Joe watched Lucas work quietly. He'd grown some in the years Joe had known him, he was taller, but he was still far skinner than Joe liked most of the time and Joe had noticed over the last few months, he'd lost weight he could ill afford to lose but if anything was wrong, Lucas was working especially hard to hide it, because Joe could find no reason why Lucas wouldn't be eating.
As far as Joe could tell, Lucas hadn't disagreed with any of his friends, his work wasn't suffering, he was… actually Joe had to admit, he wasn't being very Lucas like. He was calmer, less bubbly and bouncy. "He's trying to make you happy." Berko had told him. Joe wasn't at all certain he liked this new Lucas and he couldn't understand why Lucas would think being anything other than himself would make Joe happy.
He still remembered how Lucas had been when they'd first met, sweet and shy buried under a layer of attitude. Joe hadn't been able to turn away from the young boy. For a long time, that was how it was. Lucas was a kid, a slightly screwed up, but loveable all the same, kid. Joe had tried to balance parental discipline, with friendship. But Lucas hadn't been a kid for a while now, he was an adult and probably had been for a lot longer than even Joe had realised.
With everything that happened, for a while Joe was convinced everything was going to hell in a hand basket. He knew if it came down to it, he'd take the fall for the money going missing, rather than let Lucas go to jail. Like he'd told Lucas, he wasn't 21 anymore, Lucas still had his whole life ahead of him, Joe didn't. But fate, or more likely dumb luck, had saved them all and Joe had to admit he was happier than he'd been in a long time.
The store was his, in no small part due to Lucas. His brain may not have been in the right place, but his heart was. And the other kids of course. Without them, he'd probably be collecting unemployment now. He loved them all dearly, but in the last year, he'd begun to consider Lucas differently.
It had started when Joe had stayed with Lucas while looking for a new place, being thrown out of his apartment at gun point was no fun at all, but staying with Lucas had been. It was just like old times, sort of, except it had allowed Joe to see the man Lucas had become, instead of the boy he'd always seen him as. A man with a good heart; a man with gorgeous eyes and a beautiful smile. Lucas had gone from boy Joe had loved for a long time and turned into a man Joe was just beginning to realise he was falling in love with.
It killed Joe to see Lucas being so… not himself. The younger man seemed so… lifeless wasn't right, but it was close. Lucas seemed to be doing all he could to make everyone else happy and taking so very little for himself. Joe blamed himself. He should have realised sooner, Lucas may come across as a foolhardy kid, but he had a good heart and Joe knew he probably placed all sorts of blame on his shoulders that didn't belong there. Joe was resolved, he'd make sure Lucas understood there was no blame to be placed, that it had all worked out for the best and that Joe was very happy with his life, in great part thanks to Lucas. And if there was anything missing from his life… well Lucas didn't need to know that.
Jane made it easier to pretend his life was good. She was a good friend and it was nice to have someone around to talk to that was closer to his own age. While he loved the kids and couldn't imagine what his life would be like without them in it, to be able to talk to someone in his own age bracket was refreshing and she never judged him on his feelings for Lucas.
He hadn't intended to tell her, but they'd been talking late one night, a few days after Corey and AJ's going away party, joking over how the kids thought they were a couple and Jane had surprised him by bring up Lucas. It hadn't seemed hard to tell her and it was nice to have someone to talk to about it, someone who understood, or at least didn't judge.
Burying his own wants, he talked and laughed with Jane, let Lucas close up, trying to show him he trusted him, did whatever he could think of to let Lucas know it was okay. He wasn't mad at him, he was happy, he had everything he wanted. Mostly it was true, he wasn't mad at Lucas, he was more or less happy and he had everything he needed, even if it wasn't everything he wanted. And he could pretend it was everything he wanted. For Lucas.