“…he wanted to express something of the truth, but the truth was dangerous.” - Troubled Blood
Ever since the night they’d interviewed Carl Oakden, Strike had found it easier and easier to open up to Robin about the goings on in his life. The fact the Rokeby kept trying to connect was discussed often and usually with a drink in hand. It was nice to know their partnership could weather so many storms and only seemed to grow stronger. While he’d initially been glad they hadn’t taken that night any further, he was pleasantly happy with the direction they seemed to be moving. Thoughts of more evenings when they could share conversations and whiskey or days like the one in Skegness where they could just enjoy each other’s company seemed to seep into his thoughts constantly.
The night of Robin’s birthday had been replayed in his thoughts as well. It had been a wonderful evening, spent laughing over their latest cases and making up stories about all the couples at the Ritz, and he could feel himself falling deeper with each of her bright smiles. The perfume they had chosen that night now seemed to constantly permeate the office. The scent tended to bring out all of his forbidden fantasies, in which he’d throw caution to the wind and tell her that he’d fallen for her, and how each day was harder and harder not to be with her. But he was certain that if he did that would it ruin everything the both of them had worked toward.
Sitting here, in the office, where he was meant to be finishing up a report on last night’s surveillance, he seemed, instead, to be making a pros and cons list for a romantic relationship in his head. He thought about how, even though they’d proven they could pull through any hardship, could they manage to make it through a romantic relationship without completely imploding both the relationship and their business? Could they, just maybe, finally be happy?
He just caught a hint of her perfume as she stuck her head into the office.
“Did you maybe, want to grab a pint? I’m not really ready to head home just yet and could use some company,” Robin said, smiling brightly. God, how he loved that smile, it made everything seem a bit brighter and better.
“Yeah, I could use a break. How about dinner? Instead of the pub?” he asked, unsure what, exactly prompted him to do so.
“Sure, I’d like that,” she said smiling with a slight tilt of her head.
Walking down the street he debated taking her hand but felt that was juvenile. Which made him think of Skegness again when he’d given thought to buying her a toy donkey. He was so caught up in his thoughts it surprised him when she tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow. Smiling at her, he hoped his adoration didn’t show through his eyes. Maybe he should just tell her. She deserved the truth no matter how dangerous it might be. Didn’t she?
Dinner was simple and their conversation flowed easily; he told her of his latest outing with Jack, and she updated him on how filming was going on Max’s new show. He asked himself if he had ever felt so comfortable with someone as he did with Robin? There were so many positive things he could say about their partnership that he couldn’t say about any other friendship or romantic relationship he’d ever had.
“Shall I walk you to the Tube, or would you be up for a drink back at the office?” he’d asked without thinking; only knowing he wanted to spend more time with her.
“A drink at the office sounds perfect,” she said, biting her bottom lip and tucking her hair back behind her ear.
Since he knew she’d take it, he offered her his arm as they left the restaurant. They kept up the conversation from the restaurant on their short walk. However, Strike couldn’t keep his mind from wandering back to the thoughts that urged him to risk everything with Robin. She seemed to have something on her mind as well, as she appeared more reserved than usual.
“Do you think we’re too jaded or broken for normal relationships anymore?” she asked after they had barely crossed the threshold to the office, causing him to wonder, not for the first time, if there was something about this office that brought out their deepest thoughts and fears?
“Hmmm… what even counts as a normal relationship these days?” he questioned, grabbing a couple glasses. “Whiskey again?”
“Yes, please. I don’t even know why I’m thinking like this,” she said, sitting on the sofa.
“Well, I can see us being jaded,” he said, handing her a glass of the amber spirits, “but we keep trying. We hope that there is someone out there that might understand who we are on a deeper level,” he continued, sitting down next to her. “We definitely see the worst of people, working at this job, but that doesn’t mean we’re broken,” he sympathized.
“I know you’re right,” she acknowledged. “I guess I’m just...feeling out of sorts. I think I have an idea in mind of what I want in a romantic partner now and I’m afraid that anyone that might be odd enough to want me won’t live up.”
He didn’t know what to say to that. Does that mean I shouldn’t say anything about how I feel? What is this set of standards one must live up to? What sane man wouldn’t want Robin and wouldn’t want to at least try if it meant having her in their life?
“What man wouldn’t want to try,” he found himself asking aloud.
“I don’t know. I feel like they’re all like Matthew or Saul. Men who think they’re more than they are or who want me to be someone I’ll never be,” she said, taking a deep drink of the whiskey.
“I’d never want you to be anyone but who you are,” he responded, quietly.
“And that’s why no one will ever live up,” she whispered, leaning her head against his shoulder.
Had he just heard her correctly? What was she saying? Was she implying that no one else could measure up to him? If she meant it, does it change things? Of course it changed things, it gave him hope, but still, what if that wasn’t what she meant?
What did he really have to lose if he had heard her wrong though? Everything. He could lose everything he loved in his life. Including her.
“Robin…,” he started.
“Cormoran, please don’t say anything right now,” she said, lifting her hand to press against his lips, stopping anything he might’ve said, “I know I don’t live up to any of the women you’ve been with, and I don’t expect anything,” she rushed on, “just let me sit here with you and enjoy this moment, please.”
He let the silence stretch between them for a few moments, trying to digest what she was trying to tell him. Did she really feel like she wasn’t the most amazing woman? Who did she think she couldn’t live up to? Charlotte? Couldn’t she see she was so much better than Charlotte? She had changed his life completely the day they met. And if she deserved anything in life it was to know that.
“Did you know, you saved me the day we met, and every day after? If I hadn’t run into you that morning, I would have ended up going back to Charlotte and I never would have solved the Landry case, might not have even taken it on. Everything would have fallen apart without you.” He took a sip of his whiskey. “When you were engaged to Matthew I knew where I stood; I could appreciate your skills and that was as far as I let things go. ‘This far and no further,’ I told myself. When you first broke off your engagement, I was so torn, I wanted to tell you, I don’t know what I would have said exactly. But at the same time, I knew things hadn’t really been resolved between the two of you.”
She lifted her head off his shoulder and shifted on the sofa to better look at him.
“What are you saying Cormoran?”
“At your wedding I wanted to ask you to leave with me. I knew after I fired you that I had just lost everything that was good in my life. When I found out you had gone on your honeymoon I was devastated. I spent your entire marriage trying not to depend on you the way I had before, because I’d gone past far and was almost past further. I just wanted to have you in my life anyway I could. And then after you left Matthew, I felt lighter. But then I put too much on you with me spending so much time in Cornwall. That night after interviewing Oakden, I debated with myself how much to tell you.”
“What did you want to tell me?” she asked, and he could see tears glistening in her eyes.
“I wanted to believe that I was made for a solitary life but keep you to myself at the same time. I knew I couldn’t; I knew it wouldn’t be fair to you, and that made me realize maybe things could be different between us. It’s why I mentioned Ilsa matchmaking. And then our day in Skegness almost felt like a date; I even chided myself for my juvenile thoughts at one point. I almost told you again on your birthday on the way to the Ritz. Somehow, I always talk myself out of telling you the truth,” he said looking down at the glass between his hands.
He needed to finish explaining, but the words didn’t seem enough anymore. He also knew these words were important. Their future depended on those words, and he couldn’t imagine any future that didn’t include her.
Trying to figure the right way to say how he felt; to explain all that was in both his heart and head. He felt her hand brush against his cheek and a whisper of her sensual perfume filled his senses.
“Cormoran, I don’t know what to say, but you saved me too you know. If not for you, I would have found some mindless secretarial job and had the life that Matthew always imagined for us. And I would have been miserable with that life; If you’d asked me, I’d have run away with you at my wedding. This life that I’m living right now is the one I’ve always wanted. And you,” she said, her hand caressing his cheek, bringing his eyes to hers, “you’ve shown me that I can have everything I ever dreamed.”
He leaned just a little closer to her, unable to resist pressing a ghost of a kiss against her lips.
“Cormoran…,” she said chasing his lips just a bit, “please tell me that this, us,” she clarified. “It isn’t because we’ve saved each other, right?”
“That might have been what started us down this path,” he said, his knuckles grazing her cheek, “but no, this is something more than saving each other and even more than being each other’s best mate. We’ve built something between us much like we’ve built up this agency. I couldn’t have this life with anyone but you. You’re my partner in every sense of the word, and I want that more than I ever thought possible,” he confessed, pulling her in closer.
Robin leaned in, pressing her lips first to the corner of his mouth before letting them rub across his lips in a light caress. Each press of their lips was slow and soft. Neither trying to deepen their kisses, just lazy exploratory kisses. Each kiss is like its own shot of smokey whiskey. It felt right to be sharing this moment in their office where everything had started for them. Maybe all new beginnings should start here Strike thought momentarily before tangling his fingers in the silk of her hair.
Pulling back, slightly, he rested his forehead against hers, heart racing, Strike swallowed his fear to share the most dangerous of all truths.
“I love you, Robin Ellacott,” he whispered.