A/N: Hi all - the end is approaching! It'll be another few chapters, but I hope it's satisfying and makes up for such a long wait. Apologies! Writers' block + lockdown isn't fun.

Fifteen

*Picard*

"Do you have them?" I shouted.

The transporter room didn't respond. I slammed a fist on my command chair. "Dammit! O'Brien, I said do you have them?"

"Working on it, sir."

A moment passed before I realised I'd thrown myself forward, walking towards my ready room. I felt each pair of eyes stalk my movement. It took a moment to control myself.

"We've got 'em, sir." O'Brien's confirmation rang in the silence of the bridge.

The crew looked to see my reaction. Before I even realised it words were tumbling out of my mouth, as I marched towards the turbo lift. "Ensign, set course for the nearest starbase, warp nine. O'Brien, have them transported directly to sickbay. I'm on my way. Mister Worf, you have the bridge."

"Aye, s- Worf was cut off by the turbolift doors closing.

I sighed. "Deck twelve."

Now in the privacy of the lift, I allowed my shoulders to sag in relief. I felt tears itching their way to the surface; my breath hitched. "Beverly…"

The ambient sounds of the lift disappeared into the background as blood rushed into my ears. I expected all to be injured, that was a certainty. I thought of Wesley - the poor boy. He didn't deserve such cruelty. His father-

I struck my palm against the wall. Dulled pain crept along the nerves in my hand.

Jack.

Oh, Jack.

It'd been a long time since I thought about Jack. What would he think of me? A disgraceful captain who sent him to his death, and allowed his son to be tortured. On the rare occasion I did have a nightmare, he always made an appearance, usually loitering as I watched my current crew perish in some horrendous accident.

After all of the "unusual" phenomenon I'd encountered in Starfleet, I wouldn't have been surprised if Jack's ghost - or Q in disguise - appeared next to me in that lift.

"Did you miss me, sweetheart?"

By some miracle I didn't jump through the turbo lift roof. It did seem, however, that I had jinxed myself. "Q."

Q folded his arms and lay against the wall, a crafty smile donning his features. "Did you think think I'd forgotten about you?"

"How long have you been watching?" I snapped. "Have you seen what's happened? What's become of my crew? Why haven't you used your damned powers if you care so much?"

"Because, Picard," Q lowered his voice, "that would have caused great displeasure to my superiors."

"Explain!"

"As much as your crew annoy me, especially the space cadet, I wouldn't have allowed such a thing to occur! As soon as I found out I went straight to the continuum, who told me to mind my own business." Q paced around me. "They said they were under specific instructions from the Travelers."

The Traveler. I'd completely forgotten about him. It felt like a lifetime since he'd come aboard my ship. I should've heeded his words regarding Wesley with more vigour. Then Q's words resonated with me. "Care to elaborate? Travellers? There are others like him?"

"Yes, like the one you met, obviously. And I wish I had more; you know me, Picard. I do love a bit of gossiping with the girls. Unfortunately that's all I know. I'd suggest you wait and see if they decides to reappear."

"But he spoke of Wesley so highly!" I was enraged. "How could he have allowed this? If others of his species planned this…tragedy, then why didn't he interfere?!"

Q rolled his eyes. "I suggest you do some hard thinking, Picard. Maybe even ask the space cadet himself he knows anything about it. If I remember the phrase correctly, you can't make a diamond without a bit of pressure."

The turbo lift doors opened and I was alone once more. "Bloody hell."