"Where we going?"
Cormoran was sitting in the passenger seat, watching hedges and trees fly past the window. The car swerved slightly as she accelerated further through fifth gear. He felt his stomach leap as the car flew over a speed bump, Robin ignoring all sense to slow down. He glanced past her at the speedometer, which was slowly creeping past 100.
"Where are we going?" He repeated, louder this time. She ignored him, her hands gripped the steering wheel tighter, her knuckles whitening as fragments of her advanced driving course ran through her head. On her arm, he could make out the pink scar from where she was attacked in Catford a few weeks previously, and his stomach tightened.
It was less than ten minutes ago that she left the church without saying a word. She was never overly religious, but under the stone arches and stained glass windows she had had a perfect moment of clarity. Matthew had called after her, but Robin walked deftly down the aisle, whispers buzzing around her. She held Strike's gaze for a moment too long as she passed him, which he took as his cue. Stepping awkwardly over wet petals strewn on the floor, he followed her out into the weak sunshine.
The car swung wildly around a narrow bend, the white ribbon flapping furiously on the bonnet, finally gave up the fight, hitting the windscreen before it disappeared.
Strikes voice was softer now, he gently placed his hand on top of hers on the gearstick. She turned to him, her forehead damp with a sheen of sweat, tears prickling at the edges of her eyes. The car quickly began to slow down, as she turned right into a deserted rest area. It was little more than a lay-by, one old picnic bench overlooking rolling green fields below. She cut be engine and got out, her silk dress flowing in the breeze behind her. Strike followed. Leaning on the fence with her head bowed, he could hear her breathing heavily. He was starting to realise how much he had missed her, even though it had been less than a week since he had stormed into her flat in Ealing, furious and fired her.
"Look, about Brockbank -" he began, but she cut him off.
"I just walked out of my wedding. I can't believe I just... I just..." her voice stuttered, breaking off. She took a few deep breaths, determined to steady her resolve, then turned to face him. Her eyes widened, taking in the bruised deep purple swirls beneath his eyes, indicating a broken nose.
"Laing", he figured a one-word explanation would suffice.
"You went looking for him yourself?" she asked with a strong hint of indignation which was not lost on Strike.
"Yeah, don't know who gave me the idea to do that", he said, unable to contain a smile.
"Why did you come?" she asked, nervously drumming the top of the fence with her fingers
"To see if you wanted your job back –"
"Yeah, but why today, why my wedding day?", her Yorkshire accent speeding up her sentences. This was no time to pretend.
He looked at her and simply shrugged. The corners of his mouth lifted slightly but his smile danced all the way up to his eyes. He had looked at her like this before. During long days in the office, in the Tottenham slightly worse for wear, on the rooftop at that party, with London glittering beneath them. She had also pretended it wasn't happening, while secretly filing his gazes away in her memory.
And just like that, she was undone. With two quick strides, she closed the space between them. Without a second thought, she leaned in and kissed him urgently, her hands on his chest.
Strikes brain was racing wildly, his hands cupped the sides of her face, drawing her in closer, savouring everything he could. He broken nose smarted on contact but he didn't care. It felt exhilarating, strange and familiar at the same time. He has played out this scene many times in his head before, in the small hours of the morning when sleep evaded him, the odd time he caught himself watching her work, biting her lip as she typed, when she stood beside him in that beautiful evening gown.
He never pictured her in a wedding dress, though. That thought brought him to his senses, as he took her hands from his face and pulled away.
"Robin, we can't..."
She stared at him, her face paling beneath her makeup, her throat working furiously.
A car passed on the road behind them, beeping the horn happily, the driver no doubt thinking he had spotted a new wed couple stealing a few private moments together.
"You don't... you don't want...", she began.
Her eyes glassy, she started to back away from him. The knot in Strikes stomach tightened, and suddenly he realised what he stood to lose.
Oh, fuck it.
He reached out a hand and pulled her back to his chest, kissing her like he was afraid she would disappear if he stopped.
" 'course I do", he replied breathlessly, in between kisses.
Afterwards, there was a content silence between them as Robin drove back to the church, obeying the speed limit this time.
Strike was the first to break it.
"You were still in your dress..." he began, attempting to explain his earlier hesitancy. The rational part of his brain, no matter how small, knew that she couldn't jump head first into something with him without first dismantling the last 9 years of her life.
"I know, I know", she smiled weakly.
Too soon, the church spire came into view. A handful of people milled about in the car park, Robin spotted her mum with her phone pressed to her ear but mercifully Matthew was nowhere to be seen. Strike spotted Shanker, leaning up against his car, smoking, drawing some odd looks from the remaining well-dressed wedding guests. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Before they parted, Robin took his hand and squeezed it briefly. Shanker raised an eyebrow at Strike as he passed by him to open the passenger door.
"Not a fucking word, mate"
It had been three days since he had seen her. Three whole days back in London, in his tiny office trying and failing to concentrate on work. With Charlotte, the job had always come first but this was different. He half heartedly trailed the few surveillance cases he had, ignoring the office phone ringing on Robin's desk, turning down potential new work. He passed hours over strong coffee in a café on the corner of Denmark street, punctured only by escaping to smoke. His finances were always up and down, and this was definitely not helping.
Only one text had punctured the limbo - "please be patient. R x"
He had received it the evening he returned, as he sat at his small kitchen table, weary from the long days travelling and Shanker's insistent jibes. When it had arrived, the screen light lit up his face and he couldn't help but smile. But her subsequent silence had left too much free time. Too much free time to allow doubts in his head to surface.
Are you really going to ruin the best professional relationship of your life for a shag?
He brushed these thoughts away every time they surfaced. Robin was more than that. He had felt it, in the car three days before his feelings had consumed him. He just hoped she felt the same, that was had passed between them wasn't just a rebound reaction to leaving Matthew.
Robins three days had been somewhat different. The evening that was meant to be her wedding night morphed into something very different, long hours spent drinking strong tea at her family kitchen table, Rowntree lying at her feet. She tried and failed to allay her mother's fears. "But where will you live? The wedding, all those guests, you've spent nine years with him, you can just turn your back", she exasperated.
Comoran's name was mentioned infrequently, and after realising her daughter would not reveal anything, her mother stopped probing. Finally, a little after quarter to two in the morning, her father simply sighed, rolled his eyes to heaven and went to bed, the fairer sex even more of a mystery to him.
From time to time over the next few days, Robin mulled over her career. While she assumed she wasn't fired anymore (or, at the very least, Cormoran didn't hate her), they hadn't specifically talked the future. Was she asking too much to be happy both professionally and personally? Would the balance modern women crave continue to elude her? Or had their actions irrevocably tipped the scales one way?
She kept herself occupied, as she worked methodically, packing, sending apologetics emails to wedding guests, cancelling hotels. Her actions were robotic, and business like. She was simply going through the motions, much like the last few months of her relationship with Matthew. While she had tried to forgive him for cheating on her with Sarah, she just couldn't forget. And it wasn't just Sarah. Was it ever really about her? It was about Matts' insistence that she fit into the mould he created for her.
Even when he came over one evening, heavy footed and smelling of whiskey, she had little to say to him.
"You humiliated me, you walked out on our wedding! For him! Have long have you been with him?", his Yorkshire accent toughened by alcohol.
"You cheated on me for months! This isn't about Cormoran! This is about you!"
"This is all about him! Everything changed when you took that job. You're not the same person anymore"
Now it was Robin's turn to get angry.
"Damn right I changed. I found something I loved, something I am good at, something that actually makes a difference and you want me to give it all up! You undermined me every chance you got!"
Matt said nothing, shocked into submission by Robins outburst, and what he knew, deep down, was the truth. After all they have been through at university, he thought she would never leave him, and that was the way he liked it. She sat down on the couch, with her head in her hands.
"I can't do this anymore, I'm exhausted. Please just go"
And by the time she looked up, he was gone.
It was almost a relief to be on the train the next day, to return to London where blissful anonymity could swallow you whole. It was dark by the time Robins train pulled into Kings Cross, and before she realised, she was on a southbound northern line train, heading for Tottenham Court Road.
Strike looked up from his computer. It was late evening, the street lights flooding his small office in an orange glow. The bruises on his face were finally healing, now turning yellow, giving his tired face a jaundiced look. He had been absentmindedly drawing on an old envelope, drawing closer and closer circles until his pen went through the paper completely. His was no longer fighting his lack of focus. Yawning and stretching in his chair, he let his mind drift back to a memory he had replayed in his head many times over the past few days.
Their first time could almost have been called functional, inevitable, a means to an end they both knew was coming. Cautious to take her lead, he stopped kissing her when she broke away and didn't question her as she took his hand and took him back to the car. Fumbling in the back seat, his broad stature adding a tinge of awkwardness, they had barely undressed, just enough to feel hands and mouths and skin. She looked down at him, shockingly beautiful. He was dimly aware that he looked like shit. But Robin obliterated every thought in his head as her open lips shut on his, dying a little death inside. For her too, it had been different. She had only ever been with one man. Two, actually, piped up a little voice inside her head which she also fought so hard to silence. With Matthew their awkward teenage fumbling had seemed to follow them into their twenties. Cormoran was different. Passionate and sure of himself, his gaze never leaving hers, his hands pulling her closer still. Afterwards, he held her in his arms for a few minutes, not wanting the moment he had waited for to be over so soon.
As he gave her a moment to herself, he lit up a cigarette and leaned against the boot of the car, taking pressure off his prosthesis. He smiled ruefully, running a hand over his face. The last time he had had sex on a backseat, he still had both his legs.
Emerging at the top of the station steps, Robin walked briskly down Charing Cross road, crossing over to the opposite pavement to avoid the ever-present building work. Sometimes she wondered would London ever be finished. The street teemed with people, theatre goers spilling out from evening showings. Turning left past multiple music shops, her feet were on autopilot. If she were to stop her confidence would surely disappear.
The sound of footsteps on the spiral staircase pulled him back to the present. He made to get up, but before he was out of his chair Robin was standing in front of him, one small suitcase at her feet. She looked even more beautiful than the memories he had in his head, worn from overuse.
"Hi", he smiled at her, his one word greeting ringing in the space between them. "It's late, what are you doing here?"
"I came to pay the gas bill", she said, her smile meeting his.
Cormoran suddenly felt out of his depth, standing awkwardly with his arms hanging at his sides. Craving something to do, he turned away from her, towards the tiny kitchenette.
"Tea?", he proffered, without evening waiting for her reply he had flipped the switch on the kettle and started hunting for teabags.
"Please. Milk, no sugar"
He turned to her, half laughing. "I haven't forgotten".
The ended up on the couch, Cormoran clasping his mug, just to give him something to do with his hands. They chatted mundanely, him telling her about the latest cases and the suspicious look he got from Wardle when he caught side of his bruised face. Her hair had fallen from her clip and was hanging loose around her face. He leaned in and took the cup from her hands without a word, leaving in on the floor beside them. She was so much more to him than a tryst in a lay-by, he hoped she knew that. He placed a hand on her neck and felt her pulse quicken as he pulled her towards him. As he placed his lips on hers, her could feel her smiling. He never wanted to stop. Pushing one hand through her hair the other moved down from her face to trace her collarbone, and then to the soft swell of he breasts. It was all still so new, wonderful and exhilarating. Robin went to move underneath him but suddenly he pulled away and stood up, staring down at her.
"What's wrong?" she said breathlessly, through kissed lips, her hair mussed on one side.
Cormoran smiled and pulled her to her feet. After the backseat of a car, they could do much better than the dilapidated office couch. He led her out of the office, his good leg kicking the door to his flat closed behind them.