His ship is gone. His friends are scattered. And he is planet side. With just a fire, a comfortable chair, and Q for company. The master of mayhem is strangely subdued though, as he drops in on Jean-Luc, for a visit.

This is the gen short story that actually became the prequel to my two novels THE BEST LAID PLAN and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT. I wrote this story first. And then figured that I had to write the wake scene. And Jean-Luc and Beverly. Hence the novels. This is the only one of my short stories that was set in the novel's A/U.

It was first published in the TNG fanzine, INVOLUTION 8, in 1995. Since Orion Press no longer posts TNG stories, I retyped and slightly edited for fanfic.

All the usual ST disclaimers apply.

As always, any comments would be appreciated.

FIRESIDE CHAT

In spite of the fact that the popping was arrhythmic, he liked the sound of the fire. It was comforting, steadying; a pleasing reminder that all was right with his world this night. It'd been too long a time since he had felt so at ease.

The slender gentleman settled more comfortably into his chair, an antique Winthrop ash rocker, a piece of furniture in a room that was carefully decorated with a collection of generations' cherished pieces.

With a knowledge near-forgot from his childhood, he decided that the fireplace would radiate enough heat to keep him comfortable for at least another hour. So he turned about the chair toward the fireplace, and did not pull up the navy plaid throw piled near his feet. To do so would have required more effort than he was willing to expend.

Sometime later, he stirred. The napping man absentmindedly rubbed his chin against the merino wool fabric of his royal blue sweater. Something was different. Something had changed. Whatever it was, was odd, but not unpleasant. A heady yet acrid scent redolent of aged oak pinot noir grapes and over-ripe Norman apples lazily wafted about him, resurrecting remembrances of long ago.

He opened his eyes.

"Ah, good, you're awake at last."

He stirred, pushing himself up by his elbow. "What?"

"Mon capitaine…"

Q's annoying tones were enough to wake the dead, much less a weary, ever-wary former starship captain.

For a moment, he looked blankly at his visitor. Then he closed his eyes.

"Go away." He pulled the blanket up about his shoulders.

Q was nonplussed. He puffed one more smoke ring, then snuffed out his cigar. "Jean-Luc, that's no way to welcome your comrade-in-arms! I told you that I'd be dropping by now and then."

Jean-Luc Picard ignored his company.

"Jean-Luc…" Q warned. "I won't go away until you talk to me."

Picard lifted his head and gave Q the kind of stare that had once sent newly-graduated ensigns scrambling for the lower decks of starships. "I have nothing to say." And then he closed his eyes again.

For a moment, Q let his surprise at Jean-Luc's actions show. And if Picard had kept his eyes open, he would have seen a glimmer of concern in Q's look.

"Jean-Luc…" Q pouted, lacing his voice with a practiced menace he didn't quite feel today. His annoyance took precedence over Picard's atypical behavior.

Jean-Luc sat up, dropping his covers, and scowled. "Q". The letter wasn't stated nicely.

Q looked at his quarry, pleased to finally be getting some sort of response. "Yes, Jean-Luc?"

"Be gone." For added emphasis, Picard gestured toward the cottage's door.

"Jean-Luc, are you ill?" Q swiftly leaned over the rocker and started reaching for Picard's forehead.

Picard evaded Q's hand.

"Hold still, Jean-Luc!"

Picard swatted away Q's hand.

Q disregarded Picard's movements, as he entertained charitable thoughts of becoming a ministering angel. His voice reflected his kindly mood. "Do you need, stars forbid, a doctor? I can fetch a competent one, or, if you insist, get Beverly."

Picard finally stood, brushing aside Q's continued attempt at assistance. "Vanish. Do what ever it is that you do, but go," Picard testily ordered.

"Mon ami! What's wrong?" Now, Q wasn't concealing his concern.

Exasperated, Picard faced his nemesis. "Q, I am not your friend. I am not in the mood to chat with you. I am not in the mood to play any games with you." His voice rose a tad as his displeasure grew. "And if you are looking for someone to save humanity, I am not in the mood. I've already done it - several times." Picard took a deep, steadying breath. "Go bother someone else."

"My, my. Are you always this cranky when you don't get your beauty sleep?"

"I am not…" Picard almost gave Q the dignity of a response.

"Well, lucky for you, the universe doesn't need saving today - at least, not from me. Now, let's chat, mon cher." Q picked up the fine plaid throw and flung it over his shoulder. Then he plopped down on to the vacated rocker. Q suddenly discovered just how unstable a rocker could be under the guidance of a novice.

Jean-Luc rescued the blanket from beneath the wildly moving rocker panels, warning, "This chair belonged to Beverly's grandmother." And he smiled as he watched Q try to balance. "I don't think that even I could save you from Beverly's wrath if you damage her great-grandmother's blanket." He neatly folded the blue and ruby wood fabric and put it out of harm's way.

Q stilled. "Merci, mon capitaine." His smile was innocent as he added, "Or is it mon amiral?"

For a moment, Picard ignored his visitor, walking over to the sink in the adjoining kitchen and filling up a kettle. Then he returned to the fireplace, hanging the hand of the pot on the wrought iron kettle hook, swinging it over the fire.

Q watched his actions, appalled. "Good lord, you crash your pretty little starship into a planet and this is the way Starfleet repays you? They take away the most basic amenities?" Q shuddered. "And you called me uncivilized. Really, Jean-Luc! Allow me to-"

Picard interrupted him, wearily yielding. "If you let me fix our drinks, you may stay."

For a moment, Q just simply rocked, learning the skill, as he contemplated the man bfore him. Then he blinked. And small table materialized, laden with pastries and desserts; all creations made of chocolate - with lots more chocolate on top.

Picard looked at his personal imp, and then at the table, idly noting that the burled walnut table top and barley twist table legs were in keeping with the eclectic style of the rest of the parlor. He leaned over, studying the food array, then casually stated, "I don't see any mousse. I prefer Thalian." He turned away.

"Huh?" Q sputtered. Q had been expecting the usual protests from his pet wunderkind, not menu suggestions. Q's concerns began to grow.

"Counselor Troi swears by something called Godiva, too." Picard added as he walked into the kitchen. He soon returned carrying a tray which he placed on a tea table.

For once at a loss for words as he tried to assess the situation, Q warily watched what Picard was doing.

Picard sat down on a fireside stool, and then began his evening ritual. First the Droste was ladled into two Limoges bone china cups, and then some sugar and a pinch of salt was added. He sensed Q's curiosity at his actions.

"I can tell when the water is ready by the sound of the kettle's hissing." His voice was soft, calm, as if he expected Q to understand what he was about. Picard picked up a cup, fingering its blue periwinkle beribboned trim. "This china - it was my granmere's. She taught me the proper way to fix her cocoa." He absent-mindedly rubbed the rim of the cup, still bearing traces of the original fired gold applied over four centuries ago. "Now that I have…" He paused to search for the proper, albeit unaccustomed words, "… a home, I wanted some of my family's things with me."

"Good lord, you do get maudlin in your old age. Who would have thought? I believed that you had years to go - or has living with your doctor forced you to escape into senility?" Q brushed away invisible specks from his sleeve, staring with distaste at the drying plants hanging in the rafters. "No doubt those weeds have something to do with it. Is she saving them on purpose, or does Beverly care to clean only ever millennium?"

Q was quickly rising up the thermometer of Picard's irritability scale. "They're herbs. Beverly saves them for cooking and medicinal purposes."

Q sniffed. "Maybe they're psycho-tropic. Has Beverly been expanding her materia medica and been experimenting? That would explain so much about you." Under his breath he added, "Not to mention that brat, Wesley…"

Jean-Luc ignored him as he tended to the near-bubbling kettle. Q's little speech had momentarily diverted him from his task. He carefully poured the boiling water in the tall chocolate pot and then placed a measure of cream by each cup.

"Q." His voice was sharp, slicing through Q's musings.

"What?" Q snapped back.

"Which do you prefer? Chambord or Courvoisier?" Picard nodded toward the liqueur decanters resting on a black and gilt tracery tole tray.

Q haughtily sniffed and sniffed again. He then paused, momentarily struck silent with the sudden realization that Jean-Luc Picard, his haughty, haecceitric, imperious patrician of a mortal playmate, the Jean-Luc Picard, was offering to him, Q of the Imperial august magnum regnum Continuum, refreshment - something that Jean-Luc had rarely ever even offered to his own officers!

"My God, you are ill!" Q gasped.

Picard chuckled, pleased that for once, he had the upper hand with his plague some imp. "What do you want in your chocolate, Q?"

Q eyed the proffered liqueurs. "Brandy, if you must-but make mine Napoleon!"

With the click of two fingers, Q's red and black Starfleet admiral's uniform morphed into a bleu de roi wool and velvet suit with shiny gold brad epaulets that would have seemed overdone on Francois Charles Joseph.

Picard looked down into his own lap. Gone were his khaki pants and tan leather mocs. Instead, he was wearing a cashmere and silk uniform more suitable to Admiral Wellington than that of an almost-retired Starfleet officer. For a moment, he was distracted by his pate's reflection in his shiny black patent boots.

"Q," he patiently stated, one more time.

A Baccarat decanter appeared, floating in mid-air above the tray.

"It really is Napoleon," Q cooed, about to deluge the cups and their saucers below with extremely rare amber liquid. But then, Q caught a glimmer of something, a grimace perhaps, in Picard's expression.

"You really are not amused by any of this, are you, Jean-Luc?"

Picard signed, more to himself, than in answer to Q's question.

Q guessed. "It's Beverly who likes the Chambord in her nightcap. I should have known." Q chuckled. "Women!" as if it were an explanation.

This time there was a blinding flash and Picard found himself moved, seated in a newly-created wingback armchair facing the fireplace. He was wearing his original outfit. But his granmere's china was missing from the side table. Worried, Picard looked about, then was relieved when he saw it safely resting in an open Welsh cupboard across the room.

"Relax, Picard," Q warned. "I don't wage war with china…" Q stopped and amended himself. "Or rather I do, that. I have waged war with China China. But that was eons ago, and with a delightful fellow named Khan. Did I ever tell you about him? We galloped across the magnificent tundras. He even taught me a few things that I didn't know about pillaging and plundering."

"Imagine that," Picard innocently commented, as he stretched, placing his feet upon his new leather footstool. It was at exactly the right height for him.

Q ignored his musing. "What was it that Riker served at the ship's wake? Now that was an ambrosian drink worthy of being quaffed by one such as myself! It was green, it was.."

Picard corrected him. "It was Aldebaran whiskey. I was the one who provided it. Since Riker and Mr. Data insisted on throwing a wake, the least I could do was make sure that suitable refreshments were served. The Enterprise deserved that much." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Though I hadn't counted on Klingons bringing blood wine…"

The floating crystal decanter disappeared, and it its place was a bottle with an elongated neck, filled with surging emerald liquid that poured into two cut crystal tumblers. One glass then drifted to within Picard's grasp.

Picard accepted it and sipped, feeling a familiar fire burn down his throat.

"Yes, this is it," he rasped. He leaned back against the multi-colored crewel-worked chair back and relaxed, actually rather liking the comfort of the chair. For an instant, he permitted his pleasure to show. For once, Q had done something that didn't require the saving of mankind.

Q grabbed his glass. "Well, it's not Glenlivet, but it will do." He drank deeply. He liked it. "You know, Jean-Luc, if you work at it, one day I might actually consider the possibility that you could have good taste - for a Human."

Picard paused from his contemplations and his drinking. "I don't remember seeing you at the wake."

"You didn't think that I would miss it, did you?" Q raised an eyebrow as he took his next sip. "Of course, I'm not surprised that you didn't see me. You were rather busy arguing with your Doctor Beverly."

Picard corrected him. "Beverly and I did not argue. Besides, what were you doing at the wake? I don't think that Riker would have issued you an invitation…"

Q huffed, "I was on the Enterprise's maiden voyage…"

"You weren't invited then, either," Picard grumbled.

"… I felt it only proper that I should be there at her end." And Q quickly added, "And you do, too, argue with Beverly!"

"We had a discussion-one that was held in private, as I recall."

Q paid him no mind, continuing, "And then, the way that you two resolved your differences- most entertaining." Q stood, narrowly avoiding getting the back of his heel spiked by the rocker's pointed end. He leaned towards Picard. "I was much impressed by you, mon chou. I didn't know you had such…vigor. Do you know that I've actually changed my opinion of you? You're risen in my estimation. You're almost worthy of becoming my attendant."

"An honor, to be sure," Picard dryly remarked. Then his attitude abruptly changed when he realized the full import of Q's blatherings. "How dare you spy-"

"I never spy. I was merely observing Human behavior. Tell me, Jean-Luc, is Beverly as orgasmic with you as she was with Ronin? For an anaphasic entity, he was quite gifted. But then, he had centuries of practice on Howard women."

"Q!" Jean-Luc was angry now. "My relationship with Beverly is not for your puerile amusement!"

"But it is amusing. Even you'll have to admit it. You crash your ship and get Beverly as the consolation prize! Or, did you win her in a poker game?"

"I will not permit you to-"

"Oh, stuff it. If I wanted to watch couples copulating, I'd watch Riker and his cher ami du jour, Or, the tens of thousands of other races that are far more inventive in their mating methods that you and that skinny, blah redhead." Q walked around the parlor, stopping to intensely study the bric-a-brac on the mantel. He scrutinized a small portrait of Beverly. "I could give you any exciting, vibrant woman in the galaxy, in any pleasure palace of the stars."

"For the moment, I prefer being on Caldos. With Beverly. This place is palatial enough for our needs."

Q decided to retreat into his drink.

Picard regrouped his thoughts for a moment as he sipped his whiskey. He didn't even protest when Q refilled his glass. Then he voiced his suspicions. "You were the one," Picard accused.

"I am always the One," Q countered.

"What happened to Admiral Nechayev. You did it."

"How would you know? You weren't even there!" Q took a deep breath, then rationalized, "Besides, she asked for it!"

Picard studied Q for a moment, recognizing that in Q's mind, he was telling his version of the truth.

"Are you trying to tell me that Admiral Alynna Nechayev asked Worf to…"

Q broke in with, "Well, she was the one leading the chorus of 'What do we do with a drunken Klingon?' I simply provided her with an answer."

Picard stifled a chuckle. "So, you spiked the punch?"

Q was affronted. "I would never spike the Verathian punch! I kindly prepared it from my own recipe." On Picard's disbelieving look, Q added, "Oh, all right! I improved the Romulan ale."

"But Romulan ale is already a potent…" Picard shook his head, more entertained than he really wanted Q to know. "Do you know, I had to work harder at rescuing Commander Worf's career than I had to convince Starfleet not to court martial Will." He sighed. "It was good fortune for Commander Worf that Lieutenant Barclay had been recording the party. From all angles."

"Why, Jean-Luc, whoever do you think gave Broccoli his new toys?" Q tossed off his drink, and then materialized more whiskey in their tumblers.

Picard almost laughed.

Q was pleased with Picard's seeming change of attitude.

"Where did the brass ass-miral send your resident arachnid, anyway? She couldn't have been too pleased with his behavior, not to mention his having copies of an event where all 'official' copies of the incident had disappeared."

"Theoretical Propulsion Group, Daystrom Institute. Both Barclay and LaForge have been assigned there, for the time being."

"And that weepy bucket of neural nets and rusty bolts? Nechayev couldn't have ordered him to erase his memories."

Picard almost laughed again. "Commander Data has decided to explore his new-found emotions by studying music composition at Harvard. He believes that he can now externalize his emotions through the expressiveness of music."

"He may actually do it." Q sniffed. "I pity his professors."

"Actually, so do I," Picard agreed. "Data's become fascinated with Wagner's works. He's been working on a Klingon revision of Die Gotterdammerung."

"I'll be sure to miss it. But let's get back to you, Jean-Luc. What are you doing here on this wretched damp backwater of a planet? Surely, you can dig around in a better class of mud somewhere else? Risa comes to mind. Why, their archaeological digs are crying out for you anal-retentive-attention-to-detail-type surveys!" He eyed Picard, and then maliciously added, "Vash could help. She is currently… how does she phrase it? Between jobs. And between beds."

"Vash never had trouble filling either." Jean-Luc returned the stare. "Though there have been occasions when I've questioned her taste."

"So have I. I always considered her to be more Riker's type than yours."

Picard stood, disclosing just how close to being annoyed he was again. "Enough of this nonsense. What do you want, Q? Why are you here?"

"Why, Jean-Luc, don't you like being in my presence? Some consider me to be fabulous company."

Picard turned away from him, about to tromp out of the room.

Q hurriedly continued, "I'm here to grant you a wish."

Jean-Luc stopped and whirled around to face him. "Meaning?" He didn't trust Q, not for a nanosecond.

"A wish. Any wish. What do you want, mon ange?"

"Q…"

"I can bring them back, you know…"

"What?" Picard was startled, not quite daring to give voice to his suspicions.

"Robert and Rene. You never believe me when I tell you that I really am a God."

"God plays by better rules than you."

"How would you know? You don't want to be God-or do you? Do you want me to turn you into a god? Then you'll know how much I suffer, you'll see how truly a tiresome job it can be, how set-upon I really am-granting boons all day, listening to tiny little entities whine incessantly…"

By the expression on Jean-Luc's face, even Q could tell that he had pushed Picard far enough. He tried a different tack. "I really can bring back the Enterprise, Jean-Luc. I could make it all as it once was… Or you could, if you really wanted to become a god."

For a moment, Picard knew that Q could do it. And he was tempted. His voice broke as he spoke. "Robert and Rene are dead. There will be other ships named Enterprise. I will not endanger the time line by altering history."

"History!" Q was disgusted. "You've already changed history by choosing to return as a starship captain than to be a lowly but safe Starfleet lieutenant, junior grade, Picard." Suddenly Q was standing directly in front of Jean-Luc, their noses point-to-point. "Just think. If you'd stayed that dare-nothing insignificant, little lieutenant, Robert and Rene would be alive today!"

"Incorrect. Or have you already forgotten about the paradox? If I'd stayed that lowly lieutenant, mankind would not have existed."

Q sighed, a long, deep, exaggerated, exasperated sound. "Sometimes I don't know why I bother with you. You're a bore-a great, big, bloody bore."

"I think that you must get something from my boring company. Otherwise, why did you go through so much effort in order to share a drink with me?"

With this, Picard snared the hovering whiskey bottle and poured himself some more. He then batted the bottle in Q's direction before returning to his armchair.

Q caught it, then sat down on the more stationary fireside stool. After filling his glass, he placed it on the table, and leaned forward, composing himself into his most serious, dramatic demeanor, and stared into Jean-Luc's hazel-grey eyes. He grasped the former captain of the Enterprise's hand.

"Jean-Luc, are you sure? I really could bring them all back without harming your precious time line."

For a moment, Jean-Luc understood the magnanimity of Q's offer, and was truly tempted. But a lifetime of beliefs and practices overruled his soul's desired. "Thank you, Q."

"But, no thank you, Q," Q finished. Q's serious demeanor vanished. "I still insist on doing something for you, mon frere. Admiral Nechayev, perhaps? I could transform her into a fluffy blue fish. She could join Livingston."

Picard contemplated his glass. "Too much more of this stuff, and your offer might begin to sound like a sensible course of action."

"You should be soaring about the stars, mon astronaute, and not suffering this benumbed existence. Besides, you have so much more to learn from the Continuum, Jean-Luc. You're going to be stifled here."

"I'll take my chances about being stifled. For the time being, I think that I need to be here. There will be other starships."

"But will you get one, Jean-Luc? After what you did for Riker, and only the gods know why, he stands a better chance of becoming the next captain of the Enterprise than you do."

"It was my duty. I could do no less. Besides, my relationship with the Starfleet Admiralty is my business, not yours."

"So Starfleet did force you to retire?" Q bristled. "I can fix that!"

"I didn't say that." Picard took another sip, silently touched that Q, for reasons only known to him, wanted to be the champion of the former captain of the Enterprise. "I'm taking an extended leave of absence. There is nothing wrong with my re-examining my life."

"So, here you are digging up unimportant shards of pottery, waiting for Beverly to get off duty from her Starbase hospital, waiting for Starfleet to hail you, or do whatever it is that Starfleet does?" Under his breath, Q muttered, "As Starfleet pointlessly assesses and reassesses your career…"

"There is a lot to be said for a little peace and harmony, especially after all that I've been through-including what you forced me to experience."

"I did it for your own good, mon comrade. Besides, do you think that you really did Riker a favor by helping him become the commander of… whatever?"

"…Of Starfleet graduate flight school at Starbase G-6."

"Isn't that near where your most beauteous, buxom Betazoid went to further her studies?" Q thought for a moment. "And isn't that where Woof is hiding out? Oh, my…" Q smiled, maliciously. "Menage a Troi… I think I'd almost like to become a bug on the rug of Deanna Troi's bedroom. Betazed just might prove to be a most interesting place to be in this galaxy during the next few months."

"Why don't you go to Betazed and find out?" Picard tartly added, "Or are you afraid that a lady ambassador from Betazed will use your head as a tennis ball again. She has quite a powerful swing, as I remember."

Q was miffed. "Obfuscate at will, Jean-Luc. That doesn't alter the fact that you are attempting to play matchmaker with three of your officers!"

"Former officers," Picard quietly stated, finally beginning to feel the effects of the real alcohol that he'd been imbibing. "They are only my friends, now."

"You know, I almost pity Woof," Q mused, "if Lwaxana should catch him. I wouldn't wish such a hellacious mother-in-law even on that Klingon." Q sipped his drink. "She'd be an even worst wife." He glugged some more alcohol. "Didn't she almost snare you, mon seigneur? I suppose that if I had to choose between two demon-brides, your Beverly is not the worst choice. At least she's biddable."

Picard almost choked on his drink. "I'll be sure to so inform Beverly when she gets home. I'm certain that she will express the appropriate appreciation for your kind words, if you plan on staying for supper."

"Is that an invitation?"

Picard nodded.

Q could barely control his surprise. "Who's cooking?"

"It's Beverly's turn."

"Pity, I just remembered-I don't have to eat like you wretched humans." Q was then silent for a while as he drained his glass. Without asking, he provided more refills, emptying the bottle.

"You cannot drink me under the table, Q. I've outgrown such foolishness." Still, Picard continued to drink.

Q didn't say anything. The only sound in the room was the fire popping. Mysteriously, firewood had been added when needed.

"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc," Q finally stated. "For your losses. I could have forestalled them, but then you'd have had to have been playing the game by my rules. And my heaven only knows what a misery you are when you won't play by my rules."

Again, the crackling of firewood was all that was heard before Picard confided, "Sometimes…"

"I know, Jean-Luc. Sometimes… I wish it, too. But neither one of us should change what we are-it would change the balance of the universe if we did." Q created another bottle of the green stuff. "Besides, you'd make an abysmal god. You've got a lousy sense of whimsy."

Picard softly replied, "I'm suitably insulted, I think."

They settled into an almost companionable silence, sipping their whiskey, watching the fireplace flames dance about.

"You know, Jean-Luc. I have a confession to make. I'll miss the Enterprise. If one has to transverse the universe in a mechanical tin toy, she did possess a rare style…"

"Yes, she did." Picard's voice was only a whisper, but it reflected the anguish of his soul. For a brief moment, Jean-Luc Picard was almost in sync with Q. He could not completely detest any being that recognized the worth of his beloved Enterprise.

Picard finished his drink , and shoved the glass away. Without saying a word, Q refilled it and dangled it in front of Picard. This time, Picard refused.

Q changed the subject. "So does Riker."

"What?" Picard's mental acuity was not quite up to normal.

"Possess style-for a mere humanoid."

"And what does that mean?"

"The wake. As human functions go, I'll remember it."

Picard nodded in agreement. "Starbase 74 is still rebuilding."

Q was curious. "Those Argosians are a testy race. Will Riker survive being banned from Argos?" Q chuckled at his own play on words.

Picard chuckled too. "They didn't cast out Will. Commander Quinteros just politely suggested that the next time Commander Riker throws a party, he do it in the Gamma Quadrant, especially if he plans on inviting Klingons and Nausicaans, again."

They were quiet again, each not quite suspicious of the other. Each not quite trusting the other.

Q's nosiness got the better of him, as he almost revealed, as last, the real purpose of his visit. He was worried about Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

"Tell me the truth. What are you going to do, Jean-Luc? I can't imagine you spending the rest of your days grubbing about, getting excited over the remnants of some other race's accomplishments."

Picard smiled. "For now, it will do."

"As you wait for Beverly. Good heavens, do you know how long you've waited for Beverly? Is she really worth it?"

"Q, I sincerely hope that one day you will know the answer to that question yourself." Picard knew what Q was thinking before he even opened his mouth to respond. "With one of your own kind." Not that Picard was thinking only kindly thoughts, for under his breath he muttered, "If such an unfortunate being exists."

Q heard Picard's last comment, though he chose not to respond, at least, not at the present time. "Jean-Luc, I know that I've said it before, and I know that I will repeat it in the future-sometimes, Jean-Luc, you're no fun!"

Picard finally laughed out loud. Perhaps it was the Aldebaran nectar influencing his feelings. At any rate, Picard was feeling rather charitable towards Q at the moment.

"You're right, Q. Perhaps being 'fun' is something that you can teach me, someday."

"Perhaps, I will." Q stood, pleased with the way his pet project was acting. "I must be off. Duty calls."

Picard looked at Q, incredulous. "Duty?" He enunciated it in disbelief.

"Oh, all right, mon furet. My whims await me." Q blinked, and suddenly he was wearing his resplendent red judicial robes. "Oh, by the way, Beverly's saving some mundane being's life. She going to be late. Oddly enough, she's still anticipating coming home." He studied Picard, noting the man's animated slight state of inebriation. "Don't look so worried, mon eleve. I'm not going to interfere with her return." He smiled. For a change, it seemed genuine. "Until next time…"

"Next time?"

"I've told you once. I've told you twice-I'll be seeing you."

Picard dryly replied, "I look forward to our future meetings."

Q laughed. "If I were you, ma folie, and if I really wanted to know the future, I'd just ask Guinan. If you knew the absolute honest-to-god's truth about the mysterious madame, you'd think of me in a far more benevolent light."

"Careful, you don't want to give me the impression that you care about what I think, now would you?"

Q looked about, avoiding Picard's questioning look. "Well, I'll leave you to your provincial peace, for the moment, mon comanditaire. It won't last."

Jean-Luc was annoyed. "Really? And stop fracturing my native language!"

"You won't accept this placidity for too long. You won't ever settle for anything less than stars, Jean-Luc" And lest Jean-Luc think that Q had a sentimental side, Q added, "I won't let you settle for less. You wouldn't be any more fun if you did. And I speak a million languages better than your French!"

With this, Q drained his glass and then flung it into the fireplace. It shattered into thousands of shards against the backplate. For a good measure, he tossed the decanter, too. For an instant, the alcohol flared brightly.

"Your Beverly is finally coming, so I really must be off. For some reason, I don't think that your good doctor particularly cares for my company."

"Perhaps you should have refrained from turning her into an Irish Setter."

"My goodness, hasn't the woman ever heard of forgive and forget?" Q snapped his fingers, the tray of chocolate desserts reappeared by way of a peace offering, and then he was gone.

Picard muttered to himself, "I don't forget, either."

And so he sat there, permitting the fire to lure him back to a place of somnolent contentment. After a while, he pulled the Stewart plaid blanket about his shoulders, as he waited for Beverly. He knew that Beverly would like the chocolate. And then he decided that this new armchair was definitely more comfortable than the old rocker.

As time passed, he thought that the heat from the fireplace, as well as the after-effects of the whiskey, were sufficient reasons to continue his nap. Beverly would wake him when she came home. Meanwhile, he wasn't going to try to analyze the motives behind Q's visit. For now, it was enough that Q had come. Q had wreaked no havoc, and that, unbelievably, Q had cared.

"Bonsoir, mon ami…" Jean-Luc whispered into the night air, before he rested his eyelids.

From some place, far, far away, a voice echoed, "I heard that, Jean-Luc!"

The End.