Such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there.
The Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain”
The rain had finally subsided by the time Robin had finished organising the day’s files. A hazy, wan glow over the city streets below her hinted that the sun might even be peeking through the clouds. The end of the workday was approaching and she was glad for it. While economical and only a quick train ride from the office in Denmark Street, her flat was often too noisy to allow her to work on her ever mounting caseload in peace. She had therefore been spending more and more time at the office, sometimes even falling asleep on the protesting leather sofa. Strike, upon seeing this, had lent her the old camp bed, which was now stowed behind her desk. In recent months, she had spent countless nights on it, buried under a stack of paperwork. Tonight, however, was different. Having finished compiling notes and surveillance on a particularly sticky case, Robin intended to reward herself by heading back to her own flat, drinking a glass of white wine, and falling asleep in her own bed, albeit while wearing headphones to drown out the neighbours.
Familiar heavy footsteps were heard on the metal staircase. Strike entered in a foul temper. He hadn’t wanted to be outside in the pouring rain all day, but a particularly demanding client was at their heels, and, besides, the idea of spending those long hours in the tiny office alone with Robin had seemed like a bad one. Thankfully, she seemed to be clearing out for the day, packing yesterday’s clothes and her toiletries in her hold-all. Her bustling was a balm to his frayed nerves. It wasn’t that he resented having her around at all hours, indeed, even on her worst days, she was kind and competent, but the office had been seeming smaller lately.
“Finished up your notes on the Wells case?”, he asked to fill the silence.
“And the Englewood case, besides. Wouldn’t be going home otherwise, would I?”
“That’s a damn good days work, Robin. Few more rich fucks like them, and we’ll be able to get you a proper flat.” He was unable to keep a hint of pride from creeping into his voice.
“That way, I’ll be able to spend the little time I have that isn’t spent following men like that in comfort.”
“Exactly. As a reward for being the second best detective in London.” He could never resist an opportunity to boost his ego, however ironically, and especially not after a long day on the slippery pavements.
“It’s an honour to be Carver’s runner-up.”
“You asked for it!”
Inclined to agree, he added earnestly, “there’s not a copper in the whole bloody city who could hold a candle…”
She could feel herself blushing. Profanity and boasting aside, no one else in her life could make her so happy and discomposed with such a simple compliment, but then again, no one else appreciated the work she did as thoroughly. The “R.V. Ellacott” emblazoned on the office door attested to that. These months had seen her become a true equal in their partnership, and she had never been happier in her career. She wondered, for a moment, if there could be something else going on. Then she told herself not to think of him like that. ‘Like that’ had become a common problem lately. It made her almost glad that they spent so much time on surveillance that they were hardly in the office together.
“I’m on my way ‘ome then, see you in the morning”. He was bemused by the hint of Yorkshire in her voice, and wondered if he’d done something to fluster her. Suddenly, he realised he wasn’t as happy to see her leave as he had thought.
“Walk you to the tube?”, he asked, picking up her holdall.
“It’s alright, I can manage.”
“I could use the fresh air.” She freed her plait from her trench’s collar. Her hair glowed with the sunshine, and he tried to ignore it.
“Thank you.” She resisted the urge to point out that he had been outside all day in the pouring rain.
The street below was bright and uncharacteristically quiet. Everything had a soft glow to it that made the dingy buildings shine. The city around them seemed washed clean with the rain, fresher and more open than it had been before. In the shadow of a towering skyscraper, a tourist stopped to read a bus schedule. Across the street, a gaggle of flanneled coffee drinkers looked up momentarily from their laptops. Somewhere, a man played guitar badly, but with great aplomb. The city whisked away the discordant notes, making them one with the hum of traffic and the chatter of voices until all was peaceful. Robin thought she could even hear her heart beating. It was in moments like these that the city became her home in a way that nowhere else had been. She guessed that Strike felt the same way; even with its flaws, London was a part of them both.
As they walked, they mulled over all that they had done that day. Both Robin and Strike were quietly relieved that they could still have conversations like this with relative ease, despite the awkwardness that often pervaded the office. By the time they neared the station, her shoulder was pressed to his. Any casual observer would’ve thought them to be co-conspirators. The train she had been intending to take departed.
“You mind?”, Strike asked, pulling out a cigarette.
“Actually, yes. I do.”, she said mildly, taking him aback.
“Made up your mind to fix my habit, have you?”
“That wouldn’t be any of my business. However-“ she gestured to a sign directly behind his head that banned smoking in the vicinity of the station “the authorities have it in for you as it is. You needn’t add contaminating the air to showing them up.”
The compliment did not go unnoticed. He enjoyed her casual admiration for a moment, before remembering to chastise himself for doing so.
“Trade me. Give me something to not smoke this cigarette.”
Closing the distance between them, she deftly swiped it from between his fingers.
“There’s a pub round the corner. Fancy a pint?”
“I dunno. I’d really ‘fancy’ a smoke.” He was mocking her, enjoying the colour rising in her cheeks and in the hollow below the neck of her coat. Almost without thinking, he reached out to tuck a loose wave behind her ear, his hand lingering for a second too long by the side of her face. She blushed more deeply. Wondering if he could see how truly he was getting the best of her, and determined to not let him, she played along.
“Th- you drive a hard bargain.” She cursed her suppressed accent.
“I just haven’t heard any good offers yet.”
“What would you like for me to do for you, then?”, she inquired, and there was more truth behind the question than she had intended.
Her eyes were the same endless blue grey as the sky behind her. For an instant, she was looking at him without pretension, bare in a way that warmed him. A thin ray of sunshine illuminated them, lending the subway facade behind them borrowed radiance. The scent of wet pavements rose with the mist. Below, another train rattled by unheard. Her lashes brushed her cheeks as she caught herself and looked away.
“Fuck it”, he murmured, bracing himself.
She raised a singular brow in a challenge.
“Kiss me?” He phrased it as a question to make ‘no’ a possible answer.
With the hint of a smile, she leaned up and pressed her mouth to his.
The kiss was warm and soft, suffused with more genuine feeling than either had dared to hope for. Strike relaxed, and Robin realised he had been expecting an entirely different response to his proposal. She teased his bottom lip and satisfied her curiosity about the texture of his hair, burying her hands in it and finding it unexpectedly soft.
“Cormor-” she sighed, and the last syllable of his name was lost as he deepened the kiss, stroking the heat they shared. The world around them blurred, slowing down as if to let them have this moment to themselves, with the exception of a lounging youth who whistled his approval in their general direction. Other passersby spared them only casual glances, mistaking them for much younger than they were. Indeed, years seemed to be falling away, as one by one, the streetlights flickered on around them. Regrettably, the illumination of the inept guitarist’s instrument did little to improve his performance, but the sound was beautiful nonetheless. Somewhere in the past, Cormoran turned away from the door of a flat in Ealing, determined to let his anger wait until morning. Riding the wave as the musician’s melody lost its melancholy air, Robin padded on bare feet down a hotel hallway, made a flimsy excuse, and was let in. Their mistakes were washed away until they were like the city; ungainly, but sparkling with promise all the same. A final train passed, bringing with it the possibility of breaking apart, of doubting. Neither heeded its call. From behind the clouds, stars joined the streetlights in winking at the lovers as if they’d know this was going to happen all along. Robin nestled herself against her partner’s chest, feeling his heart beating. For a long, breathtaking moment, they stayed like that, holding each other in the oncoming night.