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The Man Who Loved Earl Grey Tea (Hot)

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During the Third World War, vintners in Labarre, France were forced to temporarily close down their vineyards. The Picard family were particularly distraught at this; in fact, it was a village joke that they were more upset about their wine output being stymied for a few years than the economic recession that had preceded the period. The English cooperated with the local battalions to secure the countryside, and left what might have been considered a plague in their wake: a newfound local interest in tea. Most of the Picards, true stalwarts of tradition and distrustful of change, never participated in the newfound obsession, but it was a secret that was carried on until the birth of Jean-Luc Picard two centuries later, when his favorite uncle shared cups with him during their annual weekends in London, where Jean-Luc enjoyed the Royal Shakespeare Company?s performances.

But he grew up with his head in the clouds and his feet firmly planted on the earth. He fully expected to live his life in Labarre, carrying on a family tradition that stretched back generations, loathing every minute of it, resenting his brother, even while his brother envied him. He looked into his family?s history, to try and find some solace, and discovered true nobility, or as he appreciated it, warriors?He grew rebellious, and dared to tell his father that he wanted more, that he wanted to travel the stars. The last time he saw his uncle, he used their trip as an excuse to take the Academy entrance exam for the first time. It was his nerves that cost him that opportunity. It was his resolve that helped him succeed the second time. He never told his friends the truth, except for Louis. Only Louis could see the allure of strange new worlds, because he was able to find them right on Earth.

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He was one of the best athletes in his class, so that gave him perhaps more cockiness than even his brother Robert would ever have suspected possible. He was a star at everything he tried, and would even have competed at the Olympics had Starfleet cadets been eligible, so he had to settle for the San Francisco Games, held on Academy grounds every spring. In his graduating year, Jean-Luc wrestled a Nausicaan. It was the second time he had ever seen one (the first to attend, first to drop out), following on the heels of an incident during his third year when he challenged one during a training mission on Nausica. The groundskeeper at the Academy, Boothby, was the only one who could convince him to apologize, the failure to do so would have jeopardized his career at best, provoked war at worst. It wasn?t until the third encounter with a Nausicaan, with Jean-Luc at his most confident, when he was truly forced to consider just how wise Boothby really had been.

He had been living a life without limits for as long as he knew, always indulged by his father, his uncle, even his instructors. Only Boothby seemed to speak any real truth to him, and at the time, Jean-Luc almost hadn?t cared. He?d done what the groundskeeper had suggested cynically, and was pleased to find that it worked, but by the time he was accepting his first posting, waiting at Starbase Earhart with his friends and feeling like he could take on the whole Klingon Empire, being stabbed through the heart was the last time he needed to be reminded that his life was not, after all, charmed. ?Jean-Luc,? Boothby had told him, ?everyone lives like they?re the most important person in the galaxy. The trick is to know you?re not.? He kept his artificial heart as a reminder that a little humility didn?t hurt, long after countless medical journals espoused the potential to regrow his original one. It wasn?t eugenics Jean-Luc feared, along with the majority of the Federation, but what he might become if he forgot the lesson. He didn?t want to become his brother, fearful of change, of being his own person, but he learned to develop patience, perhaps even wisdom.

One of the ways he trained himself in this regard was to indulge himself in the most patient hobby he knew, and that was archeology, which he and Louis had pursued under the tutelage of Richard Galen in his formative years. He shifted his Starfleet priorities from what the admirals might expect of him and started seeking every opportunity to explore indigenous cultures. For Jean-Luc, it wasn?t the new life forms and their civilizations that interested him, but what they might say about his own. He started exhibiting what might be considered leadership potential as he led away teams on his little expeditions, always working with the locals to his and their mutual advantage. The first ones to notice were the Vulcan officers he happened to serve with, and this gave him numerous offers to visit their home planet, after he helped investigate a modern excavation of P?Jem. Eventually, he was offered one of his highest honors in the attendance at the wedding of Ambassador Sarek?s son.

One thing that Boothby couldn?t do was cure Jean-Luc of his intractable solitude. Even while attending that wedding, he was courting a young woman named Jenice he would never dream of marrying, even though he would regret it for years. He just couldn?t bring himself to open his private life to someone else. This didn?t mean he couldn?t form friendships, as he?d proven early with Louis, but that such relationships were rare. Onboard the Stargazer, Jean-Luc formed a tremendous bond with Jack Crusher, who was then serving with his wife Beverly. Jean-Luc could never say whether it was Jack who interested him, or his wife, and it haunted him greatly. All the same, Jean-Luc and Jack were inseparable. The more dangerous the mission, the more they seemed to rise to the occasion. It was said that the fleet hadn?t seemed a more remarkable pairing since Kirk and Spock. But when the captain of the ship was killed in an incident with the Klingons, Jean-Luc was given his first command, and became more reluctant to carry on in such a fashion. Tragically, Jack still became a casualty, which might, if Jean-Luc had consulted with anyone in his grief, had convinced him his reasoning was again flawed, but he withdrew even further. When his ship was lost, he almost abandoned his career and retreated back to Labarre. If it hadn?t been for the presence of Phillipa Louvois at the court martial, things might have been different for him. Phillipa was another failed romance, and owing to his continued guilt over Jack?s death and his lingering feelings for Beverly, Jean-Luc thought he owed it to himself to soldier on.

After twenty years as captain of the Stargazer, he had developed a seniority in the Starfleet pool, which meant that when the Enterprise-D was commissioned, Command felt it was only natural to give him the flagship. In the past, this had been an important posting, given to a younger officer, but with Klingon tensions stagnant, the time seemed ready to award it to a more methodical individual, who might serve better as a diplomat than warrior. Jean-Luc was assured that he?d be an explorer, and could indulge himself when assembling his crew. He couldn?t help recruiting Beverly as his medical officer, but told himself that his selection of William Riker as his first officer was adequate compensation, an eager young man who might be called to replace him should Starfleet change tacks. Like his superiors, Jean-Luc didn?t expect a lot of problems.

Where to begin about how wrong he was? Beverly brought with her a son, Jack?s son, who instantly and constantly put him on edge, called to minds specters, not only of dead friends but what he might have become if he?d had a little more discipline at that age, a brilliant mind, perhaps a true contribution to history?The Romulans chose his first year at the helm to awaken from their slumber. The mysterious entity Q put humanity on trial, choosing Jean-Luc to answer for the hubris of a species. The Borg Collective emerged from the Delta Quadrant. How the Romulans, Q, and the Borg all converged in the same moment, to challenge Jean-Luc and everything he knew, was not only unprecedented, but a true test of his mettle. He was surprised and pleased with himself to learn he was ready, as was his crew.

The Klingon, Worf, was never supposed to be part of his command staff, but like Jean-Luc himself, was promoted to the inner circle by death, and it was a relationship that proved more fruitful than he could guess, opening a direct channel to Klingon politics, which proved an arena well-suited for him, which solidified his reputation and worthiness to command the flagship. But first?But first there was the Collective.

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During the time he was known as Locutus, Jean-Luc found that he had a lot of time to think. He reflected on his career, his life, the mistakes he?d made, the successes he?d enjoyed, but most of all, the things he?d never properly had time to mull over. That was the cruel irony of his time in the Collective, when his own Starfleet was forced to think of him as the enemy.

During his time commanding the Stargazer, he and Jack had gotten it into their heads that they could solve the Romulan riddle. They would be the ones to figure out why the Star Empire had gone into seclusion. Jack figured it was because the Romulans had grown increasingly embarrassed of their former association with the Klingons, and given his own experience with that Empire, Jean-Luc was certainly inclined to agree. He didn?t tell Jack, but he supplemented his hobby, and his connections to the Vulcans, with a look into Romulan history. Having to keep it all so secretive, it made him reflect on some human pastimes as well. It was during this time he first looked into the detective novels of Dixon Hill. It felt only natural. One day, he received a priority communiqu? from Starfleet Command, discreetly telling him to put a stop to his extracurricular activities. He didn?t have to wonder what it meant. He never stopped to wonder in that period if the Romulans stopped to watch him, too.

He thought about Dixon, how the holodecks starting to become standard on starships when he assumed command of the Enterprise helped him explore the character like never before, a latent extension of a long-ago dream of a career in the theater, which he?d briefly pursued at the Academy, before his instructors made it known, with discretion of course, that the stage was an unnecessary distraction, which he?d never understood. As an adolescent, he?d managed to balance academics and Shakespeare quite exceptionally, starring in a production of Romeo & Juliet. His father had remarked, typically, that the role was only too appropriate for such a head-strong son. Jean-Luc never lost the accent he picked up that summer, which he?d secretly been working on his whole life, thanks to his uncle?

As Locutus, all he could do was think about the past, because it was never Jean-Luc, never himself, in control. That?s what he told him, repeatedly, later. Yet he was always there, like the siren call of the Borg Queen, which somehow let him know that he was not just another drone, that he was allowed this special privilege, individual thought, individual?torment. He did what he was told, a cruel parody of his life in Starfleet, seeking new life indeed. He had actually wanted this mission to succeed, to conquer humanity and assimilate it into this new experience.

When he was rescued, when the link was severed and his body returned to him, it was his mind he felt slipping away. That was irony, too, because the whole time, he thought he had retained that, even when he was forced to act against his will, watching himself do terrible things, say unspeakable things. He had been an observer in his own body. Then he became an automaton in an entirely difference sense. He rushed back into Starfleet routine, insistent that it was what he needed. Only later, when he traveled back to Earth, could he admit the truth, to his brother of all people, to Robert. He would never have the words to describe it. His crew, they would always trust him, believe in him. But the rest of the fleet? The rest of humanity? There would always be a lingering doubt. He commanded the flagship, but trust? He wondered if that would ever return.

For a lot of people, it would be easy to forget. They would have to be reminded, like a footnote, the circumstances surrounding Earth?s averted assault from the Borg. They would never remember whose face had appeared on every starship at Wolf 359, before so much of the fleet was destroyed. That was life. Don?t dwell on the negative. Accentuate the positive. Believe in hope. Believe in possibility. But for some, it would linger. What did his Starfleet profile say? He could never again bring himself to look at it. There had been a time when Jean-Luc obsessively followed everything written about him, even after the loss of the Stargazer, when he thought he had reached the very worst moment of his life. He?d even laughed at the reports after the fight that cost him his heart, just as he?d done in the presence of the Nausicaans themselves.

Confronted again with the Borg over the years, he found that he could gradually see them in the same detached light as the Collective itself viewed existence, how life didn?t mean anything unless it was assimilated, could add some useful insight. He had a chance to wipe them all out, and he let that chance slip away. What had happened to him? Perhaps he was thinking of another problem that he could never seem to escape, the entity known as Q, who constantly challenged him, like Boothby, to look beyond his limited perspective, no matter how hard it could be, to see the complexities, the possibilities. He could tolerate Q, he could survive the Borg. He had traveled very far, and that was what he had always wanted, even if he?d seldom stopped to wonder why, why he was always so curious, why so restless. Was he running from everything, every truth, every comfort, hiding in plain sight and seeming to do so well for himself?

A scientist made him think about what his perfect existence might be. It came about at the same time his brother and the only chance the Picard line had to extend into the future, perished in flame. The scientist had discovered a means toward immortality, the ultimate dream for a soul like Jean-Luc?s, and it was nothing like he?d ever imagined, to exist forever and have everything he?d ever wanted. He got caught up in that dream, and found himself with a family. He marveled at a Christmas dinner, a full table, and the knowledge that he was somehow still serving out his career. For a moment, he was caught up in it, but an old friend made herself known in a flicker that couldn?t be explained, not even in all that magic.

He?d known Guinan for so long, he had sometimes taken her for granted. When he?d first gotten his artificial heart, when it seemed like he might begin feeling sorry for himself, she had been there, for all intents just another nurse in the infirmary. But Guinan was not just another nurse; in fact it soon became apparent that she was no nurse at all, but a volunteer, a kind soul who gave comfort when and where she felt it was necessary. She saw something in Jean-Luc?s eyes she?d never experienced before, a resolution that seemed out of place, even in the body of a young man who seemed ready to break the rest of the way, trying to recover but still threatening to slip. She asked him what he was feeling, and he told her that he had a future waiting for him. Then she told him that he needed to stop fooling himself, and just sit there for a while. She?d wait with him. Nothing so complicated as taking a moment for himself. She told him that she?d get whatever he wanted, and he said a cup of tea would be nice. He told her in exchange, any time he could do a favor for her, she would only have to ask. When he accepted the Enterprise, he got a message saying that she was into bartending now, and she?d heard his new ship had room for something like that. Neither one ever really had to vocalize the relationship, but the years made its value increase.

When she appeared in that dream, it helped him realize what was really going on, helped him regain focus, and as he?d always done, set about the necessary work of his life, to quit feeling sorry for himself and accept that wherever he was, that?s where he was needed. When he was again confronted with the Borg, thrown into circumstances that would initiate the Collective?s interest in humanity, he found in himself the capacity to put all his fears and doubts behind him. He finally stopped chasing after the world.

When he was confronted with a mirror image of himself, what he had been, what he might have become, he was shaken, however. He didn?t know what he should do. He didn?t have the words. He tried to say what he thought he should, but it only made matters worse. This corrupted version of himself knew everything Jean-Luc did. He was a clone, and although he didn?t have the memories, he had the same dreams. What Jean-Luc failed to express was the idea of potential, because potential was all he saw. Potential, as he had learned, wasn?t just an idea, something that could be learned, but something that was already there, if only he could get out of his own way. He couldn?t tell this Shinzon, this human created by Romulans, raised by Remans, terrorized for years out of his own dreams, that he couldn?t force greatness on himself, much less anyone else. When he learned how Shinzon had come into the position that had led to their meeting, he would come to regret how he had handled everything. He would see where he had failed.

It was a small comfort, the continuing grace of his life, for Jean-Luc to again see how fallible, how human he really was, because it allowed him to appreciate the opportunities he could still embrace, the reason he had pursued the explorer?s life in Starfleet, despite every setback, how he continually surrounded himself with those who nurtured his growth, both by accident and design, more the former than he?d care to admit. It?s why he kept a fish in his ready room, just so he could watch as it floated, so apparently randomly, about, flickering directions. At times, he could spend hours just waiting for it to move at all. There were so many other things he could be doing with that time. But he always preferred to believe he wasn?t wasting it. He didn?t believe life could be wasted at all. There was always some hidden meaning, just waiting to be discovered.

And so, Jean-Luc Picard, many years into a full and long life, sat in a room aboard a ship called the Enterprise, wondering what would happen next.

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