It was dark when James peeled his eyelids open, woken up by something his sleepy brain couldn’t point out yet but that soon would make its way to the forefront of his mind; in the meanwhile, his eyes looked for the alarm clock on the bedside table and its neon green numbers changing every sixty seconds: it was 4:17 in the morning and James felt like he’d been ran over by a car and then put in a blender, before he’d poured himself on the mattress.
Though, he remembered nothing of the sort happening; for their standards, James and Q had had a relatively boring and comfortingly domestic night in, eating chips in front of the tv and cuddling with the cats.
Where was Q?
James forced his body to sit up on the mattress, letting the warm blankets pool in soft waves of fabric around his waist: there was no Q to be found in the bedroom, which wasn’t exactly unusual since the younger man suffered from a serious case of insomnia but whatever had woken up James, his senses felt all in overdrive and a loathsome panicky feeling seized his chest; breathing became difficult, coming into short inhales and quick exhales that made him feel slightly light-headed.
Almost afraid of passing out, James climbed out of the bed and with shaky legs he gained the hallway; suddenly the noise of blood rushing in his temples disappeared and he could distinctively hear the sound of water running in the bathroom - and James was able to breathe correctly again, perfectly aware of what was going on.
James knocked at the bathroom door, not really expecting an answer but he guessed that it would be better to avoid scaring Q into an heart attack - God knew that with the amounts of stress and caffeine on which the younger man practically lived would have made that possibility pretty strong, despite the fact that he was just in his late twenties.
“Enter” Q’s voice bid from inside the room.
“Not you” James murmured fondly at the cat - Pampuria, it was impossible to mistake her white floof for Turing’s darker colouring under the moonlight - that had just brushed against his calves.
“Let her in” Q called out “She’s been scratching at the door for a while”
James snorted when Pampuria looked up at him, a smug mewl putting on display that sharp little teeth that had bitten him so often “Spoiled brat” he said as he pushed the door open, shaking his head when the cat entered the bathroom first, swishing her floofy tail around.
“Don’t talk like that about my Princess” Q said with a smile, letting a wet hand dangle out of the bath, so that the cat could sniff at his fingers and rub against them “Did I wake you up?”
James sat down on the edge of the tub, arms instinctively wrapping around Pampuria when she jumped in his lap - just to be closer to her owner but still comfortably far from water, obviously “No” he reassured “Did you have a nightmare?”
“That would imply that I ever managed to fall asleep” Q pointed out with a grin, fingers nervously playing with the bubbles hiding his submerged body “I just keep thinking about it, you know?” He sighed out in the end, looking up at his lover with tired green eyes.
James carefully freed an hand from Pampuria’s floof, making sure that the cat understood not to make any idiotic movements unless she desired to take a bath, and carded his fingers through Q’s damp curls “Hard choices are part of the job” he pointed out gently, digits massaging the younger man’s sensitive scalp.
Normally, Q would have closed his eyes in bliss at the skilfull massage but instead he let his eyelids slid down to hide his irises as distress filled them. A tear slid down his stubbled cheek and Q angrily wiped it away, feeling so weak in front of James; his lover had literally gone to hell multiple times and had managed to make the trip back alive to tell tales about it “It could have been you” Q couldn’t help whispering, his voice breaking on the last word.
“It already has been me” James murmured “And it could happen again, yes”
Q snorted - a noise that became a sob halfway out of his throat - even as another tear fell down his face “Have I already told you just how shitty you are at comforting people?” He asked, a bitter smile blossoming on his lips.
Even if he hadn’t been Quartermaster back then, Q remembered when it had been James’ turn to be sacrificed in a last desperate attempt to win a battle in the never ending war against terrorism: the halls had been filled by a cacophony of disbelieving murmurs, the news of 007’s death travelling on everyone’s mouths just like it had done so many times before that - the only difference being that they were carrying the downfall of a hero, instead of its conquests and shenanigans.
Only, then M had been able to share part of the guilt with Eve who had understandably missed an extremely difficult shot - hell, an impossible one.
Now, Q only had himself to blame for issuing the command that had led 002 to her death and nobody was blaming him; the higher ups had even congratulated him upon making such a difficult decision, displaying a cold-blooded and clear mind in the moment of need. Nobody cared that 002 had died: she’d been just another sacrificeable piece on the board, a pawn that with its death would open up a safer path to the Queen.
“She knew what she was risking, Q”
Q looked up at James, an eyebrow arched up in silent inquiry.
James smiled down tenderly at those big and tired eyes, just pleading him for the right words to make the guilt a little more bearable “You know that is Double-Ohs are not the most obedient of the lot” he started.
“You can say that, yeah” Q interrupted, his smile loosing a bit of the bitter edge as the corners turned up a little more and made the faint suggestion of dimples appear at the corners of h6os mouth.
“Stop interrupting me” James reprimanded fondly, tapping Q’s nose; as any other time he had poked at the younger man, Pampuria warningly dug her claws in his thigh “As I was saying, you know we almost never follow orders - 002 could have easily told you to fuck off and kiss her arse like she already did numerous times. But she didn’t because she evidently thought too that the move you suggested was the only possible one to avoid wasting all the months of work leading up to that op”
Q sighed and closed his eyes again, this time pushing his head in James’ fingers to ask for more pets. It all made sense - it was the truth: 002 had known that Q was at the end of his rope, that the only thing he could have suggested from behind his computer was to take the leap - and she had because, despite being on the field, she hadn’t seen a better option either “She was my friend”
“I know. But as your friend, would she want to see you like this?” James asked, knowing that Q wouldn’t stop feeling sad just because he knew that 002 would bite his head off, if she knew that Q was crying over her dead body like that; she’d been a peculiar character with quite a mouth on her - and no, James didn’t mean it in a complimentary way - and a peaceful attitude towards death that not many agents really managed to reach.
Q shook his head.
(“Grow a pair, Q” 002 snarls over the comms, gritting her teeth as she scales the wall just using her pigheadedness and a huge amount of luck.
Q rolls his eyes: she could have easily used the elevator - after all, he could control it easily “Of what? Boobs?”
“Someone has been reading naughty Star Trek fanfictions again” 002 sings in a teasing voice “Or maybe Bond is just /that/ kinky?”
Q rolls his eyes again - he does that a lot when he’s monitoring 002 “You’re perverted. If you bring back that throwing knife I spent a whole day balancing to perfection - and that you’re using to scale a wall when you could have taken the lift - I’m giving you a bottle of Macallan as a prize”
002 snorts but Q knows her and waits, eyes following her ascension as he virtually covered her shoulders, making sure that nobody started shooting at her.
Q grins when the question finally comes “25 years old, Sherry Oak range” he answers and when 002 whistles, he knows that he’s going to see his equipment again this time. )
“She’d tell me to stop whining” Q answered, sighing as he shook his mind free of the memory; he knew that one day he’d feel only fondness when remembering the agent but, for now, it still hurt too much.
“Exactly” James gently put Pampuria on the floor and stood up, ignoring her irritated mewl to grab a large towel from the warming rack “Come out now, you’re getting all pruny” he encouraged.
Nobody needed to know that James squeezed Q a little harder than usual when he had him snuggled up against his chest, trembling in his cocoon like a leaf in the wind.
He was twirled, whirled, and whipped around. He bounced,
jumped, leapt. He jigged, tapped, stomped. He laughed and sang and laughed
Q-Branch was having a party. He couldn’t remember the occasion;
something to do with him. But once it had been discovered that he liked to
dance, someone had hurried to put on some music, and now they were all having
the time of their lives.
He danced as freely as he did at home; he had no shame. He
knew he looked ridiculous, and he didn’t care. He was dancing with Eve, and
they were flirting with their bodies; friend-flirts, fun-flirts. There was no
real passion behind it. It was just fun. He was… happy. For the first time in
months, he was happy.
Benjamin Sisko was the best captain in Starfleet history before he was even a Captain, because Captaincy Rule 1 is “Not waiting for the PADD-pushers in Command to approve something you know needs doing.” The most epically understated proof is how he utterly defeated Q. And to explain why we need to see how the other captains lost.
Picard lost. Picard lost hard and always. Picard’s entire existence was bracketed by Q from a first Encounter at Farpoint to the end of Time’s Arrow. He never escaped. He was only ever a player in Q’s games, or rather a game that Q played. We’ve already established the Q Continuum could watch whatever and whenever they went, and when Q got bored he’d come prod Picard until he got moralistic. But human notions are so far below the level of Q that Picard’s powerful speeches must have come across as cute cat videos, each getting infinitillion-plus-i views on QTube. Picard never stopped reacting so Q never stopped bullying him.
Janeway, for all her strengths, was even worse. Multiple Q chased (one of) the only Starfleet vessels in the entire Delta quadrant. Which only made it more tragic that they never fully punched through the desperately weakened fourth wall with a QPool episode allowing him to talk to the camera. Here he didn’t just dominate the vessel whenever he wanted, his appearances disrupted his own Q continuum as well, before coming back a third time with a teenage boy character. Because those always work so well on Star Trek. Once again a Starfleet captain is so much at his call and beck that she has to consider it serious tactical win when she convinces him not to have a child with her. (Which is ugh in more ways than I have time to list here, but that’s the fault of the writers instead of the characters. As if a Q couldn’t create a kid with someone just because they had a few inches of French trouser-sausage.)
But Sisko? Sisko had enough of that asshole before he ever arrived. Q appeared on DS9 once, uno, wa’, tud, a haon, (1), and never omnipotented their airlocks again entirely thanks to Sisko’s genius. Which is beautifully understated. On the surface it looks like Q was all about the Vash, and Sisko a sighingly annoyed subplot. But Q still went straight for the commander, just as he always does. The key comes in one line early on:
KIRA: What’s Q?
SISKO: A powerful and extremely unpredictable entity. I was at a Starfleet briefing on him two years ago.
Starfleet knows about the Q. Starfleet holds briefings about him as a threat to the Federation, like the Borg or Doomsday Weapons, and anyone even half-competently on the command track has to have spent a few nights wondering what they’d do should Q come into view. Sisko has passionately kicked the ass of everything from every planet, quadrant, or trans-dimensional energy plane that has ever crossed him. So why does he only sigh like a schoolteacher at Q’s antics?
Because that’s how to kick Q-ass.
Sisko has thought about this. Sisko has read past reports. Sisko has learned from Picard’s mistakes (because Picard-as-enemy was a HUGE part of early Sisko’s personality before the end of Emissary), and he absolutely refuses to indulge Q at any emotional level more extreme than “annoyed at a malfunctioning replicator” to make sure he stays “boring” in the bully’s mind. He asks for help, he ignores Q after not getting it, even when he thumps Q – one of the most satisfying Star Trek moments in existence, by the way – it’s only because that’s the most predictable and least interesting response to Q.
Q: You hit me! Picard never hit me.
SISKO: I’m not Picard.
Q: Indeed not. You’re much easier to provoke. How fortunate for me.
You can see Q decide Sisko’s not worth the bother. He only talks directly to Sisko once more, ever, and it’s to tell him exactly where the problem is. He’s given up. He’s bored. He’s leaving. He disappears out of Sisko’s life in a flash of light, and the final score is Q-nil.
Because Sisko wins.
And even though it was the galaxy’s first full-contact feint, pretending to be unimaginative in order to creatively dispose of an all-powerful threat, let’s enjoy those punches again.