She drummed her fingers in her lap as the bus tumbled along, finding herself, somewhat uncharacteristically, unable to keep still. In just a few short minutes she would lay eyes on him again, and she wasn't really sure what would happen next. It had been a month since she'd seen him; the last time they'd spent that much time apart was when he'd gone to China. Did he long for her return, she wondered, as she had longed for his? They'd parted on good terms, with him helping her to her seat, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek that left her blushing long after the bus had pulled away from the stop. But it had been a month since then, and Lucien Blake was not a man who did well at staying put. What if things had shifted, somehow, in her absence? What if she came back, and everything was different?
But, she thought, that wasn't what she feared the most. No, her greatest fear was that she would come back, and everything would be the same. She couldn't bear the thought of coming back to live with and work for a man who cared for her as, yes, more than an employee, but no more than a dear friend, while her own feelings were steadily spiraling into a deep, abiding love for him.
But every time her thoughts started down this dark path, she thought back to that night in the kitchen, when he had begged her not to leave. Don't go to Adelaide, he'd told her, and I do care, and I don't want you to go. And what had struck her most, the words creeping into her heart on the loneliest nights in Adelaide, was when he had told her I need you. Surely, he hadn't meant he needed a housekeeper. Surely, he'd meant more than that, had finally been acknowledging the growing depth of affection between them, even if he hadn't given it a name.
These were the thoughts running circles in her head as the bus pulled to a stop. She looked through the window, eyes scanning the crowd for her handsome doctor, but she didn't see him yet. That was alright, though; there were quite a lot of people waiting to get on the bus, and he could easily be obscured from view, or perhaps things had run over time with a patient and he was running just a bit late. She tore her eyes away from the window and gathered her things, making sure she had her suitcase and her purse, checking that her hat was on securely with a free hand. She joined the line of people trickling out of the bus, and soon found herself on the ground, still searching for him. The sea of faces began to thin out as many left and many climbed aboard the bus she'd just left, and she was just beginning to think he'd forgotten her, after all, when she felt a hand on her shoulder, gently turning her around.
"Lucien!" she said, unable to help the joy that claimed her expression as she finally laid eyes on that dear man. She barely got a glimpse of the matching smile on his face before he'd pulled her, quite unexpectedly, into a warm embrace. Distantly, she heard the thump of her suitcase hitting the ground as she was forced to let go of its handle.
"I've waited for this," he said softly, and she almost shivered at the way his voice dropped low in her ear. Those words were for her, far too quiet for anyone else to hear, and to think that he had waited for this had dreamed of having her in his arms, was almost too much for her heart to take.
After a long moment that warmed her from head to toe, they parted, leaning back far enough to look at one another, though his hands still rested on her arms. "Jean," he said, voice brimming with affection, and she found she'd missed the sound of her name on her lips.
"Miss me?" she asked, a note of playful teasing in her voice, but he was all seriousness in his response.
"Yes, I did," he said, and his hands left her arms to hold her hands. His voice was low and honest, and his hands were warm around her own, and they were quite alone on the platform now. She wondered briefly if he would feel her pulse pick up under the fingers that lay gently on her wrist; he was a doctor, after all, and no one had been as attuned to her as he was in quite some time.
"Me, too," she admitted, for if he was to open his heart to her in that way, she couldn't help but do the same. "I wondered what it would be like, when I saw you again." It wasn't what she wanted to say. She wanted to say I wonder if you missed me as much as I missed you, wanted to throw caution to the wind and ask him what does it mean to you, Lucien, that I've come home, but this was a step in the right direction, and perhaps he would read between the lines.
He hummed in response, seeming to consider her words, as his thumb drew circles on her palm. "What did you wonder about, hmm?"
"I…" she hesitated, unable to answer his question without baring the deepest wishes of her heart, and she didn't know yet if she could trust him with what lay hidden there.
He didn't let her flounder for too long before deciding to speak again. "I've had quite a bit of time to wonder about it myself. Quite a lot of time to think about what I would say, but now the moment's here…" he trailed off, the confidence in his voice giving way to a hidden uncertainty. "I really did miss you, Jean."
"How much?" she asked, before she could help herself, and God, it still wasn't what she wanted to ask. They seemed to be circling the real questions, she thought, each one of them too afraid to show every card in their hand, but perhaps if they kept trading vulnerabilities they would reach what they were both chasing. She only hoped they were chasing the same thing. "Did you…" her voice shook, but she pressed on, "Did you miss me like a doctor misses his housekeeper?"
His face was so close to hers now, she could almost swear she felt the air move around them as he shook his head. "No. I missed you like a man misses a woman."
She gasped, for there it was, this answer they'd been circling. "I missed you, too," she said, silently begging him to understand her meaning without her having to say it all out loud. Without even really trying to, she began to tilt her head up, staring into his eyes, and before she could think his lips were on hers.
She melted into him, threw her arms round his neck and pulled him closer as every piece of the anxiety she'd held onto all day, all month, slipped away. After a moment, a beautiful, world-changing moment, his lips left hers, but he stayed close, resting their foreheads together as they breathed in the moment. "Welcome home, Jean."
She laughed breathlessly, still reeling from the wonder of kissing him. "Thank you, Lucien. It is good to be home."