A Different Kind of Strength by die_Frau

The following fanfiction was written by die_Frau. Here’s the link to the original source



He hadn’t been ready. Was anyone, really, when it came down to it?

Strike and Robin had been together for two years properly before they even began to discuss the idea of children beyond commenting on how his nephew, Jack, seemed tolerable to spend afternoons with…as long as they got to give him back to Lucy at the end of the day. Robin, having watched Strike’s interactions with the boy and seeing him comfort Ilsa as her own struggles with infertility continued, knew that he’d be a better father than he realized but prudently chose not to push it.

Then one day he came home after having scored tickets to an Arsenal match and mentioned, ever so casually, that a father and son had sat in front of him, wearing matching Arsenal home shirts, one with “Dad” on the back and the other reading “Dad’s Pal”. Again, Robin said little, but when he mentioned later that evening that he might be able to see himself as a father one day, albeit a terrible one, she had reassured him that she felt sure he’d do just fine. Within a year, Robin had given birth to Theodore Nicholas Strike. immediately nicknamed Teddy.

He hadn’t been ready. He’d read a few books, spoken at length to his uncle Ted, Anstis, Lucy, Robin’s brother Stephen, and even, one desperate afternoon when Robin had been out on a case and Teddy had cried for three hours straight without stopping, called his brother-in-law Greg for advice. Strike had learned to burp, soothe, and swaddle (he was inordinately proud of his swaddling skills) and had figured out how to do more things with one hand than he’d ever though possible.

He hadn’t been ready for the love he felt when Robin passed Teddy to him and he held his son in his arms for the first time, tenting his fingers around the baby’s head as if holding a Faberge egg. The strength of the baby’s tiny hand grasping one of those fingers as he stroked Teddy’s cheek turned him into a cliche, and his eyes widened as tears pricked at the corners. And he swore that he would do whatever he could to raise this boy, to keep him safe, to give him a life of happiness that he, Strike, had had in fits and starts at best. He glared at reckless drivers as they crossed the street, Teddy in his pushchair. He applied plasters and went overboard with baby-proofing the little flat in Ealing, cursing himself the one night he’d come home from a now-rare night out at the pub with Shanker when he’d not been able to get the safety latch open on the toilet, his mind and hands thick and fumbling with Doom Bar, and ended up relieving himself in the tub instead. They had a steady, reliable sitter in one of Nick’s former patients, a retired older woman whose own children had moved on and who, incredibly, had a flexible enough schedule and enough energy that she could watch Teddy almost whenever they needed. Thus the business thrived and Teddy grew, a happy, well-loved little lad, the pride of both Robin and Strike.

It started with a low-grade fever. Teddy had had them before, of course. He’d been in day care and had brought home numerous illnesses; it came with the territory. They had gone through various colds, pinkeye, the flu, and an outbreak of hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Robin usually dealt with these a little more calmly than Strike; this uncharted territory was nothing he could investigate in his usual way. But when he finally checked his phone after a long afternoon of tailing their latest client, he saw five missed calls and three frantic texts from Robin detailing Teddy’s condition. His knee never felt a twinge of pain as the adrenaline, borne of fear and love, propelled him to the nearest taxi stand and threw himself in, cutting off the woman in front of him who had been next in line.

“I’m sorry–my son–he’s sick–I don’t….” Strike babbled as she opened her mouth in indignation, then snapped it shut as she took in the look of wild fear on the large, limping man who had cut her off and simply stepped back with a look of sympathy. Every red light felt like a personal attack, keeping him away from his child–My boy, Jesus fucking CHRIST I have to GET to him RIGHT FUCKING NOW rolled like a refrain through his head. He cursed himself for ever allowing for this level of vulnerability, for letting Robin get under his defenses, for thinking he could do this, any of this right, for thinking he could deal with this level of love and loss and fucking hell just get me HOME….

He didn’t even remember paying for the cab ride. He flew up the stairs, not even sure his feet touched the ground, and burst into the flat, glaring around as if this illness were something he could punch with his bare hands (if only, if only he could have, dammit). Robin, calm, reassuring Robin, her face bathed in tears, ran to him and for a brief moment they found comfort in each other’s arms as she shook with sobs. It was bad, then. he knew.

Robin pulled back and began to talk about how Teddy’s temperature had risen steadily, and how, an hour ago, he’d lapsed into a glassy-eyed daze. When she’d put a comforting hand to his cheek, it had felt like a hot stove. His temperature was over 40 degrees. She’d called the doctor but, it being the weekend, the answering service had not yet called back.

“What the FUCK?” roared Strike when she relayed this. “Did you tell them, did you tell them about his fev–“

“Of course I did!” she cried in bitter anger. “Why do you think I called in the first place?!” The anguish on her face matched his own and he softened.

“I’m sorry, Ell, it’s just…I can’t….Shit,” he said, and tears began to roll down his own cheeks, tears he didn’t even realize were there.

And that was it, that was all of it. really. For all of his strength, for all of his training, his intelligence, parenting books, none of that could do a fucking thing to help his child. He couldn’t hit this or babyproof it. He’d never felt so useless in his entire life, not even during those first few weeks at Selly Oaks after he lost his leg.

He walked softly into Teddy’s bedroom and the sour odor of sweat and illness hit him like a blow. Robin had set up a chair next to the bed and he collapsed into it, holding Teddy’s hot little hand in his own. Teddy turned his head to look at Strike and his dull eyes, usually so bright and filled with laughter, filled Strike with pain at his own ineptitude.

“All right, Bear?” he asked Teddy gently, squeezing his hand in their usual greeting.

“All righ’, Daddy,” he sighed, giving a tiny squeeze back, and the response gave Strike a lump in his throat. “My body is hot. I don’t like it’s so hot.”

“I know, Bear, we’re going to get you cooled off soon as we can,” Strike promised, feeling impotent throwing empty platitudes out, whistling in the dark. Just then, Robin came back in, phone in hand.

“OK, Teds, we’re going to put together a special bath for you, sweetheart, to cool you down,” she announced in a confident, I-can-solve-this voice that sounded like music to Strike’s ears. “Let me talk to Daddy a moment, and then we’ll get you feeling better.”

“Noooo, I want Daddy right here with meeeeee,” cried Teddy pathetically, and Strike desperately wanted something to pummel so he could make himself and Teddy feel better.

“Just one minute, Bear, and we’ll get you sorted,” replied Strike in his own loving but firm tone, unconsciously adopted from his Uncle Ted, stroking the boy’s matted, sweat-soaked hair.

Robin spoke to Strike in a low voice as they huddled in the doorway. “The doctor said to give him a lukewarm sponge bath and use cold compresses. We’ve already given him children’s paracetamol, and that should kick in soon.”

“Define soon,” growled Strike. Robin sighed patiently; she knew his attitude wasn’t directed at her.

“If the fever hasn’t gone down by tonight, we need to take him to urgent care,” she responded. “I’ll start running the tub, and you get him ready.”

Relieved at having a task, Strike walked back to Teddy, who had kept his eyes on his parents the whole time. “OK, Teds, let’s get you ready for a nice, cool bath,” and began to sit him up and gently tug his pajamas off.

“Why not a hot bath, Daddy?”

“‘Cause you’re already too hot, Bear. We want to cool you off, make that nasty fever go away,” and he blew a raspberry on Ted’s tummy, trying to make the boy laugh and wincing to himself at how hot it felt.

Teddy pushed him away, though, with a “Nooooo, too scratchy, too scratchy!” and Strike relented, helping pull the rest of the clothes off.

“Let’s go see if Mummy has the bath ready to go,” suggested Strike. He felt a pang in his heart when Teddy lifted his arms up to be carried, and scooped him up to rest the hot little body against his own.

They entered the bathroom just as Robin was turning off the taps. “Ready, Teddy?” she asked.

“Ready, Mummy,” he replied, and his parents telegraphed silent relief to each other at this other, familiar response, given so quickly. Strike peeled Teddy away from his body and placed him in the tub.

“Nice and cool,” sighed Teddy, and Robin smiled at him. “That’s right, little man, let’s get you cooled right off.”

Strike stood in the doorway and watched as Robin softly washed their son with one of her big body sponges, covering him with water again and again, singing favorite bits of songs and dabbing him on the nose with the sponge to make him wrinkle it up and swat her hand away. He marveled at how calmly she’d dealt with this entire ordeal aside from one bout of frustrated tears, and he saw that she had been ready, the whole time, to deal with whatever came. In so many ways, he realized not for the first time, she had a strength that went way beyond anything physical.

After about fifteen minutes, Robin felt his cooled skin and signaled to Strike that it was time to get him out. Strike had a bath towel waiting and gently rubbed Teddy dry, smiling as his son squirmed and let out a small giggle when the towel went over his head as Strike dried his hair.

“How you feeling, Bear?” he asked.

“Better, Daddy. Lots cooler,” replied Teddy.

“Let’s check how that bath did,” added Robin, sitting on the edge of the tub with a thermometer at the ready. She let Teddy press the button to turn it on and he stood patiently, leaning against her leg as she put it to his temple. After a handful of seconds, it signaled its recording with a beep. Robin and Strike both looked down at the flashing “38.5” against an orange background and exchanged looks of deep relief. Strike had never liked orange before, but it wasn’t that hated, frightening red, and right now it was the most gorgeous color he’d ever seen. He exhaled a breath he hadn’t even known he’d been holding.

“Let me see, mummy,” insisted Teddy, and Robin handed him the thermometer. “Three-eight-five,” he announced, emphasizing each number separately. “Am I all better?”

“Not yet, Teds, but you’re on your way. Now it’s off to bed with you,” answered Robin in what Strike recognized as her “mum voice”.

“Could I just watch one Peppa?” wheedled Teddy, and Strike chuckled as Robin glared at him.

“Now I know you’re getting better. You heard mummy,” Strike replied in his own no-nonsense tone.

“All riggggghhht,” Teddy sighed. He wriggled into his favorite Arsenal pajamas (a gift from his namesake, Uncle Ted) and flopped into bed. His lack of attempt to continue the argument reminded his parents that he was still not quite himself, and Robin stepped into the kitchen to get him a cup of water (“Straw, please, mummy”) to place on his bedside table.

Strike took Ted’s top sheet and a light blanket and tucked him in with a gentleness that still surprised him and still brought tears to Robin’s eyes as she paused to watch her “boys” in the doorway. After the bedtime rituals of night light, lullaby, and hugs, Robin and Strike headed softly down the hall to the kitchen. Without a word, Strike pulled whiskey out of the cabinet and poured them each a drink, adding ginger ale to Robin’s and giving it a stir as she leaned tiredly on the counter and watched. They clinked their glasses together and drank deeply, still not needing words to express their relief that the crisis had passed.

“Bed?” Strike asked.

“God, yes,” Robin replied on a deep sigh.

After a check on Teddy, who was finally sleeping soundly, his forehead blessedly cooler, they flung themselves into bed.

“Sometimes I forget fear and love can be so exhausting,” remarked Robin as Strike tucked his prosthesis away for the night.

“Mmmm,” he grunted in response.

“What’s wrong, love?” she asked. “We made it through, Teddy’s getting better, everything worked out.”

He paused, trying to find the words. “I hate that I can’t prepare for this.” Robin said nothing, waiting for him to continue. “I can have all the fucking medicine Boots has to offer, but when he’s sick like that, it scares the shit out of me. I can work a case, I can punch someone who’s acting like an arsehole, but this…I hate feeling so helpless.” Robin smiled at Strike and turned on her side, stroking his hair as he lay on his back and stared at the ceiling with a black scowl as if daring it to contradict him.

“Hey,” said Robin, and turned his face toward hers. “You did great. You made him feel better and safe, and that’s all you can do.”

He looked at his wife with love, thinking about this and so many other situations where others would have broken down–where he would have broken down without her calm tenacity to lean on. “You’re so incredibly strong, El, so much stronger than I am.”

She grinned cheekily. “Good of you to notice. Ready to get some sleep?”
He grinned back and kissed her softly. “I’m ready.”



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