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Road Map to the Brink

Chapter Text

i. Still Waters

Her smile is easier now, genuine affection mixing with the clenching disapproval. She cannot help but compare him to the Dr Blake elder, even knowing there was nothing fair about measuring a son against a father.

He is informal and irreverent, full of ideas both good and bad, filling the house with a thrumming energy, both foreign and not unwelcome.

She has no true objection to the painting; it is quite lovely. However she recognizes that her newest task will be protecting Dr Blake the younger from his reckless need to always be right.

He grins in return.  She’s ready.

 

ii. The Greater Good

Jean feels redundant. In the way of the new Doctor’s encroaching progress, her strict adherence to a schedule chafing them both. He, when she pushes him to be at dinner on time. She, when he inevitably fails to show up. It would be easier on both of them if she sought employment elsewhere and gave him free reign of his own house.

She asks if he needs anything.

Her throat clenches when he says he does not.

Had she truly expected him to ask her not to go?

“I need you, Jean.”

She swallows a lump. Of course she had.

 

iii. Death of a Traveling Salesman

She feels fiery. The carefully crafted facade of a woman in service slips as she watches Lucien, her eyes narrowed. In the end he had asked her to stay and to box his ears when he needed it.

And now he definitely needed it.

He sidles next to her and points at the machine, stuttering useless platitudes about the ease of its use. In response she bends each knuckle until it clicks. Her eyebrow is arched when he glances in her direction. His expression shifts and he knows he’s stepped wrong but can’t figure out how.

She keeps him guessing.

 

iv. Brotherly Love

Mrs MacDonald. A newcomer to Ballarat, and as unseasoned and unafraid as Lucien. Jean notes in her the same casual disregard for The Way Things Are. She can admit to herself a flare of envy at the careless confidence standing, challenging, on the front doorstep.

Regardless, she’s a threat to the tentative balance they’ve struck, weighing heavily in the favor of recklessness. Jean has only just slowed Lucien’s careen into destruction and Joy watches her with a knowing eye, assuming romance rather than self-preservation.

Jean turns on her heel. It is of no consequence to her what Joy MacDonald thinks.

 

v. Hearts & Flowers

It is his talk of leaving, so matter-of-fact, that sets her heart to racing. What will she do, then, if he runs off to parts unknown to find his family? Can she begrudge him? Would she not flee to the ends of the earth for her own boys?

She realizes she’s been holding her breath since he’d arrived, waiting for the moment when his attention snapped to the distance and he scampered off, a dog after a scent.

She’ll be fine, she thinks. She’ll land on her feet.

She’s confident in her ability to survive.

It’s just...she’ll miss him.

 

vi. If The Shoe Fits

It’s not Robert’s soft eyes and gentle hands, but his intentions, that cause her to recoil. He is a new opportunity for her, a lifeline, one she is expected to be thankful for. She is a woman of a certain age, living in the home of a bachelor. Suitors are not breaking down her door.

His proposal is her ticket to respectability, to order. Never mind she doesn’t love him.

Anger and mortification burn low in her belly and she stokes them with sherry, feeding the hurt.

Her refusal has nothing to do with laughing blue eyes.

Nothing at all.

 

vii. Bedlam

It’s the little girl that breaks her. Sometimes it is easier to believe that Lucien’s faults are simply the result of self-absorption and self-pity. That he nurses petty hurts to give himself an excuse to indulge. It was easier to see him as spoiled, once.

Now, she sees only the wounds. Not gaping hurts, easy to identify, but small ones that are well hidden. He is a sleepy child beneath the afghan of his bed, his jaw slung open, snoring softly.

He is a man with aches many and varied, and a broken gaze that stirs something in her heart.

 

viii. Game of Champions

It is intoxicating, the quick exchange of ideas. Lucien, the ringmaster, presenting tangled plots to unravel, scenarios to solve.

It’s a real life puzzle, bits snapping together at the oddest moments. He appreciates their input, encourages them to stretch, believes no answer too outrageous. She finds herself living for the moment when he snaps and points to her, uncovering the correct answer in the wisdom she shares.

Then his face shifts again, thoughtful, and he quickly stalks away.

“Thank you, Jean.” Drifts behind him as he disappears down the hall.

Jean swallows a satisfied smile, entirely too proud of herself.

 

ix. All That Glitters

She treats him like a child. Sometimes, he needs it. Her silence draws him closer, to the visitor chair beside her. Her sons couldn’t stand her silent interrogations either, and an apology finds its way to the surface.

She is pleased to hear he is contrite and she believes it is genuine.

It’s the acknowledgement of loss that lumps in her throat, her husband’s name catching there even as she inhales Lucien’s cologne.

They are defined by their losses, widow and widower, the empty chair between them full of ghosts.

She wishes it was different. She fears it will change.

 

x. Someone’s Son, Someone’s Daughter

It happens again. Angry words, accusations, hurt filling her throat like dark water.

The pressure in her chest drives her away.

She returns to a letter, written with much affection.

He’s another to add to her collection. Another man driven across an ocean to fight his demons with only her anger to carry him through.

No time for amends, there is only hope that their last words will not be those spoken in anguish.

The house echoes in his absence and she offers a missive to God to keep him safe and bring him home.

A beginning, not an ending.