by Alara Rogers and Mercutio

Section 1

Naomi came down the corridor, trying not to puff. It had been a tiring walk, even for her and she still wasn't sure why she hadn't just put off her evening exercise when she'd discovered the holodeck was booked by someone with a higher priority than her own. But she was stubborn, and that was the way it was.

As she came around the corner, she heard an eerie, spine-tingling sound, like a dying animal or something in pain. Instinctively, she flinched, then kept going at a slower pace, not one to back away from danger even when that might be the bright thing to do.

Huddled on the floor was a broken shape... reaching out for something? She couldn't tell for certain. Whatever it was, the person was hurt. Without even thinking about it, she knelt down.

"Hello? Are you..."

Before she could say anything else, Q broke away from her, cowering, moving as far away from her as his injured state would allow. Naomi could see how much it hurt him to move, but he was still scrabbling for purchase on the floor, trying desperately to put distance between them. His voice came out in a broken litany of terror. "Don't hurt me don't kill me please don't kill me please please don't hurt me."

Naomi backed away from him. It was Q, she knew him now, although she wouldn't have recognized him if he hadn't spoke. He was nothing like the proud peacock she remembered, and she couldn't imagine what kind of monsters would do something like this to him.

They had to get out of there. She bent down further, making herself as small as possible. "I won't hurt you."

Q focused on the tiny redheaded woman kneeling in front of him. She was much too close to him and he couldn't stand it and she was going to hurt him and nothing would stop the hurting.

He whimpered and shrank away. She got up to go to call for help, and spotted his comm badge, lying on the floor a meter or two away. She wasn't wearing one of her own, because she didn't need it for anything and rather preferred no one being able to find her. Naomi went to it, picked it up and tapped it. "Dr. Allen to Sickbay."

"This is Dr. Li."

"I've got Q here. He appears to be very badly hurt. I don't think you want to try to move him; he's terrified of someone hurting him more. Can you beam him directly there?"

"I can arrange for it. Where are you?"

Naomi told him, and within a few minutes, the shimmering descended over them and then they were in Sickbay. Naomi didn't realize how scared she'd been until the bright lights were all around her again. Having people there and noise and motion was an intense relief after the darkness of that lonely corridor. She didn't even consider that a few moments before that she'd been walking through there on her own; finding Q there, brutalized, had colored her impressions completely.

"Noooo!!" Q howled, and without even thinking about it, Naomi went to him.

"What are you doing to him?" Naomi asked fiercely, putting herself between Q and the doctor.

Li looked at her as though she were the stupidest person in the world. "I'm trying to help him."

"That's not what it sounds like."

"It's Q. He... he can be somewhat irrational."

Naomi glared at the doctor. "Well, be more careful with him. Someone just tried to kill him."

Li muttered under his breath, too low for her to hear, "So what's new?"

In the grey recesses of his mind, Q had tried to fight off the man who had tried to hurt him again, and failed, and then the red-haired woman had protected him. He didn't know how he knew that, how he knew what had happened; he wasn't listening to anything they were saying, too wrapped up in his own pains to be aware of words, but he could hear it in her tone, feel it in the way she stood between him and his attacker.

Then the pain came again as they moved him to one of the beds and started cutting his clothes off of him to get at his injuries. Q saw it all as dark shapes moving in on him, hurting him, trying to kill him, and he began pleading again, tears coming to his eyes, "Please no no please don't kill me please..."

And then she was there, and there was a soothing voice in his ear, murmuring comforting words to him, stroking his head, and he turned into her. The people who were hurting him didn't go away, and he wanted to protest, wanted to be terrified of them, but as long as the comforting presence was there, he felt safer.

Li looked up at Naomi, cradling Q's head against her, and crooning to him. "Good, keep him quiet, this will be easier."

Naomi shot a glare at the doctor, but didn't stop. She didn't even really know Q, but he was broken and he seemed to need her, and for the moment, that was enough.

Taking care of his wounds seemed to take forever. Long before it was done, Q had lapsed into unconsciousness brought on by the painkiller and sedatives they had given him.

Still, Naomi didn't leave. She didn't know why she was staying. She hardly knew Q and didn't think he remembered her at all. They'd met precisely once, during the drive to find anything to stave off the Borg threat. He'd been brilliant, egotistical and entirely unreachable. The interchange of insults at that time had been a brief moment of forgetfulness and sparring in the midst of tension and the numbness that could only come from too many hours spent going over the same failed solutions to the same impossible problems. He wouldn't remember that; it could hardly have been as significant to him as it was to her.

But she couldn't leave him. Not given the way he'd clung to her. Q had been frightened of everyone there, of even the doctors. She was the only one he seemed to trust, and it went against her grain to abandon him.

Q woke up to a world of pain and soreness, coming out of nightmares he couldn't remember but loathed himself for being weak enough to have. It wasn't enough that he was frightened of everything, that he had make up more things to be frightened of while he was asleep?

He looked around. He was in Sickbay. He knew the bland decor here better than he knew his own rooms; no wonder, since he was here more often.

Curled up on a chair next to his bed was a small, red-headed woman. Q didn't recognize her, but something in the back of his head did. Flashes of unimaginable terror went through him, distorted, mask-like faces, people hurting him, interspersed with images of a comforting presence, of someone who looked just like the woman in the chair.

Horror went through Q in a shock as all of the experiences of the night before flooded back into him. He'd been coming back from the physics lab, and then two men had stopped him. He'd known as soon as he saw them that they were going to kill him. The masks they were wearing made that blatantly obvious. Beating up on him was one thing; he had been beaten up on by any number of people, including the occupants of one of the starbase's bars for transients, and there had been no reaction at all from the people supposedly protecting him. Beating up on Q was an enjoyable hobby around here. But the masks meant something different.

He'd tried to beg, had begged, but it had been no use. With the ease of long practice they had hit him, punched him, kicked him, left him bruised and beaten on the floor.

And then she had arrived. He had only dim memories of that, of being terrified of her as well as everything else, of trying to get away from her, and then, after she had apparently had them transported to Sickbay, seeking comfort from her.

That was an even worse humiliation. He had cried on her like a helpless child, and everyone had seen it.

And now he was here in Sickbay, and Security, for Q knew that Security had been the ones to do this to him, was trying to kill him.

Hopelessness and rage went through him.

"You're awake?"

The voice penetrated his thoughts and Q looked up to see the woman who had taken care of him the night before. "What a brilliant deduction."

"Thank you," she said gravely. "Are you all right? Are you in any pain?"

"What are you, some kind of nurse? Of course I'm in pain."

"I'll go get the doctor."

When she came back, Q was sitting up. "I'm leaving."

"Really?" Li asked. "I thought you were in pain."

Q glared at him for a moment. "Does it matter? I'm sure you'd rather have me squirming in agony than give me anything which will help."

Naomi glanced at Li. "You will give him something, won't you?"

Li looked at her, annoyed. "That was the general idea, yes."

Q didn't have time to protest as Li injected him with another painkiller. "You can go back to your quarters, Q, as long as you promise not to exert yourself. You need rest more than anything else right now."

"Yes, Mommy."

Li shook his head, and turned to speak to someone outside the room. "He's ready to go back now."

Two Security guards entered the room, and Q cringed before he could stop himself. Naomi saw the movement and stepped protectively closer to him, looking between Q and the guards.

Faking a wellness he didn't feel, Q got down from the bed and strode out.

Naomi tagged along behind him, still curious as to exactly what was going on here. However, neither Q nor the guards spoke.

At the door to his quarters, Q turned on her. "What are you doing here?"

Naomi flinched slightly. "May I come in?"

"No," Q said harshly, then went inside.

Naomi shrugged, watched him go, then left, not noticing the Security guards, who followed Q inside.

Once inside, Q realized someone had followed him. He swiveled, ready to lambast the foolish woman for disobeying him. But the words died on his lips as he realized who had followed him. Security. He didn't know if these were the two who had come after him. With masks on and in the dim light of the corridor it had been impossible to tell who they were. That only made this more frightening.

"What are you doing here?"

The taller one shrugged slightly. "Orders. We're here to protect you."

His smile seemed to Q more like the smile of a predator. "I don't want you and I don't need you. Leave!"

The guard shook his head. "We'll be staying. Watching you."

That was what he was afraid of. Q fled into his room, locking the door behind him, and then realized that wasn't going to do any good. They were Security. They could override the computer lock. If they wanted to kill him and finish off the job, he was dead. A howl of fear and anger stuck in his throat. He didn't know what to do.

Q commed Anderson. She put him through a brief explanation of his attack before she would hear any complaints from him. Q fussed and fumed through that, before he was finally able to tell her why he'd called. "You have to get these goons out of my quarters."

"The Security guards are there to protect you, Q."

"Security tried to kill me!"

"Q, we've been over this. You have no way of knowing who tried to kill you. You said your attackers were wearing masks. Until we can find out who did try to kill you, having Security protection there with you makes the most sense."

She closed the connection and Q jumped up, pacing. He was going to die. He had no doubt in his mind that they were going to kill him. The only question was how much they were going to make him suffer first.

Suddenly he wished he hadn't sent that woman away. It was a foolish thought; he didn't need her and there wasn't anything she could do. Of course, they'd be less likely to want to kill him in front of witnesses...

And he didn't know her name. He had no idea who she was. She was just one more in the string of faceless people roaming around the starbase. He didn't care to learn their names. For the most part, they weren't worth getting to know. And they all hated him, even the ones who were almost worth talking to.

Before he could stop himself or think better of it, Q queried the computer. "I need the name of a woman, most likely human, about 1.5 meters in height, red hair."

"There are six persons matching that description."

"Display a picture of each of these." Dr. Naomi Allen was the third of these. Q felt a tremor of relief go through him at just seeing her face. That was as contemptible as everything else he was feeling right now. Why should he want anyone else? Why should he be so affected by the sight of this person, when he knew that nothing and no one could or would help him?

Now that he had her name, he could contact her. It would be simplicity itself. But the very thought of it frightened him. To call her would be to admit to his fears, to expose himself to the worst kind of rejection.

But the alternative was sitting outside his door. Security. Waiting to kill him.

With a strangled sob, Q placed the call. Her face appeared on the screen. "Yes?" She recognized Q, saw the strain in his expression. "Is something wrong?"

"No!" Q said automatically, then wished he hadn't. He meant yes, but he couldn't say yes, and now that she was there, right in front of him, he didn't know how he was ever going to admit that he needed her. He couldn't. It was impossible.

Naomi cocked her head. "Nothing's wrong at all? You haven't magically reconsidered my offer and decided to invite me over?"

He felt relieved. Something he could answer. "It would be an enormous concession on my part, yes."

"Of course it would. That's why I'm so grateful for it. I'll be right there."

And she'd terminated the call before he could say another word. Q felt better. But what a pushy woman! She'd decided to intrude her way into his life on a bare word. How dare she?

"He said he didn't want to see you."

"Well, I just talked to him, and he'd changed his mind. Can you go ask him?"

After a brief wrangle at the door, Security let her in.

Naomi stood in the middle of the room, waiting as Security got Q to come out of his room and confirm that he had indeed called her there.

At that point, they just stood there, Q staring awkwardly at Naomi. She knew he had to want to talk to her about something, and yet, how could they talk with the guards there? They could go into his room, but apparently, that wasn't an option.

The silence extended between them until Naomi felt it was becoming ridiculous.

She turned to the guard who had let her in. "You can go now."

He stifled a laugh. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Our orders specify that we are to remain with Q..."

"Then remain outside."

He looked significantly at her. "We can't leave a threat to Security with him alone under the circumstances."

Naomi stared at him for a moment before realizing he was classifying her as a threat. "I was next to him all night in Sickbay. I found him when he'd been attacked. If I were a threat, I had a lot of better chances to kill him than this."


Naomi stared at him. "Leave."

"Ma'am, if you can't refrain from attacking duly appointed members of Starfleet Security, I'm going to have to arrest you."

Naomi's expression was fixed and disbelievingly. "I want to talk to your commanding officer."

"With Ohmura's death," and Naomi thought she caught a glance past her at Q, who had slumped into a chair in a posture of extreme defeat. "I'm the highest ranking officer left until the commodore assigns a new Security Chief."

"Then I want to talk to the commodore. Now."

Anderson was not pleased to be hustled down to Q's quarters in the middle of what was a busy morning. She was in the middle of her investigation into the fracas surrounding the attempt on Q's life. The official version of events hadn't been taken from him yet, but given the computer records, and the accounts from Drs. Allen and Li, there wasn't much he could have told them. The little Q had added during his call earlier only made it that much more her problem than anything else, at least until a new Security Chief could be located. The current members of the Security department were competent enough, but not of the rank or quality she wanted to promote.

"What seems to be the problem?" Anderson asked in a deceptively mild tone.

"They won't leave," Naomi said.

"We need to take Q's deposition," the guard said. "Dr. Allen was interfering with our duties."

Naomi looked at him, mouth falling open. "You liar!"

Anderson held up her hands before it could turn into a free-for-all. "Let me understand this." She looked at Braun. "You're refusing to leave because you need to take Q's deposition."

"Yes," he said sulkily. There was more to it than that, but he couldn't very well admit to wanting to keep Naomi out just for the sheer pleasure of inconveniencing Q. Security had numerous reasons to want to discommode Q as much as possible, not the least of which was his culpability in Ohmura's death.

Anderson turned to Naomi. "And you'd like them to leave so that you could have privacy with Q?"

Naomi flushed. That didn't sound right at all. "Essentially, yes."

"Then take the deposition and get out," Anderson said to Braun. Her back was hurting and she didn't want to be there at all. The wisdom of her decision not to promote him to Chief was confirmed by this little incident. If Braun couldn't settle a kindergarten dispute like this, he didn't belong in charge of one of the most vital departments on the starbase.

Anderson stalked out, leaving the Security guards looking at Naomi with hatred.

Braun cleared his throat. "I'll take the deposition now. Unless of course, Q refuses."

Q sat in the chair, fright overwhelming him as the two guards approached him. One of them stood next to the chair, while the other one loomed over him, effectively blocking any possibility he had of getting away. Only Naomi's presence in the room reassured him. They wouldn't kill him while she was there. At the very least, she would call for help before they could hurt him. He was ashamed of himself for being so afraid, but he couldn't help it. He knew in his recently fractured bones what they were going to do to him, what they wanted to do to him.

The deposition went quickly, despite Q's insults and Braun's desire to stretch this out as long as possible. Q just didn't know enough to be of much use.

When the guards had departed, Q still didn't move from his chair.

Naomi looked at him, really looked at him, seeing the drawn lines of his face and his haggard expression. She'd had to restrain herself from attacking Braun when Q had revealed that Security had been the ones who had almost killed him. How could Braun be so cruel to Q when he'd undergone such an experience? How dare they?

She retreated inside Q's room, coming back out with a blanket. She tucked it around Q, who still seemed unnaturally restrained.

Naomi got a mug of cocoa from the replicator and came back with it, placing it in his hands, and sitting near his feet. He didn't drink it, but he held the cup, almost as if he was drawing warmth from it.

"I don't need your mothering," Q said finally, after a very long time.

"Of course you don't," Naomi said, leaning up against his legs. "I just like to do it."

"How typically human." He set the cup down, and then felt even emptier without something to hold, something to do with his hands. He couldn't even begin to describe how terrible, how soul-destroying it was to be torn apart by people and then be forced to describe it all back to those very same people while they pretended not to remember it. They'd taken it like he'd been praising their fine handiwork.

And, from their point of view, he probably had been.

Q shuddered again uncontrollably.

"Are you still cold?" Naomi knelt up, then moved to the edge of the chair. She didn't know whether this was a good thing to do or not, but he'd needed her last night in Sickbay and she moved ahead in the courage of that conviction, tugging his head to her and pressing herself against him so that she could hold him.

With a strangled sob, Q's arms went around her. He didn't want her, didn't need this, but he couldn't refuse it either. He was going to hate himself later, as much as he hated her now, but he had to accept. The need was too great, and at the moment, it didn't matter that she would only turn on him and hate him like everyone else he ever knew always had.

Q woke up feeling pained and uncomfortable. He could barely stand, and the only thing he wanted were painkillers. Of course, he couldn't get enough of them to do any good, he never could, but anything was better than this.

After the drug had taken effect and he had been able to complete his toilet, Q felt better. Almost dead rather than just wishing he was.

He stopped at the door to the main room as a quick thought flashed through his head. The last thing he remembered was Naomi guiding him into bed. He hadn't had any energy to resist her; he had needed her too much then, as horrifying a thought as it was. That was all in the past.

But what if she were still there?

Steeling himself, Q stepped through. Curled up on the couch, fast asleep, lay a small woman. Q walked over, studying her, relief and panic moving through him. She'd stayed here. No one had come in during the night, she had protected him. But Security knew where she was and that'd she'd been there. Everyone would think that he'd invited this person here in order to engage in the deepest, most depraved acts he could imagine.

While Q was torn between the two possibilities, Naomi opened her eyes, awakened by his presence near her. "Good morning."

"What are you doing here?" Q asked, surly.

Naomi looked slightly confused. "You asked me over. The guards. Remember?" She sat up and stretched. She was wearing a light dress, and the action caused the material to tighten across her body.

Q swallowed hard, and turned away, trying not to limp.

"Are you all right?"

"Why would I be all right?" Q snapped. "People want to kill me, every bone in my body has been broken and reset, and now I wake up to this!" Q stood there trembling, the force of his outburst shaking through him. He was far weaker than he knew, and his raw emotions lay too close to the surface.

Naomi cocked her head. He was in pain, that much she understood. And he was frightened of Sickbay and the doctor, or she'd suggest that he go there. She certainly wouldn't put up with that much pain. She'd be begging someone for a backrub...

She stood up and came over to him. Instinctively, Q backed away, then fought the urge. He couldn't show that he was scared.

"Would you like me to rub your back?" The offer wasn't entirely as selfless as it sounded. Although she'd hardly take advantage of anyone as vulnerable as he was at the moment, there was something to be said for getting to put her hands all over him.

"Do you always proposition men first thing in the morning?" Q asked, trying not to say yes or no.

"Sometimes I wait until later in the day." She reached out to him, not quite touching him. "It'd help if you'd lay down."

Q found himself being led back into his bedroom and placed face down on the bed. He didn't know how that had been accomplished, and was starting to feel uncomfortably exposed when her hands ran over his back to settle lightly on his shoulders. The feeling was exquisite and he couldn't stop himself from moaning as a bubble of pain welled up, burst, and a feeling very close to relaxation took its place.

Almost immediately, the rest of his body started to hurt more, and Q imagined what it would feel like to have her hands on the rest of him this way, remembering how Harry Roth used to do this to him and how good it had felt.

Thinking of the physicist reminded him of something very unpleasant, of what backrubs were for. This was all a part of sordid human sexuality. He'd been tricked! How could he have forgotten? The pleasure he was feeling was only a lure to get him into bed and once he had sufficiently let down his guard, she was going to seduce him, derange his mind and common sense in order to use him for her own depraved purposes. And then she'd hurt him, humiliate him, make him a laughingstock or tear his heart to shreds.

She was just like all the rest of them.

Q didn't know why that thought filled him with such grim despair. In any case, he had to get rid of her now, before her touch destroyed what was left of his good sense.

He surged up out of her hands, and turned over.

"What's wrong?" Naomi asked, concern on her face.

Q used the pause to muster his self-control and put his facade in place. "Your services will not be required after all. I find that they don't meet my needs after all."

Naomi stared at him for a long moment before accepting that as the truth. She couldn't find any other truth in his eyes. She'd moved too fast here, and that was her own fault, not his. He was being polite, and in truth, probably wanted to rest in peace and quiet after the experience he'd had.

"All right." She got up, but turned at the door. "If you need me..."

"I'll be very surprised."

It was more than an hour after he'd been supposed to be at work before Q could muster up the nerve to leave the room.

The guards fell in behind him as he did. There were two different ones this morning, a man and a woman. Not that it mattered. They were both human. Q could be reasonably sure that the woman, at least, had not been one of the ones to beat him up, but that didn't mean she hadn't been in on it. All the humans on this starbase wanted him dead.

Except for Naomi. She wanted something far more sordid.

His mind skittered away from the thought of Naomi, concentrating on a much closer topic -- getting to work alive. There were scientists waiting to talk to him. Surely Security wouldn't choose now to kill him.

After all, since the attack, they'd been assigned to his "protection." They could get at him any time they wanted. They didn't need to do it now.

Q did not find that thought even slightly reassuring.

There were several people in front of the meeting room, milling in front of the door. Blocking his route in.

"Murderer!" a woman shouted. "How many starships full of people did you murder? How many planets did you destroy?"

Q didn't understand it. Aliens had attacked him countless times before, and had often claimed some story of woe and death as justification for their actions. They'd even killed well-liked people on the starbase before. Why was this different? One alien woman -- one alien woman whose machinations had caused Ohmura's death -- had told a sob story, and now everyone on the starbase hated him.

For the first few days after Ohmura's death, Q had ignored these outbursts. Humans were stupid, irrational, primitive creatures, and he could go mad trying to understand them. Besides, he'd figured they wouldn't hurt him -- that was what he had Security for.

He wasn't quite so unconcerned after the night before last.

Trying desperately to hide his fear, Q glanced surreptitiously back at his guards, to see if perhaps there was a chance they were likely to do their jobs. Their arms were folded, and the woman was snickering. Q turned back to the protestors in front of him. Security looked more likely to sell tickets than protect him if these people attacked him.

If he didn't go in, they'd know he was afraid. Right now he could make it seem that he was just being fashionably late. He showed up to these meetings late all the time, a small exercise of the only power he had. But if he stood here, waiting, frozen, everyone would know what a coward he was.

Besides, if Q screamed loudly enough, the scientists in the room would probably come to his rescue. They couldn't let him die yet; they hadn't yet had their chance to inflict their idiotic theories on him.

He swallowed and stepped forward.

"There were kids on that starship," the woman who'd called him a murderer hissed. "You're a despicable waste of life."

She was in his way. Q gazed down at her with his best mask of disdain, trying desperately to keep from trembling with terror. "And you, madame, are an underevolved primate with virtually no understanding of the universe. You would hardly recognize truth if it bit you on the nose. Now kindly move out of my way."

"Why? So the Federation can profit from sheltering a murderer?" she snarled.

Her cohorts moved in on him menacingly. Q's knees started to go weak. Involuntarily he glanced back at Security, who showed absolutely no signs of planning to intervene.

"An eye for an eye?" he asked harshly. Through the fear, he felt a small modicum of pride that his voice hadn't shaken at all. "You don't approve of me, so you're going to attack me now. Oh, how very enlightened of you. I cannot imagine why I ever thought you a primitive, backward species, such moral sensibilities you show."

The woman backed down, stepping out of his way. "We'll get you," she snapped.

"Stand in line," Q retorted, and stepped forward into the safety of the meeting room.

He couldn't let this keep happening. Living in terror of Security was bad enough. Living in terror of everyone else on the starbase was sheer hell.

Briefly, longingly, he thought of Naomi. These people hated him, but she was their fellow human. She could make Security do what she wanted. She'd even talked Anderson into actually being helpful for a change. Would it be so dangerous to call her?

Harshly he squashed that thought. Of course it would. She wanted only one thing from him, and when she didn't get it, she'd turn vicious, like Amy Frasier had. Or if something impossible occurred and she did get it, which she never would, she would think he was terrible, and repulsive, and then she'd turn on him, like Harry had. And he would never know the point where lust turned to hate until it was too late. At least he knew where he stood with Security.

On the other hand, where he stood was with one foot in the grave. And he desperately didn't want to put the other foot in.

There had to be something. He racked his brains, barely concentrating on the idiots talking to him. Someone he could trust...

And then he had it. Remembering the incident with Amy Frasier had triggered another memory. The Security people who'd rescued him from Amy had been Ohmura, and a Vulcan female. Sekal's wife, what's-her-name, right. T'Meth. He couldn't believe he remembered that. Vulcans were among the most boring species the universe had ever seen fit to bring into existence, but they were not likely to be swayed by a mob mentality. It was Security's job to protect Q, and a Vulcan would remember that, even if everyone else forgot it.

Contacting T'Meth directly did not work.

Like all unimaginative, hidebound people around the universe, she would not leave her post without orders. Never mind that her post consisted of sitting around in the Security offices all day waiting for someone to have a problem. Or pacing up and down some useless stretch of corridor. He was clearly more in need of Security's services than anyone else on the starbase, but she had her orders. When he asked who could grant his request, he learned that her immediate superior was Braun -- the man who'd tormented him last night, the man who might very well have been one of the two that tried to kill him.

Oh joy.

From experience, he knew better than to comm Anderson. She would come when he called, if she felt like it, if no other pressing problems like a shortage of grease in the replicator hoppers or diplomats with hangnails turned up. If he tried to argue her int She would come when he called, if she felt like it, if no other pressing problems like a shortage of grease in the replicator hoppers or diplomats with hangnails turned up. If he tried to argue her into anything important over the commlink, she would simply disconnect rather than listen to him. Anderson seemed to be willing to do almost anything to avoid listening to him.

No, he had to go to her office. Which was halfway across the starbase from here, through territory that Q had learned was hostile, to his pain. And all the way, he would be flanked by a pair of goons who wanted him dead.

The other alternative was to hide under his bed all night , and all day the next day, until she finally showed up -- and hope that no one dragged him out from under the bed in the middle of the night and finished off what they'd started. This was even less appealing.

He was a nervous wreck by the time he reached Anderson's office, and was not in the mood to wait. He walked in on her while she was in the middle of talking to someone.

"...not very diplomatic, no, I'm afraid. But then, that isn't what he's here for -- Just a second, Professor. I have an emergency on my hands." She froze the comlink and turned to him angrily. "I thought you'd grasped the concept of 'doorbells' two years ago."

"And I thought you'd grasped the concept of 'security.' As in 'protection.' As in 'giving the people who tried to murder Q free access to his room is a bad idea.' It's too bad you don't seem to be that bright."

Anderson sighed heavily. "We've been over this, Q. We don't know who tried to kill you yet."

"I do. But of course why would you listen to me? I'm only the victim."

"Do you have names? Faces? Anything substantial to go on?"

"They were wearing masks!"

"Exactly my point. We can't leave you without protection because you have an irrational hunch that Security attacked you."

An irrational hunch? Q was outraged. He knew the way Starfleet Security moved, knew the way they talked. They might have been wearing masks, so he didn't know which ones they were, but he knew what they were beyond question. "And what if I'm right? Did it ever cross your mind that I might be right, dear Eleanor? You seem to consider it a nuisance I personally have inflicted on you that you have to explain to my visitors that I'm hurt and can't see them. Exactly how do you propose to explain it to them when your incompetence kills me?"

"And suppose you're not right. If I don't leave Security guarding you, whoever tried to kill you could ambush you again, or break into your room while you're sleeping. Do you want to run that risk, Q? I don't."

"Better that than letting the murderers in!" His voice cracked, sending a wave of humiliation through him. He couldn't break down, not now. "Besides, I'm not asking to be left without protection. I just want protection worthy of the name."

"I'm in the middle of a call, Q. I haven't got time for your games. Either spit out what you want, or leave."

"I want T'Meth."


"Surely you remember her, Eleanor. Vulcan security officer? Cold, humorless, unimaginative? I want her guarding me."

Anderson was starting to go from annoyed to genuinely angry. He dared make sweeping demands at a time like this? Who did he think he was?

"She's one of our best investigators, and I currently have her assigned to your case," Anderson snapped, Q's clarification having narrowed the context enough for her to remember the person he meant. "If I demoted her to babysitting you, we'll lose days on the investigation, and the people who attacked you will be running around free. I don't think you want that."

Q had the worst sense of timing in the universe, to be making demands now, Anderson thought. At the moment she didn't even want to see him, to be reminded he existed. It was not exactly that she blamed him for Ohmura's death. Ohmura had been a good man, a good security chief, and a friend, but he was, after all, a member of security, trained and expected to protect civilians at the cost of his own life, if necessary. And no, it wouldn't have been necessary if Q had obeyed her and ducked when she shouted, but Q was a civilian, and civilians did stupid things under pressure. She couldn't blame him for freezing.

What she blamed him for was not being worth it. Jihana Melex's story had been heartwrenching; Anderson had encountered enough deadly weirdnesses out in the universe, during her days on starships as crew and then captain, to know exactly how she'd feel if an omnipotent being showed up and forced her crewmates to undergo a test they could not possibly pass, or survive, and only she had lived to tell the tale. How many alien would-be assassins had Anderson allowed to be killed to protect Q? How many of those attempts had been justified? She'd heard about him doing things like -- well, like introducing humanity to the Borg, causing 18 deaths but helping humanity to prepare for an inevitable conflict. Some of his attackers had charged him with destroying their religious beliefs or their cultural taboos, but she'd never believed he deserved to die for that. And if he'd caused deaths that in the long run helped save far more of that species, she couldn't believe he deserved to die for that either. But he hadn't given any better reason for killing Jihana Melex's crewmates in his test than that he'd been in a bad mood at the time, and that changed everything. Now she knew that the creature she'd spent two years protecting and coddling was a cold-blooded murderer who deserved to die.

He would never be tried for his crimes. Picard had talked the Federation Council into issuing Q a blanket pardon under Federation law for crimes he committed as an omnipotent entity. The terms of the pardon -- it wasn't even a pardon, really -- recognized Q the human as a different legal being from Q the omnipotent, and therefore, not only could the Federation never try Q for his crimes, it could not allow him to be extradited by other governments for them, no matter how heinous they might be, any more than the Federation would let a child be extradited for the crimes of its father. A legalistic fiction had been created that absolved Q of all responsibility for his past life, because it was expedient. Q was useful.

And so good men and women would die to protect a monster, out of political expediency, and it was Anderson's responsibility to ensure that this was done. She was not a creature of politics, though she'd had to engage in it in her days as a starship captain and now. Justice was not being done, and her duty was to ensure that it could not be done, and the conflict between her ethics and her sense of duty was ripping her up inside.

And now the cause of the injury had brazenly turned up on her doorstep, demanding she do more to protect him from the fate he richly deserved, belittling the actions of men and women who put their lives on the line for him every day, with no reward, by claiming they were out to kill him.

She had to protect him. She had sworn an oath to Starfleet to obey; she couldn't throw that out of ethical delicacy. Moreover, she had taken on the assignment to protect Q, and would perform that to the best of her ability. Anything else would be a betrayal of her oath to Starfleet and a betrayal of her self. And she knew how valuable Q was; she had been there the day the Borg were defeated. But the Federation was obtaining that value by making her sacrifice lives to expediency, and that hurt.

"What I don't want is to be murdered by those self-same free assassins because you authorized them to come in my room anytime they like," Q retorted.

"Fine. According to your deposition, your attackers were males of medium build. I'll assign female guards and male guards with odd builds. Will that shut you up?"

Inwardly Q flinched, assaulted by a sudden flashback. The last time someone had told him to shut up, he had been on the floor, begging them to let him live. And then they'd kicked him in the head to silence him. Outwardly he maintained a pose of controlled fury, no fear in his demeanor. He hoped. "You're missing the point, dear Elly. The two people who attacked me were members of Security, yes, but they just happened to be the ones who acted. All of them want me dead. All the humans, anyway. If you assign anyone other than a Vulcan to guard me, you're signing my death warrant!" His voice sounded too loud, too shrill in his ears.

"You're being paranoid. As well as ridiculous. Even if -- and this is a big if -- some few members of Starfleet hated you enough to violate their oaths, that doesn't mean they all want to kill you."

"But you haven't seen how they look at me," Q pleaded, growing more and more desperate. "It's written all over them."

"Has anyone made any direct threats?"

"They don't need to. Their body language does it for them."

"I don't have time for this," Anderson snapped. "I'm not going to feed your paranoid fantasies, Q. Security did not and will not try to kill you. The arrangements stand."

But what he wanted was such a simple thing, so easy for her to order. Rage welled throughout him as he realized why Anderson was balking. She wanted him dead too. Her oath actually meant something to her, so she couldn't act directly to kill him, but she could refuse to believe in a clear and present danger to his life. "Then I suggest you figure out a way to explain to my guests why I'm refusing to see them," he snapped, "because I refuse to continue to run a gauntlet to get to work in the mornings, and if you refuse to give me a Vulcan bodyguard, I will have to protect myself as best I can by staying in my room. At least that way if Security kills me it'll be obvious who did it." His voice was poisonous, laden with fury and sarcasm in a desperate attempt to mask the fear.

Anderson scowled at him. "Don't push me, Q. Two can play at that game."

"Going to cut my computer access off again?" Q asked mockingly. "What do I care? I've been entirely too preoccupied with not being killed to notice my computer lately. If I'm going to die, the loss of computer access seems a rather trivial issue, don't you think? And you can't confine me to quarters if I'm refusing to leave them anyway."

"I could always confine you to the brig," Anderson suggested.

All the blood drained from Q's face. To be locked up in Security's territory, at the mercy of whatever they might choose to do to him, was the most terrifying thing he could imagine. "Do that," he said softly, with venom, "and you may as well simply shoot me, because I will never work for you again." Which was certainly true. Even if he wanted to, he would be unable to, for the simple reason that he would be dead.

Anderson studied him. It was a painfully tempting thought. Q wouldn't carry out his threat, and if he did, there would be no more obligation to protect him. On the other hand, it had been hard enough explaining to the waiting scientific dignitaries that they had to wait because Q had been injured and needed a day to recover. If Q simply refused to go to work, the vultures would descend on Anderson en masse, and she didn't relish that thought. And she was sure that Q would stop working for at least a week or two just to make her life unpleasant in revenge, if she put him in the brig now. If anything could make him put up with boredom, it was spite.

"I'll assign T'Meth to you until the perpetrators have been caught," she said finally. "I don't for a moment believe you'd quit and risk losing all protection over something like this, but I don't feel like putting up with the hassle. Once we've identified your attackers and ensured that they can't hurt you again, Security will go back to a regular guard rotation schedule. Satisfied?"

No, he wasn't, but it was better than ending up in the brig. Besides, if T'Meth guarded him until his attackers were caught, surely she'd see what the rest of Security was doing to him, and realize how he needed someone like her. "For now," he said.

He waited in the lobby in Anderson's office for T'Meth to show up. The security goons that had brought him here glared at him, but for once he didn't care. They wouldn't dare kill him in Anderson's office, and he didn't need to go back with them.

T'Meth arrived, ramrod straight and expressionless as she relieved the guards already there. Q inspected her with a vast sense of relief. "You know, whoever designed Security uniforms obviously never imagined that Vulcans would go into security. That yellow color goes beyond repulsive against your skin."

She ignored that. "Do you still have business here?"


"Your quarters are more secure."

Now that she was here, perhaps she was right. Q got up., the unbearable pressure of the last few days' terror easing ever so slightly. "This is beyond a doubt one of the most boring locales I've been forced to spend time in," he said grandly. "Shall we return to my quarters for an infusion of good taste?"

She still didn't respond. Damn. Sekal would have made a dryly sarcastic retort to that. He was a lot more fun than his wife, it would seem.

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