It takes longer for her to return to Melbourne than either of them expected.
He has become so accustomed to her whirlwind that when he watches her fly away it doesn’t quite feel real. He feels as though he’ll still see her tomorrow, or the day after, just as usual. But of course he doesn’t and by the fifth day of her absence he’s come back to reality enough to have accepted just how long he’ll be waiting and start mentally counting down the days until she could possibly return. He’s overly optimistic in his calculations. He pretends it’s because he knows how she likes to speed, but really it’s that he can’t stand to imagine her away for longer than she absolutely has to be.
But her first telegram puts a dent in his optimism. ‘Winds slowing us down. Flying behind schedule. Unsure when we will arrive.’
He feels hope deflate and he agonises.
(He never thought of himself as an indecisive man but her particular brand of chaos renders him uncertain more often than he cares to admit.)
What he wants is to follow her. He can’t get the words ‘come after me’ and the feel of her lips out of his head. But chasing her isn’t logistically easy when she travels by plane and his only option is a ship. And there’s life to consider; his job, his home, money, and perhaps most of all a deep uncertainty about what exactly it is he’d even be chasing.
“Come after me,” is characteristically unclear of her; full of flirtation and yet lacking the kind of specificity that would make him sure of her intentions. He wants to be annoyed at her for it but he can’t because it’s a possibility and that is something he had studiously avoided believing could exist, right up until the moment she turned everything upside down with the sincerity of three words: more than anything.
And he’s afraid he’ll miss his chance if he doesn’t follow her, afraid of the fact that there is a whole world outside of Melbourne that she might remember and revel in, afraid that the memory of him won’t be enough, that he’ll fade from her if he’s not by her side.
Just as he's ready to throw all caution to the wind and literally go after her, she telegrams again.
Father driving me mad. Leaving him in London. Returning home by ship immediately. Stay put.
He breathes a sigh of relief at seeing that word on paper. Home. She’s coming home. She’s coming home at her own choice and that feels a lot closer to certainty than ‘come after me.’
He makes new calculations now and starts the countdown all over again, breathing a little easier with each passing day until a telegram arrives with the date of her arrival.
She practically runs down the gangplank when she sees him waiting on the dock, clothes flying out behind her as she rushes forward. It’s all he can do to remain still and wait to see exactly what her whirlwind brings with her now.
“Jack,” she breathes out with a smile as she stops short just in front of him. Her hands come to rest on his lapels and for a moment he thinks she’s going to kiss him but she doesn’t.
“Miss Fisher,” he greets her warmly restraining the desire to simply pull her into his arms as he did in the airfield. In the few telegrams they’ve exchanged during her journey home she’s made no mention of their kiss or her romantic overture but she did tell him to meet him at the dock and that feels like… something.
As is the way she hasn’t moved, hands still on his lapels, eyes fixed on his.
He doesn’t move either; he’s decided it’s her dance to lead, and long ago he promised to try to keep in step even if it was slow and close.
“Come for supper tonight Jack?” she purrs. “I still owe you one after all, and with my father safely in London and Dot with her new husband, I do believe the only thing that could possibly interrupt us would be a murder.”
“I’d like that very much Miss Fisher,” he answers her, completely unable to keep the smile off his face. He clarifies, “Supper that is, not the murder,” and she laughs as she lets go of his lapel and steps away.
The moment he loses contact with her he wonders how he could ever have been resistant to the notion of slow and close. Having her close is all he can think about now.
He expects the Phryne Fisher spectacle of seduction; candlelight and champagne and a lethal dress. But she greets him at the door barefaced, without her trademark red lips, in a dress that by her standards is positively chaste. She is no less beautiful for it and his stomach still leaps when she smiles like she didn’t just see him a few hours ago.
All the same, he wonders if his expectations for this evening have been all wrong.
But she sweeps him inside and tucks her arm through his as she leads him to the parlour and there it is again - that closeness, so casually enacted by her, so utterly torturous to his uncertain heart.
“I though we might abandon etiquette tonight Jack,” she says, gesturing at the various plates and dishes of food spread across multiple surfaces in the parlour. “I had Mr Butler make all your favourites and I thought we could eat here.”
He looks around in amused awe, noting the gratin and the plate of sandwiches and the multitude of other foods she’s ever seen him enjoy.
“And what about your favourites Miss Fisher?” he teases.
“I have everything I need right here,” she says, looking at him pointedly before plucking a champagne bottle from the bar with a flourish and a wicked smile.
He watches her curl up in a chair, her feet tucked underneath her like a cat and he is struck properly, for the first time, by just how comfortable she is in his presence. Truth be told he’d always been a little too preoccupied guarding himself when he was in her presence to realise just how little she did at all.
“So,” he begins as he settles into his own chair, plate of food in hand. “Tell me about the flight.”
Her face lights up. “Oh it was glorious Jack! Except for my father who was a nuisance the entire way. But the flying! It was just thrilling. You can’t even imagine how spectacular the views were.”
He lets her talk, more than happy to listen to every detail she wants to share because the joy on her face is unlike anything else. So for the next few hours they swap stories of their time apart until there’s nothing left to say - except of course for all the things that remain unsaid.
It’s Jack who eventually puts his glass down and declares, “It’s getting quite late Miss Fisher.
“So it is,” she says, standing and following him out of her parlour where she drifts towards her stairs, rather than the door, and of course he follows.
They pause there, neither one of them quite knowing how to say goodnight. Nothing is quite as it was before she left; expectation has threaded it’s way through every word, every look, every minor touch this evening, and yet nothing has actually moved them forward either.
She tries to stifle a yawn but fails. “Well I suppose that really is my cue to take my leave of you,” she says, turning ever so slightly to move up the stairs.
“Unless you care to join me of course?” she suggests, hardly for the first time in their partnership, but with significantly less confidence than usual. She says the words with her back to him and her voice is quieter, as though unsure if she wanted him to hear her or not.
But for the first in their partnership he stops her in her tracks as he replies simply, “Lead the way.”
She pauses, turns on the stair to face him once more and he cannot read her. There’s no trace of the lascivious smile that usually accompanies her flirtations, just her eyes searching his.
He advances up the stairs until they’re face to face and her breathing quickens.
“Do you wish to retract the invitation Miss Fisher?” he questions, voice low in that way it gets only when he’s speaking to her, and only when he gives in to the undercurrent of feelings buried beneath their facade of friendship and work.
“No,” she replies softly but definitively, turning once more up the stairs acutely aware of his presence behind her.
“After all” he says to her turned back. “You did tell me to come after you. I’m only following your instructions,” he teases gently.
She wasn’t expecting his acquiescence and it’s thrown her a little, but still she manages a quick retort, thrown over her shoulder with a familiar quirk to her lips. “Well it’s about time you did Inspector.”
He pauses in the doorway and watches as she flits towards the bed, then away, turns her back on him and finally stills at the window as if taking in the view.
(There is no view of course, it’s pitch black outside, save for a few far away stars.)
“Why Miss Fisher, I do believe you’re nervous?” he comments, half amused, half incredulous. He has imagined this moment more times than he cares to admit and never did he imagine anything other than the utterly seductive confidence she accosts him with on a regular basis.
She turns to face him and laughs, but it’s nothing like the laugh he’s accustomed to from her, stilted in it’s lack of poise. She ducks her head as she says, “Yes I think I might be.”
“I’ve seen the parade of men who’ve been through this room, I cannot be so very different,” he tells her as he walks towards her, imagining somehow that this might ease her unexpected nerves.
She gazes at him, eyes wide with sincerity, “On the contrary Jack, you are so very different from those men.”
“Not as experienced or as exotic I’m sure.” He means to tease but her nerves have pulled a thread of his own insecurities and it’s less in jest than he wishes it were. His mind returns to a jealous outburst, “I’m not one of them and I never will be. Even if you want me to be.”
“Jack,” her tone softens and she steps closer, fingers tracing his cheek. “There is only one reason that you are so different from all those men and it has nothing at all to do with anything you aren’t, or they were. It’s simply that I wasn’t in love with any of them.”
He breathes in abruptly, almost embarrassed at how those words tear through him, threaten to unravel him completely. He had imagined that she felt something close to this for him, more than what she felt for her parade of transient lovers at least, but he hadn’t allowed himself to truly imagine that she was in love with him. And he hadn’t allowed himself to acknowledge just how much he wanted it from her, how much it actually mattered that his feelings for her were matched in kind.
“Jack...” She interrupts his reverie, questioning eyes followed shortly by her mouth. “Did you...?”
He cuts her off with his finger on her lips. His free hand reaches for hers and he lets his finger fall away from her mouth as he raises her hand and presses a kiss gently to her skin.
“Yes Phryne I heard you.”
And when he returns his gaze to her she doesn’t speak but her eyes are loud, asking and…
He tries to answer the unspoken question. “And… you must know. You must have known,” he says, unable to say the rest of the words just yet, locked up as tightly as they have been these past few months, alluded to just the once.
(It sounds serious.
They aren’t easy words to set free.
She watches him and recognises the internal struggle she’s come to associate so deeply with him, written all over his face. His eye pierce hers and his mouth is firm, no trace of the smile he so often tries to hide in her company.
Her response is careful. “Yes Jack, I have known that you cared… deeply. But love….” she shakes her head. “Love is something else entirely and…” She hesitates and then breathes out her most guarded insecurity, “I’m not certain I am easy to love Jack.”
“I’m not certain that makes any difference at all to the fact that I do,” he replies without hesitation, watching her carefully.
She waits a moment for the glib flirtation to roll off her tongue as she’s so used to occurring with him, but nothing comes. There is no impulse to brush it off, or run away, or remind him of all the reasons they’d held back from this moment until now. All she feels is this reality. He loves her. And she’s in love with him.
When she meets his eyes again he speaks once more, slowly and deliberately. “I have loved you for some time Phryne. I’m quite certain there is nothing that can change that fact now.”
(From another man, to another woman, those words would be a promise. Between them, they’re simply an acknowledgement. They are who they are and this is a choice. They cannot be sure of the outcome, there is no guarantee, but still they are choosing this.)
She takes a deep breath as she inches closer. “Well then,” her voice is husky and low. “I suppose if that’s true I have nothing at all to be nervous about, do I?”
“No,” he answers, fingers skimming her neck, “Nothing at all.”
He pulls her closer still, dropping his hand to her waist and bringing the other to her back until there’s no space left between them and he kisses her fiercely. He kisses with her with all the anticipation that’s been building inside him from the moment she flew away. He kisses her for all the times he had wanted to but not been brave enough. He kisses her with all the weight of knowing that she could so easily break his heart but that she’s worth the risk.
She responds in kind, hands in his hair, then at his hips pressing herself against him and he meets her with his hands on her ass, then her breast, then the buttons at the back of her dress.
And they are lost to the whirlwind together.
He has never seen her this still, or heard her this quiet. He could never have imagined that this is what a sated Phryne Fisher would look like. Truth be told, she rather gave the impression that she couldn’t be sated. To see her, here like this, somehow makes him feel both triumphant and humble at the same time. His fingers trace patterns on her back and she doesn’t move; he would swear she was asleep if not for the quiet little mews of satisfaction that escape her lips every so often.
There is something utterly intoxicating about seeing her this way, the antithesis to her usual state of energy and movement. He has always felt intimacy as a privilege. He used to imagine she would find that quality in him laughably old-fashioned, in stark contrast to her modern sensibilities.
“Jack,” she eventually murmurs. “Stay?”
He knows that word from her lips should be a command but the sleepy lilt to her voice brings it closer to a request. He might be tempted to tease her about it but the truth is he’s practically drunk on the intimacy of this moment and he cannot bear to disrupt it.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he tells her, settling an arm around her waist as he presses his lips to her shoulder.
She just makes that quiet sighing sound again and his heart nearly shatters with how much he loves her.
He wakes before her - unsurprisingly - and finds himself at a loss for what to do. He has no desire to leave her bed or wake her and so he finds himself stuck. He glances at the nightstand out of habit, for there is always a book on his own, but hers is empty. His eyes land on the the little drawer beneath the table’s surface. He shouldn’t he knows, but then he considers that were the situation reversed she would take every opportunity to peruse his own belongings.
As he pulls open the drawer he immediately recognises she shape of a book and wonders for a moment whether he even wants to know, imagining some other banned work of eroticism that he may not quite be prepared for. But his curiosity gets the better of him and he secretly blames her influence as he pulls the book from it’s hiding place.
He laughs when he reads the title. Seven Little Australians. He never imagined Phryne Fisher secretly reading a children’s story and he wonders again at all the ways she can surprise him.
But when he sees the inscription, in childish hand, on the first page, it breaks his heart a little.
To Janey, love Phryne, 1904
And he understands. She needs to keep whatever little pieces of Janey she can. A hair ribbon, a favourite book. Anything more tangible than memory.
He wonders how she could have afforded a book at her tender age and then considers that perhaps this was her very first theft. The thought makes him smile. It seems perfectly fitting that the first thing she might have stolen would have been a gift for someone she loved.
So he reads it while he waits for her to wake, because this is another piece of her and he wants to know every single one.
She opens her eyes briefly and smiles when they land on his face.
“You stayed,” she murmurs sleepily.
“You told me to,” he replies.
“You don’t always do what I tell you to do Jack.”
“Only when it coincides with what I wish to do,” he teases before adding more sincerely, “Or when it is important to you.”
“And which was this?” she questions, eyes closed still languid.
“You wanted to stay?” she questions, seeking a second affirmation.
“I have always wanted to stay,” he tells her sincerely. And as usual there is a depth to his words that goes far beyond the literal that almost overwhelms her in how it makes her heart expand.
(Stay becomes his favourite word.
It becomes her favourite request.)
Days stretch into weeks, stretch into months and he’s in her bed more often than his own and the mornings she wakes without him are far less pleasant than those with him, even if he does slip out far too early for her to ever actually rise with him.
But she wakes every time because he never leaves the bed without pressing his lips to her skin. Sometimes it’s her back as she’s sprawled on her stomach. Sometimes it’s her shoulder as he extracts his arm from her waist. Sometimes it’s her lips if her eyes flutter open long enough for him to catch her gaze and whisper, “Good morning Phryne.”
He doesn’t leave her bed without first touching her and she finds herself so attuned to him that she wakes every time, no matter how soft he is. She doesn’t mind the early hour; she’ll happily return to her slumber after he’s gone but she craves this quiet intimacy with him like nothing she’s ever desired before.
Loving him consumes her, just as she’d always been afraid it would.
She wrestles with the fear of it and reminds herself of all the things she taught herself to do in spite of the fear they first inspired. Flying planes and shooting guns, tending wounds and posing nude; she was afraid of every single one of them until she forced herself not to be. Every one of those accomplishments proved to be worth it and Jack she knows is worth so much more.
She owes it to them both to conquer this fear.
It’s easy when he’s near, when she can simply bask in the glorious feeling of being with him; the way he makes her laugh so easily, the way his touch both sets her alight and makes her heart ache at the same time, the way she feels at ease enough to be still and quiet with him, something she hasn’t felt since childhood and the companionship she’d held with Janey.
The mornings when she wakes alone are harder. Those infrequent days where their paths don’t cross on a case so she must wait until he’s letting himself in the door at Wardlow to see him are harder still. His absence makes the doubts creep in because she misses him and she doesn’t want to.
She has never wanted her happiness to be dependent on another person. She has worked hard to create the most independent life she could possibly have all the while vowing that she would never commit herself to any man lest they try to control her or change her.
And while she knows he will never do either of those things, there has always been another reason lurking deeper in her heart; the knowing that to love someone means a loss of control she has no say in at all.
That’s the part she’s always been most scared of.
“Roll over Jack,” she commands one evening.
“What for?” he questions, remaining firmly in position, as he eyes her cautiously.
She laughs and rolls her eyes at him, “Nothing you need to be afraid of, I promise.”
And of course he knows this is true. While he might still occasionally find himself intimidated by both her sexual knowledge and personal drive she has never pushed him into anything he was uncomfortable with and he knows she never will.
He rolls onto his stomach and soon feels her nails tracing lines over his skin. Her movements are more deliberate than the lazy meanderings his fingers take across her own skin in moments like these.
“What exactly are you drawing?” he questions.
“Can’t you tell Jack, I’m writing you a secret message.”
He can hear the smile in her voice. “And what does it say?” he inquires.
She lowers her mouth to his ear and whispers, “If I told you that it wouldn’t be a secret now would it?”
“And do you want it to stay a secret?” he questions.
“Not forever Jack,” she replies softly.
It becomes a ritual of sorts for Phryne. Night after night she writes I love you onto his bare skin.
She’s surprised at herself for caring about the distinction. She had told him she was in love with him. He had told her he loved her and somehow those two things felt different. Certainly not mutually exclusive but different all the same. And she finds that it matters to her that he knows both are true, that she is so very much in love with him and that she loves him.
But there is a gravity to I love you that scares her.
With in love she can tell herself it’s simply a state of being; something changeable, built on passion and desire and extinguished all too easily when passion turns to anger or desire fades into familiarity but lovefeels like a promise, a commitment, something immutable.
She knows because she felt it in his own words.
And she wants to give that back to him.
It comes as a surprise to realise that she also wants to give it to herself. She has learned that there is a freedom that comes from loving unreservedly; she has felt it in the way her life has changed for having Dot and Jane in it. She wants to know if that freedom will be extended by loving him too, having always been so sure that loving a man could only mean the opposite.
But the words won’t leave her lungs just yet.
So night after night she traces them into his skin and hopes he can feel the truth of them; hopes that he is patient enough to wait for her to be ready to say them out loud.
He spends weeks trying to decipher it, pouring every ounce of concentration into translating the feel of her nails on his skin into shapes in his mind. One by one he learns the letters and slowly her message becomes clear.
Every night she asks him to roll over so she can write her heart into his skin and every night he is overwhelmed by the reality of her.
He writes his own heart into her body, with his fingers and his lips and his eyes on hers. He holds onto the words for now so that there’s space for her to speak them when she’s ready.
There is a softness he notices in her now that takes him by surprise.
He’s been so used to thinking of her as all hard edges and commands and formidable will - and she is certainly all of those things but now he becomes more privy to other sides of her.
He notices that her face is bare of makeup more often than he’s ever seen it; that unlike before she no longer remains fashionably dressed for his company of an evening.
He notices the way she listens to Jane’s stories with as much attention and genuine interest as she gives their crime scenes and at the way she never says goodnight without pressing a kiss to Jane’s hair.
He notices the way she compliments Dot and Mr Butler on their various services, frequently and sincerely and how when she sends Bert and Cec on a job she always asks Dot to make them a package of biscuits to tide them over until their next meal.
She’s still a whirlwind much of the time; still crashes his crime scenes and flirts with him even more outrageously, drives too fast and scandalises her Aunt at every opportunity. She still dances and drinks til the wee hours of the morning when the mood strikes her. But when it does, she makes a point of asking him to be there waiting for her. She invites him to stay and sleep in her bed so that she can return to him instead of alone.
And he understands that it isn’t that she’s changed, just that this part of her isn’t shared with many.
He makes a game of trying to discover which parts of her are just for him, teasing her with the question, “Did you let your lovers do this?” Sometimes the answer is yes but more often the answer is no. He is the only man to keep her company while she bathes. He is the only man she has allowed to remain in her bed without her in it. He is the only man who can read to her from Seven Little Australians, the only man she’ll allow to see the tears that sometimes come with the memories it evokes.
But he also learns that while he may be the only lover to know her this well, he is far from the only person. It’s Dot after all who teaches him exactly how Phryne likes her bath; Mr Butler how to recognise when to offer tea instead of whiskey and Janey who knows exactly which stories to tell in just the right way to make her throw her head back and laugh in total abandon.
He marvels at the family she has built for herself and how lucky he is that she’s let him join it.
At first she had found herself acutely aware of time passing, of the number of days spent with him, curious to find out whether there would be a limit to her contentment with him, almost sure that there would be and desperately afraid to reach it.
But there is a night, with her fingertips on his skin, where she realises she has long stopped counting. And in that quiet moment she finds herself writing new words, two instead of three. As her fingers trace new shapes, she speaks them out loud.
“Thank you,” she whispers softly not even sure if she intends for him to hear it or not.
But he does of course, and he shifts, rolling onto his back so he can look at her. “For what Phryne?” he asks looking at her tenderly.
“For being you,” she tells him plainly.
“Well I could hardly be anyone else now could I,” he teases her with a smile.
She brushes her fingers across his cheek and into his hair. “And I wouldn’t want you to be.”
She knows now that she’s ready, certain that for all her fears those words will only give her freedom.
“I love you Jack Robinson,” she breathes out.
(And oh how they do. She feels the universe expand around her in endless possibility.)
He smiles and reaches up for her, tucking her hair back behind her ear and tells her with all the sincerity of more than anything, “And I wouldn’t want to be loved by anyone but you Phryne Fisher.”
Later, when she’s quiet and still once more, his fingers trace patterns on her back and he whispers, “You need to work on your secret messages Phryne, I decoded that one weeks ago.”
“I always knew you would,” she whispers back.
In the morning she wakes to find a slip of paper on his empty pillow.
Just for the record - you are all too easy to love.