In the year 2405, Q reclined upon a ledge near a mountain top on what he had come to think of as his own personal planet.  He had barely moved in the past several years except to drop in on Picard occasionally; as Picard aged, they had drifted further and further apart.  Q spent much of his time wondering if he should have given up his immortality as he had considered doing, but he suspected that even if he had aged along with Picard, they would have gotten on each others' nerves after a while.  And Q had found Picard's physical aging terrifying.  Picard's mind was as acute as ever, but the thought of allowing himself to undergo the aging process he was observing in his beloved seemed unimaginable to him.  He was used to transcending time, not being subject to it.   That was all very well for Q, but it did not make him a very suitable companion for an elderly man.  So he would visit on occasion, and sometimes take Picard on brief jaunts around the galaxy, but he never overstayed his welcome.  He had on occasion gone back to different points in the past, when Picard was younger, and had relived those moments, but he had to be extraordinarily careful not to change anything.  He knew that Picard would not approve of having his life tampered with in that fashion.  Although Picard's retirement seemed unimaginably dreary to an eternally energetic and restless entity like himself, he knew that Picard was satisfied with things exactly as they were.  He had accomplished more than anyone could ask for, and he was making good use of his retirement to spend time with those who were important to him.  But Q felt increasingly disconnected from him.  Their mental link was taking up a smaller and smaller portion of their respective minds, dwindling with disuse.

Hardly watching the light show that had almost entirely ceased to charm him, he suddenly became aware of something approaching.  He sat up and began mentally exploring, only to discover a starship heading toward his planet.  Well, that was too much really.  The last thing he needed was a group of humans prying around with their primitive instruments and narrow concerns.  If they were exploring this far out, the next thing he knew there'd be a colony here.  Q certainly wasn't going to allow that.  His mood changed slightly when he observed, much to his amusement, that the ship had a familiar name, if different designation:  USS Enterprise NCC-1701 FStarfleet certainly has a sentimental attachment to that name, he thought to himself.  They're going to go through the whole alphabet pretty soon if they keep blowing them up.  Sighing at human foibles, he decided to probe further, actually somewhat relieved to have a diversion from his depression.

Without having to leave his mountain top, Q could easily examine the interior of the approaching ship.  Quickly absorbing the computer's records, he noted that the Captain was one Helen Reilly, aged 40, who had a string of distinctions and commendations.  According to reports of superiors, she was known for courage and resourcefulness . . . as well as a legendary temper.  Q began to observe her in action on the bridge, duly impressed by her tall, lean figure, her short, curly, reddish hair and pale skin, her strikingly beautiful, angular face with cheekbones to die for, and the intense, withering, penetrating stare that dismayed anyone who was so unfortunate to be the object of it.  She had Picard's confidence and determination, but operated in an entirely different style, snapping commands sharply, as if impatient they hadn't been anticipated, and punctuating reprimands with an impressive command of profanity when her commands weren't executed precisely according to her standards.  Hearing her dress down a crewmember with a string of creative aspersions on her unfortunate victim's intelligence, Q smiled.  Maybe it was a good thing he had kept his powers and immortality after all.  He continued watching as she retired to her ready room, where he witnessed an altogether different side of her character as she cuddled and cooed to a pet cat.

Well, Captain Helen Reilly certainly thinks highly of herself, Q reflected.  Perhaps it's time to see if she's justified in that belief.  Having determined that the Enterprise definitely was on course toward his planet, Q busied himself with devising a welcome Captain Reilly and her crew would not soon forget.  One fact he had noted in her records was that she insisted on leading most away missions herself, confident that her resourcefulness and ingenuity were wasted if she remained on the ship.  Her promotion to Captain had resulted from the daring leadership she had exhibited on one particularly harrowing away mission, and she had accepted the promotion contingent on being allowed to do what she did best, which was to be where the action was.

Q didn't have much time, so he combined features of several of the most threatening humanoid races of the galaxy to comprise the members of his welcoming committee; they were as tall as Nausicaans, with impressive facial ridges and short, bristling hair, and they had the strength and speed of Klingons.  Deciding to make things a little challenging, he provided them with weapons slightly more advanced than the Federation's latest hand-held phasers.  Finding a convenient vantage point, he waited, while the Enterprise entered standard orbit.  I suppose I could just erect a sign reading 'Private Property.  No Trespassing.  Violators will be vaporized,' but this should prove more entertaining, he mused. And I want to convince Captain Reilly that this planet is really unfit for further exploration.

As the away team beamed down, Q effortlessly diverted them to the location where he wanted them, simultaneously freezing all the ship's controls and sensors.  So much for the wonders of technology; it's so predictably unreliable, he said to himself with a grin.  After having been in a state of boredom and apathy for the past several years, he was quite happy to have a sense of purpose again.  As soon as the away team materialized on the planet surface, they were ambushed by a large group of armed warriors, who instantly fired on and stunned two crew members.  Reilly was the fastest draw in Starfleet, and she fired on the closest attacker, but had very little effect.  "Level 3, heavy stun, NOW!" she exclaimed, matching actions to words.  Within seconds she had fired on and stunned three of the attackers.  The rest of the away team was similarly occupied.

Q maneuvered the attackers so that Reilly was surrounded by a group of three and isolated from her crew.  One of the attackers fired a low level beam directly at Reilly's wrist, which caused her phaser to go flying out of her hand.  The group converged on her, clearly intending to capture rather than kill her.  Ignoring the pain in her wrist, Reilly whirled and with a spinning kick she dislodged the weapon from the nearest attacker's hand, leaving him howling in pain as he grabbed his arm.  Sensing another immediately behind her, she drove her elbow into his stomach with such force that the watching Q winced in sympathy and clutched his stomach.  She was impressively fast, and as the elbowed attacker staggered backward, Reilly spun around and snatched the weapon out of his loose fingers while delivering a devastatingly well-aimed kick to a sensitive portion of his anatomy.  Q hadn't been original enough to include interesting anatomical variations in his creations, so Reilly's intuition was accurate.  Q inhaled sharply and bit his lower lip.  He had maintained the form of a human male long enough to imagine what that kick must have felt like, and it wasn't pleasant.  Almost without stopping Reilly turned on the third of her attackers, smashing him in the head with the weapon as he bore down upon her, then fired upon the first attacker who had approached her.  Within a matter of minutes she had downed several of Q's creations, and her crew had taken care of the rest.  She walked over and retrieved her own phaser, which she was fond of,  from the ground and then, wiping her hands briskly together in satisfaction, she remarked, "Well, this certainly isn't a hospitable planet."

In a massive flash of light, the bodies of the fallen attackers vanished.  In another flash, Reilly's crew had been whisked up to the Enterprise, leaving only the Captain remaining on the planet with her as-yet-unseen observer.  Reilly folded her arms, smiled, and remarked in a casual tone, "I should have known it was you.  I was wondering if you'd ever make an appearance."

"Moi?" returned a disembodied, resonating, hollow voice.

"Yeah, you.  I know your MO, Q.  It is Q isn't it?  I suppose you've immobilized my ship, too."

"Of course," replied the echoing voice, "God is in the details.  How do you know who I am?"

Reilly idly wandered over to a rock, where she sat down, stretched out her legs, crossed her ankles, took out her phaser, and proceeded to flip it in the air and catch it repeatedly, looking perfectly relaxed and a little bored.

"Aren't you worried about dropping that?" asked the voice.  "I've heard they overload."

"I've never dropped one yet," replied Reilly, tossing the phaser higher in the air and catching it with a backhanded catch.  "And they've improved the technology.  They're much safer.  Are you interested in the design specifications?"

"Spare me; you humans are going to remain as backward as ever if you don't outgrow your unwarranted faith in technology.  But what I do want to know is how you know who I am."

Reilly yawned and stretched, then returned to flipping and catching the phaser.  "Well, conversing with disembodied voices really doesn't do a whole lot for me.  Why don't you show yourself?"

Q appeared in as blinding a blaze of light that he could muster.  He had resumed wearing his favorite Starfleet uniform, and he bowed grandly, with an ironic smile and eyes that were sparkling with amusement.  "Q, omnipotent superbeing and Starfleet officer manqué, at your service," he announced with a rare touch of self-deprecating humor.

Reilly stopped flipping the phaser, but did not otherwise shift her relaxed pose, except to look Q up and down with a frankly appraising gaze.  Nodding approvingly with a smile and almost as if talking to herself, she remarked, "I don't know why Picard objected to your wearing a Starfleet uniform.  The colors are you."

Q looked at her sharply.  His air of cool mockery and arrogance vanished, and his face softened.  "Picard?" he murmured.  "You know Picard?"

Reilly nodded, "Yes, he told me a lot about you."

Q noticed the slightest of shivers pass through her body.  "I'm sorry!" he exclaimed.  "You must be freezing.  It's been so long since I've dealt with humans, I forgot about temperature."  He quickly warmed the air around where Reilly sat.

"You know, I'd love to chat, but I'd like to tell my crew I'm OK, and really don't you think we'd be more comfortable on the ship?"

"You're inviting me on board the Enterprise?  That's a new one on me.  I always had to invite myself before."

Reilly jumped to her feet, walked up to Q, and looked him directly in the eye.  "Frankly, I've been intrigued about you ever since I read about you at the Academy and heard about you from Picard.  I was hoping we might attract your attention."

"You're full of surprises, Captain.  Most humanoids want nothing to do with me.  By the way, I'd like to apologize for giving you such a hard time on your arrival.  I just couldn't resist."

"Well, it wasn't really a hard time, frankly."

"I could arrange for a more challenging test, if you desire!" snapped Q.

"I'll take a raincheck.  I'd rather get to know you better."

Q smiled, snapped his fingers, and teleported himself and Reilly to her quarters.

"Welcome aboard.  I would like to check in with my crew.  And I'd appreciate it if you'd release my ship."

Q nodded and flipped his hand palm upward, with fingers outstretched.  "She's all yours."

"Thanks."  Reilly conversed briefly with her first officer, assuring him that she was fine, then turned back to Q.

"I'd like to ask you a favor, Captain.  I've come to think of that planet as my personal retreat.  It's the closest thing to a home I have.  I'd just as soon not have ships prying around."

"No problem.  I'll file a report that the planet was inhabited by an entity that would prefer to be left alone, and declare it off limits."

Q was still so preoccupied with the news that Reilly knew Picard, he didn't notice until that point that she had several scrapes and bruises on her face and arms, and her uniform was ripped and streaked with dirt.  "Where are my manners?  Allow me," he exlaimed, waving his hand up and down in front of her, so that she was instantly cleaned up and healed.

Reilly nodded, gestured toward an armchair, then walked over to the replicator.  "Drink?"

"No thanks, but help yourself."  As soon as Q sat down, Reilly's cat wandered over, meowed purposefully, then jumped on his lap, turning around several times in circles, then settling down comfortably for a nap.  Is that my role in this universe, with all my powers, to give cats a place to sleep? he wondered to himself.

Armed with glass of wine, Reilly sat down on the sofa, and Q said thoughtfully, "I get it.  The dates work out.  You must have been a student of his at the Academy."

"Very perspicacious of you.  You should have been a private investigator.  But of course you could have picked that out of my head."

"Of course, but I didn't.  One of the things I learned from him was that you humans are particularly touchy about the sanctity of your puny little minds, so I don't probe you gratuitously.  But if I had a good reason, I would.  Respecting others' privacy has never been my strong point."

"So I've heard.  Yes, I took several classes with him, and he took rather a fancy to me."

"I'm not surprised.  You would be quintessentially his type.  He probably regrets not having met you when he was younger."

She laughed, "Well, I looked up to him tremendously.  We all did--his career was so legendary.  But I was always pretty driven; I had the presumption to see myself following in his footsteps.  I would walk with him after class, visit his office hours, things like that.  He became my mentor and a good friend . . . and gave me hell  in that quiet but deadly way of his when I didn't perform up to his expectations.  I visit him whenever I make it back to Earth, which isn't  very often, unfortunately.  He's one of the few people I really miss."

"Tell me about it," muttered Q.  Then he smiled. "I just figured out why Jean-Luc never told me about you.  He probably wanted to keep me away from you."

Reilly laughed, "yes, he's awfully protective of me, although, believe me, I can take care of myself.  He'd say, 'I know he'd never harm me, but Q is unpredictable and capricious and a distraction you don't need.'"

Q laughed, looking skyward, "You flatter me, Jean-Luc."

"Well, actually, I think he was just trying to have you to himself.  He talked about you a lot, and I was intrigued from the start, but whenever I asked to meet you, he refused.  He did always say that he figured I'd run across you some day on my own, but he didn't want to be responsible for it.  And here you are.  I'm surprised you didn't find out about me in your own way, however."

"Well, Jean-Luc has always had this thing about privacy.  He learned to block off portions of his mind from casual probing; I can still get in if I make the effort, but not undetected.  I've learned over the years that we get along better if I don't push him too much.  We . . . ah . . . ," Q sighed, "we haven't been as close since he returned to Earth.  He still enjoys travelling and seeing new things; to him this galaxy is a never-ending source of wonder.  He's never gotten jaded.  But with every passing year, we grow more impatient with each other, so I limit my visits.  I'm afraid the human aging process makes me uncomfortable.  I wanted him to remain as he was when I first met him--God, he was glorious--and he gets irritated with the fact that I don't change, that I'm as self-absorbed and self-indulgent as ever, as he repeatedly scolds me."  Q put his head in hands for a moment, then rapidly ran his fingers through his hair, trying to get a grip on himself.  "I don't usually believe in regret, Captain, but I keep wondering whether I should have become mortal like him and grown old with him.  I didn't have the courage to do it, but now I'll always wonder if I should have."

"You could go back . . ."

"Yes, I could, but he wouldn't approve.  I used to be able to talk him into travelling with me in time, but he's gotten more and more stubborn about the sanctity of the god damned flow of history.  He wouldn't want his own past altered by my inserting myself into it in such a sustained way.  And I don't know if he would want me around anyway.  Jean-Luc and I can hardly carry on a conversation without aggravating the hell out of each other, but Captain, you can't begin to imagine how much I still love him," Q finished quietly.

"He loves you, too, you know, in his own way," said Reilly softly.

"Would you like to go visit him one of these days?  I'd love to see his reaction when we walk through the door."

"You would.  And I'd love to go.  But I think he always expected I'd run across you eventually.  Otherwise, why would he keep warning me about you?"

"What kinds of things did he say about me?"

Reilly gestured toward her head, "Wouldn't you get a better idea if you saw for yourself?  You're welcome to look."

"I'd appreciate that," said Q.  "I'll try to keep out of whatever isn't my business."  He closed his eyes, not that it was necessary for him to read her mind, but because her face was so distracting.  He had thought he would never be attracted to anyone again after Picard, but he hadn't ever expected to meet another human who was so intriguing.  He began gently probing Reilly's mind, seeing her, at the age of 20, talking earnestly with her octogenarian professor, trying to prove herself worthy to follow in his footsteps and trying to learn as much as she could from his epic career.  Q also noted the way she flirted with Picard and how pleased he was with her company.  He murmured to Reilly, "He really enjoyed you.  I'm glad; you mean a lot to him, and he deserves all the enjoyment he can get."

Reilly nodded, and Q closed his eyes again and probed further, viewing all the occasions when Picard had talked to his young student about his omnipotent friend.  Q was moved by how strong Picard's feelings for him still were, by Picard's gratitude for what Q was able to do for him, and by Picard's own confusion and soul-searching about their relationship.  "Hearing" Picard reminisce about their times together in Reilly's memories, Q was overcome with emotion.  For all the frustration and irritation and exasperation he knew Picard still felt toward him, there was a consistently strong current of love and affection and appreciation.  The last time Picard had seen Reilly, two years ago, he had said, "I don't know if I'll ever truly understand just what he means to me, but whatever our differences, I do know that the bond between us has transfigured my life in a way for which I will be ever grateful."

Q sighed to himself; it was a never-ending source of frustration to him that there was still such a barrier between himself and Picard.  Any closeness they attained invariably compelled a new separation.  The exhilaration of finding oneself so closely mirrored in another was inevitably accompanied by the infinite variety of irritations afforded by seeing one's flaws mirrored as well.  Q knew he was lucky to have found someone who had allowed him to lower his many defenses, to shed some of his cynicism and really feel, but those feelings were acutely painful at times as well.  When Q slowly blinked his eyes open, he noticed that Reilly was perched on the arm of his chair.  She reached out, combed through his hair with her fingers several times, then traced the track of a tear with her thumb in a curve under his eye.  Overcome by an intense desire for comfort and companionship, Q surprised himself by resting his head in Reilly's lap, while she softly stroked his hair.  After a few minutes in this position, he looked up, dry-eyed and trying, albeit not very successfully, to muster his usual confident air.  "I think I've got your number, Mr. Omnipotent Superbeing," she said gently, "You don't fool me for a minute."

"Well, I have left myself wide open haven't I?" he admitted.  He then captured her hand, and while tracing circles on the back of it with a finger, he continued in a harder tone, "But let me give you fair warning.  Jean-Luc's right about me.  I have the capacity to blow up in your face when you least expect it, and it's not something I can entirely control."

"I have a lot of experience handling explosives," returned Reilly.  "They're rather a hobby of mine."

"Well, to be a hobby of yours would be a privilege and a pleasure, Captain."

"I was hoping you'd see it that way."  She grasped the front of his uniform shirt, pulling him toward her to bring his mouth to hers.

After an extended kiss, Q drew back slightly, as a small white flag materialized in his hand.  He waved it slightly, smiling, and announcing softly, "I surrender, Captain.  Do with me what you will."

"I accept your terms, Q.  Come with me."  She got up from the arm of the chair, her hand still grasping his shirt, and pulled him unresistingly into the bedroom.

Later that night, lying awake as always, Q watched his sleeping companion, taking in every angle and curve and detail of her body.  Even asleep, she seemed alert, her body taut, ready to wake up in an instant and spring purposefully toward whatever awaited her.  If anyone could teach me how to make the most of a mortal existence, she could, he mused. Maybe this time I should give it all up. . . .  But, then again, maybe not.  I certainly don't have to decide right this moment.  The possibilities, apparently, are endless.

The End

Note:  I wish to thank the breathtaking Sigourney Weaver (be still my beating heart . . . ) and the creators of the "Alien" series for inspiring the character of Helen Reilly.

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