She has a butler.
He isn’t entirely sure, after a moment, why that should be a surprise: the letter in his hand is signed the Honourable Miss Fisher in a casual scrawl, as though the girl has grown into the title. The butler himself is a solemn and paradigmatic example of the type, though perhaps with an unaccustomed quirk of humour about his expression. He takes Nightingale’s card and nods. “Miss Fisher will be down presently,” he says, and then: “Perhaps you’ll take some refreshment?”
Nightingale asks for tea and the butler brings it, and it tastes almost aggressively ordinary, the leaves perfectly steeped and the lemon slice crisp. As though, he thinks, the journey across sea and desert, the sand getting into his hair and ears in Alexandria and the steamer’s long plough have brought him back to where he began - and then Phryne Fisher steps into the room with the full radiance of the southern sun lighting up her hair, and he feels a long, long way from home. “Miss Fisher,” he says, rising, “my name is…”
"I know who you are, Thomas." She steps into the room but doesn’t sit, leaving him half-standing and awkward, the china teacup slung from one hand. In that discomfited moment he sees her gaze rake over him, merciless. "Though haven’t you grown?”
He is still blushing as he sits back down in one of her chairs, suddenly hyper-aware of all her movements, the sheer presence of her arrayed in perfume and chiffon. Miss Fisher takes the chair opposite, amusement evident on her features. “You can have lunch, if you like,” she says, almost clinically. “Dot’s running some errands - she’s my companion - but when she gets back I believe we’re having some sort of experimental tortellini. And then” - her voice hardens - “you can cause whatever trouble you’re here for.”
"I’m not," he says, "I’m not here to…"
"Not what, Thomas?" Miss Fisher inclines her head. "Not here to see if I’ve been behaving myself in the godforsaken Antipodes? Not here to see if your little talent hasn’t come out in me? Though in that case they could’ve sent someone with more" - again, that look: of relentless appraisal, almost hunger - "gravitas."
Nightingale - and it has become just that, Nightingale, in his years at Casterbrook and in the Folly’s service; it has been so, so long since anyone held his Christian name with the ease of this woman he’s barely met - pushes a hand through his hair and stands up. “No, Miss Fisher,” he says, with more steadiness than he feels. “It doesn’t come out in people, or not. It’s only what they want, or don’t want.”
She glances at him. “That was perilously close to a sensible statement, sir.”
Surprising himself, Nightingale smiles and sits down again. “Thank you, Miss Fisher. I was passing through, and I thought I might pay my respects. That’s all.”
"Passing through?" she asks, with disbelief, and her eyes drop to his hands. "Roll up your shirtsleeves."
He obeys unquestioningly. Beneath his shirt cuffs, the silver circlets on his wrists gleam in the brilliance of the sunshine through the glass, and Miss Fisher smiles. “How very interesting. You’re a King’s Messenger.”
Helplessly, he nods, still with his wrists exposed, the intensity of the sunlight washing his skin through to the veins.
"No briefcase chained to you? Although" - an unrepentant grin - "I can think of many other interesting things to do with those bracelets of yours."
"I’m on my way to Canberra," he says, ignoring that with some effort. "For a pick-up."
"Tell me," Miss Fisher says, her voice brooking no prevarication, but with a sense of wonder. "What would happen if I tried to take those off you?"
Nightingale clasps his hands, then opens his palms with some violence. It’s more accurate than words, perhaps. Miss Fisher nods, and this time when she smiles there’s gentleness in it. “How old were you,” she says, “in 1914?”
He frowns, thrown off balance by the way her mind works. “Fourteen.”
She grins, as though particularly pleased by his answer. “Ah. And now you - well, what do you do? You travel the world, carrying your papers and messages and such things, and make your sort of trouble? Where were you before you came here?”
"Alexandria," he says, counting off on his fingers, "Cairo, Paris and London. Before that I had just come back from Calcutta."
"How wonderful," she says, with open delight, and Nightingale smiles back, warmed by that look.
"It is," he says, almost shyly, and Miss Fisher stands up and walks over to him, puts a hand on his shoulder so he has to look up to see her face, made luminous by the sun.
"You’re a true child of the twentieth century, Thomas Nightingale," she says, with kindness. "Enjoy your world while it lasts. Excuse me."
It’s the butler again, standing unobtrusively at the doorway but somehow still making his presence felt. “Miss Fisher,” he says, “it’s the inspector” - and then there are footsteps in the hallway, and a man’s head appears around the door.
"I"m sorry to interrupt," he says, his eyes landing with careful lack of curiosity on Nightingale, "but it’s a matter of some urgency - the matter we discussed this morning, the, ah, death…"
"I’ll just be a moment, Jack," Miss Fisher says, and Nightingale thinks he should have guessed she doesn’t lead any kind of idle life, even with the change in circumstances. The man - policeman, Nightingale guesses, from that nondescript expression - withdraws and Miss Fisher turns to him.
"Thomas, thank you for your visit. It was good of you. I mean that. Would you" - she hesitates there, for the first time in all of this - "do you think? Just… for old times’ sake."
It takes him an embarrassing moment to understand what she means, here in this bright beautiful room ten thousand miles from where he was born. When it comes to him, Nightingale closes his eyes and tips his head and says only: “Lux.”
Brighter than the sunshine through the glass, the room explodes into radiance. There’s some kind of muffled exclamation from the hallway, and even the butler steps backwards. Miss Fisher only looks up at the werelight constellations that are now hanging from her parlour ceiling, and then across at him, holding his gaze with an unreadable expression. Nightingale is aware that there were no vestigia in this room, before: that he has changed the shape of its internal shadows.
"Thank you," Miss Fisher says, at last, and her heels tap out like gunshots on the polished tiles, leaving him standing there, breathless and awash with light.