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So Long, Lonesome

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As soon as the door to her private quarters slid closed, Kathryn allowed herself a tiny, relieved sigh. It had been a long day full of unimportant little things; reports to be read and signed, meetings about their further schedule to be held and so on, intercepted by periods of boredom that somehow only tired her further. Now, she was looking forward to a hot bath and a glass of red wine and then her warm, soft bed.

Untypically careless, she dropped her clothes to the floor while she walked over into her bathroom; she had ordered a hot bath for half past nine in the evening when she had been in her cabin earlier, before she had gone to have dinner with Seven of Nine and Harry Kim. It was ready and waiting for her, and with another sigh, she sunk into the hot water. For a long moment, she just enjoyed the soothing warmth, eyes closed and muscles slowly relaxing. Then she realised she had forgotten the red wine, but it was no matter. Maybe she'd get it later.

"Kathy."

Not yet allowing herself to tense up at the sound of that all-too-familiar voice—whenever Q showed up, it usually meant some kind of trouble was near—she opened her eyes, half expecting him to suddenly sit at the other end of the bathtub, like he had done once before already. When she didn't see him there, she blinked and turned her head until she found him; he was sitting in the corner, looking like he had been there for a long time.

"Q," she said. Normally she would have asked what he wanted now, but the hot bath and her gladness that it had been a, while tiring, otherwise totally boring day without any incidents, adding the fact that the last time they had met had been in hindsight almost pleasant, made her unusually soft and relaxed. "Not going to join me this time?", she asked, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards.

He tilted his head and looked at her imploringly, face both open and closed at the same time, a strange expression for him. Then he returned her almost-smile and said "Maybe later."

Now she was sure this visit was not like the others—well, as sure as one could be when confronted with Q, anyway—for usually, there should have followed some barb about how she had "missed her chance" or something.

"Where is your son?", she asked after a short moment of silence.

"At the Continuum, going on Q's nerves," Q replied, and Kathryn would have bet he wasn't aware that his expression turned a little soft around his eyes at the mention of his offspring. It were these little signs that made her fond of him; she would have never admitted it, but after his last visit, when he had unconsciously but once and for all showed that there was more behind the façade, that he indeed had feelings, she had thought a lot about him and, now that she believed she had figured him out at least a little bit, could honestly say that she liked him. Which didn't mean she wanted him to mess around with her ship and crew, but she wasn't opposed to him visiting from time to time, as long as it only were visits, nothing more. Maybe this was going to be his first visit; so far, he had shown no inclination to throw them into the Continuum or mess up their lives in any other way. In fact, he hadn't shown any inclination towards anything. Almost, she opened her mouth and asked, but thought better of it; she was aware that this was a very delicate situation. If she made one wrong move, he'd either leave or muck them up and never come back like that again. But if she made the right move… maybe they could become something like friends. Friends were something they could certainly afford, far away from home as they were.

"He's grown a lot while he was here," she said instead, allowing her face to show her fondness of the little Q, who was by no means little but would always be Q's child, no matter how old or big he got. "Maybe you could bring him around for a visit sometime; I'd like to see him again."

This time, the smile on Q's face was visible and bore a trace of the sardonic mischievousness she had been missing before. "Are you sure you want us to visit you?"

She returned the smirk with a dose of her own playful mischievousness. "I'm sure you're having a lot of fun messing up other people's lives. You shouldn't have a too hard time refraining from doing so while aboard my ship."

"But Kathy, surely you don't expect us to sit with you and drink a nice cup of tea, do you?" His eyes twinkled, and she laughed at the image of Q and Q sitting at the table, calmly sipping green tea and leading pleasant conversations.

"I trust you to be able to recognise the difference between 'acceptable' and 'intolerable mess'," she replied and flicked some water at him. She didn't know what made her so relaxed and playful; maybe it was the fact that none of her crew had come to serious harm, not to mention died, in more than a month. Maybe it was the bath, or the delicious dinner she had had in the pleasant company of Kim and Seven of Nine, who was learning to relax more and more.

Maybe it was because this was the person who had cared enough to find a way to help them come home quicker within the boundaries she had set.

Q adapted an expression of astonishment and gasped in his usual, over-the-top way; "My, my Kathy! I barely believe what I'm hearing! Did you really just give me permission to mess around with your ship and crew?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Would I ever do that?"

The only reply she got was a smirk, and Q leant back against the wall, posture a lot more relaxed and open than before. She followed his example and slid a little deeper into the water, wondering why she didn't mind that he was here, basically disturbing her nice, calm evening. It was probably because he had been here before, certainly because the fronts had been cleared a while ago—she wasn't interested, and he wasn't interested anymore either, had never seriously been—and maybe because she had witnessed that for his species, intercourse meant the touching of index fingers.

For a while, it was silent; neither of them moved and she almost believed he had left again when he spoke up, voice a little distant, not at all curious and with an underlying emotion she couldn't interpret. "What would you do if I showed up on your ship and asked to join your crew?"

Surprised at the nature of the question, she blinked. "Well, I'd wonder why you would want to do that; with you being omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn't it be rather boring?"

"And if I said that you're the most entertaining thing I have come across in a while?"

She turned her head to look at Q. His expression was unreadable, but his eyes were fixed on her face as if he wanted to catch everything she thought or said. Faintly, she wondered if he was reading her thoughts, but he probably wasn't. If he were, he wouldn't need to ask; he could pick everything he wanted to know right out of her head without going through the trouble of asking and thus maybe revealing a weakness.

"Well," she said, slowly. "You probably could join the crew, but I have no idea what you actually could do. With your knowledge you'd make most of what we're doing—investigating, exploring—useless, and with your power you'd basically make us useless. It would probably end badly; either, we'd be your playthings to put into situations and watch, or you'd be our plaything to do everything we can't or don't want to do for us."

Q seemed to think about that for a while, staring into nothing, and Kathryn wondered what this was all about. Was he bored? Did he seriously intend to join them?

"And what if I offered not to use powers? I'd be- actually," he leaned forward, face strangely intense and slightly pinched, "what if I had no powers anymore because the Continuum had banned me? If I were as human as you are, with a brain as small as yours and no powers to speak of anymore?"

At a loss and growing more than a little worried, Kathryn sat up. "Then the same thing I offered your son goes for you as well; you could join my crew. Of course you'd have to start with zero the same way he had to, but I'm sure we could figure something out. Why do you ask? Did you get banned?"

Q closed his eyes but made no effort to conceal his expression; she could see the pain in his face, and it only worried her more. What the hell had happened?

Finally, he opened his eyes again and the pain was gone from his features, only to be replaced by a mix of melancholy, bitterness and sadness. She had never seen Q's face so expressive, and she had never seen him look so desolate. Before she could worry even more, though, he shook his head and said, "No, everything is as it should be. I was just wondering."

She narrowed her eyes, not sure if she should allow the annoyance that threatened to come. Something was not alright with him, and if it wasn't that he had been banned, it had to be something else. But what?

"What happened?"

He shrugged; a gesture that somehow seemed strange on him, in this situation. "Nothing happened. I was just watching an old acquaintance, watching some moments of my past… it's not important."

Suddenly, she remembered what Quinn had said; Q had indeed been banned from the Continuum before for his rebellious behaviour. She hadn't thought much about it then, but now she wondered; what had he done then, what had he done when he hadn't been Q? And what had he done to be allowed back?

Had he actually asked someone for help—as much as he was able to express it, that is?

She had granted asylum to a Q who had opposed the Continuum before, would have taken in another; she'd probably do it again if necessary. But when Q had been banned, they hadn't known each other yet, so who had he turned to, who had probably turned him down, causing him to ask her these questions now?

"If you ever need to, you are welcome to join my crew anytime, just like your son is." She wasn't sure if she should have said that; it'd make him aware that she was aware what he really was asking, and what he was telling her with that question. But she said it anyway, because she wanted that to be clear. It was no secret she had something of a soft spot for those who needed help for whatever reason, even if they were not exactly best friends before; her First Officer himself was the perfect example. And her relationship to Q was better than her and Chakotay's had been then, that much was certain.

He looked at her and opened his mouth, and for one moment she was sure he was going to tell her what was going on in his head, why he was asking, maybe even thank her. Then he closed his mouth again, but it didn't matter. She had seen part of what he had wanted to say in his face, in his eyes already, and it was alright.

For a moment, they simply looked at each other; Q conveying his thankfulness without actually saying it and Kathryn expressing the acceptance he probably hadn't gotten before. Then, he lowered his gaze, and when he looked up again, the weight was gone from his eyes and he wore his usual light expression with his usual mischievous, slightly smug twinkle. "Are you sure you wanted to show me that, Kathy?" He gestured towards her chest and she looked down only to realise that she was naked, and when she had sat up- well. Her bathtub wasn't exactly the highest in the universe.

With a splash she ducked into the water, scowling at Q but unable to bring up any real annoyance. He grinned at her, winked and vanished with a flash.