The narrow hallway was mostly dark, except for a slight shimmer of green light that came from the ceiling, the walls and the floor.
'We are the Borg.'
He stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the voice - it had not come from somewhere down the hallway.
It had come from inside his head.
He tried to turn around in order to run away, but his body would not move.
He was trapped.
'Resistance is futile,' the voice inside his head announced.
He felt sweat pouring down his face and heard the sound of his own heavy breathing in his ears.
'You will be assimilated.'
A door opened somewhere and suddenly there were steps advancing towards him; steps that definitely weren't human.
He knew what would happen if they reached him.
He knew he had to leave right now, and yet he still couldn't move.
He was forced to watch in utter horror as five dark figures walked around the corner and up to him, the red lasers on their heads pointing in his direction.
"No! Go away! Leave me alone!" he screamed - but even his voice was a mere shadow of what it had once been, it was barely louder than a whisper.
One of the figures reached out a horribly disfigured and partly mechanical hand.
Picard screamed in terror - and woke up.
It took him quite a few moments to realize that he was not on a Borg Cube; he was sitting in his bed, drenched in sweat, his entire body shaking. He slowly reached for the glass of water that he had placed on his bedside table before he had gone to bed.
"Curious, this human need for water," a voice suddenly remarked.
Picard froze for a second before his Starfleet training kicked in. He jumped out of his bed in nothing but utter panic, grabbed the phaser from the bedside table, whirled around and pointed it at the intruder.
"Temper, temper, mon capitaine," the man standing in the corner of the room said. "It's just me."
Picard lowered his weapon. "Q."
"Now now," the entity scolded. "I've gotten a few bad greetings from you, but never one as bad as this."
Picard put the phaser back on his bedside table. "You cannot expect me to throw a welcome party for someone who appears in my bedroom in the middle of the night."
"It's not that," Q pointed out. "It's your nightmare. You panicked because you thought I was a Borg."
Picard tensed. "This is none of your concern. Why are you here?"
Q sighed. "You may not like it - but I came here because I sensed your nightmare. I'm a lot better at this than your so-called counselor who's still sound asleep. Some empath you've got there."
"Leave Deanna out of this. She has been helping me a lot in the past few weeks."
Q eyed him carefully. "Something really is wrong. You aren't even insisting on me telling you what I want."
"I'm simply not in the mood for your games." Picard rubbed his forehead with hands that were still shaking slightly.
"I saw you," Q suddenly said, his voice unusually soft.
"On that Borg Cube. When they assimilated you. I was there."
Picard looked up, his eyes filled with both shock and surprise.
Q walked up to the bed and sat down next to him. "I could have helped you, you know. I could have stopped them from doing this to you."
"Q... this... this is not a good subject to make fun of..."
"I'm not joking right now, Jean-Luc. I'm telling the truth."
"If that really is the case..." Picard broke off and took a deep breath before he continued. "Why didn't you help me?"
"I was not allowed to interfere."
"Why not?" Picard felt tears forming in his eyes. "I destroyed 39 starships. I... I... I killed about 11,000 people. Men... women... children... not even you can sit back and watch something like that... I know mortal beings mean little to you, but even you must have a conscience somewhere..."
"I do. However, most members of the Continuum were quite adamant that this had to happen."
"Stop asking why. It happened for a reason."
"That is easy for you to say," Picard spat and furiously wiped a few tears away. "They did... they did horrible things to me. They... they broke into my mind and tore away the very fabric of my humanity. They... they..." He broke off, memories of what had happened threatening to overwhelm him once more.
"I know what they did. I told you, I saw it."
"Then don't leave me here without an answer." Picard looked right into Q's eyes. "Please."
Q returned the gaze, his eyes as sad as Picard's. "I cannot tell you. Some things have to happen the way they are supposed to happen in order to allow history to fulfill itself." He paused for a moment before he continued. "I know this doesn't comfort you at all."
Picard said nothing.
"I shouldn't have come here," the almighty being muttered.
"I never thought I'd ever hear you say that," Picard muttered back.
"You most likely won't hear me say it again."
"Why did you really come here?"
"You know why. Why do you humans always have to ask questions you already know the answer to?" Q reached out his hand, took the glass of water from the bedside table and handed it to Picard. "Drink your water and go back to bed."
"I'm not sure if I'll be able to sleep in peace this time."
"You will. I'll make sure of it. It's... it's the least I can do." Q raised his hand, snapped his fingers and vanished in one of his bright flashes.
Picard stared at the empty spot next to him, and a tiny part of his mind wondered if he was still dreaming - the fact that Q had come in order to offer emotional support certainly qualified as the perfect idea for a particularly strange dream.
Story Notes: This story is set shortly after the episode "The Best Of Both Worlds, Part II". This story was inspired by this brilliant piece of artwork I found on Tumblr a little while ago (artwork used with permission):