Actions

Work Header

The House That Omnipotence Built

Work Text:

In the grand scheme of things, when one considers its owners, the modern house that occupies a suspiciously quiet hillside of the densely populated city really isn’t overly impressive. It’s certainly prime real estate; standing alone for a clear half-mile on either side, gifted with a truly delightful view, a pair of adorably striped deckchairs sit largely untouched in a generous, acacia-fenced garden that nevertheless never fails to catch the midday sun (a pointless escapade, truly, when its inhabitants never occupy its space within daylight hours): yet it all remains painfully modest if one knows those who live within its sheltered confines. It’s bigger than it looks, of course, prepossessing a sizeable kitchen-diner and lounge that had been quickly enlarged further without any remote difference to the exterior (“Dimensional engineering, mon capitaine, Q-style! I’d love to see your dear Commander LaForge attempt this, frankly”), and no less than three spacious bedrooms (“Why in the Continuum’s name do we need these, again?” “Well, I thought your son may wish to – that’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” “Entirely.”), along with two enormous bathrooms (“Far be it from me to question the merits of such a grandiose shower, Jean-Luc.” “Yes, well, I’m not entirely averse to being transparent.” “Ha!”) and far more windows than even such a cutting-edge example of postmodern architecture ought to be able to lay claim to (“Exhibitionist in our old age, are we?” “I do hope you’re talking about yourself there, dear”), but it’s rather inescapable that it could vastly more interesting. It could have sixteen floors, be every shade of every universal spectrum, or span dimensions and multiple time zones simultaneously; it could be anything, bidden by the whims of literal gods, and it could be anywhere, anywhen.

 

… But, then, that’s never been the point. It’s no coincidence that it overlooks the principle training ground of Starfleet, nor the steadily progressing build of a brand new iteration of the flagship a few miles further across the horizon, any more than it’s ironic than the neighbourhood it resides within plays host to a small but dedicated collection of authentically French delicatessens, two of which maintain a minimal stock of Château Picard (its benefactor has never been one for self-indulgence, truly, but what’s the point of being all-powerful if it can’t occasionally grant them the finest of wine?) There’s a park two kilometres hence that houses an eclectic student populace in desperate need of a benevolent mentor come evening, who may just occasionally stumble across a very specific example of such whenever the mood takes him; it’s all so very electric and prosperous and alive and oh so painfully human, however many delightful aliens also so frequently mill around the avenues, alleyways, shops and eateries.

 

Indeed, it’s all so very purposeful, because when one doesn’t require sustenance, or rest, or any sort of sanitation device, why else would they have a house?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

It’s almost a hundred years into immortality that Jean-Luc Picard truly starts to lose touch with his former life. He stares into the depths of the end of reality itself – the Arctirillian Expanse, his still relatively new omniscience instinctively knows – and shivers in existential despair at the tendrils of space that creep silently into previously unchartered realms of the fabric of being itself, bleeding colour, misshapen matter and possibility into the universe. One day, some implausible semblance of eons into the future, it will all take root, craft worlds, stars, entire galaxies; new constellations, the ideas of deities who have forged it all, echoing across the mythology of its eventual populations, forming religions and civilisations and new cuisines and styles of clothing and manners of entertainment. The first beings will be varying shades of purple, and have four arms, and the fact that he knows that already so many millions of years before it’s even happened is utterly inconceivable even now, and beyond terrifying.

 

He’s spent an entire human life of overconfidence, of exploration, of meaning, and it boils down to this – instant gratification, instantly granted, at the extension of a finger; a metaphorical “make it so.”

 

How entirely stupid he had ever been to think he knew it all, that nothing else could truly shock him. The cosmos continues to blithely expand, leaking as though a poorly fused conduit into some Narnia-esque fantasy land, and dear stars, what if they think of him as their god, because the only uncertain thing is their own personal timelines – perhaps they’ll pass through once too often, cast a little too much influence –

 

“I told you this was a terrible idea,” a concerned voice notes to his left, and Picard comprehensively collapses into arms that encircle him and silently tighten, so agonisingly grateful that he has a representation of sanity even here.

 

“Honestly, man – ‘I’m going to take you to where it all ends, my dear’? How was that ever going to be a halfway decent anniversary gift?” The gentle mockery of his own voice floats impossibly through the void, and his eyes sink shut, grounding himself upon it. “For future reference, I’d have preferred flowers, you ridiculous man. I dislike endings, Jean-Luc.”

 

Their wedding rings clink together almost inaudibly as wrapped hands are pulled up to his chest, even though it should be completely inaudible, and he knows therefore that it’s for emphasis, much like that it’s for emphasis that they’re speaking at all, and he takes a long pause to simply breathe and be so very thankful that his husband understands his need to feel less god-like for a moment. He remembers, beginning to calm, why he’d suggested the destination in the first place – the implication, so deeply meaningful, that they would one day face all of this together: the ultimate adventure, so very very far from the remit of Starfleet, so impossible when he’d belonged solely to their ethics. He’d meant to impress that upon the entity he so adored, that he’d accepted all of this for, because gods only knew it was a damned sight better present than a bouquet of Risan posies.

 

All it had served to do instead was remind him of how desperately inhuman this all makes him, and will eternally continue to make him, despite the physical appearance he so adamantly refuses to give up.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

He nods, lips resting upon their conjoined fingers, his eyes still loathed to open. It’s just the fact that they’re billions of octillions of light years from the Alpha quadrant, so achingly far from anything remotely tangible or physical or representative of humanity that he could scream into the ether before them –

 

“I want to go home.”

 

The words have left his lips before he can quantify what he even means, and Q spontaneously stills.

 

“… You’re going to have to be more specific there. Surely you don’t mean the Continuum -”

 

God, no.” The thought of their surroundings being so utterly malleable, so open to any form of interpretation their siblings desire, is currently horrific; besides, it’s hardly home, not for either of them, though it’s fair to say that it’s the closest they have.

 

“The Enterprise, then?”

 

He tightly squeezes already firmly closed eyes, grimacing heavily – he doesn’t need to recall precisely what he’s lost right now, and so long ago at that, so long before he’d even been supposed to die –

 

It isn’t a loss, you awful fool, this could never be a loss

 

“Oh,” Q comments simply, and Picard burns at the apprehension of his tone. “That was the last thing I thought you meant, darling.”

 

He has no palpable clue whether his spouse casually reads his mind, or whether he’s just run out of options, but a half-second later, the finale of reality is once more a distant concept as he opens relieved eyes to a painfully familiar vineyard, and finally, he can breathe again, however little he needs to nowadays. The memories assault him unconsciously, of a little boy, his dog and occasionally of his stoic brother, sprinting between grapevines with reckless abandon, no conceivable clue of what would one day await him high above; of stealing perfectly ripe grapes, of giggles and the passionate adventure of youth, and it’s all so nostalgic and wonderful, but it’s still not quite right.

 

It’s all far too quiet, too inactive, the birds soaring across the landscape the only notable sound; he extricates himself from his beloved’s embrace, and turns to him with quiet adoration.

 

“Thank you,” he murmurs, realising himself in that exact moment precisely what he needs, “but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

 

He directs a firm finger ahead, such a deliciously familiar gesture, and they’re somewhere else entirely; somewhere still on Earth, but somewhere that provides the oh-so-necessary fusion of reminiscence and bustle. The streets sing with life beneath them as hundreds of beings zoom past, and Q glances around in brief confusion.

 

“San Francisco?” He asks rhetorically, because omniscience will do that to a homeless entity, and he faces the grandiose campus before them with a knowing nod. “Ah.”

 

The ultimate hub of humanity, Starfleet Academy, glistens in sleek metal and gleaming windows, and at last, Picard remembers what it’s like to feel the kind of solidity he’s been lacking for so damned long. This had been where it all began, his journey to captaincy and the immortality that lay beyond, and it splits a grin across his features even as it infuses a deep, weakening sense of belonging to his very essence.

 

“We just going to stand here all day, then?” Q ponders conversationally, before shrugging. “Not that there’s anything stopping us, obviously –”

 

Picard spontaneously takes his hand, tethered so powerfully by his own recollections, but also by the fact that he can share them.

 

“We do this, you know,” he says softly, eyes warm. “Showing off our old haunts, our alumni – it’s a very human –”

 

Gazes suddenly break away from one another, foreign awkwardness careening over a couple married for two centuries, and they both wonder how this can possibly still be an impasse before one of them clears their throat, adopts a faint and false smile.

 

“Anyway,” Picard recommences, “thought you might like a tour.”

 

Q regards him neutrally for a painfully protracted moment, and he acknowledges that he’s never felt so known, not even during their first, precious sexual liaison.

 

“Lead on, mon capitaine.”

 

Picard tries very hard indeed not to swallow down trepidation at the precise thoughts that must be occurring to his fellow deity, flatly refusing to read them – he tightens his grips and tugs him forwards, determined to feel normal, however briefly.

 

 ----------------------------------------------------------------

 

They’re exploring calcite ruins a little over two decades later, on the icy continent of a Theta Quadrant world long forgotten by time and purpose, when he begins to remember once more how desperately he misses the continuity of humanity. It’s all going swimmingly, really, their exploration unencumbered by the uneven footing or the lack of oxygen that had originally rendered the place inhabited – geological instability, proximity to a volcano, something along those lines that Q hadn’t much cared for the mortality of and thus that they’d barely discussed – or at least it had been, until he’d gone on ahead, discovered cave paintings and earned himself a historical lecture that he’d generally have found quite fascinating.

 

“Ah, the famed Lusperian artistry,” Q observes in his ear, tone intrigued – he’s just as deeply prepossessed of intrigue as his husband, and it’s amongst the many reasons Picard loves him so much, that he never fails to be just as fascinated by the universe’s many quirks as he is despite his vast age. “They were of remarkably low intelligence, but a profound imagination; they barely left these caves, but they wanted to see the stars, to meet their celestial gods. They couldn’t engineer a halfway acceptable toaster oven, of course, and thus they drew instead. It’s something, I suppose.”

 

Picard stares, unblinking, at the art for what feels like hours – it’s primitive, displaying its creators rising upwards and past the confines of their sheltered domiciles as little more than mildly detailed, coloured stick figures – but it burns with emotion, with the desire to be more, and it sends a profuse ache careening through him that tastes distinctly of a pool of amino acids he’d once seen form, of a carpeted bridge and a man who strove to discover and assist and prosper in his journeys.

 

“All the way out here,” he breathes, “and still so very human.”

 

He doesn’t notice Q’s wince, the fleeting anxiety of a gaze so ancient and lost, his attention too rapt upon the flaked paint beneath fingers that run through lines so very withered by time’s cruelty.

 

“They rather predated your people, but perhaps.” The words are hollow, and Picard blinks against them. “I don’t know about you, dearest, but I’m absolutely bored to tears by this damned cave network – it’s about time we went somewhere distinctly more modern, don’t you think?”

 

He doesn’t have a second to forge any sort of protest before they’re amidst some form of park, its looming sculptures gleaming in triple suns, a similarly shimmering xenometropolis in the middle distance, and Q is offering him an expectant hand, stare one of consternation and annoyance in a single instance.

 

“Why are we here?” Picard questions stiffly, unmoving, and Q’s eyes shift to a rich bitterness even as he affects a light tone.

 

“New adventures, my dear! Vastly less talk of primitive beings. Shall we?”

 

He doesn’t miss the quiet breath when he accepts the hand, nor the soft, almost pleading pressure applied to fingers that tug him insistently onwards and towards the central hub of Proteo VIII.

 

He doesn’t yet understand quite why, Q’s mind uncharacteristically guarded long into the evening, and neither does he forget, but it’s enchanting to be immersed in a very much living culture again even if it isn’t human, and it becomes a question to revisit later, when he’s gathered further evidence. He’s always admired the classic detectives, after all.

 

His principle further thoughts drift to across the horizon, from the earl grey cocktail he sips from a sun lounger, to the apartments that lay opposite the rooftop garden. A comprehensive overview of life – not entirely unappealing, that…

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

After that, he sees humanity everywhere.

 

Even on worlds and in galaxies his former people couldn’t ever have heard of, their influence remains nevertheless; in quadruped aliens munching on something that looks suspiciously like electric blue croque monsieurs over a leisurely lunch, in patterns of architecture that remind him far too much of French farmhouses, in clothes the right shade of maroon or mustard or teal or in the animated chatter of people excitedly discussing spatial phenomena as they walk past, or in the physical features of those who are just slightly too humanoid not to ring distinct bells in his head – even in the derelict fields or landscapes of the cosmos, when it’s just the two of them murmuring sweet nothings or placidly watching the universe, the same stars shine overhead that he’d once so purposefully traversed, and even the ones he’s never seen before can’t fail to drown him in horrendously vivid nostalgia.

 

It’s getting ridiculous, frankly. He’d think it the elaborate, ironic practical joke of his husband, always the mischievous one, if only Q didn’t seem so disturbed by every lingering stare, every moment of reminiscent silence; he’s adopted a recent unconscious twitch at every mention of the human race, however vague the link proves, and has developed a deeply frustrating habit of completely changing the subject, or once again whisking them elsewhere without any manner of explanation, and it hardly takes Dixon Hill to acknowledge the reason when it’s become so obvious.

 

Q has always felt humans beneath him, and if they’re beneath him, they should now be beneath his spouse. What in the galaxy’s name is there to covet, after all, when the universe is one’s playground, compared to the oh-so-limited scope they’d known before? What is continuity, or ignorance, or such useless concepts as eating and sleeping when time is for others, when wisdom is now so comprehensive and crystal clear, when replicators and preferences in bedding patterns are so far beyond obsolete it’s laughable?

 

Except it’s never been beneath anyone to be human: they’re brave, bold, spirited, ambitious, glorious in their pursuit of higher knowledge, and he can certainly realise in bitter retrospect that they’re not quite as enlightened as they’d like to think, but they try, forging alliances and exploring strange new worlds with an absolute zest, doing their absolute best for everyone they come across, acting with diplomacy and honour and courage, and that’s what matters. It’s what has always mattered so strongly to him, defined his career… led him to an immortality with an entity he loves so deeply, and accordingly doesn’t care to be very angry with.

 

They’ll revisit this, and shortly – as soon as he’s calmed down, at least, at the icy acknowledgement that he ought to be better than his own species. Hadn’t Q always tried to prove as such, even during their initial meetings? He’d rewritten his then reluctant friend’s personal history to crassly point out how similar they were, after all –

 

“Street food, Jean-Luc?”

 

Picard glances up, vexed, once more absorbed in the old god’s intrigue and the bustling town they’re striding casually through.

 

“What?” He asks, lost in his own irritation.

 

“Do keep up, will you?” His voice is snippy, though the roll of his eyes affectionate. “Street food, my dear! The vendor over there is selling a Reloc’t delicacy that rather resembles ice cream. I recommend the quilla fruit, if you’re tempted to indulge? Little bit citrusy. Fortunate, too – didn’t think they made the stuff in this particular country.”

 

Humans eat ice cream, his treacherous mind points out, and all at once, his essence twists at the belated awareness of quite why he’s been seeing humanity absolutely everywhere. Omnipotence is annoyingly unconscious sometimes, particularly when one is too distracted by their own reminiscences to sufficiently reign it in.

 

“Go ahead,” he mutters, metaphysically elsewhere. “I’m not hungry.”

 

Why would I be, when I’m so above such things?

 

Q raises a brow high, exasperation almost gaining physical tangibility.

 

“Well, you haven’t eaten anything for almost three centuries. Thought you might be a bit peckish by now.” His tone threatens to spread drought through the eastern continent, coupled as it is by a brief glance of worry. “Feel free to talk about it, by the way. I’m not quite the stellar counsel your dear Betazoid was, but then, you didn’t marry her.”

 

Despite his misgivings, a fond smile touches his lips for a moment, and he spontaneously decides that for now, Q’s social elitism can await later discussion; they have the whole of forever to do so with, and he does so hate any antagonism between them. They’ve barely shared a crossed word since his new existence had begun, and he’s not intending to start now. Diplomacy hasn’t ever stopped serving him well, apparently.

 

He wonders errantly how many more times he can plausibly dismiss his mounting concerns for an unspecified future moment, and it aches insistently as he feigns cheeriness.

 

“I’m fine, Q,” he reassures him softly. “Honestly.”

 

The entity’s forehead creases for a second, and he says nothing as he leads them on through the alien town, which Picard knows with a private grimace is just about the worse reaction possible from a being who barely ever deigns to keep his opinions to himself.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Of course, it all has to come to a head eventually, and it doesn’t even take another decade.

 

They’re staring up at the entrance to the most glorious temple Picard’s ever seen; intricate columns of hand-crafted crystal shine as though a newborn supernova at the soft streaming of dual suns, lined in an Acropolis-like sequence and supporting a roof of space-dark marble. Equally impressive humanoid sculptures line the avenue leading to it, carved from what appears to be liquid sapphire, and he chooses not to ruin the illusion with damnable knowledge.

 

It’s utterly breathtaking, and the smile he turns upon his husband is one of pure rapture.

 

“You’ve been saving this one up, haven’t you?”

 

Q practically preens.

 

“I may have been,” he admits, grinning. “Knew you’d be impressed. Wait until you see its interior, my dear.”

 

Picard swipes a gentle finger across the nearest guardian, fascinated by the fact it feels almost gelatinous, and beams.

 

“Well then, wouldn’t do to keep it waiting.”

 

He’s naturally pensive as they stride towards the doors, absorbing the wonder of it all, the sheer artistry involved, and it allows him an unsuspicious, private contemplation – it still frequently sticks in an embittered throat, but he’s managed not to mention humanity for eight years. He still stares occasionally, when he forgets himself, or finds himself a little too preoccupied for his perceptive spouse’s comfort, but their unspoken conflict has managed to pass with precious little consequence to the overall sanctity of their marriage – besides, he reasons quietly, it doesn’t really matter, does it? He’s always known Q’s feelings on humans, knows they’re very much unlikely to alter, and he cherishes him so powerfully nevertheless – plus, said deity seems far happier at his neglecting to mention his old species, and that’s what truly counts. He just has to put it out of his mind – he isn’t human anymore, and therefore there’s little point in lamenting his purpose –

 

He steps inwards, the door being held kindly open for him, and his idle thoughts spontaneously sputter to meaninglessness.

 

It’s spectacular, rows of seats and ceremonial décor shaped in every shade of spectral crystal its creators had had access to, all illuminated to brilliance by the stained-glass constellations that adorn the generously proportioned windows, but no number of deities reside above the altar – instead resides a perfectly preserved, holographic microcosm of the universe, drawn in flawlessly accurate line art (he’d know) and tens of metres across.

 

“Welcome to the last great cathedral of the Martopilians,” Q introduces casually at his side, tone painfully self-satisfying. “One of precious few races with a religious philosophy I can get behind – the worship not of icons, but of the universe. Those statues outside? Nothing more than egocentricity – they’re the ones who built the place. I can appreciate that too, naturally...”

 

Picard forgets to breathe for several minutes, a habit he still tries to maintain whenever he recalls it for the sake of his continuing sanity, as he takes in every minute detail: the pews that angle deliberately towards the hologram, the perfectly designed distribution of windows as though passive viewscreens, the technological equipment that silently blinks, still somehow functional, used for likely more elaborate projections of the cosmos; the fascination of the congregation that burns through his mind’s eye, intrigued not for their leaders but for the contemplation, the spirit, of space itself, and the faith that there was so much more than they knew currently –

 

They’re nine hundred thousand light years from any reach they will ever have, but it’s incontrovertibly the most human thing he’s ever witnessed – the sacred equivalent of the bridge of a starship, the scope of the knowledge inconsequential as long as they have it, are allowed to pursue it with their whole being.

 

By Earth, it hurts.

 

“I know, right?” Q remarks indulgently to his absolute hush, and Picard doesn’t need to look at him to know he’s ridiculously smug. “Knocked it out of the proverbial park, mon capitaine.”

 

He doesn’t mean to say it aloud – really, he doesn’t, but it’s left him before he can remotely begin to quantify it.

 

“It reminds me of Starfleet,” he whispers.

 

All semblance of amused triumph suddenly slips entirely from Q’s countenance.

 

“It reminds you of what?” He demands sharply.

 

“Starfleet,” Picard repeats, because he can’t take it back now, however immediate and loathsome the regret is. “The pursuit of cosmic knowledge for its own sake. Very evocative, in fact.”

 

“Well, of course it is.” It’s so unbearably bitter that the former captain swallows down a lurch of dread. “Why wouldn’t it be, indeed? Does anything we ever do not remind you of Starfleet, of humans?”

 

It’s always a deeply uncomfortable moment to realise that one has put something off for far too long, that they’ve allowed it to fester simply because dealing with it upfront is liable to open a can of worms with a lid that will likely never stay closed again, but he’d rather suspected he’d have several centuries more before the metaphorical tin exploded, and it’s been just enough of a justification to keep him quiet.

 

Apparently not, Jean-Luc.

 

He faces it with his customary stoicism; open it is, seemingly, and his eyes set upon his spouse with a quiet solemnity.

 

“I don’t see why it shouldn’t.” It isn’t quite defiant, but it would certainly spring the term into the minds of any theoretical bystanders. “Human philosophy permeates the very fabric of space-time, Q, whether by accident or design. We’ve always been –”

 

’We’?” Q interrupts frostily, stare hardening. “We aren’t mortal, Jean-Luc –”

 

“Well, not we, now, as such,” Picard self-amends with a slight wince, “but my people –”

 

Enough!” The very air shivers with discordance at his fury, permeating the space with discomfort both physical and mental. “If I have to endure one more damned sentence about the wonders of humanity, I will not be held responsible for my actions!”

 

Picard stares across the temple at him for a charged moment, appalled at the casual threat to the universal continuity he so profoundly respects.

 

“That’s what I am, Q,” he points out stiffly. “What I always have been.”

 

“It isn’t what you are now!” His husband snarls, bristling with irritation. “Dammit, I was expecting you to reminisce, to miss it, even, but this is absurd! It’s all you can think of, on the rare occasions that your mind is open enough to discern at all!”

 

Picard takes a moment to draw in a levelling breath, attempting not to flinch at the heated accusation of the statement; telepathy still seems occasionally unnatural despite the ease with which he can now wield it (well, on him at least – he’s useless at groups, why are others so complex?) and despite his intimate trust of the entity before him, he’s never quite been fully sold on the concept of permanent free access. He knows how jumbled thoughts can be, and given how often nostalgia holds him in a vice, he doubts Q would receive a favourable impression of his overall stance on his old race.

 

“I haven’t been specifically locking you out,” he assures quietly, because he hasn’t; he just becomes a little too vague to read sometimes, because dammit, it’s strange, isn’t it, to always be immediately and deeply aware of your spouse’s opinions, and shouldn’t he get to keep recollections Q could never understand the magnitude of? “I’m just… at sea, my dear –”

 

“’At sea’?” Q echoes hollowly, and cracks splinter, hairline, through several of the closest pews. “What do you mean, ‘at sea’?! You married me, Jean-Luc, you accepted the Q as your own – you can’t damned well be at sea!”

 

The former captain watches him with a concern that rapidly mounts at the hands that wrench away from his attempted clasp, and dear stars, he really ought to have said something sooner, and now it’s all going so drastically wrong –

 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he protests urgently, “only that humanity was my driving force for so long, my whole existence, and without it, I feel adrift –”

 

“Well, thank the Continuum you’ve cleared that up,” Q snaps, raking visibly trembling hands through his hair in utter frustration. “You aren’t supposed to feel adrift, you incorrigible – you’re doing what you always wanted to, aren’t you?! Exploring, living, not being bound by ridiculous principles or outdated ethics –”

 

“Starfleet’s principles are in no way outdated!” Picard snaps, and distantly, he becomes aware that the pews are now moments away from comprehensively shattering at their dual outrage, and he really shouldn’t be so irate because he’s never been one to be overshadowed by his emotional state, but Q is just being so damned pompous – “Those principles brought us together, in case you’d quite forgotten!”

 

“Yet they kept us apart for so very long, too,” Q snipes, clearly hurt now, “and apparently, they’re threatening to do so again, when you have no need whatsoever to abide by them.”

 

“Nothing is driving us apart,” Picard responds clearly, very much uncompromising on that, however poignant his doubt when the affirming attempt to touch him once again, to instil certainty over his own determination, results in another reflexive recoil, because surely he can’t think something so silly would ruin their marriage? “Q –”

 

“They always held you back, Jean-Luc!” He cries, and he’s outright dismaying now, tears burning in an eternal gaze, and there has to be more to this, how can he be so upset over cultural ethics – “How can you not see that?! Look at everything you’ve learned, all you’ve witnessed, everything you can do now; you can’t keep dwelling on something that doesn’t matter!”

 

A distinct nausea, the type he isn’t meant to be able to feel as a god, envelopes Picard for a moment – that, unmistakeably, is an impasse, because it most certainly damned well matters, and he can’t have the one being in all the universe who is supposed to understand him not know that, not care about that, however much more simple it would be to sweep it beneath the proverbial carpet. He’s given up order, stability, meaning to remain with him, and perhaps it seems like nothing to one who has always lacked it, but he’ll be damned if it isn’t essential to him.

 

“Of course it matters,” he says simply, coldly. “How can I not dwell on what I am, dammit?”

 

“Because you’re supposed to be mine, you sanctimonious idiot!”

 

The crystal seating bypasses explosion entirely and simply dissolves in the exact same moment as Picard’s every line of rationale at his husband’s frantic outburst; anger spontaneously dies, logic sputters to nothingness, and he’s left simply staring, eyes blown galaxy-wide, the utter silence of the temple at furious odds with the screaming protest of his insides.

 

Oh, you utter moron, he acknowledges in self-disgust, because how can he be so intelligent, and yet so absolutely not? All this time, and he’s thought Q simply a snob, unable and unwilling to appreciate the finer nuances of humankind, but the truth is far more awful.

 

Every stolen glance, every instance of admiration, every reminiscence, drags him seemingly farther away from the future he’s promised the one he loves, and that has never been his intention, not once

 

Before he can even reach out, deny it, swear that that hasn’t ever been in his thoughts and never will be, horror flashes across a stricken countenance and Q is gone, mind bitterly shut down in the same moment and his location therefore remaining a mystery.

 

Without the possibility of explaining himself before Q wishes to hear it, Picard collapses against the miraculously intact podium of the temple’s former leaders, utterly spent.

 

Think, he commands his blank mind, and perhaps unsurprisingly, even omnipotence can’t offer him any wondrous insight on this. There has to be a way to feel more human whilst not being one. Something, anything!

 

… Ah, of course. ‘Professor of the Humanities’, indeed.

 

He can’t quite bring himself to smile, given the magnitude of the situation, but he disappears with a certain sense of cautious hope nevertheless.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

She’s casually orbiting the fringes of a nebula, because when one is eternal, there’s often precious little else to do, and she isn’t as yet quite jaded enough to consider it a waste of time; it’s still so effervescent with colour and chemistry and beauty, and it makes her feel as though she belongs, even if it is only to the universe itself. The Q are woven into its very essence, and it frequently speaks more to them than they do each other. It’s blissfully peaceful, achingly silent, and –

 

She’s assaulted, quite spontaneously, by a misery she’s wholly unfamiliar with, but recognises the sufferer of immediately; Q stands suddenly to her left, and she frowns silently at the lack of greeting, the failure to acknowledge her presence when he appears have specifically sought her out – she’s never seen him lack flamboyance, zest or flair in their three centuries of acquaintance, and it’s outright disturbing for him to remain quiet.

 

“What’s wrong?” The Q formerly known as Amanda Rogers asks softly, glad she’s chosen to adopt human form herself for the afternoon, so her natural kindness shines clearly through – it still feels so much more normal than lacking any discernible shape. Her companion simply runs a trembling hand through stellar clouds, face utterly impassive.

 

“Domestic dispute,” he replies dully, tone unbearably bitter. “Irreconcilable, I imagine. Probably grounds for divorce.”

 

It isn’t only his fingers which shake, she realises belatedly, and it’s beyond alarming. Q is confidence personified, theatrics permanently on full display, and this is the wholehearted opposite.

 

“Look,” she murmurs, compelled somehow to return to that infuriating smugness she’s used to, “I know we aren’t exactly best friends, but you’ve helped me discover myself, my powers, and if I can do anything for you –”

 

He’s maddening, obnoxious, ineffable and any other number of not entirely complimentary adjectives, but he’s been her one true guide throughout her relatively new eternity, and he’s married to one of the greatest men she’s ever come across, and damn her, but she’s sweet and she wants so badly to help. She has a sneaking suspicion, despite his locked-down psyche, that she can do something – why is he here, after all, if she’s useless to him?

 

“I need you,” he begins quietly, “to tell me how you balance humanity with being a Q.”

 

She blinks. Ah. That’ll explain why he isn’t seeking his son’s counsel.

 

“He misses it,” she surmises, unsurprised, and his gaze snaps to hers.

 

“Do you miss it?”

 

She considers it for a moment with a generous timespan of hindsight beneath a magenta belt, and half-smiles in sympathy.

 

“Not really, no.” She purses her lips, contemplative. “I did for a while, I guess, but then, I was eighteen – no real drive, certainly no illustrious career to leave behind. I’m still angry about my parents, deep down, but why would I miss it?”

 

“Exactly! Why the hell would you?!” He’s animated in his outrage for a moment, before his gaze dips, switching back to the spatial phenomena with an affected blink. “I’m sorry. About that whole situation, I mean.”

 

“Wasn’t your fault,” she murmurs fairly; she’s known for a good while through the shared consciousness of their siblings that he’d been one of their few supporters, and the knowledge has always been curiously comforting.

 

“… Still.” She nods, eyes warm.

 

“Thanks.” They fall into the briefest of silences, both lost within themselves, before Q balls gas through fists, irritably dispersing it within a heartbeat; it burns furiously, atomically irate, before vanishing in a violent puff.

 

Why would he miss it, though?!” He snaps. “Seriously, what is there to miss?”

 

“Structure,” she estimates, perching herself upon an untarnished gaseous section of sudden solidity. “Took me a while to get used to, too. When you’re pretty invested in eating and sleeping –”

 

“Why covet such primitive concepts?” He demands, genuinely baffled, before swiping a dismissive hand through open space in clear disregard. “No, he doesn’t care about any of that, he didn’t even want the Reloc’t caspinalle – what else can he be lacking, though?! We travel, discover, excavate, all these other things he likes, so it must be –”

 

 ----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“Purpose,” the augmented engineer points out calmly, consulting his former boss kindly over the rim of his mug. “You’re lacking purpose, Captain.”

 

Picard frowns into hot chocolate that tastes suspiciously like earl grey (he’s never been much for cocoa in any form, though he’s far too kind even with all he’s seen of the universe to turn down a freshly-made peppermint chocolat chaud), and sighs deeply.

 

“I fear you may be correct,” he murmurs in lament, raising a brow at his old colleague, “though I do wish you’d stop calling me that. I haven’t been in command of a starship for a considerable length of time, and you’ve long since earned the right to use my name nevertheless.”

 

“Old habits,” Geordi LaForge murmurs sheepishly, unapologetic, blinking crystal blue eyes. “Same respect.”

 

He smiles at him for a moment, treasuring the fact that he still holds a tangible connection not only to a friend but to a vestige of his former existence, though he’s hardly the only one that’s changed; the saviour of many an Enterprise mission has long since been able to be more accurately described as a cyborg than a pure human, altered sufficiently down to the genetic level to continue living long after he had been originally supposed to at his own request. The reason wanders in from their kitchen, selection of cakes in tow, and Picard privately marvels – he has omnipotence on his aside to ensure his own sameness, but he’s not sure he’ll ever get used to seeing the absolute unchanging countenance of Data Soong.

 

“I concur, Captain,” he says simply, and good gods, he’s just as adorably and damnably respectful as his husband, because of course he is, Jean-Luc. “Your drive to exemplify humanity’s finest traits has long since been an inspiration to me.”

 

The replying smile is warm, but tinged with a comradely regret.

 

“How disappointed you must have been by my renouncing of it,” he murmurs, knowing that Data is more than capable of such emotions nowadays, though the responding quirk of a head remains so very android in nature.

 

“On the contrary, sir,” he replies with noted passion, “I think my husband and I both understand the merits of adapting ourselves for those we love.”

 

“Mm,” Geordi pipes up around a mouthful of lemon muffin, grinning at his beloved android, “and I’m gonna assume you don’t regret it any more than we do, Captain.”

 

Eternal eyes twinkle in response, and he helps himself to a generous wedge of carrot cake just for the hell of it.

 

“Not for a moment, gentlemen,” he agrees quietly, because he absolutely doesn’t – he never could. Q is uncompromising, eccentric in the extreme, entirely ridiculous, but he’s beautiful, straight down to his essence – a veritable tour de force of intelligence, intrigue, passion, heart, a true adventurer with a core of ineffability and a sense of unerring justice that had reformed the very nature of their people, and so it isn’t a question of whether he’ll stay with him, whatever his spouse may stubbornly believe, but how he maintains a semblance of balance. He swallows down sorrow, a wholehearted distaste at his own stupidity in ever allowing him to believe it was on the proverbial table, and levels a question at his friends.

 

“Nonetheless, I miss the structure, the purpose, indeed – how do you ground yourself, Geordi? How do you balance it what you are against what you were?”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“You just wander, right?”

 

“Yes, obviously,” Q snipes, exasperated.

 

“But you’re sort of… well, aimless, yeah?”

 

“I take him to places he enjoys, where he’ll discover something new,” comes the stiff response. “We don’t just exist, you know – we live.”

 

Amanda barely refrains from rolling her eyes at how entirely mortal that sounds, coming from an entity who is showing more and more how little he understands their ethos.

 

“Fine, I get it, but my point is: do you help?”

 

“Help what?” He snaps, growing more and more impatient.

 

“Anyone,” she answers, an oasis of calm against his hurricane of blatant annoyance. “He was a captain – he helped people, all the time. Surely that must have meant something to him – I know it did to me. Gives a being an inherent feeling of value.”

 

Helping –” He splutters, confounded, and the nebula further bursts at the edges, scattering inert molecular powder through several light years. “A delightful concept, I’m sure, but he’s far too Prime Directive for any of that, my dear.”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“Sir, no offence, but you just told me you haven’t been a captain for a long time,” Geordi reminds him gently, marzipan tart paused halfway to his mouth. “Why would the Prime Directive matter now?”

 

Picard opens his mouth, then promptly closes it, the gesture irrelevant in its immediacy to the frosting that’s coating the roof of his mouth.

 

“One’s ethical code does not necessarily have to correlate to their physical state,” Data reminds his spouse. “We are great advocates of humanity ourselves, myself particularly.”

 

“Exactly,” Picard adds, consciously willing his palate free of delicious debris. “I believe very strongly in the statement of the directive, as well you know – being omnipotent gives me no right to interfere with the sanctity of establishing cultures.”

 

“Well yeah, you’re damned right on that, but neither of you are getting it.” The former engineer throws dry glances between them both. “We still did help those people, if they needed it – they just didn’t know, and they definitely don’t have to now you’re capable of literally anything. It doesn’t have to artificially progress their development, and they never have to know you’ve ever been there, but it matters to you. You asked how I stay human, Captain? I help everyone I can, to be whatever they can be. There isn’t anything more human than that.”

 

He bites into marzipan with a childish enthusiasm that utterly belies his wisdom, and Picard stares at him for a long moment, internally cursing the steadfast rigidity of his own ethics – how in the galaxy’s name has this never occurred to him?

 

“I believe Geordi is correct,” Data accedes softly, smiling. “I attempt to emulate humanity by adopting their characteristics, their cultural practices; indeed, one of their most inspirational habits is the assistance of others. You could ‘set them along a path’, Captain.”

 

Picard nods, eyes wide, as he pensively sips his curiously spiced not-really-cocoa.

 

“So if I just don’t interfere, as such –”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“– He won’t mind?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Amanda finishes encouragingly – there’s something to this mentor role, she decides, though she doubts she’s quite emanating the warm-hearted, effortless matriarchy of Beverly Crusher.

 

“And you honestly think that’ll work?” Q demands disdainfully, a flicker of existential doubt burning through his gaze. “You think that will make him want to stay with me?”

 

“No,” she murmurs, smiling quietly. “I think he already does, Q, and I don’t think that will ever change. If there’s one thing I know of Jean-Luc Picard, it’s that he wouldn’t have offered you this if he didn’t mean it with his whole being.”

 

Something distinctly painful flashes across his features for a second, the gases of the nebula adopting the rich, regal blue of profound sorrow.

 

“People change their minds, Amanda.” His eyes fall closed against the burn of tears, the cosmos around them permeating itself with an even deeper shade of black. She feels herself break just slightly at that; no Q should ever have to be afraid, not of anything. “They’re fickle, so awfully uncertain. He doesn’t ever have to stay – you know that as well as I do.”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“Wait, hold on,” Geordi starts, his voice hushed, “that’s what all this is about? You can be mortal again, human again, whenever you feel like?”

 

Picard breathes a profuse sigh, the appetite he doesn’t really possess now utterly gone.

 

“I can do anything, Geordi,” he points out tiredly. “No Q ever has to stay as such – Amanda Rogers’ parents, for instance, chose to renounce their powers.”

 

“But you would not do that,” Data says, and it isn’t a question. “I have observed, sir, that you very rarely do anything you are not fully committed to.”

 

A soft, despairing chuckle leaves the former captain.

 

“I have been known to be rather stubborn, yes.” He stares into the depths of his beverage, inhaling the gentle steam for a moment – it’s long since cooled, but that’s hardly relevant if he still considers it hot. “Though it took him an awfully long time for me to be convinced that this was something I could learn to live as, and given how nostalgic I’ve been… I can see why he doubts, but none of us can just exist without purpose, without stability. Well, I suppose Q can, but I’m… at sea.”

 

“Stability,” Geordi ponders after a brief pause for thought, after the bitterness of the recalled phrase has faded slightly. “Call me crazy, sir, but have you considered living somewhere?”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“If he needs grounding, something more stable, then perhaps you need a base.”

 

“A what?”

 

“A base!” She repeats mildly, optimistic. “A personal space, you know, something solid – not at all like the Continuum. Probably not a starship, though – little too familiar, I guess, and you travel all the time anyway – maybe on Earth, or at least near to a lot of humans. You could decorate it, help him regain a sense of comfort.”

 

He stares at her, utterly droll, and she instantly loses the vast majority of her confidence.

 

“You know what I mean, right?” She flounders, gesticulating awkwardly. “Something that’s just for the two of you, that’s personalised –”

 

“A house.” His voice is flatter than his husband’s national pancake. “You’re suggesting we get a house.”

 

“Yes, exactly!” Her thrill is incredibly short-lived as she mistakenly consults his expression. “Is that stupid?”

 

“Comprehensively.” He glares, hard. “What the hell am I supposed to do with a house?”

 

“They – they’re nice!” She splutters. “You can put furniture in them, Q!”

 

He seems seconds away from committing multiple acts of celestial murder, and she really does quite like this supernova – well, the comparatively little that’s left of it, anyway. She’ll fix it, eventually, after she’s hopefully fixed her companion’s marriage.

 

“Do you have a house?”

 

“Of course not!”

 

His stare permeates her very essence, and she throws her hands up in utter dismay; they may have equal power, but he’s had it for a few billion years longer, and thus lying successfully is an absolute impossibility.

 

“Alright, fine, yes I do!” She snaps. “It has my personal effects in, from when I was human – photographs, a letter from my parents, lots of… pink things, okay? The universe is just so dark –”

 

“I thought you didn’t miss it?”

 

She pauses for a second, taken aback by how genuinely sincere he sounds, and the faintest glimmer of worry that shines in an eternal stare.

 

“I don’t,” she says honestly, glancing away, “but it reminds me of where I came from, when it all gets a bit overwhelming. You’d hate it, I’m sure.”

 

“Doubtlessly,” he answers dryly. “Do you put things on shelves?”

 

“I happen to like shelves.” It’s almost petulant.

 

“Of course you do.” The sarcasm sobers quickly, and he regards her with the silent protectiveness of a shepherd ensuring his lost sheep safely returns – not quite paternal, but not too many light years from it. “I didn’t realise the merits of it, or that you felt that way. Suppose I should have asked.”

 

A smile touches her lips, only faintly bitter; she’s more than capable of watching out for herself, and so she doesn’t say it for her own benefit.

 

“I think that’s the issue, Q – you can only consider things on your own terms. It doesn’t matter what you’d do with a house; it isn’t for you.”

 

He looks stricken, now, and she takes no pleasure in her victory. Q taking account of the emotional needs of others is a relatively new concept; their siblings require no such desire for continuity, and before his son, before Picard, there had been precious little point in him cultivating the sense of selflessness that certainly didn’t come naturally to the all-powerful.

 

“I really am abysmally self-centred, aren’t I?”

 

“You don’t mean to be,” she responds kindly, eyes warm. “You’ve become much nicer, honestly.”

 

He shakes his head, dry, the shimmer of amusement clear in his gaze.

 

“Do keep it down, my dear. I have a reputation to maintain.”

 

She chuckles in exasperation, the sound sprinkling stardust across the damaged nebula, renewing aspects of it via their camaraderie. He smiles just slightly at the renewal and clasps her shoulder in a rare moment of affection.

 

“So, other than photographs, what in the Continuum’s name does an entity put on shelves?”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

“He’ll think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Picard says simply. “Why would we need a house?”

 

“I do not think it should be a question of necessity, Captain,” Data responds. “Technically, neither Geordi nor I require a permanent residence; like you, we have no need to satisfy the biological needs such a base would provide us with.”

 

“Well, yeah,” Geordi concurs, grinning, “but where else are we supposed to keep that burnt-out conduit, or the rocks from your dad’s lab?”

 

“They would fit perfectly adequately on our desks at the Academy.”

 

“Pretty sure we’d struggle with the discarded warp core firepit though, Data.”

 

“… Admittedly, accommodating that would be more of a challenge, and you did spend a considerable length of time repurposing it.”

 

“I think the point, sir,” Geordi answers, fondly shaking his head as he turns to face the tickled Picard, “is that just because you don’t need one, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. None of us needed to join Starfleet, explore deep space; it’s something you want, and something that makes you feel like you.”

 

A despairing memory of a man who ought to have been clad in maroon, instead sporting a desperately cold teal, assaults him for a moment, and he genuinely considers arguing.

 

Perhaps you didn’t need it.

 

“Additionally, sir, you spent your human life in admirable duty,” Data adds. “Perhaps it is time you did something that is just for yourself.”

 

Picard blinks between the two of them, quietly stunned at their combined wisdom, silently glad that they’d managed to stay together despite everything biological stacked against it.

 

How very ironic.

 

He beams at them, beyond grateful for their impeccable counsel.

 

“Thank you, gentlemen,” he says softly, rising. “I think I may just take your advice.”

 

“I am glad, sir,” Data replies, raising a mildly mischievous brow. “Dismissed.”

 

Geordi stares at him, appalled, and Picard chuckles, heart lighter for the exchange despite his utter desperation to put this right.

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

They meet on a San Franciscan hillside after an impassioned plea through space-time (“I need to speak to you, mon dieu, please”); they stand awkwardly apart for a protracted moment, and it’s so devastatingly impersonal for married beings who so rarely spend longer than a handful of hours apart that it’s all they can both do not to scream.

 

“You rang, Jean-Luc?” Q’s tone barely remains smooth, thrumming as he is with tension, and it sticks a knife somewhere into his essence when his spouse looks relieved that he hasn’t had to begin the conversation.

 

“I did,” he responds quietly, grey gaze earnest. “I wanted to apologise, Q. I seem to have given you distinctly the wrong impression.”

 

Q swallows reflexively, damn near choking.

 

“I rather hope you have, darling,” he whispers, very much glad that no one else, whether through accident or design, has chosen to frequent the hill – the grass is already beginning to curl into curious forms at his personal despair.

 

“I need you to know, before I suggest any of this: I have no intention of leaving you, my dear. That was never an option, and nor will it be.”

 

Fear lessens in a troubled spirit, unsticks just slightly from a clogged throat, and the grass begins to straighten a little at the sincere affirmation; Q nods, tearful, and almost allows himself to half-believe him.

 

“Alright,” he says simply, the reply easier for the assurance, though his philosophy holds true – people are transitive, and his husband in particular has always been able to spin the prettiest of verbal tales. Anything truly meaningful is expressed by Jean-Luc Picard through action alone, and thus he’s more than willing – more than desperate enough – to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, if not for much longer.

 

“Good,” the former human murmurs, smiling just slightly. “I really do need you to believe that, Q.”

 

Rather a good thing, Q thinks privately, that he hasn’t yet managed to be accused in several billion years of being a poor manipulator; he crafts something unerringly positive from his experience (something, unsurprisingly, that is distinctly captain-flavoured) and allows it to burn through his husband, at the same time as it chars painfully within himself. He really doesn’t like lying, not to him at least, but it’s about the best he can do for now; it is, at the very least, made slightly simpler by his fervent hope that Picard means it wholeheartedly.

 

“Now, I think we ought to –”

 

“You want a house,” Q interrupts quickly, and he can’t quite quantify if it’s impatience, or the cold clawing of guilt that rips through him, that spurs words from his mouth in some sort of babbled stream. “Specifically, here. Lots of humans, plenty of Starfleet, probably places that sell acceptable crêpes; shelves! You want shelves, for PADDs, classic literature, commendations, artefacts, something else – you can have shelves, Jean-Luc, as many as you desire, and perhaps a garden, or an office; well, a ready room –”

 

“Q.” Picard stares at him in bemusement, quietly astonished, though his smile doesn’t lack any manner of warmth. “I mean, I thought it might help, but… you don’t think it’s absurd?”

 

Q blinks, nonplussed.

 

“Why does it matter what I think?” He asks simply, noncommittal, spirit stuttering lightly at his friend’s earlier accusation. “It isn’t for me.”

 

“Of course it’s for you,” Picard counters gently, emphatic, eyes beseeching. “You’re not suggesting I live there alone?”

 

Something within the old god sags in relief before he can reign it frantically in, and the former captain is immediately aghast, hand reaching forward to cling to his; Q holds on as though it’s this or oblivion, and to everything he is in the universe, it very likely is.

 

If the grass is very slightly darker at the intensity of his husband’s stare, the worry that seeps into its biology from them both, neither mention it; the can of worms is more than wide open enough.

 

How can you think –” Picard strangles down his own sorrow, ensuring his entire intent is visible, emotionally tangible. “It would as much yours as it would be mine, my dear – somewhere for us, with a sense of continuity, order, personality. We wouldn’t have to go very often, most likely, but it would be a home, designed by us, for us.”

 

He doesn’t say that he doesn’t need such things, that any concept of ‘home’ he would ever care to have is standing right beside him, holding his human-adopted hand, not yet retracting his offer of eternity; he simply embraces him silently, clinging to the only being he’s ever truly loved, and idly wonders if he could write sonnets in the unspoken exchanges they’ve shared through their three centuries.

 

“I’m not opposed to it,” he murmurs softly into his neck, reflexively falling back on a casual humour to ease the pervasive tension, “though I draw the damned line at negotiating with real estate agents, Jean-Luc.”

 

Picard half-sobs a laughs against him, pressing a tender kiss to a shivered throat.

 

“Even I’m not that bureaucratic,” he mutters in humoured exasperation, strength of his hold increasing. “We’ll work through this, Q, find a balance – you are my husband, and I’m not leaving you.”

 

It sounds so very confident, so perhaps he’ll trust in it for now, for his own sake if nothing else.

 

“Good,” he breathes, somewhat renewed at their proximity, the loving vow. “And if you need to help people, or something similarly asinine –”

 

“Conversations for later,” his spouse reassures, drawing back just enough to warmly smile at him, to have them face the city below together. “Pick somewhere, dearest.”

 

The entire stretch of the cosmos has been his playground for innumerate millennia, and thus it really shouldn’t be so difficult to single out a decent location in a comparatively miniscule city, yet he’s barely ever felt so geographically baffled. It feels important, somehow, to be on the correct road, beside the right park, or whatever the hell else mortals so covet in their locality.

 

“Does it specifically need to be unoccupied?” He asks dryly.

 

“Might be for the best,” Picard chastises lightly, amused; he reads his uncomprehending entity’s puzzled eyes for a moment, and nods in reassurance; this is hardly Q’s area, and so he casts a glance around, and points silently to a hillside near Starfleet Academy.

 

“There,” he decides, smiling.

 

Q suspects he should probably react optimistically – he automatically assents with a swift burst of mental approval. He can work with that, he imagines. Probably. He has no real clue what he’s doing for once, and it’s bizarrely nerve-wracking.

 

“If you think so,” he murmurs, half-smiling in minor dread. A Q, being partly tied down to an earthly domicile – the Continuum will just about scream.

 

Perhaps it won’t be all bad, then, and if it keeps his husband on the correct mortal coil, he can learn to care.

 

It’ll be some form of home, I’m sure. You’ll be there.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

It’s easy enough to throw something together from their combined imaginations, to adopt colour schemes (half-muted, half-acid brights that clash tragically), to decorate (Picard will be damned before the sofa isn’t a delightful shade of camel, but exasperatedly concedes to it being drowned by sequinned pillows and draped in metallic blankets), to ensure everything’s in the relevant room (“Truly, Jean-Luc, are there any cosmic laws that dictate we ought to refrain from having a toaster beside the shower, and if there are, why would we be following them anyway?”); it’s all miraculously formed through a series of brief clicks and points in the space of half an Earth hour, appliances functional despite their lack of wiring or electrical supply, the garden adorned by several striped deckchairs they likely won’t ever use and a fire-bowl that runs exclusively off dilithium crystals (“You will remember to consistently irradiate them, mon dieu?” “Depends how annoying our distant neighbours decide to be, mon capitaine.”) It’s going remarkably well, in fact, and Q’s starting to feel like all this may actually work, until they tour their new home afterwards and arrive at the shelves he’s taken recent pleasure in so greatly mocking, stacked quaintly beside the ornate fireplace that shimmers quietly in black glitter. His beloved captain has occupied some of them with the things he’d assumed; the Complete Works of Shakespeare, several medals, some curious archaeological finds he’d made during his human days and, most affectingly, his four pips, gleaming in gold and resting in a glass box. Q runs a slightly trembling finger across it, swept up in a nostalgic tsunami of their beginnings, of antagonism maturing to acquaintance, friendship, and later to the most wondrous sense of completion that he so frighteningly needs to remain with him. A hand brushes against his wedding ring, and he barely surfaces, so wholly enamoured by everything those tiny metallic beads represent to them both.

 

Gods, he can’t lose him, isn’t certain he can function without that continuing connection that ignites his very core with belonging, harmony, peace. This has to solve things. He’d spent so very many eons alone; now, the thought is torturous.

 

“It should go without saying,” that precious timbre murmurs softly, “but these shelves aren’t just mine, dear.”

 

He tears his gaze away, attempting to temper himself both inwardly and externally to something that doesn’t look close to as vulnerable as he feels.

 

“The thought is appreciated,” he answers gently, “but I’m not sure what you’re expecting me to put here. I’ve never attached sentiment to physical possessions – never had any to attach it to, frankly.”

 

Is he supposed to lament such things? He suddenly realises that he does, and it’s an odd sort of ache; he quite painfully wishes there were objects they had to discuss, ways to thread their memories further together, in the most un-Q-like of manners. Several billion years have passed him by, largely meaninglessly – he should have some sort of trinket in some distant ether by now, surely? It’s hardly as though he’s never encountered anything interesting enough to memorialised in situ, and perhaps if they have some sort of common ground –

 

“Can’t imagine you have,” Picard notes, tone tinged by sadness. “Perhaps you’ll find something you sufficiently like, one day.”

 

He stares into those tender eyes as though they might just drown his entire essence, and he remembers quite why he’s never collected a single physical thing – he hasn’t ever liked anything enough to keep, with one notable exception.

 

Would it be odd if the first thing he puts there is a miniature plush, or perhaps one of them each, for symbolic purposes?

 

Questions for later, Q, he thinks in exasperation, levelling a half-smile at his personal universe.

 

“There’s probably something interesting enough, somewhere,” he concedes, pulling the hand in his to his lips, eyes laced with an almost desperate offer. “Now, far be it from me to be crass, darling, but we have a new bedroom, and I’ve had better days.”

 

Picard regards him tenderly, regret pulsing within, shadows flickering across the lines of his face.

 

“I’m sorry, my dear,” he whispers, imparting a loving kiss to his cheek. “Lead on – I’ll be sure to make it up to you.”

 

He shivers in anticipation; their lovemaking is never not draped in the hangings of sweet sentiments, the painting of articulate promises unspoken, but if it all feels a little more urgent than usual this evening, if every touch lingers slightly longer, every kiss burns just slightly more or each stare is punctuated by a silent anxiety, neither mentions it, and does their level best not to think upon it either. It’s their first evening in their new home, and if Q loses himself enough, he doesn’t have to recall what lies at stake in the soft furnishings, shelves and farmhouse aesthetic of a shiny new kitchen that means absolutely nothing in comparison to whom it houses.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

“Catabrial quartz,” Picard notes softly several days later, eyes rapt upon the glowing spectrum encased within the sizeable geode’s clear trappings. “It’s beautiful, Q.”

 

Q is three billion years old, omniscient, and consequently, he’s likely seen enough of the relatively common crystal that occupies a southern world of the Gamma quadrant, is frequently traded around the sector, to last the rest of eternity – but, somehow, there’s something suddenly astonishing about it. Perhaps it’s the connotations it holds to the planet’s natives of the hearth (not that he’s about to tell his husband that; if he cares to consider it at all, he’ll know anyway, and if he doesn’t, he already finds it quite charming enough), or perchance it’s the fact that this is their first adventure since leaving their new home, and he’s grown quite partial to the idea of displaying things there... maybe it’s even just the fact that his beloved likes it, but it’s an ultimately simple decision.

 

“I’m putting it on a shelf,” he says clearly, almost wincing, as though he’s about to be subject to his siblings’ scathing judgement at the very concept. He shakes himself inwardly, defiant – like it’s ever mattered what they think. “The top shelf, in fact.”

 

“Ah, the greatest shelf of them all,” Picard concurs in amusement, though his stare is precious as his hand briefly squeezes Q’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’ve found something worthy, mon dieu.”

 

It’s said softly, without sarcasm, and Q’s gaze follows him silently as he continues through the quarry, blinking away irritating tears.

 

It shouldn’t be important. It’s a damned rock.

 

And he was just a damned human, once, he reminds himself quietly. His mind strays idly to those cherished pips, and he sets the quartz in mid-air, clicking; it’s banished instantly back to San Francisco, where it sits directly beside them, already in the perfect position to catch sun and lamplight alike. They’ll return soon enough, stare at it, remember their day with warmth, and it doesn’t matter a damned jot somehow that he could summon up an identical piece, or even a substantially more impressive one, whenever he likes – it’s theirs, now.

 

“Lovely,” Picard calls from across the way, smiling in delight at the placement that is so easily readable through his mind’s eye. “Almost symbolic, really. Careful, dear – I might start believing you’re getting sentimental in your old age.”

 

“Oh yes, tell the whole cosmos, why don’t you?” He drawls, though it holds no bite whatsoever, and his husband simply chuckles.

 

… There’s a certain something to this nostalgia business, he acknowledges with a grin as they continue their excavation.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

The Fundamental Principle of Q (an unofficial term, but one their most eccentric sibling enjoys adopting from time to time) is that when one is omnipotent, there aren’t any fundamental principles. Logic, time, causality, finite space, any other such droll ideals, are for significantly simpler beings, and are merely optional to the enlightened.

 

Thusly, so follows, if six linear months later, wherein they’ve covered eighty-four thousand light years and twenty-nine separate galaxies, their home contains no fewer than fourteen miles of shelving and manages to look no different than it did upon its original construction… well, that’s neither here nor there, ultimately. If none of the morons that occupy a surprisingly quaint American neighbourhood in a major city happen to notice (which they wouldn’t, even if they stared through one of the many windows), that’s because understanding dimensional engineering is only for those who aren’t stupid, or can comprehend the inner workings of the universe. Such things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

 

… And if most of the contents of said shelving are trivial – freshly potted fauna, or eight singular pebbles of no notable value, or an authentic eighteenth century Parisian music box that discordantly plays Frère Jacques upon opening, or an earl grey-scented candle – and if said things are nestled between others than house brilliant nostalgia of a human’s lifetime… well, that’s no one’s business but their owners’.

 

Much like no one else can understand miles of wood in a half-mile house, no one else can understand quite why any of it’s so precious, why it’s created a concept of home in a being who hasn’t ever had one, or in another that hasn’t had one for a long time, far more than any throw pillow or anglepoise lamp is ever likely to – because it’s nice to have those, but so does everyone else.

 

Their shelves are them, in a domestic microcosm; ineffable, different, stoic, warm, unique… together, for better or worse.

 

Or, at least, that’s the plan, and it will work.

 

… It has to work. What’s a formerly homeless space god meant to do if it doesn’t, after all?

 

---------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

“Do go ahead,” Q encourages mildly a month later, casting an arm outwards casually, gaze anticipatory. “’All the world’s a stage’, right?”

 

Picard stares down at the colony from orbit, chin resting on tented hands, brow furrowed in thought; he’d orchestrated this very event in his ongoing quest to retain a workable sense of humanity, but now he’s here, faced with the prospect of changing things, helping the oblivious population far below as effectively as he had once done…

 

His friend’s words ring quietly in his mind as a shiver runs down an adopted spine.

 

It doesn’t have to artificially progress their development, and they never have to know you’ve ever been there, but it matters to you.

 

Does he have the right, though? Could he ever?

 

’All the men and women merely players’,” he whispers, conflicted. “Q, I –”

 

“ – Have no idea what to do,” his husband finishes, admirably sombre. Picard blinks at that; he’s never been one to pass up the golden opportunity for sarcasm. Grey eyes wrench to his at the hand that creeps to his shoulder, applies a gentle pressure, greets him with a surprisingly soft understanding.

 

“What would you have done, Jean-Luc?” He queries, gaze smouldering. “If you were aboard your precious ship, captaining your way through a tiny sector of reality with an overinflated sense of self-importance, what would your mission have been?”

 

Ethics aside, that’s half the battle, he realises torturously – he doesn’t have one. He’s interfering for his own sake, and stars only knows how intolerable Starfleet officers find such concepts.

 

You’re not a damned Starfleet officer though, are you? He reminds himself coolly, sighing inwardly.

 

“Whatever I’d been assigned,” he murmurs uncomfortably. “Whatever the people of the relevant world had requested.”

 

Inexplicably, Q grins.

 

“I was so hoping you’d say that,” he replies cheerfully. “Time to establish hailing frequencies, don’t you think?”

 

He wrenches himself from the very human thought process of having nothing technological to hail anyone with and reorders himself irritably to a more omniscient logic; he clears his throat awkwardly, feeling far more stupid than he is, and a smile touches his lips.

 

“… Ah. Half each, then?”

 

“Thirty-six thousand of them,” Q points out, a gentle concern shimmering in his gaze. “Better not, darling. I’ll raise you: ninety-ten.”

 

“Eighty-twenty,” he offers instead, exasperated, because mathematics doesn’t quite work like that, and he’s being far too overprotective.

 

“Ninety-five-five, and that’s my final offer.”

 

“That’s a reduction, dammit.”

 

“Algebra schmalgebra, Jean-Luc. Auction’s up.”

 

He slams a gavel that hadn’t existed a moment previously to his palm, the customary sound ringing illogically out nevertheless, and Picard rolls his eyes fondly at the unflinching challenge of his husband’s stare; he’s omniscient, and in no need of coddling, but they’ll never get anywhere if he becomes the immovable object to Q’s unstoppable force. This is the entity, after all, that still steps in front of imminent phaser fire even though they’re both invulnerable, who has always been desperate to keep him safe against the horrors of an ice-cold universe. Besides, five percent is still a reasonable sociological sample…

 

“Fine,” he mutters sourly. “I’m not that terrible a telepath, I’ll have you know.”

 

“Oh, darling, it’s alright,” Q croons softly, smirking. “You’re more than handsome enough to make up for it.”

 

Picard offers him a mildly cutting look – oh, it’s all remarkably simple, he imagines, if one has been sorting through complex psyches since birth –

 

“It’s a gentle concern, nothing more,” Q points out, mollifying almost as much as he is exasperated, and together they plunge unobtrusively into the thoughts of thousands of aliens, their minds teeming with issues domestic and global alike. Picard shivers with the effort, sifting through surface tensions –

She doesn’t love me

I spent HOURS on that plomeek soup

Their social gathering was so enviable

By the gods I wish Shazan would learn to shut up

How is it not sixteen hundred yet, this planetary orbit is eternal

Oh no, that’s fine, why would you remember our anniversary, you’re only a literal hive mind

History homework due – southern Alpha quadrant, 2233 - 2289

Chocolate

He’s gorgeous

So very bored

There’s never anything good on nowadays

I’m having six affairs simultaneously –

 

You’re going to be fortunate if I give you three percent next time. Focus, Jean-Luc!

 

Infinitely glad of the clear, annoyed worry that resonates above all other indistinct tones, Picard grits defiant teeth and bypasses the mundane, tapping into the wider issues in the hearts of the micro-nation. It rushes by swiftly and he listens to all he can manage to, from political unrest to local economics, and he dismisses it all silently; it’s too grandiose, he isn’t here to define populations –

 

He alights on something new, more workable, and focuses down, brows twitching with the strain – it repeats consistently, more and more clear the longer he listens with an overwhelmed mind.

 

This season’s climate is abysmal, we’re never going to grow anything

It’s been dry for six months

The replicator parts aren’t due in for another four cycles

When will it ever just rain?!

Everyone’s rapidly running out of staples –

 

“And this is precisely why I rarely deign to read the minds of mortals,” Q points out in disgust as they return to their own headspaces through mutual assent. “They’re obsessed with one another’s flesh!”

 

Picard levels himself, ensuring he’s completely withdrawn by concentrating solely on that wonderful voice.

 

“You’re obsessed with mine,” he points out quietly with an unrelated shiver, willing himself back to a sense of normalcy.

 

“You’re my husband!”

 

“They have husbands too, dear.” That’s right, concentrate – correct mental plane, where humanity is – follow Q, always  –

 

“Yes, a handful each in several cases! Honestly, they’re insatiable.” Picard gently cracks open his gaze to meet the horrified god’s, who wears a soft reassurance and a probing stare. “You’re back, then?”

 

He smiles warmly, grasp firm around his spouse’s fingers; his wedding ring is the final, tangible certainty, and he nods, sure now of his independent mentality even as a loving worry brushes against him.

 

“Yes. Thank you, mon dieu.”

 

He ensures his eyes are earnest, burning with a tender gratitude, but Q’s look is filled with lament, and he swallows silently before speaking.

 

“Anytime, my dear,” he murmurs sincerely before brightening. “So, anything useful? I hope so, I’d enjoy a distraction or three after that horror show. They don’t much care for the government, do they, but I suspect that’s too involved for your Starfleet ethics?”

 

“Agriculture,” Picard replies, dismissing the notion of politics before he thinks upon it too hard, staring down at the colony once more. “Their replicators are largely defunct, and they’re experiencing a drought.”

 

“Thought that might be more relevant, yeah,” Q murmurs, glancing across at him with interest. “’And one man in his time plays many parts’ – will you play yours once again, or allow the opportunity to pass you by? Human or Q, Jean-Luc?”

 

Words, professed by the well-intentioned, once more float through his consciousness.

 

Perhaps it is time you did something that is just for yourself.

 

He blinks for too long a moment, swallows down a final hesitation, and extends a finger.

 

“Both,” he whispers, “’and so he plays his part.’

 

A flash envelops the colony, unseen to all but them; rain clouds form slowly and begin to shed their burdens from the upper atmosphere, and a gentle peace steals across his very spirit – he’s helping, and they don’t ever have to know.

 

He hasn’t felt so human in centuries, and it’s wondrous.

 

Q stares at him for a moment, open-mouthed, before the broadest of grins spreads across his features.

 

“You actually did it,” he remarks, clearly stunned. “I’m impressed, darling.”

 

Connection kindles at Picard’s core at the weaving of his humanity with his capacities, at how content his husband feels; it’s a mere spark, but it’s so quintessential, grants him such joy, that he beams right back, a whim springing to mind that he may as well try now he’s on a roll – nothing seems impossible at this moment, not when the spirit of humankind has ignited a long-dead flame within him.

 

“Q,” he asks seriously, “have you ever cooked anything?”

 

Q blinks, brow raising to where the zenith of the sky would be if they were planet-side.

 

“… No.” His tone wears the colony’s drought as armour, it’s so dry.

 

“But you know how, I assume?”

 

“I know everything, Jean-Luc.”

 

If it’s even plausible, Picard’s grin widens further.

 

“Excellent,” he says. “I’m three hundred and thirty-eight years old – it’s about time I stopped disgracing my mother’s legacy and managed to make a successful soufflé. Shall we go home, dear?”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Despite their combined omniscience, it’s a comprehensive disaster, because of course it is. A man who had spent a mortal lifetime largely relying on replicators and a nonplussed entity who has no real concept of a kitchen don’t lend themselves well to complex recipes, especially when the former is far too stubborn and proudly French to utilise any techniques or powers not readily accessible to his home nation’s humans.

 

They eat it nevertheless, draining a bottle of Château Picard that had been conveniently stocked at a local market in tandem (“Consider it my treat, mon dieu”), and it’s absolutely awful, but it feels desperately homely nevertheless.

 

“We are never attempting this again,” Q says clearly, lips still puckered in distaste at the unstable mixture of egg whites and cheese he’d consumed.

 

“For the rest of time?” Picard asks mildly, draining his glass with a smile, and Q tightens an arm around his shoulders, eyes flashing for a moment.

 

“Hopefully, yes.”

 

It’s a multi-layered statement, a snatch of omnipresent anxiety threading through his spouse’s consciousness, and he leans further into him, wincing inwardly.

 

“A shame,” he murmurs, deliberately brushing his wedding ring. “I thought we could try tarte tatin next time.”

 

Q’s breath stutters just slightly, head resting atop the former human’s.

 

“I’ll consider it, mon capitaine.”                      

 

Picard’s eyes fall closed in soft distress, despite the euphoria of the afternoon’s events; he’s working through his dichotomy, slowly but surely, but his decision hasn’t altered – he’s going nowhere.

 

He’ll just have to try harder to convince his everything of how deeply he means it, however long it may take.

 

 ----------------------------------------------------------------

 

It’s early evening in the San Franciscan mid twenty-seventh century, and an unusually clement one at that – facts that its resident human-turned-god can neither confirm nor deny as being exclusively his fault. It probably hadn’t been despairingly overcast, and rain likely hadn’t just begun its warning spatter over Presidio Park; it was neither here nor there, in any case.

 

Mmm. Alarmingly subtle of you, mon capitaine.

 

Picard resolutely ignores the dry observation of his husband, as comprehensively as he ignores the fact he’s perched on a deckchair atop the distant Golden Gate Bridge, invisible to anyone who happens to glance up and isn’t omniscient; he simply directs a burst of fond exasperation at him, selects the relevant bench and attempts to look inconspicuous as he takes a seat. He glances around for an extended moment at anywhere but the bridge, gaze determinedly affixing to a random, quaint house a reasonable distance away.

 

“Surprisingly pleasant out.”

 

Imagine that.

 

This is in no way helpful, my dear.

 

The young man beside him grimaces in irritation, and for a moment, Picard assumes he’ll depart.

 

“My apologies. The ramblings of an old man – do ignore me. I can find another bench?”

 

He hesitates, before settling his spine once more against the wooden backrest.

 

“It’s fine,” he mutters wearily. “S’just… rough day, y’know?”

 

“Mm,” Picard agrees, still rather deliberately not looking at his newfound companion. “Stellar Cartography, perhaps? Always despised that one, myself.”

 

Wasn’t that the module you only got seventy-one percent in?

 

Oh nebulas above, please don’t remind me. A painful besmirching of my otherwise flawless grade.

 

The cadet glances across in surprise, before sighing heavily.

 

“No,” he murmurs. “I’m top of the class in Stellar Cartography.”

 

A distinct laughter rings through a former captain’s mind, and he thrusts contempt across the bay.

 

“It’s a few classes, I’m just…” He trails off in frustration, hands balling into fists. “Sorry. You probably don’t care. You’ve lived it all, yeah?”

 

“A whole lifetime ago,” Picard notes softly, finally meeting the lost eyes before him. “And on the contrary, I care a great deal. I had the Academy gardener to vent to – a wise, wonderful soul. I don’t claim to be half the counsellor he was, but I’m quite the accomplished listener, if you wish to share your concerns.”

 

“Pretty sure you’ve got better things to do than hearing the grumbling of some teenager,” the boy notes neutrally, gaze drifting to the skyline.

 

Not particularly, kid, Q remarks dryly. I imagine the kitchen would appreciate not being on fire for a little while longer, and he’s not entirely terrible with ungrateful young entities. Awkward, perhaps, but his heart’s in the right place.

 

Yes, thank you for your continued commentary, Q.

 

You’re welcome, my darling.

 

“Oh, I’m quite sure I’m free,” Picard promises. “My husband is probably making great use of himself somewhere as we speak – he’ll let me know eventually, I suspect.”

 

… Oh, very good, Jean-Luc. See if I make you croissants again any time soon.

 

A tragedy for our times. I really did enjoy those charred almonds.

 

“Well, if you’re sure,” the boy murmurs uncertainly, utterly oblivious to the silent bantering clogging the telepathic airwaves of the city. “It’s just… look, do you want to go for a walk or something? It’s a nice night.”

 

Picard smiles warmly, standing and offering the boy his own academic diary, nestled between them on the bench.

 

“I’d like that. Lead on…”

 

“Richard.”

 

“Quinlan.”

 

‘Quinlan’?

 

I feel it best that he doesn’t go back to the Academy, look up Jean-Luc Picard and find he’s spent the evening with a spectre, he exclaims dryly, and Q sounds like a codename.

 

Oh yes, should probably mention at some point that I’ve always been a spy. This whole marriage is a sham, darling. It’s all for my elaborately crafted cover story.

 

Well, that’s rather unfortunate. I was quite enjoying this charade, too. What’s your mission?

 

If I told you, I’d have to kill you, and then I’d have no one to share burnt puddings with.

 

He sighs in amusement, and follows his new acquaintance through the expansive park.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

It’s almost eleven before Richard finally finishes divulging; Picard learns everything from his struggles with Ancient Philosophies and Early Starfleet History to his exemplary record in anything remotely scientific, to his several partners and how unworthy he feels of them, and despite the fact that he’s known everything there is to possibly know from the very first moment he’d laid eyes upon the boy, he listens attentively over a bergamot-spiked espresso from the local café, imparting his own earthly wisdom wherever it’s appropriate or relevant, all the while also paying vague attention to his bored spouse.

 

Dear Continuum, he just doesn’t shut up, does he?

 

Leave him be, Q. He’s going now, anyway.

 

“Thanks Quinlan,” Richard says happily, having significantly brightened up after some gentle anecdotes and an impeccable counsel. “You didn’t have to listen, nor buy the coffee, but… thanks, honestly.”

 

“Happy to help,” Picard replies, smiling. “Take care now, won’t you?”

 

“I will. You too!”

 

They head out together, hands shaken warmly, and take polar opposite paths; he finds the same bench they’d left several hours earlier, and waits a mere half-second before the flash and ping symbolises the arrival of his husband.

 

“Have you quite finished imitating your dear empath, Jean-Luc?”

 

Picard smiles as he watches Richard hurry across the grass and back towards the Academy, expression vaguely paternal.

 

“Yes,” he says. “Until next time, at any rate.”

 

“It’s made you feel more human, then?” Q’s tone is hopeful, though his eyes wear a certain dulled enthusiasm, a spark of anxiety, and Picard reaches over to gently squeeze his thigh. It’s a complex dichotomy; the more human he feels, the happier within himself he is, and the further it metaphysically pulls him from his eternal destiny.

 

… Except it doesn’t, because nothing will. There has to be something that will convince him, beyond all doubt, that the house, the benevolent deeds they continue to sprinkle throughout the universe, the continued plan to quietly mentor struggling students, isn’t the most painful and protracted of goodbyes.

 

“Please stop worrying,” he urges because it’s all he has for now, gaze pleading. The entity swallows, turning from his spouse to stare instead at the retreating teenager.

 

“I’ll just divine who that was myself, shall I?” He asks sarcastically, and Picard smiles faintly – perhaps this will help, even if only slightly. He doesn’t need to explain, of course, they’re both as omniscient as each other, but he imagine he owes the old god he so adores a little indulgence this evening.

 

“Captain Richard Tavistock of the Enterprise-Q,” he murmurs as the boy finally fades from physical vision to become a mere speck on the horizon. “Known all across the Federation as an exemplary diplomat; thirty-three separate commendations throughout a prolific career, and a trademark appreciation for iced cappuccinos.”

 

“Another coffee advocate – Kathy would be so proud.” His gaze wrenches back to Picard, eyes softening. “The Enterprise-Q?”

 

The response is entirely earnest. “Felt appropriate somehow for my first foray into counselling to merge two deeply personal facets of myself.”

 

Q kisses him firmly, resting his forehead upon his an extended moment later, hands clasping tenderly together.

 

“There will only ever be one captain of the enterprise called Q,” he whispers.

 

And he mustn’t leave me.

 

The snatched, mental breath is barely audible, formed as unconscious, blackened thought rather than words in a chequered headspace; Picard strangles down a sob, considerably increases the pressure on a lightly quivering limb, resolutely blanks out the unimportant power cut that spontaneously affects every lamp-post in the park.

 

“He won’t,” he vows lovingly, running a finger across the brilliant-cut gem of that precious wedding ring; he remembers it as though it was yesterday, specifically selecting the most beautiful moonstone he could acquire from a planet-side merchant, not only for its symbolism to space, but for its human meaning.

 

Love that will last a lifetime, and see us through the many changes ahead.

 

He allows tears to burn for a long moment, simply holding his husband there in the silence of the park and allowing him to ground himself in the moment.

 

“He won’t, Q.”

 

… Perhaps he needs to pay his friends a visit. They’d been so very helpful last time, and he so fervently needs some form of insight. This can’t continue.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

It’s just after six a fortnight later – a fortnight filled with precious little other than wondrous travels, soft words, tender reinforcement, failed recipes and good humour – that he arrives in Pacific Heights and stares up at the architectural beauty of the LaForge-Soong household. It’s charmingly old-fashioned for the twenty-eight hundreds, resplendent in ancient, impermeable woods and red-brick, and he smiles quietly at the assortment of flora that dots several window boxes, the trail of ivy that hangs sedately from sidings, before his face falls to something considerably more stoic.

 

It isn’t only that Q still isn’t believing him, his glances still masked sometimes by worry, vulnerability, his mind brushed frequently by doubt; it’s that he still isn’t quite believing himself. Their human-flavoured escapades have certainly helped; he’s yet to counsel anyone else, but they’ve made their small marks on several more societies, extended their shelves even further, almost successfully cooked a slightly overdone but still edible pot-au-feu, and it means everything, truly it does – he’s more connected than he’s ever been, more content with the cosmos and his place within it, and yet he can’t quite help but feeling that it just isn’t quite sufficient. He’s beginning to suspect that nothing ever will be, and it slams dread right to the core of his very being, because it should be, dammit – he’s existing in a reality where he has no need to abide by a considered moral model, where he can just be himself, living the life of a galactic adventurer without consequence or damage to others.

 

His mind has expanded to encompass the entirety of everything – why, then, can’t he? People change, grow, every single day; nebulas know he’d done enough of it himself through a rewardingly-lived human lifespan. Why must he feel so compelled to live as a captain, when he fully understands now how ridiculous it is to do so? He’s been known to be stagnant to change, but this is ridiculous – it’s everything he’s ever wanted, with the only one he’s ever wanted it with. How can it matter so profoundly that it doesn’t end, that it isn’t aboard a damned starship?!

 

Perhaps he won’t find answers within; perhaps he’ll never find them, and be left as the shell he absolutely ought not to be for the rest of time, finding ways to make do, because make do he absolutely will. The one thing he is fundamentally certain of as an in-flux being in an in-flux universe is that he will not give any of it up; he’s going nowhere except home to the entity he loves, who is almost as lost as he himself is, because nothing is more vital.

 

… Still, if his friends can help…

 

He inhales steadily and starts up the garden path, taking a protracted moment to allow the clarifying aroma of petunias to fill his senses as his hand raises to knock the door. He’s millimeters from it before his knuckles strike dead air, and he acknowledges with a start that he most certainly isn’t in San Francisco anymore; he blinks, barely having even noticed the telltale flash through his own muddled thoughts, and turns to find himself on a dusky shore of the Continuum, stones being cast casually into the mint-green ocean of eternity by a strikingly familiar figure.

 

“I didn’t want to resort to kidnapping.” The voice is supremely unapologetic, its owner’s gaze fixed to the sea in defiance. “But you are really starting to piss me off.”

 

Picard frowns at his stepson’s crass phrasing, considering his angle against the angered petulance of youth; he briefly considers a stern word and a swift departure, but he knows already how futile such efforts will prove. He really isn’t in the correct mindset for an immaturity-inspired time loop of being instantly returned until he indulges him, though he’s hardly a natural father figure either, never quite sure of the right approach. It’s always been his one diplomatic failing, and it’s yet to improve even with the benefit of universe-spanning hindsight.

 

“Forgive me,” he begins, opting for a slightly edged understanding, “though I’m not certain as to the nature of my apparent transgression.”

 

“You’re still ‘at sea’,” Junior replies darkly, throwing up sardonic air quotes with his free human hand, and Picard realises with some exasperation the reason for their less than subtle location even as he winces at the Continuum’s collective empathy.

 

“I’m doing my best, Q,” he murmurs, flashes of his newfound home and ethical journeys flickering softly through his mind.

 

A particularly heavy rock creates a tremendous splash as it impacts the waves, and a furious countenance whirls to greet him.

 

“I’m not sure you are,” he snaps, ocean fizzing behind him with a maddened, ferocious froth. “It’s a very simple question, even to a former human - would you prefer being dead, dad?”

 

Eyebrows raise just slightly at the moniker, however cold its intonation, and he swallows at the concept; despite the fury of his unofficial son it’s no threat, merely an embittered attempt to rile him, but the very suggestion of the death he’s so easily avoided is enough to deeply unsettle him nevertheless. Death is oblivion, the absence of ambition and exploration… the absence of Q.

 

“Of course not,” he professes quietly.

 

“Then what is the issue, idiot?!” Junior spits. “Are you intending to reincarnate yourself for the rest of eternity, because what you want doesn’t exist – it can’t exist, not even to us! You’re a stupid, useless, powerless human, or you’re a damn Q!”

 

“Human or Q, Jean-Luc?”

 

He shivers against the simplified wisdom of son and father alike, because it’s never been that easy, and he deeply doubts it ever will be; the cultures are polar opposites, one advocating ethics, order, moral complexity, the other complete and utter freedom from any such baffling concerns. He closes his eyes in wearied frustration, utterly torn.

 

“I’m both,” he says simply, knowing full well he’s taking the fifth, “and therefore, neither.”

 

“You know, I’m starting to think my father chose the wrong captain,” Junior states icily. “You’re the stone being thrown into the sea – much like the Delta quadrant to Aunt Kathy, it’s all too big, isn’t it? The difference is, I didn’t see her ever give up.”

 

“I’m not giving up,” Picard answers defiantly, irritated. “I have no intention of leaving your father, of regaining what I once was – that, I can promise you.”

 

The young Q stares directly through what feels like his very soul, and it’s as though he’s being dissected down to the atomic level.

 

“Fine,” he mutters, sourness softening just slightly as his eyes switch back to the ocean. “You’re still a tenth of the human she was. You were mortal, once; now, you’re not. You’re lost, stupid, with a dichotomy you can’t face, and so you feel cheated, somehow, despite having the very fabric of everything at your fingertips. Don’t you think she felt cheated, in a sector she knew nothing about, had no capacity to call for help within? Did she crawl under her bed, Picard, and live in some sort of fantasy realm? She had to make the best of it, so why the hell can’t you?”

 

Picard opens his mouth to argue, to point out stiffly that it’s hardly the same dilemma, however much admiration he’s always held for his old friend, but he finds that no single word will form; for all the boy’s inexperience with the cosmos, he’s damnably right. He’s unique, throughout the whole of space-time – the man who would be king, who can do nothing but wish he wasn’t. He’d spent his whole life seeking answers, scientific knowledge, ambitiously zooming through the darkness of unwelcoming galaxy after unwelcoming galaxy in pursuit of a sense of purpose and meaning, and yet –

 

“You still have one,” Junior notes in exasperation, casting an arm out to the pale turquoise of absolutely everything, lip curling in mild disdain. “And you also have him, which I guess is… something.”

 

He sighs deeply, mind wandering to the husband who has several billion years of mindless hedonism as his only quantifiable experience, who has still spent decades indulging his every whim, watching on sedately and encouraging quietly as his beloved captain’s frantically attempted to search for something he ought to have, cooking and living in a house and decorating simply because it matters to him that the one he loves is happy, and he’s allowed him to think –

 

He swallows glass, tears burning.

 

“Amanda was human too, once; she lost everything she ever was,” Junior points out, “and now, she’s the only other Q with their own name. You don’t have to give up on feeling human, Picard; you have to get over it. You’ve got a house, however ridiculous that is; you have your little pathetic journeys, your adventure, your entity to share it all with, your robot friends, your terrible cooking – seriously, what else do you want?”

 

He ponders it for a long moment as he stares unblinkingly across the sea, reducing right his spirit down to its barest essence – indeed, what does he want? He has everything his stepson has mentioned, but…

 

“I just… want to feel like me,” he murmurs, knowing how absurd it must sound, how lacklustre a response it will seem to the pinnacle of ungracious youth beside him, especially when even he isn’t quite sure what he means anymore. Junior turns to him in predictable disgust, and the ocean flashes with gossamer-slim fragments of furious red for a split second.

 

“So you don’t know, then.” He clicks, slams the resultant stone straight down through the waves; it merely thuds to the coastal shelf, failing even to splash. “That’s you, Picard – sinking into the depths because you can’t change. You’re the furthest thing from perfect, yet you refuse to embrace the opportunity you’ve been given. Your precious humans would slaughter the cosmos to have a fraction of your power, and you’re too damn arrogant to think it’s worthwhile!”

 

It was hardly the first time he’d been accused of it, but it stung Picard nevertheless; he’d always been so very confident in himself, his own ethical stance, his capacity to disperse order and morality through a sometimes twisted universe as a member of peace-keeping, benevolent race that he’d been so very proud to act as a spokesman for.

 

… But, then, he’s doing that, isn’t he? He thinks of a colony, its farms restored; of a young man, so bewildered, destined for greatness; of a home that settles his doubts, suffuses him with a deep warmth and comfort that makes him feel so much less of an anomaly; of the husband he shares it with, that has adapted through three centuries to become so much less selfish than he has been in several billion years; of his former engineer, genetically recreated to continue, still morally just; of himself, even, now the ultimate in higher lifeforms, allowing the burdens of the past to consume him. If they have altered so profoundly and manage to thrive, why can’t he adapt, too, as comprehensively as he has physically? Why can’t he become something better, something very much like the hybrid he’s slowly, willingly transforming into anyway? An advocate for humanity, with the potential of a god – there can be little more purposeful than that, surely?

 

“Humans are supposed to surpass us, one day,” the young Q notes cynically, eyes curious upon his stepfather. “You were a leader, once – maybe you should try being one again, if you can manage it. Better deity than amoeba, right? Better Delta quadrant than dead.”

 

The previously sunk rock rises unconsciously to the surface of the water, floating in perfect equilibrium upon a buoyant wave, and the faintest of smiles claims the boy.

 

“Better both than neither,” Picard assents, spirit lightened. “I made my choice a long time ago, Q.”

 

“Then I suggest you go and tell him that.” The stare upon him is shrewd. “I hope you don’t think I did any of this for you, Jean-Luc.”

 

He smiles warmly at that; the relationship between father and son remains fractious at best, but he knows better than anyone the reluctant love that permanently resides between them.

 

“I was beginning to ponder how out of character it was, yes.” His expression reverts to something more sober, pensive. “He has my wedding ring, Q. I’m not entirely sure what else I’m supposed to offer that will convince him.”

 

Junior rolls his eyes, lip curling with dismay.

 

“Something less human!” He snipes impatiently. “Something unmistakable, I guess, that isn’t a fake forever – how the hell am I supposed to know? Go and use your limited imagination!”

 

Picard shakes his head in begrudging amusement, gaze lingering upon the boy for a long moment.

 

“Whether or not it was for my benefit –”

 

“Helped you, didn’t it?” He growls.

 

“ – Thank you, Q.”

 

The youngster softens just slightly, glancing away and back to the now sedate ocean.

 

“Don’t mention it,” he mutters, noncommittal, kicking up a little sand with a shining boot in awkwardness. “Just go and fix it, will you? And no, I am definitely not coming to dinner, before you ask.”

 

Picard blinks, laughing softly – he really is an awful telepath.

 

“Well, just know that you’re always welcome,” he says quietly. “I faithfully promise that neither of us shall cook.”

 

He disappears with a smile, and the essence of one lingers upon the boy’s features as he returns to skim stones across the cerulean waves, pondering his evening.

 

It’s less than twenty seconds before he hears that signature ping.

 

“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

 

“Eurgh,” he laments theatrically, watching the flint fade on the horizon. “I thought being threatened with molecular existence was the lowest I could sink.”

 

“Oh, stop being so dramatic,” Amanda scolds lightly, grinning as she comes to stand beside him. “I told you he was nice. He’s just not very good with kids.”

 

“Or his IQ.”

 

“Admit it, you like him.” She nudges him in good humour, and he sighs, long-suffering.

 

“I probably don’t hate him as much as I did an hour ago, and that’s all you’re getting.” He consults his friend, her eyes aglow. “You’re useful, I’ll let you have that. At least he isn’t leaving, now.”

 

“He was never leaving,” she replies wisely, smiling. “He just didn’t understand how he was supposed to feel like himself. I get it, really I do – been there, y’know. He’ll get used to it. And you’re welcome, Q.”

 

Her perfectly arched brow raises in exasperation, and he smirks.

 

“Yeah, yeah. I owe you one,” he says vaguely. “Name your price.”

 

She grins in delight.

 

“You, me, popcorn, newly forming supernova your father wrecked that I just fixed. Casei galaxy. Come on, it’s not like you’re busy, is it?”

 

It’s still something of a marvel to him that there are members of the Continuum that don’t consider him a burden, but he isn’t entirely opposed to her desire for his company. He’ll allow it, just this once; she really has been so very helpful.

 

“… Fiiiine,” he drawls, deliberately dragging out the acceptance, attempting not to project the quiet happiness he feels as they disappear arm-in-arm.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

Picard shivers as he stares into the depths of sprawling creation, the Arctirillian Expanse flooding dead space before his eyes; it’s blinding, zero kelvin and the heat of a newborn star simultaneously, yet it feels a little less terrifying than it had last time, even without the grounding of that wondrous voice. It whispers in his mind, omnipresent, and he locks onto it for a moment, remembering to breathe.

 

I’ll be back shortly, my dear, he says softly.

 

And about time, too. I think I’ve finally worked out how to make an adequate crêpe, Q replies mildly in that treasured voice. They’re too thick, and there’s probably too much sugar in them, and if you can’t tell, I’m painfully bored.

 

He laughs softly, tearfully, still so very enamoured three centuries in.

 

I’m sure they’ll be wonderful, Q.

 

First time for everything. His headspace tinges itself with the violet of curiosity and the black of anxiety for the briefest of moments; they’re both gone, settling to a more neutral mustard, before Picard can even begin to explore them, and he realises with a lurch that it’s so very blatant that he isn’t in Pacific Heights. I’ll see you soon, Jean-Luc.

 

Q? He asks quickly, concerned, but the connection is severed, and he clenches a furious fist, dismissing the gases that swirl so swiftly at his sorrow with a glare.

 

That fear ends today, for both of them. If he ever has to feel that panic-strewn darkness again for the rest of time, it will be vastly too soon. He shudders against the solitude and silence, resolves himself with a deep breath, and nods. If a wedding ring is insufficient, he’s going to have to be significantly less ambiguous, and perhaps it’s a little cliché to create another form of jewellery, but it needs to be visible, a permanent acknowledgement to his husband that their marriage isn’t a flight of fancy until he’s bored with eternity, and it has to come from here. He’d been so very determined to offer him this last time, after all, before he’d allowed doubt, the absence of humanity, to claim him; this time, he knows exactly what he is, and exactly what he has to do.

 

He reaches forward confidently and threads raw cosmic energy as easily as his former people sew fabric until it’s a tangible material, twisted, formed and set into a distinct shape; the stellar carbon flashes in a thousand separate hues, a thousand separate facets of space-time. Objectively, the symbol is beautiful, but moreover, it’s resplendent with meaning.

 

Diamond, he notes to himself, summoning knowledge that comes not from omniscience, but from his previous life. From the Greek ‘adamas’; invincible. The Romans thought them the shards of stars, fallen to Earth. Throughout human history, they’ve been considered the gem of romantic permanence.

 

He traces the symbol faintly, stares at the blossoming of new existence with less trepidation than before, with wholehearted fascination. It’s all his to explore, one day, and he’ll weave the lessons of humanity straight through its very heart.

 

Eternity, stitched atomically from the very finale of reality itself; things we can only face together as Q.

 

It’s the ultimate in cultural unification, and he hopes so fervently that it will speak volumes more than his words ever could; they can be misconstrued, disbelieved, or they can fail to be understood altogether, especially when he’s so awful at conveying romantic gravity. It’s uncompromising, telling its own sonnets directly from the spirit – it’s pure action, and he’s nothing if not a man of such things.

 

I am proud of who I was, what it’s allowed me to become, and it will never not be a part of me, but now we face the rest of it together; you aren’t second best, my consolation prize. You never could be. You don’t have to be afraid; I am yours, as you are mine – forever.

 

He blinks back tears and grasps another string of chaos, setting the symbol into a shimmering bangle of an ouroboros; not only does it further encapsulate them – from life until death and back around again – but he’s quite certain his husband will love the sparkle.

 

A final extension of his finger, and it’s in a perfectly sized velvet box, as their wedding ring had been so long ago. He offers the culmination of space-time a watery smile, and disappears – he won’t keep his everything waiting a moment longer.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

It’s raining in San Francisco, which would be a rare occurrence for a July evening were it not for its resident brooding god, who stares miserably into a miraculously functional dilithium fire-bowl from a striped deckchair, pancake-related endeavours quite abandoned.

 

It isn’t that he’s possessive. He loves his spouse, covets spending as much time with him as possible; he’d spent so many years convincing him that immortality together wasn’t a departure from his precious ethics that he’ll be damned if he doesn’t enjoy every single second of the time Jean-Luc’s allowing him, even if it does seem to be running so desperately short –

 

He comprehensively ignores the distant streak of lightning that shoots across the bay, the thunder that rumbles, perhaps symbolically, over Starfleet Academy – no, he’s entitled to do whatever he so wishes, whether it be spending time with his remaining friends, spreading his laudable morality across the cosmos or visiting the most remote parts of it, and he’ll never begrudge him a moment. How can he, when his captain’s offered him everything, when even long before they were ever lovers, he had chosen to spent the remainder of a miserable mortal existence beside him without a moment’s hesitation?

 

“In all the universe, you’re the closest thing I have to a friend, Jean-Luc.”

 

Jade flames spurt upwards for an uncontrolled moment until he clicks them into submission with trembling fingers. Despite the son he reluctantly cherishes, it still rings so painfully true; he has precious little else in the way of connections, and certainly no one else shares his heart, his soul, his very essence – no one else captures his interest, challenges him, accepts who he is so fully and completely, and doesn’t he see that he’s also compromising? Is he supposed to want a damned house, a garden, an ethical spin on traversing the universe? Does he honestly believe any of it matters to an entity so old he outstrips the lifespan of multiple galaxies? It’s all for him!

 

Thunder crashes far lower to the ground than it ought to, and he snarls pitifully upwards, his desire to stop it rapidly diminishing; the only thing that stops his melancholy from ripping apart the city is his innate desire to protect what they’ve built together. For all he shouldn’t care, their house has become so dreadfully important – miles of shelving contain his comprehensive spirit, forged beside the only man he would ever even consider attempting such ridiculous endeavours with. It’s been covered in flour, doused in décor, had heated whispers paint the four-poster and shower alike; there is television occasionally, and a sequinned fireplace, and footnotes of them both covering every infernal inch, and for all his mockery of Amanda, he loves it almost as deeply as he loves the one he shares it with, that damned pip box and candle and music box and whatever the hell else they have in the lounge branded onto his immortal soul, so very precious that it’s all he can do sometimes to remember to keep that oh-so-unnecessary human heart beating as he simply exists, finally fulfilled for the first time in three billion years.

 

What in the Continuum’s name is he supposed to do without it, without him?

 

Just because he’s at the Expanse, it doesn’t mean he’s leaving you –

 

The sky spontaneously deepens to pitch-black, and lightning strikes the Golden Gate Bridge as the fire-bowl blurs before him – what on earth else is it supposed to mean, when the last time he’d been there, he’d realised how desperately meaningless it all was? Why return, if not for a final farewell, the last will and testament to immortality?

 

You can’t, you promised me –

 

“I’m not going anywhere, you utter fool,” a painfully familiar voice whispers against him, arms wrapping around him tightly from behind, and dear stars, he’s so wrenchingly afraid of homelessness, emotional obscurity, that he’s entirely bypassed his own omniscience and failed to notice his whole cosmos arriving home. Picard extends a finger silently, clearing the heavens to a significantly paler grey, the torrential rain now merely a fine drizzle, and Q melts against him with a choked breath.

 

“Don’t.” It’s supposed to be an order, incandescent with fury; it’s instead merely a tender plea, laced with a century of anxiety, and gods, how he hates himself for it. “Please, Jean-Luc – we’ll work it out, alright, we’ll do something –”

 

“You’ve done more than enough, my dear,” his husband murmurs into his neck, laying a soft kiss upon his skin. “Allow me to return the favour.”

 

A box flashes into existence on the spare deckchair, and Q stares unendingly at it, trepidation tingling across his nerves.

 

“What is it?” He demands, hesitant.

 

“Every marriage has its ups and downs, Q,” Picard notes softly, limbs disentangling to reach over for the gift, “and really, in terms of how long a human one tends to run, we’re rather overdue the latter – but we learn from our transgressions, mon dieu. They don’t break us apart as long as we acknowledge them. Consider this my acknowledgement, and my apology – once an idiot, always an idiot, apparently.”

 

He offers his spouse a quiet, faintly amused smile, and Q leans into him for a moment, running fingers across the crushed velvet.

 

“You were never an idiot,” he murmurs honestly, “though I hope this is worth such an eloquent speech, Jean-Luc, however often you seem to enjoying employing them.”

 

Picard chuckles softly, bequeathing him the box with a warm gaze.

 

“It should settle any doubts you have, which is worth far more than my words ever could be.”

 

Q swallows harshly; an errant rumble sounds miles hence, and he opens it. The universe bathes itself in utter silence as he stares at the bracelet in wonder; molecules cease to vibrate in anything at all on a cosmic level as it’s plucked gently from its casing, observed between trembling fingertips, fully and completely comprehended on every possible level as he intricately decodes its linguistics, shivers in awe at its symbolism.

 

It’s so extreme, it can’t fail to be noticed through space-time; an undercurrent of interest bursts into his consciousness, and his siblings speculate through his mind.

 

That’s an ouroboros.

Diamond, forged from the Expanse!

Very exuberant, very you

Oh, he’s finally come to terms with it! Should we throw a party or something?

That’s just beautiful – I’m so pleased for you, Q –

That’s one hell of a gesture…

I told you he wasn’t going to leave, didn’t I?

 

A pitched sob cuts through them all, and he locks them out simultaneously, with a whisper that lacks any bite whatsoever: Shut up. I know.

 

He isn’t sharing this – he absolutely refuses. They will never understand. Galaxies explode in the middle-distance of the quadrant, and a vague, blonde-haired humour brushes against him as they’re fixed in almost the same moment.

 

“I offered you forever the only way I knew how, last time,” his husband notes gently beside him, smile tender. “Thought I ought to extend the offer.”

 

Q rolls it onto his wrist, unconsciously forming a perfect fit that will last for eternity, and tackles him instantly; they hit the mattress, garden concrete vanished mid-movement for a softer landing, mouths meshed together furiously, and finally, finally, he allows himself to believe.

 

You’re staying, always, he sobs, very essence infused with the most wondrous belonging.

 

Always, Picard promises lovingly.

 

Don’t have to – he balls fists into clothing, burns with the most quenching, relieving of flames as though he’s a fresh star, basking sublimely in its own chemistry. Wouldn’t have been very good on my own anymore, darling.

 

A tear splashes onto his cheek, lips simply resting for a heated moment upon one another’s.

 

“Better than me, most likely.”

 

“No,” he argues immediately, rebuilding long-dead star clusters through pure contentment without sparing them a stray thought; to lose any of this, their home, him, would be to lose himself. “No, Jean-Luc.”

 

His husband’s hand reaches up, caresses a cheekbone fondly through a misted gaze.

 

“We humans like to be diplomatic, mon dieu. We’ll agree to disagree.”

 

There’s no fear in the responding stare this time nor in a joyful mind, merely a tender curiosity.

 

“You aren’t human,” he exclaims gently.

 

“Oh, I am,” Picard replies easily, indulgent. “I’m the most human Q of all, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing anymore, my dear.”

 

Q kisses him once more, his final caveat reverting to the telepathic, because he may be omnipotent, capable of anything, but he still somehow can’t quite stop himself.

 

In the spirit of diplomacy, dearest husband, I concur wholeheartedly.

 

The former captain laughs inwardly as they lose themselves to pure connection, words utterly forgotten. Neither can say how long the evening lasts, despite their unchallenged status as the universe’s greatest timekeepers; they’ll later have a minor argument about it, because Picard swears it was around three weeks and his spouse is entirely certain it was at least two months, but that’s neither here nor there, ultimately.

 

They have forever to ponder it, and it isn’t like they’re about to recount it all to anyone else anyway.

 

It isn’t for them. It never has been, and it never will be.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

Epilogue

 

Picard still fixes, still helps, and of course, he and his beloved entity still wander through the cosmos together during every possible era, but there’s a certainty in Q’s gaze, now, that has been sorely lacking for almost their entire relationship. He doesn’t flicker anymore when he notes something reminiscent of humanity, when he stares for too long a moment, in either spirit or deed; when they meet others they wish to share their company with, however briefly, and he introduces him as his spouse, there’s no addendum – no unconscious, frantic whisper of for as long as he can be, or he’ll leave, one day, and I won’t know what to do –

 

Q doesn’t doubt, now. And if he ever forgets the time when he’s enjoying the company of his former crew, or if he’s ever a little too nostalgic, it only takes a silent glance downwards, a tender tracing of the symbol forged from the very finale of the universe that gleams as though starlight, for him to recall.

 

He’ll come back eventually. I don’t have to be alone, now.

 

Not ever, Picard unfailingly vows, however far apart they are, whether it’s time, space or dimensions that separate them. Neither of us do.

 

Good, the old god he so adores whispers tenderly. That’s… good. So very, very good, my darling.

 

It tends to dissolve after that into a teasing lilt regarding Q’s eloquence, which all becomes so very silly and is only ultimately resolved when they’re grinning at one another over some terribly cooked French cuisine later that day – but still, they’re immutable, which is what counts.

 

They really do love their home, but perhaps one day, they’ll move – perchance to a rural French farmhouse that most certainly doesn’t have an attached vineyard, or to a dimensionally nonsensical penthouse on another continent, life teeming beneath them, starships coasting high above; perhaps it won’t be on Earth at all, although he imagines it will be during the span of the planet’s existence, which is forever to beings who have no need to abide by the science of galactic destruction. Maybe they’ll even decide eventually they don’t wish to have a house at all, although he doubts that, too – even when he’s the only being left in the totality of everything who understand what it’s like to be human, he’ll still be honouring his culture, their wondrous ambition and boundless zest, standing as their omnipresent epilogue and spinning their legacy throughout it all, whether it manifests as a detached property or a quiet, non-verbal sermon to a developing culture.

 

And after all, where else are they supposed to display an illustrious career, a universe’s worth of pointless trinkets, a vast collection of throw pillows, or the utter absurdity of a sequinned fireplace? He grins grimly at the thought of the latter’s brashness, chuckling nevertheless.

 

If there’s one thing he does know, though (and technically he knows everything, however much of it he chooses to ignore, but none of it so profoundly as this), it’s that wherever it will be will instantly feel like home, because home was once a wandering starship, but is now the only one he’s chosen to continue wandering with when he ought to be long since dead by any standards of decency; the one who is currently cooking macarons in their kitchen, who has already managed to set the appliances on fire twice, simply because it makes him happy.

 

They’d both been isolated for so very long, and they don’t intend to waste another moment on such trivial horrors. Time, space and matter will run dry before they must part again, and sometimes, he doubts even the immutable laws of the universe their ultimate victory – they manipulate them every day anyway, and much like his command predecessor, Jean-Luc Picard doesn't believe in no-win scenarios. Perhaps they can form a duplex apartment from the final grains of collapsing reality, barricade it shut with sheer willpower; bloody-mindedness always has been a notable trait of his. There’s a vague possibility that they can even save the fire-bowl, though he’s rather doubtful that such things will matter when the entirety of the cosmos is shattering to shards all around them.

 

Questions for later, Jean-Luc, he muses mildly – he’s got a few quadrillion years to form a valiant rescue plan. He’s sure he can come up with something.

 

A flash and a ping echoes across the lounge, and a triumphant Q appears to almost bounce in the doorframe.

 

“Don’t quote me on it, mon capitaine,” he announces joyfully, “but I think they’re edible.”

 

He laughs quietly – questions for later, indeed. Tonight is for a likely cremated French classic, the Loire Valley vin blanc that accompanies it (because never in his entire immortality is he entertaining the idea of the family red with dessert), and an evening in with the love of his eternal life.

 

So very human, and yet so very not. How deeply appropriate.

 

He smiles warmly, at peace with the universe, and his hand lingers for just a moment longer on the piece of Catabrial quartz he’s been staring at for the past ten minutes.

 

“Coming, dear,” he murmurs fondly, and follows him into eternity.