Written for the Matrithon, for the prompt "Janeway/Q, unexpected". This story contains sexual situations and light F/m bondage, but no actual sex. It takes place in the alternate future of "Endgame", so while the story acknowledges Janeway's interest in a J/C relationship, that pairing is never going to happen in this AU. There is no Seven bashing in this story, because I like her almost as much as I like Janeway and Q.

This story bears certain resemblances to Rocky's excellent fic Q and Sympathy, not because they were intentional but because there were things Rocky did that seemed as if they were kind of inevitable for any J/Q fic set after the Chakotay/Seven relationship started. However, I went in a completely different direction with mine. I also owe Rocky thanks for a quick beta.


Chakotay wanted to marry Seven.

Chakotay wanted to marry Seven.

Kathryn Janeway had been trying, for a day and a half, to distract herself with reading endless, seemingly pointless reports, and doing paperwork, and wishing for something to come up -- nothing life threatening, maybe just a vigorous trade negotiation or an interesting spatial anomaly to study -- so that she would not have to dwell on that particular fact. It wasn't working. Over and over she kept hearing Seven say, "Commander Chakotay has proposed marriage to me. I am unsure whether it's acceptable for me to agree to his proposal, as we have been engaged in human courtship rituals for only three point four months, and it is my understanding that generally human courtship is supposed to last longer than that before a permanent pairbond is initiated. Can you advise me?"

She had been unconscionably snippy with Seven, replying with "I really can't take the time to discuss your romantic life with you right now, Seven. I'm very busy." She hadn't been busy at all, but at least, Seven hadn't known her schedule well enough to call her on it; Seven had simply acknowledged and left. Janeway had to remind herself that this was not Seven's fault; there was nothing to blame the younger woman for, here. Janeway hadn't been romantically involved with Chakotay. The fact that she'd wanted to be was something Chakotay knew, and probably Tuvok because he knew her pretty well, but no one else was even supposed to know. And maybe people like Torres and Paris and Kim could figure it out, because they had grown up around humans and were fairly adept at reading people... but Seven was a former Borg and romance was irrelevant. She had all the empathy of a teenager -- point out someone in pain to her and she could be very compassionate, but her default was to never notice anyone else's personal drama, because she was too busy figuring out her own.

Janeway had never said anything to Seven about her "dating" Chakotay because she'd thought it wasn't serious. Seven was emotionally a teenager with a crush, and surely Chakotay agreed with her that a sexual relationship with direct subordinates was wrong. Right? He was humoring Seven, letting her play with romance in a safe environment, being a mentor to her. It was a good thing, given that Chakotay hadn't originally even wanted Seven on the ship. And so on and so forth. But... marriage?

Why marriage, so soon? Seven wasn't mature enough for such a commitment. For that matter... why Seven? Was it just that she was blonde and beautiful and young and available? She liked to think better of Chakotay than that. Was it Seven's strength of will and -- for all that she didn't have the most personable one -- personality? Seska had had that... as did, well, Janeway herself. But so did B'Elanna Torres, and Chakotay had never acted on her crush on him, so there was more to it than that. Was it that Seven needed someone, and Chakotay needed to be needed?

The thought occurred to her that maybe it was precisely because Seven was her protege, and he was trying to get back at her for stringing him along for years. No. She wasn't going to believe that. That speculation wasn't even worthy of her, and she should be embarrassed for thinking it. She was just lashing out mentally because it hurt, that was all.

And the hell of it was, she couldn't even necessarily blame Chakotay. She'd known he didn't fully agree with her belief that romance with subordinates was necessarily exploitative; he'd spent enough time trying to talk her out of that point of view that she shouldn't have blithely assumed that he agreed with it enough to keep waiting for her. Like her, Chakotay was in everyone's chain of command, and he shouldn't be romantically involved with anyone on the ship; all but her were his direct subordinates. But Seska had been his direct subordinate too, and that hadn't stopped him. Life in the Maquis hadn't been like life in Starfleet, but life in the Delta Quadrant wasn't much like life in Starfleet either. She should have seen this coming. She should have known he wouldn't wait for her.


But what was she supposed to do differently? She did believe that officers had no business being romantically involved with subordinates. What happened when things went wrong? Hell, right now she was suffering from an overwhelming desire to stick Chakotay with every dull, boring task she could realistically put off on him, and they hadn't even been romantically involved. She could tell herself that Chakotay didn't owe her anything, that she didn't have the right to feel jealous or betrayed, and control the urge to take it out on him. What would have happened had they been in a relationship, and it had gone sour somehow? No, she was making the right decision.

Which meant she would be alone until they found the way home. And she had been bearing up with that when she'd known that Chakotay was sharing that burden too. But if he wasn't... if he had a lover, the comfort and affection of someone special to care for him... (sex, with a sentient being, not a solo activity or with a non-sentient hologram)... and she didn't...

Tuvok didn't have anyone either, she reminded herself. T'Pel was still thousands of light years away.

Tuvok was a Vulcan. And, not to put too fine a point on it, well into middle age. He looked much younger than he was -- even in Vulcan terms, Tuvok was aging fantastically well -- but he didn't have the... needs of a younger Vulcan. Or a younger human. In terms of the human life span Janeway was still younger than Tuvok. And besides, Vulcans were experts at overcoming emotional needs. Humans... weren't.

She was alone. She was the only human on this ship who was doomed to be alone. Tuvok was faithful to T'Pel and the Doctor might have difficulty finding a mate given what he was, but Tuvok was Vulcan and the Doctor, while far more human than she'd ever expected him to become, wasn't human and probably didn't have quite the same emotional needs. She had thought Chakotay was in this with her, that they would get together when they finally got home and consummate what they both clearly desired. But he hadn't waited. And he didn't owe it to her to wait. Which didn't make it hurt any less; it just made her feel guilty about snapping at people because she was hurting.

At this point in her dark reverie, a coffee ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and colored sprinkles appeared in front of her in a bright flash of light.

Janeway looked up, angrily. "Q!" she snapped.

"I have it on good authority that chocolate sundaes cure bad moods in humans," Q said from behind her, where he hadn't been a moment ago. "And you look like you're in an absolutely miserable mood. Was the coffee ice cream okay? I knew you loved coffee, so I thought perhaps swapping coffee ice cream for the traditional vanilla would be a better idea."

"What would be a better idea is you going away and leaving me alone," Janeway snapped, getting out of her chair and standing up so she could face him, knowing she was handling him all wrong, and not caring. "I'm in no mood to help you with whatever your problem is today, Q."

"Oh, you mistake me, Kathy. I'm not here about my problems. I have no problems! My life is a glorious cycle of song, a medley of extemporanea. I'm here to help you out with your problems." He snapped his fingers, making all of her paperwork vanish, and sat down on her desk, next to the sundae. "Why don't you try it? I guarantee it's a hundred percent non-fattening. And since Neelix is finally off your ship, you needn't fear that tasty food will ruin your appetite for yet more leola root stew. Go on!"

"I don't want ice cream. And I don't want your help with my problems. Unless you're here to warn me of an imminent Borg attack or something of that nature, in which case I'll accept your advice. But if your mission here is personal--"

"No imminent Borg attacks, Kathy," he said, and looked uncharacteristically somber. "Not that I could warn you if there were. The Continuum has forbidden me to give you any material aid or assistance, and warning you of impending assault would qualify."

"Didn't you end up as one of the leaders of the Continuum, after the war?"

"Compromises must be made," Q said. "Much as it pains me, I did have to agree to the conditions demanded by a majority of other Q, since the last thing I want is for war to break out again."

"Well, if you're not allowed to give me any aid or assistance, and you're not here to ask for my help, then you have no business here. Go back to take care of your son. I thought you said you were going to stay with him."

"When did I say that?" Q looked puzzled.

Janeway sighed. "The last time you were here? When you wanted my advice on raising the poor kid?"

"Oh, don't tell me! Spoilers!" He made a tsking motion with his finger. "I haven't gotten to that part yet."

"...That ...part?"

Q sighed. "Do try to keep up, Kathy. The timeframe of the Continuum runs only very loosely parallel to yours, and of course we can move about in your timeline as easily as we move through your space. If I'm going to come to you for child rearing advice, I haven't done it yet; plainly I'm going to visit you out of temporal sequence for some reason. So don't tell me anything about it! I'd hate to ruin the surprise."

"When was the last time you did come to me?"

"The war, of course. How many times am I going to have visited you already by the time I arrive today?"

She took a moment to parse his tenses. "Just the once."

"Oh, that's not so bad, then. Just forget about anything I will have told you at our last meeting, and everything will go swimmingly."

She sighed. "So if you haven't got a problem you need my help with, and you can't help me, why are you here?"

"Oh, I didn't say I couldn't help you, Kathy. I can't give you material aid or assistance... but I can help you with more, mm, personal problems." He got off the desk and moved toward her. "Been feeling a bit... frustrated lately?"

"If I did, what would that have to do with you?"

"Don't be coy, Kathy. You know what I'm talking about." He came into her personal space, looming over her. "You... and me."

"There is no you and me."

"There's you, and there's me, so why not you and me?" Q took her hand. Janeway yanked it back.

"We've been through this before. I have no interest in having your child."

Q rolled his eyes. "You are aware that birth control exists, right, Kathy? I mean, you have been keeping up with your shots, I presume."

God he was infuriating. "What is it you're really after, Q?"

"I'd thought I was being fairly obvious. But if you really need it spelled out--" His arm went around her back, pulling her close. "I want you, Kathy."

"Unfortunately for you, I don't want you." She pulled free. She didn't believe him. Up close she could see his eyes, and if anything they were amused -- no dilated pupils, no faster heart rate, no quicker breathing. Q's physical form might be an excellent imitation of a human male, but it wasn't perfect. He wasn't showing any of the signs an actual human man who wanted a woman would be showing. Q was playing some sort of game, but she didn't know what.

"Ah, but as you've recently had so dramatically pointed out to you... you don't really have a plethora of choices, do you? By your own rules, you can't date anyone on Voyager, and while you could, of course, enjoy a night or two of passion with a delightful stranger on some planet... you'd have to leave him behind, as Voyager continues on its endless quest through the stars."

She looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Are you actually suggesting that I should have a sexual relationship with you because I don't have any other choices?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Well, I like to think I have numerous attractive qualities of my own... but it does seem to me as if you're overlooking the obvious, when you reel off one of your knee-jerk canned rejection scripts. I may be the only being you know of who can be with you any time you choose, without being part of your crew, and since you've declared yourself off-limits to anyone under command, surely it can't have escaped your attention that that's a significant advantage."

"And yet I'm really not interested in you."

"Why not? The form I use is a reasonably attractive human male, of a type you generally like, and I could change it anyway if you'd find something else more appealing. And while you were holding out for your loverboy on Earth the last time we met, I know you know by now that he moved on. So did your other top contender. So... why not me?"

"We've been through this before, Q. I don't love you."

He snorted. "Whereas you were madly in love with your soulmate the hologram that you programmed." Janeway couldn't help wincing inside at that, although she managed to keep it off her face. She thought. "Or what about that dear fellow on the planet where you had amnesia? Since you knew absolutely nothing about him, or yourself for that matter, I'm going to take any declarations of your eternal love and devotion for him as a little hollow. And then there was the fascist who liked putting telepaths in concentration camps-"

"I never had sex with Kashyk."

"No. But you wanted to. And you most decidedly did not love him." He leaned forward. "I don't, as a general rule, choose to read mortals' minds," he said softly. "It tends to spoil the surprise. But I can see your physiological reactions as easily as you can see the color of my hair. And I know you aren't as unmoved by my presence as you claim to be. The last time I checked, you didn't despise me as you did Kashyk, so why flirt with him and turn me down?" Q looked down at her. "I'm not asking for your eternal devotion, or for you to have my child. Frankly, one was more than enough. I'm not even asking you for babysitting services, as tempted as I've been on occasion. I'm just looking for some friendly, mutual fun. Are you morally opposed to that?" He said it as if the idea of a person being morally opposed to that would have permanently marked them as an inferior being, worthy only of sneering at.

The truth was that Q's physical proximity and the offer he was making was distracting, in exactly the way he intended it to be distracting, but there was a principle at work here. Q was entirely too convinced of his own worth. There was nothing humble about his manner, nothing that acknowledged that she could possibly have good reasons for refusing him; he expected her to give in, and given the way he was presenting himself, it would be giving in. For all his talk about friendly mutual fun or about his desire for her, he hadn't once mentioned why he wanted her, what he saw in her -- it was all about how wonderful he was and how she had no better choices than him. The arrogance and high-handedness made her grit her teeth.

And worse, he showed no sign of actually being interested in her -- with Q, one had to ignore what he said in favor of what he did and how he acted, and while many of his words and actions seemed scripted straight out of some romantic holonovel, she couldn't see any spark. It wasn't that hard to tell if a man really wanted you or not; Q seemed to be entertained rather than aroused. Maybe he was confusing the two. Or maybe he had decided to experiment with human sexuality in a directly hands-on way, and wanted her to be his guinea pig. It was infuriating, because yes he was physically attractive, and no, after over seven years of deprivation (Jaffen and Michael didn't count... really, they didn't), she was not wholly unmoved by that fact. And he was right -- he wasn't a member of her crew, didn't have to travel with her, but could catch up with her on a regular basis, and that made him more accessible than Chakotay or any other man here on Voyager or anyone she might meet in the Delta Quadrant. If he actually wanted her and he weren't such a supercilious asshole, she might be tempted.

But she couldn't explain any of that to Q. Getting it through his thick, entitled super-alien skull that she didn't have to fall at his feet just because he was a Q had been hard enough last time, with something as big as having a child at stake. And telling him that she could see that he wasn't attracted to her because he had no involuntary physical reactions that betrayed arousal would only tip him off to start including those in his performance. She needed a reason that he'd accept without days of arguing about it.

And she thought she had one. "I'm not morally opposed to friendly, mutual fun... with friends who haven't committed to any other obligations. But I don't think you fall in that category. What about Q?"

He waved a hand impatiently. "She's really not a consideration."

Interesting that if he wasn't reading her mind, he still knew exactly who she was talking about. "Oh no? Because from where I'm standing it sounds like you want me to agree to cheat, with you, on your omnipotent girlfriend. That doesn't sound like it would be particularly healthy for me or my crew."

"What, you think she's Hera or something? Q's not going to be jealous of you, Kathy."

"That's really not what it looked like the last time she was here."

He sighed. "Yes, well, things change, and besides, she was exaggerating. I've been spending so much time running around after a toddler I hardly think she can begrudge me a little bit of rest and relaxation."

"By having sex with another woman? I don't care how dedicated a dad you are, Q, most women are not going to consider that an appropriate way to relax."

"Q isn't a woman. She's a Q." He looked frustrated. "Look, I know where you're getting this idea and I knew it was going to backfire at the time, but the Q don't practice monogamy. Eternity is far too long to spend it shackled to one person; Q doesn't have any claim on what I do with my life, and she only pretended she did to be irritating."

It was hardly beyond the realm of imagination to consider that a Q might do something solely to be irritating, but Q was not exactly a credible character witness in this case. "That's awfully convenient for you, isn't it?"

"You don't believe me."

"Honestly? No."

Q made an exasperated noise. "Fine. I'll have Q come by in person and let you know that she is not going to fly into a fit of insane jealousy if you sleep with me."

"That's really not necessary. I'm not--"

"Actually, she'll probably think the whole idea of her being jealous of you is hilarious."

"Q, how am I supposed to know that someone claiming to be your friend isn't you impersonating her?"

Q actually looked offended. "I would never impersonate another Q. Not only would it be morally beneath me, but she'd be far more furious with me for pretending to be her than she'd ever be for me having sex with a mortal."

Well. That actually made sense. "That may be so, but it's hardly necessary to disturb her. I wouldn't--"

"Great, it's settled. I'll have Q drop in on you and have a little girl talk." He grinned at her. "Do let me know what she says about me."

And he vanished. At the same time, her PADDs of paperwork came back, scattered all over her desk.

Janeway felt a headache starting behind her eyes. But at least she wasn't focusing on Seven and Chakotay anymore.

She picked up the coffee ice cream sundae and tossed it in the waste reclamation hopper.

The next day, when Janeway saw the flash of light in her ready room, she felt the headache coming back, even stronger. She looked up with an expression of long-suffering patience, and was not completely surprised to see Q's mate.

"Hello, Q," she said, tiredly. "What can I do for you?"

"What can you do for me? I truly doubt such an inferior life form as yourself can do anything for me," the female Q said. "But I understand from Q that I can do something for you."

"I don't think there's anything I need from you at the moment, no," Janeway said, trying to be polite.

"Q said that you wanted me to come reassure you that I would not lower myself to being jealous of a pathetic mortal life form like yourself if he began a sexual relationship with you."

Janeway took a deep breath. "Actually, it was Q who wanted--"

"So I'm here," the female Q interrupted. "And I assure you, I am completely above the emotion of jealousy, especially for a creature with the intelligence of a gnat and the lifespan of a mayfly. You can do whatever you like with Q. In fact, go right ahead, have him all to yourself. I don't even want him anymore."

"I don't really want Q," Janeway said. "I actually never have. I don't know what he's told you, but--"

"You don't want Q?" The female Q sounded quite skeptical. "Really. Whyever not? He's certainly a better catch than anything you could get on this ship."

"For a Q, I'm sure he's wonderful. But I don't--"

"If you consider a Q wonderful who lets his child run wild, ignores the brat half the time and sabotages my best attempts to instill some discipline in the boy, while at the same time doing nothing whatsoever about the fact that the majority of the Continuum despise his so-called best friend for saving his life while adulating him for stopping the war, despite the fact that I was actually the one who stopped it, well, then I'm sure he is wonderful." Her face twisted in a sour expression. "But why should you care about any of that? I'm sure it doesn't matter to you that you're persona non grata in the Continuum as much as I am, because he's too much their blue-eyed boy, the war hero of the freedom faction, for the rest of the Q to take their loss out on him."

"I'm sorry if you've suffered some sort of consequences for helping Voyager save Q and me, during the war," Janeway said sincerely. "But there's nothing I can do to help you with that. And I'm really not interested in Q."

"Of course not. He's too powerful for you. You prefer your men to be lap dogs. Holograms, weak-willed scientists, amnesiacs... your pet Noble Warrior, who was quite the revolutionary until you got your hooks into him and surgically extracted his spine... why would you have any interest in a man with power?"

"It's not that Q has power," Janeway snapped, getting a little tired of the entity's sarcasm and insults... not to mention her habit of constantly interrupting. "It's that he uses it completely capriciously. And worse than that, he's smarmy about it. He might even be remotely attractive if he didn't approach me as if he expects me to fall at his feet in worship because he's a Q."

"Well, you really should."

"No, I really shouldn't. Humanity has evolved beyond worshipping powerful beings simply because they're powerful, and if Q has some sort of fetish for being treated as a god, he can go find some more primitive species and get them to worship him--"

"Except he doesn't," the Q said sharply. "Q has never wanted worship. He wants you creatures to be his friends. It's pathetic beyond belief; he should simply smite you all and demand you sing his praises if he wants to interact with you that badly, or else hide among you and pretend to be one of you. The fact that he wants it both ways, that he wants to behave as if he is one of you while keeping his powers, is utterly ridiculous and I shouldn't even humor him in it... but it's what he wants, not worship, and I won't have you accusing him of something he'd consider slander even if the rest of us would consider it just good common sense. " She scowled at Janeway. "If he truly wanted you to worship him, don't you think he could get you to do it?"

"No," Janeway said decisively. "Humans have put aside those sort of superstitions."

"Which is why your ex-boytoy cavorts with imaginary animals in the world of make-believe, and why you humored him to the point of going and getting yourself an imaginary pet gecko."

God, she was irritating. "I respect other people's cultures, including Chakotay's. But I know that Q is an alien, not a supernatural being, and--"

And then she felt a sudden sense of profound oneness with the universe, like her mind was opening a door she had never stepped through before, and the woman before her was the personification of the universe, her Mother, a glorious being of light and wonder, and Janeway went to her knees in awe, gasping at the beauty of the entity before her and the feeling of spiritual completion, of belonging to everything everywhere and being a part of a vast tapestry and tears of joy came to her eyes at the heartbreaking delight of it, that she had gone her whole life rejecting this and now she saw, she saw the truth and she would do anything, anything at all that her Goddess asked of her, and

Her mind cleared. The being in front of her was a Q, a powerful alien, nothing more. The loss she felt was a kick in the gut, and she pressed her hand to her mouth in sudden grief. She was not one with the universe, she no longer felt any sort of spiritual revelation or oneness with reality, and the person in front of her was not a loving mother goddess of splendor and divine glory. Tears stung her eyes again. She channeled it into fury. "What the hell was that?" she demanded, getting back to her feet shakily.

Q smirked at her. "You were saying? About human evolution?" she prompted.

"You... you mind-controlled me!"

"There's a part of your brain that's actually evolved to create religious experiences, Janeway. You didn't evolve out of a damn thing. It's still there, and it can be exploited by any entity with the power and desire to do so. Your atheism didn't save you from worshipping me for a moment there. I've only ever met one human who resisted that pull, and to be completely honest, it's because a head injury he suffered during his career actually broke the God sensor in his brain, so when a being who specialized in making mortal creatures like you fall to their knees in worship tried to trick him into handing over his starship, he successfully resisted. Your brain doesn't have that protection. If Q wanted you to worship him, you would. You would do anything he asked of you, joyfully. But he doesn't want that. He wants you to like him for himself, not because you worship him."

Technically, she was right. Janeway hadn't originally meant that Q expected her to literally worship him; it was probably a poor choice of metaphor, in talking about a being who could, in fact, be worshipped as a god and have it be reasonably accurate. "Fine, I'll grant you that Q has never interfered with my free will. Bullied me, dragged me off to your Continuum against my will, and acted as if he was some sort of irresistible romance hero that I couldn't help but want to be swept off my feet by, as if his power entitled him to my affection, but no, he's never mind-controlled me or tried to make me worship him."

"And you don't see what a tremendous concession he's made for your benefit in doing that?" the other Q demanded.

"I'm really not interested in being with a person who considers not mind-controlling me to be a tremendous concession."

"Well, then it's good for you that I'm not interested in you. Q doesn't consider it a tremendous concession; he doesn't like mind-controlled mortals and he doesn't like worship. He wants you to stand up to him. He thinks it's attractive."

"That's fine for him, but I don't think he's attractive, so the point is moot."

"Not even slightly?" The entity stared down at Janeway. "I'd consider that an insult to my good taste if I didn't know it wasn't true. You find him attractive. Physically."

Janeway was not about to admit to the female Q that there were times, after nearly eight years in the Delta Quadrant without a lover, that she'd find a turnip attractive if it were in a roughly masculine shape and had a penis. She had chosen this celibacy because a captain couldn't afford to sleep with her crew. Technically, the first officer shouldn't be doing so either, but she couldn't actually point that out to Chakotay without sounding like she was jealous of his relationship with Seven. Which she was, but that was beneath her and she was trying to get over it. "Perhaps I do, occasionally, but then his personality intervenes. Q is overbearing, obnoxious and acts as if he's doing me a favor by throwing himself at me, and he doesn't even actually seem to find me attractive. He says things that sound as if he borrowed them from a romance novel; I've almost never heard him sound sincere about a romantic interest in me. And he doesn't even look interested."


"Men who want women have... physical reactions."

"So you'd be more reassured that he wants you if he was parading around naked with an erection?"

"No!" The thought was more than slightly appalling. Also, very slightly, intriguing... which was itself rather appalling. Didn't she used to have standards? "I don't mean that. Of course that's a physical reaction too, but I mean other, more unisex reactions. Dilated pupils, increased heart rate... looking infatuated or attracted. Q has always acted as if he finds human sexuality more of a hilarious game than anything else."

"And you would find him more desirable if he reacted as if he genuinely found you attractive?"

"I don't know as that I would find Q more desirable under any circumstances. And why are you trying to throw him at me? I thought you loved him." When Q had appeared looking for advice on raising his son, he had claimed that his mate had disowned their son and left them both. But Q claimed that that whole incident was yet to happen for him, still far into his future, and from what he'd said, it sounded like his son was the human equivalent of a toddler now. Which meant that this Q hadn't left him yet. Which made her behavior incomprehensible.

"I told you, I don't want him anymore. And even if I did, I'm not threatened by a creature whose lifespan can be measured in nanofractions of my own."

"That's really not what you implied the last time you were on my ship."

"The last time, he wanted to mate with you. That implied a rather more permanent relationship. He was talking about bringing you to the Continuum, perhaps even making you a Q someday. I don't believe he has any such interest in you now, and why should I care if he wants to ignore me in favor of pursuing a mayfly creature? There are other non-Q beings of power who can appreciate me, and now it's no longer against our laws to pursue such a relationship. I can have my pick of thousands of entities. I don't need him, or any Q."

The bitterness in the entity's voice was unmistakable. "Q, I'm sorry you're not getting along with others of your kind, but you shouldn't feel some need to matchmake me with Q. He's really not my type. If you don't want him, that's fine, but you don't need to find him a new lover before you can break up with him, if that's what you want to do."

The Q laughed. "Find him a new lover? Why would I need to do that? He's the hero of the war. He can have any Q in the freedom faction for the asking. If he has a ridiculous obsession with you and other mortals like you, that's his problem."

"So why are you here?"

The Q abruptly put something down on Janeway's desk, hard. It clattered like metal. "Take this," she said, and moved her hand so Janeway could see what it was. It was a glowing key.

Janeway, somewhat reluctantly, picked it up. "What does it unlock?"

"You'll know soon enough," the female Q said. She smiled. It wasn't a very nice smile. "I'd keep it on my person if I were you. You never know when you'll need it."

And then she vanished.

Bemused, Janeway picked up the key. It was warm to the touch. The thought occurred that it might be a trap... but why would the female Q need to trap or trick her, when she could annihilate Janeway with a thought at any time? She decided that she would, in fact, keep the key on her person, at least for the moment, until she found out what it belonged to. Or at least until morning, when she could in conscience have B'Elanna analyze it for her. Miral might be sleeping through the night now, but that didn't mean that having the baby wasn't taking its toll on Torres' sleep schedule, forcing the chief engineer to actually go to bed at a reasonable time at night. Unlike Janeway herself. And if she'd retired hours ago like she should have, perhaps the female Q wouldn't have had the opportunity to come bother her. Q himself might come annoy her in her bedroom (or bath, although he claimed that he hadn't done that yet), but Janeway thought the female Q would try to keep it more professional.

It was rather late, and she was stressed from this. There had been a time when she could have called up Chakotay, no matter how late it was, and he'd come over and they could talk shop, or simply have a conversation unrelated to work, over herbal tea. Those days were gone now, she thought with sudden pain, and then was angry at herself for letting it hurt. Of course Chakotay had moved on. Of course he wasn't willing to wait for her indefinitely.

None of this was Seven's fault; Seven didn't know that Janeway had found Chakotay attractive, had considered him her best friend, had wanted desperately to love him but thought it was too much a risk to the ship. When they were home, she'd thought. Once they were no longer serving on the same ship, once Chakotay got the promotion he really deserved, then they could be together without rank getting in the way. But Seven had fallen for him, and Chakotay hadn't waited for Janeway. He'd taken what Seven offered, and she really shouldn't blame him for that when who knew if they would ever make it home, but that didn't stop it hurting.

No. She couldn't go to bed yet. She was tired, but not tired enough that her mind would stop jumping back to Chakotay's proposal of marriage to Seven. Janeway looked around at the reports that still needed doing. Her head hurt and her eyes were starting to unfocus, but her mind, having drifted to the thing she had been trying not to think about, couldn't get off the topic. She went to the replicator and got yet another coffee. To be able to focus on something as boring as these reports long enough that she could stop thinking about Chakotay and Seven... or about the fact that inevitably Q was going to show up and harass her again... she really needed another coffee.

Eventually the reports were done. By now Janeway had consumed enough coffee that she was wired, jumpy, and definitely irritable, as well as exhausted, and despite how tired she was it was going to be difficult to sleep... but she'd actually managed to finish her paperwork, and now she didn't have anything else to distract herself. Maybe she'd go to the holodeck; this late at night it should be unoccupied. Or maybe she'd at least try to get some sleep first.

She headed for her quarters. As she entered the living area, she heard muffled noises from the bedroom. Automatically her hand went to her combadge to call Security, and then she thought better of it. Noise in her bedroom when she was dealing with Q probably had something to do with him, and she wasn't going to embarrass Tuvok -- or herself -- by exposing him to Q's games. "Who's there?" she called out.

The muffled noises got louder. It sounded like someone might be trying to say something, but either the door or something else was turning the sound to mush so she couldn't make out any of the words. Irritated, Janeway went through the door to her bedroom, and froze.

She'd expected to find that her bed had been transformed into something, or roses, or some other dramatic romantic gesture. She had not expected to find Q chained spread-eagle on her bed, naked, blindfolded and gagged. His head was turned toward her and he was pulling on the shackles, which bound him to bedposts that her bed hadn't had when she got up this morning. Between the blindfold and the tape over his mouth she couldn't read his expression, but the sounds he was making through the gag would have sounded panicked if she didn't know better. Despite the desperate note in his muffled voice and the fact that he looked like he was struggling, she could plainly see that he was... well, inappropriately excited by the position he was in. Furious, Janeway yanked her eyes away from the evidence of Q's arousal and stomped over to his head. "Get out of my room. Right. Now," she said, managing just barely not to snarl.

"Mm mmnt! Mm mmnt nnt hnh!"

She wasn't going to get anything out of him unless she played along to the extent of ungagging him, at least. Janeway ripped what appeared to be old-fashioned duct tape off his mouth, not gently. "Owww!"

"I don't care what your excuses are. Get out!"

"I'd love to except I can't because these things are blocking my powers!" He pulled on the chains again. "Q said she'd give you the means to free me. Did she give you anything? A code word, a key, some sort of device?"

Involuntarily Janeway's hand went to her jacket pocket, where she'd stuffed the key the female Q had given her. "You expect me to believe you're helpless?" she asked incredulously.

"Since it's true, yes, I expect you to believe it. Look, just let me go and I'll get out of here. I'm sure this is nearly as embarrassing for you as it is for me, so just let me go and we'll pretend this never happened."

"You're chained to my bed, blindfolded, naked, and you expect me to believe that Q put you here. That you can't just teleport out any time you want. That you have every intention of simply leaving quietly without creating trouble, if I use this key to release the chains."

"Well... yes." He grinned weakly. "Although if the situation leaves you irresistibly tempted to ravish my helpless body before letting me go, I suppose I could live with that."

Right. He wasn't helpless at all. Janeway turned around and headed for the door. "Play these games by yourself, Q. I'm not interested."

"Wait! Don't leave me, please!"

That brought her up short. She had never heard that note of raw panic in Q's voice, not even when the enemy faction of Q during his war were putting the two of them up against a tree and preparing to shoot them both. She stood still for a minute.

"I'm just... I'm not used to being helpless like this, all right? I wasn't trying to offend you, I was just... trying to make light. You know. I, uh, I'm sorry." He was silent for a moment, and then, plaintively, "Kathy? Are you still there?"

"I'm here," she said automatically. Q never apologized. The only time he'd ever said he was sorry for anything was when the two of them were about to be executed. If he was actually apologizing... well, she found it hard to believe he'd do that as part of a game.

"Oh, thank you," he said fervently, in the tone other people might say "thank God" in. "You didn't say anything and I was afraid for a moment you'd abandoned me like this. You will let me go... right?"

She turned around, sighing. "I'm finding this entire situation somewhat unbelievable."

"You mean you don't believe that Q would do this to me? Because I'm afraid you don't know her very well if you find anything to disbelieve about her pulling a stunt like this on me."

"Q did this to you?"

"Well, it's not as if I would do it to myself, now is it?"

"That's exactly my question."

"You think I'd humiliate myself like this on purpose?"

"I think that you wouldn't find this actually humiliating if your powers aren't really blocked. And I think that either your powers aren't blocked, or you like being humiliated."

"Why do you say that? I don't want this! I keep trying to get you to let me go; why would I do that if I liked this?"

Janeway sighed in exasperation. "You're not this stupid, Q. I can see that you're... uh, responding to this. Which makes it very hard for me to believe that you didn't arrange all this."

"I... oh, that. The, uh, human physiology here, uh..."

"Yes. That."

"I, uh..." His face, what she could see of it around the blindfold, was turning bright red. "Let's just say that's a salute of appreciation to the company I'm in, not the situation. I don't... without my powers I can't control this body's reactions, and I... well, you know, it's not exactly like I made it a secret that you turn me on, Kathy. Believe me, if it was anyone but you in here, there would be no ambiguity whatsoever about whether or not I'm enjoying myself." He lifted his head. "Which for the record, I'm not. Could you at least take this blindfold off?"

Interesting. She had avoided any attempt to find out if he had this particular physiological reaction -- oh, hell, quit with the euphemisms, she thought to herself. She had made sure never to pay enough attention to his groin to notice whether he was hard or not, when he'd hit on her in the past, since she'd been afraid that any sign whatsoever from her that she cared what was going on in his pants would be taken by him as a sign of interest. But all the other physical reactions of arousal had been missing, so she had assumed that that one would have been too, unless he was using his powers to fake it. Janeway pulled the blindfold off his face -- it was a black eye mask held on with a strap around the head, and curiously much heavier than it looked, with a slight tingle to it as she touched it. Underneath, his eyes were wide and pleading. "I've been here for hours and it's really not comfortable in the slightest. Please, just let me out of these chains and I'll get out of your hair. I promise."

Hours? Such as the hours it had been since the female Q had come to visit her? "What would happen to you if I didn't let you go?"

The blood drained from his face -- which was especially noticeable because he'd just been blushing with what had seemed to be intense embarrassment. His eyes went wider. "Oh, no. Please, you wouldn't do that to me, Kathy. I know you wouldn't." He didn't sound at all like he knew she wouldn't; rather, he sounded as if he were trying to convince her that she wouldn't, or maybe convince himself.

She softened slightly toward him. Funny... it wasn't that she had any taste for hurting men, or anyone, but Q was actually almost cute when he was frightened. It was the vulnerability, she thought; that and the fact that he was taking this seriously. Q almost never took anything seriously, but when he did, whether because he was frightened or because there was something he genuinely believed in at stake, he was much more attractive than when he was smarmy, arrogant and treated everything as a joke. Janeway had actually wanted to frighten him a little with the question, because after everything he'd put her through he deserved to be just a bit inconvenienced, but he wasn't reacting as if she'd threatened him with an annoying prank. He was scared, and now she felt sorry for making him that way. "I wouldn't, no. I am going to let you go. But I want to ask you some questions first."

"Anything you like." Q attempted to shrug, which didn't work so well with his arms bound over his head to opposite bedposts. "I'm kind of a captive audience here."

"Are you mortal now? Is that why you're so afraid of me leaving you here?"

He shook his head. "Not by the technical definition. You couldn't kill me; Q's not that big a sadist. I don't need to eat and I don't need to sleep... in fact I probably can't, or the boredom of waiting for you to come back would probably have knocked me out. It's just... really, really boring being tied up like this."

She raised her eyebrows. "You're that afraid of a little boredom? Forgive me if I find that hard to believe."

"You shouldn't. Boredom was what killed Quinn, after all." He looked at the ceiling. "Boredom and loneliness can drive Q mad."

"I had the distinct impression Quinn had been dealing with 'boredom', as you put it, for centuries, if not millennia, before deciding that the only answer was to kill himself. I strongly doubt a few hours of being tied to a bed would make you want to die."

He turned slightly pink again. "Maybe so. It's just... You know, the last time, when I actually lost my powers and became mortal... at least I could move." He pulled at the chains again, uselessly, as if to underscore his point that now he couldn't. "I've never been a particular fan of feeling... helpless. Besides, I may have mentioned already that this is extremely uncomfortable." Q looked up at her. "I realize that as a limited mortal you're sufficiently accustomed to boredom, powerlessness and discomfort that you probably don't even notice unless they reach positively soul-destroying levels, but I'm really not used to such things... usually the Continuum only subjects us to any such punishment when they're trying to force us to change our opinions or our behavior. It's torture. By our standards."

"Why would Q subject you to something your people consider torture? Is she that angry with you that you were making overtures to me?"

Q sighed. "No. She's not angry with me that I was making overtures to you. She's angry with me about a lot of other things, but if she cares at all about my making a pass at you, it's because she doesn't like that I can feel an emotional attachment to mortals in the first place. As for why she would subject me to torture... Q's actually been literally tortured, in the course of the war games she used to like to play. She thinks I'm a wimp, but she thinks 99% of the other Q in the Continuum are wimps too, so I'm pretty sure she's just weird. She's never had to endure years of boredom and sensory deprivation, so she has as skewed a notion of how bad it is as you do. Also, she's really, really mad at me." He shook his head. "Silly me, I thought she was interested in reconciling. I should have known better. No one holds a grudge like Q."

"What did you do to her to make her so angry?"

"Nothing. Well, mostly nothing. Mostly she's angry at me because I'm the leader of the freedom faction and the hero of the war, and she's the scapegoat. You know, when you and your crew took the enemy leader hostage and ended the war... that worked because she modified the weapons so your crew could use them. People look at her the way you'd look at someone who figured out how to get cockroaches to operate phasers. She brought aliens into the Continuum and empowered them to take the life of Q, and it doesn't matter that no one actually got killed by your crew... what matters is that she didn't care if they did or not. Even a good number of the folks on my side of the line are sort of horrified at what she did."

"You gave me a weapon, though. You told me to pick up a rifle."

"I was going to lend you some of my power so you could use it."

"Why? If it was your power behind them both... wouldn't it have been just as easy for you to simply fire two guns?"

He squirmed and looked sheepish. "I wanted you to feel like you had an investment in how the war was going. If you fought for us... I mean that's the only reason I let you go off with that stupid idea about a truce, like they were going to listen to you for a nanosecond. Of course I didn't realize they'd kill you; I thought they'd just completely ignore you, or mock you, and let you go."

Janeway sighed. She could believe that. Typical Q, to have a clever plan that ended up backfiring spectacularly. "But I have to assume that's been going on for some time. If she resents you because you are a war hero and she's treated as a war criminal... how long ago was the war in your terms? Because it was five years ago, for me."

"It's not important, how long. She's just... You know, she's been positively draconian with the poor little guy. Always yelling at him, always punishing him, and I wouldn't stand for it. So I stand up for him, and I've overridden some of her harsher punishments, and she doesn't like that."

Right. Janeway bit her lip; she saw where this was going. Q was visiting her out of sequence, and hadn't read her mind, so he didn't know what she did; his lax parenting was eventually going to drive his mate to disown him and their son, and result in the boy being threatened with expulsion from the Continuum. But she couldn't say anything about it, because to do so would cause a temporal paradox. Also, it wasn't really her business. Maybe the female Q really was as abusive with her son as Q was making her out to be; just because he was too lax didn't mean she wasn't overly strict. Anyone who could put someone she supposedly loved in a position where, by their own standards, they might be tortured, could possibly be too harsh with their child. But that begged another question.

"So how is it that she was able to get you in this position? When you and Quinn fought, you were so evenly matched neither of you could make any headway against the other. I thought the Q were all so evenly matched. How did she manage to get you in a position where she could temporarily deprive you of your powers?"

He went bright red. "I, uh... you know, maybe I didn't resist quite as hard as I would have if I'd known her end goal was to leave me here."

She would not laugh. No. Absolutely not. "You let her do this to you? Even knowing she was angry at you? While you were in the midst of trying to seduce me?"

"I told you, we don't do the monogamy thing, and, uh... well, yeah, I knew she was mad at me... but she'd been ignoring me, and I wasn't going to turn her down if she'd decided out of nowhere she wanted some fun and games... and it's not like I exactly let her. We still, uh, well, we kind of fought for it, but I was maybe not as focused on the goal of beating her and getting free as I would have been if I'd known exactly what she intended to do with me once I was helpless."

Right. Q had thought his mate was interested in kinky fun, had deliberately thrown their wrestling match so she would tie him up, and apparently hadn't thought through the consequences of playing such games without safewords. This whole story actually was getting more believable, and Q's reactions were making more sense. As they'd talked about things like boredom and helplessness being torture and his child-rearing difficulties, the visually evident aspects of his sexual interest in her, or anyone, had faded; she was trying not to look, but in the position he was chained in on her bed, it was hard to get Q's face in focus without most of the rest of his body in her peripheral vision. As soon as they'd started talking about how the female Q had gotten him in such a compromising position, though, she'd glimpsed movement, automatically tracked it without realizing what she was doing, and couldn't pull back to his face quickly enough to avoid an eyeful of Q getting hard again. Which had upset her considerably when this had started, because she'd thought he was putting it on in a completely incompetent and somewhat creepy attempt to seduce her, but if he was genuinely helpless and had no control over his own physical reactions... that was different.

"You said you can't control your body's reactions without your powers."

"Yes." He was still flushed red.

"So this, now... what you're feeling, what your human form is experiencing... this is the truth? This is an accurate representation of how you feel? Or did she do something to you?"

"I think she might have jacked up my hormones some," Q confessed. "I've experimented with letting my human form react to what my Q nature feels, before, and... it's never been quite this bad. Although I've also never been... um. Let's just say I'm not accustomed to being frustrated, physically. That might account for the difference."

"The whole time you've been trying to get me to go to bed with you, you've never shown any sign of actually, truly, being interested. I mean, you said the right things, or the things that would have been right if we had been characters in a bad romance holonovel, but it always seemed as if you were putting me on. That you didn't, truly, want me. Physically."

"Well, physically, I didn't. Seriously, Kathy, you kept saying no. Why would I put myself through that kind of frustration?" He scowled. "It's bad enough I have to be obsessed with mortals who don't necessarily reciprocate my interest in kind, but at least when I feel things as a Q there are no side effects. Human males... oh, you have no idea. It's been a long time since I let myself feel such things in a humanoid female form, and I don't think I've ever been a human female in these circumstances, but I'm pretty sure your, mm, physical needs are not as painful if they're not met. Why would I do that to myself unless you were going to say yes?" He closed his eyes for a moment. With the fierce blush on his face, the motion made him look almost young, and very vulnerable. "Don't get me wrong -- the whole point to having sex as a human is how much more visceral it is for you, how... I don't know how to put it. How the sensations overwhelm everything you are. That's great, if you're actually going to have sex... but if you're not, well, I don't need the distraction."

"So you've been just blocking the things your human form would feel, using your powers, because you don't want to be frustrated."

"Yes, that pretty much sums it up." He shook his head, not in negation but like he was trying to knock something off of it. "There's hair in my eye. It's driving me insane. Kathy, if you don't want to let me go this very second, could you please...?"

"All right." She reached up to his face and pushed stray locks of sweat-tangled hair off his forehead, back where random bits couldn't drop down and irritate his eyes. Q closed his eyes again and moved his head to follow her, as if trying to extend the time she was touching him, a tiny whimper escaping his throat. At one point it would have irritated her immensely if he'd done that; now it sent a small warm shock through her body, to see that when he couldn't stop himself from feeling what he felt, he yearned toward her touch.

"Thanks," he said hoarsely, after she drew back her hand.

"No problem."

"Look, I... I'd really like it if you would let me go right now. And if you're not going to let me go... do you have any clue how frustrating this is?" He looked at her. "I know when I said it you thought it was just another cheesy come-on, but when I said that you could take advantage of me if you wanted, I did really mean it. I mean, I know enough about you to know you like to be in charge, and it's not like I can go anywhere if you don't release me."

"I'm not going to rape you, Q."

"You can't rape the willing, Kathy. And I'm fairly sure your tastes don't run to anything I'd really hate. Although if you really are a secret dominatrix with a collection of whips and spiked dildos stored in your closet, now is not the time I would like to find that out."

Janeway laughed. "I don't have a secret collection of whips, no." To be honest... his offer was actually tempting, now. She was more than a little ashamed of admitting that to herself, but pretending that there was no awakened pulse between her legs at the thought of having him at her mercy, vulnerable, powerless and not behaving like a smarmy arrogant ass, was not going to make the desire go away. It had been a long time. But she couldn't... not right now. While Q might be willing to have sex, the situation was too inherently coercive, with her holding the only key to his freedom, for him to give free consent.

She thought of an old saying, "If you love somebody, set them free. If they come back, they're meant to be yours." If you really want to fuck someone senseless while they're tied up, untie them first. If they let you tie them up again, then they really want it. That would not make nearly so inspirational a motto, she thought, controlling the urge to laugh. "I'm going to let you go," she said, "but before I do I want to set some ground rules. Since you don't tend to listen to me very well when you have your powers, whereas I suspect that right now I have your complete attention."

"I think you can fairly say that, yes."

"First of all, none of this is a guarantee. I'm going to tell you what you need to do to get my interest, but it's not a magic formula and I'm not promising you that I'll fall into your bed if you do everything I tell you to do. I am promising that I will absolutely say no every time you ask if you don't do these things, though."

He sighed. "So I jump through hoops and I might not even get a cookie at the end of your obstacle course?"

"I'm not a cookie, Q. It's all going to be about whether or not I like you, trust you and want you enough to go to bed with you. And there's no formula for that. But there are ways you can screw it up, as you have been every time we've met before." She shrugged. "If you don't like the terms you don't have to play. I'll live if we never have sex, and I'm guessing you will too."

"I haven't gotten to where I am today by refusing to take on challenges just because they might be difficult," he said.

"All right, then. If you want me -- if your interest in 'friendly, mutual fun' as you put it is real, and not some part of a game you're playing -- then you stop looking to historical romances for advice on what I'd find sexy. I am not a swooning Victorian heroine and I resent that you seem to have no idea who I am or what I would want... despite the fact that you're supposedly omniscient."

"The coffee sundae didn't do it for you, huh?"

"Actually, that at least showed some thought. I don't want flowers, candy, hearts, silk bedsheets, or most of the other ridiculous things you've tried to woo me with. Pay attention to who I am, not just the fact that I'm a female human."

"Okay," he said promptly.

"You don't force anything on me. Not a costume change, not a sudden trip to the Continuum or an alien planet or whatever. If you want to use your powers on me in some way you ask."

"Would you ever actually agree to wear a more attractive outfit?"

"If you think Starfleet uniforms are so unattractive, why are you always wearing one?"

He pouted. "I liked the ones you guys had when I met you at Farpoint. Those were hot."

Janeway laughed. "Well, if you asked, maybe I'd let you give me a uniform from fifteen years ago. Maybe. But if you don't ask, I'm just going to be angry at you."

"Fine. I'll ask permission," he sighed.

"Try, if you really want me, to look like you do. The disconnect between what you've been letting your body experience and what you claim you want is disconcerting. Humans can actually read other humans' body language, you know, and if you're not letting yourself feel desire I don't know if you can show that you do."

"You want me to put myself through all the unpleasantness of physical frustration, with no guarantees of any resolution of that frustration, just so I can prove to you I want you? What about taking my word for it?"

"Not good enough. You have to have something at risk too. Given how powerful you are, I think asking you to take on the risk of getting physically frustrated is a really minor concession."

He rolled his eyes. "Oh, fine."

"And stop acting like because you're a Q and I'm a lowly human, I have no choice but to fall into your arms. I've been celibate for years and I can go for years more. I'm not going to have sex with a man who acts like he's entitled to have it with me, under any circumstances." She looked down at him. "Try to be a little bit humble if you're asking me for something."

Q made a face. "I'm really not good at humility."

"Learn," Janeway said, and took out the key. His face lit up.

"That's everything?" he asked hopefully.

Janeway looked down at him, torn as to whether she should actually even ask this. It revealed too much interest (but he already knows I'm interested; the thing he needs to understand is that I'm in control of what I do about my interests), and it might be unfair to ask (but if he doesn't agree, he can always go back on it later... he's powerful enough that he doesn't have to agree to anything he doesn't want.) "There's... one more thing, actually."

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow.

"This... won't have any effect on my letting you go. You don't have any obligation to say yes. No matter what you answer, I'm going to release you after you do. I just... want the opportunity to ask before you take your powers back, because you could jump the gun."

"This is sounding positively intriguing."

This was hard. Admitting anything like this to him felt like giving in... but she wasn't going to do anything with him that she didn't want to do, and the truth was that if he actually wanted her, if this wasn't a game, and if he wasn't going to display a massive sense of entitlement about it... well. It wasn't an... unattractive form he'd chosen, after all. And if Chakotay was going to have a much younger woman who looked up to him in his bed, after everything they'd been through together, then no one could really fault Kathryn Janeway for taking what she wanted from someone her ethics would allow her to have. "I was wondering... if you would be willing to leave the chains here, with me, when I unlock them."

He looked at her. "You do realize that Q may be able to trick me into them, but no mortal could hope to get one over on a Q that way, right?"

"Absolutely. I don't want them for science, or ship's business, or protection against other Qs or something like that. I was just thinking... maybe if you were willing to do this voluntarily sometime... I might be interested."

Q grinned broadly. "Why, Kathryn Janeway! I do believe you're a trifle kinky!"

"Not so you'd notice, generally," she said, calmly and evenly, though she wasn't able to stop herself from flushing just a tiny bit with embarrassment. "But I'm sure you can understand why I'd find the thought of having you in my power appealing." She grinned at him.

Q returned it for a moment, then looked serious. "You know, I have a different relationship with Q than with anyone else," he said. "It's not as if I generally let just anyone do this to me."

"Of course. I probably shouldn't have brought it up."

"No, it's all right. I'm not going to promise I'd ever be willing to use them... but if you like the idea so much, I don't have a problem leaving them with you, and we'll see if you can persuade me into putting them on again sometime. Although, you do realize I could just make another set."

"I'm sure you could, but I can't help but think that the ones Q made to hold you would be more secure than any you might make to hold yourself."

"Point taken."

She couldn't find a lock to fit the key into, but it didn't matter; as soon as the key brushed against one of Q's chains, all of the manacles snapped open, there was a bright flash of light, and Q reappeared, fully clothed, behind her. "Well. Thank you for finally getting around to letting me out, although I do have to wonder if you were dragging that out on purpose."

Janeway faced him. "You aren't generally particularly honest with me, Q. I'm sorry for making you suffer, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance to actually get real answers out of you. And you should probably thank your friend for putting you through that." She smiled wryly. "If you wanted to have a chance at a relationship with me at all, you needed something to prove that you weren't lying about your interest. Honestly, I never got the impression before that you really did want me, whatever you might have said about it."

"Really." He smirked. "I take it your impression has changed?"

"Somewhat. I still think you're more than capable of being a supercilious jerk."

"But at least now you know I'm a supercilious jerk who genuinely thinks you're sexy." He shook his head. "Really, if I'd known all along that the problem was that you weren't going to listen to what I was saying in favor of what this body of mine was doing, I'd have called you on it. I hardly think it's fair that you get to say 'no' when your body says 'yes', and I'm supposed to just accept that, but when I say 'please' and my body says 'meh', somehow that proves that I don't really want what I'm asking for."

"Assuming a person is saying yes when they're saying no turns people into rapists. Assuming a person is saying no when they're saying yes just means no one gets to have sex that night. The first is a lot more harmful than the second. And I already know you don't tell me the truth; you gave me every reason why you wanted me to have your baby except the real one, until your friend showed up and started giving your game away."

"I suppose, given my past behavior, that you weren't being entirely unreasonable," he said grudgingly. "So now what? You expect me to woo you with tales of being an angry warrior or something?"

"I expect you to find a way to be yourself, without being a complete ass about it, and with a full understanding that I am myself, as well. Copying Chakotay didn't get you anywhere the last time and it's even less likely to work now." She gave him a small sardonic smile. "You're omnipotent. Surely this can't be too much of a challenge for you."

"Surely not." He gave her a small bow. "Au revoir, ma belle capitaine. Until we meet again."

He vanished.

Janeway took a deep breath. The chains were lying in the center of her bed, unhooked from the bedposts... and the cuffs had turned into fur-lined leather shackles instead of the almost medieval manacles they'd been. She laughed quietly at that, gathered them up and stuffed them in a drawer. It remained to be seen whether Q could actually manage to stop being an ass long enough to keep her interest, but she found the thought of having the kind of will-we-or-won't-we romantic tension with someone again, now that Chakotay had given up on her, unexpectedly appealing... especially, she had to admit, with someone who was neither in her crew nor planetbound. Q was not her only option... she refused to believe that... but it was amazing how much more acceptable an option he'd become once his defenses were stripped away. (And clothes, although that hadn't started helping until after she'd begun to believe he hadn't planned it that way.)

She dressed for bed, trying to forget about the fact that it was impossible to put any sort of privacy barrier up to block out a Q. But when she got into bed, the existence of the bedposts was irritating -- no one who saw those wouldn't guess that Q had been involved, since there really weren't many other plausible explanations for why the exact same bed she'd had this morning now had tall ornate iron bedposts. Janeway looked up at the ceiling. "These are a little obvious. Can you put them back the way they were before?"

There was a flash of light, and her bed reverted to what it had been. So he was still paying attention. Well, she'd known all along he could see through walls. It wasn't as if anything had actually changed now that she'd confirmed that he was doing it. Still, it was unnerving. "And a little privacy, please. It's not actually romantic to have someone watching you while you sleep."

A disembodied voice spoke directly in her ear, "It's also as boring as watching mud dry. Trust me, I have better things to do than watch you sleep. As for watching you change, you do realize that with my normal sensory apparatus I can see through your clothes any time I want to?"

"Is that supposed to be reassuring? Because it's really not."

Laughter. "Not human, remember, Kathy? I love you for your mind. Not that you aren't a fetching example of human aesthetics, but your naughty bits don't attract me any more than your face, and to be honest it's really your psyche I'm looking at. When I'm incorporeal it's the parts of you that are like a Q that really do it for me... not your body, but your mind. I don't get any voyeuristic pleasure out of watching you undress. ...Unless you're intentionally doing it for my benefit. That would be different."

"When you're incorporeal. What if you're corporeal?"

"In human form, my desires as a Q are reflected in my human body, and vice versa. So if I'm actually there in the room with you, in solid form, then yes, I'd find your body particularly interesting. But if you can't see me, I'm not corporeal, so no, I'm not spying on you as you get dressed."

"I suppose I'll have to accept that. It's not as if I can stop you."

"It's also not as if you didn't just see me in a much more humiliating situation than getting undressed for bed."

Janeway laughed. "True enough." She climbed into bed. "Go do whatever you do. I need to get some sleep now."

"Good night, sweet Kathy. Get some rest. Tomorrow you may well need it."

"What's that supposed to mean?"


And the sense she felt of his presence, of someone's eyes on her, went away, making her think he was genuinely gone. She took a deep breath. Objectively he was right; tomorrow she might well need rest, if a crisis came up. But was he trying to warn her that a crisis would come up, or was he just taunting her?

Well. He wasn't going to tell her, and she wasn't going to find out by staying up all night. "Lights off," she told the computer, and curled up in her bed, in the dark.