With a roiling stomach, Cormoran Strike collapsed on the squeaking leather couch in the outside office, his head lolling backwards in its descent; a reaction to the extortionate amount of pain caused by his prosthesis.
When planning the surveillance on his target, he did not envisage the events that followed. When in pursuit of his athletic target, his prothesis that retrospectively he had improperly fitted that morning due to the tenderness that lay underneath, had twisted and resulted in him losing his balance, stumbling headfirst down the steps of Hampstead Station. His then bare stump had to his misfortune caught itself on a jagged piece of metal on the way down the steps of the tube station.
In the spur of the moment, unsure what was more hurt; his body or his ego he had refused help in the hopes that his target would not change direction, turn back on himself and see his face. Being a nameless blank face, and remaining undetected was an imperative part of his job description. Strike managed to disguise the familiar oozing of blood from his stump, gravely re-aligning his prothesis before he limped to the dark frosty kerb to hail a taxi.
Now he sat in the dark gritting his teeth in agony opposite Robins desk, after having made his way up the stairs on his bum, his fake leg tucked firmly under his arm.
Looking at the clock he needed to move, Robin would arrive for work soon he realised, his suspicion was all but confirmed by the sun light that began peeking through the office window.
He needed to move, he needed to get to his office, to get his first aid supplies so he could tend to his stump, but the agony of his leg combined with the searing pain of suspected broken ribs every time he inhaled, he succumbed to confort of the couch.
He peered down at his trouser leg afraid of the damage he had sustained from such trauma. For a moment he sat comforted by the notion of Schrodingers theory that all the while he didn't look at his leg, it could either be good or bad.
Strike took another glance at the clock and reckoned he had another twenty minutes tops before he heard Robins petite footsteps on the metal staircase, so he took a moment to compose himself before making the ascent up to his attic apartment.
What was originally fear and adrenaline Strike could feel slipping into anger at his incomplete physique, at his hasty attempts to attach his prosthesis that morning, at Robin marrying the idiot that was Mathew, and before he knew it he pelted his leg across the room into the open door of his office; his ribs gnawing in protest at the exertion.
Wanting to make a good impression and show her dedication for the job, Robin arrived a little early for work. As she reached the Architects office at the ground floor she heard a growl of pain that she thought sounded like Cormoran, coming from the upper office followed by a clatter and a thud.
Robin raced up the stairs two at a time and when she got to the top she paused, veering through the glass pane of the door to try and assess the situation. She saw her friend and mentors bulk sat on the couch beside the door So with one hand on the door handle she listened for a moment, and satisfied he was alone she gently pushed open the door.
Strike looked up in astonishment. He wanted to move he really did but his body had other ideas. He watched Robin giving him the once over, her eyes resting on the bloodstained pant leg that hung over the edge the couch.
"Cormoran?" Robin spoke, moving towards him and sliding on to her knees in front of him, throwing her handbag on the floor behind her.
"I'm fine Robin, get up" he gesticulated widely in the hopes she wouldn't look, that she wouldn't see it.
He leaned forward as much as his ribs would allow his hand grabbing at her wrist to stop her baring his leg. The pang of anxiety and nausea that caught in his throat surprised him. Baring his leg or lack thereof had never bothered him this much before. Charlotte had been there from the beginning when he had been unconscious in the hospital, she had seen it before he had, so there had been no grand reveal so to speak. Then the women he had slept with since had all been well aware of his leg and invited him to bed regardless, stripping him of any nervousness before taking what they offered him on a plate without hesitation. So why was revealing his leg to Robin such a problem for him?
Then it struck him, just as her hand reached and grazed his cheek asking, pleading for permission to help him; Robin Mattered. Charlotte had seen it before he could fathom out the self consciousness it would bring, and the women that followed didn't matter. But Robin; He cared what she thought, he respected her.
Gazing down into Robins eyes as she waited patiently for his permission Strike nodded weakly before placing a kiss on the back of her hand.
Strike couldn't watch, he turned his gaze towards the ceiling at the feel of his trouser leg ascending towards his groin, unable to come to terms with how intimate it felt. Blinking back the tears that glistened precariously at the corners of his eyes, he awaited the sharp intake of breath at the site of his bloodied stump. At the unexpected silence Strike snuck a glance down to see Robin methodically inspecting the tear at the end of his stump, completely unperturbed by the site before her, or if she was she didn't show it and for that he was grateful.
"It looks pretty bad Corm, what happened?"
For some reason and from where Strike had no idea but he couldn't help the smirk that stretched across his face "Roadside bomb in Afghanistan, leg was blown right off"
Robin raised an eyebrow as his poor attempt at humour "Really? You are an arse Cormoran. I meant what happened today to cause this damage"
With one hand still on the end of what used to be his leg, Robin grinned helplessly at his attempt to lighten the situation. Strike found himself smiling in return and thinking that smiles really were contagious, suddenly wondering who had actually said that.
He leaned forward to assess what Robin had already deemed 'Pretty bad' and was disappointed to find she was right.
"I should call us a cab and take you to hospital, oh and where do you keep your dressings?" Robin queried.
Strike was surprised that she knew he had some, but he didn't ask how, he knew from the moment he took her from Temporary Solutions that there was a Sleuth in her and it was with this ability he was sure she would have realised that he keeps a first aid kit in the office. She already knew where it was but she was humouring him and trying not to mother him and he loved her for it.
"In my office" he explained, putting his weight in his arm to try and stand.
"Cormoran would you like me to get it?" She offered and the throbbing in his ribs instantly had him panting and nodding in agreement.
Robin returned with the box of dressings and chemicals from Strikes desk and gently set them down on the couch beside him. Strike grabbed for the antiseptic and some cotton wool but was stoped by Robins slight hand upon his.
"Here let me?" She asked as a question; she was insisting but at the same time still seeking his consent about touching his stump that was so rarely discussed between them.
Strike released his grip on the supplies and took her hand instead, buying him a moment before she reached there again.
"Thank you Robin" he offered with such sincerity that Robin had to swallow past the lump in her throat to reply
He watched with a sense of gratitude and affection as Robin set about cleaning his stump, gritting his teeth and digging his fingernails into the faux leather couch when the antiseptic burned at this limb.
"Sorry" Robin uttered mid clean realising the pain she was indirectly causing him.
Strike simply nodded, forcing his senses to dull out the pain, concentrating instead on the gentle brush of her unmarred skin against his; revelling in the way her touch sent sparks skittering along his nerves and how he burned inappropriately with desire as the ends of her strawberry blonde hair brushed against his thigh.
He jolted at the sudden realisation that hit him with the force of a freight train. The realisation that he; Cormoran Strike, Notorious Private Detective had previously failed to notice he was in love with Mrs. Robin Cunliffe.