Pairing: Picard/Q, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Spoilers: All Q appearances on TNG and some mention of the DS9 and VOY appearances.
Email: alara at mindspring dot com
Website: Alara's Happy-Happy Mostly Text Only Site
Acknowledgements: Ideas that went into this essay were inspired by the ideas of Atara Stein.
I apologize for any incoherence. I have a bad cold and have had three hours of sleep in the past 36 hours. This essay probably could have been better-- and shorter-- but instead, it's almost on time.
Update:No, it wasn't-- I was sufficiently incoherent last night that apparently I couldn't figure out how to post this, and it never went through. Apologies for the delay.
Let me put my biases up front. I am not an OTP shipper for Picard and Q. I'm perfectly willing to accept Picard being paired with Crusher, Vash, Janeway, or any number of other people (though I confess it, I rarely read them unless Q's in it somewhere; I like Picard just fine but the rest of his crew generally bores me.) And I'm happy to see Q paired with anyone if it's plausible. However, I find the dynamic between Picard and Q irresistible, and I believe that it is, in fact, nearly impossible to explain Q's behavior in the series without postulating that he's in love with Picard.
Who are these guys?
I suspect Next Generation is such a cultural icon that most people have a vague idea who Picard is even if they've never seen an episode, and references to Q have turned up in places like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I'm going to assume ignorance on the part of the audience, because it's easier than trying to guess what people might know if they don't watch the show.
Picard and the Federation
Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the captain of the starship Enterprise, flagship of Starfleet, in the 24th century. The world of Star Trek is quasi-utopian; humanity has solved problems such as hunger, poverty and (internal) warfare, but there are still conflicts with aliens and the equivalent of natural disasters. Earth sits at the center of a multi-planet government called the United Federation of Planets, and provides most of the personnel for Starfleet, the military arm of the Federation. Starfleet isn't purely military; in fact its primary function is scientific and exploratory, but they have a military-style command structure (although practically everyone seems to be an officer) and they're the ones who fight in wars with aliens. Starfleet also does a lot of diplomatic work and first contact operations.
Picard is a native of Earth, from LaBarre, France. (Never mind the British accent.) He's ethical to a fault, upright, moral, extremely intelligent, well-versed in many social sciences including history and archaeology, a diplomat, good at acting, resistant to torture... the man is practically superhuman. When he was first introduced, Picard was more the stern but kindly father figure, with the role of sexy action hero falling to his first officer Will Riker. In part due to Patrick Stewart (Picard's actor) agitating for a more meaty part, and in part due to unexpected numbers of women (and gay men) finding Stewart very sexy, they started beefing up Picard's role with more romance and more action around the third season. Before too long, we learned that this aloof, tremendously controlled man was a rebel from his staid, traditionalist vintner family, choosing the stars rather than the boredom of remaining in the vineyard business. We learned that he was a wild man in his younger days, with a way with the ladies that made James T. Kirk look like a monk. And we learned that he changed after becoming the youngest starship captain ever, following a battle that killed all his superior officers when he was 28, and that he proceeded to command that ship, the Stargazer, as its captain for 22 years. In the process, he gave the orders that got his best friend and first officer, Jack Crusher, killed. This has somewhat hampered his willingness to get romantic with Crusher's widow, Beverly Crusher, Picard's chief medical officer and best friend.
It takes a while to learn Picard's flaws-- he's not presented as a man who has many-- but the series is well aware of them, and points them out not long after we see them for ourselves. Picard cannot open up emotionally to anyone. He has a very polite, very calm friendship with Beverly Crusher. She comes over in the morning and they eat breakfast together. They're obviously attracted to one another but neither is willing to do anything about it. He doesn't participate in the poker games because he thinks the captain needs to be at a remove from his crew-- even though the senior staff has their own poker game that they invite him to, but he never shows up. He is initially resistant to playing on the holodeck (a virtual reality environment, essentially) with his crew, and has to be talked into it. He can be passionate, particularly when declaring a philosophical argument for the rights of sentient beings, but he actively resists falling in love.
Q and the Continuum
Far less is known about Q, or the species he comes from, the Q Continuum. (Q is his species' name; his people don't have individual names.) He is an entity, probably an energy being, with virtually limitless power. In his first appearance, he declared humanity to be a "grievously savage child-race" and put Picard, Data, Yar and Troi on trial for the crimes of humanity (since Troi is half-human and Data is an android, albeit created by a human, this was, to say the least, bizarre.) At this time he seemed to genuinely be annoyed by Picard-- he found Riker more entertaining, and was a rather sore loser about the whole thing. The second time we saw him, he gave Riker the powers of the Q and invited him to join the Continuum, claiming that humanity had a "quality of growth" which impressed the Q, and so they wanted to study humans by making a human one of them. Riker suggested that the Continuum was afraid that humanity would grow to surpass the Q; Q didn't really confirm or deny this.
In this episode, Q definitively shifts his focus from Riker to Picard. Picard and Q argue about the meaning of being human, and make a bet-- Picard bets that Riker will turn down the powers. When Riker does, in the end, refuse them, Q is yanked away by the Continuum (rather painfully, it seems). From then on, Q barely notices Riker, except to make the occasional snarky remark about Riker's beard (which he grows between this episode and the next appearance of Q, and which Q disapproves of, quite campily.) All of his attention is on Jean-Luc Picard.
Q evolved as a character concept over time, and the result is both that the viewer and the Enterprise crew (or at least Picard) grow to know him better, and that he has a definite character arc of his own. For a minor recurring character, in fact, Q has one of the best-defined character arcs in the series; one might argue he shows more visible growth and change as a person than Geordi LaForge, the ship's engineer (who gets a new job in season 2, and gets new eyes in the movies, but doesn't seem to change as a person at all.) In the beginning, Q is presented as if he's the emissary of a powerful, ancient, and apparently pretty stupid and bigoted race (condemning humanity as grievously savage in a universe that contains Klingons never struck me as all that bright.) Before long, however, we learn that Q is not fully representative of the Continuum-- he is condemned by them for "spreading chaos throughout the universe", and he seems to be something of a rebel and loner among his own people. Q exhibits many aspects of the trickster archetype (including the fact that sometimes he acts like an idiot and the main characters trick him right back). We get the idea that perhaps the Continuum is really ancient and wise, and Q is some sort of childish rebel-without-a-cause who acts up because he's bored. And then we find out that the Continuum does things like execute members for wanting to live among mortals and have children, and our view of Q flips around again-- perhaps he's not a rebel without a cause after all. Perhaps he has a perfectly good cause.
Picard and Q
John de Lancie, the actor who plays Q, quite deliberately camps it up. Q's speech patterns, facial expressions, even bodily movements are all exaggerated. He sets off gaydar in every gay person I know who's seen him. The Advocate reviewed the first episode of TNG by saying "John de Lancie drags across the screen (and "drag" is the operative word here) as Q" (or words to that effect; de Lancie himself quoted them at a con, and sounded rather proud of himself.) De Lancie told culture studies professor Atara Stein that he sees Q as not only bisexual, but bispecial (meaning, attracted to two species; I thought it should have been polyspecial myself, but then, we do only see him involved with humans and other Q), and then the joke turned up in the Spock vs. Q II audiobook, in which Q confesses to Spock that he's bispecial and Spock says, "Coming out of the closet, Q?" So it's quite plain that, at least in the actor's mind, Q could perfectly well be attracted to Picard.
TNG writer Ron Moore thought so too-- he told Stein that one of the ideas he kept in the back of his mind while writing Q was that Q was in love with Picard (though he implied it was not really in a sexual sense, as Q is not humanoid and might not be capable of human sexual interest). Other writers may have agreed. Starting with the episode Q Who, Q's behavior stops making any sense at all unless you postulate that he loves Picard.
In Q Who, the third Q episode, Q kidnaps Picard to a shuttlecraft, in order to get around the bet he'd made with Picard previously (he had sworn to stay out of the path of humanity forever, but the writers forgot, and retroactively had it be swearing to stay away from the Enterprise and its crew; thus, taking Picard and a shuttlecraft many light years away from Enterprise and declaring "We're nowhere near your precious vessel" was supposed to be a workaround). He demands that Picard let him board Enterprise and hear a proposal he wants to make, and claims that he will simply outwait Picard. He also spends a lot of time being really up close and personal, hovering in Picard's space, occasionally standing behind Picard and practically whispering in his ear, and generally behaving like a Gothic villain trying to seduce the virtuous heroine. Once Picard gives in and they go back to Enterprise, Q declares that he wants to join the crew. He says he's been exiled from the Continuum, and he's lonely, and bored. "And then I remembered all the good times I had with you!" One has to blink at this. He's been on Enterprise twice and both times, he lost a contest he set up with Picard. The loss of the second contest may be the reason he has been exiled just now. What good times?
When Picard refuses him, Q gets quite upset, and throws the ship across the quadrant, where they encounter the Borg, an implacable enemy, for the first time. Q waits until the Borg are about to destroy the ship, and Picard, literally, begs for his help ("You wanted me to say I needed you? All right. I need you!"), before he'll rescue them. He then gives a little speech about how things in the universe are dangerous, and leaves.
In the fourth Q episode, Deja Q, Q is completely kicked out of the Continuum, stripped of his powers (and clothes) and made mortal. Specifically, human. Because "in all the universe, you're the closest thing I have to a friend, Jean-Luc." He begs sanctuary on the Enterprise, and Picard, despite being thoroughly annoyed and not entirely believing him, gives it to him. When Data is almost killed protecting Q from an attack by an old enemy, Q confesses his feelings of guilt and remorse to Picard, who doesn't want to hear it, and then attempts to sacrifice himself to said old enemies in order to save the ship. Picard tries to rescue him, reluctantly. The Continuum give him his powers back, and he shows up on the bridge with a mariachi band, celebrating. He doesn't make it go away until Picard tells him to.
Thus far we've seen that for some reason Q has a strong desire to spend time with the Enterprise crew-- and from the fact that he has nothing nice to say about most of them, it's obvious he means Picard-- any time he doesn't have the option of going to the Continuum. We've seen that being emotionally rejected by Picard really pisses him off, and that he's so grateful for being protected by Picard that, despite the fact that while he was human Picard threw him in the brig, insulted him a lot, and essentially told him to go whine at someone who cares, he obeys Picard's orders even after regaining his powers. And he also fixes the natural catastrophe the ship was trying to stop before he arrived.
It's the episode Q-Pid, however, that really nails it down. Picard is visited by an old girlfriend, Vash. She's miffed that he never talked about her to his crew; he's upset because she's back to her old extralegal ways. Q shows up, declaring his intention to do something "nice" for Picard to pay back his debt (for saving his life in the last episode). Picard turns him down, and then Q observes Picard's interactions with Vash. He turns up in Picard's bedroom to harangue him about Vash. Although he claims his motive is that Picard ought to be above the pain of love, and that this relationship with Vash makes Picard look "small", it's hard to take this seriously when he gives us lines like, "She's found a vulnerability in you, one I've been looking for for years. If I'd known sooner, I would have appeared as a female." He offers to get rid of Vash for Picard, who refuses and tells Q to go away. Q does so, but the next day, kidnaps Vash, Picard and the senior staff to a recreation of Robin Hood, ostensibly to prove to Picard that love is dangerous. Vash doesn't follow the script-- when threatened with death if she won't marry Sir Guy of Gisbourne, she cheerfully agrees to marry the fellow-- which intrigues Q, enough that when Picard and his crew successfully save the day, Q and Vash have a private discussion and Q agrees to take Vash with him on tour around the universe. (Q and Vash are thus a canon couple, though it's hard to avoid noticing that when the two next appear together, on Deep Space Nine, Q spends an inordinate amount of his time talking about Picard, who's not there.)
Next, a young girl who turns out to be a Q comes aboard the Enterprise as an intern. Q's agenda here has nothing specifically to do with Picard, although we learn a few things about the Continuum-- and we learn that, if directly confronted, Q will actually admit things to Picard he presumably would rather have not, like that he's here to kill the girl if she turns out not to be fully Q.
In the last two Q episodes of TNG, Q borders on actively benevolent. After Picard dies on the operating table in Tapestry, the result of an artificial heart fused by a weapons blast, Q takes him back in time to correct the "mistake" that led to getting an artificial heart in the first place. This has to be the slashiest episode ever, in which Q gives Picard flowers, and turns up in bed with him (and pets him while Picard still thinks it's the woman he slept with the night before). The usual "get off my ship" dynamic isn't there; Picard is much more relaxed around Q without the potential threat to his vessel hanging over his head. And when Picard realizes he made a horrible mistake in changing his past, Q relents and lets him change it back.
In All Good Things, Picard jumps around randomly in time between the present day, the first episode, and a point 25 years in the future. It's all part of an elaborate setup by Q, and turns out, in the end, to be a test the Continuum ordered Q to conduct. Q drops hints all throughout the episode, and reveals at the end that the test was the Continuum's idea, the "helping hand" was his. When Picard asks him what all this is about, he leans in and looks as if he's about to whisper in Picard's ear, then draws back and says "You'll find out."
Q is often thought to be interested in humanity in general, but in fact, after losing interest in Riker the only character he pays significant attention to in TNG is Picard. On Deep Space Nine, he barely interacts with the main cast-- he's there to talk Vash into coming back with him (unsuccessfully), and incidentally to talk about Picard a lot. Only after he encounters Captain Janeway on Voyager does he demonstrate any serious interest in any *other* human, and he always comes to Janeway for help with his own problems-- he never helps her with hers, he doesn't test her, he doesn't give her advice, and despite the fact that he actually does, literally, attempt to seduce her in two different episodes, he never comes across as if he knows what he's doing or wants to be doing it all that much. He's far more genuinely seductive with Vash, and, frankly, with Picard, even though the seduction part is only in subtext. Kate Mulgrew, the actress who plays Janeway, is in real life good platonic friends with John de Lancie, and that's how they come across-- Q treats Janeway as his gal pal, who he turns to for child-rearing advice, not a serious romantic interest.
Between the obsession with joining Picard's crew, the frequent attempts to "help" Picard, the jealous hissy fits when Picard turns him down, the getting in Picard's personal space (and *twice*, in his bed)... there would be no question whatsoever that Q is in love with Picard if one of them were female. Since they're not, the producers wouldn't go there, but it's a better explanation for Q's behavior than "Q really likes humanity". Data once said that Q treats Picard as a pet, but one does not turn up in one's pet's bedroom declaring that romance will destroy them and if you'd known you'd have been their mate yourself...
It is less obvious what Picard feels for Q. I can, quite reasonably, buy that Picard is genuinely mostly just annoyed at Q, until the last two episodes, where he seems to be warming up to Q. It is, however, notable that the only other person who gets under Picard's skin the way Q does is Lwaxana Troi... a tactless telepath who insists that Picard desires her. The series seems to imply that Lwaxana is mistaken... but she's a powerful telepath, and Picard, as mentioned above, actively resists falling in love, holds himself aloof, and doesn't tell his crew about his romantic involvements. If he was attracted to her, and didn't want to admit to it, her openly revealing telepathic knowledge of his feelings would doubtless irritate him. And, notably, Picard's knee-jerk reaction to Q is the same kind of long-suffering annoyance, only less hidden (Lwaxana is an important ambassador; Picard doesn't attempt to hide from Q how annoying he finds him at all.)
Slashers have also noticed a verbal gaffe on Picard's part in Q Who, when, after being kidnapped and more or less blackmailed into hearing out Q's proposal, Picard says, "To learn about you is frankly provocative, but you're next of kin to chaos." Interesting word choice there. It's also apparent that in Tapestry and All Good Things Picard has become almost comfortable with Q; in fact he barely reacts to finding Q in his bed in Tapestry.
So while the Picard side of the romantic equation is not as blatantly obvious as the Q side of P/Q, slashers can find support for reciprocity (or write stories that deliberately address the lack of reciprocity.) P/Q fanfic is also probably more replete than most other pairings with genderswaps, random reality alterations, and the like, simply due to the nature of Q's powers. Power dynamics form an important component of the fanfic-- one can't actually discuss the relationship between a human and a god without power coming into it somewhere-- and in fact some writers deliberately run with that, postulating a BDSM relationship (most such stories have Q on top, but I actually find them more interesting when Picard is, on the logic that people like to get in bed what they don't get in real life, and loss of control might be an entertaining fantasy for an omnipotent being.)
The attraction of Picard/Q to fan writers is manifold. Some like the power dynamics, as mentioned above. Some like the opposition of the characters-- spirit of chaos vs. control freak-- and others observe that the two are in fact more similar than either of them like to admit (Q is just as emotionally distant as Picard, but hides it with sarcasm and wit instead of politeness, and Picard, as a young man, was a lot more like Q.) The witty banter plays an important role, and some are impressed by the overall equality of it-- that, despite the fact that Q is an immortal god, Picard holds his own and even gets the better of Q with fair frequency. The fact that the actors quite deliberately threw subtext in there doesn't hurt.
There are a number of different kinds of Picard/Q fic, and I will rec at least one from each major category I can think of.
His Beloved Pet by Atara Stein and Ruth Gifford. Q seduces Picard on a bet. Both get more involved than they wanted. As someone who doesn't find BDSM much of a turn-on, I was impressed with how well the authors explain what someone might get out of such a relationship, but what I enjoyed most about the story was the heartwrenching emotional angst that has nothing to do with bedroom practices and everything to do with love.
In The Valley Of The Shadow by Jeanita Danzik. Sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds, but this one is better. Q is involved with the Picard of the pro novel Dark Mirror, who has become Emperor and is trying to reform his society. Then that Picard discovers that Q is still romantically involved with the mainstream universe's Picard, and all hell breaks loose.
My Fair Jeanne by Ruth Gifford. Most P/Q genderswaps turn Q into a woman, as it's pretty obvious given he claimed in the series he could do it. This one has Q turn Picard into a woman, and oddly, it's the best of the bunch. Picard wakes up one day as a woman, the woman he'd be if he'd been born a woman (ie, still middle-aged, similar build, etc.), and has to learn to deal with it because Q is refusing to show up and take credit.
Q without powers:
An Hour of Eternity by Varoneeka: Oddly enough, although there's an entire subgenre of Q fanfic devoted to spinoffs of Deja Q, the only complete Q-without-powers P/Q fic I can think of is this one, in which Picard is sucked into a spatial anomaly, Q attempts to rescue him, and the two end up stuck in the 20th century without Q's powers or any way to contact home. A caveat: I do not like Varoneeka's themes of literally eternal love, endless superhuman fantasy sex, or frequent declarations of love (the superhuman fantasy sex is actually plausible, given Q's powers-- it just bores me; the other two, I find implausible). This particular story appeals to me most of all her work because she spends more than half of it on the part I like, the two getting to know one another and coming to terms with their feelings for each other. In my opinion, it goes downhill after they admit to their feelings for each other, but your mileage may vary.
Love Reign O'er Me by Ruth Gifford. Technically Q hasn't lost his powers here, he's just forgotten how to access them. Picard wakes up in a desert oasis, where he's stuck for several weeks, figuring this is some sort of Q test. Then Q himself shows up with amnesia and no access to his powers.
Past Duties by Shalott. Picard is 80 and has finally retired. Q comes for a visit.
From Me To Q by Julia Houston. More like an episode, this is not explicitly P/Q; you need to read between the lines. Gets my personal vote for Best Appearance of Mary Sue-like Character Who Turns Out To Be Canon In Disguise ever. The Enterprise is sent to rescue an anthropological team, and run into Q, who's there on his own agenda.
Sanity and Reality by Tiggy Malvern. Q and Picard have become friends of sorts, but Q wants more, and Picard thinks it's too dangerous. Has some of the best explanations I've ever seen for "I want you but we still can't have sex" as a plot device, and makes some important points.
Hard Won by Nick. This one's brand new, and an ongoing series. Q knows something that Picard doesn't know he knows.
Additional P/Q resources
Minding One's Ps and Qs: Homoeroticism in Star Trek by Atara Stein. (Who, BTW, has a book out that features Q, as well as Angel and other characters-- an analysis of Byronic heroes in media: The Byronic Hero In Film, Fiction and Television.
PiQuante, the P/Q mailing list.
My general Q archive, which contains many P/Q stories as well as other Q fic