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A Hundred and One

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"I care for you. But you know I can never commit myself to any man," she tells Lin Chung one night when he offers her the world, and she almost regrets it.

Jack never asks. He stands quietly beside her on the day they find Janey and again on the day they bury her. Says "I would never ask you to give it up" and simply "Please tell me your break-in was worth all this fuss" when she nearly ruins his career. (But he never doubts her, and that matters.) Braves a blizzard, wields an axe, waltzes in broad daylight in a ballroom that has seen better days and makes it seem a palace. "What's the risk?" he says about the last; they both know the answer.

In return, she trusts him to be her moral compass when she doubts herself. ("You never listen to me anyway," he says, but she does. She's just not as good as he is.) She asks for his assistance- never an easy concession for her- and relies on it. Pours two tumblers of whiskey before he knocks on her door. Bites her tongue when introduced to Rosie Sanderson. (She doesn't like the woman. Phryne's never been able to abide the senseless, and divorcing Jack undoubtedly qualifies.) Calls him noble and honourable and pretends that those traits aren't in short supply. (They are. Sometimes she thinks he's the only truly honest man left in the Antipodes.) "I suppose you'll have to make do with me," she says lightly; it means stay. He listens.

One night over whiskeys, Mac asks who Phryne would side with, between her and Jack. (It's not an angry question; she knows when her friend needs a little push. The recent arrival of Henry Fisher is one of those situations.)

"You, of course!" Phryne answers, unhesitating, then pauses. "Though I imagine the inspector is probably right. But what's a little murder between friends? I'm sure you had your reasons."

She tries very hard to ignore the flutter of fear in her chest, that one day she might have to make such a choice.

"Too much ballast for lift off," she tells Lyle Compton a few days later. It's almost enough to make that dull aching doubt dislodge itself.

(Almost, because when he glances at her bare feet that night she feels the cliff edge she had spent years dancing upon start to crumble. It's not the falling that scares her, but the idea that he might not be there to catch her on the way down. "To the one as yet unsung hero, who has saved me over and over again," she toasts when her world rights itself.)

She realises eventually that there are hundreds of ways to say the same thing. You are mine and I am yours, and together we are better. It sounds an awful lot like commitment.

"Come after me," she tells Jack Robinson one September morning when the whole world lays before her.

She doesn't regret it.