Jack knocked on the front door and waited for Mr. Butler’s familiar graceful swing to open it.
“Mr. Butler. Is she in?” Jack asked as he removed his hat and stepped inside.
“Yes but she isn't taking visitors,” he began hesitantly. “She’s quite unwell at the moment.”
“Am I a visitor today?” Jack whispered conspiratorially. The truth was, he would leave her alone if Mr. Butler suggested it. He trusted him to know what was best for everyone.
“I wouldn’t think so, sir.” There was a slight hint of a smile behind the butler’s eyes. “Perhaps you could assist me and bring this with you?”
“It would be my pleasure,” Jack said as he took the cold towel.
“Good luck,” Mr. Butler warned as he headed back to the kitchen.
Jack took a long look at the stairs and wondered what he might find. He’d never seen her ill before. She’d barely even been injured while working a case. Seeing her in a vulnerable state was all too tempting a proposition.
He knocked quietly on her bedroom door, in case she was resting, but at her command, he entered.
“Jack?” She questioned as she pulled the blankets tighter around her body. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to give you an update on the case, oh and this is from Mr. Butler,” he smiled as he exchanged the dry towel on her forehead for his damp one.
“I’m in quarantine.”
“I know,” he replied. She was shivering under her blankets and he couldn't help but reach out and touch her cheek and forehead with the back of his hand. She was burning up.
“Mac would have your head if she knew you were in here,” she added.
“She’s in a training at the college until 8 and the amount of time you spend in my office means I’ve probably already been infected. Unless you would like me to leave?” He asked and smirked as she didn’t respond.
“I was asleep. I never saw you come in.” She closed her eyes.
“Fair enough.” He settled onto her vanity stool. “Now, where shall I begin?”
“With the doctor’s interview,” she requested, eyes still firmly shut.
“Ah yes. Well, it was fairly straightforward,” he began.
She fell asleep sometime around the mention of the arrest and Jack gave up his story. He reached for the cloth on her forehead and went to cool it under some running water once more. When he replaced it, she placed her hand over his and held it for a moment on top of her head.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“My pleasure,” he replied, his heart filling with affection for her.
When Phryne awoke, it was to Mac’s cold hands.
“Stop!” She moaned with the type of pathetic whine normally reserved for a three year old.
“Perhaps if you hadn’t spent your evening chatting away with the Inspector, you wouldn’t be so tired.”
Phryne cracked one eye open.
“What?” She played dumb.
“Oh please. The entire room reeks of pomade and cologne.”
She sniffed, trying to understand what Mac was recognizing but her nose was completely useless at the moment.
“Mr. Butler confirmed it. Said he left an hour ago,” Mac informed her as she checked her pulse. “You don’t remember?”
“I must have been asleep.”
But Phryne remembered the way his fingers felt on her cheek and she touched it, trying to keep the memory through the haze.
Mac caught the look but didn’t say anything.
“Drink this entirely and then you can go back to sleep.” Mac handed her a glass of water.
Phryne pouted but took it down as quickly as she could.
“Mac?” Her old friend froze at the sound of her name. “Be nice to Jack. He didn't disturb me.”
“Take care of your own problems before worrying about the Inspector,” Mac advised. “Sleep well.” She tucked her in a bit more securely and Phryne fell back to sleep.
“Am I hallucinating?” Phryne raised her head off the pillow slightly, trying to focus, as Jack walked into her bedroom.
“That depends on what you’re seeing,” he replied.
“Or what I’m not seeing, namely a suit.” She tilted her head to view him at a normal angle. The only time she’d seen him in such attire was when he was undercover.
“It’s Sunday,” he reminded her gently as he paused at her bedside.
“And you’re here?”
“I am. Miss Williams suggested that you’d might like the company now that you’re conscious.” His sly smile implied a rather fierce demand on Dot’s end and Phryne knew why. The young girl needed a break from her constant pestering.
“I’m trapped here. I don’t know what is happening outside. I couldn’t even manage to read the morning paper,” she confessed. “Everything was all….swimmy.” She waved her hand.
“Well, we can fix that,” Jack said as he began rolling his sleeves up. He looked so deliciously casual, she could barely take her bleary eyes off of him. He made himself comfortable next to her on the bed, his back against her headboard, and plucked the paper off of her breakfast tray.
“Now where shall we begin?” He asked as he unfolded it.
Phryne was more than a bit taken aback by his forwardness. Jack wasn’t usually the one to lead their interactions, but she wasn’t about to interrupt this refreshing new development.
He looked down at her expectantly.
“Headlines?” She stuttered, unable to come up with anything else when he was so intimately close to her. She could smell the soap of his freshly laundered clothes, even through her stuffy nose, and she tried not to focus on the fact that his hip bone was within kissing distance of her mouth.
“Mm. Stock market,” he browsed the pages, “Lady Somers opened a foundling hospital, men’s shirts on sale.”
“I do look splendid in those,” she murmured, trying in vain to play the role of herself.
“I’ll make a note,” he rolled his eyes dryly as he turned a page of the paper.
“If you keep crawling into my bed, you’ll find out sooner rather than later.” She let the comment slip unfiltered and barely registered it until she looked up at him.
Jack stared down at her with one of his long, contemplative stares, the ones tinted with just a hint of consideration and even more disapproval at her tempting of him. There was something about the look that made her shiver from head to toe and it wasn’t from her fever. He thought her the forbidden fruit, but what he didn’t realize was that he was the only one who had done the forbidding.
He finally broke their stalemate and shook the paper out once and cleared his throat.
“The Melbourne Cup results,” he continued as if the moments long look had never happened, “Oh, here’s a good one: World’s Greatest Flying Machine…” He didn’t get a chance to continue.
He glanced down at the hand on his arm, forcing him to lower the paper, before turning to look at her.
“What’s the matter?” He asked, concerned by her closed eyes.
“What is this?” She asked.
“This. Visits under quarantine and climbing into my bed. Is this sudden confidence because I’m incapacitated? Do you find it safer to be near me when I am weak and can’t flirt with you?”
“Phryne…” He looked disappointed in her assessment of him. “Of course not.”
“Then what, Jack? And be honest with me. Because if this is all that we will ever be, then I need to know so that I can,” she took a deep breath, “know,” she finished less than safely. She was already exhausted by his presence and she just couldn’t play games in this state. Honesty was all she had left.
He sighed, considering his next words carefully. When he made up his mind, he moved further down the bed and turned so that he was eye level with her, curling his arm under him to use as a pillow. It was so domestically intimate, Phryne couldn’t reconcile it with the man she knew.
“I’m here because I want to be with you, not just when you are strong, but when you need me the most,” he replied quietly. “I want to care for you the same way that you take care of me. I don't cook as well as Mr. Butler or have the medical skills of Dr. MacMillan, but what I can offer is my company when you're trapped and feeling... swimmy, was it?”
The light in his eyes told her he was amused and not angry but Phryne felt herself shrinking at her accusation of him all the same.
“I’m sorry,” she exhaled, feeling foolish.
“You’re accustomed to being the benefactress in your relationships,” he assessed far too accurately. “Let someone else take care of you once in a while. And not because you're paying them. It’s not the same.”
“No,” he said so definitively, her abdomen clenched.
Maybe it was relief flooding her veins but she found herself instantly tired and she closed her fluttering eyes.
“You should be resting. We’ll talk more later.” He raised himself up to a sitting position.
“Wait. Will you stay? Just until I fall asleep?”
After a minute’s consideration, he nodded and she reached out to touch his arm gratefully.
The low rumble of his voice made her shiver again and he tucked her into tighter, thinking she was cold.
She fell asleep listening to the rhythmic sound of him breathing beside her.
Jack knew that he should go, but the way that they were lying here was precious and he didn't want to break the spell.
She had asked him directly about his intentions with her and he had been as honest as he could without knowing how she felt. But the way that she had asked, the way that she had hinted at wanting something more, made him hopeful in a childish sort of way that he thought he had long outgrown.
She had been waiting for him.
The knowledge stirred inside him, giving him the strength to leave her bed. He would find his way back to it, and her, eventually.
Phryne roused beside him, her blue eyes flirting with opening, but maybe not quite yet.
“Jack?” She asked as he slipped from the bed.
“I’ll be back tomorrow evening,” he whispered. “For now, get some rest.” He took a liberty that felt all too comfortable considering he’d never done it and he leaned down and kissed her hair.
“Mmhm,” she let him go, seemingly unaffected by the gesture.
Jack left smiling.
When Jack returned the next evening, he was surprised to find Phryne in her parlor. She was in silk men’s pajamas and holding a large, albeit rather out of place, mug in her petite hands, but she was in a new location, so he took it as a sign that she was on the mend.
“You’re looking better,” he said, pleased by the sight as he joined her.
“You’re being polite,” she rolled her eyes. “I did manage a bath today with Dot’s assistance.”
“That’s wonderful,” he smiled, refusing to be swayed. “I brought you something.” He procured the item from inside his jacket pocket and handed it to her.
“I haven’t officially been ordered to intercept it yet, so when the postman brought it to my attention, I thought you might get some use of it.”
“Thank you,” she smiled genuinely and Jack felt it in his bones. “I quite like rebellious Jack.”
He didn’t comment.
“Sorry, I’ve completely forgotten my manners. Help yourself to a drink, or I can have Mr. Butler fix you something warm if you’d like.”
“No, I’m quite alright.” He settled into his chair. “How are you feeling? Still swimmy?”
“Not today.” She sipped from her mug. “I should be back on my feet again soon.” She looked him over for a moment. “Shall we talk about your visit yesterday?”
“What of it?” He asked, tilting his head curiously.
She smiled at the face he made and set her mug down.
“You suggested that I let someone else take care of me, properly,” she reminded him, “and I find that I cannot stop fixating on it.”
The confession took Jack by surprise. He knew all too well how their interactions stayed with him but he never presumed that he might have the same effect on her.
“I realized that I’ve never let anyone truly care for me before, not even as a child,” she confessed. “I’m not sure I’m even capable of it.”
"You are.” Jack spoke the words so confidently, he heard an audible inhalation of breath from her.
“And if I’m not?” She asked, more out of contrarian stubbornness than anything else.
“You already do,” he informed her. “Trusting someone else doesn't require that you give up a piece of yourself, or even your independence. It simply requires... trust,” he shrugged.
She shook her head and sat back in her chair, analyzing him.
“I don’t know what to make of this new Jack.”
She was eyeing him so suspiciously, Jack had to fight not to laugh.
“Who said he was new?” He countered. “In fact, he’s quite old.”
“Is he?” She looked surprised by his response. “And where has he been hiding all this time?”
“He was... being reassembled,” he offered the phrase loosely.
“And now he’s complete?”
“He’s close.” Jack met her eye and he saw the moment she caught his meaning. “But mending doesn’t happen overnight.”
“No?” Her response was a distracted one, her gaze focused on his mouth.
“No,” he smiled to himself. “But he’s willing to wait for the right parts.”
Phryne looked down, overwhelmed by him once again.
Jack stood up, preparing to leave her to her thoughts but she stood up right along with him.
He picked up his hat and coat before turning around to take one more look at her, drowning in those oversized pajamas and looking so adorably lost in thought that he had to fight not to chuckle at her.
“You were right.” He took in her quizzical face. “Men’s shirts do look splendid on you,” he gestured towards her with his hat before putting it on his head. “Goodnight, Miss Fisher.” He strolled leisurely out the door, never giving her time to get her balance.
Phryne had had quite enough of being caught off guard by Jack Robinson. It had been three days since he left her parlor and he hadn’t been seen since. He seemed to be giving her some unwanted space but now she was healthy again and decidedly tired of waiting.
She applied another layer of lipstick and pressed her lips together. She was wearing a dress that was completely decent in front and completely bare backed behind, curving in a lovely dip that accentuated her behind nicely. With a shawl, he’d never realize what awaited him unless he decided to undress her.
Oh, how she wanted him to undress her.
She shook the image of his large hand covering the small of her bare back away from her mind and took one last look in the mirror.
She made her way out of the Hispano and up the walk to his home. She had only ever dropped him off or picked him up from time to time. She had never been invited inside, but he had never laid with her in her bed before either. This new world didn’t seem to hold any rules.
She knocked politely and waited for his sure steps to appear on the other side of the door. They never came. She knocked one more time and confirmed there were lights on in the window, wondering if he had lost himself in a book or perhaps was in the bath. She finally heard steps at last but they were slow and heavy. She took a step back, presenting herself to whatever lay on the other side.
“Phryne?” He looked confused by her presence, even more so by her attire. “What are you doing here?”
“Visiting you for a change.” She tilted her head as she took in his pajamas pants, undershirt, and flushed skin.
He had caught her flu.
“Now is not the best time.” He visibly shivered with the door open and she stepped inside and shut it behind her.
“I disagree.” She felt his forehead and clucked. “Back to bed. Right now,” she gestured down the hall.
He staggered to his room.
“Why are you dressed like some American movie star?” He wondered out loud and she smiled sheepishly.
“I was planning a siege,” she confessed as she helped him under the sheets.
“Mm. Consider yourself successful,” he wheezed as he pulled the blankets up over his shoulders.
“I’m sorry.” She stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. “I did warn you that I was in quarantine,” she reminded him as she stood up to remove her coat.
He moaned in pain and her eyes darted over in concern before she realized that he was groaning at her dress.
She glanced down at her completely inappropriate ensemble, decided the least she could do was humor him, and spun around so that he could take in the view of her back half.
“Oh,” he groaned in angry frustration. “Damn it.” He collapsed into the mattress, both in weakness and defeat.
Phryne found his frustration incredibly confidence-boosting.
“Now, how long have you been in this state?”
“Then by my count you have at least two more days stuck in this bed. Have you eaten today?”
“Some bread and tea.”
“Good.” She sat beside him.
In his delirium, he couldn't resist running a fingertip down her bare spine. She knew it was a huge risk for him but she let out a hum of satisfaction as her eyes fluttered closed, making it known that she approved.
“Jack?” She murmured.
“Do you want me to stay here tonight so you’re not alone?” She asked.
He fell silent but his finger didn't cease running up and down her back.
“I won't be much company,” he warned.
“That's not what I asked you.” She held him to the question.
“Maybe just until I fall asleep. Fair is fair.” He stated.
“Then, would you mind terribly if I changed into something more comfortable?” She gestured to the small bag she had brought with her.
That got his finger to stop.
“You brought another outfit?” He looked up at her in surprise.
The implications of the action hung heavy in the silent air.
“Just in case you preferred a night in,” she lied, her pitch rising as her confidence fell.
With a whispered streak of profanity as blue as his wool suit, Jack closed his eyes.
“I didn't know you were ill!” She defended.
“Even when we both finally agree on what we want, the universe refuses to cooperate.”
“It will have to eventually, we are both very stubborn,” she commanded as she stood up and collected her things.
“Save the dress?” He requested before sniffling.
“I’ll leave it here with you for safekeeping if you’d like,” she offered.
“Not necessary but the thought is appreciated,” he mumbled.
Standing in his doorway, Phryne watched him settle into sleep. It was a rare thing to see him with his walls down, completely vulnerable to the world, and she was surprised to find her heart overflowing at the sight.
She smiled softly and nodded to herself, a secret confirmation of what she had long suspected to be true, before turning off the light and closing the door.