Author's Notes: This is the prologue to a new story arc (not a new novel. I've sworn off new novels until I get Only Human or Familiar Strangers or Prometheus in Chains finished.) It's intended to be P/Q, although it's going to be some time before there's anything more than flirtation and UST.

The time period (for Q) is between the Voyager episodes "The Q and the Grey" and "Q2". For Picard, the time period is Farpoint on up, as this is an alternate timeline (not an alternate universe- as you'll see in the prologue, Q deliberately creates an alternate timeline to play in.) If Original!Picard comes into it, which he might, the time period for him would be contiguous with Voyager-time, so he'd be circa the TNG movies First Contact or Insurrection.

Unlike most of my stories, this assumes that "The Q and the Grey" really happened (yes, I do live in denial, why do you ask?) However, my take on Q's mate is very different from most people's. Q's mate has few appearances in this story arc but you might understand them better if you read "Mistress of War", also on , which explains my version of Q's mate.

By the most technical of definitions this is not slash, although the most slash-phobic may wish to give it a miss anyway. You'll see what I mean in the next story :-). And yes, the next story, at least, should be written very quickly- if I had to sit through "Encounter at Farpoint" to check the script Vash provided me (thanks, Vash!), I am damn well going to actually use it in a story soon.

Standing in the middle of nowhere
Wondering how to begin
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday
Between now and then

And now we're back where we started
Here we go round again
Day after day I get up and I say
I wanna do it again

-The Kinks, "Do It Again"

"Get your hands out of that neutron star!" "No you may not put the white dwarf in your mouth. I don't care how tasty it looks." "Those are Borg! Not toys!" "Put the timeline back now or so help me I'm dropkicking you into a black hole." "And she squashed your pattern flat? Well, what did you expect, walking up to grown adults and yanking on their pattern? Now apologize. And you, keep your hands off my kid! You have a problem with him, take it up with me." "Stop asking me where neutrinos come from! I told you already, and besides, it's time you learned to start being omniscient!" "Where did you get these?... The Gamma Quadrant? Put them back. What do you mean you forgot where they go? You, what's the name of your planet? My son's a high-spirited youngster. I apologize for that. There you go." "You started a war! You can't go starting wars! You're worse than your other parent!" "What did I tell you about playing with Borg?" "'I wanted to see what they looked like inside' is not a good reason to turn sentient beings inside-out. Now I have to resurrect them! Go sit in time-out for the next 10 years!" "Let me guess... You were playing mix-up with the stars and you forgot that one of them had an inhabited planet. Now put it back before the entire species ends up dead of radiation poisoning!"

I am going to go mad.

In human terms, it had been 3,000 years, give or take a century. 3,000 years of staying mostly within the timeline of the Continuum, with no excursions to the universes outside except to chase after a small troublemaking child. 3,000 years of wrestling with the Continuum, trying to forge a new order out of the chaos of the war, of the responsibilities incumbent on having been one of the leaders of the faction that won. 3,000 years of politics, and compromise, and child care.

3,000 years of being a responsible adult, of putting all effort into useful, important tasks, of having next to no interactions with mortals and next to no fun.

I have got to get out of here or I'll snap completely.

3,000 years. Q no longer recognized Qself- somehow the trickster, the rebel, the teacher of harsh lessons, the devil's advocate, had turned responsible. Staid. Upright. Pillar of the Continuum, full-time parent, spending all time in the mortal universe cleaning up the messes baby Q had made instead of making messes of Q's own. The discontinuity between Qself before the child's birth and Qself now seemed to grow more stark every moment.

I need a vacation. Need to get back to my roots, have some fun, run a little wild, or I... I don't know what will happen, but I like myself less every day I have to do nothing but this. Winning shouldn't have changed me this radically- I'm still the same Q who shook the Continuum to its foundations, and I won't lose that. I refuse.

So. The first step was to get rid of the kid.

"You're gracing me with your presence? What's the occasion, o honored one?"

"Don't be an ass, dearest, it doesn't become you. That's my job, or it used to be anyway. What are you doing in this dive?"

"Well, I've been rather persona non grata in the Continuum lately, dear. As you well know."

"So you've stomped off to sulk. Pathetic. When I was persona non grata in the Continuum you didn't see me hiding out on seedy planets, getting drunk with disreputable mortals."

"No, you just begged a starship captain to take you in. 'Please can I be a member of your crew? Pretty pleeeeease? Please please please? Okay, fine! You don't want me, how would you like to meet the Borg?'"

"Hey, we're not talking about me here. I've come to do you a favor, but if you've completely lost yourself in sordid mortal pleasures-"

"This dive is hardly a pleasure. What sort of favor- oh. Oh, I see. You want free babysitting."

"Babysitting? He's your child too!"

"You only admit to that when you want me to do something about it. Most of the time it's 'Q, I won't have you being so cruel to my child' or 'Q, I won't have you spoiling my child' or 'You're raising my child all wrong!'" All of a sudden he's my child when you want me to take care of him."

"Is it my fault you're a wholly incompetent parent?"

"I'm incompetent? You're raising the kid to be the biggest brat in seventeen galaxies!"

"Well, then, this is your chance to do something about it. Here he is; I'll be back in about 75 years. Ta ta!"

"Q, wait! I didn't agree-"

Free at last!

Oh, the joy of not having to spend practically every moment keeping a baby out of trouble! It was bliss, sheer bliss.

For several moments Q reveled in the simple sensation of freedom, of having no pressing needs to chase after a kid or attend any meetings of the Continuum. No need to go anywhere! No reason to do anything but float, free and unencumbered! What a joy!

But it got boring very rapidly. With some reluctance, Q remembered that life hadn't been perfect before the war, and the baby, either. Actually, it had frequently been dull as mud.

So. What to do with newly regained freedom? It had to be something fun. Something entertaining. Something useful to the long-range goals Q had had once, before a war and a child and the rebuilding of a society had consumed all of Q's energies.

Go visit Janeway?

It had been 3,000 years, but they'd all been Continuum-timeline. Next to no time had passed in Q's favorite mortal universe. Q could go visit Janeway and not risk running into another time-image of Qself somewhere else in the mortal timeline. But what would be the point? Janeway was mildly amusing, and if Q had a problem, Janeway would be the first mortal Q would turn to- the fact that she'd been dragged into helping the Continuum when the philosopher Q had wanted to commit suicide had made her valuable to Q as a possible confidante and assistant. She had already seen the Continuum as flawed, in need of aid. It was why Q had originally chosen her to be baby Q's mother, before it had come to seem that Q was a better choice. But right now, Q had no problems, and Janeway wasn't intrinsically interesting for herself.

Somewhere else? Some other species? But it had been so long. To pick up the pieces, to go on from the breaking point, would have required that the project be really interesting. Q's head was in a completely different place now. Going back to the projects of so long ago all seemed empty, useless.

Except for Picard.

Jean-Luc... ah, there was an idea. But how to pursue it? The trouble was, as little time as had passed for Jean-Luc- only, what, four years, five, since Q had last visited- it had been far longer for Q. Not just in terms of the actual time involved, but so many changes. Q was an entirely different person now. Well, not entirely- that was the point to trying to reclaim Q's former self- but to simply step back into the old life, the old relationship? Listen to Jean-Luc saying "Get off my ship?" Have to admit to Jean-Luc how things had changed, or else try to be that same person again?

No, that wouldn't work.

But Q had only 75 years to work with! If Jean-Luc was out, and Janeway was out, and there were so few things from before that still interested Q... 75 years wasn't enough time to develop new interests before having to go back to everyday life again!

So. If Q couldn't go back to Jean-Luc as he was now, re-insert into that timeline and be the old self again... no need to be linear. Maybe... yes. Go back to the start, re-do it all from the beginning. Not just relive, go back into the former self and re-experience the memories, but actually create a new timeline. Do it all over again. But differently this time. Some parts could be left out. Like offering the Q powers to Riker. In retrospect that was amazingly stupid. Not going to do that again.

How to do it?

Oh yes. Q had a brilliant, amazing, evil idea. This time, this timeline, things would be different from the beginning. There'd be no pressure from the Continuum to do things like test Jean-Luc, or nonsense with young Qs who needed guidance. There'd only be the things Q wanted to do, the tests and exercises Q wanted to run. And things could go in a very different direction. Maybe, perhaps... no, don't look ahead. Things got boring that way.

But maybe they could end up with something that would last.

With the mental equivalent of a grin, Q teleported through time and space, and placed some energy against the pattern of time, bracing against it. It snapped, splitting into two separate universes, two alternate timelines.

Yes. A new Jean-Luc, a new time. Time to go.

Do it all over again. But different.

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