Somehow, Jean had fallen asleep. She hadn't intended on it. But lying in the quiet, even if it was the middle of the day, had caused her eyes to feel heavy. It was so lovely, to fall asleep and believe Lucien was there beside her, to hold on to the clamoring desires of her lonely heart.

When she woke, the shadows were long in the room, indicating the passage of time. Jean felt warm from the inside out, remembering what it had felt like for just one moment to really believe that Lucien was home with her again. The warmth was quickly snuffed out as the bitter disappointment returned. She must have fallen asleep in Lucien's old room, too caught up in her grief. Quite enough of that.

Jean rolled over onto her back to force herself to get up. She should remake the bed, since it might need to be used by a guest one of these days. But when she turned, she gasped in shock.

It hadn't been a dream at all. Lucien was there. He was real, and he was right there, fast asleep. He really had come home to her.

As quickly as she could, Jean removed all of her clothes and got into the bed under the sheets and snuggled as close to her husband as she could. He was much leaner than when he'd left, much of his comforting bulk had wasted away during the trials and tribulations of his journey, whatever it had been. But it would all return, she had no doubt.

He hummed as he felt her draw near to him. "Jean," he mumbled with a smile.

She pressed kisses to his neck. "Lucien," she whispered in return.

Lucien had slept well for longer than he'd managed in months. He felt rested and renewed. And so, he blinked his eyes open and rolled over, taking his wife, bare and beautiful as she was, into his arms. "It hardly seems real," he said with a sense of awe, "that I could finally be home with you again."

Jean quite agreed, but she had no words to properly express it. They shared a few gentle kisses, wrapped up in the comfort of the other's presence for the first time in so very long. "How are you feeling?" she asked eventually, recalling the horrific state in which he'd arrived at the doorstep.

"Much better. Here with you, nothing much can bother me now," he replied with a fond smile.

She reached out to trace the untidy line of his rather full beard—despite having trimmed it back extensively before he'd gotten into bed. "Will you tell me now? Where you've been?"

"Only if you'll tell me everything I've missed," he countered.

And so they began trading their tales. Lucien explained how he'd faked his death, how he'd been detained en route to China. Jean told him how worried everyone was, how distraught Matthew and Alice had been, how difficult it was for her to not share the secret that his disappearance had been planned. Lucien told Jean everything about his family, of Li and Song and their beautiful children who he'd gotten to know and adore. He gave her Mei Lin's regards. Jean told Lucien how she'd worked for the Council and gotten her budget passed and pushed for her progressive agenda.

In the midst of it all, Lucien lost focus on his own story and sang Jean's praises. He asked her every single detail of her platform, of the ordinances she'd passed, how she'd won support, what she was planning next.

Jean had to chuckle and blink back her tears. "I knew it," she muttered to herself.

"Knew what, my darling?" he asked, stroking her cheek.

"I knew you'd be so proud of me."

"So proud I might burst," he assured her with a soft kiss.

But from there, Jean insisted he finish his side, tell her where he'd been and why he'd come back home to her nine months late and half-dead. And he told her the entire saga, how he'd lost all his money on the boat to the Manila, how he'd worked himself to a nearly broken back getting to Jakarta, how he'd slept on the streets till he could stow away to Darwin, how he'd hiked through the bush to Alice Springs, how the kindness of strangers allowed him to treat a young boy's disease and earn a bit of food, how he'd worked his way through Victoria and walked thirty miles home to her.

And at the end of all that, Jean cradled him to her breast and stroked his hair and kissed his temple and vowed to never, ever let him go again. He whispered his apologies into her skin, never mind that she didn't need them. "All I need is you. Right here, always," she told him.

"I love you, Jean. More than words could ever express."

Jean pulled away and gazed upon his dear face and shining eyes. "I've waited for you for such a long time. So long, I was losing hope. I…I did lose hope. I thought I'd been foolish to believe you'd come back after so long."

"I was on my way," he replied. "I was always on my way."

"I know," was all she could say in return.

They lazed about in bed together all night, talking and cuddling close and exchanging loving touches. And when dawn broke, shining through the gap in the curtains, Jean smiled and kissed her husband. "Merry Christmas, Lucien," she murmured.

"Is it really?"

"Yes, my love, it is."

Lucien grinned. "What time is everyone coming over?"

Jean laughed. Of course that would be his response. "I'll see what I can do."

They got out of bed and dressed for the day. Lucien hadn't worn his own clean clothes in longer than he could remember. In getting him dressed, however, Jean had to reveal the state of their beautiful bedroom, the boxes piled up everywhere, turning their marital suite into a storage space.

"I just couldn't bear it without you," she explained, ashamed she'd lost her faith in him.

But Lucien just put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her to his side. "It's alright, Jean. I understand."

They shared breakfast together, not talking much now. They'd said everything they needed to. And now Lucien needed to be properly fed and Jean needed to bustle around the kitchen to take care of him, just as she always had. When they were finished, she helped him to the parlor so he could gaze upon their Christmas tree and watch a bit of television. Jean used the telephone in the kitchen to make a call.


"Merry Christmas, Alice, it's Jean."

"Jean, is everything alright?" Alice asked with concern.

"Better than alright, actually," she replied, feeling positively giddy. "Can you tell Matthew that I changed my mind and want everyone to come over? Have him invite all the usual suspects, if you don't mind."

"He's right here, do you want to speak with him yourself?"

Jean smiled. Not even nine in the morning and Matthew was right there. Her suspicions about those two were certainly correct. "No, I trust you can relay the message sufficiently. I've got to go, but I hope I'll see you both later?"

"Yes, of course." Alice sounded wary, but Jean couldn't possibly care.

She hung up the phone and felt like her cheeks were starting to hurt from so much smiling. So much smiling that she was out of practice with. She hurried to the sofa to snuggle up with Lucien and keep smiling as much as she could.

Matthew and Alice arrived quite soon thereafter, both of them shocked to see a frightfully thin and disheveled Lucien Blake there to greet them. Jean could have sworn she saw Matthew shed a few tears. Alice was interrogating Lucien, demanding answers about where he'd been and why and how. Jean gave Matthew's arm an affectionate squeeze. Soon, he too was all smiles.

Guests came and went throughout the day. Cec Drury. Bill Hobart. Amy Parks. Peter Crowe. Jean noticed that Alice and Amy kept Lucien quite busy, talking and laughing, while Jean was busy going to and from the kitchen with her incessant need to feed everyone. The men kept disappearing and reappearing, but she was far too happy to be suspicious. Matthew seemed to be managing everything, and Jean trusted him.

Eventually, the day had to end. Lucien was getting tired, his stamina not what it used to be. All their guests toasted his homecoming and gave the Blakes their love and made their way back to their own homes. In the end, it was only Jean and Lucien and Alice and Matthew left.

"Right, I'll be back tomorrow. I figured you two should have a night to yourselves," Matthew said delicately, pulling himself up to stand with his cane.

"You don't need to go, Matthew, you do live here," Jean pointed out. "And Lucien arrived yesterday. We had last night alone together."

"But that wasn't in your room," he replied cryptically. "Alice and I are off."

With one last fond farewell, Alice drove Matthew and herself back to her home, leaving the Blakes alone once again.

"What do you think Matthew meant by that?" Jean asked curiously.

Lucien gave a small smile. "I'd hazard a guess that he meant we should go to our room."

His progress was still a bit slow and wobbly, so Jean had to help him a bit, but they made their way up to the studio. And Jean nearly started crying again. Everything had been hauled out and cleaned up. Their bedroom looked just as it had the day Lucien left, the last day there had been any love or joy in that room. "It's beautiful!" she breathed.

"It's perfect. And we have very, very kind friends," Lucien added.

That night, Lucien, still a bit weak in body but all too eager in spirit, made passionate love to his wife for the first time in nine months. Their movements were slow and measured, memorizing the feel of each other, relearning every sensation and every sound and every taste, etching forever on their skin. Finally, finally, Jean could welcome him in the cradle of her thighs, in the soft sheets of their marital bed, in the cries of his name in her ecstasy. And when Lucien finally fell asleep, he was surrounded by the loose joy of being thoroughly satiated and completely loved. He held Jean in his arms and breathed in deeply the scent of her. She whispered her love for him in tiny kisses all over his body as she drifted to sleep. And Lucien knew he was home.