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The Fixed Foot

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Jack squinted his eyes open as the ringing telephone roused him from a comfortable sleep in his library. A book lay facedown on his chest, and he set it beside the glass that held the last few drops of the scotch he had drunk earlier. Rubbing his eyes between thumb and forefinger, he padded to the telephone.

"Jack Robinson," he answered. He heard the hoarseness of his voice and quickly covered the mouthpiece to clear his throat.

"Mmm, the one and only," replied a beloved female voice.

"Phryne," he said for the simple pleasure of hearing it. "It's late... isn't it? Everything all right?"

"Oh, yes. I suspect I disturbed your much-needed sleep, Jack. I am sorry."

"No, no. What is it?"

He heard a soft sigh and waited through a short pause. "There will be company joining me tonight," she said.

"Someone I know?" he asked lightly, his heart sinking as he tried to convince himself that this call wasn't the conversation he had been dreading since he and Phryne had become lovers a few blissful months ago.

"I don't think so..." After a beat, she murmured, "Jack..."

He swallowed what felt like a rock in his throat. "I see." He wouldn't force her to say it, and he didn't especially want to hear it. He cleared his throat again.

"Jack, I know that it's one thing to accept something in theory and then to have it realized. If you--"

"No," he interrupted. "No, I gave you my word, and I meant it." He sighed and waited for her to say something. When she didn't, he continued, "I meant it, Phryne. I would never try to change who you are. I knew..." Another damned lump in his throat. "I knew that this would be part of our arrangement, and I agreed to it."

He had agreed to it, but he had hoped... he had deluded himself into thinking that if he could only be enough for her, if he could satisfy her in every way, she wouldn't want to invite any other man to her bed. He could safely agree to something that would never happen. It was self-centered, arrogant, and foolish. He knew that. And yet.

"I would never hurt you for the world, Jack," she said. "I called only because I promised to tell you."

He shoved aside his bitterness and focused on the compliment of her trust in him and in what they had together. The compliment of her honesty. Trusting her in return was the only appropriate way to repay her.

"You did, and I thank you for that. I trust you, and I want you to enjoy your evening without another thought wasted on me."

"No thought of you is ever wasted, Jack Robinson. Does your invitation to dinner tomorrow night still stand?"

"Of course."

"I look forward to it. Good night, dearest man."

"Good night. Be careful."

 


 

She arrived the following evening in a dress that she must have remembered was a favorite of his. Her pale skin seemed to glow against the midnight blue, and her eyes looked like sapphires. She was, as always, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Gripping his lapels in both hands, she kissed him soundly, muffling his surprised laugh.

"I missed you," she said as they stole a moment to breathe. Her lips traced the line of his jaw, and he tightened his arm around her waist. "I want you. I want that delicious-smelling food first." She grinned and nipped his bottom lip between her teeth. "Then I want you. More than once. In so many ways." She loosened his tie, tossed it aside, and made fast work of his top two buttons. "I want you to eat dinner like this. Your throat inspires me."

"So informal, Miss Fisher?" he smiled.

Her eyes were nothing short of predatory, and that answered his question.

Jack lit the candles in the center of his small table and served Phryne and himself. They ate quietly for some time until Phryne set down her fork and reached over to lay her hand over his.

"I want to talk to you," she said. She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb. "About last night. About such nights in the future."

Such nights in the future. How could he ever make peace with this? He had spent the previous night unable to fall asleep, too preoccupied with images of another man's hands and lips on Phryne's body. Another man watching her face as she came undone in his arms. No, he would never try to change her, but Jack didn't know if he could ever change himself enough to accept what it meant to love her. And why should he be the one to change? Why--

He felt her hand squeeze his. "Jack? Come back to me."

"I can't talk about this," he said, pulling away from her. "Perhaps another time. Certainly another time. But I'm not a perfect person, Phryne, and I can't talk about this so soon."

"You are a perfect person. A perfect person with perfectly deep feelings." Though her eyes shone, she smiled at him a little. "I love you, Jack Robinson."

She had never said those words to him, and he had never said them to her. She must have known how he loved her - and long before he first felt her naked body pressed to his - but he hadn't dared to imagine that she could feel so strongly for him, much less tell him so. He felt his breath catch in his lungs.

"A lover brings a few hours of pleasure and enjoyment. You are so much more than that, Jack. You are my partner in everything. I love working with you, talking with you, drinking with you, eating with you, making love with you... everything, Jack. And you mustn't think..." Her voice broke a little, surprising him. "You must never think that I spend time with any other man because you fail me in some way. I don't take lovers because I'm not satisfied. It's because I learn new things about myself. I need that feeling of being newly discovered, of knowing myself a little better. I know that you are different, but can you understand at all?"

Words failed him; he could only nod.

Phryne left her chair and slid herself into his lap. "You know John Donne," she said, stroking the curls of hair at his brow, "when he compares his love to a compass? I am the foot who must obliquely run." She kissed his exposed throat. "'Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun.'"

"But this isn't a valediction," he said. He ran a hand over her thigh and could feel her garter under the thin material of her dress.

"No, never."

"What did you learn last night?" he mumbled between kisses.

She tilted her head to the side as his lips wandered down. "That you love me."

"You must have known that already, Miss Fisher."

"That you love me the way I love you." Her fingers splayed under his open collar, holding him to her. "Honestly and completely."

"And madly."

"Yes, of course," she laughed. "That I did already know."

Chapter Text

Phryne relaxed into the bath, her arms draped over Jack's shoulders as he lay back against her. She yawned and raised one hand to pet his hair.

"What a piece of work is a Jack Robinson," she said. His chuckle, though quiet, rumbled through him and into her chest. She leaned forward and pressed smiling lips to the nape of his neck. "How noble in reason," she continued with a kiss to the shell of his ear, "how infinite in faculty!"

"I wouldn't say infinite."

"Hush." She ran her hands over his shoulders and down his arms to find his fingers in the water. "How express and admirable... how like an Angel!"

"I know what the next line is, and you'd better not say it."

What a shame he couldn't see her wicked grin! One of her hands wandered in the water. "In apprehension how like a god," she whispered, catching his earlobe in her teeth as she roused him.

She was rewarded with the half-laugh, half-gasp that she had first discovered when making love to him. It was by far her favorite sound in the world, and since teasing him while pleasuring him was the only way to hear it, well... She was nothing if not practical.

"This is unbearable in more ways than one," Jack mumbled.

"The beauty of the world!" she went on, still grinning. "The paragon of animals!"

The low bathwater sloshed around them as Jack turned to face her, his hands braced on the sides of the tub. "Now I really must stop you, Miss Fisher."

She curled her legs beneath her and knelt up to face him, sliding her arms around his waist. "How else to explain why I want you all the time?" she asked. She nudged him backwards to settle herself into his lap.

"Not all the time," he pointed out. "Not last night."

Phryne had spent the evening prior with an Irish poet, the third man other than Jack to share her bed in nearly a year. A young man with sensual lips and a voice like music.

There was no trace of bitterness either in Jack's tone or in his eyes, and his crooked smile was genuine. Phryne followed the curve of his bottom lip with her thumb. "No, all the time. The way I want sherry even while I'm enjoying a rich dessert. The way I want my bed after an evening of dancing."

He tilted his head in that way of his - the way that made her want to lick him like an ice cream cone. "Am I that dull?"

"You're that... home," she said. "And have you forgotten, Detective Inspector, what we do in my bed?"

"This man from last night, what made you choose him? I have a real curiosity - if it's something you can talk to me about, of course."

She cupped his face in her palm. "I can talk to you about anything you want to know, Jack. Is it something you want to know?"

"It is. Truly."

"Let me think about how to express it while we dry ourselves and move to the bed. These things aren't easily put into words. And the bed offers many more options for enjoying each other afterwards."

They kissed and smiled and kissed again, and then they set about the task of removing their wet, naked bodies from the tub, drying themselves without too much touching, and relocating to the soft warmth of Phryne's bed, with all its possibilities. They lay on their sides, facing each other. Phryne slid one leg between Jack's and used it to lock his lower body to hers.

"He had clear eyes like yours," she began. "Expressive. Honest. He listened more than he spoke - which was a shame, as it happens, because he was intelligent and had a lyrical way with words." Her finger drew idle patterns on his chest, and she laughed. "I suppose he would be a poor poet if he didn't."

"A poet."

"Yes. Irish. I loved listening to him speak. You know what a weakness I have for men with beautiful voices."

Jack smiled. "He was... good to you? That is... respectful? Caring? Gentle... if that was what you wanted?" He winced. "Perhaps I am too curious for my own good."

She stroked his jaw and urged him in for a kiss. "I promise you that I would never sleep with someone if I suspected for a moment that he might hurt me. And if anyone did try, he would live - or not - to regret it." Reaching for his arm, she pulled it over her waist and curled closer to him. "Yes, he was good to me. A sweet and tender young man."

"Young?" Jack repeated, raising an eyebrow.

They laughed together. "Relatively young. Old enough to know what he was doing, though." Her eyes widened, and her hand flew to cover her mouth. "Forgive me, Jack. That seemed a bit over the line." Her hand moved from her mouth to her eyes. "Of what you would want to hear."

"No, I would assume... that is... I would hope that you were satisfied. That any man would do his best to please you."

"Jack," she whispered.

"Did he..." Jack's throat bobbed as he swallowed. "Did he do something you liked especially? Something I don't do?"

Phryne rose up onto her elbow and pushed him back against the pillows. "No, you piece of work." She kissed him, nuzzled his nose. "You express and admirable piece of work, you angel."

"Not this again," he groaned.

"This again and always until you stop being a paragon of animals and detectives and men."

He rolled her over and pinned her wrists above her head with one hand, sliding the other down the center of her chest. "The beauty of the world," he recited in a low voice.

"Have you never seen a woman who tempted you since we've been together?"

"I've seen women who were beautiful and charming, and there are women for whom I have cared deeply since I met you."

"Concetta," Phryne offered, and Jack nodded.

"But none that I would take to bed without love and commitment. I cannot separate my feelings from the act. I have no wish to."

"I can," she said. "You know that, of course. But I don't have to separate them, and I don't want to, when it's with you. I make love to you with my body and my heart - with my whole being, Jack." She wiggled one of her hands free and reached up to touch his face. "I know it isn't easy for you."

"Someone once told me that nothing that matters is easy." He smiled down at her, and Phryne could see in his eyes, along with an almost breathtaking affection, the reflection of her own smile. "And I don't make a habit of doing difficult things unless they're worth doing."

"Mmmm, Detective Inspector," she purred. She slid her freed hand back into his grip over her head and shifted her hips beneath his. "Are you saying that I'm... worth doing?"

But Jack was done talking.

Chapter Text

Jack followed Phryne onto her aunt's balcony, led by her hand clasped in his. This was the distinct advantage of parties at Mrs. Stanley's: Phryne could venture where she pleased, and she could take him with her 'far from the madding crowd.' She leaned against the edge of the balcony, smoothing her hands out over the cool marble on either side of her. Jack wrapped an arm around her waist and used his free hand to caress the length of her bare arm with the backs of his fingers. She shivered in the summer heat, and he smiled. He kissed her shoulder, a quick indulgence. If anyone indoors noticed, he didn't care.

"You are stunning tonight," he said.

"Well," she replied in her airiest voice, "I felt it was imperative to do credit to my dashing partner." She turned and looked up at him and smiled. "You do look dashing, Jack. I was jealous of the ladies who sat near you at dinner. All smitten, every last one."

He ducked his head to hide a smile. "I didn't know you were paying attention. You liked that man on your right." He raised an eyebrow. "You liked him a great deal."

Her cheeks flushed a lovely pink that complemented her black and white ensemble. "I barely spoke to him at all." Her chin tilted up in defiance, and Jack wanted to kiss it.

"I'm a detective and the man who loves you. These things do not escape me."

"Very well, Inspector, I confess it all," she laughed. "I did like him."

"I don't mind, you know, if you..." He trailed off and ran his forefinger down her nose and over her lips.

She closed her eyes at his touch, but they were narrowed at him when she opened them again. "Jack Robinson," she said, turning their bodies so that she had him pinned against the balcony wall, "do you really think I would attend a party with you - at my aunt's, no less! - and leave with another man?" She focused her gaze on his tie as she pretended to straighten it. "To say nothing of the fact that you look so delicious, I would have you right here, and propriety be damned."

"Fair enough," he replied, smiling, "but it has been many months since..." He frowned. "Almost a year since your poet."

One of her shoulders lifted in a shrug. "Has it?"

"Phryne, you haven't... you haven't kept anything from me to spare my feelings, have you?"

"Never," she said immediately. "I would never do that - keep anything from you."

"But no other man has interested you in so many months?"

"None who are worth it."

"Worth it?"

Her fingers curled into his belt and held him close. "Worth causing you pain."

He looked away, concentrating on the effort of keeping his heart inside his chest where it belonged. His eyes found hers again. "I chose to be with you, and I knew what it meant. The first time..." He exhaled slowly and disengaged her fingers from his belt to weave them into his own. "The first time hurt. You know that. And I knew it would when I decided to love you. The second time hurt, but much less. The third time didn't hurt. Tonight wouldn't have hurt. Thinking that you would deny yourself or change yourself for me, that would cause me pain."

"It's no more of a sacrifice than the one you've made for me."

"It is. You know it is. I haven't changed any part of myself for you, and I don't want you to change any part of yourself for me."

"What do you want me to say? I promise I'll sleep with anyone I want?"

His lips quirked. "Yes."

She rolled her eyes and laughed, and a tear escaped. "Damn you, Jack Robinson."

Laughing with her, he pulled her to him and murmured against her hair, "Well?"

"I promise always to be entirely myself."

"Good," he said, leaning back to see her face, which he took in both hands. "I love yourself."

Her face as she smiled up at him was beautifully happy. "Since I did promise to sleep with anyone I want," she said slowly, eyelashes performing their flirtacious dance, "I should inform you that the person I want to sleep with tonight is my very own Jack. And I want to wake up with you..." She turned her head slightly to kiss his palm. "...and have breakfast with you..." Another kiss on his other palm. "Perhaps make love with you again if the criminal underworld is at bay..."

"You make far too many demands of me, Miss Fisher. This party, a late night that will no doubt prove exhausting, an early morning with even more physical exertion..."

"We don't have to stay at the party," she said, eyes sparkling.

"In that case, I am entirely at your disposal."

 


 

 

"City South, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson speaking."

"Good afternoon, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. I called because I ran into someone today at Aunt P's - a particular man from her party a few weeks ago, as it happens."

"Ah. And I have a great deal of reading to do at home this evening, as it happens."

"I love you, Jack."

Chapter Text

"That's settled, then." Phryne shoved a roll of hotel receipts into her bag and snapped it shut. She stood and lingered. Fingered a bead at her waist.

Jack, attention on his paperwork, nevertheless seemed to sense her hesitation. He knew her better than his well-read, tattered Shakespeares. "Phryne, is there something else?" When she didn't answer, he looked up with that dear crease in his brow. "Phryne?"

The station was quiet, so she closed his door and walked around his desk, propping herself against the side. "I've something to ask you," she said.

"Go on," he said. His pen and papers lay forgotten, and his gaze was hers alone.

"Mr. Ryan is in Melbourne again." She waited, but Jack's expression was blank - and of course it was. He didn't know Mr. Ryan from Adam. "The Irishman. The poet," she clarified.

He nodded slowly. "I see. And...?"

"He left his card while I was out with Dot yesterday evening."

One of Jack's steady hands reached for her and slid her closer to him. "Should I plan on catching up on my reading and gardening tonight, then? I have woefully neglected both, thanks to you." His hand rubbed down her calf, and he stroked her ankle with his thumb.

"Well, that's what I wanted to ask you. Is it a concern for you, my being with someone more than once?"

"Should it be?"

"We haven't talked about it."

He leaned back and clasped his hands. "It hadn't occurred to me, frankly," he said. "I've never done this before."

"If it bothers you at all, I won't do it," she said. "I mean it, Jack. This isn't terribly important to me, and I understand why it could be upsetting from your standpoint, might seem like more than... more than what it is, I suppose." She gave him a small smile.

"Perhaps I seem like a naive schoolboy, but I can't pretend to understand the intricacies... the feelings involved - or not - in such a..." He took one of her hands and squeezed it. "Help," he exhaled on a short laugh.

She hopped off the desk and into his lap. "Let me tell you how it is for me. I have no feelings for this man beyond enjoyment of his conversation and physical attraction. If I felt anything more than that, even a hint, I would not sleep with him again. Nor would I sleep with him again if it makes you uncomfortable. Some might see it as a pattern or a risk of turning into something more, or..."

"I have one question."

"Of course," she said gently, touching his cheek.

"This young man... Do you get him back to his mother at a respectable hour?" She blinked. She gaped. Jack's face betrayed nothing. "Has his schoolwork suffered?"

"Jack. Robinson."

Phryne stood and straightened her clothing, clenching her jaw against a smile. She cast an imperious look down at Jack and prepared to leave him to the business of closing their case, but he took her hand as she moved away.

"Phryne, I trust you in everything. Slán abhaile."

She leaned close until her lips barely touched his. "Beast," she whispered, and kissed him.

Chapter Text

Jack stirred and craned his neck over his shoulder as a familiar body curled against his back. A slender, pale arm draped over his waist, and he covered it with his own arm. He yawned. The arm under his tightened around him.

"Breaking and entering, Miss Fisher?"

"I didn't think you would mind." Her breath was warm on his neck. "But on that subject, Jack, you really must replace your door lock. It's old and rusty and far too easy to pick."

"Hmm."

A short time passed. Or perhaps it was a longer time, and he had drifted off.

"Will you turn and hold me?" Phryne asked.

He shifted under her arm and drew her close, too tired to act on the realization that she was naked. No doubt her evening gown and lingerie were flung upon some piece of furniture nearby - or, knowing her, the floor. She nudged his shins with her foot until he parted them slightly to allow her to thread her smooth leg through his.

"You smell good," he noted. Perfume on her body, wine on her breath, herself everywhere. "I thought you were out tonight with that--"

She made a noise of dismissal. "I changed my mind."

"Clumsy dancer? Couldn't hold his liquor?"

"No," she replied with an amused huff. "We dined and danced, and then I politely sent him on his way. It was a good night. But I wanted my Jack." She nuzzled his nose and kissed him sweetly. "I wanted you."

He opened one eye. "It was a long day, and I have an early morning, Phryne."

"Not for that!" she laughed. She raised a hand to stroke his cheek. "For this."

"Mmm." His eye closed.

"You don't... mind, do you?"

"Mind?"

"That I came over unexpectedly."

"My door is always open to you, and not only because the lock is easy to pick." He grinned, eyes still closed. "Besides, the other woman already left." Phryne laughed again, softer this time. "You smell good," he mumbled.

"So I've been told," she said. Her fingers brushed his face again, tracing down his neck. "Go back to sleep, darling."

And he did.