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Joining the Dots

Chapter Text

You are all I have these days,
shake it up and run away
With the night squabbling behind you

Joining the Dots, Arctic Monkeys

All the way up North Robin sat in the passenger seat, feeling as though everything was happening to an entirely other person. While a gleeful Matthew maneuvered the Land Rover, Robin barely managed to keep her face neutral. Exhausted of the façade she had been putting up the last couple of days when in the presence of her soon–to–be–husband, she had given up faking happiness for now. She just sat there. Not even looking at the passing blur of green and white and grey, the familiar rattle of the old car filled the space between the couple and saved her from conversation. Matt turned on the radio.

Was this how one felt on the brink of getting married? Bereft of the job she so loved, a profession she had always dreamed of doing, her wedding seemed to her almost like a consolation prize. But that was her reality now; Matthew was all that was left her and she was about to become his.

Tall and handsome; ever since they had been a couple in their late teens, since before Robin’s life had changed so dramatically, marrying Matthew had once seemed to her like a dream come true, how she’d envisioned her future. She remembered how perfect their engagement had been, almost two years ago under the wings of Eros in the dark blue London night on Piccadilly Circus, him getting down on one knee, her tearful and utterly surprised, accepting, touched by his show of spontaneity and uncharacteristic public show of affection.

Now, she couldn't seem to feel anything but an ever–growing sense of emptiness.

In fairness, so much had changed for her. Everything had changed. On the day following her engagement, she had stepped into an office of a private investigator, unaware that there, finally, she would be able to pursue her secret, her true life’s ambition, carefully kept to herself, for others thought her too timid, too broken for a profession as dangerous as hers had been.

There it was – had been. Just five days ago, this dream of becoming a detective had come to a sudden end, cut short by her pivotal insecurity, that she was, after all, not a true professional. She had always dreaded this, not least because Matthew had been a constant reminder of her own inadequacy, continuously discarding her dream job as a child’s wish. And, in truth, she could never have hoped to reach up to the level of experience and audacity that her partner, Cormoran Strike, had amounted during his years as an officer in the SIB. Militarily trained and apathetic to the horrors a shaken Robin had been exposed to in recent months for the first time, he had been totally and utterly unforgiving when Robin had (unbeknownst to him) up–rooted their investigation of the Shacklewell Ripper a week ago. To save one little girl from the hands of a child rapist and – according to Strike – supposed serial murderer.

Successful and proud though she was of saving a child – and a mother – from the monster Noel Brockbank, Robin could not stand the idea that her blundering action, her desperate need to save a girl from the horrifying experience she herself had endured – not as a child, but as a student at university – might be the reason another would have to suffer, might even die. As far as she could tell, the eluded Brockbank had not yet been obtained by the authorities. This pained her deeply. She had been dead certain that that disgusting man couldn’t have been the Shacklewell Ripper, it just didn’t fit the profile. How terribly wrong she had been!

Her hand itched to grab her phone tucked away in her jacket pocket, but she dared not reveal in the presence of Matthew how she – even now – was still obsessed with the case that she had not been able to see to an end.

“Quick and clean, gross misconduct”.

Even now, his words were still ringing in her ears; she could still see him, Strike, towering over her, the harshness of his face she had come to know as thoughtful, guarded, or – when they were alone together –  mischievous and care–free even, set into stone, dark eyes hard and glaring.

She briefly opened the window to let in the soft summer air. The car rattled even louder and Matt turned up the volume.

As they turned onto the M1, a buoyant Matthew, ignorant of the gloomy thoughts of his fiancé and gleeful in the face of the upcoming wedding (and a life that was finally, mercifully free of that bastard Cormoran Strike), started singing a Daniel Bedingfield love song.

“I gotta have a reason to wake up in the morning. You used to be the one that put a smile on my face. There are no words to describe how I miss you and I miss you every day yeah.”

Robin instantly recognised the tune from the year they both had started university, the year before it had happened, the year before she’d been raped; the year before – as she now knew – Matthew had started an affair with Sarah Shadlock, because “it had been a difficult time for me, too, you know”; one year before her world had been thrown into the chaos that – even now – held her in its stale grip, ripping through the life she had so determinedly built for herself, against all odds and to everyone’s disbelief. But this life was no more. She felt the tears burning in her eyes, afraid she could not bear it any longer.

“Could you not sing that?” she managed.

“Sorry,” Matthew said, startled. “It seemed appropriate”.

“Maybe it’s got happy memories for you”, muttered Robin, desperate to keep the tears stinging in her eyes from flowing. She turned to look out of the window.  Not wanting to let Matthew see how deeply she was affected. “But it hasn’t for me”.  

A sensation of guilt briefly chased away her desperation. She had lied to Matthew. Connected to unhappy memories at uni though it was, these were not the reasons why the song had made her eyes water.

I gotta have a reason to wake up in the morning. You used to be the one that put a smile on my face. There are no words to describe how I miss you and I miss you every day yeah.

The lyric Matthew had just sung had struck a chord somewhere deep inside of her, resonating with her, reflecting her core, had all of a sudden made her painfully aware of the full extent of emotions she so desperately had managed to hide from him, from herself. Underneath all the guilt and desperation and anger that she had built up against Cormoran - because he so swiftly had replaced her, because he didn’t think of her as an equal, but as an assistant, a mere “Girl Friday”, because he had cast her aside, although they had shared so much together - in an instant, she understood the true reason for the overwhelming, suffocating emptiness. It was, in truth, not the lost job she lamented, important though it had been to her. She was mourning the loss of a friend: she desperately missed Strike.

You used to be the one that put a smile on my face.

Sitting next to the gleefully unaware Matthew in the Land Rover, she could not help but think back to the last time she had sat in this car, driving northward. Those had been good times, she remembered sadly, when she and Cormoran still had been friends, colleagues, in pursuit of Brockbank on their way up to Barrow–in–Furness. Hours spent amicably sitting next to each other, at times sharing thoughts and observations, at times remaining in perfect silence, but always enjoying the other’s company.

Strange, Robin mused, that the memory of those days together with Cormoran were not tainted by the fact that her relationship of nine years had just crumpled, that she had broken the engagement, that she had been alone. But it was not loneliness or grief that she had felt then. Cormoran could always make her laugh, even at a time that ought to have been a time of sadness. She remembered smiling and laughing, untroubled, both focused on the job, doing what they loved so much.

Now, sitting here next to her happy fiancé in the Land Rover, she felt her desolation more acutely than ever before. Not once had she been this depressed during the excursion up to Barrow with Strike, even at the loss of her engagement ring, at the loss of Matthew. Should she not feel happy now that after months of bickering and fighting her relationship had been mended? That, obstacle after obstacle overcome, they were finally taking the next step, leaving the past behind, becoming husband and wife at last? And yet, she only felt the ever expanding hollowness that was the desperate longing for the person she felt had been a better friend to her, than Matthew ever had been in their shared nine years together.

There are no words to describe how I miss you and I miss you every day yeah.

The unexpected truth of the sentiment overwhelmed her, hitting her with a blunt force that almost had her gasping for air.

Scenes she had pushed back for so long rushed to the front of her mind in sudden clarity: She remembered being flushed when Cormoran had found it obvious that Matthew wanted to get back together; she thought of her uneasiness when she waited for Strike outside the massage parlour; she recalled her pang of jealousy when he had called his girlfriend Elin, and her relief at his matter–of–fact–tone when he spoke to her; and she thought of lying five rooms away from Cormoran in the Travelodge, imagining –or hoping– he would knock on her door...

But the moment had passed, and all hope that anything might have come from the feelings – feelings, that had slowly formed undetectable roots under the cover of mutual comradery and respect, had sprouted during these sorrowful months of a failing relationship, that had finally flourished in spite of constant denial and the sheer impossibility of it all – must perish at last.

Painfully aware of Matthew, and anxious not to show any indication of her earth–shattering revelation, she concentrated on the passing landscape, the flashing of green fields and the blue summer sky smiling down on her.

When she was finally certain that her voice would not betray her, she tried for some normalcy, hoping that if she could not be happy herself, at least Matthew’s glee might do something to chase away this choking sorrow for a lost friend, for something that would never happen. After all, Cormoran was gone for good, and Matthew was here beside her.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t sing something else”, she managed.

“That’s alright,“ a jovial Matt replied.

Robin chased away her slight irritation at his unwaveringly good spirits; perhaps embracing his happiness would hold back the tears that kept creeping up and threatened to ruin her carefully constructed outward appearance of equanimity.

They finally stopped for a coffee at Donington park services. Robin, upon sitting down and taking off her jacket at Marks & Spencer’s, realised that there was a Travelodge right next door in the service complex. Unwittingly – maybe because she was reminded of their stop at Hilton Park services – her mind travelled back to the night with Cormoran at the Travelodge in Barrow. The memory made her tears swell, and she hastily excused herself to the bathroom, longing for a quiet place to cry.

Sitting there, finally alone, in the bathroom stall, she let go and capitalised on her first – and probably last chance all weekend – to weep. For several long moments she let her desperation overwhelm her, grip her, finding relief in the solitude and anonymity of the service station bathroom.

Now, she knew. She knew that her ambiguity towards Matthew, her hesitation to break up their engagement for good, had not been because she was unsure if she could forgive Matt. It was not due to the fact that she was afraid of being alone. It was not because she had lost her job. It was because – and she looked the realisation square in the face for the very first time – she was in love with Cormoran.

Cormoran, who was still together with Elin; Cormoran, who had barely ever shown interest in her as a woman; Cormoran, whose only focus was a professional relationship; and who had, when she had dealt a potentially lethal blow to his crumpling business, brutally rejected her as an enemy. He had gotten rid of her, mercilessly severing their connection, the quiet understanding and utter acceptance that Robin had felt was unique and special and so unlike every other bond she had ever experienced before.

As she let the tears stream down her face, Robin slowly came to realise that there was only one way forward. She knew that Cormoran, once he had decided to end a relationship, would not look back, would stick to his resolution. Robin had witnessed his break–up with Charlotte, his otherworldly beautiful girlfriend of sixteen years. Charlotte had devised scheme upon scheme to get Cormoran to come back to her, publicly declaring her engagement to another man, even taunting him with pictures of her as a miserable bride. Still, Strike had never wavered, had never moved back from the finality of his decision that their relationship was over, and that he must move forward.

So, there was no going back. After all, Robin’s desperate hopes that all had been a mistake, were long dissipated by the newspaper ad for a new assistant that Matthew had presented her with, triumphantly relishing in the public finality of Cormoran’s exit out of his fiancée’s life.

And had she not made a similar choice herself? Had she not chosen to stay with Matthew? Robin was resolved: she must emulate the same resoluteness she so admired in Strike. She must bury these misguided feelings, battle the constant stream of tears that would have to be the only outlet of the overwhelming emotion desperate to surface, and think of the weekend ahead.

She owed it to her parents, especially to Linda, who had been a never wavering source of support during the last few weeks, months even. Linda, who had more than once offered her a out; had made it clear that she didn’t have to marry Matthew, that she loved her daughter either way, no matter what she decided.

Robin thought of the glittering pair of Jimmy Choos she had returned to save Angel, and remembered with a start that she still needed to buy replacements to go with her dress. The thought of something to do sobered her slightly. Confident of her acting skills that had time and time again had served her well during an investigation, she was sure she could make it through this weekend. But still – maybe because the thought of Angel reminded her how badly the plan that backfired on her, maybe because she was so desperately trying to suppress her newly discovered emotions, or maybe because she had never felt something so deep, so all–consuming ever before – she struggled to compose herself.

When she finally reached a moment of stillness, she embraced the thought that she was the one that had decided long ago that she had to – no, that she could be happy with Matthew. All she had to do was to take one step at a time, going forwards along the path that had already been laid out before her in months of tedious preparation.

Coming out of the bathroom, anxious that her face and eyes might betray some sign of her private moments of sorrow, Robin was relieved to see Matthew phoning someone, the dark screen of her mobile in his right hand. Still caught up in the aftershocks of her sudden, world–changing realisation, she did not hesitate to give Matthew her passcode. Relieved to have a few extra moments of privacy, Robin felt a moment of regret for letting Matt go with her phone. She was desperate to look up any news of the Shacklewell ripper. Not to see any news about Cormoran , she assured herself, I just want to know if Brockbank has been caught .

She sat there, lost in her thoughts, wondering what the Church connection could be that Cormoran had mentioned when...

Robin got up and went outside, waiting next to the Land Rover, breathing in the air and preparing herself for the fuss that would start in just a few hours and would guide her every move forward. She mustn’t think of Cormoran anymore. Matthew was all she had left now.