Jack sits behind the wheel, considering whether he’s an idiot for driving to Miss Fisher’s house at nearly two in the morning -- or whether he’s a fool for driving away again.
What had he been thinking, driving to Miss Fisher’s at nearly two in the morning? He hadn’t actually -- been thinking, that is. He’d stayed at Rosie’s until she’d fallen into a defensive, exhausted sleep, and then crept out leaving instructions with the maid to call if anything was needed.
The number he’d given had been Miss Fisher’s telephone.
He’d driven to her house because that’s what he did at the end of a case. When she’d appeared at the open doorway in her dressing gown it had been only partially surprising. He’d felt -- muddled. The need to explain his presence, obviously inappropriate, warring with the fundamental knowledge that this was the least inappropriate place he’d been all day.
“I thought you were with Rosie.”
“I was. Too late?”
He looks up, now, at the window he knows to be Miss Fisher’s bedroom. Sees the lace of the curtain flutter slightly against the pane. She’s there, then, watching the car. Probably wondering whether it’s worth pulling one of her trapeze-artist stunts to circumvent the formidable Mrs. Stanley and stop him from running away.
Which he has to admit is most certainly what he’s doing.
He’s not sure what would have happened if Mrs. Stanley had not suddenly popped up out of nowhere. He’s not even sure what he had planned to say:
“Not always, Miss Fisher--”
Not always what? Not always noble, not always right. The war had certainly taught him that what’s right is rarely seen as noble, and what’s considered noble of often the opposite of right. Why had he come home and joined the bloody police force, anyway? So that instead of watching officers send adolescent boys to the slaughter, he could watch Commissioners send adolescent girls off to sexual servitude?
Except neither he nor Phryne had been talking about the case, in that moment, had they? She’d been asking a question behind the words, a question that wasn’t actually a question at all. She needed you. An observation. Jack Robinson. The deliberate use of his full name, each syllable round and full in her mouth.
She needed … Jack Robinson. Which had always been the problem, really, for Jack and Rosie. She’d needed him to be Inspector Jack Robinson, except he wasn’t always, sometime he was just --
“Jack.” Every time Phryne says it, Jack feels he never wants her to stop saying it: familiar, demanding. shot through with tenderness, and something deeper he’s not willing (quite) to name (yet).
Phryne. He only lets himself say it in heedless desperation, fearing he’ll give away -- what, exactly, that he hasn’t already given?
He’d stood there in the foyer, at two in the morning, like a fool. Trying to explain to Phryne Fisher what it was she already knew: Rosie had been part of his job, that night. He’d done his job well, and now it was over.
And thus, he was home.
“Not always, Miss Fisher--” Not with you, not here; here I’d like to be -- Jack, just -- Jack, but it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been that for anyone. -- he’d been standing there, hat in hand, all too aware of how unclothed she had seemed, there in her dressing gown, possibly little else. He’d seen more of her flesh in the past, to more provocative effect, and yet -- what had struck him was not that he wished to cover her up (God knows he’d had that urge in the past!), but that he’d wanted to undress himself, somehow level the playing field. He’d felt uncomfortably clothed, a new and terrifying sensation.
Jack can’t recall ever feeling too dressed before.
What would he have said, done, if Mrs. Stanley hadn’t interrupted them? He doesn’t know. He wipes a hand across his face, turns the key in the ignition, and feels the starter turn, catch, the engine rumble to life. As he drives away from the house, makes a right, then a left, crossing the city to his flat -- where he’ll at least pause for a rinse, a change of clothes, and a cup of coffee before dawn -- he can feel Phryne standing sentinel at her bedroom window, waiting for him to return.
He can’t think any longer. Exhaustion is overtaking him, as he makes his way home by rote in the dark that can only precede the dawn.
He distantly recalls a moment when simply taking her to bed had been a possibility. That memory has taken on the hazy quality of a half-remembered dream. During the first few months of their acquaintance, when the script had been simple and their roles had been clear: Inspector Robinson, meet Miss Fisher, Lady Detective. He would confound and (try to) protect her from herself, while she would flout every aspect of police protocol, muck about with his evidence, and eventually muck about with him as well. Every time she put her feet up on his desk, or leaned a little closer than strictly necessary -- hell, even when he’d kissed her at the cafe, -- it had all felt a bit stage-directed, a part he’d expected to play, perhaps happily assumed.
They’d flirt and tease until that grew boring, and then -- perhaps after his divorce had gone through -- they would fall into bed together for a good fuck. After which they might settle in for a reliable few months’ shagging, before -- and this is where the script had grown less distinct in his mind -- some external force would have come along and signaled the end of the affair. He’d seen it happen during the war: nurses and doctors, officers and war reporters, officers and officers. Opportunity, desire, desperation, and pragmatic joie de vie: sex as a way to feel something, anything, other than pain and disconnection.
Maybe he’d slipped irrevocably the first time he’d spoken her name -- Phryne -- aloud.
Or even before that, the first time he’d thought to himself: Phryne. The lilting syllables tripping after one another through his mind, trickling down like a swallow of whiskey to lodge deep in his belly, groin, pulsing there with awareness: her voice, her presence, her touch, even the signs of her meddling at a crime scene -- as unmistakable as a whiff of her favorite perfume.
They’d gone off script, now, in mutual yet unspoken agreement. They’d lost the plot and he knew they’d never be able to find it again, even if they wanted to.
He kills the engine, leaves his car parked at the garage. He’s due at work in another three hours -- just enough time to close his eyes for sixty minutes before a shower and shave, a plate of beans on toast, and a strong cup of coffee.
Had it been the exhaustion and relief -- she was safe, the case was done -- that made him imagine she was about to invite him upstairs? Jack wishes he could untangle the desire he feels at the thought: Would he, should he, have said yes? If he had followed his instincts, what consequences would have followed -- for him, for her?
Did those questions, of consequences, or their answers, even matter when his exhausted body has already, apparently, decided that wherever she was, was home?
He lets himself into his flat -- tidy, spare. Drops his keys on the kitchen table and crosses into the bedroom. Strips. He smells of the ocean, of rust and engine grease, overlayed by the lilacs that have always been one of Rosie’s favored flowers. The suit will have to be sent out for cleaning.
The bed, neatly made, is beckoning him sweetly, but his exhaustion is interlocked with pent-up frustration, the lack of resolution, a question posed he cannot immediately answer.
There’s only one way he’s going to get any sleep before dawn.
He thinks of Phryne. He suspects she was naked beneath that embroidered dressing gown. Remembers the way it fell across her breasts, the V where the edges of fabric crossed just hinting at the hollow of her breastbone. More modest than many of the public outfits he’s seen her in, yet standing before him she’d been a breath away from entirely nude -- layers stripped away between them that had nothing to do with cloth over skin.
He doesn’t need to wonder what most of her looks like naked: he’s caught glimpses of scars, the blue vein that traces down the back of her left knee, the soft stretch marks that run across her hip, the mole that sits at the base of her spine. He thinks about the way her breasts are small enough to fit to his hands, one in each palm, the nipples pebbling against his lifelines.
He wonders how salty the skin taut across her collarbone would be, how easy to bruise.
He’s looking forward to bruising her, somewhere only they can see.
He’s looking forward to her teeth against the flesh of his inner thigh.
He realizes, distantly, that he’s no longer forming fantasies in the conditional tense.
He’s curled on the bed, fist wrapped around his cock, teeth pressed into the flesh at the base of his thumb. It’s too much, it’s not enough, he wants pain, and pleasure, and both together. Wants desperately, right now, not to have left; not to be alone.
She’s been calling him home for so long, now. Why hasn’t he been listening?