“I’m not sure that my kisses can be compelled by sprigs of parasitic greenery.”
Such an ordinary moment, in the end. Neither of them will be able to say, in the years to come, what had made that night the night. They’re gathered in the parlor for a belated Christmas in July celebration -- everyone safe, Jane home from abroad, all in attendance slightly tipsy with drink and relief.
Phryne and Jack have worked half a dozen cases together since the night of the Commissioner’s arrest, each seeking the other out on the slightest pretext, shared perhaps a dozen late-evening cocktails. At the end of each point of contact there’s been a hesitation: both of them reluctant to part yet unable to formulate a reason for remaining together. Unable, that is, to formulate a reason that allows them to evade the actual decision they both know they have to make.
Phryne only knows later what fears are stopping Jack from speaking: I was afraid I wouldn’t be brave enough for you. I was afraid you wouldn’t let me in. I was afraid I couldn’t give you what you needed. I was afraid of the life I wanted us to share.
She only knows later what fears are stopping her own voice, usually so bold: I was afraid you’d be unhappy with what I have to give. I was afraid I wouldn’t be the woman you thought you wanted. I was afraid this life I’ve made wouldn’t be what you wanted after all.
I was afraid you would estrange me from myself.
They only realize in retrospect how physical intimacy is, between them, less alteration than recognition: an affirmation of the life together they have already learned to share.
Which may explain, Phryne reflects in the months, the years to come, why she waits until Jane’s return to bring Jack to her bed. Jane, dancing through the parlor with the mistletoe, the daughter she never imagined. She looks around at all of the improbable people she knows and loves: Aunt Prudence, Dot and Hugh, Mr. Butler, Bert and Cec, Mac. And Jack there at her side with his arm curled around her waist, hand at her hip.
She leans into the warmth and weight of him without verbally acknowledging his touch. They’ve been doing this, too: whole conversations in call and response physical contact while appearing absorbed in other things. Both are adult enough to know this fools exactly no one -- certainly none of the improbable people gathered in the parlor that evening.
“Hemi-parasitic. Of the genus viscum.”
She’s been avoiding him -- avoiding her desire for him -- out of fear that he’ll take this from her: That somehow she can’t have him and this too: that being an Inspector’s Wife will mean abandoning the people and places that make her herself. But in that moment she looks up at Jack and realizes -- it’s a shock that brings surprised tears to her eyes -- that he’s part of this. That he’s not asking her to leave, to change, that he doesn’t just want her -- he wants this life they’ve made together.
That he keeps coming here, to her doorstep; coming back to her, wherever she is to be found, as relentlessly as she seeks him out.
That every time Jack finds her, he’s saying Yes, and yes, and yes, again.
Which is why, at the end of the evening, she puts a hand on Jack’s chest as he’s reaching for his coat and says, “Jack.”
Out of the corner of her eye Phryne sees Mac -- bless her -- catch Aunt Prudence’s elbow and ask whether she might offer Mrs. Stanley a lift home.
She can hear, peripherally, Dot and Hugh, Mr. Butler, and Jane in the kitchen washing up. The kettle begins to whistle. Jack and Phryne are suddenly alone in the front hall as Mac pulls the door shut behind herself and Prudence.
She lays a finger to his mouth before he can finish: “Phryne, Jack. Don’t say my name again until you say that.”
He searches her face, she’s not sure what for -- but must find the confirmation he wants or needs because he doesn’t reach for his coat again.
“Phryne.” It comes out around a catch in his throat, and she draws her hand down from his lips, a caress down the line of his jaw to the collar of his shirt, the knot of his tie, both of which she looks forward to undoing.
“Say it again, Jack.” There’s a burr to her own voice, a lump in her own throat, taking her once again by surprise.
“Phryne.” He reaches out with a hand, cups it along her jaw, firm yet gentle. A question. She turns into the heat and presses her lips to the pad of his thumb, watching his eyes flutter closed momentarily. An answer.
“Stay, Jack. It’s where you belong.”
They climb the stairs to her bedroom in silence, the household noises receding behind them, not speaking until the bedroom door is shut, the lock turned to ensure privacy.
They haven’t stopped touching, hand in hand up the stairs, and as Phryne turns away from the lock clasped hands loosen, slide up wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and she’s framing his face with both hands, his palms firm on her hips, reeling her in, a soft exhalation, the meeting and parting of lips, teeth, tongue.
Phryne is hardly a stranger to kisses; nor, to judge by the assertive teeth and tongue, is Jack. With such experience comes the knowledge that however many kisses one shares in a lifetime, with however many individual people, each kiss is a moment all its own. And this moment, this kiss, is no exception. Their first purposeful kiss, a kiss of intention rather than distraction. Like the gasping, in-drawn breath of a swimmer surfacing after too long in the sea: finally -- finally! -- her body rejoices, lunges at the proffered air.
Jack, too, makes a broken little sound of relief, his hands fumbling against the fabric of her dress to pull her closer --
“Jack,” she’s mouthing against his skin, “Jack, Jack, Jack--” guiding him across to the bed.
“Phryne,” he murmurs back, amused, amazed, hungry; letting his knees give way as she presses him up against the edge of the mattress beneath them, pulling her into his lap. She straddles his hips, letting her shoes fall to the floor, feels his blessed hands sliding up her thighs, thumbing the garters, hoisting her closer, until the damp, straining seam of her panties comes into unmistakable contact with the curve of Jack’s cock where he’s starting to press against the inseam of those elegantly pressed wool trousers.
She doesn’t actually think before she grinds down with a moan, pressing her forehead into the curve of his neck. She’s been here, before, with so many beautiful men. Each of them has been different and none of them have been Jack.
“--Phryne, Phryne.” Jack is gasping into her ear, softly, trying to get her attention. Having given himself permission to name her, he doesn’t seem able to stop. His hands, fluttering down her sides, are hot and shaking.
There’s a fierce joy thrumming beneath her skin at having reached this moment, of having Jack here, beneath her, trembling, deep in the heart of this home she’s built, the life they’ve defended. She realizes as she rocks against him, listens to him give in to her name and the intimacy it offers, how long they’ve been traveling to this moment together, how much and how little this moment actually means. This moment, entwined with everything else they are to one another, will continue to be; this moment will reverberate out through each and every moment before and since that they have shared (will share), shaping, reshaping it. Changing nothing -- and everything.
“Phryne, I need to --” He starts, just as she says, “Jack--”
She almost laughs his name. “Jack-- you’ll need to--” she’s kissing him, shifting, pressing apologies for breaking off into his skin “-- in the bedside drawer.” Another kiss.
He lets himself fall back against the mattress, panting, while she fumbles in the drawer for her diaphragm case. “I’ll just--”
“Let me?” His hand on her wrist is light, a request not a demand.
She pauses; he’s surprised her. It’s not only that few -- if any -- of her previous lovers have given any attention to prophylactics; it’s that once again she’s found him not only keeping up, but actually pulling abreast with, perhaps even passing, her -- an experience that always leaves her slightly heady with arousal.
He’s mine. She thinks, letting him take the case from her hands. This man is mine. Letting him turn her around to unfasten the hooks at the back of her dress. I’m never, ever letting him go.
* * *
I’m never letting you go, Phryne Fisher, Jack thinks as he tugs the last scrap of cloth over Phryne’s head and has her naked in the lamplight. He’s so full of desire for her, in this moment, that for a heartbeat or two it feels impossible to translate into action -- he can't think, momentarily, what he's supposed to do next -- time collapsing in on itself as if they've always been here, in this moment, always shared the intimacy of this space.
But at the same time, here she is, newly exposed, newly his, alabaster skin and raven curls beneath his hands. Her breasts rise and fall with each rapid, shallow, needy breath. Her nipples shockingly dark against her pale skin. The fur between her legs, salted with grey, already damp with arousal. He can smell it all over her, taste it as he presses kisses across her belly, nips at the flesh of her hip.
She flexes her thighs, pushing in against his mouth, mmmms her approval.
He digs his fingernails a little harder into the backs of her thighs.
“You’re wearing too many clothes, Jack,” she pants. And he knows, he’s all too aware of this, but has other promises to keep. He pulls her down onto the bed, kissing his way up from belly to breast to neck to mouth, relishing the soft heat of her skin against the wool and cotton of his trousers and shirt. Her hands are searching, pulling, tugging, removing his tie, rucking his shirt up and sliding -- Jesus -- palm to belly against his skin. She knows where to find fastenings, buckles, clips --
“Phryne -- Phryne -- I promised I’d -- you’ll need to slow down if you want me to do this first.” He’s pushing the diaphragm case across the coverlet beside them, fumbling with a free hand at the latch. He gets the rubber out, the little tube of gel.
She’s stopped groping him, now, back against the pillows watching him with greedy eyes, a look he can’t quite fathom -- he’ll think about what that look means later -- her body language just a little shy.
He admits to himself he doesn’t exactly know what he’s doing here. He and Rosie hadn’t had access to devices like this before the war, and then after -- well, they’d hardly been doing activities where such precautions needed to be taken. Still, he’s read a few pamphlets and knows in principle -- and it had seemed, in the moment, like the right thing to offer.
Mostly, he’d known he didn’t want her out of his sight, behind closed doors, as if this were shameful or something unspeakable. Surely, between them, there shouldn’t be anything unspeakable left.
He fumbles the tube open, spreads the gel around the rim, then pauses, trying not to look too obviously at a loss about the geometry of what he knows must happen next.
“Here -- let me --” Phryne reaches out and lifts it from his hand, folds it against the back of her finger, then lets it spring gently open again, proffering it back: “Like so.”
She’s going to let him do this, he thinks; it feels like an obscure sort of test -- and suddenly more intimate than any sexual act he’s performed in the past or can in this moment picture performing in future.
For the second time in Phryne’s presence, Jack feels abruptly and completely overdressed.
Leaving the prophylactic in her outstretched palm, he rolls to his feet. There’s really no graceful way for a man with an erection to take off his trousers and pants, he thinks, struggling with socks and belt and layers of cloth. Phryne doesn’t seem to mind, though, watching him with warm eyes, reaching out with eager hands to touch him, sliding a strong, leg appreciatively between his thighs as he crawls back across the bed to her side.
And here they are.
She pulls him down into a complicated kiss, pressing herself up, arching into his body until he feels her nipples hard against his chest, the soft curve of her belly against his abdomen, the rough fur and damp folds between her legs rutting against the muscle of his thigh. He’s still trying to catch up with the fact that this isn’t one of many, many half-formed dreams -- something he’ll wake from, sweating, in the night -- or any of the well-developed fantasies he’s kept close to his chest for the past year or more.
This is all much more: more heat, more damp, more texture, taste, and sound. He’d carried in his bones unarticulated fears that Phryne in bed would be demanding of finesse and form, but this is all moving too fast and too freely to be a performance.
She’s demanding, yes. But what utterly terrifies him is that she seems to be demanding him.
He reclaims the diaphragm from her own grasping fingers and tries to fold it, one handed, over his index finger as Phryne demonstrated. She’s distracting him with exploratory hands, a hand cupping him close, fingers sliding down, twisting around, tugging--
--As much as it kills him to do it, he reaches down to grasp her wrist. “Phryne, I--can’t--”
She holds still. Doesn’t let go. “Good?” she breathes the question against his cheek.
“Too good.” It’s been a long, long time since any but Jack’s own hands have been where her fingers are now curled. The intimacy is overwhelming; he’s starting to tremble with desire that sits a knife-edge from pain, “Could you--just hold me, there,” his breath is ragged, his voice hoarse.
She slides her palm against him, warm and sure, and holds him steady and close as he sinks down beside her; she’s watching his face, eyes dark and piercing.
Without words, she spreads her thighs and crooks the leg not pinned between them, watching his face to gauge whether he needs further instruction. This he can work out, however. He slides his encumbered hand down through her curls, tracing the seam of her inner thigh, cupping the mound of her pelvis against the base of his thumb as she arches toward him. It’s been awhile; he’s forgotten how slippery women become, how the silky slide of her folds will fill him with want. He’s thrusting against the heel of her hand before he can stop to think, starts to apologize, then feels her thrumm in approval, somewhere deep in her chest, the cant of her pelvis rising to meet him.
All right then. He has to press his face into her shoulder for a moment, feeling the tears prickle against his eyelids, her pulse hard and fast in the cradle of his hand.
And then his fingers are up inside her, and she thrusts, pulling him deeper: he can feel the rubber disc opening beneath his hands, settling into place, Phryne’s body widening to receive it. He realises only after it’s sealed into place that the soft-hard pucker that he’d felt brush against the tip of his finger had been her cervix.
He’s never felt a cervix with his fingers before. Hadn’t realized it was close enough -- or that his fingers could go deep enough -- that he could.
He starts to withdraw, suddenly acutely aware that he’s never actually been in precisely this position before. It feels queer, wrong somehow, to have his hand just there for the pleasure of it, now that he’s done the necessary deed. But he finds himself fascinated by the feel of her: smooth, rough, full, muscles tightening around him, the pelvic bone he can actually curve his fingers under, a soft spongey place just inside her opening that elicits a moan from her lips as he drags out.
Had Rosie ever looked so wrecked when they made love? He thinks of this, the part of his brain that can still recall his own name, as he works his fingers in and out, lets the pad of his thumb find the hard nub and line of Phryne’s clitoris, pushing out stiff and needy at the cleft of her folds. Phryne’s hair is plastered across her forehead, her skin splotchey, one hand flung up to grip the headboard, white knuckled with need, eyes tight shut as an orgasm coils under his fingertips. She’s fascinating to watch, touch, taste, scent, so absorbing he’s practically forgotten his own dick, still caught against her cradling hand as she lays herself open beneath him.
“You’re--God, Phryne.” He’s not even sure how to say what he’s feeling -- just that he needs to remind her he’s here, in this moment, with her.
As he says her name, she arches up beneath his hands with an eerie, silent grace, pushing up into his thigh, groin, up, and over, pushing against and then collapsing into him, her forehead hot against the curve of his neck, gasping, spent.
* * *
“Fuck me, Jack,” Phryne orders -- or thinks she orders, a mumble against his trembling skin. She can feel him vibrating with desire, and as the orgasm dissipates through her limbs, she feels the building restless, urgent need for him to be inside her.
She pushes, impatiently, against his chest. “Jack, fuck me, Jack, now.”
She feels his cock, still pressed against the palm of her hand, respond to the suggestion with enthusiasm, but Jack pulls back to look down at her. “Phryne, you don’t have to--” and her heart breaks in that moment, just a bit, with the knowledge that his experience leads him to imagine she’s offering intercourse as an act of generosity.
“It’s not an offer, Jack,” she clarifies, gently but firmly, closing her fingers back around the velvet soft-hard shaft of his cock, “and it’s not an act of charity.
“I want you inside me. Now.”
He sucks in a shuddering breath, studies her face, and once again must find what he needs to be sure. Because he pulls his fingers from between her thighs -- Phryne whimpers, involuntarily, at the loss -- and rolls so that they’re pressed, momentarily, chest to chest.
“Hello, Jack,” Phryne whispers, languid, yet still full of wonder that they’ve finally made their way here.
“Hello, Phryne,” he responds, drawing sex-saturated fingers down her cheek, leaving a trail of herself behind, before reaching down to shift himself into place.
“Here, let me, just--,” as he fumbles to fit himself between her thighs, bracing himself on one elbow, the heavy press of his cock hot against the cleft of her thighs. Phryne gives in to the post-coital weight of her limbs, rolling back against the pillows so he can shift into a better position. She lets her thighs fall open, reaches down with one hand to spread her folds, the other sliding down along Jack’s forearm, wrist, around his trembling damp fingers.
She can feel the rippling tension in his abdomen against the back of her wrist as he leans in, hear in the staccato rhythm of his breath how close he is to crisis. It’s but a practiced cant of the hips, a dip of her fingers to pull herself into alignment, and then -- “There, Jack--” And he’s sliding in, or she’s sliding on, they’re rolling their hips together so that he fits inside deep and true.
“God, Phryne--” Jack’s hips jerk, hard, once, twice, and she pushes up to meet him, relishing the shock of intrusion, the ache of too much -- she doesn’t always like feeling sore in the morning, but this time she wants it to linger, wants to know he was there.
And then he’s shuddering, his forehead pressed to the curve of her neck, the orgasm overtaking him, and she feels the release deep inside. Pulls him in with all her might and vows to never, ever let him stop being there, held safe and close inside.
She doesn’t realize it until a few minutes later when Jack rouses himself to reach for the handkerchief on her bedside table and wipes the tears from the corners of her eyes. And then he’s kissing them away while she laughs, fumbles for the hankie, pushes her hand between them to wipe him down, wipe herself down, the inside of her thighs sticky with him, with her, with both of them together.
When they’re clean enough to wait until morning, she tosses the cloth aside and pulls up the bedclothes, settling in along the curve of his shoulder, hip, thigh. Sliding a hand up to the center of his chest, she feels his heart beat strong, steady, and slow against her palm.
“You’re home now,” she breathes against his skin as they drift off to sleep
“I know,” he whispers back.
And together they had made it so.