Chapter 1: A Ride Home
Jack waved Hugh into the chaos of reporters waiting to hear the details of the case before turning to look at her.
“I'm not convinced my heroic constable deserves all the credit.” Jack suspected. “But as I've forbidden him to do your bidding, I may need to escort you home myself.”
“Thank you.” Phryne smiled.
She waited patiently as Jack finished up his duties and he gave her a nod. She followed Jack to his car and she hopped in the front seat. They drove along in silence, which was new for both of them. Jack kept glancing over at her.
“You okay?” He finally asked.
“I will be.” She smiled.
“You’ve had quite an afternoon.”
“It’s been quite a case.” She murmured.
“Mm.” He agreed as he pulled up to her house and put the car in park. He turned to look at her, still a bit concerned for her well-being. If anyone would understand...
“Jack?” She paused, wondering how much to confess. “Be kind on Hugh. I did request a ride home, but it wasn’t to manipulate him. I… I wasn’t fit to drive at the time and he saw that. He truly was just helping me home safely.”
Jack was staring at her, trying to read her thoughts.
“Let’s just say I was... back in France.” She added.
Realization flooded Jack’s face, knowing all too well what she meant.
“Yourka had died in my arms, crying Nina’s name. I was covered in his blood. I was wearing all white…” She stopped and swallowed back the tightness growing in her throat. “It seems there is no difference between a cotton uniform and furs, no matter how much we try to pretend that we’ve moved on.”
Jack closed his eyes briefly before turning to look out his window.
“This case…” He cursed it under his breath. “The Browning automatic we found at the docks didn’t help me any either.” He admitted quietly, still not looking at her. “How can you explain the effects of a Browning to a young constable without...?” He stopped, unable to finish the question.
Phryne felt her stomach drop at the memories his question brought to mind.
“You can’t.” She answered so quietly that it got Jack’s attention, but she wasn’t able to look at him just yet. When she finally did turn her attention towards him, she put on a new face for both of their sakes. “I love them dearly, but our younger counterparts can sometimes be appallingly naive.” She commented dryly.
“Mm. And may they always stay that way.” Jack hoped softly. His bittersweet comment was too much for her and she reached out and squeezed his hand at hearing his wish. She prayed that he was right. Phryne couldn’t bear the thought of her sensitive Dot working on the front, or sweet, bumbling Hugh in a trench. She shivered at the invasive images that came to mind and hoped she wouldn’t recall them later.
She briefly wondered if Jack twisted in nightmares the way that she did after conversations like this. If he woke his wife with his cries, or if he slept alone to avoid conversations he didn’t want to have.
“Jack, you probably don’t need me to tell you this, but you don’t have to explain the war to me. I know what it means to find a Browning automatic in a warehouse, and to hold a dying man in my arms as he whispers, or screams, someone else’s name.” She looked him in the eyes and saw the inquisitive desire for her point, mixing with something darker, more primal. “I’m always here, if you want to talk or not talk, forget or remember. You can’t tell me anything I haven't already seen firsthand.” She murmured quietly.
Jack swallowed the lump in his throat with a nod and she released his hand again.
“Well,” she forced a small smile as she put her hand back on the handle of the car door, “you know where to find me.”
“Yes.” He nodded politely as she opened the car door and stepped out.
“Thank you for the ride home, Inspector.” She smiled.
“You’re quite welcome, Miss Fisher.” He nodded.
Chapter 2: Sisters in the Park
“Help! I need help!” A woman cried from the park and Phryne and Jack went running toward the sound. They found a homeless woman, dressed in ragged clothes, pressing her hand to the seat of a bench. She was trying to resuscitate it. “I need more bandages!” She called out.
“She thinks she’s in the war.” Phryne realized out loud as she started towards the woman.
“Phryne…” Jack called out, not liking the idea of her dealing with a clearly unstable person but she kept walking quietly over to the woman.
“How can I help, Sister?” She asked, pushing up the sleeves of her blouse without thought. Jack wondered if it was part of the act or simply a residual habit from the war.
The question seemed to break through the confusion and the woman looked down at the bench. When Phryne got no answer from her, she tried again.
“Where are you serving, Sister?”
“Alexandria.” The woman replied before staring at Phryne and nodding once, as if to compel her to answer the same question.
“France. Sister Fisher.” Phryne held out her hand.
“Trenches.” The woman stated, staring at the hand.
“That’s right.” Phryne nodded.
“I...The boats…” She looked around, realizing she was now in a park.
“They’re gone now.” Phryne put her hand over the woman’s. “They’ve all gone.”
“Oh.” She looked down at the hand on hers.
“I’m... stationed,” she improvised, “not far from here. We have food, a bed, bath, we can always find room for one more.”
“No.” She shook her head. “It’s not safe.” She whispered to Phryne.
“I would be happy to escort you, Sister.” Jack offered, playing along.
“No! No Majors! No Captains! No! No!” Phryne stared warily at him and Jack stepped back a few feet and waited out his orders from her. She joined him quickly.
“Call on Mr. Butler and get him out of the house. I don’t think his presence would be appreciated. Dot can serve a meal and I’ll get her bathed. I’ll call Mac over. Perhaps we can get her at least one night off the streets.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any point in telling you to be careful?” He presumed.
“Would you love me if there were?” She asked, raising her eyebrow at him.
“Meh.” He shrugged noncommittally as he started walking away backwards. The smiled that bloomed on her face was worth the joke, and he turned around and headed back to the station.
Chapter 3: Intelligence Gathering
Post 2x12. If there had been no interruptions or other people in the house!
Phryne awoke to a naked Jack Robinson in her bed. And despite the fact that she had fantasized about this moment for years, she couldn’t quite believe it. She stared at him, observing every line in his features, as if she could make it real by willing it into being.
“What is it, Miss Fisher?” He asked, eyes still closed and she was startled by the groggy sound of his voice.
“Where did you learn to do that?” She honestly wanted to know.
“I’m not telling you.” He said as he settled in deeper to his pillow.
“I’m willing to trade information.” She offered and one eye cracked open in curiosity.
“What kind of information?” He asked, coyly playing along.
“Valuable information.” She promised.
“I learned it in the army.” He offered vaguely, testing her game.
“When you kiss my neck? It drives me wild.” She confessed coquettishly.
“I already knew that.” He frowned.
“So did I.” She countered dryly, wanting better intel. “Intelligence gathering, am I right?” She had figured out that much on her own.
Jack didn’t respond.
“Come on, Jack. You are the least flappable person I have ever met. You had Compton and I pegged the moment you heard we flew together. You speak fluent German and absolutely no French, despite claiming to be posted there, you knew how to find invisible ink on paper, and you always know where I am even when you can’t see or hear me coming.” She listed off his credentials.
“Translation was involved. And I was posted in France.” He replied, only a little less vaguely. “Your turn.”
“Every time you touch me here,” she said, grabbing his hand and directing it to the small of her back, “no matter how innocently or chivalrous, I fantasize about making love with you beneath me, holding me in place as I come apart in your perfect hands.”
Jack widened his eyes a little, tucking that information aside for another day. He glanced down at her bare back, clearly having thoughts of his own.
“Your turn.” She scolded, keeping him on track. He sighed, trying to think of what to say next.
“It’s my ability to not react, to keep a still face, that won me my job.” He finally said, hinting at having to witness horrific things. Phryne put the pieces of the puzzle together in her mind.
“Prisoners?” Phryne murmured her guess. Jack looked down at his hands, telling her that she was correct.
She knew that there had been interrogations of German POWs for information, presumably some of those interrogations, or maybe even most of them, had involved torture. Had Jack stood and translated those screams while the unspeakable happened directly in front of him? Or worse, had he participated in the unspeakable?
She couldn’t help but think that this information was the missing link to his personality: the piece that explained the lot, especially his inherent desire to follow the rules. There must be such safety in being held accountable to a higher law when for years men were allowed to do anything deemed necessary, moral or not.
And she had come along and ripped that safety net right out of his hands.
“Your turn.” He replied at last, confusing her guilty face for pity and wanting desperately to change subjects.
She had to make her information just as important. She placed her hand on his cheek and looked him in the eye.
“I am in love with you.” She confessed, forcing herself to be confident while she said it. “And before I met you, I never thought that I could love anyone like this. I thought I had seen too much, lost too much...” She paused, unsure if she was being too open but Jack was still hanging on her every word so she continued.
Jack’s hand instinctively touched her arm, wanting to comfort her.
“And when I was taken on that boat, I kept thinking ‘You fool. You can’t die here. He doesn't know that you love him yet.’”
“I knew.” He promised.
“You did?” She said, looking relieved.
“I didn't think you would ever admit it, but I knew.”
“I didn't think I would ever get you in my bed.” She replied. “We’re even.”
“I hadn't received any offers.” He countered.
“Is that all it would have took? A mere suggestion over our nightly drink? ‘Jack, it’s late, come upstairs and make love to me instead of going home?’” She looked incredulous and he couldn't help but chuckle at her disdain for the suggestion that she simply hadn't tried hard enough. “I , on the other hand, would have jumped at that offer. Which, by the way, also never came.” She reminded him.
“Phryne?” He said seriously.
“It’s late.” He said as he slid over top of her.
“It’s six in the morning.” She countered dryly, knowing exactly what he was doing as he kissed her jaw.
“Come upstairs.” He murmured, already kissing his way down her neck.
“Already here.” She replied with a breathy sigh as he found her breasts.
“Make love to me instead of going home.” His lips traveled lower down her body, canvassing her stomach until his teeth scraped across her hip bone, begging entry.
“Oh, you hateful man.” She hissed in resentful pleasure as her mutinous legs spread and she welcomed his smirking mouth to take his fill of her.
Chapter 4: Waking
I had a brief, albeit different, outline of this one written, and then I read HeavyHeadedGal’s “Words That Maketh Murder” and I was so inspired with the tableau that she drew that my brain couldn't stop thinking about it until I came back and rewrote everything! Go read that story first. (And her others, if you’ve the time. This one will wait.)
See? It’s great, right? I told you. Thanks to her for the inspiration.
It may have been irrational to be worried about the most rational man she knew but Phryne was worried all the same.
Jack hadn’t come home for dinner, and that was unlike him. They had settled into a routine over the past few months and he had yet to disturb it. She considered phoning to see if he was at the station, but she wasn’t quite willing to give up the appearance of her own independence for a few hours of tardiness.
But as the clock on the wall spun around, she grew more and more concerned. Between the two of them, and the enemies they had made, a disappearance without a telephone call was something to legitimately worry over.
By the time the clock struck eleven, she could bear it no longer. She hopped in the Hispano and headed towards Jack’s house. She was planning on just driving by, checking to see if there was a light on, but when she arrived, she had to pull over to the side of the street for the shock.
It looked like Jack was having a party.
There were at least 3 cars out front and every light in his house was on. She stepped out of the car and paused outside of the gate. She heard boisterous, drunk laughter coming from the back garden and she let herself onto the property. She made her way around the back of the house and saw Jack surrounded by several men she didn’t recognize. They were sitting around a small table, long forgotten playing cards strewn over it. There were empty bottles at their feet and Jack had a lit cigarette in his mouth.
“‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello.” A man to her right smiled as she made her way hesitantly into view.
“Phryne.” Jack looked surprised, pulling the cigarette from his lips quickly and putting it out. “What’re you doing here?”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt, I was just driving by and saw all the cars…” She had never seen Jack smoke, or be so outwardly drunk, and to see him doing both so naturally, well, it terrified her.
“Gents, this is the Hon’rable Miss Fisher. Miss Fisher, Freddie, Jones, Smith, and Percy.” He waved broadly.
“And how do you know each other?” She asked the crowd.
“We met abroad.” Jack explained before chuckling in drunken amusement at his own joke.
“14th Battalion, Miss, at your service.” Jones, or Smith, mocked gravitas as he bowed slightly in her direction.
Well, that made much more sense.
“The Final Five.” Jack mused.
“The Final Five? Of your unit?” Phryne asked in surprise.
“Of the company.” Percy answered loudly as he stubbed out his own finished cigarette. “We started with, what? 80 or so?” He asked the men, who simply nodded.
Phryne glanced over at Jack, who had fallen into silence, looking as if he were recalling each and every man he had known, one by one, down the line.
“There were six, until today that is.”
“What happened today?” Phryne asked warily, unsure she actually wanted to know.
Percy paused, not willing to continue in mixed company.
“Oh, don’t worry about her." Jack scolded Percy for his tact. "She can handle anything. After all, she's a 'detective' herself.”
His emphasis was less than appreciated, but the world was clearly upside down so Phryne bit back her response until she heard the rest of his story.
“This afternoon," Jack continued, "Private Alec Mitchell, 33, formerly of Fitzroy, decided to check into a hotel not far from my office. He jotted down a quick note on hotel stationary that read: "Contact Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, City South Police Station", and then went into the bathroom, lay down in the tub, and swallowed a 22 caliber bullet.” Jack said bluntly, clearly wanting a reaction from her.
She was too stunned to give him the satisfaction.
The rest of the men looked at the ground, giving Jack's story an unnecessary credence.
“He knew you’d do right by him.” Freddie finally spoke, flicking his cigarette ash to his right far too casually to be natural.
“Well, pardon me if I’d rather he trusted someone else with the job.” Jack said darkly as he looked into his cup for a distraction. “I need another.” He excused himself as he went into the kitchen, leaving Phryne with the decision to follow him or not.
“Lads, it’s getting late and we are sorry company for this fine lady.” Freddie replied, much more sober than the rest of the group. “Perhaps we should leave the Captain to do the entertaining.” He smiled kindly at her.
“Can’t be that late.” Jones and/or Smith responded.
“The sun went down hours ago, Jones.” Smith replied, solving her conundrum. Phryne made a mental note of their differences.
“Did it? Hadn’t noticed. Still very warm.” Jones grinned cheekily before swallowing the rest of his drink. For a moment, Phryne saw a flash of what the man must have looked like at 18; it broke her heart.
“I know a very good cab service if you’d like some help getting them home.” Phryne offered Freddie as he corralled the younger men towards the front gate.
“We’ll be fine. We’ve gotten quite good at the Irish wake.” Freddie informed her and Phryne glanced back at the front door. “He’ll be fine too, eventually.” He assured her. “This one shook him. We didn’t see it coming.”
“Were they close?” She asked, hating herself for not knowing any of the men in the garden.
“They knew each other from before the war, school I think. Alec wanted to be a constable, talked to Jack about it all the time in the trenches. The academy, what he'd need to do once he returned, he never shut up about it." Freddie laughed. "But he never got the chance on account of his legs being amputated in France."
“Poor man.” She whispered, her heart breaking as an unbidden image of a young Hugh Collins flashed in her mind.
"He came home early. Married his nurse, if you'd believe it. Things were decent enough for a while, I guess. But Jack said that when he went to the house to inform his wife of the news, she was gone. Went to live with her sister in Sydney. Neighbor said she had left him after he threw a vase at her.” Freddie added. “Couldn’t exactly live by himself, so I guess he thought…”
Phryne touched her heart and closed her eyes. Life could be horribly cruel.
“The war always finds a way to creep back in somehow, doesn’t it?” She asked the man next to her.
Freddie looked over at her with something in his eyes that she couldn’t name before turning his attention back to the stumbling men in front of them.
“Jones, wrong motorcar!” Freddie exasperatedly called out, seeing the man tug at the locked handle of the Hispano. “There you go.” He added to himself as Jones found the correct vehicle. A fatherly sigh escaped his lungs and Phryne smiled.
“It’s been a pleasure finally meeting you, Miss Fisher. Something tells me the Captain is a very lucky man.”
“I’m the lucky one.” Phryne smiled. Although, maybe not tonight, she thought as she glanced back at the house.
“Take care.” Freddie smiled.
“You too.” She waved and waited until everyone was safely on their way before entering the front door of the house.
“Did you bring your flask with you? I’m out of everything.” Jack said as he searched the cupboards.
“Generally, that’s a sign you’re supposed to stop for the night.” She suggested.
“I don’t want to.” He slammed the last cupboard closed. “I was happy drunk, now I’m just…”
“Yes.” He hissed as he sat down at his kitchen table.
“You should be angry. That’s the normal reaction to this situation.” Phryne moved to sit down next to him.
“Jesus. I still can’t… I mean, he might as well have done it in my office.” Jack muttered, before rubbing his face with his hands.
“I can’t imagine what that phone call must have been like for you.” She murmured sadly. “But Freddie was right. It says a lot about his faith in you that he chose you for the task.”
“Why didn’t he call me? Why didn’t he reach out? If anyone could have helped him, I could have. I was so wrapped up in my own life, I didn’t even know he was...”
Phryne fell silent, realizing Jack was going to blame this on his own happiness.
“Jack, this wasn’t your fault.” She wanted to reach out for his hand but she knew he wouldn’t take it.
“I could have stopped him.” He said simply.
“You don’t know that.” She shook her head. “We both know that you would trade your happiness for his in a heartbeat, but it won't bring him back. And being ignorant of the situation he was in is not a crime so I dismiss the charges.” She added, using his own words against him.
“You can't.” He repeated hers.
Phryne sighed, clearly unable to argue with that.
“Do you want me to go?” She asked him. He looked at her, as if he were seriously considered the offer. “You won’t offend me. I was the one who came over uninvited.” She added.
“I didn’t want you to see me like this.” He replied honestly as he reached for his last cigarette. He fumbled with the lighter and she steadied his hand with her own, helping him light it.
“I’m not going to judge you for how you choose to mourn, Jack. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad nights.” She pointed out, recalling not only her sister, but the men and women whose lives she had tried to hold together with her own bare hands, only to fail minutes, hours, sometimes days later.
“Oh, God, Phryne. I...” Jack stared at her, realizing he had opened old wounds. He rubbed a hand sheepishly over his eyes.
“Jack, it’s fine.” She assured him, letting her hand touch his arm. “Like I said, you won’t offend me.”
“You should still go.” He decided for her, stamping out his cigarette butt onto a nearby dirty plate that was doubling as his ashtray. “With the images I saw today, I’m not going to be sleeping any time soon, and it’s getting late.”
“Are you sure?” She hesitated, not wanting to leave him alone. “I could sleep in the bedroom.” She offered.
Jack just gestured towards it apathetically, letting her decide what she wanted to do.
She took a chance and bent over, kissing the top of his head and whispering her I love you before heading back to the bathroom. Her worried mind was focused on him as she mechanically went through her evening routine. She made it to his bedroom and reached into the drawer where she always kept a few of her own staples but decided against them, choosing instead to don one of his pajama shirts. She buttoned it carefully over her body before sitting on the bed. She reached up to turn off the lamp but hesitated as she heard him coming down the hall.
“Jack?” She paused as he appeared in the doorway. He didn’t say a word as he crawled mindlessly next to her. She turned off the light and lay back, hoping he would join her and he did, resting his head on her chest and curling around her. He lay there silently for a moment as Phryne gently stroked his hair, willing to spend the entire night holding him this way.
"If I hadn't had my work, something to distract me..." He whispered in the dark.
Phryne's heart clenched in her chest, knowing full well what he was implying, but she refused to let her hand falter and interrupt her soothing actions.
"I know." She murmured in his ear as the first of his hot tears began to fall, searing her skin with every drop. "I know." She repeated as she held him tighter to her chest, letting him cry until there weren't any tears left to fall.
Chapter 5: Growing
Phryne watched him chopping tomatoes carefully before looking up at his face.
“Yes?” Jack asked, feeling the heat of her stare on his cheek.
“Did you grow these yourself?” She asked curiously.
“Mmhm.” He replied, never looking up. "Out back." He motioned with the knife towards the garden behind the house.
“I’m impressed. How does a Detective Inspector come to have such a green thumb?”
“Would you prefer the simple or the complicated answer?” He asked.
“Both obviously.” She demanded, as if there were any other response.
He nodded once and reached for another tomato.
“Simply, it was my responsibility as a boy. My father worked, my mother ran the house, and I ran the garden. And I was extremely proud of my work.” He bragged and Phryne smiled, her heart overflowing at the image of a skinny young boy, elbow deep in the mud, proudly taking on the responsibility of feeding his family. “Mostly, I believe my mother just wanted me out from under her feet.”
“I like that answer.” She replied, stealing a piece of tomato from him. “What’s the other?”
“During the war, there was nothing but mud.” He reminded her. “Mud in the trenches, mud on the battlefield.”
“Everywhere and in everything.” She recalled her own memories of driving over the horrendous terrain, digging mud out of shoes, wheels, and tools.
“Mm. I never wanted to see it ever again. It actually stopped me from gardening once I returned. I couldn’t even bear the thought of it on my hands or on my clothes.” He admitted. “But then, one winter day, I was staring out the window and I couldn’t stand to look at the emptiness. It looked as empty and as dead as I felt inside.” He confessed, pausing in his task. “And just like that, I vowed, mostly out of rage, to produce something instead of destroy it.”
Phryne kissed his cheek silently and Jack went on chopping his tomatoes, busying himself with the task. She moved to the kitchen window and stared out of it for a moment.
“Can we have roses next spring? Or lilies?” She asked. “White ones?” She heard Jack’s knife stop moving but she didn’t dare turn around to look at him. It was the first time she had made a comment on her commitment to him and yes, it was a tiny statement, but they both knew it was an incredibly large milestone for their new relationship.
“I suppose so.” He said as he emerged behind her, wiping his hands on a towel. “Where shall we put them?” He asked.
“Just there, along the fence.” She said as she pointed out her preferred spot. “I want to be able to see them from the northern windows.”
Jack smiled briefly as she finally turned around to look at him. He was looking at her with those sparkling eyes that always made her stomach flip, the ones that said he so clearly adored her.
“Your wish is my command.” He replied kindly. Phryne raised her eyebrow and Jack immediately realized his mistake.
“Is it really?” She asked as she let her hands slide over his backside.
“Phryne." Jack warned as he stepped out of reach. "Give me ten minutes to finish preparing this meal and then I’m all yours for the next hour.” He promised.
“I’ll give you five.” She compromised as she began undressing right there in the kitchen. Her scarf hit the tile floor and she took a few steps before removing one shoe.
She heard Jack mutter something exasperatedly under his breath before he began tossing tomatoes into the pot on the stove as fast as he could manage.
Phryne grinned as she let her second shoe clatter loudly to the hallway floor.
Chapter 6: Language Lessons
“Who taught you German?” Phryne asked curiously.
Jack looked up from his drink and considered her question. He’d known his comment earlier would come back to haunt him. She never missed anything.
“My best mate growing up was a boy called Hans Muller.”
“Ah.” Phryne smiled softly in understanding.
“We were best mates from the moment we met. I taught him English, he taught me German. We thought it was the best secret code. When we were at his house, we spoke English, when we were at mine, we spoke German. We were the local neighborhood spies, when we weren’t being pirates.” He added.
“Naturally.” Phryne grinned.
“But then the war came and it wasn’t a game anymore.” He felt her watchful gaze but he didn't look up.
“Did he serve with you?” She asked.
Jack nodded morosely and Phryne didn’t need to ask a follow up question.
“When he was killed," Jack began slowly, wanting to find the right words, "something within me broke. The Germans had killed a German born in Germany, and for what, wearing a different uniform? If Hans hadn’t moved to Australia, we would have been trying to kill each other. If my grandparents had never moved, we would have been on the other side. It was just so...” He stopped himself from continuing his rant. She didn't need to hear it. She knew.
When Hans had died, Jack had been secretly grateful to lose his last connection to the language. He’d never wanted to hear it again once the war ended. He’d never been able to disassociate the language of his happy childhood from the war crimes of adulthood and it made for some terrible dreams.
“Do you ever use it now? Outside of translating Rilke, of course.” She asked, softly teasing him.
“Not really. It doesn’t come up very often these days.” He replied. “What about you? How many languages does a worldly woman like you speak?”
“Only the Allied languages, I’m afraid. English, French and Italian, with some dabblings of Russian and Turkish…”
“And you were impressed with my measly German?” He shook his head, overwhelmed by her never-ending ability to impress.
“It was by necessity. When people are hurt, they speak the language of their mothers.” She said simply. “And when someone is dying in your arms, you owe it to them to bear witness to that moment. To understand their final words. To comfort them in their own tongue, if you can.” She murmured quietly. “Make them feel like they aren't alone.”
Jack fell silent, contemplating her words.
“Sorry. This is not polite nightcap conversation.” She said, forcing herself into hosting him once more. “How about a game of draughts?” She stood up to fetch the board and he could tell she wanted the distraction more for herself than for him.
He glanced at his watch in pretense, as if there were anywhere else in the world he wanted to be.
“I suppose one game wouldn’t hurt.” He decided nonchalantly. “It’s been awhile since I let you win.”
She huffed in protest.
“I bought you a new hat. The least you could do is attempt to beat me. You won’t, of course, but...”
“Just set the board, Miss Fisher.” Jack interrupted, moving competitively towards the edge of his seat as he tried to ignore her pleased smile.
Chapter 7: For the Best
An episode tag for "Murder Most Scandalous".
Don't worry. I haven't forgotten about this one. I've got a folder of bits ready to work on when the muse strikes. Today is a tiny episode tag, with a little cowboy-esque Jack to get you through your Monday.
“I don't know how to thank you, Jack.” Rosie said sincerely.
“It was a joint effort.” He replied humbly as he watched Rosie nervously pick away at his desk with her thumb. The metaphor for their relationship was not lost on him. Nor was the contrast of what Phryne would be doing if she were sitting in that same seat. For the first time since their separation, Jack was flooded with a sense of resolution.
“I accused you once of a lack of ambition. I wanted you to climb the ladder like Father. But I can see what you like about where you are.” She said with a chuckle. “You're a different man these days, Jack. You've got your fight back.”
“Probably just that lack of ambition.” He smiled politely. He heard himself playing towards underestimation but he knew why. When they’d been together, she’d seen him as some sort of failure; he didn’t want to be seen as a success by her now that she was gone. She would give herself too much credit for the change.
“Or escaping a marriage that didn't suit you.” She suggested, unknowingly proving his point.
“It's war what didn't suit me.” He corrected her firmly, not wanting her to believe she had any role to play in it. What happened between them was inevitable, and would have occurred no matter who he’d been married to at the time. Jack may have been broken, but she’d never done any of the breaking.
Rosie was just about to respond when a knock on the door cut her off.
“Excuse me.” Sidney interrupted, begging Jack’s pardon. “You ready, my love?” He asked Rosie with a small smile.
“Ah, yes, I'm coming.” She answered as she stood up.
“No hurry.” He smiled.
Rosie turned back to face him.
“You know, I didn't get a chance to tell you amid all the fuss, but Sidney and I are engaged.” She informed him with a hesitant smile.
Jack nodded once. This wasn’t a surprise. He’d had a hunch that Sidney was the reason for Rosie’s sudden request for a divorce after so long of a separation.
“It's very different, the second time round.” She assured him, as if she were imparting some wisdom he didn’t yet understand.
Jack understood. Far too well, in fact, but he’d never let her know that. It had been years since they had occupied the same space and both left on happy terms. Now was not the time to start rocking the boat.
“I wish you all the best.” He said simply, sticking with a singular truth and swallowing the rest.
Rosie looked at him, truly looked at him, and smiled. Maybe she'd found her resolution in him as well. With a small, conclusive nod, she made her way for the door.
Jack followed her out, leaning against the doorway as he watched her cross the street towards her cab. He watched as Sidney’s arm came out protectively around her waist and he couldn’t help but feel a small pang of regret for what the war had cost him. He had loved her dearly once but he truly did wish her well. Rosie deserved everything she wanted from life.
And so did he, Jack realized with a small smile as he felt the air change behind him.
“Must you lean in every doorway I need?”
“In your case, The State of Victoria usually commands it, Miss Fisher.” He replied languidly, making no attempts to move from his position and forcing Phryne to step around him pointedly. However, as she came into view, Jack realized that she had his hat and coat in her hand. He glanced at her curiously.
“Then for your sake, I hope your tailor charges by the sleeve.” She tsked, examining the fabric on his shoulder. She paid no attention to his amused expression as she opened his coat for him. “Well?” She replied, looking up at him at last. “Come along, Mr. Butler hates it when people are late for dinner.”
“Does he?” Jack played along, unmoved. “Then you’d better hurry.” He said as he glanced above her head at a passing car. It wasn’t often he had the upperhand with her and he was going to enjoy it while it lasted. They both knew full well he hadn’t been invited to dinner and they both knew why she was trying to pretend that he had. And while he didn't particularly need or want her pity, he found her concern for his well-being endearing. Although he’d never admit it.
“Jack Robinson, if you think for one second that I’m going to let you skip out on our post-case nightcap to mope just because your ex-wife has run off and gotten engaged, you are sorely mistaken.” She said as she shoved his coat and hat into his hands. “Now get your lanky backside into that motorcar before I run you down for a second time this week.” She reprimanded. “And I promise you, this time it will not be a warning.” She huffed as she waited for him to move. She gave one last dramatic gesture towards the car and Jack stood up straight, leisurely slipping his hat onto his head.
“Well, if you insist, Miss Fisher.” He smirked, slipping on his coat and following her towards the car.
Chapter 8: Time and space
A War Stories version of the July trope focusing on time and space.
I've edited the archive warnings to reflect the latest chapter. Some graphic depictions of domestic abuse (both past and present) in this one.
“There’s nothing out here.” Phryne commented on the suddenly wide open horizon.
“I know.” Jack replied uneasily, glancing in the rear view mirror as the city (and his jurisdiction) fell away. He hoped that the local police were forgiving if they did find anything.
“Jack, Jack, stop the car.” Phryne didn't have to ask, he’d seen it too. A young woman had stumbled out of her home and collapsed.
Jack stopped quickly but even so, Phryne was out of the car before he’d put it in park.
The woman (a girl really, she looked no more than 17) had been terribly assaulted. Her thin, brunette hair was falling messily out of her long braid. She was bleeding and bruised and her face was so swollen that Jack didn't know if he should bother asking her questions. Phryne, on the other hand, didn't hesitate.
“Who did this?” She demanded to know, kneeling beside her.
“Husband.” She croaked out before Phryne warily met Jack’s eyes.
He reached for his gun and headed towards the house, prepared to meet an obviously violent man.
“Hang on, we’ll get you a doctor. Just be strong for ten more minutes.” Jack heard Phryne coaxing her from behind him.
The front door was still hanging open and Jack entered quietly. The tiny brick house had only two rooms and both were empty. The kitchen area had been violently upheaved, and a bloody iron was left abandoned on the floor. Tracks in the dirt led out the back towards a grove of trees, but he couldn't give chase now. They needed an ambulance more. Jack was unsurprised to find a lack of a working phone in the home.
Phryne looked up at him when he returned and shook her head. She turned her attention back towards the woman just as the final life left her eyes.
Jack raised his head to the horizon, wondering if someone else had witnessed the injustice before them.
No one had.
When he turned his attention back to Phryne, he recognized the glossy, shell-shocked expression in her eyes. She was somewhere else, lost in her mind. If he had to reckon a guess, it was Paris, 1919.
As distant sirens signaled miraculously incoming help, Phryne stood up determinedly and smoothed her skirt with the back of her gloves, so as not to get any more blood on it.
Jack saw the transformation occur before his very eyes. He recognized the look from his own experiences: she shut down and went into war mode.
The local constables and an ambulance arrived on the scene moments too late. They had been alerted by someone who had driven by earlier and heard the commotion and gone back into the city for help.
As they were separated to give their statements, Jack kept watch over his constable’s shoulder as Phryne gave her statement a few steps away. His, he was certain, was a distracted mess but she was a complete professional, explaining everything that happened, barely looking over at the ambulance as it drove off with the remains.
“Is that all you need?” She asked the officer, who gave her a dismissive nod. She didn’t look back as she disappeared behind the small structure.
Jack watched her go for a moment before deciding to follow after her.
“Excuse me for a moment.” He requested and the young man nodded cooperatively.
He heard her even before he emerged around the corner.
Panicked, heaving breaths were wracking her petite body. She frantically tore off her bloody gloves and threw them on the ground, wanting to get them as far away from her as possible. She placed one hand on the brick as she began clawing at her collar, needing more air.
Jack was already rushing to her side so he managed to wrap an arm around her waist before her legs gave out but as soon as she felt his protective arm around her, she crumpled into sobs, relying on him entirely to hold her up.
“Alright, alright.” He guided them both gently to their knees. “Shh. Breathe, Phryne.” He commanded.
She inhaled sharply before letting out another horrible, shuddering cry.
“Good. Again.” He repeated and she shook as she tried to inhale but only managed shallow gasps through her tears. “There you go.” He murmured, content to have her trying.
There was a large bang and her entire body flinched.
“Motorcar.” He explained quickly as he leaned forward and hugged her.
She nodded pathetically against his cheek as Jack continued to rub her back.
“I’m sorry.” She cried as she tried to pull herself together. “I’m so sorry.”
“Shh, there’s nothing to be sorry for.” He murmured honestly, closing his eyes at the uncharacteristic weakness she was displaying. Hearing it, holding her, it all felt too intimate, beyond what he should ever be allowed to witness.
As her tears began to subside, Jack tried to distract her by handing her his handkerchief and changing the subject.
“When you're ready, I’ll take you home. Miss Williams will get you cleaned up, Mr. Butler will fix you a drink, maybe a meal. You’ll be sorted in no time at all.” He knew it was true. He also knew his name would never normally appear in her list of caretakers. It was a reminder to himself what his role really was: convenient but understanding bystander.
“Will you stay?” She requested with a sniff. “For dinner, I mean. I, I don’t want to be alone.”
She had told him recently that she needed him to keep the shadows at bay. He’d been touched, but knew better than anyone that she was strong enough to tackle any shadow life threw her way all on her own. But that didn't mean she had to.
“If you’d like.” His voice was too tender; it gave him away.
She looked down, almost embarrassed by her request.
“Melbourne, 1929.” He offered.
“I’m sorry?” She gave him a quizzical look.
“When I forget where I am, I try to focus on the differences between then and now: sunny skies, clean air, thick grass underfoot, Inspector Jack Robinson,” he added with a smile as he touched his own chest. “You’re in Melbourne, 1929.”
Phryne searched him carefully.
You’re safe with me, his eyes told her, even when his mouth couldn’t.
She hugged him for a long moment, grateful for his revealing confession. When she pulled away, she placed a soft kiss on his cheek. (Calling it his cheek was generous, it was virtually on the corner of his mouth.)
“Thank you.” She murmured sincerely.
“You’re welcome.” He nodded, slightly uncomfortable with such open affection, even if they were alone. “Come on, let’s get you home. What do you say?” He tilted his head just a bit to get a better look at her hidden face.
She took a deep, decisive breath, nodding her agreement. She collected herself and stood up. He followed suit.
Jack had kept his word and stayed for dinner, and several night caps (her glass filled more often than his) but eventually, they ran out of reasons for him to stay. She seemed to sense his imminent departure as he set aside his empty glass and stared into the fire beside them.
“You should go home, Jack. I’ve kept you long enough. I’m sure this wasn’t how you intended to spend your day.” She swallowed the last of her latest drink to prove that she was finished for the night. Jack had a feeling it was merely for his benefit. She was giving him an out, but it felt wrong to take it.
“What happened earlier?” He asked quietly.
“You mean, where and when did I go?” She asked as she recalled his words. “Paris, 1919."
Jack nodded in understanding.
Phryne tilted her head, surprised.
"You know, I always found it odd that you never asked me about Rene, or the painting.”
“It was none of my business. Then or now.” He said honestly. "I knew that you would share if and when you felt comfortable."
“Sarcelle’s painting memorialized the first time he ever laid eyes on me; I was posing for it the night we met.” She explained. “And if Rene couldn't have me, then he wanted the painting and he was willing to kill Sarcelle to get his hands on it."
“He abused you?” Jack asked hesitantly, recalling the sight of the girl on the road, his mind's eye replacing her face with Phryne's.
“I was posing for Sarcelle one night and it made him jealous. He was obsessed with me being his, belonging to him. He only hit me once the first time, split my lip." She paused, reviewing her memories. "I knew it was wrong, but we were always so passionate, I assumed he just lost control for a moment."
"It's a common thought." Jack knew all too well.
"There was another time, he pushed me against a wall and... assaulted me." She said delicately. "When I tried to get away, he grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head into the wall. Later that week, he came home and found me sleeping late into the morning. I’d been to a party the night before and he was convinced that I’d brought someone home with me afterwards. He beat me unconscious and he left me there. But that was his mistake, because he left me alive." She steeled in determination. "I was hidden by friends until I could get on a ferry and escape to England. If I hadn't had them..." She shuddered to think of the possibilities.
"So when you saw a young woman, beaten and left alone..."
"Long brunette hair, white dress," Phryne nodded, "I might as well have been standing over my own body.” She finished.
Jack moved from his chair to the sofa, unable to leave her alone with that thought for another second.
“But you survived.” He reminded her.
“I always do.” She murmured wistfully, playing with her hands. "No matter who comes after me, someone else always manages to take my place. Sarcelle, Janey..."
“Hey,” Jack demanded her attention but Phryne refused to look up. "You've been through hell, no one can deny it, but despite it all, you somehow find the strength to go on, brighter and more alive than before. It's inspiring."
She gave him a knowing look, assuming his statement was simply an empty reassurance to appease her.
"It inspired me." He confessed. "Do you remember when you told me that you hadn't taken anything seriously since 1918?"
"Oh, I was flirting with you, Jack." She rolled her eyes, not taking her statement seriously either.
"Even so," he smiled at her, "you reminded me that it's perfectly acceptable to go on living a full life, even after things end. In fact, you keep reminding me." He thought back on how much courage she'd given him just by dancing audaciously at her birthday party. If she could dance in the face of all that, he knew he could get through something as bureaucratic as his divorce. "Give it time. You'll remember it again." He said confidently.
"Remind me now." She requested softly, all but eliminating the space between them as she leaned forward hopefully.
Jack considered how easy it would be to give her what she wanted but he'd already stolen one kiss from her vulnerability; he wasn't about to do it again. He leaned in, cupping her face in his hand and waited for her to close her eyes. He leaned up and kissed her softly on the forehead.
"Everything will look better in the morning." He whispered before standing up to take his leave.
"And until then?" She asked, giving him another chance to press his advantage.
"Get some sleep." He encouraged with a small smile at her persistence. "I need you at your best. We still have a case to solve." He headed for the door.
He turned around.
"Do you think there will ever come a time and place in the future where you might actually give in to me?" She asked. "Melbourne, 1929 perhaps?" She suggested slyly.
"Anything's possible, Miss Fisher." He smiled. "Good night."
Chapter 9: Stretcher bearer
It’s been an unspeakable SIX months since I last updated this collection. Thank you to those of you who even remember this story was a thing, let alone waited patiently for an update. I appreciate it and I'll try to do better if the muse lets me. : )
Phryne tiptoed into her bedroom, knowing that Jack had probably been asleep for at least an hour while she was out working reconnaissance for her case. She made her way over to the bed to check on him, and he murmured something incoherent.
“Are you working an investigation as well, Inspector?” Phryne whispered, tilting her head in curiosity as she watched Jack’s brow furrow in his sleep.
As she slipped into her favorite silk pajamas, an occasional order not to move escaped his tight jaw and she chuckled at hearing such a commanding voice coming from his prone position. She made her way over to the vanity to remove the last remnants of her makeup. She picked up her face cream and noticed it was getting low. She’d have to make a note for Dot to pick some up the next time she went shopping.
“Stretcher bearer!” Jack cried out.
The jar slipped from Phryne’s hand, shattering into pieces on the hardwood floor.
Jack sat up, breathing heavily and instantly awake from the crashing sound.
Phryne glanced over at him briefly before looking down again, trying to seek distraction in the destruction but her hands were trembling when she picked up the pieces of the jar.
“Phryne?” Jack struggled to turn on a lamp beside the bed.
“Oh.” She shook her head at her clumsiness as she ascertained the damage in the fresh light. The glass shards were large but the cream droplets splattered across the floor and up the wall.
“What happened?” He asked.
“You called out in your sleep. It startled me and I dropped the...” She gestured to the mess but didn’t finish. “Don’t get out of bed. There’s glass everywhere.” She picked up the larger pieces and began tossing them in the bin.
Jack didn’t heed her warning, getting out of bed to fetch a wet towel.
“Don’t move,” he instructed, sweeping up the smaller pieces of glass and the remnants of the cream with the towel.
She felt like a fool, letting the poor man clean up her mess when he was in the middle of a trauma himself.
“Did you cut yourself?” He asked as he tossed the towel into the bin as well.
“No.” She waved off his concern.
He looked her over anyway, not trusting her own assessment.
She sat down on the bed and motioned for him to join her.
“Jack...” She reached out for his hand and entwined their fingers. He looked down at the union as she searched his face for traces of his dream. “The reason I jumped is because you called out for a stretcher bearer.” She stated.
He looked away in shame for a moment and she squeezed his hand.
“Well?” She questioned as she brushed his sweat-matted curls off his temple with her free hand. “You called and here I am, so how can I be of service, soldier?” She asked, a soft smile ghosting across her lips.
He exhaled sharply and shook his head at her unexpected response, as if he couldn’t believe her ability to make light of the situation. But her sympathy had the opposite effect she desired and rather than lighten the mood, Jack’s shoulders began to shake as he began to cry.
“Oh, darling.” She rubbed his back as he buried his face in his hands. She didn’t interrupt, unwilling to interfere with the healing properties of a good cry, but she placed a few well-meaning kisses to his shoulder.
He took a few shaky breathes and brushed his own tears away.
“I think we’re going to need another towel,” he joked at seeing his wet fingers.
She nearly choked on the laugh that erupted from her. She kissed his temple, unable to resist.
“Brave, brave man,” she murmured before reaching for a handkerchief off her vanity. She offered it to him and he took it, but used it on his hands instead of his face.
“Do you want to talk about it or does that make it worse for you?” She asked hesitantly.
“I don’t know. I never discussed them before,” he confessed.
“Not even with Rosie?” Phryne couldn’t hide the alarm in her voice.
Phryne understood. Jack hadn’t wanted to taint his young wife with the terrible images seared into his brain, even if it meant living alone with them.
“And Rosie was sympathetic, of course. She wanted to help but what could she do?” He asked rhetorically and Phryne knew too well that any comfort she might have provided him would have only been temporary. “After a while, she stopped asking.”
“I didn’t dream until after I left Paris,” Phryne confided. “Only later, when the shock finally wore off, did the memories come rushing in.”
“I’m sure you saw terrible things,” Jack sympathized.
“But my dreams are all sound," she explained, "men screaming in every language, begging to live, bargaining with God for a few more breaths while I have to choose only one to take with me.” She shivered. “There’s noise everywhere, bombs and sirens, but I’m frozen, unable to decide who lives and who dies. Eventually, everything goes quiet. There’s total and utter silence in the aftermath as I look out over the muddy fields and see there’s no one left to save. I didn’t help anyone in my hesitation.”
Jack pulled her into his chest and lay back on the bed so they could hold each other.
Phryne inhaled slowly, taking in the familiar scent of his skin, reminding herself that they were awake; their dreams held no power here.
Jack seemed to pull security from their embrace as well as he summoned the courage to tell her of his dream.
“I went to war with three of my childhood mates.” He whispered into her hair. “Each one died fighting beside me, two were completely painless, a bullet and a grenade that they never saw coming, but one was…” he paused, unable to find the words. “Peter took shrapnel through the gut after a bombing.”
Suddenly, Jack’s early commands not to move had a darker connotation and Phryne felt terrible for taking his mumblings so lightly.
“I spent an hour screaming for help, kept going long after he and my voice both gave out.” Jack swallowed the lump in his throat. “I guess I haven’t stopped,” he realized.
“Well, you needn’t do it anymore.” Phryne comforted him. “I’m here now. Your stretcher bearer has arrived at last.”
Jack closed his eyes, seemingly touched by her attempt to take a dark part of his history and resolve it so simply.
She placed a caring kiss to each eyelid, both cheekbones, and the corner of his lips.
He surprised her by capturing her mouth in a heated kiss, wanting to lose himself for a few stolen moments. She happily obliged him and when he pulled away, he looked all the better for it.
“While I’m grateful for your assistance,” Jack brushed her cheek gently with his thumb, “I do wish you weren’t so qualified,” he murmured, knowing her knowledge came at a steep personal price.
“I don’t regret a thing. Not if it means I get to be the one lying here, sharing these moments with you.”
“Not even the loss of whatever expensive potion was in that jar?” He frowned, pulling away to show her the drop of cream his fingers had found on the side of her neck.
“It was nearly empty,” she shrugged, unaffected.
He wiped the dollop of cream off on the tip of her nose, pleased with himself at seeing her look ridiculous.
She laughed and rubbed her nose under his stubbly chin in retaliation, which provoked a deep groan as he wiped them both clean, calling a silent truce.
“All better?” She asked, happy to see the light back in his eyes.
“Good.” Appeased, she reached down to pull the blanket up over them, preparing to get some much needed rest.
“Phryne?” He asked quietly.
“Hmm?” She looked over at him.
She smiled, nodded, and lifted the blanket for him to snuggle under. He took her up on the invitation and they wrapped themselves up in one other, no longer afraid to let sleep overtake them.
Chapter 10: Paris
A tiny something that deals with another side of post-war trauma.
When Jack finally made his way to the bedroom, Phryne was already asleep, lying horizontally across the bed.
He smiled at the sight and sat gingerly beside her. He watched her sleep for a moment, wondering why she had taken leave of him so early. It was possible that their two weeks of traveling together were starting to wear on her. She wasn't used to having companions. Perhaps he should...
“No!” She cried out, visibly trying to make herself smaller. She looked like she was under attack. “Please, don’t. Please!”
Jack couldn't move, frozen by the weak cries of someone he'd never heard be weak.
“Phryne, wake up," he commanded once he found his voice. He repeated it again, this time shaking her awake but she nearly fell off of the bed trying to escape his reach.
Jack pulled away sharply, standing up and holding his hands out to show her he was no threat. She was trembling so hard that he was worried that she would hurt herself as she rose unsteadily from the bed and away from him.
“It was just a dream,” he promised as she took frantic stock of the unfamiliar room, trying to find anything to latch onto that would calm her down. "It's alright."
She took a shaky breath, still lost in her own mind, and turned to look out the window.
“It’s alright now,” he repeated. “You’re safe.”
She shot him a look that could cut through glass.
“I’m never safe in Paris,” she replied as she pushed past him towards the bathroom.
Chapter 11: Safe and Sound
A 2x12 continuation/deviation from canon. No one interrupts. No one ruins the comfort Phrack was seeking. Everyone wins.
Jack glanced up at the ceiling, wondering when his tired eyes would finally close. George, Fletcher, Rosie, Phryne, Collins, and the convent girls, all rotated through his head on a dizzy loop as he tried to process the day’s events. The adrenaline, helped along with a few bullets whizzing past his head in the dark, had fried his body but his mind refused to relax, no matter how spent it was.
Normally, it would be the discharging of his firearm that would keep him awake this late into the night but the truth was, that shot had been the easiest part of the case. Sydney Fletcher had helped to kidnap and harm helpless young girls, not to mention the two loves of Jack’s life, and he hadn’t thought twice about shooting at him. And after witnessing what happened to Rosie at the station, Jack was more than content to see Fletcher rot in jail for the rest of his life.
He still couldn’t believe that Rosie had fallen apart so publicly. And to think, there was a time when he used to wish that she would show her emotions more.
After the war, nothing affected him, nothing could reach him, including Rosie. In a stubborn show of retaliation, she locked her own emotions away, withholding them like hostages. Even as their marriage fell apart, her tears went unshed and his words went unspoken until they were both frozen blocks of silence merely co-existing under the same roof.
So when Jack reached out to comfort her tonight, it had been a subtle mixture of old habits and new breakthroughs. He couldn’t stand by and let her make a public scene after she’d spent ten years refusing to fall apart; she’d hate herself for it as soon as it ended. So, he’d stepped in subconsciously and tried to help calm her. He’d realized almost immediately how ill-fitting she felt in his arms. Had she always felt that way? He honestly couldn’t remember.
What he did remember was glancing longingly towards the closed door, wanting desperately to chase after Phryne instead of standing there with the wrong person crying on his shoulder. But she had managed to slip out before they could talk and the strength of the resentment that rose up in Jack’s chest at Rosie’s inconvenient heartbreak surprised him.
But it also gave him his call to action.
It had taken nearly half an hour for Rosie to stop crying, long enough to drop her off at her sister’s. As soon as he was able, and without a second thought, Jack had found himself on the doorstep of Wardlow.
Phryne had answered the door in a robe and no makeup and Jack had immediately felt at ease somehow, like she was unmasked while he was armed with a confidence he had never known. He finally knew, without a doubt, what he wanted and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like her stubborn need for independence deny them happiness.
Luckily for him, as soon as she realized he wasn’t going back to Rosie, she practically fell into his arms. She had silently taken his hand and led him up the stairs and they had made love for the first time in their relationship. It had been comforting, slow, and full of gratitude, both of them relishing in the fact that the other was safe and sound and theirs. Afterwards, Phryne had curled into his body like she was made to do it and Jack had watched her fall asleep, happy to watch her instead of get some much needed rest himself.
He was just about to shift her from his aching shoulder when she let out a whimper. His eyes shot down towards her to see if she had been injured in some way, but he couldn’t see why she would make such a sad sound. Then, as if conjured out of thin air, small drops of water began hitting his chest.
She was crying.
“Phryne," Jack whispered, unsure of how to proceed.
Jack closed his eyes in sympathy.
“Phryne, wake up,” he commanded.
She awoke on a gasp, heaving for oxygen. She ripped herself away from the stranger holding her before realizing it was him.
He made to leave, preparing to fetch her a glass of water or a handkerchief or something when she reached out and clutched his hand.
“No, stay,” she begged.
He was by her side again in an instant. She clung to him and let herself cry, too full of pain to be ashamed of her actions. He held her securely, rubbing her back, knowing without a doubt that the right person was in his arms this time. It was a cruel thought but true nonetheless.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpered as her tears began to ebb. “You must be getting tired of being the shoulder we always cry on,” she tried to tease as she wiped her eyes with her fingers.
“At least this time, I’m not wearing a suit.” Jack wiped her tears away.
“And I’m not wearing my usual amount of mascara,” she chuckled and Jack couldn’t resist kissing her forehead for her bravery.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked quietly.
“I was on the boat. The hidden rooms kept changing. I would get to one, and it would be empty and the shouting would start coming from a different hidden room. It was Janey’s voice, stolen away with the other girls.”
“Shh,” Jack shushed her. “You saved them. They’re safe now.”
“Not all of them,” she whispered, closing her eyes again. “Why does this keep happening?” She asked rhetorically.
He didn’t have an answer for her so he didn’t give one.
Phryne tucked herself impossibly closer to him and he pulled the blankets up over them, trying to create a cocoon of safety for her.
“I’m so glad you are here,” she confessed quietly.
“Me too.” He trailed his fingertips up and down her spine. After all, Phryne Fisher snuggled around you for comfort could hardly be considered a sacrifice.
“Jack? Was tonight...” she hesitated.
“Just a reaction?” He offered and he felt her still over him at hearing it said out loud. “Only if you want it to be.”
“I don't,” she whispered, her fingertips slowly moving over his chest.
“Then it won’t be,” he stated simply.
“Are you sure? Because falling into someone’s arms can seem like a natural thing to do after you’ve been through a trauma, and where we’re concerned, maybe even an eventuality, but if you...”
“Phryne,” he slid down the bed, wanting to be eye to eye with her, “I’m not going to deny that when I knocked on your door tonight, this particular eventuality had crossed my mind.”
“But that’s not why I came,” he continued. “What I really wanted was a quiet moment alone with you, away from the rest of the world, to get my equilibrium back,” he explained. “Just seeing you here, safe, I don't know, it makes me feel like myself again.”
She stared at him for a moment, something in his words standing out to her.
“Jack,” she sighed as she stroked his jaw, “you’re safe here too.”
Jack felt a slow epiphany dawning as her words sunk in. He had sought her out tonight with the confidence of knowing that wherever she was was where he needed to be and he'd been right: laying beside her felt more natural than anything he’d done since returning from the war. He didn't feel like just another lover in a stranger's bed. He didn't feel at risk for a broken heart. He felt like his true self. He felt loved and cared for. He felt at home.
She smiled at his stunned face and nodded her confirmation that he was right where he was supposed to be.
The last of his guard finally surrendered and a tension he hadn't realized he was holding melted away from him. He kissed her in gratitude.
"I love you," he whispered against her lips, desperately needing her to know that very second.
"I know, darling. I know," she assured his exhausted mind as she opened her arms up to him, "I love you too."
He settled his head beneath her breasts and her fingers began to brush through his hair. Her comforting murmurs clouded in his ears as his heavy eyelids fluttered closed.
And for the first time in almost sixteen years, Jack slept unencumbered.
Chapter 12: Domesticity
Jack came in the kitchen door and smiled at seeing Mr. Butler in his element, surrounded by his creations.
“Hello, Inspector. How was your ride?”
"Excellent. Perfect weather,” he nodded. “What’s going on in here?” He asked as he took in the trays of food.
“Miss Fisher is holding a luncheon with her charity board.”
“Oh, that’s right. Orphans?” He guessed, unable to recall what it was she was hosting.
“The War Fund’s treasury sub-committee,” Mr. Butler replied, offering him a tray so he could steal a fruit tart.
“Ah yes,” Jack said through a full mouth, absolutely no recollection of Phryne ever mentioning such a committee. “Mm. you’ve outdone yourself once again.”
“Thank you. Do you care for some lunch? I could make you a plate.”
“Please,” he replied hungrily, even though the man was halfway through making one for him already. “Are they in the parlor?” Jack asked as he peeked out of the kitchen door.
“Six, including Miss Fisher and Miss Sanderson,” he added far too casually for such a necessary piece of information.
Jack turned around slowly.
“My ex-wife is in the parlor?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Butler nodded knowingly.
“Would you mind if I used the back stairs, Mr. Butler?” Jack asked as he took the plate of food and some silver from the man.
“Not at all,” he smiled and gestured towards them.
After Jack fed and washed himself, he threw on a shirt and a pair of trousers. With bare feet and still damp, curly hair, he made his way into the library to wait out her guests in peace. He was four chapters into his newest biography when he heard Phryne’s footsteps on the stairs.
“It’s just in the desk,” she informed someone.
He looked up to see Rosie standing next to Phryne.
“Jack! When did you sneak in?” Phryne smiled.
“During your meeting. Hello, Rosie.”
“Jack,” she smiled, taking in his comfortable dress and bare feet.
“Have you seen that folder with all the treasury notes in it?” Phryne asked him as she rifled through her drawers. “It’s not with my other papers.”
“What’s it look like?”
“It’s greenish? I moved it last week to make room for the evidence photos from that bank robbery.”
“Try the bottom drawer. You were filling out Jane’s paperwork for school. It probably got mixed in,” Jack guessed.
“I hope not. I mailed that in three days ago when we sent her those birthday presents. Not that I would have noticed it amongst all the books you sent her,” she added with a disapproving tone.
“It is my library and I can lend books to whomever I please,” Jack defended, unshaken by the comment.
“Ah-ha!” She emerged with it in hand. “Found it.” She handed it over to Rosie. “That should have everything you need in it. If not, check with Delores. She always knows what’s what.”
“Of course,” she grinned before turning to Jack. “Did you get lunch? There are leftovers.”
“I did,” he nodded.
“We should be done in a few more minutes.”
“Phryne dear, we’re leaving,” a woman’s voice echoed up the stairs.
“A hostess’s job is never done,” Phryne smiled as she left the pair alone.
Rosie turned back to Jack, an amused look in her eye.
“Go on,” he allowed.
“You look well," she shrugged nonchalantly but a smirk tugged at her lips and she had a playful light in her eyes that Jack hadn’t seen in a long time.
“I look like I just got out of the bath, which I did," he corrected her dryly.
“No. Domesticity suits you,” she informed him.
Jack rolled his eyes at her comment.
“We spent most of last night dodging machine gun fire while Phryne drove the getaway car.”
“You wouldn’t have it any other way,” Rosie told him confidently.
She spoke with the experience of someone who had known him more than half his life and the intimacy caught Jack off-guard. He fell silent before clearing his throat.
“You’re well?” He asked.
“I am,” she said sincerely. “Tom is keeping busy at the bank. Celia is insisting that we find a house more suitable to his position after we marry, despite the current economic uncertainty for bankers.” Rosie rolled her eyes at her older sister’s demands.
“Some things never change,” Jack acknowledged with a smirk of his own.
“No, I suppose they don't," she agreed.
“Well, I’m glad you’re happy.”
“Thank you. You too.” She smiled as they both fell into a contemplative silence. “I’d better get back downstairs. They’ll wonder where I’ve gone to with the records,” she excused.
“Of course,” Jack nodded politely.
"Rosie." He waved as she disappeared around the corner.
He was still deep in thought over the exchange when Phryne returned. She had removed her shoes and her silk-covered feet made no sound on the wood floors. The absence of noise from his favorite freight train caught his attention.
He closed his book, giving her the opportunity to speak, but she chose instead to commandeer the sofa, stretching herself across the length of it with no mind to the man sitting in the middle.
“Hello.” He looked down at the tired woman strewn across his lap.
“Hello,” she smiled, proud of her antics.
“How did it go?” He asked.
“Two hours is not enough sleep to be discussing charity finances.” She closed her eyes briefly. “You were up bright and early though," she prodded him.
“I wanted to get a good ride in before it became too hot.”
“And did you?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” he confirmed, playing with her hair. “And now I can spend the rest of the day on the sofa, completely free from guilt.”
“Sounds nice,” she yawned.
“You could join me; take a nap,” he suggested.
“I don't want to disturb you,” she muttered, even as her eyes closed. “I’ll just lay here for a few minutes while you do that. It feels nice.”
Jack wasn't a fool. He knew a good thing when it was in his arms. He slid sideways to join her. She settled into his chest as his fingers resumed their soothing.
Within minutes, she was fast asleep, her breathing deep and even.
He had always wondered where she got her endless energy from. Her force of nature attitude seemed boundless when confronted headlong with it and it never dawned on him that there were times when she slowed down, let alone slept. But now that he had seen the other side of the equation, he understood that the beautiful hurricane in his arms crashed with just as much gusto as she lived.
She shifted and mumbled something two syllabled, thank you or possibly love you, and Jack kissed her forehead in response before reaching for his book carefully and cracking it open.
There was something to be said for modern domesticity.
Chapter 13: Jealousy
“Oi, Robbo!” A falsified baritone voice boomed from behind them.
Phryne watched as Jack paused mid-step, as if confused by his own ears, before they both turned around to seek out the source of the sound.
A beautiful brunette woman, who drew a remarkable likeness to a younger Rosie from a distance, posed dramatically in the middle of the sidewalk with a hand on her hip, demanding attention. She was adorned in an expensive looking coat, with legs that appeared to be the length of the Seine.
The quiet name escaped Jack’s lungs on a sigh and Phryne suddenly found herself incredibly wary of a woman she’d never met. Her fears continued as Jack extricated himself from her to take a few hesitant steps towards the mystery woman.
Marie, beaming in happy surprise, broke her pose to throw her arms wide in greeting.
“Bonjour mon amour!” She laughed as she hugged him excitedly.
“Bonjour.” Jack hugged her back just as tightly. He pulled her back by her shoulders to look at her properly. “ Look at you,” he praised, “you’ve grown up.”
“You are not a skinny young man now either,” she pinched his arm.
“No. Being able to eat every day does that,” he blushed a little as he touched his stomach.
Marie laughed in delight.
“Food for you. Hot water and soap for me.” She clutched his arm tightly. “We’ve come a long way, no?” She asked, her accent thick.
“Speaking of,” Jack turned around to look for Phryne and smiled when he found her, “Marie, this is the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher. Phryne, this is Marie…” He looked down at her finger to see if she was married.
“Allard,” she informed him, raising the ring.
“We were guests on her family’s property during the war,” he explained.
“Guests. Ha, they slept in the barn like cows,” she rolled her eyes as she reached for Phryne’s hand but kept her other hand on Jack’s back. It was almost as if she was afraid if she stopped touching him, he would disappear. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Fisher.”
“You as well, Madame Allard. I’m always eager to meet an old friend of Jack’s,” Phryne smiled politely but Jack turned to give her a warning look at her loaded use of the phrase.
“How are the others? Do you know? Hardy and Simmons and Charlie?” Marie asked, turning back to Jack immediately, Phryne already long forgotten.
“Charlie lives in Sydney now. He’s married with three little girls,” Jack proclaimed as proudly as if they were his own. “Simmons and Hardy are closer. Simmons works on a ranch. He prefers the solitude. Hardy is still in the military, although I’m not allowed to ask what he does,” he replied dramatically.
“Ah. Some things do not change,” she smiled. “And Jack? What does he do when he’s not strolling through Paris with a beautiful woman on his arm?” She asked with a sly smile towards Phryne.
“He’s a Senior Detective Inspector for the Victoria Police,” he replied, “chasing down criminals with the same beautiful woman on his arm. Miss Fisher is a private detective.”
“Ah! Like Hercule Poirot!” Marie’s face lit up. “Is that what brought you back to France? Are you two hunting criminals?”
“We’re just passing through on our way from London. We’re taking the train to Vienna in the morning.”
“Ah, le destin!” She proclaimed. “You were put in my path,” she decided with glee. “We must dine together, if you do not already have plans,” she added.
Jack looked at Phryne for permission, knowing they didn’t.
“You know, I’m tired and I still have so much packing to do. Why don’t you two go out together?” She suggested.
“Are you sure?” Jack looked concerned by her unusual choice to stay in.
“Yes, yes, of course. I have you all to myself for weeks on end and this way, you two can get reacquainted without a third wheel. Go out, have fun.”
Marie glanced over at Jack, awaiting his response.
“Alright, then yes, I’d love to join you,” he nodded his acceptance at Marie.
Phryne watched the woman’s eyes light up and she understood the smile from personal experience. One on one time with Jack was precious and Marie Allard seemed to recognize that. How much did this woman know about the man she held in her arms?
“I won’t be out late,” Jack promised, keeping his careful gaze on her for a bit longer than was necessary.
“Have a wonderful night,” she said sincerely, silently assuring him that she was fine. He didn’t look entirely convinced but he trusted her enough to understand that she wanted him to go with Marie.
“You too.” He came back to kiss her cheek. “I’ll see you soon,” he murmured, giving her one last promise in the squeeze of his hand before turning away, offering Marie his arm, and escorting her off down the street in the same position the two of them had been strolling in only moments before.
Phryne watched them briefly before turning around herself, unwilling to torture herself with the knowledge of where they were heading together.
Jack came in quietly a few hours later. He wrapped his arms around her and she accepted the kiss to her cheek with a graceful tilt of her head but didn't turn around.
“Hello again,” he murmured in her ear, his chin resting on her shoulder as he watched her fold a pair of slacks. From the smell of him, he’d been partaking in quite a bit of wine.
“How was dinner?” She asked.
“It was good, if not a bit surreal. The Marie in my mind is a skinny 16 year old girl milking the cows,” he answered honestly. “I couldn’t quite reconcile that girl with the married woman sitting across from me. It made me feel old.” He sighed as he looked around the room. “How was your night in?”
“It was fine,” she answered half-heartedly before falling quiet again, lost in her folding.
“It’s not like you to pass up a night out, are you feeling alright?” He asked, clearly knowing better, but wanting her to be the one to tell him the truth.
“I wasn’t in the mood tonight. I’ll get over it,” she waved off her feelings.
“Get over what?” He asked as he sat down on the bed attentively.
“Being ridiculous,” she rolled her eyes at herself. “I find that I’m feeling a tad jealous of Marie Allard.” She struggled to even say it out loud.
“Jealous?” He clearly thought he had misheard the statement. “Why?”
“Because she knows you better than I do.”
“That’s not in the least bit true,” he frowned in disagreement.
“It feels true. She lives half a world away and she knew the names of friends you’ve never even mentioned to me.”
“Only because she’s met them,” Jack countered, his frown still in place.
“But I haven’t, which I know, shouldn’t bother me,” Phryne told herself as she turned around under the pretense of getting more items to pack from the closet. “I know that you don’t talk about the different aspects of your life. I’ve always known that about you, but now, with things changing, I thought that might change a little too.”
“Of course it will,” he agreed. “You just have to give it time. Luckily for us, we have six more weeks alone together. I’m sure some of that time can be diverted to interrogating me.”
She pushed some hangers further back into the closet.
“Yes, but they’re going to keep coming,” she knew it was true, “with nicknames dripping from their lips, sharing stories that they already expect me to know.” She paused to acknowledge the pain in the sternum as the real question haunted her: how could she love someone so much and not know anything about his life? She swallowed the question down, unable to stomach it.
“Phryne, Phryne, Phryne,” he shook his head as he pulled her around to face him, “you’ve got it backwards.”
She looked into his glossy eyes and remembered she was having this conversation with a man who probably had a bottle of wine in him. It ratcheted the ridiculousness she felt even higher.
“They have time on their side. That’s it,” he said simply. “But you,” he paused, trying to find the words.
“Yes?” She encouraged, raising one eyebrow and taking a step closer to him.
“You have no reason to be jealous. Anyone with eyes can see that you, Miss Fisher, have cornered the market on Jack Robinson.”
He was hovering a hair’s breadth from her lips by now but she didn’t move to meet him, letting him draw out the tension to his liking. There was nothing he loved more than anticipation and she couldn’t help but let him play his game. It was delectable.
“And how did I do that?”
“By making me fall madly in love with you,” he answered as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Is that so?”
He nodded and the tips of their noses rubbed together briefly. He let his lips brush against hers lightly, taunting her with feather-light touches that only stoked the flame inside her.
“Jack...” she purred for mercy from his teasing, her voice low and wanting.
“What happened to your quiet night alone?” He teased.
“I can be quiet if you prefer,” she offered before nibbling on her own lip in temptation.
“I don’t.” He flashed her a filthy smirk before picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder, her cries of delighted surprise proving his point as he carried her off to bed.
Chapter 14: Pesky Things
“I’m so happy that she can finally be at peace.” One of Prudence’s friends clutched Phryne’s hand in an attempt to squeeze the grief out of her.
“Mm,” Phryne agreed as she watched the familiar trench coat and fedora of one Jack Robinson disappear over the horizon behind the old woman. “I’m sorry. There’s something I must attend to. Thank you for coming,” she smiled sadly before following the path he’d left for her.
She found him sitting on a bench set halfway down the hill, overlooking a valley of gravestones. She sat down silently, not wanting to disturb him. He held out his hand, offering it should she want it. She did, but she also set her head on his shoulder and looked out over the graves scattered below them. She knew why it was so dense. This was the military’s section of the graveyard.
“So many people,” she sighed.
“I was jealous of them once,” Jack confessed as he looked down the hill. “They didn’t have to reconcile the war. No one was confronted with scarred husbands, or wives who had moved on after four years of living alone. They got to stay exactly the way their family and friends wanted to remember them. Better actually,” he corrected himself. “Millions of mythical men.”
“Pesky things, facts. They never last long after someone is gone,” Phryne pointed out.
Jack didn’t comment.
“I was never jealous of the dead,” she mused. “I tended to be a bargainer. The dead were usually undeserving, always better than me, had families. No one would have missed me. On and on,” Phryne gestured, illustrating the wave after wave of thoughts that kept her up at night. “Death has always followed me, and yet somehow, I manage to go on living.”
“Thank God for that,” he murmured, unable to hold the thought behind his stoic visage.
She turned in surprise at his statement.
He kept his eyes on the horizon for a long moment before turning to glance at her out of the corner of his eye. There was that teasing sparkle to his eyes that only shined on particular occasions, when he thought something was particularly humorous but he couldn’t quite bring himself to admit it.
“Would you have missed me?” She wondered out loud. “If Foyle had succeeded?”
Jack’s humor slipped from him and he looked ill at the thought but she nudged him anyway, wanting her answer.
“I never want to find out,” he replied honestly, but she found the real answer in his eyes.
“Nor I, you," she agreed, too casually to be believed but she managed to place her head back on his shoulder before he could see the same truth reflected back at him.
After all, facts were pesky things.
Chapter 15: Rushing and Waiting
I wrote this in one sitting this morning, inspired by something I heard about World War I Iast night. Sometimes, your muse strikes as you sleep.
Jack spent his war years waiting, building a patience that would follow him home and become legendary in his wake. He had sat on boats, in trenches, in tents, in POW prisons waiting for confessions, in lines to be released and on boats again. If you asked him how he had spent the majority of his time, he would have to admit it was standing and staring at the horizon, waiting.
Phryne had spent her war years rushing, running full speed and never wasting a minute. She could have easily run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still never saved all the men that were screaming for her attention, though she had tried to give it to them all the same.
It was this disconnect that sometimes got them in trouble. It was hard to remember that someone who could fall so easily in step at times could also feel wildly out of sync at others. How could they speak across a room using only their eyes, and yet stumble when they used actual words?
Jack would argue that she didn't take the time to listen, to plan. He was used to battle plans and formations. Rushing into battle could get men killed.
But she had seen first hand what happened when she waited for orders, when she waited for a plan to be made. She had been the one to carry the bodies away, more than one for every second that passed squabbling over red tape.
Death didn't give a damn about your plans. The only way to beat it was to outrun it.
Still, there was a beauty when his patience and her action collided. If they each made an attempt to give, just a little, there was a harmony created that nothing could break. It was a chemistry as volatile as the history that had created it but when the balance was struck, it was more powerful than either of them could deny. It simply worked.
Cases were solved.
Arguments were forgiven.
Passions were fueled.
And on nights like tonight when the power overwhelmed them and left them trembling in awe, it was easy to believe that they had been forged for this, created expressly to suit the other’s needs, destined to bring balance to the other.
She had been rushing.
But he had been waiting.
Chapter 16: Man in uniform
I recently read 'Jack-in-a-box' by Ruby Caspar and commented that I had done several takes on the memory box plot myself, and then, I went to War Stories to reread my take on Jack's and it wasn't posted! It was still sitting in a folder! So I thank that story for being great AND reminding me that I had something that I thought I had already posted. This one takes place after Dead Air.
“You’re going to need a blanket,” he realized.
“I can get it,” Phryne offered. If she wasn't allowed to live alone until this stalker of hers was caught, the least she could do was lessen her own burden on him.
“Hall closet,” he gestured absentmindedly as he placed a pillow on the sofa.
Phryne pulled open the door and froze as she realized what she had stumbled across. Hanging in the back of the closet was Jack’s army uniform and a few boxes of photos and artifacts from a past life he had rarely spoken of to her.
Seeing it hanging there suddenly made his service, and her own connection to the war, real in a way she’d never allowed herself to realize. She reached back and tentatively touched the sleeve, trying to imagine him in it, proud and new, muddy and in a trench, bloody from the field of battle.
“Right up here.” He reached around her, one hand on her shoulder as he pulled a blanket down from the top shelf.
“It’s alright,” he shrugged, showing her she didn’t need to be so skittish. “You can pull it out and look at it if you want.”
“No, it just took me by surprise,” she confessed. “I bet you were handsome in it,” she distracted herself from her own thoughts with images of him in uniform.
“Well, you can decide for yourself.” He reached into a box, digging around for something before producing a photo album for her.
Her curiosity couldn’t be contained and she promptly opened the album and began to look at the images of his life as he set about finishing making her bed for the evening.
The first photograph was Jack as a young cadet at the police academy. He was lanky and tall, as if he hadn’t grown into himself quite yet. The next was of his wedding: half of a young, beautiful couple, so blissfully happy. His parents proudly stood beside the pair and Phryne realized Jack looked remarkably like his father.
She moved on, taking in Jack’s ID card from the army, meticulously saved and pressed with care, and she realized with startling clarity that of course it had been Rosie who assembled these memories. On the opposite side of the album, an official looking photograph of Jack in his uniform. The gravitas in his features was self-made then, without any of the lines and hardships she recognized in the stoic man now. She took in the image, memorizing it, before flipping the page carefully.
There was a photo of Jack after his return home, staring hollow-eyed at the camera while Rosie smiled forcefully, as if she could distract the viewer from his pain by increasing her own happiness. It broke Phryne’s heart.
She had seen the next image before, in George Sanderson’s study. A rare photograph taken after the war where it seemed that they were finally happy again, smiling fondly at one another. It was the last photo in the album; the last memory Rosie had taken the time to preserve.
Phryne felt Jack's eyes on her. When she finally looked up at him, he was curiously examining her face. She set the book back into the box reverently and closed the closet door. She made her way into parlor.
“What’s on your mind, Phryne?” He asked, unable to resist.
“I’ve let myself forget,” she began as she straightened the blanket, “that you were a different person then.”
Jack frowned, unable to argue but unsure of why she was sad about it.
“In my head, I’ve always seen you on the field, not the newly-wed who had never left Melbourne.” She couldn't look him in the eye. “You had parents and a wife who loved you, a job, a house, a proper foundation to build a life. And then, the world exploded and you were off on a grand adventure to save the world. You must have had no idea what lay in wait for you,” she assessed acutely. She had seen thousands of men like that during her time in the service and she had wanted to scream at every young face stepping off of a boat to turn around before they could learn what true grief was.
The truth was, she had known what she was walking into, had known that she would thrive in the war. She had spent her entire life in chaos and while war had been a new sort of terrible, the chaos remained the same. But Jack... Jack hated chaos and did everything in his power to reign it in. He would have been completely over his head as a secure, young constable from sunny Australia.
“I’ve always admired your steel but I forgot that it had to be forged,” she summarized sadly.
She heard him stepping closer, felt his hand on her arm, spinning her around, but she didn't have time to look him in the eye before his lips were on hers, kissing her with a quiet gratitude that she understood.
Her arms wrapped around his neck for balance and she pressed herself deeper against his body.
Jack left her lips as quietly as he met them and when he pulled away, he was searching her for a reaction.
“You kissed me,” she muttered, still momentarily stunned that he would let such an activity occur, let alone instigate it.
“Would you like me to apologize?” He raised a brow, recalling a previous post-kiss conversation.
“Never.” She sighed, sounding every bit as breathless as she was currently feeling.
She leaned in slightly, hesitating only a moment to see if he would come to his senses before closing the distance between them again and kissing him more purposefully this time. He tasted of molasses and cinnamon from the biscuits he kept stashed in his desk and the whiskey he'd been entertaining her with only moments before. This intimate knowledge reminded her that this wasn’t just any man that she was kissing. This was Jack, her Jack, who had been forged in fire and lost so much of his life to the chaos that she danced in. No wonder he had been so terrified of her. She was terrified for him.
“Why are you stopping?” He asked, his chest heaving.
“I want to make sure we’re in step.”
His eyes flashed with concern and she placed her hand on his cheek briefly to comfort him while she found her words.
“I want to be with you. Only you. If you're still interested," she added to cover her tracks.
He scoffed out a sound of disbelief and took her hands in his as a sorry replacement for his lips.
“Of course, I'm still interested, you mad woman."
"Monogamy might be the best that I can offer but I..."
"Shhh." He silenced her. "We'll figure it out. Together.” He squeezed her hands, giving her some comfort. “For now, just, let me kiss you again.” He gave her another long, slow kiss and Phryne felt her body melting into his embrace. He really did know how to completely undo her. She would do anything he asked of her if it would make him hers.
When she broke the kiss, she chuckled nervously at the thought, unable to process what was happening to her.
“Oh, what have you done to me, Jack Robinson?” She asked as she set her forehead on his chest.
“I could ask you quite the same question, Miss Fisher.”
She looked up to see the loving smirk that she already knew would be on his face.
“Shall we figure that out together too?” She inquired.
“I know a good place to start,” he offered with a smirk.
Chapter 17: A man in the crowd
“For me, it's faces on streets or trams bearing the slightest resemblance and I'm right back there.” - Phryne, Death Comes Knocking
Jack saw the moment it happened.
“Oh, excuse me, Miss,” the young man had said, tipping his cap before hurrying along through rain.
Jack caught her lingering stare on the man’s face, the way she stuttered, barely a step, but more than she’d ever allowed in her confident gait before.
His arm was there before she reached for it, holding her up, directing her into City South with a forwardness he rarely took with her and one that she’d certainly never accept in a right mind.
She was sitting in her normal chair, Jack sitting rather uncharacteristically on top of his desk in front of her, before she came to again.
“Drink this,” he commanded, handing her a glass of whiskey.
She shook her head.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Drink. Now.” He would not take no for an answer.
She sighed, taking the glass and downing it in one shot.
“Good man,” he praised and she gave him an annoyed look.
He refilled her glass as he assessed her condition. When he was satisfied that she wasn’t going to slip back into her malaise, he set the bottle aside.
“Private Michael Burns,” she stated quietly.
Jack wasn’t sure if it was an invitation to ask more or simply an explanation.
“Passchendaele, August 15th, 1917. We couldn’t get through the rain and mud with any sort of equipment. By the time we got him under a tent, there was nothing we could do. His wounds were too infected. He begged me to kill him for three days. He wanted to give up his bed for someone who still had a chance. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him what we already knew. One bed would never make a difference.”
“Did you?” Jack asked the big question without judgment, knowing far too well that death would have been the kinder option. He’d put bullets into more than one dying man lying in the fields, on both sides of the fight.
“No,” she shook her head, shamefully looking down at her hands. “I didn’t have the time.”
“And yet with hundreds of thousands of men killed over those few months, you still remember not only the date, but his name and face,” Jack stated the obvious, as if saying it out loud would make it less awesome to him somehow.
“I couldn’t forget him if I tried,” she sighed, taking another sip of the whiskey he’d provided.
“You have no idea what that would have meant to us,” Jack said, more to himself than to her.
Phryne practically jolted as she turned her head towards him.
He knew it was the rare use of a plural pronoun, something he normally took care never to do, that caught her attention.
“When you are looking out over fields of dead men," he explained, "knowing they'll never leave those spots, let alone be identified for their mothers, the magnitude of being forgotten and nameless in death is overwhelming. It drove some men mad.”
The look of understanding on her face told him that she had probably seen as much of the war as he had.
“But you remember him enough to see him on the street, and as painful as that memory is, it's still a memory. He wasn't forgotten,” Jack said simply. “That thought alone would have fueled armies.”
Phryne reached out and placed her hand on his knee, silently thanking him for his words.
“You’re a remarkable woman, Miss Fisher,” he summed up shyly, feeling his confidence seep from him at her touch.
“You're quite remarkable yourself, Inspector.”
He watched her stand up until she was looking him in the eye. She leaned in, hands on his shoulders, and kissed him demurely on the cheek.
“Thank you for the drink,” she whispered.
He nodded, trying to ignore the heady way her perfume invaded his personal space.
“It was about time I returned the favor,” he teased and it earned him a sad smile.
“If I can ever... if you ever need...” she gestured towards him but cut herself off, looking embarrassed, “well, you know where to find me.”
“I'll keep that in mind,” he acknowledged the offer politely.
“Have a good day, Inspector.”
“You as well, Miss Fisher.” He watched her walk through the doors and out onto the street before he fully relaxed into his own chair.
Her full glass of whiskey, lipstick-stained and forgotten, caught his eye. He picked it up, considering it in his hand for a long moment.
Miss Fisher held one very special, and sometimes dangerous, talent: she made everyone around her feel like the most important person in the room. It was what made her such an asset. But whether she was playing a dirty child from Collingwood, or a flippant heiress, or even a war-time ambulance driver, she was never fully herself. She wouldn't give that out to anyone, let alone a sullen Detective Inspector from City South. Any connection he felt to her was passing at best. He wasn’t the exception to her kindness, he was the rule.
Jack took one last look at the glass before draining the remaining contents himself. He wiped the rim clean, destroying the evidence of their paths' intersection and set it back where it belonged, alone on the shelf, waiting to be of further use.
Chapter 18: Puzzles
As she finished setting up the board, Phryne was struck once again by how little she knew about the enigmatic man sitting in front of her. But she was a detective now and it would be remiss to let the pieces of Jack Robinson go by unexamined. And maybe, if she uncovered a few answers, her mind would stop fixating on him so much.
“Inspectors first,” she gestured to the board.
A subtle glance to his hand as he made the first move reminded her that he didn’t wear a wedding ring. She had asked him if he had children and he had said they were never blessed. Who was (or had been) the other half of that equation? What sort of woman could capture the attention of Jack Robinson?
It was a rabbit hole she tumbled down before she could catch herself falling.
Beautiful enough to turn a practical head like Jack’s, that much was true. Although perhaps that had been easier to do when he was a younger man. First love could be forgiving.
Was she fastidious like Jack? Did she stand in front of the mirror to make sure that her lipstick was perfect or that her curl was set just right? Or did she have an effortless beauty, something ethereal perhaps? Or was she striking, with a jawline and cheekbones to rival her husband's?
She would have to be understanding to be the wife of a policeman, let alone a veteran. Did she take pride in her husband's work, humbly bragging to her friends about his heroic actions? Or did she worry when he left each morning, fretting over whether or not she'd see him walk back through the door again?
Jack couldn’t be with anyone who wasn’t intelligent. Did he hash out ideas about his cases with her over dinner or did he hide the ugly side of his position from her delicate sensibilities?
Perhaps she was empathetic with a large heart to balance out his curious mind, quietly comforting him when his demons caught up with him. A vision of a woman who held Jack’s head in her lap as he read a book popped into Phryne’s mind: a picture of domesticity that she herself had never wanted herself but could so easily see for him.
“Do you always plan your moves this intently?” Jack asked, disrupting her thoughts and reminding her that she was supposed to be focusing on something else.
“I was cataloguing everything I know about you.” She moved and leaned back in her chair.
“A psychological strategist, I see. And what did you come up with?” There was a playful tinge to the interrogation in his eyes as he took a long sip of his whiskey.
“Your name, your position, the location of your office, that you don’t have children, that you prefer Mr. Butler’s gratin to paperwork,” she teased as he made another move. “You’re willing to help set up a protestant constable with a catholic date for the policeman’s ball, even though you yourself are in my parlor instead.” She took one of his pieces with glee.
“I grew tired of the policeman’s ball around 1925,” he commented, taking one of her pieces right back.
“And how does your wife feel about that?” She asked as she stared at the board, refusing to look up no matter how badly she wanted to do so.
“I wouldn’t know,” he replied and that broke her resolve. She looked up at him, trying to read his blank face for any sort of clue as to what he meant.
“My wife and I are separated,” he explained.
Her stunned silence made him tilt his head in amusement. He already knew that it took more than the usual quip to stun her and the fact that he could do it with three words seemed to fill him with a strange sort of pride.
“I shouldn’t have assumed.” She made a play quickly before reaching for her drink.
“It’s a fair assumption, that a man would live with his wife.”
He said it so casually that the benevolent forgiveness in his words could have been missed but Phryne knew better. Once again she was struck by the hint of a massive heart underneath all of his sternness, like a glimpse of an iceberg beneath the surface.
“Fair assumptions were victims of the war,” she took ownership of her mistake. Theirs was a new world and any means of coping was understandable, if not accepted. Separation and divorce were no longer the scandals they used to be.
“It wasn’t anything dramatic, no major wrongs, we just...grew apart. When I came back, she had grown used to independence and I... I was an entirely different man from the one that she had agreed to marry.”
He moved again and Phryne frowned, knowing she was in a tight place both conversationally and in the game.
“How long ago was that?”
“Right around 1925,” he revealed dryly.
Phryne smiled, moving a piece. He really was a delightfully surprising man.
“Go ahead. Ask,” he nodded towards her as he played.
“Ask what?” Phryne moved quickly.
“Why we haven’t gotten divorced.” Jack moved another piece, keeping up.
“I already know the answer to that.” She played her way to a small victory but it was only stalling the inevitable.
Jack leaned back, awaiting her explanation.
“You, Jack Robinson,” she picked up his piece for him, “made a vow. And that's all I need to know.” She played his winning move for him, giving him the victory but maintaining control of the board.
He was staring at her in a way she might have found unnerving if she didn't recognize the look.
He wasn't the only one who could be a puzzle.
Chapter 19: We'll Meet Again
Reindeerjumper asked me awhile back to write something regarding the classic wartime song "We'll meet again" and I was like "Oh! I have that sort of in the works already!" So this one is for her and her constant support of this fic.
“Jack? Jack Robinson?”
At the sound of his name, Jack turned around to see who was behind him. It took a second to place the man, now a decade on and smiling but there was no mistaking him.
“Danny Walsh.” Jack was fairly surprised by the rush of excitement at seeing the former private. They’d only crossed paths for a few months, but they’d had a sort of brotherly relationship. Danny had only been 16 when he’d joined and Jack had taken him under his wing when he could. Jack's German and Danny's French had made them valuable assets during the war and they had stuck together as much as possible but they had lost touch in the last year of the war.
“I always knew you would make it out alive,” Danny exclaimed before hugging him tightly. “How are you, Robbo?”
“Good. Truly,” Jack nodded sincerely, when Walsh double checked his features to see if he was merely being polite. The kid had always been smart. “How are you? What have you been doing?"
“I'm good. I stayed in Paris after the war, learned a thing or two about French cuisine. I sailed home a few months ago, got a job here. Are you still a copper?"
“Senior Detective Inspector at City South, just across the river.”
Walsh whistled, impressed with the title and Jack rolled his eyes.
“Is Rosie here? I should thank her for knitting us all those socks,” he looked around dramatically.
“Oh, er, no.” Jack shook his head. “We... we divorced,” he informed him awkwardly, still unsure of how to break the news to others. It happened so infrequently.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Walsh said grimly.
“Casualty of war,” Jack explained with a shrug. “It’s alright. We’re both happier for it.”
“Well then, there’s someone else here from our war days that I want to introduce you to. Wait just a moment. She's a detective too.” Danny scanned the crowd and spotted his target and waved her over.
Jack smiled as Phryne headed over towards the pair, her curious eyes alight with interest.
Danny didn’t seem any the wiser as he pulled her in to form a circle.
“Jack Robinson, let me introduce....”
“The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher,” Phryne interrupted, holding out her hand playfully to Jack, who simply rolled his eyes.
“You’ve found my date, Walsh,” Jack revealed dryly.
Danny looked happily stunned for a minute before watching Phryne leave his side to stand next to Jack.
“You’re here with him?” Danny asked her in disbelief.
“But you promised me a dance,” he pouted.
“And I never break a promise, Danny, I assure you.” Phryne smiled as she wrapped an arm around Jack’s, showing her solidarity to him even as the promise was made.
“How do you two know each other?” Jack asked the woman beside him. “Old friends?”
Phryne pinched his elbow covertly and Jack stared her down unapologetically.
“Danny was one of the victims of my so-called awful driving,” she explained.
“She saved my life by driving through that air raid in Belgium,” he explained.
“You drove him through an…” Jack turned to look at her, wanting to reprimand her for her actions, even now.
“She’s the reason we're both still alive,” Danny said.
“That’s worth a dance or two, don’t you think?” She asked Jack with a saucy grin.
“It’s worth something,” he muttered.
“And you two are...?” Danny asked.
“Partners. I’m a private detective, he’s a public one. It’s all rather convenient.” Phryne beamed over at him proudly.
Jack tried to fight the smug smile that always came when she claimed him as her own.
“And I assume you two served together?” She changed the subject.
“For a bit, around France,” Danny replied, looking to Jack to fill in more of the blanks but he remained silent. “I should check on the kitchen but Miss Fisher, I’m going to hold you to that dance,” he pointed her way and she smiled.
“Whenever you’re ready,” she promised as he walked away.
“Now, now, let the man work for it.” Jack pulled her in close, deciding a dance with her was a splendid idea.
Phryne smiled at his sudden possessiveness but she let him lead her around the floor for a few minutes.
“Jack,” she finally broke the silence, “I have to know: were you on the battlefield that night?”
“No. I missed that particular raid. Although I can’t speak for any of the others. If we were that close, it’s possible that we were near each other at some other point in time.” He shook his head and she sighed a little, clearly contemplating what a strange world it would have been if they had walked by each other unknowingly. Had he called for her ambulance? Had he given his men over to her?
“I don't think we did," she decided. "If I had seen you, younger, and in a uniform?” She made a face that stole his heart. “I would have had to stop everything to talk with you.”
“I would have told you that I was married.” He could picture it so clearly, back when he always did the right thing.
“That wouldn't have stopped me.” She leaned in closer, quirking her eyebrows in a taunt.
“Mm. So nothing would have been different,” he grinned and she buried her face in his shoulder briefly as she broke, wanting to hide her happiness from him. He felt his heart overflow with love for her as he squeezed her just a little tighter for the joy.
“You should probably go dance with Walsh before I pull you away from this party,” he warned her, his happy whisper directly against her ear.
“Is that a threat, Inspector?”
“Absolutely,” he promised.
“Then meet me at the car in ten minutes.” She slowly dragged herself from his arms and he’d never seen such a temptation walking away.
He waited until she was safe in Walsh’s arms and then he polished off his drink and headed to fetch the car.
When Walsh escorted Phryne out the front door of the hotel a few minutes later, Jack was leaning against the door of the car, waiting patiently for her.
He smiled at the gallant action and stood up, walking halfway out to meet them.
“Thanks for letting me borrow her for a few dances,” Danny said sincerely.
“Thank you for returning her safely,” Jack shook his hand.
“I’ll see you soon?” Danny asked.
"Absolutely," Jack nodded.
He watched as Danny leaned in to Phryne, saying something in French that made Phryne cackle gleefully.
“Behave yourself, Private,” Jack warned with a smirk as he opened the car door for her.
Danny mock-saluted before strolling back into the building.
As soon as Jack started the car, Phryne sidled up beside him and set her chin on his shoulder.
“You'd better behave yourself, too,” he warned as he felt her hands moving over his body.
“You won't let us crash.” She caressed his thigh lovingly.
“I’d have better odds with an air raid.” He muttered as he glanced behind him.
Her deep, honest laugh made him smile as he put the car in gear.
"That may be, but I have the utmost faith in you, Jack Robinson."
Her tone was worshipful and full of love and it stole the words from him.
She settled her head on his shoulder, arms still wrapped around him, as she let him drive them home in relative peace.
Chapter 20: The Silent Prison
It didn't need a reason.
Jack looked down at the razor shaking violently in his hand as the sound around him disappeared for the buzzing in his ears. He shook the razor out of his hand, letting it fall hard into the basin below before his legs gave out. He put his back up against the sink and wrapped his arms around his knees and squeezed tight, trying to stop the shaking but it was too far gone.
He closed his eyes as the screams that always followed came galloping in. Men screaming for cover, for their mother, for anything to save them.
It had been over a decade and he could still taste the soil that filled his mouth as his body was thrown against the trench wall, see the pale corpses of his friends, smell their iron-rich blood mixing with the smoke from the explosives that severed them, choking the few still alive.
He waited for the panic to pass as his heart pounded and sweat rolled down his back.
He was not choking.
He was not dying.
He had not died.
This was simply an echo of a moment so powerful, it could be relived, even years later.
When he finally felt it dimming, the pain and terror left only weak exhaustion in their wake. His muscles slowly gave out completely, and he rolled to his side on the bathroom floor.
He didn't know how long he stayed there before the soft knock on the door came.
"Jack? Hurry up, darling, I have breakfast waiting."
The long pause told him that she was waiting for a response.
He didn't have one to give.
Chapter 21: We'll Meet Again Part II
This one is dedicated to aurora_australis, mbgreen/Boryana and to AnniePlusMacDonald for their kind comments, which made me fight through writer's block to post just a little more about Danny and Jack. It's small, but I hope it suffices.
Jack stepped into Wardlow and did his best to shake the rain off his hat and jacket.
Mr. Butler emerged to silently assist as a peal of Phryne’s bawdy laughter came from the dining room along with a chuckle he knew all too well.
“Mr. Walsh is still here?” Jack verified with the butler as he tried to peek around the corner.
“Yes, sir. They just finished dinner,” Mr. Butler nodded as Jack entered the dining room.
“Jack,” Phryne greeted him cheerfully. “You made it.”
The plates had already been taken away, but they still sat at the table, beckoning him to sit down.
“Can Mr. Butler fix you anything?” She asked with a gesture to the kitchen.
“No, I’m quite alright.” He settled into the chair next to Danny, who promptly poured him some wine.
“Drink fast, old man. You have quite a bit of catching up to do,” he warned.
“He’s hoping you’ll be in a more congenial mood by the time you figure out how many stories he’s shared with me over dinner,” Phryne smiled subversively from behind her glass.
“Mm,” Jack looked disapproving. “Just how much damage was done in my absence?”
“None,” Phryne assured him with a hand on his arm.
“Quite a bit,” Walsh grinned in unison.
Jack stared at the pair’s disparate responses as they both began to laugh. He rolled his eyes as he took a long swig of his wine.
“The river story was a particular favorite,” he gloated.
“What you have conveniently forgotten, Mr. Walsh, is that I know all of your stories too,” Jack reminded him with a warning tone.
“I was a child,” he defended to Phryne, hand over his heart. “I couldn’t possibly be held responsible for my actions, especially during a war.”
“Not after your visit with Madame Richard,” Jack raised his glass to his mouth to hide his own reaction as his friend turned bright red and Phryne cackled with delight.
“Well,” he pressed his lips together, “I should be going now,” Danny stood up from the table pretending to leave. “It was lovely seeing you...”
“No, Danny, sit.” Phryne tugged him back down into his seat with a laugh before rubbing his shoulder, comforting the poor man. “He’ll be nice. Won’t you, Jack?” She told more than asked.
Jack held a hand up, promising only to fight fair.
"Now that Jack is here, why don’t you two tell me how you both met," Phryne requested.
Danny gave Jack the floor with an unceremonious wave of his hand, clearly knowing who the head of the table was now that Jack had arrived.
"Well, it was the summer of 1917. All of our French translators had been killed and I spoke no French, as you well know," Jack told Phryne, "and we were moving further into French territory. My German would work with a few of the Belgians but we were in dire need of someone who spoke French. One day, a child appeared claiming that he was our new French translator."
"He was not happy to see me,” Danny told Phryne.
“You were too young," he held his ground.
“I turned 17 on the ship ride over."
"Exactly. We were three years into a war that no one expected to survive. I knew in that moment that if you were the one reporting for duty, that meant that we had run out of men and were moving onto the children." He spoke seriously and the faces around the table fell into the same gravitas as he made his reasons for his stance clear.
Phryne reached out for his hand and Jack gave it to her, unsure if she was comforting him or wanted to be comforted herself.
"But, despite your age, you were more than capable." He looked at the man in front of him and saw shades of the boy he once knew lingering there. "You were smart, observant, picked up on every little clue..." Jack praised. "We were lucky to have you. You saved lives."
"You trained me well," Danny returned the credit. "We were inseparable from that point forward. Jack took me with him wherever he went.”
“I felt responsible for you.”
“You weren’t,” Danny disagreed, absolving him of the job. “I did alright once you left for Britain.
It did nothing to lessen the burden he’d felt, even now.
“There was a large influx of German prisoners once Britain began making headway on the Western front," Jack explained, "and because of my police and language experience, I was pulled off the battlefield. I spent the last year of the war interviewing those who were willing to talk and ferrying groups to the camps. I never saw the Front again.”
“You got out,” Danny commented.
“I was pulled out,” Jack corrected.
“No one was complaining,” he stared him down, daring him to argue that he deserved to die on a muddy field. “You’d been fighting for three years, Jack. Everyone was happy to see you go.”
“What else happened after I left?” Jack asked, changing the subject.
“More of the same. The further into France we went, the more I was needed. I was passed around from trench to trench. Phryne and I met up again in the summer of 1918?” He glanced to her for confirmation and she nodded.
“Where you took a second ride in my ambulance,” she shared.
“I took a bullet in the shoulder,” he explained to Jack. “Phryne got me to the hospital where I promptly picked up influenza for good measure.”
“What?” Phryne looked upset by that bit of information.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Sister Fisher. That damned disease was everywhere back then, especially in the hospitals. By the time I was healthy, the Americans were fighting and the war was over. I stayed in Paris for the next decade. But when the ten year anniversary came around last year, I realized, strangely enough, that I missed Australia. I sailed home as soon as I saved up enough for the trip.”
“You never tried to find one another after the war?” Phryne asked the men.
They looked at each other, both silently feeling guilty for their absence in the other’s life.
“I didn’t want to,” Jack confessed, feeling comfortable enough with the shared look in Walsh’s eyes to speak the truth. “The thought of finding your name on a list was more than I could bear.”
Danny nodded in agreement.
“I couldn’t either. I thought about you a lot though,” he revealed.
“So did I,” Jack’s previously sad thoughts coming in a flood. The young boy trailing behind him, asking him a thousand questions about what he’d seen and what he’d do if…“I always thought that I should have answered more of your questions.”
“You should have told me to go to hell and leave you alone," he said, remembering the scene differently now that he was older. “Speaking of which,” he glanced down at his watch, “it’s getting late and I have to be at the hotel for breakfast in the morning.” He stood up and Phryne and Jack stood up with him.
“Thank you for dinner,” he said as Phryne gave him a hug and kiss goodbye.
“You’re welcome any time,” she offered.
“I’ll walk you out.” Jack gestured towards the door and Phryne waved them both out before closing it behind them, giving them a moment alone outside.
They paused on the pavement a few steps from the gate and turned to look at one another.
“I wanted to give you this,” Jack reached into his suit jacket and pulled out his card. “Most evenings you can find me here, but my home address and number are on the back, that way you can’t get lost again.”
“I won’t,” Danny promised. “I never got a chance to say thank you, you know, for all that you did for me.”
“No,” Jack shook his head, not wanting the praise. “You gave me a fresh reason to fight. You kept me alive too,” he informed him quietly.
They stared at each other, unwilling to let the other out of their sight, until they both laughed at themselves.
“I’m glad we found each other again.” Danny shook his head in disbelief as he gave Jack a hug goodbye.
“I’m sorry it took so long,” Jack murmured as he pulled away, his hand still on his shoulder. He tapped it once, giving him permission to walk away before opening the gate for him.
“I’ll call you tomorrow.” Danny held up the card before putting it in his pocket. “We can get drunk and you can tell me about how you met Phryne.”
“That is a very long story,” Jack warned.
“I look forward to it then."
“Goodnight.” Jack watched him walk off into the dark before turning around and heading back into the house.
Phryne was sitting at the bottom of the stairs and she stood up as he closed and locked the door behind him. He wrapped his arms around her waist as she put hers around his neck, drawing him close.
“Can we keep him?” She asked facetiously.
“What’s one more?” He asked, feigning exasperation.
“Two, if Dot’s sudden and mysterious absence at breakfast is to be believed.”
Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise and Phryne just shrugged, not wanting to confirm or deny as she began to make her way up the steps.
“You’re going to need a larger dining room table,” he warned as he began to follow her up the steps.
“I’ll go shopping in the morning," she yawned.
Chapter 22: Anniversaries
Although it states it directly in the title of this collection, it feels like in 2020, there should be a second content warning. PTSD, battle deaths, divorce, etc. are all discussed. Be kind to your brains.
Phryne looked over her shoulder in the mirror as Jack buttoned his shirt behind her. His full pout had yet to dissipate.
“I don’t understand why you’re acting as though I’m dragging you to the noose. It’s just a simple dinner party,” she waved her lipstick in her hand before swiping it over her lips carefully.
“I’m sorry if I’m having trouble mustering up enough enthusiasm for you," he muttered, his voice full of resentment.
Phryne shot him a warning glare, telling him that he was pushing his luck but he ignored it.
“I don’t understand why you need me there at all. You’ll spend the entire night chatting with your friends while I sit there silently watching the soup go cold.”
She closed her lipstick and tossed it into her bag with enough force to silence Jack.
“You know what? Maybe you're right. Why don’t you just stay home? I may have to put up with your foul mood, but no one else should be subjected to it.” She said as she stood up and headed for the stairs, leaving him half-dressed in a tuxedo.
She was so frustrated with him that her hands were shaking as she parked in front of the restaurant. And while normally, the desire to be out on the town without him for a few hours would have made her feel more independent, right now she was just worried. He'd been in a foul mood for days and she’d tried everything to make it better, but she couldn’t take it any longer. What could possibly have him that upset and more importantly, why was he refusing to talk about it?
She allowed herself a few deep breaths to conceal her feelings before heading into the party. She had just about pulled herself together when someone called her name from the sidewalk.
She looked up and was staring face to face with Rosie Sanderson of all people.
Rosie dismissed her friend quietly before walking over to the passenger door of the motorcar.
“Is everything alright?” She asked, peering into the car, looking concerned at Phryne’s long face.
“Oh, just gathering my courage. I’m meant to be going to dinner but I’m running rather late.”
“Has Jack abandoned you?” She asked, assuming that was why Phryne was upset.
“He chose not to come out tonight," she explained.
“Oh,” Rosie nodded knowingly. “April.”
Phryne tilted her head in confusion.
“I’m sorry, April?” She asked, not quite sure what she meant.
Rosie looked around for a moment to make sure they were alone.
“May I speak entirely out of turn?” She asked.
“Please.” Phryne opened the passenger side door for her, inviting her inside.
Rosie sat down, turning to face her.
“Jack rarely makes it through the month without some sort of... episode. He’s never actually said why it triggers him so, but it’s been happening ever since he returned home from the war. It makes being around him a bit like walking through a minefield.”
“But he’s never said anything.”
“He wouldn’t, would he?” Rosie replied confidently. “Well, not to me anyway, but he never saw me the way that he sees you. Like a partner," she clarified before Phryne could ask. "Even before the war, I think he saw me as more of a responsibility than anything else.” She sighed. “But the more I tried to help him, the further he pulled inside until I... I just couldn’t reach him at all.”
Phryne felt her stomach drop to her knees as she contemplated losing him that way. When she looked over at Rosie, she had the same look on her face.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Phryne reminded her. “You couldn't have known what he’d been through and I’m sure that he thought that he was protecting you by keeping it to himself. Then again, what do I know, I never knew him before the war. We came to each other with all of our scars already on display.”
“Yes,” Rosie mused. “I envy you that.”
“Funny, I’ve thought the same thing about you,” Phryne revealed with a small smile. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“You’re welcome. And for what it’s worth, I’ve known Jack for twenty years and I’ve never seen him as happy as he is when he’s with you,” she informed her. “If anyone can get him through this, it’s going to be you.”
Phryne inhaled deeply and sighed, hoping she was right.
When Phryne found him, he was silhouetted in the open window of the library, standing out on the balcony watching the ocean. He was still half-dressed, wearing the pants and mostly-buttoned shirt from when she had left him.
She sighed before crossing the room and stepping out onto the balcony to join him. She shivered against the ocean air, second guessing coming out in only her dinner dress, but she put her back to the railing anyway, wanting to see his face while she talked.
“I didn’t make it to the party,” she confessed, folding her arms. “I ran into an old friend of yours, well, old wife actually, and we spoke for a few minutes.”
Jack glanced at her from his peripheral but didn’t comment.
“I didn’t need to explain why you weren’t with me. She already knew.” She looked down at her shoes. There was no accusation in her tone; Phryne held no malice for being left out of something so intimate. “Seems that this time of year has always been hard for you, although she wasn’t sure why.”
Phryne let the silence fall for a moment and she put the clues together on her own.
“Jack, last autumn, when you tried to leave me," she started slowly, “you said that even the thought of losing me was unbearable. Was that because you had already lost someone else?”
He swallowed sharply and Phryne noticed his hands anxiously twisting the wrought iron in front of him, proving her assumptions correct.
“I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, but, I need to know that you’re going to be alright if we don’t,” she laid out her stance and he nodded in understanding and took a reluctant breath.
"Are you familiar with Bullecourt?"
Phryne looked up at the night sky. She knew the battles well. She had helped stock supplies in anticipation of the injured that had never arrived. It had been an abattoir for the Australians.
"You asked if I lost someone, I lost… everyone,” he shook his head simply. “Every trench mate that I had left, all in the span of 48 hours. We lost 10,000 men in a handful of days."
Phryne felt the air leave her lungs at just the thought.
"I had been fighting for years but that battle, it finished me. And I knew it standing on that field.” His tone was certain, even now. “I couldn't seem to process much of anything after that. I stopped writing to Rosie, my senses went dead. My body moved on its own but inside, I was empty," he explained. "And I stayed like that for a long time, even after I came home. I would alternate between feeling nothing at all and everything at once. There were nightmares and headaches all the time. It was terrible. Rosie did her best to try and get me help but the doctors were hopeless. They could only tell me to rest my nerves by staying out of stressful situations. Little did they know, those were the only situations where I actually felt like myself.”
“And now?” Phryne asked, knowing first hand how grief distorted over time.
“When it comes, everything feels raw, overwhelming... unbearable.” He spoke the word that they were both thinking and she reached out for his left hand with both of hers. "I just want to yell for everything to stop moving and be quiet until I can get my feet under me again. Sometimes I do," he paused, looking ashamed. "Sometimes, I just lock myself away until it passes. And sometimes, like tonight, I don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late.”
“It’s never too late,” she assured him.
“I never wanted this with you,” he shook his head, upset with himself.
“Jack, look at me.” She brought them face to face and tilted her head to meet his eye, wanting his attention. “When Foyle escaped prison, you were beside me every step of the way. And when I stood over my sister’s body for the first time, you were the one holding my hand,” she reminded him. “And when Rene walked into my favorite restaurant, you were the one kissing my eyes closed. You’ve never loved me any less for my past. Why would I ever love you any less for yours?”
He looked moved by her words and she pulled him into her shoulder, holding him tight.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“So am I,” she murmured against his cheek.
“Is it foolish to say that falling in love with you made me think that all of this was behind me?” He asked as he stood up straight again.
She smiled at the sweet thought.
“I wish it were that easy,” she said wistfully and he squeezed her hand in gratitude.
"I don't mind giving you space, or whatever else you may need, you know that, right?" She clarified. "You can stay at the bungalow, or even in the guest bedroom. Go fishing if it helps. I just need to know what you need."
"I don't want to hide from you," he said honestly.
"Taking care of yourself isn't always hiding. Sometimes, it's treatment," she corrected. "And if you can't articulate why, that's alright too. Just tell me where you are going," she requested.
They examined each other with the combined scrutiny of detectives and lovers, checking for anything left unspoken. When they both seemed to be at peace with the conversation, she glanced towards the open door.
"Are you ready to come back inside?" She asked.
He nodded and she wrapped her arm around his waist and led him to the bedroom.
“You didn’t get dinner,” he realized out loud as she handed him his pajama pants.
“I’ll have Mr. Butler bring something up,” she promised with a small smile at his concern for her when he could barely keep his own eyes open.
He changed and slid under the blankets.
"I love you," she murmured, tucking him in tighter. It was rare that she would say the words at all, let alone unprompted, but he needed to hear them tonight, needed to know that they were not fragile. He could shift his burdens to her for the evening and sleep unencumbered.
"Eat something," he mumbled and she leaned in closer again.
"Don't tell me what to do," she whispered before kissing him on the temple and turning off the lamp beside the bed.
Chapter 23: Black eyes and elbows
When Phryne awoke, Jack was snoring softly behind her. She smiled at the sound. She didn’t get to wake up before him very often and she loved the opportunity to see him completely at ease. As much as she loved the man, he rarely let his guard completely down.
She turned over to see what was in store for her this morning and what she saw made her gasp and sit up.
“Hmm?” He asked, waking immediately. It was an old skill from being permanently on call for homicides.
“What happened to your eye?!” She asked.
“A quarter of your face is blacked out,” she reminded him.
“Oh.” He winced as he remembered the bruise. “It met a drunkard’s elbow. Hazard of the job,” he yawned.
“It was my own fault,” he said as he closed his eyes again. “They brought a man into the cells to let him sleep off his drunken stupor and he was screaming for help in German, so I, being the intelligent man that I am, answered in German, thinking that it would set him at ease. But in his delusions, he thought that he was being put back into a German prison camp, so it produced the exact opposite effect and he cracked me one.”
“Oh no.” Phryne frowned in amused sympathy at his good intentions going awry.
“Considering the amount of drink that he had in him, his aim was actually quite impressive,” he smirked. “Would have loved to have seen him in the trenches.”
"Did it hurt?" She asked as she looked it over.
"Only my pride," he replied dryly as he tucked his arm under his pillow.
She didn’t believe him.
"Would you like me to get you something from the icebox to put over it?" She asked as she brushed back his hair.
“No, I would like to go back to sleep.”
"Alright," she kissed his temple lightly. "When you wake up, I'll teach you how to cover that up with powder. No one will ever have to know.”
His growl filled her with impish joy and she practically bounced out of bed, ready to start her day.