When Jean Luc steps out of the sonic shower, Q is frowning into the mirror and running his fingers through his hair. He plucks one from his temple and holds it up to the light before dropping it into the trash receptacle. Jean Luc almost winces audibly before he stops himself and marshals his control. Q catches his eye in the mirror just as Jean Luc masks his reaction. He smiles wanly at Jean Luc and then leaves, the door closing briskly behind him. Jean Luc knows that by the time he is dressed, Q will already be gone.
Jean Luc had been hoping they would spend some time together today—perhaps take a walk in the arboretum or masquerade as detectives on the holodeck—but that won’t happen now. Q will need some time to calm himself after this latest evidence of his newly minted mortality, and if Jean Luc is completely honest, he isn’t sure that any leisure activity he might possibly suggest to Q could ever compete with the glory of walking on the surface of a star or traveling back in time to witness the birth of the universe.
Jean Luc would head to Ten Forward for some morale boosting hours spent mixing with the junior officers, but he knows Guinan will be there, and he cannot bear the way she can always see straight through his façade of composure. Not today. Naturally, he finds her spreading out a picnic next to a clump of Risan sky lilies in the arboretum.
“Jean Luc,” she says, “I thought I might see you today. Will you join me?”
Of course, he does. What else can he do at this point? Jean Luc is beginning to resent how many of his interactions with his oldest friend carry an air of inevitability about them.
Jean Luc has taken three bites of the sandwich she offers him—dense bread smeared with something sweet and luscious, Bajoran summer fruit, maybe—when Guinan asks him what’s wrong. “What makes you assume something is wrong?” he says.
Guinan sighs. “You know I warned you, Jean Luc. I warned you that your relationship with Q was likely to bring you more unhappiness than anything else.”
She’d warned him alright, and so had Will and Deanna and Beverly. Even Data had formally registered concern with Jean Luc’s intention to enter into a domestic partnership with Q albeit in much less an emotional fashion than his crewmates. But Jean Luc ultimately couldn’t dismiss his feelings. Rebuffing the Q who took him dancing on the rings of Saturn was far, far easier than dismissing the Q who crouched naked and shivering on the deck of Jean Luc’s bridge, powerless and frightened. That Q—the one who felt every touch of Jean Luc’s hands as if they were a revelation, the one who wanted to learn to cook and play the flute—that Q Jean Luc could not deny.
Jean Luc says, “I rather think I’m the one making him unhappy.” He doesn’t look at Guinan as he says this. Jean Luc is afraid that whatever expression he sees on her face will dissolve the last modicum of equanimity in his possession.
“You’re making him unhappy,” Guinan says. Her voice is flatly disbelieving.
“Yes, he’s unhappy!” Jean Luc says. “He’s mortal, and he’s dying every minute that he lives just like the rest of us, and he’s bored with the smallness of mortality, and I cannot blame him for that. He is diminished, and I have diminished him, and I do not think he will suffer what he sees as an indignity much longer.”
“What do you mean, Jean Luc?”
“I mean that I believe he regrets his decision to become mortal. I mean that I believe our relationship is not enough to justify the sacrifice he has made. I mean that I believe he will soon attempt to regain his powers from the Continuum.”
“That ship has sailed,” Guinan says. She takes the sandwich from Jean Luc and clasps his hands between her own. “His powers are gone, Jean Luc. For better or worse, he is mortal now. He can’t just tell the Continuum he was mistaken in his desire to become human and wipe the past three years from the slate.”
Jean Luc risks looking her in the eye. He sees the pity he was expecting along with her fondness for him, but he also sees genuine sorrow.
“Have you talked to Q? Has he told you any of this himself, or are you drawing your own conclusions?”
Jean Luc says, “We haven’t talked about his mortality, not lately. I tried at first when he began to seem restless, but I only made him angry. I thought perhaps giving him space to deal with the issue on his own was the better course, but now I’m certain I handled the situation badly.”
Guinan squeezes his hands. “Whatever I may think about him, Q loves you, Jean Luc. He wouldn’t have chosen to become human if he didn’t. He wouldn’t stay here with you even though he’s clearly struggling with his mortality if he didn’t love you. I think you should talk to him. The problems between you are not as irrevocable as you think.”
Guinan sounds wise as she says this, and Jean Luc would like to believe that what she’s saying is one of those prophetic statements she so often makes. But his captain’s intuition tells him that she’s wrong. Jean Luc sees the signs. Q is withdrawing from him, creating distance between them. Someday there will be so much distance that Jean Luc will be unable to breach it, and he doesn’t know how he will be able to endure the rest of this life alone. Despite Guinan’s protests to the contrary, Jean Luc suspects that Q will be able to charm his way back into the Continuum. He’s like the proverbial Terran cat. Q always lands on his feet no matter the circumstances life throws at him.
“I hope you’re right,” Jean Luc says. He retrieves his sandwich from Guinan’s plate and takes a large bite. Guinan smiles and changes the subject to an upcoming blues festival in Ten Forward organized by the crew’s Bolian contingency.
Jean Luc nods and speaks at the right moments, and when lunch has ended, Guinan seems to think the rift between him and Q is all but resolved. Jean Luc doesn’t disabuse her of this notion, but he feels much worse when he leaves the arboretum than he did that morning watching Q from the shower.
Jean Luc can see no way to bridge the distance between him and Q, not when the thing which allows them to be together is the very same thing that’s driving them so far apart. The love they both feel cannot ever be enough to recompense the price Q has paid, and Jean Luc feels that truth as keenly as he felt a Nausicaan blade slip between his ribs and into his heart so many years ago.