"Jo, you look amazing!" Lucas didn't even attempt to hide his gawk as he took in her dress, hair, and the rest of her ensemble. "I mean, you always look amazing, but now you look amazing in a really Austen-y way."
"Thanks?" She wasn't sure how to take that.
"Lucas, there is no victim to examine," Henry pointed out. "You didn't need to come all this way."
"That's what I told him," Hanson said, rolling his eyes as he returned to their circle. He'd been speaking with local PD, arranging to have James Gibson transferred into Eleventh Precinct custody.
"Like I would miss the chance to see you two all dolled up? No way." Lucas looked them both over again and shook his head in appreciation. "You are seriously killing this look. Oh! We should totally dress up for Halloween this year! I've got a steampunk Dr. Frankenstein cosplay that will blow your mi…" He trailed off at the looks he was getting from Henry, Jo and Hanson combined. "Message received: save it for the party. You're all coming this year, right?" They were spared from answering when a woman passing by caught Lucas's attention. "Hey, I think I met her at a LARP game last year. She must have lost my number." He moved to intercept.
Hanson glanced around. "Quite the cast of characters you've got here." He checked his notebook. "Have either of you seen Ms. Simonson around? I need to confirm that we've talked to everyone in the house." Jo pointed out the spot against one wall where their nineteenth-century expert was slouching and texting unabashedly on her smartphone. Hopkins House had officially re-entered the twenty-first century.
Contrary to appearances, Simonson hadn't fled from the confrontation with James Gibson; she'd run to her office to call the police. They had already been waiting nearby thanks to Hanson's alert, and at her report of an officer in need they'd come running. Of course, they had arrived to find a sullen Gibson already handcuffed and under Jo's close watch.
Caroline was also in custody. She'd been surprised to storm off only to find the police waiting on the edge of the property, but with no money, no car, and only ball slippers on her feet, she'd seemed more relieved than anything else to catch a ride in the back of a squad car. The contingent from the Eleventh had arrived an hour or so later to find the drama over and nothing left to do but help take dozens of witness statements.
The entry hall was filled with an eclectic mix of Austenites and police, and both uniformed and plainclothes officers were standing in groups of twos and threes with costumed guests. It reminded Jo of some kind of anthropological study or cultural exchange. She and Henry still looked like two of the native villagers, but instead of mingling with them like before, the other villagers were now looking at them with a certain amount of caution and awe, murmuring to each other but no longer to them.
Henry noticed the direction of her gaze and guessed her thoughts. "I believe our status has been downgraded from 'guests' to 'invaders.' "
"Nah, they're just intimidated." They turned to see Graham and Sophie Martin. It was Graham who had offered that insight.
"Don't forget busy gossiping," Sophie added, "and one-upping each other's stories. This is the most excitement we've ever had at The Austen Experience. Trust me, they love it."
"Besides," Graham added, "police or not, no one is blind enough to think you're an outsider around here, Henry. No offense, Joann—I mean, Detective."
"None taken," she said sincerely. "And please, call me Jo." She patted her partner on the arm. "When it comes to living in the wrong century, Henry here is the real deal."
Henry accepted the tease with a small nod. "It's true that I have done my share of personal research in the time period." Jo suppressed a grin, and Henry turned to Graham. "In fact, I've been meaning to ask you: does the Martin family come from Spanish ancestry?"
"Yeah, actually, we do. It used to be Martín, but one branch of the family emigrated to England and anglicized it. How did you know?"
Henry smiled. "Family resemblance."
While he shared what he knew with Graham (within reason) of the remarkable Martin family, Sophie pulled Jo aside and walked with her in the other direction.
"When you say that you and Henry are 'partners,' is that just a work thing, or…?" She trailed off, her question obvious.
"It's a work thing," Jo answered quickly out of habit, but then she sighed and confided, "It's a complicated thing. I don't honestly know what we are right now."
"If you don't mind a little advice from a near stranger, forget about complicated. Make it simple. Get changed, take that man home, and show him how you feel—without the fan this time—because honey, it's obvious that he feels the same way."
From across the room, Graham was beckoning for his wife to join him; Hanson had a few more questions for them. She turned to Jo and gave her a quick hug. "Thanks for everything."
Jo returned the hug. "It was a pleasure to meet you both. Take care of yourself."
"Maybe we'll see you two again at one of these things—as yourselves next time." With a wink, Sophie went to join her husband.
Henry returned to stand by Jo once more, and she realized that they were alone (more or less) for the first time since that kiss. With everything that had happened since then, the intensity and then panic she'd felt at the time had faded to merely a heightened awareness of him whenever he was near. "Merely"—ha.
"Well, Detective, was 1811 as trying as you'd feared?"
Jo looked back at him, appreciating one last time how well he wore this century. Rather than answer the question, she asked, "Was it hard for you, coming back? Especially knowing that the twenty-first century was lurking just past the garden?"
He cocked his head thoughtfully. "It was somewhat bittersweet, but I believe the sweet outweighed the bitter." He gestured to the strange scene before them. "After all, we solved two murders and caught the killer." He turned back to face her. "And I very much enjoyed being here with you."
There was no mistaking his stress on the last two words, or the way he held her gaze firmly in his own. Maybe Sophie was right; maybe this should be simple. They were here this weekend because they had chemistry. That meant they solved cases better than any other pair in the precinct. That also meant they shared an attraction that sometimes led them to make out in darkened corridors. Maybe it was time to stop ignoring that second thing.
"I'm glad I was here with you, too." They stood there for a moment, somewhere between two centuries, just the two of them.
Finally, Henry offered his arm. "May I accompany you back to the room? It's time we packed up and went home."
Jo looped her arm through his. "On one condition: we're stopping for gyros on the way. I'm buying."
County Somerset, 1811
Henry managed to finagle a private moment with Rosa before she stepped into her coach.
He bowed politely over her hand, and for the benefit of nearby departing guests he said in a strong voice, "I wish you a safe journey back to London, Miss Martin." For her ears only, he added, "And I wish you luck."
"Thank you, Henry," she said. "It may take time, but I will uncover the truth, however painful it may be."
"You can rely on me if ever you need help. I may express myself with rather more reserve than you, but I abhor the slave trade just as much."
"I've never doubted that." Her smile was sincere, but to Henry's eyes she looked rather sad. Perhaps it was the thought of her father's possible involvement that made her melancholy.
The coach was at last packed and ready. Henry handed her in, and a footman shut the door. Rosa leaned out through the open window. "Whatever happens, Dr. Morgan, never doubt that I believe in you. Never doubt that you are a good man."
The coach lurched forward, and he bowed a final farewell, puzzled. Whatever did she mean by that? Frowning at the vehicle's receding shape brought no clarity, so Henry attributed the comment to Miss Rosa Martin's continuing mystique, then he turned and went back into the house.
Manhattan, New York City
Sunday passed quietly above Abe's Antiques. Henry had arrived home well after midnight on Saturday, so the next morning Abe made brunch while Henry caught him up on everything that had happened at Hopkins House—well, almost everything. His son asked a few pointed questions about their cover story and sleeping arrangements, but Henry kept his answers vague. He realized that by doing so, he as good as admitted that something had happened between Jo and himself, but Abe didn't push. He only grinned and served up the frittata, apparently satisfied that things were progressing. Henry suspected that his son didn't want to spook him by pushing too hard. What Abe didn't realize was that Henry was ready to be pushed a little.
He wouldn't deny that he had enjoyed spending the weekend in 1811; the slower pace, the manners, and the attention to detail were all things he missed in the modern age. However, the thing he had enjoyed the most was spending the weekend with Jo. He had found unexpected pleasure in showing her his "home," imperfect recreation though it had been. The pleasure he'd found in their accidental moments needed no explanation. It didn't matter what century she inhabited: she was smart, and strong, and beautiful. Quite simply, she was remarkable.
Back in May, she had accepted his secret with surprise and a little anger at past deceptions, but also with all the fortitude and loyalty he should have expected. Months had passed since then, and the truth hadn't driven her away. They were still partners, still friends, and every day it was harder to ignore that something more was growing. Letting go of Abigail was one thing, but was he ready for the inevitable pain of putting his immortal heart in mortal hands again? Jo was a remarkable woman. Was he ready to do her justice?
It was time to at least ask the questions. He was ready for that much. Maybe they could seek the answers together.
"Look who I found on our doorstep." Jo followed Abe up the stairs. He proceeded into the kitchen to put away his bag of groceries, and she turned to Henry where he sat in his favorite chair.
"Good evening, Jo." He set his scotch on the end table and stood up to greet her. "How are you enjoying your return to the here and now?"
"Well, it only took me five minutes to get dressed this morning." She indicated her jeans and v-neck tee shirt, as well as the hair that fell casually over her shoulders. "Of course, after that I was stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes. I'll admit, each century has its advantages." She stood before him now, a bag dangling from one hand.
"Elaborate gowns may not be your preferred style, but for the record, you looked stunning."
She smiled self-consciously. "Thanks. You clean up pretty good yourself. Any Jane Austen heroine would be proud to have you."
Henry paused a moment and seemed to consider his response before saying, "And what about undercover weekend warriors? What do they think?"
So much for small talk. Her first instinct was to defer and change the subject. Sure, he was immortal, and that complicated things, but the real issue was the way she felt around him, off-balance and so aware, and it was only getting worse. This impossible man had somehow become the most real thing in her life. She hadn't felt this way since Sean, and that was more than a little terrifying. Terrifying, and exhilarating.
She made a decision. It was time to stop ignoring, stop deferring. Either they had something or they didn't.
"The weekenders think you look pretty good in pantaloons." She gave him an exaggerated once-over, just to own it, and to give herself an escape hatch if needed. Ha ha, only kidding. See you at work?
"And that's my cue." Jo and Henry both turned in surprise; they had forgotten Abe was there. "If you're going to talk about Henry's pantaloons, I'm going over to Jerry's for poker night."
"No, Abe, you don't need to go..."
Abe waved off her protests as he headed for the stairs. "Don't be silly! You two have a lot to talk about. Don't wait up, Pops."
Just like that, they were alone. Henry turned back to her, and they laughed a little awkwardly at the hasty and blatant set-up.
"May I offer you a drink?"
She felt suddenly nervous. "No, thanks. I just stopped by to return this." She reached into her bag and pulled out a flat, square jewelry box, offering it to him. He took it, opening the lid to reveal blue and clear gemstones winking gently in the evening light. The fond look on his face confirmed her suspicions.
"That's not really costume jewelry, is it?" When he looked up with a pathetic attempt at surprise, she added, "Caroline wasn't the only person to comment."
"It was a wedding gift from my father to my mother," he admitted. He ran one finger along the central blue stone, arranging the piece gently in its resting place. "I bought it at auction before I came to New York."
"I don't suppose they had cubic zirconia back then."
"Sapphire and diamonds."
She decided not to ask him how much it was worth. "Henry, I'm honored you wanted me to wear it, but why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't think you would accept it if you knew—and you wore it so well." He lifted his head, and the way he was looking at her, she might still have been wearing the ball gown and necklace instead of a t-shirt and jeans.
"It really is beautiful." Jo looked down at the heirloom, then back at Henry. He hadn't mentioned it out loud, but Gibson's venom about the spoils of the slave trade was burning like slow acid in the silence. "Were they in love, your mother and father? I know that wasn't always the norm back then."
He smiled, and his face held far-distant memories. "Yes, I believe they loved each other very much."
"Then I'm still honored." She reached out to place her hand over his as he held the box. "Your father's mistakes don't erase that love. It sounds like he bought this without blood money, anyway. We're allowed to have good memories of flawed people, Henry. There's no other kind."
"Thank you." He gently closed the case and set it on the table, then lifted his eyes back to her. "Thank you for reminding me. I need that sometimes."
The moment felt so honest and safe that it gave Jo the strength to forge ahead before she could change her mind.
"Speaking of reminders, we should talk about yesterday morning…and maybe that thing in the hallway."
"Yes, we should." Jo wasn't imagining the hint of smolder that returned to his eyes at the reference to their kiss, but he didn't start there. "Jo, the way we woke up—it truly was unconscious."
"I know," she rushed in, wanting to assure him that whatever she'd said in frustration, she didn't really think he'd taken advantage of her.
He cut her off. "The thing is, it was only unconscious in the beginning. Once I was awake, I still didn't move. I didn't want to."
She took a deep breath and let it out. "I didn't want to move either."
"It's only natural to seek comfort when we wake up next to someone." His words offered an escape route, even if his face told a different story.
"Sure—if it's the right someone."
She waited. He held her gaze, but he didn't dive into the opening she'd left. Maybe this was all the progress she could expect from Henry in one day.
"I should go. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Yes, tomorrow." He reached out and took her right hand, but he didn't shake it. He held it flat, palm down, cradling her fingers and stroking them lightly with his thumb. "Jo, I want you to know something."
In answer, he bent his head and brought her hand to his lips. He lingered just below her knuckles, his lips soft and warm, until he lifted his head to meet her eyes.
There was no mistaking his meaning. In 1811 it would have been a completely scandalous gesture. Even here in the present, Jo could feel her heart racing at the heat and intimacy he had packed into a simple hand-kiss. Plus, he was giving her that look: the one that made her show up on his doorstep instead of flying off with Isaac. The one that made her want to get lost in Paris with him.
"There's no hurry. I've got all the time in the world. Goodbye, Joanna." It was his farewell to their cover story, and an invitation to something real, when she was ready.
"Good night, Henry." She turned to leave. She even took a few steps, but it didn't feel right. They weren't done here.
It was time to admit what she wanted.
She stopped abruptly and turned back. Henry had been following her to the door, and he pulled up short, face to face. She ran a hand through her hair. "You know, you may be willing to keep dancing around for another year, or thirty, but I'm not. I'm not looking forward to seeing you at work tomorrow and pretending that work is the only thing on my mind. I'm not excited about all the questions we'll answer not quite truthfully, or all the lying we'll do to ourselves so we don't have to deal with what's happening. It'll be complicated, and I'm getting exhausted just thinking about it."
"What do you suggest we do?" His question was equal parts caution and hope.
She took a step forward. "Simplify."
The question in his eyes turned to dawning realization, and he took a step to meet her halfway. They both leaned in until they she could feel his breath against her lips. They paused there for a heartbeat or two, taking in the moment before. Each of them felt the other smile a little, and then the moment before was over.
At first, their lips were the only place they were touching. They explored slowly, intentionally, mapping out the contours. Eventually his hands came up to frame her face, and her hands reached out to lightly grip his waist. They stayed that way for long minutes, content for now to use only lips and tongues to declare their intentions. What an archaic way to put it, Jo thought, and smiled. It was perfect.
She broke the kiss and looked at him. He smiled back.
"You're saying this is simpler than what we were before?" Her smile widened at his question, because the time before was already past tense, already a fond history.
"Yes. And no." She backed away from him and stepped deeper into his apartment. She slipped off her shoes, sat down on the loveseat, and tucked her feet under her, looking for all the world like she was planning to stay a while. Maybe forever. "I think I'll have that drink after all."
Henry grinned and bowed deeply. "As the lady wishes."
A/N: Well, we made it! I was surprised to realize last chapter that this is now the longest fanfic I've ever written. Thank you all so, so much for reading, reviewing, following, and generally being part of the loveliest little fandom on the interwebs. I hope you've enjoyed reading half as much as I enjoyed writing it.
If the muses cooperate, I plan to participate in my first NaNoWriMo during the month of November, which probably means little to no fanfic writing (any other crazy people doing this? PM me! Let's commiserate!), but I'll be back eventually. In the meantime, maybe I'll see you around on Tumblr when I'm procrastinating. DFTBA!