"Within The Confines of Time"

Rated: T

Summary: Q makes Data an offer that neither one can afford to lose!

Pairings: Data/Tasha

Disclaimer: I don not own any of the characters of Star Trek: TNG. I am merely borrowing them for my amusement and for the recreation of others.

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Chapter 1: "An offer no one can refuse"

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

~William Shakespeare

"Mr. Data how long till we reach Botanica Four?"

Data lightly tapped his fingers on the keypad of the comm's station. "At our current warp, we will arrive in two hours, thirty-one seconds and -."

"That will be sufficient enough, Mr. Data, thank you!"

"Yes Sir."

The Enterprise was en route to Botanica Four, which was a research space station in orbit around Tanuga Four. Commander Riker was asked by Starfleet to check on the progress of Dr. Nel Apgar, a Tanugan scientist supposedly willing to provide the Federation with a new energy source. The crew was currently on time with their scheduled arrival to the station, when suddenly the red alert warning lights began flashing all over the bridge.

Captain Picard, immediately alerted, stood abruptly to his feet. "Mr. Data what seems to be the problem?"

Again, Data tapped the comm hastily searching for the problem. "There are no signs of an intruder, I detect no problems in engineering, I have thoroughly scanned the perimeters and there are no approaching anomalies." Perplexed, Data finally responded. "I am at a loss Captain, everything is functioning as it should be."

A bright light flashed above the Captain's chair, only to reveal a man in a Starfleet issued uniform with four pips on his collar.

Riker narrowed his eyes at the man sitting beside him. "Q!"

"Well, try not to look so happy to see me Commander."

Captain Picard pulled down the front of his uniform in anger. "What do you want Q?"

"Do I have to have a reason to come and visit you now?" He argued.

"I have come to find that you, no matter how discreet always have a reason behind your visits."

Q suddenly jumped to his feet. "Not this time, I only came to witness my surroundings and to repay a debt."

Data quickly spoke up. "If you are referring to the Calamarain incident, I do not require payment."

"But you haven't even heard what it is my dear Data. In your efforts to be more human, you must learn to be more patient before you speak so assuredly."

"I only required zero point thirteen seconds to come to my conclusion. I am certain of it."

Q began walking around the bridge, making his way up the ramp to tactical. "You know Data; the number thirteen is seen as unlucky according to humans. It's a bit superstitious I admit but I personally think it's gotten a bad wrap."

Growing impatient the Captain questioned the immortal. "What does the number thirteen have to do with anything?"

"Nothing really, I just believe it to be lucky." He placed his hands on top of the tactical station facing Data, his eyes piercing the android's golden ones. "And today Mr. Data is your lucky day."

Riker stood to his feet, his eyes still questioning the immortal in front of him. "I believe Data gave you his answer."

"Oh, stop trying to intimidate me with those dashing looks of yours Commander Riker. I assure you, they will not work with me." He paused, snapping his fingers as the capricious thought hit him. "But I bet they used to work on Counselor Troi a few years back, didn't they? They just don't hold the same effect now, as you would like them too."

"Deanna has nothing to do with this Q, what do you want?"

"Ah! Well she obviously has nothing to do with you either! But I'm here on a more personal note, like I said, I'm here as a witness."

"Again Q, your evasiveness to your real reasons for being here plagues us." Riker countered.

"Well, let me clear it up for you then. I am curious about love. The emotion leaves me baffled. Why do you humans do it? It brings such misery, such pain. Why even allow yourself to become so consumed by the feeling."

The bridge was completely silent as if no one could completely form an explanation for the immortal's claims on the subject.

Finally, Captain Picard spoke. "I suppose we want someone who can be a witness to our lives. A partner who can testify to our existence. A person who can share in our failures as well as our achievements. Yes, it may bring us suffering when we get it wrong but the joys it offers when we get it right can last a lifetime."

Q continued to look at the Captain, as if pondering his answer only to rebuff it. "But again, the agony is far too great. This one little emotion affects the entire being. It influences your judgment, removes your power over a situation, it controls everything about the person it embodies. Why do you do it?"

The last thing the Captain expected to be doing today was debating the many facets of love with Q. But if his answers could make the being leave of his own accord then he was willing to play along - for now!

"Yes, it does all those things to us but I guess those negatives can also become the positives of the emotion. It does affect our judgment; I won't deny that, it's been known that love is blind. But the most powerful testimonies in men's lives have all been done in the name of love. To others it may make us powerless but to us humans, it empowers us. It is the test that turns boys into men. It simply empowers us to act!"

Q sadistically smirked at the Captain. "Then why do you not act?" And just as quickly he turned to face Riker. "And you, Why do you not act as well?" He mocked the Captain's words back to Riker. "If love is so empowering!"

Riker rolled his eyes at Q's inquiries. "I'm afraid I have no idea what you're referring to Q, so please can we get to the point of your visit."

Q glared at Riker, "Your egotistical mind amazes me! Why, I am dumbfounded on how Starfleet's magnificent number one can lament over a love lost."

Riker stood a little taller, his eyes blazing with anger but Q unabashedly continued on. "I bet that if you hadn't left a certain Counselor standing on Betazed, alone and heartbroken I might add, then you two would quite possibly be together. My, my what a web you humans do weave!"

"I don't have to explain myself to you, Q! You have no idea what you're talking about!" Riker retorted.

Smugly, the god responded. "I think I do Commander Riker." Tapping his index finger lightly upon his chin, as if in deep concentration. "I know I do, in fact I am so sure of it I think I'll test my theory out. What'd ya say we play a game?"

"If you're asking Q, I think it's time you left my ship!" Captain Picard replied sternly.

Looking aghast, the being slowly smiled. "Ah, my dear Capitone, I haven't forgotten you either in my little hypothesis. You see, I have been watching this little boat of yours for quite some time and I've seen the way you look at her." Immediately Q nodded in Dr. Crusher's direction.

Now it was the Captain's turn to glower the accuser. "I think this is enough Q, now make your leave!"

"Oh no, not until I'm finished. I mean the woman has been widowed for how long now and yet your unrequited love remains unconsummated." Q cupped his mouth to one side and leaned in as he whispered to the Captain. "I can help you out with that little problem, ya know."

The Captain shouted now. "Enough!"

And still, Q audaciously went on. "Why don't you take her and be done with it. Ravage the little beast and get it out of your system." He walked up to the Captain and placed his arm upon his shoulder where Picard brazenly shoved it off. "Temper, temper my dear Captain. All I'm trying to say is that the woman is no longer bound by the sanctities of what you humans so laughably call marriage. And yet, you still remain at bay, watching from afar - wishing things were different."

"I already said -"

And just as quickly the immortal interrupted Picard, whirling around to face Data, not missing a beat in his assertions. "Or would that be you my little tin man?"

Data cocked his head slightly. "I do not understand."

"Oh but you dear Data, you do! It's been three years now since the death of your spitfire girlfriend. I bet you remember every crease on her face, the feel of her skin and the sting of her kiss. But despite all that, the memory still doesn't bring her back, does it Data?" He stalked closer to his prey. "And yet, you can't even allow yourself to believe that you truly loved her because the emotion remains unattainable to you, doesn't it?"

Data nodded his head in approval. "If you are assuming that I am incapable of emotions then the basis for that belief is correct. I can not feel anything."

"Yes! Love is such an enigma to you, Data. Even the complexities that come with the emotion remain a mystery that even your positronic brain can't answer. You're the perfect end to sick joke."

"I do not recall any jest being made at my disposal." Data responded bewildered.

"Your creator must have had a cruel sense of humor to create a man in his image and yet deny him all the delights of being a human."

Still vexed, Data calmly answered. "I have no recollection of Dr. Soong; therefore I can not verify your claims upon his personality."

Captain Picard took a step toward the immortal, his patience wearing thin. "Where are you going with this Q?"

The man in question slowly turned around to face the Captain. "I am offering Data a chance of a lifetime. Although I view love as weak and a huge blemish in your DNA - I find the whole aspect of it entertaining and humorous. And while on one of my deplorably boring days, while in need of some recreation, I came up with an idea for Mr. Data that I simply could not pass up."

"And...?" Riker sharply retorted.

"And Commander Riker I am willing to bet that our little Pinocchio has more gumption when it comes to love than you and your beloved Captain put together." He turned once again to face Data at the Comm's. "I'm willing to bet that despite the short-comings of those two on matters of the heart." He nodded amusingly in the direction of Picard and Riker. "I believe Data here, would act much differently if given the chance to feel love."

Captain Picard snorted in response.

"Oh you mock me now Captain but I'm willing to bet all of my powers on it."

"Now you've piqued my interest, Q."

"Well, I have a delicious plan spinning around in my mind of wonders. Consider it payment to Mr. Data for saving my life from the Calamarain's. I'm willing to give him the chance to have his dear Tasha back but their is one stipulation to the deal that I dare not reveal and remains in place simply for my amusement."

Data immediately stood to his feet at the mention of Tasha's name. "I must question the sincerity of your offer, Q."

"You're just being your inquisitive self, Data. The deal is simply to die for; you're a winner either way! If I win, you get Tasha back." He held a finger up, shaking it at Data. "But, if you win, I become just as you - a mortal!

"But I am not mortal. I can not die nor do I age." Data revealed.

"Don't be so naive, an android can be destroyed. I assure you Data; even the ill effects of time will cause those circuits of yours to rust."

The android nodded his head in agreement. "I must admit, they are elements of the universe and time that I am not immune too."

Q placed his arm around Data's shoulders and walked him toward Picard and Riker, the excitement evident in his voice. "Just think about it, the possibilities are mind-blowing! You all will be placed in a position that Riker's vanity cannot win him out of, nor will the wittingly appeals of Captain Picard's tongue. Why, even that positronic brain of yours won't even be able to decipher it."

Data paused a moment, eyeing each member of the crew till finally his gaze landed upon Captain Picard. The caution was apparent upon his features. If they have learned anything of this being, it was to remain guarded whenever an offer was extended in kind.

"I must regretfully decline."

Q irritatingly removed his arm from around Data's shoulders and took a small step to the side of him.

"I expected as much but the idea is simply too enrapturing!"

And with that said the immortal snapped his fingers as a bright flash of light spun the Enterprise light years through space. The last thing Data remembered was calculating the damage to the Enterprise's hull upon speeds at this velocity, configuring the pros and con's to Q's offer, a new food supplement for spot, and then - nothing!

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Author's notes: If you like the story, please review. And if there is a beta out there willing to help out. Let me know! Thanks ; )