When Phryne awoke, it was to the early desert wind whipping against the walls of her tent. As she slowly remembered where she was, she also recalled who had been curled around her as she’d fallen asleep.
The man in question was now sitting in front of her, perpendicular on a flat chaise lounge that he'd acquired from his own tent. He was dressed in the same trousers and open white shirt that he'd worn the night before, the braces around his waist suggesting that he'd dressed hastily for his jaunt next door. Propped up between the metal arm of his chair and his thigh was a leather journal, where he was busy sketching her in pencil.
“Good morning,” Jack greeted with a sly smile as he continued his work unfazed.
“Good morning,” she stretched before carefully resuming her exact position: on her side, facing him, arm tucked under her pillow. She wasn't new at this.
"Thank you," he smiled at the kindness and she nodded expertly in cooperation.
As she watched him work, she realized that drawing suited him, with his quiet but observant nature, his eye for small details, and his secret appreciation for the lines of her body.
Memories of his eyes burning their way across her knees, collar bone, and chin long before his mouth was able to chart the same courses echoed in her body and she fought the urge to squeeze her thighs in desire.
“How’s the light?” She asked, changing the subject but wanting to keep his attention.
“Radiant,” he murmured with a playful glint in his eye but her entire body melted a little at the unexpectedly romantic response.
“Do you sketch every woman that you take to bed?”
“No,” he replied, furrowing his brow as he fixed something that he disapproved of with a frown. “In fact, I haven’t sketched anything since the war but,” he glanced up at her once more to judge reality against the drawing in his hand, “the scene was begging to be recorded,” he said as he set his pencil aside, apparently satisfied with his work.
“May I see?” She requested hesitantly, unsure if he would be as open in the light of day. He surprised her as he leaned forward, arm outstretched, and offered her the journal. She adjusted the sheet wrapped around her torso a little as she sat up and took it from him.
It was a simple sketch: she was sleeping peacefully, arm tucked under her pillow, the silk sheet wrapped around her breasts, draping over the curve of her hip but something about the drawing made her throat close tight with emotion. This wasn't the idealized version of her, the erotic, the muse, she realized. Jack had captured something that the finest artists in Paris never could: he'd drawn her, the real her, without artifice, expectation, or bravado. This was what he saw when he looked at her, and it was beautiful.
But after six months of pretending, she barely recognized herself in it.
“I take it back,” she handed him the journal again. "You see too much after all," she accused and he chuckled at the new charges.
“That’s because there’s a lot to see,” he responded as he sat down gently beside her. “But I've found that if you look past the curious private detective," he ran his finger down her temple, "and the seductive temptress," his finger brushed over her lips, "and the rebellious Collingwood pirate," he stroked her chin forward, mimicking the way it stubbornly jutted out, "you’ll find a woman with a heart the size of an ocean,” he smiled as he placed his hand on her shoulder and moved down to feel it beat for a moment, “and that Phryne? She’s the one that I’ve been dying to meet.”
“And now that you have?” She asked, her voice breaking under the weight of the question.
“I intend to spend the rest of my life learning everything there is to know about her,” he smiled against her lips.
Phryne placed a hand on his chest, stopping him from kissing her.
"And what if you don't like what you learn?" She asked seriously and Jack leaned back with a frown. "What if I disappoint you again?"
"I've lost you several times over, in a myriad of ways. You've died, you've run away, I've run away," he added for good measure. "But I'm still here, halfway around the world, holding you," he reminded her. "What do you think I'm going to see that I haven't seen from you already?"
"I usually come up with something," she said, hating herself for needing to test every boundary put before her.
"Yes, you usually do," he sighed, unable to argue. "So what do we do when that happens?" He asked, wanting advice from the only person who could give it. "What do we do when we inevitably get in our own stubborn way again?"
Phryne fell silent, wanting to give him an answer, wanting to show him that she was taking his heart seriously this time.
"Spider," she said suddenly.
"Where?" He looked beside them, ready to attack.
"No," she smiled at his chivalry. "It's code, something to say when we're being idiots. It reminds me that I'm being irrationally afraid of something that isn't real and it reminds you that you love me enough to give me peace of mind, even when you think I'm being ridiculous. Spider," she offered again.
"Spider," he stated. "And you don't think that simply saying the word will send you hurtling onto the nearest piece of furniture?" He asked skeptically as he came a little closer, testing his own boundaries.
"Perhaps, but that will break up a fight too, don't you think?" She smiled and cupped a hand around his neck encouragingly.
"I don't care to find out either way," he confessed against her lips.
"No," she shook her head in agreement as he finally kissed her good morning. "Nor do I," she murmured as she pulled him down over top of her.