Picard sat in his ready room thinking about recent events. It had been a year since the encounter with the Nexus, and the fire that claimed his brother, and nephew’s life. Now he was faced with being the last Picard. Marie was still alive, but could not carry on the family line herself. And Picard? Well, he was getting old, and didn't see any children in his future. It had been a difficult year at first, after having to say farewell to the Enterprise-D on the surface of Veridian III. Since then the Enterprise-E had been finished, and the crew was starting to return.
Picard had it all; his ship, his crew... Yet his mind was still distracted by the fire. He could see the flames moving through his brothers’ house, consuming the noble fir in their living room and making its way upstairs. For a moment he imagined he was the fire, the burning desire to consume, and the delicious pleasure that came from doing just that. Another moment he could see and feel things from his nephews’ eyes. The searing flame punishing him for sins he wasn't even aware of.
Counselor Troi had visited him over the past couple months, trying to help him through the distress. She could see that a small part of the captain had become bitter.
"Captain," she started as she was about to leave. "How about a party?"
"A party counselor?"
"Yes, a Christmas party. It would be good for the crew, and it might help you as well."
"I will consider it counselor."
"Of course captain, merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas Deanna," he replied as the doors closed behind her.
"Merry Christmas, Mon Capitan," came a familiar voice from a flash of light.
"I'm not in the mood Q," Picard replied, glancing a stern look at the omnipotent being. He was dressed, as usual, in a Starfleet uniform, and was currently sitting on Picards desk.
"Jean-Luc, is that any way to treat an old friend?"
"What do you want?"
"Just spreading a little good cheer," he said as he waved his hand. Another flash of light produced a model of the Enterprise-E, which hung from a string like an ornament. "And you need quite a bit I'd say."
"Q, if you're here to pester me about my mood, then I'll have to ask you to bugger off and leave my ship."
"Gone but not forgotten Jean-Luc," Q smiled intently. "I have three friends that are going to pay you a visit; I suggest you listen to what they have to say." And with that he vanished into a flash of light, leaving the ornament on the desk. Picard picked it up and looked at its detail. After a moment he set it back down and muttered a single word.
At 2345, Picard was still awake. Tossing and turning in his bed, he couldn't stop thinking about the visit from Q. He got out of bed and walked into the washroom, and splashed some water on his face. As he looked up into the mirror, there was a flash of light in the reflection behind him. He rushed into the other room, ready to confront the intruder.
"Q! What the devil do you want now?" he asked as he turned to face him, only to find that he was a her. "Oh, I'm sorry; I thought you were someone else."
"Well I'm certainly more attractive then Q is," replied the woman before him. She was a little taller then Q was, with long black hair, and also wearing a Starfleet uniform. "For the sake of simplicity, you can call me Lady Q."
"Who ever you are, I still have to ask what you want?"
"Just a little field trip Picard, I owed Q a favor," and with that, Picard’s quarters vanished.
When Picards sight returned to him he found himself on Earth. He was home.
Picard spun around to search for the voice. It was familiar to him, and as comforting as a warm fire on a stormy night.
"Mother?" he whispered as he started towards the house. The vineyard rushed past him. Most of the vines were dead this time of year, but he could still smell the aroma of grapes on the hill. His mind was suddenly full of childhood memories.
"Jean-Luc, come open presents with us,"
"I don't have time mother," replied the voice of a young boy. "I have too much studying to do."
Picard reached the house and peered into his old bedroom window. What he saw was a vision of his own past. There in the room was a young Picard, reading a school PADD, and in the doorway stood his mother.
"That’s enough studying for one day young man," she replied. "If you don't hurry, your gifts will turn to coal."
"Please Mother," the young Picard replied. "That only happens when my brother is playing with the transporters."
"Seems like you weren't very jolly back then Picard," the Lady Q commented.
"I was getting older," he replied. "Much of the Christmas mystery had lost its charm."
"It's the idea Picard," she claimed. "Not the mystery that really gives it power."
"I still don't understand why you're showing me this."
"Come on Picard, there's more to see." she replied just before another flash of light.
This time he was standing in the James T Kirk Pavilion on the Academy campus, and if the nearby chronometer was correct, he had just gotten his first assignment after graduating. It was one of his happiest memories, yet also the one that caused the most pain.
"Maria, wait!" called the voice of his past self.
"No Jean-Luc," replied the beautiful woman the young Picard was following. "I can't believe you did this."
"Maria, I don't understand. You knew I was in Starfleet."
"Yes, and you could have asked to be assigned to earth. But no, you had to ask to go gallivanting around the cosmos!"
"I can't advance in Starfleet babysitting subspace relay stations," he said, "You know that."
"Career advancement, is that all you think about?"
"Of course not," the young Picard pleaded for her to listen. "I love you Maria."
"You used to," and with that, she walked out of his life forever. The two Picard’s lowered their heads and closed their eyes. When they opened the older Picard found himself alone in his quarters, the pain of that day still hanging heavy on his heart.
Picard looked up at the clock, 2359, soon it would be midnight and Picard wondered when the next visitor would come.
"Hello Captain." Picard turned to see a middle aged man with blonde hair, and wearing a rather loose fitting Santa Clause outfit.
"Another Q I presume?"
"You can call me Jolly Old Saint Q if you'd prefer?"
"I'm guessing you want to show me something painful as well?" Picard asked.
"Why no Captain," Q replied. "I wouldn't dream of it."
Q gestured towards the door and allowed Picard to lead the way. After a walk and a short turbolift ride they arrived in Ten Forward, which still had a few people in it. Q walked over to one table where Doctor Beverly Crusher and Commander Data were talking.
"Data, you can't look at this from a logical standpoint."
"I do not know any other way of doing so Doctor. I am an android, and by definition bound by logic."
"But you do have an emotion chip Data, use it."
"I am unsure if that is wise," replied the android. "Not after the problems on the Amargosa observatory."
"Look, Data, Christmas is about the spirit of friendship and generosity," she explained. "Logically Santa isn't real, but he is an embodiment of that spirit."
"Then he is a symbol?" he asked.
"Yes Data," replied the doctor. "That’s exactly it. And many humans accept him as real even though it might seem illogical."
"I will attempt to do the same.
"Well that’s very human of you Data."
"Thank you Doctor."
"See Picard?" Q said, grabbing his attention. "Even your pet robot is more cheerful then you."
"So I'm a little down," he replied. "What is your point?"
"I'll show you," Q returned to the turbolift with Picard following him. After a minute the doors to the turbolift opened up onto deck 32. Q again led the way to a crewman’s quarters, one who had been newly assigned to the ship. Inside sat crewman Rosa, who had been with the Enterprise crew for some time, and the new personnel. Crewman Dickens if Picard could remember correctly.
"Charlie, you shouldn't say those things." Rosa said, her cool expression giving him a 'you’re in trouble' look. "Picard has always been a good man."
"Yeah, well, he reminds me of a character one of my ancestors wrote." replied Dickens. "Since I've been on this ship he's been nothing but grouchy."
"He's under a lot of stress; what, with the new ship and all." she replied as she moved to a replicator. "We all loved the D. but for a captain it's different. He was married to that ship, and loosing his nephew at the same time?"
"Ok, you convinced me," Dickens interrupted. "He just still reminds me of Scrooge."
"Well, hopefully he gets better," Rosa replied as she ordered two cups of eggnog. Handing one to Dickens, and raising her own, she made a toast. "To Captain Picard, may he find peace this Christmas."
"Q, why are you showing me this?" Picard asked.
"So you can see Picard." replied Q. "That even though there is pain in the world, that it is no reason to shut out the joy."
Picard turned to say something to Q....
And he was alone in his quarters. Picard looked at the clock again; 0010. He guessed the last visitor would arrive at 0015, so he decided to get changed. After putting on his uniform, he walked into the living room where he suddenly stood face to face with a hooded figure. The individual was completely cloaked, and even his face was concealed under the hood. In one hand the visitor held a scythe in a skeletal hand, and to Picard it felt as if the hidden eyes were looking into his very soul.
The visitor stood there, not saying a word, not showing any sign of movement.
"So, which Q are you?" Picard asked. The visitor still only stood there with almost a menacing presence. Then the visitor pointed towards the door as it began to dissolve, and Picard could feel himself falling. The universe seemed to spin around him like a whirlpool, hand he couldn't shake the disorientation and fear of an impending drowning. When the vision cleared, and Picard felt he was on solid ground again, he looked around. He was in what appeared to be a cemetery, but he was unsure why he would be brought here. He looked at the cloaked Q, who was still silent as a stone.
"What am I supposed to see here?" He asked. Q just pointed to a hill, and urged Picard to walk. When they reached the top, Picard could see two people standing next to a grave, one of which was his sister-in-law.
"It's alright Father," Marie said, looking down at the grave. "I don't think anyone else is coming."
"That’s a shame," replied the priest. "He was a great man in his day."
Picard started to walk towards them, then hesitated.
"Q, who are they talking about?" he asked, desperate for the answer. Again Q just pointed and Picard listened.
"My brother-in-law had been bitter the last few years," Marie explained. "Ever since the fire. It probably drove everyone away."
Picard stepped closer to look at the grave stone, and dropped to the ground in shock. He read it again to be sure, and praying he was wrong.
July 13, 2305 - September 23, 2376
Was it possible? Was his sister-in-law the only one that noticed he was gone? He wanted to call out to Marie, let her know he was there.
"Q, tell me this is a trick," he pleaded. "Tell me it won’t end up this way."
Q said nothing, but held out his hand. In his grasp he held the ornament the other Q had left him. Picard took it, and looked at it.
"I can fix this, right?" he asked. "That’s what you do, that’s what Q has always done. I can't ignore the pain, but I can change this."
When he looked up, Q was gone, as was the cemetery. He was back in his quarters again, alone, and glad it was over. Picard looked up at the clock, 0800, December 25. There wasn't much time, but there was much to do.
"Picard to Counselor Troi," he spoke into his combadge. "Meet me in 10-forward, we have a party to plan."