The following fanfiction was written by RobinLeStrange. Here’s the link to the original source.
During his time in the army, Strike had taken great pride in any involvement he’d had with Remembrance Day parades and services. He wasn’t really one for pomp and ceremony but welcomed the opportunity to represent his regiment and pay his respects to those who had gone before, and, more poignantly some of his own friends and colleagues who had fallen during or as a result of their service in the armed forces.
Losing his leg had changed that. He had been invited to take part in various commemorations since, but it was all too close to home now – the memories of lying in the desert sand, drifting in and out of consciousness; the months at Selly Oak, being pieced back together; learning to walk again; managing the PTSD.
He would never forget the fire ravaged face of Richard Anstis, visible out of the corner of his eye, or the discovery that Sergeant Gary Topley would never go home to his loved ones. Strike knew he could never have saved them both, but the fact that he’d made a choice in that split second that had meant life for one man and death for the other was something he’d never quite managed to reconcile within himself.
He was still grateful to the army, for providing an escape and security at the darkest time in his life, the skills that enabled him to further his career and then start his own business. His respect for his fellow service men and women was increased by virtue of not only his own experience, but those of his fellow patients at Selly Oak with whom he’d shared his recovery.
Nonetheless, his annual routine remained unchanged. As he watched the final minutes of the Festival of Remembrance, he raised a glass of a single malt to those lost and sent a silent prayer into the ether for those still serving, before switching off his television and turning in for the night.
* * *
He was back in Afghanistan, the Viking juddering over the uneven ground. Even in his dream state he felt the same sense of unease as he had in reality, and whilst his brain was unconscious his body was reacting accordingly, his heart rate increasing, his skin sheened with sweat. The vehicle drew to halt, but this time, it didn’t start moving again. There was no need to for Strike to wake himself shouting “Brake!”
The back of the Viking opened, and he stepped outside into a large green park. The sky was blue and cloudless, the warmth of the sun was gentle, unlike the searing desert heat he was expecting. The space was bordered with mature trees and a water fountain tinkled somewhere out of sight.
Looking around he saw Anstis in the distance, walking with his wife and kids, not just the new-born son whose photo he had shown Strike seconds before the IED had exploded, but his younger siblings too.
Strike frowned in confusion, and looked back into the Viking, but found it had disappeared.
“Uncle Cormoran, Uncle Cormoran!”
His attention swung back to the park, where his nephew Jack was waving at him as he threw a frisbee to his brothers.
His eyes followed the path of the flying disc to where his best friends sat on a picnic blanket, Nick’s arm draped around Ilsa as passed her a bottle of Cornish cider. Approaching them from behind was Robin. She was barefoot, wearing a pale green summer dress sprigged with tiny daisies, and both the skirt and her hair were fluttering in the light breeze. She was precariously carrying four ice creams and as she neared the picnic blanket, she glanced up. Her eyes met Strike’s and they lit up as she smiled warmly and beckoned him to join them with a jerk of her head..
Without thinking he took a step forward and was falling…falling…falling until he jerked awake suddenly, back in bed in his tiny flat.
He lay in bed for several minutes, reflecting on this new development to the nightmare which had haunted him for years, feeling hot tears slide down his cheeks and into his pillow for the first time after waking. They were almost as much of a shock as screaming himself awake in a cold sweat, trembling.
Finally, with a deep breath, and the resolve instilled in him by years of military discipline, he pulled himself upright and, ignoring his usual morning urge for coffee and nicotine, made his way to the tiny shower room.
* * *
He arrived at Whitehall just in time to hear Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Elgar. Having no desire to make himself conspicuous, he was dressed in his usual clothes and long overcoat, devoid of anything that would mark him out as a veteran, or, as the tabloids liked to describe him, war hero. His medals and red beret still remained in the cardboard box in which they’d been unceremoniously delivered by courier after his departure from Charlotte’s apartment two and a half years previously.
He watched as those laying wreaths moved into alignment around the Cenotaph, quietly steeling himself for the sound of the guns that would announce the commencement of the two minutes silence. When the canon fired to signal the end, he was unable to stop himself from flinching, and had to take several deep breaths as the sound of The Last Post reverberated down Whitehall. He thought fondly of his Auntie Joan, a stalwart member of the Salvation Army and keen musician, who would no doubt be playing the same tune at her local parade in Cornwall that morning.
The Bishop of London prayed that people would ‘fight and not heed the wounds’. Not generally given to self-pity, Strike had to stifle a snort of derision as he briefly remembered why he didn’t do this anymore. The residual anger and resentment regarding his loss rarely reared its head these days, and he knew it wasn’t meant literally but the statement rankled momentarily nonetheless.
The feeling dissipated almost as quickly as it had come over him as the service continued and the march past began. Different services, different regiments, some with personal connections, some not. A crowd of children marched past, representing a charity for those who’d lost parents in service and he thought of Timothy Anstis, his godson, who had he not pulled his father back and away from the blast a split-second before it erupted, may have been among them.
Feeling suddenly overwhelmed and knowing that the proceedings were almost at an end, he began to manoeuvre his way as quickly and carefully as possible through the crowds in the direction of The Silver Cross for a much-needed drink.
He pulled his coat more tightly around him and proceeded, head down, through the throng of people still watching the tail end of the march past. Eventually, the numbers dwindled, and he looked up to see more clearly where he was going, only to catch sight of a familiar red-gold head several metres ahead. He followed the woman for a short while to ensure it was her.
She paused and turned around, taking a few seconds to find him on the busier than usual pavements.
“Cormoran,” she looked a little disconcerted, obviously taken aback to see him.
“Just heading for a pint,” he stated, falling into step beside her, “Join me?”
She smiled, “Okay.”
* * *
The bar was busy, but a quick scan revealed a small table at the back of the room and Robin headed over while Strike went to the bar. A short while later they were both ensconced in the cosy nook in a pair of wing-back leather armchairs, Strike with his pint and Robin with her usual white wine.
“So,” she said, taking a sip, “Good weekend?”
“Uneventful, so I guess that qualifies,” he chuckled. “You?”
“Yeah, much the same really, chores, Zumba, bit of college work.”
“How’s it going?” Strike was aware that Robin had enrolled with the Open University to complete her Psychology Degree.
“Good,” she beamed at him, “Really good actually.”
He gazed at her fondly. “I’m really pleased for you. You’ll be amazing.”
She chinked her glass with his, scanning his face surreptitiously from beneath her bronze eyelashes. He looked tired, she thought.
“Did you come for the Remembrance service this morning?” she asked, tentatively.
He nodded. “Yup. What brings you here?”
He looked up and noticed she was blushing slightly, not quite meeting his eye.
“I didn’t know anyone in the services until I met you,” she admitted, “…so now it just all seems a bit more important somehow. I suppose you come every year.”
“God no,” he exclaimed. “To be honest, this is the first time I’ve been able to face it since I…left the army. How about you? Have you been before?”
“No,” she replied, flushing again. “I wanted to but…”
Her voice tailed off as she fiddled with the stem of her wine glass. They both knew exactly what the ‘but…’ referred to. Matthew.
They sat for a few moments, mulling over the conversation and the atmosphere that hung between them.
“I’m glad you came today,” said Strike, “…and that we bumped into each other.”
She looked up and into his eyes as she covered his hand briefly with her own and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Me too,” she smiled.
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