She found him in material form, a tall, slender lizard curled up at the base of a very large tree, on the planet he'd been condemned to oversee. The planet was cold and covered with ice, and if he'd actually been the denizen of this world that he pretended to be, it would likely be far too cold for him to survive... the beings whose form he was wearing had all died out or migrated south, away from the encroaching glaciers.

She felt a little bit bad about that. The asteroid that had crashed into this planet had originally been aimed at her. The matter in the asteroid couldn't have harmed her, of course, but the antipsionic particles bound into it, that she'd been too distracted to notice, could have done her serious damage, perhaps even destroyed her pattern, if her Q hadn't thrown up a wormhole large enough for the asteroid to fall through... whereupon it had hit this planet. There'd been no sentient life for the antipsionic particles to affect -- the reptilian species that had covered the world were, in the main, far too stupid to have minds that could be affectedbut the matter that couldn't have harmed her had smashed into the planet and caused an ice age, killing most of the reptiles.

Right now, he was playing with a small, fur-covered creature with large eyes. He looked up at her as she materialized, wearing the form of one of the Imotru, the species he had introduced her to who found pleasure in diving into an ocean of ferocious sea serpents, risking their lives for the sheer thrill of it. "Q!" he said. "Come to visit me in my exile?"

"It seems the least I could do," she said, casually. "This place is a dump. You must be bored out of your mind."

He sighed. "You hardly need to be omniscient to figure that out," he said. He lifted up the furry creature. "Can you believe this is the future of this planet?"

She inspected the creature. It was unimpressive. Four limbs, varied teeth indicating a diet of anything it could get its delicately clawed paws on, white fur. "Seriously?"

"They're homeotherms and they gestate their young internally. If this damn ice age lasts as long as I think it will, none of the large reptiles will survive it, and these things will move into the reptiles' niche." He shrugged. "A few of the reptiles are developing homeothermy and feathers, and they might get somewhere that way, but nothing as big as the really giant reptiles is going to survive on this planet. I predict these little furry things are going to overrun the place completely in a few millennia."

"Well, homeothermy does aid the development of sentience."

"Yeah, I keep telling myself that." He sighed again. "This is so dull, Q. I'm... glad you came to visit me. Everyone else has been treating me like I'm radioactive. Even Q."

He meant the other Q he was in love with, the one he'd been involved with since shortly after their creation. She stiffened slightly, raising mental shields so the blast of hatred she felt for the other Q would be a trifle less obvious. "She's avoiding you."

"I suppose she has to," he mumbled. The other Q had come under suspicion as well; when she'd come to visit him while he and the extradimensional entities he'd befriended were in the middle of torturing the Tkon Empire to death, she had actively participated, until his new friends had driven her off, claiming that her obsession with tormenting mortals with love was boring and pathetic. Which it was, but not for the reasons the entities had claimed. Personally, Q thought that the main reason they had driven the other Q off was that they hadn't wanted her Q to have another ally in their little circle. The other Q probably couldn't afford to associate with him now, or the Continuum might see her as sharing his contamination, since she had briefly been part of the group.

"She doesn't have to," Q said sharply. "She chooses to. She was deeply offended when you and your alien pals made fun of her."

He sagged, his lizard body flattening against the ice-covered ground. "Yeah... add it to my litany of crimes, I suppose. I shouldn't have done it, but... I shouldn't have done most of what I did. Insulting Q really... isn't high on my list of regrets, in comparison to the rest of it."

"Her obsession with love really is completely tedious," Q said. "And I'm sure she'll get over you and your loser friends mocking her for it. Eventually." She knelt down next to him, sitting nestled against his lizard form, and raised the ambient temperature in the immediate area. Her Q hadn't bothered to do so; he'd simply shut down his physical avatar's ability to feel pain or cold, and kept it animated with his power rather than maintaining it at a temperature it would function naturally at. The warmth made his avatar relax without his consciously willing it, and as he perceived the change, he opened up his perceptions to the body's sensations again, too hedonistic to deliberately forego a pleasurable sensation.

"That's nice," he said, sighing again, this time in relief. "I don't know why I didn't think of that."

Because you're punishing yourself. "That's why you need me," she said. "To think of the totally obvious things you foolishly forget due to your lack of common sense."

"That must be it," he agreed, curling his poikilothermic avatar around her homeothermic one, plainly enjoying her body heat even as her powers warmed the air around them.

For several moments, they simply sat in silence, as Q considered how they had ended up here.

A couple of million years ago, her Q had gone exploring dimensions outside the range of the Continuum's influence -- a dangerous activity, since outside the range of the Continuum's influence, a Q couldn't draw on the full spectrum of Continuum power, and could even be vulnerable to harm or destruction, but he'd been desperately bored. He'd encountered an entity called 0, a superficially charming, roguish being whose affable exterior had concealed depths of sadism and viciousness that her Q hadn't seen until it was too late. Q had adopted 0 as a mentor figure, and 0 had taught him the pleasures of torturing mortal creatures under the guise of teaching and testing them, and Q had taken to it like a fish to water... at least, until 0 had made his final test impossibly unfair, destroying the sun of the Tkon Empire moments before they would have triumphed over everything 0 and his friends had thrown at them by transporting a new sun to their system.

Even then, although Q had tried, uselessly, to stop 0, he'd still helped 0 and his confederates avoid the justice of the Continuum... for a short while. Since Q had taken responsibility for 0 and his friends, stopping and punishing them had fallen within the Continuum's mandate. A team of Q -- Q herself, an elder who had been her Q's mentor, another elder who had generally been involved in disciplining and punishing her Q, and an older version of her Q, another bad boy trickster archetype who'd settled down and become more respectable and mature over time -- had gone to capture, drive off, or destroy the renegades.

Q had acquitted herself well enough in combat. She'd defeated a creature that fed on the strife of generational conflicts, and had then turned to help the other Q close in age to herself and her Q in defeating his opponent, an avatar of fundamentalist monotheism. Between her, him and the older mentor, they had successfully cut him to bits, torn away all of his manipulative functions and left him with only consciousness, perception and communication. But then they'd all been too exhausted from the battle to take on 0.

The last member of their party, an elder of high rank within the Continuum, one of the few who had actually fought during the war with the M at the dawn of time, had been locked in combat with 0, and had come very close to losing to the extradimensional entity. None of the rest of them had the strength to help out, and any other Q who'd been willing to help in any capacity had been doing cleanup in the background. Q had gone to her Q, who had been having an emotional meltdown in the middle of the battlefield, trying to pretend that none of this was happening and that the whole universe would stop if he just pretended it wasn't there, and begged him to come back to them, to help them. 0 had flung the charged asteroid at her... and her Q had saved her, opening a wormhole to let the asteroid and its deadly antipsionic particles fly toward a planet of matter and non-sentient beings, invulnerable to antipsi. It hadn't been quite so invulnerable to the asteroid itself, but her Q had never been known for making good decisions under pressure.

And then, as 0 had been about to deliver a death blow to the Q elder, her Q had saved the older one, betraying his friend and mentor to stand with his Continuum, and the cause of justice and balance in the universe.

For poor judgement in letting savage Entities of Power into their universe, for his failure to stop 0 and cohorts from destroying the Tkon Empire, for his panicked attempt to flee justice, there was no question that Q would be punished. For his youth, for the role he played in the Continuum overmind and the fact that there was little point to creating an aspect to question the Continuum if said aspect was never actually permitted to question, and for the fact that in the end, he had saved the Q he hated from the evil mentor he'd loved, his punishment was mitigated. Nothing truly awful was done to him, no exile or deprivation of powers or confinement; he was simply ordered to oversee the planet he had allowed to be nearly destroyed. It was a hard punishment for someone with as little tolerance for boredom and loneliness as he had, and it was made worse when the Continuum ordered that he not be permitted to simply undo the effect of the asteroid on the planet's biosphere he was required to work with what he'd caused to happen, shaping and guiding rather than simply snapping his fingers and restoring the planet. But, objectively, it wasn't that bad.

It was the unofficial punishment that was crushing him.

She was the only Q who'd come to visit him, the only Q who'd even speak to him mind to mind. Their brother who'd fought 0's minions along with her -- the rebel Q whose ideas about changing the Continuum were as wild and impractical as his, except she never actually did anything about them the "older sister" who had watched over all of them in the earliest days after their creation -- the mentor who'd fought in the battle with them -- the sharp-tongued teacher who'd been one of the judges of his case -- the crusty old curmudgeon who hated her fellow Q for not being as perfect as she wanted them to be -- their baby sister, the youngest q -- even the Q who supposedly loved him, the one who'd tried to join him and his extradimensional cohorts in tormenting the Tkon. None of them came to him. None of them spoke to him.

He was tainted.

Contaminated, they said. They had viewed, during his trial, his corruption by 0 -- the cruel games he'd participated in, the pleasure he'd felt at watching mortals scurry around in terror, driven by his actions. He hadn't had a specific type of conflict he liked to generate, so much, as 0's other cohorts had. The monotheist One, who raised conflict by declaring himself the One True God and setting his believers against atheists, believers in other gods, and eventually against each other; (*), who thrived on hate, rage and pain, who kept its victims alive in eternal combat to swell its power; the Gorgon, who turned children against parents and caused generational wars... they had patterns, specific areas of conflict, specific types of things they loved to do. Not so her Q.

He had started by being completely silly, making a rain of fruit, but by the time of Tkon's destruction, he'd been as sadistic as any of them, dumping mortals into situations that made no sense and then appearing amongst them to personally taunt them. "You take a personal touch with them," 0 had said to him, approvingly. "I like that, my boy. You might yet become the best of any of us at this." And he had warmed to the praise, delighting in 0's approval and enjoying the terror he made his victims feel, even as a tiny part of him protested that he was a Q, he was an advanced being, surely he was better than this... and he had crushed that part of him, telling it that this was all for the best, that the mortals he was torturing would come through this ordeal improved. Maybe not these specific mortals. They might not survive his attention. But the species, as a whole, would be better for what he was putting them through.

It hadn't happened that way. 0 had killed them all, making their sun go nova moments before they would have exchanged it for a healthy young sun. And Q's pleasure in the testing and tormenting of mortals had curdled, gone acid and burned and twisted within him in the horror of realizing that no, the mortals he had tormented had not come out better for coming through his tests, that he had just helped in pointlessly torturing a species of sentient beings to death.

That horror was what had saved him. If he had not tried to save the Tkon in the very end, if he hadn't felt horror at their destruction and sick guilt as he faced his own memories of pleasure in causing pain, the Continuum wouldn't have taken him back even if he had turned on his mentor to save a Q elder. The Q Continuum was a unitary body, an overmind made up of separate individual minds who melded together into a single entity even as they existed individually, and the Continuum did not want to contain within itself the trait of irredeemable cruelty. Her Q might be a sadist, might take an unseemly pleasure in taunting and tormenting mortals... but he didn't want them to be destroyed by it, and he wanted to use it in some way to improve their lot in existence, make them better beings, help them evolve.

It was borderline acceptable. He would be tolerated as part of the Continuum. But no one liked looking at their own dark side made manifest, and what he'd done to the Tkon personified the aspects of the Continuum that no one wanted to admit were there. So they claimed he'd been changed by 0 somehow. Tainted, contaminated by the extra-dimensional entity, traits the Q had never before contained introduced into their body through him. She hadn't been following the behind-the-scenes discussion -- she'd been concentrating on making sure 0 and The One didn't do any harm to her Q while they were all confined together -- but her friend who'd been in the battle with her, the one who was like her Q but older and more respectable, had been involved in the back room deals and heated debates in committee, and he had told her it had been a very near thing. There were a lot of Q who didn't want to believe that the traits young Q had displayed could always have been part of the Continuum. They wanted to think that 0 had infected Q with them, and that by cutting him away from them, they could keep those traits out of the Continuum.

In fact, her friend had said, if Q's judge, the harsh disciplinarian who had fought 0 and nearly lost, hadn't recused himself from the discussion on the grounds that Q had just saved his life and he was presiding over Q's trial anyway, it would probably have resulted in her Q being expelled from the Continuum. He'd had enough friends and allies that, in the absence of his usual elder nemesis riling people up against him, he'd survived the challenge, and been allowed to remain in the Continuum, with a deliberately tedious make-work punishment given to him to try to teach him some self-control and discipline. But no one wanted to go near him anymore. No one wanted to face what his existence, what the things he'd done, meant about them and the rest of the Continuum.

Except her.

"You don't want to be here," he said softly, reluctantly.

It was on the tip of her tongue to make a sarcastic remark about how consorting with non-Q had lowered his intelligence, but she realized just in time that he wouldn't take the implication that being with beings who were other than Q had made him less than Q as a joke, not right now. "Why would I be here if I didn't want to be?" she retorted instead. "I don't do what I don't want to do."

"Fine," he said. "You shouldn't want to be here." His avatar pulled away from hers slightly. "I'll just drag you down with me."

She sighed. "I want to be here because I'm not stunningly ignorant and in love with my own ignorance, like the rest of the Continuum. You, drag me down? If I left here they would drag me down into their stupidity."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Q turned to face him, reaching her Imotru hands to his lizard head and holding it so she could look directly into his eyes. He was in a predatory avatar, so the eyes were close set. "Look. They say you're tainted, that you've become contaminated and through you, the whole Continuum. But there's nothing in you that wasn't always there. 0 didn't change you; you've never let anyone change you. He just brought out a potential that was always there."

"So I was always a sadistic bastard. That's a great comfort."

"It should be," she said. "Because you were created Q. You're part of us; you've been part of us, your entire existence. Everything that is in you is of us, and everything you are is part of all we are. So you can't taint the Continuum. How can you contaminate Q nature with Q nature?" She shook her head. "They're idiots. 0 just made the problem visible, and for that they want to shut you away so they don't have to face that the things you've done, the traits you've shown, have always been part of Q nature. But it's wrong for a Q to stick their head in the sand and pretend reality doesn't exist just because it hurts. We exist to learn all there is; if what we learn about ourselves stings, well, we need to suck it up, because truth isn't here to be nice to us. And they've always told us that, the elders. So they're hypocrites too. As well as cowards who don't want to face the truth."

"You think so?"

"I know so." She didn't shift out of the Imotru form, but she opened her shields and pressed her mind against his in the Q equivalent of a kiss or caress, stroking his tormented psyche with her own essence. "Q, I... after you introduced me to the Imotru sky divers, I became interested in mortals risking their lives. Not thrill-seekers like the sky divers, that's pointless, but I found that when mortals are fighting for a cause they believe in, risking their lives... it excites me, more than almost anything I've found. I've been walking among them in their forms, setting my powers aside and fighting in their wars as if I was one of them. I know what it is to watch mortals in conflict and suffering, and to be excited because they seem so alive, so... I don't know, so vivid at that moment, and you almost want to be one of them. You want to feel what they feel. Even if it's just to pretend."

He was surprised. "I... didn't know you were doing things like that."

"No, you were too busy playing with 0 and his bozos. But... if that's in me... if I like watching the barbarism of mortal war, if I like pretending I'm one of them and fighting in it... does that make me contaminated, too? I didn't have any dealings with 0. Everything I am is pure Q. No one denies it."

"It's not the same," he said. "You didn't..." The intense shame he feels forces his avatar to look away from her, as his Q-self brings shields up so she can't see the intensity of the guilt he feels. "You didn't hurt them yourself. With your powers. You enjoyed something barbaric they were already doing to each other, not something you made them do or tricked them into doing."

She shrugged. "Close enough."

"No, it's not," he said. "The Continuum sees a difference even if you don't." He uncurled onto his hind legs and paced. "They all think there's something dire wrong with me. And I don't know that they're wrong. Because I don't... I don't even know if I did the right thing, in taking the Continuum's side and not 0's."

She was startled. And wondering, herself, if there was something dire wrong with him. How could he question what he'd done? "Of course you did the right thing! 0 was evil!"

"So am I, according to the Continuum. And... what? I should care what happened to a bunch of mortals so much that I ruin my own life over it? The Continuum won't accept me, 0 wants me dead, the Tkon are still gone and no one's going to fix that, and for what? It's not like any of the Q seem to appreciate what I did."

"Of course they do. Why do you think this was your only punishment?" She waved a hand at the planet around them. "I know this is boring, Q, but you know as well as I do it could have been so much worse. They could have made you a Tkon survivor, a mortal member of an endangered species that probably has too small a population to return to viability and too many enemies in the galaxy to survive many more generations on their own. Without your powers, how long do you think you'd have survived in a hostile galaxy? And if you're mortal it doesn't even matter because if the other mortals don't kill you, your own planned obsolescence will when your life span runs out."

"Yeah, I know, but..."

"But what?" she demanded.

In a mind-voice of such low power that she almost couldn't hear him, he whispered, "0 loved me."

She wanted to say "I love you," but the Q didn't say such things to each other. It was supposed to go without saying, and terribly gauche to admit to loving an individual Q. So she snorted. "Like a predator loves its dinner, maybe."

He made a motion of negation. "Not like that. I mean, maybe a little like that. But he accepted me for who I am... including the parts I'm, I'm not particularly proud of. He cared about me. All of me."

"You're wrong," she said. "He cared about what he could make you into. He wanted to turn you into a little copy of himself. He accepted your less pleasant personality traits, sure, because that was exactly what he wanted from you. It was the better side of you he couldn't accept, or he'd have understood that he couldn't pit you against the Continuum. He didn't understand what it means that you're a Q."

"And what does it mean that I'm a Q? When I save the lives of two Q in combat and I betray my friend to save a Q I hate and it still means everyone pretends they don't know me anymore, what does it mean? Because if all it means that I wasn't killed or made mortal, that doesn't do so much for me." He sat down heavily. "If I'm going to spend the rest of eternity in virtual isolation, they should have just made me a Tkon. At least the survivors who'd recognize me would end my boredom quickly."

She didn't think he seriously meant he'd prefer to be tortured to death by revenge-crazed survivors of the Tkon Empire's destruction than to be isolated here, but loneliness could derange a Q; as members of a Continuum, always linked to one another, always part of the whole, isolation was deadly to their sanity. Her Q could probably tolerate it longer than most other Qs because he was willing to turn to mortals for his entertainment, and had a high tolerance for being hated by the people in his life, but sooner or later even he would break.

"It means you can't leave us," she said, "and we can't leave you. It means you're part of us forever, for good or ill, and the only way you can escape is by being destroyed. It means you're never alone." She pressed her energies up against his again. "They're afraid. They don't like what your actions mean about them. But they'll come around eventually. And in the meantime you have me."

His shields were still up, but they trembled against her. He knew what it meant that she was unshielded, and she could feel his hunger for her, for the touch of a Q within and around him, but he was holding back. "Why do you care?" he whispered. "Why are you here when none of the others are? They'll hold it against you, you know they will."

"I don't care," she said. A sudden ferocious protectiveness and possessiveness welled inside her. "You're mine." Her Imotru form dissolved in a flash of light, and she was energy, surrounding his avatar and his essence both. To his avatar, she was warmth and moisture and impulses of pleasure firing in the avatar's nervous system, stimulating the small reptilian brain. To his true self, she was the promise of joining and ecstasy, so enticing in his loneliness and boredom that his outer shields crumpled and vanished, letting her flow into him. He moaned, the physical avatar writhing with more pleasure than it was actually designed to bear, as her essence partially merged with his. Most of the time, he found it irritating when she expressed her possessiveness -- he, like most Q, didn't believe a Q could own another Q, and if he acted sometimes like he owned the other Q he loved, it was largely because he saw that as the only way he could protect her from self-destruction. He didn't think Q needed to possess him to protect him -- in fact, generally he didn't see her, or anyone, as needing to protect him at all. But right now, with his feelings that the Continuum was rejecting him foremost in his mind, her possessiveness thrilled him, and she felt that thrill racing through him.

He hadn't moved outward; he was still in flesh form, still passively letting her take him, doing little to intensify or deepen the joining himself. She lowered all her shields, including the innermost ones, the ones that protected her core identity from a full merge, and let him feel her openness and her desire to go all the way. But the next step had to be his. All Q both feared and craved the complete loss of identity in another Q's self, the merge into a new entity made up of two or more Q, like a mini-Continuum. But the degree to which individuals either feared or craved it varied, and her Q was at an extreme on the fear side of the spectrum; he was almost never willing to do a full merge, terrified of the possibility of permanently absorbing traits that hadn't been inside him before or losing those he had, or worst of all, losing himself forever. When he did willingly do it, it was only ever with her, and she always left it up to him as to whether to go that far or not, when she wanted it.

His avatar was burning out, unable to handle the level of stimulation felt by the Q essence inhabiting it. He dropped it, flashing back into his true form and expanding outward into her, but keeping his innermost shields up still, protecting part of himself from the joining.

"Mine," she whispered, and her words reverberated throughout their joining, exciting them both and soothing the raw wounds of rejection on his soul. "My Q. My other half, my rebel side, my sweet brother, forever and ever. Even if I leave you, I'll never let you go. We belong to each other, part of each other, and we always will."

He responded by deliberately stimulating her, foregrounding the feelings she was evoking in him -- the sense of relief, his need to belong to the Continuum and the other Q, the joy her declaration was filling him with in the light of his recent isolation -- at the same time as he moved within her in ways intended to heighten her pleasure. She gasped and fed that pleasure back to him, stimulating him in return. Her energy exchange nodes were exposed, and she flared them, offering them to him. He let his inner shields retreat inward far enough to offer his up to her as he closed exchange tendrils around hers and sucked, drawing power from her and sending waves of pleasure through her essence. She returned that favor as well, sucking on his nodes and drawing his life energy into herself as he did the same to her.

"I want to be all of you," she murmured softly, letting him see her desire, feeding it into him with her self-tags burned into it so he wouldn't mistake it for an attempt to mind-control him. He would feel her desire as a pleasurable stimulus, but he would easily distinguish it from his own feelings. "I want to go all the way with you, Q. Would you like to be me, being you?"

He trembled. Even as closely joined as they were now, even as he could feel everything she felt and know she meant no harm to him, nothing permanent, no change to either of their essences... he was still afraid. But the other Q were shunning him, and he knew how close he'd come to being thrown out of the Continuum entirely, and the acceptance and affection he'd felt from 0 had been absent from his life since he'd turned on 0 and thrown in his lot with his Continuum. She felt him wanting what she wanted, wanting to become her and her to become him, and his desire warring with his fear. Q did nothing to upset the balance of his internal battle, nothing to overtly persuade one way or another -- this had to be entirely his choice. All she did was offer herself, unshielded and open and hungry for him, with the implication floating between both of them that if she feared his traits, if she thought he was tainted, she would never dare to open herself to him like this.

It was that implication, more than anything, that decided him. He doubted himself; he feared the other Q were right, and 0 had contaminated him. He needed her certainty that that wasn't the case, that he was only and ever Q.

He lowered his innermost shields, and slowly, carefully, leaving breadcrumb trails of identity he could use to find his way back to himself if he had to -- not because he didn't trust her but because he didn't trust any Q -- he flowed into and around her, all of him merging with all of her, becoming one.

And they feared that he was no longer truly Q, and they knew for a certainty that he was. And they were torn with guilt over what he had done, what he had allowed 0 to do, and they felt that while his guilt was appropriate it shouldn't overshadow his entire life; he should simply carry out the sentence the Continuum had given them and let that expiate the guilt. 0 had fooled them, and honestly, he'd fooled other Q as well; it was their fault, but not completely preventable by them. And it was over and done, anyway; no point in regretting the past. They felt the pain of the Continuum's rejection, of all the other Q staying away and leaving him to his lonely vigil, and they felt the fierce protectiveness and desire to make him feel accepted, part of the Continuum.

They felt his desire to be special in her eyes, to be interesting, his desire to make her care about him as much as he cared about her... and they felt her desire to protect him, her sense of his uniqueness and the value she put on it, her desire to make him care about her as much as she cared about him.

They felt... loved.

When they broke apart, at last, his confidence and strength of will had returned, healed by becoming one with her and seeing himself through her eyes. "That was marvelous," he said, sighing. "I can't believe I went so long without that." It was unclear whether he meant the pleasure and intimacy of joining at all, or the intensity of the full merge. His shields were back up, so she couldn't sense much more than he was choosing to say. Either could be true; it had been unusually long for him, given the battle and the trial, that he hadn't joined at all with anyone, and of course it had been aeons since he'd merged entirely with another Q.

"I know what you mean," she said. Between the battle and the trial, it had been a very long time for her as well, and because he wouldn't merge fully with any Q but her, she chose not to merge fully with any Q but him. He thought her choice was somewhat silly, but also derived a deep satisfaction from it that he wouldn't openly admit to, but that she could feel when they were joined. "Let's get together more often. I know you can't leave this place for any significant length of time, but if we went somewhere and took mortal forms, we could experience some fun on a mortal time scale and it wouldn't be significant to the speed of this planet's development at all. Want to make a date of it?"

"Sure, whenever you want. It's not like I have anything better to do." He grinned. "You're amazing, Q. When was the last time someone told you how amazing you are?"

"Entirely too long. You should tell me more often."

"There aren't any other Q telling you you're amazing?"

"Not at the moment, no. I'm sure I could find some if I looked, but as long as you're telling me I'm amazing, why do all that work?"

He laughed. "Go on home, then. Don't let the others look down on you because you're still talking to me."

"I never let anyone look down on me, you know that," she said. "I'll see you soon?"

"I'll be here," he said with a long-suffering sigh.

She smiled at him, and flashed out.