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Weight of the World

Chapter Text

May

Robert followed the final punters to the door, locking it behind them. He took a slow, deep breath as he turned to collect the glasses from the tables, taking them through to the kitchen and placing them onto the counter. He took a moment to check his phone. He had two missed calls from the barrister he'd hired to handle Aaron's appeal. Pressing a button, he listened to the voicemail that had been left for him. The first message informed Robert that he had gotten a judge to at least hear the argument.

Robert sucked in a breath, tamping down the hope that was fluttering in his chest before listening to the second message. The case was scheduled to be heard in three days time. If things went their way, Aaron could be coming home in a matter of weeks, rather than the months that stretched before them at the moment. The barrister wanted to meet with Robert to go over things before he went before the judge.

Robert gripped the counter for a moment as the room spun with the possibilities this opened up for Aaron, for Liv. He felt the adrenaline he'd been living off of for weeks flood through him at the hope this gave him. This could be the light at the end of the tunnel.

Aaron had been stuck in that prison for three months now. There was finally hope that justice would be served at last. Robert turned the faucet on, rushing through cleaning the glasses. If there was a chance that Aaron was coming home, then he needed to get things finalized with Mill Cottage. He wanted Aaron to have someplace to come home to. A place that belonged to him. The home that Liv was dreaming of. Even if that life no longer included Robert.

Once the glasses were cleaned, Robert grabbed the bar rag and quickly cleaned down the tables and the bar counter, before he swept the floor. He was vaguely aware that he wasn't being as thorough as he should be, and he could imagine the lip he'd get from Charity the next day. But he just couldn't bring himself to care right now. All that mattered was Aaron.

Robert walked to the til and got it ready for the next day's shift, preparing the bank deposit and putting the pouch in the safe for Charity to deal with in the morning. He made his way into the back and went to check on Liv.

He walked quickly up the stairs and peeked into Liv's room, finding the girl curled up on her bed. She'd clearly cried herself to sleep again. Robert knew this had happened every night since Aaron had been sent down. He wished he knew how to help her. He tried his best to be there for her, but with all the responsibilities resting on his shoulders, Robert knew he was failing miserably when it came to caring for her. He'd expected to be sharing that responsibility with Chas, until she'd left for Prague three weeks ago, leaving him the added burden of running the pub in her absence.

Sighing deeply, Robert walked into the room he'd shared with Aaron for a year, and grabbed one of the boxes he'd filled the night before. It was time to start moving things over to Mill. Time for him to make sure Aaron had a real home to return to. Robert made his way down the stairs with the box, stumbling slightly as he reached the bottom.

He leaned against the wall, waiting for this light headed feeling to pass. Finally he straightened and headed out the back door and down the street toward Mill, the box held against his chest as he made his way through the dark night.

When he reached the cottage, he set the box down on the porch and took out his key, unlocking the door and returning the key to his pocket. Picking the box back up, Robert made his way inside, flipping the light switch and heading for the stairs, intent on placing the box in the room his husband would soon be occupying.

Robert hadn't gotten very far, only a few steps up, when the room began to spin around him. He swayed dangerously for a moment before he fell backwards, landing in a heap on the floor at the base of the steps. He sucked in one final, painful breath as the room faded into darkness around him.

Chapter Text

February

Robert dragged himself out of bed at 4:00 am and stumbled his way into the bathroom. He turned the water on as cold as he could stand it and climbed into the shower, allowing the water to shock him awake. He had so many things to do today. He had so many new responsibilities on his shoulders now. But he'd made Aaron a promise and he swore to himself that he wouldn't break it. He promised he would be the best he could be. He wasn't going to let him down, not again, not like last time.

Which meant that he needed to be strong and keep things going until Aaron could come home to them. Robert knew he worked best if he had some sort of plan in the works, so that was his first priority. He wanted to get to the scrapyard and get those plans underway.

Robert stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, heading back down to the room he shared with Aaron. He dressed quickly, running his comb through his hair before he checked his appearance in the mirror mounted to the back of the closet door. With a satisfied nod, Robert went down the stairs and stopped off quickly in the kitchen to grab an apple, and headed out the back door and got into his car, making his way to the scrapyard.

Once he arrived, Robert let himself into the port a cabin and sat at his desk. He pulled out a pad and began to list all the things he needed to do. At the top of his list he wrote: find a barrister to handle the appeal. Robert wasn't kidding himself. Getting Aaron home as quickly as possible was his first priority.

Then he listed the rest of his responsibilities. Liv came next. Aaron's sister was only trumped by Aaron himself. Robert knew Aaron was counting on him to take care of her in his absence, and he'd be damned if he'd let his husband down. He wouldn't dare lay any more burdens on the man he loved. He would do everything in his power to ensure that Aaron had no reason to worry about anything but keeping himself safe until he could come home. He swore to protect Liv, to keep her safe. He won't break that promise.

Next on his list, Robert placed Holey Scrap. Aaron was counting on him to keep the company going in his stead. Robert knew Adam couldn't possibly run this place on his own. So Robert would step up and take Aaron's place for however long he was needed.

Robert knew Nicola would expect him to pull his weight with Home James as well, and Robert fully intended to do so. But it wasn't his top priority anymore. Aaron and his well being was.

With that in mind, Robert moved over to Aaron's desk and took an inventory of what needed doing. Robert looked over invoices and scribbled notes, keeping track of what information he gleaned. Once he had an idea of what Aaron's plans were he put on a hi-vis vest and went out into the yard.

It was still quite dark out as Robert made his way to the car Aaron had planned to scrap next and began to take it apart, separating the salvageable parts from the true scrap in two piles on the ground. Robert let his mind wander to what Aaron was going through as he worked, wondering how he'd managed his first full day in whatever prison he was in.

Robert was more than a little angry that Aaron's barrister still hadn't been able to tell them where Aaron even was yet. He couldn't stand not knowing where his husband was, how he was coping, if he was alright. He just needed some reassurance that Aaron was ok, that he was surviving and that he wasn't giving up.

Robert was just placing the last of the salvageable parts into a container when Adam pulled into the yard. He spared the younger man a nod as he hefted the container to place it into the storage shed.

"Robert, mate! Did you finish that entire car yourself? How long have you been here?" Adam asked, the surprise evident in his voice.

Robert just shrugged. "I dunno. Couple hours maybe," he answered indifferently. "I wanted to get an early start so I can try to find a new barrister later to handle Aaron's appeal."

Adam nodded and moved to help Robert dispose of the true scrap that remained. "I know Aaron said you'd be helping out. I guess I didn't think you'd be starting right away."

Robert gave him a pointed stare. "It's what Aaron would expect," he stated simply.

Adam just nodded again and walked over to the port a cabin to grab his own hi-vis vest before rejoining Robert in the yard. The two men worked quietly side by side for another hour or two before Nicola arrived.

She climbed out of her car and gazed at Robert, looking dumbfounded. "Robert? What are you doing?"

Robert sighed loudly. "What does it look like I'm doing, Nicola? I'm filling in for Aaron, aren't I?" he answered as if it should be the most obvious thing in the world.

"Don't think this means you don't have to pull your weight with Home James, Robert," she warned. "You wanted to be a partner, you better do your part."

Robert ignored her as he returned to working along side Adam in taking apart the second car they were working on. He ignored the questioning look on Adam's face as he continued to work in silence.

He had no interest in talking about his feelings with anyone, least of all Adam Barton. So he busied himself in the job and ignored everyone around him.

~~~~~~~~

Liv was woken by her phone buzzing. She grumbled as she answered. "What?" she snapped.

"Hey, Kid," came Robert's soothing voice. "Just making sure you don't miss the bus."

"Do I have to?" she whined.

"Do you want to visit Aaron on visiting day?" Robert countered smoothly.

"Really?" Liv asked nervously. "You'll let me visit him on a school day?"

"As lost as you don't skive off before then, yes, you can visit with me," Robert promised.

Liv couldn't help the ghost of a smile that crossed her lips as she got out of bed, the phone still perched at her ear. "Deal," the girl agreed happily. She may not like school, at all, but if it meant she'd get to see Aaron, she'd deal.

"I'll see you at tea," Robert informed her. "Try not to give your school a reason to call me, hey," he teased.

"I won't," she agreed before hanging up and getting herself ready for school. She could just imagine how Chas would react when she didn't have to row with Liv to get her off to school this morning and grinned to herself smugly.

~~~~

Robert sat at his desk, ignoring Nicola's glare as he listened to the barrister on the other end of the phone explain how the appeals process would work. Robert appreciated the man's honest and no nonsense approach to explaining the process and what their chances were. He'd hung up knowing that his hopes of getting Aaron home sooner rather than later, were one step closer to being realized.

Robert picked up the apple he'd grabbed from the kitchen that morning and bit into in, satisfied that he had things well in hand.

Once he'd finished his snack he looked at the time and saw that it was half past one. "I can finish up the paperwork, if you want to call it an early day," Robert offered, looking to Nicola.

She looked back at him in surprise. "Oh. That.... that would be nice," she stammered.

Robert offered her a sad smile. "I do plan to pull my weight, Nicola," he told her solemnly. "I may have more responsibilities at the moment, but I don't intend to ignore any of them."

Nicola nodded, offering him a small smile in return. "I hope things work out for you and Aaron, Robert," she told him sincerely. "We can work things out so that you can do everything you need to do."

Robert smiled his thanks as Nicola gathered her things and handed him the small pile of paperwork that still needed doing as she left. "Take care of yourself, too, Robert," she suggested softly, shutting the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Robert made his way methodically through first the Home James paperwork, and then the jumbled mess of a pile of Holey Scrap paperwork sitting on Adam's desk. He couldn't help the frustrated sigh that escaped as he plodded through the work. He wondered how the hell they managed to keep their heads above water if this was any indication of how they'd been handling things.

The clock read 5:18 when Robert lifted his weary head and grimaced. Great! So much for seeing Liv at tea, he thought. One day! One day, and he was already messing things up.

He rose from the chair and grabbed his jacket, heading quickly out to his car for the drive back to the pub. He climbed in behind the wheel and made his way home, dreading the reception he'd receive once he reached home. Liv was sat with her back to the door, Chas looking up with an annoyed frown when he stepped inside. "Oh! Decided to grace us with your presence then, have ya?" she grumbled loudly. "Not like I've got a pub to run, is it? Got plenty of time to waste away doing the job you told Aaron you would do, don't I?"

Robert frowned. "It took a little longer than I expected to get through the work at the scrap yard, Chas. It's not like I've been skiving off, is it?" he retorted testily, instantly regretting it as soon as the words escaped. What the hell was wrong with him? he wondered. First day and he was screwing up all over the place. Late for tea with Liv and now rowing with Chas. Aaron would be so disappointed if he were here to see this...

Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and looked up. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap. Thank you for making sure Liv got her tea on time. I'll do better tomorrow," he promised.

Chas narrowed her eyes at him. "Robert," she spoke, concern bleeding into her tone. "Is everything alright? It's just... you were gone when I got up this morning, leaving me to get this one off to school?" Chas nodded at Liv. "Which, amazingly, I didn't have to have a go about. And now you were late coming in for tea. You haven't..." she glanced apologetically at Liv before finishing her question. "You haven't changed your mind about taking care of Liv, have you?"

Liv whipped her head around to stare wide eyed at Robert as the words filling the room and Robert quickly shook his head. "Of course I haven't," he assured firmly. "I was gone early this morning so I could get an early start and give myself some time later to find a barrister to handle Aaron's appeal. As as for being late to tea... well Adam left an entire month of paperwork for the last moment, didn't he? Took me all afternoon and through most of tea to get it all caught up. I am sorry Chas. It was unexpected, but you're right. Liv is my responsibility and I'll do better." The girl offered him a warm smile as she turned back to her meal.

Chas softened. "No, Robert. I'm sorry. I know aren't skiving off. I shouldn't have snapped like I did. I know everything you're doing is for Aaron. I want you to know I appreciate it. No one expects you to be able to do everything on your own. You are part of this family now. And it's time we started showing you that. So, if you have a bad day, or you're running late, just give us a ring and we'll pick up the slack, yeah?" she said, standing and walking over to hug her son in law. "Thank you for putting my son first," she whispered in his ear, before stepping back to offer him a watery smile.

Robert smiled back gratefully. "I will work it out, Chas. It might take me a day or two to figure out the new routine, but I meant what I said. I will take care of Liv. She's my family, too. Is there any tea left for me?"

Chas smiled as she walked into the kitchen to fix Robert a plate. "Enjoy, Love."

Robert sat next to Liv at the table and looked up at Chas. "Are you closing tonight?" he asked.

"Not like I have much choice," she teased. "Can hardly count on Charity to do it, can I?"

Robert huffed out a laugh. "I'll stop in later, help you close up," he offered.

Chas smiled. "That would be great, Love."

Robert nodded and turned his attention to Liv and his dinner as Chas headed back into the pub. Robert smiled warmly at Liv. "I meant what I said, Liv. No one else is going anywhere." He reached an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into him and pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

Liv allowed herself to enjoy the hug for a moment before reluctantly pulling away. It eased her mind, how willingly Robert was showing his fondness for her. And his constant reassurances that he wasn't going to send her away. But she still missed Aaron. Nothing could ease the ache in her chest.

Robert finished his tea and then turned his attention to helping Liv with her homework. He found himself truly enjoying this newfound closeness with his new sister in law. Robert wasn't used to having a family and he rather liked the feeling. He wouldn't give her up without a fight. She was his now. Not just because she was Aaron's sister. He considered her to be his sister, too. Who would have imagined Robert Jacob Sugden could have such a strong bond to someone who just a year ago had been, not just a stranger, but a genuine thorn in his side? But he did. He loved this girl almost as much as he loved Aaron. He was lucky to have her in his life. She was keeping him going. Giving him a reason to be strong. For Aaron, yes. But also for Liv, herself.

Once Liv's homework was completed and she'd gone to watch some telly on the couch, Robert went out to the pub. "Can I get a pint, Chas?" he asked, sitting at the bar.

Chas poured him his drink and set it down in front of him. "You, alright, Love?" she asked.

Robert smiled up at her. "Yeah. Finished helping Liv with her homework. Thought I'd have a pint before I help you close up."

Chas smiled and squeezed his arm gently before turning to serve another punter.

It was much later that Chas rang the bell for last serve and Robert started grabbing glasses from the empty tables and carrying them into the back. Once he cleared the empty tables, Robert went into the kitchen and started to wash the glasses, leaving Chas to wipe down tables and sweep, as well as to handle cashing out the till.

He looked up, smiling as she walked in. "Just about done here," he told her, drying off the last glass and setting it with the others on the restocking tray. "Anything else need doing?"

Chas smiled back warmly. "Thank you, Love. This was a great help." She hugged Robert close. "You are doing him proud, Love. Don't you dare doubt that." Robert couldn't help the urge to return the hug, wrapping his arms around his mother in law gratefully.

"I miss him so much," he whispered tearfully.

"I know, Love. I miss him, too. We'll get through it yeah? As a family," she promised before releasing him.

Robert nodded and followed her out of the pub.

Chapter Text

Robert woke feeling disoriented. His fuzzy mind told him something was wrong. He shivered, reaching for Aaron, needed his familiar warmth to show him that everything was fine. His hand fell on the pillow and he peered around the room, searching for Aaron's form in the darkness. His chest tightened as his mind cleared enough to remind him that Aaron wasn't here. Wouldn't be here, for who knew how long, and a tear rolled slowly down his cheek.

He turned to look morosely at Aaron's side of the bed. He missed the man so much. Barring Aaron's week in France, this was the longest they'd been apart in ages. Even when Aaron was in hospital after the crash, Robert had spent at least most of each day with him. He honestly wasn't sure how he was going to make it through an entire year of this. Of trying to carry on without his other half.

He sighed deeply and climbed out of bed, walking over to the closet. He reached inside and pulled out one of Aaron's hoodies. He brought it up to his face and breathed in deeply. letting the familiar scent that was Aaron invade his senses, calming him slightly.

He closed his eyes tightly and pictured Aaron's face in his mind. Breathing deeply, he opened his eyes again and put the hoodie back on it's hangar, grabbing one of his shirts and pulling it on. There was no way he was going to sleep in that bed without Aaron. He might as well make use of the time. He'd head over to Mill and get some work done over there. If he couldn't be with Aaron right now, he could at least be doing something for him, for their future.

Dressed, he exited the bedroom and down the hall to the stairs. "Robert?" He turned, seeing Chas in her doorway, shooting him a concerned glance.

"Everything's fine, Chas. Go back to sleep. I'm just gonna fix myself a cuppa," he told the woman.

"Are you sure, Love?" she asked him softly.

"Yeah, you go on back to bed. I'll see you at brekkie."

He waited until the door closed again before he headed down the stair and quietly left out the back. Hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, Robert headed off down the street toward Mill. He knew there was little he could do about Aaron's appeal, other than keeping a fire lit under the new barrister's toes. But there were some things that Robert could control. Ways that he could honor Aaron and their future together. And getting Mill ready for Aaron's return was one of them.

Reaching the property, Robert let himself inside, turning on the work lamp that Ronnie had left there. He looked around what would eventually be their living room, finding himself impressed with the progress that had already been made. The room had been cleared of all debris. The walls had been torn down and rebuilt. The wall looked strong, unbreakable. Much the way Robert saw Aaron. He knew his husband saw himself as weak. But Robert saw the opposite. He saw the man who had faced so much hardship in his life, had lived through so much misery, and had come out the other side, a kind, loving man who always tried to do the right thing. Robert saw that the walls had been primed and a can of paint sat at the ready on the floor. Robert saw rollers and brushes on the work table and reached for a brush, deciding to work on something that would occupy his mind, keep him from feeling lost and alone.

Robert knelt on the floor and opened the can of paint, dipping the brush and carefully applying it to the trim. As he worked, focused on the detailed work, he pondered what he could do to make things easier on Liv. Taking care of the business was easy for Robert. It was in his wheelhouse. Even helping Chas out wasn't all that difficult. He could count on the woman to speak her mind if he stepped out of bounds or got on her nerves.

Liv was a tougher nut to crack. He appreciated how much closer they had gotten over time. He loved the girl and would do just about anything for her. The problem was, he didn't really know what he could do this time to help her. This was new territory for both of them. And he knew that this was hard on her. However hard she tried to act like a know it all, at the end of the day, Liv was still just a child. However gobby and independent as she might be, she was still a kid, still relied on others for so much. He prayed that he would prove to be enough for her until Aaron could come home to them.

As he slowly worked his way around the large room, his thoughts continued to stray to all the ways he could mess things up. Aaron was his rock. The one thing in his life that kept him grounded, made him think before he acted recklessly. It had taken them a long time to reach this point. How many times had he messed things up? But every time, it was Aaron who brought him back from the edge, made him find other ways to get the job done.

Robert was scared. What if, without Aaron there to keep him in line, what if he reverted to the awful person he used to be? He didn't think he could bear it if he did something that would disappoint Aaron again. He wanted to prove himself worthy of the man he loved. Shaking his head at the dark turn his thoughts had taken he looked around, surprised to find himself standing near the front door, all the trimming around the large room glistening with the wet paint. Blinking in surprise he checked his watch and found that it was nearly dawn. He closed the paint can and placed the brush in a jar of water to soak.

Chas would be up soon and he knew he should make brekkie this morning, make up for missing tea last night. So he checked that everything looked alright before turning off the work lamp and heading outside. Robert locked the door and headed back to the pub. He let himself inside and was surprised to find half the Dingle clan filling the room.

Chas looked up and ran to him, pulling him into a crushing hug, before releasing him and smacking his arm. "Um, what..... what's going on?" he asked, confused.

"Where have you been?" she demanded, tears in her eyes.

"Couldn't sleep," he answered. "Went over to Mill. Figured I work on the house."

"You were just gone, Robert! I had no idea where you were!" Chas thundered. "What would I tell Aaron, huh? How would I explain to my son if you... if you...." she broke off, sobbing softly as Cain took her in his arms, speaking softly to her as he shot Robert a stony glare.

"I'm sorry," Robert said regretfully. "I didn't mean to worry anyone." He took a deep breath. "I just needed to clear my head."

Zack squeezed his arm gently. "Maybe just let us know, next time, lad, yeah?"

Robert nodded. "I'm sorry for worrying you, Chas." He walked over and took her hand. "I'm used to being on my own. Handling my own problems. I really never meant to worry you. That's the last thing I'd ever want to do. I promised Aaron I'd look after his family. That's all I'm trying to do here."

Chas squeezed his hand. "I know, Love. But I meant what I said last night. You are family now. You don't have to be doing this on your own. It's alright to lean on us." She left Cain's arms and pulled Robert to her again. Robert returned the hug as Lisa took charge, herded the rest of the Dingles out, leaving Chas and Cain to sort Robert out.

Robert looked at Cain over Chas's shoulder. The man was still staring at him stonily before nodded curtly at him. "Don't let this happen again," he warned before taking his leave.

Chapter Text

chapter 5

 

Robert sighed, watching Cain storm out the doors. There was one Dingle Robert was certain would never accept him. There was just too much bad blood between them. He looked over at Chas and offered her another apologetic smile. "I'll make brekkie," he said, wandering into the kitchen and opening the fridge to remove the bacon and a carton of eggs. He rummaged around until he found some cheese and moved his ingredients to the counter.

The blond placed a fry pan on the stove and cracked several eggs in a bowl, whisking the eggs for several minutes before transferring the beaten eggs into the fry pan. Robert was nowhere near as talented in the kitchen as Vic, but he did make a descent omelet now and then. He added another pan to the stove to cook the bacon.

Chas followed Robert into the kitchen and filled the toaster with slices of bread before fetching the teapot and filling it with water and placing it on the stove to boil. "Robert, are you sure you're ok? It's just.... Aaron will never forgive me if I don't look after you, will he?" she asked, still sounding concerned.

Robert sighed and stared at her silently for a moment before he answered. "I just.... I couldn't sleep in there without him," he confessed quietly. "So I figured if I wasn't going to sleep anyway, I might as well make myself useful."

"Robert, Love, why didn't you just say something?" she said sadly. "I know you promised Aaron that you'd take care of things while he's..... while he's banged up. But he wouldn't want you ignoring your own well being, would he?"

Robert plated the first omelet and poured more of the egg into the pan, before flipping the bacon. "I'm fine, Chas. Really. You don't need to be worried about me." He carried the plate over to the table just as Liv came down the stairs, rubbing at her eyes. "Morning, Sleepyhead," he teased, grinning at her warmly.

"Morning, Robert," she answered, sitting down and glancing at the plate. "What's this?"

"I'm making omelets. The bacon will be ready shortly," Robert answered, flipping the bacon again. He glanced toward Chas pleadingly and she nodded at him. He smiled back gratefully. The last thing he wanted was to give Liv any reason to be worrying.

Once breakfast was ready, Robert sat at the table between Chas and Liv, spreading jam on a slice of toast. He turned to look at Chas. "Adam's going to be off on a scrap run today, so I may be late again."

Chas nodded. "I'll handle tea again then, yeah?" she offered, giving Robert an approving smile.

"I'd appreaciate that," he answered. "Not sure how late I'll be. Don't want this one to starve, do we?" he teased, grinning over at Liv.

"I can stop over at Gabby's if it would be easier," Liv offered, her eyes darting between Chas and Robert nervously.

"No chance, Lady," Chas replied. "I could use the company anyway. Plus, it'll give me a reprieve from Charity, won't it?"

Robert smirked and Liv laughed at the joke. "You all ready for school?" Robert asked, his eyebrow raised in question.

"Yeah," the girl answered. "Thanks again. For helping me with my homework and all."

"Well, what else are brothers for?" Robert quipped, grinning.

Liv stood and took her empty plate to the sink. "I'll just go get changed then." Robert and Chas watched the girl head up the stairs.

"You're good with her," Chas commented. "And a lot firmer than our Aaron."

"She's a good kid, Chas. Smart, too. I reckon she could be top of her class if she tried." He shrugged, grinning. "Maybe spending a little time with me will help that."

"She does have a good heart. Like our Aaron. Too bad she also got his bad habits as well," she jested.

Robert chuckled. "I promised her she could come with me on the visit as long as she stop skiving. That might have something to do with it, too."

"Are you sure that's a good idea, Love?" Chas asked, concern slipping into her gaze. "Maybe it would be easier on all of you if she didn't see him in there."

Robert frowned. "He's her brother, Chas. What do you want her to do? Wait a whole year to see him again. No. This is best for both of them," he countered firmly.

Chas' frown deepened as she stared at Robert silently for a moment.

"Look, Chas. Liv is my responsibility now. I know what I'm doing. You don't have to agree with me," he stated. "That's on you. But whether she's allowed to visit Aaron or not. That is on me. I won't change my mind on this. She's his sister. He needs her every bit as much as she needs him. I'm not standing in the way of that. And I won't let anyone else stand in the way, either."

"What's going on?" Liv asked, standing in the doorway, her chin trembling slight as she looked between Chas and Robert. "I heard shouting."

"Nothing's going on, Love," Chas answered quickly, cutting off any reply Robert might make. "Best head out," she suggested. "Don't want to miss the bus, do ya?"

Robert frowned at Chas as she cut him off and sent Liv off. He bit back the angry words that wanted to spill out. She was Aaron's mom. She was family. "Look, Chas. I really don't want to argue."

Chas continued to glare at Robert. "I think I know what's best for my son, Robert," she bit out.

Robert took a deep breath, forcing words of Gordon and abandonment to be left unspoken. He really didn't want to be at odds with Chas. He wasn't stupid. He knew the only way he was ever going to get through this situation was with help. Not to mention that Aaron was expecting him to get along with all the Dingles now that they were family. Not to mention the fact that his own past with Aaron was far from perfect.

"I'm not going to argue with you, Chas. You're Aaron's Mum. But I'm his husband now." Robert turned and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. "I have a long day ahead. I'll see you tonight." He moved quickly out of the pub before anything else could be said.

~~~~

Robert was still fuming over Chas when he arrived at the yard, nearly 30 minutes later than he had planned. He could see by Adam's stance that he was less than happy.

"Bout time, innit," he fumed as Robert climbed out of the car.

"Sorry, Adam. Just had a row with Chas," Robert answered quietly.

"What? What did you do now?" Adam asked, frowning.

"Well, according to Chas, Liv shouldn't be allowed to visit Aaron because it might upset him," Robert bit out angrily.

"What? Are you kidding? Aaron would be gutted if Liv didn't visit him," Adam protested loudly.

"I know. I made it clear that I wasn't stopping them seeing each other. Chas wasn't very happy."

"Don't let her get to you, Mate," Adam said, squeezing Robert's arm. "You just keep doing what you're doing. I best be off. You'll be okay here alone?" he asked.

"Yeah, you left me a list of what needs doing today?" he asked as he followed Adam to the truck.

"Yeah, Mate. It's on your desk. See ya later," he answered as he headed out.

Robert walked over to the port a cabin and walk inside. He sat at his desk for a moment before he glanced over the note Adam had left him.

1 Work on Aaron's appeal

2 Try not to let Nicola get to you

3 Enjoy tea with your family.

Robert chuckled to himself and tried to figure out what to do with himself until Nicola would arrive.

He checked his watch before picking up the phone and dialed Aaron's new barrister. It was a short conversation with Robert learning that the petition had been filed and now it was a waiting game. He hung up feeling frustrated by the lack of progress he was making in getting Aaron home.

Shaking his head, Robert grabbed his Home James paperwork and began to make a dent in that. Nicola still hadn't arrived by the time he'd finished so he walked over to Jimmy's desk and helped himself to Jimmy's pile of paperwork as well. He returned to his desk and began to plod through, trying to ignore the headache that was forming. He was halfway through Jimmy's paperwork when Nicola and her husband finally arrived. Robert let out a sigh and handed Jimmy the other half, taking it upon himself to place the finished work on Nicola's desk.

"My paperwork's done and half of Jimmy's. Would you two be ok if I went and checked on Mill? I promise I won't be gone more than an hour," Robert asked.

Nicola looked up at Robert concerned. "Is everything alright?" she asked. "You don't look well."

"Just a headache," Robert answered. Nicola frowned and reached into her drawer and pulled out a bottle of aspirin and handed 2 little pills over to Robert who accepted them gratefully. "I'll be back soon."

Robert arrived at Mill moments later and got out, pausing to gaze up at his future home with Aaron. He tried to imagine that future, but found himself coming up empty. He was finding it incredibly hard to see any future when he knew his husband was stuck in that damn prison. He shook his head of the gloomy thoughts and walked inside, greeting Ronnie, who was hard at work finishing the painting job he had begun last night.

"Robert," he greeted. "It seems we had a visitor last night. Seems someone decided to help out."

Robert grinned sheepishly. "Couldn't sleep. Figured I'd make myself useful."

"Well, you did a fine job. And saved me loads of time, so thanks for that!" Ronnie chuckled.

"I may stop in again tonight," Robert informed the man.

"Well, I certainly wouldn't complain if you did," Ronnie replied.

Robert returned to the scrap yard and went back inside. He found the room empty and a neatly written note left on his desk. Nicola's note informed him that all the paperwork was complete and as they had nothing else booked in for today they were calling it an early day and they would see him tomorrow.

Robert sighed. What was he supposed to do now? he wondered. Considering how things had been when he left, he definitely didn't want to return to the pub. But what else was he meant to do with his time?

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

May

 

The first thing Robert became aware of was a throbbing headache. He let out a low groan as he sat up, squeezing his eyes shut tightly as the room immediately began to spin around him. His stomach twisted painfully, and he struggled to hold back another groan. He lost track of how long he sat there, before he felt steady enough to attempt standing.

He slid a palm to the floor, in preparation for getting to his feet. The stomach twisting came again, more intense than before and he felt fire flare up in his chest. Suddenly, breathing felt impossible, like the worst torture he'd ever experienced, even worse than the beating Cain had subjected him to a couple years back. He slumped back onto the floor, gasping for air, his hand searching wildly in his pocket for his cell, gripping it weakly and pulling it free, his fingers pressing at a random contact, no idea who's number he'd just dialed.

He heard the ring tones as if from a distance, before the slight click as whoever it was answered. "Do you even realize what time it is?!? Why the bloody hell are you calling me in the middle of the damn night, Sugden? Why the hell are you calling me at all, for that matter?" Cain then, his mind provided sluggishly, as black dots appeared before his eyes.

Robert struggled to speak, to explain that he couldn't get enough air, that he thought he might be dying, but the only sound that emerged was the weakest of grunts.

"Sugden?" Silence, as if the man were waiting for him to answer. "Robert?" Concern that time. Robert managed another grunt which turned into a whine as the pain flared again through his chest. "Robert, what's wrong? I'm coming, Robert. Where are you? You at the pub? Just hang on Robert, you hear me? I'm coming."

Robert whimpered softly before he felt himself slip into darkness.

~~~~~~~~

Beeping.

Rhythmic.

Like a flying buzzing around in his head.

He ached. His head. His arms. Everything ached.

Robert's eyes fluttered open. White. The faintest tang of bleach in the air. Hospital, then. Robert realized that his mind was providing him with only the barest of detail. He flicked his gaze around the room. The brightness of the light hurt his eyes.

His gaze fell on Liv, asleep on the chair in the corner.

"Robert?" His eyes flicked again, resting on Cain, seated in a chair next to his bed. "Damn it, Son, why didn't you tell anyone you were struggling?"

Robert tried to answer, his voice hoarse, croaking.

"Don't try to talk, Robert," Cain urged gently.

Robert winced as his chest twinged again.

"The doctors say you haven't been eating. Or sleeping."

"'pen'd?" Robert croaked.

"You fell down the stairs at Mill," Cain provided. "Cracked a rib, which punctured a lung. Broke your ankle. You've been here a week. Liv's been a mess. Hasn't left this room once except to use the toilets. The rest of the family has been taking it in turns to sit with ya."

Robert listened to Cain's report. "'ron?" he asked frantically, realizing he'd missed a visit. The last thing he'd ever wanted to do was let Aaron down again. He couldn't help feeling like that's all he'd done. And then he remembered. His last visit, Aaron had told him to do one. Said he never wanted to see him again. He closed his eyes, feeling a tear escape.

"We haven't told him what happened. Didn't want to make things worse. He thinks you're staying away because of what he said during your last visit. We decided not to correct him." Cain gripped his arm gently. "He wants you to come back. He's a mess in there, thinking he's driven you away. So you need to get better. He needs to see you, Robert."

"'ow l'ng?"

Cain sighed. "They aren't going to let you go until they get some food in you. How long have you been starving yourself?" he asked, frowning.

Robert shrugged slightly. "D'nno. Need t'see him." He leans back into his pillow. "He... needs t'stop with th'drugs. Appeal..."

Cain patted his arm gently. "It went through. That barrister you found earned his wages," Cain answered. "Aaron will be released in 2 weeks. You don't want your reunion to take place in here, do ya? So you need to man up and get yourself better."

Robert shook his head. "He's... better off... without me," he gasped out.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

Robert wandered over to the cafe. If he was going to avoid Chas, he'd have to avoid the pub as well. He walked over to the counter and nodded a greeting to Bob. "I'll take a large Americano and a curry, thanks." He paid the man and wandered over to a table to wait for his food, pulling his laptop out of his briefcase and opening it to look at furniture sites.

Robert knew that his and Aaron's tastes were polar opposites. He preferred contemporary design, whereas Aaron preferred the more rustic, classical design. He smiled to himself, remembering their good-natured rows over cabinets and doors with handles.

Robert was pulled from his thoughts as Bob placed his order down on the table and the blond shut down his laptop, moving it to the side as he turned his attention to his lunch. He was just finishing up his meal when his phone rang. Robert glanced down and frowned, seeing Cain's name.

With a grimace, he answered. "Hello, Cain."

"I thought I told you to fix things, Sugden," the man bellowed angrily.

"What am I meant to have done now?" Robert snapped. "And if this is about the conversation Chas and I had about Liv this morning, you can save your breath. I am not telling her she can't visit Aaron in prison, no matter what CHas says about it!"

"Wait, that's what you were arguing about?" Cain asked, bewildered. "Chas said you were lording it over with her."

"Only when she tried to tell me Liv shouldn't see Aaron until he gets home. I'm sorry, Cain. I know Aaron is her son, but Liv is my responsibility, and I am NOT telling her she can't see her brother for another year."

Robert listened as Cain exhaled loudly and the silence seemed to roll on forever before the man spoke again. "No, you're right. Aaron needs all the support he can get. I don't know what was going through her head on that one, but you're right. No one should try to keep them apart. I'll have a sit down with her. Get her to see sense."

"I really don't want to fight with her Cain. I know I can't do everything on my own. And I know that she's family. But Aaron and Liv are my family. I have to do what's best for both of them, whether Chas, or any other Dingle approves or not." Robert sank his teeth into his bottom lip, waiting for Cain to rant. He was shocked when no shouting came.

"I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but you're good for our Aaron," Cain replied instead.

"Thanks, Cain. That means a lot," Robert said sincerely. The unexpected support felt really good right now.

"Right, well, I have a garage to run," Cain finally said. "Take care of our Aaron."

Robert sighed deeply and pocketed his phone before gathering his things and heading out and trying to decide what to do next.

~~~~~~

Robert wandered over to the vet's office and hesitated for a moment before he entered.

"Oh, Robert," came the vet's flustered voice. "What are you doing here?"

"I umm... I don't really know yet when Aaron will be coming home. But I was thinking.... When he does come home...." Robert paused, taking a deep breath. "I was thinking maybe he'd appreciate having a pet.... a dog..."

Paddy eyed Robert silently as he stammered, his expression one of surprise certainly, and approval, possibly? But, no. Paddy never approved of anything Robert did. Why would the man start now. "Did you have anything in mind?"

"No.... that's why I was coming to you. I figured you would have a pretty good idea of what kind of dog to get him. And that you would know where to look."

Paddy nodded. "I'll keep an eye out. Let you know if anything turns up," he finally answered.

Robert nodded. "Thanks, Paddy. I really appreciate it." Hey, listen. I was thinking I might make Tea tonight. If you maybe wanted to join us? It won't be anything too fancy. But you're welcome to stop by if you fancy it."

"Why would you invite me to Tea?" Paddy asked, looking and sounding completely bewildered.

"Because you're Aaron's Dad," Robert answered simply. "That makes you family. Look, I know we'll never be best mates. But I promised Aaron I would get on with his family. That I'd look after all of you. That's a promise I intend to keep. So, come... or don't come. Up to you. Just know that you are always welcome."

Robert offered the man a warm smile and turned to head home. He had a meal to prepare.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

 

Robert went back to the pub and looked through the fridge and pantry, scribbling a list of what he needed to buy to make the Tea. With list in hand, Robert went to the shop, wandering around, placing the necessary ingredients into his basket. His mind wandered, as it always seemed to do these days, to Aaron. He wondered what he was doing, how he was getting on. If he was coping in there.

It killed him to know that he couldn't be there to protect the man he loved, to keep him safe. It killed him to be so completely useless, unable to fulfill the vows he'd made just a few days ago. All he wanted to do was wrap his arms around Aaron and prove that he was worthy of the trust Aaron had placed in him.

He knew he had too many things on his plate right now, and that he should ask for help, but Robert kept thinking back to the promises he'd made to Aaron. He'd promised to take care of Liv and the rest of Aaron's family. He couldn't break that oath by expecting the people he was supposed to be taking care of to shoulder his responsibilities.

Robert brought his purchases to the counter, then headed back to the pub. He entered through the front and went into the kitchen, puttering around and preparing the meal. He pulled out a pan and added the ingredients, placing the pan into the oven to bake. Once the meal was in the oven, Robert set about cleaning up the kitchen. The last thing he wanted to do was give Chas another reason to have a go at him.

Once the kitchen was clean, Robert moved over to sit at the table, pulling out his phone and dialing the new barrister. He asked the man a few questions about the appeal and what their chances were, as well as asking about visitation and phone calls, and what to expect on that front as well. They discussed situations that might arise while Aaron was serving his sentence, and what Robert could do to support his husband until they could get him released.

Once that call had ended, Robert pulled out his laptop and set himself to taking care of some scrap business that could be handled from home. Adam may have given Robert the day off, but that didn't mean Robert couldn't still keep himself useful. He pulled out his phone and dialed up a new contact, coming away with a major deal that would net them quite a tidy sum.

As a pleasant aroma began to fill the back room, Robert set his laptop aside and set the table for tea. It was still quite early, dinner wouldn't be ready for a while yet, but Robert found the need to feel useful rising as each day passed. He honestly didn't know how he was going to make it through this. No matter what he did, as long as Aaron remained banged up, Robert knew he would continue to feel like he was letting his husband down.

Robert looked up as Charity walked in. "Oi! Something smells good back here!"

Robert pasted on a smile. "There's plenty if you and Noah want to sit Tea with us. I invited Paddy as well, although I'm not sure whether he'll actually come or not." He moved to the oven, opening it slightly to check the progress before shutting it again and looking toward Charity.

"I've got pub duty, but if you don't mind feeding Noah, that would be great," she said, nodding.

Robert frowned to himself. "I could cover the pub if you want to sit in with the family," he offered.

Charity looked up, surprised. "That would be great, Robert. Cheers!"

Robert nodded. "You will come back out right after, yeah?" Robert asked. "I try to spend time helping Liv with her homework after Tea."

"Course I will, Robert," Charity answered. "And thanks again." Robert watched her as she headed back into the pub and sighed softly. It was the right thing to do, he thought to himself. Charity was family.

Robert sighed again and pulled out his phone, dialing Cain. When the man answered, Robert invited him to join them if he didn't already have plans, extending the invitation to Debbie and the kids as well. Once that was settled, Robert added chairs and settings and then sat on the couch, waiting for the meal to finish baking.

He was sitting lost in his thoughts, when Liv came in from school. "Oh!" she said when she saw him. "I thought Chas was going to make Tea again."

Robert smiled at her warmly. God, he loved this girl, he thought to himself. "Got off early. Figured I'd make up for yesterday," he answered, hugging her close to his side when she plopped onto the couch next him. He smiled to himself, his heart clenching when she leaned into the hug instead of pulling away.

Once the meal was ready, Robert carefully removed the hot pan from the oven, placing the meal and serving utensils on the table. "I invited Charity, Cain, Debbie and the kids, oh, and Paddy. Not sure who will actually show up. Uhm... I'm going to man the pub so Charity can eat with you all," he told Liv. "But I'll be back right after Tea to help you with your homework."

Liv frowned. "You're not going to eat with us?" she asked softly.

Robert hugged her again. "It's going to be a family meal tonight, and Charity is family, so she should be here," he explained, before heading into the pub to relieve Charity.

"But, you're family, too," Liv whispered softly as Charity entered the back room and Liv scowled at the woman.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Robert walked into the pub and took a quick glance at the tables to see if anyone needed anything before he took a spot behind the bar and waited for his first customer.

He had been serving drinks for around ten minutes, seeing the regulars come in wanting their regulars, mostly large pints or large wine.

A man, a business man by the looks of it, Wearing a sharp shoe and freshly polished shoes, walked in looking pretty annoyed.

"What can I get ya?" Robert asked as the man sat down.

"Large pint. It's been a long day," the man replied, getting out his wallet.

Robert nodded and poured the man his ale, placing it on the bar in front of him. "What seems to be the problem?" Robert asked, only slightly curious, but knowledge was always power, and Robert did enjoy holding all the power.

"I run a furniture store out of Hotten. The haulage company I was using just up and pulled up stakes. So now I'm running my own deliveries until I can find a new haulage company to replace them and the truck just broke down on the way to my last delivery. If I don't get there by half eight I'll lose a huge client," the man grumbled, taking a long drink.

Robert smiles widely, an idea immediately forming in his mind. He gave it a moment, letting it fully develop and working out any kinks, before he spoke up.

"Well then, Mate, this must be your lucky day. Do you sell bedroom furniture by any chance?" Robert asked.

"Yeah, course I do," the man answered irritably.

"Well, I happen to own, well, co-own, a haulage company right here in Emmerdale. How about we strike up a little deal. Home James will complete your delivery on time and you don't lose your client."

The man looked up at Robert, startled. "I've heard of Home James. You haul farm equipment, don't you?"

"We've been looking to expand. This could be good for all of us," Robert answered smoothly.

"How much would you want for the delivery?" the man asked suspiciously. He knew that he was in a bind and any businessman would be able to smell blood at his predicament.

"Well, as it happens, I just bought a new home. Have some friends doing most of the repairs, but I'm still looking at furnishing the place. How about we take it out in trade? Home James makes your delivery, save your client account and I get bedroom furniture for my new house."

The man looked at Robert suspiciously, weighing up his options. After taking a sip of his beer he looked at Robert with an answer.

"Yeah. Ok then. Currently all the furniture is in the van which is at a garage. Some bloke called Cain owns it."

Roberts face lit up. This was very good news. One less thing to worry about.

"Yeah I know Cain. I'll go grab the van and meet you at the garage," Robert spoke professionally. "Bob, could you possibly take over for like an hour, two hours at most? I'll pay ya, just need to help this guy out. Car broke down so I'm lending him one of our vans," Robert added, grabbing his keys as Bob agreed.

Robert drove quickly to the Home James truck yard and grabbed the keys to a van and drove it quickly to the garage. He opened the back for the businessman's perusal. "I never introduced myself," Robert said, offering his hand. "Robert Sugden, pleased to meet you."

"John Smith," the man said as he shook Roberts hand.

Robert, John and even Cain moved all the furniture from one van to the other. Moving things from soft velvet sofas to memory foam mattresses, which Robert loved. It was 7pm by the time they were done and the client was only an hour away.

"Right let's get going," Robert shouted as he jumped into the drivers side waiting for John to get into the passengers side. When he did he put the client's address into the GPS and they were off.

They drove down the country lanes in a comfortable silence, John being the first one to speak up. "What's the wife going to say when you get home late eh?" he joked, pointing at the ring.

"Oh. No wife, just a husband. His name's Aaron," Robert replied, hoping this man was not homophobic otherwise this ride was going to be awkward.

"Oh, sorry mate. I didn't mean to assume. God. Sorry. What is Aaron like? He's not going to kill me for making his man late home?"

Robert smiled. "No, no killing. He's very down to earth. Hates anything flashy," he answered. "We've gone with a simple rustic theme for the new house." Robert grabbed his phone and brought up pictures of Mill and handed the phone to John. "Hopefully you have furniture that will fit the theme," Robert said as he drove out of Emmerdale.

John admired the pictures and his suspicions faded. He knew now that Robert Sugden wasn't going to fleece him on this furniture deal. He had the perfect set to fit in with Robert and Aaron were doing with the place and it was nearer the bottom of the price range than the top.

He handed Robert back his phone and got his own out. He pulled up his website and the rustic set he thought was perfect and showed Robert.

Roberts face lit up. It was amazing, Robert thought, flicking his eyes between the road and the phone. "This really is perfect," Robert smiled. "If you have furniture like that for the other rooms, you and I will definitely be talking again very soon," he promised happily. "I'll have to sit my sister in law, Liv down with you, too to pick out her bedroom furniture. I told you this would be a good thing for all of us. You just got yourself a new client."

"As do you..if you want one," John replied.

"Wait. You mean.." Robert started but was cut off.

"Yeah. I need a haulage company and you have been so great. So when we get back let's sit and talk business," John proposed and Robert eagerly agreed.

Robert pulled up in front of the client's home and set to work helping John unload and carry the furniture into the client's home. He helped John every step of the way even situating each piece to the client's specifications.

When they finally finished with the last piece and left a very happy client behind them, Robert smiled brightly at John as he got back in the van.

They drove back to Emmerdale, enjoying casual conversation along the way. Robert talked about the craziness of being indoctrinated into the Dingle clan. He beamed whenever he talked about Aaron or Liv.

John saw clearly how much Robert loved his new family and was charmed by his enthusiasm.

They got back to the garage only being gone for around an hour. John's van was now working fine so he handed the payment over to Cain with a large tip which made Cain very happy.

They both drove back to the cabin to talk business. "So I was thinking we could start off with a 2 year contract and see how that goes," Robert started, knowing if he got this deal it was going to open a lot of doors for the company.

"Yeah that sounds ideal."

The meeting went on for around an hour. Knowing before hand it would take a while, Robert asked Cain while they were at the garage to take over from Bob and that he would also pay him to which Cain happily agreed. They had sorted out prices and all the other business stuff and the contract was signed.

"Thank you again, Robert for this," John said.

"And thank you. I look forward to discussing furniture," Robert added.

With business concluded, Robert took the van back to the scrapyard and dropped in on Nicola and Jimmy on his way back to the pub. He knocked enthusiastically and was grinning widely when Jimmy answered the door. Robert pushed past Jimmy and found Nicola sitting on the couch in the living room. He handed her the contract and waited while she read though it.

"How..what..this is brilliant news" Nicola said joyfully.

"Yeah I was minding the bar and he came in and said his haulage firm had let him down and so had his van so I let him borrow one of ours and on the way back he wanted to do business with us" Robert beamed pleased with himself.

"Wait so we also made money tonight? That's what I want to hear. Good thinking Robert."

"Well actually we did a trade. I said he could use our services for free in return of him giving me some free furniture for the mill. Before you start shouting at me just remember if I didn't do that we wouldn't have a contract that would allow us to expand the business and earn profit," Robert defended himself.

"Fine. You did a good job," Nicola gave in.

Robert walked away proud of himself.

~~~~~~~~~

Robert arrived back at the pub just as Charity was entering from the back. He gave her a nod and quickly disappeared into the backroom and sat with Liv at the kitchen table to help her with her homework.

They seemed to work well together these days and it gave Robert a sense of accomplishment to help his new sister get her life on track. He'd never dreamed how important the girl would become to him.

Business studies homework something Robert knew a lot about and according to Liv he is "much better than the flipping teacher."

An hour later all homework was done. Now 10pm, he sent Liv as well as Noah to bed, making sure they had plenty of time to get some sleep. He sat at the table and did the books for the scrap yard. It was going great. Adam had gotten better at doing some of the paper work.

Once the paperwork was finished, Robert made himself a plate of food and ate quietly. Once he finished his dinner, he went back out to the pub and saw Chas behind the bar. He walked to her quickly and told her he was heading over to Mill to see how things were progressing.

The cold air hit him as he walked over to the mill. He walked in and saw it was progressing nicely. He walked upstairs to what would become his and Aaron's bedroom. He could see it now. The rustic furniture collection would be perfect.

Robert walked from room to room, imagining what each room would look like once it was finally furnished. He couldn't wait to see Aaron's face when he saw it for the first time. He knew Aaron was going to love how the Mill was turning out.

He smiled to himself as he let himself back out, locking up behind himself.

He walked back up to the pub and saw that Bob was just leaving. He walked over to him and handed him a few bills. "Thanks for helping out tonight, Mate."

He got into the pub and made the school lunches. After that he went to the bedroom and got changed out of his stiff suit into some soft PJ bottoms and one of Aaron's hoodies before grabbing the duvet and going downstairs

He had grown use to the sofa but he needs Aaron. Aaron's warmth. The smile on his face when he woke. Their hands laced together. He was going to win this appeal no matter what it took.

Robert lay on the couch and pulled the duvet tightly around him, letting sleep take him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

 

Robert was working through the scrap yard paperwork when the barrister called with news of Aaron's whereabouts. Robert was relieved that his husband was so close. He was even more pleased when the man informed him that his first visit was scheduled for the next day.

It had been too long already. Robert was missing Aaron fiercely. He needed to see for himself that Aaron was alright. He couldn't wait to see him and to support him. Liv would be thrilled, as well, Robert thought to himself. He just hoped that Chas wouldn't kick off about it again.

Robert thought for a moment before quickly dialing a number. When Cain answered, Robert explained about the scheduled visit and his intention to honor his promise to Liv and bring her with him. He expressed his worry that Chas might give him grief about it, but Cain assured him that he would handle Chas. Robert hung up the phone feeling optimistic and set about finishing up the paperwork.

A couple hours later all the paperwork was complete so he set off to the pub to go help out. He walked and found Chas. He told her about where Aaron was and that his first visit was set for tomorrow. "So yeah..I won't be able to do the lunch shift tomorrow," he ended his explanation.

"No its fine Robert. You go see Aaron. I'll find someone to cover. But Robert, you know when you're visiting you can't be all lovey dovey, right? You know what happens to people in prison?" Chas said with concern.

"Yeah I know Chas. I just need to see him, to explain the situation and what's happening here," Robert sighed.

Chas nodded. "So, I'm sure you'll want to see Aaron on your own, right? You're not going to want to share your time with him. Not this first time at least," she asked, trying to sound innocent. Robert sighed. He really didn't want to let anything ruin the joy that he'll be seeing Aaron tomorrow has given him.

"I promised Liv if she stopped skiving, I'd bring her with me. Do you want to tell her that her buckling down and being good was for naught?" he challenged.

 

He could see she wasn't happy about it so he just walked away. He didn't want to argue with a pub full of punters watching. He started to clear the tables but he could feel her eyes burning into him.

"Hey sis. Can I get a pint?" he heard Cain shout. He looked over his shoulders and saw Cain giving him a small nod symbolising he was going to deal with it.

"Robert cover the bar," Chas shouted as she and Cain went through to the back, obviously to talk about the situation.

Robert spent an hour covering the bar, trying to ignore the occasional raised voices coming from the back room. He just had to trust that Cain would prevail in the argument. Not that it would matter either way. Robert was going to keep his promise whether Chas liked it or not. But he wasn't a fool. Chas seeing reason would be better for everyone.

He looked up when Liv walked in and waved her over. He waited for her to sit at the counter before leaning in to speak to her. "I've got a visit with Aaron tomorrow. Chas thinks I should go alone..."

"You promised!" Liv shouted, outraged. "You said if I stopped skiving, you'd take me with you!"

Robert arched an eyebrow. "Can I finish?" he asked calmly.

Liv scowled as she stared at him silently. "Now, as I was saying. Chas thinks I should go alone, but I made you a promise and I have no intention of breaking it. Cain is back there with her now, trying to make her see reason. Just, whatever she says to you, just agree with her, keep the peace, alright? Tomorrow we will both be seeing Aaron," he vowed, offering her a warm smile.

He saw Liv smile and she hugged him. "Thanks Rob." She smiled and put her stuff behind the bar. "I'll wait for them to finish. Do you want any help?" she asked as if she understood how much he was stressing.

"If you want you can clear the tables." Robert suggested and she did just that.

Tea was a subdued event that night. Chas kept uncharacteristically silent as she ate, sending not so subtle glares in Robert's direction when she thought no one was looking. Robert chose to ignore it, not wanting any more stress than was already present.

He struck up conversation with Liv, careful not to mention anything about the visit the next day, keeping the topic on school and how much better Liv's grades were than just a few weeks ago.

Everyone ate dinner quickly and went their separate ways. Chas going up to her bedroom to avoid Robert. Liv and Robert did her homework and just chilled out for the rest of the evening. By the time they finished the latest episode of game of thrones it was 11pm. "Liv, you should get going to bed. We have to be at the prison for 11:30am tomorrow." She didn't argue but quietly said goodnight to Robert and went on her way.

Robert went upstairs just long enough to grab the comforter off the bed and headed back downstairs, making himself as comfortable as possible on the couch.

 

Robert felt as though he'd barely closed his eyes before someone was shaking him awake. "Robert, are you ok?" Liv asked, sounding concerned. Her brows were furrowed as she looked down at him.

Robert sat up, rubbing at his tired eyes. "I'm fine, Liv. What time is it?" he asked.

"Half eight," Liv answered. "Thought maybe we could get breakfast at the cafe before we head off," she added hopefully.

Robert nodded slowly. "I'll take a quick shower and get changed. Breakfast at the cafe sounds great. Why don't you go ahead and order and I'll meet you there in 10." Robert handed Liv a tenner and grabbed up the comforter, heading back upstairs.

He threw the comforter toward the bed, not waiting to see where it actually landed before rushing to get in a quick shower. When he stepped back out of the stall, he looked at himself in the mirror. Robert frowned at the dark circles under his eyes. He couldn't let Aaron see him like this. It would only make him worry, and that was the last thing Robert wanted.

He saw Vic as he headed down stairs to grab his jacket he had left down there the night before and ran into Vic. "Vic! I need your help," he shouted.

"What? What's wrong?" She asked, concern filling her voice.

"I can't let Aaron see me like this." He paused, pointing to the circles under his eyes.

"Can you..do that thing with the makeup that hides it" he asked shyly. With no response, she pushed him to sit on the sofa and got out her concealer, quickly covering the dark circles.

"Now go see your man. Send him my love," she shouted as she walked out.

Robert chose to leave out the back door, not willing to give Chas the chance to bring down his mood and headed over to the cafe, sitting at the table just as Bob brought over a full English. Robert grinned at Liv as he picked up one of the forks, spearing a sausage and taking a careful bite.

Liv grinned back and speared a rasher of bacon, moaning quietly when she burnt her tongue on the piping hot meat. She quickly sipped at her juice. "Do you think he'll be glad to see me?" she asked, suddenly feeling uncertain of how Aaron would feel about her visiting.

"Liv, Aaron loves you to bits. Of course he'll be glad to see you," Robert answered warmly. "We both love you to bits. I hope you know that. I am in your corner just like Aaron is. You can come to me about anything. Well, except maybe the really girlie things," he grinned. "You can go to Vic about those."

Liv snorted. "Yeah, because I'm so into the girlie things!"

 

Both of them laughed. True laughter. It was as if nothing was wrong, as if everything was as it had always been. That was the one thing that broke Robert's heart. The fact that normality is a thing that this little family unit has never really had. The fact Liv and Aaron had just got each other back and now they are split once again. He kept the smile on his face. He couldn't let her know he was hurting. He had to be strong for her. For Aaron.

They finished breakfast and headed to the prison. He could tell Liv was nervous. She was fidgeting with her hands so Robert put on Taylor Swift instantly knowing it would take her mind of things.

When Robert pulled into a parking space outside the prison he turned to Liv. "Liv, we need to talk a minute before we go in, okay?"

Liv looked at him, confused. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"You're a smart kid, Liv, so I'm sure you have some idea of what it's like in prison, yeah?"

Liv nodded, swallowing thickly. "You think something's happened to Aaron?" she asked fearfully.

"No, Liv. I think he's fine. And we want him to continue to be fine, yeah?" Robert answered, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Liv nodded and Robert paused, breathing in deeply before continuing. "That's why we have to pretend that I'm just Aaron's mate, looking after his little sister while Aaron's banged up."

Liv frowned, blinking as her eyes started to burn. "But you're married!" she protested.

"And no one can know that, Liv. No one can know that Aaron is gay or that I'm his husband. Not if we want Aaron to stay safe," Robert said quietly.

"But surely there are guards that will protect him?" Her voice was full of worry.

"Liv. The guards won't always be there and I do not want to risk it. Please, Liv," he pleaded. He couldn't stop himself from worrying. He cared so deeply for both of them and could not risk anything that could hurt them. He saw Liv's mind start to tick before she nodded.

"Is Aaron ok with this plan?" She asked as they got closer to the door.

"He will be," was all Robert could manage to say back.

 

They entered the prison, Liv first, Robert behind her with his hands on her shoulders, guiding her along. Robert couldn't help the butterflies fluttering in his stomach as they got closer to Aaron. He would give anything to be able to hug, kiss, prove his love to Aaron. But he knew this was the only way to truly prove his love. He had to protect Aaron at all cost. His feelings would never trump Aaron's safety.

When they entered the visiting room and Liv saw Aaron, she flew across the room, hugging her brother tightly. Robert hung back, giving his family a moment alone to catch up. He saw Aaron frown when he realized that Robert was still near the door. Robert closed his eyes briefly and squared his shoulders before walking over and nodding. "How are you doing, Mate?" he asked neutrally, careful to keep his voice emotionless.

He saw all the joy leave Aaron's eyes. He saw what being his mate did to Aaron. He knew that it hurt him but Robert had to, to keep him safe.

They sat down. It was a bit awkward at first. "Liv's been doing well at school. We made a pact. If she went in and kept up with her homework I would give her rewards. Been working so far," Robert said, making Aaron smile. He could tell how much hearing his voice meant to Aaron.

They talked back and forth for a while. Talking about Liv's grades and how Sarah's treatment was going. Then the buzzer went off alerting the end of visiting time. Liv got up and walked to the door after telling them she'll meet Robert in the car.

"Aaron you know.." Robert whispered.

"I know," Aaron whispered back, giving a small smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

 

May

Robert listened to the doctor list off the things that would have to be in place in order for Robert to be released from the hospital.

He would need a place to stay.

He would need someone to stay with him.

He would need to eat 3 meals a day.

He would need at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

He would need physical therapy for the broken ankle once the cast came off.

He would need....

He would need....

He would need....

But really, the only thing Robert truly needed, he'd lost.

He'd tried to so hard, but he'd failed.

He'd lost the only thing that mattered to him.

He'd lost his family.

And he only had himself to blame.

Two weeks.

He had two weeks to get better.

Two weeks until he saw his Aaron again.

Only, Aaron wasn't his anymore.

Aaron didn't need him.

Aaron thought he was useless.

Just like his father had.

It didn't matter how hard he tried, his best was never good enough.

And he was tired now.

Tired of trying, of giving everything he had, and always, always falling short, being the disappointment.

He was just tired.

He didn't have anything left to give.

Robert looked up when the door opened and watched as Liv came in, dropping her bag on the chair in the corner before coming to sit beside Robert's bed. "How was school?" he asked listlessly.

Liv was still his responsibility.

At least until Aaron was released.

He owed her that much at least.

"It was okay, I guess," Liv answered. "I got an A- on my history report."

Robert pasted on a smile. "That's great, Liv."

Liv reached for his good hand and squeezed it tightly. "Aaron's really coming home, isn't he?" she asked, excitement in her voice. "He's going to be so happy to see you."

Robert didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.

That Aaron was done with him.

That their little family was over before it really had the chance to happen.

"Why don't you go down to the cafeteria, get yourself something to eat," Robert suggested.

Liv frowned down at him. "Are you ok?" she asked. "You've been acting so weird lately. Everyone has. Cain and everybody are whispering all the time but they just go quiet when I walk in the room. Why is everybody being secretive? What are you all hiding?" she demanded.

"You don't have anything to worry about Liv. Aaron will come home in a couple of weeks and you'll move into the Mill. You'll finally have the home you always wanted," Robert told her quietly.

"What do you mean I'll move in to the mill? You mean we will. We are all moving to the mill. You, me and Aaron," Liv spoke, her voice trembling.

Robert looked down at his lap, unable to meet her eyes. He smoothed out an imaginary wrinkle. "You and Aaron will be moving into the Mill. I, um.... I'll be moving back in with Vic and Adam."

"No!" Liv shouted out in disbelief. "We are a family. You've said that yourself plenty of times. What's happened? Why are you not coming with us? Please, Robert, tell me what happened," Liv pleaded, tears rolling down her face.

Robert looked up when the door opened and Lisa and Belle came in. He looked back down, tears filling his eyes. "Aaron doesn't need me anymore," he said quietly. "He made that pretty clear the last time I went to see him."

"He needs you, Robert. We all need you and you need us," she choked out between tears. "Please, Robert, you can't leave us. We both know Aaron hasn't been in the best state mentally. Robert you have always done what you could for him. You have always protected him and that's what matters. Please don't end it like this. Please, Robert," she cried out, pleading with every bit of energy she had. "Please Rob. He still loves you. Please," she begged one last time.

"I'm tired, Liv..." Robert said, barely above a whisper as the tears started to fall. He fidgeted restlessly. "It's never enough anyway..."

"What's never enough?" Liv asked, sobbing. Lisa and Belle hovered uncertainly.

"ME, LIV! ME!! I'm never enough!" Robert punctuated his words with a fist to his chest, causing white hot pain to shoot through him as he slumped to the bed, gasping for air.

He could hear the beeping on the monitor.

He heard people screaming and talking.

And then he heard nothing as blackness swept over him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 

Robert walked to the car slowly, pacing himself, relishing the moment. Seeing Aaron made him happier than he has been in days, hearing his voice. Yet it it was heartbreaking at the same time, knowing Aaron was all alone.

Robert unlocked the car and Liv and he climbed inside. He was startled when Liv threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "Hey, what's that for?" he asked, confused.

"Thank you for keeping your word, Robert. It means a lot," Liv told him, smiling and blinking back tears.

"Any time, Kid. And the deal still stands. You keep going to school, and I'll keep bringing you to the visits," Robert offered.

"I'll keep it up. I promise. I don't want to cause you more stress," she replied offering a smile. He could see through the smile however. He could see she was hurting.
.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" he asked, his voice raw. He saw her think. He could tell she wanted to pass off she was alright.

"I'll be better once he's home. I can tell he isn't ok. I can see he's hurting and there's nothing I can do, Robert. All I can do is sit there and offer my support and it hurts," she said, her voice emotional and tears rolling down her face.

"Hey, I know. I understand. All of us will feel better when he's home, when we can hug him. But for now seeing him and offering support is all we can do. Aaron understands we are doing all we can, ok? Don't be so hard on yourself," Robert told her, wishing he would take his own advice. He started the engine and off they went.

Robert took his time, driving the speed limit. He had precious cargo, after all, he thought, smiling to himself. He'd never have thought just a few months ago, that he and Liv would get to be so close. He wasn't even sure when she'd done it, when she'd wormed her way into his heart. But now, he wouldn't change it for the world. She'd become a second sister/ pseudo daughter to him and he found that he was relishing in the bond they'd formed.

"What would you like for Tea tonight?" Robert asked, keeping his attention on the road in front of him. He'd become a much more defensive driver since the accident that had nearly killed both he and Aaron several months ago.

"Ooh, how about take out. I don't think anyone's in the mood for cooking tonight," she replied.

He saw that she was upset and that she would be for a couple of days but she is more like Robert than he cares to admit, the way both of them shut others out when they are in need, the way they hide and pent up their emotions. She is also like Aaron.

The hoodies for a start. Then the fact of when they're angry you will definitely know it. He smiled to himself. This was his family, the people he cared for more than he cared about himself.

He would do whatever it took to protect both of them. If Liv needed to see Aaron, then Liv would see Aaron. If she needed help with her homework, she'd get more help than she wanted. If she needed a shoulder to cry on, well, he had a perfectly good one with her name on it.

"We haven't been to Hotten in a while, Why don't we stop in, grab some food and maybe see a movie?" Robert suggested. Liv looked over at him.

She smiled brightly when she answered. "Yeah, that would be great. Should we call and tell Chas?" she asked.

Robert nodded. "Yeah, we'd better."

Liv pulled out her cell and quickly dialed Chas. "Hi, Chas. Robert wanted me to call and let you know we're going to stop out in Hotten for Tea," Liv said when the woman answered. "It was ok. It was really great to get to see Aaron. Yeah, he was really happen to see us both."

Robert could tell Chas was being civil on the phone, not wanting to upset Liv. He heard Liv recall what happened at the prison and how Aaron seemed. Seeing her smile was a good thing to see especially during these dark times. He kept quiet whilst Liv talked, knowing he wouldn't be able to pay attention if he talked to Chas.

Robert pulled up outside a favorite diner when they reached Hotten. He parked and they went inside. Robert ordered a curry and a coke, while Liv ordered a burger and chips and a fizzy orange.

He teased Liv about always ordering the same thing whenever they came here, and Liv snarked on about how boring Robert was, always ordering curry, and grumbling about having to ride home with him in the car after his having eaten said curry.

Robert laughed, feeling genuinely happy that he could make Liv smile even with everything they were all going through.

However as much as he smiled and laughed he couldn't help but feel sad. They were sat at their table. The table the little family always sat at when they came. It felt empty without Aaron. Everything felt empty without Aaron.

He listened to Liv talk about her new English teacher who, according to Liv, couldn't teach to save their life which gave Robert so much confidence. "It's getting late and you have school tomorrow so we should finish up," Robert started before being cut off.

"Or..we could get desert .." Liv interjected with a gleam in her eyes.

"Mm ok but when we get home you can explain to Chas why we are late."

"Deal," Liv half shouted. After another hour they headed home, the ride peaceful.

Robert parked behind the pub and followed Liv inside. He frowned when he saw Chas sitting at the kitchen table, a scowl on her face, clearly having waited for them to return. "Evening, Chas," Robert greeted cordially. He really wasn't in the mood for another row with his mother in law, but it was clear that is exactly what she had planned.

"Go get ready for bed, Liv," Robert said. If Chas was going to have a go, it was not going to be in front of Liv.

"But, Robert," Liv protested. She'd seen the same thing as Robert and wasn't comfortable knowing that Chas was going to have another go at Robert.

"Liv. Please. Then we can quickly do any last minute homework you have." He paused. "Just let me deal with this. I'll be ok." He whispered the last part. Liv went to her room leaving Chas and Robert alone.

"Good evening, Chas," Robert said, trying to be polite as he went to the kitchen to make Liv and himself their hot chocolate that they always drank when they did homework. He tried to avoid talking to Chas but he couldn't avoid her forever. He sighed before sitting at the table.

"Just say what you have to say, Chas. I don't want Liv to hear us arguing. It's the last thing she needs right now."

"It wasn't bad enough you let Liv skive off school to visit Aaron, but you thought it was alright to keep her out until all hours as well?" Chas barked, glaring at Robert.

Robert frowned and breathed deeply, remaining calm. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Chas, but let me remind you that Liv is my responsibility while Aaron is in jail. And I'd thank you to keep your disapproval to yourself."

"Well obviously you don't know how to raise her properly. You can't keep her out of school and then reward her by taking her to meals. What sort of parenting is that?" Chas shouted.

Robert had had enough. "Listen Chas. I don't want to argue. I really don't. Liv is Aaron's sister. They have been separated for years and when they are finally back together they get ripped apart. She needed to see him. She needed to be able to talk to her brother. Plus Aaron was missing her like crazy. They needed each other and if missing one day of school means that she got to see her brother then that is a sacrifice I had to take. She has worked so hard these past few weeks whilst Aaron's been inside. She hasn't missed a day of school, hasn't been in trouble. She deserved a break from it all." Robert couldn't stop when he started. He needed Chas to understand.

"The people at school taunt her. Yet she won't open up and tell us. She doesn't want to bug us because she doesn't think it is important. She's the kid with a gay brother who's in jail. She gets picked on due to that. She needed a break from that place. I needed to get her mind of it for a couple of hours so please, Chas, just back off," he finished, close to tears.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

 

Robert sat up groggily, blearily trying to make out the time. He sighed, groaning softly to himself. If the clock was right, he'd gotten exact 74 minutes of sleep. He sat up sluggishly. He knew he couldn't continue on like this, but what choice did he have? He just couldn't bring himself to sleep in Aaron's -their- bed. Anymore than he could bring Aaron home right now, today.

Why did everything have to be so hard all the time. He wasn't eating, he was hardly sleeping. He knew it was his job to support Aaron. And he fully intended to do just that. But now, for the first time, Robert was taking the time to wonder who was supposed to take care of him.

Slowly he removed the duvet from himself and sat up. Trying to keep his eyes open and make it look like he was doing ok. He wont be doing anywhere near ok until he has Aaron safe in his arms again.

He bunched up the duvet and carried it upstairs. He couldn't let people see he was struggling. He had to be strong.

Robert tossed the duvet back onto the bed and headed back downstairs. He had to stop halfway down, swaying dangerously as a wave of dizziness swept over him. He leaned heavily into the wall to keep himself upright and waited for the room to stop spinning.

He was taken out of his own mind when he heard voices coming from the kitchen. The room finally not spinning he made his way to the kitchen. He saw Liv and Noah attempting to make some sort of breakfast but making a mess in the process. He took over telling them to sit and do any last minute homework. He was starving but he didn't have time to eat. He needed to fight for Aaron, needed to keep everything together, needed to make thinks right.

He made breakfast, and set two plates down on the table in front of Noah and Liv before reaching for his bag and grabbing his jacket. He headed toward the door, cringing at the knowledge that he was going to be late to the yard.

"Where are you going?" Liv asked, sounding concerned. "Aren't you going to eat with us?" she asked.

"I don't have time, Liv. I'm late as it is. Adam's expecting me at the yard any minute," Robert answered, rushing out the door before Liv could protest any further.

 

He walked to the scrap yard knowing he wasn't in the best state to drive. Once he got inside the cabin he saw a note from Adam.

"Be back at 2pm. My mum needed help"

Great, Robert thought to himself. He now had double the work so he told himself to get started. He couldn't miss dinner tonight, Liv needed him. He knew he would have to work through lunch though.

Robert had his second dizzy spell of the day around noon. He was working on prying loose a stubborn hunk of metal when the spell hit him just as the part finally came free. Robert was only vaguely aware that he was lying on his back, staring up at the sky, his arm throbbing dully.

He glanced at it, seeing blood pouring from a large jagged cut that ran from shoulder to just above his elbow. Great!, he thought, frustrated. Aaron would be so proud of you, Robert. You can't do anything right, can you?

He looked around and no one was there so he reached for his phone. He texted Vic but she replied that she was at work. He got up, feeling dizzy. He made his way inside the cabin and pulled out the medical kit which was empty.

Who leaves a medical kit empty? Great. Blood was going everywhere and he knew he wouldn't be able to walk into the village so he caved in. He would have to text a Dingle.

Robert texted Chas, asking her if she could please come to the scrap yard. He didn't emphasize why he needed her. It might even have helped if he'd asked her to bring a first aid kit with her. But he wasn't thinking clearly at the moment. He waited nearly 10 minutes before Chas texted back that she was busy running a pub, and if Robert wanted company so badly he could come to the pub like a normal bloke.

 

He texted Cain next. The blood loss slowly getting to him. He told Cain he need the first aid kit, but Cain said he was busy, not specifying why.

Robert texted Zack. Surely the family patriarch would have time for the newest member of the Dingle clan. He texted Zack that he'd had an accident at the yard and that there was no one there to help him and could he please hurry.

It was another 12 minutes before Zack texted back that he was out of the village and could Robert just text Cain instead.

 

Robert was loosing hope and blood. This really wasn't his day.

He texted Charity knowing she doesn't really do much. Except today she decided to go out and get her nails done.

Robert felt so alone.

Robert texted Paddy next. He texted that he'd found an injured dog, and could Paddy please hurry and bring a first aid kit with him. He felt the slightest twinge of guilt at the lie, but Robert was close to passing out by this point if he didn't get help fast. So he sent the text and waited, praying that the vet wouldn't be able to resist the idea of an injured animal.

He got a text back. Paddy was on his way. Finally. Robert was close to passing out.

It was 10 minutes before he heard Paddy shout.

"In here," Robert managed to get out.

Paddy entered the cabin and gasped at the sight before him. Robert was on the floor, propped up by the wall, a very large pool of blood beside him and more joining it rapidly.

"Sorry I... lied.... nobody would come when I texted.... didn't know..... what else to do....." Robert barely managed to get out as his eyes drooped.

"Jesus, Robert..what happened?" Paddy shouted as he opened the first aid kit and tended to Roberts wounds.

"Was trying to do some work with the scrap and I cut myself. I tried to text the others but no one would come." Robert spoke in a whisper.

Paddy cleaned and bandaged the wound. He also gave Robert a chocolate bar and told him him he needed to eat more. Robert knew he did. Robert knew he wasn't in a good state but how could he put himself first when other people relied on him. People Robert cares about. More importantly, people Aaron cares about.

Robert groaned softly as Paddy wrapped the wound. "Paddy," he rasped. "Think I'm gonna...... pass out now...."

"No, Robert, I need you to stay awake for me, ok?" Paddy said urgently. "Robert? ROBERT!"

Paddy pulled out his phone and dialed for an ambulance. He was afraid Robert had lost too much blood. He may not like the man, may hate him even. But Aaron loved him, enough to marry him. And Paddy didn't want to let his son down. He would do whatever he could to save Robert's life. Once the ambulance was on it's way, Paddy began to text each Dingle, demanding they come to the scrap yard immediately. He didn't specify why, just ordered each of them to come.

It was only a few minutes later that Adam returned from helping Moira. He gaped in shock at the sight that met his eyes. "Robert?"

"He's passed out from blood loss, Adam. I don't know how long he was sat here, bleeding but it must have been quite some time," Paddy told him.

The next thing Robert knew was he was in an ambulance. His sight was fuzzy and all he could hear were technical words he didn't understand. He had failed. He is a failure. He had messed up. Of course he had. When doesn't the great Robert Sugden mess up?

Paddy was stood in the scrap yard with all the Dingles around him. "What the hell is this about, Paddy?" Cain demanded. "We're all busy people, you know."

"I got a text from Robert and I know I wasn't the only one. I.. I got here and he was sat there in a pool of his own blood," Paddy started. "I don't even like the guy and yet when he texted I was here because I know that is what Aaron would have wanted. He's at at the hospital right now because he had lost so much blood and it seems he hasn't been eating properly," he ended, looking at the Dingles with a glare.

"What are you talking about?" Chas asked, affronted. "He eats plenty. He just made that huge meal for all of us the other day. You were even there, Paddy. Surely you haven't forgotten."

"Yes, I was there, but where was Robert while we were all eating the meal he'd made us?" Paddy demanded, glaring at first Chas, then Charity. "If I remember correctly, he was covering Charity in the bar because it was a, what did he call it? Oh, yes, a family dinner, and Charity is family after all! That boy is bending over backwards trying to do right by all of you! Where were any of you today when he needed you?"

Everyone stared blankly at him, realising Paddy had a point.

"Right well I'll get down to the hospital and make sure he's ok. Cain are you ok to cover here?" Chas paused, waiting for a reply to which she got a nod, "and Charity tonight you will work the bar so Robert can eat." No one argued with Chas, especially when she was shouting orders.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

 

Robert's arm was still tender a few days later when he found himself up at the farm, helping Zack. It was a bit awkward, really, moving bales of hay, and his arm was beginning to throb from the strain.

When Zack first asked him for the help he considered saying he was busy and still sore but Zack was a part of his family now and he couldn't let him down.

More importantly, he was Aaron's family. Robert had to keep his promise. He had to help Aaron's family. He wasn't sure why he'd thought that they'd become his family, too. Marrying Aaron hadn't suddenly made Robert accepted by the rest of the Dingles. He was still the dodgy outsider. Their opinions of him hadn't changed any just because he'd tied himself to Aaron.

Nonetheless he still agreed to help out. After all the Dingles might soon start to like him if he keeps up the help. He looked over his shoulder and saw Zack coming out of the house with two mugs of tea.

Robert pulled out his bottle of painkillers and popped two in his mouth, washing them down with a sip of the strong, hot brew. He set the cup down and sat quietly, waiting for the medication to kick in.

"How's the arm?" Zack asked.

Robert looked up at the man. "Still in a bit of pain but it's getting better," he replied. He knew Zack was just being polite.

"You know, I remember when our Aaron was young," Zack started, which made Robert interested. "He used to help out on the farm for a small price and one time he pulled a muscle. Never finished the work, but got the money anyway." Robert let out a small giggle. Aaron always had an eye for making money and Robert loved that.

Truth be told, Robert loved everything about Aaron. He was the one person in Robert's life who could see past all his masks, his wall, and saw the real Robert. And he accepted Robert, flaws and all. He was getting there with Liv.

He could live with that, Robert decided, even if the rest of the Dingles never truly accepted him. As long as he had Aaron and Liv, he'd be ok.

He smiled and drank the rest of his tea. Zack carried the conversation, most of it being about what else needs doing but then it changed.

"Robert, I want to have a word," Zack said seriously.

This is it, Robert thought to himself. He would be told he isn't part of the family.

"I just.. I wanted to thank you."

This wasn't what Robert was expecting.

"Thank me for what?" Robert asked.

"For what you've done for our Aaron," Zack said plainly, as if it were an obvious fact.

Robert frowned and shook his head. "I haven't done anything," Robert argued. "He's still stuck in that place."

"Robert, you're taking care of Liv, helping Adam with the scrap yard, fixing up the mill, and working on Aaron's appeal. You're here, helping out an old fool, with your arm wrapped in bandages. Son, you're doing everything!" Zack corrected passionately.

Robert smiled sheepishly not used to being told he was doing great.

"I'm just doing what needs to be done, nothing special," Robert replied.

"Look son, you took on roles without being asked to. You didn't have to look after Liv, but you do anyway. You don't have to make sure Noah has breakfast and gets to school, but you do. You are doing everything and that is what I'm thankful for, and so are the others. " Zack smiled before turning around and announcing they had work to be getting on with.

Robert got to his feet and gave Zack an unexpected hug before he quickly moved to the next bale of hay. He felt his face flush, but he kept his mouth shut, hoping Zack would just write it off as a side effect of the drugs, or some such thing. He was Robert flaming Sugden, after all. Mr Shifty, as Paddy had dubbed him. He didn't do hugs.

He saw a smile on Zack face but to his luck he didn't say anything about the hug.

"Just know we're all here, Robert, if you ever need us." And with that, Zack walked off and left Robert with the hay.

The smile slid from Robert's face at Zack's remark. Robert was careful to hide the sudden change in his entire being at the older man's parting words.

Robert didn't blame Zack. The man was out of town when Robert had needed someone. But the rest of the Dingles... Robert exhaled deeply, his shoulders slumping at the reminder that actions spoke louder than words. He hefted the next large bale, ignoring the twinge from his arm, and carried it into the barn.

He knew that maybe they cared for him but only because of Aaron. Sometimes he doesn't feel like he belongs. He threw the large be down and felt the twinge in his arm again. He knew he wasn't supposed to be doing heavy lifting but he didn't listen. The work wasn't going to do itself, and there was too much of it for Zack to handle on his own. And Aaron would be proud of him, that was the only thing that really mattered.

Thoughts of Aaron filled his mind as the afternoon progressed, the rest of the world tuned out. By the time the last bale was moved, and Robert tuned back into reality, he realized that his whole arm was throbbing and burning and a bit... sticky.

He glanced down and was shocked to see that his entire shirt sleeve was painted dark red, bits of hay stuck to the sticky mass, and drops of blood marked the path that Robert had been completing entirely on auto pilot.

Robert made his way to the farm house, trying to figure out exactly how to ask if he could borrow the first aid kit to change his bandages.

He staggered in, the pain now starting to throb more. He walked into the farm house and shouted for Zack.
He started to take his shirt off as he looked around for any bandages. He finally found the first aid kit and turned around to see Zack standing there.

"Sit down, Son. Let me."

Robert did as Zack said and handed him the first aid kit. As Zack began to clean and bandage the reopened wound, he started to tell Robert how he needs to look after himself and not push his body too far.

"I know, Zack but sometimes it's like I'm on autopilot and I can't help it," Robert admitted.

Once his arm was cleaned up and freshly wrapped, Robert stood and thanked Zack for his help. "Why don't you stay for tea?" Lisa invited.

Robert frowned. "I should get home and start on tea for Liv, but thanks for the invitation," he said quietly.

"Nonsense," Lisa tutted. "We'll just call round, and Liv can join us for tea as well."

"But Chas, Noah... I make tea for everyone," Robert protested.

"Chas is a grown woman. She's perfectly capable of making tea for herself," Lisa countered. "And, as for Noah, well he can come over with Liv if he likes, or his mum can just get off her duff, and fix him his tea herself."

Robert smiled and agreed to tea. Texting Liv to tell her to come up to Lisa's. For the first time since Aaron went inside, Robert truly believed things were getting better. For the first time people were helping.

Chapter Text

May

 

 

"Your whole family is out in the waiting room, Robert," Dr Miller informed the man laying in the bed.

Robert didn't acknowledge the man. He had requested terminating all future visits after his meltdown the week before.

But that had not been the only thing Robert had done in the last week. Robert had also stopped eating. He hadn't been eating a lot before, but now he was refusing to eat anything. Dr Miller had begun to threaten Robert with intravenous feeding if he didn't start eating on his own. But Robert was nothing if not stubborn, and he wasn't going to be bullied into eating. Which is why, two days later, Dr Miller ordered the iv placed and Robert was given the nutrients his body needed to survive.

"Why are you even bothering, Doc? Why waste your time like this?" Robert asked. He genuinely didn't see the point of any of this, if he was being honest. Measures like these should be saved for the people who deserved them. Not for stupid, messed up wastes of space like him.

"You're my patient, Robert. It's my job to get you well again," Dr Miller answered.

"What if the patient doesn't want to get well?" Robert challenged.

Dr Miller frowned. "Why wouldn't you want to get well?" the man asked. "I heard your husband will be coming home next week. I would think you'd be happy about that."

"He's not my husband," Robert corrected sharply. "Not anymore. He made it perfectly clear I'm no use to him."

"Robert, you still have to try and get better. If not for your family then for yourself," the doctor restated.

"Whatever," Robert mumbled, turning his head away. He was alone now. No one wanted him. No one needed him.

He'd never been wanted, he knew. Not really. He'd never been more than an inconvenient disappointment to his father. He'd been going through the motions with Chrissie, but that was only to get to her money. And, maybe, to put one over on her condescending father.

Aaron was the first person in his life to see Robert, the real Robert, and not run. Aaron had stayed. Through all the hurt, all the betrayals, Aaron had stayed. And like a fool, Robert had begun to believe that he could be loved, failings and all.

"Robert do you want me to let your family in? They're worried about you," the doctor told Robert.

"I don't care anymore. Nothing really matters," Robert replied, picking at his nails.

After the doctor left the room, Robert was left in silence, his thoughts clouding his mind once again.

Robert turned his back to the door and closed his eyes, willing sleep to take him. He growled softly as his thoughts kept him awake. He didn't want this, any of it. Maybe it was time to cut his losses and just leave for good. This village had brought him misery his entire life.

He heard a knock on his door. He didn't really want to see anyone. He couldn't see anyone. Everyone close to him either leaves him or doesn't want him anymore. He just seems to hurt everyone he loves. He loves his family and has hurt them. He loves Aaron and now Aaron doesn't want him anymore.

Dr Miller poked his head in. "Robert, there's a Cain Dingle on the waiting room, insisting he has to see you. He said something has happened at the prison. He said you would understand the message?" the man said, confusion evident in his voice.

Robert turned to face the man. "Did he say what had happened?" he asked, fear sending chills down his spine.

"He insisted that he speak to you immediately. Should I send him away?" The man asked.

Robert sighed deeply. "Better send him in. He'd only come through anyway if I refused."

As soon as Cain walked in Robert was already questioning him not even giving time for Cain to respond.

"Robert, shut up for a moment," Cain shouted, making Robert go quiet.

"I went to the prison and he isn't in a good way. He isn't coping," Cain said in a softer tone.

"What do you mean he's in a bad way?" Robert asked, voice full of concern.

"He was beat up pretty bad. Some people found out he was gay. His mental state is getting worse. He's missing you. Robert, he needs you," Cain told him, looking him dead in the eye.

"He doesn't want me, Cain. He told me. He said he didn't need me. No one ever needs me, Cain."

"Listen Robert. You are going to get better. You are going to get the help you need and then you will go see your husband. Robert I never beg, but I am asking you to please do this," Cain pleaded. Robert looked shocked. He had never seen Cain ask for anything, but he knew this was important.

"I can't leave here, Cain. There's a whole string of conditions that have to be met before Dr Miller will release me," Robert said quietly.

"Then meet them," Cain demanded.

"Yeah, you gonna make sure I'm sleeping every night? Eating every meal? It's not like I can just sign a piece of paper and just..." Robert looked up at Cain, eyes wide as Cain nodded firmly. "Get him in here," Robert said.

Cain opened the door and bellowed down the hallway. "HEY DOC!!!"

"What seems to be the matter?" the doctor asked calmly.

"I need to be discharged. My husband needs me now more than ever. So if you can bring me the papers to sign, I'll sign them and get out of your hair," Robert said already starting to move out of the bed.

"Robert, lie back down. Please. You still have your IV in. Plus I can't give you the papers to sign."

"why? I can wait an hour or so if you need to get them ready?" Robert asked.

"It's not that, Robert. You aren't well. You aren't in the best shape mentally or physically so I can't have you sign those papers."

Robert deflated and looked towards Cain.

"I can sign them. I mean I'm a relative. I can sign them and keep an eye on him," Cain spoke up.

"Mr Dingle, I know you are Aaron's uncle but the two men aren't married by law so I can't allow you to sign them," the doctor explained apologetically.

"Please I have to go. He needs me," Robert insisted.

"Mr Sugden, you need to get better first. I'm sorry," the doctor said, before turning to walk out the room.

"Wait. Hear me out," Cain started, grabbing the doctor's attention.

"What if I take Robert to see Aaron and then bring him straight back?"

"Please? I promise I'll come back and listen to you, doc. I'll get help. Just please let me do this one thing." The two men looked at the doctor waiting for a response.

Dr Miller stared at the men for a long time, thinking through his options. "Doc, if you don't agree, you'll be using that tube until my insurance runs out and your board makes you release me. If you let me go see Aaron, I'll come right back and be a good little patient. I'll do whatever you want me to do. Please. He needs me," Robert implored.

"Ok. You can go see him. But you can only leave the hospital for two hours and then I want you back so we can work on a plan to get you better," The doctor stated.

"Thank you. Really doc, thank you," Robert said.

"We can go see him tomorrow. So you can stay here tonight, eat your dinner then I'll come pick you up," Cain said to Robert.

Robert nodded. "I'll be ready, Cain," he promised. He turned to Dr Miller. "So, what's on the menu tonight?" he asked.