A/N: This begins on the morning after 'Interlude'. It will make much more sense if you've read "Prisoners' and 'Interlude' before starting this one. Thank you to everyone who has been reading this saga, and especially to those who've taken the time to leave a comment.
Jean hummed happily to herself as she prepared breakfast. All was well in her world. Her nightmare was practically forgotten, all but the memory of Lucien's presence to help her through it.
Life was good. She had a dependable job that provided her and the boys a lovely place to live and a decent wage to live on. Thomas was a good man - kind to all three of them and a respectable member of Ballarat society. And now Lucien and Li had arrived to join them. It would mean more work for her, she knew, but what was that compared to the company of the man she loved with all her heart and his darling little girl?
When she was in the camp and matters were at their worst, this was the kind of day Jean had longed for: doing ordinary things with the people she cared about the most. She had nothing special planned, but still she looked forward to it.
Lucien was the first one downstairs, greeting her with a smile and a cheery "Good morning."
"Good morning, and thank you for your support last night."
"No more bad dreams after that?" he asked.
"Not a one," she assured him. "How did you sleep?"
He grimaced. "Not too well, but it's been the same for a while. It's not because I'm here."
"Maybe it will change now that you're here though," said Jean. "Sit. Tea is ready. The rest will be a few minutes."
"Thank you, Jean, but you don't really have to wait on me," Lucien said kindly.
"Oh, were you planning to cook your own breakfast?" she asked before smiling. "Lucien, it's my job, remember? And I would have to make it for myself and the boys anyway, so please don't feel guilty. Besides, I Enjoy cooking for the people I love."
"Well, then, I guess it's settled," said Lucien. "I suppose I could set the table, if I can remember where everything is."
"That's one of Jack's chores, but I'm sure he won't mind," she teased.
"No, I don't suppose he will," said Lucien. He thought for a moment. "If the boys have chores, Li should as well. Any suggestions?"
"Let me think. When I was her age, I used to help with the ironing. Handkerchiefs maybe?"
"If you think that's best."
"And she could help me with the baking. The boys love to help with that."
"Yes, of course. Don't all children?" he said with a smile.
"I don't know if it's the helping to make it or the eating that they really like," said Jean with a laugh. "Now, what do you have planned for the day?"
"I thought some clothes for Li and myself, so into town."
"Do you know anything about buying clothes for a little girl?" Jean asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Not a thing," Lucien admitted.
"Would you like some company?"
"Your company? Any time, my dear. What about the boys? Do you think they'd like to come, too? I could entertain them while you and Li are looking at clothes."
"I was going to send them over to play with my sister's two, but I'm sure they'd rather spend the time with you," she told him. "Do you know, when they talk about you as opposed to your father they call you 'our Doctor Blake'?"
"Is that right?" Lucien grinned with delight.
She nodded with a smile of her own. "Just be prepared - they'll want to set a date to go fishing with you."
"Understood. Maybe we should look into the purchase of some equipment while we're in town. Rods and hooks and such."
"They'll be so happy. And Li and I could do something together when you and the boys go fishing."
"Perfect," said Lucien. "And when we go, the two of you could join us later for a picnic near the lake."
Jean beamed. This was turning out even better than she had hoped in all her dreams of what life might be like for them once Lucien and Li arrived.
Just then Thomas entered the kitchen, immaculately dressed as always but wearing a sour look on his face.
"Good morning, Doctor," said Jean cheerily, refusing to allow anyone to spoil her wonderful day.
"Morning, Dad," said Lucien.
"It's 'father', not 'dad'," Thomas grumbled. "Is that the way they talk in Singapore? No respect."
Both Jean and Lucien arched eyebrows in surprise. Jean looked at Lucien, who forced himself not to look at her. No reason to involve her in their differences, which had been decades in the making.
"Good morning, Father," said Lucien, enunciating each syllable carefully. But there was little of respect in his tone.
Apparently Thomas chose not to hear it. He sat down at the head of the table while Jean put a cup of tea in front of him.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked, hoping to defuse the situation.
"Not very," Thomas admitted.
"I'm sorry," said Jean. "The excitement of the day or is something weighing on your mind?"
"Both, I'm afraid."
"If it would be easier for you, Li and I will leave," Lucien said quietly.
"Where would you go?" Thomas scoffed.
"There's a whole world beyond Ballarat, and I've already seen a great deal of it," Lucien reminded him.
"Do you plan to raise that little girl by yourself?"
"Why not? At least I won't send her off to boarding school just a few days after she learned her mother died," Lucien retorted bitterly.
He glanced at Jean and immediately regretted his vitriol. She was staring between him and his father, a horrified look on her face. "That was uncalled for. My apologies," he muttered.
Thomas held up a hand. "No, no. I'm the one who should apologize. I'm sorry. You and your darling girl need to be here. This is your home. You'll stay, won't you?"
Again Lucien looked toward Jean, who gave him a tentative smile and nodded. "Yes, we'll stay, Father. And I am grateful to you for offering." Their differences were not a license to be churlish, he decided, especially with Jean as witness.
"Well, now, that's settled, let's eat breakfast," said Jean. She squeezed Lucien's shoulder as she passed him to call upstairs for the children.
Christopher came in first, an uncharacteristic smile on his face. He turned to Thomas. "Good morning, Doctor Blake." Then to Lucien. "Good morning, Doctor Blake."
"Good morning, Mister Beazley," Lucien replied.
Christopher's smile grew wider at that as he sat down at the table.
Soon after, Jack and Li entered with Jean just behind them.
"You can sit where you sat for dinner last night," Jack advised Li. He stood behind her chair until she was seated, then pushed it in for her.
"Very gentlemanly of you, Jack," Lucien told him. "Thank you."
Jack grinned at him, before taking his own seat.
When they were all eating, Jean spoke to the children. "Would you like to go into town today with Lucien and me? We need to do some shopping for clothes."
"Clothes shopping?" Jack made a face.
Li sat up straighter and looked from Lucien to Jean.
"Yes, clothes for you," Jean confirmed.
Li smiled broadly. When Jack saw that, he said, "I guess it's okay."
"I thought we men could do some shopping of our own," said Lucien. "If we're going to go fishing, we'll need some gear, won't we?"
"Yes!" said Jack, while Christopher grinned at him.
"It sounds like you have a full day planned," said Thomas.
"Hardly, Doctor," said Jean, not wanting him to think she was taking advantage. "We'll only be gone a few hours. I'll get dinner started before we leave and I'll be back well before your first patient is due."
"Oh, my dear, that's not what I meant," Thomas said quickly, with a glance at Lucien, who had schooled his face not to reveal his displeasure.
"Nonetheless, you hired me to do a job, and I intend to do it properly. I'll be back in time," she said firmly.
"Thank you, Mrs. Beazley," said Thomas, and he excused himself from the table.
Waiting just long enough so that it wasn't obvious, Lucien also excused himself to follow after his father. It appeared he had gone into his study and closed the door, probably intending to keep Lucien out as he so often had all those years ago. But Lucien reminded himself he was a man now, and after all he had faced in the prison camp, surely he could go into that room and speak with his father. He didn't want a confrontation, just a conversation.
He knocked softly on the door. "A word, please, father?"
He heard a sigh, then the response. "Come in, Lucien."
He stepped inside. The room had changed little since he had last been in it. "I'm sorry to interrupt," he began, remembering how annoyed his father had always been when he'd barged in here as a boy.
"It's fine," said Thomas. "Did you need something?"
Lucien paused a moment, wondering how to say it without offending the man. "Sir, I think we both know we'll probably always have our differences."
"Yes, probably," Thomas admitted.
"We have different experiences. Different world views, if you will, so we'll find ourselves disagreeing. But it isn't fair to Mrs. Beazley or the children to involve them in our differences." He appealed to his father's sense of what was right.
"Agreed," said Thomas.
"If we need to argue, and we both know we will, we should do it in private."
Thomas waved a hand around the room. "This is as good a place as any."
"Yes, it is. So if either of us feels the need to have it out, he'll ask to see the other in the study." It meant they would be arguing on Thomas's home turf, so to speak, but that was true of the rest of the house as well.
"Very well," Thomas agreed. "Anything else to get off your chest?"
"Not at the moment," Lucien said wryly. "I'll leave you to it."
"Thank you, son. Enjoy your day out. And while you're in town, you may want to stop in at the club and say hello to Cec Drury. He always asks after you whenever I see him."
"I'll make a point of it. Thank you."
Lucien left the room, closing the door softly behind him. He knew there would come a time when he and his father would need to confront their past differences, but for today at least he would follow his father's suggestion and enjoy the day with Jean and the children.
He even looked forward to seeing how Ballarat had changed in the years he'd been away.