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The Place of Caught Breath

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"Stay for one last drink with me," Phryne had said, and Jack had obediently sat back in his designated armchair, his face still a little flushed from the champagne and frivolity.

They were alone, and the house was dim and quiet — Dot and Jane and Mr. Butler all retiring to bed, Mac and Hugh having heaved themselves into the back of Bert and Cec's cab with laughter and loud shouts of Happy Birthday! back towards the house, which had caused the lights to go back on at numbers 221A and 223, irritated curtain-twitching showcasing disapproval.

But Jack had lingered, and Phryne had asked him to stay, pouring them each a final glass of champagne, the hands on the clock having slid well past midnight.

"It's over," she sighed, unbuckling the straps on her shoes so she could kick them carelessly to the floor. She leaned back in her chair, opposite Jack, pleasantly light-headed and mellow from numerous filled glasses and birthday toasts.

"Trust you to be born on the longest day of the year," Jack said, watching her. "Always one for squeezing as much out of your time as possible."

"If one ever has a chance to stretch their birthday for a few extra minutes of daylight, one should," Phryne said. "It's a shame they only come once a year."

"Christmas is only a few days away," he reminded her, eyes glancing at the magnificent tree in the corner of the room. "I'm sure you'll be thoroughly spoiled then, too."

Phryne fluttered her lashes at him. "I certainly hope so."

He smiled at her, and she smiled back, and comfortable silence descended. Phryne watched him as she sipped her drink, the bubbles fizzing on her tongue and filling her head with warmth and cheer.

This was a familiar scene — the adrenaline and action relegated to the past and put away, the golden light of the lamp and the soft ticking of the clock filling the room, and Jack's quiet company beside her.

And yet, beneath all that warmth and cheer and comfort and familiarity, there was an itch of restlessness. An energy which quivered and shivered and refused to be still.

Is this closure? Phryne wondered. The years of not knowing what had happened to Janey had fallen away; justice had been served. Jane would have a grave. Phryne had more answers tonight than she'd ever had.

But there was still a fire burning beneath her skin, fuelled by the alcohol, by the dancing, by the attention of close friends.

By Jack.

She watched him over the rim of her glass. Despite the dancing, and the amount of champagne she had thrust upon him, he was still so neatly put together — his hair combed tidily, his tie centred at his collar.

And she knew for sure now what he would risk for her. She knew what his voice sounded like as he called for her after gunshots had erupted; how gentle his hands were when she reached for him, hurt and trembling. She knew that beneath that suit was a man strong enough to lift her in his arms and carry her out of harm's way.

She watched him, and the restlessness inside her suddenly turned to something more recognisable and understandable.

"What is it?" he asked, a smile hinting at his mouth, his long fingers loose around the stem of his glass, which was nearly empty now.

"Nothing," she answered. She blinked at him innocently.

He gave a short laugh and set his glass down, a warm mouthful of champagne still in the bottom. "I'll bid you goodnight," he said. "It's late."

"It's early," she argued, but a glance at the clock proved her wrong.

Jack stood up and motioned for her to stay put. There was a sway in his movements which proved, perhaps, the final glass had been a mistake. He leaned down and braced himself against the arms of Phryne's chair to kiss her cheek.

"Happy birthday," he said softly.

She did not stop to think about it. His tie fell towards her and she grasped it in one hand, tugging him down to her again to kiss him properly, his mouth warm and pliant and sweet.

When they broke apart she could see a gleam of desire in his eyes, and she wondered if triumph was reflected in her own. She knew it would not take long for the veil to fall again, nor for uncertainty and propriety to sweep away the impulsiveness of the moment, so she gathered her legs under her and stood, kissing him again, stepping off the seat of the chair so he had to catch her in his arms and hold her against him.

The beads on her dress rasped against his sleeves as he lifted her to him. His chest was firm and broad against her own, and she slid her arms around his shoulders and clung to him, the stiffness of pomade in his hair giving way beneath her fingers, the warmth of his kiss soft and open.

He took a step and tripped over her abandoned shoes. "Shit," he cursed, and they staggered three hasty steps until Phryne's back came up against the wall. Laughing, she buried her face in his shoulder as he muttered apologies.

"Shh…" Laughing quietly, she kissed his bashful smile, her hands cupping his face, standing on her toes to reach him.

"Phryne," he whispered, and the beginning of a doubt hovered in the air between them.

Her fingers pushed through his neatly-combed hair and she eyed the lipstick smudged on his mouth before she met his gaze. "It's my birthday," she whispered.

"It is well past the final hour of your day," Jack murmured, though he didn't pull away. "Don't be greedy."

"Call this an early Christmas present, then," she said. She kissed him again and he leaned his weight into her, pressing her against the wall, his hands on her waist.

The restless spark within her fanned rapidly into flame. Jack's hands roamed over the rough beading on her dress, over her waist and her back and down over the swell of her backside to pull her up against him, trapped firmly between his body and the wall.

"Come upstairs," she gasped, breathless and shivery, but he trailed hot kisses down her neck, and his hands gathered her dress, sliding it up her hips so the hem rose to her knees, to her thighs, the beading pulling tight and weighing heavy.

Jack sank to his knees and, without pause, pulled her French silk underwear aside to kiss her with a wet, open mouth.

"Oh," Phryne gasped in surprise. Her head tipped back against the wall, rattling the picture frames. She rose higher on her stockinged toes, her fingers clutching at Jack's hair. She angled her hips towards him, desperate for more contact, and he complied, teasing her with his fingers and his mouth until she was embarrassingly wet, her legs trembling with the effort of standing.

Jacks hands stroked over her thighs — his fingers tugged and opened the snaps on her suspenders, and her stockings slipped loose.

Her entire body throbbed with warmth — the champagne, the summer air, Jack... She urged her hips towards him again and he lifted her leg over his shoulder. Her underwear slipped back into place, and he licked over the top of it, grazing the edge of his teeth against the delicate fabric, friction and pressure causing her to squirm and jolt, her breath hard and hot in her throat.

She wound her fingers into his hair, rocking her hips to grind against him, and he leaned back and dragged her underwear down so he could kiss her bare again, the wet sounds of his mouth fanning the flame inside her.

When she came, it was an effort to be silent, her head tipped back, teeth pressed into her lower lip. Her breath left her in short, sharp gasps, her legs trembling, and Jack leaned against her thigh for a moment, his breath hot and heavy, his hands still sliding high under her dress, over the bare skin of her hips to the narrow curve of her waist.

She pulled him by the hair — gently, but with enough direction he followed without resistance. He stood, and grinned at her when she kissed him.

"There's no need to look quite so smug," she breathed, and he laughed and lifted her easily, pinning her against the wall, her legs around his waist, dress rucked up over her hips.

"What must I do," he asked, biting her lip gently, "to earn the right to be smug?"

She reached between them and stroked his erection through the fabric of his trousers. "Come upstairs," she whispered, her thighs tightening around his waist. "Come to bed, Jack."

He kissed her, and when her hand rubbed over him again she heard him make a soft noise in the back of his throat, low and full of want.

With a deft hand she unfastened his trousers. "Here, then," she breathed. "Take me here."

She wanted to hear that noise again — that low, raw desire she had often wondered about.

He took his time. His hands under her, holding her pinned between the wall and his body, and when he entered her it was slow and measured, bit by bit, his face buried against her shoulder, his breath hot against her skin.

When he moved inside her she could feel the heat from her previous release flaring again — the ready warmth of it in her blood, and the adrenaline still trembling in her limbs. She clutched Jack's shoulders and breathed in his ear.


He released a breath and hefted her a little, his hips pinning her against the wall, grinding his body against hers so her toes curled and her breath loosened in soft syllables with every move he made. It wasn't faster, but it was closer, and harder, and she heard again that low noise in his throat, and she closed her eyes and let him hold her up and thrust into her, again and again, until she was shuddering against him, her fists dragging creases into his shirt. When he finished he moaned her name against her throat, the low scent of her perfume rising against the heat of his breath.

He let her down slowly, her legs stiff and sore from clenching so tightly around his waist, and he tucked himself back into his trousers and leaned close to her for another moment, the wall at her back, his hands warm and wide on her waist.

She smoothed his shirt under her hands, and he sank into the armchair again, limbs loose, lipstick still smudged over his mouth, his hair mussed and untidy.

Phryne straightened the shoulder of her dress and shimmied a little to get the stiff fabric down where it belonged.

"You're looking smug again," she said, stepping closer to him so he had to tip his head back to look up at her.

"My apologies," he said seriously. "I thought for sure I had earned it."

"So early in the night?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

He glanced at the clock in silent challenge.

She took his hand and tugged him gently to his feet. "There are hours until daybreak, Jack. Plenty of time to earn your bragging rights." She began to lead him to the stairs.

"I'm not sure bragging rights are the same thing." He steered her gently around her fallen shoes. "I was thinking more along the lines of quiet satisfaction." 

"Satisfaction I can guarantee," Phryne said, taking the lead up the stairs. "Though I won't make any promises on quiet."