she isn't romantically involved with, I have to conclude that you do too." Q grinned widely, obviously pleased with his demonstration.

Picard was rather embarrassed. The entity was right. The only difference with the present situation was that he hadn't originally expected to see Vash ever again, whereas he knew it would take a lot to get Q to keep away. Somehow, he didn't feel that explaining that would help prove his point.

"I know all about your sordid relationships, *mon capitaine*." Q decided to return to his usual sardonic tone, with only limited success. "I checked them out in your mind that time we were talking about Vash. And out of all those people, all 167 of them, there are very few you really cared about. And as for those... well, we won't go into that. Suffice it to say that you are quite wrong when you think you need to be romantically involved with someone to have sex with them."

"Well, thank you for your insights into my private life," said Picard calmly, though his mind was actually engaged on a different train of thought. One hundred and *sixty-seven*?! Q was right... that *was* sordid. "But that still doesn't change the present situation."

"It doesn't matter," said the entity magnanimously. "I still love you."

He gently stroked Picard's neck as he went over to the replicator.

"A chocolate sundae," he ordered. The thing that appeared in the machine looked rather appetising. He hoped it might have the calming effect Data had described all those years ago. At any rate, he might look more dignified with something in his hands.

Picard was still standing near the table, a rather dazed look on his face. He just couldn't believe Q had said that. Meanwhile, Q went to settle on the couch again. He reclined comfortably, crossing his legs and generally posing as if he didn't have a care in the world. From where he was standing, Picard could observe his long, lean body at leisure. As human bodies went, the entity had definitely chosen an attractive one, and rather the type Picard wouldn't mind getting his hands on. Though he was still in two minds as to whether he should want to get his hands on this particular body.

"So, what do you think?" said Q, following Picard's gaze down his lean frame. "It would look better without the clothes, of course, but I think you said you didn't want that."

Picard smiled reluctantly and gently shook his head. "What am I going to do with you?" he said slowly. "You are the most irritating being I have ever met... well, perhaps not the most irritating, but definitely the most *persistant*."

"Thank you, my dear. I'm glad to know all those centuries of experience have come in useful. Do come and sit down again, you're making me nervous."

The captain picked up his tea, but didn't move.

"Oh, come on. I won't bite... at least not unless you ask me to," he added with a wink.

Picard let out a heavy sigh.

"I give up," he said with a grin, coming to sit beside Q.

The entity finished his sundae and, for want of anywhere else to put it, placed the cup on the floor. Then, slowly, hesitantly, he placed an arm on the back of the couch, behind Picard's head. That didn't produce any adverse reaction, aside from a smile on the human's lips, so the entity, emboldened, placed a tentative hand on his knee.

"You really won't take no for an answer, will you?" chuckled the captain.

"Well, you're the big, bad captain and this is your ship. I'm only a powerless entity who has just had his first chocolate sundae. You can call security anytime you like."

Picard grinned even more widely, and placed his hand on the entity's.

"The last thing I would want is Lieutenant Hawk to come bouncing in... Well, actually, Hawk would be fine, but he might bring Troi with him."

"Hmm... I'd forgotten about her," said Q, pulling back a little to consider that point. The counsellor was a distance empath, and it was quite possible she could sense his presence.

"She knows better than to pry. Besides, if she hasn't come down to inform me you're on the ship by now, I'd reckon she's either busy with something else, or very wisely minding her own business."

"It's really strange... For all I've known you for so many years, there are still some things I never fully realised until now," said the Q tenderly.

"Like what?"

"You talk too much."


Q kissed him again, but this time more insistently. Picard placed a hand on his chest, ready to push him away. He wasn't quite sure at what point he would need to do that. So far, this was rather... pleasant.

Q pulled back a little and they looked at each other for a moment.

Picard was thinking about all the times Q had come to visit him. Never in a thousand years, let alone the last ten, would he have thought the day would come when he would be sitting in Q's arms, letting himself be kissed like this. On the other hand, Q's behaviour wasn't a tremendous surprise. The entity had a habit of breathing in Picard's ear that should have alerted the captain to what was happening. Not mention the way he kept appearing in his bedroom.

"So, *now* do you know what I want, *ma cocotte*?"

Picard guffawed. He couldn't help it. The way Q had said that, with a nasalised drawl, was definitely in character for the overtures he was making, but also a bit strange coming from a humanised entity.

"Tell me something, Q," he said, a twinkle in his eye, "why in the Universe would an omnipotent entity choose to become a *homosexual* human?"

Q removed his hands from Picard's knee and shoulder and folded his arms in a sulking pose.

"And I thought I was finally getting lucky... but no, *mon capitaine* wants to discuss my sexual orientation." He gave a short 'let's get this out of the way' sigh, and continued, "I did not choose to become a homosexual human. When I chose to study humans, you can believe it was with no thoughts of sex in my mind. Aside from anything else, there is no gender in the Continuum... at least not as you would understand it. We do have companions, perhaps a left-over from when we did reproduce, but we do not choose them according to gender or even looks, for obvious reasons. In fact, we don't really choose them at all... But I digress. The point is that, inasmuch as I am attracted to any of you creatures, it is for reasons which have nothing to do with your gender. As a matter of fact, I have a tendency to prefer women. They're much easier to seduce."

"I see," said Picard, who was too overwhelmed by all that was happening to see anything at all. "I must say, I prefer women myself," he continued. "But I am still very flattered..."

"And so you should be," said the Q. "It isn't every human who gets to catch a Q's attention... so now you have thoroughly spoiled the moment for both of us, what do we do?"

"Well, I suppose we could talk a little longer."

"Yup, that sounds like a typical Picard suggestion to me. Sit and talk. I am really mystified, considering your propensity for talking the hind legs off a donkey, as to how you found time to go to bed with 167 people. Not that beds featured in all your encounters, of course. I'm quite amazed at your imagination, in fact..."

"Yes, all right, Q, I get it," said Picard irritably, though he was a bit mystified himself as to how he had found time for so many lovers.

"...I must say, it gave me some ideas," continued Q as if Picard had not spoken.

"I gather you've been putting that body to good use," said the human dryly.

"Well, I, of course, I haven't quite equalled your record yet, but I think I'm beginning to get the hang of it all now. I have all eternity to catch up."

Picard thought about that, and remembered what Q's companion had said about Vash. Curiosity got the best of him.

"Did you... I mean, you and Vash..."

Q gave him a well-deserved look of irritation.

"What do *you* think?"

"Yes, of course." Picard was suitably embarrassed.

"She was quite insistent," said Q, as if he needed to justify the fact.

"I see."

Picard tried to imagine Vash seducing Q, but then decided he could do without that particular image in his mind.

"Yes... I'm not sure you do, but never mind," said the entity.

Part IV

They both sat and pondered that for a moment. Now that it was piqued, Picard's curiosity was prompting him to ask all sorts of strange questions. He only chose to voice one, though.

"Who were the other women Q changed into?" he asked.

"Oh, acquaintances of mine," said the Q airily.

"One of them was a Starfleet officer. I'm sure I've seen her before."

Picard wondered if it was his imagination, but Q seemed to have gone all shifty-eyed at the mention of that woman.

"I doubt it. Anyway, Q was just teasing me - I hardly know the woman. The only one of them I actually spent any time with in this timeline is Vash. How is she these days, anyway?"

"Last I heard, she was arrested on Astèle for trying to smuggle out ancient Akechi artefacts. They extradited her back to the Federation. I suppose she's back to her old tricks now."

"I thought about looking her up, but I promised I wouldn't. Anyway, I had my hands full in the... with other things. What with Q dying and everything, I haven't visited Earth for a long time."

"I wasn't aware that you did."

"Did what?"

Picard rolled his eyes.

"That you visited Earth."

"Well, I don't have to tell you everything, do I?"

"Since you obviously don't..."

"Oh shut up," said the entity simply, as he leant over to kiss him again.

This time, the captain surprised himself by letting his lips part under the entity's mouth, and he felt a soft tongue caress his own. Whatever Q had done with his other partners, it must have included plenty of kissing, because he really was quite good at this. Or maybe it was just a natural talent of the Q which survived in his human form.

At any rate, it was sufficiently pleasant to bring him to respond. His own tongue explored the mouth of the human kissing him, and he gave in to the familiar sensation. Had he really kissed 167 different people before now, he wondered. Even if he had, it didn't take away from the pleasure he felt at kissing his 168th. Picard found that his hands had somehow found their way to the entity's back, and that they seemed intent on stroking him of their volition.

But then he felt the muscles underneath the uniform tense up and Q pulled away.

"I can't control this," he whined.

"What?" That was the best interrogative sentence Picard could come up with in his present state.

"I... I can't do this," said Q by way of explanation.

The human had more or less recovered, and was puzzled by the Q's strange reaction. This time, he formalised his interrogation a little more clearly.

"What's wrong?"

He had barely said that than Q headed for the bedroom. The captain presumed he was going to the bathroom, and stayed on the sofa, confused by this turn of events. He had evidently overestimated his ability to understand the motivations and desires of an extra-dimensional being like Q.

After pondering the question for a few seconds, and coming to no particularly convincing conclusion in that time, he rose and ventured into the bedroom, to see what, if anything, the entity was doing. The sight that greeted him made him smile.

Q was still undressing, and not without difficulty, as this was only the second time he had struggled out of the Starfleet clothes. He had discarded the jacket already, and was now pulling off the turtleneck. Only, instead of pulling it off over his head in one go, as Picard would have done, he was removing it by pulling off the arms one at a time first, and then taking the body over his head. The process lacked the elegance of the usual way, and also stretched the material, but Q got there in the end. As if oblivious to Picard's gaze, the entity gently ran his hand over his chest, evidently enjoying the simple gesture. Much to the captain's relief, the entity stopped his undressing right there.

He turned to grin at Picard.

"I hope you have a nice view, *mon capitaine*. I am much better in profile, though," he added, turning to prove his point.

Picard swallowed hard. The profile was definitely quite interesting, a lot more interesting than he would have thought possible, in fact, knowing Starfleet trousers as he did. The thought of what was going on in Q's trousers was a lot more difficult to handle than he had expected. Not that he hadn't seen Q entirely naked before, of course, or in some similarly embarrassing state of undress. There had been Q's appearance the first time he was exiled as a human, and Picard remembered him flashing into a rather attractive pair of colonial shorts the following year. Not that there was anything improper about the shorts, but the captain clearly recalled being rendered speechless by the sight.

If Q in shorts had troubled him, this particular sight was far more unnerving.

"Q," he said weakly, aware that this was contributing nothing to the situation, but not sure what else to say.

Q sighed and sat down on the bed.

"I knew this was a bad idea. I should listen to my own advice sometimes."

He flopped despondently onto his back and sighed again. He laid one of his hands on his chest and ran it gently up and down his sternum for a moment. Then, apparently becoming more aware of what he was doing and where he was, he stopped and curled up onto his side, his legs folded up on the bed. Finally, he nonchalantly leant his head up on his hand and looked over at Picard.

"Are you going to stand there all night and watch me, *mon chéri*?" he cooed in his most sultry voice. It was put on to make fun of the human, of course, but Picard actually found it rather attractive.

He looked at Q for a long time, taking in the pallor of his bare skin, the undeveloped muscles that ran beneath it, the sparse curls of dark hair that decorated it. He observed the soft curve of the man's prominent jaw as it ran on either side of his face to the dimple in his chin, the thick, well defined lips that were presently curled up into a light smile, the cheeks, gently flushed with emotion, the high, lined forehead, dark eyebrows, the nose that sloped down from the deep frown mark on his brow and gave him the profile of a Roman emperor. Finally, he looked into the wide staring eyes again. He didn't want to know how often he had seen them resting on him, bright with a sardonic amusement that seemed designed to unsettle him and remind him who had the most power.

But now those dark eyes had a different expression. There was still a little of the laid-back amusement in them, but Picard thought he could discern some... desire in them, too. That made his heart sink again. The reaction came not from the fact Q desired him, which was obvious enough by now, but the fact that he had seen that look before, many times. *No wonder he thinks I'm thick,* he thought.

"I see you're thinking your own thoughts," said Q, getting up again. "I think I'll go and preen myself. Let me know when the cat gives you your tongue back."

He headed for the bathroom.

"Q..." said Picard.

Q looked over his shoulder. "I just love the way you say that... Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go and see if I can score with a face-cloth."

"Q... I must admit, I'm rather confused," started Picard. He didn't particularly feel like discussing the situation, but on the other hand, he dearly wanted to know what was going on.

"Well, that makes two of us," admitted Q, coming back towards him.

Picard was tempted to start his next sentence with 'Q', but decided he needed to add some variety to life.

"What do you want, Q?" he asked more sternly, looking the entity straight in the eye.

"Oh what's the point?" said Q with a dramatic shrug. "You can't always get what you want, especially when you're human."

Picard closed the gap between them.

"It depends what you want," he said quietly.

Q just stared at him open-mouthed, a sight that Picard would have appreciated if he had not been so busy trying to work out what he was going to do next. As it was, placing his hands on Q's naked sides wasn't so difficult. He was interested to find that his flesh was firmer than he had expected.

Q breathed in sharply, and when he finally exhaled, his breath came out in uneven chocolaty bursts. Picard let his hands move onto his back, stroking the smooth soft skin they found there, reading the bumps and moles with which Nature had once patterned the body Q had borrowed.

"Oh," moaned Q, even though the human's caresses were as yet unspecific and gentle.

"You're very sensitive," remarked Picard, guiding him gently towards the bed with a soft kiss on the shoulder.

"My problem is actually that I find you a little too stimulating," said Q rather pathetically as he fell onto the bed again. Picard didn't like seeing Q look pathetic. He might have welcomed the sight once upon a time, but right now, it didn't suit him at all.

He pulled back a little and stroked the creature's chest.

"Just calm down," he advised. "Breathe in slowly and take one thing at a time. We have all night."

He placed a gentle kiss on Q's lips before pulling back a little to look him in the eyes. Then they kissed again. Q was definitely good at this, thought Picard. When he pulled away again, his breath too was rather heavier than previously.

"You're pretty stimulating too," he admitted.

That seemed to sort out Q's brief attack of pathos.

"You want me," he said, evidently at the first of it. "You *do* want me."

A delighted look of triumph spread over his face, quickly replaced by one of pained pleasure as Picard's hand moved onto his stomach and a manicured finger tickled his navel. Q moaned in a satisfactorily abandoned way that made the human feel a bit better about the whole weird situation. At least he was in control this time.

"Brilliant deduction, Q. I gather you want me, too, so perhaps we can get on with this. Computer, dim lights to fifty percent."

The computer chimed and the lights went down.

"'Get on with this'?" protested Q, breathlessly pulling himself onto his elbows as Picard's hands continued to caress his torso. "Oh.... Ah, what kind of a come on is that? I thought... ah, I thought your ethnic group was supposed to be romantic?"

"And what's your idea of romance, Q?" said Picard with a grin. So far, he was enjoying himself; he only had to move his hands to make the entity close its eyes with an expression of bliss. "I don't recall you buying me dinner before jumping into my bed."

"I didn't... think I'd make it this far..."

*I bet you didn't,* thought Picard, who was beginning to feel the combined effect of Q's gentle groans and soft skin. He kissed Q again, and then pulled him gently so that they were lying side by side. His lips renewed their touch on his new lover's lips and throat, delighting in the vibration he felt there when his fingers slipped underneath the uniform waistband.

Q's hand caught his.

"Oh, Jean-Luc, I don't think I can..." he started.

Picard placed his lips on Q's ear and whispered, "I'm sure you can. Just breathe deeply."

*What am I doing?* he asked himself. *Giving Q instructions on how to control his sexual drive...* Just then, he couldn't believe it was really Q he was kissing so passionately. Q those hand was clutching his arm, Q whose lower stomach he was presently exploring. He broke the kiss and pulled himself up on one elbow. Yes, this was definitely Q he was doing this to.

Q's dark eyes flew open as he felt the change in Picard's position.

"Having second thoughts, are we?" he said with not quite his usual verve.

"I... no, I just can't believe this is happening."

"Yup... sounds like second thoughts to me. Just my luck: I wait half a century to get you into bed, and then you chicken out," Q pouted.

"I am... not... chickening out," breathed Picard.

He leant over and kissed Q to prove his point. He felt the hand clutching his arm move down and seize the hand that still rested on the entity's stomach. His hand was being pushed further down, and he couldn't resist a little smile. Q was evidently not planning on being entirely passive.


* * *

"You've done this before," said Picard reproachfully, when he had got his breath back.

"What did you expect? Me to wait until you made up your mind to let me anywhere near you?"

Picard sighed and placed his arm behind his head. He didn't say anything but just looked at Q's lean body uncurling to lie out beside him. They would have to take a shower after all, he thought. But they could do that later. For the moment, all he wanted to do was relax.

"What? No 'how was it for you'?" said Q, obviously more than a little annoyed.

"I'm sorry," said Picard with a smile, extending his free arm to run his hands through the entity's hair. "That was... stimulating."

"After all that, all you have to say is 'stimulating'?"

"It was... very stimulating," said Picard teasingly.

"You sound like a Klingon," said Q with an attractive pout.

Picard put his arms around the entity's neck and kissed him. Q looked a little more pleased by the time they broke the kiss.

"I enjoyed that, you stupid entity," said the captain condescendingly. "And if you couldn't tell, I'll have to believe you haven't had as much experience as you say you have."

"Not as much as you have, anyway," said Q. "And it was quite different doing that with my powers, too. I'll have to show you some day."

"Hmm," said the human, obviously not sure about that.

Q decided to ignore his hum.

"In the meantime, I think I..." He paused. "I think I'm tried," he said, obviously surprised.

Picard grinned.

"Well, we have all night. You can have some sleep."

"I told you, I didn't like the last time I fell asleep," said the entity, lying back flat on his back. "They drugged me, you know."

"Who drugged you?"

"Your security people," he said casually.

Picard was horrified. "What? Are you sure?"

"Oh, that's an old story now," he said, trying to shrug his shoulders, though that wasn't easy in his current position. "I'd rather forget about all that. It doesn't matter in this universe anyway."

"What do you mean, 'in this universe'?"


"Why doesn't it matter in this universe?"

"Because I got my powers back straight away here," said the entity sleepily, "and went back to being the unique being I was before, not some creature trapped in your timeline."

"And in the other universe, you didn't?" Picard was very intrigued by this revelation.

"Oh, shut up," said Q.

Picard watched as his eyes closed and his face relaxed. The deep frown mark above his nose gave his slightly crooked features a worried look in repose. Picard wondered if the sleeping Q was worried about the war in Continuum or some other, as yet undisclosed aspect of his complicated life.

* * *

Picard woke up a little before his alarm was due to go off. His sleep had been fitful, interrupted by vivid dreams of Q, as well as Q's incessant fidgeting. It seemed Q was having some pretty vivid dreams of his own; he kept talking in his agitated sleep, mentioning something about a Vulcan woman. Picard looked at him now, a little more relaxed in the deep sleep that some humans experience in the early hours of the morning. It was difficult to believe, seeing him like this, that Q was actually a formidably powerful creature in his natural state.

Leaving that consideration aside for the moment, he went into the bathroom to shave and take a shower. As he pottered about his usual morning activities, he found it increasingly difficult to believe he had just spent the night with Q of all people. Dressed in his bathrobe, he went back into the bedroom to get his uniform, and found Q still lying on the bed, but awake and looking at him with a softly sardonic smile.

"Good morning, darling."

Picard rolled his eyes and resisted the temptation to point out how unoriginal that statement was. In fact, now that he was actually faced with the reality of Q in his bed, he was quite speechless. It wasn't the first time he entity had had this effect on him, and he somehow suspected it wouldn't be the last.

"Come here," said Q, holding his hand out to him.

Picard hesitated, and then took the entity's hand. A look of astonishment crossed his features as he felt himself being pulled onto the bed. Q pinned him on his back and kissed him passionately enough to erase any of his reservations.

When the kiss was over, Q pulled back a little to have a look at his mortal lover.

"You are absolutely beautiful," he said enthusiastically, stroking his cheek.

Picard smiled as he realised he was still just as pinned to the bed as before, despite the fact Q had removed his hands.

"I gather you're your usual self again."

"Exactly. And if you agree, I would like to continue what we started last night... Only this time, we'll do it my way. No sliminess, no awkwardness, no soreness."

"Sounds good to me," said Picard, wondering what Q had in mind.

"It will be," promised the entity. "Close your eyes."

Picard obeyed, and soon understood why Q had asked him to do so, as his eyelids went red with the brightness of the entity's natural form. He felt a light tingling on his skin, a little like an electric current, and not dissimilar to the feeling of some other non-corporal creatures he had come into contact with. But the sensation seemed to seep right through his skin and into his whole body, until he could feel the alien presence in every muscle and bone. He could not help feeling a little apprehension at what might happen next.

//It's all right,// the presence informed him, planting the reassurance into his mind like a thought in a mind meld. //Relax, and let me do everything.//

Picard found his body was relaxed anyway, presumably by Q's ministrations, but his mind became increasingly alarmed as he felt the entity leave his body, gradually pulling his consciousness out with it. The sensation and the red light disappeared as he left his body and found himself completely deprived of all sensory input. Confused and lost, he experienced a blind panic quite unlike anything he had felt before. He tried to relax and tell himself this was only temporary, that he could trust Q to reunite him with his body later, but some instinct struggled to get back to the flesh that had housed it.

//Jean-Luc, don't fight, please, love, stay with me,// pleaded the thought of the Q.

The human tried to comply, and was surprised to find he could. He had not expected to have such control over his own disembodied consciousness. As he calmed down and concentrated on what his mind could sense, he realised he could feel Q near him, and tried to find a way to get closer to him. The entity realised this and bridged the gap itself, melting right into Picard's consciousness.

It was marvellous for the Q, but it was absolutely amazing for the human. Like a mind meld, only with even fewer boundaries between the two beings. In that moment, he knew exactly what it was like to be a Q, to know everything for what it was, rather than how it looked, felt or smelled. But while he felt the wonder of their existence, he could also sense the boredom and weariness of the species. And deeper down in Q's being, just beyond his grasp, he became aware of something else, some violence and despair the creature was trying to keep from him, but which he suspected might be the link to the Continuum. He wisely left that area alone, choosing not to probe any further.

He had no idea how long they remained like that, but he did feel some disappointment when Q reluctantly slid his consciousness back into his body.

"That was quite something," he said as soon as he had a breath and a voice back.

The entity also resumed its human form.

"It definitely was. Your mind is quite as beautiful as your body," it said.

They looked at each other rather tenderly for a while, and then, for some reason, both became aware of something else, a presence of some sort, seemingly located at the foot of the bed. They both turned to look at it.

"What a charming picture," she said condescendingly.

The two men stared at her. Q's companion was seated primly on the edge of the bed, legs crossed and arms folded, as she looked them both over with obvious disgust.

"You look lovely, Q," said Q gently. "I love a woman in uniform."

She looked down at her Starfleet-clad body a little self-consciously.

"I gather it's all the rage these days," she said superciliously.

This exchange reminded Picard that he was himself completely naked. So he followed the rest of their conversation in an acute state of embarrassment.

The female Q pointed at her companion.

"You are in deep trouble this time, Q. How dare you fuse with this mortal? I left you here to punish you -"

"- and instead, I've been having a good time. Well, Q, that's the price of you for leaving me here with him. You knew what I wanted."

"I knew what he wanted too. I guess you just can't trust mortals to make up their minds and stick to their decisions. I have a good mind to snap him out of existence," she said, lifting her hand as if she were about to snap her fingers.

"Oh, no, you don't," he exclaimed, rematerialising beside her and taking her hand in his.

She looked down at her fingers caught in his hand, apparently quite distracted by the sensation. Taking advantage of her hesitation, he lifted her hand to his lips and placed a gentle kiss on it.

"My dear, sweet Q," he said smoothly. "Forget about him. He is no threat to you. He means nowhere as much to me as you do."

"Then why did you just spend the night with him?"

"Oh, that," said Q with a dismissive wave of his hand. "What's a night with a mortal compared to an eternity with you," he said suavely.

Q was obviously irresistible to his companion, because she just fluttered her long eyelashes and pouted, instead of hitting him as Picard had feared.

"Well, yes, I suppose he won't be around much longer," she said pensively, looking down at his hand holding hers. "Though you do have a habit of bringing him back to life, or changing the timeline just so that he will live."

"Now, now, my dear. Once in each case doesn't make a habit, now, does it? So who is being a very silly Q, sister?" asked Q gently. "You have forgiven me all my other indiscretions... do you really think I would leave you for someone five billion years younger."

She seemed to recover some of the verve she had displayed the previous night and looked up at him again.

"Perhaps not for him," she said, casting a quick look at Picard out of the corner of her eye.

"Not for anyone, my darling."

"I do wish you would stop this obsession with humans, though, Q," she said petulantly. "It's not healthy, and look at all the damage you've done because of it. Bringing that hideous slip of a Q brought up by mortals into the Continuum..."

"She was fully Q," he protested. Picard presumed they were talking about Amanda.

"...And they're the ones who let Q commit suicide. If you hadn't been so eager to redeem yourself in their eyes, you would never have agreed to that stupid trial..."

"That stupid trial, as you call it made me a new Q. It made me realise what a stodgy, uninteresting lot we have become these last few million years."

"Well, thank you!" she exclaimed, tossing her head and pulling her hand out of his to cross her arms.

Q sighed and rolled his eyes at Picard, who had managed to find and put on his trousers without disrupting their conversation too much.

"It's all because of her, isn't it?" she continued. "The truth is, Q, anytime you're anywhere near a Starfleet captain, you completely lose your ability to think straight. Male or female, all they need are the four pips and you're out doing foolish things. You saved this creature's life and let the other one talk you into making Q mortal, and now look what a mess we're in."

Picard noticed the reference to a Starfleet captain. A female Starfleet captain. There were plenty of them around, of course, but he was pretty sure he could come up with a likely candidate if he could just cross-reference the blonde woman Q had turned into the previous night with the information about her being a Starfleet captain. It was possible the two were completely different people, but he thought he would give it a try anyway.

While his limited human brain worked on that, the female Q turned towards her companion again.

"Anyway, talking about the mess we're in. Your faction sent me to tell you you're needed in battle. The others have attacked... Supernovae galore, in fact," she said, apparently quite unconcerned by the information she was imparting.

This could not be said of Q who suddenly looked very serious.

"I must go immediately, then."

"Good idea," she said, still with the same studied indifference.

He hesitated, and then leant over to kiss her on the cheek.

"Go and tell them I will be right with them."

"And who am I? Your errand boy? You go and tell them yourself," she said. But she did obligingly vanish with typical haughtiness.

Q turned back towards Picard.

"You heard the little lady. I'm needed in the Continuum," he said, rematerialising beside Picard on the bed. "But you have no idea how much all this has meant to me, Jean-Luc."

"What's eternity with her compared to a night with me?" teased the human. In a way, it was a relief to think Q would be kept busy by his arrogant mate -- it might keep the entity away for a while. And even after what they had shared, Picard still believed a little of Q would go a long way.

Q just grinned and kissed him.

"You be good," he said softly. "Don't let things get to you."

Picard smiled his agreement. He wasn't in a habit of letting things get to him.

The entity then got up to go, but Picard suddenly caught his hand.

"Wait a minute, Q. How do you know Kathryn Janeway?"

Q gave him a worried look, and seemed about to say something, but then evidently thought better of it. Instead, he just flashed away, leaving Picard with an empty hand and no answer to the best question he had asked all night.

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