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into the sunlight tripping

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The doorknob was cool under her hands as she fumbled to unlock her door in the faint pre-dawn light.

“I gave Mr. Butler the night off,” she mumbled over her shoulder to Jack, who had walked her to the door, "so excuse the lack of the usual warm welcome.”

She opened the door and held it, turning to look at Jack.

“Care for a cup of coffee?”

He nodded and stepped inside.

The sound of the door shutting felt loud in the silence of the sleeping house. Jack took his hat off but declined when she offered to take his coat. Phryne gave him a small smile, surmising that he couldn’t stay for long. She led him through the grey darkness of the dining room into the kitchen, switched on the lights, and put the kettle on the stove. While she waited for the water to boil, she turned away from the stove and leaned against the counter.

Jack had sat down on the corner of the kitchen table. Her eyes flitted over him, taking in the weariness in his familiar frame.

“Well, the warehouse was a bust,” she spoke in a hushed voice. She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to speak quietly, but she did anyway. Something about the dark, quiet house demanded it. “My apologies for dragging you along, I was so sure Miller would show – "

“No, no,” Jack said gruffly, shaking his head. “I’m glad you asked me. I know you would have taken him yourself if he’d shown up, but I... I'm glad you asked me along.”

He smiled at her; a small, earnest quirk of his lips. Phryne couldn’t help but beam back at him.

The kettle whistled and she turned back to the stove to prepare their coffee.

He took the mug she offered him with a grateful nod and a murmured ‘thank you’. She stood with her back against the counter, facing him as they drank.

Neither of them spoke for a while. The unusual silence between them wasn't uncomfortable, but it made the passing time stretch and contort. Phryne felt herself grow pensive as she blew into her mug.

She had the strange impression that the world had narrowed down to the brightly lit room around her. Was this unfamiliar, liminal place really her kitchen? It usually bustled with life and activity and daily routine. Being here, alone with Jack at such an unusual hour, made it feel otherworldly.

She took a sip and watched as Jack did the same. He stared absently into his cup after lowering it.

Since he didn’t notice her staring at him, she took her time to do it properly. His hair and clothes looked endearingly rumpled from their long night of sitting in the cramped space of his car. His eyes were puffy, suggesting that he hadn't been getting enough sleep even before their stake-out.

A rush of worry mingled with affection filled her. When she’d asked him to come along he had agreed without thinking, even though he was clearly exhausted.

She was shaken out of her reverie when Jack drained his mug with a sigh.

“Thank you for the coffee,” he said, standing up reluctantly. “I have to get home to freshen up before my shift starts.”

“I hope you aren't too tired.” She took the mug out of his grasp and gave him a teasing smile (although she graciously passed over the perfect opportunity for a double entendre. Jack wasn't up to his usual standard of flirting at the moment). “I'd hate to interfere with your ability to do your job.”

He gave the expected huff at the irony of her words.

“I got a bit of sleep last night before I came,” he said. “I knew I would need it.”

She went to place the cups in the sink, and then to switch off the kitchen light. It was light enough to see by now. The sun would be up in a couple of minutes. She slowly made her way back to Jack, her eyes not quite adjusted to the natural light yet.

“So I'm not being too much trouble for you?” she asked lightly.

“Never.”

He had straightened out, but he hadn’t made a move to leave yet.

Phryne didn’t want him to move. She wanted him there, in her kitchen, as the dawn morphed into day and the usual bustle followed. She didn’t just want his companionship during the thrill of a case; she wanted him even like this: Tired, not up to their usual repartee, his eyes fixed on her with unexpected gentleness.

The realization thudded through her veins as she stepped closer to him. She fidgeted with his tie, making half a pretense of straightening it. Her hands smoothed over his lapels before she slid them up to his shoulders, relishing the feel of his coat under her palms.

Her eyes trailed up to his face. The weak daylight from the window highlighted the slight stubble on his jaw. Her eyes moved further up, over the sagging beneath his eyes to his eyes themselves. They were regarding her with such unguarded warmth that her breath hitched.

She leaned into him, watching his reaction.

His eyes moved down to her lips. He let out a small, shuddering breath.

That convinced her. She pressed her lips against his softly. His mouth melted under her. He tasted like coffee and his breath was warm on her mouth. She happily drowned her tired senses in the sensation.

When she pulled away she stood still, basking in the moment, unwilling to open her eyes just yet.

She didn’t need to. Seconds later, his hands were pulling her closer and he was kissing her again.

The warmth of his hands on her waist seeped through her, a new and precious luxury, but one that felt wonderfully familiar and comfortable all the same. There was no hesitation in this second kiss. He kissed her like it was an end in itself; like it was his only chance to convey the depth of his regard for her.

And convey it he did.

Time lost all meaning. One eternity later, their motions slowed and he pulled away.

She pried her eyes open to look at his face. A ray of sunshine, reflecting sharply from outside the window, fell over his nose. His eyes were dazed and half-lidded and he looked utterly at peace. She felt her heart contract at the sight. Her lips were numb from their previous kiss, but she leaned in, pulled him closer by his lapels, and kissed him again.

Finally, she felt him move back. She lessened her hold and eased away.

His eyes fluttered open and darted in the direction of the foyer before turning back to her.

"I have to..."

"I know." She smiled and dragged her hands down his chest with relish before stepping away reluctantly.

“Come on, then.”

They walked to the foyer together. She couldn’t stop looking at him. His ridiculous smile echoed the one she could feel stretched across her own face.

He gathered his hat. She opened the door. Before he stepped over the threshold, he looked at her and opened his mouth to say something, but in his tired state, he seemed to be unable to find suitable words. His smile turned slightly self-deprecating. He tilted his head at her and turned to leave.

“Jack…”

She grabbed his sleeve and turned him back. His hands instantly came up, grasping her arms lightly. She looked at him earnestly.

"Come to dinner tonight.”

His eyes searched her face. "I… I’m afraid I’m going to be very tired by then,” he said carefully.

"It doesn't matter. Go home and sleep first, if you want to. Or come and rest here."

The small smile at the corners of his mouth returned.

"I will," he said. His right thumb stroked over her arm in thanks before he nodded at her and let go.

Her eyes followed him into the street.

The rising sun drew golden lines over the tarmac and onto his shoes. It almost looked like he was dipping his feet into the sunlight with every step he took.

Phryne closed the door with a smile.

 

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