The following fanfiction was written by LulaIsAKitten. Here’s the link to the original source.
The last time Cormoran sees Ilsa before they go their separate ways to university, they both know deep down that they’re unlikely to live in such close proximity ever again. The village they grew up in is fairly small, and they’ve been friends on and off since they were six. There aren’t exactly going to be exciting jobs in law or whatever Cormoran eventually decides he wants to do (definitely not teaching or anything stuck behind a desk, that’s all he’s really sure of) to be had locally.
Cormoran isn’t quite as attached to the county as Ilsa is, having not always lived there, and is unprepared for how sad his old friend is to be leaving. On the last morning before she heads north and he goes to Oxford, they meet for coffee and she gives him a little gift bag with a bow. He feels bad because he didn’t think to get her anything, didn’t realise it was an occasion that warranted the giving of gifts.
Nestled in the bottom of the bag is a mug, plain white, jauntily proclaiming “I ❤️ Cornwall”. Cormoran laughs, and Ilsa laughs too and wipes away her tears, and he promises to use it daily at university. She clings to him as they say goodbye, something in the way that she holds him just a little tighter than she ever has before that makes him linger a little. It feels like more of a goodbye than any of the other countless goodbyes they’ve said.
He wraps the mug in his chunky jumper to keep it safe on the journey up to Oxford in Uncle Ted’s battered old Volvo 240, and it takes pride of place on the desk in his dorm. It’s soon tea-stained and chipped, the logo scuffed, but it follows him from dorm to dorm, never getting lost.
He drinks over-strong coffee from it and smokes too many cigarettes, trapped in the nightmarishly slow proceedings of the trial after his mother dies, the handle familiar and comforting in his hand, anchoring him to the county he now misses more than he thought he was capable of, when every other tie he had in life is gone. The moment the trial is over, he signs up for the Army, and the mug swiftly becomes one of the most well-travelled from its little corner of England, finding itself buried in his kit bag for every deployment. It sits on clean polished shelves in Germany and dusty packing crates in Iraq. Somehow it loses its handle on the way to Afghanistan, but this is fortunate because it means that when his squadron mates are packing up his stuff to send back to England for him, it’s already in the bottom of his bag. In the hospital in Selly Oak, it becomes his toothbrush holder.
Its first companion arrives as a half-joke, a month after his arrival in hospital. Nick had ordered it online, and produces it with a slightly self-conscious flourish. This mug looks oddly pristine and new compared to its battered and well-travelled friend, but it, too, is soon tea-stained and scuffed. He focuses on the shape of the heart, the curve of the C, controlling his breathing, in the dead of night when his brain plays cruel tricks on him, throwing him from past to present and back again, forcing him to relive the accident in hideous technicolor.
He takes both mugs with him when he moves in with Charlotte, ignoring her fine bone china cups and planting the handle-less one without apology on the shelf in the bathroom. She doesn’t object. It probably appeals to her fascination with chaos and broken things.
The third arrives that Christmas from Joan and Ted, oblivious to the two he already possesses. Strike grins when he opens it, and Charlotte rolls her eyes, but it joins Nick’s in the kitchen.
The fourth arrives a couple of years later, already worn and battered. Shanker spotted it in a charity shop window in Shoreditch, and swears blind he paid actual money for it. Strike chooses to believe that even Shanker wouldn’t steal from a charity. Shanker totally gets the joke, grinning his toothy grin as he hands it over without ceremony. By this stage, Strike is sleeping in his office, nursing wounds to heart as well as body and trying not to wonder why Charlotte had sent the one from the bathroom on to him whole rather than in pieces. Maybe even she wouldn’t stoop so low, or more likely she’d just never truly realised what it meant to him. Either way, it sits on the shelf behind his desk, still holding his toothbrush, while the other three take it in turns to be filled with tea or live upside down on the shelf above the kettle.
Two and a bit years later on his birthday, with the original upstairs in his tiny bathroom, Nick’s up in the flat and Ted and Joan’s and Shanker’s living in the office (probably; it’s a bit hard to tell them all apart now), Robin, finally bold enough to consider herself a good enough friend to join in, gives him a fifth, also shiny new. She’d asked Lucy to pick it up for her the next time she took the boys to Cornwall, and she has filled it with a little packet of Cornish fudge.
Strike is deeply touched by this one. He’s never discussed the longstanding joke with her, but she’ll be aware of the two drifting around the office, and he supposes she could have seen the handle-less one holding his toothbrush on the morning they’d received a severed leg in the post, when he’d taken her up to his flat to escape forensics combing the office.
This new mug doesn’t quite make it into the general office circulation immediately. It sits on his desk, new and clean, for some time. Occasionally it holds a pen or pencil, but Strike doesn’t usually have enough of those around to warrant a holder. He’s always hunting for a pen and stealing Robin’s. Eventually it’s pressed into service as a whisky mug late one night, and Robin rolls her eyes fondly at him next morning as she opens the window to let out the stale smoke and whisky fumes, deliberately clattering loudly enough to wake him from his slump across an open file. She removes the mug, pours the whisky dregs down the sink and fills it with very hot, very sugary coffee. It has joined the gang.
That Christmas Eve, Strike and Robin raise a toast to her divorce and the success of the business, expensive champagne (that Strike lashed out on despite Robin’s protests) drunk from matching mugs, the hearts clinking together as they toast increasingly silly things as the bottle empties, from the new hoover to the fact that it’s been six whole weeks since the business bank account last went overdrawn.
Their first kiss is unplanned, tentative and awkward, each with a mug held out to one side. Strike reaches without looking to put his on the desk and misses, sending it and an inch of champagne crashing to the floor. Mercifully the mug doesn’t break. Robin squeaks and goes to rescue it, but Strike growls and pulls her giggling back into his arms.
Many mugs of tea are left to go cold in the following weeks, forgotten in the heat and secret of stolen kisses, poured down the sink later, until eventually Ilsa guesses what’s going on and they’re forced to take their burgeoning relationship public.
It becomes a tradition that Robin rounds up the four unbroken mugs every time Nick and Ilsa come over, and after the plates are washed and the takeaway cartons stacked and the beer has run out, they sit around in Strike’s tiny flat, chatting, with matching mugs of steaming tea, Robin usually curled on Strike’s lap due to the lack of chairs. These are Strike’s favourite times in the whole world.
These, and the moment every morning when he catches sight of Robin’s toothbrush stood next to his in the handle-less mug above the sink.