Author's Note: I was supposed to be working on something else. So I finished this instead. It's been sitting on my hard drive, incomplete, for years.

The crack is strong with this one. I think my Exposition Dump makes it pretty clear what the setup is, but if it still seems completely confusing, you can think of it as a sequel to Seventeen Things That Never Happened To Q, Chapter 15: "Knitting", which can also be found under my account here at ff dot net, as this takes place later on in the same AU. I actually had this one first, but the format of this didn't work for Seventeen Things, where all the stories had to be Q-POV.

A Doctor, A Q and a Baby

There was something indefinable wrong, something absent that should be present. Beverly Crusher wrestled her way back to the surface of consciousness, some sixth sense warning her of... something, though whether it was her doctor's senses or her mother's instincts, she couldn't tell yet.

In the darkness she listened for breathing. She could hear Jean-Luc after a moment of listening for him, deep and regular. Nothing wrong there. So what-

-Her eye fell on the chronometer. 0430 hours. Long past Emmanuelle's usual waking/feeding time. The baby should have been howling for her second middle-of-the-night feeding an hour ago.

Beverly was out of bed and headed for the baby's room before her mind had fully processed the fear. Part of her subconscious tried to be reassuring. Em was the healthiest baby she'd ever seen, damn near genetically perfect, which considering her biological parentage was probably to be expected. Of course she would be all right. Maybe she was just sleeping through the night early. And then part of her mind conjured up every dark specter that could torment a mother, every disease and disorder her doctor's memory could think of to plague a baby, plus the fear that the child would simply be gone. Em had enemies in high places, and there was nothing the Enterprise or any of its crew could really do to safeguard her. By the time she reached the door to the nursery, the fear was screaming at her to move faster, to bring her medical kit in case Em needed resuscitating, to call for transport to the room in case Em was dying-

-The door swished open. Beverly ran in, and stopped short, two steps in. Her jaw did not quite drop, but only because she was in better control of her face than that.

Q, in the female form Em had been conceived with, was sitting in the rocking chair, wearing an evening gown with one breast bare, Emmanuelle snuggled against her chest and nursing. The expression on Q's face was a response to a challenge, a visual declaration of "Do you have a problem?"

Just because Q still acted like a petulant teenager around Beverly didn't mean Beverly had to play into it. She took a deep breath, trying to control her annoyance. "I wish you'd told me you might drop by," she said, trying to sound neutral, and most especially not bringing up the fact that imagining Q nursing a baby was rather like imagining Worf in a tutu. It wasn't that Q's female form didn't look appropriately female - while she strongly resembled her male form, it was the resemblance of a sister, not as if she was her male form in drag or something - but man or woman, Q was selfish, immature and had almost never showed any gentle or compassionate side in front of Beverly.

"Yes, because I obviously have to clear everything I want to do with my own daughter through you, Beverly. I mean, I'm only her mother. Your wishes are obviously vastly more important than mine."

Another deep breath. "Q, I've been getting up to feed Emmanuelle in the middle of the night for the past six weeks-"

"And it shows," Q interrupted. "Could you look any more haggard, Bev? I mean, if you tried? Maybe if you deliberately didn't wash your hair. Oh, wait, you haven't done that in a week, have you?"

The ingratitude of a - what? woman, man, entity-thing? - mother bitching that the woman caring for her infant child had gotten haggard and dirty from lack of sleep and time, while said mother had been gallivanting all over the galaxy doing whatever Q did with Q's spare time, made Beverly want to slap Q, profoundly. But then, this was hardly the first time that particular impulse had occurred to her. "What I was trying to say before you interrupted was that when Em didn't wake me up crying, I was afraid she was sick, or that she'd been taken. Since I was not aware you had any interest in dropping by."

Q shrugged. "I could see the lack of sleep was impairing Jean-Luc's performance as captain. And since he insists on sharing his bed with you, despite your responsibilities to the baby, which I might remind you that you took on voluntarily, I realized I had to intervene. I could have tried talking him out of sleeping in your quarters, but he's entirely too stubborn for his own good. And then it occurred to me that I don't sleep, and therefore I can quite easily step in and take over for you when you absolutely have to spend several hours unconscious."

Well. Thinking of Jean-Luc's health at all was more consideration than Beverly actually expected of Q. "Thank you," she said, managing not to grit her teeth. "I appreciate the assistance. But didn't you say she needed to be raised by humans?"

"Does this look like the Continuum to you?"

"No, but you aren't human."

"I might as well be, at the moment. I made sure this body was functioning exactly the same way a human woman six weeks post-partum would be functioning." She gestured at her breast. "This may not be that awful replicated stuff with the fake antibodies you insist on feeding the child, but it's also not infused with omnipotence, or something like that. She's getting human breast milk."

Beverly was not going to justify her decision to feed Em replicated milk to Q. She was well aware of the health benefits of live, unreplicated human breast milk, but aboard a starship, Em wasn't likely to be exposed to things like the micro-organisms that caused ear infections - anything serious enough to take hold in Enterprise's population despite the battery of immunizations everyone had was not something human antibodies would hold off anyway. And it was rather more important that Enterprise's doctor not be tied down by the need to regularly nurse or beam out milk for bottle feeding, not to mention the mood swings or illnesses she might experience if she used hormonal stimulators to induce lactation after she hadn't been pregnant. "That's quite thoughtful. I wouldn't have thought you'd want to do something as... human as to nurse a baby."

"Oh, I admit that before I took this form in the first place, all of these things you human females go through to reproduce struck me as downright repulsive. You know-" She leaned forward in the rocking chair slightly- "Jean-Luc was actually not my first choice for a human parent for my child, no matter how stellar his qualities are."

"Yes, I know. You've said so. Many times," Beverly said dryly.

Four and a half months ago, Q had shown up in Picard's ready room and explained that the supernovae that had been exploding all over the galaxy, seemingly without cause, were collateral damage in a civil war within the Q Continuum. According to Q, the war had been set off, in part, by the actions of Captain Kathryn Janeway, who had ruled that a Q who sought to kill himself should be given permission to do so. Even after all this time Beverly was still unclear as to how this had started a war and why a human starship captain had been ruling on a matter of importance to the Q in the first place, much less why Q thought the proper solution to stopping the war would be having a child with a human being. Since Janeway had not cooperated with Q's plan, Q had come to Picard instead and - presumably, Beverly imagined, after Picard had put his foot down about not being temporarily changed into a woman or made pregnant despite male anatomy - Q had taken female form.

When Picard had called a staff meeting to discuss the problem before he'd say yes or no to Q's plan – the entire issue of Janeway's involvement having possibly triggered the war made it a potential Prime Directive matter, not something Picard wanted to deal with without input from others – no one had believed Q, given how ridiculous the whole story was, so Q had dragged them all off to the Continuum and almost gotten everyone killed, multiple times, before managing to get them to safety. This did rather graphically demonstrate that there was a war, that it was tearing the Q Continuum apart, that Q was taking this extremely seriously, and that the other Qs on Q's side seemed to think Q's plan had potential merit. So Picard had agreed to the plan, and Q had returned them all to the Enterprise.

At least, almost all of them had made it back. While they'd been in the Continuum, they had been unable to protect themselves – the Q weapons could only be used by other Q. And when Q had been shot and badly injured shortly after they'd entered the Continuum, and Q's enemies had come after her, this had presented a serious problem. The enemy Q apparently couldn't see them without looking carefully – mortals' low impact on the Continuum seemed to make them virtually invisible – but if Q were killed, they would have no way home and no way to manipulate the environment to provide them the basic necessities of life. With the Continuum fractured by the war, it seemed the Q no longer had the ability to simply grant a mortal Q powers, as Q had done with Riker all those years ago. But it turned out to be possible to re-activate powers that had once been granted. When Q had given Riker his powers back then he had created some sort of link between them that could be re-opened. Reluctantly, Riker had allowed Q to re-open the link, because Q powers might result in omnipotence in their universe, but they were a minimum survival requirement in the Continuum, particularly in a Continuum at war. This had enabled Riker to help Q fight off the enemy long enough that they could reach a place where the Continuum was undamaged and Q could get them all home.

But while they'd been in the Continuum, another problem with Q's plan had become clear. It would be impossible for Q to return to the Continuum if pregnant - an unborn child who was even part Q couldn't survive entering the Continuum, according to Q. It was why Amanda Rogers' parents had refused to return to the Continuum. Since Q had been at the forefront of (his? her? its?) side of the war, this presented a problem - if the enemy Q didn't sense Q in the Continuum, they'd go looking, and the Enterprise could not exactly defend against a war party of angry, armed omnipotent beings. It was therefore necessary to find some way to hide Q, or at least misdirect the enemy, since stopping a war that was destroying the galaxy was imperative. It would also be helpful if someone with combat experience could advise Q's side (which was apparently the pro-humanity side of the war, bizarre as that was to imagine) - the Q had never had a war, so none of them had better than academic knowledge of how to fight and win one. So Riker had stayed behind in the Continuum to help Q's side win the war, continuing to keep, for the length of the war, the powers he'd turned down all those years ago. It wasn't accepting omnipotence, now, it was taking the necessary weapons to help the Q that approved of humans win and end the war destroying the galaxy.

This had made Q's decision to become pregnant much more interesting than it should have been, in the ancient Chinese curse sense of the word "interesting." While technically she had had her powers, she couldn't use them without risking giving away the ruse. Apparently, because they were sharing the same set of powers, Riker looked like Q in the Continuum if other Q weren't looking very hard, which would prevent the enemy from looking outside the Continuum for Q - but Q using the powers in their universe at the same time as Riker was using them in the Continuum would have blown the ruse. As a result, the months Q had spent here were... memorable. By now Beverly could probably recite one of Q's rants about the irresponsibility of Kathryn Janeway from memory. It had only been three months, not nine, because before quitting the use of her powers entirely Q had set the gestation to an accelerated rate of growth, but three months of dealing with a pregnant Q who couldn't safely use her powers had certainly seemed like nine months, or maybe nine years.

After Emmanuelle's birth - which had been accomplished by transporter the moment Q and Beverly both agreed that the child was healthy and developed enough to be born - Q had promptly taken back her powers, turned into her male form again, and declared that he was never ever ever going to be female again for the rest of eternity, and then headed back to the Continuum, apparently to try to negotiate a peace treaty on the basis of the child's birth, while at the same time Will Riker had finally been able to come home. Emmanuelle's six weeks of life had dragged out commensurately with Beverly's sleep deprivation, but even she could tell the difference between that and eternity. "I was under the impression you wanted to forget the entire experience happened," she said. "I don't mind, certainly, but I am surprised to see you in this form again."

Q shrugged elaborately. "As long as I'm not restricted from using my powers, it's not bad. The truth is, being in a human form without my powers is horrible no matter what form I'm in, while being in a human form with my powers can have its entertaining aspects, in its own primitive way." She smiled brilliantly. "I believe the expression is 'slumming'?"

"Ah. Well, when the exotic thrills of behaving like a mother wear off, I hope you'll let me know. I'm not going to be able to rely on you to help preserve Jean-Luc's sleep if you're going to think of caring for your daughter as 'slumming it.'"

"Oh, don't be like that, Beverly. You yourself said you couldn't understand why I was in this form again." She leaned back in the chair, holding Emmanuelle a little bit tighter. "This is very different from sex, but in some ways it's just as pleasant. It's... relaxing. I can see why your species hasn't died out." She looked at Beverly. "I never thought about it before, but of course, mammals need evolutionary rewards for feeding their young just as much as they need them for conceiving the young in the first place. Especially in a species with even the tiny modicum of intelligence humanity has, one would imagine women would have figured out that the fun of sex is hardly worth the hell of pregnancy unless they were getting something out of it afterward."

"Most people love their babies."

"Yes, yes, after they're born, but that hardly explains why they choose to have one in the first place. I suppose being mortal, and wanting something to live on after you're gone, explains some of it, but humans have never struck me as all that good at calculating long-term consequences of, well, anything."

"And that's why you decided to have a child with one of us?" Beverly asked acerbically.

Q shrugged. "You have your good points. Besides, I did go out of my way to pick one of your prime specimens. It's not like just any human would have done."

Beverly sat down on the small couch in the nursery. She was really much too tired to be dealing with Q. Most of her interactions with Q had happened with Jean-Luc there to be a buffer between them, or they'd been in the realm of the medical when Q had been attempting to carry a human pregnancy to term three times as fast as a human without having commensurately increased her own oxygen capacity, blood pressure or blood pressure tolerance, heart rate, or any of the other things that would have helped her supply a fast-growing baby with enough nutrients, and she hadn't dared to use her powers to fix any of the myriad problems this had caused, which had left Q sufficiently in need of Beverly's services that Beverly had felt at least somewhat in control of the situation. For six weeks Beverly hadn't even seen Q, and had sort of been hoping the entity would not come back from the Continuum until Em was ready to manifest Q powers. What she really should be doing right now was going back to bed, because she was exhausted and talking to Q was difficult enough when she was wide awake… but she felt as if it would be wrong to leave her baby in a dangerous being's hands and go back to sleep, even though, technically, Em was actually Q's baby and presumably Q wouldn't do anything to harm her.

"Are you going to make a regular habit of coming to feed her at night?" Beverly asked. "We can deal with it either way, but what would be very difficult to deal with would be having no idea whether you're coming or not. Babies need a routine."

"My baby does not need a routine. She's a Q."

"She's half-Q, and since you said her powers won't kick in until late adolescence, right now she's much more human than she is Q. She's not going to learn to settle down and start sleeping through the night if she can't rely on her parents to feed her when she's hungry, and it's not going to do Jean-Luc much good to be lying awake at night wondering if you're going to show or if she's going to start to fuss and we'll have to get up and do it."

"I can't guarantee anything, Crusher. I'm here because I wanted to be here. In case you didn't notice, I have a Continuum to put back together, former enemies to keep mollified so they don't start shooting again, laws and rules to revamp and revisit… I'm kinda busy back home. So no promises." Q leaned back in the rocking chair. "But this is awfully relaxing. I can't actually remember the last time I found anything that could help calm me down when the stress started getting to me."

"How often did you actually experience anything a reasonable person might describe as stress, before? You were omnipotent."

"Still am, remember. And you'd be surprised. Life chez Q Continuum has never actually been a glorious cycle of song, a medley of extemporanea, really. I frequently used to need to blow off steam. But giving everyone on a planet the same color hair so they'd no longer be able to discriminate against each other on the basis of hair color, and watching the hilarity that ensued, may have been highly amusing but it wasn't really relaxing. If sleep weren't such a horrifying experience I might even be tempted to do it." She looked down fondly at the baby snuggled against her chest. "She seems to like it okay. I wonder why it never seems to occur to humans to be appalled at the concept of losing consciousness for hours?"

"We need sleep. There's not much point to being appalled at your own biological needs."

"You really should be. It might inspire you to try harder to find ways around them."

"Maybe we're not that interested in finding ways around our biological needs."

"Well, then you'll stagnate and decay the way every other mortal species that didn't find a way to transcend its biology has done." Q didn't even look at Beverly as she said it; she rocked back and forth in the chair, looking more or less at the ceiling.

"I don't think that's a problem I have to worry about. Humanity's got a long way to go before we have to worry about either evolving or stagnating."

"Yeah, tell that to your son."

There was absolutely no polite answer Beverly could think of to that, and if she started with being openly impolite to Q, she didn't know where she'd end up. A screaming match between Beverly and Q in the nursery would not do much for Jean-Luc's sleep, might make Em start crying, and would probably accomplish very little of value; Beverly had no illusions as to the importance of her opinions to the entity. She changed the subject completely. "Em's hair is starting to come in red, I noticed. Is it going to stay that way?"

"You could do a genetic analysis if you cared."

"I could, but you probably know off the top of your head, and it's not really that important. I was just curious."

"Jean-Luc used to have red hair before he lost it, you know. Well, reddish brown, anyway."

"Oh. That's right." Beverly nodded, remembering back. "He was starting to go bald when I first met him, so I'd forgotten."

"She's going to look a lot like him, actually. Nose won't be as big, though." She looked directly at Beverly. "Apparently a nose that looks tremendously attractive on a human male inspires people to snicker behind their backs at it when it appears on a human female. Or so I gather from the people who think very loud commentary on my choice of nose and why I should have looked less like my male form when I took this shape. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you, doctor?"

"I don't think you're attractive in either form, so I'm not in much of a position to care how big your nose is or isn't, Q."

Q laughed. "I think that's the first honest thing I've gotten you to say to me since you gloated about the fact that my back had locked up."

"I didn't gloat."

"You said, and I quote, 'Well, don't expect much sympathy from me. You've been a pain in our backsides often enough.' And then you used some sort of instrument to cause me excruciating pain while in the process of fixing my back. If that's not gloating, what would you call it?"

Beverly shrugged tiredly. "Honesty. As you said. I really don't like you very much, Q, and I've always had the feeling that it's mutual, but I'm Em's adoptive mother and her father's domestic partner, and you're her biological mother and… whatever you are to Jean-Luc, so we're going to have to put up with each other at least until Em's an adult. We may as well at least try to be civil to each other."

"Oh, but no girl talk, Bev? No slumber parties, manicure sessions, lunches of salad and ice cream where we giggle at men and dish gossip on everyone we know?"

"I think I liked you better when you were a man."

"Kind of hard to breastfeed that way. I mean, I could — it's in the definition of 'nigh-omnipotent' that there's very, very little I can't do if I want - but I suspect it would be a lot less comfy than this is."

"You can be biologically female all you want, but don't try to pretend you're a woman. You're not, any more than you're a man."

"Quite true. I'm a Q. But since being a Q has never disqualified me from pretending to be a human man when it suited me, why should it disqualify me from pretending to be a human woman? I mean you're not really Dixon Hill's secretary either, but no one tells you you shouldn't pretend to be that." Q looked hard at Beverly. "Personally, I think the problem here is that you're jealous."

"I don't think I have any reason to be jealous. Do I?"

Q made a sour face. "With Mr. Human Morality Incarnate in the picture? No. You don't. And that thrills you to the core of your tiny human amygdala, doesn't it, Bev? I turn back to my male form, I move back to the Continuum, you move in on Jean-Luc while he's sleep-deprived and desperate for human hands around to help with the baby, and the next thing I know the two of you are having sex and Jean-Luc's telling me that it would be wrong for him to even think about resuming our relationship now that he's involved with you, because of course he was only ever sleeping with me because I needed it while I was stuck with a human pregnancy, because the great Jean-Luc Picard has no emotional needs himself. Ever. And it never enters his head that maybe I didn't look at it that way at all and it would have been nice to tell me he's throwing me over for a creature with a fraction of my intellect before throwing himself whole-heartedly into playing house with you, together with vows of eternal monogamy despite the fact that you two haven't even gotten married. But no, you're jealous. You don't like me taking a female form because you're afraid I'll use it to seduce Jean-Luc away from you. As if he would ever betray any human at all for my sake, let alone you."

This was exactly why Beverly really hadn't wanted to have a private conversation with Q. "Would you have done things any differently if you were in my place?"

Q's expression grew very, very hard, so much so that Beverly suddenly felt afraid for little Em, still snuggled against the entity's breast. "As a matter of fact, yes. I would have. Because I am a highly evolved, superior being who doesn't feel the need to mark my ownership of sentient beings by controlling their sex lives. If I had been the one who stayed and you'd been the one who went away, and then you came back, I wouldn't have stood in his way if he wanted to spend time with you… no matter how intimately the two of you chose to spend that time together."

"I don't believe that for a minute. You've been jealous of me for years."

"Envious, Crusher. Not jealous. There's a difference."

"I think the dictionary says those are synonyms."

"Well, they shouldn't be." Q looked down at Em, and carefully removed the now-sleeping baby from her breast, with a gentleness that Beverly would never have expected to see from Q even toward Q's own child. "There you go, q-ling. Back to your crib. Enjoy the sleep while you can; eighteen years from now or so I will expect you to give it up." The baby vanished in a flash of light, and Q was fully dressed, still in the female form with the evening gown but now the straps were back on her shoulders and her breast wasn't exposed any longer. And then she looked back at Crusher. "When you and Picard were just good buddies, best of pals, did you get upset when he went to the holodeck with Riker? Or spent time with Data? Or Troi? Were you jealous of his friendships, Beverly?"

"Of course not."

"But the moment sex enters into it, it's a whole different ball game, isn't it? You can't just be glad that the dance is done and you're finally getting to tango with the guy you've wanted since your husband introduced him to you. You can't just be grateful that he's your lover now, and 'just friends' has been consigned to the garbage bin along with last year's trashy holo-romances. No, you have to have him all to yourself. It was fine to be his friend and share him with his other friends, but you can't be his lover and share him with other lovers." She stood up. "You and I were in the exact same position once. We both wanted him, neither of us had him, and you can't tell me you didn't have the same visceral reaction to Vash or Troi's mother that I did. In fact I know for a fact that you had the same reaction to Vash that I did because she told me about it."

"I thought the whole thing with Vash was supposed to be teaching Jean-Luc that love is dangerous, or something."

"Oh, it is. It is." Her eyes glittered. "Love can bring down the greatest of the great, or hadn't you noticed? It's unbelievably dangerous. But no. I was envious of Vash, just like you were. The difference between then and now is that neither of us had him, and she did. It's perfectly understandable to envy what someone else has when you don't have it, but to try to control the behavior of another sentient being, to control their very emotions with your weak and primitive needs… to say that you and only you can love that person… It's even in your language. You talk about 'sharing' a lover. When do you actually talk about sharing a friend? Or sharing a parent, if you're not an only child? Or sharing a child? Did you share Wesley with Jack? Did you feel jealous when Wesley told you how much he wuvved daddy?"

"No, of course not!"

"No, of course not," Q mimicked back at her. "Only the beast with two backs gives birth to the green-eyed monster. You're only jealous when you're having sex with someone, because then you own their body. Jean-Luc's penis belongs to Beverly Crusher, and she doesn't share. Did it ever occur to you what a disgusting and objectifying way that is to look at another sentient being?"

"This coming from the person who referred to us as 'her' humans how many times in the Continuum?"

"The Continuum thinks you are objects that can be owned by other Q. And if I were going to fight that particular perception, I'd just leave you guys open to having other Q meddle with you, so no, I'm not going to go on a crusade for the rights of lesser beings not to be owned by Q. But at least I'm several levels up the evolutionary ladder from you, Crusher, so me owning you is more like Data owning Spot. What's your excuse? You're not looking down on a being that your compatriots think of as your pet; you're talking about someone who's supposed to be your equal. But you own him. He's your possession. No one else can love him, because then he might not have enough love to give you."

"I don't even know why you're talking about this, Q. You keep saying love, but I think what you mean is sex, because I don't think you can love a human being. You just said we're essentially your pets. How could you have a true love, a love of equals, for Jean-Luc? And since you don't really have a human body and you don't really have human desires, why do you even want sex with him so badly?"

"How do you know what I feel or don't feel?"

"You don't play with people you love as if they're your toys… and you don't fall in love with your toys, later down the road. You've treated all of us, but especially him, as objects you can just move around at your whim. Now you claim you love him? And you have since you met Vash and made us all go through your stupid Robin Hood scenario? I don't think so. Love means a willingness to be with someone, to share their hardships, to share their lives. To be there for them through thick and thin. Where were you when he got assimilated by the Borg? When he was tortured by the Cardassians? When his brother and his nephew died?" By now Beverly was standing herself, almost shouting. "You've never been there for him when he actually needed someone, so how dare you say that what you feel for him is love?"

"Why, exactly, do you think I would have chosen to procreate with a toy? And if you assume such contempt for a Q's ability to feel, why are you playing mother to a Q child?"

"I don't pretend to be able to guess why you do what you do. You claimed that having a child with a human would end the war, but since that doesn't make any sense to me, either I can't begin to comprehend your motives, or you're lying, or both. And I'm acting as Em's mother, not playing at it, because an innocent child shouldn't suffer for who her mother is, and because she's Jean-Luc's baby too. The Captain of the Enterprise can't raise a child by himself, regardless of what he thought when he agreed to this plan with you, and he's too honorable to make the child suffer; he'd give up his career to be her father, if she had no other parent here that he could rely on, even though it would destroy him. I won't see that happen to him. I won't see her suffer for having made it happen to her father. And no human child, but especially not Jean-Luc Picard's child, deserves to have you as her only mother figure."

"I see." There was no playfulness in Q's voice, none of the high-pitched, histrionic clowning, and despite herself Beverly shivered. She'd never seen Q like this, herself; recordings of Q on the bridge during the mission to Farpoint, and during the exposure to the Borg that Beverly had been back on Earth for, had shown this cold, hard, alien being of implacable demeanor, but for herself Beverly had never seen Q be this icily serious. "You think you make a better mother for my child than I do. Tell me, will you try to ruin her as a Q the way you did Amanda? Destroy her confidence in her powers, set her up with tests where only a human could possibly survive the tedium required to pass, try to convince her that I am alien, incomprehensible and probably evil?"

"I didn't do those things to Amanda."

"You most certainly did. You took every opportunity you could to sabotage her Q training with her Starfleet internship training. They could have worked together, but you made sure they could not. You gave her tasks that using her powers on would cause her to fail, to make her lose confidence in her powers and start to believe that being a Q wasn't quite all I was cracking it up to be, and you think I don't know you did it deliberately?"

"I was trying to make sure she understood her options."

"She had no options!" Q's voice was not particularly louder than before, but was harsh with fury. "You knew nothing. You had no idea that she was under sentence of death if she wouldn't come home, and no concept that everything I was doing to train her and encourage her in her Q nature was to save her life. No, you just blindly blustered in with your human ignorance clutched around you as if it were actually something to be proud of, self-righteously assured that you knew what was best for her, and you very nearly made me have to kill her!" Involuntarily Beverly took a step backward. "So, is that what you plan for Emmanuelle? Will you do your best to teach her how much better it is to be a human than a Q, teach her not to trust me or have faith in me, and train her to reject me, and the Continuum? Put me in the position of lobotomizing my own child, or killing her? Is that what you want?"

"No, of course not! Q, you know perfectly well I had no idea that you were under orders to kill Amanda if she wouldn't return to the Continuum, because you didn't tell us! Maybe I wouldn't have gotten in your way if I'd known what was really at stake, but you lied to her, and us, and pretended she had a choice when she didn't."

"Telling her we would kill her if she didn't come would have been coercion. She had to come of her own free will. And as soon as I did tell you, you and Picard told her, and nearly ruined everything I'd achieved up to that point."

"And at that point, you relented and gave her the option of restraining her own powers."

"No, at that point I lied and pretended that option was even vaguely possible. She was a child. She didn't know how not to use her powers. And I wasn't about to chop her mind to bits by severing her from the Continuum; she didn't know how much she was part of us already, so she had no idea how to pull herself back in and keep hold of the parts of her self she most cherished, the way I had to when they cut me off. Her choices were, refuse to join the Continuum, inevitably accidentally use her powers and quite possibly under the kind of emotional stress that would lead her to cause atrocities, and die; refuse to join the Continuum and be killed before she could become responsible for said atrocities; or believe that she actually had a choice, and make it in favor of the Continuum. We were jealous gods in those days, Crusher. No Q would be suffered to hold any desire or emotional tie before us. That's part of why I just fought a war, and why my best friend died, and why I put up with three months of being pregnant without using my powers, enduring your inept ministrations. And now that I've fought a war to end the Continuum's practice of reflexive jealousy, I still have to deal with it from you?"

"I'm not going to teach Emmanuelle to reject you. Regardless of everything, you are her biological mother, and when she comes into her powers, she'll need you. But you can't be there for her on a day to day basis, and I'm not sure you can give her the love and affection a human child needs, and I know you can't give her the patience a human needs to give a child. And the same goes for Jean-Luc. You can't be there for him either, and if you could I doubt you'd choose to be." Beverly shook her head. "You are what you are, Q. You're selfish and you think you're better than all of us, and no, I don't think you're capable of feeling love for a human, not the way humans love each other anyway. But you're still Emmanuelle's mother, and it's not as if anyone's going to be able to change you."

"So you don't think I'm capable of love?" Q stalked around Beverly, pacing around her like a tiger pacing in a cage. "Explain to me then why you're still alive."

Beverly blinked. "Pardon me?"

"Well, regardless of your fine words and your grudging recognition that yes, Em is related to me, not you, you've declared in so many words that you despise me, consider me contemptible, and will probably try to sabotage my relationship with my daughter, possibly without consciously intending to. You will certainly sabotage any relationship I could try to maintain with Picard. So why am I letting you live?" She continued to stalk in circles around Beverly. "It would be very easy, you know. And oh so plausible. Plant false records that you'd been suffering from a medical condition that makes you vulnerable to stroke… plant false memories in Dr. Ogawa's mind, so she'd believe she's been treating you for the condition for months… or why even fake anything? Why not actually go back in time and plant that vulnerability months ago, so when it suddenly comes to fruition and you drop dead of a brain aneurysm, no one thinks it's anything but a regrettable, terrible tragedy."

Beverly's mouth was suddenly very dry. "You wouldn't," she said weakly, trying to believe it.

"Oh, but why wouldn't I? Humans are only my toys, right? You stand in my way, you threaten my ability to raise my daughter as a Q when the time comes… if I don't care about Picard's feelings, if he's just an object I like to play with, why would I care that his career would be destroyed? Why would I care that he'd suffer for your death? What difference could it possibly make to me? I don't care, remember? I have no emotions, I'm completely selfish, so why are you still alive?"

There were things Beverly could say to that, but she held her tongue. Clearly she had gotten in over her head; being too tired to watch her tongue around Q, and letting the entity provoke her into actually admitting how she felt, might possibly endanger her life. It was hard to believe Q would actually kill her – despite what Q had said, her opinion was usually that Q was totally self-centered, not actually evil – but the fact that the entity had apparently put some thought into how to do it in a way that wouldn't reveal her involvement in Beverly's death to Jean-Luc chilled Beverly. "I don't know," she finally said, because the entity seemed to expect some sort of answer.

Q closed in on her, standing behind her, leaning down into her ear. "You draw breath," she hissed, "because you're wrong. Your heart continues to beat, despite the excellent reasons I have to eliminate you for my daughter's sake, because your death would cause Picard pain, and I no longer have the slightest interest in seeing him suffer. And because for some idiotic reason I find myself compelled to treat you beings as if you were actually people, and thus I can't actually bring myself to kill one of you… not without a reason far more compelling than this, anyway, and even then, only as a resort far more final. Every morning you awake, look at your still-living face in the mirror and understand that you are able to do this because everything you have said about me is wrong. Have your hysterical jealous hissyfits if you wish, be as primitive and underevolved a being as you are, if you choose… but don't pretend to yourself that you're somehow doing this for noble reasons, rescuing Jean-Luc from me because I cannot imagine what it means to love a human."

And she was gone, in a flash of light so bright it was painful.

Beverly took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She went to the replicator and ordered a mug of hot chocolate, and sat down in the rocking chair, sipping at it.

She doubted that Q had really gone away. This was probably foolish, because if Q could hear her then Q might come back and prolong the argument, perhaps even do something that they'd both regret, and if Q couldn't hear her there was no point in talking to Q. But the spirit of the staircase was strong in her, the need to refute the absolutely ridiculous, not to mention terrifying, equation Q had made of loving Picard with not killing her, and the fact that Q could have the last word and then flash out without listening to anything else was unbelievably irritating.

So she spoke to emptiness. "If you want to prove you love him, you'll have to come up with something better than not killing me," she said. "That only proves you're not a monster. The minimum requirements for love are a little higher than not being a murderer. I understand that you have work to do in your own dimension, and I know Jean-Luc doesn't actually want you here interfering in ship's business. But when I asked you if you would be a reliable help with the baby, you said you would if you felt like it, which, given that the question was about your being reliable, means 'no.' You want me to give him permission to be with you as well? I can't help feeling jealousy; you know as well as I do that I'm only human." A little bit more bitterness, a little bit more sarcasm, came out in her tone than she intended.

"But maybe we could work something out, if I thought you were good for him, or that your caring for him would actually translate to anything positive in any of our existences besides yours. Maybe I could overcome my jealousy or get past it if I really did think you actually loved him. If you were considerate, if you were helpful – not with ship's business, but with family responsibilities - if you took more of an active role with the baby like you did tonight, I might start to think that you actually are capable of caring. As it is… you apparently think that all you have to do to prove your love is not murder me even though you really want to. I'm sorry. That wouldn't be enough for any sane human. It certainly wouldn't be enough for Jean-Luc, and it definitely doesn't convince me."

Q did not return. There was no evidence as to whether or not the entity had heard her. It didn't matter. She'd said what she wanted to say, and when Q came back, which Q inevitably would, Beverly could say it again if Q showed no sign of having heard her.

She walked over to the crib. Emmanuelle was lying on her back in a fuzzy baby sleeper, eyes closed, mouth pursed, and little fists drawn up to either side of her head as if she were dreaming about boxing. The sleeper was not what she'd gone to bed in – Beverly had laid her down in a pink onesie, and she was now wearing a completely impractical purple velour sleeper with a faint pattern of chaos fractals laid out in the soft material, and frilly lace cuffs and collar made of a silky soft, non-itching material. It was soft, it was beautiful, it was far too delicate to be made by a replicator, and it was likely to be ruined in the next few hours or so by baby spit-up. Despite herself, Beverly's mouth twitched into a wry smile. Of course Q had felt compelled to do something for the baby to prove that at least she cared about Emmanuelle, and of course she'd chosen to do something that no one without Q powers would be able to do or which would be completely impractical without said powers.

Beverly returned to the bedroom, put the remainder of her hot chocolate back in the replicator to be recycled, and climbed into bed. Jean-Luc murmured something, and turned toward her. "Beverly?" he mumbled. "Is everything all right with the baby?"

"Everything's fine," she said, putting a reassurance she didn't entirely feel in her tone. If she mentioned that Q had been here, Jean-Luc would come fully awake. She liked to think that this was because Q had been a threat for so long that as captain of the Enterprise, Jean-Luc had trained himself to respond to Q's presence the way he'd respond to Romulan warships off the starboard bow. If there was another explanation, she sincerely didn't want to know. Either way, she wouldn't mention any of this to him until morning. "She's sleeping peacefully."

"That's good." His voice was slurred with sleep. "Have I mentioned today how grateful I am to you for all the help you've given me with her? You were under no obligation to take on such a responsibility."

"She's your baby, Jean-Luc, and you both needed someone who could be here. How could I resist?" She kissed him gently on his forehead. "Go on back to sleep. Em should be fine until morning."

"Mm." Jean-Luc needed little encouragement; neither of them had been getting much sleep lately. In only a few minutes, his breathing changed to the deeper, more rhythmic pattern of sleep. Beverly stared at the ceiling, nerves completely jangled by the conversation with Q, and tried to relax enough to join him.

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