Love Reign O'er Me
by Ruth Gifford
Can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky.
Can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high.
Love, Reign o'er me.
Love, Reign o'er me, rain on me.
On the dry and dusty road
The nights we spend apart alone
I need to get back home to cool cool rain.
The nights are hot and black as ink
I can't sleep and I lay and I think
Oh God, I need a drink of cool cool rain."
"Love, Reign O'er Me"
ean-Luc Picard awoke and snorted groggily. He was used to waking up alert and aware, but now he felt more disoriented than normal. Why, just this morning...As the fog cleared from his head, Picard remembered that he'd already woken up today. Opening his eyes, he blinked rapidly at the intense light that assaulted him and tried to remember what had happened.
Nothing. Nothing had happened. He'd been on the bridge of the Enterprise-E, turning to make a comment to Troi and then...Nothing. Until here, wherever that was, and now, whenever that was. He continued blinking, assuming he wasn't in Sickbay, because Beverly would never have the lights up like this unless she were performing an operation. He didn't think he was on the table...He frowned and shook his head again; maybe he wasn't thinking as clearly as he thought.
"Come on, Jean-Luc," he muttered to himself. "Take stock. His eyes had grown somewhat accustomed to the light, and he looked around, still blinking a little. It was astonishingly bright, and he suddenly realized that he was looking at sand: light-colored sand, and a lot of it. He blinked again and realized that he was lying on his side on the sand and staring at a low mound of it. He listened carefully, but there was no indication that there was anyone near him. No longer blinking, but still squinting at the strong light reflected off the sand, he sat up and cautiously looked around.
He was sitting on one side of ditch -- a wadi, his mind helpfully provided -- facing the large dune that made up the other side of the wadi. As he turned to look behind him, he found, to his relief, that he'd been sitting on a patch of ground that was made up of both sand and clumps of tough-looking gray-green grass.
*Good. There should be water nearby.*
And he wanted some water; he was thirsty and hot. Not painfully hot, but warmer than he was accustomed to being. Shading his eyes with his hand, he looked around for the sun, finding it off to his left. By the quality of the light he guessed that it was probably late morning; the sun wasn't at its zenith yet, nor was the ground giving off heat. Still squinting, he stood up carefully. In the same direction as the sun, he could see that the grass got thicker. Deciding that the grass was a better bet than the wadi, he slowly walked in that direction, being careful to breathe through his nose. If the grass didn't lead to a better environment, he'd try to find some sort of shelter, cover himself up as well as he could and wait for nightfall. Hardly an appealing thought, but then none of this was very appealing.
"Computer," he said, feeling a little foolish, but deciding to try anyway, "end program. Nothing happened. "Q? he said, feeling even more foolish. "Q? Are you responsible for this? He was answered with the sound of a slight breeze hissing through the grass. "Well, I had to try," he muttered, before remembering that he shouldn't be talking while dehydrated. Settling into a careful pace, he tried to remember anything that would help.
There wasn't much to remember; the Enterprise had been en-route to Pacifica. Released from McKinley Station six months ago following the repair of the extensive damage wrought by the briar patch, the ship had participated in the study of two gravitational anomalies, delivered equipment and supplies to a new Vulcan colony, and been involved in a long, tense trade negotiation involving a consortium of non-aligned planets, the Klingons and the Ferengi. When the conference was over and Picard's new orders turned out to be a scientific mission that did not seem to be too urgent, he had requested and received permission to divert to Pacifica for some much needed R & R.
None of this explained the situation, whatever it was, in which he found himself now. Running over the Enterprise's current flight plan in his head, Picard realized that there was no planet anywhere on their route that supported this kind of desert. *Just splendid,* he thought. *I'm in the middle of a desert, on an unknown planet, God knows how many light-years away from my ship.* He smiled ruefully at his grumpiness, thinking that it would be easier to be the Stalwart Captain if he had anyone around to command or at least to see him. *You're a fraud, Jean-Luc,* he thought with resigned amusement.
It was in this odd frame of mind that he crested a steep dune completely covered with grass. He was trying not to pant as he came over the top, but he drew a deep breath in spite of himself and suddenly relaxed. Even before he could see it, he knew there was water, and a fair amount of it, somewhere very close. The air wasn't damp, but the light breeze carried the faint promise of moisture, and Picard could feel his tense muscles unknot a little. This was a desert, and where there was water in the desert, there was also life. He moved down the slope of the hill and quickly climbed the next, much lower, hillock. And there it was, spread out below him, an oasis right out of an illustrated version of *1001 Arabian Nights.* He paused -- the hill was much steeper on this side --and looked cautiously at the scene below.
Like a sapphire surrounded by emeralds, the oasis pond glittered in the bright sun. There were trees at one edge of the water and grass around the trees. There were also buildings, and other signs of civilization, but Picard was somehow certain that there was no one there. It was far too quiet, considering that, in spite of the bright sun, it was still not excruciatingly hot. In two or three hours, the silence could be explained by people dozing through the high heat, but now?
*Of course, it could be a trap, you idiot,* he thought. Not that it mattered if it were; there was nowhere else, other than back out into the desert, for him to go. And so, slowly and cautiously, he moved down the hill toward the pond. In spite of the fact that he remained sure that there was no one here, he held his arms slightly away from his body, trying to look harmless. Although he didn't know it, the pose was shattered when a raucous squawk startled him and he moved immediately into a defensive crouch. When he saw the colorful bird striding toward him imperiously, he smiled at his own jumpiness and straightened up a bit. It squawked again before moving past him with an arrogant grandeur. Picard, turning to look at the startlingly gaudy russet and gold plumage as the bird passed, thought that the arrogance was well deserved. In the wake of the bird's passing he realized that the silence was only a lack of Human (for want of a better word) noises. He could hear frog-like belching from the pond and there was something nearby that sounded like a cross between a quiet cow and a loud sheep.
Still, his heels sounded loud to him as he walked over the pale stone of the courtyard in front of the largest building. "Is there anyone here? he called out. He received no answer, and hesitantly looked around. The large building was U-shaped. The two low wings that made up the arms of the U flanked an impressive pillared and arched facade, and the whole thing faced the pond. The buildings were faced with a creamy ivory-colored stone that matched the surrounding sand, and were roofed with green tiles. The green was echoed by the primarily green mosaic designs along the facing wall of the building. The designs were flowing and sinuous and seemed somehow to add to the overall feeling of peace and tranquillity that pervaded the whole oasis.
Unsure of himself, Picard fought the feeling, wanting to be prepared if this place turned out to be a trap. In this frame of mind, he slowly went up the nine shallow stairs that led to the main entrance of the building. The door, a carved double door of green painted wood, was open and, feeling even more nervous, Picard hesitantly stepped through.
s he always this paranoid?*
*You'd be paranoid if *you'd* been through the things he has.*
The two energy swirls hovered inside the temple and watched Picard explore. They weren't actually even in the same dimension, although one of them had scoffed at such precautions. *You actually think he's going to notice us?* one of them had asked earlier.
*I dont know,* its companion had replied, *but I see no reason to take risks.*
*I think he likes it,* one of the swirls now said.
*He's *supposed* to like it, you dolt. After all you created it specifically to interest him. Honestly, Q, what is it about this Human, anyway?*
*Ah ah, that's for me to know and you to find out.*
*That's for all of us to find out.* As it spoke, Q's companion launched a lightning attack, an attack that was backed up by the weight of many more members of the Continuum.
As Q struggled to escape them, he shifted in time
icard had been at the Temple of the Green Moons for four weeks (of nine days each) as measured on the temple calendar, and he still had no idea of how he'd been pulled from the Enterprise and sent here. However, he now knew a great deal about the temple, the Goddesses of the Green Moons, the surrounding desert, and the people who lived beyond the desert. He also knew that the Hithanytan (as they called themselves) did not send caravans out into the desert during the winter, and so, if he stayed here that long, it would be another three months (of 45 days each) before he saw anyone. He didn't have to worry about supplies; there was plenty of food, both preserved and fresh. The fresh food was courtesy of the garden, the spring-fed pond, the flock small gray birds called dhoji that reminded Picard of guinea fowl, and the small herd of sheep-like chuptis that grazed on the tough desert grass.
In fact, every need he had was taken care of: there were several lovely suites of rooms, there were clothes suited to the environment, and there was a small, but fascinating library in which he spent a fair amount of time. The fact that he could read the flowing script of the books and scrolls was one more bizarre detail of the mystery in which he found himself living.
It was in the library that he first realized why he was caught up in this mystery, although there was still no answer for why it had happened to *him* as opposed to anyone else in the universe. He found the information in "The Commentaries of the Sages," a far more useful text for historical reference than "The Three Books of the Green Moons," which was the main text of the local religion. In the "Commentaries," Picard read that when the Old Moons granted rest to Their priests, They also provided a replacement. On the third day of his time here, Picard had been exploring the nearby desert and had found a framework with a corpse lashed to it. He had since learned that Hithanytan burial consisted of leaving the dead out in the desert for the carrion eaters. So he had to assume that the dead man had been the Priest of The Goddesses and that now Picard was his successor. He spent some time trying to figure out just who had taken care of the burial detail, before he realized that he might never know.
He had agonized over it quite a bit, and he still wasn't entirely comfortable with his decision. And yet...The Hithanytan were his only hope of finding a way out of the desert; his explorations and reading had shown him that soon enough. And one way to make sure they at least listened to him was to follow their traditions. Therefore, every morning Jean-Luc Picard, the Captain of the Federation's flagship, found himself performing the simple, yet oddly moving Morning Rite, just as every evening he performed the corresponding Evening Rite.
He'd felt terribly self-conscious in the beginning but found that the elegant simplicity of the ceremonies called to something inside him. That, above all else, worried him. It had taken five *years* on Kataan before he finally accepted that he belonged there, but now, as the fifth week of his stay at the temple began, he had to fight the feeling that this was where he was supposed to be. At first, he had suspected the incense that he burned on the altar in the temple, and stopped burning it for over a week. It did not change that feeling of belonging, except that he had worried that he wasn't following the rite correctly. He'd then tried avoiding the preserved food, drinking only from the pond and eating only vegetables from the garden. The only result was a lingering loathing for what was called a teltha root, which happened to be a very plentiful vegetable, and which tasted a little too much like celery.
He tried at various times to counsel himself. He knew himself well enough to know that doing things correctly was incredibly important part of his character. He knew that his need for ritual contributed to the way he found meaning in this odd life he'd fallen into. He knew that time away from the Enterprise, where he didn't have to look at Lt. Hawke's station everyday or see Engineering on a regular basis was something he needed; something that Earth and LaBarre, with its painful memories of his lost family, hadn't been able to provide. He knew that his overwhelming curiosity and his love of learning something new kept him looking forward to each day's study in the library. He knew his independence made him take pleasure in the everyday tasks of cooking and cleaning and caring for the oasis and the temple. In short, his self-knowledge led him to the disconcerting fact that this place seemed almost designed for him, a trap of a very subtle kind.
Most of the time he suspected that Q had something to do with it.
hree days into his fifth week, things changed. After the Morning Rite, Picard had decided that the clean morning air was irresistible and so he sat by the pond and shared his morning meal of flatbread and left-over fish with Selene. Selene was the friendliest of the Temple sirtanis, a feline species that reminded Jean-Luc of his Aunt Adele's sleek, self-satisfied Blue Point Siamese. So he'd given this sirtani the same name, finding it fitting that it was a Terran moon name. As he dusted off his fingers and stood, something in the distance caught his eye. There were birds, carrion birds, circling over something in the desert. Picard ran to his rooms in the temple complex and grabbed an over-robe and a head scarf with its accompanying cords. On his way out, he paused at the kitchen to snatch up a skinning knife and two full water skins.
Half an hour later, he found himself looking down into the bottom of a wadi. There was someone down there, and from the occasional faint moan that echoed through the wadi, that someone was alive. Picking his way carefully, Picard finally reached the bottom. He'd been concentrating so hard on his steps that he hadn't been able to look at the injured person. Now that he did, his first thought was..."Will!? But no, after a second he realized that, although the person with the broad back and dark hair wore a Starfleet uniform, he not was Picard's First Officer.
"Q," he breathed.
"Unnnghhh ... the entity groaned as Picard rolled him over, and Jean-Luc was stunned to see cuts and bruises on his face.
*Idiot, they're not real,* Picard told himself. *None of this is real!*
"Q!" he snarled. "Enough of this!"
Q groaned again and weakly threw up a hand to shade his eyes. "Thirsty ... he whispered.
"Of course you are," Picard muttered. Nevertheless, he pulled one of the water skins out from under his robe and opened it. Carefully, he let a little of the water trickle into Q's mouth, and after a moment or two, Q pulled the skin away and started to gulp the water down. "Dont do that," Picard snapped, his training taking over. "You'll get sick. Q ignored him and kept gulping the water. "Oh, why bother?" Picard muttered. Whatever game Q was up to, Picard had no intention of playing. *Oh yes you will, Jean-Luc,* he told himself. *He's your ticket out of this.*
"What... Q said shakily. "Where..."
"That's the best you can do? Picard asked.
"I don't understand... Q frowned and put a hand to his stomach. "Ohhhh... With that, he turned away and did something that shook Picard's world to the core. Q threw up.
Quickly, Picard moved to support him as the entity lost all the water he'd drunk too swiftly. When he was done he almost passed out again, but he revived a little when Picard carefully poured a little water directly on his face. "Here," Picard said. "No, don't drink, just rinse your mouth out and spit."
"Now, just take small slow sips. That's right, don't rush it."
Q meekly obeyed, something that shook Picard as much, if not more, than the concept of Qs throwing up. After a time, the entity took a deep breath and sat back. "You seem to know who I am," he said, looking at Picard curiously.
Picard stared back with some suspicion. This was obviously one of Q's little games, but he couldn't ever recall seeing Q look so...open was the word Jean-Luc finally settled on. He was used to scorn and cynical amusement from Q. He'd seen flashes of cruelty, anger, disdain, and even occasionally a flicker of concern. But, until now, never had he seen an emotion that seemed to make Q approachable.
"The implication is that you don't," Picard told him.
Q's eyes widened. "Do you always talk like that? he asked.
"Q," Picard began.
Picard sighed. He was hot, sweaty and decided to just play along until he could get back to the temple.
"That's your name," he said carefully.
"Q," Q said. "Q. Hmmmm...I like it, which is a good thing, don't you think?"
"I suppose it is. We need to get...
Q raised his eyebrows. "That's rather different from Q. He looked at Picard thoughtfully, almost seeming to size him up. It made Picard feel a little odd. "It suits you. I mean, I think it does, but what do I know?"
"Usually everything," Picard replied before he could help it.
"Never mind," Picard replied. "I'll explain later. We really need to get out of the sun. Can you walk?"
"I think so."
"Good. Picard helped Q up. "Here," he added as the entity staggered a little. "You can lean on me."
"Thank you. Picard shot Q a glance, and Q smiled at him a little tentatively. "For everything."
"No problem," Picard replied. He couldn't help responding to this nicer, less edgy Q, and it bothered him. Q was probably having a huge laugh at his expense right now. "Let's get going, shall we?"
"All right, but slowly, please."
Q leaned against him, and Picard grew very much aware of the acrid salt of his sweat. He'd never thought of Q sweating before. They walked about a hundred meters in silence, then Q sighed.
"I'm sorry I'm taking so long."
Jean-Luc couldn't help the look he shot sideways, but he kept his tone level. "It's all right, Q. Just keep walking."
"Perhaps you should leave me here and get help."
"There isn't any help, Q. Just me."
"Oh. Q seemed to think about this for another hundred meters. They were almost over the hill. "Does this sort of thing happen to you often? Are you some sort of caretaker or gatekeeper?"
Picard almost started telling Q what he thought of his performance, but they crested the hill at that moment, and Q's next question was cut off by a gasp.
"What's wrong? Picard demanded with open suspicion.
"It's so pretty," Q breathed, sounding for all the world like an unspoiled
child. "Do you live here?"
Jean-Luc looked at the oasis below. The white and green structure, the trees, the water: it all did look quite lovely.
"I'm staying here for a while," he compromised, urging Q with his body to begin walking again.
"Oh," Q said. "Must be nice."
Picard remained silent.
"Staying here, I mean," Q went on. "Where do you usually live?"
Picard sighed, feeling his patience start to unravel. If it weren't for the fact that Q was gasping a little from the exertion and the dark patches of sweat on Q's uniform, Picard would have snapped at him to give the whole thing up.
"Elsewhere," he answered.
"I'm sorry," Q said quietly.
"For what? Picard asked. They had made their way down the hill and he guided Q toward the kitchen entrance.
"All my questions," Q said, his voice still apologetic.
For a brief moment, Picard was five years old again, being told by his father that he asked too many pointless questions. He drew a deep breath and the moment passed, but he looked at Q with real concern.
"No, I should be the one apologizing. I'm having a hard time realizing that you don't know who you are."
Q allowed himself to be led towards the kitchen, but his eyes stayed on Picard's face, taking on a quiet sadness.
"What? the captain asked.
"You don't mean that. You mean that you're having a hard time *believing* that I don't know who I am. Q frowned deeply. "Are you used to having me lie to you?"
Picard sighed. "Can we just get you cleaned up first? We'll talk, I promise."
Q nodded unhappily, then went wide-eyed as they finally reached the kitchen and entered the cool-tiled enclosure. Q sagged against Picard in relief, and staggered his way into one of the kitchen chairs.
Picard made sure he wasn't going to fall off onto the floor, then turned to the sink to dampen a dishtowel and fill a glass of water.
Q took the glass and sipped, his eyes seeking Picard's approval for the restraint he showed, then cleaned off his face with the towel before laying his head on the table, carefully, and breathing deeply for a while.
Picard sat in the other chair and waited.
"I smell," Q said at last.
"A bit," Picard acknowledged.
Q's head came up, his face happy at the shared semi-joke. "May I make use of your hospitality as far as a bath?"
"And a change of clothes, Q."
Q nodded, looking over Picard's white desert robes, then down at his gray and black uniform.
Running the bath water was easy enough, but Q was really in no shape to get out of his uniform, and he didn't seem to know how to unfasten it, so Picard stayed and helped him undress. "If you can promise not to fall asleep and drown," Jean-Luc said once Q was relaxing in the tub, "I'll go get you some food."
Q nodded, smiling, as though at another joke, and began to scrub with some vigor at his grimed skin.
*He still has no sense of body modesty,* Picard thought as he headed back for the kitchen. Then he grunted at himself, and shook his head. *Surely this is some sort of joke, or trick. Though he might have done this to himself, in hopes of gaining my sympathy. I wouldn't put it past him. However, it is unlikely that he would choose to have this much discomfort.*
As he worked in the kitchen to put together a simple meal, Picard wondered if leaving Q alone had been such a good idea. The last time Q had been without his powers, he'd been suicidally depressed, Picard remembered with a twinge. He wasn't entirely pleased with the way he'd acted towards Q during the Bre'el IV crisis. As grandiose and unsuccessful as Q's self-sacrifice had been, it *had* solved their problems...all except the one about getting rid of Q.
Picard frowned at himself, putting the food together on the tray. Their knowledge of Q had, in fact, been good for Humanity, and for himself, he admonished. He never *liked* being with Q, but he knew he was a better captain -- damnit, he was still *alive* because of Q, after all.
*My God!* Picard thought as he carried the large tray of food out of the kitchen, *I've known him for almost ten years.* With the thought came a sudden fierce longing for his ship and his friends, and Picard was almost relieved to realize that he hadn't, by any stretch of the imagination, become resigned to his imprisonment here in the oasis.
Picard put the tray on a table in the sitting room of one of the extra suites. Stopping long enough to grab some clothing out of the closet, he returned to the bathroom. Q looked better, he had obviously washed up completely and was now soaking in a clean tub of water . He no longer looked pale; in fact, he had a bit of a sunburn, and Picard made a mental note to get some cream for it.
At the sound of his steps, Q jumped a little, splashing water over the edge of the tub.
"Sorry," Q said quickly. "You startled me. He looked at Picard curiously. "Are you always that quiet on your feet?"
Picard thought of trying to explain the training that had made him quiet on his feet and was suddenly a little overwhelmed at the concept of explaining *everything* to Q. *Well, he does have *some* knowledge. I just need to find out what the gaps are. If there are any gaps, that is.*
*Can you hear me?* he thought, calling on the memory of encounters with
other telepaths as he tried to project his thought.
"Jean-Luc Picard? Q asked. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Picard replied. "Why?"
"You were somewhere else for a moment. Did I do something wrong?"
"Could you hear me, when I was 'somewhere else?'" Picard asked.
"No," Q replied looking puzzled. "You didn't say anything."
"Nothing inside your head?"
"Are you a telepath? Q asked.
Picard drew a deep breath. "No, but you are."
"And we normally communicate telepathically? I read your mind?"
"Well, sometimes," Picard said.
"Oh. There was a pause. "Um Jean-Luc Picard? Q said and there was that unfamiliar hesitancy in his voice again.
"Are we...how do we...do you like me? Normally, I mean."
"We don't know each other all that well," Picard said carefully.
Q just looked at him for a moment. Again he seemed to be trying to figure Picard out and the captain felt a little odd. *He's just supposed to have lost his memory,* he reminded himself. *He's probably still more intelligent than I.*
It was an unsettling, but hardly unfamiliar thought. Q simply wasn't taunting him about his "ape-like" brain. He felt a strong urge to tell Q about past insults. But then, he also felt a strong urge to insult Q himself.
*Don't be ridiculous, Picard. Either Q is baiting you, waiting for you to insult him so that he can justify his current torment of you, or he's really lost his memory, in which case an insult would only cause him confusion.*
"You're being tactful, aren't you? Q asked finally, looking down with distaste at the dirty bath water.
"Done in there? Picard asked briskly.
"So it would seem, though I could probably stand the whole treatment
Picard allowed a small smile, then turned away as Q rose from the tub and reached for a jar of lotion for his sunburn, then again for a towel as Q smoothed the balm into his reddened skin.
"Uh, Jean-Luc Picard?"
"I don't know how this goes."
Picard turned and saw that Q was struggling with the robes, uncertain how to tie them at the waist. He stepped forward and efficiently fastened the robes shut, noting that there were small scratches on Q's hands, and more on his chest. He looked as though he had been fighting.
*Fighting, perhaps, with other Qs? Have they done this to him? Is he being punished by the Continuum again? If so, then what am *I* doing here?*
Q's eyes were on the food tray. "Aren't you going to eat?"
"I thought you'd feel like going to bed."
Q's eyes turned to him, and for an instant, Picard felt himself bracing for some sort of remark.
"I'm not that tired anymore, and...I would appreciate company, if you can stand my questions."
Picard shrugged and took the tray into the sitting room. Q followed a little behind, looking around at everything.
When Q finally came into the sitting room, Picard was sitting cross-legged in front of the low brass tray-table. "Here," Picard said, handing Q a glass. "Start with this."
What is it?"
"Lemonade, or at least the closest I can manage. You need the sugar. He watched as Q sipped at it curiously. "Sorry there's no ice."
"Ice? That's cold little blocks, right?"
Picard nodded, suspicion returning in a rush, but Q responded with a frustrated sigh.
"I seem to know so many things," he said guilelessly, "but they're all jumbled up and don't make any sense. It's such a relief when you explain things: a small piece of order out of total chaos."
Picard watched as Q examined the way he was sitting, then mimicked it exactly, even to tugging down on the front of his robes slightly before settling down.
Picard took a sip of his own lemonade, then tucked in to his lunch. In truth, he was extremely hungry, and Q's arrival had postponed his midday meal considerably.
"Oh, this is good," Q said about the rice, then again about the lentils.
"I'm glad you like it, though I'm not much of a chef, I'm afraid."
"Well, now I'm here, I can help, I guess, if you'll show me how."
Picard nodded. "Yes, if you like."
Q got through about half the food before he began to look expectant. Picard sighed, quietly. How in the world could he possibly begin to explain his relationship with Q to Q? He couldn't even explain it to Starfleet Command.
And moreover, did he really *want* to tell Q everything? But if he edited the truth, when did it become a lie? What would he do to excuse himself if, acting on a lie he had told Q, Q decided to do something inappropriate, or dangerous?
"Is it really so difficult? Q asked.
Picard looked at him, startled, then shrugged and tried to smile. "Yes, it is."
Q leaned his elbows on the table, his eyes as open as they were direct. "Let me see if I can help. We're not friends."
Picard hesitated, then shook his head. "No. Not enemies."
Q looked a little happier. "That's something, I suppose."
Picard looked down at his food.
"Do we work together? Q asked.
"Not really, though we may have some of the same goals...I have always liked to hope so, anyway."
Q let almost a full minute go by in silence. "You said you don't live here."
"That's right. I live on my ship. A starship."
"A starship? You work on one? Q looked at him narrowly. "You're no cabin boy."
Picard couldn't help his smile. "No. I'm the captain, actually, and have been since we met, though that was on my ship before this one."
"A captain," Q said, nodding. "That explains a few things."
"Like what? Picard asked, automatically on the defensive.
"Well, you're sort of brusque," Q replied. "Sorry but...Why do you keep giving me that look?"
Picard was tempted to ask "What look?" but he didn't. "I'm not used to hearing you say you're sorry."
"How exactly do we know each other? Am I another captain or something? Was that a uniform I was wearing?"
"It's a uniform, but you're not in Starfleet. Picard paused, but Q gestured for him to continue. Picard drew a deep breath. "Actually, you're not Human," he said, not sure how Q would react.
"Not Human. I assume that Human is the name of your species?"
Q looked at Picard and then back at himself. "I *look* Human?"
"It's like the uniform," Picard said, feeling his way with care. "You take on that form to make it easier to interact with us."
"I'm a...shapeshifter? Q said, his eyes a little wide. "Really?"
Picard smiled a little, unable to help his reaction to Q's delighted surprise. "Really. I've seen you do it."
Q frowned and seemed to concentrate for a moment, then his face fell. "One more thing that's missing. Picard's face must have shown his unwilling sympathy. "I've lost a lot, haven't I? Q asked.
"Yes, it would seem you have."
There was a moment of silence and then Q drew a deep breath. He smiled, looking around. "Well," he said, his voice once again intrigued. "I suppose I'll have to relearn things."
He sounded almost eager and Picard found himself liking this optimistic, curious Q. It was hard to remind himself that this could still be a game or a ploy. *Do I take him at face value, or suspect everything he says?* he wondered. *Or do I just muddle through the way I always do when Q is involved?*
"I'll try to help, but I'm afraid I'm not a shapeshifter either," he said aloud.
"Do you know what my normal form is?"
"No," Picard replied. Feeling a little bad at not having an answer, he smiled ruefully. "I've always wondered."
"You never asked? How long have we known each other?"
"Nine years," Picard replied, choosing the easy question.
"That sounds like a long time not to know what I look like."
"It's not the sort of question you would be likely to answer.
Q looked completely thrown. "You're trying to tell me I'm secretive, aren't you?"
Picard couldn't help his short, barking laugh.
Q looked hurt, then speculative, then, of all things, touched.
"What? Picard demanded.
"You're answering all my questions, even though they make you uncomfortable, and even though you're used to having me refuse to answer *your* questions. It's incredibly decent of you."
Picard shook his head and leaned back. "You're not yourself. I'm not in the habit of dancing on people when they're down."
"So if I were myself, we wouldn't be having lunch, is that what you're saying? I thought we weren't enemies."
He was getting a headache. "Q, when we talk, it's almost always when you have me at a decided and very carefully arranged disadvantage. I'm usually in the middle of some sort of a crisis, often guided to that crisis by you, and expected to perform to your standards, even though you won't tell me what they are!" He broke off. Q looked horrified.
"But there have been times," Picard admitted with a sigh, "when we have...agreed on things, important things. I must tell you, there have been times when I have...felt stimulated by the challenge of your company."
Q acknowledged the compliment with a smile, then proceeded to look absolutely miserable.
"You mustn't completely...you should know you're not entirely the cause of many of our interactions," Picard added.
"What in the world does that mean?"
"You're a member of a group, a community of extremely powerful entities, known as the Continuum. Many of your dealings with my ship and crew have been instigated by their instructions."
"Including our present circumstances, do you mean?"
Picard acknowledged the possibility with a shrug. "I can think of no other group who could be responsible, but, as you yourself, if you were yourself, would point out, my knowledge of the universe is highly limited. The Continuum may have enemies. Or this might be some sort of accident...or...there may be any number of causes."
Q nodded slowly, and it seemed to the captain that he could almost hear the effort of thought. "You work on a starship."
"That's right. Was Q's short-term memory affected as well?
"And you're here, living in the desert."
"And you said there was no one to go to to get help."
"So you're not here on purpose, are you?"
Jean-Luc looked at him.
"Did I bring you here? Q asked.
"I don't know. I thought you did."
Q shook his head, then leaned forward, burying his face in his spread
fingers before rubbing his eyes, hard. "I can't remember any of it.
It's a wonder, I suppose, that you didn't strangle me on sight," Q mumbled
into his hands.
"The thought did occur. But Picard's tone was drier than the desert outside, and he could tell Q was smiling into his hands now. "Come help me clean up," he urged quietly.
"All right," Q replied. "If you're sure..."
"I'm sure," Picard told him, starting to place dishes on the tray.
Q followed Picard back to the kitchen, and watched carefully as Picard began to wash up. It felt surreally domestic for Jean-Luc as he handed over plates to Q, and he must have looked a little bemused.
"This is weird for you, isn't it?"
Picard smiled and chuckled faintly. "Just a little."
Q nodded, but any response was cut off by a large yawn. The entity blinked. "I'm tired, right?"
"I wouldn't be surprised. Why don't you take the suite of rooms we used earlier?"
"I think I can find them ..."
Picard shook his head. "Let me show you around a little, so you don't get lost if you need anything in the middle of the night."
In spite of his obvious fatigue, Q looked around with intense curiosity as Picard showed him around the main temple complex.
"Look at the tile work," he said at one point as he halted in front of a section of corridor wall. "How many shades of green do you think are in this pattern? And *look* at the way the umber line here sets it off. This is just gorgeous."
Once more, an amused chuckle escaped Picard before he could stop it.
"There's a possibility that you created all of this."
"Me? Q asked. "All by myself, with just a wave of the hand?"
"A snap of the fingers actually. Q looked at him curiously and Picard explained. "That's your...trademark I guess you'd call it. You snap your fingers, there's a bright flash of light, and whatever you wanted to happen, happens."
"Hmmm ... Q looked back at the tile work. "I'd be more impressed if I knew that I'd laid each piece of tile by hand. He reached out and stroked the uneven surface, that intrigued smile back on his face.
*My God,* Picard thought. *He reminds me of Data."
Q looked away from the tile. "Well, whether I snapped it up or someone else did, it is lovely."
"Yes," Picard said looking at the wall. "It is."
By the time they reached the main hall of the temple, Q was yawning so much his eyes were watering. He gaped at the big room and shook his head. "Too much to take in," he mumbled. "I'll want to look at it later, when I can really pay attention."
They turned back, and Picard let Q take the lead a little, pleased to see him find his way back to his rooms. He snarled inwardly at the small pleasure. If Q were playing a game...
The thought brought him up short with its attendant realization. If Q *were* playing a game, that would be it. Picard would never jump through one of Q's hoops again, no matter what the offered prize or threat. It would be the end of trust between them.
Picard found himself staring at the back of Q's head. Would Q do that? *Yes, if the Continuum ordered him to.* And yet, the Continuum had ordered Q to do many things which he had, evidently, declined to do.
*This is all vanity. Q would do whatever damn well suited him, without a thought to my comfort or security or dignity. I've been out here chanting and cleaning up this place because...Dear God. What *could* he possibly get out of it?*
They reached Q's rooms and paused, and with overt hesitation Q turned to him. "Is everything all right?"
Picard nodded curtly. "Sleep well. He turned to go.
The man sighed, held himself still a moment, then turned back. "Yes?"
"Did I do something wrong?"
"It appears neither of us knows that for certain, Q."
Q nodded solemnly, then stepped back as an invitation to allow Picard to leave politely.
The man did, and Q stood in the middle of the room a moment, feeling more than a little abandoned.
"I wonder what I've done to him," he muttered, getting some comfort from the sound of his own voice. "It must be pretty bad, the way he keeps looking at me."
Q shed his robes and slipped into the bed, feeling unexpected pleasure from the cool sheets. His skin was uncomfortably hot, and it had hurt a little where it touched the robes. The sheets were more forgiving.
As exhausted as he was, however, his mind seemed unwilling to shut itself down, and he wasn't entirely certain exactly what was supposed to be happening. He needed to "sleep," Jean-Luc Picard had said, but what was that, exactly? He wished he had thought to ask.
What sort of body was this? It was supposed to be "Human"-like, which meant, as far as he could tell, ten fingers and toes, two legs and arms, one head, and one set of genitals, although there were two testicles, like shoulders, flanking the shaft. Two nipples, too, and two hips. One spine. One nose. Two eyes. One mouth. Hair -- Jean-Luc Picard didn't have much of that.
"The hip bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone... The strange song peeked out from the chaos in his head, then plunged back into the melee again, and he felt dizzy with it.
He moaned, slightly, and felt even sicker. There was a horrible pressure in his stomach, low down. It *hurt* and he didn't know what to do. If he called out, would Jean-Luc Picard come back?
"Urinate!" he shouted. He had to urinate. But what was that? He got up from the bed, and staggered. He was so incredibly tired. Maybe after he urinated -- whatever that was -- he could sleep, and then he supposed he would feel better. He opened the door to his rooms and began to hurry through the halls. Somewhere he would find what he was supposed to do.
He wound up in the kitchen, and stood there, swaying slightly. There was such pressure in his body, and his muscles were all tense. Should he just relax?
"Q? What are you doing?"
He turned towards the sound of that deep voice with almost tearful relief. The man stood there in a thin robe, his feet bare.
"I need to urinate!"
Picard blinked at him. "Then what are you doing standing naked in the kitchen?"
"I don't know what it means."
"Oh, really, Q! Do you honestly expect me to believe that?"
Q's eyes went wide and sorrowful, so much like those of a small boy caught being naughty that Picard felt like an ogre.
"Come with me, Q," he said, voice dropping to soft and soothing in an instant. "It's all right."
His face radiating gratitude, Q walked forward, close behind Picard as the man led him back to his rooms and then showed him the room in which he had taken his bath. He pointed to a small white seat. "Stand in front of that," he instructed, "and allow your body to relax."
Q looked at him in trepidation. "And then what happens?"
Picard sighed. "Q, your body, like all Human bodies, needs water
and some of the water you take in every day is used to clean out the body's
systems. For this process to work, the water must be expelled as urine."
"You mean I'm going to leak? Q's eyes were wide with shock.
Picard couldn't help it. He started laughing and couldn't stop.
He held up his
hands in apology, doubling over, out of breath. He forced himself to
straighten as soon as he could, meeting Q's eyes. He stopped laughing
quickly, but couldn't get rid of his smile. Q wasn't insulted, just puzzled.
"I'm sorry. He took a steadying breath. "I should leave
you to it. He
patted Q on the shoulder and exited the room, adding at the last moment, "Oh,
pull the chain, and then wash your hands afterwards."
Q looked at the closed door, then turned back to the porcelain seat.
sigh, he relaxed his body, and felt the pressure increase. His penis
dribbled, and with care he held it so that the drops would go into the hole in
the seat. More water came, a stream, and with it a relief so profound he
gasped. Oh! That felt so *good!* It also lasted a long time, and seemed to
have trouble ending, as water came in uneven spurts, then finally stopped. He
shook his penis (strange thing it was, too), pulled the chain -- starting
slightly at the noise of the rushing water -- and then turned to clean his
It was easy to stagger back to bed after that, and indeed now sleep
him easily, another blessed relief.
When Q didn't come back into the kitchen after twenty minutes, Picard
he'd figured out enough to take care of himself, and breathed through his
relief. He really couldn't deal with the concept of actually demonstrating
urination to Q. And frankly, he wasn't sure he could have made himself do it.
It was just too much like a juvenile prank. If he hadn't seen Q standing
naked in the kitchen, looking so lost, he wouldn't have gone as far as he had.
Picard sighed again, and rested his head in his hands, sitting at the
table. Q. Was he really what he seemed: lost, amnesiac, guileless? A
child, more than Amanda had been. Almost a moppet, except for the power of
that mind when Q put it to use.
What would the Continuum have to gain from taking Q's memory and putting
this scenario with him? What possible joy or insight could be gained from it?
And what could be happening that he had to be here for it? What did they want him to
do for Q?
Things hadn't gone right for him and Q, he thought, since they'd met.
realized at some point over the last ten years that Q's original orders hadn't
been to put Humanity on trial, but to restrict their exploration of space.
Thinking about it, as he so often had, he wondered if Q's attempt to tempt
Riker with godhood hadn't been a placating offering to the Continuum after Q had returned from his "failed" mission. They had kicked him out afterwards, and then...
And then Q had requested to join the crew, and then flung them across
galaxy, killing eighteen members of his crew, and quite possibly saving Humanity in
Could that be what the Continuum wanted: to see what Q saw in
Picard here as some sort of representative? It seemed terribly...inefficient.
If they wanted to know what Q saw in Humanity, why didn't they just ask him?
And why put only him here? Surely Q should be interacting with a community of
Humans. If Q had shown up on the Enterprise without his memory or
powers, Picard would have let him interact with his crew. Surely that would
show the Continuum more than they could learn from this...desert laboratory?
His face split into an almost painful yawn. He was exhausted,
and Q was certain to be up in the morning with a hundred questions.
"What are you getting from this? he asked the ceiling. "He's
going to spend
time here, asking questions, and we'll probably find some sort of domestic
balance, until one of us can't take it anymore. What can that teach you?"
The ceiling didn't answer.
As Picard had gone to sleep, he'd told himself to wake up early, and so it wasn't quite dawn when he awoke. He thought about what to do as he washed up; should he perform the Rite as he had been doing, even though he was almost certain that Q was, in some way, responsible for the whole situation? Or should he not do it because Q might make fun of him?
*Oh please, Jean-Luc,* he told himself. *You've been here for five weeks now. He's had ample time to laugh at you, if that's what he intends to do.*
And anyway, there was a part of him that wanted to do the Rite. It had become an important part of his day, not to mention the fact that he found it rather calming. *And this morning,* he thought wryly, *I need all the calm I can muster.*
To Picard's relief, Q did not show up while he was chanting. In fact, Picard was halfway through a simple breakfast of tea, bread and jam before Q stumbled sleepily into the kitchen. The entity had put on a light robe, but his hair still looked slept on, and he was rubbing his eyes. Picard's slight smile was genuine as he said, "Good morning."
Q smiled back, his eyes hazy, and sat at the table. "Good morning, Jean-Luc Picard."
The man shook his head. "Just call me Jean-Luc, all right? Or Picard. Not both, if you please."
"Which one did I call you before?"
The nick-name rose to Picard's lips like a hic-cough, and almost escaped before he bit it back. "You alternated."
"Jean-Luc...that's a Ferengi name?"
"Oh. Q scratched at his hair, then rubbed his forehead. "I feel like someone went inside my head and shoved everything into boxes."
Picard felt sympathy rising, but kept it polite. "That must make things very confusing. Do you want some breakfast?"
"Yes, please, some bread, if there is some."
Picard made to get up, but Q stood before him and walked to the counter, finding flat bread and cheese and pouring himself some lemonade. "I heard something earlier, like a song. Was that you?"
"Yes, actually, it was."
"Do you always sing in the morning? Q asked innocently, as he sat back down.
Picard poured himself some more tea and took a sip before answering.
"It's a ritual," he said. "And I was chanting, not singing."
"A ritual? Q asked. Picard was about to answer, when Q's face suddenly bore an odd expression.
"A ritual," the entity said, as if thinking very hard, "is a formal observance of some kind. Right?"
"That's one way of putting it," Picard replied.
"So, what kind of ritual do you do? Or should I not ask? I'm getting the idea that some rituals are private."
Picard sighed. Q had just given him, all unconsciously, an out.
"It's a religious ritual connected to this place," he finally replied. "I learned it by reading books in the library.
He continued, choosing his words cautiously, until he'd told Q about finding himself in the desert and about most everything that had happened up until he found Q. He was careful not talk about his longing for his ship, or his worries about whatever Q (or whoever) had planned. It was a bare-bones recitation, but Q listened to him raptly.
In fact, Picard realized, Q had been watching him with great fascination ever since the entity had arrived yesterday. Picard didn't know what to make of it. He tried telling himself that, provided Q really *had* lost his memory, Q was simply looking at the only person he knew. Still there seemed to be something more to it, and Picard didn't know what that something was. He did know that it disturbed him.
"So you did this, even though you thought that I was responsible for your being here? Q asked when Picard finished his tale.
Picard shrugged. "There was always the possibility, and there still is, that the natives of this world will appear and will need to know that their rituals have been observed.
Q thought about that for a while, finishing his breakfast. Picard watched him covertly, noting the sad look that settled over Q's features. It was odd, seeing sadness there. He had seen almost everything else on that face: need, fear, anger, annoyance, arrogance, laughter, even joy, but not this melancholy.
"It's a beautiful world, but if I did make this place, then the natives probably don't exist. I mean, I can't make people, can I?
Picard hesitated, and Q's eyes widened. "You can make characters, things that look and act like autonomous beings, but I do not believe you have the power to make actual persons.
Q slightly relaxed.
"However, we can't rule out anything about this world. I simply
don't know what lies beyond the desert, or if anything does lie out there
at all. I only know that here I have been...safe. The ritual
is soothing, if nothing else.
Q reached forward suddenly, gathering their plates and taking them to the sink. He seemed eager not to have Picard help him, so Jean-Luc tidied the room while Q washed and stacked the dishes. When Q turned towards him, wiping his hands, he tried to give the entity an uncomplicated smile.
"I should get dressed, then perhaps we can finish that house tour?"
Picard nodded. He was already dressed in a pair of loose pants and a short-sleeved tunic, clothing which, in spite of being comfortable, frequently made him miss the close fitting gray and black uniform. But it would be absurd to wander around the oasis in his uniform, even if he stripped down to his undershirt. *You dress to suit your surroundings,* he reminded himself as he cleaned up his own dishes. He tried not to think of the floor-length green vest embroidered with silver that he wore during the rites.
He'd spent a lot of time thinking around those rites already today. Now, having Q ask him about them, he couldn't avoid it. If only they didn't seem so perfectly dovetailed into his own sense of place and order. If only they didn't allow him to bring as much or as little into the ceremony as possible. If only If only the incense and the water and the chanting of the Names of the Moons didn't serve to ground him, to center him so securely. It wasn't just that he was centered to this place, and these moons, but he felt that, having been forced to acknowledge the connection between this planet and its moons, he was then more able to look at it and think about his own connection with the universe as a whole.
He sighed and looked at the sourdough starter he had going, trying to distract himself with a mundane task. If Q were really suffering from amnesia, he might as well discover what freshly baked bread was like. And as if the thought of Q had conjured up the entity, he heard footsteps outside the kitchen.
"Well," Q asked, "did I do it right?"
Picard looked at the dark blue pants and the steel gray tunic belted with a brighter blue belt. Even here, without his memory (if he *were* without his memory), Q had a sense of style. "You look fine, Q," he said. "If we were going to be outside for any length of time, we'd have to put on desert robes and scarves."
"Like you had on yesterday? Q asked. When Picard nodded, the entity smiled. "The word that came to mind was 'dashing.' Is that correct?"
"For the clothing perhaps," Picard replied dryly. "I'm hardly a dashing figure myself."
"Well you looked pretty damned dashing yesterday," Q muttered as Picard lit a small lamp from the day hearth, and then headed toward the cellar door. "Where are we going?"
"This is the cellar," Picard said. He opened the door, which almost looked like it was leaning against a wall. Q followed him as he went down the stairs.
"It's a lot cooler down here."
"Yes, the whole set-up is really quite clever," Picard replied, moving toward the cold box. "The spring that feeds the pond outside is actually very cool. Whoever built this place designed this stone box that has a continual flow of cool water around it. It's not a freezer, but it's surprisingly efficient.
Q nodded, looking around at the bins of vegetables and the large jugs that filled the cellar. "What's in the jugs?"
"The very large ones have various grains in them. The smaller ones are either oil or wine."
"This is a lot of food, Jean-Luc. Before Picard could answer, the entity turned to him. "Why would I put you in a place like this?"
"Believe me, Q," Picard replied, "I've been asking myself the same question for the last five weeks."
His expression was closed and distant, and Q let his next question die unspoken. Picard said he wasn't even sure that Q was responsible for their mutual predicament, but Q didn't want to dig too deeply, ask too many questions. Perhaps, with Picard, not knowing was better than knowing. Or at least it was when it came to the big questions.
The problem was, every question seemed big to him, if not enormous. He could almost feel the strangeness in himself, but perhaps it was only the way he was comparing himself to Picard.
The man was so damn *calm,* so disciplined, and yet there was more than a hint of something underneath that Q, quite frankly, found fascinating. He wondered what Jean-Luc would look like when he was angry, or sad, or...anything else. Q knew he was anxious to please the man, in however small a manner. He just didn't know what to offer, or do.
And the worst of it was that Q suspected what Picard most wanted was an explanation and a way out of this place, things which Q would evidently be able to give him under normal circumstances with a literal snap of his fingers. Q wound up staring at his own hand, and brought the middle finger down across his thumb experimentally. Picard whirled on him at the snapping noise, and Q shrugged, truly regretful.
"I just don't seem to have it anymore."
Picard smiled at him, ruefully. "No."
"Have I put you in scenarios like this before? I mean," he rushed on when the man frowned, "perhaps if you could tell me more about how I did it..."
"You've...placed me in made-up situations, yes, but I have no idea how your species manipulates energy and matter in the manner I've seen you achieve."
Q looked miserable, and Picard stilled himself before he took a step forward. Suspicion stabbed its little nails all over his back, like a shiver, but Q was better company when he wasn't moping. "Actually, you should know, there's definitely been a reason for many of the things you've done, as I told you before. In fact," he took a breath, "looking over our entire association, I can tell you without reservation that your presence in my life has led to several undeniable benefits."
Q puzzled on that one. "You mean you're glad we met?"
"Er...yes. Now, the tour?"
Q got the feeling that he should drop the subject. For a second, the fragmented chaos of his memory tossed up the image of two halves of a door, with writing on them. The doors were sliding closed swiftly, shutting him out. He blinked, trying to follow the image, to get more, but then it was gone. He must have looked odd, or something, because Jean-Luc looked at him with some concern.
"Are you all right?"
Q shrugged. "What's 'all right?' I mean, I dont feel ill, but I get these... He paused, not sure he wanted to try to explain. Would Picard even understand?
So he looked around, trying to recapture the fascinated interest he'd felt about this place yesterday. It was actually rather easy to get back into that state of mind; everything seemed so new and interesting. So the smile he offered Picard was genuine. "It's all right. Maybe it's my memory trying to come back. Anyway, weren't you going to show me around more?"
But Picard shook his head. "You get these what?"
Q worried his bottom lip with his teeth, and Jean-Luc kept himself from staring in fascination at the gesture. The creature in front of him sometimes felt wholly like a stranger.
"I get these sort of images, flashes of things."
"What sorts of images? Picard asked.
Q felt a little spurt of irritation. Why was Picard probing so much when the man wouldn't tell Q even a fraction of what he knew about Q? It was hardly fair.
"A door," he said, shortly. "Not a carved wooden one like the ones here, but one that slid closed really quickly. He shrugged again.
Instead of frowning, which Q had expected, Picard looked intrigued. "The doors on the Enterprise slide shut quickly. he said.
For a moment, Q caught a glimpse of that very same deep emotion he'd wanted to see on Picard's face. Longing and worry and pride flickered across those strong aquiline features and then was suppressed again. Picard looked away briefly and then looked back, his face once more calm.
"Have you seen enough of the cellar? he asked, his deep voice again neutral.
"The Enterprise? Q pressed, his hands going to his hips.
Picard frowned. "My ship. It, like all Starfleet ships, has doors which close like this. He gestured with his hands.
Q shook his head. Why couldn't the man just have said it in the first place? Why was the name of his damn ship a secret? It was doubtlessly common knowledge. "No, the doors I saw were double-doors, and they closed inwardly, like this. He gestured with his own hands.
Picard nodded. "Like old-style doors, non-automated."
"Sounds right. Q looked at him carefully. "Tell you what, I'll let you know when I have another, and maybe we'll see a pattern."
"Excellent. Now, why don't we start with the library?"
Q let himself follow this time, and enjoyed the library very much. The books were old and thick, but not crumbling, and not too dusty. He didn't bother with opening them. Perhaps later. He was too busy noticing the way the morning light came in just the way one would wish for reading, and thought in all likelihood it would still be bright and cheerful in the room in the afternoon. Lamps were strategically placed about the room as well, along with several comfortable-looking chairs and a settee.
And over everything were thrown velvet, satin, woven, smooth, patterned, and plain pillows, blending perfectly into the decor. Q fingered several of them, pleased at their fineness. When a half-urge plucked at him to toss one at Picard's head, just to see what he would do, he quelled it regretfully. From there, they went through the "pool room," a large room with almost no floor, just a large pool of clear, clean water. Around the walls were hundreds of small openings in star, sun, and moon shapes.
The sunlight came through in shimmers and flashes, sparkling on the water until Q had to ball his hands into fists to keep from ripping of his clothes and jumping in.
"Do you bathe here often? Q asked hopefully.
Picard should his head. "I find the bathrooms sufficient."
"But... Q stared at him in confusion. "It's gorgeous in here. It would be...fun."
"Feel free to use it yourself," the man said with a wave, turning from the room.
*So, you're a stick-in-the-mud. So disciplined and controlled, you won't let your hair down even when it doesn't matter, is that it?* Q's eyes trailed over that smooth head, his lips twitching. What would it take to get Picard to splash around in the pool with him?
But Picard walked out, and Q followed, to see the larder, the drying room, a parlor, and two storage rooms.
From the last of the storage rooms, Picard led them outside. He was avoiding the actual temple room, and it took him a minute to figure out that he was saving it for last because it looked so impressive when entered from the front. Part of him wanted Q to be as impressed with it as he was, and part of him was hoping that the sight would jog more of Q's memories. After all, if Q had created this, he must have put some effort into it. Perhaps the full-on sight of the place would recall that effort.
He showed Q the more mundane parts of the complex: the plot of grass with the chuptis grazing, the dhoji hutches, the vegetable and herb garden. Q was visibly enthralled with all of it.
"Do you look after all of this? he asked, looking at Picard with respect.
"Most of it looks after itself," Picard replied. He felt a sudden surge of pride, which he tried to ignore.
"Well, still," Q said, gesturing at the garden, "It looks like a lot of work."
"I like it," Picard said, surprising himself. "The work, I mean. I'm used to working hard, but this...well, I suppose I am proud of it."
"You should be," Q said firmly.
"Ah...yes," Picard replied uncertainly. *He's not himself. If he were he'd be mocking me for being proud of performing such menial tasks.
*If he were himself,* another part of his mind replied, *you'd have never let him know how proud of yourself you are.*
He wasn't sure which disturbed him more: Q's respect or his own need for that respect.
He led Q silently back to the lake, and together they watched the palm trees bow from the wind, gently, lazy as the noon sun's heat, settling over them, not to be shaken off. With relief, they turned to the temple, and he gestured Q ahead, not to block his view.
Cool green tile and ice-white stone, insulated from the world, not a single smooth curve or inlaid edge chipped or out of balance. The entire room was a mandala, its focal point the altar with its bowls. The only sounds came from the men who walked the smooth floor.
Q felt suddenly that he was walking underwater, and Picard almost plowed into him as he braked to a complete halt.
"I'm seeing an ocean, and it fills the world...or it did. It's all lost now, drained off...no, burned off by the sun. His voice wavered slightly. The scene in his head for that one second had gone from a coral paradise to absolute loss -- a universe made of the void.
He turned to look at Picard, unaware of the pain in his eyes. "Just another vision. He looked around the temple and shuddered. "Could we get out of here?"
"Certainly," Picard said quickly, turning to the rear door which led back into the living quarters. He didn't squeeze his tone flat, and the concern he felt came over clearly, he knew. *Oh, well. Showing concern can't hurt things too badly, I should think.*
Q didn't speak until they were back at the kitchen. "Sorry about that."
"Don't apologize. This can't be easy on you. Picard hesitated for a moment and then plunged ahead, figuring that it couldn't hurt to tell Q a little about his own experiences, particularly as this one had nothing to do with Q.
"I lost my own memory once," he said. "It was very difficult. He looked down at his hands.
"How did that happen? Q leaned forward curiously, and Picard felt a little better. If he could distract Q away from that image of the drying ocean...
"An alien race, the Sataaran, wiped out the memories of everyone on the Enterprise and seriously damaged our computers. None of us had any idea who we were. He closed his eyes and looked away, remembering the feeling of confusion and powerlessness he'd felt.
"What happened?" Q asked, and Picard heard yet another new thing in that rich voice. Sympathy. Even in the middle of his own problems, Q could be concerned about someone else. Or at least "this" Q could be.
And it was too tempting to tell this Q about the loss of his memory. The story spilled out. Even stripped of its emotional content, something Picard did not want to share with Q, any Q, it was still some time before he finished the tale. When he did finish his stark recitation, talking about the lives lost and the way he'd almost destroyed a fully manned station before he'd learned the truth, he hazarded a glance at Q. The entity's eyes were wide.
"It must be... Q began, and then paused. "How do you deal with so much responsibility, with the knowledge that so much, people's lives even, depend on you?"
Picard suddenly remembered Q lounging on the bridge while the Borg cut into the Enterprise. He felt as if he'd been punched in the gut and he knew his eyes were narrowing.
"I just deal with it," he said tightly. "Excuse me, I have to change. I have work to do in the garden. He stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Q sitting at the table.
An hour passed, and then another, as Q sat there. But the time was not wasted, and when the afternoon shadows agreed with his stomach that it was past lunch time, he reviewed his work.
*So, it's clear he doesn't care for me much, but he seems to feel responsible for me. I've interfered with his command, doubtlessly, and now he must be suspicious that this is all some elaborate game I'm playing. I must have hurt his pride, perhaps deeply, before this. It's probably an act of great kindness, the courtesy he's shown me to this point.*
Q nodded to himself, unconsciously running his fingers over the smooth table-top. He never seemed to be able to sit quite still.
*Then yes, the best thing to do for him is to give him as much space and distance as possible, which is obviously the worst thing for me. Which means that we'll need to work out an agreement, a compromise. If he's a commander, he'll know the need for that as well. We'll establish...parameters.*
Q rose and walked to the kitchen larder, and eventually put together a tray of cheese, fruit and flat bread. He poured two glasses of lemonade and walked with the tray into the garden. Picard was working under the shade, at least. His eyes when he looked up were guarded, but not hostile.
"Time to eat something," Q said quietly as he settled down with the tray.
"Thank you. It's late, but I'll make us a proper dinner in a few hours."
"I'll look forward to it."
Picard nodded and ate quickly. When the tray was clean of all but the plates and cups, Q rose and carried it back into the structure. By the time Jean-Luc came in from the garden, he'd cleaned the kitchen from ceiling to floor and had the sore hands to prove it.
Picard looked around in confusion, then met Q's eyes and thanked him.
Q shrugged. "I needed something to do."
"Well, there are several other things that need doing, if you're complaining about the lack of entertainment here. Picard winced at his own harsh tone, but there was nothing he could think of to do. This wasn't really Q standing here. He had no idea how to approach him. Had he really cleaned the whole kitchen?
Q nodded. "That would be good. Perhaps we could draw up a sort of schedule, so we'll know what the other has done, and will be doing."
Q continued, "And also...I think it would be good if you and I could work out something similar with information."
Q's stiff posture broke suddenly, and his hands came up. "Jean-Luc Picard, I *need* to know more. This ration of data you're giving me, bits and pieces of my life, *my* life, I can't deal with this, I can't function. How would you feel if I knew all about you and I wouldn't *tell* you about it?"
Picard's shoulders and expression revealed resignation. "I imagine I would feel more than a little resentful and frustrated. In fact... he let the sentence die.
"In the past, you have been the one who's known so much more than I have. I've known some resentment in dealing with you."
"So now the tables have turned. Are you enjoying the prospect of a little turn-about and fair play?"
"Revenge, you mean? Picard made himself think about it. "I don't believe so, but I'm just a Human, Q, and as you would ordinarily point out, that means I'm petty, narrow-minded and ape-like."
They both winced this time at the venom in the man's words, and Picard made himself back off, walking to the kitchen counter and then pouring them both a glass of water. He turned and handed Q's glass over, forcing out the words, "I'm sorry."
"Jean-Luc, if you could just give me an outline, an overview --"
"No. Picard was determined. "No, you deserve more than outlines, I'm just not sure what it would help you to know. He drained off his water quickly and set down the glass. Q mimicked him, and they stood quietly, only a few feet apart.
"Perhaps we should go to the parlor and sit," Q ventured. "You could just tell me about how we met." Picard smiled a private smile, then nodded and gestured to the doorway.
Once in the parlor, Picard spent some time putting things back in their places before he sat down. Q, reminding himself of his resolve to give Picard space, tried to remain still. He had chosen a low mound of pillows and he felt himself sinking back into their embrace as he waited for Picard to speak.
"We met close to ten years ago," Picard finally said. He was still facing the low brass tray-table he'd been adjusting, but just when Q decided he'd have to content himself with looking at the back of Picard's head through the whole story, the man turned and sat on one of the low sofas.
"I had just taken command of the Enterprise at the time -- the Enterprise-D, that is -- and we didn't even have a full ship's company. In fact, we were on our way to a place called Farpoint Station to pick up personnel and investigate the station when you threw a huge forcefield around the ship."
Q just nodded. It was obvious that Jean-Luc was having a hard time telling this story and he resolved to refrain from interrupting.
"And then you appeared on my bridge and told me, all of us really, to go home."
"Just like that? Q asked, instantly forgetting his resolution.
"Well, you mocked our advances a bit too," Picard said. "I said something about your acting as judge, jury and executioner, and, from that, you got the idea of putting us on trial for the crimes of Humanity."
Picard's gaze traveled inward and Q waited, feeling simultaneously curious and afraid. Did he really want to know what he'd done to this man and his crew? Or would it be easier to live in ignorance? He could just stop Picard now, he realized; it would be so much easier on both of them.
He thought of what he'd seen of Picard's character up to this point. The man certainly didn't seem to be interested in doing things the easy way, and he'd hardly admire someone who took the easy way out. Not only that, but Q felt a *need* to know. Without knowledge he was...somehow incomplete.
"I...know this isn't easy, Jean-Luc Picard," he said as Picard remained silent. "I appreciate it, though."
Picard looked up at that and nodded.
"You created a court room from one of the most brutal periods of Earth's history and conducted a trial against... He paused and an odd expression crossed his face. "I've never really thought about this before, but you chose an interesting group of people to try for *Human* crimes."
"Of the four of us, I was the only one who was actually born on Earth."
"And the others?"
Q listened, fascinated as Picard talked about his officers. The captain's affection was obvious as was his sorrow when he spoke of Tasha Yar. His use of the past tense made Q realize that the woman had died, and Q desperately hoped that he had nothing to do with it.
He let Picard speak about his people for quite a long time. It was interesting, listening to the man dodge the story he'd promised to tell. It was almost as if he were not only avoiding the memories of the trial, but also trying to...spare Q? Q wasn't sure.
"And I? What was I doing while you and your officers were acquitting yourselves? Q asked finally.
"You agreed with me that finding us guilty of past crimes served little purpose. We agreed to test us with our current mission to Farpoint Station. You released my vessel, and I met my first officer, who already had suspicions about the station and the Bandi who were offering its use to us. We investigated, you...appeared at intervals to...urge us along in our task. When my people were on the station, we intercepted a life-form which attacked the Bandi city, and my people investigated further --"
"Jean-Luc, how did I urge you along in your task, exactly?"
The man frowned, wrestling with the question and Q's pinning eyes, then sighed. "You would show up on the ship, and...taunt us. Me, in particular."
"Were the words 'petty' and 'ape-like' involved?"
Picard's lips twitched slightly, then he dropped his voice into a sort of insinuating hiss, "'The answer is as plain as the noses on your ugly little primate faces.'"
Q chuckled, stopped himself in horror, and then burst into belly-laughs, holding his stomach.
Picard tried to glare at him, then couldn't help a dry chuckle of his own.
"I'm sorry," Q gasped out when he could.
Picard waited until Q was calm, then shook his head. "It's all right, Q. Even then I had realized..."
Q waited to see if Picard really needed any prodding.
"I realized that you say things you don't really mean, about all manner of things, just to get reactions from people. You use words as a weapon, but you sometimes...sometimes what you say is just what needs to be said, even if the manner in which you express yourself is less than tactful."
"You're saying I needed to call you primates?"
"No, I'm saying there were *other* things you said, things about how Humanity was suffering from complacency, in particular, that have been helpful to my people. The primate remark I simply ignored."
Q looked at him oddly. "You memorized it, though."
Picard smiled. "It was memorable."
"How did I react when you figured out the mystery of Farpoint Station? What *was* the secret of Farpoint Station?"
"The entire station was made of an entity, a space creature that had been wounded. The Bandi had captured it and were forcing it to make itself into a station. Its mate came and rescued it, and we helped."
Q whistled. "That's pretty good. Did I congratulate you, at least?"
"You left, which had been our agreement, though you said you would be back, and you made reference to my first officer, Commander Riker."
"A few months later you returned and offered to make him one of the Q. You and I... Picard looked quite uncomfortable at this point, but Q was enthralled. "We made a bet."
"A bet? About what?"
"About whether Riker would accept your offer. I said he wouldn't."
"And you were right, right?"
"What did I bet? Q's eyes sparkled with inner suggestions.
"You promised not to come back to the ship."
"And what did you promise, if you lost?"
Picard spoke quietly, but the words were painful enough on their own. "My command."
Q blanched. "Seriously? I mean, you think...if you had lost, would I have insisted?"
Picard shrugged. "I knew he wouldn't accept."
"But I didn't know that. Q looked disgusted and picked at the seam of a pillow, his legs crossing and re-crossing. "Riker refused to be a Q, and I left?
Picard couldn't help smiling. "You had dressed up like a monk, and talked about praying for guidance."
"Heaven help me," Q moaned. "And you...?"
"I called you a flim-flam man and ordered you off my ship. Then the Continuum took you away."
"But I came back?"
Picard, lost in the memory of actually beating Q at his own game, came up short. He knew he couldn't help the pain that crossed his face, even as he tried to stop it.
"Yes," he said quietly. "And..."
Picard couldn't tell the story. He just couldn't get the words out without accusations, both against Q and himself. He'd come to some sort of peace with himself over the arrogance that had made him refuse Q's offer to join the crew. He'd even told himself that Q had, in a horrible way, done the Federation a favor. But it had been such a hard-won favor, and, as was only fitting under the circumstances, he'd paid such a high price.
"I can't... he said, his words falling gently into the silence of the parlor. "I lost; you won, and we both paid for it."
Q hesitated, wanting to push, to prod and learn more. But something had happened between them that had scarred this man deeply and he couldn't pick at that scar right now. And perhaps it was cowardly of him, but, right now, he didn't want to know how he himself had paid for whatever victory he'd had over Picard.
He looked around the still room, and noticed that the light had shifted quite a bit.
"It's getting late," he said, his voice as soft as Picard's had been. "Perhaps we could make dinner and talk about our...less painful encounters? He found himself desperately hoping there *were* less painful encounters.
It wasn't long before Picard was stirring the flour into the sourdough starter as Q peeled beans.
"Actually," Picard said, talking primarily to the dough in his hands, "there was a time before this that we've interacted while you were without your powers."
"This has happened to me before?"
"Not really, you had you memory, then. You were being punished by the Continuum for being a menace, though it wasn't until after you left the ship again that I believed you really were as helpless as you made yourself out to be. A long pause, while thoughts were evidently collected, and Picard continued. "You showed up, you see, on the bridge, naked and then complaining about the clothes we had for you. When we didn't fall over ourselves comforting you, you demanded to know what you could do to convince us of your desperation. Worf -- my security officer -- said that you could die."
Q laughed, surprising Picard considerably. "This Worf fellow sounds like a hoot. Are he and I friendly at all?"
Picard laughed himself. "No."
Q sighed and took the beans to the sink. Picard watched him peripherally as he worked the dough, sticky and still warm from the water, over the board. Q seemed so damn domestic standing there, washing more beans to peel, his face concentrating on Picard's story.
Q didn't return to the table, peeling the beans at the sink, his own eyes watching Picard without seeming to, watching, in particular, the way the man's strong forearms flexed with the kneading motions. "Am I friendly with any of your crew?"
Picard winced slightly, then seemed to reconsider. "Lieutenant Commander Data watched over you while you were on the ship, and the two of you talked at some length. He even pleaded your case somewhat when the Calamarain showed up. Q frowned at him. "A race of sentient beings living as swirls of ionized gas. We gathered you had been unkind to them, and they wanted you badly enough they kept attacking the Enterprise while we wearing trying to get the Brel IV moon back into its orbit."
"Please, tell me I did something more than peek around corners and taunt you this time."
"Actually, you were quite helpful in Engineering, if somewhat difficult to work with. However, the Calamarain wouldn't leave us alone, and Data was injured."
"Badly? The single word conveyed so much concern and self-loathing that Picard let his hands rest on the mound of dough as he turned to look into Q's face.
"No. We were able to fix him up. And then you tried to save us all."
Q looked wildly hopeful. "I did?"
Picard nodded. "It was an act of great selfishness and sacrifice at the same time: you stole a shuttle and tried to fly off, offering yourself to the Calamarain. The Q were evidently so impressed by this that your powers were restored. Picard turned away from the look on Q's face and finished kneading the sourdough before placing it in a greased bowl. "When you showed up on the bridge again, you had a Mariachi band in tow."
"Is that good?"
Picard snorted softly. "Not on my bridge, it isn't. But you left only after giving Data a present he greatly cherished. He's an android, and didn't have an emotion chip then. You made him laugh."
"With my Mariachi band? And what is one of those, anyway?"
"Mexican music...a type of music enjoyed on Earth. And then you put the Brel IV moon back in proper orbit and went away. It was almost a year before we saw you again."
"And then? Q asked eagerly.
Picard carefully washed his hands, and then dried them with equal care. How to explain Vash to Q?
"Or is this one of those times you don't want to talk about?"
Q watched as Picard placed the towel over its hook. When the man turned to look at him though, he did not have that tight look of pain that Q had seen before. This time he was actually sort of smiling, a rueful smile that made Q want to smile back.
"Q, the only reason I don't want to talk about it is that it made me look rather foolish. Nothing earth-shattering, and it wasn't an 'end of life was we know it' situation, but I don't like looking silly any more than the next man."
*Probably less than the next man,* Q thought. *Then again, what do I know?*
"You showed up," Picard said, beginning to work on the rice, "when the last thing I needed was a distraction. he chuckled. "I had a ship full or eminent archeologists, I was working on the speech I was going to give them, and my lover was on board, demanding way too much of my time and attention."
*Lover!* Q thought. *He's got a lover?* For some reason, once his mind actually gave him enough information on the word lover, the concept of Picards having one seemed...if not actually disturbing, then certainly odd.
"Let me guess," he said aloud, "you told me to get off your ship?"
Picard turned to look at him in surprise. "You remember that?"
"Far from it," Q replied, "it just seems to be a recurring theme."
"Oh, fair enough. Q thought he caught the faintest hint of a smile, but it vanished swiftly as Picard turned back to the stove.
"So what *happened?*
Picard frowned at the pot as he put the lid on it. Q's voice was almost desperate, and it had been through much of this conversation. *Be fair, Jean-Luc. If you knew nothing about yourself, wouldn't you be desperate to know all you could?* The thought bothered him, and he stood staring at the pot for a moment. *I'm beginning to believe him,* he thought. *My God, I'm actually beginning to believe that he has no memory.*
Resolutely he turned and looked at Q
"You wanted to get me something as a gift," he said. "You went about telling me so in the most insulting manner than you could, but you seemed interested in repaying a debt you felt you owed after the Br'el incident. when I told you 'thank you, but no thank you,' you seemed to just take off. Of course you didn't really go away. Instead you watched me have a quarrel with Vash..."
"My lover. She's an archeologist...of sorts."
"You still see her? Q asked hoping his voice was casual enough. He wondered what this woman looked like, how she acted. *I bet she's really reserved,* he thought. *An archeologist...that's a scientist who studies the past by uncovering artifacts from earlier times. She's probably as dry and pedantic as Jean-Luc Picard is.*
"No," Picard replied, without regret.
"Oh. So I watched you two fight?"
"And then you came and needled me about the relationship. How Vash and I sounded married, how I obviously cared about her. I don't really know what your point was; I guess you wanted me to admit that I loved her. You told me that you thought I was a little more evolved than most of my race, but that this woman had made me small."
"The Continuum Q interrupted. "My people?"
"I... Picard paused, thinking. "I honestly don't know. I don't suppose I've thought about it much."
"Oh," Q replied, sounding a little sad.
Picard felt an urge to get back to the story at hand. The next morning, while I was giving my speech, you pulled me, my senior staff, and Vash off the Enterprise and put us into Sherwood Forest as Robin Hood and his Merry Men," he saw the look of incomprehension on Q's face. "It's a legendary Earth setting."
"Well, that sounds interesting at least. Q tried a small smile which wasn't answered. In fact, Picard began to look quite grumpy.
"The point of this little scenario of yours was to show me that love was too dangerous for me. I ended up almost getting myself killed while you sat at the table and ate chicken. Then when it was all over you took Vash off on some sort of galactic tour, and, I heard later, abandoned her in the Gamma Quadrant."
"Oh dear," Q whispered, overtly distressed.
Picard relented somewhat. "I heard that you also helped save her and Deep Space Nine from destruction, and I gather the parting was mutually agreed upon. Still, the history of my almost-demise has become one of my first officer's favorite date-stories. For that alone, I should cast you out into the desert."
Q looked up from putting the beans on to boil, smiling now openly at the man's joke. He didn't push it, however, and walked to the table to set it for dinner.
"And how long was it that time until we met again?"
"About another year. A young woman from Earth turned out to be a Q. Her parents had been executed by the Continuum. You arrived on the ship to help her learn about her powers..."
"That sounds decent of me!"
"...and to decide if she should be executed herself."
Q threw himself down in a chair with a groan. "This just gets
worse and worse! I shudder to think what I did to the poor Calamarain!"
A moment passed while Q put his head in his hands. "Well? Did
I kill her?"
"No, as it turned out, she accepted her Q powers and left with you. And the next time I saw you -- well, actually, I'm not sure I did see you. It might have been a dream, and you never mentioned it, afterwards."
Q's head rose with a snap. "What happened in your dream? Picard looked uncomfortable, and Q realized his heart was actually beating hard in his chest. A curious sensation.
"As I said, I'm not sure," the man said slowly, stirring the beans before fishing one out and pressing it between his fingers. "Not quite done."
"You may have saved my life, though it was only with another harsh lesson, this one about how important my past is to me. For that, I admit, I felt quite grateful."
Q smiled and leaned back. "You and I we seem to pack a lot into short visits."
Picard "hmmed" slightly.
"How did I save your life?"
"I was shot with an energy weapon, my heart fused. That's how I might have died. But as for how you saved my life, again, it's beyond me."
Q looked quite puzzled. "Fused? That doesn't sound right."
"I have an artificial heart," Picard replied. He peeked at the rice, and then looked back at Q. "I got stabbed in the chest as a very young man. In my dream...or whatever it was, you took me back to that point in time and gave me the option of not getting stabbed."
"Which you took, of course," Q replied. "Who wouldn't want to avoid that?"
Picard laughed a little. "I took it all right, after you essentially bullied me into it. And it was a mistake. A very big mistake."
Picard sighed and, moved away from the stove to lean against the counter. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "look at yourself now."
When Q glanced at himself curiously, Picard smiled and shook his head.
"Metaphorically, I mean. You don't have your past and so you don't know who you are. Any being that travels in linear time, like I do, is defined by their past. Take that past away, or change it, and you redefine that being."
Q nodded. "So I'm essentially a...clean slate here."
"Exactly!" Picard said.
Q looked at him in surprise; the man looked...not exactly happy, but something, pleased maybe. Q wondered why.
"And so you changed when you changed your past?"
"Very much so. I had to tell you that an early death was preferable to being who I'd become."
"So you got stabbed again, but you didn't die later. Why not?"
"I have to assume that you saved my life, that the lesson was enough and you didn't intend to kill me."
Picard was taking the rice off the heat, when Q asked, in a hesitant voice, "So, I'm not *all* bad?"
Picard's eyes narrowed. "The next time you showed up, you told me I was going to be responsible for the destruction of all Humanity."
Picard drained the beans and stirred up some onions, caramelizing them
over a hot flame, before mixing tumeric and chopped hard-boiled eggs in
with the rice and beans. Then he served up the plates and sat down
with more lemonades before, finally, meeting Q's sad eyes. "It was
an order from the Continuum, Q. And you helped me as much as you
could. With your help, I prevented Humanity's destruction, and solved
a temporal puzzle. After that, we had a talk, I thanked you, you
made enigmatic comments about my future, and then said we'd meet again.
He waved his fork around slightly. "I think it possible
you might have had this place in mind at the time...though that was several years ago. I've been...wondering when we'd be seeing each other again."
Q ate some of the rice and beans, his eyes not leaving his plate. "And you know nothing more about the Continuum?"
"Guinan, a mutual acquaintance, said that some members of the Continuum were 'almost respectable.' Other than that, no, I'm afraid not."
"When I'm not under direct orders from the Continuum or fearing for my life, my interactions with you seem governed by a desire to teach you things, especially things about yourself. Q waved his own fork. "Have you, in fact, been learning anything about yourself here?"
Picard let several minutes pass as he considered Q's question. Trust the entity, even without his memory, to ask him something so difficult and sit so expectantly for his answer.
"I suppose," he said at last, "that I have been a little disturbed by the peace I've found here. The rituals and rites have been calming. I tend to think of myself as an adventurer who hates routine. You might have been thinking to disabuse me of that notion."
Q frowned. "Would that sort of insight be helpful to you? I mean, you have to command your ship, and it has its own rituals, I'm sure. I don't see this changing your life much."
"I'm not sure your intention has ever been getting me to change the facts of my life so much as my attitude towards it."
"I wonder why, though. I mean, do I just feel the need to prove to you over and over that I'm right? Q's voice wavered slightly as his attention strayed. "Hey, how old am I, anyway?"
"I have no idea. Millions of years old, at least, I should think."
"And how old do Humans live to be?"
"We can live to around a hundred and fifty years, with care."
Q wasn't sure if he kept the shock of pain those words caused from showing on his face.
"Q? Picard asked, dropping his fork on his plate and leaning toward Q. "Are you all right?"
"It's just...I...I don't know what to think right now."
Picard desperately wished for the presence of Deanna Troi. How could he help Q with whatever it was that had startled and hurt the entity? He didn't know the first thing about helping an amnesiac, let alone one with whom he'd so often been at odds. *Don't be such a coward, Jean-Luc,* he told himself sternly. *Deanna's not here; you're all he's got.*
"All right," he said, trying to keep his voice steady but interested. "Something about the age discrepancy has upset you. Can you isolate it? Even as he spoke, he braced for a sarcastic remark, steadied to have Q look up and needle him for practicing without a license. Instead, Q frowned in concentration.
"It just...made me feel sad, I guess."
"That you've lost so much of your memory?"
"No! Ten years or ten million years...what difference does that make?"
"Good point," that voice calmly replied.
Q didn't know what Picard was doing, but something in the man's face and body language made him realize that Picard was genuinely concerned about him. The man was so quiet now, but it was an encouraging silence and it made Q feel that he could take his time, that Picard would wait for him to figure things out. He tried to pin-point that moment of pain.
"It's you," he murmured finally. "I felt sad knowing you have so little time."
Picard looked surprised and once more Q felt that tiny, private dagger-thrust of pain. Picard was surprised when he said something nice, he was surprised when Q expressed any sort of feeling, he was surprised when Q indicated that he felt pain for Picard's mortality...*Damnit, what did I *do* to him?*
"I don't think of it that way," Picard was saying now, his voice reflective. "I can't. I think I'd begun to think of it that way, but then, between your lesson when you took me back in time and my encounter with a man who was trying to turn back his own clock at any expense..."
His voice trailed off and Q waited, wondering what was going on in Picard's memory. *Once,* he thought, *I would have known just by wanting to know.* The thought made him feel a little odd. Had he done things like that? Intruded on this man's mind simply out of idle curiosity?
"Each day comes along," Picard said slowly, "and we have to live in it. There's no avoiding the future, it will happen and we will deal with it. We continually make decisions that shape the future, but we can't see the results of those decisions as we make them. It's...it's the frightening thing about being mortal and linear. Should I say yes to *this* and risk *that* future, or should I say no and create a different future? If I do everything exactly right, can I spare myself pain of any kind?"
"And can you?"
Picard looked up, half-surprised to remember that he had an audience. "I met that man," he said, "the one who was trying to return to a past that didn't hurt as much as the future, at the same time my brother and my nephew died. He looked down at his hands and the dark wood of the table underneath them. "There was nothing *I* could have done differently in my life that would have saved them, unless I'd changed myself so drastically that I wouldn't be me.
"Yes, I could have been there, and then, maybe, instead of Robert and Rene, I would have been working on the piece of equipment that exploded. But then I would have been Jean-Luc Picard the vintner's younger brother and not Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Starfleet."
"You had that choice at one point? the soft voice from across the table asked.
"Choice? and Q could hear the irony in the man's voice. "I had to fight my family, my father and brother, incredibly hard to be who I am now. Yes, I had a choice, but," and that elegant head raised and Q found himself looking into a pair of sad but aware hazel eyes, "if you took me back, knowing what I know now, I'd make the same choice. After all, for all I know, I could have been there and they still could have died."
"And don't you do important things as a captain? You told me I made you save Humanity that time, have you had to do that sort of heroic thing other times?
Picard smiled wryly. "Rather often of late, it seems."
Q was amazed to hear the man speak of something so important and epic in that sad, almost resigned tone. It occurred to him that he could listen to the good captain speak for hours. As it was, their plates were clean and the evening was late, and he wasn't even tired. Picard's next words, however, shocked him.
"You're responsible for helping me be who I am now, Q. I *can't* begrudge you that."
"Even though you want to? Q's own voice was resigned as well. Picard frowned at him.
"No...it's more complicated than that. Perhaps, if we have to stay here long enough, you'll understand what I'm saying."
Q nodded carefully. "I'll try, Jean-Luc Picard. He rose and took the plates to the sink, washing up while Picard disappeared for a time. He thought he heard that singing again, but didn't want to disturb any rituals. When the man returned, he did indeed seem more at peace for the exercise.
"Well, if I weren't here," Q said briskly, drying his hands on a towel, "what would you do now?"
"Read in the library, I suppose."
They walked the short way together, with Q trying to pretend that their silence was companionable. They lit the lamps, took books from the shelves, and settled into chairs on opposite sides of the room. It was several minutes before Q put his book down with a sigh.
"I can't read."
Picard stared at him.
"I thought I might get the hang of it if I tried long enough, but it's just a bunch of symbols, complete gibberish."
"My God," Picard said softly. Q flinched and the captain realized that he hadn't been able to hide his anger completely.
"They took *that* from you as well? He remembered being in a body that was too young and how he'd had to step down from his command. At least he'd still had the *memory* of his life, his accumulated knowledge and the capacity to learn more.
"Which," he said carefully, "would bother you less, my teaching you to read, or my reading to you?"
Q remembered what he'd thought only moments before, and smiled. "I think I'm too overwhelmed by everything to try to learn something new right now. I mean, everything's new, right?"
Picard nodded. His initial burst of anger at the Continuum had died down and in its passing he realized hat he utterly believed Q now. And so he had to stop thinking (as much as he could, at least) of this man as Q. This was *not* the Q he knew and it would be unfair to judge him by actions he couldn't even remember taking.
"I wouldn't mind reading to you," he said. "If, later, you want me to teach you how to read this script, I'll be happy to do that."
"Thank you," Q said. He looked at the page of the book he'd been trying to read. "It *is* beautiful script."
"I thought so too," Picard said, settling into the pillows on the floor near Q's chair. "It looks, like much of this place, Arabic or Persian. He laughed softly. "I shouldn't be able to read it either, but when I got here, I could."
"So I did that to you."
"Someone did," Picard said. He looked at the book in his hands and then at the book he'd brought with him from his own chair. "Poetry or prose? he asked.
"Uh...what's the difference?"
Then as Picard drew breath to answer, Q held up his hand. "Wait... Q took a deep breath and let the words come out of his mouth:
"She dwells with Beauty -- Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh
Turning to pleasure while the bee-mouth sips:"
Picard wondered what on earth had caused Q to remember this one. But, for some strange reason when Q paused, and looked at him, he nodded and finished the verse.
"Ay, in the very temple of her Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovereign shrine.
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might
And be among her cloudy trophies hung."
Q had closed his eyes to listen to Picard's recitation, but when the captain fell silent, he looked at Picard a little helplessly. "Kind of sad, isn't it?"
"Well," Picard said, "not exactly. Keats might have been trying to say something about the transitory nature of inspiration and life and the inseparability of joy and melancholy.
"Might have been? Q was surprised that Picard didn't lay down the law here as he had so many other times in the short time Q had known him.
"I would never," Picard replied dryly, "presume to speak for someone
who was one of the greatest poets of his time, even on the subject of a
poem that isn't considered one of his finer efforts. He shrugged
and picked up the book Q had been looking at. "I think, perhaps,
we should stick with prose tonight. This is a book of short stories;
they're rather like fables or parables, but they're interesting even if
you're not trying
to find a message in them. Shall I?"
"Please," Q replied.
"'The Prince and the Mason,'" Picard read. "And so it came to pass, in the third year of Shihiva's reign, a great drought came upon the land. Many were the people who took ill, and even in the richest quarters of El Sagil, disease and hunger visited."
Q leaned his head back and listened to the story of the brave young men who discovered a new way to bring water to El Sagil. Picard's rich voice brought the story to life and soon the man was doing different voices for the characters. When the story came to its happy ending, Picard, without being asked, moved into the next one. At some point he moved to lean against a nearby sofa and, as he began a third story, Q opened his eyes and looked at him, still under the spell of that voice.
Sharp features softened by the warm light of the pierced metal lamps, Picard's face was all curves of light and shadows. Q let his eyes follow one shadow down the captain's neck to the midnight blue silk tunic the man wore. The thin lines of gold embroidery on it glittered every time Picard paused to breathe, and Q found himself breathing in the same rhythm. And still, the voice read on.
"It's amazing," the entity breathed.
"What? The story?"
"Your voice. I could listen to it forever."
The sting of the old memory surprised him. Kamala had said something so similar. But he only smiled at Q. "I do believe, Q, that you are about to fall asleep on the sofa."
Q yawned and nodded. "Not a bad way to go, really. Finish the story you're doing, please. Then I'll go to bed like a good boy."
Picard looked back to his book. "And in the lake of still waters the woman saw her beloved, the eyes which had known her, the hands which had touched her skin, the body which had shared with hers. She could not curse the love which now seemed a torment --"
"Jean-Luc, are you sure you read that right?"
"Read what right?"
"'The body which had shared with hers.' Shared what? Is there a word missing?"
"I believe it's a euphemism, Q."
"Really, Q! You can't have lost that much of your memory!"
"Oh. Q laughed softly. "You mean it's sexual. Hm. 'Sharing.' Not bad for a euphemism."
Picard grunted and sought his place in the story.
"Have we ever shared, Jean-Luc?"
"Q!" The book slipped from Picard's grasp and fell to the floor with a thud.
"I'll take that as a 'no.'" Q sighed and sat up. "You must have been very lonely here, these weeks, all by yourself. Considering how kind you've been to me, and what a bastard I've been to you, before, I should think it only fair if, well, you know."
Picard's mouth worked slightly before the words came out, "If I know what?"
"If you ever wanted me to do something for you, sexually. I wouldn't mind. Really."
"Q, listen to me carefully. You and I have never... Picard trailed off, looking, to Q's surprise, somewhat pensive.
The captain didn't want to lie to Q, however much his current suggestion rattled him. And it wasn't entirely true that *nothing* of a sexual nature had existed between them, even if it had only been suggestion and innuendo. But of primary importance here was getting Q *never* to make those sorts of suggestions again. He cleared his throat.
"Sex, Q, is simply not a part of our relationship, nor will it ever be."
"Oh. Q looked somewhat lost for a moment. "But you said you didn't have a lover anymore. Or has someone taken Vash's place?"
"That's really none of your business, Q!"
"But," Q was looking very puzzled now indeed, "don't Humans need sex, the way they need air and food and sleep? If we're stuck here together --"
"Q, this is not an issue here!" Picard stood, bent down for his book, put it on the table, and walked to the doorway. "Please do me the courtesy of never raising the question of...being intimate with each other again."
"As you wish, Jean-Luc. I'm sorry I... There was no one left to speak to. Q looked around the empty room sadly. He'd only wanted to help.
he singing or chanting or whatever it was that Jean-Luc Picard did in the mornings didn't exactly wake Q up, but it did let him know that perhaps it was time to get out of bed. He hadn't slept very well, and his eyes felt gritty and tired. He thought he'd had dreams, but he couldn't remember them.
He could remember his offer to Picard though. He wasn't quite sure why he'd been turned down. Picard didn't want to talk about it, but Q had so many questions that he wasn't sure he could refrain from asking them. Maybe Picard would change his mind and they could talk.
*Not a chance,* he told himself. *I'll bet he *never* changes his mind once he's made a decision.*
After hastily washing up, he made his way to the kitchen. An incredible smell was making its way down the corridor and Q's stomach suddenly woke up.
"What *is* that smell?"
"Good morning, Q."
"Oh, good morning. What...?"
Picard smiled; he really couldn't help it. Q sounded so eager, and so *real.*
"It's the bread I was working on last night," he explained as Q moved around the kitchen getting out plates and cups.
"Well, it smells just like the best thing I've ever smelled. Q laughed.
"Well, I suppose the competition isn't too fierce. My first smell was my own putrid body, then there was the soap in the bath, then the smell of the clothes you got me -- very nice -- and then the moon pool... He trailed off, looking at Picard with affectionate confusion.
Picard stopped laughing and turned away. "Sorry. It just seemed amusing. Well, now you have a universe of smells to learn over... Picard trailed off himself, pulling the bread from the oven and setting it on the marble counter. "I wonder, Q. Could this be some sort of survival phase of your species?"
Q swallowed thickly, and his mouth instantly re-watered. "What?"
"This business of losing your memory. If you've really been alive so long, perhaps this is the Q's way of making the world an interesting place again. But then, why would you lose your powers?"
Q thought a moment, wondering how long it was until the bread would be ready to eat. The heat off it felt great as he leaned in for a discreet sniff. "Perhaps I haven't lost them. Perhaps I've just forgotten how to access them.
"Would you like some bread, Q?"
Q smiled happily. "Yes, please."
Picard cut four thick slices, then carried the bread with butter and jam to the table. While Q devoured his first slice, Jean-Luc set out two cups of coffee before joining him.
"This is incredibly delicious," Q said, reaching for the next slice.
Picard smiled, more pleased with the simple compliment than he wanted to admit. "Perhaps later we'll make doughnuts. You'd like those, I'm sure."
Q smiled more broadly then ever, his lips a little shiny with butter. "I'm sure I would too, if you think so."
Picard looked down at his plate for a moment. Why did Q's innocent pleasure in everything bother him so much? Or was his own pleasure in watching Q really the thing that bothered him? Q should have reminded him of a child, but he didn't. Picard kept coming up with the comparison to Data.
He wondered if that comparison was leading him to feel something that felt almost like amused affection for Q. He countered the thought with the idea of Datas offering him sex, and he almost choked on his coffee.
"Are you all right? Q asked, concern obvious on his face.
Picard cleared his throat. "Just a cough," he said.
And he almost instantly felt odd about lying to Q. He'd lied to Q before, but it was always the same as lying to Troi; there was the understanding that his lie or evasion was being accepted as a social courtesy. Well, at least, with Troi there was. Picard didn't really know why Q had never called him on his fabrications or evasions. Now he could lie to Q with impunity.
He didn't like the feeling.
"Where are you? a quiet voice asked, gently breaking his train of thought.
"Oh...I was thinking. He took a deep breath. "About lies and truths, actually."
"What about them? Have you been lying to me?"
"Not...I've been evading your questions, but you know that. I have my reasons. As for lying? Well, just now, I wasn't really coughing, I was laughing at a private joke that I'd rather not explain. He shook his head. "It was what we Humans call a social or little white lie."
"I see. And it's supposed to make things work between people? I assume that the idea is that you don't want to mention the private joke, and you don't want me to feel bad about your not sharing it with me, so you say you coughed."
Picard smiled ruefully. "That's the idea all right."
Q frowned a little. "Am I supposed to know you're lying and let it go? he asked.
"That's the general idea."
Q frowned more deeply. "Just like that? How am I supposed to stop wondering what you've lied about?"
Picard opened his mouth to answer, but Q continued:
"How do I know it wasn't a joke about me?"
"Well, it did involve you, slightly."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
The captain sighed. He really didn't want to think about what it would mean to be completely honest with Q every second of the day. "You remind me of someone on my ship, one of my crew, whom I've known for years. He has a habit of doing things which seem humorous, unintentionally. I was laughing at that."
Q looked hurt. "I seem ridiculous to you?"
"No, no. Picard felt himself sinking. "Not at all. Just...your present condition, where everything seems new to you and different and worth exploring, it makes you like this crewmember of mine. His name is Data. I told you about him."
"The android I made laugh."
"Well, that's something, I suppose," Q said, eyeing the bread as though wondering if it would be rude to cut another slice. Picard made a "go ahead" gesture towards the knife.
Q shrugged and took the knife. "You're fond of Data. It shows."
Picard frowned this time, and rose from the table. His coffee was finished, and he wanted to start on the laundry. "I would appreciate it if you would put anything you want cleaned out in the hall," he said. "I'm going to do the wash."
"Right," Q said around the bread in his mouth. "And I'm going to clean the floors."
"Good," Picard replied. As Picard efficiently tidied up his breakfast things, Q stared at his back and tried to figure out what he'd said to make the man just close up like that.
* He's fond of Data. Is Data his lover? Or would he like Data to be his lover? Would an android be able to be somebody's lover? He said I made Data laugh *before* he had emotions; what did he mean by that?*
Q shook his head as Picard left the kitchen without a word more. He wanted to jump up and offer to help do the wash, which he thought had something to do with clean clothes, but it was obvious that Picard didn't want him around.
*Not a morning person.*
Q stiffened a little as the phrase popped into his head, and then his shoulders slumped. Just what he needed, another useless bit of information. He could feel himself starting to get edgy, even a little sad. He needed to get outside and distract himself.
The world outside certainly provided enough distractions.
"Did I really do *all* this? Q murmured as he wandered around the back of the building.
The morning air was still faintly cool, and it smelled almost as good, in a very different way, as the bread Picard had made. Q found himself staring at one of the bright birds the wandered the grounds and his spirits began to rise. He still had questions, millions of them, but now they were about this place and his own role in creating it.
Q looked at the bird, and followed it as it made its stately way across a patch of grass. *How would anyone go about creating something like that? Jean-Luc Picard said all of this was similar to his own world, but I still would have had to know *so* much to be able to create even that bird.*
He thought about something else Picard had said. *Would the universe be boring if you know that much? He seems to think so. Did I do this out of boredom?* He thought about being someone who would just kidnap a man from his starship and bring him here just to alleviate boredom. *No, I don't think so. He implied that even when I'm at my worst, or the worst he'll tell me at least, I do things for more of a reason than that. So *why* did I go through all this trouble?"
Q sighed and looked around, the bird having wandered away while he was thinking.
The small ornamental garden was to his left, and he turned toward absently. He'd been curious about the flowers yesterday, but hadn't wanted to slow things down while Picard showed him around. But now he could look at the flowers for a while and then go wash floors.
The range of colors in the garden was amazing, and he looked at them all feeling a little bewildered. What would it be like to look at these flowers and know their names? To maybe even know something about them? Maybe that was what gave Picard such an air of authority.
*He *knows* things,* Q thought. *Maybe everyone who has a memory is like him.* But his mind balked at the idea. A whole starship full of people like Jean-Luc Picard? It seemed impossible.
A bright patch of gold blooms caught his eye and he moved closer. His mind, for once helpful, tossed up the image of something like a glass, only with flowers in it.
"A vase!" he said aloud. "You cut flowers and you put them in a vase because they look good that way.
He decided that the gold flowers, and maybe a few of the pale peach-colored ones, would look good in the kitchen. If there weren't a vase anywhere, he could use a glass or something. With that in mind, he bent down to pick some of the flowers.
Picard was trying to find some sort of balance, which was not an easy thing to do while washing laundry by hand. *Nothing,* he told himself wryly, *makes one appreciate the little things like having to do without them. Even Father never wanted Maman to do the washing by hand.* To be fair, he wouldn't have done so well at this whole stint of domesticity if he had grown up in a thoroughly modern home, but Picard wasn't interested in being fair.
*No, you'd rather sulk,* he told himself.
He certainly had enough to sulk about. He'd believed Q last night, but then this morning, while they were talking about lies, Q had echoed his own thoughts enough to make him wonder if the entity were playing a particularly subtle game with him.
*But even Q's subtleties are usually flamboyant,* he reminded himself.
As he reached for another sheet, he heard a yell from a different part of the grounds. The yell was followed by more yells and Picard dropped the sheet and ran toward the sounds.
He found Q sitting on the grass in the flower garden, clutching at his hand and yelling, "Ow!" over and over.
"Q! What happened?"
"It bit me...the flower vine. It bit me!"
Picard was tempted to turn around and stalk away, but Q was holding up his hand, and the skin was badly torn across the back of his hand, and there was actually quite a bit of blood. In fact...he looked more closely at the wound, touching Q's hand gently, turning it in the sunlight. He turned to examine the vine. He'd steered clear of the thorns himself, not linking their sharp, serrated edges. Q must have caught one deeply inside, then pulled back in alarm.
"You need to be careful of thorns, Q," he murmured, losing himself a moment in the deeply and openly sad gaze of Q's eyes. *Merde. Forget Data. He looks like a hurt puppy.*
"Thorns," Q said, weighing the word. "Yes. I should have remembered."
"Why should you have? It's not your fault. Let's get you fixed up."
He put a hand under Q's shoulder and pulled, but Q swayed heavily against him, his face going ashen.
"Uhhhh. I don't feel well."
"Just breathe, Q, nice and steady."
Q obviously struggled to obey him, then pitched forward in a faint. Picard caught him, grunting with the heaviness of him, then lowered him to the ground.
"Well, this is you, Q," he muttered, holding up Q's sandaled feet. "You can't deal with pain, with or without your memory."
A moment passed, and Q's color began to come back a little. Picard gently lowered his feet and then ripped a few strips from his white robe to make a bandage. He wrapped up Q's hand, wiping up the blood as well, trying to hide the sight of the wound. Perhaps Q was one of those people who couldn't stand the sight of his own blood.
*Either way, he's going to be embarrassed when he wakes up.* Picard found himself staring at the sky. *Did you have to make him this helpless?*
Q groaned softly.
Dark eyes fluttered open.
"You...er...fainted. Reaction. You did lose some blood here."
Q looked ready to faint again.
"Don't worry, though, Q. You'll be fine. I'm sure it hurts, but it won't take long to heal."
Q cautiously looked at his hand, saw that it was bandaged, and relaxed slightly. Taking it in stages, they got Q on his feet again and walked back to the structure. In the kitchen, while Q looked steadily off to the left, Picard cleaned and dressed the wound, treating it with some of the herbs he'd already identified for the purpose, and then brewed Q a strong cup of tea that would help him sleep.
"I should wash floors," Q protested weakly as Picard steered him to his rooms.
"Nonsense. You can do it tomorrow."
"Tomorrow I'm supposed to sweep the walkways."
"Don't worry so much, Q. You've had a shock to your system. He opened Q's bedroom door and led the entity to his bed. "Just lay down and rest for a while. You can help with the chores soon enough.
"You're so nice," Q said, his voice thin and dazed. Picard looked up, startled, into soft eyes. Q reached up with his uninjured hand and lightly touched Jean-Luc's cheek. "Thank you.
"You were hurt," Picard said after a moment.
For a second, during which Q's hand remained on Picard's cheek, neither of them moved.
"It was... Picard said, a little hoarsely. "It's just what you do," he finished, knowing that he sounded inane. Once more Q looked sad, and Picard felt like an utter ass. "I didn't like seeing you in pain," he said, the truth slipping out before he could stop it.
"Even after everything I've done to you?"
"Yes, Q," Picard replied, hoping desperately that Q would fall asleep *now.* He reached up and took Q's hand off his cheek, but he did it gently, not wanting to hurt Q's feelings any further than he already had.
"You're a good man...Jean-Luc Picard," Q said, his voice slurred by oncoming sleep.
Q felt drowsy and confused, but he was keenly aware of the warm strong hand that guided his own hand to the blanket. Before that hand could escape, he fumbled at it, patting it for a second.
"It's all right, Q," a warm, deep voice assured him. "It will be all right."
And Q slipped into sleep.
Picard spent several hours doing hard work, first with the laundry, then scrubbing the floors. He was almost exhausted by dinner time, and hadn't stopped for lunch. When he finally threw himself over a sofa in the parlor, he was too tired to run a bath and let himself fall into an early evening nap. Q wouldn't need a fancy dinner...
Q padded into the parlor not long afterwards, the cool tile soothing against his bare feet. He felt more than a little ridiculous for having fainted, but he was also still on something of a high from how gentle and caring Picard could be. It was somehow incredibly reassuring to know that Picard could treat him that way. The entire universe seemed somehow less horrible.
He was surprised to find himself hovering over Picard now. The man looked...interesting while he slept. One hand was thrown up over his head, the other rested on his chest. His face didn't soften much in slumber. He looked ready to jump up any second and take command.
Q laughed very softly to himself, then padded out before returning a moment later with a blanket. He very carefully set it over Picard, then walked into the kitchen. He could make sandwiches without killing himself, surely?
Q was absurdly pleased with himself ten minutes later. Very thinly sliced cheese, some leafy vegetable, some sprouts, and some of the oil-based spread had twice been placed between two slices of sourdough bread. Next, he set about making some more lemonade, which was tricky with only one working hand. In the end, he got a nice pitcher-full, and then cleaned up.
Q didn't bother to turn, and thus could smile without care. "Yes. Thank you. Are you hungry?"
"Yes, rather. I think we should leave it alone for this evening, then look at it in the morning."
Q turned now. "Look at what?"
"Your hand. Picard gestured, and Q nodded. Then they sat at the table.
"Any chance I can get you to read to me again tonight? Q asked about half-way through the meal.
"Certainly, and perhaps we could have a small lesson in letters. I doubt it will take you long to learn it. A very small, familiar smile tugged at the man's mouth.
"Is that another way I remind you of Data? Q asked.
Picard's hazel eyes flashed slightly, but Q returned his keen glance without qualm. There was something to be said, he thought to himself, for being totally ignorant, honest, and agenda-free.
Q tucked a leaf corner back into his sandwich. "You've known Data long, have you?"
Picard nodded and took another bite, chewing carefully before responding. "Yes. Over ten years. I met him only a few days before I met you."
Q frowned just slightly, then smiled. "What did you mean about my making him laugh before he had emotions? I mean, didn't he have emotions then?"
"Yes, but only for those few seconds. Then he had the memory of the experience, which I believe to this day he greatly treasures. Picard's gaze turned deeply inward. "I've heard him laugh many times since getting his emotion chip, but never...like that."
*Definitely his lover. Damnit. How do I compete with an android?*
Q shrugged. "I'm glad he liked it, I'm sure. Would you like some fruit for dessert?"
Q stood up and retrieved the plate of sliced fruit, again fumbling just slightly with his hand.
*Of course, I'm not actually competing with Data. If Picard wants to be faithful to his android, I can certainly go without, right? I don't need sex to stay healthy or anything, I don't think. And I can always date Mr. Hand.*
Q almost dropped the tray. Talk about a stray memory! Where had *that* come from?
*Larry Palm. Having a yank. Polling your pony. Shaking Jack's hand. Phoning the tsar
*ALL RIGHT ALREADY!* he screamed at himself. He got the idea!
Q sighed and sat down, meeting the man's gray-green eyes. "Sorry, Jean-Luc. I just get a little caught up in things...memories, tiny, *unimportant* things that assault me."
"I imagine it's very difficult for you. Picard kept his tone steady, without a hint of condescension, and Q breathed out a very quiet sigh of relief.
His first "little white lie. It wasn't so hard, and he'd have to keep from dogging Picard about such things in future. They *did* serve a purpose.
Picard couldn't probe, couldn't make himself ask. He had only himself to blame; he'd been the one to tell Q about social lies and now he had to play by the rules. But something had rattled Q and he found himself biting back questions as he ate his fruit.
He remembered the sickening feeling of being without memory, of standing somewhere he didn't know with a bunch of strangers. He also remembered the equally strange, if less frightening feeling of having his memories slowly return. He had gotten random flashes like that, some of them bad enough to make him do more than almost drop a tray of fruit. *Be patient with him, Jean-Luc. You had plenty of compassion this morning when he hurt himself physically, show some now.*
"You'll let me clean up, won't you? he asked aloud.
Q nodded and then smiled a little. "At least it was my right hand," he said wryly.
"That's right, you're left-handed," Picard said, more to make conversation than anything else. "I always wondered why."
"Is it unusual?"
"It's not very common in Humans. Something like 10% of the population is left-handed. They used to try to train left-handed children, make them right-handed.
Q looked at the man curiously. Picard's face had a strange expression on it. Sadness, Q recognized that emotion, but there was something else...compassion maybe.
"Why does the thought upset you?"
A slight raise of the eyebrows, a half shrug, and a gesture with the hands was the only reply for a moment, and then Picard nodded. "I don't like the idea of trying to make people into something they're not. We Humans...we do that so much sometimes."
Q smiled, suppressed it, then began something very much like a giggle.
"What? Picard's eyes flashed now, and Q felt a little alarm. In a moment, the man's nostrils would flare.
Q laughed harder.
Picard folded his arms over his chest and waited.
Q made himself calm down. "You...Jean-Luc...listen to yourself. No *wonder* I would sometimes... Q broke off, looking pensive.
"Well, it's just that you seem to feel responsible for Humanity. I mean, it's your whole race we're talking about here, and the history of your race at that. Do all Humans feel shame for their ancestors' behavior? Q looked thoughtful. "I wonder...perhaps the Continuum exploited that quality in Humanity. Maybe that's why I did the stuff with the courtroom."
Picard felt astonishment, pure and tight.
Q looked at him. "What?"
The man shook his head and tried to relax. "You would never have given me that, before, that sort of insight. I...I thought perhaps we were both going to be struck by lightning."
Q opened his mouth to answer seriously when he realized that Picard was joking. Cautiously, he smiled, and was answered in kind.
"Isn't it time for the Evening Rite? Q asked after a moment.
Picard nodded. "But I'll clean up first. I'll see you later in the library."
Q nodded as well and rose. He felt more than ready for a bath, and the thought of the moon pool drew him like the smell of baking bread. He floated in white robes through the softness of dusk, and found himself in time standing at the water's edge.
A short time later, Picard stood in front of the altar and began to chant. It was Khahilma, the ninth day of the week and the ceremony called for more repetitions of the evening prayer. Staring at the smoke of the incense as it drifted across the bowl of water, Picard let himself relax into the simple act of chanting. The Nine Names were a comforting background to his own turbulent thoughts and he could feel those thoughts smoothing out now. In a sudden flash of insight, he knew he'd take this rite, created by Q or not, back to the Enterprise with him. And then the flash was gone and only the sound of his own voice rising and falling steadily remained, carrying him into the still center of himself.
Q was sitting on the submerged bench of the hot pool when he heard the chanting. There was something about this place, he realized, that made it possible to hear the chanting from anywhere in the building. He leaned his head back against the tiled edge of the pool and listened.
Picard's strong, warm, steady voice surrounded him like the water of the pool and he let his mind drift a little. The light of his one lamp danced on the water, but it distracted him and he leaned over and blew it out. He could see the stars through the cutouts in the walls, and, after an unknown time, one of the moons became visible through the cutouts as well.
Free of the past and, for the moment, unworried about the future, Q relaxed even further, drifting into some place which, although he'd never seen it before, he recognized. The moon on the water, the stars glimpsed through the cutouts, the comfort of a trusted voice. He'd been here before, or, if not here, someplace very like it. The feeling lapped at his mind the way the water lapped at his body and he drifted.
The water held him like a universe, and he had the sense of overwhelming freedom. There were no limits, no boundaries...a playground. There was even laughter, light, from all around him. Mocking gently. Eyes. Seeing everything...
Q jerked to alertness with a gasp. The chanting had stopped, and the water, though still steaming, seemed cold against his skin.
*Goosebumps.* The word was ridiculous for the feelings which had created those hard little knots on his skin. He was out of the water in the next instant, and drying himself roughly with the towel. He wished it were afternoon, and saw in his mind's eye the desert sands undulating in heat waves. He shivered and pulled himself into a thick cotton robe.
His feet slapped quietly on the stone floor as he made his way back to the kitchen. Picard wasn't there, though, and it was somehow not right to go into the temple. He stood there, sandals gripped in his hands, for several minutes before he thought of the library.
Jean-Luc looked up as Q entered, his hands allowing the thick book to drop gently into his lap.
"Are you all right, Q?"
There was no defense against the *need* in Q's body for contact, any sort of contact. He would welcome it if Picard struck him, or even just pushed him away. He felt the hugeness of his own eyes, the trembling in his still bumpy body, the unsteadiness of his breathing. He swayed and stepped heavily forward.
Picard let the book drop off his lap and onto the chair as he stood, and then he took a careful step forward, his hands instinctively going out to hold Q's arms under the shoulders. Q shuddered and moaned very softly, stepping the last distance between them, wrapping the man up in his cold arms, pressing against the strong, warm, unutterably intense comfort to be found there.
It was awkward, the way Picard's own arms responded, holding him as though he were a child with stains on his clothes. But Q didn't care. He didn't push him away, and for those long, long minutes as they stood together, that was all that mattered.
"Q? was asked very softly.
"I remembered eternity," Q whispered, "just for a moment. He sighed and held on just a little tighter, knowing that now that he had spoken, this would last only another moment. "And it was so..."
Picard responded to the need in Q's voice with just a bit more pressure, frowning at the cold he could feel through Q's robe.
"...so...vast. So...I can't think of it. *Big,* I suppose."
Q nodded against the top of Picard's robe, breathing in the clean, warm smell of him: like the smell of the desert.
Picard allowed the embrace another moment, then, just before the man could insist, Q let go and stepped back, trying to produce a convincing smile. "Empty and cold and just about all the rest of it. But...I don't remember it anymore."
Picard didn't believe him.
Or at least, Picard thought that while Q had forgotten eternity again, he still remembered the pain of being alone. A hug wasn't enough and yet, when Q needed him, a hug, and a grudging one at that, was all he'd been able to muster. Or was there more he could do? Could he, in some small way, let Q know he wasn't the only person who felt alone?
"Here," he said, keeping his voice gentle. "Sit down and have some mulled wine with me. I want to tell you something about myself, if you're interested."
Q nodded eagerly, and followed Picard to the sofa. But when Q sat down, Picard surprised him by sitting on the pile cushions at Q's feet. It seemed, somehow, unlike to the man to lean against the sofa like that, one hand holding a mug of something that smelled sweet and spicy. Q took the other mug off the table, a little touched that Picard had thought of him.
He sipped at it cautiously, almost sneezing at the heady steam.
"Oh dear," Picard said. "Umm, Q? That's alcohol. Don't drink it too fast or drink too much of it. You'll get drunk and then you'll be hung-over and, trust me, it won't be pleasant."
"All right," Q said. He wanted to drink it up fast; that first sip had been so soothing and warm. But Jean-Luc Picard undoubtedly knew what he was talking about, and he remembered what had happened with the water. Q sipped carefully.
"All I ever wanted," Picard began, "from the time I was very young, was to go into space, not only to see places I'd never seen, but to see places no Human or Federation citizen had ever seen. He sipped his wine and went on. "And I didn't let anything get in my way, not family, not friends, not lovers, no one.
"And I got what I wanted. A starship to captain, space to explore, that's what I have now. And I've gone through... For a moment his voice faltered and Q was sure he'd clam up again. "...things I cant begin to describe to keep what I have."
"And you miss it," Q said when Picard fell silent.
"Oh yes, I miss it. It's so hard, so painful to be here with no way out. He sighed and sipped his drink again. "And it's nothing compared to what you've lost, Q. I can't even comprehend the loss you've suffered. But I can feel for you, I can...relate to it."
Q felt the incredibly embarrassing impulse to cry, and almost had to resort to blinking back tears. Fortunately, he simply buried his nose in his drink for a while, breathing in that soothing steam. In a moment, he could say with an even tone, "That's marvelously compassionate of you, Jean-Luc."
For just a moment, the captain's eyes narrowed, then he seemed almost to force his eyes to their normal shape again, and shrugged.
"The thing was," Q went on as though nothing had happened, his voice still steady and low, "I didn't feel a sense of loss, so much as a sense of...danger."
That got Picard's instincts going. He seemed to be restraining himself from leaping up and grabbing a club. "Danger? Here?"
Q put out a hand, almost touching him. "No, just the opposite. It's quite safe here, isn't it? It's the stars...or, more than, beyond them...I'm not sure. He moved his hand from right next to Picard's forearm and used it to rake his hair back. The wine was soothing him wonderfully, but it was also making it clear to him how much tension he needed to have soothed. "I saw danger outside this place, and it was worse, because it was so familiar."
Picard nodded slowly, thinking with obvious care over all that Q had said, and the entity spent a moment savoring his wine. He really was incredibly tired.
"You and I talked once about the dangers of the universe," Jean-Luc said at last.
"I'm sure I said something quite horrible," Q groused.
But Picard shook his head. "No...no. It was quite appropriate, actually, if a little harsh."
Q braced himself.
"You said, 'If you can't stand a little bloody nose, maybe you should go back home and crawl under your bed.'"
Picard caught it and smiled, shaking his head again. "No, seriously. It was what we needed to hear, even if we didn't want to hear it right then. He set down his empty cup. "Q, you've already faced the dangers of the universe. When you get your memories back, you'll know not only the horrors of the cosmos, but the ways you defeated them as well."
"I've defeated... Q shook his head, looking down at Picard in surprise. "You must be joking."
"Far from it. I've always had this feeling that you are a survivor. How else could you have lived millions of years in a hostile universe?"
"Luck? Q asked flippantly, although he was a little shaken by Picard's belief in his abilities.
For the first time while dealing with Q, Picard was glad to hear that flippant tone. It couldn't hide the emotion underneath, but it seemed to make the very point Picard was trying to make.
"That's part of it," he replied, chuckling a little. "You always have to consider luck. But..."
"Luck alone won't do it. Intelligence alone isn't enough. Even courage and bravery aren't enough."
He drew a breath to continue, but Q put a hand on his shoulder.
Picard *knew* that all Q wanted, at least right now, was to say something. He fell silent, and nodded, letting Q know he was listening.
In truth, Q could have said just about anything for that first moment or two. Picard was having an incredibly hard time thinking past the casual, warm touch of Q's hand. He could feel his breath go little shallow before he suddenly yanked his control back into place. In spite of Q's seemingly generous offer of the night before, there was no way the entity could have meant it, or even understood what he was offering. It was absurd to even contemplate their situation in that light. Regardless of Q's memory loss, this was still *Q.*
Glad that his position made it easy not to look at Q, Picard tried to concentrate on what Q was saying.
"You're trying to tell me that it all adds up, aren't you? Q asked. Encouraged by Picard's silence, he went on. "That I have *something* that's enabled me to survive all those years..."
His voice trailed off. "Do I, Jean-Luc?"
"Yes, you must, Q. Picard looked at him sternly.
Picard blinked. "What?"
Q shrugged. "You engender trust, captain. Do you know that? Q laughed, while Picard fought off another wave of suspicion. "You tell me I have defenses against the universe, and I believe you. Q looked oddly thoughtful. "I must have felt that way before, you know. I wonder if it bothered me."
"Sure. Here I was, some super-powerful entity who'd seen the universe, and there you were, on your ship, and I trusted you...I can see it now. Q began to laugh again.
"You didn't trust me," Picard growled. "You were too busy insulting me."
Q looked fey. "If you say so."
Picard stood up, grabbing Q's cup and his own and taking it out of the room as though he were fleeing a crowd.
"Jean-Luc? Q's concerned voice followed him, and there were the soft slaps of his feet on the tile. "I'm sorry..."
The man stopped, his shoulders stooping slightly with his sigh. He stood in the hallway and looked up into Q's half-frightened face, wincing at the stab of guilt.
"No," he said quietly. "Don't be sorry. I'm just... He gestured with hands, moving the cups through the air. "I find I'm having trouble knowing how to behave. You're still *you,* Q. I forget that, and then you remind me, and I don't know what to think."
Q looked acutely distressed.
"Jean-Luc? There are those...things you won't tell me yet. Things I've done to you. I can't imagine how atrocious they must be. He waved away Picard's attempt to speak. "Perhaps they're not even things you can explain. So, we'll have to make an agreement. When I piss you off, you have to say so. You have to *tell* me to change the subject, because I don't know what I'm doing."
"No, that's just it, Q. Neither of us knows what we're doing here, or what's expected of us. It makes for a stressful situation. Picard managed a creaky smile. "Actually, I think we're both doing much better than anyone could have expected.
"But I'm tired, and so are you. Things will look better in the morning."
Q looked quite perplexed. "Why?"
Picard laughed, turning again towards the kitchen. "Trust me."
Q sighed and headed toward his rooms. Picard wanted trust, and, as Q had told him, his very manner made it easy to give him that trust. Was it so unfair for Q to want a little trust back?
He knew Picard had no real reason to trust him, but even without his memory, Q knew trust had to start somewhere. What was Picard so wary of?
*Simple,* Q told himself, *he's afraid this is another of my tests. For all I know, it is. How dreadful. It's one thing to pretend to be blind to your own motives, and another thing to not remember them at all.* He sighed again and, reaching his rooms, got ready for bed, wondering if he'd dream.
Picard finished washing his face and made his way to bed. There was a book sitting on the bedside table, but he left it there, thinking about Q instead.
*He's given me reason after reason to believe him, so why can't I? I should just have a little faith in him, even if only because it's not like him to be so patient. If he really had his powers, I'm *sure* he would have laughed at me by now.*
Even that thought was troubling, however. *Am I really so paranoid when it comes to Q? Yes, he's a powerful, frequently nerve-wracking entity, but I've dealt with far more annoying people and given *them* the benefit of the doubt. No one as powerful, of course, but still..."
He sighed, knowing he was about to start going around in circles. Resolutely he picked up his book and read until the flowing script blurred before his eyes. He was awake enough to put the book down and blow out the lamp, and then he was sinking back into the bed, his eyelids trembling on the verge of closing.
And then he remembered the hand on his shoulder.
His eyes flew open and he tensed. Just a hand, just one hand on his shoulder. So why was it so disturbing? Why had he had so much trouble breathing? What was going on? And did he really want answers to those questions?
This whole situation revolved around Q and Q's situation.
He thought about how different Q was like this. How approachable
and how emotional he was. Well, to be fair, Q had always been emotional,
just never...vulnerable. A vulnerable Q seemed such a contradiction
that Picard realized he had no frame of reference for dealing with Q like
this. The disparity between himself and Q was usually so great and
Q usually had all the advantages, and now that was
For some reason, as he thought about Q's sudden vulnerability, he thought of the way Q had acted when he'd hurt himself, how grateful he'd been for Picard's care, how he'd reacted when Picard was putting him in bed...
*The way he reached up and touched my cheek.*
There it was again, that little gasp of breath and the tightening of his throat. Only this time he knew it for what it was and it upset him terribly. Somehow, in some way, he was aroused. Aroused by the thought of Qs being vulnerable.
*And how do you feel about that, Captain?*
It were as if Counselor Troi were in the room with him, forcing him not to push the sensation away. He made himself concentrate on the warmth of Q's gaze, that childish, *trusting* look, as he asked questions, as he stood in the kitchen, lost, not knowing how to urinate...
His arousal deepened. He was actually getting hard.
He realized he was smiling. He actually wanted to laugh. A wonderful feeling, just as Data had said it was.
"Oh God. He spoke aloud, the words thin and harsh, as he realized.
He wanted Q vulnerable. He wanted...Oh God.
His erection wilted. He was sweating.
He could smell the stink of his own thoughts, and it choked him.
Q vulnerable, trusting him, offering to pleasure him. Would the entity get down on his knees and open his mouth and *let* Picard just shove himself inside? When he gagged, would tears come to his eyes? Would he even realize he was allowed to protest when he couldn't breathe?
Hissing in disgust, he flung himself out of bed, the covers slapping down as his feet made contact with the tile floor. In the darkness of the room, the bright anger behind his eyes turned everything red.
*Was this what I was supposed to learn? That I'm some sort of closet rapist? That having Q at my mercy...*
He turned away and found himself outside his room, then walking down the hall, outside, standing in the cold desert sand, staring at colder stars.
He felt like praying to the Continuum for forgiveness.
He felt like breaking something.
He felt he would never, ever, be the man he had been. *But that Jean-Luc Picard wasn't what I thought he was either. No wonder Q makes me so uncomfortable, with or without his powers. Have I no forgiveness in my heart? So he embarrassed me in front of my crew. And his actions led to Locutus...But perhaps it's not limited to Q. Perhaps if I had Gul Madred here, helpless, I'd want to force myself on him as well.
His stomach heaved, and though he wasn't sick, his mouth tasted foul.
"I could get my sandals," he murmured into the night breeze, beginning to shiver. "And my robes, and walk. Until morning."
The energy drained out of him all at once. He barely made it back to his room before he slept.
knew something was wrong when he went into the kitchen for breakfast the next morning. While still in bed, he'd heard the chanting and he'd smiled, thinking about another day with Jean-Luc Picard. He couldn't remember what he was supposed to be doing today, chore-wise, but he hoped he would have a chance to do things with Picard as well. Maybe they'd make donuts, whatever those were.
And then he walked into the kitchen and suddenly everything was wrong.
His mind showed him water, very still water that had frozen over into a hard, cold shell. He gasped and stiffened before he could help it.
"Q? Picard asked, putting down the book he'd been reading. The man's eyes were concerned, but also wary and a little...frightened?
*Now that makes no sense. Why's he frightened of *me*? Unless he's decided, for whatever reason, that I'm fooling him.*
"Ice," Q blurted out. "I saw ice."
"Here," Picard said, getting to his feet. "Sit down and I'll get you breakfast."
Q nodded, silently watching as Picard served up toast and something that Q's tricky memory told him were eggs. There was a mug near Q's hand and a carafe of coffee on the table.
Even as Q poured himself some coffee, Picard was very carefully placing a plate in front of him. The man's whole body seemed stiff and awkward, as if he were unsure of how to move. In spite of the image of ice, Q felt concern for Jean-Luc.
When Picard sat back down, but before he could retreat behind the book again, Q asked, "What's wrong?"
*Damnit!* Picard thought. *Can't you just make fun of me, or be snide or something? I don't deserve this "nice" Q, this concerned friend.*
"Did you sleep badly? Q asked. A horrible thought occurred to him. "Did you have a...nightmare?"
"Of sorts," Picard couldn't help replying.
Q's heart dropped into his stomach. Suddenly the food on the plate in front of him was utterly unappealing. He was hungry, he knew that much, but he doubted he'd be able to swallow anything. "About me? he asked, the words sliding past his tight throat before he could stop them.
Q was terrified. It was so obvious, and Picard felt like a complete and utter monster. In spite of whatever he'd felt the night before, he did not want Q to be like this, to feel like this.
"No," he said carefully. "About myself."
Q wasn't comforted. "But it had something to do with me, I'm sure. He looked down at his plate. "The worst part is that I can't apologize. I'm sorry, but I can't ask you to forgive something I don't remember doing."
"Q, stop it! Damnit!"
Dark brown eyes snapped up to meet his in shock.
Picard forced his fists to loosen. "Don't blame yourself for my nightmares, Q. I'm perfectly capable of having them without you to fixate on."
Oh great. Now Q looked ready to cry.
He didn't want to put his head in his hands and bare his soul. He didn't want to storm from the room. He didn't want to force Q to drop the subject and gag down the rest of his breakfast. He didn't want to make up some story about how they'd had a friendly conversation once. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to be here at all.
"Q... He was addressing his plate, but he knew the entity was listening. "You and I have no commonality. I have no way of reassuring you, no way to be assured that we've made ourselves understood. You simply have to believe what I say. I had a bad dream, but it wasn't your fault, all right?"
"Then why do you hate me so much this morning, when last night you didn't?"
He put his head in his hands. He was simply going to have to lie. "I don't hate you, Q. All right? I'm just in a foul mood."
"Hold my hand, look me in the eye, and say that."
Picard stood up. "It's your turn to clean up."
He remembered to grab the garden sheers before he walked out, but he forgot his hat.
He debated just going on without it, but he knew all too well what a sunburned scalp felt like. "Damn!" he muttered, almost giving into the urge to throw the shears as hard as he could. He was going to have to walk into the kitchen and...what?
And face Q.
Or was it Q he couldn't face?
Was it really *Q* he hated this morning?
Drawing a deep breath and remembering that he'd faced two separate Court Martials and heaven knew how many Boards of Inquiry in his day, he walked slowly back into the kitchen.
Q was still sitting at the table, his breakfast untouched. He didn't look up when Picard came in. The urge to mumble, "Forgot my hat," and walk out was strong, but Picard fought it. *I never used to be a coward,* he thought.
He sat down in the chair next to Q and reached out. Taking Q's hand as if it were thin glass and the merest touch would shatter it, he said, very gently, "Please, look at me."
Q seemed almost about to shake his head in denial, and Picard's stomach twisted in dread. What if Q couldn't, wouldn't accept his sincerity now? What if he'd hurt him too much? What if...
When Q did look up, it was with the eyes of a man obviously on the brink of tears. Picard bit his lip, but forged ahead anyway.
"I don't hate you, Q," he said, his voice quiet but steady. "I haven't hated you in years."
Q wanted to believe. He wanted to believe so badly it hurt inside, but he wasn't sure if he could. Picard could be lying just to make him feel better or because he didn't want to deal with a morose roommate, or...
He stared into the hazel eyes that stared back at him and something inside himself made him nod slowly. Picard's obvious relief made Q feel a little better. Which would have been fine if he hadn't been on the brink of tears and holding back those tears only by sheer force of will. As soon as he relaxed, one of those tears escaped and he turned away.
"You're all I know," he said, as if it explained everything.
The soft words and the tear hit Picard like a blow to the gut. He couldn't pull Q into his arms and tell him everything was going to be all right because he wasn't so sure everything was going to be all right. Not only that, he still wasn't sure he trusted himself around a vulnerable Q.
"I know," he replied, forcing himself to honesty. "and it terrifies me."
"You? Afraid? Q asked. It could have been flippant and sarcastic, but it wasn't. Q merely sounded surprised.
"Oh God," Picard murmured, "all too often."
Q smiled, half-relief, half-comforting, and Picard knew he had never hated himself more than he did at this moment.
He was getting aroused again.
It wasn't overwhelming, or even physically apparent, just a slight warmth, damning in its very subtlety. His hand, entwined now with Q's, would shake soon if he didn't get it back. And he was about to break into a sweat. He could suddenly *see* those eyes looking at him with trust and affection while that full, sensuous mouth...
He squeezed Q's hand tightly, then let go with a smile.
Q flinched, and he realized how fake that must have looked.
He tried a sigh, and smiled again. "I'm all too frightened, Q. You've saved Humanity from the judgment of the Continuum more than once. If I ruin our relationship, the consequences could be astronomical."
Q frowned at him. "We have a relationship to ruin? I got the impression I showed up once a year or so, taunted you while you did something impossible, and then left."
"We...understand each other, I think, Q. Perhaps the loss of that understanding is what leaves me so... He gestured in frustration. "Q, do you remember the expression, 'Working without a net?'"
Q nodded, and still looked quite miserable.
Picard ran a hand over his scalp, smiling his first true smile of the day as a thought occurred.
"Q, how about I make you an offer?"
Q picked up on his playful tone instantly, and brightened like a child spared punishment. "What sort of offer?"
"Whatever you'd like. What would you like? If I can, I'll provide it, though, as you can see, my means are small."
Q blinked at him in surprise, and Picard beamed with triumph.
"What*ever* I'd like? Q asked, drawing out the words to make the teasing overt.
Picard shrugged, and felt something inside relax. "Within reason."
Q stared at him a moment, then reached down, grabbing the seat of his own chair to scoot a little closer. Picard's smile disappeared, and Q straightened before reaching out, slowly, first placing his hands on Picard's shoulders, then smoothing them around his back, then finally pressing them together, resting his head on the man's shoulder.
If the hug had been just a fraction less chaste Picard would have protested. But it was so...simple. And it was impossible indeed not to respond in kind.
*Strange, to feel Q's heart beating.*
Just slightly, Q pulled back, and Picard increased the force of the hug. Q really relaxed then, and leaned into the embrace with gusto. It was several minutes before they both released the other, and sat there with faint smiles.
"Now," Picard said a little gruffly, "finish your breakfast. It's your turn to do the laundry."
"Only," Q replied with a smile, remembering something, "if you'll help me hang it up."
"Agreed," Picard said.
anging up the towels and sheets turned out to be rather fun, Q thought when they were done and looking at the clothesline. It was hard to be afraid or nervous around Picard when the man had an armful of wet laundry and clothespins in his mouth. And, as if buoyed up by Q's increasingly good mood, the man relaxed a little. He even talked about unimportant things, something Q hadn't been sure Picard even knew how to do.
Then he told a story about frozen laundry being used as a sled to ferry a body into a gully, and Q laughed with him at his imitation of the detective on the case questioning the suspects.
"A good mystery story is far better than any jigsaw puzzle," Picard explained, and Q was pleased when he remembered a picture broken up into fragments.
"My memory is like a puzzle," he replied.
"A very complex one," Picard agreed. "With no picture and printing on both sides of the pieces."
Q laughed. "Well, if I have to be a puzzle, I want it to be complex."
Q thought about asking for some more pieces to his memory puzzle, but he was unwilling to break the mood. Picard was comfortable around him and that was worth remaining in the dark for a little while more.
Because Picard had helped him with the laundry, Q felt it only fair to help in the garden. He asked dozens of impersonal questions. Picard answered those he knew and told him he'd look up the answers he didn't have in one of the botanical books in the library.
Q felt himself relax more and more as the day went on. After the gardening, they ate lunch and then Picard wanted to mop the temple floor. Q, who still felt a little odd about the temple, declined to help, choosing instead to do some dusting and puttering around in the library. He looked at the books and once more marveled that one mind could have come up with so much detail.
*I must have really been obsessive about this,* he thought, dropping his dust rag and sitting down on a comfortable pile of pillows. "All these books with their fancy binding and a script that I apparently invented, all these pillows and the different fabrics, the carpets and the tile work and the carved wood lattices over the windows...*
And he (or that other "he") had done it all for Picard.
*Q, that Q I was, must really care about Jean-Luc Picard. He says I have done him some good, that I've taught him valuable lessons. I wonder *why*? Do I just pick people at random?
But that idea was absurd. He'd obviously picked Picard for various reasons, and he could even guess some of those reasons based on what Picard had said about that "other" Q, and on what Q himself had observed in Picard.
*He's obviously intelligent, too serious, takes the weight of the universe on his shoulders, no wonder I needed to show him he could still learn. And, of course, he's really easy to look at.*
Q lost himself for a little while, dwelling on his short stock of Picard memories: how the man had looked in the lamplight the night he'd read to Q, the way his silk tunic had clung to him as they hung wet laundry that very morning...
He blinked and looked down at his lap. He had an overwhelming urge to do something and this time, he knew what it was. The only question was, would it offend Picard too much if Q jerked off in the library?
*Only if he catches me at it,* Q told himself.
*But no, he's awkward about sex. Maybe I should just go to my room and do it. Then again, can I even walk to my room with this...erection?*
Q found himself giggling.
Somehow, it felt really *good* to feel this weight between his legs. Frankly, he wondered how long he could continue to feel this, and if perhaps he could manage to do it every day...perhaps more than just once a day...
Carefully, he put his hand down there and let the warm weight..."Ohhhh."
A sudden noise made him jerk his hand away. It was nothing, but it could have been Picard, and that wouldn't do. Somehow he would have to leave, but his rooms were so far away.
The solution made him smile, and, lifting his robes away from himself slightly, he stood before waddling the much shorter distance to the moon pool.
He didn't actually get into the water, nor did he want his...semen (that was it) to get into the clear pool. But he let his legs dangle into the warm stillness, and felt his erection get even heavier.
Yes, he sighed. This was lovely, and Picard wouldn't be coming in here.
Picard...now there was a thought fit for the occasion. The man had felt absolutely wonderful in his arms. What would it be like to kiss him? What would it be like to see him naked? Had the old him ever watched the man without Picard's knowledge?
Now there was a thought even more telling, Q considered, slowly peeling his robes away and looking down at himself with curiosity. Had this whole scenario been nothing more than a way to get into Picard's good graces? to say nothing of getting into his pants?
His cock was quite nice, he thought, though he was surprised to see that it had been mutilated.
*No, thats "circumcised. I wonder why I would follow an old Earth custom...unless, is Jean-Luc cut? Did I want to be like him?*
Slowly, now, he brought his left hand down and touched himself, moaning just slightly at the sensation. His body felt hot and trembly. His skin was so soft there, and so were the balls in their sac at the base. And everything was so incredibly sensitive.
But as fascinating as he found the sight of his red-flushed cockhead, Q's eyes closed, replacing the image with Picard bending over to get a sheet from the basket, the silk straining. So much power in those legs, and there was such a strong shape to his chest. He was small, or compact, really, but certainly a fierce warrior. Even with his "powers," how had Q ever dared to cross him?
What would it be like to rub his cock against Picard's body?
He thought about that pale skin sliding against him, one of those strong hands touching his cock, that firm mouth softening for a kiss...
He thought of the way Picard smelled, like incense and sandalwood soap and just a hint of sweat. His hand tightened on his cock and he began to stroke it, slowly at first, while he imagined that he was rubbing against Jean-Luc. *I could bring him here and we could be in the water together. We'd brush up against each other, and then do it more and more...*
His body was taking on an almost terrifying urgency, and his hand sped up, the other one bracing him against the floor. He would have been truly frightened if it all hadn't felt so good. *How could I forget doing this? How could I only remember names for it?*
The answer didn't matter, and in his imagination, he replaced his own hand with Jean-Luc's...
Yes, that was it. Jean-Luc sitting behind him, legs outstretched on either side of Q's legs, reaching around Q's hip to stroke his cock. Jean-Luc would be close, so close, and he would kiss the back of Q's neck and whisper something, *anything* in Q's ear, all while his hand moved harder and harder on Q's cock...
Nothing could possibly ever feel better than this, nothing could be as intense or as ecstatic or as wonderful as the feelings that rolled over Q as he came. He kicked with a splash and fell back onto the floor as the last shudders of pleasure finally left him. He was panting and his whole body was limp and boneless and he knew he'd never felt this good before.
He lay in a contented stupor for a long time, before distantly heard singing forced him to sit up. Surely it wasn't time for the Evening Rite, was it? Had he passed out?
But no, he was hearing actual singing instead of chanting. The words were in a different language from either the chanting or the normal way they spoke and he assumed Picard was just singing in his native tongue. Once, he would have understood the words.
He sighed, and his moment of ecstasy was broken.
Once he would have understood French and once he would have been able to create this temple and once . . .
Once he'd done something so terrible that Jean-Luc Picard hardly wanted to touch him, let alone stroke him to climax. The man would probably prefer a slow death to the fantasy Q had just envisioned. *I wish...I wish he could just *trust* me.* Q thought.
Honesty compelled him to admit that he wished that Picard would also want to rub against him in the moon pool, but he knew that would never happen. *Oh well,* he thought, *at least I can think about him.*
But the thought brought little comfort. Once his thoughts made a reality much greater than just little pictures in his head. Once...
And he saw a desert, barren and still, somehow...dusty. And he was impossibly cold.
Q grabbed the towel he brought, and dried his goosebumps. His clothes clung, resisting him, forcing him to stay moments longer in the pool room until he could trot out, following the sound of Picard's voice. His bare feet slapped down the hall, and he turned from his mop and stared at Q in alarm, the very last of the song echoing slightly around the green tiled walls.
"I'm sorry." The breathless words were a joke of inadequacy.
Picard frowned, looking concerned, annoyed, and a little suspicious. "For what?"
"I saw a desert. I was cold."
"You looked outside?" Picard had gone patient now, his hands resting on the mop.
Q shook his head. Why wouldn't Jean-Luc just let him touch him, just a bit? That would help him so much. "I saw it in my mind. It's...it's me. I'm a desert."
Picard seemed to consider this.
"Don't you understand, Jean-Luc? This place, this desert, perhaps I made it as a sort of self-portrait. Perhaps I didn't mean to make it. Maybe instead of planning this all out, I created it when something, maybe an accident, happened to me. Maybe we're even trapped inside some sort of..." Q stopped talking as Picard slowly shook his head.
"I don't think so, Q. This place, the complexity of it, the poetry, doesn't feel at all accidental to me."
Q felt ready to pounce on something in frustration. "But the desert -- it did look different, but -- I don't understand. If I'm so damn powerful how did this happen to me?"
Picard sighed. "We've considered before that this was done to you by others of your kind."
"But *why?*" Q couldn't help the whine in his words, and turned away, throwing his hands out. "This is all so incredibly pointless!"
Picard started to say something again, but Q was addressing the sky now, through the temple windows.
"What are we doing here? Why are you doing this to him? Is he supposed to teach me something? Am I supposed to *do* something? Why have you left me here? What did I do?" Q drew in a breath and shouted now: "Do you hear me? What did I do?"
But the words just echoed out, following Picard's song, and, a few moments later, Q left as well, his bare feet slapping slowly down the long, cool corridor to his room.
He was sitting on the bed, staring glumly at the floor, when he heard a tapping at his door.
"Come in," he called out dispiritedly.
"Q," Picard said quietly. "I know it's frustrating, and I know how hard it is to be without you memories and to feel so out of control. You're dealing with it very well."
Even as he spoke, Picard was slightly braced for a quick sarcastic reply. Instead, Q looked up at him, a grateful smile on his face. It still looked strange to see Q smile, strange, but somehow interesting or even...nice.
"You think I am?"
Yes, you are," Picard replied seriously. "I don't know what more you could be doing under the circumstances."
"You managed to prevent a war," Q said a little glumly.
"I didn't have the disadvantage of having someone around who knew all about me."
Q just looked at him and Picard felt compelled to add, "I acted out of sheer instinct during that incident, and I wasn't missing a huge part of my powers, of my 'self.' Believe me, Q; I'm not just saying this to make you feel better. You really are dealing with this well."
"Thank you. I still wish I knew what was going on, though."
"That makes two of us," Picard replied.
Q smiled and nodded, and somehow that small joke got them through the next few days. They didn't exactly fall into a routine, but their activities began to take on a casual choreography that led to a pleasing efficiency. They cooked and cleaned, hung the wash, tended the garden, slept, talked, and spent the evenings in the library. Q kept trying to get Picard to test out the moon pool, but the man always declined, politely. Picard made up for it, though, by always agreeing readily to read aloud whatever sort of story or history Q fancied. Q responded in kind by listening attentively.
"I don't quite understand that part," Q admitted one evening while they
drank herb tea and listened to the wind. A sort of sandstorm was
dying down outside, and both of them were more than a little worried about
the new plants they'd set out two days before.
Picard looked up from the book and frowned. "What part?"
Q sipped his tea. "The part about her duty to her family. Wouldn't her family want her to be happy? Doesn't she have a duty to watch over herself and her own life as well?"
Picard chuckled, then shrugged an apology. "You just sound so...reasonable."
"Sorry, I'm sure."
"No, no." Even in teasing Picard couldn't stand the idea that Q would misunderstand. "I like it, believe me."
"And I agree with you. She does have a right and a duty to care for her own needs, but those needs, including her happiness, evidently include the need to feel that she's done right by her family."
"'Done right?' That sounded just a little personal, if I may say so." Q gave Picard one of his patented looks, the type that before meant trouble and now meant...the possibility of trouble, Picard supposed, and the possibility of...connection. It was both earnest and yet ulterior, and the captain had noticed lately that he could refuse Q nothing when the entity used it on him. This fact did not disturb him as much as it should, so long, that is, as Q didn't realize it himself.
"Tell me, Jean-Luc, do you feel that sort of duty to your own family?"
The man sighed. "Yes and no. I felt, when my brother was alive, that he had taken over many of the 'family duties,' leaving me free to pursue other, perhaps more selfish, ends. But when he died...what?"
Q stopped shaking his head. "Only you, Jean-Luc, would describe saving the world several times over as a 'selfish end.'"
Picard blinked at him, then threw him a look of his own. "How would you know? You don't have a memory of other people. Perhaps we're all like that."
Q laughed and sipped his tea before asking seriously, "So, do you feel that you need to get married now, and have children?"
Jean-Luc thought through the painful thoughts again. "No, I suppose, ultimately, I couldn't do right by a child I had out of duty. I suppose...there will be no more Picards."
"What about just getting married?"
Picard smiled, his eyes focused deeply within himself. "I once had a sort of vision of a possible future, a future which is no longer possible, anyway. I had gotten married, and divorced. It soured a relationship I have always treasured. When that future closed to me, and I got the friendship back, I was relieved. I suppose, perhaps, I have always treasured women too greatly to make one my wife. I would be bound to treat her poorly, putting her always second to my command."
"But what if she understood the duty you had to your ship? What if she shared your sense of that duty?"
Picard let a beat go by. "Then she would put me second, and I wouldn't stand for it."
Q laughed, and his voice was still bouncing with it, when he asked, "What if she weren't a she?"
Picard didn't quite lose his smile. "What?"
"Well, do you think it might help if you took a man for a partner, instead of a woman? Perhaps a man who wouldn't expect children and homemaking and things? Someone who had their own life, and yet still put you first?"
Jean-Luc sipped his tea, his eyes narrowing just slightly, but his tone when he spoke was even and calm. "Creating fantasy lovers in one's head is a great way to keep from ever pursuing a real relationship. No one like that has ever come my way -- nor am I attracted romantically to a man of my acquaintance, so it's not something I've considered. In fact, I once had an opportunity to become far too attached to a woman purposefully made of my fantasies, and it was...overwhelming."
*You turned that away very neatly, Jean-Luc.* Q nodded slightly, then asked for details, listening carefully to Picard's story of Kamala and the ambassador and the man she married.
It was a well-told story, except that it had been stripped of all emotional details. When it was done, Picard looked for his place in the book before him. Q set his empty mug down and unconsciously set his shoulders.
"So much, then, for family duty, fantasy lovers, true love and personal happiness," Q began, startling Jean-Luc into looking up and into his eyes. "What about something created out of respect and affection?"
"Friendships, as I indicated, are very important --"
"No, no, Jean-Luc. Not friendships. Romance. Angst-free, no-holds-barred, loving but untortured romance."
"A commander often doesn't have time for that sort of thing," Picard replied carefully.
*So much for my thoughts about the android,* Q thought. He wasn't sure if it made him feel better or not.
"That," he said aloud, "is a very well practiced, very easy answer." He sighed and shrugged. "If that's all you can say..."
Picard felt a flare of suspicious anger. Was Q deliberately challenging him, or was he actually asking these questions out of a desire to know more about him? Or was it both?
"All right," he said curtly. "You want the real answer, the truth?"
"I don't let myself have the time." Even as he spoke, Picard realized that he was not only giving Q a truth, but one he'd never shared with anyone before. Oh, undoubtedly Troi and others had figured it out about him, but he'd never admitted it, even to himself.
Q, of course, was not going to let it rest there. "Why?" he asked.
"I already told you some of it," Picard replied. "And, well, there's the fact that what I do is dangerous. If I had someone on the Enterprise with me, I'd worry about them, I know that. If they weren't with me I'd worry about dying and leaving them alone. If they were on another Starfleet ship, I'd worry about both possibilities." He smiled a little, but Q continued to regard him seriously.
"Sounds lonely," he said softly.
"It is," Picard replied in another burst of honesty. "I've gotten used to it."
*I wonder,* Q thought, *if you have any idea what you look like when you say that. There's no way in hell you've gotten used to it, or if you have it's like getting used to a continual sunburn.*
He ached to reach out and touch Jean-Luc somehow. In fact, his fingers were practically twitching with the need to brush themselves across that set jaw and tease a smile to those firm lips. He forced his mind from the thought; the last thing that he needed now was an erection.
Picard looked down. How ironic to have this conversation with a book in hand. How much of his loneliness did he sublimate by reading and studying things? He shook his head slightly; this was not a train of thought he wanted to encourage, particularly with Q sitting there looking sympathetic and...something else. Picard wasn't sure what the other look meant, but it made him clench the hand that wasn't holding the book.
It would be so easy to take what Q had offered a while back, so easy to take advantage of this incredibly vulnerable man sitting there looking at him. He thought about the disturbing dreams and the fantasies he'd tried to ignore for several days now and fought down a wave of self-loathing.
Q was talking romance with a man who wanted to have his way with him strictly sexually, like some sort of child speaking of fairy tales while the pedophile fingered his cock.
His face spasmed slightly with disgust. "There are some things worse than loneliness," he said finally, unaware that Q had winced. "Things which go against one's duty to others and to one's self. I may be alone, but I'm able to look at myself in the mirror. Considering what I've had to do in my life, that's saying a lot."
"I would never dispute your right to look in the mirror. I think, from what I know of you, what you've told me and what I've observed on my own, that you have some right to your flashes of arrogance, and that you have a right to some comfort as well." Q's voice was dropping now, growing very quiet, somehow without losing its strength. "You are a man, after all. You're allowed to need more than duty. You're allowed to cure your loneliness when life offers you that cure."
The man shook his head and noticed he was very faintly trembling, and stopped, sitting very still, barely breathing. "If this is some sort of renewal of the offer you made last week...I'm very touched, flattered even, but you don't know...you are in no position to understand what you're offering."
Q smiled. "That sounds sort of like a man who's interested."
"I am *not* interested!" Picard shouted, surprising them both with genuine anger. "Q, if you were yourself, you would *never*..." He stalled out while a voice in his head whispered, *Don't go there.* "You and I have nothing of that nature between us, nor will ever have. If there's any duty involved here, it's our duty to the *real* versions of ourselves, not this fantasy where I'm a desert mage and you're some sort of lost child! In our *real* lives we're barely able to remain in the same room with each other, and whatever sort of medicinal aid you think you're offering me is not the slightest bit appropriate!"
Q would have quailed before the fire of Picard's glare if he hadn't already fixed his glum expression on his empty mug. Picard's harsh breathing alone might have silenced him forever, but he couldn't hear it over the rush of his own blood.
"I don't care about what's appropriate," Q whispered. "I care only that you're my friend, and that you're lonely." The brown eyes raised up at last, wide and clear. "And that you're beautiful."
Picard couldn't put the book down now, it was covering up his body's reaction. He had no idea, none at all, that he was capable of feeling this way about someone...about *Q* when Q couldn't defend himself. It truly would be like rape.
"Jean-Luc, what if I never get my memory back?"
"What if I never get my memory back? What if this, the way I am now, is the way I remain?"
"You would doubtlessly find your new life quite different from your old."
Q rolled his eyes, then moved slowly across the floor until he was kneeling in front of the man, within touching distance.
"Are you at least a little interested, Jean-Luc? Have I at least gotten past your disgust of me?"
"You don't disgust me, Q."
"Perhaps, a little."
"But I'm without my powers. And I would never hurt you, no matter what sort of powers I had."
"Q, please. I very much do not want to have this discussion."
Q's eyes had grown heavy, almost drugged-looking, and his body swayed just slightly closer. Picard could feel the heat of his body, and his erection hurt.
"Q...please...this isn't right."
Q's tone was mesmerized. "What isn't?"
"You're ill, Q. Surely you can understand that."
"I don't feel sick."
"When you're back to your real self, you'd hate me for touching you. And I'd...I'd hate you back."
"What if I just touch one general area?"
"Q!" The letter was shouted as Picard rose from his chair in a swirl of tunic and robes.
"I don't have to use my hands," Q added, speaking to Picard's back.
Picard clenched his fists tightly, fighting with himself. Q, kneeling, was at just the right level to...
"ENOUGH!" he shouted and strode from the room, pride and fury enabling him to ignore the pain of his erection.
Q remained on his knees, listening as a door down the hall slammed. When no further sounds echoed, he sighed and leaned forward until his head was cushioned on the chair in front of him.
It was still warm and he could smell a faint trace of the incense Jean-Luc had burned during the Rites. He breathed deeply, trying to bring back the feeling of closeness, trying to bring back the thought of the man sitting here while Q knelt before him and made him feel good.
He reached a shaking hand out and gently touched the smooth leather of the book Picard had been reading. He thought about touching his lips to Picard's hands, dropping little kisses on the palms and dragging his tongue along each finger before sucking it. How could that make Picard hate him? All he wanted to do was make the man feel good, give him some pleasure and company in what was obviously a lonely life.
"All I want to do is help," he whispered into the silent library.
icard breathed smoothly through his third set of sit-ups. The first set had been difficult given that he was dealing with an erection, but then the erection had faded, leaving behind the shame and anger he was now pouring into the exercise. How could he continue? How could he live like this, with this horrible self-knowledge staring him in the face.
*I'm a coward,* he thought in time to his body's automatic movement. *A coward and a rapist.*
A little Troi-voice in the back of his head reminded him that he wasn't a rapist, but it sounded too much like justification and so he silenced it ruthlessly. Rolling over in order to start a set of push-ups, he forced himself to concentrate on the working of his muscles and the slow build up of the burn.
*Live with it, Jean-Luc. Fight it and learn to live with it. You always thought you were so perfect, so incapable of this kind of violence. Well, face yourself, Captain. When you're done here, when you're exhausted, go look in the mirror and find some redemption in not running away from what you see there.*
It was a long time later before, shaking with fatigue, he finished a lukewarm bath and put on a loose pair of silk pants. And then he forced himself to stand in front of the mirror and look. *I will fight this,* he promised the man in the mirror. *I will not give in to this; I *cannot* give in to this.* He looked into his own eyes and spoke aloud. "I promise, Captain."
A flicker of the lamp made his stern reflection waver, almost as if the man in the mirror nodded at him. Taking it as a sign that he was too tired to keep this up, Picard turned and staggered to bed.
He woke later, and realized that he was hard again. The thin silk of his pants seemed almost to wrap itself around his trembling erection like a gentle caress. He lay on his back and silently recited the procedure for manually injecting anti-matter into a warp core.
Once done with that, he moved on to a recitation of the specifications of the Enterprise's conn panel, followed by the Ops panel. He'd reached the aft science station by way of the tactical station before he finally fell asleep again.
awoke early, listening for the Morning Rite before he realized that it was still partly dark outside. His sleep had been restless and confused. Hed dreamt of Picard as an old man and the image had terrified him. Naturally he'd consoled himself with the thought of Picard as he was now. That, in turn, had led to a session with his hands and a bottle of bath oil he'd found in the bathroom.
After that he'd fallen back asleep. He'd dreamed but couldn't remember any of his dreams and he had a feeling it was better that way. Now he got out of bed, washed, and headed toward the kitchen. He supposed he'd have to act as if nothing had happened last night, and it would be easier if he made a large breakfast and gave them both something to talk about.
Concentrating fiercely on the food he was preparing, Q only dimly heard the Morning Rite. He did however, notice when Picard was done and managed to be setting down a plate of sausages, eggs scrambled with cheese, and toasted honey bread with butter and jam just as Picard appeared in the doorway.
Q's attempt to act natural vanished as he stared at the man. Jean-Luc was obviously in pain and he moved with very little of the grace Q had come to expect from him.
"What's wrong?" Q asked, forcing himself to not rush to Picard's side.
"Nothing, in particular." Picard sighed and sat down, resting his head in his hands. "I'm not feeling well, but it's not serious. I think, after breakfast -- thank you for making it -- I'll take a nap."
"Good idea," Q murmured, setting down Picard's plate very gently. "I'll do the wash, if you like. There isn't much."
The man nodded and ate a forkful of eggs, swallowing with apparent difficulty. After a few more forced bites, however, he ate more naturally, and Q had to be more careful about staring.
Q had already noticed that eating made all manner of odd little sounds. Usually, he and Picard talked, which helped cover up the noises of swallowing and chewing and slurping, but now, in this strained silence, he was aware of every rub and squeak of his body, every sound from the captain's. How odd to find even this erotic.
*Erotic.* Q played with the word in his mind. *Jean-Luc.
Erotic. Eroticism. Did I make this world so that I could touch
you somehow? Is this the only sort of intimacy you
Q was convinced now, absolutely, that he had wanted Picard all along,
memory and powers, or no memory and powers. He thought it was even
possible that he had purposefully made himself powerless and helpless just
to get Picard to trust him.
Though, he doubted it, since it was this very same helplessness which now kept Picard from touching him, from "taking advantage of him."
*Unless he's lying, of course. Unless he just finds you repulsive and he's pretending he's thinking of your best interests.*
Would Picard still resist him, he wondered idly, if he snuck into his bed at night while Jean-Luc was sleeping and sucked him off? Would the man rouse from his dreams and savage him, accuse him of rape? Or would he moan with pleasure and thrust into his mouth? Would his hands touch his hair? Would those incredible legs wrap around his waist or drape over his shoulders?
Would he accept Q's gift of himself? Or did he simply not want him, even as a favor?
"I'll clean the dishes," Q murmured, hurrying on as Picard hesitated: "No, that's all right. You can return the favor when you're feeling better."
Picard's eyes were clouded and tired, no question of it, when they met Q's.
fter cleaning up the kitchen until he just couldn't find any more dirt anywhere, Q went outside. The sky seemed a little restless, uncalmed by the windstorm of the previous day. The new plants had indeed been injured by the blown sands, but it was nothing that couldn't be set right. Q knelt for a couple hours in the sun, working up a fierce sweat, then headed for the moon pool.
Oh, it really was lovely to float in the clean water, seeing his own body dappled with the star and moon shapes of light. It was so quiet here, and calm. If only Jean-Luc would come here, with him or by himself. But it seemed even that sort of intimacy wasn't to be permitted.
*There are warrior societies with fewer battlements than my Jean-Luc.*
Q took a mouthful of water and squirted it high, then settled onto his back and floated without movement, somewhat annoyed that he had lost some of the buoyancy he'd enjoyed only a few days ago.
*I'm wasting away from unrequited love,* he thought with a sad but genuine smile. *Perhaps I should tell him that. Perhaps I should tell him that I love him.*
Q scrubbed his hair with soap, then cleaned everything else thoroughly. Something about being in love made him want to sparkle. It really was an amazing feeling, painful in the extreme, but euphoric, and quite natural. Perhaps that was the key. Perhaps he hadn't simply wanted Picard before, but been in love with him.
Or perhaps the love part was new. He didn't much care. He knew it was real, and that it was right. He just had to make Jean-Luc realize it too...that is, if the man actually did want him back, at least a little bit. He only had one fear, and that fear he couldn't articulate, even to himself. He knew, however, that he had done something horrible to Jean-Luc once, something Picard wouldn't tell him about. That "something" might have to do with love.
*But Jean-Luc said nothing like that was between us before. As long as he wasn't lying...*
When Q was done bathing, he dressed in clean robes with special care. He even rubbed his sandals to get a bit of a shine, and combed his unruly hair carefully.
*All dressed up and no place to go.*
But he wasn't going to mope. The grounds were lovely to walk in, and he had yet to make a complete circle of the entire complex. His robes would feel good, slapping in the breeze, and the stroll would build up his appetite for lunch. Q was, in fact, on his second lap around the temple when he heard the cry.
Or perhaps it was more like a moan, a quiet sound of pain.
A second sound led him to a nearby window that onto the courtyard and, without thinking, he ran toward the window, almost shouting for Jean-Luc, worried that the man had hurt himself. When he looked into Picard's bedroom, he was instantly glad he hadn't shouted or said anything.
Q knew he should go away and pretend that he'd never been at this window, but he felt physically unable to move, rooted to this spot and forced to look through the carved stone filigree window. He was almost afraid to blink.
Picard was a picture of erotic tension, stretched out naked on his bed with almost every muscle in his body taut. Q's stunned gaze took in the way Picard's head was flung back, the way his chest rose and fell rapidly, and, finally, the way his right hand moved up and down his erection with a slowness that had to be painful. In the mid-afternoon stillness, Q could easily hear Jean-Luc's gasps, and his occasional moans were loud enough to make him think that he was there in the room with Picard.
*What is he thinking about? More importantly, who is he thinking about?* Q held himself as still as possible, scarcely able to breathe. *Me? Are you thinking about me as you do that? Are you thinking about kissing me, touching me, fucking me, while you lie there and stroke that beautiful cock?*
"Ohhhh God...Q..." Picard moaned as if in answer to Q's unspoken question. As if realizing that he'd teased himself enough, the man's hand began to speed up and his body became, if possible, even more tense. He was breathing in harsh shallow pants, and blinking rapidly. Q knew that his own breathing was getting harsh as well, as if the tension Picard was feeling had snared him. But he wasn't aware of just how loud his breathing was until Jean-Luc suddenly paused and looked right at the window.
Q felt trapped as those shadowed hazel eyes met his and then, breaking the moment, Picard drew a loud gasping breath, stroked himself just two more times and came. Q, released by the fact that Picard had closed his eyes, stared for a moment longer, taking in the sight of Jean-Luc's orgasm and then turned on his heel and practically ran out of the courtyard.
"Merde," Picard muttered when he opened his eyes to find Q gone. "Merde, merde, merde..."
He'd been stroking himself when hed woken up, a dream image still lingering in his mind. In the dream, Jean-Luc was lying on his back and Q was sprawling between his outstretched legs, kissing and licking at his cock. It had seemed natural to hold onto that image and by the time Picard was awake enough to remember why he shouldn't be thinking these thoughts, it was too late.
*And, oh God, was it good,* he thought now, as he reluctantly climbed out of bed. *Not only have I been putting this off for days now, but to look up and see him watching me...*
He paused in the act of washing up and stood with the washcloth halfway to his stomach. *And now he knows.*
For a moment he could feel his cock twitch slightly at that knowledge and then he stretched, letting his sore muscles distract him from a fresh onslaught of arousal. *Wash up, and then go shut yourself in the library. Avoid him for a while, for as long as you have to. Surely there's something in the kitchen medicine chest that will help me sleep.*
e wants me," Q told the cactus.
The cactus looked back.
"He said my name while he touched himself. He looked at me and
The cactus continued to be unresponsive. Q turned to the wind. "He wants me."
The wind whistled slightly, and Q laughed.
It had been amazing, overwhelming, wondrous, erotic as hell. Picard wasn't just sexy, he was Sex.
"I think I'll take him in my mouth first," he considered. "Such a gorgeous cock! Hot and slick, in my mouth...ohhhh." He touched himself through his robes. He'd never been so turned on, ever, he was certain.
He thought of running his palms along those corded muscles, of nibbling on the curves of his hips, of licking the sweat from his skin, of rubbing himself --
*What if he still won't do it?*
Q felt actual pain, like a sort of cold stab in his loins, at the thought. Picard hadn't really accepted him, hadn't let him in. Q had shown up right at the moment when Picard couldn't help himself, couldn't -- probably -- do anything more than what he had done.
*What if he's angry with me for spying on him? What if he's angry at himself for being weak? What if nothing has changed?*
His erection wilted like a ffimila-flower in sunlight.
The idea of not being able to touch what he had seen, or not being allowed to share in the passionate desperation on that bed, which would haunt his dreams, he was certain, forever...
Q turned and strode back into the building without another thought. Picard wasn't in his rooms or the kitchen.
He found him in the library.
"Not now, Q." Picard had almost literally buried himself behind an enormous book.
"I love you."
The book hit the floor with a resounding "boom" and Picard leapt to his feet.
"How dare you!"
Q didn't bother to pretend his confusion was anything other than what it was: complete and intense.
"I don't dare anything. I just love you. I think I've probably always loved you."
Picard blanched and gagged, then drew his brows together in a cruel sneer. "You don't know what love is, Q, not in this half-existence you're suffering now, or as yourself. You've wanted my attention, my approval, my respect. You've wanted to teach me lessons and acknowledge your powers. You've never wanted my love."
Q smiled, feeling on solid ground. "You're so certain of that?"
Picard could see nothing but the curl of Q's lips, flashing instantly to the times he had seen that calculating smugness before. The words came from him like soldiers on a heedless charge:
"You once asked to join my crew, do you remember that? I told
you about that. And when I said you couldn't, you flung my ship and
my unsuspecting people into the path of the galaxy's most merciless conqueror.
Outside my people's space, the Borg found us, and sliced into my ship like a prize roast. Eighteen members of my crew were killed, and when I appealed to you for mercy and pity, you told me they were unimportant. Finally, after I begged it of you in front of my bridge crew, you returned us to our space. But the Borg remembered us, and remembered me. Years later, when they came to conquer Earth, they kidnapped me."
"Jean-Luc," Q whispered, unheard.
"They put their devices in my body, and assimilated my mind. I was used as a tool to kill thousands of my own people. There are still many on my planet who hate me for it. All that I was, all I had, or had dreamed of having, was theirs. And there was nothing I could do to stop them. And you...you were nowhere to be found, then, Q.
You've never even mentioned it to me since then, never even thought to ask me how I survived it. For weeks afterwards I could barely function. And even now I can hear them when they're close, or in my dreams."
Q said nothing, his pale face staring.
"You gave me to them, Q. You made me theirs, and if they had managed to conquer Earth you would have done nothing. If I lived the rest of my life as a Borg drone, you would have done nothing. If again I fall into their hands you will do nothing. If even now, without them, I go insane from the memory of them in my mind, making me kill and destroy...even now you will do nothing!"
The need to say something battered at Q's brain, but no words came. What could he say? What could he ever say to this man? That Picard had managed to be at all nice to him, that he'd implied that they were, if not friends, then not enemies, was amazing.
He stood there staring at Picard, while Picard glared at him, his breathing harsh in the close air of the library. Frantically reaching for something, *anything,* to say, Q could only think of what had brought him here in the first place.
"I thought..." he began, pausing a little when Picard's eyes narrowed even more. He took a deep breath. "Earlier, you called my name out. I thought you wanted me."
"Wanted you?!" Picard's voice was cold and cruel. "Oh, I did. I was thinking about raping you."
The minute the words escaped his lips, Picard knew them for the lies they were. Even seeing Q's face go whiter didn't make up for the fact that he was being sadistically cruel to someone who didn't deserve it. He hated himself, and desperately wanted to run from the whole situation. Inwardly sneering at his own cowardice, he was about to speak when an odd expression crossed Q's face.
Up came the chin and the full lips firmed. Then Q drew a deep breath and nodded. "All right. It would only be fair if you did."
"What?" Picard managed to gasp out. "Q, you're offering to let me to *hurt* you, to force you!"
The response was another short nod and then Q's hands were going to the neck of his tunic. "Do you," he began as he pulled it over his head, "want me on my knees or on my stomach?"
At the sight of that tight pale face emerging from the tunic, Picard flinched. He knew that expression now, although he'd never seen it on Q's face before. What he was seeing was desperate courage, the look he'd seen on people's faces as they went into battle against impossible odds.
It made him feel like shit.
This man in front of him, this Q, was not responsible for anything that the "real" Q had done. And yet he was prepared to do something that was a perversion of what he wanted from Picard just to make up for that other Q's actions. Picard could feel the pulse point in his temple begin to throb. He tried calling himself a coward, he tried to force himself to stay and talk this out with Q, but all he could do was flee those brown eyes that stared at him with pain. It wasn't Q's pain he saw there, he realized as he stammered "No," or not only Q's pain, but a pain Q was feeling for him. It wasnt pity, but a deep sympathy that had driven Q to offer the one thing he thought Picard wanted.
Crashing into the door frame as he stumbled out into the hall, Picard fled the room.
he sky, rather than having been wiped clean by the sandstorm, seemed only darker and heavier, almost covering up the fact that the sun had pulled its weight up and over the horizon.
Q waited in his room, his door partly ajar, until he heard the dim chanting begin. He had dressed already in his robes, *not* spending a moment longer than was necessary before the mirror, trying to see if there were some simple physical explanation for why Picard wouldn't touch him.
*But it would be rape. That's not based on attraction, is it? Surely if he found me unattractive it would only increase the chances that he'd touch me that way...any way...*
Quietly, though his tired body protested the care with which he set his feet, Q left the building and headed for the irrigation canals. Picard might go to the garden, but he was unlikely to check over the water systems this morning. Doubtlessly, they would meet eventually, though Q doubted they would be eating together again...perhaps ever again.
*Locutus. An odd sort of name. What would it be like, losing yourself like that, losing...*
Q stopped walking along the narrow ditch filled with dirty water, looking out to the dirtier skyline. He *did* know a little, perhaps, of what Picard had suffered. He had lost himself as well, hadn't he? Didn't he know what it meant to lose control? To have someone else have absolute power over him? Whatever "Q powers" he'd once possessed, they hadn't protected him.
*Perhaps I could offer him that, and the rape thing again. Maybe it would help.*
Smiling now, though somewhat sluggishly, he continued to walk the trench, checking for debris, keeping an eye on the oppressive sky.
It was only as he was heading back to the temple complex, his feet muddy and his whole body weary, that Q wondered why it was so important to him that Picard respond to his offer in some way. *Shouldn't I take the 'no thanks' and move on?*
He was sure that, if the situation were reversed, Picard would have taken no for an answer the first time.
*Oh stop kidding yourself; he'd probably never have offered in the first place.* He paused, looking over the oasis from the small hillock on which he was standing. It was so beautiful, even in the faintly muddy sunlight. *And I made it,* Q told himself, *made it for him.*
And that was why, he knew, he wasn't taking no for an answer, why he was willing to let Picard rape him if that were truly what Picard wanted and needed. It wasn't just his current loneliness that was making him snatch at anything that promised some closeness, it was also the knowledge of his former loneliness and the fact that his former "self" had been in love with Jean-Luc Picard.
*But if I, or the Q I was, loved him, why the Borg? All of the things he's told me about were lessons, some of them really valuable lessons. Why would I just put him in that much danger for the sake of my wounded pride?*
Not that it mattered, of course. He *had* put Picard in danger, he *was* responsible for all those deaths, and the damage done to Picard's beloved Federation. And now he owed Picard a...The phrase "blood-price," popped into his head. *More than an apology, more than reparations, I owe him anything he wants of me.*
Q laughed aloud. Yes, that was the problem, wasn't it? He owed Picard everything: his body, his heart, his soul, and Picard wanted from him...what? To be left alone? Not to have to deal with him? Q realized he could turn around again, and leave the trench behind. He could do it. He could just keep walking.
But...no. Picard would come looking for him, and probably get hurt or something. He thought briefly of more definitive means of suicide, but Picard would only blame himself for driving Q to it. A dozen scenarios flitted through: his claiming some sort of Q solution to his problems, and then claiming that he needed to pretend to kill himself to become a Q again; his aping depression for days before drowning in the pool; his arranging for an "accident."
But it was all foolishness. He couldn't leave Picard like that, and he certainly wasn't going to be any good at deceiving him.
*I could simply be more scarce, bother him less. I could probably avoid talking with him for days at a time.*
Q found the thought overwhelmingly depressing.
His stomach rumbled, and he laughed again. He should have eaten. Hunger had ruined more campaigns than his own simple misery. Q continued on back home.
Inside, the temple and the building were quiet, and he saw no sign of his companion. When he spotted the warm cereal on the stove, waiting for him, he couldn't decide if he wanted to rake his eyes out with the nearby carving fork, or just poor boiling oil over 90% of his body.
He settled for eating the cereal with milk and cleaning the kitchen from ceiling to floor.
It took a long time and he figured that by the time he was done someone would be able to...
* eat off the floor; it's so clean.*
"Oh, thank you, he muttered to himself. "Just what I need, another useless phrase."
He wondered what he should do next. There was no laundry that needed to be done; he didn't want to swim in the moon pool; in fact, he felt oddly adrift. He had spent plenty of time alone while he'd been here, but he'd always known that, at some later (but not too much later) time, he and Picard would eat, or talk or do *something* together. And there had always been the thought, in the back of his mind, that, as he was scrubbing a floor, Picard was somewhere nearby working on something equally boring but necessary.
He wondered if that meant anything to Picard. *Surely he's used to the idea of people working toward a common goal; I'll bet he even misses it.*
*I wonder if I'm used to it? I miss it, here and now, but does the Continuum work toward a common goal?*
He caught himself automatically thinking that he should ask Jean-Luc about it before he caught himself and realized that he would be lucky to be told that it was his day to dust the library shelves, or make lunch. The thought prodded him forward and he headed toward the library. It *was* his day to dust, and maybe Jean-Luc would be there and they could talk. But when, dustrag in hand, he arrived at the library, the doors were closed. He thought about knocking, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it, and so he looked at the doors for a moment, and then sighed and walked away. His own room probably needed cleaning or something.
He applied himself to the task quite diligently, and then, still feeling the effects of his tossing and turning all night, he fell down heavily on the bed. He would just take a quick nap and then go try to catch Picard at lunch.
He woke up with an overwhelming sense of doom, and as his eyes snapped open, he felt genuine surprise that Picard or some demon wasn't standing there, axe raised, to chop off his head. The thought, oddly enough, made him smile, and he felt a little of what he supposed was his "natural resilience" return.
It was time he at least laid eyes on Picard, and he wanted to make sure than man had remembered to eat his lunch. Standing, he straightened his robes, then set off for the kitchen. But despite the lateness of the afternoon, nothing in the pristine room had changed except for a single pot on the stove, quite dry, though it smelled just slightly strange.
*What did he make in here?*
Q found himself wandering back towards the library, that's doors were now open.
He wandered towards the garden, but it was black and muggy outside with the inexorably threatening storm, and he could see Picard's hat on the side table. Finally, he wandered back towards the man's room, slowing down to nothing when he saw that the door was closed.
It was so still, so quiet, like the lost breath of a dead man.
A crash and a muffled "Merde!" startled Q in action.
He had the door open before he thought about it, and ran into the room wishing he had his own axe to wield. Later, he would remember that extraordinary rush of adrenaline, then *need* to attack whatever was hurting Jean-Luc.
But for now there was no thought, just urgency. And when there was nothing worse in the bedroom than Picard himself, sitting there on the bed, staring down at a broken cup on the floor, Q presented only a blank face and upraised hands as they regarded each other warily.
"Are you all right? Q asked at last.
Picard nodded very slowly, his face pinched with pain.
"Could you draw the curtains? he whispered.
Q rushed to the window and drew the heavy cloth over the cut-out through which he had peered the day before. Turning, he saw the bed from the same angle, and everything was abruptly unbearably erotic. He stomped on his own urges and walked back to the broken cup.
"You dropped it? he asked, inanely.
Another slow nod.
"Jean-Luc? What is it? Are you ill? Q kept his voice calm.
"It's a headache. Just...I need to lay down."
Q managed not to help Picard lay back on the bed, but once the man was struggling to reach his sandals, the entity rushed forward, sliding the leather straps free, forcing his touch not to linger on the dry, soft skin of his ankles.
"If only it would rain," Picard sighed as his head sunk into a white pillow.
"It's a pressure headache. I'll be all right when the storm breaks."
Q nodded and left the bed to gather up the broken pieces of the cup. He could smell the same odor that he had in the kitchen, and finally placed it.
"You made tea?"
"Yes. Only a faint whisper from Picard. "Should help with the pain."
"Oh, right." Q no longer wore the bandage on his hand, and could see his thin pink scar.
Picard remained silent, and Q stared at him, bothered by the deep lines the pain was etching in the man's face. He wanted to talk to Picard about his earlier thoughts, but then hesitated. *He doesn't need that right now,* he told himself.
"I should let you get some rest," he said aloud, making a tentative movement toward the door.
He was halfway there when a slight sound from the bed caught his attention. He looked back to see Picard grimacing while he shook his head.
"That's the hardest thing for me to get used to," that deep voice murmured.
"Your being considerate."
Q wanted to get mad, but remembered that he deserved whatever Picard was going to dish out. Something of his feelings must have shown on his face, however, for Picard gestured him to the chair near the bed.
"Let me explain," Picard said, his voice still a hushed rumble. He winced again and then continued. "I've come to believe, in the last ten years or so, that you *do* care, about certain things. That you care very deeply, in fact."
Q stared at him in surprise, trying to reconcile this with the monstrous self-portrait he'd invented during his sleepless night and morning's walk.
"But, for reasons I can only guess at, you, or the Q I know, don't want to show it. In fact," and here there was a pained chuckle, "you seem bound and determined to hide it behind a veneer of calculatedly insulting behavior."
"Can you tell me? Q asked, lowering his voice after the first word out of his mouth made Picard wince. "Or should I go?"
"No, stay," Picard replied. "Helps to have something else to focus on."
He breathed steadily for a moment. "It's occurred to me, from hints you've dropped, that the Continuum is not a particularly hospitable or safe place. I've assumed that you, like myself and every other life form I've ever met, are a product of your culture. Maybe you have to be the way you are, or were, in order to survive."
"Or maybe," Q said bitterly, "I'm just an asshole."
Picard actually chuckled, then winced and seemed to stifle an impulse to hold his head.
"Isn't there anything I can do? Q found himself asking. "Would you like more tea?"
"No," the man breathed. "Just...I would like... Picard looked at him, and Q noticed the shine of sweat on his face. Dropping his eyes, the man pulled on his clothes awkwardly, and Q was there in a half-second, helping him from the top layer of his robes.
Picard subsided when he had nothing more than a thin robe on, and nodded, sinking his head back again to the pillow. The room was too dark for Q to see anything, as the entity reminded himself several times.
The dim light gave Q an idea, and soon he was swinging the door gently shut, turning the room almost pitch black.
Q waited by the door, trying to get his eyes to adjust. The last thing he needed was to stumble on top of Picard in the dark.
Somehow, Q managed to frown at his own mind.
"Q? Picard's quiet voice led him a tentative step forward.
"I can't see to the bed. I don't want to knock anything over in the dark."
Picard sighed slightly. "I'm this way, and there's a chair by the bed."
Q walked forward and found it with his hands, set it by the bed carefully indeed, and then sat down, his eyes searching for signs of that strong body underneath that thin, thin robe.
There was a long moment of silence and then Picard's voice whispered into the darkness. "Actually, most of the time, I don't think you're an asshole."
"Damned with faint praise," Q murmured, hoping the idiotic smile he had on his face wasn't too audible in his voice. "So," he continued, "you blame the Continuum for some of my attitude?"
"The same way I blame Humanity for some of mine," that velvet soft voice replied.
Blame. The word hung between them like a spider web, innocuous enough, but possibly housing something deadly.
"I know you blame me," Q began.
"I don't actually blame you," Picard said at the same time.
Q fell silent, his jaw dropping for a moment before he recovered enough presence of mind to close his mouth.
"I don't," Picard repeated. "Last night...Last night, I was too embarrassed, too confused, too... He fell silent and sighed. "I should have told you about the Borg from the beginning. The whole story."
"You don't have to tell me anything," Q said, trying to keep his hope buried.
"Right now," Picard said with a muffled moan, "I don't think I'm capable of it. More silence and Q could hear him steadying his breathing. "Suffice it to say that, for whatever reason you sent us to meet the Borg, you may have ultimately saved us from them by warning us."
Q didn't know what to say. He'd been prepared to explain himself and now he was receiving forgiveness, a forgiveness he wasn't sure he deserved.
"I was thinking this morning... he said softly and then hesitated.
"About how you said you lost yourself. With the Borg."
"I've sort of lost myself. Here, I mean. Q hesitated again and then stumbled on. "I know it's nothing like what happened to you, and I don't know why it happened, but...I'm powerless here."
"Such an awful thing to be," Picard replied. The words could have been brutally sarcastic, but instead, there was commiseration in that pained voice. "But at least," Picard continued thoughtfully, "I knew *why* it happened to me, and I was able to resist a little."
"I suppose it doesn't make any difference, but maybe, here in the dark you can pretend it's that other me talking to you. Maybe..."
Q drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Jean-Luc Picard," he said, quietly, but resolutely. "I'm sorry that you were hurt so much, that you endured so much."
Picard didn't answer for several long moments, but somehow Q didn't mind. It was enough that he had finally said it, that he had been able to offer that much to the darkened room. He smiled and felt something in his back relax.
"Mankind will survive to see its future only through endurance and suffering beyond which I can calculate. Picard sighed, and Q sensed that he was shifting his weight slightly. That deep voice had begun to take on a slightly somnolent tone, and Q thought the tea might finally be doing its job. He hoped so. He hoped the storm would break soon.
"If we allow ourselves to become complacent, we'll die," the man continued. "As little as I've appreciated being the object of your ridicule, I should think, without you, my life wouldn't be what it is. Perhaps everyone I know and care about would be dead. Perhaps... Another sigh, held out this time. "It hurt."
"That they would do that to me, and that you wouldn't care."
Q heard his own gasp.
"I cared, Jean-Luc. I must have cared."
His heart pounding ridiculously in his ears, Q laid a hand on the slope of Picard's ankle, just for a moment.
For a split second, Q was aware of nothing but the electric feel of warm skin covering bone underneath his hand.
And then, outside, the sky fell down.
Without thinking, Q ran to the window and pulled the drapes open. At the same moment, the world outside caught fire, white-hot fire that burned into Q's eyes.
*Lightning.* His mind supplied the word, and he turned back to make sure that Picard was all right.
The deafening sound of the thunder was still resonating through Picard when Q let go of his ankle and headed toward the window. His whole body tightened, and he groaned softly in pain as his headache seemed to get a hundred times worse.
And then, with the flash of lightning that reminded him of nothing so much as Q's own signature flash of energy, the pain was gone.
Picard reeled in the bed with sheer dizzy relief as every muscle in his body went limp and loose, the tension draining out of him like a flooding river. At the window, the lightning flared again and he could see Q, turned towards him, silhouetted against the blast of white light.
*Oh God,* Picard thought, as one part of himself tensed back up again. *Not again.*
But this was different, somehow this arousal wasn't angry.
It couldn't be angry; *he* couldn't be angry. If this were really the Q he knew, that apology and that admission of caring was genuine. If this *weren't* the Q he knew, it was wrong and foolish to hold the "other" Q's mistakes against him.
*And besides,* he told himself, smiling suddenly, *the apology and the caring are *still* genuine.*
It occurred to him, as the room went dark again, that he shouldn't really be congratulating himself for figuring any of that out; it was, after all, terribly obvious. In fact, it was so obvious that he laughed a little.
Oh, Q was back by the bed now. He'd left the drapes open and another flash of light gave Picard a quick glimpse of a concerned face looking down at him. He was struck by the sudden yearning he felt towards the owner of that face. For all these years, had he really wanted nothing more than actual concern from Q?
*My erection doesn't seem to think so.*
"Are you all right?"
Picard almost moaned. That voice. That voice had always gotten to him.
The lightning flashed again, illuminating the room for almost a full second. Picard felt the light burn the image of Q's concerned eyes forever into his brain, while Q realized the thin robe was revealing an impossible gift.
In the darkness, he fell to his knees beside the bed, leaning his elbows on the side, leaning over the man laid out before him, drawing himself down.
*Moth to flame. A horse running into a burning barn.*
Another flash of light, and Picard could see what he was about to do. Did those narrow hips raise up just slightly to meet him as his lips gently brushed the outline of the man's cock through his gossamer robe?
"Q... Picard breathed. "Oh, God."
"Please let me make you feel good," Q whispered. His left hand gathered some of the robe and raised it up, the material brushing along the straining, heated skin and making Picard shiver. "Please. Just let me do this. Nothing else, I promise."
Picard might have answered, but his words were lost in his gasp as Q's right hand slid up the inside of his thigh. So gentle, so full of tender care.
Q's breath caressed him, and when the white light returned, Picard saw the outline of Q's dark head as he bent to take him in his mouth. The thunder echoed his own shout of pleasure, and the light was now inside him. So hot, and the pressure was firm and sure.
Picard bucked, and wanted to curse himself, but Q rode it out without protest, sucking harder, then releasing him as a long tongue wove around his cockhead.
*Touching him is heaven. I could hold him in my mouth all day. Listen to his rumbling voice. Call my name out, beautiful.*
*Yes! Do it again!*
"Oh, God. Q. Q."
Suddenly, it wasn't quite enough to pleasure Picard only with his mouth. His hands roamed over the perfect body, smoothing over lean muscles, finding sensitive nooks and crannies around the joints, delighting over the long lines of him, tripping over a nipple, and returning, to pluck and twist at the hard nub.
Then, disastrously, Q felt a hand pull at the nape of his neck.
"Q, you don't have...you shouldn't have to...it's not --"
Q shook the hand off and swallowed him whole, sucking hard. Jean-Luc screamed and came down his throat, bitter salt, hot and strong.
*Whatever donuts are,* Q thought in confusion, *they can't have anything on this.*
He swallowed and then swallowed again, letting Picard's cock go soft in his mouth. He didn't want to let him go, didn't want to lose this incredible connection between them. *I sucked his cock,* Q thought. *I sucked Jean-Luc Picard's cock and he called out my name and came in my mouth!
*I wonder how soon he'll let me do it again?*
At the thought of doing it again, Q's own erection, which he'd totally ignored, throbbed urgently and he moaned around the slick silk in his mouth.
Once more the hand touched his head, this time gliding across his face.
"Please," Picard whispered, "come up here."
Reluctantly, with a final kiss, Q released Picard's cock, and moved to sit on the bed.
*This is it,* Picard told himself. *I can tell him gently but firmly that this was a mistake that can't happen again,* and the memory of his standard "crush" speech nagged at the back of his mind, *or I can...*
He let his hand move down Q's neck to rest on a strong shoulder. With a deep, steadying breath, he reached for the other shoulder and pulled Q down. Q moved with him, his breathing rapid, until he was lying next to Jean-Luc.
Picard reached for Q's face again, finding his neck first, before he got an idea of where Q's mouth was. Cupping that firm chin, he guided Q until their mouths were scant centimeters away from one another. He could smell something faintly bitter, and with a sudden thrill of excitement as sharp as the lightning that continued to flare outside, he realized that he was smelling his own semen.
"Oh God," he moaned. "Kiss me."
Q's mouth felt as good on his lips as it had on his erection.
Picard moaned into the heat of him, and opened his mouth to plunder Q with his tongue.
"I want you so much, Jean-Luc."
Picard applied the brakes with a mental screech. "Want me...how?"
"Anyhow...anyway...why are you stopping? Please. Oh, please...just touch me."
Picard closed his eyes in pain at his own selfishness and rolled over on top of Q. It had been so long since he'd had a male lover, not since long before he'd taken command of the Stargazer. The vulnerability required had been more than he'd wanted to risk. And yet, now, the thoughts which had come with Q's muffled requests wrapped around him like fog. To have Q inside him...the pleasure of it, that extraordinary closeness...that extraordinary trust...
He wanted it, but...God, he wanted it.
He slid down Q's body in one movement, pushing the robes aside, and found the hot, slick shaft. It was a rose petel along his tongue, the perfect size to fill his mouth. As much as he could while going down on Q, Picard smiled. This would be enough, this time.
Q's world had exploded.
*Blow winds! Cracks your cheeks! Howl! Blow!!*
Thunder and lightning came, a distant echo now of the storm Picard's mouth wrought on his body.
He thrust mindlessly, and his cockhead bumped against hard teeth. Wet lips slid to the base of him. Fingers fondled his balls, taking their heavy weight. A nail lightly scraped along the skin behind.
He spread his legs wider and thrust again. Tingles began, and a wave of heat.
And it was done. He lay sprawled beneath the man he loved.
*Why did I stop doing this?* Picard wondered, utterly forgetting the thoughts he'd had a moment before. He had gotten more of a rush from sucking Q's cock than he had from the medicinal tea and the absence of pain it brought.
He heard Q's breathing steady out and waited for some sort of verbal reaction.
What he heard instead was the sound of deeper, slower breaths until he realized that Q had gone to sleep. Surprised, and more than a little grateful for the trust, Picard let his head rest on Q's thigh for just a minute. He knew he should be thinking about what he'd just done, what *they'd* just done, but he wanted to be selfish for just a moment more. He wanted to lie here, with the taste of Q on his lips, surrounded by the unique scent of him, and listen to him breathe. Just a minute or two more, he told himself. Just a minute...
In the distance, thunder rumbled and finally, the rain came.
Q woke up with a faint snort. His chest was cold and something was tickling the inside of his thigh. "What... he muttered, before he remembered how he'd gone to sleep. Jean-Luc was going to be furious with...
Then he heard a faint sound from below his waist.
Q tried successfully, but just barely, not to giggle.
Here he'd been worried about whether it was considered rude to go to sleep after coming in your lover's mouth, and there was Jean-Luc Picard, snoring on his leg.
*Is there any way to get him covered up now that it's actually getting cool in here?*
He moved a little, wondering if Picard would wake up. After all, the man was a starship captain and could probably wake up in a flash.
Another snore tickled Q's leg and he remembered the cup of herbal tea Picard had drunk for his headache. He had no idea what the properties of the mixture were, but he was willing to bet that Jean-Luc would be out and out hard, for a while.
So, slowly and carefully, he wriggled out from under Picard and slipped out of the bed. Opening the hall door slightly, he located one small lamp and took it out and lit it from one of the hall lamps. When he returned after a quick detour to fetch a light blanket from the foot of the bed, Picard was mumbling something unintelligible and patting the bed near his head.
"Up here, Jean-Luc," Q whispered as he settled against the pillows. He guided Picard up to his chest, where the man's gorgeous head seemed to fit perfectly against Q's shoulder. Q's breath quickened as he flung the blanket over both of them.
"My God," he murmured, borrowing a phrase from Jean-Luc, "it's like you were made to sleep there."
"Mmmmm... Picard replied, burrowing deeper into Q's shoulder.
And then, mixed with the sound of the rain on the roof and outside the window, Q heard his lover snoring again.
t was morning when Picard awoke.
*I have two options.* Picard took a slow, steadying breath. *I can be happy about what happened, or die of embarrassment and shame.*
On the plus side of being happy about making love to Q, there was the joy of this closeness. The down side was an increase of embarrassment and shame when this went sour.
However, there was no plus side at all to feeling embarrassment and shame before he had to.
He raised his head from the incredibly comfortable shoulder to look into extraordinarily deep brown eyes.
"I love you, Jean-Luc."
Picard felt his own eyes go wide. Q said it like a child, or like an old lover. No fear in his voice, no pain, nothing but the simple truth of it. And yet even as he struggled to accept the words, Q's long fingers closed over his lips, gently.
"You don't have to say it back."
Hazel eyes closed over pain. But when Q released him, he spoke calmly:
"I don't know what I feel, Q. Except that I feel...happy."
When Picard could look again Q was smiling hugely, his eyes sparkling like candlelight.
"That's all I want in the universe, Jean-Luc."
Strong lips pressed to that full, open mouth, and they drank in the taste and texture of the other until, at last, they wanted to see one another, and drew back.
Q was smiling, slow and lazy, but Picard's expression drew his hand
to that curve of his jaw, a tender touch down his chin. Deep brown
eyes asked a question.
"Q," Picard rumbled, "there is so much you don't know. So much that complicates --"
"Shhhh. I don't want to hear it."
Picard moved his head slightly away from Q's hand, grunting impatiently. "It's not that simple."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it's not!"
Picard sat up, reaching instinctively for the hem of his uniform, but finding nothing to tuck down but the sheet.
Q's eyes drifted down immediately, the tip of his tongue darting out to touch his full lower lip.
"My God," Q breathed. "*Look* at you."
"What did you say?"
"Fishing for compliments again?"
Picard leaned forward, his eyes glaring. "You said 'God!'"
"You say it all the time."
"You never talk about God like that."
Q look intrigued. "How do I talk about God, then?"
Picard sniffed. "You once tried to tell me you were God."
Q stared at the naked man before him a long moment in evident shock. Then his hand went to his stomach, and he fell back against the bed, laughing with his whole body.
"What's so funny? Picard snapped
"I told *you* I was God? You didn't believe me, did you?"
Picard began to see the humor of the situation. "No," he replied very dryly. "I seem to recall that you then accused me of blasphemy and said, 'I should smite you or something.'"
Q laughed again at Picard's imitation of a haughty being looking down his nose. "Do I really talk like that?"
"Oh all sort of biting and a little... Q shrugged and reached for a word. "...swishy!"
Picard finally lost the control he'd been keeping on his smile. "My dear Q," he drawled, "sometimes you're a positive queen."
Q frowned. Whats do you mean, queen?
Picard sighed ruefully. "How to explain..?"
Q smiled at him. "Open that firm mouth of yours and let your incredible voice just roll over me."
"Mmmm, I bet if you make it erotic enough, I'll come."
Picard closed his eyes for a moment, struggling with the picture of Q coming. When he opened them again, Q was looking at him with amusement.
"Queen," Picard said in his best "lecture" voice, "was once a derogatory term used on Earth to describe an effeminate homosexual man, or, for that matter any homosexual man. When, in the late 20th century, the homosexual community began to insist on acceptance...Q!"
"How am I supposed to...ohhh..."
Q lifted his head from Picard's chest for a moment. "Do carry on, Jean-Luc," he said in the swishiest voice he could manage.
Picard grit his teeth as Q bent his head again. "As part of being proud of who and what they were," he had to pause to control a moan as Q's fingers began to tease his other nipple. Q made a sort of rolling gesture with his other hand and Picard stifled a laugh as well as a moan.
"...homosexuals began to reclaim words that had once been insults."
Q lifted his head again. "Which words?"
Picard smiled in true pleasure at the genuine curiosity in Q's voice. Perhaps this was what Q had been like originally...say, at the dawn of the universe.
"'Queen,' for example," he said. "It became a sort of moniker. Gay men would call each other that when they were feeling playful. By the mid-21st Century, it gained popularity as a term for a man or woman who was being demanding, or who was simply outrageous."
Q's eyes narrowed. "But that wasn't how you used it just then when you were talking about me."
Picard considered his response very carefully...until Q lowered his head again, and tickled the hairs on his chest with his lips.
"Ohhh...yes. Yes. I meant it in the more traditional sense, although I can't really see you in drag."
"Women's clothes, for men. Men's clothes for...oh, God..."
"Yes. Oh, yes. A little lower, please."
"Oh, you're so polite, Jean-Luc. Ask me to take you into my mouth."
Picard groaned, thinking about what he'd like to ask for, and then flinched.
Q sensed it, and in a second the captain was looking into an expression of concern and anxiety.
"Jean-Luc? Did I hurt you?"
"No. No. Despite his obvious erection, Picard looked around the dim light of the room. It would be dawn soon.
"Perhaps we should try to get some sleep before the day really begins."
Q just looked at him a long minute.
"Is it always going to be like this, Jean-Luc? Am I going to have to drag everything out of you?"
"Q, as I've said, there's a great deal you just don't understand about this...arrangement."
"Arrangement? For the first time, Q looked slightly angry. "My love for you is not some sort of 'arrangement.' I don't ask you to love me back, but please don't belittle my feelings!"
Picard closed his eyes and seemed to lose the prop which held him up straight. Q felt his anger disappear, and his concern grow.
"Do you want something from me you don't think I should give you? Q guessed. "Do you think I'll say yes to whatever you want, and then regret it later?"
Half of Picard's mouth curled up, but his eyes remained focused downwards.
"Q. Please, I want to talk these things over with you when I'm not naked and...distracted."
"If you're not naked you probably won't want to talk about them at all."
Picard closed his eyes. In the resulting dark, it was a little easier to reply.
Still with his eyes closed, Picard ran a hand over his scalp. A second later, another hand moved smoothly over the same skin.
"Oh God," Picard gasped, startled into honesty, as the hand caressed the back of his neck before moving across his scalp again. "Why does everything feel so much better when you do it?"
"Really? Q's voice was curious and eager.
"You like that?
Picard wanted to answer, but Q traced another spiral on the back of his neck and all Jean-Luc could do was groan. He didn't want to open his eyes or face reality or anything right now. In desperation, he flung an arm across his face.
Then, worrying about Q's reaction, he moved the arm again.
"Here," Q said gently, no worry or pain in his voice. "Use this."
Picard opened his eyes, vaguely noticing that "this" was one of their sash-like belts. Catching most of his attention, however, was Q's smile, warm and excited and accepting all at the same time.
"Last night," Q said, folding the sash and laying it over Picard's eyes, "when you were sucking me in the dark," he had to pause to catch a breath and in his blindfolded darkness, Picard could feel the minute movement, "it was so amazing; it felt so...intense."
"Oh, God," Picard breathed out, not knowing if he would be able to breathe back in again.
He felt the movement of air over his skin as Q moved down his body.
He felt the bed shift with the change in weight. He heard the rustle of the sheets as Q moved his legs and hands, and then as Q moved that one sheet aside.
Q's body was so warm he could feel it radiating down on his stomach, could feel him pressing down like a warm blanket along his legs. Fingertips trailed through the light hair at the base of his belly, trailing down, teasing slightly. He couldn't help moaning again, and just the slightest thrust, wishing with his soul that he could find Q's mouth, that that warmth and willingness would take him in without harm, without fear, like the acceptance he had seen in Q's eyes.
Breath on his cock warned him, but he still shouted in pleasure as soft lips sucked at the edge of his cockhead, the tip of that tongue coming out to lap gently at the moisture Picard could feel, hot and sticky, on his own skin.
*More,* he wanted to ask, to beg, but there was no need, and that was even better. There was just Q's mouth on him, more of it now, and the tongue along the underside, then swirling around. He moaned again, in rhythm now with the dance of that tongue.
When warm fingers stroked the warmth of his sac, rolling the testes as though Q himself would be hurt by any roughness, Picard felt just the slightest extra moisture in his eyes, held in easily by the blindfold. It was odd, really. He didn't feel like crying. Q's touch, in fact, was strengthening something inside him. He had been a fool to fear this, an idiot to delay and deny.
Q's other hand was tickling his thigh now, and the mouth on his cockhead was nibbling just slightly, lips drawn over teeth.
For a split-second, movement and sensation were halted. Then a strong sucking, and Picard was inside, deeply, surrounded by heat, and even as Jean-Luc groaned, he could not stop his legs from spreading wide, his hips from canting up just slightly. It was all so perfect, so incredible and loving, and yet he could not help the primal need for just one more thing.
Q's mouth slid away, yet when he spoke, his breath was still warm on the moisture of his cock. "What is it, Jean-Luc? What am I not doing?"
"Q...nothing. Everything you're doing is wonderful. Please don't stop."
"I'm not going to stop, but I need a little direction here. Why did you...is this the spot?"
Picard groaned and thrust down slightly.
"You want me to touch you here?"
Picard couldn't help it. "Inside."
There was a pause, and the finger stroking Jean-Luc's anus pressed just a little more firmly. "Inside here?"
Only the blindfold allowed the confession. "Yes. Please."
"Won't it hurt you? Or should I... Q obviously sucked on his finger, then returned it, pressing now successfully inside. Picard tensed for a moment, then relaxed with a sob of pleasure. It had been so long, and Q's touch was perfect yet again.
When the warm mouth returned, sucking deeply, cherishing him, while the finger probed carefully, it was over in less than a minute. A hot, convulsive gush, mindless in joy, and Q's name was shouted into the dawn-lit room.
As he became aware of his surroundings again, Picard was also aware of a comforting weight on his chest and arm. Feeling close to boneless, he nevertheless managed to wrap his arm around Q's shoulder. "Q? he asked, his voice still a little strained.
"Please, kiss me."
The words had hardly left his mouth before Q's full mouth, still slick, was pressing against his. Jean-Luc eagerly opened his own mouth, moaning into the kiss as he tasted himself on Q's lips.
Q moaned back, and Picard could hear the urgency of it. He pulled Q closer, and Q pressed against him, hips thrusting that slick hard cock against Jean-Luc's flank. Suddenly full of energy again, Picard let his hands move across Q's broad back in long sweeping motions.
"Tell me," he whispered when he could bring himself to tear his mouth away from Q's.
Picard smiled into the darkness and, strengthened by the need in Q's voice, he decided it was time to leave that darkness. He pulled the sash aside and opened his eyes, blinking a little at the dim light of dawn. His eyes met a pair of warm, needy brown eyes and he gasped, feeling the tug of arousal deep in his belly.
Q was so gorgeous; how had he never noticed it? Jean-Luc reached up and slid his fingers through the dark, faintly silvered hair. "Just *look* at you," he whispered, unconsciously echoing Q's earlier words. The pleased but slightly self-conscious smile he received in return gave him the courage to answer Q's answer. "Anything," he said, toying gently with Q's ear. "Anything you want."
"What," Q asked, pausing to sigh as Picard's finger traced his ear over and over. "What was it like...when I had my finger in you?"
The hand that was still caressing Q's back moved almost automatically down to stroke the small of that back. When Jean-Luc's fingers lightly grazed the beginning of the cleft, sliding along the faint bump of Q's tailbone, Q shuddered and bit his lip, looking at Picard imploringly.
"I can show you," Picard breathed, his voice deliberately husky.
Q shuddered again, and nodded. "Yes. Oh yes, please.!"
Picard didn't bother trying not to smile. Naturally, Q would have no hang-ups about this.
But suddenly, Q's face grew thoughtful. "Jean-Luc? Have you ever had another man put his cock inside you? I bet that would feel even better."
Picard felt his entire body respond with a readiness he hadn't experienced since his twenties.
But he shook his head. Then frowned, and nodded.
Q frowned back at him, and shifted his body impatiently.
"Yes, I have, Q. However, that's something of a larger step than you should probably be taking at this stage."
Q rolled his eyes.
"If you want to... Q wriggled against the captain's erection and smiled wickedly. "Go for it."
"Do you know what a tease is, Q?"
Q looked offended. "I assure you I'm not teasing!"
Picard shook his head with a smile. "That just makes it worse."
He leaned forward then, stopping Q's words with his mouth while his fingertips lightly traced along Q's perineum.
Q muffled out a moan and spread his legs. Dragging his fingers over his own cock until they were slick, Picard grasped Q's cock gently but firmly in one hand, then teased at his soft opening with the index finger of his other hand. Q shivered.
"Oh, that feels so *good,* like I'm getting away with something really naughty. More, please."
Picard wanted to stop those words again with kisses, but his mouth was needed for something further south. When Q gasped and thrust into his mouth, he knew he'd made the right choice.
Quite suddenly, while Picard reveled in the warmth of Q's body under his own, the strength of the muscles which held him in place, the smell of salt and something else...something a little like very dry leaves...he became aware that causing Q pleasure was somehow even more intoxicating that being on the receiving end of Q's attentions.
He delighted in each little gasp, each moan, each whispered plea for more.
He felt nothing short of euphoric, working his finger inside Q's body and sucking him so deeply, so...
The realization struck him as absurdly obvious, and all he could think of for several moments was the opportunity it gave him.
"Q? he asked, his own mouth now flowing warm breath over Q's overheated cock.
"Your happiness means more to me than my own."
Q tried to respond, his chest heaving, his body working down now against that delightful intrusion between his legs.
Picard laughed, and readied himself.
"I'm telling you that I love you, Q. And then he took him in deeply and plunged his finger in as far as it would go.
Q screamed hoarsely and came hard, arching his body and thrusting into Picard's mouth.
Picard took him in, remembering how not to gag as he swallowed several times.
"God," he said as soon as Q lay back, gasping, against the bed. "I love it all."
Q blinked at him.
The uncertainty in his voice was like the slap of cold water. He moved quickly up Q's body, wrapping that strong frame in his arms.
"You," he replied. "You and your cock and the way you taste and the way you were so tight around my finger and..."
Q grabbed at him and pulled him close, spreading his legs and wrapping them around Jean-Luc's narrow hips.
"Me? he said, his voice now a tease. "Little old me?"
Picard growled and bent his head to nip lightly at Q's ear. When Q instinctively thrust up, the angle ground his hip against Picard's cock.
"You," Picard replied, his voice thick with lust. He thrust against Q's hip, a movement that caused him to slide until he was thrusting into the hollow of Q's groin. "Oh God...Q!"
"Yes," Q growled back, moving against Picard, matching him thrust to for strong thrust. "I'll let you do this now, but later..."
"Yes? Picard ground out.
"You're going to stick that cock of yours into me," Q said, his voice right in Picard's ear. Right where it had been so many times before, back when Q was still Q and Picard...
"Oh yes! I'm going...to fuck you, Q," Picard was holding back his orgasm with every ounce of control he had. "Go in slow..."
"Slow...first...*then* hard. Just like..."
Oh, the orgasm was there, *right* there, straining against him the way his cock was straining against Q's slick skin. Ruthlessly, he reigned it in and kept talking.
"Like I've...always wanted...to do..."
"Always? Q's movements stopped and he stared up at Picard in wonder. "You mean since I came here."
Picard shook his head, almost as shocked by his own words as Q obviously was.
"No," he whispered harshly. "Always, since I met you, it seems."
Q's eyes shone brightly and Jean-Luc could feel his own blurring slightly. His insistent erection pulled him back into the physical world and he looked down at Q.
"Well sometimes not," he growled, smiling at the same time.
Q, obviously knowing that Picard wasnt being cruel, just smiled back. "Oh? He moved under Picard again, all strong and hard and solid. Picard thrust back.
"Sometimes...ohhhhh...I've wanted you...to fuck...me! OH GOD, Q!!!"
The admission and the acceptance he saw in Q's eyes, not to mention the motion of sleek skin against his cock, sent Picard over the edge. Yelling Q's name again, he came, covering them both with semen and then falling into a darkness more comforting than any blindfold.
awoke to the sound of chanting.
*This is how I want to wake up every morning for the rest of my life.*
After Picard had come against him, and Picard had insisted on giving him a sponge bath, he'd almost had another orgasm himself. But they had both been so tired, and it was heavenly to wrap each other up, as though they were two blankets sharing warmth...
Q woke himself completely with laughter.
He was getting quite silly.
*No sillier than making a whole desert world just to get his attention. And Robin Hood? What the hell was all *that* about?*
"Hmmmm. Q slid down in the bed a little more deeply, reveling in it all, delighting in being able to lie here.
The chanting stopped, however, and while his stomach was almost painfully empty, the same could not be said of his bladder.
*It's all so earthy.* He pushed the sheets back and rose up, stretching. Damn, but he felt great.
Dressed and clean and ready for something really heavy for breakfast, he walked into the kitchen, enjoying the flow of his robes, the coolness of the tile against his bare feet, the feel of the post-rain morning.
But it was all nothing, compared to seeing Jean-Luc standing there like some great sultan in his robes, flipping pancakes.
Picard spotted him immediately, and smiled, but Q still crept up behind him, then wrapped his arms around the narrow waist, stooping to bury his face against that neck, and breathe in the clean smell.
"I love you."
Picard's body shivered slightly. "And I love you, Q. I hope you're hungry."
"Starving," Q murmured, nibbling on that neck now.
"That's a very old joke, Q."
Q shrugged. "Everything is new to me."
And though Picard chuckled, he moved slightly away, sliding the last pancake on their plates, then moving to turn off the oven and take the plates to the table.
Hazel eyes met his, and the man sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just...that worries me, more than I'm able to deal with comfortably. Everything is new to you, including me. It makes me worry about when you get your memory back."
Q sighed, smiling indulgently, and walked forward until Picard was in his arms. He kept his eyes locked on his lover's, and spoke very carefully, "As long as I remember being here with you, I don't care what else I remember. When I think of how you look making love to me, I know I will always love you. Please, don't ever fear that will change."
Jean-Luc reached up -- it was quite a reach indeed -- and kissed him soundly, thoroughly, relishing it. When they pulled away, they both acknowledged with their eyes that only sheer necessity was putting a pause to their love-making. Pushing the other gently away, they sat and ate pancakes and talked of the garden.
"I think the rain will doubtlessly have been very good for the vegetation," Picard noted around a mouthful. "Many desert plants respond enthusiastically to such showers. I'm looking forward to seeing the results."
After they finished breakfast, and tidied up, they headed outdoors. Because Picard had left his sandals in his room, he insisted on a quick stop. There was something slightly secretive about his quick trip to the bathroom, but he had such a mischievous look that Q decided to let him keep his secret.
"You look like an imp," he contented himself with saying. "One of those imps from the Tale of Jilhdum."
"A mere imp?!"
Q backed up and bowed low from the waist. "Forgive this poor beggar, O Great One," he wheedled. "Your disguise is so amazing that I, a mere lowly man, was completely taken in by it."
Q would have gone on like a character from one of the fables, but something in Picard's eyes stopped him.
"What? What is it Jean-Luc?"
"You *have* to have been an actor at some point," Picard said, opening his eyes again. "Even before, you were like this, so flamboyant, so *into* being in a Human body. He smiled at the memory of Qs lounging in a carved chair in Nottingham castle, indolently eating chicken. "I..."
He shook his head and Q was right next to him.
"What is it, Jean-Luc Picard?"
"I have the built-up pressure of so many years of wanting you...I can't believe this."
"Oh yes, you can," Q said, confidence in his voice. "Look around you."
"Look at this wall, at the floors and the carvings..."
Picard was nodding as he looked at the broad hallway that led to the entrance of the building. Q knew the man had gotten the point, Jean-Luc was hardly an idiot, but he wanted to say it anyway.
"I made this for *you* Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise. Every tile, every carving, those robes, the moon pool, here he paused, "and we *must* make love in the moon pool, Jean-Luc. All of this right down to the jars of oil in the cellar and the cold box and that really clever stove-oven combination was made for *you!*"
"But -- " Picard began and it was Q's turn to need to reassure his lover.
"No buts. Oh sure, I was probably intending to teach you something, and maybe even pretend that I didn't want you, didn't love you, but tell me something."
"Yes? The hazel eyes were calmer now and Q felt a sense of triumph.
"At a guess, I'd say that every time I made some place up and took you to it, it was incredibly detailed."
Picard thought about the courtroom (no longer quite so horrible now, although still chilling in its own way), and the England of legend and all the other places Q had taken him to. He nodded.
"Yes. And what's more, when you took Riker and the others to play
your silly game, Will told me later that the terrain was almost an afterthought
and the monsters were," he remembered Riker's words even now, "'rather
disappointing, given that it *was* Q, sir.'"
Picard looked about them thoughtfully, as the stepped out of the temple and into the cool clear morning air. He was unable to keep from smiling at the warmth of Q's body near to his own. They began to walk again, slowly, enjoying the incredible moisture and freshness in the air. Nevertheless, both gasped just slightly in surprise when the garden came into view.
They had both privately expected there to be some desert blooms, and both had anticipated the pleasure of seeing the other's delight in a spectacle rare even to a starship captain and a semi-omnipotent entity.
But neither had expected the panoply of colored petals, the explosion of fragrance and life that had come from the ordered temple garden.
It was natural competition at its very best, each flower shouldering the other aside in proud displays, looking to attract the busiest insects, or to catch the strongest desert breeze.
The lovers walked slowly forward now on the path, and without consideration they had taken each other's hand. There was no other possible response to this place than to enjoy it together, fingers squeezing slightly in excited appreciation.
Q's eyes, however, were only drawn to Jean-Luc when the man pulled his hand to his lips and kissed it.
"Even this," Picard whispered, "you made for me."
"When I'm 'me' again, I'll make anything you want."
Picard's warm breath washed across Q's palm. "Q..." His voice trailed off.
Dont you think I could -
"No," Picard interrupted. "It's not that. It's just...well, think of the temptation."
"Temptation?" Q thought for a moment. "I can't imagine your ever asking me to do something you knew to be wrong, or that you couldn't do for yourself, at least where your career and ship are concerned."
"Your opinion of me is entirely too high."
"Baloney! Yours is way too low."
Picard shook his head. "I'll remember this," he said, unable to keep from teasing Q a little. He knew that, when Q became himself again, they would both need to work long and hard at hammering out some sort of arrangement.
*No,* Picard told himself, *I'm going to indulge myself. Just for once in my life, I'm going to let go and take something I want.*
"I hope you will," Q teased back. "You can use it against me if I get too full of myself."
Picard chuckled. "There are other things that might work better."
He lifted Q's hand to his mouth again and nipped lightly that his wrist. Q sighed and closed his eyes.
"There is that," he said. "Jean-Luc Picard?"
Q reached down and cupped Picard's chin. "Up here."
Q moaned a little at the first brush of Picard's mouth against his. There was so much to feel, so many things he wanted. He wanted more of these kisses, more of these moments with Picard's arms holding him close. Yes, definitely more of the kisses; Picard was so good at kissing and Q was sure there were hundreds of other ways to be kissed. *And Jean-Luc Picard probably knows them all.*
For the first time since he'd realized he loved Picard, Q felt a real desire for his memory to return. He couldn't help thinking of all the really sexy things he probably knew how to do.
He wanted to do everything to Jean-Luc that would make him feel good. He wanted to turn this man, this paragon of a creature who was so harsh about allowing himself joy, into pure pleasure. He wanted to watch those eyes turn clear and show him everything inside.
He wanted to kiss him naked in the garden.
The sound Picard made when he started removing the man's robes might have been a protest. Q didn't care. He felt appallingly selfish. His own need to feel flesh, to feel Picard's body with his hands and his own body drove everything else away. There was only standing here, loving this man. The simplicity of it was a poem.
"You are my ritual," Q murmured as he backed off enough just to pull the robes apart between their bodies. Then his arms tightened and their chests touched and that was enough, for a moment, to enjoy.
Something was pressed into Qs palm.
He thought at first it was unimportant, something Picard had been holding that their touches fumbled into his possession. But then the cool shape began to register, and he found he had broken off the kiss to look down at the small bottle of lubricant in his hand.
"Yes, Q," Picard murmured, his eyes looking up with all the openness Q could desire.
Q shuddered slightly at the way it felt to have everything he'd ever wanted, ever needed, actually happen to him. "This is incredible," he said softly, tugging at Picard's hand a little. He was pulling the man toward the patch of grass in the middle of the garden and Jean-Luc was following him and smiling at him. "It's perfect."
"Typical hyperbole," Picard noted, and Q laughed at the effort he made to sound disapproving.
Having reached the grass, Q tossed their robes down and then knelt to arrange them a little more. When he looked back at Picard, he found himself at just the right level to lean forward and...
"Ohhhh," Picard moaned, his fingers sliding easily through Q's dark hair. He looked at the garden, at the surrounding desert made green by the storm and then he looked down at Q: kneeling before him with his gorgeous mouth around Jean-Luc's cock. *Gorgeous and talented,* Picard told himself, as that tongue traced patterns over his sensitive skin. He staggered a little, his knees threatening to give out, and reached down to place a hand on Q's shoulder.
"If you...keep that up..." he warned.
Q released him, but not after another long lick and a kiss on the very tip of Picard's cock.
As Picard joined him on the robes, the entity looked at the bottle of lubricant. "I *really* did think of everything."
Picard laughed and shook his head. "It certainly does validate your theory."
"Jean-Luc Picard, can you seriously sit there and use the phrase 'validate your theory' when we're about to have passionate sex?"
"You find me too articulate to convey a sense of sexual desperation?" the captain inquired, running a hand lightly down his own chest, as though brushing away a bit of dust.
Q snarled and tackled him, brushing up a small red, blue, yellow and purple cloud of fallen blossoms as they sprawled together on the spread-out robes.
Q's hands were everywhere: circling Jean-Luc's shaft, running over the cockhead, stroking the warm sac and perineum behind it; smoothing over his chest, tangling in the short gray-black hairs, twirling around the light pink nipples; gliding up and down his thighs, nipping at the peaks of his hips, reaching behind to knead the spare, muscular buttocks; dipping fingertips into his navel, brushing at the sensitive places of his belly, trailing down that line of hair...
Picard tried to match his touches, got lost and gave up, wallowing back on the flowers and linen as his eyes lost their focus on all but the wide and cloudless sky.
He tried to keep the game going, to tell Q what this was doing to him, but his voice would only moan and whisper while his erection curled up against his belly, desperate for more touches.
And then it was Q's mouth everywhere, touching his body, lapping at him like a brook, tasting him, He arched into the touch as best he could, turning slightly each direction, as he began to shake.
"Q!" he managed. "I'm going --"
"Yes," Q ground out. "You're going to come, and then I'm going to fuck you until you come again."
Picard felt petals crush in his fists as he emptied himself into the garden air, displaying himself for Q's eyes, his own body joining in the competition of flowers, demanding admiration.
Q gave it to him in silent witness, the hands for just a moment motionless on his skin.
Then strong fingers and palms pushed the man's legs wide apart, pressing the thighs back against the strong chest. Picard threw the last of his strength into reaching for an embrace, but fell far short, only managing to drop the crushed petals over his own body, much to Q's delight.
With a grunt of approval that threatened to become a howl, Q slipped one, then eventually two, and finally three fingers inside Picard's body, impatient but careful, so careful. There could be no pain here. Not in this place.
And so it was a desperate "Hurry, Q" which beckoned him on as, at last, Q raised himself up and guided himself inside the man he loved, sinking himself deeply, perfectly inside.
"Oh God!" Picard yelled as Q rested against him. "Q...I...I forgot..."
Q frowned. "I didn't hurt..."
"No. Not at all." Picard drew a deep breath and Q gasped at the way even such a slight movement, such a minor shift in position, created such sensation around his cock. He tried to visualize the Hithanytan alphabet and slowly got himself under control.
"What did you forget?"
"Nothing," Picard replied. He opened his eyes and looked at Q. "I was going to say that I'd forgotten how good this is, how amazing it feels, but it would have been a lie. This *never* felt this good. I've never felt anything like this."
"Really?" Q knew he sounded eager, probably too much so, but he couldn't help asking.
"Really," Picard replied with a wicked smile.
Q had a fraction of a second to wonder about that smile and then he was crying out as Picard's muscles tightened around him. "Oh, my God," he breathed, withdrawing slightly before moving back inside his lover.
He tried to move slowly, not wanting to hurt Picard or even to seem too needy. He *was* needy, nothing but a huge bundle of need, most of it concentrated on his cock, but Picard hadn't liked it when he was needy before...
"More," that voice he heard every morning demanded. "More, Q!"
"More and harder," Picard kept moaning. "I...need it...need *you* "
"Yes," Q repeated eagerly. "Need you too...being inside you...fucking you like this..."
"...it's perfect," Picard finished.
Q looked down at the man beneath him. The strong sunlight gleamed on his pale skin and the absurd petals on his chest made him look entirely like someone else. But that voice, which was even now encouraging Q, was the connection between this man and the man who'd rescued Q in the desert. That voice was even now chanting out meaningless words of desire the way it normally chanted out goddess names, and Q lost himself in each moan and gasp and cry.
But even as he savored those sounds, and felt his amazement at the sight of this man with his legs spread and his body taking him in, arching up and around him, Q breathed in the oil of flowers and sweat and semen, salt and perfume, and felt drunk and turned up-side down.
Somehow, though he was pressing himself inside Picard, Q felt exposed. And there was something inside him that screamed against it, that shouted of danger and ordered him to run and cover himself.
But any distance from Picard was simply not to be tolerated.
He pressed closer, harder, deeper, needing that connection more than his own heartbeat. Sweat now made his grasp on Jean-Luc's hips treacherous, and his rhythm was beginning to falter. And end was coming, like the blast of heat that must follow the swallowing of fire. He shouted and struggled to continue.
But then he looked down, into those ice-gray eyes, and was truly lost.
Only pleasure could take him now, the pleasure of knowing Jean-Luc was coming again, his body's dance a symbol of the man's acceptance.
So, instead of hiding, he thought of himself as being stripped bare and plunged into a moon pool made of pleasure. And as Jean-Luc let go, screaming Q's name and words of love, Q did the same, letting the pleasure close over his head and then buoy him up until there was nothing that could be above him.
"Just checking." Strong arms tightened around Q and his eyes flew open.
"I'm sorry," he began, getting ready to move off Picard.
Those lean muscled arms held him fast, and those eyes smiled up at him. "Don't you dare apologize."
"Well...all right. Can I lie on you all day?"
Picard pretended to think about it. "Not if you intend to sit down anytime soon." When Q looked at him, puzzled, the man continued. "Sunburn, Q. Think about it."
Q winced. "No *thank* you," he said in what he thought of as his "queen" voice. "Jean-Luc, if my ass is sore, I want it to be for one reason and one reason *only.*"
Picard laughed. Q looked down at him, trying to look affronted, but he couldn't help laughing with Jean-Luc.
Picard was finding life a little unbelievable. He kept testing himself, probing at his mind to see if this were a dream, a dream of everything he ever wanted coming true. And the answer kept coming back: this was no dream. He looked up at Q who was chuckling quietly now and brushed his lips with slightly unsteady fingertips.
Q immediately kissed them and then opened his mouth, sucking one finger in and twirling his tongue around it. Picard took a deep breath as his body tried to respond. He couldn't, not yet, but he still *wanted* Q, even *needed* him. *What's happened to me?*
"Q?" he asked out loud.
Q raised an eyebrow in question.
"Bite it. My finger."
Furrowing his brow a little, Q complied, his teeth closing over Picard's finger sharply.
Picard winced a little and then smiled up at his lover.
Q let the finger escape his lips.
"Jean-Luc, are you...damn, what's the word?..don't tell me...." He frowned in concentration, looking very much like the Q Picard had known for years, and Picard felt his heart pound, knowing that he would someday have *that* Q as well.
"Kinky!" Q said. "Jean-Luc, are you kinky?"
"Not particularly," Picard replied. "I asked you to bite me because part of me is afraid that this is a dream." He shook his head. "It's all so perfect, don't you see, Q? I can't help but believe in it, but perfection frightens me."
"You see it every time you look in the mirror, Jean-Luc Picard, and I'm not just talking about your incredibly sexy body."
"Oh please, Q..."
"I'm serious. I'm Q and you're perfect. End of discussion. You want to go swimming in the pond?"
Picard sighed. Actually, he wanted to be inside Q, but his body, though in good shape for a man his age, just wasn't up to performing again for a while. There was no law against thinking about it, though, and while Q watched him he let his lips curl and his eyes narrow to slits.
"I'm thinking, Q. I'm thinking about what it will feel like when I do to you what you just did to me."
Q smiled. "It felt more like you *were* doing it to me."
Picard raised his eyebrows.
Q shrugged. "I was yours. I mean, I am yours, and always will be, but when I was inside you I felt that you controlled me, that you owned me."
Picard shivered. "That makes us even, then."
They had to kiss after that, for quite a long and lovely time. Picard even drew the corner of a robe over Q's backside, and they twined together, both wondering if they would grow aroused again.
But their bodies were tired, and, smiling, they left off kissing and stood up, their arms around each other again, and headed back towards the temple, their robes over their shoulders, stumbling with the awkwardness of not parting, laughing at their own clumsiness, drunk with love and each other.
Q's stomach growled loudly and Picard's answered immediately. Another round of laughter, and now they were headed for the kitchen, where they fell upon bread and cheese and lemonade. After that, nothing seemed as desirable as a nap, taken pressed closely together, so, after a quick bath, they ended up in Picard's room, in the bed, achieving, for a time, true dreams, though still they were of each other.
aptain Picard to the bridge!"
The siren of the Red Alert had him out of bed and halfway into his uniform before Picard even realized he was no longer in the temple.
But even the realization did not slow him as he finished dressing, shoving his feet into his boots as the ship rocked slightly, reverberating with the boom of disrupter fire.
He looked for Q even as instinct drove him out the door, but his bed was empty. It looked small somehow, and he shivered as he headed for the bridge. *Later,* he told himself ruthlessly. *Deal with it *later* Captain.*
"What?!" Riker was saying in surprise as the turbo lift doors slid open. "They have got to be *out* of their minds!"
"Report, Number One," Picard demanded crisply.
"We're being attacked by a Ferengi trade ship," Riker said with disgust. "It's not even Marauder-class."
In spite of the situation, Picard had to smile at the way Will sounded so insulted. He had so missed...
"Mr. Daniels, hail the Ferengi."
"They haven't answered two other hails," Riker said as Picard looked at his tactical display.
"Well, they're certainly no match for us," Picard replied, frowning. He shook his head. "This doesn't make any sense." He looked at the display again. "Unless..."
He wheeled on his heel and looked at Tactical. "Increase power to all shields, Mr. Daniels."
Daniels looked a little confused, but complied. A moment later the ship shook as the aft shields took a hit.
"Were the hell did they get a cloaking device?" Riker muttered.
Picard grunted. It was a good question, but it, as other things, would have to wait.
"It's more important to remember that wherever they got it from, it was doubtlessly second-hand. Mr. Data, can you scan for any sign of the coil generator signature?"
Data's hands played the console at double-speed. "Yes, sir! Bearing eight-five-point-three-six-point-four!"
"Mr. Daniels, target that coordinate with two photon torpedoes and fire."
A moment later, the space outside erupted into fire as a Ferengi battlecruiser was outlined with energy, and then with life-support-fed fire. Both ships retreated, trailing debris. Picard watched them go with a sudden, overwhelming weariness.
"Shall we pursue, or let the authorities deal with them, sir?"
Picard met Riker's eyes. An outstanding officer, offering him the chance to refrain from explanation.
Oh, I'm sure the Ardrium government will be more than happy to deal personally with their trade-route marauders all on their own."
Riker nodded and turned to his console to contact the Ardiu. Picard watched him for a moment, praised God that Troi wasn't on the bridge, and then walked quite correctly into his ready room.
Without changing his posture, he crossed unobserved to the replicator and got a cup of tea. The first sip was delicious and familiar, and he could not repress the slight sigh of pleasure. He had missed Earl Grey.
The next second, the sigh became almost despair.
Had it, after all, not been real?
Had it been a trick of Q's?
He sat on his sofa -- staying far from his desk -- and waited. Q might show up any moment and explain that he had only stayed away because of the ship's emergency. Q might have a perfectly good explanation for why they weren't on their desert world anymore. Q might have anything.
Picard knew, whatever Q had, he would forgive the entity completely.
But he also knew, absolutely, that Q would not be coming.
He passed the four hours on the sofa, until the start of his shift, holding his first, then his second and third, cups of tea, waiting. By the time Alpha Shift was starting, he was more tired than he had been in recent memory, and emptier than he had ever been in his life.
The smell of Q wasn't even on his skin. The taste of him wasn't in his mouth. He couldn't even bring himself to think the name loudly in his mind.
*It was a lie, or a cheat. Something he did to get me...Oh, Lord. He's *fucked* me. What will he do? Show up on the bridge and tell everyone...no. No. He could have done that anytime he wanted, produced any evidence he wanted. Unless he altered their minds, he wouldn't be believed by my crew.
*What, then? Does he want to brag about it to the Continuum? I *know* he lost his memory. I know it was real...or do I? How can I pretend I know anything?*
"I know that I love him." There. He'd said it aloud and the world hadn't ended.
He closed his eyes, remembering every perfect detail as perfectly as he could, alone. He thought of Q's eyes and hands and mouth, of the dark hair crisply pressed into his hands as he held Q to his -
The door chime had to be Troi.
He raised himself quickly from the couch and disposed of his cup before turning to the door.
Data walked through. "The Ardiu have contacted us, sir. They have apprehended the Ferengi vessels and thank us for our...help."
Data really was improving his speech patterns, Picard thought, tugging his uniform down slightly and moving towards the bridge. He could tell that Data was trying to explain that the government felt grateful for being able to get their raiders on their own.
The bridge...thank God for the bridge. It was exactly as it should be, and when he sat in his chair there was solidity there, and assuredness.
It would have to be enough.
The shift dragged. Picard forced himself to keep busy. With the sudden attack by the Ferengi, there were certainly enough things that required his attention. He signed reports, discussed possible Ferengi motives with Riker and Daniels, consulted with LaForge and Data on the necessary diagnostics and minor repairs, heard Beverly's report on the few minor injuries...
He was The Captain. For eight long hours, he was Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the most senior captain in Starfleet, the commander of the Federation's flagship, the overly decorated hero of many battles and diplomat of countless negotiations.
When he walked off the bridge, he felt hollow.
*It's hunger,* he told himself. *I'll eat and shower and...* He forced his thoughts down yet again, not wanting to be seen looking anguished or torn apart or empty. He knew himself well enough to know that he pulled it off. Passing crewmembers nodded as they always did, and went along their way. He nodded back, feeling a little like a puppet with a very lax puppeteer handling his strings.
It was only when he reached the sterile safety of his quarters that his analogy struck him.
*A puppet...played for a fool by a bored little god...*
Another part of his mind instantly protested the insult to Q. Q wasn't like that, it insisted.
*Oh God, am I going to fight myself over this as well?*
He stood in front of the replicator, but couldn't think of what to order. His mind pulled him back to the kitchen in the temple, and then he was remembering, with his usual precision, the hasty lunch they'd eaten there. Q's tongue licking his own lips while he wiggled his eyebrows at Jean-Luc, the way they hadn't been able to keep their hands off each other for long, the way Q laughed when Picard smiled at him...
*From bad to worse...now I'm miserable, still in love with someone who doesn't exist, and I have an erection.*
And then it hit him.
*I was never inside him like that.*
He backed up to sit numbly on one of the chairs.
*Of course you didn't. You think he was going to let you *fuck* him? Even for the sake of a joke, Q wouldn't go that far.*
"I hate this," he said aloud.
Silence and the hum of a well-tuned starship answered him back
*I hate it and I hurt and I'm embarrassed and...I *have got* to get myself together here.*
Searching for an image of serenity that wasn't connected with Q, his mind seized upon the temple itself. *The Evening Rite,* he thought. *I'll do the rite and maybe it will help.*
He stood in the middle of his quarters, feeling the tight stiffness of his uniform as he never quite had before, and slowly, with growing calm, recited the names of the goddesses.
He tried to do the rite as he had before, putting no special stress on anything, allowing his mind to focus and relax. It was over too quickly, but he kept himself from doing it again.
He dressed for bed then, his pajamas welcome on his skin, and yet even they reminded him of Q. How often had the entity seen him in them? Just once? That time they talked of Vash. It seemed more than that.
*I wonder if he'll jeer at me and remind me of what I look like naked the next time we meet?*
He growled at himself and got into bed.
*Will he do more? Will he describe what I looked like with my legs spread, calling out his name as I came all over myself?
*Will he torture me with descriptions of how my body felt around his cock? Will he -- oh, DAMN! I'm doing this to myself!*
And indeed, the thoughts, meant to hurt him into obedience, had reawakened the erection the rite had half-calmed. His body still ached: there was proof of what had happened. He hurt, just a little, inside, where Q had stretched him. His muscles were sore from the strain of lovemaking.
He thought of Q's cock in his mouth. So smooth and so incredibly soft, the cockhead luscious and coated with that sweet-salt precum he would do anything to taste again.
Picard got out of bed, walked to his desk, turned on his monitor, swore, turned it off, got back into bed, and closed his eyes.
*I'll be able to do the rite again in the morning.*
And the rite did help, as tired and cramped as he was the next morning, the names of the goddesses did help to center him, to prepare him for the bridge. He even managed to fob Troi off when she finally came his way, telling her he'd simply had trouble sleeping. She left him alone, and he did his job until the evening rite. Sheer exhaustion made him sleep then, and then somehow he had made it through the next day, and then the next.
As the days stretched into a week, he realized that one thing he so cherished about the rite was that it made him feel closer to Q. But he also realized that this realization, like all the others, changed nothing. He loved Q. He loved Q completely, with his soul. He always would.
*Of course, it's not the real Q I love, it's the false one he made up so he could play with me. It's the sham Q, the little version of himself that was still more than enough for everything I wanted. *My* Q smiled at me without malice, sharing in my understanding of the world, was able to laugh at himself, was able to appreciate kindness and cherish joy. The real Q isn't like that.*
No, he concluded, and somehow that just made it worse. The Q he loved never existed, and thus would never really go away. It might be worse than falling in love with a holocharacter, and it was certainly more fatal, and there was no defense against it. Logic and reason were no match for the way Q had gone to his knees, or kissed him all over, or touched him. It wasn't the skill of those touches, it was the earnest, desperate desire to please.
Picard had never seen that sort of desperation to please when it was unmotivated by fear. He hadn't known love could do that, could make that sort of need to cause another joy.
Another morning rite, another evening, another morning, and two weeks had passed, leaving him even emptier and more hollow than before. He began to consider shoreleave, or some sort of leave of absence. Troi began to ask questions again. Riker was watching him. Data met him in a turbolift and carefully told him a joke. Beverly he avoided all together.
And then one day he awoke, and couldn't talk himself into getting out of bed.
"My my my. Aren't we the sleepy-head this morning?"
"Q!" He was sitting up faster than the thought which had commanded it, smiling, tears prickling his eyes even while dread clamped around his heart. He was alive again because Q *was* there, sitting in a chair across the room, legs crossed, arms folded, immaculate in his captain's uniform.
Why don't we get Number Two in here with a cup of coffee?"
"Where have you been?" Picard demanded, staring avidly at Q. There was something different about him, something about his eyes and...
"No, no, no, Johnny," Q said, sighing. "Learn your lines, will you? It's supposed to be, 'get off my ship, Q!'" The entity stood and put his hands on his hips. "Work with me here!"
Picard's heart broke all over again.
This was even worse than being taunted. How could Q just stand there acting the way he always had? How could he pretend that none of it had ever happened?
*Because,* Picard thought with a sudden burst of clarity, *it never did happen. He's *forgotten* it!*
Of all the possible scenarios Picard had worked out in his unhappiness, this was one he hadn't even considered.
It hurt, oh God it hurt, but for the first time in two weeks, he felt a faint hint of hope.
"Where have you been?"
Q looked at him in exasperation, and the flipped a hand through the air. "Here and there, hither and yon."
In spite of his best efforts not to, Picard laughed.
Q drew himself up and glared at Picard. The little burst of laughter died. This was worse, far worse, than Picard had thought it was going to be. *This* Q didn't even seem to have that mocking, condescending tolerance for Jean-Luc that he'd displayed before.
This entity, glaring at him with cold dark eyes, was the Q who had tried him at Farpoint, tempted Riker with the powers of a god, and sent Picard to the Borg.
None of that mattered.
In a moment of self-loathing, Picard knew that he still wanted Q, rather desperately really. He wanted to feel that full expressive mouth against his mouth or around his cock or on his skin. He wanted to move his fingers through that dark, silver-touched hair while Q held him close or was on his knees. He wanted to be on his knees...
*Right,* mocked his own bitter, despairing inner voice. *You would get on your knees for him. Oh God, I can't believe that I fell in love with an *illusion!* Something that didn't exist and could never exist. It felt so *real* it all felt so real and now it never happened.*
Pulling himself together, he looked at Q again. Even as he tried to speak calmly, his fingers twitched slightly, as if urging him to try to touch some part, *any* part, of Q. "What do you want, Q?"
"Well," Q said, mollified. "That's better. That's the Johnny I remember."
It was only then that Picard noticed consciously how nervous, or at least unsettled, Q seemed.
It showed up only in the super-casualness of his stance, and the way his eyes seemed incapable of focusing on any one thing for longer than a second. *I wouldn't have noticed it before,* Picard thought. *It's only now that's I've memorized his body...Enough!*
"It's interesting that you put it that way," Picard said calmly.
"Put what what way?" Oh, the suspicion and confusing in Q's deliberate harshness were blooming that dreadful hope in Picard's heart.
"What do you remember, Q?"
Q was standing right before him in an instant, blazing with genuine fury for the first time in Picard's knowledge of him. "What do you mean by that, Picard? And if you don't answer me honestly, I'm going to --"
"Have you ever known me to lie to you?" Picard's voice was the acme of calm strength, the opposite of how he felt, as he looked up at Q's red face.
"Answer me, Picard."
"I'm only wondering if you're aware of having lost some portion of your memory, Q. I'm wondering if the Continuum is somehow behind this."
"Behind what?" And now Q's anger was letting just a little fear show, and it gave Picard the strength to answer, carefully:
"You and I have spent some time together, Q: time which you don't seem to recall." Q's expression didn't change, but didn't seem real anymore either. "Time when your memory was affected then as well."
Q looked at him with open hatred.
"Do you really think you can tell me that you acted in league with the Continuum against me and not have me --"
"I wasn't in league with them in any way." Picard knew that he really needed to rise from the bed, but he needed his erection to die away just a little more first. "In fact, I was at *your* mercy when you appeared, living in the middle of a reality you constructed."
"A desert temple."
Q's eyes flickered.
There. He could stand up now, and he did, without making anything like a threatening move. Q stepped back just a bit, and he could stand there, looking at Q without emphasis as he began the morning rite.
Q cut him off after only the third name. "But I didn't make that yet!"
"I would say that you had, actually. I was in it, learning, as I believe you intended for me to learn, what ritual truly means to me, when you...appeared, in the desert, without your powers or your memory."
Q blanched and walked away from him, pacing slightly. "And what happened?"
Picard shrugged, not letting into his eyes or his voice how much he wanted to comfort Q now, to pull him into his arms and stroke his hair and tell him how gorgeous he was, distracting him with sex, making him feel loved.
"We...reached an understanding. I told you about our shared past. You seemed to enjoy having a new universe to explore."
Q wheeled around on him suddenly, eyes narrowed. "You acted like you missed me, when I showed up."
Picard nodded. "The situation abruptly ceased. I woke up here on the Enterprise and the Ferengi raiders were attacking us. I've been wondering for three weeks what had happened to you. I'm...glad to see that you are all right, though I'm...disappointed for you that you've been harmed by the Continuum."
Q's chin came up. "Harmed?"
"They took away what I believe were...pleasant memories."
"You and me in that desert thing? Not something I'm going to weep over losing, I'm sure."
Picard couldn't quite keep that wince from reaching his eyes.
Q stared at him with suspicion and dislike, and in his mind suddenly Picard was once again on his back, his legs spread out, his body craving Q's touch. The memory rocked him, shattered him. He sat on the bed, only then realizing that Q was seeing him for the second time in these pajamas. He wondered if he would have to stop wearing them now, if he could ever find peace or rest in them again.
"If you weren't in league with them, how do you know it was the Continuum?"
"I only assume it was they. I know of no one else who could have done this to you."
Q shrugged, accepting that. "We're hardly above playing a few dirty tricks on each other, I grant you."
"Don't you care that someone's tampered with your memory?"
Q shrugged and almost pulled it off. "If someone did and this isn't some little Human dream of yours."
That contempt-laden voice knifed through Picard and he held himself rigid. "It *wasn't* a dream, Q."
Q shrugged again. "Well, it's not like I've lost anything. I mean, *really,* Jean-Luc. My little desert temple thing and your being my protector? Spare me."
Picard took it all on the chin, only the narrowing of his eyes any indication of the pain Q's words caused.
"Someone," he replied dryly, "apparently did."
"Well, I must look them up and thank them. I believe you were about to say your prayers?"
And with that, Q disappeared.
The minute he was gone, Picard, not caring if Q were lingering around to watch him, slumped his shoulders and just sat on the bed.
The numbness that had cushioned him for the last few weeks was gone and in its place was a jumbled mass of confusion. How could he prove anything to Q? Why should Q believe him? If he did believe him, why would Q have any reason to care? Why would Q, this Q, in full command of his powers, want anything to do with Jean-Luc Picard?
It hit him then, like a blow to the solar plexus. Q calling him "Jean-Luc Picard," first because he didn't know any better and then as an affectionate nickname. *This* Q hadn't even called him "Mon Capitaine."
*Good thing too,* that little voice said, nastily. *You'd have probably flopped on your back for him.*
If only to silence that voice, he rose and began the rite again. "Inshallath, Fatmira, Shirulla..." The names rolled off his tongue and almost hung in the air. He breathed carefully through the correct number of repetitions, and then, somewhat calmer, headed for the shower and then another day of being The Captain.
Q didn't return for two days. The wait was somewhat easier than Jean-Luc would have guessed, since he *knew* Q would have to come back. He'd learned enough about the entity long before their desert experience to know he simply couldn't be comfortable with a blank in his memories.
The only thing he didn't know -- apart from exactly when and how Q would appear -- is whether Q would decide that the whole business was Picard's fault, and attempt to seek some sort of revenge upon him or his crew.
He briefly considered having Riker leave him off on some uninhabited M-Class world, so that if Q did come back with a flaming sword, the ship would be out of danger.
But it was futile. Resistance, when it came to Q, was always going to be futile. He couldn't protect the ship from anything Q was really determined to do. And if Q wanted to hurt him...he supposed he would be hurt.
And then the vision came to him clearly: Q offering to let Picard rape him, to make him feel better.
"Do you want me on my knees or my stomach?" That open expression, that genuinely concerned voice.
Q had offered himself to violence out of a need to help, to redeem himself. He had offered himself up because he loved him.
"Captain?" Troi's gentle voice, a reminder that he was brooding on the bridge.
He met her eyes, but she simply nodded and looked away. She wasn't going to pry. She didn't need to. She might not know for whom he felt this way, but she must have sensed by now that he was heart-sore. She knew he would seek her out if needed, and brooding, while hardly professional, was no danger to the ship.
Then suddenly Troi straightened in her chair.
"A herald," Q's voice drawled. "I suppose I should be flattered."
Every turned to see Q lounging in Riker's chair. Riker himself sat in a folding chair in the corner.
"So, what mission am I interrupting today?" Q went on, flopping his hand around slightly, his voice dripping boredom. "Is someone else suffering and dying?"
"We'll doing a survey of subspace damage in several Ardiu shipping lanes."
"And flushing out a few pirates," Riker added, moving easily from his chair to stand by the captain's side.
Q looked at him with scorn. "I'm sure," he drawled, "they took one look at *you* and just shook in their boots."
Riker took a deep breath, but subsided at a glance from Picard.
The captain sighed and looked around the bridge. *Well, I'm on stage, I suppose I should stick to the script.*
"What do you want, Q?" he asked sternly.
"Do I always have to want something?"
*Interesting,* Picard thought. *He's sticking to the script as well.*
"You always do," Picard replied. He was irritated with this silliness when what he wanted to be doing was talking to Q in private. At least Troi would sense irritation from him and her lack of complete telepathy would keep her from either sensing the reason for that irritation or the feelings Picard was carefully burying beneath that irritation.
"And if you *don't* want something," he continued, "then get off my ship!"
Picard saw Daniels exchange an impressed glance with Riker, and struggled to hide a mirthless smile. *Oh yes,* he told himself, *I'm still the captain who can face up to a menace like Q.*
Q looked at him and then looked around the bridge. It was strange; Picard could read uncertainty in the entity's restless movements and he couldn't help the sympathy he felt. something was wrong; Q needed information from Picard and he didn't know how to go about just asking for it.
*We both have our reputations to maintain,* he realized.
"Look, Q," he said, his voice deliberately harsh as he rose from his chair and looked down at the entity. "I don't know what game you're playing, but we don't have time for it. You are *not* welcome here, so leave. Please. *Now.*"
Was that gratitude he saw buried deep in Q's incredible brown eyes? "Just who do you think you are, Picard?" Q demanded, also rising from his chair. "You can't talk to me like that." He raised his fingers and several things happened at once.
In the second before the white flash, Picard saw Riker start forward and Daniels pull out a hand phaser. Troi gasped and Data said, "Oh shit" quietly but very clearly. and then they were all gone, along with the conn officer and all the other bridge crew. He and Q stood alone on the suddenly quiet bridge.
"Well, I trust that kept my crew entertained," Picard drawled. He sat down, crossed his legs and settled his hands in his lap.
"Are you ready to talk now, or do you want to make comments about my authoritative stylings?"
Q sniffed and stalked to the viewscreen. Picard noted that the stars outside were not only longer moving, they were no longer varying in any way.
For an extremely bizarre moment, Picard felt a surge of egotistical pride. *This* was the power Q threw about, and Jean-Luc had once held Q in his arms, had made love to him, had held him in inside, deeply...
Picard shook his head slightly, pushing it all away.
"The Continuum says that we proved a most illuminating study," Q said at last, bitterly, looking at the motionless stars. "They said we both exceeded expectations remarkably."
Picard felt sick, the dizziness of having his universe completely alter again. "So, they told you all about what happened, did they?" *And you still don't love me.*
Q whirled around with a gold-plated sneer. "No, they did *not.*"
Hope knifed him, and he hid the urge to double over in pain by standing up.
"Are you considering some sort of...insurrection of your own these days?" Picard asked. Q just looked at him.
"I mean, if they won't tell you, I assume you're going to insist. I hope this won't cause my ship to --"
"Fuck your ship."
Picard was stunned. He had no idea Q used profanity when he was truly angry. But he did know this, finally, was genuine rage. He thought it possible Q might snap him out of existence, and Humanity with him.
And, damn it all to hell, he was more concerned about Q's pain than in Humanity's fate.
"They've united against you?" Picard winced. That hadn't come out right.
"I can't take them all on."
"But you do realize I know."
Q rolled his eyes without losing any of his menace.
"Well, please forgive me here, but I am surprised you don't just take the knowledge from my mind. You've done that sort of thing before."
Q snorted. "It's not allowed."
Picard waited a good half-minute before prompting quietly, "What's not allowed?"
Q crossed his arms and shifted his weight to one hip, and the tension in the room did ease slightly. "The Continuum have explained to me that the 'experiment' isn't finished. If I want to remember what happened between us, there's only one way for this to happen: you have to tell me what happened. Everything. Only then will I get my memories back."
Q snorted. "I doubt that."
"Meaning, if you think for one second I'm going to beg you for scraps of information, you're more ape-like than I ever thought, and I'll just chatter at you and offer bananas from now on."
Picard let himself smile. "Oh, I think you're not quite on track here, Q."
"Meaning we're both quite aware that you won't be able to stand ignorance for long." Picard held up a hand. "However, there's no need to 'beg' me, Q. You might just *ask* me."
Q's whole body was tense now. "You must really be enjoying this."
"I'm not, actually."
Q shot him an icy glare.
A Borg cube appeared on the viewscreen, flat, motionless. Picard still almost jumped out of his skin.
"Do you want me to say that I'm frightened, than I'm inadequate, that I need you?" Q grated out. "Well, it's not going to happen."
"I don't want any of those things," Jean-Luc said mildly. "This has never been about the Borg. It wasn't even about them then."
"Oh, ambiguous comments now. I'm impressed."
"You offered to let me rape you, as atonement for the Borg."
Q flashed out, leaving Picard standing on the empty bridge. The captain sighed, and looked at the viewscreen. At least the Borg cube was gone.
He tugged his jacket down and sat in the command chair. Q would be back. Picard wondered if he would be able to continue to keep his physical reaction to Q's presence a secret, and decided that there was a definite advantage to the Enterprise-E's darker bridge.
According to Picard's internal clock, it was roughly five minutes before Q appeared again.
"Once more," the entity said, glaring at Picard from behind the phaser rifle he was aiming at the captain. "No bullshit this time."
Picard sat in his chair and spread his hands slightly. "I was telling the truth, Q." He looked at the rifle and felt a brief surge of irritation. "Oh, put that thing down, we both know you're not going to use it."
Q tossed the rifle aside and looked at Picard in disgust. "You really are an asshole when you have four of a kind."
Squashing the temptation to say "aces high," Picard gestured to his ready room. "This is going to take a while."
Q rolled his eyes and glared at Picard. "You forgot to say 'Jean-Luc says.'" He sat down at the conn.
"Suit yourself," Picard said. "How much detail do you want?"
Silence answered him.
Once more feeling that wave of sympathy, Picard rose from his chair. He walked up to Q, who was studying the controls with a show of total concentration. Sliding into the seat at Ops, Picard worked to put his sympathy into his voice. "Is it that hard?"
"It is, isn't it? You can't even guide me because it's too much like asking for help."
"Don't give up the day job to become a counselor, Picard."
Picard smiled slightly. "I was in the temple for over five weeks and then you appeared out in the desert near the temple. If it hadn't been for the birds circling over you, I'd never have seen you."
"I wish you hadn't," Q muttered.
"I don't," Picard replied. "I wouldn't give the whole experience up for anything."
"Well, of course!" Q snapped. "It's not every day someone you hate offers to let you rape them in atonement for past sins."
"Q, please, listen to me. It wasn't like that at all."
Brown eyes briefly met his, and Picard easily recognized the pain there. He had to clench his fists to keep from reaching for him. He'd never wanted to offer himself so desperately before. One wrong word here, and Q would not allow himself to believe what Picard had to say. Q would never get him memory back, and then...
Oh, God. The end of hope. As painful as hope was, it was life now.
"You had no memory, no powers. When I found you in the desert you drank the water I offered to you too quickly and had to expel it. I watched that, and only then did I think you might not be playing a trick on me. But you weren't demanding, or frightened. You were...brave, and fascinated by the world around you."
"Puking in the desert impressed you, eh?"
He knew he smiled.
"I thought, at the very beginning, that you were like a child, but I soon realized you were nothing like that. You simply weren't defensive, didn't put on a show. Your honesty disarmed me. I found myself doing all manner of things to help you, and allowing you to help me. We divided up the household chores."
"You made me scrub floors? Do you have any idea what that does to an entity's hands?"
Picard chuckled. "And I had to tell you what a 'queen' was."
Q's eyes narrowed.
"I see you took the opportunity to say things to me that have been on your mind for some time."
"No, you asked --"
"So, that's what happened." Q's mind was evidently racing. "You realized that I've been attracted to you, isn't that it? So I offer my body and --" Q's whole body jerked. "Did you fuck me, Picard? Is that what you're hiding from me? What the Continuum wants me to learn only from the source?"
"DAMNIT, Q! Shut the hell up and let me tell you what happened!"
"I don't want to hear it!" Q was out of his chair and striding to the back of the bridge as though there were someplace to go.
"I think you do," Picard said quietly. Let Reva be right: let a whisper be heard when a shout wouldn't. "I think you want to hear all about this.
"Because..." Picard's voice had grown tight now, as had his expression. "When you've learned it all, I'm going to be the one more at a disadvantage. You'll enjoy getting your own back."
"I was helpless and without any memory of what I was, and yet I managed to put you at a disadvantage? You? The great Jean-Luc Picard?"
"You used to call me that." Picard smiled, knowing the hurt showed. "I said I was Jean-Luc Picard, and so you kept calling me that, when we talked. And we talked so much, Q. We talked about all manner of things."
"Last I heard I was throwing up in the sand."
"Right." Picard tried to draw his thoughts together.
Picard talked quietly and at length, telling Q about getting him back to the temple and how Q had no idea who he was.
"You didn't believe me, did you?"
Picard smiled faintly. "Would you have, in my place?"
"Of course not!"
"Actually, I managed, though it was very hard for me. I kept wanting to be suspicious of you, but you were so damned..."
"Cute? Childlike?" Q sneered.
"So much like Data," Picard replied.
Q looked back down at the console, and Picard knew he was holding something back.
He waited, the hope tangling inside him like snarled yarn. Q had said he was attracted to Jean-Luc, but once he knew how far things had gone, would he think that Picard had taken advantage of him there in the desert? Would he *ever* open up and let Jean-Luc see just a little of his real self, or would Picard always have to fight these barriers? Would there even be an opportunity to fight those barriers? So much to hope for and so much to lose...
"So..." Q finally said. "You felt sorry for me."
"You know me rather well, Q. Do I feel sorry for Data?"
He went on telling his story, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. He didn't spare himself, making sure that he told Q of his refusal to believe Q and how he'd made things harder for Q by not believing him from the start.
Q remained mostly silent, although at one point he finally grew tired of their surrounding an, without asking, moved them into the ready room.
"I kept expecting something like that," Picard said as he looked around to get his bearings. "We'd be talking and I'd suddenly think, 'This is *Q!*' and I couldn't believe you were helping me hang wet laundry on a clothesline."
Picard chuckled. "You didn't think so when I ended up with a wet towel on my face."
Q sneered. "Camaraderie, the great Human virtue."
"Actually I saw two Human virtues, strengths if you will, in you."
Q made that rolling "carry on" gesture with his hand although his face registered nothing but boredom.
"Curiosity and sympathy, or perhaps concern would be a better term for it."
"Well, I *certainly* wasn't myself."
"You have no curiosity, Q? I refuse to believe that."
Q snorted. "Next you're going to tell me that I've always been full of concern too."
"Well, no. It's there sometimes, more often than I think even I would like to admit. If it helps, you hide it well, most of the time."
"You are the most insulting, obtuse creature I've ever met."
Q was glowering at him, but all Picard could see was the interest in the entity's eyes. Words rang in his memory, "You realized that I've been attracted to you, isn't that it?" For a moment, he was silent, struggling with the intense urge to lean over the gap between them, pull Q against him and...
*Enough, Jean-Luc! You're going to have to get used to the idea that you will *never* be inside him, that he will never want you after this.*
He looked away, focusing on one of the fossils behind his desk.
"So I pestered you about the past..." Q said quietly.
"I wouldn't use the word 'pester.' You were curious, and you had a right to be. However," Picard met Q's eyes, "I hope you will understand that there were some things about our history I didn't want to tell you, not right away."
Q nodded, but the gesture was non-committal.
"The Borg, in particular. And Locutus. You were so *balanced,* Q. And it was really something to watch you in action. I had never quite realized before just how intelligent you are. You know so much. It was impressive to watch you think."
"Buttering me up before we get back to the rape offer?"
"That didn't happen for a long time, Q, and you didn't mean...it has to be taken in context."
"Then why did you mention it first thing?"
"I had to get your attention. Q, I need to tell you about this perhaps even more than you need to hear it."
Q frowned, and at the beloved expression Picard's body went limp and warm.
"It was so difficult for me. I didn't want to accept your friendship under false pretenses. I kept trying to tell you how we'd shared painful experiences, about how you had challenged me, and Humanity. And you would make some comment about how I had obviously done my tasks well, or something else that would leave me with nowhere to go."
"Except to the laundry bag, evidently."
"Actually, you seemed more content to clean the kitchen." Q's brows shot up. "I would cook, mostly, and you would clean. And when things were tense, I would come back from the garden and find the kitchen absolutely spotless."
"This is worse than the rape stuff."
"Do you feel this is humiliating, Q? Because, actually, I think your desire to clean was based at least on pride." Q let him pause without commenting. "You see, you were quite taken with your own skill in having made the temple, the whole building, actually. And you had reason to be."
Yes, that had gotten Q's attention again. The captain went on in great detail now, describing every last bit of the world Q had made.
Twice, his voice grew thin and throat dry. Cups of tea from the replicator helped, though at one rather tense moment he had to excuse himself to go to the facilities. When his stomach rumbled, Q allowed dinner, and Picard spoke around sandwiches.
By dessert, however, Picard had run out of maneuvering room.
"It was in the library that you first raised the issue of making our relationship physical."
"So, all my idea then?"
"I thought so, but then I realized I'd probably wanted you for some time." There, at last Q was actually looking at him, and not glaring or posing. "You had doubtlessly picked up on it as well."
"Next you'll tell me I was being brave by mentioning it."
"You were. Braver than I at the beginning, certainly. At first, I thought..." Picard *had* to take a moment, and used more tea as a prop. His stomach almost rebelled.
"You hurt your hand," he began after a minute.
"What does that have to do with sex? You're a really lousy storyteller, you know."
"Fine," Picard snapped, "I won't give up the day job."
He got a grip on himself and shook his head. No use snapping at Q when it was himself he was angry with.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Q stared at him. "What?"
Picard smiled tiredly. "I must have looked at you the same way the first time you apologized for something. It's not our usual dynamic."
"Thank you, Captain Exposition."
"You hurt your hand," Picard continued around gritted teeth, "and I bandaged you up and gave you some tea for the pain. When you were in bed, half asleep, you reached up, touched my cheek and said 'thank you.'"
"What," Q asked disdainfully, "was in that tea?"
Picard thought of himself under the influence of the tea and wished he could slip some to Q right now. He forced the thought down and went on.
"I didn't know what to think, it was like...Well, my ape-like brain shut down a little and I said something inane."
"Well, at least *you* were yourself," Q drawled.
Picard should have been annoyed, but Q's angry words were in a direct contrast to his body language. Yes, the entity was tense, but he was leaning, ever so slightly, toward Picard's side of the couch. He wanted to hear it all, he *needed* to hear it, and Picard knew he couldn't ask.
"Then you said I was a good man and you fell asleep."
"If the prospect weren't so hideous, I'd throw up right about now."
"How do you think I felt?"
Q stared at him. "Well," Picard continued, "how should I have felt? You suddenly *thanking* me for something. You giving me this...compliment, this validation? *Q* saying something like that to an obtuse piece of flotsam?"
Q just looked at him.
"It was damned odd, if you look at it from my point of view," Picard concluded.
"I'm too intelligent to look at it from your point of view."
"Score one to the entity," Picard snapped. Once more he tried to reign in his instinct to argue or fight with Q. Then again if they fought, maybe they could make up, and...
*Stop it, Jean-Luc!*
He sighed and took up the story again. "We talked later that night and you put your hand on my shoulder. When I went to bed that night, I kept thinking about it. About your touching me, about your offering to work out some sort of arrangement because you thought I was lonely."
He looked down at his hands, praying to the universe that Q wouldnt speak. Unbelievably, the entity *did* remain silent. Hope flared and gave Picard the courage to continue.
"I got aroused and then..."
"Oh, don't tell me the details. I know what Humans do when there's no one else around."
"...and then I hated myself," Picard went on as if Q hadn't spoken. "I thought it was about revenge, that I wanted to hurt you, to rape you when you were defenseless because you'd hurt me. I thought... Q, I have to get out of here for a moment. Just...I'll be back."
And he rose to his feet and fled to the bridge, his face flaming and his heart pounding. How could he do this? How could he tell Q everything if just this much were so hard? How could he keep talking when it would only lead to the death of that hope that kept battering at his heart?
He drew a deep breath. "Inshallath, Fatmira, Shirulla..." he began slowly, breathing in and out in the right pattern. "...Surama, Al'maheera, Khadira..."
Fifteen minutes later, he walked back into the ready room, breathing normally, his face no longer burning.
"Going to be tough," Q said, "if you have to go off and chant the names of made-up goddesses every time you get upset or it's the right time of day."
"Don't," Picard said calmly. "It means more to me than anything you've ever given me, as yourself, I mean. More even than my life."
"Should I continue the story?"
Silence and that little wave of the hand.
"So, I told myself that my sexual arousal had to do with revenge and hatred, that having you helpless was getting me hot and bothered. I was very cool to you at breakfast." Picard stopped. Something was approaching here that he didn't know how to deal with. He tried to describe the breakfast and the following hours in detail, forcing himself not to make things up just to put off what had happened that afternoon.
"I was alone," he said finally, resigning himself to it. "And I thought I could perhaps just relieve the tension by...taking care of myself."
"Ah, so you're determined to tell me about shaking hands with little Elvis?"
Picard frowned at him, then chuckled slightly from the tension, enjoying the shock on Q's face. "I was, of course, thinking of you. And then, there you were."
"There I was where?"
"At my bedroom window, watching me."
Q opened and closed his mouth. Picard could *feel* him struggling to find something cruel to say. His eventual slump into silence was a tepid victory, but it allowed him to go on.
"I was naked, spread out across my bed, thinking of you, touching myself, and then you were *there* and I knew I had to stop. And I didn't. I couldn't. I looked into your eyes and I came, hard."
Q was looking at him now, with a blankness which seemed to hide every possibility.
"I hadn't come so hard since...and it made me feel horrible and perverted and you were so *real,* Q. I had stopped feeling then that you were wounded, or at a disadvantage, and yet I knew you were! Later, we had to talk about it. We were living too closely together to ignore it, and you wanted to know why, if I had such needs, I wasn't letting you take care of them."
Q stood in a swoop and stalked to the corner. When he whirled around, his eyes were fire and accusation. "Why didnt you get another fish? There's nothing to *look* at in here!"
Picard stood up too. "And that's when you told me you had heard me say your name when I was masturbating, and then I told you I had only wanted you as the object of rape. And then...I told you about the Borg, and Locutus. I told you that I couldn't stand the thought that you had allowed that to happen to me. And then, Q, then you offered to let me rape you, to make me feel better, to atone for the 'you' you had been then."
"I just lifted up my robe and told you to go for it, did I?"
Picard realized he was on the verge of screaming, throwing something, or choking up. "You said, 'How do you want me? On my knees or on my stomach?'"
"And then?" Q was ice.
"You were on your knees."
"And *then?*" Q took a step forward, acid dripping from his voice. "Did you, Picard?"
"Of course not!"
Picard ran a hand over his scalp. He had to find calm here. He had to finish. "I stormed out. I was revolted at myself and terrified for you. And then...I realized..."
"Gasp it out, Captain."
"I realized what was really going on. But there was a storm coming, and I had a terrible headache. I broke a cup, and you came to me and we talked, and I tried to explain. But the storm came, and you were so..." Bright hazel eyes beseeched Q, and that velvet voice broke.
"What?" Q was barely moving, even his lips merely moved apart and back together. "What did I do, Picard?"
Slowly, an inch at a time, Picard's body sank down, and down, until he was on his knees.
"Would you like me to show you what you did, Q?" His hands came up, stretching out towards the person he loved. "I could show you."
Q looked at him, a tall wax figure itself on display, until in a shot his right hand came up and snapped. He disappeared in a flash of light, and the ship was noisy and moving through the stars once more.
Picard sank further, and sat on the floor. After a moment, he signaled the bridge that all was well, then leaned back against the couch. For once in his life, he was passive. Either Troi would come in and find him on the floor and they'd talk, or Riker, or Data, or Beverly.
No one came in to see him. He remembered the moods he'd been prone to displaying after one of his little adventures with Q and he realized that, once more, his crew was being their usual tactful selves. They probably even attributed his recent moodiness to Q. They were right although the thought of *why* he was moody would come as a bit of a shock to everyone.
Not that it mattered much. So he was in love with Q. It was like Beverly, only even worse. In love with the unobtainable star.
*I am such a coward.*
In this rather brittle mood, he finished up his day. He wasn't unduly tired, although he 'd talked to Q for God knows how many hours. Reports and the like filled up the time as they had for the last few weeks. He wasn't numb any more, but he was shoving down his fear and his hurt until he could get off duty.
*I need to get away,* he thought, as he'd thought before. *I'm going to lose my edge and start making mistakes if I can't go somewhere and...* He sighed, and the small walls of the turbolift taking him to his quarters echoed the sound faintly. *Mourn. I have to go somewhere by myself and grieve.*
He told himself that he couldn't run away, but he knew he was going to have to.
"The only problem," he said to his empty, quiet quarters, "is that I may not ever get my edge back."
"Well, how the hell do you think *I* feel?"
The hope flared at the sound of that angry voice, washing away his depression and leaving him feeling a little hollow in its wake. "You sound pretty edgy to me," he said, only then turning to see Q, who was standing at the window looking out at the passing stars.
"So you had a headache and then you felt better and I blew you?"
"No, you stayed with me; you just sat there with me while I was in pain and then...you apologized for the Borg. You told me that maybe..." Picard's voice broke and he cleared his throat.
When he spoke again, it was from memory.
"You said: 'I suppose it doesn't make any difference, but maybe, here in the dark you can pretend it's that other me talking to you. Maybe...' and then you paused for a moment, and then, 'I'm sorry, Jean-Luc Picard, I'm sorry that you were hurt so much, that you endured so much.'"
Q was silent; he didn't even turn around. And yet Picard could almost feel the entity's concentration, all of it focused on him.
"Then you told me that you, the 'real' you had to have cared about what I went through and then the lightning came."
"So there is a God, and because I said I cared about you, He smote me."
"The lightning came," Picard repeated, remembering the moment perfectly. "And you looked like *you,* all lit up in energy, so alive, only I finally saw what..."
There was a very long silence and finally Q spoke, as if addressing the transparent aluminum of the window. "What?"
"What I'd wanted to see for so long," Picard admitted, letting go of his pride. "You, looking like you cared about me, like I *mattered* to you. My pain had just gone and it seemed like I was hard the instant you looked at me." He chuckled harshly. If you ever really need to humiliate me in front of anyone, just look at me like that."
"And then," Picard said, his words coming rather quickly now, "you were by the bed and in the flashes of light you could see me and you bent over me and...It didn't take very long. It was..."
"I'm sure I was awful at it."
"It was the best I'd ever had."
A dull thumping noise came from the window and Picard realized that Q was pounding on it with his hands. "Go on," he said harshly. "Tell me the rest, and if I don't get my memory back I'll...so help me, Picard, I'll deposit you naked in Sela's office."
"Then you were in bed with me and I wanted you to kiss me and you did. We did. I could taste myself in your mouth and nothing had ever been that erotic."
Oh, he was lost now, confessing everything to someone who could take any revenge he wanted. But it didn't matter, there was nothing now, but hope and memory and the sight of Q's broad back straining as if its owner were fighting not to turn around.
"I had to give you something, wanted to give you anything you wanted and so I rolled you onto your back and..."
"I don't want to..."
"I took you in my mouth and touched you all over and you came and I wondered why I'd ever stopped sleeping with men and then you passed out or fell asleep and so I did too..." The long spate of words finally halted, much as both he and Q had that night. That one night. That one perfect night.
"Well, after our late-night snack we needed to nap, don't you..." Q's voice, never strong, slid away.
Nothing. Picard thought the entity wasn't even breathing anymore.
"Q, if you don't pay attention, you won't hear about when you were inside me."
Q turned, as though on rollers. His dark eyes didn't blink, didn't search to find him, only locked onto Picard's and bored into him. "You let me *inside* you? What the hell for?"
Picard couldn't avoid the challenge of his own memory. Q had once known nothing except his trust for Picard. And now Picard had nothing, except what Q would give him.
He managed to get his mouth open, his lips and tongue to move, but the words were mere whispers.
"Because I love you."
The wrong word again. Q's face shut him out entirely.
"I had to have you inside me," Picard said in a rush, his voice growing as it surmounted each difficult word. "I had to, with my legs spread, on my back, touching whatever parts of you I could reach, asking you for it, watching you move over me. I knew, even then, that there would be a price for it all, that when you became yourself you might hate me for it, but the garden was perfect, and you were and still are all I ever wanted, and you said that as long..." *Oh, God.* "...as long as you remembered me it would always be perfect. And you wanted me inside you as well, but I said you weren't ready, and then...you were so gorgeous, and I had brought the lubricant as a surprise and..."
"You're chattering for that banana now, right?"
"In a Freudian sense!" Jean-Luc shouted. There was no use now, nothing left to hide, nothing left to fear. He felt drunk with relief, and hope had exploded and imploded so many times now in his gut he thought he could never be hurt again.
"You were so gentle, Q, even when I was urging you on to hurry, so soft, even when I asked you to go deeper and harder. And you touched my legs and I touched your face..."
Q was scowling so deeply his face seemed nothing but lines and shadows. He turned around, and raised a hand.
"God, Q. Don't leave me." Whispering again.
Q's hand fell against the window. Another dull thud.
Picard found his feet had brought him forward, one step, then five, and Q's heat was only inches from him. "Don't leave me alone, Q. Don't take yourself from me."
"Nothing you say makes sense. I can't believe any of this."
"I had flower petals in my hands."
"I thought we were in the desert."
"It had rained. I told you. The storm."
"When I reached for you, the petals fell on my chest and stomach. When you rocked against me, I thought you might make them scatter, but they were stuck on with oil and sweat, and the damn sky was blue behind your head and you got into this rhythm I knew would turn me inside-out, and you...it were as if you had made your body to fit mine."
"So the angels wept? The skies fell?"
"Damnit, Q! What else do you want from me? I don't have anything else but myself!"
The dark head turned. Rollers again. "You can't be telling me the truth."
"Because there's no way I could ever have forgotten that."
Picard closed his eyes. Lord help him. He couldn't stand up to a Q-sized circular argument.
He felt his whole body pull away, and there was a sort of tug there, lost in a moment. He'd almost made it. Q had almost been there with him. He'd felt it.
God, he was tired.
Q put his hand on his shoulder, and at last poisonous hope couldn't stir itself yet again. He was numb when he met Q's eyes.
"You say you love me."
"But the Q you're talking about doesn't exist. Even if you let *him* inside you, that doesn't really mean anything to me."
Picard's mouth moved around, not making a smile, really. "He is you, Q. And besides, I think I wanted you to make love to me back in Shuttlecraft Six."
Q snorted, but his hand was still on that strong shoulder. "You would have tried to phaser me."
"Doubtlessly. It wasn't until Starbase Earheart that, I suppose, if you'd tried anything, I might have responded."
"And what if I tried something now?" Q's voice was quietly vitriolic now. "You want to let me fuck you now?"
Damn it. Hope hadn't died from exhaustion after all. Slowly, it was curling around inside him, a faint pulse of warmth, and Picard slowly took Q's hand from his shoulder and tenderly kissed the center of his palm.
"You could do anything you wanted to me, Q. I told you. I love you."
The hand he kissed tightened around his jaw, almost cruelly. "Then why did you lie to me?"
"I didn't. I couldn't."
"Then why can't I *remember?!*"
Q shoved Picard aside and Picard caught himself with a hand on the window. In spite of all the efforts of the engineers, windows in space were always cold, but this one felt warm in comparison to his own body.
"I swear," he whispered, "on everything I hold dear, that I have not lied to you. I know it means nothing to you, but I'll make the same offer you made to me. If you want me, want to hurt me, want to make me pay, you can."
"It would be worth it, you see," Picard said to the stars outside. "Because, if even for that short time, I loved you and knew that you loved me."
Q's grip again, this time on his arm, pulling him around to face that dark fiery stare.
Picard bent his head in defeat, his body slumping slightly. "You said," he replied dully, "that you loved me."
For a second, it seemed as if the room were in a stasis box. They stood there, frozen in place, for so many beats of Picard's clockwork heart. He wondered dully if it *could* break, and decided that it had in some way. Oh, it would keep beating, but to what purpose? In the end, the Continuum had defeated him. They had ground him down in a way the Borg had never managed. They had given him a gift beyond price, taken it away, teased him with the hope of getting it back and then broken it before his eyes.
Qs voice, when he spoke, had changed completely.
"Why didn't you ever make donuts for me?"
"Can I ever convince you to go there again?"
*This isn't happening.*
"I really want to swim with you the moon pool."
*I can't believe this. It hurts too much.*
*Please, just try. Please?*
Picard's head snapped up.
"What did you..?" he stammered out.
"Someday," Q said, his voice cold for a moment even while the newly returned memories were light in his eyes, "they will all explain themselves and they *will* apologize to you. To both of us, but to you particularly. I promise you that Jean-Luc. I'd promise their collective heads on a plate but we both know that's not an answer.
"Someday, but not now."
"Q, this...I don't...what..."
"I don't think I've ever heard you stammer before, Mon Capitaine."
Picard looked at him and then slowly nodded. "I love you."
"That's the other Human virtue I learned," Q said softly.
"Don't be silly; I've loved you for years."
Hope was gone, taking the fear with it, taking the pain with it. In its place was this moment, and Picard felt himself instinctively slow time down to live this perfect moment longer.
"Trust," Q said into that moment. "I learned to trust you. And it stayed with me long even after they took my memories. I came here because I trusted you to tell me the truth. And you did."
He paused and reached out to rest his hand on Picard's face. "I love you, Jean-Luc Picard."
Picard swayed into the touch. Yes, he could believe at least once more, couldn't he?
His own hand had lifted now, his fingers trailing on Q's face, seeking to trace those full lips.
"I haven't been alive since you haven't been here."
"Oh, Jean-Luc! Listening to you makes me foresee a life of hyperbole!"
"No way." Q moved down to him then, sharing out himself in a kiss Picard took in like sunlight. He was vaguely aware of his arms wrapping up around broad shoulders, of pressing himself deeply into warmth and joy, of being held back. This was love. This was every...
Q broke the kiss and groaned. "What is the *matter* with you people? Can't you see I'm *busy* here?"
"I just need to talk to you for a minute. I'm sure Captain Picard wants to hear this."
Captain Picard supposed that, overall, he did want to hear whatever this new Q (it had to be a Q) wanted to say. He turned, his body almost creaking with the effort, to confront the blonde man standing in a captain's uniform near his desk.
"You see?" the blonde Q said, throwing out his hands extravagantly. "*He* wants to hear that you two better not get too involved with anything right now."
"And just why is that?"
It was odd, Picard thought, how much he enjoyed that menace in Q's voice when it wasn't directed at himself.
"The Continuum had no idea you guys were going to get this far today. We're assembling."
"I don't mean to be rude," Picard managed to get out. "But would mind telling me how my relationship with Q is really any of the Continuum's business?"
The blonde man threw up a shoulder and regarded him with wide eyes. He looked over at Q, who made a slight moue with his lips.
"Someone hasn't been talking much, have they?"
"I only just realized I need to talk. We need -- Jean-Luc and I need to talk, so please get out of here until the Continuum actually needs us, if you please!"
The new Q nodded, wagging a finger. "As long as it's just talking. You're going to be called soon." He gave a half-wave and flashed out.
"Q..." Picard turned, and was enveloped in a kiss.
He wanted to melt into it, but..."Q, didn't you say we should talk?"
"Later. I want you inside me now."
"Just tell me the...ohhhhh, I see you remember that maneuver."
"You like that."
"You know I do. Oh, God. Q. Please. Just tell me the outline."
"I don't know the details myself." Q sucked briefly on an earlobe, then nipped it. "Just that for some reason or other our relationship *is* important to the Continuum, and it has nothing to do with children this time."
"What? This time?"
"*Later,* Jean-Luc. We don't have all day to do this."
"We don't have all day to do..." Picard looked down as Q's dark head slid down his chest. His hips thrust forward with a rush of heat, and his hands went to his uniform jacket.
Q didn't snap his fingers, and there was no flash of light. They were both simply naked, and Q's lips had reached his pubic line, tickling, while a warm hand slid up the inside of Picard's thigh.
"Q! Oh, God."
"Just saving time." The hand trailed over the soft perineum, then cupped that heavy weight, rolling the testes gently, as the mouth kissed the tip of the flushed head. A hot tongue curled around him, lapping, and Picard groaned.
"I thought you wanted me inside you."
"Just getting you ready."
"Anymore 'ready,' and I won't be good for anything."
Q rose up, taking him into an embrace. His expression was thoughtful. "Well, Human limitations aren't really going to apply to us, though you're right. I shouldn't rush things." Picard stopped his talking with determined lips and tongue, and Q let happiness take him a long, sweet moment.
But when strong hands reached behind and kneaded his ass, urgency replaced contentment instantly.
"Please, Q," Picard whispered. "I want you so very much."
Q felt that rage inside flare a little at the faint hesitation in Picard's voice. How close had he come to losing this man? How close had everyone come to losing this man? He hadn't read much of Picard's mind, but Jean-Luc's earlier feelings of despair still lingered in the room. They, the Continuum, had almost destroyed this man.
"Not here," he gasped out as those skilled fingers began tracing patterns across his skin.
"Wherever you like," Picard said, his voice husky.
That was better, but Q still wanted Picard to be sure of this. Twisting the fabric of the universe was easy.
All three moons were full and their light poured through the cutouts of the moons and stars of the moon pool, catching on the gold stars and moons painted on the inside of the pool. As they stood staring at it, the dark water looked like space, the stars in the sky and the walls echoed by the stars under the water.
"I sat here," Q said softly, admitting something he'd never thought he'd have a chance to admit, "and jerked off thinking of you."
"Do you think," Picard drawled, "that I want to hear about you phoning the tsar?"
"Every slippery detail," Q said from behind him, his breath doing disturbing things to Picard's ear.
Q's hands began to search out all the places he knew Picard liked to be touched, and when his efforts were rewarded with a moaning gasp, he smiled.
"Tell me...ohhhh...all about it," Picard said, "but not...yessss...right now."
"No," Q agreed, sliding to his knees behind Picard. "Now I want you inside me, as deep and as hard as you can possibly go."
Picard moved down too until they were lying together on a pile of pillows Q automatically brought from the library. He could smell the dust of the books and the scent of the incense and something that smelled a little like the garden. Mixed with it all was the smell of Jean-Luc, faint traces of the lime and bergamot of his aftersahve, a little sweat, and that sharp, salt scent that meant the man in his arms was aroused.
"I could come just from the way you smell," Q said. He bent and kissed Jean-Luc's neck breathing in deeply as he did.
"Mmmmm...and you say I'm full of hyperbole?"
Q slid a hand up Picard's thigh in a teasing caress, listening to him moan and feeling him arch in his arms. "It's the plain truth," he whispered.
"If you're going to come from that, why should I bother to fuck you?" Picard was teasing, Q knew that, but that faint trace of hesitation was still creeping into his voice. Jean-Luc *wanted* to believe, but he was going to need a little more convincing.
"Because I really want you to and I really *need* you."
Picard's head rested on his chest, and for a moment there was only breath, and closeness, and heat. Q heard the gentle sound of water, while Picard heard the blood in his ears and the beat of Q's heart.
"So many days, Q, waiting for you. I've never been so frightened."
"You'll never need to be frightened again. I swear it."
There was a slightly uncomfortable silence. They were both remembering Q's earlier promise.
"I would never let them do that again," Q whispered, the lights before him coming from the sun and water he had made just to be here, with this man. "I'll make them kill me first."
Picard's arms tightened around him. His head rose, and his soft, warm lips pressed down against Q's. His tongue came out and licked slightly, and Q opened his mouth with a moan, drawing in Jean-Luc's tongue to suck it gently, using his teeth, using everything he knew to cherish what he had, against odds beyond calculation, found here.
The kiss continued, growing even deeper and harder. Picard shifted his weight, and their cocks brushed.
"Oh, now, Jean-Luc!" He drew his legs up. His body was actually empty, a void tangible.
Picard shuddered. He'd wanted this, dreamed of it, for how long now? Q's body in the dappled light was all lines of strength, and that smooth skin covered such hard, solid flesh. And the dry-leaf smell of him, the heat...the heat into which he was going to delve, with his cock in Q's body.
"Yesssss." He reached down and stroked the opening Q had exposed. Soft and tight. And even as it contracted somewhat at his touch he felt warm oil run onto his hand.
"Mmmm, you think of everything."
"I...try," Q gasped.
He worked a single finger inside, using his other hand to stroke the long shaft that had once been inside him.
*And he'll be inside me again soon,* he thought, thinking of all the pleasures they had shared, and could share now in the future that stretch out like a long road through green fields and red-striped mesas.
He laughed with the ridiculous delight of it, and strained up to kiss Q's mouth even as he slid a second finger inside.
"I love you. God, I love you so much, Q."
*Say that again.*
"I love you. I love you. I -- oh! Hurry! I don't want to come without you inside me!"
"Spread your legs out this way," Picard whispered, dizzy with his own words. He was so hard and wet with precum that stroking his cock with his oiled hand was an unnecessary torture.
But then he was in position, and guiding himself in. And when the tip of his penis touched the soft rim, both of them groaned.
Picard bit his lip, pressing a little harder, then a little more, and then -- God! -- he was inside, and Q was taking him in, and it was tight and easy at the same time and incredibly hot. He almost came, bit his lip, stopped all movement, and looked down.
Q was staring up at him, and the love and trust there made him finish this connection, complete their joining.
In fully, he rested, trying to calm the fire before he buggered Q like a madman.
"Why did you stop?" Q asked, sounding a little frantic.
"Because if I don't," Picard panted, "I'll hurt you."
Q smiled at the raw need in Jean-Luc's voice, a need that matched his own. There was no hesitation here or anything, just Jean-Luc wanting to be inside him.
"For you, I'd take it."
"Oh," Picard said, chuckling and ruining his attempt to sound menacing, "you'll take it all right. It just won't hurt."
Q laughed. "Big ol' butch," he drawled.
"Damn queen," Picard said, moving slightly.
Q's response was lost in the amazing feel of Picard inside him. Jean-Luc was right; it didn't hurt. It was hot and hard and almost on the edge of uncomfortable, but mostly it was incredible. Q pulled his legs back further and grabbed at Picard's ass hard.
"Harder," he demanded breathlessly.
Picard kept up his smooth, slow rhythm. Q might have been worried that Jean-Luc wasn't really getting much out of it, but he could see the look of intense concentration, and the way Jean-Luc's teeth were clamped down on his lip. The man should have looked absurd, but to Q he looked beautiful. How could Jean-Luc *give* so much after being hurt so badly? What was there in this man's heart and mind and soul that allowed him to forgive and to trust and to love like this?
Why," Q asked his last question aloud, albeit in a rather unsteady breath, "am I...so lucky?"
"I...was thinking...the same thing," Picard said, his love for Q shining from his face. "Does this hurt?"
"My God, no!" Q yelled, and they both laughed at the absurdity of Q using the word.
"Then hang on," Picard rumbled, "because I just...can't hold back any...more!"
Q tightened his grip on Picard's ass and then yelped in surprise when Picard moved into him. If it had been hard and hot before, then there weren't words to describe it now. Poetry failed, all his vaunted communication skills failed, everything failed to describe this pounding pleasure that took him again and again. Every word was useless except...
"Perfect!" Q screamed. "You're...fucking me...and it's so...damn...perfect!"
"Q!" Picard moaned back. "I'm fucking...Q...you...and you love..."
"...and you're here..."
"And I...love you!"
He moved even harder now. Q pulled his legs back until his thighs ached with the strain of it, and then he tried to get even more of Jean-Luc inside him. Picard increased his speed, never stopping, but always moving into Q. Strength and beauty and perfection and everything else that Q associated with Jean-Luc was moving in him now and he tried to hold off the oncoming orgasm as long as he could. They couldn't stop now, but he *had* to come and...
"I love you!" Picard growled.
"Yes!" Q screamed and came.
And still Jean-Luc moved inside him, losing his rhythm as he moved closer. As Q came down and felt himself spiraling up toward readiness again, he saw the look of almost pain on Jean-Luc's face. One more thing, the man needed one more thing.
*I love you, Jean-Luc Picard.*
Picard slammed into Q and stayed there, his body almost shaking to pieces as he came with a deep howl. Teeth bit down on Q's shoulder and near his ear, Q heard ripping fabric as one of Jean-Luc's fists clenched on a pillow. And then the man went limp, melting down onto his lover in complete closeness.
Q wrapped around him, keeping Picard inside as long as he could, then sighing as the connection there ended. It didn't matter. Jean-Luc was drifting in his arms, trusting him, incredibly, to hold him there.
"You are my whole life now, Mon Capitaine," Q whispered. "You're everything to me."
"And you're mine," Picard mumbled. He shivered.
Q frowned. The desert night was getting cold now. The moon light still streamed in the windows, but the air was chill and the pool steamed faintly. He snapped, and they were clean and dry and covered with a soft blanket. Oil lamps burned quietly around them.
And for a long while they did nothing, just breathed and held on.
"Well, I see what I said made a real impression."
Together, they sighed, and looked up.
"The Continuum wants you now, Q. Both of you."
"We'll be along in a minute."
Picard shifted uncomfortably. Perhaps Q could just snap them into some clothes. The blanket wasn't quite doing it for him.
Q scowled up at Q.
The blond head shook. "They said *now,* Q."
Q waved a hand angrily, and the other Q disappeared.
Picard frowned, then turned to look at his lover. Q's face looked surprised.
Their eyes met for a moment, then Q shrugged. "I guess discretion finally dawned."
"Whether he's here or not makes little difference, I'm sure. We should go."
"Always dutiful," Q mused with a smile, then soothed a hand over Picard's scalp before pressing a soft kiss on his lips.
There was a moment of heat, and the urge, the need to be together again, but both drew back. They couldn't risk this on something like being late. They couldn't risk anything right now that might even attempt to come between them.
One more sweet kiss, and they rose. Q snapped them both into uniforms, and for the first time the clothes on Q suggested to Picard a show of solidarity.
"I'm glad you finally got me to come in here," Picard said quietly, looking around. "Though I never did get that swim."
Their eyes met again. A nod. A snap.
And they were gone.
For a horrible moment, Picard thought he was back inside Q's 21st century chamber of horrors.
But there were no mutants, no ragged clothes, no gong.
There was only a throng of angry people, shouting to be heard and not listening to their own din.
Picard and Q stood there for several minutes before anyone seemed to notice them, but the quiet when it came was sudden and absolute. The captain looked around at the stands, and knew it wasn't fair to say he and Q were directly in the middle of it. They were somewhat off to the side. The blonde Q had the central spot right now, though he was doing nothing more authoritative than standing there, looking at them.
"You're late," a tall, red-haired female Q said from her seat nearby.
"I am here," Q said slowly, "only because I choose to be here."
The crowd's subdued reaction surprised Picard, but Q's surprise surprised him more.
Brown eyes met his just briefly, conveying confusion.
"Is that what this is about?" Picard asked, refusing to be cowed if only for Q's sake. "You want to ensure his obedience?"
Three Qs, all somewhat elderly looking, though unquestionably still powerful, stood from their front-row seats and approached them. Q's body tensed, and they responded with a small show of caution. Picard felt Q's surprise once again.
"There was a time," the middle Q, a woman, said quietly, "when your obedience was never in question, though you caused havoc everywhere you went."
"It was the sort of havoc the Q did not care about," Q said with slight disdain, though for what, it wasn't clear.
"Since you met your Captain Picard," the female Q continued, "you've been growing in your power and influence."
"And so you've been trying to weaken him"? Picard demanded with indignation.
The Q on the left, an old man with ebony skin, shook his head, his eyes not leaving Q's straight form. "We had to see where his power was taking him."
"You mean you were worried about what I might do to Qs, not just to unimportant mortals," Q drawled, looking around now as though disgusted with what he saw.
"Considering the war, Q, we had reason to be." The old man looked unapologetic, but again his caution was apparent.
"Well, if you didn't like what you found out about me and Jean-Luc, I'm afraid you're out of luck," Q snapped, eyes flashing.
"We know," the female in the middle replied.
Everyone paused, took a breath.
"Oh course," Picard said. "Q's getting less easy to control, and you're getting nervous."
"Q has become impossible to control," the last of the three Q, a bent, gnarled, stocky figure with pale skin and gray eyes, announced. "By anyone in the universe, by any group in the universe. We might, all working together, manage to destroy him, but control him? No. No one can do that."
Picard nodded, again battling that spark of pride in his lover. There was serious potential for danger here.
"No one but you, that is," the Q added.
The spark of pride in Picard was instantly replaced with a flare of anger.
"I can't *control* him, nor do I wish to. That's appalling."
"That's why you made it so hard for him," Q said, his eyes narrowing. "That's why you fixed it so that he had to tell me everything at such great cost to himself and at such a risk that he might miss one piece of information and lose me."
The three Qs looked at one another, but said nothing.
"But we *won,*" Q said. His Human body almost seemed to ripple. For a moment, Picard seemed to see something large and feline, standing next to him. Except for the fact that the figure was the same size as Q, it might have been one of the sirtanis from the temple. The chamber was suddenly crowded with menace.
Then it was just Q again. *Just Q,* Picard thought. *There's no *just* about him.*
"Once," Q said very quietly, "it would have been our right," he gestured to included Picard, "to kill every adult male here."
He turned to his lover, noticing nothing in Picard's expression except for lively interest and a certain defiance. "There's something to be said for evolution, I suppose."
"I've always thought there was." Picard looked around. "Obedience. Dominance. Power. *This* is the Continuum that feels it can decide the fate of thousands of races? How are you any different than the mortals you hold in such contempt?"
Q hid a smile and stepped back, just a little. Oh, but they were in for it now.
"How are you different from Humanity? How are *you,*" and he pointed at the older female Q, "different from Admiral Shanthi?" He looked at Q who nodded and opened a window in the air. The assembled Q could see an iron-spined older Human woman listening to a clutch of admirals and captains as they all hovered over a map board.
"Looks like they're deciding what to do about the Son'a," Picard said. "What gives them the right?"
"Enough," one of the male Qs said angrily. "You've made your point."
"Oh have I?"
Picard pointed at Shanthi who was shaking her head. They could all hear her saying, "We can't. It's a good plan, but it's not in accordance with conventions."
"That gives her the right. Her willingness to stand back and say, 'This is wrong!' How many of you did that when the decision was made to rape Q of his memories and leave him in a desert to be found by someone with no reason to take care of him?
"How many of you said, 'this is wrong,' when the decision was made to put the fate of the entire history of the entire Alpha Quadrant on *my* shoulders and then only if I could jump through your hoop?"
He turned to Q. "Did you get in trouble for helping me?"
Q thought of the three Human years he'd spent following a emerging bit of pond scum as it struggled to evolve. "You could say that. They let me off KP duty when the civil war started up."
"Big of them." Picard's voice lost the intimate tone as he looked around the stands. "Power. Even an obtuse piece of flotsam knows that the real virtue of power is knowing when *not* to use it, knowing when to resist the temptation to use it because it's easier than doing what you know to be right.
"And now you count on *me* to keep him in line. To *control* him." He looked back at Q. "Could I control you? If I told you to do a thing, to make a choice between doing what I wanted or doing without me, would you do it?"
Q gaped at him, shocked.
"Would you?!" Picard snapped harshly.
To Q's own surprise, he found himself nodding. "Yes," he replied, his face burning.
And then Picard got down on one knee, took Q's hand and held it between his own. "I promise that I will never ask you to make that choice. I *could* control you, but I *will* not."
And then, remembering all those mornings of watching the sirtanis as they played, he bent his head lower and rubbed the side of his face against Q's thigh. Q gasped and immediately dropped to his knees beside Picard.
"Don't do that," he hissed. "Not here, they won't..."
Amused hazel eyes met his. *No they won't understand, and that alone is worth a little submission.*
Q wanted to shout with laughter, but instead, he bent to rub the side of his face against Picard's cheek. Picard turned and nipped at his ear and Q did the same.
*Are we married now?* Picard asked.
*In front of the pack leaders and all,* Q replied. *Can we stand up now? If we keep this up I'll roll over on my belly and spread my legs for you.*
*I'll have to remember that,* Picard replied, standing up and helping Q to his feet.
"In the 20th century on Earth," Picard said to the shocked assemblage of Q's, "the strange notion began to spread that perhaps 'power over' was an out dated concept."
The Qs looked back and said nothing. "No one but Q can control Q. And none of you can do anything to change that."
"You done?" Q asked in a stage whisper.
"Yes," Picard replied in kind. "Want to add anything?"
Q looked around and all the Qs looked a little frightened. "No," he said to Picard, "I have better things to with my time."
There was silence and then the older Q said, quietly:
"Then we must simply be grateful he will have you as a consultant, Jean-Luc Picard."
Picard said nothing, but Q suddenly laughed and gestured at the forgotten window into Starfleet Command. "Perhaps," Admiral Shanthi was saying, "we should see what Captain Picard thinks."
"I like her, you know," Q's voice lingered as the couple faded and the window vanished. "She's a woman of great intelligence." He paused and the Q heard him add, " for a Human."
Picard half-expected them to be back at the temple, but instead they were in his quarters. He didn't much care, and moved immediately into Q's arms.
Q grabbed him close, and, inevitably, they were rubbing their cheeks together, nipping and kissing, until Q laughed and they fell on the bed (which had become a great deal bigger) without their clothes, and Q went on his belly and spread his legs.
In only a few moments, Picard was sinking inside him again, and it was even better than before. So much heat, so much *Q* completely around his cock, holding him, being there for him, being Q for him.
"I love you, Q," he whispered, moving down to rest his cheek against that slick back. Then a slow lick between the shoulder blades, reaching up to rub his hand along the nape of his neck, scratching slightly.
"Ugh!" Q shouted, and came.
Picard rode out the pressure and massage and, when he could, began to thrust.
Q rallied quickly and began to push back, groaning.
"I was just...wondering..."
Picard reached around and found Q's hard, semen-slicked cock, stroking lightly.
"How many times...I could get...you to..."
"Oh!" Q came again.
Picard almost didn't last through that one.
His hips pushed forward in a steady rhythm. He thought again of Q admitting in front of the whole Continuum that he would choose to obey Picard rather than lose him, and shuddered before biting at Q's shoulder.
Of course, it worked both ways. He would obey Q before losing him. The equality made that all right.
His hand had curled around Q's cock again, and his thumb was circling the cockhead. He timed his thrusts with precision, and fingered the slit just as he bit sharply along the spine.
Q yowled and came.
And Picard couldn't keep himself from joining in this time.
Together, they shuddered and emptied themselves. Together, they smiled and rolled into each other's arms to rest.
Together they listened to the ship and thought about their future.
"It occurs to me," Picard said at last, "that negotiating a peace treaty between the Klingons and the Romulans might not be as tricky as the negotiations we're going to have to go through in our relationship."
"Probably," Q agreed happily, his hand lightly rubbing Picard's belly until the man felt like purring.
"It occurs to me," Q continued after a moment, "that there are well over a million different ways of pleasuring a Human male. How about we agree that every time we make an arrangement in our negotiations, we seal the pact with trying out a new one?"
Picard's breath caught slightly, but then he was turning over, looking down into Q's eyes with severity.
"Q, I must insist that anytime you borrow one of my things, you put it back where you find it."
Q considered carefully, then nodded. "Done."
Picard nodded as well, and negotiations ceased, for a time.