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Grappled Souls

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dear girl

How i was crazy how i cried when i heard

over time

and tide and death

Leaping

Sweetly

your voice

–Your Little Voice

---------------

The first time was, unsurprisingly, at a crime scene.

Jack surveyed the setting before him, not for the first time. He and Collins had returned to the scene of the crime - the horse stable located on the Mathers’ estate - to reexamine it for clues they might have missed in the dark the night before. So far, nothing jumped out at him, except that the horses were more active during the day, and the smell had not improved. He supposed that was what happened when you killed the only groom. The smell actually reminded hIm of his childhood, when he had helped take care of his grandfather’s farm horse during the summer. He didn’t miss the odor, but he did miss the horse.

Donning gloves, he had just begun sifting through the hay around the sides of the barn when something shiny caught his eye.

“Constable, a bag, please.”

Hugh rushed over with the requested item. Jack gently placed his find, a stiletto dagger, into the bag.

“Do you think it’s the murder weapon, sir?”

“Given its proximity to the crime scene and the dried blood, I’d say that’s a likely guess.”

Hugh looked at it more closely as Jack removed his gloves. “Looks like there’s some initials on it. Might be a monogram. Do you think the killer might return for it, sir?”

Which was, precisely, when the killer returned for it.

Or, to describe the situation more in line with due process, an individual who would remain innocent until proven guilty entered the stable, took one look at the two police officers examining the knife, turned around and started sprinting through the field towards the woods.

Jack observed him with cool eyes and immediately surveyed the situation like the skilled tactician he was.

Well, Jack, you could just run after him, he can’t be that much faster than you, and his head start is minimal. Or….

Jack looked at the horse immediately to his left, already saddled from before their arrival.

Come on, Jack, both will get you there, but this way will be far more fun.

Tossing his hat to the side, Jack jumped up on the horse and gave chase, surprising himself with his adept muscle memory and easily overtaking the suspect before he reached the cover of trees.

Buck Duane, eat your heart out.

---------------

Jack looked at the invitation. A wedding. In Bendigo. In November.

Not his idea of a good time.

He tapped the card against his desk, contemplating what to do. It was awfully nice of Charlie to invite him. It had been a few years, but he was happy for his old mate, finally settling down. And if his accompanying letter was anything to go by, he seemed genuinely happy.

Maybe he could just send a gift. Surely that would be sufficient. Some tea towels, maybe? New couples always need tea towels, right?

The man toasted your happiness at your wedding, Jack, the least you can do is show up and be a witness for his. Really, are you such a curmudgeon you won’t celebrate the joys in life if it means a little train trip north? Don’t be an ass. Be a friend. You really are better at it than you think.

In the end Jack responded, ‘Will attend. Can’t wait’ and meant it.

---------------

The witness was being at best reticent, and at worst, obstructive. Still, Jack couldn’t say he blamed her. She’d clearly had a rough time of it, which probably meant more than one unpleasant run in with the authorities, despite her young age. He did, however, still need her statement. Jack was certain she was only a witness to the crime and not a participant, but right now he had no proof either way and if she didn’t say something, he’d have to hold her. He tried one more time.

“Look, I know you were there. I know Pat Flynn was there. So one way or another, you’re involved. What I need to know is how. Just tell me what happened.”

She crossed her arms and tucked her tiny chin to her chest, but didn’t say a word.

Jack sighed. He was running out of options that didn’t require involving more authorities.

Jack, this child has clearly been through the ringer. What good will it do her to make things harder? What good will it do anyone?

Protocol dictated Jack call Welfare. He bought her an orange instead.

---------------

Jack stood outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, watching the eager fans as they passed by him. Several men from his station were attending the AFL Grand Final today, and they had invited Jack to join them. Ordinarily, he didn’t socialize with his men outside the station, Collins being the obvious exception, and that was due almost entirely to the force of nature that was Mrs. Collins. It’s not that he didn’t like his men. He just prefered to keep a professional distance. It suited his leadership style. But these were all good lads, most from Collingwood as it happened, and they had been so enthusiastic and genuine with their invitation, that Jack had given them a thoughtful “perhaps” instead of a firm “no” when they had asked. Now he stood outside, still debating. It would be a big shift for him. Maybe too big. And it’s not as though Abbotsford was even playing.

Jaaaaaack, Collingwood could win their third consecutive AFL Premiership flag! Don’t you want to be there if they do? After their undefeated season, it’s quite likely you know. Are you actually worried about your men losing respect for you? That’s just ridiculous. You’ve earned your reputation. It’s not going to change with one footy game.

Jack shook his head and bought a ticket. It was, after all, just a game. Besides, if he missed it, his favorite Collingwood fan might never forgive him.

---------------

Phryne pulled up to City South and checked her reflection in the rear view mirror. She had only just returned to Melbourne the night before, earlier than expected and eager to resume what they had begun on that airfield. She told herself she wasn’t nervous, this was just like any other visit. But of course it wasn’t. Four and half months was not an insignificant duration even when it wasn’t over time and tide.

She spotted him immediately as she exited the car, chatting amiably with the pie cart vendor. He looked well. Very well. Phryne couldn’t put her finger on it, but it felt off for some reason. He finished his purchase and ambled back to the station entrance. Just before he entered, a constable she didn’t recognize exited and Jack stopped to spend a moment speaking with him, probably giving orders or being briefed, Phryne was too far away to hear. When they were through, the constable continued out and Jack went inside and out of view. And there was that ‘off’ feeling again. She straightened her shoulders and marched in to follow him, ignoring the unease and focusing on her goal.

When she entered the station, the constable on duty was busy on the phone, so she just slipped past him straight to Jack’s open door. When she was just outside she knocked quietly. As he looked up she was met by a pair of eyes that cycled through more emotions than she could fully count - though surprise and uncertainty and desire were definitely in there - before he landed on joy.

“Miss Fisher.”

“Hello Jack.”

She then surprised herself and him by only just entering the room and staying on the opposite side of the desk. She decided after so long apart she didn’t trust herself to keep it professional. And it was, after all, his office in the middle of the afternoon.

Jack, however, had no such qualms, rising to his feet and circling the desk to sit on the corner in front of her. He tentatively took her hand; when she gave it to him willingly he placed a soft kiss on her knuckles in welcome. He would have gone further, but it was, after all, his office in the middle of the afternoon. “You’re back,” he whispered, though he had truly meant to speak in a normal tone.

“So it would seem,” she responded, too surprised by the effect his essentially chaste kiss had had on her to be more eloquent than that.

He smiled. Wide and true. And easy. Easier than she would thought given the circumstances. Certainly easier than he had smiled during most of their acquaintance. Easy like she had seen him interact with the pie cart vendor and the constable.

Ah. So that’s what felt off.

“You seem happy,” she commented.

“Of course. You’re back.”

“No I mean in general. You seem happy. Content.”

“Does that surprise you?”

“A little. I think we can both agree that my powers of observation are keen even on an unknown subject, and I have made a dedicated study of you, Jack Robinson. So I can state for a fact that you are happier than you were before I left. I suppose I thought maybe you’d be a little more melancholy, with me so far away.” She rolled her eyes and gave a wry smile, knowing how she sounded, but deciding to forge on anyway.

“Would that make you feel better?” he asked seriously.

“No,” she said honestly, “I’m just a little surprised. Didn’t you miss me?”

“Well, that’s a silly question.”

“I don’t think it is. I didn’t expect you to pine away while I was gone anymore than I did. But you seem happier than before I left. And I have to be honest, I also didn’t expect that.”

“No?”

“No. I missed you, Jack. Terribly, as it happens. So I know the signs. I’m not upset, of course, but I would like to know what my absence meant for you. If we’re in this together.” He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off, deciding this needed to be said. And it needed to be said before she let the sound of his lovely voice after such a long absence persuade her to ignore her very valid concerns. “I know what you said in your letter. I know why you couldn’t come after me. And I truly do understand, I do. But before we go any further with this,” she waved vaguely between them, “I need to know, truthfully, if you missed me as much as I missed you. I’m happy you’re happy, Jack, but if it turns out you’re happier without me I need to know that now. I don’t do things by halves, Jack, and I don’t want you too either. Not this.”

He was momentarily speechless, both by her question and by her honesty. He would never stop being in awe of her fearless heart.

“I… I suppose… as it happens, I don’t think I had a chance to miss you.” He sighed, this was not coming out right at all.

Her eyebrows rose in question, but he didn’t hurry to continue, deciding it was crucial to get this next part right, rather than to simply answer quickly.

“Or, rather, of course I missed you. But, I think I’ve become so used to your...” he searched for the right word, “importance in my life that, since you’ve been gone, it seems that often when I was in doubt as to what to do, there was a surprisingly feminine, though unsurprisingly insistent, voice offering suggestions in my head.” He shook his head at his own unlikely whimsy. “I suppose that means you’re a good influence on me. Ironically, because you’re a terrible influence on me. I feel like I’ve had a little Phryne devil on my shoulder for the last four months.”

She gave a small smile at that. “Surely, you mean angel, Jack.”

He tilted his head in that way she loved and gave her mock glare. “You’re many things Miss Fisher, but let’s not strain credulity.”

She laughed at that. But her next question was tentative. “Did you mind?”

“Mind?”

“Well you’re a very private person, Jack, it must have been difficult for you, sharing your inner most thoughts with me. Even if it was only your version of me.”

Jack considered for a moment how best to respond.

“‘Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.’”

Her brilliant smile at that convinced him he’d found it.

“I find, Miss Fisher, that the version of you in my head is quite similar to the genuine article, albeit with a more thorough knowledge of footy scores.” She raised her eyebrows in question and he just shrugged in response. “And so, with the original unavailable, I sought her council instead.”

“Well I do like to be helpful. So, was I invaluable to your cases then, Jack?”

“Um, no. Contrary to popular opinion, I was actually quite good at my job before I met you.”

“Of course you were Jack. I’d only work with the best.” She winked and he shook his head fondly. “So what did I do? How did I help?”

“Just - I suppose you reminded me that it’s alright to enjoy my life, my work. That it’s good to be flexible and... available to people.” He considered his next words carefully. “Your friendship has helped me become more of a ‘me’ that I like. A person I want to be around. That contentedness you spoke of? I think it’s me being more content with myself.

“That,” she took a quick breath and continued, “that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Oh, well, that won’t do at all. Would you like me to improve upon it?”

“I don’t think you can. Though I fully intend to let you try.” Her eyes were soft and they stayed that way as she issued an invitation, “Why don’t you start tonight? Be my guest. For dinner, I mean. If you’re free.”

“I’d be delighted, Miss Fisher.”

“Wonderful. Shall we say 8pm?”

“I look forward to it.”

“As do I. For the record, you’re a ‘you’ I like very much, Jack.”

“Hmmm, once I untangle that sentence I’ll be sure to respond appropriately.”

“You do that.” She started to leave, but suddenly stopped and turned back instead. “Do you know, Jack, I wasn’t arrested once in my travels?”

“Really? How decorous of you.” Jack wasn’t sure where she was going with this, but he was willing to go along for the ride.

“Not once. There were a few close calls, but I… refrained from making certain questionable decisions at some key moments. I got what I need through more, shall we say, subtle means.”

“That’s… good.”

“And I plotted my course with both speed and safety in mind. Both ways. No records broken I’m afraid, but no propellers or limbs broken either.”

“I’m pleased to hear it.”

“And, despite being fully justified in doing so, I didn’t tip my father out over the Pacific or leave him stranded somewhere in Asia.”

“Again, all laudable acts, but I’m not certain of your point.”

“My point, Inspector, is that it seems you’re not the only one with a little voice in their head these days. It’s strange, but it seems of late my conscience has taken to calling me Miss Fisher.” She rolled her eyes as she said it, but he understood the serious implications of her statement and smiled.

“Phryne?”

“Yes?”

“I did miss you. Terribly, as it happens. And I’m sorry I… I wish I had been able to go after you. I’m so happy you’re back.”

“Jaaaaack. So, you couldn’t come after me. I was happy to come after you instead. I’m afraid I’ve rather ‘grappled you unto my soul’ as well.” She risked a hand to him then, just a small stroke down his lapel, though when her hand landed somewhat serendipitously on his heart it was too much and not enough and she suddenly couldn't wait until 8pm. “Until tonight then.”

“Until tonight,” he said, covering her hand with his own. Then he looked at her seriously, though his face held a thinly veiled smirk, and added, “I’ll miss you.”

“Oh Jack, don’t be an ass,” she laughed as she turned and left his office.

Now where, he thought, had he heard that before.