Chapter 18: Rainbow
The lake glittered in the warming sunlight, seemingly unaware of the horrors it had lately been backdrop to. Jack Robinson got out of his car, a bag in hand that on movement jingled quietly. A new butler, this time of the old and stuffy kind, showed him through to the terrace where the lady of the house was holding her pretty face into the Australian sun, a cat rolled up on her lap, snoring quietly. The light breeze rustled through the leaves of the Gumtree that was throwing its shadow onto the stones.
She opened her eyes.
"Ah, Inspector Robinson. Is Phryne feeling better?"
"She is perfectly fine. She has just taken a few days off from detecting on strict orders from her doctor." And her lover, he finished the sentence quietly in his head.
Pauline looked at him with a knowing smile, offering him a seat. Robinson let himself drop on a chair uncomfortably and set down the bag.
"I won't stay long, Mrs. Denier, I just wanted to bring you back the valuables Mr. Binley and Miss White have stolen from you."
A shadow crept over his opposites face at the mention of her former friends betrayal.
"It is still hard to believe how wrong one can be in the confidantes she chooses." Pauline finally uttered thoughtfully. The Inspector nodded at this with a grim expression. It must have been a rather harsh week for the ladies confidence in humanity. An obviously tone-deaf bird started singing in the gumtree as if to comment on this.
"I miss him." Jack heard her say, ripping him from his thoughts. She smiled at the Inspector. "Simon. Even more than my husband actually, though it is unforgivable what he did. It is curious how you can grow accustomed to someone being in your life. Until they are not."
Jack made a sound at this that could have been interpreted as agreement and pushed himself out of his chair.
"I'm afraid, I have to get back, Mrs. Denier. But please look through your things and let me know if they are complete."
"Jack?" He froze and looked at her in disbelief. It was the first time she had ever referred to him as anything but a policeman. "That is your name, isn't it?" She asked and he could do nothing but nod, while he sank back down.
"You know, on the night of my birthday I was watching Phryne quite closely. I was curious. She hasn't brought a date with her ever before." She said conversationally. Inspector Robinson stayed quiet. He had no idea where this was leading, but he could feel his hands go sweaty.
"And she danced and flirted with all kinds of men." Pauline continued.
"Very observant of you, thank you." Jack mumbled under his breath, once again making an attempt to get up.
"But her eyes were searching out you all night. Like you were her anchor."
The DI looked at Mrs. Denier as if she had just slapped him with a piece of rainbow. A smile flitted over the widows pretty face. "And I remember thinking to myself, that this police officer might just be the one man who could settle down Phryne Fisher."
The Detective-Inspector nodded at this, letting it sink in. Wordlessly, but his mind full of thoughts, he finally managed to get onto his wobbly knees and walk to the door where he turned around with a small smile.
"Thank you, Mrs. Denier. But I believe one might as well try to tame the Pacific Ocean."
Miss Fisher watched from the window of her parlour as the Inspector got out of his car, lifting a small suitcase from the back seat. Her heart leaped in her chest, even though he stood for a second, seemingly pondering if he was really willing to go through with this.
In fact, Jack Robinson was quite aware that he had little choice in the matter. The last few months had made one thing quite clear: Returning to his old life was not an option. Miss Fisher, with her hurricane lifestyle and her house full of strays would have to deal with one more lost soul to take care of. With resolve he pushed through the red iron gate and walked towards the door that would once again bring him home, when he got side tracked by the young man that, his cast outstretched onto a second chair, sat on Miss Fisher's veranda, reading a book. Ryan Binley looked up with a friendly greeting. Jack wasn't quite sure if he liked the fact that the thief didn't seem to be particularly worried about a police officer standing in front of him. Truth be told, he had very nearly forgotten that the kid was still staying with Miss Fisher. Damn.
It was the lady of the house herself that opened up and for a moment, Jack's courage left him.
"So you are moving back in then, Jack?" She asked, her voice unreadable.
"If I am still welcome."
The Inspector realised that he was holding his breath till her mouth cracked into a smile.
She stepped aside to let him in and he stood lost in her hall, wondering just how he had ended up here.
"In fact, I will help you unpack." She said, taking his hat and coat from him before grabbing his hand and pulling him up the stairs. When the Inspector stepped back into his bedroom he breathed a sigh of relief and joy. He had missed this place.
"Welcome home, Jack."
Phryne's voice was no more than a whisper near his neck but the Inspector could feel himself responding on more than one level to her nearness. There was a gooey feeling in the pit of his stomach her words had caused. The hair on the back of his neck was standing to attention when he turned to wrap his arms around her. Miss Fisher was slightly surprised by this embrace, but nevertheless very pleased. Things were stirring back into the right direction and so she dared to place her own hands onto his back and put all the affection she felt for him into her eyes, looking up at him. The smile that answered her spoke of so much love and happiness that she felt her stomach flip. She stretched up and brushed a faint kiss onto his lips that he returned with equal tenderness.
The Detective-Inspector cleared his throat and let go of her, still smiling.
"So, after we have cleared that tiny detail, we should probably have a chat about your other house guest."
"Ryan? He's recovering well. I believe in a few weeks he will be back to his old self."
Jack raised his eyebrows, while opening his suitcase.
"His old self that is a jewel-stealing stable hand."
Inspector Robinson shook his head at this, sitting down at the edge of the bed and watching her with humorous eyes.
"Phryne, he is a criminal and he will have to be charged for stealing from his employers."
She pulled her lips into a pout.
"He is barely a man, Jack, and dirt-poor. Alone in the world with his mother. He just wanted a piece of the cake. Crumbs really."
The policeman sighed silently. What had happened to justice not being about their wants? Even though he had to admit that her soft heart for the weak had always been something incredibly endearing about the woman infront of him.
"So what do you propose we do, Miss Fisher? Keep him here?"
To his frustration her face lit up.
"That is a great idea. I do actually need a gardener. And from what Mr. Butler tells me, Mr. Binley is very good with his hands."
The lady detective saw the barely noticeable flinch of the Inspectors brows at her suggestive joke a moment too late. His voice had dropped a few degrees when he spoke again.
"Miss Fisher, there are laws. You can't always get everything the way you want it."
"But what if I like getting things the way I want them?" Phryne said in a sultry tone of voice and closed the gap between them. But her words had not the intended effect. If anything the distance between them had grown bigger, she realised with a start. She kept needing to remind herself that Jack's mind didn't work like most men's.
The Inspector escaped from her grasp by getting up, starting to unfold shirts and juggle hangers. Phryne watched him for a while in silence.
"Are we going to talk about this?" She finally asked.
"What is it that you would like to discuss, Miss Fisher?"
"The crease in your brow you get every time I so much as look at a man."
He stopped dead. Then he resumed his work at a slower pace. She could tell his fingers were shaking.
"You are who you are, Phryne and I will never ask you to give that up." He eventually spoke in the direction of his cabinet. "I promised you this and I am a man of my word."
Miss Fisher didn't find anything to say. It had never occurred to her that he might still be concerning himself with a conversation that had happened months ago, when she had attempted to defend her frail freedom from the one man she sensed could bring it to its knees. It had taken Phryne Fisher a long time to chose between those two cherished things; mostly, because she had always been quite aware that she could not have both. And when she had finally decided to give herself to Jack, she had done so in the knowledge that being with anyone else would break his heart. Miss Fisher had no intention of letting any harm come to it.
She suddenly realised that she had just assumed he knew. Her dalliances had stopped, not the harmless flirtations, because those were hers to have, but no other man had touched her sheets, her heart or even her lips since the day Phryne had let her defences against Jack Robinson fall down. Marcel Denier had tried and paid a lot more for it than she could have imagined. And now Jack stood here, still folding clothes into his cabinet in an infuriatingly tidy manner in the firm believe she would betray him at the blink of an eye, and that he had no right to stop her. Maybe, talking was underrated after all.
"Jack?" She laid a hand on his shoulder and felt him stiffen under her fingers. "What are you saying?"
"Don't worry, I will learn to cope." He uttered, his voice sounding suspiciously rough, but not convincing. "Eventually."
In fact, Jack wasn't at all sure if he would. But what he was very certain of was, that he could not walk away without breaking his own heart. He was trapped between a rock and a hard place and had been ever since Miss Fisher had swept through his door. There was no way out. So he had resolved to stick around as long as he could bear it and hope to god, that it would get easier with time. Maybe it was worth it – maybe not; but there was nowhere to hide from the fact that he couldn't seem to breath without her.
"Jack." She tried again. Softly. Right behind him. He let his lashes flutter shut and leaned against her warm body, felt her arms wrap around him. A lost tear slipped down his cheek.
Another time she whispered his name. He couldn't answer; no words would squeeze through the tightness of his throat. When her hands pulled away, he barely repressed a groan at the loss. Phryne grabbed his shoulders and turned him to face her. Reluctantly Jack opened his eyes, aware that she could see it all. Her own were full of worry and tenderness and it was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. He could hear the emotion and truth in her voice, when she spoke.
"This, what we have. Us. It's precious. I would never sacrifice that for something that crumbles to ashes in the morning light."
Jack stared at her, lost for words. Every single feeling in his body was fighting for the upper hand. None won. His confusion must have been obvious to her, as she reached out and ran her fingers through his hair, dishevelling it in the way she had always loved to.
"I'm not giving up who I am, Jack." His breath hitched even though she was smiling. "But things change, the world changes. I can make room for you."
He gulped heavily at this. Swallowed down the bitter taste that had lingered in his throat for the last days. She grabbed his hand that was still hanging weakly by his side, and with both her own guided it to lay flat on her chest, locking their eyes as if to underline her words. He could feel her heartbeat underneath his shaking fingertips and understood. He was not the only one who could not run.
When his lips finally found hers, their kiss was bittersweet, tender and breathtaking. Jack Robinson felt his doubts fall away, the ever present pain in his chest melt like chocolate in the sun. The emotion was surprising, astonishing and when he pulled back to look at her, something had changed in his face. There was a new softness to his features that Phryne had never seen before and it touched her so deeply that she thought her heart might stop then and there.
But he gave her no time for this; his warm, strong hand took hers and with a smile that she would have very much considered sultry, if it hadn't been given by the ever proper Jack Robinson, he pulled her to his bed, dragging her down beside himself. He weaved his fingers through her black hair, gently guiding her head in for another kiss and closed the gap again. He tasted of oak and vanilla and so much more and Phryne wanted to melt into his tender lips and the arms wrapping themselves around her. For a while they were lying together silently, while their eyes shared all their quiet little secrets that they had never had the time or guts to tell and probably never would. She felt his fingertips follow her frame not in search of anything but reminding himself that she was there and that she was his. It tingled.
"You know, Jack..." She grinned, when her appetite for this form of intimacy was sated; "...once you got a woman into your bed, you are allowed to take her clothes off."
The tiny grin that she so dearly loved, snuck onto his face.
"Is that a challenge, Miss Fisher?"
"I rather think, most people would consider it tradition."
He pulled himself up onto his elbow and leaned over to kiss her again, this time with a bit more vigour, mumbling under his breath: "I wasn't aware that you are keen on traditions."
"There you see, Jack, you still have plenty to learn about me."
So they followed tradition in a slow and gentle manner, taking all the time in the world to taste and tease each other, make each other squirm and, as an attentive observer would have noticed with some confusion, also giggle. The afternoon slipped by in a haze of love making. When they finally ended up covered in expensive, cream coloured sheets and a thin film of sweat, their limbs wrapped around each other with the happy glow that is reserved for true - and repeated - lovers, Jack realised that the art of taming an ocean lies in not even trying.