Author's note: This is a season 3 AU where Jean never leaves for Adelaide and the events of season 4 didn't happen. Jean and Lucien continue to grow close, but are not quite there yet.
Mattie's eyes darted back and forth across the kitchen table, watching the exchange as if she were observing a tennis match.
Jean put her hands on her hips. "We didn't even get a tree last year. We have to do something."
"Jean I haven't celebrated Christmas since, well, it's been ages. I don't see why I should start now."
"Well what about the rest of us?" Still in her bathrobe, Mattie leveled a glance at Lucien over her morning tea. "I can't go home this year and neither can Charlie."
Jean flashed a meaningful glance at Lucien, who threw up his hands.
"Fine! Get a bloody tree. But I want no part of it."
Lucien picked up the newspaper and left the kitchen. Mattie looked after him, worried. She wondered if this was not the point to push him on. Jean, seeming to read her thoughts, placed a hand lightly on Mattie's shoulder.
"Don't worry, we'll make good work of it and he'll come around."
With Charlie's help they secured a small fir tree thick with needles along with some garlands for the sitting and dining rooms. Jean dug out a large box of ornaments. Mattie assumed they were from Blake senior but Jean never said. By the time they were finished the house looked festive. Over the next few days Lucien would walk past and eye the tree suspiciously but he didn't say anything.
Lucien had become more distant than usual over the next few days and his mood seemed to sour. Mattie worried again if this was all a bad idea, especially if he might act up on Christmas day. Mattie considered saying something to him about it but decided to leave it alone. If Jean didn't see fit to intervene then she was going to stay out of it. However as luncheon approached, the smell of ham roasting in the oven seemed to turn Lucien's heart on the matter. Or at least, Mattie thought with a smile, he saw where playing along was in his own best interests.
Jean laid out a Christmas luncheon for the ages. Ham, veg, potatoes, mincemeat pies, and a flaming pudding for after. It had taken days to prepare. Charlie provided some Christmas crackers for after lunch. Mattie's contribution had been a tray of fairy bread. It was the only thing she knew how to cook. Lucien and Jean regarded the colorful triangles with polite deference, praising her work but eating little. Charlie seemed delighted and could not seem to get enough of it.
After a hearty lunch and several drinks Lucien's mood had improved considerably.
"Jean you really have outdone yourself," he said, looking proud.
Jean could not suppress the glowing smile that crossed her face as she rose to clear the dishes. Charlie and Mattie were on their feet first.
"Oh no!" Charlie grinned, "You've done enough, we've got this."
Mattie flashed Charlie a conspiratorial grin as they started moving about the table. Lucien and Jean exchanged an impressed look before heading into the sitting room.
"The children are all grown up." Jean whispered when they were out of earshot.
Lucien laughed heartily. "Indeed. But they are right you know. Go sit down, I'll pour you a sherry."
Lucien placed a hand at Jean's back and shepherded her into the sitting room. A while later, Charlie and Mattie returned from the kitchen. Mattie was happy to see Lucien sitting next to Jean on the couch for a change. Over the last few months something had changed between them. They had grown closer, more easy around each other. Mattie would sometimes catch Lucien staring at Jean in the kitchen or in the hallway and it made her blush; surely Jean must have noticed the look in his eye too. And Mattie had known for a long time how Jean felt no matter how much she tried to hide it. Jean's face lit up every time Lucien came into the house and called her name. Yet they always seemed to hold something back. Mattie had made it her task to play matchmaker but there was little she could do or say without being impertinent. She had dropped subtle hints to Lucien but he never seemed to take the bait. During her last attempt two weeks past she all but hit Lucien over the head with it.
"I was talking to Jean this morning, she really wants to go see that new Gregory Peck movie but she doesn't have anyone to go with."
"Oh I hope she finds someone. I hear the new film is excellent."
"Well, maybe you could help her."
"I suppose I could ask Alice but Alice has never been to the cinema and I'm not sure she'd go for it. Maybe you two could go together."
Mattie had left his office shaking her head and wondering how he could be that thick and still finish medical school. However right now, Mattie had other concerns. There was a tree full of parcels and she felt like an impatient little girl. Lucien saw her eyeing the tree expectantly and grinned.
"Alright, we'd better open some gifts!"
Charlie rushed over and sat next to the tree and Lucien laughed.
"You two are too much. Alright lets get started."
The first parcels were from Charlie. A new flask for Lucien and scarves for Mattie and Jean, the sort of thing men purchased for women when they had no idea what else to get. Mattie had purchased a modest brooch for Jean she had seen in the shops and liked. She got a book for Lucien and a few small desk items for Charlie. Mattie had been at a loss about Charlie, she didn't really know him that well, and had resolved to try to learn more in case they were still under the same roof this time next year. Lucien gave everyone something from his seemingly endless bag of trinkets from Asia. Jean surprised everyone with her own handiwork. Mattie was delighted with a hat and gloves, and there was a handsome jumper for Charlie. She must have worked in secret for months for Mattie not to have noticed. The last gift to be opened was Lucien's, a pullover vest that could go under his suit on a cold day. It was cream with a burgundy stripe along the v-neck in the style of a cricket vest. Lucien's eyes gleamed as he took his jumper off and tried it on and Mattie could not suppress the grin of her face. Jean knitted many things and eventually everyone got something, if only a scarf or a potholder. However to the best of Mattie's knowledge Jean had never made anything for Lucien. Mattie had seen him admiring Jean's work often and wondered if he had been hopeful on that account. Now Lucien looked truly touched.
As the afternoon faded into evening the weather cooled. Lucien built a fire in the studio and invited everyone in for drinks. Lucien poured whiskeys for him and Charlie and sherries for the ladies while everyone pulled their Christmas crackers. Jean excused herself not too long after, tired from a long day. Lucien stayed for a while and chatted but eventually excused himself to go to his office.
Mattie glared at him. "You'd better not be working on Christmas."
"No, I ah, just want to catch up on a few things."
Mattie rolled her eyes. Charlie got up to leave but Lucien stopped him.
"No, no. You two stay here. It would be a shame to waste a good fire. Have another drink and stay here as long as you like."
Mattie suspected from Lucien's slightly lascivious grin that he had other plans for herself and Charlie, but if that were the case he was going to be disappointed. Lucien was the least qualified person in the house to play Cupid though he meant well. Nonetheless they stayed up late, trading Christmas stories from their childhoods, comparing notes from their Melbourne neighborhoods, and wondering how they both ended up in Ballarat. Eventually Mattie said goodnight and went upstairs, leaving Charlie gazing at the last of the fire.
"Don't drink up all of Lucien's whiskey," Mattie warned, smiling over her shoulder as she left the room.
Charlie laughed, "I'll try my best."
As midnight approached Mattie found herself still awake, the excitement of the day and thoughts of home competing for space in her mind. She also became aware that Christmas luncheon was surprisingly far away and she was hungry. One of Jean's mince pies would certainly fit the bill, and maybe a piece of fairy bread if Charlie hadn't eaten it all. Mattie tiptoed downstairs in her pajamas, careful not to wake anyone. At the bottom of the stairs Mattie noticed that the light to Lucien's office was still on. Mattie sighed, someone really needed to lock him out of there at night. She decided to go in and see if she could shoo him off to bed or at least away from work, but the low murmuring of voices caught her attention. She wondered who he could be talking to at this late hour. Instead of going in, Mattie leaned as far as she could out into the hallway, with one hand anchoring her to the corner of the stairwell in case she needed to pull herself back out of sight.
Mattie could just make out the doorway to Lucien's surgery. Jean was standing at the entrance, still dressed, though Mattie could only see a partial view of her from behind. Mattie strained her ears to hear them. It occurred to her briefly that it was rude to listen in on a private conversation, especially that of her close friends and landlords, but curiosity got the better of her.
"Jean! I thought you'd be in bed."
"I got caught up in a book. I am heading to bed now unless you need something."
"I'll be fine, thank you."
"You know you don't have to wear that vest just to humor me."
"Nonsense I think it's wonderful. I am going to wear it tomorrow."
"It's going to be twenty-six degrees tomorrow!"
"Well it'll be cool in the morning."
Mattie briefly lost focus at an unfamiliar sound. She could have sworn she heard Jean giggling for just a fleeting moment. Mattie shook her head and tried to lean in closer, adjusting her grip as far as she could get without falling.
"I'll say goodnight then."
Mattie could hear the sound of Lucien's chair scraping against the floor and footsteps as he came out from behind his desk.
"This is for you."
"For Christmas? Why didn't you put it under the tree?"
"I ah, I wanted to wait until later. Anyway, this is for you."
Jean's voice got even quieter. "Should I open it?"
"Well, if you'd like."
Mattie could just make out the sound of wrapping paper being carefully removed, followed by a soft gasp.
"Jean I know I don't say it much, or really not at all, but I want you to know that I appreciate...what I mean to say is I care a great deal about...it's just that you mean..."
Mattie stared into the room in disbelief. She resisted the temptation to rush in and hit him on the back of the head, almost groaning aloud as he brightly concluded his stammering with "Why don't you try it on?"
There was a brief pause before Jean responded.
"Yes! Of course. I may need help with the clasp."
"Here, allow me."
Mattie could see Lucien's legs move into view in front of Jean, the rest of him was obscured. Jean giggled again, this time Mattie was sure of it.
"Do you like it, Jean?"
There was a long pause.
Lucien stepped closer. When he spoke his voice was low.
"Merry Christmas, Jean."
Suddenly things got quiet. Neither of them spoke, or even seemed to move. Lucien was still standing very close to Jean, but Mattie could not tell what was going on. They weren't, were they? Mattie put that foolish thought out of her mind, only to break out into a grin as she could see Lucien's hands slowly sliding around Jean's waist.
It was at this exact moment that Mattie became aware of two things. First, that it was becoming increasingly hard to stay silent, and at any rate she really aught to give them their privacy. She had overstayed her welcome, and it was debatable that she had been welcome to eavesdrop in the first place. Second, that her hand had slipped off the wall and she was hurtling towards the floor. Her only thought was not for her safety, but of what would happen when Lucien and Jean came running out to find her spying on them. Lucien would probably forgive her. She doubted Jean would.
It was then that Mattie witnessed her first Christmas miracle since the night when she was six years old and had been sure that she had seen Santa Clause in her grandmother's parlour. Mattie was hovering, inches above the floor. She did not hit the ground and seemed to be floating safe and above all, soundless, in thin air. Lucien and Jean were still silent and did not seem to notice that most of Mattie's body was now visible in the entrance of the surgery. Before Mattie could process what was happening she was gently hauled backwards and onto her feet.
Mattie turned around to find Charlie standing behind her, looking proud. He opened his mouth to ask Mattie what on earth was going on. Panicking, Mattie stepped forward and placed a hand over his mouth. Charlie stood there, his eyebrows raised in surprise. Now slightly breathless, Mattie carefully mouthed the words, "I'll explain upstairs," as she pointed towards the second floor with her free hand. Charlie nodded slightly and then dropped his eyes towards her hand before glancing back up at her. Mattie withdrew her hand, blushing a little. Charlie started to smile and Mattie realized they both might be in danger of bursting out laughing. She placed her finger over her own mouth this time, warning him to stay quiet. She reached out and grabbed a small bit of fabric near the wrist of his shirt sleeve. Turning towards the landing and with her hand tight on Charlie's sleeve, Mattie carefully padded back upstairs with Charlie trailing behind.