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Messengers and Forfeits

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It is just dinner. (onions are cubed)

It is just dinner. (cheese is grated)

What can possibly go wrong? (milk, mustard, worchester, parsley are out and prepped)

It is just dinner. (pie crust rolled and ready to assemble)

Who am I kidding? (pie crust still rolled and ready to put together)

It's Phryne. Quite a lot can go wrong. (Wine. Two bottles.)

Nevertheless, I am still making dinner. (Heats the skillet)

The current score is 2:4, Jack's favor. Of the 2 truths, one is answered, one is forfeit (hence, the making of dinner). Of the 4 dares, 3 are complete and 1 twice attempted.

The problem, if it can be considered a problem, is the accumulated loss of reason that has been part of each consecutive dare. More precisely, with the last 2 attempted dares. He wins, he loses brain cells. How is that fair? His ideas for follow on winnings are simply too indecent to propose. Worse, it is far too enjoyable to think about it.

The onions sweat (though only a little less than the mild-mannered detective) then they rest (not at all like the mild-mannered detective). Milk, mustard and spices are added to the onions before layering into the pie crust with the cheese. Do not think of the next dare. Top layer goes on. Pinch up the sides. The next dare will not include pinching.Then egg wash. Then...hmm...the egg wash suggests an idea. Well, maybe not with eggs. Focus. Make some cuts in the top crust. Pop it in the oven. 45 minutes.

Open the wine.

Shell peas.

Flowers? Check. Candles? Check. Nerves on fire? Check. Dessert? Needs work.

Clean berries. Cream is whipped. Is there time to make fudge sauce? Yes, there is time to make fudge sauce: semi-sweet chocolate, cream, butter, sugar, vanilla, salt. Grateful for Mrs. Henderson's recipe. Hoping Mrs. Henderson won't notice what time his visitor leaves. Stop that - it is only a first date.

Oh, god. Who am I kidding?

The sauce has reached a silky consistency. Smells good. It must be ready. Tastes good. Really good.

It is our first date. Is it a date? Will she think it is a date? She can't possibly think anything else. Right? I am cooking. We will be alone. In my place. Oh, god. How do I look? Fixes tie, smooths hair. Removes apron. Puts on jacket. Takes off jacket. Takes off waistcoat. Tries a sweater. Yes, the sweater. Sleeves rolled up. Not twice, just once. Nope, roll them down and cufflink up the sleeves. Perfectly calm. She's here.

Close eyes. Deep breath. Open eyes. Open door.

Phryne.

"Good evening, Jack." She looks eager, shy, and uncharacteristically sweet. Why does she look sweet? She's never sweet. Unless, I'm about to get into trouble. Phryne, stop being sweet. At least, wait until after dinner.

"Miss Fisher." All day thoughts of what she might be wearing: silk dress to show her every move and feature, evening dress for dramatic impact, nothing at all for greater impact (please, no...yes...definitely no), stylish pantsuit to show who is in control. She wears a dress. It is pretty. Blue flowers. The hem ends at her knee. Oh, her knees. Blue stockings. He's staring. Move dummy. Let her in.

"It smells divine."

No, Phryne...that's you. "I hope you are hungry."

Awkward silence.

Words. Jack. Use your words. Any of them. Really. Starting now. Stop staring at her lips. No, whatever you do...don't reach for her waist. No, I said don't. Do not...whatever you do...do not pull her closer. Now, stop that. Just don't kiss her.

Now you've done it. You are kissing her. She's barely in the house. Oh, yes. Her lipstick will be everywhere. Just. Uh. Thinking. Words. Wait. No lipstick. She isn't wearing lipstick. Intoxicating. Was doing something. Dinner. Remember dinner? You are making dinner. Remember how long it took? Think about onions. Yes, onions. Did you remember to rub your hands in coffee grounds? Yes, you did. Good. Onions. Words.

Wait. Not kissing now. Eyes still closed. Open your eyes.

"Well, Jack. It is good to see you, too!"

Reply. Speak. No, do not do it again! She's talking...why don't you try it, too? There you go. You are doing it again. Some soldier you are. Must you kiss her now? Like that? Isn't there time later? No? Not time later? Must do this now? Okay, must do this now. Against the table? Really? Yes, oh yes. Really. Must. Table good. Yes. No. Stop. Really. Stop.

"Sorry. I shouldn't have..." He is looking into her eyes and smiling. "I thought of doing that all day."

"What else have you been thinking about today, Jack?"

"Where we should eat. As you'll notice, I haven't quite figured out where to set a table for dinner. No dining room."

"Have you ever eaten in your boudoir, Jack?"

He's blushing again. "Perhaps, we can stay somewhere in the downstairs suite of rooms."

Phryne notices: he's off his game. Cooking. The sweater. His blush. The unexpected kiss. There may be...quite possibly...very possibly...an opportunity to get some of her own back. So far, he has won 4 to her 2, and one of those was a gimme so that he could make her dinner. Would it be so wrong to take advantage of someone cooking for her? No. It would not. The game is on. Now, which game shall it be?

Gently, gently she tells herself.

Phryne brings the candles and the flowers to the floor in front of the fire. Jack approves and brings 2 glasses of wine.

"My master sends me to you, sir." She starts.

Oh, dear. "What for?" he responds.

He knows this one. "To do as I do."

She takes a sip of wine. Then he does. She raises her eyebrows at him...he isn't supposed to stop. He takes another. Then another. Then another. He raises his eyebrows as if to ask how long he should continue. Then another. She gets up to get something from the kitchen to allow him to stop.

She comes back in the room with the bottle, some paper, 2 pens and his hat. "We need some new forfeits, Jack."

"What's wrong with dinner?"

"Dinner already smells wonderful but I shouldn't have to wait so long to get my rewards. These will be payable tonight. Smaller forfeits. I will write one then you will write one."

"Rules?"

"You must do the forfeit. No exceptions."

"Writing the forfeits?"

"We each write 10. They go in this hat. Forfeits are selected randomly whenever and for whomever stops obeying the messenger."

What was he saying earlier? It is just dinner? Not just dinner. It is Phryne at dinner. Being Phryne. "Same conditions as before - I can stay dressed, no breaking the law."

"I'll give you one of those. Which is more important, Jack?"

What are you doing? What are you agreeing to? Stop that right now. Say you aren't playing. Pull out the chess board. You can still save this evening. Don't you dare smile at her antics. "The law is more important."

They write their respective forfeits behind curved hand, glancing up at each other to make sure messages can't be deciphered. He's pretty sure he's going to take the worst of this.

So, he starts. "My master sends me to you, madam."

"Why ever for?"

"To as I do." He takes a sip of his wine glass.

She rolls her eyes at him. "Hardly ingenuitive, Jack" she says between sips.

"Just letting you catch up." He waits until her glass is empty before he leaves the room to take the pie out of the oven.

She sees his strategy. Oh, Jack - you are so out of your depth. She asks him for something and he takes it back...with more. It is so easy to make this work to her benefit. Too easy. She looks over to the kitchen to make sure he's out of sight. What forfeits has he written so far? They each only have a few.

"To ask a question for which yes must be the answer." Traditional but has promise.

"To sit for a painting." There is room for improvement with this one. Perhaps he is thinking of the Sarcelle? If so, it could be perfect as is.

"No reading the forfeits! Put them back." he calls out from the other room. How does he know, she wonders? This is already an excellent game. She gets up and walks into the kitchen.

"My master sends me to you, sir."

"What for?"

"To do what I do." She takes a hop on one leg.

Jack starts hopping on one leg. He is trying to continue serving dinner. The slicing of the pie doesn't go badly but the serving it onto a plate is not going to go well at all. He hops over to get utensils and serviettes, laughing. She is satisfied with this performance. She takes the utensils and serviettes back to their fireside picnic area. Jack soon follows with plates of pie and peas. Phryne has refilled their wine glasses.

Jack hands her the plates so that he can sit down next to her. She sits on the side of her hip with both knees bent. He sits just next to her so that her knee is aligned to his hip and vice versa. He peaks inside the hat. "No fair. I get to redo them."

"Why don't you just read mine, Jack?"

He does.

The first: "Five minutes, blindfolded." He pauses. There is a 50 percent chance that she gets this one and only a 5 percent chance that this one is chosen at all.

The second: "To hum Advance Australia Fair against winners choice of anatomy, clothed or un as the current situation permits." His hand flew to his mouth, amused. His fingers curl around his lips to provide a moment for composure.

"Very creative, Miss Fisher. My master sends me to you, madam."

"What for?"

"To do what I do." He feeds her a bite of cheese and onion pie.

"Mm. This is delicious." She feeds him his first bite, eagerly accepted. His eyes are shiny and he is chewing with a grin. He looks exactly like the day she fed him gratin in this office. This is a man who loves his food. She gives him another bite. "Is this your idea of hospitality? Are you going to let me starve, Jack?"

He shakes his head. "This is your game. One more." He takes one more greedy bite. "Can we say "stop" or do we have to keep leaving the room?"

"I thought you were a stickler for rules, Jack. You have to leave the room before getting a new message."

"Can we stay and finish dinner first?"

"Yes, agreed."

"Then, I shan't let you starve." He picks up her plate and begins to feed her as well. "Why this particular game, Miss Fisher?"

"I couldn't find your chess board." She unwittingly glances at the chess board then to back to Jack with an innocent looking smile. Jack leans in to steal a kiss. "What was that for?"

"For that ridiculous lie. Besides, you are eating too slowly. I'm almost done."

"You had a head start, if you remember. And, if you interrupt me, I'll just take longer."

"Take all the time you need." He leans in for another kiss. This time - more slowly, more softly. He feeds her another bite. As she chews, he writes another forfeit.