Set during season 5. Consider this an AU where Joy McDonald doesn't die, but she goes back to Melbourne, except when she makes the occasional trip back to Ballarat…
"It really was lovely to see you again," Joy was saying, eyes fixed on Lucien before they drifted over to Jean, almost as if by accident. "Both of you," she added, but it felt like an afterthought.
"You too, Joy," Lucien replied, as he rose from the table. Jean tipped back the last of her sherry before she followed suit. "And please, if you're ever in Ballarat again, pop over for dinner, won't you?"
"Yes, do," said Jean, though the words tasted false on her tongue.
"Well, I've got a bus to catch. Congratulations again on the engagement," she said, and this time it was more directed at Jean. She imagined venom in her words, read envy between the lines, and chided herself for seeing what probably wasn't there. Probably.
"Thank you, Joy," she said, forcing her tired face into one last sweet smile, and then Joy was leaning in for a friendly hug, and Jean had to return it.
"Let me walk you to the door," said Lucien, holding out his arm in the polite way he did, inviting Joy to walk with him. Jean liked that gesture. When he did it for her. She followed them to the door, feeling more foolish with every step—really, what did she think was going to happen?
Lucien helped Joy with her coat, telling her again how much he hoped to see her at the wedding, and his hands seemed to linger on her arms after they found their way into the sleeves. Joy's expression was bright as they exchanged goodbyes, all blushing cheeks and flawless skin and smiling red lips.
The door closed with a decisive click and Jean turned instantly, heading back to the kitchen to take up their dirty dishes. She turned the water on, and so she didn't hear Lucien come in until he was right behind her, arms sliding over her shoulders. Normally, she relished intimate moments like these; they made her feel special, and loved, and close to him in a way she hadn't been to anyone for well over a decade. Tonight, she could only think of how he'd been in much the same position with Joy only a moment ago. Oh, she felt silly even to have such thoughts, but it didn't make them go away.
"That was a treat, wasn't it?" Lucien asked, in his regular cheery manner.
"Quite," Jean said, setting a glass plate aside and reaching for another. As she did, Lucien released her shoulders and reached for a towel, stepping up beside her to dry the dishes as she washed, something he had been doing more and more lately.
He really was very sweet, most of the time. She just wished she could tell the difference between his natural sweetness and the sweetness that was all for her. There were moments when he looked at her and she felt like the only woman in the world. And then he looked at Joy with that same shining bright smile, and she was reminded that there were other women, and some of them were prettier, younger, more modern than Jean was. She let out a sigh, scrubbing harder than was strictly necessary at a bit of grease stuck on the pan she'd used a few hours ago.
"Jean, are you alright?" Lucien asked her. She glanced up at his face, finding worry and a touch of confusion in his warm eyes, and almost laughed at how oblivious he could be.
"I'm fine," she said, returning her attention to the dishes. Shortly, they were clean and dry, and Jean sat with Lucien on the sofa as they did more nights than not, the wireless drifting through some soft, sweet tunes as he sipped his whiskey.
"Joy looked lovely tonight, don't you think?" Jean asked, and hated herself for it. She had just poured salt in her own wounds, and all she could do was wait for Lucien to rub it in.
"She looked...how she always looked," he said simply.
Oh, so he always thought she looked lovely, she thought. Maybe the second glass of sherry had been a mistake. "You were glad to see her, weren't you?" she asked him. She didn't know what it was she was searching for.
"Yes," he said slowly, trying to read her face, "yes I was. She's a good friend."
Jean didn't know what to say to that, didn't know how to translate her childish thoughts into an adult conversation, and so she stared at the floor, letting Lucien make the choice to continue the conversation, or not.
"Wait a minute. Are you jealous?"
Her hands, resting in her lap, toyed with the fabric of her dress, and for a long moment she didn't want to answer, and then she wanted to brush off his concerns, and then she wanted the earth to swallow her whole.
"Yes." Jean was not a liar. "I feel very foolish, but…" her voice was so soft, she thought she felt him lean closer just to hear her. "Yes," she said again.
"Jean," he said, reaching for her hand. She let him take it. "I don't- how could you…" he struggled to find words, and so Jean spared him the work.
"She's a very beautiful woman, Lucien, and I know she's fond of you, respectful as she is. There's a part of me…" she sighed. Marriage was built on trust, wasn't it? Honesty. Vulnerability. Still, she did not look at him. "There's a small, silly part of me that thinks the two of you would have been a better match, somehow. She's brilliant, and independent, and the perfect modern woman. I'm a...farm girl." Her voice broke under the weight of her words and her shame, and she cursed the tears that threatened to fall.
"Jean. Please, look at me." She did, then, and the love written on his face was almost enough to break her. "Jean," he said again, and she was reminded of how sweet her name was on his lips, "Joy McDonald is, is...she's fine. She's nice, she's funny, she's good company."
"Thank you, that helps," she said, harsher than was called for, but anger was easier than fear.
"But that is it," he continued, unfazed. "And it is nothing compared to you. I don't know how to make you…" he sighed, and she could see the effort he was putting into conveying this message. "I am hopelessly, desperately in love with you. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I think about you, constantly. I've hardly thought of Joy McDonald since she left, and it was only because you brought her up!"
A tear slipped out, trailing a hot line down her cheek; Lucien brushed it away with his fingertip. "No one holds a candle to you, my darling," he said softly. "And nothing holds a candle to how I feel about you."
Not trusting her voice to speak, she nodded quickly, and then reached for him, pressed her face into his neck, feeling his arms come up instantly around her. "I'm sorry," she whispered into the fabric of his shirt. "I know I was being ridiculous."
"Not ridiculous," he assured her, rubbing a hand up and down her back. "Just human."