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"Dotty, dear, do you have all the gifts?"

"Yes, Miss Phryne," Dot says. She's marshalling Bert as he's driving a mule into Serenity's hanger, while Cec is running alongside trying to ensure that Phryne's suitcases, which are somewhat precariously piled up, don't topple off. Dot herself has her arms full of boxes, the smaller ones brightly wrapped with pretty red ribbons finishing them off.

"You're all loaded down for a little slip of a thing. Ain't proper for you to be managin' all them boxes by yourself," Jayne Cobb says, stomping up to Dot. She sidles away slightly, clearly trying not to be obvious. She always looks a little uncomfortable around Jayne. She claims it's the weapons, but her Agent Collins carries a small arsenal, and Dot never has any problems being near him.

"How very gentlemanly of you," Phryne remarks, as Dot warily lets Jayne take the topmost boxes. She has never quite worked out why Mal has him on board Serenity, but she has to trust Mal has some sort of reason, even if it isn't the least bit obvious. That doesn't stop her trying to needle Jayne whenever she sees him.

"I can be gentlemanly," Jayne says. He sounds affronted. Phryne can see Kaylee behind him, holding her hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter. Jayne as a proper gentleman is a little hard to picture.

Phryne leans into Jayne, whispering so that only he can catch her words. "Just so you know, Dot is— taken," she says. "By a very nice young man." A very nice young Alliance agent, Phryne could add, but she doesn't want him to drop the boxes. Two of them contain fresh fruit, and it would be a shame for them to get bruised.

"I weren't—"

"I'm sure you weren't going to try anything at all, but now you know," she says, and winks at him.

He looks a trifle sullen, but stands still while Dot redistributes the boxes to her satisfaction.

"Ah, if it ain't the fantastic Miss Fisher," Mal says, striding into the hold. She was wondering when he was going to show up. "Kaylee's got the shuttle all nice and clean for you. Though I ain't so sure all your baggage is gonna fit. That's a lot of finery and frippery."

"And what makes you so certain it's all finery and frippery?" Phryne asks, giving him a quick peck on the cheek.

"Well now, I imagine your weapons are hidden away all secret-like and handy. Under them— layers," he says, motioning with his hand to indicate her dress.

"Ah, Malcolm Reynolds, you know me far too well. Though as for the baggage, I'm hoping you have room in your hold for most of it. Dot knows which cases I'll need to hand."

There's a crash and swearing from the far end of the hold.

"Aiya!" Mal shouts.

"No harm done," Cec calls out, though Mal gives him a dirty look anyway, and Kaylee glances over with a worried expression. Kaylee is the sweetest girl Phryne has ever met, with the possible exception of Dot, but she won't tolerate any damage to her beloved ship.

"Where's Zoe?" Phryne asks.

"She's getting a few urgent items," he says cryptically, by which Phryne takes it to mean that she's shopping for weapons or ammunition. "She'll be back in a two shakes of a lamb's tail. Now what's got me curious, is what you and Inara have been doin' on Beylix. Don't seem like the sort of place for a couple of Companions to do business." He manages not to sneer at the mention of her profession; he must be maturing.

"You know what they say about curiosity," Phryne says, though she will tell Mal before the journey is over. A new rebellion is under way, and her House is at the very heart of it. There are wrongs to be righted, evils to be done away with, the world to be saved, and Phryne is determined to do her part.

"I'll take you through to the shuttle," Kaylee offers, finally coming forward. She's always a little shy around Phryne to start with, brushing down her rough overalls like she's wishing they were something fancy like Phryne's dress. Phryne knows there's a length of fabric in the box from Inara for Kaylee, sky blue silk, and some embroidery threads too in pinks and rich, dark blues.

"Serenity is looking good," Phryne says, hugging Kaylee. She feels a little thicker around the middle, her stomach slightly swollen. Phryne smiles to herself, glad for Kaylee. For both of them, her and Simon — they deserve some happiness.

Kaylee blushes with pleasure. "Weren't easy. She's had a fair battering lately, but she flies sweet and true as a lark."

"I'm sure she does," Phryne says, following Kaylee, and motioning to Dot to start handing out Inara's gifts and tip Bert and Cec before they go. "Oh, and Mal," she calls out behind her, just as she's heading out of the hold. "I'm expecting a couple of visitors once we take off."

"What? Who?" he splutters. "You didn't—" The rest of his protest is cut off by the clank of the hold door closing firmly behind them. Timed to perfection.

*

The take-off is flawless, not an easy task with an atmo like that of Beylix, so smooth that Dot only clutches her cross for the first few seconds, and barely goes green at all. Not even Wash could fly Serenity like this. Phryne's glad she gave Mal's name to Simon Tam; they might have had their ups and downs, but the Tams have found a home, and it seems that in River, Mal has one of the best pilots in the 'verse.

They're barely an hour off-planet when there's a knock on her shuttle door.

"Qing jin," Phryne calls out.

It's Simon. He hugs her tight. She looks him up and down carefully when he pulls away. "Married life suits you," she says. Last time she saw him he looked drawn and tired. Now he looks positively sleek and content.

"I imagine you've worked out our news," he says, wandering around the shuttle and toying with the little knick-knacks Dot has laid out to make it look homely.

"I have. Many congratulations. I'm very happy for you both."

He flushes slightly. "It isn't the life I would have expected, but we're making it work. River too. She's— better. It suits her, on board Serenity. The quiet of the black."

"She's a good pilot," Phryne says.

"She's a brilliant pilot, but then River never does anything by half measures. So, how is Inara?" he asks, and they catch up for a while.

Shortly after he's gone, there's a second knock. She's surprised when Mal walks in. "I didn't realize you'd learned the concept of knocking," she says.

He shrugs, and stands awkwardly just inside the doorway. He doesn't look happy. "Your visitors are requestin' to come aboard. You kept quiet about them," he says, clearly meaning it as a reproof.

"I promise you, they can be trusted."

"They're Alliance," he retorts. "In Alliance uniforms, and on a go tsao de Alliance ship. What part of that spells trustworthy to you?"

"They used to work for The Operative," she replies. "They know what he knows. They don't mean you any ill." They're part of the new rebellion, but for all that Phryne trusts Mal with her own life, that is one little piece of information she will keep to herself for now.

Mal sighs. "River says they can be trusted, too," he admits. "At least, I think that's what she was saying. She can be a mite cryptic at times."

"There you are then. I suggest you let them on board," Phryne says, making it perfectly clear that that's the end of the conversation.

*

"Jack," she says. "It's good to see you. And you too, Hugh. I believe Dot is in the galley with Kaylee, if you wish to catch up with her."

"That'll be good," Hugh stammers awkwardly. He's a native of a quiet backwater on New Melbourne, and Phryne is certain she is the only Companion he has ever met. He's a good man, but she always has to try to resist the temptation to make him blush. Dot tells her off if she embarrasses him too much.

"Go on then," she says, ushering him in the right direction. "You don't want to miss out on any time with her."

"He's done nothing but declare the virtues of the incomparable Dot ever since I told him we were meeting up with you both," Jack says as soon as Hugh is out of sight.

"I'm glad he appreciates her. She is a jewel. Now, we have business to attend to, I believe," she says, and heads towards the shuttle. She doesn't say any more until the shuttle door is safely closed and locked behind them.

"Everything is on here," Jack says, handing her a small cube, and looking around for somewhere to sit other than her bed. There isn't anywhere else, so eventually he sits down stiffly on the edge of it. "No matter what happens, this must not fall into the wrong hands."

"I can assure you it won't," she promises. There is nothing she takes more seriously than helping to rid the 'verse of a government who would attempt to pacify an entire people, and then lie to cover up the horror of the results. Her sister, her beloved Janey, was taken by Reavers. The best she can hope is that they killed her quickly. Not many people know about Janey, but she'd told Jack once, when he asked her why she'd join the new rebels when she had a cushy life carved out for herself with the Guild. In turn, he'd told her what he'd seen working for The Operative. She'd heard rumors before, had seen the broadcast of the Miranda log, but his accounts, plain and matter-of-fact as they were, brought the horrors home to her in a way nothing else had. She didn't sleep at all that night, and she's had too many nightmares since.

She read a poem once. An old one, about Earth that was, about a paradise.

There was no sound of any gun,
The land was still and green;
Wide hills lay silent in the sun,
Blue valleys slept between.

She read it, and she thought of valleys that had run red with blood, and hills wracked with screams, and she thought how good it would be to have a 'verse where there was no sound of any gun. Turned out later the poem was about heaven, but she still likes to think of it as a promise of what could be.

She puts the cube away safely in a tiny hidden compartment in her purse. No one is likely to search a Companion's purse, least of all one as well respected and connected as the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher. It's the perfect, safe way to carry information through the Core.

"There, that is all dealt with. So, have you any news for me?" she demands.

"You mean gossip?"

"Not at all. I'm perfectly well acquainted with all the interesting gossip. Largely thanks to Dot." Dot still has very strict moral standards, even after years of working for Phryne, but she always manages to get around them with a neat bit of justification when it comes to procuring gossip.

"In that case, no, I'm afraid I don't have any news. At least nothing that would be of interest to you."

"Ah, you disappoint me, Jack Robinson. We shall simply have to drink tea and discuss other matters."

Phryne pours sweet black tea into two dainty china cups that she brought with her. She remembers Serenity's mismatched crockery from her last visit, and while she's happy to eat off even the crudest of plates, she does like to drink from fine glasses and cups. Fine beverages deserve fine receptacles. She may buck against some aspects of Guild training, but that she fully agrees with.

She hands Jack his cup, then curls up beside him, resting her feet against his thigh. He relaxes a little and sips his tea. They're comfortably silent for a while, enjoying the refreshment.

"When did you get your hair cut?" he asks eventually, leaning across to stroke a stray lock of her bob off her face.

"Oh, months ago. Long hair does tend to get in the way in a firefight, you know." That wasn't her reason at all. She'd actually had it cut after Dot had seen a report on the Cortex from Sihnon; the newsreader had the most perfect, neat black bob, and Dot had declared it the shiniest thing ever. But a shoot-out sounds so much more exciting.

"I can't say I do," Jack says with a wry smile, "but I'll take your word for it. And I will even refrain from asking what you were doing in a firefight."

"How very restrained and incurious of you."

"Not in the least. I'm quite sure you were making trouble, and I simply don't want to have the bother of needing to arrest you."

"I take it that you have other plans for our time together. I'm sure you're not in such a rush that you need leave immediately. That would be terribly disappointing for Hugh and Dot."

"I can stay a few hours. And I'm sure that, between us, we can find some way of occupying our time," Jack says. It's a bold statement for him. He is an honorable man, married when they first met, and always very careful to keep a respectable distance, but he's divorced now, she'd heard over the efficient Guild grapevine. They've shared one kiss, and that three years ago, when she was being hunted down by a slave-trader, René Dubois. She'd been one of Dubois' 'possessions' once, and the villain had been after what he'd considered rightfully his. Phryne considers herself as belonging to no man. It was one of the few times she'd had the sense to be completely and utterly terrified. She'd stared at him as he'd walked into the bar, barely able to breathe, let alone run or hide or get out her gun. It was a matter of seconds before Dubois would have seen her. And then Jack had kissed her, distracting her and hiding her from view, while his men dealt with the slaver.

She'd tried to talk to Jack about it afterwards. He'd claimed it was purely professional, that he had been just doing his job, but she knows kisses. She can tell the difference between a practical kiss and a kiss with intent. And now it looks like it might finally be their time to try again. She just needs to be sure first.

"Did you volunteer to bring the cube?" she asks. There was a time when he'd roll his eyes every time they found themselves in the same room. That infernal woman, he'd called her, the first time they got thrown together.

"I did. It seemed like a good opportunity for Hugh to see Dot."

"And that's all?" she asks. She tries not to let her disappointment show in her voice; she's well trained.

"No," he says. "I wanted to see you."

"Last time we met you told me I was a meddling menace," she reminds him. She could provide him with a long list of other adjectives that he's used about her.

"That's because you were. You are. And I'm quite sure you always will be." A beat. "It doesn't mean I don't count the number of days between our meetings, and wish they were fewer."

"I think that is the most romantic thing you have ever said to me, Jack Robinson," Phryne says. Her words are flippant, but underneath she's touched. She spends a lot of time with men, has sex with many of them, but Jack is special.

She takes the cup from him and places it on the small table beside the bed. "I think it is about time I said more romantic things to you," he says, leaning closer.

"I would like that," Phryne replies. They're so close now, there's barely an inch between them. "Especially if you match your actions to your words," she whispers. "I like a man of action."

His lips touch hers at last. There's nothing sweet or uncertain about his kiss. He wraps his hand around the nape of her neck and kisses her slowly and thoroughly and so determinedly that Phryne thinks he is going to spoil her for anyone else's touch. Perhaps that is his plan.

His other hand slips down to her waist, undoing her sash. Her robe falls open. She's naked underneath, and she can tell from his sharp intake of breath the moment Jack realizes.

He moves away a fraction, sliding her robe over her shoulders and allowing the weight of the silk to pull it all the way down.

"When I see you like this, I find it hard to believe that I've waited so long," Jack says, a little breathless.

"Some things are all the better for the anticipation," Phryne says. "But I hope I don't have to anticipate your nakedness much longer. Much as I like a man in uniform, in this case, I prefer the man out of his uniform."

Jack doesn't need to be told twice. He strips quickly and efficiently, no show about it, folding his clothes up neatly and placing them in a pile against the wall. Phryne watches him, admires the play of muscles as he bends, the lean strength of him. He's the pale of a man who rarely spends time planetside, and isn't vain enough to find other ways to tan.

When he turns, she doesn't pretend she isn't watching. He ducks his head a moment, then lifts his chin back up and lets her stare.

He's well-toned, the barest fuzz of blondish hair on his chest, nipples flat and pink — he hasn't followed the latest Core trend of piercing them. His cock is still mostly soft, hanging thick and long below his flat stomach.

She wants to try everything with Jack. She wants him to fuck her, and she wants to fuck him. She has the perfect toy, long and sleek and as black as her hair. She knows she looks amazing wearing it, strong and fearless, and she can picture it, spreading open his ass cheeks and pressing her toy up against his hole. She'd wager he hasn't done that before, has never had a woman inside him, pressing him open until he can't hold out any longer, until he's spilling himself onto the ground.

There's a tug low in her belly that she rarely feels, a need that goes way beyond the simple desire for sex. That she has whenever she wants — she is attracted to many men, and sometimes women, and she sleeps with the ones she likes. But this feeling is unusual for her, something deeper. His spirit sings with hers.

"I thought you wanted action," he says eventually, and Phryne realizes she's lost herself in contemplating him. That's unforgivable, and goes against every aspect of her training. She's never done such a thing before, has never put her own needs and desires ahead of a client. But then Jack is no client, and for the next few hours, Phryne doesn't have to be the perfect Companion. She can simply be Phryne.

"Come here," she says, spreading out on the bed and holding out her arms. She wants everything, but first she just wants this, the feel of him naked against her, the jut of his cock against her thigh, his arms folding around her. She lets him lead, nods whenever he pauses in question, bucks up eagerly underneath him when he enters her. She forgets everything else, the mission she's on, the war that's sure to come, everything but the feel of Jack inside her, all around her, exploring her body with his hands and mouth like this is the only chance he'll ever have. There's a desperation to his touch, an urgency in the little wordless sounds he makes, something that goes beyond wanting this for too long, that matches her own need, and sends them spinning into the stars. Or so it feels.

She has to remind herself to breathe.

Afterwards, Jack gets up and pours them a single glass of rice wine. He insinuates himself back under Phryne's arm and shares the glass with her. They take turns sipping it. She doesn't want to disturb the silence, not yet, not while she still feels like she's floating in space.

Jack speaks first. She'd thought he might have fallen asleep, his breathing slow and steady underneath her. "I— I've wanted that for longer than I should have," he says quietly. An admission, though she thinks they aren't the words he was about to say. It's too soon for those words, if they were what she suspects.

"I could stay like this forever," she says, curling her head into his shoulder, testing him. For all that she's just let herself go, there are some things she's not ready for. She isn't ready for forever, or faithful, though maybe— in spirit, if not in body. Maybe.

He hums against her head, pressing a kiss to the crown. "I'll be back," he says, not trying for forever, not asking to possess more than she's able to give. "I want a grandstand view when you save the world, and I want to be at your side to celebrate afterwards."

"I want you at my side when we save the world," she corrects him.

"I like that," Jack says. "But right now, I think we deserve a slightly longer break from saving the world." He lifts her face to his, and kisses her, quietly, all kinds of promises and hope in each kiss.

"Oh, Jack," she sighs as he dots kisses down her neck. "Make me forget about the rest of the world."

"I can do that," he promises, and he kisses away all other thoughts.