Chapter 16

Picard lost all track of time as the days slipped by.  He hardly ever left his quarters, oblivious to what was going on in the rest of the ship.  Fortunately the Enterprise was engaged in a routine scientific mission.  Picard didn't need distractions, even with the command turned over to Riker.  He spent most of his days sitting on the bed, trying his hardest to penetrate the blank wall that was Q's mind.  Guinan and Data would relieve him, so he could get some sleep and exercise, but he was never comfortable leaving Q for very long.  His accustomed position for hours at a time was sitting cross-legged at the head of his bed, Q's head in his lap, his fingers stroking his patient's hair and forehead as he tried to break through.  One day, finally, he felt the wall of silence that was blocking him seem to shift, to waver.  Picard intensified his concentration and probed deeper.  He felt movement, but he hadn't gotten all the way through, and his frustration was growing.

* * *

The inner core of Q's consciousness was almost driven mad with sensory deprivation, boredom, and loneliness.  Q's being had been so utterly drained by his contest with the alien entity that he didn't have any capacity to chip away at the layers of darkness and silence that enveloped him.  The thought of Picard grew more and more urgent, but he had no awareness of where he was or that Picard was with him.  He tried to remember how to see or hear or to control the movements of his adopted human body, but the desire to act never translated into action.  He remembered having been able to create entire star systems, and the contrast with his current state was almost too much too bear.  Even being human was better than this, he fumed, frustrated at his utter helplessness.  The sensory deprivation in particular was more and more maddening.  Although Q couldn't tell how much time was passing, he knew that he had not seen or felt anything other than darkness and silence for what seemed like an eternity.  He required diversion and stimulation, a need that kept him roaming insatiably around the galaxy, but now he was in a state where even the Continuum seemed like it afforded an infinite variety of entertainment.  Sometimes he diverted himself by cursing fluently to himself in the thousands of languages he knew, sometimes he recited books he had memorized to himself, mostly he thought about Picard.

Then, one day, he felt something.  The darkness and silence shifted somehow, as if being pressed upon from outside.  He tried to wait patiently, knowing that any exertion on his part would make things worse.  Something was reaching into him, probing gently but persistently into his mind.  Then he would have wept with joy if had the energy to produce tears, for he finally sensed a mental voice break through the silence, calling Q?  Q?  Damn it!  Answer me!

Q's inner essence cried out, Jean-Luc?

The voice returned, gently, soothingly, I'm here, Q.  I'm not going anywhere.  What can I do?

Just talk to me, please.  Please stay.  I feel like I've been waiting for you forever.

I feel like I've been trying to get through to you forever.  I won't leave you, but I'm afraid you might be exerting yourself too much talking to me.

I'm not exerting myself at all, actually.  Don't you realize you're reading my mind, Jean-Luc?  I don't have the energy to project answers back.  I can 'hear' you and answer to myself, but you're reading my mind.  The tables have certainly turned, haven't they?

You're going to be all right.  It's just going to take some time.

Where am I?  The entity?  What happened?

You're on board the Enterprise.  You're safe.  The entity has been destroyed.  Picard's anger at the being that had so harmed Q and threatened him began to return.  The tone of his mental voice had a hard edge to it, as he continued, It made for a rather satisfying explosion, actually.

I'm in awe.  It seems I've underestimated you, mon Capitaine.  I won't make that mistake again.

I just remembered some advice a friend gave me.  Something about the mind being everything.

Damn! returned Q's mental voice, wonderingly.  I'm utterly impressed.  I'm curious.  Where on this ship am I?

You're in my quarters, lying on my bed.  You've been here for days without moving.  Guinan and Data have also been sitting with you, and your friend from the Continuum was here.

Q?  Good old Q.  Tell me more--what are you doing right now?

Picard hesitated.  Your head is on my lap, he replied slowly, and I am holding one of your hands, and my other hand is stroking your forehead.  Satisfied?

Really, Picard, I didn't think you'd be the type to take advantage of a helpless entity.  Have you been doing anything else to me that I ought to know about?


A pity.  And Jean-Luc?


You shouldn't snap at a guy when he's down.

Sorry, but you were asking for it.  Listen, Q, I would love to continue this conversation, but this process is rather exhausting for me.  Telepathy doesn't exactly come naturally to me.  But I'll be back.  I promise.

I understand.  I really am going to need your help when I'm ready to start pushing my way out of here.

I know.  Q?

Yes, Jean-Luc?

You can't begin to imagine what a relief it is to have you back.

Je t'aime, Jean-Luc.

* * *

After Picard had fortified himself with a meal and a nap, he returned to the bed.  Settling himself in in his accustomed position, he reached into Q's mind.

How are you feeling?

Bored out of my mind, but delighted to hear your 'voice.'  Jean-Luc, I've got to at least get the equivalent of my senses back.  You can't imagine what it's like--complete darkness, total silence.  I do have a lot of mental resources with which to amuse myself, but the sensory deprivation is driving me insane.  And when one of us goes insane, it's not pretty.

I can imagine.  I'm ready.  What can I do?

I need some of that Picardian energy and drive.  Whenever I try to push the darkness away on my own, it just closes in more.  To use an old earth term, I need a jumpstart, although I don't know exactly how you're going to give it to me.  We'll have to play it by ear.

OK, give me a minute to focus.  Picard settled himself in more comfortably, reached down and took each of Q's hands in his own, then began a process with which he was now fairly familiar, blocking out all distractions and considerations.  Then he began the process of probing deeply into Q's mind, penetrating through the layers of unconsciousness, going deeper than he had before.  Suddenly he was overwhelmed; he had accessed Q's knowledge and memory, and it was flooding into his brain.

Block that out, insisted Q's mental voice, you can't handle it.

Quite so, replied Picard.  He erected a mental dam against the flood of information.

Once he had done so, he began experiencing precisely what Q was experiencing.  He felt his senses slipping away as his mind was shrouded in a darkness and silence so absolute that Picard felt as though he had slipped into the vacuum of space.  The sense of nothingness was devastating, but Q's voice brought him back sharply.  Don't lose yourself.  That won't help either of us.  This isn't the time for our minds to join.  If you want to try it some time, it'd be my pleasure, but now is not the time.

Picard began pulling back a little mentally.  He was still observing Q's remaining mental space enclosed in darkness and silence, but he had regained a sense of his own mind as well.  Jumpstart, huh? he thought to himself.  Picard squeezed Q's hands tighter and began imagining a beam of energy flowing from his mind to Q's.  He poured all of his mental energy, all of his concentration, all of his feeling for Q and his desire for his recovery into this beam, and it began to work.  The darkness began to clear and dissipate and fade.  A flood of light poured into Q's mind.

I think you've done it, remarked Q's mental voice.

Picard gently disengaged his mind from Q's and opened his eyes.  A delighted grin broke out on his face when he saw that Q had, finally, opened his as well.  From Q's perspective, the first thing he saw was Picard's head hovering over his, upside down, as he was lying on his back with his head on Picard's lap.  He first thing he felt was Picard's hands tightly gripping both of his.  He spoke, and his voice was weak, but audible.  "This is rather intimate, isn't it, mon Capitaine?  Are you sure you haven't been taking advantage of me?"

"Quite sure," whispered Picard, slowly releasing Q's hands, but delighted to hear his voice.

"Don't go, but I think I would like the pleasure of seeing your face right side up."

Picard extricated himself from where he was sitting, then repositioned himself on the edge of the bed, facing his patient and once again taking his hands into his own.  Q's eyes roamed hungrily over Picard's face, then he said very quietly, "God, you're beautiful.  This little room in this pathetic little ship seems like paradise.  You know, I may have just learned how to appreciate simple things."  Picard smiled, stroking Q's hands.

"Now what?" asked Picard.

Q tried lifting up his hand and arm, but it flopped quickly back on the bed.  "Not much, I'm afraid.  I think I just have to lie here and wait for my strength and powers to regenerate.  It's frustrating as hell, but from what I understand of my condition, I can't push myself too hard, or I'll regress.  It takes a lot of energy to keep one of us going, and when that gets completely drained, it takes a while for it to be restored.  And I really hate being helpless like this.  I hope you're patient, Picard, because I'm going to be a real pain."

"So what's new?" asked Picard with a grin.  Then more softly, "Be as much of a pain as you want.  I'm so delighted to have you back that I can put up with whatever you can dish out."

"Well, I'm going to be very demanding."

"Demand away."

"How about a hug?"  Picard bent down, sliding his arms around Q, half-lifting him, and Q managed to drape his own arms loosely along Picard's back.  There they remained for close to a minute, then Picard gently rearranged his patient back on the bed.

"You should rest, but let me know when you're ready for visitors.  There are quite a few people who are going to want to see you."

Q nodded.  "I want to see them too."

Picard paused for a moment.  "Now that you're conscious, Q, I really should return to my duties.  You'll have all the company you desire, but you should rest, too.  And I'll spend my free hours with you."

"I am, after all, installed in your quarters.  I understand, Jean-Luc.  I'm flattered you relinquished your command for me in the first place."

"That's ridiculous, Q.  How could I have done differently?"

* * *

Over the next several days, Q received a stream of visitors to keep him occupied.  Having been deprived of sights, sounds, and company for so long, he took an ecstatic delight in each of his visitors, marvelling at the details of their appearances and the quirks of their personalities.  Data's  yellow eyes and desire to be human, Guinan's outlandish wardrobe and knowing smile, Deanna Troi's physique and reassuring demeanor, Geordi's warmth and directness, Riker's breezy confidence--all this and more was a source of infinite fascination for him.  Unable to move around or use his powers, Q immersed himself in human individuality.  His visitors may have been flawed and limited, but they had a tremendous amount to offer as well.  Even Worf paid him a visit.  Gruffly, he acknowledged, "That was the act of a warrior to encounter that being alone.  That took courage."

"I appreciate the sentiment, Klingon," replied Q, "but actually, it was pretty stupid of me.  It all came from underestimating your Captain."

"That was a mistake," said Worf with a quick smile, "but taking the responsibility to protect your friends and face a more powerful foe is something I can admire."

"Thank you, Worf, but I'm going to dissipate your admiration somewhat by admitting that I'd just as soon not be in that situation again.  I'm much more comfortable being the most powerful being around.  This," Q gestured at the bed, indicating his own helplessness, "is driving me crazy."

Worf nodded sympathetically.

Q's willingness to sacrifice himself for the crew definitely enhanced his popularity.  One evening, as Picard was returning to his quarters, Riker was on his way out.  The first officer turned back to Q, who was sitting up in bed, "You're sure you don't want to join us for poker?  I'm sure the Captain wouldn't mind us convening in here."

Q laughed.  "Thanks, Riker, but even if I don't have my powers back, I have restored my telepathic abilities.  I'm not nearly as virtuous as you're imagining me.  Cheating just comes naturally to me."

Riker shrugged and left.  Q turned anxiously to Picard, "Jean-Luc, now that I can read your mind again, I want to watch your encounter with that creature, if you don't think it would be too hard on you.  I really want to watch that puppy blow up."  Picard looked startled at the hardness in Q's voice.  Q had been so preoccupied with his own recovery, that he hadn't been dwelling on his fury at what had been done to him.

Picard said, "All right, if you don't think it will be too hard on you."

"I can take it."

Picard sat down on the edge of the bed, nodded, and said, "Be my guest."

He felt Q's mind entering his own and observed that Q seemed to be sifting through his memories until he found what he wanted.  Then Q selected Picard's entire confrontation with the alien entity, starting from the time Picard had come up with his plan.  They both watched the memories unfolding in Picard's mind, and Picard realized that Q was able to extricate his memories much more vividly than he could himself.  He was almost reliving the experience.  Q watched with admiration and wonder as the being which had so crippled him exploded, replaying the moment a few times with satisfaction.  After he disengaged his mind from Picard's, he sighed and smiled, and remarked, "Now that feels much better."  Then he paused and said slowly, "You know you enhanced that phaser beam, don't you?"

"Well, yes," said Picard, "Geordi made modifications before we departed . . ."

Q exploded, "Will you ever stop being so dimwitted, Picard?  You enhanced it with your mind.  It couldn't have drilled through that shell by itelf."

"No, no," said Picard, shaking his head, "I didn't, I couldn't."  Having the power to communicate telepathically with Q was one thing, being able to manipulate matter and energy with his mind was something else altogether, and he wasn't ready for it.

"Yes, you did.  You may not ever be able to do it again, but in this case, shall we say, you rose to the occasion.  You never cease to amaze me, Jean-Luc."

* * *

Q's powers were returning slowly, but he had to exert all of his self-discipline to prevent himself from trying to do too much too soon.  He was beginning to get restless, but it took him several days to realize that he was actually enjoying all the attention he was getting from Picard, Data, Guinan, and the others, especially Picard.  He still felt chagrined about how helpless he was, but when Picard sat with him, rubbing his shoulders or forehead, he basked in the sensation; there was something enticing about being taken care of.  Still, with each passing day, Q's restlessness grew.  As his recovery progressed, he became more and more uneasy about his need for Picard's company and more and more anxious to regain his usual self-sufficiency.

As Q recovered, his blond compatriot made regular visits to check on his progress.  On one such occasion, Picard had been in the room, sitting on the bed with Q and urging him not to exert himself.  After he had to return to the bridge, the second Q appeared in the room, remarking, "I honestly don't know what you see in him.  I'll grant you, he's cute, but don't you feel like you're degrading yourself just a leetle bit by consorting with a human?"


The second Q didn't reply, so Q pressed his question more forcefully:  "Are you jealous?"  Without waiting for an answer, Q invaded his companion's mind, then laughed gleefully, "You are jealous!  And of a mere human, yet."

"You never learn, do you?" snapped the second Q.  "You have absolutely no respect for anyone's privacy, but if anyone presumes to make the slightest intrusion on yours, you blow up."

"Hmm," mused Q mockingly, "Knowledge is power, and I always did like to be on top.  And you knew that from the start.  But you have no right to complain, my sweet--our separation was your idea."

"Yes, because it was obvious you were suffocating with boredom.  You had probed every recess of my mind, and you had nothing left to discover.  But every time I tried to read you, to figure out where I stood, you lost your temper and threw barriers up in every direction.  You locked me out, while forcing me to remain open to you, and the only clear emotion that I could register from you was boredom--what choice did I have?"

"Not much, I'll grant you--if I was going with myself, I would have broken up with myself long before you did," conceded Q, "but you certainly didn't waste any time getting your revenge.  I may have been insufferable, but I never would have betrayed you the way you betrayed me.  You turned the Continuum against me.  You put me in charge of testing humans because you were sure they would pass the tests, and I would be humiliated.  You exiled me, and you stripped me of my powers.  But your campaign against me backfired, dear; thanks to your insistence that I be assigned humans, the most dreaded research assignment in the Continuum, I have met the one being in the universe I can really care about.  You have only yourself to blame."

"If you weren't bedridden . . . " fumed Q's fellow entity.  "I don't know why I'm talking to you anyway.  I wish you joy of your Captain, and I wish him luck--he'll need it.  If I'm jealous, it's because my memory of what a plague you are is obviously much too short.  Fortunately for me, the memories are flooding back."

Q smiled, almost affectionately; his newly-developping capacity for forgiveness was overriding his usual tendency to hold a grudge until the end of time.  He noted, "Well, that should cure your lovesickness for a while, Q.  Isn't there anyone else?"

Q's blond companion sighed, and he said softly, "I've been with others who were a lot easier to get along with, but none anywhere near as intoxicating as you.  I'd better go.  How about a kiss for old times' sake?"

Q complied with his compatriot's request.  The second Q then raised a hand in farewell, admonishing Q, "Try to keep out of trouble, OK?"  Then he couldn't resist adding, "You, in love with a human--what a delicious irony."  He immediately rematerialized on the bridge.  The bridge crew was no longer startled by these sudden arrivals and departures, but the silent conversation being carried on between the stranger and the Captain roused their curiosity.  It was to remain unsatisfied however.

Captain, announced the second Q, I'm going to take my leave.  Your patient is well on the road to recovery.  And, Captain . . .


Take care of him, OK?  He needs someone to keep an eye on him.

Picard smiled and nodded. I'll do my best, but it won't be easy.

You're telling me.  Good luck.  You'll need it.

Light blazed, and the blond Q was gone.  Picard realized the two Qs had a history.  He certainly does get around, doesn't he? he mused to himself.

* * *

Picard's prediction that taking care of Q wouldn't be easy came true sooner than he would have anticipated.  For all his vaunted self-sufficiency, Q had a tremendous desire to be looked up to and a corresponding distaste at being belittled in any fashion.  One reason he had returned repeatedly to the Enterprise over the years to torment Picard was to get back at him for the mockery the Captain inflicted on him.  The more Picard revealed his utter contempt for Q, the more crucial it became for Q to force Picard to bend to his will.  He repeatedly laid traps for Picard, rigging the scenarios he set up so that Picard would be proven wrong again and again.  Q was equally sensitive to the opinions of his fellow Qs.  His overwrought anger at Picard after his confrontation with the Continuum was in direct proportion to his sense of humiliation that his pet had failed so miserably.  And now he had had to put up with his colleague's derision at his choice of love interests.  It was hard enough for him to accept that he was utterly captivated by a mere human, but to be the object of Continuum gossip was too much altogether.  He was a Q, after all, and a Q never needed anyone or anything.  Relationships were a way of whiling away time and adding spark to a monotonous existence, but liasons with members of inferior species were simply a means to an end.  A humanoid love object could be no more than a pet because it would be both degrading and undignified actually to fall in love with such a lesser being.  Q couldn't believe he had forgotten himself to such an extent as to let Picard become that important to him.

When Picard returned to his quarters, he found that Q had developed an attitude.  He sensed it as soon as he walked in the door, and he had no intention of rolling over and playing dead for Q's benefit.  Q may have been in the mood to dish out abuse, but Picard wasn't having any.  Q was lying on the couch, his feet propped up on the arm, paging idly through a book.  He didn't bother to turn his head when Picard entered, but after a few moments, he released the book, which drifted a couple of feet above the couch and remained there.  "He's cute, isn't he?" asked Q laconically.


"My friend from the Continuum.  Don't you think he's cute?"

"I hadn't noticed," replied Picard equally laconically.  "It doesn't occur to me to assess men or entities in male form for that matter in terms of their relative cuteness."

Q turned his head toward Picard for the first time, "And that's because in that respect as in so many ways you're still the narrow, limited creature you were when I met you, Picard.  After all my attempts to open your mind, you remain entrenched in your close-minded little world-view."

"It's true," said Picard, maintaining his mild demeanor, although he couldn't prevent an edge of frost from creeping into his voice, "I haven't been making strenuous efforts to raise myself to your exalted level.  You and I may share many qualities, but I'm not going to modify the rest of myself so I can serve as a more perfect mirror for you.  If you're looking for a reflection of your own glory, you're not going to find it in me, a mere human."

"Is that what you think I'm looking for, Picard?" said Q in a steely tone.  "Don't flatter yourself that I could ever begin to think of you as a mirror.  You couldn't even come close.  I hadn't realized how refreshing it was to converse with someone whose mind is capable of sustaining some actual ideas.  Of course, you couldn't possibly understand what it's like."

"Then why don't you join him then?" queried Picard, his voice becoming increasingly icy.

Q yawned and stretched as he got up from the couch.  "Well, my limited friend, you may have had one substantial triumph, but frankly, you've still got a long way to go.  Whether you like it or not, I'm responsible for you now, remember?  You're still much too flawed to be allowed to roam around the galaxy on your own."

That did it.  Picard's patience was at an end.  "Q, I am tired of this.  I am neither your property nor your pet.  And I want you out of here NOW!"

"You can't tell me what to do, human.  I'm not going anywhere."

"Suit yourself."  Picard stretched out comfortably on the couch, put up his feet, and began thumbing through a book, studiously ignoring Q.  The book flew out of his hands and upward, where it remained hovering near the ceiling.  Picard folded his arms across his chest and sighed.

"We'll just have to see how long your arrogance can hold out," threatened Q.

As Picard watched in numb amazement, his quarters began to melt away.  As the walls melted, they spun dizzily in a vertigo-inducing blur.  As the spinning motion slowed down, he found himself standing alone on a small plateau near the top of a large volcano, who knows where, a short walk from the lip of the crater, which was emitting billows of steam.  Q, damn it! he exclaimed in his head, You don't need to do this.  For pity's sake, I know what you're capable of.  You don't need to prove anything to me.

No reply.

All right, then, very well.  We'll play your little game.  I've never seen a volcano erupt from this close before.  I'm sure it will be very educational.  Picard walked up to the lip of the crater and gazed in.  The volcano clearly was close to erupting.  Picard watched the yellow and orange and black swirls of molten lava boiling furiously.  Very impressive, display, Q, continued Picard.  Although he heard no reply, he still could sense that Q was listening.  Certainly a more creative way of blowing off steam, if you'll pardon the expression, than smashing one's fist into a wall or shattering a glass.  Picard smiled at his own small joke.

He then returned to the point a couple hundred feet from the rim where he had first found himself and waited, watching the bursts of steam from the crater and remarking mentally, I won't grovel or beg for help, so if that's what you're looking for, you won't get it.  As the mountain began to rumble and shake, he felt an instinctive clutch of fear, which he instantly dismissed.  With a devastating roar, the top of the volcano blew right off.  As Picard watched, huge chunks of rock whizzed past his head, and hot molten lava coursed furiously downhill.  Picard remained standing, his arms folded, as the river of lava parted around the small plateau where he stood, then merged again below him.  The sky filled with steam and smoke, and the ground continued to shake, without, however, knocking Picard off-balance.  He was actually enjoying himself, almost hypnotized by watching the glistening, surging flow of lava.

As the eruption began to subside, Picard felt himself as if in the center of a whirlpool.  The world around him spun dizzily and rapidly, finally slowing until he found himself back on the couch in his quarters, alone.  An instant later, the hovering book drifted down from the ceiling and into his hands.  Well, Q, you certainly think of everything, said Picard as he sighed and put down the book to indulge in a sustained stretch.

No reply.

Q, I'm sorry if this is a blow to your ego, but you didn't frighten me.  Not this time.  And you're hopelessly dim if you haven't figured out by now that I trust you.  Absolutely.  You can annoy the hell out of me, but you can't frighten me.  Don't you get it, you half-witted entity?  I trust you.

No reply.

I know you're listening, and I can just imagine how furious you are that your little display did not have the desired effect.  Nice try, though, he concluded helpfully.

Still no reply.  With a sigh Picard strode out of his quarters and headed for Ten-Forward.  He walked in and headed for a corner table.  Guinan immediately made him a drink then went over to join him.

"Lovers' quarrel?" she asked with a smile, as she sat down.

Picard raised the drink slightly, saying "Thanks."  He continued, "Guinan, Q and I are not lovers.  I don't know what we are, but it's not that.  But you're right about the quarrel part.  And he made an impressive display of temper. He's probably fuming that he didn't terrify me."

Guinan laughed.  "I've experienced his tantrums.  He's very inventive."

"Quite so," acknowledged Picard.  "Well, it's partially my fault.  Why do I let him get under my skin so easily?  I ought to understand what's going on.  His friend was probably giving him a hard time about me, but even more, he probably really resents his dependence these days.  After all, I had to come to his rescue--knowing Q, that's probably eating away at him.  I know him well enough now that I should be able to see when he really just needs some understanding, but instead I just take his bait over and over again."

Guinan smiled and nodded sympathetically.  "Q is a person like the rest of us--emotionally he's as human as you are, perhaps even more so.  He just has a much larger canvas on which to express himself."

"Thanks," said Picard, raising his eyebrows, "even you're accusing me of being inhuman."

"Well, Picard, you do hold yourself to an impossibly high standard.  For example, you're entitled to get pissed off at Q.  He can be very childish, as you've just experienced.  Unlike most members of the Continuum, Q is constantly exploding with energy.  He can't channel that energy toward any constructive purpose, the way you can, because he can have whatever he wants whenever he wants it.  So he's always looking for an outlet.  And he has a great deal invested in his image of himself as a self-sufficient, autonomous being, an outlaw if you will.  He has tremendous powers and knowledge and intelligence, even for a Q, but he has no experience in adapting himself to others.  He's always been able to find romantic partners because of the force of his personality, but he's always left them at the first suggestion that he might have to give or compromise, or he's driven them away, which amounts to the same thing.  Given this self-image he's constructed, it's inevitable there are going to be fireworks when coming up against a personality as strong as yours.  He's actually adjusted very well to being on board the ship; I was worried he'd blow us to bits accidently from sheer nervous energy, but he's been successful at channeling that, which is quite an accomplishment for Q.  You're just going to have to put up with the occasional explosion because his self-control inevitably runs out.  But next time you see him, he'll be much calmer.  If he picks fights with you, it's just one of his ways of dissipating energy, but it also helps him maintain his sense of his own dignity.  I don't think you really understand yet what you mean to him, Captain, and how hard it must be for him to acknowledge that there exists a being that means that much to him."

"It is hard for me to understand that because I don't know what it can mean for an entity of his power and immortality to become attached to a mortal.  Data once said he thought Q's fascination with me was like that of a master with a beloved pet . . ."

"That may have been the case in the past, but it isn't now, and you know it," said Guinan almost reproachfully.  "What it means for an entity of his power to become attached to you is exactly what it would mean for any of us to become attached to someone.  His powers are altogether in another dimension, or several, as is his lifespan, but emotionally he's absolutely human, Picard.  He has needs, desires, vulnerabilities, and fears, and a very human instinct to protect himself from revealing those fears and vulnerabilities.  You're not so different in that respect.  In fact, you two are very much like."

Picard nodded.  "Of course, that's why we get along so badly."

Picard went back to his quarters and sat back thoughtfully on the couch.  Within a few moments he heard the door chime.  "Come."  To his surprise, it was Q.  While Q had improved his manners when visiting other shipmates, he had never used the door chime when visiting Picard.  He had always simply appeared.  Q walked in and began to pace.  His eyes were downcast, but Q was trying to muster his usual smile.

He paused for a moment, then said, "Your trust means everything to me, but I don't deserve it."

"Yes, you do," replied Picard.  "Since you've been on this ship, you've never violated it.  That's not to say you aren't a royal pain, because you are," he continued with a slight smile.

"True enough.  I'm sorry, Jean-Luc.  I was being my usual thoughtless and inconsiderate self, but you deserve better.  I'm really sorry."

"You're not sorry," said Picard, but he was smiling.  "At least you're not sorry about your little performance, which I enjoyed tremendously, by the way.  If you're sorry about anything, it's that you didn't achieve the victory you were looking for."

"I suppose you're right.  I'm a hopeless fool, and everything you said about me before was true."

"Don't you see?  You can threaten all you want, and I know you have the capacity to overpower me or kidnap me or brainwash me, but I know with equal certainty you'd never actually do it."

"It's true," said Q as he continued to pace.  "I care about you too much for that.  I just felt like you were taking me for granted ever since you came galloping to my rescue.  It's not that I'm ungrateful, but I felt this irresistible impulse to try to force you to acknowledge my power."

"I do acknowledge it.  I would never underestimate you.  I just have complete confidence you won't harm me.  But just because you've earned my trust doesn't mean I take you for granted.  You're much too impossible ever to take for granted."

"I'm glad to hear it.  I am sorry for being so petty though."

Picard smiled, "I wasn't exactly on my best behavior either."

"Well, I started it, as I usually do.  I did warn you I wouldn't be easy to get along with."

Picard laughed.  "I never for a moment imagined you would be.  In fact I'd probably be disappointed if all of a sudden you were.  But you needn't feel diminished because you didn't frighten me.  I never forget for a moment that you have the power to do whatever you want with me."

Q smiled slightly, "Well, the truth is, Jean-Luc, you can do whatever you want with me.  That's not a position I'm used to."

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