Author's notes: This story is based on "I, Q" by John de Lancie and Peter David, one of the professionally published Star Trek novels. It is also related to my fic "Hurt The Ones You Love." Warnings: Includes dubcon (maybe outright noncon) committed by the villainness on the main character's love interest, and graphic discussion of what it feels like to want to kill yourself. Also, explicit het, and energy being femmeslash.

She was lying down in the barracks, pretending to sleep, when time stopped around her and her son materialized.

Q sat up. "What are you doing here?" she asked, irritated. Her son was in male form, and wouldn't be permitted in the barracks for the women warriors - if he hadn't stopped time, he would be ruining her game, blowing her cover and making her break character. He hadn't had a lot of respect for her games since he stopped playing them with her.

"You heard about Dad, right?"

As if she could not have heard. She wasn't cut off from the Continuum - she was in voluntary exile because she couldn't stand the rest of the Q, but she was still a member in good standing. What all the Continuum knew, she knew. And right now, all the Continuum knew that her ex, the father of her son, had been taken captive by the M Continuum. The M had assumed - correctly, as it turned out - that the Q Continuum would not be willing to risk a conflict with them so soon after their own civil war. So they had taken the Q she had once called hers captive, tried him for disrupting the balance of the multiverse and being such a destabilizing influence on his own Continuum that it threatened the other Powers, and sentenced him. The whole thing had happened so fast, no one had noticed him missing until the M had announced what they'd done as a fait accompli, and presumably they'd blocked him from calling home for help. He was currently imprisoned at the base of a dimensional well, cut off from the Q Continuum, with an M assigned as his jailer, ostensibly because the M loudly declared that they were more compassionate than the Q and would not sentence even a Q to solitary confinement.

Q knew that wasn't the real reason.

As a whole, the Q Continuum was not doing anything about this. Her ex had few friends. His political allies, the freedom faction, looked up to and respected him, but they didn't all, or even mostly, like him - many thought of him as a pervert for his fascination with and relationships with mortals, and some blamed him and his leadership for friends who'd died in the war. The faction for order hated him, of course. They'd hated him for ideological reasons before the war, and now, he'd beaten them and wrested a portion of the control of the Continuum from them, for his faction. Those who hadn't taken sides in the war still blamed him for the fact that it had happened at all, for the friends who had fought and died on both sides. And honestly, he'd spent several billion years irritating the hell out of everyone in the Continuum. So it was no surprise that as a whole, the Q Continuum was not willing to risk conflict with the M over him.

The M had had a point, they said. Everything they accused her ex of was technically true. The M had given him a trial - maybe not an entirely fair one, given that he hadn't been allowed to bring in representation from home, but they had made their memories of the trial available to Q auditors, and it had been fair enough by Q standards. While the Q did not generally think the punishment was justified, or that the M should have in principle the right to try and sentence a Q... no one wanted to push it, not now. The Q Continuum was still weakened by the civil war. Maybe in a few hundred thousand years they could afford to demand him back, but not now.

And Q might even have agreed with them, except that she knew that the M's ostensible reason for taking him wasn't their real reason at all.

"Yes, of course I heard," Q said. "Did you seriously think I hadn't, or have you just come to ask me about things everyone knows?"

"Well, I thought you might be a tiny bit upset or something. Maybe that you might be thinking about helping him. But, you know, what was I thinking? I know better than that. You're probably gonna throw a party because the M have kidnapped Dad."

"I'd considered it," Q said dryly, "but I couldn't fit it into my gaming schedule."

"Yeah, well, I don't even know why I bothered to come, but I just wanted to tell you that I'm going to the M Continuum to rescue Dad. Not like you care or anything."

"Don't be ridiculous. You can't possibly stand up to the M Continuum."

"They can't be that tough," her son said dismissively. "I mean, they haven't got our weapons, because they didn't have a war. And they've never had to deal with me. So I'm going."

"You will do no such thing."

"You're not the boss of me. If you wanted to be a mom, maybe you shouldn't have walked out on me and dad."

His father's pattern was strong in him, defiance, rebellion and sarcasm, bolstered by the fact that his father had been his primary influence since he'd been a small child. But she could see herself in him, now, his reckless courage, the confidence that he could walk into the mouth of hell and save someone he loved, without thought to the danger to himself. His father had always been more cautious of his personal safety... at least since he'd been very, very young. Possibly because he'd pissed off so many Powers in his life and gotten physically attacked. Her son had no such experience, having had his father running interference for him his whole life... but she wasn't sure it would matter. It was her own foolhardy courage and loyalty she saw in his determination to save his father, untempered by her billions of years of experience... untempered by failure and suicidal despair.

Her little boy had been so much like the best of his father once, the entity she'd fallen in love with so long ago. When he'd been small and undeveloped, he'd been so full of joy and wonder at the vastness of the universe, so much like her Q had been at the beginning. And then the universe had ended.

It hadn't actually ended, of course, but she didn't know why not. Her Q had tried to tell the Continuum the details, but no one except the three of them, her son, her mate and her, remembered it, and she didn't want to remember. She'd gone so far as to tell her mate and son that she couldn't remember, and that moreover she didn't believe them, the way the rest of the Continuum didn't believe, because it was better to believe that they were defective and had shared some sort of hallucination that she'd picked up ghosts of from her proximity to them than to believe that she had done... what she had done. But deep down she knew it wasn't true. When the universe had been ending, she hadn't fought, hadn't gone out snarling in the face of destruction like the Klingons she enjoyed so much. She had given up, and died.

Her son had been lost to her, swept into a vortex. Her mate, behind her, too far away to help her save their son. She'd dived into the vortex after the boy, and ended up searching for him through a surreal landscape populated by people who refused to believe that any of this was happening or people who slaughtered each other for no reason at all, and the whole time she'd felt Time spinning down around her, the fabric of the universe becoming thin and stretching, as if some entity was ripping all of creation to shreds. She didn't have any idea how to fight that; she'd been single-minded, consumed with the need to find her little boy.

And then she'd met M, who'd told her that it was her fault the universe was ending and that her son didn't exist. And the words had taken a horrible weight, far more than they warranted, as if M had somehow known what even the other Q did not know. Q had changed the universe to save her lover and create her son; a mortal had come back through time, bearing Q's own memories to her, of a nightmare future where the Continuum fractured and burned and everyone died. And the rule was that you could change anything you wished in the timeline of mortals, but you could not change the past of the Q Continuum, lest you create a paradox that destroyed you, the Continuum, or the universe. And here the universe was ending. The coincidence was unbearable, and the weight of the guilt and the fear she'd been hiding deep inside, sharing it with no one, ever since her son was born, broke her. She began to believe that her love was dead, that her son had never existed, that her attempt to save them all had snapped back on her and come back to the timeline she'd been trying to wipe out, and that the universe was ending around her because she'd made the attempt at all.

When she had died, it had come as a profound relief. The blackness had closed over her, and she'd wanted that, longed for it, so it would blot out the pain and grief and guilt she felt, so she would stop knowing that the destruction of everything was her fault.

Her mate and son had seen her die. The fact that everything had somehow reset back to normal, that no one who had died had stayed dead, didn't matter. She couldn't stand seeing the knowledge that she had broken in their eyes. And whatever experiences her son had had made him jaded and bitter, a bored billion-year-old entity already when he was less than ten thousand. He'd started acting out a lot more - less cute juvenile hijinks, more genuinely delinquent behavior - and posturing as if everything bored him already, just like the adult Q who'd spent billions of years becoming so bored. And when she'd tried to discipline him, to make him straighten up, to save him, her mate had interfered. And he had status in the Continuum as the leader of the faction who won the war, and she had lost her status by bringing mortals into the war and giving them guns. There was nothing she could do. Her son had grown worse and worse, more disobedient and disrespectful toward her and her mate and in fact the entire Continuum, and she hadn't been able to bear it. Eventually she had stormed out, telling her Q that he had ruined their son, and she was disowning them both.

Neither of them had ever forgiven her for that. Not that she was asking for their forgiveness, either.

"You'll obviously do what you want, but I had hoped a son of mine would be intelligent enough to know when he's massively outnumbered. You can't just go strolling up to the M Continuum and demand your father's return. You can't even use our weapons; they're tuned for the energies of the Q. They wouldn't work on the frequency of the M."

"I'll figure something out. And I thought I wasn't your son anymore, anyway."

"I suppose you believe your father when he uses outrageous hyperbole, too."

"Whatever." He leaned back against the wall, humanoid body language and the emotions projected onto his surface an elaborate posture of boredom. "I'm going now. Unless you're gonna come up with some really great reason why I shouldn't go, or something."

"You won't listen to any reasons I come up with, so why should I bother?"

"Exactly. See ya when I get back. Or not." He vanished.

She immediately called mentally to another Q, one who'd been something of a mentor to her and much more so to her ex, at least until he got her ex kicked out of the Continuum for a mortal day. Q. My son is on his way to the M Continuum to try to rescue his father.

Yeah? Was there something you wanted me to do about that?

/exasperation/ Yes, obviously. I want you to stop him.

What, you couldn't stop him?

He never listens to me. There isn't even a point to trying. But he has no idea what he's getting into. He thinks he'll just stroll in there and free his father. I won't see him lost to the M as well.

I can see your point, but what makes you think I can do anything to stop him? The kid's as omnipotent as the rest of us.

You can recruit other Q to assist you. The Continuum hasn't yet declared you persona non grata. She hardened her tone. And you owe me, so you'd better do it.

I owe you? Since when?

Since you got the others to agree to kick Q out of the Continuum, and you put me in the position of having to vote on what I thought would be his destruction, and you didn't even tell me that you were planning on doing it only long enough to shock him into behaving himself. I thought we were condemning him to death. You put me in a position where I had to participate in that; don't think I've forgiven you for it.

You know as well as I do he had it coming.

Yes... that's why I had to vote with the rest of the group. I couldn't let my personal feelings for him change what needed to be done... but that's a horrible thing to make someone do. So you owe me.

Fine. He sighed (or sent the emotional state of grudging resignation, which was the Q equivalent of a sigh.) I'll stop the boy. Although it would have helped if you'd actually tried to do it yourself instead of telling him you don't care what he does. What are you planning?

Loose lips sink ships, Q. You'll know what I'm doing as soon as the M do, not before.

She broke the connection. Q could stab you in the back if he thought it was the best thing for you, or the Continuum, but he was reliable enough at keeping his promises; it was the things he never actually said he would do or not do that you had to watch out for. She trusted that he'd stop her son, but not that he'd keep her secrets.

"This game was going nowhere anyway," she muttered, erased the memory of her existence from the mortal women sleeping all around her in the barracks, and vanished. What she'd been waiting for was probably ready by now, finally.

The place she was headed was a part of the Continuum, but it was pinched off, sealed away behind powerful privacy walls from the rest of the Continuum. There was no way to communicate with its inhabitant from a distance, because his privacy walls blocked the flow of information in and out of the Continuum. She had to go directly to his door and call through the polarized quantum pinhole that existed at only one defined spot on the privacy walls. Q, do you have what I asked for yet?

Come on in. The door thinned, still impervious to flowing information but breachable by a sentient being who could put some force into her entry. She pushed her way through, to enter her friend's workroom.

This Q was an inventor. While Q herself was given credit (or, as it was generally perceived, demerit) for modifying the weapons from the civil war so that mortals could use them, this Q was, in an indirect way, actually the primary one responsible... or at least his cognate from a timeline that had been wiped out was. He didn't know this, of course, but Q did, and knowing his capabilities, she had talked him into doing research on the weapons shortly after the war had ended, "just in case." Like her, he had never been ideologically bound to the freedom faction; like her, he'd had a lover who was passionately involved. Unlike her, his lover had been the first Q to die in the war. He had never forgotten that.

"I believe I've finished the modifications," he said. "The main problem was that, lacking M energy, I couldn't test its ability to draw on the M Continuum, and besides, if it did that we'd be at a significant disadvantage if they got one. So I've had to redesign the whole thing, conceptually."

"That sounds painful."

"It's fortunate for you that I've been working on a redesign for a long time anyway. This is by necessity a contact weapon." He held it up. "Unlike the weapons we used in the war, this will not draw energy from a Continuum and direct it against the target; it actually draws the target's own energy and counters it, disrupting the target. It won't cause supernovae in the matter universe, it won't harm mortals, it can be used by mortals if needed and without causing them harm, and if it's tuned to M energy it can't be used against Q."

"What's the disadvantage?"

"Well, primarily that it might not work, since I don't have a source of M energy to tune it to. You may have to do that once you get there. I think it's properly attuned, but you have the most recent memory set of what M energy is like, so you'd probably have a better idea than I would."

"Primarily? There are other disadvantages, then."

"The obvious. It's a contact weapon. You won't get instant kill and you have to actually make contact with the enemy's essence, which leaves you vulnerable. Several strikes would probably be needed to kill an M, or a Q."

"That's acceptable for my purposes at the moment. If war broke out, do you think it's possible to redesign the ranged weapons for Q against M?"

"Only within our Continuum. The ranged weapons don't work at all in the matter universe - which is just as well, we'd hardly want them falling into the hands of the Borg or someone - and if we reconfigured the weapons to draw on the M Continuum, as I said, the M would have a huge advantage. So we'd be able to use the ranged weapons for defense of our Continuum if it came to that." He sighed. "Why are we even discussing this? The war with the M ended four billion years ago and we didn't use specialized weapons then."

"I just want our options open," Q said.

"You just want to rescue Q."

"And to prepare for war if they've done him irreparable harm."

"You think our Continuum would back you up if they did?"

"On the principle of the thing, certainly. They're complacent because they don't think the M will seriously hurt Q. And they might not. But the fact that they took him at all suggests to me that M in particular is behind this, and if she has influence within her Continuum... anything could happen."

Her inventor friend shook his head sadly (or rather, sent out a wave of resigned and sorrowful disbelief, which was the Q equivalent, as in their natural forms they didn't have heads.) "I can't believe we might actually end up going to war with the M again over your and Q's romantic misadventures."

"Face it, the reason we went to war the last time was equally stupid."

"I don't even remember what that was."

"Neither do I. I think the memories were erased from the Continuum memory file because we were all so embarrassed at how stupid it was. The last I heard, Q was claiming it was because they insulted our mothers, which, given that the vast majority of us don't have mothers, seems outrageously implausible, but then I don't believe for a moment he actually remembers it either."

"When I heard him tell the story, he was claiming that the M had said we smell funny. I think that's probably equally implausible."

Q laughed before she could stop herself. "He's ridiculous."

"But you're going to his rescue anyway."

"Someone has to."

The inventor shrugged. "Actually, someone doesn't. He could be left unrescued. But I don't approve of that course of action any more than you do. I never thought I'd say this about him, before the war, but... I consider him a good friend."

"Amazing, how many more friends he's got since he won the war," Q said. "And amazing as well, how little help it's been to him in getting the Continuum to go rescue him."

"We're not exactly a brave species," the inventor said. "We've never had to be."

"Speak for yourself," Q said, but her heart wasn't in it. She knew that on many occasions, she had demonstrated great courage. She also knew what only her ex and her son knew... that when she'd faced her greatest challenge, she'd given up and died. And her ex - who everyone had seen cower in terror from the Calamarain, of all creatures - had somehow faced and survived the challenge that had killed her, and that was the only reason she or anyone else had lived.

She took from him the knowledge of the weapon. "I'll fine-tune this when I get to the M Continuum, but it seems to me like it will probably work."

"You've got more expertise with the M than I do," he said. "Good luck."

When she pushed her way out of his domain, she found a Q waiting for her, much to her surprise. "I'm going with you," the other Q said.

It was a Q who had been an older sister figure to her, and to her ex, and many of the last generation of Q created by the Continuum. Once, this Q had run around trying to keep the younger Q out of trouble... which had disproportionately involved her dealing with Q's ex. She probably thought she was obligated to help rescue him for that reason. "No, you're not."

"I'm not arguing with you. I'm going. You can take me with you or I can go independently."

In a timeline that hadn't happened, in memories only Q herself bore, this Q had died more horribly than Q had ever seen one of her own kind die. "I want you to stay here. If you go, you could get hurt."

"I'll take that risk."

Q was getting seriously exasperated with other Qs who thought they could handle the risk. "Look, you were in a mortal body for all but the end of the war. I think you ended up fighting in only one skirmish. You have no combat experience."

"You only fought in one skirmish."

"But it was the only one that counted, since it ended the war. Besides. I've fought 0, twice. I've fought The One." I fought for what seemed like aeons in a timeline that didn't happen, and I watched you all die, and I'm not letting it happen again. "And I do this for a hobby. You don't. When you walk among mortals you never fight beside them."

"That would be unfair, considering that I'm an omnipotent, immortal entity and they're not. I don't even see what you get out of playing those sorts of games."

"Of course you don't." Q scanned her older sister carefully. The other Q was terrified, completely out of her depth and she knew it. If Q could just find the right argument, her sister was ripe to be persuaded to stay home. "Let me ask you something. When mortals worship you, what do they call you?"

"I don't seek out worship," the other Q said, sounding slightly miffed.

"Yes, I know, but it happens. And there's all those mortals you've had romantic relations with, one every other century for I can't even count how many aeons, and many of them thought you were a goddess. So when you're worshipped as a goddess, what kind of goddess are you?"

"Sometimes, I'm a goddess of love, but I'm usually a fertility goddess. Which is ironic, I think, given that I've wanted a child for a few million years and haven't been able to have one." She smiled wryly. "Almost as ironic as the fact that you and Q, of all people, have been the only ones to have a child so far, and I who've wanted one so long don't have one yet."

"You could have one any time you wanted to."

"I don't want to do it alone. And I haven't found any other Q who want one, and besides... I've never created a new Q before. If I make a terrible mistake, someone is going to have to live with being created wrongly for all eternity. I'm... not sure I can face that responsibility."

Q knew the feeling. Every time she looked at her son, she felt like a horrible failure. "You can't do worse than we did."

"Oh, I've studied mortal parents and their children for millions of years. Trust me, it could be worse."

"And that's your study," Q said. "You're a goddess of love. Of reproduction. Of children. Parents and their offspring." She foregrounded her memories of her studies of mortals, of millions of years watching them kill each other in bloody combat, where her sister could see them. "I am a goddess of war. And that is why I'm going to the M Continuum to rescue Q, and you are staying here to help Q keep my son from haring off after me, and making sure there's someone in the Continuum to protect and defend him if neither of his parents come back."

"That... sounds as if it would be a better role for me," the other Q said, reluctantly. "But I don't want to abandon Q..."

"Q is not your baby brother anymore. He's a grown Q, he's been a fully adult Q for a few million years, and he would most appreciate it if you keep his son safe for him."

"That's true. That's true, he would," the other Q said. "All right, I'll stay." She reached out and embraced her younger sister, energies touching, enveloping each other... and just fractionally combining, the Q equivalent of a not-quite-chaste kiss or not-entirely-platonic hug. The Q had no concept of monogamy and their only incest taboos were direct intergenerational. "Come back safely, and bring him home with you," she said.

"I wouldn't be going if I didn't plan on it," Q said, and with a thought, she left her Continuum.

It was impossible to go directly from the Q Continuum to the M Continuum. Both parties had placed too many landmines in the metaphysical borderways, once upon a time. So Q had to go out to the matter universe first in order to find the way. While she was there, she quickly scanned her ex's favorite mortals.

There. The female human was untouched, but the male human and the android had the spoor of M all over them. M must have lured Q into a trap by threatening his pets. He would have immediately responded to the threat of a Power touching what was his - ever since he'd been made human and they'd saved his life, he had been monitoring them to ensure other Powers didn't interfere with them - and he'd probably have jumped in without looking first because he was impulsive, and then the M could have taken him captive. She picked up his trail and the trail of several M hovering in the ideaspace of his pets' starship, and followed it back, pursuing the trail until she reached the edges of the M Continuum.

At the edge, she called her challenge to the gatekeepers. "I am Q! I demand audience with the M! You've taken a Q, and I have come for him!" Nothing. She added, "I am the Q who brought mortals into my Continuum and gave them weapons to kill the Q. Do you think if I did that to my own kind, I'll be any kinder to you? Let me in, or I will unleash hordes of mortal warriors into your Continuum, with weapons that can kill you! I will rip down these gates with my bare hands, I'll steal your power and crack open your barriers like an egg, and I'll send a million mortals in to swarm over you and bring their contagion of death to every M in the M Continuum!"

"You don't need to be rude about it," the M who materialized in front of her said.

"Yes, I do," Q said. "You were ignoring me."

"You're a Q. It's fun to ignore you."

She lunged at the gatekeeper, pinned and encircled him with her power before he could react. "When was the last time you saw violence, M? I'm guessing it was longer ago than for me."

"You're a barbarian," the M gasped. "Let me go, or you'll never be allowed into the Continuum!"

"Let me into your Continuum and I'll let you go," she purred in his ear.

"All right, all right, but there are rules! Listen, let me go and I'll open the gate, but there's a protocol!"

She let him go. "What is your protocol?"

His fear was visible, radiating on his surface. "You cannot have an active connection to the Q Continuum when you enter the M Continuum. We need to block you."

She shook her head. "No."

"Then you can't come in."

"Fine, then you can just hand over Q and I'll go."

"I can't do that, that's not the protocol."

Q concentrated, drawing her power within her and clothing herself in matter, becoming a closed system who could disconnect from the Q Continuum temporarily as she took the form of a Klingon warrior woman, her favorite mortal shape. "Very well. I will disconnect."

"That's better," the M said, relieved. "Go on in."

She found herself in a vestibule area, a portion of the M Continuum sealed off, presumably to keep her from going any deeper. All around her she could feel the power of the M, so very similar to the power of the Q, and yet alien. When she and M had made love, she had delighted in that difference, in the exotic taste of energies both like and unlike Q. Now, she reached out, touching that energy and drawing it to herself.

Five M faced her. "What is your business here, Q?"

"You know my business. You've taken a Q. I want him back."

"We tried him and found him guilty. He is in prison."

"Then I want to inspect his accommodations."

She felt them commune with each other. If they had been Q, she could have eavesdropped on the conversation, but they were M, and she didn't share a Continuum with them. "M agrees to allow you to see Q," one of them finally said. "But you carry a weapon. You need to give it up."

"I already gave up my connection to my Continuum. Do you really think I could use a weapon without my own powers?"


"Very well." She let the weapon dissipate. They could confirm that the energies had dispersed entirely, not being held in reserve.

"We will escort you there," they said.

Their prison was not something civilized like a comet or a planet, something the Q would use. They had actually drilled a well through layers of reality, down, down into the low-energy state of the outer dimensions of the universe. The descent seemed to compact her essence, make her denser, more solid, trapping her within the skin of the form she'd taken. There were checkpoints, stages between one layer of reality and the next, and at each checkpoint she felt as if she'd lost something, some additional power or ability. They'd already taken her connection to the Continuum and her weapon before she'd even gotten here; now, bit by bit, she lost her ability to speak telepathically, her ability to draw and channel any form of energy, her ability even to sense the M energy all around her. She was certain her escorts weren't so limited. No wonder her ex hadn't been able to break free; down in this hole he must be, in essence, mortal and powerless.

Despite herself, her heart hurt for him. She gamed without powers all the time - oh, she had them in reserve to call if she really needed, but she tried her hardest not to use them, because that was cheating - whereas the only time he'd been without his powers was when he'd been thrown out of the Continuum for a day and nearly abandoned to die. Q hadn't been able to face him when he'd first come back from that; she'd felt too guilty that she, too, had cast a vote for his exile, but what choice had she had? The fact that she'd loved him hadn't changed the rules he broke or the fact that he'd broken them. But the experience had terrified him, nearly broken him, even killed the rebelliousness in him for a time. If the M had done that to him now... she thought of how frightened he must be, and increased her pace, despite the discomfort she felt at her own losses.

At the final gate, her escorts backed away, except for one. "M has one more requirement before you enter her presence. You must give up your chosen form and take the one she assigns you."

"Oh, for the love of everything, that is an unbelievably stupid..." She sighed. M was, of course, doing it just to humiliate her. "Fine." It probably wasn't fine. M might choose to turn her into a slime mold or something, and without her powers there would be very little she could do in response. But she thought she knew M better than that. And while she might not be able to rescue her ex after M was through transforming her, she certainly wouldn't be able to rescue him if she turned back now.

She stepped through the last gate, which had taken the form of a matter-based arch because down here at the bottom of the well, they might as well be in the matter universe. Even the M's access to their energies might be impaired. As she went through it, she felt the matter cloaking her disperse and re-coalesce. When she stepped out of the gate, she was wearing a baseline humanoid form - a form identical to the bipedal sentients from the planet Earth and nothing else. The human form she was now trapped in was naked.

So was the Q she had come to save. But M was not.

The matter of this prison was in the form of a cave, but not one that would ever have existed on a planet shaped by natural forces. The roof of the cave was thirty meters high, the cave itself roughly circular and about ten meters in diameter. The walls were largely smooth obsidian, with ragged veins of silver, gold and various exotic crystals running through them, and an occasional spot of rough granite. The floor was smooth, water-polished feldspar. Stalactites of igneous rock hung from the ceiling in shapes remarkably similar to limestone stalactites, which simply wouldn't happen under most planetary conditions, and occasional stalagmites of the same substance poked up through the floor.

Up to that degree, the substances being used to make the cave were at least substances that naturally occurred in caves. But all the light in the room came from brilliant liquid streams, a viscous, nearly gelatinous substance radiating with the spectrum, though not the full lumens, of a yellow sun, flowing down the walls of the caves in narrow trickles. The radiance coming from so many trickling lines on the walls made the room into a checkerboard of shadow and light. It was infuriating that without access to her powers, Q couldn't tell whether M was employing a natural substance or was just showing off.

Her ex was in his own preferred mortal form, so presumably M hadn't forced him into a form he didn't like as she'd done with Q, but she'd found other ways to humiliate him. He was naked, arms shackled apart and above his head by chains attached to two different stalactites, legs chained to two separate stalagmites. M was half-sitting, half-reclining in a stone chair piled with ornate pillows, wearing a standard humanoid form herself - her favorite, the short, pale, slender woman with close-cropped red hair - in a green silken robe edged with gold-colored filigree. She was sipping from a tall glass of a liquid in layers from red at bottom to gold at the top, with ice. There was a cool breeze blowing over her, making her short hair and the edges of her gown flutter slightly. Elsewhere in the room, such as where Q was and where presumably her ex was, the air was still and stiflingly warm. Sweat was breaking out on Q's forehead already, and she could see her ex was drenched with it.

What a disgusting way to eliminate excess heat. And why were they all in baseline humanoid forms anyway?

"So glad you've come to visit us, Q," M said. "I'm surprised, actually. Q here didn't think you'd come."

"What Q doesn't know would take several thousand years to describe," Q said sharply. "Why, exactly, did you think it was a good idea to kidnap him anyway?"

"Q has been a massively disruptive influence on the universe. You know this."

"He's always been. That doesn't mean the M have the right to try and imprison him."

"Well, the Q haven't been able to control him, so someone's got to."

"And your ideas of control are so masterful, darling," her ex said, his breathing slightly labored. "I haven't forgotten you gagging me with a metal clamp. Have a few secret kinks you can't get the M to indulge in with you?"

"I never gagged you with a metal clamp. Although it's tempting."

"Oh, you don't remember it either. No one remembers it. I'm finding that difficult to believe."

Q froze. Her ex had mentioned running into M, in the surreal experience they'd had when the universe was ending. He hadn't mentioned her gagging him with a metal clamp, but that had to be what he was talking about, because there was no other experience he talked about that no one else remembered. She'd tried her best, herself, to pretend that it hadn't happened, to go along with the rest of the Q - who as nearly as she could tell, genuinely didn't remember any of it happening - and convince herself that none of it had been real. She didn't want any of it to have been real.

"I do have to wonder," she said, trying to cut off any further discussion of that horrible event. "Why do you have him chained up and naked in a form sexually compatible with the one you're wearing?"

"Perhaps I thought I'd try out a different Q. What do you think, sweetheart?" M asked Q's ex, letting her voice turn into a parody of sultriness. "Have you been enjoying yourself so far?"

M didn't touch him physically, but he moaned, shuddering. A spike of hot jealousy stabbed into Q. She forced it down. "I thought so. You've been pining for me ever since I left, haven't you?"

"You flatter yourself," M said. "It's just that being here to watch a prisoner for eternity so he doesn't lose his mind in isolation is incredibly boring. Anything that can pass the time is an improvement." As she spoke, she was obviously using her powers to do something to Q's ex; the male humanoid body he wore was displaying signs of arousal, and he writhed and whimpered in his bonds.

Q was furious, but didn't know who to be angrier at. It was entirely possible that if her ex had gotten bored enough, he might have consented to let M touch him, in which case she was angry at him, and angry at herself for being angry at him because she had left him and she wouldn't have had the right to be jealous anyway if she hadn't. The Q weren't monogamous. The fact that she wanted to be, and wanted him to be, was a character flaw. Everyone said so. But it didn't change the fact that when she saw him giving or receiving pleasure with someone that wasn't her, it infuriated her, even if the person he was with had once been her lover.

And the truth was, it was likely that he hadn't consented or had only consented under duress, in which case it was entirely M she wanted to be furious with. She didn't perceive what M was doing as criminal or heinous, even if her ex had not consented - many mortals would consider forcing pleasure on someone against their will to be rape, but the Q had very few taboos about pleasure and considered inflicting it on one another to be an irritating power game but no more serious than mortals considered tickling children to be. M's actions were not in the range of what Q considered evil or even seriously immoral, but she did recognize that what M was doing was a power game probably intended to humiliate Q's ex and definitely intended to make Q herself angry.

"If it's so boring why did you elect yourself to do it? You never had to take Q captive in the first place, and you didn't have to volunteer to be his jailer." She was trying to remain calm, but she was trapped in flesh, without access to her powers or many of the tools she'd have used to hide her feelings, and it was unpleasantly hot and stifling in here. Despite herself, her hands were clenched at her sides into fists, fingernails digging into her palms.

"I know him better than any other M," M said.

"And that's why you're so interested in feeling him up, I presume?"

Q's ex laughed, although it came out as more of a gasp given what M was evidently doing to him. "Oh, very good, M. Get her where it hurts. You notice, she comes down here and she doesn't ask for my release, she doesn't demand an explanation as to why you even think you have the right to take a Q prisoner, she doesn't even pay attention to the fact that you've taken her powers... all she cares about is you molesting me. If you're trying to piss her off, I think you're succeeding admirably."

"Is that a request for me to continue?" M asked.

"I don't really see the point to requesting anything of you," he said, panting. "Since the whole reason you're doing this is that I'd rather you didn't, and if I actually wanted you to touch me, you wouldn't go anywhere near me. But if you're actually taking requests, I'd like a glass of water."

His sarcasm cut through the haze of jealous rage that had been blurring Q's perspective. Of course, he was right. M was doing this to make her angry, and there were more important things she should be focusing on. "You're an idiot, Q. The first thing I asked was why M kidnapped you."

"Yes. Maybe it would be better if you were seen and not heard," M said, and tapped his mouth. His eyes went wide, and he tried to wrench his head away, but there was no outracing M's power; a strip of adhesive materialized over his mouth, effectively silencing him. He protested, but with the gag on Q couldn't tell if he was pleading, demanding, or just cursing at M.

"Let's not play these games, M," Q said. "You took Q for a reason, and it had nothing to do with something as general and vague as him causing disruption to the universe... which he's been doing the whole time you've known him, and in fact the whole time I've known him, and that's never been adequate justification for an M to kidnap and imprison a Q before. So what's your real reason?"

M left off tormenting Q's ex... not that she had her powers to tell, but from the way he suddenly sagged in his bonds, the way his breathing changed from panting to something as deep as a sigh of relief, it looked like M was no longer stimulating him. "Q started a war within your Continuum. You, one of the oldest and greatest of the Powers, reduced to warring with one another like infantile mortals. And we are your counterparts, the reality that you reflect. What affects you has the potential to affect us as well."

"If you were the reality we reflected, how could we affect you? Reflections go the other way around," Q said. "Are you finally admitting that you descend from us rather than the other way around? Because if you're not, I don't see how you could possibly be so afraid that what we do would have an effect on you that it justifies kidnapping a Q."

There was a large, rectangular stone slab behind M's seat, with a depression in it holding water that seemed to be coming up from an underwater spring, judging from the ripples on the surface. The breeze that fluttered over M and bypassed the two Q in the room blew over the basin before reaching M, carrying cool moisture. Q walked over to the basin without asking permission or even acknowledging with her body language that M might stop her, dunked her head in it, and came up shaking her hair out. That was much better. "Besides, it takes two to tango. Q didn't start the war; a Q who died minutes after the war started fired the first shot, at Q, and it killed a different Q, and then everything went to hell. You could as reasonably accuse Q, or Q, or Q... or Amanda, for that matter... of having started the war."

M shrugged, although her casual posture was belied by the widening of her eyes and slightly rapider breathing as her eyes fixed on Q's body. She might have been tormenting Q's ex with pleasure to humiliate him and anger Q, but Q's guess had been correct... M still wanted her, and being stuck down here in a physical shape was having an effect on her despite her powers. "Would any of them have started a war, if Q hadn't been agitating?"

"Would Q have been agitating, if one of our number hadn't killed himself?"

"Yes, well, the apathy and general dysfunctional nature of the Q is well known to the M, but that doesn't justify having a war. The rest of the universe's Powers are concerned. And since they see us as similar to you, the fact that they're looking at you with grave concern has turned their attention on us as well... attention we neither want nor deserve."

"No. I don't believe it," Q said decisively, shaking her head and shoulders vigorously... and watching M's eyes drop to her torso before jerking back up to her face. M probably didn't spend a lot of time in mortal shape, and if she'd taken a humanoid form... the humanoids were positively obsessed with sex, and being in their form generally afflicted Q minds with their obsession. M had had prurient reasons for stripping both her captive and her visitor, Q was sure of it now. And if M wasn't used to the power of humanoid sex drives, that was a weapon Q had to use against her. "Our war was an internal affair, and no more serious than the cold war between the Prophets and the Pagh-wraiths, or the Lightbringers of Earth and Selvor, or any other internal conflict within a Power's ranks."

"Are you joking? Those conflicts didn't destroy stars in the matter dimension."

"They most certainly did. They just didn't do so by accident." She cupped some water from the basin and dumped it over her chest, enjoying both the coolness on her sweaty, overheated skin and the way both M and her ex suddenly riveted their attention on her. "I think there's another reason," she said, taking a step closer to M. "I think you engineered this whole thing so I would come."

"As I said, you flatter yourself," M said. "This isn't about what you did to me, or what he did to me." She jerked her head back at Q's ex to indicate who she was talking about, as if there was another "he" she could possibly be referring to. "But you're right. It's not about the war, per se. It's about what you did to end it."

"Brought mortals into the Continuum with weapons?" She had rather expected that if the M were going to charge any Q with anything, they'd have gone after her for that reason. It had horrified even the Q on the side she'd been supporting, let alone the enemy.

"No. Had a child."

Q blinked. She hadn't expected that. "You imprisoned Q because we had a child?"

"The balance of the universe has always depended on there being more M than Q, and on the fact that both our Continuums have always been careful in the creation of new ones," M said. "You and Q created a child at random."

"It wasn't random. We chose his traits from amongst the traits both of us had to offer."

"And you're so pleased with how he turned out?"

Q scowled. No, she wasn't pleased at all. "What does that have to do with anything?"

M stood up. Her gown fluttered open in the breeze she was still standing in, revealing that she wasn't actually wearing anything under it. "The most chaotic element in your Continuum has replicated himself directly. You stopped bringing new Q into existence a billion years ago, and within the past six billion you created less than a hundred. Now, you have two new Q within the space of decades, both created not from the will of your entire Continuum, but the way mortal humanoids do it, with two parents contributing only their own traits. It's a recipe for extremes, for defective Q and Q who exhibit the worst traits of your Continuum, and believe me, the rest of you are bad enough."

Q smiled thinly. "And the M don't know how to do the same thing. And anything the Q do, the M want to be able to do better."

"At the very least, as well, or it'll destabilize the balance between our two Continuums," M snapped. "And you may not care about maintaining the balance, but we do. The M are very concerned with maintaining the harmony of the universe."

"Which is why you have kept producing new M long after we stopped. M, you yourself are only as old as our youngest sister, who was the baby of the Continuum for a billion years until the new generation started being created. Your Continuum has no reason whatsoever to be concerned with our reproductive abilities and no excuse to feel threatened by our children; you've been making new children all along. Close to a third of all the M in existence are younger than all but the new generation of Q."

"But we've created them the old way, the traditional way, a carefully designed project of the entire Continuum. We wouldn't be concerned if you'd made new Q in the same fashion... but you started this frankly radical new trend of Q being made by only two Q, on the basis of your own whims. And when you killed the first two Q who tried it, we thought your Continuum recognized the danger and would be reasonable about it. But no, now you've legitimized the technique. You created a new Q, just the two of you, and declared him the future of your Continuum. We can't allow such a danger to go unchecked."

"So you kidnapped Q to what, get the secret of creating children out of him? Our entire Continuum knows how to do it now; you could have taken anyone. It didn't have to be him."

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the chains that bound her ex loosening, the stone of the stalactite it was fastened to beginning to give way. So he wasn't completely powerless, after all. Which meant she wasn't either. She kept talking, trying to distract M so she wouldn't notice what Q had just noticed. "Are you absolutely sure there was no element of jealousy or revenge in your decision to take this Q? And did you ever possibly consider coming to us and asking?"

"I have every reason to want revenge," M snapped. "And every reason to want revenge on you." She turned, stepped over her stone dais, and walked around Q's ex's bound form. "But I knew he would know how you Q have learned to make children. And I thought he was the one who invented the technique." Her hands went around him, one stroking his chest, one running along his thigh. His eyes went wide, and he made a high-pitched noise like a muffled scream, cut off by losing his breath. M sighed, and licked her lips, as his whole body went rigid, his male genitals jumping to attention, his muscles plainly straining so hard at his bonds that he was probably going to hurt something.

Q thought M was inflicting pleasure, not pain, especially when his eyes rolled back and his head sagged even as the rest of his body remained taut, but it was hard to be sure. "What are you doing to him?" she demanded.

"Just taking a little taste," M said. "Q's getting just a trifle too energetic for my purposes. You don't mind, do you, Q? I know how pain is your weakness... I could be hurting you to keep you under control, instead of this. Isn't this much better?"

She was draining him, taking his energy. Both Q and M were designed to enjoy sharing energy with others of their Continuum even more than taking it; one of the most intense pleasures they could feel was the sensation of another drawing on their energies, depleting them. And Q knew from personal experience that the Q and the M could share with each other in the same way that they shared with others of their own kind. But it normally worked by fully mutual taking and giving, the parties exchanging energies between them. What M was doing was non-reciprocal, and therefore exploitative. Her comment about pain being Q's former lover's weakness implied that she had threatened or coerced or tortured him into dropping his shields enough that she could do this. And he was shaking his head even as he moaned and writhed.

M harassing him physically, stimulating the flesh he wore, was just M being annoying as shit. M penetrating his Q essence while he was helpless to stop her, and draining the energy he'd been using to try, however uselessly, to escape, was an act both the Q and the M would perceive as rape. And the fact that he'd had that energy, that he'd been trying to use it to escape, and that it existed for M to drain meant that he wasn't actually completely powerless, and therefore, neither was Q.

Jealousy had always made her see red. But what swept over her now wasn't jealousy, but protective rage, and it was cold and sharp and focusing. "And this is your idea of revenge? Tie him up naked, stimulate him against his will, and then invade him to feed on his energy? You've been observing too many mortal vampire fantasies."

"This isn't my idea of revenge at all," M said. "My idea of revenge would have been to drop him in a hole and pave it over. If I truly wanted to hurt him, I'd have left him alone down here. We all know he'd have been screaming for mercy, begging for someone to come torture him so at least he wouldn't be alone, within less than an average solar cycle on a life-bearing world." Her voice was harsh. "I could have broken him so he wouldn't resist, but I didn't. So he tries to escape, and I feed on him to stop him, and he gets to retain his will to resist at least, even if I won't permit him to actualize his desire." She released him. This time, his gasps for air sounded suspiciously almost like sobs.

"So if this isn't revenge, what is it? I fail to see how any of this accomplishes the goal you claim to want to achieve. What does torturing Q have to do with creating children?"

"The M consigned him here because he claimed that he had invented the technique of reproduction, independently... that when your Continuum killed the two Q who first developed the technique, you wiped out the knowledge as well. Therefore, we thought, depriving your Continuum of a disruptive influence who is capable of coming up with such inventions would keep you from inventing the next idea to disrupt the balance of our Continuums on a massive scale." She walked around Q's ex, who hung limply from his bonds now as if he were exhausted and only semi-conscious, and toward Q, her thin smile predatory. "But I learned very quickly that he wasn't the one who invented the technique at all. That was you."

And that meant she had broken or battered down his mental shields enough to force a partial joining on him, because he wouldn't have let her read his mind and he wouldn't have voluntarily admitted he hadn't been able to create their son without her ideas. He loved their son more than he loved anything else in the universe, and the idea to create a child had been his... but he hadn't had any idea how to do it. Even the two who had created Amanda had had to anchor their child into mortal flesh for sixteen years before she grew into a viable Q. An infant Q would in theory be instantly destroyed by the powerful energies of the Continuum unless it was sheltered in matter and kept out of the Continuum. It was the knowledge she had brought that had enabled the two of them to create their son, stabilize him, and keep him alive and growing within the Continuum, and that was the technique the M apparently feared and wanted enough that they were willing to look the other way as this M had violated a Q's mind.

Ironically, she hadn't actually invented the technique, just come up with refinements. It had been mostly invented by the child created by the earlier technique, Amanda, in a time that hadn't happened and wouldn't happen now. She had merely been given the memories by a mortal time traveler who'd been entrusted with them by her future self. But she was the only Q who knew that.

"I could have told you that," she said. "Are you telling me you imprisoned Q at the bottom of a dimensional well just to lure me in?"

M shrugged. "The decision had been made to imprison him already."

"But when you learned that he didn't actually have the skill at inventing entirely new activities for the Q that you'd imprisoned him for having, you left him here because you thought that if you kept him here, sooner or later I would show up."

"It worked," M said, stalking up to Q, the predatory smile on her upturned face becoming wider and fiercer. "Here you are."

Q laughed. "You're an idiot, M. I almost didn't come."

"You would do anything for him! You always have!"

"That was before his irresponsible behavior ruined our son and made him into a delinquent Q who will probably have to be destroyed one of these days. The only reason I came was because my son was going to... And, I admit, partly because I thought you'd have put yourself in charge of guarding Q, and I wanted to see you again."

That threw M off balance. She lost the smile. "You... wanted?"

"I don't know why, but I've been thinking about you a lot lately. Maybe I've actually felt..." She looked away, as if ashamed. "...guilty. I was cruel to you, wasn't I."

"You seduced me. You told me you loved me." M began in a deadly quiet tone, but as she continued to speak her voice got louder and more anguished. "You said no one had ever made you feel this way before. You told me you wanted to be with me forever. We talked about defying our Continuums for the sake of our love! And then he lied to my Continuum, telling them all the things I had told you in confidence and telling them I was planning to defect to the Q! And when I told you, and I asked you to run away with me, and we would defy our Continuums and forge a new path for ourselves, together... you laughed at me! You told me you'd only ever been with me because you wanted to make him jealous, and now that it had worked, you were going back to him and you never even cared about me!" By now she was shouting. There were tears in her eyes.

Q winced. Most of that was true. She'd never actually told M she loved her or wanted to be with her forever or would defy the Q Continuum for her, or anything like that... M had said those things, and Q hadn't refuted them. But she really had laughed in M's face when M had suggested they leave their respective Continuums. Without their Continuum, either Q or M could only be mortal, doomed to slow decay and death, and there was never anything that could be worth risking that. And she'd felt guilty at the time because M was so nave and M had sincerely loved her and she'd been using M all along, and in those days M had been so sweet and loving and it had hurt to think of betraying someone so innocent... so she'd taken her hurt out on that innocent, mocking her navet, telling herself that she was being cruel for M's own sake so M didn't get suckered again.

The Q did not apologize. Q had never, ever admitted to M that she did feel guilty about that, that it haunted her sometimes.

"I'm sorry," she said now, breaking yet another long-standing Q tradition.

"You're sorry?" M sounded frankly skeptical.

"It doesn't mean very much to you now, I'm sure," Q said. "But I did it because I was obsessed with him. And I've come to realize, after what he did to our little boy... he was never worth it." She saw her ex drag himself up in his chains to pay attention, eyes narrowed, the beginning of anger on his face. And probably fear, although he wouldn't be quick to show that. "I hurt you, terribly, and what did I get for it? Another eternity with an entity who's chaos incarnate, who delights in romancing worthless little mortals just because he knows how angry it makes me, who gets himself thrown out of the Continuum, starts wars, and ruins absolutely everything he touches. And I'm so sorry."

She reached a hand out toward M, letting herself remember M as the sweet entity she used to be, letting herself feel the pangs of guilt she'd felt even then at hurting M so terribly. Letting herself remember all her anger at her Q, all the jealousy, all the fighting, all the times he'd overruled her attempts to discipline their son. Letting herself remember how her adorable baby boy had turned into an impulsive juvenile delinquent brat, and how his father had aided and abetted that transformation until it had hurt so badly she couldn't stand to look at either of them. Her mental shields lowered slightly, letting M see the pain and anger and guilt.

"If you're sorry... why did you come to the gates with such hostility?" M asked skeptically.

"You kidnapped a Q. As long as my Continuum could see me, I had to observe the forms. And..." She looked down. "You know how I am. You know my flaws, my weaknesses. I saw you giving him pleasure and it made me so jealous and angry I couldn't see straight... but it wasn't because of him, it was because of you. Because if you're going to tie someone up and stimulate their physical form and suck on them to take their energy, I wanted you to do it to me." She threw her head back, letting her chest thrust out. "M, ever since I came down here I've been so angry and frustrated over wanting you, and watching you touching him, I haven't had the opportunity to even tell you how I feel. But if the whole reason the M imprisoned him was you fear our ability to create children... He ruined my son, and I want another."

She realized as she said it that it was true. A baby Q, half her, half another, to look at her with adoration as her son had once, to need her and look up to her and love her, someone she herself could love unreservedly. A chance to rectify the mistakes she'd made with her son, to do it all over again and do it right this time. "I never thought of this before, but if you want to truly understand how we created children, and why, and what it means to us that we have... I'll teach you. I'll have a child with you, M. Think of it! You talk about bringing harmony to the universe... what about bringing harmony to our Continuums? If Q and I could end a civil war by having a child, then couldn't the child of you and me end the conflict between the Q and the M, forever?"

"How am I supposed to believe you?" M asked. Q thought she was trying to sound aggrieved, but it was coming out as plaintive. "You lied to me last time."

"You have far more power than I do right now. We're surrounded by the power of the M, and when I came down here you stripped everything from me. This is me, M." She spread her hands. "Naked and powerless. I have nothing but what you left me. How could I possibly deceive you under these circumstances?"

"I don't know..." M whispered.

Q finished closing the gap between them, and put her hands around the smaller woman, reaching under M's robe to rest her palms on the small of M's back. "I'm so sorry, M. I know it's difficult to trust me, but you can read my mind. You know everything I'm saying is true."

Q's ex stared into emptiness, a look of grim hopelessness and resigned despair in his eyes. Of course, if she took up with M again, if she turned on the Continuum that had to all intents and purposes rejected her when she'd saved them from civil war by bringing mortals in with weapons that could kill Q, her ex would end up being left here to rot. And for everything he'd done, he'd probably deserve it. Their son would be better off without such an awful role model in his life. She looked away from him and down at M, who was tentatively embracing her back. "Your shields are still up," M said. "I can read your surface, but I can't tell if you're really telling the truth. If you want to join with me, why don't you lower your shields?"

"Because I want to do as much for you as you do for me," Q said in a sultry voice. "You know me, M. I like to be generous."

"Didn't you just say you wanted me to tie you up and do to you what I did to Q over there?"

"No, I said it made me insanely jealous to watch you doing that to him because I'd rather you do it to me. But if I had my preferences, I'd be pleasing you."

"I can't trust you enough," M said. "This could all be an elaborate ruse."

Q dropped her hands. "If you don't want me unless you're in total control, let him go and lock me up in his place. You know the Q Continuum won't tolerate you holding two Q, and the M would prefer that you imprison the one of us that actually presents the danger you're afraid of. I invented reproduction and I invented the way to make the weapons usable by mortals. You know the rest of the M will agree that I'm the one you want... and if you're going to spend eternity guarding someone, I don't want you wasting it on him." Her voice dripped scorn for her ex.

"It's true," M said, "but I don't want to let him go unless I know that you're telling the truth. He hurt me too, you realize. He's the one who made me look bad to my Continuum and made my Continuum forbid me to see you. I spent thousands of years recovering my face and my status after that."

"And how much status would you lose if the M thought you were endangering them by holding two Q prisoner?"

"I don't want to take you prisoner. I want you to join me."

"Then give me just enough power that I can join with you, and you can see how I feel."

M sighed. "I'm afraid I'll regret this," she whispered, "but I love you too much. I always have."

Q felt the power of the M flow into her, gently, restoring some tiny fraction of what she'd lost. M's mind and essence pressed against her, and Q let her in, letting her see and feel all the pain Q's ex had caused her over the centuries, and her memories of M's pure love from the past, so uncomplicated and joyous. M touched her power nodes, the specialized regions of her essence that channeled the forces the Q and the M both commanded, and sucked on them sweetly, making Q moan. It had been so long. She hadn't actually been with an entity like herself since shortly after the universe had ended, and she'd held herself away from her lover because she hadn't wanted to see her failure, her death, in his memories. She had little energy to spare, though - M hadn't given her access to much from the environment - so she reached into M and returned the favor, drawing from her in exchange. M whimpered in pleasure.

"I've missed you," M murmured. "I dreamed about you, you know."

"How could you dream of me?" Q asked. "The M don't dream any more than the Q do."

"I know... but it has to have been a dream. The universe was ending." Q could not quite keep the stab of grief and fear out of their joining. "You dreamed it too, didn't you?"

"Tell me about your dream."

"The universe was ending," M said, "and it was my job to judge, my job to keep the peace until the end, keep the mortals from rioting... I had some of my power, but not enough, not enough to really fight back against the chaos, and I was so angry. I tried to control it but I was so angry, that the universe would just end randomly, this way, for no reason whatsoever. And you came."

Q reached deeper into M, sending shudders of pleasure through the other entity. "What did I do?" she asked, using her ex's favorite trick - focusing on pleasuring M so intently that M had no room to notice that most of Q's thoughts were still shielded from her.

"Ohhh... that feels so good... You said you were looking for Q, and your son. And I didn't believe you had a son, and I told you so. And then later on I died." The memory floated to her surface despite M's attempt to restrain it. A confrontation with Q's ex and two of his mortal pets had resulted in M becoming so angry that she had literally burst into flame, unable to contain the energies of her rage. And she had been immortal enough, powerful enough still, to live on even as she burned, self-immolating in the fury she could not control, and the pain and the knowledge of her own death only fueled the rage and fed the fire. It had taken her a very long time to finally die. "Since I'm not dead, and the universe didn't end, I must have dreamt it somehow."

Q felt sorry for M for a moment, and cradled her protectively, soothing her with pleasure. No one deserved to die that way.

Of course, no one deserved to die the way Q had, either.

"That really happened," Q said. "I remember our meeting. And the universe ending. And dying."

And she pushed her memories into M.

"Q? He's probably dead," M had said with savage glee, barely restrained. "The universe is ending. Everyone is dead except for those in this place. If he's not here, then he's dead. This is probably all his fault, anyway... his or yours."

The words hit her like a blow. She'd been trying not to think about it. Before her son had been born, when she'd been aboard the humans' starship preparing to follow her Q to the Continuum, a time traveler had come to her in the space between moments and showed her an unbearable future, given her her own memories of the Continuum burning and her Q's death and the death of everyone she loved, everyone she cared for, and so she committed anathema. Knowing the future of the Continuum, she acted to change it. The law was clear - the timeline of the Continuum was never to be changed but she told herself she hadn't yet lived those moments, and the future self who'd agreed to send a mortal back in time to change the future would be wiped out of existence by her actions. For her this was future, and the future wasn't written. She could act.

So she did. She stayed instead of following. She brought the mortals into the Continuum and modified the guns so they could wield them. She walked onto the battlefield with mortals at her side, and rescued her Q as he waited to be executed, and whispered in his ear of how to make a Q baby, a secret she'd been given from the future that she modified for their circumstances now. And she'd refused to believe she had done anything wrong.

But if the universe was ending it had to be because of her. She had changed the future of the Q Continuum, broken a timeline that could not be broken, and now everything was ending and it was her fault.

"My son..." she'd said. "I have to find my son."

"Your son?" M had sneered. "You don't even have a son. The Q don't have children! You seriously expect me to believe you have a son?"

And of course she didn't have a son, because the timeline was snapping back, she'd broken it to save her Q and she'd made a child with him and she loved them both more than life itself, she'd do anything for them, but her actions were coming back on her and the universe was cracking, the timeline splintering and the things she had done to save them had never happened, never happened. Her little boy did not exist. Her Q was dead.

M had shoved her through a doorway, and she'd fallen backward, falling forever, and landed finally in a frozen, empty wasteland, and everything was dying or dead and it was her doing. She had cried, sobbing brokenly. She, who had never cried, broke down and wept, and the tears froze in her eyes and the ice crystals covered over her vision and she was blind, stumbling through the frozen wastes and all she could hear was M's voice, "Q's probably dead and you don't even have a son." Because it was true. Because the timeline was cracking and everyone was dead or dying and the Continuum was burning and the universe was gone and it was her fault, her fault, her fault.

She had collapsed, finally, too exhausted even to weep, hearing the moans of the dying and despairing all around her. There was nothing but the drum in her head, her Q dead and it was her fault, her son never existed and it was her fault, the universe ending, her fault, her fault and she wanted to die to stop the drum, to stop the guilt, she had nothing, nothing and she should be dead should be dead already with all the others... and then she'd heard his voice, telling her he loved her, pleading with her that he was alive, their son was alive, not to give up on him, he loved her... but she'd known it had to be a hallucination as she died because he couldn't be real because the universe wouldn't be ending if he was real, and it was too cruel to hear his voice when he couldn't be alive and she wanted to die to escape the lying voice and the torment of hearing him plead with her when he was dead and the drumbeat of the guilt in her head. The ground had opened up and swallowed her, and as mud filled her mouth and lungs and she suffocated all she felt was relief that it was finally ending...

M reeled as Q pushed her memories of death and despair and failure into her. And all the pain she'd suffered since followed - not being able to touch her lover or make love to him because the Q pleasured each other by joining essence to essence, mind to mind, and he was the one who had tried to tell the rest of the Continuum that the whole thing had happened, and she would see her shame and her failure in his memory and she couldn't bear it... her son turning bitter and jaded, memories of being abandoned by his parents for centuries in that hell world they'd been in, memories of the universe ending and she saw her shame and failure and death in his eyes too, and there was argument after argument and they couldn't smooth the way with joining after because she wouldn't, and her son had acted out more and more, until the boy who had looked at her with complete adoration was a rebellious teenage brat who was like the worst of herself and her lover combined and she couldn't bear it, it hurt too much to be around them and to be helpless to stop her boy from turning into a defective, amoral Q, and she blamed it all on her lover and railed at him because he overrode her attempts to save the child and finally she told them both she was disowning them and walked out, away from them, away from the Continuum, to lose herself in role-playing games where she fought in mortal wars, over and over, and died again and again, because she had to prove to herself she could be brave, she could face death... but it wasn't true death, it wasn't true fear, because they were mortal and she had her powers and they couldn't possibly kill her, so it never eased the pain of knowing what a coward she was.

As M was stunned by the full force of Q's memories, Q pulled enough of M's energy from her to make the other entity nearly swoon, and M was still too shocked to pull back. She used the power to summon power-binding shackles, things she and her Q had played kinky games with back when they were happy, things that had been used in the war to bind Q before killing them, and she put them on M, binding her. She shackled M to herself, the flesh she wore bound with wrists to each other and ankles to each other and then ankles to wrists, bending her backwards, as her M essence was turned in on itself like a Klein bottle. And then Q gagged M the same way M had gagged her ex, before M had time to scream.

"For what it's worth, I really am sorry," she said. "But you were right the first time. You shouldn't have trusted me."

She walked over to where her Q was still bound and made his gag vanish. "I'm astonished," he said weakly. "You made her believe you. You made me believe you. But you made her believe you, and she had her powers!"

"Role-playing games certainly have improved my method acting skills," Q said. "Everything I told her was true, it just wasn't... the whole truth. I believed it when I said it because I made myself remember all the reasons it was true, and forget all the reasons it wasn't." She looked him over critically. "You're weak. How badly did she drain you?"

"She's been playing bloodsucker and swooning beau with me almost since she got me here," he said, sounding far more worn out and bitter than he had when M had been running things. Of course, he'd been fronting, too. "I don't think she'd have ever drained me near the point of death, but she might very well have taken me down to the point of wishing I could die. Did you mean it, that our son wanted to come for me?"

"Of course I meant it. I was waiting for our friend Q to come up with something to give me an advantage, so I'd be able to pull this off. Since I didn't want the entire Continuum to know I was coming for you - someone wouldn't have been able to resist gloating to the M, and then they'd have been better prepared - I couldn't let him know, so he had every intention of going himself. I had Q stop him."

"They would have dissected him," her Q said, shuddering. "I cooperated with their stupid excuse for a trial because I knew what they really wanted was information about how to make children, and if they didn't get it from me I was afraid they'd grab him and take him apart to figure out how we did it." He closed his eyes. "Q... could you please let me out of these chains?"

He never said please. In fact he never asked her for anything. He might tease, or hint, or make demands, but to simply ask... It illustrated how badly shaken and weakened he was by this whole thing.

With a thought, she snapped them. They were power-binders as well, but not nearly as effective as the ones she had M in... they hadn't stopped him trying to use his powers on the chains themselves. He really was too weak for her to get him out of here safely, and she was too aroused and on edge to concentrate on what she needed to do. "You know what you have to do," she said. "Are you all right with it?"

He laughed hoarsely. "The whole time she's been playing with me she never let this body orgasm. I am more than happy to do what you're suggesting."

"We'll have to be quick. Those are strong bonds on M, but we are in her Continuum and she's better tuned to the energy here." Because of her relationship with M, Q knew how to tune herself to the M Continuum, but she couldn't fully draw as much energy as she'd be able to draw from the Q Continuum without joining the M, which she was obviously not going to do. Also, the properties of this place made it nearly impossible to discorporate, and significantly limited the power any of them had available. She pulled in as much energy as she could, half-carried her Q to the dais since he was too weak as a Q, and had been tied up too long as flesh, to easily walk, and laid him down on it.

He reached into her metaphysically, his essence touching and probing hers, until he found her power nodes. She was full of the energy she'd taken from M, and what she was able to draw from the M Continuum now. He took it into himself, feeding from her, replenishing his weakness... and nearly making her humanoid body orgasm then and there. She climbed on top of him, engulfing him, taking him the way his favorite mortals did when they had sex, and he clutched onto her hips and dug his fingers into them, moaning and thrashing his head as if he was in agony as she pounded herself onto him over and over. Taking energy, for a Q, was a pleasure more similar to mortal eating than to mortal sex, but their essences were joined slightly, overlapping enough that he could feel what she was feeling. He sucked sweetly on her, drinking energy from her and sending waves of pleasure and arousal through her as he did, growing warmer and stronger, as the mortal bodies they wore fucked each other harder, more desperately.

They didn't have to be having physical sex. He could take the energy he needed from her without it, without even comingling their essences to any great degree. But his sucking on her felt impossibly good, and especially after she'd seduced M and begun a joining with her, she wanted it so badly, any way she could get it - psionic essence to essence, or physical body to body. She hadn't been with another Q, or even another Power, in so long. And of course, after M had been tormenting him sexually for who knew how long, and sucking his energy from him, he needed it as badly as she did. And since they couldn't try to escape until he'd drawn enough energy from her to restore his strength anyway... there wasn't a good reason not to.

For a moment, Q saw M, bound and gagged a short distance away, watching them, the fury that had once set her on fire lighting her eyes more metaphorically, and she smiled nastily at her. You were right the first time, she thought. Q is mine. You cannot take him from me, whether by imprisoning him, pleasuring him, violating his mind, or any other way. He's mine.

Her human body came so violently it was almost painful, her muscles bearing down in a spasm of ecstasy that seemed to go on for minutes, and then continuing to shudder with pleasure as he continued until his whole body stiffened and he cried out with his own orgasm.

She wanted to lie with him and enjoy the physical closeness, or continue their joining indefinitely - she hadn't been with him in what seemed in retrospect like a small eternity, and she'd missed him as badly as she'd missed joining itself. Their Q essences could have stayed joined for days, weeks, months, even years... in fact she and M had once made love for ten thousand years straight, a feat that was impressive even by Q standards... but they had things to do, and prisons to escape, and she could feel that he was strong enough now to back her up as they got free of this place. So she got to her feet, using a trickle of power to clean herself off.

"So what's your plan for getting out of here?" her Q asked as he got up. "Not that I don't feel much better with some power back, but we're still at the bottom of a dimensional well that's binding us in matter, we're still surrounded by the M Continuum, and if I recall correctly we have half a dozen gates to get through."

"Simple," Q said, and summoned the weapon the inventor had given her. Q weapons existed in the mind until brought into existence by Q will; she had dispersed the weapon before they'd allowed her into the prison, but now that she had access to power she could make it again easily enough. M's eyes went wide and terrified as Q strode over to her and hauled her up, snapping the connector between wrists and ankles so M could stand, though not walk. She spun M around, lifted the other entity's smaller physical form around the waist with one arm, and put the weapon - now in the shape of a dagger - to M's throat with the other hand. "We have a hostage."

"Remind me to stop making you mad," her ex said.

"As if you could. You'd have to quit existing." M kicked, thrashing her bound legs. "Would you like to find out what happens to your M essence if I start cutting your physical form with this weapon? It's tuned especially to M energy," Q said, and M went still.

"That thing cuts M essence?" her Q asked.

"Yes. And no, I'm not going to let you kill her."

"Why would I even want to? She's going to remember you holding a dagger to her throat for eternity; I would never want her to miss out on that. No, give me the weapon so I can cut down this damn door. It's made of M essence too."

"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that." She touched his mind, gave him the knowledge of the weapon.

"Nice," he said, manifesting one of his own. "Okay, here goes." He sawed at the first gate until the energies lost cohesion and the whole thing dissolved into raw M energy, chaotic around them. Q waited until the raw energy was done spilling everywhere before stepping through; she didn't want to risk that M would be able to grab the energy and convert it to use in unbinding herself.

They were faced by the M escort who had brought Q here. "What have you done?" one of them asked, horrified.

"Nothing in comparison to what I'm going to do if you don't take us both out of here this picosecond," Q snapped. "This weapon is tuned to M essence; you couldn't possibly disarm me, no matter how much force you brought to bear, before I could slice a fatal wound in M here."

"Free her mouth," the same M demanded.

"Why, so she can tell you all about how she spectacularly failed to contain us? Save the post-operation review for later. I'm not freeing any part of M until Q and I are out of this well."

Another of the M said, sullenly, "Very well. Follow us. But if you harm her, we will kill you."

"And if you kill us, the Q Continuum will declare war on you, and we have these M-killing weapons as well as the ranged weapons we invented to use on each other, and those will work on M also. So I don't think you're the one with bargaining power here."

"I'm beginning to remember why I fell in love with you in the first place," her Q murmured.

He had spent years telling all and sundry that he hated her, that when she had hurt their son by walking out on both of them she had done something unforgivable and he would despise her for eternity. Hearing him say he remembered why he loved her made her almost want to weep with relief. She couldn't acknowledge him, though - as long as they were surrounded by the M she couldn't show any weakness at all.

As they rose through the gates, she felt her strength returning, the full range of her Q abilities. The binding that held her to matter fell away, and her full telepathy returned... her ability to sense and channel energy had returned long ago when M had restored it to her so they could have sex, but the available energy she felt all around her increased exponentially, until they were out of the well and in the M Continuum, in the vestibule that she had first been allowed into.

The M surrounded them, and while none of them carried weapons, they all carried their rage and hate. Anger was a weapon, when wielded by the Q or the M... enough Q hating one other Q could kill the one they hated, and the same was true of conflict between Q and M. Without their Continuum here to bolster them, the two Q were incredibly vulnerable. The anger that they were escaping and that they dared hold an M hostage beat at the two of them.

"This doesn't look good," her Q murmured.

"Just follow my lead. I'll get us home." Aloud she said, "Were you going to open up a path for us out of your Continuum, or did you want us to demonstrate the weapon?"

"You have betrayed M. Again," one of the M said... M's gag must no longer be blocking her ability to commune with her fellows. "You used her love for you to free a Q that frankly deserves to rot in a hole... along with you. You are, even now, threatening her with violence. Do you seriously think we will let you free?"

"Do you really want to know how many M I can kill with this thing before you bring me down?"

"You would be no less dead."

"I'm not afraid of death," she said, sneering at them.

"I don't think your companion would agree."

"What, are you asking me?" her Q said. "Listen, I'm all in favor of life... but not life in an eternal prison. I have a hard enough time not being bored when I'm free. If I have a choice between surrendering peacefully and being thrown down in a hole to rot for eternity, or killing a few of you and dying in a blaze of glory... you know, much as it pains me, I have to admit the blaze of glory sounds a lot more entertaining."

And then M snapped the bonds on her wrists, twisted, and smashed power into Q, throwing her backwards. The rest of her bonds vanished. At the same time, Q felt power descending on her from all around, trying to pin her... and the M had already blocked her ability to teleport while she was in their Continuum.

She lashed around her with the dagger, now a sword. Tuned to M energy, it cut at the webs of power that were falling around her, and the shock reverberated through the M who were attacking her. They weren't used to pain; the shock stunned them, and she lunged at M, who teleported... directly behind her, and grabbed her with the full force of the M Continuum behind her. Q struggled, but M held firm, pinning her in place.

"We cannot permit either of them to exist in this universe!" M screamed. "They twist everything they touch; they poison their own Continuum, and they intend to poison ours. We need to destroy them!"

The fiery rage that had killed M in the surreal world of the ending universe was the way Q or M died by the rage and hate of others of their kind. She had self-immolated, her rage somehow directed back at herself, but here in the M Continuum, the rage she felt and the rage she was stirring up among the other M would most certainly be turned on Q and her lover, and they would die of it. Eventually.

I want another child... with a Q I don't love like him, a Q who can't hurt me like he does, so I can focus on my child's needs and do what I have to for them and I don't have the hurt he can inflict on me clouding the issue. I want to see my son again, and bring his father back to him alive, so he knows at least I care that much. I want... I want Q to live, even if he really does hate me. Even if I die to save him. I don't want him to die. ...honestly, I'd rather not die myself either... not this way, not now.

"Oh, get over yourself," she snarled. "Yes, I broke your heart. It happens. He breaks mine all the damn time, and I've lived through it. I'm not an enemy who's going to destroy all life in the universe and permanently warp both Continuums just because I'm a bitch who broke up with you."

"Destroy the universe?" M called out to her fellows. "I remember now! It wasn't a dream... the M can't dream, and we can't hallucinate. The universe came to an end, and it was their fault!"

"Actually, the universe not coming to an end is my fault," her Q said. "The universe coming to an end was due to the source of all creation getting bored with it. Or something like that. Honestly, I'm shocked you're all willing to admit you remember it! The Q are completely in denial, but then, they tried to throw a party when the universe was ending, and I guess I'd be in denial too if I did something as useless as that."

The attention of the M Continuum overmind bore down on her Q. "YOU KNOW OF THIS? YOU REMEMBER THE UNIVERSE ENDING?"

"In painful detail," her Q said. "Including your M's ridiculous behavior when she accused me of bringing the universe to an end... as if I could possibly have that kind of power."

"You did! It was your fault! I remember it!" M shouted. "You even admitted to it!"

"Now you're just making things up. Not only did I not admit to it, but you had me gagged at the time, so I couldn't admit to the things I did do if I'd been so inclined. You know, this gagging me thing is starting to look like something of a fetish. How about the rest of you? Does she like tying you up and gagging you too, or do I get to be the only lucky one?"

He had successfully disrupted the concentration of the M overmind, amused enough of them and confused enough of the others that they couldn't focus single-minded hatred on the two Q anymore. "Don't listen to him!" M screamed. "I gag him because he does nothing but lie, all the time, and if you listen to him you're lost!"

She was not paying nearly enough attention to her grip on Q. Q twisted free, manifested her blade and shoved it into M's side. "You're lost anyway," she said.

M screamed. Q pinned her down, blade digging into her. All the attention of the M Continuum was back on her now. "This," she said, not looking up at the M massed around her but staring down into the eyes of her victim, "is a flesh wound. It will heal before long. But if I go deeper, I can cut into her essence and start to tear apart who she is. You could destroy me, but your M would be dead. Now, given that we've adequately proven that her nonsense about how dangerous Q and I are to the balance of the multiverse or something like that comes entirely from the fact that she's insane, and she really needed you all to notice how damaged she was and do something to help her instead of letting her enact her sick fantasies on a couple of hapless Q, I'm going to give you a choice.

"You're going to open the gate and let us leave here, and I'm going to leave you with a bleeding M who will survive, heal, and possibly even recover her sanity if any of you can be bothered to help her. Or, you're not going to open the gate, I'm going to slice her open, and then I'm going to cut up as many M as I can take out before I die. And when Q and I are dead, the Q Continuum will declare war on you, and they will bring mortals with more of these weapons. You won't be able to see them - mortals are infinitesimal in a Continuum, and the Q Continuum could easily bring over millions of them and bring them into combat, armed with these. And by the time you've adapted to war, the Q will have already destroyed most of you. Because we already adapted to war. We've fought one, recently. You haven't. We already have weapons that can kill you. You don't have weapons calibrated for us. So you are not going to win.

"What's it going to be?"

"Don't worry about me," M moaned. "Kill her. Kill both of them. Please."

The final gate opened, allowing both of the Q to sense the path back out into the matter universe. "Our sister... is damaged. You're right," one of the M said sadly. "Of course, you and the other Q did most of the damage, and for that I would like to make you suffer... but there's no point. Hurting you won't help her." He pointed. "Get out of here, both of you, before we all change our minds."

Her Q teleported first. Q looked down at M's tortured expression, the pain of Q's dagger mirroring the pain Q had caused to her heart and soul. "I am sorry," she whispered. "Not that it helps. But I am sorry."

And she was gone.

In the matter universe, they paused only nanoseconds to get their bearings before returning to the Continuum... but instead of returning to the main body of the Continuum, where everyone would instantly sense their return, they appeared in her Q's workroom, his own quasi-sealed personal space. Information would diffuse out of here and let everyone know that they were back, before long... but they had time for a moment alone.

"You came for me," her Q said, wonderingly. "Honestly, I really didn't think you would. I hoped someone might, but I never expected it to be you."

"You should have," Q said to him. "It doesn't matter how often you hurt me, does it? I've always come back. And I've always come for you, when anything other than the full Continuum is threatening you."

"Yeah, but when the full Continuum is threatening me you join in and vote for me to be thrown out, along with all the others. Thanks, sweetheart, you know I've never forgotten that."

"I had to. I couldn't let my personal feelings change the way I voted."

"I would have."

"You didn't, when Amanda's parents were put to the vote."

He was silent for a moment. "I would have for you. They were my friends, but... you were... you."

"And I'm not me anymore?"

He shook his head. "Q... you crossed a line. I'm sorry. I wish I could forgive you, but I can't. You hurt Junior, horribly, and I had to deal with the years of him asking me why Mom left and was it his fault and why did you hate him. And you've never, in all this time, apologized to him, or told him you care about him, or done anything to indicate that you weren't deadly serious when you said I'd ruined him and you were disowning both of us. And I can forgive anything you do to me, but I can't forgive that. Because you did it to him."

She was not used to such a straightforward admission of anything from him. He was her trickster, her Q; he danced around the truth, used sarcasm and hyperbole, told wild stories, and in general never said anything flat out when he could imply it. Which worked among the Q largely because they were telepathic with each other and usually knew what each other wanted to say anyway, but now that they'd escaped, his shields were back full force and she couldn't bring herself to leave hers open, to him or any Q, either. Perhaps he'd learned that when they couldn't talk to each other the way the Q were more accustomed to, he had to be straightforward.

She responded with equal bluntness. "You love him more than you ever loved me, don't you."

"Yeah. Yeah, I do. I'm... kind of surprised that you don't, actually. I mean, I thought that was how it worked."

"I... can't." She looked away. "What you let him turn into... I can't love that. He's like you were, but with all of my violence, and as jaded as if he'd lived as long as we have."

"You aren't even giving him a chance. He'll be a great Q someday. He's just... got growing to do."

"I can't," she repeated. "Maybe someday."

"Someday's gonna be too late. He doesn't live on the timescale we do. Forever hasn't happened for him yet. Everything that happens now is the first time and it will shape the way he thinks for the rest of eternity."

"He hates me."

"He wants to hate you. That hardly means he really does. But do you expect him to show you any weakness when you ripped his heart to shreds and stomped on it when he was barely out of babyhood? He'll never tell you he doesn't hate you, let alone that he wants you to love him."

They could feel the pressure of curious minds turning their way, other Q beginning to notice that they had come home. "So I can descend into a pit to save you, but you still can't forgive me, because our son and I don't get along."

He snorted. "If it was just that you don't get along... he and I don't get along, most of the time. But... yeah. I'm... surprised you came for me, and I admit, I'm pleased about it, and... I want you. You know that, I'm sure, after we had to take time out from our escape plans to knock boots. But it's not enough. As long as he thinks you despise him, it's never going to be enough. You can save me or not save me, but it doesn't matter what you feel about me or what you do about it. As long as you're hurting him, that's what matters to me."

"I... can't."

"Then neither can I."

She turned away. "Go greet your adoring public. I'm going back to my game."

"You go do that," he said, and she was gone.

She didn't return to the game, though. The things she had thought when she was trying to seduce M so she could turn the tables on her, the things she had thought when she'd been facing death in the M Continuum... she wanted a second chance. She wanted a child who would love her. Who she wouldn't end up hurting so terribly because she kept making mistakes and she couldn't fight back against the pain the only Q she'd ever loved caused her without her child getting caught in the crossfire.

Her older sister figure, the Q who had tried to come with her... she wanted a child. She'd always wanted one, and she'd spent a billion years studying how mortals raised their children. And Q liked her, even loved her as her friend and sister, but she didn't feel anything like the destructive, possessive, agonizing love she felt for her ex, the love that hurt more often than it brought joy and yet she couldn't stop feeling it.

It was time she rejoined her own Continuum, Q thought. Her ex... her Q... wouldn't forgive her. Not now, maybe not ever. Because their son had to forgive her first, and she wasn't sure she could forgive their son for turning into the juvenile delinquent he'd become, and he certainly wouldn't forgive her if she couldn't bring herself to forgive him.

But there was an entire Continuum around her, and they didn't all hate her for her acts in ending the war. She still had friends. The Q were still her family, whatever else might be true.

The Q who loved children would, of course, be bringing Q's son to see her ex, and both of them would be happy to see him alive and safe in their own Continuum. But when they were done, when her son was with her ex and the Q who loved children had left them both, Q decided, she would go to her and offer to make a baby with her. They both wanted one, and it was obvious that the fertility goddess probably should have been the first Q to have a baby anyway, not the trickster or the goddess of war.

As for her ex, and her son... eternity was a very long time, and no Q could hold a grudge forever, not against another Q at any rate. Someday they'd probably be able to reconcile. She had time. She could wait.