Note: Slight revisions made to prior chapter. More notes at bottom.

After a moment Picard realized his jaw was gaping slightly. He closed it resolutely. "What?"

"Oh, come now, Jean-Luc, don't tell me you didn't see this coming," Q said. "Honestly you were always the best choice anyway, but until I talked to Kathy... well, let's put it this way, I wouldn't even begin to contemplate enduring the horror of a voluntary parasitic infestation if it weren't for the fact that Kathy made it clear that no one else is going to. Besides, the enemy had a stakeout on you... which is why I needed help to get here." He lost the grin. "So I really hope this works out."

Picard shook his head. "Q, this is—this is ridiculous. How can you—this is simply absurd!" He realized he was on the verge of spluttering, but after what Q had just said, he thought some degree of being unable to come up with any words aside from "ridiculous" was justified.

"Why?" Q asked. "I told you my intention to have a child with a human, and you agreed that it might work. You even offered to help. Why does it suddenly become absurd because I'm asking you to help personally?"

Put that way, it did sound slightly less ridiculous, but Picard was finding it very hard to believe Q could possibly be serious. "This isn't—I know you, Q. It's one thing to approach someone who has no history with you..."

"Oh, I see the problem," Q said, scowling. "I keep forgetting about the limitations of your primitive mind. You can't grasp that I'm serious because, for all your intellectual understanding of my capabilities, you can't look at me and comprehend me as a being you could be capable of mating with." He snapped his fingers. There was a characteristic flash of light. "This should work better."

Where Q had been a moment ago there was... well, Picard still knew it was Q, but there was no point of resemblance aside from the expression on her face. She was a tall, young-looking, sensually built woman with milky pale skin and ringlets of platinum blonde hair. Instead of a modern Starfleet uniform, she wore the uniform that had been current when they'd first met Q at Farpoint, the body-hugging jumpsuit that had been incredibly annoying to wear, and it looked as if it had been poured onto her. She still had captain's pips, but now they looked downright bizarre because she looked younger than he'd been when he became the youngest captain in Starfleet. She smirked at him. "Is this better, mon capitaine?" she said in a voice that sounded exactly like a woman with an attractive voice in the alto range doing a perfect imitation of Q's speech patterns.

"No," Picard snapped. "For gods' sake, Q, if you mean me to take this seriously, this is not the way to go about it!"

"Why not?" she asked, sitting herself on Picard's desk, legs crossed, in a gesture Q was certainly capable of but which had an entirely different implication in this form. "Obviously, I can't convince your primate hindbrain that I'm absolutely sincere about this request without taking a female form. Is this one not to your liking?"

"No, it's not. You look much too young and frankly like a parody of what human men are expected to want in a woman. Either you're mocking me, or you actually have no idea what I'd find attractive, presuming that you're in fact trying to be attractive and not playing some absurd game."

She frowned. "I thought better of you, Jean-Luc. To look down on a woman's capabilities because she's young and sexy. For shame. I'll have you know the young lady I borrowed this form from annihilated an entire civilization with it and then helped to engineer a peace with the survivors."

"I'm sure she was quite brilliant and deadly, but she doesn't look a damn thing like you and she's much too young for me." He found himself wondering why he was playing along with Q to the extent of arguing that this ludicrous form change wasn't attractive enough, as if he actually thought Q could manage to be attractive to him in a different form when he still knew it was Q, or as if that would even be a good idea if Q pulled it off. But he didn't see any other way to shoot down Q's new strategy except by playing along.

"Well, then, I'm sure this will be more to your preference."

She flashed again. When she reformed, Picard actually growled at her. "Take your own form, Q! Or do you have so little imagination that you perpetually need to steal someone else's?"

The red-haired woman who looked almost exactly like Kamala looked puzzled. "This is someone else's form?" Then she hit herself in the head. "Oh, of course, your empathic metamorph! She got to it first. How unfortunate."

"What do you mean 'got to it first?'"

She slid off the desk, standing up, and began to pace, her body language an eerie replica of Q's normal movement patterns. She looked just like Kamala, but her speech patterns and body language were entirely Q, and the contrast was disturbing. "I didn't take her form, Picard, I just pulled your Platonic ideal of the perfect woman out of your head. Unfortunately for me, so did she, so now you've got it in your mind that that's actually what she looked like and your ideal woman was a real person, conveniently overlooking that the entire reason she looked like that was that she bonded to you by accident." She sighed. "It's really too bad. You've got good taste."

"I don't need you to be in a woman's form, Q. I want to have this discussion with you in your own form."

"Yes, that would be convenient for you, wouldn't it? It'd be so much easier to say no if I looked exactly like the entity you've been saying no to for a decade. But you do realize... the form you're familiar with isn't any more my own form than this is. I mean, you do realize that, right? You're not a total idiot?"

Picard sighed heavily. "Yes, I do know that," he said. "But I'm not a telepath, nor do I have any specialized senses that would allow me to tell that it's you in two totally different bodies. You appeared to us as a human in the first place so we could comprehend you; you must have realized that we would associate that form with your identity, or you wouldn't have kept showing up in it. I can't look at you in these female forms and recognize you. I know it's you, but when I know someone has an identity and yet they look nothing like that identity, my primate hindbrain, as you put it, tells me they're lying to me."

"How can I possibly be lying to you about who I am when I'm changing forms right in front of you?"

"I know you're not actually lying to me, Q, not in any real sense, but you're trying to manipulate me by looking like something you're not!"

"I always look like something I'm not! It's a little late to object to it now, Picard."

"Yes, but you flat out admitted to me that you want to look female because you don't think I can imagine mating with you otherwise, and you don't want to look like yourself because I always say no to you. That is manipulation. And you've admitted to it."

"Oh, what, would you prefer this?"

Now the body was still Kamala's... but the head was Q's normal, male head, stuck on the top of Kamala's body. "No!" Picard shouted. "If you're going to make a mockery-"

"Oh, this wasn't what you were looking for?" Q's head said in his normal, male voice. "You were so adamant that I look like myself..."

"You look like a bad holographic comedy routine. Take your own form!"

"Very well, then." Another snap, another flash.

Picard stared for an entirely different reason, this time.

She was still female. But this time, she was obviously Q, her resemblance to her usual male form inescapable and yet nothing about her seemed less than perfectly female. Her dark brown hair was slightly longer, styled in a more feminine manner than Q had ever done before, but it was still Q's hair. She was still tall, still taller than Picard, but by much less of a margin now. Her hips were wider, her shoulders were narrower, she had breasts, and her torso was shorter but her legs were the same length, which made them look very, very long in the Farpoint-era jumpsuit and women's uniform boots. She looked about the same age Q had looked at Farpoint, too. Q's normal form was about the same build as Riker, tall and imposing but without the overemphasis on physical strength that other big men like Worf displayed. This was the female version of that; tall, imposing, strong-looking but not emphatically so, the kind of woman you could buy a drink for in a bar who could then back you up in a bar fight, if she liked you enough. Her brow ridges and Adam's apple were gone, her nose was slightly smaller and her chin just a little softer... but she had Q's exact same intense eyes and Q's same full lips. Picard found himself thinking that actually, putting Q's lips on a woman's face looked surprisingly appropriate, as if Q's lips had always been sultry and feminine and he'd just never noticed in the context of a man's face.

He straightened his uniform shirt, almost unconsciously, and then berated himself for showing Q that much weakness. He hadn't thought Q could come up with a form that didn't look like some sort of parody, or a disguise, or for that matter anything he could actually find attractive given that he knew it was Q. This was Q, but entirely female, as natural-looking as Q's usual form was. As if she'd always been a woman. Which made sense because Q wasn't really any more a man than a woman, so if Q had managed for ten years to look exactly like a human man, probably Picard had underestimated Q by assuming Q couldn't look exactly like a human woman and still look enough like the form he was familiar with that he could recognize her.

"I see this one meets your requirements better," she said, in a different entirely female voice that was doing a perfect imitation of Q's speech patterns than the first one she'd used. "Is this enough 'my own form' for your tastes, Picard, or are you impossibly hung up on the shape of physical objects?"

Damn her. It was going to be very, very difficult to argue against this form without Q using his arguments to paint him, and all humanity, as idiots... which perhaps he shouldn't be concerned about right now, since Q wasn't here to test humanity, but it was too ingrained in him not to let down the side in front of Q. But he couldn't realistically say she didn't look enough like the form he was familiar with; she looked more like Q's usual form than Picard now looked like himself when he'd been a young man at the Academy, with hair. And he wasn't going to make the argument that she was unattractive even if it were true, which it wasn't, because that would imply that he actually cared whether she was attractive or not.

But... damn her. She was stunning.

Well, she wasn't really. She was hardly an imago of feminine perfection any more than Q had ever been one of masculinity; her nose was still a little too big, her eyes too closely set, for classical beauty, and objectively, if one removed identities from the picture, she wasn't as attractive to him as the Kamala form had been, or for that matter Beverly. The problem was that identities were in the picture. He'd have thought that knowing a woman was Q would have protected him against any interest in her whatsoever. What he was finding was the exact opposite. All the things he normally felt about Q, the annoyance and the reluctant fascination and the sharp spike of adrenaline from the danger and the opportunities Q represented, not fear exactly but hyperalertness, and the old anger and the old gratitude and all of it, had transmuted somehow, so that all those feelings were still there but dammit, so was attraction. And it didn't seem to matter that he was honestly angry at her right now for manipulating him like this or that he had never actually liked Q or that he knew that even if she was telling the truth about what she wanted she was still dangerous and still totally cavalier about completely disrupting his life. He couldn't take his eyes off her. Dammit.

And she knew exactly what she was doing, too, and she was doing it on purpose, and he couldn't even blame her for mentally manipulating him or using her powers or something, some way he could deny any responsibility for this and put all the blame on Q. All she'd done was change forms. He knew that. He would never have guessed, before Q had done it, that he'd actually find Q attractive in a female form, but the things he felt right now were entirely too much like everything he'd felt every time he'd been attracted to a woman who annoyed the hell out of him, or who'd treated him like garbage, or whose beliefs and morality were in utter opposition to his own, or who'd held power over him and had been entirely too willing to use it against him, for him to believe Q was using her powers to make him feel this way. And the worst part was that he felt fairly sure he wouldn't have been nearly as attracted to her if he hadn't known she was Q. Which implied things about his feelings about Q that... he really couldn't afford to think about with the entity standing right there.

And he'd spent much too much time without speaking, much too much time looking at her, and she was smirking and she obviously knew the effect she was having, and if he tried to argue her out of keeping this form he'd be admitting to far, far too much weakness. She might know how she'd affected him, but Picard had never tried to pretend to Q that he didn't have normal human weaknesses; the important thing he'd always tried to get across was never that he was impervious to human emotions but that he was never going to let them affect his behavior. "Fine, Q," he snapped. "If you absolutely insist in taking a female form, you may as well keep this one. At least I can recognize you."

Her smirk got bigger. And then vanished, as her expression turned serious again. "So now that we've gotten all this nonsense out of the way," she said, and started to pace around his office again. "Nothing I told you before has changed. I still need to have a child to win the ideological victory I need to bring the undecided Q in on my side, which is still most likely the only way I can possibly win my war. I still need to have a child with a mortal, of a species with the traits needed to achieve compromises and maintain peace, to bring the Continuum the ability to not start up another war in the future now that we have weapons. Therefore, I am still here to ask you to be the mortal parent of that child. For the sake of suns not blowing up in your dimension, even if you care nothing whatsoever about the welfare of my people. And since I'm well aware that you human males find the concept of pregnancy as appalling as I do, and since Kathy made it excruciatingly clear that no human, man or woman, is going to agree to endure the utter hell of a pregnancy for the sake of saving the Q, I am offering to do all the hard work and actually gestate the adorable little parasite."

Picard wondered if Janeway had engaged in some extreme hyperbole about pregnancy for the sake of convincing Q she was not going to say yes, and if maybe in fact she'd needed to to get "no" through his head, and exactly how rude Q had been about the proposition in the first place. Most human women didn't seem nearly as negative about the concept of pregnancy as Q seemed to think. Or maybe Janeway had the same opinion of children that Picard did, or maybe it was really just Q's opinion of pregnancy. Though to be fair Picard was having a hard time imagining even the most baby-crazed human woman being willing to have a child with Q. Of all people. "Why me?"

"I told you. Kathy wouldn't do it."

Picard sighed. "That does not answer the question, Q. You have access to every human being who has ever lived. Why me? For that matter, why humanity? You've been quite vocal about our shortcomings in the past."

"I don't bother to tell primitive species that they're primitive unless I'm fairly sure they have some hope of improvement in the near future. You notice I never put the Klingons on trial."

"No, but you've never missed an opportunity to insult Worf."

"Oh, I know, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but it's such tasty fish. I mean, he's right there." She grinned. "I confess it would take a Q with more impulse control than I have to pass that up."

"I would have imagined that would cover most of you, although now that I hear you're having a war, I have to wonder."

She applauded. "He shoots, he scores! Managing to insult both me and the Q as a whole in one sentence. Bravo!" Q came up to him, much too close, the same stunt of standing much too far inside his personal space that Q was always pulling. "And that is why you. Because you're compassionate. You're diplomatic. You have tremendous self control. You're ethical to the point where it's really, really annoying. And you're supremely arrogant, convinced you know better in virtually any situation, stubborn to a fault, aloof, much more comfortable with keeping people out than letting them in, quite witty for an inferior life form, and capable both of enforcing your personal moral beliefs on everyone you've been assigned power over, and keeping your nose out of the business of everyone you haven't been, even though you do have the power to demand that a significant percentage of the people you meet do things the way you think makes sense. In short you would make a perfect Q, while still possessing exactly the traits the Q most need to survive."

Picard stood his ground, despite his usual overwhelming desire to back away, get Q out of his face by getting away from the entity, and looked directly into her eyes. "I have no desire to be a Q."

Q stepped backward, pivoting, making it look more like restless energy than backing off. "Yes, yes, I know, and I have no ability to make you one, not now. With the Continuum fractured, no new linkages can be forged between the Continuum and anyone new. If you've never been a Q, then right this moment, you can't become one. Otherwise the solution to my problem would have been to give a whole bunch of mortals Q powers so they could wield our weapons and fight by our side." She paced around his office again. "But it's a matter of genetics. Your child can be expected to carry at least some of your traits, and you have none which could end up fatal for a Q. Unlike, say, Troi, who's so soppy and Goddess of Empathy and so in tune with everyone's feelings, she'd lose her sense of self and dissolve into the Continuum very, very rapidly. There's a reason we're arrogant and self-centered; Q who weren't didn't survive the Continuum very long."

"It sounds lovely," Picard said dryly.

"Yeah, there's also a reason some of us don't like to spend much time there." Her expression darkened for a moment. "But that's one of the things we're trying to change here. You're a diplomat, and a very, very successful one, and you can work quite well within a hierarchy and have done so for most of your life, and yet you are also unbelievably arrogant and stubborn and convinced you're right. You're my living proof that a being with the traits the Q need to maintain peace can actually survive the Continuum." Q smiled wryly. "Kathy's close; she's got a lot of those traits as well. But she's not you. My reasons for asking her first were practical and, I admit, there was some... personal reluctance at work as well, but if I'd made the decision based on who matches what I need the most precisely, it would always have been you."

"But... you have access to every human who has ever existed. Surely I cannot possibly be the most perfect representative of these... traits... that you want, throughout all of space and all of human history."

"You actually think you are. Admit it, Picard. You just think you ought to behave more humbly than you feel."

Picard sighed. "I don't actually think I am. Perhaps your accusation that I'm arrogant has some slight basis in fact, but I'm not that arrogant. I can't be the best human ever."

"You're the best human I know." She leaned against the wall, looking at the fishtank again. "You're not getting it, Picard. I'm under time pressure. I do not have time to conduct elaborate tests on every human who has ever existed or thoroughly research their lives the way I have for you. I've studied many, many humans, and of them, you're the best choice, and I don't have time to do any additional research. So yes, maybe sometime in the 12th century there was some Chinese woman who would have been perfect and also female and willing to have my baby in exchange for the secret of alchemy or something, but if there was, I don't know her and I don't have time to look. I risked my life to come here, Picard, I... I did in fact get my best friend killed trying to get to you so I could ask you this. Do you think I'd have done that lightly?"

"I can't even be the best choice you know, Q. I've never wanted children."

"What, and I have? Picard, at least your species has always been capable of reproduction! If you're not a father, it's only because you were lucky; you slipped up on getting your implants updated more than once, and on some of those occasions, your female partners were also behind on their shots. Yes, you personally never really wanted children, but you always knew it was within the realm of possibility. I've spent five billion years being quite comfortable with the idea that my species has no children. Ever." She shook her head. "If we're playing 'Who's Less Likely to Be Good Parent Material', I'm far ahead of you."

Picard agreed with that, though possibly not for the reasons Q had. "If your species has never had children, where did you come from?"

"What makes you think we came from anywhere? Perhaps we've always existed."

"Philosophically that falls into the First Cause fallacy. Though I suppose it's possible that you actually don't know where you came from."

Q laughed. "No one gets one past you, Jean-Luc." She sat down on his desk again, this time with her legs swinging free, nothing overtly seductive about her pose. "We used to create new Q, billions of years ago, but we haven't done it in a very, very long time. And even when we did, they were never children. Those of us who were created by the Continuum were... not precisely adults, more like adolescents, at the moment of our creation. I have a little sister who spent about half a billion years sticking nebulas everywhere because 'nebulas are sparkly', but she was never an infant... and, aside from the Q who used to be mortals that we invited to join us, she's the last one. For the past billion years or so, every new Q was an adult mortal we invited in."

If Q was going to sit, Picard was going to do so as well, otherwise it came across as if Q was in charge and Picard was standing on the carpet in front of her, which, given that this was his office and Q was asking a favor of him, was absurd. He walked back to his desk and sat down in his chair. "But if you ever did create new Q, then presumably, it's not an entirely new thing. Why would that be so revolutionary to you?"

"The whole Continuum made us. You ever read Brave New World?"

"The 20th century one or the 22nd century?"

"The 20th century, of course. The 22nd century book of the same name was a total waste of time."

"I've read both, actually."

"So you remember, the society in the book manufactured children in laboratories. Although Huxley still had them being born as infants, they were children of the entire society as a whole, without individual parents, and their growth was shaped, almost dictated, by the genetic mixture they were made with and the education they received. Children born to two parents, by random chance, were unheard of, except among the 'savages.'"

"But the society considered the entire concept horrifying. The mother of the 'savage' character had never wanted him, and he was an outsider."

"The difference is that the majority of those people were bred to be stupid, in varying degrees, and submissive, and very easily entertained with repetitive nonsense. None of the Q were ever created to those standards. We're mostly all bored out of our minds because nothing is ever different. And the undecideds aren't so bored they'd rather die than keep living this way, not like those of us in the freedom faction... but they are bored. Everyone is." She got off his desk and stood in front of it, leaning forward toward him, her hands on the surface supporting her. "A child isn't just a symbol of new life; it's actually a new thing, in a society that's been horrifically devoid of new things for aeons. Amanda's existence proves it can be done and it can produce a viable Q, but we spent Amanda's entire childhood on tenterhooks wondering if we were going to have to kill her; she ended up being perceived as a symbol of death. Which, let me tell you, she's really been milking lately. The other side are positively terrified of her." Q smiled proudly, straightening up.

Picard tried to imagine the sweet, shy blonde girl being terrifying. There'd been moments, when it had looked like Q might teach her the same complete disregard for human lives the rest of the Q seemed to have, but how could her peers fear her? "Just because she's a symbol of death?"

"No. Because she's the deadliest Q in the war. She brought us the weapon - saved all our bacon, we were going to be massacred because we didn't have it and they did - and it's never bothered her nearly as much to kill other Q as it has the rest of us, because she doesn't have billions of years of history with them. And because she grew up believing her death was a possibility. And because when she decides to look like a mortal she's practically invisible. So she can practically walk up to an enemy before they notice her, and she's got no hesitation before pulling the trigger." Q's smile was actually tender now. Picard didn't think he'd ever seen such an expression on Q's face. "They call her the Deathchild, and she's living up to it. But don't get me wrong, she wants an end to this as much as the rest of us do. She's really turned out to be quite a delightful person, actually. It's just... you cannot use your deadliest soldier as a symbol of new life no matter how delightful she is."

"But aren't you concerned that the other Q will associate a new child with the sense of deadliness that they've associated with Amanda?"

"No, because the undecideds aren't scared of her. She's still the smallest, weakest, least experienced Q in the Continuum. Without the factor of the weapons... it'd be like being afraid of a kitten. It's just that against the enemy, the kitten's got some very sharp claws." Q poured herself another drink from Picard's bottle. "It doesn't matter anyway when you think about it. If this doesn't work, I'm most likely dead and so are the rest of us. Did I mention that the enemy outnumbers us, Picard?"

"You did, yes."

She drank most of the glass in one draught, and set it down hard. "So. Pedal to the metal, Picard. You know what's at stake. You know what I've sacrificed to ask you for this. Yes or no?"

Picard stood again. "It's not that simple, Q."

"In the end, yes it is. It's going to end up being a yes or a no, and I haven't got forever anymore."

"I can't agree to something like this cavalierly. This isn't... I need to discuss this with my staff."

Her eyes widened. "You need permission from Billy and Bevvy before you can father a child? Do they give you potty passes as well? Maybe a cookie when you're a good little captain?"

"It's not about fathering a child."

"It most certainly is!"

"Q. If that were all it was, yes, of course, my crew would have no input and it would be my private decision. But if that were all it was, the answer would be no. The entire reason I can't simply say no is that this is about stopping an alien species' civil war, which makes this a Prime Directive matter, which means-"

"I thought the Prime Directive applied to inferior cultures."

"We say less advanced, not inferior. And it's not that simple, either. The Prime Directive forbids us categorically from interfering in the culture of a pre-warp society. But it also affects our interactions with, and interference with, the internal affairs of all other cultures, outside the Federation. I cannot just blithely take sides in an alien civil war without discussing the situation with my advisors."

"Bullshit, mon capitaine," Q snapped. "How exactly did you manage to be the arbiter of the Klingon succession without interfering in a non-Federation culture?"

"The difference is, we know the Klingons. We knew exactly what we were getting into. We understood their culture, we knew what the different sides stood for. All I know about the Q Continuum is what you've told me!"

"Just admit it, Picard, you're looking for a reason you can say 'no' where you don't have to take sole responsibility!"

"You're obviously not reading my mind," Picard snapped. "I'm looking for an objective opinion. I'm inclined to say yes. But I cannot say yes to a thing like this without making sure that people with less personal involvement than I have, people who are more objective than I am, agree with my reasons! It would be the height of irresponsibility-"

"You're inclined to say yes?" She looked every bit as flabbergasted as Picard himself must have, earlier.

Picard took a deep breath and straightened his shirt again. "I am. The issue of a war of this nature... quite aside from the fact that your weapons are destroying suns, even if there were no danger of collateral damage, it seems an unbelievable tragedy for such an ancient civilization to be destroyed this way, and it does seem as if humans have had some involvement in perhaps accelerating that process. I've risked my life to end wars where I had less at stake and humanity had less to do with it. But I have to be sure that I'm right. And despite what you say of me, I'm not perpetually convinced that my ideas are always right. I need another perspective."

Because he had so many reasons why he was leaning toward yes, and so many of them were bad. He wanted to save the universe from the Q war. He wanted to save the Q themselves, for the reason he'd just explained to Q. He wanted the Q Continuum in humanity's debt. He wanted to prove to the Q once and for all humanity's worthiness, and a half-human saving them from themselves would almost certainly do that. He wanted proof that the things Q had said about respecting him, after Q had spent so many years taunting him, tormenting him, challenging him, were the truth. He wanted to not have to say no to Q all the time, and if Q were sincere about any of this then this wasn't a test and he didn't have to say no to pass it and he didn't have to risk losing his humanity, or wielding power no human should ever have, or falling into a horrible trap, to do it. And after the Picard line had been destroyed so horribly and pointlessly by Robert and Rene dying in that fire, the idea of having a child at all had become less alien, less unthinkable, and a child with Q would never, ever die the way poor Rene had. And he wanted, badly, to be able to believe Q.

And most of these were absolutely terrible reasons for saying yes to something like this. Especially given all the excellent reasons for saying no, like the fact that having a child would completely disrupt his life and career, or the fact that this was Q. But the war. If the war was real and it could be ended this way, he would be unconscionably selfish for refusing. How could he live with himself if an entire sentient species was wiped out in an unexpected supernova because he refused to help Q?

But when he had so many incredibly bad reasons why he wanted to say yes, how could he be sure he wasn't fooling himself? What if he was overlooking something obvious because he wanted to overlook it? What if he were more influenced by Q's form change than he was admitting to himself, and his judgment was actually clouded by lust? (For Q. Of all people.) What if it was obvious to everyone but him that Q was lying through her teeth and this was all a game? He had to know.

His crew had no complicated mixed feelings about Q. They just disliked the entity, cleanly. Q wasn't here to flatter and seduce them, and no one would believe it if she tried. They'd have every reason to mistrust Q. So if they agreed with him that it was a good idea, then he'd know it was the right thing to do. And if he was overlooking something because he wanted to believe Q, they'd see it.

"You're thinking about saying yes." Q was still staring at him.

"For a nigh-omnipotent being your hearing is apparently awful."

"It's not my hearing that's in question," Q said. "I just..." She sat down heavily on the couch. "You were fighting every point I made. I thought you were going to say no."

"I usually fight every point you make."

"You usually say no."

"I haven't said yes yet." But he wanted to. Q looked... vulnerable. Maybe because of the form change. But no, Picard had seen it in Q while he was still in male form. The utter confusion of grief for someone Q had never expected could die, his voice breaking as if he were on the verge of tears... Picard had felt, then, as if he'd wanted to help Q somehow, but he hadn't known how. How did you help anyone deal with the death of a lover, let alone someone who had literal reason to think their lover was immortal? And now, Q looked stunned, as if she'd been living so long without hope and fighting anyway despite it, she didn't know what to do with the possibility that she might get what she wanted.

"You need your crew to validate you? You know they're going to assume everything I say is a lie, right?"

"Yes. So if you can convince them... I can be certain of my own logic."

"And if I can't convince them?"

"Q, if you are sincere, then I suggest you be convincing."

"Why would I lie about any of this? You think I'd pretend the Q are having a civil war? Picard, if I wanted into your pants that badly, there are easier ways! I never even wanted to admit this to you-"

She broke off. "Admit what to me?" Picard asked.

"Any of this." Q looked away. "You know, when you put someone on trial for being a grievously savage child-race, it doesn't really make one feel good about crawling to them begging for help because your own people are having a civil war. We were supposed to be better than this. I thought we were better than this. And you're the last person I wanted to admit to that we're not. Well, maybe not the last person, but certainly in the top five." She looked at him. "Trust me, Picard. If I were going to play some elaborate game on you, pretending that my people have gone to war, of all things, pretending that to you of all people, is not how I would go about it."

She had a point. "Why did you, then? If this is the truth, and you didn't want to tell me the truth... you've lied before when you didn't want to admit to something."

"I told Kathy I just wanted to have a baby. My biological clock was ticking off the aeons. She didn't believe me. Maybe I could have convinced her to do it if I'd told her the truth from the beginning... and she told me, telling the truth from the beginning, admitting to you how unrelievedly awful the situation is up front, was the only realistic way I could possibly get you to agree."

"You discussed how to approach me?"

"Well, how to approach some human who wasn't her. I didn't tell her I was thinking of going to you until after she'd already given me the advice."

Picard sighed. "That... is really the sort of thing she was probably advising you against doing."

"Hey, if she's going to turn me down it's none of her business who I turn to instead. She knows you, or she thinks she does, anyway. If I'd told her up front my objective was to talk to you, she'd have told me it was impossible, because she's read all your logs about me, and you've done a very good job of convincing Starfleet that you utterly despise me. She's never seen you interact with me, so she doesn't know any better."

"It's hardly as if I consider you a friend, Q."

"No... but you're thinking about maybe saying yes. That's... friendly, at least. Half my old friends are trying to kill me right now, so I'll take what I can get."

Picard inclined his head in acknowledgement. "So. Since time seems to be of some importance here, I will call in my staff and explain the situation. You... probably shouldn't be here during the discussion."

Q shook her head. "What, I'm supposed to go sit in the hallway while you debate my fate behind my back, as if I can't hear everything you say no matter where I am? I'm staying right here."

"Then at the very least let me do the talking. You have a remarkable talent for antagonizing people when you aren't even trying. If you want them to accept what you've told me, you should probably refrain from your usual sarcastic commentary."

She sighed ostentatiously. "Fine. My lips are sealed, Picard."

Notes: The first female form Q takes is Caprica Six from Battlestar Galactica (the 2003 series). Peter David referred to Q taking the form of an overtly sexy blonde woman in the book Q-In-Law and as hilarious as it was, I always thought it felt wrong because I could not imagine a young sexy blonde bombshell looking like she has Q's mind behind her eyes. Then I watched Tricia Helfer play Caprica Six, plus Head!Six, and realized who would be capable of playing Q in a blonde, sexy, female form. However, she's still too young for Picard.

Amanda Rogers as the deadliest fighter in the Q war is a theme I've hit in "Amanda Goes To War", "The Night The Day The War Began", "Snapshots from Eternity" chp 3 "I want for a child", "Seventeen Things That Might Have Happened to Q" chp. 16 "Assassin Revisited", and the "Judgement Day" arc, particularly "Judgement Day 6: The Partisan." Other writers, fan and pro, write a much softer Amanda, but no one but me actually seems to have thought through what the psychological impact on a species would be if they suddenly have the ability to kill each other when they never did before, and they are suddenly using it; thus, no one has thought through what the difference would be if one member of their species grew up in the expectation that if someone points a gun at her and shoots, she would die, or for that matter that she's the only Q in the Continuum without billions of years of history with all the other Q in the Continuum.

Q saying that Picard is the best human she knows is a callback/homage to a different story on this site, writerofprose's "Thou Who Art But Air" (originally called "Pals?"), although in the context it also seemed like the only line that would make sense.

Picard and Q's brief discussion about where the Q come from is intended as a direct callback and refutation of Q's exact same response to Janeway, where she asked where the Q came from if they don't reproduce and he answered that the Q have always existed. As this is a direct contradiction of both the spirit of Star Trek in general, where there are no true gods, merely extraordinarily powerful and highly evolved aliens (who got where they are by evolution, and whose level humanity may evolve to someday), and actual statements made by Quinn in "Death Wish", I have always assumed that Q was lying, probably because he didn't feel like seriously attempting to explain how the Q could have ever had new Q without ever having had children, or parents. Picard knows too much philosophy to fall for this crap, whereas Janeway is a scientist, not a humanities major.

Next: The meeting with senior staff goes exactly as well as you would expect. And if anyone thinks Q is going to be able to keep her promise about keeping her lips sealed, you don't know Q very well... :-)