Notes: Set in the same universe as my story "Options"; this story makes references to that and to the Pocket Books novel "I, Q" by Peter David and John de Lancie. Warning: Contains non-consensual f/f sexual molestation and non-explicit consensual m/f sex, although nothing both explicit and consummated.

A Tale of Two Q

A few years ago, Janeway would never have been able to pick up any evidence of Q being distracted. His performance of being a human male was normally only flawed by being flawless - he ate in her company, but he never slept, he never stank, he never looked mussed or rumpled unless they'd just had sex and he hadn't snapped his clothes back on yet, he never seemed to experience pain or discomfort... and he was never visibly distracted, never showed any sign of being anything other than completely involved with her and what they were doing. It was all an act, of course; she knew that. Or rather, his human appearance was all an act, and his ability to put that on involved the ability to hide from her any emotional state he wanted to hide from her. Even when he spent two hours bitching about parenthood and the challenges of raising his son before he got around to coming on to her, or acknowledging that she was coming on to him, he always presented the appearance of being completely focused on her once they were actually having sex.

She wasn't even exactly sure what was tipping her off that he wasn't entirely with her, right now. Fractions of a second longer in his response time? Fleeting moments when she'd expect his eyes to be focused on her, and instead they seemed focused on nothing, on a point in space behind her, as if she was momentarily invisible to him? It didn't impact his technique any - one thing about Q, irritating though he could be, was that anything he'd decided to do well, he did really well, and that included sex. But after she was spent, thoroughly sated, lying next to him on her bed, she brought it up. "Q... is there something bothering you?"

"Why? Is there something you'd rather I'd done? You seemed pretty pleased with my latest endeavors a moment ago."

"Don't get defensive. I'm not saying the sex wasn't great." She sat up. "I just... it feels like you're distracted. Like you're not as focused as usual... not as much here, with me. If that makes any sense."

"You do realize I'm capable of being in a dozen different places at once and demonstrating as much singularity of focus in each location as any human would be capable of."

"Yes, I know, which is why I thought maybe something was bothering you. For you to be distracted enough that I could notice it, with your powers, I thought maybe there was something serious on your mind. Problems with Junior?"

He sighed. "No more than usual. Well, yes, actually, more problems with Junior than usual, but he's not the real problem." Q rolled over on his side, facing her instead of the ceiling, but he was looking down at the bed he was lying on instead of up at her face. "It's Q, actually."

"Which one?"

"Which one is it ever? My companion. Junior's mother. You know which Q I'm talking about."

Janeway frowned. She'd thought Q's companion had broken up with him years ago; when Q had first come to her to offer her a no-strings sexual relationship, right after Seven had told Janeway that Chakotay had proposed to her, she had turned him down on the grounds that she didn't want to offend his existing omnipotent lover, and he'd insisted that she wouldn't be offended. The female Q had shown up later to tell Janeway that she didn't want Q anymore and Janeway could have him. And to claim that she'd never been jealous, although none of her behavior had matched the claim. And to leave him tied to the bed in Janeway's quarters, naked, with bindings that blocked his powers, until Janeway had found him there and let him go with the key the female Q had left with her. It had been pretty obvious that the female Q had been angry at and bitter with Q, and had wanted some kind of revenge, but she'd also more or less thrown Q at Janeway, which had strongly implied that she'd been telling the truth when she'd said she didn't want him anymore and Janeway could have him. "I know about her, yes."

Q sat up, but still didn't look at Janeway. "You've had your share of lovers and friends having emotional breakdowns," he said. Which stung, slightly, because he said it in his usual abrasively dismissive tone, and he knew better. Chakotay's mental illness, the deep depression that had claimed him when Seven and their unborn daughter had died and he'd felt them die through the link Seven's nanites had established between them, was more than an 'emotional breakdown', and after a year Janeway was beginning to believe Chakotay would never be well again. But Q continued, making it obvious he wasn't making some kind of sarcastic point about Chakotay. "What do you do when someone you care about... what do you do when they're obviously hurting, and you know why, but they won't admit to it, and they won't let you help, and all they do is pick fights with you?"

"You can't help someone if they don't want to be helped," Janeway said. "But you can be there for them; you can let them know that if they need someone to talk to, you're there."

"She knows that. She doesn't seem to be interested in talking about it."

Janeway had to admit to an overwhelming curiosity as to what could possibly do emotional damage to a Q, if fighting a war hadn't done it. "Is the problem something you can explain to me? Maybe I could help you figure out what she needs."

"I don't know." He got to his feet, still naked, and paced Janeway's bedroom. "Do you remember the universe ending, Kathy?"

Janeway blinked. "By definition, I don't see how I could remember a thing like that. If the universe had ended, I wouldn't be here."

"I didn't say did you remember the universe having ended. The process of ending doesn't necessarily result in an end. Just like dying doesn't always result in death, if your marginally competent holo-doctor manages to intervene in time."

"Well... no, I don't remember the universe appearing to be ending, either." Although she'd had a bizarre dream about the universe ending, where she'd been on a space station packed with people chanting the word 'No', and she'd believed that if she could just find her crew and make her way back to Voyager, she and her crew could escape the impending destruction of everything, and all she had needed to do was find Seven and everything would be all right. And then she'd remembered that Seven was dead, and her fury and grief had led her to hunt down the Borg Queen and start a fight with her, a hand-to-hand combat, not even caring if the Queen managed to assimilate her because she'd just refused to believe that she could possibly be assimilated. And the Queen had been shouting at her that it was all Janeway's fault that the universe was ending, because the Borg could have prevented it if only Janeway hadn't kept standing in their way, and why wouldn't she acknowledge the futility of resistance? And then Janeway's mother had appeared, smiling sadly at her, and said, "I'm sorry. It'll be all right now," and then Janeway had woken up. "I had a strange dream about it a few weeks ago, but I doubt that means anything."

"Oh, it means more than you know," Q said. "All of that really happened."

"All of what?"

"Your dream. Everything. The universe nearly ended, and everyone I've talked to about it was there, and they all remember it as a dream. Except the Q, because we don't dream. So most of the Q have just told me, flat out, it didn't happen. But Junior remembers it, and I do, and I know Q remembered it, right after it happened... but she claims now she doesn't."

"Why would she tell you she doesn't if she does?"

He shook his head. "She died, Kathy. The ground opened up and swallowed her, and she's never told me why - she said she had nothing, she wouldn't even believe that I was alive and talking to her, she just... she didn't fight, she didn't do anything to stop it. She just let herself die. And she won't tell me why. She won't even admit that it happened. But I know she must remember something, because she won't touch me, she won't join with me, she barely even talks to me and when she does, she's always picking a fight about Junior. Or about something. But mostly Junior."

"I don't understand why she's still here if she died. I thought you told me once, the Q can't bring the Q back to life."

"It wasn't us. Well, not directly. I don't... the whole thing makes no sense, Kathy, so I'm not even going to try to explain it. If I can't make sense of it, what hope do you have? Just take my word for it. The universe didn't end, and everyone who died when it was ending was alive again and everything returned back to normal, and most of you only remember it as a dream. So Q is alive, even though she died, and P- the mortals I was with when the universe was ending are alive even though they died, and as nearly as I've been able to tell everyone who died is alive again, but it doesn't matter. I'm pretty sure Q still remembers it. And whatever killed her, whatever made her despair so terribly that she let herself just give up and die... it's still inside her. But she won't tell me anything about it, or admit anything's wrong. We haven't even had sex since the incident. Which I suppose goes without saying, because Q sex involves joining minds and if she had sex with me I'd know what was wrong with her, but let me tell you, it's been playing holy hell with what's left of our romantic life."

"Wait a minute." Janeway frowned. "You told me that you and she had broken up."

"When did I say that?"

"Before I ever slept with you," Janeway retorted dryly. "You and your companion both assured me that she had left you, that you weren't still together, and that I wouldn't be infringing on your relationship if you and I became involved."

Q scowled. "I think maybe you misunderstood. You wouldn't have been infringing on our relationship in any case, because the Q don't have exclusive relationships. Besides, that was three thousand years ago."

"It was four years for me," Janeway pointed out.

"Well, I've been all over the timeline. How can I be bothered to keep track of something trivial like when I told you that Q and I were having difficulties? And besides, I never promised you monogamy. This was only supposed to be friendly, mutual fun. I thought we agreed on that."

"We did." Janeway got off the bed, grabbed a night smock and pulled it over her head, uncomfortable with having arguments while naked. "This isn't about me, Q. She's your wife. Or the closest equivalent the Q have. And you can both tell me until the cows come home that the Q don't practice monogamy, but I did not imagine the jealousy she expressed when you asked me to have your child, and I didn't imagine the bitterness and anger she demonstrated when she talked to me about you and told me I could have you. Whether your culture accepts it or not, Q feels jealousy when you have sex with mortal women, and I'm not going to be the other woman here. I'm not going to sleep with a man who's in a committed relationship with the woman who had his child, no matter what he says, unless I'm certain from talking to her that it doesn't bother her. And I'm absolutely sure it does bother her, and the only reason I was willing to take up with you was that she said she didn't want you anymore and then practically threw you at me. If the two of you got back together, then the honorable thing for me to have done was to end our sexual relationship. After all, if we're really friends with benefits, then we can remain friends without the benefits. Right?"

Q shook his head. "You're indulging Q's perversion because it happens to match one your culture values. A Q should not be jealous, not of a mortal at any rate, and you're just pandering to Q's irrational emotional state because you're an inferior being from an inferior culture that actually thinks it's acceptable to own another sentient being's sexuality."

"If she's really having emotional problems right now, Q, don't you think she might benefit from a little pandering to emotional needs you think are irrational? Maybe she needs you to be paying attention to her, not me. And I'm angry that you put me in the position of being the other woman when I explicitly told you I didn't want to be there. Q has a prior claim on you; if she wants you to be exclusive with her, I can't make you do it, but I can at least keep you from violating her wants with me."

"Q has no prior claim on me!" Q threw up his hands in frustration. "Qs can't claim each other! Only the Continuum can own a Q! The whole way you think about this is ridiculous and utterly ethnocentric!"

"You're the more advanced being here," Janeway said tightly. "Therefore, by the ideals of the Prime Directive, I don't have to conform to your cultural ideals, Q; you have to conform to mine."

"Except I'm not a member of your Federation and I never signed on to obey your Prime Directive."

"Let me rephrase that," she said sharply. "I have to conform to my culture, and I'm under no obligation to conform to yours, since you're more advanced than me. You can do what you want, but you're not going to be doing it in my bed."

Q stared at her. "You're breaking up with me because Q and I managed to resolve the difficulties we were having three thousand years ago in my timeline? Don't you realize how absurd that sounds?"

"It was four years of my time, and I'm not breaking up with you, Q. We were never a couple in the first place, remember? Just friendly, mutual fun, isn't that what you said? Well, it's no fun for me to imagine myself as a homewrecker. Go back to your Q wife and attend to her problems. Don't have sex with a different woman and then hit her up for advice on how to deal with your wife's nervous breakdown. I can't imagine that doing her any good whatsoever."

"Q isn't my wife. You realize this."

"Close enough, Q. She's the person who had your child, the person you've been romantically involved with for millions of years... I don't think there's anything else I could call her that wouldn't belittle her role in your life. She needs you, and more importantly, she needs you to not be screwing around on her right now."

"Oh, and you know what she needs so well. Kathryn Janeway, Ph. D. in Q psychology. When did you become an expert on what a Q needs?"

"I'm not an expert on what anyone needs. But you came to me for advice? That's my advice. You know damn well it hurts her when you have relationships with mortals; if you and she had broken up permanently, she'd have gotten over it eventually, and you're not responsible for how someone who dumped you feels about your new romantic partners anyway, but if she took you back you were supposed to tell me so, not act like nothing had changed."

"Nothing did change! Q and I separate every few hundred years, and we always end up resolving things and getting back together. Eventually. This is completely normal for the Q. You insist on looking at us as if we're human."

"Well, and when she dumps you again, if she tells me she's done it I might consider sleeping with you again, but I plainly can't trust anything you say on the subject, and I won't be your dish on the side while you cheat on your son's mother , Q. I don't care who you sleep with, I know this was never supposed to be an exclusive relationship, but I won't be..." The word she wanted to use was poaching, but given Q's reaction when she mentioned the other Q's claim on him, she realized she couldn't use any language that implied that Q was the female Q's property. "I won't be intruding on a connection like that. I won't be breaking up a family. Junior needs his mother, and his mother, apparently, needs you to actually pay attention to her needs right now. As Junior's godmother, the best thing I can do for him is let you go so you can focus on Q right now."

"I've been focusing on Q. It hasn't been helping. Did you miss the part where I said she won't talk to me?"

Janeway sighed in exasperation. "Did it ever occur to you that if she's angry at you because she's jealous of me, and the Q don't, generally, acknowledge that such an emotion is valid, so she can't even admit her anger to you... that she's not going to open up to you? Give her what she needs, Q. Even if you don't think she should need it."

It wasn't going to help, she thought. She knew something Q didn't know. He'd come to her out of temporal sequence - he and Junior had come to visit her over four years ago, before Seven and Chakotay had started dating, and at that time, Junior had been a late adolescent, the equivalent of a human fifteen or sixteen year old. They'd both told her then that Junior's mother had disowned them both. She wanted to believe that Q could reconcile his differences with Junior's mother - as little as she liked the other Q personally, she was the boy's mother, and it would be better for him if she could reconcile with his father, and besides, it was obvious that Q loved her, even if he was fairly incompetent at demonstrating it. But she didn't think it was going to happen, unless the Q had immunities to temporal paradox that mere mortals lacked.

Q hadn't wanted to be "spoiled" for the future, so he had refused any information about the incident that was in his future and her past, and thus he didn't know how things were going to end up. It was odd, to find herself in a position where she knew more about anything than Q, let alone Q's own future. But in the absence of information suggesting that it would be safe to disregard it, she had to act as if the Temporal Prime Directive was as necessary in dealing with the Q as it was anywhere else. So she had to give Q the advice she would have given him otherwise, even though she strongly suspected it wouldn't help. Besides, whether it repaired his relationship with the other Q or not, Janeway really was angry at him for not letting her know that he had gotten back together with the mother of his child. She knew they were alien and they didn't think of things the way humans did all the time, but in her culture there were very, very nasty words for a person who had sex with a person who was in a committed relationship with the other parent of their child, and who thus jeopardized the security of that child's family unit, and she didn't want to be in that position even inadvertently. Sex with Q was fun, but not worth compromising her personal morality for.

Q sighed, heavily. "You're barking up the wrong tree, and I strongly suspect you know it. Your 'advice' isn't about helping Q at all, it's about not feeling bad about yourself because you insist on imagining Q as my wife, and you don't want to be involved with a married man, as if either term could possibly ever apply to me. But fine. I can see you're not going to change your mind, and I can see you're not actually going to be any help to me, so I will take my leave of you until you can behave like a reasonable sentient being again." He vanished, more abruptly than usual. If it was possible for the light and sound effect his teleports made to have the character of stomping off in a huff, he had managed it, with a shorter and brighter light flare and a louder 'fwoosh' than his teleports were usually associated with.

Janeway got dressed. There was no chance she could sleep after this. Time to check up on her bridge.

Nothing unusual happened for another week.

The Doctor tried another treatment for Tuvok, who had been forced to admit to the degenerative brain disease he was suffering from only two months earlier. It was impossible to tell so soon if the new treatment would have an effect. Chakotay had a few good days in which he functioned as well as he ever had, offering Janeway some good insight about some personality conflicts in the Science division and even laughing at one of Tom's jokes, and then had a day where he came on shift four hours late and acted like a zombie, so the Doctor had to adjust his treatment as well. Lieutenant Kim showed good initiative in covering for Chakotay when Tuvok was with the Doctor, Janeway was in a meeting with Tuvok's second in command in Security, and alien traders showed up while Chakotay had the bridge, and Kim negotiated a meeting for Janeway and himself with the traders to discuss taking on supplies, despite the fact that Chakotay was so deep in one of his black moods he could barely muster up the will to speak.

Janeway met with Chakotay, who promised to do better. She wasn't sure she believed him. No, be accurate - she was sure she didn't believe him, because it wasn't a matter of him summoning up more will. If the Doctor couldn't figure out some treatment that would allow Chakotay to be functional most of the time, she was going to have to ask him to step down as first officer. And the idea horrified her, because Chakotay was one of her best friends, and his illness wasn't his fault - he'd been mentally linked to Seven through a connection forged by her nanites when the Borg Queen had sent a self-destruct command to Seven's nanites, and they had killed her, and done damage to Chakotay's brain. He wasn't just grieving for his wife and unborn daughter; he wasn't even just reacting to the fact that he'd been linked to Seven's mind and he'd felt her die. He was actually injured, the brain damage that the Borg had caused him giving him a severe case of clinical depression, and Janeway knew he couldn't just will himself better. It seemed awful that after he'd lost so much she might have to take from him the work that gave his life meaning... but the first officer of the ship needed to be able to respond to anything, on short notice, and Chakotay couldn't, and if the Doctor couldn't find a way to arrest the progress of Tuvok's disease, Tuvok wouldn't be able to cover for him much longer.

Maybe... maybe Harry would be all right with being unofficially the second officer for a while longer, as Tuvok had been unofficially the first officer for some time. Really, sooner or later Janeway was going to have to promote Harry to Lieutenant Commander and make him the official second officer, or the official first officer, unless the Doctor found ways to save Chakotay and Tuvok. But while Tuvok would understand the logic and accept it, it would hurt Chakotay to have Harry Kim promoted into his place. It would hurt him to have anyone promoted into his place, but he'd accept it being Tuvok because of Tuvok's extensive experience. Harry... they all remembered Harry being a green, wet behind the ears ensign. Of course, in eleven years in the Delta Quadrant, Harry had grown up a lot.

Tom wasn't a choice. Maybe for second officer if Harry was first, but even now, eleven years into the Delta Quadrant and four years into fatherhood, Tom was an impulsive, seat-of-the-pants decision maker who made a great leader in a combat situation but didn't have it in him to take the long view, and didn't seem to want to, either. Besides, Tom was turning into a damn good medic, and actually showing signs that Janeway could have the Doctor groom him to specialize in counseling, and after eleven years in the Delta Quadrant with no end to the journey in sight and their first officer dying by inches of grief and depression, the Voyager crew seriously needed a counselor. And B'Elanna remained uninterested in leading anything other than her engineering department. Maybe Megan Delaney could move up to Harry's position if Harry was promoted; it was a bit unusual to have science division turn command track, but Janeway herself had done it and Voyager had been a science vessel anyway.

But she didn't have to make a decision yet. She could give the Doctor more time to work his magic on Chakotay and Tuvok. A few more weeks, at least.

It was just so goddamn lonely.

If it had been anyone other than Chakotay and Tuvok, she could have talked to them about her dilemmas, but they were her confidantes, her first and second officers, her friends and equals. The Doctor couldn't just be a listening board; he had to offer advice when people came to him with problems, it was in his programming, and given that he was a doctor and had only eleven years of life experience outside of his medical programming, everything to him was medical. His suggestions would be for her to get more sleep, or take vitamin supplements, or he'd spend all their time explaining the esoteric details of his theories about Chakotay and Tuvok's respective illnesses and how he hoped to be able to cure them. Neelix was gone, no longer even in reasonable comm signal distance. Tom and Harry and B'Elanna weren't kids any more, but they weren't at her level, either, and she couldn't turn to them with her problems.

Seven was dead.

Seven would have had suggestions. They might have been terrible suggestions, but they would have been suggestions. For all that Seven had been her protege, almost a daughter to her, Seven had also never been shy about giving advice about anything at all to people who were older than her, more powerful than she was, more experienced, or with higher status. Maybe because her role in the Borg Cube had been to crunch numbers and run simulations to directly advise the Queen, as one of only nine Tertiary Adjuncts to the Unimatrix. But she was gone.

And now Janeway had thrown Q out.

Q had never been the most reliable of friends and lovers, but he'd been somebody, at least. He'd shown up on his own schedule, not necessarily when she most felt she needed someone to talk to, and he hadn't always quite known how to be a sounding board and offer her advice and sympathy without also being abrasive, or trying to fix her problems for her, or being overly confrontational, challenging, or insulting. After Seven's death, he hadn't shown up at all for entirely too long, because he hadn't known how to handle counseling a mortal through grief and he hadn't been allowed by the Continuum to stop Seven's death in the first place. But since Tuvok had reluctantly admitted to his brain disorder and left Janeway with no one else on Voyager to talk to - since she couldn't very well burden Tuvok by talking to him about how much she would suffer from his disease, and she had to do her best to be a support to him in his need - Q had been showing up regularly, once a week or more, as if he'd actually figured out that Janeway the mere human needed a friend to talk to as well as a release from sexual tension.

And Janeway had just thrown him out. In theory, he could come back to talk; Janeway had just told him she didn't want sex, not that she didn't want friendship. In practice, she knew he wouldn't. Q had his pride, and she'd just accused him of hiding information from her so he could cheat on his lover. Even if that didn't match his perception of events at all, he wouldn't like the accusation. She doubted he'd be back any time soon.

So she was extremely startled when, hardly a week after she'd kicked Q out, she walked into her quarters at the end of the day and found herself being kissed.

There'd been no transition, no sense of someone else's body moving into place. One moment she was alone and stepping into her room. The next, someone taller than her had an arm around her waist and was holding her tightly, while a mouth was pressed against hers, tongue pushing into her mouth. The lights were off in her quarters, so she couldn't see who it was, and it was obvious that it had to be Q except that there was something different, something not like him, about the body pressed against hers. She'd also thought that she knew Q well enough to know he wouldn't do something like this anymore, although she could be wrong about that. Janeway shoved at the person kissing her with all of her strength, her hands pushing in between herself and the other and then forcefully pushing at the other's chest. What met her hands was too soft to be Q's chest. "Lights!" Janeway shouted as soon as she was free enough of the other's grasp to use her mouth.

It was Q, just not the Q she'd invited into her bed. The female Q smirked down at her mockingly. That was what had been tipping her off that it wasn't Q, Janeway realized; the other woman's hair had been brushing against her cheek. Her Q's hair was short, and he despised facial hair on humans, unless he really needed it for some game he was playing.

"What the hell are you doing?" Janeway snapped, out of breath and furious.

"I thought that was obvious," the Q said. "Surely Q's introducing you to the pleasures of sex with a noncorporeal being didn't overwhelm you so thoroughly that you forgot what it's like to kiss another corporeal body."

Janeway took a deep breath. "My sex life with Q isn't any more your business than your sex life with him is mine. And I don't recall ever telling you that you could kiss me."

"You let him," the Q pointed out. "Enjoyed it quite a bit from what I could tell. And then you threw him out because you were somehow worried about offending me, but you haven't stopped wanting him. Well, I certainly couldn't possibly be offended if you had sex with me, so you have no motive to throw me out, and I can do anything he can do."

This was not something Janeway had expected. "I don't want you."

"Why not?" She flashed, and re-appeared in her mate's form. "I can look exactly like him, if you'd prefer. Or would you rather-" Another flash, and Mark stood before her, not the middle-aged Mark she got video communications from on occasion or even the early-forty-something Mark who had kissed her goodbye when she'd left to take Voyager out for the first time, but the young man who'd been her good friend and had promised to love her forever. "Or if you're over him, perhaps this will push your buttons." And she was Chakotay, healthy and unmarked by Seven's death, but with Chakotay's warm eyes replaced by Q's mocking ones.

"Stop it! I don't care what form you wear, I still know it's you, and I don't want you. And I don't have any idea why you thought I might. I threw Q out because I didn't want him to use me to betray his relationship with you, not because I wanted you instead. Where did you even get that idea?"

Q took back the form Janeway was more familiar with her in. "Any port in a storm, Janeway. When Q came to you, he told you that you had no options except him, and when you recognized the truth of that, you let him into your bed. Well, you still have no options and now you've dumped him. Planning to spend the next eighty years celibate?"

"It's none of your damn business," Janeway snapped, and pushed past the other woman into her quarters. She needed something to help her deal with this crap. "Coffee, black, extra strong," she told the replicator, half expecting Q to do something to interfere. But her coffee came out exactly as she expected it to, and she sipped at it.

"You do realize, I offer the same advantages he did. I'm not under your command, and I can be here when you need someone, no matter how far you travel. And you can hardly claim that you don't want to disrupt my relationship with Q when you have heard him say, repeatedly, that he doesn't believe in monogamy or sexual jealousy and he doesn't think it's possible or desirable for the Q to lay claim to one another that way."

Janeway glared at her visitor. "I didn't sleep with Q because he was my only option. In fact, when he said that, I told him to leave. It wasn't until he made some effort to actually become friends with me, and stopped acting as if I had to fall into his arms just because he's a Q, that we became involved. And I believe I told you all this, a few hours before I found that you'd tied him up naked and powerless in my bed."

"You could hardly have told me all this. You weren't sleeping with him yet."

Janeway massaged her temple. "Look, I understand that you're angry with me. I wouldn't have slept with him if I'd thought you were still involved with him, but you told me you didn't want him anymore, and he said you were leaving him, and my understanding was that the two of you were cooperating for Junior's sake but you weren't still romantically involved. I wouldn't have gotten involved with him if I'd known you still wanted him."

The Q stared at her, and said, finally, "Janeway, there are no words for how stupid you are."

Another deep breath. "How was I expected to know anything about the lives of two Q outside of what you and Junior tell me?"

"That is not why you're stupid. That's ignorance, and ignorance can be resolved with knowledge. Unless, of course, stupidity is involved, in which case no amount of knowledge will help." She was suddenly standing directly in front of Janeway, in Janeway's personal space, with the coffee over on the table instead of in Janeway's hands. "I have considerably more to offer than he does, you know. Well, I'm sure you don't know. But you could stand to gain quite a bit by being... nice to me."

Janeway tried to maneuver away, but the Q had backed her up against her bed, and the only escape was to sit down on it... not a move it seemed like a good idea to make right now. "Q made it clear that the Q aren't allowed to help me."

"He may have fudged the truth just a teeny, tiny bit," the Q said. "It's what he does." She put her arm around Janeway's waist again. Janeway attempted to twist free, and the Q whispered in her ear, "Seven."

The word shocked Janeway motionless - and as soon as she was still, she saw over Q's shoulder the familiar lost sight of her Borg crewwoman, frozen still and blank-eyed as if she were in her regeneration cubicle, dressed in her maternity shipsuit and as pregnant as she'd been the day she'd died, but her skin healthy and pale, her flesh unwithered and hale, none of the marks of the self-destruct command that had turned her body blackened and burned from within... "Stop it," Janeway whispered, but she couldn't tear her eyes away.

"Do you want to go home?" the Q murmured in Janeway's ear. "Do you want to go home with Seven? And her baby? Do you want Chakotay healed? Ask me anything, anything you want. Only love me, and I will give you whatever your heart desires."

"You can't do that," Janeway said, automatically, still staring at Seven. Oh, god, Seven, and what if Q was telling the truth? What if she could do all the things Janeway's Q had said he couldn't do? Did Janeway even have the right to refuse her if it meant Seven could live again? "Q said the Continuum had forbidden it..."

"The Continuum have forbidden him to interfere. He's the head of the freedom faction. He has followers, standards to uphold. He has to prove to the order faction that he can compromise, even on what he most desires, every day, or war will break out again." She was behind Janeway now, lips against Janeway's ear, one arm holding Janeway around the waist and one tracing a line from Janeway's temple down to her collarbone, and then down to her breast and around her nipple. Q's finger seemed to trail electric fire, making Janeway tremble. She had to be using her powers in some way. It had only been a week. Janeway had gone without sex for eight years before she'd taken up with Q and she hadn't reacted like this the first time they'd slept together. She wanted to slap the entity's hand away, but she felt paralyzed, all of her focus on Seven's still form. "But no one cares what I do. And if they did, they'd have no authority to command me. I've already lost everything I can lose; there's nothing the Continuum can do to me. So I can do anything I want."

"They took Q's powers away from him once," Janeway argued, her breathing ragged. "They could do it to you."

She could hear a ferocious smile in the entity's tone, without turning to look at her. "I invented weapons that let mortals threaten to kill the Q," she said. "I brought a starship full of mortals into the Continuum, when I was powerless. You should remember that, Janeway, it was your starship. They don't dare strip me of my powers. They could kill me, but if I don't commit genocide, there's no crime I could commit now that commands the death penalty, under the new rules. So if I want to make one mortal woman live, and her unborn baby... I can."

Janeway felt simultaneously aroused, furious, and completely out of her depth. She felt used, and she wanted to tear free of the entity's grasp and scream at her to get out. But... home? Healing for Chakotay and Tuvok? Seven? Did she even have the right to reject the Q when the lives and happiness of her crew were at stake? If she gave in and let Q do what she wanted with her, her people could be home and healthy. (And Seven, oh, god, Seven alive again...) As the captain, did she even have the moral right to prioritize her own feelings of anger and humiliation and her desire not to be an object over the well-being of her people?

"What do you want from me?" she asked harshly. "You want me to prostitute myself to you? I can trade you sex for what your power can do for my people, but what do you get out of it, aside from the thrill of demonstrating that you can make me dance to your tune... and doesn't that go without saying, given that you're omnipotent? Don't you think it's pathetic that a being as powerful as you are needs to degrade a mortal with sex?"

"Oh, sex is degrading?" the Q said mockingly, her left hand continuing to caress Janeway's breasts, her right hand dropping from Janeway's waist to between her legs, stroking her through her uniform pants. Janeway clenched her teeth and forced herself to hold still, despite an overwhelming urge to buck and moan. This had to be Q's powers at work. A mere touch hadn't done this to her when she'd been eight years celibate, or when she'd been desperately in love with the one touching her, and she'd never been particularly interested in women and was, at the moment, extremely angry with this Q. There was no reason why a mere sensuous caress should feel so overwhelming, unless Q was using her powers, and that too infuriated Janeway. Her Q had used powers, but only with Janeway's permission, and he'd stopped any time she'd told him to. "You seem to have plenty of it when you have an available partner, for something you find degrading."

"Sex with someone you love is wonderful," Janeway snapped. "Sex with someone you don't like because they're making you an offer you can't refuse is degrading. And it's damn near rape. At the very least it's an abuse of your power."

"You don't love Q."

"No, but I like him. I'm rapidly coming to dislike you." She gasped involuntarily as the Q sucked on her earlobe. All her choices were wrong. Let the Q have her, and hate herself for giving up her integrity and prostituting herself? Refuse, and let Chakotay and Tuvok continue to suffer, make her people continue to struggle onward toward home after eleven years of being lost out here? She'd turned the other Q down once when he'd wanted her to have his child, but that had been as much about not wanting to have a child, or tie her life and destiny permanently to Q, as it had been about sex. Giving in to this Q would harm no one but her, and the harm would only be psychological, since Q seemed much more interested in her pleasure than her pain. "Can you answer me that? Why do you even want this? It's a dominance ploy, and why would you need to prove you can dominate a powerless mortal?"

"I can't genuinely find you attractive, and want your love and affection?"

"Seriously? Unless you're much stupider than I think you are, no. You're powerful and knowledgeable enough to know that coercing a human into sex with you doesn't get you any genuine love or affection."

"But I could make you love me," Q said, and despite the fact that she was still fully clothed, Janeway felt the sensation of a mouth sucking on her nipple, and a tongue licking its way up her thigh. She moaned involuntarily, her knees going weak, and she half-staggered backward in what might have been a full collapse if the Q hadn't been behind her, supporting her. "I made you worship me, remember? Making you love me is a trivial exercise."

"It wouldn't be real," Janeway argued.

"What's real? Is it real when you love your child? You have no idea who that unformed blob of protoplasm is going to turn out to be; you just love them because your hormones make you do it. Is it real when you fall in love with someone you barely know, because they were kind at the right moment and their chemistry links up with yours? Love just hits any of us, out of nowhere. It weakens us and drags us down and we never, ever choose it. Is it less real when I give you a choice? Tell me you'll love me, let me use my powers to make it happen, and I'll give you everything you ever wanted. That's a much better deal than most of us get out of love, isn't it?"

"Why would you want a mortal to love you when you have to bribe them into it?" Janeway gasped. She shouldn't be letting the Q do this to her. The hands on her body, the imaginary mouths moving under her clothes, were overwhelming her, and she couldn't think straight. An increasingly large part of her wanted her to give in so these wonderful sensations would continue to consummation. Normally she'd have no trouble overriding her desires in favor of what she thought she should do, or in favor of maintaining her image as the strong-willed captain. But she was so worn down by the tragedies she and her crew had suffered, and the part of her that wanted to do the right thing, the part that would normally fuel her rejection of inappropriate sex no matter how good it felt, was paralyzed by the thought that maybe the right thing was to take the bribe, save her people, go home. Restore Seven to life.

"Q finds you fascinating," the Q said. "He's utterly obsessed with you and the other human." Invisible tongues were now flicking at Janeway's clit and anus, inside her clothes, and she wanted to swoon into the pleasure. It was so hard to concentrate on what Q was saying rather than what her powers were doing to Janeway. "I thought I'd find out what's so special about you for myself. He's completely besotted with you, and after I've given him all that I am for so long, I think it would be very selfish of him not to share."

And that answered the question, and let Janeway make her decision. "No," she snapped, pulling out of the Q's grasp in a sudden burst of energy. The maddening sensations stopped, leaving her aroused but much better able to think now. "The answer is no. Take your offer, shove it someplace no one will ever see it again, and get off my ship." She faced the Q, shaking. "You want to play a power game with Q, with me as a pawn? Use me to get at him or hurt him somehow? I won't allow myself to be used against a friend, and I don't want me or my ship embroiled in the personal intrigues of the Q. Get out."

The Q folded her arms in front of her chest and looked at Janeway assessingly, as if studying a life form under a microscope. "Interesting," she said. "I'd have expected you to throw the emotional well-being of a Q overboard in a heartbeat if it meant you could accomplish something for the benefit of your crew or your people. You genuinely care about him, don't you?"

"That's not the point," Janeway said. "I do consider Q a friend, but I wouldn't let him use me to harm you, either, and I don't like you."

"You think you're so righteous," Q said. Her tone was more amused than anything else. "But the truth is you're much more like me than you recognize."

"I'm like you?" Janeway wanted to point out that she had never attempted to coerce anyone into sex, but she already knew from her dealings with Q that the Q concept of consent simply didn't recognize power differentials as anything problematic. Q would probably say that the fact that Janeway had said no proved that she could have said no all along and therefore what she'd just done to Janeway hadn't been coercive at all. "Forgive me if I have a hard time seeing the resemblance." Now that she was free of Q's grasp, the unwanted arousal had almost entirely faded, as if it had always been illusory, but she was still shaking with anger and the after-reaction from what Q had done to her.

"Of course you don't," Q said. "You don't know what you're capable of, Janeway."

"And you do?"

"As a matter of fact, yes, I do," the entity said. She unfolded her arms. "Tell me something. Let's say that humanity is dying, the Federation is falling, one of your crew has committed suicide, one is locked in violent battle against the organization you pledged your life to, several of them are lost forever thousands of light years away and you believe you'll never see them again... would you do something you've been forbidden to do, in order to save them?"

Janeway didn't particularly want to entertain the entity's hypothetical, or continue to have a conversation with her at all, but she knew from experience that when you were dealing with the Q, they would leave when they felt like it, and wasting your time demanding that they do so instead of playing along with them usually just extended the time you had to deal with them. "That... would depend on what I'd been forbidden to do."

"If the only way to save them was to go back in time and wipe out the timeline you'd been living in, you'd do it in a nanosecond, wouldn't you."

Janeway felt cold. "Are you saying I did do this?"

"You and I broke the universe, Kathryn Janeway," the Q said, and there was something hollow, something haunted, in her voice. "Knowing what we were doing, knowing that we risked a paradox that could destroy everything there is, we still did it. And the universe... was destroyed. Because of what we did."

"Paradox doesn't destroy the universe," Janeway said, feeling out of her depth and clinging to the part of Q's statement that she could prove made no sense. She destroyed the universe, with Q, to save humanity? Why would she have done that? How could that have even happened? Mathematically it made no sense. "Paradox just changes the timeline."

"No, it merely splits the timeline... if it's your timeline. Your timeline's fungible; it splits if you look at it cross-eyed." Q sat down on the bed. "But I'm not bound to your timeline. The Q can move freely in your time because we are bound to a different one; we exist outside your causality, but we are still entities that can grow, change, evolve, and to be such, we needed to be linear. So we're bound to our own timeline, the timeline of the Q Continuum. And the timeline of the Q Continuum cannot be looped without setting up a reaction that would destroy time, and thus the universe."

"You're saying you can't travel in your own time? Or that if you did, you'd destroy yourselves?"

"Both. And I'm not saying we'd destroy ourselves, I'm saying we'd destroy everything. Your timeline can loop all you want; it can split, it can divide, it can turn in on itself, but the timeline of the Q Continuum is sacrosanct. So we're taught. We don't have the power to travel backward in the timeline of the Continuum, and when we meet one another in your timeline, if we're out of temporal phase it takes an act of power to even see each other. There could be three of me from different points in the future here in this room with us, but unless I believe there might be, and work hard to be able to see them, I'd never know. They could appear to you more easily than they could appear to me."

"If it's impossible then how..."

Q smiled fiercely, bitterly. "It turns out it's not," she said. "There's a loophole. A mortal granted a measure of the power of the Q, but who is not a Q, can travel freely in your timeline using our power, and can be seen by Q who are in phase with that past time." She leaned back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling. "You came back to warn me, bearing my own memories to me."

"When did this happen?"

"Which when?" Q asked mockingly, then looked at Janeway. "In a moment between moments. At the very second that Q took you to the Continuum, in the moment that I was about to follow you both, you from the future came to me, bringing a package of my own memories. If you'd been merely mortal at the time, I might have thought you had no idea of the potential consequences of your actions, that you would have believed changing the timeline of the Continuum would have no more consequence than changing the timeline of humanity ever has. But you had a measure of my power in you, and my memories. You knew better. You did it anyway. As did I."

"What did... we... do? What changed?" Janeway asked, almost whispering. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

Q's eyes grew haunted. She sat up on the bed. "We lost the war, Janeway," she said. "The Continuum was burning, and I was the one who'd lit the flame. Everyone I'd ever loved was either dead or complicit in the murder of the others. I brought mortals to the Continuum, led by a mortal hero, with Q-killing weapons I'd redesigned so that mortals could use them, and I was Loki at Ragnarok, I was Death on a pale horse, I was the apocalypse and I was trying to kill them all. And if the destruction of the Q Continuum should result in the destabilization of the entire universe, let it. I had nothing left. But you found your own way into the Continuum then, and you had another idea."

"If the alternative could be the destruction of the universe either way, I suppose I had no choice," Janeway said.

"You could have stopped me. A few Q surviving could have kept the Continuum from destabilizing. The universe would only have been destroyed if we all died, and there was a Q working with you who had the trick of reproduction, and could have repopulated the Continuum if it came to it. But it wouldn't have changed the deaths and suffering of those you loved, or the millions of humans who'd died, or the fall of the Federation. To restore the world to the way you thought it should be, you were willing to take the risk." Q leaned forward. "And when you came to me and showed me my memories... I could have let things play out the same way they had, I could have let the fate I saw ahead of me dictate my actions. Continuum law says I should have, that I should have erased those memories so I wouldn't be tempted to change the future."

"But you didn't," Janeway said.

Q nodded. "I stayed. I didn't follow you to the Continuum immediately, even though I knew it was a trap, because I knew I would need mortals. And then I lost my powers as the weapons formed a dead zone around us, and I thought everything might be lost. But your people proved resourceful enough that I was able to use their resources to get us all into the Continuum. I armed them with the weapons, and the war ended without another shot fired, without another Q dead, because at that stage, so early in the war, before any of the atrocities... arming mortals was like bringing bio-weapons into a conflict being fought with muskets. You were like an army of stinging insects with potentially fatal bites, and it didn't matter that any one Q could kill any of you that he could see; in the Continuum you mortals are so very small, no one felt they could be certain they could find all of you before you could kill them."

"So that's why it worked," Janeway said wonderingly. "I always wondered how it was that Tom was able to draw a gun on the leader of the enemy forces, and he couldn't just... wish Tom dead. He acted as if he'd been taken hostage, and the rest of the Q acted as if taking him hostage ended the war."

"Yes. It wasn't that you'd taken him hostage, you understand, it was that they had no idea how many there were of you and how many weapons I'd given you. He could have swatted Tom Paris like an insect, but who knew how many insects were lurking around, too small to see, carrying weapons and ready to gun them all down? They were outnumbered by an infinistesmal enemy who were each as capable of dealing death as any Q. Of course they surrendered."

"So it really was my crew, and you, who won Q's war for him," Janeway said.

"And saved both your lives."

"I haven't forgotten that, no."

Q got to her feet. "The Q hate me for it, of course," she said. "Even the freedom faction are appalled at the measures I was willing to go to, to win. They have the luxury of believing they might have won any other way. They don't know what I know. So they can revile me for unleashing such a terrible weapon on the Continuum, and heap all their praise on Q for his idea to have a child to end the war - as if he isn't my child too, but if Q and I disagree on what to do for our son, they take his side. Always. And the order faction hates me as passionately as they hate him, and the undecideds don't care about the war and never did, but they do care about the sanctity of the Continuum being violated, of mortals being empowered to kill Q. All of them hate me. Except for Q. But that was all right. I could live with that. At least they viewed me as someone dangerous, someone to be respected." She stalked over to Janeway. "And then you took that from me."

"How could I change whether or not you're respected in the Continuum?" Janeway asked. "If this is because Q was going behind your back to sleep with me... I told you, I thought you had broken up with him, and as soon as I learned differently I broke it off with him."

"Yes!" Q shouted. Janeway took a step back, involuntarily. She hadn't expected the entity's sudden vehemence. "That's exactly what you did! Poor, poor, pitiful Q, with her jealousy hang-ups and her quaint belief that it might be nice if her lover actually loved her; poor pathetic Q, who wants one Q to think she's special and significant important, instead of being willing to live with just being part of the Continuum; poor Q's so degraded and weak that mortals feel sorry for her! You wouldn't fight me for him; you threw the contest, conceded to me because you felt sorry for me, as if I couldn't possibly take him back from you on my own merits, and they all know it! I am a laughingstock now because of you!"

Janeway shook her head. "That isn't it at all! Q, I don't want to be fighting you for the father of your child. I don't even love him. You do. I'll be dead in seventy years or less and you'll be there for the rest of time. I didn't want him to involve me in doing something that would hurt your feelings because I don't sleep with married men and I don't want to be competing with another woman for a man I care about... especially if she was with him before me, especially if she loves him, and most especially if they have a child together!"

"It doesn't matter what you want," Q said brutally. "No one in the Continuum cares about your feelings, except for Q and our son, on occasion. Everyone thinks it's just so hilarious that I'm such a damaged and pathetic excuse for a Q that I've actually let my jealousy inspire a mortal to take pity on me. Or that Q is going out of his way to be so terribly considerate of my idiotic emotional problems that he'd actually comply, and leave his mortal lovers alone because it bothers me."

"And that's why you wanted to seduce me?" Janeway asked skeptically. "Because the Q think that I feel sorry for you?"

"He doesn't care what his mortals do with other mortals," Q said. "But let another Q show interest in them, and he's capable of a jealous tantrum that makes anything I've done or said look completely respectable. And the other one would never do it, but you're pragmatic. You're like me. You'll do anything, anything at all, to save the people you love, even if it violates every ethical belief you have. So I thought you would be bribable."

"Because you wanted to make Q jealous." The thought occurred to Janeway that usually, the way that was supposed to work was that the jilted lover was supposed to inspire jealousy in their lost love by making the lost love fear losing them to another, not by fearing that the jilted lover would take the new lover for herself. "Hurting him isn't the answer, Q. Surely the two of you have had problems before; can't you work something out without trying to get revenge on him?"

"There's no point to getting revenge on him," Q said. "It doesn't teach him anything. But I wanted him to remind the Continuum how much of a jealous ass he can be, so they'll stop taking his side all the time and laughing at me. If I can't be loved, or liked, I at least want my respect back. I won't be a laughingstock." She leaned forward into Janeway's personal space. "You'll take him back."

"I will?" Janeway asked skeptically, not sure if this was a prediction of the future or supposed to be an order.

"If you refuse me, my choices are either to gain my face back by proving that I am not jealous and you are not pitying me... or to avenge myself on you and Q both for humiliating me, and I can most easily accomplish that by hurting you. He's not allowed to help you and the Continuum, in general, feel much the same way about you and your crew that they do about me - they despise you as the insects who dared to threaten their lives. If I set out to hurt you, he won't be able to fix it. He can fight me, but that won't undo the damage."

Janeway went cold. "Are you telling me that if I don't sleep with Q again, you're going to kill me?"

"I would never kill you, Janeway," Q purred. "You brought me my memories of the future. You helped me save the Continuum and destroy the universe. I will just hurt you. I will find the thing that would cause you the most suffering, and I will make it happen... unless you stop factoring whether or not I am involved with Q into your relationship with him. You can continue to humiliate me by denying yourself what you want out of some misguided attempt to transpose human morality onto Q relationships, if you wish... but it won't be good for you. Or anyone around you."

"I don't respond well to threats."

"I tried bribes. That didn't work so well."

Janeway took a deep breath. "You don't have to do either. I told Q I was ending our sexual relationship because I didn't want to hurt you. From what you've said, though, it sounds like I inadvertently hurt you worse by doing that than I would have by staying with him. So... why don't you just ask me? If you order me, or threaten me, I won't do what you want me to do, but you could ask."

Q sneered at her. "Ask a mortal to graciously agree to do something to avoid hurting my feelings? That would miss the entire point."

"No. Ask a mortal who cares about your son's well-being to do something that will benefit him. It doesn't do young q any good if his mother is the laughingstock of the Continuum, or if she's so angry at his father that the two of you fight all the time instead of cooperating to raise your boy. Q asked me to be your son's godmother; I'm honor-bound to do what would be good for him. I thought that the best thing to do for him was to give up my relationship with Q. If you tell me that the best thing for your son is to retract that... because we can assume that what's good for your reputation in the Continuum is also good for your son... I can do that."

Q stared at her, and then laughed harshly. "You are much more like a Q than you'll admit, Janeway. Fine. For the sake of my son, I want you to take Q back."

It wasn't exactly a polite request, but it was certainly better than orders and threats. "For the sake of your son, I'll promise you that I will take Q back, and if I break up with him in the future it'll be for my own reasons, not out of any desire to spare you any pain."

"Good," Q said. "Then we understand each other."

"Excellent. Then you can leave."

"Only one other thing," Q said, and touched Janeway's forehead. Janeway frowned; the electric sensuality of Q's prior touches was gone, but her touch did feel mildly electric, as if a tiny shock had jumped from her fingers when she touched Janeway's skin. "The Q do not know what would have been their future, and they cannot. Not even Q. What one of us knows, we all know, and if the elders of the Continuum were to learn what I've done... they might think they need to repair the damage to the universe by rolling it back."

"What is the damage to the universe?" Janeway asked. "You and Q both mentioned the universe ending, but... obviously, it didn't end."

Q shrugged. "I have no idea. I was dead," she said. "Someone saved the universe from the consequences of our folly, Janeway. We were fortunate. But the rest of the Q don't remember the end of the universe, and I don't trust them to make the right decision when their information is incomplete."

"If what one Q knows, all Q know... how is this information you can hide?" Janeway asked.

Q smiled mirthlessly. "They hate me," she said. "There are only two Q close enough to me that they could learn the truth. I only need to keep it from them. Which means that when you are in the presence of a Q who isn't me, you will forget what I've told you. If Q power touches your mind, the memory will bury itself."

"That's going to make it difficult to explain to Q why I changed my mind."

"No. You'll have no trouble remembering the rest of our conversation. Only what I've told you about the future that we undid." And she was gone.

Janeway took a deep breath. She wasn't shaking anymore, but she was shaken. Q's attempt to bribe her into sex in order to hurt the other Q had made her infuriated... but Q's confession that she and Janeway had altered time, in a way that had run a significant risk of destroying the universe and may in fact have actually done so, with the damage undone somehow by parties unknown in ways that the female Q didn't know about and the male Q refused to talk about, in order to save their respective peoples and the people they cared for... that frightened her. Because she knew, instinctively, that it was all true. She knew that the person she was right at this minute would never do such a thing, never take such a risk... and she knew from the overwhelming temptation she'd felt at the chance to make Seven live again that if she had to live through an event that killed or harmed most of her crew and threatened all of humanity, all of the Federation, that yes, she would change time. In a heartbeat. Even if she thought it might threaten the entire universe. Because if there was a chance that it wouldn't, she would take that chance, to save her people and the people she loved.

And it sounded as if the consequences might have already come home to roost.

She needed to find out from Q what he knew about the universe ending. Of course, if she forgot everything the female Q had told her the moment he showed up, that would make it hard to remember why she wanted to remember. She picked up a PADD from her desk and scrawled on it, "Details, universe ending?" and then set it down.

"Q?" she said.

She hadn't known if he was listening or not, had had no idea if simply calling him would work or not, but she wasn't terribly surprised when there was a brilliant flash of light in front of her. "My sweet Kathy! I knew Q would be able to persuade you to change your mind," he said.

Janeway scowled at him. "You sent her to me?"

Q shook his head. "The last time I sent her to you to talk you into anything, she tied me up on your bed, stripped of my clothes and my powers. Which, mind you, has its entertainment value when you're actually planning to screw my brains out, but when it results in me being stuck there for five hours before you even show up and doesn't get me so much as a kiss, it really wasn't so pleasant. So I am more than done with asking her to convince you to do anything. No, she went entirely on her own recognizance, but she did tell me when she got back that you were willing to take me back." He smirked at her and waggled his eyebrows. "Which, I hope, translates into you being willing to take me now."

Janeway noted the PADD, but couldn't remember what she'd meant. The universe ending? She'd had a weird dream about that, but aside from that, what did the universe ending have anything to do with anything? "I don't like to be rushed into anything," Janeway said. "What happened to wining and dining me first?"

They were suddenly sitting at an Italian restaurant, at a table with a red and white checkered tablecloth, a bottle of wine on the table and two plates of seafood fra diavolo in front of them. Q was dressed in a 20th century period black suit; Janeway was still wearing her uniform, since she had long ago ordered Q not to change her clothes without permission. "Does this meet your standards for wining and dining, o captain, my captain?" Q asked. "Or would you prefer something more exotic?"

After everything she'd been dealing with, the illusion of being home, on Earth, was more comforting and pleasant than she was prepared to admit. "This is just fine, Q," she said, taking a bite of her meal.

"Only 'just fine'?"

She grinned at him. "It's delightful, and you know it. Why do you need me to feed your ego by telling you so?"

"My ego's got a very large appetite," Q said mournfully. "You'd think having such a big ego would be wonderful all the time, and it mostly is, I admit, but you would not believe how often I need to feed the damn thing."

Janeway laughed. "I suppose that makes sense," she said. She took another bite. It really was delicious. She'd gotten over her guilt at eating delicious food with Q while the rest of the crew was stuck with what Mr. Chell could come up with by convincing herself that letting him feed her left more of Voyager's scarce stores for the rest of the crew. He wasn't allowed to replenish their stores or feed the rest of the crew, lest his political opponents in the Continuum interpret that as "helping" Voyager. She leaned forward and smiled seductively. "But would you rather have me feed your ego, or would you rather me reward you for good behavior later?"

Q's eyes widened slightly, and then he grinned. "Well, if I have to have one or the other, I suppose I can agree to delayed gratification," he said.

"I thought that might be your answer," she said with a satisfied grin.

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