Turns out, kissing someone right before she flies halfway around the world isn’t great for Jack’s peace of mind. Not that Phryne is ever good for his peace of mind, but this particularly bad, the way she creeps into his thoughts and his dreams and every bone in his body.
He’d thought she was as embedded in him as she could be, all the ways he wanted her seeping through his pores and curling around every word he said to her, visible in his every glance in her direction.
And yet, Phryne always finds a way to outdo herself, to entwine herself more deeply in his life and make him want—need—more, always more, until he feels like he’s drowning in how much he wants from her and his uncertainty that it’s anything she can or will offer him.
She was the one who called to him, though, climbed down from her airplane and pulled him to her, her words an inescapable draw, a rope around his heart, too painful to ignore and he’s not sure if he could even if he tried. And she kissed him as much as he kissed her, her lips soft and chilled from the wind and somehow everything and nothing like what he’d imagined.
More than that, she was the one who rang him from England, a whispered voice at an unholy hour—maybe not for her, not with the difference of hours between them—but nonetheless for him, a soft voice in the dark of night, curling around him as he stood in the corridor in his dressing gown.
“Jack,” she’d said, barely more than a whisper, her voice rough with exhaustion.
“Hello,” he’d said, not quite trusting himself with more, with her name.
“I just wanted to let you know I made it safely.” There was something in her voice he wasn’t familiar with, the timbre of it and the gentleness.
“Have you slept yet?” he asked, and she hummed, low and barely audible over the poor phone connection.
“No,” she said, and then, “I wanted to talk to you first.”
Something clenched, then, deep in Jack’s stomach, undercutting the rippling years of fear that this was lopsided, that Phryne could never give him what he wanted from her and that asking would be cruel.
“I’m glad you made it,” he said then, letting his emotions bleed into his voice, maybe unable to stop them from doing so.
“I should go,” Phryne said. Something in her voice felt like reluctance, and Jack clung to it as he whispered a goodbye and hung up.
She’s been gone what feels like an eternity now, though in actual time it’s barely more than a fortnight. The days drag on without her, his cases less sparkling and Dot’s face more drawn when she brings Hugh lunch. It’s a subtle thing, how Phryne’s absence shifts their lives, but Jack thinks about it endlessly. The ways it’s harder to work through his ideas without her repartee and how he misses ending his nights with drinks in her parlor.
When Phryne returns home, it’s with surprisingly little fanfare. There’s no anouncement, no banner from the balcony of her house, no palpable change in the air. She just—returns. It’s nothing, except that it’s everything.
But she appears in his office like it’s nothing, like she was never gone. She has a plate of food in one hand and there’s a spray of feathers jauntily attached to her hat. Exactly the same in every meaningful way as her every appearance in Jack’s dreams, in his daydreams.
“Good afternoon, Jack,” she says, the low timbre of her voice thrilling on even the most mundane of things.
“Miss Fisher,” he says, measured and contained and controlled. “How was your holiday?”
A corner of her mouth quirks up, and then she raises one eyebrow. “Is that what you’re calling it?”
“For lack of a better word.”
She settles herself on the corner of his desk, and starts unwrapping the plate. “It was not particularly exciting,” she says, uncharacteristically prim. “Nothing on solving murders with you. Would you like a biscuit? They’re divine.”
She pops one into her mouth, curling her lips around it, and Jack tries to pretend he doesn’t know what they feel like pressed to his. And then she holds one out for him, offering it not to his hand but straight to his mouth and he, for all that he wants to be controlled, is too weak not to lean forward to take it from her fingers with his lips.
“So,” she says, her eyes sparkling, “Is anyone dead?”
This is the easy part for them, the familiar part. The details of the case, the possible suspects, the possibilities that Jack and Hugh have already followed to their logical conclusions, the evidence that’s already been exhausted. She throws out a few suggestions of her own, good ones, and then she flips through the evidence on Jack’s desk while he eats a few more of the biscuits.
At its core, it’s like every other case. They work together well, play nicely off each other’s ideas as always. No one gets kidnapped, or stabbed, or nearly shot.
It’s like nothing changed at all, and when Phryne hands him a glass of champagne in her parlor after the arrests are made, that too is like nothing changed. She sits next to him, but that’s not new, though the closeness of her thigh to his feels more palpable than it did before, and they talk about nothing of consequence.
And then she shifts, minute but so obvious to Jack, with how close she already is, and their legs brush. She reaches across him to set her glass down, and when she leans back, she rests her hand on his knee.
“Phryne,” he says, barely more than a whisper.
“Jack.” Her voice is more certain than his. Firmer.
There’s a thousand things he wants to ask—what this is to her, what she thinks they can be to each other, what he can expect from her. What she wants from him. It’s not like he doesn’t know what he wants from her, and he thinks she knows too.
He chased her, but she took the last few steps toward him, and that counts for something.
Instead of asking, Jack kisses her. Soft and gentle and slow, because this isn’t a test, this isn’t a first time this is—something else. This is the fact that he wants to kiss her, the warmth of their bodies nearly touching, the rushing warmth of the champagne in his veins.
She kisses him the same way, breathes a word against his lips that might be his name once and then again. Her hand on his knee slips higher, just a little ways up his thigh, and his blood runs hot. She’s wearing trousers today, and a blouse that drapes alluringly, clinging to her skin just enough to leave Jack wanting more. He untucks it slightly, rests his hand over her hip.
When he pulls back enough to see her face, there’s pleased uncertainty writ clear across it.
“Are we doing this, Jack?” she asks.
He has a choice, and saying that he has no choice but to say yes misrepresents everything about their—relationship. Whatever it might be. Because he does have a choice, the option to tell her that they’re not doing this and walk away, take his heart in its broken but not shattered form and flee. It would hurt, but the outcome would be certain.
But he’s never been able to take that option, no matter how many times it’s presented. He always chooses to wait, to let Phryne have what she wants from him, to offer it freely and willingly. So far, it hasn’t let him down.
“Take me to bed,” he says, his mouth a breath away from hers, and she smiles at him.
Phryne is kneeling over his hips, pinning him down. It’s like their every interaction has been a metaphor leading to his moment.
Jack is surprised by how much he likes it here, Phryne’s hands resting on his shoulders as she looks down at him. Her eyes are sharp, full of clear intent, and he shivers.
She says, “Jack,” and her voice is low. Unlike every other time she’s said his name, and she’s said it so many times now. “This is going to change things,” she continues, and it’s not that he doesn’t know, because he knows it, bone-deep. But it matters that she knows it, that she acknowledges.
That he isn’t another friend she takes to bed with no expectation or desire of deeper emotions.
“Good,” he says. His voice is unexpectedly rough.
“Can I tie you up?” she asks, cracking a smile.
Jack splutters, surprised and laughing. Phryne raises her eyebrow, laughing as well now. “Well, maybe another time.”
“Why not,” he says, and this relationship is him forever agreeing to things he didn’t think he could ever want, surprising himself and letting Phryne push him.
It’s going to be an adventure.