Strike had been looking forward to this evening since Robin had mentioned having a curry that morning. He felt he had earned a relaxing night with friends after such a long and frustrating investigation. It had been many months since that first chaotic visit to Denmark Street by Billy Knight. On top of that he was so pleased, although not a bit surprised, that Robin was getting on so well with Nick and Isla since going to stay with them. It was going to be a good night.
It had not gone unnoticed that this would also be one of the only times he and Robin had socialised together outside of work. They had spent plenty of time together just the 2 of them in the office, out in the land rover and on various surveillance days but tonight it would be just her and him with Nick and Isla. Everything seemed so much better now all the tension that had been between him and Robin after her wedding (and that hug) had all gone but he couldn’t deny nice wine and good food was going to make it very difficult to fight the feelings that he should be trying to suppress. It was even more dangerous now that she and her arse of a husband had broken up. Still, he was determined to not overthink anything and to just have a lovely evening. If he was really lucky they may even let him stick the Arsenal match on the telly.
Strike had arrived at the door just after 7pm with a bottle of red and a 6 pack of Tennants in a plastic bag. Robin had been getting gradually more frustrated with herself for checking the time every 5 minutes since 6:30pm. She did not want to admit how excited and slightly anxious she was for spending the evening with Nick, Isla and Strike. She had moved in with the couple 2 weeks ago and they had been getting on really well. They were interested but discreet about the work she and Strike did and she felt infinitely more comfortable than she had at home with Matthew judging everything she did. Robin was incredibly grateful to Strike’s friends for offering up their spare room but now she was looking forward to moving into her new flat share in Earls Court. That was going to be a proper new start for her.
Nick and Isla had known Strike from when they were younger growing up in Cornwall. They didn’t talk about him much with Robin except for sometimes telling her not to take any notice of something he might have said or done because ‘he does this sometimes’ and boosting her confidence with a ‘he’d be lost without you now’. She realised how nice it was to have someone to support her even if they did not know her particularly well. She already felt like they were her friends as well as Strike’s which had never happened with any of Matt’s friends. She was thinking this whilst setting the table for dinner and realised that once again she was failing in her resolution not to compare Strike to Matt.
Strike walked into the sitting room and gave Isla a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek; he then headed over to Robin and did the same.
“Evenin’, you alright?” he said in his usually deep voice.
“Yeh, good thanks” she replied with a smile and she looked up at him and then down at the bag. “What have you got there then?” she asked, taking the wine out of his bag. “Spending your money on frivolities already?”
He grinned and said “well, I thought you deserved a treat”. Both of them stopped for a second realising he had said ‘you’ rather than ‘we’ and she replied with a nod “Lovely, thanks. Do you want some?”
“Nah, I’ve got my Tennants, ta”
She headed over to the cutlery draw to find the bottle opener and then poured into one of the glasses already in place on the table.
He turned away and headed back to the living room section of the open plan room. Nick was just changing the TV channel over to stick the football on.
“You boys don’t need the football on tonight” said Isla rolling her eyes at Robin whilst knowing that she didn’t really have any say in the matter. “They gang up on me when their together, it’s been so nice having another female voice in the house” she whispered to Robin who had looked over at the 2 men standing in the middle of the room cracking open their first beers of the evening.
Nick turned round and replied ‘We’ll stick it on silent, don’t worry!”
Robin could not remember the last time she had had such a great evening. The food from Strike’s favourite Indian takeaway had been amazing and the conversation had flowed so easily. As they were sat down on the sofas, Nick and Isla on one, her and Strike on the other, she considered her boss for a minute. She realised she had never seen him this relaxed, laughing and chatting so much. She supposed this was because he had not got a frustrating mystery buzzing around the back of his mind and he wasn’t trying to get information out of the people he was talking to. Here he was completely at ease. He was even telling stories of when he was younger with Nick. It could have been easy for Robin to feel a bit left out, not knowing the places and people that the three of them were talking about, but she didn’t. Strike had such a descriptive expression and was surprisingly quick with an impression, that she felt she knew exactly what he was talking about and could laugh along.
After finishing 3 bottles of red between her and Isla and the men filling the recycling box with tins followed by few glasses of whisky, Robin found herself yawning widely.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she said still mid yawn and checking the large clock on the wall. “Bloody hell its 1am. I think I’d best go to bed before I doze off here.”
She got up of the sofa and Strike went to do the same. She automatically held her hand out for him to help him up. She knew his prosthesis had been playing him up again recently and the booze probably wasn’t helping either. He placed his big hairy hand in hers and she helped pull him up. Once he was standing she didn’t let go. “Are you heading off or going to crash here?” she asked him.
He looked over at Nick who replied whilst rolling his eyes “Ill go get you some blankets”.
“Right then”, said Robin through another yawn “I guess I’ll see you in the morning” and she leaned up to Strike and kissed him goodnight on the cheek.
“Goodnight” he replied.
Whether it was her own imagination or brought on by the way alcohol can sometimes slow your perception, but she felt they had lingered somewhat cheek to cheek at the kiss. She let go of his hand, shouted “goodnight” to Nick and Isla who she had the feeling had scuttled away to the kitchen, and proceeded out of the room and up the stairs to her temporary bedroom.
She lay her head down and could hear the rumble of the men’s voices downstairs still chatting as they arranged the sofa for Strike to sleep on. She was so tired it did not take her long to drop off to sleep. Her last thoughts were of a laughing Strike and the feel of his unshaven cheek held against hers for those extra half seconds.
It had taken Strike a little longer to doze off. Although he had plenty of experience sleeping on sofas, this particular one was a little too short for him to get comfy on. He had taken off his prosthesis and all the various padding and tubing he has to wear around his stump, to let it breath for a while. It was still red raw. He could do with putting some cream on it but he had not brought any overnight stuff with him.
He lay back and thought about the evening. It had been one of the best he could remember for a long time. The food from ‘Taste of Delhi’ was as delicious as ever, Arsenal had come back from 2 goals down to beat Man Utd and Robin had appeared to get even more beautiful as the evening went on. He had never seen her laugh like that and was pleased to think some of his old stories had contributed to that. He had enjoyed telling stories tonight which he found strange because he had always been a very private person. To date, He and Robin had only really found out personal stuff about each other when one or the other was either distraughtly drunk or post panic attack. Whereas tonight he had openly offered up stories he had never even told Charlotte.
He realised he had done it again; compared Robin with Charlotte. He knew it was futile because they were such completely different people. There is no doubt though he could never have had this evening with Charlotte. For one thing Nick and Isla had never taken to her and that’s putting it lightly. The best times during those 16 years were when it was just him and Charlotte, alone, hidden from the rest of the world, admittedly, usually in bed. It amazed him how, despite being so determined to not blur the lines between business and personal, he had Robin had become so close, so dependent on each other, had become friends. He thought with horror about how close he came to turning her away that first morning. He was sure to this day that he had cancelled the temp position from Temporary Solutions. His mind drifted to her holding his hand this evening and the goodnight kiss. He could still feel her cheek against his and sense her fingers in his hand. A grin spread across his face and he allowed himself to just enjoy the remembrance before everything goes back to normal in the morning.
Strike awoke suddenly, looking around, it took a few seconds for him to realise where he was. He then remembered, with a sinking of his stomach that he had been woken up by a shout from upstairs. He listened again carefully and could hear disturbed moanings. He considered for a second it could be Nick and Isla but he could also hear Nick’s rumbling snores in the back ground. Knowing that Robin still occasionally suffered from panic attacks, unsurprisingly considering what she has been through in her life, he wondered if she was having a trauma nightmare. He had suffered them many times himself. In those dreams you relive the worst moments of a traumatic experience over again with such a reality that it can cause panic attacks. He decided he would go up just to check on her. He wasn’t going to bother with the prosthesis and so hopped into the kitchen area, grabbed a broom from the tall cupboard in the corner and used it to help get up the stairs hopefully as quietly as possible. As he passed the first door on his left he heard Nick’s snores even louder now. He briefly wondered how on earth Isla gets any sleep lying next to that every night but at least it made sense why she may not have heard Robin.
He edged as quietly as possibly to the room at the other end of the landing. The spare room was the same one he had stayed in in the past when trying to avoid the press. He turned the handle slowly conscious not to wake her in case he scared her even more. As he opened the door the light from downstairs illuminated the bed where the beautiful girl was tossing and turning apparently wrestling an invisible attacker under the sheets. It was distressing for him to see despite him having seen much worse sights in his life. He made his way a little quicker across the room, put the broom down on the floor and knelt down next to the bed. He knew if he stood over her or she awoke to find him sat on the bed that could be more upsetting for her. Instead he knelt there, grateful for the fluffy rug on the bedroom carpet, reached out for one of her arms and started to stroke it gently and making an absurd shushing noise like you do with babies. He whispered her name and rubbed her arm a little heavier in the hope this might wake her up gradually or just settle her down.
Robin suddenly became aware of a noise close by and a gentle, soothing touch to her arm. She could see flashback images of the awful dream she had been having which had included a gorilla mask, a big heavy wait on top of her and a gun being help to her head. She started breathing heavily and could fell the panic rising in her and then felt again the soothing action on her arm. She focused on that touch and her breathing and then when ready she opened her eyes. Initially wondering where she was, Robin looked over to see Strike’s big hazel eyes looking back at her and a soft smile on his face.
“Don’t worry, everything’s OK, It was just a dream” he whispered. She flew her head back concentrating on her breathing, all sorts of emotions were bubbling up through her now. The panic was still there, the embarrassment, the relief. She realised that it was Strike who was slowly stroking her arm and the pressure and repetitive action was relaxing and reassuring. She was not alone. She may at one time have wanted to hide this from him but since the incident on the side of the motorway they had talked more regularly and casually about the CBT exercises as well as his stretches for his leg.
“Everything’s OK” he repeated, softly whispering. She closed her eyes again briefly then said “I’m so sorry, did I wake everyone?”
“No, I was up anyway” he lied “and the others are still zonked out”
Robin’s ears seemed to kick in again and she became aware of the clock ticking on the wall and of Nick’s deep snores in the next room. She realised that Strike was kneeling and shuffled her body a bit suggesting he sit on the edge of the bed. He moved up without speaking and when settled she reached out for his hand and held it tightly. Neither of them said anything for a while but just sat or laid there with horrors, remembrances and breathing techniques running through their heads.
“Are you ok now?” he asked gently.
In a panic that he was about the leave she held his hand tighter.
“Corm, would you stay with me?” She said it before she could stop herself. It was a genuine desire to not be alone. She immediately feared he might say “best not” or “I’m only downstairs” but he didn’t, instead he said “of course,” then looking about added “Shall I…?” and indicating the other side of the bed he shuffled around, a bit wobbly without his prosthesis, and lay on top of the bed next to Robin. She threw part of the top blanket over him but seeing that it wasn’t nearly big or warm enough she said “You might as well get under here,” and added in the hope of lightening the mood “I trust you”. He smiled and thought to himself if this was a different circumstance he wouldn’t have trusted himself.
She lay on her front facing him and they joined hands again under the covers. She didn’t know if it was the sheer tiredness, the booze still or the fuzziness in her mind following the near panic attack but she did not feel awkward or uncomfortable next to Strike. Instead she felt safe and therefore dropped off to sleep again almost immediately.
Strike lay there, his mind spinning. How had he got himself into this situation? But he could not be angry with himself; he would do it all over again because Robin had needed him. She had looked so scared and then he saw the calmness flow over her features when she saw him. That was because of him, he did that and he felt so privileged. He reminded himself that he was not going to overthink anything but acknowledged the list of things he was not going to overthink was getting longer and longer. He laid there, her hand in his, and fell asleep.
Robin woke up the next morning to find a snoring Strike lying next to her and had a split second panic of “oh God, what have we done” before remembering that he had come to her rescue in the night and she had asked him to stay. She took the opportunity to look at him like she had not allowed herself to do before. She wondered about the tiny scratch scars by his chin and the longer scars on his arms. She could not see however, the one that John Bristow, their first joint client, had given him on his upper arm. She smiled at the hairy belly that she could see creeping out from below his tshirt. She suddenly imagined him opening his eyes and seeing her staring at him so looked away and put on a jumper and tracky bottoms over her shorts pyjamas. She went into the bathroom and when she came out she saw Strike sat on the opposite edge of the bed. She walked back in and said
“Morning” in a ‘wakey-wakey’ type voice. He turned around, ran his hand through his messier-than-usual hair and replied ‘Mornin” in a very gruff voice. As he shuffled around the bed to the side facing the door she realised he did not have his prosthesis. It occurred to her that she had never seen Strikes stump, he had always had the prosthesis or long trousers over it and she obviously had never seen him in shorts, or until this morning, his boxers.
Blushing slightly but determined to ‘play it cool’ she headed towards him offering a hand to help him get up and then a shoulder to help him across the landing to the bathroom. She offered to go down and get his prosthesis but he said he can’t just put it straight on and so asked her to wait for him.
She sat herself on the top step and listened downstairs. She could hear Nick and Isla bustling about in the kitchen and the radio quite accurately playing ‘Easy like Sunday Morning’. She then felt her cheeks blush again. They would have come downstairs that morning expecting to find Strike asleep on the Sofa. Now she and Strike were going to walk down together and they would think something had happened between them. Strike had clearly been thinking the same thing because when he came out of the bathroom and grabbed hold of Robins shoulder again he whispered
“do you want to tell them about the nightmare or would you rather we came up with something else.”
She found it very touching that she might not want to spread the news of another nightmare and panic but thought it would probably be easier to tell the truth rather than coming up with some bullshit story they are not likely to believe anyway. Nick and Isla had not really bothered to hide their wish for Strike and Robin to get together.
“I don’t mind telling them” she replied, and gave him a ‘thanks for asking’ type smile. So they made their way down the stairs, one at a time with Strike holding onto the rail one side and Robin the other. She lead him over to the sofa where his pillow and blankets had been tidied slightly by Nick. She leaned over to get his prosthesis and got the chance to look at his stump a little closer.
“Oh, that looks sore” She said before really thinking. She regretted it immediately knowing that Strike despised pity and others telling him how he should look after himself or his stump but to her surprise he responded “Yeh, I need to put some more cream on it when I get back.” not seeming to mind the comment at all.
“Well I’ve got some moisturiser upstairs if that will ease it a bit in the meantime?” she offered, deciding again to try and play it cool.
He grinned but said “Thanks, but I’ll be alright once it’s wrapped up again.”
She responded with a smile and a nod and said “Coffee?”
Robin walked into the kitchen area and said “morning” to the couple who were both clearly trying to hide smirks.
“Sleep well?” said Nick with a grin before Isla smacked him across the chest with a tea towel.
“Ignore him Robin, pour yourself some coffee”
As she did that Nick headed over to the sofas, no doubt to tease Strike. Robin, blushing somewhat whispered to Isla;
“Nothing happened before you jump to conclusions. I had a nightmare and mini panic attack, I’m fine” she added quickly seeing the concern on Isla’s face, “Cormoran heard me, came up to check I was ok and I just wanted someone to stay with me, so he did.”
Isla, clearly embarrassed by her assumption said “Robin, I’m sorry, we didn’t know what to think after such a good evening and you and him getting on so well, we had no idea …but you’re sure you’re ok now?”
Robin smiled and said “yeh I’m fine, just in desperate need of coffee” and she walked into the living room with the 2 mugs.
A little later Isla brought over a plate full of bacon rolls and they all lounged about chatting and watching Sunday morning TV. Robin went to get herself showered and when she came down Strike was getting ready to head back to Denmark Street. She felt her stomach twist; she didn’t want him to go. In that moment Robin was sure beyond doubt that what she had pondered on that long ago beach was true, it was real; she had fallen in love with her boss. The private detective who had nearly accidentally thrown her down the stairs almost 3 years ago was now the person she felt she could trust most with feelings, anxiety, gut instincts and stupid theories. The fact that they had slept in the same bad and nothing happened was that final proof of trust and respect she needed. Most especially when you consider on any other occasion she may well have wanted something to happen. After such an amazing evening and how close her and Strike were getting both physically and in terms of bringing down barriers, it would not have been a surprise if Strike had thought he was ‘in with a shot there’ but he came upstairs out of concern and stayed with her without the slightest crossing of any lines. As little as she ever wants to dwell on what happened to her at Uni and as much as she wanted to deny that it has changed her, she cannot deny that she would always be a little on edge when alone with a man. This was certainly not the case with Strike whom she had always felt safe around ironically despite the fact that she had been attacked on several occasions since knowing him.
Robin had considered in the bathroom that morning that his actions last night might just prove he is not interested in her like that and she didn’t consider herself anywhere close in looks to the beautiful women he has been with previously. However, now, she was past caring about that, she realised in that moment of his going to leave, that she wanted to go with him. Exactly like that moment at her wedding. The Hug. The last time she thought to herself, if he asks, I’m going to go with him whether I should or not.
Strike was now putting on his coat, shouted “see ya” to the girls and was heading into the hallway. Nick was showing him out as Robin found herself walking quickly into the hallway.
“Corm” she said as she pushed her way past Nick who turned away, seemed to analyse the paintwork on the dining room doorframe for a bit and then skulk away. Strike was standing in the doorway, almost filling it, looking down at her with those hazel eyes and soft smile. He looked a mess but she didn’t seem to notice that anymore.
She whispered “thanks, for last night” and then after a second grabbed the lapels of his big coat, lifted herself onto her toes and kissed him gently full on the lips. It was only when she had grounded herself, opened her eyes and looked up to see to look of shock on Strike’s face that she began to worry this had been a very bad move. He was going to get rid of her now, it will be far too awkward to work together, and she had misunderstood. What an idiot!
And then just as suddenly as the worry kicked in she felt herself being pulled towards him again and his mouth on hers. He had wrapped his arms around her. One of his hands was on the base of her back, the other at the top of her neck. She wrapped her arms and held him just as tightly, her fingers running through his dark curly hair. He was kissing her back with such as passion. She could not remember the last time she had been kissed like this. He smelt and tasted of cigarettes, coffee and booze but she wouldn’t have it any other way. That was Strike, her private detective.
As they finally came apart to take a breath Strike realised he never wanted to let her go. He looked into her eyes and saw she was getting emotional and so briefly kissed her again on each eye. Something movement in the background caught his eye and he looked over Robin’s head to see Nick silently jumping around waving his arms mouthing “I TOLD YOU!! I TOLD YOU!!” whilst pointing at him and Robin. Isla was also stood there crying slightly with a massive grin on her face. Strike appreciated how pleased they were to see him happy. They had been there for him through so much and he considered them family. He held Robin’s head against his chest, her arms now wrapped around his waist beneath his coat. He kissed the top of her head.
“Well that’s complicated things a bit” he laughed and was relieved to feel Robin laughing as well. She looked up at him again and they kissed again, this time slowly as if taking in and remembering every second.
He dropped his arms and Robin brought hers back around and played with one of his shirt buttons for a second. He said against his own will “I’ve got to head off” and then just to Robin “I’ll message you later though and see you in the morning. I have a feeling we might be a bit busy again this week. Will probably need us both in the office so we can draw up a plan of action.” He said this whilst simultaneously wondering how the hell he was ever going to concentrate in that office again. He thought to himself there will probably have to be a plan regarding this new situation as well.
Robin gave a resigned sigh, squeezed his hands and said “Yeh you’re right, I’ll speak to you later then.”
He backed out of the door down the first 2 steps then ran back up kissed her again before walking back down again hearing her giggle. He walked down the street feeling like a teenage boy; Joyous, confused, excited and little anxious. Robin had seen the worst of his grumpy moods, had seen him brutally respond to attack and drunk off his face and yet she was brave enough to make the move he had only dreamed of making for 3 years.