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Seclusion, Self-incrimination, and the South Pole

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“Hurry.” Jack covered her with his trench coat as she picked the lock and burst into the tiny cabin.

“You’re getting quite comfortable with breaking and entering, Inspector.” She praised.

“Perhaps I’m already hypothermic.” He murmured as he glanced around. There wasn’t much: a stove and firewood, a small wooden table with two chairs, and a rusty cot with two wool blankets and a pillow. When he’d finished assessing the space, he began assessing her, not that she didn’t appreciate his eyes on her, but she wasn’t at her best. She could feel her makeup melting off her face, her hair was dripping down her back, and her clothes were stuck to her skin.

“We need to get warm.” Jack decided as he shoved one of the cot’s moldering blankets into her shivering arms.

“At the South Pole they recommend skin to skin contact…” She tried to sound alluring but the chattering of her teeth ruined the subtext.

“Trust me, if we don’t get a fire started in the next ten minutes, I’ll take you up on that suggestion.” He said seriously as he took off his drenched suit jacket and set to work examining the stove.

Phryne removed her cape and silk blouse and set them on the kitchen table next to Jack’s things. Her pale camisole was damp and her skirt was a lost cause

“Good news. We have matches.” He held up a tin box next to the stash of firewood.

“Excellent.” Phryne shook. She went about looking for other supplies, hoping Jack wouldn’t notice if she was moving around. “We also have plates, cups, oh.” She held out the second score of the evening. “How do you feel about hot water for dinner?” She teased as she held up a billy can.

“I’ll go fill it up.” He offered.

She gave him a disapproving look.

“I’d rather do it now before I dry out.” He reasoned.

“Well if you catch your death, I refuse to defend your actions to Mac.”

“We’ve reached an agreement on that front. She already knows to put your name down as my cause of death.” He said dryly as he put his wet trench coat back on and took the billy can outside.

Phryne took the opportunity to reach into her handbag and pull out her handkerchief and compact and wipe off the remains of her makeup. She ran a few fingers through her hair as quickly as she could.

“I think it’s easing up.” Jack came back in with the full billy can.

“My hero.” She teased. “Now get that jacket off and come sit next to the fire.” She pulled the cot up next to the stove so there would be room enough for both of them.

She felt Jack’s wary eyes on her but he accepted the action without comment. She rubbed her arms before sticking them out towards the now warm stove.

Jack loosened his tie and began to unbutton his shirt.

“Come here.” He beckoned. He took off his dress shirt and handed to her. “Put this on instead.”

“Jack…” She didn’t want him to freeze to death out of gallantry. “I’m fine. I have a blanket.”  

“And I have a dry undershirt. Put it on.” He commanded.

“Thank you.” She sighed reluctantly as he turned around to give her some privacy. He began taking off his wet shoes and socks as she got dressed.

She quickly buttoned the shirt up and tried to fight the impending fantasy of wearing his shirt after making love to him. She pulled the collar up to her nose and inhaled, taking in his scent before giving him permission to turn around again.

“Dressed.” She smiled too cheerfully and she immediately hated herself for it.

Jack looked her over to make sure she had followed instructions before focusing his attention on ladling them each a cup of boiling water.

She shivered as he handed her a cup.

“Are you warm enough?” He asked, concern honeying his voice.

She nodded, unable to tell him that it was mostly the sight of his bare forearms in the dim light that caused the reaction.

“It’s getting dark.” She commented. “I didn’t find any candles, so we’ll have to make due with the fire.”

A flash of lightning was followed by a crack of thunder and Phryne jumped.

“I hope Mr. Butler isn’t too worried.” She frowned.

“I hope he is.” Jack countered. “Given your history of kidnapping, I am more than comfortable with someone taking notice when you go missing.” He took a sip of his water before setting it aside.

“He knows I’m with you.”

“That’s enough?”

“What more could I ask for?” She pointed out.

“Right now? Dry clothes and some food, I would imagine.” He replied honestly and she chuckled.

“You really don’t see it, do you?” She looked at him in wonder.

“See what?” He asked.

“Seclusion, firelight, wearing your shirt. I’ve spent two years trying to get us into this exact scenario. Why would I ever want to leave?”

He rolled his eyes but smiled at her statement.

“No comment?” She poked at him.

“I don’t believe in self-incrimination.” He stated so confidently that it made her laugh out loud and he smirked in pride at getting the reaction.

“Fair enough.” She relented. “I’ll settle for what I’m given.” She set her cup aside and brought her legs up underneath her, getting more comfortable. Jack used the second blanket to prop his back up against the foot frame and she took the pillow and did the same at the head of the cot.

“You still look uneasy. What’s wrong?”

“You don’t look well and I’m keenly aware of what being cold and wet can do to the body.” He confessed.

“Keenly?” She repeated in interest.

“When I was a young boy, I caught a chill from playing outside in the cold. I was in bed for weeks.”

“Were you terribly ill?” She asked, alarmed by this information.

“I honestly don’t remember.” He looked into the fire. “My father moved my bed into my parents’ bedroom so they could tend to me throughout the night so it must have been serious. Then again, my mother tended to dote on me. She’d lost two babies before I came along and every illness I had terrified her. But it also meant that I got away with murder.” He added with a grin. “My father used to say ‘Maggie, you’re ruining him for the world’ and she’d say ‘He’ll learn about the real world soon enough, John Robinson’.”

Phryne felt her heart clench in her chest at the prophetic statement.  

“You were named after your father?” She tilted her head at the knowledge.

“I was.”

Phryne fell silent. As she listened to the fire crackling, she contemplated him as a scrawny child, charming his mother underneath the caring scowl of his father, the one Jack had inherited just as much as his name.

“What?” He asked curiously.

“I know so little about you; it makes every piece of information I get precious.” She confessed.

And makes it impossible not to fall in love with you, you beautiful man.

She pulled her blanket tighter around her, suddenly feeling exhausted.

“That’s it.” Jack shook his head, pulling his blanket out from behind him and moving over to her side of the tiny cot.

She wasn’t about to resist seeing where this led.

He put her in between the fire and his torso. He covered her with both blankets: one over her legs and the other over her shoulders. He wrapped his arms around the outside of her body and rubbed her shoulder softly.

“Jack?” She murmured.

“Shh.” He shook his head. “No talking until your lips return to their normal color.”

“You’ve never seen their normal color.” She accused.

“You can see why I’m in suspense.”

She laughed at the unexpected retort but despite the joke, she noticed he was still monitoring her with his sharp, analytical eyes. But instead of feeling hovered over, an immense feeling of caring washed over her. She didn’t know how he always managed to make her feel protected rather than suffocated. He seemed to be the exception to her every rule.

“I should have never let you walk out of my parlor.” She realized. Her voice wasn’t much louder than a whisper but she knew Jack heard it.

“I don’t think I gave you much of a choice at the time.” He answered.

“Even so.” She maintained her position. “You caught me by surprise and I wasn’t prepared to defend myself. The next time you decide to make a romantic overture, I’ll be ready.” She promised.

“The next time?” He raised his eyebrow.

“Mmhm.” She yawned. “But you needn’t rush. I think I’m starting to get used to waiting on you.”

"Patience too? You must be hypothermic.”

“What color are my lips?” She asked, wanting to torture him by leaning in closer but she ended up staring at his own strong mouth.

He gave her lips a long, analytical once-over and she felt her body warm from the inside out.

“No longer violet. I think we may be encroaching into blush’s territory.”

“That’s a shame. I was really looking forward to testing that South Pole suggestion.” She whispered as she felt him closing the distance.

“Well, there’s no harm in being thorough.” Jack reasoned.

"Excellent point, Inspector." Phryne agreed just before his lips met hers.