He recognises her in silhouette. Jack has spotted Phryne across more rooms than he would like to count, a glass in one hand and the other reached out to call him to her.
The light is behind her, and he can’t see her face, but it could be no one else. Her hair falls perfectly smooth, sharp on her cheeks, and her coat streams wide behind her. Jack is fairly convinced he could see that shape a hundred thousand miles from Melbourne’s streets and still feel that immediate, foolish quickening. It is impossible not to be conscious of Phryne’s presence when she is in a room, even tonight with his mind half-deserting him.
At the other end of the dank corridor, the black shadow of her raises one arm and he knows that shape too. There is a flash and a bang. The short moment of illumination shows her face and she is furious. He can’t think why.
Jack makes the effort to sit up and look at her properly. “Are you all right?”
“Am I-?” Her heels clack on the stone, and as he has not sufficiently motivated himself to stand, he ends up staring at the straps of her Mary Janes.
“The gunshot,” he explains.
“Yes, well, he had rather the worst of that.” She nods behind her where a crumpled shape is groaning. “I’m quite all right. You, darling, are not.”
He knows that. There is a lump forming on his head and he’s missing what may be an hour or two. The last thing he remembers-. “The Allen brothers? The shipment.”
“On that note,” she says, “the next time you scold me about giving warning before I rush off on one of my wild hunches, I shall remind you of your poor constable tearing himself into bits at the station, because his Detective Inspector left without a word, and no one could find hide nor hair of him.”
Phryne kneels down beside him, heedless of the dirt. “Yes. I’m rather good at following your leaps of logic, Inspector Robinson. You left me all sorts of clues to your whereabouts. The manifest, for one, and the address of that young woman for another. Hugh doesn’t always think in the same kind of circles that you do, you know that. At least give the boy a clue to the depths of the case before you vanish. Luggage going missing from the docks isn’t quite in the same league as-.”
“Smuggling something not entirely medicinal in a lady’s personal medical supplies?”
“Yes,” she agrees. “That.”
“You worked it out,” he says. “Did you see the map? I left it-.” Jack is not entirely sure where he left the map. He didn’t bring it with him, in case Collins would need it later. It’s... Jack reaches, but his jacket has been lost somewhere far away from here.
Phryne catches his hand. “I saw the map. Constable Collins is arresting Mr Allen as we speak, and the young lady concerned is already at the station. Well done.” She delicately runs her fingers through his hair, feeling out the lump. “You are going to feel this one in the morning.”
“I’m feeling it now.”
The red of her lips bends into a frown. “Well, let’s get you up and have someone see to that then, shall we?” She calls through the warehouse. “Constable Collins?”
Jack groans. “I’ll be fine, Miss Fisher.” The last thing he needs is for his constable to come running to his rescue.
“It’s a little late for that.” She wraps one of her arms around his shoulder. “Now can you stand, or do I need to-?”
“I don’t need you to attempt to carry me.”
“I don’t see why you’re taking that tone, Jack. You’ve carried me.”
The trouble of it is – she probably doesn’t see the difference. So Jack submits to her arm under his, steadying his walk out. If he hadn’t, she probably would have conspired with Collins to carry him out between the two of them, under the eyes of half of the City South police department. His reputation is already a little dog-eared, after a year spent with Phryne sitting perched on the edge of his desk or right there in the Interview Room with him. There is probably not much left to salvage, and he would not trade that for the cases they have solved together. She’s still not carrying him out of here.
Jack makes his report, and assures Collins and the doctor that he is none the worse for his blow to the head.
Phryne announces, “Of course, you’re coming home with me.”
Collins blushes red and vanishes backwards out the door. Phryne is unmoved. “The doctor said you should have someone check in on you, to ensure you were still quite sensible. I assured him that Jack Robinson was always sensible, but he insisted. And so I was compelled to volunteer my services.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any hope at all that I’m going to talk you out of this?”
She shakes her head, hair flicking neatly from side to side. “Not a one.”
Jack sighs and stands up. “Then lead on.” The smile she bestows on him when she takes his arm (or allows him to take hers) is bright and wicked.
In the cab, though – and Jack takes a moment to consider how his life led him to this, heading to the home of a lady detective, past midnight, driven by a pair of red-raggers – Phryne is quiet.
As it is she who tends to fill all uncomfortable silences, he finds himself at a loss. He makes a few observations on the brightness of the moon – perfect for an operation like tonight – and then falls silent himself.
When they get to the house, she passes him to Mr Butler. “See that Inspector Robinson has everything he needs, would you please? I should check on Jane.” She disappears upstairs in a flash of blue dress and heels.
Mr Butler says, “Just a moment, sir,” and follows up the stairs.
Jack looks in on the kitchen, where Bert and Cec are already regaling Dot with the story of the evening. She turns at his entrance. “Inspector Robinson, I’m glad you’re all right. Hugh was so-.”
“Constable Collins should worry less,” he tells her firmly. Then, relenting: “He closed up the case well. He wanted me to tell you that he’ll be around in the morning to see you.”
She nods, once. Her hands flutter at her sides. “Thank you, but you really don’t look-.”
Phryne reappears like a vision. “Bed, Jack. I’ll look in on you in an hour.”
To argue with her would be to admit that there is anything to argue about. Jack has learned by now that it is best to pretend as though he was going the direction she wanted already.
He wakes, disorientated, head pounding. Phryne is sitting on the side of the bed, no more use for propriety than she ever does. Her fingertips run through his hair. “Still feeling it?” she asks.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“When you were a nurse,” he asks, “did you terrify all of your soldiers?”
“I suppose that rather depended on the soldier.” Her eyes cloud. “Some of them were already too far gone to be scared of me.”
Jack finds her other hand, lying beside his arm, and squeezes it carefully. He had wanted her to be a little more serious, once. She had seemed to care for nothing in particular but the chase. Now he sees her serious more often than he would like, and Jack is not sure he has the talent to bring her levity back. That is a skill she possesses in spades, but not one that he had much knowledge of even before the war. He came back from that blunted in some important way, not the husband he was before he left. Phryne came out of the war shining, unexpected as a knife in the dark. He sharpens himself on her bright edges. When she turns brittle, he tries to lend her strength, since he cannot lend her laughter, and only sometimes comfort.
They both came back from the war, and some days he thinks she is the one who came back braver. They were neither of them afraid of dying tonight – there are worse things than a quick death in a dark alley – but he suspects that the list of things he is otherwise afraid of is longer than Phryne’s. Jack has been awake for whole minutes now, and hasn’t moved his head from where it lies on the pillow. If he were more daring, and moved his head just a little, he would be in her lap. Tame, he supposes, when compared with the type of man she tends to bring home, but a little too much for him all the same. She stokes idly through his hair. He says, “If you continue at this rate, you’ll be putting up all the strays in Melbourne.”
She frowns down at him. “You do realise that you included yourself with the strays there, Jack.”
She leans over, dizzyingly close in the light creeping in from the hallway. “None of mine are strays.” She kisses his forehead, just below the hairline. “They, and you, are perfectly welcome here.”
“Whenever I happen to get myself crowned by the latest crook?”
“Whenever you like.” She stands up.
“Goodnight, Jack.” She walks out the door, leaving it open just a crack.
He doesn’t stand to go after her; he leans heavily back on the pillow, feeling the ache of his head again for the first time since he woke.
The door reopens. Phryne’s footsteps are soft in her slippered feet. She bends over the edge of the bed and says, “One more for your wound,” kissing him on the side of the head, near to the lump. “And one for goodnight.” She covers his mouth with hers, hand to his cheek.
Jack catches her hand as she takes it away, kissing her wrist, which still smells faintly of her perfume. “Goodnight, Phryne.”
She smiles at him. “Don’t think you’re rid of me. I’ll be back in a little while to check on you. You gave me- gave us all quite the fright today. I haven’t entirely forgiven you.”
“I will endeavour,” he tells her, “to make it up to you.”
“You always do,” she says, pulling the door half-closed behind her. “Until then, Jack.”
“Until then, Miss Fisher.”