He was lost in the contemplation of the smoky amber liquid in his glass when Phryne sat on his lap. He was too surprised to react when she leaned in to kiss him, and she pulled back after a moment.
"I hadn't realised I would need to win you anew each night, Jack, but I am up for the challenge." She set his glass aside and moved to straddle him.
"It's not you," he assured her.
"Talking out your puzzles usually helps," she said, but he shook his head, aware that his thoughts were too inchoate to put into words, and his dread of a gang war had no real evidence to support it. "Very well, how about a different kind of puzzle?"
"What do you mean?" he asked. "A jigsaw?" He had never been particularly good at those. "Let me guess – you were the Collingwood jigsaw champion back when you still pulled your hair into pigtails and were inveigling innocent footballers to debilitating drunkenness."
She leaned sharply back to study his face, and his hands shot out to steady her. "I haven't worn pigtails since I was seven," she said. "My father had enough of what he was pleased to term my smart mouth, and he pinned me between his knees one night and took a knife to my hair." Jack made his hands on her body as gentle as he could, trying to swallow down his disquietude at the thought of a drunkard's knife anywhere near the tender nape of her neck. "He liked the punishment enough to repeat it at regular intervals."
Was everything about her a weapon honed to perfection? That sleek, geometrical bob she wore like a crown (Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare) was her sophisticated reclamation of a childhood punishment. How had such a woman come to be in his arms?
"Phryne," he said, suddenly aware he'd never told her in the simplest, truest words what he felt.
"Yes, Jack?" she asked. One of her cool fingers had found the hollow at the nape of his neck, and he shivered.
"I love you."
She stilled just for a moment, dropping her eyes so all he could see was black lashes (black is the colour of my true love's hair) pointing down to her ruby mouth. "Come with me, Inspector Robinson," she said, slithering off his lap and leading him up to her bedroom.
There would be no evasions, not anymore; she'd taken his declaration of love as a request to bed her, and he could no more persuade her that his love led to no such outcome than she could convince him that any carnal act could bring pleasure in the absence of love. For he was clear-eyed even in this, and he knew she did not feel as he did. He might be her friend, her partner, her challenger, and one of the people she'd adopted into her little makeshift family, but ultimately he gave her nothing she could not find elsewhere, probably within the hour.
"I want to see you," she said with a seductive smile, reaching up to unknot his tie. She hummed approvingly as she smoothed his braces down his arms, tugged his shirt off, and pulled his singlet over his head. She stood back to appraise him teasingly, and he saw the moment her smile vanished. "Jack!" she said, gaze boring in on his right side, where the bullet had grazed him and spun him, before switching to his left, where he'd been stabbed at least twice. "And yet you weren't invalided home," she said, her voice throbbing with outrage.
He stood still under her caresses, the kisses she dropped on his scars. "Phryne," he said, at last raising his hands to cup her face.
Her eyes were kind. "Were there other wounds?" So she was still trying to make sense of his demurral during their last encounter.
He shook his head. "I've not . . . been accustomed –"
She mistook him, of course, because he couldn't find the words that would make everything clear. "Let me give you pleasure," she said, her eyes still so damnably kind, unbuttoning his trousers and his shorts and pressing her mouth to him without hesitation or shame. His cock rose in her silken mouth, and he felt it like his body had been flooded with electricity. He had thought this a world where he would never set foot; he had thought his love to be a matter of the head and heart alone; and then . . . he could not find a single thought at all.
"This isn't much of an office, Robinson," Richards said, frankly assessing the small room. The paint was peeling, the wood floor needed waxing, and there was a water-stain in one corner of the ceiling that had only grown since the office had become his. The electric fan did little but move hot air around in waves.
"You'll hear no arguments from me," Jack said. The whole station needed a bit of spit and polish.
"And yet I find myself here week after week, month after month, in surely the most uncomfortable chair ever devised." Richards sat back, as if determined to win a battle with the inanimate object in question; Jack mentally wished him luck. "Good work on that garrotting case, could have been a messy business."
"Constable Collins had worked with the gangs before, sir, and so we were well-placed to hear that this was a private matter made to look like a declaration of turf war, which would have been nasty in this heat wave."
"Indeed." Richards kept close counsel, but Jack knew he'd made note of Hugh's name. "Incidentally, I received a telephone call from the SA Police, who thought I might want to know that a Rose Robinson has been living a quiet, law-abiding life in Adelaide."
"Yes, sir." Rosie's cousin Delia had thrown open her home once she heard what had happened, and he'd put Rosie on The Overland himself. "She has family there."
"And the friends to get her there, I see." Richards stood, giving the chair one last evil look, and gave the stack of files an approving pat. "You run a tight ship, Robinson."
"Wrong branch, sir. I was an army man."
Richards laughed. "Still had to sail home, didn't you?" He thrust his chest out as if recalling the weight of medals hung there. "You have the navy to thank for that."
"Jack?" Rosie's voice came through the line slightly muffled. "I didn't know when to call – you must be so busy –"
"How are you, Rosie?"
"Ah," she said, striving for lightness, "busy. Happy. Finally free."
She'd never lied to him, and he felt the tautness of his shoulders give a little at her words. "Good." He weighed how much to tell her, recalling the bittersweet relief that had flooded through him when she'd said, with a look half-apologetic and half-promising, that she'd found love very different the second time around. This was not the moment to tell her he'd seized a second chance himself, that with Phryne he'd discovered the maddening, satisfying force of desire.
Rosie would never stop surprising him with her bravery. "Have you found a new freedom too?" she asked. She laughed at his shocked silence. "Come on, Jack, how long have I known you? I could see it on your face the day you saw me off."
"I –" What he wouldn't give to have this conversation in person, in private, instead of on a line with some bored operator possibly listening in. He had not realised until that moment how much he still wanted Phryne to say what Rosie had said so often, that she loved him; desire alone was not enough, no matter how he tried to make do with what she could give.
"What, my Benedick unable to string together eight or nine wise words?" Rosie teased, then fell silent, evidently fearing she'd offended him. "Jack, I wish you all the best, just please don't –"
"No," he broke in, before she could let the syllables slip, denying her retreat; he could not bear the thought of her adopting a formality or distance in order to speak to him, as if they ought to be no more than strangers. "I don't. How could I ever regret you?"
DI Linnell laughed at his woebegone face when he came back up from escorting Elsie Tizard down to the cells. She'd known the way, and she'd asked for the cell closest to the stairs, claiming the most comfortable one ought to be given over for the especial use of ladies. She'd waited for something then, and it was only when he was trudging up the stairs, gingerly rotating his wrenched arm in its socket and ruefully noting that his uniform had torn, that he realised she'd been expecting him to sneer at her that she was no lady; she was still primed for a fight, even after scattering three Constables until only Jack had been left hanging on to this dervish.
DI Linnell, who cared nothing for what was between the covers of a book but who had a magnificent deadpan that Jack thought he would do well to cultivate in his turn, gave him a none-too-gentle slap on the arm. "So you survived your first encounter with the Lizard. Frightful besom, isn't she? Got a tongue that could blister paint when she's in her cups."
Jack ached all over, not least from the shame of putting hard hands on a woman old enough to be his mother, quelling her with brute strength. He shook his head when Linnell raised his eyebrows, a silent invitation to join some of the men at the club rooms. "I've got to write up my arrest report, sir," he said, and Linnell tipped his hat to him and went out.
Jack put his pen to paper and then reconsidered and rested his face on the log instead. He just needed to close his eyes for a moment, but peace eluded him. He sighed and rummaged until he found an old blanket, the wool scratchy but thick, and headed back down to the cells. Mrs. Tizard was asleep when he laid the cloth over her recumbent form, one fist closed around the locket with her boy's picture inside, her face lined but gentle rather than fierce. "No Sycorax sleeps here," he said quietly, taking refuge in language not his own; he'd seen the lengths she'd gone to in order to keep the locket in her own possession and hadn't wanted to wonder what Mum would have done under similar threat.
She opened her eyes, dim in the poor light, startling him considerably, but he settled when she smiled, apparently holding no grudge for the arrest. "But I can't do without the wicked dew," she said, snuggling under the blanket like a child. He rocked back on his heels to hear Shakespeare dropping from those lips, and laughed at himself as he sat down to write his report.
By the time he got home, he was stiff and sore, and not inclined to laughter. Tabby found him first, and drew him a blissfully hot bath. When he emerged from his soaking, his sister stood by with liniment, already wrinkling her nose in anticipation of the smell, and he fell asleep under her strong hands.
The complex flavour of pomegranate filled his mouth, overwhelming even the scent of the bath Phryne had drawn. There was foam enough to keep her body hidden, all but her shining, soapy knees and the deft fingers that plucked the seeds from the heavy fruit that lay in his cupped hand. He trailed the fingers of his free hand through the foam, thinking of Aphrodite, born in a swirl of froth, insubstantial and beautiful. Phryne's mind was apparently on other deities.
"This is how to eat a pomegranate, Jack; it's a pity Persephone never told Hades so," she said, reclining lazily and letting him feed her a seed. "In a bath, the clean-up couldn't be simpler, no tell-tale stains." Her contented words were sheer bravado – she had people to clean up for her now, and before that, she couldn't have afforded the time to peel and savour this queer fruit even if she could have found the money – and he understood she was trying again to draw him into the tub with her. "She might not have had to stay in the underworld."
He only realised he was frowning when Phryne snaked a wet arm out of the water to draw his hand closer to her and unfurl his fingers from around the fruit. "Perhaps she wanted to stay," he argued. Was she making a point about the undesirability of an ongoing commitment, Persephone's annual descent and her mother's reckless mourning? Lying in Phryne Fisher's arms had not eased his life or settled anything inside him, not when he knew very well that he had become, after all, one of her dalliances, and her knowledge that she possessed his heart would make not a blind bit of difference to the length of time she chose to keep him.
Learning the pleasures of which his body was capable had been as fraught as any other educational experience (impossible to unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain), though he supposed even Phryne would call him an apt pupil.
"Why should she wish to remain in darkness?" she asked, drawing him even closer with a soapy hand on his shoulder blade. "Unless," she said, eyes dancing with wicked mischief, "she considered Hades a man – sorry, a god – of honour?" Her mouth was as sweetly tart as the ruby fruit, and he followed along in her kiss as best he could.
"He was faithful," he said, once his mouth was his own again. It wasn't as if he could impress her so much that she'd make a permanent space for him in her life, but perhaps he could at least make her laugh. "Unlike that bounder Zeus. You never hear of Hades with any other women." And when the grim king had taken aim at last, he'd aimed high – the goddess of spring, all light and sweetness and beauty; the parallels to himself were not lost on Jack.
"Yes," she said, dismissing the claim of fidelity with a wave of her hand, standing in her bath and waiting for him to wrap her in the bath sheet. He was no king after all, just her plaything, the clumsy knave who left his fingerprints on her pristine skin in scarlet juice.
Jack crested the hill, pedalling hard. There was frost in the pearly grey air, making him glad he'd dug his old jumpers out of the wardrobe. He resolved to concentrate not on Phryne's charms but on industrious Miss Williams the next time he was at the house, in the hopes that one of the jumpers she was constantly knitting would be earmarked for him. Hugh had three already, and Bert and Cec one apiece, and he swore Bert had a propensity to strut around in front of him in his.
He laughed, then, coasting along a flat stretch of road, at what Phryne would make of his apparent desertion if he knelt at Miss Williams's feet. He decided she could say whatever she liked – she could even call him Archie with that mocking lilt in her voice – and it would not dissuade him from his course.
But when he was admitted to Phryne's house, the parlour stood empty, and he climbed the stairs, quiet and dallying, delaying his delight for the pleasure of anticipation, until it was at her feet that he knelt, tracing the bared lines of her body with hands that felt shamefully rough against her tender skin.
The knock at his door came just when he'd settled by the fire with a thick volume of John Donne's poems. Phryne stood on his front step, her white fur wrap settled around her like a barbaric collar, glowing from crown to sparkling shoes like a beam of moonlight. "Bert and Cec dropped me off, after rescuing me from the most interminable soirée. Dinner – if you can call it that – and what was supposed to be dancing. What smells divine?" She pushed past him, taking in the hallway with wide eyes, and he realised she'd never been to his house before.
Tabby had posted a tin of cardamom biscuits from Sydney, and he'd already had three. "My actual secret stash," he said, recalling the depredations he'd seen in the tin he kept in the office once he'd returned from his undercover posting. "Only for those who've been extra good."
She pouted. "Surely in my case not being actively naughty counts for something."
"Working from a deficit of virtue?" he asked, watching her prowl around the house, following her nose to his small parlour and helping herself to a biscuit from the open tin.
"You'll make it up for me, I'm sure," she said pertly, contriving to make it sound rather insulting. She groaned in delight at the taste of the biscuit, flipping the india-paper pages of his book as she chewed. He wondered if she knew Donne; he'd never heard her quote the poet. He wondered too if she'd posed deliberately in front of the fire, knowing the orange light only increased her splendour in her clinging dress. "No," she said decisively, shutting the book and laying it on the mantelpiece, "no Donne. I can't abide the man since I read that nasty little couplet."
"You were not the Phryne under discussion, I assure you," he said, ridiculously amused.
She must have caught a glimpse of his smile out of the corner of her eye; he could hear her answering smile in her voice. "Come and pick something else for tonight's entertainment," she called over her shoulder, gesturing at his bookshelves.
He came up behind her, not bothering to read the titles as he knew each volume by its place on the shelves, and she pivoted sharply, looking up at him with triumphant eyes and looping her long strand of pearls around his neck, yoking them together. "I came all this way and still haven't got a kiss," she said insinuatingly.
He lowered his head until his mouth was very near hers. "I hadn't decided on that as tonight's entertainment," he murmured, but his resolve crumbled temporarily at the sensation of her breath on his lips. He stole one quick kiss and ducked out of the loop of her necklace. "If you close up my books, you'll have to give me your words instead," he said, expecting a fire to rise in her eyes at the challenge.
She gave him instead one long, level look, dropped her fur at their feet, and turned to find his bedroom. Her movements unhurried, she stepped out of her sparkling shoes and the long loop of pearls, leaving them behind; he shed his clothes recklessly, adding to the trail. Once in his room she unclipped her stockings while he watched, transfixed by a paroxysm of lust. She raised her arms and he stepped forward to lift her dress off. Her voice, lower than usual, was the only thing that betrayed her own escalating desire. "I've dreamt of your hands," she said, and he was startled into looking at them, still holding warm silk, seeing as always the livid mark of the deep burn he'd sustained from his red-hot rifle barrel on a night of death in France.
"Just there, on my knees," she continued, guiding his emptied hands down the softness of her camiknickers to drag them off. She lay bare on his bed, offering a thousand resting places for his hands, but the orders were hers, and he settled them on her knees, kneeling at the foot of the bed. "Pushing them apart," she clarified, and he suited his action to her words. Her face turned to the side with the same sweeping arc as her knee, an action that seemed wanton and demure at once. Her eyes fluttered shut and her breath quickened as he moved, slow as honey, to press his mouth to her cunt once before sitting back on his heels.
"I've dreamt of your shoulders," she continued, relentless, sounding hypnotised though her eyes were electrified, pulling his body over hers, "those freckled shoulders" – she licked at the spots like she could lap them up – "keeping my thighs apart for your mouth." She pushed at his head with both hands and he moved willingly, letting his hands drag over her breasts as he went. She was wet, dripping with arousal, and he would be drunk on her yet. She said something while his head was between her legs – he could feel the vibrations of her speech and laughed against her flesh, just to make her cry out, her hair haloing against the pillow as she thrashed helplessly.
"Now," she gasped – that must have been what she'd said – "now, Jack," and her hips rose up to meet each of his forceful thrusts, working against him in a rhythm that matched his pounding pulse, and he was lost in her, spending endlessly, endlessly, dimly aware that her hoarse voice was still shaping words next to his ear.
"Phryne," he said when he could lift his head from her flushed breast, and she blushed anew from cheeks to toes, shyly radiant. He could not hear what she was saying, could not understand the fervent hum that might have been a prayer. "Phryne?" he asked, uncertain, trying to shift his weight off of her before she stilled him with the clutch of her hands.
Her mouth was still moving. He could not hear, the murmur too deep for intelligible sound, but he could read her lips. She quoted the Bard, then gave up talking, pressing her mouth to his, and as he kissed her, rolling them over and letting her sweet weight press him to the bed, he lingered on the words he'd read: Speak low, if you speak love.
- a very palpable hit: William Shakespeare, Hamlet V, ii
- much did they travel in the realms of gold: John Keats, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (the actual line is "Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold")
- come, poor Jackself: Gerard Manley Hopkins, "My own heart let me have more have pity on"
- by day his limbs, by night his mind: William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXVII (the actual line is "by day my limbs, by night my mind")
- lance-jack: In the S1 DVD extras (I think), Nathan Page mentions that Jack was a lance-corporal. The Wikipedia page for the term lance corporal mentions that "lance-jack" is an Australian nickname for the rank. I found a letter online written by a lance-corporal who referred to his insignia as his "stripe" and discussed his responsibilities.
- field exercises under the hot Cairo sun: According to this website, Australian troops who originally fought at Gallipoli were then sent on to France, and so that's the path Jack takes in this fic.
- Jack Spratt: From the nursery rhyme (Jack Sprat could eat no fat. / His wife could eat no lean. / And so between them both, you see, / They licked the platter clean.), the nickname plays on Jack's very lean physique.
- the autumn trees but bare ruined choirs: William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXIII (the actual line is "Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang")
- like gold to airy thinness beat: John Donne, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"
- to hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit: William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXIII
- King Cophetua: The legend of the king who married the beggar-maid includes, according to Wikipedia, the detail that the king was not sexually attracted to women until he fell in love with the beggar-maid.
- extreme and scattering bright: John Donne, "Air and Angels"
- He took her hand as if it were the lost sugar-tongs: In Chapter 10 of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, John Thornton sees Mr. Hale playfully use his daughter Margaret's fingers as his sugar-tongs: She handed him his cup of tea with the proud air of an unwilling slave; but her eye caught the moment when he was ready for another cup; and he almost longed to ask her to do for him what he saw her compelled to do for her father, who took her little finger and thumb in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. Mr. Thornton saw her beautiful eyes lifted to her father, full of light, half-laughter and half-love, as this bit of pantomime went on between the two, unobserved, as they fancied, by any.
- got by chance, kept by art: John Donne, "Elegy XVI: The Expostulation" (the actual line is "For though 'tis got by chance, 'tis kept by art")
- go gladder than you came: John Donne, "Epithalamion Made at Lincoln's Inn"
- a brightness unobscured: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second April VII
- signing Brooks's petition: According to Wikipedia, a Constable William Thomas Brooks sent around a petition two years before the strike actually happened.
- you are still my hunger's rarest food: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Four Sonnets III (the actual line is "Were you not still my hunger's rarest food")
- Were you not lovely I would leave you now: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Four Sonnets III
- Bodies unclothed must be / To taste whole joys: John Donne, "Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed"
- O sweet, O heavy-lidded, O my love: Edna St. Vincent Millay, "When we are old and these rejoicing veins"
- He had yearned for this shower for nearly a month . . . desperate to kill the vermin living on him: I took my information from the Imperial War Museum in London, which right now has some exhaustive exhibits on WWI and this website.
- The rites for which I love you are bereft me: William Shakespeare, Othello I, iii (the actual line is "The rites for which I love him are bereft me")
- The green envelope was at last his: According to the IWM exhibit, British soldiers might get a green envelope; I extrapolated that to other Empire soldiers: Occasionally soldiers were given a green envelope in which they could seal letters expressing more personal intimate thoughts. These would only be read and censored at base by officers who did not know the writer.
- like the adulterous lovers of The Inferno, unable to stop and touch: Dante's Inferno, specifically Francesca and Paolo, the adulterous lovers punished in the second circle of hell for lust.
- Southern Cross . . . Cassiopeia: Wikipedia says that the Southern Cross or Crux "is exactly opposite to Cassiopeia on the celestial sphere, and therefore it cannot appear in the sky with the latter at the same time," so Cassiopeia seemed like a fitting symbol of Jack's confusion.
- The Strombos horn sounded from at least three miles away . . . he could see the yellow-green cloud poisoning the air . . . the harsh rattle warning of a gas attack: The IWM exhibit said that the British Strombos horn, which warned of major gas attacks, could be heard nine miles away, and by May 1916 Strombos horns were positioned every quarter of a mile along the front line. The British also used a gas rattle to warn about gas attacks (the Germans used a gas gong).
- he felt a hard, sharp blow like he'd been struck by an incendiary brick . . . all of them tinted strangely blue: I borrowed this description from a first-hand account made by a British Captain, who wrote of getting shot and seeing the world tinted blue.
- an Alexandrian sword of virtue, ready to slice any Gordian knot: No one could untie the Gordian knot, so Alexander the Great sliced it with his sword, which is either cheating or thinking outside the box.
- he'd written his adoration in huge cloudy symbols of a high romance: John Keats, "When I Have Fears"
- Divorce. The laws keep changing, and I have no intention of accusing you of anything, so desertion is our best course.: Some information on divorce in Australia.
- his book, laden with her own love: Alan Seeger, "With a Copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets on Leaving College" (the actual line is "his book, laden with mine own love")
- I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing IV, i
- I do love nothing in the world so well as you: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing IV, i
- one of the American "men of bronze": There was an African-American unit on the front lines in France, known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Their French allies called them the "men of bronze." See The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks & Canaan White.
- one autumnal face: John Donne, "Elegy IX: The Autumnal"
- Richmond Town Hall: Richmond Town Hall was built in the 1890s and remodeled between the wars.
- He remembered how annoyed he'd been by the B she'd added to the gleaming 221 near her front door: The most famous consulting detective is, of course, Sherlock Holmes, who lived with John Watson at 221B Baker Street in London.
- this woman with a ripe and smiling lip: Augusta Webster, "A Castaway" (the actual line is "a woman with a ripe and smiling lip")
- he kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth: Christina Rossetti, "Goblin Market" (the actual line is "She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth")
- to bear her body's weight upon his breast: Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Sonnet XLI: I, being born a woman and distressed" (the actual line is "To bear your body’s weight upon my breast")
- Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare: Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare"
- black is the colour of my true love's hair: A traditional folk-song, most likely originating in Scotland.
- he'd put Rosie on The Overland himself: The Overland is a passenger train running between Adelaide and Melbourne, in service since 1887.
- my Benedick unable to string together eight or nine wise words: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing III, ii (the actual line is "I have studied eight or nine wise words to speak to you")
- No Sycorax sleeps here . . . But I can't do without the wicked dew: Sycorax is, in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Caliban's mother. She's described as a witch, and Elsie turns the phrase "wicked dew" (used in the play as something Sycorax wields) to mean alcohol.
- impossible to unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain: John Keats, "Lamia"
- that nasty little couplet: John Donne's poem, in its entirety, reads "Thy flattering picture, Phryne, is like thee, / Only in this, that you both painted be."
- Speak low, if you speak love: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing II, i
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/445625.html.