She doesn't mean for time to get away from her the way it does. She doesn’t mean to be gone from Melbourne for so long, or to marry a Maharaja or accidentally be declared dead.
(Or have her heart broken. Least of all that.)
But somehow, for the first time in so many years, after she flies away from him in that airfield it’s as though life simply happens to her instead of the other way around.
It’s as though she’s no longer at the helm and it’s terribly disconcerting.
She tells him to come after her and she means it.
From the moment she loses sight of him as her plane leaves the ground all she can think of is kissing him again.
She hadn’t expected it to make her feel so free.
Or so desperate.
But she isn’t afraid, she tells herself. This is exactly what she wanted - for Jack Robinson to finally give in to inevitability.
The anticipation of their reunion, of the gratification of Jack coming after her, fuels her through the gruelling flight and by the time she’s in London that desperation has instead become a feeling of calm she’s never quite experienced before. She is so ready to see him again. This is the longest she’s ever gone without talking to him since she moved to Melbourne and she’s confronted by just how much she misses it. Misses him. In a way that’s about so much more than desire.
There is desire of course, excitement at what lies ahead of them, but alongside it is something quieter, the longing to just sit with him over a nightcap once more and talk of what they’ve missed.
She never once considers the possibility that he won’t come.
She arrives in London and those first few days are consumed by settling her father back into his home, smoothing over her parents marriage and putting plans in place to ensure their financial security can never again be threatened by his impulsivity.
Watching them, though they love each other, reminds her of why she has vowed never to marry, why commitment has always seemed so much like a trap.
But it also reminds her that she is not her mother and that love can look so many different ways.
It can look like Dot and Hugh so pure of heart and giddy to be together.
It can look like a family borne out of choice rather than blood; of doctors and butlers and cabbies and maids and stowaways always there to keep each other safe and to share their joys and their sorrows with.
And it can look like a man who would choose his own heartbreak over ever asking her to change.
Funny, she thinks, how that makes her less afraid to do so.
She waits for his telegram, eager to be able to plan in earnest what they’ll do together when he arrives.
She waits, composing imaginary replies full of innuendo and sincerity, eager for him to know exactly how she feels about him.
And she waits.
And when she doesn’t hear from him, when he doesn’t come after her as she expects he would, something bitter and resentful settles in her stomach, a feeling she is wholly unfamiliar with.
She had asked him to come after her, made it abundantly clear that she wanted him. She has never had to ask a man twice and her pride won’t let her start now.
So she tries to erase all the imaginary telegrams she’s been composing - I’m buying new lingerie just for you and I dream about your hands on me and you can’t imagine how much I miss you - but most of all she tries to erase the valediction at the end of each one - love phryne - from her mind.
She finds herself alternately glad that she never committed them to paper and wishing she at least had something to burn because try as she might she cannot seem to banish them from her mind and she longs for the catharsis of destruction.
Instead she starts accepting the kind of social invitations that she had all but lost interest in while living in Melbourne. It’s been so long since she’s been in London and the invitations are endless, from luncheon’s to evening soirées to weekend trips to country estates; more than enough to fill her days.
(She fully intends to fill her bed as well but though she’s never short of offers they all feel wrong; the way they touch her, the timbre of their voice, the way they look at her - all wrong, all compared no matter how much she tries to avoid it to the familiarity of him.
And in that comparison they all come up lacking.)
She finds of course that these frivolous events are infinitely less fun without the meaning of her work and the family she had found, made up of the familiar social class of her childhood rather than that acquired in adulthood, to come home to.
But they distract her well enough when she can barely stand to be still or alone for the way her thoughts drift always to him.
Then somehow word gets around that she can solve problems for people and someone, some friend of a friend of a friend, tells her of a Maharaja in India with a particularly delicate problem and she doesn’t even say yes so much as someone simply books her passage and offers their thanks - and a rather hefty payment for her services - and she finds herself on her way, another adventure to add to her list.
She doesn’t go with marriage as her solution in mind.
It simply turns out to be the only one available to them in the end.
And maybe a tiny, cruel, part of her feels like she’s punishing him somehow even though he knows nothing of it.
She means to go home after India.
She misses Jane. And Dot. And Bert and Cec. And Mister Butler. And Mac. And even Aunt P. She misses her family; her life.
(But not him. She refuses to miss him.)
Only when she thinks about returning, her stomach twists and there’s a dull ache in her chest and she doesn’t want to feel it so she accepts an invitation to see old friends and tells herself after this last gaudy weekend she’ll return home and face reality.
But then Lofty introduces her to the Sheikh and and he tells of his niece in a prison in Jerusalem in desperate need of someone to rescue her. She thinks of Dot and Jane and what their lives would have become if they hadn’t crossed her path; living in prisons of another kind but prisons all the same.
So of course she cannot refuse, will not leave another girl to the mercy of men.
And if going to Jerusalem delays her return to Melbourne, distracts her from what she doesn’t want to feel, pushes him from her mind as she focuses on a case - well she won’t pretend she’s not grateful for the reprieve.
He is precisely the last thing she expects to see when she lands on the lawn at Lofty’s and it rattles her.
That he should be here now, so long after her invitation and no correspondence between them, makes no sense yet even so her heart betrays her, lurching at the sight of him despite the best efforts of her brain to maintain a cool composure.
When he tells her he came for her memorial she feels sick. He had believed her dead once before and it had nearly ruined him. Them. She had never intended to cause him that kind of pain again and he had promised her after that one brief rupture to their relationship that he would stay in step.
But he hadn’t - and she still doesn’t understand why.
Even so, despite the chasm that already exists between them she has never wanted to see that pain on his face again.
Only she doesn’t have to - because it’s anger that he meets her with. At first she’s perplexed by it, then she wants to joke it away but he won’t play along and that of course gives way to her own anger. How dare he be angry at her for not being dead when she never got to be angry at him for not coming after her.
It goes unsaid of course because she refuses to be vulnerable with him as though no time has passed, as though they’re still who they were back in Melbourne ready and excited to leap into something. Nearly a year apart and it’s all changed - entirely without her permission.
And he says he’s done with her.
She tells herself she doesn’t need or want him, professionally or otherwise, yet she finds herself at his door, begging him to join her on a midnight rendezvous; chasing after him in the street, goading him into helping her with the promise that he can be rid of her if he does.
She won’t let herself think about what it will feel like when it’s time to watch him leave.
Now they start to dance again but it’s far from the slow, close waltz they had perfected back home.
It almost feels like they’re right back at the beginning again. Except in the beginning she had hope for possibilities between them but he doesn’t trust her anymore and she’s a prisoner to her pride, refusing to apologise or explain herself to him.
Now he makes allusions to what they nearly were - is this your idea of sweet nothings - only to declare such possibilities off the table.
And then insist on following her to Jerusalem because what if you don’t come back, said in that same tone she remembers all too well, words from long ago - I found it unbearable.
(Words that she understands far too deeply now.)
It confuses her which only adds to her irritation.
And then he has the gall to be irritated with her for acting on her own, for not needing his help or telling him her plans when it’s his fault that she has forgotten how. He didn't come after; she’d had no choice but to get used to working alone again.
But maybe even worse than everything else is that somehow in all this mess he has become far too good at turning his back on her and as he walks away from her in the middle of a desert she wonders if her pride is really worth the dull ache in her chest she feels every time he does.
It only takes near death and the feel of his solid body underneath hers to decide definitively that it is not.
She hates this new dance of theirs and maybe he doesn’t want her anymore and maybe they’ve missed their chance, but if nothing else she wants to know that there is honesty between them again.
She wants him to know that she didn't marry the Maharaja for love.
After it’s all over and they’re alone in the desert separated by nothing more than two tents, she expects him - hoping that her confession will be enough to bring them back into step once more.
But he still doesn’t come after her.
And this time she thinks to hell with waiting for him.
She’s never had to ask a man twice.
But it was never Jack Robinson before.
(Still she’s not quite as brave as she’d like to be, luring him to her tent with fear rather than an invitation.
Because he’s right of course - loving him is the only thing aside from spiders that truly scares her.)
Lying in bed in a tent in the desert, nearly a year after leaving Melbourne, with his arms around her she finally feels what she can only describe as home again.
He traces his fingers down her arm and speaks quietly. “It isn’t that I didn’t notice Phryne.”
She tenses in his arms a little so he presses closer, kissing her shoulder - an unspoken reassurance that she has nothing to fear from these words. He’s not accusing her, he just wants her to understand.
“I noticed a lot of things,” he continues slowly. “I noticed all the ways you showed me that you cared for me, the way you brought me into your collected family. And I really noticed when you let me kiss you before you flew away, asked me to come after you. But then you married someone. And I came all this way because I thought I had lost you and you behaved as though it didn’t matter. That didn’t feel like a love requited Phryne.”
“I know," she whispers quietly, feeling now the shame of her pettiness these past few weeks. She takes a breath before turning to face him. “I didn’t intend to hurt you Jack. None of this is what I expected to happen when I flew back to London,” she sighs and he looks at her with such tenderness, such love, that not for the first time she feels as though she might not deserve him.
“So what happened?” he asks genuinely. “How did we go from that kiss in the airfield to you marrying a Maharaja and refusing to tell me why? To spending nearly a year apart,” he adds with a sadness in his voice that he doesn’t try to hide.
“You didn’t come after me,” she answers honestly, without trying to hide the hurt in hers.
“You didn’t give me a chance,” he defends with surprise.
She blinks at him, momentarily speechless. This is not the narrative she thought it had been.
“When I got to London I didn’t hear from you,” she says carefully. “I assumed you’d decided I wasn’t worth the trouble. Again.” She doesn’t mean to sound so hurt when she says it but it turns out that particular wound runs deeper than she had realised.
He runs an exasperated hand through his hair, frustration leaking into his voice. “I was waiting for word of your arrival so I could make plans Phryne! And then all of a sudden Collins was telling me that you’d sent word to Dot that you were off to India. I assumed you’d found someone better. Again,” he echoes her pointedly.
She laughs a little, though she feels it might be dangerously more close to a sob. “It seems we have quite the pattern of miscommunication Jack.”
“Aided by not talking straight to the point,” he adds pointedly, though his fingers brushing softly through her hair tell her it’s not a reprimand.
She takes a deep breath because he’s right and it’s time to speak truthfully. Dishonest is hardly a word most people would use to describe her. Her propensity for bluntness and the joy she takes in shocking people paints her as quite the opposite. But she would be a coward if she couldn’t acknowledge that when it came to him she had tended toward suggestion and innuendo more often than true honesty.
But there had been a moment of sincerity, three words uttered in the dark of the night - more than anything - where she had been entirely unafraid of the naked truth.
And so she reaches for that now, silently asking it to give her the courage to lay her heart bare to him.
“I’m sorry for hurting you, for giving you reason to doubt my word and my feelings for you. When you didn’t come - well the truth is I found it unbearable,” she tells him. “I didn’t like feeling that way. I didn’t like how it turned my world upside down Jack. And when you showed up here - I just didn’t know how to go back, how to make us - us again.”
She runs her fingers across his cheek, silently amazed at how it makes her feel to be able to touch him with affection at last. “I never thought you would try to turn me into a policeman’s wife. But you’re right, I am scared,” she whispers.
“Of what Phryne?” he asks gently. “What could I ever have done to make you so afraid of loving me?”
“It’s not you I’m scared of Jack. It’s me.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“I’m afraid of hurting you. Of not being able to give you what you want. Of disappointing you.”
“You could never disappoint me Phryne,” he says softly.
“Well we both know that’s a lie, I’ve done nothing but disappoint you since you discovered I wasn’t actually dead,” she says with a laugh that does nothing at all to hide the insecurity beneath the words.
He responds by kissing her gently. “Disappointment is the furthest thing from what I saw you climb out of that plane Phryne. And how easy it is to forget all that when I’m lying with you in my arms.”
“Is that your way of saying you forgive me?” she queries.
“That depends,” he replies seriously. “How long do you plan on staying like this?”
Her voice is soft and tender and completely sincere when she answers, “As long as you’ll have me Jack Robinson.”
“And here I always thought it would be the other way around.”
“It can be humbling to be wrong sometimes,” she says with a smile.
“Indeed it can Miss Fisher,” he says before kissing her once more.
But she puts a hand between them, not quite finished because if they’re going for honesty then she need to address it all, every last fear she has about the danger of loving him.
“Jack you said you don’t need to marry me - ” she starts.
“And I meant it Phryne,” he responds seriously.
“But I know how seriously you took your marriage Jack. You told me once you would never ask me to change. And I love you for that. So how can I possibly ask you to change for me?” she asks him.
“Phryne I took my marriage seriously because it was entered into in seriousness, in sincerity for all the intentions we had for it. But I was a younger and much different man then. It doesn’t mean I want to marry again. Or that any commitment I make now is any less serious or sincere. I wouldn’t say it if wasn’t true. I don’t need to marry you.”
“But that’s just it Jack, you keep saying need and that worries me. There’s a world of difference between wants and needs and you deserve to have everything you want.” She pauses, hesitant. “Do you want to marry again Jack?”
He smiles and laughs, “Why, are you offering?”
She closes her eyes. “No. I’m not,” she sighs. “That’s why I’m afraid.”
“For someone so damned intelligent you can be so dense!” he tells her but the words are laced with such affection that she opens her eyes to see him again. “I just want you,” he says slowly and pointedly. “In whatever way we decide. That’s all I want Phryne, for us to decide our future together - a partnership.”
She watches him carefully, searching for any sign that he’s holding back, any clue that he’s being dishonest with her - or himself.
And then she reminds herself that people are not cases to be solved so she stops looking and chooses instead to simply believe him.
“I can do that Jack,” she tells him seriously. “By which I mean, I want to do that,” she adds, hoping he can hear the truth of it in her voice and feel it in the gentle caress of her fingers on his cheek.
“Well then, I guess we have a whole world to explore then,” he says with a smile as his lips find hers once more.
She whispers into his mouth, “The world can wait Jack, I’d rather explore right here.”
“I think it’s a good thing I never got to read your eulogy Phryne,” he muses as they ride through the desert together on the back of a camel.
“And why is that?” she laughs.
“Because the truth is I think it read more like a love letter.”
“And that would have been a problem because?” she queries, leaning back against his chest to feel him solidly behind her just because she can now.
“Because I prefer to keep my love letters private,” he says fingers splaying against her stomach, caressing her ever so gently.
“What did it say?” she asks.
“That you changed my life,” he answers seriously.
“Is that all?” she questions lightly, digging for more.
“Is that not enough?” he asks, voice low and serious as he presses his lips to her neck.
And she smiles because he’s right of course. It’s more than enough.
There are two things Phryne Fisher never meant to do.
Falling in love was the first. Having her heart broken was second.
But finding a way to repair it? That she simply hadn't known was an option.
Now they man the helm together and she discovers what a beautiful kind of freedom it is to share the task with someone else rather than carry it alone.
And finally she can say in all honesty that spiders truly are her only fear.