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And I found love where it wasn't supposed to be

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August 2016

 

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Friday - 12th

 

Aaron stands outside the Woolpack allowing his mind to wander, his vision to focus on nothing in particular. His blue coveralls fastened to his waist, the arms tied loosely around his middle, last night’s black t-shirt sticking to his chest. His gaze focused on the loose cobblestones below his feet, absent-mindedly kicking a small pebble that was resting in front of his untied boots; hands shoved as deep into the pockets as possible. His mornings are spent in the garage, doing as much as possible before lunch and then meeting Adam at the scrapyard to help unload and tear apart the morning's’ haul. Every day is the same; garage, lunch, scrap, tea, bed. He finds a small bit of comfort from the mundane routine he’s set up for himself, never giving himself much time to dwell on the things he cannot change.

 

As he makes his way across the village, trudging along, each step taken with effort, his mindless revelry is interrupted by the swing of the café door. A black pram is emerging first and he is keenly aware of who’s to follow. He quickly ducks his head closer to his chest, not allowing himself to even look in the direction, knowing that it’ll bring back all of the memories he fights so diligently to forget. He rounds the corner into the garage lot, stopping just behind an ailing Ford Fiesta to sneak a quick glance in the café’s direction. He shouldn’t, he knows this, knows that it’ll do nothing but sour his already disparaging mood, but he can’t help himself.

 

Chrissie had asked Robert to go out that morning, take Charlie along and make a few stops first thing. Robert didn’t mind running the errands, but he had pleaded his case to not take the infant along, arguing that it would make the stops take that much longer. Chrissie had won out in the end, saying she just needed an hour or so for a shower and to catch up on her neglected emails. He didn’t see Aaron, never heard him shuffle his boots along the gravel drive leading towards the garage, but Aaron saw him. His head down, coffee cup balanced on the handle of the pram, speaking into the basket below. Aaron watched as he adjusted the blanket draped over the baby, tucking it into the sides between the child and bassinet, being gentle and careful with both child and cup. Robert smiled down at his daughter and Aaron just stared at him.

 

It had been just over a year since the affair had come out, well since Aaron outed them to Chrissie. He and Robert had tried to make a go of it, until Chrissie broke the news that she was pregnant nearly two months later. Chrissie didn’t want anything to do with Robert, wanted him out of their lives, wanted him to sign over his rights to his child, but Robert wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t imagine not being a part of his child’s life and fought to regain her trust even if it was solely for the sake of their daughter. They fought incessantly, with Aaron insisting that they could work through this, make a nice life with joint custody, but Robert had found his way back in with the White’s and he took it. The betrayal that Aaron felt was crippling and the old feelings of worthlessness quickly crept back in.

 

“Oi! Quit skulking around and get to work!” Cain called from inside the garage.

 

Robert had long since walked past the entrance drive to the garage, leaving Aaron to reminisce on his own. Thinking back to those months ago when he had finally allowed himself to be happy, to settle and to open up. Things were finally starting to slot into place when the rug was pulled out from under them. Robert had pushed it all aside, pushed him aside when the opportunity arose to go back to her. Aaron knew then that what they had wasn’t real at all, just an infatuation, an opportunity for Robert to play out some fantasy in his head. As much as Aaron wanted to believe, and maybe even clings to the possibility that Robert had truly loved him, once again he had proven to not be enough.

 

“If I have to tell you again…” Cain began from the office again.

 

“Alright, alright.” Aaron approached the car inside the garage and grabbed the order sheet from the top of the stack.

 

Simple, just an oil change. He thought and got to work. The morning crept along at a slow pace, the work always coming easy to him. It was a mindless, easy activity just to keep his hands busy.

 

“Brew?” he asked into the shop after finishing up the repair.

 

“Go on then.” Aaron wiped his hands on the top of his thighs, walking past Cain who was leaning against the outside of the garage.

 

The usual cast of characters lingered inside the café, Bob standing behind the counter.

 

“Whatcha have lad?”

 

“Two brews, Bob.” Aaron fished for the needed change in his pocket, not bothering to count out the correct coins. He placed the pile on the counter and turned to see who had just come through the door.

 

“Aye! Mate!” Adam’s voice broke through the silence and awful overhead instrumental music that

filed the space.

 

“No pickups today?” Aaron greeted his friend.

 

“Yeah, on my way. Normal time today or is Cain workin’ ya late?”

 

“Nah, normal time. Ta.” Aaron turned around slightly to take the two papers cups from Bob.

 

“Later.” he nodded to Adam and walked back out the front.

 

“Hold on mate!” Adam came out a second later, jogging towards Aaron as he made his way back towards the garage. Aaron slowed his pace to allow the other man to catch up.

 

“Um… about tomorrow…” Adam began, fidgeting with the lid on his bottle of orange juice.

 

“Listen, I don’t wanna talk about it. It’s my decision, innit?” Aaron was so tired of having this conversation with everyone in the village. It was his choice to not attend the memorial. He had done enough for the funeral, he had no interest in standing amongst mourners packed into the Woolpack, offering empty and generic condolences.

 

“Yeah, I know. I just think that people expect to see you, you know? They want to see you Aaron.” Adam tried to reason with his friend.

 

Aaron took a sip from his cup, the liquid already gone cold. Gonna have to go back for two fresh cups, he thought as he made a face and swallowed the tea.

 

“I know mate. It’s just…” he looked back towards the top of the village. “Maybe, alright. Maybe.”

 

Adam nodded realizing he wasn’t going to get a definitive answer from the man, “Alright, that’s alright then. I’ll see ya later, yeah?” He gave him a pat on the left shoulder before turning to make his way back towards the lorry. He and Adam had been through this conversation a million times over the past three weeks. Adam trying to convince Aaron to at least make an appearance, have one pint during the memorial for Chas, and Aaron always answering with a “maybe”. He really didn’t think he could do it, the funeral had been enough. It had been three weeks, why do they need a memorial now? What’s the point?

 

He inspected the cups once again, deciding they were well past ruined now and made his way back for two fresh ones.

 

--

 

“First things first, little miss…. coffee.” Robert looked down into the bassinet where his daughter rested. She was just coming up on four months old now and starting to really gain a personality, not just a lump of crying mess. Her large hazel eyes scanned the sky above her and focused in on her father staring down at her.

 

Robert expertly balanced his Americano on the handle of the pram just outside the café, adjusting Charlie’s blanket around her tiny form. She had already grown a mop of blonde hair, so blonde it was practically white, and her tiny heart shaped face already had a spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose.

 

“Shall we see if we can find Auntie Vic?” he refocused his attention back towards the row of homes along his right, making his way towards Keeper’s Cottage. The gate was open to the small front garden, so he backed in towards the front door, pulling the oversized buggy behind him. Before he could even maneuver himself towards the door, Vic was spilling out towards them.

 

“Rob!” Vic threw herself at her older brother before completely disregarding him for her niece.

 

“Morning.” he said as she scooped the infant out of the pram and held little Charlie against her chest.

 

“Well, come in, come in. Kettles on.” Vic breezed past him, baby held tightly to her chest as Robert struggled to get the bag out from under the buggy.

 

She was sitting in the kitchen, cradling the baby in front of her, making the most ridiculous faces to try and elicit a response from her. Vic really was spectacular with her; showing more compassion and love towards the child than even her own mother could extend. Robert watched from the doorway, smiling to himself as he watched the interaction.

 

“So… what brings you around this morning? Not that I mind!” She gently bounced baby Charlie in front of her on the table.

 

“Out running errands, giving Chrissie some peace.” Robert made his way into the space and took a seat at the table across from his sister.

 

“Any time you want me to babysit, you know Adam and I’ll have her! I just adore her Rob!”

 

“Well, hopefully she’ll have a cousin to chase after soon enough.”

 

To this she rolled her eyes, “You’re mouth to God’s ears.” She spoke directly to Charlie in a sing-song voice.

 

“It’ll happen when you least expect it, trust me.” He took a drink from his cooling coffee and fiddled with the protective sleeve around the paper cup.

 

“So, any word on tomorrow?” he didn’t look at her, his eyes squarely focused on the table.

 

She shook her head, “Just a few friends and family of course. Gotta go in early to make the buffet.” Charlie was curled up in the crook of her left arm, her head resting heavily against Vic’s breast. She looked so natural like this, baby curled up against her, slight rocking back and forth to sooth the sleeping child.

 

“What time?” Robert inquired, keeping his eyes on his sister’s face to try to read even her smallest of expressions.

 

“Robert….“ she paused, drawing out the syllables of his name.

 

“Listen, I know I’m not exactly welcome,” Vic made a disgruntled sound in the back of her throat, “but I just feel like I should at least show my face. United front and all. I can bring Charlie…”

 

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, not right now Rob. Aaron’s not coping. He tries to make it seem like he’s ok, but we all know better. And having you there with Chrissie and the baby, it’ll be too much. Not with everything else.”

 

“So he’ll definitely be there?” Robert hasn’t so much as seen Aaron since Charlie was born. He didn’t go to the funeral at the request of well, everyone. And Aaron hadn’t come up to Home Farm for Charlie’s christening either, although no one expected him to be there. It’s just that Robert wants to be there tomorrow, wants to show Aaron that they can still be mates, even after everything that’s happened.

 

“Well, he’s changed his answer from a solid no to a definite maybe and in Aaron’s world, that’s about as good as we’re gonna get. Listen, I get it, I really do, but maybe now isn’t the best time?”

 

“I did you know? Love him. Always will. I want to fix things, make him see that I still care about him.”

 

Vic nods and shifts on the hard kitchen chair, all while not disturbing the sleeping child in her arms.

 

“Not now, yeah? Maybe after this is all done?”

 

The siblings chatted about life for a while longer, giving Charlie time to nap; Vic was in the process of getting her food truck up and running, while Robert was having some problems with a potential client in Manchester. After twenty minutes, Robert decided it was about time they continued their errands, before returning home. Vic settled the still sleeping child into her pram, replacing her blanket around her middle.

 

“Seriously though Rob, about tomorrow.”

 

“I get it,” he nodded his head in understanding. “If it’s really gonna be that big a deal, I won’t come. Alright?”

 

Vic put a hand on his arm to reassure him, “I know you’ll do what’s best for Aaron.”

 

He nodded and gave her a quick kiss to her left cheek. He made his way out of the front garden and towards the vet clinic to pick up Dog’s prescription, before making a stop at David’s for some necessities. As he made his way down the hill towards the shop, he spotted the back of a familiar head walking towards the garage. The man’s hair was much shorter these days, trimmed tight at the sides with an unruly mop of dark curls on top. Robert stared after him, Aaron completely unaware of the other man watching him, each hand clutching matching paper cups. His shoulders hunched down and forward, chin tucked to his chest. His steady gate begrudgingly carrying him back to work. Robert couldn’t help but watch him until he had rounded the side of the building and was completely out of sight. He hadn’t yet decided about tomorrow, Vic’s assertion still ringing in his ears

 

I know you’ll do what’s best for Aaron.

 

--

 

Aaron had had enough of thinking for today. Adam had brought in a much larger haul than normal and the pair had only gotten through about a third of the materials when he decided to call it a day.

 

“Admitting defeat already?” Adam asked as he tossed a headlight into an appropriate bin.

 

“Knackered.” Aaron said as he leaned against a nearby car, taking off his work gloves and orange vest.

 

Adam saddled up beside him, mimicking his movements to remove his work attire. “Pint? Think we deserve it.”

 

“Yeah, alright. Give us a ride then?”

 

The Woolpack was busier than normal, with a slew of familiar and some unfamiliar faces about. Adam and Aaron took their drinks from Charity who was manning the bar and made their way over to one of the few empty tables.

 

“What’s with this lot?” Adam asked, taking a drink.

 

Aaron shrugged his shoulders while also taking his first drink of the evening. If he had anything to say about it, it definitely wouldn’t be his last.

 

“Dunno…” he commented after finishing his first gulp.

 

“Who are all these people?” Adam surveyed the pub which was crawling with unfamiliar faces.

 

“Some big to-do up at Home Farm this weekend. Business people, I assume.” Vic had stopped by their table after dropping off a couple plates. She leaned in and gave Adam a quick kiss before turning back towards the bar.

 

Adam and Aaron drank in relative silence, only to comment on the occasional stranger or to discuss the haul from earlier in the day. Both men were on their second pints when Vic sat down in the remaining empty chair at their table.

 

“Gotcha runnin’ ragged tonight, aye? Where’s Marlon then?” Adam asked, placing a hand on her knee below the table.

 

“His night off, isn’t it? This lot’s got me runnin’ round like a chicken with me head cut off!” Vic took off her cap and rubbed the back of Adam’s arm which was still resting on her leg.

 

“So… any more thoughts about tomorrow then?” she asked, eyeing up Aaron who was intently focused on his pint where it sat in front of him. He looked up from under his lashed, then off to his left.

 

“Guess that answers that then. Should probably be getting back.” And just like that she was off again, cap fitted back over her tight bun.

 

“You’re really not gonna even try to come?”

 

“I’m really tired of having this conversation. Just leave it, will ya?” Aaron finished pint number two and stood to get the third round. At the bar he waited until he could catch Charity’s eye and pointed to his empty glass on the bar top, holding up two fingers to indicate his request. As he patiently waited for her to pull his pints, he shifted his weight to his right foot and turned towards the front doors as yet another stranger made their way into the space.

 

Aaron just stared at the man. It was the first time in a long while that someone had made him stop completely in his tracks, turning all of his attention towards the newcomer. The man scanned the bar, obviously looking for someone, but his eyes stopped momentarily on Aaron. Aaron quickly ducked his head back toward the right just as Charity sat the second glass down.

 

“Ta.” He mumbled before making his way back towards Adam.

 

“Jeez mate, took ya long enough.” Aaron resumed his position across the table from his friend, all the while keeping tabs on this new bloke. He was tall with dark features, broad shoulders and an incredible smile that he flashed to his table of friends as he finally made contact with them. Adam chatted away, but Aaron just stared at the guy, openly, unabashedly.

 

“Oi! Whatcha starin’ at?”

 

Aaron blinked, “What? Nothing.” He admitted before taking a slow sip of his beer.

 

“Letme’ see!” Adam swung around in his seat, the effects of this third beer having an obvious effect on his movements.

 

“Oi! Turn around!” Aaron seethed under his breath, leaning across the table to tug on his friend’s arm.

 

“Him!? Fine catch, that one! You should definitely make a move on ‘im!” Adam was being the exact opposite of subtle as the man’s attention was quickly diverted to their table now. He did smile in Aaron’s direction though, which was a start.

 

“He’s well up for it mate! Look at ‘im!” Adam had finally turned back towards Aaron, who was about as tall as a mouse, having slid the better way down in his chair and under the table. He could feel the blush creeping up his cheeks, but yet he still stared. And the other man was occasionally glancing his way too now, whenever he wasn’t engaging with the people sat around his table.

 

Adam quickly forgot about the interruption, instead doing his best to focus on his pint and the possibility of another. Aaron stood up quickly, insisting he’d get the next round.

 

“But you got the last…” Adam began as Aaron made his way across the room and towards Charity.

 

“Alright?” she asked as he leaned against the worn top.

 

“Nother round, please Charity.” He wasn’t exactly drunk, but well on his way to buzzed and had finally allowed himself to relax a bit. A sudden presence to his right made him straighten his back, redistribute his weight on his tired feet. A shift of his eyes to the right had him realizing quickly that the stranger from earlier had saddled up beside him.

 

“So, what are you and your mate laughin’ at over there? Hope it wasn’t at my expense?” his accent was from somewhere not familiar, but close enough to British that his alcohol induced brain couldn’t distinguish it.

 

“Nah mate. Just havin’ a laugh. Ta.” Aaron picked up the two glasses and turned to his right, facing the man head on. He had to lift his chin to see his face properly and if Aaron thought he was beautiful from across the room, he was absolutely gob-smacked seeing him up-close. Aaron longed to feel the burn from his slight stubble on his thighs. The thought made him swallow thickly, trying desperately to look away from his seaglass-green eyes. He stumbled, nearly dropping the pints, but the other man’s hand caught on his right elbow, steadying him.

 

“Careful.” He said with a slight laugh in his tone. “Want me to help you with those?”

 

Aaron again blatantly stared at him, he literally couldn’t look away. His mouth hung open, eyes fixed. “Nah, no… I mean, you’re alright.” Aaron collected himself and stumbled back to Adam.

 

Adam’s eyebrows were lifted so high, they nearly touched his hairline. “What the hell was that?” Aaron sat the pints on the table, still watching the man at the bar.

 

--

 

“Think it’s…. time….” Adam was struggling. In his defense it was very late and they were on round five, well past the buzzed line and full on drunk at this point. Adam laid his head down on the table, groaning slightly as he tried to make the spinning stop.

 

The pub was nearly empty and last call had long passed. A few of the strangers were still scattered about, including the gorgeous man from earlier. Vic had joined the pair at their table, having finally finished up in the kitchen, ready to get home.

 

“Why’d you let him drink so much!?” she chastised Aaron after observing the state her husband was in.

 

“Oi! I ain’t his babysitter. Besides, he bought the last round anyway. I was done after four!” Aaron should not have had that fifth drink, he was going to be absolutely miserable tomorrow.

 

“Better getcha home then. Come on! Up with ya!” Vic wrapped an arm around Adam’s back, hand tucked under his right arm. He rested his head on her shoulder and flung an arm around her back.

 

“Laters.” She had to drag him out of the pub.

 

Aaron was just tipping the last of his pint into his mouth when the chair across from him scraped the floor. He could see him through the condensation on the pint, held closely in front of his face. He slowly lowered it, breathe hitching at the gorgeous stranger now sitting across from him.

 

“So, done for the night then?”

 

It took Aaron a minute to process the request, the alcohol clearly slowing his mind and reaction time. “If you’re up for it?”

 

“Elliot.” He held his hand across the table in a polite hand shake jester.

 

“Aaron.” He reciprocated and firmly grasped the outstretched hand. After that, it’s a complete blur.

 

The first kiss in the backroom of the Woolpack was a drunken, sloppy mess of spit and tongues; it’d been awhile since Aaron had a proper shag, drunk or not he was going to enjoy this.

 

Elliot pushed Aaron up against the side door at the bottom of the stairs and reached his hands under the other man’s t-shirt. Goosebumps immediately raised on Aaron’s skin, a red flush working its way up his neck. He had his hands wrapped around either side of his partner’s neck, pulling him into the mess that was their kiss. Aaron led the other man towards the stairs, their mouths still connected, fumbling to make it up without losing their connection.

 

Once inside his room, they both worked quickly to undress themselves, before falling together onto the mattress. It groaned and creaked below them, the added weight of the taller man bringing into question the stability of the frame. Aaron’s fingers played with the hem at the back of Elliot’s boxers, not quite exploring the soft skin underneath. He might be too drunk for this.

 

Elliot made quick work of him, stroking him through his own tight boxer briefs, right to the edge before moving his mouth to lathe at his cock over the fabric. Aaron couldn’t help the stutter of his hips or the way they thrust up towards the other man. Elliot pulled his pants down to his knees, leaving them there to constrict Aaron’s ability to move his legs properly from where they were bent over the side of the bed. Aaron was lost in his head, his mind going a mile a minute as this stranger worked him over, indeed leaving small irritated spots on his thighs from his scruff. He could feel the burn of the skin there, where his beard kept irritating the same small patch of sensitive skin repeatedly. He likened the feeling to when he used to cut, the satisfying dull ache of continuing to irritate the same angry spot over and over again. He was writhing at the sensation.

 

Finally Elliot relented and moved to his entrance. “This ok?” he asked before stroking a finger over his hole. All Aaron could do was nod and bite his bottom lip; he was so overstimulated that he couldn’t focus on any one thing for very long.

 

“Lube?” Aaron struggled to sit up and weakly tugged at the drawer on the bed-side table. Elliot got the clue and fished around in the drawer before finding the bottle and a strip of condoms. Aaron was thankful for the help and flopped back onto his back, scooting just barely up onto the bed a bit more. Then Elliot was over him and all Aaron could do was close his eyes and concentrate on his breathing. The familiar burn and pain was indescribable; he hadn’t bottomed since being with Robert, but this was so different than that last time. This was pure, untethered sex. Nothing glamorous or romantic about it, just two people enjoying getting off together, no strings, no commitment, just pure pleasure.

 

Aaron gasped and arched off the bed as Elliot quickly drew in and out of him. “I’m gonna….” He couldn’t get the words out quick enough before he was cuming over his belly. Elliot focused on him and quickly scooped up a bit of cum, licking his fingers and tasting him. He had been quiet most of the night, just focusing on Aaron and studying his expressions. He pulled out and tore the condom off before jerking himself off over Aaron’s belly, their cum mixing together as Aaron’s breathing began to slow. He leant down and lapped the liquid off Aaron before moving back up to kiss him again.

 

“That was… thank you.” Elliot said, lying next to Aaron. He definitely wasn’t too drunk for this.

 

Aaron blindly grabbed for the sheet that was somewhere at the foot of the bed and pulled it up over their naked forms, not bothering with anything that was strewn about his room. Elliot was to his right, on his stomach, breathing evenly. Aaron’s eyelids were heavy and he fought to keep them open, every second or so forcing them back open to look at the man next to him. Eventually though, he couldn’t fight it any longer and fell into a deep, thick sleep.

Chapter Text

Saturday - 13th

 

It was too bright. Aaron’s eyes were closed and he could already tell that it was too bright in his room. And holy shit was he sore! He was flat on his back, legs straight out onto the bed, a sheet loosely draped over his middle. He cautiously opened only one eye, not yet brave enough to commit to being fully awake. He stretched his arms over his head, fingers brushing the wall behind him, but as he lowered them onto the mattress his right arm came into contact with a solid, warm figure.

 

He desperately willed his eyes to focus and his head to stop pounding as he rolled to his right to look at the figure next to him. Vague, drunken images began to flicker back into his mind of the previous night’s activities. Name, name, name. His mind raced as he tried to remember the bloke’s name who he had obviously spent the night with. Begins with a vowel, maybe Ethan? Ian? Oliver? Damn! His hand that had bumped the other man was still on the sleeping man’s back. Eric? Adam? Definitely NOT Adam! The other man gently shifted, just enough to indicate to Aaron that he was beginning to wake up. Aaron closed his eyes, his hangover just beginning to be realized when there was more distinctive movement on the opposite side of the bed.

 

“You awake?”

 

“Hmm, barely. Raging headache.” Aaron mumbled, his eyes still closed.

 

“I should shower.” That accent again, Aaron couldn’t place it last night and still his brain can’t seem to distinguish it. “Time?”

 

Aaron cracked open his left eye, lifting his head just enough to spy his alarm clock on the other side of the room.

 

“About half ten. Little later.” He said, lowering his head and closing his eyes once again.

 

“Care to join me?” His partner was sitting up on the edge of the bed now, his back to Aaron with just his head turned to the side.

 

“Go on then.”

 

With a little extra effort Aaron groaned off the bed, accepting a hand from the man, not bothering with putting anything on and led them down the corridor and into the bathroom. It was a small space, but the shower was large enough for two and without too much maneuvering, they made due.

 

“Last night was… fun.” He said as he turned to rinse the shampoo from his hair. The other man, What’s your name? stepped in close, resting his hands gently on Aaron’s hips. He ducked under the water and pressed a kiss to the side of Aaron’s neck, as Aaron moved his hands into his soapy hair to scratch at the other man’s scalp.

 

They traded soft, lazy kisses between washes, neither in much of a hurry to be done in the shower. Eventually the water began to run colder and without a word, the tap was turned off.

 

“Elliot!” Aaron’s hazy, alcohol filled brain registered and his mouth blurted out before he could stop it.

 

The other man wrapped a towel around his waist and raised a quizzical eyebrow in his direction.

 

“Sorry, tryin’ to put the pieces together.” He was a little startled by himself that he had said the guy’s name out loud.

 

“I should probably be upset that you didn’t remember my name…” Elliot stated as he watched Aaron across the small space, taking a towel to his curls, “but you were pissed! No worries.”

 

“Sorry” Aaron mumbled as he placed his wet towel onto a nearby bar.

 

“Na, it’s alright…”Elliot said as Aaron moved around him towards the bar, hesitating at his name.

 

“Oi! The names…”

 

“Aaron. Yeah, good thing one of us remembers!”

 

The banter continued into Aaron’s room as they both fished around for their discarded clothes from the previous night. Aaron pulled a clean pair of pants from the top drawer of his dresser before tugging on his jeans and fastening the belt around his waist. As he pulled a grey jumper over his head he watched Elliot re-dress into his clothes from last night. He really was beautiful, this stranger that had somehow become immediately familiar. Aaron couldn’t help but watch him as he tucked his light blue button up into his rather expensive looking trousers. His fingers making quick work of the buttons leading up to his throat.

 

“So, I’ve got this meeting tonight, but maybe you’d fancy a bite first?”

 

“Um, yeah, alright. Not much around here tho.”

 

“I’m staying in Hotten actually. We could head in?”

 

Aaron nodded, “Sure.”

 

They made their way down the stairs, Aaron taking the lead, the small talk and banter continuing between them. There were raised voices filtering through the backroom doors, which lead into the pub as they approached. Aaron led through the door with his right shoulder, Elliot close to his left side making a quiet joke about the events from their morning conversation about names.

 

“So, is it Aaron with an “A” or with an “E”? Can never remember how you lot spell things.”

 

“I will not have you disrespectin’ the great name of Aaron…” the words caught in his throat as he registered the wide eyes of his companion and the sudden silence that surrounded them.

 

“Shit.” Aaron mumbled as he turned to survey the scene in front of them. Everyone from the village was staring at them, all packed into the Woolie, looking like they had all just become privy to a very sorted secret. He slowly registered Adam’s face, then Vic’s and Diane’s, followed by Cain, Moira, Zak, Lisa… all of them just staring at him. “Shit.”

 

He hurriedly pushed through the crowd, not greeting anyone and not bothering to make sure Elliot was following him. He had to get outside, away from the concerned and disgusted looks on everyone’s faces. The judgements and assumptions. He couldn’t breathe or process what was happening, his only focus was to get out of there as quickly as humanly possible. No one spoke to him as he darted through the space, and no one tried to stop him as he violently pushed through the front door to make his way outside.

 

It was too bright, his eyes having been accustomed to the dim light of the interior, and his headache became overwhelming suddenly. He placed two hands on the low stone wall just to his left, trying to control the throbbing in his head and the pounding of his heart. A hand gently rested against his lower back and he blew out a sigh of relief, turning to see who had followed him.

 

“You alright?” Elliot stood close, his eyebrows knitted together and a concerned look on his face.

 

“Yeah, yeah… I just forgot they’d all be in there.” Aaron said and released his white-knuckled grip on the wall.

 

Elliot didn’t say anything, didn’t demand an explanation or a reason as to his rushed exit from the building, he just stood and waited for Aaron to talk, rubbing small circles into his spine.

 

“It’s just…” Aaron started, but he didn’t know how much he should say. How much was too much with a person you hadn’t even known for 24-hours?

 

“It’s just…” he started over again, “it’s me mum’s memorial today. I kinda…” again not knowing how much detail his companion required.

 

“Sorry if I kept you. You never said…” Elliot looked sad, apologetic.

 

“Forgot, didn’t I. Wasn’t really planning on going anyway, just not the way I would’ve wanted to make my entrance tho.” Aaron picked at his thumb nail, diverting his eyes from Elliot’s.

 

“Listen, you should probably go back. We can always catch up later, after my thing today. Maybe grab a drink in town? I mean, I don’t know what’s goin’ on, but it seems like a big deal, like you should be there.” He was rambling, he didn’t know the right thing to say just then.

“Funeral was weeks ago, this was just something to make everyone around here feel better. It’s for them, yeah? Not me or me mum.” Aaron was being defensive and didn’t really feel like he owed this guy an explanation. They were essentially strangers, no matter how well they were getting on. Who was he to tell him what to do?

 

Elliot nodded, “Right, well, you’re choice.”

 

Damn right it was his choice! He didn’t need to listen to everyone in the village carry on about his mum and how much she meant to them. He didn’t want to relive the last couple months of her life again, it had been hard enough the first time round. He didn’t want to see their fake sympathy or their judgmental expressions as to why he wasn’t mourning properly. Who were they to tell him how to grieve? His anger and frustration was boiling over and his head was killing him. He turned towards Elliot, this imposing figure next to him, this warm, lovely man who was being quite rational and understanding considering the shit he’d just randomly found himself immersed in. He could’ve just bolted, left Aaron standing, seething outside the Woolpack and run a mile; that’s what he would’ve done if the roles were reversed.

 

“I’d like to hear your story Aaron, really get to know you. But now’s not the time. Later yeah?” Elliot was being unnecessarily understanding. “You don’t have to go back in there, but I think it's best we wait on that date.”

 

Elliot had positioned himself between Aaron and the wall, watching Aaron’s face intently and trying his best to judge the other man’s reactions. For Aaron’s part, he kept his head down that was until Elliot’s thumb found his chin. There was a calmness and understanding in his eyes, not judging him or pitying him, just a focus to make sure he was ok. Elliot leaned in and gently pressed their lips together, resting a hand around Aaron’s neck. Aaron’s shoulders relaxed, he took a big breath in and released it through his nose.

 

“Later tho, yeah?” Aaron pleaded, not wanting to lose the connection between them. Elliot smiled, the corners of his mouth just barely turning up towards his eyes which stared intently into Aaron’s.

 

“Here.” Elliot thrust his phone towards Aaron. “Put your number in and I’ll ring ya after this thing is done.” Aaron obliged and quickly added his contact info into the mobile. “If you think I don’t want this to continue, you’re crazy mate.” Elliot leaned into Aaron’s ear and whispered the sentiment there, his large hands wrapping around his waist and sneaking up the back of his jumper. Aaron burrowed his nose into the underside of his chin, his lips scratching over the course stubble there. He hummed his agreement, their bodies pressed close, and Elliot’s back against the stone wall.

They untangled from one another and Elliot moved around the back of the building to retrieve his car from the car park while Aaron waited in the front. As he pulled up on the other side of the wall, he rolled down the window.

 

“Good luck Aaron. I’ll ring ya later.”

 

“Ta.” Aaron watched as he turned away in his car and drove out of the village. He stood for a minute, trying to decide where to go. He really didn’t think he could face going back inside, not with the way he had stormed out earlier.

 

I can’t believe I forgot! What the fuck’s wrong with me! And now I’ve ruined it with Elliot, he’s never gonna call again. And who knows where that would’ve gone! Did I really want it to go anywhere tho? He isn’t even that great anyway. He won’t call. Why would he? I wouldn’t. Fuck! I can’t go back in there.

 

--

 

In the end Robert decided to attend the memorial. It wasn’t for him or even Aaron, he just wanted to be out of the house and around decent adult conversation again. No talk about babies, or the event tonight, or Lachlan’s inevitable next fuck up; just grabbing a pint at the local and having normal, everyday small talk with his friends and family. That is if those people were actually speaking to him this week. The addition of Charlie into the extended Sugden clan had softened his reputation around the village and most people had long gotten over the affair with Aaron and the eventual breakup. It was old news in such a small place and most people just focused on his daughter and the change they saw in him now that he was a father.

 

So he left Home Farm and made his way into town, running just a bit behind as he was so used to being these days thanks to the baby. It took him twice as long to do anything nowadays. Eventually he pulled up behind the Woolpack, straightened his jacket and made his way around front. He could tell even from the outside that the place was packed, laughter and voices spilling from the front door as he pulled it open. No one registered him as he came in, small groups of people scattered around, each person with either a drink in their hand or a small plate of food. There were photos of Chas displayed around the room, some from when she was small all the way up to one that had been taken just months before she passed. He scanned the crowd until he spotted Vic, Adam, and Andy sharing a small table together.

 

“Pint please Diane.” He asked his step-mum who was manning the bar for the occasion.

 

“Nice to see you here pet. Didn’t think you’d make it.”

 

“Cheers, thanks. Yeah, needed a break from the goings-on up at home.”

 

Diane nodded her understanding, “Vic and Andy are over there love. It’s on the house today.” She put a hand up when he attempted to pay for his drink. She looked tired and done in, like today was one of the hardest days she’s had to face yet. He didn’t attend the funeral, he can’t even imagine what that day had been like for her, but if today was even a fraction as difficult, he doesn’t think he’d have the stomach to have been there.

 

He made his way over to the trio of friends and family sat around a small circular table at the side, silently slipping into the empty chair there.

 

“I just can’t believe it’s been nearly a month now. Place just seems so different, like the soul was sucked out or somethin’.” Vic was just finishing her sentiment as he put his glass down amongst the others.

 

Andy was shaking his head back and forth, like he couldn’t believe they were even having this conversation. “It was just so quick. There’s always that thought that it’ll drag out, that there’ll be a fight, like with Diane. But she just went so quickly.” He lamented and took a drink.

 

Chas had been diagnosed with leukemia and before they could even really begin treatments she was gone. They didn’t catch it until it was too late and although the best efforts had been made to do something, anything, in the end it wasn’t enough. Aaron had moved up to Manchester for the last month of Chas’ life, to be closer to the Christie Foundation Trust where she was being treated and every couple days a caravan would go to visit them. Robert had always wanted to go along, ride with Diane or Vic, but it never seemed appropriate so he stayed behind and waited for news upon their return. After their last visit, when it had become obvious that the end was quickly approaching, he had made the drive alone hoping that he could gather the courage along the way to finally see Aaron and offer some kind of comfort to his once friend. He sat in the parking lot and contemplated going in, rehearsing what he’d say and how he’d hope Aaron would react to him being there. Just as he had decided to get out of the car and venture in though, his phone rang and it was Victoria with the news that she was gone. He stood alone in the car park just staring at the looming structure in front of him, desperately wanting to race in to comfort Aaron inside, but knowing that now wasn’t the time. He didn’t know what he’d say or what Aaron’s reaction would be, so he got in his car and drove back home. No one knew that he’d gone.

 

“Anyone talk to Aaron today?” he asked as the table fell into silence.

 

Adam shook his head no, “Not a word. Could go and check on ‘im tho?”

 

“Leave it, yeah? He’ll come down when he’s ready.” Vic reassured Adam, with a hand on his forearm. Adam looked upset and lost, like he would’ve preferred to be anywhere but there. He seemed too large for the table and his normal boisterous behavior had dulled away to a murky, pale aura.

 

Robert was just finishing his pint when his phone went off in his pocket, the vibration startling him.

 

“Sorry.” He apologized and made his way into a quiet corner near the toilets.

 

“Hi.” It was Chrissie.

 

“How much longer are you going to be?”

 

“I don’t know, it’s kinda important. Does it matter?” he was beyond irritated.

 

“This event isn’t gonna run itself Robert. I need you here.” She didn’t though, she just didn’t want him there was the thing. And it wasn’t so much that she wanted him at the event by her side, showing off their “happy little family” or to schmooze the clients, she wanted him there to act as a nanny.

 

“Nikola is there to help organize and set-up. I’ll be back before it all kicks off.”

 

She had started to spout off about him shirking his responsibilities, always choosing anyone else over her, when the backdoor swung open. Standing in the entryway was Aaron looking relaxed and dare he admit, happy with a very tall, very handsome bloke standing very close to his side. They were smiling and laughing, sharing an intimate moment between themselves, when the realization of the situation finally dawned on Aaron’s face.

 

His expression immediately became that of a deer caught in the headlights, panic and anger wrapped around him like a familiar blanket and Robert could tell he was gonna bolt. The man behind him looked so confused and awkward, taking in the sight in front of him, everyone suddenly quiet and watching the pair intently. Aaron lowered his head and as quickly as possible made his way towards the entrance, pushing the door so hard it smacked the wall in the hall as he fled outside. His companion was hot on his heels, following him through the crowded pub.

 

“Robert!” Chrissie shrieked through the phone.

 

“I said I’ll be back in a bit!” He demanded and quickly ended the call. People were starting to murmur between their groups, questioning the awkward entrance and subsequent hasty departure of Aaron.

 

“Who was that?” Andy asked as he rejoined his table.

 

“He was in here last night, with the crowd from that Home Farm thing tonight.” Vic launched into an explanation. “Don’t know ‘im though.”

 

“I might remember ‘im. Last night is a blur tho, mate.” Adam added to the explanation.

 

“Nice! Couldn’t even make it to his own mum’s memorial! That kid needs his head checked out!” Diane had walked up to their table and she was furious.

 

Robert wanted to make an excuse for him, try to explain what was going on with him, but in all reality he had no idea who Aaron was anymore. They hadn’t spoken in months and had both done their bests to completely avoid one another. He wasn’t going to add to the speculation though, he kept his mouth closed and allowed the people around him to draw their own conclusions.

 

“He looked mortified Diane. Give ‘im a break.” Andy came to his defense. “Remember what I was like when my Katie died?”

 

“I know pet, it’s just so aggravating.”

 

“He’s doing his best; might not be how we’d chose to cope, but it’s his way.” Adam stated and the matter was dropped after that.

 

Everyone expected Aaron to come back in and they all took turns watching the door for his re-entry. It became obvious after Robert’s second pint was finished that he wasn’t coming back though.

 

“I should probably head home. Chrissie’s heads gonna explode if I’m not back before people start arriving.” Robert stood up from the table and started to gather himself to leave.

 

“Come here, give us a hug.” Victoria had stood as well and pulled him into a tight, comforting embrace. “Thanks for not listening to me and coming.” Robert nodded and said his goodbyes before exiting the pub.

 

--

 

Pulling up the drive way at Home Farm, Robert was greeted by a pacing Chrissie who was holding a screaming Charlie. He positioned his car amongst the fleet, took a deep breathe, and prepared himself for the fight ahead.

 

“I don’t have the patience right now to deal with you, or her quite frankly. Just take her!” Chrissie was thrusting the crying infant at Robert as soon as he was clear of the car door, but before he had even had the chance to close it.

 

“Honestly Robert, so happy that we’re such a high priority in your life.” She stormed away from him, completely ignoring the pair of them standing in the front lawn.

 

“Sh-h, sh-h.” he attempted to calm and quiet his daughter. “It’s alright love, daddy’s here.” He cradled her to his chest, petting her tiny back and listened to her screams of absolute panic.

 

“What’d that mummy do, huh? What’d she do?” He bounced on the balls of his feet, swaying gently to try to comfort the child. “Shall we go for a walk?”

 

He turned from the looming estate that was bustling with caterers, contractors, and security staff and headed across the vast green open space. He hummed a song that he vaguely remembers his mom singing to him as a child, all the time shushing and trying his best to comfort his daughter.

 

The pair meandered around the grounds, around white event tents and past trailers carrying equipment that was to be set up by different vendors for the event in just a couple hours. He had arrived home with plenty of time to spare, but it was obvious that Chrissie thought differently.

 

Charlie eventually quieted and fell asleep while they walked, allowing Robert to head back to the house and sneak in through the side entrance. He carried the sleeping child upstairs and placed her into her cot in his room (he and Chrissie didn’t share a room, at the request of his estranged wife) and made his way into his bathroom for a quick shower. He was in the process of getting dressed for the event that night when there was a small knock at his door.

 

“Come in!” he called as he sat in an armchair, pulling on his last sock.

 

“Hiya…” Chrissie had peeked her head through the crack in the door, but hadn’t entered the room.

 

“Hi.” Robert didn’t expect it to be her there, but he motioned for her to come in anyway.

 

“Is she ok?” she motioned towards their daughter.

 

“Yeah, she’s fine. Went for a walk, calmed her down. What the hell happened Chrissie?” he stood and crossed over towards her to retrieve his shoes from his closet.

 

“I don’t know, I just got so frustrated. She wouldn’t nap and people kept coming in to ask the dumbest questions and I just got so angry with her. I’m sorry Robert. I … I’m just so sorry.” She actually looked upset by her actions and Robert was actually shocked that she was showing any emotion towards the child at all.

 

Chrissie hadn’t been the most emotionally invested mother up to this point. Where Robert excelled in every facet of raising their daughter and relished his time with her, Chrissie was the exact opposite. In the hospital she barely held her and her behavior had only become more distant when they got home. Lachlan was more interested in having a sister than expected and Robert felt mildly comfortable with their interactions, but he was a very protective father and didn’t trust his step-son with her alone. God only knows what would happen if he got distracted while watching her; Robert shuttered to think about those types of scenarios. Robert had hoped that after a while Chrissie would warm up to him and their daughter, that her attitude would change, but as of yet she was still very lukewarm on the topic. He had read a lot during the pregnancy, trying to prepare himself as much as possible and read about post-partum depression and the effect it can have on the mother. He had hoped that Chrissie’s attitude toward them could be attributed to this, but it just seemed as though she didn’t like the idea of having a permanent connection between herself and Robert and took it out on Charlie as well. As for Robert, he wanted his daughter to grow up with two parents like he had, in the same house. He wanted ridiculous family holidays and tacky Christmas traditions. He did still love Chrissie and wished that they could’ve found a way to make things work between them, but she was insistent that this arrangement was only for the sake of their daughter and that it wasn’t permanent.

 

He was shaking his head at her, so completely in shock over her behavior, “She’s a baby Chrissie. What’s wrong with you? Seriously? If we need to look into some counseling or something we can…”

 

She interrupted him there, “You think I need counseling?” her hands were on her hips, that had hit a nerve.

 

“Not here alright. Let’s just go to the corridor, she needs to rest a bit more.” Robert placed his hand on her right shoulder, physically ushering her out of his room and away from the sleeping infant.

 

“I don’t need counseling Robert! I need you here to look after her! That’s what I need!”

 

“Listen, I’m not trying to wind you up or anything, it’s just…. we can’t keep doin’ this! Whatevers goin’ on with you, we need to work through it together.”

 

We don’t need to do anything together. There is no we , Robert! It’s just you and that baby in there, living in my house! I don’t know how much more of this I can take honestly! You know what, actually I do know! I want you out! And I want you to take that thing with you!”

 

Robert was floored, to say the least. He had no words for what had just happened, what she had just said to him. “That thing !? That thing !? That’s our daughter Chrissie! That’s our little girl! How dare you, you evil bitch!” he wanted to hit her. He had never, ever thought about striking her before and actually the thought of hitting a woman was so disgusting to him, but right now that’s all he could think about.

 

“How dare you! I can’t even look at you! And you think I’m a horrible person, for what? Sleeping with a man? Look at you Chrissie! Think about what you just said for just one second. Think about the fact that you just called a baby, our baby… thing !” he could barely say the word, it caught in his chest and made his throat hurt. What kind of monster says something like that? How could he have ever wanted to be with someone like that?

 

“Just get out Robert. Now. I’m exhausted and I can’t stand to look at your face right now.” She was unwavering. She didn’t apology for her comment or even try to explain herself, she just stood there leaning up against the wall in the corridor outside his bedroom, with a completely blank expression on her face.

 

“Gladly.” He went back into his room, grabbed two suitcases from his closet, and began packing as much into them as he could. He pulled open the top drawer of his dresser which is where a majority of Charlie’s clothes were kept and began picking up stacks of onesies and tiny outfits. As he placed the second stack into the suitcase he completely broke down. He immediately dropped to his knees in front of the suitcase, head in his hands, and wept. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and his palms were completely soaking wet, his breath hitching in his chest, he felt like he was going to be sick. He scrambled to the bathroom and hunched over the toilet just before everything in his stomach came wrenching back up. He sat on the cold marble floor next to the toilet for what felt like ages, just replaying Chrissie’s horrific words over and over again in his head. He couldn’t stop them.

 

…and take that thing with you!

 

He just sat on the bathroom floor and stared into his room at the cot where his daughter slept peacefully, completely unaware of what had happened between her parents in the corridor just minutes before. He had to get up, he had to get up and be strong for her. He had to get them out of this horrible place and away from that horrible woman. So he did just that; he finished packing her things, he’d come back for the rest of his belongings later, and made his way down the stairs with the two suitcases. At the bottom Nikola was just giving a final directive to one of the event staff when she spotted him struggling to get the cases under control.

 

“Going on a holiday then?” she asked.

 

Robert didn’t say a word, just walked past her and out the front door towards his car. He loaded the cases into the boot of his Audi RS7 and turned back towards the house. Nikola was waiting in the front door, clipboard tucking her left arm.

 

“What’d I say?” she asked as he maneuvered past her and back towards the stairs.

 

“Just leave it.” He said without a fight and ascended the stairs back towards his room. He picked up Charlie who was still sleeping and gently placed her into her car seat, fastening the buckles across her tiny chest. He took one last glance around the room for any necessities he may have missed and then shut the door behind them.

 

--

 

Aaron couldn’t face the line of questioning that awaited him back inside the Woolpack, so instead he got into his car and headed out of town for a drive. He didn’t have any specific destination in mind, just as long as it was as far away from Emmerdale as possible. He was utterly embarrassed by the scene from earlier and couldn’t bear to face anyone inside that place right now, so instead he just drove. Eventually he did loop back around and decided that the safest place for him was at the scrapyard.

 

He settled in behind his desk with his phone, a newspaper, and the emergency beer from the tiny office fridge, determined to wait it out until he felt it was safe to return home. He had no expectations to ever hear from Elliot again because honestly, he knew that if the roles were reversed, he’d do a runner. Why would anyone subject themselves to this? Every relationship he’s had has ended horribly and all of them had come down to him. Well, maybe not Robert, but if Aaron was being honest, he’d known all along that that wasn’t forever. That eventually, maybe not as quickly as it had done, but eventually it’d end tragically. Because that’s what happens to Aaron; he’s unlovable and a mess, and no one in their right mind would want to tackle his problems.

 

The more he drank, the worse his self-loathing became. He was three beers in, trying to focus on the sports page, when his phone chirped from its place under the remaining newspaper on his desk.

 

So, still up for that drink then?

 

The number wasn’t programed into his phone, but he knew it was from Elliot. Who else could it be? He had expected a furious text from Vic or a plea from Adam, but both friends were thankfully giving him some space.

 

A: u sure?

 

E: where r u?

 

A: ‘round

 

E: cheeky

 

A: work

 

E: so not helpful

 

Aaron smile at this phone, an embarrassingly big smile. So he sent him the address, finished his beer and waited. He paced the length of the portacabin, spinning his phone around in his hands, assuming that Elliot would back out in the end. Then headlights swept across the yard and in through the windows, the tires of his car crunching over the gravel lot. Aaron’s breath caught in his chest and his palms went a bit clammy. He shoved his phone into the back pocket of his jeans and sat at his desk, picking up the paper and pretending to be absorbed in the football standings.

 

The sound of fingers tapping on the door and then it slowly opening, revealed Elliot at the top of the steps.

 

“Don’t remember inviting you in.” Aaron said sarcastically, turning in his chair to stare at the man in the doorway.

 

“Not a vampire, am I? Don’t need to be invited in.” He closed the door behind himself and leaned back against it. “This is… nice.”

 

Aaron scoffed at the back-handed compliment. “Guess. So, how was your thing today?”

 

“Awful.” He was still leaning back against the door, his hips not quite flushed against the surface, his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket.

 

“Hm-m…” Aaron couldn’t help but notice the way in which Elliot was standing, purposefully jutting his pelvis forward.

 

“Yeah, that lot up there… whata nightmare!”

 

Still seated, Aaron moved the chair slightly closer to where the man was standing, slouching down slightly, and spreading his legs out in front of himself.

 

“Yeah, right nutters that lot.” Aaron’s voice had dropped an octave to a husky, low volume. He brought his hand to his crotch and was rubbing himself through the thick material of his jeans.

 

“Fuck” Elliot mumbled and dropped down to his knees directly in front of him. Elliot had his zipper down and his cock freed from his boxers before Aaron even had a chance to wrap his fingers in the other man’s hair. Elliot had his mouth stretched around his cock, working up and down his shaft.

 

“You’re so fucking gorgeous.” Elliot pulled back and slowly stroked Aaron with his hand. He looked up at him from his position on the floor and Aaron ran his thumb over Elliot’s mouth, momentarily pushing it in. Elliot sucked it into this mouth and then pulled off with an exaggerated popping sound.

 

“Come’ere” Aaron leaned over and kissed Elliot. It was passionate and intense, their mouth’s easily parting to explore the others. Elliot’s hand was between them, continuing to pull Aaron ever closer to the edge and when he finally got close, Elliot moved his mouth to his neck and began to kiss and bite a spot just under his jawline.

 

“Fuck!” Aaron unabashedly called out as he came over Elliot’s hand, throwing his head back and arching his back. Elliot licked his cum from his hand, pulling each digit into his mouth one by one. Aaron slowly kissed him again, savoring the taste of himself on Elliot’s tongue. “My turn.” He made his way off the chair and pushed Elliot onto his back on the cabin floor.

 

“Hang’on. Hang’on.” Elliot putting his hand over his belt buckle, stopping Aaron in his tracks.

 

“Later, yeah? Let’s get outta here.”

 

Aaron stared at him from his position between his thighs, his hand trapped between Elliot’s and the man’s belt.

 

“I get it…” he got up from the floor and turned his back to the other man who was still sprawled on the floor. He worked himself back into his pants and began to re-fasten his jeans and belt.

 

Elliot sighed deeply and hulled himself to his feet. He approached Aaron’s back, stepped in close, and slip his hands around his waist, tucking them just under the front of his jeans. “You know I want this… you. But I meant what I said earlier, I’d really like to get to know ya. So let’s get some takeaway and go back to my hotel. I promise I’ll let you blow me after we eat.” Elliot had rested his chin on Aaron’s right shoulder, his warm thumbs swiping back and forth at the soft hairs just below his belly button. “Promise.” He reassured the other man with a lingering kiss to Aaron’s neck.

 

Aaron huffed and turned his head as much as possible to the man standing behind him. “Go on then.”

 

They made their way out to Elliot’s waiting Porche, “What is it with you blokes and these cars?”

 

“Sorry?” Elliot asked as he started the engine.

 

“Nothin’, just my ex had one of these. Loved the thing.”

 

“Unfortunately this isn’t mine. Don’t need a car in London.” Elliot navigated the posh car out of the yard. Aaron hopped out to close the gate and got back in.

 

“You live in London then?” Aaron asked as Elliot pushed the car’s accelerator and they quickly made their way out of the village.

 

“Yeah, relocated a couple years ago for this job.” The car really was incredible. He never admitted it to Robert, and probably wouldn’t to Elliot either, but there was something about this car that really turned Aaron on.

 

“Where was home then, before London?” Aaron asked as the road stretched out in front and behind them.

 

“From Sydney originally, but I’ve lived just about everywhere. International business will do that to ya. Lived out of suitcases for the better part of ten years now.”

 

“Spent some time in France ‘couple years ago now. It was alright.”

 

“What took you to France then?”

 

“An ex. That’s the accent!” it finally clicked for him. He had been driving himself mad this morning trying to figure out why he couldn’t place the other man’s accent.

 

“There’s still a hint of good ol’ Aussie in there somewhere, but it’s a bit of a hodge podge these days.” Elliot made the turned towards Hotton. “What happened with this ex?”

 

“Nottin’ really. He played Rugby, followed ‘im to France, relationship fell apart, came home. It was a while ago now.”

 

Elliot was staying at the Chevin, which had a rustic main lodge with rooms surrounded by woods where cottages dotted the landscape. It wasn’t what Aaron expected, but the suite was nice, with a lofted sleeping area, nice oversized couch, and small kitchenette.

 

“It’s very…. woody in here.” The walls were clad with knotty pine planks and the railings and banister leading upstairs were made out of real tree branches.

 

“It’s nice.” Elliot protested and shut the door behind Aaron.

 

“Just takin’ the piss. It’s lovely.” He felt very awkward and out of place. He stood in the middle of the room waiting for Elliot who was looking through a brochure that was left by the hotel.

 

“Says there’s an Indian place not too far from here.”

 

“Don’t know if I fancy Indian tonight.” Aaron scrunched up his nose at the suggestion.

 

“Pizza?”

 

“Better.” Elliot moved around him to place his phone on a charging cord next to the television and made the call.

 

“Said it’d be 35 minutes, but I’ll have to go into town for it. Too far for them to deliver supposedly.” Elliot sat his phone on the table next to the television and turned towards Aaron who was still standing in the middle of the room. Aaron nodded and scanned the decor, hands shoved into the pockets of his hoodie.

 

“So…”

 

“So…” Aaron mimicked.

 

“Why did this get weird between us?” Elliot asked from across the room.

 

“Dunno. Is it… weird, I mean?”

 

“You just seem really uncomfortable mate. Here, sit down, I’ll get us a drink.” Elliot motioned for him to take a seat on the couch and went to the fridge to retrieve them each a beer.

 

“This ok? It came with the room.” Elliot said as he took a seat at the opposite end of the couch.

 

“Ta.” Aaron said and took the drink from him.

 

“So, we gonna talk about earlier then?”

 

Aaron had just lifted the bottle to his mouth and taken a drink, he swallowed quickly. “Not much else to say really. I forgot.”

 

“Do they not know about you? That you’re gay?”

 

“No, no, nothin’ like that. They all know. Just a bit embarrassing, yeah? Forgettin’ the memorial and then showin’ up with a strange bloke right in the middle of it?” Aaron picked at the label on the beer bottle, not making eye contact with Elliot.

 

“How long’s it been then?” Elliot couldn’t take his eyes off of Aaron.

 

“Um…” he didn’t really know if he was ready to have this conversation.

 

“I mean, we don’t have to talk about it if…”

 

Aaron interrupted, finally looking at him, “No, it’s alright. Um… three, four weeks?”

 

“Wow. Ok.” Elliot said and sat his bottle on the table directly in front of the couch. He moved towards Aaron, taking the bottle from his hands and placing it next to his on the table. “Come ‘ere.” He wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into his chest. Aaron slowly relaxed into the hug. There were tears just barely starting to pool in his eyes, but he fought them back.

 

“Yeah, it was quick tho. Thankfully for her, it was quick. Spent about a month in Manchester with her at hospital before she… passed.” Aaron pulled back, but Elliot remained close, his hands finding Aaron’s in his lap.

 

“Can I ask how…”

 

“Leukemia. Quick tho, yeah? Better for her.”

 

“Yeah.” Both men were silent, their hands still woven together between them.

 

“And for you?” Elliot asked.

 

Aaron shrugged. “Don’t know really.” There wasn’t much he could say, or much he wanted to say. “Anyway… pizza’s probably ready by now.” He quickly changed the subject.

 

“Yeah.” Elliot didn’t move though, he stayed sitting close to Aaron, his right knee and shin pressing against Aaron’s left leg. Elliot lifted a hand and turned Aaron’s face into his, placing a small, reassuring kiss to his lips. It wasn’t with the intent to start anything between them, just a quick chaste kiss to comfort the other man.

 

Aaron smiled as Elliot pulled back, “Stay here, make yourself comfortable and I’ll be right back. There’s more beers in the fridge.” He got up off the couch, grabbed his phone and keys and made his way out of the room.

 

--

 

A couple hours, two more beers, and one large pepperoni pizza later, Aaron was finally settled into the suite. He was content and relaxed, with his feet up on the table and some random action movie playing on the tv in front of them. It was comfortable being with Elliot and so easy; there was no pressure to say anything on the topic of his mom or to go into more detail about what had happened at the pub earlier in the day. It was late though and he stifled a yawn with the back of his hand.

 

“Come on sleepy ‘ead.” Elliot picked up the remote from the side table and clicked off the movie. He stood and extended a hand to Aaron, pulling him up off the sofa.

 

He led them both up the open staircase, to the sleeping loft above the lounge and flipped on the bedside lamp.

 

“You think there’s an extra tooth brush in there?” Aaron asked, gesturing to the attached bathroom.

 

“Probably.” Elliot said as he went in with his small toiletries bag. “Yep! Found one!”

 

“Cheers.” Aaron stood next to Elliot at the sink, both working diligently to scrub the taste of pepperoni and beer from their mouths. A few minutes later they were undressing near the bed. Elliot pulled out a pair of loose track suit bottoms and tossed them across the bed towards Aaron.

 

“Ta.” He stripped off his boxers and slid the obviously too long bottoms up, the legs pooling on the floor a bit. “Bit big on me.” He tugged at the legs to gather the material around his ankles.

 

“Could always wear nothin’.” Elliot contemplated. Aaron raised an eyebrow at him and climbed into the oversized, overstuffed giant bed.

 

“Now this is a bed!” Aaron laid with both arms straight out to his sides, legs wide like a starfish. Elliot climbed onto the bed and positioned himself directly over top of the other man. “Thought it was my turn?” He asked and rolled Elliot onto his back, flipping their positions.

 

It was slow and languid, exchanging kisses that ranged from closed mouth to full on snogging. Elliot was wearing a loose pair of basketball style shorts which sat low on his hips and Aaron’s too big borrowed pair of bottoms were getting twisted around his smaller frame. They both discarded their clothes eventually, opting to not bother in the long run.

 

Aaron took his time with Elliot, seeing as how the memories of the previous night were still foggy at best. He kissed down his muscular chest, stopping to tug gently on each nipple with his teeth, his hands smoothing down the man’s tight sides and resting on his hips. He positioned himself between Elliot’s thighs and brushed his closed, dry lips lightly over the faint downy hair around his navel, causing goosebumps to rise in his wake. He eventually made his first tentative introduction to the other man’s cock which was just beginning to become aroused, eliciting a moan and a garbled set of nonsense from him. He took it in his mouth, flattening his tongue along the underside, his right hand firmly cupping Elliot’s balls.

 

Aaron spent a good amount of time relishing in the taste of Elliot, exploring the point where his thigh met his groin, taking in his heady scent. Eventually he couldn’t stand it and lifted his head from between the other man’s thighs. “Condom?” he asked. Elliot’s pupils were blown wide, a thin line of sweat just forming along his hairline.

 

“Uh… yeah… over in my bag.” Elliot pointed to the open leather satchel on the floor next to the bathroom. Aaron retrieved the needed items and rejoined a very flushed and eager Elliot on the bed. He tugged at his cock a few times, watching as Elliot’s eyes never left his crotch, his hand slowly going to his own erection to mimic Aaron’s movements.

 

“Turn over.” Elliot immediately turned over onto his belly, legs slightly bent under him, his glorious ass positioned up in the air. Aaron waited, smoothing his hand down Elliot’s ass, his thumb pressing into his hole.

 

“Fuck me…. please Aaron…” his words came out muffled, from his face being pressed into the pillow below him. Aaron quickly coated his fingers in lube and began to open him up, working up to three fingers maybe a little too fast. Elliot was pushing back against his hand now, openly moaning and cursing under his breathe. Aaron took that as a sign he was ready and slicked his cock now. He pushed in at an agonizingly slow rate, allowing not only the man below him to adjust, but also to slow down the progression of his own orgasm.

 

Elliot squirmed forward causing Aaron to grab his hips and hold him in place. He thrust into him, pushing him away slightly and pulling him back as he came forward. Elliot was a complete mess under him, cursing and sweating, pushing his head as far as possible into the mattress.

 

“Say my name.” Aaron was draped over his back, his mouth as close to Elliot’s ear as possible. “Say my name Elliot.” He whispered.

 

“Fuck, Aaron. Aaron. Fuck me.” He babbled, his hands reaching back to grab the backs of his thighs. Aaron grabbed a hold of his dark hair and pulled his head up off the mattress just slightly. “Fuck! Aaron!”

 

Aaron used his other hand to reach around the front and jerk his cock just as he spilled onto the duvet. Aaron’s hand mercilessly continued to milk Elliot until he couldn’t do anything else but release his own load into the condom. Aaron collapsed on top of Elliot, both of their breathing heavy and labored. He knew he probably was dead weight on top of the other man, but he couldn’t move at the moment. Once his breathing had slowed a bit, he sat back on his heels and slowly pulled out. He bent and kissed Elliot’s hole, breathing in the mixed scent of sweat and lube, running his tongue down his crack until it reached the flesh behind his balls. Elliot shuttered and his whole body twitched at the sensation of Aaron’s beard prickling the sensitive skin there.

 

Elliot lifted his body just enough once Aaron had sat up properly to remove the condom and motioned for him to tuck in next to him. They didn’t bother with the mess under them or even trying to finagle with a blanket, instead letting their combined body heat keep them comfortably warm. Both men were silent for a long while and Aaron had assumed Elliot had fallen asleep actually; he was on his left side, Elliot still on his stomach with his left arm tucked under Aaron’s right. Elliot shifted so they were facing one another, his eyes slowly blinking open and focusing on Aaron who laid incredibly close.

 

“Worth the wait, I’d say.” Elliot muttered, his eyes still practically closed.

 

“Definitely.” Aaron replied and kissed him once more. Elliot hummed and smiled, never opening his eyes and now Aaron was sure he was close to sleep. He relaxed into their position, foreheads touching, arms around the other’s waist, legs tangled.

 

It had only been twenty-four hours that they’d known each other, but their comfort level was undeniable. And the sex was insane! Tonight was for sure in his top five best shags ever, maybe even his top three. Why was he finding it so easy to be with this man? What was it about him that just fit? Aaron’s mind raced for a few more moments before he finally slipped into sleep himself.

 

Chapter Text

Sunday - 14th

 

“So…. I’ve got a couple more hours today up at that event, but maybe we can have tea later?” Aaron was sitting across a small table from Elliot eating his toast. They had woken up late and after outstanding morning sex followed by outstanding shower hand jobs, they had finally made their way downstairs for a bit to eat.

 

“Alright. When do you go back…. to London?” Aaron knew it was coming, figured it’d be easier to get it over with now.

 

“Um…” Elliot took a sip of coffee, “Bosses expectin’ me first thing Tuesday.”

 

“Hmmm” Aaron raised his mug and blew across the top before taking a sip of his own. Too good to be true. Knew it wouldn’t last. Should probably just quit while I’m ahead. Not worth it. All the familiar diatribes streamed through his subconscious, making his hand that was holding the mug just barely shake. Elliot didn’t notice though, not many people would’ve caught the movement. The thing was, Aaron knew that when this started that it was temporary, that Elliot was here for a meeting and would be leaving soon, but that didn’t stop him from wanting it to be more. He hadn’t wanted more from anyone since Robert and now the one bloke he happened to fancy was leaving.

 

“Hey… what’s goin’ on in that head a’yours?” Elliot asked, setting his mug down and reaching under the table to squeeze the top of Aaron’s thigh.

 

Aaron shook his head, “Nothin’.” He gave a weak smile to the other man.

 

“Bullshit mate. Listen, I know that you’re probably thinkin’ this is the last you’ll see of me. That I’ll fuck off and that you were just another weekend thing, but mate….” Elliot had gotten up from his seat and pushed Aaron away from the table, his chair sliding easy across the laminate floor. “You’re so much more than that and you know it.”

 

Elliot straddled the other man who was still seated and kissed him with such force it nearly knocked the wind out of him. Elliot’s hands tugged hard at Aaron’s hair, pulling his head back and exposing his throat, which he kissed and bit relentlessly. Aaron moaned and pushed his hips into the other man’s groin, trying to release some of his pent up arousal.

 

Before it could go any further after Elliot left a beautiful scarlet bruise to the right side of Aaron’s neck, he pulled off and sat back onto Aaron’s knees. “You’re fuckin’ gorgeous.” It was so sincere that Aaron immediately ducked his head as he felt the blush rush up his neck. “No. Don’t hide from me.” Elliot lifted his chin and gently kissed him, trying to reassure Aaron that he did truly mean it.

 

“Yeah, thanks.” was all Aaron could manage when they finally pulled apart.

 

“I really do need to go to this thing today, but we need to talk about this later, properly yeah?” Elliot asked.

 

Aaron nodded his agreement just as Elliot stood up off his lap. He worked his way around the room collecting the things he would need for the event today as Aaron finished off his brew and toast. Soon they were back in the Porche and headed towards Emmerdale. The ride was quiet and the late morning sun was just breaking through a few white puffy clouds dotting the otherwise blue sky. August was Aaron’s favorite time on the Dales. Elliot pulled up in front of the Woolpack to drop Aaron at home. They shared a brief kiss inside the car before Aaron climbed out.

 

“Hey!” Elliot called as Aaron walked away from the car. “Come ‘ere.” Aaron walked the few steps back to the open window of the car and leaned his arms on the opening.

 

Elliot reached his right hand out the window and pulled Aaron into a kiss that turned into a bit more than he would normally be willing to do out in the view of the entire village, but he gave in and gave as good as he got. “Fuck. I gotta go. Laters, yeah?”

 

“Laters.” Aaron said as he stood back up straight. He stood out front and watched the silver sports car drive away, not quite ready to be without Elliot, even though he’d be seeing him again in just a couple hours. As he turned around to enter the Woolpack he noticed Robert standing in front of Keeper’s Cottage watching him.

 

How long’s he been there? How much had he seen? Aaron was embarrassed by the very public display of affection that he had just been engaged in and even more so because Robert had just been witness to it. He turned quickly and proceeded into the pub, not bothering to acknowledge the other man.

 

--

 

Robert didn’t know where else to go, “I don’t know where else to go.” He said as soon as Vic answered the door Saturday evening.

 

“Rob? What’s goin’ on?” Vic ushered the red-eyed man inside. He had driven for a while just crying out of sheer anger at Chrissie. He wasn’t sad or upset, he was just so, so angry.

 

“I know you weren’t expecting us, but I didn’t know where else to go Vic.” He hauled the car seat into Vic’s sitting room. Charlie had been awake for a while and needed to eat. Vic unbuckled the squirming infant and bounced her while Robert made her a bottle in the kitchen.

 

“It’s fine Rob, but you gotta tell me what’s goin’ on.”

 

“The things she said Vic, I can’t stop ‘em. It’s like a fucking record playin’ over and over, on a loop. The nasty, disgusting things she said.” It was all he thought of, the vile conversation they had had in that hallway, their sleeping daughter just feet away. Thank god she didn’t understand and would never remember this!

 

“Who? Chrissie?” Vic had taken the bottle from Robert and was sitting on the couch feeding little Charlie.

 

Robert sat in the arm chair just across the room watching his daughter completely unaware of what was going on. “Yeah, Chrissie and I had a big row. And… and the things she said Vic… I just…” Robert brought his hands up and wiped the tears away from his cheeks. He shook his head. “She threw us out. Said to leave and to take that thing with me.” He nearly spit the word out, still unable to comprehend that Chrissie had actually said it.

 

“She what!?” Charlie began to fuss as Vic became agitated with Robert’s retelling of the events from earlier in the day.

 

“She said that Charlie had been awful all day, wouldn’t calm down, nearly threw her at me when I got home. She was so upset, just crying and panicking.” Robert was still having a hard time reliving the events.

 

“Who? Chrissie?”

 

“No, Charlie. She looked so scared of her mum.” He was crying again, thinking about how frightened she looked when he had arrived back at Home Farm. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do Vic.”

 

“Right, well first things first, you’re stayin’ here and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” Robert began to protest when she interrupted him, “I’ll deal with Adam, so stop fussin’ about it. He’ll be fine.”

 

“And secondly?” he added.

 

“Secondly we’re gonna have a nice long talk with that Chrissie aren’t we?”

 

“No Vic, really, please don’t. I don’t want anything to do with her, not after she…. not after what she said.”

 

“Alright love, alright.” Charlie had finished her bottle and Vic had her propped up against her left shoulder trying to elicit a burp from the baby. “Listen, why don’t you leave her with me, go upstairs and get settled in, maybe even close your eyes for a bit.”

 

Robert didn’t like the idea of his daughter being out of his sight right now, but he reluctantly agreed to Vic’s suggestion. He retrieved the cases from his car and drug them up the stairs to the spare room. He unpacked Charlie’s tiny clothes into the dresser drawer, but left his things in the cases, not wanting to make himself too comfortable in the borrowed space. This was only temporary after all, just until he could find a more permanent solution. After an hour or so of just lying in the middle of the double bed, he made his way back downstairs.

 

“She still awake?” he asked as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

 

“Yep, just watching some tv.” Vic and Charlie were snuggled down into the corner of the couch.

 

“Brew?” he asked as he made his way past them.

 

“Ta.” She replied but didn’t make any moves to leave the comfort of the couch.

 

Robert joined them there with two steaming mugs moments later.

 

“Feel any better?” she asked, graciously taking the tea from her brother.

 

He raised his shoulders in a shrug, “Not really. How’s she doin’?”

 

“Ah, she’s a little lamb she is! Cute as a button!”

 

Robert smiled at the interaction. If only her mother could see how special she is. He thought sadly, taking a sip from his mug. They sat in silence just absently watching whatever was on the television.

 

“Heard from Aaron?”

 

“Nah, ‘fraid he’s disappeared.” Robert panicked just a little bit, although he knew he had no right to be outwardly concerned, but still.

 

“He’s done a runner?” Robert asked curiously.

 

Vic shook her head, “Don’t think it’s that serious and all. Adam said he texted him earlier, but hasn’t heard anything back yet. I’m sure he’ll pop up eventually.”

 

“Yeah.” Robert watched the steam roll off his mug.

 

Eventually Vic made her way into the kitchen to make a late night snack of bacon sarnies and more tea. They ate in front of the tv, with Charlie curled up asleep on her father’s chest. Soon the siblings were yawning in turns. Robert took Charlie to their room where Vic had found him a spare cot, presumably from the mess Adam had found himself in a few years ago.

 

“Don’t know, just never got rid of it.” She explained as she set it up next to Robert’s bed.

 

“Thanks Vic.” He said as he laid the baby girl in the bed.

 

“Anytime love.” She gave him one last hug before excusing herself from the room.

 

He sat on the edge of the bed watching his daughter sleep for a long while. Her delicate features becoming even softer with sleep, her legs occasionally twitching on their own and her eyes furiously moving back and forth under her opaque eye lids. Robert had spent a lot of time just looking at her, categorizing each and every inch of her tiny self. He wanted to remember every detail about her at this age because she just grew a little bit more each day and he wanted her to stay little. Eventually the exhaustion from the day caught up with him and he found himself nodding off as he sat there, feet planted firmly on the floor between the bed and cot. He stood, removed his trousers, and climbed under the quilt; the bed was unfamiliar, comfortable, but unfamiliar. It didn’t take long for him to drift off though, thankful for the peace of mind.

 

--

 

Robert woke up the next morning before the rest of the house; he laid in bed listening to the wind rattle the old window next to the bed and the occasional car traveling around the village. He quietly made his way out of his room and downstairs to make a tea, his mind reeling. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to do. What should his next move be? Does he need to file something, get sole custody, ensure that Chrissie gives up her rights to Charlie? Is it too soon for all that? He just didn’t have any answers and that might’ve been the most frustrating part of it all, having no control over the situation. He could hear someone moving around upstairs, unsure if it was Adam or Vic, but he just sat at the kitchen table enjoying his mug.

 

“Morning.” Adam staggered into the kitchen just then, soft flannel pajamas slightly askew and hair soft from sleep.

 

“Kettles on.” Robert said in reply. Adam nodded and blearily made his way over to the counter to make a tea for himself. They were quiet as he worked until he joined Robert at the table.

 

“Sorry about Chrissie mate. ‘orrible thing to say, especially about your own kid.”

 

“Yeah, thanks.” Robert picked up his mug and took a drink, trying desperately to avoid this conversation at all costs.

 

“I mean, we all know she’s crazy, right? Never would’ve guessed that tho! What a nutter!” Adam shook his head and took a noisy slurp from his tea.

 

“Bit early, yeah? To be bashin’ my wife.”

 

“Sorry mate. Didn’t mean to offend.” Adam retreated, “It’s early, yeah? Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright really. So I’m assumin’ Vic filled you in then?”

 

Adam nodded, “After I got in last night.”

 

“We’ll be outta here as quick as possible, don’t want to get in the way or anything.”

 

“No worries mate! At all! We’ll figure it out, no rush.” Adam sounded sincere, tired but sincere nonetheless. Robert was so grateful for his family, he didn’t know what he’d do without them.

 

“Morning boys!” Vic was standing in the doorway with Charlie. Robert smiled, joy just radiating from him at the sight.

 

“Morning ladies!” Adam said in response and got up to give Vic the chair. “Brew?”

 

“Yes please. Thanks love. How’d ya sleep?” She asked Robert as she settled across the table from him.

 

“Just fine. Thanks again Vic.”

 

“Will ya stop thankin’ me!? That’s what families for!” She accepted the mug from Adam, who was leaning with his back against the counter.

 

“Do ya have plans for today?” Vic asked the room in general.

 

“Gonna see if I can track down Aaron I think. It’s been long enough.” Adam said, finishing his tea and placing his mug in the sink.

 

“Probably not a bad idea. Make sure he’s gonna show up tomorrow for work, if nothin’ else. What about you then Robert?”

 

“Dunno…. I left some stuff at Home Farm, should probably get it before Chrissie throws it out. Or burns it.” He handed his mug to Adam to place in the sink.

 

“No hurry love. Sh-h.” Charlie was beginning to fuss, she liked to eat as soon as she got up normally.

 

“I’ll make her a bottle real quick.” Robert got up and went upstairs to the diaper bag to get the needed supplies. “Should at least go back for the rest of Charlie’s stuff.” He commented as he made his way back into the kitchen. “What I have isn’t gonna last more than a day.” He handed the prepared bottle over to Vic and settled back onto the chair.

 

“Do you want me to go? Or Adam?”

 

“No,” he shook his head. “No, I need to. Gonna have to face her eventually.”

 

The morning went by uneventfully, the family making their way into the sitting room to watch some morning cartoons. As Robert got up to head upstairs for a shower and to get dressed, there was a knock at the front door. He opened it to see Lawrence standing on the other side.

 

“Is this a bad time?” Lawrence looked tired, like he had been up most of the night.

 

“No, no. Come in.” Robert held the door for him and ushered the old man into the kitchen. “Can I get you a coffee?”

 

“No, thank you Robert.” They sat across from one another, neither one knowing what to say or who should go first.

 

“Listen, about what happened…” Lawrence finally broke the tentative silence between them.

 

“I don’t know what Chrissie’s told you, but…” Robert fiddled with his hands which were clasped on top of the table.

 

“I know what she said. And I just want to apologize for her disgusting outburst Robert. It was awful and I don’t know if it was just the stress from this weekend or you being away that morning…”

 

“So now it’s my fault?” Robert interrupted, anger beginning to bubble to the surface.

 

“No, absolutely not. What she said is unforgivable and I had no idea she was capable of such nastiness.” Lawrence immediately retracted his earlier statement. “Nothing can justify a mother saying that about their own child.” He looked so sad, utterly lost at the behavior of his daughter.

 

“Her mother would be so disappointed in her.”

 

“You know I can’t… we can’t go back, right? There is no going back from that.”

 

Lawrence nodded, “I know Robert, I know. And honestly, I don’t blame you. Just, please know that I will always think of Charlie as my own, as my grand-daughter and if you need anything, please just ask. Actually, I’d really like to help, if you’re ok with that?”

 

“Well, I’m still Property Manager right? Or am I getting fired too?”

 

“No, absolutely not!”

 

“Then, I think we’ll be ok. And you know you’re more than welcome to visit us, wherever we end up. Maybe even Lucky too, if he wants to see his sister, but not Chrissie. Not for a very long time.”

 

“I understand completely Robert. I know it shouldn’t be me apologizing, but I am so, so sorry about all of this. You and Charlie didn’t deserve to be treated this way, no matter what your history is with my daughter.” The older man looked directly at Robert as he spoke.

 

“You’re right, we didn’t.” Lawrence nodded his head slightly in silent agreement; he really was being uncharacteristically understanding, usually defending his daughter no matter who was in the right. Robert was very grateful for his showing up.

 

“Thank you Lawrence, for coming by. Would you like to see Charlie? She’s just in the sitting room with Vic and Adam.”

 

He nodded enthusiastically, “May I?” Lawrence had always doted on Charlie, trying desperately to spoil her rotten even though Robert had put his foot down about that type of thing. The last thing Robert wanted was a spoiled child who expected her wealthy grand-dad to give her anything she asked for. Robert led him into the sitting room where Adam was holding the little girl while sitting on the floor between the couch and the table.

 

“Hiya!” Vic eagerly greeted the pair.

 

“Hi.” Lawrence seemed awkward in the informal space.

 

“He’d like to see Charlie.”

 

“Aw, sure thing mate.” Robert leaned over Adam and took his daughter from his lap, before passing her off to Lawrence.

 

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to head up to take that shower. Will you be alright?” He asked as Lawrence settled into one of the armchairs with Charlie, just holding her and looking over her tiny features. Lawrence looked in Robert’s direction at the bottom of the stairs, smiling widely and nodded.

 

“Please, don’t let me keep you.”

 

“Cheers.”

 

When Robert descended the stair a short while later, Lawrence was still there holding a now sleeping Charlie. The three of them were watching some kind of gardening show, all contently packed into the tiny sitting room.

 

“Everyone alright?”

 

“I should probably be heading back home, we’ve got one more day of events today. Were you planning on joining us?”

 

“Um… No, I don’t think so.” Robert had taken Charlie from Lawrence, “And I don’t know if there’s anyone there that would need to see me.” Most of his clients who were attending the weekend were there for the vendors anyway, the business dealings had already been signed and were under contract.

 

“That’s alright, probably won’t miss much anyway.” Lawrence got up from the chair and made his way to the door. “Thank you again Robert, for allowing me to spend some time with her. I truly am sorry and I meant what I said before, if you need anything, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.” Lawrence had paused at the front door.

 

“Thank you for coming over Lawrence. I might sneak back to the house in a bit, pick up a few of Charlie’s things. Hopefully the house’ll be empty.”

 

“I’ll make sure of it. And please, anytime.” Lawrence put a reassuring hand on Robert’s right shoulder, again looking him directly in the eyes. Robert had never seen his ex-father-in-law seem so approachable. Lawrence rarely showed this side of himself to anyone but Chrissie and occasionally Lucky, but never had Robert been privy to it; if Robert had been in a better place, he’d probably have thought the older man was faking it or trying to manipulate the situation. As it stood though, Robert was fairly certain Lawrence was being completely genuine in his concern not only for Charlie, but also for him.

 

Robert stood in the doorway and watched Lawrence get in his Land Rover and drive away, waving towards the vehicle as it pulled away from the cottage. He closed the front door with a heavy sigh and made his way back into the sitting room.

 

“Think I’m gonna take her up for a bit. Give her a chance for a proper nap.” Vic turned her head to the side and smiled in acknowledgment. Adam was resting across the couch, his back leaned against her, his head nestled into her neck. They were just so easy together; they had their arguments and misunderstandings, but they worked through it like proper adults who were in a committed relationship, no lies or secrets. They really had the whole marriage thing figured out considering how young they were. Robert only hoped that at some point he’d have the chance at that kind of happiness.

 

--

 

“Can you keep an ear out for her? Was thinking now would be a good time to head up to Home Farm.” Robert had taken his time putting Charlie down for a nap; feeding her once more and changing her before snuggling her down into the borrowed cot. He had watched her for just a bit, realizing that this staring thing and unnecessary constant worrying wasn’t doing either of them any good. He needed a break, just a bit, to get his head back on straight.

 

“Of course love. Are you sure you don’t want some help? I’m sure Adam wouldn’t mind.”

 

“No, I’ll be alright. Stay, enjoy yourselves. I won’t be too long and she should be good for a couple hours…. hopefully.”

 

As he made his way across the front garden the first thing he noticed was an absolutely beautiful silver Porche stopped in front of the Woolpack. The second thing he noticed was Aaron leaning against the driver’s window, relentlessly snogging the driver of said beautiful Porche. Robert couldn’t help but stare. Eventually Aaron stood up from the car, his face vibrant and radiating contentment, something that Robert hadn’t seen from the young man in a very, very long time. He genuinely looked happy, which he could only attribute to the driver of the Porche. Whoever was behind the wheel had made Aaron genuinely happy, something no one had been able to do for the better part of a year. He had no right to feel anything about the situation, he and Aaron weren’t even friends at this point, but he was still feeling this strange mix of jealousy, anger, and sadness. Robert watched as Aaron waited for the car to pull away before turning to make his way inside, but not before he caught Robert’s eye. Without even a second of hesitation, Aaron ignored him, turned and went inside the pub.

 

The drive out to Home Farm was so familiar that it gave Robert’s mind some time to wander. In the forefront was Aaron and the scene he had just witnessed outside the pub; had he ever made Aaron that happy, how could he have when a majority of their time together had been spent in hiding? Was he jealous? Did he even have a right to be?

 

Roberts mind was reeling with question after question, none of which he wanted the answers to. Who was this person that had had such a profound effect on the man? Were they together, official, a couple? Was this the bloke from the previous day, the one who followed Aaron through the pub during Chas’ memorial? Who was he and how did they meet?

 

His mind was a blur of questions and concerns as he pulled into the gated property, the sides of the driveway lined with cars and people milling about. He made his way through the mess and back behind the house, where only the family cars were parked. It appeared that everyone was amassed on the furthest lawn, wandering in and out of white event tents and around large pieces of farming equipment, which left him the house all to himself. He entered through the side door which led into the office and quickly made his way upstairs and into his room. He collected the rest of his belongings and hastily put them into whatever bags he could locate in the nearby closet. As he made his way out of the space and towards the staircase, he noticed two boxes had been placed into the corridor closer to Chrissie’s room. On the side of each box, “Charlie” was scrawled in large capital black letters.

 

Robert stood in silence, the large house eerily quiet around him, just staring at the boxes. He assumed they were intended for him to take, but he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Chrissie was able to just box up their daughter’s belongings so easily. Maybe Lawrence had done it after their talk that morning? Or maybe he had convinced Chrissie to do it? Either way, it was done so Robert took his bags down to his awaiting car and then went back for them. On his way through he did one more cursory check of the kitchen for any remaining bottles or formula, dumped them into a reusable shopping bag and added that to the overflowing boot. He was just about to get into his car when he spotted Chrissie at the front of the house, standing and watching as people moved around her. He watched from a distance because he really had no interest in interacting with her at that moment, yesterday’s conversation still all too fresh in his mind, but he approached to let her know that he had been around.

 

“I found the boxes, I’m assuming those were for me?” he said as he approached her from the side.

 

“Uh, yeah… yes. Those were for you.” She didn’t exactly look at him, more over the top of his head.

 

“I’ll just be going then.”

 

“Fine.” She was so disconnected to what was happening and the tone of her voice was so flat that Robert was having a very difficult time even recognizing her.

 

He shook his head, “Whatever Chrissie. I guess thanks for getting her things together.” He said over his shoulder as he walked back towards his car and got in. She never acknowledged him, just continued to survey the grounds around the front of the home and the people littering the gardens.

 

Back in his car, Robert took a moment to collect himself before starting the engine and carefully reversing out of the gravel lot. He made his way back through the lines of cars and people along the sides when he spotted the silver Porche and a man just getting out. He slowed and rolled down his window.

 

“Beautiful car you got there.” Robert stated, sizing the man up and down.

 

“Thanks. Not mine though. Just got it for the weekend.” Elliot responded, closing the door with a quiet click behind him.

 

“Used to have one just like it. Miss that car.”

 

“Hm-m, yeah. Maybe I’ll get one, one of these days.” Elliot placed his left hand gingerly on the top of the car, slightly rubbing at the reflective surface there.

 

“Great investment. Everyone loves a beautiful Porche. Kinda can’t go wrong with one.”

 

“Cheers.”

 

“Enjoy yourself.” Robert slowly let his foot off the brake and watched the man in his rearview mirror. He now understood Aaron’s happiness, his absolute and complete exuberance from earlier. The guy was stunning and charming and well put together, with long legs and wide shoulders; he was Aaron in a couple of years, a few inches taller, and in an incredibly expensive suit.

 

--

 

“Yes, Adam I’m still alive and no I don’t want to talk about yesterday.” Aaron had finally gotten around to checking his phone once he was settled in the backroom of the pub. Only a couple texts from Adam awaited him as he sat at the table with his brew, so he decided to bite the bullet and call his friend back.

 

“You comin’ in tomorrow?”

 

“ ‘course. Why wouldn’t I?” Aaron asked.

 

“Don’t know mate, ya seemed outta it yesterday. Then ya did a runner. Just makin’ sure, that’s all.” Adam was trying his best to give Aaron some space, clearly understanding what his friend was going through.

 

“Don’t be daft, didn’t do a runner. Just needed to clear me head is all.” And Aaron was grateful for the space.

 

“Cheers. Well, up for a pint later?”

 

“Um… I’m actually meetin’ someone.” Hopefully , Aaron thought but didn’t say out loud.

 

“The bloke from yesterday? Is that where ya been then?”

 

“Maybe.” The thought of everyone knowing what he’s been up to didn’t sit well with Aaron. He hated the fact that everyone knew about him and Elliot, even if they couldn’t put a name with the face. It was no one’s business what he got up to.

 

“Mate! That’s fantastic! Can I meet ‘im?” Adam sounded so pleased.

 

“No! Absolutely not!”

 

“Aw-w, come on! Promise to be on me best behavior! Only one pint!”

 

“Not this time mate. Maybe another time, yeah?” Aaron and Elliot needed to talk, not entertain Adam this evening. Aaron wasn’t necessarily happy about the circumstances, but the sooner things were figured out the better. He needed to know where he stood, what was going to happen with them (if anything) and he couldn’t do that with Adam there.

 

“Alright then, next time.” Adam agreed reluctantly.

 

“Cheers. I should go, he’s gonna call.”

 

“Aw-w! Listen to you! All nervous!” Adam lightheartedly teased Aaron.

 

“Don’t be daft! I’ll talk to you tomorrow then.”

 

“Have a good night!”

 

“Ta.”

 

He hung up his phone and placed it in the middle of the table, willing it to ring. He finished his tea and watched his phone, he wasn’t really sure what else to do with himself. This wasn’t like him though, waiting for a bloke to call him. He didn’t do clingy or desperate, not with anyone. He despised those types of relationships, where one person had to do all the work while the other one just reaped all the benefits. He just needed to know, one way or the other, where this was going. For the first time in a long time, he wanted it to work out was the thing. With Robert, it had felt one-sided for so long during the affair that it had taken its toll on him. He tried so hard to make Robert see that what they had was real and worth fighting for, that he didn’t think he had it in himself to do that again. He just wanted easy and simple, a relationship that wasn’t a constant battle of wills.

 

And so he waited for the phone to ring, for any sign of Elliot on the other end. After a second cuppa, he decided to head into the pub, face the music as it were and get a pint. He couldn’t sit and wait any longer.

 

He grabbed his phone, shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans and made his way out of the backroom. The place was fairly empty for a Sunday evening, save for a few locals gathered around a smattering of tables. No one paid him much mind, save for a quick glance in his direction. He grabbed a spot at the bar and ordered.

 

“Pint please Charity.”

 

“Well, if it isn’t the prodigal son returned!”

 

“Cheers. Pint please?” He liked his aunt, always found her sense of humor similar to his own; dry, sarcastic, with a touch of honesty.

 

“Alright, alright. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. So, who’s the bloke you snuck outta here with yesterday? Seemed awfully rude…” she commented as she pulled the pint.

 

“No one Charity. Leave it, yeah?” He dug his phone out of his jeans and check it, before placing it face down on the bar top.

 

“Didn’t stick ‘round then? Too bad, he was a looker!” She widened her eyes at the last part, setting his pint on a mat in front of him.

 

“I said…”

 

“Leave it, yeah. Heard ya the first time.”

 

“Just wanna enjoy my pint in quiet please.” He said, lifting the glass.

 

“Not another word.” She turned from him as the door opened. “Well, speak of the devil.” She turned back towards Aaron at the opposite end of the bar and gestured over her shoulder towards the newcomer.

 

“Hiya.” Elliot said and crossed the space to take a stool next to Aaron. When he went to lean in to give Aaron a kiss, the other man pulled away.

 

“Right. Ok.” Elliot straightened himself back upright. “Um… lager please.”

 

“Thought you were gonna call?” Aaron asked as they waited for Elliot’s drink.

 

“Is this not ok? Didn’t think you’d mind seeing as how we had made plans earlier.” Elliot had turned himself towards the other man, not acknowledging Charity when she sat his pint on the bar in front of him.

 

“No, it’s fine, just thought you’d call first is all.” Aaron was trying so hard to make this casual and failing miserably. “Do you wanna go ‘round back? Little more private back there.”

 

“If ya fancy it. Sure.” Elliot followed Aaron back behind the bar and through the double doors into the backroom.

 

They awkwardly sat at the table, neither knowing where to start the conversation. Aaron took repeated small sips from his glass, while Elliot just watched him fidget.

 

“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” Elliot finally asked.

 

“Nothin’. Really.” Aaron insisted, taking a drink.

 

“Ok. Do you wanna come back to the hotel with me? One more night?”

 

“Gotta work in the mornin’ don’t I?” and Aaron wasn’t sure he wanted to anyway. He honestly didn’t know what he wanted at this point. Elliot was a great guy, handsome and patient, but how realistic was this? How would they make it work?

 

“Sure, sure. Makes sense. Gotta be headin’ back to London tomorrow anyway.”

 

“Listen, I really like you and all, but…”

 

Elliot reached across the table and placed his hand over Aaron’s. “We don’t have to do this right now Aaron. We don’t have to decide what this is between us. It’s been a great weekend and I’ve really enjoyed myself, but we don’t have to make this into some big thing, yeah?”

 

“I don’t know what I want this to be, that’s the thing. Listen, this year has been shit. Not only me mum, but also my ex had a kid. See he was still married and … it’s a really long, messy situation and now isn’t the right time for that talk. I’ve just… it’s been great, being with ya and I don’t want to lose that.” Aaron couldn’t believe he had actually said it out loud.

 

“Right, well we’ll save that ex story for another time then. If there’s gonna be a next time that is.”

 

Aaron nodded, “I’d like that.” He smiled up at Elliot, who like always, never took his eyes off of Aaron’s face.

 

“Good. See? Not to hard is it? Figurin’ this stuff out.”

 

“Guess not.”

 

They finished their pints and talked for a while before heading back out front for another round. When they re-entered the pub, Charity was busy talking with someone sat at the far end by the entrance. Aaron immediately recognized Robert at the bar. He could do this, he could stand with Elliot, order a drink and then go back around. No big deal.

 

“ ‘nother round Charity.” He and Elliot both placed their empties onto the bar.

 

“Yeah, yeah alright. Think he bloody owned the place.”

 

“I wouldn’t need to ask then would I?”

 

“Cheers.” She said and placed two fresh glasses in front of them.

 

“Ta.” As he rounded Elliot to head back into the sitting room, Robert stopped them.

 

“How was the event today? Find anything interesting?” Why was Robert addressing Elliot? How did they know one another? Oh, Aaron was not happy about this turn of events.

 

“Yeah, it was alright. Not sure what the boss will do with the information, but it was good. Made some new possible connections, so think that made it worth the trip.” Elliot had stopped to respond to Robert’s line of questioning.

 

“Good, good. Robert Sugden, by the way. Property Manager at Home Farms. Hope they treated you well up there today.” Robert had gotten up from his stool and had walked over to where Elliot and Aaron stood. What was he doing? Was he shaking his hand? Why is he doing this? What’s he gettin’ at? Aaron couldn’t help but watch in silence as his past met his possible future. He could do nothing but stand by silently and watch the exchange.

 

“Oh, right! Elliot Proctor. I’m head of development at James and Sons, out of London.”

 

“Ted’s firm?” Elliot nodded in response. “I’ve known Ted for years. How long ‘ave you been with that lot then?”

 

“About ten months or so, almost a year.” Aaron felt like he was watching a train wreck, he couldn’t help but look on in horror as the two men exchanged pleasantries.

 

“Ted’s great and really good at what he does. Well, if you’re ever needing anything from this side of the country, please let me know. Always happy to help out someone from Ted’s firm.”

 

“Cheers, thanks Robert.” Elliot liked him, of course he did. Everyone loves Robert bloody Sugden. Aaron needed to get out of there, immediately.

 

“Anytime Elliot. Have a good night.” And with that Robert resumed his spot at the other end of the bar. Aaron took the opportunity to retreat into the backroom and to get as far away from Robert as possible.

 

“So, you don’t like him. Do you?” Elliot immediately cottoned on to Aaron’s changed in demeanor.

 

“It’s …. complicated. Remember that ex who had the kid…”

 

“Robert? Really?” Elliot joined Aaron on the sofa, setting his glass on the table in front of them.

 

“Never would’ve guessed that.”

 

“Yeah, you and everyone else. It was a while ago. Obviously it didn’t end well.”

 

“Next time yeah? Gotta prolong the mystery a little bit.” Elliot just smiled at him, his left hand coming up to rub at the back of Aaron’s neck.

 

Aaron leaned into the gesture, closing his eyes and relaxing into Elliot’s touch. Elliot slowly massaged the sides of his neck, digging his fingers gently into the tense skin, rubbing each one in tiny circles. Aaron’s head fell forward, his limbs feeling heavy with exhaustion. Elliot had moved closer to Aaron’s right side, his left leg tucked under him and his right draped over Aaron’s lap. Aaron subconsciously leaned towards the other man, his right shoulder bumping Elliot’s left. He was so comfortable, so content; for a split second he could see this man in his future. Aaron wanted that with Elliot, he wanted this to last. He enjoyed their time, albeit brief, together. Unknowingly, he had started to make plans with Elliot, to include him in his life, to tell him everything. The shift had happened and he couldn’t control it and he didn’t know that he wanted to.

 

Aaron opened his eyes and looked up to Elliot from under his thick, dark lashes. Elliot wasn’t looking at him, but rather he stared unblinking into a faraway place, so Aaron just watched him; his body weight well and truly being supported almost entirely by Elliot at this point. They were as close as two people could be physically, without being involved sexually with each other. It was a closeness that Aaron longed for, that he craved and had always been denied with his other partners. His desire to just be held and comforted was something he’d chased through three failed relationships thus far, but with Elliot it seemed like it was finally within reach.

 

The comfortable silence stretched on before them, both just relishing their time wound around one another on the tiny couch in the sitting room. Neither felt the need to fill the space with mundane chatter, instead just listening to the others’ breathing and the ticking of the wall clock. It was easy and perfect.

 

The minutes passed and neither made any attempt to untangle themselves from the other. Aaron could feel the exhaustion seeping through his bones, making his limbs feel like lead and his eyelids like sandbags. He was almost there fast asleep when Elliot finally shifted.

 

“You should get to bed.” Elliot’s voice was just above a whisper, husky and dark.

 

“Probably.” But Aaron made no attempt to move. Elliot’s hand left his neck and wrapped around his left shoulder.

 

“And I should be heading back if I’m gonna be up in the morning.” He soothed his hand up and down Aaron’s arm in long strokes.

 

Aaron hummed his agreement, “Yeah. Don’t want you to go though.”

 

“I think it’d be best.”

 

He knew Elliot was right. He knew that this was better than any blowjob they could’ve shared. Better than watching him walk out the next morning after a night of fucking. If they weren’t going to see one another again any time soon, this was better.

 

Aaron simply nodded his head against Elliot’s shoulder, tucking his nose into his neck and placing a small kiss there. He just wanted his scent to linger, wrapped around him for just a little while longer. Aaron wound his arms around Elliot’s waist and pulled him closer, if that was even possible at this point and buried his face into the other man’s chest. They both knew what this meant, that this was more than likely it for them. They’d try their hardest to make it work, but deep down Aaron knew that this was probably the last time he’d ever see Elliot. And if Elliot was being honest, he knew it too.

 

“Ok, time to go.” Aaron tipped his chin up towards Elliot, asking for a kiss which Elliot obliged. It was innocent and sweet, no tongues, or spit, or seeing who could control it, just dry lips and warm hands wrapped in each other. There was no urgency or passion, just simplicity. Aaron wanted to stay in this moment for the rest of his life.

 

Elliot smiled against Aaron’s mouth, “I’ll call you once I’m back in London, yeah?”

 

“Yeah.” Aaron said, believing that he really would despite his reservations about what was going to happen between them. Elliot kissed the side of his mouth and then got up from their spot. Aaron looked up, still seated, refusing to let their intertwined hands fall apart. Elliot kissed the back of Aaron’s hand before moving behind the sofa and pulling his hand away.

 

“See ya.” Elliot stopped at the door leading back into the pub.

 

“Cheers.” Aaron didn’t turn and watch him leave, but he heard the doors leading into the pub open and then swing shut. Fuck .

 

Without warning everything came crashing down around him. He couldn’t focus his eyes on anything, his hands trembling and his palms sweating. The tears were there now and completely uncontrollable. He couldn’t breathe, he was going to die. He just needed to breathe and relax and stop crying, but he just couldn’t. He was unable to control his breathing and the shaking was getting worse, he was panicking. He couldn’t breathe! What should he do? There was no one. Anywhere. He was panicking and he couldn’t control his breathing. He rocked back and forth on the couch, his palms dripping with sweat and his feet felt like cement. His muscles twitched in his legs causing a cramp in his left calf and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. The tears were blurring out his vision and he couldn’t fucking breathe!

 

“Robert!” he screamed because he didn’t know what else to do. He tried again, hoping this time he was actually saying the name out loud.

 

“ROBERT!” it came out choked and dry and his breathing was so labored it was making him slightly light-headed.

 

“Aaron? What’s goin’ on?” Robert came barreling through the door to see Aaron in a full-blown panic attack, hunched over at the waist, his head between his knees. He was gasping for air and his legs were shaking, heels tapping rapidly on the floor below them.

 

“Aaron! Aaron, look at me!” Robert squeezed himself between Aaron’s knees and the table, pushing it slightly out of the way and spilling the abandoned pints in his wake. “Hey…. hey… look at me, yeah? Open your eyes Aaron.” Robert spoke softly and gently, placing his hands on the top of Aaron’s thighs.

 

Aaron gasped, one long and loud intake of air into his shattered lungs. He looked up at the familiar face mere inches from his own; he had spent nights awake next to this face, counting the freckles and memorizing all the little worry lines around his eyes. He had wanted to wake up to this face for the rest of his life, he had been ready to make that commitment. Why had he called out for Robert? Why was that his fail-safe, his life-line? But as Robert sat in front of him, unconditionally reassuring him and helping him, he remembered why he had come to rely on the other man. Robert was forgiving and strong; he was manipulative, but fair and fierce. Robert fought for the people he loved and he always tried to make their lives better. He had also destroyed Aaron, had made him feel horrible about himself and he was selfish and dangerous. He was the ultimate juxtaposition; gentle yet masculine, good yet evil, kind yet destructive.

 

Roberts’ eyes never left Aaron’s and as much as the latter wanted to look away, he couldn’t. Robert was talking, but all Aaron could hear was his own blood rushing through his ears. It was like being underwater and having someone on the surface trying to tell you a story. Aaron didn’t look away though.

 

“Good, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Good, Aaron. Really good.” Robert repeated the mantra over and over again until Aaron finally pulled in a shaky, deep breath and blew it out of his mouth. His leg’s had finally stopped moving and the tears were slowing as well.

 

“Ok… ok… you’re ok. I’m gonna get you some water, ok? I’m just gonna stand up, get you some water, but I’ll be right there, ok?” Robert explained his every movement in detail as he got up from in front of Aaron. “I’m right here, just going to the kitchen. I’ll get you some water, ok?” Aaron followed him with his eyes as the familiar shape of Robert made his way across the room and into the small kitchen area. Everything was where it had been while he had lived there, so with practiced ease he reached into the cabinet next to the sink for a glass and filled it from the tap. He returned to sit on the floor in front of Aaron, gingerly passing him the half full glass.

 

Aaron accepted the drink and took the entirety of it down in three large gulps. His vision was back to normal now and after wiping his palms on his jeans, they were drying now as well.

 

“I’m sorry.” Aaron finally said, handing the glass back to Robert.

 

“No, no… don’t be sorry. It’s alright. I don’t mind. How can I help?” Aaron once again found himself staring at him, focusing in on all of his familiar features. He really did have incredible eyes.

 

Aaron shook his head, “I don’t know why I did that. Called for you. Sorry.” Aaron felt utterly pathetic and like he had just made a complete fool of himself.

 

“Please, stop apologizing. It’s really ok, I don’t mind.”

 

Aaron smiled at him and Robert returned the gesture. They were shy smiles, like neither one knew what any of this meant. “I need to go to bed.”

 

“Do you… Can I… help?” Robert looked nervous and awkward.

 

“No, I think I can manage. But, thanks for rushin’ in here. For helping.” Aaron tried to stand from the couch when he realized just how much of a toll the attack had had on him. His legs felt like jelly and his balance was a bit off as well. With great effort, he pushed himself up only to have Robert catch him just before he slumped back down onto the piece of furniture.

 

“Let me at least get you upstairs, ok?” Robert asked as he steadied Aaron at the elbow.

 

“Ta.”

 

Robert stood beside Aaron as he made his way slowly out of the backroom and into the entrance by the stairs. He stayed one step behind him the entire way up, just in case Aaron’s legs decided to give out midway and he needed catching. They finally successfully maneuvered their way towards Aaron’s room without too much of a struggle, Robert only needing to catch Aaron once right at the top of the stairs.

 

“Do you want me to wait for you here? I can… if you need to use the loo?”

 

“No, thank you though. I’m fine now.”

 

“Ok, well… if you need anything, I’m stayin’ at Vic’s now, so I’m close. Just a call away, if ya need me.” Robert was standing off by the stairs while Aaron stood in the doorway to his room.

 

“I’m fine, but thank you.” Aaron was honestly grateful to Robert. Aaron had no idea what made him call out for his ex, but he was thankful that Robert had heard him and had discovered him. He’d probably still be down on that couch if it weren’t for him.

 

“Nite then.”

 

“Goodnight Robert.”

 

--

 

Robert sat at the bottom of the stairs listening to Aaron quietly pad around the upper floor, moving between rooms. He stayed until he heard the door close to Aaron’s room, no more sound coming from upstairs.

 

He didn’t know what this meant, if this changed anything between the pair. Why had Aaron called for him? Was this the first time or had Robert just not been present to hear him before? Robert was worried about Aaron and Vic’s earlier sentiment about Aaron not coping with the loss of his mother now resonated in him. He had just witnessed the worst panic attack Aaron had ever had and he felt utterly useless. He wanted to be there for him, he wanted to be his friend again. As great as their physical relationship had been and as much as he missed their intimacy, what he longed for the most was their closeness. Aaron had been his best friend when no one else had wanted anything to do with him, when the rest of the village had shut him out. Robert missed their friendship and the companionship they shared and now he felt like he had a chance to get that back. He resolved himself to try harder with Aaron, to make an effort to get back into his good graces, no matter how long it took.

 

Robert sat at the bottom of the stairs until he was sure Aaron had fallen asleep. He could hear Charity moving around in the backroom, probably after closing up the pub for the night. She was completely unaware of what had transpired between them and it wasn’t Robert’s place to tell her, so he stood and slipped out through the side entrance door. He made his way around the front of the building, the village was quiet and dark, most people fast asleep in anticipation of the start of a new week tomorrow. Charlie was safely tucked into her bed with Victoria agreeing to keep an ear out for her, so Robert decided to stay out for a bit, wander the deserted streets and think. How could he have chosen Chrissie over Aaron? Why had he been so eager to get back in with the White’s? How could he have been so stupid? He was thinking about his daughter, wanting to give her a simple life not one made more difficult by having to answer questions about why she had two dads and where was her mommy? Chrissie had destroyed those dreams he had for her. He should’ve known better, should’ve known that in the end Chrissie wouldn’t want anything to do with them. It had been a pipe dream, but Robert had held onto hope that maybe things would change.

 

His father’s voice rang through his head as he meandered through the village and unknowingly ended up at the graveyard. Standing outside the gate just looking over the head stones, he knew how disappointed his father would be in him. He had fallen in love with a man, something his father had silently judged him for in his youth. Robert had gone back to Chrissie because that’s what his father would’ve expected of him, to “man-up” as it were and quit playing games. Be a father and a loving husband to a woman, not play house with your boyfriend . All of Robert’s insecurities could be directly linked back to his father’s disapproving discovery of his sexual identity. He was keenly aware of the fact that he hid his bisexuality thanks in large part to his father, in a failed attempt to make him proud. In the end though, Robert didn’t know what his father really thought of him or who he’d become. The one-sided conversations he had with him were just figments of his imagination, pieced together through what few memories he had of the man. Jack probably would’ve like Aaron actually; he was hardworking, loyal, and honest. Must be why Aaron and Andy got on so well.

 

Choosing Chrissie had turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life, he was sure of it. He wouldn’t trade his daughter for anyone or anything though, so at least he got her out of the ordeal. He would go to a solicitor first thing in the morning to file papers for sole custody, which he was sure Chrissie wouldn’t fight. He was going to do what was best for her, give her everything, be her everything and hopefully he’d be able to give her the childhood she deserved. He knew now that that included Aaron; whatever hang-ups he had had about sharing his life with another man were completely irrelevant. Now he couldn’t picture his life without him in it, but this wasn’t just his decision and now came the truly hard part. How was he going to make it up to Aaron? How was he going to explain that he had been so daft and ridiculous in his decision to go back to Chrissie? There was no way Aaron was going to just come back without a huge fight . Robert was resolved to make amends with him though, to right the wrongs as it were and to make it up to him. He needed Aaron just as much as Aaron needed him.

 

He turned from the graveyard and made his way back across the village towards Keeper’s, a new found confidence in his stride and dare he say it, a rediscovered bounce in his step. He was going to get Aaron back, he was going to fight for his daughter, and he was going to make things right.

Chapter Text

Monday - 15th

 

“Hey Vic?” Robert came bounding down the stairs of the cottage, excited about his late night revelations and ready to start getting his life back on track. One weekend of wallowing was enough , he had determined.

 

“In here love!” her voice rang through from the kitchen.

 

“Any chance you can watch Charlie for a few hours today?” he graciously accept the mug she had left for him on the counter, made just the way he liked it.

 

“Oh love, you know I would, but I gotta be up at the pub in just a bit.”

 

“Right,” although he hated Chrissie and that damned house, it was nice that there always seemed to be someone around who could watch Charlie if he needed to get away.

 

“Maybe Diane can watch her? Whatcha got goin’ on today?”

 

“Meeting with my solicitor. Gonna get the ball rolling on the divorce and custody proceedings.” He had settled in the chair opposite from her, excited about his new plans.

 

“Wow… that’s… quick.” She seemed put off by the news, but Robert barreled on.

 

“Well, she’s made it clear that she wants nothing to do with us, so might as well get it over and done with. Besides, got some plans of my own now, don’t I?” he wasn’t sure how much to tell her, because he wasn’t really sure what these plans were, but he needed to tell someone.

 

“Plans? What’re you up to?” she raised her eyebrow at him and absentmindedly twisted her wedding ring around her finger.

 

“I, um…. Figured some things out last night. Decided I made a mistake and need to fix it.” He figured it was enough, that if anyone could cotton on to his vagueness it was Vic.

 

“Robert….” She paused, looking at him quizzically. “Does this have anything to do with a certain boy we know?”

 

He smiled behind his mug, “Maybe.” He was purposefully making her fish for answers. He wasn’t really expecting her to frown though.

 

“Robert…” she began once again, “Listen. I know you’ve been through a lot this weekend and I know you might think this is the best idea in the world, but maybe think about him for just a second. When you left him to go back to Chrissie, it crushed him Robert. Adam and I had to fight to keep him together, to keep him alive even! And then Chas and losing her…. He can’t handle any more, he just can’t. Maybe…. it’s time to just move on, yeah?”

 

Robert was absolutely stunned, to say the least. Of all the people in the village, he for sure thought that Vic would’ve been on his side in all of this. She had been so instrumental in him coming to grips with his feelings for Aaron in the first place that he was sure she’d be team Robert all the way. Now he was beginning to have his own doubts.

 

“So you don’t even think it’s worth a shot then?” he looked to find her worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, her eyes looked worried and sad.

 

“I think it’s great that you’re gettin’ on with things, making a life for you and Charlie outside of Home Farm. But I also think you should do that on your own. For the time being.” It wasn’t exactly a no, but it was close.

 

Robert nodded, “Should probably check to see if Diane can help today. Thanks for the tea.” He was so defeated. He had started the day thinking about all of the great things he was going to accomplish today and just like that his mood had been soured.

 

“Hey!” she called after him just as he was rounding the entrance into the sitting room. He retreated back into the kitchen. “Good luck today. And, maybe start slowly with him, yeah?” The corners of her mouth turned up in a slight smile at the suggestion.

 

He nodded and made his way back upstairs to his room. He called Diane at the B&B, who was more than happy to watch Charlie for a couple hours while he ran his errands. So he packed her bag, bundled her up, and headed on his way.

 

--

 

“Pint please Charity.” Robert had spent hours at the office trying to finalize the details of his impending divorce and custody hearing. According to his solicitor, Robert was well within his rights to demand full custody considering the argument with Chrissie just days prior and her well documented lack of interest in their family. They had worked out a visitation schedule, should Chrissie be so inclined to want to spend time with her daughter, although Robert was pretty sure she’d refuse the invitation. The divorce was something else entirely and he was absolutely positive that would end in a fight. Although he did seem to have Lawrence on his side, so maybe his ex-father-in-law could help smooth things over for him.

 

“Bit early?”

 

“Rough morning. Anyone else working today?”

 

“Vic’s in back, if that’s who you’re lookin’ for.” She commented as she pulled his pint.

 

“What’s gonna happen, now that Chas’s…” he trailed off, not wanting to sound too blunt.

 

“Dunno. Probably gonna ‘ave to find someone to buy her half.” She set his pint on the bar in front of him, making her way back over towards Pearl who had come in for an early lunch.

 

He was deep in thought about Aaron and the meeting with the solicitor, when Vic nudged him in the side with her elbow.

 

“Alright?” she asked, an easy smile stretching across her face.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine… just thinkin’ is all.” He smiled back at her, but his smile was definitely not as bright as hers.

 

“How’d the meeting go? Is everything alright?” her smile changed into a look of concern.

 

“No… I mean, yeah… it went just fine. He thinks I’ve got a really good chance at getting sole custody.”

 

“Rob, that’s brilliant!” And back came the giant, all-encompassing smile.

 

He couldn’t help but share her enthusiasm, “It is, isn’t it?”

 

“I knew it’d all work out in the end. She’s one lucky lady, that Charlie of yours.” She patted his right elbow before returning to the back, giving a wave before the double doors swung shut behind her.

 

“Charity? You seen Aaron today?”

 

“No, he was out of here early this mornin’. Whatcha want with our Aaron then?”

 

“Nothin’, just curious.”

 

Robert was hoping to catch him on his lunch, or maybe if he had decided not to go into work today they could have had a chat over a brew. He was worried about him and wanted to make sure that after last night he was coping better today, but if he had made it out first thing this morning for work, he must be alright. But this was Aaron and if anyone knew how to bottle things up, it was him. Maybe he should go by the scrapyard and look for him? He had been a major investor in the operation and even though his involvement had become more or less that of a silent partner in the last year or so, he did technically still own part of the business. Maybe that was too much though? Maybe Vic was right, take it slow. Rushing up to the scrapyard probably wasn’t the right thing to do. Robert just really wanted to see him, wanted to reaffirm all of the thoughts and feelings he had swirling through his body. And he really wanted to see if he could glean anything out of the other man. Maybe later though. Not right now. He needed to find the perfect time to re-introduce himself and the prospect of starting over with Aaron and he’d figure out when that was, but he decided that it wasn’t today.

 

Instead he picked up Charlie from Diane’s and made his way reluctantly up to Home Farm. He was still employed there after all and after the events of the weekend, it’d be nice to get back to work as usual. Charlie could spend some time with Lawrence, or Lachlan if he was around, and Robert could get some work done.

 

--

 

Aaron woke up the next morning in a haze, like he had had too much to drink the night before. His feet felt like dead weight when they dropped to the floor beside his bed and his head was absolutely pounding. He reluctantly stood and after allowing his weight to redistribute on his tired legs, he stumbled towards the bathroom down the hall. He stood staring at the face looking back at him in the small mirror hanging above the sink; bags under his eyes, hair askew, and the corners of his mouth turned down into a frown. Aaron didn’t recognize the reflection there, a broken man who has lost so much. His panic attack fresh in his mind and the ridiculous way he called out for Robert, something he has done before but never within earshot of anyone, especially not the man himself. How foolish. How pathetic.

 

He stripped out of his boxers and old t-shirt, leaving them in a heap on the bathroom floor and climbed into the shower. He forced himself to complete the task of washing his hair, with as little effort as humanly possible. All he really wanted to do was climb back in bed and shut the world out, but instead he brushed his teeth and cleaned his body. He concentrated on each task which had become a monumental feat, until finally they were all completed. Once finished, he stood naked outside the shower, toes curling into the plush bath mat situated between the tub and sink, some god-awful color his mum had picked out. He brought both hands up to his forehead and ran them back through his wet hair, it was getting long and curled now unless he applied gel to it. He repeated the action once again, this time stopping just at the crown of his head and yanking as hard as he could at the strands.

 

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

 

Aaron drew a breath in rapidly through his nose and exhaled hastily through his mouth, tears already beginning to fall down his damp cheeks. He squatted in the small space, elbows on his bare thighs, chin at his chest, and his back against the cold tub.

 

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

 

Another quick breath in and out. He could do this, he could get past this, he had no choice. After regaining control of his breathing, he stood and opened the medicine cabinet to find a bottle of paracetamol. For a split second he stared into the bottle, with that undeniable creeping feeling of what might happened if he took too many. After Robert had left him, he had this thought often and had been in a really dark space for a while. Luckily he had had Adam, Vic, and Chas to help him. Now though, the thought had snuck back in without warning, worked its way under his skin and into the back of his mind. He looked at the open full bottle in his left hand now, focusing on the small white pills in the small white bottle. There was no one there now to intervene if he chose to do it. He focused his attention away from the bottle and back into the mirror which had steam just smudging the edges and distorting his features slightly. He dropped the bottle into the sink, plastic hitting off the porcelain sending pills scattering. It was early yet, no chance that Charity was awake so he made his way back to his room without a towel.

 

It was so early in fact that the sun was just over the horizon when he made his way out of the Woolpack. The cafe wasn’t open yet meaning he couldn’t stop for his customary bacon roll and brew before heading into the garage, so instead he’d get a head start and open early. He’d try to occupy his mind with work, hoping to clear the cobwebs and get himself back on track. He needed a distraction.

 

“How long ya been here then?” Cain asked as he made his way up the grave drive hours later. Aaron was under the hood of a car, checking the radiator for a possible leak.

 

“Dunno. Couple hours maybe.” He didn’t look up to his uncle who was now standing next to the vehicle.

 

“Hm-m.” was all the older man could muster in response.

 

“Gonna get a brew now you’re here.” And with that, he turned and left the yard. He didn’t ask for permission or if the other man wanted anything before he left, instead opting to duck his head and move quickly before too many questions could be asked.

 

The rest of Aaron’s day worked along just as the morning had, quietly and quickly. Cain didn’t bother him or push him to talk, he was forever grateful for the insight his uncle seemed to have when it came to his moods. Aaron was sure they were more alike than anyone really knew. And before he knew it, his time at the garage was up. Usually he’d go to the Woolpack for lunch, but today he opted to skip it altogether and head straight to the scrapyard. Adam was nowhere to be seen, so he started working on a pile of scrap that had been left from Friday. It seemed like so much longer ago than just 72 hours. He worked in blissful silence, just his mind going over the minutest details from his time with Elliot over the weekend. He replayed their conversations and could almost imagine the man in front of him, big hands wrapping around his waist, the scruff of his beard itching at his thighs. Aaron missed him already and it hadn’t even been 24-hours yet. He was in way too deep.

 

The time passed along and yet still no Adam. Aaron decided to take a break, grab something from the fridge in the cabin, and check his phone for any missed calls. It had been a long day, one that he was thankful was almost over, but he had made it despite feeling like he hadn’t accomplished much. I guess getting outta bed this morning is something to be proud of. He settled behind his desk with a pack of biscuits they kept for snacking on and a fresh brew. He did actually feel better, usually did after a good days work, but that lingering exhaustion was still there, trying to pull him back down into himself. He scrubbed his hand over his face and took out his phone. Nothing from Adam, but there were two messages, one from Elliot and one from Robert.

 

E: back in London. missing you.

 

And so he was gone. Aaron really liked Elliot and if he was closer or if there was any guarantee that they’d be able to have some sort of regular relationship, Aaron would jump at the chance to make it work with him.

 

A: cheers. thanks for the weekend.

 

It was impersonal and sterile, he couldn’t admit to missing him as well. Aaron knew that admitting that he missed him already meant that he was just going to be let down when the inevitable happens. He’d save himself the hassle.

 

Rob: About last night, just makin sure you’re alright. Call if you need me, seriously.

 

Last night; the memories were still front and center, easily recalled and replayed. The gentleness that Robert had showed him, the concern and attention. This was the Robert that Aaron remembered and missed, the way Robert was when it was just the two of them. He wasn’t brash or arrogant, he was caring and affectionate. But Robert had chosen Chrissie, had cast him aside so easily and Aaron wasn’t willing to forgive him for that. He had simply disappeared from Aaron’s life and had cut off all communication between them, ignoring all his calls and texts for nearly a year now. Aaron had tried so hard in the beginning to make it work, to show Robert that together they could make it work, but in the end Aaron hadn’t been enough. He was never enough.

 

He didn’t reply to Robert, instead opting to take his frustration out on one of the cars in the yard. He grabbed the biggest sledgehammer he could find in the tool shed and took everything out on the poor little thing. It was better than taking it out on himself he reckoned. Until he accidently caught his leg against a piece of metal that was sticking out from the front of the car, the metal easily slicing through his pants and into the flesh on the top of his thigh. The blue material of his coveralls almost immediately soaking through with blood as he felt it trickle down his leg. There was no pain associated with the cut, not yet at least, so he continued on with his work, a dull ache just barely noticeable as he continued to work on dismantling the car. By the time he had had enough and the pain in his leg was nearing unbearable, the sky was just beginning to darken by the setting sun. Adam had never arrived with the day’s haul, but Aaron didn’t wait for him any longer.

 

A: not comin’ in today then mate?

 

He shot off a text to his friend before locking the cabin door and making his way out to the gate. He hadn’t eaten a proper meal since the morning and with the cut on his leg, his head was beginning to swim a bit with the over exertion from his day. He closed up the yard and got in his car, finally taking a minute to rest as he sat behind the steering wheel. He rested his head back against the seat, closing his eyes and focusing on the pain now radiating down his leg. He picked at the edge of the frayed material to take a peek at his leg below, but the dried blood obscured the cut to the point where he couldn’t tell where it started or stopped.

 

Adam: sorry mate, shoulda called. just drivin back now. you stayin?

 

His phone vibrated on the seat next to him.

 

A: do you need me to?

 

Adam: nah mate, you’re alright. tomorrow tho?

 

A: course. cheers.

 

He drove back to the Woolpack, his leg was on fire and he should probably get it checked out, but he went home instead. He’s done this enough times that he was sure he’d be able to manage on his own. He made his way in through the side door, not wanting to garner the attention from anyone in the pub and quickly made his way upstairs, taking them two at a time. Once in his room, he gently pushed the uniform past the cut and sat on the edge of his bed to inspect the wound. It had bled more than he thought, there were small streaks all the way down his left leg and even stains on the top of his socks. It looked really bad, much worse than he had originally thought.

 

He made his way into the bathroom to take a clean cloth to it so he could see it without all the blood, scrubbing at the area to loosen the dried mess. The skin around the two inch gash was red and angry, but he cleared away the blood and applied a bandage with some cream to the cut hoping that would do the trick. He knew what people would assume if he ended up back in hospital, he knew they would all think he had started cutting again, no one would believe that it really was an accident this time. He sat on the toilet and finished scrubbing the dried blood off his calf, the cloth nearly pink with it. He tossed the rag aside and went to fetch fresh clothes before making his way downstairs for some food.

 

“Hiya.” He said as he made his way into the kitchen at the back of the pub.

 

“Hiya love!” Vic was busy preparing meals for waiting customers out front. “Haven’t seen ya in a while. You alright?”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Listen, about the other day…”

 

“Aaron, it’s no one’s business, right? Don’t worry about it.” She breezed past him, hands full of plates, but not before stopping to press a kiss into his cheek. “Stay put.”

 

When she made her way back into the kitchen, Aaron had positioned himself up on one of the prep tables, absent-mindedly picking at a piece of bread.

 

“I can make ya somethin’. Are ya hungry?” Vic asked as she passed him.

 

“Starvin’.” He said around a mouth of bread.

 

“Your usual then? Burger?”

 

“Yes please.” He said with a smile, watching her start to prep his meal, a comfortable and familiar silence between them.

 

“Talked to Robert today?” he asked her, not quite looking up from where his hands were in his lap.

 

“This morning. Why?” she asked, her voice slightly rising on the question.

 

“He texted me is all. No reason. And he mentioned stayin’ at yours.”

 

“Yeah, he and Charlie moved into the spare room on Saturday. She’s so lovely Aaron. You could come over sometime you know? It’s been a long time and I’m sure Adam’d love the company.”

 

“What happened then, with Robert? Chrissie finally give ‘im the boot?”

 

“She’s such a cow! The nasty, horrible things she said to him.” She shook her head at the memory. “Pathetic. No wonder Lachlan is the way he is.”

 

“What she’d say?” he couldn’t help but be curious. The Whites took care of their own, protected each other fiercely, not unlike the Dingle’s in that respect.

 

“Get this yeah? She told him to take that thing and get outta her house. Can you imagine a mother sayin’ that? Disgusting, if you ask me.” Aaron was shocked. They had always appeared as such a united front anytime he had seen them around the village. Chrissie could be nasty and mean, but that was just cruel.

 

“Yeah, no… that’s just… awful.” He couldn’t imagine his own mum saying something like that, or Diane, or Moira.

 

“So, Rob packed up their things and came to stay at mine for the time being. When’d you talk to ‘im then? Didn’t think you lot were on speaking terms?” She was just putting his burger on a plate next to an impressive pile of chips.

 

“He uh… was here last night.” He waited to gauge her reaction which was uncharacteristically calm when it came to the topic of him and her brother.

 

“And why’s that?”

 

He knew he had to be honest with her after everything she had done for him last year. “Had a rough night, another panic attack. He was in the pub and came back to help me.” He accepted the plate from her as she made her way around the work surfaces to stand in front of him.

 

“You’re alright though, yeah?” Concern written all over her face.

 

He took a big bite, chewing quickly to answer her. “Yeah, I’m ‘lright. Just with my mum and Elliot leaving, got a bit much, but I’m fine.” He took another bite.

 

“You know that Adam and I will do anything for ya. If you ever need us, all you gotta do is come over or ring us. Just because Rob’s around, doesn’t mean you can’t be too. We love ya Aaron.” She placed a hand on his left knee causing him to flinch and move his leg too quickly not to be noticed. A hiss escaping his lips before he could stop it.

 

“Whatcha do there then? You haven’t been hurtin’ yourself again, have ya?”

 

“Accident at the scrapyard, promise.” She gave him a questioning look. “Promise.”

 

“Ok, if ya say so.”

 

He nodded, “Great burger, as always.”

 

“Wastin’ my talents on you lot! Alright, out with ya. Gotta get back to these orders, yeah? Seriously tho Aaron, if you need me, please call.”

 

“Yeah, I will. Thanks for the burger Vic.”

 

“Anytime!”

 

He got down off the counter and gave a wave as he exited the kitchen. He was so glad to have Vic and Adam, doesn’t think he’d still be alive today if it weren’t for them. He made his way through the back of the pub and settled onto the couch in the sitting room with a can from the fridge. He clicked on the tellie and found an old match on that would serve as a nice distraction. He finished his meal, got a second can and had just sat down when there was a tentative knock on the door leading from the pub.

 

“Anyone home?” Robert walked into the room carrying a car seat.

 

“Vic’s in the kitchen, if you’re lookin’ for ‘er.”

 

“Was lookin’ for you actually. If that’s alright?” he set the carrier on the floor next to the kitchen table and began unbuckling the child from it. He sat at the table and held onto the little girl, bouncing his knee slightly. “Here, can you take her a minute while I make her a bottle?” He asked as he got up and crossed the room towards Aaron.

 

“I don’t really think… “ Aaron shifted on the couch.

 

“Thanks.” He said as he held the tiny girl out towards Aaron.

 

Aaron held the baby in front of him, at arm’s length. It’s not that he didn’t like children and babies especially, in fact he really loved kids, it’s just that he hadn’t so much as talked to Robert about his daughter, let alone seen her before.

 

“You’re not gonna break her Aaron.” Robert said from the kitchen as he stood observing Aaron’s interaction with Charlie.

 

“Ta.” Aaron said in his direction, moving her to rest in his lap, her tiny frame resting between his arm and chest. “Hi there.” He said in an impossibly small voice. She grasped the middle finger on his right hand and squeezed as hard as she could; her beautiful hazel eyes staring widely up at him, her little feet rubbing against the fabric of his tracksuit bottoms. She was a spitting image of Robert, right down to the freckles on her cheeks and nose.

 

“Wanna babysit? In desperate need of one these days.” Robert crossed the space and handed Aaron the bottle. Hesitantly he leaned Charlie back just slightly and moved the bottle towards her mouth, her hand still wrapped around his finger.

 

“You’re a natural mate. Seriously.” Aaron looked up to find Robert watching the interaction. He smiled and took a seat at the table.

 

“About last night…” Aaron began before Robert cut him off.

 

“It’s fine, really. I’m happy I could help. Happy you let me.” He said the last bit under his breath, but Aaron heard it.

 

“Yeah, well… thanks.”

 

“Like I said, anytime.” There was a pause in the conversation, Aaron focusing on Charlie and Robert watching them. How had he ever chosen Chrissie over Aaron?

 

“Vic told me about Chrissie.” Robert looked at him, wondering if he had asked the question out loud. No, couldn’t have.

 

“I mean, I knew she could be nasty and heartless, just didn’t know that that extended outside of the business world.” He shrugged. “Better that it’s now rather than eight or nine years down the line I guess.” Aaron thought he sounded sad and wistful. Of course he did! He had chosen her. Had wanted them to work out and now that it hadn’t, he’s come crawling back. Well, Aaron wouldn’t let himself be used and messed about.

 

“Listen,” he stood up from the couch once Charlie had finished her meal and went over towards Robert, handing the satiated child back to her father, “it’s fine that you’re here and I’m really grateful for your help last night.”

 

“But…” Robert took his daughter from Aaron.

 

“But, this doesn’t mean we’re mates. It doesn’t make all the other stuff go away. And you comin’ around, parading your family in my face, it ain’t helpin’ mate. Just do one, yeah? Go back to Keeper’s and play house there, cause this isn’t your home anymore Robert.” Aaron retrieved his can from the table and stood behind the couch, as far away from Robert while still sharing the space with him. Robert looked hurt at Aaron’s little rant, but he nodded.

 

“If that’s what you want.” He sounded so small and defeated.

 

“That’s what you chose Robert! You chose her and nothin’ you do or say now, changes that. You can’t undo all the hurt you caused… all the shit I went through, because of you. Look, I’m sorry for what Chrissie did to ya, but I’ve moved on. This,” he gestured between the pair, “whatever it was, or wasn’t, is done.”

 

“And if I don’t want it to be done?” Robert stayed seated at the table, his daughter curled up in his arms.

 

“Too late. You had your chance.” Aaron shifted his weight.

 

“So that’s it? Really? After all this time and everything we’ve been through, you’re just able to say it’s done and over with? I don’t believe you Aaron.”

 

“Yeah Robert, that’s it. You can’t keep messin’ me ‘round. And I’m not gonna wait around like some little lost puppy when I’ve got someone who actually wants to be with me.” That last part wasn’t exactly true, but Aaron just wanted to hurt Robert.

 

“The guy from yesterday? Elliot?”

 

“Yeah.” Aaron felt a tad bit guilty using Elliot in this way when in reality he didn’t really know what the future held for them, but he did anyway. He had to come up with some excuse as to why he and Robert couldn’t work and this was as good as any because he knew that if he gave Robert even an inch of encouragement, the other man would take a mile.

 

“Well, if he makes you happy Aaron, then that’s… good. You deserve to be happy.” Robert stood and picked up the car seat, placing it on the table. He placed the drowsy child in and began to arrange the straps across her.

 

Aaron didn’t know what to say. Robert was being nice and thoughtful. He wasn’t pushing or arguing, he was agreeing and understanding. Aaron squeezed at his temples, “Why are you being like this?”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Nice. Thoughtful. Why? What do you want?” Aaron was so skeptical of the other man.

 

“I don’t want anything from you Aaron. I would like for us to be mates and I want you to be happy, with or without me. People change, I’ve changed. I know I’ve made mistakes, but things are so different now.” He had moved to the opposite side of the couch, the furniture creating a barrier between them. Aaron just stared at him trying to read his expression. He looked sincere and tired, like he’d truly meant what he’d said.

 

Aaron nodded, “Well, too little too late.” He had to do it, he had to push Robert away. He couldn’t let himself get sucked back into the disaster that is Robert Sugden. Their relationship had been brilliant when it was allowed to be, but devastating the rest of the time. Aaron had been repeatedly pushed to the brink after their break-up and although he had somehow made his way through it, he couldn’t risk going down that road again. As much as it hurt to admit, he knew they were better off this way.

 

“Sorry to hear that. If you do though… need anything… I’m here for you, no matter what you think.” Aaron felt like shit.

 

“Fuck you Robert.” This stopped him in his tracks, hurt flashing to anger and back again across his face. “You hurt me, made me think I was worthless and nothing. You threw me away and now you want me to come crawling back? Did you really think it’d be that easy? That I’d be that desperate?”

 

“Aaron, I don’t think you’re nothing, or desperate. I think you’re amazing and walking away from you…” Robert wiped at his eyes, his tears just starting to fall. He took a breath and looked up to meet Aaron’s eyes, “It was the biggest mistake of my life.”

 

Aaron stood shocked, his own tears streaking his cheeks. He didn’t even realize he had started to cry, but he stood there, feet from Robert who was pouring his heart out and he was once again crying over him. “Can you go now?” he asked quietly. He couldn’t stand it any longer and just needed to be alone now.

 

“Please Aaron, don’t push me away.” Robert started to move around the couch towards where Aaron stood. He put up a hand between them.

 

“I asked you to go Robert.”

 

“Ok.” Robert hesitated, it was long enough for Aaron to get through the door to the stairs. Without looking back or waiting to listen for Robert to leave, he made it into his room and threw himself onto his bed.

 

He thought the exhaustion from the day would take over as soon as his head hit the pillow, but instead he laid in bed for a long time staring up at the ceiling, mulling over what Robert had said. He had promised himself and his mum that he would never go back to Robert, no matter what the other man said or did to try to win him over. But the man that left him wasn’t the same man that was probably still standing in his sitting room; he wasn’t the same man that just confessed that leaving him was the biggest mistake of his life. Walking away from you was the biggest mistake of my life. Robert had said it, to his face, in his sitting room, just minutes ago. And he had meant it! That’s the thing with Robert, he says all these things and you want to believe him because he comes across as so sincere and arrogant, but in the end it’s usually just words with little to no truth behind them. This though, this was so raw and honest that it had thrown Aaron for a loop. He didn’t know what else to do but throw him out because he couldn’t handle Robert being so utterly open and vulnerable. Maybe Robert had changed? Maybe he meant what he said, but Aaron wasn’t willing to risk himself on the off chance that he had. Not again. Never again.

Chapter Text

Tuesday - 16th

 

The thing is, Robert knew it was too soon. He knew he had pushed too hard and had caused the strife between he and Aaron. He just needed answers and peace of mind that not all was lost between them. Maybe bringing Charlie with was a bit much, but he didn’t do subtly well and figured all or nothing at this point. Aaron was right though, Robert had chosen Chrissie and had rejected him, and no matter what Robert said or did those memories weren’t going away. It would always be a scar on their relationship, but Robert was determined to right his wrongs, to bring them back together. He just needed some time.

 

“Four to five months? You are joking, right?” Robert was pacing the length of the kitchen at Keeper’s.

 

“Mr. Sugden, there are certain steps which must be taken. Unfortunately, there is no way around this. Please be patient Mr. Sugden, we’re doing everything we can. We have already spoken with her solicitor and they have drafted a settlement for assigning assets. They have also agreed to our requested custody agreements.”

 

“Well… that’s a start at least.”

 

“If you’re available the day after next to come into the office, we can begin the process of going through the settlement agreement.”

 

“That’d be fine,” he pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.

 

“We are doing everything we can Mr. Sugden. The custody agreement is a good start, now we just have to wait out the rest.”

 

“Thank you Mr. Baxter.”

 

“I’ll see you on Thursday then, say 9 o’clock?”

 

“That’d be fine. See you on Thursday.” Robert ended the call and tossed his phone onto the counter next to the sink. At least Charlie is safe now.

 

True to Lawrence’s word, Robert kept working at Home Farm. He entered in through the side door and never left the confines of the office, unless it was to meet with a client on the grounds. His and Chrissie’s interactions were kept to a minimal; typically only seeing one another when she popped into the office to speak with her father. It was fine with Robert actually, he’d rather not see her at all but at least they had been able to keep things civil.

 

“I’ll be in late on Thursday Lawrence,” Robert said Tuesday afternoon as they were finishing up for the day.

 

“If it’s Charlie, you can always bring her here.”

 

“No, nothing like that. I have a meeting with my solicitor, to go over the settlement. But I should be in before lunch.” Robert was stashing folders away in his desk, cleaning up his workspace at the end of the day.

 

“Hm-m… it’s a very fair offer Robert. I’ve convinced Chrissie to be very generous. I think you’ll be pleased.” Lawrence had come out from behind his desk and was leaning back against the front edge watching Robert tidy up his space.

 

“Mr. Baxter said Chrissie agreed to the custody agreement as well. I’m sure I have you to thank for that as well.”

 

Lawrence shook his head, “No, she agreed straight away. I’m sorry Robert, really. I know we’ve had a difficult time, in the past, but I can’t excuse her current actions.”

 

“Thank you Lawrence. I’m sorry as well, I had a lot of hopes… but, well things change.”

 

Robert met Adam and Vic at the Woolpack after leaving Home Farm. Vic had been watching Charlie until Adam got done at the Scrapyard. Now the pair and Charlie were sat in a booth in the back corner of the pub.

 

“Hello my love!” Robert joined his little family at the table, immediately taking hold of little Charlie. He held her close as he made himself comfortable in one of the chairs.

 

“Hello dear!” Adam chirped in response, batting his eyelashes at Robert.

 

“Oi! None of that!” Vic swatted at his arm, which Adam pretended hurt just a bit more than what was necessary.

 

“I’ve seen how he looks at me when I’m leavin’ the bathroom! Can’t get enough of me!” Adam picked up his nearly finished pint and grinned towards Robert.

 

“You wish mate!” Robert gave right back, but he never took his eyes off his daughter.

 

“That’s enough, the pair of ya! Anyway… Robert’s only got eyes for one fella in this village.” Vic commented.

 

“Please, please tell me we aren’t talkin’ about Aaron.” Adam had shifted his upper body towards Robert, glass still in hand.

 

“He’s made his feelings very well known. I doubt there will be an Aaron and I any time soon.”

 

“Just the other day you were ready to declare your never ending love for ‘im. Robert, whatdya do?” Vic looked at Robert with an annoyed and overbearing tone.

 

“We might’ve talked,” Robert paused, the entire scenario replaying on repeat all day. “Let’s just say it didn’t go as well as expected.”

 

“Good for ‘im!” Adam interjected, Vic rewarding him with a glare and frown. “What!? You really wanted ‘im to just roll over and forget everything that happened? Nah. Happy he stuck up for himself.”

 

“He just needs some time. Like I said, take it slow. Don’t rush him.” Vic reassured Robert.

 

“Think I need a pint.” Robert handed little Charlie over to Vic and made his way to the counter.

 

“Robert, what can I get ya?” Doug was behind the bar this evening.

 

“Just a pint please Doug.” Robert leaned his left elbow on the bar top while he waited. It was quiet tonight, just his little table and one other that was occupied by Ashley and Laurel. He commented on the lack of people to Doug, as the older man sat his glass down.

 

“Nice though. Don’t think I could handle much more than this. Charity needed the night off, so Diane volunteered me to help out. Don’t mind, of course, but I’m getting a bit too old for this.”

 

Robert nodded his understanding, “Has she found a buyer yet? For Chas’s half?”

 

“No, haven’t heard anyway. Why? You still interested in bein’ an owner?” Maybe subconsciously Robert had contemplated the possibility. The last time he was thinking of investing in the pub, it was to be closer to Aaron and to keep the business in the Sugden family. If he did make an offer, it’d be for the same reasons really; he’d be so close to Aaron that the other man would have to interact with him and it’d be nice to re-establish the Sugdens’ as a prominent family in Emmerdale again.

 

“Um, haven’t really thought about it. With little Charlie and Home Farms, I keep pretty busy most days.” He picked up his pint and said his goodbyes to Doug, making his way back over to their table.

 

“Doug sure had a lot to say. What’s he on about?” Vic still had Charlie, who was fast asleep in her cradled arms.

 

“He asked if I still had any interest in buying the pub.” Robert took a drink from the glass and set it in front of himself on the small table.

 

“And you said no, of course.” Vic raised an eyebrow at him.

 

“Of course. What do I know about pubs?” Robert mulled the idea around though. It was true, he didn’t know the first thing about running a pub, but he did know how to run a business. He actually knew how to run a very successful business. He and Charlie could get out of Keeper’s and it would give him ample opportunity to get back into Aaron’s good graces. A chance at a new start. Something that’s just ours.

 

Robert smiled at the conversation he just tuned into, not sure what Vic and Adam were bickering about, but also not wanting them to turn their attention back to him. His reassurance that he had no interest in the pub seemed to be enough, for now. He couldn’t get the idea out of his head though. As he, Adam, and Charlie said their goodnights and left Vic to help close up, Robert’s mind swam with ideas and possible scenarios he could see playing out in the future. Should probably ask Aaron. Can only imagine what he’d have to say about this. Maybe it was just what they needed, all of them.

Chapter Text

Thursday - 18th

 

After Robert had signed the divorce settlement and given the large, six-figure check signed by Lawrence himself, he asked his solicitor for the name of a good realtor and real estate appraiser. It couldn’t hurt to at least look into the opportunity, to see if it’s worth investing his money in. Robert was pretty sure that Aaron would outright reject the offer anyway, but he at least had to try.

 

--

 

“So… I was thinking I might come for a visit?” There was silence on the other end, so Aaron continued to ramble. “If it’s too soon… I mean… I don’t have ta. Just thought…”

 

“No… I mean, yes. Of course you can. Missin’ me already?” Elliot interrupted Aaron’s rumbled mess of word vomit.

 

“Bein’ here’s doin’ my head in. Could use a change of scenery.”

 

“So, what? I’m just scenery then?”

 

A brilliant, all encompassing smile stretched across Aaron’s face, “Well you are nice to look at.” He could feel the blush on his face, warming his cheeks.

 

“Oh my god, you’re such a sap! Soft lad.” Elliot was laughing as well.

 

Aaron listened to Elliot laugh, imaging him with his head thrown back and his eyes squeezed shut. He was happy he had decided to call. “Is tomorrow too soon?”

 

“I’ll be working, but you can come down if you want.”

 

“How ‘bout I text you when I’m leaving?” Aaron would’ve suggested tonight, but that seemed like a bit much.

 

“Sounds good. Guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow then?” Aaron was nervous and excited, especially considering he was pretty well convinced he’d never see Elliot again.

 

“Tomorrow.”

 

Aaron ended the call and flopped back onto his bed, the phone resting in the middle of his chest. He needed to get away from the village and especially Robert. Whatever he was playing at, Aaron didn’t want any part of it. He hoped their confrontation had proven to Robert that they were done, but knowing Robert he’d continue to try and worm his way in. Aaron wasn’t sure that Elliot would even answer his call, let alone agree to Aaron joining him in London for the weekend, but in the end he was glad he had forced himself to call.

 

He texted Adam to let him know that he was going away for a couple days.

 

A: it’s just a couple days mate

 

Adam: you do realize you’re supposed to be a partner, right

 

A: and weren’t you the one to say I should take all the time I need, seeing as how my life has been pretty shite lately

 

Adam: a couple days, that’s it

 

A: cheers mate. I’ll be back before my shift monday.

 

Adam: don’t make promises you don’t intend on keepin’

 

Aaron packed a small overnight bag, assuming he’d only need the bare minimum of a couple t-shirts, a toothbrush, and some extra pants. He threw in one nice shirt just incase they decided to go out for dinner one night, deciding it was better safe than sorry. He placed the bag next to his bed and crawled in for the night. Unfortunately instead of thinking about seeing Elliot and his weekend away, his mind would only focus on Robert.

 

There was no denying his love for the other man. Aaron knew that he’d always love him and care about him, but he desperately wanted to move on with his life. If Robert had come around nine months ago, Aaron probably would’ve taken him back in a heartbeat. But now? Aaron just couldn’t trust him and couldn’t trust himself around Robert. Robert had this way of getting under Aaron’s skin; he always knew exactly what to say, exactly what to do to just drive Aaron mad. Robert knew every inch of Aaron, both inside and out, and there was nothing they kept from one another. Once they had decided to give it a proper go, they agreed on a policy of no more secrets, no matter what. No matter how much they thought it would hurt the other, they talked about it and worked through it. So when Robert came into their bedroom that night and told him that they needed to talk, Aaron knew it wasn’t good news. In the end though it was Robert that decided it would be better for everyone involved if he went back to Chrissie and for some unknown reason, Chrissie actually agreed to it. It turned out that that decision in fact, wasn’t better for anyone.


There were so many good times though and Aaron had a harder time with those memories; it was easier to dwell on the bad, than reminisce about the good. Like the nights spent tangled around one another on the sofa, watching a horrible movie that Aaron loved and Robert hated but tolerated because it wasn’t his turn to choose. Or the evenings where Robert would pick him up from the scrapyard and they would just drive until the sun went down; which inevitably ended with them finding a deserted country lane where they would pile into the backseat for a quickie. Sunday mornings were their favorite though. A lot of Aaron’s favorite memories with Robert revolved around their Sunday morning ritual. One of them, usually Aaron, would make two teas, bring them and a pack of biscuits back to bed, where they would stay until well into early afternoon. They would talk and laugh and just be themselves, together. They would come up with elaborate fantasies about their future home, Robert wanting a mix of modern and chic, while Aaron preferred simple and classic. They discussed the possibility of a family, discussed their options for having children, and maybe even half jokingly picked out names. Some Sundays they didn’t talk, they just studied each other, taking their time to map out every plane of the other’s body. Languid kisses and soft touches, until one body couldn’t be distinguished from the other. Their bodies so close and their eyes so focused on the other, that the rest of the room simply fell away, leaving just them together. Sundays were their favorite.

Chapter Text

Friday - 17th

 

He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but the next morning Aaron wakes up with a half hard cock and memories of Robert still swarming around in his head. He needed to get out of Emmerdale as quickly as possible. After a shower and a quick tug, he made his way down into the pub for a bite.

 

“Goin’ somewhere?” Charity questioned as she set a pint and a plate of food in front of him on the bar.

 

“Wha?” he asked and shoved a chip into his mouth. She motioned to the overnight bag that he had dropped onto the stool next to him.

 

“What’s the bag for?”

 

“Just goin’ to London for a couple days, if you must know. Tho, not sure if it’s any of your business.” He didn’t need minding after and he sure as hell didn’t have to answer to Charity of all people.

 

“Alright. You know, I do live here too. Just nice to know if I should expect you to be around or not. That’s all.” Charity busied herself behind the bar, drying glasses and rearranging bottles.

 

“Sorry.” Aaron mumbled towards his plate, suddenly not feeling as hungry as he had when he first sat down. “I know you didn’t mean anythin’ by it.”

 

“I promised your mum, didn’t I? Just want to make sure you’re alright. Coping and all.”

 

He nodded, “Yeah, I know. I’m alright really. Just need to clear me ‘ead a bit. Only be gone the weekend.”

 

“See! That wasn’t too hard, now was it?” She made her way around the bar to clear a recently vacated table. “Anyway, have a good weekend then.” She said as she pushed through the doors to the backroom.

 

“Ta.” He was pretty sure she was out of earshot, but he said it anyway.

 

He didn’t finish his plate, instead opting to stop along the way for snacks at the nearby petrol station; he texted Elliot after filling up the car’s tank and ducking inside for a few necessities. Elliot responded immediately with a string of emojis, including an abundance of the aubergine and peach ones, which made him cackle with laughter as he pulled onto the motorway.

 

The drive went by relatively fast and before Aaron knew it he was circling around in the never-ending labyrinth that was the parking structure next to Elliot’s building. Aaron was meeting Elliot at work and then they’d drive back to his apartment, but first Aaron had to find a bloody spot. With his little black Volkswagen tucked between two looming Land Rovers, he made his way to the corner elevator, checked his phone for the instructions Elliot had sent him while he drove, and pressed the down button to make his way onto the street level.

 

Aaron felt horribly out of place as he entered the lobby of the office building. It wasn’t a enormously tall building, but there were people everywhere, mostly dressed in sharp suits and business appropriate attire. Aaron pulled the sleeves of his hoodie down over his hands, his black trainers silent on the marble floors. Thank god I brought that extra shirt. If the people in the lobby were any indication of what Elliot’s office was like, Aaron was desperately out of his league here. Shoulda just met him at his place. The elevator pinged and he entered along with a smattering of other people.

 

He tucked himself into a corner, “Uh… five please?” He asked the gentleman who was standing in front of the button panel. A majority of the people in the car got off on three, leaving just him and an older man remaining in the car. Neither spoke to one another, just biding their shared time together.

 

Elliot’s floor was wide open, with a smattering of cubicles in the center and a few offices around the perimeter. There was a woman seated behind a simple, modern desk directly to his left as he exited the elevator who greeted him immediately.

 

“Hello there. How can I help you today?”

 

“Hiya. I’m um…. looking for Elliot…. Um Elliot Proctor.” Aaron felt entirely uncomfortable.

 

“Sure thing, give me just a second. And your name?” the nameplate on her desk read Cynthia Masters .

 

“Aaron.”

 

“Thank you. Give me just one second.” She quickly punched a set of numbers into her phone and waited a beat until Elliot picked up on the other end. “Yes Mr Proctor, you have an Aaron here to see you. Sure thing. Thank you.” She returned the receiver onto the phone and looked up at Aaron with a smile. “He’ll be right out.”

 

“Thank you.” Aaron stood awkwardly amongst the chaos of people talking and phones ringing. He wasn’t used to the noise, much preferring the quiet and solitude of his type of work. One of the far office doors opened to reveal Elliot’s back; he was standing in the doorway talking with someone still in the office. Aaron could distinguish his voice above all the others and watched as he laughed at something the other person must have said. He excused himself from the conversation and daftly made his way through the complex of desks to where Aaron stood.

 

“Hello.” Elliot greeted him, placing a hand on the back of his neck and a quick kiss to his lips.

 

“Hiya.” Aaron didn’t shy away from Elliot’s touch and just stared up at the man. “Quite an operation you have here.”

 

“Not mine, but yeah. I guess it’s pretty intense, considering where you come from.”

 

“It’s a bit overwhelming.” Elliot’s fingers gently rubbed at his neck, just at his hairline.

 

“Come on. I’ll show you my office.” Elliot quickly walked back towards the office he had just left and ushered Aaron inside. There were floor to ceiling windows facing another building across the street, with a large desk to the left and two arm charms just in front of it. Everything was dark wood and glass, with a large framed photograph on the opposite wall.

 

“Aaron, this is Ted. Ted, Aaron.” Elliot made the introductions as Aaron walked into the space. Ted stood from the chair he was in and reached his hand out towards Aaron.

 

“Nice to meet you Aaron.”

 

“Same.” Aaron’s handshake wasn’t nearly strong enough for the other man, who squeezed his palm almost painfully.

 

“Well, enjoy the rest of you day boys. We’ll finish our conversation on Monday.” And with that it was just Aaron and Elliot in the room.

 

“What exactly is it you do again?” Aaron asked as he watched Elliot tidy up his desk and shut down his computer for the weekend.

 

“Buy and sell commodities, mostly large equipment. I handle most of the overseas accounts.” Elliot had walked back over towards Aaron, who was standing by one of the windows. He placed a hand on his lower back and again leaned in for a kiss, this time he lingered and deepened the kiss, which Aaron relished.

 

“Thanks for letting me come down.” Aaron didn’t move from Elliot’s space.

 

“Thanks for calling. Come on, let’s go.” Elliot made his way back to the door, closing and locking it behind them as they exited. He said his goodbyes to a few people who were still working at their desks and waved to Cynthia before practically pushing Aaron into the lift.

 

Once the doors closed Elliot was on Aaron in a flash. In response Aaron wrapped his arms around Elliot’s waist and pressed his palms into the flesh of the other man’s ass, pulling Elliot’s pelvis towards his own. The thin material of Elliot’s dark suit did little to hide his growing erection. Elliot’s mouth was absolutely crushing Aaron’s, their lips dark and wet. His hand was desperately trying to get down the front of Aaron’s jeans when the doors opened to allow a few additional people on. Both men immediately froze but didn’t move away from one another, instead opting to hide their faces against the other’s shoulder. Finally they made it to the first floor, out the front doors, and into the parking structure as quickly as possible. Once at Aaron’s car they picked up where they had left off in the lift, only this time Elliot was very successful at getting his hand down inside Aaron’s pants.

 

“Aren’t there cameras everywhere?” Aaron was trying to be good, even though every cell in his body was screaming with want for the other man.

 

“Don’t care.” Elliot had taken Aaron’s cock in his hand and was masterfully working him closer to orgasm.

 

“Elliot. Hey. I care, ok? I care. Not here.” As much as the idea of public sex was kind of a turn on for Aaron, he much prefered the privacy of an intimate space.

 

Elliot’s hand immediately stopped, but it remained pressing Aaron’s hard cock against his belly. “Want me to drive?”

 

Elliot expertly navigated the winding and twisting streets of London until they turned onto a tiny side street somewhere in Soho. All of the buildings mashed together, a mix of store fronts and apartments that had been squeezed into every possible inch of space. Elliot snagged the first spot he saw and reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, brandishing a tag which he placed in the front window of the car.

 

“It’s just a couple blocks back that way. Parkings at a premium ‘round here.” Elliot led them down the crowded streets, past a handful of pubs, a couple restaurants, and finally to a black door at the front of a brown brick building. Elliot allowed Aaron to go in first, securing the door behind them before taking the lead as he led them up the narrow stairwell.

 

The apartment had all white walls, with light wood floors, original black cast iron fireplaces, and a small modern kitchen. It was bright and clean and the exact opposite of what Aaron was used to. Elliot showed him around the space and up to the second floor which had his bedroom and bathroom and then up to the rooftop terrace which looked out over the neighborhood. It was a warm and rare sunny day in London, so the streets were teeming with people, the noise from the streets easily heard on the roof. Elliot crowded in behind Aaron as he stood with his hands splayed on the brick wall that surrounded the space, his hands once again finding Aaron’s crotch and his mouth pressing against Aaron’s neck. He leaned into Elliot’s chest, allowing the other man to once again work their bodies together, but this time Aaron didn’t stop him. Instead Aaron closed his eyes to the warm sun and just relished in Elliot’s touch. Before too long he was panting and coming over the other man’s hand which was still down the front of his pants, Elliot’s other hand having found it’s way under his hoodie and t-shirt, pinching at Aaron’s right nipple. He kissed a spot on Aaron’s neck that would undoubtedly be bruised in the morning, causing a small shiver to run the length of Aaron’s spine.

 

Elliot didn’t immediately release Aaron from his grip, instead opting to keep his hand loosely wrapped around Aaron’s softening cock, the fingers on his left hand now splayed across his lower abdomen, just above the waist band of Aaron’s boxers. Elliot held him tightly to his chest, their breathing slowing together and the sun beating down on their faces. Luckily no other buildings close by had access to their roofs, so they were able to stay hidden away from any prying eyes that may be trying to watch them. Once both men had come down, Aaron turned in Elliot’s arms and kissed him with as much passion and gratitude as he could muster. He wanted to return the favor, to do something nice for Elliot in return for such a lovely greeting, but Elliot stopped him before he could reciprocate.

 

“Why don’t you get settled and then we’ll go for tea.” Elliot suggested, rubbing both hands up and down Aaron’s biceps. “Need to get outta this awful suit anyway.”

 

“You sure?” Aaron cocked his head to the side, questioning why it was that Elliot was always so eager to get Aaron off but hadn’t really been insistent that he be afforded the same opportunity.

 

“We have all night, yeah? Promise I’ll let you have your way with me after we eat.” Elliot removed himself from their embrace and lead them back into his bedroom. He rummaged in his closest, changing out of his suit and into a more casual outfit, while Aaron went into the bathroom to clean himself up after their adventures on the roof. He decided to change into a different shirt and pants, keeping the jeans and hoodie he’d been wearing.

 

“Is this alright?” Aaron stepped into Elliot's bedroom as he was fastening a pair of trainers.

 

“You look fine. Just headin’ down the street anyway.” Elliot stood and joined Aaron in the doorway. “Come on you.” He swatted Aaron on the butt and made his way down the stairs to the first floor.

 

The streets were packed with people; groups taking up the entire sidewalk, causing Aaron and Elliot to step into the street, and some with their heads down, phones pressed to their ears. It was an eclectic area and the businesses they passed ranged from a high-end boutique to a pet store and an Indian grocery. It was busy, but Aaron liked it. Elliot reached for Aaron's hand as they got to one particularly busy intersection, but just as Elliot's fingers began to make their way between Aaron's, he pulled his hand back and shoved it quickly into the front pocket of his hoodie. Elliot pulled his hand back and watched as Aaron surveyed the crowd and their surroundings. He opted to tug on Aaron's elbow, pulling him across the street and towards the pub Elliot had chosen.

 

The inside was the typical dark wood and white walls, but Aaron felt incredibly comfortable in the new space. He could get used to this being his local. They were quickly seated considering how busy everything was. Aaron ordered a pint and began to study the menu that had been placed on the small table. Aaron opted for the burger, “You can tell a lot about a place by how well they make a burger!” he had defended after Elliot made a comment about his lack of adventurous eating habits. Elliot smiled in response, nodding in agreement.

 

“Sorry about before, on the street.”

 

“No, don't apologize. If you're not into PDA, that's fine.”

 

“It's just that… I've never really had anyone to do that stuff with. Not sure how I feel about it.” Aaron was worrying the nail on his right thumb.

 

“Hey,” Elliot reached over the table and placed his hand over Aaron's, “don't worry about it. Ok? Now we know.”

 

“It's not that I don't want it.”

 

“Ok. We’ll see how it goes.” Elliot retracted his hand as the waiter returned with their pints.

 

“Ok. Ta.” Aaron took a drink, it wasn't his normal choice but it was good.

 

“Cheers.” Elliot responded and followed suit with his own pint.

 

The conversation was easy and casual, Elliot explaining a bit more about his work and Aaron listening intently and asking appropriate questions. The food came and it was really great, the chips especially.

 

“You have to try one!” Aaron thrust a chip across the table and Elliot took it without hesitation.

 

He nodded, “Alright, next time I'm getting that!”

 

“Told you.” Aaron smiled around a bite he had just taken.

 

They continued to talk and drink well past the end of their meal and eventually gave up their table to waiting guests, finding their way up to the bar. After a few more pints they made their way onto the now dark street; there were less people now, but the restaurants and pubs have people milling about out front of them, making areas of the sidewalks nearly impassable.

 

Once back in Elliot's apartment, he takes two more bottles and a small wooden box to the roof where Aaron is waiting for him.

 

“Cheers. Thanks for dinner.” Aaron accepts a bottle while Elliot takes a seat at the outside table that's tucked into a corner of the terrace.

 

“My pleasure.” He has the small box open on the table with a pack of rolling paper and a small rolling machine now sitting next to it. He quickly rolls a joint, returning everything back into the box, and holds it out towards Aaron. “You smoke?”

 

“Not since I was sixteen.” Aaron walks towards the table and sits down in the other empty seat. He accepts the offered joint and takes a hit.

 

“You don't have to.”

 

Aaron shakes his head and slowly exhales the smoke through his nose, “It's fine.”

 

Elliot accepts the joint from Aaron and holds it, tipping his head back, chin pointing at the sky. Aaron wants to kiss him, to suck and bite at his neck, to make this man feel everything that is currently aching in his body. He watches Elliot as he moves the joint to his lips and without opening his eyes or moving his head, allows a chimney of smoke to escape his lips. It's ridiculously sexy and Aaron just watches as he takes a second hit.

 

“You're staring.” Elliot says and hands the joint over.

 

“Can you blame me?” Aaron takes two small hits, holds the smoke in, and coughs slightly as he exhales. He takes one more just because before motioning towards Elliot.

 

Suddenly Aaron stands from the table, “I’d really like to have my way with you now.” Elliot finishes the joint and laughs, hunched over in his seat holding his belly, proper can’t breathe kinda laugh. Aaron just stands there, hands on his hips waiting for the other man to finish. “I’m serious!”

 

“I know you are, that’s what’s so funny.” Elliot stands and crowds Aaron’s space, nuzzling into the other man’s neck, arms wrapped around his middle. Aaron relaxes into the embrace and pushes his body closer. They stand wrapped in each other for a moment before Elliot leans back. “Come on then stud, show me what you got.”

 

It was a complete giggle fest as neither one could keep a straight face while Aaron attempted, and failed, to undress Elliot. Aaron lost his balance while trying to take off his own clothes and ended up in a heap at the foot of the bed. He could hear Elliot absolutely cackling at his expense, which made him laugh even harder. Eventually he made his way onto the bed and snuggled close into Elliot’s front, both lying on their sides facing one another. They slowly kissed, but neither made an attempt to take it any further and in the end they both dozed off before anything more could culminate.

Chapter Text

Sunday - 21st

 

“Can I ask you something?” Aaron called from the bathroom.

 

“Course.” Elliot was still in bed, the duvet pulled up to his waist, his chest bare.

 

“How is it possible that you’re single? Do you have shite taste in music?” Aaron had rejoined Elliot on the bed, opting to sit facing him, his right leg dangling off the edge.

 

“No. Think I have pretty good taste in music actually.”

 

“Are you a closet psycho? Do you go all Single White Female on guys after the first month or somethin’?”

 

“No.”

 

“Do you kick kittens?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“You don't snore, or smoke. You hold doors open and the sex is amazing.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Welcome.” Elliot had placed his left hand onto the top of Aaron’s left thigh, his fingers just flirting with the bottom of the leg of his boxers. “So what is it? Seriously.”

 

“Well,” Elliot adjusted himself into a seated position, his back to the headboard of the bed, “I don’t know really. I had one pretty serious partner in Australia for like, four years. But I’ve always enjoyed my work and I’ve never said no to an offer to travel, so I’m gone a lot. Relationships have a tendency to fall apart when one half of them is gone for eight months a year.”

 

“But you’re here now.”

 

“I’m here now.” Elliot parroted back to Aaron, leaning his upper torso towards the other man to snag a quick kiss.

 

“What about you?” Elliot leaned back against the bed, arms secured in his lap.

 

“Think I’ll go make a cuppa.”

 

“Nice sidestep mate.”

 

“It’s not, it’s just… this might be a longer explanation than yours.” Aaron stood from the bed and was surprised when Elliot joined him. He was expecting to make a brew and bring it back, but Elliot stood and slipped a t-shirt on before making his way downstairs and into the kitchen.

 

With teas in hand, they settled into the table. “So…” Elliot began.

 

“Well, there’s been a couple guys. You know about Robert, kinda.” He wrapped his chilly hands around the warm mug and took a quick succession of tiny sips.

 

“What’s that about? If you want to…”

 

“I don’t mind, it was a while ago now. Started out as an affair, just before he was due to marry a woman. He did end up marrying her actually, but the affair went on too. It got messy, I got jealous, he was an ass and then I blew the whole thing. Marched right into their kitchen and told her the truth.”

 

“Wow. Really?” Elliot looked shocked at the revelation.

 

Aaron nodded, “Proper stand in the middle of the room and shouted at her. He just stood by and watched. Anyway, she of course left him and we tried to make a go of it. He moved in, it was really nice.”

 

“Until…” Elliot could sense there was much more to the story.

 

“Until she came up pregnant two months in. He chose her, left me. That was almost a year ago now.” Aaron used to count the days that he and Robert had been apart, now though it had been so long that he had stopped all together.

 

“So, are they still together? Robert and his misses?”

 

“Apparently not. Guess last weekend she kicked him out. Told him to take the baby and leave.”

 

“Holy shite.” Elliot was absolutely floored.

 

“Yeah, don’t really know the details, but I guess it was really bad.” Aaron had just about finished his tea.

 

“Would you have ‘im back? If he asked?”

 

Aaron shook his head no , “No. After he left… well let’s just say I wasn’t myself for a while. Had a really hard time.”

 

“Can I ask you something else? And please, don’t feel like you have to answer me..”

 

Aaron interrupted him, “You can ask me anything.” He stated matter-of-factly.

 

Elliot smiled and gently turned his mug around on the table, “The scars…” he began. Aaron wanted to wait, to hear him ask the question Why did you cut? but he never finished.

 

“Why, right? That’s what you’re asking?”

 

“I said you don’t have to tell me. Just… nevermind. We can change the topic…”

 

“Some came after Robert left. Others were there before him.” That was all he could muster to say. He wanted to be more honest about them, but that was enough for today. Maybe if this turned into more, Aaron would feel more inclined to go into all the gorey (no pun intended) details about why he began cutting, but for now this was enough.

 

“Fair enough.” A silence hung over the table, like a weight had been dropped between them and had smashed the table to pieces. Aaron suddenly felt very exposed and vulnerable sitting in the too clean and sterile space. He concentrated on the now empty mug in front of him, looking at the brown ring that had formed in the bottom and wishing he was small enough that he could climb inside.

 

“So… it’s your last day here. Did you want to do anything today? Maybe, I don’t know, actually leave the flat?” Elliot was trying to break the tension that had settled between them.

 

“Doesn’t have to be. My last day, that is. Unless you’d rather I go.” He had been thinking about it for the last two days, trying to come up with a way to ask if he could stay a bit longer.

 

“Are you sure? Don’t you have things to get back to?” Aaron finally looked up and met Elliot’s eyes which were scanning over his face; a second on Aaron’s eyes, then down to his lips and back up to his eyes.

 

“Rather stay here.” Aaron had locked in on Elliot’s eyes, holding the gaze between them.

 

“Course…” he stuttered, “Of course you can stay.” Elliot reached across the table and linked their hands together. Aaron had started to like the idea of hand-holding, even if they still only did it in the comfort of Elliot’s flat. Aaron’s smile immediately overtook his face, his eyes crinkling at the edges, his cheeks hurting from how wide open his mouth was.

 

“Just a couple more days, yeah? Not ready to go back just yet.” Aaron rubbed his thumb along the back of Elliot’s hand.

 

“As long as you need.”

 

--

 

Three days had turned quickly into five, which then even more quickly turned into seven and before Aaron knew it, it was the next weekend. They had gotten into a bit of a routine; Elliot would head to work, Aaron would kip a bit longer and then wander the neighborhood in search of a decent coffee and breakfast. He had discovered a tiny cafe a few blocks over that made everything in house and went each morning for a coffee and a fresh pastry. He was happy and content, even if he was missing home just a bit. Evenings were spent eating, watching tellie, and fooling around before falling asleep wrapped around one another.

 

His phone had rung a couple times throughout the week, but he never answered it. He had texted Adam to let him know he wasn’t coming back immediately, but the calls from both Charity and Robert were immediately ignored. Vic had sent him a text just to make sure he was alright and not lyin’ dead in a ditch somewhere and he did respond to that, but when she started to ask about his intentions on coming home, he stopped.

 

They were getting ready for bed the next Saturday night, a week into Aaron staying in London, when Elliot brought up the topic of Robert again.

 

“It’s just… it seems like there was more to it, that’s all.” Aaron was in the bedroom plugging in his phone and Elliot was in the bathroom brushing his teeth.

 

“It was intense and passionate. There was always the thrill of being caught in the beginning that made the whole thing feel dangerous. But it’s done, has been. Not sure what else you want to know.”

 

Elliot entered the bedroom, “That’s it? He left ya just like that, to have a baby with his ex and all you can muster is that it was intense .”

 

Aaron was beginning to feel cornered and immediately put up his defenses, “Like I said, it was a long time ago. He moved on and I’m trying to do the same.”

 

“But he’s back now. She kicked him out and now he’s back.”

 

“I can give ya his number if you wanna ask ‘im out.” Aaron was standing with his back to the wall next to what had become his side of the bed. Elliot was still finishing getting changed into his pajamas.

 

“Don’t be daft. I don’t want his number.”

 

“Then what? Why all the questions?” Aaron was beyond irritated and was really done having this conversation.

 

“Listen, all I’m sayin’ is that if my ex came back after everything and wanted to make a go of it, I don’t know that I’d say no. That’s all.”

 

“He put me through hell Elliot. He threw me away the second he could. I was no better than a toy to him and when he got bored, he set me aside. Just like that.” Aaron could feel the tears and as much as he wanted them to stop, he couldn’t make them listen. So they fell down his red cheeks and he swatted at them with the back of his hands, trying to dry them quicker than they could fall.

 

“I didn’t mean to upset you. Come ‘ere.” Elliot stood between Aaron and the bed, trying to engage the other man, but Aaron put his hands on Elliot’s chest.

 

“You have no idea what he put me through. I love him and he treated me like I’m nothing, like I’m garbage. He threw me away and now that his precious wife saw him for what he really is, he wants to come crawling back.” Elliot remained close, even though Aaron wasn’t willing to engage physically with him.

 

“Loved.”

 

“What?” Aaron was confused.

 

“You said, I love him .”

 

“Pretty sure I said loved. I don’t actually love him.”

 

Elliot frowned, “It’s ok if you still do though. We can’t help who we fall for, you should know that by now.”

 

“I don’t… love him.” Aaron wasn’t sure if he had slipped and said he still loved Robert. He honestly wasn’t sure what he felt for the other man. He was so desperate to leave Robert and all of that mess behind, but maybe he had just convinced himself that it was all behind him when it reality, it wasn’t.

 

“I think you do, but I don’t know the whole story and I don’t really know you well enough to make that call.” Elliot kissed Aaron on the cheek and walked back around the bed to his side, leaving Aaron where he stood.


Elliot climbed into bed and tucked his legs under the white duvet, pulling it up to his waist, “What I do know is people though and talk about fucked up. Everyone has baggage and everyone piles their shite onto the people in their life and some people are strong enough to handle it, and others aren’t. If you can find someone who’s willing to carry not only their own shite, but also yours… well… that’s someone you should probably keep around.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday - 24th

 

“Have any of you lot talked to our Aaron? He was supposed to be home three days ago and he’s not returning my calls.” Charity was behind the bar, frantically scrolling through her phone. Adam and Robert were at their usual table with Charlie.

 

“Oh yeah Charity, sorry. Said he’s stayin’ in London a bit longer.” Adam answered.

 

“Nice! Thanks for lettin’ me know!”

 

“Actually Charity, do you have a minute? There’s somethin’ I’ve been meanin’ to talk to you about.” Robert left Charlie in the capable hands of Adam and approached the bar. “Can we go ‘round back?”

 

“Um… let me get Marlon to cover the bar.” Charity disappeared through the back doors and Robert followed. He went into the sitting room and took a seat at the table hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

 

Charity joined him a minute later at the table, “If this is about Aaron,”

 

“No, no. Well… not directly. It’ll affect him, but no this is about the pub.”

 

“What about it?” Charity was skeptical.

 

“I was wondering if you had found a buyer for Chas’ half?”

 

“No, but I haven’t been lookin’ either. Was hoping Aaron could buy it out, keep it in the family and all.”

 

“Well, I’d like to make you an offer.” Robert watched her closely and to say she was speechless is an understatement. “Are you gonna say anything?”

 

“Don’t really know what to say.” She paused, but kept staring at him, “Why?”

 

“Why?” he raised an eyebrow towards her.

 

“Yeah. Why?” she asked again.

 

“Because it’s a good investment Charity. And, before you came along I was all set to buy out Diane’s half. You want to keep it in the family and so do I.” Robert couldn’t read her expression, but there was definitely a sense of distrust there, “And this has nothin’ to do with our Aaron?”

 

“No,” he might’ve said that too quickly, “listen you need a buyer and I have the cash, today. I’ve spoken with my solicitor and a realtor, both think it’s a good investment. Plus, Charlie and I need to get out of Keeper’s.”

 

“Hang on. You expect to move in?” He thinks he had her convinced up until that last bit.

 

“Of course. You have the space with it just bein’ you, Noah, and Aaron here, plus Charlie and I can’t live with Vic and Adam forever. I don’t see the problem.”

 

“I think Aaron might!”

 

“Let me handle Aaron, alright? So, do we have a deal?” Robert was sure that this would work. There was a pause where Charity was clearly weighing her options. Robert waited patiently, expecting another round of questioning from the woman.

 

“You know how to pull a pint?”

 

After a bit more discussion and some negotiation on price, Charity left Robert to return to her post behind the bar and Robert decided it was time to phone Aaron. He didn't want to have this discussion over the phone, but with Aaron going awol it seemed to be the only option at that point. After writing two text messages asking if now was a good time to call and immediately erasing them, Robert took the plunge and just dialed his number. Of course he didn't pick up. Robert contemplated leaving a message, asking Aaron to phone back when he could, but didn't because he knew Aaron wouldn't. If people thought Robert was stubborn then that made Aaron a mule; once he set his mind to something, getting him to see another viewpoint was nearly impossible.

 

So Robert made his way back out front instead. He'd try again later.

 

“You what!?” Vic questioned before he was even settled back in his seat.

 

"Well, half the pub, but yeah,“ Robert picked up his pint and took a drink.

 

“Why?”

 

“How come people keep askin’ me that?” His annoyance with this line of questioning was reaching maximum capacity.

 

“It's just… odd.”

 

“It's a great investment Vic. Plus, it gets Charlie and me outta your hair. It's a win, win.”

 

“You're not in our… I get it Rob, I do. But you can't sit there and tell me that this doesn't have a little to do with Aaron.” Vic knew him so well that it scared him sometimes.

 

“I'd be lyin’ if I said he didn't factor into it…”

 

“It's too much mate. Too soon.” Adam interjected from his side of the table.

 

“But, it'll be fine. He'll be fine.” Robert almost believed that.

 

“Keep tellin’ yourself that mate, but you weren't there.” Adam takes any opportunity to remind Robert about the hurt that he inflicted on Aaron. Robert was losing his patience with the topic.

 

“Listen, I know I was an arsehole, I get it. I think about him and what I did to him every day. I made a choice, it was the wrong choice, but at the time it didn't feel that way. And I regret it, every day.” Robert was talking while he bundled up Charlie.

 

“Rob, please…” Vic pleaded with him to stay.

 

“I get it, I'm the villain in this story. I don't need remindin’ every day.” Robert was done. “We'll be out by the end of the week.”

 

“Rob…” but he had walked away before Vic could continue.

Chapter Text

Sunday 28th

 

Aaron was packing up his things from around Elliot's house, trying to find all his socks and miscellaneous toiletries that had been scattered around the flat. He had spent over a week in the space and had felt comfortable from the onset, even after the discussion the previous night. Aaron sat on the floor in the bedroom, shoving clothes into his bag.

 

“Listen Aaron, about last night…” Elliot had come back into the room after having gone outside to smoke.

 

“You just told me what I already knew, don't worry about it.” He forced a smile at the other man.

 

Elliot reciprocated, “So I've been talking with a couple of my contacts who I think might be of some use to you. Might be a good opportunity to make some new scrap contacts. If you'd like.”

 

“Really? That's… thank you.” Aaron stood and walked closer to Elliot, placing his hands on the other man’s hips.  He swayed into his space, pulling them closer together. Elliot rubbed Aaron's biceps and welcomed the closeness.

 

“You're alright. Happy to help.” Elliot looked down to Aaron's mouth and quickly back to his eyes. Aaron closed the last small distance between them and crushed their mouths together. It was dirty and glorious, lips wet and tongues moving quickly inside each other's mouths. A moan working its way out of Elliot as Aaron pressed his palm over Elliot's crotch.

 

Elliot hitched Aaron's legs up around his waist and walked them backwards towards the bed, not so gracefully flopping Aaron's back onto the plush surface. Aaron pushed Elliot's boxers down past the swell of his ass and used his heels to work the flimsy material further down his thighs. Their mouths never detached as Elliot made quick work of Aaron's jeans and pants, leaving them in a heap by this feet on the floor. Elliot stood and admired the man below him; lips red, beard burn just starting to bloom along his jaw, hair a mess. Aaron stayed on his back on the bed, his knees bent and his cock just beginning to swell as Elliot reached for the bedside table for lube and a condom.

 

Elliot knelt beside the bed, his head between Aaron's thighs, nipping bites onto the skin there. He took his time to lathe kisses and licks along Aaron's hole and balls, never touching Aaron’s cock. It strained against his belly now, precum beading at the tip and when Aaron reached to touch, to release some of the pressure building in his belly, Elliot stilled his hand.

 

“Don't.” Aaron stopped his movements and slowly withdrew his hand. “Just… wait.”

 

Elliot placed a hand on Aaron's belly and slid his thumb inside Aaron's hole, the thick digit dragging along the muscle. Aaron lifted his hips off the bed slightly and turned his face into the sheets pooled around his head, his hands clenching at his sides. Elliot removed his thumb and after applying more lube, inserted two fingers and twisted causing Aaron to crawl up the bed and away from the sensation. Elliot used his arm to hold him in place and added a third finger. Aaron moaned and gasped at the addition, pushing down on the other man's hand. It was slow and agonizing but Aaron relished in the feeling of being taken apart. He focused on his breathing and the feeling of Elliot's hands and mouth all over his body. Suddenly Elliot was pushing into him, bottoming out and then stopping.

 

“Move… please move…” Aaron begged from his position on the bed, sweat gathering on his hairline and making his tshirt stick to his chest. Elliot shifted his hips and barely pulled out before pushing back in, hitting his prostate. Aaron arched his back off the bed as Elliot continued the motion over and over again. “Fuck Elliot!”

 

Aaron was falling apart under the other man. He could feel the emotion building in his chest, crushing his ribs and making his heart beat quicker. He wanted to cry or scream or run away from it, but instead he just looked to the incredible man above him. Elliot was watching him, studying his face and the lines forming on his forehead.

 

“Hey, hey. Come back to me. Aaron, come back to me.” He didn't remember coming or blacking out momentarily afterwards, but Elliot was there to refocus his vision back to the present. “Aaron?”

 

Aaron blinked quickly to refocus his eyes at Elliot looming over him, his hand carding through the man’s shorter hair. Elliot smiled and kissed at the corner of his mouth.

 

“Sorry… I don't know…”

 

“It's ok. Are you alright?”

 

Aaron nodded and wrapped his shaking hand around Elliot's wrist, “I'm good. Sorry for that.” He felt embarrassed by what happened, a blush reddening his already rutty cheeks.

 

“Thought I lost ya there for a second.” Elliot was lying next to Aaron on the bed, propped up on his left elbow, both still naked from the waist down.

 

“That's never happened before. Sorry if I ruined it.”

 

“Hey, no. You did nothing wrong. It happens.” Elliot comforted him.

 

Aaron smiled shyly, ducking his head into the space between Elliot's arm and neck. “Thanks, for everything.”

 

Elliot continued to run his hands through Aaron's hair, playing with the light downy fuzz at the nape of his neck. “Shower before you go?” Aaron nodded his agreement.

 

--

 

A: got some scrap leads I'm gonna chase. I'll let you know how it goes.

 

Adam: mate you need to get back

 

A: in a couple days

 

Adam: you ain't gonna like it mate

 

A: you can fill me in when I get back yeah?


Adam: yeah

Chapter Text

Friday 2nd

 

Robert had been up at Home Farm all day collecting the last of his and Charlie’s things including her crib and a few more odds and ends. Luckily no one was around, so he took his time and went room by room making sure he found anything that may have been left. All signs of his life in the home had been removed; the framed photo of him, Chrissie, and Charlie that once sat on the side table just next to the front door was gone, his bed striped of bedding and left bare, his bathroom smelled of bleach. In the office on Lawrence’s desk amongst a handful of other frames, sat one small photo of Charlie in a dainty gold frame, but that was the only sign that she had ever existed in the house.

 

He was glad to be done with it all, to be moving on and starting a new life for them. His focus was entirely on his daughter’s well-being and giving her everything she deserved. He had even decided to cut back on his time at Home Farms, discussing it with Lawrence and working mostly remotely and only going into the office when absolutely necessary. There were clients that would only work with him, so it was important he remained on in some capacity, but the less time he spent in the house, the better.

 

They had officially moved in two days prior and Charlie was settling in nicely. It was a blessing that she was so small and that the constant moving and shuffling wasn’t affecting her like Robert had feared. They were both in Chas’ old room which was luckily the largest in the flat. Robert had purchased all new furniture for himself, deciding the space needed a bit of new life breathed into it. It was a sunny room which overlooked the back of the building and the surrounding countryside. He felt unnaturally comfortable immediately, remembering back to his time in the home a year ago. There was always something he loved about the space, the warmth reminding him of the farmhouse where he grew up.

 

He had been unsuccessful in getting a hold of Aaron all week, leaving voicemails and sending texts telling him they needed to talk. He didn’t like the idea of having moved in without them speaking, but he had honestly tried to reach out. It wasn’t his fault that Aaron wasn’t returning his calls. He spent a lot of time going over their inevitable conversation once the other man did return, deciding he had to be firm and assertive in their talk. They had already moved in, there was no changing that now and no amount of grumbling or complaining would change that. Aaron would just have to get over it.

 

It was late Friday night and he was up pacing the room with a crying Charlie; she was running a fever and Robert was desperate to get her to sleep. The poor thing was exhausted and Robert could tell that all she wanted to do was sleep, but all she had been doing for hours was screaming. He went to the bathroom and found a cloth which he soaked in cool water, pressing it to the nape of her neck. That calmed her for a bit, until it inevitably got too warm from her excess body heat and she began screaming again.

 

“Love, I know you she can’t help it, but you need to take her to A&E.” Charity had knocked gently on his door before offering him the advice.

 

“Yeah, I know. Sorry to wake you.” He too was becoming increasingly exhausted after a long night.

 

He packed the baby into her seat and made his way down to his car. The drive into Hotten took way too long, his car filled with the sound of Charlie beside herself in the back seat. He tried shushing her and even singing to try to distract her, but after about ten minutes he was resigned to just letting her scream.

 

He left her seat in the car and opted to carry her into the hospital, pressing her limp body to his chest. She had worn herself out along the way and was whimpering quietly as he made his way to the nurse behind the desk.

 

“Hiya. How can we help?” The lovely young girl asked from where she sat.

 

“It’s my daughter. She’s been runnin’ a fever for the past day or so and she won’t stop crying. I just don’t know what to do for her.” The dark circles were just beginning to form under his eyes and his voice was hoarse.

 

“Have a seat and fill out this paperwork. I’ll have someone out to take you back as quick as possible.” She handed him a clipboard with a few sheets of paperwork tucked neatly under the clip along with a pen. The nurse gestured towards a small empty seating area. He took a seat in the corner and began to fill in the information. Charlie was still quiet, her tiny face red from fever and her hands felt like little ice blocks. They both must have dozed off because he was startled when a hand gently squeezed his right shoulder.

 

“I can take you back now.” The same nurse from the desk was standing just next to him.

 

“Cheers.” He handed her the clipboard and slowly raised up off the hard chairs, his knees letting out a popping sound in the quiet space. He followed the nurse back to a bed surrounded by curtains and propped himself on the edge, still holding Charlie tightly to his chest. She was finally asleep, the exhaustion being too much for her little body.

 

“Doctor Campbell will be right in.”

 

“Thanks,” he thought about sitting back against the pillow and closing his eyes, knowing that it could take a while before the doctor actually got to them, but in the end decided to stay perched on the edge of the bed. He focused on Charlie instead; her sweaty hair sticking to her forehead, the redness in her cheeks making her freckles look like tiny pinpricks of ink splotched along her face, her hands pale and cold, her breathing shallow and labored.

 

“Mr. Sugden?” He didn’t know how long he had been watching her sleep, but he looked up to see the older woman who had just entered through one of the curtains.

 

“Yeah… yes.” He corrected himself, straightening his back. She joined him on the bed.

 

“I hear Charlie has been running a pretty high fever. May I?” She motioned for him to pass the sleeping child over, which he did reluctantly.

 

“Um yeah, for about a day now. Not sure what it is now, but it was just over a hundred last I checked.” The doctor laid the baby out on the bed between them, listening to her chest with her stethoscope and pressing her fingers gently to Charlie’s wrist to check her pulse.

 

“We’ll check it again. Fevers in babies this young can be dangerous if they go on too long. Her lungs sound good and her pulse is strong, so it’s probably just a bug she picked up. Has she been exposed to new people recently?” The doctor went about looking in her ears and up her nose as she spoke.

 

“We just moved, so yeah.”

 

“Ok. Let me check her temperature and we’ll get her something to help bring that down. She’ll be alright.” She patted his knee before getting up and exiting the curtained area. Robert left Charlie on the bed, her hands by her head and her legs stretched out towards him. He placed a hand on her belly and rubbed tiny soothing circles there until the doctor and a nurse returned.

 

“This is just Tylenol, it’ll help reduce her fever. Can you check her temperature for me?” She had directed the question at a new nurse that had followed her back into the space. She ran the thermometer along Charlie’s forehead towards her left temple and showed the doctor once the device had beeped. “It’s at 101.8, which is ok. Not great, but not dangerous. This will help her sleep and like I said, should reduce her fever pretty quickly. I’d still like for you to follow up with her doctor over the next couple days. And if she’s still running a temperature in the next twenty-four hours, please bring her back.”

 

Robert watched as they administered the liquid to Charlie, waking her just enough so she didn’t choke on the medicine. He immediately picked her up once they had finished and calmed her back down. “Thank you.”

 

“You’re doin’ a good job dad. Try to get some sleep too, yeah?” Doctor Campbell placed her hand on Robert’s shoulder. He smiled at the compliment and watched as she made her way out. The nurse remained next to him and went over the instruction sheet he was being sent home with.

 

“If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to come back. Like the doctor said, high fevers in infants can be very dangerous if they’re allowed to go on too long.” Robert nodded his understanding at the instructions.

 

By the time they got back to Emmerdale, the sky was just beginning to lighten with the rising sun, but it was still early enough that the village was quiet. He parked his car around the back of the building and rested his head against the steering wheel. He was exhausted after a very long day, but he quietly opened the door and made his way around his car, gently lifting the seat from the back. Luckily the drugs had worked and Charlie had slept the entire way home, her face looked less red and her breathing had returned to normal. He let himself in the side door, crept up to their room and as carefully as possible put Charlie in her crib. Fully clothed, he landed face down on his bed and fell asleep.

 

--

 

“I’m really sorry about last night Charity.” Robert had been able to get a few hours of sleep after their adventures in Hotten General.

 

“Comes with babies, doesn’t it?” She was sitting at the table when he and Charlie walked into the sitting room. “It’s been awhile since we had a baby in the house.” She reached out to Robert, taking Charlie from him.

 

He made her a bottle and himself a cuppa before joining them at the table. “Cheers.” He handed the bottle over to Charity, who expertly cradled the baby in her arms and fed her. “Still, thanks for understanding.” He took a sip from his mug.

 

“Heard from Aaron yet?”

 

“No. Last I heard he was in Manchester talking with another scrap contact.” Robert had stopped calling and texting the man after day four.

 

“Hm-m, wondering if he’s ever comn’ home.” Charity shifted in her chair, balancing the bottle against her chin and reaching for her mug.

 

“That’s impressive.” Robert remarked as he watched her take a sip, all the while never allowing the bottle to shift.

 

“Multi-tasking is my middle name!” She sat the mug down and put her hand back on the bottle, “You wanna open up today and I’ll close? I can hang out with little miss. Give ya a bit of a break.”

 

“Thank you Charity. For all of this, really.” He had gotten up to make himself some toast.

 

“It’s nice this. Having a family back in the pub. Nice to have the noise.” She looked sadly at the table, obviously remembering back to better days before Chas’ passing.

 

He smiled and nodded in agreement, “Just hope it lasts once Aaron’s back.” He made his way back to the table.

 

“He’s gonna be a tough nut to crack I fear. I’m sure there’ll be a bit of backlash.” Charlie had finished her bottle and was babbling at Charity.

 

“We both know I’ve tried with him. Guess we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it. I don’t suspect it’ll be easy, but when is anything ever with him?”

 

“Think a lot of that is down to you though.” She wasn’t looking at him, instead her focus was on Charlie who was squirming in her arms.

 

“I know I have a lot to make up for, but I just want the opportunity to try. Ya know? Make things better. Prove to him that I meant what I said.”

 

“And what’s that then?” She looked up from Charlie and focused on Robert.

 

“That choosing Chrissie was the biggest mistake of my life. I never should’ve let my insecurities about my past dictate my future.” Robert ducked his head and looked away.

 

There was a long pause before she spoke again, “Not that my opinion matters, but I think he knows that. As much as he beat himself up over it, I think he knows deep down that you were just tryin’ to do right by your child. Neither of you had it real great growin’ up; between Chas leavin’ ‘im and your dad bootin’ ya, it’s no wonder ya both are so screwed up.”

 

“Cheers.” Robert said sarcastically. But she was right; they both have issues to work through and Robert would very much like to work through them together.

 

True to her word, Charity spent the morning entertaining Charlie, whilst Robert manned the bar. He still wasn’t great with some of the mixed drinks, but he could pull a pint as good as the rest of them. Most of the villagers had become accustomed to seeing him behind the bar these days, now that it had been nearly a week. At first there were a lot of questions and sniggering comments about him being there, but most of that had subsided. Once Charlie had gone down for her nap Charity had joined him for the lunch rush, easily maneuvering around one another to fulfil order after order. They took turns running plates and getting drinks like a well oiled machine. Surprisingly, Robert really enjoyed the work because he was able to meet and talk to people all day. It really was what he liked the most about his position at Home Farms as well, interacting with the people and laying on the charm. He took pride in being able to help people, even if that only came in the way of bringing them lunch these days.

 

After the initial influx of people had died down, he took a minute to lean against the bar, “You alright? Might go and check some emails.”

 

“Go on. I’ll get Marlon if I need a hand.”


“Cheers.” He had every intention of pulling out his laptop and checking to see if he had any new emails from clients, but the second he sat down his eyes drifted close and he was asleep.

Chapter Text

Sunday 4th

 

Aaron arrived back in Emmerdale late Sunday night after having been gone more than two weeks. When he left to spend the weekend in London with Elliot, he had no intention of being gone so long, but in the end it did him some good to be away. He pulled into behind the Woolpack and parked his car, the evening air just beginning to cool in an early autumn way. His boots crunched along the gravel lot as he approached the building, pushing the side door open to find a sliver of light coming from below the door leading into the sitting room. He quietly clicked the door closed and listened to the movement on the other side of the door. Is that a baby? Who the hell? Aaron questioned as he opened the door.

 

“What’re you doin’ here?”

 

Robert was standing in the kitchen, his bum leaning against the counter, feeding Charlie. He looked up from the child to find Aaron standing in the doorway, light surrounding him like a halo from the hallway, casting him in a deep black shadow.

 

“Um… hiya.”

 

“No, not hiya. I asked what you’re doin’ here.” It was late and Aaron had really been looking forward to getting a good night's sleep in his own bed tonight. Instead he was staring at Robert in his kitchen.

 

“Well, if you answered your phone once in awhile, this wouldn’t be such a shock. Listen, let me get her back to bed and I’ll explain.” Robert walked past him with Charlie and made his way upstairs like he owned the place.

 

What the fuck is goin’ on? I haven’t been gone that long! Aaron went over to the fridge and got himself a can. He sat at the table waiting for Robert to return. His mind was reeling with question after question. Why hadn’t anyone warned him? Did Robert live here now? How was he supposed to deal with this? Why hadn’t anyone considered him?

 

Aaron had finished his can and had just gone to get another when he heard the door open and close quietly behind him. “Care to tell me what the hell’s goin’ on?”

 

“I’ve been calling and texting for days.” Robert stood at the end of the sofa, arms folded across his chest.

 

“So. I’ve been away, explain now.” Aaron sat at the table awaiting an explanation.

 

“I’ve bought your mum’s half of the pub.” Robert moved across the dark space to join him at the table.

 

“You wha?!” Aaron nearly choked on his drink.

 

“I bought your…” Robert began again.

 

“Yeah, heard ya the first time. What the hell d’ya go and do that for?”

 

“Charity needed a buyer and I had the money. Listen, I know this isn’t ideal for you, but Charlie and I are here now…”

 

“And what? I’m just supposed to be ok with it all?”

 

“Yeah, I guess. I tried to ring ya, let ya know but you wouldn’t return my calls. What were we supposed to do?”

 

“I don’t know Robert.” Aaron was tired and wasn’t expecting to have this conversation. He was completely caught off guard and as much as he wanted to be angry, he was just tired. He pressed his palms into his closed eyes, causing stars to form behind his closed eyelids.

 

“I know it all happened really fast, but when have you known me to do anything slowly?”

 

“Don’t Robert. It’s not cute.” Aaron had lowered his hands onto the table. “I just… I can’t deal with seeing you every day. How did you think this would work? You’d show up with your kid and we’d just go back to how things used to be? Did you do this to try to get back with me?”

 

“No Aaron, I did this for Charlie and me. I did this because we deserve a bit of normalcy. And yeah, I had hoped we’d get on, but I also know not to push it.”

 

“So after all this time, after everything that’s happened, just days after Chrissie kicks you out, you decide that now’s the right time to be mates again? Why not come around after mum died? Why not be mates then? Because you didn’t need me then, you still had Chrissie. But you don’t have her now, do ya? That’s what this is really about, isn’t it? I’ve always been your second choice, your backup. I ain’t doin’ it again mate. And if you think, for even one second, that I’d put myself through all that shite again for you…. Well, you don’t know me at all.” Aaron had gotten up from the table. He couldn’t stand to be that close Robert.

 

“I was there, when your mum died.” Robert was still seated, but he looked up to meet Aaron’s eyes from across the room.

 

“You wha?”

 

“I was there, at the hospital, the day your mum died. Everyone kept tellin’ me to stay away, that it’d be better if I just kept my distance. But then Vic and Diane came back and said that things had gotten bad and I just couldn’t help myself. I sat in my car, tryin’ to decide if I should go to her room when Vic texted. I was there Aaron.” Robert looked small sitting at the table, hands clasped in his lap under the table. Aaron stood, his mouth open, shocked at the revelation.

 

“I’m tired Robert and I really can’t have this conversation right now.” He moved away from Robert and towards the door. “Ya know… there was a time not that long ago that I dreamt of living with you, having a family, makin’ a go of it. But now… I wish I was anywhere but here.” He walked out of the room, leaving Robert at the table. He didn’t look back, he turned off the hall light as he made his way up the stairs and into his room. He didn’t listen to Robert coming up the stairs a few minutes later, or the way he paused outside Aaron’s room, or the sound of the door to his own room closing. And he definitely didn’t cry once the quiet of the house settled around him.

 

--

 

The next morning he rose early, as he was accustomed to before his weeks away. He had always been the first one up, getting dressed and leaving before anyone else. This morning though, as he made his way to take a shower before heading to the garage, he was met by a towel clad Robert as he stepped from the bathroom. His hair was sticking in all different directions, water riveting down his bare chest, his left hand clinging to the knot at his waist. Aaron couldn’t help but rake his eyes up and down the other man’s nearly naked form as they squarely met in the hallway, the heat from Robert’s shower pouring out of the open door behind him.

 

“Sorry. Uh… might want to give the boiler a minute.” Robert said and squeezed his body between Aaron and the wall.

 

“Great.” Aaron moaned and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind himself. The entire space smelled like Robert, his shower gel and shampoo mixing to create a scent that was entirely unique to him. It made Aaron’s stomach churn and his palms sweat, leaving him disoriented in the small space. He was being completely enveloped by the other man from every direction. Simply as a distraction he got into the shower, cold water be damned, and used too much of his own shampoo, simply to cover up the scent of Robert that was clinging to every surface.

 

--

 

Aaron skipped lunch that day and went straight from the garage to the scrapyard. He was sat in the porta-cabin going through the contacts he had made the previous week when the door opened hard and hit against the wall.

 

“Well, well, well look who’s returned.” Adam burst into the space, his arms carrying a load of folders and paperwork.

 

“Told you I’d be back.” Aaron snipped as he riffled through the mess of paperwork on his desk. “Anyway, it wasn’t that long.”

 

“Yeah right mate! Two weeks!”

 

“Yeah and ya couldn’t have warned me to what I’d be walkin’ back into?”

 

“Listen, we all tried to call, but you never picked up. Anyway, I tried to warn ya.” Adam had flopped into the chair on the other side of the desk.

 

“Whatever mate. Guess I’ll just have to find somewhere else to live now won’t I?”

 

“Don’t be like that mate. Just… I don’t know, give ‘im a chance.”

 

“What? Give ‘im a chance to do what?” Aaron looked up from his desk to glare at his friend.

 

“I dunno… prove himself. He knows he’s been an arse.”

 

“So what, he lives with ya for a couple weeks and all the sudden he’s your best mate now?”

 

“All I’m sayin’ is, don’t run away from it. It’s your house, innit? Be the bigger man.”

 

“When the hell d’ya get all wise?”

 

“Oi! I’ve always been wise, just nobody bloody listens to me.” Adam smiled at the joke, the air suddenly settled around them. “So, hope your little adventures around the countryside were worth it.”

 

“Got us three new contracts, didn’t I?” Aaron picked up the contracts and put them down on the other side of the desk in front of Adam.

 

“No way! That’s awesome!” Adam balanced the stack he was holding on his lap in order to pick up the new pieces of paper off the desk. “These are huge deals mate!”

 

“You can thank Elliot for those.” Aaron gestured to the papers at hand.

 

“How’s that, by the way?” Adam didn’t look up from studying the contracts.

 

“Good… I think. Dunno.” Aaron got up to set the kettle to boil.

 

“Got sick of ya after a week? Not a good sign.” Adam tracked his movements across the cabin.

 

“Nah, just… don’t think he’s really lookin’ for anyone. Plus, he’s in London and all. It is what it is.” Aaron made two brews and rejoined Adam at the desk.

 

“Cheers.” Adam picked up the chipped mug and took a sip. “Well, good while it lasted?”

 

“Definitely.”

 

The pair continued to catch up for most of the afternoon, not bothering to get much work done. Adam had picked up a small haul that morning, so they spent an hour or so clearing the lorry before heading out for the day. Both agreeing to meet for pints that evening before heading their separate ways.

 

He had only been gone two weeks, but it was enough for Aaron and it felt good to be back into his old routine. His melancholy wasn’t so heavy these days and he was able to enjoy Adam’s company as they sat over their pints in the pub. The banter came easily and a noticeable weight had been lifted off his shoulders by the third round.

 

“Vic’ll kill me if I drink too much tonight.”

 

“Soft lad.” Aaron teased from behind his glass.

 

“Oi! None of that! Could drink you under the table any day of the week!”

 

“Wanna bet?” Aaron egged on his friend.

 

“I heard that! You will do no such thing!” Vic called from behind the bar.

 

“Busted!” Aaron laughed as Adam gave Vic a quick acknowledgement.

 

“Shut it you.” Adam responded once his attention had returned to Aaron.

 

Aaron put up his hands in surrender before absolutely losing it in a fit of giggles that nearly sent him onto the floor. Adam pushed at his left shoulder, sending him and his chair over sideways in a dramatic, slow-motion move.

 

“Umph.” Aaron landed with a thud, all the while laughing. Adam scrambled from his chair and crawled over to his friend on the other side of the table, joining him in hysterics in the middle of the pub. Both men had tears streaming down their cheeks from laughing so hard and all the other patrons could do was stare at the pair as they cackled from their heap on the floor.

 

“Alright you two. That’s enough.” Vic walks over to the table and uprights Aaron’s chair before extending a hand to Adam and hauling him off the floor. Aaron eventually gets to his feet and sits back at the table across from his friend. “Think it’s about time you called it a night.”

 

The pair were just settling back into their drinks when Robert entered through the front door. He gave a quick glance towards them before walking behind the bar and stopping to talk to Charity in hushed tones. Aaron watched him and could tell that something was amiss; Robert’s shoulders were slumped, his normally styled hair was askew in all directions, and he seemed like he could barely pick up his feet to walk properly. Aaron finished his pint, all the while watching Robert and Charity interact on the other side of the pub. Eventually he nodded his head and thanked her before making his way through the back doors and out of sight.

 

--

 

Robert woke with a start, his legs bent at an awkward angle and his right arm numb from where it was trapped between his chest and the couch. The room was dark and everything around him was quiet; What time is it? He tried his best to maneuver on the tiny piece of furniture, stretching his legs off the far end and pulling the rest of himself upright. He checked his phone which he had managed to get onto the table before falling asleep earlier. 1:33am The screen read once he managed to unlock the damn thing.

 

“Charlie” he said aloud as he hauled himself up from the couch, his legs a bit wobbly and his eyes not yet used to the dim light. He shoved his phone in the back pocket of his trousers before making his way towards the stairs. He climbed the stairs as quietly as possible, hoping he didn’t wake anyone on his way to his room. Luckily the floor was quiet and his presence had gone unnoticed.

 

He made his way past Aaron’s door, but stopped in the hallway when he could hear singing coming from his room. It was quiet and muffled through the door, but it was definitely singing.

 

“...When I come home, well you know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you … And if I grow old, well I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who’s growing old with you…”

 

Robert stood silently and listened, his arms crossed across his chest and his left shoulder leaning against the wall just outside his door. Aaron was in his room singing to Charlie. The smile on his face was so bright he was sure it was visible from space. Aaron had gone into his room, picked up Charlie, and was now comforting her by singing to her. Robert felt like he was intruding, but he couldn’t help but stand and listen. He wished he was in there to witness what was happening. Aaron hummed through the da-da bits, but carried on with the chorus in his gravelly and deep voice.

 

Eventually the singing stopped and there was distinct shuffling sounds of movement on the other side of the door. Robert momentarily thought about retreating to the bathroom and letting Aaron leave without knowing he had been standing in the hallway, but before he could the door was opening and Aaron had joined him in the dark corridor.

 

“That was…” Robert began, but Aaron moved around him and back towards his room. “Hey.” Robert called out to him.

 

“It’s nothin’ alright. Leave it.” Aaron said and reached for the door handle.

 

“No Aaron, please.” Robert rushed up behind him and followed into his bedroom.

 

“What are you doin’ Robert? I said leave it, yeah?” Aaron had turned on him once they were both inside.

 

“I just wanted to say thanks for lookin’ after her. You could’ve gotten me up…”

 

“Yeah well, you looked knackered. Thought you could do with some sleep.” He pulled his jumper down over his hands.

 

“Thanks for that.” They stood awkwardly in Aaron’s room, just feet apart. Robert desperately wanted to touch him, “I should probably get back,” is what he said instead.

 

“Goodnight Robert.”

 

“Goodnight then.”

 

Charlie was sound asleep in her bed when he went into his room. He could still hear Aaron milling about across the hall, but he didn’t dare go back there. He wanted to though, just to be near him, to see him and talk to him. There was a tension between them, but a comfort as well. They had spent so much time together in the past, counted each other as their best friends, but all that had changed and now it was up to Robert to fix it. He sat on the end of his bed and thought about Aaron being in the space just moments ago, probably sitting right here and singing to his daughter. What he wouldn’t have given to see him holding and comforting the tiny girl. He hummed the song that Aaron had sung as he stripped out of his trousers and climbed into bed, his exhaustion flooding in as soon as he was under the duvet. He laid for a moment watching the shadows dance across the dark walls before finally falling back asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Wednesday 21st


“Well, at least you two can stand to be in the same room now.” Robert and Vic were sharing a drink at the end of the night. The pub had closed and only he, Victoria, Adam, Aaron, and Charity were left finishing up their drinks.

 

“Barely.” Robert commented and took a drink from his pint. He looked over to the bar where Adam and Aaron were standing.

 

“Told you it’d take time.”

 

“Yeah, I know it’s just… anytime it’s just the two of us, like at breakfast, he just completely ignores me.” Robert had tried to start several conversations with Aaron whenever it was just the two of them, but so far Aaron was yet to answer. “And I don’t want to push him, so I’m trying for friends first. But I don’t know how long I can deal with the silent treatment.”

 

She nodded in agreement, “I know we’ve already talked about this, but there’s a lot of healing that needs to take place there. He’s more stubborn than you are, but I know you lot will figure it out in the end.” She smiled and added, “you two are meant to be.”

 

Robert looked to the bar to find Aaron staring at him. Adam was going on about something that Robert couldn’t hear, but Aaron was intently watching Robert’s every movement. They locked eyes and just sat silently looking at one another for a few seconds before Aaron looked down into his pint.

 

“Think I’m gonna call it a night actually. Should check on Charlie anyway.”

 

“Alright then. See you tomorrow for tea?”

 

“Um, yeah… sure.” Robert agreed noncommittally. He wished the other three a good night before making his way through to the back. He grabbed the monitor off the counter as he passed and stopped in the kitchen to get a glass of water. He turned as the door into the sitting room opened.

 

“Listen…” Aaron had followed behind him and was now standing between him and the door to the stairs.

 

“I’m really tired mate. I was just heading up to bed actually.” Robert stood with his arms at his sides, his feet felt like lead holding him in place.

 

“So now that I want to talk, you don’t. Figures.” Aaron shifted on his feet, his hands in the front pocket of his hoodie.

 

“Every morning, I come down here for breakfast and you shut me out. Why at," he looked back into the kitchen to read the clock, “nearly half past eleven, do you want to have a conversation?” When he turned back around Aaron had moved closer to him. Robert could sense the tension between them, like if someone lit a match the whole place would blow.

 

“I just… don’t know how to do this. How to trust you again and have you here. How do you expect me to see you every day and be ok?” Aaron looked from Robert’s eyes to his mouth, his gaze lingering on his lips.

 

“I’ve told you Aaron, choosing Chrissie and leaving you was the single biggest mistake of my life. But I had to think of my family, my child. You know I lost my mum when I was young and then my dad kicked me out when I was a teenager. I wanted to give Charlie every chance at a normal family.”

 

“And what we had wasn’t normal enough for you?”

 

“Don’t put words in my mouth Aaron. It had nothing to do with you. Like I said, I was…”

 

Aaron interrupted, “Lookin’ out for you kid. Yeah, I know. But why wasn’t I enough? Why couldn’t we have made it work?”

 

They had had this argument a year ago when Chrissie had first told them about the pregnancy. “You are enough Aaron and I’m so sorry I made you feel like you weren’t. You are more than anything I’ve ever deserved and I was an idiot. It was a mistake, one that I can see now, but a year ago it felt like the right thing to do. To be there to support her and try to at least have a go. I had no idea things would’ve ended up like this.” Robert looked down at the monitor in his hands, thinking about Charlie asleep upstairs and the horrible things that Chrissie said.

 

Aaron took a step closer to Robert, “Elliot reckons I’m still in love with you.”

 

“Are you?”

 

Aaron shook his head, “I don’t know Robert. What you did, I don’t know if I can ever forget that. Some days I can’t even look at you, that’s how much it still hurts. Having you here, having a constant reminder of the fact that I wasn’t enough, it’s torture.”

 

“I can’t change what happened, but I can promise that I’m trying to change for you. I’m trying to be better and to consider you and to learn how to love you like you deserve.” Robert swayed towards Aaron who was now within reaching distance and all he wanted to do was wrap his arms around the other man’s waist and pull him close.

 

“So many words Robert.” Aaron moved again, this time closing the gap completely between them. His hands were still in the front pocket of his hoodie and Robert’s were still limp at his sides, but Aaron could feel Robert’s breath on his face and could smell the faint scent of his cologne. They stayed standing in their bubble, neither one being brave enough to reach out for the other, the air between them thick and charged.

 

“Can you ever forgive me Aaron?”

 

“I’d stop talking now.” Aaron leaned into Robert, barely brushing his dry lips across Robert’s jawline, his beard scratching at the bare skin there. The hairs on the back of Robert’s neck stood on end, his heart was racing, and he could hear his blood rushing through his ears. The monitor slipped from his finger, making a small thud on the carpet at their feet. He felt a bit light-headed with a sudden rush of adrenaline pumping through his system and finally put his hands on the other man’s waist to steady himself. Aaron kissed at the spot just below Robert’s left ear, trailing his lips down Robert’s throat towards his Adam’s apple and back up towards his right ear. Robert’s hands found bare skin along the waistband of Aaron’s jeans, his fingers playing with the elastic edge of his boxers along Aaron’s hips.

 

Robert wanted Aaron’s mouth on his, wanted to feel Aaron’s hot breath and his tongue in his mouth, wanted every inch of Aaron that very second. Suddenly Aaron was there, his mouth mere inches from Robert’s just waiting for the next move, so Robert surged forward and closed the gap. A small gasp escaped from Aaron when their mouths finally met and they were immediately tangled in each other; Aaron’s hands in the hair at the back of Robert’s head, Robert’s down the back of Aaron’s jeans. Their mouths worked quickly against each other, neither bothering to stop for a breath, neither one caring who might walk in at that moment. It was just them, finally.

 

Robert’s mind raced with what it all meant and what had changed. The last real conversation the pair had had was the night Aaron came home to find Robert caring for Charlie in the kitchen. Now though they were entirely consumed with each other. It was passionate and exciting, hands exploring what used to be such familiar skin, mouths remembering what the other tasted like, it was muscle memory at its finest. There was no awkward first kiss or questions as to what the other wanted or needed; their bodies just knew how to fit together and work, knew how to elicit the most delicious sounds from the other.

 

Suddenly the monitor lit up and a crying Charlie rang through the quiet space. It was soft at first, enough that Robert thought he could ignore it and she’d fall back asleep, but after a few seconds of quieter murmuring she started to really wail. Robert pulled back from the kiss, Aaron’s lips red and swollen, his breathing labored and choppy. He wanted nothing more than to continue, but he couldn’t ignore Charlie’s cries any longer. Aaron looked absolutely beautiful in the dim light of the room, his pupils completely dilated and his hands rubbing long comforting paths up and down Robert’s back.

 

“Charlie. I should…”

 

“Go. Yeah, I know. It’s alright.”

 

“You could come up with me. Once I get her back to bed, we could continue this.” They stood close still, neither one wanting to let go at that moment. “I’ve missed you Aaron. I’ve missed this.”

 

Aaron smiled, it wasn’t huge or face consuming, but it was genuine and just for Robert, “Go take care of Charlie.” It wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t a yes either. Robert kissed him again, lingering just a bit to enjoy the familiar feel of Aaron’s mouth on his. He pulled back momentarily and then placed another small kiss to the other man’s closed mouth, before taking a step back.

 

“I’ll be just across the hall if you change your mind.” Robert reluctantly left Aaron standing in the darkened room and rushed up the stairs to his room where Charlie was in full meltdown mode. He picked her up and sat on the end of the bed to help calm her.

 

After a long while Charlie finally fell back asleep, so he laid her back into her crib and went to his door, he listened for any movement outside that would indicate Aaron had come back upstairs. Finally he heard the distinct sound of Aaron’s heavy steps ascending the stairs only to have them fade and disappear out of earshot, quiet reclaiming the space. Robert’s heart dropped when he realized that Aaron had gone into his room instead of joining him. He stood with his back to his door and sunk down to sit on the floor.

 

The kiss had been perfect, everything that Robert could’ve hoped and asked for, but clearly Aaron hadn’t felt the same. Maybe he was just seeing if he still felt anything? How could he not after that? It had been perfect! Tears prickled at Robert’s eyes and he quickly wiped them away with the sleeve of his shirt, he hadn’t cried since the day Charlie was born. They continued though and suddenly he felt himself overcome with desperation and the finality of what had happened. He had lost him. This was their chance to start over, to make amends and to try again, but Robert had failed. There was no anger or resentment, only sadness that they were never going to work.

 

He sat on the floor for some time before standing and going to his bed. Charlie was calm and sleeping nearby, he stood over her and watched her. She’s what matters now. Only her. He resigned himself to continue to do better for her and to move on. As much as he hated the idea, Aaron had made his choice. Robert had invited him into his room, but Aaron hadn’t joined him making it expressly evident how he felt in that moment. So now Robert’s only mission was to continue to do better and be better for his daughter.

 

He climbed into bed, the late hour and his long day catching up to him, but he stayed still and stared out the window for a while - the blue light coming in through his window bathing everything inside in an eerie hue - his mind going over the events from earlier. His eyes finally drifted shut, his head swimming in that state of not quite awake, but not yet asleep when the door to his room clicked open.

 

“Robert… you awake?”

 

--

 

Aaron didn’t watch Robert leave the room, but heard him make his way up the stairs and down the hall. Aaron listened as he shuffled around his room, Charlie’s cries becoming softer and more subdued as more time passed. He paced the sitting room, trying to decide what his next move would be, knowing that going to Robert’s room was exactly what he wanted to do, but that it probably wasn’t the right decision. He had initiated the contact between them, had wanted it to happen, but now he was having regrets. He didn’t know if he could ever trust Robert again and didn’t know if the other man actually deserved to be forgiven in the first place.

 

He went to the cabinet where they kept a few bottles of random alcohol and took out the whiskey, pouring himself a healthy glass before sitting at the small table in the kitchen. He nursed the helping, swirling the amber liquid around and around, his thoughts frantically racing around in his brain. He wanted Robert, he still loved him and his resolve had become less clear the more time they spent around one another. He knew that that was all part of Robert’s plan, but he couldn’t help but be attracted to him. Robert had always had this thing over him, this unexplainable and undeniable sway over him. Time and time again, even when every fiber of his being was telling him to run the opposite direction from Robert, Aaron would go back to him. He couldn’t explain the connection they had, the natural chemistry that everyone could feel when the pair were within the same room, and he had long ago decided not to fight whatever it was between them.

 

He finished his glass, the sounds from upstairs having quieted to the point that even as he made his way up to his room, he couldn’t hear anything around him. He paused briefly outside his own door, thinking that maybe he’d take Robert up on his offer to join him, but decided it was for the best that he didn’t. So he closed his door softly behind himself, leaning back against the heavy wood that kept him safely inside, and closed his eyes. Don’t do it. Don’t you dare. Get in bed, close your eyes, and forget it happened.

 

He didn’t want to forget it though.

 

He sat on the edge of his bed, hands under his thighs, left leg bouncing with nervous excitement. He stood suddenly and made his way towards Robert’s door in the dark hallway. Everything was black and silent, his heartbeat the only sound he could hear and his palms slightly damp. He rubbed them on his thighs and opened the door.

 

“Robert… you awake?” Aaron stood at the end of the bed, not sure what to do.

 

“Yeah… course.” Robert propped himself up on his elbows, his hair askew and his voice deep with sleep. “Didn’t think you’d come.”

 

Aaron exhaled a shaky breath, “Me either. Budge over.”

 

Robert scooted his butt back, leaving the left side of the bed free and lifted the duvet to give Aaron access to the bed. Aaron gently lowered himself onto the expensive sheets, warm where Robert had been lying just moments before. Everything smelled like Robert and Aaron closed his eyes to absorb as much of the warmth and scent as possible. He opened his eyes to see Robert inches from him, his eyes focused on Aaron’s face just staring at him.

 

“What?” Aaron was feeling exposed and nervous.

 

“It’s just... “ Robert’s voice was barely over a whisper, always aware of the sleeping baby within an arm's reach of where they were lying, “really thought I’d blown it.”

 

Aaron reached over and placed his right hand on Robert’s cheek which was warm with sleep, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

 

Robert pushed his cheek into Aaron’s touch, “Yeah.” He smiled and shifted just a bit closer, their knees bumping under the heavy blanket. Aaron returned the smile, small and sheepish, his hand still resting on Robert’s face.

 

Aaron brushed his thumb across Robert’s cheek and leaned in to press a kiss to his soft lips, which Robert returned just as gently. There was no rush, no flurry of hands; Robert’s left arm was resting across Aaron’s waist, his hand kneading the skin at his hip. The kisses were chaste and soft, some lingering a bit longer and others just quick pecks to the other’s face. Robert pulled Aaron into him, their bodies resting together in the dark and their legs slotting together.

 

Robert let out a sigh, “Goodnight Aaron.”

 

“Goodnight Rob.” Aaron closed his eyes and let Robert’s warmth and weight lull him into one of the best night’s sleep he’d had in over a year.

Chapter Text

Thursday 22nd

 

“Sorry if she woke you.”

 

Aaron stretched his arms above his head and looked to his left to see Robert there, legs tucked under him and Charlie resting in his lap finishing her bottle.

 

“Not at all.” He turned onto his left side and watched the gentle way Robert interacted with his daughter. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hands and stretched his toes towards the end of the bed. “What time is it?”

 

The sun was streaming through the window bathing the room in a golden light, illuminating the fair features of Robert. “Last I checked, about 8.”

 

“Shit. I gotta go.” Aaron got up quickly, his head spinning just a bit, he tripped as he was rounding the end of the bed.

 

“Steady there.” Robert said as he laid Charlie across the rumpled linens and met Aaron at the end of the bed. He reached out a hand to give Aaron some support.

 

“I'm ‘alright, ta.” Aaron said, causing Robert to slowly lower his arm towards his side.

 

Robert suddenly felt very self-conscious, “Ok. Um… so I’m supposed to go to Vic and Adam’s for tea tonight. You could join us?”

 

Aaron scrubbed at his forehead, “Maybe, yeah?” Aaron wasn’t looking at Robert, instead focusing on a spot on the floor just next to the other man’s feet.

 

“Hey,” Robert took a step closer to him, “did I do somethin’?”

 

“No, Cain’ll murder me if I’m late, so...” Aaron took a step away from Robert and towards the door. “I’ll uh… let you know… about tonight.”

 

“Yeah ok.” Robert watched as Aaron opened the door and disappeared into the hallway.

 

Aaron went to his room and quickly changed into his coveralls for the day. He flew down the stairs, grabbed his boots, and left as quickly as possible, jogging over to the garage.

 

“You’re late sunshine.” Cain was waiting for him outside of the small building.

 

“Sorry.” Aaron ducked past him to make a tea, before checking on the cars that were in for the morning.

 

He was just beginning to tear apart a Vauxhall when his phone vibrated in his pocket, he ignored the noise and continued on with the repair work. Somehow he had been able to free his mind of any lingering thoughts of the night before spent with Robert, focusing instead on the work and thinking of nothing in particular at all. His phone again chimed in his pocket indicating an incoming text and once again he ignored it. He knew it would be from Robert, but he was enjoying not thinking about him at the moment. When it chimed a third time, Cain spoke up.

 

“Someone’s desperate mate.” Cain was working on figuring someone’s bill at the desk nearby. “You even gonna look at it?”

 

“Tea?”

 

“Go on then.”

 

Aaron dug the phone out of his pocket as he made his way over to the cafe, bringing the device to life without even looking up as he walked. Sure enough, he had three messages from Robert.

 

Rob: You sure everything’s alright?

 

Rob: Obviously not if you’re ignoring me

 

Rob: Just forget it, yeah? Do what you like Aaron. Don’t worry about me.

 

He pinched at the bridge of his nose and pushed the door open into the cafe. He tucked the phone into his pocket and went about ordering a cuppa for himself and Cain. Now that he had stopped, his mind was a wash with thoughts about Robert. The night had been perfect really; no expectations, no pressure, just easy, simple and uncomplicated. Now Robert was wanting more and Aaron didn’t know how to give him anything above what had already happened between them. He wasn’t sure if he could trust himself in Robert’s presence, knowing how many foolish choices he had made in the past for the man.

 

“I need to go Cain.” Aaron said as he sat the two cups on the table inside the garage.

 

“Oi, you keep it up and you won’t be workin’ here anymore.” Cain had been more than understanding when he skipped off to London and beyond for two weeks. Aaron knew he was pushing it, but he had to get out of the village.

 

“Cain… I just need a break.” Aaron pleaded with his uncle.

 

“Tomorrow you’ll be here early, you hear me?”

 

“Yeah, early.” Aaron said as he exited the garage and walked back towards the pub. He didn’t know if Robert would be gone at that point in the morning, but he had to take his chances.

 

He snuck into the side entrance and listened at the bottom of the stairs for any sound of Robert around the flat. It seemed quiet enough, so he made a dash for his room to change and grab his keys. He had to get out of the village and think. He couldn’t be here when Robert came home that evening and he definitely wasn’t going over to Vic and Adam’s that night. He wasn’t ready to face Robert or the inevitable line of questioning from his sister.

 

--

 

It was just lunch time when he pulled over into a layby, the sky grey and the surroundings bursting green at the seams. Everything around him seemed to be obnoxiously vibrant even though the sun was hiding behind a thick grey sky. He closed his eyes to the onslaught and rested his head back against the headrest of his car, his hands tightly gripped onto the steering wheel. He checked his phone and re-read the three messages from Robert over and over again. What have I done?

 

The phone rang three times and just as he was about to cancel the call, a familiar voice came through, “Aaron love. You alright?”

 

“Honestly… I dunno.” He knew he was going to cry, he could feel everything welling up inside of him.

 

“What’s wrong? How can I help?”

 

“I slept with Robert.” Aaron confessed, not wanting to sugarcoat his admission.

 

“Well… I think that’s alright.”

 

“You aren’t mad?”

 

“Like I said, if it were me, I’d jump at the chance to get back with my ex. I’m a bit disappointed, sure, but we made no promises love.”

 

“It’s just, now I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to be with him after everything.” Aaron confessed.

 

“You just have to believe that his intentions are good. That he’s come back for you because he loves you as much as you love him.”

 

“How am I ever supposed to trust him again?”

 

“I don’t know Aaron. That’s something you’ll have to figure out. Do you want to be with him?”

 

“Some days I look at him and can’t imagine my life without him. And other days I wish I’d never met him.”

 

“Sounds ‘bout right.”

 

“Elliot…” Aaron paused, wanting to apologize for something, even though he wasn’t exactly sure what that something was, “I’m sorry.”

 

“For what? We had a brilliant time. Never be sorry Aaron. Never apologize for how you feel.”

 

“Thank you. For everything.”

 

“Cheers mate. Give me a call next time you’re in London, yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Bye Aaron.” The line went silent.

 

--

 

Robert stopped checking his phone after receiving the silent treatment from Aaron after the first couple hours. He had picked up Charlie from Diane’s and was on his way to Vic and Adam’s for tea when his phone chirped in his pocket. He paused when he thought about the fact that it could be Aaron confirming tea tonight, but it was just Lawrence asking about an appointment they had scheduled for later in the week. Disappointed that it wasn’t from whom he was expecting, he slid the phone back into his jacket without an answer.

 

Vic had gone all out that evening and was waiting for him in the kitchen when he came in through the front door.

 

“There they are! Come here my little love!” she rushed over and took Charlie from Robert as he took off his coat and shoes.

 

“Hi Vic. You know that I came too.”

 

“It’s just been so long since I’ve seen her!” She sat down at the set kitchen table and held the little girl up in front of her face. “How are you darling? Did you have a good day with granny Diane?” Charlie babbled back at her, making spit bubbles in response.

 

“Hope you’re not too disappointed, but it’s just the two of us tonight.”

 

“Where’s Adam then?” Probably out with Aaron , Robert thought and took a seat with the pair.

 

“Still at the yard. Aaron was a no show today.”

 

Robert panicked, “What do ya mean, a no show?” He realized that his phone was across the room in his jacket pocket, so he quickly got up to retrieve it.

 

“He didn’t show at the yard today. Robert? Do you mind tellin’ me what’s goin’ on?” Vic had shifted Charlie into her lap and was looking rather worried as she sat waiting for him to answer.

 

“It’s just… I texted him this morning after…” he paused, not sure how much to tell her.

 

“After what Rob?”

 

“After he left this morning…” he had to tell her incase Aaron had done a runner, “after he left my bed this morning.”

 

Robert watched her expression change from concern to complete shock, “I’m sorry, but can you repeat that please?”

 

“We spent the night together last night and I texted him this morning after he left for the garage because he was being weird before he left, but he never texted back.”

 

“Ok, one thing at a time here. Are you two back together?”

 

“Vic, no one’s seen him since this morning. Can we talk about this later please.” Robert was in full on panic mode, his mind of course picturing the worst case scenario where Aaron was lying alone in a ditch somewhere.

 

The door to Keeper’s opened just then, Adam practically falling into the front room, “Oi! Shoes!” Robert had accidentally left his shoes right where Adam could trip over them.

 

“Have you heard from Aaron?” Robert immediately pounced on him as soon as he was inside.

 

“I almost just broke my neck on your trainers and all you can ask is if I’ve talked to Aaron today!?”

 

“Have you!?”

 

“Yeah, finally. Just ran into ‘im outside the Woolpack.” Adam looked between Vic and Robert, “Why?”

 

“Spent the night together didn’t they? And now Aaron’s gone all silent and moody on ‘im.” Vic explained before Robert could.

 

A flash of realization washed over Adam’s face, “Explains things, don’t it?” Adam stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

 

“Can you watch Charlie for me?” Robert asked as he made his way past Adam to fetch his shoes and jacket. He didn’t even bother lacing the things before he was shoving his arms into the sleeves and reaching for the door.

 

“Go get ‘im.” She said with a radiant smile and hugged Charlie closer to her chest.

 

Robert raced back towards the pub and through the front door, giving a quick scan to the patrons seated around at various tables. Aaron wasn’t among them, so he quickly went back through to the sitting room, empty. He’s gotta be here somewhere. Robert charged upstairs to find Aaron’s door closed and everything quiet. He turned around in the hallway, trying to decide where to check next, when his eyes landed on a small sliver of light coming from under the door to his room.

 

He entered the room hesitantly, not exactly sure what he'd find on the other side of the door. Aaron was sat on the side of the bed where he'd woken up that morning, surrounded by the mess of blankets and bedding from the unmade bed.

 

“You still gonna tell me you're alright?” Robert didn't dare to go much further into the room, sure that one wrong move would make the other man bolt.

 

“I love you Robert,” Aaron said without getting up or even looking at him, “I never stopped.”

 

“I love you too. I meant what I said,” Robert moved closer, but still gave Aaron a wide berth, “it was the biggest mistake of my life, but you have to understand why I did it.”

 

Aaron nodded his head in agreement, “Yeah, I do and maybe that's why it hurt so much. I know how much family means to ya… I'm sorry I can't give you that.”

 

Aaron finally looked up towards him, his eyes ringed with red, ”You're my family Aaron. You're more my family than that lot ever could be, or ever were.” Robert moved closer, wanting to reach out for him and hold him, but he wanted Aaron to make the first move.

 

Aaron watched as Robert moved closer, but he didn’t make any move to get up. “I just… I don’t know Robert. I feel like an idiot.”

 

“Please Aaron, please trust me to make this right. It’s always been you. It could only ever be you.” Robert took Aaron’s face in both hands, relishing in the feel of Aaron’s beard against his palms. Their eyes were locked on one another, saying so much without uttering a single word. Robert leaned in closer to Aaron who was still seated on the bed, daring to brush his dry lips across Aaron’s. Aaron welcomed the closeness and returned the kiss, his hands loosely gripping the bottom of Robert’s shirt.

 

Robert stood between Aaron’s knees, back hunched, his hands still cupping Aaron’s jaw. He deepened the kiss, opening his mouth just enough to allow Aaron’s tongue to swipe along his bottom lip. Aaron shifted back onto the bed slightly and Robert chased the movement, kneeling along the outside of Aaron’s thighs on the edge of the bed. Aaron slowly lowered himself onto the bed and Robert followed him down, their lips still connected.

 

Robert wanted to feel every inch of Aaron pressed against him and laid his entire weight on top of the man below him, feeling the slight swell of Aaron’s cock against his own. He ran his hands into Aaron’s short hair, Aaron’s hands now pushing Roberts shirt up to just under his arms, exposing his white freckled back to the heat of the room. He sat up and removed it all together, still straddling the other man who was on his back watching the movement. Aaron’s hands went to the front of Robert’s thighs, rubbing at the clothed material that stretched across the muscles there, his hardening length becoming quite obvious from Aaron’s viewpoint. Robert gripped onto Aaron’s forearms and rutted his bum against the other man’s crotch which elicited a moan from Aaron, who in return pushed his hips up and into Robert.

 

Robert tipped his head back, exposing the column of his neck all the way down to the delicate hair just above the closer at the front of his trousers. Aaron’s hands went for the button and made quick work of it and the zipper, the outline of Robert’s cock now clearly visible through his tight pants. Robert still worked his hips back and forth on Aaron’s lap, grinding down into Aaron’s crotch which was now fully hard. Robert leaned over and kissed Aaron’s neck, leaving a dark spot just to the left of his Adam’s apple. He worked his hands under Aaron’s t-shirt and pulled it up over his head, throwing it away off the side of the bed.

 

It had been so long since Robert had felt this type of connection with anyone and he knew he wasn’t going to last. He kissed down the center of Aaron’s chest, his fingers playing with Aaron’s nipples and rubbing hot circles to the skin stretched along his ribs. Aaron had always been fit, but tonight Robert was pretty sure he was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He looked up to Aaron’s face, his chin resting on the other man’s sternum and said so.

 

“You’re somethin’ you know that. The way you make me feel… you’re so overwhelming in the most incredible way Aaron.” Robert watched as the deep red flush raced up Aaron’s chest and neck and kissed at the hot sensitive skin there. Aaron wrapped his arms around Robert’s back and pulled their chests together. He kissed Robert like he held all the answers to life’s mysteries, like a man desperate and wanting.

 

“There hasn’t been anyone since you Aaron.” Robert confessed as their mouth’s separated.

 

“No one? Not even Chrissie?” Aaron asked, brushing Robert’s shaggy hair up off his forehead.

 

“No. I couldn’t stand to be with anyone but you.” Aaron’s hand still worked through Robert’s hair as he spoke, the sweat from his hairline helping to keep it pushed back.

 

“Come ‘ere.” Aaron pulled Robert down to him, connecting their mouths again. It was hot and passionate and all consuming. Aaron pushed his hips up harder, his cock still trapped below two layers of fabric, but most definitely hard now. He didn’t slow his movements and Robert could feel his belly tightening already.

 

“I’m not gonna last…” Robert mumbled into the skin below Aaron’s jawline. Aaron worked his right hand between them and finally took Robert out of his pants. He moved his palm over the head of Robert’s cock and smoothed it down along the side, wrapping his fingers delicately around the shaft.

 

“It’s fine Rob…” Aaron spoke into Robert’s ear which was next to his mouth, while moving his hand gently up and down on Robert’s cock. It was slow and agonizing and Robert writhed on top of him, wanting the release to come and relieve the growing tension.

 

Robert buried his head into the space between Aaron’s neck and shoulder, biting down on the thin skin stretched over his clavicle. Their bodies were still pressed together at the chest, leaving just enough space for Aaron’s hand between them. He worked quicker now and could tell when Robert’s breathing stuttered that he was close. He ran his thumb one last time over the head of Robert’s cock and that was enough to send him over the edge. Everything stopped; Robert forgot to breathe and became a dead weight on top of his partner. Aaron worked his hand up and down over him as he came until Robert had to physically stop him.

 

Robert laid over Aaron, desperately trying to gain control of his breathing, “I love you.” He panted as his heart raced inside his chest, his limbs like dead weight spread out from his body.

 

Aaron turned and kissed his cheek, “Love you too.” He smiled and kissed him again, enjoying the feeling of Robert’s weight on top of him.

 

They laid together for a while before Robert rolled to his side, next to Aaron, his right arm over the other man’s bare chest. “You ok?” he asked and turned his face to the see Aaron’s reaction.

 

All Aaron could do was smile, “I’m good.”

 

“No, I mean… should I?” Robert suggested and motioned towards Aaron’s crotch with his right hand.

 

“Got all night, don’t we?”

 

“Yeah… we do.”

 

They laid together on the bed, their legs dangling off the long end, their torsos stretched across the bed the wrong direction. They didn’t talk, instead opting to enjoy the comfortable silence that rested between them on the soft surface. Robert couldn’t keep from running his hands over Aaron’s chest, rediscovering the small scars on his stomach. He remembered every single one and relished in the fact that there weren’t any new marks there.

 

“Vic’s gonna lose her mind.” Aaron finally broke the silence.

 

Robert smiled in agreement, “She wasn’t too happy when I told her about us… well, when I told her I wanted there to be an us again.”

 

“Her and Adam have been doin’ my head in for weeks now, tryin’ to get me to listen to ya.” Aaron was playing with the longer bits of Robert’s hair that framed his face.

 

“Really? Hm-m.”

 

“What?” Aaron stilled his hand, resting his palm against the left side of Robert’s face.

 

“Weeks?”

 

“There wasn’t some big conspiracy here Robert. You know how they are. Just the occasional comment here and there, suggestin’ I hear ya out. That’s all.” Aaron attempted to comfort him.

 

Robert let the subject drop, not wanting to ruin what they had between them, not when it was still so precarious, “I should probably call actually. I left Charlie over there.” Aaron nodded.

 

Robert got up from the bed, his trousers resting nicely on his hips, the fly still undone. He went to retrieve his phone from the pocket of his discarded jacket near the window. Aaron rose to his elbows and watched Robert pace the space at the end of the bed.

 

“Hey Vic,” Aaron couldn’t hear her side of the conversation, but from the blush that bloomed on Robert’s chest, he could tell that she had guessed the question before it was even asked.

 

“Yeah, I’ll come by in the morning for her... “ he paused and listened. “Thanks Vic. Yeah, love you too.” He ended the call and sat the phone on the long dresser next to the door.

 

“I’m guessin’ she understood?” Aaron asked from his sprawled position on the bed.

 

“Yeah… said to have fun.” Robert stood once again at the edge of the bed with Aaron spread out below him. He inched closer so their knees aligned and his shins hit the edge of the bed.

 

“That’s awfully thoughtful of her…” Aaron couldn’t help but stare as Robert slowly rubbed at his cock through his pants.

 

“Very.” Robert said and returned the lustful gaze, his hand working himself back to a half hard state.

 

Robert pushed both his trousers and pants down, exposing himself to Aaron. Aaron’s own hand hand unbuttoned and pushed his own jeans down to mid-thigh, the front of his boxers wet from their previous session.

 

Robert noticed, “Did you?”

 

“Only teenagers and blokes like you get off in their pants mate.” Aaron teased, rubbing at himself through the thin material. His hand snuck under the waistband and he hissed at the sudden sensation on his sensitive cock.

 

Robert raised an eyebrow at him and roughly tugged the jeans off his legs entirely, followed quickly by his pants. Robert stood over him at the edge of the bed and watched as Aaron’s hand slowly stroked at his cock. Aaron’s eyes nearly closed, his mouth hanging slightly open, and the muscles of his right arm straining.

 

“I want to fuck you Aaron.” Robert had lost all control of his inner dialogue and blurted out the demand without thinking first.

 

Aaron stopped his hand mid-movement and brought his heels up to the edge of the bed, his knees bent and spread in an inviting answer to Robert’s request. Robert knelt next to the bed, his hand still working over his cock. It had been so long since he’d been with anyone, he wanted to take his time and really work over Aaron. But he knew that once again he wouldn’t last, so he ducked his head between the other man’s knees and licked from Aaron’s balls to the tip of his fully hard cock. Aaron took a loud breath in and hissed at the sudden contact. Robert moved his hand from his own erection to Aaron’s and continued to jerk him off as his mouth explored the skin of his inner thighs and ass.


Robert remembered that Aaron loved to be rimmed and spent a long time lathing over his hole and the delicate skin around the area. He flicked the tip of his tongue in and out of the relaxed ring of muscle, causing Aaron to squirm and writhe above him. Aaron placed a hand on the back of Robert’s head, holding him in place as he moved his hips in a rhythm not dictated by Robert. Robert wrapped his arms around the underside of Aaron’s thighs and held his face in place against the heady skin there, allowing Aaron to control the movement of both of them.

 

Suddenly Aaron tapped the back of his head and Robert looked up to see the other man completely glassy eyed and blitzed out of his mind, ready to come at any minute. Robert easily pushed one and then two fingers into him, working them up to the second knuckle with little resistance. Aaron arched his back and dug both of his hands into the flesh at the front of his thighs, trying to claw at the muscles just below the surface.

“Ready… just do it… already… before I come….” Aaron breathlessly panted.

 

“I don’t have anything.” Robert admitted from his position next to the bed.

 

“Top drawer, next to my bed.” Aaron’s hand went to his cock as Robert scrambled off the floor and to the door.

 

When he returned he found Aaron in the middle of the bed on all four, three fingers inside himself, his face smashed into the duvet and his other hand still around his cock. Robert stopped and dropped the lube and condom onto the floor, completely taken aback by the sight laid out in front of him. He watched as Aaron crooked his fingers and hit his spot, causing his back to arch like a frightened cat. Although he didn’t want to take his eyes off the scene unfolding before him, he bent down and found the items he had dropped before making his way back to the bed.

 

Robert climbed onto the bed and kissed Aaron’s hand where it met his body and continue to kiss and lick at his hole as Aaron removed the digits. Robert put on the condom and quickly applied lube before lining up behind Aaron. He pushed in easily and stopped once he had bottomed out in the other man and all Aaron could do was wait. He knew that it had been a long time for Robert and he was probably so sensitive and over stimulated that if they didn’t take it slowly, Robert would probably come after only a couple thrusts. Aaron wanted this to last all night, so he waited for Robert to move on his own volition.

 

Finally, Robert pulled out slowly and then pushed back in at an equally slow pace, each thrust and pull agonizing for Aaron. Robert bent over and rested his head between Aaron’s shoulder blades, buried deep within him.

 

“You ok?” Aaron turned his head as far as he could to see the man behind him.

 

“On your back.” Robert mumbled. Aaron could feel Robert’s mouth on the skin of his back, his breath cool against the layer of sweat there. Aaron nodded as Robert sat up on his knees behind him, allowing Aaron to reposition himself on his back in front of him.

 

“This better?” Aaron asked as he lazily pulled at his cock.

 

“Need to see you.” Robert pushed Aaron’s knees to his stomach and lined up again, this time pushing in quicker and without as much trepidation as the first time. Aaron’s mouth opened in a silent gasp at the quick movement and grabbed at the back of his thighs to help spread them a bit further apart. Seeing that Aaron had a tight hold on his legs, Robert moved so he was resting his weight on his arms above the other man, so their faces were closer.

 

Robert kissed Aaron with as much emotion and passion as he could find left in his body. It wasn’t about urgency, it was him trying to show Aaron how he felt in that moment with his body. Aaron knew that Robert loved him, but Robert needed to show Aaron exactly what he meant to him. Aaron’s arms abandoned his legs and wrapped around Robert’s neck and shoulders, pulling their chests together. Robert was still thrusting into Aaron and Aaron’s cock was leaking between them, mixing with the sweat dripping from their chests and stomachs. They clung to one another as Aaron came between them and while Robert was still deep in Aaron. Once again Robert laid on top of Aaron, both panting and hot, the sheets around them damp and the duvet discarded onto the floor. The air was thick and smelled sour; Aaron was pretty sure you could almost taste the air around them.

 

They laid together, their breathing slowing and their pulses returning to a normal rate, Robert still inside Aaron. He pulled out gently, knowing that both he and Aaron were sensitive and sore. He discarded the condom onto the floor and laid back down on top of the other man. Aaron carded his right hand through Robert’s messy, damp hair causing it to stick up in every direction.

 

“You need a haircut.” He commented after playing with the longer strands.

 

“We need to shower.” Robert said from where he laid, half on top of and half off Aaron. Robert’s left leg between Aaron’s legs and his left arm over Aaron’s stomach.

 

“In a bit.” Aaron said and continued playing with Robert’s hair. Soon though, Robert’s breathing evened out and Aaron could tell that he’d fallen asleep. They were close enough that Aaron could study the freckles on his cheeks and the new lines that had found their way onto the older man’s face. He smoothed his thumb down the skin between Robert’s eyes and across his left cheek where he had the most freckles; he rubbed Robert’s earlobe between his thumb and forefinger, the soft flesh moving easily there; and he moved his palm along Robert’s jawline, the barely there blond stubble almost undetectable.

 

Aaron wanted to explore every inch of him, but he was losing his battle with sleep as well and soon found himself nodding off. He’d awake every few minutes just to make sure it hadn’t been a dream and that Robert was really there next to him. He tightly wrapped his arms around Robert’s back and pulled him closer before closing his eyes.

Chapter Text

Friday 23rd

 

“You weren’t too late, were ya?” Robert asked as he handed Aaron a thermos of tea.

 

“Nah, beat Cain. That’s all that matters.” Aaron graciously accepted the container, “Cheers.”

 

“Good, good.” Robert looked around the area to see if anyone was watching them and moved closer towards Aaron. He wanted to kiss him, right here in the middle of the village, his inhibitions lowered with his newly found confidence.

 

Aaron realized what he was getting at and instinctively shied back from Robert’s reach, causing him to pause with his hand just barely at Aaron’s waist. Aaron looked up at him without raising his chin, just his eyes meeting Robert’s.

 

“This not ok?” Robert asked, not sure what was allowed just yet.

 

“Not here, yeah? Not yet.” Aaron asked and tapped Robert’s chest with the end of the thermos.

 

Robert sighed, “Yeah, ‘lright.” He agreed and put his hand that had been almost to the other man’s waist back into the pocket of his blazer.

 

“I should get back…” Aaron motioned over his shoulder towards the garage.

 

“I should get to Charlie anyway. Drinks later in the pub?”

 

Aaron nodded, his chin still lowered, but when he looked up to Robert there was a hint of a smile there, “Later then.” He said and turned to return to work.

 

“Later then.”

 

Robert watched as Aaron turned around completely and walked back up the gravel drive towards the garage. He wished they’d had more time this morning, but Aaron was desperate to not get any more aggro from Cain regarding his attendance at the garage and he needed to sort out Charlie. He waited until Aaron was out of sight and fully amerced back into his work before turning and making his way towards Keepers. He forced himself not to text him immediately, but it took some effort to keep that promise to himself.

 

He let himself into Vic and Adam’s flat only to find Adam curled up on the couch with Charlie lying on his chest, the tv quietly playing some cartoon in the background. Vic was working away in the kitchen making breakfast, humming along with a pop song on her phone. He felt like he was intruding on some surreal moment of domestic bliss. He stood in the entrance and watched as his kid sister expertly moved around the small space, taking utensils from a drawer and a bowl from a cupboard.

 

“Oi! You scared the daylights outta me!” Vic turned to get something from the fridge when she finally noticed Robert standing in the doorway. She doubled over at the waist and clutched at her chest.

 

“Sorry sis. Didn’t wanna interrupt.”

 

“Everything ok in there?” Adam called from his spot in the other room.

 

“Just Robert givin’ me a heart attack, that’s all!” She took a seat at the table and motioned for him to join her.

 

“Ta,” he accepted her invitation and sat opposite her.

 

“Coffee? Or tea? Are you hungry I was just making Adam and I some brekkie.”

 

“I’m alright, thanks tho.” He knew she was dying to ask about the events of last night.

 

“So, you gonna tell me or am I gonna hafta drag it outta ya?” She turned and got her mug off the counter before returning her full attention back to her brother.

 

Robert shrugged, “I’m sure you don’t want all the details…”

 

“You’d be surprised mate.” Adam was standing in the doorway, “Charlie’s just resting, watching some tellie.”

 

“Not details,” Vic gave Adam a look over her mug, “just… you’re alright, yeah?”

 

Robert couldn’t help but smile, “Yeah, we’re good.”

 

Vic beamed, “Great! Now, who kissed who first?”

 

“Vic!” Robert mocked shock.

 

“I’m just curious is all…” she got up to check on the bacon that she had left in the pan.

 

“It was just nice to wake up next to him. It felt… normal, natural.” Robert reflected on the morning’s events; waking up to Aaron pressed to his front, his arm wrapped tightly across Aaron’s chest, the heady scent of the previous night still clinging to them both. “Like everything will be alright and we’ll be able to move on from all of this.”

 

Vic was standing in front of the stove watching Robert, noticing the serene way in which he spoke and sincerity in his tone. She smiled at him in only a way that she could, like she understood that he was finally in a really great place and that they would be able to get passed it all. “Rob, I’m so happy for you… and Aaron. You both deserve a bit of happiness.”

 

She walked over to him and kissed his head, like a mother would do to an upset child, but he accepted the affectionate gesture from his sister because he knew how much she had gone through in the past year as well.

 

Robert went into the other room and brought Charlie to join them for a late breakfast fry-up. The group chatted away idly, the atmosphere was light and easy. Adam was just clearing the plates from the table when Victoria cleared her throat to get the room’s attention.

 

“Well, since we’re all here, basically, I have some news as well. Well… Adam and I have some news.” Robert noticed that she seemed nervous as she spoke and wrung her hands together where they laid in her lap.

 

“Yeah?” He looked over to Adam who was still standing by the sink, but he had the biggest grin plastered across his face.

 

“Looks like Charlie’s gonna get that cousin. I’m pregnant.” She announced with a shy grin and a small shrug of her shoulders.

 

Robert lept from his chair, “Seriously!” He rushed to her and pulled her from where she was sitting and into a massive hug. “Congrats sis! That’s just fantastic!” He nearly cried from his excitement.

 

“About eight weeks.” Adam said through the giant grin still stretched across his face.

 

“Mate, I’m so happy for you both!” Robert let go of Vic and moved across the space to envelope Adam in an equally impressive embrace.

 

“Now Robert, no one knows so you can’t tell anyone. Not even Aaron, alright?” Vic chastised him from the table.

 

“Yeah, yea… ‘course.” He was still smiling from the news. “I’m so happy for you Vic. You’re gonna be such an amazing mum.” He could feel himself getting emotional at the thought of his little sister being a mum. He knew that she wanted this more than anyone else and his excitement for her was overwhelming.

 

“Thanks Rob. Or should I say Uncle Rob.” She said with a smile.

 

“You think Charlie’s spoiled! Just you wait til that baby gets here!”

 

Robert wanted to stay with them the rest of the day, but unfortunately he had to get to Home Farm to get some work done. Vic agreed to keep Charlie a bit longer seeing as it was her day off, so he left her in his sister’s capable hands and made his way out of the cottage. As he walked across the road to the pub the smile never left his face. He was the happiest he’d been in ages, everything seemed to be going well and the pieces were all falling into place.

 

By the time he reached his car though, this sneaking feeling of dread had crept up and he was panicking just a bit. Something’s gotta give. There’s no way things can be this good. Life always finds a way to kick me in the teeth and send me back a peg or two. As he sat in his car, the engine started, the feeling that something bad was looming in the distance hung around him in the cabin. He knew that there was no way things could be this good for all of them and he was just waiting for the shoe to drop.

 

--

 

Home Farm was quiet when he arrived; there were no cars in the drive and the front door was locked when he approached. He went around the side instead and let himself into the office to find it empty as well. He poked his head out the doors which lead into the main house and found the space quiet as well.

 

“Hello?” He called, but received nowt. “That’s just weird.”

 

Robert went about his day, answering emails, listening to voicemails and attempting to sift through the stack of folders on his desk, but something was off. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something wasn’t sitting right and it made the day drag on. It was unsettling and the feeling was unshakeable that something was happening that Robert couldn’t control. After hours of feeling nervous and constantly looking over his shoulder, he decided he’d had enough and packed it in for the day. He left the house in the same quiet state he had found it and went back into the village.

 

He picked Charlie up from Vic’s and took her to the swings for an early evening play date.

 

“Sorry I’ve not been around much and things have been so… hectic.” The little girl sat propped up in the swing with blankets to keep her small frame upright in the too big contraption. She just looked up to Robert with her large eyes and smiled, her hands running over the smooth plastic of the swing. She babbled absentmindedly and rubbed her socked feet together as Robert gently pushed her back and forth.

 

“You like Aaron, yeah?” Robert asked his daughter, hoping for a bit of confirmation from her. Instead he got another round of babble and bubbles. “Just give him some time. He’ll love you as much as I do, promise.”

 

Robert pushed Charlie on the swing until she started to squirm and then put her back into her pram for a quick trip around the village, before meeting Aaron at the pub for drinks. As he slowly walked across the bridge in the park, the feeling from before began to settle back into his consciousness. It again filled him with an unsettling feeling, like everything around him knew a secret that he wasn’t yet privy too; like everything was just waiting for him to make another mistake so he could be judged and ridiculed yet again. As he walked them back towards the pub, he was unnecessarily paranoid that people were talking about him as he passed, passing their silent judgment on his choices, and chastising him for every little decision he had made.

 

As the day was settling into dusk the fall air took on a chill, making the warmth inside the Woolpack all the more inviting. He pushed Charlie to their normal table and went around the bar to pull two pints, one for himself and one for Aaron. As he waited for the other man to arrive, he was once again pulled into the thought that people were staring at him and talking about him. He was so caught up in the incessant thought pattern that he didn’t even hear Aaron approach the table.

 

“Robert. Rob?” Aaron was standing just to his right, his hand on Robert’s shoulder trying to shake him from his daydream. “Hiya,” he said once Robert finally managed to focus his eyes on him.

 

“Hiya. Sorry, just… thinking…” Robert picked up his pint, but didn’t take a drink; he just needed to give his hands something to do.

 

“You alright?” Aaron sat next to him and took a drink from the waiting glass.

 

“I don’t know. Been a weird day.” Robert tried to smile and play off the uneasiness he’d been feeling all day, but Aaron saw right through it.

 

“Ok,” Aaron took another drink before setting his drink down and reaching his left hand onto Robert’s right knee. Something made Robert flinch away from the touch and he quickly moved his leg out of Aaron’s reach. Aaron tisked through his teeth.

 

“No, Aaron… I’m sorry. Like I said, it’s been a weird day.” Robert tried to reach for Aaron, but he moved out of Robert’s reach.

 

“I told you Robert, I’m not here to play your games.” Aaron leaned in and said in a hushed tone.

 

“I know, I know. I don’t know what’s goin’ on, honestly. Something just seems… off. I don’t know how to describe it.” Robert tried to explain.

 

“You’re gonna have to do better than that, mate.” Aaron took another drink.

 

“Like, everything is so good right now. You and me, Adam and Vic… just seems like something bad’s bound to ruin it all.” It was the best Robert could do.

 

“Hm-m,” Aaron rubbed at the back of his neck, “Well, then maybe we just stop before anything happens. It’s obvious you’re having second thoughts…”

 

“I’m not…” but maybe he was. Maybe it was too much too fast, like Adam had warned him about all those weeks ago.

 

Suddenly Aaron got up, abandoning his pint on the table and without saying a word exited through the back doors. Robert sat and watched him go, before realizing he should probably follow. He too left his glass and pushed Charlie through to the back. Aaron was sitting on the settee, the tv replaying the results of the day’s footie, a can open on the table in front of him.

 

“I’m sorry.” Robert said as he pushed Charlie into the room and sat at the small kitchen table across the room. Aaron’s only response was to nod. “Please talk to me…”

 

“I’ve already told you Robert, I’m not playin’ your games anymore.” Aaron said without taking his eyes off the tellie.

 

“I’m not playin’ games Aaron. Can you please… the tellie.” Robert pointed at the television, Aaron obliged and muted the sound so he could continue. “Like I said, I don’t know what’s going on. It’s just this feeling, like I’m missing something. I keep expecting my phone to ring and there be some terrible news. It has nothing to do with you.”

 

“What happened? What changed between this morning and now?” Aaron wasn’t understanding, but then again Robert was having a difficult time explaining himself as well.

 

Robert shook his head, “I don’t know. I got up to Home Farm after I left Vic’s and no one was there. It was completely deserted, but I stayed and worked, but it was one of those days where minutes felt like hours. Ya know, where you look down at your watch and expect hours to have past but in reality it’s only been like three minutes. And then I took Charlie for a walk and it felt like everyone was staring at me and talkin’ about me.” He put his head in his hands and pushed the palms of his hands hard into his eyes.

 

“Why would people be talkin’ about you?”

 

“I don’t know Aaron!” Robert snapped at him, bringing his fists down onto the table in a loud thud.

 

Aaron stood from where he was seated and moved over to Robert, “I don’t understand what’s goin’ on right now, but sort it Robert.”

 

“Why are you being like this? Why can’t you understand?” Robert was on the verge of tears at the fact that Aaron was being so insensitive.

 

“Being like what Robert?” Now Aaron was just goading him and it was infuriating.

 

“Why won’t you help me! I feel like I’m going crazy and you’re just standing there!”

 

“What would you like me to do Robert?”

 

“Maybe act like you care just a bit Aaron. Is that too much to ask?” Robert was trying to control himself.

 

Aaron sat at the table opposite Robert, “You know how I feel, I just don’t understand where this is coming from. What brought all this on?”

 

“I don’t…” he stopped himself from repeating the phrase once again. He took a deep breathe and started, “when I was fifteen, my dad caught me with one of the farm hands. We weren’t exactly doin’ anything, but my dad cottoned on to the situation and fired the kid before it could go any further. He never looked at me the same after that. He didn’t want a kid like me.” Robert looked up from his hands to Aaron who was watching him intently.

 

“Robert…”

 

“It never happened again, until after I left the village. I became the person he wanted me to be. There was always this feeling of being judged, like he was watching me and just waiting for me to screw up again. I was never good enough to be a Sugden.” Aaron went over to him and squatted in front of his chair, taking Robert’s hands in his own.

 

“And now, it feels like that all over again. Like people feel like they can judge me because of all of this; because of us. And they’re gonna treat me and Charlie differently because I’ve made this choice. They’ll all concocted these stories and theories about me and none of it’ll be true…”

 

“Then let them. Robert, it doesn’t matter what this lot thinks. What matters is this, you and me. They’re gonna talk and gossip, but why does it matter?” Aaron was still there in front of Robert, his warm rough hands wrapped tightly around Robert’s. His eyes desperately trying to get Robert to look at him.

 

“It’s always mattered though. My reputation has always mattered.” Robert finally looked at Aaron who was within inches of him.

 

“Well, maybe it’s time it doesn’t any more, yeah? Maybe it’s time we stop waiting for the bad to happen and just enjoy the good. And if it does happen, then we deal with it… together.”

 

“I thought you wanted to keep this between us?”

 

“Yeah well… too late for that.” Aaron closed the distance between them, kissing Robert gently. Robert sighed into the kiss, his breath coming out a bit stuttered and jagged. “Why don’t we have a night in? Just you, me, Charlie, and a movie. I’ll get us somethin’ from the pub and we can just stay here.”

 

“I’m sorry… you know that this is what I want. You know that this has nothin’ to do with you, yeah?” They were still close, Aaron bent over at the waist, while Robert was still seated.

 

“I know,” Aaron kissed him one more time before standing and exiting back towards the pubs’ kitchen. “I’ll be right back.”

 

Robert took a minute at the table, just sitting quietly and going over the conversation. He hadn’t told anyone about what had happened between his dad and himself; and he never thought about how that specific incident had shaped his life. He was always seeking the approval of the people around him, no matter their real relevance to his life. He dressed so people thought he looked smart, and he spoke in a way that came off as confident, he dated the most beautiful women and eventually married one because that’s what was expected of him. But now he just wanted to be himself; he didn’t want to have to live up to anyone else’s expectations of how he should live his life.

 

--

 

It was late and they had spent the evening curled up together on the couch watching horrible movie after horrible movie, but Robert didn’t care because it helped to calm the voices in his head that had spent all day screaming at him. Charlie had long gone to bed and the monitor purred away quietly on the table on the other side of the room.

 

“You wanna head up? Before Charity comes barging through?” Aaron asked from his spot between Robert’s legs.

 

“Yeah, probably should.” Aaron got up first and offered a hand to Robert to haul him up from where he had been sitting. Aaron pulled him into a hug, his arms tight around Robert’s ribs, his head turned into Robert’s neck, and his lips gently rubbing against his jaw.

 

“This is nice.” They were barely swaying, just the slightest of movement. Robert’s arms were wrapped around Aaron’s upper arms and linked behind his back.

 

“M-m,” Aaron mumbled a noise of contentment into Robert’s skin.

 

“You sleepin’ in mine again tonight?”

 

Aaron leaned back from Robert, “Have you felt your bed?” He grinned at the taller man.

 

“Cheeky.” Robert kissed him, nipping at his bottom lip, Aaron opened his mouth to allow Robert’s tongue inside. Their bodies were still obscenely close, pressed together from shoulders to knees, their arms still tightly wound around one another.

 

The kiss was intense and all encompassing; each one taking what they needed from the other and giving everything they could. There was no rush, but there was still a sense of urgency that drove them to continue until both were breaking it to suck in a quick gasp of air. Robert could feel Aaron against him, both of their cocks filling and hardening with the pressure of their bodies together.

 

“We can put Charlie in my room with the monitor.” Like Aaron was reading Robert’s mind, he suggested moving the sleeping child so they could have another night together.

 

“Yeah, ok.” Robert quickly agreed. They made their way upstairs where Robert moved Charlie’s cot into Aaron’s room before returning to his own room where Aaron was waiting for him.

 

“She ok?”

 

“Yeah, she'll be fine.” Robert hesitated at the end of the bed.

 

“Come ‘ere then.” Aaron was already nearly undressed and Robert couldn’t help but stare. He slowly made his way over to his partner who stood to the left of his bed, his body on full display.

 

Robert sighed as he stepped into Aaron’s space, “I’m sorry about earlier.” He ran his hands down Aaron’s muscular upper arms and grabbed onto his elbows, leaning his forehead on Aaron’s.

 

“Hey…” Aaron pulled his head away so he could look him in the eyes, “it’s fine. We need to be able to talk about this stuff.”

 

“Just feel a bit silly.” Robert confessed, not taking his gaze off of Aaron’s steely blue eyes.

 

“You’re ok tho, yeah?”

 

Robert smiled and nodded, “Yeah, now that I’m here with you.”

 

Aaron smiled as well, “We’re ok then?”

 

Robert just looked at him, really took a moment to study his expression and to take in his entire face. He leaned in and kissed Aaron, pouring himself into the contact. Aaron deepened the kiss and opened Robert’s mouth with his tongue which he welcomed. Robert pulled their bodies closer together so he could feel Aaron’s own heart beating against his chest.

 

“We’re gonna be.” Robert answered after he relished in Aaron’s mouth for just a few minutes more.

 

Aaron tugged at Robert’s shirt and unbuttoned the formal top, slipping the material over his fair-skinned shoulders, it pooled around Robert’s waist as it rested on his arms which were still holding onto Aaron’s waist. Aaron ran his hands over Robert’s chest raising goosebumps in their wake and kept them on his shoulders as he looked into Robert’s eyes.

 

“We don’t hafta tonight… we can just sleep if you want.” Aaron stroked his hands over the freckled skin stretched across Robert’s slightly muscular shoulders and upper back. Robert leaned his head on Aaron’s shoulder, feeling the heat radiating off the other man seeping into his chest and belly.

 

“I want to feel you inside me.” He finally mumbled into Aaron’s skin.

 

Aaron slowly turned them so Robert stood between himself and the bed; he continued to rub large circles into Robert’s upper back and kissed his right temple as they moved. He knew it had been a long time since Robert had been with anyone, so he wanted to take his time and make sure Robert was comfortable the entire time. There was no rush.

 

--

 

Robert was on his back, his right leg over Aaron’s left shoulder, his right arm across his face and his left stretched to the side and gripping the sheet. Aaron had taken his time to open Robert and get him properly prepped before pushing into him slowly. Robert had begged him to fuck him and hard, but Aaron knew that they’d have to work up to a quicker pace. Robert lowered the arm that was draped across his face and grabbed at Aaron’s left arm where it was holding onto Robert’s leg; he wanted to feel as much of Aaron as absolutely possible. He bit his lip as Aaron pulled out and pushed back into him at a faster pace, sweat glistening on the man above him, making him look like a golden god standing over him. The lights were on so Robert could see every muscle and texture along Aaron’s body as it shimmered in the light.

 

Robert thought that in that moment, he couldn’t love another person more than he loved Aaron. He had been so daft and so foolish in ever thinking Aaron wasn’t his soulmate; they fit together perfectly. Where Aaron was hard, Robert was soft. Where Aaron was emotional, Robert was practical. They were completely complimentary and where one was lacking, the other thrived. Robert reached up to Aaron and pulled him down into a kiss, needing to express every emotion he was feeling and he needed to show Aaron all of this. He needed to make Aaron understand.

 

Aaron lowered Robert’s leg and leaned over him, never stopping the motion of his hips as they rocked his cock in and out of Robert. Robert gasped as he hit his spot just before connecting their lips into a blistering kiss. The sounds of moans and skin on skin movements filled the room along with a great mixture of their two scents, it was the perfect combination of them together. Aaron hit Robert’s prostate once more, sending him over the edge just as Aaron kissed him again and again. Robert arched under Aaron and released between them, his cum pooling in his belly button and running down his side to the sheet. Aaron continued to rock into him as he came buried deep inside Robert.

 

Robert wrapped his shaking arms around Aaron’s middle and was overcome with the emotions of the night. He cried as Aaron laid on top of him, coming down from his own orgasm and he tried to hide his tears in Aaron’s neck, but the small sob that escaped his quivering lips gave him away.

 

“Hey…hey… you’re alright.” Aaron comforted him and held him tighter. Aaron rolled them onto their sides, cradling Robert to him and tried to calm him although the sobs were coming stronger now from the other man. “You’re alright Robert. You’re alright.” Aaron repeated the sentiment until the other man quieted and made a small movement away from him.

 

“I love you,” Robert stuttered, “and I’m so sorry for ever doubting this. I’m sorry for ever making you feel like you weren’t enough, like you weren’t everything. It’s me, I’m not enough for you. I know that now. You deserve so much more.” His face was still red and sweaty from sex, but the tears had left definitive trails down his cheeks as well.

 

“Robert, I don’t ever want to hear you say that. Ok? Ever.” Aaron used his index finger to tip Robert’s chin up so he could look him in the eyes, “if I didn’t love you, if I had ever stopped loving you, we wouldn’t be here. It’s only ever been you. It’ll only ever be you.”

 

--

 

At some point in the middle of the night Robert awoke completely disoriented; he didn’t remember falling asleep and now Aaron was gone. He sat up, his eyes adjusting quickly to the dark room and dim light coming in through the window, and looked around for any sign of where Aaron had gone.

 

He cradled his head in his hands, rubbing at his forehead, “I am such a fucking idiot.” He said out loud to no one in particular. How could he have been so stupid! Of course Aaron ran, why wouldn’t he after that pathetic display last night.

 

“Sh-h, sh-h… I’m here… papa’s here…” the barely there hush of Aaron’s voice broke through Robert’s self-deprecation on the monitor. “You’re alright love. Hush now…”

 

Robert couldn’t believe what he was hearing, just like the night he heard Aaron sing to Charlie, Robert felt like he was intruding on this moment between them. He was still naked, so he put on a pair of loose fitting flannel pajama bottoms and exited his room. The door to Aaron’s room was slightly open, Robert stood in the hall and watched as Aaron paced a few steps back and forth across the small space, Charlie held protectively to his chest. He bounced slightly on the balls of his feet as he moved and again hummed the same tune.

 

“I didn’t want to wake you… hope this is ok.” Aaron said, his back to the door, but Robert knew it was directed at him. He pushed the door open just a bit more and stood in the opening, his right shoulder leaning against the frame.

 

“It’s more than ok, but you could’ve gotten me up.” Robert folded his arms across his bare chest as Aaron turned to face him. Robert was in absolute awe of the scene; Aaron’s chest bare, a pair of boxers clinging to his hips, and little Charlie neatly tucked under his chin, her little bottom resting in his left hand. Aaron smiled at him.

 

“Seemed like you needed the sleep tho. I don’t mind.” Robert walked over to where Aaron was swaying in the middle of the room and took hold of his hips, brushing a kiss to the top of Charlie’s hair and then to Aaron’s lips.

 

“How long has she been up?”

 

“She ate, I don’t know… ten minutes ago. Sounds pretty well asleep now tho.” Aaron reciprocated the kiss and turned to put the baby back in her bed. Robert watched as he gently lifted the girl away from his chest, kissed her forehead and laid her on her back in the small cot.

 

“Night little one.” Aaron whispered before standing back up to meet Robert’s gaze. Robert was speechless and the only thing he could think to do was hug Aaron tightly to his chest.

 

Aaron leaned away a bit, his hands still on Robert’s forearms rubbing small patterns into the fine hair, “What’s that for?” He said in a whisper.

 

“You’re fucking incredible, you know that?” Robert said back in a equally quiet voice.

 

“Nah… babies are easy. And anyway, package deal you and her.” Aaron kissed Robert then and took his hand to lead him out of the room.

Chapter Text

Sunday 25th

 

Aaron stood in the kitchen, his hands resting on the edge of the counter with his back to the room, waiting on the kettle to finish heating for his morning cuppa. His mind was thinking of nothing in particular, just wandering in and out of consciousness, not paying attention to his surroundings. His eyes were unfocused and staring blankly at the kettle, waiting for the little light to indicate the water was ready.

 

A lot had been said the night before and he was feeling the weight of the conversation this morning. Robert had been so vulnerable and open, in a way that Aaron had never seen before; he was almost certain that no one had seen that side of the other man before. There was a new dynamic between them, with Aaron needing to play the role of protector, but he relished the idea of caring for Robert and Charlie. From the very beginning all Aaron wanted was for them to be a family and now they'd finally have their chance.

 

Just as the light went off and he began to pour the hot water into two mugs, he heard the sound of bare feet padding across the room. He didn't turn, but smiled at the familiar presence who crowded up behind him.

 

“Morning.” Robert wrapped his arms around Aaron's middle and pressed his hips into Aaron's backside, peppering small kisses across the back of his neck.

 

Robert was still warm from sleep and Aaron welcomed his weight against his back. Aaron reached his arms around behind himself to press his thumbs into Robert’s soft sides. Robert responded by grinding his pelvis into Aaron's bum and biting at the man’s shoulder. Aaron tipped his head back onto Rob's shoulder and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.

 

“M-m-m… morning.” Aaron mumbled as Robert’s fingers played with the front of his loose fitting shorts.

 

“Why do you keep leaving me to wake up alone” Robert asked as his hands dipped below the elastic waistband on his shorts, his fingers running through the hair just below Aaron's navel.

 

“Become a bit of a morning person…” Aaron stuttered out, Robert’s fingers raising goosebumps across Aaron's stomach.

 

“Well, I’d very much like to wake up next to you one of these days.” Robert skillfully moved his left hand further into Aaron’s shorts, taking his cock loosely before slowly beginning to tug on him.

 

Aaron moaned at the contact and dug his hands into Robert’s sides trying to pull him closer. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned his face to the right to meet Robert’s waiting mouth that had been ghosting over his ear. Robert continued to work over Aaron as they stood in the kitchen, their mouths connected and hungrily moving against one another. Aaron’s chest heaved with ragged breaths as he came in his shorts, Robert’s hand not stopping until he had milked every ounce out of the other man. After a moment Aaron spun around to face Robert and rushed him back towards the other counter, pushing him up to sit on the work surface. Their mouths collided in a fierce kiss, Aaron’s hands desperately trying to get inside Robert’s pajama bottoms to reciprocate the hand job.

 

“Shit! Sorry!” Charity walked through the door that lead to the stairs just then, shielding her eyes and turning quickly as she realized what she had just walked in on.

 

“Dammit Charity!” Aaron barked at the intruder, his hand still down the front of Robert’s bottoms while Robert hides his face against Aaron’s neck.

 

“I didn’t know! Christ! You lot do have a bedroom, ya know!” Charity remained in the doorway with her back to the pair. “Anyway, what if I’d been Noah?”

 

Robert laughed at the situation, but Aaron was seething, “Just leave, will ya?”

 

“Anyway, Charlie’s up.”

 

“Shit.” Robert scooted off the counter and adjusted himself inside his pajamas. He stepped around Aaron who stood his ground in the middle of the kitchen, jaw clenched. Robert moved quickly across the room and through the door past Charity. She turned towards Aaron after Robert was gone.

 

“I’m sorry Aaron. Wasn’t on purpose, was it. Last thing I want is to walk in on you two.” She made her way around the settee. “Nice to see you boys getting along again though.”

 

“Whatever.” Aaron let out a sigh and turned around to start two fresh cups of tea. The originals had been abandoned when Robert had come down. “Cuppa?” He asked before refilling the kettle.

 

“Ta.” She settled at the table.

 

--

 

“I really am sorry about this morning Aaron.”

 

“Yeah, I know. Sorry we were, ya know… in the kitchen.” He said as he picked up the glasses from the top of the bar.

 

“You’re alright. Looked like you two were having a good morning.”

 

“Cheers.” Aaron walked back to the table where Robert and Charlie sat; they had spent the morning in watching cartoons and not moving from the couch unless absolutely necessary. Once lunchtime rolled around, they decided to not go far and headed into the pub for a bite to eat.

 

“Thanks papa.” Robert said as Aaron took the seat next to him at the table.

 

Aaron raised an eyebrow at Robert, questioning the nickname.

 

“I heard you, through the monitor last night.” Robert explained as he took a drink.

 

Aaron nodded, “I just… are you ok with it? Cause if you’re not, I can just be Aaron or…”

 

“No!” Robert reached over and placed a hand on Aaron’s left knee, “I love it. Of course you’re her papa.”

 

“What’s this?” Adam asked as he joined them at the table.

 

“Nothin’... just talkin’ about Charlie.” Aaron said and looked up to Adam, taking a sip from his pint.

 

“Bullshit mate. Who’s papa?” Adam smiled at his friend.

 

“Well, Robert’s her dad so I’m her papa.” Aaron said and placed a hand on Charlie’s head, stroking through her fine blonde hair. The little girl grabbed Aaron’s hand and held tightly onto his thumb and ring finger.

 

“Soft lad.” Adam said with a smile that took over his whole face, but he was so proud of Aaron at the same time. Aaron had overcome so much and Adam could tell that he was finally exactly where he belonged.

 

“Shut it you.” Aaron reciprocated the smile.

 

“Where’s Vic?” Robert asked, scanning the pub, realizing his sister hadn’t followed Adam in.

 

“On her way.” Adam had reached across the table and picked up Aaron’s pint, taking a large gulp before returning the glass to its original position.

 

“Oi! Get your own mate!” Aaron chastised his friend, swatting his hand away from the glass.

 

“Relax. You’re too busy to drink it anyway!” Adam motioned towards Charlie who still had a hold of Aaron’s right hand and was trying to get his thumb into her mouth.

 

“Yeah, she’s obsessed with hands right now. And everything ends up in her mouth! Think she might be teething.” Aaron said, smiling down at the little girl who was seated beside him.

 

“Since when do you know so much about babies?” Vic asked as she joined the group.

 

“Dunno... “ Aaron shrugged. What no one knew, not even Robert, was that after Chrissie announced her pregnancy and before Robert left, Aaron spent many nights reading books about pregnancy and babies, trying to learn as much as possible before Charlie arrived. He wanted to be prepared and confident when they welcomed the baby into their family, so he pored over books and websites for weeks before Robert made his decision.

 

“Well, might come in handy, those natural skills of yours.” Vic said and took Adam’s hand.

 

“Yeah? Why’s that?” Aaron looked up from Charlie and across the table at his friends.

 

“Cause… I’m pregnant.” Vic smiled at Aaron, her eyes just beginning to shine with tears.

 

“You’re what?” Aaron stammered, looking to Robert who was smiling at him like he already knew. “Did you know?” Aaron asked.

 

“Just found out yesterday.” Robert admitted.

 

“You’re really pregnant? I’m gonna be an uncle?” Aaron said, tears prickling the corners of his eyes just waiting to fall.

 

Vic nodded, her cheeks wet now, “Eight weeks.” She smiled through the tears and held Adam’s hand a bit tighter. “We wanted to wait, until we were sure.”

 

“Mate!” Aaron handed Charlie to Robert before getting up from the table. He went around to Adam for a tight hug. “Congratulations.” He said quietly into Adam’s left ear as they embraced.

 

He moved to Vic and stood in front of her, he was crying now as well. His oldest friend, a girl that he had grown up with and had had a lot of his firsts with was going to be a mother. He couldn’t think of anyone more deserving than her. Vic stood and stepped into Aaron’s space, he gently wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her small figure tight against his chest.

 

She let out a shaky breath, “Thank you Aaron.”

 

“For what?” He asked as they stayed embracing, their faces close enough for no one else to hear their conversation.

 

“For trusting him and believing in him.” Her breath caught and she sighed as they gently swayed slightly.

 

“Vic, I’m so happy for you. I just… don’t know what to say.” He admitted.

 

“Say you’ll be the godfather?” She asked, their frames still together in their hug.

 

He nodded against the side of her head, “Of course.” He said in a small voice before letting her go. He held her at arm's length, “You’re gonna be so good at this.”

 

She smiled, the tears drying now but her eyes were still showing the signs of her emotions, “Thanks love.”

 

Aaron went back to his seat as the other three continued to talk about the news. He picked Charlie up from her seat and sat her on the table facing him, her eyes scanning his face and her hands scratching at the stubble on his cheeks. He sat quietly and focused on Charlie, his thoughts drifting to his own mum and what she’d make of the news, how she’d react to him and Robert, and to how much she would’ve adored Charlie. Everything was a little bittersweet; his life had done a complete 180 degree turn and things were finally falling into place, but there was a huge missing piece and it came in the shape of his mum. He remembered one of their last conversations where she told him about the day he was born and how she just watched him for hours, examining all of his little features and promised to be a proper mum, unlike her own. He sat and thought about that day, allowing Charlie to fidget and mess about with the zipper pull on his hoodie.

 

“Did you ever imagine you could ever feel so strong?” She had asked while lying in her hospital bed all those days ago, “The day all your pain just turns into relief?” She smiled at him.

 

Her mind would often wander into uncoordinated sentiments, rambling statements and nonsensical sentences. He would sit and listen, asking her questions which she would sometimes answer and sometimes miss. It was enough just to sit next to her and listen to her voice, trying desperately to hold onto every syllable, every inflection. It was becoming harder to remember those small details these days; the sound of her laugh, or the way she’d say his name, or even the way she smelled. All of these things seemed so important at the time, minute details that he tried so desperately to hang on to, but they were all slipping away. He wondered what Charlie would remember about him, about Robert or even Chrissie. What impact would he have on her life? He had become acutely aware of the absence of his mum in that very moment. He refocused his eyes away from Charlie and looked up to the bar where Charity stood, half expecting to see her standing there. Of course she wouldn’t be there, but he waited and watched anyway.

 

“Hey,” a little voice came from beside him, pulling his attention away from the bar, “you ok?” Robert had wrapped his arm around Aaron’s shoulders and had slid his chair closer to Aaron’s.

 

Aaron half smiled, his emotions and inner dialogue clearly visible on his features, “Just thinkin’ about mum.”

 

Robert returned the sad smile, “Yeah, me too. Wish we had one of ‘em here.”

 

“Rob, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t even thinkin’ about it…” Aaron immediately felt guilty over not recognizing how difficult it must be for both he and Vic to be going through this without their own mum.

 

Robert shook his head, “It’s alright. It’s been a long time for Vic and I… makes sense that you’d be thinkin’ about Chas right now.”

 

Aaron looked up to Robert, Charlie still propped on the table, “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. Our family is plenty big enough.” Robert brought his left hand up to the side of Aaron’s face and pulled him into a quick kiss. Aaron returned the gesture and put Charlie in his lap between them.

 

“Yeah… think we’ll be just fine.” Aaron leaned his head onto Robert’s right shoulder and snuggled in a bit closer to his partner. Robert rested his right cheek onto the top of Aaron’s head, rubbing at his shoulder with his hand.

 

Charlie settled quietly between them, quickly dozing off into an easy sleep. Aaron also closed his eyes and stayed tucked under Robert’s right arm as the rest of the table went about their lunch. He was content and settled, the thoughts that had been racing through his mind only minutes ago becoming more distant and easy to manage. He pictured his mum with Charlie, playing on the floor in the sitting room, reading books and doing coloring pages together. He was sad that this perfect little girl wouldn’t know his own mum, but he was determined to never let her feel like she wasn’t the most loved child on the planet. She would never wonder why her own mother had rejected her and would only know she has the most incredible family. He would make sure that she never doubted the love he had for her father or for her.

 

--

 

Aaron had settled Charlie into her bed for the night in his room, quietly making his way back across the hall and into Robert’s room. Robert was sitting in bed, his back to the headboard, scrolling through his phone; his chest was bare and pale, his hair beautifully ruffled and out of place, lips pink from where he had been worrying them between his teeth. Aaron stood at the end of the bed and just watched him for a second before moving over to what had become his side of the bed. He pushed back the duvet and climbed into the soft, warm bed, tucking his cold feet close to Robert’s and lying on his left side to watch the other man.

 

He placed his right hand on Robert’s leg just above his knee, “Whatcha lookin’ at?” he asked as he rubbed his thumb across the light hair on Robert’s thigh.

 

“Nothin’ important.” He said and turned the screen off, setting it on the side table. Robert looked down at Aaron who was nestled into his right side. “You ok?”

 

“M-hm.” Aaron hummed and laid his head onto Robert’s chest. Robert circled his arm around Aaron’s back and ran his fingernails up and down the outside of Aaron’s right arm.

 

“It’s been a lot… these last few days.” Robert commented, looking down at the top of Aaron’s head where it still rested against him.

 

“Been good though.”

 

“Yeah… it has.” Robert bent down and kissed the top of his head before reaching over to turn off the lamp beside his bed. He nestled down under the cover and took Aaron in his arms, pulling them together face to face. Aaron sighed and burrowed deeper into Robert’s chest, clinging to his bare form.

 

“You sure everything’s ok? You seem a bit… quiet since lunch.”

 

“Just got me thinkin’ about us and Charlie. About what happened.” Aaron didn’t move away from Robert, instead he spoke into his chest. Robert could feel his breath against his skin.

 

Robert was quiet a moment, trying to decide if now was the right time to bring up something he’d been thinking about since their first kiss almost a week ago. He was afraid that it’d be too much too soon, but he spoke up anyway, “I’ve been thinkin’... and I know it’s still early and we have a lot of time to make up for… but I want you to know how serious I am about you Aaron, how much I love you. We don’t have to decide anything right now, but…” Robert went silent again and listened to Aaron’s breathing. “You still awake?”

 

“Barely…” Aaron mumbled.

 

“Aaron… I want to make us a proper family.” Aaron lifted his head from where it had been resting.

 

“What’re you askin’ Rob?” In the dim light of the room Aaron’s face was masked in deep shadows, but Robert could still make out his features; his eyelids looked heavy with exhaustion and his lips were slick from where he had just run his tongue over them.

 

Robert sighed, “Will you marry me?”

 

Aaron stayed on his side, lying next to Robert, his hand resting on the firm skin of Robert’s belly, his hair soft and curly. Robert was slightly above his, the blue light casting an ethereal glow from his too white skin. He ducked his head and rested his forehead against Robert’s chest, breathing in the other man’s scent and listening to his heart hammer in his chest.

 

“You sure?” He asked without looking at him.

 

“I’ve wasted so much time Aaron. I’ve done some awful things to you and I want to make it right, make us right. I want us to be a family; you, me and Charlie. I can’t do this without you.” Robert carded a hand through Aaron’s hair and kissed him once again at the crown of his head. “I love you.”

 

After a few moments Aaron picked his head up and looked to Robert. Their eyes remained locked on one another as Robert wound his fingers through Aaron’s where they laid on his belly. Aaron looked down at their interlocked fingers, at the way they seemed to fit together perfectly. “I know it’s soon and I know it won’t fix anything, but I want to start over with you. Just us, now.” Robert spoke as Aaron looked down at their hands.

 

“Yes.” Aaron said in a hushed tone, rubbing his thumb across the backside of Robert’s hand.

 

“Yes?”

 

Aaron smiled and looked up to Robert, his face not large enough to contain it, “Yes.” He repeated.

 

Robert grinned as well and kissed him, neither one able to contain their happiness. “It doesn’t have to be right away or anything. Whenever you’re ready.” Robert said after they broke the kiss.

 

“Technically you’re still married to Chrissie, so…” Aaron joked.

 

“Well, yeah… there is that.” Robert agreed, “but even once that’s done, we can wait.”

 

Aaron settled back into Robert’s side, their hands still linked on Robert’s stomach. “One thing at a time. I want to marry you, someday, but let’s get through that first, yeah?”

 

“Yeah… we’ve got time.”

Chapter Text

January 2017

 

Wednesday  4th

 

Aaron’s birthday was tomorrow and Robert wanted it to be perfect. He had had a meeting with his solicitor just before the New Year and had received the news that his divorce from Chrissie had been finalized. No one knew, not even Aaron and Robert had plans to make that part of his gift. They had agreed to take it slow, to not make any plans about their future until their past was settled. Now that the largest hurdle was over, Robert wanted to secure their future together. He had told Aaron that he had meetings all day earlier in the week, but in reality he was in Leeds trying to find the perfect rings for them; he’d settled on two dark, charcoal grey tungsten rings.

 

The divorce papers were wrapped in a box along with adoption papers he’d asked his solicitor to write up so Aaron could officially become Charlie’s legal guardian. An identical set would be sent to Chrissie in the coming weeks, asking her to give up her remaining rights to their daughter. She’d had no interest in the child over the last few months, barely spending any time in the village and never asking to spend time with Charlie. Robert imagined it wouldn’t be much of a fight to have Chrissie relinquish the title of mother she desperately didn’t want anyway. He stowed the box away under his bed, anxiously waiting for tomorrow to arrive so he could surprise Aaron.

 

He sat in the Woolpack with Charlie, waiting on Aaron to get home from the scrapyard so they could enjoy tea together, when Chrissie pushed her way through the front door. He watched from their table at the back of the pub as she scanned the small smattering of people obviously searching him out.

 

Her eyes finally caught his, “What’s this Robert?” She waved a stack of papers in the air as she marched across the space.

 

“I have no idea Chrissie.” He dead-panned, holding out a biscuit to Charlie.

 

“I think you do!” she slammed the stack of papers onto the table in front of him causing Charlie to jump in her seat next to him.

 

“Careful!” he scolded her as he put a reassuring hand on Charlie’s back. He glanced at the top page which he recognized immediately.

 

“You think I’m just gonna… what? Give up my rights to my child just so you can live out some gay fantasy with your boyfriend?” she stood over him, hands on her hips, glancing between Robert and Charlie.

 

“Chrissie, don’t pretend like you care about Charlie. Where have you been for the past four months? If you cared so much why haven’t you been around? Asked to keep her up at yours?” Robert glared back at her.

 

“I will not have my daughter being adopted by some man!” she shouted back, garnering the attention of everyone in the pub.

 

“It’s Aaron, Chrissie. Not some random off the street. And anyway… “ he began, adjusting in his chair to sit a bit taller, “he’s my fiance.”

 

“HA!” she spat out at him, “You’re fiance!? How pathetic Robert. What? I rejected you so you went running back to him? What an idiot.”

 

“I’d be careful what you say next.” Robert was trying to remain calm for the sake of Charlie, but he wasn’t exactly sure how much more of Chrissie’s ranting he could take.

 

“Or what Robert? What are you gonna do? Well, the answer is no. It’s never gonna happen. I will never allow him to adopt her.”

 

“You what?”

 

Robert shut his eyes at the sound of Aaron’s voice coming from behind Chrissie. She turned quickly on her heel to face him.

 

“If you think you’re gonna take my daughter from me and play house with Robert, you’ve got it all wrong. Over my dead body!”

 

“What’re you on about? Robert?” Aaron shifted his weight so he could see past Chrissie to where Robert was sat at their usual table.

 

“It was supposed to be a surprise…” Robert admitted.

 

“We talked about this Robert… you know what? I've about had enough.” Aaron rubbed at his eyes, clearly exasperated by the entire situation. He didn’t say another word, instead he turned and headed back towards the front door of the pub.

 

“Aaron… wait!” Robert got up from the table and tried to follow the other man outside before realizing he’d left Charlie at the table. He turned to see Chrissie standing next to the table, a smug and arrogant smile smeared across her perfectly done up face. What did I ever see in you? He thought as he made his way back towards the table.

 

He unbuckled Charlie from the seat, propping her on his left hip, “You don’t give a shit about me or Charlie. All you care about is yourself and making my life miserable. Why don’t you do the right thing for just once and sign the damn papers Chrissie? You know I never loved you like I do Aaron. And you’ve never loved Charlie, so why deny her the chance at having two parents who do love her. Because he does you know? More than you ever could.” He didn’t wait for a response.

 

As he buckled Charlie into her seat in the backroom, his hands were shaking and he could feel the adrenaline coursing through his body. He took a step back from the seat once she was secured and shook his hands out, desperately trying to stop the shaking. He let out a loud breath through his mouth just as the tears began to fall. He squatted, putting his elbows on his knees and supported his head in his still shaking hands, the tears still falling. He felt like he was falling apart, like he’d lost Aaron and their future together. He just needed to find him and explain. It was supposed to be the perfect day, a day they’d look back on and remember as the day they finally moved past everything. Robert was once again feeling the weight of dread settling around him. He knew it had been too good for too long.

 

--

 

“What was he thinkin’?”

 

“He was thinkin’ that he loves ya and that he wanted you to be a proper family.” Vic was sitting on the floor of the nursery surrounded by boxes and packing materials.

 

“Some warning would’ve been nice, instead of walkin’ in on him and Chrissie fightin’ in the middle of the pub!” Aaron was sitting in the rocking chair on the other side of the room, watching as his friend wrestled with a stubborn bookcase she was attempting to assemble.

 

“Think it was supposed to be a surprise. And anyway, I thought you two had talked about all this?”

 

“Yeah, we did! But we decided to take our time, not rush. Now he’s gettin’ adoption papers drawn up for Charlie! He isn’t even divorced yet!” He moved off the rocker to join her on the floor and to help pound a peg into the end of the shelf she was holding.

 

“You know how he is Aaron. He’s impulsive and once he gets an idea in that head of his, no one can change his mind. He acts first and deals with the consequences later, always has.” She handed him the last two pegs and the little metal tool that came with the hardware.

 

“And that’s something I love about him, but this kinda thing isn’t something you surprise someone with. A trip away or a car… or tickets to a match, those are things you surprise someone with. Not adoption papers!” Aaron put the pegs into the predrilled holes and lined the two pieces of the piece of furniture together, slotting them into one another.

 

“Don’t be so hard on him. It’s a lot for him too, gettin’ you back. It wasn’t just you who had a hard time, he just had a distraction in Charlie.”

 

Aaron hadn’t considered the toll all of this had taken on Robert, how hard it must have been to be a single father essentially and to watch as the mother of his child rejected not only him, but their daughter as well. He and Robert had talked at length about Robert’s decision to go back to Chrissie and Aaron had finally truly understood his motivations at that time, but they had never talked about how hard it had been for Robert. They always focused on how Aaron dealt with it all, how Aaron had felt about it, but they never talked about how Robert coped.

 

“I never really thought it was that hard of a decision for him. He’s never said anything.” Aaron admitted as he rolled the next set of pegs around in his hand.

 

“Yeah, well it was. He agonised over it for a long time. He knew it would break you, knew it wasn’t what he wanted, but he didn’t have a choice. Or at least he didn’t feel like he had a choice.” Vic reached for the next piece in the puzzle that was this particular piece of furniture and handed it to Aaron.

 

He took the shelf and began to put the pegs in place, “He tells me that it was the worst decision he’s ever made, choosing Chrissie.”

 

“And now he just wants to make things right Aaron. He wants you to be a family, that’s all. He’s all or nothing that man.” Aaron nodded in agreement, but didn’t respond. That was just another thing on a very long list of things that Aaron loved about Robert.

 

--

 

When Aaron finally got back to the flat it was late and everything was quiet. He crept up the stairs and into Robert’s room - our room - he thought as he opened the door, only to find it empty. He stood next to the bed - their bed - trying to figure out exactly where he could’ve gone. He certainly wasn’t at Vic and Adam’s because he had spent all evening there and there was no way he’d be at Home Farm. He could’ve gone to the B&B to talk with Diane, but surely he’d have been back by now. Aaron was starting to worry, starting to think the worst, that he’d finally pushed Robert away for good with his insecurities. I can’t sleep in here without you , he thought as he grabbed a pair of shorts from the top of the laundry and exited the room. He opened the door to what had become Charlie’s room and there in his tiny bed was Robert.

 

He was curled around Aaron’s old pillows, fully dressed and on top of the duvet, sleeping soundly. His hair framing his face in a blond mess, his breathing slow and steady, and his legs bent at the knee and pulled close to his long body. Aaron knelt next to the bed and pushed his hand through his hair, tucking the long strands behind his right ear.

 

“Robert…” Aaron brushed his hand once again across the other man’s forehead, sweeping the hair away from his face, “Robert…” he tried once again. He moved his hand and squeezed Robert’s bicep.

 

“Aaron?” Robert asked in a husky, sleep filled voice, blinking in an attempt to refocus his eyes. “That you?”

 

“Yeah, I’m here. Why’re you in my bed?”

 

“Didn’t want to sleep in there without you.” he said as he righted himself into a sitting position.

 

“Yeah… come on, I’m back now.” Aaron stood and extended his hand to Robert, who took it. Aaron kept ahold of Robert as he lead them out of the room and across the hall to their room, closing the door behind Robert after he’d entered. Everything was dark, but their eyes had adjusted to the dim light.

 

“I’m so sorry about earlier Aaron. It was supposed to be a surprise for your birthday.” Robert was still half asleep as he spoke while trying to get outta the trousers he still had on. Aaron was much more awake than him and went to help the struggling man.

 

“I know and I’m sorry for how I reacted. It’s just a lot and we had agreed to not rush and then Chrissie was standing there saying all that shite about not wanting her daughter to be raised by two men and…” Robert cut him off by pulling him into a tight hug.

 

“She’s gonna sign the papers Aaron. I’ll make sure she does, no matter what.” Robert’s taller frame was dead weight against him as they stood embracing.

 

“You can’t know for sure. What if she won’t?”

 

“We’ll still love each other and get married... and you’ll still be Charlie's papa. She can’t change any of that.” Aaron had shift back in the embrace, enough that he could see Robert’s eyes even in the darkness.

 

“I love you.” Aaron admitted and kissed Robert before he could respond.

 

“And I love you.” Robert kissed him back, letting it linger a bit longer. He was finally out of his trousers, his dress shirt discarded on the floor as well, both men curled against one another in their bed.

 

“Since one of your presents has been ruined, would you like the other ones now or in the morning?” Robert asked, his fingers gently playing with the hair along Aaron’s neck.

 

“M-m-m… pretty sleepy actually.” Aaron said, his head lying on Robert’s shoulder, his chest pressed into Robert’s right side.

 

“Just one tonight then?”

 

“You’d think it was your birthday! Go on then.” Aaron sat up in the middle of the bed and Robert reached under the edge to retrieve an expertly wrapped box. He clicked on the lamp next to the bed and joined Aaron back amongst the bedding.

 

“Bit posh, innit?” Aaron fiddled with the soft bow wrapped around the large box.

 

“Just open it.” Robert scooted closer to Aaron so their knees bumped together.

 

Aaron carefully untied the fabric ribbon shaped into a large bow on top of the lid and placed the strip next to him on the bed. He tore into the paper like a child on Christmas morning, sending bits of paper scattering around them. He raised an eyebrow at the lidded white box hidden beneath the pin-striped paper. He carefully lifted the lid and placed it on top of the ribbon, looking to Robert before shifting the tissue paper covering a stack of papers inside.

 

The first pieces were the adoption papers, which Aaron held gingerly with both hands. He scanned the top sheet, naming Aaron Benedict Dingle as legal guardian of minor Charlotte Sarah Sugden … he re-read the line several times before looking up to Robert who had been sitting quietly opposite him amongst the torn paper and rumpled bedding.

 

“Rob… I…” he didn’t know what to say. “This is... “ he was genuinely speechless.

 

“I know we haven’t really talked about this and I know it’s not really a surprise after today, but this is what I want Aaron. I want you to have every right I do when it comes to Charlie. I want you to be her father too, legally.” Robert searched Aaron’s face, trying to decipher the mix of emotions that he was displaying.

 

Aaron smiled, his eyes shining with tears trapped behind his lashes, “Yeah, I’d like that very much.” He shook his head and reached a hand up to cup the left side of Robert’s face. They leaned across the box and kissed, Robert letting out a sigh of relief at hearing Aaron’s admission.

 

“There’s something else.” Robert said as they broke the kiss.

 

Aaron put the papers down to his left and lifted the second, larger stack of papers out of the bottom of the box. Regarding the marriage of Robert Jacob Sugden and Christine Louise White… legal dissolution of marriage contract… finalized…

 

Aaron gripped the papers tightly, tears now streaking his cheeks as he looked up to Robert who was worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. Aaron clutched the papers to his chest and blew a shaky breath out of his mouth. “Robert… it’s done…”

 

“It’s done.” Robert repeated and pushed the box out from between them. He moved as close to Aaron as possible, pulling the other man into him, the papers trapped between their chests. Aaron cried as Robert held him in the middle of the mess, his head lying against Robert’s shoulder with his forehead pressed to the side of Robert’s neck. “It’s done. I’m all yours, always yours.” Robert clung to him, rocking ever so slightly as they sat tangled together.

 

Robert held him until Aaron moved, pulling back and looking at the other man, “I love you.”

 

Robert couldn’t help but smile and leaned in to kiss Aaron, their mouths fitting together and moving without thinking. Robert held him tight as they continued to kiss, relishing in the feeling of Aaron’s mouth on his. The way they just knew one another without hesitation or reluctance. There was no doubt, only familiarity; the way Aaron knew when to push and when to give, knew where to move his hands, and knew how Robert loved to kiss until both were gasping for air.

 

“Hold that thought.” Robert jumped from the bed and went into the bottom drawer of his dresser, coming back to the bed with a small, black leather box. He rejoined Aaron in the middle, pushing the discarded box and wrapping over the edge. “Last one, promise.”

 

Aaron finally sat the papers down next to him, the pages crumpled from how tightly he had been holding onto them. “I thought you said there was only one present?”

 

“Well… this one was gonna wait til tomorrow, but…” Robert folded his legs under himself, straightening his back and looking intently at Aaron who was sat across from him, “I couldn’t think of a better moment than right now.”

 

“Robert… what’s that?” Aaron asked as Robert held the last gift out to him.

 

“Aaron, I’ve run outta words to describe how much I love you and how much you truly mean to me. I feel like I say it constantly, but never enough. I know we can never undo the past, but you’ve found a way to forgive me and above everything else, that means the most to me. I don’t know that I deserve to be loved by you, but I want to spend the rest of my life trying. So… “ Robert opened the box so it faced Aaron, “Aaron Dingle, will you marry me?”

 

Nestled inside the black box, surrounded by light grey velvet were two identical dark rings. “I… Robert…” Aaron’s mouth was hanging open, his eyes going from the box to Robert’s face and back again. “Yeah, of course.”

 

Robert picked up the ring for Aaron out of the box, his hands shaking as he took Aaron’s left hand in his and put the ring onto his finger. “I wasn’t sure your size, so we might need to get it fixed.” The ring was a bit big, but they could deal with that later.


Aaron took the box from him and took out the identical ring for Robert. “Robert Sugden, will you marry me?” Aaron held the ring at the tip of Robert’s finger as he asked, sliding it down to the last knuckle as Robert responded with a resounding yes.

Chapter Text

Thursday 5th - part 1

 

Aaron woke early the next morning with Robert’s full weight pressed to his back, their combined body heat almost too much under the thick layer of blankets tucked around them… almost. Aaron’s fingers went to his left hand to the metal ring that now rested there, twirling and spinning the dull grey band. It was odd, it felt natural and familiar, yet new and exciting all at the same time. Robert’s left hand was resting in front of him on the bed, his arm tucked under Aaron’s, the light from the window catching the identical band that he now also wore. Aaron laid his left hand over Robert’s, slotting their fingers together so both rings laid side-by-side and studied the way they matched so perfectly. He could feel an overwhelming emotion taking hold, bubbling in his chest and making his stomach do a little flip; a smile permanently stretched across his face, the skin around his mouth pulling tight, his cheeks flushing pink. He was so ridiculously happy.

 

Robert’s breathing became a bit heavier and his arms tightened around Aaron’s middle, pulling impossibly closer.

 

“Morning…” Robert whispered into Aaron’s left ear, nuzzling his nose into the top of Aaron’s bare shoulder.

 

“M-m-m… morning.” Aaron answered back, rubbing his left hand up and down Robert’s forearm.

 

Suddenly Robert was over him, Aaron on his back and the other man straddling his waist with both legs, his knees planted into the bed below them. Robert’s entire weight resting heavily on top of Aaron, peppering kisses over his face and neck, and his hands cradling Aaron’s face. Aaron never stopped smiling, his own hands resting easily on Robert’s lower back in the fine wispy hair just above the band of his boxers. Robert continued his frenzy of small kisses across the plains of Aaron’s face and now his upper body, tiny closed mouth pecks pressed into every inch of his skin. Aaron blushed under the physical attack on his senses, a ruddy flush creeping up his stomach and spreading over his chest, a heat seeping from every pore.

 

Robert pressed his groin into Aaron’s eliciting a groan from the man, causing him to push up into the sensation. They continued rutting against one another, allowing the friction of their clothes to push themselves closer to the edge. Robert pushed up from where he had been worrying Aaron’s left nipple and quickly pushed his boxers down to mid thigh, exposing himself over Aaron immediately. Robert quickly discarded both of their pants over the side of the bed before reaching a hand below Aaron’s bottom and stroking at his hole. Aaron pushed into the sensation, inviting Robert to enter him, needing to feel him. Robert worked in two fingers, twisting the digits and working them in and out of his partner quickly, eliciting the most delicious noises from Aaron. While keeping them deep in Aaron, he reached for the side table to retrieve a condom and lube, lying both items on Aaron’s belly, silently asking Aaron to prep him.

 

“We should… get tested… so we don’t have… to do this anymore…” Aaron struggled to suggest as Robert continued to work his hand in and out of him.

 

Robert slid into Aaron causing him to arch up off the bed and into Robert’s arms. Robert held him around the ribs, their chests tightly together, Aaron grinding his hips down onto Robert’s cock.

 

“That’d be brilliant…” Robert responded to Aaron’s previous suggestion, his breathing labored and choppy.

 

Aaron came between them followed quickly by Robert who was still buried deep inside him; both men sweaty and hot, their hair mussed from sleep and their bodies flushed pink.

 

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Sugden.” Robert panted into Aaron’s neck.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Dingle.” He was so ridiculously happy.

 

--

 

Robert had planned an entire day to celebrate Aaron’s birthday, but in the end they never left the flat.

 

“At least let me run to David’s for a few things.” Robert asked as he and Aaron laid in bed, Charlie playing between them amongst the blankets.

 

“Pretty sure we have everything here that we might need.” Aaron said as he held a plush toy above Charlie, wiggling it back and forth over the squirming child.

 

“I just need like ten, fifteen minutes. I’ll be right back.” Robert was up and getting dressed in a pair of tight jeans and white t-shirt.

 

“Really wish you’d dress like that all the time.” Aaron said as his eyes scanned Robert’s body from across the room.

 

“Why? Is it because I look like you?” Robert pulled a jump over his head making his hair stick out in all directions.

 

“No, those jeans make your ass look amazing!” Aaron said from his spot still sprawled on their bed.

 

Robert smirked, “Yeah?” he walked closer to the bed, purposefully swaying his hips just a bit to garner Aaron’s attention.

 

“Yeah…” Aaron was sitting now, his legs draped over the side of the bed, his boxers clinging to the tops of his thighs, his eyes raking over Robert’s form as it sauntered closer.

 

Robert leaned over and kissed him passionately, “Fifteen minutes, tops.” he said between kisses. He held Aaron’s face in his hands as he stood upright, just looking at the man below him. “Happy birthday.”

 

“Clocks ticking.” Aaron said with a lustful smirk.

 

Robert dashed out of the room and took the stairs two at a time, making his way out of the building, jogging across the gravel lot and across the street. He burst into David’s shop slightly out of breath without a clue what we was going to get.

 

“Morning.” David was behind the counter, going through a ledger when Robert entered.

 

“Morning.” Robert responded as he grabbed a basket and began filling it with all sorts of odds and ends: Jaffa cakes, fancy crisps, chocolate in any form, a few cans so they didn’t have to run to the pub, and a random assortment of other odds and ends.

 

He placed the basket with a heavy thud onto the counter, eliciting a noise of annoyance from David.

 

“Interesting collection of things…” David commented as he took each item out of the basket and rang them up.

 

“Aaron’s birthday, innit. Decided to spend the day in.” Robert explained, although he thought it unnecessary, as he fished his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans.

 

“Well, tell him happy birthday from me.” David finished ringing the items for Robert when the entrance bell rang behind him.

 

“Hiya.” David called over Robert’s shoulder, but Robert didn’t turn to acknowledge the new customer.

 

“I’m not signing those papers Robert.” It was Chrissie.

 

Robert turned slowly at the voice, really not interested in having this conversation here and now. “Not now Chrissie. Gotta get back to my fiance.” He turned back to David, whose mouth was hanging open at the admission. It felt nice though, Robert admitted to himself, finally being able to refer to Aaron as his fiance. Finally knowing that they were together and not caring what other people thought.

 

“You’re what?!” Chrissie scoffed.

 

“Um… 26 pound, 70.” David interjected.

 

Robert handed over his card and turned to Chrissie, “My fiance.”

 

Chrissie looked down to the ring on Robert’s left hand, “You don’t waste any time do you?”

 

“I wasted plenty of time on you. Not gonna waste another second.” He turned to pick up his bag off the counter, “Cheers.”

 

Robert made his way towards the door, trying to extract himself from the situation as quickly as possible, knowing that their news would be spread around the village in no time considering the way gossip spreads.

 

“I’m not gonna give you my daughter Robert. Not so you and Aaron can pretend to play house with her.” Chrissie walked toward the door where Robert had stopped at hearing her comment.

 

Robert could feel the anger bubbling to the surface, he could feel himself losing any ounce of patience he had left with his ex-wife. He took a deep breath, “I’m not pretending anymore Chrissie. The past year, that was me pretending, but this, now… this is who I really am. This is who I’ve always been, but I’ve always been too afraid to admit it. What you and I were, that wasn’t real.”

 

Chrissie stood silently, taking in Robert’s confession. “I will not have my daughter raised by two men.”

 

“You’re disgusting.” Was all that he could say. Who was this person? How had he ever been with someone like her? How had he not known she was that closed-minded?

 

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” She turned and crossed the shop away from him.

 

Robert stood by the door, his anger replaced with sadness. He had to get back, but he knew that Aaron would cotton on to the situation, he would see through any facade that Robert tried to put up to mask the conversation he’d just had. Their morning had been so great and now she’s gone and ruined it. He left the shop, confusion and sadness written across his face and his urgency to return to the flat gone. It should’ve only taken him a few minutes to get back, but he couldn’t will his legs to go any faster. All he wanted was to make Aaron happy, to be there with him and Charlie celebrating, but there was a voice in his head telling him he wasn’t enough. He used to hear it all the time, but since he and Aaron had gotten back together, it had all but disappeared. Now, after his confrontation with Chrissie, it was back again.

 

He sat at one of the tables out in front of the Woolpack, the downright cold January air nipping at his cheeks and making his hands numb. All he wanted was to go back inside and curl up in bed with Aaron, but he couldn’t make himself move.

 

“Robert? Whatcha doin’? It’s freezin’!” Vic called as she made her way towards the pub to start her shift.

 

He didn’t respond at first, still caught in the flood of thoughts racing around inside his head. “What?” he asked on a delay.

 

“Get in here! You’re gonna catch somethin’ sittin’ out there!” Vic held the door open, motioning for him to join her.

 

He slowly raised himself up off the bench and again willed his stubborn legs to carry him inside. The heat from the building made his breath catch, causing his head to go a bit dizzy as he finally crossed over and into the space.

 

“What’s gotten into you? Did you and Aaron fight?” Vic was hanging her coat on a hook in the back hallway.

 

“No… it’s his birthday.” He was confused by her assumption.

 

“Yeah, I know. What’s wrong then?” She was standing close to him talking in a quiet tone.

 

“Just ran into Chrissie down at David’s. She’s an awful person Vic. Just… awful. How did I never see that?” He clung to the bag from David’s.

 

“Love, she doesn’t matter. You have Charlie and Aaron now. That’s what’s important, yeah?” Vic placed a hand on Robert’s arm, reassuring him while she spoke.

 

“But she does matter. I just want us to be a family and she’s just being a bitch.” Robert’s anger was returning.

 

“Charlie is her daughter. And even though she doesn’t act like her mother, she is. It’ll be alright Rob. Just go and spend the day with Aaron. Don’t let her ruin it.” Vic was right, or course. She always knew what to say.

 

“How do you do that?”

 

“Do what?” she asked as she cocked her head to the side.

 

“Know exactly what to say?”

 

“Dunno… just seems like you have more important things to deal with today. She doesn’t matter right now.” she patted his arm and made her way past him in the tight hallway.

 

“Thanks Vic.”

 

“No problem! And Rob!” she called as she neared the end of the corridor, turning at the last second before she walked through to the kitchen, “Nice ring.” she held up her left hand and pointed to where her own ring sat.

 

Robert blushed, “Early birthday gift to Aaron.”

 

“Make sure you guys come down at some point. Maybe for tea later?”

 

“Yeah. And thanks again.”

 

She waved him off as she went through the door to the kitchen and out of sight. Robert took a deep breath and went through to the flat, determined to not let Chrissie ruin the rest of his day.

 

--

 

“I just don’t understand why you let her rile you up?” Robert had told Aaron about his encounter with Chrissie once he’d finally made his way back into their room.

 

“I just hate that I’ll have this connection to her for the rest of my life. I wish she’d just sign the papers and do one. Leave us alone.”

 

“Well… looks like she’s not gonna be as easily persuaded as you thought. But please, can we stop talking about her. I’ve been quite enjoying our morning.” Aaron crawled across the bed on all fours towards where Robert had been standing and pacing.

 

Robert watched as the muscles moved under the skin along Aaron’s back, this sharp shoulder blades moving in an animal like fashion as he made his way across the bed. Charlie was fast asleep in Aaron’s old room, leaving them to have a bit of alone time before they headed down for their promised tea with Vic. Robert couldn’t help but watch Aaron’s every move; the way his legs stretched out behind his ass and the way in which is pupils dilated with lust the closer he got to where Robert stood. Aaron’s hair was soft and his curls were just beginning to get long enough to fall nearly over his eyes, shielding them just slightly as he moved closer towards Robert.

 

He reached a hand up and twined his hands into the curls as Aaron got within reach, tugging at them so he could lean down and into Aaron’s mouth. Their tongues slid together, exploring one another’s mouths and lips, both moaning into the other at the long awaited union. Aaron remained on his hands and knees, Robert leaning over him and into the kiss. Aaron pulled away and pushed his face into Robert’s groin, nuzzling at the obvious bulge already forming in Robert’s pants. Robert placed a hand on the back of Aaron’s head, pushing the other man’s face ever so gently into his cock.

 

“Think I’m the one that’s supposed to be doing all the work today.” Robert managed to say as Aaron continued to massage him through his jeans.

 

Aaron responded by releasing the button and undoing the zipper, sliding the tight material to just past Robert’s ass. Robert’s boxer briefs did nothing to hide his raging hard-on; Aaron once again burrowing his face into the material there, mouthing over his cock which lay just underneath. Robert couldn’t help but buck into the sensation, loving the feeling of Aaron’s hot mouth lick damp strips across the fabric. Finally Aaron released him from the material and looked up from his position still on all fours.

 

“My birthday… my choice.” is all he said before licking a strip the entire length up Robert’s cock, from his balls to the leaking tip.

 

Robert groaned at the sudden sensation, his knees buckling slightly and a warmth beginning to build in his belly. Aaron wrapped his mouth around the head and swirled his tongue in tight circles, lapping up every ounce of liquid leaking from the slit. Aaron’s right hand cupped his balls, two of his fingers smoothing over the skin just between them and Robert’s hole, his mouth expertly working over the entire length now. Robert couldn’t help but thrust into his mouth - Aaron gagged and backed off slightly, before looking up to Robert, his mouth stretched around his cock.

 

“You sure?” Robert asked permission before smoothing a hand down the side of Aaron’s face. Aaron didn’t respond verbally, instead he pushed his mouth further down Robert’s length and tightened his grip on his balls. Robert took that as an indication to move.

 

He pushed forward slowly, tentatively at first, making sure Aaron was ok with the pace and force of his thrusts. Soon Aaron was egging him on, pulling on the back of his thigh, setting a quick pace, much quicker than Robert would’ve imagined, but Aaron took it. His eyes were watering and his mouth was red, spit collecting at the corners of his lips and falling down his chin, but he stayed put, accepting every inch of Robert’s cock in his mouth. Robert’s hands were tangled in his unruly hair, pulling at the curls, eliciting moans from him as he tightened his grip to pull his head back just slightly.

 

Before he could warn Aaron off, he was coming in his mouth, but still Aaron stayed, his mouth wrapped around the tip as Robert shot into his throat. It was one of the best orgasms Robert had ever had, with wave after wave pulsating through him and making his hips jerk each time. Aaron swallowed with Robert’s cock still in his mouth and looked up to him from under his lashes, his hair sweaty and the curls more defined with the added dampness.

 

“You ok?” Robert asked as Aaron finally sat up onto his knees, his mouth obscene and his eyes nearly black. Robert moved towards him on the bed, wanting to comfort him and make sure it wasn’t too much.

 

“Yeah…” Aaron’s voice was hoarse and ragged as he spoke, “better than ok.” he smiled at Robert who was also kneeling on the bed now.

 

Robert wrapped his arms around Aaron’s middle, pulling their bodies close, their knees touching amongst the rumpled bedding. Aaron turned his head to the side and rested his right cheek to Robert’s left shoulder, his arms loose around the man’s upper body. Their breathing was quiet, their heartbeats back to normal as they stayed locked together on the bed. Neither said anything, they just stayed holding on and supporting the other’s weight.

 

--

 

“Happy birthday mate!” Adam set a pint down rather heavily in front of Aaron, causing the liquid to slosh over the sides and onto the table.

 

“Thanks.” Aaron said; he wasn’t too keen on a fuss being made over the whole thing, but Robert had promised they’d join Vic and Adam for tea in the pub, so here they sat.

 

“Care to explain?” Adam gestured to his own ring finger. “I mean, seems a bit sudden. But I get it… just…” Adam was already on his third pint and he didn’t seem keen on dropping the subject, “seems a bit…”

 

“Sudden? Yeah, you said that already.” Aaron took a drink from the glass.

 

“Oi! Don’t appreciate the attitude mate!” Adam genuinely looked upset.

 

“Sorry… it’s just been a long couple days.” Aaron admitted, holding the glass.

 

“But… it's what you want, yeah? You two are ok?”

 

“Oh yeah, it's not Robert… for once.” Aaron smirked from behind his pint.

 

“So, what's the issue then?” Adam inquired.

 

“Chrissie. That's what.” Robert said as he took the seat next to Aaron in the booth.

 

“Thought you were done with her?” Adam looked between the two men opposite him.

 

“Seems like she's not done with us though.” Aaron mumbled under his breath.

 

Adam raised an eyebrow at the comment.

 

“She's been sayin’ some nasty shite about Aaron adopting Charlie. Don’t know why she even cares, not like she’s been in Charlie’s life for the past four months. I swear… she thinks she still has some kind of power over me, like she gets off on hurting me.” Robert placed his hand on Aaron's thigh and squeezed, “but I'll have a word. Won’t let her get away with this.”

 

“Just leave it Robert.” Aaron had long since tired of the topic and just wanted to have a quiet meal with his friends to celebrate.

 

“Aaron, we have to fight this. Fight her!” Robert had shifted onto his left hip so he could properly look at Aaron's face.

 

“I've asked you to drop it Rob. Please, can we just talked about something else?” Aaron looked over Robert’s face, the freckles across his cheeks and the tiny lines just beginning to form at the corners of each eye.

 

“I don't understand why you're not more upset over this?” Their faces were close, but they weren't trying to be discreet about the conversation.

 

“You of all people should understand what it means to grow up without a mum. Whether or not you think she's a good person, that does not take away the fact that she's still Charlie's mum! I'd give anything, anything to see my mum again and taking Charlie's away from her is cruel Robert!” At some point Aaron had stood up from the table and was slowly backing away from the other two men.

 

“Aaron, please… I didn't mean to upset you. Please, sit back down.” Robert pleaded with Aaron who was even further from the table now.

 

“Thanks for the pint mate, but I think I'm gonna head out.” Aaron directed his comment towards Adam, completely ignoring Robert. Adam nodded in response.

 

“Aaron…” Robert too had gotten up and was reaching out to the other man who was now nearly at the front door to the Woolpack.

 

Aaron looked down to Robert's outstretched hand, the ring that matched his own in such a stark contrast to Robert's pale skin. He paused, thinking for a moment that maybe he'd overreacted; Robert was just trying to do what he thought was best for them. He hesitated, still thinking about his mum and Chrissie, about Robert and Charlie, about how long he had waited for the day when Robert would come back and ask him to be his family.


“Rob…” he started, his voice catching in his throat as he tried to reign in his overwhelming emotions, “just let me go.”

Chapter Text

He knew they needed to have a conversation and as much as he was dreading it, it had to happen. Aaron stood outside of Home Farm willing his hand to knock on the wood and glass door which led into the office; he wasn’t even sure what he was going to say or if she’d even let him in the door, but he had to try. He inhaled deeply, his pulse pounding in his ears, he closed his eyes and scuffed his right boot against the gravel path.

 

“Now or never,” he muttered before tentatively raising his left hand and rasping his knuckles against the door.

 

“It’s open!” Aaron heard Chrissie call from inside. He took another deep breath, opened his eyes, and pushed the door open.

 

Chrissie was sitting behind one of the three desks in the space, she wasn’t looking at him, instead concentrating on something lying flat in front of her on the work surface.

 

“Can I help you…” she asked as she looked up to see Aaron just inside the door. Her eyes went wide at the realization that Aaron was standing there silently.

 

“I think we need to talk Chrissie.” Aaron finally said and walked further into the office.

 

“I think this is a conversation I should be having with Robert.” She turned over the paper she had been looking at and moved in her chair to face Aaron properly.

 

“Ya know… when you came and told us about the baby, I was so happy. We both were.” He moved across the office to one of the chairs that sat in the middle of the room. “I knew that Robert would be a great dad and he was so excited at the news. We hadn’t really talked about having a family, but I knew that he wanted that. I knew that he wanted children and we tried so hard to make it work.” He rubbed at his forehead before continuing.

 

“I was ready to start a family with him, even though we hadn’t been together that long… well, properly at least. He was all I ever wanted, right from the start. So when he told me he was leaving, I didn’t understand. We were in a good place… we were making plans. I didn’t understand.” He spun the ring on his left hand, feeling the smooth metal against his skin. “But I let him go cause I knew that I could never make him choose between me and his child. It was the hardest decision I ever made.” Aaron looked up to Chrissie who was staring at him with a sympathetic expression.

 

“I never asked him to choose.”

 

“I know, I know.” Aaron shook his head in agreement, “I knew it was always his decision. But it still  hurt… so much. To know that I wasn’t enough, that I couldn’t give him what you could, that in the end he’d gone back after we fought so hard to be together.” He again rubbed at his forehead, feeling the emotion prickle at the back of his eyes.

 

“It wasn’t the same though, after he came back. After everything between you two came out, finding out I was pregnant was…” Chrissie hesitated, choosing her words very carefully, “devastating.”

 

“Why take him back then?”

 

“He and I talked a lot, about the fact that he wanted this baby. Maybe more than I did, if I’m being honest. I didn’t know how to have a child with a man like Robert.”

 

“What do you mean? A man like Robert?”

 

“He left me and not just for another woman, but for a man… for you. I hated you. I hated that you had changed him.” Chrissie admitted.

 

“I didn’t change him Chrissie, you have to know that. Did he ever talk to you about his dad? About what happened between them?” Aaron asked, adjusting his weight so he sat closer to the edge of the armchair.

 

“Only recently, after he came back. We had a fight about you and he told me about the other men he’d been with. It didn’t change the fact that I didn’t like you, that I blamed you. After he met you, he changed… you did change him.” he crossed her legs at the knee and placed her clasped hands in her lap.

 

“He could’ve been in his child’s life without being in yours.”

 

Chrissie shrugged her shoulders, “I didn’t want to raise another child alone. But,” she smoothed down the fabric of her skirt over her thighs, “in the end, I couldn’t stand to have him here. And seeing him with Charlie…” she shook her head and looked away from Aaron, seemingly ashamed of what her answer was going to be.

 

“I can’t imagine what that must feel like, having to see them every day and knowing that he wasn’t there because of you. Seeing the love he had for his child and realizing he didn’t have feelings for you.” Aaron wanted to go over to her, to comfort her, but he stayed in the chair he’d been sitting in.

 

She shook off the emotion and turned back towards him, “But that doesn’t mean she isn’t my child Aaron. I know I haven’t been there, but I want to be. I’d like to be better for her. ”

 

“She’ll always be your daughter Chrissie, always. I don’t want to take that away from either of you. No one can replace you, you’re her mother.” He sat a moment, thinking about his own mum, about how he’d give anything to see her one more time.

 

“All of us… me, you, Robert… we’re all part of the same club. We’ve all lost our mums and the last thing I’d ever want is for Charlie to go through that too. If I can’t properly adopt her, she’ll still be my daughter, no matter what. I’ve loved her as long as you have.” This time he didn’t stop the tears.

 

“I’m sorry you’ve been drug through all this. I didn’t know you wanted her. I didn’t know…” Chrissie got up from her place behind her desk and joined him in the chair opposite where he sat.

 

“I’ve always wanted her. Have you seen that little face?” Aaron smiled at the thought of those giant hazel eyes.

 

Chrissie responded in kind, “She looks so much like Robert, doesn’t she?”

 

Aaron couldn’t stop his grin, “I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen a child look more like their parents than her. She’s so lovely Chrissie.”

 

They sat in a comfortable silence, both thinking about the little girl they both loved so desperately.

 

“So, you’ll talk to Robert about this whole adoption thing?”

 

He nodded, “Under one condition.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“That you make more of an effort with Charlie. If you want to be in her life, then you need to be around, take her for weekends, come around for holidays.”

 

“I’ll… try. I can’t promise anything Aaron. It’s not that I don’t want her… it’s that I don’t know how to do this with him.”

 

“Just try. She deserves that much.” he wiped his cheeks with the cuff of his hoodie.

 

“She does.” Chrissie agreed.

 

--

 

Robert was sitting at the kitchen table, Charlie long in bed and Aaron still not back. He had respected Aaron’s wishes and he’d let him go, he hadn’t called him or texted him all evening. This was not the way he had wanted to spend Aaron’s birthday. He nursed the bottle in front of him, not really drinking it, instead just picking at the label and leaving flecks of metallic paper across the table. He rested his forehead against his folded hands and closed his eyes.

 

“Robert…” Aaron’s hand rubbed along his shoulder blades and he spoke quietly, trying to wake him.

 

Robert lifted his head and blinked slowly; he didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep. “You’re back?”

 

“Ya think I’d done a runner?” Aaron smiled and sat down next to him.

 

“Wasn’t sure what to think honestly.” Robert wiped at his eyes.

 

Aaron sighed heavily, “I went to see Chrissie.” he said matter-of-factly.

 

“What? Why?” Robert was awake now.

 

“Because Robert we can’t keep doing this. You versus Chrissie. Charlie caught in the the middle.”

 

“I told you I’d sort it out.”

 

“Yeah,” Aaron nodded, “but I needed to talk to her, to explain. I needed her to know that we weren’t trying to take Charlie from her.”

 

“Aren’t we? She doesn’t want to be a mum…”

 

Aaron interrupted him, “She does though Robert, she wants Charlie. We need to give her a chance.”

 

“Give her a chance? She’s had a chance and where’s she been?” Robert’s voice was starting to get louder.

 

“Listen, I don’t want to fight about this. We all want the same thing, for Charlie to be happy and loved. We can do that together without being at eachother’s throats.”

 

“Since when are you on her side in all of this?” he stood from the table, put his hands on his hips and turned his back on Aaron. “She’s done nothing but make our lives miserable and now you want me to just hand my daughter over to her. Fuck that Aaron. And fuck her.”

 

“Robert…” Aaron stood and went over to Robert, he wrapped his arms around the other man’s middle and pressed his chest against Robert’s back, “please, just try to understand. Just give her a chance and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll pursue the adoption. I promised her we’d give her a chance.”

 

Robert relaxed back into Aaron’s weight, “You didn’t hear the things she said about us, about how she didn’t want her daughter being raised by two men. I don’t know what she said, but you don’t know her like I do. She’ll say anything to get her way.”

 

“We need to work together for Charlie’s sake. Please, just trust me… even if you don’t trust her.” Aaron rested his right cheek on Robert’s shoulder and kissed the side of his neck, just below his right ear.

 

“That’s unfair… you aren’t allowed to kiss me like that in the middle of a fight…” Robert reached his right arm up and wound his fingers into the hair at the back of Aaron’s head.

 

“Who said this was a fight?” Aaron mouthed at the spot on Robert’s neck. “And it’s still my birthday, technically.”

 

Robert tipped his head back and tightened his grip on Aaron’s hair as Aaron’s hands lowered towards the waistband of his jeans.

 

“Can we… as much as I love this…” he couldn’t believe he was actually saying this, “but can we just…”

 

Aaron stopped his hands just as they were working at the front of Robert’s jeans and relaxed his head back onto Robert’s shoulder, “Of course.” Robert turned in Aaron’s arms so they faced one another now.

 

“I’m sorry your birthday was so awful.” Robert snuggled into Aaron’s neck, rubbing his left cheek against the scruff along Aaron’s jawline.

 

“It wasn’t that bad… I’ve had worse.” Aaron rubbed up and down Robert’s back.

 

“And I’m sorry I forgot about your mum. I should’ve thought, I should’ve remembered.”

 

“Yeah, I wish you’d done so too.” Aaron admitted.

 

“I’m so sorry I forgot.” Robert didn’t know what else he could say.

 

“I know you are. It’ll be alright.” Aaron continued to comfort Robert, who squeezed around his ribs.

 

They stood quietly just holding one another, bodies pressed together in the dark silence of the room. There was still a lot they needed to discuss and much to decide, but at this moment Robert was just happy to stand silently with Aaron in their home. He had to trust Aaron and know that this is what was best for Charlie.

 

“I do trust you, you know that right? I just wanted us to be a family; me, you, and Charlie. We’re enough.” Robert spoke after a few minutes of quiet.

 

“We are a family Robert, with or without Chrissie. You’re my husband and Charlie’s my daughter and one day we’ll have kids of our own; tea at five, big old smelly dog, embarrassing family holidays, the lot.” Aaron pushed Robert’s shoulders back so the other man was standing.

 

Robert searched his face, took in his slightly downturned mouth and tired eyes, “I love you.” Robert said quietly just because he felt like he didn’t say it enough.

 

“Yeah, love you too.” Aaron responded immediately.

 

“You’re too good for me.” Robert dropped his chin to his chest and lowered his arms to his sides like dead weight. It was so true and he thought about it constantly. There was no reason for Aaron to take him back after what he’d done and absolutely nothing Aaron said had made him believe he was worthy of the acceptance.

 

“Can’t get rid of me that easily.” Aaron said with a smile, his hands holding onto Robert’s waist. “If it makes ya feel any better I agree, I am too good for ya. But I think we both know how this is gonna end?” Aaron stooped down to make eye contact with Robert, forcing the other man to lift his head and focus on his face. “You’re stuck with me Mr. Dingle.”

 

“Don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that, Mr. Sugden.”

Chapter Text

April 2017

 

--

 

Saturday 8th

 

They had been sat at their table for eight minutes, Aaron had checked. The waiter had just taken their drink order and he was looking over the menu, all the while watching Robert over the edge of the crisp pages of the menu in a burgundy folder. Robert was looking at his phone, the same position he'd been in the entire drive to Blackpool. He'd even insisted that Aaron drive, just in case Chrissie called or texted or sent a carrier pigeon or smoke signal. Aaron rolled his eyes, but took the keys and got behind the wheel. The two hour drive had been quiet with just the radio to keep him company and Robert’s occasional mumbled curse when he lost cell signal.

 

“Have you decided?” the waiter was cute, young and blond with bright eyes and a kind smile.

 

“I think so, yeah. Robert? Have you decided?” Aaron placed his menu down on the table and tried to get the other man's attention.

 

“Hmm?” Robert barely looked at him.

 

“Can you give us just a moment?” Aaron looked up to the young man stood beside him.

 

“Take your time.” He said politely before turning away from their table.

 

“Robert.” Aaron tried, with no response. “Robert!” He said again through gritted teeth.

 

“What?” Robert snapped, this time looking at Aaron.

 

Aaron shook his head, “Do you want to go back?”

 

“What?”

 

“Seems like you'd rather not be here.” Aaron frowned and looked down at the menu in front of him.

 

Robert sighed and rubbed his left hand along the edge of the table over the white tablecloth, “It’s just my first time away from her, ya know?”

 

“She’s with Chrissie tho, not some stranger…”

 

Robert interrupted him, “It doesn’t matter. I’m not there. What if something happens and I’m not there?”

 

“Why would something happen?” Aaron sat back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap.

 

Robert looked down at his phone, the black screen in stark contrast with the bright white fabric, “because I’m not there Aaron.”

 

“They’ll be fine. Can you at least pick up your menu and find something to eat? We can’t sit here all night.”

 

“Not very hungry. Why don’t we just go back to the hotel? Pick something up on the way?”

 

Aaron stared at Robert across the table, his pupils dilated in the dim lighting and his hands itching to pick up his mobile to check it for any missed calls or messages. Aaron sighed, “I didn’t drive two hours to the coast to sit in a hotel room just in case your phone rings. Which it won’t, by the way.”

 

Robert opened his mouth and then closed it again, not sure what to say. They sat silently staring at one another over the table, neither one wanting to give in. It was Aaron that spoke and broke the tense silence between them.

 

“Let’s just go back.” He pushed away from the table and put his napkin over the discarded menu. “I’ll go to the bar and pay for our drinks.”

 

“Aaron… just wait. Please sit down.” Robert pleaded with the other man who was now standing next to his chair.

 

“I’ll be right back.” Aaron ignored Robert’s attempt to have him rejoin him at the table, instead turning and making his way across the crowded space. The large, dark bar stood at the back of the room with customers sat on bar stools and a few servers milling about at one end. Aaron spotted their waiter from earlier and gave him a small smile.

 

“Were you ready to order? I can follow you back to the table, just seemed like you were busy. I didn’t want to interrupt.”

 

“No, no it’s fine. Thank you for your patience, but I think we’re gonna call it a night. How much for the drinks?” Aaron took his wallet out of the back pocket of his trousers and opened it to fish out some cash.

 

The young man placed his hand over Aaron’s which was thumbing through a stack of bills inside the leather bill fold, “Don’t worry about it.”

 

Aaron looked down at the small hand, an unfamiliar size and weight from what he was used to, “I insist.”

 

The young man caught his eye and blinked slowly, “It’s really not a big deal. Just a shame you’re leaving so soon.”

 

Aaron swallowed hard, but didn’t move his hand out from under the gentle weight of the younger man’s. He looked back to the table where he had left Robert sitting, not at all surprised to see him illuminated by the blue light from his phone.

 

“Yeah well, me too.” Aaron turned back and smiled, taking a twenty pound note from his wallet and holding it out towards the other man.

 

He shook his head, pushing the bill back towards Aaron’s chest, “It’s ok, you don’t have to.”

 

“Please, just take it.”

 

The other man allowed his hand to linger on Aaron’s chest, Aaron’s hand and the bill trapped between them, “If you’re still around tomorrow, I’ve got the lunch shift.” He took the bill from Aaron and tucked it into the front pocket of the perfect black trousers he was wearing.

 

Aaron looked to the other man who at some point had moved very close to him. He glanced back towards where Robert sat, completely oblivious to what was happening on the other side of the restaurant. Aaron looked back at the man, his eyes daring Aaron to make a move on him, their arms hanging limp at their sides, but their torsos swaying almost too close.

 

“Trevor! Table 32 please!” a call rang out from behind the bar.

 

“Tomorrow, lunch.” And with that he was gone from Aaron’s space, swiftly moving between tables and customers, delivering a tray of drinks to a noisy table of middle-aged woman sat near the windows.

 

Aaron watched him, the way he moved with confidence and arrogance, the way he demanded attention from the other servers and even the people he was waiting on. He could imagine taking him into a bathroom stall somewhere and fucking him up against the metal divider; the rush of being found out and the thrill of it all. Aaron stood silently, tucking his wallet back in his pocket before returning to the table.

 

“Let’s go.” He didn’t wait on Robert, instead he made his way to the front door and out into the cool night air that smelled of salt and seaweed. He walked to the car which was just a block away and never once turned to check to see if Robert had followed.

 

--

 

Robert sat quietly in the passenger seat, his long limbs folded tightly in place, staring out the windscreen. Aaron hadn't said a word after leaving the restaurant and had barely waited for him to get in the car before driving away. Now Robert wasn't sure what to say to make it better; he had put his phone away at least, realizing that having it out would probably elicit an unfavorable comment from Aaron.

 

The car was winding past small seaside homes and under old, dim streetlights along a narrow coastal road. Aaron had surprised him with a trip away, just them, and had booked everything without his input. Robert's natural desire to be in constant control of his surroundings were not dealing well with so much unknown, but Aaron had convinced him that it would all be fine. Robert wasn't keen on the idea, but he had to trust Aaron, in all things.

 

The car slowed and made a left turn towards the coast and down a small gravel lane. At the end of the road sat a perfect, tiny cottage overlooking a glassine lake reflecting every star in the inky sky. Aaron pulled the car up to the stone building, parking just next to an old wooden fence and turned off the engine. The space fell silent and dark, neither man moved.

 

“I'm tired. We'll head back in the morning.” Aaron stated before opening his door, flooding the interior in a horrible harsh light.

 

“Aaron, I'm sorry.” Robert tried to reach over the center console to where Aaron sat, but he wasn't quick enough. Aaron had already climbed out of the car and was closing his door on Robert’s admission.

 

Robert was once again enveloped in darkness as he sat and listened to Aaron get their luggage from the boot. He watched Aaron walk past the car and towards the dark building; a single outside light illuminating the front door where a note had been tacked with a greeting and instructions for how to access the property. He sat and watched the other man take out his phone, retrieve a message and enter a code into a lock-box on the door. Aaron pushed the door open, picked up their bags, and disappeared inside, closing the door behind him.

 

Robert didn't know what to do; maybe spend the night in the car? Backseat might be big enough, or lay back the front seat? It didn't seem appropriate to join Aaron in the cottage, but he wasn't expecting Robert to sleep outside, was he? He sat for a few more minutes contemplating his options before finally opening the door and stepping into the cold night’s air. He took a big breath in through his nose and exhaled it slowly through his mouth. You can do this.

 

He made his way towards the cottage, a light now on inside where Aaron had explored. He noticed a small dock at the edge of the lake with a rowboat tied in place and an old stone wall ringing the property. Fuck. Aaron had outdone himself, he had probably spent months planning this, finding the perfect place for them to spend proper time away and agonizing over whether his choice was perfect. Robert had thoroughly fucked up.

 

He hesitantly turned the knob on the door and pushed it into the unfamiliar space. The home smelled like a wood fire mixed with a distinct floral that Robert couldn't place. It was warm and cozy with oversized furnishing and traditional paintings of men on horses on the walls. The floors were wide-planked original wood boards that creaked with every step he took and worn from years of travelers coming and going. He could hear Aaron on the second floor in what he assumed was a bedroom, but he stayed in the front room and gave him some space.

 

He sat down on one of the sofas and took out his phone; no notifications, no messages, no missed calls. The distinct noise of Aaron moving around above him had stopped and Robert thought about just curling up where he sat, but decided to venture upstairs instead. There were two small rooms both with equally small beds, but at the end of the corridor was a large master. It was dark inside, but he could make out the shape of Aaron lying on his side in the large bed. His eyes had adjusted to the dim light and he could see that Aaron was facing away from him, towards the windows that overlooked the lake below.

 

He stood at the end of the bed and undressed, leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor, discarding everything except his pants. The bed was plush with a heavy down duvet and the softest sheets Robert had ever felt, pillows stacked up against the headboard which he discarded onto the floor. Aaron was there within arms reach, but he didn't dare reach out for him, not knowing how he'd react to Robert’s touch. He took another deep breath, turned on his side and scooted towards Aaron who was breathing evenly, but not quite asleep.

 

Robert didn't dare wrap an arm around Aaron's middle, but he was close enough that he could smell a musky scent lingering on Aaron's skin from a day of traveling - he could make out the few freckles dotting Aaron's shoulders and the scar on his back that he got as a child climbing over an old fence. Robert rested his forehead against the back of Aaron's neck, his lips just hovering over the skin between his lover's shoulder blades.

 

“I'm sorry…” Robert whispered into Aaron's skin.

 

“It's been a long day.” It was a statement, meant to put an end to the conversation.

 

“Aaron please…” Robert shifted his hips a bit closer to Aaron's bum, wanting as much contact between them as possible, but still hesitant to do too much.

 

Aaron abruptly got up from the bed, leaving Robert’s front cold and exposed to the chilly room. “Just leave it Robert.” The room was impossibly dark with no light from the outside.

 

“Aaron, come back to bed. I'm sorry, ok? I don't know what else to say…” Robert was propped up on his right elbow, the heavy duvet pulled back exposing his nearly naked form.

 

Aaron shook his head, “Not happening mate.”

 

Robert hated when Aaron called him mate, he hated how cold and impersonal it was. Of course they were mates, but they were so much more and Robert knew that Aaron would use it just to get under his skin.

 

“Please Aaron, I'm begging here.” Robert was kneeling in the middle of the bed, the white linens pooled around his legs with his palms pressed together in front of his chest.

 

Aaron smirked and turned away, desperately trying to hold onto the annoyance and anger he was feeling. He could hear Robert shift closer towards him.

 

“I'm sorry…” Robert began again before Aaron cut him off.

 

“Stop bloody apologizing!” Aaron yelled at him, whipping around to once again face the other man. “You don't even know what you're apologizing for any more!”

 

Robert was perched on the edge of the bed closest to Aaron, his hands still in a mock prayer gesture and his legs thoroughly tangled in the bedding.

 

“I'm sorry for being a complete twat, for ignoring you and for ruining our holiday, that you obviously put a lot of effort into. I'm sorry if I made you feel like I didn't want to be here. I'm sorry that I didn't listen to you at the restaurant.”

 

Aaron's jaw was still clenched, his arms still folded tightly across his chest, he shook his head once more and walked out of the room. Robert stayed on the large bed surrounded by too much bedding; he didn't know if he should go after him or leave it for tonight. Sometimes it's best to just let Aaron be, to let him have some time to figure things out in his head and eventually he'll make his way back. Robert decided to leave it, to let him go and they'd talk again once Aaron had had a chance to calm down.

 

He knows he'd been an ass all day, more worried about Charlie and Chrissie than Aaron, more interested in what could possibly be going on at home than anything Aaron had planned for them while away. But could anyone really blame him? His daughter was nearly a year old now and this was the first time he'd ever spent any significant time away from her. He was allowed to be a bit nervous. He didn't see why it was such a big deal.

 

He settled back into the center of the bed, not having heard where Aaron had made his way to after leaving the room and tried to close his eyes. After a few moments he realized that it was a useless endeavor and reached for his phone. He pressed his thumb into the center button and immediately saw a notification from Chrissie pop up from his messages icon.

 

“Fuck! Fuck!” He fumbled with his phone, dropping it onto his chest and then panicking when he couldn't immediately find it among the blankets and sheets.

 

He tore at the sheets, finding the thing by it's illuminated screen and quickly retrieved the message. His heart was racing and in the split second it took for the message to load, Robert was sure that his worst fears were quickly going to be confirmed.


It took his brain a second longer than his eyes to catch up with what he was seeing on the screen; a photo of Charlie asleep on her back with the caption Night daddy! Miss you! underneath. He immediately began to cry; not only was his little girl fine, but the stress of the day finally burst, like a water balloon being pricked with a needle. He clutched his phone to his chest, allowing himself to feel everything.

Chapter Text

Sunday 9th

 

The next morning Robert woke alone in the strange bed, his phone lying on his chest and his arms outstretched beside him. A pale morning light shone in through the gauze curtains and bathed everything in a soft yellow. He had slept well, despite the events of the previous day, but now it was time to find Aaron and have the conversation he’d been fearing since the other man stormed out of the room the previous night. He sat up and once again opened his phone to find the photo of Charlie still filling the small screen. He smiled and turned it off before getting out of bed and dressing in a pair of cotton joggers and t-shirt.

 

He found Aaron outside with a mug standing near the old stone fence, staring out across the lake, steam rising from the porcelain and wafting around before disappearing into the air. Aaron was wrapped in a heavy oversized green jumper, worn pajama bottoms hanging low on his narrow waist with his back to Robert and the cottage.

 

“Morning.” Robert said as he walked up beside Aaron.

 

“There’s tea in the kitchen. We’ll head out in just a bit.” Aaron stated without turning towards him.

 

“We don’t have to, go ya know. We could stay. We should stay.” Robert turned to face Aaron’s left side, watching him in profile.

 

Aaron shook his head and looked down into his tea, “We’ll be back before lunch.” Aaron turned away from Robert, but he was able to catch his left arm before he was completely out of reach.

 

“I’m not going to apologize again, but can we please just stay? Talk. Figure this out.”

 

“I think it’s best if we get back.” Aaron was still mostly turned away from Robert, who had moved closer to his back, Robert’s right hand reaching around to Aaron’s right hip.

 

“I’d really like to stay.” Robert spoke softly into Aaron’s left ear and he could see the breath catch in Aaron’s chest, see the way he was having an effect on the younger man. This was the closest they’d been in over a day; Robert could feel the warmth of Aaron on his chest, could smell the tea from his mug, and he wanted to stay wrapped around him like this forever. “Can we please stay?”

 

Aaron swayed slightly back and into Robert’s hold before quickly stepping away, “I’m not doin’ this anymore.” He spoke quietly and towards the ground, “I know this makes me sound like a horrible person, but I’m not gonna be an afterthought anymore.”

 

“Aaron, you’ve never been an afterthought. I’m sorry for yesterday, but I’m allowed to be worried about my daughter. It’s the first time I’ve been away from her since the day she was born, you have to understand that.”

 

Aaron nodded, “I do. I understand.” He turned towards Robert now, he looked tired. “But I won’t spend the rest of my life coming in second. You know last night our waiter?” Aaron started, but honestly Robert had no idea what the person even looked like or where they had even stopped for dinner. His confusion must have been written across his face, “Huh, of course you don’t. He wanted me, right there and then, even invited me to come back for lunch today to see him. And you know what? I actually thought about it. Thought about what it would be like to be with him; being with someone who actually wanted me. Meetin’ in the gents for a quick one, comin’ back to pick you up and take you home. You never knowin’.”

 

Robert knew that Aaron would never act on such a fantasy, but just the thought that Aaron had had it was enough to shock Robert. They stood just staring at one another and Robert could feel frustration bubbling up in his stomach.

 

“Are you wanting a fight Aaron?”

 

“I’d take anything at this point!” Aaron took a step backwards, leaving a cold space between them.

 

“Listen, my daughter is my priority. You know this. You know that she will always comes first. If you want to go off for a quick shag with someone else, then by all means! Don’t let your family stand in your way.” Robert folded his arms across his chest, putting up a physical barrier between him and Aaron.

 

“Since when is it my family? You said it yourself Robert, your daughter is your priority ! Your daughter! Not ours! Yours! She’ll never be my daughter and you’ll never be my family! You have no interest in making us a family!” They were both shouting now, but luckily the closest neighbor was miles away.

 

“I gave you a bloody ring Aaron! We live together! What more do you want!”

 

“For you to consider me first, just once.” He looked so tired, Robert assumed by the lines in his forehead and the darkness under his eyes that he hadn’t slept much last night.

 

“I’m sorry, but… Charlie will always come first.” He had stopped screaming, they both had and the space between them had grown a bit larger.

 

“Well I’m sorry too, cuz that ain’t good enough. I won’t live my life like that Robert.” He looked from Aaron’s face down to his left hand that was around the now cold mug he was holding and realized that Aaron had taken off his ring.

 

“Where’s your ring?” He looked back up as he stepped closer.

 

“Inside.” Aaron said, returning Robert’s gaze.

 

“Why’ve you taken it off then?”

 

“I told ya, I’m not doin’ this anymore.” Aaron said as Robert closed the distance between them by another step. Aaron’s instinct was to take another one backwards.

 

“You’re being ridiculous! Not doin’ what then? This? Us?” Robert gestured between them and took another step towards Aaron.

 

“Yeah…” Aaron stood his ground this time, not retreating.

 

“That’s bullshit mate and you know it! You know what? Fine. You win!” Robert took his ring off, turned and threw it towards the lake. He turned back to see Aaron’s expression of sheer panic.

 

“Whatya go and do that for?!” Aaron yelled as he pushed Robert to the side and started running down the lawn towards the lake.

 

“Oh! So now you care!” Robert yelled and started running after him.

 

“Don’t be daft! Help me!”

 

“Why? Thought you were done? Having second thoughts?” Robert yelled as Aaron got to the edge of the lake. He dropped the mug in the grass before wading into the cold water.

 

“What’ve ya done?” Aaron turned around to see Robert skidding down the damp grass just stopping before the water line.

 

Robert watched as Aaron desperately searched for the ring, panic driving him to search frantically for the piece of jewelry in the frigid water. He would plunge his arms into the clear water, moving away debris from the bottom of the lake, desperately trying to find it. The arms of his green jumper now black with water, his lips turning blue and his teeth chattering.

 

“Get outta the lake Aaron! Leave it!” Robert said from the shore.

 

“No! We haveta find it! Help me find it Robert!” Aaron was panicking, pacing in the knee deep water, getting colder by the minute.

 

“You’re freezing Aaron! Get outta the water! It’s just a ring!”

 

Aaron turned, anger and fear etched into his features, “Just a ring!”

 

“You had no problem takin’ yours off! Obviously doesn’t mean that much to ya!”

 

Aaron collapsed to his knees, the water now mid-thigh, his hands cradling his forehead and tears cascading down his cheeks. “I’m fuckin’ done!” He screamed, louder than anything Robert had ever heard come from him or anyone else for that matter. It was so loud and so forceful that it caused him to instinctively take a step back and away from the noise.

 

“Fuck you! For everything you’ve put me through! For always making me feel so small and so insignificant! For making everything on your fucking terms!” Aaron was angry, his face red now and the large vein traveling down the side of his neck throbbing with blood and adrenaline. He quickly got to his feet and ran out of the water towards Robert.

 

Robert continued to slowly back away from him, not knowing if he should turn and run or stand his ground. It had been years since they had physically fought one another, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to end that streak today.

 

He put his hands up in surrender, “What’re you doin’?! Aaron! Stop!”

 

--

 

His field of vision had narrowed to barely a slit occupied entirely by Robert standing a few yards away. His ears were ringing, pulse racing, and all he wanted to do was hit him; to take all of his anger and frustration out with his fists. It’d been a proper while since he’d gotten in a real fight, but today felt like a good day to start over. He reached Robert just as he was pleading for him to stop, but Aaron tackled him anyway.

 

The grass was still slightly damp from the morning and his knees sunk slightly into the wet earth where they straddled Robert’s hips. The other man was flat on his back, his whole body going down easily under Aaron’s weight. He covered his face with his hands as Aaron loomed over him, feeling the weight of him pressing down into his groin.

 

“Aaron please…” but Aaron didn’t listen. He brought his right arm back and struck Robert just below his ribs on the left side with his full weight behind his fists. Aaron watched as Robert reeled from the pain of the punch, winded and gasping for air.

 

“Robert! Rob… look at me! Fuck!” Aaron was panicking, he couldn’t believe what had happened. He doesn’t remember making the decision to punch Robert, or the impact itself, but seeing the pain and horror on Robert’s face was enough.

 

Aaron scrambled backwards off of Robert, his bum landing in the soft grass. He pushed himself further away from Robert’s form which was now curled up on his side, moaning in agony at the pain he had inflicted. His hands were dug deep into the grass, dirt collecting under his fingernails and damp seeping through his thin pajama bottoms. The cold from the lake water adding to his disheveled state. He could feel the panic rising in his chest causing his breath to catch in his lungs and his heart to beat faster. His legs went numb and his vision started to fade to black around the edges. He ducked his head and tried to focus on his breathing, but the panic had set in and the familiar feelings of drowning came flooding back.

 

“Aaron…” Robert choked out, having caught his breath, trying to sit up.

 

“Robert…” Aaron’s vision refocused on Robert, his movements sluggish and slow, trying desperately to reach out for him. Although Aaron’s legs were still weak and his vision still unclear, he moved quickly back to Robert’s side, wanting to touch him and comfort him, but feeling utter shame and embarrassment at what had just transpired. He recoiled from Robert and sat back on his heels, dropping his chin to his chest and holding his head in his hands. “What the fuck is wrong with me?” He cried out, every emotion he had been bottling up for the past twenty-four hours exploding out of his chest.

 

Robert struggled to sit up, the pain in his left side making it difficult for him to move, but he scooted closer to where Aaron was wrapped in on himself.

 

“Hey… breathe… look at me…” Robert whispered through the pain in his side.

 

“I can’t… what I did… Robert…” Aaron didn’t look at him, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to look at the other man again. He was such a child, only knowing how to deal with his emotions by lashing out. “I’m so sorry Rob… I’m so sorry…”

 

“Aaron, please look at me.” Robert was sitting now, his legs stretched out in front of him, his left arm wrapped tightly around his side, and his right arm reaching out to Aaron.

 

Aaron didn’t think he could. He didn’t want to see the pain he had just inflicted on the one person in his life that he loved unconditionally. He had been such an ass this whole time and for what? Because Robert was worried about his daughter? He was such a child.

 

Robert reached out and lifted Aaron’s chin causing him to flinch away, “Please don’t pull away from me. Aaron, please…” Robert continued to plead with him until Aaron obliged and finally met his gaze. His breathing settling into a few short bursts of inhales followed by quick and loud exhales.

 

Robert’s eyes were watering from the punch, red-ringed, dirt smudged on his cheek and his t-shirt wet from the ground. His hair was a mess, with bits of grass woven between the golden locks, but his mouth was just turned up at the corners.

 

“I shouldn’t have thrown my ring into the lake…”

 

“I just punched you and you’re apologizing!” Aaron needed Robert to be mad, furious even, but he wasn’t.

 

Robert nodded, “You didn’t let me finish…” he continued, “this anger of yours, you’ve got to learn to deal with it. I didn’t deserve what you just did and I won’t forget it, but I can’t say I didn’t egg you on just a bit.”

 

“You didn’t deserve it, you didn’t deserve any of it! I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been acting, like a spoiled child. Of course you have every right to be worried about Charlie. I can’t believe…” Aaron trailed off as a second wave of emotion took over and the reality of the situation really set in. He had attacked Robert, over nothing. He had allowed that black cloud to take over, had listened to every bad thing that little voice in the back of his mind kept repeating and he lashed out. He was so ashamed, so sad.

 

“Aaron, stay with me. Look! I’m fine! A bit of a bruise, but I’m fine. Let’s get inside yeah?” Robert tried to get up from the ground, but the pain in his side was evident and caused him to wince at the twisting motion. He faltered and fell back down with a thud.

 

“Robert!” Aaron shouted and went over to the other man. Robert’s eyes were closed, his mouth drawn tight with the pain, and his arms wrapped around his middle trying to alleviate some of the pain coursing through his body. Aaron placed his right hand on the back of Robert’s neck, his left on the top of Robert’s thigh, their faces close.

 

“Can I help?” He spoke softly and watched as Robert silently nodded his agreement. He squatted next to the injured man and carefully placed his arm around his back, his right hand under Robert’s right arm and slowly stood, baring all of Robert’s weight on his own.

 

They were finally both standing, covered in grass and mud, wet and disheveled. “We must look a right pair, huh?” Robert joked as he gently wrapped his left arm over Aaron’s shoulders for support.

 

“Absolutely none of this is funny Robert.” Aaron scolded him as they diligently made their way back towards the cottage.

 

Robert winced and stopped walking to allow the pain in his side to subside before continuing on. Aaron was able to open the front door while balancing Robert who was pressed against his right side, nearly falling into the space once the door swung open. Aaron eased Robert down onto one of the sofas, kneeling on the floor just next to him.

 

“I’ll draw ya a bath and find something for the pain.”

 

“Don’t think I can make it up the stairs.” Robert was holding his side again, pain written across his face. Aaron reached a hand out and placed it on his knee, squeezing and releasing.

 

“I’ll carry ya if I haveta. I’ll be right back.” Aaron got up from the floor and sprinted up the stairs, taking them two at a time. He rushed down the hall and into the bathroom that’s attached to the master bedroom and immediately began to fill the oversized tub with scalding hot water. He riffled through the vanity and found a bottle of paracetamol, taking three and a glass of water back downstairs with him.

 

Robert was in the same position that Aaron had left him in; eyes screwed shut, arms wrapped around his middle, head tipped back. “Here, take these and then lets get ya upstairs.”

 

“You really think you could carry me?” Robert gratefully accepted the three white pills and glass from Aaron, taking them all at the same time.

 

“Reckon I could if need be.” Aaron leaned down so Robert could drape his arm over Aaron’s shoulders once more. They took their time standing up and moving over towards the stairs.

 

“It’s actually not as bad as I thought it would be.”Robert said about half way up.

 

Aaron remembered that he’d left the tap on and hoped the bath hadn’t spilled over before they got there.

 

Aaron eased Robert onto the closed toilet and went over to shut off the tap just before the tub became too full. The water had gone just shy of room temperature, leaving the bath warm but not unbearable. He turned back towards Robert, who was slumped on the toilet.

 

“Do you need…”

 

“Can you help…”

 

They both spoke at the same time, one offering assistance while the other requested it. Aaron smiled and looked down to the floor.

 

“Don’t think I’m gonna be able to get this shirt off myself. Can you?” Robert had started to lift the hem of the t-shirt up his stomach, but was obviously struggling. Aaron walked over to where the other man was sat and knelt down beside him.

 

“Of course.”

 

Aaron’s hands were warm on Robert’s cold stomach, the shirt damp and sticking to his skin. Robert couldn’t lift his left arm much, so the shirt ended up being stretched into a weird shape by the time it was completely off of Robert. He placed a hand on Aaron’s shoulder and stood up from the toilet. Aaron sat back and placed one hand on each of Robert’s hips, slowly snaking a finger below the elastic and easing them down to the floor. Robert stood naked before Aaron, the dark purple and blue bruise on his ribs clearly visible, the rest of his skin as pale as milk dotted with light brown freckles. Aaron wanted to bury his face in the hair below his belly button, but he didn’t think now was the right time. He looked up to Robert as the man stepped out from the bottoms.

 

“Care to join me?” Robert said, his right hand hiding the true extent of the bruise blossoming on his left side.

 

“I don’t think…”

 

“Please Aaron.” Robert looked down to him, moving his hand from Aaron’s shoulder and cupping his jaw now.

 

“Sure.” Aaron stayed kneeling as Robert made his way over to the large white, porcelain tub. He lifted the still wet jumper up and over his head, leaving it in a heap with Robert’s discarded clothing. As he stood he dropped his own bottoms into the pile before making his way over to the tub.

 

“You in first, then you can help me.” Robert instructed and Aaron diligently followed his orders, stepping into the warm water, his toes tingling from the heat but adjusting quickly.

 

He held out his hand and helped steady Robert as he joined him in the bath, Aaron sinking into the warmth and helping Robert do the same. Robert settled between his thighs, his back pressed to Aaron’s chest, the warmth surrounding them and taking away the chill from their morning escapades. Neither spoke, it didn’t seem necessary, instead allowing their muscles to relax and their breathing to soften. Robert placed a hand on Aaron’s thigh, just allowing it to rest there, it was a comforting weight for him.

 

They sat not saying anything for a long while, Aaron not knowing what to say and feeling a bit awkward, but Robert eventually broke the silence between them.

 

“She’s as much yours as she is mine.” It was so simple and quiet, but Aaron heard every word, every syllable and it made his heart ache. He pressed his lips into the back of Robert’s head, his blonde hair smelled like grass and earth. He wanted to wrap his arms around the other man and squeeze, but the injury he had inflicted on Robert prevented him from doing so and he was keenly aware of that. It was his own fault that he couldn’t show Robert how much that little sentence truly meant.

 

“And I do put you first, above all others.” Robert added and Aaron’s heart ached even more. How had he been so idiotic?

 

Aaron lowered his forehead onto Robert’s right shoulder and found his hand under the water. He intertwined their fingers and squeezed, blowing a long held breath out through his mouth, sending a shiver down Robert’s spine. Robert scooted back just a bit more, pressing his bum into Aaron’s crotch and shifting slightly to the side, repeating the motion a couple times.

 

“Robert… your ribs.” Aaron knew exactly what Robert was insinuating, but he didn’t think it was such a good idea seeing as how sore he was and how big that bruise had grown in just the little time that had passed.

 

Robert repeated the movement again and although Aaron knew Robert was in too much pain, his dick did not. Aaron unlaced their fingers and reached around to Robert’s cock which was growing harder with each shift of his hips. Robert laid his head back against Aaron’s left shoulder and turned to press a kiss into his neck. The water sloshed and splashed over the edge, the tub too full for one person let alone two, but he picked up the pace, working over Robert’s cock.

 

Robert mouthed at Aaron’s neck, biting the skin there and leaving tiny teeth marks in his wake. There would be a bruise along the left side of Aaron’s neck to match the one along Robert’s left ribs. Aaron quickened his pace causing Robert to to arch his back, which in turn caused his to cry out in pain.

 

“Rob!” Aaron called out, realizing that it wasn’t a cry of ecstasy that he had just heard.

 

“Don’t stop, I’m fine.” Robert pushed Aaron’s hand back to his cock and began to guide the other man’s hand back into a quick rhythm. Aaron was hesitant, but the familiar weight in his palm spurred him along and before too long Robert was releasing into the now cooling bath water.

 

Aaron continued his hand over Robert until every ounce had been released and Robert shuttered from the stimulation on his over-sensitive cock. Robert pushed back into Aaron, trapping his own hard-on between them, sending a jolt of electricity down his spine.

 

“We should probably get in the shower.” Aaron suggested.

 

“Probably not a bad idea.” Robert pushed forwards enough to allow Aaron to get out first, his cock hard and flushed, standing against his warm and wet skin.

 

Robert had his mouth on him before Aaron could help him up, taking his length in one easy movement. Robert’s position in the tub didn’t look all that comfortable and with the pain in his side Aaron was sure it wasn’t ideal, but Robert didn’t relent. Aaron pushed Robert’s wet hair from his face as Robert took every inch of him, never slowing or taking a breath. His tongue dragging along the underside, his lips stretching as he lowered himself completely over Aaron. He used his hand to move up and down the length as his lips and tongue worked over the tip, sucking and licking at the bell. Aaron was done, his knees buckling and Robert swallowing every bit down.

 

Aaron bent over and rubbed his cheek into the top of Robert’s head, his dick lying flaccid against his damp groin. They stayed like that for a moment before Aaron held out a hand to Robert and gingerly helped him from where he sat. They showered quickly, the hot water steaming up the glass enclosure, releasing the tension and anxiety from every pore. Neither bothered with a towel afterwards, instead making their way into the bed, Robert curled up on his right side with Aaron pressed to his back.

 

--

 

“I’m gonna forgive you for earlier, by the way.”

 

They had spent the day in bed, dozing and just holding one another, but come lunch time their stomachs were growling in unison. Robert was sat at the island while Aaron maned the hob, frying up bacon and scrambling eggs.

 

“I wish you wouldn’t.” He said without turning around.

 

“Doesn’t mean I’ll forget or that you won’t be hearin’ about it for the rest of your life, cuz trust me, you will.” Robert took a sip from his mug.

 

“There’s just nothin’ I can say to make sense of it. It was so uncalled for.” Aaron had spent the better part of the day apologizing to Robert and Robert had accepted every single one of them.

 

“You’ve apologized enough. And so have I. We just need to figure out how it got this bad and never let it happen again.” Robert’s eyes lit up as Aaron placed the steaming plate of food in front of him.

 

“Hope it’s ok.” Aaron said as he sat next to Robert with his own plate and mug.

 

“It’s ok Aaron.” Robert knew that he was referring to the food, but there was also something underlying there that Robert could read on Aaron’s face and it had nothing to do with the food.

 

They ate in silence, both men shoving fork load after fork load into their mouths, starving from not having eaten in over a day. Everything was delicious and when Robert had cleaned his plate, without asking Aaron got up and refiled it with the rest of the food. Aaron did steal one piece of bacon from the second helping, but Robert quickly finished what was left.

 

They took their mugs to the living room and settled onto a sofa. Aaron handed a bag of frozen peas to Robert who diligently held them to his ribs making him hiss from the sudden cold.

 

“So, never again?”

 

“I don’t even know how it happened in the first place.” Aaron admitted.

 

“You took off your ring and then I chucked mine in the lake.” Robert reminded him.

 

“Right.” Aaron looked down at his mug.

 

“We’ll replace it, don’t worry.” The cold doing the trick on his ribs, easing the dull persistent ache.

 

“Won’t be the same though, will it?”

 

“Doesn’t matter.”

 

“Have you heard from Chrissie?” Aaron wasn’t sure if now was the best time to bring it up, but he had to ask because he was just as curious as to how the pair were fairing.

 

Robert nodded, “Got a photo from her last night. They seem to be doing great.”

 

“Good.” Aaron was still acting strangely and Robert could tell that he was treading lightly.

 

“Listen, we can either let this ruin us or we can move past it. I know which I choose, but if you really can’t then I have to respect your decision. I won’t like it and I’ll fight for ya, but in the end it’s your choice.” Robert was sat on the opposite end of the sofa, his right leg stretched across towards the end where Aaron sat. He pushed his toes into Aaron’s thigh until the other man looked up to him.

 

“I just don’t know how you can forgive me so quickly. I tackled ya and then punched ya in the ribs.”

 

“Don’t worry about how I forgave ya, just know that I do. The real question here is, can you forgive yourself?”

 

And there it was, the big question. How can Aaron ever forgive himself for what he’s done? For Robert it was relatively easy because he knew that it was a one-off. Robert knew that it happened because he pushed and he goaded, it didn’t excuse that Aaron had ultimately decided to end things with a physical gesture, but Robert knows his history. Aaron had always been a loose canon and that was one of the things that initially attracted him in the first place. Aaron was fiery and physical, he got what he wanted by using intimidation and his quick tongue, both of which worked on Robert the first time they met. Robert loved that side of Aaron, that rough and tumble side, the side that wasn’t afraid to stick his neck out and never back down. And Robert had been on the receiving end of it before, but again only because he pushed and pushed until Aaron snapped.

 

“And anyway, you forgave me for Chrissie and leavin’. Don’t know if I would’ve done the same.” Robert shrugged and adjusted the peas under his arm.

“You left because of your daughter, not because you wanted to be with Chrissie. I know that now.” Aaron said, wrapping a hand around Robert’s right ankle.

 

“But I could’ve stayed. It could’ve worked.”

 

“Yeah, probably. But that’s in the past…”

 

“And so is this. Once I’m healed, we’ll move past this. We’re too stubborn to let something like a little fist fight get between us.” Robert joked, poking Aaron once again in the thigh.

 

Aaron smiled, small and unsure, “yeah.”

 

“No, we will get past this Aaron. I want to hear you say it.” Robert sat up from his reclining position, the pain in his side subsiding, now just barely recognizable.

 

Aaron looked to him, his left hand smoothing up and down the front of Robert’s shin, “we’ll get past this.” He finally seceded.

 

“There. That wasn’t so hard now was it? So, now that we have that all straightened out, what’s the plan for tonight?”

 

“Dunno. Now that you’re hurt…” Aaron still looked upset, “I could just make a fire and we could watch a film?”

 

“It’s still light out yeah?”

 

“M-hm.” Aaron nodded, finishing off his brew.

 

“Wanna take that boat out? Paddle ‘round a bit?”

 

“And how exactly do you plan on gettin’ inta a boat? You can barely move!” Aaron sat his mug on the table and turned towards Robert.

 

“Pull it ta shore, obviously.” Robert took the peas and handed them to Aaron, their usefulness long since passed.

 

Aaron thought about it for a moment, “could work, if you’re up for it?”

 

“I do believe it was my suggestion, so…” Robert shifted so both feet were on the floor, trying to use all the strength in his left arm to leverage himself up off the sofa. “Anyways… always wanted to do it in a boat.” He smirked as he walked past Aaron.

 

“Not gonna happen! Even if you were a hundred percent!” Aaron smacked him on the bum as he jogged upstairs to fetch them warmer clothes and socks.

 

--

 

“So what’s the boating equivalent of the mile high club?” Robert panted from his reclined position in the small rowboat.

 

Aaron just laughed at the sight laid out in front of him; Robert’s shirt shucked up to his armpits, the hair around his groin damp with sweat and cum, his pants around his ankles.

 

“The leagues under club?” Aaron had tied the boat up to the dock before hand, not wanting to risk capsizing them, but he had to row them back to shore so Robert could safely get out now. “Ya may want to get dressed before we get out.”

 

Robert cackled at Aaron’s suggestion, “Think I’ll just hobble back into the house like this.” He fanned his hands over his exposed lap. “Kinda cold actually, maybe not.” He tried bending over at the waist to retrieve his discarded jeans from the bottom of the boat, but groaned with the effort and strain.

 

“Hang on, hang on. Let me help.” Aaron jumped from the boat as it got closer to shore and pulled it up and into the grass, nearly slipping. He picked up Robert’s jeans and gently guided each leg into the appropriate hole before shimmying them up past Robert’s knees.

 

Robert adjusted his shirt and took the material from Aaron, lifting his bum as much as possible to work the heavy denim into place.

 

“Here,” Aaron offered Robert his hand and stood him up so Robert could finish adjusting himself.

 

“Should we go into town for dinner or stay in? We could go back to that restaurant, you could see if cute waiter boy is working.” Robert teased.

 

“We can go in if you’re feeling up to it, or I could go pick something up and bring it back?” Aaron helped Robert step out of the boat, basically lifting him until both feet were back on solid ground.

 

“Yeah, might be a good idea. Maybe sex in the boat wasn’t such a good idea.” Robert held onto his side and took a minute to catch his breath, the pain coming back now that the adrenaline had worn off.

 

“Or maybe we go and have that looked at?” Aaron gestured to where Robert’s arm was holding onto his bruised ribs.

 

“And have people start asking questions? I’ll be fine, just maybe no more sex in the boat.” Robert nudged Aaron in the ribs as they walked back up towards the cottage.

 

“How ‘bout you rest and I’ll go and get us somethin’ to eat. Shouldn’t take too long. I’ll start a fire before I go, you can curl up on the couch with a film.” Aaron put an arm around Robert’s waist as they approached the door.

 

“Mmm, sounds perfect.” Robert leaned up and waited for Aaron to meet his lips, both sets cold from their time on the water.

 

Aaron turned to face Robert, his left arm around Robert’s lower waist, his right around his upper back, and their chests mashed together. Robert could feel Aaron’s breath and welcomed the warmth radiating off his body, allowing the younger man to completely support his weight. Robert gently brushed his lips against Aaron’s, nothing expected, nothing more than the light touch of skin on skin. Little pecks shared against the backdrop of the fading sun.

 

“Let’s get inside, get that fire going.” Robert requested between shared kisses.

 

Aaron nodded, laying one lasting kiss onto Robert’s mouth, pressing his lips harder into his partner’s.

 

--

 

Aaron returned with a bag of Chinese food, a bag of painkillers, and a few cans only to find Robert quietly snoring from his place on the sofa. The fire nothing more than glowing embers, bathing the room in a soft orange light, but still giving off decent heat. He deposited the bags and cans on the kitchen counter before heading back into the front room.

 

“Robert? Rob?” Aaron smoothed a hand over the sleeping man’s shoulders, trying to gently wake him.

 

“How long’ve you been gone then?” Robert said, wiping at his eyes.

 

“Bit longer than expected. I’ve brought Chinese and painkillers.” Aaron said.

 

“Sounds delicious!” Robert smiled through his sleepy state, stretching without getting up.

 

“You need to eat before you take anything else. Do you wanna eat in here or in the kitchen?” Aaron stood next to where Robert lounged.

 

“Mmm, here. Too tired to get up.”

 

Aaron kissed the top of his head before going back through to the kitchen to retrieve his purchases. He stopped by the sink and got a tall glass of water for Robert, thinking lager and pills weren’t a great mix probably.

 

“I’m fucking starving! That smells amazing!” Robert had sat up and pulled the table closer to the sofa, waiting for Aaron to return.

 

“Think I might’ve gone a bit overboard, but we can put the rest in the fridge for tomorrow. Here.” Aaron handed over the glass and the bag of things from the pharmacy.

 

“What’s all this?” Robert said, peeking into the bag.

 

“Dunno… I just asked the girl at the counter for the painkiller aisle and got one of each.” Aaron started to take boxes out of the bag, stacking them on the table, followed by small greaseproof paper bags stuffed with fried things and finally a handful of fortune cookies.

 

Robert pressed play on whatever they had put on the tellie before Aaron left, only having made it through the first twenty minutes and settled in with a randomly chosen box and fork. Both ate until they felt nearly sick, leaving just enough room for a cookie each.

 

“What’s yours say?” Robert asked as Aaron cracked his open and pulled out the small slip of paper.

 

“You are admired by people around you. Yours?”

 

Robert popped the bag open and gently pulled the paper out of the crumbled cookie in his palm, “Adventure awaits you with your true love.”

 

Robert looked to where Aaron was sat on the floor, boxes and little bags strewn about like a child surrounded by colorful paper on Christmas morning. Aaron smiled up at him, his lips greasy with remnants of their meal, the orange light from the remaining fire casting everything in a warm hue. Even though the day had been such a disaster, Robert was glad they had come out of it together.

Chapter Text

Monday - 10th

 

“Why don't we just do it while we're here? Just us?” They were lying together in bed after a long morning of making love and talking. Robert had his head at the foot of the bed, his right leg thrown over Aaron's legs and his fingers smoothing through the course hair there.

 

“What?” Aaron picked up his head from off the pillow to look at Robert.

 

“Why not? What's stopping us?”

 

“What about Charlie? And Vic? Adam, my lot, Diane…”

 

“We'll have a big party later for them, but this should be for just us.” Robert had sat up, the pain in his side barely noticeable now, unlike the bruise that was so prominent along his side.

 

“You don't mean it Robert…” Aaron sat as well, their legs tangled.

 

“I do Aaron. It'd be a fresh start for us. We can put all of this behind us yeah?” Robert wouldn't take his eyes off the beautiful man sat opposite him; his curls getting much longer and falling across his forehead in soft waves, his beard a bit longer, and his eyes still tired looking after a fitful night's sleep.

 

“We don't have suits or rings.” Aaron couldn't quite look at Robert, his eyes flitting from Robert’s to the window and back.

 

“I'm sure there's shops in town where such things could be purchased Aaron. Do you… are you having second thoughts?” Robert knew that the idea of them getting married was still foreign to Aaron and after the rocky start to their holiday, he was sure it was the last thing the other man was thinking about.

 

He watched Aaron as he stared out the window, the thought tumbling around in his head. His head whipped back to where Robert sat, “No, of course not! It's just… after everything…”

 

“A fresh start, just us.” Robert reassured him, taking his face in his hands, rubbing his thumbs across the bristled hair across Aaron's chin. “I love ya and I know you feel the same.”

 

Their mouths were incredibly close, lips almost touching, breath mingling in the small space. Robert watched the way Aaron's eyelashes swept across his cheek every time the other man blinked slowly, his eyes giving away every thought in his head.

 

“Ok.” It was barely a whisper.

 

“Come again?” Robert asked, although he knew exactly what Aaron had said, but he just needed to hear him say it again.

 

Aaron took a deep breath in, “Ok.” He said again, this time focusing his eyes directly on Robert's.

 

“Ok.” Robert repeated just as quietly and closed the space between them, pushing into Aaron's mouth immediately. Aaron reciprocated the contact, his arms wrapping around Robert's ribs and pulling the blond into his lap.

 

Robert moved easily as the younger, but much stronger man repositioned him so he was straddling his lap. Aaron leaned back against the headboard as Robert pressed their chests together and deepened the kiss. Aaron's hands smoothed down Robert's back and over his bum, massaging the muscle through the black pants Robert wore. Their mouths still worked together, tongues exploring the familiar mouth of the other, hands gently holding and caressing. They had spent all morning wrapped around the other, so neither was in any hurry to take things any further, instead simply relishing in their closeness. They stayed in that position, lips connected and hands cradling the other for some time, just being with one another in that space.

 

“How long does it take?” Aaron finally asked as Robert placed light kisses on the top of his left shoulder.

 

“How long does what take?” Robert asked between pecks.

 

“Gettin’ married.”

 

“Think we just hafta go down to the Register Office.” Robert mumbled into Aaron’s skin.

 

“You been researching this?” Aaron pinched at the skin along Robert’s hips causing him to squirm.

 

“Stop it!” Robert giggled, trying to get away from Aaron’s onslaught, “Checked a while back, right after your birthday.” Robert struggled to explain between laughs.

 

Aaron continued to tickle his skin, “Better get a move on then!”

 

“We could if you’d cut it out already!” Robert was trapped on Aaron’s lap, the other man holding him in place while his fingers dug into the fleshy skin just above the waistband of his pants.

 

“Don’t know what you’re talking about!” Aaron teased and dug his fingers in further, biting down on Robert’s upper arm.

 

“Ow! Ow! My ribs!” Robert said amongst a laugh, bending towards the left to protect the still sensitive skin under his arm.

 

“Fuck Rob! I’m sorry!” Aaron’s hands immediately stilled and his expression soured at the thought that he had caused Robert more injury.

 

Robert panted, trying to hide the grimace, “It’s alright… kinda forgot about it actually. But you’re right… should probably get ready to go into town anyway.”

 

Aaron’s eyes were downcast onto their laps, he simply nodded in agreement.

 

“Stop it Aaron.” Robert chided lovingly. They had talked ad nauseam about what had gone on, both agreeing that it was in the past, but clearly Aaron wasn’t entirely convinced that Robert had forgiven him. Robert settled back into Aaron’s lap and kissed him.

 

“I’m fine, really. Please believe me.” Robert spoke quietly.

 

Aaron once again nodded, “Yeah.”

 

“Good! Now, how about we go and get married!?” Robert slapped both hands open palmed onto Aaron’s chest, pushing himself up to a standing position over the other man, in the middle of the bed.

 

Robert looked down to Aaron who was seated against the headboard, legs outstretched in front of him, his tanned skin in delicate contrast to the white linens around him. His beautiful Aaron. He couldn’t help but smile at him, the thought that they’d be married by the end of the day immediately making his heart beat just a bit faster in his chest. Aaron looked up to him from under his long dark lashes, a flush causing the skin around his neck and chest to bloom into a lovely shade of pink.

 

“Will you stop staring you weirdo.” Aaron blushed and swatted at Robert’s left leg.

 

“Can’t help it, can I?” And he couldn’t help it; this gruff and stubborn man, who against all odds had chosen him, had accepted him, was going to be his husband after today. He never thought he’d have him or deserved him, so he really couldn’t help but stare down at his partner and drink in every detail.

 

“Alright, ‘nough of that.” Aaron pulled his legs up to his chest and turned to get off the bed, leaving Robert standing in the middle of it.

 

“Hey, come here.” Robert took a step towards the edge and pulled Aaron back to him, leaning down to wrap his arms around him. It was awkward, but Robert continued to cling to Aaron giving him a squeeze and a kiss to the top of the head before releasing him from the hug.

 

They showered and dressed before making their way out to the car to head into town. The day was a bit warmer, the sun shining bright despite the date with small white clouds dotting an azure sky as they closed the cottage door behind them.

 

“One sec.” Aaron turned from the car and walked towards the lake, his right hand fishing around in the pocket of his jeans as he made his way across the grass.

 

Robert stood by the edge of the gravel drive, watching as Aaron pulled his ring out of his pocket and threw it into the lake.

 

“What the fuck Aaron!” Robert yelled and started towards him across the yard.

 

“Fresh start.” Was all Aaron said as he walked past Robert and got into the car. Robert stood staring at the lake, the ripples caused by the jewelry hitting the lake quickly disappearing amongst the waves caused by the breeze in the air.

 

“Fresh start.” He said back to the lake, taking in a deep breath and joining Aaron.

 

--

 

Aaron stood in front of the floor to ceiling mirror, smoothing down the fabric of the single-breasted wool jacket he was trying on. Robert had found a tiny men’s clothier company that could get them fitted for suits that day, within the hour even depending on their choice, so here he stood. They were doing this, getting married. Robert was in his own room trying on suits and fretting over colors and cuts, while Aaron tried to keep the contents of his stomach where it belonged.

 

Aaron’s first choice had been a classic wool suit in charcoal grey with a crisp white shirt and a navy silk tie. He turned to check the back, noting that the skinny pants did wonders for his bum, even if they were a bit long. All in all though, it was a stellar first choice, if he did say so himself.

 

“Let me see.” He could hear Robert call from the small area between fitting rooms. He emerged to see Robert checking himself out in the semi-circle of mirrors at the end of the corridor.

 

He waited a beat before saying anything, taking in Robert’s form in a similar suit in a deep navy blue - Aaron always thought he looked best in blue. He felt a bit silly all of a sudden, like he was a little kid playing dress-up in his dad’s closet. Robert spotted him in the mirror and Aaron could see his expression even before he turned around.

 

“That’s it.” Robert blurted out before he even turned around.

 

“I have like six others in there. You can’t just say that’s it without me even tryin’ on the rest.” Aaron nervously played with the bottom of the jacket.

 

Robert shook his head, “No, that’s the one. You don’t get a say.” He sauntered up to Aaron and wound his hands between Aaron’s arms and his waist, tugging him closer.

 

“Well, then I say that’s it for you. Always loved ya in blue.” Aaron said, looking up to the taller man.

 

“Think we look rather dashing, don’t you?” Robert turned them so they could both look in the mirror together and Aaron had to admit that they did indeed look pretty amazing.

 

“Yeah, pretty good.” Aaron said while looking in the mirror at Robert’s face. Robert’s smile was huge, taking over his face and making his eyes no more than tiny slits. He seemed genuinely happy and excited for the day.

 

They called the tailor who brought in an assistant to mark the needed alterations on both garments before agreeing to return a couple hours later to pick up their completed suits. They changed back into their own clothes and left with a recommendation for a nearby jeweler who could accommodate their next necessity, new rings.

 

If Aaron thought the old tailor's was charming, it had nothing on the jewelry shop. An elderly woman welcomed them into the small space, shaking each of their hands and giving them a small kiss to each cheek.

 

“Alonso said you’re in need of something special.” Her name was Maggie and she could barely see over the glass display counters littered with rings and other antique bobbles.

 

“We’re getting married today.” Robert beamed and tugged at Aaron’s waist where his arm rested.

 

“I see. Well, let’s find you something spectacular then!” She moved daftly behind the counters and around cabinets, seemingly knowing where each piece rested and exactly where she needed to go.

 

Something caught Aaron’s eye as the moved past one particular case, a pair of antique gold rings with small black worn dashes along each outside edge. They looked very old and the patina worn into the surface gave them a dirty look, but Aaron thought they looked small and most definitely not Robert’s style. Nearly two hours had passed and they had looked at every set of rings that Maggie had, but something kept bringing Aaron back to the rings he had seen when they first arrived. Robert had his eye on a set of white gold classic bands that Aaron agreed would work, but before they decided on anything Aaron just had to make sure those rings wouldn’t.

 

“Maggie, I saw two rings up front there, in that first case. Could we take a look at them?” Aaron gestured towards the front of the shop where he’d remembered the rings sat.

 

Maggie smiled knowingly and without hesitation or asking Aaron for clarification on which rings he meant, immediately went over to the case and took out the set of rings. They were old, probably close to 300 years old if Aaron had to guess, and there was an inscription inside each one. Maggie handed the pair to Aaron, who gingerly held onto them to read the inscription Amor gignit amorem .

 

“Love begets love.” She said and smiled up to Aaron from behind the counter. He held his breath as he took the larger of the two rings and held it to the end of his left ring finger, slowly pushing to down and past each knuckle.

 

Robert took the other ring from Aaron as he worked the jewelry onto his finger and followed suit, pushing the ring into place. Aaron looked to Robert as he settled the delicate hoop at the base of his finger and watched as Robert did the same. They were nothing like the original pair that now sat at the bottom of the lake, the exact opposite actually, but Aaron loved them.

 

“These were found in the moors, up north. Funny story that, both men’s rings aren’t they? Found together in the muck.” Maggie explained, a knowing smile on her weathered face.

 

Aaron looked to Robert’s face after both rings were perfectly fit onto their respected fingers. Aaron knew they were not what Robert was expecting and normally they weren’t what Aaron would have wanted either, but for whatever reason they were here in this tiny shop in Blackpool looking for new rings and these rings also just happened to be here. Aaron knew they were meant to find these rings with their perfect inscription in this unassuming shop. In a turn of events that no one could have predicted, they found themselves here and it all felt too coincidental to overlook.

 

Robert purchased the rings and Maggie put them into a small wood box lined with black silk which Aaron hugged to his chest as they left. Robert smoothed a hand down Aaron’s back and guided him back down the street to fetch their finished suits. After one last fitting, both approved the alterations and each garment was put into matching black zip-front bags with instructions to see Phyllis at the Register Office.

 

“You ok?” Robert asked as they got dressed in the small bathroom of the office, designed especially for those who needed a place to change before they wed.

 

“Yeah. You?” Aaron was calm, much calmer than when they had left the cottage that morning. The events of the day had gone as smoothly as possible, inexplicably smooth to the point where Aaron had been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

“You waiting for something bad to happen, aren’t ya?” Robert straightened his tie in the mirror as he watched Aaron out of the corner of his eye.

 

“Honestly,” Robert turned and nodded, Aaron continued, “maybe this morning, but it’s been weirdly perfect.”

 

“Right? I was thinkin’ the same thing. The suits and then to find those rings. And now we’re here… seems too easy.” Robert turned towards Aaron, his hair styled back into a small quiff, his eyes big and bright, his lips the perfect shade of pink.

 

Aaron took a moment to catch his breath at the sight of Robert standing there in his wedding suit, hands in his pockets and dark grey tie expertly knotted under his matching white shirt. “I don’t know if I’d say that any of this has been exactly easy, but yeah… it’s been pretty remarkable.”

 

Aaron walked over to Robert and turned to look at them in the large mirror. He watched Robert’s eyes rake up and down his body, preening under the attention of the man next to him. He had to admit, they looked incredible. He had to lower his head to hide the blush creeping up his cheeks. He couldn’t believe they were going through with this.

 

“You ready?” Robert asked, taking ahold of Aaron’s hand and rubbing the thin skin between his thumb and forefinger.

 

Aaron lifted his head, nodded and smiled, “ ‘course.” He went up onto his toes and kissed Robert before they headed out of the small room.

 

They stopped at a window and asked for Phyllis, a round woman with a warm smile and lovely red hair. They filled out some official looking paperwork and discussed what would happen today.

 

“We can only do so much today, but we’ll do as much as we can, ok? When you get home, go to your local and make sure to take your divorce paperwork. I went ahead and excluded you from having to give notice which usually you have to do 28 days prior to your service, but you have to take in that paperwork. Got it?” She explained across her desk.

 

They agreed in unison and both signed at the bottom of each official page. Robert’s hand was resting reassuredly on Aaron’s right thigh, grounding him to the chair where he sat.

 

“Are you ready?” Phyllis asked and stood from behind her desk.

 

“Yes.” Robert and Aaron said together, both also standing. She guided them past a few desks and out into a private courtyard.

 

Their fingers were laced together, Robert leading the way behind Phyllis and Aaron following closely behind. He was nervous, but also more sure about this than anything else before. She stopped them at the center of the formal garden, Aaron to her right and Robert to her left, and she lifted a book and began to read.

 

Aaron watched Robert, listening to what Phyllis was saying but concentrating more on the man before him; the way Robert swallowed and fiddled with his tie before looking from Phyllis to Aaron and then smiling shyly.

 

“We are here today to celebrate the love that Aaron and Robert have for each other, and to recognize and witness their decision to journey forward in their lives as marriage partners. It is not lightly that one comes to the decision to enter into the sanctity of marriage and it is the understanding that you both are here today of your own free will and desire.” Phyllis spoke and both men nodded in agreement.

 

She continued, “Today you walked into this ceremony as individuals, but will leave as one. Bound to one another for the remainder of your days. What is said today should be taken seriously and with great care, listen to one another and fully understand what the other is saying. Aaron, would you like to go first?”

 

Aaron reluctantly nodded, not realizing that he would need to come up with his own vows, trying to remember back to every stereotypical wedding he’d seen. “I Aaron Benedict Dingle take you Robert Jacob Sugden to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward. For significantly better times and inevitably worse ones, for rich or richer. For you better live to be 106 years old or else I'm finding you in the afterlife and throttling you. Until I better die first because I don't want to live a single second of my life without you. I promise to love you, to make love to you and to cherish that beautiful little girl of ours. This is my solemn vow.”

 

Aaron finally looked to Robert once he had finished, hoping that he had done alright, only to be met by wet eyes and a giant grin from the other man. He rubbed at the back of his neck with his right hand, feeling like he hadn’t said enough, like he hadn’t truly conveyed how much Robert meant to him and how much spending the rest of their lives together really meant.

 

“I Robert Jacob Sugden take you Aaron Benedict Dingle to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forwards. We’ve been through too much over the past three years and I promise to do my best to make the next 106 as easy as possible. I want every messed up, complicated, and tough time with the knowledge that it’ll only lead to even betters ones in the future. I promise to love you unconditionally for as long as you’ll have me and I promise to put you first in all things. I can’t wait to watch our family grow and to see our love for one another shared with our children. You are my everything and I will do as much as I can, every single day to make sure you know this. This is my solemn vow.”

 

Aaron watched Robert say his vows; the way his eyes searched for each perfect word and the sincerity in which he spoke. Aaron wanted to live in the moment forever, just the two of them there in this impossibly perfect time.

 

“As a witness here today, I Phyllis Bowen do acknowledge your vows and your love for one another. You will now exchange rings and repeat after me. With this ring, I thee wed.”

 

Aaron handed over his ring to Robert, who carefully accepted the small gold band between his fingers and took each other’s left hand in their right. They spoke together and in unison pushed the bands down the finger on the other’s left hand. Aaron stared from Robert’s face back down to his own finger, acknowledging the different way it felt from the other band. Everything about the day felt different and it was good that they had gotten new rings, it made them feel more important, more special.

 

“Aaron and Robert have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their marriage by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of rings.It is my great honor and privilege to therefore proclaim that they are husbands.” Phyllis concluded, closing her book and tucking it under her right arm.

 

Aaron watched as Robert took a step towards him and raised both hands to his face, fingers scratching across his beard and firmly grasping just below his jawline, finally resting with his fingers barely around the sides of his neck. They remained close, bodies just barely touching, Aaron wanted to kiss him, but he also wanted to live in this moment forever. They were husbands, officially now. He stared up at Robert, his perfect suit with his perfect smile and all Aaron could think about was how much time they had wasted on trivial things. How this whole holiday was almost ruined because he was being so stubborn and childish, but now they were standing there having just been married and Aaron couldn’t imagine it having gone any differently.

 

Robert finally closed the space between them and gently kissed Aaron, placing small repeated kisses to his closed mouth, pulling them together with a large hand firmly pressed to the center of his back. Aaron’s hands found Robert’s waist and tugged at the fabric to bring their bodies together. It seemed to last forever and Aaron wanted to hold on to this feeling for the rest of his life.

 

“Congratulations Mr. and Mr., “ Phyllis hesitated. “Did you decide on what name you’ll take?”

 

Robert pulled back from Aaron, “We’ve decided to keep our surnames…”

 

“Actually,” Aaron interrupted, Robert returning his attention to him, “if it’s ok with you, think I’d like to be a Sugden.”

 

“Are you sure? I know how much the Dingle name means to ya.” Robert’s left hand once again found the spot along Aaron’s neck, his fingers lightly brushing the soft hairs along Aaron’s hairline.

 

Aaron shook his head, “I want to be Mr. Robert Sugden. I want to take your name.” Aaron never took his eyes off of Robert’s face.

 

Robert grinned, an all encompassing, embarrassingly large, face consuming smile, “I’d like that very much, Mr. Sugden.” He leaned in again and kissed him once more, this time pushing his tongue past Aaron’s lips.

 

“Well then, Mr. and Mr. Sugden, there’s just one more thing we need to do.” They followed Phyllis back to her desk where the freshly printed marriage certificate sat, declaring them husbands. Robert expertly signed his own name and handed the pen over to Aaron. He practiced signing the last name Sugden on a scrap paper before pressing the ballpoint into the document and making it official. Once he lifted the pen from the paper, he smiled up at Robert and leaned in close for one more kiss before handing it back to Phyllis.

 

“Congratulations again and don’t forget about getting into the office first thing. I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but have a great wedding night you two.” And with that they were done.

 

They took the paper from her and made their way back out of the office and onto the street. Aaron couldn’t help but stare at it, his eye shifting between the newly signed document and the gold band now firmly in place on his hand. They had done it, just them, the way it should’ve always been and it was ridiculously perfect.

 

“I can’t believe we just got married.” He said as they walked hand-in-hand back towards Robert’s waiting car.

 

“You’re vows were perfect, by the way.” Robert stopped him just as he was nearing the passenger door and pushed his body up against the cold metal of the car, leaning in close and speaking directly into his right ear.

 

“Mmm… don’t even know where they came from.” Aaron said, slotting his leg between Robert’s and pressing his thigh up and into the other man’s groin.

 

“Doesn’t even matter. You’re all that matters.” Robert was mouthing at Aaron’s ear, his hand sneakily toying with the fabric of his shirt at the back of his trousers.

 

“How quickly can you get us back to that cottage?” Aaron went limp under the pressure of Robert pressing him up against the car, their combined arousal lingering in what little space was left between them.

 

“Not quick enough.” Aaron’s hands pulled the shirt out from the waist band of Robert’s trousers and slid up his chest, scratching his nails over the thin skin stretched across his stomach and abs. Robert slipped a hand down the back of Aaron’s boxers, his fingers rubbing along his crack and ghosting closer towards his entrance.

 

“Get in the car and drive as quickly as you can.” Aaron panted, rubbing the top of his thigh into Robert’s groin, eliciting a delightful noise from the other man who hand to bury his face into Aaron’s suit jacket to muffle the groan.

 

“Yes, sir. Anything you say, Mr. Sugden.” Robert nearly purred into Aaron’s ear.

 

“Fuck me.” Aaron swore, his obvious arousal being more difficult to conceal.

 

“My pleasure.” Robert smirked and unlocked the car, leaving Aaron standing alone as he raced around to the driver’s side.

Chapter Text

They had barely gotten half way back to the cottage before Aaron’s hand was inching up Robert’s left thigh, teasing at the material of his suit. Not much had been said, just the occasional glance and smile across the car, both itching to get back so they could properly celebrate, but it appeared as though Aaron couldn’t wait any longer.

“Aaron…” Robert questioned the other man whose palm was now flat against his crotch, applying a delicious amount of pressure that Robert’s body was quickly responding to, “fifteen minutes. Can you give me… like, fifteen… minutes?” Robert stuttered out, looking over at Aaron in the passenger seat.

Aaron raised an eyebrow, moving his hand down to Robert’s inseam, fingers ghosting over the material covering the zipper, his knuckles applying a bit more pressure on the down stroke. Robert shifted his hips, trying to decide whether he should give in to the friction or back away from it. Aaron was watching him, the way his breath caught as Aaron repeated the action of lightly touching him through the soft material between his legs.

“I'd rather prefer to not crash the car... right now.” Robert said, stuttering again at the continued sensation to his now hardening cock.

“Just keep your eyes on the road.” Aaron instructed while he unzipped the fly of Robert’s trousers. Aaron shifted in his seat so he was facing Robert and put his hand against Robert’s cock, dragging the thin material of his pants over his sensitive hard on.

“Aaron…” Robert could not decide if he was enjoying this or if it was a horrible idea, but then Aaron was there in his lap, his hot, wet tongue lathing over his pants and all Robert could do was stare out the windscreen. Do not look down. Do not look down. He continued to repeat the mantra as Aaron continued to mouth over the damp material, bringing him closer and closer to the edge.

He thought he had it under control, concentrating on the road and watching for their turn, until he felt Aaron's mouth take him down completely, his tongue swirling around the head of his cock. “Ok, ok… please Aaron we're gonna crash.”

Robert put his left hand onto the back of Aaron's head, getting a handful of his hair, but then Aaron hummed at the sudden pull and took Robert even deeper. “Fuck, Aaron I can't do this right now!” He unconsciously pushed his hips towards Aaron, only spurring the other man on.

As soon as they turned down the gravel lane, he slammed on the brakes and came, Aaron swallowing every drop. “Fuck Aaron!” He called as each wave hit him, his breathing labored, chest puffing up and down in an attempt to catch his breath. Aaron sat back up in his seat, a smug smile stretched across his face, wiping the spit and cum mixture from his lips.

“There was no way I was waiting fifteen minutes for that.” He said and leaned back against the leather seat.

“You're a menace.” Robert said, pulling the other man across the center console by his lapels. He could taste himself in Aaron's mouth and continued to kiss him until they were both absolutely breathless.

They were barely inside the front door before their suits were being torn from their bodies, mouths connected, and hands furiously undoing buttons and ties. Robert backed Aaron onto the stairs, pushing him down onto one of the treads and pushing inside him. Aaron arched his back and dug his nails into the flesh of Robert’s shoulder, the smooth glide of skin on skin causing a searing heat between them. Robert pushed in and pulled out his full length, surely causing a bruise to form on Aaron's lower back, but the man under him seemed to not care about any possible future pain.

Robert leaned back and put his hands on his hips, just watching as his bare cock slid in and out of Aaron who was writhing below him; eyes shut tight, head turned to the side, and biting down on his own forearm. They had left the front door open in their haste and a cold breeze blew through sending a shiver down Robert’s exposed and sweaty back. Robert leaned in closer to Aaron's form, cradling his neck with his left hand, coaxing his husband to look at him. Husband. He thought, over and over again, the term swirling around in his lust filled brain, causing his hips to move even faster. Aaron looked up to him suddenly, their eyes connecting as he came untouched between them. Aaron didn't make a sound, he just stared at Robert as each wave washed over him. Robert continued to push until he too was releasing, buried deep inside Aaron, his forehead resting on Aaron's right shoulder, his husbands fingers laced through his hair.

“Husband…” he said as he exhaled a particularly shaken breath.

Aaron smiled up at him, “Husband.”

--

They took their time collecting random bits and bobs that had been strewn about the cottage; a random sock here, a discarded towel there. Robert finished the dishes in the sink while Aaron packed up the car, fitting everything nicely in the boot.

“About ready?” Aaron called through the small space from the open front door. Robert was just drying his hands and placing the towel on the counter, turning towards his husband with a slight smile playing at his lips. “What?” Aaron asked as Robert got closer.

The taller man loosely wrapped his long arms around Aaron’s waist, pulling them closer in the doorway. “Just thinking about this place, how I’m gonna miss it.” Robert studied Aaron’s features, dark lashes framing impossibly blue eyes that had to barely look up to meet his more green ones.

“Soft lad,” Aaron mumbled into Robert’s chest, resting his chin against the soft material of the jumper the other man wore. “We’ll just have to come back next year, celebrate yeah?”

“Yeah.” Robert agreed quietly. He placed a gentle kiss to the crown of Aaron’s head and pulled back to pick up the last case from just inside the door. Aaron turned from him and made his way across the small yard and through the gate, standing next to Robert’s car.

Aaron watched as Robert locked the door and stowed the key back in the hidey spot. He placed his left palm against the old, worn door, giving it a gentle pat before turning towards where Aaron stood. The cold breeze caught Robert’s hair and made a mess of the straw colored strands, Robert’s cheeks already a beautiful rosy color from the brisk weather, his oversized maroon jumper covering his hands; Aaron couldn’t imagine a more perfect version of his husband.

Before too long the garish buildings of the coast were replaced with soft, rolling hills and farm fields just beginning to be worked and planted. Aaron had dozed off at some point along the way, only waking when the car came to a sudden stop on a noisy gravel surface.

“Just gonna pop in and get Charlie.” Aaron made an attempt to straighten up so he could follow Robert into Home Farm. “Stay, it’s ok. I’ll just be a sec.” Robert’s hand was warm on the top of Aaron’s thigh as he applied a gentle pressure there before shifting and opening the door. The air didn’t seem as cold away from the coast, as it filled the car.

Aaron was slumped in the front seat, his neck a bit stiff from the awkward angle he’d slept in on the drive home. He interlaced his fingers in front of his chest and stretched his arms out towards the windscreen, loosening the muscles in his shoulders and biceps. He was unable to stifle a yawn that escaped while he stretched, instead letting it out at full volume, eyes closed tightly and toes pointed towards the engine. Probably should’ve gone just to get outta this thing, he thought as he continued to work through his sore joints and muscles. After just a few minutes Robert appeared at the side door, Charlie propped on his hip with her overnight bag slung over his right shoulder. Aaron wasn’t exactly sure how, but somehow she looked different, bigger maybe.

Evening had set in, the twilight making everything shine in a brilliant silver and blue light. Robert said his goodbyes to Chrissie, who leaned down to kiss Charlie’s forehead, before making a quick waving gesture towards Aaron in the car; he reciprocated with a small motion of his own. Robert reached the car and opened the back door to strap the little girl into her seat behind Aaron. He turned in his seat and waited until she was buckled in before tickling up her chubby leg with his finger tips.

“Why hello there little lamb.” Aaron sang as Charlie squirmed under the attention and made to grab at his fingers in a desperate attempt to make him stop.

“Noooo papa!” Charlie babbled. She was just beginning to talk, stringing words together here and there, but mostly it was just incoherent noises mimicking what Aaron and Robert said. Aaron loved that she had learned “papa” first, even though he knew it annoyed the crap out of Robert.

“Let’s get home, yeah?” Robert was back behind the driver’s wheel, maneuvering them through the grounds of the large home. Aaron settled back into his seat and took Robert’s left hand in his right, his head tipped back onto the headrest.

The last three days hadn’t gone as planned for them; Robert’s still bruised ribs a reminder of just how horribly it had started. But today, today had been one of the best days of Aaron’s life. As he looked over to where Robert sat beside him, their fingers easily intertwined with Charlie babbling away behind them, it was easy for him to forget how it all started. His husband and daughter, the three of them finally together after everything. There were still a few lights on as they pulled into the pub, the village still busy even though it was late in the day.

“We should really look into finding our own place.” Robert mentioned as they sat inside the car, neither in any hurry to move.

“Mmm, agreed. It’d be nice to have a place just for us.” Aaron smoothed his thumb over the back of Robert’s hand.

“Or… could buy Charity outta her share of the pub? Remodel the flat.” Robert’s head was lying against the headrest, his eyes following Aaron’s every move.

Aaron didn’t immediately respond, but in all reality, that seemed like an even better option. They could take over the pub full-time, the scrapyard could become a side job, giving Adam a larger share of the profits. “Like that even better.” He finally agreed.

Robert grinned, his lips stretched from ear to ear and his eyes wide, “Yeah?”

“Sure,” Aaron nodded in agreement, “makes sense. It’d give us more time with Charlie and it’d mean less runnin’ between here and the scrapyard. Could give Adam major share there, with the baby and all. Maybe even do the reno here ourselves?”

Robert moved quickly and kissed him as soon as he was done speaking, little feather light kisses where their lips barely touch. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Aaron kissed him back mimicking Robert.

“Dada,” a sleepy voice drifted from the backseat. Charlie was rubbing at her eyes with the backs of her hands, a sure sign of a child on the verge of losing the battle with sleep.

“Alright sweetheart, let’s get you inside.” Robert turned to look at her, the very corner of his mouth just barely lifting into an automatic smile. Aaron watched as he reached into the back and patted her on the knee, reassuring her that she had been heard.

“Bedtime I think.” Robert said as he made his way out of the car and towards the boot; the air decidedly colder now that night was sufficiently under way.

Aaron nodded his agreement as he opened Charlie’s door and started unbuckling her, maneuvering her out of the contraption. She tucked herself into his chest, forehead pressed to the side of his neck, and her little hands wrapped up in the material of his jumper. Aaron wound his arms around her tightly, protecting her from the chilly night’s air and rushed towards the backdoor of the flat. The warmth radiating from the open door was a welcome invention back into their home. There was the ever present muffled noise from the pub, but the flat was quiet and empty.

“I’m just gonna take her up.” Aaron said once Robert was also inside with the door closed behind him.

“I’ll be right behind you. Just gonna lock up and grab a water. You want anything?” Robert had put their bags down at the bottom of the stairs, Aaron was already two steps up.

“I’m good, thanks.” He leaned down to Robert and kissed him gently and slowly, Charlie still tight against his chest.

“Alright then, I’ll just be a minute.” Robert kissed the back of Charlie’s head before going through the door to his right and out of sight.

Aaron proceeded upstairs and into his old room, the space now firmly dedicated to their little Charlie. She was nearly asleep when he laid her out on the changing table, pulling off her tiny shoes and socks, tossing them across the room towards her dirty laundry. He went to the dresser and pulled out a pair of footie pajamas, incredibly soft grey and white striped material with a tiny giraffe embroidered over the left chest and a clean diaper from the top drawer. She had starfished on the mat, her arms out to each side and her legs slack, her face pointing away from him. He placed a hand on her abdomen, watching it rise and fall with her breathing, the gold band a new addition to the familiar scenario. Her hair was tangled in a messy ponytail at the back of her head, mostly falling out of the loose band that held some of the strands in place, so Aaron gently untangled the stretchy band out from between the soft mess and tossed it in the same direction as her shoes.

He got her changed and into bed without her waking up, a feat he’s perfected over the last couple months. Aaron stood next to her crib, the new gold ring again catching his eye against the dark wood bars; it was strange to think about the last forty-eight hours and everything that had changed. This was the first moment of silence he’d had since being married, to Robert. He smiled and shook his head at the thought, still unable to process the idea that they had actually done it. He was Aaron Sugden now, no longer a Dingle by name even though his heart would never know any different.

“You ok?” Robert had quietly opened the door, glass in hand.

“Course. Just getting her settled.” Aaron turned from Charlie’s crib and crossed the room. “Knackered though.”

Robert placed a hand on Aaron’s waist, pulling their bodies together, “Sure you don’t have one more in ya?” He moved his mouth over Aaron’s pulse point on his neck as he spoke.

It took everything in him not to push Robert back into their room, but he honestly didn’t know if he’d be able to stay awake long enough to make it worth it. “Babe, I’m exhausted.” Aaron said as he pushed a hand through Robert’s hair.

“But it’s our wedding night.” Robert continued mouthing at Aaron’s neck, bound and determined to leave a mark.

“And we’ve already thoroughly celebrated. Do ya need remindin’ about the car?”

Robert literally harrumphed, “No.” He sounded like a scolded child.

“Come on… bedtime.” Aaron squeezed between Robert and the door, pushing out into the hallway and tugging his husband after him by the hand.

“Now that we’re married you’ve gone all old man on me.” Robert complained as they entered their room.

“I doubt either of us would even make it to getting our clothes off at this point.” As if on cue, Robert let out a loud, mouth gaping yawn. “Told ya.”

Aaron took off every stitch of clothing and climbed into the cool bed.

“That’s unfair. Sleeping starkers next to me.” Robert followed suit and dropped his clothes into a heap at the foot of the bed.

“Could say the same thing.” Aaron watched his husband, every lean muscle and freckle marked inch of skin, fold himself under the sheets. He smiled across the space and held his left hand out to invite Aaron to budge over.

“I love you.” Robert whispered into Aaron’s left ear after he’d finally settled into the space in front of him; Aaron’s back pressed to Robert’s chest, their legs forming the same shape under the heavy blanket.

“...love you too…” Aaron mumbled just as he drifted off.

Chapter Text

June 2017

 

--

 

Friday 16th

 

The renovations had only just begun and Robert was already sick of it. The wallpaper had been stripped off the walls, the kitchen gutted, and old carpet ripped up in anticipation of new hardwood floors. Robert liked the design process, picking out paint colors and drawer fronts, but he hated the construction.

 

“Hate’s a pretty strong word.” Aaron said as he placed Roberts’ tea down on the bar. They’d taken to eating in the pub while the flat was a mess.

 

“If we hired builders, it’d be done in half the time…”

 

Aaron cut him off, “We’ve talked about this Rob. We don’t need builders.” Aaron aggressively put his pint down on the counter and went through to the back.

 

“Could have a word, if you think it’ll help.” Dan offered from the other side of the bar.

 

“I just don’t see what the big deal is? He’s taking it personally, like I don’t trust him. I just want it to be done.” Frustration coloring his voice.

 

Dan got up and moved closer to where Robert was sitting, “I’ll have a word. See if I can help.”

 

Robert shook his head, “He’ll think I went behind his back, sought you out.”

 

“Why don’t I go around back, have a look ‘round.” Dan was such a good man, so sincere and genuine.

 

Aaron came through the back doors just then, arms full of plates.

 

“Can I help?” Robert asked as Aaron hurried past him.

 

“I’ve got it.” Aaron deftly moved between tables, setting down plate after plate. He didn’t always smile and say the right thing to the customers, but he was always fast and every plate came out correct, every time.

 

“Meet me ‘round back.” Dan said quietly and waited until Aaron had busied himself with a new table before abandoning his pint on the bar and making his way out the front door. Robert watched Aaron as he worked, carefully pouring drinks and checking on tables; he wished he had half the talent that Aaron did for this type of work.

 

Robert caught Aaron in the back hall, hands once again carrying plates of food for another table, “Can you give me just a minute?”

 

“I need to get these out.” Aaron tried to make his way past Robert and into the bustling pub, but Robert caught him by the apron before he could make it back through the double-doors.

 

“Hey,” his voice quiet and soothing, “I trust you to make the flat perfect. You know that right?”

 

“I know…” Aaron said, matching Robert’s eye contact.

 

Robert leaned in and gave him a quick kiss, just enough to set the point home before releasing the fabric from his fist, sending Aaron through the doors and into the noisy space. He made his way to the back door and let Dan in so he could take a look around.

 

“He’s got a pretty good start. Are you plannin’ any major changes, or just a bit of paint?” Dan stood in the middle of what once was the kitchen.

 

“Mostly just paint and some updates. There was talk about a second loo upstairs, but if he’s not willing to get help, then I don’t think it’ll get done.”

 

“Anything major like that definitely needs a professional. I’d be happy to pass along a reference.” Dan offered as he kicked at a loose bit of rubble on the floor.

 

“Keep it between us though, yeah?” Neither Robert or Dan heard the door from the pub as Aaron entered trying to find where Robert had gotten to.

 

“Keep what between ya?” Aaron was just inside the door, arms folded across his chest and a sour look on his face. “Ya know what? Nevermind, I don’t wanna know. Your tea’s gone cold and I could use a hand.” He didn’t wait for a response, instead turning and leaving Robert and Dan staring at the doorway.

 

“Shit.” Robert mumbled and started moving towards the door.

 

“I’ll, uh… get you that number.”

 

“Yeah, yeah… sure.” Robert barely looked back at Dan as he rushed after Aaron who had busied himself behind the bar, wiping down various shelves and rearranging glasses.

 

Robert walked up beside him, but didn’t say anything. He stood and watched as Aaron tried his hardest to not break the glasses and plates he handled, trying desperately to control his anger and frustration. Robert could see the slight shake in his hands and the way he wrung the towel that the effort to control himself was unbearable.

 

“Why don’t you take a break, yeah? Get yourself something to eat. I’ll hold down the fort.” He didn’t reach out for him, even though there was nothing more in the world that he wanted to do, but Robert knew that that probably wouldn’t end well.

 

Aaron said nothing as he turned towards Robert and paused momentarily, just long enough for their eyes to meet and for Robert to understand everything swirling around in Aaron’s brain. Once again, he’d fucked up.

 

--

 

Aaron didn’t come back for the rest of the night, leaving Robert and Marlon to handle the pub on a busy Friday night. They got through it though, finally turning off the lights and locking the door somewhere close to midnight. Robert found Aaron sitting on the stairs, a cuppa resting on his right knee and his left elbow digging into his left, his chin resting in his upturned palm.

 

“He offered Aaron, I didn’t ask. And before you have a go at me, he said you’re doing well. But if we’re still thinking about a second bath upstairs that he can get us in touch with someone he knows who can help.” It all rushed out of Robert before he had a chance to stop himself. “I don’t want us to fight over this. It’s ridiculous. I know you just want to do it, for us. And I’m not saying you can’t, just maybe take the help that’s offered is all. How can it hurt to have a second set of hands? Or someone who can be working while you’re in the pub. It doesn’t mean…”

 

Aaron interrupted and honestly saved Robert from himself, “Sorry, about earlier with Dan and stormin’ off. I just… I just want to do as much myself as possible. Really make this our home, ya know? I need to prove to ya that I can do this.” Aaron looked up to Robert who was standing at the bottom of the stairs.

 

“You don’t have to prove a thing to me Aaron. And I won’t think you couldn’t do it if you ask for help. I’ll love it no matter what because it’s ours. Couldn’t care less how it happens.” Robert squeezed in next to Aaron so they shared the same step. Robert took the mug from Aaron’s hand and took a sip; he liked his tea with a bit less milk than Aaron, but the warm liquid still tasted delicious after the long night.

 

Aaron leaned towards him and rested his head on Robert’s left shoulder. The mug was warm in his hands. They sat saying nothing for a bit, just letting the air settle around them. Aaron sighed and rubbed his cheek the against the fabric of his shirt.

 

“Let me do it and I promise to ask for help if I need it.” Aaron offered.

 

“And anything big, you’ll let Dan help? Promise?” Robert countered.

 

“Yeah, promise.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday 21st

 

“Can I get a hand in here?!” Aaron had been working for nearly four days straight on the flat. They had decided that during the week, when the pub was slow, Aaron would work on the reno while Robert manned the front. It had been working well for the past week.

 

“Hello?” Aaron was stuck under a load of boxes from the store; he didn’t want to drop them, but he couldn’t tell where he was or if there was somewhere safe to put them down.

 

“Hang on! Hang on, I’m on my way!” It was Dan who came to his call, pushing through the swinging door from the pub to help him set things down safely.

 

“Cheers. Thanks mate.” Dan carefully took the top two boxes from the stack and put them on what’s left of the kitchen counter. “And thanks, for offerin’ to help.”

 

“Ah, no worries. Happy to help.” Dan dusted his hands off, inspecting the boxes next to him. “Tiles? Ever done tiling before?”

 

“For the kitchen. I haven’t, but I watched some videos on Youtube… can’t be that hard.”

 

“Um…” Dan scratched at his head, “can I just… show you? Get ya started?”

 

“Sure, if you got the time.”

 

They settled in with new trowels and buckets of adhesive, Dan showing Aaron the proper thickness to apply the thin-set, how to make the ridges and finally laying the first tile.

 

“Think you got it?” Dan asked, scraping the backside of his trowel on the edge of the bucket.

 

“Seems simple enough.”

 

“Just take your time, yeah? Lay out your tiles on the ground first, so you’ve got your pattern set and then go a bit at a time.”

 

“Got it.”

 

“And I’ll be ‘round for a bit, if you have questions.” Dan had walked towards the door out of the flat.

 

“A bit at a time. Cheers Dan!” Aaron called as he started unboxing the subway tile onto the countertop.

 

It took much longer than he had expected, but once each grey tile was set he stood back and surveyed the progress. “Not bad. Think you earned yourself a pint.” He said out loud to himself, brushing his hands together to get rid of any lingering thin-set. Proud of his accomplishment, he left the kitchen and went to find Robert.

 

“Hey!” He rushed up behind him, wrapping his arms around Robert’s waist and pushing his chest into the other’s back. “You should go and check out the kitchen.”

 

“What’s Marlon done now?” Robert swayed a bit, Aaron moving easily with him.

 

“Our kitchen, you git.”

 

“Yeah?” Robert turned to face him, his hands coming up to cup Aarons’ jaw. He kissed him gently, just a brush of dry lips.

 

“Yeah.” Aaron was absolutely lost in Robert’s presence. They had been really working on their relationship, really trying to talk more and fight less; it showed and friends had even commented on the change.

 

“Ok. Can you watch the bar while I go round back?” They were still close, breath lingering in the same space between their faces.

 

“Doug?” Aaron turned his head suddenly, disrupting the content space between them, towards the older man standing on the other side of the wood expanse. “Can you watch the bar for a second?”

 

“Don’t see why not.” He responded and made his way around.

 

Aaron led Robert into the flat, excited and nervous for him to see the progress he’d made. He stood behind Robert as he made his way further into the space, inspecting the work.

 

“Probably isn’t dry yet, but it’s good yeah?” Aaron was so nervous and Robert’s lack of response was starting to worry him.

 

Robert turned in the space, surrounded by the remnants of Aaron’s work, “You did this?”

 

Aaron just nodded, chewing aggressively on the thumbnail of his right hand.

 

“I’m… speechless.” Robert turned completely and made his way back to where Aaron was standing. “It’s beautiful.”

 

“Really?”

 

Robert nodded, threading his arms around Aaron’s waist and pulling their bodies flush. He ducked and kissed at Aaron’s neck, tiny appreciative pecks to the scruffy skin there. Aaron pulled him closer around the shoulders, raising up to his toes so Robert had better access to his favorite spot along Aaron’s throat. Aaron tipped his head to the right, exposing the soft skin along the column of his neck, Robert taking the bait and lightly brushing his teeth along the skin there.

 

“It looks so lovely Aaron.” Robert said into his neck, somehow pulling them tighter together.

 

“Good. I’m happy you like it.” Aaron moved them from side-to-side, swaying just a bit. He hummed, low and at the back of his throat.

 

“Thank you.” Robert abruptly raised his head from Aaron’s shoulder, their faces just a breath apart. “I don’t say it enough, but you know…”

 

Aaron smiled, never averting his eyes where they were locked on Robert’s, “I know,” he interrupted.

 

Robert leaned in and pressed their lips together, firm pressure and heat radiating off his husband. Aaron sighed into the embrace, his knees sagging just a little.

Chapter Text

August 2017

 

--

 

Wednesday 9th

 

The renovations had been going on for months now and if Robert thought he hated it after only a couple weeks, now he could barely stand to be in the same room as Aaron. They fought all the time and it was usually Roberts’ fault, but he had just had enough. Aaron constantly reassured him that it was almost over, just a few things here and there, but he knew better. They had been living out of boxes and eating in the pub for months and as far as he could tell, it wasn’t going to be over any time soon, no matter what Aaron said.

 

He had kept his promise to get professional help for the addition of a second bath upstairs, creating a huge and luxurious master suite for them, but other than that things had progressed at a snail's pace. They were in the midst of another epic screaming match when Aaron stormed off, again.

 

“Don’t you dare!” Robert had yelled after him.

 

“Or what Robert!?” Aaron spun on his heel at the door leading out of the flat. The space was wide open now and Robert could see straight through from where he stood in what was supposed to be the new kitchen.

 

“You do not get to storm off like a child every damn time!” It was a continuation of the argument that had started that morning; Aaron insisting that he didn’t need help with finishing, Robert not believing him.

 

“Well I’m not gonna just stand here and listen to you go on about this again. It’ll get done when it gets done!” And with that Aaron opened and slammed the door behind him.

 

Robert threw the mug he’d been holding across the room, it making contact with the closed door. “Fuck!”

 

He heard the familiar sound of Aaron’s text message tone going off somewhere amongst the debris on the kitchen table. Once, then again, then again, and again. He swept the loose papers and paint chips to the floor, finding the thing lying face down on the table. It chirped again, the screen illuminating the table underneath it. Robert picked it up and punched in Aaron’s code to see a photo of himself and Charlie napping on their bed one lazy Sunday morning. It suddenly went off again, a small notification dropping down from the top of the screen.

 

E : You ignoring me now? Fighting again?

 

Robert instinctually went into his messages only to discover seven unread messages from E. He sat down at the table and opened the thread.

 

--

 

“They never stopped Vic.” Robert had sat at the kitchen table for hours, reading every message they had ever sent to one another. He quickly realized that E was Elliot, the guy Aaron had dated briefly before they got back together almost a year ago now. He and Aaron had been in contact the entire time, mostly nothings and just random conversations, but there were definitely a few not so innocent messages as well.

 

“You shouldn’t have looked Rob. It’s not yours to look at.” Motherhood was well worn by his little sister. Baby Rose was just three months old now and sleeping soundly swaddle against Vic’s chest. Robert had packed up Charlie and gone to hers after reading one particularly unsettling exchange.

 

“Are you serious? My husband’s been sexting someone and I don’t have the right to know?” Robert put his mug down on the table before he chucked it across the room as well.

 

“Of course you do, but you shouldn’t have gone into his phone is all. And a few random messages from an ex is hardly sexting, Robert.”

 

“It wasn’t just messages though, was it?” Robert had stumbled upon a late night conversation between them from earlier in the year that included a few choice shots of Elliot’s hard cock.

 

“Did Aaron…”

 

“No, he sent them to Aaron.”

 

“And what did Aaron do?” Vic took a sip of tea.

 

“I don’t know, I closed the phone once I saw them and came here. But he mustva done somethin’ for him to send them. You don’t just send someone those types of pictures if the other person hasn’t encouraged it.”

 

Vic raised an eyebrow at him, “Really? You really are out of the loop, aren’t you?”

 

“What?” Robert had no idea what she was talking about.

 

“Ever heard of an unsolicited dick pic? Yeah, give one guy your number and all of a sudden your inbox is full of em.”

 

“And how would you know that? How’ve you been givin’ your number to?”

 

“Potential clients, customers who have my business card, you name it. I’ve had so many numbers blocked because of it. Guys are disgusting.”

 

“But they carried on after the pictures, so obviously Aaron wasn’t bothered by them.” Robert lowered his head onto the table, “Vic, what am I gonna do? What if he leaves me?”

 

“He’s not gonna leave ya.” She reached across the table and patted the back of his head. “You’ve gotta tell him though. That you saw the messages. And try to be calm about it.”

 

Robert picked his head up and rested his chin on the table, “I never thought we’d be here. In this situation. I thought we were done with all this. We’re married, a family and now this. After everything and now this. If I hadn’t pushed him about this stupid reno, if I’d just let him do it on his own and trusted him to get it done…”

 

“Robert, this has nothing to do with the reno. You said it yourself, it’s been goin’ on for awhile. I think you need to talk to him. Get his side.”

 

Robert shook his head in agreement and finished off his tea, “Yeah, I just don’t want to.”

 

“Well, you’re gonna have to.”

 

Robert exhaled loudly and put his chin back down onto the table. Vic was absolutely right, they were going to have to have a conversation about this. The real question was, how could he keep it from becoming a full blown, devastating, be-all-end-all argument? He realized that he couldn’t. This could very well be the end of them. Aaron had been having a secret relationship with an ex for nearly a year, all the while pretending to be married to him.

 

“I’ve gotta go. I need to get Charlie to bed.” Robert pushed back from the table and stood on shaky legs.

 

“You guys can stay here tonight if ya want.” Vic stood in one quiet and quick movement.

 

Robert shook his head, “Thanks for the offer, but I just want to go home.” The irony didn’t escape him. “While I still have one.”

 

“Come ‘ere.” She pulled him into a hug, as much as she could with a baby strapped to the front of her. “I’m sure there’s a good explanation for all of it. Just, let him talk yeah. Give him a chance to explain.”

 

“Thanks sis, for everything.” He kissed Rose’s tiny head where it rested against Vic’s chest and squeezed Vic’s shoulder before turning to gather Charlie from in front of the telly.

 

He waved at Vic as he and Charlie made their way out the front door and into the perfect summer evening. The long days made even the late hour seem early, with the sun just barely beginning to set. Charlie was at the age where she wanted to walk on her own, so he took her tiny hand in his and they set off back towards the Woolpack. It was the middle of the week, a slow Wednesday night. He had ducked in to tell Marlon he was going out for a bit to see Vic and the other man had assured him he’d be fine. By the looks of it, the night had stayed quiet.

 

Charlie’s tiny legs made the normal two minute walk back take nearly twenty, but Robert was enjoying their time together. She was supposed to go to Chrissie’s for the weekend, so that would give him a chance to confront Aaron without her being there. The last thing he wanted was to have this argument in front of Charlie. She heard enough because of the constant bickering about the renos and this was probably going to be much, much worse. They reached the front door finally and walked in to find just Marlon behind the bar, absentmindedly scrolling through his phone.

 

“Slow night?” Robert asked, startling Marlon who dropped his phone into the sink behind the bar.

 

“Shit! What?” He quickly retrieved it, wiping it down the front of his chef’s jacket.

 

“Why don’t you head home?” Robert made his way around the bar, having picked up Charlie as they made their way through the back doors.

 

“You sure? I don’t mind…”

 

“Go Marlon. Just shut down and make sure the door’s locked on your way out.” Robert said as he went through to the flat.

 

“Alright. Thanks Rob!” Marlon called after him from the double doors.

 

Robert raised his free hand and waved in the general direction of the other man. The flat was dark, no sign of Aaron having come home. Probably with Elliott . He thought as he went upstairs towards Charlie’s room. She was quiet, nearly asleep after their walk home.

 

“Bedtime you.” He got her ready for bed and placed her in her crib, tucking her blanket around her chest. “I hope we can fix this.” He said to her as he tucked her in. She blew out a tiny breathe, rubbed her eyes and smiled up at him.

 

“Lub you dada.” And with that she was asleep.

 

Robert absolutely lost it; he sank down beside her crib and wept, harder than he had in a very long time. He couldn’t figure out what had happened. What had gone wrong. They were happy, aside from the reno nightmare, but in general they were really happy. When they had come back from the coast and had told a crowded pub of family and friends about their impromptu wedding, everyone had commented that they both seemed so content and settled, genuinely happy. And they were, at least Robert was. They bought the pub, started to make it their own, and were even discussing the possibility of having more children. They were really making a go of it, but obviously it wasn’t enough for Aaron. Robert wasn’t enough. Charlie wasn’t enough. Aaron had kept in contact with an ex lover because Robert wasn’t enough.

 

He laid on his side on the floor next to Charlie’s crib, his knees pulled to his chest, and stared into the darkness, trying to get his mind to just shut up.

 

--

 

Thursday 10th

 

Robert woke up on the floor of Charlie’s room, completely disoriented; his eyes red and burning from crying and his throat scratchy and sore. Charlie bounced in her crib above him. “Dada! Dada! Dada!”

 

He struggled to right himself on the floor, his whole body feeling heavy and hungover even though he hadn’t touched alcohol last night. He’d contemplated it, going into the pub and grabbing the closest bottle he could find and drowning his sorrows in whatever liquor he found, but he’d fallen asleep before he could get downstairs.

 

“Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!” He slowly got up off the floor, using the crib to steady himself as he got to his full height.

 

He picked the squirming toddler up and gave her a kiss to the cheek.

 

--

 

“Could you take her today? I’m not feeling well and I’d rather her not get whatever it is I’m coming down with.” Robert’s phone was on speaker and lying beside Charlie on the changing table as he tried desperately to keep her still enough to get clothes on her.

 

“Of course! I have a meeting at ten, but I can come by when it’s done. Shouldn’t be more than an hour, hopefully.” Chrissie’s voice came through the speaker loudly.

 

“Mummy!” Charlie wailed at the familiar sound on the other end.

 

“Hiya love! See you soon!”

 

“Thanks Chris. I’ll see ya later, yeah?” He finally got Charlie into her outfit and set her on the floor.

 

“Later Rob.” He ended the call and put his phone into his back pocket, the same pocket where Aaron’s phone was.

 

He hadn’t heard Aaron this morning and the other man hadn’t come looking for either of them overnight. He wasn’t even sure he was home. Charlie was running around her room, taking books off her bookshelves and just generally reeking havoc in the small space when there was a tentative knock at the door. Speak of the devil .

 

“You don’t have ta knock.” Robert said, picking up the trail of destruction that Charlie was leaving in her wake.

 

“Just heard you were on the phone, didn’t wanna interrupt.” Aaron said as he opened the door.

 

“Papa!” Charlie ran towards Aaron and clung to his legs, nearly toppling him over.

 

“I’m um… not feeling great. Chrissie’s gonna pick her up around eleven. Could you entertain her til she gets here?” Robert didn’t look at him; didn’t think he could without bursting into tears. Instead he busied himself with tidying up her room, collecting dirty laundry, anything really to keep himself from having to look at Aaron.

 

“You ok? Can I do anything?” Aaron picked Charlie up and walked towards where Robert was in the room.

 

Robert reflexively shyed back from him, crossing his arms across his chest and out of the way of Aaron’s touch. “I just asked if you could watch Charlie til Chrissie gets here.” He couldn’t help they way it came out. He was sure this confrontation wasn’t going to wait until the weekend.

 

“Rob… what’s goin’ on?” Aaron tried to move closer towards him, but Robert once again moved to avoid Aaron’s hand.

 

“I just want to take a shower and lie down. Can you do this or should I ask Vic?” Robert finally looked up and met Aaron’s gaze. His eyes looked concerned as they quickly moved over Robert’s face.

 

“Of course I can.” Aaron commented gently, cottoning on to Robert’s mood.

 

“Papa! Toast papa!” Charlie demanded from Aaron’s arms.

 

“I’ll check on ya in a bit, yeah?”

 

Robert nodded once and turned his back on Aaron and Charlie as they left the room. He placed both hands on the top of Charlie’s bookcase, back bent and head down. He blew out a huge shaky breath and dropped his chin to his chest, eyes squeezed shut.

 

“Fuck…” he began to cry again as he heard Aaron and Charlie make their way down the stairs, giggling and laughing the whole way.

 

--

 

It had been hours since he left Robert in Charlie’s room and Aaron was full on worried now. Chrissie had been by to collect Charlie and he had spent the last bit just wandering around the pub, trying to keep himself busy.

 

“Marlon, you talked to Robert lately?” It was a dreadfully slow afternoon.

 

“Um… he came through last night with Charlie. Had me close early.” Marlon was sat in a booth, with a cuppa and the paper.

 

“When was that?”

 

“Hm-m… around 8 I think. Why? What’s goin’ on?” He put the paper down and turned in his seat to face Aaron who was behind the bar.

 

“Nothin’. He’s not feeling well. Just thought maybe he said somethin’ last night is all.”

 

“Nope. He looked tired though.”

 

“Thanks. I’m just gonna go and check on him.” Aaron went to go through the double doors when he paused. “Hey Marlon, haven’t seen my phone, have ya?”

 

“Nope.” He had turned his attention back to his paper and didn’t look up to see Aaron nod slightly.

 

Aaron made his way through the deathly silent flat, almost expecting Robert to have left. He opened the door to their room to see Robert’s mass sleeping soundly under a mountain of thick blankets with only his mop of blond hair sticking wildly out from the top. He looked so small in the large bed, curled up on his right side, facing away from the door and Aaron.

 

Aaron smiled to himself, taking in the sight of his husband bundled up tightly and resting peacefully. He moved through the room and towards the attached bath, where he picked up a towel that Robert had discarded onto the floor after showering. He stood in the doorway and watched Robert sleep; his breathing even and shallow, just a bit of his face visible where it rested against his pillow.

 

He brushed his hand against the end of the duvet where Robert’s feet laid motionlessly and exited the room. After gathering a sandwich, glass of water, and some cold medicine he returned to see that Robert had shifted to his left side, but had pulled the soft covering over himself entirely. Aaron sat the items he’d brought down on the table next to Robert’s side of the bed and perched on the small space between Robert’s body and the edge of the bed. He rubbed at Robert’s shoulder over the duvet.

 

“I brought you something to eat and some water. How’re you feeling?” Aaron asked in a hushed tone, not wanting to fill the space with unnecessary noise.

 

Robert sniffed from his position under the blankets, but didn’t lower them. Aaron could feel him rubbing his feet together, something he did when he was cold and just on the verge of falling asleep, a reflex Aaron had learned from their many nights together.

 

“Hey.” Aaron tried to move the cover off of Robert’s face so he could see the state of him, but Robert abruptly pulled it out of his grasp and rolled over to his right and closer to the middle of the bed. “Robert. What’s goin’ on? Do you need a doctor?”

 

Aaron was officially concerned. Robert was never one to suffer in silence; even the smallest cold could elicit a childlike overreaction from him. It was completely unlike him to act this way and Aaron was now more concerned than ever. He moved onto the bed and towards Robert who had pulled his long limbs as close to himself as he could, forming a small ball under the duvet.

 

“You need to tell me what’s goin’ on. I’m worried Rob.” He reached for the blanket again, trying once more to move it back just a bit so he could look at the other man.

 

“Can you leave please?” Robert’s voice was harsh and scratchy from non-use.

 

“What? Seriously?”

 

“Please? Just… I don’t want to do this right now. Can you just go?” The blanket was still covering all of Robert’s form, his voice muffled by the thick material.

 

“Do what? Robert?” Aaron got up from the bed and went around to his side, climbing onto the mattress to lie next to Robert.

 

Aaron could feel the bed shake slightly with tiny shudders coming from the man under the blankets. “Love, what’s goin’ on? Why’re you crying? What’s happened?” Aaron wrestled the blanket out of Robert’s grasp and pulled it off of his curled up form.

 

If Aaron thought he had looked small and childlike sleeping under the mass of coverings, nothing compared to seeing his body curled in on itself, hair obviously not dried after showering and sticking up in every direction, his form positioned almost centrally in their massive mattress. His face was impossibly pale, the skin around his eyes a sharp contrast of red against the milky planes of his face. Tears still falling silently down across his cheeks and pooling against the bridge of his nose. His arms tightly wrapped around his chest, his hands tucked deep under each arm and his knees pulled in so close to his chest. His feet were bare and freezing.

 

“Robert, what’s happened love? Are you ok? Is Charlie… Vic… somethin’s happened and you need to tell me. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.” Aaron was shocked at the state of his normally confident and larger-than-life partner.

 

Robert didn’t respond, he just laid on the bed sobbing quietly into the sheet below him. Aaron soothed a hand down his back, trying to comfort him, but Robert flinched at his touch.

 

“This can’t be about the fight yesterday? It’s the same one we’ve been havin’ for weeks! You know I’ll get it done. And I’ll ask Dan for some more help, see if we can’t get it knocked out next week, yeah? I can’t stand to see ya like this. Talk to me.” Aaron kept his hands to himself, not wanting to add more aggravation to an already tense situation.

 

Robert didn’t say anything for a while and Aaron laid next to him wanting nothing more than to reach out and hold him. He couldn’t for the life of himself figure out what had happened. Finally, Robert uncurled himself and sat too quickly in the middle of the bed. Aaron stayed on his side, propping himself up on his left elbow and watched as the other man reached under his pillow to retrieve what Aaron quickly recognized as his phone.

 

“Why’ve you got that? I’ve been lookin’ for it.” He slowly moved to a similar seated position opposite Robert, who turned the phone over and over again in his hands which laid in his lap. “Rob…”

 

He finally looked up to stare at Aaron, his eyes bloodshot and so red which made the icy blue which normally was so lovely seem so cold. “You left it in the kitchen when you stormed out yesterday.”

 

“Ok. Can I have it?” Aaron feebly reached his hand towards Robert, expecting him to give up the device.

 

“Why? Expecting a call? Or maybe a message?” Robert didn’t blink and didn’t take his eyes off of Aaron’s.

 

“No.” He said slowly, not knowing if that was the right answer or not.

 

“Hm-m…” suddenly Robert threw the phone at him, the thing landing with a resounding thud against his chest. “Might want to text Elliot and let him know you’re alright. He’s worried.” And with that he was up, stalking across the room and slamming the bathroom door closed behind him. The sound of the lock ticking closed reverberating off of every silent surface.

 

Aaron sat motionless on the bed, his mobile resting quietly in the space between his folded legs. He could hear Robert pacing in the bathroom, crying. He had fucked up on a monumental level. He had no idea what to do or say, his brain swirling with meaningless excuses and reasons as to why he had allowed it to continue. None of them were enough to excuse what he’d done. And now Robert knew.

 

Something heavy hit the opposite side of the door which startled him and caused him to twist in his spot. His heart beating so fast and his head absolutely pounding with inexcusable hurt. He had fucked up and he didn’t know what to do now. He reached for the phone and brought the thing to life, punching in Robert’s birthday which he used as his code; the photo which normally greeted him of Robert and Charlie had been replaced by one which Elliot had sent him months ago. Aaron quickly realized that Robert had seen them all; every text, every photo, everything. He quickly opened the message thread and sent two words to Elliot: he knows.

 

--

 

The sadness that Robert had been wallowing in was instantly changed to anger as he slammed the door behind himself and locked it. This all encompassing fury that he didn’t know how to contain. He’d never been so angry and disappointed in his entire life and he didn’t know what to do with it. Aaron used to turn on himself, cut at his skin until he felt anything else, but Robert’s way of dealing with it was to lash out at his surroundings. He couldn’t stop the tears carving canyons in his cheeks, but he could stop the shaking of his hands by picking up the nearest object and hurling it at the door separating him from Aaron. It didn’t stop the shaking or the absolute and acute ache in his chest, instead it just served to illustrate the shattered space between the two of them. Glass and pools of some type of liquid spilled about the clean room, a perfect representation of the current situation.

 

He heard Aaron get up and walk towards the door, heard him bang his head or fists against the surface and then a sliding sound. He heard Aaron cry and mumble to himself. And then another bang, probably the back of his head hitting the solid wood door. Then nothing. Robert stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by their daily lives, wanting to open it and make sure Aaron was still there. For some unknown reason it would be worse if he had left him to deal with this all on his own, but he couldn’t be the first to speak or god forbid open that door. So he waited in the middle of that pristine room until Aaron decided.

 

The light was fading, casting long shadows over the tiled surfaces when he finally heard him once again.

 

“Robert?” It was small and sad sounding.

 

Good . Robert thought. He wanted him to suffer, to feel even a bit of what he was going through.

 

“Open the door Robert. Please?” More emotion inflecting his plea this time.

 

Robert took a towel and scraped the broken bottle from in front of the door and pushed it to the side, careful not to step directly where he could see small slivers of glass still reflecting off the tilled surface. He slowly ticked the lock open and opened the door towards himself. Aaron was there on the floor, his back against the door and falling backwards as Robert removed the barrier between them. Robert waited for Aaron to shift and give him space to pass before he moved.

 

“I don’t know what to say…” Aaron began, still sitting on the floor, not looking at him. Robert felt huge, looming over him as he stepped past and further into their bedroom. Aaron stayed on the floor, sitting on his hands with his legs curled up in front of him.

 

“Try.” Was all he said, still standing only now at the end of their bed, the duvet a pile at his feet.

 

“He’s a mate. That’s it. I swear…”

 

“You swear? A mate?”

 

“Yes Robert, a mate. Nothing more. I prom…”

 

“You say things like I swear and I promise , but I just don’t believe you. At all! It means nothing Aaron!” Vic’s advice to stay calm playing on repeat in his head. Give him a chance to explain.

 

“The photo… it was nothing… he… he was talking to this bloke who just kept sending him photos and we were laughing about it… it’s not even his…”

 

“I just don’t believe you! Try again.” Robert shook his head in disbelief at Aaron’s story.

 

“Robert, it’s the truth, I swear. It was a joke about another guy. I never asked him to send it and I never sent him anything.” Aaron had moved to his knees.

 

Robert shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his body responding to the surge of adrenaline coursing through his blood. “It’s not just the photos though. You kept this from me for almost a year! There are messages in there… that don’t sound very joking…”

 

“Absolutely nothing has happened, I promise Robert. I would never…”

 

“Then why keep it from me!” He shouted.

 

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. He’s a mate…”

 

“No Aaron! He’s an ex! He’s not a mate!” More shouting.

 

Aaron scrubbed at his forehead; there was nothing he could say. “And Chrissie is your ex! You have a child and you don’t see me going through your phone to see what you’re talkin’ about!” Now Aaron was shouting too.

 

Robert wanted to lash out again, throw something at Aaron or just punch him square in the jaw. He was stuck though to the spot, completely dumbfounded by what Aaron had just said. “You want to go through my messages? You’re more than welcome to! Can guarantee they won’t be as interesting as your’s and Elliot’s though! What was that one he sent you? Back in April, right after we got married? You remember the one yeah?” Robert grabbed Aaron’s phone where he had left it on the bed. The message thread was open and he saw that Aaron had warned Elliot of the situation.

 

“Wooow….” he stretched out the vowel in the word, emphasizing his shock at the thought that Aaron had decided to reach out to this “mate” before coming to him. Robert looked down where Aaron still sat; he was crying now, big soaking wet drops staining the front of his t-shirt where they fell.

 

Robert scrolled back to the conversation he was thinking about that happened just days after they’d returned from the coast.

 

“You, got hitched! Surprise! Him, NOOOOOO! All capital letters by the way, with how many o’s? Six! Six o’s. You, yep, hands off from now on. Him, no fun! Would he share? You, he might, but i won’t. Him, i won’t tell if you don’t.” Robert paused and took a very deep breathe. “You” he stopped and looked down at Aaron who was bent over at the waist, his head resting on the floor, “never my darling.

 

“I…Robert...”

 

“Do you still promise Aaron? Still swear? Go on. Say it. Just mates right? JUST FUCKING MATES!” Robert hurled the phone towards him.

 

“It was nothing, honest! It was just talk! I haven’t seen him or properly talked to him since we got back together. I swe…”

 

“Just stop! For christ’s sake Aaron just bloody stop! You are a liar! All of this, us, our family! I hope he’s worth it Aaron. I hope you’re “mate” is worth it. I want you out… now. I don’t care where you go and I don’t care what you have to say. I want you out of my life, out of Charlie’s. I do not want my child around someone like you.”

 

“Robert please, just listen to me please.” He was getting up, standing on the opposite side of the room to where Robert stood. “It was absolutely nothing. It meant absolutely nothing. He means absolutely nothing. You and Charlie are my family, the only ones I have. The only ones I want. He’s just some guy who lives on the other side of the country who I never see and who means literally nothing to me. It was just words on a screen.” Aaron had taken a step closer towards Robert.

 

“Then why say it? Why still talk to him? If he means so little, why?” Robert was categorizing every minute detail about Aaron’s body language, trying to remember everything.

 

“If I meant any of it, do you think I’d still be here? Do you think I would’ve agreed to get married, buy the pub, do the reno? Come on Rob…” Aaron took another step towards him, the space between them shrinking. “You know me better than that. It was a joke. You have to believe me.”

 

“I don’t.” Robert looked up to meet Aaron’s eyes, silent tears once again falling.

 

Aaron ducked his head, “How can I convince you? What do you want me to do? Tell me. Anything.” Aaron tentatively closed the space just a fraction more.

 

Robert shook his head, “You can’t. There’s nothing you can do Aaron. I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you. You’ve been lying to me this whole time.” He continued to study Aaron’s body language; the way he held his head, the tension in his shoulders, the way his arms hung limp at his sides.

 

“I’ll call him!” Aaron looked up to Robert, “I’ll call him and you can ask him yourself. You can talk to him and he’ll tell you the same thing… that it was nothing… that it’s all a joke between mates.”

 

Aaron moved frantically around the room, trying desperately to find his phone that Robert had thrown. He was scrambling around the floor, typing in the code and dialing the number before Robert could protest.

 

“Tell him.” Aaron said into the mobile, handing it over to Robert. “Take it! Let him tell you.”

 

Robert stared at the phone, Elliot’s name illuminated on the screen, the little clock slowly ticking by second after second. Aaron’s arm was outstretched towards him, offering him the device. He could hear a muffled voice from the other end.

 

“Hello? Aaron? Can you hear me?”

 

Aaron pulled it back towards himself and hit the speaker button, the space filling with this other person’s voice. It sounded vaguely familiar; Robert had only had a handful of conversations with this person, but he remembered it.

 

“Aaron? You there?” Elliot asked, voice sounding too loud.

 

“Tell him Elliot. It was all a joke… between mates. That’s all.” Aaron was panicking, Robert could tell by the way he spoke and the frantic way he demanded Elliot to play along.

 

“Robert… I don’t know you, so I have no reason to lie to you. It’s all just a bit of banter among friends. That’s it, nothing more.” He sounded confident and self-assured. The exact opposite of how Robert was feeling at the present moment.

 

“See! I told you, it meant nothing! Robert! I told you!” Aaron was nearly hysterical.

 

Robert looked from the phone to Aaron, whose eyes were wide and red, he was still crying, or crying again, Robert didn’t know. He looked half mad, like he was about to derail at any moment. Robert looked back down to the phone and hit the end button, cancelling the call. He looked back to Aaron.

 

“Look… I’ll delete it all. Every message, every photo, all of it.” Aaron began to smash his index finger into the screen, desperate to erase any memory it held of Elliot. “Look! It’s all gone. All of it…” Aaron handed the device back to him, his hands shaking, showing him that it was all gone. “His number everything. Take it. Look.” Aaron was worked up, shaking the thing at Robert who stood absolutely still at the receiving end.

 

He hesitantly took the mobile from Aaron and looked through it. Aaron had done just as he’d said, it was all gone.

 

“And it’ll stay that way. I’ll block his number, ignore him. He’s not worth it… he means nothing. I’m sorry Robert. I’m sorry.” Aaron collapsed, like the rug had been pulled out from under him, like a rag doll thrown down by a child. He was a heap of crying, blubbering mess on the floor and all Robert could do was watch.

 

He kept repeating I’m sorry over and over again, his hands smothering his face making it hard to distinguish what he was saying, but Robert assumed it was some sort of apology. He didn’t know how he felt; confused, sad, disappointed, consumed. Aaron was having a visceral reaction to this, was so much more upset than he’d expected. Robert had expected a fight with screaming and swearing, not this.

 

“You lied to me Aaron. Deleting him.... This…” he gestured generally to where Aaron was on the floor, “doesn’t change that. How am I ever supposed to trust you again?” Robert spoke in a very unemotional tone, very calm and even, quite the juxtaposition to how Aaron was acting.

 

“You can Robert… honestly, you can. It just didn’t seem important. We were getting on with life, moving forward. He didn’t matter enough to mention because he was nothing. Is nothing.” Aaron explained from his position on the floor.

 

Robert sat down across from him, his legs tired and the lack of food or water over the past twenty-four hours finally catching up, the adrenaline rush from earlier long gone. “I just don’t know how to trust you right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to believe you. It’s still cheating Aaron. You still had this other life with someone else, even if it never went anywhere it still matters.”

 

“And I’m sorry Robert, for the rest of my life and the rest of yours… I will be eternally sorry. I get it, I do. If it was the other way around, I don’t know what I’d do. I just can’t…” he paused and looked directly at Robert when he spoke again. “I don’t know how to do this without you. I don’t know how to breathe without you, to wake up each day… I have nothing without you and Charlie. And it’s pathetic and sad, but it’s the truth. After mum… there was no point, I had nothing to stay for and I wanted to follow her because there didn’t seem to be any end to how I was feeling. And then Elliot came and changed everything. He was nice and new and not here. He was a distraction that helped me when I needed one and we’ve stayed friends. He was the person I went to when I couldn’t go to you.” Aaron wiped at his face, clearing away some of the snot and tears there, but he never took his eyes off of Robert.

 

“You always could’ve come to me. Even then.” Robert offered.

 

“No, I couldn’t. It was too much, to see you with Charlie and Chrissie. It was everything I had wanted and it was so far out of reach. You had made it clear that we weren’t a possibility, but Elliot… he was right there… I could reach out and touch him, be with him. Like I couldn’t be with you. And even after everything that’s happened in the last year, no matter how good we are, he still represents that point in my life where it felt like I had nothing. He did so much and it was so nice to still be wanted by him. And it’s not that you aren’t enough, because you are more than he will ever be. It’s that he’s different, he’s… a memory.”

 

Robert watched as Aaron spoke, the complete sincerity with which he chose each word and emphasized every syllable. It was all very deliberate and meaningful. “He clearly meant something.”

 

“Yes, he did. But you mean more than he ever has. You are my future, he is my past.”

 

Robert was flooded with emotion, spilling out of every pore and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He scooped Aaron up and onto his lap, hugging him so tightly his own arms ached. He had cried all of the tears he had, but he held Aaron as he shed his own. He let him work through whatever was going on in his head and held him through it all.

 

Somehow they had made it past this. When the day had started Robert was sure it would end in them separating at the very least. He didn’t know how it had all happened and he didn’t remember half of what was said, but this is where they had ended. One body indistinguishable from the other, a mass of limbs and torsos in a pile in the middle of their bedroom floor.

 

“I’m sorry… for keeping this from you.” Aaron said into the side of Robert’s neck where his head was tucked.

 

“I’m sorry you felt like you had to.”

 

It’d take the weekend and a lot more conversations, but they’d get past this. It would always be them; no one else comes close.

Chapter Text

Robert was fussing around the kitchen while Charlie sat on her knees at one of the chairs pulled up to the table. She was making a mess on the sheet of paper in front of her with various crayons and markers.

 

“That’s lovely little miss.” Robert kissed her on the crown of her head and sat her cup down amongst the things scattered about the table.

 

“Thanks daddy.” Charlie had just turned four and was such a little darling. Robert watched her expertly choose different colors and press them down to the paper. He heard a car pull up the gravel drive and soon Aaron entered through the front door into their home.

 

“Papa! Come see what I made!” Charlie stood on the chair and gestured wildly towards her drawing.

 

“Robert… we uh… got the letter… from the agency.” Aaron stared at the pile of mail in his hands with the unopened envelope on the top of the stack. He sat down on the arm of the settee, just momentarily taking his eyes off the mail to look for Robert.

 

“Well, you gonna open it then?” Robert walked over to him.

 

“I don’t… think I can. Here,” Aaron shoved the entire stack at Robert, “you do it.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“What if it’s bad news though?” Robert didn’t take the mail from him. Aaron put everything onto the table next to him except for the plain white envelope. He turned it over in his hands, studying the black name and address on the front.

 

“Won’t know til you open it love.” Robert put a hand on Aaron’s shoulder, squeezing gently in encouragement. Aaron nodded and tore the end of the envelope open, slipping the paper out. He read over it silently, his eyes quickly scanning the crisp white paper. Robert stood silently next to him, not daring to interrupt his husband as he read through the document. “So…” he finally asked after what felt like an eternity.

 

Aaron looked up to him with tears just beginning to form, “We’ve been approved.” The tears fell and Robert scooped him up in his arms and hugged the other man to his chest. Aaron kept repeating the phrase over and over again as they stood in the middle of their home, the letter crumbled to Robert’s back.

 

“Daddy? Why’s papa cryin’?” Charlie had gotten down off her chair and was standing next to the pair.

 

“Oh sweetheart!” Robert bent down and scooped up the little girl, adding her to the embrace.

 

“What’s the matter?” She asked from between them.

 

“Nothing love, nothing’s the matter.” Aaron answered, wiping tears from his eyes and cheeks. “These are happy tears!” His smile was so wide it nearly swallowed his eyes. Aaron moved to sit properly on the settee with Robert and Charlie joining him as he re-read the letter just to make sure.

 

“What’s it say papa?” Charlie looked over to what he was holding, desperately wishing she could make out the words.

 

“It says…” Aaron started, emotion causing his voice to catch in his throat, “it says that I’m gonna be a dad. And you’re gonna be a big sister.” Tears again began to fall over his cheeks. Robert wound an arm around his shoulders and pulled their upper bodies together, Charlie sitting half on Robert’s lap and half on Aaron’s.

 

“I’m gonna be a big sister!?” Charlie’s cheeks reddened and she clapped her hands in front of herself.

 

“Yes my love. Aaron’s gonna have a baby.” Robert explained.

 

“But daddy…” Charlie questioned Robert, “Papa’s a boy. Boys can’t have babies.”

 

Robert chuckled, “No love, I know. Papa’s friend will have the baby, but it’ll be half him and half her. Just like you’re half me and mummy.”

 

Charlie sat quietly, her nearly five year old brain desperately trying to make sense of everything. Finally she asked, “When do I get to meet ‘em?”

 

“Well, won’t be for a while yet. Probably not til after Christmas time.” Robert answered.

 

“If everything goes well.” Aaron added, knowing that you couldn’t give her an exact timeline because she would absolutely hold you to it.

 

“Who’s your friend papa? Is it Auntie Vic?” Charlie continued to question.

 

“No love, it’s not Auntie Vic.” Aaron laughed at the prospect of having a baby with Vic, although they had considered that before opting for a surrogate. “Her name’s Charlotte.”

 

“Like me! She’ll be perfect then!” Charlie was absolutely beaming as she looked up at Aaron.

 

“Indeed she will be.” Aaron looked from Charlie to Robert, tears still there at the edge of his eyes, but a smile stretched across his face. He hadn’t smiled this much since the day they got married, his cheeks hurt with the effort.

 

“That’s why we asked her because she reminded us of you. Would you like to see her picture?” Robert asked as he fished his phone out of the pocket of his jacket.

 

“Yes please!”

 

“Very nice manners miss.” Robert thanked her as he scrolled through the photo album on his phone, finally landing on a photo of Charlotte. “Here we go.” He passed his mobile over to her little hands.

 

Charlie gasped, “She’s beautifuller.” She tried so hard.

 

“Beautiful darling.” Robert corrected her.

 

“Beautiful, yeah! She’s beautiful papa!” She looked up from the photo to Aaron who was watching from his spot on the couch. “She looks like daddy!”

 

“That’s why we asked her love, cuz she looks like your daddy.” When they had decided to start looking into surrogacy, they made a conscious effort to find someone who resembled Robert as much as possible.

 

“Charlie is yours, properly. I think I’d like to have one too, that’s properly mine.” Aaron had suggested during those early days. “Not that I don’t think of ‘er as mine…”

 

Robert had nodded, “Of course. It should be you.” He agreed that Aaron deserved to have a child of his own and who was Robert to argue with having a little Aaron running around their home. He honestly couldn’t get the idea out of his head and had hoped that Aaron would agree to it.

 

So they contacted a number of different surrogacy agencies until they found the perfect one which specifically helped same-sex couples find willing partners to help. After spending months going over profiles of potential partners, they chose Charlotte. She’s 27, living in Leeds working as an author/journalist and looks surprisingly like Robert. They decided that if they couldn’t have a child together, at least they could try to find someone who matched Robert’s looks and personality as best as possible.

 

“Will I get to meet ‘er?”

 

“Dunno Charlie. I ‘spose so.” Aaron wasn’t sure how this all worked, but figured they’d be in constant contact with her once the process got started.

 

“Do you love ‘er?”

 

“No love. She’s just gonna help us have a baby, that’s all. I love your daddy.” Aaron looked to Robert who was watching the interaction between him and Charlie. Aaron was the patient one, the one to answer all of Charlie’s questions, no matter how long it took or how ridiculous they were.

 

She thought for a second, “Is it gonna be a boy or a girl?”

 

“Don’t know yet. Which do you prefer?” Aaron asked.

 

“Hm-m… I think a girl. There’s too many boys already.”

 

“Agreed!” Aaron said and held out his hand to her. She laid her tiny hand which was dotted with marker spots into his calloused one which he lifted to his lips and kissed the back of. She smiled and wriggled out of Roberts lap and into Aaron’s, hugging around his neck.

 

“Thank you papa.” She said into his neck.

 

“For what love?”

 

“For giving me a baby. And making my daddy so happy.” She was tucked under his chin, her golden blonde hair lying across his right shoulder, her fingers knitted into his jumper.

 

“Oh hun…” Aaron was crying again. How had he gotten so lucky? He already had a beautiful daughter, a husband, a home and now they would just be adding to their family with this new baby. His chest was so full of love, he thought it might burst. He hugged her a bit tighter.

--

 

Gabriel was born early on a Tuesday morning in the middle of a late winter snow storm. He was the spitting image of Aaron with a mop of dark curls on his head and dark grey-blue eyes that looked much too old and wise for the little man. He was the quietest baby anyone had ever met. He would lay and silently observe the world around him, just watching people come and go. Taking every new face in stride, studying every feature on each new visitor.

 

Watching Aaron with him was probably the greatest thing Robert had ever witnessed in his life, apart from the birth of Charlie. Both of them were in the room when he was born, but he was immediately handed to Aaron. Aaron had been reading article after article about the best ways for fathers to bond with their newborn, so he sat with Gabe laid out across his bare chest in the hospital suite, skin-to-skin. Robert cried at the sight and it wouldn’t be the last time the sight of his husband and their little boy dredged up an unstoppable emotion in him.

 

--

 

Robert gently moved off their large bed, Aaron curled up on his left side facing the middle of the mattress. It had been a long night, Gabe had colic which caused the normally quiet baby to wail all night. Robert was used to life with a newborn, but the lack of sleep was taking its toll on Aaron and his husbands’ stubbornness meant that Aaron would more often than not be up first to take care of their son.

 

He stood in the door of their ensuite watching Aaron sleep, the slight rise and fall of his chest hypnotizing. Gabe’s cot was on Aaron’s side of the bed at Aaron’s insistence. A tiny fist shot up abruptly over the edge, a small gurgling whimper just beginning to escape the tiny baby. Robert moved quickly towards the cot, desperate to let Aaron sleep.

 

“Sh-h, sh-h, sh-h. I don’t think so little man. Let your daddy sleep.” Robert scooped up the wiggling baby and held him to his chest, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he made his way around the bed and towards the door.

 

“Rob?” Aaron’s sleep filled voice rasped from under the duvet.

 

“I’ve got him love. Go back to sleep.” Robert exited the room and made his way down into the kitchen.

 

--

 

Aaron woke up hours later feeling heavy and in a complete haze. He hadn’t slept for that many uninterrupted hours since Gabe was born, so his normally sleep-deprived body was struggling to adjust to the rest. He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to the bedroom door, elbows dug into his knees, and his head resting in the palm of each hand. He rubbed at this puffy eyes, trying to get them to refocus when he heard the familiar click of their bedroom door behind him. He felt the bed dip and then the comforting weight of Robert behind him.

 

“Feeling better?” Robert pressed his body against Aaron’s back, his fingers moving to his shoulders to work the tight and knotted muscles there. Aaron leaned back into Robert’s kneeling form, resting his entire weight against his husbands front.

 

Robert continued to rub his shoulders, loosening and relaxing the exhausted muscles, while kissing his right cheek as Aaron rested his head back against Robert’s left shoulder.

 

“How long ‘ave I been asleep?” Aaron said with his eyes closed, relishing the feeling of being enveloped in Robert’s body heat.

 

“Not long really… couple hours.” Robert pushed gently against his shoulders, prompting him to sit up straight and worked his thumbs down his spinal column. The intense pressure bordered on painful, but it was a welcome relief for his sore and aching back. He let out a small moan as he ducked his chin to his chest, Robert’s fingers digging in to the tender spot just to the left of his spine under the last rib.

 

Robert continued to massage his back, the skin now red and warm under his tight fitting white t-shirt. He hadn’t felt that good in a very long time. Robert leaned Aaron back against his chest, his right hand smoothing down his chest from right shoulder to just under his left pec; his left hand wandering around Aaron’s left hip. They sat quietly, motionless for a beat, Aaron’s heart rate slowing, his forehead pressed into the left side of Robert’s neck.

 

Aaron didn’t register the movement of Robert’s right arm to around his right hip until his fingers brushed against the downy hair around his navel, sending shivers up his abs. Robert pushed his hand below the waistband of his boxers, teasing at the skin and hair of his groin. Aaron pushed back into Robert’s body that was still kneeling behind him and laced their left hands together on his belly. Robert took Aaron’s limp cock in his right hand and began to work over it, quickly bringing it to its full hardness. Aaron mouthed at Robert’s neck, sucking and biting at the skin, his pleasure building in his belly. Robert moved his head and connected their lips, tongues immediately swirling around each other, spit collecting on Aaron’s chin. It was frantic and hurried, intense and intimate. Aaron moaned louder into Robert’s mouth, so close to climaxing but wanting to hold out as long as possible. Robert’s hand moved quickly over Aaron, his thumb rubbing across the slit with delicious pressure on the downward stroke.

 

Aaron pulled their joined left hands up to the center of his chest as he came over Robert’s fist; semen pooling in the space at the top of his hand between his thumb and index finger. He let out a shaky breath, his heart pounding in his chest and a thin bead of sweat dripping down his left temple. He tilted his head up towards Robert’s, nearly begging for a kiss. Robert pressed their lips together, his hand still working in Aaron’s pants over his softening cock. Sensual, closed mouth kisses that lingered between them, their lips pressed tightly together.

 

Robert pulled away from his relaxed and soft face, his right hand rubbing at the hairy on his belly. He smiled, the corners of his mouth pulled just far enough that Aaron could tell he probably didn’t even realize he was actually doing it. He looked happy and settled.

 

Aaron returned the sentiment, placing a small kiss to Robert’s jawline before moving himself into a sitting position. He turned at the waist and smiled up to Robert who had climbed off the bed and was making his way into the bathroom.

 

“I love you.”

 

Robert turned as he reached the sink, the tap already running, “And I love you.” He smiled again, larger this time, his eyes narrowing and tiny lines forming at the corner of each eye.

 

Aaron watched as he washed his hands, hung the towel next to the sink and made his way back into the room; he had yet to move from the bed, his legs still a bit weak. “Where’s little man?”

 

“Vic’s got Grumpy and Rose downstairs. Probably ready for a nap actually.” Robert sat down next to him at the foot of the bed.

 

“Should probably deal with this.” Aaron motioned to his crotch.

 

“Hm-m.” Robert chuckled and nodded his head in agreement.

 

“Thanks for the sleep and the lovely wake up.” Aaron said, a bit shyly.

 

“Only seemed fair. You two were up all night.” Robert said and patted Aaron’s right knee. Aaron trapped his hand against his skin.

 

Aaron leaned forward and kissed him again, never getting over the fact that it was something he could do whenever he wanted. “Right. I’ll jump in the shower if you want to go and get him. Then lunch in the pub?” Aaron kissed him again.

 

“Yep, sounds good.” One more quick kiss for the road before Robert got up and left the room.

 

Aaron planted his feet on the floor and stood up slowly, arching his back with a hand on each hip, thrusting his pelvis towards the ceiling, a few small pops alleviating some of the stiffness in his joints. He turned the tap on as hot as it would go, stipping off his t-shirt and pants, before stepping under the steaming spray.

 

He didn’t hear Robert re-enter the room with a dozing Gabe cradled in his arms, but as he stepped from the foggy glass enclosure he registered the faintest of humming coming from their room. He wrapped a clean towel around his waist and padded across the warm tiles towards the door. There, sat on his side of their bed was Robert, a tiny mop of dark brown hair resting in the crook of his left elbow, his arms tightly wrapped around his middle with the baby resting snugly against his chest. Aaron studied the scene in front of him, the way Robert’s large hands cradled the tiny boy so delicately, his head bent, singing a familiar melody between nearly closed lips.

 

“... and when you’re lonely, well I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who’s lonely without you…” Robert hummed a bit more before pressing his lips to Gabe’s forehead and exhaled through his nose. He looked up to see Aaron standing and watching from the other room.

 

Robert moved slowly and placed the sleeping baby into his cot, tucking a blanket around his middle. He remained on the edge of the bed just looking at Aaron, neither one moving or saying a thing. This was their life now; a nursery school aged little girl who was too smart and too clever for her own good, who was growing up too quickly. And now their son, the little boy who turned everything upside down and inside out, who challenged them at every corner, but who made them feel even more complete than they ever thought possible. Both men stayed quietly looking at one another, neither one wanting to disrupt such a perfect moment, both realizing just how lucky they were.

 

--

 

The years had flown by; Charlie was now almost nine and Gabe was nearly four. The pair were absolutely inseparable. Charlie was looking more and more like Chrissie the older she got, with her heart shaped face and hair the color of autumn wheat. Gabe on the other hand was a spitting image of Aaron; stocky and broad with a mess of chocolate brown curls and beautiful blue eyes. Their favorite activity was taking their beagle Lucy out for walks after school each day. They would howl and bark at her until she would start baying in return, the deep noise echoing off the old stone buildings in the village, disrupting the normally quiet streets.

 

Vic and Adam continued having babies, four in total, including their latest a set of twin girls. Charlie and their oldest Rose were the best of friends and could get into a right mess of trouble if left unattended. Charlie had her father’s intuition and charm which meant she could pretty much get anything out of anyone. The gaggle of children would take over the flat most weekends while their parents worked out front in the pub, Vic the ever watchful eye in the back.

 

“Papa Aaron! Charlie said we could share her sweets! But you’ve hidden them. Can you help us find them?” Little Rose had come careening out of the flat and nearly toppled Aaron over behind the bar.

 

“Oh she did, did she? Now,” he squatted down behind the bar and took ahold of her tiny hands, “she knows those are only for special occasions.”

 

Her dark brown eyes were huge on her tiny face, “But it is a special concoction!”

 

Close enough. Aaron thought, holding back a laugh. “Yeah? What’s happened then?”

 

“Uncle Rob is having a baby!”

 

Aaron lost his balance and fell over to his right hip. “He’s what?” The wind nearly knocked out of him.

 

“Charlie said he’s havin’ a baby, but I thought only girls could have babies?” She asked so sincerely, the confusion clear as day on her petit features.

 

“Is Uncle Rob back there with you lot?” Aaron asked as he picked himself up off the floor, holding her hand and guiding her back into the flat.

 

She nodded, “He seems really happy.”

 

“Does he now? Let’s go and see if we can find him, yeah?” She smiled as widely as her mouth could stretch as they made their way into the sitting room that was filled with children and family.

 

Robert stood from the settee, his hands shaking and his eyes ringed red. It was obvious that little Rose had been right after all. Aaron stood in the doorway, the noise of the room fading away and all that was left was Aaron and Robert. Robert held up a pregnancy test in his right hand, tears falling down both cheeks, his left arm stretched to the side.

 

“Lucky number three.” Robert said.

 

Without hesitation Aaron maneuvered his way through the group and grabbed Robert as tightly as possible, his arms pressing into Robert’s ribs and squeezing.

 

“Charlotte?” Aaron whispered into Robert’s collar, tears now freely flowing down his face as well.

 

Robert nodded into Aaron’s neck, “She told me just now. Gave me this.” Aaron couldn’t see the test, but he knew what Robert meant.

 

“That was your meeting? Why didn’t you say?” Aaron leant back from his husband’s body, a hand on each shoulder.

 

“Wanted it to be a surprise, didn’t I?”

 

Aaron stared at Robert without blinking or looking away; took in every stray hair and laugh line, every memorized freckle and scar, the tracks that the tears were leaving across the slightly older but just as beautiful features of his face.

 

“Papa?” Aaron looked down to find Charlie and Gabe at their feet, hand-in-hand.

 

“Yes my love?” Aaron responded, picking up Charlie as Robert picked up Gabe.

 

“You’re happy, aren’t you? It’s just…” Charlie asked, concern written all over her face.

 

“Oh sweetheart! Of course we’re happy! Aren’t you?” Robert responded, tucking a few stray strands of hair behind her right ear.

 

She thought about it for a second, chewing on her bottom lip, a habit she had picked up from Aaron. She shook her head yes and smiled brightly, “As long as it’s a girl this time!”

 

Aaron hugged Charlie to his chest, the room filled with the sound of laughter and celebration. His little girl pulled away and looked him in the eye, reminding him so much of her father in that moment. She was small for her age, petite yet fierce. She placed a hand on either of his cheeks, never looking away from him. He sighed as he looked at her, marveled at the child in his arms. This was it, the moment Aaron realized that it all happened for a reason. The moment he would look back on as the happiest day of his life.