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And that meant she had broken or battered down his mental shields enough to force a partial joining on him, because he wouldn't have let her read his mind and he wouldn't have voluntarily admitted he hadn't been able to create their son without her ideas. He loved their son more than he loved anything else in the universe, and the idea to create a child had been his... but he hadn't had any idea how to do it. Even the two who had created Amanda had had to anchor their child into mortal flesh for sixteen years before she grew into a viable Q. An infant Q would in theory be instantly destroyed by the powerful energies of the Continuum unless it was sheltered in matter and kept out of the Continuum. It was the knowledge she had brought that had enabled the two of them to create their son, stabilize him, and keep him alive and growing within the Continuum, and that was the technique the M apparently feared and wanted enough that they were willing to look the other way as this M had violated a Q's mind.

Ironically, she hadn't actually invented the technique, just come up with refinements. It had been mostly invented by the child created by the earlier technique, Amanda, in a time that hadn't happened and wouldn't happen now. She had merely been given the memories by a mortal time traveler who'd been entrusted with them by her future self. But she was the only Q who knew that.

"I could have told you that," she said. "Are you telling me you imprisoned Q at the bottom of a dimensional well just to lure me in?"

M shrugged. "The decision had been made to imprison him already."

"But when you learned that he didn't actually have the skill at inventing entirely new activities for the Q that you'd imprisoned him for having, you left him here because you thought that if you kept him here, sooner or later I would show up."

"It worked," M said, stalking up to Q, the predatory smile on her upturned face becoming wider and fiercer. "Here you are."

Q laughed. "You're an idiot, M. I almost didn't come."

"You would do anything for him! You always have!"

"That was before his irresponsible behavior ruined our son and made him into a delinquent Q who will probably have to be destroyed one of these days. The only reason I came was because my son was going to... And, I admit, partly because I thought you'd have put yourself in charge of guarding Q, and I wanted to see you again."

That threw M off balance. She lost the smile. "You... wanted?"

"I don't know why, but I've been thinking about you a lot lately. Maybe I've actually felt..." She looked away, as if ashamed. "...guilty. I was cruel to you, wasn't I."

"You seduced me. You told me you loved me." M began in a deadly quiet tone, but as she continued to speak her voice got louder and more anguished. "You said no one had ever made you feel this way before. You told me you wanted to be with me forever. We talked about defying our Continuums for the sake of our love! And then he lied to my Continuum, telling them all the things I had told you in confidence and telling them I was planning to defect to the Q! And when I told you, and I asked you to run away with me, and we would defy our Continuums and forge a new path for ourselves, together... you laughed at me! You told me you'd only ever been with me because you wanted to make him jealous, and now that it had worked, you were going back to him and you never even cared about me!" By now she was shouting. There were tears in her eyes.

Q winced. Most of that was true. She'd never actually told M she loved her or wanted to be with her forever or would defy the Q Continuum for her, or anything like that... M had said those things, and Q hadn't refuted them. But she really had laughed in M's face when M had suggested they leave their respective Continuums. Without their Continuum, either Q or M could only be mortal, doomed to slow decay and death, and there was never anything that could be worth risking that. And she'd felt guilty at the time because M was so na´ve and M had sincerely loved her and she'd been using M all along, and in those days M had been so sweet and loving and it had hurt to think of betraying someone so innocent... so she'd taken her hurt out on that innocent, mocking her na´vetÚ, telling herself that she was being cruel for M's own sake so M didn't get suckered again.

The Q did not apologize. Q had never, ever admitted to M that she did feel guilty about that, that it haunted her sometimes.

"I'm sorry," she said now, breaking yet another long-standing Q tradition.

"You're sorry?" M sounded frankly skeptical.

"It doesn't mean very much to you now, I'm sure," Q said. "But I did it because I was obsessed with him. And I've come to realize, after what he did to our little boy... he was never worth it." She saw her ex drag himself up in his chains to pay attention, eyes narrowed, the beginning of anger on his face. And probably fear, although he wouldn't be quick to show that. "I hurt you, terribly, and what did I get for it? Another eternity with an entity who's chaos incarnate, who delights in romancing worthless little mortals just because he knows how angry it makes me, who gets himself thrown out of the Continuum, starts wars, and ruins absolutely everything he touches. And I'm so sorry."

She reached a hand out toward M, letting herself remember M as the sweet entity she used to be, letting herself feel the pangs of guilt she'd felt even then at hurting M so terribly. Letting herself remember all her anger at her Q, all the jealousy, all the fighting, all the times he'd overruled her attempts to discipline their son. Letting herself remember how her adorable baby boy had turned into an impulsive juvenile delinquent brat, and how his father had aided and abetted that transformation until it had hurt so badly she couldn't stand to look at either of them. Her mental shields lowered slightly, letting M see the pain and anger and guilt.

"If you're sorry... why did you come to the gates with such hostility?" M asked skeptically.

"You kidnapped a Q. As long as my Continuum could see me, I had to observe the forms. And..." She looked down. "You know how I am. You know my flaws, my weaknesses. I saw you giving him pleasure and it made me so jealous and angry I couldn't see straight... but it wasn't because of him, it was because of you. Because if you're going to tie someone up and stimulate their physical form and suck on them to take their energy, I wanted you to do it to me." She threw her head back, letting her chest thrust out. "M, ever since I came down here I've been so angry and frustrated over wanting you, and watching you touching him, I haven't had the opportunity to even tell you how I feel. But if the whole reason the M imprisoned him was you fear our ability to create children... He ruined my son, and I want another."

She realized as she said it that it was true. A baby Q, half her, half another, to look at her with adoration as her son had once, to need her and look up to her and love her, someone she herself could love unreservedly. A chance to rectify the mistakes she'd made with her son, to do it all over again and do it right this time. "I never thought of this before, but if you want to truly understand how we created children, and why, and what it means to us that we have... I'll teach you. I'll have a child with you, M. Think of it! You talk about bringing harmony to the universe... what about bringing harmony to our Continuums? If Q and I could end a civil war by having a child, then couldn't the child of you and me end the conflict between the Q and the M, forever?"

"How am I supposed to believe you?" M asked. Q thought she was trying to sound aggrieved, but it was coming out as plaintive. "You lied to me last time."

"You have far more power than I do right now. We're surrounded by the power of the M, and when I came down here you stripped everything from me. This is me, M." She spread her hands. "Naked and powerless. I have nothing but what you left me. How could I possibly deceive you under these circumstances?"

"I don't know..." M whispered.

Q finished closing the gap between them, and put her hands around the smaller woman, reaching under M's robe to rest her palms on the small of M's back. "I'm so sorry, M. I know it's difficult to trust me, but you can read my mind. You know everything I'm saying is true."

Q's ex stared into emptiness, a look of grim hopelessness and resigned despair in his eyes. Of course, if she took up with M again, if she turned on the Continuum that had to all intents and purposes rejected her when she'd saved them from civil war by bringing mortals in with weapons that could kill Q, her ex would end up being left here to rot. And for everything he'd done, he'd probably deserve it. Their son would be better off without such an awful role model in his life. She looked away from him and down at M, who was tentatively embracing her back. "Your shields are still up," M said. "I can read your surface, but I can't tell if you're really telling the truth. If you want to join with me, why don't you lower your shields?"

"Because I want to do as much for you as you do for me," Q said in a sultry voice. "You know me, M. I like to be generous."

"Didn't you just say you wanted me to tie you up and do to you what I did to Q over there?"

"No, I said it made me insanely jealous to watch you doing that to him because I'd rather you do it to me. But if I had my preferences, I'd be pleasing you."

"I can't trust you enough," M said. "This could all be an elaborate ruse."

Q dropped her hands. "If you don't want me unless you're in total control, let him go and lock me up in his place. You know the Q Continuum won't tolerate you holding two Q, and the M would prefer that you imprison the one of us that actually presents the danger you're afraid of. I invented reproduction and I invented the way to make the weapons usable by mortals. You know the rest of the M will agree that I'm the one you want... and if you're going to spend eternity guarding someone, I don't want you wasting it on him." Her voice dripped scorn for her ex.

"It's true," M said, "but I don't want to let him go unless I know that you're telling the truth. He hurt me too, you realize. He's the one who made me look bad to my Continuum and made my Continuum forbid me to see you. I spent thousands of years recovering my face and my status after that."

"And how much status would you lose if the M thought you were endangering them by holding two Q prisoner?"

"I don't want to take you prisoner. I want you to join me."

"Then give me just enough power that I can join with you, and you can see how I feel."

M sighed. "I'm afraid I'll regret this," she whispered, "but I love you too much. I always have."

Q felt the power of the M flow into her, gently, restoring some tiny fraction of what she'd lost. M's mind and essence pressed against her, and Q let her in, letting her see and feel all the pain Q's ex had caused her over the centuries, and her memories of M's pure love from the past, so uncomplicated and joyous. M touched her power nodes, the specialized regions of her essence that channeled the forces the Q and the M both commanded, and sucked on them sweetly, making Q moan. It had been so long. She hadn't actually been with an entity like herself since shortly after the universe had ended, and she'd held herself away from her lover because she hadn't wanted to see her failure, her death, in his memories. She had little energy to spare, though -- M hadn't given her access to much from the environment -- so she reached into M and returned the favor, drawing from her in exchange. M whimpered in pleasure.

"I've missed you," M murmured. "I dreamed about you, you know."

"How could you dream of me?" Q asked. "The M don't dream any more than the Q do."

"I know... but it has to have been a dream. The universe was ending." Q could not quite keep the stab of grief and fear out of their joining. "You dreamed it too, didn't you?"

"Tell me about your dream."

"The universe was ending," M said, "and it was my job to judge, my job to keep the peace until the end, keep the mortals from rioting... I had some of my power, but not enough, not enough to really fight back against the chaos, and I was so angry. I tried to control it but I was so angry, that the universe would just end randomly, this way, for no reason whatsoever. And you came."

Q reached deeper into M, sending shudders of pleasure through the other entity. "What did I do?" she asked, using her ex's favorite trick -- focusing on pleasuring M so intently that M had no room to notice that most of Q's thoughts were still shielded from her.

"Ohhh... that feels so good... You said you were looking for Q, and your son. And I didn't believe you had a son, and I told you so. And then later on I died." The memory floated to her surface despite M's attempt to restrain it. A confrontation with Q's ex and two of his mortal pets had resulted in M becoming so angry that she had literally burst into flame, unable to contain the energies of her rage. And she had been immortal enough, powerful enough still, to live on even as she burned, self-immolating in the fury she could not control, and the pain and the knowledge of her own death only fueled the rage and fed the fire. It had taken her a very long time to finally die. "Since I'm not dead, and the universe didn't end, I must have dreamt it somehow."

Q felt sorry for M for a moment, and cradled her protectively, soothing her with pleasure. No one deserved to die that way.

Of course, no one deserved to die the way Q had, either.

"That really happened," Q said. "I remember our meeting. And the universe ending. And dying."

And she pushed her memories into M.

"Q? He's probably dead," M had said with savage glee, barely restrained. "The universe is ending. Everyone is dead except for those in this place. If he's not here, then he's dead. This is probably all his fault, anyway... his or yours."

The words hit her like a blow. She'd been trying not to think about it. Before her son had been born, when she'd been aboard the humans' starship preparing to follow her Q to the Continuum, a time traveler had come to her in the space between moments and showed her an unbearable future, given her her own memories of the Continuum burning and her Q's death and the death of everyone she loved, everyone she cared for, and so she committed anathema. Knowing the future of the Continuum, she acted to change it. The law was clear -- the timeline of the Continuum was never to be changed – but she told herself she hadn't yet lived those moments, and the future self who'd agreed to send a mortal back in time to change the future would be wiped out of existence by her actions. For her this was future, and the future wasn't written. She could act.

So she did. She stayed instead of following. She brought the mortals into the Continuum and modified the guns so they could wield them. She walked onto the battlefield with mortals at her side, and rescued her Q as he waited to be executed, and whispered in his ear of how to make a Q baby, a secret she'd been given from the future that she modified for their circumstances now. And she'd refused to believe she had done anything wrong.

But if the universe was ending it had to be because of her. She had changed the future of the Q Continuum, broken a timeline that could not be broken, and now everything was ending and it was her fault.

"My son..." she'd said. "I have to find my son."

"Your son?" M had sneered. "You don't even have a son. The Q don't have children! You seriously expect me to believe you have a son?"

And of course she didn't have a son, because the timeline was snapping back, she'd broken it to save her Q and she'd made a child with him and she loved them both more than life itself, she'd do anything for them, but her actions were coming back on her and the universe was cracking, the timeline splintering and the things she had done to save them had never happened, never happened. Her little boy did not exist. Her Q was dead.

M had shoved her through a doorway, and she'd fallen backward, falling forever, and landed finally in a frozen, empty wasteland, and everything was dying or dead and it was her doing. She had cried, sobbing brokenly. She, who had never cried, broke down and wept, and the tears froze in her eyes and the ice crystals covered over her vision and she was blind, stumbling through the frozen wastes and all she could hear was M's voice, "Q's probably dead and you don't even have a son." Because it was true. Because the timeline was cracking and everyone was dead or dying and the Continuum was burning and the universe was gone and it was her fault, her fault, her fault.

She had collapsed, finally, too exhausted even to weep, hearing the moans of the dying and despairing all around her. There was nothing but the drum in her head, her Q dead and it was her fault, her son never existed and it was her fault, the universe ending, her fault, her fault and she wanted to die to stop the drum, to stop the guilt, she had nothing, nothing and she should be dead should be dead already with all the others... and then she'd heard his voice, telling her he loved her, pleading with her that he was alive, their son was alive, not to give up on him, he loved her... but she'd known it had to be a hallucination as she died because he couldn't be real because the universe wouldn't be ending if he was real, and it was too cruel to hear his voice when he couldn't be alive and she wanted to die to escape the lying voice and the torment of hearing him plead with her when he was dead and the drumbeat of the guilt in her head. The ground had opened up and swallowed her, and as mud filled her mouth and lungs and she suffocated all she felt was relief that it was finally ending...

M reeled as Q pushed her memories of death and despair and failure into her. And all the pain she'd suffered since followed -- not being able to touch her lover or make love to him because the Q pleasured each other by joining essence to essence, mind to mind, and he was the one who had tried to tell the rest of the Continuum that the whole thing had happened, and she would see her shame and her failure in his memory and she couldn't bear it... her son turning bitter and jaded, memories of being abandoned by his parents for centuries in that hell world they'd been in, memories of the universe ending and she saw her shame and failure and death in his eyes too, and there was argument after argument and they couldn't smooth the way with joining after because she wouldn't, and her son had acted out more and more, until the boy who had looked at her with complete adoration was a rebellious teenage brat who was like the worst of herself and her lover combined and she couldn't bear it, it hurt too much to be around them and to be helpless to stop her boy from turning into a defective, amoral Q, and she blamed it all on her lover and railed at him because he overrode her attempts to save the child and finally she told them both she was disowning them and walked out, away from them, away from the Continuum, to lose herself in role-playing games where she fought in mortal wars, over and over, and died again and again, because she had to prove to herself she could be brave, she could face death... but it wasn't true death, it wasn't true fear, because they were mortal and she had her powers and they couldn't possibly kill her, so it never eased the pain of knowing what a coward she was.

As M was stunned by the full force of Q's memories, Q pulled enough of M's energy from her to make the other entity nearly swoon, and M was still too shocked to pull back. She used the power to summon power-binding shackles, things she and her Q had played kinky games with back when they were happy, things that had been used in the war to bind Q before killing them, and she put them on M, binding her. She shackled M to herself, the flesh she wore bound with wrists to each other and ankles to each other and then ankles to wrists, bending her backwards, as her M essence was turned in on itself like a Klein bottle. And then Q gagged M the same way M had gagged her ex, before M had time to scream.

"For what it's worth, I really am sorry," she said. "But you were right the first time. You shouldn't have trusted me."

She walked over to where her Q was still bound and made his gag vanish. "I'm astonished," he said weakly. "You made her believe you. You made me believe you. But you made her believe you, and she had her powers!"

"Role-playing games certainly have improved my method acting skills," Q said. "Everything I told her was true, it just wasn't... the whole truth. I believed it when I said it because I made myself remember all the reasons it was true, and forget all the reasons it wasn't." She looked him over critically. "You're weak. How badly did she drain you?"

"She's been playing bloodsucker and swooning beau with me almost since she got me here," he said, sounding far more worn out and bitter than he had when M had been running things. Of course, he'd been fronting, too. "I don't think she'd have ever drained me near the point of death, but she might very well have taken me down to the point of wishing I could die. Did you mean it, that our son wanted to come for me?"

"Of course I meant it. I was waiting for our friend Q to come up with something to give me an advantage, so I'd be able to pull this off. Since I didn't want the entire Continuum to know I was coming for you -- someone wouldn't have been able to resist gloating to the M, and then they'd have been better prepared -- I couldn't let him know, so he had every intention of going himself. I had Q stop him."

"They would have dissected him," her Q said, shuddering. "I cooperated with their stupid excuse for a trial because I knew what they really wanted was information about how to make children, and if they didn't get it from me I was afraid they'd grab him and take him apart to figure out how we did it." He closed his eyes. "Q... could you please let me out of these chains?"

He never said please. In fact he never asked her for anything. He might tease, or hint, or make demands, but to simply ask... It illustrated how badly shaken and weakened he was by this whole thing.

With a thought, she snapped them. They were power-binders as well, but not nearly as effective as the ones she had M in... they hadn't stopped him trying to use his powers on the chains themselves. He really was too weak for her to get him out of here safely, and she was too aroused and on edge to concentrate on what she needed to do. "You know what you have to do," she said. "Are you all right with it?"

He laughed hoarsely. "The whole time she's been playing with me she never let this body orgasm. I am more than happy to do what you're suggesting."

"We'll have to be quick. Those are strong bonds on M, but we are in her Continuum and she's better tuned to the energy here." Because of her relationship with M, Q knew how to tune herself to the M Continuum, but she couldn't fully draw as much energy as she'd be able to draw from the Q Continuum without joining the M, which she was obviously not going to do. Also, the properties of this place made it nearly impossible to discorporate, and significantly limited the power any of them had available. She pulled in as much energy as she could, half-carried her Q to the dais since he was too weak as a Q, and had been tied up too long as flesh, to easily walk, and laid him down on it.

He reached into her metaphysically, his essence touching and probing hers, until he found her power nodes. She was full of the energy she'd taken from M, and what she was able to draw from the M Continuum now. He took it into himself, feeding from her, replenishing his weakness... and nearly making her humanoid body orgasm then and there. She climbed on top of him, engulfing him, taking him the way his favorite mortals did when they had sex, and he clutched onto her hips and dug his fingers into them, moaning and thrashing his head as if he was in agony as she pounded herself onto him over and over. Taking energy, for a Q, was a pleasure more similar to mortal eating than to mortal sex, but their essences were joined slightly, overlapping enough that he could feel what she was feeling. He sucked sweetly on her, drinking energy from her and sending waves of pleasure and arousal through her as he did, growing warmer and stronger, as the mortal bodies they wore fucked each other harder, more desperately.

They didn't have to be having physical sex. He could take the energy he needed from her without it, without even comingling their essences to any great degree. But his sucking on her felt impossibly good, and especially after she'd seduced M and begun a joining with her, she wanted it so badly, any way she could get it -- psionic essence to essence, or physical body to body. She hadn't been with another Q, or even another Power, in so long. And of course, after M had been tormenting him sexually for who knew how long, and sucking his energy from him, he needed it as badly as she did. And since they couldn't try to escape until he'd drawn enough energy from her to restore his strength anyway... there wasn't a good reason not to.

For a moment, Q saw M, bound and gagged a short distance away, watching them, the fury that had once set her on fire lighting her eyes more metaphorically, and she smiled nastily at her. You were right the first time, she thought. Q is mine. You cannot take him from me, whether by imprisoning him, pleasuring him, violating his mind, or any other way. He's mine.

Her human body came so violently it was almost painful, her muscles bearing down in a spasm of ecstasy that seemed to go on for minutes, and then continuing to shudder with pleasure as he continued until his whole body stiffened and he cried out with his own orgasm.

She wanted to lie with him and enjoy the physical closeness, or continue their joining indefinitely -- she hadn't been with him in what seemed in retrospect like a small eternity, and she'd missed him as badly as she'd missed joining itself. Their Q essences could have stayed joined for days, weeks, months, even years... in fact she and M had once made love for ten thousand years straight, a feat that was impressive even by Q standards... but they had things to do, and prisons to escape, and she could feel that he was strong enough now to back her up as they got free of this place. So she got to her feet, using a trickle of power to clean herself off.

"So what's your plan for getting out of here?" her Q asked as he got up. "Not that I don't feel much better with some power back, but we're still at the bottom of a dimensional well that's binding us in matter, we're still surrounded by the M Continuum, and if I recall correctly we have half a dozen gates to get through."

"Simple," Q said, and summoned the weapon the inventor had given her. Q weapons existed in the mind until brought into existence by Q will; she had dispersed the weapon before they'd allowed her into the prison, but now that she had access to power she could make it again easily enough. M's eyes went wide and terrified as Q strode over to her and hauled her up, snapping the connector between wrists and ankles so M could stand, though not walk. She spun M around, lifted the other entity's smaller physical form around the waist with one arm, and put the weapon -- now in the shape of a dagger -- to M's throat with the other hand. "We have a hostage."

"Remind me to stop making you mad," her ex said.

"As if you could. You'd have to quit existing." M kicked, thrashing her bound legs. "Would you like to find out what happens to your M essence if I start cutting your physical form with this weapon? It's tuned especially to M energy," Q said, and M went still.

"That thing cuts M essence?" her Q asked.

"Yes. And no, I'm not going to let you kill her."

"Why would I even want to? She's going to remember you holding a dagger to her throat for eternity; I would never want her to miss out on that. No, give me the weapon so I can cut down this damn door. It's made of M essence too."

"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that." She touched his mind, gave him the knowledge of the weapon.

"Nice," he said, manifesting one of his own. "Okay, here goes." He sawed at the first gate until the energies lost cohesion and the whole thing dissolved into raw M energy, chaotic around them. Q waited until the raw energy was done spilling everywhere before stepping through; she didn't want to risk that M would be able to grab the energy and convert it to use in unbinding herself.

They were faced by the M escort who had brought Q here. "What have you done?" one of them asked, horrified.

"Nothing in comparison to what I'm going to do if you don't take us both out of here this picosecond," Q snapped. "This weapon is tuned to M essence; you couldn't possibly disarm me, no matter how much force you brought to bear, before I could slice a fatal wound in M here."

"Free her mouth," the same M demanded.

"Why, so she can tell you all about how she spectacularly failed to contain us? Save the post-operation review for later. I'm not freeing any part of M until Q and I are out of this well."

Another of the M said, sullenly, "Very well. Follow us. But if you harm her, we will kill you."

"And if you kill us, the Q Continuum will declare war on you, and we have these M-killing weapons as well as the ranged weapons we invented to use on each other, and those will work on M also. So I don't think you're the one with bargaining power here."

"I'm beginning to remember why I fell in love with you in the first place," her Q murmured.

He had spent years telling all and sundry that he hated her, that when she had hurt their son by walking out on both of them she had done something unforgivable and he would despise her for eternity. Hearing him say he remembered why he loved her made her almost want to weep with relief. She couldn't acknowledge him, though -- as long as they were surrounded by the M she couldn't show any weakness at all.

As they rose through the gates, she felt her strength returning, the full range of her Q abilities. The binding that held her to matter fell away, and her full telepathy returned... her ability to sense and channel energy had returned long ago when M had restored it to her so they could have sex, but the available energy she felt all around her increased exponentially, until they were out of the well and in the M Continuum, in the vestibule that she had first been allowed into.

The M surrounded them, and while none of them carried weapons, they all carried their rage and hate. Anger was a weapon, when wielded by the Q or the M... enough Q hating one other Q could kill the one they hated, and the same was true of conflict between Q and M. Without their Continuum here to bolster them, the two Q were incredibly vulnerable. The anger that they were escaping and that they dared hold an M hostage beat at the two of them.

"This doesn't look good," her Q murmured.

"Just follow my lead. I'll get us home." Aloud she said, "Were you going to open up a path for us out of your Continuum, or did you want us to demonstrate the weapon?"

"You have betrayed M. Again," one of the M said... M's gag must no longer be blocking her ability to commune with her fellows. "You used her love for you to free a Q that frankly deserves to rot in a hole... along with you. You are, even now, threatening her with violence. Do you seriously think we will let you free?"

"Do you really want to know how many M I can kill with this thing before you bring me down?"

"You would be no less dead."

"I'm not afraid of death," she said, sneering at them.

"I don't think your companion would agree."

"What, are you asking me?" her Q said. "Listen, I'm all in favor of life... but not life in an eternal prison. I have a hard enough time not being bored when I'm free. If I have a choice between surrendering peacefully and being thrown down in a hole to rot for eternity, or killing a few of you and dying in a blaze of glory... you know, much as it pains me, I have to admit the blaze of glory sounds a lot more entertaining."

And then M snapped the bonds on her wrists, twisted, and smashed power into Q, throwing her backwards. The rest of her bonds vanished. At the same time, Q felt power descending on her from all around, trying to pin her... and the M had already blocked her ability to teleport while she was in their Continuum.

She lashed around her with the dagger, now a sword. Tuned to M energy, it cut at the webs of power that were falling around her, and the shock reverberated through the M who were attacking her. They weren't used to pain; the shock stunned them, and she lunged at M, who teleported... directly behind her, and grabbed her with the full force of the M Continuum behind her. Q struggled, but M held firm, pinning her in place.

"We cannot permit either of them to exist in this universe!" M screamed. "They twist everything they touch; they poison their own Continuum, and they intend to poison ours. We need to destroy them!"

The fiery rage that had killed M in the surreal world of the ending universe was the way Q or M died by the rage and hate of others of their kind. She had self-immolated, her rage somehow directed back at herself, but here in the M Continuum, the rage she felt and the rage she was stirring up among the other M would most certainly be turned on Q and her lover, and they would die of it. Eventually.

I want another child... with a Q I don't love like him, a Q who can't hurt me like he does, so I can focus on my child's needs and do what I have to for them and I don't have the hurt he can inflict on me clouding the issue. I want to see my son again, and bring his father back to him alive, so he knows at least I care that much. I want... I want Q to live, even if he really does hate me. Even if I die to save him. I don't want him to die. ...honestly, I'd rather not die myself either... not this way, not now.

"Oh, get over yourself," she snarled. "Yes, I broke your heart. It happens. He breaks mine all the damn time, and I've lived through it. I'm not an enemy who's going to destroy all life in the universe and permanently warp both Continuums just because I'm a bitch who broke up with you."

"Destroy the universe?" M called out to her fellows. "I remember now! It wasn't a dream... the M can't dream, and we can't hallucinate. The universe came to an end, and it was their fault!"

"Actually, the universe not coming to an end is my fault," her Q said. "The universe coming to an end was due to the source of all creation getting bored with it. Or something like that. Honestly, I'm shocked you're all willing to admit you remember it! The Q are completely in denial, but then, they tried to throw a party when the universe was ending, and I guess I'd be in denial too if I did something as useless as that."

The attention of the M Continuum overmind bore down on her Q. "YOU KNOW OF THIS? YOU REMEMBER THE UNIVERSE ENDING?"

"In painful detail," her Q said. "Including your M's ridiculous behavior when she accused me of bringing the universe to an end... as if I could possibly have that kind of power."

"You did! It was your fault! I remember it!" M shouted. "You even admitted to it!"

"Now you're just making things up. Not only did I not admit to it, but you had me gagged at the time, so I couldn't admit to the things I did do if I'd been so inclined. You know, this gagging me thing is starting to look like something of a fetish. How about the rest of you? Does she like tying you up and gagging you too, or do I get to be the only lucky one?"

He had successfully disrupted the concentration of the M overmind, amused enough of them and confused enough of the others that they couldn't focus single-minded hatred on the two Q anymore. "Don't listen to him!" M screamed. "I gag him because he does nothing but lie, all the time, and if you listen to him you're lost!"

She was not paying nearly enough attention to her grip on Q. Q twisted free, manifested her blade and shoved it into M's side. "You're lost anyway," she said.

M screamed. Q pinned her down, blade digging into her. All the attention of the M Continuum was back on her now. "This," she said, not looking up at the M massed around her but staring down into the eyes of her victim, "is a flesh wound. It will heal before long. But if I go deeper, I can cut into her essence and start to tear apart who she is. You could destroy me, but your M would be dead. Now, given that we've adequately proven that her nonsense about how dangerous Q and I are to the balance of the multiverse or something like that comes entirely from the fact that she's insane, and she really needed you all to notice how damaged she was and do something to help her instead of letting her enact her sick fantasies on a couple of hapless Q, I'm going to give you a choice.

"You're going to open the gate and let us leave here, and I'm going to leave you with a bleeding M who will survive, heal, and possibly even recover her sanity if any of you can be bothered to help her. Or, you're not going to open the gate, I'm going to slice her open, and then I'm going to cut up as many M as I can take out before I die. And when Q and I are dead, the Q Continuum will declare war on you, and they will bring mortals with more of these weapons. You won't be able to see them -- mortals are infinitesimal in a Continuum, and the Q Continuum could easily bring over millions of them and bring them into combat, armed with these. And by the time you've adapted to war, the Q will have already destroyed most of you. Because we already adapted to war. We've fought one, recently. You haven't. We already have weapons that can kill you. You don't have weapons calibrated for us. So you are not going to win.

"What's it going to be?"

"Don't worry about me," M moaned. "Kill her. Kill both of them. Please."

The final gate opened, allowing both of the Q to sense the path back out into the matter universe. "Our sister... is damaged. You're right," one of the M said sadly. "Of course, you and the other Q did most of the damage, and for that I would like to make you suffer... but there's no point. Hurting you won't help her." He pointed. "Get out of here, both of you, before we all change our minds."

Her Q teleported first. Q looked down at M's tortured expression, the pain of Q's dagger mirroring the pain Q had caused to her heart and soul. "I am sorry," she whispered. "Not that it helps. But I am sorry."

And she was gone.

In the matter universe, they paused only nanoseconds to get their bearings before returning to the Continuum... but instead of returning to the main body of the Continuum, where everyone would instantly sense their return, they appeared in her Q's workroom, his own quasi-sealed personal space. Information would diffuse out of here and let everyone know that they were back, before long... but they had time for a moment alone.

"You came for me," her Q said, wonderingly. "Honestly, I really didn't think you would. I hoped someone might, but I never expected it to be you."

"You should have," Q said to him. "It doesn't matter how often you hurt me, does it? I've always come back. And I've always come for you, when anything other than the full Continuum is threatening you."

"Yeah, but when the full Continuum is threatening me you join in and vote for me to be thrown out, along with all the others. Thanks, sweetheart, you know I've never forgotten that."

"I had to. I couldn't let my personal feelings change the way I voted."

"I would have."

"You didn't, when Amanda's parents were put to the vote."

He was silent for a moment. "I would have for you. They were my friends, but... you were... you."

"And I'm not me anymore?"

He shook his head. "Q... you crossed a line. I'm sorry. I wish I could forgive you, but I can't. You hurt Junior, horribly, and I had to deal with the years of him asking me why Mom left and was it his fault and why did you hate him. And you've never, in all this time, apologized to him, or told him you care about him, or done anything to indicate that you weren't deadly serious when you said I'd ruined him and you were disowning both of us. And I can forgive anything you do to me, but I can't forgive that. Because you did it to him."

She was not used to such a straightforward admission of anything from him. He was her trickster, her Q; he danced around the truth, used sarcasm and hyperbole, told wild stories, and in general never said anything flat out when he could imply it. Which worked among the Q largely because they were telepathic with each other and usually knew what each other wanted to say anyway, but now that they'd escaped, his shields were back full force and she couldn't bring herself to leave hers open, to him or any Q, either. Perhaps he'd learned that when they couldn't talk to each other the way the Q were more accustomed to, he had to be straightforward.

She responded with equal bluntness. "You love him more than you ever loved me, don't you."

"Yeah. Yeah, I do. I'm... kind of surprised that you don't, actually. I mean, I thought that was how it worked."

"I... can't." She looked away. "What you let him turn into... I can't love that. He's like you were, but with all of my violence, and as jaded as if he'd lived as long as we have."

"You aren't even giving him a chance. He'll be a great Q someday. He's just... got growing to do."

"I can't," she repeated. "Maybe someday."

"Someday's gonna be too late. He doesn't live on the timescale we do. Forever hasn't happened for him yet. Everything that happens now is the first time and it will shape the way he thinks for the rest of eternity."

"He hates me."

"He wants to hate you. That hardly means he really does. But do you expect him to show you any weakness when you ripped his heart to shreds and stomped on it when he was barely out of babyhood? He'll never tell you he doesn't hate you, let alone that he wants you to love him."

They could feel the pressure of curious minds turning their way, other Q beginning to notice that they had come home. "So I can descend into a pit to save you, but you still can't forgive me, because our son and I don't get along."

He snorted. "If it was just that you don't get along... he and I don't get along, most of the time. But... yeah. I'm... surprised you came for me, and I admit, I'm pleased about it, and... I want you. You know that, I'm sure, after we had to take time out from our escape plans to knock boots. But it's not enough. As long as he thinks you despise him, it's never going to be enough. You can save me or not save me, but it doesn't matter what you feel about me or what you do about it. As long as you're hurting him, that's what matters to me."

"I... can't."

"Then neither can I."

She turned away. "Go greet your adoring public. I'm going back to my game."

"You go do that," he said, and she was gone.

She didn't return to the game, though. The things she had thought when she was trying to seduce M so she could turn the tables on her, the things she had thought when she'd been facing death in the M Continuum... she wanted a second chance. She wanted a child who would love her. Who she wouldn't end up hurting so terribly because she kept making mistakes and she couldn't fight back against the pain the only Q she'd ever loved caused her without her child getting caught in the crossfire.

Her older sister figure, the Q who had tried to come with her... she wanted a child. She'd always wanted one, and she'd spent a billion years studying how mortals raised their children. And Q liked her, even loved her as her friend and sister, but she didn't feel anything like the destructive, possessive, agonizing love she felt for her ex, the love that hurt more often than it brought joy and yet she couldn't stop feeling it.

It was time she rejoined her own Continuum, Q thought. Her ex... her Q... wouldn't forgive her. Not now, maybe not ever. Because their son had to forgive her first, and she wasn't sure she could forgive their son for turning into the juvenile delinquent he'd become, and he certainly wouldn't forgive her if she couldn't bring herself to forgive him.

But there was an entire Continuum around her, and they didn't all hate her for her acts in ending the war. She still had friends. The Q were still her family, whatever else might be true.

The Q who loved children would, of course, be bringing Q's son to see her ex, and both of them would be happy to see him alive and safe in their own Continuum. But when they were done, when her son was with her ex and the Q who loved children had left them both, Q decided, she would go to her and offer to make a baby with her. They both wanted one, and it was obvious that the fertility goddess probably should have been the first Q to have a baby anyway, not the trickster or the goddess of war.

As for her ex, and her son... eternity was a very long time, and no Q could hold a grudge forever, not against another Q at any rate. Someday they'd probably be able to reconcile. She had time. She could wait.

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