by Alara Rogers and Mercutio
T'Meth made him wait in his bedroom while she systematically inspected every inch of the living room, carefully removing the bric-a-brac and various antiques, moving them to the other side of the room, and then pulling apart every inch, searching under the sofa pillows, under the furniture, pulling open the drawers... even to him, it seemed she was being paranoid. When she repeated the process with his bathroom, and then made him wait in the living room while she continued in his bedroom, he was almost sure of it. He stood at the door and made rude comments throughout. A large part of him resented the intrusion, the fact that everything he owned was being closely inspected, but T'Meth pointed out that if security truly wanted him dead, the smart thing to do would be to plant an explosive or something in his room while he was out. And another part of him appreciated that. She was being enormously paranoid, but that meant she was taking him seriously. And she was thinking of things that he himself would never have imagined. Whether they were things that were even remotely probable or not wasn't the point; Q felt annoyed but considerable more secure after she was done.
She set up a logging program to record all entrances and exits into Q's room, and established a lockout code such that only she, Q and the medical department could override the door if it was locked. "The arrangement is less secure than I prefer," she said. "If you and I are attacked by assassins and neither of us has a chance to release the door, Security will either need a doctor to release the lock or will need to be beamed in. Precious time will be lost. However, since it is likely that Security itself presents a threat to you, we must compromise."
Something taut in his chest loosened then, something that had been tense so long he hadn't felt it until now. "You believe me?" he asked, hardly daring to hope.
"The evidence would seem to point in that direction. Someone sabotaged the hall monitoring system. The evidence I've been gathering makes it clear that that person had access to the system. Therefore, logically, either a member of security, who would have legitimate access, or someone with programming or engineering skills, who could obtain illicit access, was involved. Obviously, most of the people with the necessary skills are concentrated in the programming and engineering departments. The programmers have little motive; you rarely interact with them. Engineers are a less likely possibility than programmers, because their specific skill set lends itself to mechanical chicanery, and there is no evidence of mechanical tampering. In addition, they have more motive than anyone else here to wish you safety, as your work has enabled their department to produce enormous breakthroughs, but they themselves deal with the science department and rarely with you directly. They derive benefit from your presence and are not often inconvenienced by you, as people who deal with you directly often are. The number of people outside those departments with the requisite skill sets are very few; and Security does, in fact, have motive to wish you harm. Also, for an engineer or programmer to sabotage the monitors would require extensive planning; a Security officer could simply shut them down on a momentary impulse. Logically, it follows that Security are the most likely culprits."
Someone believed him. He swallowed hard against an inexplicable desire to cry. "Why didn't you tell Anderson that?" he asked harshly.
"At the moment, I have no hard evidence, merely conjecture. I did not wish to make a report until I had something more."
Shortsighted stupidity, and he told her so. If she had reported her findings to Anderson the moment she had them, Q wouldn't have had to browbeat Anderson into giving him adequate protection. T'Meth ignored him.
He spent a significant portion of the evening mindlessly, rearranging the knickknacks that T'Meth had put into disarray. She claimed to have put them all back exactly as she found them, but he didn't believe her; he distinctly remembered the arrangement being completely different. He expected T'Meth to try the old chestnut about Vulcan eidetic memory, but she said nothing; she sat in the main room, impassively staring into nothing. It was unnerving.
One of the objects was broken. A small and very delicate crystal, it had been on the table next to the chair where he'd given his deposition last night. He remembered a large meaty hand on the table, forming a barricade to keep Q from escaping, and remembering thinking at the time that it was like having a bull in a china closet. But he'd been more concerned with survival than breakage, then.
Q picked up the shattered crystal, dismayed. A vicious comment rose to his lips, and died. He knew T'Meth hadn't broken it, had seen the meticulous care with which she had handled his things. It had been them, last night.
They wouldn't be happy until they broke everything he owned, would they?
Such a small thing, such an inconsequential thing... its breakage was nothing next to the wreckage of his life, and yet to his horror Q felt tears welling up. It was as if the little crystal symbolized his life right now, and the image was the final straw. An anguished sob forced its way past the tightness in his chest. He had to get to his room, had to hide himself -- he couldn't let anyone see him like this. But his legs buckled under him and refused to take him anyplace, as the sobs came harder, faster. He felt like the crystal, something so terribly fragile that the slightest carelessness had shattered him, and now there were broken shards of him all over the floor, crying hysterically for no particular reason. Why was he crying? He had T'Meth guarding him. He was safe now, or as safe as a mortal could get, anyway. Why was he crying?
Through humiliation and tears, he glanced up at his protector. She had gone to stand by the door, and was facing it, away from him, as if his emotionality disgusted her so much she couldn't bear to look. The humiliation intensified, and mingled with a totally irrational desire to beg forgiveness, to seek comfort. He wanted someone to hold him, like Naomi had held him last night.
A moment later he had dismissed the desire as the most unbelievably stupid thing that had ever crossed his mind. T'Meth was honoring his privacy to the extent that she could, since she couldn't very well stop guarding him and leave. And that was what he wanted. He didn't need someone to hold him, to entangle him further in the weak emotions he was feeling. He was Q, and he didn't need anybody.
Slowly, with hiccups, he managed to stop crying. He got to his feet and staggered to bed without looking at T'Meth or acknowledging her presence in any way. She wouldn't pry or gossip like a human, he knew; she would pretend it had never happened. And he would do his best to do the same.
The protestors were in front of the meeting room again the next day. Q hesitated instinctively. T'Meth, one pace behind and to the side of him, moved forward, stepping into his path, and strode forward. Encouraged, Q followed.
"Clear the area," she said.
The woman who had accosted Q yesterday shook her head. "We're a peaceful protest group. We have a right to be here."
T'Meth's eyes narrowed very slightly. "By order of Commodore Anderson, during periods of threat to Q's safety, Security is authorized to take whatever measures are deemed necessary to protect him. You will clear the area now."
"Or what?" someone sneered.
There was suddenly a phaser in T'Meth's hand. "Or I will stun you all and have you dragged to the brig, pending deportation off this starbase."
"You're protecting a cold-blooded murderer, did you know that? So much for Vulcan pacifism and Vulcan justice!"
"Move away from the door, ma'am, or I will be forced to stun you."
Q watched all this in uncharacteristic silence, feeling marginally safe in public for the first time since Ohmura's death. The protestors backed off slowly, milling away. If Q hadn't been in public, he would have sagged with relief. A few months ago, he'd have been disgusted if he'd heard that a member of Security threatened to stun a crowd of innocent protestors. Now that they were protesting him, however, he found himself understanding the move a lot better.
T'Meth stepped forward to the door to the conference room, so that it opened, and peered inside, phaser at the ready. Q saw scientists inside with startled expressions on their faces. Ivory tower morons probably had no idea of the threat to him, or else didn't care. "It's clear," she said. "Go in now."
In a better mood than he'd been in in days, Q made his usual dramatic entrance.
Today, T'Meth was using the console in Q's living room. Q had been trying to relax in his room, but it was impossible with a voice out there, disturbing his privacy. Why couldn't she use keyboard input? Q stalked from his room.
T'Meth looked up as he came in. "Q. I was about to request your presence. There's something I would like to discuss with you."
"Such as the fact that your chatter out here is keeping me awake?" It wasn't actually, since he hadn't been trying to sleep. But it was the principle of the thing.
"I have been investigating the whereabouts of Security officers at the time you were attacked, and I've identified three officers who I believe can be trusted to assist with the investigation." She touched a key and three images appeared on the screen -- two humans and an Andorian.
"Security officers? You can't be serious. None of them can be trusted."
"Unlikely. There are sufficient circumstances in the case of these three that I believe they can. All three have substantially different builds from what you described of your attackers, and for various reasons I doubt any of them were involved in a coverup." She touched the Andorian's picture. "Ensign Sev was on guard duty in the brig all night, as there had been a bar fight approximately two hours before your attack. Sev subscribes to a warrior ethic, and believes that committing violence against a non-combatant is the act of a cowardly, worthless being. He is highly unlikely to have willingly participated in the plan or assisted in covering for those involved in the attack."
"Yes, well, he's not human. It's the humans I'm worried about."
"Lieutenant Veloz was on the holodeck, playing poker with six other people. In addition, Veloz rarely socializes within the department, and is highly conscientious about following regulations and avoiding impropriety. It is extremely unlikely that Veloz would have been recruited to assist in a cover-up. And Ensign Koratagere was at the bedside of his wife, who was giving birth. He has been on paternal leave for the days since, and most likely had priorities above harassing you. In addition, Koratagere is an unlikely suspect in any case, as his crewmates speak of him as easy-going, friendly and slow to anger."
"They're still humans in Security."
"Q, I require backup. Today if the protestors had rushed you, my protection might not have been adequate. There were several points where you were exposed to them, for the simple reason that there is only one of me. I am not asking your permission, merely informing you that I have chosen these three to back me up, and why. Have you ever experienced unpleasant behavior at their hands?"
"No," Q said reluctantly. "I don't think so. It's so hard to tell; I can't keep all those faces straight."
"Sev is the only Andorian in Security and Veloz and Koratagere are both distinctive in appearance. I suspect you would recognize them."
"I suppose." He did recognize Koratagere from the picture, a cheerfully grinning Indian man who Q remembered as startlingly short and slight for a Security officer, and who had generally been polite to him. Perhaps T'Meth was right.
"Then they will be assisting me. I may on occasion call on them to serve as my relief, and one of them will accompany us to your duties in the daytime."
"How do I know they won't harass me?"
"If they harass you, which is unlikely, they will be relieved of duty."
That was only mildly reassuring, but still better than the assurances he'd gotten from anyone else. "Are we quite done here?"
"I have additional questions to ask you." She swiveled in the chair. "According to your deposition, your attackers were masked, and you claimed to be unable to distinguish members of Security from one another by body language or build."
He had a hard enough time distinguishing them by faces. "I remember what I said, thanks."
"Would you be able to distinguish their voices? You said they spoke to you."
"Can't you figure out whose whereabouts are unaccounted for?"
"To the extent they ever are, everyone's whereabouts are accounted for," she said dryly. "Members of Security work in pairs when we are not on alert status, and often patrol areas of the starbase where there may be no other crew at the time. As a result, few members of Security ever have an alibi stronger than their partner's word. Since most of the Security teams consisted of two male humans or near-humanoids of average height and build, and most of those have only their partner's word for an alibi, we need something more substantial to narrow the choices."
The voices echoed in his mind, hate-filled voices twisted with rage, screaming at him. "Maybe," he said.
"Good." She turned back to the computer. "Tomorrow we will go to the Security office and you'll listen to recordings of the suspects being questioned."
"Can't we do that here? Why do we have to go to the Security office?"
"Because the system that allows you to access suspect files is protected, by privacy regulations, and can only be accessed from Security consoles."
The idea of going to the Security offices, the heart of enemy territory, terrified him. But he had a trusted bodyguard with him. T'Meth wouldn't let him get hurt.
There were no visitors scheduled tomorrow. Under most circumstances, Q would have spent the day in the physics lab instead, as it was entirely too boring to stay at home and do nothing. T'Meth had a project for him, though, so the physics lab would have to do without. Which was just as well. There was a particular person there who Q would rather not see in anything resembling a vulnerable state.
He hadn't been in the Security offices since Ohmura's death. They had always seemed cold and impersonal; now they were downright terrifying. The people in them stared at him coldly, every line of their bodies eloquently expressing what they'd do to him if T'Meth weren't there. Q swallowed and forced himself forward, having to literally concentrate in order to put one foot in front of another.
They were met at the console by Lt. Veloz. "All the suspects have been questioned and recorded, sir."
T'Meth nodded in acknowledgement and gestured Q to a chair. "We will play back recordings of the suspects being questioned. The suspects include all the males in Security, Engineering, and Systems. Once you've identified your assailants' voices, we will try to obtain a confession."
The voices started to play. For the most part they were calm and controlled, maybe a little tense. Occasionally annoyance or genuine anger crept into the voices, but none of them were the shouting, twisted, rage-filled demon-voices that still haunted Q's nightmares. These were sentient beings he heard speaking, but the voices he remembered belonged to monsters.
Some people he latched onto in brief hope because of what they said -- the people who said, "I didn't do it, but I can't say I'm sorry it happened -- Q deserved it" or words to that effect. But he couldn't make their voices fit the pattern in his head. And eventually it occurred to him that the guilty parties probably wouldn't dare to say such a thing anyway. So then he concentrated on the people who expressed sympathy for him, or the people who protested with outraged innocent. But none of those fit either.
After several hours of this, Q looked up, defeated. "I can't tell," he muttered, all too conscious of his failure.
"None of these voices clearly belong to your assailants?"
How to make her understand? "The people who attacked me were complete barbaric savages. These... recordings you have are of people behaving rationally. How am I supposed to relate the two? People sound completely different when they're snarling like wild beasts."
"You cannot distinguish your assailants' voices because they spoke to you in anger?"
"They didn't speak. They shouted, or snarled, or slavered. Their voices were completely distorted by their savagery."
"Well, that doesn't sound hard to get," Veloz said.
"What do you mean?" T'Meth asked.
"Getting recordings of people snarling at Q. All we'd need to do is make a short list of likelies and have Q himself interrogate them. I'm sure he'd have no problems getting them to snarl at him."
"Very funny," Q growled. "I expect you think you're a wit."
"I'm serious. You won't recognize the voices unless they're furious. But you're probably more talented at making people that furious than anyone else on the starbase. If you question the suspects and deliberately make them angry, you'll probably recognize the ones that did it."
"What if Q cannot make them angry?"
"Then chances are they didn't attack him. People who can keep control of themselves don't go beating up civilians they're charged to protect."
T'Meth considered. "The plan has merit."
"Now wait a minute! Don't I get a say?" Terror coiled through Q's guts, tightening. To face off against the people who wanted him dead and deliberately try to enrage them against him was unbearably frightening. He couldn't do it. There was no way.
"Q, we need to narrow down the suspects. Without input from you, the task will be very nearly impossible."
"That's your problem. All of Security wants me dead anyway, so it's not like finding the perpetrators is actually going to make me any safer."
"You're being foolish and shortsighted," T'Meth said severely.
"Not to mention they'll be free. People who violated their oath to Starfleet and very nearly killed you will be free, gloating about how they escaped punishment. Everyone will start to believe that if they beat you up, too, nothing will happen to them. And sooner or later, those two will be on call when you end up in trouble. I just thought I'd point that out."
Veloz had a point, unfortunately. Maybe the fact that only two people actually had attacked him, out of all the people that wanted to, meant that they were the only two who thought they could get away with it. And if they did get away with it, it would be open season on Q. Q swallowed hard. "I want two people protecting me the whole time I'm with suspects," he announced.
"Logical," T'Meth said. "We will both be with you."
The interviews were conducted in a meeting room, far from the security offices, to minimize the chance that officers who hadn't been questioned would overhear the interrogation and figure out what was going on. All of Security would be questioned first, as T'Meth considered them more likely suspects than Engineering or Systems personnel.
In one sense the plan worked well. T'Meth and Veloz sat at either end of the room, silent and mostly unmoving, not drawing attention to themselves, while Q paced in the center, presenting an image of total control as he made vicious accusations against each suspect. He impugned their intelligence, belittled their skill and cast aspersions on their loyalty to Starfleet. The object was to get them angry enough to shout at him, and that he did. Through judicious use of body language, intrusions into personal space, and a bit of shouting on his part, he managed to make most of them defensive and angry, and could then tell from the voices whether they should be on the short short list or not. As far as doing what it was intended to do, it worked beautifully.
In other senses, it was a bad idea. Q's stomach had turned to a lump of knotted wood, more tense than animal tissue could bear, and between suspects he kept having to down anti-nausea agents. Standing up in front of people who might have tried to kill him and deliberately provoking them to anger took more courage than he'd thought he had. It was easier when he was actually doing it -- he could take the fear and the tension and focus them outward, against the suspect he was questioning. He was sick with fear but also high on adrenaline, momentum carrying him through. In between suspects, however, he came dangerously close to collapsing, closer and closer each time. He couldn't do this. It was impossible. He couldn't face one more angry Security officer. And then the next one came in, and the need to act took over, his lifelong performance skills controlling him, making his mouth and body move as if his physical form were a puppet he was manipulating, a small homunculus cowering in terror up in the top corner of his brain as he pulled the strings that made the body dance.
The fourteenth man he interrogated was a Lt. Blevins, who seemed to be on the verge of breaking, but had so far successfully repressed his rage. Repressed rage was not the goal. Q needed Blevins to express it. So after calling Blevins a monkey didn't work, and accusing him of conspiring against the interests of the Federation didn't work, and various and sundry other insults that had gotten the others to snap at him didn't work, Q felt stymied. Blevins was staring at him in silence, fists clenched and jaw clamped shut, a muscular tic twitching in his face. He just needed a little push. Something truly evil.
"I don't understand what you all were so upset for anyway," Q said with flippant coldness, watching Blevins carefully. "You must be aware that it's Security's job to be expendable. Your lives are basically debased coinage -- just warm bodies to throw into the line of fire, no minds of value to speak of. After all, there's plenty more where you came from, right? Stupidity does tend to breed in droves. No doubt somewhere there's an entire litter of people like you, the next generation of cannon fodder." That sort of comment usually got them. But Blevins was still clenched, silent. "Ohmura was only a Security officer after all -- it's not as if an important person died. Probably the most valuable contribution he made to the universe was in dying to save my li--"
Blevins snapped. He lunged at Q so quickly that even though Q had been watching, gauging his response, he hadn't seen it coming. Q screamed as Blevins knocked him to the floor, hands on Q's throat, squeezing. "You fucking bastard, we should have killed you!" Blevins snarled, slamming Q's head against the floor.
And then Veloz and T'Meth were on Blevins, dragging him off. "Let me go! He deserves to die, the fucking bastard, you heard what he said about the Commander..."
"You have the right to remain silent," T'Meth said. "You have the right to legal counsel..." It was actually taking an effort for her and Veloz to wrestle Blevins back, despite Vulcan strength.
"We should have finished it! Goddamn him, he killed Commander Ohmura and he's not even fucking sorry! He deserves to die!"
T'Meth nerve-pinched Blevins, and he fell in a heap.
"I'll get him to the brig. Veloz, stay with Q."
Q got to his knees slowly, sick and dizzy. His whole body hurt, most especially his throat and the back of his head, and he was shaking, light-headed and nauseous from terror. If the attack itself hadn't triggered flashbacks, the man's voice would have. It was unmistakably one of the two that had brutalized him. And even though Blevins had been dragged off, Q couldn't make himself believe he was safe.
"You... didn't mean any of that, did you?" Veloz asked hesitantly. "About Security, and Commander Ohmura. You were just trying to make him mad."
Q looked up at Veloz with an expression of pure contempt on his face. What an unutterably stupid question. He was going to say something cruel and witty in response, but his body betrayed him. The nausea overwhelmed him, and Q doubled over, fighting it, but it was too long denied. With a sick sense of humiliation, Q found himself vomiting, emptying his guts on the floor despite all the medication he'd taken.
"Hey! Are you all right? Do you need me to call Sickbay?"
Li would assume it was just a normal human thing that Q was whining about to get attention. "No Sickbay," Q said thickly. "I'm fine. I just need -- need to --"
He threw up again, dry retching, his body unconvinced that it had finished purging itself. Q felt the guard's hand on his shoulder, felt Veloz kneeling next to him, and stiffened in fear. But the touch was gentle, unthreatening.
"Let me help you get to the bathroom. You need help."
"No Sickbay," Q gasped through dry heaves.
"No Sickbay," Veloz promised. "We'll just get you cleaned up. Okay?"
And as if the humiliation of vomiting in front of a stranger wasn't enough, Q found the small kindness more than he could bear, and began to sob as the heaves left him, all defenses crumbling in the aftermath of such fear. He had to get up, get cleaned up, stop crying, but he couldn't, none of it.
"Oh, hey, hey, it's all right. You're safe. We got him." Awkwardly Veloz patted Q's shoulder, as if having no idea how to give any more comfort than that, though even that was too much. "I guess you didn't mean it, did you. Saying those horrible things must have made you sick."
Too far gone to hear the facetious tone, Q decided that was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard, and he wanted to point out that Veloz was totally wrong, that saying horrible things was Q's stock in trade and he was certainly not weak enough to vomit, let along cry, because he'd had to say something offensive. But he was crying too hard to speak. Too weak to move, too weak to stop, too racked with sobs to protest, Q could only kneel there in a puddle of his own vomit and sob brokenly as Veloz gave what awkward comfort it was possible for a member of Security to give.
Veloz helped him up before the sobs had abated. "Let's get you cleaned up. T'Meth doesn't need to see this."
The comment perversely reassured Q. It meant Veloz thought that his crying was disgusting and humiliating, of course, but then Q had already known that, and didn't care so much if someone else knew it too. But the statement that T'Meth didn't need to see this meant that Veloz wouldn't tell anyone, that this would be kept a secret. It was not that Q feared T'Meth seeing him like this, not much anyway; he knew from the incident with Amy Frasier that she would keep her mouth shut. She and Ohmura had both proven that, that day... At that thought an unexpected wave of grief hit him. He had never asked Ohmura to die for him. He had never wanted that.
"Do you need any help?"
Q pulled away angrily. How helpless did Veloz think he was? "Spare me your worthless pity," he snapped through the last of the sobs, and was gratified to see the shocked look on Veloz' face. Maybe now the guard would stop trying to play kindly babysitter. He stalked into the bathroom to get cleaned up.
Several glasses of water stopped the sobbing and quieted his stomach slightly, though they couldn't quite wash the awful taste out of his mouth. He couldn't get cleaned up enough to meet his own standards, was incapable of doing so with the resources he had here. His own clothes were a total loss; the vomit stains would never come out, and he was sure that the smell of fear would linger in the cloth forever. But the best clothes the replicator had to offer would still be completely unacceptable if he had a choice, inferior to anything he owned in color, style and fit. He could get his cosmetics out of the replicator without difficulty, since that was how he generally got them in the first place, but his hands trembled and kept smearing the makeup, and he couldn't seem to get rid of the red in his eyes, or the helpless, shocked look. Despite the makeover, he imagined he could still smell the sour tang of vomit about him, could still see his trembling hands, his tearstained face.
But this wouldn't do at all. He had to pretend nothing was wrong. If he focused on the legion of imperfections in his appearance, he would break down again, and that was totally unacceptable. So he took a deep breath and drank another glass of water. When he emerged, he was still weak and shaky, but in much better control of himself.
Veloz was waiting for him as he emerged from the bathroom. The guard was wearing an odd expression. There was no reason to dislike Q, indeed Veloz felt a certain amount of pity for Q, despite the evil things he'd said and the kind of person he was. Enough pity to want to help him, and enough lingering anger and doubt over the ring of truth in Q's voice when he'd condemned Security and dismissed Ohmura's death as meaningless to want to twist the knife. "Do you know why everyone hates you?"
And he had almost begun to trust this creature. Fear built up in him, fear that Veloz would turn on him too despite T'Meth's assurances and the seeming kindness displayed earlier. "As I understand it, the general consensus is that I murdered poor dear Commander Ohmura by having the temerity to have assassins come after me."
"That's not it. Everyone hated you before the Commander died, or they wouldn't be blaming you now."
This was not entirely news. "Then it's undoubtedly my charming personality and winning ways," he said bitterly.
"No, we've dealt with obnoxious people too. The problem is that you treat us like dirt. When we're risking our lives to save yours, you act like we're scum and we're wasting your time." This was said in a calm, reasonable voice, not the vicious animalistic snarling of his tormentors, but the content of the words made Q tremble inside nonetheless. "It would be different if you were some sheltered diplomat who has no idea he could get hurt. But we've saved your life over a dozen times. At least four of those times, you were in immediate danger of dying when we rescued you, and you knew it. So you know how important we are to you, you know how much you owe us, and you still treat us like dirt. Which means you're either the most ungrateful being in the universe, or you would really rather be dead."
Q swallowed, backing away from the security guard, finding a wall behind him and not feeling reassured by that. "How enlightening. I'll keep it in mind."
"I'm not going to hurt you," Veloz said disgustedly. "You can stop trying to run away."
The comment shocked Q. Had he been that transparent? He stiffened with affronted dignity. "I'm not frightened of you, I assure you. Merely bored."
"You should listen to me anyway," Veloz said. "People are just people, and if they think they're risking their lives for someone who thinks they're dirt, they won't do nearly as good a job. You should try being nice to Security for a change; if you hadn't treated us all like we were out to get you from day one, no one probably would be now."
"I'll send thank-you cards to the entire department," Q said sarcastically. "Now, I really do have some important work to do."
He turned away, trying to make a dignified exit, an expression of regal disdain on his face that collapsed as soon as his back was to the guard. Perhaps Veloz wouldn't hurt him; some few humans were capable of transcending the limitations of the species and overcoming their dislike for someone to behave professionally toward him. But Veloz had basically just admitted to hating Q, because Q had apparently not groveled sufficiently with gratitude. There would be no more moments of gentleness, of comfort, not that Q wanted that. And Veloz had a point. The rest of Security probably felt the same way, and were far less capable of being professional about it. The incident with Ohmura had merely catalyzed what they'd all been feeling anyway.
He wasn't safe. He would never be safe as long as he was on this starbase -- as long as he had to deal with humans at all. And as long as he himself was human, he would have to. Despair welled up. Could he really live this way for the rest of his life?
Stupid question. Of course he could. Because the only alternative was death, and if he took that way out, well then he still would have been putting up with this for what remained of his life, wouldn't he?
Shaking, Q led the way out of the room, followed by Veloz. For a tiny moment, he felt relief, that in leaving the room he had left its terrors behind. And then a horrible realization struck him. There was still one of them on the loose, and T'Meth was inexorable and merciless. Despite being the perfect guard, she didn't seem to particularly care about his mental health, only that he stayed alive. He could very well imagine T'Meth making him do this again.
He couldn't. He couldn't go through that interrogation process again. His mind and body rebelled at the thought, nausea rising up to choke him. And yet, he didn't have a choice, wouldn't have a choice.
Q savagely suppressed a sob. He wouldn't cry here, not now. He wasn't so weak he'd just break down in public.
With a feeling of suspension and terror, Q remembered Blevins' face changing as the guard attacked him. It wasn't reassuring at all to have a face to put with that twisted voice. Instead, the new stimuli only combined with the old. He could hear the voices, hear both of them screaming at him, feel himself going down, like he had only moments before, and even with T'Meth and Veloz there, Q had felt no more hope that he would be safe, that he would survive.
Even Veloz, the supposedly safe Security guard T'Meth had picked for him doubted and despised him. They all did. None of them believed him, any of them would be delighted to kill him for what had happened to Ohmura, even though it hadn't been his fault. Even Veloz.
Q shied away from his escort, dark, momentary flashbacks of another horrible night combining with the events of a few minutes past. They all wanted to kill him, and there was no safety anywhere, would never be safety.
The voice caught him by surprise, and Q nearly backed into the wall trying to get away before he realized who it belonged to and that Veloz was regarding him with suppressed disdain.
Naomi came over to him, ignoring Veloz entirely. Q's eyes were haunted, and he looked horrible, worse than she'd seen him since almost literally picking him off the floor, several days ago now. He'd needed her then, but afterwards almost thrown her out, and she didn't know how he felt about her at all. "Are you all right?"
Q wanted to run, wanted to not be there, to not be alive at all. There was only one person on the starbase he wanted to run into less than Naomi. And yet, something in him responded to her presence, felt oddly comforted that she was there. She was only a tiny slip of a woman, she couldn't protect him, and yet he felt like throwing himself on her mercy and begging her to keep him safe. A thoroughly ridiculous impulse.
And yet... "You can stop pretending you care," Q said acidly, having run through and discarded a dozen possible responses in those brief seconds. "I don't need your pity."
"Who said anything about that?" Naomi asked lightly, eyes worried. He looked very unhappy. "Mind if I walk you back to your quarters?"
He couldn't think of anything better. A wave of relief washed through him. He didn't want to be left alone with anyone from Security right now, no matter how confident with them T'Meth might be. After all, she was also from Security, and to Q's tired, terrified mind, it was all the same.
"I can't stop you," he said, striving for a grand tone.
Naomi tucked her hand under his arm, not waiting for permission. He looked like he needed all the support he could get, as if he might very well fall over without someone holding him up.
Q accepted it, a warm rush of comfort he didn't want to think about too much coming from her touch. Everything would be all right now.
Veloz escorted them back to Q's quarters, not quite sure what else to do. T'Meth hadn't left specific instructions on the subject of guests, and given that Dr. Allen wasn't a member of Security and had what amounted to a pre-existing relationship with Q, it seemed safe to say that she wasn't a suspect in the current case. Under the circumstances, it seemed that the best thing to do was to allow it, and notify T'Meth immediately.
When they reached his quarters, Naomi came inside with Q without being asked. He was too helpless for her to leave him, and although she didn't know what was going on, she couldn't abandon him like this. It just wasn't in her nature.
Veloz took a post inside the room, going immediately to comm T'Meth and inform her of their current location and Dr. Allen's presence.
Q didn't seem to notice, although he was aware of both of them. He didn't think Veloz would leave them alone; T'Meth certainly wouldn't have, and although he deplored the loss of privacy, Q couldn't say that was a bad thing. Their paranoid behavior outstripped his own, and gave him back a tiny feeling of safety, a feeling which had been entirely taken away today.
A sob escaped his throat then, and Q looked at Naomi, eyes horrified. What was he doing? Didn't he have any control at all?
Naomi pushed gently on his arm, steering him to the couch. She wasn't paying any attention to Veloz. Q didn't seem any more threatened by the guard's presence than he was by everything else, and right now all she was concerned about was Q and what was making him feel this way.
Q sat down, and she came to settle by his side, holding onto one of his hands with both of hers, expression concerned and sympathetic.
Q glanced at her, and that was all it took to set off the storm of tears again. She was entirely too caring for him to be able to deal with, and although he didn't want to cry, didn't want to show any kind of weakness, he couldn't help himself.
Naomi reached for him, drawing him close to her, and Q didn't resist, letting her hold his head against her. "It's all right," she said soothingly. "It'll be all right."
That was wrong, and Q knew it, but he couldn't form the words, couldn't speak at all. The only thing he could do was cry, cry and cling to her as if she represented the only form of security in the universe. And she did. There was safety with her, protection from all the gibbering evils that pursued him, solace for the unhappiness and discomfort he felt. The door had been unlocked, the homunculus unleashed and now he could vent all the terror and violent disturbance he felt.
Veloz let them have their privacy, keeping well away from them. There was obviously no threat from Dr. Allen to Q, much the opposite. The opinion of Q which had begun to form back in the interrogation room died in the face of that, and now Veloz was completely confused. One moment Q was being a sarcastic peacock, strutting about arrogantly as if he owned this starbase, or being brittle and touchy, rude to those who tried to help him, and it was hard not to hate him when he was like that. But just as he began to seem like a total loss, he would do something that showed his humanity, his vulnerability, like throwing up in the conference room or crying in Dr. Allen's arms, here, and it was impossible to keep hating him.
He was behaving as though Dr. Allen actually meant something to him. Veloz considered that in light of all the other facts. Dr. Allen's identity was well-known to all of Security. Even if she hadn't managed to call the commodore down on Braun -- not a bad thing in and of itself -- Allen's probable relationship to Q was somewhat of a running joke. Something to laugh about and deride. Only there was nothing to laugh about now. Veloz felt embarrassed to even be in the same room with them, to be intruding on what was obviously a very emotional moment for the both of them.
Q didn't even notice the guard. It didn't seem to matter right then. The only thing that mattered was having Naomi there, and knowing that she believed in him, that she would protect him, would keep him safe. It was a stupid thought, and in another frame of mind, Q would have never accepted it as being even remotely true. But in the depths of his pain and humiliation, it seemed like the only truth there was, and he clung to it.
Except she didn't know, couldn't know how horrible he really was. She would turn on him as they all had, if she heard about the incident with Ohmura. Q couldn't keep that thought from slipping out, and it frightened him. He needed this little island of safety, needed the haven she'd been providing him since the first moment he'd met her, bending over him in a dark hall. The wretched, eternal loneliness he had been feeling for so long had come to a head for him back in that interrogation room and, in the spasms and the sickness, all the boiling, horrible pain he felt had been exposed.
He couldn't go on being so alone, couldn't bear it if she hated him as they did, couldn't bear to be alive if this last person who believed in him turned away.
It was a pathetic thought, and Q clutched onto Naomi's tunic even tighter, unwilling to let go.
Soothingly, Naomi ran one hand through his hair, stroking it softly, her other arm around him, holding him close. She didn't know what he needed or what was wrong, but the question of not providing him with it never came to her mind. He was hurting, and that was all that mattered.
Q looked up through his tears, as if seeing her for the first time. "I didn't mean to do it."
"Of course you didn't," Naomi said, reassuring him, tone absolutely serious.
That didn't sound particularly convincing to Q's ears. He knew she'd hate him if she heard all the facts. She wouldn't believe him, no one ever had, or even cared.
But he had to tell her nonetheless. It was suddenly very important to Q that someone, anyone, that just one person believe in him. He couldn't survive without that. And if anyone would, she would.
"I wasn't frozen. I never freeze."
Veloz's ears pricked up, listening. The security guard had a very good idea of what this conversation was about; anyone in Security would. There was only one occasion of note where Q had frozen and done it in a dramatically damaging way. The issue of what had gone through his mind then had been debated repeatedly, with the conclusion coming down to the obvious: Q was too arrogant to follow the basic guidelines Security had laid down for him for his own safety. There was no question in Veloz's mind that this was the truth. Q had never even bothered to learn basic self defense; why should he care about anything else that they'd try to teach him, when, in his own words, there was so much expendable cannon fodder to stand in the way of any attack?
But it was interesting, nonetheless, that Q would bring it up at all, much less now.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Naomi asked gently, in a very soft voice.
Q didn't pull away from her, his head still resting in the curve of her shoulder, pillowed against her chest. He held onto her tightly, and stared at nothing in particular, taking comfort from the sound of her heartbeat.
Haltingly, he began. "He said... he was going to kill me." He remembered that with painful clarity, as if it had been burnt into his brain; remembered standing there, facing the gun. But how could he explain how he'd felt, when he didn't understand it himself? "He had a primitive Terran weapon in his hand, an antique firearm, and..." Q trailed off, unable to continue. This wasn't working. She would never believe him.
"And you were frightened," Naomi prompted. "There's nothing wrong with that."
"No! You don't understand..." There was no help for it but to plunge onward, muddling through. "I wasn't frightened, I was... I don't understand why. It doesn't make any sense."
"What doesn't make any sense?" Naomi asked patiently.
"How I felt. I should have been frightened. But I wasn't. It was as if... he said it, and it was true. As if it were my... destiny." Q was aware of how melodramatic he sounded, but there was no other way to phrase it, no other way to understand it. "I didn't.. I didn't think to move, because it seemed like there was no way to avoid it, and I didn't even want to. It was... as if... I was fulfilling something by standing there. As if I were in a play, and this had been in the script from the beginning. I wasn't afraid... if I had been, I would have ducked. I'm not stupid."
"Of course you're not," Naomi said soothingly, still stroking his hair.
A wave of self-hatred washed over him, and he clung to her more tightly, hardly aware of doing so. "But I was. Why would I have stood there, like a complete fool, if I wasn't? Why wouldn't I have realized I was in danger until -- until Ohmura--" Another flashback assailed him -- lying on the floor in a pool of blood and gray matter with a broken human body on top of him, an empty shell hollowed out by a single shot from a primitive weapon, knowing that if the person who had been this empty thing hadn't interposed his body between Q and the bullet, it would be Q himself who would be gone, nothing remaining but a bleeding husk, like Ohmura was now... The horror, the guilt of that, was almost more than he could bear. He choked back a sob. "Ohmura was a fool," he strangled out.
"Why?" Naomi knew part of the story, knew that Ohmura had been killed trying to save Q. It was obvious that Q felt very guilty about it, and she couldn't bear to let him hold all this inside where it was tearing at him.
"He shouldn't have tried to save me. A phenomenal act of stupidity on his part. What sort of moron would get himself killed for my sake?"
The sympathy Veloz had begun to feel fled in a moment of rage. How dare Q? Had it never occurred to him that it was Security's job to get killed for his sake? That regardless of whether or not Q thought it was a smart idea, it had been Ohmura's duty? Ohmura had made the supreme sacrifice for Q, and all Q could say was that Ohmura was a moron.
Naomi fought a smile, Q's statement seeming inadvertently humorous to her, then lost the feeling entirely in a rush of protective anger as she realized how thoroughly Q meant it. "You don't think you deserved to live?"
"What does it matter what I think?" Q retorted hotly. "Every goon on this Starbase has already tried and convicted me. Nobody else thinks I deserved to live instead of Ohmura; why should I?"
She held him fiercely close to her, unable to think of anything to say to that, wanting only to keep him from that horrible self-loathing.
Her fervent embrace made Q feel a strange sense of security and comfort that perversely brought the worst of the despairing, roiling emotions to the surface.
"I didn't mean for him to get killed!" The words burst forth in a sudden torrent of pain. "People keep getting killed for me -- n'Vala, Ohmura -- I didn't want that! They all think I wanted him to die, I didn't care, they've all decided I'm a monster who goes about snickering and twirling my mustache as people drop like flies around me, but I didn't want it! I didn't mean for it to happen! I didn't..." He sobbed hysterically, brokenly, the pain raging through him too great to be borne. Everyone hated him and thought him a monster because people died for his sake, and maybe he was. Why did they keep throwing away their lives for him? What good was he to anyone? He was completely incapable of being a proper human, of fitting in with their pathetic little species, and that made him even more pathetic, the former god who couldn't even figure out how to act like a human, who couldn't keep himself from being hated and despised by everyone. If he hadn't been a worthless Q, the Continuum wouldn't have rejected him, and he certainly made a worthless human. Why did people die for his sake? What was wrong with them?
Veloz turned away again, trying to pretend not to hear that, not to hear any of that. It was impossible to hate Q in the face of that pain. He had been a short-sighted fool who had gotten someone Veloz respected killed, he had called Ohmura a fool for dying for him, he had never shown any gratitude whatsoever to Security for repeatedly saving his life... and yet he couldn't be entirely despicable, even with that. The pain and guilt in his voice were unmistakable, and Veloz believed him. He hadn't wanted Ohmura to die, hadn't enjoyed it, was wracked with guilt over it. It didn't change the fact that he had been stupid enough to cause it to happen, and for that Veloz could be angry at him, but couldn't hate him.
Naomi held Q tightly, stroking him, murmuring soft reassurances as he wept. He was hurting so badly over this, not the cold-blooded monster people portrayed him as at all. Not that she had ever thought such a thing of him, but now it was even harder for her to understand how anyone else could. She wanted to attack the Security guards who had tormented him, to make them hurt as badly as he was hurting, to make them see how much pain they were causing to someone who didn't deserve any of it. But she couldn't do that. All she could do was give Q comfort, interpose herself into his private nightmare and reassure him that one person, at least, thought he deserved to live.
It was a long time later before Q looked up and realized where he was and what he was doing. He was sprawled out along the couch, lying against Naomi, who was propped up against an arm of the couch, and stroking his hair. He was holding onto her fiercely, and as soon as he noticed that, Q released her, embarrassed to be found so weak.
"You all right?" Naomi asked, letting him pull away from her.
"Fine," Q said gruffly. "I'm perfectly fine."
"If you're sure," Naomi said. She followed him with her eyes as he sat up. When he made no move to leave the couch, she scooted closer to him, holding onto his hand.
Q didn't resist, couldn't resist. He knew he should get up, should throw her out and then go and restore his battered appearance, but he couldn't. There was something intensely comforting about having her here, and he was afraid if he moved, she'd be gone and then he'd be left with all the fears and terrors of the afternoon's experience. The emotional storm had left its afterimages on him like a blast wave and he'd be horribly depressed even right now if her presence wasn't holding the worst effects at bay.
He'd throw her out eventually, of course. But just for now it didn't seem so wrong to hold on to her, to try to keep what little consolation he had.
T'Meth returned, coming to Q's quarters shortly after Q had regained his composure but before he'd actually gotten up the resolve to throw Naomi out. She looked at Naomi. "If Dr. Allen would care to leave, we can resume."
Naomi looked between them. "Am I interrupting something?"
Q paid no attention to Naomi, staring instead at T'Meth. "Resume what?"
"There is still another suspect to locate," T'Meth pointed out. "Blevins confessed to the assault but refused to name his accomplice."
He couldn't do this. There was no question. Numb horror at the thought of facing one more enraged guard, of pretending to be in control while waiting for another murderous attack, froze Q where he was. He couldn't even make himself speak, to protest. He had a sudden urge to curl up against Naomi for comfort and suppressed it savagely. He couldn't do that. But oh, god, he wanted to.
"There's no way," Veloz said. "We'll have to make Blevins confess, if necessary. Or check out his alibi to see who it implicates. Q can't do any more of this."
Naomi nodded, hard-faced. She didn't know what they were talking about, but if it meant subjecting Q to more of whatever had made him like this, she was against it.
Q stared at Veloz, startled. It was true, he couldn't, but what gave Veloz the right to interfere in Q's business? He was capable of defending himself. Wasn't he? And why should the guard even care? Given what had been said earlier, Q would have expected Veloz to want to put him through more of it, to get some pleasure out of seeing him go through hell.
"Why do you say that?' T'Meth asked.
Suddenly Q knew that Veloz would describe the entire humiliating scene in the interrogation room, or worse, the way he'd broken down and cried in Naomi's arms just now. He had to speak, to head that off. "I'm fine," he said harshly, even though it wasn't true at all. "I can do it."
Naomi opened her mouth to object to that, but before she could say anything, Veloz was speaking.
"You think you can," Veloz said. "But how objective are you?" The junior officer turned to T'Meth. "When people suffer a trauma like that attack, they lose their objectivity. Q's going to think everyone's the man who did it now. Or if he tries to compensate for that, he might miss the real guy. Besides, now that we have Blevins we've got a better lead. I don't know that we should really be encouraging everyone to hate Q's guts more than they already do if there's any other way to do it."
"Perhaps we can use the knowledge of Blevins' identity to narrow down the suspect field, at least," T'Meth agreed. "And if there is only one person thus implicated, we'll have our man; if there are two or three, Q might be able to identify his attacker by normal voice from such a small pool." She nodded once. "Logical. Very well, then, Lieutenant. If you would continue at this post, I'll begin cross-checking."
T'Meth left. Q looked hard at Veloz, disturbed. He was glad he wouldn't have to go through that again, of course, but the fact that Veloz had defended him troubled him. Veloz had seen him crack completely, had seen him break down in the interrogation room and again here in Naomi's arms, and was undoubtedly thinking of Q as someone weak and pitiful, someone to be despised and treated like a child who couldn't protect himself emotionally. It was an entirely unacceptable picture.
He had to get changed, put his armor back on. He disappeared into the bathroom to reconstruct his appearance, and emerged twenty minutes later, his face transformed into a mask of control and invulnerability.
Naomi had felt somewhat uncomfortable. sitting around in the room with Q gone and the guard studiously ignoring her. She didn't want to simply leave without telling Q she was doing so, but she didn't know what he was doing or why it was taking him so long. And when he came back out immaculately groomed, no evidence of pain or fear or anything but disdainful boredom on his face, she decided she had probably overstayed her welcome. Q didn't need her anymore. She stood up.
"Thank you for having me over," Naomi said. "But I'd probably better get going, unless you'd rather I stayed?"
"That's quite all right," Q said grandly, glad that she had given him an opening to get rid of her. He had shown entirely too many vulnerabilities to her for his taste. "You can go on and scurry back to whatever tedious little things you do with your life."
Veloz shot him a look. But Naomi wasn't offended in the slightest, feeling instead reassured by his manner and the restored good humor of his words. Q really was all right. Naomi grinned. "I'll try to bear up under the boredom."
As she left, Veloz caught a momentary look of loss on Q's face, as if he were not nearly so unconcerned about Dr. Allen's departure as he pretended to be. Wasn't anything about this man's reactions straightforward?
Veloz shrugged, finally deciding that there was no point trying to figure Q out. Whether he was a total bastard, a tortured soul, or both, ought to be irrelevant to Security.
Q was still awake, in his room reading, when the shift change occurred, and Koratagere and Sev came to replace Veloz. In his room he could hear the conversation. "And what was up with those interrogations today?" Koratagere asked. "The entire department's talking about how you and T'Meth stood there and let Q shred people to pieces."
"T'Meth didn't say anything?" Veloz asked, sounding startled.
"T'Meth cannot be bothered with anything so tedious as the opinions of her co-workers," Sev said dryly.
The other two laughed. Then Veloz said, "It was part of a plan, actually. Q couldn't identify his attackers' voices when they were speaking calmly, so I figured if he got them mad, he'd recognize them."
"Well, someone should have debriefed the department," Koratagere said. "Even the people who thought Q didn't deserve to get beaten up think he's a complete jerk now. There's a lot of sympathy for Blevins."
Veloz was disbelieving. "How, exactly, can anyone sympathize with Blevins? The man's an idiot and he broke his Starfleet oath. Just because Q is a complete jerk is no excuse to beat him up."
"Hey, I didn't say I agreed with them. Just telling you what I hear. The general feeling is that Q could provoke anyone into attacking him."
Veloz sighed. "I guess I'd better try to debrief people before I go off-shift, then. I can't believe T'Meth didn't do it."
"It's not logical that people should be angry," Sev said. "Therefore they're not angry. We all know that logic is the perfect way to examine the universe, after all."
"How long has she been in Starfleet? Thirty years?"
"You know Vulcans," Koratagere said.
"I don't think your attempts to debrief people will help much," Sev added,. "People are not very fond of you or T'Meth at the moment, either."
"This just gets better. Are you two on the shit list for working with us?"
"Not yet," Koratagere said.
"Give it time," Sev said.
Veloz sighed. "There are days when I wonder why I ever went into Security."
"Everyone wonders that," Koratagere said.
"Really? It seems like most people are pretty confident that they belong--"
"No, I mean everyone wonders why you went into it, Veloz." There was a grin in the man's voice.
"Ha ha ha. I'm going to try some damage control, at least. Try not to keep Himself awake; you'll never hear the end of it."
"That would probably require that Kort keep his mouth shut," Sev said. "I doubt that's biologically possible."
Q turned on music so he wouldn't have to hear the rest of the conversation, and so that the chatting guards couldn't hear him. He didn't want to know any more. The fact that Security itself had turned on those of its own who had allied with him didn't surprise him, nor that Veloz's brilliant plan today had made matters even worse for him, but it scared him nonetheless. Humans had a distressing habit of changing alliances to win their friends' approval. T'Meth might have certified Koratagere and Sev as safe earlier, but if the rest of Security started making their lives hell, how long before they, and Veloz, switched sides again?
He thought of calling Naomi back, but dismissed the notion. It was far too humiliating that he had sobbed in her arms, that he had said stupid, idiotic things about Ohmura deserving to live more than him, as if he'd actually come to believe the morons tormenting him. He couldn't leave himself open to that kind of humiliation again. Besides, he hadn't forgotten what Naomi really wanted, the sordid motives that drove her. He remembered Harry, and Amy, and knew what would happen if he let himself be entangled with a human that way -- nothing but pain and humiliation. No, he would bear this himself.
At least until he knew for sure if they'd switched sides or not.
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