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The gifts that keep on giving

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Jack crept up the pavement, wondering just how much trouble he was in. He’d phoned from the station, letting Phryne know that he had been called out and wasn’t sure that he’d be on time to their anniversary dinner. She’d sounded understanding on the telephone but now it was six hours later and all the lights in the house were off. 

As he was quietly hanging up his hat and coat, Phryne appeared at the head of the stairs.

“You’re definitely late,” she agreed from the safety of the higher ground. Her folded arms did little to hide her emotions.

“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “Homicide. I had no idea that it would take so long or I would have tried to…”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” she knew him too well to swallow the lie.

“I’m sorry all the same,” he offered. 

“And Rosie?” She asked with an expectant tilt of her head. 

Jack was surprised that that bit of information had already found its way to her; although, he should have been more surprised that she didn’t meet him at the scene, now that he was thinking about it.

“Shaken up,” he said honestly. “The victim was a childhood friend.”

“Good of you to stay with her then,” Phryne agreed, trying to be the better person.

“Really, it wasn’t like that,” he started to argue.

“Jack,” she cut him off, “it’s late. I’m exhausted. Mr. Butler prepared the guest room for you,” she informed him. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Phryne, wait, please?” 

She didn’t. For the first time in their relationship, she closed her bedroom door to him.

Jack looked at the empty space she’d left behind at the top of the stairs for a brief moment before trudging up the steps.

He took a chance and knocked lightly on the door.

“Phryne?”

She didn’t respond. 

“Look, I know that you’re upset and rightly so. I disappointed you. I know that. I’m going to try and make it up to you by leaving your anniversary gift at the door. If you want to count to 50 to make sure that I’m no longer in the hallway, I’ll understand but you should at least have that tonight.” There was another pause for silence. “I love you. Sleep well.” He tapped the door once to confirm that he was leaving and headed down the hall. 

He was halfway down the hall when he heard her door pull back. He glanced back over his shoulder just in time to see it close again. 

He smiled at her insatiable curiosity.

OOOOO

He awoke the next morning to a soft knock on the door. He lifted his head from the pillow to confirm that it was Phryne opening the door slowly. 

“Paper,” she held up the new pocket notebook. On every page, there was an activity that she could tear out and spend: a private poetry reading, a weekend trip of her choosing, an evening stroll on the beach. She had already torn out a page and was holding it out to him. 

Breakfast in bed.

He lifted the doona for her to join him. She slipped in beside him and they considered each other for a long moment, nose to nose, before she decided to speak.

“I’m sorry that I locked you out,” she whispered. 

“I’m sorry that I let you down,” he replied, touching her cheek.

“You didn’t,” she assured him. “You were doing what you’ve always done. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was the other woman, borrowing your time,” she acknowledged. “I know that she needs you too, I just wish that I wasn’t so familiar with the feeling.”

He looked into her worried features and sighed.  

“Do you remember when you told me that you hadn’t taken anything seriously since 1918?” He asked, brushing her bangs out of her eyes.

She nodded. 

“That was the moment that you stopped borrowing my time and I started giving it to you,” he informed her. 

“That early?” 

“Our third case,” he acknowledged, having done the math ages ago. “You turned my head and I’ve never looked back.”

She swooned a little, pulling him closer.

“You know, you could have had me then if you’d asked,” she mentioned casually as she wrapped herself around him. 

“Not like this,” he countered seriously. “This was what I was waiting for.”

“Was it worth it?” She questioned, knowing all of the trials that they’d endured together. 

“Every second,” he replied honestly. 

She nodded in agreement before leaning in to kiss him. He wrapped his hand around her neck to keep her close. His fingers were burrowing in her hair when a tiny groan broke from her and she pulled away.

“What?” He asked, wanting a good answer before he let her go.

“Mr. Butler is bringing us breakfast in bed.” She leaned her forehead against his. 

“We’ll lock the door. He can leave it in the hall,” Jack assured her as he pulled her back in for another kiss. 

“Jack,” she warned against his lips. “It’s my first present, I tore it out of the book and everything,” she reminded him before she nipped at his lips. 

He deflated beside her with an unsatisfied groan.

With his usual omnipotence, Mr. Butler knocked on the door. 

“Come in,” she gave him permission with a knowing look at Jack. " Good morning, Mr. B,” Phryne greeted.

“Good morning, Miss.” He set the tray of food down in front of Phryne and went back to the hall and came in with a second tray for Jack.

“Thank you, Mr. Butler.” 

“My pleasure, Inspector,” he said as he left the room with a smile and shut the door again.

“Mr. Butler’s croissants,” Phryne announced as she tore a corner off of the pastry. “They’re heavenly.”

“I didn’t seem to get one,” Jack pointed out as he lifted the lid off of his plate to find a silver pen and a folder tied together in a ribbon. 

“Maybe you shouldn’t have spent our first anniversary with your ex-wife,” she suggested pointedly as she took another bite of her croissant.  

He gave her a look that told her he’d take it under advisement as he tugged on the ribbon and picked up the folder. He turned his attention to and scanned the paper inside casually before realizing what it was and scanning it again.

“Phryne, what is this?”

She glanced over his arm, pretending to read it.

“It looks like a romantic overture to me,” she decided. 

“This is an application for a marriage license,” he stated, convinced that she had made some sort of mistake. 

“Yes it is,” she confirmed.

“If this is because of my comments on commitment…”

“No, well, a little, but no.” She shook her head. “Only because they made me realize that I haven’t had a single second thought about us since the moment that you kissed me on that airfield. Not one. You came to London and I was thrilled, you followed me home, you practically moved in,” she added dramatically, “and I have never once felt restricted or stifled in any way. Even last night, I knew that you would come home and I knew that we would be fine. So, knowing that and knowing you, I thought that perhaps you should have a copy of this on hand, just in case you decide that you'd like to use it someday. And if not, then you get a shiny new pen and we need never discuss it again."

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” she confirmed.

“And what if I put you on the spot and propose right now?” He squinted.

“Do it and find out,” she leaned closer, calling his bluff. 

He stared into her eyes, knowing that she’d do it just to prove that she could.

He leaned back against the headboard and considered her gift. 

“This is…”

“I know,” she nodded, rubbing his arm. “But so are you,” she smiled. 

He stared at her for a moment before tilting his head, wanting her to come closer. She obliged him and he kissed her sweetly. 

“I love you,” he whispered against her lips.

“I know that you do,” she smiled. “You’re still not getting my croissant,” she dismissed him with another short kiss. 

“Noted,” he pulled away from her as she went back to her breakfast.