If he’d ever wondered how the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher might celebrate her birthday, fireworks and lavish feasts would have painted pictures of joy and graceful laughter in Jack’s mind. Only the most pristine of Melbourne society in attendance, the effects of flowing liquor stashed away behind dazzling smiles, and so completely unlike the affair that had greeted him upon trailing behind her to the parlor.
Believing himself to have been summoned for propriety’s sake over genuine interest in his company – after all, he had uninvitedly lingered past the completion of their case, had feared to leave her with her thoughts – Jack had kept to the sidelines and watched her laugh and drink and dance, feeling positively smothered by the warmth that had flooded him, Phryne and him trading bashful glances as she’d steered mercifully clear.
Least of all, Jack had foreseen what had followed the all too silent conclusion of the night. It was curious enough that he’d been the last to retire; had just been leaving, in fact, when she’d applied the most wicked means to keep him.
As he glanced down, the fog of sleep cleared just enough to lure him from his reverie, carrying forth a world of waking so tucked up in warmth he had trouble believing it anything more than a painfully vivid dream. For there was no way reality could match the sheer bliss in which he found himself, floating on a cloud in between dreams and rising.
Atop him, fast asleep and blanketing the entire length of his body, Phryne gave a little stir and buried herself ever deeper in the reassuring firmness of his chest. Another tiny flutter of movement, and he maintained impeccable stillness until she appeared comfortably situated.
Being crushed by her slight weight had a certain appeal, Jack decided as from nearby came a clock’s tranquilizing tick. Between that and the warmth of champagne and then whiskey, there was no denying she had him quite successfully trapped. Phryne’s beautifully tousled hair tickled his chin; where she was all warmth and secret softness, a little scratchy felt the starlight gems of her gown, a harmony of smooth skin and quiet rustling.
Already, the lids of Jack’s eyes were precariously drooping when the slightest creaking sound made him turn, startling him so in the empty space that even the sweet pressure of her leg between both of his escaped him.
“Another whiskey, sir?” It was Mr. Butler’s gentle voice, just announcing the man himself as he stepped from the shadows into the parlor’s fuzzy light. Invitingly golden were the contents of the fresh decanter, almost begging to flood the clear crystal glass he also held. Yet when Jack tentatively nodded, humiliation and fear to deny the man surpassed any true desire to accept the drink.
“Thank you,” mumbled Jack, taking to swirling the contents of his tumbler while Mr. Butler gathered the empty glasses strewn around. To accept it he’d reached out the arm to which Phryne greedily clung, innocent looks contrasting the tips of her fingers gripping him tightly. Despite the near-suspended state of his consciousness, just enough of Jack’s dignity had remained to leave him suitably embarrassed – they’d been caught in such a way that she was all around him, with his other hand smoothing the raven strands of Phryne’s hair.
But it was the thought of ceasing his attentions that seemed to disturb him; she was nudging upward into the cup of his palm, the deep silence strengthening her every little purr.
“Er, Mr. Butler?”
Moving assuredly about the half-dark on his way to exit the parlor as swiftly as he’d entered, Jack’s sleep-thick voice made the older man halt.
“Yes?” He regarded Jack with as much of his usual benevolence as he had upon offering him whiskey, yet Jack couldn’t shake the feeling of burdening the other man.
“Do you have a blanket we might borrow? It seems I won’t be returning home tonight.” Jack was acutely aware there was no going back; little could be done to salvage his honor, which appeared to have scurried to hide in the shadowy outskirts of the room. He was serving as a life-sized pillow to the lady of the house, no use denying the comfort that it brought him.
“Of course,” said Mr. Butler, and Jack could have sworn there was amusement dancing in his friendly eyes, “I’m quite glad you asked.”
Returning promptly to drape them in a thick linen throw, he showed no sign of disdain as Phryne snuggled deeper into the warm crook of Jack’s neck. Added to the sweet relief of Mr. Butler’s understanding – approval, perhaps? – came a heady thrill that threatened to pull all air from his lungs as Phryne’s lips brushed his sensitive Adam’s apple.
“Will you be requiring anything else?” Asked Mr. Butler; Jack was still basking in the realization he wasn’t quite as lost to sleep as he’d imagined. Although – another recognition that hit him with a jolting start – he needn’t have fretted, for any unseemly reactions would have been securely trapped by the warm tenderness of Phryne’s inner thighs.
“N-no. I...I believe not,” he answered eventually, smoothly as ever.
“Very well. Good night, Inspector.” As Jack quickly nodded his dutiful thanks, dulled somewhat by his reclining position and Phryne’s lightly snoring form above him, he briefly wondered how he’d ever again look that poor man in the eye.
When he found his eyes refusing to stay open, he downed his whiskey in a burning gulp, thinking it served him right in his humiliation, then whispered, “Good night to you too, Miss Fisher,” and kissed the words into her silky hair.
“Jack?” Phryne’s voice was so heartbreakingly tender, she must have thought him closer to an apparition than the man in the flesh. As she wedged the tip of her chin even more stubbornly into his breastbone, he cradled in his palm her delicate face, looking deeply into bleary eyes that softened as if he were everything; so warm and startlingly revealing.
“It’s alright, love,” he murmured, slightly shaken, in a low tone. “Go back to sleep.” This time, the sudden charge inside him was of a more stricken kind. But just as she, Jack was almost sleeping, made that reason enough to believe she’d let go unnoticed his disastrous slip.
Phryne nodded softly – rather than flinging herself from his arms’ embrace – then pressed her lips more intently to his throat and let out a tiny “Mmmh, Jack,” which was just enough to conceal Jack’s own strangled groan and his desire growing. Happily nuzzling his jaw, Phryne squeezed him tightly, reassuringly; rubbing his rigid form in a cat-like manner far too depraved to spring from innocent sleep.
“And what were your...girlhood dreams, Miss Fisher?”
Flickering light enveloped her, the roll of film continuing to play forgotten and Raymond’s aggravating presence fading to nothing in the other room. In her darkened eyes he saw mischief dancing, mingling there with the hidden depths of her smile.
“I’m living them, Inspector,” Phryne explained slyly and let her voice dip dangerously low, a challenge to seize the bait she had clearly thrown him.
Humming in acknowledgment and consideration, Jack fell victim to an onslaught of emotions – as he gazed upon her, he was under no illusion of showing anything less than clear-cut awe. Hell, he thought his eyes might splatter tears if she kept this up. She was back, their waltz resumed after a break deemed insignificant; they had caught their breath and risen again to meet eagerly in a closer tune.
A clink of their glasses, and they sipped their drinks and she was simply there as she fixed him with a dreamy expression.
“Well then, Jack…” Phryne smiled bashfully into her empty tumbler, abandoned there her stormy emotions. “What are you going to do now that you’re a great Australian film star?”
An extraordinary achievement, his brief venture into film proved reason enough to produce her most expensive whiskey; pleasantly lightheaded he must have been for the words that fell freely from his quirking lips.
“I don’t know. The case is finished, my paperwork filed…” A curiously raised eyebrow filled Jack’s loaded pause. “All that is left to do is celebrate.”
Jack watched, intrigued, as Phryne’s mouth dropped open and she pointed a questioning finger at herself, making sure she’d understood his tentative suggestion. He inclined his head; the invitation made, a deceptive calm settled over him, heat blossoming nonetheless in the centers of his cheeks.
“I would love that, Jack,” sounded the amazed whisper of her response, “but...Raymond’s taking me out for supper. After all,” she added playfully, “yours isn’t the only remarkable feat. I’ll see you soon?” On Phryne’s lips, the smile they shared was bright and dazzling, enough of a gift that Jack couldn’t once think to regret his request.
“It would be my pleasure,” Jack assured her earnestly, taking in the minute darkening of Phryne’s eyes and feeling oddly proud that he’d been the culprit.
“Good night, then,” she grinned, wringing in her hands her empty tumbler. When Phryne went to set it down, by this point almost entirely removed from him, something appeared to make her falter and she entered his space to press warm gentle lips against his cheek.
It went hardly further than a whispered breath; she was there and then gone before he knew it, but whenever she touched him it felt as if a ray of sunshine shot through Jack’s chest. He wanted to turn and hold her and kiss her breathless, the warmth in his cheeks spreading further as he resisted the pull to follow her.
Incredulous, Jack opened his eyes – the closing of which he had not noticed – and found his hands shaking slightly as he watched her dart from the room like a bolt of lightning.
“No need to wait up, darling!” Phryne called, grinning, and Jack could have sworn despite her wide smile and twinkling eyes that he saw a flush rising on her own pale skin. She flitted past the ground of the staircase, leaving him to stand and watch in stunned amusement the space beside him she’d just occupied as his heartbeat rose to a heavy thrum.
When he found himself still clutching his tumbler, Jack downed the last mouthful left inside, then took up Phryne’s and awkwardly strode past Raymond on his quest for the kitchen, feeling too lost to entirely shake the phantom press of her lips to his skin.
Once there, Jack walked in on Mr. Butler, who was smiling quietly to himself as he set the table for a quiet supper, preparing a simple meal for Miss Williams and himself. The homey smell of stew attracted him further and Jack cleared his throat as he invited himself in.
“Excuse me,” he muttered, waving the dirty glasses in his hands in response to Mr. Butler’s looking up from his current task, smiling a kind smile that Jack couldn’t help but return hesitantly.
“It’s quite alright, sir,” he said while placing spoons and knives by the gleaming plates; fresh bread stood waiting in the table’s center, a gap left empty to soon contain the pot of stew. “Leave the glasses by the sink, will you? I’ll see to the washing-up when supper is done.”
“Thank you,” responded Jack almost instinctively, moving as he did to discard the tumblers as requested by the older man. When his blush deepened, he could almost hear Phryne’s little cackle and feel her gleeful grin – perhaps brushing against his face as her kiss had been. There, his mind lingered unbearably as he turned again to make his exit.
“May I offer you a slice of lemon cake?” Barely holding back a flinch, Jack let a beat of silence pass as he studied Mr. Butler.
“Oh, no, I...I wouldn’t want to intrude on your hospitality,” he said, certain the other man regretted his offer as soon as he’d made it. Where there was Phryne, her every word a brilliant chime, Jack’s own speech was a child’s babble when left so flustered he could barely breathe. Strangely, it was only ever then that Mr. Butler seemed to catch him.
Unfazed, he produced a third spotless plate and fork and pulled out the chair where he’d just planted it, motioning for Jack to accept the spot. “Then consider it a warm welcome home,” he suggested, paused purposefully to cast Jack another gentle smile.
The last thing Jack heard was Phryne’s vibrant voice emerging – “So, Raymond, where are you taking me?” – then a large piece of cake appeared, towering in his line of sight, and with it the lemony scent and sugar glistening. Jack glanced at Mr. Butler, who was still smiling as he returned to the stew, feeling pleasantly warmed in a way that had nothing to do with Phryne’s joking kiss.
“Will you come home with me?”
She had swayed a little on her feet, leaning in so close that Jack could almost hear the phantom gasp of Mrs. Collins, picture her backtracking all the way to the church only to avert her eyes in shock – the night washing her in an otherworldly glow, Phryne had all but fallen asleep standing.
Beneath his jacket his focus had lain; on Phryne’s hands, which had snuck there to cover his heart through his thin white shirt. Beating a heady roar, which Jack had thought might cease the second she left him.
“You’re playing a dangerous game, Miss Fisher.”
“My favorite kind,” she’d cheered tiredly, but his breath had caught as disappointment had washed over her, an expression twisting her features so wrongly he’d sworn never to be the source of it again. “Oh, there’s really no need to look at me like that – I assure you I’ll play quite nicely.” Emphasis had come as a barely caught yawn. “And besides, I’m hardly in the right mind to woo you.”
She must have felt him stiffen; having moved upward, away from his skin to stroke his lapels, dry regret had tinged her voice as she’d glanced up softly. “Long hours of packing, placating Dot – you know how they are.” He did; had had to see to Hugh as Phryne had to Mrs. Collins, making him mirror her small knowing smile. “So...what do you say, Jack? A nightcap before bed?”
“Whatever you wish, Miss Fisher.”
To torment him was what she’d wished, drawing a bath and discarding not only her sparkling gown but all her layers as soon as he’d helped her out of it – “I told Angela Lombard you’d undressed me with your teeth,” she muttered, twisting Jack’s thoughts in a way he clearly did not need while so snugly pressed against her. Before any words could come to him, she maneuvered him to the ornate chair that faced her bathtub, the ocean in which was already swirling with honeyed salts and hot steam rising.
He watched as Phryne’s gaze danced across the room, combing the space and searching, before she perked up with a little “Ah!” and dropped with a sweet smile a thick volume into his lap. A brand-new Collected Shakespeare, silver letters etched into the deepest red. In the blink it took for her request to part the sweetened fog around Jack’s brain, she was already submerged in the water’s gentle waves and looking at him expectantly.
⠀⠀⠀⠀“Hear my soul speak:
⠀⠀⠀⠀The very instant that I saw you, did
⠀⠀⠀⠀My heart fly to your service; there resides,
⠀⠀⠀⠀To make me slave to it, and for your sake
⠀⠀⠀⠀Am I this patient log-man,”
Jack was reading, fires roaring within his cheeks.
‘Do you love me?’ He half-expected her to quote back in a voice warm and sugar-coated like the water all around her, which was likely the only barrier left between them. What she really asked him, quietly huffing when Jack’s lips curled around the words, was, “Do you intend to show me your log, Jack?” – which inquiry he’d rather answer, he couldn’t have said. But as he turned to see Phryne’s head pillowed on her arm and sleep softening her expression, his mind supplied a ready answer upon the first.
“Sorry,” Phryne said as she shook herself awake, smiling shyly. “Would you mind passing me the lather?”
His heart stuttering as her eyes fluttered briefly closed and dark eyelashes swept over her pale cheeks, Jack couldn’t help to counter softly, “May I wash your hair?” Before she inclined her head sincerely, something shifted in Phryne’s eyes, small but unmistakable. It had always been her way to set off sparks inside Jack, which must have been why her surprise baffled him – his simple request, made between reflex and fear of the coming morning, had a soft blush creeping across her skin.
As he cupped the water over Phryne’s head, tracing the lines of her face with gentle fingers before working the lather into her hair and gently massaging, warmth hummed in the tips of his fingers; the fresh aroma of lavender swelled with honey’s intoxicating warmth. When Jack’s shirt was in some places quite thoroughly wet, Phryne’s little breaths steadied and deepened and he rinsed the lather’s foam from her silky hair.
“Phryne?” Jack brushed a hand across her shoulder, which she held there in a protective clasp.
“Am not.” She languidly stretched her arms and shoulders, and almost golden were the droplets of water racing down her pale breasts; the soft ripple of muscle beneath her alabaster skin wasn't all that commandeered his eyes to wander, to clench his wet hands upon his sides. “Will you hold me until I fall asleep?” She asked incredibly softly.
He did, first running a brush through Phryne’s hair and then moving to her bedside their untouched whiskey. Jack tucked her in so in the thick sheets she was almost drowning, gathering her tightly to his chest and drawing aimless patterns into the warmth of her side and belly when she steered him into the blanket’s cocoon. Holding close her warm soft body, he allowed her familiar smell to flood him and tried not to wonder what lay ahead.
“Never stop,” whispered Phryne, caught in that tender space before sleep made its claim.
“I won’t.” Jack assured her. For certain he knew that his eyes were rimmed with red as he slipped away at last and the silk sheets whispered all around her.
A kiss brushed to the top of her head, he bid her goodbye as if stumbling from a perfect fantasy; the dark and shadows beyond had grown fangs. When on top of all he saw Mr. Butler emerging from the kitchen, pressing a basket into Jack’s hands, he thought his heart might drop straight through the floor into Wardlow’s no doubt considerable basement.
“Your breakfast, Inspector,” he explained calmly, his open demeanor suggesting it the most natural thing in the world, “since I’m sure you have an early morning tomorrow.”
“Quite certainly. Miss Fisher will be awaiting you at the airfield.” Mr. Butler said the words so easily, there appeared to be no way Jack could deny him, not to speak of the home expanding in his chest. Creating lightness where sorrow had settled.
“Then I suppose I’d better make my way home,” he said slowly with the suggestion of a smile tugging at his lips – the end was coming, but it hadn’t yet arrived.
There had been suppers shared with Dot and Mr. Butler, but never had he found himself completely alone with the man. Who else he'd thought to encounter, Jack couldn't have said. He'd watched the newlyweds drive off into the moonlight, removing from the equation both them and Cec and Bert. The only difference: Jack was alone, for no one else's world spun quite so firmly as his around a certain lady detective.
City South had been loneliness and boredom, his shift over in a blur before recognition dawned that she was gone. And now...what else was there to do than working, returning to Phryne’s when the job was done? Jack's hand was raised in a knock, his usual spot; before it struck him that there was no one awaiting him, draining the world from its gaudy hues and his nights in her spell of meaning.
All kinds of plans escaped him as he stood there, so encompassed by his gloom that the door’s clicking barely registered. Revealed was Mr. Butler, then the furrow of concern in brow.
“Good evening, Inspector.” Greeting Jack took the man as little effort as schooling his expression did, and Jack allowed his unsurprised attention to put him at ease just a little. Having shed his hat and coat, he was moved to the kitchen and before him a drink appeared.
“Thank you.” Jack forced the words up his throat. “But I really should be going; I need to get back to…” Where, exactly? His colleagues had fluttered around him as if walking on eggshells, scrambling to bypass his every move; only in his hasty leave he'd seen their muscles loosening.
There were books, and tending to a garden terribly overgrown, and chasing the dying sun as he rode his bicycle – but nothing in the world he wanted more than to be close to her, let her be anywhere but in her way to the other side of the world when the ghost of her lips lingered just beyond reaching.
Heavy droplets clouded his gaze, no move indicating his imminent leave. There was only darkness where he sat, and beside him Mr. Butler’s gentle towering.
“Might I suggest you stay for supper?”
“Why?” Jack asked, the word’s blow so harsh that he flinched upon speaking, tried to make it right: “Phryne...Miss Fisher is gone.”
“All the more reason for you to stay,” Mr. Butler declared mildly, a smile coloring his voice. “You must be hungry as a wolf without Miss Fisher and dear Dorothy.” He was right, of course – Jack had seen no food since before the airfield, remained half giddy from Phryne’s kiss.
When chicken and vegetables touched the plate before him, Jack dug in like a man nearly starved, hoping the hot meal would drive from his chest the bitter burning of solitude. Silence descended as they ate, only Jack’s occasional hums interrupting.
“She told me to go after her,” he said at last into the empty plate – for she had been more than asking, channeling in her smile the very sun. Interested but polite was the look on Mr. Butler’s face, nothing given away as he waited in the room’s faint light. A skill honed to perfection, Jack felt heard but not once scrutinized, and his mind yearned to know the other man’s.
If there was any chance there had been more to it than joking, a passage to England would be his first concern. He'd hardly believed the challenge in her shining eyes. But…
“I can't,” he confessed, and watched in shame as Mr. Butler’s face dimmed.
City South was an issue, so was the money for which he'd never meant to reach. “She didn't...” He was scrambling for words and knew it, quite unable to catch his breath.
“Have you ever known Miss Fisher to be anything but a woman of the truth?” Jack sent him a dubious look; before him flashed her constant trickery, withheld evidence and lawless routes taken – but no, she wouldn't dabble in the matter of his heart, had been loud and fierce in her almost-declaration.
“If I call in with the Commissioner tomorrow,” he began, a pause giving way to Mr. Butler’s encouraging nod, “provided I'm granted the extended leave, I can sign for my ticket, wrap up my case work, and be on my way within the coming month.” As Jack glanced up, his cheeks were hot and his heart made a little room for the unthinkable idea. He knew what he wanted, craved her mind and every inch of her body. “What do you think?” He sounded vague, hopeful; it was unnerving, really, how desperately Jack wanted to know.
“Miss Fisher would be delighted to have you,” the other man replied honestly, “should you decide to pursue your heart.”
Jack almost didn't trust his eyes at the look of open glee that met him, gifted the man a small wry smile of his own. Already, he was dreaming up the mind-emptying thud of Phryne’s flinging herself into the circle of his arms – and other, perhaps rougher touches that would follow. “Well, then.” A little dazed, he finally lifted his untouched glass. “I suppose somebody has to try and keep her out of trouble.”
“I'll drink to that,” announced Mr. Butler, his eyes glittering mischievously as if he knew just what Jack had been thinking.
This time, Jack took the back entrance; blinded by tears and shame and desperate anger flaring white-hot in his veins. First, the Morris case – a serial killer tantalizing Melbourne, needing all men wholly on the job – then his passage called off, a refund. Worn down to the bone, a second ticket bought, spending an odd few days in fragile bliss before her marriage had made the social pages. And from the woman herself had come not one word.
Midnight reigning, Wardlow looked every inch the shadow it had become. There had been long nights sitting in her parlor, by her side then snuggled up alone after she'd left – a handful more, moving from books aplenty to stiff drinks once he'd seen her wedding in the papers. Before, Jack had barely known how to breathe when the walls still held her scent, and the chaise was soft where she'd leaned against it.
After the wedding, he had long held out hope for a word from her – any word, really. Until everywhere he looked he saw the news imprinted, engraved on the very surface of his mind.
Now, another paper, clutched so tightly that it was nearly dust in his trembling hands. The end, her death. He'd driven straight here, shoved the creased paper on the kitchen table, her eyes intently watching from the flimsy page.
And there was Mr. Butler, the man he'd abandoned in the throes of bitterness. A concerned hand on Jack’s shoulder, there and gone. “Good evening, Inspector. I heard the news.”
The clink of a glass disturbed him, but Jack saw nothing. His face was carelessly buried in the cup of his palms and behind him the louder clatter of kitchenware resumed.
Jack didn't know how long he sat there as long painful sobs tore apart his soul; by the end of it, not a single tear remained to be wept. He felt suddenly restless, thought his body could no longer contain the emptiness inside.
Mr. Butler came to a cautious halt as he rose, but did a surprisingly good job of choosing interest over worry as Jack sidled up next to the other man. The scent of chocolate filled the air, so at odds with the war inside him, the gaping hole she had left behind. Although one batch was in the oven, Jack’s hands craved the cool resistance of the dough and the mindless work.
“May I?” He asked thickly, tilting his head at the ingredients left.
Mr. Butler replied, “Of course,” making room. But rather than leaving, he took up Jack’s abandoned spot and set to cleaning silverware already sparkling, a presence shocking in its comfort and ease.
Red-rimmed eyes again turned watery, and Jack didn’t bake so much as occasionally working in between bursts of tears. All the while he basked in the silent sympathy of Mr. Butler, who remained as Jack refilled the oven and paced the room.
Dawn following closely on his heels, he eventually set a warm plate before the other man. “Supper’s ready,” he said dryly, startled by the hoarseness of his own voice.
Intrigued, Mr. Butler brought a still-warm biscuit to his mouth, his somber expression turning rather joyful as he chewed, and in Jack there was instant suspicion.
He coughed and hummed in contemplation upon taking a bite of his own, around crumbles so dry he could barely swallow. “These are horrendous!” New droplets began to form in his eyes as Jack’s shoulder trembled with painful laughter.
Mr. Butler appeared to be briefly delighted, setting his own half-eaten piece stealthily aside. “That,” he spoke somewhat merrily into the oppressive pause, “is a statement I will neither confirm nor deny.”
And when the memory of Phryne’s laugh echoed through his shattered heart, wayward tears shook Jack even harder.
Fingers probing at his shoulder waved off the fog of sleep, making him conscious of the cascading sun first and then the softness underneath him. Gentle warmth, a heartbeat cradled against his chest...and a hand tightening around his arm and lazily shaking.
“Jack.” Phryne's voice softened to a tired whisper, unhurried where before she'd sounded slightly huffy. “You're crushing me.”
“Am I, now?” But already, he was moving aside, then turned to drink her in. Her contented smile, the ruffled hair, and eyes gently caressing him, bleary from sleep but beautifully dark in the soft glow of daylight. “How strange,” he pondered. “I didn't hear any objections last night, when you had me unjustly trapped between your arms and legs.”
His heart nearly wept at the memory, making love to Phryne as the full moon watched. Sealing them softly in its silver shine; their first night back in Melbourne, a snapshot trapped in moonlight. She'd cried as he'd held her, fluttering around him and glistening with diamond tears. Holding him in place had been her soft naked body, clinging to him, that first time under different stars.
“That's different,” she muttered now, and put on his lips a tender smile. In shifting onto her side to face him, she had once again pulled Jack close.
“Is it?” He asked now against her lips, marveling at the shivers he felt from a touch so simple.
“Of course. How else was I to make sure that you wouldn't get away? I saw the way you looked at Mr. Butler last night. Like you'd bolt through the door the moment I let you loose.” He was nothing short of astonished as he studied her, thinking she had it all figured out.
Nightfall rolling over Melbourne, he'd wanted to shout from the rooftops his love for her; everything in him awash in emotion as she'd led him home where he belonged. However flustered the late-night reception had made him, at long last greeting the man whose wise words had more than once been his shelter, silence had befallen Jack at his easy welcome into the space she'd carved.
Chasing her around the world had been worth it for the sight of her alone, one with which he was now incredibly familiar: Phryne Fisher, a rosy flush to her cheeks, studying him and proudly sporting the look of the lovesick fool that her tender smile always made of him as well. Looking completely and utterly alive.
A perfect fit, his hand rested on the slight dip of her waist, and Jack felt her from the steady beat of her heart to their legs entangled. He nudged his face into the cup of her hand, kissing her palm’s edge and only just keeping from smiling.
“Melbourne life seems to agree with you,” her soft voice broke the silence, causing the corner of his mouth to twitch.
“You look well-rested. Happy.”
“And how could I not?” Jack marveled, closely watching her face. “It's most certainly down to Melbourne,” he said and kept a serious face. “The unmatched beauty of City South, nothing quite so stimulating as a drawn-out chase, Melbourne’s criminals…” Holding her eyes, Jack was delighted to observe that she'd gone slightly breathless, darkness pooling in her gaze as he brought to his lips her delicate wrist.
Phryne pulled him in for a thorough kiss, rolling half astride him as she did. His tongue in her warm wet mouth and her naked body all over him made Jack groan; she was stroking him with an eagerness quite remarkable for such early hours.
“Mmmh, you’re warm,” she murmured while lazily nibbling his bottom lip. Jack's hand painted lengthening strokes from her neck to the base of her spine; her little noises vibrated against his mouth. Slow waves of desire washed over him, and he fell into her familiar scent and the pressure of their perfectly aligned bodies. When a low moan escaped him, a short knock on the door made them pause. In strode Mr. Butler; if he was at all disturbed by the sight they made, the man showed no sign.
“Morning!” Phryne greeted cheerily and turned her head in a wide grin before rolling off a blushing Jack, who tugged the sheets higher around her in a gesture entirely instinctual.
“Good morning, Miss. Inspector. I hope you had a refreshing night.”
“We did! It was really quite rousing.” Beside her, Jack quietly choked, a sound earning an affectionate kiss planted on his cheek. “Now, what specialties have you brought us this morning?”
“The usual, Miss.” Setting down his silver tray, he revealed buttered toast, a pot of coffee spreading a strong delicious scent, and on the side a large plate of biscuits. “Chocolate biscuits for the Inspector,” he turned to Jack, smiling, “although I'm afraid they aren't quite as good as yours.”
Before Jack could wonder why everybody had it in for him, he was caught quite off-guard by Phryne’s delightfully startled expression, the wheels of her mind working as she tried to piece together the clues at hand. Finally: “Are you two hiding something?!”
“We are not,” said Jack.
“Of course not, Miss,” chimed in Mr. Butler, “I'll be glad to see you two downstairs.”
“Yes,” Phryne agreed, her gaze flickering between the two men. “There seems to be rather a lot of catching up to do.” She shot Jack a pointed look, which he returned with his own, somewhat timid copy. After Mr. Butler’s vanishing figure she shouted, “You're an angel, Mr. B!” Following Jack’s example, she grabbed a delicious-looking biscuit off the tray, pieces of chocolate darkening the light-brown dough. “So, Jack. I'm all ears.” As she settled back against the headboard, the sheets gathered enticingly at her bare waist.
Taking a bite bought him another second to think and pointedly ignore the warmth across his cheeks. The friendship he'd built felt strangely precious, and he didn't know how Phryne would take the news.
Between bites of toast and decadent biscuits, feeling that his heart might burst from the weight in his chest, he told her as much as the lump in his throat let him. About little smiles concealed in plain sight, sharing meals as knowing looks changed into attentive conversation extending weeks past her departure, then his uncertainty that his invitation reached beyond Phryne's exhilarant return.
As she intently listened, it was with a jolt of wonder that he found tears glistening in the corners of Phryne's eyes as well; she clung to his hand as though she never intended to let go.
“Oh, Jack, that's wonderful!”
“You think so?”
“Of course! I cannot begin to imagine all that he’s done for you.”
It was true, he supposed; Mr. Butler had been his harbor when Phryne could not, letting Jack come to him with his heart wide open. Never once had he judged Jack, or shown anything less than respect immeasurable. Being with Phryne was a life in sheer awe, yet he also hoped to strengthen his bond with the other man, allowing the precious bud to blossom.
“I don't know how to thank him, Jack! Do you think he needs a promotion?”
“Can we talk about this? Phryne-” Shushing him, she pressed the soft pad of her finger against his lips.
“Mr. Butler!” She shouted, a sprinkle of glee mixing with her tears as the air went out of him.