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Barely having touched for over thirty hours and both having waited months to be able to do so whenever they wanted, Robin and Strike had fallen into bed moments after she had opened his flat door to him late that evening. He had texted her soon after Charlotte had left, saying she had left and he would tell her what happened when they saw each other but Charlotte had certainly not dominated each other's thoughts once they were in close proximity.

"She did what?" Robin looked up at him from where her head had lain over his still accelerated heartbeat while she listened to what had happened between Strike and Charlotte. Her face, already flushed, was nearly bright red with anger.

"Spat in my face…lucky that was all," Strike's arm was thrown back against the pillow, his fingers rubbed his forehead. The thought of his clash with Charlotte already bringing back any tension that may have just been relieved.

Pulling herself up to lean on one elbow, she linked her fingers in his and rested his hand on her bare hip, she took over the massaging of his temple with her thumb, "What did you do?"

"I was just glad she left." Strike sighed, his arms tightened around her back drawing her closer until she moulded herself against the side of his body as they lay on the bed, "I must've still been drunk to text her in the first place."

Robin's eyes slipped away from him and she exhaled shakily.

"What's wrong?" He asked softly, pushing errant stands of rose-gold hair from the damp skin on her forehead and shoulder.

She bit her bottom lip then pursed them together, "I feel like it's my fault - I stirred it all up again for you. And then, she did that to you!" Robin stroked Strike's face, smoothing the lines in his forehead, feeling the rough and smooth of his beard where she imagined the spittle of Charlotte's bitterness to have landed. She kissed the crease on his cheek and he turned his head to feel her kiss on his lips.

"You didn't do anything wrong.'

No, she thought as anger took over from guilt, that bitch did. What she was partly stunned by was Strike's calmness. He seemed to be resigned to the fact that Charlotte would treat him like this.

Strike noticed the way her eyelids blinked just a little faster and the way her mouth lost it natural pout and flattened out. He arched his back to jog her from her fixed stare into nothing. Her eyes flicked back to his. Robin traced the thick arch of his eyebrow and the creases around his eyes as she thought how to say what was on her mind.

"Well?"

"You just don't seem as angry as I would have imagined you to be…how angry you should be. What if I had turned up to work with a cut black eye and scratches on my face when I was with Matthew? If I had told you Matthew spat on my face?

He tried to make light of her words, "I did imagine punching him a couple of times just for making you cry."

"But then it's not the same that she did that to you?" She cupped his face in her hand as she looked down at him. Her eyes glassy, "Did you really love her that much?"

"I thought so. I didn't just put up with it. I've been angry…the day we met, you must have heard us?"

"I'll never forget it. You sounded furious…but then you ran after her?"

"Because…I thought she'd do something stupid - I've had to talk her down from a roof ledge before now."

For all of Strike's gruffness, his intimidatingly large height and boxer's face, he could be one of the kindest and caring men Robin had known, especially for a needy case. Robin thought that Charlotte had probably sensed this too, especially when Strike was young and probably far from naïve but impressionable when it had come to beauty and first love. Robin believed Charlotte had taken advantage of his nature. Something she knew Strike would never actually admit. But she felt she should tell him something that would make him feel less at fault.

"…at University we did the different personality disorders, like schizophrenia," Robin ventured

"Okay?"

"Well, one of them is Histrionic - people with low self-esteem, who put themselves in a situation where they create a vicious cycle with their own emotional wellbeing. So, for instance, did she put herself in dangerous situations? Did she do it to get your attention? Her relationships with friends and family would not have been very sincere, therefore making her feel more and more insecure,"

Strike listened, the sinking feeling in his gut at the ring of truth of her words but also partly in awe of Robin's intuitive reading of Charlotte. One day, he wondered, she could surpass his own abilities.

" - as rejection makes them feel even worse. What provoked her in the first place?"

He looked away struggling with whether to tell her. However much it wasn't, she'd still feel like it was her fault in some way. Her eyes were still watching him, waiting.

Strike's voice was low and tender, "I told her about you,"

"You did?"

"Well to be fair, she had worked it out. Didn't you tell Matthew about me?"

She lifted her eyebrows in recognition.

He stroked her long hair, fanning it so that against the light it was the colour of a flame, "And it took you long enough - cost me a grand getting up to Masham in time to stop that bloody wedding!"

Her eyes widened, "It didn't, did it? Not that you stopped the wedding,"

Strike pulled a face as if he knew better.

"Shanker did it for half price as you didn't marry the twat… his words."

"Yeah!" She looked disbelieving at him for a moment before she moved her lips closer to his, his lips parted and she kissed each one before their tongues rasped against each other.

"What did you tell her?" She tried to sound neutral.

"That you were my partner," He watched her from underneath his lashes.

"Is that all…" and then as she looked into his face, realisation dawned, "Oh!"

"Is that alright?"

Her reply was to kiss him again and neither of them wanted to think of Charlotte for quite a while.

 

Later, with Strike's limbs tangled in hers, his head tucked underneath her chin, Robin said, "Looking back the whole knocking into each other…"

"And you stopping me?"

"It's a bit weird,"

"…considering," he looked up at her to admire the way her face was aglow again and he tried to conceal the pride in his smile.

"Makes a good story though…"

"For?" He raised an eyebrow at her and she laughed knowing how tight-lipped he could be.

She trailed her fingertips along his arm, her mind back on the events of the morning, "So when Charlotte told you she'd lied to you about the baby,"

"Mmm…"

"What did it feel like, her telling you finally?"

"Relief,"

She thought she understand what he meant but she wanted to hear it from him. After the rows with Matthew, she needed to be sure they wanted the same things from each other. It wasn't just their romantic relationship that depended on it but their working partnership too - all the ways in which they had tied themselves to one another. It was better they talked about it now and avoided the kind of hurt that she had already had a taste of when he'd walked out of her flat months before, "Because?"

Strike could feel her pulse had quickened, "Me and Charlotte didn't have children because we couldn't, we weren't like Nick and Ilsa. Both of us agreed we didn't want them and Charlotte could be…spiteful about other people's children," When Robin gave him a knowing look, he added, "Not that I'm keen to spend time with them either. When she said she was pregnant it was a shock, but I didn't want her to get an abortion. I mostly felt scared." His lips curved upwards at one side of his mouth.

Robin gave only a half-laugh, "Were you relieved when she said she had lost it?"

"No. I was upset. But the more she asked me how I could still love her, the more it felt like every other time she had needed me to give her reassurance. She didn't seem distraught enough. By that time, I was already suspicious of her, so it compounded the doubt. But underneath it all there was definitely sadness there."

Robin nodded but she wasn't finished, "Did you just not want children with Charlotte?"

He sighed but he had always known being with Robin would come down to this. He had acted only when he was sure he could commit to her and consider trying to think of himself in a different way.

"I had another long-term girlfriend, Tracey, she was in the SIB with me years ago."

"Oh," Robin tried to not show her surprise, tried not to draw any parallels between herself.

"We broke up because she wanted kids and I didn't."

And there it was the cold, ice in her stomach. Exactly what she had feared.

Her fingers stopped their movement. She carefully breathed out not wanting Strike to be aware of her distress. Robin had always wanted children, just not as immediately as Matthew had talked about. She had just assumed that when she felt ready when she had started on her path and had finally had achievements of her own, she would be a have-it-all woman. Now her children were grown up, Robin's mother was even pursuing her own goals. Children weren't a box to be ticked or an accessory of achievement with an Audi A3 Cabriolet. They were something else Robin could give her love to and nurture. She had a happy childhood with lots of wonderful memories of family. It was not something she could miss out on. For anyone.

But Strike had felt her shock and looked up at her. He pushed himself up on his elbow and leant his head on his hand, "Shit, Robin,"

Robin had turned white.

He stroked her hair, trying to comfort her, he put his arm around her, pulling her into him, "Robin?" He waited until she would look at him, "I didn't mean to upset you. I've always known you're going to want a family and I couldn't be without you over something like that, okay? I only need some time, alright?"

Robin just looked at him, "I don't want you to do something you can't stand the thought of Cormoran. It wouldn't be right."

"That's not it at all. This is hard for me, just let me try and explain," Strike said honestly "I just wasn't brought up like you, bloody far from it,"

"I know…"

"No, I don't think you do…I think you can empathise with it but you can't know what it's like to not be your parents' first priority, ever - I don't know what it means to be a dad. I mean can you truly see me as a domesticated father of three like Greg?"

She'd met Greg once when Lucy brought him to the office. He was cut from the same cloth as Matthew. The image made her laugh even if she didn't want to, "I wouldn't want a Greg, I'm not a Lucy either!"

"I know that. But I have to get used to the idea. I feel I can - with you. Just give me some time, you're not in any rush, are you?"

"Absolutely not, I've only just found this - the job, you, I just want to enjoy it but I don't want us to end up like Matthew and me,"

"Do you really think that could happen?" His hand clasped her chin and he stroked her cheek, "I promise I'll get there."