by Alara Rogers and Mercutio

Section 7

He stretched out in the tub, trying to relax. The water was warm, and soothing, and it would be the last pleasure he would ever have. He wanted to enjoy it, but he couldn't; he felt entirely too empty, entirely too numb to enjoy anything at all.

Q couldn't feel his wrists; the numbing solution he'd put on them had combined with the hot water to make them disappear, as if his arm stopped at a certain point and some distance later his hands began, floating in midair and disconnected from his body. It was what he wanted, what he needed to do what he had come here to do, but it was disconcerting.

There was no time like the present. He had wanted to relax, to have this last enjoyment, but the gray clouds around his mind had leached all color, all pleasure out of everything, and he only wanted to end it.

He had placed the mug on the side of the tub, where he would have easy access to it. Now he picked it up and hit it against the side of the tub. It wouldn't smash the first time he did it, or the second, as if he were being too timid about hitting it hard enough. The third time he slammed it down, and it shattered.

One of the shards was sharp enough for what he needed. He lifted his hands, studying his wrists, seeing the faint blue lines underneath the skin. With one hand, he dug the sharp shard into the wrist of the other, dragging and pushing until blood welled up. It was only mildly uncomfortable, the numbness in the wrists preventing any serious pain. He dragged it back and forth across the wrist until a sharp pain stabbed through his arm-- he'd gotten below the level of the numbness. But it didn't matter. Blood was welling in pulses, small spurts in time with his heartbeat.

The injured hand was too weak to cut the other one. He simply used the cut hand to brace the shard as he rubbed his other wrist over it, again and again until blood welled out of that one too. Then he put both wrists into the water, and watched as the red plumes floated up, feathery tendrils reaching out through the water. His life was a spiderweb of red cobwebby lines, escaping the bounds of his skin, the prison of his body, to float away into the clear hot water.

Q leaned back and closed his eyes, suddenly dizzy. This wasn't exactly a quick method. But Security was hardly likely to batter down his bathroom door, and the more important considerations had been that it be dignified, possible-- given the restrictions on him, since his overdose on pills last year-- and as painless as could be. He had used drugs to make sure his body was purged, that death would not cause his sphincter muscles to betray him-- that had happened with the pills, and it had been unutterably humiliating to wake up in Sickbay and be told that had happened. It would have been too utterly silly to go fully clothed into the bathtub, and would have defeated the purpose of the relaxing water, but he was wearing a pair of swimming trunks so he would not be naked when they found him. Originally he had thought of making out a will and leaving some painfully symbolic objects to some of the people who had abandoned him-- some archaeological knickknack for Picard, some item with shared memories for Harry, the little crystal wren that Security had broken to Naomi... but then he'd realized how pathetic that would look after he was dead, as if he were saying, "I died because you didn't love me, because you left me, because you sent me away!" and how they would all laugh at his pitiful melodramatic gesture. So in the end, he'd decided not to leave any will at all.

Nothing else needed to be done but wait.

Medellin had talked with Commodore Anderson, and while Naomi would have dearly loved to be privy to that conversation, all she knew of it were its results. Namely that she got to see Q again.

She had won.

Naomi smiled sunnily at the guards, who glared back at her as she entered Q's room. They couldn't stop her, and they knew it, and she was just vindictive enough to take a not-so-secret delight in that fact.

"Q?" she called, peering around the room. He wasn't in the common room, and his bedroom door was open; she looked inside, but he didn't appear to be there.

Then she saw that the bathroom door was closed. Well, that explained it. He was undoubtedly busy with more of the interminable grooming sessions that Naomi was familiar with from her overnight stays with him. She wouldn't bother him then.

Naomi settled herself on the couch to wait. Her eye fell on a rack of antique books, and she plucked them out, examining them interestedly. Most of the books were Great Literature, but some was stuff she had never heard of before. Of course, Great Literature was not exactly one of Naomi's hobbies -- she read a good deal, but eclectically -- so the fact that she hadn't heard of them proved little.

She flipped through the books until with a start she realized that she'd been here waiting for something like twenty minutes. Most likely Q had to be in the bath, for him to be in the bathroom that long. In which case, since he didn't know she was here, he might walk out without clothes on -- she did that sometimes, in the privacy of her own room. She should warn him so he wouldn't embarrass himself.

Naomi walked over and pressed the comm for the bathroom. "Q? It's me, Naomi. I just wanted to let you know I'm here."

There was no response. There was no reason she should have expected one, as her statement didn't require a response, and yet she felt obscurely saddened. And a bit fearful. What if Q had actually believed Security's nonsense about him being a threat to her, and wanted her to go away? Or what if he blamed her somehow for what had happened? She didn't believe that to be true, and yet the possibility nagged at her. Or maybe he was just sulking and needed to be cajoled out of it.

Or, maybe, he just didn't feel like answering.

She decided to ask a question that called for an answer. If he didn't say anything then, she'd know something was wrong. "I could leave and come back, if you'd prefer; when do you think you'll be out?"

No answer. Had he fallen asleep in there? Or worse, what if he was hurt? Naomi had seen Q's bathroom, the archaic tiles, the huge ceramic bathtub... you could slip and break your head open in there. She buzzed again. "Q? Are you okay?"

Q had been fading in and out of consciousness for quite some time. He was cold, and dizzy, and weak, barely able to feel the warmth of the water anymore. The cold was nothing new, though; his life had turned cold and gray some time ago, and he was used to it. Or should be, anyway. Occasionally a moment of lucidity would strike, and he would remember why he was here, and that he was dying, and why. He felt impatience then, and an awful devastating sense of grief that his life had been so wasted, that there was nothing left for him but this. Most of the time, though, he was not lucid, floating in deeply unpleasant dreams. They were not horrifying or frightening; that would almost have been preferable. They were instead deadly dull. He was cataloguing files of some sort, and he had to do it, he couldn't stop, despite the fact that in real life he had never put up with such a menial task for more than five minutes, tops. He was in hell, endlessly cataloguing files. Terran mythology claimed that hell was someplace you went after you died, but Q knew better. Hell was where you lived when you were alive, if you were human. He wondered if the concept of a hell, of an afterlife filled with pain, had been invented to keep humans from killing themselves at the horrible dullness of their lives. Why wasn't he dead yet?

And then the dream changed as he heard Naomi's voice. She was holding him, stroking his hair, murmuring that everything would be all right, and the bit about the files was forgotten immediately, dismissed in the face of the more compelling image. Tears welled in Q's eyes, a mixture of gratitude and grief. It was only a dream, and he knew it; she would never really be there again, never comfort him as she had before. No one ever would. He knew that. But it was a beautiful dream, and part of him felt an overwhelming gratitude to Fate or the vagaries of his own mind, that he was being allowed such a wonderful vision before he died. For this illusion, he would almost be happy to die...

"It's all right," the dream Naomi murmured. "It's all right... Q, are you all right? Can you hear me? Q?"

That was a strange thing for her to be saying. Q wondered why he would dream that Naomi was asking if he could hear her. Of course he could hear her, inasmuch as she existed at all, which she didn't. No doubt the real Naomi had already forgotten about him. And even if she hadn't, what could she do? Anderson would never let her come to him. Yet he heard her pleading with him, "Q, answer me, please, are you all right? Can you hear me?" and there was something entirely too odd about that to accept.

Q opened his eyes, fully awake again. Of course Naomi wasn't there. He felt crushing disappointment, and anger that his mind would not let him stay with the beautiful dream, that it had to present him with too many anomalies to sleep through. Why couldn't he sleep what was left of his life away and dream that Naomi loved him and would protect him? Was it such a terrible thing he was asking, a small illusion to die with?

And then he heard her again. "Q, please! Say something, please, let me know if you're all right, if you are, if you're not I'm going to have to call Security to open the door and I don't want to do that if you're all right, can you hear me? You're not asleep, are you?"

His heart leapt. Naomi was really there! Right on the other side of that door, just barely out of his reach. If only the door was open, he could see her, could touch her, before he died... but the door was locked. He himself had locked it.

He tried to speak, to tell the computer to unlock the door... but only the barest, weakest croak came out. He was too weak to speak.

Outside, Naomi thought she heard something, a tiny small sound from the bathroom, and she could have wept with relief. "Is that you, Q? Are you all right?" Maybe he had just fallen asleep in the tub, she tried to tell herself. Maybe her persistence had woken him, and he would be annoyed but fine. Oh, god, she hoped so.

Because the alternative was that he was in there, attacked by aliens or suffering from some sort of stupid accident, maybe bleeding, maybe dying, and she couldn't bear that.

Inside, the realization that Naomi was out there and he couldn't speak to let her in had driven Q into a terrified panic. The pounding of his heart was agonizingly painful, given the loss of blood he had suffered, and spots and redness danced before his eyes. There was a roaring in his ears from terror. If Naomi were there, then he didn't need to die, he didn't want to die, but he was too far gone and it was too late. He couldn't save himself, and Naomi couldn't override the door lock. He was going to bleed to death without even seeing her again, and he could have borne that, was willing to bear that when he believed he would never see her again anyway, but now that she was so close, he couldn't bear the thought of dying without so much as seeing her.

Desperately Q mustered up what little remained of his strength. "Nao...mi....?"

Outside, Naomi heard him, and went into panic mode again at the sound of his voice. It was weak, as weak as it had been when he'd pleaded with her not to kill him after he'd been beaten and left to die. Could Security have attacked him? Given the extent of T'Meth's injuries and the fact that Security would undoubtedly blame Q for them, maybe it was possible. Maybe history was repeating itself all over again, and he was dying in there. There was a plea in his weak cry, begging for reassurance, begging for her to rescue him, and here she was still trapped behind a door. "Q, the door's locked. Please, can you tell the computer to unlock the door for me, so I can help you? Please, let me help you?"

Silly Naomi. Did she think he didn't know that? But she was there, she would help him, if only he could get the door open. "Com...pu'er...?"

He couldn't manage more than that at once, he hadn't the breath for it. Dying had not been physically unpleasant when he'd been resigned to it; the water had still been warmer than he was, and the dizziness and loss of blood had hardly troubled him when he hadn't exerted himself at all. Now, though, he was struggling against it, and death, as if sensing he was trying to escape its grasp, clutched onto him tightly enough to cause him pain.

"Awaiting instructions," the computer said.

Naomi fretted desperately. If Security had done this, she couldn't call them to override the lock. She could call Sickbay, but she didn't know the extent of Q's injuries, didn't know if this would be one of those things that Li would be cruel and dismissive about, and she didn't want that to happen to Q if he wasn't actually hurt that badly. If he had slipped and hit his head, he would need medical care, but having a doctor beam here wouldn't necessarily be warranted. On the other hand, if he'd been beaten up... It was with enormous relief that she heard his fragile voice manage the word, "Unlock..." and the door whoosh open at her proximity.

She ran to him, taking in the bathtub, his drained, white complexion... the redness of the water in the tub. "Oh, Q..." she murmured, heartbroken, as she realized what he'd done, what he'd been trying to do. It was all at once what she'd been trying to make Medellin understand, and yet far worse than she could ever have imagined, would ever have wanted to imagine. How could he have done this? How could anyone have hurt him badly enough to make him do this? What kind of horrible pain had he been suffering, that suicide had seemed the only answer?

Q let himself slump back against the tub, no longer struggling quite as hard. She was here. If his own actions must kill him, at least now he would not be alone when he died. "Did... something... rather," he whispered, trying for a self- mocking smile. Naomi looked so unhappy, so crushed at the sight of him. While part of him selfishly was glad of that, glad that someone would be unhappy if he died, the rest of him wanted, oddly, to comfort her, to repay her for coming here to comfort him.

"This isn't the brightest idea you ever had, no," Naomi replied, with the wavering, shaky smile of a person trying to fight off tears. She couldn't even put her arm around him effectively; the tub was too big -- it was against the wall, so she couldn't get behind its head, and if she tried to reach across to him, either the tub would get in the way or she would put a strain on his neck by pulling him to her. She wanted to nestle his head against her chest, to stroke him and comfort him in the face of such destroying pain, but had to settle for perching on the edge of the tub and putting her hand on his collarbone, on the far side of his neck. "Computer, open comlink: Dr. Allen to Sickbay."

"Sickbay here."

"I'm in Q's quarters. He's badly hurt; he needs a medical team right away."

Li's voice was professional, but with just a touch of "here-we-go-again" sharpness that made Naomi bristle. "What's the nature of the injury?"

She was not going to announce that Q had tried to kill himself over the comlink. "He's been cut, basically, and he's lost a lot of blood. He's conscious now, but very weak."

"Neither of you are wearing combadges, are you?"

"No." What did that have to do with anything?

"Then it'll be faster if a medical team beams to you. Stand by; I'll be there in two minutes. Li out."

Q raised his head, suddenly concerned. "Bathrobe...?"

Naomi looked down at him, and realized for the first time that under the reddened water he was wearing boxer trunks. There was something unbearably pathetic about that, how Q struggled to armor himself and maintain his image even in the face of such despair that it had driven him to self-destruction. "I can't put a bathrobe on you while you're in the tub. You'd look really silly in a dripping wet bathrobe. You look fine, Q."

"Out... tub..."

"Can't," Naomi said seriously. "I'm not big enough to support you in your condition; I don't have the leverage. And it won't help you any to slip and hit your head. Don't worry about it, Q; you look perfectly fine." She swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat.

Q subsided, accepting Naomi's word as true because he was just too weak to worry about it. He was going to be all right. She would take care of him and make sure that everything was fine. Q closed his eyes and relaxed, accepting the semiconsciousness that his blood-starved body needed to keep functioning at all. Naomi was there; he didn't need to worry about anything at all.

The medical team arrived almost immediately, Li taking in the situation with a glance. He glared at Naomi for one brief instant, but didn't say anything to her, barking orders instead to the two people with him, who moved without pause to get the bleeding stopped and to start replacing what Q had lost.

They ignored Naomi, who stayed as close to Q as she could without getting in the way. He was only semiconscious, but she still couldn't leave him alone with the medical personnel, even as alone as three feet away would make her. The memory of the last time she'd been with him when he was half-dead came back to her, and she didn't want him waking up and feeling as frightened as he had then.

Li spoke a few curt words with his people and then turned on Naomi. "We've got to get him to Sickbay. He's lost a lot of blood, and although the warm water's cushioned the shock to his body, he's still in danger."

Naomi nodded tensely. "Will he be all right?"

"Of course he will," Li said irritably. "It was a stupid stunt to pull."

"Stunt?" Naomi said, bristling.

Li nodded. "If he'd really wanted to kill himself, he would have slashed down his arms, not across his wrists. It would have taken him hours to die from blood loss this way. It was all just another one of Q's attention-getting ploys."

Naomi had to restrain herself from jumping on Li right there. Only the need to stay in physical contact with Q kept her from doing so, and only his presence kept her voice to a low hiss instead of a shout.

"You call suicide an attention getting ploy?" Naomi asked, her voice rising despite herself. "I hardly think Q has been reading manuals on the proper way to commit suicide."

Li nodded firmly, not one to back down from his opinions. "I've seen this from Q before..."

Naomi cut him off. "Doctor, if I may be so bold as to call you that, when it doesn't seem like you care about healing the sick in any way, shape or form, Q would have died if I hadn't happened to come in right then."

Li sniffed, a little offended by the insult to his professional competence. "An overstatement."

"Really?" Naomi asked, her tone dangerous. "And who would have come in? Or would you prefer to go away and I'll call you when he's really in danger?"

The doctor gave her a long-suffering look. "Sarcasm doesn't befit you."

"I'm so sorry to inconvenience you by finding him too early to make it worth the exertion of your phenomenal talents," Naomi said, voice dripping with what he just told her she was very bad at.

Li threw up his hands. "You're reading too much into this. Q does this sort of thing all the time. This is nothing to get so upset about."

Naomi stood up, leaving Q's side and stalking over to the doctor, facing him down. "You have made abundantly clear to me that you don't care about Q's welfare, and would rather he were dead. That you can't even find the smallest amount of pity for someone who is so miserable and so unhappy with his life that he would take any method available to leave it only convinces me that you are incapable of giving him anything resembling adequate medical care."

She was virtually trembling with suppressed rage, and the other medical personnel, a man and a woman, neither of whom Naomi knew by name, were making themselves very small and quiet, attending to their duties and nothing else.

Li stared at her for a long moment, then looked away. "Let's get him to Sickbay."

The first thought Q had upon regaining consciousness in Sickbay was that he was a failure. Not only was he a horrible Q, a horrible human and incapable of sustaining any kind of relationship whatsoever, he also couldn't manage the supposedly simple task of ending his own life.

Q didn't open his eyes. He was too unhappy for that. Hearing the bustle and noise of the medical personnel around him, the slight humming of the computers, all of it was too much for him, too much input, too much hard reality. He wanted to pull a blanket over his head and cry, to try to pretend this wasn't happening. He was so pitiful, and he didn't know why he even bothered pretending to get along.

A low moan escaped from his throat. He couldn't stand it, didn't want to face the moment when he had to open his eyes and deal with everyone who knew of his ineptitude, his lack of ability to handle what to them were absurdedly simple problems, unable to face them knowing that they'd once again seen him naked and humiliated, knowing that he was incapable even of managing his own death properly.

He felt a gentle hand brush his cheek, rose scented air going with it, and looked up, startled.

Naomi hovered over him, a relieved look in her eyes. "You're awake," she said very quietly. "I'm so glad to see you're all right."

She didn't stop touching him, and for a brief instant Q gave into his intense inner desire for oblivion, closing his eyes and resting his face against her hand, drawing what small, guilty pleasure he could from her touch. There was something immensely reassuring about having her there, something in her eyes, her presence that he needed.

Naomi leaned down over him, her face almost touching his, lips brushing his forehead. "It's all right. It'll be all right."

That soft reassurance broke any plans Q might have had of pushing her away. He couldn't stand it anymore. Curling into her, hiding his face against her chest, he broke down into quiet, heartwrenching sobs. She was all the comfort and safety in the world, and even though he knew it was nothing more than an illusion, he felt better with her there.

Naomi put an arm around him, holding him as best she could in her awkward position, unconscious of the few interested observers, wanting to give Q whatever solace she could. That he could be so unhappy as to want to kill himself hurt her, made her feel like sobbing and tearing people up into little bits, and she would have eviscerated anyone who made the mistake of interrupting them at that moment.

She stroked his back until his tears wound down, not offering to leave him.

Finally, Q looked up at her, his face tearstreaked and reddened. "Go away."

"Okay," Naomi said, not moving. He was still clinging to her, and she wouldn't have left him like that no matter what he had said. She reached up to him, brushing his hair back from his forehead. "How do you feel?"

"How do you think I feel?" Q retorted acidly. "I just tried to kill myself and then I wake up here. How would you feel if you were trapped into something you never wanted and don't want, tortured and crippled, and you can't even escape by killing yourself?" He wanted it to come out as a cleverly sarcastic question, but he still wasn't in control of himself, was still weak, and he broke down into a sob, his voice tortured and carrying all the self-hatred and pain he felt.

Naomi bent over him, holding him very close and shielding him from anyone who might see his outburst. She felt protective of him, and hated Anderson, Security, Li and everyone else with a sudden passion for putting Q into a position like this.

"It's all right," Naomi said in a low murmur. "It'll get better. I promise."

"You promise?" Q asked querulously through his tears. "How can you promise anything?"

His voice was so broken, and all she could think about was how he had sounded the night before, when she'd found him in the bathtub, dying and still valiantly trying to maintain his image, struggling even to the last, when another person would have given up.

"I can promise because I can," Naomi said, meaning it. She would do anything in her power to keep this situation from reoccurring, anything it took.

"Oh, that makes a lot of sense," Q said weakly, face still hidden against her. He couldn't move, didn't want to move, just wanted to stay here where he felt, for whatever irrational reasons, safe and warm, and for the moment, sheltered.

Naomi sat there for a long while like that, holding him, not moving. She could tell from his breathing and the way he was sagging against her that he was asleep again, but she didn't want to leave him. Q needed her, and she was going to stay here.

Li came over to her. "I take it he woke up?"

Naomi nodded. "Yes."

"Good. He should be ready to leave Sickbay shortly." Li looked at Naomi and didn't make the remark he was thinking about how a more serious wound would have caused a longer stay. Although he couldn't fathom why, it was evident that she cared about Q. "His condition has been steadily improving. Once he's able to walk on his own, I'll discharge him."

"Thank you," Naomi said, still holding Q against her. She didn't like the doctor, but then, that was hardly unusual. There were a lot of people she didn't like. As long as Q would be all right, she didn't have a problem with him.

He was weakened when they finally did release him from Sickbay, weak in more than body. Li was a halfway competent doctor, despite his prejudices, and had healed Q up tolerably well, but it was the emotional wounds that went deeper.

As much as Q knew he should be pushing Naomi away, should be re-establishing his independence from her, from everyone, he couldn't, couldn't bear to let her go.

"You won't leave, will you?" Q asked, as Naomi walked with him back to his room.

She looked up at him, trying to keep her feelings of how unhappy she was with his haggard appearance, how sad looking at him made her feel, how protective, at bay. The uncharacteristic openness of his question which made it almost a plea only made her feel more that way. "Of course I won't."

"They'll make you," Q said with a sense of hopeless fatalism. It was true. They would force her to leave. He couldn't keep her, had been a fool to ever think otherwise, to ever want anything else.

Naomi shook her head fiercely. "Anderson wouldn't dare. Not after this. I talked to the counsellor and got her on my side. And she convinced Anderson. But it doesn't matter. After this, there's no way the commodore can get rid of me or pull me away from you." She had a sudden thought, and glanced up at him. "Unless you want me to go, of course. I'm not going to force myself on you."

His hand reached down for hers, clasping it tightly. He didn't want to break down into tears right here, but if he had to think about her leaving, he would.

They got to his door and went inside, their security escort remaining outside.

"Would you like to lie down?" Naomi asked him. "On the couch or in bed? I can get you something to drink, or whatever."

That actually sounded good. The walk from Sickbay had taken more out of him than he would have thought. For a brief moment, Q considered resisting, thought that being in his bed with her there would be a compromising position, but he had no more barriers against her, nothing more to hide from her. She'd seen it all, and if she'd wanted to kill him right then, he would have willingly acquiesced.

"Bed," Q said, anything more being impossible to get out. His habitual pushing her away wouldn't serve now, and he didn't know what else to say.

Thankfully, Naomi didn't seem to need anything else, holding onto his hand and escorting him to his bed, pulling back his covers for him, then watching as he sat down. She helped him pull his boots off, then dragged the blanket over him. He didn't really need it; it was warm in the room, but he seemed to appreciate it.

More than appreciated it as a matter of fact. Q sat there, watching as she put another pillow behind his back, propping him up, then went out, and came back with a steaming mug of something from the replicator. He felt coddled and taken care of, a completely foreign feeling to him. Not only would he have never allowed something like this under other circumstances, it could never have happened. No one cared about him, would ever care about him enough to do this.

Except Naomi. And he didn't understand that at all, and didn't want to question his luck too fully lest it vanish away like a dream.

"I brought some hot cider. Would you like some?"

Q looked dubiously at her, but was in no position to refuse. She gave him the mug, and he took a sip. He was sitting up enough that he was in no danger of spilling it on himself, and it wasn't hot enough to do any real damage if he did. And -- to his surprise -- it actually tasted good.

He swallowed hard on something other than the taste of apples then, something very like tears. He couldn't bear this, couldn't bear the comfort she was offering. It was all too much. After having nothing, after thinking of his rooms as a trap from which he could never escape, a trap which he had tried to get out of by slitting his wrists, it was too much to be given this kind of comfort and attention.

Q handed her back the mug, and Naomi took it. He had only had a few sips, but she supposed he was too weak to actually drink much, or just not in the mood for anything resembling nourishment.

She was sitting on the bed next to him, facing him, one leg off the side, her positioning as neutral as possible. He'd misread her intentions before, and while she wouldn't mind deepening their relationship to include sex, she certainly wasn't going to pressure him about it. Not now, and maybe not ever. For the moment, all she wanted to do was to help ease the dark shadow under his eyes, and whatever immense loneliness and unhappiness had drove him to where she had found him two nights before, in the bathtub, half dead.

He reached out for her hand, and she gave it to him. That was much better. Q closed his eyes. He was quite tired, but he couldn't rest. There were too many nightmares there behind his eyelids waiting for him, too many things waiting to assault him, to remind him that he wasn't safe, wouldn't ever be safe. He felt physically better, felt better just being here rather than in Sickbay. His bed was comfortable, and he felt a warm sense of relaxation stealing through his body little by little. But it wasn't enough to drive out the shadows, the things that haunted him, even here, even now.

Q opened his eyes again and looked at Naomi, really looked at the slim little redhead sitting on the side of his bed. He needed her, and moreover, knew what he needed. His interlude with Harry had taught him that much, even as it had taught him that actually getting what he wanted physically would only sour the other person on him. But Naomi was different than Harry, and while he didn't know how different, it was enough to know that Harry had never really known Q before inviting himself into Q's bed. Naomi had seen the worst Q had to offer, had fought for him, comforted him, taken care of him.

If there were anyone, anywhere, he could trust, it was her.

Of course, the key part of that was "if". But right now, Q was too beaten down, too low to feel like he had anything to lose. And he needed so much.

Tentatively, he tugged on her hand. He couldn't put what he wanted into words. It would be too embarrassing; he would never be able to get the words out at all, and even if he did, there was just too much possibility that she didn't want him, despite all the innuendo that had gone before and how over-sexed all humans seemed to him, didn't consider him anything more than a crippled victim in need of pity and consolation.

Naomi came a little closer to him, and he felt encouraged by that, even as he was terrified of what might happen next, of making the next move. Because she wasn't close to him, wasn't taking charge of this, propositioning him as Harry had, and he didn't know what to do. His indecision was choking him.

With the air of someone who knew he was going to die from it, Q freed his hand from hers and laid it on her thigh, her leg now close enough for him to touch.

Naomi drew in a deep breath and looked at him. He couldn't mean what she thought he meant. Could he? She didn't know, and as much as she wanted to lie down next to him, to take him up on what seemed a reasonably obvious invitation, she couldn't. After the time when he had kissed her, and not wanted her at all, she couldn't intrude on him, couldn't force herself on him like that. She cared about him too much to take advantage of him, especially when he had revealed that he was at least somewhat frightened of it, frightened of someone not taking "No" for an answer.

Of course, for him to say no, first the question had to be asked.

"Q?" Naomi asked in a low voice.

He flinched, drawing his hand away, but it was too late. "What?" he asked harshly, waiting now for her to make a fool out of him.

"Not that I object or anything," she said, as lightly as she could possibly manage, "but do you actually want what I think you want?"

"Since I don't know what that is, I couldn't say," Q said, intending to make that into a sarcastic put-down, but having it come out all twisted, like a request for information.

His eyes were needy and fixed on her. Naomi didn't move. "This is your chance to say 'No' and get me to shut up and let you sleep." She swallowed hard. She wanted to make this as non-threatening as possible for him, make the choices clear and with no hint of coercion. "If you say no, I won't leave you. I'll still be your friend, and we can pretend that I never made a pass at you. Everything will be fine and nothing will have happened that either of us have to be ashamed of."

Put that way, it took the burden off of him, made it seem like she had made the advance on him. Q knew that wasn't true, but it eased some of the tightness in his chest, made it possible to breathe again.

"Or you can say yes, and I'll try to make you happy that you did."

That by itself was almost too hard for him. Q wanted so much not to be there, not to have to take any responsibility for this decision at all. It would be so much easier if she would just get it over with, and then he would bear no responsibility for any of this, wouldn't feel so torn apart.

But there was really nothing he could do. "Yes."

The word came out very softly, as part of a breath, and if she hadn't been listening for it, hoping for it, Naomi would never have heard him say it.

She smiled at him, a real smile, then leaned over him and kissed him very gently on the lips. He tasted like apples, like the cider he'd been drinking, and she resisted the urge to lick his lips.

Q returned the kiss clumsily, her positioning making it awkward for him to do anything at all, and the beginnings of desire stirring in him, melding in along with his fears, forcing him to be tense, far too tense.

She kicked her shoes off, then put her feet up on the bed, curling up alongside him, her body stretched out along his, her hip in the curve of his side. He didn't respond to her, didn't put an arm around her or try to kiss her again or anything at all. Naomi didn't know what to make of that.

However, he had said "Yes". He couldn't be too resistant if he had done that. With an inward shiver at finally getting to touch him, finally being allowed the freedom of his body, she pushed the blanket down and stroked a hand over his clothed chest, half-rubbing, half-caressing him.

Q didn't know what to think or how to respond. It was all happening so much slower than it had been with Harry, and he almost wished that she would do that, would just start in with the blatant sexuality, so that he wouldn't have to think. But it did feel good, and the prospect of feeling even better sent shivers through him. There was something very perverted about human responses, that it took sex in order to feel good, but he knew it would do that to him, and he couldn't help but remember what it felt like, what it would feel like, that overwhelming rush of release, the loss of himself in that greater pleasure.

The shivering was the first real clue Naomi had that Q liked this at all. She wasn't quite sure what to do herself. It wasn't every day she got a chance to seduce an apparently helpless, willing victim.

Her hand went under his shirt, brushing lightly over his skin, and Q shuddered deeply this time. It had been so long since he had really been touched, Naomi's infrequent backrubs hardly counting, and even those in the past, too far in the past. And he needed that.

He shifted to give her better access, hardly aware of doing so, of the way his body was silently begging for her touch.

And she obliged, pushing the shirt up and running her hands over more of his skin, leaning down to kiss and lick at his nipple.

He reacted as though he'd been struck, stiffening completely, and moaning.

Naomi wasn't sure at first if she'd done something wrong. She'd never encountered anyone that sensitive, and while she knew she'd done nothing that should hurt him, she still didn't quite know what to make of him. "Are you all right?"

What a silly question. Naomi was always asking the silliest questions. He reached up a hand to her, touching her shoulder, and she immediately came down fully against him, leaning against his chest, her warmth on his bare skin. The weight, slight as it was, felt good to him, a reminder of how this was supposed to go, of how it felt to be pinned down and held like this, like Harry had. He shuddered at the memory, his heart pounding.

She was closer now, and he ran his hand over her hair, feeling the silkiness of it on his skin. He couldn't bear to go back to his aloneness, the kind of aloneness that had driven him into the bathtub, and he knew that Naomi would fix that, would take care of it if only he let her. And he had, and now she was.

Q wanted to cry. The anticipation of it was too much, and having her here and knowing that she cared about him, wanted him, was all overwhelming.

Then she leaned forward and kissed him again, and this time he responded more fully, holding her lightly, as though she were fragile and might break, or worse, pop under too much pressure and burst like a soap bubble, like the kind of dream she was.

Naomi broke the kiss off and looked down at him. Sitting up a little, she took his hand and slid it under her blouse, placing it flat against her side, his fingertips just brushing her breast.

Q sucked in a deep breath, surprised beyond all measure. Harry had wanted Q to touch him, and Q had rarely if ever done so. For one, Harry would invariably harangue him on the subject, which would start a fight rather than getting them into bed, and for another, Q felt too stupid to really consider reaching out. He knew how good it made him feel to have Harry touch him, and now Naomi, but Q knew that he could never cause the same feelings in anyone else, was too clumsy and maladroit to provide a good experience, and couldn't stand the shame of trying and failing.

But he was touching her now, and it felt good. Her bare skin was even warmer than her body, and she didn't seem to mind at all that he was hopeless at this.

And then she leaned down again, and his hand slipped up and over her breast, and he felt that softness in his palm, her nipple hardening against his hand.

He yanked his hand away as if it had been burned, and to his horror, heard cloth tearing as he pulled too hard and in the wrong direction. Nothing came apart, but it could have, and the implication that he wanted it to was deeply embarrassing.

Naomi looked down at him, amused. "I could just take the blouse off, you know."

"Go away," Q said, his eyes screwed tightly shut, utterly mortified.

There was a rustle of cloth, and then she was draped over him again, but this time what was lying over his chest was bare skin. She hadn't left. He opened his eyes. He could clearly see what he had just touched, and more besides, and if he weren't so embarrassed, he might have actually enjoyed the view. He did find people attractive, couldn't avoid it, due to his human hormones, and while there was something frightening about it and something a little repulsive as well, he was very attracted to Naomi.

"I thought I told you to go away," Q said hoarsely, not moving.

"Oh," Naomi said, playing innocent. "Then you didn't mean that you just wanted my clothes to go away?"

"Why would I want that?" Q asked, wishing he'd never said yes, wishing he could just put everything back the way it had been. He needed comfort, needed her, and if it wasn't that the only way he could have that was through sex, he would have never agreed at all.

Naomi cocked her head, not leaving him. "Because it's helpful to be naked for this part of things." She didn't think he was quite that naive; no one could possibly be that naive.

"Oh," Q said, unable to think of anything more coherent under the circumstances. He should push her away, should stop this before it got anymore humiliating, should...

And then she was taking his shirt off, and he was helping her, batting away her hands and unfastening it as she helped him get it over his head.

With it gone, the multitude of scars on his body were clearly visible, including the two new, very faint lines on his wrists. She'd seen it before when she'd found him in boxer shorts in the bathtub, but Q still felt nervous about his reception.

Naomi didn't say anything at all, just looked at him with lambent eyes. Then she was lying against him, stroking him, and Q sighed deeply. He needed this, couldn't have refused it under any circumstances. He needed this part of it almost more than he needed to actually have intercourse with her, how she made him feel coddled and cared for, and even safe.

He put his arms around her impulsively, holding her close. Naomi burrowed against him, not resisting in the slightest, letting him hold her, letting him rest his head against her hair.

After a long moment, Naomi asked in a very quiet voice, "You don't even really want the sex, do you?"

Q tensed, suddenly afraid she was going to reject him. "Why would anyone want sex?"

Naomi didn't know whether to take that as a no or as a yes. It could have been either one. She chose to call it a no. "You don't have to. I'll stay here with you and hold you without you having to have sex with me, if that's what you want. You don't need to feel obliged to me or anything like that." After a brief moment, she added, "I do care about you. And it has nothing to do with being attracted to you, although I admit that I am."

Then he really did cry. He couldn't stand being cared about, couldn't handle all her warmth against him and how good she was being to him, he who didn't deserve anyone ever being good to him at all.

Naomi held onto him while he sobbed against her, his tears falling into her hair.

He didn't pull away after his tears had subsided, but Naomi straightened up nonetheless.

"Don't go," Q said, utterly frightened then that she might leave, despite everything she had said.

"I won't," she said, placing a reassuring hand on his stomach. "But I thought I'd get dressed. I'm afraid that I just can't lie around in the nude and be all friendly-like. It doesn't work for me."

"Oh." He couldn't stand that either. He knew without knowing how he knew that what he really needed was the hot closeness of their bodies, the full sexual experience. He had to touch someone, had to touch her. It wasn't enough to receive the small fragile comfort she could give him by sitting next to him and stroking his hair, although at one time that would have been an enormous amount to him. "Please..."

"What?" Naomi asked, holding her blouse in her hand.

It was harder to do this than he could imagine possible, and finally he was able to draw on the stored irritation and anger that had gotten him through so many other embarrassing situations. "Did I say you should do that? Didn't I say yes? What do I have to do, beg?"

That hadn't come out right either, and he felt his face growing flushed. Nothing he said tonight came out right.

But Naomi didn't keep getting dressed, turning instead to him, smiling. "Only if it turns you on."

"Why would begging do that? I can't imagine anything less sexual."

"Obviously you need to broaden your education."

"I don't have an education. Everything I need to know, I learned in the Continuum."

"I doubt you learned about sex in the Continuum."

"Exactly!" Q said triumphantly.

"Well I suppose then that you wouldn't be interested in this." Naomi matched actions to words, tracing a line down his body from his chest to his hips, letting her hand fall ever so casually across his groin.

Q's groan gave the lie to his words. "Not even a little bit."

"No, of course not," Naomi agreed, continuing to stroke him, caressing his clothed hip, then his leg, and over his penis, the sensations intense enough even with his trousers still on to cause his hips to rock upwards and elicit another groan from Q.

He knew that this was just teasing him, and it wasn't enough at all, but he didn't know what to do next. Things had always gone a certain way with Harry, and while that was the only pattern Q knew, he couldn't expect Naomi to want it that way. In fact, it wasn't biologically possible for Naomi to really take the role Harry always had, Q was sure. And he had no idea how to do it any other way. He wanted more of this, more than just teasing, and if he'd known how to get it, he would have done whatever he had to do. With Harry, he could have taken off the rest of his clothes and Harry would have known what to do, would have taken care of the rest of it for him.

On the other hand, as ideas went, it wasn't that bad of a thought that he should get naked, and perhaps then Naomi would let him know what to do.

Q brushed her hands aside, fumbling with the fastening of his trousers. When he had it open, Naomi helped him take them off, and then he was naked.

Naomi felt a little sad when she looked at Q. It was a deep shame what had happened to him, all the things that had happened to him. But he was attractive nonetheless, and visibly aroused. He wanted her as much as she wanted him, perhaps more, and that made her feel better about this. There was something about this happening now, the same day he'd been let out of Sickbay, that made her feel like she was taking advantage of him, getting him when he was weak and unable to resist her.

But he wanted her; that was undeniable.

She laid down next to him, twining her legs with his, and reached for him.

Q found it completely awkward to kiss her in that position, and was frustrated with Naomi for not doing something. He didn't know what it was that she was supposed to be doing, but he knew that more of this kissing business wasn't it. Were all women this indirect?

He leaned up on one elbow to better kiss her, and felt her leg brushing against his groin. For a moment, that made him tense, remembering Guinan and what she'd done to him, but Naomi wasn't moving, wasn't trying to hurt him, and after a moment, Q relaxed. He kissed her, and as she pushed closer to him, apparently trying to wear him as some sort of coat, her leg was being pushed even more against him, and then he realized how good that felt, that the friction there was almost, but not quite, as good as being touched.

Q kissed her again, and this time, she opened her mouth. He didn't mind at all. The rhythmic movement of her body against his was what he needed, and although it wasn't nearly enough, it was enough that it didn't matter that she was exploring his mouth with her tongue, or that one of her hands was playing with his extremely sensitive nipple.

Naomi didn't realize for a while that anything was wrong. Q was very enthusiastic about kissing her; she would never have guessed that he had been crying only a little while before. But after several minutes had passed, and he still made no move to go farther, or to stop, she knew something was wrong.

"Don't you want to... you know?" Naomi asked.

"To what?" Q asked, a little dazed.

"To actually have sex?"

And then he was embarrassed again. "Of course. I just... I..."

Naomi didn't wait for the explanation, tugging him more over her. He came reluctantly, and without displaying any understanding of how to lie on someone without crushing them.

She didn't complain though. That would have taken air, and she didn't have enough to spare from breathing at the moment to actually speak.

Q felt very close to panicking. This wasn't something he had any experience with, not like this, and what little he did know told him that he wasn't going to be allowed to take the passive role. Harry had always let him get away with that, had never forced him into doing anything, had allowed Q to just react to what was done to him. But he couldn't do that now, and while he was terrified, he knew that this was what he needed and that there was no other way.

Naomi repositioned him by dint of tugging on him until he was in a slightly better arrangement. It was rapidly occurring to her that she probably should not have done things this way, but it was a little too late to change her mind now.

Q couldn't concentrate at all. He was lying on her, and she kept squirming in ways that made him want this even more, kept him moving his hips searchingly. But it wasn't enough, and as tense as he was, frightened of doing things wrong, he couldn't think clearly enough to decide what he was supposed to do next, or what he was supposed to do at all.

And then she spread her legs wider, and he was half-lying, half-kneeling between them. She reached down between their bodies, and he let her. Her hand went around his penis, and he thrust into it, needing that desperately, that sort of contact being familiar to him from his previous experience and very welcome.

She let him for a moment, and then guided him inside. Q stiffened with surprise. He'd never felt anything like that, so hot and so good. Was that what Harry had felt? It was like having a mouth on him, only much better, and combining that with all the necessary warmth and skin contact that was essential to him.

Then his instincts took over, and he was pushing into her, wanting more of that feeling, yearning for it.

Naomi held onto him tightly. If she breathed in when he breathed out, and out when he breathed in, she was all right. On the other hand, if this ever should, by some fortunate chance, occur again, she was really going to have to discuss the idea of not actually lying on the person you were with, particularly when that person happened to be her.

He was tense, should have been too tense for this to work properly. The events of the last week or so had done nothing for his mental state. Everything that had led up to him being in the bathtub with the bright idea of cutting his wrists had not exactly been a picnic. And he was never happy in Sickbay, no matter what the circumstances. But from the moment he had heard Naomi's voice calling him out of his interminably boring dreams before dying, color and warmth had returned to his life, and it was that warmth he clung to now, was trying to bury himself in, to be completely covered by.

Naomi had her arms wrapped around him, holding onto him, moving with Q as he groaned and shuddered his way through what he apparently needed greatly. She would have said it was burning him, hurting him to do this, but he didn't stop.

He shuddered again, more violently, freezing in place as he felt the shock of his release rush over his body in a thousand prickling shivers. That was so good, not as overwhelming as the first time he had done this with Harry, but deeply gratifying, better than anything he normally felt, better than anything else he got to feel as a human.

Naomi held him close as he collapsed, limp and heavy on her. He clung to her as she shifted him to one side, and she pulled the blanket back up over them as quickly as she could so as not to disturb him.

"Don't go," Q said in a voice slurred by pleasure and exhaustion. He couldn't think of anything worse than her leaving him.

She nestled back down beside him, feeling happy as his arm came around her and he held her close as though to protect himself from losing her. "I'm not going anywhere."

He closed his eyes. Everything was all right now. And nothing terrible had happened to him during sex, which both surprised and gratified him. He had been expecting a higher degree of humiliation and feeling stupid, and this end result was more than he had dared hope for, although precisely what he wanted and needed.

Naomi didn't say a word, but held him as he fell asleep.

Q woke to a feeling of something being very right and very wrong all at once.

What was right was immediately apparent. There was a warm body snuggled up against his, and he had been sleeping curled around her, his arm over her waist, and his face pressed into her hair.

Q closed his eyes, allowing himself to savor the feeling for a moment, a brief stolen interlude of guilty pleasure. He couldn't keep her, knew there was nothing about him to entice anyone to stay, but it felt so good to be warm and cared for, and Q couldn't help but want that, even though he knew it was illusionary.

What was wrong struck him immediately thereafter. He'd been ignoring it rather than anything else. He knew perfectly well what was wrong and what would always be wrong with him. Naomi would leave him. This temporary comfort would vanish, would make him even more unhappy when she did go. Like Harry. Their liaison had been satisfying enough while it lasted, but Harry had left, too, and had wounded Q enormously upon his exit, telling Q exactly what he already knew about himself, that he was a selfish, unlovable person and a bad lover to boot.

As Naomi would no doubt discover, had already discovered last night.

He hadn't been paying attention to it in the middle of things the night before, had in fact, never had to worry about remembering to see to someone else's pleasure since Harry had always been quite loud about not having gotten anything out of an encounter.

But Naomi was different, and Q knew with a sudden, sick rush that he had really screwed up. She hadn't had an orgasm.

From his experience with Harry, Q knew exactly what that meant, what Naomi would think of that. It was inexcusable for him to have an orgasm and not his partner.

He was every bad name Harry had ever called him. Selfish. Inconsiderate. Worthless. And now Naomi would wake up and would leave him just as Harry had left, before Q had even really had time to get used to the idea of having her.

Unconsciously, Q clutched Naomi closer, as if holding her tighter could ensure that she wouldn't leave him, wouldn't abandon him to that frightening void that he knew existed out there, waiting to snatch at him. He inhaled the fragrance of her silky hair, even as he struggled with the despair that threatened to overwhelm him. He had already lost her, had proven to be a failure at yet another endeavor, yet another activity which he had once derided as being so childish and beneath him that he couldn't bother wasting his time thinking about it. Before he had even had time to get used to having her, he had lost her.

But what if it weren't too late?

The idea struck Q with sudden force. Naomi hadn't woken up yet. She hadn't yet left him. He still had time. If he cared at all, if he wanted to go to the trouble of demeaning himself in order to keep her around.

There really wasn't even any question of what he was going to do. Extricating himself quietly from Naomi, Q escaped into the bathroom.

When Naomi woke up, she didn't know where she was at first. This wasn't terribly unusual, since she'd gotten used to sleeping on Q's couch in addition to in her own bed, not to mention the occasional chair in Sickbay, but this particular location was strange even for that.

Then she remembered, and smiled happily. After Q had been released from Sickbay, they had returned to his quarters. And he had touched her, and after that... She stretched lazily. It was a good day.

Her hand encountered something solid, harder than anything she would normally find in bed, more like a cabinet or a...

"Excuse me," an irritated voice said. "I was reading that."

Naomi rolled over. Q was seated on the bed, wearing a heavy red robe. His bare feet were crossed at the ankle, and she could see a bit of his calves as well. A book was lying at his side; she must have knocked it out of his hands. "I'm sorry."

"You should be," Q said, but didn't move to pick up the book.

She reached out her hand to him, placing it over his. He immediately took hold of it, squeezing her fingers tightly. She tugged his hand closer to her, until she could kiss it. "How are you this fine morning?"

Terrified. He was absolutely terrified. And a trifle resentful as well. He didn't want to do this, didn't want to humiliate himself by initiating something which he had no idea how to do, but he didn't seem to have a choice. He had performed a similar service for Harry on the infrequent occasions during their brief relationship when Harry had made the mistake of continuing with sex when Q had already been satisfied, and no longer wanted it. That particular service had disgusted Q and reminded him entirely of masturbating himself, something Q found shameful. That he had usually already had his own orgasm first only made it worse, made it that much more embarrassing. As this was embarrassing.

"Fine," Q said.

"That's nice." She cocked her head at him. "Is there something wrong?"

"Wrong?" Q asked, hating himself for having to do this, for wanting her so much that he was put in this position. "Of course there's something wrong. You didn't... didn't..." he felt himself turning red, "enjoy yourself last night."

"I thought last night was very enjoyable. For the both of us," Naomi said, kissing his hand again.

That was a trick. She couldn't possibly mean that, was just setting him up for a bigger disappointment. "But you didn't..."

"Didn't want?" Naomi asked, puzzled. As far as she could remember, she most certainly had.

Why was she making this so difficult for him? "You didn't have an orgasm," Q blurted, hideously embarrassed.

"Oh, that."

"Yes, that," Q snapped, suddenly furious that she was making such light of something that was so difficult for him to say, something he didn't want to be dealing with at all.

"No, I didn't, but I didn't think it was very important," Naomi said, a little confused that he was bringing this up, and more than a little charmed that he would. His manner was less than endearing, but for him to be concerned about what she felt and what she got out of their relationship was extremely considerate of him.

That had to be a lie. Harry would never have let him get away with being that selfish. "Excuse me. I'm trying to do you a favor here!"

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Q was absolutely mortified. He'd said them because he was too frustrated by her attitude to maintain any sort of calm, but he still couldn't believe he'd said that.

He froze, waiting for her to skewer him with some choice comment, as he would surely have done if their positions had been reversed.

Naomi bit her lip, struggling not to laugh. It was obviously not funny to Q, and she couldn't hurt him by laughing. And his offer was perfectly serious.

"In that case, I accept," Naomi said.

Q didn't know whether to be elated that she'd accepted or even more frightened. Tentatively, he reached out for her, hand skimming over her side to rest on her hip. He had a vague idea of what to do. What little practical knowledge he had wasn't applicable to women, but it was enough that he wasn't completely lost. There were two ways to do this that he knew of, and he certainly wasn't going to do anything as disgusting as putting his mouth there. That was completely out of the question.

As his hand drifted down over her hips to her thighs, Naomi lay back, her head pillowed against his shoulder and spread her legs a little wider for him. His touch was almost tauntingly light, and her hips pushed against him, trying to encourage him to do more.

More by accident than by design, his long fingers slipped inside her, and Q did his best not to flinch at what he was feeling, the hotness and wetness of it not especially helping to keep him from being nauseous.

But Naomi seemed to like it. She turned her head until her lips were brushing his chest, and kissed him. "Just like that. Please."

"Please?" Q asked, the novelty of that word striking him as slightly odd.

"Please," Naomi repeated, her hips following the slow movements of his hand, and kissing him again. Her voice came out in a pant. "More."

Q felt a gratified flush stealing over him. He was doing it right. He wasn't completely inept.

His touch got a little more certain, and Naomi shuddered. Having him touching her at all was new enough and her last sexual experience before this long enough ago, that the feeling of his hands on her body alone could turn her on. Her free hand, the one not pinned against his side, clenched into the bed, spasmodically pulling at the sheet under her.

Despite himself, Q felt his body reacting to this, to the sight of her sprawled out on the bed, still naked after last night, her eyes closed, obviously enjoying what he was doing. It felt good to know he was giving someone else pleasure, and it felt even better to hear the little mewling sounds she was making, to feeling her hips pressing herself closer to his hand. He didn't know if he wanted to enjoy this, but it was harder and harder to distinguish what his body was feeling from what he was feeling. And he didn't know that he even wanted to make that distinction.

He wasn't moving fast enough or hard enough, and Naomi felt frustrated and teased. It was enough to cause her to moan, to bring her to a point where she wanted to bite him and hold very tightly to him, but not enough to actually give her an orgasm. Strange to think of Q being overly gentle, but that was what he was doing and she needed more.

"More," she said, her breath coming out in little puffs against his skin, where his robe had slipped open. "More."

"Demanding, aren't you?" Q asked, not in the least bit amused by this, instead completely enthralled by her response to him. If Harry had reacted even a little like this, Q would have been a lot less reluctant to touch him. That Harry's responses might have had a lot to do with Q's attitude towards masturbating him never entered Q's mind.

Naomi opened her eyes and looked up at him, her lip catching under her teeth. "Don't... stop. Please."

Q found he rather liked this begging thing when it was directed at him. He felt himself getting even harder, and was suddenly impatient that this finish, that he be able to do something about his own needs. It was so flattering to be wanted, to be doing things right, and he wouldn't have refused her anything right then, even if it did happen to be disgusting to think about.

The pressure of his hand increased, and Naomi's whole body tightened as the urges she was feeling increased also. It was a sharp, sweet pain, and her head fell back against the pillow as she lost any ability to care where she was or to focus on anything other than the feeling of his hand between her legs.

Q watched her with fascinated eyes as she thrashed her way through an orgasm, his face flushed with his own need and what watching her was doing to him. The sounds she was making, the way she was pressing up against him, all of it was appealingly sensuous.

She convulsed around his hand, then moaned a final long time and placed her hand over his. "That's enough," Naomi said haltingly, her voice coming out broken and hoarse. "I don't think I could take any more."

His hand slid to her hip, and over it, unconsciously caressing the softness there.

She looked up at him, a small, satisfied smile playing on her mouth. "I liked that. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Q found himself saying, and wondered why he was being so polite, so desperate that she like him, approve of him.

Naomi rolled to her side, and lifted a heavy, lax arm to run her hand down his body. "And you?"

"Me?" Q asked, suddenly shy. He wanted her, he knew that he did, but it was still very foreign to him to take the lead, and even worse to have to talk about it, as she seemed to do for no apparent reason.

"Uh huh." She fumbled with the loose tie of the robe until she got it undone, and then her hand was inside, moving unerringly to rest on his hard penis. "You next."

He had to stop himself from thrusting against her hand, from coming right there. His body was trained to respond to that kind of stimulus and he wanted it badly. But he wanted even more what he'd had last night.

And he could have it. She was satisfied, he'd done it right and she wasn't going to leave him. He had something he'd wanted for a long time, and had been even more cruelly denied when Harry had turned on him -- a friend and a lover.

Q closed his arms around her and buried his face in her hair, ignoring his need for a moment. After a startled instant, Naomi responded, tucking herself against him and hugging him back.

This was what he wanted, and now that he had it, he would do anything in his power to keep it. Not that that meant anything, not that he would be allowed to hold onto Naomi for more than the briefest of times before fate intervened to make him miserable again. But as long as he could, he would. And maybe, if he were lucky, it would last long enough to make some sort of difference in the gloom and despair that had clouded his life as a human. Maybe.

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