Happy Jeanuary :)
Special thanks to escapewithstories for her mad beta skills!
To find Amelia Jean Beazley, one had only to look for bouncing blonde curls. When she ran through the pews after mass, Christopher could only dash after a tuff of platinum blonde, bobbing up and down. She was nearly bald until she turned two, until finally her curls shot up and out but never down. It drove Ruby mad, for all the other meddlesome mothers didn't think that she ever brushed her daughter's hair. Much to Ruby's relief, by the time Amelia turned four, her hair had grown long enough to pin up into more acceptable pigtails and braids.
When she stayed with Dr. Blake and Grammy, Amelia wore her hair however she liked.
After Christopher's honorable discharge, he and Amelia started visiting his mother and Lucien more often. Ruby accompanied them occasionally, but social interaction tired the young woman easily. More than once, Lucien implored Christopher to take Ruby to a doctor who understood her medical needs, and every time, he gave his father-in-law the same answer: she wants to be left alone. Jean had repeatedly berated Lucien for meddling in their affairs, even though she knew he only meant to help. During Christopher's surprise visit on the night of Jacqueline Maddern's murder, Jean learned to be more cautious in voicing her opinions about Ruby.
Christopher had not come through his service unscathed, and Jean chided herself for feeling relieved when a knee injury rescued him from future peril. He managed his physical pain better than he handled his disappointment. He had always wanted to go into service, to be like his father. In truth, his father hadn't served long enough for Christopher to strive for anything specific; by surviving his service, Christopher distanced himself even more from the beloved man Jean feared he hardly remembered.
Regardless of his stubborn pride, Christopher stumbled over his father's traits every day, without recognizing them in himself. Memories Jean thought had been swiped from Christopher by the thievery of time resurfaced when he told Amelia one of his father's favorite tall tales, when he shielded her behind his legs from strangers she didn't want to meet, when he insisted on buying her a toy they couldn't afford.
Just after Amelia's sixth birthday, Christopher phoned the house to ask if Lucien and Jean would be willing to keep Amelia for a couple of weeks. Since Lucien answered the phone, he arranged Amelia's stay long before Jean knew that Christopher had even called. Ruby had expressed interest in going to her cousin's wedding so that she could explore Sydney. Pleasantly surprised that Ruby truly wanted to venture a new city, Christopher splurged, perhaps too much, on an extended stay.
Two weeks later, Jean scurried onto the front porch just in time to see Amelia tumble out of the cabbie's backseat, boisterous tresses sticking every which way behind her lilac headband.
"Grammy!" Without a second thought to her fine purple jumper or the puddles in her path, Amelia bolted toward Jean, who immediately knelt down to a more accessible height.
"Oh, hello, my love!" Jean steadied herself on her knees just in time to catch Amelia and remain upright. After rocking Amelia back and forth, Jean pulled away to kiss her granddaughter's pink cheeks. "Look at you," she gushed. "It's only been three months, but you've grown so."
"It's only been three months, and she's already forgotten me, Grammy." Lucien loomed over the two of them, sporting a pout too ridiculous for even Amelia to believe.
"Mummy says that if you make an ugly face, one day it will stay that way, Dr. Blake," Amelia said, peering up at Lucien without a twinge of regret.
Lucien scooped her up like the baby she used to be and spun around until her squeals dissolved into giggles. "So she does remember!"
Once satisfied that Lucien wouldn't drop their grandchild on her head, Jean rose and brushed off her trousers. Something about being a grandmother negated her compulsive need for order and tidiness. It did not, however, negate the joy at seeing her son walking toward her, Amelia's bags in hand, a timid, toothless smile lighting up his tempered face.
"Hello, darling." Jean smiled when Christopher held her just as tight as she held him.
"Hi, Mum. Thanks for keeping Amelia for us. It's such a comfort to Ruby to know she's somewhere safe."
Is it, Jean wondered, listening to the discouraging signs of rough-housing on the front porch. "You know we love to have her here."
Christopher chuckled, nodding at Lucien. "She's always worn out when she comes home, so it's a blessing for us."
Rolling her eyes, Jean looped her arm through his. "Do you have time for a cuppa before you make your great escape?"
When the cabbie honked, Christopher tensed and tossed a glare over his shoulder. "Apparently not, Mum. Sorry."
Lucien approached them with Amelia on his shoulders, his grip tight on her wiggling legs. "Don't worry, Chris. We'll keep busy, won't we, Captain?" Amelia—or Lucien, more likely—had lowered her headband over one eye to morph into her alter-ego, a pirate captain. Jean thought Ruby would implode the first time Amelia claimed to be a pirate, but when Lucien took the fall for encouraging such a vivid imagination, Ruby relaxed, erroneously assuming that the idea had been Lucien's, not her precious, delicate daughter's.
Jean loved to watch Lucien and Amelia's friendship strengthen with every gallivanting adventure through the yard, the house, or the town. In the early days of their marriage, Jean couldn't be easy unless she had eyes on both of them. She trusted Lucien, of course, but Ruby would never forgive Jean if harm came to Amelia while under her care. She would spend an entire afternoon in the sun room, watching Lucien chase after the toddler on his hands and knees, make ridiculous faces to earn her laughter, and toss her in the air only to catch her every time.
That evening, after just one more story, Dr. Blake, Lucien transferred the yawning child from his arms to Jean's. "Goodnight, Amelia."
Head tucked under Jean's chin, Amelia lifted a small, soft hand and wiggled her fingers in a sleepy farewell. Soon, she would be too heavy to carry up the stairs, but Jean refused to dwell on that. Not now, when Amelia's wiry limbs clung tighter to her as they mounted the stairs. Not now, when she still wore bright pink and purple pajamas. Not now, when she still asked Jean to tuck her in at night.
As Jean tugged the covers over Amelia's chest, she stirred. "Grammy?" Amelia's lashes fluttered, and her fingers snagged on Jean's belt loop before she could sneak out of the room. Surprised at Amelia's urgency, Jean furrowed her brow and brushed Amelia's curls back. "Yes, darling?"
Amelia rubbed her eyes. "If you're my Grammy, and you're married to Dr. Blake, why don't I call him Grampa?"
Simultaneously doused in biting cold and sweltering heat, Jean took a deep breath before responding. The explanation would be simple enough, especially to a clever girl like Amelia, but Ruby was sensitive about how Amelia regarded Lucien. Ruby had never liked Jean (though admittedly, Jean had never taken a shining to Ruby either), and Lucien had always made the naturally nervous woman even more so. Jean warred with the fear of Ruby's reaction to Amelia's coming home calling Lucien Grampa and the image of Lucien's face the first time he heard such a term of endearment.
As always, Lucien's happiness won over fear.
"Well, darling, you know your daddy's father, Grandpa Beazley, is in heaven," Jean began, sitting on the edge of Amelia's bed. "So while he loves you very much, Dr. Blake isn't related to you by blood."
Amelia's tiny forehead wrinkled in much the same way Jean's did when she encountered nonsense. "That's silly."
"Yes, I suppose it is." Leaning down as if to share a dark secret, Jean whispered, "Just because things are considered normal doesn't mean they aren't silly."
How Jean adored Amelia's giggles, tumbling out of her mouth like fluttering butterfly wings. With a kiss on the cheek, Jean flicked off Amelia's bedside lamp and whispered, "Sweet dreams."
Creeping down the stairs, Jean cursed every creak and groan of the floor boards, only to collide with Lucien at the foot of the stairs. Emitting an indelicate oof, Jean found herself backed into the adjacent wall with Lucien's lips on her neck. "What on earth has gotten into you?" she chided in a hoarse whisper. "I would have thought chasing a pirate in the garden all day would have tired you out."
She felt Lucien's grin against her skin. "It's been hours since I kissed you."
Jean sighed his name, carding her fingers through her husband's hair. "And it'll be hours yet if you don't make your way up here."
Lucien's chuckle vibrated against her pulse point. "You know how I love to take my time."
Even so, within seconds, Jean could scarcely breathe, with his tongue tracing the roof of her mouth and his hands sliding down to grip her hips. Desperate for breath, Jean turned her head away and panted in his ear as he kissed his way down her neck, pushing aside the folds of her blouse to nibble on her collarbone.
"Lucien, we can't do this right now." Jean gasped when he bit her shoulder. "Ruby said that Amelia still doesn't sleep well on the first night away from home."
Lucien sighed against her shoulder but tugged her blouse back into a respectable position. "Ruby also thinks that Amelia will contract chicken pox if there's a case in Bendigo."
Pursing her lips in lieu of a knowing smile, Jean swatted his chest. "Be that as it may, I still want to stay close until I know she's well and truly settled. She had such a fright the last time." When Lucien gave her a conciliatory nod, she ran her fingers through her tussled hair. "I might sleep in the other bed in her room tonight, just in case."
Though he tried to hide it, Lucien's hesitation caught Jean's eye. She'd hoped they would make it through a visit without having this discussion. "What?" The word posed more of a threat than an inquiry.
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Lucien started toward the kitchen. "Nothing. Your attentiveness knows no bounds." By the time Jean caught up with him, his back rested against the counter next to the sink, legs crossed at the ankle to feign nonchalance.
Jean rested both hands on the sill of the kitchen hole, and for a few beats, the only sound that permeated the silence was the dripping sink that Lucien kept forgetting to call the plumber about.
Since Lucien had reeled in his antics as police surgeon, they rarely argued. If they did, the subject merited a row, like his drinking or Jean's relationship with Ruby. For someone who yearned to fix people but feared more than anything that those she loved would push her away, her feelings about Ruby had always been a sore subject for Jean. Since Jean raised Christopher to be compassionate and kind, he would do anything to make his wife happy. However, Jean had no idea what Christopher would do if confronted with the choice between his wife's wishes to keep Amelia away from Ballarat and his love for and trust in his mother. It wouldn't be the first time that Jean had given all she had and been snubbed in return.
"You think I'm overprotective." Her casual tone did nothing to protect the tension from her tongue's blade.
Lucien folded his arms over his chest, defense overtaking his casual ruse. "No, as I've said many times, I think Ruby is overprotective, and in fussing over the child, she's made you uncomfortable in your own home."
Jean narrowed her eyes at him. "And as I've said many times, I want what's best for her, and in this situation, adhering to her mother's warning is exactly that."
Lucien shook his head, already weary of the argument. "No one's accusing you of not wanting what's best for her, but sometimes the decisions you make are more about Ruby than about Amelia."
Scoffing, Jean said, "If that were true, I wouldn't allow you to play with her the way you do."
Lucien's head snapped up, but in the heat of the moment, Jean couldn't bring herself to care about the shock and pain in his gaze. He'd seen her dejected so many times, with Jack, with Christopher, with him, for God's sake, yet he refused to understand the power Ruby held over her.
"You're so afraid of losing Amelia that you're wasting the joy of being a grandmother, and if you're not careful, you're going to stifle Amelia with this tension." How quickly Lucien's shock turned to anger. "You would see that if you weren't so worried that Chris won't argue with Ruby if she insists Amelia not come back."
For reasons Jean didn't have time to unpack, that last fact stung like a slap in the face.
"Christ, I don't know why we're arguing about this again." Running a hand over his face, Lucien paced the length of the kitchen, waiting for Jean's answer.
Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the wood beneath her hands. "Because you—"
"Grammy? My throat hurts."
When Jean spun around, she nearly whacked Amelia with one of her swinging arms. Praying that her granddaughter hadn't heard their row, Jean held out her hand and put on her best problem–solving smile. "I'll get some water, shall I?"
"I think I have some lozenges in the surgery." Lucien didn't bother to school his features, but he ruffled Amelia's hair on his way out of the kitchen.
To hide the tears welling in her eyes, Jean steered Amelia toward the steps. "Why don't you head up to bed, and I'll bring a glass of water."
Amelia, far too experienced in identifying a loved one's melancholy to be fooled, turned around on the first step and wrapped her arms around Jean's waist. "It'll be better in the morning, Grammy."
On countless occasions, whether Amelia had woken from a nightmare or gotten in trouble, Jean had soothed her granddaughter with those words, but she didn't realize how comforting they sounded coming from a trusting child's lips. "You're quite right." She leaned down to kiss Amelia's head. "Off you pop."
She waited until Amelia disappeared behind the wall before tip-toeing into the kitchen, but she yanked the cupboard open, more furious with herself than with Lucien. How could she lose complete control over her temper that way? Lucien hadn't really done anything wrong; he'd simply brought up Ruby. As she poured the glass of water, Jean tensed at the sound of Lucien's footsteps. The rhythm faltered just before the steps, and she could feel his eyes on her back, urging her to look at him.
Whether for her embarrassment at the triviality of their fight or mistrust of her temper, Jean couldn't turn around. "I'll be right behind you, Lucien." She kept her voice soft, neutral, because she wasn't sure what emotion should dominate. When she heard the fourth stair floorboard creak, Jean moseyed out of the kitchen with the glass of water in hand.
I wouldn't allow you to play with her the way you do. How could she say that to him, threaten him, the way Ruby threatened her? Lucien had been robbed of Li's childhood, and in the heat of a stupid argument, Jean indicated that she would rob him of Amelia's just to score a point in a pointless match. Pausing on the top of the step, Jean took a deep breath as Lucien's warning made her stomach churn. Chris won't argue with Ruby if she insists Amelia doesn't visit for a while. She'd been angry when he said it, but now she felt as if she deserved it.
As she neared Amelia's room, Jean heard her granddaughter ask Lucien, "Are you in trouble?"
Jean smiled at the sound of Lucien's chuckle. "That's nothing for you to worry about. I'm sorry if I upset you." Of course, the one time he didn't have to, he absolved Jean of blame and bore it all on his own.
"You and Grammy love each other, like Mommy and Daddy do, and they fight sometimes too."
Amelia's pitiful cough reminded Jean of her errand's purpose, and she rushed into the room with the glass of water. Lucien immediately rose from the bed to make room for his wife, or to escape her. "Here you are, darling," she said, holding the glass to Amelia's lips even though she knew Amelia could hold it on her own. "Careful not to swallow the lozenge."
Lucien fidgeted from his position on the other side of the bed. "I, um, checked her throat, and since there's no swelling or redness, I think it's safe to assume that we simply yelled one too many battle cries this afternoon."
Despite herself, Jean smiled as she set the glass on Amelia's nightstand. "Do you hear that, Captain Beazley? No more yelling."
Amelia hid under the covers. "Grampa started it."
Lucien froze, looking at the lump under the sheets as if it had given him the greatest gift of his life. When he locked eyes with Jean, she assuaged his disbelief by reaching for his hand.
"Sorry, darling," Lucien said after he found his voice. "I'll try to be a better influence."
After they each kissed Amelia goodnight, Lucien and Jean found themselves alone and uncomfortable in the corridor. Jean's gesture to the guest room undoubtedly ruined Lucien's previously unmitigated joy. "I'm going to sleep up here tonight."
"Right," Lucien muttered under his breath. "I'll, um—shall I help you bring your things upstairs?"
God, how she hated this dancing around one another, but Jean didn't feel she had the right to force him into any more conversations he didn't want to have. Unless he came to her to discuss what happened, she would let this subject go until the next time her own fear and anger blew up in her face.
"Yes, thank you."
For the first few moments of gathering Jean's necessities, only opening and shutting drawers, footsteps, and sighs broke the silence in their bedroom. Though she detested the agonizing silence, Jean would have let it continue. This wasn't their first unresolved argument. Usually, Lucien withdrew for a day or two, opting to give her space instead of confronting the issue. By the time he moseyed into her sunroom, a cup of tea with three sugars in his hands and an apology on his lips, Jean wanted to forgive Lucien more than she wanted to argue.
But this bloody row was the sore that never healed.
Once again, Lucien surprised her. "Jean, we should talk about this."
Leaning against her dresser, Jean clutched her nightgown to her chest and focused on a loose thread she hadn't noticed before. "I didn't think you'd want to." Her voice sounded small, befitting the wounded bully she thought herself to be. When Lucien didn't immediately respond, she tore her gaze from her gown to her husband, who stood on the other side of the bed, her toiletry bag in one clenched fist. The irritation and pain were long gone from his eyes, now filled with the aching longing to make things better.
"I don't think either of us want to, but dancing around this conversation is why it keeps…festering."
Jean nodded. Fitting that he should be the mature one in this situation. "I would never keep you from Amelia. Never." The words tumbled out on a strangled breath. "I'm so sorry I ever said such a horrible thing."
For a second, the anguish in his eyes returned, but Lucien brushed it aside with a shake of his head. "I know you didn't mean it."
That didn't mean he forgave her.
Lucien took a few steps toward the bed. "I'm sorry that I came on so strongly about Chris and Ruby. Neither of us wants to threaten each other to solve our problems."
Moseying forward to her side of the bed, Jean bit her lip. If only the apology had been the hardest part. "You really think I'm stifling Amelia?"
A beat. "Yes."
Jean stiffened but willed herself to take a few steadying breaths before saying yet another thing she would regret. "I wish I could make you see…." Wood from the fire snapped and crackled in the stillness as Jean sat on the edge of the bed. "As I love you, you love me, despite all my faults—"
"Don't patronize me by insisting that I don't have them." Jean struggled to keep her voice from rising. She wasn't spoiling for another fight; she simply wanted her partner to understand. When Lucien simply nodded in concession, Jean continued. "I love my boys that way—unconditionally—and once, they loved me like that. I was their Mum, after all. I could do no wrong." She could almost feel the spite in Christopher's last kiss before he left to fight, to die, to prove her wrong. "With Jack, that time has long since passed, but Christopher—"
This time, when she faltered, Lucien didn't hesitate to take his place at her side.
"When Doug Ashby sent Jack away, Christopher and I really only had each other, and even then I didn't pay him enough attention. He married Ruby, and as it should be, his priority is his own little family now."
Lucien squeezed Jean's shoulder. "But that doesn't exclude you."
To that, Jean could only offer a sad smile. Her man of the world knew so much, but life had deprived him of the family he needed to educate himself on matters such as these.
"Jean." The way he spoke her name, like an breath of relief, reminded Jean that he treasured her, even on nights like these. "God knows life hasn't always been kind to you, and I know your sons have hurt you. But that doesn't mean Chris doesn't trust you."
She wanted to deny it, to protect her boys, but she couldn't. Instead, she rose and paced the length of the foot of the bed. "You asked why we kept arguing over this, and I despise myself because we wouldn't fight about it anymore if I could get over this wretched fear."
On Jean's next pass, Lucien caught her wrist in his hand. "It's alright to be afraid, Jean."
Tears of frustration streamed down Jean's cheeks. "That's not what you said earlier."
"You're right. And I'm sorry." He stroked the inside of Jean's wrist with his thumb, and she felt her rapid pulse slow. "We can get past this, but I think that will involve a conversation with Christopher, maybe even with Ruby." When Jean opened her mouth to protest, Lucien held up a hand. "But that isn't going to happen tonight, and since we've proven that we can talk to each other about this without tearing at each other's throats, we have the luxury of coming back to it later, yes?"
"Yes," Jean murmured. "It'll keep."
He tugged on her wrist. "Give here, love."
Jean curled up in his lap, her head tucked under his chin, his hands linked at her waist. As wonderful as Amelia's visits were, they left her exhausted even without the emotional rollercoaster she'd put herself through this evening. "Will you come to bed with me?" she murmured into his neck.
"Aren't we already?"
Reluctantly, Jean pulled away, but smiled at the memory of their last conversation with Amelia. "Nice try, Grampa."
"Oh, Jean," Lucien sighed. "I never expected—I mean, she doesn't have to—"
Before he could talk himself out of love he deserved, Jean covered his lips with her fingers. "She wants to because she loves you." When Lucien's eyes glistened, she brushed the backs of her fingers over his bearded cheek. "Whatever else I'm unsure of, I'm confident in that."
When Amelia woke up crying in the next room, Lucien rose first. "I've got her," he whispered in Jean's ear. They'd fallen asleep curled up together in the small guest bed, so Jean shivered when his warmth disappeared. As he tugged on his dressing gown and rushed out of the room like the house was on fire, Jean sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. She didn't remember getting up in the middle of the night to check on Amelia being so difficult. By the time she reached Amelia's doorway, the child's sobs had become whimpers buried in Lucien's chest.
"There now," Lucien murmured, patting Amelia's back. "You know, I have nightmares too, and I know it can be scary to wake up and think that no one is there."
Amelia tilted her tear-stained face toward her grandfather. "You mean they don't go away when you get big?"
"Not always," Lucien admitted. "Do you want to know what I do when I wake up from a nightmare?"
Jean's heart ached as she remembered what happened the last time ghosts and demons assaulted Lucien in his sleep. Though his nights were less fraught with horrors than they were before their marriage, every now and again, they returned. The last time that happened, his thrashing sent him tumbling out of bed before Jean could wake him, and even though she scrambled out of bed as fast as she could, for a few seconds, he thought that he was alone.
Lucien smiled at Jean, flooding her dark thoughts with light. "I turn to Grammy, because she's always there."
Unfortunately, Lucien's reasoning only incited more tears. "But I don't have Grammy at home."
"No, but Mummy and Daddy are there." Easing onto the bed, Jean brushed Amelia's hair out of her eyes. "That's what Grampa means. You're never alone."
Drawing a pitifully shaky breath, Amelia rubbed her eyes to dry her tears. How like her father to chin up when she knows what she has to do. "Can I sleep with you?"
Usually Jean refused this request because she knew that Ruby thought her too old to sleep in bed with them. Tonight, she remembered that Amelia comes to Ballarat to let her hair bounce and play pirates and eat cookies after dinner and listen to Lucien's outlandish stories.
So Amelia fell asleep snuggled close to her grandmother, and behind Jean lay Lucien, propped up on his elbow and running his fingers through her hair.
"You have nothing to fear," Lucien whispered, his promise like a caress.
Surrounded by so much love, Jean believed him.