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Hair of the Dog

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Jack was nursing a cup of coffee and a hangover in his parlour when there was a knock on his door. He briefly contemplated ignoring it, but sighed and stood instead; he needn’t have bothered, because there was the sound of a key in the latch, and Alaric Wildt stepped through the door.

“Jackie!” he boomed, holding up the newspaper in his hand. “You’ve made the papers again.”

Jack could just imagine--four missing girls had been found, and he would be the face of it. He crossed the room, grabbed the paper from Will’s hands, then recrossed the room to shove the damned thing into the fire. Having stood beside Phryne the day before as she’d come apart in grief had rather destroyed any sense of victory in the discovery.

“No celebratory biscuits, then?” Will said, holding up a tin.

Jack scowled and took the tin, trodding into the kitchen to put the kettle on. When he returned to the parlour Will was sitting in one of the armchairs, browsing a casefile Jack had left on the table. He had to stop being so careless.

“You should get your Miss Fisher to look at this one,” Will said, not looking up.

Jack set the tray with tea things on the table and retreated to his own armchair, token protests of She’s not my Miss Fisher and I do occasionally solve my own cases dying on his lips.

“What are you doing here?” he asked instead.

“Is that any way to greet your oldest friend?”

“When it’s you, yes.”

Will laughed loudly, setting the casefile aside.

“Your court date was…”

“The other day,” Jack confirmed, too hungover to do the math; the days had blurred.

“I’m sorry, mate.”

Jack gave him a wan smile and picked up his teacup; the memory of Phryne standing before him, willing to offer him a night of comfort even if she didn’t know why, even with her own shadows hanging round her, asserted itself, and he found it hard to breathe. He had been so close to succumbing, despite all the reasons it was a bad idea; thankfully fate had intervened and he did not have to learn what it was like to be that man.

Will, completely unaware of the nature of Jack’s thoughts, gave him a teasing grin.

“You know, Eva’s still not married…”

“The divorce isn’t final yet,” Jack said; the gap between emotional and legal dissolution of marriage was vast, it seemed. “And I’m not marrying your sister.”

“Like she’d have you,” Will snorted in reply. “But what about your Miss Fisher? Even I heard about that incident at the cafe.”

It had not been Jack’s best diversion, but it had certainly spread through the constabulary as a source of amusement. Jack scowled again.

“She’s burying her sister this week, Will. It’s really not the time to be thinking about it.”

“But you are thinking about it?”

“I didn’t say that. It’s complicated.”

Complicated was a slight understatement, but Jack had no intention of elaborating. The events of the last week had confirmed that he might be attracted to Phryne Fisher, but he had no intention of throwing away their friendship to pursue it. He just had to ensure that attraction didn’t develop beyond their occasional flirtations. Thankfully, Will didn’t push the matter, just helped himself to a sandwich from the tea tray and shrugged.

“I want to hear about this case,” he said. “It was some damned good police work, from what I hear. The papers are hailing your heroic actions.”

Because dismissing evidence of Foyle’s presence, allowing a teenaged girl to get kidnapped, getting conked on the head, and showing up just in time to catch the actual hero of the day before the drugs kicked in was something to applaud.

“As usual, things are far more heroic from the outside,” Jack said, bitterness he usually fought back tinging his voice.

“It’s four families with answers, Jack. Bluster all you like, but for those families it means quite a bit.”

The problem was that Jack knew exactly how much it meant, to have hope destroyed on one hand and some small measure of comfort in bringing their loved one home on the other. He could still feel Phryne’s wrist in his hand, hear that first wail of grief as she broke.

“You’re getting soft on me, mate,” Jack said, voice cracking slightly.

Will looked at him for a moment.

“You’re right,” he finally said. “Where’s the whiskey?”