Title: A God All Mercy
Summary: The Captain of the Enterprise receives a visit from Q. Set during "Parallels".
A/N: "A god all mercy is a god unjust." Edward Young.

The Q don't apologise.

The Q don't make allowances.

The Q don't fail.


I suppose that this is my opportunity to beg, but I don't think that it'll make any difference. And I'm not going to give him the satisfaction. Instead, I glower and remain slumped at my desk, listening to the constant stream of damage reports flooding through the open comm.

Q is speaking at me. Not to me, you understand, not to an inferior being incapable of understading him, as he's always pointing out. And, like an inferior being, I can't understand a word he's saying. It could be the most important thing in the universe, but I wouldn't bet on it. He's obviously quite happy to talk without any input from me and I am frankly too tired to actually focus. To damned tired to care much either way. I haven't slept for five days, and for what? There's nothing I can do except pray that that the modifications hold, that we make it to the nebula. If we reach it, I think, we'll be safe.

I'm lying, and it shows how tired I am that I can almost make myself believe it.

The truth is, if we reach the nebula, we'll maybe have another week.

I'm not sure how long I've been staring at my scarred hands before he finally loses what little patience he has and slams his fists on the table.

I jump about a foot in the air, propelled by sheer adrenaline.

"What the hell?" I'm instantly annoyed with myself for gratifying his childish gesture, but he has my attention now. And just like that, I remember that Q could snap his fingers and I, along with all those left alive on this ship, would snap out of existence.

He glares at me, and for one instant I think he might do it. A small, traitorous part of me thinks that it might be a mercy.

Instead, his hands open, palms down, as he leans in to look at me. Have I even managed to stand? I don't know what I'm still doing awake. If we had a doctor left, she'd have my hide.

It's not by choice, I remind myself. If I could have a guarantee that we'd all survive the next day, or shift, or hour, I'd sleep, even if it's just in the ready room. But now… A captain has to stay awake to go down with his ship. The colours of the ready room blur and sway and fade in mottled black, and I bite clean dwn on my cheek in an effort to focus.

Focus, damn it. What if he's willing to listen? What if he's willing to help? What if there is the slightest chance that -

Should I beg, for the crew's sake? Would it make any difference?

I know the answer almost before I've finished the thought.

We are all going to die out here, and Q is going to watch.

Say it. Again.

We will die, and he will watch.


I remind myself of this, trying to keep what little is left of my pride. What wouldn't I trade on even the smallest chance that he might help?

We will die, and he will watch.

It is cold and it is brutal and it is completely accurate. If he wanted to help, I think, he would have done it by now. And not for me, either.

"Damn it, Riker, I will not be ignored!"

He snaps his fingers.

Q has this way of granting mercies that is completely merciless. He snaps his fingers, and I am wide awake, my body tingling with energy.

He snaps them again and the nebula is florid and purple outside the ready room viewer. Another gift from Q: one precious week to plot and to plan and to bury our dead.

"Damnit, Q –" I start, almost by reflex. Then I look down, and stop.

I stare at the remains of my desk where an artificial heart sits, dead centre, silent.

And a thought occurs to me, a thought I have tried very hard to stop myself thinking time and again:what would the captain do?

"His role was finished, so the Continuum finally let me end it."

For one gut-wrenching moment I am certain this isn't real, that I finally fell asleep from exhaustion. I'm certain that if I look outside I'll see the empty space of stripped planets and destroyed stars. I'm certain that, even without the artificial heart, the Borg could have found ways to keep the Captain alive.

But Q does not apologise. He does not explain. And he does not lie.

Right now, he can't even bring himself to look at me.

What am I supposed to do? What would the captain do? I hate him for all he's done to us, to this crew and to the entire Federation. I hate him for giving me a power I was too arrogant to accept, and for taking it away just as easily. I blame him for everything that's happened, for every damned thing this has cost me.

But the whisper of doubt is gone from my mind as though it never existed, and I… I have enough humanity left in me to feel grateful for this, the smallest of possible mercies.